Friday, March 11, 2011

Small Town Boy

Everyone is a miracle. Out of the billion or more genetic combinations that you could have been, only one could be you. Each experience, whether an accident or a decision, changed you in some tiny way. Change one factor, one time you got lucky when you didn't deserve it or the light hit something just wrong or just right and... no more you. Someone very like you, maybe.

At the SF seminar I got this sudden wave of...something. I don't know if nostalgia has a separate feel for you. It does for me. Missing something or just reminiscing has an entirely different feel to the thing I equate with nostalgia. This feeling in San Francisco was not quite nostalgia. It seemed like every few minutes I was bringing up a connection to what we were doing that few people could connect with:

"When you skin a deer, right, and you see where the white tendon goes kind of filmy before it blends into muscle..." to describe a way to find pressure points.

"Humans are direct register animals, like cats..." a tracking reference to show how to disguise a certain type of irimi.

"It's like free-solo climbing, you bet your very existence on being able to bring mind and body together..." but with an extra, social component and social resistances in combat.

Okay, I should have expected an audience from SF not to get the skinning reference, but about the sixth timeI brought up a connection, something that had really informed my combative practice and almost no one got it, I felt that nostalgia-like wave. It's not a bad thing, and everyone in that room has experiences of their own and can make their own connections. Many of those connections will be better than mine (if they look to themselves. They've already heard what I had to say.)

When I was eleven, we moved to a town so small that I was salutatorian when I graduated but wasn't in the top ten percent of the class. Bill was the top sixteen percent all by himself.

I was a bookworm, shy, practically a stereotype. Didn't make friends easily and didn't know why I should. I was also the smallest boy in the school. Not in my grade, in the school, and I was until my senior year. I turned seventeen the summer after I graduated. I broke five foot tall and 100 pounds as a senior. I was tiny. (For that matter, I was 5'8" and 154 pounds when I started corrections.

My junior year, the school was in a special place. We could, for the first time in years, have a football team. We had enough possible players to make the state-required nine players to play B-league eight-man football. If I played. Only if I played.

I wasn't a jock. Won't go so far as to say I hated sports, but I hated team sports. As a sixth grader in my old school I'd already been assured a slot on the high school varsity gymnastics team. This new school was way too small for gymnastics. Or wrestling. Or... but we could have a football team for the first time in a long while. If I played.

I was tiny. Couldn't catch or throw and at first I was afraid of getting hurt. Couldn't keep my head in a scrimmage, too much going on and I'd never even watched football so I didn't know what was supposed to be going on. But we had a good coach in Bob Nelson and he set the bar.

I found out I could take a hit and get up and keep going. Found out that if I deliberately picked the biggest guy and slammed him with everything I had I'd get knocked in the dirt but if I did it again...and again...and again eventually he would flinch. And if I could get him to think I was crazy, that I wouldn't give up and find that flinch moment I could knock him down and keep going. Found out that on defense, even guys too big to stop could be misdirected by an elbow upside the helmet. Found out a lot of things hurt and most of the time the pain meant nothing. That the person who was willing to get back up was the toughest. That there was a limit to size and strength but there was no limit to your willingness to pick yourself up and hit the bastard one more time.

Several of the guys we played with and against outweighed me by 250%. I was eighty pounds the first year I played and 220 wasn't big for some of our farm boy seniors. I never got good. Not really good. But in two years with a good coach I could hang in a crowd I had no business being in.

There was other stuff going on, lots of things were miserable at school and at home; playing patty-cake with a rattlesnake; solo climbing and vision questing and long runs through the desert at night (I don't think I was running from or to anything, just running) but two seasons playing football was probably, at least martially, the biggest impact on who I became.

And no where else but such a dinky little school could an eighty-pound, four-foot-eight junior have ever gotten a chance to play varsity football.


Unknown said...

This is a GREAT story and you make a connection I've not made till now.

As an aside, my son didn't get his growth spurt till senior year. He played football in 9th and 10th grade. His nickname was "mouse". More than a few times I watched a coach stop a practice after my son had brushed aside two lineman so he could stick the star halfback (used the 9th and 10th grade team on defense so Varsity could practice offense).

"People,WTF----am I seeing this. Run it again. Same result. Michael is not comfortable with the attention but is loving the hits. He was fearless and enjoyed hitting even when he got crushed.

Same with a freshman we'd go up against the Varsity in blocking-tackling drills. Except for one other guy dudes would change their place in line so they didn't have to go up against the biggest and baddest seniors. We jumped into line. The anticipation, the whistle, the resounding "sticks", the hitting, cussing,seniors threatening to kill us next time up...........something beyond description. It surpasses sex in certain ways. We were allowed to be animals and knock each other unconscious. Too good to be true.

My son and I share it along with other guys.

I never thought about it before but I looking back back then I believed it was a God given gift to go up against anybody. I had a right to go up against anybody. I was in heaven---like it was my territory.

Curious, martial encounters have always felt like my home. The effects of football linger---I don't feel pain like most people. It damaged my brain---smelling salts, out for a play, and back in--from 5th-12th grade. I was never a star---just the guy who hit the hardest.

Thanks Rory---plenty to think about.

I'm glad you got to hit.

JessicaLee said...

Love it Love it. It's funny how a moment in the present will 'send you back'. Whenever someone comments that I need to work on some aspect of myself is usually when it happens for me. My response is "you should have known me when I was in high-school". College for me was the breaking point. I've always referred it to then time when I came out of my first cocoon (which is why I love that reference in your first book.) Sometimes I also look back in regret for the things I didn't do because of fear or insecurity and try to do what I can to rectify that pattern. Time will tell if I've been successful. Anyway, good food for thought as always.

Kasey said...

Great blog.
In 6th grade in Minnesota you switch from flag to tackle football. It was then that my Dad told me if your going to be any good at this some part of you has to enjoy knocking the other guy on his ass. That has stuck with me, and touches on some of the premission issues you talk about.

Josh Kruschke said...

We are the accumulation of all the life experiences of all the people we used to be.

Good stuff as usual,

Anonymous said...


I have played A LOT of underdog football, and relate extremely well to all of these stories. I couldn't catch as a kid either and got relegated to the O-line and linebacker way back in grade school. Its where I stayed ...but by my senior had only grown to 147 lbs. We played against kids who went on to some very big football schools too. However, I had already learned very early that liking the contact was an equalizer. I made hitting and leverage my advantage and did well by that mantra.

Everybody has those door opening breakthrough moments in life Jessica talks about. It’s good to remember. Something full contact like football is so truly physically engaging and mentally taxing (in the sense that it challenges your core personality), that it happens to present plenty of opportunities for those. Thus it will always be one of my most reliable references. That mental conditioning formed many of what I identify as advantages in myself. For instance, often being the last guy standing is only the result of wanting it more and not quitting. In the end everybody quits. That is common. There are some trade offs of course, but it’s very effective to have that kind of drive. Very skilled persons, people with a clear advantage will think twice about how much they really want to be there when you simply raise the bar. You can move past others to where you want to be, to places others can’t decide about.

Later, …slower and in my mid 30’s trying to compete with the young bucks, seeing the play and making decisive quick decisions became huge. Tackling you Rory in the lone shooter scenario reinforced the point. I happened to be in a lucky spot at the moment you walked in. And, thinking we were just playing a guns and robbers game didn't really matter. Two steps into my run across the floor and all I was thinking was "...Now I've stepped in it. If I don't actually lay him out, Rory's gonna’ get up and kick my ass.”. I was just in the right spot at the right time. But, noticing when it is your have a play …seeing it, deciding to take it. Regrets, though we all have versions of those are much harder to find if you can say you did that at the end of every day. Plus, it can be awful fun once you find yourself getting to do what it is you really think you should be.

More common denominators. Thanks Boss.

-Billy G.