Chapter 13 The Family Dojo

I am revisiting my first unfinished novel with enthusiasm this summer, and I hope to finish it soon. Here is a sneak peak at one of my middle chapters – no spoilers here. This novel is inspired by actual events that took place in my life during my childhood years spent in Japan as a navy brat.

We entered the dojo and immediately noticed the framed pictures that covered one wall – pictures of Isamu’s ancestors, we later learned, who were all masters of a form of ninja training that had been passed down from generation to generation since the early 15th century.  Most of the pictures were paintings.  The oldest few looked like charcoal drawings on bamboo, covered in some sort of lacquer finish.

“Who is this?” I asked.  I pointed to one of the only photographs on the wall.  It was a young, bare-chested ninja student.   His arm, leg, chest and stomach muscles were well defined and impressive.

“That’s my grandfather when he was a young man.” Isamu answered.  “He was killed in the Hiroshima bombing.”

“I’m sorry,” Scott said.  We were all sorry.

“Hey,” Isamu said, “It wasn’t your fault, and you have nothing to be sorry about.”

We looked at the other two photographs on the wall and could tell immediately that one was Isamu’s father at about Isamu’s age and the other was of Isamu himself.  

“Was your father good with the ninja skills?” I asked.

“He is the best,” answered Isamu.

“Is?” asked Scott. “You mean he still practices?”

Isamu smiled at us and said, “ninja training is a lifelong pursuit.  I hope one day to be as good as my father.”

I marveled at this. I had completely misjudged Isamu’s elderly father as he stacked cucumbers in his knee high boots, coveralls, and apron.  My respect for the man immediately increased.

“Do you think we could ever see him in action?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t press your luck,” responded Isamu. “Right now I’m having a hard enough time convincing him to let me train you here.  One day perhaps.  In case you didn’t notice, my father isn’t very fond of Americans.

“You mean he doesn’t like us?” I asked.

“Well, no, not as a group anyway,” Isamu answered. “He blames all Americans for the death of his sister, parents, and grandparents.”

“The bomb,” added Martin.

“Yes, the bomb,” answered Isamu. “In truth, he probably also struggles with guilt because he survived.”

“How did he survive the bombing?” Scott asked.

“He was attending school on the other side of the island.” Isamu answered. “I have been praying that he will find peace and be able to forgive the Americans.  Forgiveness and complete healing will only truly come when he gives his life to Jesus.”

Isamu’s words were foreign to me, but I thought about them for the rest of the evening.  How does one give his life to Jesus? And why would this bring complete healing?  I wanted to know more from this new teacher of mine.  

The rest of the evening – the delicious dinner and the training – went by quickly. The conversation around the table was pleasant, although Isamu’s father was mostly silent with the exception of a few grunts.  He did seem delighted when Martin and I spoke in Japanese, so I was determined to say as much as I could in his native tongue.  He watched us.  He complimented us on our agility with the chopsticks – not openly, but by softly whispering of his admiration to his wife who was seated next to him.  Because their dining room was small, we were able to hear everything that he whispered, and for me, it was enough that he noticed us and thought well of us.

After dinner we returned to the dojo, and after our stretching exercises we practiced our falling techniques and hung from their training bars.  Isamu then introduced us to some agility training on what looked like a balance beam that sat just one foot above the floor. The balance beam was rounded on the top surface and resembled a fallen log in the forest except that it was shiny and somewhat slippery.

“Balance is a critical skill for ninja.” Isamu announced. He jumped onto the log and ran across its thirty foot length without difficulty. When he jumped off the far end he encouraged each of us to follow his example.

Martin was the first up.  He jumped onto the log and almost immediately lost his balance.  His arms shot out to his side, and he struggled to stay on the log.

“Good, Martin,” encouraged Isamu.

With the encouragement from Isamu, Martin settled himself and then tried to run across the beam.  About halfway from the end Martin’s body started leaning precariously to the left, and his next footstep landed him on the floor.

“That’s okay Martin, shouted Isamu. “Get back in line, and try again.”

Scott was up next, and he performed about as well as Martin. Then it was my turn. I jumped up onto the beam and fell off straight away. I didn’t let that deter me, though.  I cautiously climbed back on, and, when balanced, started making my way across the beam. I was the first besides Isamu to make it all the way across without a spill.

“Great job, Pat,” shouted Isamu.  I could hear the hoots and hollers from Scott and Martin too.

“Now we work on speed,” Isamu said. “Soon you should be able to move across the beam while running.”

We spent the rest of the early evening alternating between balancing, falling, and hanging exercises, and even though we never threw a punch or a kick the entire first day, all of us went to bed exhausted and excited about the new skills that we were learning.

Easter Victory

Spring is on my mind, and although Easter was a few weeks ago, here is a poem I recently wrote to help us reflect on Easter once again.

lilies in bloom

EASTER VICTORY

A colt emerges from the barn
Playfully on this early morn
In the month of May.
He leaps, he trots, he kicks the air.
He finds his mom, a brownish mare,
Feeding on the hay

I pass the colt while on a ride,
And thoughts of Him who for me died
Fill my heart and soul.
He rode a colt like this through town,
Palm branches raised, some on the ground,
Onward to a goal.

A substitutionary plan:
Shed blood poured out for every man.
Battle lines are drawn.
His body wrapped and then entombed,
Three days hence the lilies bloomed…
Jesus Christ had won.

 

Maternal Instinct

boarMaternal Instinct

By Patrick Fitzpatrick 2001

An approaching stranger,

A cornered beast that senses danger.

Growling,

Howling,

Valiantly sheltering her baby boar

Who bravely bears a festering sore.

An approaching stranger

A cornered beast that senses danger.

Syringe in hand to vaccinate,

A rope in hand to separate

Maternal instinct from the baby boar.

CHRISTMAS ANTICIPATION

By Patrick Fitzpatrick

We are in the Advent Season, and the word “anticipation” seems like an appropriate word to describe how I feel about the approach of Christmas. Saints of old, by faith, anticipated the coming of Christ on that first Christmas. Simeon, mentioned in Luke 2:25-32, for example, rested on the promise God had made to him that he would not see death until he had gazed into the eyes of his savior.

Fitz Family 1975_edited

That’s me as a child in the top left.  My brother (on the right) and I were often mistaken for twins even though he is my elder by twenty one months.

As a child, my parents required that my older brother and I feed and water our horses before starting our celebration of Christmas. We did horse chores every morning and evening, so it shouldn’t have been that big a deal for us to complete these activities on Christmas morning, but the anticipation for Christmas celebrations and gift-giving was at such a high note on Christmas mornings that this task always seemed overwhelming on just this one day each year.

When my older brother was 14 and I was 12 we hatched a brilliant plan.  We decided to wake up super early on Christmas morning, feed and water the horses, and then sneak back into bed for more sleep.  We laughed with delight at the thought of being able to say triumphantly to our parents “We’ve already fed the horses” in response to their demands that we complete our chores before opening presents.

We set our alarm for 3:00AM.

When our alarm beeped we donned our winter clothes and snuck out of the house undetected.  We breathed in the clean, cold Michigan air as we made tracks in the snow all the way down to the horse barn. We giggled with anticipation.  There was a lightness to our steps and to the work as well as we broke the ice out of the buckets, refilled them with fresh water in the pump house, and then stuffed each horse’s trough with hay and oats. In less than an hour we were walking back up to the house.  Our spirits were high.  We were on course to pull off our biggest Christmas victory until, to our horror, we discovered that we had locked ourselves out of the house! We thought about returning to the barn – to try to get some sleep in the hay loft.  We debated this option for another thirty minutes, but with temperatures well below freezing we decided in the end to ring the doorbell. Our father woke to the sound of the doorbell. He was at the front door in a flash, and when we identified ourselves he opened the door, let us in, and then read us the riot act. We had carelessly sabotaged our grand plan and, I am sure, caused my father undue stress, but even as that Christmas day officially began we were all able to laugh at our own failure to execute.

I am reminded each Christmas of this silly story – and I know that some of you have heard it before. It remains a wonderful memory of my own Christmas anticipation. Years have passed since that Christmas morning. I am now a father of five and a grandfather of two,

And even though I am much older, celebrating Christmas hasn’t gotten old.

Remembering this story also makes me thankful that the Christmas plan God set in motion before the foundations of the world were formed was perfect and perfectly executed.  It might appear as if things didn’t go as planned when we recall that there was no room in the inn, Mary’s fiancée almost put her away privately, King Herod ordered that all Bethlehem boys under the age of two be put to death, and Jesus and his parents had to flee to Egypt. While the nativity story may seem chaotic and full of mistakes, God was not surprised, and many of these events were foretold in ancient prophecies.

There were no locked doors in God’s Christmas plan!

According to God’s plan, Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2).  Thankfully, Jesus’s time on earth didn’t end with His death on a cross either. Instead, he defeated death and, through the power of God, was resurrected.  Because He lives, we can know abundant and everlasting life by putting our trust in Him.  Have you bowed your head and your heart to Jesus?  We often hear that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and because we celebrate his birth at Christmas this is a true statement.  But it is truer still that we are the reason for that first Christmas.  “Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Son is given.”  Jesus made himself nothing for us. He became Immanuel – God with us – for us. He died on the cross for us.  We are the recipients of this incredible Christmas gift.  Have you received it, unwrapped it, made it your own and thanked God for it?

Praise God for his perfect Christmas plan!

But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.  John 1:12

HUMILITY

prince and pauper

In Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Prince Edward meets Tom Canty, the youngest son of a poor and abusive father. The two boys look identical, so Edward insists they switch places.  After leaving the palace, Edward experiences the harsh world of poverty and other cruelties for the first time in his life. He declares to some that he is the prince, and they mock him. Later, Edward was a merciful king due to his experiences while living on the streets.

This story shares similarities with Jesus Christ’s incarnation.  Jesus left heaven to wear the costume of humanity. He humbled himself and gained experiential knowledge as a human.  When he spoke of his royal heritage – his deity – most people mocked him or condemned him for speaking blasphemy.

Hebrews 4:15 says “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not sin.”  Jesus’s eternal ministry as our high priest was positively impacted through his human experiences.

Philippians 2:1-6 is a favorite Christmas passage of mine.  Here Paul gives us a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ’s Christmas love.  He also uses Christ’s incarnation to illustrate for us how we, in humility, should value others above ourselves. Jesus willingly laid down his glory in order to redeem a fallen world.  He submitted to God’s will rather than give in to his own desires, and he did this because he loves us. This is mind boggling in so many ways. Our creator willingly wrapped himself in flesh and subjected himself to every human temptation and struggle.

We may never fully grasp Christ’s love for us, but God wants us to have his same attitude.  He wants us to embrace humility as a virtue, considering others as more important than ourselves. We are children of the king, our sins are forgiven, our eternity is secure, and we have constant access to God through prayer.  It is easy for us to rest in our royal position as children of God. Instead, in our relationships with one another, we need to have Jesus Christ’s attitude – in humility, considering others above ourselves.

Can you imagine the impact embracing this attitude would be in our marriages, our parenting, and in each of our relationships? We live in a “me first” world, and God is asking us to forsake the “me first” mentality just as Jesus did.  We need his help to do so, and he is right here waiting and eager to empower us to do this to his glory and for the sake of his kingdom.

PUZZLES

Puzzles

 

5,000 pieces of gray on gray,

Edges and corners mixed in the fray,

Glimpses of cardboard elephants

As they stampede through the chain link fence

Crushing the moss and the fern fronds

On their way to feeding grounds at dawn.

 

puzzles picture

5,000 pieces of gray on gray,

Edges and corners mixed in the fray,

Shaken and poured onto Grandma’s card table.

Blowing coal dust off the cardboard box label.

A basement hobby of endless delight,

I’m hoping the next piece that’s found is just right.

VENISON STEAK, EGGS, AND A SIDE OF MUSHROOMS

 

I have never blogged about my culinary delights, but at the top of that list would be the joys I experience working with venison.  This past archery hunting season I was blessed to take six deer in the state of Pennsylvania with my compound bow.  I processed all of these deer myself in my garage much to the chagrin of my wife and to the delight of my nine-year-old daughter. I converted most of the roasts and hearts into thinly sliced, smoked pastrami and whole meat jerky, and I joined forces with a friend and hunting buddy who experienced the same amount of archery success to make over 200 lbs of various sausages: Lebanon bologna (a sweet, fermented bologna), processed jerky, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella summer sausage, pepper and garlic summer sausage (with and without heat-tolerant cheddar cheese), jalapeno cheddar summer sausage, pepperoni, a variety of flavored summer snack sticks, 80 lbs of venison bacon, and on and on.  I purposefully kept every shank out of the mix, because this has to be my favorite cut of venison when braised and slow cooked.  And, of course, I reserved every back-strap, tenderloin, and hidden tenderloin for meals like the one I enjoyed today for brunch.

If your mouth is watering from the paragraph above, let me walk you through the steps I take when I pan fry a venison steak.  It is simple and easy to duplicate time and again, and I promise you this steak, when cooked properly, will melt in your mouth and bring as much or more delight as any choice cut of beef.

STEP ONE – Defrost the steak and salt

I let the meat sit with the salt on it for several hours in order to draw some of the blood out of the meat, but you can do this for six to eight hours if you want.  Before or after salting it, make sure that all visible fat and silver skin is removed from the surface of the steak.  I am meticulous about this when I am processing my meat, but not every butcher will be, and this is one of the many secrets to having venison that is not wild tasting.  I know this runs counter to how we prepare a good beef steak, since beef fat actually adds a pleasant taste to the meat.  Not so with venison, where leaving visible fat on the meat detracts from the taste.

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STEP TWO – Braise the steak on all sides

Heat the frying pan on medium-high heat with olive oil.  When the oil is hot, braise the steak on all sides until you have a nice brown color on all sides.  This process  traps the juices in the steak and sets you up for an incredibly tasty experience later.

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STEP THREE – Lower heat, add rosemary and butter

Lower the heat to medium, add rosemary (I have a bag of frozen, fresh rosemary from my herb garden that I use during the winter months!) and add a pad of real butter.  I immerse the rosemary in the melting butter and/or place it on the top of the steak, and then, for the remainder of the cooking time I spoon the melted butter onto the steak.  I occasionally turn the steak, constantly pouring the love, er…I mean the melting butter, onto the steak.  During this stage of the cook I have my meat thermometer handy, checking the internal temperature of the meat for the perfect medium rare.  I want the meat to reach an internal temperature of 135-140 degrees during this step in the process.

STEP FOUR – Allow the steak to rest

Remove the steak from the heat and allow it to rest for about five minutes.  During the resting stage the meat will continue to cook a little, reaching that perfect pink that you are after.  Today, during step four, I threw a few mushrooms into the butter/olive oil mix, kept the stove on medium, and sauteed up the mushrooms as a wonderful side to the steak.  At the same time I threw two eggs into another pan and cooked them over easy in olive oil.  I am a sucker for steak and eggs, and this, coupled with a hot cup of coffee was the perfect way to start my morning!

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STEP FIVE:  Salt the steak to taste and enjoy!

If you have the opportunity to get some venison steaks, let me know how this recipe works for you!

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OF BAMBOO AND PANDAS

Years ago, my biology students in a freshman class challenged me to write a poem about pandas while they cleaned up after a lab activity.  I had ten minutes, and they didn’t think I could do it.  This is the poem I came up with much to their delight.  The joke that forms the basis of this poem was written by someone else, and it was one I told occasionally. Putting it into a rhyme scheme in that short amount of time was still quite the fun challenge.

 

pandaOF BAMBOO AND PANDAS

While dining in a restaurant eating Kung Pao so good,

And China’s best white rice with chop sticks made of wood,

A panda bear walks in sitting at his favorite table.

Before you stare in disbelief – this is definitely not a fable.

It’s as true as true can be from the beginning to the end.

I read it in an e-mail from a newfound cyber-friend.

The panda takes his seat, and he orders his normal fare:

Bamboo, steamed then sautéed, to give it quite a flair.

After eating the entire entree from the special panda menu,

He took the waiter’s check, withdrew a gun, and then, I hate to tell you,

He aims right at the waiter and pulls his trigger, “Bang,”

And runs like crazy out the door before the sirens sang.

Police run in and question me, and one reads through some books,

The Biology of Pandas – at least that’s how it looks.

The waiter’s girlfriend’s mother’s brother questions as he grieves.

But let’s face it – A panda always… ALWAYS

eats bamboo shoots and leaves.

IS STEPHEN HAWKING AN ATHEIST?

Stephen Hawking’s family announced Stephen’s death today, and my heart goes out to his family and friends. At age 76, Stephen beat all odds, far outliving his physicians’ prognosis when he was first diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disease at the age of 22. At that time he was told he would live another two years. Still, death is hard and it is right to mourn.

Even in his 70’s, although he was wheelchair-bound and communicated via a computer he was still looking forward to taking a trip on a spacecraft. Stephen was recognized as one of the smartest men in the world. He was acclaimed for his numerous books, publications, and speeches. He was made even more famous by appearances on The Big Bang Theory, Simpsons, and more. Stephen inspired many. As a science guy myself, he inspired me.

Inspiration aside though, Stephen and I disagree when it comes to the existence of God.

Where science, philosophy, and faith intersect we have Stephen Hawking introducing M theory which, in his mind, makes God obsolete.

Where Stephen Hawking and death intersect we have Stephen coming face to face with creator God. Will Stephen try to explain his M theory to God? I don’t think so. Coming face to face with the living God would silence even the smartest among us.

For a moment he may, like the rich man in Luke 16, ask that a message be delivered back to his family.

The message?

“Please get word to my family that you are real.”

Is Stephen Hawking an atheist?

Not anymore.

BY FAITH

By Faith

jump!I am birthed

And breathe deeply,

Not grasping the importance of this instinctive urge.

Feeding tirelessly until this moment on nature’s endless supply.

I walk,

I run,

I play,

I work.

Trusting each moment’s air contains the oxygen I crave.

I blow my dog whistle,

And by faith I accept the sound it makes.

Ginger cocks her head toward me.

She whines and runs to my side

Awaiting more instruction.

Wind, invisible, hurdles wildly along the country lane

And by faith I accept its very presence.

Its movement stings my eyes, dries my brow and tousles my hair.

Loose dirt and crisp-dried leaves scattered on the path below me

dance with the wind’s syncopation.

By faith I accept God’s presence in my life.

There is a God of love and justice

A God of great imagination and power.

I cannot see Him, but I see His works.

I cannot hear His voice, but He speaks to me.

I cannot touch Him, but He touches me.

By faith I have put my trust in Him,

And I will not be afraid.