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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

27 January, 2011

Square Knot

A square knot is what you get when you tie your belt correctly. In the martial arts, that is. I'm thinking about this because I started teaching Tae Kwon Do again this week - my own classes and not as an instructor at another master's school - and in both classes (I teach a kids' class on Mondays and an adult class on Thursday) I referenced the direction my belt was pointing when showing my students how to move for certian techniques and the position their belts' knots should be in when done performing the technique.

Tonight's class wasn't perfect. The uniforms didn't fit my students, so I have to return them and order new ones, and I taught them too much (they're all beginners at Tae Kwon Do) but it felt great to have flags up against the wall, to recite the ten mental training rules and to teach eager learners forms, one-step sparring and Hap Ki Do self-defense moves. I was a little apprehensive going to the studio where my class is being held but once things got going it almost felt like I'd never stopped teaching. I guess after being involved in the martial arts, some things are ingrained and just come back to you when you need it. And that's exactly what martial arts does - gives you skills and abilities that come out when needed.

As I enjoy my love for martial arts, I think back on what a friend of mine said a while back and what her comment made me feel. That exchange is fitting right now because I feel what she felt so I'm going to share it here but I've written about it before, in my other blog, so it's a bit of a rehash. Suffice it to say, martial arts makes me happy.

Here it is:

Martial Arts Make Me Happy
(from filamkickingscribe, 17 July 2009)

It’s a really special moment when someone expresses something positive about something you may have had a hand in. And, in many ways, it’s more special when it’s not a direct compliment of some kind.

I’ve been a martial artist for almost twenty four years. I’ve studied Shotokan Karate, Hap Ki Do, Judo, Koeikan Karate and Tae Kwon Do, in which I find a home. I love martial arts and I think it’s the best thing I’ve done and been a part of, with the exception of my family. To me, martial arts isn’t about fighting or even self-defense. It’s about conquering your own insecurities and failings; challenging yourself to be the best version of you you can be and to share that person with others. In my years as a martial arts student and teacher, I’ve promoted them as the best all-around activity a person can participate in. In short, martial arts make me happy. More than that, they largely offer me a sense of contentment; some days more than others but most definitely for the time spent in the dojang.

So, it was some time last week when, although I didn’t need it, that the love I feel for martial arts - be it Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, Escrima, Kendo, Hap Ki Do...you name it - was validated. A friend of mine, who began her martial arts training three years ago and who jokes that it’s all my fault that I got her there (I may have had some influence but it was her initial desire to try something new and her appreciation for what the martial arts is truly about that has kept her in the dojang), sent me a text. It was one line and it simply said, “Martial arts make me happy.” When I texted her back, I asked her if something special had happened in class; if she had learnt something cool, new and exciting. She said she hadn’t and that going to class just made her happy. To that I chuckled to myself and simply replied, “My work is done.

It’s moments like this that make sharing things with others worthwhile. It’s moments like this that remind me why I need to keep training, tying on the belt and striving for the next dan level.

Martial arts make me happy. When they make others happy, I am ecstatic.

26 January, 2011

Books Are For Everyone

I was just having lunch, in between classes, when a Tweet came in from @Weegee with a link to an editorial in today's New York Times.  You have to read it but there was a comment made that ruffled my feathers, as it likely did @Weegee's as well. The comment is, "...books cater to older, less Internet-savvy customers..." This is just an insulting and, simply, ridiculous statement.

For one thing, I'm very tech and Internet-savvy. In a previous school district I taught in, I ran our computer lab setting up our LAN and repairing our computers' hardware problems. I even detected and repaired a problem with a Mac at a training that the instructor had not put there ahead of time; a problem that had to do with the computer's motherboard. I also have Kindle and Nook apps on my iPhone, which I use when I travel since, let's face it, we're all forced to fly light now with all the fees for baggage and what not and, so, I can't bring the books I'm reading. I also maintain two blogs and my own website and I know how to use a Kindle, a Nook and an iPad and I don't own any of them. My point: I'm tech and Internet-savvy and I love books. However, I love books (I'm an avid reader and a writer) but I prefer, on any given day of the week, to hold an actual book in my hands. I love their smell, the sound of turning pages, the feel of their weight in my hands and the satisfaction of closing it when I've finished the last chapter.

Now, I'm only 41. Maybe the customers the editorial was referring to are people like my parents who are in their 70s. Well, my dad is tech savvy and my mum knows how to e-mail. That might not make them Steve Jobs but they aren't intimidated by technology. Oh, and they love books too. My dad is a writer and my mum is a retired English teacher.

I also just attended The Writer's Digest Conference last weekend, where several of the sessions had to do with establishing a media presence before, during and after one's novel is being published. Many of the presenters were authors - hmm, people who love books - and many of them were in their 20s and 30s - hmm, young people. Among them were Kevin Smokler, founder of BookTour.com, and Brent Sampson, president and CEO of OutSkirts Press.

Moreover, I have students who are extremely computer savvy. They're coming up with projects in my Health classes that are more than Powerpoint presentations. Some of them are coming up with snazzy videos that include complex special effects. Many of them have YouTube and Facebook accounts with all sorts of apps, bells, whistles and uploads on their pages that make me wonder if they might end up working for Pixar. However, many of them don't own a Nook or Kindle or iPad because either they can't afford it or their parents won't get them one or simply because they like books. Recently, one of my students brought with her two hardcopy novels with her to read if she'd completed all of the in-class work we had planned. TWO hardcopy novels. I asked her if they were good, if she liked them. Emphatically, she said she did. (One of them was The Hunger Games.) When I asked her why she carried both with her, in addition to her notebooks and binders for school, she said that she had to read and that she had to know what was going to happen next.

So, to whoever wrote the editorial, get your facts straight. Perhaps from a sales perspective, since print book sales may be struggling, books may be geared to a more tech-savvy audience because they're cheaper out-of-pocket and there is such an influx of different ereaders but don't tell me that younger, tech and internet-savvy people don't love books. Just go into any middle school, at the very least, and see for yourself.


I have to say that neighbourliness hasn't died.

When my wife, son and I were vacationing in The Philippines during Christmas, New Jersey was hit with all sorts of snow. There was an eighteen inch drop that was followed up a few days later by a blizzard. I was grateful to have missed the storms but there was dread in the back of mind. I was worried about the shoveling I would have to do when I got back (and by then the snow would have packed into harder icy sheets and mounds) and I was worried about getting a citation for not clearing out the public walk and the walk up to my front door.

I should mention, before going on, that we live in a two-family house that is located at the corner of the street and that our neighbour who lives on the other side was also away. We've become friends with our neighbour, dog-watching for each other when we travel, so I e-mailed her and asked if she knew anyone in town she could ask to do some snow-clearing for us. A friend of hers did the public walk but I still worried about the driveway and the other big areas.

Well, as the vacation went on and it came time to fly back to New Jersey, I sent her another e-mail to see if she'd gotten back home and how things looked. Well, she replied that both our driveways had been cleared out. She didn't know who'd done it and I couldn't think of anyone either.

It turned out that our neighbour across the street did it with her kids. It's not like we don't know her and her kids or her husband. We've done the neighbour thing, talking as we rake leaves and planting new seeds in the spring. Plus, she's good friends with a colleague's sister. Her kids have walked my dog, too. Our relationship, however, hasn't developed beyond that. We've never sat around a table or grill in the summer, shooting the breeze and sharing longnecks or a pitcher of Sangria or vodka tonics. And I'm not lobbying that we have to but it was heartwarming and even provided a sense of reassurance when I found out that they'd done this kind deed for us. In an age where everyone is busy to the point of isolation, in this fast-paced instant gratification era where people are stuck in front of their laptops making virtual friends (I say that with a little tongue in cheek as I type this blog post) and don't want to be bothered with anyone else, I imagined an era that I missed - when everyone knew everyone and people left their doors unlocked and there was really a sense of community.

I thank my neighbours and I urge anyone who reads this to remember that people need people.