A Eulogy…

Today I write a eulogy. I have been thnking for several days what I would write here and come to the conclusion that no matter what words I put down, they will be superflous and insufficient. Nonetheless, write I must. I have experienced something I have never experienced before…the untimely death of a student. I chose many, many years ago to never have children so I will never know the unique pain of being a parent who loses a child. But this experience is too itself unique and will never be repeated even if another of my students passes before I do for no other reason than this student is the first ( and I hope the last.) Suddenly, at age 34, my student was feeling pains in his chest. He went to his Dr. who told him that with a cursory examination he could not find anything and, with a history of athsma in the family it was probably that and nothing more. What my student neglected to tell his Dr. was that he had quite seriously whacked a shin of one of his legs about two weeks earlier ( honestly,though, who would think to mention such an incident when one is having pain in the chest?). My student went home, laid down to rest and passed in his sleep from a pulmonary embolus – for the medically uneducated that is a blood clot in a lung. The autopsy had shown what caused the clot was a hairline fracture in his tibia, the bone at the front of the calf. My student had gotten this fracture two weeks before dying from the hitting of his leg. There is no one to blame here – no one to get mad at. It was just one of those freak occurences that happen in life. I can not say that this makes the pain of loss any less. My student was a true individual. I met him when he was much younger and studying JuJitsu and Ou-Der Gun Tao under one of my students. I would drop in from time to time at my student’s school and it was there that I met several young men that would in the future become my students. This group became the core of my hardcore group that practiced outside year round in Rhode Island – minus 15 degrees with the wind chill to 98 degrees and 90 percent humidity to driving spring rains…we experienced it all. This particular student was built like an NFL running back. Although only about 5′ 7″ he weighed in around 220 lbs with a very low body fat ratio. He was the proverbial ” fireplug ” and one would think from looking at him that he would be all about the hard styles. One would be making a misjudgement. True Kung Fu is much like music – the true artist does not spend hours and hours of practice time attempting to sound just like somebody else. Yes, we all have influences, but ultimately what makes a player revered is that he sounds like no one else. His playing is an expression of his inner self coming through his instrument. A practioner of Kung Fu finds over time the style that best reflects his inner self. For my student, his was a journey that brought him closer and closer to the soft side of the arts. When he had learned some of the internal forms of my school, he had found his home. He was intensely curious and had an almost child like wonder when experiencing a moment of enlightenment and growth. He would call me after his moving to New Jersey several years ago and my coming to Florida a year and a half ago and question me for sometimes 60 -90 minutes. He would ask about how a certain movement in Tao Mo’s 18 Muscle Change Classic related to a ceratin movement in a certain form or about how many variations of a given technique could be derived from the technique as presented in a form. Although a devout Christian, he would ask about aspects of ancient Chinese philosophy and how the inter-relationship between philosophy and the martial arts related to life,the universe, and everything. I am going to severely miss those conversations. This is why…a truly good teacher maintains an open mind and understands with abject clarity that if the moment arrives when he believes that he knows all there is to know about his art, it is time to find another hobby for he has fallen off The Path akin to falling off a cliff…a truly good teacher learns as much from his students as he did from his Shifu. A teacher learns from his students by having to satisfactorily answer the student’s questions. Each student learns a bit differently from his peers – some see things in the abstract and can understand the mechanics of a technique merely by describing it, some must literally be taken by the hands and be shown by physically being moved by the teacher in order to see that which the teacher is trying to explain. These obstacles put in the way by students serve to make a teacher more tolerant of his students frustrations and thereby his own frustrations with the students. Overcoming these obstacles by digging deep down into the knowledge one has acquired over the years causes few things to happen, including gaining even more respect for your teacher having had put up with you, along with becoming a better and more well rounded teacher yourself. Being able to explain theory and technique and being able to flawlessly execute any technique the student inquires about leads one to be a better teacher and also leads one to understand even more profoundly than by their own personal study alone just how it is that The Path has no end – there is no ending to the layers of the onion to be peeled back revealing yet another layer of knowledge. I learned a great deal from my student that was laid to rest Saturday the 21st of August. His undying curiosity and probing questioning and his input as to what his thoughts were on a subject being discussed brought me through the mere act of discussion and explanation to a deeper understanding of that which he and I had talked about. I will miss him and his quiet voice saying ” Shifu, what I want to ask is…” and ” Shifu, what do you think about what I think about this…” I was and am proud to have had such a man as this as my student, my friend, and as a man I called Brother. I was always his Shifu, but our relationship, as it has with several of my longest term students, moved to a level beyond just that of “teacher/student”. Today, I am still mourning the loss, but I also have a new perspective on Life…even in death, he is still giving me a lesson and for that I am grateful. Cherish and appreciate that which you have, dedicate yourselves to living and pursuing that which means more to you than anything else. Life is short enough as it is for those of us who live to old age…my student passing at age 34 shows with clarity that it can all be taken away at any moment. He lived his life as a life well lived, always putting one foot in front of the other as he walked The Path. One could do much worse than to emulate this fine example of a Man. Peace and Good Days Always. Cook Shifu

5 Responses to “A Eulogy…”

  1. 1 Colby
    August 30, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Eloquently written. Like you said, anything I write would be insufficient to describe Kevin. I can’t even comment right now other than to say he is deeply missed.

  2. 2 Steve
    September 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Well said Shifu.

  3. 3 Thomas Hargrove Sensei
    September 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I am deeply moved…me and Kevin talked for hours via phone..we were supposed to train when I got back from 8/23/10 trip. He was very warm hearted and open minded.

    September 4, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Thank you for your heartfelt wrds about Kevin. For those who may not know me, I am his wife. Thank you to his friends who keep sharing and giving to those who lived him the most. I am grateful that he was apart of this family first. Thank you all.

  5. September 8, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Several weeks later I continue to morn the loss of my friend Kevin and on some level I will forever.

    Only a short time before Kevin passed I sat with our group discussing Kevin’s approach to martial arts. Colby commented that “when all is said and done, Kevin will have a much broader experience with martial arts due to his study with other schools then many of us will”. It is hard accepting that his time has come and Kevin now has to continue his training in that dojo of the sky.

    Thank you all for your support during this time. To all my friends, family, teachers, students and training partners… your support has been much needed. Thank you all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

August 2010

%d bloggers like this: