Monday, September 11, 2017

Change Before You Have To

As seen on a t-shirt in a random Tokyo store window.
This one really caught my attention.

Change is scary.  Change is hard.  Most of us hate to change.
We are truly creatures of habit, habits which can make or break us.

Habit is even the subject of one of my favorite poems:

Who Am I?
I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly, correctly.
I am easily managed - you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great people; and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human being.
You may run me for a profit or turn me for ruin - it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I AM HABIT.

I like the t-shirt quote because it strongly suggests that Change is inevitable, which I believe.  We cannot resist Change, at best we only delay it for a time.  Often we may be reluctant to change until the pain of change is less than the pain of not changing.Because of this I think it is far better to be proactive and initiate Change on our own terms before ending up in a situation where it is thrust upon us.

Accepting change and initiating it on our own also helps us remain comfortable with the concept that the world is in flux, and to be less surprised when even unexpected changes occur.  Complacency is truly the enemy or progress.  For relationships, too, complacency is often the beginning of the end, leading to situations where one partner or another (sometimes even both) feel taken for granted or underappreciated - often a prelude to breakup.

In business, it is the same.  In a very tearful interview post their acquisition by Microsoft, Nokia CEO stated "We didn't do anything wrong, but somehow we lost."
In retrospect, the world was changing and they chose to wait.  Kodak, among others, is a great example.  The death of 35mm film business did not catch them by surprise, but complacency an unwillingness to embrace change led to the firm's rapid decline.

As a long-term veteran of the markets, I can also attest that whenever you are FORCED to take action, forced either to buy or sell, the price will never be as good for you as when you can choose your timing.  This applies not just to stocks and other financial instruments, but to cars, homes and any other assets as well.

In Martial Arts, not unexpectedly, it is the same.  Success can be summarized by denying choice of action to your opponent and keeping it for yourself.

Change is the only constant.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Choose You

(thanks for the inspiration KY)

Life is filled with choices.  Every day we have to choose from a variety of options.  It can be hard to choose, especially when the choice is between two options that both seem equally good or equally bad.  However, choices must be made for us to continue. Indecision is the enemy of progress.

In a perfect world, we would have full transparency and foresight, making the best possible decisions based on true and complete facts every time.  However, in reality it is rarely the case.  We make decisions based on emotion, with incomplete information or unreliable sources, and often experience regret not just from what we chose but from what we did not.

Most of the time, bad choices can be undone but sometimes it's not easy and sometimes undoing mistakes can be harder than just accepting a bad result.  It takes a lot of courage to admit you were wrong, and even more to actually do something about it.  Sometimes there is no reset button, although we all have times we wish there were.

I find the band aid principle works best.  If I know the band aid has to come off, I would rather get it over quickly than prolong the pain.  Waiting for things to get better, especially in abusive relationships, tends to empower to the abuser who rarely sees the need to change.  Often, these people are not even aware that what they do or say is considered abusive to their partner - they think they are just being open and honest.  However, strong relationships are supportive and encouraging, empowering both people to achieve more, not less.  As I get older, I become more convinced that fear is the biggest motivator in the lives of most of us. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of what others will think, fear of letting go, fear of losing control, fear of not being loved (or loved enough), fear of being alone.  The list goes on and on.  Healthy relationships are powerful because they help us let go of fear.  This frees us to become happy, and positive relationships are a cornerstone of happiness for healthy people.

Relationships, like most things, involve choices.  In most modern cultures we choose who to date, who to become serious with, who to marry.  We choose partners not just for their physical appeal (I hope) but also for the strength of their character, their reliability and their commitment to a future together.  Despite the relatively high (and growing) instances of divorce worldwide, I don't think anyone ever gets married expecting to get divorced (except maybe in California).

It's hard to make a permanent commitment to someone when we cannot predict how they (or we) will change over time. What is absolutely certain is that there WILL be changes, both to our partners and to ourselves, and this is to be expected.  Personally, I don't believe we have much power (nor much right) to change others.  The best we can hope for is to change ourselves; to allow ourselves to be inspired by those around us, including our partners, and truly strive to become better people.  Hopefully our partners will do the same.  It is possible to lose our way, or for our partner to lose theirs.  This is why compassion, forgiveness and understanding are so important in healthy relationships.  People are complex and a lot can happen along the way.

Marriage certificate or not, couples make a deliberate choice to be together - or not - every single day.  I have found that the small kindnesses every day are the ones we build relationships on.  Holding hands, sharing what happened during the day, going for a walk, having a meal together.  The little everyday things that occur in between life's big events.  These are more treasured memories for me than big vacations to exotic places because  they show that my partner has given me the most important thing she has - her time and attention.

In my case, I try very hard not to argue over the mundane - where to eat dinner or what color tablecloth to buy.  I try not to argue about money or religion or politics - there is nothing to be gained there.  When we disagree I try not to make it personal nor to carry forward any grudge.  I am absolutely against any form of domestic abuse, verbal or otherwise, from either partner.  Those wounds go deep and sometimes don't heal at all.  Moreover, when children are involved abusive relationships establish a precedent that these behaviors are "normal" and influence them to repeat those behaviors in their own relationships.  Many abusive people I have met are simply acting out the scenarios they experienced growing up.

I think it is important not to take our partners for granted and remember every day that our time on Earth is short.  Treasure every moment and learn to let the little things go - in the end, they are all little things anyway.  The Gratitude Attitude wins every time.

I remind myself every day that, given the chance, I would choose my partner again, every time.  This helps me feel constantly grateful by realizing she has made the same decision in choosing me every day, and that I am profoundly lucky.
Relationships are not always easy, and I remain humbled that despite knowing me so well, my partner can accept me - many flaws and all.  I promise to do my best every day to remain worthy of her faith and trust.  I know I have to earn it every day.  Complacency is the enemy of love.  Be vigilant.

Choose.  and Be Chosen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

LOVE THE GLOVE

(thanks for the inspiration KMJ Students!)

If you know me, you know:
@ I love teaching
@ I love KALI
@ I love Boxing (especially Filipino Boxing)

For the last 30-40 minutes of each 2-hour class we either box or do Panantukan (Filipino kickboxing).  It is one of my favorite parts of the class and one of the most important - why?

1) Cardio and Breathing
It's a great cardio activity.  There are gyms which just offer this kind of training, but you get a "mini-session" of it included for free in every KMJ class.  This is great for letting off some steam, developing focus, and burning up calories.  We sweat A LOT, and that's good.  We also focus on breathing, timing, distance, rhythm, all of which are very important inside and outside a fight.

2) Aggressiveness/Assertiveness Training
I have posted about this recently, and I am a strong believer that aggressiveness/assertiveness are key traits that we need to learn to be successful in life.  This does not mean to be violent to each other per se, but we need to be able to "flip the switch" and use our strong willpower and aggressiveness in a self-defense situation since this can mean the difference between walking away and being carried away.  The boxing session is a great way to develop this in a controlled, safe environment.  We can "let the lion out" as well as experiencing this from our partners, which helps us maintain composure when others display aggressiveness towards us.

3) Self-Defense Applications
I love aikido, too.  In fact a large number of posts on this blog is focused on it. That said, good boxing skills are hard to deny in a self-defense situation.  I will not concede the importance of strong low kicks, nor of good joint-locking and throwing (both part of our KM curriculum, too).  However, as a conditioned response, a strong punch is very effective as a default.  If your students do not develop strong punching skills, it is hard to say you are teaching them good self-defense basics.

In KM we fight from a southpaw stance, and this can take opponents by surprise since many trained fighters are used to opponents in orthodox stances.

In our drills, we have many times where the puncher is under pressure or being touched by the pad holder during the round.  This  is very important since in real fights you will be likely touched by your opponents and need to maintain your focus and composure to keep moving and fighting.  Untrained fighters may stop if they feel a hit, and that usually ends in disaster for them.

We need to be comfortable being hit and continuing to fight back.

4) Muscle Memory
They way we drill is highly efficient, meaning lots and lots of reps in a very concentrated period of time.  This helps build muscle memory especially for foundation power punch movements like the cross and hook.  Muscle memory matters in self-defense since we know that "we fight how we train".  For the pad holder, too, it is practice on distance, timing and rhythm, which are key attributes for any fighter.

We also get a lot of time to practice our guards and covers, which are critical responses in self-defense.  We work on our blocks, elbow covers and foundation movements like dodge/parry/bob and weave, which can be lifesavers when needed.  These should also be part of muscle memory.

Since we also hit the mitts full power, we teach ourselves to punch using the entire body.  Some martial artists have been training for years and have never hit anything full force (heavy bag, mitt, opponent).  Light contact kumite point fighters are often guilty of training to just "light touch" each other, which is the wrong muscle memory for self-defense applications.

I prefer that we be conditioned from the beginning to hit full power in order that when the time comes (hopefully never), we can hit with everything we've got without any feeling of discomfort or awkwardness.

I really hope you love the boxing at least as much as I do and agree its importance as part of our training regimen.

FINISH STRONG!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Us and Them

(thanks for the inspiration George)

This might be my favorite spiritual quote ever.  This picture attributes it to Ramana Maharshi, but I have also seen it ascribed to Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most prolific Buddhist authors and a personal favorite.

This particular quote led to a very engaging conversation with my 15 year old son, George.

I explained that this quote is deliberately designed to shock the reader into rethinking - to release the idea that others are separate from ourselves.  In Buddhism, the idea of non-duality ("advaita") is at the heart of realizing the connection between the Self and the greater reality.  It is the essence of recognizing that We Are One.

In a more practical sense, it is disturbing that so many notable political and religious figures base their doctrines on divisiveness, emphasizing the differences between us as a way to incite mistrust, fear and hatred.  In particular our current President is as much a master of the technique of the "invisible enemy" as Adolf Hitler was.  Hitler came to power in 1930s Germany by naming Jews responsible for Germany's post WW1 woes.  This lead to persecution and wholesale slaughter of all minorities who were not what he considered the Chosen Race. Stalin also used this technique to keep control of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc for decades.  Ho Chi Minh used it in Vietnam.  Mao used it in China.  Pol Pot used it in Camobida.  It was used by the IRA in Northern Ireland.  In the 1950s in America, Joe McCarthy used this same technique successfully to target suspected Communists and destroy their careers and families.  It was used in Bosnia.  It was used in Africa.  Donald Trump uses Muslims and Mexicans today for this same sinister racist goal.  This is evil and must be stopped.

Buddhism teaches us that there is no difference between others and ourselves, and the picture quote simply and elegantly reaffirms this.

Done, right?  Wrong.

George inquires "how can we all be the same?  what place does individuality have? If we are all the same why aren't we just clones of each other?"  Great questions.

It is true that we are all individuals in Buddhism, meaning that we are unique souls on unique journeys of self-discovery.  Each of us has a path that we must find through meditation and follow diligently if we are to progress toward allowing our true nature of enlightenment to emerge.

However, a central understanding we need in order to progress is an acceptance of the divine connection between all things.  Even though we are individuals, our souls are inextricably linked to each other because their essence and origin is the same as ours. We are truly One Tribe and although we may look different on the outside we are the same on the inside, and the deeper we go (from flesh to soul) the more the same we are.  It is a shallowness to categorize each other based on appearance.  With so many messages to the contrary, we need constant reminders that we are all connected so we can stamp out the seeds of hatred before they take root at all.

These days Diversity and Inclusion are big topics in the workplace.  Most good companies champion this effort, and many have taken great steps forward in establishing and reviewing policies in the interest of "fairness" for all employees.  This is sensible for those companies who wish to attract and retain the most talented employees of every demographic.  Making very public the message that all people are welcomed is an important first step toward reducing apprehension and promoting the openness that is needed to erase fear and develop mutual understanding.  This is a never-ending mission that needs our support.
Hate can never be allowed to persevere among us.

As Buddhists this is easily summed up in the quote on the picture.

"There are no others"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lion Is Needed


I liked this video and its powerful message. "you've gotta practice being bold."
Sharath Jason Wilson doesn't using the words "anger" or "aggressiveness" or "violence".  He keeps saying "assertiveness" which is a key attribute we develop in good martial arts training.

Assertiveness is essential in being able to take control of our lives and own the outcomes of our own destinies.  It's essential to act with purpose and conviction and to be able to drive forward when the going inevitably gets tough.  All of us need to learn how to tap into and control those strong emotions when the time is needed.

As he says "it's OK to be angry". Sometimes it is.  "if you never bring (the lion) out you'll never know how to control it when it comes out".  So true.  Many of us have trouble managing our anger.  We cannot "bring the lion out" with control.  Like young Brayden, we cry and shake with emotion and forget that the lion, although scary, is an essential part of who we are and needs to come out sometimes.

In our classes we box or kickbox every lesson.  This is our time to let loose, to let the lion out.  We hit the pads/mitts full force with everything we've got.  In addition to some good cardio it represents an emotional release.  We do this in a controlled environment to avoid injury, but we also get to experience the process and learn how to flip the switch and engage our assertiveness when necessary. We practice transforming from lamb to lion.

I like that this exercise is done with hugging, since it takes away the idea that assertiveness equates to violence.  We must be equally comfortable with expressing other strong emotions, especially LOVE (the most important emotion of all).  Learning to hug each other fully helps us feel comfortable in who we are and accepting of others.  Hugging is one of the most powerful enablers of positivism and much more hugging is needed in this modern world.  I like that this teacher is developing skills like respect and assertiveness in these young men so early - they have great futures ahead of them with such a good role model to guide them.  Find out more about how they are helping young men in Detroit here.

"We are called to be as bold as the lion"

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Right to the Point




It can be fun to watch drunk people try to fight bouncers.  Somehow they always think they can win, despite the fact that 1) they are usually drunk (or worse) 2) bouncers have training and deal with this stuff all the time and 3) bouncers usually work in teams.  Still it doesn't seem to stop morons from having a go.

Observing the clip above there are some great insights on boxing to be studied. Watch it again carefully...

Stance --- bouncer has a very compact guard.  Arms in; chin covered; relaxed. He is using a modified Shell or low hand guard stance which suggests he has had some boxing training.  His opponent is wild and open.

Defense --- when his opponent throws a wild hook to his head, the bouncer uses a pull, slightly leaning back to avoid the arc.  He is also covered partially by a left shoulder roll cover due to the difference in height.  The shoulder roll is a very common defensive option from the Shell/low hand guard.  He stays relaxed, hands in guard and his feet are firm and solidly planted.  From the wild hook, his opponent is left out of position and exposed to the counter.

Counter --- Right to the Point --- bouncer returns a short right, bang on the point of the chin.  End of story.  The hit is compact and thrown from close to his body, and he delivers it vertically along a straight line, akin to how we hit in hakka kuntao.  His feet and hips add to the impact force as he rotates into his return. Landing it on the point of the chin pops his opponent's head straight back causing a whiplash effect -> instant knockout.  He follows up and stands over the fallen opponent to make sure the encounter is finished.

That's some nice boxing right there.  The other guy will wake up with much more than a hangover, to be sure.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

what do you really want?

(thanks for the inspiration AK and K)

When I joined my first real dojo I was only 14.

I had been picked on at school relentlessly for 8 years already, teased, pushed around and beaten up nearly every day.  It got to the point that my Mom would drop me off in the morning directly in front of the school main gate where a teacher would escort me to class.  At the end of the day, I was let go 15 minutes early so I could have a head start and get almost home before the other kids could catch me en-route.  During recess or at lunch I always sat in view of a teacher.  Still, the kids that really wanted to hurt me found opportunities.
 
On the first day at the dojo, my teacher asked me "What do you want from the training?"  I replied "I want to get back at the kids who hurt me".  He looked at me gravely and said "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?"

This dialog continued one way or another for the next 5 years.  From time to time, without warning, my teacher would ask me the same question.  He would say "John, you can get anything you want from the training, but you have to know what you want.  What do you want?"  Each time I would come up with a different answer to try to satisfy him.  Sometimes I wanted to be tough, sometimes I wanted to master a new technique or weapon.  Sometimes I wanted to be "the best".  Each time he would give the same reply "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?".

The last time I remember this conversation he had asked me again, surprising me because he hadn't asked for a long time.  Caught off-guard I think I answered that I wanted a girlfriend (I was 19).  He said, as usual, "that's not what you want. What do you REALLY want?"  I paused, looked at him and said "I want never to be afraid."

He smiled.  After a moment he nodded his head and said "we can do that."

This year I will be 51.  I realized that he helped me get what I really wanted; what really mattered to me.

I have traveled all over the world, done exciting work, met and married a wonderful partner, raised two exceptional boys and made countless friends. Throughout this journey I was not afraid.  I was not afraid to ask difficult questions, not just of others but of myself.  I was not afraid to take risks and challenge my goals.  I was not afraid to speak my opinion and defend what I believe in.  I was not afraid to open my heart to others or to be vulnerable.  I was not afraid to laugh and cry and sing and dance.  I was not afraid to fail.  I was not afraid of what other people might think.  I was not afraid to step forward and become who I was meant to become.  I was not afraid to leave the past behind.

Fear is not just fear of dying.  It can also be fear of living.
Fear is not just fear of failure, it can be fear of success.

Thank you, my teacher, wherever you are, for helping me get what I really wanted.  This has made all the difference and brought me a life filled with gratitude.

What do YOU really want??

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cha Ching

(thanks for the inspiration Tata)

Running a martial arts group is a labor of love.  I have yet to meet an instructor who decides to teach martial arts because they think it is a clever get rich quick strategy (there are far better ones out there).

For some teachers, it is a means to an end, and they are willing to forego material things in order to live the life they want.  For others, financial success is often achieved through having a "Day Job" or through a grueling schedule of seminars and private training courses for military/law enforcement, which means nights and weekends away from home and family (and the dojo).  For some, a combination of all of the above.

The relationships in a traditional dojo were simpler in many ways.  Casual students would come and go, and serious students ("disciples") would live with their teacher or at the dojo - helping out and training daily as part of the extended family.  The Senshusei course in Yoshinkan Aikido where all my teachers attended and taught is one example.

Nowadays, running a dojo is basically running a business.  Running a business means CUSTOMERS, since there is not a single sustainable business without them. Running a business means sales, profits, margins, marketing, customer service and all the other elements of every other type of business - increasingly including online presence, mobile apps and social media as well.  At the same time, a dojo is not a sports gym, right?  Or is it??

As teachers we are (supposed to be)  committed examples of the virtues of martial arts training.  Especially in Kali Majapahit, which is about the holy trinity of martial arts, wellness and personal development.  All of us care about our students as people, and are invested in success as their allies.  Many parents entrust our instructors to help them develop their children into strong, polite, capable young adults.  Kali Majapahit is one of the very best at this.

At the same time, at the heart of the relationship lies a terrible conflict.  Are they our students??  Our customers??  Both???

On one hand, students come to learn and grow together.  We guide them, we share our knowledge (and vice versa) and use our skills to help them across all three areas: mental, physical, emotional/spiritual.  For me, my students and fellow instructors are closer than family.  We have laughed, cried, sweated and bled together.  I would trust them with my life with no hesitation.  The fellowship is one of the things I love the most about our Kali Family.

On the other hand, some students feel more like customers than students.  To them it is a transactional relationship.  They pay money, they get training.  They expect this to be on their terms rather than the instructors' and they train at their own pace and rhythm, sometimes skipping class if they don't feel like going, or don't like the current cycle or instructor.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, since it is the same in a boxing gym as well.

However, customers have expectations of service and performance.  In a commercial contract, you give payment for services rendered.  No service no payment.  No payment, no service.  If my plumber does not fix my sink, I am not legally obliged to pay.  If I do not pay, the plumber is not obliged to fix my sink. The courts have upheld this system of fairness for several thousand years and it seems to work pretty well.

However, what about a boxing gym?  I pay for training.  Is there an implicit guarantee that I will be a great boxer?  For some people, no matter how hard they train, they will never be able to be a champion boxer.  Does that imply a breach of contract??  Precedent tells us NO.  Hospitals are also places where we pay for professionals to provide assistance.  They have a legal "duty of care" and many go far beyond that.  However, no hospital can guarantee a positive medical outcome.

One answer to this conundrum is to draw a line between casual or commercial and committed students.  Casual students are treated well, with great customer service like they should be, but the relationship is understood by both parties to be purely commercial in nature.  Committed students decide to become (and are accepted as) part of the core dojo family.  Many of them do more (helping to clean, helping at events or offering their professional skills for free or at a discount) and in exchange they are able to join other "unofficial training" or seminars and in general treated in a more personal manner than others, especially outside of class.  Some students will move between those categories over the course of their time in a dojo.

Unfortunately, some students like to play with that line.  They want to be family when it suits them and customers when it suits them.  Sometimes this becomes a feeling of entitlement, where they believe they should be afforded special treatment like a rank or belt promotion simply because they have paid their dues and showed up.   In this extreme example, the school and instructors' integrity may be put at risk.  If they say NO, they risk losing a valued member of the school community.  If they say YES, they cheapen the meaning of the ranks for everyone and undermine the perception of fairness among the other students.

This is a very difficult position indeed and one no teacher ever wants to face.  If you are the instructor, I encourage you to stand your moral ground.  As much as it hurts, don:t bend your rules for the customer who wants special treatment simply because they think they are "owed" a rank or a belt.  If you are the student, shame on you for putting your instructor in such a situation and trying to guilt-trip them into giving you what you think you deserve.  That is your EGO talking and your ego has no place in the dojo.  It is far better to either play the long game and focus on skill/knowledge rather than rank or go and join an MMA gym or a transactional dojo.

Teaching truly is the hardest job you'll ever love.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Like Clockwork

A great afternoon seminar today with Guro Larry Mitchell from Toronto, Canada. Although only 4 hours long, he showed a lot of great material and is a down-to-Earth approachable guy despite more than 30 years of martial arts experience across several disciplines, including as a personal student of Nonoy Gallano.

Similar to the approach shown by Kuya Doug Marcaida during his seminar, and Shihan Kit Acenas of Kali Mundo when he came to Japan, we discussed techniques in terms of positions on a clock face.  This is a common and easy way to refer to Kali movements or even other sporting movements.

There are two key clock face planes to consider.

Vertical Plane
The vertical plane clock face is usually visualized with your opponent standing straight from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock along the center line of the dial.  This plane is effective when explaining striking/kicking movements by describing the path or arc of the weapon.  Thus, striking from head to toe would be 12-6.  Across the waistline would be 3-9 or 9-3.  Diagonals include 11-5 and 5-11, 7-1 and 1-7 and so on.  Most arts have at least 6 basic striking angles and some have 12 or more.  Since many styles use different numbering patters when they teach, referring to a clockface can be an easy way to get everyone on the same page quickly.

Horizontal Plane
The horizontal plane is generally understood as being beneath you when you move, assuming you and standing in the exact center of the dial and facing 12 o'clock when you begin to move.  This clock face is great for explaining footwork and relative position of your partner.  Straight forward and backward are, not unexpectedly, 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock respectively.  Diagonal steps (classic FMA triangular footwork) are described as stepping between 10 and 2.  Reverse triangle steps are between 5 and 7.  Some systems like PTK include stepping to the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock lines as well.  Combinations include ideas like 7-2-9 which can then describe entering footwork followed by a foot trap or sweep, for example.

The clock face method is a great tool to help share the art with other schools and styles, and the FMA are all about fellowship and togetherness.
Remember, Sharing is Caring!

See you at class!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Sticking with it

(thanks for the inspiration MI)

It's time to get a new stick.  Good.

I know some people who have had the same pair of sticks for a year or more.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but I think if you are training right, from time to time you will break your sticks and need new ones.  Why?

All FMA derive from the blade, and in training, our baston is a proxy for it in many of the drills.  In this case it means that we use the stick as a flowing weapon and are principally concerned with precision.  However, for some students this is all they ever do.  Sadly, some students have never hit anything full power.

In addition to simulating a blade for training, the stick is a very effective fighting weapon in its own right, and as an impact weapon it may be one of the oldest weapons in human history.  Even our standard 28" rattan stick is fearsome. Generally, it will not kill except by accident (a heavy hit to the throat or unlucky hit to the temple, etc.) but delivers excruciating pain accompanied by a large bruising welt - more than enough to dissuade an attacker.  The combat sticks made of kamagong (Filipino Ironwood) or resin will easily kill on impact to the head and should be treated with no less caution and respect than a live blade.

At the first Peaceful Warrior Camp in Bali, when we were working 5 count sombrada drills Guro Claes and his students from Kali De Mano introduced the idea of training using "quality strikes", meaning that each hit should have power, focus and intention, and the result was broken sticks after the first few days of training. I discovered that this often happens when your training partner is a 2 meter tall, 120 kg viking...  Now, I always bring at least one spare pair ;-)

Power hitting is a very important part of stick training, since we need to learn how to have proper posture and body mechanics (arm extension, wrist/knee flexion, hip/spine rotation) to hit with full force.  This training also helps us remember to step off line, since blocking full power strikes is painful if we don't.  It helps us to get used to the impact force on our tendons and ligaments when we hit hard or block hard hits - both of which are important in a real fight.

Of course, during partner drills there is always some risk of being hit, which is why at lower levels we generally train this way only with the foam sticks or thin rattan rather than the heavier combat sticks.  However, at higher levels, training with combat sticks is a must as well.  When needed, MMA gloves (or even Lacrosse gloves - Thanks Kasama Joe) do a good job of protecting the fragile bones of the hands and wrist from impact and allow us to specifically train to target those areas when we attack.  It is also very interesting to blend the rattan/foam sticks into our pad work ("stickboxing") which is a very practical method for training corto into medio and vice versa and is useful in training professionals who may use a collapsible baton.

In summary, our kali sticks are a precious treasure as an important tool in our kali journey.  However, from time to time they need to be sacrificed so our skills can grow.  SWING AWAY!  You can (and should) buy another pair when needed.

See you at class.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Putting the Right Foot Forward

Great seminar last weekend with Guro Daniel Sullivan of Warrior Arts Alliance and head of OC Kickboxing and MMA in Orange County California.

He taught a 12 hour weekend course of Filipino "dirty boxing" involving the various techniques and skills he has developed after 32 years of study and fellowship with Guro Dan Inosanto.

His lessons were filled with hard-hitting (literally) practical tips for improving the stand up game including very practical self-defense applications based on combinations of high-percentages strikes, elbows, knees, claws, stomps and other effective "dirty tricks".  In addition to being a walking encyclopedia of the history of JKD/Jun-Fan and several styles of FMA and silat, he has a very effective teaching method to build muscle memory and fitness/cardio in the way that he drills.  Overall, a fantastic learning experience and I highly recommend anyone to attend his seminars or camps if possible, or to go directly to his facility in Irvine, California.

One of the points he brought up was about how all arts basically start with two things: stance and footwork.  From this we are able to understand what is important to a style and already get a firm grasp of its fighting principles.

We spent the weekend fighting in an orthodox stance, that is, left foot forward.
This can be a challenge for those of us who traditionally fight Southpaw (right foot forward).
Guro Daniel explained the theory of matched/unmatched stances, meaning when we are "matched" with both same side feet forward or "unmatched" when we have opposite feet forward.  He further explained that at least 85% of the opponents we would be likely to face (trained or untrained) will stand left foot forward in order to put their power hand (right hand) back.

In weapon-based arts we are generally taught that we want the dominant hand forward since it is most likely to be holding the weapon and we want the weapon in between the opponent and ourselves.  For us, it is sensible to not have to remember to switch stance from right forward to left forward depending on if we have an active weapon or not.  Thus, we maintain a right foot forward stance at all times.  I like many things about this style.  I like having my power punch in front and being able to load my jab with enough stopping power to pin the opponent for my cross.  I like how the southpaw stance confuses fighters who are used to an orthodox opponent.  I like being able to hitch and load my right leg for kicking.

At the same time I must confess that it gets confusing to translate lengthy, complex combinations into southpaw when I watch videos or attend seminars.  I also hate having to adjust to orthodox fighters, finding that it sometimes confuses me, too.  It also makes it hard to go and train at other gyms or in other styles since I am not as comfortable orthodox as I am southpaw.

Guro Daniel clearly advised that if we choose a Southpaw stance, we should invest plenty of time and energy dealing with orthodox opponents.  To do otherwise is an illusion, and we would be kidding ourselves to imagine we can safely defend ourselves when a majority of the population fight orthodox.  His words rang true.

Ultimately, we must become comfortable to fight at any range or distance, with any weapon, standing or on the ground, since we never know how an encounter will evolve and our survival may depend on adaptability.  For the stand up game this means spending time in both orthodox and southpaw, and working hard on the unmatched position if we choose to keep the integrity of our southpaw art.

The joy of seminars with such masters as Guro Daniel is not just the techniques and the fellowship.  It is the thought-provoking insights that keep me examining the art over and over again.  Heartfelt gratitude to Guro Daniel Sullivan, Guro Tony Davis and Sensei Eian and Shin Kali for arranging the excellent event.

Pugay!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Art of Being Lazy

This is me.

OK, I'm kidding.  It's a pug.
However, it is a very important pug (VIP).

This pug represents one of the most important elements of martial arts - laziness.

Let me explain.  Most people have got it all wrong.
People work very hard.  Too hard.

Even in the dojo, I see students trying so hard.  They push and pull and grunt and sweat.  It's such HARD WORK and they really struggle with it.  Not only is this wrong, it's dangerous.

Martial arts is about EFFICIENCY.  We study the human body to discover how it works.  We learn how all the muscles push and pull.  We study balance and weight shifting.  We explore the ranges of motion of the joints.  We learn about nerve systems and acupuncture points.  We exercise our minds.  WE THINK.  We do this so that we can pick the easiest (laziest?) and most efficient way to end any confrontation with the maximum chance of success and minimum chance of injury. Some simple principles we follow include:

  • apply hard weapons versus weak targets
  • use large muscles rather than small muscles
  • take opponent's balance; keep our own
  • attack the structure first
  • use the simplest possible technique

Martial arts is an ethical practice (at least it should be).  We should not injure others if it can be avoided.  The best way to do this is to take away their balance and structure.  Once this is done, the opponent can usually be controlled and subdued without (or with only minimal) injury.  If we cannot do this, we have no choice but to injure the opponent in order to avoid injury to ourselves or others.

In summary, if I can't control you, I have to injure you.

I don't want to injure ANYONE. Ever.
This inevitably leads to guilt and regret, neither of which are outcomes I want.

In the dojo, it is important to study every technique carefully to understand how the balance and structure of the opponent are affected.  Look for how to use the hips/backs/legs/footwork to achieve this.  Look for the most direct way to engage the opponent's center of gravity and disrupt it.  BE LAZY.  A typical sequence looks something like this:

  1. entering --- get in
  2. contacting --- distract with atemi
  3. connecting --- get a grip
  4. controlling --- move the balance/structure
  5. subduing --- incapacitate/submit
The best techniques have the shortest time through this cycle and often achieve it by combining several steps into one movement.


If you are working too hard, it is usually a sign that you are doing something wrong.  Brute force is almost always the tool of last resort --- both inside and outside the dojo.

Consider this carefully.

Clean Dojo, Clean Heart

(thanks for the inspiration GR)

I LOVE Filipino Martial Arts. A LOT.

Those that know me know that my martial arts journey changed that day I stepped into the rickety old shophouse on Yan Kit road in 2008 for a trial lesson with my teacher, Guro Fred Evrard and met my Kali family --- a journey that is still ongoing for me.

That said, most of my life I have been a traditional Japanese martial artist.  Apart from Kali Majapahit, which is the only art I teach now, my other teaching licenses comprise 25 years of study and are all in very traditional disciplines including Yoshinkan Aikido, Kiyama-Ryu Iaijutsu and Ninjutsu.  I started when I was 14 and have been involved in martial arts all of my adult life.  Without my training, I would not have achieved the success I achieved in my family and career.
This training was how I became who I am.  It is the most precious gift I have.

In a Japanese dojo, we clean.  A LOT.  We clean the dojo mats after every single class (see above) and we do monthly/quarterly big cleaning sessions on weekends where we systematically clean the whole dojo top to bottom.  All of these tasks are done together, teachers and students, regardless of rank.  None of us see this as a chore.  WHY??

At the core of the Japanese martial arts is RESPECT.  The hierarchy looks like this:

  • Respect for life
  • Respect for the art
  • Respect for the teacher
  • Respect for our training partners
  • Respect for self

Respect is the cornerstone of the training.  Without this, we cannot build our character.  Even if my house were messy, my dojo would be spotlessly clean.  My dojo is my HEART, my sacred place where I develop myself.  My temple where I celebrate my life journey with my Kali family.  I keep it clean like I keep myself clean.  I organize the dojo like I organize my Life.  Little things (like cleaning) lead to big things (like success).  I become someone who DOES rather than someone who merely talks about doing.

Yes, punctuality is also a sign of respect (all of the 5 "respects" above).  Life is made up of time - the art is developed over time, our teacher has invested his/her time, our training partners are on time ---> we develop discipline when we learn to be on time.

Every student must keep asking the question "Why am I training?".  Answers may vary, but "becoming a better person" should always be part of the response. Otherwise, if all we learn is how to move our bodies we could do this at a sports gym.  If it is only about punching and kicking we are missing the point.

MARTIAL ARTS IS LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE OUR LIVES TO ACHIEVE THE RESULTS WE WANT

It makes us BETTER PEOPLE.

This is such a powerful skill that it can change our lives forever.  It gives us the tools to help others change their lives too.  If you disagree with me, I suggest you sit down with any one of the Guros and discuss it.  Please do.

My brothers and sisters earned their black belts by understanding this.  Their rank recognizes their commitment not just to their own training and development, but to YOURS.  They have so much, which is why they can give so much (and they do).  This can be you, too.

The starting place is to learn how to suppress the Ego.  This establishes that we are all the same.  Thus, what one can do, anyone can do.  Regardless of social status, race, color or creed when we put on the uniform we are all THE SAME. What someone else can do, I can do (if I train).  This is absolute freedom.

A famous Japanese proverb writes, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step"...well, here it is.  Pick up your broom and start your journey.

Let's go TOGETHER.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Home Sweet Home

It feels so good to go home doesn't it?

Home is where you belong, where you can relax and feel comfortable.  Where you BE YOU.  In the absence of any other plan, home is where you would choose to be, together with your family.

For those of us who have frequently moved jobs, moved house, or even moved countries, "home" may not be easy to define.  In my case, as much as I love Yokohama the dojo equally feels like "home".  After a long week at work I am really looking forward to going to the dojo on Friday night to see my Kali family.  No matter what happens at work, my home is my refuge, my safe place where I can leave the outside world OUTSIDE and just have some "quality time" with my class.

Instead of collapsing on the couch in front of the TV, I choose to be on the mats sharing and learning while we train.  It is sometimes said that we make our living from 9-5 but we make our life from 5-9.  In my case, I prefer that 5-9 (7-9 actually) to be at the dojo whenever possible.  There are not too many other places I feel so comfortable.

My first dojo was a converted car garage in Bloomington Heights Illinois.  It felt like home.  Since then I have trained in dojos big and small all over the world.  Some famous and other you wouldn't recognize even if you stood right in front of them. Many of them felt more like home than where I slept at the time.  I fondly remember the KM dojo on Yan Kit Road (humble beginnings) and look forward to being back at the KM HQ in Singapore (one of the best dojo in the world).  Walking up the stairs feels nostalgic and I get a bit emotional every time I pass through the door there.  It feels like a place I BELONG.  The energy heals me.

KM Japan's dojo is a little rental studio in Roppongi near the subway station.
It can feel cramped with a full class, and it is not luxurious by any means, but when I am there I feel a great sense of contentment.  I hope it can be a refuge for us to think about our training and not about work or other worries.  I hope our students feel like part of our family and that they belong, too.

There is no secret formula in martial arts, no magic recipe or sacred scrolls.  There are no shortcuts.  There is only training.  Good, honest training and persistence which improves our skills over time.  Martial arts is the Great Equalizer, since regardless of body type if you have the will to train and invest the time, you will see the results.  The years teach much the days never know.

Of course, good teachers and good training partners matter.  A LOT.  They help you maximize your investment of time and energy and encourage you to remain motivated.  Some days energy is low and stress is high, and the Family is there to keep us focused and make sure we don't skip class if we could be there.

There's No Place Like Home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trial By Fire

(thanks for the inspiration KJ)

Friday night training followed by a meal together with my students.  For me it doesn't get much better than this.  We talk about a lot of things.  Sometimes we joke, but sometimes we really explore some of the substantive elements of our lives.

This time one of my senior students confided, "I've never been in a fight.  Not a real one, anyway...except a bit of pushing and shoving on the playground.  Not a real fight, though.  How can I teach people about fighting if I've never had to fight?"  A legitimate question.  Rory Miller (career department of corrections officer and author of several excellent books on violent encounters) would suggest that if you haven't done it, you shouldn't be teaching it.  I am not sure I fully agree though.

My explanation was that it all really depends on what you are teaching and what you expect your students to learn.  In the case of Sgt. Miller, his goal was to prepare corrections officers to survive working daily in a hostile environment where they would be challenged by intimidating physicality, potentially multiple (and/or armed) attackers who would need to be made complaint and restrained if necessary.  To achieve this, a menu of practical and devastating self-defense reactions was necessary for the officers' safety.  He taught based on his decades of direct experience handling these encounters.  It works.

By contrast, one of my favorite teachers refused to train his own country's special forces, generally considered an extremely lucrative and prestigious contract.  His reason?  They were field operatives so he would have to teach them to kill, and he was not sure how they would use that knowledge or on whom.  Thus, he wasn't comfortable teaching them.  He said NO.

If you plan to teach soldiers who will be in combat, or officers in the field, or anyone else in harm's way I agree with Sgt. Miller and suggest you do so from your own direct experience. There are many outstanding FMA practitioners who are or have been active law enforcement or elite military.  That is what they offer.

At the same time, there are also many excellent teachers who aspire to something else. Their mission is to help students build their character and discipline and prepare them for the challenges they will face outside the dojo in school, at work, and at home.  They want to give their students the confidence they will need to excel in life and achieve their goals by becoming better people.

My brothers and sisters teaching the KM Kids classes in Singapore are testament to this with the magnificent leaders they help grow.  My role models in other schools like Sensei Ramlan of ShudokanMaster Krenz and Shihan Borkowski are testament to this with the thousands of excellent black belts they have taught that are changing the world for the better.  Of course, my own teachers, Guro Fred and Guro Lila of Kali Majapahit, have a lifelong mission of personal development, health and spirituality which continues to be a great influence on how I choose to live my life.

Martial arts is a vehicle for self-improvement, at least it is for me.

My personal goal is not to prepare my students to kill or maim other people, although the techniques we learn can easily do so if needed.  I have been in violent encounters before (although fortunately not for a very long time), and I continue to feel regret for the harm I caused.  It was not worth the risk of going to prison for aggravated assault.  Learning how I would react under stress was not worth the guilt I feel for having injured another person.   I would have preferred not to know if my skills really worked.

In the end, every teacher has to decide what he or she is teaching their students.
What they learn is as much from what and how we act as it is from what we explicitly teach.  If we exhibit the qualities we want from them, we will influence our students to follow our example and someday exceed us.  I think this is the dream of all good teachers.  It is certainly mine.

See you at class.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Under the Surface

This picture's function is to remind us that fundamentally we are the same.
From the picture, we cannot tell the race, religion or sexual orientation of those people.  It challenges us to look under the surface, past what we see with just our eyes.

I like this picture.  I like it a lot.

However, it is only the first step toward a much deeper awareness of who we are and why we are.

I'd like to take this further...
I'd like a picture where what we see is only what we really are --- our souls.

Who we really are is not the bag of meat and organs that contain us.
It is not even our skeletons (although that is a good start).
This human body is a temporary form for us to reside in during this chapter of our soul's story.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It is here as a vehicle to help us explore and discover, very useful to bring us closer to our potential.  We are all made of the stars, since at some point that is the scientific origin of our matter - all matter actually.  That is where we come from and to where our physical bodies must inevitably return.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I wrote about this some years ago, using the analogy of cups (body) containing water (soul).

However, we are more than just our bodies.  We are beings of energy and it is precisely that energy, Life Energy, which connects us all - it always has and always will.  Our souls are timeless and our existence immortal.

I do not and will not accept any attempts by others, especially by governments and religious institutions, to promote division and separation of people based on arbitrary criteria like race, gender, sexual orientation, social status or religious beliefs.  I know in my heart we are all one; we are all connected.  Eternally.  I love and accept everyone who loves and accepts me and will never allow myself to be influenced otherwise.  I will allow my soul to shine brightly in the lives of others and light their way just as they light mine.  Together.

I hope for a future when this is the common understanding and we finally let go of what tears us apart so we can truly be connected.

WE
ARE
ONE

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I Am One

(spoilers ahead)

"I am One with the Force and the Force is With Me".

Anyone who has seen the latest Star Wars movie "Rogue One" probably remembers this epic line said by blind martial arts master Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen).

He uses this line like a mantra, repeating it as he performs heroic feats of incredible bravery.  These scenes are some of the most powerful and moving in the entire film.

I both love and hate the idea of the Force in the Star Wars universe, loving it since it hits correctly on many important Buddhist teachings and at the same time hating it for often trivializing these truths by delivering them, for example, from the mouth of an animated puppet (Master Yoda) .

One of my favorite aspects is the way that Chirrut's martial arts beliefs EMPOWER him to go beyond his limitations, whether they are his blindness, or even a fear of death.  Through his training, he becomes more than he otherwise would be, able to achieve the right perfect action in the right perfect moment - a lofty goal to which all of us on the Path aspire.

There are many religious institutions which are grounded in negativity and guilt.
Their goal is to make you feel bad for what you have done, or maybe even for just thinking or feeling something they don't condone.  These ways of thinking restrict believers' ability to express themselves and leave them feeling desperate for praise and validation by some divine entity (or by its' Earthly agents).
  • I prefer a belief system which gives us comfort and enables us to rise above our circumstances, challenging our limitations and helping us to become greater than we were without.
  • I prefer a belief system that helps us overcome our fears, rather than using them to control and limit us.  
  • I prefer a belief system based on positive encouragement and reinforcement, where the individual is supported by a community of like-minded brothers and sisters who help each other achieve each new set of goals.
  • I prefer a belief system based on compassion and forgiveness rather than revenge, where we are encouraged to let go of our negative emotions rather than find justifications to act on them.
  • I prefer a belief system based on inclusion rather than exclusion, where we are allowed to celebrate the connections that help bring us together rather than dwelling on the differences that would keep us apart.
  • I prefer a belief system based on personal accountability, where we neither ascribe blame nor give recognition where it does not belong.  We do not pray for help - we start by helping ourselves and each other in the here and now.
  • I prefer a belief system that emphasizes LOVE over hate and that helps us understand and experience that this is the true power of change.
  • I prefer a belief system that reminds us that The Revolution starts with us, WITHIN US, and reinforces that we must be the agents of positive change in our own lives.
We choose to accept who we are --- or  we choose to make the necessary changes to become otherwise.  We share this sacred journey together, hand-in-hand, toward our own successes.

I found this belief system --- in Martial Arts.   You can, too.

BE ONE.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Whetstones

"The best kind of friend is like steel sharpening steel..."

This quote was told to me back in September 1987 by my good friend Rob.  It is even written in the inside cover of my treasured copy of "Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere".  I was doing Aikikai back then, and Rob and I met while we were both taking a course in western fencing at College of DuPage.

When I started Kali Majapahit in Singapore, most of the first year I felt nervous in class. Guro Fred ran the classes himself and I wanted to do my very best every time.  It never felt like I did.  The techniques were complex and different from anything I had ever done before, so I struggled to keep up.  Still, I kept going to class and slowly got better.

Some of the best times were before or after the classes, or on other days when no specific lessons were planned.  I'd meet up with some of the other students and get extra practice in or just explore some of the ideas and concepts from class. We'd meet in Fort Canning Park or at someone's condo and use the common room or the roofs/balconies/void decks...anywhere we could find.

There was no pressure to perform, since it was just us.
With each other we would look at every aspect of every technique, breaking it down and working on it for as long as we could.
This really helped me improve.

When I teach class now, almost 9 years later, I move through the material quickly.
The KM curriculum is rich and complete.  There's a lot to cover in each class and I always feel a bit in a rush to move on so I can get through it all.  I also want to share as many examples as I can of each principle, to give each technique plenty of context.

Therefore, I  expect students to do as I did - find time to meet and train together and explore deeply what they have seen in class.  KM is about developing your own flow, nothing more nothing less, and that requires an investment of time outside of class, especially when KM Japan only has 4 hours of mat time per week.

The bonds I forged with my brothers and sisters in those early days will last all my life.  Long hours spent training together in parks, on beaches, rooftops and everywhere else helped me become the martial artist I am today and I will always be grateful for their fellowship and support.

Sharpen Each Other.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Marooned

Perhaps you've heard that famous icebreaker question, "if you were stranded alone on a desert island and could have only 3 things what would they be?"

Answers vary from the practical (survival knife, water filter, distress signal) to the humorous (horny supermodel(s), iPhone, helicopter).  Sometimes the question includes parameters such as which three people, which three books/records, which three foods, and so on.

Interesting conversation starters, to be sure.  In my case, I like to think that if I had enough fresh potable water and edible food (bananas, coconuts, pineapples, fish, etc.) reasonable shelter and the ability to make fire that I might find a few sturdy branches to make into sticks and keep practicing Kali until I found a way off the island or got rescued.

You see, Kali is not something I do, it's something I AM.  It's as much a part of me as breathing, sleeping or eating.  I think about Kali all the time and I can't imagine my life without it.  I just couldn't be happy.  Luckily my close friends and family understand and accept this about me.  Sometimes I guess I get a bit carried away, but I just can't help it.

My martial arts journey has lasted more than 35 years so far and includes a lot of arts and styles I experienced along the way (karate, wrestling, boxing, ninjutsu, iaijutsu/kenjutsu, aikijujutsu, aikido).  Through Kali Majapahit I have been introduced to several FMA styles (Kali/Arnis/Escrima) as well as Hakka Kuntao, Muay Thai/Muay Boran, Silat and JKD.  I love them all, but finding Kali Majapahit in 2008 was the real life-changer.

Kali Majapahit gave me a frame of reference for everything else I had done, and everything else I will do.  It is my way of understanding movement and space, and helps me see all other arts and styles with a practical understanding.  Simply put, other arts fit into my KM framework, but KM cannot be fit into theirs.  Kali Majapahit gave me the freedom to explore how I could move and develop my own flow.  It will do the same for you if you let it.

After nearly 9 years of training, my KM journey has just begun.  Now, I am called on not only to train but also to share my discoveries with others as their teacher.
It's a heavy responsibility, but I am constantly amazed and filled with pride at how good my students and assistants are.  Their dedication truly motivates me to try harder.

What I want from my students is that they someday feel the way I do - that their Kali is a part of their life forever and not just a place they go on Tuesday and/or Fridays after work.  I hope they will find a sanctuary in martial arts training like I did; that it becomes a part of their life's rhythm without which they would feel something missing.  I hope it becomes a treasured investment of their time and energy that pays off in practical skills they can use and share with their loved ones.
I hope they become part of the global FMA family community with brothers and sisters around the world that love to train and share as much as we do.

I hope even if they were stranded alone on a deserted island, like me, their training would continue.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Art of The Extra-Ordinary


Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly." Master Ittei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."

This week I was in Paris, France.  It's a fantastic city and in the springtime it truly has no equal.  The sunshine warms your face as you walk along the boulevards, and even the occasional spring shower just gives everything an extra shine.

I tried to understand the mystery of Paris' appeal and in doing so found an important lesson for my life.  Parisians have seemed to master what I call "The Art of Making the Extraordinary Ordinary".  What do I mean?

In Paris, everything is beautiful.  Everywhere you look there are sculptures and artwork.  Every building has an intricate facade and detailed columns.  Every street corner seems to have a museum on it and every cafe has a charming, inviting decor.  Even the local fruit and vegetable stand looks like a picture postcard.  You can feel the history of Western culture emanate from every inch.  Tourists like me snap photos constantly, hoping to capture the essence of what makes this city the way it is - and we fail.

All around us Parisians go about their daily business, driving through the Arc De Triumph, around the Eiffel Tower, down the Champs-Elysee.  They drink espresso and stroll along the Seine riverbank hardly taking notice of the majesty of their city - as if they have become numb to it.  The extraordinary (to us) has become ordinary to them.  It is perfectly and completely natural for them to live in such beautiful surroundings.  This casual disregard and aloofness is one of the most attractive and enduring features of what it means to be French.

There is a great lesson here: Expect Elegance
It seems as though the French expect elegance in their daily lives - they demand it.  Simple things are to be done with care and artistic presentation.  We should expect nothing less and never allow the daily routine to become trivial.  There is a simple elegance in a baguette and a coffee breakfast served the way it is done in Paris.  While the service may be aloof and frosty (although I found just the opposite) the attention to detail is undeniable.  The pride of workmanship is not unlike the Japanese craftsmanship that I love so much.

It reminded me to care a little more in the everyday aspects of my life, and to add artistic touches wherever possible.  The French way of life is about elevating yourself a little more than the ordinary, and that makes perfect sense to me.
As much as the French can make the extraordinary become ordinary, the reverse is also true.  That is, making the ordinary something extraordinary.

A day-long conference is brightened by a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower outside the office window.  A walk outside for lunch uncovers the magic of a small shop selling a great quality set meal.  An aromatic espresso sets the tone for the afternoon.  A quick chat with a friend in a cafe helps the day go by.  Even in a busy city like Paris, people find balance.  They eat well, exercise well and are not afraid to go home at the end of the day (or even a bit earlier).  Say whatever you will, I'm envious.  (note--- Parisians seem to enjoy smoking. A LOT.  I can live without that part)

Paris is a good reminder that our lives are what we make them - and that the details matter.  It is up to us to make the extraordinary a part of our everyday lives and to elevate ourselves to make the ordinary a little bit more.

It took me 50 years to get to Paris.  I am sure we'll meet again.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Hard Landings



Observe the above.  After I posted this on FB a week or so ago I got a lot of feedback on it.  You can see that in most of the cases, as soon as one guy gets slammed the fight is over.  In some, they are out on contact, in others they are out of position to a degree that the thrower can follow up however they want.

This is the kind of clip that I like to show to anyone who doubts Judo as a legitimate fighting art.  The throws in this video are done by AMATEURS.  Imagine what would happen if a well-trained Judoka did that.  The result would be critical injury or potentially death.

Some Take Aways:

1) Throwing Arts are extremely practical and worth some deep study
2) Strength training, especially deadlifts and squats, are keys to developing good throwing power
3) Breakfalls - better to know them than to get slammed and injured
4) Greater effectiveness is had from slamming to the ground vertically rather than projecting laterally
5) Many styles underestimate grabs as part of an attack, but these slams were all set up from initial grabs followed by closing distance.
6) Fights can get very serious very quickly.  In some of the above, I can imagine prison time (and lengthy hospital time for the victim) are involved.  Use with caution, especially off the mats.

Human beings are an enigma.  We are at once very strong (break bricks with strikes) and very weak (die just from falling to the ground).  I don't want to hurt anyone ever again, but I have serious respect for the effectiveness of throws/slams in real-life fighting situations.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Project Update --- Daily Dose Of Zen

The attached is a picture of an Omamori - a kind of lucky charm common in Japan. This particular Omamori is from the temple near my home in Yokohama.  I bought it on New Year's Eve for a particular purpose.  I am not superstitious and do not place faith in sacred artifacts or other items as a means to channel good fortune. Rather, I think good fortune and success are about hard work, keeping a positive frame of mind, having a plan, and preparing to take opportunity when it presents itself.

In this case, my objective with this Omamori is rooted in one of the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism, "mindfulness".  The Zen mind should be in the NOW, constantly aware of the details of each moment but clinging to none of them.  The Right Mind abhors subconscious habits in favor of deliberate choices about how we live.  We seek to anchor ourselves in the simple everyday moments and remain constantly perceptive of our connection to the living world around us.

This Omamori was meant to be in my pocket every day this year as a New Year's Resolution.  I was supposed to deliberately put it there each morning, and from time to time take it out, remind myself of the importance of awareness, and continue on.  It was to be a token of mindfulness, much in the way of the spinning top from the movie "Inception" (apologies for the reference if you didn't see it). That was the plan, anyway.

So...what happened?

I'd like to report on my supreme focus and laser-like determination.  That would be a lie.  The truth is a bit more disappointing.

Some days it was in my pocket, some days not.  It got lost for days and weeks, washed, dry cleaned, and finally rediscovered in my suit last Thursday after I had resigned myself to the fact that I had lost it for good.  Strangely, I found it in my pocket on a very busy day when I needed the focus.  What a pleasant surprise.

Having had a few days to think about it, the Omamori is a reflection of my own Zen mind since the beginning of the year.  I have been here and there, distracted, lost, found.  Moments of clarity amid weeks of confusion.  Frankly, as a student of Zen I have been a great example of what NOT to do.

(sigh)...no matter.

Just as my Omamori appeared in my pocket seemingly right when I needed it, so too my state of calm "centeredness" returns to me at just the right time.  I resolve to try a bit harder to remember the little things that keep me balanced.  I remind myself that the Way is without time and without hurry - it is NEVER too late to get back on track.  Failure is just another part of the journey.  The real value is in making the effort and continuing onward.

Even Buddha said he was not perfect, merely tending toward perfection.
For all of us, imperfect and impermanent as we are, there can be nothing more than this.

"Ici. Et Maintenant." - Sifu James  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Press Pause

(thanks for the inspiration Guro Rose)


Modern society expects so much from us.

We are always on the go, always connected...always tired.
Our attention spans get shorter and shorter as  we struggle to do more and more with the little time we have and feel guilty if we "do nothing".  Our schedules are already packed, and yet we try to do more...we are rushing constantly, and frequently late.  Many of us feel extreme stress and anxiety during the day, and end up feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted when we get home, unable to have relaxing times with our families and friends.  Weekends are spent sleeping, and then feeling guilty for not "doing something" or "getting out more".  It's a downward spiral that ultimately can lead to burnout and depression.

Sometimes we need to Press Pause.

Happiness may not be about doing more.
Maybe it's about doing less...but doing it "better".
Maybe it's about being fully in the moment rather than just "doing the best we can with the time we have" and settling for less than the full experience we deserve.  We need to pause in order to savor the moment.

Martial arts training is a great way to relieve stress by achieving a challenging physical workout.  Ultimately, though, it is about so much more than this.  It's about developing the confidence to go out and get the life you want - a balanced life - with time for the important things (and learning to remove the unimportant things).

Martial arts is about learning the importance of pausing.

Just like any good piece of music, the pauses are important - so important that we can say it isn't music without them.  Many of us wait for our annual leave to try to "recover" from work.  I would rather suggest that we need to manage our lives to have at least a few minutes daily to center ourselves and find peace in order to keep balanced.

At PWC, Sifu James gave us great, practical advice on meditation which I call "PBT".
P - Posture
B - Breathing
T - Thoughts

If we align these we can be meditating literally ANYTIME, ANYWHERE.
While I cannot condone levitating above the dining table in the company canteen (although it does sound like fun), I also think that we do not need a classical "meditation pose".  Thius means we could use time on the train or bus, or even sitting at our desks, to meditate for a few minutes a day in order to clear our minds and stay relaxed.  When the picture header for this article says "when you pause, pray", I think "when you pause, meditate".
To me they are the same.   

Martial arts training helps us be in the moment and focused, without our minds wandering to what we did earlier or what we are doing next.  We can stay focused on the drills and on our partners, training them just like they train us.

Martial arts training is about making small changes to how we move, how we engage, how we eat, how we feel which then result in big changes to how we live.  The dojo is a lab where we test these changes and make them ready for use outside the dojo in our everyday lives.

Martial arts training is about respect --- respect for others (teachers, brothers and sisters) and especially for OURSELVES.  We practice respecting our bodies by training safely, eating well, getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of water.  We also respect our time and the time of others, since that is the hallmark of any professional.  We expect the best from ourselves, which helps us get the best from those around us.  Learning to pause helps us appreciate the value of time a little more, ours and theirs, and remember how precious it is.

I have seen this martial arts transformation firsthand so many times.
People who come to class weak, unsure, timid, lacking confidence, shy.  Victims.
Little by little they are transformed.  Their bodies and minds get stronger.  Their will gets stronger. They refuse to compromise on their goals and begin to achieve them - inside and outside the dojo.  They become confident in who they are and how they are and develop a vision for who they want to be.  Their lives CHANGE.  Maybe they find their life partner.  Maybe they get promoted or get a new job.  Maybe they finish their degree.  Maybe they develop better relationships with their family and friends.  Maybe they become a better parent or mentor.  People begin to see them as LEADERS and INFLUENCERS.  They stand out from the rest of the pack.

My fellow Kasamas and Guros were not all born so.  Their achievements are the result of years of hard work and dedication.  They are regular people who chose to become EXTRAORDINARY people.  I am proud to have them in my family.
However, it is important to remember that anyone, really anyone, could make the same choice.  The beauty of success is that anyone can do it if they focus and do the work.  Success really is for EVERYONE.

It starts with a pause...

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Don't Stop Believin'

(thanks for the inspiration Ray)

"Don't Stop Believin'. Hold on to that Feelin'" - Journey

We sat on the floor in the Big Villa, on cushions or yoga mats.  Tired from a hard days' training, wondering what Guro Fred, Sifu James, Guro Claes would have in store for us.  The days of Peaceful Warrior Camp were filled with training, starting at 0630 on the beach, and ending every night with a group conference on health, personal development or spirituality.  It was simply amazing.

Guro Fred talked about believing in ourselves and deliberately choosing happiness. He talked about letting go of everything except the desire to have the life we want. Most of us are already avid Tony Robbins followers, especially Guro Fred's inner circle of instructors, most of whom have read the books/listened to the audio, watched the Youtube videos, etc.  Still, the constant reminders to never let go of our dreams help us to refocus on what we really want from our lives; from ourselves.

Guro Fred asked me to tell my story.  He's heard it before.
There was a time in my life when I couldn't tell it at all - for years I was afraid that people would reject me if they knew the truth of what I went through.  I was ashamed of who I had been.  As I got older, wiser, stronger I realized the story might help others and I agreed to tell it.

Take a Deep Breath...Here goes...

After I was born at Norfolk Naval Hospital in Virginia, my birth parents moved to Chicago.  My dad had developed a severe drug problem in Vietnam and was prone to violent outbursts.  He came from an abusive home in New York City.  My mom knew it wasn't safe for me and that she couldn't raise me on her own.  Their marriage was dissolving rapidly.  Finally, they placed me into foster care at Illinois Children's Home and Aid just before I was a year old.  I still remember the corkboard walls and the big red VW beetle they let me play with while my foster family did their paperwork.

I grew up in the Illinois State foster care program, with a social caseworker and weekly therapy until I was in junior high school.  Small, but with a big mouth (still), I was bullied constantly, to the degree that I had to have a teacher nearby throughout the day to avoid being beaten by the other kids.

At 14, I started my martial arts journey, in a garage-turned-dojo in Bloomington Heights.  I got a part-time job just so I could pay for lessons.  My parents refused to drive me to class so my teacher would pick me up every day.  I kept on going, training daily until I was 21.  My teacher required me to get good grades, so I did. He required me to be respectful, so I was.  For every hour I spent training, he gave me another hour or more of lectures and books on Japanese history, military history, strategy, tactics.  The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, I studied and read constantly. The more he told me about Japan the more I wanted to go.

It wasn't just about martial arts.  It was about breaking out of all the labels I had been given, having the freedom to choose my life and not being stopped by who I had been before or my being property of the state.  It was about deciding what I wanted and going out and getting it.  I made up my mind to get to Japan no matter what.  I had no idea it would ultimately take me 10 years.

The first plan for me to visit Japan was through my connections in the USKA.  I had been a competitor and judge for a while and was getting known in the Midwest circuit.  My teacher told me that Grandmaster Robert Trias, one of the first non-Asians to open a karate school in America (back in 1947 in Arizona), was assembling a team of delegates to travel Asia as ambassadors of martial arts in the US.  I was to be the youngest member.  It was like a dream come true.

Unfortunately, Grandmaster Trias was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer that year.  The trip was cancelled and he died the following year in 1989.  I was heartbroken.

The second time, in 1990, I was bartending at a club in Lombard called The Pacific Club, owned by legendary Chicago Bears football player Walter "Sweetness" Payton.  For some reason, the club had a sister club in Osaka, Japan.  I was excited.  I applied to be transferred.  Everything seemed to be going my way, and the summer flew by as I thought of nothing else but Japan.  At the end of the summer, the club fired me, saying that they were cutting back on staff.  I cried so hard I couldn't drive home and I sat for several hours in the parking lot in my car, alone.

The third time I was a junior in college at North Central College (go Cardinals!).  I had been studying Japanese for nearly a year already and hoping I might get another chance.  NCC had a fully funded sister program with Nagoya Gakuin in Nagoya - one place only for ten applicants. I knew I had to get it because I was destined for it.  This was MY TIME.  As a junior I wouldn't get another chance.  If I missed it, I'd graduate the next year, get a job and that would be that.  I put my heart and soul into the interview and waited confidently for a good result.

Sato-sensei, my Japanese professor, called me at work himself to tell me the news.
"I'm so sorry, John-san" he said.  In an instant the world went black.  I dropped the receiver, my hands shaking, tears streaming down my face in front of the dining room, the waiters and waitresses, the other bartenders.  Without a sound I took off my apron and walked out the front door...I was ready to die that night.
Three strikes and you're out.

Tommy King, my friend the waiter, saved my life.  He shoved me into his car and we drove downtown.  I don't remember much of the following desperate days other than vague recollections of me chugging pitchers of beer while standing on tables at Dick's Last Resort (we got thrown out of course) and possibly stealing a Pirelli off of a similar car in the early morning hours to fix Tommy's own flat tire. Thanks, Tommy, wherever you are.  I owe you my life.

When I got back to school Monday I had lost all motivation.  I had been a straight A student in Japanese and now I just didn't care. I would graduate in a year and forget Japanese just like I had forgotten the 6 years of French I aced in junior high school and high school.  Why bother?  Those were some of the darkest days of my life, marking time like a dead man walking, waiting for my coffin to close.

A week later Sato-Sensei called me in for a one-on-one.  He asked me to apply again.  I refused.  He begged me.  He told me he would write my recommendation letter himself.  He told me how much he believed in me, and how he could feel how much I loved Japan and wanted to go.  At his insistence, I applied to Kansai Gaidai in Osaka.  Sato-Sensei, if there is a heaven, you are in it.

Needless to say, it worked.  I was accepted.  I spent 1991 in Osaka and have never looked back since.  I am writing this post happily from Yokohama, surrounded by my wife, children and in-laws, having had the adventure of a lifetime here in Japan.  I've now been here for more than half my life, and I intend to stay.  Forever.

I will never forget touching down at Narita Airport that first time, 26 years ago.  I knelt down in the terminal and put my forehead to the floor.  After 10 years and 3 failed attempts --- I had finally made it.  My dream was my reality.  I knew, like I knew my own name, that I could achieve anything I ever really wanted to do.  In that moment, I became invincible.

Sometimes I still can't believe all this really happened to me.  I worry that I will wake up back in Chicago, back in an orphanage, back in foster care.  I won't.  I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

We all have dreams in our hearts.  I got mine for real.  You can get yours, too.
I know this. I've been there.  I've seen the deepest darkness when you are ready to give up, to let go.  I've also felt the incredible joy of achieving something everyone else told you you would never do, something you even doubted yourself about sometimes.  When I tell you your dreams can come true..Trust me.  I know.

DREAM BIG.