Let’s retake 9/11

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 12-09-2014

I was recently fortunate enough to travel abroad and explore wonderful places. While I was ambulating one of the cities, camera in hand, I had several opportunities to capture poverty, destitution, and pretty much the general worst of humanity. As I was about to capture some of it, I had the thought that way too many people already capture such images, and the world-at-large did not need me to add reminders of such examples of some of the worst that humanity allows to happen.

As negative as such reminders about what we are capable are, they do serve a purpose of exposure and awareness of some the realities that people endure on a daily basis.

However, humanity is also capable of many amazing things, and I therefor e chose to attempt to capture those images that help depict the potential of humanity, because we already have too many reminders of the worst of us. I want remember the best of us. I want us to think about Einstein, Galileo, Shakespeare. I want us to remember the music of the Beatles. I want us to dance without reasons. I want us to sing in our cars. (We all probably already do that one…)

On September 11th, 2001, our country suffered the effects of the actions of some cowards and caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens. That single day was a modern reminder of some of the worst that humanity is capable of.

Yesterday was September 11th, 2014. Social media was flooded with stories of remembrance and reminders to “not forget.”

And we shouldn’t forget, just as we shouldn’t forget many of the other atrocities committed at the hands of cowards. The Holocaust. The Munich Olympic Games. Countless others. Too many. I don’t want to forget. Lest it happen again.

However.

I want to remember in my own silence. I don’t want 9/11 to be the day that I remember our loss at the hands of those cowards. I want to remember every day, because it is no less a tragedy on September 12th, 2014, than it was on September 11th, 2014, and it will be no less a tragedy next Wednesday.

Instead of memorializing the tragedy and marking 9/11 as a sad day, I want to find reasons to make 9/11 a good and happy day. Please don’t misunderstand me; September 11th, 2001 was a horrible day. But must we make every September 11th a bad day?

September 11th is also someone’s birthday, someone’s anniversary, someone’s special day. Is it fair to tarnish their cause for celebration because of some assholes?

Let’s retake 9/11 from the hands of those murderous bastards!

Christmas: The Crusty Bread of a Shit Sandwich

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 27-12-2012

Let me explain…

Christmas is indeed a pretty cool time.  It is when we all become just a bit closer to each other, and not only are we visibly making efforts to be nicer to each other, we actually mean it too!

It is such a magical time, that some years ago, I posted how I believed that the “holidays should be practice,” exemplifying what our behavior should be during the rest of the year; our acts of kindness and benevolence during the holidays should serve as personal reminders of what we should be doing all year long.  This will be my “v2.”

However, in order for much of this to make sense, there are some things that need clarifying.

First, Christmas Day does not mark the end of Christmas; it is the beginning of Christmas.  I personally remember when “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was a holiday carol that meant something, and wasn’t just recited for comedic purposes.  (Mind you, I don’t mind and actually like the comedic versions, but not at the cost of the original.)  Well, it seems like even I had forgotten the meaning of Christmas, so I had to look up what the twelve days were.  (I mean…did Christmas really start on the 13th of December?)  Now, having been raised in Spain in a house of mixed ethnic backgrounds—yes, I can indeed “habla”—I remember a time growing up when gifts were given to us on the 6th of January, but since I had an American father, I also received some on the 25th of December.  (Bonus!)  There had to be a connection.  After not much research, it turns out that the twelve days of Christmas refers to the festive period commemorating the birth of Jesus, starting the 25th of December and ending the 6th of January.

Now, I realize that most people have “evolved” or in my opinion “devolved” into thinking that the Christmas season is that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day that all the houses are lit up and people are decking each other at stores to get the great shopping deals, and I would agree that it is a part of it, because Christmas in indeed special, and we should be preparing for it every year.  Sadly, thanks to commercial entities, Christmas has effectively shrunk from twelve days to a single day.  (If you’re one that believes that there is a war on Christmas…well, there was one, it wasn’t what you thought it was, and we lost.)

Even sadder, Christmas has become an excuse.  We view Christmas as a time where we need to be nicer to each other.  Although that can be construed as a noble sentiment, by using Christmas as an excuse to be better people, we are effectively justifying our cantankerous behavior the rest of the year, as if such behavior was meant to be the norm!

But anyhow, so we now know that Christmas is indeed a twelve-day season that begins on December 25th and ends on January 6th.  Because I am a nerd who likes numbers, I couldn’t help but realize that six of the days of Christmas are at the end of year, and the other six are at the beginning of the year.  I reveled at my personal epiphany that each year not only ends with Christmas, but also begins with it!  I have rediscovered the “Circle of Christmas!”

However, my jubilance was short-lived when I remembered that Christmas is our “excuse” to be better people.  Essentially, we have six days of “nice” at one end, six days of “nice” at the other end, and in between we stuff 353 days of “cantankerousness.” Yes, I’m afraid Christmas has become the crusty bread of a shit sandwich.

Why do we, as human beings, supposedly capable of sentient thought, accept this within ourselves?

We can do better.  We can BE better!

We don’t need excuses to be nice, we need excuses to be not-nice; being nice should be our natural state.  How we behave during the holidays should serve as personal reminders of how we should behave throughout the year.  If we can become better throughout the year by using the holidays to standardize what our behavior should be, then the holidays next year, we can become even better!

Most of us make plans all year for a single Christmas Day.  Let’s instead spend the year actively and mindfully planning for each day of the Christmas season.  It shouldn’t be that difficult.  Twelve days in Christmas…twelve months in a year…  (Remember, I’m a nerd.)  How about if we choose a day each month–off the top of my head, the ides seems the least intrusive–and spend thirty minutes planning for just one of the Christmas season days?  Each day doesn’t have to be a full-day celebration, just a mindful day.  Who knows?  If we make it a growing trend, we could eventually change the world, even if it only means eating fewer crappy sandwiches…

 

Pythagoras Sensei

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental, Physical | Posted on 28-09-2012

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Too often have I encountered a Bujinkan class where gata are summarily dismissed, and “henka” are “studied” instead.  (I have actually heard “teachers” refer to gata derisively, actively advocating against their study.)

Although I believe I understand the source of such an opinion, I find myself vehemently disagreeing, and look to Pythagoras Sensei to support my differing opinion.

Pythagoras Sensei?

Pythagoras’ most memorable contribution to mathematics is the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, which we use to determine the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

If ever asked to use the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2is blurted out almost immediately.  However, if asked to prove the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2is also blurted out almost immediately, which is incorrect.

I will readily admit that up until I was exposed to the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem—which took me aback with its simplicity—I also would have blurted a2 + b2 = c2.

For most of us, just knowing the Pythagorean Theorem has limited value, as determining the length of the side of a right triangle may not be an active part of our lives.

However, taking the time to prove and understand the Pythagorean Theorem instead of just using its conclusion can potentially yield many insights beyond the basic properties of right triangles.

We all typically associate the Pythagorean Theorem with triangles, but its proof requires two unequal squares, or “equilateral rectangles:”

We know from fundamental geometry that the area of a square is the length of a side multiplied by itself, or squared; the area square with a lateral of length x is x2, thus the area of the smaller square is c2, and the area of the larger square is d2.

If we take the smaller square and place it within the larger square in such a manner that each small square vertex is also a point on each large square lateral, we have:

From this perspective, it should be obvious that the area of the larger square is equal to the area of the smaller square plus the areas of the four triangles.  However, at this point, knowing only the length of the hypotenuse of any triangle, we are unable to define the triangles in any meaningful way.

If we use such vertices on the laterals to define the points in which each lateral is segmented into two, we can state that d = a + b, and once again use fundamental geometrical principles, we can assert:

Fundamental geometry also gives us the area of a right triangle by multiplying both laterals on each side of the right angle, and dividing by two, thus the area of each triangle depicted is ab/2.  Using geometry, we have been able to fully define each square and triangle, and can assert relationships between them.  Knowing that the area of the large square is equal to the area of the small square plus the area of the four triangles, we can craft the algebraic equality:

d2 = c2 + ab/2 + ab/2 + ab/2 + ab/2 or d2 = c2 + 4(ab/2)

Since we have already established that d2 = a2 + b2, we can rewrite the equation:

(a + b)2 = c2 + 4(ab/2)

Which expands into:

a2 + ab + ab + b2 = c2 + 2ab

Algebraically reducing:

a2 + 2ab + b2 = c2 + 2ab

a2 + b2 = c2

For the above proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, we needed both geometry and algebra, two distinct mathematical disciplines.  In order to use such disciplines, an understanding of arithmetic is also required.  To use the symbols a, b, c and d to identify the unknown lengths of the laterals requires the use of abstraction, which ironically, does not necessarily require the understanding of abstraction…but now you know of its existence.

The difference between understanding the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem versus using the Pythagorean Theorem is that simply using it requires no understanding, but is also severely limited in its use, while understanding it exposes us to the fundamental “disciplines” that allow it to be true, which also significantly increase its potential value in determining more than just the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

The Egyptians effectively reversed the Pythagorean Theorem to ensure the corners of their structures were indeed right angles, effectively demonstrating the foundational basis of the Pythagorean Theorem.

Certainly, there must be other proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem that require understanding of other mathematical disciplines, such as trigonometry, et al.  It is conceivable that by using the Pythagorean Theorem as merely a seed, understanding or at least exposure of advanced mathematical disciplines is possible.

As presented to us, the Pythagorean Theorem is merely a concise and simple codified proscription of sequences that must be done in order to obtain a single answer.

Any insights that proving the Pythagorean Theorem yields will be individual and likely differ as such; each of us will understand what we are ready to understand.  Returning to study the proof periodically will also likely yield additional insights.

Just like a kata.

What’s also interesting is the Pythagoras Sensei did not even know he was a teacher; he was merely studying.  But that’s another topic…

 

Raw notes from flying to Japan…

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu | Posted on 25-09-2012

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I wrote these notes on the plane during my last trip to Japan, with the intention of sometime going over them and restructuring them into a semi-coherent post.  I leave in 8 hours for my next trip to Japan, and find myself having not done anything with them yet.  I will likely be inspired to write more notes down during my new journey, but I am compelled to share my thoughts from the last one, although they will be in “raw” form, with basically little editorializing.  Please be aware that they’re not all in their “nicest” form.  Also realize that these were spontaneous thoughts at the time, and reflect my opinions; feel free to challenge them, but I will likely not entertain derision, since I’ll think you’re an asshat and thus not worth entertaining.

  • The role of uke is not about winning; it is about helping tori.
  • Kata are not fighting techniques; they are teaching techniques developed from battlefield insights.
  • Although tori is scripted to win, tori should mindfully enter kata with the purpose of studying the lessons inherent within the kata.
  • Although it may be conceivable to view kata as a viable fighting technique, it is important to realize that kata are essentially codified patters of movement, and thus present a predictable sequence; predictability is easily defeated.
  • If kata are can be easily defeated, then why study kata?
  • When done purposefully and mindfully—taking the time for proper inspection—it is not difficult to not only identify fundamental techniques, but even the fundamentals within those fundamentals, the “meta-fundamentals” or kiso.
  • The proper study of kata inherently implies a deep understanding of fundamentals.
  • A potential analogy for a kata is to equate it to a cargo vessel.  Cargo vessels contain crates, and each crate it contains in turn contains pallets, which in turn contain a collection of smaller items, ad nauseum.  If the kata is the cargo vessel, the crates are the fundamentals—kihon—within the kata, and the containers within the crates are the fundamentals of the fundamentals.
  • Properly studying kata should make each and every one of us question our basics, and such questioning should in turn make us study said basics.
  • Big things are made up of little things.  I often hear how as individuals we wish to improve the “whole,” whether that “whole” is an organization we may belong to, family, humanity, or even universe, depending on our current level of existentialism.  Due to ego, most of us don’t realize that as “knots on the net,” we as individuals are part of the “whole,” and thus by simply improving ourselves, we can in turn improve the “whole.”
  • When we study kata, and get to a point within the kata we don’t “get” or understand, instead of succumbing to the ego-driven response to move through the sequence faster and stronger, in an attempt to “ensure” our “victory,” we should instead realize that the failure of the kata is likely due to a failure in our basics, and that by improving our basics, we will improve the kata, and in the process perhaps get a glimpse of what secrets and treasures the kata contains.
  • Too often I encounter a “class” where we will spend 5-10 minutes on a kata before moving into “henka.”  (Sometimes, a “class” will just “do henka,” but rarely is it explained what kata it is a “henka” of.  I’m starting to realize that to many “teachers,” “henka” just really means “I’m pulling this right out of my ass.”  Learn to discern this and avoid such “teachers,” as your time would be better spent drilling basics than trying to understand the horseshit they’re peddling.
  • How worthless are kata?  About as worthless as you want to make them.
  • Beyond being a vessel containing static fundamentals, kata also provide not only contexts to such fundamentals, but transitions between them.  So in addition to providing us with the opportunity to self-inspect the fundamentals within our fundamentals, kata also give us the opportunity to self-inspect the fundamentals within our transitions.  (Are we in kamae between our kamae?  Are we breaking namba?  Etcetera…)
  • Perhaps the inyo of kata is that by providing a repetitive and codified pattern of movements—predictable and defeatable—kata also provide us the tools and incentives to better understand our art and even ourselves.  Perhaps it is only through kata that we can become free of kata.
  • Over the centuries, the only constant to our art is the shoden within the densho, since kuden and taiden are and will always be open to individual perspectives, interpretations, and “filters,” and shinden is personal.  It is my personal belief that our ultimate goal is to discover the “treasures” of the densho, and we do this by “learning” from those that have been “studying” longer than us.  At the risk of sounding silly, from the kuden and taiden from our “teachers,” we strive of the shinden of the shoden.

Zero

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 03-09-2012

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I have been away far too long, but this evening, I feel somewhat inspired to put words down.

Four years ago, when I was initially exposed to Buddhism, I discovered a beautiful path that seemed to be eternally bathed in sunshine, and I had never known such a consistent state of happiness for such a lengthy stretch of time.  This was the first time in my life that I was cognizant of being on such a path.

After about two years of near-constant bliss, my life seemed to enter a monsoon-like season, where darker emotions began to surface with increasing regularity.  (“It’s Raining“.)  Yet, the memory of my time in the sunshine-laden path kept my hopes of reaching a similar path again.  What seemed to happen instead was that the monsoon season I was in slowly transformed itself into a diluvian-like period of which even Noah would have grown impatient of.

Such dark times are nothing new to me.  The difference this time was that I was able to cling to the memories of my time in the sunshine-laden path, and although I will never know for sure, such memories may have been what kept me from being crushed by the weight of the encumbering darkness.

For the most part, I have been able to shield those close to me from the effects of my trek through the darkest segments of my recent path, mostly via my own reclusion, but also through exclusion, pushing others out to protect them from the darkness.  Unfortunately, neither of those methods is sustainable long-term—the reclusion kept me alone (“Trekking Through Darkness,”) and the exclusion had me focusing on the knots of others instead of my own (“Lift Your Knot”).  I managed to alienate some good friends, and even lose others, which I sincerely regret.

I once heard that fish have such small brains that their memory capacity can be measured in but a few seconds.  In a fish tank, by the time a fish reaches a side of the tank, it is unable to remember the side of the tank it came from.  From the fish’s perspective, a fish tank is veritably the same size as an ocean!  When a fish is happy, it remembers only that happiness.  When a fish is eating, it believes it has been eating its whole life.  When hungry, the fish does not remember a time without hunger.  In pain, it has been a life full of pain.  If it is afraid, it has lived only in fear.  If the fish is dying, it has been dying its entire life.

Recently, I read a passage from one of Hatsumi sensei’s books:

Speaking of the oneness of things, the number one has a plus one (+1) and a minus one (-1), with the zero as the balance point, with the zero as the balance point.  If you understand the principle of one very deeply then the cosmic dual forces of In and Yō philosophy will become clear.

–Masaaki Hatsumi (Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai, page 49.  ISBN10: 4-7700-2198-4)

I tripped over this passage while researching something else completely—namely, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken—but I had to look back and see what had caused my stumble.  I had heard similar concepts before.  I had even been exposed to the concept of In (陰) and Yō (陽), of which many may be more familiar with as Yin and Yang.  As a math geek, the numbers had made sense long ago.  But for some reason, that one passage brought it all together; not instantly—I had to come back to it several times—but there it was.  That one passage was like a thin but strong beam of sunshine breaking through the dark clouds.

To deeply understand sunshine, you must experience the lack of sunshine.  To understand sobriety, you must vomit on yourself.  To understand the Great Plains, you must feel the Rocky Mountains.  To understand freedom, you must know addiction.  To truly love, you must know hate.  To enjoy life, you have to accept death.

While on the bright path, I was so happy that I vowed that I would never succumb to negative energies.  I renounced the word ‘hate,’ and even blamed it for my past darkness.  It’s easy to do while on the bright path.  But to deny darkness is to consciously omit half of the universe, the “minus one.”

How can we achieve deep understanding of anything by only studying half?  Are we truly students if we purposely avoid the subjects that we fear?

To be clear, I certainly am not advocating seeking out the dark paths, because although I’m no expert, I do believe that such behavior will result in sociological and/or psychological damage.

I am advocating that we continue to follow the path that each of us has chosen, and take responsibility for it; own your path.  When our paths begin to take us through dark passages, instead of looking for brighter paths, instead welcome the opportunity before us to study the “minus one,” as such a study will help us understand the “plus one.”

Move forward with curiosity, but by all means, keep moving.  Trek through the darkness with an inquisitive heart, keeping in mind that by doing so, you are deepening your understanding of the brightness; such mindfulness will serve as your reminder that there is a brighter path.

Because we are not fish.

Phoenix

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Posted by admin | Posted in Spiritual | Posted on 20-10-2011

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This week, I started doing something again that I thought I had been doing all along, but realized this past weekend I wasn’t.

For the majority of the past 9 years, I have gone to Starbucks with my dogs and sat outside drinking my coffee, facing the Sun.  During my “coffee time,” I did nothing.  Well, visibly nothing, anyway.  What I didn’t realize was that such a ritual had turned into a daily meditation where I was able to work out several aspects of my life, ranging from daily routine issues to deep introspective epiphanies; the fact that I was also absorbing Vitamin D was merely a bonus.

For the past year, while I thought I was doing this, I realized that I really wasn’t.  My daily meditation had turned into a “Words with Friends” session and NY Times reading time, due to my ownership of a smart phone.  (Although I will not go into how technology bringing the world to our fingertips can potentially negatively affect our lives, it certainly is food for thought.)

 This week, I decided to put my phone away while in my “coffee time.”

In just the second day of “coffee sans phone,” the influx of thoughts and realizations has been overwhelming!

One particular thought that I wanted to ensure I didn’t readily forget was a gift I received from a dear friend several years ago.  It was a simple bracelet with a stone upon which the words “I am…” were engraved on.  What I understood the purpose of the bracelet to be was a daily personal reminder of who we are or like to be.  I’m certain others had different uses for it, but that was mine.  I distinctly recall that during my ownership of the bracelet—the string eventually wore down—I repeated to myself every day “I am…a knot on the net.”

“I am…a knot on the net.”

This went on for a couple of years, and it had become my personal mantra.  It had such a profound meaning for me that it was even the subject of one of first blogs, and the inspiration for this site.  (http://www.ownyourpath.org/lift-your-knot)

What troubled me this morning was that while I remembered the bracelet and the words on it, I couldn’t remember the words that I had added to it, the words that once were the core of my daily mantra.  It took me well over five minutes to recall the words.  Now, five minutes may not seem like a long time, but when referring to how long it took to remember something that was my core belief for nearly two years, it felt like an eternity.

When I look back at that period of my life, I can’t help but smile.  My life was bliss.  I distinctly recall thanking the universe for everything that I had, and felt extremely lucky for it.

I am far from that place right now, and I can feel it.  I am being dishonest about my situation, not only to others, but to myself as well.

As I scan through my past blogs and read about subjects that I wrote two years ago that directly apply to issues I find myself battling today, I can’t help but feel like a complete moron.

How far have I succumbed into the depths of personal imbalance?

I don’t know.

But I am aware now.

In coming up with an appropriate title for this post, I went through several iterations of thoughts, until I came to the one that offered me one additional epiphany.  A phoenix is a mythical bird, found in the Arabian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and reputedly Phoenician mythologies.  They all agree on a simple premise:  At the end of its lifecycle, the phoenix builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises, reborn anew to live again.

What’s not intuitive but still implicit is that the in order to be reborn, one must be reduced to ashes first.

 While I was writing this blog, the building’s fire alarms were triggered, and I had to evacuate.  While I was outside, bitter about not being able to work on this blog, I uttered a comment like “some idiot doing something stupid.”  Within seconds I realized the negativity of my remark, which only further illustrates where I find myself currently in.  I vow to correct this; I just hope I can easily dust off the ashes.

Say No To Incumbents

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 06-08-2011

Two things happened within the past two days that simply exacerbated a growing disgust I had been developing for Congress.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday.  During the interview, he stated that there were members of the Senate that “like war, like waging war, like the notion of staying at war, like spending money on war.”

The second was having our nation’s credit rating downgraded from AAA to AA+.

These issues may seem unrelated, and some may consider it a stretch to connect them here.  Perhaps, but this is where I present my opinions.

Having been raised within the Department of Defense, spent eleven years in the military, and with friends still serving, I am very sensitive to the general treatment of our service members.  The United States Armed Forces is a collection of institutions that  in addition to securing our nation—a task they have performed extraordinarily well for over a century—also provides lower-income families an opportunity at a better life.  (If you don’t understand how this is so, I can explain, but not here.)

The decision to join our nation’s Armed Forces is not a light one.  Regardless of motivation, becoming a member of the military—a voluntary act—is accepting the risk that one may be asked to give up one’s life for the greater interest of national security.

At times, preserving our national security has had secondary effects beneficial to other countries, such as ending targeted persecution such as in World War II and more recently the Balkans, liberating countries from the clutches of oppression, fascist and communist, and even enabling the continued existence of smaller countries bullied by larger ones, such as in the first Gulf War.

I mention that these are secondary benefits because make no mistake in believing that those were not the primary objectives of our nation’s actions.  We were acting in the interest of preserving our national security.

In exchange for volunteering to potentially lose one’s life in the interest of national security, the men and women of our Armed Forces implicitly trust that our nation’s leadership will do their best to keep them out of harm’s way as best as possible.  Just because someone is willing to risk their life the greater interest doesn’t mean that such a life needs to be risked; only if absolutely necessary.

As such, a patriot’s duty to the courageous men and women who unselfishly fight our nation’s wars is simply to bring them home as soon as possible.

By no means does “bring them home” mean “keep them home.”  War is still, unfortunately, the last resort to preserve our national security, although only when diplomacy fails.  All avenues must be exhausted before war is even considered.  When war is inevitable, our nation’s volunteers—the best of us—will have to fight that war.  But, mindful of the trust that our soldiers have placed upon our leadership, such wars should last no longer than necessary to achieve primary objectives.  (Secondary benefits are nice, but not required.)

Wars cost money.  A lot of money.  Okay, I don’t have numbers, but I’m willing to bet that over time, they are much more expensive than diplomacy.  I like to believe that I’m not naïve enough to believe that our nation’s wars are the sole reason behind our economic problems—especially our debt—although I do believe they do significantly contribute to it.

Yesterday, our credit rating was downgraded from AAA to AA+.  Despite any “mathematical errors,” what I read in the New York Times this morning was that the decision to downgrade was a “judgment about the nation’s leaders, writing that the “the gulf between the political parties” had reduced its confidence in the government’s ability to manage its finances.”

Downgrading our credit rating may not mean that much.  I will admit that my ignorance on global economics is vast, and all that I can understand is that the direct result is that our nation’s future debt will cost more.  The implications of that is that—I think—it’ll take longer to pay our debt.  Again, my ignorant mind expects that this will inevitably trickle down to us in some form. We’ll see.  I am still disappointed in the shameful antics displayed by Congress that led us up to this.

However, when I hear that members of Congress, quoting Senator Dick Durbin, “like war, like waging war, like the notion of staying at war, like spending money on war,” I am simply disgusted.  Not because of the fiscal irresponsibility I believe they are demonstrating—that just makes them idiots in my mind—but by the dishonor they are openly demonstrating to our service members.  In addition to idiots, now I think they’re assholes.  Shame on you.

While I do believe that our nation’s legislative branch is mostly to blame, this does not excuse our executive branch, which chose to extend the wars of “dubious” objectives started by the previous administration.

I do believe in our system of government—the three branches providing the necessary checks and balances that preserve the freedom of our citizens from the oppression of government—is the best in the world, but I have lost faith in all of our elected officials currently in office, especially when they no longer support our troops.  Therefore, I call for patriots to use our democratic process and vote out the incumbents, regardless of political party affiliations, in an attempt to hopefully renew the government with people with the same sense of duty and responsibility to our nation as displayed by the very best of us, the courageous men and women of our Armed Forces.

Find Your Way Home

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 09-05-2011

Note:  The ideas presented here are not mine.  I am personally incapable of original thoughts.  As an engineer, my ability lies in taking the ideas of others, turn them upside down, inside out, push it, pull it, smash it, analyze each little piece, put it together again, et al.  Once I have gathered enough perspectives, I combine it with another idea that has undergone the same process, and examine what such a combination yields.  Most of the time, it yields crap.  Sometimes, there will be an idea that may have some merit, as I think this combination does.  I have not disclosed the sources of the ideas that formed the bases for this blog, as I have not yet received direct permission from them to do so.  If you are interested in the sources, please let me know, and upon consent from the original authors, I will privately share them.

Very early in my very short martial arts “life,” my teacher—at the time—talked about suki.  Of the many definitions of suki, the one that captured the basic premise of that evening’s lesson was:

Suki:  chance or opportunity, chink (in one’s armor)

The concept—as I understood it—being taught was that confrontations are typically “turn-based,” that is, the first person strikes, the second person receives, the second person strikes, the first person receives, ad nauseum.  However, in Koryu, the aim is to create suki—opportunities—that ultimately deny the other person’s “turn” to strike, essentially turning the confrontation to the first person strikes, the first person strikes, the first person strikes.  As Koryu, budo taijutsu aims to teach us to think this way.

For the past three years, this has been a dominating thought in my personal training, but I have never been able to develop an adequate analogy that could successfully convey the idea.

I recently read a blog written from a Bujinkan instructor I deeply respect—who has already been the catalyst for other key epiphanies I’ve had—that provided such a clear analogy that I would be foolish to look for a better one.

Tennis versus pool.

Many—if not most—martial arts, especially competitive ones, are much like tennis matches:  both sides are given the same set of conditions as well as the opportunity to react to the opponent’s actions.  In addition to ability, the victor will also likely be influenced by speed and strength.

What we are trying to learn with budo taijutsu, however, is not to become tennis players, but to become pool sharks instead.

When playing pool, it is one person’s turn as long as that person can retain it, or until that person “screws up.”  Pool does depend on ability, but speed and strength are not only irrelevant, they can be used against one.

The objective of pool is to end the game as soon as possible, and if the opponent doesn’t get a turn, the chances of being the victor are considerably improved, although never guaranteed.  There is always a chance—albeit small—that each shot may fail.  As such, not only should the opponent not get a turn, but to minimize the chances of failure, the fewest number shots should be taken.

My interpretation of the purpose of budo taijutsu is that the ultimate objective is always to get home.  Home is where loved ones are and where I’m most comfortable at.  I believe that any action that delays one from getting home is not congruent with the spirit of budo taijutsu.  A martial art that influences one to “stick around” during a confrontation is either ego-based—such as sports or competition-oriented disciplines—or duty-based—such as those taught to military infantry or law enforcement, whose job it is to “stick around.”  Sticking around can get you hurt.  Sticking around can get you arrested.  Sticking around can get you killed.

Just as there is no guaranteed pool shot, there is also no guaranteed budo taijutsu technique.  It is my belief that budo taijutsu teaches us techniques with higher-than-average chances of success, and the purpose of training is to increase the chances, but there will never be any single move that works 100% of the time.  (If there was, why learn anything else but that single move?)  The more moves it takes one to “go home,” the lower the chance to actually “go home.”

Mathematically, three consecutive “99% moves” yields a 3% chance of failure; four such moves yield a 4% chance of failure.  For those that learn better graphically:

Personally, I’m a big believer of the “80-20” rule, which means that my first—not necessarily final—objective is always to reach 80%.  If I apply the “80-20” rule to myself, that means that in order to give myself a minimum of 80% chance of “survival,” I can’t use more than two 90% moves.  If I train very, very, very hard, and am able to guarantee “95% moves,” I’m still limited to 4-5 moves.  Of course, that is assuming that every move has the same “guaranteed” success rate, which is simply not realistic.  (Anyone that claims they can do or even teach a technique with a guaranteed chance of success is simply full of crap; I’m using the charts to help illustrate a point.)  The bigger assumption is that I’m actually even able to do any move with a 90% chance of success.  Hell, in my short life as a martial artist, I doubt I can reliably maintain a 55% average.

For an interesting opinion on “real” self-defense, read Marc MacYoung’s website, specifically the discussion on martial arts as self-defense.

http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/AreMASD.htm

The paragraph that gripped me was:

Our standard for an effective self-defense strategy is that it gets you out of danger in three moves or less (under five seconds is another way of looking at it). If it can’t do that (or doesn’t teach that) then it is a sports style that someone is trying to sell as self-defense.

In my opinion, the first strategy for any confrontation is to not be in one.  However, due to the unpredictable nature of violence, that choice is sometimes taken from us.  Hopefully, that will never happen, but if when it does, the strategy then becomes not only to go home, but to go home taking the “fewest shots” as possible.

What is your reliable chance of success?

Summer Training Epiphanies

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 15-11-2010

Overall, with all aspects of life thrown in, this year has been a difficult year for me.  Way too much stress, way too many things going on.

However, looking at individual components, some areas of life this year do shine in such a way that has kept the year a good one.  Specifically, my martial arts training, and the epiphanies I had during the summer.

I’m not the smartest guy around, so I like to keep things simple.  As such, in my martial arts training, I try to simplify concepts, usually to something in the Tenchijin, but sometimes, at the risk of oversimplification, even beyond.

The first epiphany was a statement that one of the instructors made during the first Colorado regional training.  There was a great turnout, and several new faces were introduced.  During the regional training, one of the instructors said that every ninjutsu “move” could be divided into three distinct stages:

1.       Protect your centerline

2.       Take the opponent’s balance.

3.       Tenderize as desired.

Pretty simple.  Now when I look at any technique, I “judge” it by this new standard.  If a “move” takes too much time, it’s because it doesn’t follow these parts.  From what I’ve learned in my short three years, ninjutsu is not about “sticking around,” it’s about “going home.”  The longer one sticks around, the lower the chances of getting home.  Epiphany!

This epiphany eventually led to the next one:  The purpose of the kihon happo.  Over the years, I’ve seen “lists” of the techniques considered “kihon happo.”  Some lists are more inclusive than others, and I never understood the reasons, nor had I received a satisfactory explanation of the differences.  However, everyone agreed that the kihon happo is important, and rightly so.

But what is it for?  Well, when I intersected the kihon happo with the three stages of a technique, it became obvious to me—perhaps incorrectly, but it has so far helped me immensely—that the kihon happo fit nicely into the second stage, “take the opponent’s balance.”  That was it!  If instead of looking at the individual techniques within the kihon happo individually, I look at them as basic techniques for taking the opponent’s balance, the kihon happo takes on a completely new meaning (for me.)  Now, I don’t see Omote Gyaku as a brutal technique to potentially break a wrist; I use it to take the opponent’s balance.  (I can always use it again in stage 3.)  I began testing the techniques in the kihon happo, but with a different focus, and this is what I found:

There are three techniques that have exactly the same effect on the opponent’s shoulder (and thus the spine.)  These are:

  • Omote Gyaku
  • Oni Kudaki
  • Musha Dori

These techniques all have the effect of seemingly “opening” up the opponent.  (If you look at the opponent when these techniques are applied to them, their spine ends up nearly in the same position.)  I have come to refer to these three techniques as the “omotes” in the kihon happo.  (These terms are for my edification only, and are not “official” terms by any means…)

Three other techniques also have the same effect on the opponent:

  • Ura Gyaku
  • Muso Dori
  • Ganseki Nage

These techniques all have the effect of rolling the opponents shoulder forward and “closing” the opponent.  I refer to these techniques as the “uras” of the kihon happo.  (Again, for my edification only…)

Additionally, when you look at the above six techniques from the perspective of locations on the body, they only “touch” three distinct points in the opponent’s arm:

  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Shoulder

Processing and working with these concepts over the summer, I came up with the very basic chart:

“Omote”

“Ura”

Wrist

Omote Gyaku

Ura Gyaku

Elbow

Oni Kudaki

Muso Dori

Shoulder

Musha Dori

Ganseki Nage

The above chart—which should only be construed as a personal training tool—hopefully illustrates just how basic the techniques in the kihon happo are.  They weren’t just randomly chosen.  Yes, individually, they are all powerful techniques, but within the kihon happo, they just may be potentially grouped for a reason, which at my point in my training, seem to be to take the opponent’s balance.  The fact that the kihon happo is found in the Ten Ryaku no Maku—and that taking balance is the second stage of a technique—lends credence to this, in my humble opinion.

But that still leaves three kamae in the kihon happo:

  • Ichimonji no kamae
  • Jumonji no kamae
  • Hicho no kamae

Of all the available kamae, the inclusion of this subset into the kihon happo must have some significance beyond the basic definition of “kamae.”  In the spirit of simplicity, if the previous six techniques in the kihon happo can be taken into the context of taking the opponent’s balance, then it is possible that the inclusion of the three kamae into the kihon happo is to provoke the study of how to use these specific kamae to take the opponent’s balance, essentially progressing the idea of kamae from a “static” idea to a dynamic one.

So over the summer, the kihon happo—in my limited understanding—evolved from a “list of basics” to a grouping of basic concepts, most of which I have been able to glean a rudimentary understanding from.  Epiphany!

However, I must admit that during the three years that the kihon happo has been taught to me, I always struggled with hicho no kamae.

Why is this strange-looking kamae in the kihon happo?  Who would stand in that way?  I admit that I have always looked at hicho no kamae as the red-headed stepchild of kamae.  I also got the impression that I wasn’t alone.  (I also apologize to any red-headed stepchildren that may be reading this post for the comparison.)

When taught to me by several instructors, the “definition” of hicho no kamae seemed to focus on the “lifted” leg, the “kicking” leg.  However, during the last seminar of the summer, the instructor made a comment about having 100% body weight on a single leg.  That single statement shifted my definition—and opinion—of hicho no kamae!  Epiphany!

Once I started analyzing how often I spend with most of my body weight resting on a single leg, I realized the importance of hicho no kamae.  The focus of hicho no kamae is not about the kicking leg, it is about the “back” leg; the ability to kick with the other leg is evident, since most kicks have to be supported by placing most of the body weight onto a single leg.  When looking at hicho no kamae in diagrams, attention is always drawn to the position of the kicking leg because of it irregular position.  What is not as intuitive is that the only way to position the kicking leg is by placing 100% of body weight onto the supporting leg.

How often do we find ourselves resting on a single leg?  Reflect upon waiting in line at Starbucks, or ordering drinks at a bar.  We spend the majority of our time on a single leg.  Hicho no kamae may just be the natural position we find ourselves in the majority of the time!  That alone would justify its inclusion as a “basic.”  Based on how often we are in it, hicho no kamae may just be the most important kamae to learn!

Despite all of the other stress points that have weighed heavily upon me this year, these epiphanies I have fortunately experienced have helped make this year an absolutely positive one.

Upon further reflection, the source of each of these epiphanies—even though ultimately I’m certain they all funnel up to a single source—came from different instructors.  I have discovered how important it is to obtain different perspectives on the same subjects.  We don’t grow by following a single perspective without question; it is important to gather a broad source of perspectives so we can integrate with our experiences and develop our own perspective.  Therefore, I now strongly believe that although it is important to have a consistent single source of instruction, it is equally important to find alternate sources of perspectives to help us triangulate the concepts we are working on.  Those alternate perspective sources come to us in the forms of seminars.  Epiphany!

…lest ye be judged.

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 26-08-2010

As one of the dumbest men on our orb, I try to simplify ideas as much as I can so I can understand them.  Simple concepts are easier to grasp and follow, and makes decision-making easier.  If B always follows A, I know what to expect when I see an A.

However, just as in everything, there is a balance that must be achieved.  Oversimplification is perhaps as dangerous as the deep complexity many of us seem to strive for.

I am by no means a religious scholar, nor do I claim to be a follower of any specific religion.  I do believe in God, but consider each and every one of us equal in his (or her!) eyes.  As a follower of Buddhist principles, I continuously struggle to maintain an open mind on all subjects, which is sometimes quite difficult for someone as biased as I can be.

I know very little about Judaism.  I do know that Judaism predates Christianity by at least a thousand years, and that Abraham is considered a prophet of Judaism.  What I have observed about Judaism is that it is not a unified religion; there appear to be a large number of schisms ranging from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal.  There are three main schisms within Judaism:  Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism.  The difference between the schisms is basically their interpretation of Jewish law.

Christianity is nearly 2000 years old, and it is not immune to the ideological fractures that Judaism has experienced.  Not only was I raised Catholic, but I was raised Catholic in Spain, during a period in which the church permeated society in just about all aspects.  (It appears that in my 20-year absence, the Catholic Church has considerably lost their influence on Spanish culture.)  It turns out that the Roman Catholic Church is only one of four major divisions within Christianity, the others being the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, and Protestantism.  Even within Protestantism, there are several denominations which differ in dogmatic interpretation.  Haitian Voodoo could be argued to be Christian.  The Ku Klux Klan professes Christianity.  The Mormon Church definitely believes in Jesus.  On a side note, it is interesting to note that the same Abraham that is a prophet within Judaism is a prophet of Christianity.

Islam is one of the “youngest” religions, dating back roughly 1300 years.  (Interestingly, within Islam, not only is Abraham a prophet, but Jesus as well.)  As young as Islam is, it is also not immune to the ideological schisms that have permeated other major religions.  Not only is there Sunni Islam and Shi’a Islam, there is also Sufism and Ahmadiyya.  There are a significant number of patriotic American Muslims living in our cities already.

Even Buddhism—as a religion—traces its origins to Hinduism.  Hinduism itself can be traced back over 3000 years and also has a number of formalized ideological schisms.

At a microscopic level, every church appears to be a cohesive entity.  At a high-level, however, there isn’t a major religion that isn’t heavily fragmented by ideological and dogmatic interpretations.

The plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan have come under heavy criticism, garnering national attention.  Ironically, the location where the mosque is planned to be built has already been in use for Muslim worship for some time.  The most vocal criticism is the insensitivity of building a house of Islamic worship so close to the former World Trade Center, where the atrocities of 9/11 took place.  The proclaimed insensitivity stems from the fact that the terrorists—or what I prefer to call them, those “God–mned motherfu–ers,” we Muslim.  The Republican establishment seems to have firmly attached themselves to this idea.

Should we blame the horrors of Columbine on the Vatican?  How about the persecution of aliens by the Ku Klux Clan?  Does the onus fall on Christianity?  (Sorry, Roman Catholic Church…but the Spanish Inquisition is all on you…)  I do not wish to oversimplify religion to the point that all members within one religion are alike.

Why do we blame the actions of a few (morons) on the whole?  A heavily-fragmented whole that can’t agree on anything except that they all believe in God?

As a veteran, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of this great nation of ours, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Regardless of my enlistment expiry, I do not recall my oath to the U.S. Constitution to have an expiration date.  One of the major tenets of our Constitution that separates us from most other nations is the Bill of Rights, in which freedom of religion is explicitly granted to U.S. citizens.

Well, that explicit freedom of religion extends to our Muslim neighbors as well.  If you are a legal citizen of our great nation, you have the freedom to congregate and worship as you wish, provided it brings no harm to others.  It says so in the U.S. Constitution.

It is concerning when I read or hear comments such as one of our politician’s demand that Saudi Arabia should allow building of Christian churches in Mecca prior to New York City allowing the proposed mosque being built.  In the words of a notable Republican—within the past decade—this is not about whom they are or what they do, it is about who WE are.

WE are AMERICANS.  Our nation—defined by our Constitution—is the envy of the world.  The fact that there is even a national debate regarding the proposed mosque is a credit to us; most countries would have abruptly terminated the discussions long ago.  Even so-called progressive governments, such as the French—which prohibited the use of facial veils—and the Swiss—which prohibited the building of minarets—have interfered in their nation’s religious “freedoms.”

I refuse to be defined by others.  I refuse to be compared to the citizens of other nations.  WE, as Americans, set the standards of citizenship for other nations.

The right to build a mosque—or any other center of religious worship—within our borders is granted by the U.S. Constitution.  That includes lower Manhattan.

Let’s not remember our fallen by becoming the closed-minded citizens of freedom-inhibited nations.

I choose to remember our fallen by shouting out at the world “YES!  You can build your mosque wherever you like, because I am an American, and America is about FREEDOM.”