Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye Dragon, Hello Snake!

Watching the tail of the dragon disappear as the snake pokes his head into the room.  What an exciting year 2012 turned out to be.  Not only did I survive the Great Mayan Apocalypse, and I will assume YOU did also, but there were some significant life changes that occurred.  Not as many blogs as I would have liked to have written, but sometimes silence is the best answer to those raging events around us, whether it is political, religious, or constitutional rights as some choose to interpret them.  Had to let a few friends go over the year and added and met quite a few more. 

This year I celebrated 18 official years with the woman I love with my heart and soul.  Marriage is hard work; a happy marriage built on trust, understanding, and compassion is an even harder challenge.  I am grateful that I have two ears and one mouth, and know when two is greater than one.  It has been wonderful and magical to watch year 18 come and go and I am looking forward to our “official” 19th year in 2013.
I am extremely proud of taking some “Mike time” this year to apply, interview, and acquire a promotion and subsequent move to Baltimore, Maryland as the Baltimore District, US Army Corps of Engineers Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist.  I have poured myself into this field for the last five years and extremely proud to see the immersion pay off, not just for me, but for my family.  We have officially put the south behind.  I got to explore some variations of my martial path before realizing that my karma had brought me within blocks of the Jinenkan dojo in the city.  In November, I began training there and have begun a new path of exploring what has always been my calling, the traditional aspects of the Takamatsuden arts.  It has been fulfilling to say the least.  No truer words exists than Manaka Sensei’s “Practice proper basics repeatedly and you will be able to always have natural movement.”  Of course, it will also be an absolute thrill to attend Manaka Sensei’s return to the United States for a seminar in October.

If I had to name one thing I would have done differently this year it would be paying particular attention to my physical health.  I think I spent a lot of the year rebelling, against diet, exercise, and training.  Restarting training has been challenging.  Refocusing my mind and spirit over the last month or so has helped.  
So that leads me to thinking about what I want to let go of in the coming year.  For me, personally, it is fear and apprehension.  2013 will be a big year for change at my work, as my manager is retiring and the organization will make a decision as to whether I can be placed in that position or whether they will hire someone new.  I know that no matter what occurs it will be what it will be.  I have to let go of old beliefs and behaviors instilled by past managers and supervisors, both military and civilian, who were only looking out for themselves and their careers, without developing and growing their future replacements.  My current manager has greatly assisted me in that inner development and it will be hard to see her leave; yet, joyful in knowing she will be moving into her next stage of existence.

So, where does that leave me for my vision and intention for 2013?  Of course, continuing to strengthen my marriage and put aside quality time with the one I love.  I also commit myself to training both in the dojo and at home. 
I have come to realize that I am also within blocks of the Ja Ling Tibetan Buddhist Cultural Center and will be making this a focus for the Year of the Snake.  They have a master singer and former chant master of the Sera Je Monastery which interests me greatly.  I will also continue my Shinto beliefs and explore opportunities as they present themselves.

Lots of things on the horizon; will be test driving my new 13 week training cycles that I feel I have spent a lifetime designing.  I will be focusing on “self” this year in recognition of the Year of the Water Snake.  I found some interesting advice when it comes to the Year of the Snake that really rang true to my soul.  “It is a year of risk, a time to observe, analyze and then strike quickly.  It is a great time to make sense of your life, open yourself to the universal powers that be to receive answers to longstanding problems.  Do not be put off from moving forward in a purposeful way; the Snake is both the wise Sage and the sneaky assassin; there is knowledge to be gained from both sides of its nature. Lending all its daring, boldness and outrageous nerve, the Snake likes to see people make use of these qualities and will put obstacles in your way to test them. If adversity does hit, be like the Snake, wait it out until the time is right to make your move, because the time will definitely come, but you must be focused, prepared and have your eye on the goal so that you can attack in a second.” 
I look forward to a great year of training – in body, mind, and soul.
In Kobudo,

- Mike (鬼梟)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wading in, Guns a blazin!

I really didn’t want to wade into the current gun debate, which is always how someone who wants to wade into the current gun debate begins their conversation.  We had a tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut over the last month.  Unless you live under a rock, you are well aware of the event.  No need to rehash it here.  It has brought out the best and the worst in people, from constitutionalists (the 2nd Amendment says I can have a gun) to those who interpret it as “a well trained militia can only have a gun” to the conspiracy crowd who keep seeing soldiers in blue helmets marching down the street kicking in doors and throwing your guns into an armored truck parked in your front yard.  As some of you may know, I don’t own a television, or to be specific, I do not have access to the 24/7 newsfeed that blindly leads our nation around the neck.  It has been a social experiment of mine since I realized I was feeding Comcast Cable about $220 a month that I could be spending on other things a little over a year ago.  So, I catch the news online, at various sources, and get a feel for what’s happening based on the people I associate with; a mix of extreme liberals, die-hard right wingers, “we’re leaving the Nation” groupies, moderates on both sides, as well as people who live in Europe, England, South Africa, Australia and Japan.  But, I digress.
I recently caught a Facebook comment thread that captured everything I feel about gun ownership.  I was raised in Texas by a father who was a Department of Corrections officer (prison guard).  He ran the rifle / pistol range for the maximum security facility, so I learned to shoot at around 6 years of age.  BB guns, .22 cal, .38 cal, .45 cal, and all kinds of rifles, to include what is being called “assault rifles” in the media.  I learned how to kick in a door at age 12 and clear four corners of a room.  I learned basic ammo reloading techniques to save money on shotgun and pistol ammo.  It, of course, led me to the Army where I continued to master my craft.  It culminated in the sands of the Middle East, in fire fights outside Fallujah, where, if it entered my sight picture, it dropped.  I don’t know how many people I have sent to the other side of life, but war is hell and I have a very strong survival instinct.    
Now, you may think my house is like that room in the movie Men In Black, the one with the secret door and a chamber filled with every firearm conceivable to mankind.  But you might be surprised to know I have zero firearms in my house.  Some of you are screaming “DON’T BROADCAST THAT, THE EVIL MEN WILL BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE!”  Well, I had two home invaders try that in 2008.  It is not about gun ownership, it is about warrior skills.  It is about honing your instinct to take a life that stops violence.  It is about intent.  I mentioned I did not have any guns in my house, but there is something in every room that deters a home invader.  Maybe it is an inconspicuous Tupperware container filled with ground five alarm chili powder ready to be thrown into the nose and eyes of an invader, allowing me and mine enough time to survive.  Maybe it is a well sharpened blade that can inflict pain (because, trust me, pain is a combat multiplier) that is available.  Maybe it is a high lumen flashlight that temporarily blinds the attacker allowing you to launch your attack.  It might be wasp spray – be amazed what that does to the eyes.  Is that a cell phone or 20,000 volts coursing through your neck?  Maybe it is me dropping to the floor sobbing in hysterics that allows you to get a little too close to me so I can throw the mental switch into the mentality of "one lives, one dies" – I will live.  Gun disarms are tricky, but can be done.  Ask two snot nosed teens in Savannah, Georgia who were zipped tied and waiting for the police to arrive when they came out of my spare bedroom and found me waiting.  So, no guns in the house.  Just a little sign in the window that says Iraq Combat Veteran.  If you can’t figure out what that means, I will be glad to give you a very short brutally, painful class.
In the meantime, if you own a gun, be responsible, just like we do in the martial arts.  Train with it - in every condition; in the dark, in the cold.  Keep it secure.  Know proper sight picture before trigger squeeze.  Have tactical and situational awareness of your surroundings.  Know that you possess the difference between life and death.  It is a great responsibility.  Please treat it as such. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Go With Your Gut!

-- Two loud men on the public bus talking about how some women’s clothes were just “asking for rape.”  Departing the bus, I am immediately met by two guys, with guns drawn, hopping out of a car screaming obscenities and ordering passengers in another car to exit their vehicle.  Quickly turning down another alley, a crowd of seven people going to meet the car pass by, prompting another turn into a side alley.  Moments later, I pass two prostitutes complaining their skimpy clothes are not protecting them from the cold weather.  Exiting the grocery store, my original destination, I decide to turn down another alley only to be met by a truck at the far end stopping to block the passage before the large male driver exits and strides purposely towards me.  Taking an immediate right to disappear, I make my way to a public street before making it safe and secure into the house.--

A tactical scenario fit for an exercise in situational awareness, except this is another day in Baltimore. 

This is the story my wife shares with me when I get home from work.  Her concern is that she only did her best to survive and might not be up to the warrior standard.  Actually, what she did was equivalent of passing an end of semester exam in survival.  No direct engagement, constantly on the move, fast as the wind in decision making, and home safe at the end of the day.

Baltimore is ranked consistently in the top ten cities for crime in the United States.  I call it the urban jungle, a term meant to envision the dense canopy jungles of what veterans experienced in Vietnam and my experiences in the urban environments in Iraq.  You don’t know who your allies and enemies are at any given moment.  The person you pass may be the scout that signals others to attack you upon passing.  It is a common method of operation for the criminal element in this city.  A reminder from Sun Tzu remains a constant thought:

“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him.  If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him.  Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.  If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.  If his forces are united, separate them.  If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them.  Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

There are many different ways to train tactical and situational awareness.  The bottom line lies in the word itself – aware.  Spend every moment observing, that is the purpose of our senses.  There is no need to take it to paranoia, just relish in the moment, every moment.  What was that sound?  Why is there an absence of sound?  Why did that vehicle pass me slowly and is now pulling fast and hard to the curb?  Is it suspicious that when the approaching individual met my eyes, he reached inside his jacket?  Why is his hand still in there after he has taken ten additional steps and he is not meeting my gaze anymore? 

It is subtle clues, visual and non-visual, the “feeling” we get, the brief tension of electricity that passes through our bodies that we should pay attention in our daily lives, the small voice that says, "Here.  Now." 

I think my wife summed it all up rather correctly, “Obey your gut feeling.  You have to protect yourself even if you have no idea what you are avoiding at first.  Just trust yourself.”

Go with your gut. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Art of Cowardice

I get the dreaded call at work.  My wife calls to say there has been a physical incident at the train stop.  She recalls the story to me.  She approaches the train stop where two men are seated at one end of the seats.  She is tired and takes a seat at the far end of the benches, about 30 feet away.  She becomes invisible – a term we share to just become a part of the environment, not making contact, not reacting to cat calls or comments; keeping situational awareness and monitoring the surroundings.   She said one of the men started yelling, “Hey, lady!”  She continued her invisibility.  She comments that he continued to get louder and eventually walked over and placed his hand around her upper arm.

Now, I will digress from this story for a moment.  I am a warrior.  I lead a warrior life.  I impart my knowledge to her on many occasions.  This meant that I took her into the rough part of Baltimore the very first week on an invisibility tour – making sure she knew the enemy, understood his terrain, and knew the strengths and weaknesses of those who would do her harm.  It is the warrior way in which I have been trained.  It is called intelligence gathering.  It is called surveying the battlefield to understand which strategy to apply to which tactic.  It prepares you to know that life is Banpen Fugyo, an infinite number of changes to be prepared at any moment to share the warrior skills and eliminate the element of surprise.
Now, back to our story:  The bully had taken my wife’s space.  He has decided that his life is forfeit because he does not know what he faces.  His perception of this lady ignoring him has become skewed because of his cowardice and belief that he will get his way.  He is not prepared for what comes next. 

In a flash, my wife has broken the grip and is upright, projecting her voice into his bone marrow.  That is what I teach her – show the attacker your intention – mind, body and spirit – shatter the inside of his bones with the projection of energy he has asked for when he touches you.  This is what my wife did.  She said the man, who seconds ago had grabbed her, realized that everyone at the train station was now focused on him.  He stole my wife’s space, so she let him have it.  My wife said he backed off, apologized and walked away.  She moved to higher ground, kept an eye on the enemy and went back to being invisible.
Every encounter is unique.  Most attackers are bullies, cowards at heart.  The true essence of the art of the warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy.  It is not an easy path.  It is not the art of cowardice.  It is not imposing your will upon others, unless they ask for their destruction.  I am proud of my wife.  When tested, training took over and she closed with and engaged the enemy.  Such is the life of the warrior.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time to plant some flowers

Musha Shugyo \ 武者 修行;  
1. Warrior’s quest or pilgrimage.

    I have spent the last twelve years in the southeast, specifically the Fort Stewart and Savannah, Georgia region, a part of the United States called, “Coastal Georgia.”  This week, I pack away my swords and move to the next chapter of my journey.

     It has been quite the adventure.  I spent the first half of my time honing my skills with the 3rd Infantry Division on numerous training missions and combat rotations in Iraq.  I faced the darkest parts of my soul and peered into the fire of my inner demons.  It would only be in the face of absolute adversity and on the verge of destruction that I would be handed an option – give it all up and grow or remain impenetrable and rot from the inside.  I gave it all up so I could grow.

     I was offered an opportunity to work for the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Hanging up my fatigues and grabbing a shirt and tie, I spent the latter half of my journey honing my counselor skills and becoming a teacher of leadership and diversity.  From the flames emerged those parts of my psyche that I would be well known for – the Disability Program Manager and veteran advocate.  It would be in this final half of my time that I would truly become strong.

     I depart coastal Georgia a better man, capable of unconditional love and compassion.  I know what is truly important in life.  My life’s motto, as always, silently whispers to me, “We need to keep exploring and learning.  Keep going!”

     I end with an observation from nature.  For years, I stood at a bus stop under the shade of a massive oak tree.  Its strong roots had buckled the concrete sidewalk around it.  Its branches stretched across two lanes of traffic to provide shade to the house across the street.  It was home to birds, squirrels and city mice.  One morning there was a sign stapled to its trunk – “Condemned.  Scheduled for removal.”  I remember feeling sadness that this majestic, decades old icon would fall.

    A few weeks later I walked up to the bus stop.  Beside the bus marker was a stump.  On closer observation the truth was revealed.  The inside of this four foot wide tree stump was hollow.  It had rotted from the inside out to where only a shell remained.  While projecting strength in all weather, the city arborist knew it was only a matter of time before it fell.  My classes on teaching perceptions to managers and employees leapt to mind – “Sometimes, things are not what they appear to be.”

     I passed that stump a few days ago.  The owners of the seafood restaurant by the bus stop had filled the hollow area with potting soil and planted flowers.  They were in full bloom, a reminder to find joy, positivity and hope in every situation.

     So, we bid farewell to Coastal Georgia.  It is time to go plant some flowers and enjoy the next part of the journey.   

Saturday, January 14, 2012


In the early morning hours of the day, my wife comes back in the house from her trek across the street to the convenience store.   She is visibly upset.  She explains that on her way back across the street, she was approached by a man carrying a clipboard and trying to get her to sign a petition.  When she told the man to stop and she had no interest, he became visibly upset and started to yell at her and screamed she was a racist.  My beloved continued to ignore him and came home.  After explaining the situation to me, I went across the street.

Our residence lies on the edge of the million dollar mansions and the ‘rough part’ of town.  99 percent of the time it is a peaceful neighborhood.  It is the 1 percent that concerns the warrior-protector inside me.  Crossing the street, I see a man meeting the description my wife gave me.  He is around 20 years of age, dressed nicely, carrying a clipboard and is black / African-American.  I add that last part because in Savannah, Georgia the civil rights movement that occurred in the 1960s is a recent memory.  Laws have been passed that grant equality, but grandparents and parents of the youth in this town grew up and continue to live with the hatred that the color of one’s skin invoke in another human being.  I approached the young man and said, “I believe you called my wife a racist.” 

Now, let us digress and talk about perceptions.  We know what the young man looks like, but what of me?  Dressed in baggy, black sweats, funky five finger shoes with no socks, and – most importantly – body posture relaxed, hands by my side, voice lowered – sentence uttered in a neutral tone.

Over the next 10 minutes, I had a conversation with the young man.  Riding his emotions, I came to realize that he had a very rough time this morning with an ‘older black man’ at McDonalds who had yelled at him.  He had walked down the street to our intersection, where it is currently 32 degrees F, with a feel like temperature of 24 degrees, and was uncomfortable.  Anger was just below the surface when the ‘lady ignored me and didn’t want to have anything to do with me.’  His first instinct was it was because of the color of his skin.

I told him I understood.  I am an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist for the Federal government.  I work the ‘mean streets’ of civil rights every day for a living.  I understand how it must feel, as I am a disabled veteran and can also be the focus of discrimination and how the words “crazy vet” are my generation’s racial epithet.   I told him to remember the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We accomplish more through peaceful protest.  We should be using non-violence to work our message.  We have to endure, persevere, walk those long miles, and endure the ‘fire hose’ of those who would try to stop us.  Yes, even the taunts of similar situated individuals, the cold of a Savannah morning, the woman who ignores you and walks away.

It was at this point that I explained that the woman who ignored him, the love of my life, the one who is under my protection, has also endured a rough life.  Because of this, and the fact that she is married to someone who has studied the martial arts for almost 30 years, she does not speak or engage with strangers, especially ones that become confrontational.

I wished him well on his journey and luck with his petition drive.  I have fought for this right on many battlefields in far off lands.  Make a voice for yourself.  Find your passion.  As I shook his hand and parted ways, I reminded him to come to the MLK parade on Monday.  I will be riding on the Corps of Engineers float, celebrating Dr. King’s message of freedom for all, regardless of what others think when they see your outside persona.  He said he would do his best to be there.  He said, “Sir, you have given me a lot to think about and really shattered how I see the world.”

I smiled and walked back to the house, thinking of those shinobi warriors and their silent means to work their will.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ready to live today!

The full moon of the night symbolizes the approach of the new moon in two weeks, heralding the entrance of the dragon.  With two claps before the dawn, I sprinkle the ashes of the year of the rabbit into the river, watching it take the past into the living sea and putting it behind me.  A final clap and I turn to reflect upon the last year and energize myself for the future.
2011 was an interesting year.  It saw destruction and fire.  It also saw the inevitable hope that rises from the ashes and lights the path ahead.
I lost two people in my life this year and had to say goodbye to another.  Both my uncle and stepfather passed from this life.  My stepbrother made a choice to continue his errant ways and decided to walk another path in his life.  I faced the fire of dealing with past personal issues and embraced the compassion that comes with placing the needs of others over the wants of self.  In the end, as the fire burned intensely, as the smoke threatened to choke the very life from my lungs, I emerged on the other side, stronger and ready to face the future.  Such is the warrior life. 
So, what does it all mean?  Warrior-protectors preach perseverance.  It is the driving force behind what we have to do every moment, every second, every day.  It is getting up to face whatever hardship threatens to derail our path.  It is saying “I have to” when everything inside screams “I don’t want to” so that we may lead a happier life later. 
There are a lot of things I wanted to do this last year.  But, there were a lot of things I needed to do instead.  It is about finding the balance between want and need.  It is about staying in the middle, focused on the here and now.  It is about letting go of the past, welcoming the future and living today.  Banpen Fugyo!  Stand ready to embrace whatever comes your way!