Friday, July 31, 2009


When asked the secret to Judo, founder Jigoro Kano said:
“When the enemy wants to come, welcome him.
When he wants to leave, send him on his way.”

The first time I asked what this meant, no sooner did I utter the question than I felt a pair of arms fold under my chin and shrink the space around my neck until I could swear I heard angels singing, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”

And the distant voice of my teacher, Master Song, saying first, learn to grip, then, learn to let go. Strange teaching methods considering that the word “Judo” translates to “the gentle way.” But it makes sense. To get the arm lock, you don’t grab. You rest your hands, like he's made of eggshells you’re afraid to crack so that by the time he wants to leave, he has to wait for you to send him on his way.

It’s true that wrestling is awfully erotic for an activity shared between two straight men. Like the way lovers convey themselves through contact, you only know someone so well until you’re knotted into them.

I never had to learn things like this, by the language of the bent wrist and the pinched artery. Some people are born pressed into the ground. But for someone who grew up in quiet safety filled with words and books it took some time for the wisdom of hard, cold floors to rub off.

But on the night when two gentlemen in a 7-11 parking lot cordially asked if they could come on my girlfriend, I thought, when the enemy wants to come, welcome him.

This [snap] is how long an unplanned fight lasts. How long it took them to split my eye and swell my lip until my face looked like the bottom of a starfish. How long it took to hear police sirens around the block. How long it took one of them to flee the scene as I tangled myself around the other and hear his voice shrink to a whisper in my hands.

How long it took me to understand, through contact, how hard this kid’s life had been. You don’t roll on someone in this part of town unless you’ve grown up pressed into the ground, the wisdom of cold, hard floors hardly an option.

I could have held him for the sirens, but by then something I once heard about a gentle way took hold.

When the enemy wants to come, welcome him.
When he wants to leave, send him on his way.

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