This was a cover that I used for my second level Niei Chi
Saturday marked a real milestone in my life. It has been five years since I stopped smoking. It also marks 5 years since I graded for my first black belt.
I was never a very heavy smoker. A pack a day was a challenge. I averaged 7 or 8 a day and smoked ultra light menthols. I’d tried quitting before and it usually lasted about 6-8 weeks before I’d go back to it. I even had major surgery to remove my spleen and thought I could beat it. I tried acupuncture but because I could go for 6-8 weeks on my own, they said it wouldn’t do much good.
Taken one day after class on the East Beach in Toronto
In our organization, all black belts must sign their name stating that they are smoke free. I’d been promising myself each belt level that I was going to quit. But as I went through them, I kept smoking.
Grading for your black belt is a great honour and I regarded it as such, including the oath I took. The day I graded for my black belt is the day I smoked my last cigarette. A month later when I was awarded my first black belt, I smoke half a cigar in celebration and haven’t smoked since.
Since then, I’ve been to Hong Kong for 5 months, where everyone smokes like chimneys. I could have cheated but something a friend of mine kept me in line. Whenever I thought “Maybe just one; no one will know.” His voice would answer: “But you will.”
I finished university, go the rest of my shodans, went onto my nidans and about to start my sandans in the fall.
I’ve always said there is nothing that I would put on my body that I could honestly keep for the rest of my life. Having seen how some people frivolously put tattoos on their body, such as a boy/girlfriend’s name, even husband or wife, and then within a few years it’s over. To me, nothing is forever.
But, this is a hypothetical discussion, so here it is. The one thing that I could possibly think of that I would be willing to put on my body is the symbol for peace in Japanese calligraphy, “Heiwa”. For those who don’t know, the Hindi name, Shanti means “peace”. The derivation of that, Shanta, means “peaceful”. It sounds a little self-serving/selfish, but the only thing that I could honestly rely on and know through and through, is me. There are people for whom I would lay my life on the line, but those people have changed. One can never know what events might change who they are and what might cause the change. Why Japanese? Simple: I’ve always loved the Orient and I am a student of martial arts.
In addition, the bigger picture is that I believe that we come from our roots. This is a great symbol of my grandmother, whom I wrote about in a previous post. I know that I can be combative at times, but I usually get riled up when I believe that there is some injustice. Ultimately, I want peace. I might sound much like a beauty pageant contestant, but it’s true. I believe that in order to survive, we all need to get along. As my friend Dan Levy (@TheDanLevy) said: “/rant”
Unlike some who might think that it would be a lonely existence, (such as “Highlander” or “Doctor Who”) I believe that it would be a wonderful opportunity. Many times, we say we didn’t have enough time to do things like have a successful career, own a home or to travel the world. You’d have all the time in the world.
What would I do?
I’d travel. One country at a time. I might work for a bit at the tail end of the visit, enough to get to the next country and travel around for a while. I’d learn a few languages…to start. I’d improve my French, then master Japanese. Probably start my travels there. I’d continue my martial arts training, and learn some new ones. I’d also keep learning, maybe a few more degrees. Maybe one in literature next. If I lived forever, I’m sure I’d master history!
Oddly enough, I don’t think I’d want to be famous. Just let me do my thing, watch the world unfold as it will. Maybe advise leaders now and then, but only if asked. Imagine the discussions you could have, the things you could witness and the hearts and minds you could help shape.
A few weeks ago, we experienced a level 1 typhoon. There was a beautiful wind going and it was the first time I didn’t have to use the air conditioning in my room. Erin, Daniel and I go outside so Erin could get some air. It is now raining in full force and the wind is going very strong. We go down to the ground level and play in the wind and rain. How refreshing and energizing it was! Of course, at 2 am, there aren’t many people around to witness this act of insanity (the security guards gave us some funny looks). I start up a kata, Sanchin. Even though my breathing was quite loud, I could barely hear myself over the noise of the storm. The wind blows my wet hair into may face like a whip. Within a minute, we are all thoroughly soaked. I say this would be a great time for tai chi and my two friends agree.
We go to the second floor courtyard of the residence and go through iron thread, 18 postures of awareness and the basic set. At one point, a security guard comes out and tells us it is dangerous to be outside in this weather because of potential falling objects. We promise to return inside shortly after we finish another set. What a rush! My compatriots agree. This was Erin’s first time doing tai chi and Daniel’s second. I practically had to yell to give them instruction and I was less than 5 feet away from them.
This is not the first time that I’ve done the arts in crazy weather. I am reminded of Hawaii when I did weapons katas on the shore of the ocean while a rain storm raged on. This was much more than that. Calm within the storm. Hawaii was more of a fighting back. This was an exercise of internalization and taking the energy in and using it to power myself. Absorption instead of countering and fighting. Nothing like it on this planet.