My folks, being good folk, always asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I generally did not have a long list like many kids do. For most Christmases I would ask for just one thing. Sometimes it was a big thing, I admit, but I did not attached a lot of, “. . . and . . .” to it. I know that several times I asked for a bicycle as I had outgrown the previous one. One Christmas I asked for a dictionary. That was all I wanted, a good dictionary, and I got one which I still have. Oh, I got other things too. Mom and Dad felt like a dictionary alone was not enough, but it was all I wanted and I was happy to get it.
When I was about 10, my folks asked me what I wanted for Christmas. My reply was just one thing. I wanted a unicycle. Christmas day came and sure enough, there under the tree with a bright blue unicycle. I was overjoyed.
Once you have a unicycle, the next trick is learning how to ride it. That has several stages, the first being just getting on the thing. I was fortunate we had a two car garage. Dad had arranged one side more as a workshop. We generally only kept one car in the garage. But more important to me and my unicycle was the divider between the two garage doors. It provided a good support for me to hold onto while I learned how to get on the one-wheel beast.
For many days and even weeks after Christmas I would spend a great deal of time in the garage with the unicycle. I would open one of the doors and hang on to the divider and try to get up and on the seat. When I would get on the seat, I would spent time clinging to the divider and the small brick wall partition that jutted out from it, trying to learn how to balance and move forward.
Day after day I spent getting up and falling off. Getting up and creeping forward a half pedal or so and then falling off. After several weeks I had gotten to where I could get on the thing with support from the divider and pedal forward one or two pumps. But that was it. I just could not seem to get any further. I couldn’t get on it without support, and I was not able to pedal past the short, three-foot brick wall divider. In a bit of frustration I put the thing up for a while.
Around early Spring I decided to give it another try. Much to my surprise getting on it seemed easy, and I had no problem pedaling well past the three foot brick wall divider before falling off. I was elated. For the next several days I would work at getting up and riding the unicycle, gradually adding an inch of distance here and there. Within about four days I was able to get half way down the driveway. But again, I seemed stuck. I just could not get further, so in frustration I set it aside.
Several months later, I felt like trying it again. I decided to concentrate on getting on it without supporting myself. I wasn’t going to worry about riding for distance. I wanted to be able to just hop up on it. Oh that poor unicycle got quite a beating, let me tell you. When you fall off of a unicycle, the front tip or back end of the unicycle’s seat is the first thing to slam to the ground. The vinyl covering was getting cut and torn from the concrete driveway. I regularly had to realign the seat so that it was straight over the wheel.
I worked at hopping up on it for days. I could not ride it any further than before. I would hop up on the seat near the garage door divider, wanting to have that brick wall near by to catch and help balance myself if necessary, and then pedal about half way down the driveway. After several days work I was able to hop up and ride the twenty feet or so without trouble. Once I would get to that twenty foot mark, my balance would being to shudder and whoop, I’d fall off. So again feeling frustrated I set it aside.
At that point I was getting quite frustrated with the unicycle. I knew it would be difficult but I began to wonder if I would ever get the hang of it. I did not even look at it for quite some time. It was closing in on Christmas again, and I began thinking about that unicycle from the Christmas before.
I pulled it out and lo and behold, not only was I able to hop up on it, I rode it all the way to the end of the driveway. My problem now was getting down the bit of a curb at the edge of the driveway. It seems that during the months I had let the thing sit in the garage, my body had learned something.
As a martial arts instructor I have learned that there are things that you can be taught, things that someone can explain to you so that you understand them. But there are things that you must learn, things you must experience repeatedly for your body to understand them. A person cannot teach you to ride a bike. They can explain it, and give you some general ideas, but they cannot teach you balance. You have to learn that by trial and error, and your body needs time to assimilate what it learns.
I eventually learned how to pedal the unicycle down over the curb at the end of the driveway. Again I set the unicycle aside for a while. Months later I grabbed it again, hopped on it and rode down the driveway, over the curb and part way down the street. Time and again I would spend a few days working with it, then setting it aside for awhile allowing my body to assimilate what it had learned, and then going back to the unicycle to find I could go farther and do more.
I do not have that original unicycle any more. It was subject to a lot of falls, the fork eventually became bent giving the unicycle a unique twist. The seat had been completely torn up, which I replaced with a little tot’s banana bike seat. That old unicycle ended up under the house my first wife and I owned and was not recovered during the divorce.
During my second marriage, I went out an bought a new unicycle, which I still have. I do not ride it often, partly because the rocky roads were I live now are not the best for unicycle riding. But I love that I have it and I know that I can ride it. It taught me some valuable lessons about how our bodies learn.