The Best “Life Story” E-mail I’ve Ever Received

Following my latest ‘Siam – Discovering Karate’s Forgotten Source’ trilogy I got a lot of pretty interesting response, which taught me a lot.

(Okay, actually I got like three e-mails, but whatever… Pretending it’s a lot makes me feel powerful and cool.)

Some people were upset, thinking that I was trying to belittle the apparent Chinese influences of early Karate (which would be quite foolish to say the least, considering all the great sources we have on that), while other people were interested, wanting to learn (and see) even more of the mysterious Siamese ancestor of Thai Boxing, the art of Muay Boran.

(By the way, I posted some relevant video links of Muay Boran, Krabi Krabong etc. on my Facebook page in case anyone else is interested!)

Anywho…

Among this veritable flood of three or four e-mails, one especially caught my attention. It was more of an essay than an e-mail though, and the great thing was that it was both interesting, inspirational and witty.

Just like I want them!

And my immediate thought was that I just had to share this with you guys!

The e-mail in question came from someone who commented on the site a couple of weeks ago, saying that he “likes my style of writing, blah blah.” So I replied something like, “thanks, I didn’t even know I had a style of writing”.

You know what I mean.

I just write what I feel like. I don’t follow any ‘style code’ or anything.

sometimes i don’t even care about capital letters and stuff. and sometimes i might even cut off my senten

But it seems I do have a style.

Because this man, who I will refer to as “Samoht” (in case he wants to be anonymous) totally copied my “style” in his e-mail to me! I’m not kidding! It was almost like I had written it myself! (At least in the beginning, then it kind of escalated…)

And it had great content too!

Very humbling, acually…

So, I want you to read it. Right now.

Behold, the greates “life story” e-mail I’ve probably ever received. And it’s not even edited.

On Wed, 28 Jul 2010 10:11:02 -0400, “Samoht” wrote:

Yes, you do have a style!

And I like it.

I started training TaeKwonDo a bit over a year ago, my first foray into martial arts. A girl I worked with at a past job is a sensei at a local Jiu Jutsu/Judo school, and I was impressed by her manner in general workaday interactions. Later, when I went to watch one of her gradings and kumite, I was really impressed by her skills.

Fast forward a couple years.

I’m sitting around the house with my wife and newborn son. The second son, separated from the first by a couple of years. My wife was whining the post-partum blues, and I was getting a little sick of it to tell the truth. But these are delicate situations, I couldn’t very well just tell her to suck it up and quit being so depressed, that would have been unwise to say the least.

So I said “You need something to do, something to get out of the house. Why don’t you check out that TaeKwonDo school down the road?”

She did.

And took the older son with her. He’d practised (OK, I lie, he never practiced), we had sent him to rec center karate classes when he was younger. Until he wanted to quit. Well, they both signed up, a 2-for-1 deal. For the life of the membership. I was pleased, and I sat back to wait for the transformation to take place in my wife. I wasn’t worried too much about the boy, but this would give him some time with Mom, since his throne had recently been supplanted as well.

Me? Yeah, I kayaked some.

After a while, I had been to quite a few gradings. I’m still not sure if it is a McDojang [dojang is the taekwondo equivalent of karate’s dojo] or not. I think it certainly can be, if that is what you want, but I also think our instructors and masters are bona-fide martial artists, and you don’t have to select the McOccupy-My-ADHD-Kid combo meal if you really want the McRealDeal. At least, I’ve seen them spar and perform poomse (kata) at competitions. If they are not bona-fides, then I can’t tell a difference. Plus, our school master is just so freaking good with the kids, the school is so respectful, I was so impressed having been to all the gradings, that I finally allowed as how maybe, just maybe, martial arts was for me, too.

I was 40 then. A bona-fide geezer.

And I was a master of Couch Potato Style. A 20-year veteran Marlboro Man. Yeah, I kayaked some, (well, a lot actually, real sea kayaking, not this overgrown bathtub toy mess you see) and that helped, but face it, I was horribly, awfully out of shape. I never played sports, yadda yadda. You’ve probably met someone sharing some of my characteristics. Maybe many someones.

Anyhow.

One chilly morning in December I put myself on autopilot, drove over to the dojang, and grabbed the first instructor I saw. Sign me up for ninja class!”

“Okaaaay!”, the instructor replied. “Come right on in here to my desk.”

He made me sign some paper, I wrote a check, and he handed me a brand-new dobock (gi) that was stiff as cardboard. It had a pristine white belt folded, pressed, and rubber banded. It felt a bit chintzy, like some kind of cheap made-in-China dollar store costume. But I figured heh, I can get a “good one” if this lasts…

Class, my first class, was starting in about 15 minutes. I took my new duds to the locker room and put them on. They scratched me in funny places, and the big creases stuck out crazily. I didn’t know how to tie the belt, so I just tied a square knot. My instructor came in, and gave me my first lesson on belt-tying. (I’m still trying to master that, to fully understand the knot, and execute it with whatever the Korean version of your kimochi is).

So. Into the dojang proper.

I thought the warm up was a marathon workout, and sitting to stretch, I could not even place my foot on top of the opposite thigh, let alone reach much past my knee. Oh, it was awful. I was exhausted, and we were only 10 minutes into class. Luckily, I was quickly sent back to work with an instructor, on front kicks. Now, this stuff always looked easy in the movies, and fooling around “ninja fighting” as kids in the 80s, it seemed easy enough.

Anyway, you know the drill, and I need to go to work here… soon. For the first couple months, I felt like I was in an automobile accident every couple days. Then I’d go to class again. I decided early on to be the turtle, not the hare…. for me, this wouldn’t be about collecting a black belt, but about learning to move, slowly changing my lifestyle, becoming healthier, and maybe living to see my new son graduate high school. Maybe even college…

Today, I can’t say I’m gaining any kind of real skill with my hands and feet, but I am transforming physically. I’m beginning to build a base from which these basic techniques can be workable. I’ve quit smoking. I actually ran two miles the other day with the class. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have never thought I could run two miles. I used to get out of breath just walking down the hall to go to bed at night, sure I would not wake up, or would wake up during a stroke.

Lately, they have promoted me to “high red belt”, which is just below deputy black– “Bochodan” which I think is interesting, isn’t there something in Karate called “Shodan”? What’s that all about? I’ve just learned my last color belt form. Taeguk Pal Jang. I’m not GOOD at it, but I’ve at least memorized the movements.

All along, the instructors have been asking, “Any questions?” during class. I rarely have a question, because so far, I am being Mr. Sponge. Soaking it up. I don’t know what to ask. But, as I know I am nearing the end of the basics curriculum, and starting to feel a little like I’ve been tossed in the deep end and asked to swim, I’ve been reading around on a bunch of martial arts blogs. That’s how I found KARATEbyJesse, of course…

So, I’ve been intrigued by the similarities of TKD and Karate. Except I am pretty much blown away by many of the YouTube vids I see of kata. MAN! You karate dudes are serious. I think we spend a lot of time punching and kicking air. I think TKD is largely a way to keep kids in line, and to train for a sport game of kicky tag, and to demonstrate super flashy moves. Somewhere in there amongst the flashy fighting exhibitionism there are the roots of devastation and pain compliance. The little bit of hapkido I’ve been exposed to seems pretty serious stuff. I haven’t seen a lot yet that I think would really be workable on this “street” I keep hearing about.

Luckily I don’t play in the street, I learned that in kindergarten.

OK, my train of thought is falling apart here, almost done with my coffee, and I gotta get to work.

Writing you a letter that resembles one of your posts is getting kinda old… for now… so I’ll just shut up, and say thanks for posting, keep on, and I’ll keep reading. Until I don’t. All good things seem to end at some point. A lot of stuff you have written though, has helped me get a bigger picture of martial arts in general. Almost all of it has been entertaining! : )

SO THANKS!

Take it easy, Jesse-san!

[What, you expect me to say something here? What else is there to say? I mean, really! Okay, here’s something:]

This e-mail made my day.

16 Comments

  • You know you're going to be inundated with Life Story emails now, right? (and by inundated clearly I mean you might get around 6 or 7 ;)). Great email though. I'm amazed just how many people I come across on my MA blog travels who have come to martial arts later in life. Good to know I'm not alone in my aged-martial-artistness (okay, now I'm just making words up :P). xMx
    • Marie,(or should I call you Nostradamus?)You were so right! ;)/Jesse
  • "I thought the warm up was a marathon workout, and sitting to stretch, I could not even place my foot on top of the opposite thigh, let alone reach much past my knee. Oh, it was awful. I was exhausted, and we were only 10 minutes into class."I want to leave a comment on this. More than once I experienced teachers who do lots of workout-streching-warmup-stuff --without knowledge of the most simple rules of body mechanics. This usually resulting in a "warm up" which would require an intense focus on the single student, as in those excercises you can do so many things wrong, which do -practiced over and over- cause severe damage to the body (joints and spine mainly) if not executed correctly. Now teachers too often tend to do their fantasy program in front and await their students to imitate -without any form of individual supervision (or at least a thoughtful and solid introduction phase). I have no words for how wrong that is.When I am reading lines along the above, I get the wish to burn down dôjôs. Teachers make their students feel proud (and exercised) when their body hurts after and during lesson to conceal their own incompetence and that makes me sick. Because -next to their wallet- teachers have sort of a responsibility also for their students. Sorry for the ranting, but I find this just had to be said.
  • isaac
    Hi,all I need information regarding the difference between Budo & Bujutsu
  • Thomas
    Leo, I must fess up and point out that I wrote Jesse that email in a fit of silly procrastination, fueled by a relatively sudden deficit of nicotine to which I am still adjusting. I had no intent for Mr. Jesse to make it a public spectacle. It all started because I thought the flow of Jesse's writing, which I enjoy, reminded me of a particular TV show host's narrative approach. Jesse denied any style. I then aped his "style" and wrote him the "Oprah" story, as he somewhat aptly called it. There's maybe even a *tiny* bit of exaggeration in the story here and there...I can assure you that at our school, the masters and instructors understand body mechanics, and they take great care with students. There is as much emphasis on working to your level and allowing injuries to heal as there is on pushing yourself. I apologize if I gave a wrong impression. I sometimes jokingly call classes "torture". It was, for me at that time, more workout than I'd done at once in two decades even though it was just a warm up. Seriously. I was instructed to "do what I can, follow us slowly", which is standard advice given to beginning white belts. There are people from all ages and walks of life that make up our school. The fact that our instructors are able to teach many of us at all still blows my mind. All beginners are carefully attended to. Our teachers are far from incompetent.Please don't burn down our dojang! We shall all have to come train at yours if you do. : ) Peace.
    • I am sorry Thomas, I did not mean to offend your dojang. By "burning down" I really only meant to make clear how my blood got stir up. Seriously, that's the internet, who am I to make telediagnostics based on a letter? Let me clarify my point, with a lot cooler head:(Now for a mini-life story)When I started martial arts, I was told a lot of bullshit. I was about 16 and I was enthusiastic about beating people up (what a shame, but I was young and blinded by the movies and their perverted ethos). My state of mind was "if it doesn't hurt, it's not the real deal"; in addition to my regular lessons I went to some training courses ..where I stood next to 20 to 100 others. Of course doing warmup at the very beginning. It seemed like a torture and I was happy about that.But I also was lazy. Which was my luck. I wasn't pushing to the extreme, how I was told. Thus I can only imagine how serious my hip dysplasia would be today.You get my point? It really isn't about making your teachers look bad or your dojang, as I don't know either personally. It is only about the sentence I picked out and cited, as this is a common statement (in my experience) and I didn't want to leave it uncommented.And by the way, I am not a teacher. The website I provided is my teacher's. I found this nessecary to make my "heritage" clear.But if you ever come to Germany, I'd be happy if we would have the opportunity to train together. After all Tae Kwoon Do and Shôtôkan share a lot of similarities. I am sure it will be interesting to analyse the differences. If you are interested in contact, ask Jesse for my e-mail. In this spirit:Love and peace.
      • Leo
        Oh, and to clear another thing: by "heritage" I don't mean that I got torture-training by my teacher of the Keiko-Kan. In fact he was the one who cleared all the mess and guided me on the healthy and ethical path.Apparently there still is much to learn for me. I should stop posting and start thinking again.Ossu!
      • Thomas
        I can dig it. I am all for not regretting training later. I am beginning, towards mid-life, to learn to move and so far I feel like someone has put new batteries in me.I've been relieved of some wrong notions I had of martial arts looking in from the outside. But I've also only seen a tiny slice of MA, prepared and seasoned for civilian consumption.Still...Oss!
        • Mike
          Can I ask Thomas, if you have been able to kick high?I’ve just taken up karate at 41 years old and haven’t excersised in 6 years!I’m finding that I can’t get past waist height with side kicks and roundhouses after 15 lessons.Will this improve much with time or is it too late for me?
    • Fraser
      Hi ThomasEnjoyed your story very much. I think it strikes chord with many people and it is easy to identify with the struggle of training.Thanks for sharing
  • Igor
    I wanted to send you my life story but then I saw Maries's coment ::D
    • Hey Igor, no excuses now! You've said A so you might as well say B! :)
  • Darrel
    Yeah! That e-mail made your day and my day too as a reader. If I were in your situation, I would be so much flattered that someone wrote me that kind of letter. It was very soulful and entertaining at the same time. Thanks for letting us read it.
  • Fleur
    Oh, how I can relate to the bit about 'feeling like you had been in a car accident every other day'. Classic - that's how I felt for the first year of training.Thumbs up to you.
  • warrioress
    I think you've realized by now that you DO have a style? Well you have a sense of humor to say the least ;)
  • DynamicFisticuffs
    "Luckily I don't play in the street, I learned that in kindergarten." Iove that line!! XD Very awesome Thomas! I hope your martial art training is going well. I'm sure you're a mid to early black belt by now and that your slice of MA is just a bit bigger. (:

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