There aren’t a lot of natural athletes locally who gravitate to the study of the sword. That’s not unusual, as people with the gift or inclination for athletic pursuits tend to find all their needs happily met. It’s a sportsman’s world out there. If you grew up liking sports, you had a million things to do growing up. Martial arts was only one option amongst many, and not a very appealing one. It’s an outlier activity. It has almost zero reward or real-world benefit for participating.

And worse, the only people in school who do martial arts are geeks. That’s okay, but if you have even a slight preference, like most people, for being with similar people…when it comes time to chose, gymnastics or baseball or something will win out. Over time what develops is two diverse populations…Most geeks don’t do sports, most athletes don’t do martial arts. And we all know what comes of diversity…bigotry.

The most derogatory word a geek knows is “Jock.” Calling someone a Nazi at least implies there might be nuances or a potential for change, comparatively to be a Jock implies a never-to-be forgiven thickness of soul and mind combined with a heartless and unlimited cruelty. Many geeks carry a burning hatred that fuels that word into adulthood, and twists their perceptions of anything that might be tainted with the stain of athleticism.

Not that being fit is bad. Geeks are turning to fitness in large numbers these days, but we tend to justify it with science. We won’t “just” workout or be active, we have to develop plans, do research and experimentation, and keep on the cutting edge. We program our fitness. Science will make us better, not brute action. You can be fit in an acceptable way if you carry the scars of your effort proudly, showing that you earned your fitness with effort, not with vile natural ability.

The proud swordsmen are happy to dismiss a victor’s claim with an off-hand “Sure she won, but only because she used her athleticism, her natural advantages. There was no art, though. She might have won, but she didn’t use the science of fencing. She is no fencer, but perhaps she has potential…with many years of training.” At the core of that comment is the tiny remnant of anger from a childhood of being, if not bullied, excluded. Swordplay is Our thing, and should be done our way. We don’t want it to be tainted by jocks, ruined like every other good thing, every other safe harbour we made for ourselves. Jocks ruin things.

It’s good to be an adult. It’s good to be able to look back on bad experiences with fresh eyes. Being excluded and bullied as a child sucked, and I certainly link that to Jocks, and jock behaviour. Team sports are the home of the Jock, and that gung-ho pack mentality is evil…isn’t it? I associated them as a kid, but like so many other beliefs from childhood, it doesn’t hold up. There were bullies that were Jocks, but not all Jocks are bullies. There are one hell of a lot of geeks who are bullies out there. Ask any woman in the tech biz if you want a quick example.

Jocks are great people. Toss the bigotry, and you can find a lot of value in having the stereotypical jock in your class. That team spirit thing that you used to turn your nose up at is invaluable in class. The “jock” who brings that attitude to class can work wonders towards tying everyone together, motivating everyone through the toughest workouts, and just making the school feel more fun. Team spirit is involvement, engagement into the shared experience of what you are going through. Jocks are gold for making a school a place for amazing training experiences.

We had a guy show up to class last night, who while being somewhat the anti-thesis of a Jock, had the benefit of a lifetime of very good strength, balance and movement experience. Very fit guy. Very nice. Great attitude. With no experience in swordplay, we gave a him quick lesson, tossed a mask and gorget on him, and invited him into the fight pit. I like to have new students have a try going full out in sparring as soon as possible, as it gives them easier references for learning…making sure they fight with the right students, of course!

New guy was a joy to watch. Solid natural talent, an ability to dodge and move around just about any attack…he was very hard to hit. Combined with a natural playfulness evident in his movement…he had a lot of advantages starting out that the students had to work very, very hard to overcome. Basically, in a single session he showed ability that most fighters spend years acquiring. Some resentment was to be expected from people who had put in those years…but when I looked at the students, they were all grinning. Cheering the new guy on. They were happy to see him perform well.

Six months ago everyone in class was a geek by inclination, and somewhat by fitness level. Everyone was an experienced martial artist, but had talent that came from technical training, not fitness. Six months ago we started a program to alter us, to awaken the inner athlete. It’s been slow and painful, but the results have been noticeable.

When the new guy showed up, he was a past master of our new way of working out. He had it down pat…but we could all see that what he had was a result of the same work we were doing. His abilities were in a part from his nature, but had been combined with an obvious dedication to craft. A craft we were beginners to, but had invested enough to lay our own claim to. So when he was having a brilliant first night performance, we were all getting a preview of what we could be. It was fairly easy to see what such a person would be like, if they had our technical training on top of their athletic ability.

And that fired up a hunger in everybody. We saw a new thing to aim for. And that’s the other benefit of being an adult. We know the value of hard work. We know that nature isn’t everything. What we are born for doesn’t have to be what we are limited to. We’ve grown past resentment and into wisdom, and we’ve seen that our only real limits are mostly defined by our perceptions. We don’t have to hold on to any structure that we don’t want to. We may not get what we aim for, but we know we get all the advantages earned by every step towards that goal.