Sunday, July 05, 2015

Devaluation of the IPPON

What has happened to the Warrior?

   When I began studying Judo back around 1958 there was a different attitude (and scoring system) which seems to now only persist in Japan. Back then one could only score a half point (Wizari) or a full point (IPPON) in a Judo match. An Ippon would instantly win the match (as would two Wizaris). Throw an opponent to his or her back with force and control and you were awarded an Ippon...and instantly won the match. As the sport spread across the world and tournaments saw more and more players, modern folk (read: Western) got restless with the scoring system.  Many matches were ending in a draw in which case both players were eliminated (often some of the best in the division).
   Along came the new system that awarded 1/4 and even 1/8 points. So, if a player made a sloppy technique and received a fraction of a fraction of a point, that person could prevail and win the match by going defensive and simply fending off the opponent. Talk about boring matches.
   Still, in Japan the spirit of the game remained unchanged and the cry of the warrior was to GO FOR THE IPPON!
   This resulted in a double edged sword. Say someone got a fraction of a fraction of a point. By going for the Ippon and risking all they created a scenario in which the opponent might counter and get a slightly bigger fraction of a point and, thus, grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Still, in major world-title matches, Japanese Judokas have risked their leads and gone for the IPPON. Sometimes, the spirit worked in another way.
   In a now famous world title match the Japanese player tore a shoulder muscle and  suffered great pain. He almost dropped out but decided to continue. Now, one might think he would try all sorts of little things to get one of those minuscule fractions of a point for the win. Instead, he went full out and relentlessly attacked his opponent with major techniques. With seconds left he made a stunning throw and the referee yelled, "Ippon." He had won the match and a world title. But that is not the end of the story about this man.
   In a subsequent major title match he led by one of those "weeny" points and needed to only run out the clock with defensive maneuvers to take the title. But that was not the spirit of the warrior, that was not what the Ninja had handed down. This man, with victory virtually assured, went for the IPPON and, in doing so, was countered and thrown. He had lost the match and the title. As he stepped off the mat he was seen to be smiling. Yes, he had lost; but he had maintained his honor and dignity. He had embodied the spirit of the warrior. He had, above all, gone for the IPPON.
Paddle  safe...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Get assessed

Kayakers: want to be a star?

 Most of you paddlers know that there is a BCU (British Canoe Union) and an ACA (American Canoe Association) each of which certifies instructors at various levels (1-5). Most of you also seem to know that the BCU offers classes and assessments to award(non instructor) paddlers a star value that indicates their level of proficiency as a paddler. So, when someone says "I am a 3-star paddler," you know that the BCU system has validated their competency at the criteria for that level.

What fewer of you seem to realize is that a parallel system exists within the ACA paradigm. That is, an ACA certified instructor can evaluate a paddler and award them a skills assessment award at some level up to and including the instructors level of certification. For example, one could go on the ACA site, download the skills required of (for example) a level 2 paddler. When ready, an instructor with a level 2 (or higher) certification can put you through the paces and, if you pass, award you a level 2 assessment award. It does require that you are or become a member of the ACA.

It would be nice (I believe) if more paddlers had a realistic assessment of their skills. If they fall short in any area, the testing instructor notes that and the paddler knows where to emphasize their practice. 

Go ahead and check out the ACA site and the requirements for skill assessments and see where you think you are on the skill ladder. Then, find a qualified instructor and test out. Best of worlds and you end up with bragging rights. Worst case scenario and you know exactly what you need to work on. 

Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blessed is he...

Most Blessed Man Ever?

I suspect you know a guy (or two) like this. A guy who seems blessed in every aspect of his life. The guy I have in mind was blessed with wonderful parents who brought him up from humble beginnings and modeled for him the values of integrity and charity. He wasn't wealthy but was able to create his own fun and adventures.

He lived in a time and place where public school education was excellent; and he was stimulated to go on to college. There, he was blessed with excellent instructors and, when he went to graduate school, wonderful mentors. During all these years he was blessed with wonderful friends who became life-long friends on whom he could depend on in times of trouble. Oh, he had enough trouble, just like the rest of us, but each event taught him a lesson and left him stronger. 

There is not enough space to enumerate his interests and the blessing they brought to him. They showered him with incredible experiences and put him in contact with new friends who stimulated him to higher achievements. 

He enjoyed a long and rewarding career doing worthwhile work of which he was proud. 

After educating himself (and surviving the military), he was blessed when he was fixed up with a blind date who was to become (as he called her) his first wife. They are still married almost 40 years later. You can probably guessed that he was further blessed with wonderful children and incredible grandchildren. 

With all of this he built what I would call an ideal and blessed life. He is content with what he has and thankful for everything and everyone in his world. 

No one could ask for more in this life. I certainly can't. It is enough that I am blessed to be that man.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Act of Bliss

How I Almost Touched The Sacred

   I have always felt a unique connection with animals and, until recently, had always had them in my life. Cats, dogs, hamsters and even pigeons have shared space with me  throughout the years. That is, until now. You see, since Ansel, our German Shepard mix died some years back, there has been a black void in my world. Our life style no longer made it practical to have another dog and my wife, sad to say, is highly allergic to cats. So, I went without and lived with the emptiness......until a few days ago.
   I don't know why, but I had never had among my animal family a guinea pig. So, it was a pleasant event when I went down to Illinois to spend some time with two of my grand kids who happen to have a pet guinea pig named Katie. Mostly white with some brown markings and piercing black eyes, Katie seemed immediately comfortable on my chest and lap. I don't know if was the texture of my fleece jacket or if she just sensed that I was a safe and kindred soul. At first she sniffed a bit and, when she settled down, I began to stroke her rich fur coat. Down her back and around the base of her ears, over and over I moved my hand as I slowly began to sink into a calm revelry.
   I have read how stroking a pet has health benefits and I have seen how visiting animals can  produce a magical joy in nursing home residents. Most of all, I remembered how I used to lay on the floor next to Ansel while stroking his fur, looked into his eyes and talked to him about my life. He would look back into my eyes and just listen, like any good therapist. The deep calm that I had experienced then began to revisit me as I sat in silence and stroked Katie. Then, something happened that I did not know was possible. Katie began to purr. 
   I didn't know until I read about it later that guinea pigs often purr when content. Moreover, she began to chirp. Over and over, a sound reportedly made when guinea pigs are in an altered state. It was magical. I stroked, she chirped and purred while I sunk deeper and deeper into a meditative state that did not seem of this world.
   Nothing could have possible been more blissful. At the time I was prepared to spend eternity there stroking Katie while going into a deep trance. So we sat for a while and, as the sun outside the window worked itself to where it was to announce the end of the day, Katie peed all over my shirt.

Paddle safe...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I am On My Last Leg

On My Last Leg

And Now To Take Care Of It

   My life (and, I believe, yours) is full of life-changing events that contribute to the rich texture of our existence. Such an event happened to me , somewhat late in life, when a fragment of a lumbar disc broke off, cut a nerve and left my left leg weakened. Suddenly I was unable to continue many of my passions including running (I had a 3:30 marathon in my fifties), sail boating (a beautiful 42' cutter) and Judo (I was a black belt and actively competing and teaching). A period of sadness and self pity followed as I sought out an activity to replace what I had lost.
   Somehow, I ended up at Rutabaga Paddle Shop in Madison and took a 6-hour intro to sea kayaking class from a man I have come to know as my mentor, my friend, and JB. It was instant love. My background of decades sailing on Lake Michigan, Judo and SCUBA all came together. I found it easy to learn what was to become my new passion (which, when I became a certified instructor, married well with my other passion: teaching).
   Jump ahead a bunch of years to last month. I am on Lake Michigan in one of my kayaks when I develop a pain in my right upper thigh. Driving home, the pain was even there when I moved my foot from the accelerator to the brake. In spite of my medical background and having taught college level anatomy, I was uncertain about what had happened. There had been no sudden injury. After poking myself, resting and trying to paddle again (on 3 occasions), I finally sought out the help of a profession for which I have great respect: Physical Therapy.
   It took Sarah 4 minutes to diagnose psoas tendinitis (Psoas: Latin: sore as....never mind). She gave me PT, showed me stretches I had never seen and told me to stay away from my kayaks. I was concerned. Hey, teaching session was only weeks away, and I wanted to be there. I did go on line to partsforthebody/youwish.heavanehlpme but to no avail. Apparently they were no longer making parts for a model as old as me. Bummer. So I followed Sarah's orders, did my exercises and reported back for my next appointment.
   Good news. Sarah saw great improvement and gave the clearance for a gentle test paddle. Hurrah! I put my Cetus MV out on the lawn, sat in it and gently edged the boat. I rotated. I pressed on the pegs. No pain. Within the hour I was in the boat and on the lake...and it was heaven. I did a gentle 40 minute paddle, called it a day and counted my blessings.
   I do not believe in stretching cold muscles. That's why I warm up with a slow paddle and then stretch in the boat (something that I realize beginners cannot do). I cannot, however, conceive of a way to stretch my sore-ass muscle while aboard and have taken to doing so daily at home. 
   Hey. My time on the water is precious and depends on my last good leg. So, I plan to take care of it.
Paddle safe

Sunday, November 09, 2014

...And On The 7th Day...

(part II)

I lifted the lid slowly and, as the light hit the golden lacquer on the tubes, I imagined how an absent husband must feel when about to explain his absence. I lifted the flugel horn from the case and was delighted to find the valves unfrozen. I attached the mouth piece and let the horn have its revenge on me.

The chops weren't there. Like an athlete who hasn't trained in a long time, the muscles we horn players call our chops were not ready to take the field. A whiny, thin tone, lacking in overtones, dribbled out when I blew in. The range I was able to navigate was narrow and my fingers seemed to say, "Really, Dick? After all this time?"

I lasted only several minutes before my lips tingled and I had to put the horn back to bed. 

Jump ahead several days....


I had stuck with it and had finally built up the nerve to take out my true ax: the trumpet my parents had purchased for me about 60 years ago and which had survived 3 refinishes, a few dent repairs and travels with me to SE Asia. The horn I had used when I sat in with some of Jackie Gleason's musicians and other groups. Memories started to flood back into mind. By now the chops were amazingly agile. Muscle memory  and brain-muscle connections so often used in the past proved to be hard wired.  

My range increased as I worked through my collection of first smaller and then larger mouth pieces. Soon, I was using my Bach mouthpiece with the deep bowl that gives those rich overtones. Soon, my fingers did their job without thought. I had, as we say in kayaking, gone from conscious stumbling, to conscious capabilities that level of unconscious capability that allows one's thoughts to magically come out of an instrument as jazz.

The sound filled the house as I thought the thoughts that came out as scat out on the water. Now, as in the days of old, they emerged as sounds racing through unnamed chord changes. Thoughts became sound and, before very long, I was actually hearing the sidemen running along beside me in a satisfying catharsis of jazz. And I remembered. I remembered how some of us once had decided what the bible should have read. For we, the lovers of jazz, knew that...
(will be continued if I can find somewhere to jam or sit in).

Paddle safe...

Friday, November 07, 2014


(part one)

Thinking of it now, it had begun a few days ago when Jeff and I were heading in after riding waves along the wall and negotiating the slop in the outer harbor. He commented that I must have been enjoying the paddling as I had a huge smile on my face. It was news to me. 

In fact, for the proceeding several moments I hadn't even been in my kayak; at least not mentally. I had been in a revelry where I had been experiencing a jam session. I was on trumpet and could actually hear the throbbing of the upright bass (not electric, please) and the driving sound of the drummer. It's always been that way with me. I begin processing a tune in my head and before I know it I am taking rides and hearing the side men as if it were all actually happening. In fact, paddlers have told me that I am constantly singing scat while paddling, although I am generally not aware of my actions. So, on Wednesday evening, while at my men's group, I decided to talk about all this during my work round.

I apparently did more than talk as I described the above. Suddenly, I realized that these men (who knew me as well as any in the world) were looking at me as if a stranger had joined the discussion. "What?" I asked. As it turned out, they had no idea of my attachment and love of music happened again...I had apparently been scatting and making the sounds of the entire rhythm section as I "spoke" about it. It soon became apparent to them that I not only missed my music (read: Jazz) but loved it deeply. It was time (it somehow got determined) that I revisit that part of my life. So, I took a stretch. I promised (myself) that I would work with one of my instruments at least five out of seven days each be continued

Paddle safe...