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A Fist Foray Into Non-Essay

22 Mar

I’ve been known to occasionally say,
“He needs a punch in the face.”
It’s usually just a general observation,
perhaps regarding a General (once, I think)
or a senator or a president or
maybe just that guy who is always “that way.”

Whomever I’m with at the time looks aghast,
aware of my Tae Kwon Do,
my Courtesy and Integrity and Self-Control,
and says something like,
“I’m sure you could do that well,”
unsure what else to say.

I’ve never been punched in the face, nor punched anyone there,
nor anywhere, for real, at least, as opposed to play.
There have been a few errant fists in training:
“Ooops, I’m sorry, “ I hear, or I say,
and the shiner exclaims, “At least they’ll be a story to tell someday!”

I have been kicked, too,
ten thousand times, I imagine,
and have kicked others:
the breath gone, or ribs bruised,
or a Weeble to the head
that made me Wobble but not fall down.

And the sword . . .
A bamboo whack above the protective shell,
the purple welt under the arm,
or the wooden hornet-sting on the wrist,
or the “thank god for armor” thrust to the throat,
that stops you in your tracks, head snapped back.

Fists of stone can break your bones, but words?
They are much safer to throw, you know;
at least a far as the law is concerned.
Sling what you will but don’t throw a kick!

Have you felt the word that left a bruise,
or broke a bone, not for real, but the other kind?
Have you thrown a phrase that stopped a heart or crushed a soul?
Deliberate or stray, there’s always a story to tell.

What about a kick to the gut,
when what happened took the wind right out of you,
or made your head spin, or dropped you cold?
And, you know, an attack to the back is against the rules,
yet people get away with it all the time. Have you?

The ninja might be the most deadly of all.
Invisible, absent,
silent and still,
yet day by day, nick by nick,
their dagger brings death by seventy-times-seven cuts.
Even a cowardly ninja can simply suppress sustenance
for body and soul,
since it’s always easier to defeat a weakened enemy,
or just kill them through attrition.

Was it Bruce Lee, or maybe Gandhi, who asked,
“When is a punch not a punch,
a kick not a kick,
a cut not a cut?”

Maybe when it’s from the true Warrior,
open hearted,
who stands in front,
hands at sides,
exposed.


Some Serious Thoughts on Playing Around

1 Mar

Some things just go together, right? Baked potatoes and sour cream. Valentine’s Day and flowers. Politicians and lobbyists. L and bow (movie reference, Robb? Leave it in the comments!). Eggs, avocado and kimchi (take my word for it, they do.). And then there is dogs and play.

After saying goodbye to our old Labrador mix last June, in October we came across Chester, a pure-bred Golden Retriever. All six-months-&-thirteen-days of Chester got into the rear seat of our Nissan on October 23, 2018. We originally planned to adopt-a-mutt; opportunity said otherwise and we re-homed Chester from an 81-year-old woman who realized that Chester was more dog than she could handle. Uh: yeah.

Right from the get-go we had 50 pounds of puppy jumping and grabbing, grabbing and jumping. Fun and tiring. Frustrating and enlivening. Go go go. Play play play. Lots of walks, runs and chews.

Chester got to meet his cousin Lincoln and play (aka wrestle and chase) for the first time. Chester ran free on the golf course, fetched frisbees and balls and, when snow came, swam through snow and jumped up snowbanks.

As I’ve seen Chester grow and develop, gain size and strength and coordination and skills, add muscle and visibly change shape, get smarter, be in the moment and enjoy whatever-it-is-that’s-happening, it occurred to me one day, “Hey, look at all of that amazing development, and all he does is play.” No weights, no program, no structure, no gym. Just play.

Chester doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with exactly how fast he’s running, or how often he runs. He runs when he feels like it, as hard as he feels like it, and stops when he feels like it. Sometimes he jumps onto something, just because it’s there. He enjoys it doing it. And he gets faster.

Chester doesn’t seem to be concerned with how far or how fast he can drag the whatever, or how many times he tries, or exactly how heavy it is. He just pulls and struggles, gets it or not, tries and tries and maybe tries again. He has fun (according to the wagging tail). And he gets stronger.

Chester doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with the outcome of his wrestling play with Lincoln. He gets in there and tries. He works. He experiments. He is excited by it. And he gets better. Strength. Endurance. Timing, Coordination. Understanding. No classes. No program.

Chester plays and he improves. He isn’t following a structure or schedule; he’s not concerned about balancing competing plans and priorities. He doesn’t seemed concerned accomplishment or image. He just plays.

He not only enjoys, he seems to be in joy. That’s a nice place to be.

Speaking for myself at least, I do feel that many of us often do a lot of violence to ourselves over plans and progress. We abuse our bodies and bash our psyches. Violence, force, discipline, shame — to self or others. Those approaches can work to help get the job done . . . as does beating an energetic, disobedient dog. Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s a good approach. I think there are better ways.

We all know the energy of play. Being in the moment, doing, producing. I’ve done it in the Taekwondo gym, on the yoga mat, on the rowing machine, at the keyboard, and in the factory at the conveyor belt and on the loading dock. I even played in a hospital room. Play as action.  Play as mindset.

We all are moved by different motivations: love, improvement, competition, achievement or profit. We can be quite serious about those ends. Yet I think play is a missing element that brings a powerful spirit to all of those things.

When Bonnie and I first moved to Minnesota we took a cross-country skiing class together. Neither of us had been on skis. In northern Minnesota it seemed like a way to get exercise during long winters. As she and I spent more time falling and getting up than actually moving forward, I was getting frustrated and saying naughty words. Bonnie, struggling to get back up yet again, began laughing uncontrollably. I blurted, “How can you be laughing?” She replied, “Don’t you think this is just hilarious? It’s so ridiculous it’s funny!” She continued to laugh and smile and shake her head the rest of the way back, which I recall involved walking. And we never skied again.

Had I approached that experience as play, I might have relished the exploration of the activity and appreciated the great core development of standing back up so often! I recently got my first-ever snow shoes and I’m looking forward to playing with those for the first time in the back yard this weekend. With Chester.

I  now take Chester for a walk and sometimes we sprint. Sometimes we walk. Sometimes we run for a fast minute or two. No particular plan or expectation. And I’m getting faster and gaining endurance.

I practice yoga. I stop before the final place in an asana and explore. I push to the final place and I accept it with a smile. “Hmmm.” or “Cool!” I push past it and I fall and laugh. I start following a video and then I might start just doing what I want to do instead at some point. I play.

During the day I might see that the time has crossed over into the new hour and decide to do some pushups, or some type of body movement or Taekwondo action. Not planned. Just play; see what happens.

Students in Taekwondo classes sometimes get frustrated as they attempt to learn a technique and berate themselves for being too slow or uncoordinated or out of shape or old or not cut out for this. More and more I respond, “Just play with it.” Play takes away the pressure, reduces the stress, puts one in the moment, frees up the mind and spirit to explore and discover. Whether learning a Taekwondo spinning kick or working with a team on a deadline at work, I think play can bring out the best in us.

Of course, teaching kids in Taekwondo can be a great opportunity to keep an element of play in one’s life, (sorry, no video!) as can working and playing with kids in any case. You can even integrate kids into your own workouts. (That’s not me, of course; thanks to a different Correia for making his little cousins’ day!)

A Taekwondo master colleague and I are preparing for our respective next rank promotion tests (5th and 6th degree black belt). I initially found myself being anxious about age, rustiness of technique and physical condition, and how that will play-out during an intense test of skill. I might look incompetent, mess up, not pass! I found myself intimidated and frustrated as I began to practice things I’d not done so aggressively in a while.

And then I changed my mindset and began to play.

I’ve begun playing my way through practice, and I’ve begun to look at the test experience as simply a different arena of play. That doesn’t mean I won’t apply my best skill to defend against attacks, my best focus and power to breaking, my best intensity to forms and sparring. It just means I’ll train and test like Chester!

The Taegeuk in the middle of the South Korean flag represents balance and harmony. More than simply balanced amounts of opposites (heat and cold, activity and rest), I see the notion of harmony as indicating an integration or a resonance together of things that aren’t the same. Rather than work then play we can have work and play or even work as play. Anyone properly oriented to FISH!® in the workplace knows that the principle of PLAY! is a whole lot more than just being silly or having fun. It’s finding the energy that’s needed to take things to new levels and open things up for people to offer their best.

How am I going to prepare for and pass a high level Taekwondo test? How am I going to push myself to reclaim a higher level of physical fitness and preparedness? How am I going to avoid stressing out over all of the challenges and all of the speed bumps along the way?

I’m going to play with my dog!

(Please, I encourage you to leave a comment, share your experience: where or how you play; how you make play in various circumstances; when you are challenged or forget to play. Maybe our collective experiences are playing together, and helping all of us better make or find play!)

A Bully and A Coward Walk Into a Summer Camp

6 May

Call it the summer between fourth and fifth grades. It just happened.  He called me queer eye.  (I was born blind in one eye and it looks “off.”) I called him blubber boy (ironic, coming from a fat kid, but he was fatter).  I never did know who started it.  Steve and I circled around each other amidst a gathering circle of other boys.  “Fight, fight, fight!” Lord of the Flies at (Catholic) Cathedral Camp.

I’d never been in a fight and really didn’t want to be in one; Id’ always been afraid of getting beat up. Now there I was, and Continue reading

Playing it Safe with My Wife

2 Apr

I had begun rock climbing some time in the past year. I’d done a number of top-rope climbs in Southeastern Missouri and Southern Illinois and I was eager to progress to my first multi-pitch climbs. Along the way, separate from my climbing circle, I’d met my wife-to-be.

I lived in St. Louis and Bonnie lived in Washington, DC, so I could easily pursue my new passion out of sight. It might have been out of her sight but it was not out of her mind. Bonnie was not very keen on my climbing. It seemed dangerous to her and, as she explained, she wanted to keep me around; she kind of liked me.

Bonnie moved from Washington to St. Louis so we could pursue our relationship in a new way. Continue reading

Two-Dozen Things I Learned Doing a 30-Day Yoga Challenge

10 Feb

1. I do better the more aware that I am.

2. The more aware I am, the more I discover; I notice things I’d not noticed before, I notice more subtle sensations, I become aware of the next layer, I notice interconnections.

3. The more I practice with awareness the better I get at practicing with awareness.

4. Strength is found in drawing to center, not in brute force flying out, wasting energy. Continue reading

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural . . . Klutz

26 Aug

I’ve been learning a new set of Taekwondo forms, the Taegeuk poomsae.  (Poomsae means form or pattern). My particular Taekwondo lineage used an older set of forms, the Palgwe poomsae, and never introduced the Taegeuk forms, even though they were developed as updated forms in the 1970’s. Given that the Taegeuk poomsae are now the standard for our worldwide associations it’s time to make the shift!

The Taegeuk poomsae are color belt forms, one for each of eight color belt ranks (gup), yellow (8th gup) through red (1st gup). Even as someone who practices five black belt patterns, I am challenged in learning these forms.  Memory is required; I find that I need to be patient and focus on one form at a time, otherwise things start to get jumbled. Equal to that challenge is performing new movements both individually well and in flow from one to the next. Ironically, I find the biggest challenge in what is the very first movement in the very first pattern for the lowest rank belt. That movement is the walking stance.

Walking stance. How can something that sounds so natural be a challenge? I walk throughout the day, every day, and have since about my first birthday. That’s fifty-six years of walking. I currently take at least 10,000 steps a day, thank you Fitbit. I get lots of practice walking. Walking is quite natural. Walking stance, not so much.

In the older Palgwe poomsae there are no walking stances. In the five black belt poomsae I practice, there is only a handful. Further, the original way I learned to perform the walking stance (again, what’s with the learning walking?) is apparently not the way it should now be performed. What the heck? How does one even need to learn to do such a natural stance in the first place, and then be instructed to do that natural movement a different way? Can’t I just do what’s natural?

I’ll be honest: moving from one walking stance to the next, turning into a walking stance, doing the simplest of arm and hand techniques while moving into and out of a walking stance has been making be feel like a klutz. It feels to unnatural.

I’ll be honest again: nowhere in any writing I’ve come across or in any instruction I’ve been recently given have I been told to just naturally step into a walking stance; it is a natural-sounding stance that one has to intentionally move into.

In all of the other poomsae I’ve practiced, we are in stances that are not natural stances to everyday life, except that they are natural to completing the action at that moment so as to make it effective. This could be the case with an elbow strike or a baseball swing:

 

 

If this way of standing might be natural and effective at that moment, I certainly don’t walk around all day like that. I walk more naturally all day.

This morning during my spiritual time it occurred to me that natural is not natural! That was fresh in my mind because in the leadership seminar we started conducting this week we worked with the participants to recognize and identify with their driving purpose, their deepest-held values, their true self, and to begin to act in accord with that. To act according to their true nature, or act naturally, if you will.

Every spiritual tradition I’m familiar with leads me toward living according to my true nature. As my true, or natural, self I can live and interact with the most freedom, the most joy, the most honesty, and even the most effectiveness.  In order to accomplish certain ends (e.g. to get someone to do what I’d like) or meet certain needs (e.g. to feel and appear smart and capable) I might want to contort myself into certain ways of acting, certain situational stances, that might feel right at the moment but which are certainly not in accord with my natural self. The difference between my everyday postures and the front stance example above is that I might think I am doing the most effective thing, but my stance is actually wrong. To be most effective in life I know I need to be most natural. For living, natural comes by speaking and acting according to my driving purpose, my deepest-held values, my truest and best self.

Now there’s the rub: just like in the Taekwondo walking stance, natural is not natural! I have to be intentional about doing natural. I must pay attention and practice being natural. I have to be honest about the discomfort I experience in being natural. I have to be honest about the times I fool myself about being natural. I have to be courageous to step out into a natural stance and trust that it will work for me, and when it feels awkward to come back and step into it again.

If being natural was natural, and everybody was being natural, everything would be more perfect in life’s interactions. If my Taekwondo walking stance was natural, my poomsae-life would flow smoothly and be more perfect. But it’s not. So, I act with intention to be natural, until it’s natural.

 

In the Pink (in 473 Words)

9 Aug

Every morning, one of my gratitudes is to have the health and physical capability that I do. Rather than think in the context of limitations related to birth, genetics, and age, I try to take a moment of thanks and appreciation for what I have and what I am capable of. I also throw in a “thanks” for the health and well being of those I love as well. You could say we are all in the pink.

As I think of being in the pink I also am now wearing pink. It’s a good reminder of how fortunate I am with my health. But it means more.

Beginning today, publicly, it shows my role as one of the Northland’s Real Men Wear Pink ambassadors for the American Cancer Society. Please, click that link. Between now and September 30, the day of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, we men are tasked with not only showing up places to raise awareness about breast cancer but also to raise at least $25,000 toward the cause, at least $2,500 each. It’s a bit of a fun contest among us.

This isn’t for me. This is for the women I know, love, care about. The women that you know, love, care about. About a year ago Bonnie and I gave deep thanks that the lump in our 23-year-old daughter’s breast was of no consequence.

To make my minimum goal, I need your help, and I ask some of you to step up in a big way: I need 25 of you to gift $100 each. (In fact, 24; I gave the first $100.) If you can give, or stretch to give, that amount, please do. Let’s get this done. Think about the women you know, love, and care about, and help me in my challenge.

Any gifts will add up to an amazing contribution to the cause. Of course, it will all help me show up well in the competition! (aka Win With Me!) If you can’t be one of those 24 donors, then please give something. In Taekwondo we learn that in self-defense, with the challenge before us, regardless of our capability, we do something. We do what we can. We act. We don’t just stand there; we respond, regardless of what we can do. Cancer sucks. It may hit women we care about. Please do something to help.

If the more than 700 people in my contact sphere each gave $4.00 I’d surpass the mark. Go to my personal page and donate. $1.00, $3.00, $10.00, whatever. There is tremendous power in everyone acting. What can we all do together? Perhaps many acting together is how I’ll reach my goal.

I’m also having some fun with this in my Taekwondo realm.  I’m taking a risk to step up, in the pink, very literally. It started on vacation at the Mackinaw Bridge and will continue throughout this challenge. Old, slow and — for those who know —obviously forgetful. But really grateful I can!

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