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Unless otherwise stated, the author’s views, musings, and opinions do not necessarily reflect the attitude of leadership within any of the various Nihon Goshin Aikido associations, or unaffiliated Nihon Goshin Aikido dojos.
March 1, 2017
So normally around the beginning of March, I am ready to jump out of my skin. The only season worth mentioning (summer) is on the near horizon (especially in SC where we have had a string of 75-80 degree days). Things are different this year. I find myself a bit somber. I’ve just had an unexpected turn of events.
In a single weekend, two buddies have passed away.
I met Paul Paura in Germany in the the summer of 1992. He had come to Bavaria to cycle with the team I was racing with, "Sportler Ruft Sportler." We began our friendship hanging on the back of the peleton in a race in Luxembourg. It was a cobblestone nightmare, but the conversation when we could have it was solid and we instantly hit it off. The first thing I can remember that he said to me was, "Can you believe two World Wars were fought over this piece of God forsaken dirt?" A steady friendship developed. Beginning in 1993, he'd come to visit me and train for a week ~ usually the last week in February. The great SC weather helped him get a jump start on his preseason training, and I loved the company. Competitive cycling is a lonely sport. Training 18-20 hours a week just wears on you, and it was nice to be able to talk someone over the course of a 140k ride.
Paul was a great guy. Here's a story to give you an idea of the kind of things we did together. While we were in Germany in 1992, we were on a training ride, and had gotten lost somewhere between Stuttgart, and Nuremberg. It was about 2 hours before sunset, and we were out of food. This is pre-cellphone, pre-map, pre-GPS, etc. As we were trying to reestablish our bearings, we came across a field of apple trees. In Germany, this is known as “LUNCH!”
We were off our bikes and up one of those apple trees in a skinny minute. After a few apples a piece, we turned at the sound of someone coming up behind us. It was a German farmer, and he was not pleased that we were in his apple trees. Now the guy was no more than 30 yards away, and we were 10 feet up in an apple tree (you do the math). There was no way, both of us could get down, and back on our bikes, but I had priority, as I was a US Army Officer ~ so I dropped down from that tree, ducked an apple the farmer threw at me, mounted my bike, and took off. Over my shoulder I yelled to Paul, "Meet me at the next town!"
The last glimpse I got of Paul was of him looking down at the farmer beneath him. Paul didn't speak any German. I began to wonder about his status. After about 10 minutes of hanging out in the next town, I decided to ride back up to the apple orchard to hopefully meet Paul on the way down. When I got there, both the farmer and Paul were gone. What to do? What would you do?
I rode back to the town. He wasn't there. I rode back to the farm. No Paul. I rode around the farm looking for the farmer. Nothing ~~~ Pretty soon, I realized that if I didn't collect my bearings, I'd never be home before dark. Paul was missing, but how would I be able to find him in the dark? I made it home about 30 minutes after sunset. I was considering calling the Military Police to see what they might suggest. Then just when I'd given up hope, he shows up. Turns out the farmer had fed him supper, and given him a ride all the way home!
A few years after we had both given up cycling, we met in Lake Placid, NY (he drove over from Toronto), and we had a blast snow skiing White Face Mountain (the site of the 1980 Olympics). We were both about two years removed from cycling. I had returned to soccer (a sport I played through college), and he had plunged head first into bodybuilding.
In fact, he had just competed in a natural bodybuilding contest. When we cycled we were identical in weight ~ but at this point he outweighed me by at least 20 pounds of lean muscle. We went and worked out at a gym in Lake Placid. It was the first time I'd worked out since I was in the Army ~ and I became a gym rat immediately after that (I still am). Of all the pictures we took on our bikes, or at races, etc. ~ and there were many ~ the only picture I can find of him is when we were in Lake Placid.
Jennifer loves this picture. When we pulled it out, she said "I just remember feeling so protected standing in between you two."
I lost contact with Paul for about a decade, but I had recently reunited with him in 2016 via Facebook. In the interim, he had successfully battled Leukemia, and was considered an "unlikely survivor." He had also played Arena League Football as a wide receiver.
The last time I spoke with him was about 9 days before his death. We talked for about 45 minutes. Most of that conversation was dedicated to how bad he thought the Canadian Health Care System is, and how many times he had almost died at the hands of incompetent doctors when he had Lukemia.
In our conversation, he was adamant that repealing the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do. He said, “if you guys continue to adopt the same medical system we have here, I'll have no where to go when my doctors try to kill me!”
Two days after our conversation, his car was t-boned at an intersection by a person who had run the light. His pelvis was shattered, and he had to have reconstructive surgery. The surgery was a success, but Paul never never woke up from the anesthesia. They kept him on life support, but removed it after a week. He passed away 3 hours later. He was only 50. RIP Paul.
Karl Kuehne was one of the truly great guys I had the privilege of knowing through aikido. We actually met for the first time at Andy Demko, Shihan's first seminar at Aikido of Charlotte's current location. If I recall correctly, Karl was in his first week of training when he attended that seminar. The man was a natural at everything he tried (from bodybuilding, to obstacle course races, to aikido, to trapeze silks, etc.).
He also had an uncanny connection with wild animals, and for many months of our friendship, I assumed he worked at a zoo.
Outside of Aikido we had all kinds of things in common, and after I received a call from Jonathan Weiner, Sensei with the news that Karl had passed away, I went back and re-read our Facebook/text threads. It took me a good 30 minutes. Most of our discussions were about aikido and bodybuilding.
He never competed in a bodybuilding competition, but he did get some shots taken when he was particularly lean (this past fall). He invited me to come up and help him with his posing. I've attached one of our favorite shots from that photo shoot.
I've never seen a natural bodybuilder with better shape, and symmetry than he displayed in that photo-shoot back in September. He was an inspiration.
In one of our recent aikido conversations, he was talking about his recent aikido promotion. He said, "I was telling Dan (Lantos), the other guy who got 4th Kyushu with me, that if you split up all the Aikidokas into 3 groups (great at Aikido, decent at Aikido, & suck at Aikido), we're probably still in the "suck at Aikido" group; however, we've pretty much reached the top of that group. I feel like I'm familiar enough with the very basics at this point that I can get more serious about learning and hopefully really starting to make some solid progress with my Aikido. I can't wait to get to the point to where I can do some legit training with you and Weiner Sensei but that's probably still a few years off."
Karl was 47 when he passed away to the shock of everyone who knew him.
There is a Celebration of Karl's life at Aikido of Charlotte's dojo this weekend, but I will be in Middletown, NY training with Sensei MacEwen, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, and Sensei Roy Goldberg. While I am really looking forward to the trip to NY, I have rarely wanted to be in two places at once more than on this occasion.
There are a whole lot of things I could say about Karl, but all those words might be best summed up in this statement. "I am so humbled that he called me "friend." RIP Karl.
So what inspiration can we take from the sudden departures of these two great men (whom I'm sure you don't know)?
Here are my takeaways. Life is too short. How differently would you live your life if you knew today was your last day? The Bible says we are not guaranteed our next breath friends, so be memorable in your day to day activities. While it is true that the days are slow, it can also be said that “the years fly by.” Love Greatly. Forgive Effortlessly. Make All Sacrifices with Joy. Persevere Until the End.
Take time to evaluate your priorities. Focus on that which lasts. Lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth. Value those dear to you. Do not go quietly into that good night.
Let’s meet together on the mat, and soon.
All the Best,
Inside Nihon Goshin Aikido ~ #48
The Classic Lines of the Nihon Goshin Aikido training gi are unmistakable.
Some things simply never change. The student/ instructor uniform should be one of those things. This uniform marks a connection all the way back to the Chitose dojo, and should be preserved.
This Baby’s Kung Fu is Strong. He fears No Dragon.
(L-R) Paul Paura (1966-2017), Jennifer Wilson, Jonathan Wilson at Lake Placid, NY
Karl packed the best set of Rear Delts I’ve ever seen.
Karl had a great sense of humor, posting this photo shopped masterpiece on the Aikido of Charlotte’s Board ~ the caption read, “I predict numerous sightings of this mythical creature on the mat in 2017!” Sadly, it was not to be.
This is a picture of me standing beside Karl Kuehne (1970-2017) after we both had participated in the Bon Odori Aikido demonstration in 2016. I will miss you friend.
It was on a similar stretch of cobblestone that Paul looked over at me and through chattering teeth via cobblestones said, “Can you believe two World Wars were fought over this piece of God forsaken dirt?”