Reflections on an earlier time

Well, karateka, I’ve been delaying writing this, mostly because I was looking high and low for the associated picture, but for some odd reason, I can’t find it. Maybe it’s been lost in various moves over the years, and that is kinda disappointing. There is a story, though.

When I was a kid, my parents were rather big on the getting my brother and I to church bit. Being as I was like, a year old at the time I didn’t have much of a chance to complain. My dad is Roman Catholic and my mom is Anglican. Since we didn’t feel like getting up at 0 dark friggin’ early o’clock in the morning for it, my mom took my brother and I to the Anglican church, St Matthias in Etobicoke. The first people to introduce themselves to my family were Stuart and Joan Isles, two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life.

From that moment on, Stuart and Joan became huge parts of my life. Both of my grandfathers had passed away prior to me being born, my dad’s mother died soon after and my mother’s mom was….well, I loved her but she was a little on the….against most of the world side. Thus, Stuart and Joan became my adopted grandparents. They would always come over for Easter, Christmas, birthdays, random days, whenever. When I was younger, maybe 8 or 9, Stuart taught me how to play Poker, and to essentially stay away from it as I bet my mother’s car and lost it (No, I didn’t actually need to give him keys, but my mom was none too pleased regardless.)

Stuart was a wise man, served his country during it’s time of need in the military, always had a witty remark, a smile and some sage advice. Not very often did he rise to anger, but if you got him to that point, you never felt like you were being scorned. You felt more like you had disappointed him and that was ten times worse. We lost Stuart when I was in middle school. The last thing he ever said to my mother (and vis a vis, our family) was to take care of Joan for him. He didn’t even ask his own children or grandchildren to set forth on such a task. It was my mom, my brother and I who were essentially left in charge.

The years went on and Joan continued to be a member of our family, even more so now that Stuart was gone. We saw her quite regularly for dinner, every week at church and sometimes stopping by to say hello and share a cup of tea. Even in her most difficult hours, she always wore a smile, always had something nice to say and always had a cup of tea to offer. As I know Cait would say, Joan was just so lovely.

The problem with living your life and working in a difficult field is that your time often gets relegated elsewhere. Your priorities change, things become shuffled about and time is spent doing other things which seem more important than when you’re 8 years old. I still tried to make time to chat with Joan throughout the years, but often I was too busy or preoccupied with other things to go over and visit.

In February, I was working on a night shift. Right out the door. Before I could even get my pants on, the radio piped up: “All available downtown units, as per Sierra 1, start making your way to 291 George St. Active fire, TFS is on scene.” One by one, the radio piped up. Patrol 15 copies, on route. Patrol 16 copies, on route. I found my radio and piped up as well…Patrol 13 copies, on route. We get there to see the remnants of day shift there, helping to direct pedestrian traffic. The entire street is littered with fire trucks and ambulances. Above our heads, fire fighters battle the 5-alarm blaze that took out an entire floor, causing 26 residents to lose their homes. My team and I get straight into action, directing traffic, evacuating residents, conducting access control, assisting with CCTV footage, just in case all is not as it seems. In the end, one resident tragically lost his life and another risked his to try and save him. Several were transported to hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. The long road to recovery was ahead.

I had just finished with the building evacuation, my team was on the ground co-ordinating the efforts to grab a head count on board TTC busses graciously deployed for us. I sat down with police investigators who wanted to see the CCTV footage when my mom called. She knew I was at work, and it was almost 10:00 at night. I decided that something must be up and picked up the phone. That’s when she dropped the news on me. “Grandma Joan died. She died last week and we just found out now. Her grandkids didn’t have much of a funeral for her, there was no obituary, we just found out from another member of the church.”

At that exact moment, my whole world just kinda paused. A wave of pain and anguish swept over my entire body and it took everything I had not to start crying right there. I hung up the phone and threw it across the desk. My platoon Sergeant, Kevin, asked what was wrong. I barely choked out the words. He asked if I wanted to go home, but I knew that not only were all hands required on deck, but if I were to leave, my team would be down another car and I just could not do that to my guys. I looked at him and told him that I had a job to do and continued to work on the footage.

Eventually I did get a moment to myself, hours later. I lit up a cigarette, shed a few tears and got back to work. I didn’t have much choice. I also feel like it was for the best. What was I going to do, wallow in self pity and sadness or get back to work and distract myself for a while?

I finished the call and eventually left work, 17 hours after booking on. I went home, passed directly out and tried not to think about it.

A day or so later, it was time to head back to the dojo. I went right after work. Traffic along the highways was atrocious and I was late for class. On top of that was the ridiculous day I had just worked and the stresses of the previous week’s occurrence still weighing down on my mind. This night was training in kumite (sparring for those of us not in the know) and I thought ok, I’m pretty good at this. It will take my mind off of everything. I was wrong. My mind was most definitely not in the game. I was agitated, unfocused and with every point I “felt” I should’ve been awarded, it seemed like there was just some reason that Shihan would not credit me for. I lost every single fight and was visibly distraught. My last fight was against a guy named Johnny who does have some developmental issues. Regardless though, we all love the guy and I think he is just the bee’s knees. I’m proud of him for what he has accomplished. So Johnny and I are sparring, again my mind is absent and I’m trying to hold back on the obvious rage. I deliver my specialty, the Ushiro Geri or Spinning Back Kick. I hit poor Johnny directly in the sweetest of all sweet spots (no, not in the balls…) in the common peroneal motor point in the leg. Striking said spot causes immediate overload of the sensory nerves in the leg, resulting in pain and shut down of motor function. Y’all may know it as a “Charlie horse.” Johnny goes down, yells in pain. Eventually he gets back up and beats me. Again, unfocused and undisciplined fighting leads to certain defeat. I was just happy that Johnny wasn’t hurt.

I left the main dojo studio and went into a side studio we have there and meditated. Tried to just clear my mind of all the craziness and anger that was coursing through me. I suppose they say that anger is one of the stages of grief, but at that exact moment I was trying to blame that anger on literally just about anything else.

A little while after, one of our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors, Isaac, comes up to me. Apparently I looked a little down. Well, I cried on his shoulder. Then Professor Fariba walks in and I cried on her shoulder. All in all, I got a lot of it out and then…well, I’m already there, so I stayed for BJJ class. Had a much better class in that then in Karate.

Following this class, I’ve had the chance to relax and work through the issues. I still miss her, but I know she would be looking down at me and encouraging me. She would probably sit me down with a cup of tea and gently scold me for “thinking such foolishness.”

This past Thursday, I received my last stripe on my green belt and an invitation to next Thursday’s grading. This upcoming week is all about kata, cardio, lifting and meditating. Bringing myself 110% back into focus to accomplish victory in this grading and move on to blue belt and the Intermediate Level BBM class. I need strength, humility, honour and love in my heart. The indomitable will to not give up and to push forward until my goal is reached.

This one’s for you, Grandma Joan. This one’s for you.




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