Anticipation filled my stomach and tears stung my eyes as I glanced down at the clock in the car.
18 minutes until class...will I make it on time?
As I traced the route back home that I know so well, I felt many trips like this one pass through me. I pull into the parking lot of the warehouse I first entered as a student in 1995. It is near empty. I park in the back, like I always do and walk around the side of the building toward the front door.
I know the cracks in the brick. The squeak of the door. The smell of the locker room.
I slide my frayed gym bag off my shoulder and place it on the painted wooden bench. I slip off my shoes and place my bare feet on the cold vinyl floor. The grit from shoes that passed before me sticks to the bottom of my feet, but it makes me smile.
I peel off my clothes and adjust my knee braces. First the left, then the right. I reach into the bag and pull out my gi, which smells a hint of bleach. The pants glide over my now bulky knees and I cinch the waistband into place. The top is too big. If I don't tie it right, it will pull back and bind by shoulders, so I tie the side strings fast and tight so they won't come undone.
My belt is still stiff and shows the marks from folding it in half, then half again. Even though I haven't tied it on in months, my hands know exactly what to do to create the knot that will sit right at the KI tattoo etched on my stomach.
I inhale. Exhale. Exit the locker room, turn to my left and bow before entering the floor. The bounce and creak of the wood beneath me cause me to well with joy.
This floor holds my sweat, my tears and even pieces of my toes. It also holds an energy that I can find nowhere else.
On this floor and on this patch I have been confident, scared, excited and hurt. It is here that I fought hard through ugliness and anger to find "ME." I learned when to let go, when to fight, what matters and that my body will do amazing things if I push it just right. I have also trained with many amazing people.
My mind flows with my body through class, remembering how good it feels to punch and kick. As the evening winds down and I rei out for the last time. I tell Shihan I can't do anymore - my leg won't let me.
I pause to say goodbye to my friend Seila who I have mirrored for years. She and I still have the same belt rank even as I have come and gone. I tell her this is the last class for me for a while, but I'll be back after I'm healed.
Back in the dressing room I carefully remove the belt, the gi and my braces and pack them into my bag with my yin-yang journal that holds tattered newsletters, photos and many instructions from Shihan.
Leaving the locker room I pull the metal chain attached to the light. Click~click, then darkness. I walk out of the locker room and look at the darkened room that holds my patch and I fight back the tears that make my vision blurry.
Shihan and I talk after class like we often do and as we walk out the door I listen to the deadbolt lock the school and I feel a wave of emptiness as we turn to leave.
"The last time I left here it was because I chose to. Now I am leaving because I have to...and it feels...so..."
Sometimes I look back on my decision to leave Grand Junction and wonder if I made the right choice. This is one of those times. It is my dojo and the people surrounding it that make me second guess my decision to leave because this is what makes me whole. Now, as I face the hip surgery that will force me to give up training for up to two years, I know Salt Lake holds the tools I need to get my body where it needs to be when I have the opportunity to return.
But at the same time, I wonder how I will come back...
John Roseberry Hanshi once told me, "Never stop training."
I'm repeating these words over and over. I need my leg to heal so I can continue my physical journey - but now I must focus my energy on the mental journey that lies ahead.