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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

While Watching a Rerun of The Bob Newhart Show After Returning Home From a Wedding

20 Aug

August twentieth, two-thousand-sixteen. Blythe and Jason get married in a service that makes my eyes moist. The beginning of a lifetime together.

December, nineteen-eighty-five. A rerun of M*A*S*H was playing on the TV. Bonnie sat on the couch. I was doing some sort of exercise across the room, wearing shorts that would be way too short in 2016 (or for any year since then).

I stopped what I was doing, sat down next to Bonnie, and said, “So, you want to get married or what?”

“Are you serious?”
“I’d love to.”
(Hug. Kiss) Continue reading


3 Aug

I recently returned from my fifth year helping to run our Rotary district’s week-long youth leadership camp. How does a volunteer team of more than forty mostly-20-somethings help to empower nearly 150 mostly-17-year-olds?

A paraphrase of what one camper said last year summarizes it well: “I came here expecting to learn a cardboard cutout of what it means to be a great leader. Instead, you showed me me.” The camp curriculum and process gets to the heart of recognizing, respecting and using individual uniqueness and gifts, both one’s own and those of others, as the most powerful way to lead. Continue reading

What’s The Condition of Your Blade?

2 Jul

At one point I operated two separate Taekwondo studio locations myself. Certainly not all by myself; I had a number of black belts who would assist as they were able and also cover classes in my absence. That was important because I had one overlapping class night and could not be in two places at the same time.

I ended up with the two locations — one my own original location and one my instructor’s, which he passed on to me — for two reasons. First, I hoped to ensure that both communities would have the opportunity to train in Taekwondo into the future. Second, I hoped to earn some semblance of livelihood through Taekwondo instruction and, between the two locations, I felt that might be possible.

As soon as one enters the realm of traditional martial arts studio operations there are lease commitments, overhead costs, facility maintenance needs, and constraints of operating Continue reading

How To Avoid Getting Trapped in the Web

26 Jun

“Hello, this is Chris.”
“Hi, Chris, it’s Tom Marchetti; does that ring any bells?”
“Gee, your name sounds familiar, but sorry, I’m not making the connection.”
I was at RYLA; my mom is Sue Ma . . .”
“Oh, gee, yeah, TOM! I can’t believe I didn’t recognize your name. I remember you clearly.”

So it continued for a bit with Tom, a camper several summers ago at our Rotary District 5580 Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp. A rising high school senior then, he has graduated from college and is working in a professional sales position. He thought of me as someone he could contact as part of his outreach.

Before we wrapped up that phone conversation, I stopped to ask Tom what about RYLA has stuck with him. He didn’t hesitate before he told me this:

“You know that Spider Web challenge my family (team) did? We completed it, but I think almost all of us had touched the strings in some way. When our facilitators asked us after how we think it went, we all knew we had touched the string and at first no one wanted to say anything; we were so happy and relieved to complete it. I knew then what integrity was. We admitted it, tried it over, and accomplished it. I still think about that all the time.”

My head and heart were exploding! Continue reading

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