I am happier right now, at this stage in my life, than I’ve ever been. I don’t have a lot of money, or possessions, or friends. My body is getting old and it hurts to sleep more than 5 hours a night, but I’ve never felt so at peace with myself. I’ve never been so in love with the world. I guess you could say I found religion, or that religion found me. I’m going to try to explain this phenomenon, but in order to do so, I need to go way back into my past and talk about The Dojo.
I spent much of my childhood and adolescence living in a Jujitsu school and religious commune currently named Bushidokan Martial Arts School. That wasn’t always its name, however, and I always just think of it as: The Dojo. The Dojo was a strange and magical place to be a kid, and not just due to the amazing physical feats and spiritual teachings in the classes. The land and buildings and objects there all had — and I assume still have — a strangely mystical significance.
I say, “strangely” mystical, because The Dojo isn’t what most people would picture when they think of a religious commune and martial arts school. Well, some of it is exactly what you’d expect: sliding doors, tatami and rice paper walls, and a statue of Buddha in the rock garden. The rest of the property, however, is an organic evolution of architecture and humanity that leaves the non-school part of the grounds looking like a cluttered Escher painting.
Over the years, students have built dozens of oddly shaped rooms in every conceivable free space in The Dojo and the three surrounding properties. They’ve built rooms with trapdoor and ladder access, low, slanted ceilings, and bed shelfs in the attics. They’ve built rooms in the basement of the main house, including an odd little hidey-hole bedroom with a door that had been jackhammered through the foundation itself. They’ve refurbished the busses on the property as homes and connected them to the other buildings with porches and awnings. Even though the entire property is just three houses and a duplex, newcomers commonly get lost.
The students who came to live at The Dojo, also built storage areas anyplace too small to put a bed, such as under the stairs, or beneath the porches. In the halls of the main house, they built big benches with hinged lid/seats and packed them full of whatever belongings they thought would be useful during their time living at The Dojo. Often, when they moved out, they left those things behind, and I would investigate them like an archeologist puzzling over artifacts of a lost race. The best thing I ever found was a cardboard box of books stuffed between ceiling joists in the back of the attic, where there were no floorboards and nothing between me and the (probably poisonous) insulation. I don’t remember everything in the box, but I remember The Anarchists Cookbook; The Confessions of Aleister Crowley; Supernature, by Lyall Watson; and a book called Ninja Mind Control Techniques. I read them all like they were sacred tomes passed down by some long-gone, freaky master of the bizarre.
But I’ve only described all this about The Dojo, so that you’ll understand the Secret House dream. See, I’ve lived at The Dojo four different times throughout my life, and all four times I’ve had a very specific, reoccurring dream. In the Secret House dream, I find some hidden spot in The Dojo that I’d not previously known about, like a stair that lifted to reveal a door, or a cubby-hole hidden behind a flap of carpet. Of course, I would explore this new feature, only to discover that it led to another secret room, and then to another, and on and on and on.
Even as an adult, the dream was often so vivid that I would walk around all day, convinced that a larger even more magical version of The Dojo lay just around the next corner, if I only knew how to look for it. And it was always a matter of how to look rather than where.
But I’ve really only explained the Secret House dream so that you’ll understand how I feel about the skateparks. They are my new Secret Houses.
The first time I ever went to a skatepark, I was a pretty good jam skater. I could 360 jump and handspring and do the splits. It is safe to say that I was very comfortable in skates. And then I rolled onto my first non-flat surface and discovered that I knew literally nothing about skating a park. I fell up and down the slopes, threw myself at the walls, clawed at the coping, and tore the shoulder muscles in my right arm. I discovered nothing that first day, because I related to the park as if it were a dead concrete bowl. I tried to do what I wanted to do, regardless of the terrain.
Then Speed Dealer Jeff taught me about trannies, those magical transitional places where flat ground becomes something other than flat ground. “Crouch down and push in the transitions,” was all he said. “That’s how you get speed in a park.”
I did as he said, and suddenly, skateparks were no longer lifeless concrete. Here are some of the secrets I’ve discovered hidden in the geometry of a skatepark.
1. Transitions. Pump them and they make you go.
2. Those little lumps in the middle of the skatepark are called “power dots,” and they are actually not jumps, (though you can use them as such). They are just transitions added to the flat ground so that skaters can pick up speed for the real jumps without pushing.
3. Any curved corner you hit while carving along a wall is actually another transition, so pump it, and you will get additional speed to send you even further up the wall.
4. Jump about midway up the transition, lift your legs high, aim the center of your skates at the coping, and you will land on it like a bird perching on a branch. This is called a stall.
5. When stalling, it is important to remember that you are not, in fact, a bird perching on a branch, and if you don’t get off quick, you are going to fall.
6. Falling on metal is actually pretty pleasant compared to falling on concrete, but they both suck.
7. If you carve all the way to the top of a bowl, you will hit the coping, and if you have the right kind of skates, you can grind along that coping.
There are countless secrets I have not yet learned. Every time I look at a park, I know I’m only seeing the surface, and I know there are secrets there, like in the Secret House dream, waiting for me to find them. Those secrets can give me super powers, but they can also break my arm or kill me, because those secrets are little nuggets of truth, and truth is powerful. The parks teach me physical and spiritual, kinetic and dynamic truths about the nature of the universe.
And seeking those truths has made me happier and more at peace than I’ve ever been in my life, and not just in the skatepark. When I skate, I feel connected to myself and my fellow skaters and everyone else in the world. Through my wheels, I feel connected to the skatepark, and the Earth, and the whole rest of the universe. Skating is life, and the universe is a skatepark.
Kevin Yee, an inline skater, said: “To truly know one thing in its entirety, is to know all things through the lens of that one. For me, this one thing is skating. The greatest benefit from years of dedicating all of my thought and actions to skating, is the ability to use skating as a metaphor in approaching and understanding life.”
And there it is: my one thing. I’ve been looking for it a long time, even when I didn’t know I was looking. My life, from my first breath until I pumped that first transition, never made any sense. Now it does. So don’t be surprised to find me kneeling and bowing in front of a ramp, blessing a coping, or closing my eyes in a prayer of thanks at the bottom of a bowl.
Skating might not be God. But it helps me find the secret spots that lead to where God lives.