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It’s funny how life decides to challenge you.

I wrote here last week about my reaction to my father’s impending death.  Five days ago, life decided to throw me a curve ball.

Just after 8 Friday morning a man came after me, possibly wanting to kill me.  He was armed with several weapons, including a K-Bar military knife. It’s not clear exactly what his intentions were because I wasn’t where he thought I was, and by the time I was aware anything had happened he was already in the custody of the police, who had to take him down with guns and Tasers drawn.    I think there’s a decent chance that if he had guessed right I might not be here writing this post.

I had already been thinking about my own mortality because of my father’s dying- but I had no idea when I left for work Friday morning how close I was to leaving my kids without a father.  Strangely (or perhaps not), I found I didn’t fear death at all.  What I did fear was the devastation my death would bring to my children, whose future depends on me being here.  Dealing with the possibility of violence is an occupational hazard for me (and this is not the first time I’ve faced a wanna-be assassin), but it really sunk in in a powerful way that this was for real- that somebody who maybe did too many drugs might one day ruin my kids’ lives by sticking a K-Bar through my chest.

Not without a fight.  I am an avowed pacifist.  I quietly brushed off all the suggestions to get a concealed-carry permit (which would do me no good at work anyway, since of course I could not carry a weapon in the building).  Yet, I suddenly felt that I could not use pacifism and ahimsa to allow me to be a sitting duck the next time.  I would not wish my attacker any harm (I actually pity the guy who came after me), but that doesn’t mean I have to let him run me through, even if I were perfectly able to do so without blinking. 

Monday I started training in an aikido dojo.  The great thing about aikido- the real challenge of it- is that aikido is about using the energy of an attack against you and neutralizing it, without harm to wither the attacker or defender.  The last thing I needed was to take on something else! but I have to be able to do something if I am ever faced with this situation again and need to defend myself.

I am no stranger to the mental and emotional discipline of martial arts.  I’ve done this type of meditation work for years and am well comfortable with the concept of no-mind (mu-shin in Japanese, wu-wei in Chinese: it’s the feeling you have when you are so comfortable at an activity that you just disappear into it and do it effortlessly and naturally, without thinking)- but I have not done the physical discipline of martial arts before.  Heck, I just got back in the gym this summer.  (Doing well with it, by the way- down about 10 lbs and feel a heck of a lot stronger).  I was pleasantly surprised last night at the orchestra’s first rehearsal that I was able to play with no-mind despite laying off all summer to rest a thumb injury caused by bad technique.  It flowed effortlessly and freely, without any conscious thought about technique, position, etc.  It just played- a far cry from the night before with me stumbling and staring stupidly around the dojo.

I’ll confess right here- I find it tough.  It’s strange for a musician, but I am not a good kinesthetic learner.  I have trained myself to be able to learn fine motor skills (such as playing the bass), but I’m a tough learner with gross motor skills because I’ve never really done it.  (Sadly, I could never learn to dance.  I’d just get too confused, like a kinesthetic dyslexia.  Which foot do I move?  Left?  No, right?  Do I move forward or backward?  Where does my weight go? etc.  It’s why I am a terrible dancer.).  It’s the same with aikido.  So far it’s slow going for me to pick up a form- sensei and my sparring partner, who is also a black belt, have been very patient with me- but once I got it I got it.  I’m sore as hell, using muscles I haven’t in years.  I’m exhausted.

And yet I feel stronger- and younger.   I felt like an old man last week.  This week I’m rolling into somersaults like a kid as I get thrown to the floor.  I think I owe that guy some thanks- so long as he accepts it without any weapons, or else he’s going to end up down on the ground!