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...