A Johnnie In Form, If Not In Fact

It was not long after I moved to Annapolis that people around town began asking me if I was a ‘Johnnie,’ which I quickly learned meant they wanted to know if I attended St. John’s College. I had moved to Annapolis for a fresh start after some poor life choices growing up led me to a dead end of depression and despair. All I knew of Annapolis was that it was the state capital, it was far (to me at the time) from where I had lived previously, and I had a place to stay as long as I was willing to follow some rules. As a high school dropout, college was not something I ever considered as an option, but St. John’s just kept coming up in seemingly unrelated conversations and contexts. I was intrigued.

St. John’s College is a small, private college whose entire curriculum is based around the reading, dissecting, and discussing what they call the ‘Great Books.’ The Great Books are the books with subjects including philosophy, mathematics, science, music, et al, whose ideas have shaped western thought and culture over the last several thousand years. I was introduced to these books by a friend who lived in downtown Annapolis. He took me to a used-book store located a few blocks from St. John’s, on Maryland Avenue. They sold $1 paperbacks there, many of which had belonged to St. John’s students at one time. Among the books I picked up there were works by Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle, and Dostoyevski. I became enthralled by the ideas in these books and with philosophy in general, carrying Thus Spoke Zarathustra and a notebook with me wherever I went.

In spite of my disdain for the educational system I came up in and dropped out of, or perhaps because of it, I wanted to attend St. John’s College, to immerse myself in these ideas and this culture I had just discovered, and to perhaps become philosopher, poet, or writer. I did not end up going to St. John’s for my undergraduate degree (for reasons I will get into later — perhaps graduate school is in my future), but here I am writing because the best way to start is to start.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.