Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paper Dragons

I was inspired by my conversation with Eriko in London last week.
We were a bunch of Japanese (well, not ME, obviously) enjoying dinner at a lovely Japanese restaurant near Holborn in the center of London.

Like many Japanese, Eriko is very loyal to the company.  This is admirable, of course, but my perspective differs.  I explain.

What is a company, after all?
I have set up companies before.  When you do, you receive a piece of paper called a company registration.  That's it. No fanfare, no big deal.  Just a piece of paper (actually a stack of papers).
A company is a legal construct created by society for the purpose of making money in an organized way (I use the term "organized" a bit too freely perhaps).  Legally it exists, but physically it is just a piece of paper.

As I explained to Eriko, I am not loyal to pieces of paper.  Pieces of paper cannot be loyal to me.
Of course, human beings act of behalf of the pieces of paper, and I can be loyal to them (and I am very much so).  However, I never let the paper take the place of the people.  I respect people and their actions, and will never absolve someone who does something wrong by saying "the company made me do it".  Each of us make take personal responsibility for our behavior, and have full accountability for what we say and do, good or bad.

If we argue that companies are made up of people, I contend that this is not the point.  Neither are people simply their resumes.  The paper is no substitute for what it represents.

Since I don't pay much attention to pieces of paper, I find I have more time to focus on the human relationships that the pieces of paper underpin.  In the company, I try to engage people as human beings, rather than business cards, job titles, or powerpoint decks.  I try to solve the human problems, and try to engage my clients person to person, with my goals and theirs aligned, and not caring too much for the pieces of paper behind them. This means that even if someday we were to change companies, we could continue to enjoy and derive value from the human relationship we built and have invested in.

Irrespective of the person's place in the corporate hierarchy, I try to engage everyone as a peer and professional, equally worthy of my time and attention (until they prove me wrong).  Similarly, I try to lead in a human way, not because the org chart says I am the boss.  I try never to focus on the paper more than the person, since it is the human element that I have always found the most interesting and rewarding.

Just as in our weapons work, we try to remember that weapons are not the focus - people are.
When we engage the aggressor, the weapon no longer matters.  Likewise, we learn that almost anything can be a weapon if the attacker has aggressive intent.  Weapons provide context, nothing more.  Paper provides context, nothing more.

In our martial arts lives, too, there are lots of pieces of paper.  I have four black belt ranks (so far).  I am sure no robber or murderer will ever ask to see them.  Likewise, I have never had any of my students ask for them (or about them) after the first class.  In the end, I can either teach or I can't.  I can either do or I can't.  That is up to me, not the paper.  Neither the paper nor the belt can do that in my place.  People obsess over which master (or ultimate great grand pendekar or whatever) is better than whom.  Legitimacy comes from skill and knowledge, NOT from pieces of paper.

Many people spend far too much time worried about those pieces of paper.  So much so that they never truly enjoy the human element, the friendship, the love, the RELATIONSHIPS that in my mind make life worth living.  Humans are amazingly complex, funny creatures.  We have nearly limitless capability.  We are truly born of stars and have their essence within us - we shine brightly.  PEOPLE ARE AWESOME.  Paper is boring.

Please be fiercely loyal to the important people in your life.
Make conscious effort to create, build and sustain the human relationships that are important to you.  Never care more about the paper than the person, especially when that person is YOU.
Spend as much time as possible acquiring knowledge/skills and personal networks that will help you enjoy your life to the fullest.  Keep the papers in the drawer where they belong.

See you at class.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fathers and Teachers

An FB post from one of my dear friends got me thinking...

When we were in Singapore from 2008-2010 I got hooked on Kali Majapahit, as I described in my last post.  In addition to becoming a driving force in my life, I firmly believed it would help my children so I got my oldest son George, 6 years old at the time, enrolled at KMHQ and took him for Discovery/Kids Class every Saturday.  I loved to watch him in class.

Although the movements were tough and he had trouble being still and concentrating, Guro Lila's charm and skill are irresistible, and soon George was making progress.  He enjoyed being with the other kids, and doing something he knew his Dad loved so much (and still does).  It was something we shared.  He proudly put his framed rank certificates on his wall.  I was so proud of him for that.

So what happened??
After we came back to Japan these was no dojo.  No KMHQ.  Thanks to the trust Guro Fred placed in me, I was allowed to open the KM Japan study group in Roppongi, but we have a single 2-hour slot which we use for our weekly class (beginners and intermediate/advanced).  It was too far away for George to attend, too late on a Friday night, and we had no other days or slots for a class.

Perhaps more importantly, however, was the great difficulty I had teaching him personally, which is common to every teacher I suppose.  The relationship between teacher and father is a very complex one.  In many cases (mine included) my early teachers were proxies for my father, father figures in their own right, offering not just training but also wisdom and guidance for my life.  I counted on their advice and looked up to them in a way I never did ( and maybe never could have) to my real father.  They became the fathers I wished I had.  It was only after becoming an adult that I truly recognized and appreciated everything my real father had done for me, and probably never would have without the training from such good teachers.

Being both teacher and father is very hard for children, especially younger children, since they seem to have a lot of trouble separating the two.  They want their teacher to be fun, joking, playful in the way their father is - not a stern taskmaster.  They want their father to be the heroic figure they see in the dojo with the sticks and barong, not the guy folding laundry, changing diapers or washing the dishes.  It can be tough for them to accept the different facets of the same person.

Very often, the father-teacher is too hard or too lenient on their child.  Too hard and the child hates him and the art and ends up rebelling (I offer the Christian Church as one example, and the phenomenon of the "Tiger Mother" as another).  No parent or martial artist wants that for their child.  Too lenient and the other students sense the favoritism and lose their respect and motivation.  Every veteran martial artist has seen this in one school or another.  Finding the balance is elusive.  I have tried to get my kids interested in aikido and other arts I have studied, hoping they would master the basics and then we could build on that foundation.  However, neither has shown any interest and I feel that pushing them too hard would have the opposite effect.  

I do wish my kids would find the love of martial arts training, especially KM training, that I have, and decide to leverage this for their future success the way like I did.  I hope someday to give them the gift of knowledge that I have spent most of my life studying - my life's work.  I hope one day to do sinawali and sombrada and hubud and all the other drills with them just as I love doing them with my students.  I hope one day to bring them to the Bali Camp, where they can feel the lifelong bonds of fellowship I discovered with other FMA fanatics from across the globe.

Right now I still don't know how to find the right recipe. It was so much easier when they trained at KMHQ just like I did.  If you are in Singapore and enrolled at KMHQ, PLEASE share the gift of your training with your wife and children.  If they go and you don't, ENROLL so you can take this journey together as a family.  Make this a special training time for your family, and celebrate every victory together.  THE FAMILY THAT TRAINS TOGETHER REMAINS TOGETHER.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I still remember my first class at Yan Kit Road with Guro Fred of Kali Majapahit, MG Vince, MG Guillaume, MG Ben, and a handful of others.  It was a turning point in my life that made me discover what I really wanted from my training; from myself and from my life.

I never dreamed I would end up as a Kadua Guro, leading the Japan KM Group with students of my own.  The KG test in July last year, in front of a seminar of fellow martial artists and my students, with MG Ben as my partner, was an unforgettable weekend that marked a proud milestone in my martial arts history and an important step in my career as a KM teacher.  I was pushed to the breaking point, but ended up standing in front, true to the teachings that have brought me this far and made me who I am.
I am grateful for everyone who has been a part of this remarkable journey.

I am still new to Kali Majapahit after only 6 years (despite being a Kadua Guro), having only just gotten a reasonable understanding of the basics, and facing a lifetime of study ahead of me that I am very much looking forward to.  A key part of this learning has been having my own group to be responsible for.  This has caused me to think carefully about every aspect of our curriculum and how to best bring it to my students, who never fail to challenge me with their dedication and curiosity.  I am truly blessed to have such a group in Japan.

When I left Singapore to return to Japan I asked for permission to use the Kali Majapahit logo for a tattoo I got done.  It was special to me because it represented my anchor to a system and a family that has defined my martial arts evolution and brought me so much joy, happiness and development.  I chose to have this tattoo done over an old scar (surgery to remove a benign tumor), which was my own symbolic way of turning something bad into something good; healing old wounds; and giving my a visual cue to look at to remind myself where I came from, and to focus on where I am going.

Since then, Kali Majapahit has grown and evolved, a new team of instructors has been groomed and stepped up to lead the next generation of change - they are skilled, energetic and as dedicated to KM as any of us were in those early days.  New elements have been added to KM such as Parkour/ADD, Tahitian Dance Fitness, and a specialized Western boxing class.  It is very exciting indeed.

The best part of Kali Majapahit is that it grows and evolves, just as we all personally grow and evolve.  Guro Fred has continued to add to his impressive body of knowledge and push ahead into new directions, which has led to the first ever Instructor Training Academy course in Singapore last year, which I was proud to attend.  This year, additional ITA courses are planned for Singapore and Paris.

The Bali Camp has become a gathering of some of the best instructors in the world, sharing training and fellowship during a jam packed week of team teaching, personal development, health/nutrition and overall POSITIVE ENERGY.  Every year it gets better and better, and this will be my 3rd time to attend this incredible event.

Kali Majapahit remains at the heart of how I digest any new body of material I encounter.  Our broad curriculum and Guro Fred's unique way of synthesizing it, has given me "eyes to see" other arts and capture what makes them special and worthwhile.  This is one of the many things I try to give my students as well.

I have attended seminars by other famous martial artists since then, including SSBD and PTK, to name a few.  I always go as a representative of Kali Majapahit, and if they think I am any good as a martial artist or as a human being, they will know that a major contributor has been my training with Guro Fred, Guro Lila, and my other teachers, brothers, and sisters in KM.  I carry my rank as a badge of honor everywhere I go.

We never know where life will take us, but for me Kali Majapahit remains the best way to express everything I have learned.  It is not just a comprehensive, effective Southeast Asian martial arts system, it is a symbol of my break from the traditional barriers to growth and evolution in classical martial arts and in my own life; and it frees me to carry on my martial arts "adventure" learning, growing, expressing throughout the rest of my life.  I am deeply humbled and honored to be able to share it with those close to me.

Never forget where you come from, since it helps point the way to where you are going.
Stay Original.

Saturday, February 08, 2014


In this case, I am talking about a treasure box.
Why?  What do I mean?

Your martial arts training life is like a box - when you start it is EMPTY.
Over time, you fill it with hopes, dreams, accomplishments, achievements.  You put all the hard work into it, and that hard work becomes treasure that you can then cherish and use.  It becomes VALUABLE.

Of course, the reverse is also true.  If you do not take care to fill your box with these treasured memories and experiences, when you look in the box it will still be empty, with nothing you can draw from it, and no value for you to use.  It is then that you will end up disappointed and feeling empty too.

I raise this example because as much as it is the responsibility of the teacher and fellow students to provide a safe, engaging, and positive environment for you (the dojo),  it is EVERYONE'S own responsibility to be at training, to give 100% to the teacher and each other, and to allow the natural bonds of friendship and fellowship to develop.  You can't win if you don't play.

Please consider the above, and think about the promise you have to yourself and to each other.
Be there for each other and share in the treasure we have created.  Our Treasure Box is Full.

See you soon!

Anything and Everything

"How you do anything is how you do everything" - zen master

Have been thinking about this lately while I am on a long, three-week business trip between London and New York.

You can learn so much about someone by observing the little things they do, from making a cup of tea to walking down the street.  You can tell by how they talk to clients, to coworkers, to their family, to their friends.  Are they a different person for these different groups?  Are you?

This has caused me to think about how I engage and interact with the people I meet, from complete strangers to close friends and colleagues, even to my students.  I hope I can be the same person to all of them.  I hope I can listen well and respond with sincerity, energy and passion.  I hope I can be a source of strength for them.

Zen is expressed as the utmost care in every action of every moment of our lives.  It is the Way of being constantly connected to the entire universe in every breath we take.  Easier said than done, to be sure, but it means that AWARENESS is key.  We should be paying attention to the actions we take and the words we use, saying what we mean and meaning what we say, always for the betterment of our universal selves.
This is worthy of reflection, I think.

I find that when travelling it is easier to lose my focus.  The jet lag; the trains, planes, buses, taxi all drain my energy and leave me tired all the time.  I don't sleep well in any bed other than my own, surrounded by my family.  It is precisely at these times that I try to apply an even greater level of awareness and focus, so that I deliberately examine every action, no matter how small.  Maybe I am afraid of drifting away...

It is said the LIFE is what happens while we are waiting for something else.
Don't let this be you.  Be involved and live every moment fully.  You deserve it.

See you back on the mats very soon.