Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tales of a Cold Warrior – Lifting My Hand and Swearing

(To get the full story, you may want to go back and start from the beginning)

For those that don’t know, there is a line when you join the Army that demarks a point of no return. That is the point where you sign your enlistment papers, then lift your hand and take the oath. The oath itself is the same as everyone who serves, from the lowest private to the commander in chief (in a similar form). Even after all these years, I remember the first bit, though I did have to Google to get the second half:

I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
I don’t remember much about the ceremony. I remember a crowded room with a bunch of guys in it. While some people had their parents with them, I was alone except for the recruiter as I was already 18 and did not need parental approval. I do remember that the signing and swearing were all done at the same time. After the ceremony, I returned home. A few days later I got my orders and bus ticket to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO for my basic training.

That summer between swearing in, graduation from high school, and leaving for basic training was uneventful. I did carry quite a bit of anxiety for how I would fare in basic training. I had after all led a fairly protected life. I was about to go away from home in the most dramatic way possible, probably never to return in any permanent way. While I wasn’t in bad shape, I also had concerns about how I would fare physically in basic.

As a partial compensation for these feeling, I decided that then was a good time to take some karate classes. At that time, there weren’t really any dojos near where I lived in the outskirts of Memphis. I didn’t really know anyone who could advise me for a good dojo, and, I hadn’t really researched martial arts beyond knowing that the difference between judo and karate. I did have a friend that I grew up who lived down the street that had taken judo lessons. He related how he had spent most of the three months he took lessons learning how to fall down. This didn’t really seem like what I was looking for, so I had ruled out Judo.

The dojo I ended up picking out of the phone book was a little place off of Summer Ave. run by Master Kang Rhee. Master Rhee was a little guy, but one tough little Korean. Technically, what he taught was not karate, but a blend of karate, Kung Fu, and TaeKwonDo called PaSaRyu (Way of Honor). I was blissfully unaware his association with Elvis until I earned my yellow belt and he wrote 'TCB' on my sparring gear and belt, and the symbol for a Lion. For those not versed in Elvis lore, 'TCB' means 'Taking Care of Business'. It is amusing to see Elvis do karate moves in his concert videos and recognize pieces of the katas I was learning. I did a search to see if the dojo was still in business, and amazingly, it is - though not in the same location. Master Rhee must be in his 80s, but is still listed as an instructor. I do remember his second, Ernest Caruthers (who is probably over 60 now) as a great weapons instructor, something I didn't really get into much as that instruction cost extra.

I attended classes daily, sometimes twice a day. At the time I didn’t have any transportation, so I either rode my bike or the bus to the classes. In retrospect, it was not so much about the karate as it was about self confidence. I built up my strength and stamina, as well as improved my push up skills (something that would be extremely valuable once I entered Basic). By the end of the summer, I was ready to take my green belt test and more importantly, ready to take whatever the world could throw at me. To this day I can still remember almost all of the first kata - something dramatically called 'the 17 deadly moves'.

It’s funny how odd moments mark the transition points in your life. For me it wasn’t signing the paper or getting on the bus but a more subtle moment. Toward the end of the summer, I had gone to a park in Bartlett to jog and work on my kata, alternating jogging and form work. I noticed a couple watching me. When I jogged near them, I recognized them as a couple of people I had gone to high school with. They asked what I was doing, and I explained that I was practicing a kata. They gave me that ‘poor guy, he’s gone off the deep end’ look. As they walked away, I realized that they were to go to Memphis State and probably get married, like most of my other friends, and I was really going into the Army. Right there, I realized I was following a very different path than my peers. I didn't feel bad about, it was just different.

Next – Enter the Dragon

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