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Master Po and Mad Eye Moody Meet Up in Minnesota

30 Jul

I’ve noticed it a lot more the past three years or so. I’ve noticed people talking to me and not looking directly at me, in the eye (well, they are, but they’re not). I’ve realized people whom I’m not looking at sometimes think that I am (and I can sometimes tell they may find it disturbing). I’ve noticed people, mostly younger, not looking at me at all after looking at me; something seems to bother them.

What’s up? My eyes are messed up. My right eye tracks off to the side. I’ve been blind in that eye since birth. It’s always been off-kilter but as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten worse, particularly when I’m tired. I’m in a perfect position to be that old, creepy-looking Walmart greeter guy in fifteen years. Heck, I could be Mad-Eye Moody by then. (I should be so lucky!)

I’ve even got a friend of many years who seems to not as often look right at me when we talk, and who definitely spends more time glancing over his left shoulder where my Mad Eye is pointed. (Actually, Mad Eye Correia sort of has a ring to it.)

These things also happen in Taekwondo classes, particularly with younger students and newer students. I can be talking to one student and they think I’m talking to some other student to their left.

The vision in my “good” eye is really poor, and I also have bad astigmatism. About three years ago I needed bifocals for the first time. I’d always worn a contact lens for athletic activity, and sometimes for daily wear, but since the need for bifocals arose, I wear my large, thick, expensive glasses during normal activity, and wear the contact lens only for Taekwondo class or other aggressive athletic activity, but it kind of sucks; when I wear it I never see anything quite right.

If the eyes are the window to the soul then my window has mud on it. As I have adapted to seeing more poorly and with greater inconvenience, I’ve also more often felt disengaged with others because of the sometimes change in eye contact. Here’s the thing: I have lost confidence these past few years because of this. Yes, the mature Taekwondo master has lost confidence. It’s the thick bifocals. It’s the self-consciousness of the Mad Eye. It’s age. It’s change.

When I was a kid growing up, I was totally into the David Carradine Kung Fu TV series. As a very husky kid with bad vision, I was particularly taken with Shaolin monk Master Po who was old and blind, but amazingly capable, and wise. I felt maaaaaybe it was possible for me to be a master someday. Really, I did think that.

As a kid I was neither capable nor confident in the physical and sports realm: overweight, poor vision, blind in one eye, no dad or other male role model to mentor me, no siblings. I was on my own. Couldn’t hit a moving ball, couldn’t catch worth a crap, couldn’t shoot a basket, slow, always picked last.

At least as I grew, some of those skills came along as my body and brain figured it out better, but I was years behind the curve. I became passable, and occasionally competitive, in the recreational realm, particularly once I lost some weight. I learned to drive a car, I did different jobs that required some physical skill (some were even risky, given machinery and such), I tinkered with martial arts a couple of time, and then started serious — meaning I never quit — Taekwondo training at age 33. Why had I quit those earlier times? I didn’t have the confidence to stick around until I might hit the tough stuff, or maybe fail. The irony is that I usually seemed to do well.

When I tested for Fifth Dan in 2010, I’d recently turned 50 and the two guys I tested with had both just turned 30 or so.  They were testing at an age that was younger than when I’d even started training. I peaked around age 50, while those two guys were complaining that they were past their prime. We did the same test and accomplished the same challenges, with them 20 years younger and each with two good eyes!

During these past 24 years I’ve had to train in fast action, turning action, turning to my blind side; I’ve had to hit and break boards and put out candles with turning and spinning kicks; I’ve had to judge distance and hit small moving targets, such as the wrist on opponents in Kumdo sword arts; I’ve had to wield a sharp sword to bare torsos; I’ve had to do a version of this. I’ve done all kinds of stuff with no acknowledgement, never mind preferential treatment, of anything being different. Just like Master Po!

I’ve done quite OK. So why the heck would I be losing confidence now? Granted, I’ve had a tough three years with all kinds of life and livelihood challenges and changes, stuff that made me tired and shook my inner self deeply for a time. I’m also less practiced in Taekwondo technique and have let my conditioning slip as well; so now I’m now older, slower and suckier.

Still, there has been something uniquely discouraging and disorienting in the vision changes. In both the athletics and overall life, seeing, judging, and adjusting is harder and less reliable than it used to be. I’m not as confident in doing things as I used to be. Further, not insignificant is the entire change in engagement with others related to the Mad Eye situation, be it their posture or my self-consciousness.

So what? Well, I’m not sure. Maybe I just want that all off my chest, to write it so I can better process it.

What’s next? Well, I’m beginning to take on some new challenges, physical and professionally, which will push me out of my comfort zone and which, achieved or not, will lead to growth and development. Regardless of vision, age, physical capability, or Other People’s Reactions (now to be known as OPR), I’m stepping it up, pushing forward, taking control, and choosing my attitude. We’re rolling into new territory and making new commitments with our new business. I’m preparing to take on a promotion test for 6th Dan (in New Jersey, for heaven’s sake!). I’m getting reengaged in physical training. I’m focusing on personal and spiritual work in new ways. I’m starting a new Rotary Eclub; we’re going to do great things together and have some fun in the process. (Interested in finding out more? Email me!). I’ve committed to being an ambassador as part of Real Men Wear Pink (click to contribute, please!).

Maybe that’s the So-What point: regardless of challenges and circumstances, regardless of things outside of our control, regardless of other people’s reactions, we can always choose our attitude; we can always take action in the realm of what is in our control; we can always respond to other people in a positive and supportive manner; we can always be grateful for what we can do and for what we have. And, we can always stretch ourselves beyond where we are, because without stretching we don’t grow.

Ya think this all explains why I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the underdog Taekwondo student? And just so you know, I own the entire Kung Fu series on DVD.

All Women Are Created Equal

15 Oct

My daughter turned me into a feminist.

The North Shore Invitational Taekwondo Tournament circa 2010. My son and daughter, young adults, each competed in black belt breaking competition. Men’s and women’s divisions of course. Robb sets up his routine, and you can see it in the eyes of the black belt guys who will be holding boards and who are watching as they wait to compete: this is going to be good.

Tricia sets up her routine and you can see it in the eyes of the black belt guys who will be holding boards: she’s going to try this? Yeah, right.

I might have read them wrong, but I’d been reading such reactions and interactions, including my own, within Taekwondo for two decades by then. I’d heard the after-talk of board-holders, competitors and judges regarding ambitious routines of both males and females for nearly as long. I know the way Taekwondo guys “talk in the locker room” about such matters. That’s within the context of an art-sport that I see as very open to, equal for, girls and women in regards to opportunity, challenge, accomplishment, empowerment, respect. It’s a fantastic endeavor for girls and women, even if it’s still largely a guy’s sport.

So, it wasn’t that event per se, but . . . my daughter turned me into a feminist. Continue reading

Sharing Joy Should be More than Passing the Dish Soap

21 Sep

I was sitting in church having taken part in some uplifting music and now, with a thought-provoking, spirit-challenging sermon in my head and gut, we get to the time in the service when we share Joys & Concerns.

(In summary)

” Paul will be leaving for school.”
” Alison has a job and found a roommate.”
“Eva passed away this week.”
“My sister has pancreatic cancer.”
“My wife’s treatments are continuing.”
“Jim will be leaving for another tour in Afghanistan.”
(followed by more concerns. . .)

Typically during this part of the service I am struck by three thoughts:
1. There are many more Concerns than Joys, and often no Joys whatsoever.
2. If you want to share a Joy, you’d better do it at the front end because, I don’t know about you, but I’m reluctant to share a Joy after hearing many of the Concerns.
3. There should be three question marks after the word Joys in the bulletin (Joys??? & Concerns).

I’m left with one question: “Why are we reluctant to share Joys?” When I say we, perhaps I should reference Presbyterians (I used to be Roman Catholic). Or, perhaps, I should put it in the context of Scandinavian culture in Minnesota (I was born and raised in Massachusetts, to immigrant Azorean Portuguese). Perhaps it is a broader phenomenon that crosses faith traditions and cultural heritage. Or maybe I am living in space between the formality and privacy of the “Frozen Chosen” (Presbyterians), and the passive-aggression & self-deprecation of so-called Minnesota Nice. In any case, I feel there is supposed to be more.

Admittedly, it can be hard to mention good things in the face of other people’s struggles and tragedies. It doesn’t seem in good taste. There you are with a husband dying of cancer and I shove the Joy of my son’s new joy right in your face.

In northern Minnesota in particular, it seems people tend to refrain from talking about themselves, about achievement, good stuff in their family or about their kids; it can easily be seen as bragging, or at least we think it will be seen as such. I can just hear Garrison Keillor telling news from Lake Wobegon, imitating Sven Carlsen sharing his opinion with wife Ingrid after hearing someone at church coffee time going on about their son who’s moved to Minneapolis : “I t’ink he’s maybe a little bit full of himself d’ere. Yah, he might be a little too proud of his kid, ya’ know?”

Life can be challenging, even brutal. Work demands, schedule pressures, financial challenges, family turmoil, injury, illness, death. Facing these things, we can get pretty stressed, negative, beat up, despairing. We can even lose faith of whatever sort we have. I know that I can get pretty focused on the negative and let challenges, or even worries, pretty easily overcome me. I also know that even when I am thinking most bleakly, seeing a picture of a friend’s new grandson can really lift me up and think about all of the positive, uplifting wonders in life.

In the midst of all this, I think we need to share and celebrate Joys. Faith traditions tell us we should celebrate our gifts, that we should find the hope in challenge and defeat, and that we are made to enjoy life and be happy. Secular authors have written words that ring true about gratitude, joy, and hope. Social media abounds with positive and supportive memes. In the midst of fog and dark, we are meant to shine light, both for ourselves and others. Perhaps while in fear and dark over a spouse’s cancer prognosis, one can find light in another’s joy. Perhaps it can become like passing on a candle flame. When we have a basket full of rotten, stinking apples, it’s OK if someone holds out to us one of their crisp Golden Delicious and lets us sample a bite or two, or maybe eat the whole thing.

If there is any fault in this sharing Joy business, perhaps it is in not asking others to share theirs. Before offering up your own latest-greatest, a good habit might be to ask others what good things are happening in their life (judiciously, maybe, depending on struggles they are facing). This habit can perhaps lead us to a larger orientation of listening, appreciating and understanding others. Share in their Joy and they will naturally want to share in yours.

What might it do to a congregation to share and celebrate all of the plusses in people’s lives? What can it mean to a family to readily see, share and affirm the positive in their experience together? What would it mean to a workplace where the focus is on uplifting people and encouraging them bring their good things to their common time together? Yes, support and care for each other as we face challenges, but show and share the light in the gloom. Light does overcome darkness.

Joys and Concerns? I do think those are listed in the right order. I think I’ve just got to read more carefully. And, believe it or not, I do have the right blood type: B-Positive!

 

 

 

With Apologies to Ronald McDonald

19 Jan

A larger 20-something, guy, lumbering stature. A 30-something  woman, tall, stereotypical Midwestern mom-like in appearance.  A man of about 50 years, short, with a ready smile and laugh, a feisty attitude. An 18 year old girl, thinner, quiet, pretty.

“Everyone take one quick step backwards and try to land in a good, balanced stance. Again. One more time. OK, now two steps back; remember, pay attention to your stepping, landing and balance.”

The Midwestern mom does rather well. The smaller, feisty guy not too bad. The girl is very tentative and her body stays rotated awkwardly. The lumbering guy steps and lands with his legs too twisted up, appearing uncomfortable, almost teetering on the edge.

This could be any taekwondo class. People come in with all variety of physical habits and capability. Our job is to overcome those, move things closer to a functional norm, and yet also realize that unique habits, differences and limitations always come out, sometime always stick around. A lifetime of habits and movement patterns become our status quo. It’s tough to change the status quo.

The situation I described above, however, is less typical than I implied. Those four participants, and others not mentioned, are all Continue reading

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