Monday, December 28, 2009

It's the Little Things

Holiday Greetings Everyone,

Before you settle into that giant double helping of egg nog, this just in from Time Magazine.
Yes, that's right - they are having a go at chocolate milk.

Chocolate milk was a mainstay when I was a kid growing up in public school in suburban Chicago.
We had it EVERY DAY, sometimes twice or three times a day. It sure tasted better than the usual milk. Now, they want to get rid of it. Thank God.

Guro has lectured before on why cow's milk in general is very bad for us. Humans of course being the only animal that dares to drink the milk of another species (other animals, like cats, do this when humans force feed it to them). Chocolate milk goes one sinister step further than that. It loads sugar and extra calories and fat into the already unhealthy milk to create a drink which is the equivalent of uncarbonated Coca Cola. Giving this to kids (and making them think it is a healthy food choice) is simply WRONG.

This link illustrates what I mean. You can see arguments FOR chocolate milk, or "better than nothing" white milk...listen to them and decide for yourself. By now, your common sense should tell you the answer. How sad that kids can be manipulated like this. How sad that soda, fast food, and dairy lobbyists can spend money to promote products to kids which we all know are unhealthy. Raise my hand for chocolate milk? I choose to raise my middle finger instead.

The argument that children do not get nutrients without milk is BULLSHIT. Anything you think you can get from milk you can easily get from any combination of green leafy vegetables, tofu, soy and nuts.

It is the responsibility of care givers to educate children about correct life choices and protect them from harm. Care givers include parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, and other adults who spend time supervising and influencing children. These groups are primarily responsible for establishing the health habits that children develop and follow into adulthood. As in previous posts I have mentioned that our habits are the kings of our lives - this means it is critically important to develop good habits in our children if we want them to lead happy, healthy lives.

As my title suggests, it's the little things that matter. Be aware, get involved. Do not trust any care givers of your children to have correct information on nutrition and health habits and to pass this information along to your kids. Be the parent that takes control of your life and the future of your children. Help them develop good habits that will promote their longevity and help them avoid adolescent obesity, the threat of diabetes, heart disease, and other nutritional maladies.

I am not suggest all our kids be strict vegans and avoid even a piece of birthday cake on their birthday (although I am not opposed to that). I am however, suggesting that good health guidelines can be followed most of the time with an occasional exception, rather than the reverse. It is all too common now for kids' meals to be fast-food centric, and only the rare sugar laden juice included so parents can feel good about themselves.

Teach your kids about nutrition, and work on meal plans together. Get your kids into the kitchen with you and let them be "hands on". Discuss menus in restaurants and at school cafeterias together. Help your kids make healthy choices that they can feel good about. Chocolate milk is not one of them. Cow's milk can go too, as far as I am concerned.

Like Guro says, "water water water". Even for kids this is important and it is never too early to get them used to the taste of good, clean, pure mineral water.

Got Milk? For your sake and the sake of your kids I hope not.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rotenburo

Ah yes....Rotenburo.

I guess I've been here too long.
There is something about a Rotenburo, the Japanese outdoor hot springs, that says "JAPAN" like few other things can.

Even more, to enjoy one in the midst of a snowstorm is probably the defining moment for any old-school Japanese man - it contains the essence of Japan's warrior spirit. It embodies the Japanese sense of "perfection". I was so lucky to enjoy rotenburo in a snowstorm during my recent visit to Niseko, Hokkaido. I feel blessed.
It is only the second time in more than 15 years here that I was lucky enough to have that.

Rotenburo abound in Japan, since it is a particularly volcanic set of islands, and rotenburo, like all real onsen (Japanese hot springs) are naturally heated with geothermal energy. The waters often contain rich blends of minerals and salts and have been reported to have amazing healing properties and health benefits for literally thousands of years. Onsen and especially rotenburo were one of the many things I missed about Japan while I was in Singapore.

Now, that said, the snowstorm rotenburo is a magic thing far beyond any other.
The waters are usually 42 - 44 degrees Celsius, and initially you feel like you are being boiled alive, but at the same time, submerged to your neck, the freezing snow is falling on you. You achieve balance. Once you are in, you do not want to get back out.

The rotenburo and snow together, in a Shinto sense, strike a harmonic balance between hot and cold, between calm and chaos, between ourselves and Nature. We are made aware of our place as a small part of all which is under Heaven, and forever subject to its laws.

The snow falling on the water is, in its primal Buddhist way, a perfect reminder of the fleeting impermanence of our own lives. Each of us is like that snowflake, falling through time only to disappear back into the hot water. We will evaporate and become snowflakes again in an endless cycle (or "recycle" if you prefer). Each one of us unique, cascading in an endless shower through the storm of our lives, surrounded by other snowflakes just like us...

But I digress... suffice to say, rotenburo was the welcome home my weary soul needed. Rotenburo in a snowstorm was destiny's way of telling me Japan is where I belong.

If you have never experienced a rotenburo - you need to get that sorted out at the soonest possible opportunity. If you have never experienced rotenburo in a snowstorm - that is what will reawaken your warrior spirit - I hope it happens for you!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Resolutions

It's that time of the year - That Holiday Time.
Time for Holiday songs, holiday cheer, time with friends and family - that magic time.

It is also the time of the year when most of us make the dreaded New Year's Resolutions. The time when we make promises we know we will not keep; when we delude ourselves into thinking we can change just by throwing together a hastily done thought or two about how to make our lives better.

Haven't started thinking about it yet?

Here are some points to consider:

1) Goals need to be concrete and achievable
This means a goal must be measurable, so that you know when you've reached it - otherwise it cannot be achieved. Thus, "being a better person" does not do the job unless you can specifically isolate and measure those traits you think would make that goal reachable, such as "making a mental note every time I say something hurtful to someone else - marking down such occassions so that over the course of the year I can reduce them every week until the number reaches zero"

2) Big Journeys Start From Small Steps
Setting an unrealistic goal in January is the easiest way to give up by February. Goals like "never eat meat again" are fine for people who are close to a vegetarian lifestyle already, but not as achievable for someone whose daily pleasure is eating meat. Try to limit your goals to change gradually, and keep them in the scope of reasonability. As well, a little time spent daily on a goal adds up to a lot of time over a year. Do not underestimate the power of a focused 10-15 minutes every day in helping to make your life better.

3) Focus on the Big Picture
There is little point in going to the trouble of changing your life if the change will not be of noticeable benefit to you. Spend some time to be honest with yourself about those areas which can really help you to live a fuller, richer, happier life. Aim to make gradual changes over the course of the year and surprise yourself with how much the quality of your life grows.

4) Do Not Punish Yourself
Setting harsh punishments for resolutions is another way that we end up giving up on them. We all want to avoid punishment, but it becomes far too easy to lie to ourselves rather than be honbest about our changes. The goal should be awareness of ourselves and our habits, so that we can control them - NOT to make ourselves feel guilty every waking moment for what we cannot do. Emphasize the rewards of your positive behavior changes and follow through in rewarding yourself for following.

5) Focus on what you CAN DO, rather than what you CAN'T DO
The language you use for your resolutions matters. Try to phrase your changes positively, focusing on what you can do in 2010, not about what you cannot do. Instead of "I cannot eat potato chips" try "I can eat healthy snacks such as carrot sticks or apple chips"

6) The Contract to Yourself
I think this list is best made into a very specific contract between you...and you.
In every legal contract, there are a set of actions by one party, done for consideration by the other. There are terms for violating the contract (see above), and rewards for adherence. I like to sign the agreement and post it where I can see it every day (next to home computer or on refrigerator). I think it is important to look at this list for at least a brief moment every single day for the year.

7) Keep It Fun!
The goal of this exercise is POSITIVE CHANGE. It is not designed to make your life a living hell.
Review your goals and your progress periodically (I like to do so at least monthly) and feel good about being in control of yourself and your life. People around you will see the change in you, and this will make you feel even better. I promise!!

Here are a few ideas I have for myself for 2010:
1) Spend at least 10 minutes a day in quiet reflection
2) Make at least one meal every day purely vegetarian
3) Take 5 minutes out of every day to remind myself how lucky I am - use this time to review everything I am thankful for for that day
4) Make eye contact with everyone when I speak to them. Be aware of anytime I do not and correct it.
5) Wear a "complaining band" on my wrist. Whenever I hear myself complain, move it from one wrist to the other as a reminder not to complain. The goal is to go for a full day, and then a full week without moving the band.
6) Tell my wife how much I love her
be sure to say it, and mean it, every single day - and do not go to sleep without having said it.
7) Remind my children that I am proud of them, and that I love them no matter what
8) Find at least 15 minutes every day to do some activity related to martial arts - stretch, twirl sticks, step a quick footwork pattern. Put that 15 minutes in my calendar EVERY DAY

Send me any questions you have on this. Hopefully, all of us can make 2010 a year to become even happier!!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Shopping Around

Looking back on 25+ years in and around various martial arts I have met a lot of different people doing a lot of different things.

There is always a temptation to think that something new is something better.

Especially as a beginner, the idea that there is some easy way to master something so hard is very appealing. After all, the training is hard - it takes time...and when we turn on the TV we see perfection. Perfection that we want. NOW. Many times as part of their marketing, these schools promise to make you "A deadly combat expert overnight" or something like that (being a deadly combat expert should be your final objective anyway).

Martial Arts training is hard work, and a constant effort every day. It has many peaks, valleys, and plateaus. As I have mentioned before, the joy of progress shows us again and again the value of hard work, patience, and commitment.

It takes many years (and a fair share of bad experiences) to develop a critical eye for what we see. Especially in martial arts, which abounds with what is sometimes called "Bullshido". It can be hard to tell fact from fiction.

Because of this, I think your first choice should be taken very carefully, and only after a lot of research and investigation. Choosing to dedicate yourself to a martial art because the school is close by the office, or because you saw it on TV, or even because your friend goes there, can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted time. Some students become so disillusioned by initial bad experiences that they never return to martial arts again. How sad.

It is best to:
1) explore several different types of styles (hard, soft, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc.)
2) take trial classes and see how you feel and what you like/don't like about each one - compare and contrast
3) talk to the teachers - the actual teachers teaching the classes, and the head of the school, too
4) talk to the other students - approach them outside the school to get their honest opinions
5) do not let price or location be the biggest deciding factors for you - it is worth paying a little more or travelling a little more for the best quality instruction

Choose your school like you choose a hospital - go to the best one with the best doctors that you can afford.

Once you have found a school that is right for you, I also strongly encourage beginners to spend at least 5 years (2-3 times per week) devoted to their first style before branching out into other things. This allows you to get a better sense of how deep the martial arts can go. Martial arts are not sports per se - there is more that you can get from them and they are worth deeper consideration than golf or racquetball.

Cross-training is very bad until you have a lot of experience. For beginners, it becomes very confusing and you develop mixed habits, rather than correct habits for each style. It is also important to be able to see the commonality between styles, and that is very hard for a beginner to do. I personally spread 25 years over a variety of western and Japanese martial arts, and ended up knowing a lot about a lot, but not having real mastery of any of them. I regret that decision today. Learn from my mistake.

Kali Majapahit is so great because it offers such a wide and comprehensive range of skills. You can learn to fight at all ranges and distances, on high, medium, and low lines, using striking, kicking, grappling, and weapons, as well as gaining a better understanding of health and personal development. It is an extremely well-rounded curriculum. The best I have seen in 25+ years.

For such a system, I recommend devoting 10 years instead of just 5, before going out and trying another martial art. In the end, you may not even need to. There is enough in Kali Majapahit to keep you busy for a long, long time. Trust the training.

Finally, and also very importantly, is for the art you choose to be EVOLVING.
It is good to respect tradition, but the method of teaching the art should always be under review to find the best way of fully developing the skills and understanding of the students. The Kali Majapahit I started learning in 2008 is not taught the same way today - it is taught better
and students learn faster and deeper than before. This is wonderful, and should be expected from every good school.

Make a choice, an informed choice, and then stick with it. I did.

Friday, November 27, 2009

First Class of Kali Majapahit Japan Study Group - Tonight!

Very exciting - tonight I start a new path, where I must lead beginners to develop their skills in Kali Majapahit. Tonight is the first trial class of the Kali Majapahit Japan Study Group!

Tonight's menu:

Warm-Ups and Stretches
basic warm - up and floor series leg stretches

Kadena: basic hook + straight elbows, basic uppercut + ascendant elbows
self-defense applications

Solo Baston: basic guard and grips + blocks versus 1-6
speed drills

Doble Baston: Kabka 1-4 + Sinawali 6
Variations: flip, abanico, redondo, dunga

Hilot: breathing exercises

I will write a post-mortem tomorrow. WISH ME LUCK!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stranger Danger

For the past two weeks, my 8-year old son George has really shown he is growing up. Proudly he announced that rather than having Mom drive him to school and pick him up every day, he would start to ride the city bus back and forth. We got him a pass, helped him the first few days, and were pleasantly surprised that he could do it on his own. Great help for Mom, and proof positive that he was becoming more mature and able to take on a bit more responsibility.

However, the other day he had a "slight error in judgement"...


He knew he had to be at second grade a little early to give a short presentation to the class on the weather (their current focus topic). He left our house 10 minutes early and waited at the bus stop for his bus to come. During that time a man pulled up in a Mercedes and asked him if he wanted a ride to school. Thinking he could get there quicker and easier than waiting for the bus, he accepted...

My wife found out about it later that night after he had come home. In his mind perhaps he knew he had put himself at risk...he said "Mom, I think I might have done something wrong..."
He explained about the man - her jaw dropped. Without him admitting it, he could have just...disappeared...without either of us knowing.

I got home late that night after the kids had already gone to bed, and she told me what he had done. She had been crying off and on since George told her he had taken a stranger's car ride to school. They had a massive shouting match and it was very emotional for both of them.

For me it was like being stabbed in the heart.
I felt sick to my stomach; I felt dizzy...I couldn't breathe...
Then the rage hit me like a wave of electricity...

I WOULD FIND THAT GUY AND I WOULD KILL HIM.

At the very least I would beat him senseless and take him to the police, where hopefully he would be hung, shot, or dropped into a dark hole for all eternity. No normal adult has any justifiable reason for offering a ride to an 8-year old boy on his way to school. It is the classic ruse of a predator. George said "he told me he was a good guy, not a bad guy...", of course not fully grasping the fact that bad guys hardly announce the fact up front to their victims before they torture and kill them.

Just last week the news in Japan featured a story about a university student found dismembered after going missing. There are many of these cases even in Japan every year.
Japan's bizzare sexually-repressed powderkeg society creates a lot of pressure which ends up making some very, very sick people who are more than capable of causing unspeakable harm to a little boy. You can drive yourself crazy worrying...

How can you protect them all the time? It only takes one "slight error in judgement" for them to be the next kid on the milk carton; the next statistic. As a parent, you want to encourage your children to be independent, but to have enough sense to know and avoid big risks. I am at a loss as to how to handle this. My first reaction was to home school him for the next 10 years and never let him out of the house on his own again...yes, I know it's overreacting.

I have never felt more helpless in my whole life than I do now.
Never more vulnerable than facing the knowledge that I cannot protect my family from danger.

I have done my best to provide clear and lucid advice to people on martial arts and other topics in this blog for the past 3 years . I need to call those markers in. Now it's your turn to advise me.

What can I do about this???

Please give me your advice. I need it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Happy Bday to Me - 43

Well, today's my birthday and I am 43 years old. Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing me into the world.

A lot has happened in the past 12 months.
When I wrote a similar message a year ago, I was living in Singapore, just starting my master's degree. I had just gotten my shodan in Yoshinkan aikido in August, and was fully involved in my Kali Majapahit training.

Now I live in Yokohama and work in Tokyo (again). I completed my master's degree (3.566 GPA) and am going back to RYA for Yoshinkan training tonight. I started Muay Thai training this week near Yokohama Station. I am as committed as ever to my Kali Majapahit training, and working on getting my Japan study group up and running so I can develop good training partners. I am checking a location tonight where I can potentially hold weekly practice sessions and my magazine ad should be coming out soon.

I feel very good about myself and my life. Despite some darkness along the way, I kept my job and now it is starting to move forward again. My family are healthy and happy, and survived the move back to Japan without too much trauma.

Tonight I am training, which is the thing I love to do most. Tomorow I will celebrate with my wife and children, the other thing I love to do most.

Today will come and go, and tomorrow too. My life will come and go, and after me will be the impact I have made in the lives of others, and the legacy of my children to do the same. I am committed to my quest to find my own definition of happiness, and I feel closer than I was last year. That is enough for me.

I am looking forward to another year of good training, good health, and good progress.

Why don't you come along?

stay tuned...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, after returning to Japan on 11 October, I finally got back on the mats to train. Last night was my first class at Japan Muay Thai Center in Yokohama.

It is a short walk from JR Yokohama Station and has good facilities including an actual competition-size ring and a bunch of heavy bags.
They train amateur and pro Muay Thai fighters, as well as running the classes for beginners.

I am planning to go Mondays and Wednesdays from 7pm to 9:45. The classes include warm-up/cardio, an hour of basics (mostly shadow boxing and pad work) and an hour of technique including boxing and kicking and light sparring practice with pads.

The good news is that the people are good, the coaches are knowledgeable, and the other people are very friendly. It is a Japanese atmosphere with the politeness and respect that entails. They are very accepting of non-Japanese, especially if you can comunicate (no problem for me).
The workout is OK, and even though it was my first class, we got straight into the material. They let me fight southpaw, so I can fight right leg forward like we do in Panantukan.
I signed up for a year and will keep reporting on what I do there.

The bad news: I SAY AGAIN -

FRIENDS IN KALI MAJAPAHIT, RECOGNIZE HOW LUCKY YOU ARE.

Two hours plus of Muay Thai training is about the workout equivalent of a single hour of Panantukan class. Within the first lesson, it was clear that I was at least the equal or better than any of the other students, and probably on par with some of the amateurs; despite being among the worst in KM at Panantukan. The curriculum is basic, which is fine, but there is not the carefully structured curriculum or innovative drills we use. Their pad work is amatuerish and oversimplified and the range of tactics even among the amateurs is, well...amateur. Simply, the teaching not wll thought out. It is a club, not a school.

Kali Majapahit and Panantukan offers such a rich learning experience. The difference was clear to me after a few minutes on the mat. Our school and our classes have so much more intensity and pack so much more into the lesson and the training. It reminded me how lucky we are. It should remind you, too.

I will keep training in Muay Thai so I can workout and keep fit, and meanwhile I will dream at night of a KM school in Japan where we can share the very best in martial arts.

Help me make my dream come true.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Withdrawal

Crap. It has been more than 2 weeks since I left Singapore to come back to Japan. Still living in a sea of boxes trying to unpack. Trying to deal with Immigration, the Ward Office, and the bank. Trying to get a credit card again.

Still, the one thing I miss most is...TRAINING.

At the risk of repeating myself; YOU IN SINGPAORE ARE SO LUCKY!!
Our school there is just amazing. The wealth of knowledge we get exposed to from Guro and the teaching staff, the blend of health and personal development in what we study, the pure raw positive energy in the classes...it has been like a shot of drugs - a drug I am missing dearly now.

The restlessness of inactivity threatens to overwhelm me.
This week I am going to check out the Muay Thai Gym near Yokohama Station.
I am also going to unpack my aikido gear and start going on Friday nights to train for my 2 dan in Yoshinkan. I hope to get working on the Japan KM Study Group as soon as possible so I can grow some training partners.

But what I miss most is Kali Majapahit Singapore. There's just no substitute.
  • I miss the look of wonder when we see something we've never seen before.
  • I miss the look of satisfaction when we know we are better than we were when we walked in.
  • I miss the feeling at the end when, exhausted and happy, we finish class and know that we have reaffirmed our promises to ourselves to take control and keep on improving our lives.
  • I miss the laughter we have for each other which keeps the mood lighthearted.
  • I miss watching the kids class.
I miss the magic.

They say, "you don't know what you have till it's gone". That's a lie. You do.
I am telling you right here. right now. In this blog. Don't take this for granted.
It's special.

Make a commitment to yourself to train as hard as you can.
You will not be disappointed.

Come to Japan and train with me. Help me feel that magic again.
I'll see you all in Singapore again soon. I promise.
Until then, make me proud.

More importantly, make yourself proud.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nothing Else Matters

One of my favortie Metallica songs.
At first I thought it was typical death-metal trash. Then I listened to the lyrics.
You can probably figure out why I like it:

So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are and nothing else matters
Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don't just say and nothing else matters
Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view and nothing else matters
never cared for what they do never cared for what they know but I know
So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are and nothing else matters
never cared for what they do never cared for what they know but I know
Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don't just say
Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us, something new
Open mind for a different view and nothing else matters
never cared for what they say never cared for games they play
never cared for what they do never cared for what they know and I know
So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
No, nothing else matters

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hard Habit To Break

Back in Japan after nearly 2 years in Singapore.

Before leaving, for the final 2 months, I went on a much stricter food regimen, where I stopped having many of the foods that have been so harmful to me throughout my life. Worst offenders have been sodas/sugar drinks, chips/crisps, fast food, table salt and coffee. Readers know that these changes have been very positive for me.

Whenever our routine breaks, whether due to business travel, relocation, significant life events (marriage, birth, death of a loved one) or uncommon stress (loss of job, relationship breakup, final exams) we are susceptible to revert back to old bad habits and lose our awareness as a coping mechanism. We revert to our self-destructive behaviors. For many smokers/drug users/alcoholics this is a recurring theme - it goes well day by day until some big event happens that disrupts the routine. Then it is back to square one.

I argue that it is better to establish healthy routines that are only rarely (hopefully never) disrupted, rather than the reverse, which is the case for most of us. Make your healthy lifestyle your usual baseline, and do your best to be extra vigilant during times of change to make sure good habits are not disrupted.

Make your good habits the hardest habits to break.

Five-Year Old Awarded First Degree Black Belt

No, I am not kidding. Neither, apparently, are they. Read about the story here. I am not sure why this stuff always seems to happen in the USA, but here we are again in the Midwest.

I have no intention to belittle the achievements of a 5 year old girl.
There is a deep discussion we can have about the idea that "nobody gets left behind" and the use of praise and reward in helping children achieve excellence, but that is not the subject of this post.

I also will never shy away from welcoming another lifelong martial arts devotee to the fold. We need as many new evangelists as we can get. Everybody, from McDonald's to the Catholic Church to radical Islamic extremists knows it is best to target children to achieve what IBM called "lifecycle marketing".

However, call me old school (please call me "old school", I LOVE IT), but I think there must be more to becoming a black belt than the memorization/execution of 15 kata.

I have been through this process three times, earning black belts in ninjitsu, iaijitsu/kenjitsu, and most recently, Yoshinkan aikido. In every case, I was measured in the following ways.

1) Technique
remembering techniques and their names is a given. However, techniques must have balance, timing, speed, power, intensity, focus, and the extra special something, metsuke, what Japanese call "eye focus". It is the look of combat intensity which we see in every fighting animal. Anyone who saw Morgane test for black shirt will know exactly what I mean. I am skeptical any five year old can truly have this. Martial Arts are martial for a reason, and I don't think any five year old, no matter how accomplished, can deliver in combat. This is not a ballet class.

2) Maturity
Martial Arts is a victory over the self. This is what takes us to our next evolutionary state and gives us the self-control and discipline we need to become mature - to suppress our doubts, fears, and wants and enable our love, compassion, and selflessness to emerge. I am sorry, but I do not think this growth is possible for a five year old.

3) Leadership
Achieving a black belt is a symbol of leadership. It shows an emerging presence as a leader and mentor in the school and positions the holder as a person who should provide guidance to other students as they also progress. Despite technical excellence, it is hard for a five year old to garner the respect needed to lead others, especially adults. As an example, Maxime drew some reluctant looks at 16 when he tested for his black shirt. It was his extraordinary maturity, high technical skill, and natural leadership which won him the respect he needed to teach.

In most schools, 16 is the absolute minimum for a black belt. I think it should be 18 with only a rare exception for a truly incredible talent. Five years old simply lowers the bar too far.

Disagree? let me know what you think.



Saturday, October 10, 2009

Takers and Givers

I wondered what would happen if I tried to divide people into two categories...Takers and Givers.

For Takers, they also seem to need to take from others. It can be almost anything; time, money, energy, love, happiness, dignity, self-respect, harmony, possessions. They just seem to be in a constant state of taking these things from the people they encounter. Maybe some of them are not even aware that they are taking.

For Givers, it is the opposite. They are always giving - many times when the other person did not ask, or even want them to do so. Everyone has been in a situation where someone gave them something that made them feel a bit uncomfortable; something they did not want, need, or ask for.

I would argue that both modalities are predicated by fear.
For the Taker, they are constantly afraid of not having enough.
They worry that they will not have enough food, money, time, love. There is a big hole in their heart which can never truly be filled, and a hunger that can never truly be satisfied.

For the Giver, it is the result of their inherent and unhealthy fear of rejection; they seek a type of "bribery" using physical or emotional capital to try to make sure that they can feel loved and accepted. A Giver might be someone who is dependent on an abusive spouse, and cannot leave no matter how much dignity or self respect he/she has got to give to the other partner. Another example of this would be a woman who has sex with a man she doesn't really love, just so she can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being rejected, or a friend who pays for the groups' meals just so he/she can feel accepted. It often comes as a set together with Guilt, which is another way for the Giver to oblige the recipient to accept him/her.

It is important to view your surroundings, and you will no doubt find people who exhibit these kinds of lifestyle choices. For both giving and taking, there are healthy and unhealthy levels. At healthy levels, we engage in these behaviors from time to time depending on the circumstance, but not to the degree that it compromises our relationships with others or prohibits our personal growth.

That said, it is a benchmark of our emotional maturity when we can be balanced and neither a Taker nor a Giver. We should try to develop ourselves t0 a level where we are confident in our own skills, and do not depend upon others to validate who we are. This means not trying to manipulate people, but at the same time being comfortable enough with ourselves that we do not depend upon the acceptance of others to be happy.

Take some time observing the behaviors of others and whether or not they are viable that way.
Try to find your own balance.

More blog from Yokohama tomorrow or Monday.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I Want To Believe

You can tell somebody something a millions times and it makes sense; they nod their head in agreement - they hear your words, but they don't hear what you are SAYING. They listen, but they do not hear.


So many times Guro has given us common sense points about our personal health. These are usually not incredible insights beyond our understanding; they are common sense ideas about how to be healthy and live longer, fuller lives. Most of us have heard these before. The ideas are not new to us. So...why don't we embrace them?

Some years ago, a Japanese girl I was dating took me to see the Soka Gakkai International meeting nearby. Her family are very much into it, and she even graduated Soka college in Hachioji. There were lots of friendly people there. We chatted, we had refreshments, we even chanted "Namyoho renge gyo" for a while as we meditated. People told stories to the audience of how their lives were changed by chanting every day.

None of what they were talking about seemed odd or wrong. Soka Gakkai promotes universal kindness and understanding, world peace, education for children, charity for the poor, and a host of other ideas that are very Buddhist and also cornerstones of any healthy and mature society.

I read Ikeda Daisaku's books and enjoyed them. He is a great man. However, I couldn't join. Why not? I agreed with their principles.

The reality is, that when it came down to believing, truly believing heart and soul, with every fiber of my body, that Nichiren Daishonin was enlightened and that by following his path I would also attain enlightenment, I didn't BELIEVE IT. This doesn't make it wrong, only wrong for ME. How would I know? What I did know is that pretending I believed in something I didn't was not the right way to achieve enlightenment.

Belief comes from met expectations. We expect a predictable result from our actions, and experiencing this causes us to believe such a causal relationship exists. It is important to set up events that will show us the effect that lifestyle changes can have on our well-being, so that step by step we begin to intuitively believe what our logic tells us is correct. It is only then that we can make permanent changes that will benefit us.

I want to believe. You should, too.



Thursday, October 01, 2009

This Could Be You

In case you have not read the news lately, left is a picture of Christopher Savoie and his children, Rebecca and Isaac.

Post-divorce, their Japanese mother, Noriko, abducted the children and fled to Japan. Following a court order in Tennessee granting him sole custody, Christopher went to Fukuoka, Japan to get his kids back. He was subsequently arrested and remains in jail.

Interestingly, both Christopher and his children have Japanese passports and are Japanese citizens. This does not seem to help. In the eyes of the government, he is a gaijin, no different than any other.

On one hand, I want to say that Japan is outwardly very polite and civilized, but inwardly a shockingly racist country with a xenophobic hatred of non-Japanese. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara regularly publicly demonstrates his racism through comments about how he believes foreigners, particularly Southeast Asians and Chinese, are responsible for all of the crime in Japan. He is the kind of guy who would have been very comfortable with Unit 731 or the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even long-term residents of Japan such as myself (15 year resident) know that no matter how much tax we pay, or how fluent our Japanese, we will be denied even basic human rights anytime the authorities think they can get away with it.

Don't believe me? Ask David Aldwinckle, naturalized Japanese citizen living in Hokkaido. His case against the Otaru government in Hokkaido on racism is legendary among old Japan hands. Despite the fact that in the US his lawsuit would have made him a millionaire (at least), he was quickly swept under the carpet by the Japanese government even after they conceded his case was valid. Read his blog here. The Japanese are somehow fascinated with us, but like a TV show, would like to turn us off when they are done with us. They detest having us live in japan, despite wanting us to teach their children "Engrish". They love our tax dollars, but they don't want us living in their neighborhoods. We can buy their cars, but they don't want us in their onsens. We can bring fashion, music, food, and art, but don't get a house loan.

This is another case of Japan living an isolated, protectionist life away from the progress of the modern world. It is especially sad to see that the victims most affected by this ignorance are the children, who are blameless. The Japanese government should be deeply ashamed of protecting a woman whose felony child abduction would carry a lengthy prison sentence in the US or any other modern country. In Japan, I guess she will be heralded as the hero of every angry Japanese wife for saving her children from the evil foreign devil. Some things never change.

There but for the grace of God go I. If you are a foreign man with a Japanese wife, and you love your children - BEWARE!! If she gets upset and takes them to Japan they are gone and you will never see them again. No Japanese lawyer would dare represent a gaijin against a Japanese mom. The police, the government, and society will be against you. If you go to Japan to seek your legal rights you will be arrested and jailed. Justice does not only not prevail, it does not even exist. Sad but true. Still don't believe it?? Check here: or here:

NB: Here is the latest update. Chris rots in jail while the case is sorted out, has only limited access to the press, and only strict rules about what he can or cannot say.
Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drink the Kool Aid

Yesterday Guro suggested that some of us may be ready to take the next step in achieving our potential. We would be asked to try some lifestyle changes for a while, without faltering, and examine how we feel afterward. These changes could be giving up alcohol or tobacco, going vegetarian, drinking no less than 3L of water per day, 30 mins per day of deep breathingor similar.

What does this mean? Are we being brainwashed? Is this some kind of cult? Is it time to "drink the kool aid"?

I can't answer about those things. What I can say is that it is ALWAYS time to trend yourself toward a healthier lifestyle, and a great way to do this is to challenge yourself to change a habit and observe the benefit. This can be something you need to give up, like television, coffee, sugar, processed foods, fried foods, red meat or it can be something you need to add - get 8 hours or more of sleep per night, use multivitamins/fish oil, regular exercise, sunlight, fresh water.

These things should be viewed as experiments in being...thus, done with emotional attachment and without stress. The goal is to observe the changes in how you feel and how you look, and determine if the change should be made permanent. It has to be done of one's own volition, since being forced (and even forcing ourselves) causes undue stress which can actually offset the benefits of a lifestyle change.

That is to say, some people become so negative and angry/stressful from quitting smoking, that their health is very slow to recover. The benefit of increased lung capacity and healthier breathing is offset by liver/kidney troubles due to the stress of quitting. The net result is flat - no benefit. It is far better to choose to change, and revel in your new energy and attitude.

Guro is not brainwashing us to do something he wants us to do - rather he is suggesting that we should want it for ourselves, and get prepared to reach the next spiritual level in our lives. Let go of our fear to improve, give up our laziness. Spend the time, energy and money we need to ensure our own longevity and happiness.

If that is the kool aid, here's my cup. Make mine a double.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Inked

It needed to be done. It was time. I started thinking about it on Friday - what I wanted, where I wanted it. By Saturday morning, I knew it would happen. Saturday night, it did.

Why? The easy is answer is that it needed to happen.
The slightly more philosophical answer is that it became time to celebrate having made a commitment.

My body is not a temple - in fact, it is a bit more like an amusement park. That said, I already have a tattoo, and would not get a new one just for the sake of looking like a magazine classified ads page. There has to be some meaning there.

If it looks familiar, then you are perceptive. It is the kris from our Kali Majapahit logo. The alibata script (alibata is the traditional Filipino writing system) says "kali". OK, so what does it mean?

Nearly 2 years ago, I joined the Kali Majapahit school in Tanjong Pagar. That changed my life forever. I have seen and done and learned so much since I came to Singapore, and the pinnacle of that learning was done in the school, with Guro Fred, Guro Lila, and my other training partners. So many good times, and so much good training. Thanks to Kali Majapahit, I fell in love with martial arts again. I learned to be free. I learned to let go. I rediscovered how to take ownership of myself, my life, my health, my relationships. I found a new level of happiness.
I am moving forward.

My new tattoo is a constant reminder of what I did here, and to keep on moving forward no matter where, no matter what.

A tattoo is permanent. My training and my commitment are also permanent. My kali will be a part of me until I die, just like my tattoo. The kris is not just the traditional weapon of southeast Asia - it has a spiritual significance not unlike the Japanese katana, the embodiment of the warrior spirit. This is a constant reminder that the way of the warrior is a spiritual journey taken with every single step.

Martial arts is not a path taken lightly. To do so misses most of the important teaching.
It is a path best walked for the rest of your life, where the slow, subtle changes can work their magic over time. A simple glance at mountains should remind us that over time, even the fundamental landscape of the planet can be changed. So much more so the ladnscape of our own lives. Spending a year or two training in martial arts is simply not good enough. The training should be a constant companion in your life, right by your side to guide you and give you strength. This cannot happen unless you become committed to it. Train until you cannot imagine a life without it. make it a part of every fiber, every cell of your body, mind and spirit.
O-Sensei said "whenever I move, that is aikido"

I am not suggesting everyone run out and get inked, although you are certainly free to do so.
Rather, I am strongly suggesting that each of you make a lifelong commitment to something you love. Relentless pursue your passion. Do not expect someone else to give it to you - go and seek it yourself, and spare no resource to discover it. Once you do, your life will become the great adventure it was meant to be.

My kris and I are about to enter a new stage of life - a stage that will have even more good times and good training; a stage that will bring even greater happiness. I hope you will be with me. I hope you will find your own great adventure, whatever it may be.

See you on the mats.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Walk The Line

Great class last night. Lots of stick, knife, silat, and Jun Fan.

Reviewed our basic Jun Fan/Wing Chun trapping, and some important points came to light.


1) Trapping only occurs on a straight line
There are no circular traps. In every case, we stay in a very linear path along the centerline.
One hand will pin/trap both of the opponent's, and the free hand will seek the shortest distance contact point. This is always a straight line blast along the centerline aimed at the opponent's chest, throat, or head. Even trap 6, which uses a circular fake, only does so in order to draw the opponent off of the centerline so we can use it. The slap is fine if it connects, but it is not the real objective.

2) Going Forward
Trapping is a close-distance art. We will always be stepping forward with each hit, closing distance as we go. Just like a tennis player rushing the net for a smash, there is no stopping halfway. Once you have made the decision to trap, you must get in as directly as possible and finish the fight. Many traps include stepping on the opponent's foot to keep them from backing up.

3) Elbows and hips
Elbows stay pointed straight down, and punching power comes from the large muscles of the back, the triceps, and the hips/forward step.

4) Targets
The main trapping targets are the face/head, chest, and throat. Usually we will be punching or using the open palm, but the throat and eyes can be attacked with finger jabs.

5) Low Line
The trapping can be done on both high line and low line. For the low line, the opening attack is to strike the groin. For the high line, the opening attack is a finger jab to the eyes.

6) Ghost Kicks
Although trapping is mostly thought of as striking, low line kicks are often used to disrupt the opponent's balance, distract his/her attention, sweep legs, and attack knees and groin.

7) Timing
Trapping is done on one-count timing. That means the block and counter MUST EXECUTE SIMULTANEOUSLY.
There is no "block-strike" timing. Once the first trap/hit is on its way, the movements should continue in a chain until the opponent is on the ground and the fight is finished.

Finally, it is important to remember that the trapping drills should teach economy of motion.
Do not try to move too much; stay on the centerline, and go forward. GET IN. Trapping is like a chess match, and you want to be several moves ahead of your opponent, confident that you know what the most likely responses will be. This can only be done with a LOT of training.

That said, trapping is a great system to have in your arsenal, and very effective in close where it belongs. Do not disregard the importance of training your trapping skills.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic Formula

Human beings, for all our industrious nature and accomplishments, are inherently lazy.

We look for the easy way out. We hope there is a way to achieve our goals without having to work too hard at them. We hope, we pray, we beg...


The bad news is there is no secret formula.

Achieving our goals in life, martial arts or otherwise, always boils down to a question of willpower. How much willpower do we have? Can we stay the course through until the end?

How bad do we want it?
The same is true, of course, for changing our personal lives.

Many people cry and complain about being overweight, but refuse to apply their willpower to get the result, or take any action that would lead to achieving that goal (exercising more, drinking more water, etc.). They somehow think that there is a magic formula that they can follow that will give them the results without suffering and in record time. It is a neverending cycle of fasting and binging that actually is even worse than just maintaining the same eating habits.


Smoking is another one. Poeple try nicotine patches, nicotine gum, medicines, and hypnosis.

There is an addictive element to nicotine, I am not denying that. But this chemically addictive element is highly overplayed by smokers, who refuse to accept that application of willpower may be enough to break free. They say they are "trying to quit" for 30 years, until the problem is solved by lung cancer, heart attack, or other mortality.
Guro mentioned that if cigarettes killed you instantly no one would smoke.

The simple fact that it takes so long for you to die from smoking is why people forget how dangerous these "coffin nails" really are.
In our martial arts as well, we look for ways to cut corners.
We want to progress faster, to learn quicker, to promote and get our coveted black belt/black shirt/red sash/whatever.
To this, I can only say: HARD WORK IS THE ONLY WAY.

There is no subsititute for going to the school regularly and training.
There is no better way than integrating your training into your daily life.

The good news is, there is no magic formula.

That means that when you get better, it is always the result of your hard work. Be proud.

People who excel in martial arts demonstrate not only their physical skills, but also their willpower and commitment. They show the strength of their character and their courage to keep going on relentlessly. The years teach much the days never know.
Do not forget that even the term "Kung Fu" itself can be interpreted to mean "patient achievement" or "hard work". Thousands of years ago, the Chinese knew there was no shortcut or magic formula.
I am a firm believer in TRAINING SMART. That means using all the tools at our disposal to understand martial systems and apply what we learn in the most effective manner. This is efficiency and innovation at work - not a shortcut. I think seminars can be a great way to get tight focus on particular areas, but it is no substitute for regular training in the school.
It is the little actions we take that have the big effects in our lives.

Make sure your daily habits are good ones. Make little changes to improve them whenever and wherever you can.

By the way, Six Minute Abs, One Minute Manager, Learn French in one hour, etc. don't work. So don't bother. Save your money for the dojo and go as often as you can.


See you in class,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Break On Through

"break on through to the other side" - Jim Morrison

Today just somehow felt different.

In all respects it was a typical Friday. I got up, got dressed, and went to work. And yet it was not quite the same.

For the past 4 weeks or so, I have changed my diet. I no longer have coffee, sodas, chips or fast food. I don't use refined sugar or table salt. I eat more greens. I drink my water every day. I don't miss the things I used to eat. I am content and happy making better choices for myself.

I have lost weight, not sure how much. Not important.
I feel more and more alert, more and more alive. Very important.
Somehow, I just FEEL better. Most important.

Dr. Gibert would have said that I have too much Yang (acid) energy.
This causes restlessness, nervousness, trouble sleeping, mood swings, irritability.
It is made worse by taking even more yang foods such as fried foods, red meat, and sugar.

By changing my diet to more Yin (alkaline) foods (greens, yogurt, fruits, tofu, miso) I change my body chemistry from acid to alkaline. The changes are subtle, but after a month they add up.
Our bodies, our health, and even our state of mind, are affected by our chemistry. The Chinese elders knew this, and Yin/Yang food combining has been a part of their natural healing for thousands of years. In modern times, using science, we come to see that they were right, and their understanding of the human condition was profound.

Finally this morning, I feel really, really relaxed.
Not my usual stressed-out self. I feel thoughful, contemplative, and harmonious.
The tension in my shoulders is gone. I don't feel bothered or rushed by anyone or anything.
I want this feeling to stay. Forever, if possible.

At my breakfast meeting I was not nervous.
I felt calm and confident; sure of who I am and what I know. Comfortable and not intimidated by the other person. It felt GREAT. I was like a lake of still water. Relaxed and powerful.

Maybe this means I have broken through to a new awareness of how to be happier.
I feel in control of myself and my life. I am ready to accept this and ready to keep moving forward. The last time I felt this way was after my first 10 day fast in Thailand.
After that I met my future wife. My life has been better every day since.
Let's see how long this lasts.

We can make changes, even small changes in our life and our health that have far reaching consequence.
Our health (mental, physical, emotional/spiritual) is a key to our happiness and quality of life.
  • TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE
  • TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HAPPINESS
  • TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR HEALTH

make a change. impress yourself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

About Aikido Training

It's time to clear up some misconceptions. There are plenty of people out there who consider aikido as a "fighting" martial art. I am not among them.

Before every aikidoka in Asia calls me out, let me be very clear what I mean. I find it very sad that so many people come to aikido with false expectations about what they will and will not learn, and that is what I want to address. First and foremost, for the record, loud and clear, I want to say that I firmly believe aikido training is very important for anyone, martial artist or not. What we learn in aikido is of great benefit to achieve our potential as martial artists and as human beings. However, I do not classify it as a fighting art per se.

Even something like kamae, has no real practical application in a fight. Fights are dynamic movement. There is no time to seek and hold a full kamae shape. However, kamae practice - especially moving from shizentai (natural standing) into kamae is important to develop the habit of keeping the arms in the right shape and connection to our body no matter where/how we move. This is essential in aikido, because if the kamae hand is not strong, we cannot connect and control.

I can read your mind. You are thinking "If it is not a fighting art, why study it?"

My response is simple. Aikido is designed to teach you very practical combat concepts.

In aikido, these are not the techniques themselves. It is really about the concepts the techniques demonstrate that make them useful training tools. And those concepts are VITAL in becoming a good fighter. Technique is the least important part.

Any martial artist with practial experience can see that the attacks used in aikido are simplified and exaggerated. NOBODY really punches like that. It is not very often someone in a fight will bother to grab your wrist, grab both wrists from behind, etc. It is very rare that any of us will have to fight from a seated or kneeling posture. It is very unlikely to consider any of us being attacked with a sword. Again I would say that if we only look at the combat practicality of each specific aikido technique, we will find ourselves disappointed, since aikido as it is commonly taught, is not a combat style. This is done purposefully. If it was not that way, we would only study the techniques (a la Krav Maga) and miss the chance to deeply understand the important concepts and principles that make ANY technique work. We would be distracted. Caught up in the minutea and missing the big picture. The big picture is what we must learn to see.

So...what are these important principles of which I speak? Let's take a look:


1) Body posture/weight shift/balance control
Almost all the techniques are designed to help us learn how to move forward confidently with balance and control, and to shift our weight from one foot to the other using the knees and hips. Great examples of this are tai no henko, hiriki no yosei, shumatsu dosa, ukemi, kamae.

2) Connection
For aikido to work as a fighting concept, we need to be connected to uke. In every technique, we are exploring how to stay connected to uke while we both move. We want to be glued together until the technique ends, so that uke can be controlled and put where we want them to be. When the connection is lost, we learn how to reconnect so control can be maintained.

3) Controlling
Based on the connection, we learn how to control uke's body (torso and head) by connecting to their wrist. Too often, aikidoka think only about the wrist and forget that the whole point is to control uke's body so that it can be moved off balance. Ikkajo, Nikkajo, Sankajo, Yonkajo all control uke's torso using different contact points and principles.

4) Leading
Many of the techniques have a leading element. This is not the same as pulling. When we lead, we actually have to match the speed of uke's attack. Practicing this is how we learn our timing. Having done so, we direct uke to a position where their balance can be taken.

5) Taking Balance
Every technique has as a principal feature the taking of uke's balance. Without doing so, uke cannot be thrown. It is important to look for the balance points and use our techniques to put uke into unbalance, from which they can be controlled.

6) The Line of Power
Posture is what gives us power. When we bend forward or lean sideways, or allow our structure to be compromised, none of our techniques will work. The training to visualize and create a single line of power for our technique is of paramount importance.

7) Avoiding Resistance
Aikido abhors force on force. Instead, we prefer to go around the resistance and take uke's balance away. It is worth looking not only for the connection to uke's body, but also for the places where uke resists, and learning how to go over/under/around that force. This is often a problem for people with strong bodies, who feel the temptation of ego to use strength rather than correct concept and proper technique.

8) Ethics
Aikido techniques are designed and taught in the way they are to develop an ethical framework for the students. The techniques are done specifically to avoid injury to either partner, and ensure safety in the training. Of course this means that "as-is" the basic techniques will not be very effective for fighting. The very fact that we offer "ukemi" to uke, something no one in a real fight would ever do, shows us that the techniques are made to teach the concepts safely. The concepts, however, will be very practical when adapted and applied to a real combat situation.

The Yoshinkan techniques are not specifically to be used in combat the way they are taught as basic techniques. Jiyuwaza comes closer to the real thing, but even that is a bit theatrical (but also useful to learn stress management, body control, and dynamic movement.).

The key is in viewing each technique as a lab to practice all of the above. In doing so, we are exploring the concepts and programming the body to respond correctly no matter what we actually do in a fight.


There is a magic moment where Danny Larusso, the Karate Kid, is frustrated with doing chores he thinks have no fighting application. Then, Miyagi shows him that through those simple chores, unconsciously, he has been learning karate. It is a revelation for him - and should be a revelation for us. True aikido is effortless and natural, and comes from years of training in the techniques, each of which is designed to help us safely learn the fundamental aspects of combat which can be applied to any combat art or combat situation using any technique, aikido or otherwise.

So, in summary, do not expect to be a "badass" through your study of aikido. Do expect to learn a lot about yourself and others, and to form a foundation for any other combat art you will ever study.

Osu!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Close to You

Very interesting point raised by Guro last week about blocking.\
As beginners, we are taught the De Cuerdas style - hand behind the middle of the stick, triangle footwork away from the attack, stick used as primary shield/blocking.

Now as intermediates, we are into the advanced blocking series, which is leading us toward Serrada. What changed?

In the intermediate/advanced blocking, we are no longer shielding/hiding behind the stick. Instead, our primary block is on the attacker's hand or elbow. In addition, our triangle becomes very narrow, and our footwork almost, but not quite, straight in; jamming the attack. WE ARE CLOSE...VERY CLOSE.

Of course, this is logical when we need to use our hand to block. This alone means we need to be close enough to reach the attacking hand, which cannot be done at medio distance. We are no longer moving away from the strike. Instead, we take the force by jamming it right as the attacking movement begins.

The more advanced we become, the closer we get to our opponent. The more directly we intercept and get in. Guro Fred and Guro Guillaume use the phrase "get in" a lot, and now it is becoming clearer. The goal in kali is to get in as close as possible, and every move (even in Hakka/Jun Fan) is designed to close distance and get you into the opponent where you can end the fight quickly. You cannot employ the Serrada style blocking without getting in close.

I am just as fascinated by what I see as I was the first day. There is just so much to learn.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fight Club Part 2

Tough go in Panantukan last night. At one point I ended up sparring with Max. He's about 25 years younger than me, strong, tall, lean, and well-trained. Max would be a challenging opponent even when I am at my very best. After two hours of boxing and into a 2:30 sparring session I was tired. I was sloppy. My guard dropped. Boom. I took a brilliant roundhouse kick right across the bridge of my nose.

A step back and shake of the head, and I expected a fountain of blood from a broken nose. Somehow, it held together. No break. A few lessons learned though.

1) Have A Strategy
I just went in there swinging, without a specific game plan. This is despite my post a few days ago on dealing with bigger/taller guys. Just wasn't thinking. Boom. I deserved it.

2) KEEP YOUR GUARD UP
I dropped my guard and gave Max the perfect opening. He took it.

3) Know Yourself
Pay attention to when you are getting winded and becoming sloppy.
Recongnize what is happening and adjust for it.

4) Go to the Ground
If you are getting hammered standing up, go to the ground. Take the man down and check his ground game. Very few fighters are truly versatile.

5) Take a Shot
I have been knocked out, choked out, tapped out more times than I can count.
It is important to have felt these things (hopefully in the safety of the dojo) so you are not intimidated by them. In a fight, you can get hit. It happens. Get used to it.

Many times, victory is all down to who has more willpower. Make sure it is you.

I don't feel bad about getting kicked in the face. It has happened before and will happen again.
The most important thing is to try to learn from every situation so you can improve.

I guess my modelling career is over, though :-)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sarong He!

Oh My God...the new cycle is just the coolest ever! We have a lot to do before I go back to Japan, and it is stuff we have never done before...

The coolest part is our introduction into Pencak Silat, a martial art native to Indonesia, and a core element of the Kali Majapahit curriculum. As intermediates, we are now getting exposed to this fascinating art. I just love it because it is so completely different than anything else. Trapping, groundfighting, close knife work - Silat has it all, and all coming from seemingly impossible angles.

We also start learning the fighting sarong. The sarong is a traditional garment (see photo) worn around southeast Asia. It is a tubelike cloth wrapped around the waist, and of course, can be used for fighting. Initially, I thought this was interesting, but not very practical. After a lesson or two of using it, my mind has changed.

Training in the fighting sarong has application in combat with a variety of similar flexible items: rope, chain, cable, even a towel, t-shirt, or jacket. Flexible weapons wove in very special ways that cannot be understood by training just in stick, blade, or empty hands. The fighting sarong offers trapping, locking and pinning restraints, chokes/strangles, and ties that cannot be done using non-flexible weapons. It is a new dimension to explore. SO COOL.

Previosuly, I trained with nunchake (semi-flexible weapon) and Japanese Manriki-Gusari (weighted chain). There are elements of both that can be applied to fighting sarong.

Of course, study of the sarong, how to wear it, its patterns, and its integral part in the daily
lives of southeast Asian people is an important cultural study. We give respect by learning it well and dressing correctly.

Life in Kali Majapahit is never boring, and this new cycle exposes us to a brand new world of learning. This is a great cycle to end my time here.

See you there!!

PS: in case you were wondering about the title, Sarang He (사랑해) means "I love you" in Korean...I know it's lame, but at least I tried...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Aid Training

Courtesy of Kali Majapahit, today I spent 4 hours doing a First Aid/CPR certification conducted for free by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The training was done by their paramedic specialists and covered basic first aid, CPR, and emergency procedures. We studied different types of injuries including cuts, bruises, fractures, burns, and abrasions. We practiced dressings and learned how to prepare a first aid kit.

This may seem like very simple stuff, but as the trainers correctly pointed out, a big difference can be made in the few precious minutes before an ambulance arrives. Many times it can be the difference between life and death. In the case of a stroke or heart attack, permanent disability can occur after 6 minutes without oxygen. It is important to have basic skills and confidence to act in the event of an emergency.

I am a big believer that our modern school curriculum emphasizes rote memory at the expense of actual learning, repetition over application, and often misses some of the key bodies of knowledge people need to be effective and successful members of society. One of these is a basic understanding of wealth and how money works. The other is basic first aid.

I think every student from primary through high school should have a half day seminar each year in basic first aid. The curriculum should be adjusted for each year and cover basics for how to deal with common situations including diet and nutrition, first aid, CPR, and stress management. This would greatly add to the quality of life for students and increase the likelihood that someone in an emergency would be able to get important first aid while professional medical care is called to the scene.

If you have not done so, please seek out free training at a community center near you.
The life you save could be the life of someone you love.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Timber!!




When you are a scant 5'7" like me, fighting bigger guys sucks. They have longer reach which can be really frustrating. Here are some tips to cut them down to size:

Control the Center Line - The shortest distance between two points is a line, and this helps when you are facing an opponent with a longer reach.

Get Inside - everything you do should be about trying to get inside, where the length of arms and legs becomes a disadvantage. If you stay outside, you are dead.

Slip - Slipping punches and kicks is a great way to close distance.

Take Out the Knees- Take out knees and legs with low kicks.

Go to the Ground - Bigger guys usually have a disadvantage on the floor.

Guntings - When you are at distance, it is important to use guntings to attack the attacker's attack.

As the old saying goes, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall"

TIMBER!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leaving On A Jet Plane

That's it. They are gone.
It's been a long week, gradually building up to the fatc that my family would be flying back to Japan today.

Now I am on my own until my master's degree is over - nearly two months. I leave on 11 October. I haven't been alone for this long for nearly 10 years...completely at a loss now for how to feel. All of us crying at the airport this morning was the most heartbreaking moment I can remember.

Ray cried, but at 3 years old he does not fully understand what it means to be apart so long.
He mainly cried because George, his older brother, cried. He wasn't sure exactly what was going on or what to do, but since George cried, he cried.

George cried a lot, and has been crying off and on all week.
He is worried about missing his best friend, worried about missing me, worried about starting his new school next week. It will be hard on him, but he will be fine, and we all need to go through these things in order to learn and grow - to be a bit more independent. The time will come when he will be glad to be away from me, but that is not now; not at 7 years old.

Sanae knows very well what it means to be away for so long.
Lately things have been going pretty well for us, and she has been happy. That has meant I get to be happy too. I wish I was going, too.

All that time alone should be good, right?
Plenty of time to think about things and all that.
No distractions.

I am sure I will have time to do things like read and watch DVDs I haven't been able to.
I am sure I will (eventually) be able to sleep more.

My plans are to train as hard as possible. Every spare moment on the mats.
Change my eating habits. Change my sleeping habits. Change my life.

I expect to go back to Japan in October looking very different.
Fitter, stronger, happier, more focused. Ready to hit the ground running.

I want to have a better life back in Japan.

See you there. Yoroshiku.








Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Princess Syndrome

She's back. However, nothing really seems to have changed.
Same vaguely desperate, puzzled expression... I suppose she wonders why things "just don't go her way" or why she is "so unlucky". Years will go by while she waits for something to happen...maybe she will end up getting married and giving up her independence just to be sure someone provides for her...how sad.

She is very pretty, and she knows it.
She is well educated, and she knows it.
The world should be laid at her feet...and...sadly, she knows it.
She's a barbie girl in a barbie world, as the song says.

In psychology circles it is referred to as "learned helplessness", a condition where a person becomes conditioned to do nothing since they expect everything to be done FOR THEM. Maybe it is because they are beautiful. Maybe it is because they know it.

Nothing is more infuriating to me than the belief some people have that the world somehow owes them something. This goes hand in hand with the learned helplessness that society impresses upon women to make them believe they cannot do and be at least the equal of their male counterparts, if not far beyond them. This extends to many of the middle eastern countries that still treat women as "possessions" to be bought and sold, and African societies that still believe they need to mutilate women to deny them the pleasure of a healthy and active sexual identity.
This is the crime of cowardly, weak men who are intimidated by the idea of a strong, capable woman.

I am not a feminist per se - I want everyone, man or woman, to be free to achieve their potential, and I reject any prejudice that would prevent that.

There is no one else to blame for failing to achieve your dreams. No one can make you happy but YOU. Waiting for someone to make you happy will only bring false hope and a lifetime of loneliness.

Each one of us controls his/her own destiny, and writes the book of our lives word by word, line by line - moment by moment. It is the worst of lies to believe otherwise. It is the worst of sins to attempt to persuade someone otherwise.

Martial arts is a great way for women to become empowered. I have seen the training transform women who were timid and shy, lacking self confidence or willpower to go and make their dreams come true. They emerge radiant. Aagain and again I have seen this magic, and it never fails to amaze me.

To me, nothing is more attractive than the idea of a warrior princess - proud and strong.
Maybe she needs to take this opportunity to get into the dojo and train. Soon she will see that she can be the one to get what she wants - there is no need to wait and hope someone will simply give it to her.

Very few "princesses" truly deserve rescuing. Far better for them to rescue themselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Red Card!

I was reading a friend's blog and found out about a training injury. Damn.

As you know, my primary consideration for training is SAFETY.
Over my life in the martial arts, I have suffered my share of training injuries, but I am happy to say that I have not caused serious harm to any training partner. Yes, we sometimes inadvertently get a bruise or a scrape - I have gotten and given those. However, I have not injured a partner such that they could not train or were otherwise debilitated.

For me this is a point of pride. As a teacher, it is an ABSOLUTE.
There is no excuse for injuring students. EVER. PERIOD.

At the best, this is a result of a lack of control or poor technique on the teacher's part.
At the worst, this is a manifestation of ego, and displays a flawed character.

I know the counter argument very well.
We are not doing new age ballet tai chi warm fuzzy encounter group hug pyschotherapy.
This is martial arts.
To get the full benefit, we need to train hard. To feel healthy and happy, we need to sweat hard. To discover ourselves, we need to push our limits. To be confident in a real fight, we have to come as close to it in training as we can. This is how we control and master stress and fear. This is how we break through to the other side.

However, this must be done with safety as a primary consideration.
There can be no other way. Fear and guilt have no place in our dojo, except as enemies to be challenged and defeated.

I have made references to martial arts training as a spiritual journey, and likened it even to a religion of its own, with vestments, ceremonies, and heirarchies sometimes very similar to what most of us know from organized mainstream religions. Sadly, this can also include the very same pitfalls that organized religions suffer from: namely, control using fear/guilt, exploitation of the sprititually weak/codependent and blatant commercialism.

In my analogy, teachers injuring students is akin to priests fondling children.
It may happen with alarming frequency. It is most likely under-reported or never reported.
It can have permanent negative consequences for everyone.
It is also completely unjustifiable and unacceptable.

The net result of these kinds of incidents is that students feel fear and apprehension, which instead they should be learning to overcome. Their confidence is weakened. Their trust is broken. They lose faith in the objective of the training. Some of them will stop training or leave martial arts altogether. Some will never come back. Even more horrible is the thought that they will STAY. Like a victim of domestic violence too afraid or weak to leave their abusive partner, the students start to believe that martial arts is about negativity, oppression, and violence, and end up teaching it the same way themselves one day - perpetuating a neverending cycle of misery and ignorance. Nothing could be worse than this.

Many times I meet people who, despite being raised Christian, are now self-professed athiests.
In nearly every case, it was some negative experience they had that turned them away from the church. Their trust was broken. Their faith was shaken. They never came back.

I hope this does not happen. We need good teachers to help build good students. We need teachers who can help us have faith and trust in martial arts as a way of transforming ourselves and growing to become the people we want to be. We need to have some spiritual foundation that we can believe in so that we can explore The Way freely and overcome our limitations.

Absolute Power Absolutely Corrupts.

How Disappointing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tight is Right

I wanted to write a bit more as a follow up to the previous post on precision.
It should almost go without saying that being precise in Kali is about keeping tight.
Lately we have been working Ubud, a flowing drill done with hands and sticks.
It is a drill done to develop responsiveness and perpheral-vision response in very short distance (Corto). Sometimes I see students waving their arms like a windmill, or swinging their sticks like they were trying to help an aircraft land on deck. It goes without saying that this is not the desired result.

Not just in corto, but at all times, it is important to keep hands and sticks tight, rather than swing them all around in big, wide circles. Less is more. At any time, we need to be able to recover the center line, recover balance, and remain in contact with the opponent. This is not efficiently done if the arms swing wide.

Try not only to be precise but to keep the motions short and sharp, tight to the body.
This will help you look better and fight better.

Tight is Right.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

precision, precision, precision

Guro was on us again yesterday about precision.
As usual, he is absolutely right.

All too often we become preoccupied with going fast or hard during the drills, and we miss one of the most important points of all - precision. Without precision, we look bad and we fight bad. A degree of angle off and we get hit. A degree of angle off, and we miss the target.

Good martial arts is all about precision.
That means that a core element of the training should be attention to detail, and developing precision around footwork, body location, spatial relationship to the opponent, weight shift, breathing.

Kali Majaphit is unique in that we learn precision from so many different points of view.
We study knife, baston, dumog, panantukan, sikaran, kadena. In each of these, precision is critical for the techniques to succeed and for our guard to remain strong. There is little value (other than cardio) in going fast at the expense of precision.

Slow it down. make it exact. You will look better, fight better, and end up understanding far more benefit than you would otherwise.

Off to train. more later.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

aikido is for everyone, but not everyone is for aikido

I saw this expression a long time ago.
At the time, since I was studying aikido, it was cool.
It was elitist to think of us as a group of dedicated students that other people couldn't fully understand, and couldn't be a part of. We were different. We were the chosen few.
aikido is for everyone, but everyone is not for aikido. Some just don't have what it takes.
But we did. That's what we thought, anyway.

I was thinking about that expression again today. It made me sad.
If everyone is not for aikido, what can they be for? Do they get ignored? cast aside? forgotten?
I think "MARTIAL ARTS IS FOR EVERYONE, AND EVERYONE IS FOR MARTIAL ARTS"

Regardless of level, or skill, or ability, or intellect.
Especially for those whom we might think martial arts cannot help.
For the weak, the timid, the shy, the infirm. For the people who lack focus, who lack commitment. For people who just can never seem to do anything right. For people who cannot tell right from left. For the losers.
That's right. FOR THE LOSERS.

So many times in my life, my martial arts was all I had to depend on.
One more punch or kick. One more pushup or situp. One more class.
When nothing else in my life was going right, martial arts was.
When nothing else in my life made sense, martial arts did.
I focused on just what was in front of me and tried to get through the class.
Afterward, I always felt better. Inch by sometimes painful inch, my life improved.
It has been improving ever since I started.

I never was to have a martial arts world which excludes anyone from the HOPE that the training can give them. The hope that they can improve and grow and change. We all can. That little thread of hope was all I had to hang onto sometimes.

Bring the losers - they will become winners in martial arts.

IT'S FOR EVERYONE!! IT CAN BE FOR YOU, TOO.