Thursday, July 26, 2007

My mate got a very special get-well card today... from my dad.
That was really special to me.

Another dear friend told us that we were "better than the sum of our parts" and I made some joke about the "parts" now including titanium, cobalt steel and high-impact plastic... thank goodness there's two of us with different approaches and varying blind spots. Sure, these things make us crazy from time to time, but mostly we have a lot of fun, and we really do dedicate ourselves to making each other better people.

One of the the things he's done is have me teach our martial arts group.
My methods, in the right circumstances, are very collaborative and responsive.
Our main student, my kohei, is one of those "fast movers" physically, and
pretty damn sharp between the (one cauliflowered) ears to boot. We are a great complement: He studied judo and wrestling at a very young age and was very good. I had a 10-year alley cat's pedigree in aikido before I came to jujutsu. I also studied wing tsun, kenjutsu, judo, Yanagi Ryu jujutsu and a handful of aikido styles. I'm not good at it, I just enjoy it.

Part of this is to help bring M into teaching, so when he's on a roll and has a good idea, I wave him up and give it a try for myself. He's very logical and patient, as a devoted parent and, in former times, a senior enlisted guy, so his ability to give instruction clearly is well developed.

I don't mind a bit taking instruction from him, I don't work in such a hierarchical way, and he never hesitates to listen if I have a point as well. It's a beautiful sempai-kohei relationship, we keep each other on track, challenge each other to
the best of our ability, and rely on each other's strengths.

Our "senior newbie" has bonded beautifully with
M, they both speak the same native language and M has adopted this kid as his own project. It really shows in the the kid's development
I stand in an interesting place as a kind of fine-tuner. Not having grown up physically graceful or adept (quite the contrary, apart from native strength and cunning) I can really break things down for new folks. I also still suffer from fear of falling, and every hip throw can be an act of bravery for me. One of the things Rolfing did for me was to take away the pain of falling on my left side, so the experience is so much less traumatic now. I can be quite phlegmatic about ukemi now, unless CG is throwing me...

Our other newbie is a beautifully focussed young lady who is still in the willowiness of her teenage years, but has such a hard edge behind her soft and slender beauty, that I can only hope to lend to her the soft owl feathers of my teacher's style. Owls, to me, are icons of budo. They are unassuming, round, soft and maybe a little funny looking, but if you're a rat, rabbit or skunk, the story is a different one. Whooo, Meeee? ;-}

So I step on the mat, and I know it's my show.
It's not CG's show.
I can't do his show.

Just last night I curled up with the cat, bad microwave popcorn, and an excellent German beer (gift from our redneck freak trucker Bavarian neighbor), and watched Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. I feel a lot like Jackie Chan's moron character, taking in (and taken in) by a kindly stranger.

I, too, have kind of bumbled along, and just happened to bump into someone who could help me help them.
It's the best thing, for lucky fools like me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm so proud I can't stand it. My CG is 3 days ahead of his PT schedule and headed for the end of the hospitalization phase and the start of real rehabilitation at the end of next week.

There's that space between the beats, where we can Really Rest. I'm there right now. I trust the hospital staff, I trust CG's dedication and discipline (it kicks in when he really needs it.. if only he'd realize that he needs it All the Time!) all that man needs is a focus and he can stand the world on its end.

Meanwhile, I'm in a kind of pause, a place where I can look around in the midst of deep feeling. This is a place like where I was in 2000, when I ripped up the roots of my life. It's a much less agonizing place now, because all actions are consensual. Ripping one's life apart from another's is one of the most unpleasant things anyone could ever hope to do, especially with someone you think you love.

What has happened in the past week, with the fear and acknowledgment that, in surgery, you sometimes lose someone, has been a tremendous bonding process, beyond our other hardships.

The conversation of touch saved us both, the night before the procedure. Despite his sleeping pills, he thrashed around in his hospital bed, until I left mine and curled up by his side. Then, he settled and slept peacefully. The experience for me was, to lend my entire Self as support for his healing process. I knew that he was looking for comfort, and when I was there to offer it, he could rest.

Rest, he did. I offered myself as hot water bottle, stuffed animal, "Kuscheltiere", whatever he needed. It didn't matter what, only the meaning of touch. We didn't talk, we just held. And he calmed, and he slept.

He woke up, and they gave him more drugs, and they took him away. I was beside myself, but I controlled it.
Then Joy showed up (she's aptly named isn't she!) and then Tre, (the most important things in my life are joy and trees, but I never figured it would be so damn literal) and these two heroines kept the rest of my day out of the dark.

I let them take him away, joking and laughing as we do, in the face of the awful bloody reality that he underwent, fortunately at the mercy of modern memory and pain avoidance.

We played Scrabble, which we all love, and Tre beat us all, especially after they told me he was awake and I could come down. I got pretty freaked out and couldn't parse the directions in German, but a rough-faced redhead put her arm around me (sensing my deep distress, I still have to hold tears back here) and led me to where CG was being cared for after the procedure. He was pale and seemed like a flat tire to me, but I was grateful for the intercedance of the anesthetics, and kissed him and held my forehead to his. He was completely sentient, if a rather fuzzy around the margins. He knew me instantly, and sought to console me instantly.

How is that, that I, who have scarcely been cut on in my scant four decades, am supposed to comfort one too well used to it?

Touch is the most powerful language, and I have used it in the past week in ways which help me to understand my training in some very deep and powerful ways.
I am humbled, touched, and illuminated.

The biggest lesson for me, which keeps being driven home here in this US Army environs and other factors... step back and have respect and perspective. Appreciate where the suffering comes from, Validate them.

To take another step, is to survive.
To take another breath, is to survive.

These are things we must hold close every day we wake, breathe, and walk.
There are so many things which can stop us. Every day we wake up, and do it again, is a gift to be treasured, maintained and enjoyed.

Friday, July 20, 2007

This is just some information about my mate's recent hip replacement surgery and recovery.

The surgery took place in beautiful Bad Abbach, at one of the premier orthopedic hospitals in Europe.

A little south of our favorite town of Regensburg (a very Austin place with a wonderful jazz fest every year) and only an hour away when the traffic isn't bad. I stayed with him for the first three days in the other hospital bed in the room. Tonight is his first night alone, but they are good about taking care of him. He got a cooling rubdown on a hot day, and the student nurses made him some peppermint tea this morning. The doctor is an elegant, affable genius.

Some of the staff are better than others, but that's life.
Just this afternoon he had a nurse (males are "Pfleger" and females are "Schwester" who just wasn't doing her job. The little stuff I was doing, like emptying the pee jar and regulating the temp in the room with the sliding glass door and the fan, she just wouldn't do. Never mind that he wanted some more pain meds and didn't get those either, and she didn't help him get back in the bed, which he needs right now! He managed it, but he shouldn't have. Let's hope she's a rare exception, otherwise I'll be rehearsing my German complaints and growling, snapping and snarling in the admin office.

Even so, it's a beautiful place, surrounded by a wooded park with streams, ducks, and the cutest bunny rabbits hopping around just wild!

They don't do general anasthesia here, they do a spinal block and heavy duty sleeping pills. No after-effects.
CG didn't remember at thing, and the day of the surgery was actually the worst. They were incredibly good at managing his pain, and fussed at him for not telling them right when it began to hurt.

He had the surgery on Wednesday, and Thursday the physical therapist helped him stand up and walk to the door and back on crutches.
Today, he walked down the hall. It's exhausting, of course, but he can take care of going to the toilet himself, if someone just helps him in and out of bed. That's nice for a man's dignity ;-) .

He'll be in the hospital until about the 30th, and then they will probably move him to the rehabilitation quarters, which are more like vacation apartments. He'll be there about two weeks.
They are wonderful about letting me stay with him, in fact they seem to like me there (I did all of those little things- heck, I think they shoulda paid me!). I'll be with him on weekends, and as many days in the week as I can get away with.

It's not easy, and it's not painless, but CG is a strong, motivated person, and right now I am just admiring his resilience.

Friday, July 13, 2007

There's a new kid on the mat, and I am having a kind of voyeuristic experience in helping him learn. He's one of those bright guys who lives mostly in his head. He's so bright, that anything he wants to do is easy.

But budo isn't easy.
I, too, came on the mat bright and strong and... totally retarded.
The other guy in class is a former wrestler/judoka, a real natural on the mat. I need someone like this in my practice, someone who makes me run faster than I can. He's got talent, he's got a terrific memory for kata and technique (I don't!) he's got this incredible Latin "panache" and a bold, wise and gentle spirit.

And I need someone I can beckon to.

The first taste of the mat is not a sweet one, not for many years.
The first year (1989) was for me one of complete innocence, and idiocy. A memorable moment was one of my second semester with J. Birdsong in Austin, walking down the hall in my old judogi (given to me by someone I wish I could meet again and talk to.. Terrell, you reading me?) and someone asked me if I was breaking bricks.
No, I said. I was learning to fall down. A lot.

The second approach (1993), at a university aikido club, was a more seasoned and intent-ful approach, though I still didn't have a clue. I did, however, make myself a small and quiet promise that I would see it through to shodan, black belt for the rest of the world. I did it, and in June of 1998 I tested for the black belt that I still tie around my waist when I wear a judogi. I will wear it until it falls apart. My ex-husband presented it to me. He washed a lot of dogi, for me to get that different colored belt. He deserves that credit.

The first days on the mat, the first year, are full of deliciousness.
Learning ukemi. Having it be easy for the first time. Learning sword. Having it be easy for the first time, after much struggle. Having a senior "make uke" for me and having the lights finally come on in my brain. Finding myself in love with the art, and having to separate that feeling from my attachment to my seniors.

The love of people who practice together successfully is incredibly purified.
We don't worry about a lot of things which people in other relationships worry about, because we have so much more at stake, and we have to keep things so clean and focussed. It's all about the art, and about our support for one another. If we don't work so closely and so deeply with one another, and yet hold enough distance to be combatants, we cannot do this work.

At this time, I have, and yet feel the yearning for, that sweet fresh feeling of something so very new. I am back in a teaching position after some time learning a new art, and savoring what I do, again, for the first time.

I am remembering Dan T taking huge breakfalls for my style of kotegaeshi. I'm remembering sitting and listening, having been told that the teacher I came for, the one I came to learn from, was 6 months dead of breast cancer. I sat there so close to tears, for me, for her friends, for everyone.

Many more times would come on the mat, that tears bided their time in my eyes.

Huge disruptions came from this choice in my lifestyle. In fact, it ruined everything I had planned, everything I had done. Renewal came from it as well, so the factors balance out and then some.

I remember the first time I met Brendan. Jim P pointed him out to me. "Go try to take that sword away from him" he said. Used to Jim's jibes, I took a look at the smooth efficiency of this throwing machine, and informed him that I was not THAT stupid. "No, go on. Go take that sword away from him" said Jim.

So I did.

A lifelong friendship/mentorship began, and I'm never sure where any of it begins or ends. Brendan took tremendous amounts of time and effort to forge this native ore into what may someday be something layered, sharp and resilient.

Jim would show up shortly after 5pm for "special practice" for those preparing for belt tests. There would be a beginners class at 6, an advanced class at 7:30, and Brendan would show up during it to bounce me off the walls after class. "Knocking the corners off" he called it, later, when we talked about it. I'd throw my cowboy boots back on under my hakama, throw on a shirt and run out the door, to keep from being locked in the gym. I still remember the smell of the halls, the feel of the elevators, the deep frightened nervousness before practice, and that exhausted elevation after practice. I also remember the black orchestra of the Texas summer night, and the stink of bats and dead crickets outside of the stadium in late summer and fall.
I remember earnest conversations, leaning on cars still hot from blazing Texas summer days, moments taken to watch bats, the ebb and flow of life on a college campus.

Now I am the sword geek, and he is still the master of kuzushi, kake and the throw you never see, or feel, coming. It's like practicing with an extroverted yogi master... except that I can stymie him now, then and again.

The change came with the move to Indiana and the "silent dare" to start training in something much closer to koryu jujutsu. Chuck has in his hands and in his heart, something truly rare and precious. Koryu is, in essence, a family art, and should be taught as such.

My first six months, every night was the one I wanted to walk off the mat, curse them all, and go back to aikido.
I hated it, I was awful at it, and Chuck constantly derided aikido. We had a couple of showdowns in which I informed him that if it weren't for aikido, he wouldn't have the quality of students that he enjoys. He's laid off a bit, and, while I don't exactly make a career of defending aikido, we still appreciate what the best of the art has to offer in terms of friends, associates, training partners and various adventures.

Now, teaching his class, I come clean. I have, approximately, 10 years aikido experience, and 5 in Chuck's sogo budo. The math is against me, to teach a "pure" version of Kokoro Ryu Sogo Budo ( So I am honest with the students, and let them know that they are going to learn a lot of aikido in the bargain.

I can do this with a clean conscience, as I know that aikido is very good at teaching very basic concepts. I just have to know where the students have to go, and get them ready to get there.

In this time, I rediscover how wonderful it is to set foot in this Strange New World of budo.
It is such a delicious sensation, to see a person learn how to get their body and mind to working so much better together.

It is such a thrill to be with people through the experience of falling and getting up, effortlessly. Yes, you can fall and it can be fun. Yes, you can hit, be hit, be twisted, pounded, explore the limits of your personal resilience, and it can be be big, beautiful, supreme fun.

There is a moment of the outbreath, the impact, there is a moment which seemed impossible to you before, and now you are there, and it is not just OK...

It's big fun.

Ah, this is my supreme pleasure these days.

Life is hard. My body is starting to show signs of age, my teacher's body is in for repairs, mine will be.
For myself, I can stand these minor discomfits, these major challenges, replacements, refits, frights, shocks and tests of endurance, if I can get back to my work.

I help people be themselves, and find more of themselves.
Some of it I do for free, and much of it I get paid for. These adventures I take on, are always larger than I am. I am only a faithful companion, a kind of coaching Rin Tin Tin, barking when Timmy's in the well, wagging when Timmy manages to pick apples and rescue other kids.

I can't imagine a better or more meaningful existence.
And I do love bringing beginners into this new, amazing world.
It's like being a midwife for the soul.

Still, I feel the need to go stand in the entry of Gregory Gym at UT Austin, and breathe deeply the smells of my early training.. whatever they might have been.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The more we want things to change, the more they stay the same.

No matter how many times I listen to the Asylum St Spankers sing Summertime on Itunes, it won't bring back those first times on 6th St, the Hole in the Wall, and points downtown.

It won't bring back catching Guy's slide and handing it back to him. It won't beat hot sweaty wandering evenings looking for a place for them to play, or tense times at the Kizmet...

It won't replace the long dark time in my personal blues, sitting at that table in the corner, lost in the music and my own personal mysteries, joined only by a good friend or two.

It won't resuscitate Austin for me. It will only make me miss what I remember, more. I'm not past times of rich personal development, but I'm past THOSE times. There was a kind of new and desperate purity both in the music and in my own life, with a deep background note of pain and loneliness that I had accepted as my own motif.

"Until that day,
ain't nothin can harm you... "

Well, I'm lucky. I've never been harmed.

But the hurt of change, of growing older, watching things I found so precious fade away, watching everyone around me growing older, this is my new background note.

I'm out of the bubble of youth now. I'm dealing with my own aging in my own body, and supporting the aging of the battered soldier by my side. My profession being bodywork, I have received some of the best repairs on the planet, and can do pretty much any damn thing I please, far more than I could even 15 years ago (I am closer to 40 than not). My mate is spared many small hurts, and is better prepared for the big ones (his upcoming hip replacement).

I'm insanely lucky, though not in any really visible way.
These times, like the times I had in Austin, slinking alongside the blues, will someday be another set of glory days for me. I stand in this very soft place now, where I am in a kind of awe about how a strange, small fish can become interesting in a small enough bowl.

The jazz show we saw tonight just made me miss Austin all the worse. I knew the faces on stage, knew the relatives, talked the talk. But it was just too calm, too poised. The cops weren't coming, there was nothing at stake.
In a way, it was more relaxing. In a way...

It just wasn't the same.

So I'll let Guy Forsyth and Christina Marr's crystal clear, exquisite version of Gershwin's "Summertime" wind down, let it go and go to bed.

Hank Hill has it all wrong.
Who can have such a limited view of life that their lawn is such a huge part of their self-image?
I remember long summer evenings, the smell of fresh cut grass, gasoline and WD40 that was such a huge part of my "Dad" image that I still think WD40 should be a men's cologne.

I got my husband to cut the lawn, while I tended the veg and herb gardens. Now that he is suffering terribly from a terminally arthritic hip, I cut the lawn. Today he bravely pulled out the trimmer and had a go at the edging. I really wish he hadn't, not just because he didn't get around to the things I actually asked him to do instead (things that would have hurt him much less). He ended up in quite a lot of pain.. fortunately he got some excellent meds from the doc and managed to stump to the jazz fest with our friends K&C tonight. That was good and therapeutic: they danced and were cute, and this young couple and ourselves have more in common than we have found in a very long time.

I find myself quite against lawns.
It's a British thing, something for the aristocracy to play cricket or croquet on. We ain't aristocracy, we don't plan to be, and we ain't got servants to trim the verfugen grass blade by blade.

I got part of it last night, the rest today, and set the little annoying electric lawnmower as low as possible to shave the hell out of the manic growth portion of the lawn just below the veg garden. Next home, no fucking lawn. Paths, fruit trees, veg garden, berry patches, gravel and cactus (very Tex-Asian), sheep, goats, geese, whatever. No lawn.

The Black&Decker froggie we have is completely useless for anything with grade or relief. I have to wrestle the thing into straight lines and release the back wheels on what would be a normal easy "return cut" on a gas mower. In addition, you need four hands at least to operate an electric mower. Lacking this, I loop the first meter of the cord around my own neck so that I can control the cord on the "cutting side". Years of experience in fly-fishing and martial arts pay off in this endeavour.

I can flip the loops like fly line, sweep them away from the path of the blades with feet accustomed to sweeping human feet off course and into the line of my own intention, and curse in all of my adopted languages to maintain a faintly obscene monologue between myself and this blighted machine I have chosen to keep our home presentable with.

I can't imagine how someone without my years of training and trials could POSSIBLY manage an electric lawnmower. Therefore, I must say that no one without at least four years of judo training should even consider the purchase of an electric lawnmower of any kind.

Meanwhile, I contemplate the meaning of lawns, and I don't like what I find. It demonstrates a certain futility, a certain time span one has to waste. It's the same thing I find when I contemplate personal car ownership (as opposed to efficient public transportation).

We don't get enough out of it, to warrant what we put into it.

Think about it.

Just.. for a minute.. think about it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

As a person having to submit their mate to the hammers and saws of the orthopedic surgery profession, I have this repulsed sense of indignity and rage mixed with a sense of gratitude that they can actually take a rotten greater trochanter/acetabulum, cut it out, and replace it with titanium and stainless steel.

I'm also grateful for colleagues here who will do their level best to see that he is in top form for the surgery.

I'm facing some minor but necessary medical procedures myself, fortunately that can wait until he can drive again.

I'm reminded of something my Taiwanese massage school co-student told me, in between throwing me across the room (he is a Kung Fu/Chi Gong master and I was a student of aikido).
He failed. I passed. I hated that, hated the cultural bias and idiocy of state licensing, for him.

"Killer is healer:
You need a knife in the kitchen
and on the battlefield."

The kitchen being the place of healing, and this statement, brought me into a very different place in terms of my attitudes towards to my martial arts practice, allopathic medicine, and Maslow's theory:
"When all you know how to use is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail."

I see one of our biggest needs as "alternative" practicioners as being communication with the allopathic profession, many of whom are grateful for a partner who has more time, and more empathy *Mitgefuhl* to give people, than what they can do, given time and insurance limitations.

I also hold in my memory, probably for all time, my conversation with the German doctor who will take care of me, when my turn comes.

"Blood is my job, ma'am".
He showed me the stains on his new white slacks, which German doctors are culturally obligated to wear.

Let us be grateful that health, and not blood, is our job.