My Whole Life I Wanted to be Hip – Part I

hide-and-seek

My hip odyssey began during the summer of 1969. I wasn’t quite five years old, and I was just a few months shy of starting kindergarten. The day began innocently enough; I had finally been given permission to play with the “big kids,” and hide and seek was the name of the game. I thought I understood the game correctly. One person turns around, covering their eyes and counts to 100. During those 100 seconds, all the other kids would find a hiding place and wait to see if they were found. I found the perfect hiding space amongst the trees next to the red wood fence that ran all the way around the Aurora Drive-In Theater, just up the street from my house.

After what seemed like hours (probably only 20 minutes…), I emerged from the tree line only to find myself abandoned. At first I thought that I had hidden myself so well that I had stymied all of the big kids, and they were looking for me somewhere else. Furtively, I crept out of the woods and up to the side of the street. With no one else in sight, I pondered what to do next. Should I go and find them, sneak up and yell surprise? I knew about the secret code “All-y all-y in-come-free!” – the signal that whomever was “it” was at the point of giving up, and it was time to re-start the game. But was there a secret code to call out if no one found you?

I walked across the street to one of the kids’ houses; they had a two-wheeled horse trailer parked in their yard. Like any two-wheeled trailer, it was perched on the tongue of the trailer hitch, the back side of it way up in the air, suspended over two wheels. I used to love watching my dad work on cars; he would jack the car up, grab a bunch of tools, then slide underneath and proceed to get his hands greasy and dirty. I liked the idea of being a mechanic and fixing things, so I dove under the back end of the trailer and began getting my hands as dirty as I could while I was “fixing” the vehicle.

I was completely unaware that while I busied myself under the trailer, I had actually been “found” by someone still playing the game. Only after all this had happened did I find out that the goal was to ditch me from the beginning; finding me under that trailer was just another opportunity to torture me. My oldest brother was the ringleader at the time, being virtually the oldest child in the neighborhood. It was his idea to surprise me while I was hidden under the trailer. They all snuck up to the tongue side of the trailer and rammed into the side of it in tandem, sending the back end crashing down, crushing my right leg under the weight of the vehicle. As soon as it was knocked over, they all clambered up on top of it to really smash me into the ground.

While they jumped up and down on top of the trailer that was crushing my leg, I could hear their laughter at the great practical joke they had played on me, oblivious to the terrified screams emanating from beneath their feet. While the whole incident probably only lasted a few seconds, it felt like hours to me. They jumped and laughed and I wailed and writhed until the ruckus brought out the mother of one of the kids who lived next door to the horse trailer. The kids instinctually fled and she immediately drug me out from beneath the vehicle. She scooped me up in her arms and whisked me in to her living room where she lay me down on the couch and proceeded to ice my already blackening leg. Within a few minutes, my entire leg turned black beneath my cut off jean shorts. The edge of the vehicle had impacted on the upper part of my right femur, but the discoloration reached my toes. I remember the intense fear of not being able to feel my leg coupled with the discomfort of being in a stranger’s home, surrounded by strange smells and a language I didn’t understand. She and her family were immigrants, having recently arrived from Greece, and the strange and foreign nature of those surroundings plunged me further in to panic. It was my first time in the home of a family from another culture.

My memory after this is quite fuzzy; somehow, I was ferried back to my mother’s house less than a block away, but I have no recollection of it. I don’t remember going to a doctor to have my leg examined (my mother has no memory of this either…), nor do I remember being immobilized by the incident. I’m certain that I must have spent some time after this sitting still, icing, limping for a while until it healed enough for me to start putting weight on it again, but I can’t say for sure. Somewhere over the next few months, this entire incident had been filed under “horse trailer” in my mind, and nothing else was said about it. I remember when the last of the discoloration left my body; the lingering bruise was at the point of impact, an indelible stamp up high on my right leg in a straight, horizontal line. Along with my persistent limp, that scar should have served as an inescapable reminder of that fateful day and how it would affect me for the rest of my life.

What happened next is a little difficult to explain. I never really forgot about the accident, but it shifted in my memory from this horribly traumatic violence that had been inflicted upon my body to something benign, even banal. The damage that was done to my leg left a deep swath of scar tissue in my young muscles. My quadriceps had been “pinched in half” and the scar tissue was deposited along a broad, thick  horizontal band in a desperate attempt at keeping the upper and lower halves of my quads together as one piece. The resulting tension in my leg needed to be balanced, so my body recruited surrounding muscles to keep everything in tight. This was all put in place as my body was initially healing, and as a five-year-old, I had no idea that I needed to release that tension. My limp simply became a part of my world and my injury’s importance faded into the background of my memory along with the emotional trauma that had inflicted it.

Through my martial arts training experience, I have come to understand the relationship between fear, trauma, and pain. Muscles recoiling against a painful event (like having a trailer dropped on your leg) often are later recruited by the afflicted area to help immobilize the trauma site. This can assist the body in preventing further injury to the affected site. Wincing away from pain is more of an emotional response than a physical one. Most people naturally recoil from pain, pull back and scrunch up their brows, maybe even yell out, and understandably so. When the physical trauma couples with the emotional response, the outcome can be a materialized emotional blockage that becomes physically stored in your body. This is how my body responded to this event, albeit without my knowledge or consent. My right hip lost a significant amount of range of motion; the scar tissue on my leg became buried deep under new muscles, and I eventually forgot how traumatic the whole experience had been.

There was a lot of violence in my childhood; but this was the most extreme thing that happened to me as a child. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I had effectively buried the whole experience in my subconscious mind, a kind of PTSD. While my mind had blocked out the event, my body still carried the scars – and the effects of those scars. It was always hard to move in my body; I ran funny (or so I was told over and over). I wasn’t particularly graceful either, often tripping and hurting myself. I was also lopsided; I always walked a little lean to the outside of the outstep of my right foot. But I never knew why I limped, it was just a difficulty moving that I had. Had I remembered my experience at the bottom of the horse trailer, I may have put it together that my imbalance was due to an extreme event in my life.

The human mind is a curious thing. When our world doesn’t make sense, our minds will fill in the gaps to come up with a relevant story that explains it to us. We need to make sense of our world, and if part of the information is absent, whatever is left is assumed as the whole truth. My mind came up with the only answer that it could at the time. I never realized that I limped, nor did I remember the scar on my leg. I did know that I had a lot of tightness in my hips, and it was painful to stretch. The only possible explanation was that I was lazy and afraid of pain.

I didn’t think there was anything different about me; I assumed that everyone had the same pain when they stretched. I thought there were simply those who had athletic prowess, and then there was the rest of us. I spent a good chunk of my childhood with my nose in a book. I stayed as sedentary as I could, and I was further teased mercilessly for it. Chided as uncoordinated and lacking any gift for physical activity, these taunts helped me explain my inherent klutziness. I always tried my hardest; but since my very best efforts yielded milquetoast results it became increasingly clear to me that my agitators were correct – I was better off in the corner with a book. This root part of my personality became an integral part of the bedrock on which I began to build my sense of self. It would take Marine Corps boot camp to help shake some of this illusion apart.

I was able to walk in to the Marine recruiter’s office on my own two feet; no one ever questioned me about my limp. The physical I was given at my inception did not include MRI’s or X rays of my legs. No one noticed, and I had not thought to tell them about my scar tissue (had I known about it, undoubtedly they would have looked). I was destined to be a musician, having auditioned for and been accepted by the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps. Boot camp made me punch through every physical barrier I had ever known before. I still ran funny, but I could finish 3 miles. Many of the psychological hurdles I had inadvertently placed in my own way had to literally be kicked out of the way for me to make it through the physical rigors of boot camp. On the surface, I just kept doing everything as fast and as hard as I could, but deep down I still heeded my tormentors’ words – I would be better off in the corner with a book.

Part II coming soon!

The Source of Fear

Fear is insidious. It permeates our consciousness, drags us down, gets blamed for bad decisions, and perpetuates its existence by subtly disguising itself as religion, relationships, jobs, families and addiction. For such a powerful nemesis stalking us, we consistently invite it into our homes to have dinner with the in-laws and ask it to sit with the kids. We surreptitiously give open permission for it to bury itself ever deeper into our psyche, nestled somewhere between identity and self worth. Our culture is ripe with fear, and its very close cousin, pain. Watch the gawkers on the freeway rubberneck their way to a virtual standstill, ostensibly to show compassion and empathy for others in pain, but truly the hope is to gain a glimpse at something gruesome; something to continue to feed our desire to live in fear.

Traffic Jam

What is this vested interest in fear? Why do we, as a race, perpetuate its existence, even in the face of our own annihilation? The outward signs of fear are obvious, and in the extreme sense take shape in the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. These armaments are cruel and terrible, in both their ability and method of taking human life, as well as damaging an already crippled ecosystem.

The person that taught me the most about the root nature of fear wasn’t a person at all – it was a dog. A pit bull/lab mix named Bill. Before I knew Bill, my only real relationship with a dog was when I was a child, a mutt named Lu-Lu. She was such a mix, that it was virtually impossible to tell her breed; with the exception of a permanent pink stain on her nose and front left paw from one of her forays into the unknown, she was mostly black with some white markings on her nose, belly and paws. Being the family –and neighborhood – garbage disposal perpetuated her indistinct, rotund sausage shape. Lu-Lu was a scrounger; a dog that will do anything to get into your garbage can in the hopes of finding some putrid piece of rotting refuse to gorge herself on – and that is exactly what she did every chance she got. She had her little route she would go on when she would break the chains of her imprisonment at my parent’s house. It was good that she was so predictable, as it always fell to my brothers and me to find her following her daring escapes. My impression of her at the time was that of the thing that lived under the table, and the reason I would be forced away from my “legos” to go outside for intervals of no more than a block or two at a time, to allow her to deposit the reeking excrement that was the result of her gluttony. There was no personality, no perceivable consciousness, no one home behind those dull, brown cow eyes that would not hold yours for more than a brief fleeting moment.

Scrounging Dog

Years later, Lu-Lu was in the driveway and sliced open her leg on some broken glass there. Mom took her away to the vet, and came home alone. She explained that the damage was too severe, and that, given her age, would not heal properly. Consequently, Lu-Lu was sent to the happy garbage can in the sky, ostensibly to eat all the rotten festering food she could lay paws on – and that was that. My first experience with death had absolutely no affect on me – I had no idea that Lu-Lu was even a living entity that might have to die someday. And so my ideas about dogs remained – until Bill. Bill had a personality; he knew tricks and played games that only a being with a certain level of conscious thought could be capable of. I had many amazing moments with Bill in those years; but my favorite experience with Bill was when he taught me about the root of all our fears.

One day, I accompanied Bill and his person, Brenda, to get a puff pastry at one of our favorite little shops on Broadway in Seattle. Brenda was on the injured list at this time, still reeling from a recent knee surgery. She tied Bill to one of the small metal tables outside the shop; more as a formality than to actually restrain him. Bill obviously outweighed the table, but with a little resistance on his leash, he was easily coerced into patiently waiting for us to retrieve our pastries. Besides – he always got the last bite.

What happened next was a little blurry, but something startled him, and he jumped back just enough to topple the table behind him. The loud racket startled him even more, and he reacted again to the loud noise by moving away from it – something virtually anyone would do. What happened next was a mixture of insane comedy and horrible panic – Bill tried to move away from the sound of the metal table being dragged behind him. Of course, with every step he took, the sound continued to follow him. Completely spooked at this point, he broke into an open run, dragging the table, clanging like a four alarm fire, down the sidewalk. Brenda can’t run, so it was left to me to chase him down, screaming at people to stop him as this wild eyed, terrified pit bull was racing directly into the intersection – and oncoming traffic. Passers by watched with amused detachment as, at the very last second before Bill plunged into the road and certain death, the table got caught on an empty bike rack, boomeranging Bill backwards with an alarmingly ferocious snap.

Runaway dog

I wasn’t sure if I would find a dead dog at the end of that leash; he could have easily broken his neck – all to escape a table. Luckily, he was fine, and having survived his horrible ordeal, seemed no worse for wear and tear; just a little shaken up. Brenda came hobbling up, muttering curses under her breath at all the people that just stood there as Bill went running by, ignoring my frantic pleas for help. Why didn’t anybody reach out and stop the flying table, or at the very least stand in Bill’s way? There was no confusion as to what was happening, nor to what we were asking for – what stopped them? A freaked out pit bull is not something that just anyone wants to get involved with. There is a stigma surrounding pit bulls that they are ferocious, vicious beasts with locking jaws. Nothing could be farther from the truth; by nature, there aren’t many breeds friendlier than pit bulls – and their jaws do not lock.

The obvious answer is fear. Fear is the root of prejudice; if you read one story about a dog attack, and the breed is mentioned, that breed gets marked as dangerous and undesirable. A few years back, Rottweilers held that distinction; today the illustrious title of “worlds deadliest domesticated animal, ready to snap at any time” belongs to pit bulls. Onlookers that witnessed our microcosmic tragedy did nothing to help because they were afraid. Our nomadic ancestors probably stayed alive due to fear; indeed having a healthy fear of the bear cave probably steered them completely clear of danger, allowing the tribe thrive long enough to eventually create us. For that, I am eternally grateful.

But now that we have the combined tools of reason with the faculties of higher consciousness, it would seem weird to take the long way around a bear cave if there is no bear in it. Fear is irrational by nature, but it is a completely irrational notion to be afraid of a cave. We have the ability to keep ourselves alive by using our minds. Fear is an evolutionary tool that beings who lack higher consciousness use to stay alive; another word for this is instinct. Instinct seems to be a word that is overused; to some, following your instincts is the same thing as instinctually being afraid of bears. But thinking, conscious beings do not need fear to keep them away from bears; indeed, they know better.

Bear in a Cave

This is where the line begins to blur, because where fear would tell you to avoid bears, so would logic bring you to the same conclusion. Let’s see – long claws, big teeth, a whole lot of mass, working on instinct – hmmm; yes, stay away. But if you listen to fear, it would tell you the same thing – hence it would also appear that fear has the power to keep you safe. Fear is not a product of higher thinking; indeed it is a primal mental construct that has its deepest roots in the autonomic reptilian region of the brain. The very existence of a fear depends on you staying afraid, and in order to do this it must also foil reasoning – so for it to function, it must also keep you stupid.

None of this makes any difference to poor Bill. In his world, it would seem that fear kept him alive long enough to outrun that blasted clanging table that was chasing him. And he knows just where it lives – in that little pastry shop on Broadway. For years after this happened, every time Bill went near the pastry shop, he would whimper, pull away at the leash, look worriedly around him – lest that table chase him down for an encore. Looking beyond the fact that fear would definitely keep Bill out of the path of any bear, there emerges the idea that fear is what keeps him safe. The truth is, it is Bill’s blanket response to fear that appears to keeps him safe; but Bill doesn’t have a lot of options. Humans on the other hand have the ability to reason; yet still we respond to fear as though it is our master. After all this time; haven’t we learned better?

Next time…the Physiology of fear.

The Roots of Quantum – Part III

There are other aspects related to the search for technique; the second part lies in the application of movement. There is a purpose for the technique to exist, and that is found in its function. Traditionally, many empty handed Martial Arts (those that do not primarily use weapons) have matured as a system of self defense. In other words, the underlying purpose of the technique developed by these styles is to ward off a potential attack. There are many reasons to study Martial Arts; some seek exercise; others desire a more spiritual path; others want to compete, while still others wish to develop self defense. But no matter the reason that an individual chooses, if the impetus of that style is based in self defense, then the movements are going to reflect that idea in their structure. Certainly the philosophy that guides the progression of any basic strategy employed would also be affected, as would the general direction of the style itself. The thing that troubles me and seems to put these martial arts at odds with themselves is this: Self defense implies victimization.

SF Dojo

I would most certainly classify victimization as a fear. I was constantly put in a place of victimization as a child, hence I lived in fear – it was one of the things that drew me to the Martial Arts to begin with. After years of studying, I would still think strategically like a victim; afraid of going to strange new places; always on the look out for my potential attacker. I never left the country because I was afraid. I wouldn’t try new restaurants, or go places that didn’t seem safe to me (which was pretty much everywhere). It took years of unraveling to see that I was creating all of that myself, and it had been reinforced in my movements; stored in my muscle memory; locked in to the very structure of how I thought. As a Martial Artist, I study my movement to perfect my technique. In order to use your mind to break down and refine your movements, you must think in terms of how and where you get your power, consider distance, leverage, trajectory, physiology, targets, and of course application. This means that if you continue to refine a technique that is rooted in fear, then with each refinement and iteration of that technique you bury your fear even deeper in your consciousness; in essence, giving it a nice comfortable home complete with whirlpool bath, gourmet kitchen and 400 thread count sheets to lay its head on.

Of course, the deeper the root of your fear is buried, the harder it is to find, realize and begin the long unraveling of its insidious hold on your life. Over the first ten years of my martial arts career I continued to hone my thinking around these fear-based movements, and eventually my power was so tied into my fear that the two were inseparable. Making the choice to leave behind my fears at that point required a complete revamping of how I saw myself and my source of power. The outcome of that transformation was the birth of Quantum Martial Arts.

The Roots of Quantum – Part II

Although I had pursued martial arts for many years, it took over fifteen years for me to see myself as a competent martial artist. This sense of falling short of my expectations was nothing new to me; I had played the trumpet since 4th grade, and picked up the guitar in my sophomore year, but even after 25 years of doing that, I never saw myself as an artist. Even though it was me playing that trumpet, I believed that I was cheating in some way; at the very least, I was falling far short of my potential.Trumpet

It is my contention that we are all moved by forces unseen. Some of us state that we are only a particular way because of some circumstance from childhood, or that we come up with logical reasons for doing what it was that we do. But my reasons for continuing in the Martial Arts were all based upon my experience of the world at that time. I didn’t want some individual to “pass me up”, or I was afraid for my safety, or my self image was so fragile that it needed the propping up that Martial Arts seemingly provides. Then there were times that I continued and had no idea why I was still doing it – I just was. It is only with the grace that hindsight gives, or that time affords us, that I can see so much more clearly now. The truth of my life is that I have a gift, and that gift has brought me to an understanding of movement and timing. As these concepts gradually increased in depth and scale, they also brought me to pursue the gifts of truth and leadership. But mostly, I have developed the gift of sight. At the time, it seemed that the motivations I conjured up were the truth, but only because I was covered in fear. Fear stops you from seeing who you are. Fear disconnects you from your body and your mind. The very life of fear depends on you not knowing the truth –

Nothing can touch you.

Nothing can own you.

Everything is going to be all right.

Master Evans gives a 'grasshopper talk'
Master Evans gives a ‘grasshopper talk’

None of those ideas can exist while fear stands in the way. But oddly enough, fear plays a central role in the development of those ideas. While fear can stand in the way and block your view, it takes an act of faith and courage to move past your fear – hence a chance to see that while fear can present itself in a visceral way, it also allows the opportunity for exercising faith and courage. Fear can cause us to hide away from ourselves and try to stay the same, or fear can give the impetus to grow and expand beyond all previous limitations. While it can be the one thing that stops you from living a courageous life, it is also the one thing that allows it to exist.

Or, at least I thought that I had fabricated it.

We are moved by forces that we will never understand, but the more fear that you have to block your way, indeed the more investment in fear that you have, the less you will understand those forces and how they exert themselves on you. I did not make up the idea that I train to heal; I actually do train to heal. While it was true that I was already experiencing those aspects of my training, I was incapable of seeing or realizing their existence. By coming up with something that sounded reasonable to me at the time, I started down a path that I can never turn around on, and have since found all of these amazing resources tucked up inside a good reverse punch.

But it is quite another concept to seek out technique. The search for technique can be thought of in two parts.

One is the search for unhindered energy running cleanly through your body that is articulated as a dynamic expression of accurately focused power. This is the very real, physical attribute of technique; one that can be tested on boards, concrete, target pads, heavy bags. But there is also a look to good technique. When energy runs unhindered through a physical body, the path that it travels is beautiful. A true expression of power without need, want, or fear has the grace of dancing along with a full exposure of self; indeed there is a nakedness to it, for those who have eyes that can see. For me, the look of a fully supported leveraged movement virtually invokes a portrait by Davinci, with angles and vectors written out on aging parchment, showing ratios scribbled in the margins. But even for those who are not adept at seeing such things, there is a profound difference between a raw beginner attempting to contort their body in what would seem a very unnatural way to force energy out and a seasoned practitioner who has learned to release the things that stand in the way of that flow of energy and allow themselves to be naked. A question that I have asked myself over and over again is this: Is it the practice of the technique itself that refines that movement? Or is it the releasing of that which stands in the way of the natural flow of energy in the human body? In my estimation, it is both; and it is neither.

More about technique next!