Eventually I’ll make my own transition. I pray that the life I’ve lived and the legacy I leave behind will pave the way for those who come behind me.
I am approaching my seventieth year in the land of the living. Sixty years of that has been spent in the pursuit of some small expertise in the martial arts. It’s debatable as to how much actual expertise I have managed in those six decades but, if nothing else, I have longevity. I am often asked why at this late date I still claim to STUDY the martial arts. When do we get to the point that we actually KNOW the arts? Most martial artists even into the rarefied ranks of masters and grandmasters will say what I say. We art eternal students. In the past most of my knowledge was accrued by continual pursuit of knowledge but as I got older I found that most of my growth came through teaching and research. I am still a student and I still study the arts but I have transitioned into a more advanced phase of my study.
As I look back on this journey I am amazed that I have dedicated so much time and effort into this single endeavor. In those many years of study I have managed to grasp some of the inner workings of several arts. My primary arts are kempo jitsu and aikijitsu both of which I have modified so much that they have become the foundation of the art that has developed around my studies and not the arts that I teach these days. I am sold on simplicity. It’s hard if not near impossible to perform complex maneuvers under extreme stress. Combat is stressful so too often the techniques that worked so well in the dojo become elusive in the heat of battle. When adrenalin is introduced to the bloodstream and the heart rate goes up eye hand coordination goes out the window. In combat basics work better than those fancy techniques that we spend so much time perfecting. It’s an irrefutable fact; we fight the way we train. For that reason in my own art I teach only what is combat efficient and easily assemble in the heated moments of actual combat.
As a youth I was all multiple high kicks and aerial kicks. I had so much hang time I felt that I could almost levitate. I looked like a cross between Michael Jordon and Neo of the Matrix. I was flexible enough to do Chinese splits and twist my poor abused body into some unlikely positions. As the years have progressed I am no longer burdened with such abilities. Practicality was thrust upon me by my transition from youth to advanced age. As a young man I didn’t worry about such trivial things as practicality. Who needed to be practical when you’re Bruce Leroy.
Life sends us through many transitions. We adjust to where we are in life either by choice or by necessity. My body won’t do what it once would. As those extreme abilities waned I leaned more and more to the basic aspects of the arts that I studied. In so doing I have an art that still serves me in my later years. I’ve also found that practical works better so that the art that I teach now is more efficient than what I once taught.
While my body was going through a transition my mind did also. My philosophy on all aspects of life began to change. My views on physical confrontation changed also. I grew up in the inner city of Chicago and the confrontational nature of the neighborhoods that I grew up in shaped my approach to combat. Back in the day I fought to disable, maim or kill. If you gave someone a black eye or broke their nose they either came back with their boys or the came at you with a gun. Consequently if I fought you I tried my best to send you into your next incarnation. I am a minister and pastor now so I have to limit the number of miscreants that I send to their demise. It’s kinda hard to redeem a corpse. This has expressed itself in what I teach. Karate and kempo isn’t designed to contain an opponent without some pretty radical physical damage. I worked in the mental health field. As a mental health professional I wasn’t allowed to punch or kick a patient into compliance. Taking that into consideration I began to teach more of the jui jitsu and aikijitsu that I had studied over the years. Even in the streets every situation doesn’t require us to beat an opponent into compliance.
As I got older other areas of my life were reshaped by my new found wisdom. Like many advanced martial artists I am often referred to as doctor or professor. I have several honorary degrees in the martial arts but those two titles are real. I have actually earned graduate and post graduate degrees in several subjects and I’m a provost professor at one of the universities in the Chicago area. Most of those degrees I earned in my fifties and sixties. I have two doctorates but I’m contemplating pursuing a doctorates in one of the behavioral sciences. Also as my body considers to age I’m probably going to have to explore the benefits of one of the internal martial arts.
Through the years my martial arts have gone through any number of transitions. Much of this was because of the knowledge that I accrued along the way. My arts changed as I found more practical and efficient ways to do things. Nowadays transition is being forced upon me by my own limitations and by the challenges of aging. I have lost some physical prowess along the way but what I’ve lost in physicality I have gained in knowledge and wisdom. That is transition as it should be.
As a pastor I have done more than a few funerals. I have been there to lead in the celebration of a life that has transitioned to the next phase of existence. Tends to make me aware of my own mortality. My mother passed in her late eighties and my father is edging into his mid nineties. We are generally pretty long lived in my family but I realize that I won’t be here forever. Eventually I’ll make my own transition. This too is only as should be. I pray only that the life that I have lived and the legacy that I leave behind will pave the way for those who come behind me. Perhaps the lessons that I have learned will help them in their own life transition.
Blessings, my brethren.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel