Monday, March 27, 2017

8. Leaning

Karate is about centeredness.  It’s about keeping your weight directly above your base.  This isn’t glamourous but it is necessary.  We – I especially – always want to get ahead of ourselves.  We want to get there sooner so we lean forward.  We want to avoid unpleasantness so we lean backwards.  People who love fighting are always leaning forward.  People who hate conflict are always leaning backwards.  Well-balanced people, centered people, are actually quite rare.

In many things, my center stays directly above my base.  But in many other things, my training comes to mind, I’m forever getting ahead of myself.  And despite my admonishments, despite my actively trying to avoid doing exactly this, I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Things aren’t built high and strong through plan and will alone.  Things are built high and strong by having a broad and dependable base.  Things are built high and strong by building over a strong base.  It’s both.  A strong base is necessary to build anything that lasts, but to build high, there is an alignment, both in space and time.  You build up and over the base, centered.  Otherwise, if you’re lucky, you have the leaning Tower of Pisa.  If you’re not lucky, you get something worse.

The base and the alignment to the base.  The foundation and the center.  The faster you find the base and the faster that you align yourself to the base, the higher you can go.

I leaned to far forward, getting ahead of myself, out of eagerness.  And now, my groin hurts, my knee aches and I have to wonder whether I’m stronger or weaker than before.   The white belt has to learn to recognize leaning and alignment before anything else.  They have to know what leaning looks like and feels like so that they can find their center again.  Finding your center is especially difficult when you don’t realize that your leaning.


My center is simple.  My weight, my groin, my knee, my feet, my rotator, my core and my heart.  So long as these gaps – these suki – remain, any skill or strength I gain somewhere will simply weaken my foundation in one of these places.  A day gone by where I don’t improve or strengthen one of these things is a wasted day – and even the smallest improvement is a massive victory, a return to my center.  I thought that I could start being strong, then sturdy then powerful.  But before I’m any of those things I have to be balanced enough to stop leaning, to fill the gaps in my foundation.  I have to be able to stand up straight, above my base, completely centered.  That’s the first task of any white belt.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

7. Places to visit

I was eating a cookie.  I could feel the refined sugar assaulting my system, the baked carbohydrates.  I could feel my brain revelling in it, craving more.

And then I closed the container.

The cookie, delicious and full of delight as it was, was just a vacation.  It was just a place to visit.  But I wouldn’t want to live in a vacation.  It wouldn’t be long before I didn’t consider it a vacation anymore.

Training with weights is a vacation.  As is jogging.  And skipping rope.  And swimming.  Biking.  Rock Climbing.  They are all productive vacations meant to reinforce the collection of thoughts, movements, actions and behaviour that constitute me.

I want to be better at these things not in and of themselves.  I want to be better at these things so that I can one day consider myself to be good at karate and basketball.  Karate and basketball are where I live and work.  Everything comes back to that.

It is a shame how many days and weeks and years that I avoided my home, the places in my heart where karate and ball reside.  I think that my absolute peak will never be what it could have been and it saddens me…


And then I think of the peak that I’m yet to reach and I continue my climb.  Chopping wood, carrying water.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

6. 20.5 or the Power of Numbers

One must imagine that if you were a person that felt intimidated by any type of math beyond arithmetic, that if you had anxiety looking at a page of calculation that had more letters than numbers on it, that the world would be much more freeing than it actually was.  The person who can’t appreciate the % sign, the relationship between a circle’s radius and circumference and geometric rates of change is playing the whole world by ear, getting by on rules of thumb.  Everything is immediate; uncertainty is replaced with comforting sham certainty.  We see this more and more today – this tacking back away from numbers.  Using numbers to obfuscate or simply making numbers subservient accomplices in what we’ve made up our minds about already. 

This is a sad state.  Mathematics is like philosophy – a way of interpreting the world.  But maths also has the benefit of quantifying the world as it qualifies it.  The shape of things comes to be seen; equations map out the relationships between things, between controls and variables.  One relationship after another comes to be appreciated right down to the fundamental relationships between subatomic particles.

If it seems daunting its because it is.  It’s supposed to be: the universe is daunting and gaining the power to understand it should be as well.  But I’m getting away from myself.  Because really I just want to illustrate the power of a number to change perspective.

20.5.  If it were working days in a month, it would be expected.  If it were vertical jump in inches it could be impressive.  But what if it were the amount of years you had left to live?  What would that number immediately do to even the person that resents numbers and math the most?  20.5 weeks?  20.5 hours?

Fortunately 20.5 does not signify this to me (at least, not to my knowledge).  But it is no less able to change my life.  20.5 is my body fat percentage as determined by an InBody 570 Body Composition test on Tuesday February 28.

I know of the limits of induction currents in determining the accuracy of fat stores.  That doesn’t really matter.  What matters is having a number.  A number to work with.  A frame of reference to move away from.  The number 205, which is my current weight, won’t do as well because it can go up with things I want, like muscle, as it goes down with things I can do without, like fat.  But 20.5 is a standard.  It is an island upon which I long stood.  And now is time to push away from that island and make sure that its getting smaller as I move away.

This will take everpresence of mind, which we call zanshin in karate, and mindfulness which we call shoshin in karate.  I will have to keep that number in the back of my mind and be mindful of what I put into my body, both from a nutritional and exercise standpoint.  In 8 weeks I will stand on that machine again and see if the island has gotten any smaller.  And if it hasn’t I’ll still have made progress.  Because I’ll know what I shouldn’t be doing.

***


A new way of being ready – I’ve discovered a new way of being ready…One that never occurred to me before.  Surprise, surprise – it depends on wantpower, awareness of self, and restraint.  Time to go exploring…

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

5. Sturdy, strong, powerful


I always want more, don’t I?  Always thinking of the horizon.  That’s never gotten me anywhere.  I’d go to gym and work out at the rep max that they say builds ‘optimal muscle’.  And I’d get so sore and hurt myself so easily.  It was like a bad joke.

How did I get strong in karate?  A lot of mundane, mind-numbing repetition of relatively, unchallenging things.  Chopping wood and carrying water isn’t about trying to chop a lot of wood and carrying a lot of water right now.  It’s just chopping wood and carrying water – nothing more or less.  The habit of a physical reality, a physical relationship with your own body.  Once it was punching at air in a mirror, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning for over three years…

And now its doing squats a little lighter than I think I should, doing fewer pullups than I think makes a difference, deadlifts lighter than I can, bench lighter than I’d like, handstands for shorter than is totally exhausting, plank before I collapse and crunches before I start to cramp.  I want to be powerful before I’m strong and strong before I’m sturdy.  I’m 36 years old.  I haven’t even been sturdy in at least seven years.

I can bench 140 lbs eight times.  But not one of those reps would be stable.  I wouldn’t feel like I was controlling the weight – I’d feel like the weight was controlling me.  Same for squats and deadlifts…the anxiety is always there.  The anxiety should be there for the last rep, not the first.  If it’s there for the first rep, you might be strong enough to lift it, but you sure aren’t sturdy.

Is it just about supporting weight or is it about handling weight with comfort?  The difference is night and day.  I can lift Sheba but she definitely doesn’t feel like I should do that.  It isn’t easy, and she can tell that I’m struggling.  I don’t want her to feel my struggle.  I want her to feel like she could stay there forever.

Consistency then volume then intensity... Do, do more, then do harder.

So, as I’ve been saying for years and never actually putting into practice, I’m going to show myself some consideration.  I’m going to go easy because I have a tendency to go too hard too soon.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even find that I enjoy it more than I ever did before.

***

The body betrays... The heart aches, not of the emotional kind, the kind that is joined with lost breath. When was the last time that I played basketball and kept my breath? 10 years now? 12? It isn't healthy. How to strengthen my heart for something I love so much. How to enjoy it to the fullest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

4. Soft Calloused Hands

Is the mark of a potent life gentle, but calloused hands?  Karate – the empty hand – an empty hand can be an open hand or a closed fist.  But many people close their fist and shouldn't punch something or someone.  Their fist is just a superficial feature of evolution: the semblance of a weapon, of potency.  Most unconditioned people who punch something hard will sprain their wrist or break a bone.  Having a fist isn’t enough.

In the same vein, hands that are too soft are obviously not indicative of a strong body behind them. The makiwara taught me this lesson first - pullups reminded me.  I look down at my hands and they hurt, long before my muscles burned.  Your training and your life can be hidden within your body in many ways but it really is difficult to hide them from your hands.  Your hands either have callouses – where you grip things with purpose or strike things with intention – or they don’t.  They are indicative of your growing skill and your dedication, or they aren’t.  They potentiate everything that happens in your body every joint in the chain later.  No one with unconditioned hands could have a truly strong body.  You can have a strong heartbeat without calloused hands but not a strong body.  And getting strong hands usually cannot happen without having more heartbeats.

Obviously callouses aren’t the only mark of strength, of a person who tests themselves.  It is the easiest to see perhaps, but hands aren’t merely the first link in a chain of applying force.  They are also magnificent instruments – perhaps in the final analysis the most remarkable instrument in the universe.  Maybe there is a species with better formed hands somewhere out there, or a form of life that can move things with their minds alone, but until we find that pinnacle, the human hand was ultimately the tool of note in every single made or crafted thing in our human world: from the plastic tips on the end of laces to the Panama Canal and the Great Wall of China.  Human hands, making tools, making more tools, making tools to make other better tools.  All of them which have their start from our first instrument – four fingers and a thumb.  There can be no mistaking the fact that a human that uses the hand primarily in fist form - as a bludgeon or to simply lift things from here to there - has barely scratched the surface of what it is to be human at all.

Soft, calloused hands then.  Gentle and precise, when sitting at the keys of a piano or signing one’s signature.  Strong and tough enough to support one’s weight, hanging from a bar.  This is self-realization, making the most of what we are physically and spiritually.  I would argue that karate creates an expectation of both – the hand capable of caressing and abusing.  Is a key problem to humanity that most people only use their hand as one or the other?  Would our world be more balanced if humans were more balanced?  And would humans be more balanced if they could use their hands as easily as an instrument of fine precision as they do a blunt, simple, dull object?

Chop wood, carry water – this builds callouses quickly.  Sitting and writing about chopping wood & carrying water – maybe this is part of the softness that should accompany the hardness.

***

Consider the shooters pocket

the feel of the release point, elevated, the elbow held high
fingertips – hold the ball lightly, like jello, tofu

guide hand? More like the anchor hand…locks the ball comfortably and then you drop anchor, pops off the ball, reverse flick of the wrist

elevated elbow, push through the elbow
minimal finger tension
relaxed wrist – tofu – more tension & action as range increases
up and over the rim

targeting b. r. a. d. – kime, focus intently upon the front then back ring
follow up and through to the point of your gaze
range doesn't matter, control & consistency

Saturday, February 4, 2017

3. Chop wood, carry water

We are forever fighting our nature.  We like to think that we were totally in control of something – if nothing else, than at least in total control of ourselves.  We made those decisions – they weren’t made for us.  The sleeping moments of our lives are 33%, the waking moments are 66%.  But our conscious moments aren’t the same as our waking moments.  Not by a mile.  Our waking moments are 66% but are conscious moments are probably less than 25% of our days.

Most of our conscious moments are dedicated to the pursuit and refinement of routines that we can do unconsciously.  Most of our lucidity is devoted to creating paradigms for not thinking.  We think hard about getting an income so that we don’t have to think about it.  We just get out of bed and take a pre-planned route to work.  We eat at familiar places and talk about predictable things. We are creatures of habit but by and large deny it to ourselves – and deny the power of that truth.

Do we inhabit our dreams, the same way we inhabit our other routines?  Or do we just visit them for a moment, the way that a glimpse at a photograph reminds you of a place from the past?  Dreams must be dragged into the present.  They have to be made real today – broken down, digested, disassembled.  And then they have to be inhabited – the same way that you inhabit your commute to work, your choice of television to watch, the foods you like to eat.

Chopping wood and carrying water.  Everything that we do is labour of a kind.  Every form of labour to one person is a labour of love to another.  Some people inhabit the pleasure that comes from sitting in front of a television for hours on end.  To others, the mere idea of such sedentary recreation is the same as drudgery.  Whatever your dreams or desires, the only way to get better at something, to inhabit a behaviour or routine or way of being is to make a habit out of it.  To make that shift from something that you choose consciously now to something that you chose for yourself long ago and merely delude yourself into thinking that you have some discretion over it now.

For the next 6 weeks, I’m just going to chop wood and carry water.  The choice was already made, all that’s left is to delight in the choice.

***

There is a difference between a good workout and a great workout that didn’t really exist before the age of 28.  Before 28, a good or great workout was anything that you did, hard or repeatedly, for anywhere between 1 to 2 hours.  Chances are that your body got stronger and your skill level improved, no matter what it was that you were doing.  Here at 35, that just isn’t true.  A good workout is exhaustive, draining you of the ability to perform at all.  But this almost always has some consequence the next day that on balance decreases your quality of life.  A great workout at 35 is about balancing the enthusiasm to push your limits today with being smart enough to operate at a reasonable capacity even as you recover and recouperate.  Before 28, this was not a consideration.

I could shoot balls in the morning for an hour and a half.  And I can convince myself that it will make me a better shooter.  But closing in on shin splints or cramps or the like, this isn’t success.  This is failure.  This is the worst failure of all, because it misleads people to thinking that it is success.  You leave exhausted saying that you pushed your limits.  When in reality you crossed the line from stress to strain.  Stress can make something stronger after recuperation.  Strain is warping something a little more each time until that something breaks.

Don’t satisfy yourself with good workouts.  Don’t settle for less than a great workout – the workout that leaves you feeling refreshed for today and optimistic that you’ll be more tomorrow.

***

Have I gone all this time not knowing how to relax?  In the pool, on a court?  The amount of effort and tension necessary to deadlift a weight is considerable.  The amount of effort and tension necessary to shoot a basketball or swim a length of a pool is very, very small.  A ball is very light.  The water buoys your body.  Relax.  Follow through with the stroke.  Drain the tension from your neck.  Like karate, keep the shoulders loose.


The guide hand should pop off aggressively.  The shooting elbow should push up like a handstand.  Consider handstand work to improve the release.  And the guide hand should secure the ball almost backwards towards you.  Hold the ball lightly, like tofu.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2. Planting Seeds

More heartbreak.  But I can count to 2.

***

I don't know why it took 35 years to actually put this into words but here goes.  A very special person taught me a lesson that had escaped me.  A lesson that was the main reason for my tendency to have my grand plans stagnate and stall.

Embodiment takes time. Taking a plan and making it a part of you has covert effects before the overt effects emerge. Anyone can lift a weight of perform a kata. The body and mind change immediately - but this change happens on the scale of the micron, the sarcomere, the synapse. For that weight or kata to leave a visible impression in your body takes time.  To be on the safe side don't assume that you will see any improvement until you've committed to doing something for a minimum of two moons unbroken.  That is not to say that if you do something for 6 or 7 weeks that you have not changed. You certainly have but the growth is below the surface at a level that cannot be overtly discerned.  The seed does not break the surface of the soil overnight.  The groundwork and foundation happens below the surface, the basement must be built before the house is raised.  We surrender prematurely and often because we don't immediately see the sprout, and figure our efforts are for naught. Give it a couple of months… You will see that the seed of your efforts was working the whole time.

Therefore to make real progress in life you have to be not just nurturing planted seeds. You also have to plant more seeds. Planting seeds and nurturing seeds - this is the cycle of growth and progress.

The Keiko for this year is a plant whose seed is only 3 weeks old.  Let's see where we are 5 weeks from now and see whether the seedling has broken the surface.

***

Consider the idea of sequence breaking in shooting.  The most important flaw of our shot has always been keeping the ball too low.  It has to be elevated before your toes leave the ground.  Feel the 'L', keep the wrist loose.  Hold the ball lightly.  Don't be afraid to move the guide hand a little further forward and flip the guide hand free just like you flip the shooting hand forward.  Often, misses have the guide hand in contact with the ball for too long.  

There is the jumper where the release is coordinated with the extension of the legs and the set shot which is based more on arms and wrist feel.  Play with both types of shot - look for where one can combine with the other. 

***

Neck pain from swimming or from squats?   Don't know.  Definitely need to improve breathing form for freestyle swimming.  Look down and relax with your stroke.  Relaxing makes it easier to hold breath and breath.  Use as few muscles as possible.