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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!

When What Is Isn’t (Like a White Pizza)

21 Jul

This is and isn’t An Unlikely Master blog entry. (Insert your preferred emoticon here.)

I’ve begun a separate blog so that I can freely write in the spiritual space without feeling I need to hold back for fear of being too spiritual or religious. Even if the difference between what I might write here versus there could at times be subtle, I feel I need the freedom and safety to “just go there.” I envision the new blog as a bit of my own online spiritual journal along with sometimes just sharing the prayers, readings, essays and thoughts I encounter.

For those of you who would like to read and follow my pizza creation in process —because I really don’t know what ingredients will get thrown on top during the preparation — I introduce you to Be Cool to the Pizza Dude. I’ll still be writing An Unlikely Master as well. Maybe the two will come together some day, a precursor to my retirement work ( “Whoa! It turns out the pizza dude was this old tae kwon do master leadership guy . . .”)

Interrogation Techniques 101

7 Mar

“Mr. Kingston, do you think you’re helping this drill go well by doing that?”

A bit later: “Mr. Kingston, how do you think we all feel waiting for you to stop that and get ready?”

And later: “Mr. Kingston, are you trying to get me on your case on purpose, or do you really not realize what your are doing?”

This was not at all my usual mode. I was weary. I was even a bit resentful of having to teach class that night. So much for making my own energy and choosing my behavior. Kingston is normally a distracted guy and he was in prime distractedness that night. I was instructing, alone, Kingston and more than a dozen other students, and he was the nail sticking furthest out from the floor. He was making my life hard, and I tried to whack that nail down with an interrogation hammer.

Interrogation. Police get confessions with it. The military finds out information it needs. Parents use it to get their kids to realize their errors. Bosses use it to hold employees accountable. Coaches use it to focus the attention of their players. It’s an age-old strategy that can seem to accomplish a lot. But accomplish what, exactly?

Well, certainly the interrogator feels in control, or is trying to. She’s trying to manage and direct the situation, people, you. Isn’t that what mom was trying to do all those years? And Coach? Isn’t that what the boss tries to do now? What about Master Chris? Trying to control the situation, manage it, manage Kingston, direct him. Shame him? Motivate him? The interrogator makes it clear she knows the answers to her questions, and that you obviously don’t, but now you sure do. Situation under control. Mission accomplished!

Police and military uses aside, in the words of my Alt-Lead business partner, what interrogation ultimately accomplishes is “to make the recipient feel like the biggest piece of crap in the world.” It’s probably safe to say we all have been on the doo-doo end of this management technique — or control tactic — at some point in time. I have been.

Whether it was harsh or subtle interrogation, I may have changed my behavior but it didn’t motivate me. Or inspire me. Or empower me. It may have gotten me to focus more on certain stuff, but it sucked the energy out of the situation, energy that I might have used to do my best work. Even if my behavior changed, I felt reduced. I felt like a piece of crap. I wasn’t motivated to stick my head out any further. “Keep your head down or it might get bitten off!” I may have been managed, controlled, pushed — or manhandled — but I was not being led to the best place I could have gone to.

There I was: interrogating. At least I caught myself by the third time. I noticed Kingston’s eyes ever-so-briefly flick down. I could see how I was sucking the energy out of the room.  I caught myself and turned things around. I had been facing the shadow; I turned around to face the light. I returned to who I was supposed to be at that moment: a teacher. A leader. Leading the student to their best place, drawing out the good, the true, the beautiful, the potential.

“Ok, Mr. Kingston, let’s take all that amazing energy and use it here. Ready?”
“Man, Mr. Kingston, you certainly can work hard! Can you keep it going ten more times?”
“Who can help me with this? Kingston? Great! Let’s show everyone how to do it!”
“Ooo, Mr. Kingston, that’s pretty good! Let me show you something that might help you do it even better.”

His focus changed. My energy changed. It ended up being a really good class for everyone. People worked hard. People left wanting to come back for even more. Imagine that.

Class ended and Kingston reminded me that I had not recruited a helper to pack up my big hockey bag of equipment. “Can I do it?” he asked. “You sure can. Thank you for offering!” As he struggled to make it all fit, I helped him organize things in a way that worked. “Whew. We did it!” he exclaimed with bright eyes.

Yes we did, Kingston. Thank you for helping me.

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

1 Jan

I’ve been enjoying teaching kids in Taekwondo more than usual recently. They’ve made me smile. They’ve cracked me up. They each have been interesting. A few have given me pause, even made me a bit sad, because I know some of the personal and family challenges they face and imagine what that must cause inside.

My mindset is to enjoy them, to appreciate and accept them as they are, to let go of expectations and to simply experience them and respond to what presents itself. It’s somewhat like improv or jazz, responding to what’s there, to what unexpectedly presents itself, being open to the discovery, rather than being locked into a particular theater script or musical score.

Parent, after class: “I don’t know how you do it. You have the patience of a saint.”
Me: “Ha! Thank you. I find it’s easier to just go with it rather than fight it. Have fun. Try to appreciate them. Plus, I only get them once or twice a week; I don’t have to live with them every day like you do!
Parent: “I couldn’t do it.”
Me: “I think you could. Even at home.”
Parent: “Does that mean I can make him do pushups?”

It becomes fun to look at any given interaction as a discovery (“Ooo, look what she’s doing now!) rather than approach a situation simply as a dichotomy of “Expected or Preferred=Good, Unexpected or Not Preferred=Bad. In that latter scenario, I’m lucky if I hit fifty precent satisfaction; read the other way, that means at least fifty percent frustration.

As I’ve further reoriented my mindset in this way with kids (particularly needed on one of those nights when 18 kids show up and I happen to be all alone!), I’ve also done so with teens and adults. This has not been a teaching strategy. Rather, it’s a larger living approach related to my spiritual growth.

This past year, I’ve been able to more fully experience the gift of each day, the joy of each opportunity, gratitude for what I have, and appreciation for the people in my life. The related process is acknowledgement and gratitude for who I am, which flows into seeing the people I encounter as the unique children of The Creation that they are. I find that I can relate to others in more significant ways if I relate to them in their space. That further opens the door to responding to them based on what they are actually putting out. Improv, not sticking to a script when our scene mate is going someplace else; Jazz, making choices among options in the structure, rather than sticking to a particular score regardless of what I’m hearing.

When I openly observe and listen, when I am more present in the current moment, I can respond to what I discover, which I find is a better response than the one I would give based on what I prefer to be happening or what I might script in my mind. I also believe that responding thusly imparts recognition, validation, worth.

Yes, there are still rules. There is structure. There is still accountability. But there is a lot of space within all of that, and in that space I can observe, respond, even create.

Here’s to a 2017 of exploring space and discovering all that is there.

A Diamond Mine

1 Oct

I recently attended an event sponsored by the fantastic Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce . Former Duluth mayor Don Ness spoke. After two terms as Duluth’s second-youngest mayor ever, with astronomical approval ratings, Don is now Executive Director of Workforce Training and Community Development at Lake Superior College.

Speaking to the challenges that employers have in maintaining a capable workforce, Don uttered a statement that made my heart flutter:”Businesses need to be willing to Continue reading

Everyone has a book in them

5 Sep

Bemidji, Minnesota, February, 2011. My son, Robb, twenty-two at the time, competed in black belt sparring. Robb caught a kick to the head that resulted in him losing the match. It wasn’t just the points that got him, it was the physical effect of the kick; he couldn’t give it the right effort the rest of the match. Afterward he noted that he wasn’t going to compete in sparring anymore: “I’m going to be an attorney, not a Taekwondo olympian, and I want to keep all the brains I can.” Good call, Robb. He’s now a year into legal practice and proving he’s got some good skill to bring to the table.

Recently I was greatly moved in reading the story of former NFL tight end Ben Utecht. Getting hurt in football is just part of the gig, right? The gig of concussions went places he’d never imagined. My son Robb played tight end in high school. Ask him some time about the spectacular head-on special teams crash he doesn’t remember, and about his rubber-legs when getting off of the bus after the game in which he continued to play after said spectacular play. The extra-big highlight reel, MVP push, often proves itself to have been a bit overboard. Continue reading

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