Saturday, August 26, 2017

Push The Bag

We do an exercise with the little kids where they have to push the bags. We adults hold kick shields in front of us, the kids have to push us up and down the dojo. When they "get stuck" (i.e., we resist), we encourage them and laugh with them, or gently cajole them, whatever they need. When we make huge progress (i.e., we take several steps backward so they feel like they got a really strong push) we celebrate and congratulate.

Push The Bag one of the more time-consuming activities, but it's easily one of my faves because we are encouraging them the whole time, no matter what happens.

We encourage one another in the dojo no matter what happens. It just so happens that during Push The Bag we get to do a whole lot of it, one-on-one, which really improves our relationship with that one child. It's special to me.

Nothing big and profound today to write about, just this nice thing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bottom line: Respect Others, Respect Where You Come From, Respect Yourself.

A woman held a Japanese-style tea party for her daughter's birthday. She wrote it up in a blog post ( Years later her blog was reposted on Tumblr, and was soon under fire for cultural appropriation. 

A Japanese person responded with exemplary kindness:

Unexpectedly, and having studied Japanese culture and language for half my life, it's become a part of who I am, how I see things, and how I carry myself. Strict adherence of Goju Ryu karate to Japanese (well, Okinawan) culture has reinforced and strengthened that aspect of me.

Yesterday I unwittingly bowed in Japanese style to a nurse as she left, while I thanked her for coming in Korean language. She smiled and said, "ah, you bow to thank me, that's a nice Japanese tradition!" I think she was trying to politely tell me that they don't bow that way in Korea--a very tasteful way to impart that cultural point! I told her it's because I've grown up with Japanese culture and don't even realize I'm doing it anymore. We had a good laugh and she said, "Sayonara!"

America does not have a culture. Compared to much of the rest of the world, America has a young and manufactured national identity. We have only begun to forge traditions of our own, and have not yet existed long enough for them to be time-honoured. In fact, to come to America an immigrant even has to renounce their culture and language, called naturalization. This has never sat well with me. What values do we offer them? The nondescript word, "Freedom," maybe hot dogs, and that's about it.

My mother taught me to value English language and writing skills because that's what families do when they immigrate to America. She didn't teach me to value English because it was beautiful, or because America had a legacy of protecting its linguistic heritage (as do France and Iceland, for example). It's just what we did because we lived in America, and her grandmother had to work hard to learn English. As my mother taught me how to read she would often recount the day her grandmother had finally acquired enough English to read the newspaper.

Beyond that, I was acculturated as Italian-American, not just American. The way I learned to live, be, and see myself is through the lens of "how it was done in the Ol' Country." Family is all you have. Learn to pronounce your foods in Italian. Learn the Italian sayings. Grate your cheese in the cellar. Bake enough bread to share. To my bottomless regret, my grandparents never taught us to speak their Sicilian dialect because they didn't want the children to understand what the adults were saying. The Italian dictionary was useless.

Mix all that in with spending summers in Canada, which speaks English but still requires French. Add in the holiday visits from Jimmy The Greek and his tremendous spreads of Greek food laid out for us. 

This cultural mélange taught me that English isn't all that important, there are lots of ways to say the same thing. The key is to make sure communication is taking place, and that you understand other people's cultures.

America is the jackpot in a global roulette game in terms of what kind of person you'll meet next. Culture is how you are brought up to be, and is inextricably linked to identity. Why would we not want to celebrate that? How could anyone wish to homogenize that? Who of sound mind and good nature thinks that's a good idea?

No, I will never condone blackface, or the Redskins, or the word cracker. But I'll practice the Native American custom of thanking animals for their sacrifice; I'll give reverence for black Americans who endured the Civil Rights Movement and lived to tell about it, and I might just bow when someone leaves my house. I promise to never take on a novel custom to make a spectacle of it. I also promise to never stop exploring other cultures to learn about how I can better understand others and grow as a person.

Where do you draw lines between cultural appreciation and appropriation? What do those terms mean to you?

Bottom line: Respect Others, Respect Where You Come From, Respect Yourself.