Loving and Killing

Sunday is a day of contrast for me. I go to church in the morning and hear sermons about how to love, then I meet friends in a park and study Krav Maga and learn how to kill bad people.

In case you’ve never heard of it, here’s a good demo video of Krav Maga (WARNING: some violent scenes) – 

As much as I love the philosophical aspects of martial arts, I hate that its still necessary to know how to fight in this world. When I was a kid watching sci-fi movies, the future was always depicted as a time when people communicated telepathically, wore white robes, and swore off violence decades earlier after an apocalypse had finally happened and taught them all (too late) the folly of hatred and aggression. These survivors were usually disfigured somehow. So the message was clear – spiritual advancement comes at a terrible cost.

And isn’t that true? Don’t we learn most quickly and deeply when things are worst? Some would argue that pain and the avoidance of further pain is the only thing that ever changes anyone. It is rare for one to learn anything once and for all, or to learn from someone else’s experience.

I’ve studied boxing, Dutch kickboxing, Okinawan karate and wrestling, but my black belt is in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu. My latest love is Krav Maga, the Israeli army combat system, which I’ve been studying for about four years now. The two styles are very different. Kung Fu is soft. Krav Maga is hard. Kung Fu is pretty. Krav Maga is practical and direct, not dynamic enough for movies and tournament kata demonstrations. There are hundreds of techniques in kung fu, most of which are based on the movements and fighting styles of animals. Krav Maga tries to limit the number of movements so there’s less to remember, and those movements are based on natural, instinctive reactions.

I chose this style because it’s considered one of the most deadly modern martial arts, because I’m getting older and my daughters are, too, (and prettier), and because I’m alarmed every day by the craziness in the news. Things don’t seem to be getting better. Every day a new collection of horrors assails all us normal people who have never had a problem not assaulting, molesting, raping, or killing anyone, and to whom such things are inconceivable. 

And that is the reason martial arts are still necessary. Most people wake up and do their best to be happy and kind to others, thinking about their goals and how to achieve them. Others, thankfully the extreme few, but the ones who get all the attention on the news, wake up and immediately start planning who they’re going to rob, rape or kill that day, where they’re going to sell their drugs, what area they’re going to search for houses to burglarize, what schoolyard they’re going to hang around hoping to catch a parent not watching his/her child. Evil has always existed and it still does. It even appears to be growing. The reasons are many and a subject for another blog or series of them.

So I’ll keep training to protect those nearest and dearest to me, and even a stranger if I see someone being victimized, even as I wish it weren’t necessary. I’ve never been the type to look the other way, to my wife’s dismay. I’m proud of that. When someone who is victimized in broad daylight is interviewed, they often say what made the assault worse was all the people who looked the other way, who walked by as if they didn’t hear her/him screaming. Most people are just too terrified to help. Some have a good excuse – being small physically, being unarmed/untrained, age, etc., but too often they’re just selfish, concerned only about their own skin. So evil wins again.

The battle between good and evil has always been and always will be. I know what side I’m on. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but we only have two. And as the saying goes, evil flourishes when good men do nothing. So I’ll love people, even those with evil in their hearts, and do my best to steer them away from evil before they do anything wrong. But if they act on their evil impulses, or if they already have and are unrepentant, and I have a chance to punish them, the full weight of my thirty years of training in how to break bones and cut off their air supply will crash down around them. Our forefathers didn’t create this beautiful country at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives so that their sons and grandsons could just hand it over to the trash of the world.

On the back of the U.S. dollar, there’s an eagle with a quiver of arrows in one talon and laurel leaves in the other. The leaves are a symbol of peace, which the U.S. always tries first. But the arrows are there just in case the leaves are rejected. All men’s arms should be equally able to embrace or destroy. All men’s minds should hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And all men should possess weapons that can be laid down or picked up, depending on whether an angel or devil crosses their path.

For instance, many years ago, I was driving past my local mall when I saw a woman with a very worried expression walking along a sidewalk and a man walking equally fast about twenty feet behind her. I passed by at first, then trusted my instinct that something wasn’t right and turned around. I followed them for a few blocks and he turned every time she did. I finally pulled into a driveway behind her, blocking his path, and asked if he was following her. With a horrified expression, she said, “Yes, he started following me in the mall and won’t go away!” I got out of the car and stopped him, asked him what he was doing, etc. He tried to go around me so I stopped him again. He got mad and took a big, primitive swing at me. I spun him around and put him into a chokehold until he passed out. That’s when the woman’s husband came flying out of her house, which was only a few more doors down, thanked me and finished him off. He was still beating him senseless when I drove away. The woman waved and said thank you as I passed her. That is a much happier ending to me than the alternative – the woman getting punched unconscious and raped in an alley or some bushes.

I want to be everyone’s friend and love everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone else feels that way. So I train so I can be who I am (happy, loving, friendly) with the knowledge that I can be very dangerous if I need to be, and only if I need to be, after all other options are exhausted, only when cornered or unable to ignore an evil act. As Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga, said, we train “so that we may walk in peace” – the same reason I go to church.  

When I get to heaven, I hope Jesus pats me on the back and says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” – for loving people, and protecting them.

Walking Around

Just a reminder for all my fellow work-a-holics – 

Never underestimate the extraordinary body/mind/soul healing power of a long walk past neighbors’ gardens with a child and a dog on a sunny, almost-spring day.

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A Sack Full of Feathers (Jewish Proverb)

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A man had an argument with a Rabbi and started spreading false rumors about him. This went on until he no longer felt angry and started feeling guilty. He went to the Rabbi feeling ashamed and said, “I’m sorry for the things I said about you. What can I do to make it up to you?”
The Rabbi said, “Go and collect as many feathers as you can.”
Though a strange request, the man was happy to do it to make amends and feel less guilty. He came back with a sack filled with thousands of feathers he had emptied out of pillows.
The man asked the Rabbi if that was all he could do.
The Rabbi replied, “No. Now empty the sack.”
Again confused, the man did so. It was a windy day so the feathers quickly flew all over the city. When the sack was empty, the man again asked if there was anything else he could do.
The Rabbi answered, “Yes. Go and collect all the feathers and put them back in the sack, and make sure you get every last one.”

Moral of the story –
A harsh word, whether true or not, can be apologized for, but it can never be taken back, and the damage to the person’s character and reputation can never be completely undone.

Who Are You Surrounded By?

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It’s not uncaring strangers we need to look out for, it’s family and friends, the ones who are supposed to love and support us to the bitter end. They’re the ones who will kill your dream. And almost always, they’re also the ones who have never dared to do anything great, the ones who have adhered slavishly to the safest path, never taken any risks, never made the sacrifices or had the discipline it takes to be a great artist or do anything extraordinary.

They will try to project their own reality onto you – sometimes in the subtlest of ways – saying things like “I just don’t want you to be let down” or “do you have a back-up plan in case this doesn’t work out” – because deep down inside, even when your success might benefit them, they really don’t want you to succeed. They don’t want to have to look up to you someday.

But it’s not always comfort junkies you have to look out for. Sometimes it’s people who appear to be successful in terms of material accomplishment but their egomania and type-A competitiveness overrides their sense of decency so much that their success just doesn’t feel complete to them unless they’re also making everyone else less successful. Sort of like chopping everyone’s head off so they can feel taller. Of course, if you dare to question such a person about an insulting comment, they’ll react with the standard, “You’re just too sensitive.” (The #1 mantra of the insensitive.) 

I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But sometimes your worst enemies aren’t enemies at all. They’re the people you live with. The people who tell you they love you. Assholes aren’t just people that flip you off from a passing car. Sometimes they’re sitting in your passenger seat, secretly hoping you’ll fail so they can feel better about the chances they weren’t courageous enough to take.

So what can you do? Once you have discovered a friend or family member who is determined to keep you down, the only solution is to eliminate them from your life. If you can’t do that, never – and I mean never – share your goals and dreams with them again. You should keep that stuff to yourself as a general rule anyway. What’s the point of talking about what you’re going to do? It steals the energy you’ll need to do it and gives some comfort zone junkie a chance to discourage you.

Some people don’t deserve to join you on your journey. It would be wasted on them anyway. If you are attempting extraordinarily difficult things that 99% of humanity is too addicted to security to attempt, explaining yourself to them will be like explaining the cosmos to a flea. 

Fortunately, the opposite is also true, though rarely. If you have a friend or family member who is confident and secure enough to wholeheartedly wish you well, who encourages you and strengthens waining courage, who praises the slightest improvement and reminds you of the greatness within you even when you feel like you’re forgetting it, take the time you were going to spend with the dream-stealers and give it all to him/her. That person is a treasure in this world. 

What is it with dogs and mailmen?

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I was working in the garden recently and had left the front gate open for a minute when the mailman came walking up out of my sight. My overly friendly German shepherd mix Charlie charged out to say hello, barking his head off, and I heard what I thought was a little girl screaming.

I went out looking for the child but there was only our fifty-ish year old mailman standing there, a very macho-looking fellow with a goatee and Indiana Jones style sun hat. Charlie had accessed his primal scream.

In a forced and overly deep voice (to compensate for the girlish squeal he had just emitted, which probably shocked even him), he said, “You need to control that dog.” I apologized but he just grunted and walked away angry, embarrassed that my dog had unveiled his inner Wendy.

 

Reluctant Poet (on writer’s block)

 

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The following is one of the first poems I ever wrote, back in those voice-finding days when I still believed in writer’s block. A bit melodramatic but accurate, which is more than I can say about many of my poems from back then. 

I had a conversation with an interesting fellow recently who said he was plagued by writer’s block and asked me what the cure was. I told him his belief in it was making it real. The world is full of interesting things to write about. All one needs to do is watch the news, talk to a neighbor, look out the window, sit in on a courtroom, read a newspaper (if you can find one), read a well-written book, or file through the thousands of memories each one of us has. With all this to draw from, how can anyone ever run out of stories?

This poem, when I wrote it, was about writer’s block, but what it was about more specifically was writing the things we know we must. The hard stuff most people spend their lives avoiding and burying. This is why authors and artists of any kind are celebrated, and should be – because they give freedom to the multitudes trapped within themselves, without the desire, ability, or perhaps the courage to excavate these emotions in themselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts.”

 

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Reluctant Poet

Words bound
through darkened corridors of my mind
like coy lovers daring me to catch them.
But I do not follow.
The darkness frightens me.
I do not follow.
I am safe in the light.
Safe from the worlds
they might open to me.
I accept myself, a fool,
until frustration with this half-life
erodes the empty shell of comfort,
forcing me to venture out,
to gape into the horrible blackness
I created
and groping, search
for what I really am
beneath the tortured, questioning facade
of awareness.

 

“Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.” (Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg)

Smash writer’s block by writing one line. It will lead to another, and another, and another, naturally following each other. Every book and poem you’ve read and every movie you’ve seen were written that way – one line at a time.

So when someone tells me they’re plagued by writer’s block, I assume that a) they’re being artsy and playing writer, b) they’re looking for excuses not to write instead of reasons to write, and c) they’re not paying close enough attention to the great, big, wide, throbbing world, to humanity, which is always bursting with stories. The hard part is choosing which ones you will devote large portions of your life to. I tell those plagued by writer’s block to stop thinking about it and it will evaporate like the fantasy it is.

Who Can You Trust? Humor poem (sort of)

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Who can you count on?
Who can you trust?
From the day you are born
till you return to dust?

Coca-Cola doesn’t care if your teeth fall out.
Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you cough up a lung.
OPEC doesn’t care if the earth is a wasteland.
Skoal doesn’t care if you spit out your tongue.

Casinos don’t care if you blow your life savings.
Wendy’s doesn’t care if you have a heart attack.
Developers don’t care about nature or wildlife.
Big Auto doesn’t care if we all cough and hack.

So who’s watching out for you and your family?
Who’ll care for you and for them if you won’t?
Here’s a clue that might help you figure it out –
If they’re making any money from you, they don’t.

You might say your parents would die for you
They certainly love you so I’m sure that is true
but they can’t watch you every waking moment
and they sure as heck can’t live your life for you.

You might say your friends are the best in the world
and I’m sure that they’re all very warm and sincere
but if you could see ten or twenty years down the road,
you might be surprised to see who’s gone and who’s here.

You might say your dog loves you without condition
and he’d faithfully walk beside you through hell
but if Mussolini or Hitler stopped by for a visit,
chances are he’d love both those bums just as well.

“Well,” you say, “Surely God watches out for me.
You’re not going to slam HIM, too, for Pete’s sake?!”
But drive your car toward the highest cliff you can find
and see if He helps you step on the brake.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that God loves us
and He’ll welcome us home when life is through
but for someone who’s bent on self-destruction,
there’s not a whole lot that even He can do.

Okay, so who’s really watching out for you?
Here are a few more not-too-subtle hints.
It’s not the police. They’re just too damn busy.
And it’s not politicans or world governments.

It’s not the Great Pumpkin or the Easter Bunny.
It’s not Woodsy the Owl or Smokey the Bear.
It’s not the Tooth Fairy or good ol’ Saint Nick.
(I hate to break it to you but Santa ain’t there.)

Well, I’ve narrowed it down pretty well
and given a lot of darn good clues.
If this was a game show or a board game,
there’s no way on earth you could lose.

But a game it is definitely not, my friend.
In fact, it should be chiseled in stone.
The only one you can count on 24/7
is you, just you, yourself, alone.

  • Mark Rickerby

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