Five Years

I’ve had a lot of anniversaries lately- 14 years married, 10 years since my mother passed, and now I commemorate another.

April 15th marked 5 years since I started my Brazilian jiu jitsu journey.

I miss my old team at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in VA. I haven’t spent as much time on the mat as I’d have liked, and many of my old training partners have surpassed me in rank and skill. However, I’ve surpassed everyone who didn’t start. I know I’m progressing, and I’ve had classes lately where I was able to effectively impose my will and execute the techniques I had planned. If I keep training, I will learn more and have more hours of mat time. This will be a good thing. Westside Jiu Jitsu, where I’m currently training, is a great school, too. Everyone has been welcoming and supportive. My 6-year old, Stella, started training again, and she’s enjoying it.

My life has been enriched by jiu jitsu, as I’ve written before. I am confident this will continue to be a part of my life, and I will one day be a black belt.

So, cheers to five years. Sure, I wish it were ten, but I’m glad it’s not one year, or worse still, eventually.

 

Stepping my game up

After a nearly a year without consistent jiu jitsu instruction, I’m finally back on the mat. I’m working on my conditioning-grappling cardio is tough, and different from other kinds of fitness. I’ve started swimming to supplement everything else. Swimming makes my back feel great, too- hardly any  pain on some days. I’m also working on growing my repertoire of submissions and the tactics to get there.

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Fitzgerald on war

Fitzgerald, 1921 Public Domain



From Tender is the Night:

‘There are lots of people dead since and we’ll all be dead soon,’ said Abe consolingly.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.
‘See that little stream – we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it – a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly back-rd a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No European will ever do that again in this generation.’
‘Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,’ said Abe. And in Morocco.”
That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be me again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that ted between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancee, and little cafes in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and wedding? at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.’
‘General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty-five.’
‘No, he didn’t – he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurttemberg and Westphalia.

Why, this was a love battle – there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.’

‘You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,’ said Abe. 

Confession: I haven’t yet read this book. I stumbled across the passage in a podcast. I just never considered Fitzgerald worth my time, and I was wrong. I read The Great Gatsby earlier this year on a lark, and I loved it.

I’ve been thinking about my own war experiences a lot lately, and how tumultouous my life was before and especially after. I left Baghdad after the Red Cross contacted me and told me my mother was dying. My relationship with her was strained and tainted with resentment for a few years. All things considered, I still “enjoyed” my deployment, as much as one could- I believed in the work I was doing. I thought I’d made lifelong friends, but I haven’t been in contact with any of them for years. However, we drew close during the shared experiences, the million little disappointments, the boredom, the moments of terror and confusion. I’d go back if I were doing the same type of work we were doing then, in Baghdad, 2006.

Protector

I have always been a protector. I have not done a perfect job of walking in this identity, but it is still my main vocation, and where being a husband and father springs from.This particular language in using protector (as opposed to the more politically-charged “sheepdog”) results from a writer’s forum about chivalry, and it just clicked. The protection of others has shaped my life, and I’ve only become conscious of it now.

When I was younger, I was afraid of confrontation, but I have always had the idea that one should intervene against injustice. I’ve never really lived a life of violence, and did not come from an abusive family.  I’ve seen both of my parents jump in and stop some foul stuff from going down.  My mom once tackled a purse snatcher, and I’ve seen my dad beat up a (much larger) neighbor who was sexually inappropriate with neighborhood ladies. Now that I have the skills and confidence to intervene, I will, and I have. Every time. I will speak up and make a scene. Every time.

I’ve been fascinated with heroes since I was a wee lad, particularly Batman and stories of the Samurai. Warrior cultures are of interest to me, whether that be the Filipinos that fought Magellan, Hawaiians defending their land partitions from warring tribes, the military prowess of Hannibal and Scipio displayed in the Punic Wars (ok, so you’ve heard about how Hannibal crossed the Alps on an Elephant caravan. Think about that from a Roman perspective- you’ve never seen a black person or an elephant before. Here come thousands of them, and they are very upset with you. It must have seemed like battling aliens mounted on monsters) to the knights and vikings of Europe.

I’ve been drawn to the martial arts my whole life. My father is a martial artist.  I earned a brown belt in McDojo karate, did 6 months of kung fu, did some tang soo do, and trained in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) when deployed. Nothing really fit until Brazilian jiu jitsu.  I’d like to pursue Filipino Martial Arts (it’s kind of a family legacy)and continue to work striking, but BJJ is a good fit for me. Protecting people isn’t just about fighting, but I now have confidence in my abilities to do so and a game plan should the need arise. I can back up my shouting. Protecting someone or something doesn’t require violence, or the threat of violence, but courage and commitment.

As a result of fascination with tropes and myths, and participating in warrior culture, I’ve grown into a very principled (and probably too serious) man. I’ve been a pain in the tail to my bosses when I was unwilling to “be cool” and let slide violations to policy or inappropriate behavior. I can sometimes see things very black and white, and I’m trying to break myself of that.

Protect: the National Association to Protect Children was founded to provide legal assistance to child abuse cases and fight child pornography by writer/lawyer Andrew Vachss, who I instantly became a fan of after seeing his photo on the back cover of a Batman novel.  The project includes many lawmakers and authors, many of them coming from crime, pulp, and genre fiction backgrounds.  While such books (and indeed, their readers and writers) are often deemed “lowbrow”, I can see no more noble, elevated use of celebrity.

Is that an adopted pit bull and a needed eyepatch? Yes. How badass is this? 1000% badass.

I hope to one day be involved in such meaningful work.  Until that time, I will continue to protect the sacredness of all beings, advocating for safety and justice (legal and social) and raising my family in as safe, enriching, and empowering an environment as I can provide.

Dear Christianity: you’re losing me

I love Jesus. I believe in the God of the Bible, and I don’t think he’s a monster that creates suffering.

I don’t think this is all a rigged shell game.

However, even though I go to an Evangelical church, and play on the worship team (Christianese for band), I see a very ugly, loud segment of the population attempting to by a spokesperson for me, and I am very uncomfortable with it. I am not a Christian Dominionist- I believe that Jesus, the ultimate outsider, is for outsiders. Veterans and thieves, people who like to drink too much or sleep around, people who have been hurt, poor people, people working too hard for the wrong reasons, people who don’t know how to do thing right, people who don’t look like you or me, sick people, hoarders, Dr. Who nuts, people who are angry, and the people that created these demons in the lives of others.

I don’t believe Christians should take the lead in every facet of life. I also don’t believe in a separate-but-equal (but totally unequal) Christian Art Ghetto, where Thomas Kinkade is supposed to make me forget about how seeing Picasso’s “Guernica” in person made me weep in a gallery at it’s grotesque, fierce beauty, and a sappy prom ballad where “baby” is supplanted by “Jesus” is supposed to pass for decent rock and roll. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, to me, will forever be the most sublime, lovely piece of music ever written, and there isn’t a 3rd Day or Michael W. Smith or Marvin Sapp song which comes close to it.

I want total separation of Chruch and State.  I don’t want to tell non-Christians how they MUST live, because this isn’t the Arabian peninsula a millennium ago. I also don’t want the government telling me who or what I need to pray to or celebrate if at all. Free will, and the freedom of the individual must be paramount.  Forced conversions didn’t work during the crusades, and they don’t work now.

I do believe Christians should not have to hide the attributed and values which sober study of scripture and Christian thought can inspire- the sacredness of others, stewardship of resources, kindness, charity, patience, and hearts that seek peace, implementing creative solutions to problems thought unsolvable. I believe in love.

So I kind of dislike the word “Christian” because of the cultural baggage it carries in 21st century America. Most people think that means I must be a conservative, gun-toting, Chik-Fil-A eater.

Well, I’m not. That hat doesn’t fit me. 

But to be honest, a lot of my friends are-and they are AMAZING people.

 They love me, and through personal struggles have not abandoned me. They washed homeless people’s feet with me on Christmas Day.  They helped me rake yards for shut-ins.  They helped me gather coats for orphans in Russia, with enough left over to donate to the survivors of Hurricane Sandy. They also have been praying for me since Paloma first starting having seizures, and keep reminding me of it. They have inspired me to keep going when I wanted to live in sweatpants and not leave the couch.

In short, they are my friends. I might not see eye-to-eye with some of them on economic issues, or the environment, or whatever.  That’s okay. our God is bigger than these issues, and the umbrella of Christianity is big enough, too, but I can’t help but feel like angry people who are more known for what they are against than what they are for are dominating the conversation of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century, in the face of poverty, debilitating disease, global conflict, depleting resources, injustice of every sort, and a cultivated, intentional atmosphere of terror.

And I don’t like it.  I don’t need that right now. I don’t need paranoia and xenophobia.  I’m hurting. I need a big, strong God who is more powerful than political, and I resent that those aspects of how I connect to God are de-emphasized.

I have resolved to not give up, I will sojourn on. I will not adopt some goofy label for myself, I will assert my turf. I will stand and fight. So while the larger corporate identity of Christianity becomes more distorted and distasteful, I’ll depend on Jesus, and me and my republi-pals will be here, and we’ll keep on keepin’ on.