Ghostwood Farm

Modern dislocation.
September 11, 2022, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Below is the essay I wrote in partial fulfillment of the requirements for 3rd Dan rank in taekwondo at Lee’s Martial Arts, Bloomington.


I have experienced two relatively major changes since my Second Dan test in October 2020: I began training in two additional arts at Guardian Martial Arts that month, and I contracted COVID-19 in January 2022.

My COVID bout was relatively mild, but it has lingered in two ways. It has exacerbated the arthritis in my hands such that I experience what can only be described as chronic pain, primarily in my fingers. In addition, my hips are far more susceptible to pain than they were pre-COVID. This has functioned to reduce the stretching I am able to do and my range of motion. In taekwondo terms, my kicks, especially kicks that require turning over of the hip, have deteriorated. I can no longer side kick to the face of most opponents (an unnecessary and impractical technique for the most part, anyway). I also experience more joint pain in other areas: my knees stay sore longer and my shoulders are problematic. I suspect that I have arthritis in some of these joints as well (especially hips), but I have not sought a diagnosis. I don’t think I want to know. I know that some of this sounds like simply growing older, but the fact is that these problems turned on like a switch post-COVID.

On a brighter note, broadening my scope of training has been fantastic. I started the Natural Spirit International (NSI)/Worden Defense System branch of Modern Arnis. This includes stick, staff, and knife fighting techniques, combined with jeet kune do and hapkido-related empty hand skills. As part of that curriculum, we spend one hour a week in rules-based Muay Thai training and sparring. Muay Thai is far more directly applicable to hapkido than I would ever have thought, particularly dealing with grappling (clinch), kick defense, and takedowns, and of course taekwondo kicks have a strong place in kickboxing. One of my mantras has become, “The human body can only move in so many ways,” so the commonalities of these arts, and the way techniques bleed across (artificial) boundaries, make it more difficult every day to think about any single “pure” art. Thinking about martial arts, fighting arts, as a continuum that all inform one another, is much more constructive for me as I learn what works the best for me. My mindset, my body (physical strengths and limitations), all help me determine my style. I maintain a strong space for the tradition of each art, but in practicality, I pick and choose and integrate to augment my strengths and minimize my weaknesses.

Since my last taekwondo test, my skills, as strictly defined by the ability to physically perform specific taekwondo techniques, have doubtlessly declined. However, my overall ability as a martial artist has increased. I think better, I strategize better, I choose tactics better, and I do a better job of integrating useful techniques across arts. I do a much better job of focusing on concepts and applying them, rather than collecting individual techniques (though there is still massive room for improvement in my conceptual thinking). Focusing on concepts allows me to be resilient regardless of situation. Ranged striking, standing grappling, and ground fighting each require different approaches, but many of the concepts are the same. Range, moving oneself, moving one’s opponent, breathing, framing, and finding strong versus weak positions—these concepts are universal in martial arts.

So I train. I train about 11 hours a week, 8 of it at Lee’s. I teach two classes every week, one to a squirrelly beginner class, and one to a focused advanced class. Teaching, as I have said numerous times, is the greatest gift Lee’s has given me. It scratches an itch I couldn’t satisfy in any other way. And it has built my knowledge and understanding of taekwondo (and martial arts in general) in ways that only training cannot do. I have addressed these ideas before and will not reiterate them here. It does cost me training time (I rarely work out with the beginner class anymore, since I have found they need more guidance than I can provide if I do not watch them closely), but I truly think it makes me a stronger martial artist to teach. And I love it. Wednesday is my favorite (and longest) day of the week.

Finally, I have said in these papers before how important forms are in taekwondo; how I feel they are the grammar of the art and without them, the concepts of combinations and flow are more difficult to understand. I still think that is true. However, I also have come to believe that the higher one’s rank, the less important forms become. By Second Dan, the understanding of combinations should be well (if never fully) formed. Practicing forms is still crucial: the tradition, the control, the centering, the breathing, the awareness all remains important. However, I have come to think that, at higher ranks, forms become more of a means of self-expression than routines that are critical to learn by rote. I recognize that I am probably in the minority on this, and I am okay with that.

I have pushed in some ways that, in the moment, definitely feel like overstepping my bounds. I pushed to bring weapons into hapkido when we were all uncomfortable with heavy contact immediately post-COVID. I pushed to bring contact back to hapkido not long after that. And more recently, I pushed to start a sparring class for black belts (primarily; lower hapkido students also participate). The control that one must learn to spar safely is critical; that, together with learning to get hit and not give up are two pieces that I think are truly important in the martial arts in general. I am gratified that these classes are going well. I hope to continue to be able to help students who choose to participate think about how to integrate techniques across arts to develop their own fighting style.

I never quite know what you, The Reader, wants to see in these papers. I use them as an opportunity to provide you with a snapshot of where I am as a martial artist, how my thought has developed, since my last one. I hope that my newfound physical limitations do not prevent me from further development as a leader in our school (and maybe they will improve, who knows?). I believe that the Masters and Grandmasters understand that I am available to help in any way I can, and that opportunities to provide leadership are welcomed by me. I appreciate this place and I look forward to the future.

Up the hill backwards.
April 5, 2022, 8:48 pm
Filed under: Martial Arts

This is the essay I wrote for my 1st dan black belt in hapkido.


My first class at Lee’s, my trial class, was in hapkido. It was the only class I ever had with Master Price, and Mr. Bradley was there as well. I was really looking for a school for my son at the time, not for myself. I was so impressed with the generosity and welcome in that small class that I signed my son up the following week. I started taekwondo a few months later, but didn’t start hapkido for probably a year.

I do not feel like a black belt in hapkido.

I feel like a black belt in taekwondo. Taekwondo techniques are clear-cut and I have progressed regularly through the years in terms of not only my execution of techniques, but also my understanding of them. In hapkido, I recognize that I know more, and have internalized more, than I realize. I know that there are approaches and techniques that I can help my classmates with every time we work together. I know that I find myself integrating techniques, concepts, and approaches that I have picked up from the other arts I practice (modern arnis and Muay Thai). Indeed, the eclectic nature of hapkido, the way it borrows from so many different arts to produce a fighting style that each practitioner can tailor to their own needs, preferences, and abilities, is one of its main positives in my mind. However, the defining factor of hapkido is flow, and that is an area where I feel weak.

The vast array of techniques and approaches integral to hapkido is dizzying and can be overwhelming. I am trying to think in terms of concepts and approaches, rather than collecting individual techniques. I have not been good at it, but I am getting better. Thinking through how different individual techniques tie together in a particular application (such as punch defense) has helped in this. One of my goals is to be able to derive the techniques from the concept, rather than vice versa.

In the end, hapkido has become the place where I combine the pieces from all the arts I study and refine them into my own style. Techniques from taekwondo, traditional hapkido, Muay Thai, boxing, and arnis (itself made up of jeet kune do, kali, and others) are finding their way into my style. None of it is in opposition to hapkido: the flow of self-defense is integral to all of them. Finding their similarities of approach has been eye-opening. It has helped me to really see that all of these arts have similar roots. There are only so many ways a body can move, and so of course there are similarities. The joy of studying multiple arts is finding those convergences that work for me. I am starting to do that, and I find the possibilities tremendously exciting.

I recognize how important teaching is for a black belt. I get nervous teaching hapkido in a way that I do not when I teach taekwondo. I have impostor syndrome teaching hapkido and I do not feel like I belong there. However, teaching is extremely important to me, and I hope to continue to improve.

It is critical that I remember and truly internalize that black belt simply marks where one is ready to begin learning. I am looking forward to taking the techniques I know and learn to put them together. I am looking forward to internalizing the style such that the flow comes without thought. I am honestly having a hard time seeing when that will come (or at least, when it will come to my satisfaction). And I am looking forward to helping others find that flow.

There is a certain camaraderie that we experience in hapkido that comes from the contact and discomfort we experience together. I consider all of the hapkido students at Lee’s my friends and am proud to be the first student to test for black belt here since I began. I am excited to begin this part of my journey. A black belt must be a leader, a teacher, and a role model. I am humbled to be offered the opportunity to take on those roles in a second art, under the guidance of my mentors and friends at Lee’s.  

Before there was rock, you only had God.
April 12, 2020, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“To be played at maximum volume.”

So it states on the back of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll album ever recorded: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, by David Bowie. I have thought about this record as a single (and singular) piece of art for well over a decade, and today, on Easter Sunday, 2020, I will extoll the virtues of this singularly messianic rock ‘n’ roll odyssey.

I will stress here that this is my interpretation of this record. I have no idea how close it is to what Bowie had in mind. I will add storyline to some songs that clearly isn’t there in the lyrics, but makes sense, based on the timeline and what I think the story is. I would dearly love to hear what you think.

Side 1, Track 1. “Five Years.”

In “Five Years,” we learn of a corrupt and intolerant world. A cop kisses the feet of a priest. A woman beats some children nearly to death. The main point of the song is that a  man on the television tells us that the earth has just five years to live. But live goes on: Our narrator (whom I call John, for reasons I’ll get to), sees a girl he is in love with in an ice cream parlor, and uses the news of impending doom to approach her. We’ve only got five years, after all: Let’s make the most of it.

Side 1, Track 2. “Soul Love.”

The song opens with John’s mother at the grave of her son, John’s brother, Tony, who was killed during the occupation of Northern Ireland, “The Troubles”. Tony was in the British Army. Elsewhere, John and his new love (who remains unnamed–let’s call her Lori) are getting to know one another. John tells Lori about the band he is trying to start with his friends Weird and Gilly, the Spiders From Mars.  So forms the relationship between John and Lori, and so begin The Spiders From Mars.

Side 1, Track 3. “Moonage Daydream.”

What is this? John, unable to sleep, thinking of Lori, is listening to pirate radio. Suddenly, the transmission is interrupted! Is…is this REALLY someone from space, broadcasting to Earth? Is that possible? And if so, what can it mean? Now really unable to sleep, he calls the only person he can, the only other person awake at this hour: His best friend, Weird.

Side 1, Track 4: “Starman.”

John describes what he heard to Weird. Weird, of course, heard it too! They discuss what it could possibly mean. The Starman wants to come to Earth, but he’s afraid that he will blow everyone’s minds. Apparently, though, he has overcome his concern, because they can see his ship sparkling in the sky, and they think he’s coming! Let the children boogie.

Side 1, Track 5: “It Ain’t Easy.”

Interestingly, the lyrics for only this song do not appear in the LP liner notes; the rest are all there. This song does not have an obvious narrative link to the story Bowie is telling. It could be that it was a track to fill out the side, not intended to have a place in the saga (which is why the lyrics are missing?). It could be that it’s the interlude, while John and Weird look for the Starman. I think it’s something darker. I think it’s a side story of Lori, meeting the Starman before John and Weird find him. The line “It ain’t easy to get to heaven when you’re going down” foreshadows an unreleased track from the Ziggy sessions: “Sweet Head.” I’ll come back to that one. I think that Lori meets the Starman and, cheating on John, gives him a blowjob. This sets the tone and foreshadows the eventual downfall of The Spiders From Mars.

Side 2, Track  1: “Lady Stardust.”

Here, in one of the great rock ballads of all time, The Spiders From Mars meet the Starman. During the Spiders’ first gig, a stranger jumps up on stage with a left-handed guitar and takes the mic. Of course, he’s not a stranger to Lori, in the crowd. Playing on the androgyny of the character, the Starman is identified as “Lady Stardust.” He is the piece the band was missing: the charisma and power. John still doesn’t know his name, but here, the Starman, Ziggy Stardust, and The Spiders From Mars are cemented together for all of history.

Side 2, Track 2: “Star.”

After the gig with Ziggy, The Spiders are taking off. Offers are coming in from everywhere. John mentions his dead brother, Tony, in the first line. Perhaps he is fighting with his parents as The Spiders head off on tour, bound for stardom.

Side 2, Track 3: “Hold On To Yourself.”

Here we see into the growing ego and mind of Ziggy. To himself, he is thinking about seeing Lori, his friend John’s girlfriend, at the gig tonight. Then, aloud, he says to his friends, his disciples: The Spiders: “We really got a good thing going…you better hang on to yourself.”

Here, after eight tracks, we diverge from the album as released. Here we must insert two unreleased tracks, tracks that are at the end of the Ryko release of this album and tracks that are critical to my understanding of this story.

Sidebar 1: “John I’m Only Dancing.”

This song is why I call the narrator John. John is becoming suspicious of Lori and Ziggy. He catches them dancing. Ziggy protests, “She turns me on, but I’m only dancing.” His suspicion hurts Ziggy. Is that why he allows things to go too far?…

Sidebar 2: “Sweet Head.”

After the accusations of the last song, Ziggy and Lori continue their tryst. Ziggy protests that he tried to break away from her, but it isn’t clear that he did. In the end, he feels that he deserves what he gets from Lori. John, of course, finds out.

Now, back to the album tracks.

Side 2, Track 4: “Ziggy Stardust.”

With Ziggy’s ego out of control and sleeping with Lori, John makes the decision to break up the band in one of the great epic rock tracks of all time. The crowd at the gig finds out what happened and they turn on Ziggy. In the ensuing riot, Ziggy is killed. Or at least, it seems he is. His body is never found.

Side 2, Track 5: “Suffragette City.”

Having broken up the band and left Lori, John is a mess. He’s sleeping with anyone who will have him. At a nightclub with the band’s manager, Henry, John is doing all he can to pick up women, telling Henry to go sit somewhere else, because “…there’s only room for one, and here she comes!”

Side 2, Track 6: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

The hard living has gotten to John, worn him down. He is out of touch with Weird and Gilly, his only friends, since his relationship with Lori cost them their livelihood. As he stumbles around London, alone and beaten, who should he find?


After John is nearly killed by a car in the road, Lori follows him home. She tells him he is not alone. She stays with him. They call Weird. They call Gilly. They all gather, the four of them, what is left of Ziggy’s disciples, and wait. The world is ending, but they are not alone.

Postscript: I try to make this into a messianic story, wherein Ziggy’s death saves the world. But the deeper I look, I don’t see it. What I see is Ziggy, seeing what he has done to his friend John, sacrificing himself (returning to his home?) so that John can be happy with Lori. The world is still ending, I think, but John, having been prevented from becoming a rock ‘n’ roll suicide by Ziggy’s sacrifice and Lori’s love, faces it with his friends.

I try really hard not to think about the lessons we can take from this in the world of today.

Your control.
September 20, 2019, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


One of the requirements to test for a black belt at our school is a 500 word paper on what martial arts means to me. I don’t yet know when I am testing (I’m still holding out hope for 12 October), but I’ve written this twice, sat with this version for a couple of weeks, and this will be what I submit. Thanks for reading.


I have settled on explaining some of the things I have learned through training. By doing so, I hope that I am able to paint a picture of what my training has meant to me in a way I am having trouble doing directly. I hope that it meets your expectations.

In my tae kwon do training, I have learned that one’s mind wants to quit well before one’s body is actually incapable of continuing. Once one comes to that realization, what is physically possible expands a great deal.

I have learned that forms are the grammar of the art. They do not teach us the only ways techniques can be combined, but they construct a list of examples that the martial artist can call on to create their own unique combinations. They open our eyes to how techniques flow together. They teach us to put words into sentences.

I have learned that I am a good teacher, and that I love teaching. I hope I can contribute in that way to our school. I am keeping a notebook on different aspects of different instructional techniques that I like, and new ideas that I want to incorporate when teaching my own classes.

I have learned that teaching someone else how to execute a complex technique or a form makes my own stronger, as I must drill down and take apart how I do it before I can teach it. I have also learned that, once a student has the technique broken down, repetition is the key to learning, to ingraining technique into muscle memory. I have learned, therefore, that teaching is a critical component of being a martial artist.

I have learned that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

I have learned that I can collaborate with higher belts, and we can both learn something. I have learned that I can collaborate with lower belts, and we can both learn something. Humility and confidence are two equally important sides of this coin: One can learn from those of lower rank as well as from those of higher rank, and each student has something to offer other students.

I have learned that training one’s body to perform in ways that were not thought possible does amazing things for one’s confidence. I have learned that there are techniques that I will likely never be able to do well. I have learned that even these extremely demanding techniques improve with repetition. I have learned that maybe the most important way that tae kwon do assists with self-defense is by developing confidence. That confidence lets one stand up for one’s self. It is also obvious and seen by others, so it can prevent conflict before it starts.

I have learned that the stress of pushing one’s mind and body can cause unexpected emotional responses. I expect that this happens more often than we realize (or maybe just more often than we admit).

I have learned that respect goes both ways: A black belt must respect lower belts just as lower belts must respect those who outrank them.  

I have learned that control is one of our most important tenets. Control prevents the student from injuring others. Control prevents the student from injuring themselves. Control is integral to proper technique: Control of body (movement), control of mind (tenacity, temper).

I have learned how gratifying it is to share an interest with my family. I have learned how gratifying it is to make new friends based on this shared interest. I have learned that the support of other students helps all of us excel, makes it easier to excel, and makes me want to excel. One of my favorite aspects of participating in martial arts is watching my fellow students improve and excel.

I look forward to the opportunity to be a leader in our school. Thank you.

Boys don’t cry.
July 4, 2019, 8:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A thing happened to me during hapkido class last night that has never happened to me before. It’s not much of a story, really, but I’m telling it as an excuse to tell a different story, one that I’ve struggled with whether and how to tell for a couple of months.


Hapkido is, as you probably know, a Korean martial art that focuses on self-defense methods (how to hurt someone who is trying to hurt you). This is in contrast to the more famous Korean art of tae kwon do, which tends to be more sport-oriented (think sparring rather than true fighting, though there are certainly powerful techniques taught in tae kwon do!). In hapkido, we practice joint locks, punch and kick defenses, throws, defense against various weapons, and chokes. I have been attending 2-3 hapkido classes a week for about two years, and hold a blue belt. Our belt progression is

white – yellow – orange – green – purple – blue – brown – red – red/black – black,

so I guess I consider myself in the middle of the intermediate range, at least for a colored belt. It is often said that one doesn’t truly begin to learn a martial art until one reaches black belt, so there are differing perspectives. As a blue belt, I think I’m starting to feel the flow of hapkido (finally!), which means that transitions between techniques are coming a little easier. Overall, it is a much more difficult, more…subjective…art than tae kwon do, and therefore, more frustrating. But I think I’m getting it.

Hapkido classes are generally small. One reason is that our school does not teach hapkido to students younger than 18. This is to prevent growing joints from being damaged, and from putting potentially lethal self-defense techniques into the hands of children. Another reason that classes are small is that it hurts to learn hapkido. In order to practice joint locks and throws, one takes turns applying techniques to others, then having them applied. Joint locks hurt. Being thrown sucks. But being thrown and locked is how we learn the techniques, as well as how to fall safely (not to mention how to counter these techniques). At any rate, the pain and discomfort of the techniques tends to limit practitioners to those who really want to learn, and our dropout rate is quite high. Since I have been at this school (almost three years), I have seen many tae kwon do black belt tests, but not a single hapkido black belt test.

Currently, we have two 2nd dan black belts, 2 brown belts, a blue belt, two orange belts, and a white belt who regularly attend hapkido classes. Frequently there are only two of us in any given class. The biggest class I’ve ever been in was 6.


Not long after earning my blue belt in April, on a Monday night, I was working with the 2nd dan black belt who usually attends on Mondays. He was beating my ass as usual. He is a big guy, a little older than me, I guess, and his knowledge of hapkido can only be described as encyclopedic: various interesting and painful joint lock variations, new ways to toss someone around, and especially how to use pressure points. I learn a tremendous amount from him every single time we work out together. He is a big part of the reason I have the small amount of proficiency I have.

On the night in question, I took him to the ground to get out of a lock. To say that ground work is not my forte’ is a gross understatement. I am uncomfortable on the ground because I lack proficiency and it tends to be very claustrophobic. I can hold my own against some opponents, but I am just totally outclassed against our black belts. We had gone to the ground several times that evening. In this instance we went to the ground, and after a minute or so I tapped out (as always). I got up, put my hands behind my head, and walked away. The Master was asking if I was all right: Was I injured, gassed, or what? I was not facing them, and couldn’t answer him because I didn’t trust my voice not to break. I was…not crying, exactly, but in tears.

After 30 seconds I realized I couldn’t get it under control and I just turned around to face them and said, “I’m fine. I’m pissed. I’m sorry,” I added to my partner, who said, “That’s all right.” The Master asked, “Frustrated?” and I said yeah.

But I didn’t feel frustrated. I felt pissed. I was pissed because I was on the ground, getting my ass beat. I was pissed because I had just been there a few minutes ago, with the same results. And yes, some of that is frustration: Being angry with myself because I couldn’t do anything to better my situation. But I think that part of me in the moment was just thinking, “Goddamn it, man, you’re way better than me, you’re on top of me, maybe hitting my facial pressure points isn’t really necessary.”

Now, understand: I bear him no ill will. I respect and admire him and I count him as a friend. But in that moment, yes, I was angry. And I don’t have an easy time controlling my emotions at the best of times.

(I was driving in my truck once, and I had to pull over because I started crying, like CRYING, because I was struck by the power and majesty of music. The music in question was the introductory chords played by Ed Crawford on fIREHOSE’s cover of Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker.” That Telecaster through a Marshall hit me so hard that I had to pull over. It’s worse when I’m tired, but it can happen to me anytime. I guess I’m lucky I was 2 and a half years into my martial arts training before it happened to me there.)

I cooled down, and we got back to it. But I was so embarrassed. Mortified. A 46 year old grown-ass man, losing his shit for little reason. I don’t know exactly what happened or why, and I can’t be sure it won’t happen again. I never addressed it with either of them further; I considered an e-mail after the fact but never sent one, and that’s probably for the best. I had some concerns about my relationship with them moving forward, but I shouldn’t have, of course. They have been doing this for a long time, and have probably seen worse displays.

I’m still embarrassed by it. I don’t think that will ever change.



Last night, there were two of us in class. My partner was one of the brown belts. He has been doing this a long time and has excellent technique. The Master asked if there was anything we wanted to work on, and he answered immediately: “Chokes.”

So we worked on a couple of different styles, maybe the three main ones: Guillotine, head-and-arm, and rear naked chokes.

Guillotine went well. It’s a good defense against attempted two-leg takedowns. We practiced getting the choke on one another, then taking it to the ground, trying to get in guard while holding the choke. We moved on to head-and-arm, which is the first choke and throw I ever learned, for my green belt test. It’s a good defense against a punch, but it’s easy to overextend on the choke, which makes it more painful, as your forearm tends to cut into the muscles on the back of the attacker’s neck. That’s bad for a few reasons.

In general, I suspect most people think of “chokes” as cutting off the air supply. That’s not what we are trying to do. The chokes we are after are blood chokes. This sounds awful, but what it means is that the chokes we are pursuing cut off blood to the brain, rather than air to the lungs. It’s far less painful, and causes a loss of consciousness very quickly (within seconds) when done correctly. This loss of consciousness doesn’t cause any long-term damage, as long as it is released immediately after the loss of consciousness occurs.

I get the head-and-arm pretty well, at least partially because of instruction from my black belt partner mentioned above. It’s a choke I’ve done many times and it lends itself to a nice takedown/throw, which I prefer to choking anyway.

We then moved on to the rear naked choke, which is maybe the most technical and the most famous. This involves getting behind your opponent, putting their neck in the V of your arm, taking hold of your opposite bicep, cupping the back of the head with the opposite hand, and squeezing. The bicep and the forearm squeeze the arteries on the side of the opponent’s neck, cutting off the blood supply and putting them to sleep.

I’ve had this done to me dozens of times. The choke is applied, my vision starts to go gray, I tap, s/he releases, and we do it again. As I said above, it’s how one practices these sorts of martial arts.

Only, last night, after the first choke, when I tapped, I was woozy. I took a minute, then he applied the choke again. My vision tunneled immediately. I remember tapping.

Then, I’m on the ground. Both my hands are…not shaking really. Twitching. I can’t see very well, but I can see the Master’s legs in front of me. Why am I on the ground? Shit. WHY AM I ON THE GROUND? What happened this time? How long have I been here? Am…am I crying again?

In seconds, I was on my feet as if nothing had happened. The Master looked…I’m not sure, but I think a little concerned. My partner looked at me and said, “Did…did I just choke you out?”

“Is that what happened?” I replied. Relieved, honestly. A physiological response, not an emotional one. I felt fine. My partner was freaked out. He kept ensuring I was okay, wringing his hands.

The thing is, I was fine. Totally fine.

It wasn’t a big deal, once I understood what happened. Once I understood I didn’t fail again.


I tell the kids all the time, when one of them gets hurt, especially when we’re fighting/sparring:

“You just got (kicked in the head/punched in the mouth/kicked in the nads). That sucked, right? But you didn’t die. If that happens to you for real now, in a real fight where you have to protect yourself, now you know that getting (kicked in the head/punched in the mouth/kicked in the nads) won’t kill you and you can continue fighting, if you need to. It’s tremendously important to have that experience when you’re safe so you know you can handle it when you’re not.”

So what does this mean for me? It drives home the fact that no one takes my back. I tuck my chin. I grab for fingers, for eyeballs. Because my partner did not like that he choked me out, but the next guy might not care so much. It wasn’t a big deal at the time: It was safe and I’m fine. But I learned a valuable lesson that I’ll keep with me.

Beyond belief.
August 24, 2018, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Jump, and I’ll catch you, said the person who wrote it on the dock, and I believed them or, at least, I think I did. But now, I’m not sure, because the water is quite cold, and my legs are growing heavy, and I never felt any hands reach out for me. And I’m stuck with the thought, as I drift down the river, do I blame the writer for lying, or myself for believing? We both know whose fault it is, and we both know who I blame.

…and the drummer is a Methodist.
August 19, 2018, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was involved in a conversation earlier this week with two new friends, one who is very young and one who is about my age. The conversation revolved around music, specifically the song “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. That took us to Johnny Cash which took us to the inimitable Nick Cave. I have thought quite a bit about that arc today and wanted to capture it in terms of how it affected my life.

I start with this: Memory is a funny thing. (As an aside, Malcolm Gladwell has a brilliant series on the nature of memory on his Revisionist History podcast that everyone should listen to.) In researching this timeline a little bit, one of the Immutable Facts of My Memory was shown to be dead wrong (I’ll get to that later), so I will only say that I will record these events as I remember them. These memories may not be True, but they will be Accurate insofar as they are what my faulty mind tells me happened.

I. In which Adam meets Trent Reznor (figuratively).

I first heard Nine Inch Nails in Nancy Murray’s car, a cassette of Pretty Hate Machine. At first, I blew it off as “techno”. I was a metal guy then; this was before Chris Baran and Scott Pazera blew my mind with records like Nothing’s Shocking, records that fundamentally changed how I looked at music forever. I saw the first Lollapalooza that year, at which NIN was the first band to perform. Also included was just a ridiculous lineup: Rollins Band, Ice-T and Body Count, Butthole Surfers(!), and of course, the Last Hurrah of Jane’s Addiction (though we didn’t know it was their last hurrah at the time). Nine Inch Nails still didn’t really resonate with me until I got to college that fall.

By the time I was doing my first solo radio shows (fall of 1991), Pretty Hate Machine was in pretty heavy rotation for me. By now I had recognized the importance and appeal of “industrial lite,” music that wasn’t quite as imposing as some of the stuff coming out of Chicago’s Wax Trax! label (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult) but still angry and primarily electronic: Music that pissed you off while you danced to it. It took three years for NIN’s followup EP, broken, which is one of the finest EPs ever recorded. The hate and vitriol on that record, inspired by an ugly breakup with TVT Records, as I understand it, are palpable, and set the stage for The Downward Spiral, where our story really begins.

II. In which Adam cuts his hair and dislocates his shoulder.

The conversation last night brought to light the fact that my new friend and martial arts instructor was at the same NIN concert that I attended on 12 November 1994, in Louisville. The night before, I had been listening to what is still one of my favorite records: Cop Shoot Cop’s Interference. “Any Day Now” came on, and Tod A. sang “One of these days / I’m gonna shave off all my hair…” and at 2am, I said, yeah, and I went in the bathroom and shaved off my very long ponytail.

From this…Mewithhair

To this. Funny how I look happier with hair…and younger…and skinnier…note the Nothing’s Schocking t-shirt.

The Bird.jog

So we drive from Terre Haute to Louisville. Waiting for the first act to start (The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow), sitting on the floor, the music on the PA was David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. A cute girl hit on me. After Jim Rose, Marilyn Manson hit the stage. Honestly, of the whole night, I remember snippets: the Bowie record on the PA, the cute girl, and…dislocating my shoulder.

I couldn’t tell you what song NIN was playing, and it wasn’t really a pit–there were too many people for that–but the crowd was swaying in a way that prevented independent motion. The crowd swayed right, everyone went right. At one point, someone tried to sway left as everyone else went right, slammed into my right shoulder just wrong, and popped it out. Excruciating pain. More importantly, the crowd was heading right, hard, and I started to fall. I was thinking, I can’t catch myself, I can’t move my arm: If I fall, I’m going to get trampled to death. Just then, the crowd to my right surged left, and someone slammed into me again. Excruciating pain. But it re-seated my shoulder! I was saved!

III. In which Adam is personally introduced to the fallibility of memory.

I have always told this story in this way: We attended the Louisville show, and the following night, we attended the Indianapolis show. But that is not the Truth. The Truth is, we attended the Indy show two full months later, on 22 January 1995. We were late and got there as Marilyn Manson was leaving the stage. I remember essentially nothing else about the show, and I recall my roommate and I roundly agreed that the Louisville show was far better.

After The Downward Spiral, I never bought another NIN record. More important music was on my radar by then: Morphine. Fugazi. Soul Coughing. fIREHOSE. Archers of Loaf. I was past the Angst and looking for the Noise.

IV. In which Adam finally gets to the damn point.

So my young friend was talking about the song “Hurt” last night. I think she said her marching band is performing it, but I didn’t actually catch that part of the conversation. She indicated that it was a NIN song that Johnny Cash made famous, at which point I had to disabuse her of that notion: After all, “Hurt” was a pretty big hit for ol’ Trent, back in the mid-90s. I never liked it, myself.

Nine Inch Nails has a couple of different approaches to songwriting. There’s the brilliant, angry writing (“Sin,” “Wish,” “Burn“), and then there’s the Smiths-channeling whimpering (“Something I Can Never Have,” “Hurt”). I skip the latter. I’ll go straight to The Smiths for self-loathing whinery: At least they had Johnny Marr.

However, that got us talking about the series of covers that Johnny Cash did late in his career, under the prodding of Rick Rubin. “Hurt” is probably the most famous but it’s nothing like the best. He also covered other songs I don’t particularly like: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is the one that jumps out immediately. BUT, but, he did some absolutely brilliant covers.

My two favorite covers of his are two of my favorite songs by the original artists. It’s hard to pick a more quintessential Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song than “The Mercy Seat,” and Cash’s cover is amazing. (For an even better version, check out Nick Cave’s version from the live album Live Seeds.)

However, Cash’s best cover of this period is his version of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” It’s pure magic, especially when you know the original. It’s the best action one can take when covering a song: He has changed it so that it is still recognizable, but he put his own unique stamp on it.

That’s all I have. Give them a listen if you’re not familiar.

Iron head.
July 12, 2018, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had I have been learning tae kwon do for almost two years now, and hapkido for several months. Most people are familiar with tae kwon do–if you took martial arts as a kid, it was probably tae kwon do. Hapkido is a very different kind of martial art. It is, as is tae kwon do, Korean in origin. However, where tae kwon do is fairly formal and structured, hapkido is more about flow: Less about striking (though there is certainly a large component of striking) and more about redirection, joint locks, throws. I think of hapkido as a more practical defensive martial art, and tae kwon do as more of a sport. Many of the techniques translate, of course, and tae kwon do can be formidable. But everything in hapkido is designed to protect the practitioner and neutralize the attacker.

At our school, belt progression is as follows:


The time spent at each rank increases past green, as techniques and forms become more difficult. I earned my brown belt in tae kwon do on 9 June, and I anticipate, if all goes well, earning my red belt in October. In hapkido, I earned my orange belt in June.


I have had a recurring nightmare for as long as I have been an adult. In it, a “bad guy” or guys are chasing me and/or my family. Best I can remember, in this dream I am always armed with my S&W 4006 pistol–never a shotgun, never a rifle, never a revolver, and never, best as I can remember, unarmed. The location frequently changes, though it is often the house where I grew up. I shoot the bad guys, I hit the bad guys, but they don’t stop coming. In the most recent iteration (before Tuesday night), the single chaser would go down, dead, and then come back to life.

I have recently come to believe that this dream reflects a general lack of confidence on my part. No matter what I do, no matter how proficient I am, I can’t do the thing I most need to do. I came to this realization because in the past few months, the dream has changed.


The hapkido classes are much smaller than the tae kwon do classes. The school only allows adults to participate, since it can be so dangerous in the hands of those with less self-control (as well as being dangerous to developing joints). In the classes I typically attend, there are usually only 2-4 students, and sometimes it is just the instructor and me. My most common training partner is a 2nd dan black belt who is a bit larger than me. He is…intimidating. He is also extremely knowledgeable and generous with his knowledge and kind and genuinely, I think, wants to see me succeed. But it hurts training with him!

Keep in mind that, in hapkido, virtually everything is trained with a partner. Frequently we form a circle. The instructor illustrates a technique on the student to his left, who then practices it on the student to his/her left, and so on. Techniques hurt. Many of them are joint locks that can cause severe pain and damage, if pushed too far, so the student getting “locked” taps when it hurts so his partner lets up. One can tap on one’s self, the partner, the floor, or yell, “TAAAAAP!”. Joints are sore afterward, we get taken to the ground or are thrown, so rolling and falling techniques are important. But still, it’s a rare class when I don’t come home sore, and rarer still if I’m not sore the following day.

The other aspect of hapkido that I love and that I also find incredibly frustrating is that it is far more subjective, far less rigorous in terms of technique than tae kwon do. The flow is important: Try a technique, and if you miss or it doesn’t work, move into another. This is very different from the precise methods used in tae kwon do. It’s more practical, but I find it much more difficult to learn. How do I flow into another technique when I barely know the first one I tried? And I find myself being tentative in class because I am not confident. I told my wife that, “After a tae kwon do class, I feel like one of the best students in the class. After a hapkido class, I feel like the remedial kid that can’t get anything right.”


A few months ago, after earning my blue belt in tae kwon do, I started regularly attending hapkido class. I soon noticed that my conflict dreams were changing. Now, instead of getting into a position where my actions were useless, I found my dream-self addressing conflict with confidence and newly-learned (mostly hapkido) techniques. It was an abrupt change and definitely noticeable: rather than shooting bad guys that won’t die, I found myself manipulating bad guys who were rendered impotent themselves.

My dreams stayed that way for a while, but lately I notice that the seem to go back and forth. I had a particularly nasty one Tuesday night.


For the first month or so, I was only able to attend one hapkido class a week. It’s just not enough to get a grasp of techniques, particularly since I don’t have anyone to practice with at home. So I have been trying to go twice a week now. I just got home from the Thursday evening class, and I went on Tuesday. Tuesday’s class focused on the flow of hapkido, and we primarily worked on defenses against getting punched.

I felt like a complete failure throughout class. I’m a low belt, no doubt, and I shouldn’t know this stuff that well, but I feel like I should be getting it more thoroughly than I am and I am frustrated. One thing in particular stuck with me, was that my partner came in super close to throw punches, like a real fighting distance. It was nearly overwhelming, and in hindsight, I would never let someone actually get that close to me. But it drove home the point that I am nowhere near capable of using any of the techniques that I’m learning in hapkido in a real conflict situation yet, and I think it affected me that night.


So, Tuesday night’s dream? The house I grew up in was here at the farm, instead of our house. Four trucks full of people pulled up at night, and the leader barged into the house. I had my S&W as usual, but he just kept telling me he wanted me to shoot him. So I didn’t. And he kept getting really, really close to me, and I kept pushing back, keeping a little more range between us. See how that ties in with class?

They drove their trucks through the farm, tearing everything up, and dumping a bunch of abused animals here. That aspect was really weird. I finally shot at their tires while they were driving over my vegetables–go ahead and guess if it did any good.


What I have put together from this is, on evenings where classes go well, I feel good about myself and have dreams where the bastards can’t get me. On nights when I feel that I trained badly, I lack confidence and have really unfortunate dreams.

Let’s see how tonight goes. Class went all right, though my frequent partner is really excellent at picking apart my techniques. That is emphatically NOT a complaint. It’s incredibly valuable to have someone give that sort of feedback. I hope it will reduce the frustration in the long run by driving my development as a martial artist more quickly.

My goal is to learn both tae kwon do and hapkido. I’m 46. My goal is to reach at least second dan in both, and teach them to others. I am afraid that hapkido is going to take me a very long time, but if I keep learning throughout, I don’t mind. I hope my wrists forgive me. In the meantime, I just got a book on staff fighting, so stay tuned for that…


This is one of those endings that is too perfect, but I swear it’s true: In last night’s dream, I went to a party and got into two different fights with the same guy (who was somehow related to me?). In both cases, I barely won. The first time, I used facial pressure points taught to me by my 2nd dan training partner, and in the second fight, I had an open elbow strike to the groin that I pointed out, so he relented (I guess I didn’t take the strike because he was related to me). Interestingly, in both conflicts I had my holstered sidearm that I never drew but was very aware of protecting from my opponent.

So that’s it. As of right now, I’m confident enough to take a beating but scrape out a victory. Ha!

July 11, 2018, 9:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I like music.

“Like” is such a terrible word.

I WANT music. I REQUIRE music.

I find myself thinking about the idiosyncratic preferences I have in music, the details I hone in on. What do I want in music?

I want a ride cymbal that’s huge, a cymbal that sounds less like hitting a cymbal than hitting a shovel. The ride at 2:40 here is perfect.

I want aggression. Even in quiet songs. But yeah, in loud songs, too.

I want passion. I would much rather hear a vocalist that can’t sing well but means it than someone who sings well but sounds unconnected to the music. I once burst into tears while driving when I was hit with the beauty and majesty of…fIREHOSE’s cover of “Slack Motherfucker.” Really. That guitar, Ed’s voice…at that moment, the power was overwhelming.

I prefer unique voices to good voices. I prefer Guy to Ian. I prefer Billie to Ella.

If it’s loud, I want overdrive, but not usually fuzz or distortion as one might think of it. Overdrive is shouting to make sure you’re heard; distortion is a loud drunk belaboring the point. Distortion is typing in ALL CAPS. Distortion is riding the crash.

I hear the bass guitar first. I think it’s from listening to fIREHOSE. Even when it’s boring and subdued, I hear it first. I want the bass defined, a good balance of treble and bass. Watt’s bass sound is perfect (imagine that).

I want a brutal snare. When I was in college, the drummer in the band I was in broke the bottom head on his snare and replaced it with a tom head. It sounded perfect; it sounded like Jimmy Chamberlain’s on Gish. He swapped it out with another one that sounded more traditional, that had more snap, but the guitarist and I would switch it back whenever he wasn’t looking.

I don’t generally like female vocalists but I’ve never been sure why. The two big exceptions, Fiona Apple and Neko Case, have low voices for women, and are very powerful. I could listen to Neko sing a damn phone book.

I want dynamics, but not artificial dynamics, and not dynamics that make a record difficult to listen to. I tend to think Steve Albini ruins records.

I want bands that get better with each release, or at least that don’t peak with their first record. Crooked Fingers. Archers of Loaf. fIREHOSE. Dinosaur Jr. Fugazi. The Beatles (who didn’t even get GOOD till Rubber Soul or so). The Police. Elvis Costello. Tom Waits. Love and Rockets’ next-to-last record was their masterpiece. The Pixies best two records are their first two; each after that is good, but slightly less good than the previous one. That makes me sad.

I want music I can enjoy with my kids that isn’t kid music. My kids love Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg.

I want singers who sing the songs they write, even if they aren’t the best singer. There isn’t a Dylan, Neil Young, or Springsteen cover I prefer to the original.

I want music that sounds like I can play it. Simple but effective.

I want jazz that’s melodic, but in which the melody is a bit fast and loose. Mingus is the best at this. I also love mid to  late-period Coltrane. I used to really get into old bebop, but now, it kind of reminds me of Steve Vai–technically impressive, but not as enjoyable as Blue Train. or Mingus Ah Um. Or even Kind of Blue.

I want noise, but controlled noise. It may not seem controlled at the moment, but then, suddenly, they come out of it and move on together, with precision. Fugazi and Archers are both really good at this. Sonic Youth noise bores me. Noise for noise’s sake isn’t interesting.

Music is life, but it’s subjective, innit? There is a lot of music out there not worth your time, but much more than you’ll ever hear that is. Judge music by your tastes; don’t judge people for theirs.

Happy listening.

All I ever wanted was to be your spine.
February 27, 2018, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Kids, Music

IMGP9525.JPGI travel for my job. Not a lot, but maybe six weeks a year, I am gone. This puts a strain on my wife, especially in the winter–dealing with chicken water, freezing eggs, two kids, three dogs…it’s a pain.

I am grateful to her for taking that on for me, because the part of my job where I travel is the most important part of my job (and my favorite part, too). I get to collaborate with colleagues from all over North America in fun places. If you’re one of the three people that regularly reads this, you will know that I travel and that I tend to meet new and interesting people.

That’s not what this post is about.

Ten years ago tomorrow, I missed one of only two meetings I’ve missed in my 13 year career. I missed it because my son was likely to be born that week. He was due February 28th, and he showed up that day.

As I write this, I am in Orange Beach, Alabama. I just got back from a long walk to get oysters. My hotel room’s patio door is open, and the Gulf of Mexico is pounding right outside my oceanview room. When I am done writing this, I will take my new guitar down to the beach and play Eric Bachmann songs in the dark. It’s a beautiful night and being here is a pure pleasure.

But The Boy turns double-digits tomorrow, and for the second year in a row, I am missing it. And I’d rather be in cold southern Indiana tonight so I could be there when he wakes up.

Did I ever tell you this story?

We had a summer meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in July 2010. The Boy was 2 1/2. I was eating breakfast in the Admiral Semmes Hotel with my colleagues when Melissa called me. She said that The Boy had something to tell me. He got on the phone, and sang me “Web In Front” by Archers of Loaf. Now, I will be the first to tell you that one shouldn’t have a favorite song, but that’s mine. I had to get up quickly from breakfast and leave the room because I was bawling like a baby. It is one of my fondest memories.

I am so proud of the young man he is becoming. I am proud of his voracious hunger for learning. I am proud that he is learning self-control. I am proud that he is athletic and fearless and outspoken. I am even proud that he’s pigheaded and stubborn. I can’t remember what my life was like before he showed up ten years ago, but I know he made it better. Happy birthday, Boyo. Make it a great one and I’ll see you Friday.