Sunday, October 07, 2012

Just Right

With the recent move back to Sacramento we have managed to up-end our lives in so many different ways. Even though this use to be our home over a decade ago, it is now a very different place. Now that we are here and our daughter is older our lives have evolved to a point that we just do different things and now have to start all over again. With Aimee this was one of our considerations. For myself, I wanted to make sure that I had a couple of options as far as Kendo was concerned. I had recently made the rank of Ni-Kyu and wanted to continue gaining the skills and experienced needed to continue down that path and I had begun some five years earlier. For Aimee it was much more of a consideration and investment.

When she was 5 I had made the decision to introduce her to the martial arts. I had approached the task of introducting her with an empty mind. My plan was that of a children's alphabet picture book. I was going to start at the begining of the alphabet until she had a chance to see all of the arts. Well, I never made it to "B." All it took was one visit to Theresa Masteson's children's Aikido class and there was no going any further. As I tried to explain to her that the next visit would be to Brazilian JuJitsu she just shot her arm out toward the shomen and stated. "I want to take this." That was the end of it. For the next nine years Jill would drive her twice a week to lessons rain or shine (mostly shine in the valley of the sun). Aimee would go on to progress through two children's level classes to at the age of 12 go on to the adult class and go on to earn one belt short of brown belt. She ended up getting over two years of experience training with full size adults and multiple attackers. She managed to come close to perfecting her ukemi (falling and rolling) and gaining a solid grasp of all of the Kihon Waza (the inventory of Aikido moves). I know that she is my daughter, but it was amazing to see her out there during the training. For such a young person she demonstrated great skill, patience and ability when training during all of those years on the mat. Moving away from such a deep investment of time and relationship was difficult and I would often question if it was the right thing to do. We were cutting ties, setting sail to a port with out really knowing if we could get back that which we were leaving behind. I knew that there would be traditional martial arts here in Sacramento, but I did not know to what extent or if for that matter it would end up being a good fit. In talking to Aimee we agreed that we would approach the new journey with an open mind and that in reasearching it turned out that we had multiple options available to us. In preliminary searches, I was able to find that there were at least four Aikido dojos and two Kendo dojos in the greater Sacramento area. It really looked promising.

We haven't returned to Kendo with any regularity due to Aimee's school work load We are also have the option of a second school in South Sacramento.

 Finding an Aikido dojo was a different experience altogether. Having done a search for all possibilities in the area, we were able to determine that there were 4 schools that taught Aikido. So the first week after we settled in we decided to make one week a sort of Budopallooza. We would visit a different Aikido each night. The whole experience was a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The first style was too hard. The style was regimented based off of ritualistic forms and almost militaristic. The second style was too soft. It focused on energy extension and was lacking is action to the point of being meditative. The final style was just right. It had both energy and flow. It was medative but with connection to the art as a whole. It all of the people in the school were kind and were genuine in welcoming her.

 While all of the schools acknowledged how skilled she was, it was this last school that most closely matched her style as well as showed her a direction where she wanted to go. Of all of the dojos she had been to, this was also the most Japanese and had the greatest influence culturally. Having been experienced with so many years in the martial arts it was good to know that she was able to make the move and continue on the path with her studies. It was good to see that she was able to transition from a couple of great schools to new schools in Northern California that were just as great with the difference of styles providing a fresh start and a new direction.

 Each of the Sensei's from each of the dojos commented on her abilities and experience. But it was the last that noticed her abilities as a whole. After 9 years of study she had gained the ability to learn and know all of the kihon wazas (foundational forms) as well as have a strong spirit throughout the training. The last sensei her out on the floor as both uke (receiver) and nage (thrower) and put her through her paces at full speed in front of the entire class. There was quite a bit of murmering during the exercise as Aimee repeated the throwing and falling some 20 times or more in rapid succession, flowing and withoug stopping. After the class we had quite a few of the students and several of the black belts mention what a joy it was to work with her.

 We had returned a week later and when we came in over heard one of the instructors talking to another instructor telling him how great she though she was. Aimee was silently overjoied to hear the comment. It was nice to see as a matter of confirmation that she had acquired the skills to be considered an experienced and accomplished Aikidokaist. While all of her years, and rank may or may not matriculate directly into her new school, I think that all of her expreience and abilities will translate and will balance out. As the Dojo Cho put it, "I can see that she has all of the moves." Hearing that only confirmed my thoughts that Aimee had gained the skills to be able to join an adult class and keep up with all of the black belts. Some of the comments from the other black belts have been' "She has great Ki extension" or "Her ukemi flows and she is a joy to watch." All of those kind comments came as a relief to know that All of those years of practice had paid off. Not bad for a kid.
"..And though she be but little, she is fierce." Wm. Shakespeare

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Goodbye Arizona

We’ve lived in the desert now for over 10 years. This has been the longest period of time that any of us in or family has lived in one place. Despite our not wanting to be here for the reasons of the heat and the bugs, this has ultimately been our home and we have been changed by it. We have seen and experienced may things. We as individuals have grown as we have continued to lean and have made many new friends. So, no matter how we felt about being here, Arizona has been our home for a decade almost to the day. Leaving her has been bittersweet but we also look forward to seeing old, familiar places and seeking new experiences in a place that has changed vastly over the last decade. Moving back to Northern California will change our quality of life in that the surrounding areas will allow us to branch out more and to be closer to family. We are sad however to leave behind the many people that we have met over the years and the many teachers that we have been so fortunate to have worked with. We will miss the copper state and all of the beauty and riches that it holds. Arizona is truly a majestic state. So in the distance the expanse of the desert begins to appear farther in the mirror as we leave what was once our home in the distance. The saguaro’s fade to sihloutte in the early evening sky. A coppery blanket of light covers the land as the sun sets and as the desert settles in. Night approaches and somewhere in the hot, early evening air, the scorpion waves slowly its tail goodbye.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The 6 People You Say Goodbye to After you Leave

As soon as my wife handed me the phone I could tell that it something was wrong. She had a look of fear on her face. Jill knew what was coming. As soon as she jaded me the phone, I heard his voice I knew what happened. It was a month to the day that I had last spoken to his mother. I knew what he was going to say even before he was going to say it. Because during that conversation that I had with her the month prior, the first thing she said to me was, "Son, I've called to say goodbye, this is it. I am going to die."

Although she addressed me as son, I was not related to her. From the moment that we met she took a liking to me (for reasons that I fully never understood) and she made it a point to "adopt me." As a young soldier in the 82nd Airborne division I was far away from home and removed from my family. She had made it a point from our meeting to include me in her family for the next three years. Pretty much for every holiday I was over at the house being a part of her family. During the regular part of the year I was invited on family trips and to dinners out. For me it was a life saver. I hated Army life in that it was so different than anything that I had experienced. To have this new family in my life gave me a quality of life that was somewhat normal.

The morning I left the Army she was there at the bus stop and saw me drive off. She cried as the bus left and she faded from view in the early morning Italian fog. I ended a chapter in my life and began a new one. In the process many of the people that I had made friends with in the military had faded from my life as well.

For many years we had lost contact, but as soon as her son found me through an extensive search one of the first things I did was to make a trip to Idaho to introduce her to my wife.

Over the course of the last couple of years as my frined's heath was declining I was fortunate to spend time over the phone and have lenghty conversations. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer she had made the point to call her and give my mother a pep talk about survival, even as she was dealing with her own illness. "Hi, I'm Ed's other mother," she introduced herself over the phone to my mother.

One of the last things that she said to me during our final conversation was that I was one of 6 important people in her life that she want to have informed as soon as she was gone. It was a mere 45 minutes after she had died that I received the phone call from her son. He was on the highway headed home. It was a remarkable act on his behalf in as much as he had just lost his mother and he had to call an essential outsider to let them know that his mother died. However hard it was for him I was thankful to know that she was no longer in pain and that she was in peace. He did manage to go in to some detail about her last moments. I was so glad to hear about the fact that all of her family was there and that at the last moment, on her last breath, she looked into the eyes of her son, closed her eyes and stopped breathing. We are all going to die, but it was was reassuring to know that she left with all of her family around her.

After her son hung up I was overwhelmed with emotion. The fact that he had to call me to let me know that his mother had just died. The power of knowing that she was now gone, that she had to leave her husband, her children and grandchildren. She led a good life, had a fantastic marriage. I looked up to her relationship with her husband and felt that it was one of the best examples of true love and friendship that I have ever seen. So many questions rolled around my head. Why me? Why did she choose me? Why was I so important to her? She was such an incredible person, so to be chosen by her was just a powerful thought. Who were the other 5 people? Someday, I'd like to know.

Linda had visions and hopes for the people around her. She projected those positive visions for her family and friends. She was able to see her childern grow and become successful and happy and to see her grandchildren grow. I remember sitting on the porch at her home at Ft. Bragg and her saying, "someday you are going to meet someone and are going to be married, and I'd like to see that." I was glad that she was able to see my family and visit my home. In some small way it was a zen moment. Her vision had been complete.

As an outsider looking in things did not come easy for Linda and her family during the years in the military. Her husband and her worked hard for everything that they had. Even afterwards both of them worked hard to further their education and to establish a strong foothold in new careers and jobs. It was only later in their marriage that some success came to them.

"Son, don't worry, I've had a good life. I still have some things that I want to see and do. I want to make it through Christmas and New Years. Also, my team is going to the superbowl…I have to see that. Plus my anniversary is coming up, I can't miss that. And my birthday is coming up…Summertime, I hate the heat…maybe then."

You died on a Thursday.

Just a few weeks later her Green Bay Packers went to the superbowl and won. All of us who knew her had to have a moment to think about her and quietly smile. Even though I was not a fan of football or for that matter the Packers, there was some sense of universal justice to the fact that another hope of hers was now complete.

Her voice still even today resonates in my head. Occasionally when I think of her. She inturrupts me and I hear her, "Son, don't worry about me…I'm okay." With all that I have seen and heard, as all of our worlds have grown and changed for the better. It is what she wanted for all of us. She saw just about everything that she wanted to see for her family…so I know that she is okay.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

I Hate Fruit

Not sure when it started, but for as long as I can remember I have never had a significant amount of fruit intake in my diet. The amount that I've had has been negligible to the point as to be mathmatically considered as insignificant. The last memory of me even having fruit was when I was about 4. A baby sitter gave me a banana. I rember that gamey flavor that only bananas can have. The closest thing that I can compare it to is that fake banana flavor like that is in banana flavored candy. The cloyingly sweet yet ranky overpowering sweetness that is found in bananna flavored gum. After that I just couldn't stand it and avoided fruit all together. It wasn't till I was 9 or so that out of sheer desperation that I ate an orange. I actually enjoyed it. Since then it was pretty much the only fruit that I would eat (I've been told that Lemons do not count as a fruit).

Once I joined the army it was pretty much the same thing, complete and total fruit avoidance. Out of sheer bordom and having spent a multitude of hours lying on the floor of the German forrest in camoflage with a machine gun I did bring myself to try blueberries. They were everywhere. They grew nautral and wild in the German underbrush. It was impossible to avoid them. I'd return back from Italy with all of my uniforms stained from lying in blueberries. After awhile the stains would just no longer come out. One time during one of the many training exercises of being lost patrolling around the German woods I ran into a thicket of brambles and thorns. Much to my suprise and on closer inspection I found that the canes of thorned brambles contained blackberries and raspberries. Upon giving them a try I found that I really liked them with my favoring the raspberries more than the blackberries. Although I had found something new in the fruit family it would be quite some time until I would add them into a regular regimen.

Just recently I was in a supermarket with my family and we were talking about diet and somehow I mentioned out loud during the conversation. "I don't eat fruit."

Standing next to me was an older woman, probably in her late 60s or early 70s. Instinctually and instantameously she punched me in the arm. It wasn't very hard. I'd like to think that she did it out of disbeleif and as a reaction to my statement. At the same time she hit me she blurted out, "You don't eat fruit? You are gonna to die!"

Having been accosted by a complete and total stranger several red flags popped up in my mind:
(not in any particular order)

1. I've just been hit by an old woman
2. Personal space violation
3. I don't know you; stranger danger

Now, not knowing her I could have reacted immediatly out of indignation with a statement such as, "unhand me woman," or "good God, I don't know who you are and why are you touching me." But for some strange reason I found myself calm and recognized the moment for its comedic potential. I calmly moved my position, stood next to her, put one arm around her and with my other arm outstreached looked out into the distance as if to share a vision. I move my hand slightly across the horizon of the supermarket aisleway as if to highlight a line of imaganary text and said,

"And on his gravestone it read: He ate no fruit."

There was just a moment of hesitation as I could see that she at first did not get it. Then the neurons connected, and we all burst out laughing.

I then quickly proceeded to the register with my wife and daugher to pay for our groceries and to get away from my strange new acquaintance.