What I assume was a crazy women got on the train yesterday. She walked into the doors, Four-foot something of presence, and proceeded to stomp. Stomp like she was knocking snow off of her boots. I first thought that maybe she was just in the habit, after spending a day or two on the ski slopes…but no. She stomped, then turned and faced the doors and took a wide straddle stance. She was a little aging pocket warrior, reading to embrace the bucking train and do battle with it’s bumpy ride.
As the commute went on, she continued to work different stances, and slowly move her arms about in interesting patterns. She bumped me once during a series of what looked liked shotokan-style rising blocks. She gave me a very sweet smile and a polite apology. How can you resist that? I put my headphones on, and queued up some Electro-swing on songza. I relaxed my shoulders and hips, and started to move to the beat while holding on to the grip on my side of the train. Stop after stop, this crazy woman and I, moving to our own independent rhythms. Every once in a while our movements would sync up for a little bit.
The energy on the train was interesting. Crazy usually makes people uptight and paranoid, even when it’s completely harmless. No one wants to risk catching the mind-bugs and losing their tight grip on understanding just how much they hate their lives. They might lose that fragile shell that keeps them separate from everyone else. But no paranoia was evident on this trip. Just the usual fixed faces, but with a hint of desperate smile wanting to come out and being repressed. Like a bunch of children convincing themselves they don’t really want to play on those swings, anyway…
I had to do my little dance with the crazy woman. We were alike, the two of us. Crazy warriors not afraid to step out a little from the public bland. I do it every Monday and Thursday when I get on the train with my swords, and the stares and hushed conversations start. It’s not different than what I faced daily through every moment of school. The little whispers and pressures that say “Hide. Blend. You aren’t one of the blessed ones, you aren’t allowed to be noticed. Let us help you by teaching you shame…”
I lose a thousand students a day to shame. Or the fear of shame, anyway. Students who might look at a sword and think perhaps…that could be them, that could be their art. Except for the burning of the face they can already feel, coming from the thousand things you can do that will turn a glance your way. Walking in a new room, stumbling in a drill when everyone else flies, being weak amongst the strong, being the woman who stomps. Shame kills the little joy that flies up, like the woman at the bar with her friends who drunkenly greets us when we enter with “Are those swords? Do you guys fence? That’s so cool, I want to do that!” and then buries the thought deep down again. She’ll never even let herself feel the thought again, while sober. Unless her friends feel the same thought with her and it becomes okay.
Sure, I feel like that’s a terrible life, and a terrible way to be. But I’m crazy. I don’t belong. My tribe is marked with invisible markings, and we are despised. We don’t belong. We are only allowed to exist because sometimes our craziness saves the day. We’re the mutation that resists the new bug, the ones that discover we don’t actually need the gills anymore. We stomp and dance when we feel like it…maybe because we have become immune to the shame that didn’t succeed in killing us when we were younger. We are a little more free to find out what our true nature is, and become it.
Some of us stomp on the skytrain, some of us hold a simple wooden grip in our hands, and feel our soul extend through our fingers to the smoothly-worn quillon block, and grace the sweeps before reaching all the way down the length of the blade, to where we can finally discover the truth in conflict with a fellow fencer, soul to soul.