"Bow to each other." Hands in front position, and we bow: his eyes lowered to the ground in proper deference, mine up, scanning the room, bright and alert and wary. Always wary. "Bow to your corners." The ritual is repeated, our respect given to the two judges on opposite sides of the mat, waiting for blows to fall. "Get on guard." Hands up by my face, loosely clenched, flexing, as I give my opponent a final once-over. Three hundred pounds. Ex-Army. Fists like hammers, body like a tank. Center solid. Eyes close and narrow, taking me in as carefully as I am him, betraying no hint of intent. He and I, each predator and prey, ready to play. Ready to kill. "GO!"
I have been studying karate for ten years, and in that time I have not found a single activity better suited to the cathartic release of energy than sparring. No place on Earth thus far has made me feel more alive than the ring. It is a place of both severing duality and reverberating emptiness, a place made vibrant and volatile by the circling and leaping and kicking and punching of adversaries: eyes locked, lips drawn back in panting breaths and savage snarls, hearts pounding to a single rhythm, a single pulse, a single fire. The fire of focus. The fire of violence. The fire of grace. The fire of life and death intertwined, becoming one as hands strong and skilled enough to kill lash out, primal energy burning through their tendons and veins from first cock to the eve of contact stopping just shy of its critical point-!
And then. Silence. The silence of victory, or of defeat, it doesn't matter which. Nothing matters inside the ring. No thoughts, no worries, no politics, no hesitations, no fears. Only contact, connection. Visceral energy, the most animal and artful of sensations running rampant in a place where even sensation is nothing but a dream.
Now, theoretically, I could go on talking about karate for the remainder of my time with you lot, but, contrary to your carefully-set-up expectations, I'm not going to do that. I very deliberately gave you that arse-long introduction, just so I could turn around and say "but hey, guess what? That wasn't actually my focus at all!" Call it lying if you like, but I prefer to think of it as...veiled intent. ...Honestly, I hope at least some of you were expecting that. This is university, after all, and a very specific area of it at that. Liberal arts, theater and humanities, artsy-fartsy bullshit, whatever you want to call it. Misdirection abounds, emotion is taken as gospel truth. Themes that are obscure and wrapped in an analogy of an allegory presenting itself as an existential riddle without an answer are the highest forms of art. Point is, I really can't stand up here for ten minutes or...however long I can drag this out before being told to sit down and shut up...just talking about one thing. That would be too obvious, too easy, too plain: in a word, boring. Especially if that "thing" is a concrete, aggressive expression of physicality rather than a deeply personal, emotive piece rife with inner angst, or some abstract, vague, polemic political commentary. Obviously the latter two types of pieces have more meaning to them, right? More sociopolitical relevance? Or some equally asinine facsimile of value? Because no art piece can really be praised for its realistic portrayal of life-blood-sweat-tears statistics, or its adherence to logic and reason and other...ah...what do the feminist types call them? Right, patriarchal constructs. Silly, silly little things. Conveying all the wrong messages. Who really needs those in the emotional sphere of drama and art?
I'm being sarcastic right now, if the carefully contrived expression of unamused bemusement on my face didn't tell you as much. I couldn't care less whether a piece of art has any sort of greater societal impact or not- well, no, that's a lie. Sorry. My survival instinct is speaking for me; it can sense the lynch mob forming at the door. What I meant to say was that I really don't see the point of this strange trend informing modern art, that seems to make it imperative for all pieces of art ever made to carry some "poignant" political message. By "poignant," of course, I mean "compatible with a radical progressive agenda..." and by "progressive" I mean progressive left- but to say any more might be suicide. I've heard quite a few horror stories regarding the systemic silencing of conservative viewpoints in liberal-leaning university settings, and I'm rather invested in keeping both my head and my place at this institution. ...Well. The cynic in me is going a bit bonkers, telling me that I'm being ridiculously (though not uncharacteristically) paranoid. There's no way that so many people will be so horribly offended by the pretentiously eloquent ramblings of an irritatingly irreverent freshman that they'll want to up and murder her, he tells me. Not a snowball's chance in Hell of that, foolish chit. Stop vilifying your intellectual opponents. Or if you want to do it, take it all the way and spare them neither profanity nor vitriol in the doing. But hey, d'you know what? I'm a coward. There, I said it. Bloody coward, me. Written on an index card on my forehead in indelible marker because...well, I really am that stupid. Point is, I've said enough, and really, I'm not the sort of militant person who enjoys going around deliberately provoking and antagonizing people to prove some nebulous, dubiously-backed point. Hard to believe, yes, I know. Still, since I'm not ordinarily that sort of fellow, I think it best, at this point, to simply...keep silent.
I'm rather good at that: keeping silent. Verbally silent, ideologically silent, et cetera. Maybe I can write a blue streak, filling pages upon pages with senseless, wide-ranging, sesquipedalian prattle, but when it comes to actually speaking...I'll none of that, thanks. The spoken word has immense finality, immense power, and I prefer to leave those burdens to be borne by those better equipped than I to do said bearing. Those with more confidence. Those with louder voices. Those with more radical views, more emotionally taxed psyches, more widely accepted ideologies. In a word, those with more.
I look around this room and immediately find myself cowed. Like, sweaty palms, ant under a magnifying glass, holy-fuck-everyone-is-looking-at-me-and-thinks-I'm-a-blathering-idiot sort of cowed. I think to myself, like a small child gearing up for a playground fight he knows he can never win because he was an idiot who never studied martial arts, "those with more? More, as in, everything aforementioned, that sort of more? Isn't that...oh, I don't know...everyone else here?" ...Well, perhaps not. Logically speaking, of course, I'm merely adopting the fear-driven mindset of that child, blowing the tragic and sociopolitical prevalence of people's experiences ever so slightly out of proportion the way he makes his bullies out to be monsters instead of men. I know this. Nevertheless, that knee-jerk reaction, that fear- of inadequacy, of lack of depth, of ridicule, of hostile opposition- is there, always there. That child, with his devilish tormentors and his faulty system of appraisal? If he knew what was good for him he'd cut his losses and move away, disengage- back down and blend into the shadows where scrutiny cannot reach. He would retreat, back into the silence, where he will be unnoticed. Where he will be safe.
Do I have that security? That safety? Have I convinced anyone that I am more than a voice of dissent, a face of opposition, a soul of strife? Is there some sympathy to be found in an honest admission of fear? Or have I merely dug myself deeper into my own grave, by virtue of being honest? Hey, someone had to do it. Someone had to play Devil's advocate. And no, I have no illusions regarding the impact of my words, or lack thereof- I know I probably didn't move any of you to consider the validity of an alternate mode of thought. That's what purposeful vagueness is for. And hey, maybe I wasn't trying to make any sort of point. Maybe I got onto this soapbox for nothing more than the displeasure of hearing my own voice. Ever thought of that? That any statement seemingly running rampant with politicism might well be as thin of substance as the air, and more inconstant than the wind, who woos even now the frozen bosom of the North? We right now are in a sparring ring of ideologies- you with your liberalism and feminism and whatever other identity-driven 'ism' exists, and me with my middle-of-the-road, overly logic-dependent conservatism- and I hope you at least remember what I said about that. Even sensation is nothing but a dream. My words, and yes, your words, mean nothing in the end. They're just words. Empty little things. You might do well to consider that before you set out to crucify me for speaking them, even after I promised not to. Just a thought.