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The practice is not about eastern philosophical mumbo-jumbo or moral education, yet both happen. The practice is about combat. When I practiced with the old men, no confusion or internal argument clouded their actions. These compassionate and loving men would destroy in an instant.

Here was the example experienced. Avoid combat, but once joined, someone dies. If your partner in this dance disengages or can no longer dance, then combat avoided. But, while joined, the roles were set; they were the killers and their partners were dying. I don’t mean that they hurt me during practice, unless I misstepped, which I did often enough. Their relentless motiveless actions, falling like sea waves and not engendered by fear or selfishness, came from nothing.

Disparity of skill wasn’t the issue; they had no purchase onto which I could grasp. Like the pristine note of a violin sounding in a bell jar, their response would transfix me. As if my death had been destined, I could not escape, and I knew that if they perished in the process we would leave no hole in the world.

They taught me that fearing loss and the attendant debate clouds action. By the time I graduated from high school, I had seen what everyone thought was mysterious and should be feared most. I had learned that suicide is superfluous and a quiet mind allows better decisions. This was a good lesson for an abnormal kid, one that let me look anyone in the eye.


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