Friday, March 16, 2012

Shin Gi Tai: Karate Training for Body, Mind, and Spirit - Jan de Jong's Passing

Mike Clarke published Shin Gi Tai: Karate Training for Body, Mind, and Spirit in 2011. It contains the following passage associated with Jan de Jong's passing, which I will comment on.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of meeting a master of jujutsu; his name was Jan de Jong.
Followers of the last couple of postings will be left in no doubt with regards to the esteem with which Clarke held De Jong.
He died in April 2003, and in many respects his death was nothing unusual. He was in this eighties and had lived through many difficult and challenging times. Fighting against the German occupation forces in his native Holland during the Second World War, as a youthful member of the Dutch Resistance Movement, gave him a particular slant on life and the best way to live it.
Readers of this blog will be acquainted with De Jong's WWII experience. As to the 'best way to live', I would suggest his experience gave him a way to live life, not necessarily the best way to live life. Does a sexual assault victim/survivor's experience give them a perspective that enables them to determine the best way to live life? It gives them a particular perspective on how to live a life, that is all. De Jong's compulsion to eat everything that was put in front of him born of near starvation during the Hunger Winter in 1945 in Holland could never be described as the best way to live. There are many paths, as the over used axiom goes.
When De Jong was diagnosed with a terminal condition, it came as a shock to everyone who knew him, especially his family. As you might expect, people close to him grew more and more sad as his health declined, and he entered hospital to receive what comfort the medical world could offer.
I'm not sure how much of a shock it came to everyone who knew him. I cannot say for sure how his family felt as I was estranged with them by that time. De Jong only entered hospital in the last few/couple of days before he passed away. Did people grow more and more sad as his health declined. I cannot speak for anyone else. All I can do is speak for myself. Someone who loved De Jong, who thought of him as more than the head instructor of a tradition/school in which he was emotionally invested. I thought of him as a very dear friend. Our relationship transended the Australian ultimate relationship of mateship. Was I sad as his health declined? Not really. You see, De Jong really did teach philosophy without being preachy or pious about it. He taught pragmatism; by whatever Eastern philosophical name you care to attribute to it. We all die, not everyone lives. De Jong lived, now he was going to die.
But for the man himself there was no sense of sadness, only acceptance.
Reinforcing my previous statement. Not once in all the times I saw him did he ever even utter a regretful or sorrowful word.
He spoke of having a wonderful life and of being blessed by his wife, his children, and his many long-time students, some of whom had trained with him for well over thirty years.
He didn't speak of those things to me, not when he was terminal and in his home. De Jong did the 'Tuesdays with Morrie' experience with me when I would take him to dinner and/or the movies and we'd sit in my car outside his house when I'd taken him home. Otherwise, De Jong was always, always looking to the future. The last time I saw him, three week before he passed away, he was giving me instructions on what I needed to work on to demonstrate to the pencak silat instructors class, and he wanted to contribute to the how-to book I was writing on the jujutsu that he taught. Reflection was not a very big feature of De Jong's, unless it was to inform the future.

It has to be said, however, De Jong was very proud of his instructors. His jujutsu dan grades were and are oriented towards producing instructors, not necessarily practitioners. His dan grades are about 'training the trainer'. He spoke often of how proud he was of his instructors and their ability and knowledge to instruct.
He laughed and joked and made light of the finality of the event about to take place, and when it came, he stepped away from this world lightly as a butterfly lifting from a leaf.
Clarke nailed it with the laughing, joking, and making light of his shifting off this mortal coil, but the rest of the description is his own literary expansion. For me, it does not tend to be reflective of De Jong. He was a restless soul. If there is another existence after this, De Jong would not have drifted into it. Forget the butterfly, and despite machismo-oriented, he was no hawk, but he would have been some busy bird constantly flying about building something. He would have emerged from with existance with a desire to be active and to build.
He not only lived well, but he had the great personal courage to die well. He was aware of what was happening and faced it clearly, calmly, and with great dignity. As strange as it might seem to some, his example of being 'present' at his own death displayed a level of almost unimaginable gallantry that I find truly inspirational.
Now THAT is a sentiment I can stand behind. I'll buy that t-shirt. His final act in this world was an inspirational act. He lived, and died, by example.

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