Monday, May 14, 2012

Putting Karate Practice Into Words

by Alan Kandel

Karate training in particular (and true of martial arts in general), doesn’t limit itself only to the instruction that goes on within the limits of four dojo sidewalls, a ceiling above and a floor below; it finds application in everyday life. After 15 years of steady training, that I no longer practice the art-form in the physical sense, doesn’t mean, to use a metaphor, I do not still practice what I have been preached.

Upon earning an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in Engineering Technology in 1976, I returned to the land of my birth – Baltimore, Maryland – fully prepared to enter the working world, or so I had believed. It should be so noted that all during this time my allegiance to karate-do training was unbroken.

In terms of job pursuits, in one of my post-graduate interviews (I had several) I was assured by the interviewer my resume would be held in the strictest confidence. What that meant to the interviewer and what this meant to me were apparently two different things. As it turns out, a worker working for that particular company during the time of my interview who approached me while I was filling out an application or taking a pre-qualifying test (one or the other), had inquired if I was Alan Kandel. I, of course, responded in the affirmative but I had no idea of who this individual was or how this person knew me. When I asked how he knew my name, his reply basically was that he became privy to my name (if not more of my personal information) by virtue of the fact that my resume, the one that was supposed to remain confidential, was apparently in plain sight of anyone coming within eyeshot of the interviewer’s desktop. He saw my resume and put two-and-two together. To add insult to injury, upon departing said company, the interviewer expressed that “it was nice to meet you, Albert” or something to this effect leaving me to question if I really wanted to work for this outfit no matter what the pay and benefits were. The guy whose job it was to use the information on the resume as a means to familiarize himself with the person whom they were interviewing apparently did not pay close enough attention to get my first name correct, while someone else who had no business even looking at this document but did anyway, paid even closer attention as at least he identified me properly.

In a totally different job search on a completely different coast (this time in the west), I was interviewed by not one but by two interviewers. One worked in personnel and I believe the other was from the department where I would be working had I been hired. I remember more than anything else that day the personnel department employee asked me if I knew what the acronym MOS stood for. Those letters in that order should be familiar to anyone working in the electronics field.

When I responded to my so-called interrogator by emphasizing that the letter trio stood for Metal Oxide Semiconductor (the way I learned it in college), it was quickly pointed out that the “S” in MOS did not stand for semiconductor, it stood for the word silicon. Having been set straight and now ready to face the second interviewer, I was instructed to go to the second floor to meet with the engineering department official. He, too, asked me what MOS stood for. Not really sure how to respond, I said Metal Oxide Silicon to which came his reply, “Semiconductor.” It was right then and there that I should have pointed out that that’s exactly how I responded to the first interviewer upon being asked the same question, but I just kept my mouth shut leaving the two of them to figure it out. As it turns out, I turned down this company’s job offer.

Although I managed to find a job in my field, the karate-do training took a back seat to other more important matters that demanded my attention. But, it should be noted, the spirit of karate training remained within the context of my day-to-day endeavors. In fact, I believe I carry the spirit of my past karate-do training to this day.

I decided after years of working in the electronics field, I decided to try my hand at professional writing. Needless to say it was not without its challenges, particularly for someone who was not academically trained in the writing arts.

Well prior to embarking on this newfound journey, then in the mid ‘80s (not my age, the year) I returned to college to pursue a post-graduate degree in education. As part of my master’s thesis requirements, I conducted an industry survey trying to ascertain if a commensurate position in industry actually existed for people like myself who successfully acquired a baccalaureate degree in the area of Electronics Engineering Technology. What I learned through my research was that even though such graduates were not hired as “technologists” per se, they were utilized primarily as “applications engineers” and technicians. Some even fulfilled or continue to fulfill sales-related roles.

At any rate, upon earning my Master’s Degree in 1987, I decided that I wanted to report my findings and what better vehicle than the representative journal in the Engineering Technology realm. I then sent a brief of my thesis covering what I thought were the essential points to the journal’s editor with the hope that my contribution would be published. After nine months of patiently waiting, at long last the reply had come. It was in letterform and contained in that letter was information to the effect that not only was my writing atrocious (the editor’s words), but that the information that I submitted was dated. Could it really have been that the message of my research wasn’t what reviewers wanted to hear? What I can tell you is, what was printed on the letter before me definitely wasn’t what I was hoping for. Yes, it’s probably true my writing may very well have been “atrocious” as it were, but to indicate my research was dated, really! It was suggested, if I like, I could rewrite and resubmit. Seriously!

Not discouraged and still intent on writing, in 1999 I contacted a newspaper features editor inquiring about my contributing a feature article. I was invited to submit my article. So I did. After review, the features editor’s comments were three: 1) I didn’t talk to anyone meaning I did not get comment from interviewees; 2) the article was too long (it was 3,000 words in length); and 3) the newspaper wasn’t accepting freelance work. That last condition sort of precluded the other two, wouldn’t you say? Why the features editor didn’t explain this at the outset, I’m not sure. Had this person done so, if nothing else, neither of us would have wasted the other’s time. I feel.

Moving right along and not looking back, I inquired of an editor of a different newspaper if I could submit for publishing consideration the same article that was rejected by the first. This was in July. I was advised to follow up with the editor in November. So, I waited. When I called in late October that year (1999) to follow up with the person whom I thought was the same editor, much to my surprise, l learned that the person I spoke with back in the summer, had moved on to bigger and better things apparently leaving me to deal with someone not familiar with my situation. In speaking with the new editor, like before, I was welcome to submit.

Not long thereafter, after being advised that if I shortened my contribution from its then 3,000-word length to less than a third that to 700 words, my article would be accepted. Now I was charged with the task of revising and after much effort, I revised downward to 900 words total and lo and behold my first work got published. The article graced the pages of a community newspaper in Fresno, California, the focus of such on central California railroad history. Why railroading? Prior to becoming a journalist, I worked in railway signaling, which, incidentally, involves an understanding of electronics and therefore the connection between my academic preparation and my vocational pursuits. It seemed only natural that I would cover railroading as a first contribution to professional writing.

There was no question I was well on my way and many more contributions followed.

The moral here is that although I do not practice karate-do any longer and haven’t for some time in fact, this doesn’t minimize the notion that the spirit of my martial arts training comes shining through elsewhere whether it be via my writing endeavors or otherwise. To use an analogy: It’s like riding a bicycle; once learned, it is never forgotten. Maybe I could not have become the writer that I have become without the karate-do training. Something to think about, anyway.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. May 14, 2012.

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