In praise of discomfort …

Mats pounded soft from the limbs of ages,
you seek solace in the hope that this time, it will not hurt.
You watch, you listen.
Hands blur in motion while feet dance their rhythm,
and yet, as the twirling white mass flies, with graceful ease through air,
you miss something, small, but significant, simple but pure.
Your concentration shattered by the sound of palm crashing,
then drumming it’s relentless beat of submission.

Once, in ages past, straw became the comforter of pain, the soaker of blood,
as warriors, not yet hewn in battle sought knowledge and the way from those that
were sculpted, that were shaped, that were Samurai.

Now the battlefields are gone, but the battle lingers – in oneself!
All is still, silent, save for the amused bleatings of the young or the groans of older aching limbs too long bruised or bashed.
And yet the player endures, smiles, wipes the sweat from brow and flies again.

Blood rushes, punches stretch forth, legs kick out. Hair is grabbed, joints are locked, organs shake and points of pain are pressed home.

Why? You ask.
Why let this ritual of discomfort, pain and endurance persist?
Why battle when there is no war?
Why strike out when there is no threat?
Why land when there is no need to fall?

Words hard pressed against the tongue fail in their praise of the majesty of the art.
It is not about discomfort, sweat, tears, it is about the joy of the art itself, the flow from one poise to another, from grace to gracefull, from ploy to counter.

It is about watching young limbs trying trying to master the necessity of technique,
against the deception of failure.
It is about the timid stepping forth against the ragging voice of doubt.
To do or not do, that is the question.

But above all else it is knowing that while the body crashes and nerve ends mash, we live.
We breathe, and thus we honour the majesty of creation itself.

I pick myself up, dust myself down, wince, smile, ache and rejoice while tugging at dishevelled clothing and wonder,
…are there funny white pyjamas and crash mats in heaven?

The long and winding road – part 1…

I don’t believe in fate, we are masters of our own destiny and choose which path to walk upon, even when we may have asked for divine inspiration. So, it’s a little strange how a recent conversation with my sister about something that happened over 40 years ago may shed some light and provide proof, that the road I’m currently treading is the right one.

I’ve always loved sports and always played them, even those I didn’t like, cricket and golf for instance, at least I tried them and, if I’m honest, I was reasonably okay at most them and a little better at some others.

Martial arts though, was never really on my radar. I tried Judo once, didn’t like being thrown by a smaller guy (when you’re 14ish the arrogance of youth does tend to cloud the actual purpose, I kick myself now for not understanding this purpose) and I tried boxing, which I enjoyed, but the guy I went with didn’t so I never went again.

I count myself reasonably determined and, although growing up I was ridiculed for being part Italian, I seemed to develop a self resolve that to some extent protected me. I was bullied (like many kids) for being slightly different, accentuated by my parents ridiculous request that I be excused morning assembly on the grounds that I was a Roman Catholic, great!  Because it made me even more different and an even better target.

Now funny thing is, I never ran to my parents, teachers or friends about any of this treatment which involved, pinching my football (I was seldom without one) slapping me around the head, calling me names, challenging me to a fight or having me walk a gauntlet of punching and kicking.

I always stood my ground (and got verbally and physically slapped) and I never ever crossed the road when the bullies, having spotted me, advanced in my direction. My fighting prowess at the time involved stoic determination to take the slap and move on, or to push my way through. I never ran, because that meant they would just look out for me the next day.

Why did I do this? I don’t know. And I cannot for the life of me remember any individual I looked up to who behaved in that way. My mindset, even at that age was not to show fear, hide it (even though I was afraid) don’t cry (even though at times I was in pain) and eventually the bullies gave me up as a hopeless case.

This attitude stayed with me well into my teens, but became suppressed after a few years exposure to the grown-up world. Yes I got into scrapes, some of them, looking back now quite funny. Like the time we were being chased after attending a disco at Ashcroft by a large group of ‘tin town’ neanderthals, and my bright idea of convincing my group of mates to stand our ground and fight.

Great idea until I stopped, faced our pursuers, challenged them and then realised that my ‘pals’ had actually not stopped running and I was now on my own. In those days (before I stupidly started smoking) I was quite fast, so I legged it and while overtaking my mates, called them all the names I could think of!

But anyway I digress. Even though I clearly remember these episodes others have been clouded and misfiled over the years so that they are beyond re-collection until someone jolts them into place.

I had the good fortune to spend Christmas with my two sons in Australia at my sisters house. It did take  a while to accustom myself to both the jet lag and the most awkward feelings of displacement when looking at Christmas decorations in over 30 degree heat – and don’t even get me started about Boxing day on the beach! Anyway, my sister started re-calling for the benefit of my sons some of the things I’d done as a kid.

I wasn’t a great fan of my siblings, I was sporty they were the opposite, I read loads of comics and books they rarely did – so little in common. One day as my sister recalls she told me about a problem she was having with a girl at school (I was still at school myself at the time). This girl was bullying her, telling her she was going to get her, etc, etc you know, the usual bullyish two consonant, single vowel, guttural vocabulary.

Now apparently (and I have no recollection of this episode, but her telling it did fire up another memory later) I told her that she was to look the girl directly in the eye, to show no fear (even if she felt it) appear confident and to demand of her what her problem was – in short, not run away or cross the street.

And it worked! She left her alone!

So, it appears that over 40 years ago I was teaching the same principles of ‘confidence’ as a means of defence, that I am teaching now!

I was a little surprised, having forgotten the episode so we continued reminiscing, then, when we were clarifying other ‘memories’, I recalled the occasion I persuaded a violent drunk to leave the ‘Chelsea Girl’ shop she was working in next door to the Currys store I was working in, merely with a firm word and the offer of a cigarette (possibly the only occasion my bad habit came in useful).

So there you go, full circle!

Seems my vocation was mapped out for me all those years ago and I’ve just re-discovered it.

What was that I was saying about fate?

Must be predestination, preordination, predetermination, what is to come, the writing on the wall, luck, chance, predestiny – think they call that kismet.

A sad waste of a young life …

Yet another report of a young girl committing suicide due to ‘online bullying’ click here for new report.

I don’t understand how cyber bullying can have such an impact on a child’s life. When exactly did the written insults of the deranged little internet trolls become so important to an individual that they take them personally and act so tragically?

What have our children become?

Bruce Lee the father of MMA?

Okay I’ll be the first to admit and acknowledge Bruce Lee’s unique contribution to the world of martial arts and cross training – but the father of Mixed Martial Arts?
click here for BBC article
So, what about William Barton-Wright, the 19th century engineer responsible for introducing jujitsu to the western world and who created his own system using Savate, Boxing, Stick Fighting and Japanese Jujitsu. Doesn’t that qualify as Mixed Martial Arts?
click her for Barton-Wright intro

I want to be loved by you …

I love words of wisdom, sometimes they come from the most unusual of sources. I like Marilyn Monroe. She lived at a time when stars were stars and not the vacuous, pretentious and talentless examples we have today.

She was a clever self publicist, with faults, but with an engaging intelligence betrayed by her hair colour and physique. So I was impressed on discovering the Marilyn quote below which in my humble opinion, is not a bad philosophy to live by.

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends.

Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate.

You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

― Marilyn Monroe

To the special one …

Strength isn’t just about how hard you can hit, or how much you can lift. It’s not only about being right when you know others are wrong, or about pushing back when being pulled, or standing your ground when its your given right to do so.

Strength is a measure of an individual’s ability to strive on, over and beyond adversity, with virtue, honour and humility intact. It’s knowing that when you are on the verge of an emotional breakdown or surrender, that there is a reason why you put yourself under such duress and stress.

That’s the measure of true strength.
That’s the measure of true love.
That’s the measure of one’s own humanity.

And, for those that seek to undermine and destroy everything that YOU hold dear, through their own warped machinations and cowardice, be assured that without intent, their foolishness, their lies, their dark, twisted, malcontent provides YOU with the resolve YOU need to remain who YOU are and protect those YOU love.

Acquirit qui tuetur
(He who preserves something, will have something)

Somethings never really change …

This is a short extract from the Winter 2012 edition of ‘RELAY’ the Child Protection in Sport Unit Newsletter.

“Over the past 18 months we have been chairing a working group to examine the issue of parental behaviour in sport. We know that sport could not take place in the UK on the scale that it does without the support and effort of many parents, who often volunteer to keep sports clubs running.

However, despite the positives, evidence suggests that parents’ attendance also has it’s downsides. A survey conducted by Children 1st in Scotland has revealed that 43 per cent of children surveyed had directly experienced negative behaviour from spectators, many of whom are parents, with swearing and name calling being the most common form. All of the children who had experienced it said the behaviour made them feel threatened. 20 per cent said it made them want to stop taking part altogether.

The survey, Spectator behaviour in sport, consulted 154 children and 340 parents. It explored the impact of spectator behaviour on children and young people. For many children and young people, their parents encourage and facilitate their involvement and add to their positive experience. But, as this survey highlights, sometimes parents can behave in ways that negatively impact on their own child and other children’s experiences of sport. We know this can take many forms, ranging from inappropriate comments through to bullying and abuse, such as:

• pushy parents who put inappropriate amounts of pressure on their child in sport
• parents who contradict and are overly challenging towards the coach
• parents who stand on the sideline and shout negative and abusive comments at their own and/or other children.

Young officials are at particular risk of abuse in sport. They often stop being perceived as children as soon as they step onto the field of play and take up their officiating role.”

How very, very sad.

Well it doesn’t matter how many ‘books’ ‘agreements’, ‘initiatives’, and ‘goodwill gestures’ are introduced by governing bodies, many parents are just incapable of behaving reasonably when it come to children’s sport – I remember abusive parents yelling trash from the sidelines 40 odd years ago when I was playing.

Since then, we’ve had hundreds of initiatives to try and stamp out this outrageous behaviour and I guess we’ll have hundreds more ‘cos try as I might, I can never forsee a time when the problem will ever be resolved.

However that doesn’t mean I’m not going to support any attempts to stamp it out; words of wisdom, sportmanship, encouragement and consolation, laced with a smile or two are the necessary requirement for watching children’s sport. And if, perchance, the person standing next to you isn’t quite on your wavelength in terms of reasonable and sane behaviour, who am I to judge when a flailing elbow catches them accidentally in the mouth – oops clumsy you!