I have always been the kind of person who has within himself a kind of interior dialog, a sense of riding around in my head about an inch behind my eyeballs. I have always had a sense of myself as an observer of my own life. Though Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, this is kind of self-referential detachment is not without a price.There have been few moments experiencing that life when that sense of detachment wasn’t there. Seeing the sun setting behind the Olympics, sitting on the grass at the Hollywood Bowl listening to Barry Tuckwell perform a Mozart concerto, or even lying in the arms of a beautiful woman, The Observer was recording, commenting, assessing. The Observer didn’t always use words, but his knowing presence was there all the same:
So, this is what the John Donne meant in that couplet! I wonder if I’ll ever see a green flash. How much better this sounds than the studio sessions!
Last Saturday morning I completed my first test in Aikido, the test for Go-kyu, or fifth rank. I have been preparing for this test since I began taking the training six months ago, and preparing in earnest when I was informed by my sensei that I would be testing over a month ago.
For three or four times a week for the last six weeks, I have been on the mat, training for this test. I selected my test partner and worked on the six required techniques again and again. I became like Sugiyama-san in Shall We Dansu?, stepping through the footwork as I waited at the bus stop.
So Saturday came as a kind of release, the culmination of my work. I was rested, alert, and mentally prepared. We began the class, sitting seiza. Pierce Sensei called two other students to test before me. I watched their testing with a critical eye, but I was stepping through each technique with them, feeling the movements as I sat there.
Then Pierce Sensei called me. I bowed and thanked him; I then stepped to face my testing partner and bowed. We approached Pierce Sensei and bowed, then stood and bowed to each other on the mat. (In Aikido, when in doubt, bow.)
And that’s when the Observer lost it. The Observer was so shaken that he couldn’t think of a single technique’s name, much less how any technique went. My mouth told my partner, “Shomen-uchi irimi-nagi,” (an overhead strike countered by an entering turn and throw). The Observer was dumbstruck. He had worked so hard on driving the rest of the mind and body on this technique, reminding them to step behind the opponent, finish the throw with a vertical circular movement and a hip twist to arrive at sword stance. And now the rest of me was just going ahead and doing it without letting The Observer steer the car.
After the first technique, The Observer tried to exert his control. “Ok, ok. That was good, that will do. Let’s move on to the next technique…What’s the next technique???” The Observer had no idea what was next. “Just give me a minute! Just give me a minute!”
The mind and body spoke again, “Shomen-uchi ikkio.” My partner stepped in with the attack and again, the mind and body countered, side-stepping the blow, catching the hand and turning the attacker’s strike back onto himself, displacing the attacker’s center.
By this time The Observer had completely lost it, breaking down to a yammering babble, “Wait a second! Wait a second!”
Later that day I realized that I had completely lost “presence of mind.” My Observer had completely lost control of the situation. It wasn’t pleasant. For several hours I was really unable to recall anything but isolated flashes of what had happened during my test. I felt that I had done poorly, though observers said that I had done well.
Later when I told Mrs. Islander what I had experienced, she fell on the floor laughing. She immediately called up the Older Daughter and stuck the phone in my hand. “Tell her what you told me.”
I’m happy that I provide such entertainment for my family.
I guess in Freudian terms my Ego had supplanted my Superego. In Transactional Analysis, my Adult had taken over from my Parent. In Jungian terms, who knows? Perhaps the Warrior had supplanted the Sage.
I dunno. I’ve been told that the Go-kyu test is the most difficult, because it is the first. I guess I’ll find out when I receive my next invitation to test. For right now, I'm giving the Observer a break.