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…

 

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.

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!

Boxes Are Good For Moving

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 05-03-2010

I recently received a joke via email from one of my best friends:

Retiree Bathtub Test

During a visit to my doctor, I asked him, “How do you determine whether or not a retiree should be put in an old age home?”

“Well,” he said, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the retiree and ask him or her to empty the bathtub”

“Oh, I understand,” I said. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”

“No” he said. “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”

I like this joke.  I find it funny.  When I hear (or read) good jokes, I work on how to reuse them, so I started doing the same with this one.

However, as I analyzed this one, I began to see that there was another lesson here, marginally more important than making someone laugh—something that I find to be quite important!

Boxes.

Boxes?  (Envision heads tilted like an RCA dog…)

Boxes.

There are certain parameters we all abide by:  We live on this planet.  Gravity.  Weather patterns.  You name it.  (Even such parameters can be worked around, but not regularly enough to be considered trivial.)

The parameters above are analogous to the sides of a box; the “box” we must operate within.

Given such parameters, that still leaves us with a lot of room to live in.  Our “box” is huge!  So big that we don’t even think there is a box.

From the time each of us is born, we are given new parameters that further define the size of our box.  Eat this.  We live in this country.  In this state.  We need an education.  We need a job.  Obey the laws.  [Insert your own parameter(s) here.]

To be relevant, each new parameter must be within our box, so each new parameter will reduce the size of our box.

In life, we will often be confronted with a situation, and be given—either explicitly or implicitly—a set of parameters to deal with that situation.  Several times, those parameters are real, such as the laws of physics, or even the laws of the government.

When such parameters are real, we must abide by them, due to potential repercussions by stepping out of the “box.”

However—and where the lesson of the above joke comes in—there are situations in which we assume our own parameters.  We create artificial boundaries for ourselves much tighter than the real parameters.  Over time, these artificial boundaries become so” real,” that we can’t even imagine what’s on the other side of them.  But they’re only real in our minds.

When we have freedom of movement within our boundaries, we feel relaxed and content, perhaps even blissfully unaware of any boundaries.  But as soon as we feel even minimally constrained within our box, we start becoming stressed.  Have you ever felt “boxed in?”  “Unable to move?”  With very little “wiggle room?”

Periodically, we must each examine the parameters of our “boxes,” including “rediscovering” what’s on the other side of them—investigate what’s outside the box—to determine if the parameter defining that particular side of the box was indeed a legitimate constraint, or did we just assume it was.  How can we make our boxes bigger?  So big that I can’t even see the sides?  HOW DO I BECOME FREE?

Life is already absurd on its own, without us making it even more absurd than it has to be.

Pull the plug!  (Or find a nice window for your box…)

Trekking Through Darkness

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 28-01-2010

The holidays are always tough for me.  I can’t pinpoint the reason why, but I think it has something to do with my family all being in Spain accentuating a feeling of loneliness.  I’m not entirely certain.

This last holiday season, however, has been especially hard.  Misbehaving dogs, testing deadlines, taskings, et al, all have simultaneously combined into a smothering blanket.

Adding to the stress was an inner voice telling me that I was deviating from the path I have been on for the past two years, which had somehow kept a smile on my face.

As the holidays passed, the new year came and went, and we progressed well into January, my condition continued to deteriorate.  I kept internalizing everything that was happening, allowing it to accumulate pressure to such levels that a mere touch would cause an explosion.  I had become a ticking bomb, waiting for the tiniest spark to combust.

My awareness of this condition only increased the pressure.  I had been repeatedly trying every method I knew to ameliorate this state, but none had worked.  I felt trapped and so “dangerous” to others that I completely removed myself from social events in an effort to protect anyone that may come in contact with me.

After one particular training session last week that had escalated to a somewhat volatile situation, not only feeling trapped but beginning to despair for not finding a solution, I approached one of teachers—Tony Griffin—and explained what my life was becoming.

Griffin Sensei, after listening to me, not only offered a different and objective perspective—one which I had been too preoccupied to even consider—but also a tool to assist me in alleviating incoming pressures.  The new perspective allowed me visualize the internalization that was creating the “ball” of pressure deep within me; the new tool (or exercise) allowed me to minimize or even eliminate any additional pressure from being accumulated.

After the discussion with Griffin Sensei, I felt better.  Although the “ball” still remained, the pressure had lightened up enough that I could once again objectively analyze the situation.

But the “ball” still remained.

If neither my new perspective nor the tool had alleviated the pressure, what had done it?  Why had the pressure decreased?

I am on a return flight from a business trip, where I had additional opportunities to further discuss with friends the events and situations of the last month.  With each successive conversation, the pressure within the “ball” decreased, until I recently realized that what alleviates the pressure is open and honest discussion of the issues.  Externalization.

Now, it sounds obvious, but what alleviates the pressure is letting it out; the release of pressure.  Honest communication is the safety valve that prevents pressure from accumulating to explosive levels.

We will never be able to fully avoid the events and situations that cause pressures to be applied against us.  Sometimes, we will be unable to fully mitigate the amount of pressure that is being applied.  In some situations, we will be forced to internalize it and carry it within us.

However, internalizing pressure should be a conscious decision that we choose, making us cognizant of the fact that such pressure exists.  Awareness of any internalized pressure should trigger the need for opening the safety valve, or “externalization,” allowing the safe release of stressful pressure that otherwise unchecked, will make us walking time-bombs.

Sometimes, our path will take us through dark, desolate, and/or dangerous places.  That can’t be helped.  But it is important that we don’t stop and remain in them for long, or the fears that such places cause will continually grow within us, to such levels that they will eventually transform us to something native to the dark, desolate, dangerous places, and we run the risk of staying in them forever.  It is imperative that we realize that the path is just that, a path between places, and that we should continue to move, striving to regain the path that keeps a smile on our faces.

Personal note to my friends and loved ones:

I shut down.

Several of my friends reached out to me during this past month, and I kept them away with dishonest communication.  I didn’t do it with any malicious or selfish intent.  After objective analysis, I am convinced my spirit was one of not burdening them with my friends and loved ones with my issues.  I did not realize that they were offering me a hand—a safety valve.

I was wrong.

I cannot and will not make any guarantees that this will not ever happen again.  But now I am aware of it, and (think) I know how to properly mitigate it from reaching the same levels.

That doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong.

I want to thank all my friends that over the past week have listened to me, and those who over the past month reached out to me.

I was wrong.  I was wrong, and I apologize.

Scars Are Tattoos With Better Stories

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 04-12-2009

Earlier this week, as I was having lunch with a colleague, I observed a little girl walking on the stools that lined the front window of this particular restaurant.  Although these stools are bolted to the floor, the seats of the stools rotate freely, prompting me to casually remark to my colleague, “she’s going to bust her ass.”

Within five seconds of my uttering the words, the seat she was stepping onto next rotated, causing her to fall between the stools and hit her head on the steel footrest below.  Naturally, she started crying, upon which her parents, who were sitting a mere two tables away, picked her up and quietly began consoling her.

My initial judgement—and I now realize that’s what it was—was to think “that was dumb.”  But then I began to think about the lesson the lumpy little girl had just learned, and how she was unlikely to not only forget, but repeat the actions that had caused her such pain.

Growing in Spain, I use to spend my summers with my aunt (and godmother) in Gallur, a small village where my grandfather is from.  One particular season, shortly after arriving in Gallur for the summer, I wanted to ride the bicycle, one which I had always ridden, but the training wheels had been removed.  Upon inquiring about the lack of training wheels, my aunt just took me and the bicycle to a street, put me on the bicycle sans training wheels, and adamantly told me to go.  As bewildered as I felt, I was already wise enough to recognize her tone of voice, and so I went.  My aunt just turned around and went back home.

As I recall, the following hour was an especially painful one.  But the following hour wasn’t quite so.  The hour after that, I was going up and down that street at ridiculous speeds with a big grin on my face.  At the end of the day, despite the bruises and scuffs, I had just lived one of the best days of my life.  I had learned to ride a bike in two hours!

All of the mistakes, either due to poor judgement or just plain clumsiness, resulted in immediate feedback I was able to instantly apply.  To this day, I can get on any bike and pedal without even thinking about it.

The little girl’s parents could have tried to stop her.  Protect her.  Shield her.  Explain to her beforehand the risks of what she was about to do.  However, the fall from the stools, although momentarily painful, was far from potentially fatal.  If the little girl really wanted to walk on the stools, she was going to find a way to do so; no amount of warning was going to stop her.  Her parents were near enough to ameliorate any consequences.

My aunt did not take me to a busy street.  Not only was it essentially an alleyway with infrequent use, but there was full visibility to it from the house.  Even if I wasn’t aware of it, I was being monitored.  Actually, because I perceived that I was alone, thinking that there was nobody to console me as I took my lumps, I would simply just get up after each fall and try again.

Looking back over the years, the lessons I have never forgotten are those that were learned through direct “consequential” feedback.  (Don’t stand too close to the fire!)  No education or safety awareness program can cover the infinite “what ifs” that can realistically occur.  (The purpose of such programs is to generate an awareness of the most common potential consequences and provide us with a basic toolset with which we can hopefully mitigate “issues.”

The little girl was on the stools because she had no fear (or understanding) of the consequences of falling.  I was on the bicycle because the fear of angering my aunt was greater than the fear of falling.  Regardless of the motivation, we both learned valuable lessons in minimal amounts of time.

How often does fear prevent us from doing something we could potentially love?

Skydiving is an activity that inarguably has typically fatal consequences if something goes awry.  However, there are individuals with thousands for successful jumps.  Even though statistically it is still a relatively safe activity, we tend to call skydivers crazy, usually with colorful adjectives.  Yet, most of us have not experienced what they have.  The feeling of freefalling thousands of feet may well be worth the perceived risk.  I don’t know.  Yet.  Our perceptions, acquired from the opinions of others or through some form of education, may instill an irrational fear that ultimately prevents us from taking action.

There is no substitute for experience.

We have all heard or read this old adage, or some form of it.  But do we understand it?  What are we doing with our lives?  What are NOT doing with our lives?

Every new experience stretches our mind, increasing our capacity for understanding and tolerance.  To not do something because it is “too hard” or is “too much work” is the lament of the lazy and cowardly.

So take that trip.  Learn that skill.  Go scuba-diving.  Surfing.  Travel to a different continent.  Explore the Great Wall of China.  Divine the secrets of the Serengeti.  Climb a mountain.  Raft the Grand Canyon.  Hike a national park.  Open your eyes and your heart and DISCOVER.  Do it responsibly, but DO it.  FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you

Aldous Huxley

You’re Already Dying!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 20-11-2009

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

“Each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”

In our dojo—and in every Bujinkan dojo worldwide—every class starts with these words.   Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

What does that mean?

(As I’m finding out, Japanese is a very contextual language.  Any word or set of words in Japanese can have completely different meanings, depending on the context.  But as I’m also learning, such “duality” also contributes to the “mystical” nature of the language—more than one meaning can be intended with a single statement.  With a single statement, not only can the “how” be communicated, but also the “why.”)

The first interpretation I was given for “Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo” was “each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”  Depending on who you ask, the words may differ, but the context is usually the same.

Beyond that simple translation, I wasn’t given much more instruction.  Sure, I’ve had discussions with my teachers on it, but it is usually left to me to find out.  As it should be.  Each one of us needs to take the concept, and make it our own, something that makes sense to each of us.

Initially, I used the statement to add focus to my life.  I interpreted it as becoming aware of what I was doing each and every moment, realizing that what I was doing at that specific moment was a choice that I had made, and ensuring that all my attention was focused on what it was that I was doing.  After all, I made the choice.  Why would I half-ass it?

Such an interpretation has helped me out immensely, and I still continue to see it that way.  But as with any concept, it’s meaning evolves as I evolve.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch Warren Miller’s new film “Dynasty.”  (Warren Miller produces a film about skiing—and sometimes similar sports—each year.)  I had seen some of the other Warren Miller films before, and I find them all to be quite inspiring, pushing me to be become a better skier by showing me what is possible.

In “Dynasty,” there was a particular segment that caught my attention.  This segment was about “disabled” athletes and how they had overcome their disabilities in order to do what they loved.  Ski!

Disable SkierThese guys were incredible!  What they can do on a slope was breathtaking.  However, as amazing as these athletes were, it was within one particular scene where it struck me.  In this scene, painted across the back of the seat of one of the “rigs” these athletes use, were the words “DIE LIVING.”

Die living?

From the moment we are born, we are already dying.  In geologic time, one could argue that we’re already dead.  Sure, our bodies go through several changes throughout our lifetimes, but the result is invariable.  We die.  Most of us, at some point or another, will imagine ourselves when we are in our golden years.  However, not only are we not guaranteed those golden years, we are not even guaranteed tomorrow!  Death reaches us all.  “Live dying” is more accurate.

How many of us feel caught in the same morose routine day in and day out, trudging along in this world full of absurdity?  Are we happy at work?  Are we happy in the city we live in?  The state?  The country?  Are we happy with our friends?  Our health?  Our dogs?  Our neighbors?  Are our dreams only dreams?  What if we died tomorrow?

We are dying.  Might as well be.  We have so little joy in our lives, that we latch on to every little bit of happiness so tightly that we cause it to fall apart.

Die living?

Is it that simple?  Can we just turn the words around and change our outlook?

Why not?  Why am I unhappy with work?  With dogs?  With friends?  Why am I not actively pursuing my dreams?  If my state of mind is a choice, why am I not choosing to be fantastic not only every day, but every single moment?

I don’t want to live my life in such a sterile environment that doesn’t have room for risk.  Risk is where the fun is at!  I want to enjoy my life!  I want to skid into death at 100 miles an hour, with body worn out from all my adventures, yelling “what a ride!”

Anything short of that, then I might as well be dead already.

I have a choice then:  “Live dying” or “die living.”

Guess which one I’m making.  Right now.

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.