Fighting for Hope at the Arnold Classic

26 02 2009

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In March of 2003, I competed for the first time in the Arnold Classic in the single stick division of the Kali tournament.  It was a year before my Mother would be diagnosed with ALS and she was just showing signs of slurred speech and sluggish mobility, though nobody in my family realized yet what any of it meant; my Mother most of all.  She and my father came out that year and watched as I managed to win 2 of the 3 fights that I was to have and was there when I walked away with the silver medal.  The next year with her diagnosis of ALS and her movement being complicated they were not at the event when I won 2 fights again and narrowly missed the finals; at that time I had spent no time training, my training partner was injured with a torn ACL from the fight the year before, and I was very emotionally distracted with my Mother’s diagnosis.  With the truth of a Zen master in my head I realized “I had defeated myself”. 

It has always been my thinking that being a student of the martial arts is a great gift and that one of its greatest offerings is the wisdom to help keep safe those that don’t have the means to defend themselves.  All the time I spent with my Mother during her struggles with ALS was devoted to keeping her safe.  I wanted not only to protect her from the illness, but I also wanted to fight to keep her right to her life alive.  This was more than just keeping her company, changing out equipment, or making sure food or water was available.  It was about helping her maintain her dignity, her privacy, her honor, her self-respect, and most importantly to allow her to make choices in her life. 

Too often the effects of this disease take those things that we take for granted away.  Our ability to walk, to bring a glass of water to our lips, or our ability to drink or swallow that water.  Loved ones and members of the community, personal and medical, step in to help.  When the ability to take care of yourself begins to vanish, parts of us less obvious begin to suffer and feelings of frustration mount and assault the sense of self that is born of independance.  In her last journal she wrote: “Soon I will not be able to write.  When the day comes that my legs and arms go, I don’t want to live anymore.”…a couple pages later she writes: “I feel like a baby bird.  Your Dad runs in, checks to see I’m alive, and runs away (to do chores around the house)” and later finishes with a resolution hoped for everyone: “live life every day.”  Day by day ALS was taking away her ability to take care of herself, to communicate, and to take care of those she loved.  Yet she found the strength each day to accept the disease, to figure out its limitations and not let it defeat her in her attempts to love and life and take care of those she loved.  She was a Fighter and fought for those she loved, even in the depths of a disease that attempted to take that from her.

I realized that her example was a gift.  Much like the gifts my Instructors Guru Steve Hacht, Guru Ken Pannell, Sensei Chris Parkerson, Sensei Moe Stevens, and Kru Hope have all offered me.  Its the knowledge that in understanding yourself and being able to defend yourself, contains also the seeds to protect and defend others, and that the sacrifices made to learn and to grow are the foundation of this wisdom. 

I go this year in 2009 to the Arnold Classic to fight again in the single stick division of Kali.  I bring the message and the hope that we can end ALS if we continue in the fight to defeat it.  I also believe that those of us who are willing to celebrate this wonderful gift of life,  have been given a chance to offer the hand of compassion or support to someone who is struggling.  We as martial artists are students of this act of compassion and our efforts cannot be born of rage, anger, selfishness, ego, pettiness, or fear if we are to succeed.  I fight for the right of others to live, to feel safe, to be loved, and to be free.  I fight for the rights of those that suffer from ALS, for those families affected by it, for the survivors and the fighters.  I fight for their voices.  I will fight to honor their lives.

Please join me on Sunday March 8th, 2009 at the Arnold Classic and lets show that we all can play a part in fighting to end ALS.

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