My Whole Life I Wanted to be Hip – Part II

My time in the Marine Corps

You might think that boot camp and the subsequent discovery of my athletic self would have had a direct impact on my inner narrative. It did change the way my life flowed forward, but it didn’t resolve the root cause of the physical and emotional trauma left over from my childhood. I still heard those kids taunting me in everything I did, still saw myself as a lazy and unmotivated person, and considered my success in boot camp a way to hide that “truth” from everyone around me. The Marines did help me break through some of the barriers I had placed in front of myself, but the experience wasn’t enough to repair the cracked foundation of my personality.

Boot camp has changed a lot over the past thirty years, but back then, they would “tear you down” by insulting and berating you. They’d tell you that you are worthless and unfit to shine the boots of a “real Marine”. They’d dress you in awkward clothing, make fun of you, and randomly do crazy things at odd hours to test your ability to respond to chaos – and to throw you off kilter even more. Once you were sufficiently torn down, they’d begin to set you back up for success, providing character-building exercises and opportunities to essentially “out-do” your drill instructors.

The problem with me was that they didn’t have anything to tear down. The belittling I suffered at the whims of my drill instructors mirrored the language my parents used throughout my childhood, which laid the foundation for my hypercritical and self-deprecating inner voice. Try though they might, nothing the drill instructors said or did rattled me; I actually thrived. When it came time to participate in the character-building, I was already primed and eager to please. So without really tearing anything down, they simply gave me physical, mental, and emotional challenges that I easily accepted and conquered. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it seemed the universe was giving me two choices. The first was to question the base assumptions I had made about my own worth in light of my empowering success in boot camp. The other would be to modify the narrative of my success so it would match up to closely-held personal beliefs. To go the first route would require the success of my three months in boot camp to outweigh all of my eighteen years of experience at that point. The second path came much easier; I simply had to see my success as cheating or gaming the system. I was a good liar, and I was fooling everyone who saw me as successful. At this point, I was still deeply wounded, but I began to see some of the cracks in the facade of my world view.

After boot camp, I was stationed in Virginia Beach at the Armed Forces School of Music. I spent a year on the East Coast, and I loved music school. Compared to the physical and emotional intensity of boot camp, music school was so easy and chill and even fun, it made me feel like I was cheating again. Was being a Marine supposed to be fun? It felt like I was getting away with something too good to be true while many of the recruits I’d met in boot camp were being shipped overseas to fight in Beirut. Again I found myself excelling past my peers; my high school experience in civilian Drum & Bugle Corps had set me up for success in military marching music. But you can’t stay in school forever. What came next, actually being in the Marine Corps, proved to be the hardest two years of my life.

Once I was stationed in Twentynine Palms, CA, I found myself in a truly strange situation. Instead of joining the USMC Band, I joined the Drum & Bugle Corps during a radical reformation of the music program in the military. In the decades before I enlisted, all musicians wanted to be in The Band. Only if they failed music school were they assigned to the Drum & Bugle Corps, which at the time was not considered a legitimate musical group. In the early 70’s however, civilian drum & bugle corps like the one I participated in as a teen were undergoing an artistic renaissance. By the early 80’s when I enlisted in the Marines, these civilian drum corps were performing amazingly complex shows on a level that was unprecedented. But my superiors in Twentynine Palms were part of the generation that had failed the basic music course, and they felt threatened by the throngs of talented young musicians showing up at their unit with more drum corps knowledge than they possessed. To make matters worse for them, the Marines had issued a directive—they all had to go back to school and pass the basic music course, or be transferred. They were technically the ones in charge, but they had trouble finding authority in musical matters in front of this shiny new breed of military musician. They made up for it by latching on to the things that gave them legitimacy—their rank and status as Marines. Similar to the behavior of the boot camp drill instructors, but more maliciously motivated, they berated their musicians and made it unbelievably hard to do what would have otherwise been a simple and rewarding job, playing music for the Marines. At nineteen years old I was arranging music at a level my superiors were incapable of, and instead of building me up as a talented young musician, they wrote me up time after time for showing disrespect. After my incredible success in boot camp and music school filled me with confidence, I ran head-first into a group of senior officers who were threatened by my success. In the end, I was court-martialed and reduced in rank. By the time my service years were up, I felt like I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

My martial arts journey

During my time in the Marines, I rediscovered my passion for martial arts. I had adored Bruce Lee as a child, and although I briefly tried martial arts in my teens, nothing stuck. With an underlying broken sense of self, and still living in my parents’ house, I had a very hard time understanding how to apply myself. But after my athletic success in boot camp, I was ready to try martial arts again, and one of my first priorities when I got stationed in Twentynine Palms was to find a dojo. Having the community of my dojo truly helped me get through the years of struggle in the Marines’ Drum Corps. My karate teachers and training partners were encouraging and supportive in a way I’d not experienced; they exemplified leadership in a way I’d expected my music leaders to in the Marines.

After I earned my black belt in TKD in early 1986, the physical imbalance in my body became more worrisome to me. Being a black belt puts you on display; people look to you as someone to emulate. My left leg kicks were terrible, and my whole left side was out of balance. When I stretched, there was an enormous amount of pain. I remember complaining once about how much it hurt, only to have a teacher respond to me that “we all hurt when we stretch.” I had already accepted that I was lazy and afraid of pain at that point, so I looked for ways to hide my discomfort from others. I was out to fool everyone into believing that I was a hard worker, and I worked really hard at this.

Martial arts made me feel as close to my authentic self as I’d ever experienced. I didn’t fully understand why at the time, but I felt as though martial arts was a life jacket for me after treading water for a very long time in the open ocean. Going to class not only gave me the physical release that allowed me to consistently mitigate the buildup of stress, but also showed me exactly how I was lying to myself. You see, I am a hard worker, and I always have been. The pursuit of martial arts revealed a good chunk of the truth about my journey, but it took years of diligent discipline for me to come face-to-face with what happened to me in the summer of ’69. I worked hard at balance in my body, but there was no way to make that happen on top of my forgotten injury. The indelible stamp of the metal frame of that horse trailer and all of the emotional fallout that rested in my broken body continued to resonate within me, and my amnesia for the event continued to make the case that my imbalance was caused by my laziness.

Decades of martial arts training and my devotion to healing eventually made their mark upon both my movements and my psyche. My movements became more fluid; my ability to take on opponents much larger and stronger than me and throw them to the ground while barely breaking a sweat showed me I was doing something right. My body felt more grounded, more resilient than I’d ever experienced. I realized that I had a choice, and it was one that I could make at any time. The stark realization of how strong I’d become through hard work of training, and the truth of the person I’d grown into as a result, came into direct opposition with that old voice in my head telling me I was lazy. It was an easy choice to make, as my investment in the truth-telling properties of my training were immersive – especially while physically present in the dojo. My “lazy side” never stood a chance.

But it didn’t happen overnight. It still took me many years to go from the moment of realization that there was no “lazy one”, to truly internalize that in truth I’d put in a lifetime of hard work and come out the other side a leader and pillar of strength. Even when those around me all saw me as someone in pique health and fitness, the inconsistency between my outer and inner self was still a powerful force in my head far past the point of making the decision. Quantum is a testament to the tools I developed to release myself from bondage – another way of saying that the Quantum Style is a vehicle for change and transformation.

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