Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sticking with it

Last October I went to Los Angeles and took my first Kendo test. Up to that point I had been practicing for about a year and three months.

I had never been to a shinsa and had no idea what to expect. I had been to about 5 aikido examinations watching Aimee climbing the ranks. When I was 13 I took Taekwondo for about 6 months. I ended up waking up late the morning of the exam and I missed my chance for getting yellow belt. The Taekwondo grandmaster Chun Lee let me test a week later and reluctantly gave me a yellow belt fearing that I would quit if I didn’t pass. Lacking discipline and maturity, I dropped out anyway.

Over the years I had attempted to sign up for and attend several martial arts classes. In high school Brian Iwakiri attempted to round up several of his friends to take judo at a local Japanese community center. Up unto that point I had not trained in anything so challenging and brutal. I would come home with the cross-hatch weave patterns of the gi ground into the skin of my chest in one big bloody mess. Not sure why I didn’t stay with it, at that point in my life I just never really stuck to anything.

It was around 1979 when I saw Sydney Pollack’s “The Yakuza” on TV. It was my first view of Kendo...I was mesmerized by it and was fascinated by the short scene that was at the beginning of the movie. After some research I was able to find a nearby dojo in West Covina. I just went to watch...I had no interest in joining. To me, watching Kendo was just fascinating. It was fast, flowing, explosive, beautiful. In my teens I would go back to the dojo just to watch, but I had somehow come to the conclusion that because I was not Japanese I would never really be any good at it.

As soon as I graduated from High School and I moved in with my father down in Huntington Beach I found a local dojo and started taking classes. Due to my constantly changing life, my inability to hold down a job or commit to school, I once again had to quit something that I wanted to learn.

About two years ago on my birthday, I just wanted to go and see a Kendo practice. Like so many times in my life before I though that I just wanted to watch. I didn’t think that I was going to make a commitment.

Aimee seemed generally interested as well and went with me on a frequent basis on the Sunday practices. With my change of job last year, I went from evening shift to the day shift so I was then able to go to the practices during the week on a regular basis.

Going to a Kendo test is sheer pandemonium at best. There are hundreds of people there in various ages, shapes and sizes. Fifteen minutes prior to the practice all of the students from the various dojos gather together for swinging and striking exercises. The noise for all of the students is deafening and overwhelming.

I was nervous to say the least. I did not know what to expect or for that matter what I should do. It was all new territory for me.

Once the testing stated the instructors and judges pretty much tell you what to do and how to do it. The hardest part was sitting in the torturous seiza position for an extended period of time.

I ended up having to participate in two matches. In the first I did pretty well. The second all I could think was “why does this guy keep hitting me with a stick?” No matter what I would do my second opponent would just find an opening and exploit it. I took a moderate bashing.

I left the shinsa and Torrance not knowing how I did or what rank I received. A couple of days later I received an email from my sensei with my placement results from the test.

Turns out that I got san-kyu which it about 4 “belts” below sho-dan or black belt. Not too bad for the first time around. I still have a long way to go from a skill level. My footwork is bad and my timing and sense for gaining opportunities to seize the moment in a second is non-existent. But, once again in my life I have managed to pick up where I left off and did better than I did before. Just like school I managed to dedicate myself to something and I gained something as a result.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Random Photos

A New Friend

As some of you know, I've had the same wristwatch for that last 24 years. I was overindulgent in my purchase but at the time I was tired of burning through wristwatches. By the time I had got to my permanent duty station at Ft Bragg I had already burned through three watches in Basic, AIT and Jump School (yes I snuck a watch through jump school even though it was technically illegal).

The Submariner has been with me since September of 1985, which means that this year the watch will be 25 years old. A couple of months ago, it started to show it's age and began developing some problems. While the watch was able to hold time, I would at times wake up in the morning only to find that the watch had stopped in the early hours of the morning. I just had the watch serviced two years earlier, and because it's a Rolex, the service charge just to look under the hood of the thing is quite expensive (just like a Ferrari). I just couldn't bring myself to cough up the money to have it serviced again. After talking to several professionals the consensus was that the watch was just old and that it wouldn't hold a charge any longer without having to be hand wound. This was one of the original reasons that I had purchased the watch. I wanted a timepiece that I didn't have to worry about. But it seems that the time had come to give the Submariner a break. After all, it had been with me through over a half dozen jumps out of military aircraft, traveled with me to 23 different countries, traveled below the equator, been on the set of countless Hollywood productions and was there with me when I got married and the day that my daughter was born.

To have to come to terms with the prospect with retiring the watch was heartbreaking to say the least. Jill was pretty adamant about holding off on getting the watch repaired again. This time I agreed with her. Since I now work from home and really don't get out much I just needed a timepiece that was fairly accurate and that I could knock around. Jill asked me what kind of watch I wanted and roughly set a price range of what we could afford. After looking around on the Internet and spending some time on The Poor Man's Watch Forum I was reminded of something. I have always really liked diver's watches. I was PADI Openwater certified when I was 18 and have always been a fan of diving. Plus the advantages of having a watch that meets ISO standards means that the watch can pretty much take a beating.

I had decided on the old trusted standard of the Seiko 200 meter diver also known as the SXK007. In watch collector circles, the automatic watch is well know as a reliable work horse and a good overall sport watch and is not a bad looking watch.

Jill ordered the watch from and the watch was drop shipped from Singapore to directly under the Christmas tree. Now that I have 4 watches my mother was kind enough to get me a watch box to store all of my collection under atop my dresser in the bedroom. Like Lenin in his glass tomb, my watch sits, reminding me of glorious days past.