Monday, October 13, 2014

On Slavery

Just finished reading this book, "12 Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup, an autobiography written in 1853.  I got this book after having seen the riveting movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.  I figured the book must contain much more detail than the movie, and I was not disappointed.

Slavery is a difficult subject, especially for Americans.  We want to believe that we have "risen above" such things, often citing that we fought a long and bloody war specifically for that purpose. None of this is entirely true, since even George Washington owned slaves, and emancipation was a convenient afterthought for President Lincoln, whose main objective was to keep the country united.  Slavery, however, became a lightning rod issue for the North, and galvanized our resolve to change the Southern way of life from plantation agriculture to our new industrialism.  Even today, some 150 years after the Civil War, vestiges of slavery remain across America, both explicit and implicit.  We have made a small start, but we still have so far to go.

In many other countries, slavery has a long history and in some of them, it still continues.
Slavery can take many forms, including what we typically think of as indentured servitude (conflict goods, forced conscription) but what must also include sexual slavery, child labor and even religious slavery.  At the far end of the spectrum, many Americans suffer debt slavery, unable to break free from their consumption-fueled lifestyles.  Slavery can be defined as a hopeless repetition of labor without chance of escape, and this is the 9-5 (maybe now more like 9-9) that many Americans must endure without hope of financial freedom or eventual retirement. Post the financial crisis, many Americans are doomed to work until they die or are replaced.

Here are some other takeaways of mine from the book:

Freedom has no Guarantees
Solomon Northup was born a free man in upstate New York, near Syracuse.  However, this did not prevent him from being kidnapped and sold into slavery into the Louisiana bayou for 12 long, hard years.  Kidnapping and human trafficking exist even today in many parts of the world.  The freedom we take for granted can be taken away by any number of means at any time.  We think of this as largely a problem in the underdeveloped corners of the World, but actions of our own government are no different, slowly eating away at our freedom until we become slaves of the State - in mind if not in body.  Freedom is preserved through vigilance, and lost through apathy.

We have it SO GOOD
Our modern abundance is truly mind-boggling.  Compared to life 100 years ago, the incredible amount of goods and services available to us is almost beyond comprehension.  For many of us, the biggest challenge of the day is simply deciding which size Starbucks we want (Grande or Vente).  We have products from all over the world available to us at our fingertips, and our ease of access to information on any topic, in any detail, is truly an incredible human achievement.

The ability of modern medicine to prolong and improve the quality of our lives is past imagination for people 100 years ago.  We have all but eradicated the major plagues of the past, and I actually believe it could be possible through concerted global effort to end global famine in our time.

I do not begrudge our advancements, and do not think we need to be ashamed of our good fortune.  However, I do believe that this should cause us to have even greater charity, mercy and compassion toward others.  We have far  more than we need - it is time to share.

We have become WEAK and we complain far too much
Transformation of our global society from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age has brought humanity incredible prosperity.  However, the trade offs have come at the cost of our strength, hardiness and resolve.  My children cry when they cannot get Wifi access (actually CRY), and we need to go to the gym to develop the strength that our ancestors had as a by-product of their regular daily lifestyle.  While many undeveloped regions lack basic sanitation, clean water, and enough food, most places in the world have far more than they could possibly need.  We complain at the slightest inconvenience.  I felt ashamed to read of the savage punishments inflicted on Simon Northup and his fellow slaves by their cruel plantation overseers and masters.  Could I have endured them so patiently in order to wait for my chance to escape? Could you?  He slept on a wooden board with a threadbare blanket and not even a cup or a bowl to call his own for 12 YEARS.  Could I do that?  Could you??

The Human Spirit is Truly UNBREAKABLE
I was inspired by this story.  His love for his family, and his ability to endure the seemingly unendurable for so long, just to have a chance to go home.  It would be unbelievable if I did not know the story was true.  All of us will face hardship and challenge, and all of us have the ability to keep our dignity and self-respect.  We can choose to be unbreakable.  Next up in my reading list is the story of Nelson Mandela of South Sfrica, and I expect there will be much in common on this point.

Music Matters
Solomon Northup was a violinist and this skill served him well in captivity, helping ease the suffering not just of himself but of those around him.  Music is a joyful thing, and life without music is a hell of its own.

Human Relationships Matter More
The life of a bayou slave was horrible beyond my imagination. Particularly for those consigned to labor on cotton plantations, who had to rise before dawn and toil until midnight 6 days a week nearly all year round.  In addition to his music, Solomon and the other slaves forged deep human relationships based on compassion and mutual support.  This social fabric helped them weather their trials and endure their hardships.  We all face difficulty, but it is far easier when we face it together.  Be CONNECTED.  Invest in human relationships.

Family is the CORNERSTONE
Even enduring regular torture and brutal treatment in Louisiana, Solomon never gave up hope of seeing his wife and children again.  He kept this fire burning and this must be a central reason why he ultimately regained his freedom.  Family is the most important thing.  Keep it sacred. Protect it above all else.

Justice Is Never Guaranteed
Despite overwhelming evidence of guilt, the fiends who kidnapped Solomon Northup and sold him into slavery were never brought to justice (except maybe in the Afterlife).  Especially as Americans, we believe in the fair and equitable rule of law, however I am not completely certain it exists - at least not equally for all.  Freedom is preserved by vigilance and lost by apathy. Recent events have shown some shocking examples of the cost when we assume the protection of the State or the goodwill of the Republic in our daily lives.  We still have so far to go.  

Poorly Run Companies Look and Feel a Bit Like Plantations
In a poorly run company, management care little for the workers except that they provide economic benefit.  Motivation is achieved through fear and co-workers are pitted against one another in unhealthy competition designed to foster mistrust, lack of cooperation, and general unease.  Solomon relates several different plantations some of which, despite being staffed by slave labor, treated the slaves with respect and kindness.  These plantations produced more output for longer than those that relied on the lash.  Despite reams of research that suggest a humanitarian management approach, most firms still employ a linear strategy of input and output, and fail to motivate and reward employees holistically.  It is worth examining the HR policies of the very best companies to see why employees choose them - money is merely one factor. Treatment of the employee as a trusted individual worthy of respect and investment yields the greatest benefit for both sides and is the cornerstone of loyalty and out performance.

In closing, the quote from this book that I will never forget.

"What difference is there in the color of the soul?"



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Steps in the Right Direction

Here is a photo of my dance teachers, Minato Kojima and Megumi Morita, taken today as they placed 3rd in the 34th Prince Mikasanomiya Cup national championships, dancing in front of a packed auditorium in Sendagaya.

They are AMAZING dancers, amazing teachers, and amazing people.  We are blessed to benefit from their skills, knowledge and experience.

I learned a lot from spending a day watching this competition.  Martial arts and dance share many lessons in common.

Dance, like martial arts, is about making and keeping a connection to someone else.
In martial arts, the connection is used to deadly effect.  In dance, it is used to graceful and elegant effect.  Moving in harmony with others is a skill we all need to master, and when we do it allows us to be truly beautiful.

Rhythm and Feeling
There is a timing and rhythm to dance, just as there is in martial arts.  To dance well, we must match the music and, in so doing, we create a precious moment with our partner that is beyond words.  It is very important to listen for the rhythm everywhere we can hear it in our lives, and to try to act in accord with it.  That is what grace is all about.

Being True to Your Training and Giving 100%
Dance training is hard - every bit as hard as martial arts training.  Minato and Megumi have been doing this every day since they were in preschool (they are now in college).  The long hours of training over so many years have given them incredible strength, precision and poise.  Eyes closed, their bodies know every step like they were born to it.  They still train for hours every day and give 100% on the floor, not just as competitors and champions, but also as teachers and coaches.  It is honest testament to their hard work and sacrifice that they should look and move the way they do.  Every training session matters and it is important to deliver 100% every single time.  You owe it to yourself to become the champion you are born to be.

Making It About The Other Person
Minato-sensei is a great dancer.  He is a great teacher.  He is a great man.  He is a true gentleman with or without the tuxedo.

I have come to love dance because it is such an elegant and graceful way to be, especially the way he does it.  In every movement I see what it means to be noble, and to be a gentleman.  He is sublimely understated in his actions, and the way he dances makes his partner, Megumi-sensei, look like an angel.  By doing so, he reminds me that being a true gentleman is about focusing on your partner rather than using your partner to showcase your own talent. Because he allows her the space to move freely, she can complement his own steps and together they create a beautiful harmony.  He doesn't ever hold her back, and in return she allows him to be more than he could ever be on his own.

This is common to martial arts training as well.  Make the focus on your partner rather than yourself, and your skills will improve far faster than you imagined.

Don't "do", "BE"
To look at Minato-sensei and Megumi-sensei when they dance, you would realize that nothing else in the world exists except that single moment in time and their connection.  They don't dance, they ARE dance - a perfect embodiment of what it means to live in that moment, and to express oneself completely through movement.

In Kali as well, we must seek to be in the perfect moment, in Zanshin, and to use Kali as a way of expressing who we are and how we feel.  For them, dance is an all-encompassing way of life.  I completely understand.

I was really proud to see my teachers shining so brightly in front of those huge, cheering crowds.
I am sure all those people saw the same magic I did.  I hope they were moved the way I was.

Thank you for everything you have taught me, Minato-sensei and Megumi-sensei about dance and about martial arts.  You help me to become better at both.

See you next week.

It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.
Hagakure - the Way of the Samurai, by Tsunetomo Yamamoto

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Carrot and the Stick

(thanks for the inspiration MD)
Very interesting discussion last Friday after class.

We were talking about establishing training routines, and about how important it is to keep training regularly no matter what.

His comment was "I want to keep pushing myself harder and harder each time.  I want to end up exhausted."  I wanted to know why.

While I agree that a good, hard workout is one of life's great joys (and a necessary thing), I think there are a few subtle psychological tools that can help make the experience as positive as possible.  These are the same tools that are at the heart of our KALI MAJAPHIT pedagogy.

In Kali Majapahit, we use martial arts as a vehicle for personal development.  We understand and accept that it is our life mission to be happy, and that being happy requires being happy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and that once we allow ourselves to be happy, we can then share this happiness with the many important people in our lives.

Fundamentally, martial arts training is about goal-setting and goal achievement.  This process has both micro-elements and macro-elements. The micro-element takes place during every class.  We set "micro-goals", for example, successfully completing a technique or a drill variation, or achieving an additional rep/set in an exercise portion.  Even better is to set a personal focus goal for each class (keep back/neck straight, don't look at your hands, extend the cross fully, etc.).  This "one point mantra" can improve performance during a single KM class, and by setting and achieving these "micro-goals" we are building an awareness and confidence that we can achieve results and progress through our focused effort.  The micro goal is a critical part of success because our human nature is geared toward short-term gratification - the micro goal feeds this need for immediate positive reinforcement of the good choices we make and of our discipline in implementing those good chocies.

The macro goals are driven by several rhythms, the most obvious being the 3-month training rotating curriculum of the training cycles.  As we achieve our micro-goals class by class, we are progressing toward achieving the bigger goal of skills development, certificate testing and getting new belts. Other macro goals are those we set for strength/weight improvement, flexibility, stress management and overall healthy lifestyle.

Eventually, our self-awareness as a successful achiever will extend to every area of our lives outside the dojo.  We become able to express confidence in our ability to set and achieve goals because we have done so under so many circumstances at the dojo for such a long period of time.  We are thus able to move from "faith-based confidence" (believing we can do something because we wish or imagine we could) to "experience-based confidence" (knowing we can do something because we have done many other things we have chosen to do).

Success and happiness in life have been shown to have direct relationship to our feelings of control.
Feelings of control can be generated and enhanced by setting and achieving goals the way we do in the dojo.
The best path is a combination of short-term and long-term goals (micro and macro) because it allows us to understand our ability to deliver results in a broad spectrum of circumstances and time frames, which leads to a stable feeling of well-being and satisfaction.  It is critically important to recognize and reward our own achievements in order to support a healthy and positive self-image.

By contrast, if we always move the goal further away at each attempt, we fail to give ourselves credit for our achievements and instead subconsciously reinforce that no amount of effort will ever be "good enough".  This is simply not true.  In fact, I believe our focused maximum effort is ALWAYS good enough.

My friend felt that if he allowed himself to feel a sense of achievement, he would lose motivation, suggesting that motivation is driven by the need to achieve.  I disagreed.  This sounds more like fear of failure. Motivation is driven by the understanding that we can achieve.  We lose motivation quickly if we know we can never reach the objective - it keeps moving further and further away.  If we never allow ourselves the satisfaction of experiencing achievement, like a carrot on a stick, we deny ourselves one of the most important tools for establishing and enhancing our self-image and developing confidence.  We owe it to ourselves to empower ourselves to complete the things we start.

I would argue that far better results can be gotten from investing in ourselves an awareness of our inherent ability to control our own outcomes, so that not only do we know what we are going for, we can be confident in our ability to attain it through our focused effort.  This is a far better and more positive motivator.

Like many things in life, results can be achieved through negative or positive means.  Negative means are generally motivated by fear and anger (often as a response to a real/perceived lack of control), which then causes stress and ultimately damage (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) to the individual and those around him/her.  Positive means involve the positive reinforcement life cycle of goal-setting, challenge/effort, achievement, reward and evaluation which lead to healthy growth and an abundance which can be shared with others.

Train hard, YES.
But also, recognize and celebrate your achievements.  Share your victories with the important people in your life.  Remind yourself EVERY DAY that you are a successful person that can achieve exceptional results through your own focused effort.  You can control your destiny.
Your life in the dojo can support this positive transformation.

It is OK to dangle a carrot, but sometimes you need to grab it and eat it.
Then go and get another one.  :-)

See you at class.