Friday, March 01, 2024

Doubling Down

 


Here we are in a brand new cycle. Every three months in Kali Majapahit the curriculum changes. In general, during a cycle we will focus on either:

  • Single or Double Sticks
  • Empty Hand subsystem or other specialist weapon
  • Boxing or Kickboxing

This time we will be working on double sticks. Sometimes I get asked "why double sticks? It's not useful..." Some students feel it is not as practical as single stick, with the logic that they are unlikely to have a pair of sticks handy at a time when they get attacked. Fair point. However, double sticks are worth far more in training than just their direct value in stick fighting self defense.

In modern combat sports, champions such as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and others pioneered the combination of western sports conditioning such as weight training and cardio to enhance their fighting performance. In no case did anyone challenge them by saying that lifting weights had no direct combat application. It was understood that improving the body's core strength, conditioning, flexibility, coordination and speed had overall performance benefits. Even the ancient Greeks knew this. Double sticks can be considered similarly in that although it may be highly unlikely for you to use double sticks in actual self defense situations, the training will improve your overall fighting skills in many other ways.

Double Sticks are training methodologies we use to deepen our coordination and dexterity. The drills work both symmetrically and asymmetrically to challenge us to learn to control our hands precisely across a variety of patterns. The drills of Inayan Escrima which are core to Kali Majapahit are designed to build from a foundation (Cabca) to more advanced drills (Sinawali)  that teach us to move weapons together or independently without interfering with each other. This skill, whether applied with double sticks, double swords, double daggers, or any other set of tools of any length makes it very difficult to defend. Especially for asymmetric movements in odd timing signatures, the defender will be very challenged to successfully block both hands across a full chain of attacks. As well, these drills help develop the ability to simultaneously defend and attack (often using one weapon for each) which is both efficient and highly effective.

Mastering double sticks requires deep focus and concentration to cement the muscle memory needed to execute the movements smoothly and at speed. The focus and concentration sharpened by this training enhances not just our other martial arts skills but also our performance in any other sport or physical activity.

In many traditional arts, dual wielding is not introduced until mid-level black belt rank (3rd dan black belt or higher). For FMA it is an essential skill that is part of even the beginner curriculum. Simple drills make great warm ups and can even be isometric training when done very slowly with heavy tools.

Below are common drills which are used to master double sticks. These can be adapted and/or combined with dynamic footwork and movement to increase difficulty. They can even be done in groups of three people to increase difficulty.

  • Cabca 1-8 including ladders, one-hand principle, right/left principle, high/low principle, mirror principle
  • Sinawali 2-9 including ladders, one-hand principle, right/left principle, high/low principle, mirror principle
  • Sinawali 6 variations including abanico, redondo, dunga, doble doble
  • 5 count sumbrada including free flow
  • 4 count sumbrada including variations such as punyo strikes
  • Hubud Lubud (including punyo sumbrada)

All of the above drills can be done with symmetric tools (such as two identical sticks, blades or nunchaku) as well as asymmetric tools such as espada y daga, stick and tomahawk, karambit and daga, etcetera.

I'm very excited for this cycle and the skills it can help us develop.


See you at class.   

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Warming Up

 


Every class starts with a warm up. Why? Why don’t we just grab our sticks and start swinging??

There are several reasons:


Reduce the Risk of Injury

First and foremost, we warm up to get the blood flowing into the extremities and loosen up the muscles and joints. For many students, the day is spent sitting at a desk or in front of a computer. The human body is designed to be in motion. Long periods of inactivity are simply not good for the body. The joints stiffen, blood flow slows and energy levels decrease. At the start of class we want to reverse this and get the body ready to be very active throughout the lesson.

Especially during colder weather, our bodies may automatically concentrate blood flow to the core, further slowing capillary action to the hands and feet, both of which we will need throughout the class. Thus, the warm up must articulate the fingers and toes so they are at full capability for the lesson.

For those of us who are older (I'll be 58 this year), strenuous physical activity without warming up first results in days of soreness and stiffness that could have been avoided with a simple stretch before starting.

Increase Mobility & Flexibility 

In addition to increasing blood flow and preparing our muscles for physical activity, warming up is a good time to work on mobility and flexibility. As we activate the various joints we can work on slowly increasing the range of motion in the joints and lengthening the muscles. This promotes joint health and also prepares us to perform better during the class.

Given the amount of time most of us spend sitting every day, my warm ups are centered around spinal health and mobility. About half of the warming up we do is targeted at the three areas of the back/spine (cervical/thoracic/lumbar) in order to try and offset the damage of sitting and keep the spine relaxed and flexible. Kali is a whole-body movement, so having a very active spine is essential for power generation and mobility.

Studies have shown that the best gains in mobility via stretching occur when the muscles are already warm - this would suggest stretching  at the end of class. This is true, however, the mental aspect of the warm up is also very important.

Prepare the Mind

In our modern society information moves very fast. We are constantly bombarded by messages and data, and our jobs and social networks expect us to be connected 24/7. We are often worrying about yesterday or tomorrow and have trouble to be in the NOW, which our Zen Buddhist training teaches us is the most natural state of being. Not only is this a principal cause of stress and anxiety for most of us, it is very dangerous when we are about to start swinging sticks at each other.

For safety it is very important to leave the outside world outside when we come to class. The goal is to experience the class completely, and to do so without concern for anything else.  This allows us a respite from the rigors of our daily responsibilities - a break when we can feel free - at least for the duration of the class.

Many of my high-performing professional friends engage in extreme exercise such as trail running, marathoning, free diving and the like for exactly this reason. Many also practice meditation, yoga, stoicism and other spiritual disciplines. The overwhelming, constant stress of their fast-paced lifestyles will burn them out if they cannot allow their minds to escape periodically.

In Hagakure, the famous book of advice for young samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo writes about training to be completely calm in the midst of a raging battle, a metaphor that would apply to many of us I think.

Breathwork

Guro Fred often worked on our breathing with us. It sounds silly to imagine you need a martial arts class to teach you to BREATHE, but the sad reality is that many of us breathe in a very shallow way and fail to challenge our lungs' capacity. As he would say "the lungs are like a pair of balloons, it's important to stretch them". This not only improves cardiovascular performance (VO2 Max) but also helps to calm and quiet the mind. Breath control is a central element of proper Zazen and a cornerstone of most yogic practices, for example.

During the warm up, I often remind students to work on controlling their breathing and, from time to time,  we do the exercises Guro Fred introduced in order to improve overall lung capacity.

So then, What?

At KM Japan,  our warm up is usually done from top down, starting with the neck (cervical spine), shoulders (activates the thoracic spine by mobilizing the shoulder blades), elbows, wrists/fingers. Wrist warm ups are done using the core 3 locking positions of aikido (ikkajo, nikkajo, sankajo).

We then move on to the hip rotations (lumbar spine) and beach ball rotations. We move to the floor series and are focused on stretching the hip flexors (common source of back pain and headaches) and groin. We do deep lunge stretching to target the hamstrings and calves as well as pigeon pose stretches for the outside of the hips/glutes before returning to additional back stretches and side stretches. We finish by activating the ankles and toes for stability/mobility.

This series takes about 12 minutes to complete and allows students time to ease their minds into the focus for the class. It may be a bit long for a one-hour class but at KM Japan we have the luxury of a two-hour session 2/week so this investment into warming up is sufficient.

In Conclusion

Like many FMA systems, Kali Majapahit uses the triangle as a universal symbology. It can mean many things, but I often use it to symbolize stability and balance. In this case, balance between mind/body/sprit which is important to maximize the benefit of every training session.

Warming up is a great habit to start every day, whether you have Kali class or not (Actually, please train Kali every day too). This will help you face the day relaxed and confident as your best self.


How do YOU warm up?  Let me know.


See you at class...

Monday, January 01, 2024

The Grandmaster

 


Last week, as 2023 drew to a close, I was honored to attend a very special and important award ceremony. During this online event, attended by more than 30 Kali Majapahit black belts from all over the world, my teacher, Punong Guro Fred Evrard, received his 8th degree black belt / Grandmaster rank. This was conferred by Dakilang Jeff Espinous, who has been PG Fred's teacher, mentor and friend for over 30 years since his beginning in FMA. Also in attendance were other senior masters such as Guro Bruno from Tahiti, Guro Claes Johansson, founder of Kali De Mano and more. All have been with Guro Fred and Guro Lila for decades and know every detail of their lifework to establish Kali Majapahit. All agree he is well-deserving of the 8th degree black belt and Grandmaster title. As Dakilang Jeff mentioned, we could easily have hundreds of people attest to Guro Fred's worthiness. 

Guro Fred is still very weak from advanced stage cancer and has been fighting with great courage for nearly two years. Despite this, he is still a beacon of positive energy. A true warrior and an incredible inspiration to us all.

As is customary in KM gatherings, we all took turns making comments to mark the occasion. At the camps we would all be in a circle, usually after an evening workshop by Guro Fred or one of the other masters, and reflecting on what we had learned.

When my turn came, I spoke about how grateful I was for the trust that Guro Fred and Guro Lila placed in me 12 years ago, supporting me to establish Kali Majapahit Japan, the first overseas KM school. Since then, we have graduated 8 black belts (so far) and taught KM to hundreds of students. We continued despite COVID and we expect to keep going no matter what.

I am certain that without KM, I would not be a martial arts instructor today. I had been a martial artist for many years before I met Guro Fred and Guro Lila, and already had three other black belt teacher ranks in Japanese martial arts. However, I wasn't teaching. I didn't feel ready and likely would never have. I loved Yoshinkan Aikido (still do) but not sure I would ever have been allowed to teach it (especially not in Japan).

Kali Majapahit gave me a platform to research and discover who I could become as a martial artist. It also rekindled in me a passion to share my insights on martial arts with others that had begun with this blog back in 2005. I wasn't ready to start up a school back in 2011. I didn't even have a Kasama (assistant instructor) rank back then. Nevertheless, Guro Fred and Guro Lila believed in me. They encouraged me to start a study group so I could keep training. They knew I would follow through. That trust meant everything to me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kali Majapahit's global family has given me a place to belong, which has been the foundation of what I've been looking for all my life.

I was born small, premature and weak. I was left face down in my crib for so long that my right eye failed to develop and is still blind today. My birth parents divorced when I was barely a year old and I was placed into a foster family with a different name. I spent over 10 years in therapy/social work with the State of Illinois.  Growing up I was skinny and nerdy with masking tape holding my thick glasses together, not good looking or fashionable or athletic. I had ADHD and was constantly restless. I couldn't sing, dance or draw (I still can't). I was picked dead last for everything - or not picked at all. I had no particular skills apart from reading. I had very few friends (only other outcasts like me) and was bullied relentlessly every day from elementary school all the way into high school. I never had a girlfriend or attended any school events. I was never included in anything at all. I was ignored; forgotten. I didn't exist outside of the annual yearbook photos.

I didn't belong in my foster family. I didn't belong in school. I didn't belong...anywhere.  I felt like I didn't belong in this world at all. In those lonely days I often thought about suicide.

When I joined my first real dojo at 14, I became part of something. As a member of the dojo, people didn't care if I was a foster kid or had a social worker. Nobody cared if we were poor. Nobody judged me for my past. All that mattered was showing up to class, following the instructions and doing my best. For the first time in my life I felt accepted. I've been doing martial arts ever since. I think I always will be.

Guro Fred and Guro Lila's belief in me, aided by the advice of Guro Ben and the other KM instructors,  the guidance of mentors like Dakilang Jeff, Guro Claes, Sifu James, Suro Jason and other masters, and the trust of my students have brought me a life I could never have imagined all those years ago. It's beyond my wildest dreams. Together we are a force of change, a bright and positive light in a world that always feels so close to darkness.

We are Peaceful Warriors --- I am beyond proud to be one of you and to help spread this message of Love, Peace, Compassion and Hope for everyone who needs it - just like I needed it. Saving other people saves ourselves.

So THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has been a part of my journey.

Most especially thank you to Fred Evrard, my teacher. I am proud to call you Grandmaster.

To me, a Grandmaster is someone who changes the world. Someone who goes beyond the limits of martial arts mastery to a far deeper spiritual awakening and uses this to be the power of change for others. Grandmaster Fred is the definition of this for me. He continues to inspire me to never settle for anything less than living my very best life every day. I promise to continue to do so.

Maraming Salamat Po, Guro    

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Fasting - My Approach

 


After 5 days, I'm now in the process of finishing my fast. I feel great and could continue indefinitely but for this round 5 days is enough. Going into a fast, the fast itself, and coming off the fast are all important stages in the process and should be managed carefully to avoid any health issues. I will describe the process I used below.


Why Fast? Why now?

Fasting is a custom that has existed in some form since the beginning of human civilization. There are proven health benefits to fasting including lowering blood sugar, weight loss, improved digestive health and others. Additionally, there are many spiritual benefits as well. In many religions, fasting is a part of tradition and done at various times throughout the year as a way of demonstrating gratitude and humility to a higher power.  In my case, with the holidays coming up I wanted to reduce my weight and lower my blood sugar in anticipation of some year-end gatherings and events. Many people gain weight over the holidays through parties, drinking and the like. In my case I chose to "pay it up front" by fasting beforehand.

Additionally, recognizing that it has been a difficult and challenging year for me with a lot of struggles in a lot of areas I wanted to release some of the negativity, anger and stress and recover my focus to head into 2024. In many spiritual disciplines, fasting is a precursor to new awakenings and awareness, part of a soul-cleansing process which I could use right about now.

Fasting is a reminder that our relationship with food is like any other relationship. It needs to be observed regularly and reset when it changes from being a healthy relationship to being a toxic relationship. In a healthy relationship, we eat the right foods in the right quantities to give good nutrition and feel happy. We share meals with friends and family and enjoy the time we take together. Meals are not rushed, and we anchor our schedule around them. Meals help us to achieve our overall health goals.

However, when our relationship with foods becomes toxic, we rush through meals, snack constantly, binge on sugar and high-carbohydrate snacks. We eat at irregular times and may eat alone. We are in a hurry due to stress/pressure and do not allow the proper time to digest. We may skip meals or deliberately choose unhealthy foods or drink too much alcohol.

As a recovered type 2 diabetic,  I have gone from very restricted diets, counting my macros and weighing my food, to slowly allowing myself an occasional sweet, to not minding my meals or snacking in-between meals. This happened gradually over several months but I knew I needed to reset. A fast was a perfect way to do so.

It allowed me the chance to look at my food lifestyle and make some changes back to a healthier way of eating and position me to succeed the holiday season socially without digging myself into a deeper hole. Many people find themselves saddened in January and resolving to diet/go to the gym and so on. I intend to weigh less and feel better. Fasting up front was the right approach for me.


Preparing to Fast

Fasting comes in many forms including water fast, dry fast, bone broth fast, intermittent fast, etc. In some cases, detox fasts are combined with colonic cleansing enemas for a more complete effect.  Some are shorter duration/periodic, while others can be used as part of an overall lifestyle approach. In my case, my intent was to do a water-based fast. In this fast, no food is chewed during the fast, but basic essential vitamins and minerals are taken through supplements and fruit/vegetable smoothies/shakes.

Prior to starting the fast, in addition to getting the necessary vitamins and supplements, I recommend ramping down calorie intake and switching from processed to whole foods (preferably vegetables only). Alcohol should be stopped as well as any snacks or treats especially those involving processed white sugar. Meat intake should be reduced or eliminated although mild fish can be taken if necessary. Preparation is best raw, or steamed/grilled and fried foods with coatings are best avoided.

Depending on the duration of the fast I recommend ramping down anywhere from 24-36 hours to get your body (especially digestive tract) prepared for the fast without shock to the system. This will minimize adverse effects such as headaches, constipation, dizziness, etcetera. I did a 24 hour ramp down to prepare for a 5 day water fast, for example. If doing a 10 day or longer fast I would do a 3 day ramp down.


The Fast Itself

My regimen was:

Morning

700g green smoothie of mainly vegetables (carrot, spinach, greens) but some limited fruits (mango, apple orange, kiwi, prune)

protein shake of 24g whey protein powder mixed with non-sweetened oat/almond/soy milk

2 capsules psyllium husk total 1,400 mg

1 multivitamin

Lunch

protein shake of 24g whey protein powder mixed with non-sweetened oat/almond/soy milk

2 capsules psyllium husk total 1,400 mg

Dinner

protein shake of 24g whey protein powder mixed with non-sweetened oat/almond/soy milk

2 capsules psyllium husk total 1,400 mg


I used Nature's Way "Alive" Men's Ultra Potency complete multivitamin, which I take regularly anyway. The psyllium husk is designed to cleanse the colon, and is used commonly in detox fasts even without the colonic cleansing enema. I also used Now brand psyllium husks. Both are available in Japan via Amazon or iHerb.

During the fast, it is advisable to drink no less than 3 liters of water per day. I got a 1L bottle and had one in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Since I was doing this fast in winter, I needed to be sure to stay warm. I allowed myself unsweetened tea or black coffee in addition to water. If I felt weak or dizzy I would have a drinkable cup soup and rest. This was no more than 1-2 per day as needed.

My calculated daily calorie intake including the smoothie and proteins was less than 500K calories per day.

Fasting usually comes in several stages.

Stage 1 - day 1 to day 3 - shutdown

During this stage the body is still expecting food to arrive. The stomach rumbles and we can feel very hungry. Emotional stress (hangry) may manifest. Some people may experience serious loss of energy. Weight loss can be significant and often due to loss of water weight.

Stage 2 - days 4-5 - detoxing starts

During this phase, the body begins to detox and you may experience headaches, bad breath, sweats, acne or other skin rashes as your body adjusts to no food intake and starts cleaning. During this phase you may have extremely vivid dreams and interrupted sleep. It may be hard to concentrate or focus. I personally found this to be the hardest phase. Weight loss continues, often due to cleansing of the colon.

Stage 3 - plateau - days 5-7

During this phase some of the physical symptoms disappear, but mentally it can be challenging as we may experience boredom and listlessness. Weight loss tapers off here so the visible effects of fasting are minimized, which may cause a loss of motivation.

Stage 4 - perpetuity - day 7 plus

At this stage, we achieve acceptance and can begin to see the fasting as something we could continue if desired. Hunger pangs are gone, the body is cleansed and focus is sharpened. You may need much less sleep (I needed only 5 hours per night) to feel refreshed. Emotionally, we feel refreshed and lightened.

During my first fast in Thailand, I met an Italian lady who was on day 41 of her fast. She was lean, strong from daily yoga practice, focused and intense. Completely present in the moment. Her blue eyes were like bright shining stars and her smile lit up the room. This was the kind of person I wanted to be.


Coming off the Fast

It has been said that "any idiot can fast. Just stop eating". This is true. However, especially during a fast longer than 36 hours or so, your body will change. Coming off the fast safely requires addressing those changes.

During the fast, your digestive tract bacteria will die. These are very important for gut health and help break down food so we can digest it. These can be replaced by probiotic yogurts or even through a colonic insertion which replaces healthy bacteria directly back into the large intestine. I recommend probiotic yogurts daily for the first 2-3 days.

Eating while coming off the fast should be done similarly to ramping down. That is, whole natural (preferably raw) vegetables and fruits. It's best to avoid processed foods, fried foods, heavy carbohydrate foods, sweets or alcohol for at least the first few days. In addition, very spicy or acidic foods are not recommended until the body is readjusted.

Some recommendations include soups, porridges, salads and smoothies. In general, garlic/ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mineral salts, cayenne pepper (in moderation) are good for breaking fasts. I personally like raw carrots and bananas. 

Failing to follow safe dietary guidelines will likely result in headaches, constipation and bloating. If so, laxatives may be needed to return the digestive function to a normal cycle.


Some Guidelines

For my fast, I kept the following guidelines:

Increase sleep - allow at least 10 hours/day to sleep and rest

Keep Active - aim for 10k steps per day. No hard exercise though (weights, running, cycling, swimming)

Weigh daily - track every KPI you can including weight, BMI, sleep time/quality, etc. If possible, take blood test before and after the fast

Allow for cold weather -  dress warmer to keep body heat and warm using black coffee, tea, hot water

Keep a Daily Journal or blog- this can help record your thoughts and feelings (and data) for later review


Experience the Journey

My first detox fast was at Spa Samui in Thailand nearly 25 years ago. It was a very emotional 10-day experience including full fast with 3/day colonic enemas to cleanse the colon. I lost 10kg in 10 days and felt reborn. Some months later, I met my wife. That year we were married.

While fasting, try to avoid thinking forward (what you will eat when the fast is over) or backward (coulda/woulda/shoulda) and keep your focus on the here and now. Allow yourself to experience the discomfort and understand that you will endure/survive it. Use this little suffering to find solidarity with the suffering of everyone everywhere and reconnect to your heart of compassion and gratitude. We are all so very blessed and lucky, and fasting is a great reminder of this. Some people fast because they simply don't have enough to eat. Sharing a little bit of what much of the world is forced to experience builds our empathy - an essential attribute for any peaceful warrior.


In Closing

Fasting is a great way to reset the mind and body and to prepare yourself for deeper spiritual insight. It can even help you find answers to personal problems you have been facing. Whether you fast weekly or only once or twice a year, regardless of duration a fast can be a useful tool for overall health.

The above is NOT medical advice and I am not a medical professional. It is the result of 5 experiences of fasting I have done, with varied results, over the past 23 years and is for reference only. Before trying a fast be sure to consult a medical professional and monitor your health regularly. Stop your fast and seek medical attention if you feel at risk.

Bon Appetit and Happy Holidays!



 

Friday, December 15, 2023

How to Train in KM - the value of the subsystems

 

(Thanks for the inspiration SC)

When I started training in Kali Majapahit back in 2008 we were in a beaten up (nostalgic?) shophouse on Yan Kit Road in Singapore, a ragtag bunch of diverse men and women hungry for all the knowledge that Guro Fred Evrard and Guro Lila Evrard (the founders) had brought together during their respective lives in the martial arts. They had just completed a 4-year journey around the world (yes, I'm jealous) and trained deeply with so many legendary masters, enhancing their already decades of experience. Somehow they settled briefly in Singapore and established the first KM school. The result of their years of research is Kali Majapahit, a comprehensive, truly multi-cultural Southeast Asian Martial Art. Since then, KM has grown to 18 locations in 9 countries all over the world.

Kali Majapahit is (I think) unique in that it is named after the Majapahit Empire,  which spanned almost all of Southeast Asia for several hundred years and involved cultural sharing and trading across what became China, The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and beyond. Thus, our system is not just FMA, it encompasses techniques from all over Asia. Other FMA styles are organized into subsystems for ease of understanding, but ours is based on subsystems which are culturally very different, and require a broad understanding to apply correctly.

On one hand, this is daunting, especially for new students, since Kali Majapahit can be a bit hard to define or classify. Our various subsystems express very differently and this can be a bit confusing at first. At the same time, the synthesis of understanding across our subsystems allows students to experience much, much more than they every could in any other single martial art (in my opinion).

Our subsystems include Filipino Kali, Indonesian Silat, Southern Chinese Hakka Kuntao, Muay Thai/Muay Boran, JKD and Western boxing/wrestling. In many schools (especially mine in Tokyo, Japan) we also have expertise in traditional Japanese martial arts like Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu and Kenjutsu and these elements are blended into our flow.

The result is diverse and rich, with depth and scope (just like our instructors and students!). There is a lot to discover and the content never becomes boring. In Tokyo, our classes are two hours long, during which we get to explore and practice at least three subsystems each time.

It is important to note than in each subsystem there are many elements which are common, particularly those which involve our body mechanics, since the goal of generating power, keeping balance, remaining mobile apply to every fighting situation. However, the theories and philosophies of HOW to do that differ significantly between subsystems. This requires students to understand the body more deeply, and learn to use their bodies in multiple ways to create the desired outcomes. When we move in Silat, the footwork and physical attitude is very different from that of Western boxing or Muay Thai, just as Hakka Kuntao movement differs completely from that of aikido. No one way of moving is empirically better than another - they are all useful lenses to view ourselves in three-dimensional space. Rather than just having different techniques, each subsystem is designed to allow the student to explore a completely different way of moving - from the footwork upward. This requires fundamentally changing the way we think and act whenever we switch.

Guro Fred often talked about the attitude or "look" that we were to aspire to. When doing each subsystem, we were expected to look like a dedicated professional of that style. When boxing we should look and move like a pro boxer. When doing Muay Thai like a pro fighter. When doing Hakka Kuntao, like a practitioner dedicated to only that. Of course, Guro Fred could always easily show us what that meant and when he moves it's like watching a team of experts at once!

This training gives tremendous flexibility and optionality. The ability to flow from subsystem to subsystem smoothly creates a significant challenge to any opponent we face, since instead of just fighting one person, they then feel like they are fighting five (or more). Every time they think they understand or could anticipate how we move we switch, shifting from one subsystem to another as opportunities present themselves.

Thinking about this reminded me of the legendary Sega videogame VirtuaFighter, which has a character called Dural (left in the picture at the top). Dural's skill is the ability to instantly transform into any VF character and use their moves and abilities. This is extremely challenging to defeat, which is also why Dural is the Final Boss.

Likewise, a mastery of the various KM subsystems is worthy of your time and investment if you also want to BE A BOSS!

See you at class 

 

 

Monday, November 06, 2023

Fifty Seven

 


Well, here we are. Another trip around the sun and now arrived at 57.

Overall, the year has been volatile, with a lot of highs and lows, especially for someone at this stage of life. I always expect things to "calm down" and somehow they never really do. The world seems to careen from one crisis to the next and the news remains depressing and hopeless. I can feel the seething rage under the surface of so many people. I guess I hoped that after COVID we'd learn to love each other more. Being an idealist is a tough and thankless job.

On the plus side, I had several meaningful trips this year including Hanoi (solo), New Orleans (with George) and Bali (with Ray). Each trip was really good and travelling with my boys is something I always dreamed about. It feels wonderful to share these experiences with them. On every trip, I managed to get in in a cooking class or two, and these have been so enjoyable that I now want to take a cooking class every time I travel. The results continue to pay dividends through noticeable improvements in my skills/confidence for Vietnamese, Cajun/Creole and the basics of Balinese cooking. I love replicating the dishes at home and building on what I learned. My health remains stable after my bout with T2 Diabetes. I'm making more time for the gym and consistently able to be at Kali class 2/week and that helps. 

My mental health has been mostly good, with the exception of a few high stress moments throughout the year now stabilizing into a rhythm that I feel I can keep. Each of these stresses has led to deeper realization about what is important to me, and learning to let go of that which is not (definitely easier said than done).

This year has also involved a lot of loss. Iconic actor Sylvester Stallone said in his bio on Netflix "Sly", "All your life you keep adding things. And then at some point things just start getting subtracted." Throughout the year, I have keenly felt the slow subtraction, as everything I have collected in my personal and professional life starts to go away bit by bit. My career trajectory slows, friends and loved ones move away/pass away and overall it just feels like more is going out than is coming in. The near loss of some very close friends to cancer causes me to hate cancer even more than I ever did (which was A LOT). FUCK CANCER.

I'm glad that what remains is (usually) what was most important, and the process ends up being (mostly) the stripping away of the superficial to reveal the truth within. The truth about myself, my environment, my choices and those of the people around me. I have (and spend) less time on bullshit and feel more focused on what matters to me. I don't have many regrets in my life and there is not much I would choose to do differently even if given the chance. However, the recent sudden loss of my beloved pug XieXie at 13 years old is still painful and maybe always will be. She showed me so much and inspired me to learn to love unconditionally like she did. I still have a long way to go and healing takes time.

Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society on Dearborn Street in Chicago, where I got put in transition to foster care back in 1967, feels a long way from Yokohama, Japan where I am now. I've been fortunate to have had a wonderful adventure, with all the ups and downs it has included, and I am overflowing with gratitude.

Hopefully, I'll have a few more posts like these before my time comes. When it does, I want to pass like XieXie did: at home, surrounded by my loved ones, wanting for nothing, knowing that my life meant something, feeling like I did my best.

Until then, thank you for sticking with me.  See you on the mats.

Love and Peace.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Gaining Experience

 

(thanks for the inspiration Kenji)

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted" --- Randy Pausch


"If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?"

The question hit me hard. I thought about it for a long, long time. I've done so many bad things, hurt people, made so many mistakes, failed so many times... In every category of my life I've seen, felt and done so many things I wish I hadn't. I've cried every flavor of tears ranging from happiness and joy to anger, rage, loneliness and grief... and everything in between.

What if I had the chance to do it all over again or to erase some of my countless errors? Wouldn't I have to take it? What would I have done differently??

Actually, nothing.

I never think of myself as a remarkable person. I am average in just about any way I can think of. Physically, mentally, economically. Nothing special. At least nothing more special than anyone else. If I have had any advantage, it is having emotional resilience. Because of my childhood in foster care and the Illinois Children and Family Services system, I saw and experienced a lot for a young boy. I endured years of therapy and counseling and struggled most of my life (even now) with low self-confidence and a poor self-image. It has taken me decades to overcome (mostly) my abandonment issues and deal with the anger and rage I felt toward my biological parents for giving me up - despite knowing it saved my life before I was even a year old.

Again and again I have been broken. Broken physically, mentally, emotionally so many times as life seemingly dealt me every bad card in the deck. Until it didn't. Did Life change or did I change? After struggling so hard from birth into my mid-twenties, my dreams (finally) began to come true, starting with going to community college and, ultimately, making my way to Japan which had been my dream and focus for over ten years. I nearly gave up so many times, including having my first three attempts to get to Japan end in failure. I tried to take my life more than once, and I am grateful I didn't succeed.

In the end, a lifetime of hardship and struggle made me resilient and independent. I have learned so much...

  • I learned that I can choose to show up for myself and be active in seeking my own success and happiness each day. 
  • I learned that, with effort, I can let go of my pain, sadness and fear and allow myself to experience joy and believe that I deserve a happy life despite my past. 
  • I learned that I can forgive and be forgiven, even when I thought it would be impossible. 
  • I learned that life is not set in stone. Far from it. While I am alive, there is always something I can do.
  • I learned that even though I came from a broken family, a broken family need not come from me.
  • I learned the true, irreplaceable value of friendship.
  • I learned that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever.
  • I learned that the sun will still rise and the Earth will still spin, no matter what befalls me. I am just not that important. None of us are.

Could I have learned those things without all the good and bad experiences I have had? Could I have found them out any other way? I don't think so. I am exactly who I am, flaws and all, because of all the scars. As per The Butterfly Effect, any changes I would have made would have led me to somewhere else, and I accept where (and who) I am now. I don't need any more and would not want to risk having any less.

I have not had an easy life, and I don't think it has gotten easier. I just exchanged one set of problems for a bigger and more complicated set. I know more people, but have the same small amount of close friends. My day-to-day is narrow and focused and becoming more so as time goes by. I am so much clearer now about what (and who) I want in my life and what (and who) I don't. I am aggressive in pruning away what I don't want.

I desperately want to believe the world is better with me in it, and will be better when I leave it. I put most of my time and energy into trying to prove that. I am keenly aware of my own mortality.

Unfortunately, the only real way to get experience is to get out and do things. Challenge yourself and be prepared to accept the consequences. In every case, I have found a way forward even if it wasn't what I thought it would (or should) be.

In the end, I'm truly, deeply sorry for all the people I've hurt and disappointed along the way. I hope in time they will be able to forgive me. At the same time, I am profoundly grateful for it all. Even the worst things in my life have taught me something important. In many cases I learned more from what went wrong than I ever did from what went right.

What's most important is just to keep going, no matter what. Pauses are OK but don't stop. Make sure you complete the course. The experience will be worth it. I promise.


See you at class.