Martial Arts

Martial Arts University 2015 – Afterthoughts

First, this post is far longer than average, and I’ve already trimmed a bit, so bear with the novel and I hope the content keeps you entertained.  Second, I’m going to admit right away that I will have trouble writing as candidly here as I have for most entries. This is primarily because I realize that a fair amount of my audience from Facebook is comprised of students (and at least one Master) who are members of Martial Arts World. However, I am nothing if not honest and I do not wish or expect my opinions to be shared by them. In truth, anything that could be perceived as negative at any point in this post is a result of my own issues and not necessarily the fault of MAW or those who operate their schools.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

With that disclaimer said, this was probably the best Martial Arts University thus far. Generally speaking the attitude and experiences were very positive. Grandmaster has greatly refined his speaking and philosophy to a level that is much easier for his students of all levels to digest. Meanwhile the team of Masters and CEOs that lead the week-long event appeared unified and supportive of one-another (for the most part…) Having been away for a time now, I found myself approaching the same questions with new answers and some level of uncertainty. I think the best approach in attempting to explain this to you is to quote some of said philosophy and comment on it so you have an understanding of the sort of discussions that go on both internally and externally.

“Discover who you really are. What do you do? What do you want to do?”

This is, and always has been difficult for me. At any given point what I want to do changes. I want to write, so right now I am writing. Am I a writer? Sure. But it is certainly not anything close to the majority of what I do.   I am also a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Executive Consultant, Mentor, Uber Driver, Assistant, Teacher and Martial Artist.

These are all things I want to do… sometimes. But some aren’t feasible as a career, some aren’t something I want very often and some, frankly, I’m just not good enough at. So then I’m left with the question of how to define myself. Which leads me to…

“Your habits make up who you are.”

 Well… shit. I don’t have the best habits, but I like them. What are my habits anyway? I try to write here at least once a week on average (months of hiatus notwithstanding… I DID say “try”) I take tons of photos on my iPhone and contrary to popular belief they are not all selfies and food porn… I currently drive much of the night and sleep much of the day (granted Ramadan facilitates that) and when not fasting I make it a point to do something physical (be it Running, Lifting or Martial Arts class) every other day. Meanwhile the search for ideal steady employment continues.

But that in itself is an entirely different question: Is what you do for work who you are? Some people say yes, others absolutely refuse to let their work define them. I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum, except that I must find my work fulfilling or I will get bored easily. There must also be a good work/life balance. Many at the executive level preach more of a work/life synergy, but most of the people who do so successfully are the founders of the company to whom their work is more or less a part of them, even a hobby, so to them it will never feel the same as it does to any other employee who is there out of some level of necessity.

“Successful people often set their goals by their talents.”

Sometimes

Sometimes “mediocre” looks kinda cool though.

Well then what are my talents? I write this blog, but does that make me a good writer? (If we’re talking about editing, I think not, but perhaps content sometimes…) I’m a mediocre Martial Artist on the physical side. My photography skill is good, but unpracticed and still developing and my photo-manipulation work is meticulous but much slower than some of the pros I’ve seen.

My real talents are a bit more intangible: I’m highly adaptable, versatile and capable of adopting new concepts to a functional degree in a very short time. I have high mechanical reasoning ability that allows me to recognize systems (including people) and figure out how they work and what I need to do in order to alter them (as in repair or modify… or destroy in some cases.) This makes me relatively good at tech work, assistant work or anything involving multiple tasks over multiple disciplines. Basically I’m pretty good at finding the button and pushing it, wherever it may be.

But how does that translate to goal-setting? It means I can pretty much set my goals to do anything and everything and eventually reach them. It also means I will probably take a fair bit longer to do so and never quite to the level of somebody with a natural focused talent in any particular area. But with no clear talents, I suppose it is up to me to decide what to shift my energy towards and what goals to create.

“Positive goals with clear deadlines create purpose.”

Remember this?

Remember this?

Ah, my eternal weakness: “What do you want?” That’s why we set goals right? To achieve what we want?   Well as I said in my “Who Am I Anyway” section; I don’t know, I just want to “make it”. My only dream is that of the iconic “Christian Grey” style setting in which I stand at the top of a tower in a lavish marble-clad setting overlooking the city below me through floor to ceiling windows. There I watch the sun setting and smile because I finally made it.   But I don’t know what “it” is, and I don’t know how to get it, so there’s a small chance that will never happen simply because I can’t even decide what direction I want to go in to get there.

And then there’s the issue of family. Since I was a boy I’ve wanted children. I don’t know if it’s a biological thing or if I just like myself so much I want to make clones, but part of me feels that a happy family/children is one of the greatest legacies we can leave behind when we depart this world. However, trying to balance this dream with the one above will require a delicate balance, as I said, I want my children happy. Of course I have to find the right person to make those children with first, and almost nine years later the search continues.

“Without goals you have no reason to wake up early.”

 These days I don’t really…

“The moment we commit to a huge goal is the moment we invite obstacles into our life.”

This scares me less than anything else that was said, but I found it pretty profound. It’s just a really good way of saying once you’ve chosen your path, it’s going to be blocked in places and we have to work our way around in order to continue. I don’t mind the work as long as I can find the motivation.

“How can you lead others if you can’t lead yourself?”

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

About that motivation, the truth is I don’t much care about being the leader. Except that it drives me absolutely bonkers when the person who is supposed to be the leader is completely inept in some form. It usually boils down to either leadership skill or specific skills toward the task at hand, but I expect both from the person I choose to follow. When it’s obvious to me that I can do better, I feel motivated to either remove said leader, enable a replacement to somebody more qualified, or move on to somewhere that I feel is better suited for me.

More and more I’ve felt like perhaps despite my hesitance I am meant to lead in some capacity. I don’t fear it, I’ve been advising people for a long time, I just don’t care about the spotlight. Recognition among my peers is enough for me. But if I am to lead I need to figure out where I’m leading to, where I want to lead to, and to believe it’s best for everyone involved.

 “You cannot live for even four seconds without hope.”

While I understand that this is probably not meant to be literal, I believe I’m the exception. I have very long periods of simply existing. In fact, I find that hope is a dangerous thing because it is when that hope is combined with expectation that breeds disappointment. On the other hand, to walk without hope is to walk in darkness, so it is indeed necessary for happiness. But life doesn’t always have to be happy (certainly ideally so,) sometimes it’s okay for it to be grey for a while.

“If water stays in one place for too long, it becomes stagnant.”

Sometimes the flow is looks very still, but it is still moving.

Sometimes the flow looks very still, but it is still moving.

In context he meant that you must keep growing, learning and innovating to be successful in your life. But part of me also wants to relate this to “You’ve gotta keep moving.” Though I’ve traveled much in my time and lived in many places, where I sit now I the longest I’ve stayed still since I was a boy in the Seattle area. Obviously much has changed while I’ve remained here, but I have to admit a part of me was excited to move on to a new place again.

On the other hand though, remaining in one place, having a “base” is the best way to establish roots and relationships. Granted, as I will comment on later, I may not be great at forming long-lasting relationships on any level regardless of my location.

Closing and my MAU Insanity: Among them but not one of them.

 There’s a lot more than above, but this is enough for one post. The final admittance/revelation is that every year that I go to this thing, about halfway through it drives me a little insane. What I mean is that something in my normally composed self goes off-kilter and it throws me for a very odd, often negative loop. The all too familiar feeling of separation that I struggle with takes hold and despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, I feel alone. These camps almost always take place over the full moon cycle, so that’s one explanation as the full moon has been known to… unbalance me a bit (among other things.)

Another more obvious reason is that until this year I’ve always had the role of Grandmaster’s Assistant, which is much like I wrote above; among the students at camp, but separated because my focus is Grandmaster. There is both security and isolation in this position, and it is possible previous years have simply imprinted this mentality on this particular event. Further, the stress level for anyone who takes serving Grandmaster seriously has been quite high historically. It seems this year we saw a slightly more balanced, kinder grandmaster than in previous years, but this may also be because I was not directly involved with him this round.

Balance Pieces

Balance Pieces

With all that said, there is some evidence to support that this isn’t all in my head. With the exception of the Masters and some of the CEOs who are more familiar with me, the other students, (including those I was close to from my home school) for the most part regard me at a distance. There are exceptions of course, especially from a particularly outgoing school from the west coast, but in general it indeed feels like I am seen as not another student, but something else. Respected for the most part, but separated.

For instance, there was an abundance of photos taken, selfies, group pictures, and celebrations throughout camp and after testing on the final day. But never was I approached to be a part of these groups. I was not excluded purposefully (this is not a rant!) but more it was as if I was invisible. Sometimes I was of course, serving one of the Masters as I did required that I slip away at times, but other times I simply went about my business and was paid no mind. Again, this may simply be a matter of that being how it’s always been. As Grandmaster’s Assistant, even when I received my own Black Belt certificate two years ago, I had perhaps twenty minutes for pictures with a few close friends before I had to vanish.

The offset of this is that I have the honor of spending a great deal of time with Grandmaster and the Masters of my organization to the point I can speak my opinion over meals and discussions and be regarded with consideration and respect (that’s not to say other students wouldn’t, they simply have far less opportunity.) So that is, in effect, my “group of friends” as a substitute for the ones that pay me little attention since I stopped actively working for Martial Arts World.

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned!

Admittedly, my training has been sparse over the last eighteen months or so because I have little reinforcement from anyone other than my master. My peers that I trained with over the years have either left the organization or simply don’t much care when I try to motivate them to take class with me. Though I appreciate the training, a huge draw of martial arts has always been the people, and when you don’t have those people to train beside, or motivate you, motivating yourself becomes more difficult.

Fortunately this camp has renewed my resolve a bit, and renewed my selfishness. I have never needed people before and I don’t need them now. My plan is to train, refresh and test for the rank of instructor next year. When I do, I want to be qualified to do so in my own mind, meaning that even if my technique is not perfect, I know my philosophy, physical curriculum and the physics behind it well enough to pass it along. I will do it, and not for anyone but my master(s) and for myself. Hopefully along the way, new connections might form and I may not feel so isolated among my peers. If not, I’m pretty used to being different, and I’ll just have to take pride in that as well.  I can, and I will.

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Martial Arts University 2015 – Day 1: Prologue

**On the plane to Raleigh** – 9:12 AM

Four years in a row I was Grandmaster’s Assistant for these events.  I was there during a key time when MAU evolved from a mind-numbing week in a single hotel conference room, to a trip into nature that was at some times magical and other times maddening.  I was a special classification that kept me out of the majority of the classes and isolated with Grandmaster and one or two other chosen assistants for the event. As the assistant it was a grueling, non-stop and often nerve-wracking as every attempt had to made to preserve his mood, condition and mindset. Simply put, he had to be utterly focused on what he was going to present, so it fell on me to make everything about him. There was little time to lose focus, move slowly or relax… for essentially four straight days it was all about Grandmaster, all the time, nonstop.   It was here in 2013 that in front of hundreds of my peers with Grandmaster seated directly in front of me, I shattered a block of concrete and earned my Black Belt.

And then, a bout a year and a half ago, shortly before the 2014 Martial Arts University, I left.   Many people told me it was a very different Grandmaster that presented their seminars that year and the event overall was said to be a great success. I thought perhaps my departure had made some sort of impact. It remains to be seen for sure though.

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? ;)

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? 😉

One year later I am in the air over Georgia heading to Greensboro, NC by way of Raleigh. But this year it’s different. This year I am a guest, and it’s weird. I had no intention of attending this year, I have only been attending class sparingly and doing occasional favors for the company president (who is truly one of the best men I know) as I very much respect and feel I owe him. But he and Grandmaster reached out to me and went through a great deal of trouble to request my presence here. Finally, the company president asked me directly to assist him here, and I know that he needs it, so I didn’t wish to refuse. That and watching a friend and former companion of mine test for her second dan and instructor certification are my reasons for being here.

But Grandmaster is happy to have me here, so much that it is odd. I am not expected to carry his bag or hold his door. I offered my business class seat to him and he politely declined (I was keeping my free drink ticket regardless) and overall it seems like he is almost awkwardly attempting to cater to me however he can. He appreciates me, he has told me that much, even though I left him. He too, for all my previous disagreements with him (and there were more than a few) is a good man. At the same time though it is almost a little awkward to accept so much (they are paying for meals and such) while not being in direct servitude. Before it was part of the package, now it feels unearned. They have both said that the things I help them with occasionally now combined with my previous service more than make up for it. Perhaps they are right and I’m selling myself short. Just last night I lost sleep staying late in their office to help with final revisions on a flyer.

With that said, Martial Arts World supported the majority of my previous cycle, and I do feel that on some level I owe them for the great years they gave me. Those experiences and people will stay with me indefinitely. It’s also true that even now the organization makes connections for me I wouldn’t otherwise have. So how much influence it will have over my current cycle remains to be seen as well.

So I’m not really sure what to expect this round. I want to feel useful, because that’s what my mindset going into these weeks

The gorgeous weather doesn't hurt.

The gorgeous weather doesn’t hurt.

always have been (I’m a “tool” after all.) But it seems like they want a bit of it to be about me. So I will try to take some time, try to enjoy myself while still being useful. This year I might keep my sanity intact and relax a bit. Maybe. Obviously I know what the real endgame here is; they want to bring me back into the fold. But if that’s ever going to happen it will be a long process involving a lot of evolution that I’m not certain is possible.

For now, because of the travel and unusual circumstances I am taking a break from Ramadan fasting (this is accepted in the Muslim religion anyway) and I’m having to re-adjust to operating in the daytime, so it’s a refreshing change of pace before I return to the grind. The moon is full, so the timing on the break is good and as usual everything seems to make perfect sense as it falls into place. With everything that led up to my ending up on this plane (I very nearly didn’t make it to this year several times for several reasons) I feel like I’m meant to be here. As for the “why?” is anyone’s guess, but I’ll certainly try to keep you posted.

**10:31 PM** 

I need to wrap this up quickly as I am utterly exhausted by my four hours of sleep in the last forty-eight hours (I’m dozing as I write this.)  After the ridiculously massive lunch we had provided for us in Raleigh by Grandmaster’s good friend, it was a miracle we had room for the dinner provided to us by the camp this evening (I kept remarking that I had forgotten how much we eat on these trips.)  During dinner a group of familiar faces arrived to round out the initial group of leaders.  One of them sat next to me; a tall slender Korean man from another organization who had been a friend to me at many seminars in the past.  He regarded me for a moment before remarking quietly: “You’ve matured.”  Being that it had been at least two years since I last saw this man it was a pleasant compliment, and one without any sort of innuendo or side meaning.

A short tour before the meeting.

A short tour before the meeting.

After dinner we had a brief tour for those new to this location and then all met for the opening meeting.  Despite my having been away for some time now, I am included in the inner-circle as I was when I worked here.  The meeting drug on for a while with the familiar and predictable goals to make this year the best MAU yet while maximizing the return on next year.  While many good point were brought up, the fact remains that these points are not new, they’ve just never been fully and thoroughly implemented each year.  So the secret lies more in the execution than the discussion.  I had been fighting dozing for a fair amount of the meeting, so afterwards I checked to be sure I could retire, showered and called it a night (this is the last thing I do before bed.)  I should get a fair amount of sleep tonight (at least six hours,) but this is the calm before the storm.  Everyone arrives tomorrow and MAU 2015 officially begins.

Freedom and the In-Between

“How did you expect it to feel?  You are free, and that can be lonely, and empty, and frightening… but it is also powerful.”

It’s been a while.

I did say I would return, but I’m betting some of you might’ve given up on me.  Regardless, as you can imagine, much has happened over the last nine weeks or so, and much will likely happen over the following weeks.  It is all too much to write here, in a single post, but I will attempt to recap a bit.

“Freelance”

The biggest change, and what has kept me from this and my beloved FFXIV ARR (Which I’ve been able to get back to some as well…) is that I left my position as a full time Executive Assistant.  I left on good terms and am technically still a freelance member of the team, but after the most recent show in early May, any requests for my assistance have been quiet.  This suited me fine as I had been feeling trapped and was longing for a level of freedom that I truthfully hadn’t had in some six years.

Pretty and crazy... Miami reminds me of some people I know.

Pretty and crazy… Miami reminds me of some people I know.

For a few days I allowed myself to simply stop and work on things around the house.  My stress level dropped to near nothing, I did chores, clean-up and sleeping whatever hours I wanted to.  However, I had ground rules for myself that included a legitimate job search via Indeed and LinkedIn, reaching out to whatever contacts I had and keeping my eyes open for whatever opportunities I could.  Though it has only been about a year since my last job search, as the days passed it sunk in that finding a new, promising position is not easy.  My freedom would cost me.  I was fortunate in that I had been saving for some time in order to make the trip to Japan this year, but even as I found ways to stay afloat while I sought my next opportunity, it became increasingly apparent that my trip would be delayed.

Only recently, some 8-9 weeks and many, many resumes and cover letters later did I have two promising initial interviews.  The catch is that both of them required that I relocate: one to Naples, FL and the other to Miami.  Though still in Florida, they were far enough away (in different places) to be a complete change of situation, lifestyle and routine.  Each also had their own unique benefits and potential, but even after making the trip to Miami and meeting with a two-hour gauntlet of executives, they didn’t pan out.  And so the search continues…

Uber

What has kept me afloat during this not-so-free time (along with my quickly dwindling Japan savings) is a “rideshare” aka personal taxi service called Uber.  I won’t go into heavy details about how it works because you can easily google that.  Essentially Uber makes your own personal vehicle into something similar (but better) than a taxi.  You pass a pretty thorough background/driver/VIN number check, fill out some forms and in just over a week or so you are ready to take riders.  I’ve been doing this relatively full-time and though the money is decent, it’s not something I would make a career of (watching my car mileage climb this quickly is a bit bothersome.)  That said, ninety percent of the people who get in my car are pretty great people.  I’ve got some great stories (some of which I will recount in future posts) and I’ve met one or two exceptional people that may or may not permeate outside the realm of the Uber tales.  My friends often tell me I’ve done everything, well this is another thing I’ve done to add to this list.  If I feel so inclined I might share the stories of the recent semi-orgy a group of six (not counting me… I only got to drive and witness) had in my car, or the adorable nurse that continuously apologized for her hiccups, or maybe the fifty-something drunk man that was petting me and calling me his best friend…  Or maybe I’ll tell you something newer.

Other than mine being silver, that is my car.

Other than mine being silver, that is my car.

In the meantime, shameless plug:  If you’ve never used Uber before and want to give it a shot, download the app and in the promo code enter: P9W5KUE.  It will give you your first ride (up to $20 – only if you’ve never used Uber before) free, but the driver still gets paid.  Likewise if you’re considering driving for Uber use that as a referral code and you get a bonus after so many trips (as do I!)

Regardless, stay tuned, I have lots of material.

Ramadan

As of this writing, I am two days away from the halfway mark of this year’s Ramadan.  To answer your immediate questions: No, I’m not Muslim. -and- Yes, it means that from first light to sundown every day I do not eat anything, drink anything or partake in any.. debaucherous activity.  Thoughts are supposed to remain clean and peaceful too.. (fortunately that’s more of a guideline or I’ve failed consistently every year.)  For more back story as to why I participate in Ramadan, I invite you to visit the blog a few of us used to contribute to during this time: https://alegriabalancocascata.wordpress.com/

I haven’t written there this year, but if you start from the beginning (The most recent post shows in the front page, I suggest you navigate to the first post in the archives) you’ll get a good indication of the “why”.  Naturally you’re welcome to ask me questions here as well.  Rather than post to that site, I will likely write about notable aspects here and either reblog or re-post them there if I feel the need.

This looks good anyway... imagine it after sixteen hours!

This looks good anyway… imagine it after sixteen hours!

This year is interesting as I’m primarily nocturnal while driving for Uber.  At first thought one would think that Ramadan fasting would be easy because of this.  However, while I do believe I am having an easier time than my good friend Leslie (in Japan) as a result of my schedule, the very short hours of night time compared to the very long days of Summer mean that at least 50% of my awake time is during the fast if not more.  Comparatively speaking though, she has a tough teaching schedule all day that requires a great deal of focus and awareness, two things that are easily compromised by prolonged fasting.  I can’t complain in comparison to that!

But with that said, for me, a major realization this year is that sleeping the second half of your fast makes waking up, and getting out of bed much more difficult.  Keep in mind the fasting hours now are between fifteen and sixteen hours (literally the longest days of the year,) so though people normally fast for (hopefully) eight hours or so by sleeping,  I’m waking after roughly double that having had nothing.  Think extreme lethargy and zero motivation.  Then remember that as time goes on, the effect amplifies through the wear on your body.  Suffice to say much coffee was had after breaking the fast at sundown.  The other aspect I didn’t think about is when I stay up all night for work, start my fast, and continue to operate into the day as I am today.  The effects of fasting + all-nighter hours are a bit rough to say the least.  But then a large part of this is the learning experience, and I am learning a lot.  More on this and the second half of Ramadan later.

What’s Next

Like clockwork, Martial Arts University is right in the middle of Ramadan this year (aka Tomorrow.)  For those of you that don’t know, I have been involved in Martial Arts for nearly a decade now (with some breaks here and there.)  MAU (for short) is a five day long testing / seminar series that takes place at a camp in Greensboro, NC.  I spent many years serving as the assistant to the Grandmaster who presides of this event, and I’ve been asked to attend by a specific master that I look up to and owe on some levels.  Since I will be traveling, I will break my fast while I am gone and make up the days at a later date by feeding the less fortunate of fasting extra days after the Eid holiday that ends Ramadan.

Like a bos... err.. black belt.

Like a bos… err.. black belt.

When I return from MAU it will be back to Uber and back to finding the next step.  So the interviews didn’t work out, that just means I keep looking for the next ones.  I am fortunate enough to have had savings and a support structure that allows me to supplement with something like Uber and not be forced to sacrifice the quality of life that I’m used to. I have also been getting better and better at managing my time with a very irregular schedule.  That means it’s not going to be several months before the next post.  So in order to keep this at a readable length I’ll draw the line here.  There are many more adventures and “wisdom” to come.

PS:  I took a look at my readership and was pleasantly surprised to see it’s not only been consistent, but has even spiked more than a few times in my absence.  Good to know my writing has some staying power! THANK YOU to all my readers… I don’t know what you’re getting from my rants, but I appreciate the time you spend here regardless!

Interlude: A Personal Fairy Tail (Part 3)

The Tale of Kaska-Ta – Part 3: The Enlightened End

(*Note: This is a continuation of what can be described as a semi-fictional history.  The settings/terms/names/periods are changed but the story facts are true.  In order to get the entire story it is suggested you read the previous posts first.)

Weeks passed and things seemed to return to normal for Kaska-Ta. It was fall now and that brought arguably the best weather of the year in the south. To strengthen their bond with both the local tribes in the southern topics and their tribe leader The King of Trees, the Prince of Stories would make many trips lasting several days. Sometimes he took some of the elder students with him, others he went to train with his seniors. The only way to become a king was to continue learning from those who were kings or were further along than he was. So he often had to make the trip to the north in order to be sure he was learning and growing properly. As a result, older warriors such as Kaska-Ta, The Lady of Diamonds, The Lord of the Butterflies and The Roman would take turns leading the younger warriors in drills. Sometimes this went very well for all involved, but the absence of the prince was missed in many ways.

It was said that to become a king, you would be judged by the quality of your warriors, and most importantly the leaders among them who make future princes, princesses, generals, kings and queens. Most who were present at the time believe that this pressure, along with a declining economy among their tribe caused a great level of insecurity that was taking hold in the Prince of Stories. The leaders in the north did their best to reinforce him by also visiting often (especially since the Gull General had fathered a child with one of the women of the southern tribe.)

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Ouch. Unfortunately it happens.

However, as time went on the insecurity in the Prince of Stories manifested in many ways. Some of the warriors, especially the prodigy Mockingbird, were coming very close to the Prince of Stories’ ability in combat. When they would spar in the circle as was the custom, it would start out beautiful and elegant as it should be, but the Prince of Stories would become frustrated when he could not clearly best his student (who was now, in actuality the student of the Gull General, and many others…) As a result he would change the tone of practice without warning and become overly-aggressive, ending the training with some sort of unexpected violence. Everyone could feel the mood of training drop, and as time went on, though he was not to the same level of ability that the Mockingbird was, he too was the subject of this aggression.

Rumors surfaced that the Prince of Stories was having personal issues with his wife. This was not the tribe’s business (though his wife also trained with them occasionally) except that many believed it was serving to increase the insecurity that was now blatantly obvious in their prince.   Some of the warriors had turned to the Gull General and the the King of Trees to speak to him about these things and find a solution, but whatever the meetings spoke of behind closed doors, they did not provide a solution. Kaska-Ta was becoming increasingly aware that the culture of Kappo Aera was not actually conducive to functional long-term relationships. During his time there he had seen some formed, but they all eventually fell apart. Indeed those that existed when somebody joined the tribe seemed destined to end. There were a couple of exceptions, including the Lord of the Butterflies and his would-be wife known as Dagger. But they were the exception and carried a different mentality than typical for the tribes of Kappo Aera.

Judgement Day.

Judgement Day.

And then everything escalated. One day Kaska-Ta was approached by his friend, the Red Lady. She had been the same friend who had been uncomfortable months before when they had made the pilgrimage to Krawen. After much dancing around the subject, she confided in Kaska-Ta that she had been talking intimately with the Prince of Stories. Kaska-Ta was by no means foolish enough to believe this was one-sided, and easily connected the events of this and the Prince of Stories’ marital issues. There was a long discussion that ended simply with Kaska-Ta advising against it and warning her that there was absolutely no possibility that it could end well.

In the weeks that followed things simply spiraled more out of control. His marriage issues became pubic and the Prince of Stories became desperate. It leaked into every aspect of the tribe. The elder students began to unravel and were pulled away from the tribe by both personal and professional reasons. One night, Kaska-Ta helped the Prince of Stories to his temporary home away from his wife and children, and they talked for many hours under the moonlight about how abusive and angry she had become. All the while Kaska-Ta (unbeknownst to The Prince of Stories) was aware of his quickly diminishing involvement with the Red Lady. He had used many sweet words to woo her, but he could not make a definite decision to leave his wife. The desperation and the situation were quickly causing her to reconsider her involvement. Regardless, Kaska-Ta didn’t care. Perhaps it was his experience in Krawen, or perhaps it was what he had seen from countless other elders and historical accounts, but the Prince of Stories was basically another book in that page. He was just a prince, a leader of a tribe, who had taken to a woman who trusted him as a teacher and betrayed both her and his wife.

Whether it was the work of the gods or simple circumstance, Kaska-Ta was seriously injured in a very simple training exercise a short while later. About this same time he was given an opportunity to study and work under a very different type of leader. He was called a Grandmaster, and he hailed from the lands far to the east. He did not leave the knights of Kappo Aera right away, but as the Prince of Stories became more and more desperate, the tribe fell into greater financial issues and many of the elder students whom Kaska-Ta had bonded with, were gone. While he was healing, Kaska-Ta could not train physically for a long time, and so he fell into visiting periodically, less and less frequently. His time was done… almost.

capoeira-por-do-solA few months later Kaska-Ta was able to spar again and was called to the ocean where the leaders from the north had gathered after the previous day’s ceremony (which he had missed because his new Grandmaster had needed him.) Because this event drew in those Kaska-Ta had bonded with over the years, Kaska-Ta decided to attend. At some point during the festivities a sparring circle was indeed formed, but Kaska-Ta was called out. They performed the rite of initiation that meant Kaska-Ta would receive a new rank. One by one each leader and master came into the circle to battle with an exhausted and rusty Kaska-Ta, and when all was said and done, he was publicly given a new rank, one that meant he was only one rank away from becoming a lieutenant, a true leader among the tribes.

But Kaska-Ta knew he did not deserve this new rank. He thought to himself that he might work hard to earn it, but he knew the truth. The tribe needed to expand in order to save itself from its economic issues. He, and many of the other elder warriors were being recognized in order to promote them to be leaders in hopes they would stay and draw in more people to the tribe. The King of Trees knew the situation was desperate. Later down the road, when the Prince of Stories was given the rank of General despite losing so many of his loyal warriors, Kaska-Ta was genuinely upset, but he was already gone.

That day at the ocean was the final day Kaska-Ta officially spent with the tribe. Though he would visit from time to time, he had a new journey and a new Grandmaster to attend. He kept in touch with many of the elder warriors that he had spent so many days with so long ago, but the more time went on the further away he drifted until he’d been gone longer than he was there. The integrity of the new, strict, eastern Grandmaster, and the Master underneath him reassured Kaska-Ta that this was not soley a warrior’s culture, but one that is perpetuated by specific cultures of specific people, many of whom were attracted to the history and ideals behind Kappo Aera. It was about freedom, and expression and far more sensual than other warrior clans, but unfortunately many twisted that to their own desires, and often to the detriment of the females involved.

History of Freedom

History of Freedom

The longer he was away, the clearer this was to Kaska-Ta. Even as some of his old friends asked him back, and the King of Trees himself migrated to the tropics and asked Kaska-Ta to return, he could not. He knew how the leaders of the tribe saw him, and perhaps a part of him wasn’t able to let that go, but he also believed he shouldn’t have to. There we some with a similar mindset in Grandmaster’s Tribe, but they were not typical, and were not encouraged to be as they were in the shadows. They would cause Kaska-Ta some level of conflict in the days that followed, but none had any power over him as the leaders of Kappo Aera had.

Years later the eventual conclusion Kaska-Ta reached is that neither philosophy was right. One used the concept of freedom to excuse that which should not be excused, the other was so strict it sought to strip away many things that made people individuals. Kaska-Ta, after many years and many stories with the Grandmaster’s tribe, would again become a wanderer. But he was not exiled, he was finding his own way. And that, is an entirely different story.

Interlude: A Personal Fairy Tale (Part 2)

The Tale of Kaska-Ta – Part 2: Tragedy and Doubt

(*Note: This is a continuation of what can be described as a semi-fictional history.  The settings/terms/names/periods are changed but the story facts are true.  In order to get the entire story it is suggested you read the previous post first.) 

The land of Krawen is a dangerous land often covered in shadow and inhabited by many kinds of demons. On this night, as it was well past the witching hour when the demons are most plentiful, it was foolish for Kaska-Ta and the Owl Princess to linger outside the protection of a palace. As they were speaking a band of four demons passed nearby, but did not to seem to take notice of the carriage or it’s inhabitants. As it turns out, that was only a clever act.

Choose... and act.

Choose… and act.

Before either realized what was happening, a loud smash hammered the side of the carriage where the Owl Princess was sitting, the four demons approached, each with deadly fire-sticks in their hands. These projectile weapons were known to give great and lethal power to those who otherwise had none, so, especially with the princess to think about and four on one, even a warrior like Kaska-Ta had no chance of recourse. The demons pointed the firesticks, at the two of them and commanded them out of either side of the carriage. Kaska-Ta was quickly thrown on the ground and a firestick put to his head while the other demon scoured his pouches for riches. Kaska-Ta had no intention of fighting until he realized the other two demons still had the Owl Princess on the other side of the carriage. In that moment, when he thought of what they might do to her, he resolved that he might die that night. He pleaded with them not to harm her, but they told him to be silent and dug the firestick harder into the back of his head. Despite that he knew he could not allow the demons to violate her and do nothing.

Kaska-Ta’s calm compliance turned to anger and his own inner-demon that he normally fought to restrain began to surface. He knew he had to surprise the one that held the firestick to his head, and that if he could not act quickly it would be the end right away. He was certain he had no real chance, and that he would probably be killed unceremoniously, but he had already resolved to act.  However, in that moment, before he acted, he heard the other two demons approach, and the Owl Princess was put on the ground next to him unharmed. Any resolve to fight faded, and after seizing what they thought were all their valuables, they jumped into the Owl Princess’s carriage and sped away into the night.

As Kaska-Ta and the Owl Princess picked themselves up off the ground the others made their way out of the palace. Mockingbird said he had seen them jump in the carriage and leave… but Kaska-Ta could hardly hear him. He was both enraged and defeated while the Owl Princess broke down in tears. They were separated and the city guards were called to investigate the incident. Eventually they went to the guard captain’s headquarters with the Gull General. He was quiet, but did his best to calm the Owl Princess and Kaska-Ta while she was recounting the loss of her carriage to the guards.

Sunrise over Krawen

Sunrise over Krawen

By the time they returned to the Gull General’s palace it was morning, and Kaska-Ta was scheduled to travel back to the southern region that day. It would’ve been a simple enough matter to have a member of the tribe take Kaska-Ta to the airship landing by carriage, but the Gull General could not be bothered to make such arrangements and none of the other Princes or Kings thought to make a point of it. The truth was, he was livid at Kaska-Ta for endangering the Owl Princess, and he had his own mission in mind that day. He dropped Kaska-Ta at the nearest transport station and left him to travel the long road to the airship landing with the masses. But before he left the carriage, Kaska-Ta said his goodbye to the owl Princess. He told her to be strong, and not let the demons win, and then he kissed her, briefly. It was not romantic, they had bonded through trauma, but at that moment they were close. The Gull General was certainly displeased, but neither of them cared.

The one fortunate turn was that they had not managed to steal Kaska-Ta’s money. Somehow, in their haste the demons had missed his pouch which contained an unusually high amount due to his traveling. So though he was exhausted, had no personal means to send messages and was still recovering from the situation itself, at least he had funds for the long journey. When he arrived his tribe was there, supportive and sympathetic.

The Castle of the Southern Kingdom

The Castle of the Southern Kingdom

Over the next few days after Kaska-Ta arrived back in the southern tropics, the tale became easier to tell and things began to feel normal again. He heard from the Owl Princess and she was having a harder time recovering emotionally, but she was getting better by the day. If anything her concern was to the many rumors floating around of what happened and why.   Many stories had been told, including recounts of how the Gull General had heroically set out alone on his mighty steed the same day Kaska-Ta had left. Scouring the realm of Krawen in daylight, he eventually found the cave in which demons that had attacked resided and had summoned soldiers to arrest them and retrieve the carriage.

Kaska-Ta had avoided mentioning the Owl Princess in his recounts because he also didn’t wish to perpetuate the spread of rumors, but those who were present (such as Mockingbird) also knew what had transpired, so it was impossible to keep completely quiet. Regardless, days and then weeks passed and the memory of the incident faded.

Until a private message arrived for Kaska-Ta from the Gull General, it read:

I wanted to wait a few weeks to make sure that what I wrote was free from all emotion. Initially I was nothing but anger and I needed to let that go. Your actions and behavior in my palace were the topic of discussion for days after you left. None of the men in the house could understand why you acted the way you did while you were here. So that we are clear I am talking about your leaders and kings. When you set your sights on the Owl Princess we were all just a bit confused. After speaking to her and hearing her side so that we were not just basing our judgment on what we saw, we were sure that we were confused about your intentions. It appears that you were interested in her and made some very bad decisions and actions.

To tell her that you were upset about the amount of time that she spent with me is an insult. You were a guest in my palace, and you were upset with a woman you had just met about how much time she spends with me, in my home. That makes no sense. If a woman spends time with a man who is your host, you back the fuck up. Under different circumstances, like had he not allowed you to stay in his home, do what you want. I take this as a personal insult to my kindness for allowing you to stay and you are not welcome in my palace again. After the Princess told you to back off and insulted you, you persisted in your efforts. Under the guise of asking for a short ride to an airship landing that is 90 minutes away you persisted in trying to talk to her.

You took her out of the safety of my palace to the outskirts at well past the witching hour. Even further you followed her to her carriage and stayed. In effect not allowing her to leave because you were in there, and still talking about a ride to the airship landing. You took advantage of her kind nature by continuing to ask her and sitting in her carriage knowing she would not send you away. Even had the demons not attacked, this is unacceptable behavior for a man. We wondered what kind of sex act you were hoping for her in the carriage. As men we know what we do, we persist until there is no hope of conquest. You never had hope in this situation, but you persisted until the end was past and tragedy struck. To say that you never should have shown romantic interest, weather blatant or covert, is an understatement. From the beginning she was not interested but you never gave up. As a man you broke a cardinal rule of manhood. Never put a woman in danger. Not even in the south would I sit unprotected in a carriage so long past the witching hour with a woman. So why do it in these lands with a princess as she is?

You asked to be attacked. Of course I blame the demons, but they only work on opportunity, which you gave to them. Take the following as lessons: Never put a woman in danger. Never persist where you are not welcomed. Take no for an answer. Do not take advantage of the kindness of others. And never disrespect a man in his own palace. When your prince left you here, you were his representative, so what he says to you about this incident has nothing to do with me. As a member of our tribe, what you do on a journey such as this reflects the rest of the group. What the King of Trees says to you about this incident has nothing to do with me.

As a General in this tribe and the man you offended I would never cross a line and use a training circle to show you my anger. My anger is gone, I will not go after you in sparring, I will not try to hurt you in any way. I told you what I needed to say to you, and now it is done. Reply to this or to just let it go. I will let it go and we do not need to discuss it further unless you choose to.

Again this was from me personally, I will visit your tribe in 2 weeks and I have no intention of discussing this with you or acting towards you with any anger.”

 

Kaska-Ta was shocked. Not so much by the Gull General’s anger or banishment from his palace (he had no desire to return there ever again anyway,) but by the statements made in the letter. He, Kaska-Ta, had persisted in his efforts? Unwanted!? He had taken advantage of her kindness!? He was “hoping” for a sex act!? This was simply not the case. He could understand the conclusion given his… liberal reputation among his tribe, but that had been the last thing on her mind that night, and he’s known it. The Gull General had a story that had not transpired, and this disturbed Kaska-Ta greatly. Now, the leaders of his tribe had this judgment of him, a judgment that was false. It was true that he’d had a part in endangering the Owl Princess, but he had not understood the danger, and his ignorance was indeed his fault. But the other accusations… they made no sense. Had the Owl Princess turned on him so easily? He supposed it was possible, she lived within the Gull General’s territory, and so it would be much easier to feed him a story in order to make peace there.

Kaska-Ta sent a reply essentially explaining that he believed there were many misperceptions, miscommunications and possibly two different stories being told. He accepted responsibility for being recklessly foolish about the timing, but also knew that was the only place that conversation could’ve happened as the Owl Princess did not wish the Gull General or any of the others to overhear her laments.   He was thankful, and hopeful that perhaps Mockingbird would back up his side of the story as he had been there for much of it. Still, Kaska-Ta had doubts. Many false stories had been been floating around now.

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The Sunset of the Golden Age

That evening, Kaska-Ta sent word to the Owl Princess of the message he had received. He asked her what she had told the Gull General and if the things he said were what she truly felt. When her reply came it seemed much as he’d expected. Immediately after his departure the Gull General had cornered her and demanded she explain herself to him. Though she denied saying the things the Gull General wrote about in his message, Kaska-Ta could easily understand her desire to protect her own situation, especially after a recent trauma such as she had endured. In the end, somebody was lying, and it came back to him either way. Kaska-Ta wanted peace, so he did not push her, nor did he instigate with the Gull General after he did not respond.

A few days later the Gull General arrived. It was exactly as he said it would be in his message; no signs of malice or unusual aggression when training. When not training he and Kaska-Ta more or less avoided each other. Neither the King of Trees or the Prince of Stories said anything further. The matter was done and Kaska-Ta had his peace. But in addition he had learned an important lesson about the mentalities of his superiors, and though he would continue with his tribe, this lesson would stick with him and remind him every time he saw similar situations transpire. This was the end of his golden age. The beginning of doubt.

Interlude: A Personal Fairy Tale (Part 1)

The Tale of Kaska-Ta – Part 1

(*Note: This is what can be described as a semi-fictional history.  The settings/terms/names/periods are changed but the story facts are true.) 

Long ago in tropical lands far in the south, there lived a warrior known as Kaska-Ta. Years before this story, he had been a lonely, exiled traveler going by a different name. But a group of knights had taken him in and given him a new name. The Knights of Kappo Aera taught him the ways of song and dance and war, and became his family.

Early on these knights lived under the rule of a mad king. This king was not evil, but arrogant and violent to some.   Thus, for this and perhaps some other reasons in the shadows, the Prince of Stories who led this particular band of knights separated himself from the kingdom, causing much divide and resulting in a feud that would be forgiven by many but never forgotten by all.

Tropical Lands

Tropical Lands

For a time these Knights of Kappo Aera remained autonomous, the Prince of Stories who now led them called upon some of the elder knights (including Kaska-Ta) to help him train the younger warriors properly. Overall their band was happy and Kaska-Ta enjoyed spending time with and helping his peers where he could. Often, when sparring with the Lady of Diamonds or the young prodigy known as Mockingbird, he could not help but smile. In those times there was synergy and peace, even in combat.

However, the Prince of Stories who now led newly separated tribe knew he was not yet prepared to be a king, and so over time his uncertainty grew until a general from a different tribe he had met in his travels invited him to meet his own king. This king was far departed from the prince’s previous king. Though a giant physically, he was calm and serene much like his name. This man was the King of the Trees. After much discussion an arrangement was struck in which the Prince’s tribe would join with that of King of Trees and his Gull General. Thus began the golden age for the knights of Kappo Aera who would now be recognized as warriors.

It was during this time that the Prince’s Tribe was the most active and many locals came to join the tribe of warriors in the tropical south. The King of Trees and his Gull General hailed from a much colder climate and so made the trip to visit the young warriors often. Kaska-Ta was happy, and enjoyed the company of his tribe both new and old. But as everything must, things would change.

Fierce! But...

Fierce! But…

The traditions among all the tribes of Kappo Aera carried heavy tones of misogyny and disrespect for the female members of the tribes. Though the more progressive members of the tribes didn’t believe in such things, and it was often brought up only in humor, the fact remained that it was very real occurrence as evidenced by behaviors specifically at social gatherings. There was a saying that a true lord among the warriors of Kappo Aera would have a woman in every land that they traveled to. Combined with that was the Kappo Aera tradition of deception as a battle strategy. It was very often said that the sparring circle in which they trained battle was a reflection of their outside lives. As such, this deception made it’s way into many of the member’s actions. Thus was eventual bane of Kaska-Ta.

Kaska-Ta was well liked by the tribe, and especially so by many of the female members. He was kind, flirty, and humorous and made them feel at ease, especially when others were far more aggressive and overbearing than he was. Though not initially problematic, Kaska-Ta began to hear whispers from other warriors (both male and female) that some of the higher ranking warriors were displeased at the attention he was receiving. Of course, Kaska-Ta knew not all of these whispers could be entirely trusted either, but among the many there was some truth he could confirm himself. He resolved though, as long as he had his people, he would simply carry on.

The time came to make a pilgrimage to northern climates. It was the summer months so the weather was very agreeable. One of the great kings from the far off lands in which the tribes of Kappo Aera had originally descended would come and bless all the warriors under the King of Trees.   The prince and as many of his southern tribe as possible made the pilgrimage in order to strengthen their union with the warriors under the King of Trees.

A Krawan Demon Prison

A Krawen Demon Prison

The Gull General existed in a dangerous part of the northern lands known as Krawen, but offered up his palace to most of the travelers from the south. However, Kaska-Ta was given different arrangements and was sent to be hosted with one of the students and families who trained under the Gull General. Though this family was very accommodating, very friendly and he had excellent arrangements, Kaska-Ta did not like being separated from the rest of his tribe. One of the newer females in his tribe had become close to him (intimately for a short time, but that time had already passed) and sent messages that she was uncomfortable among all of the generals and princes. Kaska-Ta expressed his desire to re-join his tribe, and the next day was allowed to stay in the Gull General’s palace (later he would learn this was much to the dismay of the General.)

The ceremonies began and all seemed well. Kaska-Ta marveled at the amazing talents the guest Kings, Queens and other royalty exhibited both in music and in combat. His extended family of warriors from the northern tribes of the King of Trees were equally impressive. It was an overall a joyous occasion filled with much learning and positive energy, which was what Kaska-Ta had always loved about the Kappo Aera tribes. In the evening he and some of his tribe-mates new and old were taken to largest city on the continent to marvel at the many towers and castles filled with mystic lights and great paintings. The day had truly been great.

The next day was another ceremony for another local tribe who was allied with the King of Trees. This tribe’s leader was a great scholar of his art named Onaib. Though not yet a king, he was well on his way and was truly a professor of the art and beauty that was the culture of the Kappo Aera tribes. Kaska-Ta was familiar with this teacher from a previous ceremony in which he had traveled south and personally tested Kaska-Ta (among other young warriors of the southern tribe) in combat. He was good natured and skilled while sparring and greeted each student with a combination of vigor and gentleness. He sought to test, not to punish the younger students and Kaska-Ta respected him greatly for it.

Her Namesake

Her Namesake

Transportation to Professor Onaib’s event was arranged for Kaska-Ta and his tribemate Mockingbird traveling in the wagon of a student of another small local tribe known as the Owl Princess. She mused that her and Kaska-Ta had similar hair color and they got along well early on. One of the wheels broke along the way, but Kaska-Ta and Mockingbird were both skilled at such repairs and before long they were traveling again having bonded some through the small circumstance. They made the ceremony right on time and all was well.

During the ceremony, the Owl Princess remained close to Kaska-Ta and would often mess with his hair or rest her head on his shoulder. He enjoyed the attention, but it drew the attention of both his tribe’s Prince of Stories and the Gull General, whom Kaska-Ta was unaware had their eyes on the Owl Princess. As the day progressed the ceremony completed successfully and after further celebration many of the warriors (including the Owl Princess) made their way back to the palace of the Gull General. Immediately after the ceremony, during the after parties and dinner, Kaska-Ta had noticed the attention of the Owl Princess was being intentionally diverted away from him, to some extent by the Prince of Stories and then aggressively by the Gull General.

Once at the palace, the Gull General disappeared to the tower, and so too did the Owl Princess.   During this time, the Mockingbird, who had long been adopted as a second son of the Gull General warned his tribe mate Kaska-Ta that the reason the Gull General had pulled the Owl Princess away was because she had long since been “one of his girls”. Kaska-Ta replied that she had told him she was without a dedicated mate, and was somewhat surprised because the Gull General had recently impregnated one of the southern tribe women, though it was not established they were dedicated mates either. “It matters not… you know this.” The Mockingbird replied. Yes, Kaska-Ta was familiar with the culture, even if he didn’t agree with or follow it.

69e8746bf35ce80eec33946f36cbb38141afaa66473df48c35c0f5fdfe727d32Later, after the festivities had died down, the Owl Princess approached Kaska-Ta, who had been distant and asked him why. Irritated at her deception, he asked her why she had not told him of the Gull General, but she did not answer and instead became defensive, denied her involvement and moved away again. However, when the witching hour had passed, he once again approached her to say goodbye as she intended to return to her home and kingdom. At her request, Kaska-Ta agreed to escort her to her carriage. When they arrived at her transport, away from the ears of the palace, she asked him to stay with her a short time so she could speak with him. Kaska-Ta agreed and for some time they spoke of her family and then her involvement with the Gull General. She was sad, and said that he confused her by sometimes treating her as a princess, and then other times ignoring or even berating her. She knew that he paid attention to other women, but sometimes when he was with her, he would be so tender that she felt he truly cared. Kaska-Ta was irritated by this as he had heard such things many times before.   But he listened patiently, trying to cheer her up and convince her  that the fault was not hers. Unfortunately, during this dialog disaster struck…