a bull in a china shop - by martine baruch

That’s what my behavior was when I first began cleaning sensei’s office - but rightfully so! Anyone who enters his office can agree that there is some serious energy contained in that small room - an energy that both comforted and intimidated me. As I began to pick up and dust the many items, I came to a horrifying realization: everything was precious and delicate and fragile and important. I found myself shaking when I had to pick up an inscripted zippo lighter and after I dusted off a couple of seashells I placed them back down as if they were fine china. Two hours later I had finally finished cleaning the office. For the next few weeks I cleaned the office in frustrated discomfort which I narrowed down to two reasons: A) It was taking me too long to clean the office and B) I had mentally exhausted myself an hour into each session. By the fourth week, my feelings of deep frustration finally got to me and as I was gently placing one of sensei’s fountain pens back on his desk I spoke two reckless but important words to myself, “screw this.” With a quicker and less thoughtful movement I placed the pen down on the desk… but the pen didn’t break in half. Neither did the table. Noting the change in myself I moved through the office picking and placing objects with greater ease. I had dicovered that these objects, though important to me in a very truthful sense, were just objects. And they all had specific individual strength. A strength that could only be broken if I came at them with true recklessness or malice.

This discovery quickly transferred to my aikido. When I began my aikido practice, I was scared of hurting my partner. I was scared of giving them my full spirit. But then again I was also reckless in movement. My waza was careless. Through my office experience I learned that I can only hurt someone if I ignore the way they move. An arm only breaks when it can no longer bend. I could still give my full spirit, but I need to listen to what they’re giving me. 

In acting, in my career, I am constantly told that true actors get their performance off the other person. The truthful response comes from how I relate to my partner; not some idea that I have about my partner. If I go into the scene with the idea that my partner is fragile or I am always too mean to them, I will miss the truth about how they actually feel about me or the situation and I will break the connection between us. The reality and truth will break.

My sister moved in with me a few months back. She is 19 years old and when she first moved in she was in a rough mental state. I knew her mind was fragile and weak, but I also knew that if I had to be hard on her and push her she could take it. I trusted our relationship and I trusted her own strength. I was hard on her. I reprimanded her when she was being selfish and when she needed a swift kick in the ass, I was there to give it to her. And I was right- she was strong enough to take it. 

The real technique in cleaning and aikido and acting and relationships and cooking and fishing and everything else in life is very simple: Look, listen, feel, find the truth in what’s in front of you… and then act.

Being a bull in a china shop is a very real feeling, but it only comes from ignoring your situation in favor of whatever anxiety lives within you.