Monday, March 12, 2018

Mortal Combat

A very interesting photo.  Here we see two snakes - a cobra and a python.  They fought - both are dead.  The python crushed the cobra with its strength, the cobra bit the python and killed it with its venom.

The influence of Hollywood movies and pop culture glorifies violence.  We watch movies like "Bloodsport", we watch or train gladiatorial combat methods like MMA/BJJ/kickboxing/Muay Thai and even imagine what it might be like if we used our Kali skills in a "real" fight.

Unfortunately, we can't know what led to the picture - fighting over potential food sources/territory or something else.  All we see is the result.  Nature is as cruel as it is beautiful and the struggle for survival is real for every species, plant and animal alike.  Humans struggle too.  Sometimes for food or resources, but also for ideology, territory, social reasons or sadly even religion.  As noble as some of these may sound, the result is rarely different from the picture. I doubt the python or the cobra set out that day expecting to die.  I suppose very few people do either.  Maybe in their last moments, neither one unable to escape or back down, they were both surprised as their lives faded away into darkness.  "Here?? Now??  Why??"

Our Kali skills are no less deadly than the crush of the python or the poison of the cobra.  Maybe more so given our ingenuity with tools and our environment and our ability to make and use so many kinds of weapons apart from just our bodies.

At the Peaceful Warrior Camp in Natai Beach, Thailand this week we saw all manner of fighting techniques involving sticks, knives, karambits, machetes and even axes, not to mention mundane items like our belts (thanks Guro Fred!!).  That said, we  should bear in mind that the results of our actions can be permanent - not just to an opponent but to ourselves.  We must always be calm and mature enough to use our skills judiciously for the protection of ourselves and others in need.

As martial artists we need to operate within the law wherever humanly possible, and apply as little force as needed to resolve any potential conflict.  As Guro Claes reminded us, it is our expert knowledge of distance, timing, structure, psychology and physiology that are the real weapons we must apply - far more than our fists and feet.  I don't ever want to go to prison and I doubt anyone else does either.
It is surely preferable to the grave, and a risk worth taking if others are potentially in danger, but in no case worthy of glorification.

Fights are not always physical - all too often we argue with others and cause them great emotional harm in the hurtful things we say.  Some of these wounds are as bad or worse than physical injuries.  Like the snakes, we all have unique attributes that make us deadly - physically and verbally and we have no shortage when it comes to ways to damage others.  This is why the Peaceful Warrior way is so important.  It is our compassion that defines us, not our ability to cause harm.

Verbal or otherwise, any fight could be our last.  Make sure it's worth it.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ringing The Bell

The above picture is of US Navy SEALS going through "hell week", a tortuous part of the selection process that combines physical, mental and emotional strain with severe sleep deprivation.  It is an ultimate test of willpower and those who make it through are very likely to be successful SEALS.

The test is made incrementally more difficult by the bell.

The bell is an omnipresent symbol of choice.
At any time, with or without reason, a cadet can go up and ring the bell three times and quit the selection process.  There is no shame in this.  Having done so, they are returned to their former unit and former colleagues to continue their service.  They will not go on to become a SEAL.  Everyone knows this is an option.  During Hell Week the mettle of the cadets is pushed to the limits and beyond - in the surf, in the sand and everywhere else.  Their leaders push them to see if they will break under pressure; if they can overcome the limitations of the body and mind and truly break through whatever barriers may stand in their way.  SEALS get the job done no matter what.  They never quit.  They never give up.  They never lose.

This week at the Peaceful Warrior Camp 2018 we were blessed to have training from an amazing man.  He spent 20 years in the Swedish Navy Special Forces as a diver - now working as a SWAT team member in inner-city Stockholm.  He is a calm and unassuming man with a gaze of steel.  He has undoubtedly seen many tough situations in his career and been challenged time and again.  To me, he is the definition of a Peaceful Warrior - the kind of person we should all aspire to be; confident without being boastful; ready and willing to act when needed to protect others.

He ordered us into the pool where we spent the next 25 minutes in a "mini" version of what an average training session is like for those warriors (theirs is usually between 60 and 90 minutes).  We swam, dived, pushed and pulled ourselves at every instruction.  After 25 minutes we were spent.  He told us "At any time you feel like it, get out of the pool.  Take a break.  Rest.  Go back in and continue.  Or not.  Up to you".  The bell.

We may not be SEALS or special forces, but we are Peaceful Warriors, too.  Not a single one of us  gave up no matter how hard it was.  We struggled, but all of us did the training as commanded.  I am proud if I imagine we did not disappoint him.

The session ignited something primal in me.  Pushed out of my comfort zone (I am not a very good swimmer) and put under stress I could only tap into my most basic instincts and my raw stubborn anger to keep me going.  My fitness simply wasn't good enough.  I struggled badly and was consistently slower than everyone else.  Despite this, I refused to ring the bell.  I wanted to, desperately.  When it was over, the adrenaline started to leave and I crashed.  My body shook.

I realized that there are these bells all around us.  Very few situations are impossible to quit.  We always have the choice of giving up.  In our jobs, our relationships, our hobbies; when things are difficult or even just "inconvenient" we can ring the bell - no questions asked or answered - and go do something else somewhere else.  We may worry what others might think, but the stark reality is that the only person that will really care that we quit is ourselves.  We alone have to face the guilt and regret without knowing whether or not we might have achieved the goal.

In martial arts too, we see the bell.  So many students start out with "good intentions" about reaching black belt and even beyond, but later ring the bell for any number of reasons.  Guro Claes talked about "black belt death" where after achieving the coveted black belt, a student just...stops training.  We've all seen it.  So have I.  Bell rung.

There is no such thing as an easy life.  We all struggle somehow, someway.  We can all imagine the bell right in front of us reminding us that we could always....just...quit.  At various points in my life I have quit jobs and relationships, as well as various hobbies and especially gym memberships.  However, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser I start to focus in on what really matters to me - my family, my Kali, my friends, my work.  The rest is just noise really.

If you look for them, the bells are always there.  Each of us must decide if we ring them or not.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Essence of FMA

This is Guro Eugenia Valente of Kali De Mano, one of the expert black belts and a guest instructor here at the Peaceful Warrior Camp 2018.  We were very lucky to have a class from her this week.  She is a happy, friendly person when we see her around the camp.  Not overly talkative, but always with a bright smile and always eager to train.

She moved to the front of the room, surrounded by Swedish Viking Giants, Germans, Australians and other camp members some of whom are twice her size, we wondered what she would show us.  It turned out to be the Essence of FMA.

She moves directly, efficiently.  As soon as her opponent gets in range she blasts in.  Her counters are compact and powerful; he is disarmed and off-balance.  He's down.  She is in control 100% of the time.  The room goes dead silent.

We are all lifelong students of martial arts.  Guro Eugenia wordlessly reminds us that what we do is very martial indeed.  MARTIAL Arts.

Especially in Kali Majapahit, which is a beautiful, deceptively flowing style, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that FMA is meant to be savage and aggressive - it is meant to be compact and direct.  It is meant to deliver devastating responses to anything our opponent would consider.  Watching Guro Eugenia demonstrate we immediately recognize that she is RELENTLESS.  We are reminded that this, too, is part of what we need to be if we want to call ourselves Filipino Martial Artists.

She has invested a lot in her training and it shows.  She moves confidently and without hesitation.  She trusts her technique and she should.

The hour went by quickly.  Attack after attack led to the same result - Guro Eugenia standing over her attacker in complete control.  In this case, her "attacker" was another black belt instructor, and we all felt a bit of pity for him.  Thankfully he was not injured, but if the threat had been real there was no doubt what the outcome would have been.  It hurts to take those techniques and it requires a lot of trust between both teachers - Guro Eugenia has excellent control so she was able to go full speed and full power, stopping just short of actually damaging her partner.

I learned so much in that hour, reminding me to be more like Guro Eugenia - confident, compact, direct and powerful.  Above all - Relentless.  Not just in my Kali but in every important element of my life.

Thank you Guro!

Thursday, March 08, 2018

No Pain No Gain

Here I am at The Peaceful Warrior Camp 2018 in Natai Beach, Thailand.  Sun, fun, training on the beach and so much, much more.  A chance to reconnect with brothers and sisters in the arts from near and far, catch up on the latest happenings and generally celebrate life.

The camp always includes a lot of training, but it is more than that.  We have at least 2 conferences every year on personal development and health, taught by Guro Fred, Guro Claes and the other masters.  It's a great chance to remember that it's not just about our skills as martial artists but also about our maturity and wisdom as human beings.

Today Guro Claes gave us a conference on personal development.  He showed us A.H. Maslow's hierarchy of needs which is a famous pyramid used in many such presentations.  Guro Claes also explained that these levels correspond directly to our chakras and as such are an integral part of the "I AM" part of our selves.  Many times we get stuck in certain levels of the hierarchy, unable to move forward.  Guro Claes explained that this often due to our reluctance to accept the pain of change.  All growth is painful, but it precisely this pain that allows us to go further.  Like the weightlifter in the gym - it is not easy but such effort is necessary to become stronger; simply wishing it does not make it so.

He challenged us to think about what we could do to really change our lives.  It's a powerful reflection to begin to really consider what is in our lives that doesn't work and formulate a plan to improve and change.  For some of us, having Guro Claes encourage us is a great motivator to take the next steps towards improving our lives, whatever that may be.

At the same time,  I realized that pain is a very important topic for me.  Looking at the word "PAIN" written in big letters I could focus on little else.  I worried I was going to have a "moment" and break down in tears during the conference.

For 30 years or so, I carried an anchor of pain around my neck.  Physical pain has come and gone, but the emotional pain of my childhood, and my anger as a reaction to that pain,  consumed me for so long I thought I could never be free of it.  This year, my birth mother published her memoirs, detailing many aspects of her failed marriage to my birth father and my early childhood (pre-agency and foster care) that I had never known.  I was riveted, reading the whole manuscript 3 times in one week and hardly sleeping at all.  So many wounds were reopened, and I cried an awful lot that week.  Once again I was a lost and forsaken baby, given up by my parents who never wanted me.  The pain was unbearable.  The love of my wife and children healed me like it always has.

I realized that now, at nearly 52 years old, I have the life I want.  I have MY family, who I love with every fiber of my being; my beautiful and patient wife who handles my dark moments without complaint; my two sons who surprise me and make me so proud.  So much more.  I love my job and where we live.  I love my Kali Family and my amazing students.  I have everything I ever wanted and so much more.  I am overflowing with gratitude for this fabulous life and I don't really feel any motivation to do much more than continue to enjoy it.  I'm in my sweet spot, my zone.  As one close friend tells me again and again, "Honeyman, you've aced it".  I really feel I have.

Maybe that's the problem.  I no longer subscribe to the idea that you have to keep pushing for the next goal; the next promotion, the next purchase, the next "level".  I feel content.  Moreover, I am not sure I am willing to "take the pain" of those changes any more.  I have lived in darkness for so long, I want some time to enjoy the light.  Is that really so wrong??

I know what it took to get here - thousands of nights of sadness and feeling unwanted...low self-esteem masked by sarcastic black humor.  My sharp tongue hurting everyone around me - pushing everyone away and building walls to keep everyone out.  Destroying every relationship and then wondering why I had to pick up the pieces again.  Everyone around me telling me all the things they thought I would never do or never achieve - me going and  doing them all (and more) anyway.  I had help from so many people along the way, known and unknown, but in the end I learned that no one can live your life but YOU.  I don't ever want to go back.  I love my life right now.

What if I just stayed on like this - happy??

No Pain No Gain? maybe to a point.  If I have nothing further I want to gain then maybe I don't have to take the pain, right? 

I have fought every inch of the way for this life.  As a warrior, A Peaceful Warrior, I am sworn to defend it and the people in it and I would without hesitation.  But maybe it's OK to stop fighting all the time.  Maybe I have the freedom I wanted for so long.  It sure feels like it.

Maybe this is what it really means to be a Peaceful Warrior...

Friday, March 02, 2018

QE Rebooted

This is our new boom.  Lately, my wife and I watch this show together when we have time.  If you haven't seen it yet, please check it out:
Netflix in Japan even has Japanese subtitles.  All 8 episodes of the season are available for you to binge.

For those of you not in the know, the show's premise is that each episode someone gets nominated for a total makeover by the Fab 5, a group of gay men who specialize in different areas (fashion, interior, gourmet, grooming, culture).  During the segment, The Fab 5 spend a week with the nominee and at the end a full lifestyle makeover is revealed ranging from wardrobe (Tan Francis) to living space (Bobby Berk) to cuisine (Antoni Porowski)  to grooming/personal care (Jonathan van Ness) and attitude (Karamo Brown).  It's absolutely fascinating to watch these transformations happen.

To the casual observer, a change of wardrobe or furniture or a different haircut is a very superficial change.  A change in diet or a discussion about self-confidence is a shallow attempt at change.  The truth is, in every episode I have seen so far, the nominee has at least one sort of emotional blocker in their life - the death of an influential loved one; the weight of complacency or fear of failure; lack of acceptance from others and so on.  As the lifestyle elements are changed, the personality is lifted and the nominees change from the inside out.  They are confident, engaging/engaged and moving forward (at least baby steps).  We cry every time we see the end of an episode because it is truly touching to see these people overcome their blockers, supported by the genuine, caring attention of the Fab 5.

As openly gay men, each of them have dealt with serious psychological challenges during their lives as they have fought for acceptance and confidence from themselves and others.  This gives them incredible insight into personality, conflict and change and honed their skills in helping other people through the same journeys.  Most nominees underestimate the impact that a week with the Fab 5 can have on who they are.  In the end, they don't just look different - They ARE different.

The takeaway is profound: we are emotional beings, and this reflects itself (sometimes subconsciously) in how we treat ourselves and those around us.  Like all living things, we need to be nurtured not just physically but emotionally and spiritually to be fulfilled.  Blocked; we stagnate and get stuck in choices and habits that prevent us from making positive changes and moving forward.  We need help.  Little changes in how we dress, live, sleep, eat can make big changes in how we feel.  As Tan Francis pointed out in one powerful episode "there's no blueprint for how to come out; there's no one way to be gay".  Each person has to find their unique way of being and celebrate it, whatever it is.  As our problems get resolved, we start to shine brighter and brighter.

As a Customer Success Manager for Microsoft, I can relate to this.  I deal with the same challenges at the corporate level.  It would be easy to treat digital transformation as a serious of "IT projects" and ignore the fact that these are really driving "cultural changes" taking place in the way employees collaborate to sell to and service their important customers.  We do a series of enablement activities (akin to changing wardrobe, interior, cuisine and grooming on the show) but ultimately we are invested in trying to help our customers break out of their stagnant working habits into a more positive and confident incarnation.  We are impacting the workplace culture using IT.

In the dojo as well, we sometimes reach plateaus.  We feel we are not making progress or are stuck in bad habits (especially working too much and missing class).  Maybe we think we are there to master punching and kicking and stick fighting or knife defense.  The reality is that we use those tools for Personal Transformation.  We build confidence so we can remove the blockers we face in any area of our life and never be afraid to go for our goals everywhere including the dojo.  All of us have been victims of fear, and learning to face and overcome those fears is the key to personal freedom.  The martial arts is a means to an end; an end where we find ourselves fulfilled and happy in every other aspect of our lives.

The Fab 5 are amazing people.  I hope they keep changing the world. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Evolution Revolution

I love my life.  It goes without saying that I love my family.  I love Japan in general and Yokohama specifically.  I love my work at Microsoft.  The company is in the middle of an amazing transformation - going from a pretentious know-it-all to an empathetic listener who can learn as well as teach.  We are closer to each other and to our customers than ever before, and the genuine, sincere "humanness" is the cornerstone of our newfound success and energy.  Under the new leadership of Satya Nadella, we have been moving steadily from a product-centric approach (features and functions) to a solution-led approach (fit for purpose).  Now, we aspire to become even more.  We want to evolve to be a partner in business model creation, where we help our customers develop new markets, ecosystems and business lines to expand and grow their relevance to their own customers, using our powerful platform as an enabler.  We are working hard to be part of the future rather than just the present.  It's an exciting time to be here.

I am transforming, too. My martial arts journey spans almost 40 years now, with the most recent decade being anchored firmly in Southeast Asian martial arts - specifically Kali Majapahit.  I have gone from absolute beginner to teacher, learning all along from everyone and everything I could.  My quest is far from over, and as I have written before, I learn as much from my students as I have from my teachers.

I was initially attracted by Guro Fred Evrard's choice of terminology in the first KM class I ever took in an old shophouse on Yan Kit Road in Singapore.  He talked about "solutions" to "situations".  This blew my mind.  No teacher I had ever seen talked like that.  In the past it was about techniques and forms and repetition.  It was about patience and discipline and tradition and...waiting.  There was no creativity or innovation.  Systems were taught the way they had always been.  No one thought much about practicality or applicability - those things were for "sport" styles like MMA, Muay Thai or boxing, looked upon with disdain by traditional martial artists.  Guro Fred changed how I thought about martial arts.  He opened my mind to a new way of learning.  Thanks to him and my other KM brothers and sisters, my journey of evolution continues.

Over the years Guro Fred's emphasis has changed as he has evolved.  His focus has shifted, which is completely natural since people change over time, consciously and/or unconsciously.  While I look upon the old days fondly, I am always excited by his commitment to innovate the curriculum and find new ways to challenge us.  Nothing in KM stays the same for very long.  We continue to evolve and that keeps us fresh.

My approach has evolved too.  One of the most beautiful things about the FMA is the inherent ability to translate between sub-systems.  We start learning weapons (sticks) on Day 1 and we try very hard to link everything about the stick back to the empty hands movement and vice versa, using universal body mechanics/physics about centerline, weight transfer, hip rotation, extension.  We are reminded that our tradition comes from the blade, in KM specifically the barong, and we are encouraged to look at the stick and empty hand techniques through the lens of the blade movement.  Subtle changes are needed, but most of what we learn flows seamlessly from one to the other.  Our understanding expands to the world around us, whereby everything becomes a weapon proxy, including the environment.  As shown in many famous Hollywood films (Bourne series, Taken, etc.) trained kalista use anything and everything to win.

Now, when we see a technique, our minds begin to explore how the same concept can be reused and reapplied in a variety of other circumstances using any other tools.  One technique becomes hundreds of expressions and our creativity is unleashed.  This way of learning sharpens the mind.

We evolve our thinking from discrete technique to flexible solution.  Later we move beyond physical technique into aspiration, where our training is focused on making us better people - leveraging our strategy and psychology to negate the need for violent conflict.  Our journey moves from the physical to the mental/emotional and ultimately to the spiritual.  Our journey connects us deeply to everything and everyone and we manifest this awareness in every day of our life.

My arts at work and at home are no different from my arts at the dojo.  My life in KM has allowed me to evolve not just as a martial artist but as a husband, a father, a co-worker and a friend.  The evolution has brought me unparalleled happiness by keeping me connected.  I use what I have learned every single day and always will.

What is YOUR revolution?
How are YOU evolving?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Teachers and Students

I am very fortunate to have had several incredible teachers during my journey, starting officially from age 14 until now.  They taught me not only martial arts techniques, but so much about the world and my place in it.  I can honestly say that without my teachers I could never have achieved the things I have done or become who I have become - a teacher now focused on sharing what I have learned with the next generations.

My teachers have always appeared just when I needed them to.  Whenever I felt a plateau on the path or began to lose my way, a teacher would always be there to bring me back and keep me moving forward.  Sometimes it felt like inches at a time, but forward nonetheless.

However, if I am honest, I learned just as much from my training partners.  Together we explored every technique making countless mistakes along the way.  We found out what worked and what didn't and the trust in each other kept us from injury.  They, too, were my teachers.

Now I find that I learn so much from my students.  They come to class with bright eyes and focus, eager for each new bit of knowledge.  Their questions and the way they move teaches me a lot about how people understand our art.  Among our black belts we take some things for granted - newer students do not.  They don't assume something works (or that it doesn't).  I am fascinated by how to make the art easier for them to absorb.  In many ways, they are now my teachers.

Punong Guro Fred Evrard and Guro Lila Evrard have been among the most important of my teachers.  Starting me on my current path and selflessly sharing their lifetime of experience in arts I had never seen before.  They changed my mind about so many things, and I am forever grateful. 

At the same time, Guro Fred was always clear that he was not the art.  The art is the art.  What does it mean??

Make no mistake, I started Kali Majapahit because of them.  I continued (and still do) because of everyone else, the other teachers and students and the broader KM global community we have built together.  I don't get to see them as often as I would like, and certainly not as often as I did when we were all in Singapore.  However, that does not mean that I don't still learn from them.  It means that at my level I must focus more on adding to the art by incorporating my own background and experience (25+ years of traditional Japanese arts) into KM.  That is our KM Japan "flavor".

My students will outgrow me.  That's what I want.  Then they will take the art even further.  That's also what I want.  To do this, the students cannot sit back passively and wait to be "spoon fed" the knowledge by me.  They must become proactive and seek out understanding on their own so they can discover THEIR Kali Majapahit.  It is THEIR journey after all.

For the past 8 years I have tried to be at every class.  However, try as I may I can't always be there.  This shouldn't matter.  I am not the art.  The art is the art.
Come to class regularly and learn from each other.  You will be glad you did.

That is all.