Posts Tagged ‘martial arts’

Day 29 is my aspirations.

Now, an aspiration can be a desire or a goal, so I’ll choose two things where the definitions overlap:

I’ve talked a lot about making music in the past few weeks, so I’ll try not to further inundate you, but that is most definitely an aspiration. I don’t know where my efforts will take me – to recording MP3s at home, to local open mic nights, or to a simple mastery of and happiness in crafting music for my own enjoyment. The end result doesn’t matter right now – the journey, and the experience, do.

I’ve talked a bit about martial arts, but little in detail. I study Bujinkan ninjutsu with my partner, who is shodan (a first-degree blackbelt). My intention in ninjutsu is to also achieve shodan – not the belt itself, nor the certificate, nor the formal acknowledgement, but the physical and mental mastery. I want to know, kinetically and consciously, every technique; I want all the terminology and names memorized and comprehended; I want to be able to put together a response to every question and every move that works. I want to know my art so well that I can stop thinking about it and simply move, secure in the competency of my body and my muscle memory. I want to reach that ledge where I have learned enough that I can truly begin to train: shodan is only the beginning.

And, in time, with much more experience, I think I might like to help train others. My sensei in Colorado changed everything for me, and I would like the opportunity to be that transformative for those who seek it out.

Day 25 is a first.

I can’t pick just one, so have a handful:

My first car was a ’93 Chevrolet Cavalier, teal and two-door. It was 800$ and could not get up to 60 mph even when going downhill. I named him Sora and had him for some two years before upgrading to a car that could manage a highway commute to college.

My first job was at Morgan’s Foodland Fresh, a local grocery store. The owner/manager had known my mom for years and didn’t mind taking on a total newbie as a cashier. I loved working there and only stopped because I moved an hour away for college.

My first martial art was tae kwon do chung do kwan, the original school of TKD and the one they still teach as combat-oriented. I’ve never wanted to learn any kind of sportsy or competitive martial arts, and chung do kwan fit the bill of being really enjoyable without the sport connotation. I was a teenager and trained for two years, not terribly intensively (I was a slacker); my mom and I took three classes a week together, and she regularly kicked my ass with her street-brawling and football-charging tendencies. Chung do kwan inspired a lifelong interest in martial arts and led me to seek another sensei when I later moved to Colorado.

My first novel was The Dark Wars, hand-written in a series of five spiral-bound notebooks. I only worked on the story during school, beginning in seventh grade and petering out in high school; the version online is only a book and a half of greatly revised and rewritten chapters, rather than the four and a half books I wrote by hand. It started from a wistful daydream and ran from there, introducing me to a ridiculously long cast-list and a very important period in Lavanian history, albeit AU due to human inclusion. It classes itself as young adult, simply because that’s what I was when I wrote and revised it.

My first pet was a mutt named Cricket. She was black, medium-sized, long-furred, and incredibly sweet. Mom was driving three-year-old me home from McDonald’s one day, down our windy bumpity gravel road, when we noticed a tottering blotch with legs following the car. I threw fries out the window for her and begged my mom to let me keep her. We drove out to the construction site where my dad was working, the puppy foaming from the car ride – of course, my dad’s reaction was to yell about rabies. However, my impish charm won out (as did my mom’s veterinary logic), and we kept her. Cricket was my best friend for fourteen years.

Day 23 is something that makes me feel better.

Afternoon sunlight through the leaves, making dappled shadows. Sprawling somewhere soft and lazy, listening to the wind and breathing the warm air. Being surrounded by four cats and a dustmop of a dog, at least some of whom are purring like rusty lawnmowers. Music fingerpickin’ in my ear and folksy voices singing old tunes.

Brisk air in my face, the windows rolled down, the road thin and curvy through the mountains. High slope on one side and drop-off to the other, no other cars around, the engine drowned out by poundingly loud music that draws shadow and water out of the air. Capital-d-Driving, braking just right to get the bite coming out of the turn, exulting into each straightaway.

Perched in a high place, body molded to the rock, looking out over the world. The wind high and thin and chill, all human noises fallen away below the treeline. Sun-warmed stone and treacherously-shifting dirt, a misstep a sentence to fall halfway to the sea.

Brine in the air and gulls on the wing, sand hot enough to making walking hasty, coarse and unstable beneath bare toes. The sun brilliant and the wind strong, the water ear-ringingly cold. Surf and foam and water-darkened shoreline, the layers upon layers of ocean that reach inward and numb the feet. Sunsets that take forever.

Working up a sweat with a knife or a stick or just the body, testing flexibility and precision and pain tolerance with each technique. Demanding better from a fellow student, forcing him to hone the moves until flexibility doesn’t matter and the technique just works. Panting, arms shaking, legs weak, but not tired. Learning and practicing and actually improving in tangible, acknowledgeable ways. Finding security and joy in these abilities, this knowledge.

Hands restless on goatskin, pounding out rhythm that the brain doesn’t know but the body feels. Fingertips plucking at soft strings until nerves go numb and the notes come clean. The vibration of vocal cords, singing like pouring colored ink from a kettle, having no idea how it works but loving that it does. Feeling the music in the belly and in the head, meeting in the chest, and being consumed by everything the melodies summon and manifest.

And far, far more than just that, but if I tried for a comprehensive list, I’d never stop writing.

Day 14 is about my partner, J.

(It was supposed to be another ‘what you wore’ thing, but man, my wardrobe is not that exciting. Flannels and jeans and sneakers. Whoop-de-doo. So I changed it.)

If I wrote a song about J, I would call it Steel-String Shaman. That’s almost telling enough, right there.

J is a dashing fellow with hair down to his hips and a sense of style that trumps mine ten times over. He’s a talented musician, rocking the guitar (6- and 12-string both) and ethnic drums (djembe, doumbek, bodhran), and he can improv incredibly well with anything from pennywhistles to mandolins to harmonicas. He’s also a craftsman and artist, skilled with pencil, paint, clay, and wood. Along with these creative hobbies, his passion is working with animals; he’s served as an emergency vet tech for years and has worked with dozens of wild animals in zoos and sanctuaries. He’s also an avid martial artist and the reason I began studying Bujinkan ninjutsu.

To make a long and glorious story short, J and I met through a mutual friend when I was still living in Colorado (and he in Nevada) in the summer of 2008. We fell hard for each other and decided to go for the long-distance thing – we didn’t miss a single day talking to each other and managed fairly frequent visits. The following summer, I packed up and moved to Nevada to be with this incredible person that I had grown to so love. We’ve been together for over two years now, living together for over one, and I could not possibly be happier.

This may, in fact, be why I felt the urge to give J a ring I’ve had and worn every day since I was seven. It was handmade for me and is the most precious thing I own, no matter how simple and plain-silver it is. It was all very romantic, of course – we were at dinner earlier this month, and I got down on one knee, held the ring up, and asked solemnly… “Hey, wanna ring?”

He did. And I smiled.

We start each martial arts class by saying shikin haramitsu daikomyo. My favorite translation of that is in every encounter lies the opportunity for enlightenment. There is a potential revelation in every moment, in every interaction, in every breath you take.

This March, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 IBDA Tai Kai, a forty-person, three-day, intensive training camp for those teaching and studying Bujinkan ninjutsu, hosted by Shihan Van Donk in San Francisco. I hoped for the Tai Kai to hold a little bit of enlightenment for me, but I kept myself reasonable and didn’t let my wistful thinking get too far off the ground. However, as it turns out, it was exactly as inspiring and fueling as I had wanted it to be – far exceeding my realistic expectations.

One of the many lessons I took away from the Tai Kai was the concept of being at zero. Many of our instructors discussed this, but one approach in particular stood out to me.

A gentleman named Jim King asked us what defines a warrior. In my head, I answered control – control of oneself, control of the situation, control of others to prevent escalation and damage. His answer was similar in some ways and very different in others.

His understanding of a warrior is that of balance; only unbalanced people will start a fight (excluding soldiers executing orders). A warrior is an active participant in everything; a warrior chooses to act, to bring the attention and aggression upon himself, and in doing so, he protects those around him. Everything is a deliberate, conscious choice; a warrior takes responsibility for what he does and for what happens as a result.

In order to remain at zero, a warrior does not invest himself into the fight, or the technique, or the outcome; he acts and takes opportunities where they arise, as they arise, and abandons them the moment they cease to be useful. It is intuitive, immediate, flowing; there is no tension, no intention, no emotional attachment. Ultimately, this balance stems from love, compassion, and peace – not hatred, fear, or anger.

One who is balanced is never forced; instead, he only accepts an invitation to become involved as necessary. Being balanced is an inner quality, not an outward characteristic born of great skill or competency. A warrior chooses every single thing he does deliberately and consciously.

It hit home, solidly, intensely. I am still musing over the concept and how to further integrate it into all areas of my life, not just physical training. And it’s important enough to be the first martial arts concept I blog about.

How do you balance yourself and stay at zero?