Sunday, October 28, 2012

Boards Don't Hit Back. But...

by Alan Kandel

We all have our moments. Those times when things just don’t go as planned.

Who hasn’t, right?

So what would you have done if the situations described below happened to you? How would you have handled them? These questions may be a bit academic-sounding, but still, they prompt thought.

Visualize being asked to help out in a martial arts demonstration. At this demonstration there is  an audience. In this case, audience members consist of fellow martial artists and non-martial artists alike. Your duty, should you decide to accept that responsibility is to break wooden boards. The problem is you don’t yet have any board-breaking successes to your credit. So, how to proceed?

This is exactly the situation I got myself into once.

I was asked to assist in a karate demonstration helping an experienced practitioner. There came a point during the exhibition where I was called upon to break a two-inch-thick pine board utilizing a yoko geri kikomi or side thrust kick using the outside edge and heel of my foot. It was in the early 1970s when this undertaking transpired, so please forgive if I can’t exactly tell you whether my attempt to break the piece of wood was with my right or left foot. However, in making an educated guess, I would say it was with my right one. At any rate, the board, held by another –and I can’t tell you by whom – was about waist or chest high. Having gotten set in I assume an appropriate stance, I then proceeded to execute the side-kick technique. There was nothing. The board refused to cooperate and thus remained intact. It probably didn’t even flex. Okay, so what to do?

Again, I kicked and, like before, the board stayed whole. I can vividly recall hearing someone – in a whisper –advising me to first step through or side-shuffle and then lift my leg and kick. I was bewildered. It wasn’t registering. It wasn’t sinking in. I was caught up in the moment. Instead, what I was doing from my established stance, was just raising my leg and thrusting it sideways, half-expecting the wood’s splintery fibers would just obliterate due to the force of my kick. Wood fibers aren’t made of steel. I know this, but, still, what gives here? Finally putting two-and-two together and, after thinking things through a bit, the light bulb lit. Literally and figuratively following through just as I had been coached, I assumed my stance, crossed in a sideways motion one foot in front of the other, delivered a kick with what would be the leg that was farthest from the board and … success! If anything, the experience was humbling; not the humiliating one that one might expect.

Since one good demo deserves another, having achieved success, even if limited, it is understandable that more demonstrations would follow. Of course, more experience was gained along the way. But that goes without saying.

Then, about 15 years later I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate degree program at California State University, Fresno, majoring in education. At that level, academic requirements for many of my classes involved writing essays as opposed to taking tests. As it turns out, in one class in particular, I had to give a speech on motivation which was my topic. Of course I had to make my speech on motivation motivating. So what did I do? As part of the presentation, I decided I was going to break a board, but instead of using my foot, I was going to use my fist. Anyway, this was the plan, at least. Since I felt there might possibly be repercussions if I had asked the class instructor or a fellow classmate to hold the board for me to punch. So, I decided it was best that I hold the piece of wood in my left hand and hit it with my right. I also knew it would be inappropriate to kiai (a concentrated or focused yell) in the academic setting I was in, so I refrained from doing so.

Taking a few deliberate breaths, I executed the fist-blow and history repeats itself; the board refused to give. So, here I am trying to give a presentation on board-breaking as it relates to motivation and instead of doing a number on the board, the piece of wood in my presence, was getting the best of me. The knuckle of my middle finger swelled up like an inflated balloon.

Here again, what to do?

Call me crazy, but standing before my audience, and refusing to give in to defeat, not only did I focus on the board, but with intense thought processes I was intent on my fist going through the board, and not just hitting it. With the concentration of a laser beam now directed at the object in my left hand, after a couple of deep breaths, my right arm traveled forward from my side, fist closed and, lo and behold, a broken board. The saying: “you can do it if you put your mind to it,” definitely rings true.
Like in the account describing the earlier demonstration, the board of choice for the latter one was also two inches in thickness. But, unlike in the first account, instead of it taking me many tries to get the job done, it only took two attempts. Even so, I can’t be for certain, but I am almost positive there was a split-second’s doubt that I would break the board in question especially after the initial attempt at doing so failed to produce the hoped-for results. But, as it stood, in the face of defeat, there obviously was something there driving or compelling me to not relent, to not give up, in other words.
These two board-breaking experiences being what they are, with good reason, are ones I’ll never forget. Somewhat bewildering though these may have been, it is with fond recall that I remember these. It will always be this way. Interestingly, it is the other more routine or mundane of experiences, martial-arts related or otherwise, not only have vanished from thought, but are long forgotten as well.

So, in considering whether the experiences detailed above are UFO or unforgettable flummoxing occurrences as it were, I’ll say! After all, what would the human experience be without such? I’m sure many can relate.

Copyright Alan Kandel. October 28, 2012.

Playing for Change - United

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sweet Smell of Success? Or Just Fumes

 by Alan Kandel
It has been said, without the bad, the good cannot be appreciated.
Life’s journey for nearly all, I would say, is anything but straight. How we proceed in such is all predicated upon the choices we make or those others have made for us. We make good decisions, we make bad. When good decisions are made, we derive a sense of satisfaction from such. When bad decisions are made, watch out! We cringe, bristle at the thought, protest, sometimes vehemently. Once getting beyond any one of these or a combination thereof, we either dwell on the regrettable or we get over it, maybe some of both, vow not to do such again, and move on, forward, hopefully.
Soon after I graduated from college in 1976, as I mentioned in my first post, I was in search of a career. This was a trying time; a period of much trial and error, a period in which the waters were thoroughly tested. In one interview, I was instructed to take a qualifying test. Since it was in the field of electronics the test involved analyzing circuit diagrams and determining such things as voltage, current, resistance and so on and so forth. Well, I have absolutely no qualms in admitting I scored a 40 percent. The gentleman interviewing me seemed so disappointed that I scored so poorly that before I had even made my way out of the building, I was practically being scolded. You see, he knew one of my college instructors, and apparently the interviewer had high expectations. By scoring what I did, I can only guess for the man doing the hiring it was a big let-down.
The good – and bad – news is that I eventually did find a job, but it only lasted a year. I was appropriately placed in the test and troubleshooting department, and with a total of six technicians, one of which was the supervisor, all but two of us smoked. For the record, I am one of the ones who didn’t.
At first, work was tolerable. Then as smoking became more frequent with more smoke filling the indoor air and therefore for me more unbearable, I asked one of the head honchos if I could have my workbench relocated to an area where the smoke was far less noticeable. The place I suggested that my workbench be relocated to, there was plenty of room, but, not surprisingly, my request was curtly denied.
Meanwhile, it just so happens that during this time I practiced martial arts and, believe it or not, but there would be more fumes to deal with, although they were from an entirely different source. Like at work, it wasn’t a case of smoke just getting in my eyes. It went way past even that. An irritant if not an outright nuisance would be more like it.
Practice was held in a steel-framed building with exterior edifices consisting of corrugated, galvanized-but-painted-steel panels and for interior walls, drywall. At any rate, the building housed two businesses – a dojo and a shop for repairing automobiles. It is not too difficult to imagine the implications here, so I’ll leave it at that.
And speaking of cars and as if to be adding injury to insult, the car I was driving had much to be desired. It was a used car I bought in place of the one I’d been driving, for that one was in an accident, not my fault but that makes little difference. It turns out the replacement set of wheels I purchased had a small break or hole somewhere in the filler neck that led straight into the gas tank and when driving up hill especially, with a full tank of gas, well, in any case, if you haven’t guessed by now, even if I never glanced at the fuel gauge, I was fast reminded of such. In fact, gas fumes could be detected in the car’s cab even with windows closed. When it rains, it pours, I guess.
At any rate, that vehicle became a good candidate on a new one as a trade-in, something I should have done the first time around. Live and learn.
The dojo eventually relocated to another building, one that was more conducive to training and as for the job, well, with much intestinal fortitude and who knows what else I had managed to summon, I approached the department super and exclaimed, “I’m done,” to which came his reply, “In that case, go get another [waveform analyzer to start work on].” Apparently not getting my drift (pun intended, of course), I reiterated, “You don’t understand, I’m done.” End of story.
Copyright Alan Kandel. October 15, 2012.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Martial Arts and the Restraint Factor

by Alan Kandel

I witnessed an episode of road rage once. It wasn’t pretty. I was traveling on a main city thoroughfare, and seemingly out of nowhere, two vehicles appeared, and caught up in what looked like a “cat and mouse” chase. Meanwhile, the vehicles’ occupants were slinging, let me guess, expletives at each another. By this stage, the rage had obviously intensified and by the time the dueling factions made it to the intersection ahead, the drivers of both vehicles executed right turns, one still in hot pursuit of the other. And that was the last I saw of them. I couldn’t help but think that soon a suitable place to park the cars would be found and the warring parties were then going have it out, try to settle the score and, for what, because somewhere back down the road one driver maybe unintentionally or inadvertently cut the other driver off?

I look at this example and think the whole situation could have been avoided had individual and collective restraint been exercised.

That situation reminds me of another and it involved me.

Having nothing at all to do with martial arts training, nevertheless, I happened one day to be riding a bicycle and on a portion of a road on which I was riding, there was a steep downgrade. It was a two-lane country road and off on the side was a narrow shoulder with loose gravel. In the interest of safety – my own, during descent, I decided to occupy the center of the lane. The road speed limit was 40 or 45 and I estimate my speed to be about 35. In the corner of my left eye, I just happened to catch sight of the corner of the front bumper and headlight of a trailing car just off my bike’s rear wheel. We’re talking mere inches here. It was then that I noticed the vehicle’s two occupants laughing it up and right at that moment the car began to pass me. Once having done so and pulling back into the lane ahead of me, the driver maneuvered the car in such a way that I was literally being run off the road.

I was furious!

At the bottom of the hill there was a traffic signal and for vehicles traveling in my direction the displayed light was red. When I caught up to the offending car, the occupants of which had given the term “out-for-a-Sunday-joy-ride” new meaning, this is when I approached (and reproached) the person sitting behind the wheel: “How would you feel had you killed me?!” It was probably not the smartest move on my part. In response, the driver assailed an expletive in my general direction and then took off.

Honestly, I could have been killed. But all that happened was I got hot under the collar and was the target of an expletive. In hindsight, probably what I should have done was get the car license plate number report it to police but, being I let my emotions get the best of me I did not think in a rational manner.  (For all I know when I approached the driver, he might have put a gun to my face, one just never knows). That I walked away from this incident, I was then in a position where I could put it all behind me, and that’s what I did, until now.

One never knows when they’ll find themselves in a situation where there is the potential for a disastrous outcome.

There are times where people’s differences of opinions cause flared tempers that escalate to the point of no return. But in thinking, why let things reach this stage? In some situations maybe there is some macho thing going on where one side has to prove dominance. I suspect, in many cases, that’s probably part of it.

When I regularly practiced martial arts I learned self-control. And by having and practicing restraint, one can benefit greatly.

The takeaway here is in trying situations try to keep cool-headed. In doing so, chances are good that good judgment will prevail. But also be mindful that no two situations are exactly alike and different situations dictate different responses.

While I’m no expert on matters such as the above, my sense is people diligently engaged in quality martial arts training acquire tools (e.g., self-control) and skills to better prepare them for and handle what life can throw our way.

Restraint is one of those tools and it’s golden!

Copyright Alan Kandel. October 4, 2012.