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programmer, system administrator, problem solver; casual mountain-bike cyclist, avid reader, student of aikido and parkour
programmer, system administrator, problem solver
I studied Engineering Physics at Lehigh University, graduating in 1993. Through a work-study position at Lehigh’s computing facilities, I had the opportunity to use a wide range of systems including VAX, Cyber mainframe, HP Unix, and Sun Solaris. As a youngling, I met a number of computing professionals who deeply influenced me and, of course, I also had access to the Internet. I went on to spend time learning TCP/IP, routing, DNS, SMTP/sendmail (nearly got expelled on that one), WAIS, Gopher, etc.. I didn’t know it in 1989, but these early experiences would prove invaluable.
In 1994, I was involved in creating an ISP where I figured out, and then setup, all of the network infrastructure from scratch. Other, equally insane people, performed the same Herculean bootstrap in their areas. In parallel, we created an integration firm focussing on digital pre-press and design where we sold and supported Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, and Apple products.
While all that was happening, Black Box was created as a design agency to be a creative force doing cool stuff. Today, anyone can hop on the Internet and rent servers or cloud resources to start a company. But back in analog-dialup-1994, creating those two companies was the only way we could invent the things that Black Box needed. Eventually we wound down the ISP and integration companies, and a spot was made for me at Black Box, where we continue doing cool stuff.
Casual mountain-bike cyclist
I started road-biking in high school. After a little reading, and a lot of riding, I even tried a few criterion races. (Other than some crazy stories, no good came of my attempts at racing.) Mostly I just rode miles and miles, on evenings, weekends and dreamy summer days, through the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, unknown to me, someone invented mountain biking.
After college, I bought an entry level, steel-frame Trek and rode it incessantly until it fell apart in one season. That Christmas, Santa brought me a new aluminum frame Trek 6700, and I began spinning my way through whatever single track I could find in eastern Pennsylvania. About 3,000 miles later, I turned 40 and retired that Trek. In its place, I bought a magical Cannondale Flash 29’er instead of a cliche mid-life-crisis motorcycle.
Reading has been a life-long addiction. Growing up, it was a 20-minute drive to anything. When we did occasionally visit a bookstore, I’d run around randomly selecting books to read. At first, science fiction was my recreational drug. But I soon escalated to fantasy, mystery, and horror, before I eventually spiraled out of control into the classics, biography, and the full-on non-fiction science and medical crack that I’m on now. After college, I thankfully discovered the 12-step program known as “Book Mooch”, and gave away hundreds of books to people all over the world. Today I continuously struggle to keep the unread book collection to one bookcase.
Student of aikido
In college, I briefly practiced Taekwondo, and I spent 5 years practicing, and informally teaching, modern fencing. (Epée!) But I didn’t begin martial arts training in earnest until 1998, at age 26, when I began practicing Aikido under the direction of Sensei Michael Wirth. I practiced non-stop, reaching shodan (1st-degree black belt) in 2003 and godan (5th-degree) in 2013.
Sensei Wirth’s Aikido is an unaffiliated, no-nonsense, art; It is built on the bedrock principles of a soft and flowing Aikido, while honestly seeking to be physically functional and practical. On the mat, his Aikido is soft and flowing; It can vary very quickly from a light touch to vigorous atemi. In more recent years, I’ve repeated catch-phrases such as “No this. No that. No delay.” and “Relax beyond any indication of every injury you’ve ever received.” to convey the idea that you can be your most powerful only when you relax and eliminate all the unnecessary thinking and movements.
In the beginning, I had no clue how unique the Aikido group was that I’d stumbled into. It wasn’t until ten years or so into my journey that I realized the incredible luck of my timing: I started training just young enough to survive the tail-end of what I call Sensei Wirth’s “Does this work?” epoch, and was just old enough to thoroughly appreciate the subsequent, “Yes, it works. What can we do with it?” epoch. Those who experienced the former epoch nod knowingly with a serious expression. Those who experience the later epoch have the luxury of following the now more direct path that Sensei Wirth has arrived upon. The later epoch is certainly better, but the few of us who experienced both are indeed, very lucky.
Along the way, as I’ve wandered (physically and mentally), I’ve taken the opportunities to experience a wide range of Aikido styles, groups and teachers. I’ve gone to fundamentally different Aikido groups’ seminars just to honestly try the “when in Rome…” thing. I also made an honest effort of a couple years in Tai Chi. I expanded my practice by reading from a wide range of topics directly, and indirectly, related to Aikido including philosophy, physiology and spirituality. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I did my best to deconstruct and reassemble everything I’ve learned.
On the other hand, I make no claim to the quality of my reassembled puzzle since some pieces are missing, several are chewed on, and many which don’t fit remain to the side. All things considered? I’m delighted to still feel I am a beginner.
Parkour is a method of improving oneself through challenge. The founders say that to practice the art means to work toward: Being mentally and physically strong; being useful; being a positive contribution to your community; being better than you were yesterday.
But what about competition, flips, stunts, jumping roof gaps and gymnastics tumbling? …are those things parkour? Certainly, some people do those things as part of their parkour practice. Competition can make you physically stronger. Jumping roof gaps can make you mentally tougher. So these things can be parkour practice, but your practice does not have to be these things.
For me, swallowing my pride and starting over in physical fitness with a group of people about half my age… That was a challenge. For me, pull-ups are a challenge. But that’s the whole point. Parkour is about me improving me, and you improving you.
But I didn’t know that when I first tried Parkour in the spring of 2012. I had met Adam McClellan during a martial arts demonstration and he talked me into coming out to play with the growing Lehigh Valley Parkour community. I am continuously delighted to be the big, old, slow, lumbering gorilla in a community of enthusiastic, supportive and happy people. After two years of serious training, at the age of 42, I passed the ADAPT Level 1 certification through Parkour Generations. Parkour, and this unique community, have changed my life.
Welcome fellow pragmatist!