Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ramblings: Bullshido

I've participated in martial arts for a long while now. I feel confident that I'm an expert, even though I've never been in a real fight. The reason why I'm an expert in martial arts is because really the only guaranteed way to win a fight is to not engage in fighting. The martial arts are meant to keep people safe; I've led a very safe life. I can stand up for what I believe in and confront people without being confrontational. I can destroy my enemies by making them friends. It's a much more long term approach to violence I feel.

As for the actual dirty work of failing to get along with people, failing to see ahead, failing to find common ground and finally having to resort to hitting people, well I appreciate that what knowledge I have in that is more theoretical than practical. But to get actual practical experience in actually being in danger and actually getting out of danger I would have to actually put myself in danger. Which runs contrary to the martial arts. See the dilemma for anyone who actually thinks about these things...

There is a message board. I know what you're thinking: message board, place where the nameless and faceless meet on matters so important that you never think to see who it is you're actually talking to. But this board is special. Bullshido exists to try and combat all the assumptions in the martial arts that cause reasonable people to be even worse off in a fight: by giving the wrong impression that they know what they're getting into. This was a noble endeavour. But like so many things on the Web, the site went viral. And now a cause started out of love for something slowly transformed into something more or less driven by hate. Someone cared enough about the martial arts to say "Hey that guys teaching shit, listen to your heart and head first!" and that's where it started. Now it basically amounts to "That guys doing something different than what I think works ergo he's full of shit!" It's become a game, a game to see who can discredit something without any experience in it first.

And for what really? The momentary self-gratification that comes with the insignificant, biased self-assurance that what you're learning is the truth and what everyone else is learning is "bullshido"? Is that supposed to make you more dangerous, more safe? The martial arts are a physical undertaking. All the talk and all the reading in the world isn't going to make you an authority on it. No one's punch or ground game ever got better by spending 3 minutes to write a post about how this style or teacher is full of crap. And even if you fought the guy and beat him, does that mean that your style is better? Or does it just mean you were better than him today? If you lose, should you call the dude "master"?

Bullshido used to be a place by which those with no experience who wanted to start into the combat arts could get some sage warnings about what to look out for, where to start. Now its little more than a clique: like the 'plastics' in Tina Fey's 'Mean Girls', trying to validate themselves by invalidating as much around them as possible.

Which brings me back to my original point. The only certainty in the martial arts. Don't have to fight! People who don't have to fight never lose. People who only fight when its the last resort don't get sued! We like to think that there are more certainties than that: fights going to the ground, knives coming out of boots, tasers putting someone down - but that's all theoretical. Fighting is like water running down a hill. It never takes the same path but the result is always the same. Water runs downhill. People who fight get hurt. To assume anything else is to be full of as much "bullshido" as anyone else. They see a vidclip of some new martial art or some fool claiming to be a master, and it isn't enough just to be skeptical - they have to be outright hostile, certain that there's nothing of any value in it. Which sounds to me the way most older martial arts reject out of hand anything different that comes along. The new martial tradition has come full circle, and become the thing it despised...

Lindsay Lohan (of all people) said it best in Mean Girls: calling something stupid doesn't make you smarter, calling someone ugly doesn't make you prettier. All the posts on Bullshido claiming something is fake doesn't make the posters more legit. All the posts saying someone is weak doesn't make them stronger. I just hope they spend as much time thinking about which techniques will work 100% of the time as they spend writing about which techniques of other people will fail 100% of the time. Because at the end of the day, after we've put down every fighting style and teacher in the world, there will still be just that one technique that will definitely guarantee victory. And you can't practise it on a punching bag...

Ramblings: How not to fight I

So as you may have guessed, I like karate. I consider it the closest thing to a system of faith, a philosophy that I believe in. The reason I like it so is because 1) it doesn't explain everything and 2) what it does explain, it explains through sweat. Not abstraction but concrete example. Marx, Hegel...they could talk your ear off about how the world works and a lot of what they say would make sense. But reasoning, no matter how powerful and able the mind always becomes faulty because at one point people rely on it too much. They rely on deductive methods when induction is needed, or they try to solve emotional issues with rational solutions or they become fascinated so much with theory that they ignore practice. Basically, something starts working, an idea, a strategy, and they try to apply it to everything. "-isms": rationalism, materialism, dialectism, humanism...Always remember - ism is what you put on the end of an idea that's been taken too far. An idea that has lost perspective, lost an appreciation of it's place in an immense world. An idea that has lost Balance.

Karate (the physical system) and karate-do (that is, the philosophical underpinnings of the 'when' and 'why' and 'how' of violence) is all about balance. Physical balance is essential to properly bring to bear the forces of the body. Mental or spiritual balance is essential to using violence in a limited way. And I feel that quality karate training is set apart from other competitive and sporting endeavors of high caliber by this dual nature (I specifically mention 'quality' and 'high caliber' to distinguish good teachers from people whose claims exceed their abilities). How many times have you played chess with someone and known they were going to make a bad move? At these special times you can see someone's mind at work, you can see what they see and what they can't. How many of us have felt the exhilaration of diving to catch a ball, taking a man off the dribble, throwing a tight spiral on a slant, crossing a finish line first? We get a measure of ourselves in our competition with others, an honest appraisal of where we stand, completely devoid of self-deception.

I'm not saying that karate or martial training is better than chess or baseball. I'm not trying to say that a chess player can't be athletically gifted or that a baseball player never sees the game one step ahead of the other guy. The point is that you can go extreme and excel at both of them. You can 'juice' in baseball and be the best home run hitter of all time, and never be considered one of the greatest players. Likewise, we see big men in the NBA with no basketball IQ, surviving on genetically given height and athletic skill alone. A grandmaster in chess need never have done a pushup in his/her life. No balance. I like karate training because you can't be good in karate with either just your body or your head. You have to have both - you have to be looking to strengthen both all the time.

This is a unique aspect of fighting. In solely athletic or competitive pursuits the consequence of losing is slight. A damaged ego and disappointment - the occasional, unintended injury at worst. Because the stakes are relatively small, reflection and contemplation of the undertaking isn't necessary. But there's something about physical violence, pain and the threat of bodily harm that sharpens the mind. That calls it to service and opens an awareness that other undertakings simply do not. In fighting, physical skill set always takes you so far. Roy Jones Jr immediately comes to mind. The speed diminishes, the success follows. Contrast him with Ali who fights dramatically different early and late in his career. Butterfly floating and bee stinging gave way to roping and doping. His physical gifts dominated early, his mental strength won late. Both are indispensable to any meaningful combative training.

"You cannot truly know someone unless you fight them" is the saying from the Matrix sequel that Seraph utters to Neo. That line embodies much of my thinking about the merit of Karate. In looking into someone's eyes, seeing them move, gauging their intent, understanding distance, moving economically there is a form of honesty between two people that I haven't seen anywhere else. Just like chess, where you can see what someone is thinking, but like baseball, where you're moving and physical. Who someone is when they fight - when skin is in the game - is who they'll be when the chips are down. Do they plod headlong, irrespective of the chance of losing? Do they smile even when faced with defeat? Do they give ground, shying away from confrontation? Do they hit you repeated after you've been downed? Do they help you up once you've fallen? Here a person's character comes naturally to the fore, unrestrained by rules reserved for other sports. It becomes easy to see what kind of person you are because your personality is reflected in your fighting and by extension, how your personality harmonizes or clashes with other personalities. It's more than just dealing with violence. Essentially it is about dealing with people.

In discussing karate (as with many things) it is always important to distinguish between a thing and the teaching of a thing. Karate is ultimately more than just a word, or a set of actions, a way of thinking, or a compilation of postures. Karate is what a karateka, a practitioner, makes of it. It would be convenient to say that it is one thing that is unchanging and static, easily identified and characterized. But with each karateka, a little of themselves is rubbed onto the body of knowledge and through its future dissemination, what karate 'is' is altered going forward.

This distinction, between what it is and how it is taught, establishes to my mind the difference between training and 'quality' training - 'quality' training being obviously the goal of any karateka. Because of the industrialization and commercialization of the practice, undoubtedly much of karate training does not satisfy the criteria for quality training. First to go is usually the philosophical underpinnings of fighting, karate-do. Much karate training is just that, training to fight using karate motions and physical fitness methods passed down through time. To teach only the physical aspect of karate is to teach even less than half of what karate is: the mental and physical dimensions synergize to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. To teach someone how to fight without teaching them when to fight, why to fight or what to fight for doesn't make the world any better, it may make the world a little worse.

I suppose it would be more accurate to say that while karate is about how to fight, karate-do is about how not to fight - that is, how to avoid and prevent violence. It is a distinction that seems lost on many – even those who have devoted years to studying karate (more to come). But when both are taught together and feed off one another, it becomes one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever known.


- KD

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Technique 3: Hikite

I was sparring with a green belt yesterday.  I had a good kumite kamae and was protecting my centerline vigourously.  My jabs were penetrating effortlessly and I wondered why.  I wasn’t so good that nothing he did could stop me.  After studying him for a while, something thrilling occurred to me…

His hikite was awful.

He’d punch and leave his hands out there.  Sometimes it would be to maintain the distance, sometimes to push me away.  But those extended arms made throwing, deflecting, immobilizing and countering a breeze.  Those arms made everything easier.

And now I understand Hikite.

Hikite is not a destination.  It is not a goal.  It is a means.  It is a process and it has a purpose.

In Karate we spend a lot of time with our arms extended.  Step punch, step punch.  It is important to get full extension on the punching arm, to strengthen the shoulders, to turn the wrist over and penetrate into the target.

Most people see hikite as pulling your hand back to your hip.  Hikite is simply pulling your hand back.  Nothing more or nothing less.

If extension is Kyo, then hikite is Jutsu.  Because though we may not realize, all that time we spend with arms extended in karate is teaching us a very bad habit.  The habit of keeping our hands away from our body.  The habit of breaking our kamae.  The further the hand is from the core, the less useful and powerful it is.

How do we counteract this?  How do we ensure that we get good penetration on our punch but don’t compromise our guard?  Hikite.  Hikite, the withdrawing hand.  Or perhaps better put, withdrawing the hand. People will describe hikite sometimes as a grab to turn the opponent as you strike with the opposite hand.  They will describe it as a rear elbow.  They will say it accelerates the opposite side of the body to pull the arm in.  And it can be all of those things.  But Hikite’s three main purposes are 1) simply pulling your hand away from where the opponent can manipulate it and 2) returning to kamae where you can again defend centerline and 3) chambering your arm so you can strike again.  Whether the destination of the pulling hand is your hip, your rib or chin, the idea is simple: don’t leave your fist out there.  Pull it back so it can defend your seichusen and launch another attack.

In this interpretation, the act of pulling the fist back to the hip is an exaggerated movement.  It is a reminder that as the fist goes out, one should return, ready for what comes next, ready to defend.  But we should not think of hikite only for the fist that is not punching.  Arguably, hikite is most important for the fist that is punching, the one that is nearest the opponent, the one that is greatest threat to being manipulated.   Hikite then, on top of rotational acceleration, on top of rear elbows, on top of protecting centerline, also prevents the opponent from immobilizing the hand as in HIA as hikiashi does from LIA.

Boxers have excellent hikite.  With each jab, the hand withdraws right back to where it started.  With each cross, the fist returns as if tied to an elastic band, sewn to the chin.  Hikite exists so that we can find the proper balance between penetration and withdrawal – between attacking and defending.  Explore what your fists do and where they are and ask yourself if Hikite is something you can afford to ignore.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Technique 2: The SMALL stuff

I can't remember who said it.  It might be Ushiro, or Musashi or Lao Tzu.  It goes: Consider trivial things deeply and significant things lightly.  I understand that now.  By understand, I don't mean that I know what it conveys.  I mean I've lived what it conveys.

I understood the words the first time I read them.  People have inclinations, predilictions, habits.  One of them is to dismiss small things and worry over large, far off things.  Like death.  Or being embarrassed.  When if you put some of that concern into small, everyday matters like eating right and speaking humbly, big matters would matter even less than they do.  Balance.

But those are all just words...

I like packing my gym bag.  I like ironing my gi.  I like taking pride in it and telling myself that just as I iron the folds out of the fabric so do I try to iron the kinks out of my karate - smooth out the flaws, the bumps, the creases.  I like paying attention to the details and packing the fabric, my books, my gloves, my towel, my water bottle.  And on the bus ride to work, I was proud that I didn't leave it to the last moment.  That I was responsible and diligent and disciplined...

Until I realized that I'd completely forgotten to pack my belt.

The irony was not lost on me.  That I could be so absorbed in the ritual of packing my bag and overlook the obvious.  Such a small thing, my belt.  But without it, everything else in my bag is just weight that I'm lugging around.  All the enormous things in my head that I was going to do in class today disappeared.   It all dissolved into nothingness...for I had forgotten the simple small detail of packing my belt.

On the contrary, for all the pride and respect that I showed Karate and my gi, I would do it even greater honor if I was mindful enough to remember my belt so that I could actually train.  The small things are what make big things possible.

I have a hole in my hand from today.  It was given to me by Peter Giffen.  He was doing the bunkai for NiSeiShi to me and to fully compromise me, he attacked a nerve in my hand as he pulled me down.  The target must have been half a centermetre squared between my thumb and index finger.  But the pain in my hand gave him more than enough time to break my posture downward.  That small extra motion made the big work of taking a person to the ground that much easier.

I'm beginning to see that the heart of karate is in these small details; every technique has at its heart a small window of opportunity to fill with these small details that compromise another person.  Once you've internalized the Stillpoint - the nugget of a technique, the key aspect, the Moment where you'll win or lose - it's just a matter of waiting for the opportunity and applying the details.

But to wait for the moment takes courage and patience.  To apply the details in the moment takes much practice.

And confidence that I'll find that Stillpoint when it counts demands total Commitment.

Small stuff.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Technique 1: Ju Go Waza

Shane Higashi drives me nuts sometimes.  He's divided the class up into young people and old people.  Which would be fine if the person running the young class was good.  But instead they're doing all this nonsense that has very little to do with karate and it's getting me upset.

There is a pernicious, kumite-centric thread in the class that leaves me feeling really frustrated.  These younglings don't know anything.  Kumite is exciting and fun, sure.  But they've structured the class entirely around it and I find it ironic.  I find it ironic that Sensei should indulge them in this kumite focus when he knows what we all should be working on.  More on that in a moment.

They're doing plyometrics and circuit training and my legs are killing me with DOMS.  It's all this athletic karate, sport karate.  It isn't even fitness karate anymore.  Situps are token, stretching is cursory, pushups optional.  It's just jump, step, bounce.  You know, the way that samurai used to move, bouncing around like idiots.  The way judoka move, raising their center of balance.  The way boxers move.  Where did all this bouncing in karate come from, anyways?

Are they really going to bounce around at a bus station or a schoolyard?  Bouncing around makes it easier to grab a leg, sweep a foot, lift someone?  Do we bounce around in kata?  It's just crap.  Crap codified by tournament karate, where you aren't allowed to grab a leg, lift someone, or throw someone.  I try to imagine what a judoka would do to the people in our class if our sparring was combined with their randori.

So my ankle, feet, calves, quads, hams, and hips are killing me and I say to myself: I can do plyo at home, I come here to do karate.  So I excuse myself from the young class and go downstairs to where Sensei is working with the fogeys.  He's taking them them through ridiculous nonsense like situps, pushups, kihon, kata, and bunkai.  You know, the silly stuff that won't ever help you in kumite.  He gets a manual out and takes us ('us' meaning me) through the black belt requirements and he's on me when I get 2 out of the 40 things he mentions wrong.  And I'm thinking to myself:  I shouldn't get them wrong, I've been taking karate longer than almost all the younglings up there put together.  But how many of them know half of these things off by heart, including that black belt?  Why does Sensei indulge them in all this sparring when the rest of their karate is so suspect?

My wonder and frustration at the man was reinforced later on, after my class, when Sensei asked me to work with another brown belt.  He isn't very good and doesn't know how to fall.  He has no clue as to Ju Go Waza, whereas I had to look some of them up.  So it wasn't as easy as it could have been.  We get to number 15, the one I could never see working in real life and Sensei does it.  It works.  It works so well and the technique is so simple and fluid that I wondered why I thought it couldn't work.  So I do it, admittedly badly, and Sensei is all over me.  Getting impatient like I should know this.  And I'm of a mind at certain points to look at the old man and say:  Why should I know this?  We never practice this.  Where else can I find someone willing to be thrown to the ground repeatedly than here?  If we don't do it here, in class, where else would we get a chance to practice it?

I realize that old people should be free to be impatient with young people - they're running out of time, and everything they know seems obvious to them.  But there's no magic to Sensei making a move work that I couldn't even imagine working. The man practiced this stuff a million times more than me.  He lived in O'Sensei's house for Christ's sake - days spent practicing for hours and hours on end.  I won't get that opportunity.  So the least we can do when we come to the dojo is actually spend this precious time working on what matters.

Maybe I should just say this to him rather than venting here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mind 2: Ma

I was fighting today, giving pointers.  My mokuso for today was eyes - gan - and I tried to see holistically and peripherally.  I tried to feel what was coming, but the thrill of battle - it's so easy to get swept up in it and give in to old (and bad) habits.  Watching someone's's sounds stupid to even say...but so many of us do it.  We did it when we were white belts and we do it now.  The only difference is: I know better.  Something to work on.

I was in front of this kid, a green belt, maybe 10 or 12 years old.  He should have been in the kids class.  Except for one thing.  This kid had an amazing, instinctive, preternatural sense of the combative distance.  He could sense ma-ai to within a half-step...perhaps even more precise than that.  I'd circle and shift feet, I'd shift stance and step back.  But the moment the distance shortened, even a little, he sensed it.  Even when he had no frame of reference, even when I was circling trying to sneak up on him, he'd know.  I've never seen anything like it.

You see people who can sense danger, and people who move back by instinct.  But this kid only moved back hard the moment I was entering ma-ai.  I told him how great it was and that when he feels that distance rather than move back he should strike.  I came in hard thinking I had him.  His fist came up into my jaw.  I wasn't sure if I was ashamed or proud.  It was surreal.

I could keep him off of me with range - or just overpower him in close.  But between Toma and Chikama, this little kid was owning me.  I couldn't tell him - I didn't want it to go to his head.  But he could be something.  This fat, goofy little kid.  I love it.

I have so far to go.  The only thing that gives me hope is that I'm learning from everyone.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Body 1: 45 d 8 h 33 m

My brother went to Montreal and saw Cirque du Soleil.  He was amazed by the feats of strength displayed by the men and went on and on about this one guy who was supporting his whole body with one arm.  I shook my head and smiled – it was always such a strange thing to hear Kareem offer praise, so when he did it couldn’t help but be impressive.  I had looked into bodyweight training and balance and static holds a few years back and pursued it with enthusiasm.  But distractions and injury reared their twin heads and my training on that front waned.

It strange to hear someone say something like ‘I’m working out’ or ‘I’m going to the gym’ when what they mean to say is that they’re training.  It’s important to understand that we are always learning, always in training.  We are in training sitting down and standing.  We are in training lying in bed.  Our minds and bodies are never static – it is ever-changing, always in flux.  Every moment that we are alive we are internalizing our behavior and the world around us.  People who smoke become expert smokers.  Persistent couch potatoes become world-class obese couch potatoes.  When you say you’re working out, you mean to say that you are going to exercise to become stronger.  But without commitment and dedication working out is still training, but not to be stronger.  You are just training in mediocrity.  Training in half-measures.

I was watching Kareem going on the gymnastic rings set and I showed him some of the people training in commitment and dedication on Youtube, and some of the skills their training has brought them.  Kareem was amazed.  And I was…blasé.  There was no fire in me, to push myself, to reach for excellence.  Maybe it was fear…of disappointing myself again.  Fear of giving up.

I’ve been training in letting go a long time.  Now I have to train in holding on.  I have to train in commitment and dedication, train in discipline.  And I needed an example – something, anything – that I could point to and say ‘Look, I did that!’  I put the time in and look at where I’ve gotten.

And then I was looking at my playing time on Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer.

45 d 8 h 33 m.  45 days’ worth of sitting and staring at a screen.  Of shooting and being shot.  Of killing and dying.  Of winning and losing.  Winstreaks, losestreak, deathstreaks, killstreaks – I kept coming back.  10 minute games at a time…for 45 days. A month and a half of non-stop training in Modern Warfare 2.  Wow.

And it’s not to say that I’m not good.  I can hold my own.  But imagine what my body would be capable of if I spent that time, 1088 hours, not sitting, but working out.  Would I be able to do some of those things that Kareem swears to do one day?

Modern Warfare 3 is coming out November 8th.  I’m going to match play time with gymnastic time 1 for 1 until I get back to that 1000 hour threshold.  And then I’m going to see which 1000 hours paid off the most.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mind 1: I did a strange thing with my mind just then...

I've been injured for some time now and I thought that my recovery was nearly complete.  Then, on Father's Day, I was playing basketball and my hip nearly gave way again.  So I'm still recovering.  I think of the things that I can do in the meantime: writing, rehabilitating...and I find that my karate is actually not that bad.  It can be fluid or rigid, strength or leverage, swift or slow.  I'm starting to finally make some small progress in making it more mindless, more mushin.

I've been working on different meditation schemes with varying success but I did want to mention one breakthrough.  I was on the bus, working with opening my senses and breathing, closing and opening my focus.  I'd start at the immediate - the sensation of my body, pulses, itches, the feeling of clothes against skin.  Then I'd move outward: scent of perfume, sound of the wind outside, the traffic, a woman talking on a cell, the pages of a book being shifted, the driver ripping a transfer, the coins being dropped in the farebox.  Then I opened my eyes and tried to clear my mind enough to take in as much as I could without dwelling on any one detail - fidgeting in a chair, itching an ear, a look, an expression, the sunlight, someone checking the time, the guy next to me making the sign of the cross on his chest after looking at a girl's rear as she stood.

And then...I woke up.  I roused myself from...I'm not sure really.  Was I sleeping?  I could have sworn I was lucid...and when my eyes opened the bus was basically exactly where I remembered it being.  Time hadn't past, yet I'd lost a sense of time.

I was in that place between sleep and awake.  I hadn't just dozed off, because my mind was still aware of the things that I'd been observing in an unbroken flow.  But the feeling of just having been dreaming was unmistakable.  My lucid observations had dipped me into a dream state.

Now: can I do it again?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Way and Empty Hand

I was reading a blog entry just now on Bruce Lee and the writer was being very verbose, and I think what they were trying to say was that studying Bruce was difficult because there is a separation of the man into separate and dissimilar fields of discourse: Bruce the actor, Bruce the philosopher and Bruce the fighter. The writer poses the interesting question:

In short, a question rarely posed by those who would discuss Bruce Lee’s ‘philosophy’ is that of whether it was a ‘philosophy’ or an ‘ideology’: a retroactive justification.

To me, this is a question that I've thought of many times. How many people actually come to a clear and internally consistent worldview? Did Bruce really have it down pat or was he just muddling through like the rest of us? Did the cohesiveness of what he thought exist when he was alive and dealing with real problems in the real world, or did it come afterwards when people looked at what he was and tried to make sense of it?

Then, if we are to consider philosophy as liberation and ideology as subjugation, the former as encouraging thought and the latter as demanding obedience, doesn't a philosophy too define itself by means of exclusion? That is, what makes a philosophy special, even though it deals in the realm of thought, is what it gets right that others get wrong? Doesn't philosophy also become too restrictive a word for a living breathing person forced to adapt to an unforgiving and unpredictable world?

To my mind, to know the philosophy of Bruce Lee, someone would have to know what he'd say to any question that was ever posed him. You'd have to know his mind perfectly to say that there was a philosophy of the man. Who'll ever know me that well? Hell, I don't even know me that well! I wouldn't imagine that I'd answer a question the same way now that I would ten years from now, or ten years ago for that matter.

The best and longest and most helpful compilations of wisdom ever written, from every discipline and every culture, are united in one quality: their capacity for self-contradiction. The Bible, the Hagakure, the Art of War - each of them at one point say one thing and then later say the exact opposite. Men are no different. We contradict ourselves all the time to roll with life's punches. To try and find some unifying cohesion afterwards can quickly lead to folly. We seek to simplify and distill, to improve our understanding, but we'd do well to remember that great saying from Einstein that things must be made as simple as possible but not simpler. Simplifying things too much - Relativity, violence, Karate, Bruce Lee - robs that thing's essence entirely, leaving you feeling like you know when you profoundly don't.

Some simplifications are helpful and some aren't. Equivocation, yes. False, no. Sign of an open mind...perhaps? One particularly unhelpful simplification with regards to Bruce, at least as far as I've read of the man, is this idea that a good martial artist dabbles. A good martial artist tastes different meals and then takes the best ingredient from each and puts it on their plate. Use what is useful and discard what is useless and make something uniquely your own.

It's a compelling argument. But even Bruce himself addressed it's main flaw. How does someone judge what is useful? How do you gain the insight and critical eye necessary to deem something worth discarding? Someone jumping from Tai Chi to Muay Thai to Judo to Brazilian Jujitsu to Kali to Karate to Wing Chun and imagining themselves becoming comprehensive in the fighting disciplines may well gain a great many insights into the methods of fighting. But how are they to judge which methods to take and which to lose?

This task is accomplished not through experience with many fighting disciplines per se, but through Experience, period. It is not acquired from a martial art or many martial arts but rather, by a martial artist. That is to say, all the techniques of many styles or one style for that matter won't give it to you. You have to get it for yourself. You teach yourself what is useful by usage. But you don't have to go to 20 different dojos to learn. So long as you leave no stone unturned and keep your mind open, a true martial artist can be made from one style or many. You just need to be honest in your preparations.

In this I feel that what Bruce was trying to say has become a simplistic appeal to superficial dabbling into different arts. "Using no way as way" has been taken to mean, "Don't stay!" Don't stay in a discipline, don't examine it, don't seek to become part of that heritage. When really what he means is, "You study Karate and know all the reasons why you shouldn't grab someone's legs...but his legs are where he's most vulnerable...Grab his legs!" Don't confuse what is right in a style with what is right in a fight. The style should reinforce your freedom to act, not restrict it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shin Kumite

An attempt to reconcile the contradictions between ippon and jiyu kumite, between tournament karate's dynamic athleticism and karate's defensive application, Shin Kumite seeks to bridge the gap between combat and contest.  Com-test!  Or maybe Conbat.  Combative contest.  Shin Kumite:  win the Moment!

Iain Abernathy's thinks Kudo may hold the key, but I think mine is even better.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Karate has this concept, dachi, which are concrete and discrete standing positions that you learn and are the basis for the kata.  At first, a person might think the concept of how to stand would be a pretty unnecessary thing to know in a fighting system.  We all know how to stand, we learn from very young.  Moreover, fighting is less about standing in one place and more about getting in and out of the way of something.  Anyone who ever watched a boxing match, a fencing contest or two people dancing together would assume that the footwork of motion would be more beneficial to fighting than the mechanics of being stationary.

And this first assumption is, to my mind, mostly correct.  Moving in combat is essential.  Stationary objects tend to get hit pretty easily.  Moving out of the way of something, putting the hand up to swat a fly at your ear - these are natural reactions that some karate training tends to deaden within a student.  Whereas in an untrained person, an object on a trajectory with their head would instinctively cause back to bend, hands to go up, head to go down, or feet to shift place, undoubtedly some karate training cause people to think about the right thing to do, when they should be doing something straight away.

But the essential question is: Where are you moving to?  Are you moving out of the way of something to a position and place that gives you the advantage?  Or are you moving out of the path of a punch and into the path of a knee?

Place and position are keys to the concept of stance.  The main reason why the way you stand in Karate is of great importance is because of Karate's underlying assumptions.  First, karate does not assume a fight.  Karate assumes an assault.  Karate doesn't assume two people at high noon in a ring with gloves.  It assumes one (or more) person(s), coming at you from behind, with a knife.  You shouldn't have time or opportunity to dance and feel the other person out.  You shouldn't have a chance to jab to get the range.  You turn, square yourself with the danger and act.  Karate assumes that when you defend yourself it will be on a relatively small area of space, covering a relatively short distance over a relatively short space of time.  Karate assumes that one or two shifts of your feet will be all the chance that you get to gain control of a situation. Either you'll shift to good position with good footing, seize a hand, a shirt, a neck, drive a fist into a face, a finger to the eye, a knee to the groin, a foot to shin, an elbow to the sternum or ribs, wrench a wrist, maneuver into a clinch or drive your attacker off balance...or you'll get knifed seven times and left for dead.  Your murderer won't be looking at what your feet will be doing.

How you stand (and move to stand) on that small space of real estate as the space between you and your enemy vanishes is the first tool that you have.  And if you lose your footing and go to the ground - scared, alone, attacker poised above you, cold earth beneath you, unable to run - Sayonnara!

So we have to make the most of this first tool.  That said, certain ways of standing make it easier to do certain things.  Widen your legs and your weight lowers, making it more difficult to lift you off the ground.  Crossing one leg behind or in front of the other allows you to turn and pivot quickly on the spot.  Squeezing your inner thighs together makes it more difficult to strike your groin from below.  Placing more weight on one leg than the other makes it easier and faster to kick with the less weighted leg.

So based on the urgency of when the stance will be important, you'd think that karate training would put a great emphasis on getting in and out of stances and less on simply standing in a stance.  You'd think this for the simple reason that the transition to a stance - moving from crossing legs to face your opponent to dropping weight to control your opponent - is what makes the stance valuable in the first place.  What difference does it make whether you can sit in shiko dachi (low stance) for hours if you can't drop your weight faster than someone can tackle your knee?  What difference does it make if your neko ashi dachi (cat stance) looks good in the mirror if you can't close your legs faster than a kick to the groin?

Instead of serving a purpose, the stances are relegated to being dead postures practiced, at best, to strengthen the legs and at worst, because that's what your teacher told you to do.  They aren't taught as something that will help you during the worst ninety-four seconds of your life.  They are taught as a piece of artifice, something that has an outward appearance, a standard by which you can be judged for your next belt color.

Stance - dachi - is another one of these things in karate that causes us to spend a lot of head time and not enough body time.  That is, many karate teachers will tell you how a stance should look in the mirror but not many will ask how it feels to you.  Do you feel stable?  Do you feel balanced? In what direction is the stance strong?  Weak?  Could you fall into this position if someone punched at you?  If someone grabbed your shirt and tried to stab you?  Can you be easily lifted?  Can you move quickly from this position?  Would it come naturally to you or would you resort to something else?  Why?

Form follow function but function does not always follow form.  The best criteria of whether your stance is good is not whether someone can push you over or if your knee is over your toe but rather whether the stance gives you advantage over another human being.  A stance of a good visual form can work well.  But if it doesn't, no matter how good it looks, then you ARE practicing how to stand and lose.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Go and Ju

I see things at the dojo on Curlew that make my blood simmer sometimes and sometimes I feel guilty that I'm being a karate snob.  But it's so difficult to tell if I'm being too hard and expecting too much and assuming too much or if I'm in the right and my instincts are sound.  One of the major lineages of karate, Goju-ryu, shepherded to the modern time by Chojun Miyagi and later Morio Higaonna, embodies karate's commitment to mind-body balance in its very name:  Go is Japanese for 'hard', ju japanese for 'soft'.  The hard-soft style, don't be always tight, don't be always loose.  The hard part, obviously, is knowing when to be one and when to be the other.  When the matter is a punch, effectiveness holds the key.  Effectiveness in life is sometimes harder to determine.

So at karate tonight, I was doing the same go, san, ippon kumite that I absolutely loved doing last class.  Except this time I was paired with a female yudansha, maybe a 4th or 5th dan.  She's was middle-age, and her training has likely imbued her with the vitality of a younger person.  She had pretty good eye contact and pretty good control.  Is she a nice lady?  Absolutely.  Did she offer me pointers in a humble and discreet way?  Yes, indeed.  Was she sincere in her efforts to help my karate grow? No question.  Should I expect the same sort of intensity in a 50 year old that I would in a 20 year old?  No, and I don't.

Would I be afraid of this person, who has probably trained in karate as long as I've been alive, if we were to fight and one of us had to live and the other had to die?

This is my conundrum.  Am I being too hard on this woman?  Are my expectations of her unreasonable?  Isn't karate supposed to imbue a fierceness within the meekest of people, a will to do what it takes and live or die with the consequences?  Karate training should have enough toughness to it to give anyone a moment's pause when they look into your eyes. It isn't fear you project.  It should be confidence.  It should be Go, hardness, solidness.  It should be certainty, the certainty that whatever the future holds, if you try to hurt me, you're in for a fight.

When I never see that in someone's eyes, it's hard for me.  It's difficult for me to take their advice, or heed their counsel, when I know in my heart they wouldn't even put up a decent fight. These are the people that know a lot about Karate but don't know Karate.   They know technique, but could never execute them with blood in their eyes.  And they've never wondered whether or not they can.  They can show you what to do, but not why you do it.  They come to class, 3 days a week for years, and go through the motions, never pushing themselves, forever remaining Ju, soft.  But if you don't reach down inside for that hardness in class, it won't appear out of nowhere when you need it most.  The body that betrays you...the body that runs away, as Ushiro-Sensei says.

We're doing go hon, san bon and ippon kumite, and she punches and I'm blocking and she winces in pain.  And since I'm not a monster, I ask if I'm going too hard (go), and she politely mentions that I am and I soften (ju).  And she mentions it again. And I soften (ju).  And she mentions things that I can try to soften (ju) more.  And soften (ju) some more.  I soften (ju) the motions so much that I'm not really doing them any more - I'm not trying to block her punch, I'm trying not to hurt her arm (And it wasn't a very good punch...people afraid to get hit are almost always also afraid to hit you and therefore pull their punches, which obviously, helps you both).

And this, sadly, is happening everywhere.  Except in MY dojo.  The owness is not on the person blocking to not hurt you.  The owness is on you to either deal with the pain, learn to avoid getting hit there or get stronger.  Especially when your partner is deliberately trying not to hurt you.  I'm trying to be true to the exercise while being as gentle as possible and she's complaining I'm too rough, uncoordinated, out of control.  But I could go really soft (ju) and it wouldn't hurt her arm at all - I just wouldn't be blocking the punch.  Next we have to go to the opposite extreme.  Imagine if I was trying to hurt her (go).  If my best efforts at not hurting her can't succeed, how many punches would it take to down her if I punched her like my life depended on it?  One?

In the oldest karateka in the world, I feel that that number should be two at the least.  If you can't deal with, endure, withstand, deflect, avoid, or control two of someone's best punches before being overwhelmed, what is all this for?  What was the 30 years of training for?  Just to get into shape?  Run marathons.

On top of all of that is the reality that the hard (go) blocks of karate - Jodan, Soto, Uchi and Gedan, - are supposed to be both defense and attack.  Higaonna is fond of saying that if someone punches at you, your block should be able to break their arm, ending the affair in one motion.  If you wanted to dance, dance.  If you wanted to deflect, slap their hand away with a parry, like in boxing.  This isn't dancing.  This isn't boxing.  This is karate.  You are a weapon.

So there I am, being meek and respectful to a black belt with 10 years more training than me, who is telling me my blocks should be soft (ju).  I don't want to compromise my beliefs and be disingenuous but I also didn't want to offend my sempai.  I felt like asking her: Who should I listen or Morio Higaonna?  When Ushiro-sensei says to be soft (ju), it's softness wrapped around hardness (goju).  His softness (ju) can toss (go) people.  I've felt that softness that can toss people.  This, was not that.

It would be one thing to say that you're block can be soft to grab someone or hard to hurt someone depending on the use.  But that's not what she was saying.  She was saying that what I was doing was wrong.  When it wasn't.  And I'm tempted to say that the pain in her arm was more important than whether what I was doing was effective.  I'm also tempted to say that she just never took her training seriously enough to get blocked without bruising.  Well, if you're afraid of bruising, why do you do karate?  I'm mean, yeah, it's unpleasant.  But it's also honest - the key to whether you're actually doing something or pretending to do something.  Whether there was actually contact, or near contact.  I would argue that if you went through a karate class without a bruise, bump or ache, your karate won't help you that much when you need it.  How could you take karate for 3 decades and still be afraid of a punch?

Brown belts who don't know how to fall.  Black belts afraid of punches.  I really wonder what an Okinawan master like O-Sensei, who trained on grass and concrete and punched makiwara for hours and could pull his balls up into his abdomen, would have said about a couple of bruises.  Am I being too go (hard)?  Are they simply learning at their pace, in their way, all things relative, nothing hard (go) and fast, nothing absolute?  Do I actually need to soften (ju) my blocks and soften (ju) my demeanor to be like the others at the dojo on Curlew?  Do I want to be soft (ju) like them?  Is it right to demand more: to expect more of myself?  I'll meditate on these things.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Place of our way

I had an awesome time at karate today.  We did go hon, san bon and ippon kumite.  My school will do this every day.  Along with blindfold training, I think it might really be something.  Go hon teaches posture, san bon footwork and ippon eyes.  My uke, Gilles, was really coming at me.  He tapped me on the face with a backfist and as sempai, I joked about his control.  Oops, he said.  But I was so happy.  It felt like what I'd been looking for.

Then we did some juniko where my uke, Nicole, asked me if she hurt me.  I told her not to ask me that.  Then she just went at it.  Good technique.  She's has a sharp mind, engaged with what should work and what shouldn't.  She threw me once and I pulled her down off-balance from the mat and she said that she was going easy on me.  And I told her not to do that.  She smiled and stopped going easy on me.

After class, Sensei put a returning student, Helen, with me and told me to teach her Bassai.  It was slow going.  But it was so satisfying.  I could see her mind at work, trying to put the footwork, sequence and technique together.  And I was surprised and humbled by how much I actually knew, how much I had to give.  She said, "You're instruction is excellent, I just need to practice this a lot."  What a thing to say to someone!  I felt honoured.

I think I might be onto something with this dojo idea.  I think I've actually figured out what my heart wants.  If every class was like yesterday's class, I could do karate every day forever and never complain.  Gilles, Nicole and Helen taught me an important lesson - one that I kinda knew but was made resoundingly clear.  A dojo isn't about a place.  It's about people.  It's about trust.  It's about love  A dojo is about going somewhere together.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UFC 128

I am a broad minded martial follower.  From big battles like Actium to Waterloo, and Normandy and Midway, to personal skirmishes like Ali-Frazer, Tyson, de la Hoya, Mayweather, Pacquiao, Couture, Liddell, GSP, Silva.  I really don't see the difference.  It's all kinda the same.  The scale and the stakes may be different.  But at the core is one objective (victory), two opponents, strategy, tactics and execution.  At the core is honesty.  Two sides trying their best with the tools they have.

Honesty is the bedrock principle of the combat disciplines.  Training for the unknown and unknowable means that you really, REALLY can't afford to delude yourself about the few considerations that are reasonably predictable.  If someone really wanted to hurt you, they would attack from behind.  If someone wanted to knife you, you probably won't see the blade.  True honesty about our expectations is what moves martial study to martial practice: from hobby to Way.

I raise this principle of honesty in regards to something I saw last night.  Two men, Mauricio Rua and Jon Jones fought in Newark NJ for the UFC's light heavyweight (LHW) title.  I started following this division with interest about 4 years ago, watching a MMA stylist named Lyoto Machida fight Tito Ortiz.  In that fight, I was surprised and pleased to find that Machida (who has a background in Karate and Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ)) executing an effective counter-punching strategy against the pressing and aggressive Ortiz. It was a marvelous display of contrasting strategy, tactics and execution that stood out from the simple athleticism of striking and wrestling typical of most MMA bouts.

I held out hope that the fight, which put Machida on a path towards the LHW title, would signal a change from the simple strategies of forward-pressing ring generalship that I see in the UFC, Pride, Strikeforce, and other MMA promotions to a more nuanced, daring and sophisticated approach to physically engaging with the opponent.  Those hopes were reinforced a few matches later when Machida - who had began to settle into a reputation for counter-punching - defeated Rashad Evans by making a strong, calculated blitzkrieg flurry of punches to KO the champ and take the title.  A fighter who could win by giving ground or pushing forward - I had hoped that Machida's reign would cause other fighters to broaden their tactics to include more legerdemain in the MMA approach.

I haven't seen this to be the case, however.  Machida's title defense against Rua was the opposite of everything that I'd been hoping for.  Rather than being fluid and diverse in strategy - adapting to his opponent - Machida again settled into a counter-punching strategy that, while brilliant against the plodding and direct Ortiz, was wholly inappropriate against the much more dangerous and dynamic Rua.  Instead of wrestling, or using angles or targeting legs to slow his opponent, Machida did exactly what Rua was expecting -- backing up and trying to counter -- for 5 rounds.  In the end, a battered and bruised Machida was quite surprised to have won a very controversial decision (I would have preferred that he lost as a reminder of his strategic failure, but I would have also preferred for a belt to be exchanged on a knockout or submission).

The Machida experiment was all but put to rest with Rua's revenge at the rematch a few months later.  Rua's strategy remained the same: press forward.  Machida's strategy never really became clear because he got knocked out before it could be formed.  With that loss, the triumph of athletic attributes over strategic vision in MMA had been firmly established once again: the man in the Octagon with better endurance, better range, better speed, better power or more aggressiveness always wins.  Might as well put the numbers into a computer.  Thinking has nothing to do with the outcome.  When the athletic attributes are evenly matched, the fighter that wins was simply luckier.

It is this lack of strategic acumen and tactical execution that I feel is the reason why no man has defended a LHW belt in 3 years.  Fighters have specific strengths which they are expected to play to, they do what is expected and someone ends up winning.  This is what I saw, to a tee, last night at UFC 128.  On one side, stood Rua, 29 years, coming off of two knee surgeries, hasn't fought in 10 months, 76 in. reach, strengths in Thai striking and BJJ.  On the other stood Jones, 23 years, 13-1 (with his one loss coming by disqualification), last fought 5 weeks earlier and winning without being touched, 84 in. reach.  Long, lanky, unconventional striker, array of knees and spinning elbow and high-calibur wrestler with two brothers who are professional football players.

On paper, what was to happen was obvious.  It was obvious.  I say that twice because I know all about Black Swans and how much more predictable things look in hindsight.  But, on paper?  It goes back to honesty.  Martial artists need to be honest about their expectations, to inspect what they expect. On paper, it would have been nice if someone in Shogun's camp said that his opponent is younger, stronger, with more reach, more rhythm and timing, more recent fight experience, more conditioning and a high class wrestler.  It would have been nice if someone had been honest and said that Shogun would have to outsmart him because he can't outclass him. But it didn't seem that anyone said that because Shogun came out as if he was fighting anyone, not the man in front of him.  He fought as if the man in front of him didn't matter.

But that was all that mattered.  Rua couldn't traverse Jones' reach.  He couldn't outlast him.  He couldn't get him on the ground.  He couldn't fight him off from his back.  He couldn't do any of the things that everyone knows Shogun does well.  And it seemed obvious that Jon Jones knew what everyone else knew.  That's why the man was trying flying knees and spinning back kicks.  He wasn't concerned at all.  He knew what to expect and since there was no strategy to Rua at all, all that was left was what his opponent is expected to do, what he's done before.

None of that would have worked against Jones, even if Jones hadn't known it was coming.  Rua is a Muay Thai striker.  But Jones has more devastating knees and elbows and is taller making the delivery that much easier.  Rua is a BJJ black belt.  Jones is a collegiate wrestler with long flexible limbs that gives him the luxury of seeing the submission hold coming from a mile away.

Watching the utterly one-sided annihilation of a defending champion who employed no strategy at all and who got that championship by what to my mind was a 'fortunate' punch in a fight that employed no strategy at all, was a depressing sight to say the least.  Rogan was quick to call Jones the future of MMA.  But it doesn't seem like the future to me at all.  It just seems like more of the past.  Jones isn't winning through training or coaching.  He isn't winning because he's outsmarting his opponents.  He's winning because he's an athletic freak who, more often than not, can do the predictable things his opponents will do twice as well.  Much as Chuck Liddell didn't revolutionize anything.  If you traded with Chuck, he was just better at knocking you out than you were.  Once that went away, so did Liddell.

Jon Jones will revolutionize MMA when he's getting beat the way that he beat on Mauricio Rua last night, and lures his opponent into a triangle.  When he has to outsmart his opponent.  When he does something no one knew he could do, something no one could have fathomed, least of all his opponent, to steal a win through subterfuge.  That will be a revolution.  MMA continues to lack this mental dimension, which is why I feel that the discipline as it now stands would be better served being called MFA, mixed fighting arts.  A martial art by definition employs thought and strategy.  It means being sensitive to your opponent's strengths and unbalancing (kuzushi) them, both physically and mentally, forcing them out of their comfort zone, attacking their expectations, forcing them to adapt.

But I'm not seeing much adapting in MMA.  I'm not being surprised.  Though it is a sport; it simply isn't a thinking man's sport as yet.  Just more of the toughest guy in the room getting beat up by the guy who's tougher.

Friday, March 11, 2011


2011 0311: I'm pleasantly surprised by the small amount of blistering of my feet.  I suspect that it's mostly because we aren't on a hardwood floor anymore, but maybe I'm tougher than I think!

2011 0309: Eyes.  Eyes. are. the. first. principle.  Look into their eyes and open your spirit.  We will kill the flinch reflex one way or another.

The Virtues of Pain

My feet are killing me.  My middle finger won't bend.  And that's from going at 50% intensity.  There are so many habits in me I have to iron out.  It's like preparing your gi.  You have to smooth out the bends and folds with the steam in order for it to sit right.  When the fabric sits, it is at its most relaxed.  With each kink that gets ironed out, the gi becomes more functional.  And thus, more beautiful.

My finger hurts because in my enthusiasm in showing off my skill, I forgot to do a very simple thing: make a solid fist.  I know that at times my fist will hurt because I hit something I shouldn't have, but tonight I hit something badly.  And I know better.  But knowing isn't enough.  Do.  You have to do.  You have to do it naturally - repeat it so much that you can't do any differently.  Did I make a fist of rock each time my arm extended? No.

My feet hurt because I used them very badly yesterday.  It was ego.  I wasn't centered.  I was off-balance inside; pushing, wanting.  From the outside, I probably looked capable.  But inside I was trying to prove something.  My foot would go out and sometimes it would hit.  But karate is about always hitting and hitting hard.  You can't hit sometimes.  If you strike, you must hit.  If you miss, you die.  My knee wouldn't come up.  I would aim for ankles with the wrong motion.  Too eager.  I didn't flex my foot fully on front kicks and extend fully on round.  And that's why I can't flex or extend my foot at all now.

There is a virtue to pain.  One that we largely don't acknowledge today.  Today, we do everything to avoid pain.  We take pharmacological agents to mask it.  We use ice to numb it.  We refrain from painful things in the first place. So much of my life, of all our lives, is spent in resentment of pain.  But pain is terribly instructive.  Pain is the most honest teacher of all.  It is the most steadfast and enduring teacher of all.  We can do everything in our power not to learn from it, but the lessons are always there, waiting for us to listen.  Be it heartbreak or bonebreak, if you don't learn from something that hurts you, you'll probably never learn.

We regard pain in the wrong light.  It is, like so many things, an opportunity. I was on the bus home yesterday, conjuring up all the ways I could minimize the bruising, maintain the range of motion, get back to training as soon as possible.  When really, what would happen if I didn't?  If I just acknowledge the pain, embrace it, and take a moment?  Really reflect on what I did to feel this way?  Use the time of recuperation to make a change?  Take the lesson to heart so that I don't make the same mistake again?

I'm going to stretch my feet now and breath and think about what I did wrong.  I won't be writing about pain anymore.  I'm just going to shut up and listen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Summit Place

I met this man named Kenji Ushiro.  He showed me another dimension.  I want to walk his path but I am afraid.  I am afraid that I will walk it wrong, that I won't reach where he has reached.  I wonder - agonize, really - about how to get there.  When I asked him, he responded with one word...


What Westerners saw, American servicemen saw, of the Okinawan "forms" of Karate, was just one dimension.  Ushiro-Sensei says there is another.  Another dimension to kata that the Western tradition of Karate knows next to nothing about.  They know nothing about it and they don't believe in it.  We see things in the West with our eyes and our minds.

Ushiro-Sensei says that you must see kata with your heart.  Only then can you touch this hidden dimension.

I agonize because it is difficult for me to put faith in things that I can't see and don't understand.  This has been my biggest problem in my Karate: putting faith in the unknown.  In the expertise of people that can't prove their expertise.  Faith, in my opinion, is something that is earned before it should be invested totally.  When someone asks that you put faith in them, they should prove first that that faith is deserved.

Kata does not do this.  Kata does not prove that it should be the Way.  But Kenji Ushiro does.  His skill is...Words diminish it.  I would commit myself to his Way.  But it is difficult.  It would be less difficult if I could prove to myself that I am making progress.  Then my faith would periodically be renewed.  But how can I prove this to myself?

When I think that I will commit myself to this path for all my life, the thought that such commitment could be met with failure is paralyzing.  I feel like I can't breath.  I have to remind myself that I am not on the path only to reach the mountain's peak.  I must be satisfied daily that I am climbing ever higher. This will bring me peace of mind. That thought will comfort me even if I do not meet Ushiro-Sensei at the summit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I've had two great loves in my life: Medicine and the martial arts.  I've found the dichotomy fascinating and enlightening.  Creation and destruction.  Healing and hurting.  Ultimately the goal of both is to protect life, allow life to thrive.  They're just different ways of doing it.  In my dreams, I was a physician and a warrior, a doctor and a samurai - trained to both take life and save it, to undo even the worst mistakes.  I was the person with the greatest discretion.  I would know for sure whether to use deadly force because I knew how much of that injury would be temporary and how much of it would be permanent.  I would never have to feel guilt at using force because I could responsibly attend to my adversaries.  I could meet them with both honey and vinegar.  Open hand and closed fist.

Learning the one has always made my appreciation for the other that much greater.  I've often wondered why the two aren't more often taught in concert.  Why shouldn't a police officer be able to give expert medical comfort to a perpetrator he's just shot?  His goal isn't to kill, simply to stop. Why shouldn't a physician be trained to hurt and restrain someone who's agitated or violent?  Who else could do it better and more safely than someone who knows the human body inside and out?

The Western conception of the world is dominated by binaryism and dualism, no where more prevalent than in the mind-body dichotomy that is anathema to philosophies of the East.  Separate things are kept separate so that we might objectively contrast them with one another to better understand them - that is the Western thinking.  Contrast that with the symbol of yin and yang: dualism in the East always considers that opposites contain parts of each other that cannot be ignored or deconstructed.  If you go far enough east, you'll end up being west of where you started; very old people have as much difficulty walking as very young people.  Very different things have important things in common.

I wanted to bridge these gaps in hurting and healing and bring something new to the world in doing so.  I wanted to show that the pursuing one doesn't undermine a credible pursuit of the other - rather they complement each other, defining a new level of commitment to both, a deeper sense of responsibility and prudence.  I remember once listening to a farmer answer a question about how he could be so casual about causing the death of so many animals for the benefit of humans.  The man replied that there was nothing casual about it.  He said that to focus on the taking of life at the end of a cycle is to ignore the lifetime of commitment to growing, nurturing, rearing, and supporting life, animals and plants, that happens day by day on his land.  He said that nothing could be casual about ending life when you've invested so much into creating it.

This farmer spoke as if he was privy to a knowledge that most of us can never touch.  He embodied the idea that you can't truly have understanding without exploring both north and south, both mind and heart, both good and evil.