Monday, March 27, 2017

8. Leaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

7. Places to visit

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

And then I closed the container.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

6. 20.5 or the Power of Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

5. Sturdy, strong, powerful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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