The thread that binds

As I was walking down the street after work, in that final stretch of pavement to my house, I ran into an old dojo friend. I spied her from afar, in the midst of a group of people in front of a local political organization. As I neared the group she turned to go up a flight of stairs. I called out her name. She turned and swiftly ran down the stairs. We embraced in the joy of finding each other out of sheer happenstance. She had spied me too but could only comment to someone nearby that the manner of walking of that guy up the street reminded her of an old karate buddy. We laughed. We exchanged the usual karate courtesies and quickly asked about each other’s practice, the thread that binds.

She now practices with a few other “old” dojo mates in a public park close to the beach in a part of San Juan called Ocean Park.

She is an old Kimo Wall alumnus, getting her black belt in the Violeta Dojo in the ‘80’s. I had known her since my university years in the late sixties and early seventies, but just as a campus activist. Although we had friends in common, it wasn’t until we practiced together in the dojo that we became friends; the thread that binds.

Then we met again some fifteen years later in the Las Cumbres dojo where we finally got to know each other well. She was and is far my superior in technique, endurance, and commitment. We practiced often and practiced hard … the thread that binds.

It was surprising how without having talked about it we had reached the same lifestyle conclusions regarding the practice of karate. We have practically no knowledge of each other’s lives except for the surface details, and yet we feel a tie that supersedes these limitations and forges a unique bond: more than thirty years of practicing in the same style of karate. This has its particular glue and vision shared. We probably have more in common than we suspect.

This is not the only experience I’ve had of this nature, just the most recent. And it confirms a belief I have of the transcendence of practicing the martial arts. It is truly a lifestyle. It is truly a way of seeing the world that transcends the kata and yet resides at the very core of the kata.

I experience it in no other of my endeavors, except maybe for poetry.

It is the thread that binds.



As the martial arts have spread from their country or regions of origin throughout the world the thread that weaves through the generations of practitioners becomes tenuous. Lineage grows like a wild tree whose branches shoot forth in every direction far from the trunk and the seeds rain down from the canopy or are born through the air to germinate saplings in foreign soils. I studied under C who studied under B who, in turn, studied with A. I studied under D and another B who also studied under A. Legacies. Who was your teacher, where, when?

I studied Goju. Who’s Goju? So and so’s. Oh.

How far can you stray from the Dojo and still consider yourself linked to it by style? Can I call the teacher of my teacher’s teacher my teacher? Is karate, like politics, local?

Legacy from father to son, from founder to first generation, from village to nation, from nation to world, to town, city, suburb, up the street. Back & forth. A ball of string untraceable.

Should I bequeath my legacy, what story should I tell? Should I YouTube it for whatever posterity that may be? Blog it? Twitter it? Facebook it?

Too soon to tell.


Limitations or Free as a Bird

There comes a time when you come up against a wall that you surely cannot climb no matter how many times you try, or how many times you reinvent yourself or redefine the situation. The wall is there and it defines who you are. To be fully aware of your limitations is crucial in the martial arts because it creates the space you must perforce inhabit. It is where you have to make do. For example, I can attempt to push the envelope and probably injure myself seriously or make do with what I have. I can waste my life trying to master the improbable, or perfect the possible.

This is not so for all people. There are those whose striving and dedication help them surpass all barriers of learning and skill. For those, where there is a will there’s a way. But there are those, like myself, who must face ever looming obstacles, some surmountable with effort, others that it would be sheer lunacy to even try. There are things that I used to be able to do that I just simply cannot do now. There are things that I could never do, no matter the tears and sweat expended.

And yet, there are things that I can do. So I do them, humbly.

As I grow older, I humbly assume my outer limitations, also my inner ones. By necessity, my inner space expands to fill the voids of my outer world. There, no limitations exist, things and thoughts run wild and free.