A Deceased Sensei Saved My Life

1 Feb

He died more than five years ago, but recently my friend and comrade, Sensei Wayne Norlander, saved my life.

Remember the day of the week; Wednesday.
Remember the date; January 18th, 2017.

It started like any other, Wednesday. Well, almost. For the past three weeks I was fighting a loosing battle with the flu. So I thought. Three days before I had gone to an Urgent Care facility and received a prescription for a heavy-duty antibiotic and an expectorant to help clear my lungs of fluid. I woke Wednesday morning about three a.m. This had become my habit over the past three weeks. I was so congested and coughing that I rarely slept more than three or four hours.

Three a.m. is a cold, dark, lonely time of night. I would try to kill time by reading or surfing the web. But in those dark hours, you didn’t kill time, you endured it. Around six a.m. I would begin my normal routine. This included my morning kata and always Sanchin Kata to keep my lungs working as best they could.

Wednesday morning was a little different in that I had to perform Sanchin and Tensho twice at only half power to keep from having a coughing fit. This being a Wednesday, I also performed Kunchaba Kata. Kunchaba is not within the Goshin-Do Karate-Do syllabus. I learned it from Sensei Wayne. The day he passed was May 18th, 2011, a Wednesday. Every Wednesday since, I perform Kunchaba in his memory. I have never missed a Wednesday Kunchaba.

This ritual is important for two reasons. First it honors and memorializes Sensei. More importantly and more esoterically, the kata ritual keeps me connected with Sensei’s eternal spirit. See for example the Hatsu Bon poem found at https://senseijohn.me/2016/05/09/hatsu-bon-for-shihan-wayne-norlander-2/

Shihan Wayne Norlander with friend & comrade, Shihan Peter Urban, circa 1970's, West New York, NJ

Shihan Wayne Norlander with friend & comrade, Shihan Peter Urban, circa 1970’s, West New York, NJ

During Kunchaba, I noticed that my shins and feet did not “feel” right. Raising my pant leg, I saw that they were swollen. “Damn!” I thought. “I must be having a reaction to the flu medication.” I decided to soldier on, took my shower and got dressed for work. As the workplace is casual, I selected Sensei Wayne’s memorial motorcycle ride T-shirt. A funny choice as future events will show. I packed my backpack, laptop, lunch and was ready to leave for work. I stopped at the back door and had a thought. “Maybe I should get this reaction checked out?” I paused for a few minutes. I called work and told them I’d be late as I was stopping at Hackensack Hospital Emergency Room to have the meds checked to halt this reaction. I thought I would be out of the E.R. by early afternoon and back at work.

Long and short of it, I spent eight days in the hospital with congestive heart failure. I had two procedures, one a shock to the heart to get the rhythm back and when that didn’t work a three hour surgical procedure (an “electronic ablation” procedure to scar the heart and interrupt the errant beat).

So, why do I attribute this to Sensei Wayne saving my life? Anyone that knows my views on kata either through this blog or my seminars know I explore the spiritual aspects of kata. I believe kata is a pathway to opening you to a heightened sense of perception. I believe I have an awareness of things that others simply cannot understand. With that in mind, lets look at some background facts that cause me to attribute my “decision” to go to the hospital.

With Shihan Norlander after a spirited workout. Circa 2008

With Shihan Norlander after a spirited workout. Circa 2008

First, Sensei Wayne passed on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 from a sudden and massive heart attack. My cardiologist told me that if I waited another twenty-four to forty-eight hours to go to the E.R. I would have had some sort of a cardiac event, including a possible heart attack.

Second, I cannot explain my “choice” of wearing Sensei Wayne’s memorial motorcycle ride T-shirt. Was I thinking of him? Or, was I subconsciously aware something was wrong with me? But, how could I know my congestion was due to a heart situation? Or, was it because of the day of the week (see below)?

Third, the day was a Wednesday, the day of the week that Sensei passed away. It is the day that I keep Sensei most in mind and dedicate a Kunchaba Kata to his memory. As I knew Sensei died of a massive heart attack on a Wednesday, was this something that added to my decision? Or, was it the date?

Fourth, The date was the 18th. Not just any 18th day of the month, but a Wednesday. The exact day and date Sensei passed. Weird, not sure. But then again;

Fifth, the last time the 18th day of the month fell on a Wednesday prior to this time was Wednesday May 18th 2016 – five years to the very day and date that Sensei passed!

Wearing Sensei Wayne's Memorial T-Shirt leaving the hospital. The same one I wore to E.R.

Wearing Sensei Wayne’s Memorial T-Shirt leaving the hospital. The same one I wore to E.R.


Post Script (April 5th, 2017): There was an unforeseen development whereby I needed a second surgery. It was originally scheduled for Friday, March 24th, 2017. Two weeks before, the hospital called to tell me the date was changed to March 29th, 2017 – – – a WEDNESDAY.

Incidentally, the style of karate I’ve studied since I was ten years old is Goshin-Do Karate-Do. The kanji is written to translate as “Self-defense way of the empty hand.” At one time the kanji was written to translate as “Strong-heart empty hand way.” Fitting.

I don’t know if the above would count as an enhanced perception derived from spiritually practicing kata. Is it just hooey? Who knows. But I do know this. Every Wednesday I think of my friend and will continue to do so. He was taken suddenly and without warning. Somehow my decision to memorialize him with kata impacted my sub-conscious thought that I’d better get myself to the E.R. right then and there. To that end, I will always believe in my (now electronically stable) heart of hearts that Sensei Wayne Norlander saved my life! To that I say “Thank-you my friend.”

Featured Video: Kunchaba Kata (in honor of Sensei Wayne):


And a big “Thank-you” to all the doctors and nurses that looked after me in their very special and compassionate way. Without them, I never would have made the great recovery that I did.

Respectfully submittd,


Sensei John Szmitkowski

KATA LAB  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: https://senseijohn.me/kata-lab/

© Copyright 2017 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

You may wish to view my other blogs –
LOGO-WEBSITE  my fishing blog which includes my fishing journals and the interrelationship between martial arts protocol to fishing http://flyfishingdojo.com
DOJO STICKER-1  the Goshin-Do Karate blog at http://defeliceryu.com

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