Monday, May 22, 2006

Diabetes and Me – Part 5: Words of Encouragement

In my almost 30 years of diabetes, I have met diabetics from all over the world. I've seen how most people handle their disease with great attitudes.

I’ve seen:
- Fellow diabetics do great things, e.g. local and federal law enforcement, tri-athletes, and adventurers.
- Babies, with diabetes, grow to be teenagers who are very, very responsible with their disease and their lives.
- The tragic results of complications due to neglect. Most have blindness, heart disease, and amputations.
For every story of neglect though, there have been stories of triumph. People with diabetes climbing large mountains, winning Olympic medals, becoming renown physicians, or great parents. There is no end to the possibilities.

Lastly, I’ve seen a number of folks diagnosed with diabetes. I’ve been to hospitals so many times, that I don’t care to remember them all. None of those affected me as much as seeing my own baby sister, who was in her twenties at the time, get diagnosed with this disease. She went through a little hell, but all-in-all she’s doing wonderfully now.

After living with diabetes for almost 30, I’ve had no complications aside from an occasional infection, flu, or cold. I greatly enjoy watching my oldest son train for his Tae Kwon Do and my youngest son having such a adventurous spirit. My wife is the love of my life. She’s been through many a good and bad day with my disease. She knows that I can become quite ‘moody’ if my blood sugar is too high or too low. Therefore, I do my very best to keep my blood sugar levels under control.

I truly believe that one day diabetics will be able to do anything from piloting the space shuttle to being an elite special forces soldier. I also believe this disease will be cured. Researchers are getting closer and closer to ending diabetes for good. If the FDA can allow the development and market of an inhaled insulin, just think of what the future holds.

But first, stay in control of your diabetes and be responsible for your choices. Do your best everyday and have a positive attitude. Sure, some days aren’t going to go your way. But, there is a tomorrow and there is a better way. Never limit yourself. Don’t ever give up!


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Diabetes and Me - Part 4: The Insulin Pump

Throughout my active teenage and adult years, I’ve had troubles controlling my diabetes. In 1987, I began taking 4-6 shots a day to get under control. Then in 1999, I finally took the dive and went for an insulin pump.

Insulin pumps have come a long way since their inception. They used to be larger than an adult’s shoebox. Now, they’re as small as a pager. I’ve even been asked if mine was a new form of the Blackberry.

The insulin pump works similar to an intravenous pump. A small plastic needle, or canula, is inserted into my abdomen. I receive a constant flow of insulin during the day and take extra amounts when I eat a meal. I change the insertion site every 4-5 days. The only complications I have are when I swim for a long time or profusely sweat; then the insertion comes out. All in all, it beats taking 4-6 shots a day.

My A1c, or average blood sugar levels, have improved as well. I range from 6.8 to a 7.0, which is personally fine for me. I don’t hold firm to the belief that a lower A1c is the best, e.g. A1c levels below 6.0.

I use a Medtronic Minimed Paradigm 511 and generally take 35-40 units a day. When my blood sugars run low, I temporarily suspend the pump. And speaking of blood sugars, I test my blood sugar 5-7 times a day. I use a Lifescan OneTouch Ultra as my blood machine. It only takes 5 seconds.

Every now and then I’ll meet someone wearing an insulin pump and talk them about it and their diabetes. Many diabetics are very conscious of their pump and are quiet about it. I have known a few diabetics who don’t want their disease made public, for fear of who knows what.

What does the future hold for insulin pumps?

Word has it that Medtronic has made a combination insulin pump AND blood machine. I don’t know if I particularly care for this type of machine, but I’m impressed that companies, like Medtronic, are trying to make the lives of diabetics better.

In Part 5 (my last), I will address young diabetics and the importance of keeping healthy and living without complications.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Diabetes and Me – Part 3: The Anger and Bitterness

In my late teens and early twenties, I experienced deep bitterness toward my diabetes. I had friends telling to me to get over it and a family who understood my resentment. I mean, how do you really console someone with a disease?

As a young adult, I wanted to be a police officer or federal agent. I wanted to be someone who made a difference in society and fight the bad guys. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Too many restrictions against diabetics, at that time. (Not anymore.)

I was also short and stocky. I had to work out double-time to get in shape and try to prevent low-blood sugars (hypoglycemia). The martial arts were a big help in this area.

However through all this (family, friends, and exercise), I was still bitter.

I had even met other diabetics, who said my diagnosis was unique, and they completely understood my bitterness. That didn’t help as well.

Along with bitterness, there is it’s cousin, anger. I can get angry very fast. Back during these troubled times, it didn’t take much for me to go over the edge. I was irresponsible and sometimes, uncontrollable. If someone were to chide me or start trouble, I would finish it.

Thankfully, I’m not that way anymore. That type of anger only creeps up now if someone were to harm my family. So, what happened to me that subsided the bitterness?

Easy, I met Jesus the Christ.

I met Him through my oldest son (who was almost 3 at the time) and long story short, I laid my bitterness at his feet. Now when I have a bad day with my disease, and occasionally I do have them, I try to calmly take care of it and let the anger go.

And what about Aikido? How does Aikido fit into all of this?

Well, glad I asked!

Aikido allows me to dissipate my anger by redirecting it. Aikido, and Daito ryu for that matter, allows me to have fun and conversation with students from other martial art schools. Aikido allows me to become aware of my emotions and give them to God. Not a Shinto god, mind you. The Lord God and Father of the Christ.

God understands me better than I do myself. I believe God works wonders everyday that we fail to see. Even wonders with ourselves. He alone gives me the ability to be a confident warrior, loving and honorable husband, and loving, grace-filled daddy.

Diabetes is still a priority in my life. I take my health seriously. I still love a double cheeseburger, bratwurst, and a bite of chocolate, but not as often as I would like. I stay away from alcohol and exercise when I can. I love Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi and drink 60 ounces of water a day. I despise running, although it does great for my blood sugars.

In Part 4, I will discuss my experience with an insulin pump and why I absolutely love it. (Hint: It beats taking 4 to 6 shots a day!)

Brief Detour 2: Adam LaRoche

If you saw the Braves play last night, you would have seen a completely different team from Sunday afternoon. Big kudos to the entire Braves team for forgiving LaRoche and giving him the chance to play. He contributed well with a base hit in the seventh and scored the winning run on a single by Andruw Jones.

Way to go, Adam!

Let this be a wonderful lesson on grace - God's grace and forgiveness.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Brief Detour

I watched in horror yesterday as the Atlanta Braves' first baseman, Adam LaRoche, failed to tag out the Washington Nationals', Nick Johnson, in the fifth inning. To add insult to injury, the Nationals scored four runs on two outs. Furthermore, LaRoche will be benched today as Brian Jordan will start at first base.

As my family members were going nuts and shaming LaRoche for his 'laziness', I gave him grace. I was disgusted as fans were booing LaRoche. Sure, we all make mistakes. We all do dumb things that we wish were magically taken away. But let's really examine this situation for a moment...

Did LaRoche's mistake cost the Braves the game, yesterday?
No, it did not. The Braves only mustered 1 lousy run against a lacklaster Washington team. If we compare apples to apples, the Chicago White Sox came from a 7-run deficit, last night, to beat the Minnesota Twins, 9-7. Yes baseball fans, it can be done, so stop your whining.

Was LaRoche the only Braves player to appear 'lazy' during the game?
Nope. I counted two incidents where the Braves should have made a double-play, and didn't 'cause they were too slow. Not only that, but Braves pitcher, John Thomson, should have regained composure and retired the side. No excuses.

Did LaRoche own up to his mistake and take responsibility for his laziness?
Yes he did! He not only apologized to his team members, but told Braves Manager, Bobby Cox, to bench him for a week. Most big-headed, pompous athletes would never do that.

Today, most people are judging Adam LaRoche for simply who he is: A professional baseball player who cost the Braves a ball game. But Adam LaRoche is much more than that. He's a responsible person and humble enough to know he can and will do better in the future.

Diabetes and Me - Part 2: The Battles

I believe children with diabetes encounter more personal battles, than adults do. I had my fair share.

When I was ten, my parents and I learned the difficulties of the flu virus. The flu and diabetes do not get along. In 1980, there weren’t too many diabetic ‘tools’ to help keep it under control with the flu (portable blood testing or small insulin pumps). And, therefore, I would dehydrate and wind up in the hospital.

On this particular occasion, we were living in Denton, Texas and I had two (not just one) excellent pediatricians. It was late February and my parents were taking me to the emergency room for fluids. I was cramping really bad, due to the high blood sugars, so the ER physicians gave me codeine through my IV.

Unbeknownst to us, I was highly allergic to codeine. I broke out in hives and began vomiting all over again. Needless to say, I had to spend the night in the hospital to stabilize.

During the night, I was told my regular pediatricians were out of town and they had just hired a new doctor to join their group. He came into my room, introduced himself, and wanted to give me a large dose of Regular insulin to cover my last high blood sugar readings. His nurse already had the syringe drawn up.

Now by this time, I was a little sensitive to Regular insulin. Large doses were NOT recommended to me. So upon hearing that this new doctor wanted to give me a large dose, I disagreed with him and I requested to call my parents (who had already gone home for the evening).

In short, my dad did not take this news kindly at all. He informed the new doctor of my insulin sensitivity and told the doctor that I should be given a smaller dose. The doctor, apparently wanting to show his authority, argued with my dad. Not a good move on his part.

My dad told the doctor that he was coming back to the hospital and they would discuss the matter further. According to my mother, this was my dad’s way of saying, “I’m coming to kick you’re a@@, so you better watch out.”

As you can tell, I didn’t receive the large dosage and had a great blood sugar reading the next morning. I went home afterwards.

Subsequently, the new doctor was severely disciplined for his behavior and told never to treat me again.

Diabetics face battles similar to this one everyday.

But new doctors aren’t the only trouble-makers. Insurance companies and school nurses can cause just as much, if not more, trouble for insulin-dependant diabetics.

Before the Americans With Disabilities Act, diabetics were told they wouldn’t be covered by insurance companies due to their, “pre-existing condition”. This verbiage says that, since you were born with this disease, we can’t nor won’t help you treat it. Depending on what state you live in today, insurance companies can still turn you down using the pre-existing condition clause.

It’s 2006 and you would think insurance companies would give just a little, right? The Americans With Disabilities Act allowed states to override insurance companies who turn you down. The state of Georgia is one of those. However, the state cannot set the costs to the patient. So, insurance companies can rake you for your disease. As a diabetic, I can be charged as much as $5,000 a month for insurance coverage. Sad, isn’t it?

Let’s move on to school nurses, shall we? School nurses are wonderful for treating a child’s minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises. They can even contact parents if a child is experiencing a fever or stomach virus. But add “diabetes” to their daily grind, and they run into trouble.

Back before the days of diabetes education, thanks in large part to The American Diabetes Association and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, school nurses wanted NO responsibility in taking care of a student with diabetes. It was like having the plague. (Mark, can your disease spread?) And if school nurses made a big enough stink about it, they tended to get their way.

There were a few school nurses who were very gracious and helped me whenever I needed it. But, few indeed.

Many states now have legislation giving protection to students with diabetes in schools. Now, school nurses MUST offer help to diabetic students. This isn’t always the case as every now and then I read an article, where a school nurse refuses to care for a diabetic student. Sad...very sad.

I’m sure students, who suffered from food allergies, dyslexia, asthma, or epilepsy, received the same treatment as I did.

Battles can leave gaping wounds that take time to heal. As I became older, I relied less on school nurses and more on my ability to take care of my disease. I knew my body and disease better than anyone. My friends have all by been very supportive and sometimes enjoy the humor 'behind' having diabetes.

In Part 3, I will discuss my anger and bitterness with diabetes, and using humor to resolve it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Diabetes and Me – Part 1

This series of stories detail my diagnosis and life with insulin dependant diabetes. In short, I’ve been a diabetic for almost 30 years. I will be celebrating my 30th year of diabetes in late December of this year.

In addition, these stories will blend my diabetes, martial arts, and life in Christ. Yes, they all go together. (I still believe the Israelite judge, Samson, knew some form of martial arts to defeat 1,000 Philistine men with just the jawbone of a donkey. Only God could’ve made that happen.)

Oookay, let’s move on.

As I previously mentioned, my diagnosis is almost 30 years old, so the dates are a little fuzzy. I will do my best.

In early December, 1976, I was a seven year old boy living in Monroe, Wisconsin. I was in the first grade. As I recall, I began feeling as if I had the flu. I began vomiting and couldn’t stop. My parents tried everything they knew to control this “flu”, which included clear fluids. My pediatrician believed I had the flu as well, and recommended more clear fluids. It would just have to run it’s course.

The vomiting didn’t stop; it got worse. I couldn’t even keep water down. I seem to remember my parents taking me to the emergency room of St. Claire Hospital, in Monroe.

Immediately, the ER personnel must have seen that I was dehydrated and put in an I.V., which probably contained some form of glucose. I subsequently went into a coma.

Now I could go into details of what happened to me while I was in the coma, including a near-death experience. But I’ll save this for another day. Yes, I was briefly in Heaven. No, God wasn’t ready for me at that particular time.

During this time, my pediatrician was baffled as to what was going on. I was unresponsive and my veins had collapsed. The only thing he knew to do was to contact an old friend of his, who was a pediatric specialist, at the University of Wisconsin. (Go Badgers! Sorry. I had to get that in.)

This doctor came straight from Madison, went over to my bed, smelled my breath, and immediately knew that I was in a state called, “diabetic ketoacidosis”. My parents witnessed this firsthand, so that is where I get most of this account.

I pulled out of the coma during a surgical cut-down, on my vein, in my right ankle. I still have the 3” scar to prove it. According to the doctors, they had me awake briefly to monitor my consciousness. It was here that I experienced my second “heavenly” encounter, but the details can wait. All in all, I was in a coma for probably a couple of days to a week, if that.

The specialist who diagnosed me with diabetes told my parents that the insulin producing cells, in my pancreas, were shot. He was going to try a new procedure, by injecting large amounts of insulin in me, in an attempt to revitalize some insulin production in the pancreas. Sad to say, it didn’t work. But, the insulin worked wonderfully.

For the next week, I was poked, prodded, and forced to eat foods that would gag a bear. The blood testing occurred every 15 minutes including vial draws every hour. For a meek 7-year old, this was very traumatic. I wailed, constantly. My parents tell me that everyone, including the Catholic priests that prayed over me, wept and often left the room in distress. I was being raped by a disease that no one could take away.

The blood draws happened in the early morning hours as well. Two nurses would come in and hold me down while another drew blood. I was in hell. There are really no words to describe the actual pain and horror that took place.

After a week of this testing, I finally stabilized. I met with my diabetes specialist and dietician to begin understanding this disease. Basically, I would now need insulin to keep me alive for the rest of my life. My diet would need to change as well. No more sugar sodas or sweets.

Life was better for a time. I became more tolerable to the pain and even met Santa Claus while in my hospital bed. You can only imagine what I wanted for Christmas.

It was now December 23rd and a crucial decision had to be made: Christmas was just two days away and my doctor spoke to my parents about letting me go. But first, they had learn to give me insulin shots every 4 hours.

I remember a nurse handing my father a syringe and an orange to practice administering insulin. He was very distraught. I told him it was going to be all right. After his practice on the orange, I was next. My father is one of the toughest men I know. This was the first time I saw him weep.

My dad passed the test to allow me to go home. Two days later, I celebrated Christmas in my home.

In Part 2, I will discuss living with diabetes, as a child, and the battles my parents took on against insurance companies and schools.

Diabetes will never conquer me and I refuse to ever give up.

Part 2

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Discipline of Patience

As a traditional martial artist, I sometimes get angry over the lack of patience martial artists display. Children are usually the number one culprit, but, I've seen adult practioners impatient as well.

A number of months ago, while watching my oldest son during his TKD class, some of the students for the next class began "acting up". They were told twice by the instructor to stop or they would be doing push-ups during their entire class time.

They kept on misbehaving regardless of the warnings. When the instructor finished my son's class, she came over and disciplined the students for their improper behavior. The disorderly students enjoyed an hour's worth of push-ups and situps.

In another situation, I was a student of Kendo for 2 years (some 18 years ago). Kendo ("Way of the Sword") was taught by members of the local Japanese embassy. The sensei was teaching us strikes to the helmet, or men in Japanese.

Two adult students began acting up during the technique demonstration. They failed to pay attention. When it came time for them to practice their strike on the sensei, they hit him with a full-force strike to his head with their shinai. Thankfully he was wearing his head gear.

After these two students completed their technique, they began celebrating that they were the only two in class who could hit the sensei. As you could already gather, they weren't supposed to. If they had been listening and patient, the sensei wouldn't have gotten his bell rung. The other Japanese sensei, in the class, came over and thrashed the two students for their foolishness.

Patience is a skill that takes time to learn and should be practiced daily. I'm not perfect, but I do believe martial artists should try to understand and display the discipline of patience.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 6: FAQ & Martial Arts Web Links

I love talking about the martial arts, from a humble standpoint, and how effective the arts are to me and others I’ve known. For example, those of us who have studied a martial art for a long time, understand discipline, respect, patience, and peace better than most.

I don’t believe any one particular martial art style is better than the other. I used to think jujutsu was the best, until I listened to other stylists and the love they had for their art. You are only as good as the time you spend learning. The more you learn, the better you become.

Here are few interesting questions I have been asked in my 24 years in the martial arts:
Q. Have you ever been in a bad situation where the martial arts have helped you?
A. Yes, but very few. I tend to stay away from stupid people and stupid actions.

Q. Is it true you have to register yourself as a “lethal weapon” with the state you reside in?
A. Um, lemme see… No. That’s like telling an attacker to wait, so I can get out my .45 and shoot him.

Q. What weapons have you trained with and what do you prefer?
A. I have trained with the bo and jo staffs, nunchaku, tonfa, sai, blades (of all shapes and sizes), guns, bokken, and katana. I prefer the one that will get me out of a bad situation quickly.

Q. What is the best martial art?
A. The one you will enjoy for the rest of your life. Don’t just take up a martial art to learn self-defense and leave it behind. The martial arts are a lifestyle with many, many benefits.

Q. Do you have a favorite martial arts actor or artist that you admire?
A. I used to be a huge Steven Seagal fan until he divorced Kelly LeBrock, and claimed he was some reincarnated Buddha. (ohhhkay, sure…)

I now pay attention to Chuck Norris. I watched every episode of “Walker: Texas Ranger” and was extremely proud of him when he proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior (he actually became a born-again Christian through the help and support of his wife). Is Norris still an effective martial artist? Sure! Why not? (Even though his infomercials crack me up! Oh, and let's not forget the many ways Chuck Norris can kill an attacker...Hilarious!)

Q. What is your opinion of board-breaking?
A. I originally did not think too much of it, believing it didn’t prove anything. However, since watching new and experienced students break boards and seeing their confidence level rise, I think it’s wonderful. I still remember Bruce Lee’s quote in “Enter the Dragon”, “Boards don’t hit back.” What a great movie!

Q. Have you ever been hurt while training?
A. Yes, but not because someone was undisciplined or by a “dojo bully”. I actually got hurt by a good friend (who was black belt in American Kenpo), while he was doing an Aikido technique on me. He was going a little too fast. He also managed to punch me in the nose. If you can’t laugh about it, don’t bother becoming a martial artist! And, no, my nose didn’t break, but the tendon in my right thumb was almost torn. I still trained with a brace on.

Of course, there was also that one time I almost hit this same friend, in the groin, with a full fledged punch. (He got me in a front strangle hold. I got within an inch before I stopped.) That’s another story…

As you can tell, I love talking about the martial arts and how wonderful they are. I admire many artists, young and old, who persevere. I love hearing stories from students and teachers alike, who have studied the martial arts for a long time.

Discipline: respect, listen, and patience – Are you ready for today?

God’s grace and peace to you all.
Exodus 15:3:
“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name.”

Martial Arts Web Links:
Daito ryu Jujutsu – A good historical site.
Aikido Online – Very informative with stories and demonstrations.
Aikido Center of Atlanta – Good site for those of us who have been around Atlanta-Aikido circles for awhile.
Wikipedia - Free encyclopedia tool for further information.
Martial Views – John Vesia’s blog on the martial arts. I read a few of his entries and thoroughly enjoyed them. Check out his site and his links.

If ever you need additional information on the martial arts, please feel free to contact me through my email address.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 5: A Ronin Finds A Home

For many years after my shodan exam, I wandered from dojo to dojo looking for a new sensei. Since Daito ryu wasn’t taught in Georgia, I tried a number of martial arts instead: Choi Kwan Do, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Shorin ryu Karate, and Brazilian jujutsu. All said they were the best. All affiliated themselves with someone famous, e.g. Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal.


Many tried to make me sign a contract as soon as I set foot in their ‘studio’. To me, this was an insult to the martial traditions. On one particular instance, I got angry with a Tae Kwon Do/Jujutsu teacher who challenged his senior student against me. The teacher demanded I sign a contract, after working out with his students. I refused. The senior student was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do/Jujutsu and I guess he was looking for a challenge. So…I obliged him.

Rule number 1: If you’re serious about a challenge, you better be serious about your attacks.

This young man (probably 19 years old) did a nice demonstration of tornado kicks, side kicks, front and back kicks, and a round-house kick. I smiled as he finished. His last words were, “So, can you beat that?”

Rule number 2: Someone’s going to get hurt.

I punched him in the gut with a shuto strike, knocking the wind out him. I then grabbed his right hand and put him in nikkyo (inverted pressure on his hand). Gasping for air, he tapped out. I let him go.

Rule number 3: As soon as you defeat the challenger, bow, grab your bag, and walk out of the dojo, butt-first.

I could tell the angry stares, from the instructor and his students, was a direct sign for me to get outta Dodge.

I went home very discouraged.

This kinda thing went on until about 1994 or 1995. My wife recommended that I contact some of the local colleges to see if they had any public classes. I contacted both Kennesaw College and Georgia Tech to see if they had anything. No luck. I then desperately phoned Georgia State University’s, Department of Recreation, to see if they had a Jujutsu or Aikido club. And, they did!

The sensei of the Aikido club was Roy Coker. I left a message for Mr. Coker to call me. I didn’t have my hopes high, but I was curious. Mr. Coker called me two days later. We talked about our different backgrounds and then he invited me downtown (Atlanta) to workout with the club.

Side Note Number 1: As a black belt, it is respectful to always ask the instructor what color belt to wear before class begins. Don’t automatically assume that you should wear your black belt! Tradition states you should wear your white belt until you prove yourself worthy OR the instructor gives permission to change to black.

Side Note Number 2: I first learned about Aikido several years earlier while doing some lineage research on Daito ryu Jujutsu. I was intrigued to find that Aikido is a derivative of Daito ryu. The modern sensei of Daito ryu, Sokaku Takeda, taught Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.

That next Saturday morning, I was at Georgia State University (GSU) to begin my study of Aikido. I felt excited yet comfortable. Mr. Coker did an excellent job of making me feel welcome among the students. We did some warm-ups, then Sensei Coker asked if I wanted to do ukemi (break-falls), with him acting as nage (defender) and me as uke (attacker).

I learned that the Aikido style, that Sensei Coker taught, was a soft-style similar to Ueshiba’s. The techniques were very similar to Daito ryu, so I caught on quickly. Soon after, Sensei Coker asked me to demonstrate Daito ryu techniques and explain the differences between it and Aikido. I did this for about 30 minutes.

At the end of class, Sensei Coker asked me to wear my black belt and become one of his assistants. We became very good friends and attended many Aikido seminars together. I was blessed to meet such Aikido sensei as Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, from the New York Aikikai (direct student of Ueshiba); Rodney Grantham Sensei, from North Carolina (who founded the Aikido Center of Atlanta); and George Kennedy Sensei, who is the head Sensei at Aikido Center of Atlanta.

In 2000, Georgia State University made a decision to end the Aikido club. They wanted only GSU students and faculty to teach/run the club; no outsiders. Thus, Sensei Coker was forced to end the club. I last heard from him in 2001.

I don’t consider myself a ronin anymore. For in November of 1999, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and haven’t the want for martial training since. Besides, I now have two boys who are now walking in their father’s footsteps.

My oldest son, who is nine, is now a green belt at TLC Tae Kwon Do (TKD) at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. He loves it and his teacher, Master Terry Wassink. She does a fantastic job of teaching TKD with the primary emphasis of knowing Christ. All classes begin and end with prayer. Master Wassink’s instructors, Masters William Lenix and Candy Lenix, are wonderful Christians as well. We consider Master Terry, Masters Lenix (including their son, Master Mitt), and classmates, family. We care for them very much. My son takes TKD training with much discipline and is always eager to learn.

I will never forget the first time my oldest son tested for his yellow belt. Master William Lenix asked him his goals for TKD. He replied, “I want to be just like my dad, who is a black belt as well.”

And thus, a new journey begins.

Bullying still affects me when I see it in the news or hear about it personally. There’s something now ingrained in me to take up the fight for the innocent. I’ve never backed down from a challenge and refuse to let a bully get their way. (Remember Rule Number 2?)

My oldest son experienced bullying a couple years ago in school. My wife did her best to calm me down after telling me the situation. She knew the lion in me was about to get loose. Thankfully, she handled the situation very well by nipping it in the bud. Nobody bullies this lion’s cubs. Nobody.

After studying the martial arts for many years, and knowing Christ now for many years, I can honestly say that both go together very well. When my wife and I looked for a martial art for our son to do, Christ had to be first. I was very concerned (and I still am) that the martial arts often drift into false religions.

We chose TLC Tae Kwon Do for both it’s Christian emphasis and motivating students to do their best. Our son’s confidence level has improved very much, while also maintaining a level of discipline (respect, listening, and patience).

I will have to admit that I sometimes have a hard time watching my son spar (light contact fighting), whether in class or in a tournament. I find myself sitting on my hands and gritting my teeth trying not to overdo the coaching. Master William Lenix, who has been in the martial arts a lot longer than I, tells me to let my son do his thing and don’t push him too hard. Yes, he really knows me.

Part 6: Web links to my martial art and more darn opinion.
(I mean, c’mon, all martial artists have opinions…)

Monday, May 08, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 4: The 'Big' Test

Or, in other words, earning your stripes.

When I was 17, I was about to begin my senior year of high school. I had a fantastic junior year: I had studied bujutsu for 4 years now, had 2 varsity and one junior varsity letters on the swim team (swimmer and as a manager), and had really good friends. Life was very good.

In August of 1986, my father broke the news to us. He had been transferred by his company to metro - Atlanta, Georgia, and we would be leaving in a few weeks.

My world came crashing down. I had to say goodbye to all my friends, Sensei Koga, his wife, and his other students. (No, I was never alone throughout my training. And, yes, most of the students were Japanese.)

Everyone took this news extremely hard, but life doesn’t stop for anyone. And, I believe God has a plan, for His purpose, even though we don’t see it through the pain.

Sensei Koga’s last words to me were, “Always be ready for today.” Unfortunately, these were words I would soon forget.

We left Chicago, during the last week of August, and headed South. Loneliness, despair, and depression all encompassed me during my senior year at my new high school. I didn’t make many friends and life was generally miserable.

Fast forward to March, 1988. I’m a freshmen at Kennesaw College, as it was known at that time. I generally took classes in the morning and was home by 2. Unbeknownst to my family, I receive a call from Sensei Koga to meet him at the Sheraton – Atlanta Airport – Hotel. He gave me a date, time, and room. I was to come with my workout clothes on.

This lone event was a glimmer of light in my mundane life. I began training again as the meeting would be in two weeks on a Tuesday at 9 am. Forget school – this came first. WRONG! I may write about this later…

When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the counter attendant for directions to the room. My heart was beating rapidly as I briskly walked to what was a large, empty meeting room. As I opened the door, Sensei Koga, his wife, and five students greeted me. Imagine my surprise! I felt like I was dreaming.

After a few minutes of playing catch-up, Sensei Koga told his other students to get dressed. I was a little puzzled by this, but not worried. Sensei, dressed in his gi with hakama, took a seiza near the left-side of the room facing across. As the students walked in, they too were wearing gis with hakamas. They took their seiza positions on Sensei’s left side.

“What a great day for a workout.”, I thought. I sat seiza on the opposite corner of Sensei, facing the front of the room. This is custom for a student in jujutsu and Aikido circles. One never sits next to Sensei unless invited.

“Are you ready for today?”, Sensei asked me. My stomach began to churn as I feebly answered, “Yes.”

“Good. Let’s begin.”, he said with a gleaming smile. He seemed more confident in me than I did with myself. I was a fish out of water. I was gonna get the snot kicked out of me.

Sensei motioned for me to sit seiza in the middle of the room. He then motioned two students to attack (uke). As they approached at full speed, I managed to stand, and took one by his arm and throw him into the other. As they rolled, I turned around to see Sensei motioning the other three to attack.

The cobwebs were quickly removed as I took the hand of the first, twisted it back (Sankyo) and used him as a shield from the others. This worked until someone grabbed the back of my neck. I let go, of the previous attacker, and turned opposite the direction of the grab (to my left). When I did this, the attacker was left wide open as I grabbed the side of neck and threw him forward.

Two others came at me and managed to grab my wrists. I inverted mine, put pressure on their forearms, which sent both attackers to the floor. Another came at me with front and round-house kicks. As he got close enough, I blocked one of the kicks, pushing it sideways and grabbed his ankle, flipping him for a break-fall.

One more attack came as he was swinging his fists, at my face, a la boxing style. I sidestepped, and performed a technique similar to an iriminage (or clothes-line for you wrestling fans). The force caused the attacker to break-fall.

“Enough!”, Sensei exclaimed causing all of us to stop. By now I, and my fellow students, were profusely sweating and breathing hard. He gave us a five minute water break.

As I returned to seiza, Sensei came over to me with a bokken sword (wooden katana sword). He handed it to me with instructions to defend myself. If you study bujutsu long enough, the techniques with the bokken are very similar to the aforementioned jujutsu techniques. This time, however, Sensei would be the attacker.

The motions of the sword are an extension of the body and are very fluid. There are no sudden, quirky movements. Besides, with a katana blade, it only takes one slice and you’re dead. Thank goodness for wooden swords.

Our movements together resembled that of a well choreographed dance, but with swords. The cutting was met with a clash and clash met with a technique. Twice Sensei almost had me in a break-fall, only for me to step out of it. After a few minutes, he came down with the sword, from atop his head. I entered into his movement, avoided his cut, and cut him in the lower-belly.

Sensei smiled and gave me the biggest hug. “You earned this shodan.” Sensei then presented me with a black belt and gi. (The presentation was very traditional.) To me, it was a symbol of honor, courage, and a reward for hard work.

This day will be forever in my memory. From that day on, I was to never see Sensei Koga again. Two years after my exam, IBM moved Mr. and Mrs. Koga back to Japan.

For those keeping an interest in this story, the actual style I studied under the umbrella, ‘bujutsu’, is called, “daito ryu jujutsu”. You can find more about it, here.

Part 5: A Ronin Finds a Home

Side Note: Many of the terms I used are from Aikido, not Daito ryu. I will explain this later.

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 3: The Training Begins


With any path you take, whether it’s in school, a career, relationships, or a hobby, it takes discipline. Being a Christian takes discipline. Discipline, for me, meant learning three things: respect, listening, and patience.

Try teaching today’s 13-year old the three components of discipline I just mentioned. Not an easy task.

But Mr. Koga knew what he was doing. For every lesson, I did a series of warm-up drills. Just enough to get my heart going and bring on a light sweat. Then, he had me sit in seiza for twenty minutes to simply ‘listen’.

Listen to what? Listen to my breathing, listen to my surroundings, and listen to Sensei. Patience was taking the time to calm myself, or get centered, and be prepared.

This practice, which is also called the act of ‘centering’, is still practiced today in many martial arts.

After twenty minutes, I then began learning how to roll forward and backward. I was like a flat tire. “Thump. Thump. Thump.” After 4 months of continuous training, I wasn’t as flat as before. In addition to these exercises, I began learning break-falls and foot work.

Break-falls are meant to teach you how to land softly when you’re thrown. Foot work, in bujutsu, is almost the equivalent as stances, as found in linear martial arts (Karate, Tae Kwon Do), but with a sliding, gliding action. Imagine you’re ice skating on a mat. Very similar.

Lastly, Sensei had me running and biking to build up my endurance.

No questions asked (because I really didn’t know any better at the time), I did this regimen for over a year.

Side Note: To this day, I have incredible hearing. I can hear sounds and pinpoint where they are coming from and from what. I can hear whispers from across a room. My wife has learned that if she wants to whisper something to our boys, she takes them outside (usually it’s to tell them my birthday or Christmas gift :-) .

After proving myself to Sensei Koga, I was ready to begin…(drum roll, please) more break-falls, more rolls, and more time in seiza. Yeah, more of the same. But instead of doing all this within an hour, it was increased to two hours. This regimen went on for six months.

All throughout my training, I was burning for revenge. I wanted to show any bully that I wasn’t going to take it. For I could now do a great break-fall from 3 feet and roll mightier than a storm cloud. My foot work was as sharp as a razor.

You get the picture. But, despite all this, I was disciplined.

During my training, I entered the world of high school. The kids were a lot taller, and some, more mean looking. I just happened to take a few classes with juniors, and seniors, who took me under their wings and protected me. They also just happened to be football and basketball players. What a strange turn of events.

Some of you may remember the episode of, “Tom and Jerry”, where Jerry is given a whistle by Spike and told, “If you ever get into trouble, just blow the whistle, and I’ll come runnin’.” Yes, I was given the whistle.

Funny thing, though, I never had to use it. In fact, here I was training and training and more training, but never really had a problem throughout high school. I did have one minor altercation, but the kid who committed the offense was quickly warned never to do it again. Score 1 for the small fry!

Of course there was that time I was flattened by a girl in PE (flag football) and she was very apologetic about it. It turned out, her brother was the starting quarterback on our high school football team. He was also a captain on the swim team. When he found out what she did to me, he laughed and we all became friends. He also recruited me for the swim team. Go figure.

Side Note: I made the junior varsity swim team, during my freshmen year in high school. I swam with the late Ronald Goldman, who was murdered. Ron was a good guy and helped me along. He, I, and two others won our medley relay, against Barrington High School, to win the meet. I still have the swim team picture of us.

The next part of my training concerned techniques, for which I won’t go into detail with. I will post links, in the last part, to give further information. In Part 4, I will discuss my shodan exam, and becoming a ronin (a wanderer).

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 2: A Necessary Introduction

Yes, I decided a little introduction was necessary to set the stage. Sorry for the interruption.

Many of you may now be wondering about my psyche after being bullied for a number of years. Every now and then I get fired me up when I hear of a child being bullied. What makes it worse are parents who don’t do anything to protect their children.

Enough about this now, let’s get back to my martial arts 'introduction'.

In reflection, the early to mid-80’s were really good to me. I got to meet some wonderful people who understood where I had been, bullied-wise.

One of those people was my first Sensei, John Koga, whom I met in 1982. Mr. Koga and his wife lived a half-mile from my house. I first met him while riding my bike, through our neighborhood in Chicago, while on my way to a summer job. Mr. Koga, or Sensei Koga as I called him, was from Kyoto, Japan. He was here in the States, while working for IBM, and to study business economics.

I don’t exactly recall how he noticed me, but he stopped me one day, while I was riding home, just to say, “Hello” and introduced himself. I immediately noticed his thick accent. He went on to say that they were new in the neighborhood and how much they loved the area.

Now to a 13-year old, you are either amazed someone stopped you, just to introduce themselves, or you think someone’s trying to waste your time. At that time, I was a shy, yet respectful kid and my ears were open to Mr. Koga. After chatting for few minutes, he offered me to stop by their home in the future and talk.

As I rode home, all I could think about was this nice couple and the positive attitude they projected. They were humble and full of life. After all, this was their first time living in a different country and not used to ‘American’ customs.

About a week later, as I was riding home again, I saw Mr. Koga in front of his home doing yard work. His wife was trimming rose bushes while he was cutting the grass. He fervently waved at me and I stopped to greet him. We were both sweating from the heat and he invited me inside.

Note: I don’t recommend anyone doing this as we are all taught to be wary of strangers. Since I was not a street-smart kid, and didn’t have the confidence to kill an ant, I figured it was okay.

What I walked into, from that day, was a new world. Imagine walking into a home decorated, from top to bottom, with Japanese art and furniture. I thought I was in a museum and afraid to touch anything. I kept hearing my mother’s voice saying, “Keep your hands to yourself so nothing gets broken.”

Mr. Koga asked that I remove my shoes before stepping inside. He gave me a glass of unsweetened ice tea, with no sweetener. As a diabetic, I was glad it wasn’t sweetened, but the bitter drink made my lips purse. He didn’t offer a lemon either.

Amidst many silk screens and scrolls, I observed a few black and white pictures, on their family room wall, of what appeared to be men in long black skirts with white shirts on. To many of you already familiar with the Japanese martial arts, you’ll immediately tell that these men were wearing gis with hakamas. Well, I didn’t know that! Who knew?

Mr. Koga keenly noticed my interest. That’s when I received my first dissertation on budo, or, The Way of War. I learned such terms as bushido, bujutsu, samurai, and Miyamoto Mushashi. Mr. Koga told me stories of studying the arts, as an adolescent, and the training he experienced.

As our time wound down together, he offered his training to me in a gesture of friendship and trust. As I left the Koga’s home that day, with a head full of knowledge and amazement, I knew I had been blessed with something great.

From that day on, I began studying bujutsu. Bujutsu is a culmination of ancient Japanese martial arts. Such arts that fall into this category are: Kenjutsu (sword), Jujutsu (grappling), and Taijutsu (body). With each category having it’s own sub-forms.

More modern Japanese arts, such as Karate, Judo, and Aikido, are sometimes mentioned as budo as well. This is another debate for another time. Personally, I don’t believe Aikido is a warring art. It’s predecessor, Daito ryu, is.

Okay, enough for now. Yes, this is all true and no, Mr. Miyagi won’t be making any appearances in this story.

Next, Part 3: The Training Begins.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 1: The Bullying

In July, of this year, I will have been a student in the martial arts for 24 years. You may be asking, "A student? Why aren't you teaching?" Well, as Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the martial art, aikido, used to say, "One never truly stops learning".

In the world of the martial arts, this statement is very true. The martial arts keep growing and changing for our benefit. No matter how young or old you are, there is a martial art to study.

As best I recall, in May of 1982, I made a conscious decision to sit in the back seat of our school bus, before our ride home. I always wanted to and, besides, my friends wanted to as well. Most of us were in the eighth grade and high school was around the corner. At that time, our junior high school shared buses with the local Catholic school. After school, students from the Catholic school would board after us. No problem, right?

There were two seventh grade boys, who boarded the bus that afternoon, who weren't too happy that we took 'their' seats. And me being smaller (and fatter) than the other boys, well, I was easy pickings. Both kids were much taller than I and built like football players. They asked me to leave their seat. I knew trouble was coming and as I got up, I was forcefully pushed back down into it.

That's when the beatings began. One would hold me against the seat while the other punched. Then they would switch. For what seemed like hours, amidst the name calling and my friends watching helplessly, I was punched from top to bottom. Through the attack, the bus driver never stopped to help. I guess she feared she couldn't control the situation by herself. To this day, I still don't know why.

When their stop came, they immediately stopped hitting me, gathered their backpacks and left. Everyone on the bus was silent except for the sounds of my weeping. I had blood dripping from my lips and numerous bruises on my face. As I walked off the bus that day, no one said a word of condolence to me. No one.

As I walked into the front door of my home, my mother instantly knew what happened. She did the best she could by cleaning my wounds and comforting my tears. This was not the first time I had been bullied, but it was the first time I was badly beaten.

In previous bullying accounts, my parents would go to the Principal and complain. At each school I had previously attended, the Principal would say the same thing, "This is not a matter of the school's. Deal with it yourselves."

This time, however, my parents knew that the end of the school year was rapidly approaching and nothing would be done. No punishment would ever take place.

For a long time afterward, I chose to sit in the front seat of the bus, always behind the driver. Summer was coming and I looked forward to my freedom.

It was the last time I would ever be bullied.

It was the last time that a person would ever harm me again.

Tomorrow, My Martial Arts Journey - Part 2: The Training Begins.

P.S. When you pray tonight, please include all the children who are bullied with no one to rescue them. May God grant them comfort and peace.

A Few 'Personal' Stories

I'm gonna take a trip down memory lane and publish two themes that tell a little more about me. This is for my family, namely my sons, and friends.

The first theme will be a group of stories regarding my 24 years in the martial arts and what the arts have done for my life. I will be focusing on the why, where, styles, and people who have influenced me, along with a few real-life situations that the arts have come in handy.

The second theme, which is more emotional, is my upcoming 30th anniversary as an insulin-dependant diabetic. I'll write about my diagnosis and what it's like to live with a disease that, if left untreated, will cause death in a matter of days.

I hope you enjoy these true life stories...

Common Sense Thoughts

Quick little common sense thoughts...

1. Immigrant Protests - Did anybody really care? The Liberals want to open the borders and let everybody be free. Conservatives are calling for a military presence on the borders. Sean Hannity believes the Feds should bulk up the border patrols and allow them more control of the situation. While not having a clear strategy for how to handle this mess, here is my question for the immigrants:
If you are caught breaking the law, are you prepared to abide by the punishment of our legal system? 'Cause many of you, who do break the law, end up fleeing back to Mexico. Just wondering.

Note: I had the opportunity to speak with a number of hard-working Mexican immigrants on Monday, May 1st. Some have landscaping jobs, while others work in Information Technology. The concensus was, "If I don't work, I don't get paid. I can't feed and shelter my family without money. There's lots of opportunity here." (United States)

Wow! What a great attitude. And just to think that most American teenagers can't even comprehend that!

2. The Moussaoui Trial - From the front page of
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told Zacarias Moussaoui "you will die with a whimper," never allowed to speak publicly again, as she sentenced him to life in prison, The Associated Press reports.

Justice has been served. Besides, I predict he will take his own life after a few years in isolation.

3. $5 / Gallon of Gas - Yep, you saw it right. While listening to Sean Hannity yesterday afternoon, he mentioned recent fuel reports stating that, by this coming winter, we could be paying $5 for a gallon of gasoline. Can you say Honda Scooter? Or, better yet, just let me work from home.

4. Child Predator Laws - I'm all in favor of strengthening child predator laws similar to what the state of Georgia recently did. In fact, I say throw them (predators) in jail for life or banish them to an island where they can't go near children. If you believe 'therapy' will help these fools, and it is the only way, then you're stupid. Don't even bother wasting my time arguing the matter.

Besides all the aforementioned, have a great day.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Got Gas?

Yesterday, I heard a Georgia-state Democrat exclaim to the media, "People are suffering because of the high gas prices. I have heard their cries and something must be done!"

Yeah, whatever.

Sure, I hate the high prices too, but government intervention isn't the answer. Here's a list of 'blame' breakdowns for everyone keeping score:

- Liberals are blaming Conservatives for driving SUVs and making too much money.
- Ashamedly, some Conservatives are blaming government for allowing oil companies to profit off our consumption. (Ah, gee, isn't that what a free market place is all about?)
- Oil companies are blaming the consumer for using too much. (Um, hello!)
- CNN is blaming (no surprise here) President Bush.
- Ann Coulter goes after stupid Democrats who want or have wanted energy consumption taxes. (HT: Jeff)

Lastly, the state of Georgia - Democrats want Gov. Sonny Perdue to impose a two month moratorium on motor fuel tax for 60 days. All in the belief that this will somehow save us money at the pump.

Maybe we ALL should be to blame. After all, those of us who lived during the OPEC disaster, in the 70's, remember all too well the long lines at the pump and short, flaring tempers that went along. You would think after 30 years we would have a viable fuel alternative to gasoline and more economic vehicles. But, alas, we don't. We keep relying on the same 'ol bus, van, truck, boat, SUV, car, plane, motorcycle, and construction vehicles for our lives.

Nothing has really changed.

Get over it, America. We're all in this quagmire together.