Rather unexpectedly, I’ve found myself learning two new skills recently and it is has been exceptionally educational. I’ve begun learning about cars, and I’ve begun studying Kempto-Jutsu.
Just shut up and do it
I’ve never been a car person. I’ve never cared much about cars, nor how to maintain them. I can change oil, change tires, and change headlights, but anything beyond that is beyond me. Likewise, how a car looks hasn’t ever registered with me. I generally thought of automotive wax as aesthetic only. And unless it effects fuel economy, I didn’t concern myself much with aesthetics. I mean, sure Charges look dope as hell and most Lamborghinis are so badass, they’re classified as a sin in at least three major religions. But otherwise? Meh.
Yet during the summer, I’ve been endeavoring to learn a bit more about cars. Some recent advice I was given was to ‘spend your money where you spend your time’. Not a flawless recommendation but not the worst either. And since I have an hour commute each way five days a week, it seemed maybe I should spend a little bit more time understanding my car and caring for it. Plus, I recently developed an exceptionally trivial problem (the A/C actuator broke) that cost a king’s ransom to fix (upwards of $700 to replace a $30 part). These two motivators led me to dive into automotive care.
Replacing the actuator a few weeks ago was a wonderful experience that transformed me. Through the process of opening up dashboard of my car and getting into the inner workings, I invented many amazing swear words and discovered a level of profanity I did not previously know existed. I said cuss words that would make most stevedores cover their ears and run for a shower. My lord, what a nightmare! If I had $700 lying around, I’d have paid it for somebody else to finish the job. Sadly, I didn’t so I was stuck with fixing my own damn car.
Replacing an actuator was, at least in this case, very simple and straight-forward. Simple is not, however, easy. It turned into a multiple day job, between which I ordered new tools and parts in an effort to find some way to get the job done. None of it worked and at the end of the day, I just had to stick my hand into the car itself and very patiently whittle away at a few very stubborn little nuts.
All in all, the actual replacement process only took about ten minutes. Frustrating and irritating, to be sure, but it could be done and it got done. Now, the car sounds unsettling silent, I had gotten so used to the knocking.
Zen and the Art of Applying Car Wax
I’ve also been endeavoring to clean my car. I’ve been rinsing off my car and learning to clean the exterior. Growing up, getting the car washed usually meant going to some drive-thru car wash at a high-end gas station. Taking a bucket with soapy water to the car was something done maybe half a dozen times in my life. I may have applied wax to a car as many times as I am decades old.
So I bought some microfiber towels and some car wax and some glass cleaner. Rinse the car, scrub it real good, dry it, apply wax, remove the wax, buff the wax. Simple, right? Yes, very simple. Easy? Not so much.
If you apply too much wax, which is exceptionally easy to do, you end up with streaks of ugly white paste all over your car. And if you don’t scrub the car well enough, then it isn’t clean and you magnify the ugliness thanks to now having a layer of wax right on the dirt and grit. Also, you can’t just apply the wax and then remove it. You have to let it sit and settle. Remove it too quickly and you don’t get that protective coat. Take too long, though, and then you get ugly white flakes that won’t come off. Timing is the key and while there are some great anecdotes on how to tell when it’s time (I recommend ‘if it comes off effortlessly with just your finger’), you ultimately just need to get used to applying wax and getting a feel for it.
Cleaning windows isn’t much easier. I thought cleaning car windows was like cleaning a house’s windows. You get some window spray, spritz the window, and wipe it down with a paper towel. Yeah, turns out, that leaves streaks. Streaks aren’t really a big deal when you’re in your home. When you’re driving into the rising sun? Yeah, they’re a big damn deal.
So I learned to spray the towel and then scrub. I also learned to use microfiber towels. Now, I have no streaks and the sun is a burning reminder as I drive into downtown. But at least it’s unencumbered as it sears into my soul.
My car still doesn’t look great. I don’t intend for it to look great. I intend for it to look like it is cared for, because it is. I intend for it to look like it is attended to, because it is. I’m not trying to impress other people with my car, I’m trying to invest in my car, emotionally. And I am.
I plan to eventually learn to learn how to really thoroughly clean the interior. I also plan to really get into the engine. I doubt I’ll ever be a true gear head, but I want to have a better understanding of what all is going on in my car. I mean, I mechanically ‘get it’, but I want to be able to point to all the parts and know what they are and how they work. If I can fix them myself, great. But just like I couldn’t replace a spleen, I still want to know where it is and how to keep it operating optimally.
Kempo and the Art of the White Belt
Despite having over twenty-five years experience in martial arts, I’ve never actually held rank in any system until fairly recently (In 2013, I was awarded a yellow belt in Wun Hop Kuen Do-Kajukembo). Since then, I’ve been training in a variety of systems, with Kajukembo as my primary system (the other styles are Wing Chun and Iaido, for those keeping score at home). In the past year, my kung fu school has brought in a Kempo school and the instructor of said school has invited me to begin training in their system, an offer I accepted.
I’m training for a Kempo yellow belt, which is cool. I never thought I’d hold rank in a system, much less two. Now I may end up holding rank in two systems concurrently. That’s kind of neat.
But it also means that, at the moment, I am a Kempo white belt. And I’m rather enjoying the experience.
The colored belt system traces its origins back to Jigoro Kano, the creator of Judo. He invented the kyudan ranking system (“Qu-dahn”), which means colored belts (Kyu ranks) up to black, and then numbered ranks of black (dan ranks). It’s a good system and most styles have adopted it. White belts denotes true beginner, which is a really good place to be.
Many students look at the black belts and aspire to be counted among their ranks, and for good reason. Black belts represent competency and capability (though not mastery, a misunderstanding that the martial arts community cannot seem to shake). But the white belt represents potential. To be a white belt means to surrender your knowledge and skill and to set it all aside. You approach the material with an empty mind, with no preconceived notions. You take with you onto the mat only what will be beneficial.
You can learn that what you knew from previous systems is good and helpful. A boxing jab will serve you just fine as a leading straight punch in kung fu. But you should only bring your previous knowledge when you and your instructor confirm its appropriateness.
For example, most people believe kempo to be a striking art. They thinking of kempo and, aside from confusing it with karate (which is very understandable), they think it is about punching and kicking. Which, again, is understandable. Looking at the forms in the system, all you see are punches and kicks.
…or do you?
What if the techniques demonstrated in Taikyoku Shodan (Kempo’s first form) weren’t about punching but were throws? What if the movements demonstrated weren’t bocks meant to absorb an opponent’s force but parrys meant to redirect it? What if the strikes weren’t meant to do damage but to disrupt the balance so that you could take them off their feet effortlessly?
This is the role of good teachers. This is the importance of multiple directions of input. And this is only possible if you leave your previous knowledge and rank behind. Critical thinking and objective awareness are important, yes, but education and preconceived notions are two different things.
It’s really fun being a white belt again.
It’s fun learning new things. It’s like being back in school, like being a child again. I think we grow old not through age but through the settling of our mind, the refusal to try new things and to try and learn them. Worst of all, we lose our ability to enjoy the learning process.