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Martial Arts Inspiring Story - Lynn Meyer - Marshall Ave Self Defense

John Meyer - Patience and Gratitude in the Face of Strife

John Meyer was one stubborn guy. It got him through all of life's challenges - and he had more than anyone I've ever met.

First, he was small - nearly 5'8'' though he claimed the full height - and he came from a family of overachievers. They were talented - both smart and athletic. His older brother was his role model - 9 years older, good looking and wholesome with a wicked sense of humor, a family trait. His brother was 6' tall at 12, and John wanted to be just like him.

Unfortunately John suffered a bout of rheumatic fever at a young age that may have triggered diabetes at 9 years old. His growth slowed, and he went from being one of the tallest kids to below average. He was in and out of hospitals - in and out of comas his whole childhood. He missed an entire year of school in his struggles.

Combine his small stature, the high expectations for a Meyer in school, and diabetes and you get someone who is ready to fight any and every thing. The doctors told him to be careful with his extremities as he could have issues with any damage to his feet in particular. Naturally, he had to enroll in martial arts.

Starting at 14 he studied Tae Kwon Do, then Goju Kai Karate, and then anything and everything that came his way, anyone that wanted to work out or teach him anything.

His health largely stabilized, although he had to have cataracts removed at 17 and 28, and he settled into starting a family and a career. But again, his stubborn nature kicked in. He felt that the corporate world had little to offer him and, at 28 years old in 1983, he decided to make his living teaching. He opened a store selling equipment - and a dojo. He ran it as he wanted to - with large doses of old-school tradition blended with an irreverent sense of humor that permeated everything he did.

But diabetes is insidious in its ways. It works behind the scenes eroding nearly every one of the body's systems. He got a little steam burn on his toe - the dreaded foot injury, though not from martial arts. It wouldn't heal and eventually became gangrenous. The only way to save the foot was to amputate the toe. The man who wasn't happy unless someone tried to punch and kick him every single day now had to sit. Let's say, it didn't sit well with him, and he didn't sit well with it. But after a year of struggle, it was finally healing, and he worked his way from crutches to cane.

On the 2nd of April, 1996, he woke up to take his vitamins and fell to the floor hard. He was speaking incomprehensibly and couldn't get up. He was rushed to the hospital and the verdict was back - it was a massive stroke, and he would be lucky to live. If he did, it would be with significant deficits. He woke up from his coma to such frustration. He was unable to move the right side of his body, and he was trying to speak but everything was coming out jumbled.

His primary trait was about to be crucial; that stubbornness was about to pay off. He learned to walk and talk all over again. His evil little smile was his new signature look. They had anticipated months in rehab and decided to have the ''family meeting'' after 4 weeks because he had made such great progress. His family and all the doctors and nurses on his case were assembled around a conference table. They began to talk about his case amongst themselves and suddenly were interrupted. Apparently, John was taking over the meeting. It ended with astonished faces as he announced that he would be leaving in another two weeks instead of months, and he suddenly turned to the head doctor and asked what her cholesterol level was. She ended up getting a lecture on the best ways to reduce it without resorting to drugs. Needless to say, he got his way.

But life was not simple. His house was ill-equipped for one with so many physical issues, and he had trouble dealing with too many stimuli at once. His once-beloved music was now a cacophony of sound that couldn't be sorted out. But the worst fear is a common one - how will someone who defines himself by what he can do deal with life when he can no longer do what defines him? It is a struggle with many former athletes and business people have when they retire. How would John react?

He reacted by going back to work every day. Eventually he became a fixture in his dojo. He realized that the knowledge in his head trumped the lack of physical ability. He didn't have to be able to do it himself to give insight into how to do physical technique. He taught meditation and breathing technique and philosophy. He was consistently there as an example for his students.

By 2000, stroke struck yet again. This time it took his ability to walk. He continued to teach from his wheelchair, astounding partygoers at a friend's 40th birthday as he was able to throw two of his students at a time with only one functional arm over and over again. He traveled the world - being pushed to the bottom of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan and taking a helicopter ride over the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii. By now, pneumonia was always a threat, necessitating longer hospital stays on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, stealing time from him months at a clip. By 2004, he could no longer eat and had to have a feeding tube installed. But he continued to teach despite everything, continued holding court in the store with those who came to visit.

A tracheostomy was performed to help keep his airway clear and his lungs free of pneumonia. Still he taught three days a week. His kidneys failed, and he went on dialysis. Still came to the dojo. His immune system was failing, and he would go into the hospital with one infection and suddenly had 5 or 6. Whenever he'd get out, he'd be back to the dojo, teaching, advising and inspiring.

He continued to live at home the entire time, despite the fact that no one thought he could. But it was taking a huge toll on his energy. Mini strokes, caused by the life-saving dialysis were happening on a regular basis, and his immune system was negligible. He was more susceptible to everything and more resistant to the even the most potent drugs.

He was in the hospital with yet another infection and ready to be released when the call came - he might have had an episode. Soon it became apparent that it was not a simple ''episode'' - it was a massive stroke that affected what had been his ''good side.'' The prognosis was dire, with no meaningful recovery expected. He was in a coma. The family was standing around his bed in the ICU telling a funny ''John story'' and suddenly looked down and saw what looked like a smile. And then it was gone. We repeated it and, sure enough, there was another half-smile. He could hear. He could move no other part of his body but he could hear and very lightly squeeze his right hand. We could communicate, however primitively. It became apparent that with the deterioration of his body and his lack of ability to recover that there would be no quality of life. He was not going to be able to out-stubborn this one.

They scheduled another family meeting.

Everyone agreed that there was no more possibility of ''quality of life'' and that dialysis was too strenuous to go through three times a week considering what little would be gained, so it was decided to discontinue dialysis. It would take 7-10 days for the process, and the whole family was gathered around his bed, scheduling the times they would be there, making sure he was never alone. Suddenly he gasped and that was it. A very quiet and peaceful end to a tumultuous life. A life defined by strife to be sure, but more by patience and gratitude in the face of strife. His grace in the face of that struggle showed his warrior spirit more than any technique he could have taught.

John began his journey with a pugnacious attitude, sly smile and ready wit but evolved into a gentleman who inspired those who met him with his gentle spirit and relentless will to live despite the myriad of obstacles set in his path. Deprived of so many of the quality of life things most take for granted, his inner beauty shone through to the end. The last communication we had was his smile that will stay in our hearts and minds forever.

When he finally passed on Oct 8, 2012, the memorial service was held in the dojo, as seemed fitting.

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Lynn Meyer
Marshall Ave Self Defense
St. Paul MN 55104
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