Friday, 28 March 2014

Ron's Mini-Bio, Part 1: On house parties and fitness...

I recently found myself at a reunion talking about what had happened to me since a 20-25 years ago. It occurred to me that perhaps this is a good topic for a blog post as a sort of mini - biography and maybe a pre-run for what may become some more extensive memoirs.

Let’s - totally random – begin this with the period since I stopped doing competition ballroom dancing, sometime around 1993. Until then, ballroom dancing in addition to my studies and work were my most important activities, but at one point that was just enough.
At the same time, I also tried to find my niche as a gay man in the world and after the elimination of all dance classes , training nights and competitions there was plenty of time for that as well.  Pretty quickly I came into contact with the Dance scene that, at that time, was still largely 'underground'. Before long I was dancing quite a few nights away in the most bizarre outfits and entourages.

Actually, this was a belated acquaintance with the 'nightlife ', for which previously I barely had the time as my nightlife consisted mainly of free dancing at the dance school!
At those that parties I was primarily busy with ' wandering away' on my own imagination, because that's what House and Trance Music eventually enable you to do. No drugs, no pills, nothing of the sort, just the music, my body and my mind .

It was also my first experience with altered states of consciousness ( in other words, trance ) and the wonderful things that those can bring. It was huge fun, and an exciting as well as ultimately exhausting time, because all those nightly activities eventually start taking their toll.

A bit later I discovered the gym and with it the various forms of what was called then " Aerobics" .
The party scene was already going a bit into the background and Ron changed from a party animal into fitness junkie, sometimes spending three , four times a week a few hours in the gym with various forms of cardio fitness, aerobics and weight training. Not really aiming to become super muscular, but doing something healthy and fun at the same time. I started this Ceasar 's Sports, at that time on the Korte Voorhout in The Hague , and I still have some great memories from my time there. I am now quite a few gyms further down the road, but the fitness and - now - the Zumba workouts still belong to my regular weekly activities palette. House -parties no more, though, I feel I am really too old for that. And my trance experiences, I now get someplace else. Which is for a next time !



Ron's Mini-Bio, deel 1: Over house parties en fitness...

Ik zat onlangs tijdens een reunie een heel verhaal te vertellen wat er zo allemaal met me gebeurd was sinds een jaar of 20-25 geleden. Ik bedenk me nu dat dat misschien wel een aardig onderwerp voor een blogje is: een soort mini-biootje als aanloop voor wat misschien ooit wat uitgebreider memoires zullen worden.

Laten we-volkomen willekeurig- beginnen met de periode sinds ik ergens in 1993 stopte met wedstrijddansen. Tot die tijd was ballroomdansen –naast mijn studie en werk- toch wel mijn allerbelangrijkste bezigheid, maar op een gegeven moment was dat gewoon in een keer genoeg. In diezelfde  tijd probeerde ik ook mijn draai als gay in de wereld te vinden en daar was met het wegvallen van al het lessen, trainen en wedstrijden dansen nu ook voldoende tijd voor. Ik ben toe eigenlijk vrij snel in contact gekomen met de toenmalige Dance–scene die voor een belangrijk deel nog redelijk ‘ondergronds’ was en heb daar aardig wat nachten weggedanst in de meest bizarre outfits en entourages.

 Eigenlijk was dit een verlate inhaalactie op het ‘uitgaansleven’, waar ik voor die tijd nauwelijks tijd voor had; mijn uitgaansleven bestond voornamelijk uit vrijdansen op de dansschool! Ik was op die parties eigenlijk vooral bezig met ‘wegzweven’ op mijn eigen fantasie, want dat is wat House- en Trancemuziek uiteindelijk met je doen. Geen drugs, geen pillen, niks van dat al, gewoon de muziek, mijn lijf en mijn geest. Het was ook mijn eerste kennismaking met veranderde bewustzijnstoestanden (oftewel: trance) en de wonderlijke dingen die die te weeg kunnen brengen. Een enorm leuke, spannende  en ook enerverende tijd, want al dat genachtbraak gaat je na een tijdje niet in de koude kleren zitten.

Ietsjes later ontdekte ik de fitness en daarmee de verschillende vormen van wat toen “Aerobics” heette. Het partygebeuren was inmiddels een beetje op de achtergrond geraakt, en van party animal werd Ron een fitness-junk, met soms drie, vier keer per week een paar uur in de sportschool met verschillende vormen van cardiofitness, aerobics en gewichtstraining. Niet met als doel supergespierd te worden, maar vooral lekker en gezond bezig te zijn. Ik ben daar begonnen bij Ceasar's Sports, toentertijd nog op het Korte Voorhout in Den Haag, en heb daar nog steeds fijne herinneringen aan. Inmiddels ben ik aardig wat sportscholen verder, maar de fitness en -inmiddels- de Zumba-workouts horen nog steeds bij mijn vaste palet wekelijkse bezigheden. House-parties niet meer, daar ben ik echt wat te oud voor. En mijn trance-ervaringen haal ik inmiddels ergens anders. Waarover een volgende keer meer! 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Stephen Lawhead’s “Taliesin”: Historical fantasy versus sacred storytelling

I am currently caught up in Stephen R. Lawhead’s Pendragon series, which I am actually reading for the first time. Stephen Lawhead is an engaging storyteller of what might be called “historical fantasy” and in his case with a definite Christian undertone. His Pendragon series –currently consisting of six books- tells  the stories of King Arthur, Merlin and the Grail from this particular historical fantastical viewpoint. He is not the first or the only one to do this with the Arthurian legends; perhaps the most famous of such “fantastical retellings” is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon” and the contemporary BBC TV Series “Merlin” does the same.
Now as a student of the Western Mysteries, the Arthurian and Grail legends hold a special-and rather sacred- place in my heart. They contain some very powerful teachings and very soon a complete weekend retreat will be devoted to the Mysteries of the Grail. So, what are my feelings when reading these ‘fantastic’ retellings of such materials? Is that a problem?

Personally, I have absolutely no objections against anything like this, provided is faithfully and tastefully done. With ‘faithfully’ I mean that the characters are left as they are and not unduly embellished or misrepresented. And ‘tastefully’ means that the general feel of the storytelling remains more or less intact (and not all of a sudden is time shifted into a more modern world, for instance).

It is, however, important if you work with these stories ‘for real’, to keep in mind that these are fantastic retellings and do not belong to the historical ‘corpus’ of Arthurian writings. The fate of “Mists of Avalon” speaks volumes in this respect, as this is by many considered to be an accurate representation of paganism in Arthurian times and accordingly ‘followed’ as such.

Back to Lawhead’s Pendragon series from which I finished the first volume “Taliesin” and are one quarter into the second book, “Merlin”. How does so far work with these books? “Taliesin” – apparently, a historical Brythonic bard from probably the sixth century C.E- starts very promisingly with two simultaneous storylines, one in Britain involving the bard Taliesin’ s adoptive parents and the other on Atlantis before the Cataclysm, dealing with Lady of The Lake, Charis. She is destined to become Taliesin’s spouse and mother to Merlin after crashing on the shores of Britain after the destruction of Atlantis.
Lawhead does a masterful retelling of Taliesin’s story from the actual Middle-Welsh Ystoria Taliesin. I also found the Atlantis component quite surprising, which according to Lawhead accounts for the “Fairie” element in the Arthurian stories. There are parts in this book that are indescribably beautiful: the difficult birth of Merlin for instance and the mourning of Taliesin at the end. 

So far, Lawhead seems to have done something very interesting with “Taliesin”: he made a rather obscure Middle Welsh story available to the general public as well as placed the Atlantis and Arthurian mythologies alongside. We are going to see how this plays out in the following volumes!

Monument for Taliesin, Snowdonia, N. Wales

Monday, 3 March 2014

“Congratulations, New Shodan!”

It is always with pride and happiness that we welcome one of our Karate and Kempo students into the rank of what we commonly call “The Black Belts” but is officially known as the “Dan” grades. People have worked long and hard to get to this point, and only those who have walked this path know what it means to become a “Shodan”. But what is that you have actually achieved and why is this so special?

The word “Dan” means “step” or “stage” in Japanese, so, becoming a “Sho-dan” literally means: “He who has taken the first step”. To get to this point means working hard and studying hard for a minimum of at least four years. Someone who has some previous Martial Arts experience may actually do this faster (we after all offer “Fast Track” options if you qualify!). But still, you need to learn perform nine different katas, twenty combinations, master more than a hundred basic techniques as well as various assorted blocking systems, and you need to learn how to defend yourself in various ways. Yet, this is only the first step? Apparently so...You may hesitate to think what will be involved to be able to take the next step.

All that went before, all the differently coloured belts and their assorted tests, all that is part of the first step upon the path to become a martial artist. The step from Red Belt to Shodan is a big step, indeed, this may well be the biggest step in a martial artist’s carreer, as it represents a ‘coming of age’. When bowing in and showing respect to the Masters who went before us, as a Shodan you may do so in the knowledge that you yourself are one of the masters now as well. New students will learn from you and also bow to you, and, by teaching them, you will learn new things yourself.

Yet, at this point it is so easy to start thinking that you have achieved it all. You have been working so hard towards that “Black Belt” that you cannot really see what lies beyond that. Then it is time to remember this is only The First Step. There are many more steps to come and each come with its own challenges and new vistas. New material, new katas and combos are waiting for you, but also a gradually deepening knowledge and understanding of that which you already own. And, ultimately, a wisdom which makes you into a complete person. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of our style of Martial Arts training at American Dragon Martial Arts.