Monday, June 30, 2008


One of my teachers called the martial arts "a lonely path"...

I have been thinking about that a lot lately. The path of training calls us and we have to answer; it is who we are. To do less would deny being ourselves.

At the same time it can be hard to have a "normal" life (whatever that is) while our training seems to be the dominant activity. How does a person get/remain married, have kids, or for that matter even hold down a job? Can we really have the best of all worlds?

Marriage is in my view the single most important decision any of us ever make in our lives. It can determine your level of happiness, your level of success, even your basic motivation. It can have dramatic effects either way on your physical health, and even prolong your life or shorten it! People say that if you make the wrong decision you can always just get divorced. Every one that I know that has done so has suffered lifelong emotional/financial effects from it. Once children are involved, it reaches a new dimension with implications that affect the lives of far more than just you and your spouse.

It is rare to find someone who can understand our commitment to better ourselves. It is hard to find someone who understands that this commitment is not selfish vanity, but rather a desire to improve the whole world by improving our understanding of ourselves and our place in it. Many spouses can feel like "second best" and be jealous of our teachers, jealous of our fellow students, and even jealous or resentful of our training because they feel it takes time away from them.

Rejoice if you have found someone who understands your training for what it is: a necessary and undeniable part of you. Be thankful you have someone who knows that your training makes you a better person, and feel lucky when your spouse knows that your relentless search for the Truth helps you continually improve the quality of your personal relationships - especially the most important one: THEM.

I am grateful to be married to a wonderful wife who has her own competitive spirit, and who understands mine. I am lucky to have children who will respect my choice to never be satisfied with my life, and I hope they will learn from it and do the same.

If you have not found this yet, take heart. It can take a long time, but when you find the right person, your life will improve exponentially. In the meantime, don't compromise and don't settle for less.

This is one decision you have to get right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book Time!!

I am not Oprah Winfrey. However, I am an avid reader. I read lots and lots of books, and most smart people I know do also. I encourage everyone (martial artist or otherwise) to read with as much time as they can find. Not at the expense of training of course, but to fill in gaps on trains, buses, taxis, or other waiting periods. TURN OFF THE TV, and the iPod as well (if you are not at the gym). Here are my top ten (not in order of importance) from my bookshelf that I read again and again.

In case you think I know something you don't, it might have come from one of these.

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
a great overview of many various scientific disciplines for non-scientists. Very easy read.

2. The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
begins to unravel the stranglehold that religion has engineered on modern man. I agree.

3. God is not Great
- Christopher Hitchens
takes God Delusion to another level. Hard, but sound arguments for atheism. Think about it.

4. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere
- Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti
great overview of aikido (yes, I know this is aikikai...). Dynamic sphere is a vital mental image.

5. The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
- Huston Smith
non-sectarian overview of core beliefs of all the World's main religions. A must-read.

6. Monk or Warrior
- Fred Evrard
synthesis of Filipino Kali practicality and Chinese medical wisdom/philosophy. I believe this.

7. Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments
- Martin Gardner
starts some really great cocktail party conversations

Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
one of the books that really made me think about things. Bryson's book, Smith's book, and this one make a set

Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space - Robert Masters and Jean Houston
tried these exercises in college and opened some new doors; you will too.

10. Sources of Power - Gary Klein
a great study on how we make decisions - very applicable to life and martial arts

The above are all non-fiction. Special mention goes to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
Fight Club opened my eyes to a lot of practical philosophy and the reality of how much sadness our modern materialistic world can really contain. I choose not to go down that route, but instead to believe in personal development (read Monk or Warrior by Fred Evrard). Palahniuk has some interesting points, though.

There ya go. Now, get off your wallet and go CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Lemme know what you think about any of them. I'll even buy dinner.
Better yet, tell me I'm wrong and which other books should have made my top ten.
If you persuade me, I'll still buy dinner :-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yesterday was my first test in Kali Majapahit.
I was in bad shape. I had to go to Sydney last week, and got sick mid-Afternoon Thursday. By test time I had eaten no food at all for about 2.5 days and already lost 7 pounds. I felt very weak to say the least.

Somehow I made it through the test and did OK. The most interesting thing, and the point of this post, is that during the empty hand application I got thrown down and somehow Frederick and I hit heads. I got smacked on the back of the head right where the head begins to curve up off of the spine. What happened?

To try and describe it, a bright flash of pain, and electrical shocks all the way down my arms and to the tips of my fingers. Wow. I haven't felt anything like that since I trained in the US nearly 20 years ago. I was stunned, and Guro Fred kindly checked me out to make sure I did not have a concussion or anything long-lasting. I was back up in 5 minutes or so.

I have written before in other posts about how the body is basically a hydro-electric system.
This is what I mean. Disruption (especially due to blunt force traumatic shock) causes electrical signals down the nervous system, in effect "shorting" the circuits. It hurts. This was not a massive shot, but it still would have been enough to put me out of a fight.

At the base of the spine, where it connects to the head, is an area of the brain called the medulla oblongata, which controls the basic motor functions like heartbeat, respiration, and so on. It also happens to be only thinly protected by the skull, especially relative to other parts of the brain.

This is an area where, if struck even mildly, the victim will almost certainly lose consciousness instantly. A direct, forceful blow usually causes coma or death. I missed hitting mine by about 3 inches, and I am very glad for that.

this is what a hard shot to the medulla oblongata feels like



The life you save could be your own.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Random thought I wanted to add after yesterday's training, and related to a prior post on knife fighting called "The Cutting Edge". Leaving your fingerprints on things is bad. In this context, when knife fighting, if we strip the knife from an attacker (which should always be a last-ditch response when we cannot run away or evade) there is a likelihood that we will get our own fingerprints on it. Use your feet to secure it, DO NOT PICK IT UP.

Guro Fred illustrates an example where, having taken a knife away and used it to immobilize an attacker, the police arrive guessed it...we get arrested and charged not just with the man we just used the knife on, but everyone else he may have used the knife on...since our fingerprints are the main ones the police discover. Can you imagine the sick irony of that?

In my post called "Broken", I explain that when we fight, under even the best of circumstances we stand a chance of being arrested and/or charged. This is worthy of serious consideration. The idea that we could get attacked, righteously defend ourselves or our loved ones, and STILL end up in prison or sued by the criminal or his/her family is insane. Insane though it may be, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Especially in foreign countries where gaijin/gwailo/ang mo are suspect anyway, and police do not speak English as a first language, the chances that you can get unjustly blamed for something goes up exponentially.

CSI may not be there to help you...

Let your mind imagine a situation where you are wrongfully accused, denied by your embassy (who want no part of your problem), stuck in jail awaiting trial in a country where you may not speak the language and may not have an interpreter to help you, where you are likely not to have legal counsel to protect you...and you will get a sense of how these things can escalate.

Human rights do not exist equally everywhere. Be wise. For reference, read this.

It may sound cowardly to say this, but the truth is


Yeah, I know what you're thinking...

What's the point of studying martial arts for all those years if you just run away when confronted by danger?
  • Glib answer: "all the cardio training helps you run faster"
  • Philosophical answer: "only one who knows war can understand peace"
  • Practical answer: "I don't go to jail for NOBODY"
We all want to believe in justice, but as Guro Fred says "leave nothing to chance".

Use your head before you use your fist

oh yeah, and if you plan to pick up the knife you stripped from an attacker, be sure you are wearing gloves :-)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Key

Today after Saturday Kali class was ITP, Instructor Training Program.

This is a special series of seminars Guro Fred teaches for those of us planning to teach martial arts one day. Even though my Kali background is very limited so far, I was invited to attend and feel honored. Don't have ITP in your school? Most schools have nothing like this. Maybe they think good instructors will just magically appear; or that somehow higher belts will just figure it out for themselves. Guro Fred leaves nothing to chance. I was impressed by how much thought went into the real skill of teaching, and what being an assistant or an instructor at Ni Tien school really means.

The seminar helps us learn how to present material and lead various classes. I won't put any specifics on the blog, but it is well thought out and well presented. It makes me feel that I may even have what it takes to teach someday, which is encouraging. Guro Fred has very high standards. If I can meet those, I will be justifiably proud.

Teaching others is the highest level of what we can achieve as martial artists and people. It truly is "giving back". To me, this is the key to the training.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


Just a quick note to help put things into perspective.

A lot of what we do in the dojo looks harmless enough, since we are in the safety of the school (our "laboratory for the world outside") surrounded by our training partners and under the supervision of our talented teachers.

On the street, however, what we learn can easily escalate and be lethal. My original teacher used to remark "killing them is easy, the trick is to keep them alive". I had always thought he was joking. The reality is, he was not.

For an untrained opponent, the elbows, knees, eye/throat gouges, and the like can cripple or kill without very much effort. Because the action is fast, before you know it you will have done permanent (or even lethal) harm to an attacker. Even in the best case, you may get arrested and/or sued in court. Most of the time it simply is not worth it.

My net message: Many things in life, once done, cannot be undone.
Make sure you think twice before you hit once.

Martial arts training is a like a life insurance policy: you get it hoping you will never need it. If you do need it, you are likely to need it pretty badly. Only use it when aboslutely necessary.
Let's all be careful. With great power comes great responsibility.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Business travel sucks.

I don't care what anyone says. If you think it is glamorous or cool, filled with 5-star hotels, swimming pools and exotic locales, you can gladly take my trips for me anytime.

Ten things about business travel that cause it to suck:
  1. long flights - at 18 hours nonstop, the Singapore/New York haul is just insanity
  2. airline food - even business class food sucks nowadays. Better to pack your own
  3. lack of proper sleep - hotel beds suck, and airplane seats are impossible
  4. too much drinking/heavy meals - clients want to go out every night and never to the salad bar
  5. boredom - lots of wasted time in lounges, buses, trains, cabs, hotels, etc.
  6. too busy/very little free time - morning til night relentless schedules are the norm
  7. blackberry/mobile - the absurdity of thinking we are still available 24/7 no matter where we are
  8. jet lag and recovery - it can take weeks to get back to normal, especially from the US/Europe trips
  9. loneliness - I actually like my family and miss them terribly when I travel
10. The worst of it all - no training. The double whammy is that not only am I gone from my home so I can't go to my local dojo, I am usually so busy that I can't even use the hotel gym.
That is a recipe for weight gain and depression.

So...what to do? Here are some ideas from my life as a Road Warrior.

Swim - I am far too lazy and space-conscious to bring my gym kit on the road. Instead, a swimsuit and goggles take up very little space and swimming is a good, low-impact workout. I also like those elastic bands to do isometrics in the hotel room. Yoga or tai chi also works.

Schedule sleep- I try to control my schedule to have at least a night or two to get proper rest.

Spa - I don't care whether or not the company pays for it. I am getting the body massage, the detox, the wrap, or whatever else will help me adjust and get rid of the stress. My body needs it.

Learn to let go
- The worst nightmare is to try and keep up with all your work at home office while on the road. Don't. Delegate it or let it go. You'll only kill yourself.

Food and Bev - Since I don't get the same training time I normally have, and many nights are client dinners, I try to go way healthy on breakfast and lunch. Low cal/low fat to stay lean for what comes later. For drinking, I hydrate a lot and try to stick to wine when I go out.

Plan in advance - I was glad to find out that Yoshinkan aikido has schools almost everywhere. On the road it's a great chance to schedule in a visit to a local school. More new people to meet, and even though I said I would never pack my gym kit I somehow have no reservations packing my dogi :-)

Yeah, business travel sucks. If only they had mats in the business lounge...