martial arts

I am a warrior musician

So at work today I got to spend some delightful time unpacking an Arthur Hull set of drums...the big one...the one that provides instruments for 50 participants in a drum circle. My employer graciously indulged my vision of creating a rhythmaculture in our small Midwest town and purchased the drums. I had been keeping a 10 inch Remo ashiko and a 14 inch Remo djembe in my office on an unused part of the desk. I share the office with the massage therapist at the hospital who has become a dear friend. Actually we consider ourselves to be "work married." She is my work wife and I am her work husband. She has infinite patience with my lack of organization of the instruments and song books I have tucked into almost every available space in our cozy office.

I decided that I would like to take the ashiko and djembe back home to our music room (some people have a living room, we have a music room). After work today, I pulled my car up to the door closest to my office so I didn't have to haul the drums two blocks to the parking lot. As I walked out to my car, with my backpack filled with song books and instructional books, a harmonica, an ocarina and various everyday carry items with a bag holding my riq and the Remo Healing Drum kit strapped to it, carrying a large hand drum in each hand, I must have been quite a sight. A coworker, whom I recognize but do not "know" walked out behind me. She said, "You look like you're ready to do battle!"

"Always" I replied.

I explained that I was taking the drums home and preferred not to lug them all the way to the parking lot. She agreed with my choice, we exchanged a few pleasantries on went our separate ways.

Something about her initial comment really struck me. I was ready to do battle.

For a long time now, any time I would add a new instrument to my collection, I would tell people that I had added a new drum or penny whistle to my arsenal. Some people refer to a "bag of tricks" or other cute phrase, but for a long time I've used the word arsenal.

Someone pointed out that it brought to mind rather violent images, and I began to be a bit more subtle in using the word in reference to the tools of my trade.

I had an epiphany a few weeks ago in regards to how I deal with my ex-wife. I don't always agree with choices she makes for our children when they are with her. I keep trying to figure out how I can counteract the harmful things she does. I saw it as a conflict and took an adversarial position in the situation.

I remembered a lesson learned during a training session where our group of martial artists were learning how to disarm someone with a rifle. The instructor for the session is a hapkido practitioner, and kept talking about the concept of harmony (how musical!). At one point in the techniques we were learning, the instructor said, "At this point, you want and your opponent both want control of the weapon. You are trying to take it away, and you opponent wants it back...so you give it to him." The instructor then proceeded to show us from that position that we could use the stock end of the rifle to strike our opponent in the face, thus maintaining the harmony of the situation. The person holding the rifle wants to keep it, so we give it to them!

I applied this concept of harmony to my dealings with my ex-wife. I changed my mindset from an adversarial one to one of trying to maintain harmony.

All of this, coupled with that simple statement "You look like you're ready to do battle" brings me to the concept of the warrior musician.

I do battle every day as a music therapist. I battle against depression, anxiety, pain, grief, behavior challenges, brains damaged by strokes or Parkinson's, loneliness. I battle against people's self doubt. I battle against the idea that "I'm not musical."

So many martial arts have destructive and healing elements to them.

In the Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu, practitioners go through a series of weapons and empty hand combat training. After 20 years or so, they are allowed to study the healing aspect of the art and many become healers.

What of the Shaolin monks from China? Shaolin kung fu is legendary the world over. These monks are some of the most deadly people in the world, as well as the most peaceful. These warrior monks train for years in kung fu in order to seek harmony for themselves.

Anybody who has ever been touched by music therapy knows it is a healing profession; a healing art. I now embrace the other side of our profession. The side that seeks to find the harmony with the things affecting our clients and our patients. Harmony through strength of action and skill. Harmony that can only come from the determination to leave a situation better than you found it.

You may think it sounds rather abrupt or militaristic or violent, but I will continue to do battle. I will battle against the things that detract from the quality of life of my patients and coworkers.

I do this, because I am a warrior musician.

Got skills?

My Saturday was AWESOME! It started out with me attending a free guitar skills workshop at West Music. The workshop was aimed at promoting a recently released book and DVD entitled "Guitar Skills for Music Therapists and Music Educators" by Peter Meyer, Jessica De Villers and Erin Ebnet.

The workshop was designed for beginners and I questioned my wisdom of driving an hour and a half on a Saturday morning to be at the workshop which started at 1000. To be honest, one of my motives was to check out their product. You see, when I was an undergrad, I got the idea to write a book on guitar skills for music therapists. I noticed that my class mates were taking one semester of guitar class and then expected to pass a proficiency exam. This method left them woefully under-equipped to use guitar effectively in a clinical setting. There are too many intricacies that cannot possibly be taught in a semester long class.

So I wanted to see how these music therapists approached an idea that I have been mulling over for years.

The other motivation for me going comes from my martial arts background. I learned a valuable lesson from Grandmaster Rudy Timmerman about how he approaches learning. He says that he always carries a white belt in his workout bag (in most martial arts the white belt signifies a complete beginner). If he goes to another school to visit and learn, he puts on the white belt and stands in the back of the room (also an expression of beginning rank). This man is a well-respected martial artist with 60 years of experience. If this mindset works for him, it works for me! I started carrying a white belt in my bag too.

I went to that workshop, with almost 20 years of experience playing the guitar and the openness and enthusiasm of a beginner.

I was not disappointed.

The workshop, for me, highlighted some of the technical knowledge deficiencies I've had for years. It was a strange combination of feeling discouraged by what I don't know considering my years of experience and feeling excited to devour the material to correct some of those technical knowledge issues.

From a quick perusal of the book, which I did end up purchasing, I think I could safely say that I would recommend it to any beginning to intermediate guitar player. It does have parts that are geared toward music therapists, but music educators would not go wrong with this book. I will post a complete review when I've had some time to work with this excellent book.

My Saturday evening was amazing too. My beloveds and one of our daughters went to a belly dancing show a couple of hours away from where we live. My beloveds are taking a belly dancing class right now, and for me the appeal (besides the fact that it is belly dancing...I'm a guy, I mean, come on!) is the drumming involved. The show was the culmination of a day's worth of workshops hosted by a local winery. We shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed the baked potato bar dinner offered before the show started. There was also a presentation by a group learning pole dancing. Their part of the show was tasteful and highly athletic. I enjoyed all the performances spotlighting different styles of belly dancing and many beautiful women of all shapes and sizes. I say this because one of my beloveds has dealt with an eating disorder for years. It is important for her to hear that size doesn't matter as long as she is healthy. Some of the most attractive dancers at the show to me were not the most petite and lean ones.

Beauty is not measured by the size of one's dress, but from the radiance of their soul. You can quote me on that.

The last performances of the evening included two doumbek (Middle Eastern drum traditionally used to provide belly dancing accompaniment) players. I have been obsessed with learning doumbek for quite a while now but have not yet manifested an instrument or instructional materials. After the show, one of my beloveds asked the drummers if there was another drum that I could play and I think her say that I was a musician and could play anything . She went and picked up a spare doumbek and handed it to me. As the drummers and a couple of the dancers were jamming after the show, I tried to follow along. A few months back I bought a riq (Middle Eastern tambourine) and have been starting to learn the 50+ traditional rhythms that go along with riq and doumbek playing. During a pause, the drummer next to me asked what kinds of things I know. I told her this was the first time I had ever touched a doumbek (although come to think of it, I've played them at drum circles, though they were Turkish style as opposed to Egyptian style which is what I played after the show, and I never learned proper technique). She patiently and expertly taught me some basic techniques and rhythms. I explained I was learning riq but hadn't gained proficiency with the rhythms yet. She commented several times how quickly I was picking up on things (yay me!).

The lessons and jamming did not last long, but for me it was the best part of the evening.

A full day of music and inspiration that truly fed my soul.