Monday, August 29, 2011

Going Swimmingly Well

As you know from other recent posts, I am spending more time swimming these days.  I have a regular Monday morning class in which we have been working on freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly. 

This has more to do with martial arts training than you might think.

It is easy to imagine that low-impact cardio improves martial arts performance.  However, there are many other similarities.  I list some that come to mind below:
  • both should be learned from the best teacher you can find
  • both are great ways to spend time with your family, and great gifts of knowledge to give your children
  • both might just save your life one day  (you hope you never need to use them in an emergency)
  • both depend on proper breathing, and you cannot assume you know how to do this correctly unless you have been taught
  • both are less about strength and more about technique, especially for endurance
  • both are ultimately battles to submit the body to the mind
  • both may be done against others, but ultimately are determined by ourselves
  • both need regular practice practice practice --- of course  :-)
I started swimming in April in an attempt to avoid a negative spiral in my life.
It goes like this:

I did not enjoy swimming because I was bad at it. 
I was bad at swimming so I never did it. 
I never did it so I never got any better at it. 
I never got any better so I never learned to enjoy it. 

This was an endless cycle for more than 35 years, until this year.

Now I love to swim.  I feel my progress every week, and I genuinely enjoy getting better and better at it.  Every new milestone I reach makes me feel proud.  Martial arts has always been like this for me, and I learned it applies to a lot of other things as well. 

What about you?  What are the negative spirals in your life?  Can you make a plan and conquer them?  Can you use your martial arts training as a way of understanding how to go beyond your limitations? 

I want to hear your stories as much as I want to share my own. 


Thursday, August 25, 2011


I have bad eyesight.  I mean, REALLY BAD.  Most people who know me would have seen me in glasses before, or know that I wear contacts in class.  What they wouldn't know is that I am functionally blind in one eye, and have only marginal vision (-5.75) in my other.  When wearing contact lenses, I wear only one, since my bad eye would probably need a contact lens three inches thick to do any good.

My left eye has amblyopia, or "lazy eye", which means that while there is nothing physically wrong with my eye, the optic nerve failed to develop visual acuity and it cannot transmit visual signals effectively.  I see light and very vague shapes and that's it.  This is a result of having been laid face down in my crib as an infant for extended periods without movement, when my neck was too weak to lift my head.  As such, my left eye failed to develop.  I have worn glasses since I was 6 years old (corrective lens only for my right eye), and got my first contact lens for my right eye at 14.

I can do almost anything anyone else can do, except of course seeing with both eyes.  Over time I have learned to live with my disability and can drive, shoot firearms, and even do martial arts and other sports.  I would never be a professional athlete, but this has less to do with my eyesight than with having other priorities in my life all along. 

People with disabilities go through a process I would describe as "Four A's"

We deny that we have a disability, or that such a thing could happen to us, or that there really can be no cure or improvement in our condition.  We think the world is unfair, that we have been wronged, and that we are somehow owed the inalienable right to function that we think everyone else has.

We learn that this is not a life-ender, and that it is nobody's "fault", not even our own.  We begin to consider strategies for improving our quality of life and possibility.  We cannot change the circumstance, so we must change our reaction to it.  Here is where we must choose to not give up.

We embark on specific tasks and actions that allow us to do the things in life we want to do.  This often requires planning, focus and discipline.  We find that we can compensate for nearly any situation we face.  In my case, when driving, for example, I need to turn my head very far when changing lanes so my right eye can check for cars.  It looks odd, but it works.

Through hard work and task-oriented training, we discover that perceived limitations are not as we expected.  We can have a "normal life" and in fact go well beyond not only other people's expectations of us, but our own expectations as well.  We prove that our only true limitations are those we place upon ourselves.  We plan our work and we work our plan.

My very wise friend Marco told me "God does not give everything to anyone".  I have found this to be true.  We look at supposed handicapped people and see countless television programs of those people who reach the Achievement Stage of their disability.  We are inspired and think "I could never be like that" without even realizing that each of us has his/her own handicaps, and the potential to overcome them.  WE ARE ALL ALREADY LIKE THAT.  It is the essential human quality to achieve our potential and to overcome obstacles through our willpower and effort.

The only true handicap any one of us can have is a lack of willpower.

I have never claimed to be handicapped, nor tried to receive any social benefits for it, even though I am very sure I qualify.  Maybe I have been wrong about this.  Pride kept me from ever considering myself as disabled.  Rather, my pride should be in the fact that I AM disabled, but like many others have tried to rise above.  I hope to be able to help spread the important message that many other achievers share:

"it matters if you just don't give up"

What are your handicaps?  Are you aware of them?  Have you gone through the Four As?  Your willpower will give you the strength to overcome any limitations.

In short, "YOUR WILLPOWER WILL POWER YOU".  Let's go there together. I'm IN.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Passing

My foster father, Charles Franklin Leonard, passed away peacefully in his sleep at home yesterday, aged 90.  He will be greatly missed.

Who was he?

Charlie, or "Bud" as he was called in his youth, was born and raised on a farm in central Illinois, Vermillion county, near Indiana in what is commonly known as the "Corn Belt".  His family farm was in Hoopeston, Illinois, a very small town near Danville.  Charlie was born to a family of older sisters and as the only son worked hard on his father's farm growing up.  He did what most farm boys did, fishing and camping and enjoying the simple outdoor life.  Charlie loved westerns and identified with John Wayne, as did most of the boys in those days.  Charlie was born on April 26, 1921.  To understand his life and times, the chcocolate chip cookie was not even invented until 1930, when he was already 9 years old!  Imagine growing up without chocolate chip cookies...

They didn't have television, of course, but Dad loved listening tothe radio shows such as Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Untouchables, and so on.  ironically, he would go on to work on some of the earliest vaccuum tube model TVs in the 1950s, as well as working on prototype PCBs, computers and even large-scale electromagnet coils during his time at Argonne National Labs, where he worked as an electrical technician for more than 30 years.  None of these things were even figments of his imagination when he was a boy.

Dad played football quarterback in high school and was nicknamed "peaches" because he loved the canned ones.  He was likeable but mostly solitary.  He joined the Army and was sent to Saxmundham airfield in Suffolk, England where he served in the emerging USAAF attached to 357th fighter group 363d fighter squadron as a P51D Mustang crew chief.  Charlie had the luck of being the crew chief for Chuck Yeager, who would later become one of the most famous test pilots in Air Force history, flying such prototypes as the X-1 and being the first man to break the sound barrier.  Dad said that during the war, Chuck Yeager was fearless and pushed his Mustang past the limits on many occassions.  Charlie had great stories to tell of Chuck Yeager's adventures.

After the war, Dad settled in Chicago and did odd jobs as a handyman and mechanic, working at places like General Electric and Royal Typewriter (where he met my foster Mom, Dorothy Schultz), before eventually joining Argonne National Labs where he worked until retirement.  After marrying Dorothy, they bought a small house in Villa Park, Illinois, the sleepy Western suburb of Chicago where I grew up.

Dad was a man of few words but of strong opinions.  Despite being raised on a farm, he had a great interest in politics, and watched the evening news religiously, as well as reading Newsweek and US News and World Report every week.  He was one of the few people I ever met who read the whole Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune (except the comics).  He was very well read on issues of domestic and foreign policy.
Every Sunday he would watch shows like "Face the Nation" and listen intently to politicians debating each other and commentary from other analysts.

He did not read books much when I was growing up, but later read the entire collections of Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, and other western novella authors, numbering in the hundreds.  He would frequently exhaust the local public library collections of all western novels, and have to seek them out at bookstores and collector shops.

Dad was raised Irish Catholic, with 6 of 8 of his grandparents being Irish and the other 2 being English.  He went to church regularly until he married Dorothy, who being that she had been Lutheran, and married once before, meant his excommunication.  He accepted that without hesitation and never went back to Catholic church again.  Growing up we sometimes went to Lutheran church together at saint Paul Lutheran Church in Villa Park, mostly for Easter and Christmas Eve services, but I think he did so more to appease Dorothy than out of any genuine desire on his part.  After she died I am certain he never went inside a church again.

Dad was not a man of big, sweeping dreams.  He did not aspire to much other than the task which was right in front of him.  He lived simply and honstly, and did what was asked of him in every case without any complaint.  He was content to go to work and come home, watch the news, drink two beers with dinner (never more and rarely less), and that was that.  On Saturday nights he liked to go to the horse races, especially harness racing which I think reminded him of his childhood on the farm.  As a boy, I have fond memories of Arlington Park, Maywood park, and Sportman's Park in Chicagoland and of standing by the finish line watching the horses run.  Dad did not ever wager much, as it was only a hobby for him - nothing more.

After he retired from Argonne, he and Dorothy moved to Reno, Nevada.  Mom couldn't take the Chicago winters, and they both liked to pass their time at the casinos there - mom playing video poker or nickel slot machines and Dad playing blackjack, again not for any big stakes but for entertainment and to keep his mind sharp.  Mom died in Reno suddenly in early 1994 and dad couldn't bvear to stay there anymore without her, which brought him to Las Vegas where he eventually passed away 17 years later.

Dad grew up in a time where people did not openly talk about their feelings or emotions.  This was cemented even stronger by role models like John Wayne, whose actions always spoke louder than his words.  Charlie was not one to say he loved us in words, but you knew he cared about you by the little things he would do.  Charlie provided a stable home for Casey and I without which we would never have had even the slightest chance of a normal life.  Our house had no drama or crazy happenings, except what my brother and I caused by our misbehavior.

In his early twenties, on the farm, Charlie suppered a appendicitis and needed surgery. I think in such small towns as Hoopeston, Illinois, good medical care was hard to come by, and he was lucky to have survived. He bore an eighteen-inch scar across his belly from that operation, that I suspect also rendered him impotent. He and Dorothy had no children except for Casey and I (and our older brother Tim, who was Dorothy's son from her first marriage and nearly 20 years older than us).

Charlie's life was full and complete, with very little stress, and he was able to enjoy a long retirement doing what he liked to do.  Until suffering a debilitating stroke 6 months ago, he appeared little shanged in the past 40 years, still driving himself to the casino for afternoon blackjack and enjoying his books and favorite shows at home.  My Dad was careful to teach us right and wrong (although I was not such a good student) and patient with us at home.  I owe him my values of hard work and perserverence more than anything else.

I am left with many fond memories of him, and of the many things he taught me.
Despite none of us in our family being of any actual blood relation, our bonds have been stronger than many "real" families.  As sad as I am for his passing, I am glad he is at peace, and without suffering.  From the bottom of my heart I wish him a restful eternity with Dorothy by his side, and hope he will continue to watch over us.

"live life simply and honestly without regret"


Saturday, August 06, 2011

In Love


How do you know when you are in love?
  • I think about you all the time
  • I count the hours in-between being with you
  • I can't imagine my life before I met you
  • You make me feel alive
  • You teach me about myself
  • I never get tired of learning about you
  • You continue to fascinate me
  • You always make me happy
  • You make me want to try harder
  • You bring out the best in me
  • I can be myself with you
  • My eyes sparkle when I talk about you
  • Even when we're apart, I think about you
  • I miss you when I am away
  • I want to tell all my friends about you
  • Everyone tells me how different I am since we met
  • You help me get through the tough times
  • I never get tired of you
  • I can depend on you
  • You help give my life meaning
  • You are a part of everything I do
  • You let me express myself
  • I would be lost without you
I could go on and on.
The fact is, I am IN LOVE....




Being away the past week in the US made me miss my Kali (and my Kali class) so much.  I am back now, and can't wait for Friday to come.  I missed you!

See you all soon!!