Tuesday, February 14, 2017

4. Soft Calloused Hands

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

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

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

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

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


Consider the shooters pocket

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

3. Chop wood, carry water

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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