no matter what belt level i’ve ever been promoted to, a few weeks into it i get that feeling that i’m in over my head. there’s so much to learn and often i try to do it all at once. but that’s not what we’re supposed to do. it’s what we want to do, but it’s impossible. and the more i want to go forward and progress, the more i realize i still need to reflect and refresh what i already know. the process is never-ending.
this recent belt promotion is no different. i promoted to the rank of blue belt back in July and i’m over half way through learning my new techniques. and while practicing them either in class or at KG, i see just how poorly i perform them. i see how long it takes me to remember the sequence (and if i remember all the hits or not). i see this pretty long form that i only know part of and know that i’ll have to learn it completely and be able to do it on the opposite side as well. i see a whole new group of saying that i have to be able to learn and recite. i feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.
then i remember i felt this way right after i got my yellow belt. and orange. and purple. so this feeling isn’t new. i’m still fascinated by how much there is to learn, how much i’ve already learned, and how much tweaking and perfecting everyone does … even the 7th and 8th degree black belts are always reviewing and seeing if there isn’t a better way. that’s what makes this art so incredibly cool. even after putting 20, 30, or 40+ years into it, we’re all still students.
then to add to this feeling of overwhelmed-ness, i recently accepted a pastoral position at a small church in crandall, tx. i’ve been in and around ministry for 30 years (on and off). but i’ve never been the ‘point man’ at a church. it’s stretching me. i’m being pulled in directions i’ve never been pulled before and being forced to trust more than i ever have. it’s all good, but it keeps me a bit out of my comfort zone … kind of like when i have to spar. i’m not comfortable on the mat even with all the protective gear. i want to be at my best, but i’m not sure how it’s going to go when the bell rings and the fighting begins.
new experiences. new goals. new challenges. new tests. but with proper preparation, new achievements. i just have to stay the course. but i’m also reminded no matter what challenges i face in life, i can do all things through Christ.
— chunky ninja (and no, i’ve not told the congregation of my nickname yet)
i really love the art of kenpo. i started with it very late in life compared to most with any type of martial art experience. almost every fellow kenpoist i have spoken with started in their teens or twenties with some sort of martial art. they may be somewhat new to kenpo, but they have taekwondo, jujitsu, karate, or something. not me. i waited until i was incredibly out of shape (still am) and in my mid 40’s. i’m a rare breed. kind of like being the last dodo bird.
i was discussing with my beautiful mrs over the weekend that it’s quite possible many don’t think i take kenpo seriously because of this blog. truth is i really do take it seriously in spite of myself. this site is to poke fun at me, not the art.
i have a very high and deep respect for the art of american kenpo. my amazement of the enormity of insight and development by mr ed parker grows daily. those that have followed in his footsteps and specifically those that have an innate ability to teach the art well deserve every bit of my respect.
my instructor, who doubles as my pastor, mr jenkins is one of the finest people i’ve ever had the honor of meeting. i cannot overstate enough how much he has meant to me personally. i hold him in such high regard for his integrity, spiritual walk, and vast knowledge of martial arts that i think it makes him uncomfortable when i speak of him to others. i almost started this paragraph reversing the order: “my pastor, who doubles as my instructor”.
i’ve been a christian for over thirty years. my faith is very important and an integral part of my life. i will never shy away from discussing my personal belief in the merciful, loving work of the cross and the impact Jesus Christ has made and continues to make in my life. in my years of being a christian, mr jenkins is, by far, the best at exemplifying a genuine godly life. he walks the walk. he talks the talk. he’s the real deal. he was my pastor long before he became my kenpo instructor (though he did try to get me started a decade ago).
my opinion of him in a spiritual sense is as deep and genuine within martial arts. he grew up in one of the hardest areas of dallas. fighting was a way of life. in his teens he began to do training in boxing. later he moved into a filipino art (name is unknown to me) and eventually earned a black belt. he switched to taekwondo and earned a 2nd degree black in that art before discovering kenpo. he holds a 5th degree in kenpo. he’s been doing martial arts for over forty years and i have heard it said that mr burks (his instructor) referred to mr jenkins as the best fighter he’s ever seen. he is extremely humble and has a tremendous ability to teach. i could not have found someone better to learn from than mr jenkins and i’m indebted to him in so very many ways.
it was through mr jenkins that i met his instructor, mr tommy burks. i’ve only had the opportunity to work out with mr burks a couple of times, but the wealth of his knowledge is astounding. he’s a 7th degree and is highly regarded in kenpo circles. i’m always hoping he’ll make a surprise visit to our class to impart some of his knowledge. one story i’ve been told of him goes something like this:
at a kenpo demo a particularly well known multiple degreed black belt performed a technique on mr burks. it was harder than it needed to be. some higher ranks like to “show off” even more than they like to teach and this was the case at mr burks expense. it wasn’t appreciated and mr burks said to the gentleman, “if you hit me like that again, i’ll park your rear on this mat. do you understand me?” he did understand and backed off. butchering people to prove you know something is not effective teaching.
over the last 18 months that i’ve started this journey i’ve had the privilege of “hanging out” with a great group of people that have become my friends. other than the rare one or two people, every fellow kenpoist has been encouraging, understanding, and done what they can to help me learn. i cannot begin to express my gratitude because saying thank you really isn’t enough. but i will still say thank you to those in order of belt level without specificity.
to mr john guzman and mr damian wilson, whom i met in mckinney for sparring, thank you for your input. since i know as much about fighting as an ant does about brain surgery, your help was greatly beneficial. i really think i understand the concepts you both laid out. your pointers after sparring with me are incredibly helpful. now that i have your advice, i need to learn how to incorporate them. i do realize that i need to let time be the measurement to my skill and experience. i truly appreciated the extra time after class that you both (along with mr bowley) took to talk, share, and teach. going the extra mile is admirable and you all did that without hesitance.
to mr sam bowley, of bowley kenpo karate, my deepest and sincerest thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and work out with your group once a month. you’ve given me pointers every time i’ve been there. while my body doesn’t show it, i really am listening and trying to apply your instruction. and as much as i hate sparring i always do everything i can to make it to mckinney when i can. you’ve demonstrated skill, knowledge, ability to teach, and one of the most important things to me, your friendship. thank you.
to my KG compadres, vince and john. you two know me best in regards to my innermost thoughts and feelings on kenpo and my inability to make my body follow my mind’s commands. you’ve listened, shared, worked out, and befriended me. i can’t begin to tell you how important our extra workout sessions outside of class have benefited. while we are all peers in the classroom, i do value your knowledge. i love that you guys are one belt level ahead of me and so what i’m learning, you just passed. i have a lot of fun learning with you guys and i hope i push you as much as you push me.
specifically to vince, thanks for pushing me. you do. i mention you often in my blogs and use you as a version of comic relief. you’re blunt, straight to the point, and sometimes it’s difficult to hear those things (i.e. “dude, your kicks suck”). i wouldn’t want you to be any other way. it’s that honesty, sometimes brutally so, that i admire. we live in a world where most try to sugar coat things so much that the truth isn’t really heard. without you being there to push me and being honest about my skill (or lack thereof), i’d never have made it this far. do not change. keep pushing. keep telling me the truth just like you have been. we’ve been doing this for 18 months together and my admiration of your skill and insight grows.
to john, thank you for always reminding me that i’m not the only old guy on the mat that is learning this. your friendship and generosity are immeasurable. you can’t understand how much it means to me every time you remind me that i’ve improved or that you struggled learning something and then it finally clicked. i’m following the path you’ve already been down and that is encouraging to me. it let’s me know that i can do this. you inspire me.
in future blog posts, i hope that everyone realizes that while i may poke fun and use self-deprecating humor, it really has nothing to do with this fantastic art of kenpo. this site is fully designed to make fun of me and the painful yet humorous way i’m learning.
i love doing this art. i love working with the great people within this art. i have a deep respect for those that have built carefully on the foundation work for what mr parker envisioned. and some day, Lord willing, i’ll pass on whatever i learn to others with the same humility and friendliness everyone has expressed towards me.
— chunky ninja
a little over 2,000 years ago God gave this sinful world a gift … His only begotten Son, Jesus. born in poverty, He lived a sinless life. leading by example of faith and fellowship with God the Father, He taught us that God wanted a relationship with us. the only way to restore fellowship between a holy God and fallen mankind was thru sacrifice. Jesus became that sacrifice for our sins and bridged a way to the Father.
John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
this season is usually focused on the giving and receiving of gifts, santa claus, flying reindeer, and endless christmas parties. but i challenge you to stop long enough to give thanks for the true Reason for the Season … Jesus. without Him, we have nothing. without Him, we are nothing. without Him, there is no hope.
if you’ve never opened this Present, i urge you to talk to Him. ask Him to forgive you of your sins, fill your heart with His Spirit, and lead you in His ways. He is the Present, but the attributes of His gift is eternal life, peace that passes understanding, and love unspeakable.
the gospel is summed up in this:
John 3:16-17 — For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
be blessed this christmas season. put your faith and hope in the One who came to give faith and hope.
— chunky ninja
the breeze stirred up dust on the hot summer night not so long ago. the streets of the sleepy little town east of fort worth were silent. people were in for the night, sprawled under whispering ceiling fans while sipping iced tea and wishing for double-digit temperatures and not the triples they’d been suffering for nearly two months.
but in the confines of an old warehouse on the edge of east main, in the back room behind closed doors, six men and their instructor stood around the edge of the dojo watching two of their fellow warriors spar.
back and forth the fight went. combos, kicks, jabs and chops. skinny sumo and chunky ninja, gel gloves in place, traded shots. skinny was the younger, more nimble fighter. chunky, the more experienced, but also with a unique, uncoördinated way that usually made him pay dearly.
and then there it was. the kick. it came as a surprise. skinny sumo attempted a right round house kick and chunky threw a block. the kick was knocked away, but not before the ninja winced in pain. recoiling his hand and ignoring the pain, he charged in with a backhand to skinny’s forehead followed by a left hook to his ribs. it was over as the instructor stepped in and stopped the duo.
— an excerpt from “When I Wasn’t So Ninja-Like”
a soon to be released memoir from Chunky Ninja
i’m coming up on four weeks since i injured my right index finger while trying to block a kick. the kick didn’t hit the intended ribs, however it did damage my pointer which was obviously not tucked into a nice tight fist. hopefully this is a one time lesson.
after two weeks of a swollen, painful, motionless finger, i dragged myself to the doctor for some x-rays. the 24-48 hour wait became a full week as inept office help were unable to get the results back, read, and passed along. i got the call on tuesday that the finger was not broken. but with the continued swelling and pain of the useless digit, they’ve now recommended me to see an orthopedic surgeon. odds are, by the time you read this, i’ll have already been to the doc.
meanwhile i’ve not let the wounded phalange keep me from kenpo class. this past tuesday was a fun night. it always amuses me when i think i’ve got a routine down only to have the routine altered. i feel like a buffoon, but in this case, everyone else was one, too.
my instructor generally starts out with jumping jacks before going into some stretches. 100 of them. we give a shout out on the tens. and like habit, we all stopped at 100. except our instructor, mr jenkins, didn’t. so we tried to “catch up” and we got another 10. then another 10. we hit the 125 mark and quit again … only he didn’t. some just gave up and started doing some stretching.i tried to get back into the jumping jacks, but whatever momentum i had for the first 100 was gone and i just started hopping around. i thought in my head that i was still doing them correctly, but the mirror reflected an oxygen deprived old man bouncing around. i jumped back in at 140 and stopped again at 150. he didn’t. mr jenkins did the last 25 or 30 all by himself. he’s 59 (and two-thirds). we’re all wimps. he’s not. not by a LONG shot.
i’m always thankful that my instructor is also my pastor. i think he feels an obligation not to kill some of his parishioners and shows us what mercy is all about.
we went into some kicking drills and worked the kicking set. i remembered the order of the kicks, but i really need to keep working at this because, as i’ve said in previous blogs, my kicks are horrible.
after a good dose of humility, we moved into parrying punches and some sparring drills (without real sparring). i seriously need stuff like that because, as i have mentioned before, i’m very uncoördinated. i had so much icy-hot on my arm over the last few days, though, that my partner’s arm wasn’t sliding easily when i would parry his punch. instead of easily sliding with a nice parry, my bare arm would grab hold of his and kind of jerk it. i thought he wasn’t sweating and he said, “no, dude, your arm is like sand paper with all that icy-hot crap on there.” i tried it with my left arm and, lo and behold, he was right! my left arm slid right through the parry without a problem where the right arm would practically attach itself and scrape down his forearm.
the rest of the night was technique lines where we got to work on four or five of our techniques and did that for the last hour. i love doing that! it’s probably my favorite thing because i feel like i get the moves ingrained in my brain.
we always end class the same way we start it: meditative horse stance and the kenpo salute. my pre-class meditation horse goes something like this: spread my feet to a horse position, bow my head and whisper this little prayer, “Lord, help me to learn well tonight and please don’t let me get hurt.” why don’t i include asking for protection for the others in the class? well, they should be doing that themselves … they have the same opportunity to pray. so if they don’t pray for their protection, it’s their own fault, right?
maybe i’m not fully sanctified after all.
— chunky ninja
this past week has been a very difficult one for me. my 26 year old son passed away peacefully last thursday night about an hour after i got home from kenpo class. i stumbled upon the picture above and couldn’t help but smile knowing my son reached his black belt at only 4 months old and i may never get there. richie was the world’s littlest ninja.
he was a young man who always seemed to have a smile on his face. his life was filled with hurts, discomfort, and disappointments and yet he always had this ability to see beyond what was immediately in front of him to see the good. but it wasn’t always this way for him.
he had lots of health issues. born with club feet, he had surgery on both legs soon after birth. his left thumb wasn’t growing right and there was more surgery when he was just beyond toddlerhood. he had a twisted spinal cord and there would be more surgery. you would think he got addicted to being put under anaesthesia. he had problems walking and the doctors said it was remnants of the clubbed feet or the spinal cord problems. he’d get winded walking across the room or just playing with the kids and there would be other reasons or excuses given. but he walked funny, had no energy to play like the other kids. he wanted to, but his body didn’t or couldn’t.
his mom knew something wasn’t quite right and had already been doing research online trying to diagnose her son when the doctor’s didn’t seem to have time to really listen to all the symptoms. when he was ten they finally come back with a diagnosis. he had a form of muscular dystrophy. a few tests later they determined it was duchennes muscular dystrophy — one of the most gut wrenching types of MD for patients and families to endure.
duchennes attacks young boys. onset symptoms usually hit around 9-12 years old. a short, health-problem filled life is their prognosis. there is no cure … yet. it robs them of their mobility. usually by their early teens they are unable to walk. arm and hand movements are lost quickly, too. in a few short years they tend to become a prisoner inside a body that just won’t move. their life would be a constant struggle and would end way too early.
richie was diagnosed at ten and within six months required a wheel chair. that’s where a lot of his battles began. his mom would forever be his advocate, his warrior, jumping in and battling whatever she had to so that her son could have an easier life. all that time she was battling the knowledge of her son’s diagnosis in her own heart. God blessed her with more strength than i will ever know.
one of the first big battles came at school. a teacher, either not understanding his type of muscular dystrophy herself or just completely callous, gave him an assignment to write about his disease for a class project. i have to believe it was a lack of knowledge since i find it very difficult to believe that anyone would purposefully impose such a harsh task on such a young child. richie knew he was different. he knew he needed a wheel chair. but he didn’t know the outcome of duchennes. keep in mind he was only ten when he was diagnosed.
at eleven years old he gets this assignment. his mom, always watching out for her son, hadn’t told him the long term prognosis. at the time of his diagnosis, medicines had not progressed as much they have today. lifespans for kids with duchennes was 12-16 years of age. richie had no clue that he could die by the time he turned 12 until he was forced to do this assignment. he came home frightened and told his mom what he had discovered.
it was his mom, his champion, that said, “where does it say that?” he showed her the paperwork he had found when researching it. she looked at it, held back her own emotions, and looked him in the eyes. the beautiful words that came out have been going through my mind all morning long. she said, “well, there’s the problem.” pointing to the author of the article she said, “it was written by this doctor … not by God.
“richie, God didn’t write this, so it isn’t accurate.” a true champion to her son. she is a remarkable woman.
on his 12th birthday he screamed for his mom early in the morning. she bolted to his bed not knowing what to expect. there he lay with a huge smile saying, “hey, i’m 12 and i’m still alive!” can you imagine being a kid with a birthday coming up and dreading it? just a kid and fearing birthdays! he did. but God didn’t write that article and over the next portion of his life he’d come to slowly realize it.
richie’s mom and dad split when he was very young. he didn’t get to see his father very often and mom had to play both roles. he wasn’t an only child either. he had two younger sisters to help him as much as give him grief … like all siblings do, but there was a deep love between them.
i met richie’s mom when he was just 17. i had never dealt with a special needs child and was beyond clueless. but as our relationship progressed she AND richie both “trained” me. even after dorothy and i married i was still learning the ropes. there were a lot of scary and funny times over the last eight years. too many to recount here.
one story i do want to share, however, was his faith in God. there was a time when richie was in his mid teens and was battling a huge amount of depression. who wouldn’t? being a teenager should be the time of your life, but when you’re trapped in a body that could give out at any minute and you don’t know if you have a tomorrow … it can be daunting. he was rapidly losing motor skills and finding his mind worked fine, but his body didn’t. he began to pray for death. one day he heard a song by Mercy Me. it’s a song called I Can Only Imagine. it talks of imagining the day that God calls you home and you get to walk with Him, letting Him show you marvelous things. when all of life’s bad stuff is gone and all that is there is a God who loves you more than you’ll ever realize.
“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine”
it was listening to that song and hearing the words that God touched richie. he was about 17 when he gave his heart to the Lord. he realized he didn’t need to know all the details of his life or the disease that was slowly consuming him. he only had to know Jesus and His love. the more he knew the Lord, the less he had reason to fear. he became a young man filled with hope.
he longed and hoped for a healing. for years he would tell everyone two things.
- Jesus loves you, and
- He’s going to heal me.
nothing ever caused him to waiver from that … ever. the years went on and he would have more difficulties in his life. multiple times he would battle serious health issues or hospital stays. earlier this year he spent two weeks in the hospital with pneumonia. his mom and i worked our schedules so he wasn’t alone. there was almost always someone at his side for two straight weeks. i worked during the day from his room and his mom would come up and spend the evenings with him.
sometimes we’d be so exhausted, but his mom and i would never quit on him. i didn’t get to know him before 17, but he became like my own son. there was nothing we wouldn’t do for him if it were within our capabilities.
over the last two months richie continued to tell people that he was going to be healed. he knew it was soon. but if you listened closely, the story was modified slightly. it was still God who would heal him. he just wasn’t sure anymore whether it would be here on earth or in heaven. and the Lord gave him a peace that it didn’t matter as long as healing came. you could see in his eyes that he was tired. he hadn’t been sleeping well and he had more and more problems with the simplicity of being able to breathe or eat a meal without it needing to be blended. he was growing weaker and more tired. and yet the smile never left his face.
in july we celebrated his 26th birthday. 14 years beyond that report he had read and feared. three weeks later, he went quietly, painlessly.
his mom said it was as if he was staring through her and moving his lips … praying or talking to someone unseen. she asked him what he was saying and told him she couldn’t hear him. he made eye contact with her and said, “mama” and then closed his eyes. just like that, he was gone. no fear, no panic, no distress.
in those last few moments i believe the Lord was in his room telling him it was time to come home. the time for his healing was NOW. i’m not sure what richie was going to tell his mom, his fighter, his champion.
i’m guessing he was trying to tell her, “mama, i love you.” or maybe it was, “mama, thank you for always being there for me.” or maybe it was, “mama, it’s gonna be ok, i’m healed.” and it’s those things that i cling to for my own comfort.
i loved my son, richie. i may not have been his birth father, whom he loved and prayed for continually, but i was his dad in every sense of the word … as much as i knew how.
richie taught me patience when i’ve always been impatient. richie taught me hope regardless of what the circumstances looked like. he taught me love, as he continually loved his dad in spite of disappointments. he taught me faith, as his never wavered. someone told us this past week that we may talk with God, but richie and some of his duchennes peers TALKED to God. i can only hope that someday i’ll have a faith that is as deep as his.
we may have been his champions here, but he’ll forever be my hero.
— chunky ninja