Saturday, January 28, 2012

Martial Arts Is Life

I've never been remotely athletic my entire life. About the only sport I enjoyed was Volleyball, and I wasn't very good. But, my wife and I got our kids started. We were desperate to get them involved in some physical activity – lest they turn into couch potatoes like their parents. The kids enjoyed martial arts, and they stuck with it. Watching them, I would think, “I could probably do that.”

I spent my 44th birthday flat on my back in so much pain I could not sleep. If one has never experienced back pain, it is impossible to describe. Medicines had almost no effect. The doctor suggested physical therapy. Gradually, it helped. At the end of eight weeks, my therapist told me that I knew enough to keep the pain under control.

With success of the physical therapy, my doctor did not see a need to pursue more invasive treatments. I suggested that if I lost my extra seventy extra pounds, perhaps I wouldn’t have so much pain. My doctor agreed, but when I told him I was considering Karate, he was strongly against it. He suggested Pilates instead. 

That conversation kept me out of the studio for two years. I continued to do the physical therapy exercises, and began to feel stronger. Almost three years after my back injury, I decided to ignore the doctor and give it a try.

I'm glad I did.

The three years of training to obtain a black belt seemed like forever. Most most things in life, I've been a fast learner. It was difficult for me to accept such a seemingly slow pace. 

In the first year,  I began to understand some of the subtleties of the art. It’s not just blocking, punching and kicking, but how well one blocks punches and kicks – the correct stance, balance, body position, speed. Seemly simple exercises are actually quite difficult. And while the first one may look pretty good, but how well can you do the hundredth? Training the body this way takes time, and can’t be rushed. The repetition trains the muscles and the mind to make the motions habitually. They become second nature.

When I started, I hoped to lose a few pounds, and reshape my flabby self. In the first six months, I lost 17 pounds. Since then, while I continue to reshape, I haven't lost any further weight.

The mental changes surprised me. Within a few months, I found I could concentrate better -- I was able to think like I could in my early thirties. This sort of concentration is very beneficial in my line of work.

For some people, a black belt signifies something dangerous. They joke that you have to register yourself at a police station as a weapon, just so your neighbors will know not to mess with you. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Martial art training does not make one more volatile. With the confidence gained through training, you become a calmer, less anxious person, ready for anything. 

I view the black belt as something akin to a pilot’s license. In flying, flight examiners often say that earning your Private Pilot license is the beginning of your training. The license signifies that you meet the minimum qualifications of aeronautical knowledge, piloting skills and judgment to be permitted to fly yourself and passengers. Just having the license does not signify any sort of aeronautical mastery. The true learning starts when you alone are responsible for the safe outcome of each flight. The lesson is clear: that a good pilot never stops learning.

To me, the black belt shows that one has demonstrated the minimal proficiency at martial arts necessary to advance to further study. Anyone with a black belt has put in a lot of hard work. Three years of training twice a week is three hundred lessons. For some, the number may be closer to five hundred. During that time, the student honed their powers of observation. They should be able to pick up the subtle details of instruction. Black belts have shown the mental toughness to keep going even when the body wants to stop – they won’t give up. Above all, the students have shown a willingness to learn. All of these are necessary for advanced study of martial arts. This isn’t the end of training, but the beginning.

Since earning my black belt in Tang Soo Do, I've continued to train, but circumstances have lead me to also train in Hap Ki Do and Tae Kwon Do. It's been four years now, and I don't see any signs that I want to stop. It isn't just part of my life, on some level, it is life itself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finishing the R7000 Rebuild

At our last installment, we were going to re-assemble the R7000. But, I forget to mention one other rebuild step I performed. When I took the R7000 down, the center insulator was looking green. As in slimy mildew green. Yuck. That growth was going to slowly destroy the insulator.

Refinished R7000 center insulator.
Disassembly was the first step. I thought I might be able to separate the insulator from the aluminum tubes, and I removed the screws holding them together. With the original R7000, there are eight short screws inserted from the inside of the tubes. I'm sure they use some special jig for this, because once you remove them, you can't get them back in. That's OK, because later versions of the R7000 simply used four 2 1/2 inch 8-32 screws.

Even with the screws out, I couldn't separate the insulator from the tubing. It was just too tight a fit to try and separate and risk damaging the insulator.

With all the hardware out of the way, the next step was to clean the green slime off the insulator. Soap and water took care of that with a little gentle scrubbing with a sponge. The fiberglass was a little frayed on the surface, but the insulator looked practically new. 

To prevent a new growth of green goo, I painted the insulator with a thick layer of flat black spray paint. The photo shows the screws re-assembled. 
R7000 Assembled. The chair keeps the
capacity hat rods from bending.
Following the measurements in the manual, I re-assembled the antenna in the driveway. Although the manual directs you to install the radial rods first, it's much easier to work with the antenna if you leave them until later.

Once you put the capacity hat rods on, you'll need to elevate the antenna to keep them from bending. I used a patio chair for this purpose. 

After finishing the assembly, I double-checked the tubing lengths, just to be sure. This is an important step. When I first assembled my Cushcraft A3S, for example, I got the lengths on the director element about 6 inches short on each side.

Before doing all the work of putting the antenna back on the mast, I wanted to make sure it was working correctly. I figured if I could hold it a foot or so off the ground, I ought to be able to see the resonance dips near each amateur band. 

I used a wooden stepladder and bungee cords to  hold the antenna just off the ground. Using an antenna analyzer, I found resonance dips roughly where they should be. Having the antenna so close to the ground means it's going to be slightly out of tune. But it was a good enough test to give me some confidence the antenna would be working as it should. (or, so I hoped)

Wooden stepladder used as a test stand.
After this, I re-mounted the antenna to the mast and raised it back up in position. Initial tests seemed to show good results on 10 and 12m. 15m - 20m were a bit out of whack, and 30m and 40m were pretty much unusable.

Hmm. I contemplated this problem for about a week. I figured it might be a problem with the CT1 trap. In the meantime, however, my replacement capacitor came. I replaced my chain of 4 100 pF caps with a single 27 pF 1 kV capacitor.

After replacing the MN7000, I was shocked to see no SWR dips at all on the antenna analyzer. However, punching the antenna with a little bit of RF remedied that. In fact, the antenna appears to be resonant on each of the expected ham bands with a reasonable SWR.

I used this antenna in the recent NAQP CW. It performed decently. I even managed to hold a run for about a half hour on 40m. I'd say it's now working as  designed. I don't know if it will break any pileups, but having a decent radiator on seven ham bands with one eleven foot support is nice.