Sunday, January 8, 2017

Day 1627: Dad had a tiny house

"Demura Sensei", photo & digital

Some of you have mentioned that you like the Dad stories.
Here comes another one. And that reminds me ...
my Dad loved to tell stories, and he'd often say ...
Have you heard this one? And even if the answer was yes,
he's say well here it comes again. But I digress. 

Dad had a tiny house before tiny houses came into the vernacular.
Dad was thrifty, frugal, prudent, close-fisted & penny-pinching.
All of those. In fairness, he grew up during the depression.
He was a single man after the divorce when I was 5.
So he didn't need much, or have much.
He lived alone in a 450 sq.ft. 1940's California bungalow.

It was all he needed until I moved in at age 15.
Lucky for me, he gave me his only bedroom 
& we shared the only closet.
There was a pull-down Murphy bed at one end of the living room.
It stayed pulled down for the three years till I left for college.
I had $5 a week for bus fare to John Marshall High School.
I would walk the 4 miles half the time & save the money.
I was only allowed to drive my Dad's VW
to go to the laundromat weekly.
I would put the laundry in, and then drive 
around the Los Feliz area looking at the beautiful homes. 
I would come back and put the laundry in the dryer ...
and return to driving the neighborhood.

As you read this, I hope to be at Kangeiko.
I have never missed & don't want to now.
It is a love - hate relationship.

5 AM

• I love that I able to be a part of this cold-weather tradition.

49 degrees

• I hate getting up in the dark, driving dark empty streets
to Huntington Beach's cold sand.

• I love training with other members of our karate family.
• I hate the cold, the wet & the sand sticking to everything.
• I love the part where we are in the water, the Pacific, 
as it is always warm compared to the sand & the temperature.

photo by Emily Lin

• I love doing seiza as the sun comes up, and ...
being able to train again with our hero, Demura Sensei.

photo by Emily Lin
• I love that Costa Mesa Dojo & others join to train after, 
in the water doing many kata to celebrate the new year.
• I hate changing out of a wet, sandy gi in cold yucky bathrooms.
• I love joining other karate-ka at the fire pits to warm up after.
• I hate the drive home bundled like the abominable snowman.
• I love getting in the jacuzzi to thaw and get un-sanded,
• I love that I get to do something few people do, and 
I still have almost the whole Sunday to fill as I want.

. . .

Former Student, Rachel Maher wrote the most eloquent essay
on the very essence of Kangieko, as her college entrance essay.
It is the very best description I have ever read.
Rachel is now a college graduate with a stellar career ...
as you might have imagined.
(* spacing errors below are not Rachel's but a blogspot quirk?)

My lungs are an old filter, painfully swelling with each swig of cold air; my heart is a malfunctioning clock, gradually increasing its steady pulse; my feet are blocks of ice, chipped away by a hammer with each pounding step. I am too cold to shiver, and as I gaze out at the pale expanse disappearing in the darkness before me, the only thing that motivates me is the sound of my numerous pursuers. They start to overtake me, and I feel weak and tired. When I run into the circle, I shove my bare feet deeper into the sand
and briefly contemplate why I ever chose to leave my warm bed. But I am soon called back to reality by the sound of Sensei’s voice. He shouts his orders and my feet leave their insulating cocoons as I kick, sending abrasive granules flying like explosive sparks of fireworks against the black of early morning.

I catch the eyes of my friends and fellow trainers and we exchange grins. This is the day we have been anticipating with excitement, dread - and just a touch of insanity. This is Kangeiko, cold weather training, a new year custom in our traditional Karate. It is a time for friends to meet and collectively persevere in the face of a challenge, thus starting the year with good fortune. The first Sunday of January, we layer sweaters over our uniforms and socks over our feet and head down to the beach at 5:30 in the morning. We stand together exchanging holiday stories and, gradually removing layers, we
acclimate ourselves to the cold. There are levels of cold on the dark beach in January. The air itself is chilly - the runny nose, aching ears kind of cold. Even so, it is bearable, cold only in relation to our mild days. The wind adds an edge to the chill, spraying algid Pacific mist against one’s already reddening face, making it feel raw and numb. The sand hurts. Sand is a great insulator, so while in the warmth of summer its golden swells exude the sun’s heat, it also expertly retains the cold of night. Sand - at 5:30 in the middle of winter, feeling like a thousand needles jabbing the feet - is the most irritating, painful, sharp, biting, stinging, piercing, frigid material one’s appendages could ever hope to encounter. After several years of exposing myself to this torture, I am convinced that our warm ups are not so much to warm us up as they are to make our feet numb so that we can put the pain behind us and get to work. This method must be effective, because what may be routine in the dojo suddenly takes on an element of the exotic, and we proceed with great zeal – though perhaps with little grace – through our basic techniques and our kata. We come to thoroughly enjoy ourselves, our happiness augmented by bewilderment at our own audacity to engage in such an activity. As dawn approaches, we participate in activities that stoke our competitiveness, while encouraging camaraderie. We have relay races and drills that take us down to the water’s edge where we spar, actually grateful when we are taken down
into the relative warmth of the cold and churning ocean.

To ensure that we understand the worth of this morning’s activities, my chief
instructor, wise as he is skilled, shares with us a message. With his thick Japanese accent, Sensei makes poignant observations about the significance of beach training in our lives: of the importance of connecting with new and old acquaintances, and the necessity of having a focus during difficult times.
Wet and sandy, we then scramble into a line facing the sun, beaming with our
blue lips. Seizan is a very special part of training, a short meditation at the beginning and end of every session, first clearing our minds of all distractions, then reflecting on how blessed we are to be able to be active and disciplined. Seisan at the end of Kangeiko is particularly tranquil and meaningful. Although each person feels tired and uncomfortable
kneeling on the sand, the freshness of the sun lighting the misty shore, combined with the consciousness of the physical and mental strength that was required for the previous event, makes it impossible to finish that morning without feeling proud and connected with the surrounding people and environment.

What comes next is the most physically strenuous part of my morning, though quite possibly the most valuable event in which I partake. As most of our group migrates towards blankets, hot beverages, and a blazing fire pit, a small number of us trudges back towards the waves where we stand thigh deep in water to do a kata for every person present. The water is no longer an inviting relief from the cold sand, and the resistance of the water hurts our legs and pushes us out of balance. Wave after wave, the tide threatens
to knock us over, but we continue our training. Sharing this experience, we are able to laugh, shiver, joke, and smile. Despite being a strict ritual, this training is informal, not confined to the structure of our dojo. By participating, though, Kangeiko literally makes the entire world my dojo - a sacred place of learning, respect, manners, and discipline. Though I often isolate myself in Karate because I feel that I lack the skill necessary to be
associated with my fellow trainers, there is no time of the year that I feel more connected to everything around me than on the day of Kangeiko, when I am engulfed by the ocean, surrounded by my friends, and focused on a collective passion. Gazing at some dolphins swimming in the crispness of the new morning, a particularly strong wave splashes me in the face. I stumble, continue with my moves, and realize that it is the waves that make the experience worthwhile.

Rachel Maher, 2007

A smile for Sunday ...

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