Struggles death and loss
Havn't been posting here much. The year started with a bang and then rapidly got out of control cascading into chaos. Which cost me to lose sight of a paying contract...... and touch of a paying client. Which really sucks.
Some good things have happened this year though. Presentation at the Arts Magnet Academy High School for their English Department turned into paid work as a fight choreographer for their theatre department.
Devil's Of War the film I worked on last year got released in Europe on DVD. Wednesday night I attended the local premiere screening on the big screen - should be available on DVD in the USA pretty quickly.
Invite to run a martial arts symposium at Portland GearCon took off like a shot and was very successful. Still some funds to be reimbursed for that effort... need to get ahold of Steve. But it was very successful. One of the classes we held was a women's only self defense class. Our best attended class of the weekend from which I have heard nothing but good from people. Sounds like we will be back next year.
The big thing though is reeling from deaths this year. One of my Idols martial arts legend Joe Lewis died earlier this year. The end of last month the captain of the Tall Ship Royaliste the ship we have been helping restore, passed away in his chair while reading. Weekend before GearCon we drove across the state to his memorial service. He was an amazing guy who's influence on the community I am only starting to fathom. I knew of Jim Rich when I lived in Southern Oregon.... but I didn't actually know him then.
Monday after GearCon I got news of a more personal sort. One of my friends and teachers Robert Owens Greygrass died in a Car Accident after sliding off the road and crashing into a tree. It brings up a lot of emotions for me, my older brother died in a car accident very suddenly. I had thought I was largely come to terms with that. But Robert was very important in my life and losing him in a similar manner has brought up a lot of stuff.
I knew of Robert Owens before i met him. Best known for being part of the Southern Oregon native american community. I would see him walking around town with his distinctive limb and long hair. Or with a gathering of Native American outreach on the plaza... usually surrounded by the younger members of the community. But it was his role in Black Elk Speaks at the theatre and the press it got that really grabbed my attention.
I wasn't to meet and talk to him until he wandered into the dojo one day. Here was a man with a hip problem and a leg that appeared shorter than the other walking with a distinctive limp that looked like maybe he was in pain when he moved (never did ask if that was the case). He changed and then began stretching showing remarkable flexibility that I have never acheived in my life. And he gave off a calm and warm energy and an open awareness of his surroundings. I was intrigued by him.
Didn't really get to talk to him until after class the following week. Hanshei Piddington made it known that Sensei Owens was looking for a sparring partner. I was willing and the only one not leaving the building right away. We bowed and he started attacking. The blows came rapidly and I retreated in small offline circular steps blocking with double high-low forearm blocks. We went in a tight circle about one and a half times.... not a blow landed on me and I blocked them all. Robert stopped and took a step back and appraised me. I forget what was said exactly.... but the remark was that I hadn't thrown any shots of my own. I pointed out that he hadn't given me the opportunity I was too busy blocking everything he threw at me giving me no time to throw my own shots. We went back to it for awhile.
My relationship with Sensei Owens changed a lot after that. Some deep respect from me as he got more involved with the dojo. The dojo started getting invited to provide volunteer security at events the Native American Cultural Center was putting on. I participated in a couple of those. I started becoming aware of his public outreach from the native community to everyone else and the work he was doing with native youth and teaching old traditions. And I think he started to become aware of the charity work that i was doing. And we were both working with the local theatres.
I remember being in the dressing room with him changing.. he was always lean and ripped muscle.... and noticing the scars on his chest. I knew Sensei Robert was Lakotah so I asked him if they were from sundance. He seemed a little surprised I knew what that was.... but it started a conversation and deepened our friendship. He confirmed that the several scars were each from a sundance and that he hoped to do another. I started attending local events the cultural center would put out to the public. I would see Native youths and young adults passing flyers around in the community or announcements in the paper. This or that elder teacher or storyteller visiting town. I would show up with a little tobacco as a gift and fade into the background feeling a little out of place as the only white guy in the place. One event in particular stuck out... A visiting elder in town that I had picked up a flyer about and would be out at Ashland Springs. Robert wasn't there and I didn't know anyone..... at the time I was working on carving a soapstone ceremonial pipe. I faded into the background feeling a little out of place and stayed aware of goings on while keeping busy with the soapstone and my pocket knife. Finally someone came by and offered to give me some tips on my carving with a nod of approval at the progress I had made. He asked me which tribe I belonged too... I replied "I am not sure one of the twelve" I got a puzzled look from him. I think maybe he had seen me around enough he just assumed this young Jewish kid must be at least partially native.
And I remember the outdoor music festival at Emigrant Lake that Sensei Owens was instrumental in organizing. An interesting thing with both native performers and mainstream performers. I went with Mary Anne - bought her her ceramic drum at that festival.... which I don't think she plays anymore. Talked to Robert and walked around with him. He told me the purpose was to try and bring the native community together with the rest of the local community... Robert was always bridge building. And I remember he made a point of taking me across the site and introducing me to John Trudell and telling me about John's acitivism. Trudell's story is an interesting one - but not the purpose of this writing. But Robert was always pushing people towards awareness and getting involved. I loved him for that.
Robert delivered my first broken bone to me. Advanced class in the dojo and we were all sparring and rotating partners as we often did. We had been at it for awhile when I got partnered with Sensei Owens. Robert had a way of bringing out a deep focus in me. We squared off and after awhile I used a front foot sweep against his lead leg... his bad leg. He went spinning across the room offbalance. (It only occured to me later that there didn't seem to be anyone in the way.) He came back and I somehow knew he would try and sweep my lead leg in return. I weighted back on my back leg as we looked each other over for openings. Sure enough the leg came through... just barely I escaped the timing lifting my front leg up and bringing it back down lightly on the outside of his knee with just a tap so he knew it was there. The focus got deeper. We sized each other up and entered cautiously... the angle seemed right and I threw a reverse punch, Sensei Owens counter punched whith his own reverse punch. Slightly better timing and angle than mine and I felt a sharp stab in my right upper chest. I tried to straighten up to continue and felt a spasm as I took an indrawn breath.... we called it quits and looked around the room. Everyone else had stopped everything and had been just watching us spar. I have no idea how long that had been going on..... but it occurs to me later that no one had been in the way on the floor when I foot swept him and he careened halfway across the floor.
On the occasion of testing for my brown belt I remember something distinctly. Sifu Tom Spellman and I had been preparing for him to start his JuiJitsu classes. We would spend hours watching imported film footage or he would recomend imported Judo films for me to watch. At the end of the day we were given solo time with each of the black belts. Joe Harrington and I were testing and were alone with him in the dojo. It was heartfelt talking from the heart and spontaneous sparring to see how we held up under pressure. I remember we finished a few rounds with him.... and were talking..... suddenly Sensie Owens rushed me from close range both hands out towards my shoulders like he was going to run me over. I braced against him and gave ground one, two steps..... then brought my right foot up to his center and lifted him over my head in a sacrifice throw...... i don't know where it came from, it was spontaneous, but I had been watching footage of such throws a couple days before and had never actually done one. Sensei went flying across the room to land on his back. We both lay on our backs for a moment in shock, I got up first and he was still laying there and I asked him if he was OK. He was fine and got up and we decided we should move farther away from the glass doors at teh front of the dojo.
I had never seen him on a stage before. I went with Hanshei Piddington to seem him perform the lead role of the "Elephant Man". It may be one of the most profound moments I have ever had as an audience member in a theatre. Here was Robert a man with a hip and leg problem that I knew well.... onstage with no makeup just his one powerful spirit and focus embodying the horribly disfigured and emotionally torn Elephant Man.... and then the dream sequences would come and Robert would portray this same man in his head as a man free from his burden.... physically transforming himself and bounding around the theatre with no limp and no burdens effortlessly. It was amazing to me. He won awards for that show and it earned him work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I would see Robert at local PowWows over the years. The cultural center eventually closed, the dojo's split. I lost touch with him largely. Recently he was touring in Washington and stopped in Portland.... staying and visiting with family I believe. We arranged to meet for morning tea over on Alberta Street. I got there early to read the paper and have something to eat. I sensed Roberts energy..... warm, comforting, confident, connected before I saw him. I looked up and gave him a warm smile and got up to greet him and he gave me a big hug. We talked quite a bit, about his shows, about activism.. his and mine, about the native american community and the reservations. Caught up on life. We were plotting to bring him to Portland to do "Walking on Turtle Island" as a charity show. I am sad this will never happen.......
Sensei Robert Owens Greygrass...... you are loved and will be missed. Your absence will leave a void in the world.... your influence has been felt across continents. Safe journeys my friend.... it has been an honor to know you. Tonight I get out the hoop drum, the feathers, the sage and the tobacco in your honor.