Monday, July 20, 2015

Flowing the Tree

(thanks for the inspiration Paul M)

It's not my fault.  Really.  My dear friend Paul asked me about Kali Majapahit.  Usually, the first few hours are my most animated explanations, but I could literally go on FOREVER talking about Kali Majapahit, how much I love it, and how unique it is.

To keep other people from falling asleep, I try to explain in a way that will resonate with each person, especially if they are not martial artists.

Paul is a physicist by background, so science/maths is a great medium to try to explain what we do.  Here goes...


When I walked into Kali Majapahit (at that time Ni Tien Martial Arts) in Singapore, I was AMAZED.
Guro Fred moved like no one I had ever seen (and still does).  He was (is) like a predatory jungle cat - graceful, powerful, lethal: 100% martial and 100% art.  However, it wasn't just how he moved, it was also how he spoke.

I remember it like yesterday...  Katulong Guro Vince (at that time not even a Kasama yet, now one of our best and most experienced instructors) punched.  Hard.  Guro Fred slipped outside effortlessly.  Guro Fred was looking at ME the whole time.  He wasn't even looking at the punch. He said "this time I will choose an outside solution."  He spoke not of "techniques" or "katas" but of "solutions".  I was intrigued.

Later, I would discover that we classify solutions by several categorizations.  One is by our position in space relative to our opponent: inside/outside/split.  Also, defining a solution as high line, medium line or low line.  Finally, through our distance: close (corto), medium (medio) or long (largo) distance.  We can also classify solutions by the subsystem we express (or the weapon type we use).  This includes Kali (panantukan/sikaran, dumog), Silat, JKD, Muay Thai, Hakka/kun tao and more.  Regarding weapon types we have single/double stick (impact weapons), edged weapons (long/short/karambit), axe/tomahawk, staff or spear (bankaw), flexible weapons such as sarongs and scarves, and many, many more.

Classifying our solutions creates a framework for learning, much like a chessboard, and so too the combination of solutions are infinite.  All of the above variations give us an endless array of options from which we can express ourselves.

So...what to do??

I added the binomial tree above as one idea to consider.  Each moment in time or action point represents a step in the binomial tree: action/reaction.  Each action opens the door to the next step in the sequence of events from left to right.  At the end, the opponent is incapacitated (hopefully without injury) and the fight is over.  Skill in fighting, using this example, can be defined as:

  • Flowing from left to right seamlessly without stopping, adjusting for each action/reaction by moving to the next stage of the binomial tree without hesitation
  • Choosing the highest percentage movements at each stage of the tree, so that our chance of success gets increasingly larger and our opponent's gets increasingly smaller at each step of the tree until the opponent can no longer continue
  • Limiting the opponent's response at each stage by "feeding" or "drawing" a conditioned and expected response from them which yields the result we want and can exploit

Of course, every fight is unpredictable and there are always unforeseeable elements.  The goal of the training is to develop and enhance the ability to KEEP MOVING, to FLOW with the changes as they happen and be neither constrained nor restricted in our responses.  When we express Kali Majapahit, it should be the truth of our own spirit which shines through --- relaxed; without fear, without panic, without anger - calm, confident. Completely in the moment until the encounter is over and we are safe.

I remain just as fascinated and intrigued by Kali Majapahit today as I was when I started 7 years ago.  I love the art and introducing people to it, because I know they will find a lifetime of exploration and adventure, just as I have.

See you at class.  


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dragons versus Unicorns

Dragons versus unicorns.

No, this is not some episode of Final Fantasy XVIII, Pokemon, Game of Thrones or other TV show/video game.

In this case, I am referring to a situation which often occurs when people begin to discuss religion/spirituality: namely, that each side begins to argue about hypotheses or pedantic minutiae which cannot actually be proved or disproved or which is in fact utterly irrelevant to deriving value from the basic ideas.  Thus, it is the equivalent of two people arguing over which would win a fight: dragon or unicorn, neither of which can actually be proven to even exist outside of the fantasy of imagination (nb: Komodo dragons are only called "dragons" because they are large lizards.  They do not breathe fire and cannot fly, which everybody knows all real dragons can do).

A common one is the Christian "one God versus 3 Gods" question.  In Christianity, God is usually thought of as a singular deity, but also as the Holy Trinity of God the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit).  Heated arguments happen between various Christian groups about the nature of God in each of these three forms, and whole branches of Christian religions differ based on what specific ideas they espouse.  Sadly, none of these ideas can actually be proved or disproved (at least not by any living human beings that could credibly resolve the argument).

All religions have some symbolism inherent in them as part of their Gnostic traditions.  This includes the Christian cross, the Jewish Star, The Muslim Scimitar, The Buddhist lotus flower and so on.
These symbols are core to those belief systems and an integral part of their worship in sacred ceremonies.  At the same time, to the extent that these distract the believer from gaining the benefit of the belief, I think they are at best misguided and at worst deliberately false and incendiary.  Using the Christian cross as an example, in Catholicism, the cross is always shown as a crucifix with Jesus on it (I assume to emphasize that Jesus suffered and died for our sins). By contrast, in the Lutheran (reform) Christian tradition, the cross is NEVER shown with Jesus on it, presumably to emphasize his arising from the tomb and triumph over death.  Which is correct?  How can we ever know?  While I can accept that there is a certain philosophical merit in discussing these interpretations, is there any practical value to be gained in arguing over them?  Fighting over them?  Killing and dying over them??  I suppose it would be just as nonsensical for two people to come to blows over whether dragons or unicorns are more powerful than the other.

I have yet to find an organized religion that does not include social harmony as one of its core tenets - the responsibility of believers to get along with each other.  For nearly all of them, harming others is allowed only under very specific circumstances, and killing is generally frowned up except in cases where the tribe is under direct attack.  Not signalling out Christians here specifically, but "thou shalt not kill" is a simple 4 word command, pretty clearly spelled out, and not really open to much interpretation. There is no "except..." clause.  Nearly every other religion is the same.

Still, however, man manages to engineer seemingly endless reasons for killing each other, religion being history's greatest excuse to murder people.

Using my example above, it is my sincere hope that Dragon lovers and Unicorn lovers (and all other fantasy fans) can come together and appreciate each others' beliefs, each cheering for their own favorite mythical creature - but not at the expense of another's.  We are all equally entitled to believe in what we want to, so long as it does not harm others.  Respect is key.

Then again, maybe everyone has got more important things to do than argue about imaginary stuff, right?

Martial arts is rife with the same problem.  Many so-called "masters" talk about "Ki" or "Chi" as if it were some mystical magical genie power that makes otherwise superhuman feats possible. Their goal is to appear special and persuade students that they can achieve some voodoo magic through choosing them as a teacher, focusing on esoteric topics at the expense of good, practical training.  The reality is that martial arts training is the most natural training there is, explainable through science (mostly physics, math and some chemistry, with a sprinkle of psychology).  Listening to two masters talk about how many different aura colors there are (which neither one could see) was about as boring as watching paint dry.  Listening to two "grand masters" argue over whose 11th degree black better was more "legitimate" than the others was even worse.

It is time to focus on what brings us together rather than what keeps us apart.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reflections on My KM Journey

I can still remember giving my very first class (and that student is still training with me - you know who you are!)  I was very scared.  I wondered if I would be good enough, or if I could answer all the questions they would have.  I felt very nervous and I hoped it wouldn't show too much.  It was hard to accept that I would stand out in front of the class and lead them.  I didn't feel ready yet.

At the same time, I was excited for the chance to keep on training.  I LOVED Kali Majapahit (still do!) and wanted nothing more than to just share it with everyone (yup, still do!).  It went OK, not great just OK, but luckily students can be a pretty forgiving lot, and people stuck with me.  I have tried hard to improve since then.  Thanks for staying with me.

5 years (and a few ITA sessions in Singapore) later and we have a GREAT group in Japan.  Not a good group, a GREAT GROUP.  At the core are some students (now Kasamas, mostly) who have trained with me for a few years, as well as a bunch of younger students making their way through the ranks one step at a time.  I love who they are as growing kalista.  I love each new discovery they reach - that moment when things start coming together and it starts to make sense, the puzzle pieces falling into place.

At the same time, I love watching my kasamas teach.  I love when they explain something so perfectly, with energy and passion, hitting all the right key points that make it work.  I can remember when they were first learning it - now they are ready to pass it on.  When my brothers and sisters from overseas come to visit I am proud to show them our Kali Family.  I am proud when we attend seminars together and people comment how good our kalista are, not just as fighters, but as PEOPLE.  We are a family that truly support each other and are there to help each other grow and learn.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have a group like this to call home.

There have been many times when our class was the main thing that kept me going.  Through a lot of tough personal times, Fridays were always "Our Time" to be together and something I looked forward to each week, sometimes the only thing I looked forward to.  As much as I gave to everyone, they gave to me.  They stayed committed to their training, and I knew I couldn't let them down.  I had to give 100% every class because they always deserve my absolute best.  Now we have even grown enough to have classes on Tuesday too, so twice I week I can do what I love most.

Every year brings new developments in Kali Majapahit.  We are doing so much more than we were when I joined.  I love the tradition, and the fellowship of my other instructors around the world, as well as our many brothers and sisters in so many countries.  I wish I could see them all more.  Many of our family have chosen to go beyond just a metaphorical warrior journey and embark on a real "warrior quest" around the world, just like Guro Fred and Guro Lila did so long ago.  I am jealous.  Respect to you for going all-in on your dreams.

When I reflect on my KM Journey, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. It has been such a tremendous benefit to me and the others in my life.  I am always grateful to my KM Family, especially Guro Fred and Guro Lila, for giving me the keys to make such a happy life for myself, and for creating something so good I have to share it with everyone I can.  Thank you for getting me involved and for keeping me involved.  Thank you for putting together something we can use to make the world a better place.  I truly believe our curriculum is the very best, and has so many fantastic keys to personal development.  I hope everyone can get a chance to try it and see.

To all my brothers and sisters in KM, thank you for being part of this global family.  I hope you will keep spreading the message and keep on going to achieve all the goals you set - every time. Recognize that you are part of something very, very special - something precious.  Treasure it and pass it on to the people you love most.  Make it your own.  Make every class matter.  Keep growing and never stop.  Become an instructor and pass it on.

To my fellow instructors, thanks for inspiring me and for giving 100% inside of class and out just like I do.  We are bound together by our common experience, and you are my heroes.  I can't wait to see you again.  You are always welcome with us in Japan.

Warm regards,

John

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What will I grow up to be Mummy ??????

(thanks for the inspiration Asif Rahman)

"What will I grow up to be Mummy?"

This is a very important question - in fact, it is almost the most important question we can ask.  We live in an age where each generation is being forced to ask (and answer) this question earlier than their parents.  The generally accepted answer to this question (directly or indirectly) is "SUCCESSFUL".


We carefully select the most highly-trained babysitters and give our babies DHA and other supplements to boost brain development, we send our children Montessori and later to elite nursery schools, after school "enrichment" including math, science, art, music (especially piano), and hire expensive tutors to boost their academic performance.  We become smart but we fail to become wise.  We can develop skills, but can we truly be "successful"?  Do we even know what that means?


Television programs, commercials, movies and magazines subconsciously push us to seek unrealistic standards of wealth, power and beauty, and to despair when we don't achieve them. This leads to depression, apathy, and a loss of direction or sense of purpose for many young people.  The emphasis on material, tangible, conspicuous consumption, often at the expense of real defining experiences, encourages us to think that success can be bought and need not necessarily be earned.  Our "successful" parents spent a disproportionate amount of time working, and still less than we do, and less than our children might do (if we are not careful).

Where did we go astray?

I am father to two boys, one already a teenager.

We have been frugal with them, at the same time trying to make sure they did not suffer just to develop "virtue" or "character".  What do I want from them?  What would success for them mean to me (as their father)?  What do I want them to grow up to be??  I have thought about this a lot over the years, and this helped me answer Asif's post when he put it on Facebook.

I want my boys to grow up to be HAPPY.


Not more than this, but also, very importantly, not less than this.


When I say "happy" what do I mean?  Happiness comes in many forms, and I am not simply talking about the delirious, carefree happiness we feel just being silly and laughing for no reason (although sometimes this is essential).  Happiness can also be found by achieving goals we set that we feel are important to us, or also very importantly, by helping others to be safe and happy.  Happiness can come from the satisfaction of investing in ourselves and the people around us, investing in relationships that will stand the test of time and support us when we are in need.  Happiness comes from being confident in ourselves and our abilities, but also from setting our own goals and not just achieving for the sake of other peoples' opinions of us.


happiness comes from learning to listen to the Inner Voice, the voice of our eternal soul, which helps us to discover our purpose in this incarnation, and to continue our spiritual journey - not specific to any "textbook" religion.  Our souls are above that, just as our souls are above seeing each other as flesh and blood (beautiful or ugly, or with different skin color).  The soul sees only the soul - pure and true, all of us on the same journey.  We may go so far as to say we are happiest when our soul is in balance and at peace, following the path it must follow to evolve and progress. 


I intentionally leave some aspects such as career, place of residence, wealth/social status out of my definition.  We have a need for basic comforts, safety and security, and I do not think we all need to be Zen monks (although some of us need to be because our soul tells us so).


While the above are good guidelines, happiness can only come from knowing ourselves fully. That means investing the time in experiences, good and bad, that help us define what is best for us.  We will make mistakes, many mistakes along the way - the key is to stay focused on learning and growing physically, mentally, spiritually.  The sad truth is that we can probably be happier with far less possessions than we have.  Less is truly more, and simplicity has its own reward.


As I mention above, while we should all aspire to be happy and expend our maximum effort to define for ourselves what and how that needs to be, it is equally important to make a promise to ourselves not to settle for anything less than happiness.  Being happy, in the forms I describe above, is enough and we do not need more.  At the same time, far too many people settle for less than happiness.  Less than happiness in their careers, their homes, their partners, their families, their friends.  Accepting less than happiness is a terrible compromise that contributes to our own suffering and that of those around us.  We must start by knowing, truly KNOWING, that we have worth as human beings, and that we DESERVE TO BE HAPPY as we define it.  It is our right as a living creature, no different from that of any other living creature.  It is important to expect the best from ourselves, so that we can develop a habit of excellence in what we do, and allow ourselves the happiness of satisfaction which comes from achieving our best and growing to do and be more than we were.  Please don't settle for less than happiness.  You deserve it.


It is never too late to grow up - especially if you choose to grow up to be happy.           


Friday, May 15, 2015

Enough

(thanks for the inspiration JZ)


How much is enough?  Can we ever have ENOUGH?  Or is MORE always better?
Psychological studies show that beyond a certain point, more money is not necessarily better.
Many of the happiest countries in the world are materially poor (at least relative to the United States, for example).  In the study above, the US ranks a relatively disappointing 15th (lower than Costa Rica and Mexico, by the way).  The report strongly suggests that well-being, rather than just GDP/wealth, is at the heart of being happy.  We can take this to mean that no matter how much money we have, we cannot be happy if we are not healthy.  Shockingly, Japan (where I live) ranked 46th, behind Uzbekistan and Guatemala, and only one place above South Korea.

Many people I know seem gripped with fear - fear that they will never have enough; never have enough money, but also never enough time, enough love, enough respect or fame.  We run around so busy in our lives, as if frantic action (or more action) was the key to having more of the things we think we want.
By working harder and harder, we actually have less and less.  Maybe a bit more money, but less of everything else.  Subconsciously realizing we have less of the intangibles which we know really matter (time, love, energy, health, relaxation) we panic more, and the spiral spins faster...until something bad happens...

Somehow, we are led to believe that being successful is being BUSY, when maybe it should really be the opposite.  Maybe success is about having more free time to pursue the things we really feel passionate about. Maybe success is having the time and resources to learn and grow, rather than falling into bed exhausted at midnight every night, running to and from the airport on business trips to have meeting after meeting after meeting.

For many of us, the idea of contentment, being happy with what we have, is scary.  It suggests we will NEVER HAVE MORE, and TV, movies, and marketing gives us enormous social pressure to believe more is always better.  It's just NOT.

To Buddhists, desire/wanting ("Upadana" or "clinging") is one of the two the root causes of suffering. Particularly, this is the desire for things to be "as we want them" or for things to "stay the same" which, understanding impermanence, is impossible.  To want the impossible creates an inability to accept The Truth of what IS, and leads us to fear of loss - causing us instead to cling far too tightly and become unable to experience real happiness or contentment.  In short, the pain of loss is worse than the loss itself.

At the last Japan seminar, Guro Fred mentioned that we will be the first generation of people in history to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents...this is as profound as it is sad.  The stress is killing us.
The CDC reports that heart disease and cancer (both linked to stress) are the leading causes of death for people in the US.  More disturbing is the data showing that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34.  This strongly suggests that the stress and pressure of trying to be "a successful adult" is more than many young people can handle.

In search of MORE, we do stupid things.  In search of more money, some people break ethical/moral rules they otherwise would not.  In search of more love, many people look outside their marriage or relationship rather than invest in the one they have.  In search of fame/respect, we become willing to give up our self-respect, pride or dignity in the hopes that others will like us.  In the search for more time, we stay up late and don't get enough sleep, indirectly causing health problems.  We eat more and more every year in the search to consume and experience more, putting additional stress on our fragile bodies. 

I am now almost 50 years old.  I have learned not to be afraid.  Martial arts taught me that.  The training taught not just to be unafraid of death, it has taught me that there will be enough:  I will have enough time to train; enough time to work and be productive; enough love; enough money; enough respect to feel good about myself; enough resources to help others; enough opportunities to learn and grow.  I don't have enough to be wasteful or foolish, but if I am careful and consistent I will have enough to have a comfortable and contented life.  Thinking about this makes me feel at peace.  It can make you feel at peace, too.

The mantra "I have enough" is one of my favorites for meditation - reminding myself again and again not to be in a panic to collect more of anything than what I need to be happy.

As I told a dear friend of mine the other day,

In life we will not be judged by how much money we have or how many bottles of champagne we drank, we will be judged on how much we loved and were loved by those who matter to us; by how much compassion we showed, and how much we were able to improve the lives of others. How much we inspired and were inspired. How much passion we had. How brightly we shone; how intensely we lived. What values we had and whether or not we stayed true to them when things got tough. 

Trust me, Enough in Enough.  More is not necessarily better.  Focus on the human things that matter most.
If you must seek more, SEEK MORE BALANCE.

See you at class.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Input - Output Model

(thanks for the inspiration GH)


There it is, the I/O model.  Many of you have heard of it, especially maths/computer science geeks, but it is perhaps a great deal more profound than most people realize.

The I/O model is a great way of understanding so many of the situations that we face in our lives.
We often struggle to get a different result, somehow naively believing that we could get a different output from the same input fed into the same process.  Of course, if we are detached, we can understand that the only way to get a different output is to change the inputs or use a different process.

Working backward, we can use this principle to examine and adjust almost any aspect of our lives, from our work situation to our relationship status.  We spend far too much time worrying about the results we get - financial, physical, emotional, spiritual.  All too often, we are stressed out because we don't like the results (outputs).  I would content that we spend far too little time examining the inputs and processes which yield these results.  Time and again we repeat the same negative behaviors or use the same ineffective inputs - only to be shocked when the outputs are the same every time (or worse).  How could they be better if the inputs are not improved or the process changed??

As we look at the areas of our lives we feel need improvement, we can work backward to examine the processes and inputs which created the outputs.  In almost every case, the inputs can be changed or a different process used.  Sometimes this will yield a worse result, but more often than not mixing things up will yield an improvement - sometimes a significant one.

If nothing else, adjusting the inputs and using different processes allows us to leverage feedback loop and explore the relationships between variables, sometimes seemingly unrelated variables.  It reminds us that we are not victims of circumstance or subject to simple fate, dumb luck or bad habits.  WE HAVE CONTROL -  we always did.  We can determine how good or bad our lives will be.  We have the power to change the things we don't like, if we can have the courage to change the inputs and processes we don't like.  This is complete empowerment.

Even in our training, we are always free to change the inputs and processes of the training.
Doing so gives a fresh, new perspective that can give additional insights or develop new skills.
Our diet routine, our sleep patterns, our exercise habits, our drills --- all of these create the output of who we are as martial artists.  All are within our control to change.  Different inputs of focus, time, discipline, energy added to different/better training processes are what really take our skills to the next level and keep us moving forward.  FMA are unique (I think) in continuing this evolution at a rapid pace, while still trying to preserve the martial traditions which underpin our knowledge.

Changes take time and are often scary or uncomfortable.  Martial arts is a great way to develop the confidence we need to change, and keep changing, the things in our lives we want to make better.  Experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit - sometimes that can feel like a very, very long time.  Martial arts training gives us the discipline and patience to see the changes through to new habits, and create an environment of continuous improvement for ourselves.

Knowing this, we must accept responsibility, total responsibility, for our circumstances.
If we don't like something - CHANGE IT.

Make your life what you want it to be.  I KNOW YOU CAN.

See you at class.


  

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Fight Night

Well, it's over.  The "Fight of the Century" did not end with a BANG, the sound many predicted Pacman's glove would make on Money's jaw, but with a whimper as Floyd Mayweather played it safe and defended his title with very little risk, negating Manny Pacquiao's offense for the full 12 rounds to a unanimous decision from the judges and unanimous dissatisfaction from boxing fans.

There are a lot of differences between sports and martial arts, and it is important to understand them - each one can have its' place,  but they are rarely interchangeable.

In sports, we can separate the individual from his/her athletic prowess.  We can focus on the measurement, the numbers, the points or seconds and forget who they are as a human being. This could be true for legendary sporting "bad boys" like Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, even George Best, just to name a few.  Even supposed sporting "nice guys" like Pete Rose and Michael Jordan do not have spotless records of conduct - nearly every sports legend has personal character flaws that are distasteful, if not blatantly illegal or immoral.

We can allow ourselves to forgive, or at least ignore, their failings as human beings in light of the excitement they make us feel when we see their sporting feats and share in their victories.

As martial artists, this is not enough.

Our goal is to make great martial artists, and that means great fighters with a deep understanding of the context, history and background of the traditions we teach.  More than this, our goal is to make GREAT HUMAN BEINGS - human beings with compassion; human beings who can positively impact the world by going forth to achieve their personal and professional goals using the confidence and self-esteem they develop and polish in the dojo.  We want to inspire the next generation of people who will take control of their own lives, take responsibility for their own actions and make a change in the world because they know they can.

At the end of it all, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.
What really matters is the person you choose to become, and "points" are no substitute for being a bad person just as having money does not forgive transgression.

I wanted Pacquiao to win just like all of you probably did.  He seems like a better person, and I wanted him to be the better boxer, too.  In sports, it is hard to find the right combination of athletic prowess and upstanding character.  In martial arts, we must settle for nothing less.  We must expect this of our teachers and training partners, and we must demand it of ourselves.

Becoming the best fighter in the world is worth nothing if it costs us our humility, our respectfulness, or our compassion.

See you at training.