A Lucky Life

2:AM and I’m watching Liz Phair videos here and here, not because I necessarily like the music, but rather because sexy Liz looks eerily like one of my ex-girlfriends (to me, at least). Brings some warmth to my sentimental heart. See, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my dating life. I’ve had relationships with truly gorgeous and brilliant women, each of whom I have loved thoroughly. Yet somehow they all seem to be married to other men now. Hmmm…..

Big news in Canada right now is, of course, the release of the Gomery report, which specifies who is to blame for Adscam, a financial scandal that goes right up to the Prime Minister’s office. This whole affair sums up all that is wrong and right in Canadian politics: even our scandals are boring. And that’s the way it should be. Other countries have crises involving blowjobs from fat chicks, clumsy executive burglaries, international arms and drugs deals, and misadventures leading to wars and death. We, on the other hand, get some payola thingy that no average citizen really understands or, outside Quebec, truly cares about. In a word: unsexiness.

I had an interesting thought earlier, while I was walking to work anticipating a potential confrontation with an individual of some influence. It occurred to me that these days few things that aren’t of a life-and-death nature really can’t make me nervous anymore, just amused. And I wondered where such –for lack of a better word– confidence comes from. I think part of it is age and, dare I say it, the maturity that comes from age and experience. Once you’ve reached your late 30s, you’ve likely faced true crises and have dealt with death and illness; such things give you some perspective.

The other part of it, I suspect, is my history in the martial arts. Now, I am the first to admit that the way the martial arts are taught to Westerners these days, it’s pretty much all about jumping up and down in your pyjamas as a little Asian man screams at you –all rather silly. But there was a time when I took it all quite seriously.

My first taste came at the age of 13, when my brother and sister compelled me to attend a few karate classes in the basement of Northern Secondary School in Toronto. I didn’t know it at the time, but the teacher of those classes was Cezar Borkowski, who would go on to be a major force on the Canadian karate scene. But it wasn’t until I turned 19 and joined the dojo of Burt Konzak that my life really changed. Now, I won’t share my opinions of Konzak and his school in this public forum; let’s just say that once I learned about the greater martial arts community, I quickly realized that Konzak was not the teacher for me… and by quickly, I mean five years later! (I’m a slow learner.)

So I took up a style of Indonesian kung fu called Kun Tao, and my life continued to change. Such training hardens both yor body and your will, and you slowly learn how to endure discomfort and sharpen your mind. A few months in, though, my teacher had to move to Calgary for advanced training with his teacher. So I joined The University of Toronto Karate Club and started a new style from scratch, this time intent on competing in the ring. Under the incomparable tutelage of Master Tominaga, a teacher I truly love, I earned a black belt and spent years competing around Ontario and Quebec (with, to be generous, mixed results.) Karate competition in Ontario is very very safe, especially if you’re only doing kata demonstrations. But there is still a palpable fear associated with it, and much of the challenge of competition is overcoming that fear. That is where the personal growth occurs, and that is where such training confers a real benefit to practitioners. All that self defence stuff is hooey.

But my fascination continued. I travelled to Japan and Korea to see karate and taekowndo in their native forms. I went to India and observed kalaripayattu. I started to train in jiu-jitsu with Sensei Shawn Rodie and judo with the local club of the University of Western Ontario. I even took a serious try at aikido with Master Takeshi Kimeda, earning my first belt before leaving that art for harder styles.

The biggest impact came, though, when I decided to spend some time training at a kickboxing camp in northern Thailand 13 years ago. When you train with professional fighters in a village environment, all pretenses and whitewashed philosophies go out the window. After you’ve been in the ring facing a hardened Thai man intent on hurting you, and you survive to tell the tale, no other forms of human conflict, save ones with greater violence and ones involving lectures from girlfriends, can make you nervous. It’s a wonderful side effect and perhaps the most vauable lasting gift I have received from 15 years of martial arts training: no shmuck in a business suit across a boardroom table is ever going to be able to intimidate me; I’ve already been beaten by the best!

Other people receive such insights by experiencing tragedies. After the death of a loved one, for example, nothing your employer or client or some random suit can threaten you with is going to mean anything to you. It’s nice to have achieved that perspective without having suffered too much of the personal tragedies most people need; yet one more way in which I have lived a lucky life.