Today was the first day of the new season of the children's program for which I have coached for many, many years. Despite a brutal work schedule, I woke up after two and a half hours of sleep and traveled down to midtown Manhattan from the 238th St station in the Bronx on the 7th Avenue local, the "1" train. I always feel a bit amused when I travel down with my gym bag, like someone who's privy to a secret knowledge that most people aren't in on. I can't find the post now, but I chuckled when I read an article by a guy who participates in Historical European Martial Arts, who wrote about seeing other fighters on the subway, men and women with big gym bags and visible bruises- fencers, kung fu practitioners and the like- and feeling a kinship. For the record, a young lady exited at the same station I did, bearing a large bag which looked like it carried several fencing weapons. Yup, part of the secret society of fighters...
I also had another secret, I was bringing a 16oz bottle, originally filled with Snapple diet iced tea (I don't usually buy this, I wanted the bottle), full of homemade limoncello with me to give to my old friend Frankiebello. Somewhere around 116th St, I stopped telling myself, "You're carrying enough booze to get everybody in the car drunk." Yeah, sometimes a couple of secrets are good to harbor for a short time.
When I got to my destination, the kids were just lining up in their age groups, so I had time to shoot the breeze with my fellow coaches, most of whom I have known for a long, long time. I gave the bottle of booze to Frankiebello, who didn't immediately realize what it was. He gave me a quizzical look and joked, "So this is where our relationship has come to, you are giving me a bottle of diet Snapple?" When it dawned on him what I'd given him, he quipped, "Should I drink some of this before class?" I assured him that I never consider gifts to have strings attached, and that the bottle and its contents were his without any conditions.
The orientation went quickly, so we had an unexpected class of boys six-to-eight. There's usually four to six of us in the dojo, so we can accommodate unexpected groups if there's a problem in another area. We had one scheduled class, but what a doozy it was- over forty six-to-eight year old girls. There were five coaches on the mat this morning, so we split the group up into manageable groups and taught them ukemi, something which has been on my mind ever since my co-worker broke his arm in a fall. After a bit of grounding in falling techniques, I threw them all using tai otoshi, which is just scary enough to be exciting for the kids, who love to go flying as long as the landing is soft. I then taught my sub-group the basic grips, then went over the classic o soto gari, which is typically the first throw students learn. After the instruction session, we had the girls play randori with us. The key to playing randori with a bunch of grade-school kids is to balance throwing them with letting them throw you- you want them to get acclimated to falling, while building up their confidence so that they want to play. I still love it every time I look across the mat to see a tiny little pixie with a look on her face which says, "Yeah, I can take that guy..." The class was a lot of fun, but we had a hectic time organizing all of those kids- our athletic director assured us that they would split up the group into more manageable sized groups. Our student body is skewed young- if we do our job well, the older kids will get involved with school sports.
After class, I had to head to one worksite to help with the tail end of one of our fundraisers- basically making sure the property is vacated and the site is locked up. In a few hours, I'll be heading to another site to do the closing honors for another fundraiser. I left the house before 8AM today, knowing that I'd not be returning for almost twenty-four hours. I always joke with the upstairs neighbors that, this time of year, I am the ghost who haunts downstairs. As tired as I am, I have to say that I am perhaps the happiest ghost on the planet.