Monday, May 24, 2010

"Fists of Florida" or "Hardcore on the Hillsborough"

"I'll just sit right back and watch the river flow!"
- Bob Dylan -

I had a lot of changes in my life in 1991. I got married, took a job at The Tampa Tribune that I would hold for the next five-and-a-half years, became a dog-owner for the first time in five years, and, became a homeowner for the first time.

Roxanne and I settled into our home in Seminole Heights immediately after our honeymoon. It was a small, one-bedroom house in what was still a rough, yet up-and-coming neighborhood in Central Tampa, with a huge, level lot.

The previous year, I'd burned out of martial arts, primarily after getting my butt handed to me by two guys I'd brought up for white belt in a karate tournament. I'd become discouraged with Tang Soo Do and was looking for something new.

I threw myself into Yang Taijiquan, Judo, Jujitsu and Aikido. And, having this large yard and covered back porch and carport, I had lots of room to practice.

I bought myself a small mat for practicing rollouts and breakfalls, a set of weights, and later set up a couple of makiwaras and a heavy bag. I had everything I would need to train.

I attracted a lot of attention to myself when rolling out on mat or doing uchi-komis with a judo belt wrapped around a palm tree. I didn't really care, though. Years of outdoor training got me used to sarcastic wise-guys singing "Kung Fu Fighting" or nosey busybodies trying to start a conversation with me while I was in the middle of my workout.

If you don't have a partner, this is a great way to practice your judo. I used to do this by throwing an old judo belt around the palm tree in my yard. It actually made the tree stronger from pulling on it and later, using the tree to condition my forearms.

The following year, I graduated college, only to find myself stuck in the same part-time job with little chance for advancement. I spent four years of chronic underemployment. But if there was one good thing about that, it was that I learned a shitload about different martial arts during that time.

Working out became my means of preserving my mental health. In addition to the above mentioned arts, I'd hooked up with Lucjan Shila, who taught me Lion's Roar Kung Fu; John Angelos, who taught me the empty-hand sets of Wing Chun, Chen Taijiquan silk reeling and push-hands; Scott Collins, who in addition to being my church pastor, was also a former professional boxer and kickboxer; lastly, a man who became like a brother to me, Anthony Chan, who eventually taught me Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Tribal Arts, Escrima, Kali and Arnis.

Outdoor training in Florida gives me lots of chances to commune with nature. Even living in the middle of Tampa, I still see manatees, dolphins and alligators (above) while practicing along the Hillsborough River.

Much of my training with them took place outdoors as well. John took over a section of Ballast Point Park, at the southern-most end of Bayshore Boulevard. Scott would have us practice in his backyard. And Tony and I would use the pool area at his apartment complex.

But most of the time, I trained in my backyard or along the Hillsborough River. There are many nice areas along that river, including the Lowry Park Boat Ramp, Rivercrest Park or Plant Park at the University of Tampa Campus.

To me, that is the way to practice martial arts. Outdoors, where I have all the space I need. I can breathe clean, fresh air, not stale, indoor air. I'm not much for sunbathing, but seeing sunshine does a lot to life my spirits, especially as it reflects off the water.

Despite being in the middle of one of Florida's largest cities, I get to enjoy nature as I train. Between sets of forms or exercises, I've watched mullet jump, I've seen alligators drifting lazily along the river. I've even seen dolphins and manatees seeking warmer waters in the winter.

One other thing I've come to appreciate about living and training in Florida are the state's liberal weapons laws. As I've complained about in other posts, in other states where I'd lived, I'd be committing a felony if I took an unsharpened sword, staff or other practice weapon to a public place to practice.

It's funny how state legislatures and cops can't say shit if someone carries a baseball bat or hockey sticks with them. Those are sporting goods!

Well, I've been threatened with both bats and hockey sticks plenty of times in my youth. And as far as I'm concerned, my kwan dao, my sam jie guan, my gim or baht cham dao are my sporting goods.

Some guys play hockey. Some play baseball. My old boss lived for his Saturday morning tennis game. Another co-worker went running everyday after work.

In the words of Bruce Springsteen, "Some guys come home from work and they wash up, and go racing in the street."

For me, I practice martial arts. It's my sport. It's my art. It's my exercise.

It's what I do.

P.S. I just want to give a shout out to James A. Keating, Master at Arms and publisher of MAAJAK. It's a great online magazine with lots of neat stuff to inform, educate, entertain and challenge. I feel like I made the big time when Keating linked to "Tales from the Carport Kwoon." If you get a chance, check out MAAJAK. It may shock, offend or amuse, but it will never leave you bored.

1 comment:

  1. Hey;
    You're on Dojo Rat today, the Western/Asian boxing post.