True confession: I was raised by ninja. I don’t know if that should be “a ninja” because I am referring to one person. What’s the correct usage of the word ninja? Anyway, I digress. This person could melt into shadows, traverse our home with nary a whisper of movement, displayed an uncanny ability to keep track of all ten entrusted charges, arose before the sun to tailor daily rations for each individual, and plan and execute the day’s training.
Some days our lesson was in spatial relationship, otherwise known as rearranging the furniture. This usually involved one room, but on a few occasions ALL rooms were emptied into the common living area and then reassembled according to certain specifications known only to our Sensei. Spatial relationship exercises were a favorite of our mentor who seemed particularly interested in the different ways we could invent to get particular pieces of furniture through the narrow doorways.
Other days were spent in survival mode. After breaking fast, we were released from the compound with a warning to remain away until called for the noon meal after which we’d be again banned from the compound. Being one of the youngest pupils, I strove to emulate the older more experienced students. On these days, I learned to quench my thirst from the spigot at the park without letting my lips ever come into contact with the pipe; this became immediately mundane when I was shown a path to a stream in which flowed icy cold clear water. Snacks were readily available for the taking. I was led to a grove of guava trees and shown how to bite into the outer layer to reveal the soft pink insides pitted with seeds. Li Chi trees were also abundant. Their prickly fruit yielding a soft, sweet white gelatin-like mouthful containing a seed that fit perfectly in your mouth; and with enough force of air from your lungs could take out a target at three yards. As I increased my skill set the older students brought me along on their wanderings. They showed me mango trees in which they had built forts. The juicy mangoes were frequently harvested and brought back to the compound, so our mentor could school us in the art of cutting and serving turtlebacks.
On one day, much later in my training, I was shown passion fruit vines. The vines were in flower and there were a couple of fruits visible. As I reached for a fruit, one of the older students reprimanded me because the fruit was not yet ready. On this day our exercise involved dirt bikes: we were to master the art of riding. Lessons started out with each of the smaller students riding behind an older one. We were schooled in balance and counter-balance, and how to not let our calves touch the hot engine parts below. Next, we were taught the mechanics of shifting gears, accelerating using the gas, setting the brakes, and finally starting the bike. Since I was the only one of the younger students who was tall enough to sit astride a bike and touch the ground (barely) I was allowed to take a spin around the track by myself. First, after the instructor ascertained that I could not, in fact, start the engine myself, he started it for me and sent me on my way. I made it twice around the track when I was signaled to slow down and come in. The diminished speed of the machine caused me to wobble alarmingly and because I couldn’t really touch the ground I hopped off the bike and found to my horror that I couldn’t support the weight of it and had to let it fall to the ground in a puff of dust. To my surprise, the instructor didn’t scold or even speak to me. I suffered quietly through my shame that night, especially since all the younger students refused to ride after my “dumping” debacle. Our Sensei had heard of the day’s lesson and came to sit quietly with me. I sat still in the comforting silence until I remembered the beautiful passion flowers. Sensei allowed me to share my short tale of the vine with the half-ripened fruit, and promised that we would return to harvest them in a few days.
As our stamina increased, our range to wander increased. Some days we’d wander far enough to harvest one or two pineapples to bring back to the compound. Other days it was wild orchids.
My favorite lesson was the one on disappearing. We had many neighbors there. Some of them very bothersome. On such occasions when an uninvited neighbor came calling, Sensei would give us the signal to hide. We all became very adept at becoming one with the couch or crouching behind a potted plant. The most bothersome neighbors would spend long minutes peering in through the windows, and leave only when satisfied that so many people could not have vanished into thin air. We all eventually became so skilled at blending with the shadows that Hide-and-Seek was a game we could play all day long within the confines of our little compound.
Our lessons were eventually tailored to each individual. There were lessons in mechanics, carpentry, weaponry, martial arts, plumbing, cooking, dancing, singing, musical instruments, electricity, fashion, and eventually computers and the pascal code. It amazes me that one individual could be responsible for so much learning in others. Now, as Sensei in my own little compound, I hope I can deliver education to my only two students with as much grace as my mother displayed. Happy Mother’s Day!