Enjoying the Ride
this is how I roll
I don’t remember a lot about my time growing up in China, but the few memories I have today are incredibly vivid. I knew that I had a turtle growing up, and that I was really good at Tetris. I remember hating dance class (honestly, probably where most of my mobility and hip issues stem from is the irresponsible stretching tactics of the instructors). I remember going to the People’s Park and getting a giant, homemade “sugar-painted” dragon.
But most of all, I remember many trips taken on the back of my mom’s bicycle as she took me to school and elsewhere. In the early 1990s of Communist China, there weren’t a lot of cars. There were, however, lots and lots of bicycles. To get a sense of the volume of bicycles, think Japan’s Shibuya Crossing, but replace the pedestrians with cyclists.
Contrary to the souped up bikes that I see now on the streets of DC, the fancy ones that somehow go faster than me uphill (with 2! kids in the back eating fruit snacks), I remember that the bikes in China were probably generously described as metal-framed two-wheel seats. My mom told me that she would often ride with one hand behind her, to protect me from falling, because there was no security device otherwise. When it rained, I would sit behind her, inside her poncho and balance precariously in the downpour. There were no fruit snacks.
Nowadays, my biking trips are different, but some things still remain. I have a poncho (that I admittedly don’t wear enough). I have biked in the rain, a lot (like, basically yesterday). I still don’t carry fruit snacks.
Yet, my fondness for biking remains. You know how sometimes there are people who will just go for a drive, just to enjoy driving around? That is the way I am with bikes. I still love coasting down DC streets, even though DC streets are probably one of the worst places to bike. My memories of getting around on a bike will always be mixed with romantic memories of getting lamb skewers from a streetside vendor as a bribe to attend dance class, listening to the squeaking of hundreds of bicycles chains on my way to school, and absorbing the still largely-rural landscape of developing China.
I’ve written about various forms of transportation before on this blog, and, in variations on a theme, discussed how they are largely metaphors on the journey in jiu jitsu and in my life. It’s when I’m in physical motion that I feel that I begin to shift internally as well — it’s as if moving my body helps me understand that I am capable of forming new shapes and perspectives depending on the choices that I make.
The worst emotion that I have been grappling with recently is the feeling of being trapped. My therapist tells me that I can learn to advocate for myself and constantly reminds me that I have options. Perhaps that’s the reason why I loved (and still love) bike rides. Despite the hazards and close-calls that I’ve encountered — not to mention three flat tires in three weeks — I cherish my time spent on a bike. I feel free on a bike.
On a bike, I am neither here nor there but going somewhere.
I try to remember this same feeling of freedom whenever I feel stuck. It can be in jiu jitsu, but it can be in creative writing, or work, or relationships. What I try to remind myself is that I can always find a way around an obstacle, or I can ride out the bumpy path, or that I can persist up a steep hill. I try to remind myself to breathe and stay calm whenever someone or something tries to step in my way; to enjoy the scenes and spaces I pass through while keeping my eyes on the road ahead.
And, in many ways, learning how to ride a bike for the first time (and then re-learning how in a city environment) is a lesson in humility and failure. You can’t go fast; there’s a five-year-old who has better expertise; somehow there are a lot of potholes. And you fall, a lot. You learn the balancing act from being unbalanced. You get scars.
As cheesy as these comparisons are, they are also real experiences that I’ve had and learned from. People always talk about how they take lessons from jiu jitsu and apply them to the other parts of life, but I’ve never really been interested in that as much as how I can take life and bring that to jiu jitsu. I don’t want jiu jitsu to become an identity in which I feel boxed in and stuck. Instead, I keep moving and exploring different parts of the world, and when I happen to find myself in the gym, it isn’t something separate, but instead another piece of living and being, of coming and going.