I’ve never liked churches. That’s not true—I actually like empty churches—but the ones full of people tend to have surprising and oft unpleasant effects on me. For example, I once went to a church service lead by a guest speaker who painted angels and spoke of forgiveness. I sat in the back row, probably dressed all in black, and cried through the whole thing: I felt like she had read my mind and decided to tear down my emotional defenses in order to do some repairs on my heart. Remember now, I’m a skeptic—I don’t pretend to know about angels and I don’t know what was going on in the back row that day, but I swear on a stack of dictionaries it was powerful. And unpleasant.
The closest thing I have to religion is martial arts. The study of them, jujitsu in particular, is sacred to me. I started young; I was uncoordinated and scared and thought Chuck Norris movies were unrivaled masterpieces. In my eight-year-old mind there existed no cooler entities than the Hollywood ninja. I wanted very much to be a ninja (I’ve also wanted to be a shaman, a vampire, and a cult leader—that’s why I finally settled on writer). I even lied about studying martial arts until I was at last able to take classes.
Hard practice with people who became my family slowly beat enough awareness in me that I realized becoming a badass was the goal of training like jumping down a well is the goal of getting a drink of water. Daily hard training as a teenager helped me deal with depression and rage in constructive ways. I learned to be compassionate, to be polite, and to never, ever give up. I learned that intention has weight in the physical world. I learned the importance of love—even for myself.
The other night we were practicing Maki Komi—a basic throw using the arm while dropping to one knee in a spiraling motion. Throw after throw, impact after impact exorcised the demons of anxiety and preoccupation from me until, for a moment, I was empty and at complete peace. I’m not going to waste words trying to explain the unexplainable, but it was as sacred a moment as any in church. Outside it was raining hard, and then the power cut out. Even though we finished the class in the dark, everything was clearly illuminated for me.