The mats were blue. They were long enough to fit at least seven forward rolls during warmups, wide enough to fit five pairs for footsweep drills, though someone always ended up swerving last minute, either to avoid the pair next to them or the soft spots between the mats.
On Saturdays, sometimes six pairs could fit for rolling, with a corner coned off for drilling, and a rope laid down to mark the space for those practicing Muay Thai. “Don’t get too close to Muay Thai land,” was the caution if you didn’t want an errant knee to your head.
The mats were chilly in the winter, slippery in the summer. Enough give for us to dive recklessly, enough resistance to make us think twice, but still try again.
(When we say goodbye, the mat is damp, clean, shining in the sunlight.)
March 14, 2020.
That morning, I had been planning the lesson for womens class the next day and was eager to run some ideas by my professor. There were also new techniques I wanted to try, drills I needed to practice, questions to ask, details to work out.
We didn’t know how long the closure would last. I remember leaving class that Saturday unsure of when but hopeful that we all would be coming back, sometime, someday.
The timer was a mystery. It always seemed to do what it wanted, whenever it wanted. Pressing the start button didn’t always mean begin, the buzzer didn’t always mean stop – until it did. But by then, it was already too far into the next round.
Above the timer hung the clock, a simple two-handed circle that we had to change when time leapt forward and fell back. On some days, it felt like the timer was using us to compete against time itself. One more rep, one more roll, next person, don’t stop, keep going.
(When we say goodbye, the timer is silent, the numbers round, red, waiting.)
December 6, 2017.
It’s faded now but the entry in my notebook is still legible. “Trial @ Elements” the heading says, with two columns underneath. The pro side is longer by several lines, with the last being just one word: “Welcoming.”
They weren’t benches per se but we used them as such. Inside was gear for visitors, for those who didn’t have or had never worn a gi before. We’d sit atop them and exchange names, exchange greetings – “Hi, first class?” “Oh hey, how’ve you been? Long time no see.”
It was on those benches that weren’t benches that we watched from when we were injured, where we rested when class was done. We did our best to keep our voices low as we talked about our rolls, about life outside our rolls, then inevitably circled back and somehow ending up on the floor in tile jiu-jitsu and even more ideas for next time. “Remember to write at least one good thing,” was the reminder when the benches were converted into desks for our notebooks.
(When we say goodbye, it’s at the benches first, sitting atop closed lids and bumping closed fists.)
May 1, 2020.
The pictures come slowly. The mats gone, the timer unplugged. The benches that had been used for storage with nothing left to store. The space is bare and I swear I can hear the emptiness echo through the screen.
There is no easy way to say goodbye. Yes, there is text and emojis and pictures and videos. There is memory and hope and promises and plans. And yes, when we say goodbye, it does not mean the end.
Tomorrow will come as it always does, and we will greet it when it comes.
Today, though, today is to say goodbye to what was.