Monday, September 11, 2017

Change Before You Have To

As seen on a t-shirt in a random Tokyo store window.
This one really caught my attention.

Change is scary.  Change is hard.  Most of us hate to change.
We are truly creatures of habit, habits which can make or break us.

Habit is even the subject of one of my favorite poems:

Who Am I?
I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly, correctly.
I am easily managed - you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great people; and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human being.
You may run me for a profit or turn me for ruin - it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?


I like the t-shirt quote because it strongly suggests that Change is inevitable, which I believe.  We cannot resist Change, at best we only delay it for a time.  Often we may be reluctant to change until the pain of change is less than the pain of not changing.Because of this I think it is far better to be proactive and initiate Change on our own terms before ending up in a situation where it is thrust upon us.

Accepting change and initiating it on our own also helps us remain comfortable with the concept that the world is in flux, and to be less surprised when even unexpected changes occur.  Complacency is truly the enemy or progress.  For relationships, too, complacency is often the beginning of the end, leading to situations where one partner or another (sometimes even both) feel taken for granted or underappreciated - often a prelude to breakup.

In business, it is the same.  In a very tearful interview post their acquisition by Microsoft, Nokia CEO stated "We didn't do anything wrong, but somehow we lost."
In retrospect, the world was changing and they chose to wait.  Kodak, among others, is a great example.  The death of 35mm film business did not catch them by surprise, but complacency an unwillingness to embrace change led to the firm's rapid decline.

As a long-term veteran of the markets, I can also attest that whenever you are FORCED to take action, forced either to buy or sell, the price will never be as good for you as when you can choose your timing.  This applies not just to stocks and other financial instruments, but to cars, homes and any other assets as well.

In Martial Arts, not unexpectedly, it is the same.  Success can be summarized by denying choice of action to your opponent and keeping it for yourself.

Change is the only constant.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Choose You

(thanks for the inspiration KY)

Life is filled with choices.  Every day we have to choose from a variety of options.  It can be hard to choose, especially when the choice is between two options that both seem equally good or equally bad.  However, choices must be made for us to continue. Indecision is the enemy of progress.

In a perfect world, we would have full transparency and foresight, making the best possible decisions based on true and complete facts every time.  However, in reality it is rarely the case.  We make decisions based on emotion, with incomplete information or unreliable sources, and often experience regret not just from what we chose but from what we did not.

Most of the time, bad choices can be undone but sometimes it's not easy and sometimes undoing mistakes can be harder than just accepting a bad result.  It takes a lot of courage to admit you were wrong, and even more to actually do something about it.  Sometimes there is no reset button, although we all have times we wish there were.

I find the band aid principle works best.  If I know the band aid has to come off, I would rather get it over quickly than prolong the pain.  Waiting for things to get better, especially in abusive relationships, tends to empower to the abuser who rarely sees the need to change.  Often, these people are not even aware that what they do or say is considered abusive to their partner - they think they are just being open and honest.  However, strong relationships are supportive and encouraging, empowering both people to achieve more, not less.  As I get older, I become more convinced that fear is the biggest motivator in the lives of most of us. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of what others will think, fear of letting go, fear of losing control, fear of not being loved (or loved enough), fear of being alone.  The list goes on and on.  Healthy relationships are powerful because they help us let go of fear.  This frees us to become happy, and positive relationships are a cornerstone of happiness for healthy people.

Relationships, like most things, involve choices.  In most modern cultures we choose who to date, who to become serious with, who to marry.  We choose partners not just for their physical appeal (I hope) but also for the strength of their character, their reliability and their commitment to a future together.  Despite the relatively high (and growing) instances of divorce worldwide, I don't think anyone ever gets married expecting to get divorced (except maybe in California).

It's hard to make a permanent commitment to someone when we cannot predict how they (or we) will change over time. What is absolutely certain is that there WILL be changes, both to our partners and to ourselves, and this is to be expected.  Personally, I don't believe we have much power (nor much right) to change others.  The best we can hope for is to change ourselves; to allow ourselves to be inspired by those around us, including our partners, and truly strive to become better people.  Hopefully our partners will do the same.  It is possible to lose our way, or for our partner to lose theirs.  This is why compassion, forgiveness and understanding are so important in healthy relationships.  People are complex and a lot can happen along the way.

Marriage certificate or not, couples make a deliberate choice to be together - or not - every single day.  I have found that the small kindnesses every day are the ones we build relationships on.  Holding hands, sharing what happened during the day, going for a walk, having a meal together.  The little everyday things that occur in between life's big events.  These are more treasured memories for me than big vacations to exotic places because  they show that my partner has given me the most important thing she has - her time and attention.

In my case, I try very hard not to argue over the mundane - where to eat dinner or what color tablecloth to buy.  I try not to argue about money or religion or politics - there is nothing to be gained there.  When we disagree I try not to make it personal nor to carry forward any grudge.  I am absolutely against any form of domestic abuse, verbal or otherwise, from either partner.  Those wounds go deep and sometimes don't heal at all.  Moreover, when children are involved abusive relationships establish a precedent that these behaviors are "normal" and influence them to repeat those behaviors in their own relationships.  Many abusive people I have met are simply acting out the scenarios they experienced growing up.

I think it is important not to take our partners for granted and remember every day that our time on Earth is short.  Treasure every moment and learn to let the little things go - in the end, they are all little things anyway.  The Gratitude Attitude wins every time.

I remind myself every day that, given the chance, I would choose my partner again, every time.  This helps me feel constantly grateful by realizing she has made the same decision in choosing me every day, and that I am profoundly lucky.
Relationships are not always easy, and I remain humbled that despite knowing me so well, my partner can accept me - many flaws and all.  I promise to do my best every day to remain worthy of her faith and trust.  I know I have to earn it every day.  Complacency is the enemy of love.  Be vigilant.

Choose.  and Be Chosen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


(thanks for the inspiration KMJ Students!)

If you know me, you know:
@ I love teaching
@ I love KALI
@ I love Boxing (especially Filipino Boxing)

For the last 30-40 minutes of each 2-hour class we either box or do Panantukan (Filipino kickboxing).  It is one of my favorite parts of the class and one of the most important - why?

1) Cardio and Breathing
It's a great cardio activity.  There are gyms which just offer this kind of training, but you get a "mini-session" of it included for free in every KMJ class.  This is great for letting off some steam, developing focus, and burning up calories.  We sweat A LOT, and that's good.  We also focus on breathing, timing, distance, rhythm, all of which are very important inside and outside a fight.

2) Aggressiveness/Assertiveness Training
I have posted about this recently, and I am a strong believer that aggressiveness/assertiveness are key traits that we need to learn to be successful in life.  This does not mean to be violent to each other per se, but we need to be able to "flip the switch" and use our strong willpower and aggressiveness in a self-defense situation since this can mean the difference between walking away and being carried away.  The boxing session is a great way to develop this in a controlled, safe environment.  We can "let the lion out" as well as experiencing this from our partners, which helps us maintain composure when others display aggressiveness towards us.

3) Self-Defense Applications
I love aikido, too.  In fact a large number of posts on this blog is focused on it. That said, good boxing skills are hard to deny in a self-defense situation.  I will not concede the importance of strong low kicks, nor of good joint-locking and throwing (both part of our KM curriculum, too).  However, as a conditioned response, a strong punch is very effective as a default.  If your students do not develop strong punching skills, it is hard to say you are teaching them good self-defense basics.

In KM we fight from a southpaw stance, and this can take opponents by surprise since many trained fighters are used to opponents in orthodox stances.

In our drills, we have many times where the puncher is under pressure or being touched by the pad holder during the round.  This  is very important since in real fights you will be likely touched by your opponents and need to maintain your focus and composure to keep moving and fighting.  Untrained fighters may stop if they feel a hit, and that usually ends in disaster for them.

We need to be comfortable being hit and continuing to fight back.

4) Muscle Memory
They way we drill is highly efficient, meaning lots and lots of reps in a very concentrated period of time.  This helps build muscle memory especially for foundation power punch movements like the cross and hook.  Muscle memory matters in self-defense since we know that "we fight how we train".  For the pad holder, too, it is practice on distance, timing and rhythm, which are key attributes for any fighter.

We also get a lot of time to practice our guards and covers, which are critical responses in self-defense.  We work on our blocks, elbow covers and foundation movements like dodge/parry/bob and weave, which can be lifesavers when needed.  These should also be part of muscle memory.

Since we also hit the mitts full power, we teach ourselves to punch using the entire body.  Some martial artists have been training for years and have never hit anything full force (heavy bag, mitt, opponent).  Light contact kumite point fighters are often guilty of training to just "light touch" each other, which is the wrong muscle memory for self-defense applications.

I prefer that we be conditioned from the beginning to hit full power in order that when the time comes (hopefully never), we can hit with everything we've got without any feeling of discomfort or awkwardness.

I really hope you love the boxing at least as much as I do and agree its importance as part of our training regimen.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Us and Them

(thanks for the inspiration George)

This might be my favorite spiritual quote ever.  This picture attributes it to Ramana Maharshi, but I have also seen it ascribed to Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most prolific Buddhist authors and a personal favorite.

This particular quote led to a very engaging conversation with my 15 year old son, George.

I explained that this quote is deliberately designed to shock the reader into rethinking - to release the idea that others are separate from ourselves.  In Buddhism, the idea of non-duality ("advaita") is at the heart of realizing the connection between the Self and the greater reality.  It is the essence of recognizing that We Are One.

In a more practical sense, it is disturbing that so many notable political and religious figures base their doctrines on divisiveness, emphasizing the differences between us as a way to incite mistrust, fear and hatred.  In particular our current President is as much a master of the technique of the "invisible enemy" as Adolf Hitler was.  Hitler came to power in 1930s Germany by naming Jews responsible for Germany's post WW1 woes.  This lead to persecution and wholesale slaughter of all minorities who were not what he considered the Chosen Race. Stalin also used this technique to keep control of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc for decades.  Ho Chi Minh used it in Vietnam.  Mao used it in China.  Pol Pot used it in Camobida.  It was used by the IRA in Northern Ireland.  In the 1950s in America, Joe McCarthy used this same technique successfully to target suspected Communists and destroy their careers and families.  It was used in Bosnia.  It was used in Africa.  Donald Trump uses Muslims and Mexicans today for this same sinister racist goal.  This is evil and must be stopped.

Buddhism teaches us that there is no difference between others and ourselves, and the picture quote simply and elegantly reaffirms this.

Done, right?  Wrong.

George inquires "how can we all be the same?  what place does individuality have? If we are all the same why aren't we just clones of each other?"  Great questions.

It is true that we are all individuals in Buddhism, meaning that we are unique souls on unique journeys of self-discovery.  Each of us has a path that we must find through meditation and follow diligently if we are to progress toward allowing our true nature of enlightenment to emerge.

However, a central understanding we need in order to progress is an acceptance of the divine connection between all things.  Even though we are individuals, our souls are inextricably linked to each other because their essence and origin is the same as ours. We are truly One Tribe and although we may look different on the outside we are the same on the inside, and the deeper we go (from flesh to soul) the more the same we are.  It is a shallowness to categorize each other based on appearance.  With so many messages to the contrary, we need constant reminders that we are all connected so we can stamp out the seeds of hatred before they take root at all.

These days Diversity and Inclusion are big topics in the workplace.  Most good companies champion this effort, and many have taken great steps forward in establishing and reviewing policies in the interest of "fairness" for all employees.  This is sensible for those companies who wish to attract and retain the most talented employees of every demographic.  Making very public the message that all people are welcomed is an important first step toward reducing apprehension and promoting the openness that is needed to erase fear and develop mutual understanding.  This is a never-ending mission that needs our support.
Hate can never be allowed to persevere among us.

As Buddhists this is easily summed up in the quote on the picture.

"There are no others"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lion Is Needed

I liked this video and its powerful message. "you've gotta practice being bold."
Sharath Jason Wilson doesn't using the words "anger" or "aggressiveness" or "violence".  He keeps saying "assertiveness" which is a key attribute we develop in good martial arts training.

Assertiveness is essential in being able to take control of our lives and own the outcomes of our own destinies.  It's essential to act with purpose and conviction and to be able to drive forward when the going inevitably gets tough.  All of us need to learn how to tap into and control those strong emotions when the time is needed.

As he says "it's OK to be angry". Sometimes it is.  "if you never bring (the lion) out you'll never know how to control it when it comes out".  So true.  Many of us have trouble managing our anger.  We cannot "bring the lion out" with control.  Like young Brayden, we cry and shake with emotion and forget that the lion, although scary, is an essential part of who we are and needs to come out sometimes.

In our classes we box or kickbox every lesson.  This is our time to let loose, to let the lion out.  We hit the pads/mitts full force with everything we've got.  In addition to some good cardio it represents an emotional release.  We do this in a controlled environment to avoid injury, but we also get to experience the process and learn how to flip the switch and engage our assertiveness when necessary. We practice transforming from lamb to lion.

I like that this exercise is done with hugging, since it takes away the idea that assertiveness equates to violence.  We must be equally comfortable with expressing other strong emotions, especially LOVE (the most important emotion of all).  Learning to hug each other fully helps us feel comfortable in who we are and accepting of others.  Hugging is one of the most powerful enablers of positivism and much more hugging is needed in this modern world.  I like that this teacher is developing skills like respect and assertiveness in these young men so early - they have great futures ahead of them with such a good role model to guide them.  Find out more about how they are helping young men in Detroit here.

"We are called to be as bold as the lion"

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Right to the Point

It can be fun to watch drunk people try to fight bouncers.  Somehow they always think they can win, despite the fact that 1) they are usually drunk (or worse) 2) bouncers have training and deal with this stuff all the time and 3) bouncers usually work in teams.  Still it doesn't seem to stop morons from having a go.

Observing the clip above there are some great insights on boxing to be studied. Watch it again carefully...

Stance --- bouncer has a very compact guard.  Arms in; chin covered; relaxed. He is using a modified Shell or low hand guard stance which suggests he has had some boxing training.  His opponent is wild and open.

Defense --- when his opponent throws a wild hook to his head, the bouncer uses a pull, slightly leaning back to avoid the arc.  He is also covered partially by a left shoulder roll cover due to the difference in height.  The shoulder roll is a very common defensive option from the Shell/low hand guard.  He stays relaxed, hands in guard and his feet are firm and solidly planted.  From the wild hook, his opponent is left out of position and exposed to the counter.

Counter --- Right to the Point --- bouncer returns a short right, bang on the point of the chin.  End of story.  The hit is compact and thrown from close to his body, and he delivers it vertically along a straight line, akin to how we hit in hakka kuntao.  His feet and hips add to the impact force as he rotates into his return. Landing it on the point of the chin pops his opponent's head straight back causing a whiplash effect -> instant knockout.  He follows up and stands over the fallen opponent to make sure the encounter is finished.

That's some nice boxing right there.  The other guy will wake up with much more than a hangover, to be sure.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

what do you really want?

(thanks for the inspiration AK and K)

When I joined my first real dojo I was only 14.

I had been picked on at school relentlessly for 8 years already, teased, pushed around and beaten up nearly every day.  It got to the point that my Mom would drop me off in the morning directly in front of the school main gate where a teacher would escort me to class.  At the end of the day, I was let go 15 minutes early so I could have a head start and get almost home before the other kids could catch me en-route.  During recess or at lunch I always sat in view of a teacher.  Still, the kids that really wanted to hurt me found opportunities.
On the first day at the dojo, my teacher asked me "What do you want from the training?"  I replied "I want to get back at the kids who hurt me".  He looked at me gravely and said "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?"

This dialog continued one way or another for the next 5 years.  From time to time, without warning, my teacher would ask me the same question.  He would say "John, you can get anything you want from the training, but you have to know what you want.  What do you want?"  Each time I would come up with a different answer to try to satisfy him.  Sometimes I wanted to be tough, sometimes I wanted to master a new technique or weapon.  Sometimes I wanted to be "the best".  Each time he would give the same reply "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?".

The last time I remember this conversation he had asked me again, surprising me because he hadn't asked for a long time.  Caught off-guard I think I answered that I wanted a girlfriend (I was 19).  He said, as usual, "that's not what you want. What do you REALLY want?"  I paused, looked at him and said "I want never to be afraid."

He smiled.  After a moment he nodded his head and said "we can do that."

This year I will be 51.  I realized that he helped me get what I really wanted; what really mattered to me.

I have traveled all over the world, done exciting work, met and married a wonderful partner, raised two exceptional boys and made countless friends. Throughout this journey I was not afraid.  I was not afraid to ask difficult questions, not just of others but of myself.  I was not afraid to take risks and challenge my goals.  I was not afraid to speak my opinion and defend what I believe in.  I was not afraid to open my heart to others or to be vulnerable.  I was not afraid to laugh and cry and sing and dance.  I was not afraid to fail.  I was not afraid of what other people might think.  I was not afraid to step forward and become who I was meant to become.  I was not afraid to leave the past behind.

Fear is not just fear of dying.  It can also be fear of living.
Fear is not just fear of failure, it can be fear of success.

Thank you, my teacher, wherever you are, for helping me get what I really wanted.  This has made all the difference and brought me a life filled with gratitude.

What do YOU really want??