Sunday, June 20, 2010

A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST FENCING COACH

In Loving Memory of Dr. Milton Bank

Some of you know I spent over 25 years as a competitive fencer (and with a fair amount of success). My first fencing coach Dr. Bank passed away two weeks ago. On father's day as I think of all the influential people in my life I wish to share this tribute and memory...

Dr. Bank…he will always be Dr. Bank to me.

I’m still the fragile nine year old who showed up one day at the Monterey YMCA with nothing more than a medal won by my father in fencing eons ago and the romantic images of swashbuckling. Dr. Bank would not disappoint. I had brought my whole family in tow to learn the ways of the sword. My youthful determination caught the imagination of Dr. Bank’s huge heart.

He grabbed my awkward, mixed up physical body and went to work quickly on transforming my curiosity into something sustainable. His laugh, positive energy, and ever present teasing, fun banter were all ingredients he used to introduce me to a path.

One of the first memories of fencing lessons with Dr. Bank was learning to be a pin cushion. With gentle, direct wisdom he taught me to how to be hit before I ever knew how to make a hit. That was the sort of wisdom he had a knack for imparting while we were busied in the details of acquiring new skills. He knew I would never be able to score touches if I did not know how to accept being hit. He was showing me how to conquer not just any possibility of physical fear of getting hurt but the mental, spiritual hurt that was to become an inevitable part of my fencing journey. Could I sustain the vulnerability of being touched? Could I allow myself to be touched?

Dr. Bank touched me…he was tireless in encouraging me, nurturing me, and sharing his passion.

I had in Dr. Bank the perfect example of making learning a priority before being consumed by goals. Excellence did not exclude humility. Hard work did not eliminate fun. And drive was not to compete with an unquenchable love for the sport. Dr. Bank delighted in each small step I made. Perfected advances, a solved riddle of disengaging around a trick parry combination, or the joy of discovering a new facet of fencing, were met with the same indefatigable enthusiasm.

I couldn’t wait to go fencing on Tuesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. My weeks were defined by my special time with Dr. Bank. I was never disappointed. A huge smile greeted me and I never knew what the day’s adventure in learning would be. Dr. Bank’s generosity extended to my whole family. I still remember the joy I felt when Dr. Bank gave me my first foil.

Dr. Bank was more than just a coach to me, he was a role model. Fencing was serious business. Not the sport but rather the door the sport opened for me to finding and experiencing myself. Discipline never felt onerous; it was just part and parcel of participating. Dr. Bank’s bigger purpose was never far from the surface. If you weren’t paying attention it could have been easy to miss his deeper mission given his light hearted zeal but only if you did not engage with him. To cross blades with him you quickly realized he was living his faith, questions, and love for life with each parry and thrust.

I really never knew failure with Dr. Bank. His patience for learning outstripped any counter-productive expectations. He handed me keys to probably the most formative influence in my life. He showed me how to make sense of my mind, body, and spirit.

Dr. Bank was one of those rare teachers that taught me how to learn. He exemplified a love for learning. I remember while Dr. Bank was on summer vacation one year I went rummaging in the stacks of the Monterey library looking for information on fencing. I stumbled upon a book with flip book style photos of fencing actions. My days were consumed with studying the intricate new moves. I was overflowing with new questions and ideas when he returned. This is what he encouraged. This quality persists in me today. He had a way of bringing it out in others.

Life changes and I cultivated the seeds Dr. Bank planted in me. I was thrilled to bring him details of my latest conquests. Each little package of success was a new gift I couldn’t wait to bring back to him. In the best possible ways he was indifferent to the trappings of success. He was interested in the affects of my experiences but he always wanted me to divulge the details of the process. What a perfect form of validation. Good or bad the results were secondary.

In fact my first medal in fencing was for sportsmanship. No surprise here. Anything less was not possible in Dr. Bank’s club. It’s just the way things were. Part of the unspoken code of how he taught and he lived.

It’s so hard to imagine him gone. I have not done a good job of staying in touch. Maybe it’s because a part of me has this never ending dialogue with an angel that walked among us and brought me so many blessings.

My prayers of comfort fly out to you and the family. I look forward to the day when I can join my coach in heaven. For now he’s winking at us and showering us with joy.

With loving memories and prayers,

3 comments:

Thank You!
Adding your stories and thoughts to this conversation is enriching for everyone.