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


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


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.