Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Week 2010: "...I will stay behind and call myself by your name..."

Over the years I have read and re-read a small, edifying book on prayer by Metropolitan Anthony of blessed memory  (Anthony Bloom) - Beginning To Pray.  The book includes the topics - The Absence of God, Knocking At The Door, Going Inward, Managing Time and Addressing God.   In the introduction, he provides a picture of Christ's love for us in standing in our place.  I will limit my words and leave you with those of Metropolitan Anthony...
I would like to illustrate this vision of a sacrifice and its consequences for us by something taken from the late history of the Russian Church. In the years of the Civil War when the opposing armies were contending for power, conquering and losing ground in the course of three years, a small town fell into the hands of the Red army which had been held by the remnants of the Imperial troops. A woman found herself there with her two small children, four and five years of age, in danger of death because her husband belonged to the opposite camp. She hid in an abandoned house hoping that the time would come when she would be able to escape. One evening a young woman of her own age, in the early twenties, knocked at the door and asked her whether she was so-and-so. When the mother said she was, the young woman warned her that she had been discovered and would be fetched that very night in order to be shot. The young woman added, 'You must escape at once'. The mother looked at the children and said, 'How could I?' The young neighbour, who thus far had been nothing but a physical neighbour, became at that moment the neighbour of the Gospel. She said, 'You can, because I will stay behind and call myself by your name when they come to fetch you'. 'But you will be shot,' said the mother. 'Yes, but I have no children'. And she stayed behind.

We can imagine what happened then. We can see the night coming, wrapping in darkness, in gloom, in cold and damp, this cottage. We can see there a woman who was waiting for her death to come and we can remember the Garden of Gethsemane. We can imagine this woman asking that this cup should pass her by and being met like Christ by divine silence. We can imagine her turning in intention towards those who might have supported her, but who were out of reach. The disciples of Christ slept; and she could turn to no one without betraying. We can imagine that more than once she prayed that at least her sacrifice should not be in vain, and here we can see the image of another man who stood before death and hesitated. The greatest of those born to a woman, John the Baptist, who as death was coming to him, sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask him, 'Is it really you, or should we expect another one?' If it is really you then all the sacrifices of my youth, all the years in the wilderness; all the hatred I was surrounded by; the coming of death; my diminishing in order that you might grow, is a blessedness; but if it is not you then I have lost my life, I have lived and I shall die in vain. Here again the prophet received the reply of the prophet, but no word of consolation.

This young woman probably asked herself more than once what would happen to the mother and the children when she was dead, and there was no reply except the word of Christ, 'No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend'. Probably she thought more than once that in one minute she could be secure! It was enough to open the door and the moment she was in the street she no longer was that woman, she became herself again. It was enough to deny her false, her shared identity. We can see again one of the strongest men in history, Peter the apostle, challenged by a woman in the coldness of night and in his desperate loneliness denying in order to save his life. She died, shot. The mother and the children escaped, and here we see one more thing which will be the last I wish to mention.

St Paul tells us, 'It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me'. We often wonder at the meaning of these words. How can Christ live in one? We can have an inkling of this meaning from the life of this mother and her children. They remained alive because another died. They have remained aware throughout their lives that they lived on borrowed life. Their life was cut off the earth by the hatred of men and it was given back by the love of this woman. If they were alive it was because she had lived; her life was theirs. They had to live and fulfil her life. They had to live as she had taught them. Is not this something which we can learn also? Is not this what we must learn from the act of perfect solidarity which we find in the Incarnation, from the insuperable courage and love of God, from the Garden of Gethsemane and the death upon the Cross? Solidarity not only between ourselves, but with every man, because God is solid with the godless as with the saint. The victory of life is in us not only because we receive the miraculous gift of life from God, but because if we live as he taught us he will be alive in us, and we shall be alive in him, now and for all eternity.

(from I Believe in God by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Choosing A Martial Art: Playing For Points ... Playing "For Keeps"

When I was growing up, there was a big judo club in the Jacksonville area - Benny Davis Judo.  My brothers and I had a great time participating in this sport.  All students learned first and foremost how to fall without being injured (ukemi).  It is amazing how tense we become as we age!  Overcoming this fear is a big step - it is like learning to swim and not panic in the water.  In addition to learning the judo throws, pins, etc, we were concurrently getting some great exercise, learning some rudimentary Japanese, building mutual respect/honor and self confidence.  Our sensei (instructor), Ron Allen was an amazing teacher and judoka (practitioner) - his favorite throw (yes, I remember it well!) was uchi mata (inner thigh throw).   It was a lot of fun and a great sport.  I would encourage anyone looking for a great grappling sport to take a look at judo.  However, it is not primarily a system of self defense.  That would be jiu-jitsu - the art from which judo ("gentle way") originated.  To paraphrase what Professor Kiyose Nakae says in his book  Jiu-Jitsu Complete: Judo plays for points - jiu-jitsu plays "for keeps".     However, someone with a good background in judo could easily transition to jiu-jitsu. 

Over the years, I noticed an unspoken disappointment.  Some people new to the art would come to class with high expectations - to learn to defend/protect themselves.  Instead, they learned how to play/compete.   There were some self defense techniques demonstrated, but the main emphasis was always on competition.  I have seen the same sort of disappointment nowadays. People take a Tae Kwon Do (see link below for information on FREE lessons in Jacksonville), Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, kick boxing, etc. class for the purpose of learning self defense only to learn that they have just signed up for a sport / workout.  Don't get me wrong - these activities are indeed great sports and excellent forms of exercise for stamina and flexibility.  However, self defense (while taught) is not the primary emphasis in these arts.  While I enjoyed judo, I also wanted to learn more about self defense and I supplemented  my lessons with various martial arts/self defense books by Bruce Tegner, Ed Parker,  Koichi Tohei , Kiyose Nakae , et al.

So, what are your options if you want to learn how to defend yourself?  (i.e., just you and your wits).  Lots!  If you search the internet or your local phone book, you will see what I mean.  Too many?  Ok, you probably don't want to take Rex Kwon Do .  (I confess, I enjoy Napoleon Dynamite) There are some martial arts schools which take one from column a and one from column b, etc cafeteria style and then name it after the founder of the school or something-jitsu or something-do . No need to learn aikido, karate, judo, hapkido - learn the modern art of blend-jitsu!  There are other martial arts schools in which you have to be in great shape and/or very flexible to execute the moves.  (Even if you can do all of the cool high kicks, arm bars, etc you may find them to be very impractical in a "no rules" / street situation)   You also may be asked to learn complicated, multi-step techniques to escape from wrist locks, chokes, etc.   Is there an art that is direct, easy to learn, no frills, and highly effective against any opponent?  Yes.

To make a long story short, my search narrowed down to (Japanese) jiu-jitsu, aikido/aiki-jitsu and kung fu.  Jiu-jitsu and aikido (and karate)  have their roots in kung/gung fu -  a comprehensive fighting system  which includes strikes/kicks, throws and locks.  I continued to pursue the source instead of the derivatives. Within kung fu, my search further narrowed to Wing Chun Gung Fu.   (By the way, my search was the result of an inquiry made by my son Paul based on a Wing Chun book that he had been given)  The incredible effectiveness of Wing Chun is not dependent on size or strength; rather, it is based on proper body structure and positioning.  I have seen first hand the delivery of a seemingly effortless "1 inch punch" by our instructor/sifu that has sent people flying backwards several feet.  Below are some links to our local school Atlantic Warriors (Jacksonville, Florida), et al and a few articles about the school featured in the Florida Times-Union newspaper.  These will give you a better idea of what Wing Chun is all about.  Even if you are not in the Jacksonville area, there are links at the website which will help you find a school in your area.  Arrange for a lesson and experience Wing Chun first hand.


Atlantic Warriors Wing Chun Gung Fu
Sifu Jonathan Petree
(Jacksonville Florida)

The System Wing Chun
Sifu Bill Graves
(Sifu Petree's Sifu/teacher)
(Jacksonville/NE Florida) 

Orange County Wing Chun
Sifu Adam Williss

More to come!

Beware Attackers, I'm Prepared
 by Laura Capitano

 Laura Capitano's experience / review of  the monthly Women's Self Defense Course taught by Sifu Jonathan Petree.   By the way - browse through all of her articles - become a Capifano!

Chinese Martial Art Called Wing Chun Teaches Self-defense and Preservation 
by Maggie Fitzroy

Excellent article and photographs! Provides the reader with an overview of Wing Chun and features some interviews with Sifu Petree and students at the Atlantic Warriors Oceanside Location.

Ip Man  A must see movie/biopic about the Wing Chun Grandmaster!

(self defense)

A few years ago I remember talking to Ms. Seabolt about aikido - ki, the "unbendable arm" and sharing my (very limited!) knowledge of the art.  While my own martial arts journey took me elsewhere, she whole-heartedly became a student of this excellent art.  After several years of study and practice, Sensei  Dee Seabolt has attained high rank and is the chief instructor of The Aikido Center of Jacksonville.  A great school with excellent instruction! 


Yesha Ministries Offers Free Tae Kwon Do Classes  at several locations in Jacksonville!, Florida! My sons and I tooks classes/tested  with Yesha.  Excellent instruction and fellowship!  


Judo Ryu Jacksonville

I was sad when Benny Davis judo disappeared from Jacksonville.  I was delighted to learn that there is an excellent judo school here once again!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Lesson From Apollo 17 - Send A Moon Beam!

A few years ago I watched (on and off) a televised weekend marathon of the Tom Hanks miniseries, From The Earth To Moon.  As a child, I was very much interested in the Apollo space program; this series provided excellent dramatic re-enactments of each Apollo mission. He included some interesting details of actual events that helped me see the humanity of those involved in each mission. For example, we all know that Neil Armstrong was the first one to set foot on the lunar surface - "One small step for man..." Apollo 11. Meanwhile, fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, had brought a tiny Communion kit that he was given by his church; he prayed and partook of the bread and the wine inside the LM (lunar module). I never knew this! Many other interesting moments! One of my favorite scenes highlights the "last man on the moon" - Gene Cernan of Apollo 17. The movie depicted it a bit differently; here's how Gene describes his last moments on the lunar surface:

...While Jack cleaned up inside, I drove the Rover about a mile away from the LM and parked it carefully so the television camera [remotely operated by Mission Control on Earth] could photograph our takeoff the next day.  As I dismounted, I took a moment to kneel and with a single finger, scratched [my daughter] Tracy's initials, T D C [Tracy Dawn Cernan], in the lunar dust, knowing those three letters would remain there undisturbed for more years than anyone could imagine.

"To the Moon: Last Man on the Moon." Nova Online. Nov. 2000. 17 July 2006 .

This brought to mind how our own loved ones (family and friends) have such a special place in our hearts - that there is no distance that love cannot span. Even as he performed his final duties on the moon, Gene was thinking of a unique way to say "I'm thinking of you right now… I love you" to his daughter. I think Cernan said he was going to send his daughter a "moon beam" - and that's how he did it. Mission accomplished! I'm sure whenever Tracy looks up at the moon she's reminded throughout her life of her Dad's unique gift to her - "My Dad wrote my initials on the moon!". I'm learning that there's always time in the midst of everyday busy-ness to find a way to let others know how dear they are to our hearts and send a "moon beam" - a letter/card, e-mail, phone call, flower or special gift, etc. that says, "I was thinking of you".

 On a spiritual level, a beautiful realization is that we are also on God's mind, on His heart; before anything was made, we were on His mind. That is truly awesome. Each shining star, fragrant flower, ocean wave, etc carries the hidden message from our Creator "When I created this, I was thinking of you, dear child". Moment by moment He sends His love. He surprises us with good gifts. As we draw closer to His most pure and loving Heart, we will see our names have been written there from eternity.