I’ve never seen the movie The Godfather. But like many in my generation (X to be exact), the movie is referenced by so many other movies, literature, and TV shows, I might as well have seen it. The Godfather being sourced frequently through other media is like getting the Cliff Notes version accidentally. Honestly, I don’t think I can stomach this movie’s particular version of Murder and Mayhem so I’ve avoided it. That won’t stop me from referencing The Godfather via another pleasanter movie genre, the rom-com.
In You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox the secret IM buddy/”evil” bookstore magnate advises his friend/love interest/rival Kathleen Kelly to “go to the mattresses.” He attempts to inspire her to literally fight himself and his mega-bookstore that’s putting her tinier neighborhood bookstore out of business. Joe has to explain to Kathleen what that means and references a line in The Godfather. Via ancient Italian practices, it means to prepare for war. Multiple times every week, I mentally prepare to go to war, mainly with myself. Sensei hasn’t put out any mattresses for me to land on, but we do have our ever slippery tatami mats.
So, instead of mattresses, I go to the mats.
My face, my body, and my sweat are frequently ground into the mats (Thankfully nothing else is ground into the mats but those three because awkward). I’ve been tossed face up, down, and sideways, pinned, and laid upon on those tatami mats. I learn so many things I didn’t know were a thing on the mats.
I’ve lost count of how many times my right cheek was pushed into the mats hard enough to make fish lips. I’ve learned how much punishment I can take on those smooth-as-ice mats, face down while someone twists my arm in unnatural directions attempting to provoke a tap out. I’ve learned how to silently hold my ground, staring down my opponent as metaphorical tumbleweeds roll by. I’ve learned how easily an omote kote gyaku can put me on my back on those tatami. I’ve learned how to keep my knees from clacking as I perform techniques in the testing environment. I’ve learned how to hold kamae with my legs, as well as my heart. I’ve learned how easily my mind is tripped up by fixation on the unimportant. I’ve learned how to trust “relax” more than my own feelings. I’ve learned how to be freer, more confident, and less afraid.
Mostly, I’ve learned how to be me.
The war within myself consistently results in skirmishes, full-scale battles, and well-choreographed melees. Sensei frequently reminds us that practicing Ninpo is like polishing a mirror. And what does one do with a mirror? One looks at “self,” the Grand Poobah of humanity. Or the Godfather, if you like. Paradoxically, self must be broken to win the war. Jesus tells us in the Bible that “24 …”Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt 16:24-26, NIV)
In other words, get rid of yourself to gain something better.
Go to the mat(tresse)s.