Friday, November 19, 2010

ACS Conference

I attended the American Cetacean Society's (ACS) 12th international Conference last weekend in Monterey. This was the first time I attended this conference as just a PARTICIPANT. In 1998, I was involved with a small group of people in Pacifica who wanted to turn an abandoned wastewater treatment plant into a marine life museum/aquarium. While I still think the project was a great idea, for various reasons it never got off the ground. This project did, however get my juices flowing in the direction of active marine conservation, and it gave me the confidence to move forward with my next project. A whale and dolphin conservation organization, of which I was a member, had no chapter near San Francisco. I changed that by founding the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society.

The focus of this chapter was education and research. We presented whale education programs at schools and libraries, and we gave out student research grants. I served as the president of this chapter until my brain surgery in 2006. Every other year, our chapter held an auction to raise money for student research grants. The National ACS Conference is also held every on alternate years, so on our chapter's non-auction years, I helped organize and run the silent auction at the national conference. I have gone to every conference since the beginning of the SF chapter, except, of course, 2006: the year of my surgery.

During the 2008 conference, my kids helped plan and carry out a raffle. This year, I decided to attend just for fun. 

Some of the talks were on the ecology of whales, and some were about conservation of whales. While scientific data was presented, one scientist compared fin whales to corvettes and humpback whales to minivans. The sleeker, faster fin whales got to be the cool car!

The last presentation of the conference was a showing of a clip from The Cove, followed by a discussion with the film's director. This film, which is really about gathering evidence if the horrific killing of dolphins in a small cove in Japan, has energized conservationists worldwide. Hearing the story first-hand from the director was a fantastic way to end the conference.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black Belt!

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? I can! But for me, that's an accomplishment!

Last week, I achieved a goal that I had once taken for granted, but then became a huge ordeal to complete. I received my Black Belt in karate. Two other adults (Mat and Pat) got their Black Belts at the same time as me and it was interesting that the three of us demonstrated very different levels of martial arts. Mat was awarded one of the very few "real" kajukenbo Black Belts in the history of our dojo. As a "real" Black Belt, he demonstrated a level of intensity and ferocity that is rarely seen.

One of my best friends, Pat, joined the dojo a few months before my surgery, partly because it was a fun activity to do together. She and I both got Black Belts in self-defense as opposed to kajukenbo. Neither if us have the ability or the ferocity to strive for a kajukenbo Black Belt. If receiving a Black Belt is analogous to graduating from college, Mat had a different major!

The difference in skill between Pat and me was, of course, remarkable as well. Pat performed each task with precision and power. I concentrated on NOT falling down!

A panel if VIP kajukenbo Black Belts was invited to watch our demo. Their expectations of our performances rightly varied depending on our goals. Mat not only had to beat up on three guys during the test, but he also had to reverse roles and let THEM beat up on HIM before the panel gave him a kajukenbo Black Belt. What I loved most about Pat's performance was that as she wacked this guy around, including slashing his throat, she never stopped smiling! I can picture her on the street. Someone tries to take her purse and she gives the guy a broken nose and a couple of broken ribs. She says she's sorry, takes her purse back, smiles, and moves on! The panel was split when critiquing her smile, but one of the top-ranking VIP's there told her that her smile was her spirit, and she should never lose it. I agree!

When the panel critiqued me, it was clear that their expectations were pretty low. They pretty much agreed that I should get my Belt for having the strength and courage to overcome my disabilities and go for it. I expected more of myself.

At one point, our teacher went into the back room to deliberate with a few members of the panel. Another panel participant took this opportunity to make the Black Belt candidates do exercises--sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc. We had practiced everything, including having Abby help me into a kneeling position when the time came, but no one remembered this exercise ritual, favored by one of the dojo's longtime Black Belts. When Seifu Scott said, "On your backs," and everyone immediately fell to the floor, I, quite ungracefully, bent over, put one hand, then the other, to the ground, followed by one knee, then the other. I then sat down, and finally lay on my back. When it was time to get up, I reached out to Mat and he helped me to my feet. During the jumping jacks and running in place, I did calf raises. Abby told me later that she was staring at my feet the entire time, willing me not to fall. I didn't. A couple members of the panel offered me a chair during these exercises. I could have been exempt, if I chose to be. This dichotomy between what others expect of me and what I expect of my self has been very noticeable these past four years.

Special thanks to David Durkin, a great partner!

To see the entire event, go to