Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My First Tattoo – Bangkok, Thailand (12.3.06)

“If you could be an animal (other than a human being), what animal would you be, and why?” was the questioned asked at a few of the leadership training workshops I attended during and shortly after college.

I liked the question and the thought process it evoked, but I always found myself frustrated trying to decide between a big cat (like a black panther or lion) and a bird.

My family had both cats and dogs during most of my childhood, but I always found myself identifying more with the cats and their feline sense of pride than with the dogs. I liked that they were self-sufficient and independent (“Oh, you don’t want to change my kitty litter? No problem, I’ll just shred this telephone book, and…voila!”). I also admired their grace and agility, and appreciated the fact that they didn’t come when you called them, but came of their own volition, often when most needed. Whenever I had the blues and needed a little affection, it wouldn’t be long before there was a cat purring on my chest and nuzzling my chin with its head. The warmth and sincerity of their affection was always comforting.

I imagine my affinity for cats may also have had something to do with learning about how Egyptian priests regarded them as the symbolic forces of nature and kept them around for “the astral fires emanating from them.”

And who doesn’t want to be able to fly?

Finally, during a Team Leader training workshop for AmeriCorps-NCCC in 1995, a facilitator rephrased the question, asking “If you could be any animal in the universe, real or imaginary, which animal would you be, and why?” That was the precise moment at which the answer clicked immediately: I’d be a winged lion!

My winged lion represents African heritage, leadership, family and alchemy.

I started growing dreadlocks when I was 9 years old. We had recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to Charleston, South Carolina, and I had just learned a valuable lesson in Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). I was taking pride in my African name and heritage, and my dreadlocks were a visible manifestation of those internal convictions. This was 1981: long before dreadlocks became fashionable or adorned the heads of minstrel clowns like Lil John.

Ever since I cut off my dreadlocks under duress back in 1993, I’ve thought about reincarnating them in one form or another. My lion’s mane not only represents my lost dreadlocks, but also a connection to, and an appreciation for, the culture of resistance, upliftment and self-determination celebrated by reggae music and its two biggest luminaries: The Conquering Lion of Judah, Emperor Haile Selassie I, who, with an undersized army, became the first African ruler to successfully repel an invading European force; and Robert Nesta Marley, the prophet who’s conscious lyrics inspire millions.

The mane also represents the light, truth and regenerative powers of the sun. Just as the sun’s life giving rays warm the ground encouraging seed pods to release the power and wisdom within themselves and grow to their fullest potential, so do I, as an educator, hope to spark the fires of my students’ educational processes.

Young male lions are independent until they're ready for the responsibility of a pride. Once they've matured, they're always leading a pride. The pride spends most of its time lounging and enjoying life, but it works as a team to accomplish what it must when it has to.

Lions are strong and powerful, yet agile, graceful and inconspicuous when necessary. As the “kings of the jungle”, they also represent valor, leadership and nobility. I love how efficient they are. They waste no energy.

They remind me of lazy Sunday afternoons. The kind where you wake up without an alarm and no real plans for the day. You just do whatever’s most natural-make love, have brunch, play with the kids and nap.

When it’s time to eat, the family rallies and works as a team to get the job done. Every lion fills its belly and they all go back to lounging and enjoying life. I admire that “work hard - play hard” work ethic.

The wings not only give the lion freedom to travel farther and faster than land-bound animals, they also give it the advantage to rise above situations to gain clarity offered from perspectives of the bigger picture - a valuable asset for good leadership. As others can be “taken under its wings”, the wings also represent the guidance and protection of compassionate leadership.

Alchemy is the art and science of combining common elements to produce extraordinary manifestations. It involves magic and faith, and it initiates transformation and ascension. The lion is grounded in the physical, tangible plane. The winged lion flies in the sky. There is a spiritual symbolism in the winged lion in that the wings represent aspirations and allow it to reach higher heights, to search for enlightenment and cultivate a relationship with God.

Ultimately, the winged lion hopes to be an alchemist working for the good of humanity to transform anger, greed, and ignorance into love, unity and, prosperity for all.

Now, about the actual tattoo. I had been thinking of it for about 10 years. Ever since I had the epiphany, I envisioned having the image of a winged lion tattooed on my arm. I started designing it in ’96, but never really finished it because I thought I’d have a tattoo artist finish it for me.

I just couldn't justify spending more than $300 on a tattoo. Sure, it's a piece of art that will be on me forever, so I shouldn't want to be cheap about it, but $300 is a plane ticket to foreign countries! And that was just the price quoted for a smaller version of the lion's body, NOT including the wings! So if $300 was too much, you know I wasn't going to pay more than $500 for a tattoo. I could travel for a month on $500!

I turned 35 this year, and I decided that it's a landmark year worth commemorating, and that if I didn't get it this year, I probably never would. I heard about good artists and reasonable prices in Thailand. So I resolved to have a Thai artist finish my design and get the tattoo done there.

I took the concept to 7 or 8 parlors in Bangkok and asked them to work on the wings and face for me. I was disappointed to find that they didn’t take me seriously, and produced mediocre designs focusing on one aspect or the other, but never on both. So I pulled an all-nighter to finish the design myself 2 days before I caught my flight back to Korea.

If I had another day or 2 to work on it, I would have done a few things a little differently, but I am VERY happy with it, and proud of the fact that it is completely MY own original design (on the wall behind my head). I also like the fact that I can say I got it in Thailand, and recall all of the beautiful memories from that awesome 6-week vacation.

All said and done, it cost me $230 and took 7 hours to complete.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Azikiwe, it's Jermain. Thanks for taking time out from your adventures to comment on my blog. You are a huge inspiration! You know, I just may join you out in Korea...I spoke with Don Park recently and am looking into making the move out there later this year. Best wishes with your book and second year of teaching.


2:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Zik, I'm Frédérique the girl friend of Manu, are you OK ?
Your blog is good.
We kiss you Manu and Me.

9:45 PM  
Blogger sj-the-infamous said...

Hey Zik! Long time! My sister will be vacationing in Thailand later this year. I'll have to direct her to your blog.

I've got to catch up on all you've been up to, myself!

Hope things are well :)

Peace and Blessings ~ Stephanie

1:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey!Zik! I'm mi-ran
how are you these days?
i arrive in japan..but same as always .. :)
ur blog is good!!
ur picture doesn't do u justice.
ㅋㅋ i was just joking!
i wish everyday was a vacation!ㅋㅋ
방학 잘보내고 5월 7일날 바요 *^^*

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice tattoo and beautiful story to accompany your reason behind getting it!

12:17 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ellington said...

So, does this mean that you won't grow your locks again? I'm willing to get the D.R.O.P Squad to find every minstrel with locks & shave 'em. I gotta tell you, that I was devastated when I saw you the first time without your mane...I knew what it meant to you & what it represented. I truly know that your hair was a reflection of your character as well as a builder of it. Great tattoo bredren.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey this tattoo is very creative and looks like its detail is good, i was wondering if you would happen to have a stencil for it or perhaps could send me some pictures so i could get an artist to produce it again

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey dude!

I found your blog while searching for winged-lions and I found you!...
you have inspired me to keep on dreaming until my dreams come true, which some of them you have already accomplished!

keep on rocking man!


12:31 AM  

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