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“Hagakure chiri todo mareru. Hana nomi zo…”   To translate into English, this Japanese saying tells us that “hidden beneath the leaves one flower still remains. My body has thus become just so many things.

The splendor of fall here in Maine is as incredible as you might imagine. Driving home from work each day I am treated to some incredible sights. Rolling hills, lush forests, mountains rising in the distance, apple orchards hugging the side of the road. These colors of fall are a beautiful reminder of the coming winter. Life, like these trees is in constant motion. Like these trees, life can be an explosion of spectacle, excitement, grace, wonder and comfort. Like the coming frosts and snow, life can also be hard, cold, difficult to bear and can often leave you shivering. We should be so lucky to have someone or something wick away our tears and offer us a place a shelter, a place of warmth and a place of refuge. I used to have my students recite a mantra I wrote. This phrase was only meant to empower them and was written as an ideal to strive toward. ” For those who seek safety, I am the shield to provide their shelter.”

The purpose of the blog was to be a digital dojo of sorts. It was here that I would share stories, teaching points and review for my students. Slowly, the blog evolved and it soon became a place for me to simply expose what was on my mind. At one point, according to the site stats, this little corner of the digital world was reaching over six thousand people. Incredible! While those numbers are now way down and I am no longer the owner of a martial arts school, I’ve decided to continue to pursue other writing venues. Much like a hidden leaf, I plan to shelter and work on myself a bit. I’ve got many things I hope to accomplish and look forward to a deep dive into self reflection and study. This entry today is my final entry here on Fire Side Chats. I’ve enjoyed my time composing these shorts. I hope they have been of some value to you. The blog will stay online and I’ll happily share with you on social media my other ventures in writing as they come. For now, please feel free to refer back to this page should you think it would be of any service to you.  I leave you with a little idealism and a sample of the good I wanted to put into the world…..

EDGE Academy Creed ( 2016-2018 )

For those who seek shelter, I am the shield to provide their shelter.

For those who dwell in darkness, I am the torch to light their path.

For those who are gripped by fear, I am the sword to teach them courage.

Above all folks, as I used to tell my students: Always improve. Always Evolve. Never Give Up!

With thanks and gratitude,

Michael ( Sensei Mike ) Paul Chamberland

 

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What the Trees Know

 

This past Friday and Saturday found me in the North Maine Woods. Enjoying an annual hunting trip with family, I took in all the splendor of a wilderness full of legend and rich history. While the mountains and rolling hills presented their fiery glory of changing and falling autumn leaves, I couldn’t help but lament at the devastation left by the rugged machines of our nations paper industry. What a juxtaposition for me; a guy who loves books that are made from paper and my heart was heavy at seeing all the trees cut down and stacked. Apart from that sadness, several times I caught myself listening to the deafening roar of silence.

We are all so busy. You know that and I know that. Our lives are ruled by schedules and the merciless call of our hand held technologies. Standing in the open wilderness this weekend, there were plenty of moments when all I could hear was my own heartbeat. My imagination let me see native hunters deftly traversing the hills and fields in pursuit of their quarry. I could imagine roaring fires and singing men and women of the northern tribes bidding the setting sun a salutation. Such images made my heartbeat quicken and I was glad to be there among whispering trees that still stand.

Trees are quiet teachers. They embrace change in such beautiful fashion. When the heavy snows arrive, they shake off the excess weight in thunderous sheets of white. If the tree has grown too old, it allows its limbs to sever and drop. Finally, at its death, they very often remain standing until the earth is ready to receive its body. Animals often shelter under the fallen sylvan warriors. Nothing is wasted, no moment is taken by distraction. The trees may be the last ambassadors of living a quiet, powerful, purposeful life. I’m not saying to drop everything and go hug a tree. Rumors start like that and you don’t need those either! I would advocate that you take a moment and just allow yourself to be among nature when the opportunity is presented. Sometimes sitting still doing nothing is sitting still doing something.

Ask the trees. They know.

We’ve all got someone in our lives that we want to be like. Perhaps in your industry, there is someone who exemplifies what you would most like to be. So we buy their books, listen to their podcasts, visit their social media platforms and start to quote them. We may even buy their shirts and kit to show support for their mission, mantra and material they peddle. We do these things because we love how their image makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s like being a child again. We feel best about ourselves when we find ourselves in the ” in crowd.” So we line up our own images with those stronger more successful people in hopes of projecting the same aura, the same energy, the same success. This is not inspiration, this is ego mania. What if we read the books, digested the content they produced, maybe went out to buy the shirt and then APPLIED the lessons being offered? I have several “guru’s” in my self defense community and I wear their shirts with pride. I watch their videos, chat em’ up on social media and email and then work hard to apply what they have taught me. Does this bring me their skills and notoriety? No, not even close. However, it gives me a mark to aim for and I have no issue at all with  calling them Sir or Ma’am. If all I did was wear the shirt, skimmed the books and quoted them on social media while never applying the lessons taught, I’m no better than a poser and I can tell you with certainty that the martial arts community is saturated with those souls.

To be inspired means to be ” in spirit.” From the ancient Hindu culture we learn that tribal people worshiped and believed in the concept of atman. The atman was something all around you, you felt it and breathed it in with every breath. From the atman, we get the word, atmosphere. What is your atmosphere? I don’t just mean what’s around you externally. What’s within you? When you breathe in, are you breathing in the nourishment of positive atman or are you simply devouring the air as it comes? It’s no good to consume quotable quotes and make yourself look a certain way online. Challenge yourself to be in spirit and apply the lessons you so revere. As the great Bruce Lee said,  ” Knowing is not enough…we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

I’m having some new shirts with my own sayings printed on them soon. When they are ready I’ll post a link so you can buy one and be just like me…LOL.

Be inspired folks. Be productive. Take action rather than taking credit for what isn’t yours. You’re better than that.

 

Where Are You?

I spent my morning here in Maine gathering fire wood and large stumps to build a throwing target. I enjoy throwing knives, hatches, axes etc as a hobby. It had been a long time, a very long time as a matter of fact, since I had been in the woods alone. There is something majestic about the silence that always gives me pause. The day was beautiful and breathing in the scent of sweet pine and birch was like heaven despite my labors of hauling out large cut down stumps of wood. My mind drifted toward the clamor of what composes most of our daily lives. Text messages, phone calls, social media updates, constant feeds from network news as well as navigating people in person can often engulf our senses and dull our feelings of privacy and space. Among the trees this morning, all I could think of was the quiet solitude of those open spaces.

Where are you? Where are you really in life right now? If you’re a mentor, are you really there for those you guide? Are you fully present in your career and family life? Are you drifting in an unknown sea hoping a ship captained by the right mariner will suddenly come upon your position? Are you able to see, listen to and flow with the current that is your life? Are you making the time for the people who matter most in your life or letting connections suffer because you somehow can’t “find” the time? A friend, a mentor of mine once told me that if I look for something I won’t find it. “How do I find what I’m looking for then?” was my question. ” Be damn sure you’re there when it arrives laddie…” was his reply.

Make the time folks. Pay careful attention to the people in your life who do the same for you. Once you know who those special souls are, you’ll never again question whether or not you’re loved.

 

Run For Your Life

Since my arrival here in Maine, I’ve been running. I run daily and with each mile I can feel myself growing stronger. A nagging back pain that has plagued me for the last several years seems to be letting up. I’m stretching more, sleeping more and adjusting to a 9-5. My days start early but not as early as when I was teaching and training others at 5am. I miss those guys. I miss all my students but for those who read this, please know that I am getting on just fine, miss all of you and promise to get caught up on long over due messages, texts and emails.

I could smell wood smoke in the air tonight as I crossed the Norridgewock Bridge. The mighty Kennebec river below me was still. The setting sun caressed the mirror sheen of the water and the wafting smoke filled my lungs with its sweet, pungent whisper. I love the fall. Ever since my childhood, the fall season has been my favorite. It’s apple picking time here in Maine and on my drive to work I see several apple trees dripping heavy with their fruit. I’m tempted to pull over and fill a bag but the land is not mine! So, I enjoy the sight of the red gems forcing the tree limbs to bow low. Such sights remind me of many afternoons walking with my father as we scouted for bear sign as the hunting season approached. I always took such comfort in the smells and sights of the woods. My fathers flannel shirt was a fantastic marker for my young eyes as I wandered off to pick apples or harvest the perfect stick that would later be made into a wooden staff or sword. The martial arts had always called to me. Perhaps the spirits of the woods knew this too? I like to think the spirits of my ancestors sat high in the trees and lulled me with their voices that I mistook for the wind.

Life is all about movement. As I ran tonight, I took my feet down several roads I have yet to travel. I stood by the river and took in its majesty, glanced down at my hands, my hands that my mother says are like her fathers hands. It’s been weeks since these hands have been put to work and plied their trade as a martial artist. As I slowly adjust to this life and find my way around new surroundings, I am eager to pick up the familiar heft of my blades and feel the pressure of my gloves as I wail on a heavy bag. I’ll still run though. I like the earth to know that I am still here.

To all my friends in the Mid Atlantic, please be safe with the impending storm that approaches. I have you in my prayers and wish for you all to be safe.

 

It’s the close of my first week here in Maine. It’s been one hell of a week I can assure you. Cold showers twice a day while our new place gets renovated. Living on meals provided by my new job as well as gift cards provided by thoughtful friends in Delaware. Lots of time on my own to reflect on my life in Delaware and look ahead at the wonder of what lies ahead for me. I have a folder full of cards, letters and hand drawn pictures from many of the children I have worked with over the years in my EDGE Academy. To most people in business, my EDGE Academy was not a successful venture. I never made any money with the business and was barely able to keep my head above water most months. My body was tired every day. My mind was stressed about money, the challenges of working with challenging kids and the murky terrain of landlords and commercial leases. I struggled to market martial disciplines that nobody had ever heard of and I found myself wondering how much longer I could continue with the daily aches and pains from years of hard training, working in lumber yards and construction sites and the daily grind of 13-14 hour days. Was EDGE successful? Perhaps not. Was EDGE significant? Yes, yes it was. Is there is a difference? Yes. Yes indeed.

I’ve watched martial arts schools rise and fall over the years. I’ve seen mega dojo’s dominate the market only to whither and fade in a matter of a few years. I’ve seen garage gyms flourish and maintain a healthy schedule of weekly training. You could have all the financial successes that a business brings, perhaps have the large building, a large staff, your name could dominate your local market as the “go to” for the product or services you provide. However, if you are not making a meaningful impact, if you are not helping to shape the lives of those you purport to serve, you probably are not very significant to your  community.  As I make this entry, several of my students are enrolling in a  boxing gym back in Delaware so that they may stay connected to each other and continue their  training. This makes me so happy and I am so proud of them for moving forward! A new space, a new teacher/coach can offer them experiences that I can’t and they will no doubt learn a ton of new skills that will enhance their education.  My 5am guys meet at Lewes beach each morning to continue to train and hone their skills. No teacher, no coach could ever ask for a more wonderful gift from his or her students than to see them move on and continue in their journey.  It is the mark of an unhealthy teacher with a ravenous ego that prevents his or her students from cross training and moving into territory that can only further their skills. I’ve had those teachers. They are not my teachers any more.  A life of significance requires a life of exploration and stepping out of and plunging into uncomfortable zones. I’ve been running these huge hills every night here in Central Maine. I’ve been standing under the freezing water in my shower until my fingers start to shake so that I can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I look forward to snow training and pushing my body into new territories of fitness and health.

All the cards, the letters, the messages, the texts, the pictures from my EDGE family have taught me that I did indeed become significant in their eyes. I can assure you, each member, each child, each family became part of me as well and I look forward to seeing those that I can when I get back to visit. For now, I will do what I can while I am here in Maine to perhaps make a difference to the youth that I will be teaching in my new job. While I may not be “Sensei Mike” in Waterville Maine, I will forever be grateful to have been able to be that person to so many for the last eight years.

Roots

I taught the hardest class of my life last week at my EDGE Academy. It was my final weekly class in Delaware and while I will certainly be there again to visit and teach, my routine, my life, my surroundings were about to make a dramatic shift. I’ve been a bit of a wanderer for most of my adult life. Whether it was going from job to job to opening my business or visiting different areas of Canada and New England for martial arts training while in college. I have learned that I have a bit of a restless spirit. I have strong roots here in Maine and while I now live in a part of the state that is all new to me, I am greatly enjoying the new sites and the wanderlust of not knowing what is down the road just ahead of me. I have been blessed to land a really good job that offers a bounty of security and will no doubt grant me the ability to get out more, see more, do more and travel more.

Our roots form our  foundation but they need not anchor us. There is a romance to packing up and not knowing what may lay ahead. If we really only get one shot at this life, take careful aim but don’t be afraid to miss sometimes. You can always reload, step back, adjust, relax and do it again.

Happy travels.