Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn Leaves

It’s a warm and sunny late October afternoon. The elm trees are starting to drop their leaves; I’m raking the back yard in preparation for a class. I breathe deeply and take in the fresh air and suddenly what began as a necessary settles into a timeless meditative rhythm, connecting me to every martial art student who has ever swept a dojo floor. The scratching of the rake as it creates little piles of the fallen leaves puts me in a reflective state, bringing to mind an awareness of mortality, a reality that once again has encroached on the ego’s illusion of stability in an ever-changing world.

In early August Kajukenbo’s Professor Charles Gaylord passed away. Though I only met him a couple of times at Sifu Mark Gerry’s home, our conversations were both casual and intimate, sharing a love of martial arts. I wish I'd known him better.

Then this past week I heard that Art Gitlin had just died. Art was the founder of the Haak Lung school, originally located in Alameda, and was the former editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine. I lost track of Art when he moved the school to Lafayette. A few months ago I ran into his wife Sue Thomas, herself one of the highest ranking women in Kajukenbo, and learned that Art was ailing. I said I’d come by to visit, but I never made it by, to my regret. Again, though I only met Art a couple of times, he was someone who left an impression not easily fogotten.

It’s funny how our perception of time’s passage can be elastic. Boredom or nervous anticipation can stretch on endlessly while good times are over oh-so-quickly. A split second can be enough time to notice a myriad of small details in sparring, or in an accident. Aging itself alters and distorts our awareness of time’s passage. When I was little, my grandfather explained it in a way I’ve never forgotten. The time between one’s 6th and 7th birthday represents 1/7th of your life, so waiting for your birthday seems like forever. At age 80, however, that year only represents 1/80th of your life, and as a much smaller percentage, it seems to pass so much more quickly.

So here it is, nearly the end of October. I barely remember the start of the month; in fact, mentally I still feel stuck somewhere back in July. Though I can easily recall logically where I’ve been and when over the past several months, emotionally things move at a different pace.

The ancient Greeks had different concepts for time. Kronos is clock time, how we keep track of daily events. Kairos is spiritual time, in which events unfold organically, such as seasons or phases of life. I think martial art training partakes a bit of both. We need kronos to get us to classes and workouts, but actual training is timeless; all we have in that moment is presence in the Now, and while we can hope for advancement and promotions according to plans or schedules, true progress is not linear.

I’ve often thought of growth like building a dam in stages. After the dam is built, it takes time for water to fill in the reservoir behind it. Once it’s full, the dam can be raised, and again it takes time for the water to reach the top. Only when our skills and knowledge have reached the level of our container are we ready and able to raise the bar, setting a new goal to fulfill.

The leaves are raked; I’m waiting for my students to arrive. As these thoughts have crossed my mind, I thank those who have contributed to my being here today, doing what I love, recognizing in return that the knowledge they’ve shared is now my obligation to pass on to others. We are just links in a chain, and if we don’t complete the ccycle, all that has been gained from previous generations down to ours will disappear as though it had never been …

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