For the last nine months of pandemic lockdown, a lot of us have been on an enforced holiday from our prior life. We’ve lost our old routines and traditions. And we’re just now figuring out the new ones.
A delightful new routine for me is that I meet in the park Wednesday mornings with two of my friends, Hao and Martha, to do socially-distanced Aikido weapons practice in masks.
It’s basically three buddies meeting in the park to play with sticks and laugh a bunch.
From its Japanese origins, there’s a formalism and etiquette to an Aikido class (“Hai, Sensei!”) but our Wednesday morning sessions aren’t like that. We’re the grownup version of the kids who stayed after school to screw around some more with what we just learned because it’s so cool.
Pictured: Joy Reichart, Sensei and author Mike Jung
Photography Dave Philhower
We go over what we learned in our Sunday outdoor social-distanced-and-masked weapons class from the dojo where we study, Aikido Shusekai, and then do various form practice katas or trade off with two-person or three person practice drills.
Our sessions are about 80% Aikido, 20% improv comedy, and 100% hanging out with friends and having a great excuse for it. At the end we sometimes exchange books or talk about T.V. or tease Hao about how much he mentions that he liked Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies. (Martha is currently trying to get him to branch out to other martial arts movies with attractive female leads, like 1993’s Chinese The Heroic Trio.)
Hao teaches Tai Chi and has a background with Chinese sword. He’s great with flow, and there’s a practiced economy to his movement. Martha is from what she describes as a “circus family” and has a classical ballet dance background, where they always made her do the male parts because she was so strong. She leans into the enthusiastic. My background is fencing, various impact sports, and some PTSD that periodically turns exercise into a survival situation in my reptile brain.
It’s fair to say we’ve got three different styles.
In this pandemic we’re also all a little bit in mourning still for what we’ve lost: I miss indoor classes, the physical conditioning and dance of hand-to-hand Aikido, the rolls on the mat, the absolute effortless magic of it when I’m an attacker and one of the black belts uses a sumi otoshi throw. (Honestly, while parts of Aikido are footwork and physics, some seems more like soft-touch sorcery.)
Nick Walker, Sensei
Pre-pandemic photography Azzia Walker
If we all survive this epidemic (Hao and I are in our 60s, and I have bad lungs) it will be such a joy one day to go back to indoor, hand-to-hand classes.
Pre-pandemic photography by Azzia Walker
In the meantime, though, we’re doing what we can to keep part of our skills, and along the way, we’ve created something new and different. Two Sundays ago, it was drizzling rain, so Hao missed our Sunday class with Aikido Shusekai. Martha and decided that we’d tell him that Sensei had shared with us a secret new technique she’d called the “Uma kata” and that we’d show it to Hao if we didn’t forget it by Wednesday.
This set off days of text exchanges including the Limerick:
An Aikidoka once was somewhat partial
To an actress in films rather martial
So two of his friends
Said, “Ooh we’ll tell him
Of her secret moves rather artful.”
Fun was had. As I write this, a week later, there’s another flurry of texts. Perhaps inspired by The Heroic Trio, Hao is offering to show us Chinese sword katas, Martha is offering to fill in the missing gaps of our knowledge about martial arts films with women, and somehow in the process they have cast me as Wonder Woman in any film featuring the three of us.
As with so much of life, I have no idea what’s going on. But I’ll be there Wednesday and just go with it.
As you get older, it’s harder to make new friends. But it is possible, and when it happens it’s especially delightful because you appreciate it more.
Pre-pandemic photography by Azzia Walker
And that’s where we are, now, in lockdown during this pandemic. On holiday from our prior practices and routines, we’re growing something new and different. As with other holidays, my friends, the ones we make these days should have some bright and unforgettable moments of new joy.
Wishing you all happy holidays and a better year ahead, and wherever you go, may you find the magic of friendship.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and an off-kilter sensibility, including a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 57 percent of his soul.
When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing—and, let’s face it, there’s less of that now—he’s on Twitter: @deangloster