Changes Changes Changes

My Kenpo school in Albuquerque is closing down. Our head instructor wants to be able to spend more time with his family and, after decades of running a school six days a week, probably wants to be able to sleep from time to time, too. So, my seventeen years at AKKA on Montgomery came to an end today.

It’s a melancholy time, but I wish Mr. Gilbert the best. He’s certainly earned it. On the plus side, my son got a personal lesson from a man with something like forty plus years of experience today. I’ve had plenty of one-on-one time with Mr. Gilbert over the years, but this was my son’s first chance to get some insight directly from a Grand Master of Kenpo and that’s a pretty special thing.

I’ve seen Mr. Gilbert, who is in his sixties now, punch so quickly I could barely see his hands move. That’s what a lifetime of practice looks like. But, for all his training and stories about people walking into his school trying to cause problems, it’s his reactions that will always stick with me. Bear in mind, this is the same man that once taught me “luck is the intersection of skill and opportunity”. If you’ve ever wondered where I got that phrase from, it would be from Mr. Gilbert.

People sometimes wonder what the Martial Arts is. What does it entail? What do you have to do? What does it all mean? Pure and simple, no bullshit here; the Martial Arts (all of them) are about learning to inflict the maximum amount of damage on opponent in the smallest amount of time without getting hurt yourself. In other words, once you boil away all uniforms and mottos and rigamorale, learning the martial arts is about learning to beat the snot out of someone.

Of course, the best martial artists don’t have to rely on their fists to win the fight. One of Mr. Gilbert’s many stories that stuck with me was one I heard for the first time this morning. It’s an apt story, especially given the caustic environment in this country right now.

It would appear, back when Mr. Gilbert was running a school on Central in Albuquerque, that a guy came in looking for trouble. “I’m gonna kick your ass!” he screamed.

This wasn’t an entirely uncommon event. We even had a loon wander in off the street during a pretest and try to cause some problems. A couple guys and I escorted him out and convinced him this wasn’t the best place to cause problems. No one got hurt, so it was all good.

Anyway, the guy on Central was probably one of the run-of-the-mill nutters down there that lives to look for trouble. Mr. Gilbert looked up from whatever paperwork he was working on and calmly asked, “What’s your name?”

This threw the bad guy for a loop. Here he was trying to look tough and this Karate dude just asked for his name. “Why do you need my name?” he asked.

“Well, I need to make sure you’re on the schedule. If you’re not on the list you’re going to have to come back later.”

Talk about defusing the situation. The underlying statement was there were so many guys looking to kick Mr. Gilbert’s ass that he needed a list and a schedule to keep up with them. In the end, the angry guy wound up walking out of the school with a brochure about learning Kenpo and all of Mr. Gilbert’s contact information.

I gather he never took a class, but no fight broke out and no one got hurt, so it was all good.

Those are the kinds of stories that will stick with me. Punching is punching and kicking is kicking, but learning how to avoid the fight entirely is priceless.

Now, since the school is going away, I finally got around to taking some pictures. These are paintings of the animals (Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Dragon, Snake, and Monkey) of the style. Each of the animals represents are certain movement forward in Kenpo understanding. The paintings were made directly on the walls of the school sometime in the 80s by a former student.

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Tiger and Leopard. Tiger is the first animal and represents beginner understanding. Push a button and three attacks come out. Tigers are linear and power-oriented. The Leopard combines the power of the tiger and the ability to move of the Crane.
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Crane. The second level. Cranes start to change from linear movement to what we call point and circle defense. Moving around the opponent and firing quick, precise strikes. The Crane actually comes between Tiger and Leopard.
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Dragon introduces twisted stances and more movement. This falls at the Green belt level, the last belt before someone hit expert level at Brown.
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Snake and me taking a picture. The snake has two components: constrictor and viper. Constrictor elements of Kenpo include methods of coiling around arms and bodies. Vipers introduce very precise shots to small targets like eyes. The three Brown belts compose snake techniques.
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Monkey is the Black Belt element. Monkey can use any and all of the other animals and the Black Belt is, at least partially, about learning to combine the elements together.

Mr. Gilbert will still be around, so it’s not like AKKA is losing him forever. And also, as he pointed out, Bill Packer died and the system kept going. Thomas Connor died and the system kept going. Ed Parker died and Kenpo lived on. It’s not an easy change to swallow since I left the system once before and came back primarily for Mr. Gilbert.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s a time for change and renewal. You can either approach the problem head-on and beat your fists against the wall or you can use a bit of trickery to turn the problem to an advantage.

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