Monday, January 27, 2020

Unsettled

I didn't know the man.  But I could recognize the fire.  In a professional setting, with all eyes on you, it is easier to manifest the fire of life - what in karate we call kiai.  Still, many don't.  He played games, yes, but the stakes were high enough for them to stop seeming like games anymore.  The man was not perfect but when the gauntlet was thrown, he did not shy away - he was not bashful.

He did not settle.

For better or worse.  People speak of Kobe Bryant and they speak first of the fire - of kiai.  There is a lesson here - not because he could put a ball through a hoop, not because he was one of the best in the world to do it.  The lesson is that he fought his way there.  He fought his way there, and other people, many people, who saw his fight, felt humbled by it.

I am unsettled by the thought of perishing without making my fire real.  I am more unsettled by the thought of my daughter going before her time or of me not being able to kindle her fire within.

I like this feeling, this mortal weariness.  I will not mourn the passing of this man.  He lived more in his 41 years than I might live in 80.

I will mourn his daughter and the others aboard and I will take this lesson to heart.  A small spark...

A vivid reminder that we are running out of time.  Time is of the essence - it is here to be used.

Use time.  Don't just exist in it.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Hansei / Kime

The trick is - and it has always been - review.

Karate is about winning the moment.  But the moment was already won.  You won it that last time that you fought for the last rep.  The last time that you pushed yourself past the edge of the blade.

You just have to review the moment.  In your mind, in your heart and in your body.  You have to remember it so keenly that this moment and the next moment and the one after that feel so much like the moment that was already won that they become the same.  The moment stays with you until you wake up one day and realize - it's the only moment. 

We tell ourselves that the problem is deciding.  That we have to choose to decide over and over again.  But this is bonnō - delusion.  We made the choice.  All that's left is reviewing the choice again and again and seeing past the delusions.  The delusion that surrender is weakness.  The delusion that there is strength in inertia.

Accelerate.  That too, is karate.

Surrendering to the choice and reminding ourselves that this surrender isn't a shackle.  This is the only type of surrender that isn't slavery... 

This is the surrender that sets us free.

But you must mind your surrender and remind yourself.  Each time you remind and review you sand the imperfections and doubts away from what you know to be true.  You smooth and polish the rationale until it is without flaw. 

You must review the choice until it is the only thing that you can see.  That's where you'll finally find the most direct path.  That's where you'll find the tranquility we're all looking for.  The tranquility and unity.  The eye of the storm.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Doing, being and becoming

Karate lies in the doing

Ever since my daughter was born, I've been waiting for when I'll have more energy.

More verve, more time, more MORE...

So many illusions, bubbling up into my head.

I've forgotten about Shinken - the seriousness that is part of Karate...

Part of life.

If I don't take myself seriously, no one is going to do it for me.

Time to start seriously squeezing myself dry.

Time to start seriously finishing things I start (todome).

Time to start embracing how tired I am...

...and how much finding joy...

...is going to suck...

2019/10/30

***


"Safe" spaces

The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise. 
- Tacitus

  • is the question of 'is' the fundamental misunderstanding between humans?
    • question of being vs questions of things that beings do?
    • is homosexuality something that someone is or something that someone does?
    • many people see it as a "doing" - a choice made
      • for them homosexuality isn't a question of identity but rather preference
  • ideologically safe spaces are everywhere - and are not good
    • echo chambers - positive reinforcement - people become more and more certain with less and less actual knowledge
  • identity safe spaces are important especially against the danger of the tyranny of the majority
  • problem comes from the blurred lines
    • blurred lines from when an ideological challenge challenges the value or very validity of an identity
    • blurred line between when words make that challenge and when the challenge is won and the words incite action
      • it was once just words for the Nazi party to challenge the patriotism and integrity of German Jews (Nazi ideology)
      • Then those words invalidated their identity and redefined their identity as other (Jews that claim to be German instead of German Jews) and made it okay to kill them like livestock (ideology redefines an identity)
  • who is the arbiter of identity?
    • who is the arbiter of which identities are significant?
      • of great importance because identity determines the agency of voice
        • why people place great importance on the identity shared by judges and less on the identity shared by children
    • who determines which individuals meet the criteria for an identity?
      • this is of great importance because authenticity of identity determines legitimacy of opinion
        • is a person a judge if fellow judges don't recognize them as a judge?
        • is a person black if they don't look black?
          • how much black must a person have in them before they are worthy of being listened to regarding the black experience?
  • how much do black people collectively have in common?
    • how much do africans, caribbeans, afro-americans, and afro-europeans actually have in the way of shared experience?
    • raises the question of the ideological value of identity classification known as 'black'
      • seems to mean everything and nothing at all - based solely on an ambiguous and highly variable amount of melanin in the skin
        • yet at the same time an albino can be black - so it is based on skin tone yet not based on skin tone - is it based on anything?
        • and if it is based on anything...again, what is the value of the identity classification?  what does 'being black' tell you definitively about a person the way that being 'tall' tells you that it is easier for a person to reach for tall things?
  • So it is not unreasonable to say that 'black'ness - the quality of being black and the identity known as black, really doesn't amount to anything
    • the majority of people can agree upon this and every affirmative action program meant to factor in the historical legacy of discriminating against people because they were 'black' can be wiped away in an instance
    • the ideological challenge to identity becomes more than just words - it becomes action that obliterates their existence in terms of thought, alienates them from their own ideas of themselves and affects their bodies in a material way due to social convention
    • a type of conceptual homocide for no one to believe you are who you say are
      • a type of conceptual genocide for no one to acknowledge that what you are is reality rather than a choice or a mere claim to truth rather than a truth
  • given the gravity of the language we use:
    • it is easy to see that a liberally inclined mind might come to the conclusion that anything approaching a challenge to one's identity should be off limits
      • people are who they say they are, what they say they are, their lived experience of being what they say they are is more important than any outside quantification, and their identity should be respected as definitive, inviolate and worthy of voice irrespective of anything else
        • a person that says they are black is black, you can't know what their experience is
      • questioning of a person's identity, assigning value to it starts the process of outside forces determining whether that identity will be incorporated into the majority or marginalized as 'other' and pushed to annihilation
    • it is easy to see that a conservatively inclined mind might come to the conclusion that anything approaching a protection of the identity of others represents a challenge to freedom of speech and the process of evaluating statements, claims and ideas
      • people make claims of identity that need to be evaluated, truth isn't served by having topics that are off-limits, the burden of proof for recognizing an identity as significant should be high, anyone can make a claim of lived experience that amounts to basically hearsay, what matters are facts that confirm and support these claims or else any meaning classification of things and beings becomes moot, subject only to opinions
        • a person can be homosexual not because they are interested in members of the same sex but rather because they say they are - homosexuality begins to mean nothing
      • questioning of a person's identity, assigning value to it starts the process of outside forces determining whether that identity will be incorporated into the majority or marginalized as 'other' and pushed to annihilation
        • and this is good: certain claims need to be struck down as untrue, certain voices should be extinguished at the expense of other more credible voices
        • people who actually are who they say they are can prove it, people who can't are not an identity - they are merely claiming an identity by choice
          • choices can be changed, modulated by conditioning of right and wrong
  • the idea of a safe space is seductive
    • safety is an aspiration not a destination
      • it is a process not a place
    • to fashion an absolutely safe place would be to create a world without risk, without offense, without dialogue
      • all great things require risk - at a minimum the risk of failure
      • most truths come from dialogue, all dialogue has the potential for offense 
    • without the explicit acknowledgement of the paradox between an ideological challenge and an identity challenge - people are arguing at cross purposes
      • the liberal mind sees one slippery slope - towards marginalization/annihilation of the minority (tyranny of the majority); the conservative mind sees another slippery slope - towards silencing dissenting voices (tyranny of the minority)
At the bottom of the page, the conclusion is what you didn't want to hear: no one is the good guy.  No one is right on 100% of things, 100% of the time; no particular way of thinking, save perhaps good old skepticism, will make you right more often than you are wrong.  Everyone is selling something - the people who yell the loudest can be the most right or the most wrong.  Or as the great Greg House puts it - "There are only two things you can depend on: Everybody dies.  And everybody - everybody - lies."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Bigger not better

Re: 2019 WCF Semi Game 5:  **Start of Rant - feel free to move on**

Steph said something in the post-game interview that I know he's said a million times but it bothered me nonetheless.  He said that it was a game of runs...

At 3:00 left in the 2nd the Dubs were up 57 to 37.  You'd think any team in the convo for 'Best Ever', any team that can play the kind of defense that they could, would just control tempo and make the other team work.  From that point, one of the most talented teams in history scored not a single point missing on 8 straight attempts, all by their best three players - 2 by Steph, 3 by KD and 3 by Klay.  Only one was a drive to the basket: a blown layup by KD.

I remember the days when any team, let alone a championship team, would have a couple of empty trips down the floor and you just knew that the best player on the team would put their head down and go to the hole and get to the line.  The other team was putting together a run, so you came down and put yourself in a position to get a basket or a whistle.  There was an art to stifling a run - killing a run.  KD, Klay and Steph all remember those days, they grew up watching it on TV.  But they have so much talent that they don't have to do things like that, think the game. 

Talented scorers in the past the calibur of Klay, Steph and KD were always leveraging the threat of shooting at range to get easier shots and to get to the line, the way Harden does now.  But Klay shoots the ball 20 times and doesn't get to the line once in FORTY-FIVE minutes of play (doesn't even try to) and everyone is like that's normal.  Steph is the most dangerous shooter of all times and can break down guys on the perimeter seemingly at will, but going to the hole is like a complete afterthought.  He played absolute dogshit the first half, had no feel at all at range and you couldn't point to the moment when he said to himself he should try going to the hole and get to the line to get himself going.  Steph has gotten better but you can't tell me he's clearly getting smarter.

They really haven't had to get smarter because they have all these safety nets to fall back on.  I'm not talking about gaming the refs for a call.  I'm talking about putting pressure on the defense in a way that they don't expect when your shot isn't falling.  I'm talking about consciously feeding a hot Klay instead of watching him light it up for the first 12 minutes and then mindlessly going away from him.  For all the nonsense that Harden engages in, he has a much better sense of taking advantage of all of his talents, maximizing what's around him, mainly because he has to.  He scored only once in the last 8 minutes but he made the right play every time: Rox scored on 8 of 12 possessions.  It was only when KD went down did you see Steph actually consciously decide to go to the hole and mix it up.  Suddenly he's scoring again and if you asked him after the game, he probably wouldn't be able to see the relationship between going to the hole and finally putting some shots down.

People will say it's just because he has the ball in his hand more when KD's out.  It's not that.  It's what Steph does with it when it's in his hand.  If the defense is sure that you're going to shoot, then that's a problem.  The defense should never be sure what you're going to do when you're at Steph's level.  His live dribble gives him too many options to play like garbage.  No one who can handle the ball AND move off-ball like Steph has an excuse.

For all the bellyaching for how good the Warriors are, they should be way better than this.  Draymond is still reckless.  Klay is as dependable as he is predictable.  Livingston looks as bad as CP3.  Steph disappears in proportion to KD rising and STILL hasn't put together that avoiding a touch foul is more important than staying on the floor.  KD hasn't been incorporated into the Warriors system, leveraging him to make everyone else even more deadly. He just does his own thing and scores 35 because any double team he sees is by someone terrified to leave their man - because of the chaos of a simple off-ball screen for Steph or Klay.  If anything he's stifled their system in two ways: 1) off-ball stuff takes effort, KD iso doesn't and 2) KD's excellence lets Steph off the hook for stretches of the game.  Steph plays like shit and doesn't feel any urgency, doesn't do anything different, because KD's really good and when he's really good all they need from Steph is passable.  If they finished the half yesterday the way they should have, they way you expect of a championship team, they could have easily been up 20+.  Maybe KD doesn't have to log as many minutes, maybe he doesn't get injured. 

It's like - if the Dubs are so good, why is playing Harden, the corpse of 34 year old CP3, a Capela that is a shell of himself and "Here comes Austin Rivers" such a toss up? If the Rox need to lose the smugness if they go on to lose, I think the Dubs have to as well, too.  They could have legitimately been beaten by Harden and Eric Gordon.  The Dubs haven't decisively been the better team for two consecutive quarters in the whole series.  They haven't been dominant at all.  They could reasonably have lost every game.

TL;DR: People dislike the Dubs because they're so good.  If they were as good as they think they are, they sure as shit don't play like it.

***Rant over***

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Worry vs Panic in basketball

Watched 5 games last night and something occurred to me when thinking about the two players that really stood out: Kawhi and Steph.
I saw two possessions where Jimmy Butler (of winning with 3rd stringers fame) saw Kawhi standing in front of him and just passed the ball away. Which is the defensive equivalent of watching Kelly Oubre's face as Steph drains another 1st quarter 3.
Guys like KD and Jimmy Butler are players that you worry about. But Steph and Kawhi are guys that make the entire team panic, the other team always knows where they are either to try and stop them or to avoid them. It's the difference between being helpless and being hopeless. KD scores 30 on 72% shooting and the opponent feels helpless. But Kawhi standing between you and the basket or Steph bombing from the logo, makes players feel hopeless.
I know that AD and Giannis definitely increase the other team's stress levels. But are they at the level where the opposing coach sees them and says "Oh, shit..."?
Every player that is all-star level and above has moments where they are engaged and in sufficient rhythm that you would say the other team was panicked by their presence on the court.  My contention is that, whether it can be quantified by say points per possession or plus/minus, when talking about MVP level talent, there are players that are really good like DeMar DeRozen, whose performance is contributory to the outcome of the game and other players such as Harden last year, whose performance was deterministic of the outcome of the game.
DeMar could play well for the Raptors and the Raptors could lose, he could play badly and they could win.  Same thing for KD on the Warriors.  But it seems less likely that Kawhi could play well and the Raptors lose or that he could play poorly and the Raptors win, just as its difficult for the Warriors to overcome a poor night from Steph or fall short when Steph is lighting it up.  
Their influence on the court will either elevate or drag down all the others, because they represent a question that the other team doesn't have a meaningful answer for.  As the opposition continues trying to answer the question to no avail, other players become more of a threat.  Kawhi and Steph are the most fascinating examples because of the polar opposition of their effect: on offense, Steph broadens the effective field of play, while the ground that Kawhi can cover is like a big black hole on the court that causes most players to think twice about dribbling too close or passing too near.
Calling it gravity or repulsivity is only representative of the phenomenon as it relates to spacing.  But I'm also talking about the isolation factor - the one that Harden exemplified so well last year.  The idea that he can get points on anyone in the league, one on one.  Kawhi's bump-off fadeaway is at that level, Steph's one-dribble pull-up is at that level.  Harden's stepback was at that level last year.  LeBron is at that level against the Raptors but was less so against the Celtics.  His lack of that one defining move is probably one of the greatest criticisms of his game.
When people see those moves happen, they know it's going in.  When defenders see those moves happen they feel dejected.  So they do everything in their power to prevent those moves from getting a chance to happen.  Creating this desperation, this panic, is what separates the good from the elite.  And it isn't the same as simply putting up a lot of numbers.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

It's not fair...

In the NBA finals for 2018, we witness once more the obliteration of the Cavs of Cleveland by the Warriors of Golden State.  A graceless dominance...a one-sided affair; the battle between the last two teams standing was competitive only in spurts with no question as to the better team.  The two decade long disparity in the talent levels of the Eastern and Western Conferences since the retirement of Michael Jordan has reached its zenith with an Eastern Conference team being swept out of the Championships for the first time since 2007 - which happened to be LeBron's first Finals berth.

While each of the previous three matchups between these teams had their own flavor to it - LeBron without Love or Kyrie vs a virgin Warriors team, LeBron the underdog vs a 73-win juggernaut, KD and the Warriors avenging their defeats at LeBron's hands - this matchup had much less in the way of tactics or strategic dynamics at work by either squad.  Watching the games there was a strong sense that the Warriors didn't have to play their best to win and yet they did win and win in a fashion that was laughable and embarrassing.

In sport, we seem to want outcomes that are both competitive & definitive, and yet, we love the narrative of the underdog.  We love the idea of underdogs rising to the occasion and felling those who 'should' win.  But we also have a strange distaste for matches that are 'unfair' where the dispararity between two competitors is too vast.  This is a strange contradiction: the only way to have a meaningful underdog is when the talent disparity is overwhelming.  One would think that anyone that liked rooting for an underdog would also like seeing a team badly outmatched in a competition.  But it raises another, more profound paradox for those with even a passing concern for what is fair or right: why would it be more satisfying or fair for a bad team to prevail over a good team than for a dominant team to perform in a dominant fashion?  

Clearly this seems to fly in the face of definitive results and in basketball in particular, a definitive result can and has been reached in many seasons - when the team with the best record in the regular season is also the team that has the best record in the playoffs i.e. the team that wins the Finals.  Only in these conditions can a team be said in an unambiguous way to be the best team in basketball, and in a perfect world any team that doesn't do both of these things couldn't be the most winningest team and therefore would have a questionable claim to being the best.  In 2017, the Warriors had the best record in basketball and lost only once in the playoffs - the best team was clear.  In 2018, the Warriors had the second best record in basketball and was pushed to 7 games against the team with the best record, the Rockets of Houston, and prevailed while that team was missing its second best player, Chris Paul.  How could they clearly be the best team in basketball when those doubts remain?  Would they have even gone to the Finals had Chris Paul not been injured or if the Rockets hadn't achieved the statistically improbable feat of missing 27 consecutive 3-pointers in the decisive game 7 in front of their home crowd?

Thus, despite wanting definitive results and fair matchups, we see that not only can definitive results only come from unfair matchups but also that one type of winning - playoff or 16-game winning - is clearly seen as more important that another type of winning - consistent 82-game winning.  This creates this strange disatisfaction with the underdog win whereby the Cavs who won in 2016 have people saying that their win was due chiefly to luck, as people say of the Warriors in surpassing the Rockets this year.  This is the strange dichotomy that comes from wanting in the first place - that the underdog inspires us and reminds us that anything is possible yet at the same time it discomforts us that even the strong, the talented and the hard working can be felled by lesser rivals, by circumstances and the world around them.

Karate, like life, has little concern for what is fair.  LeBron is to individual athletes what the Warriors are to professional sports teams.  LeBron is a mixture of skill with overwhelming physical prowess; the Warriors are a mixture of system/culture with overwhelming basketball talent.  LeBron is going to finish with the most points in basketball history, cementing his claim to greatest of all time.  What is the signature move of his that helped him get all those points?  Is it the Duncan high-off-the-glass jumper?  The Hakeem dream-shake?  The Kareem sky-hook?  The Jordan fade-away?  The Iverson cross-over?  The Ginobli euro-step?

It is none of the above.  LeBron scored that many points without one go-to signature move because for his entire career he's been able to get to the basket at will based on sheer athleticism and strength alone.  This is something that absolutely no one has been able to do as well or as long.  This is a genetic reality that was apparent from his first days in the league.  "He's bigger and faster than the guy in front of him" has been the foundation of his 30000+ points.

Likewise, the Warriors could play the most skillful basketball but they really don't have to.  They have, on average, more people on the court who can score, score at a high percentage, and manufacture their own shot than perhaps any team in NBA history.  Only USA men's basketball teams have been better and the Warriors are currently better than some of those teams.

In a very real way this is 'unfair' by any definition of fairness.  It is interesting then that those who marvel at the seeming unfairness of the Warriors don't similarly remark about LeBron.  In a game such as basketball, where skill should be the determining factor, it isn't 'fair' that he can bully his way to the basket whenever he wants but that's the reality.  Some of us are born with gifts that others aren't.  

Kevin Durant - gifted in ways parallel to LeBron - felt the brunt of that 'unfairness' when his Thunder team fell to LeBron's Heat team in 2012.  The Warriors felt the brunt of that 'unfairness' in 2016 when they similarly fell to LeBron's Cavs.  Them teaming up to visit unfairness upon LeBron is something that only a non-karateka could complain about.

All of these ways in which people react to sport is revealing of the degree to which the average person lives under the illusion of fairness - the illusion of right.  To the karateka, complaining about fairness is missing the mark.  It certainly doesn't make us stronger or keep us safer.  Life is what we make of right and justice when it doesn't exist - what these things cause us to do.  How we perform and what lengths we are willing to go to in spite of an unfair world.  LeBron was 'unfairly' outmatched yet again and he opened his effort with a sublime 51 pt performance that made everyone for a moment question what was possible, wasted largely through a mental error on the part of his teammate, JR Smith.  But did he reach those heights again to see if the outcome could be changed?  No, he didn't and perhaps it is impossible to ask that.  Perhaps it is asking too much.  But this is a question that only LeBron can answer - a test that only he can take.  All of us have the choice of trying even harder tomorrow or satisfying ourselves that what is asked of us is impossible.

Wanting or expecting what is fair generally causes us to do the latter and not the former.