Monday, November 23, 2015

Cool Stuff in Aikido: Techniques and Peace

I was recently sent a flyer from some old friends at Thousand Waves Martial Arts & Self Defense Center. My dojo, Chicago Aikido Club (CAC), did an intro demo and workshop there some time back. This time around they will be hosting an instructor I've long admired, Jamie Zimron on Saturday, December 5. Hopefully I can make it. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Looking forward to driving Arab cars

No, this is not an Arab car. It's the Toyopet. But read on.

I am really looking forward to the day that I can drive an Arab car. Or maybe a Muslim car, if there is such a thing.

Not literally, I mean, I don't really know anything about the state of the auto industry in the Middle East. I'm completely ignorant to that aspect of their local economies.

What I mean is, in light of the Paris attacks last week; the return of 9/11-level anti-Arab/anti-Muslim/anti-anything-that-resembles-an-Arab-Muslim rhetoric spewing from the vacuum-brained and toxic-mouthed pit of Fox News and the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls, plus the attempts to outdo each other in Ebenezer Scrooge-levels of non-sympathy regarding Syrian refugees being paraded across Facebook from conservative-leaning friends and relations (God bless you all, insofar as you are still members of the human race . . . genetically anyway), I've now decided that the best way to stave off the indignant rage-induced headache creeping up my spine is to look towards the future.

And that is a future in which we are driving Arab cars.

Think of it this way. Back during that little skirmish known variously as World War II or the Pacific War or the Second Sino-Japan War, the then-Empire of Japan was engaged in what truly was an existential conflict with the West and its Asian neighbors between 1937 and 1945. According to Professor Rudolph Rummel, the civilian death toll alone was 5,424,000.

In the United States, it'd be safe to safe that a pretty sizeable dollop of the national stockpile of hatred was reserved for Japan, especially after the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, the legendary American naval commander, certainly didn't mince his words.  “Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill More Japs!” he told his troops. “The more of the little yellow bastards you kill, the quicker we go home!” And he certainly wasn't one for half-measures, no siree. “Before we’re through with ‘em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.” he extolled. He, and a lot of his fellow Americans, were not interested in mere military or political defeat. He was talking extermination.

And that hatred was so virulent, so extreme and so blinding, the U.S. government ordered the rounding up and imprisonment of over 127,000 Japanese American men, women and children because of their unfortunate geographical and ethnic connection to the nation's enemy. An "internment" they called it; a "relocation," in which homes, businesses, fortunes, lives these people had built up over decades were shattered, along with any semblance that the flag, the constitution or any of the promised freedoms in this country mattered.

(And by the way, as of writing, the news is circulating about that the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, David A. Bowers, in an act of mind-boggling galactic stupidity, has invoked the internment as grounds for rejecting the taking in of Syrian refugees).

But I digress; back to cars! Anyway, after the war ended, an ending in which the Allies were victorious and Japan was in ruins, followed years of U.S. military occupation, reconstruction, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Showa era Godzilla films, and Mach Go Go Go on TV (that's Speed Racer for the rest of you), and then something happened: The Japanese car!

Seemingly out of the blue (though not for anyone paying attention), Japan's automakers (You know the names - Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc.) broke onto the scene and by the 1980s overtook the U.S. as the world's leading car producer.

And not just that, suddenly, Japanese stuff was cool and hip and trendy. Back in the 1940s, U.S. propaganda films mocked Japan's traditional rice-based diet; the idea of eating raw fish was considered barbaric. Sure, some things were acceptably exotic, like purchasing paper parasols or picking up Japanese bar maids if you were a soldier during the occupation (just don't bring her back home to mother).

Now, sushi restaurants were springing up left and right, American businessmen were reading copies of the classical samurai strategy guide The Book of Five Rings to gain insight into their overseas competitors, little kids were taking karate and judo at the YMCA (uniforms to be repurposed into Luke Skywaker costumes at Halloween), and the television event of 1980 was NBC's mini-series adaptation of James Clavell's novel Shogun.

And it has never stopped. Japanese stuff was (is) here to stay. Anime, sudoku, Pokemon, tamagochi, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Naruto, Ruronin Kenshin, Nintendo, Sony XBOX, ramen . . . the list goes on and on.

So what's my point? With all the loud-mouthed bile being shouted about Arabs and Muslims, with all the naked hate being propagated about the internet accusing every non-Jewish Semitic person of being a wide-eyed, suicide-bombing terrorist mongrel, I dream of a future where all of that is behind us. Where it is more than forgotten, it's been pushed aside by something different; a positive and possibly hipster embrace of all things Arab and Middle Eastern.

I'm imagining a reality with Arab restaurants of every size and shape dotting both metropolitan landscapes and far-off suburbs. A world where white college guys are studying up on Arabic in a desperate attempt to ask the cool Iraqi girl in class on a date. I see food trucks dispensing grilled halloumi, and dance clubs cranking out a fusion of hiphop and Berber or Moroccan melodies.

Sure, things won't be perfect. But wouldn't it be great if the only notes of overt hatred were past-tense reminisces of that old Arab/Muslim-hating relative?; "Yeah, my granddad use to say 'raghead' all the time, and now I drive an Arab car."

What if the only problems being faced were whether the right actor was being cast as that popular Arab or Muslim comic book superhero or whether that new Arab-themed Broadway musical was culturally authentic enough? That would be a giant Neil Armstrong-sized footstep in the right direction, if you ask me. Certainly a better direction than the antagonistic indifference and ignorance we see being bandied about online and on the airwaves.

And yeah, this is a reality I really, really, really want to happen. One because I can't stand what I'm seeing and hearing in the media, but also because of some personal encounters with the legacy of hatred.

Now, I've never been a refugee myself, nor had first-hand encounters with the terrors of war (thank God). But, as I'm half-Japanese and half-Korean, I've had a handful of unfortunate run-ins.

One that I remember is my first trip to South Korea. On Christmas Eve, my grandmother took me to the Methodist church in Seoul that my great-grandfather had founded as its minister. The current junior minister was introduced to me by my grandmother (he spoke English) and we had the following exchange.

Minister: "So, I understand you don't speak Korean."

Me: "No, I don't."

Minister: "But you do speak Japanese?"

Me: "Yes."

Minister: "And you are studying in Japan?"

Me: "Yes." (I was an exchange student to Waseda University at the time)

And at that point, the minister looked at me very seriously and sternly and said:
"I think the Japanese are the worst people in the world."

I had no reaction. And he continued.

Minister: "You see that girl over there."

I looked and nodded.

Minister: "That is my daughter. I tell her every day that the Japanese are the worst people in the world."

And with that he ended. Merry Christmas.

So, after that long-winded explanation, that's why I want to say, I dream of a day when we can be driving Arab cars.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Let Hands Do What Lips Do

Giving a quick shout-out to director Aaron Sawyer and Red Theater for their hit play R+J: The Vineyard, a reconceptualization of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet incorporating American Sign Language (ASL) along with spoken text. It's been getting a lot of good reviews and good buzz, and hopefully I'll get around to catching it before closing.

Aaron actually attended one of the intro classes at my dojo back in July, seeking something different for the fight choreography in the show. Afterward I did some coaching with the actors in the early stages of rehearsal, showing them the fundamentals of contact and flow used in Aikido.

Unfortunately, per Aaron, a lot of my original work didn't survive the transition as the show workshopped its way through rehearsals to tech/dress and finally opening, as the cast made adjustments to the performance space and their actual prop weapons (Well, that and I wasn't around to do any additional tweaking). However, I'm still getting a "Combat Consultant" credit, and given that this show looks like it's pretty groundbreaking, that's a small issue for me. Congratulations to all involved!

Telling the Tale Again: 

The Story of Chiune Sugihara

Back in August I was in a staged reading of Chiune Sugihara: Unsung Hero of the Holocaust, a short play by Philip Pinkus, portraying the WWII era Vice-Consul for Japan in Lithuania who helped more than six thousand Jews escape the Holocaust. It turned out to be a rewarding experience in a couple of ways.

Held at the  Japanese American Service Committee (JASC)  and produced by  Genesis Theatricals, only a handful of people were anticipated. So, it was quite surprising when some 50 people or so showed up, requiring the organizers to lay out more folding chairs than expected. The reading was even attended by representatives of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago and the Japan Information Center

Even more heartwarming and moving was the appearnce of Chaya Small, who as a young girl was one of the many Jews whose lives were saved by Sugihara. During the talkback afterward with myself and my director, Elayne LeTraunik, Chaya spoke to the gathered crowd about her experiences and her undying gratitude for the man she described as having "done so much, but always shunned  recognition and honor."

I don't do much acting nowadays, with my son Jack taking up most of my spare time. But in many ways, I consider doing this less acting and more serving my community. In the context of World War II, being Japanese usually means you are the enemy (in the case of the war in the Pacific and Asia) or a victim (in the case of Japanese American internees). So I find it both important and valuable to know there was a tale of genuine heroism on the part of a Japanese national during that time period.

And on Tuesday, November 9, I will get two more opportunities to share this story with others.

First, I will be reading a short five-minute excerpt via Skype to a crowd of 200 to 250 people at Miami Dade College-Homestead Campus. It will be part of their Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration in remembrance of the Holocaust, and in addition to students and survivors, the local consul generals of Japan and Germany will be present.

Later on in the evening, there will be a second public reading of the full play at the Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan synagogue in Northtown.

I'm looking forward to both opportunities to share Sugihara's story with new audiences. I think it is truly profound, moving and unfortunately, largely unknown story. Strangely, this past September, the Japanese government began taking steps for Sugihara to be recognized in Unesco’s Memory of the World Register. So perhaps the timing just happens to be right.

Genesis Theatrical Productions presents a Dramatic Staged Reading of
Chiune Sugihara: Unsung Hero of the Holocaust by Philip Pinkus

The show features Dwight Sora as Chiune Sugihara.  Directed by Elayne LeTraunik

Tuesday, November 9 at 7:30 pm
Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan
7311 N Western Ave, Chicago

RSVP to Scott Adams at
No admission, though donations to a Holocaust survivor charity are welcome.

Monday, October 5, 2015

"I remember once, in Japan . . . "

Too Many Guns?
「The Terminator images」の画像検索結果
「The Matrix images」の画像検索結果「Looper images」の画像検索結果

I love action movies. I doubt direct correlations between pop culture violence and real life (Otherwise every 80s kid raised on Stallone/Schwarzenegger flicks would have become Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold). But in light of the gun violence epidemic, maybe some new narratives should be offered through entertainment. Maybe instead of ordinary guys pushed too far and embarking on violent revenge, how about violent guys giving up on revenge and seeking a peaceful, ordinary life?

「Columbine images」の画像検索結果「Sandy Hook images」の画像検索結果「Colorado shooting images」の画像検索結果「Oregon school shooter images」の画像検索結果

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hawaii (1966) PosterAloha (2015) PosterThe Descendants (2011) Poster

Hollywood movies set in or about Hawaii.

South Pacific (1958)
Starring Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr

Blue Hawaii (1961)
Starring Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury

Hawaii (1966)
Starring Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow, Richard Harris

The Hawaiians (1970)
Starring Charlton Heston, Tina Chen, Geraldine Chaplin

The Descendants (2011)
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

Aloha (2015)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone

There's a pattern here. Assuming you can create patterns with an overwhelmingly monochromatic palette.

Recent photo of me with my wife, son and cousins from our recent visit to my father's hometown of Eleele on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. My family has been there for four generations. Altogether, we represent a combination of Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino and European ancestry.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Asian parent-style take on Kim Davis: See, many Americans celebrate a woman who doesn't do her job or follow the rules. That's why their children can't get into good colleges.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Unsung Hero of the Holocaust

This month, I get to take part in a retelling of largely unknown piece of history. During World War II, Chiune Sugihara, the Vice-Consul for Japan in Lithuania, helped more than six thousand Jews (mostly refugees from German-occupied Poland as well as Lithuania) leave the country by issuing transit visas so that they could travel to Japan. This brave action put at risk his entire career and the lives of his family members. The so-called "Japanese Schindler" was later named Righteous Among the Nations by Israel in 1985, the only Japanese national to be so honored. 

Despite all the ideal trappings for a Hollywood movie, Sugihara's story is not very well-known. It was the subject of the 1997 short film Visas and Virtue, which won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action, and a handful of TV specials and documentaries, but mention his name to most people and you will get a blank response.

Trailer for Visas and Virtue (1997)

On Thursday, August 27, I will be playing Sugihara in a staged reading of Chiune Sugihara: Unsung Hero of the Holocaust a play by Philip Pinkus. The reading is produced by Genesis Theatricals and is directed by Elayne LeTraunik. The Japanese American Service Committee (JASC) has very kindly offered to provide space for the event. 

I'm definitely looking forward to this. Besides the inherent heroism and the opportunity to shed light on a forgotten historical episode, I believe it is important to show that not all stories involving Japanese persons during WWII were ones in which they were the aggressors (in the case of the Pacific War) or victims (the Japanese American internment). 

Genesis Theatrical Productions presents a Dramatic Staged Reading of
Chiune Sugihara: Unsung Hero of the Holocaust by Philip Pinkus

Presented by Genesis Theatricals

The show features Dwight Sora as Chiune Sugihara.  Directed by Elayne LeTraunik

Thursday, August 27, 2015, 7:30 pm
Japanese American Service Committee
4427 N. Clark, Chicago

The reading is free.  For information or questions, call 773-800-1703

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Given the destructive capabilities of a single, normal, human baby, a major hole in the Superman mythos is the Kents would have been dead within a week of bringing home their superpowered Kryptonian foundling.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I think if social media was around in New Testament times, there'd be folks posting, "But the Romans crucified so many Judeans. Why is everyone getting riled up about this one?"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reblogged from Chicago Aikido Club (CAC)

First Mondays Intro Class
Starting next month, Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) invites all newcomers to try out the martial art of aikido the first Monday class of every month.
The class is absolutely free. No experience or uniform necessary. Just be sure to wear clothes in which you can move freely, and bring flip flops and an open attitude.
First Mondays Intro Class will begin on Monday, August 3, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm.
We also have a Facebook event page here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

We Are All Made of Stars

Life's funny. Been having a pretty good week so far and just got word that an uncle who had been a favorite of mine when I was little just passed away. Not a blood relative (he was married to one of my mother's cousins), but he was instrumental in making it possible for my mother to immigrate to the U.S. and settle in Chicago. We had gotten distant as I grew up, but in my childhood he was an ever-present jokester at family Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's gatherings (quite contrary to the stern image of most Korean men of his generation). He always made an effort to play with the little kids, and had me convinced that every night a spaceman landed in his backyard and someday I might get to meet him (a tall tale he concocted based on my obsession with the Apollo 11 moon landing). He did get to meet Czerina when we were dating (and trotted out a single line of Tagalog he knew), but sadly never met Jack. I go to sleep imagining I'm six years old, standing in the backyard of his then-home in Hyde Park under a starry sky, and that spaceship (which I never saw but had lovingly detailed in my imagination) is descending slowly. Uncle Peter is standing next to me, holding my hand, waiting to introduce me to his friend.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Penuel: The Sammy Lee Story
Samuel "Sammy" Lee (born August 1, 1920). The first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving.

As a (half) Korean American, I'm ashamed to admit that I never heard of Sammy Lee before. It wasn't until fellow Korean American actor David Rhee went off to New York last summer to take a playwriting course and told me he had an idea of a script about Lee that I knew who he was or what he had achieved.

In case you haven't either, the fruit's of David's labors will get a first-ever public viewing this coming weekend. Local Chicago theater company Silk Road Rising will be presenting two readings of his play, Penuel: The Sammy Lee Story, on Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 12, both at 4:00 pm. The readings will be held at Silk Road's space in The Historic Chicago Temple Building at 77 West Washington Street. 

There will be some great local Chicago actors making David's words come to life, under the direction of Goodman/Silk Road veteran Steve Scott. I'm involved in the modest capacity of reading stage directions, and being there to support the venture. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

My son Jack Diego Kim Salud Sora celebrated his first birthday yesterday. As my brother told me, "The years are short but the days are long." I couldn't agree more. Every day since then has been a challenge and an effort, but I'm still amazed how much he (and our lives) have changed since July 5, 2015.

I can't think of much else to add, so I'm going to just repost what I typed our bleary-eyed from our hospital room at St. Joseph's hospital a year ago.

- Dwight

What a Difference a Day Makes

Originally, my wife Czerina and I were planning on a quiet July 5th, taking one of her cousin's two daughters to Chicago's Chinatown for an outing. That rapidly changed starting around 5:25 am in the morning when the first of the contractions started.

We had a little bit of a false start. I called the doctor around 8:00 am, and then when Czerina felt like the pain was spiking, we piled our pre-packed luggage and the child seat into the car and took off for St. Joseph's Hospital. However, once we got to triage in the birthing center, we were informed that we were at too early a stage of labor, and were sent back home (Much to Czerina's discomfort, since early or not early, she was having a lot of trouble moving about).

So back home we went, killing a few hours while Czerina rode out the contractions. I worked to do my best husband work: drew her a bath, made her a light meal (miso soup), provided her water, massaged her back on command and took any harsh responses in stride (not many, thankfully).

Around 1:00pm we returned and she was admitted again. The next was hours of waiting, room switching, phone calls and texts to friends and relatives, the arrival of my immediate family, filling out forms, more waiting, briefings on procedures, etc. etc. etc.

Then finally, at 9:19 pm in the evening, after much hard work from a great birthing team and of course the Czerina's strenuous efforts, the world said hello to Jack Diego Kim Salud Sora, at 6 pounds 4 ounces and 19 inches.

As of writing, mommy and baby are doing fine.  Jack is getting a little extra attention to make sure everything is okay (He was a bit stubborn coming out, so the neonatologists have moved him to the nursery for observation).

I'll definitely be writing more about the experience, but wanted to get the official announcement out of the way, as well as a brief rundown of how things transpired.

Also, BTW, in acknowledgement of the very mixed heritage Jack is receiving, we are also giving him Japanese and Korean names.  These won't be part of his legal name, which is appropriate, given that "Jack" was taken from my paternal grandfather, who was always called that even though it wasn't his legal name.

The name we have selected is "義賢," which is read “Yoshikata” (よしかた) in Japanese and “Uihyeon” (의현) in Korean. The name is a combination of characters from my father's Japanese name Yoshio (義雄) and my mother's Korean name Hyunchoo (賢珠).

Both names have some historical significance.  I found the following online.

Uihyeon is the name of the man who built the Buddhist statue Gatbawi in Korea.  It was made in the Unified Silla Kingdom era and is well known with the name of Gatbawi Buddha (Stone Hat Buddha). It sits 4 metres (13 ft) tall, and the hat is a 15-centimetre (6 in) thick flat stone on his head,  This single granite sculpture was made up at the top of the 850-metre (2,790 ft) high rough Palgongsan and is surrounded by a screen-like rock wall as its background. It is said that Uihyeon made it in order to appease his mother's soul in the 7th ruling year of Queen Seondeok of Silla Kingdom.  The legend of Daegu Gatbawi says that a big crane flew in to guard him every night while he was making this Gatbawi Buddha. It is reputed to be a miraculous Buddha stone, which makes a response to prayers if the prayer prays for it with his or her whole heart.

Rokkaku Yoshikata (六角 義賢?, 1521 – April 19, 1598) was a samurai head of the Rokkaku clan during Japan's Sengoku period.[1] He was shugo (governor) and later daimyō of an area of southern Ōmi province, he served as castellan of Kannonji Castle. He later became a Buddhist monk, under the name Shōtei.

Alright, that seems good enough for now.  Getting ready for lunch and catching a little more quick shut-eye where I can.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

"I get knocked down, but I get up again . . . "

Celebrating my 42nd by getting down (and up and down, and then down again) during a momentous week for the U.S.A.

Getting tossed around by my teacher, Joe Takehara

After an incredible week of events that saw the upholding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the legalization of same-sex marriage and reflection on the notorious legacy of the Confederate flag, I thought I'd kick off my 42nd celebrations early (actual date: June 30) with a round of birthday breakfalls at the end of class with the Chicago Aikido Club on Friday the 26th. 

My fellow aikidoka in attendance that night (Marlon Fadragas, Cyril Oseledets, Joe Takehara, Hai Tran, Nguyen Tran and Andrew Vitale) kindly obliged to toss me about the mat.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What a June to Remember

The Pope came out against capitalism, the military industrial complex and on the side of environmentalism. The Confederate flag is getting long-due scrutiny, the Affordable Care Act was upheld and marriage equality just upheld. All within a period of a few weeks. . . . Staring out my window. Still haven't spotted those flying pigs yet but I'll keep looking.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thoughts on Charleston

I am now thoroughly convinced that if a rich, straight, white male shot up a Wall Street boardroom or a party in the Hamptons filled with similar individuals, armed to the teeth with legally purchased military-grade assault weapons, and the likes of the Koch brothers, Antonin Scalia, Sheldon Adelson and all the GOP presidential contenders were present and forced to pay witness to the death and carnage that transpired first-hand, conservative voices would STILL work overtime to blame African Americans, feminism, gun control, illegal immigrants, marijuana, homosexuality and liberal arts degrees.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Okay, you know I don't get to train as much as I used to, so let's make good use of our time.
Lesson number one . . . 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road

1) Lives up to the hype
2) Not bothered by the CGI (it's used judiciously and appropriately)
3) The stunts are magnificent
4) Proof that a sequel/remake need not be bad (Though does not justify Hollywood's current sequel/remake/reboot obsession. If anything, raises the bar for them to make ones that are actually good films in and of themselves)
5) Strong action heroines do not equal feminist propaganda
6) George Miller directs vehicle action like Yuen Woo-Ping directs kung-fu like John Woo directs gunfights like Busby Berkeley directed musicals. Action that advances the story, reveals character and revels in artfully capturing physical possibilities onscreen.
7) Minimal plot and character details usually sink blockbuster action films, but done right like here can create mythic, haunting and, dare I say it, poetic atmosphere.
8) Tom Hardy is both great as Max and the heir to Clint Eastwood's mantle as the Man with No name.
9) Other films I found myself thinking of while watching: The Warriors (1979), Fantastic Planet (1973) and Once Upon A Time in the West (1968).
10) Can't remember the last time a film got my blood pumping like that.
11) Hereinafter, the action in any movie should not be described as "visceral" by any critic until it can equal this one.