At age 40, Alejandro Anastasio has a better grip on what he wants from life than most people, even though his hold is one-handed.
Born and raised in Indiana, Anastasio's youth was as difficult as might be expected for someone born with only one hand. He was repeatedly told there were things he'd never be able to do, and for a long time, he believed what he heard. Anastasio shares his struggle of fighting past other people's expectations, his life now and his plans for the future on Friday, Feb. 27, in a monologue titled Need A Hand?
A slender man of Mexican and Italian descent with olive skin, long naturally curly black hair and dark eyes, Anastasio's shortened left arm may actually not be the first thing a person notices about him. But as a child, that seemed to be the only thing some saw and assumed that because of it, his options were limited.
"Other than my parents, there weren't a lot of people who believed in me to fulfill the dreams that I wanted," he said.
- Amy Atkins
- Alejandro Anastasio, pictured here standing in his dojo, will give you a reason to smile.
As a troubled teen, Anastasio began to live up to people's expectations of him: nothing. Football coaches, basketball coaches, they didn't have time to worry about him.
"As a kid, most people didn't think I could do anything," he said. "They had better things to do than worry about me. In their eyes, I was never going to do anything anyway, so why put the effort in."
Then a fateful encounter pushed him off the path of self-destruction onto one of self-fulfillment. He became an artist.
"I caused a bit of trouble in high school. My pottery teacher pulled me aside one day after I caused a ruckus in her class. I thought for sure she was going to either castrate me or put me in a kiln," he said. "She was very calm, and she said, 'You know, Alejandro, not everyone can live their life as an artist and make it work. But you can.' That's all she said. From that day forth, I devoted myself to living as an artist."
Goal-oriented and focused, he's not one to shy away from a challenge, nor is he at all disabled by his disability. He's been a graphic designer with the Bureau of Reclamation since moving to Boise in 1997, he paints, he's a multi-instrumentalist—he plays the didgeridoo, the theremin, Tibetan singing bowls, the accordion and he's learning the musical saw—and he's the instructor/owner of 3 Shapes Aikido in the North End.
Aikido is a Japanese martial art that, unlike other martial arts, focuses mostly on defensive, not offensive, methods of protection, and not just of the physical self. Anastasio explained that it's as philosophical as it is physical, with a basis in harmony and compassion.
"Aikido can be used more deeply (than physical protection) for more energetic attacks ... It's how you deal with people's incoming energy and momentum, and how do you redirect that so it's a win/win situation and everything is resolved," Anastasio said. "What we train for [in aikido] is what we say, what we do and what we feel is all the same thing."
His students, who include adults and more than 40 kids ranging in age from 3 to 17, learn to integrate mind, body and spirit, and they learn it from a teacher who's somewhat of a rarity.
"I've created a nice positive wave in the aikido world because I don't have two hands and because I have my own school ... and I do a lot with kids so I'm pleasantly famous globally ... In a very real way, I'm the only one-handed aikido instructor on the planet," Anastasio said, unabashedly.
In owning his own school, Anastasio said, he has to be more devoted to supporting the art of aikido than just participating in it. And although he had to format his own training to suit his unique needs, he emphatically stated that he does not teach one-handed aikido to his students. It is, in part, up to them to figure out how to make his teachings work for them.
"It's interesting for my students. They have to find a way to be more clever to learn. Since I don't have two hands, and they all do, they have to find a different way to do things," he said.
Finding a different way to do things is something Anastasio is quite familiar with. That, and the fact that he'd like to become a professional inspirational speaker, are the impetus behind the creation of Need A Hand?
Anastasio will open the evening's performance with a screening of a short film he made a few years ago called Life Without Two Hands: A Comedy of Memories for the i48 Film Festival for which he won Best Screenplay. Then, in his "inspirational, intimate and funny monologue about life with one hand," he'll chronicle his life as an artist, which includes—but is by no means limited to—riding his bike from Seattle to Chicago and ranking No. 20 in the nation in pocket billiards when he was in college (shooting pool and bicycling are two instances in which he does wear a prosthetic).
In his monologue, Anastasio will also discuss dealing with things two-handed people may never consider, such as how he has to have his long-sleeved shirts custom tailored and how he accomplishes simple tasks they take for granted like driving a stick shift, clipping his fingernails and tying his shoes.
And during the show, Anastasio will share the greatest experience he ever had: explaining to a 6-year-old why he is the way he is.
"There isn't a day that goes by that a child doesn't approach me and wants to know what's going on," he said. Sometimes they even say they wish they didn't have two hands.
"My whole thing is that you don't have to wish that. All you have to do is believe you can be more."
Friday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m., $10, 12 and older only. Seating is limited, tickets must be purchased in advance, audience will be asked to remove their shoes. 3 Shapes Aikido, 1512 N. 10th St., 208-387-0410, 3shapesaikido.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.