I am not a violent person. Despite my skill at making others want to hit me, it has always been more my style to ignore insults and walk away from physical confrontations. My quick wit has been a tremendous advantage to me in talking my way out of potential trouble. However a few years ago, I found myself preparing to be (painfully) thrown out of a pub by some very large men who worked there. These men were smart enough to see that, if they did not intervene with what was happening in our corner of the bar, someone would have ended up hospitalized.
Luckily, no punches had to be thrown. The “other party” (oddly, a friend of one of my mentors) apologized, and we all went on drinking and having a good time. As the evening continued, it was obvious that he could tell I would not have hesitated to fight him had he not spoken up when he did. And I wouldn’t have: he had been trying to make an ass of Bryan sparks.
Bryan sparks is one of my best friends. In fact, I could go so far as to say that Bryan is just about a brother to me – right up there in the Mike Healy category, which means a lot to anyone who knows me well. There is nobody I can think of whom I respect and count on more.
To shed a little light on my fierce loyalty to and pride in knowing Bryan (even in the face of eminent physical pain), let me give you a little background. No need to reach for the kleenex though – this is a Taido website, not a long-distance calling plan commercial.
A History Lesson
Bryan sparks began Taido in 1985, about a year after my father and I. I’m not sure exactly when it was that we met, but it was probably after Bryan made purple belt, because white belts had separate classes at that time. We quickly discovered that we were both very good at a lot of the same things and enjoyed most of the same Taido games. We became friends.
For a lot of years, we practiced together and hung out at Taido. We did demonstrations and competitions together. We would spend a lot of our free time at the dojo making up new hokei, and with Amir and a few other kids, we also used to make all kinds of tenkai and other routines for practice and fun.
In junior high school, Bryan joined the same Boy Scout troop I was in, and we started going on camping trips and doing a lot of other stuff together. (don’t worry, this isn’t one of those stories where we find out that we’re in love and have to hide our feelings for each other from an uncaring society that doesn’t understand… No, this isn’t that kind of story at all.) Between Taido and Boy Scouts, we saw each other at least four times a week through that period.
In high school, we both made black belt about a year apart. In fact, we were the first black belts to begin Taido as children and not quit yet. Though Mitsuaki technically practiced Taido before either one of us (I mean, it was his father’s school – he lived there), he didn’t make shodan until 1994 because he took a lot of breaks for school sports and such. I think Bryan and I share the record for longest continuous period of Taido practice in American Taido.
In 1993, we went to Japan together as part of the US team in the first Taido World Championships, and Bryan was the youngest competitor in the adult division. I don’t think either one of us will ever forget all the stuff we saw, experienced, and learned for the first time on that trip. Used panties and beer being sold in vending machines makes a strong impression on a sixteen-year-old. After returning to Atlanta, we both tried studying Japanese in school so we could better communicate when we had international Taido events.
During my last year of high school, Bryan and I decided that we wanted to spend some time experimenting with techniques and practices that were too “hardcore” for most people at the honbu dojo. So we started a church. We called it “church” because we met at my high school fields every Sunday morning. For a few hours, we would run, jump, climb, and do incredibly dangerous things on stairs. A few times, Chris Healy or Brendan Dumont would come by too, but for the most part, it was just Bryan and I inventing drills, experimenting with new techniques, and basically playing with anything related to Taido we could think to try.
Upon graduation, I headed to Georgia Tech to study physics, and the next year, Bryan followed. Well, I doubt he went there to follow me, but he did enroll the year after I did. When I found out that Bryan was coming to Tech, I knew that we had to start a Taido club together. At that time, nobody in America had succeeded in operating any Taido classes outside of the honbu dojo for longer than a couple of months. As far as I know, only two people were actually even allowed to try.
It took a little convincing, but eventually Uchida told us to go ahead. Of course, he also promised to help us. (Which never happened. Let me be very clear about this – nobody ever helped Bryan and I set up, manage, or teach at Tech except in the roll of assistant until Chris volunteered much later to become the number two instructor while Bryan was in Colorado. Ignore anyone who tries to tell you differently. I did all the administrative stuff; Bryan did all the technical Taido stuff. We were a team of exactly two members, and I’m really tired of hearing about certain people trying to take credit for “helping get started.” It just is not so.) Though we started out with only one student, the two of us managed to build the club up to a respectable size. Now it is in its tenth continuous year and enjoys a good reputation for quality Taido. We’re kind of proud.
Unfortunately, Tech wasn’t the right school for me, and I had to drop out, though I still taught Taido there. Bryan, on the other hand, graduated in four years – a pretty difficult feat at Tech. They tell everyone in orientation that their chances of graduating at all are two-to-one against, and even then, it usually takes five or more years because the course load is just too difficult for most students. Bryan doesn’t like for people to think of him as a “smart person,” but what he did at Tech was one hell of an academic achievement.
Even before that, Bryan was doing things I had failed at. I gave up the Boy Scouts because of politics (politics! In the freaking Boy Scouts! Long story, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that I really tried to make things work out), but Bryan made it to the rank of Eagle. For those of you who don’t know, Eagle is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts – their black belt, and very few people ever achieve it.
He was also able to do back handsprings and flips long before I could, and was always stronger than I. Come to think of it, his techniques were always better than mine too. How’d it come to be that I’m the one recommending him for promotions?
Anyway, when Bryan graduated and moved to colorado for work, it hit me pretty hard. We had always been a team, and I was having some personal issues outside of Taido that made it difficult to keep my act together. I had almost decided to close the club before Chris told me that he would pick up the slack. When Bryan “secretly” came back to Atlanta, I felt relieved even before he announced that he would be back at Tech with us. I just knew that things were going to work out for the best. And they have.
Since then, Bryan and I have done a lot together. Our mutual love of beer led us to invent the “Guinness milk shake” at Taido’s summer camp in 2002. We’ve been a teaching team for many Taido events and worked together on many Taido projects. We’ve done so much together, and somehow, we still manage to like each other. At least, I think Bryan likes me.
Cult of Bryan
A lot of people don’t know this, but Bryan is the Laughing Buddha of Taido in the US. Seriously, he has all the important qualities of an enlightened master –
- Friendly and honest to all: check
- A lack of attachment to material possessions: check
- Absolute absence of vanity: check
- The ability to laugh at his own mistakes: check
- A love of authentic good times: check
- Lack of concern for wealth or fame: check
- Experience with altered states of consciousness (while drinking): check
- Ability to snap you out of it when you are fooling yourself: check
In fact, I was at one time tempted to start a cult around Bryan for my own financial gain, but in his wisdom, Bryan moved to Colorado before I could get the ball rolling. By the time he came back, I had taken up drug running and prostitution as alternative methods of income generation, and I haven’t looked back. Thanks to Bryan, i’ve been able to find and achieve my greatest dreams.
I Love You, Man
Some folks mistake Bryan’s unassuming demeanor for passivity or a lack of personal motivation, but you don’t graduate form Tech in four years without going into debt unless you have some serious drive. You can’t run a business unless you know how to set goals and work towards them in a step-wise fashion. Groups of dedicated students do not just form around anyone – Bryan has got some serious management skills, even if he is incredibly good at hiding them from most of us.
Actually, Bryan has a lot of the same qualities that I see in Negishi, my other Taido best friend. Which is why I recommended Bryan for 3dan a couple of years ago. I know he thought it was too soon (he spent seven years at shodan, and I only allowed him to remain at 2dan for six…), but when I was consulting with some other folks about it, they all had about the same thing to say: “You’re telling me that Bryan is still 2dan? How’d we let that happen?” Needless to say, I had no problem finding support for my campaign.
It’s because he’s so often quietly keeping his commitments and doing consistently good Taido that people tend to forget about Bryan and his contributions. However, once people remember that he’s still around, doing his thing, they want to support him, because it’s hard not to respect the kind of person who takes care of business so reliably. At the risk of gushing just a little bit, anyone I know with any sense at all loves Bryan sparks. It’s just impossible not to without having your head up your ass.
And so lately, as I’m starting to think about leaving japan and heading back the the good ol’ U S of Andy, i’ve been looking forward to getting to be partners again with Bryan. I’ve (as always) got lots of plans that I want to try, and I know I can trust Bryan to tell me which ones are feasible and which ones may as well be acid-trip material. However it all goes down, I at least know that I can count on him to work with me on building this Taido thing in the right direction.
That, and to buy me a beer when I’m short on cash.