Saturday, September 19, 2015

Young Grasshopper Does Well in First Karate Tournament

A few months ago I enrolled my sons in karate lessons with three goals in mind for them: 1) get exercise; 2) learn self-discipline; 3) spend at least one hour per week not thinking about video games. While they definitely get exercise at their karate lessons, the jury is still out on how we’re doing on goals two and three. (There’s a pretty good chance that while they’re up there doing their kicks they’re picturing themselves as some dude from Minecraft kicking a mutant zombie in the head, or some such nonsense.)

For a karate novice like myself (I don’t consider watching a few poorly dubbed Kung Fu movies in my youth a real martial arts education) it’s difficult to know how my sons are actually doing in their class. Sometimes they seem engaged, sometimes not, but that’s really true of all the kids participating. So today was the first real way to gauge how the lessons are going—at least for my older son.

A couple of weeks ago the leaders at the dojo started upselling a citywide karate tournament to take place at the prep school across the street from the dojo. My younger son had no interest, but my older son kept on haranguing me to enter him. I was initially reluctant because of his newness to the sport, but soon my son’s passionate pleas to participate won me over. (Yes, I was sick of saying “no” so I caved.) Today was the big day.

While my son had been very excited in the days leading up to this event it was clear that as we drove to the tournament he was very nervous despite my reassurances that he’d be fine. Once we entered the building and saw the hundreds of participants and spectators, his nervousness clearly ratcheted up a notch. And by the time they called up his division, I thought the boy would pass out before he ever set foot on the mat.

There were eight kids in my son’s division and while I sat in the bleachers watching him waiting his turn with a look of dread on his face, I thought to myself, “Please let him get at least one flag, even if he doesn’t win a match.” I should explain. My son entered the flag sparring event. Each competitor has two flags tucked into their belt. The object is to try to remove your opponent’s flags before they remove yours. It’s a test of speed and agility. I would suck at it.

When my son was called up for his match he still looked initially panicked, but the second the match started his look transformed into one of complete confidence and control. I mean would you mess with this guy?

My son and his opponent were well-matched—so much so that they grabbed each other’s first belts off at the same time. Here’s an incredible action shot that Sports Illustrated would be envious of showing the moment that my son grabbed his opponent’s belt a split second before his own was yanked off.

The score was tied 1-1. The boys faced off again and again their belts were yanked at the same moment. The referees conferred, changed the score to 2-2 and gave them each back one belt to go at it again. It was karate overtime. They squared off like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan (I guess, since those are the only two karate stars whose names I know.) Round and round they went and then BOOM my son struck like a cobra and got the final belt! "He freakin' won!" I cheered to myself while I politely applauded out loud. 

My son’s win in this match allowed him to proceed to the next round. In his second match he lost 2-1, but he put up a great battle and his overall performance put him in third place! He was given a bronze medal and this time I cheered out loud while I politely applauded in my mind.

As we drove home happily talking about the events that just unfolded I couldn’t be more proud of my son. Of course I would have been proud of him if he lost, too, but coming home with a medal ain’t too shabby. I guess the karate lessons are paying off after all. (And yes, as soon as we got home he started playing video games.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Monsooner or Later, You're Going to Get Hit

When most people who don’t live in Arizona think about the weather in Phoenix during the summer they think about the heat—the dry, unrelenting, convection oven-like, heat. And of course, they’re right to think about that. It gets so hot here in the summer you can cauterize a stab wound by holding it up against your car’s fender. (Caution: Don’t ever try that unless advised to do so by a physician.)

But the thing that seems to always surprise non-Arizonans about our summer weather is that we also experience about two or three months’ worth of monsoons. I know that most people think of monsoons as something that only happens in Asia, but the reality is that from about mid-June to mid-September monsoons loom large in the life of Arizonans.

The monsoon comes in all shapes and sizes, but it usually hits in late afternoon or early evening. My first run in with one was about a year after I moved out here. At the time I was living in Mesa (east of Phoenix) and I had to drive all the way across the county to Peoria (west of Phoenix) to go to a rehearsal for a play I was in at the time. The rehearsal started at 7:00 pm, and as I drove in a westerly direction I suddenly saw a massive wall of dust coming towards the freeway from the south. It looked kind of like this:

I had never seen anything like this in my life and I assumed my death was imminent. No weather phenomenon I had ever seen in New York looked anything like this, so I figured this was the world’s largest tornado and my corpse would end up somewhere in Oz. I hit the gas pedal as hard as I could, frantically hoping I could outrun this thing, but within a couple of minutes the dust was upon me…and it wasn’t that bad. Yes, my visibility was greatly reduced, but my car was not thrown into the air as I assumed it would be. I safely made it to rehearsal and told my castmates of the bizarre weather event I just drove through. They laughed at me and told me it was just a haboob. I assumed this was a made up word and they were just putting me on, but as it turns out “haboob” is a fancy word for dust storm. Indeed, I’d been haboobed that night and many nights since.

But the Arizona monsoon is not merely a bunch of harmless haboobs. Sometimes it brings heavy downpours, fierce winds, and obnoxiously loud thunder. While we were watching the All-Star Game this past July it actually hailed on our house for about 90 seconds. That’s right, hail! My kids were amazed when they looked out the window and saw little balls of ice bouncing off the sidewalk. Okay, I admit it, I was amazed too.

Unfortunately, these storms can also be quite damaging. Last year we got really lucky when a monsoon took out a large portion of our neighbor’s tree and it landed right next to our house…six more inches and it would have gone through our roof. A couple of weeks ago, some friends of ours were not as lucky when a tree took out their backyard gate as well as their powerline. (See below for startlingly real photograph.)

                                Photo courtesy Jon Jahrmarkt

Of course, if we want to look at this from a glass-half-full perspective, the good news is the tree fell away from their house, because things would have been significantly worse had it gone in the other direction. 

And the even better news is that in the next couple of weeks our monsoon season will come to an end, as will our triple-digit temperatures. By winter, when the rest of the country is digging their cars out of the snow and dealing with single-digit temperatures, everyone here will be skipping through the park, wearing short-sleeved shirts and sipping lemonade. And there won’t be any haboobs in sight—except for the ones talking loudly on their cellphones in movie theaters.