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The Things We Do For Charity…

Over the last few weeks I have done some Facebook reposts about the OMAC Juvenile Arthritis Charity Tournament.  One of our students at Master Kim’s Oriental Martial Arts College is a kid named Ayden Soares.  As you can imagine, Arthritis is a very painful disease, especially for children.  When our school decided to get together to raise money, there were plenty of incentives we could give to our students… but the one that seemed to get the most attention was the promise that for every thousand dollars raised, one of the instructors would shave his (or her) head.

Mark headshotI had spoken to Ayden’s mother a few weeks ago, and after promising to attend but also to make a (what I consider) very nice donation, I told her that I consider my hair one of my few redeeming physical features, and that she could put me around #25 on that list. 

Holy cow if we didn’t raise in excess of $25,000… FAR in excess of it!

Fortunately for me, time was working in my favour; the volunteers from First Choice Hair Cutters told us that from their viewpoint, it would be impractical to shave the heads of twenty-five people.  At 5-7 minutes per person, we would have been there for over two hours.

Somebody (I don’t know who) decided that we would shave five heads – Master Harrison, who represents the entire organization, and four instructors, to represent each branch of the school.

Master Harrison went first, and I suppose like all of us was more than a little reticent, but he is a man of his word, and it was for a good cause.

As this was going on, I looked at Master Godoy (my branch’s Master) who was a bit uneasy.  I could tell that he was not looking forward to this.  Aside from myself, the other instructors from our school are Mr. Peter, who was not at the event, and Mr. Bernard, who is mostly bald.  When Instructor Dorian was done, I stepped forward.

I should mention that even in the army, where we kept our hair very short, I never actually went down to shaved.  But as I said, it was for a good cause, and I like to think myself a good sport.  I sat in the chair, and when she asked me if I wanted to hedge my bet and use the ‘1’ shaver, I said no… let’s go all the way.

Instructor Mark went next, and then to our shock one of our female Black Belts stepped forward.  As she is under age I will not name her, but she had incredible long hair.  She asked for the back of her head to be shaved – I cannot explain it better, but I assure you that the end result looked perfectly normal and stylish (see the picture – she is one of the girls standing in front of me).

OMAC Group Shaved

The tournament was a great success, not only for the charity but also for our students who raised their confidence and won some trophies.  Everyone had fun.  As we say, together we’ll Kick Arthritis.

OMAC Instructor Garvis & AydenAyden is a very brave boy.  It is hard to live your life in pain.  One of my sons has Arthritis, and I know how hard it is.  Ayden is not giving up, and we are all cheering for him.  When it was all over, he came up to me and asked if he could take a picture with me.  I was proud to do so.

By the way, I know that Mr. Al Poulis, the very capable webmaster for OMAC, was the official photographer for the tournament, and took some great pictures throughout… including, I am told, of the hair part.  Stay tuned, when he sends them to me I will post the pictures of it actually happening!

Pan Am… Do something for nothing, and get so much!

Volunteers_Logo_V14If you follow me on Facebook you will already know that I was selected as a volunteer for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.  My decision to volunteer dates back to the 2013 Taekwondo Canada Open; at the end of the event the administrator thanked me for my hard work, and hoped that I would continue to volunteer, especially since Toronto was hosting the Pan Am games.  I promised I would be there.

For the Canada Open (that year, as well as the upcoming games) I answered an open letter from Taekwondo Canada, and they wrote me back thanking me, and telling me where to be.  It was silly, in hindsight, to think that volunteering for a worldwide multi-discipline event on a par with the Olympic Games would be as simple… and when I e-mailed them back in July, they gave me the website where volunteers had to apply.  I spent fifteen minutes filling out the application, and was told to be patient, I would hear back from them soon.

When I did hear back, I was told I had to do a ‘video interview.’  After putting it off for several weeks, I finally sat down and did it in November.  It was the second week of January when I got the e-mail offering me the position of Field of Play Crew, Taekwondo.

Of course I was thrilled… I was going to be up close and personal with some of the best competitors in the world in a sport that is near and dear to me.  I couldn’t be more excited; I figured great… now all I have to do is wait for July to come around.

I got an e-mail inviting me to join the (Official) Toronto 2015 Volunteers page on Facebook, which I did… and I was amazed by what I discovered.

Have you ever watched a major sporting event like the Pan Am Games, or the Olympic Games, and wondered how they can go off without a hitch?  You should meet some of the people on this Facebook page… and I can tell you, I am really looking forward to meeting many of them in person.

TO2015_BRD_Pachi_Tickets4C_KeylineI volunteered because I love my sport, and because the event is being held in my home city.  There are volunteers coming who are not athletes, but have volunteered in other cities for other events – some of them are discussing how housing of out-of-town volunteers in Toronto will differ from what they experienced in Vancouver (Winter Olymiad), Glasgow (Commonwealth Games), London, and Sochi.  To be sure, there are people volunteering for sports that they love (like me)… but there are plenty of others with positions such as Media Relations, Transportation Services, Food Services, Housing… and scores more.  What would make someone give up two weeks of their lives, often traveling from thousands of miles away (there is a special Facebook group for out of town volunteers, with over 200 members so far) to volunteer for games that, according to pundits on talk radio, nobody will remember in a year or two?

I suspect that the number of answers to that question will be too great to enumerate here, but I suspect for a lot of them it will have to do with dedication… and from what I am reading, a healthy measure of fun and appreciation.

Sure, there are going to be students who need volunteer credits for school.  there will be young people who are just starting out and need something to put on their resume.  But there are also people like me – professionals who will be taking time off of work (unpaid, of course).  There are stay at home moms, and there are retirees, and there are 20,000 different stories that you would come across if you spoke to the 20,000 volunteers.  It is truly amazing.

This is not my first international sporting event.  In 2002 Montreal hosted the Junior Maccabiah Games; I was working for IGS Security at the time, and we were responsible for security for the entire event.  It was a great experience.  Back then I spoke to a lot of the volunteers, and they told me how much fun they had.  I suppose I was sceptical at the time, but that was the way I was.

Over the next few months I am going to meet and get to know a bunch of great people through this event, and I am truly looking forward to it.  I hope that at the end of it I will come away with some new friends and a lot of great memories.  Either way, it will be a great experience!

My OMAC Profile

omacWCLogoA little over a year ago I was going to take over management of the website for the Oriental Martial Arts College (Master Kim’s OMAC).  Several issues, including my long-term relocation to Japan, aborted that.  However I am thrilled to be back with OMAC now, as a Senior Instructor and not as a webmaster.  This week I was honoured when the webmaster, Mr. Al Poulis, added my profile to the new site, which has now been renamed OMAC World Class Martial Arts.  MY profile can be seen here.

I want to commend Mr. Poulis, who has done a much better job of redesigning the website than I ever could have!

A Picture is Worth…

A couple of years ago I attended the Microsoft Convergence Conference in New Orleans.  The HP booth had hired a caricature artist to draw people, and using his Wacom digitizer he drew an absolutely amazing one of me.  His name by the way was Stephen King – no relation to the author.  I used that picture for… well, everything ever since.

Recently my friend Jen Fox came to visit from Halifax.  She was visiting schools in the area, deciding which one she wants to go to.  However she is also a professional photographer, and while she was here I took advantage of that.  She took pictures of me, of my son, and of the two of us together in various environments, including at the Taekwondo dojang.

It should be clear that Gilad is far more photogenic than I am.  He is 4.5 years old, is absolutely gorgeous, and is almost always smiling.  Getting good pictures of him is easy.  Getting them of me, well that`s tough… and I commend Jen for her patience!

Of the several hundred pictures she took of me, some of them actually came out well… no fault of hers, I generally hate what I look like.  For those of you who are wondering, I do not know if this will change as I lose the weight… I have never liked looking at myself.

10714523_10152355745801898_2490539028709203721_oAnd so I decided to take this opportunity to pick one picture as my new on-line image.  I picked one that combines several symbolic elements; Taekwondo has been a very important part of my life for several years, and I hope that it will remain so for many years to come.  However the weapon – nunchaku – has been my favourite weapon since I first picked them up nearly twenty years ago… long before I ever took up Taekwondo The stance I am in is a modified Crane Stance; the crane is symbolic because recently we discovered that the root origin of our family name (Garvis) is the Lithuanian word for Crane.

I gave this picture a lot of thought.  My personal and professional lives are intertwined on my web presence, something that I have been warned is a bad idea.  However I am who I am, and it likely that people who know me professionally also know a bit about my hobbies, and those I know as friends know what I do for a living.  In short, I am the sum of my experiences, and I do not feel that the Taekwondo picture – even one of me brandishing a weapon (that is illegal in Canada and some states) – compromises who I am.  If anything does, it is how fat I am in my picture 🙂

As I continue to lose weight I will take more pictures and will change this more often.  Assuming Jen will be going to school in Hamilton I hope she will honour me by helping me with these pictures – it would be great to take a picture with the same pose every twenty pounds or so and show them side by side to accentuate the difference.

I welcome your comments… if you like it or if you don’t, please feel free to let me know!

Slinging Chucks

I love Taekwondo.  I took it up seven years ago as an activity I could share with my son, but he never took to it the way I did.  Okay, we still do other things together… and I am now Instructor Garvis to the myriad Taekwondo students at OMAC.

Taekwondo was not my first martial art.  In fact, my first exposure to the martial arts was as a kid when my parents enrolled me in Karate at the YMHA in Montreal, under the tutelage of Sensei Yaki Mendel.  I think I earned my Yellow Belt before quitting (something I was very good at as a kid and right through high school).  In my late teens my girlfriend at the time (Beverley) and I signed up for Shotokan Karate, which we both enjoyed… for about six classes.  That was it.  Soon thereafter my friend Johnny Mo, who claimed to be a Kung Fu sifu, taught me and a couple others a few Kung Fu lessons at a gym, and some of what he taught us actually stuck.

Mitch Chucks 1It was not until the army that I really got involved in Martial Arts.  I took to Krav Maga like a fish to water, and loved every minute of it.  Thank G-d, because over the years I have used what I learned to get out of a couple of less than favourable situations.

Around the same time as I started learning KM, I was in the Central Bus Station in Haifa where I found a store that sold nunchaku.  By my math that would have been around twenty-one years ago.  The first time I was there I bought a pair of foam nunchaku, thinking back on the Bruce Lee and Ninja movies I had seen where I was always fascinated by them.  I started to teach myself how to use them, and I fell in love with them.

My proficiency and understanding of the weapon started there, but it was when I was posted to a shithole of a base near the Gaza Strip when I met someone who instructed me in them… the right way, from the beginning.

I should mention off the bat that I hated the foam nunchaku.  Right from the beginning I loathed them – they bounced off your hand and oh, by the way, in order to keep their shape they are actually soft foam around a hard PVC tube… and those tubes are going to break the first time you hit anything with them.  So the next time I was in Haifa I picked up a pair of wooden nunchaku, and I have not looked back.  They are easier to catch, they don’t break when you use them… how can you go wrong?

You want to know how you can go wrong?  Easy… You have two pieces of reasonably heavy wood attached to each other by a rope or a chain that you are whirling around at extremely high speeds, around your body, arms, back, neck… you change hands with them at an alarmingly fast pace, and the only thing that you can use to control the piece that is not in your hand at any given second is a keen understanding of the momentum involved.  What am I saying in plain English?  Moreso than any other weapon that I know of, it is extremely easy to get hurt while using nunchaku… even for people who are extremely good with them.

Mitch Nunchaku The story I like to tell is of a beautiful day on the beach of Netanya.  I spent six months living with a family in the suburb of Ramat Poleg, and it was a short walk to the beach.  That was where I went to practice, and I would spend hours doing it… walking along the dunes, doing my best to go faster and faster, until I thought I could do it with my eyes closed.  It was on this beach among these dunes that I remember one day waking up… but I had no recollection of going to sleep, or even sitting down.  All I can tell you is that I had a giant Flintstones lump on my head, I had a splitting headache, and my nunchaku were lying a couple of feet away from me.  It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.

While they are not strictly speaking a Taekwondo weapon, we do nonetheless teach nunchaku at Master Kim’s OMAC.  Some of the kids love it, others… well, less so.  But that is fine, they are optional (as are all weapons classes until 2nd Dan).  Instructor Peter Wolchak does a brilliant job teaching the students – even though he prefers the Bo Staff 🙂  It should be noted that everyone – including Instructor Peter – uses foam nunchaku for the class.  it is a matter of safety.

Recently I was working on my own choreography – there was nobody around so I was using my proper wood nunchaku.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but I missed a catch, and the wood hit my side and left a proper welt.  It was a good reminder to always respect the weapon – and the minute you think you can do it without paying attention is the minute you get hurt.

Let me rephrase that.  If you practice with nunchaku, especially wooden ones, you will eventually get hurt… possibly badly.  Nunchaku are a very serious weapon – not a toy – and by the way, they are illegal in Canada as well as several U.S. states so don’t think that this is ever going to be the weapon you carry for protection.

I have no plans to put my nunchaku down… ever.  Welts, bumps, bruises, and all, I love the weapon, and if I do say so myself I am pretty good with them (after 22 years I should hope so)!

I have a few different pair, each one for a different purpose.  A keen and knowing observer may notice the pair in these pictures is very different from most common pair – for one thing, they are octagonal – I just like the feel better.  They are connected by string instead of the more common chain – I like the feel better, not to mention they are much quieter.  This pair is also unique in that the two sides are connected by a much shorter rope than usual – 1” rather than the more common 4”.  In truth I bought them by accident a few years ago and couldn’t be bothered to return them, and it is only recently that I have spent a lot of time getting used to the differences between the weapons – while the size, shape, and length of the wood may alter the feel of the nunchaku (octagonal as opposed to round, 12” are my preference) the shortened distance between the sides changes everything about the weapon – how it flies, how it reacts.  It is not better or worse… just different.

I have gone through several pair of nunchaku over the years – a score or more in all likelihood.  While I have ordered for myself a new pair to try out, I think I have found the combination that I am most comfortable with… for now.  Will that change?  We’ll see… but in the meantime 12” (with the 4” rope) octagons are what I favour… and if you want to come watch, I just might choreograph something special for my next Belt Test! 🙂

Gilad’s FIRST Belt Test!

Allow me to kvel a little, if I may.  Kvel is a Yiddush word that is somewhere between bragging and exuding pride.  I’m not exactly sure… I don’t speak Yiddush very well.

In September Theresa and I enrolled our little boy in Taekwondo.  We had discussed a couple of years ago that when he was ready we would enrol him, and it would not be an optional activity.  We did not know at the time that by the time he was ready I would be one of his instructors.

I was worried for the first couple of classes – but then I realized that it was silly.  Sure, he was not paying 100% attention, but then he is a Tiny Tiger, and getting these kids (aged 4-6) to sit still and listen, or even do the fun activities we give them, is not the easiest job in the world.  We liken it to hearding cats.

A couple of weeks into his classes he started learning his first Poomsae (pattern).  I look at it as a simple one, but I am not four years old.  It looks like it is only punching, but if you look close, they have to come to attention properly, bow properly, assume the form properly, and punch with the proper cadence.  For an adult it is simple, for a kid… it’s a challenge.

He learned it pretty well, and was able to perform the Poomsae with me without a problem, and I thought he was ready to test. 

Unfortunately later on the Master asked to see it, and he was not nearly as confident as he had been with me.  To all of the other kids I am Instructor Garvis… but to Gilad I am Daddy.  It’s different.

I was glad when a week or two later Master Godoy assured me that he was ready to test, and we got all excited.  It was a bit of a letdown when I found out on Monday that our school’s regular grading test – the last Wednesday of the month – was cancelled.  Instead the students would be testing during their regular classes.  This was a blessing and a curse – there would be less pressure and less stress, but also less reward.  However we decided that it would be fine.

Toward the end of the class on Tuesday Master Godoy had the other students sit, and invited Gilad to stand in front of them.  He did his Poomsae, he did the kicking and punching that was asked of him, and when it was time he got into his fighting stance, and threw a front-snap kick right through the piece of wood that Master Godoy was holding for him (on the first attempt, and without any pain).  I was doubly proud… I am proud of all of my students, but I think even the other parents will understand if I am even more proud of one special student.

Before the test came to an end Master Godoy asked Gilad to close his eyes and recite the first of our school’s Children’s Five Commandments.  OBEY PARENTS SIR! was Gilad’s very confident answer.  It was over.

Gilad! Usually the Master has the honour of giving the first belt to a new student, but Master Godoy understood the importance of this one to us.  He handed me the belt, and I asked Gilad to take his old White Belt off.  I wrapped the new belt around my waist and said a little blessing, and then I tied it around Gilad’s waist.  He was beaming… and so was I.

There will be more tests to come, more belts, harder poomsaes.  There are five more Tiny Tiger (junior) belts before he earns the ‘Black’ – really a White Belt with Black Stripe.  After that he will test for Yellow… then Orange, Blue, Green, Purple, Brown, Red, Black-White, Black-Red, and then finally his real Black Belt.  Fifteen tests to go, and he will do just as well…

…but tonight as I write that no ne of that matters.  Not for son/student, not for dad/instructor.  Tonight we are both as proud as can be, and Gilad will go to school in the morning with a little more confidence than before.  Good job Gilad!

Gilad & Dad

Keep it Clean… it will last longer!

Last night at Taekwondo two women (a student and a parent) asked me the same question: ‘Is that a new dobok?’ The dobok is of course the uniform we wear, and until you are a Senior Instructor in our system it is white with our logo on the back. Additionally I have two flag patches on mine – the left arm bears the Israeli flag, the right arm the Canadian flag.

Mitch Fighting PositionI have two ‘active’ doboks… and when I say active, I mean currently in use. I have two others – the one that was issued to me as a White Belt beginner, and the one I bought to replace that one – but they never get worn. It is Interesting to note (because of the questions) that the last time I bought a new one I was preparing to test for my First Dan Black Belt… in 2010.

Although there was a time when this was not true, I currently wear both doboks evenly. I usually teach almost every night, and I really do sweat a lot (you try doing any physical activity for three hours at my weight). Because of this, I tend to do laundry every second night, and make sure that my doboks are both cleaned. Of course, this does expose me to the risk should my washing machine (or drier) catches fire that I lose them both… but that is a reasonably low risk that I am willing to take.

Once the doboks are clean I hang them up properly on a wooden clothes hanger, and they go into the closet. In the morning before I go to work I pick one out (at random on Laundry Day +1) and hang it in my car where it stays until it is time for Taekwondo.

…and then when I put it on, I go to work, and I sweat. I do jumping jacks, I jog, I do sit-ups and push-ups. I lead the stretching (or I follow along), I punch, kick, spar, and do my poomsaes (patterns). Some evenings I do weapons, and if you don’t think those are strenuous, try this: have someone pull a handgun on you, don’t get shot, disarm and incapacitate them. Then do it 100 more times, and then teach a group of Black Belts how to do it. Trust me, it’s a lot of work J

At the end of the evening I am sweatier and my dobok is dirtier than anyone else in the club. It is not so because I try harder and am more active than they are, that is just not true. Yes, I am usually there longer than anyone except the Master… but the reason my dobok is dirtier is because I am fatter than everyone else, and because of that when I am active I sweat more. I literally have to peel my dobok off some days. Despite the fact that when I get home it is going into the wash, I do not throw it in a ball in my bag; I hang it back up on the hanger and then when I get to my car I hang it as I would a tuxedo.

I do not consider the dobok to be sacred or especially irreplaceable; I consider my belt to be so, which is why it never goes into checked luggage, and never gets washed. The belt was awarded to me by my GrandMaster in a very sacred ceremony. My dobok? I paid for it and it was handed to me.

However the dobok does not have to be sacred for us to treat it with respect. The respect shows that I care for it properly. It also means that five years after I bought it, my dobok is still in nearly pristine shape. It does not get thrown on the floor, it does not get eaten in. I do not wear it to and from the dojang. I treat it the same way I treat my good suits (although I do NOT dry-clean it, and never have). But if you treat it right, it will last a very long time.

Now, with that being said, I am really looking forward to needing a new dobok soon… I have worn the largest size possible since I started, and hopefully with my weight loss progress that will soon no longer be the case!

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