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Chicks and Vampires

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Students often ask, “How do I know if I really know Kung Fu?”

My answer: visit a haunted house.

One October, my church youth group went to the Louisiana State Fair. My girlfriend, Leslie and I walked the entire park arm-in-arm, intoxicated with the alluring aroma of funnel cakes, corndogs, and cotton candy. We rode every ride and saved the haunted house for nightfall.

As Michael Jackson’s Thriller played over the loud speaker, we stood in line with a hundred other people and anxiously waited to step through the web-covered door into the dark monster-filled house. Boards covered the windows and the full moon cast eerie shadows across the roof. I caught a glimpse of a gargoyle peering down at us from the second-story balcony.

Leslie squeezed my hand. “Promise you won’t let go of me,” she said.

“You’re safe with me,” I bragged.

Vincent Prices’ diabolical laughter from Thriller seemed to mock me as we advanced in line.

I never did like that song.

As we neared the entrance, I grew a bit nervous. Every time the front door opened, I could hear the wicked buzz of chainsaws and the victims’ screams coming from inside the house.

Leslie hugged my arm. Her body trembled. What a rush. We were standing at the edge of a nightmare, ready to cross the river Styx. With all the bravado I could muster, I handed Freddy Kruger our tickets. He pointed to the darkness.

My heart pounding, we ducked under the webs and stepped inside. Total blackness. Blindly, we shuffled forward, the floor creaking beneath our feet. Anguished moans and hideous laughter echoed throughout the house.

Suddenly, a candle lit the entryway. It’s flamed floated in mid-air.

As my eyes adjusted, I could see the silhouette of a ghost woman behind it. She instructed us to follow her. With Leslie practically on my back, we followed ghost woman down a narrow hallway and squeezed into a tiny room with fifteen other people.  The smell of sweat and fear was thick.

“You’re about to step into hell,” Ghost-woman said. “Follow my commands and you survive.” Her candle went out. Everything went instantly black.

Something pounded on the wall next to me. Leslie screamed and dug her fingernails into my arm. The haunting kill, kill, kill, sound effect that’s on Friday the 13th started playing. Then, strobe lights flashed and the painted images of demons on the walls began to dance. The floor shook. Devils shrieked. Wolves howled. More chain saws buzzed in the distance.

Instinctively, my hands curled to fists.

“Bellazar, the vampire demon is deeply disturbed,” Ghost Woman’s voice cried. “One of you must die to appease him.”

A man behind me said, “Oh, hell no.”

Suddenly, two arms grabbed my shoulders and began to slide around my neck. I didn’t think; just reacted.

I pulled free from Leslie and drove two elbows into the attacker’s stomach. I heard “umph”, and felt his hot breath on my neck.

I clutched his elbow with one hand, his shoulder with the other, and flipped him over my back. A loud crash, something ripped. My attacker howled and cursed. I had no idea vampires knew so many curse words.

Ghost-lady demanded to know what was going on as she tried to relight her candle.

My attacker paused long enough in his profanity marathon to scream, “Someone tried to kill me,” and then he continued with his demonic vocabulary.

I grabbed Leslie, pulled her close, and pushed toward the exit but she screamed and fought me away. I had grabbed the wrong girl. In absolute darkness, I spun around and groped for Leslie but the effort was futile. I was caught in a tangle of bodies as everyone searched for the exit.

Women screamed. Men shouted. The noise level was deafening.

Then the lights exploded on and everyone froze—until they saw, whom I assumed was Bellazar, the vampire demon. He was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He had a black curtain wrapped around his ankle.

When I had flipped him, his foot apparently had snagged one of the curtains the staff had hung from the ceiling to help black out the room. Now it draped around his body absorbing the blood.

Whether Bellazar’s blood was fake or real, no one cared. A woman cried, “Oh, Lord in heaven!” and then everyone rushed the exit.

Outside, everyone scattered. Sirens blared. Security rushed into the house. Michael Jackson had stopped singing.

I bolted. I wanted as much distance between Bellazar and me as possible. I met up with my youth group at the entrance gate.

Leslie was there. She wasn’t happy.

Neither was anyone else.  I learned that park officials had shut the house down and poor Bellazar had to receive minor medical attention. Luckily, no one knew who was responsible.

We boarded the church bus and headed home.

Leslie refused to speak to me except for saying she wanted to break up.

I didn’t get it. I’d saved us from Bellazar. What was her problem?

I decided it was the allure of chicks to vampires. Girls always chose the vampire.

But the real the moral to this tale? If you want to know if you’re learning kung fu, see how you react when you’re frightened.

No, I don’t condone trashing haunted houses. I suggest not going in the first place.  Beating up cursing demons, however, I’m OK with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like Bourne

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

The power of a book.

I vividly remember my father handing me the thick hardback and saying, “Read this. I think you’ll enjoy it.” Dad had no idea that he’d just laid something in my hands that would set the course for my life.

I was fourteen and had never heard of Robert Ludlum or The Bourne Identity, and I had no idea about the plot of the book. I immediately read the dust jacket and was mesmerized by Bourne having amnesia, and yet his body “knew” all of these special skills.

That one thought totally consumed me. The idea that the body could be trained to do something so well that it actually becomes an internal part of your being, something you can do without thought, as natural as breathing or sleeping.

I devoured the pages like a starving dog attacks a fried chicken leg. I read so much I even forgot about watching MTV. (That was a big deal for a teenager 1982, when MTV was a new phenomenon and actually played music videos.)

When Dad gave me the book, I was considering signing up for a summer Kung fu program. By the time I finished the first couple of chapters and Bourne had wiped out a group of fishermen with his “mentally buried” martial arts skills, I knew right then I had to learn kung fu. I wanted my body to know it…just like Bourne.

Now, over thirty years later, I continue to strive for that perfection in my own kung fu. I want to instill that same passion into my students and hope that they will believe that kung fu can be just as natural to them.

Lola and Lone Wolf McQuade

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Ever remember something from your past and say, “What was I thinking?”    Unfortunately, I have many. One event that comes to mind happened on a Friday night in the spring of 1983.

Mom had just dropped me off behind the Cinema (In the pre-driving days, to retain your cool-kid status, you could never allow anyone to witness your parents dropping you off at the show. Parents had explicit instructions: drive around back, slow down enough for the kid to jump out, then quickly drive away. Don’t look back, no honking, and certainly no shouting, “I’ll be back in two hours”).

Mom drove fast, so luckily, with my kung fu training, I could maintain my balance whenever I sprang from the speeding car.

Despite the heat that evening, I strutted through the parking lot feeling very cool as the sound of Sammy Hagar’s “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy” blasted from opened-car windows. I waved to some friends then looped around the tan bricked-building.

My pulse quickening with each step, I passed the marquee, squeezed through the crowd, and—BAM—there she was, standing with a group of her friends, smiling at me.

My heart leapt to my throat.

Her name was Lola, the love of my eighth-grade year. She looked fantastic. Big hair, Flash Dance clothes, Madonna wristbands—wow!

Said hi to her, her friends, and then made my move for the big hug.

The timing was perfect. The moment we embraced, a car drove by playing “Hard to say I’m sorry” by Chicago, the ultimate love song of junior high.

Of course, thinking about it now, it was also the biggest break-up song.

A foreshadow of the evening.

“So, what are we seeing,” Lola asked. (In the city of Marshall, it never mattered what was showing. Friday night meant show night. However, on this night, the movie I’d been waiting for had arrived.

 “Lone Wolf McQuade,” I said, barely able to contain my excitement.

“OK,” Lola said. “Who’s in it?”

“Chuck Norris.”

“Who’s that?”

I winced in pain and suddenly felt short of breath. Who’s Chuck Norris!

 To say that I was a mere Chuck fan would be a colossal understatement.

Up to Lone Wolf, I’d seen every Norris film. I knew every title, every character, every line of dialogue; I could even mimic every fight scene.

I know. You’re thinking, sad-case-of-no-life, right?

Wrong. You’d be amazed at how many people I’ve helped over the years who needed some quick Chuck trivia.

Staring into to Lola’s stunning blue eyes, I regained my composure, smiled, and said, “You’ll like it.”

We bought the tickets, went inside, grabbed Cokes and popcorn, and found our seats.  The theater was packed. I was smiling ear-to-ear. I was with the perfect girl about to watch the perfect movie.

The lights dimmed. The previews rolled.

I held her hand.

Foreigner’s, “Waiting for a girl like you,” played in my head.

The movie began.

Western music played while a grey wolf sprinted across a dusty prairie.  Chuck’s name flashed on the screen.

I held my breath, counted to three, then eased my arm around Lola’s shoulders. She scooted closer. I could feel her heartbeat against my side. She smelled wonderful. I think she called the scent, Chloe.

Working up the nerve to kiss her, I moved closer, quickly chewing up my breath mint. The armrest bit into my ribs. You can do this, Jones.

My heart was racing. I pivoted in my seat when—what the heck!

There were like fifty bad guys shooting at Chuck.

With my eyes riveted on the screen, I snatched my arm from around her shoulders and gripped the seat in front of me. Come on, Chuck!

Chuck didn’t let me down.

He kicked a bad guys’s teeth out then blasted everyone else with a pair of Mac 10 submachine guns. Pure awesomeness!

Lola fidgeted in her seat.

Oh yeah, I’m on a date.

I settled back in my seat, smiled at her and whispered, “Sorry.”

After moments of awkwardness, I slid my arm around her again.  I’d wait a while before I attempted another kiss.

As the movie played on, we moved closer together, almost cheek-to-cheek. We even shared a Coke, which I took as a sign that she’d forgiven me.

Time for the Big Move.

As fast as I could throw a snap-kick, I kissed Lola on the lips.

Wow! Her lips were soft and warm and they had the combination taste of watermelon lip-gloss, salty butter, and Coca Cola. A taste bud explosion. I definitely had to do that again. But this time . . . I was going for the French kiss.

Not to appear too eager, I decided to wait five minutes.  I glanced at my Casio digital watch. The countdown had begun.

Minute four and a half, my heart was in my throat. My nervous system was near shutdown. I was tingling all over. Thirty seconds more was an eternity.

I closed my eyes and counted.

Twenty … Nineteen.  

My ears roared from my rushing pulse. I’d never been so nervous.

Lola’s hand was on my thigh. (Actually, not. Her arm slipped off the armrest and her pinky-finger grazed my leg). I actually saw fireworks.

Ten … Nine.

I opened my eyes, turned toward her, but first, glanced at the screen.

What the—

Bad guys had buried Chuck.

But not just bury him. They buried him in his truck. I mean, who escapes that?

Freakin’ Chuck Norris, that’s who!

He drove his truck right out of that hole.

I was on my feet. “Go Chuck!”

Chuck killed everybody, saved the cops, then raced to find David Carradine, the main antagonist of the movie.

Still standing, I reached blindly behind me, plucked the Coke from Lola’s hands, and gulped it down.  I was parched. The tension was overwhelming.

Finally, Carradine, showed up, faced Chuck. Oh yeah, it was on!

Carradine swung. Chuck ducked. I ducked.

Carradine, kicked. Chuck blocked and countered. I blocked and countered.

I was in the zone, one with Chuck.

Three minutes later, Chuck killed Carradine then blew up his house. The perfect movie ending.

The credits rolled.  The lights came up. I was standing in a puddle of sweat.

I turned, reached for the Coke again. No one was there.

Lola was gone. Actually, the entire row was empty. An elderly couple in front of me (they were probably pushing thirty) asked if I was OK.

Outside, Lola was nowhere in sight.

Mom drove up. She had the windows down. Lynyrd Skynyrd boomed from the speakers. Mom was cool like that.

“Hey!” I hear behind me.

I turned, hoping it was Lola.

It was her friend. She handed me a note. It was folded into fours with smudged fingerprints on it, remnants of buttered popcorn.

I opened it.  Read it standing next to the car.

Brandon,

Thanks for the popcorn and Coke. Not the movie!

I want to break up.

Lola.

 Awe man! I crumpled the note. How could she not like the movie?

Fortunately, years later, Lola forgave me. We even laughed about it. But I’d bet, to this day, she still hates the movie.

Who’s Yo Daddy? A Chuck Norris Tale

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In past blogs I’ve portrayed Sifu Fogg as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense task master. At times it felt like he was, but truth is, Mr. Fogg is very laid back and has a great sense of humor.

While sweating blood to earn my bachelors at Stephen F. in Nacogdoches, Sifu Fogg was there as well completing his masters. Perfect timing. During those two years, I was able to absorb lots of kung fu from The Man himself.

On Friday evening before summer finals, I dropped by Sifu’s apartment on North Street. We were going to train then grab a bite to eat. Entering the apartment complex, I was welcomed by a group of girls dancing in the parking lot. Welcome to college life.

The entire complex was one big party. A sea of happy people, all with drinks in hand, moved in rhythmic waves across the parking lot and walk ways to a grotesque mixture of country, head-banger, and rap that boomed from car stereos and open apartment doors. I eventually found a parking spot, locked down the car, then headed to Sifu’s apartment.

To my left, the pool overflowed with bikinied beauties, while in front of me, empty pizza boxes blocked my view of the stairway.

Declining lots of beer and party invites along the way, I finally located the stairs, pushed my way up to Room 227, and stepped inside. Cigarette smoke was thick and the music even louder. People were elbow-to-elbow. I asked the girl closest to me if she had seen Sifu. (It’s crazy. Everyone calls Mr. Fogg, “Sifu”, even if they’re not his students). The young woman took a sip of whatever was in her 64oz Coke cup and just stared at me, along with her two other friends. Figuring she didn’t hear me over the music, I asked the question again.

No response, just more staring. I soon noticed that everyone else standing close by was staring as well. What’s the deal?

I suddenly felt nervous, wondering if a piece of spinach or a raisin was stuck in my teeth.

Finally, the girl asked, “Who’s yo daddy?”

“What?” I asked. Surely I heard wrong.

At that moment, if a tribe of Amazonian cannibals had suddenly burst through the windows, stuck a sharp spear to my throat, and said they’d eat me unless I told them what I thought the young woman had just asked me, ‘Who’s yo daddy’ certainly would not have been it.

“Who’s yo daddy?” she asked again then slurped from her cup.

Before I could respond, Sifu suddenly appeared out of nowhere. (He did that quite often).

“I already told them Chuck Norris was your daddy,” Sifu said, “and that he sent you here to learn kung fu from me. It’s okay, you can admit it.”

Another girl wearing a tight sleeveless shirt and short-shorts stepped really close to me. Her alcohol breath burned my nose, “He sure looks like Chuck Norris.”

“Well, I-” I felt my face turning red.

“Chuck Norris knows kung fu.” The 64oz girl said to Sifu. “Why he gonna send his son to learn from you?”

Without a beat, Sifu said, “Chuck knows karate, not kung fu. He’s embarrassed about that. He knows kung fu is better and he knows that I’m the best. He secretly sent his son to train with me.”

By now, a large crowd had encircled us.

Short-shorts girl cocked her head at me and said, “So show us something then.” The crowed stepped back, every eye on me.

You need to know that I was a Chuck fanatic and I did mimic many of his moves, particularly his kicks.

I made a show of warming up then jumped and did a spinning back outside crescent kick, the kick that Chuck made famous in his tournament days. My baggy KF pants popped and my leather shoe slapped against my hand. I landed in the splits.

“Damn,” a guy behind me said.

“See, I told you.” Sifu shrugged and vanished back into the crowd.

Before we left, I actually signed a few autographs as “Chuck Norris’ son”. It was crazy.

November 11

Monday, November 12th, 2012

As I write this, the morning rain outside my window is pounding everything in its path. The creek running alongside my house is beginning to flood my front yard and strong winds force huge pines to bow. The sky is a purplish gray. I’m cold.

I find myself wishing for a sunny day, feeling down only because of the weather.

That’s when I notice the date.

November 11.

How selfish and spoiled I am. Here I sit, completely protected from the elements, writing on a computer, when thousands of United States Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, are carrying out their duties despite the weather. I watch the rain. The wind has changed course and is now slamming bullets of water into my windows, yet I am still safe and dry.

I can’t imagine sleeping on desert floors in 150 degree weather as sand granules burrow their way into every cell of my body and mortar rounds hum through the night somewhere above me.  Nor could I imagine running through jungles with snakes and snipers ready to kill me.

I can’t imagine flying a jet with a MIG on my tail, or being aboard a ship as huge waves crash against the hull and pelt my face with salt water and soak my clothes, all while an enemy sub aims to blow me up.

I can’t imagine fast-roping from a Blackhawk Helicopter into a barren, war-torn village as men, women, and children fire their A-K 47’s at me.

I can’t imagine being part of a four-man special ops team, dropped off in the black of night a mile away from my target, swimming in shark infested waters only then to crawl through dense tropical forest to infiltrate terrorists’ camps.

I can’t imagine going through all of that and then Americans, the people I so proudly swore to protect and to defend, treat me as a leper when I return.

Hollywood makes fun of me. Stupid actors—who have no clue what I do and what I stand for—publicly denigrate me yet portray me on the big screen. Politicians use me as pawns. The media calls me a killer, a murderer. Protesters show up at my buddies’ funerals.

But you know what? I don’t have to imagine any of that. The United States Warrior has already done it for me . . . for real. These men and women do this day after day because they see the bigger picture. They understand the threat.

U.S. Soldiers are the epitome of servant hood. They love this country and we should love them.

The storm has intensified outside but suddenly, I feel warm, safe.

Thank God for you Veterans.

We honor you this November 11.

Kung Fu vs. Dracula – Part II

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

…Something started pounding the wall next to me. My girlfriend screamed, digging her fingernails into my arm. Strobe lights went berserk, flashing the walls with images of demons. That haunting kill, kill, kill, sound effect that’s on Friday the 13th started playing. The walls pounded again. The floor shook. Demons shrieked. People were cursing, begging to get out. A human stampede was imminent. Ghost-lady’s voice told us Bellazar, the vampire demon was deeply upset and one of us had to die. A black man behind me said, “Oh hell no, not me!” and he bolted from the room. Suddenly, two arms grabbed my shoulders and began sliding around my neck. I didn’t think; just reacted. I twisted free from my date and drove two elbows into Bellazar’s stomach. I heard “umph” and felt his hot breath on my neck. I then clutched his elbow with one hand and his shoulder with the other and flipped him over my back. I had no idea vampires knew so many curse words. A loud crash followed by more cursing and groaning, then something ripped. Ghost-lady’s lighter flicked on and she demanded to know what was going on. She didn’t sound very ghost-like anymore. Bellazar paused long enough in his profanity marathon to scream, “Someone tried to kill me!” and then continued with his demonic vocabulary. I grabbed my girlfriend, pulled her close, and moved toward the exit but she screamed. I had grabbed the wrong girl.

In absolute darkness, I spun around groping for her. People were falling down, running into walls. Others stepped on Bellazar; he cried. Women screamed. Men shouted. The noise level was deafening. The lights burst on and everyone froze–until they saw the vampire demon lying on the floor. He had part of a black curtain tangled around his ankle, which had ripped down when he fell. It flared around him like a cape. Five other demon-dudes had been hiding behind the curtain. Now they just stood there slack-jawed staring at their slain leader covered in blood – whether it was fake or real, no one cared. Someone shouted “Oh, Lord he’s dead!” then a frenzied sea of people stormed the exit. I had to move or get trampled.

Outside, the fresh air hit me like a blast of cold water. Everyone scattered. Sirens blared. The cops were running to the house. Michael Jackson stopped singing. Children were crying. The people waiting to get in started cheering. They thought it was part of the show. I joined some friends then hooked up with my girlfriend.

She was not happy.

I didn’t get it. I just saved her from Bellazar and she wasn’t happy. Neither was anyone else, however. I learned that park officials shut the house down for an hour and poor Bellazar had to receive minor medical attention.
So, the moral to this tale? If you want to know if you’re learning Kung Fu, see how you react when you’re frightened.

No, I do not condone trashing haunted houses. I suggest not going in the first place. Beating up demons, however, I’m OK with.

Oh, my girlfriend ditched me after that. What’s the deal with chicks and vampires? Forget it guys, the girl always chooses the vampire.

 

[reposted for the holidays!]

 

Kung Fu vs. Dracula – Part I

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

[reposted for the holidays!]

Students often ask, “When does Kung Fu become natural?” or “How do I know if I really know it?”

My answer: visit a haunted house.

One October, my church youth group went to the Louisiana State Fair. It was an awesome trip. My favorite girlfriend of all time (except, of course, until my wife came along) and I walked the entire park arm-in-arm, intoxicated with the alluring aroma of funnel cakes, corndogs, and cotton candy. We rode every ride and saved the haunted house for nightfall.

Standing in line with a hundred other people, we anxiously waited to step through the spider web-covered door and tour the dark two-story monster-filled mansion. The wooden house with its boarded windows leaned left as if about to fall over, and the full moon spilled eerie shadows across the moldy-green roof. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was playing over the loud speaker and Vincent Price’s diabolical laugh echoed through the park. You could hear the wicked buzz of chainsaws from inside the house and the victims’ screams. Five people in front of us bailed out of line after that. At the exit, girls came out with teary mascara-stained faces and their boyfriends came out pale with red fingernail marks streaking down their forearms. One older woman (she was probably 30) fainted and had to be carried out by two burly ghosts.

My girlfriend hugged my arm as we stepped closer to the entrance. Her body trembled. What a rush. We were standing at the edge of a nightmare, ready to cross the river Styx. I handed Freddy Kruger our tickets. We ducked under the webs and stepped inside. The floor creaked beneath our feet.

Led by a ghost woman holding a lighter, about fifteen of us followed her flickering light down a narrow hallway and squeezed inside a tiny room. The smell of sweat was thick. The walls seemed to pulse with everyone’s fearful breaths. Ghost-lady said we were about to step into hell. If we did what she said, we’d survive. She started to say something else when everything went instantly black.

OK. Now I’m a little freaked-out. I’d studied KF for three years and I guess I hadn’t been startled since I’d began. That was about to change…

PASSION

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Passion

 

Recently, I attended a memorial service for one of the kung fu greats, Grandmaster Josephus Colvin, famously known as Kung Fu Joe.

Sitting there in the brown folding chairs, scrunched elbow-to-elbow with my kung fu family inside the sparsely decorated Hawkins Community Center, the one word that kept coming to my mind was passion.  If Kung Fu Joe had to be described in one word, passionate would have to be it.

I’ve never met a man more passionate about kung fu. Whereas I can discuss the Fu for hours without ceasing, Kung Fu Joe could talk for days. Even the officiating pastor, also a close friend to Joe, shared with us how Joe constantly spoke of kung fu, even up until hours before his sudden death. That’s amazing but I totally get it.

Since 1982, not twenty-four hours have passed without me thinking of kung fu. No, I don’t understand it, but perhaps the one descriptive word that can, is passion. How else do you explain that when Sifus Cheng, Hughes, and I get together, even over a long weekend, and still feel that we ran out of time to discuss and share everything we’d intended to about kung fu.  And if Grandmaster Fogg is with us, oh man, I feel there’s never enough time. You also see this level of committed passion during the Olympics.

An avid fan of the Games, I love reading and hearing the stories of the athletes as they push themselves to greatness. Can you imagine training eight to twelve hours per day, 365 days per year for four years, only to compete in a single event that lasts maybe thirty-seconds? Talk about being focused and passionate about your sport! I heard a story of a track and field competitor say that he hadn’t watched television or eaten at a fast-food restaurant in over two years due to his strict training regimen and diet. No movies, no going to parties, nothing but working, training, eating, and sleeping. And what about our military, the great men and women who are so passionate about their country that they sacrifice everything, train to become the absolute best defenders of our great nation.  They are the personification of passion in action.

Unbelievable? Not really. Not when you understand it.

As for the teacher in me, it’s very gratifying to see this passion transfer to my students.

A few weekends back, seven Tyler Kung Fu students tested for black level, a first in our history to have that many attend one test. Talk about passion! These seven individuals, Sierra, DeWalch, Shawn, Jimmy, Jake, Sam, and Kelli, ages 16 to 60, trained their tails off for twelve long months leading up to the test, and though many sacrifices, they were loving every minute of it. So much so, that immediately following that Saturday crucible, though bruised, bleeding, and exhausted, the Significant-Seven, (after a few more tests I can change their name to Magnificent Seven)  posed for their post-test picture and then began mapping out a training plan for next year’s Black One test!

So ask yourself. What are you passionate about? And then what can you do with that passion to change the world around you?

Kung Fu According to Van Halen

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Though he would probably disagree with me, John (Sifu Cheng) is the only person I’ve ever seen move faster than Eddie Van Halen’s fingers in his classic guitar solo, “Eruption”.

Until a recent visit to our old neighborhood, I hadn’t thought about that image in a long time.

Driving through the entrance gates of Country Club subdivision was like being sucked through a time portal. The further we followed the winding streets of our childhood stomping grounds the faster we warped back to the 1980’s.  I flipped on the radio and half expected to hear Dire Straits and Sting demand, I want my MTV!” or Huey Lewis explaining the “Power of Love”.

With the windows down and the spring wind rushing through the car, we circled the block. For the briefest of moments as we drove past my house, I swear I smelled baked chicken, rice pilaf, green beans, and freshly brewed tea, my family meal most every night.

As we rounded the corner to his house, John and I pointed out the many areas we used to play in as kids: Brent Morris’s wall, Amanda Bridger’s trampoline, Joey Weaver’s front yard, and the sparse remains of the woods that once surrounded our neighborhood. It was funny. Driving to John’s house, we realized were following the exact path as our running route some thirty years earlier.

Stopping in front of John’s house, I killed the engine. With the overgrown lawn, the open mailbox, and the two newspapers lying in the driveway, it appeared no one was there. We got out and walked around to the backyard.  Man, you talk about a tsunami of memories crashing over me.

With the warm breeze to our backs, we just stood there, silent, reverent, taking in the sights and sounds of our past.

The backyard grass was high and out of control except in the very center. It was the exact spot where John and I had spent over ten thousand hours training, pounding the grass to dirt. Apparently, the massive amounts of sweat, blood, and tears we shed on that hallowed chunk of ground had destroyed any grass seedling’s chance of ever producing.

In my mind, I could still see John’s weatherworn picnic table sitting on the now cracked and empty back patio. Sitting atop of that very table was the fuel that had kept us going through those grueling workouts: John’s jam box, cranking out the melodious sounds of Van Halen.

Always towering above the portable stereo was our stack of Van Halen cassettes, each album chosen for a specific segment of our workout. While Diamond Dave heartened us with his signature howl, Eddie’s screaming Kramer guitar pushed us faster.

Beginning with the self-titled debut album Van Halen, John and I warmed up to the classics “Running with the Devil” and “You Really Got Me”.

Women and Children First was next withAnd the Cradle Will Rock”. For the kicking drills, we popped in Fair Warning and kicked across the length of the lawn to the sounds of “Unchained” and “So This is Love”. For empty hand forms, we rocked to the mighty Diver Down with the hits, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”, “Little Guitars”, and “Pretty Woman”.  Also from that album was the great remake of Dancing in the Streets. John doesn’t remember it but I promise I remember him competing in the musical forms division at Johnny Lee’s tournament in Shreveport with that song.

Whenever we sparred, we listened to the colossal-mega-hit album 1984.  Has there ever been a better Van Halen album?

Aside from training to 1984, the best memory I have of that album was in ninth grade. John, Brent Morris, Drew Van Devender, and myself, preformed “Jump” at a school talent show. With John as David Lee Roth, he jumped, did the splits, and nailed aerials better than Diamond Dave did himself in the Jump video. I played Eddie, Brent was Alex, and Drew was on keyboard as Michael. Though we placed second, we were the only act to receive a standing ovation and an encore request from the audience. It was incredible!

As for John moving faster than Eddie?

At that time, John’s best competition weapon was the spear. I remember he’d grab his weapon, pop in the cassette, push play, and then run to our training spot as “Eruption” exploded through the small speakers. He’d then bust out the spear form, keeping perfect time with Eddie’s smoking fingers. At the song’s end with the guitar fading, John held the spear’s base, dropped to the splits, then effortlessly snapped back to his feet with the spear flipping in his hand. It was awesome. Eddie would’ve been proud.

Incidentally, in writing this, I learned that Diamond Dave has rejoined the band and they cut an album. The first one since 1984.

Interesting. Perhaps I should write about Journey. Maybe Steve Perry will come back. Then the world will be perfect again.

They Don’t Understand

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

With blood streaming from his nose, I watched the student struggle back to his feet.

He stumbled, fighting to remain vertical. Fatigued and cramped muscles had mercilessly seized his legs. His forehead was purple and knotted. Blood seeped from a gash on his left cheek. His clothes were unrecognizable from the spattered mud, blood, and grass stains. He trembled as muscle spasms in his hands forced his fingers to curl. Tears ran from his swollen eyes. Every ounce of his being wanted to fall down and give in to the deafening screams from his body demanding him to stop this brutal nonsense.

But he wouldn’t do it.

He was a warrior. Only unconsciousness or death would stop him.

Unable to speak from dehydration, he nodded and lifted his arms, signaling that he was ready to go another round.

I’ve witnessed this incredible determination from both mine, and from my kung fu brothers’ students in every black level test. As always, I’m the one who walks away changed.

How many times I’ve wanted to quit in so many endeavors, to walk away and just forget it. Life’s too hard.

Your girlfriend breaks-up, you lose a loved-one, go through a divorce, a job termination, a final exam, the two-hundredth rejection letter from a publisher, another denial letter from medical school, a frightening diagnosis. Why go on? It’s easier to quit.

But see, when you’re a warrior it’s different. You can’t quit. The crazy thing is, you’re unable to even explain why. There’s a passion inside of you burning so strong that you simply cannot ignore its heat.

That’s why Rocky will forever live as THE underdog/never-give-up-movie. Through Balboa’s character, Stallone brilliantly portrayed the heart of a warrior. The odds stood against him a million-to-one. For a while, neither Adrian nor Mick his trainer, believed he could defeat the champion Apollo.  Rocky was alone. But he understood that being a warrior often meant standing alone. Standing alone and believing in yourself when everyone around you says you’re crazy, even when LOGIC says you’re crazy. That’s the heart of a warrior.

That’s the heart of my students when their family and friends ask why they choose to do push their body through a grueling six hour test to be beat on, criticized (constructively, of course), assaulted with a deadly weapon, and then have to run five to ten miles while often puking along the way.

Why do soldiers do what they do? Police officers, firefighters, EMT’s, why?

No answer makes sense to the non-warrior. It’s impossible for them to understand. They simply do not have the warrior mindset.

There’s a great scene in the movie Black Hawk Down.

 Returning from battle, an exhausted, famished, and wounded Delta Force commando brushes past medical personnel, grabs a plate of food, and stops in front of a table piled with weapons and ammunition.

While wolfing down his chow, he turns to a Ranger and says, “Whenever I go home, people ask me, ‘Why do you do it, man? Why? Are you some kind of war-junkie?’ I won’t say a thing. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it.”

Anything in your life you want to give up on, walk away from? Wait. Search out your warrior heart. Don’t give up. No, others won’t understand. That’s the beauty of being a warrior. You’re scared yet press on. Don’t give up.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7