The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween




The Smithsonian Magazine, in it's October issue, has an article on Vampires in New England. You can read it here.

Here are more interesting articles from the Smithsonian Magazine: The Witch of the Hamptons and Witches of Halloween Past.

Here's a clip from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what I think is a truly great version of the classic. I think this is one of the best scenes from the whole movie.

The Monster has been pressuring Victor to create a mate for him. Victor has resisted and the Monster killed Victor's beloved Elizabeth. In desperation, Victor reanimates the dead Elizabeth.

The Monster thinks that this is his mate. Victor thinks he has brought back his Elizabeth. Helen Bonham Carter in an outstanding performance as Elizabeth begins to understand what has happened to her.



A friend sent me an article about a ghost tour in San Francisco's China Town. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here.

Tourist Trapped: Chinatown Ghost Tour

Just in time for Halloween, Melissa and I spent Saturday night on a walking ghost tour of Chinatown. We paid $29 each to meet a group of about 10 or 15 people in the upstairs bar of the Four Seas Restaurant on Grant Street. After taking advantage of some $5 Happy Hour appetizer deals, we were instructed to meet our guide, Rose by walking through the backdoor of the restaurant into an alley.

Rose points to the scene of a crime.
Melissa and I were expecting 90 minutes of gory historical stories about Chinatown, which is certainly what we got. What we were not expecting were actual ghost hunters, folks who had downloaded iPhone apps which could both detect the presence of a spirit as well as provide you with it’s name. And then, of course, Rose had some sort of Ghostbusters-esque device which she held in the air. The device features a line of lights which would flash from green to yellow and all the way up to red, which meant we were in the presence of a ghost.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Traction

I'm not a writer. In my own small way, I practice martial arts as a budo. Yet I find many of the articles posted at Steven Pressfield's blog (the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gate of Fire) to be speaking directly to me. Below is an excerpt from a recent post, "Traction." Enjoy. Please pay a visit.

Traction

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 10, 2012

The last two weeks we’ve been talking in these posts about buckling down and hitting a groove. By that I mean finding and achieving a steady, productive, working rhythm.

Traction.

Traction. It beats brilliance every day.

Nothing gets stuff done like traction. When the rubber grips the road, we can deliver any payload. Long-range. Cross-country. Anywhere.

The opposite of traction is slippage. Spinning our wheels. Starting and stopping. Sputtering.
When we achieve traction, we’re actually accomplishing something.

We’re shooting film, we’re filling blank pages, we’re structuring our new start-up.

For the past two weeks we’ve talked about thinking in blocks of time and saying no. Thinking in blocks of time gives us patience. It sets up the long view. We can say, “It’ll take twelve weeks for pre-production, 39 days of filming, and nineteen weeks of post-production.” We can say that and not freak out. We’re thinking in blocks of time.

Saying no means adopting a No More Mister Nice Guy attitude toward all activities that will pull us away from our objective. Including good things, fun things. We make the decision that our priority is X. Everything that is not-X, unless it’s life and death (or at least really big fun), has to take a number.
The third element is consistency. Habit.

They say at the gym that you have to train in order to train. That’s how traction is achieved. A solid day’s work on Monday makes it easier to do the same Tuesday. A strong week leads to a stronger following week.

You can’t generate traction out of the box. You have to make it the old-fashioned way. You have to earn it.

You earn it by day-after-day consistency of effort.

That’s what my goal is now.





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy St. Crispin's Day

In Henry V, William Shakespeare has the king give his men one of the best speeches ever the night before the Battle of Agincourt. The battle took place on Oct 25th, which is the Feast of St. Crispin. The speech therefore, is known as the St. Crispin's Day Speech.

You'll recognize parts of it. It is from this speech we get the phrase "... we few, we happy few, we band of brothers"

Enjoy.



Monday, October 22, 2012

Vintage Karate Video

I love these old videos. This is a karate demonstration in Japan from 1958. That would make most of the participants in their late 60's and into their 70's now. I wonder how many of them stuck with it?

The video is from The Martial Arts Videos website. Please pay a visit.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Raking the Leaves





Raking the leaves.
Imposing an order,
Leaves or me?

 

Friday, October 19, 2012

The 48 Laws of Power, #4: Always Say Less Than Necessary

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

Law #4 is: Always Say Less Than Necessary.

There are so many facets to this one.

"Better to remain silent and thought a fool than open one's mouth and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain

Did you ever see the movie, Being There? Chance, the simple minded gardener who is forced to leave his sheltered life and go out into the world rises to the heights of power be simply not saying much and having the few things he does utter regarded as profound and insightful.

If others don't know what you are up to, they have fewer opportunities to thwart your plans. Also, by being mostly silent, you may have the element of surprise working for you.

By not saying much, you don't have to worry as much about your own words coming back to haunt you.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Birthday post 2012

Today is my birthday. Won't you help me to celebrate?





I'm 55. 60 is within sight. I'm halfway to 110.



The oldest daughter is doing well. She's been working for the same company for nearly two years. Some months ago, the division of the company she works for was sold to another company. There have been some changes, and her position was eliminated. They kept her on though, and let her look for another position within the new company and she found one. It turns out to be a promotion to boot!

The youngest daughter is a senior at the university. She had a summer job with a Michigan based insurance company. They liked her so well that they kept her on part time once she went back to school and have told her that they plan on making her an offer for a full time job once she graduates in April.

The Mrs keeps me on my toes. She was inconsolable when we had to put out dog Annie down after having her be a part of the family for 16 1/2 years. We got a puppy we named Isabella (Bella) soon after and she helps to make our days brighter.

We are going on 29 years of marriage this month.



We still have the place up north, just off of Lake Huron. In fact, we were just up there for the weekend. The kids asked me what I wanted for my birthday and the answer was a family weekend at the cottage.

It was rainy that weekend, so we mostly stayed inside. We watched movies, played board games and ate. It doesn't get much better.



For Father's Day, I wanted both daughters to come up to the cottage with the boyfriends. The older one has a boat, which he brought with him. It was the weekend of the Port Huron to Mackinac Sailboat Race. We were out on the water surrounded by hundreds of sailboats of every size and description.





Also for Father's Day, my family got me a new Kindle Fire, to replace my aging Kindle 2. I love it.

I have recounted before how I used to train pretty diligently in Yoshinkai Aikido under Kushida Sensei as a young man. When it came time to raise a family and build a career, I hung up my dogi for a while always knowing that I would come back to martial arts training in some form. Martial arts practice is a lot like gravity in that once it gets hold of you, you may think you can escape it for some time but eventually it pulls you back in.

When my late mother was in an assisted living home, then later a nursing home, I got to see and spend time wtih a lot of human trainwrecks up close. The criteria I would apply to determining how I would go forward with excercise in general and martial arts training in particular began to crystalize.

I would want to practice something that I could physically carry into my dotterage. It had to be intellectually engaging. I wanted to do something I could practice effectively as a solo practice and have no need of special equipment or location; that is, self contained and portable.

About 12 years ago, I began some of the fundamental exercises of Yiquan. The standing practice really resonated with me and I have continued it in one form or another to this day.

Five years ago, I began studying Wu style Taijiquan. Beginning 3 years ago I began to focus on the small frame square form from the Wu style.

This was all a very Yin practice though. To burn some calories, keep up some cardiovascular capacity and muscle tone I felt I needed to supplement this. Along side those practices I also used a treadmill (which I wore out and replaced with an ellipical machine) and weight machine (which I eventually set aside in favor of body weight exercises; the weights made my joints sore).

From my youth in the 70s's from reading the books of Robert W. Smith, one of the martial arts that I have been fascinated by was Xingyiquan. A year ago (on my birthday) I started learning the Five Elements forms from some videos to add some Yang flavor to my practice.

I've always felt that when we adopt a practice, we should allow it to shape us. I wanted to see how Xingyiquan would shape me, so I dropped the elliptical machine and the body weight exercises to see what would happen.

Aside from my "soft" practices, the only other regulary physical exercise I get other than Xingyiquan is the stuff I do around the house (and the Mrs has no shortage of Egyptian Pyramid slave labor projects she'd like to see me complete) and of course, walking the dog.

I've always had quick results when I've done physical exercise. My usual development would be a big blocky chest, biceps, thighs and calves. I've never been successful in building size or definition in my forearms.

The regular Xingyiquan practice has changed that. My chest is flatter, like a boxer and well defined. I still have strong biceps but the muscle seems longer than big. My forearms are getting meaty (for me) and are not only picking up definition, but the insides of my forearms are getting defined as well. Like my biceps, my thighs and calves have a longer quality to them. My lower back, the area that would be covered by a weight lifting belt if I wore one, DOES feel like I'm wearing one of those support belts. Finally, I am becoming aware of a lot of little muscles in my shoulders and back.

We went to a wedding last month. A couple of weeks before the wedding, the Mrs suggested that I try on the new suit I bought last spring. The jacket was too tight. The jackets of all my old suits were too tight. I had to buy a new one.

At 55 I feel like I am in as good shape as I was in my 20s when I was going to over a dozen aikido classes a week. I am nearly as strong as I've ever been and I can't think of a time when my stamina has been better. I had already lost most of the weight I was going to lose from my peak three years ago by the time I started learning the Five Elements, but my weight is generally a few pounds lighter than a year ago. Altogether, over the last 3 years, I've lost between 35 and 40 lbs.

My mind is clear and I feel great. Life is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Too Busy to Train

How many times have we told ourselves that we're too busy to train? We're too busy to ... 

We're just too damn busy.

An article caught my eye, from which I've posted an excerpt below. The article discusses what the author refers to as "The Busy Trap." If you have the time, check out the whole thing here.

The ‘Busy’ Trap


If you live in America in the 21st century you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing: "Busy!" "So busy." "Crazy busy." It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: "That's a good problem to have," or "Better than the opposite."

Notice it isn't generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It's almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they've taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they've "encouraged" their kids to participate in. They're busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they're addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.'s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn't have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another's eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it's something we've chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I  Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist's residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn't consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college - she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: "Everyone's too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.") What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality - driven, cranky, anxious and sad - turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It's not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school - it's something we collectively force one another to do.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Art of Intent

Below is an excerpt from a book which was published at Fast Company Magazine. 

The name of the book is Every Leader is an Artist by Michael O'Malley and William F. Baker.

Although it's supposed to be about leadership in business, the way the author approaches the topic is through art. The first things I thought of when reading this review was martial arts and yi.

An excerpt from that article is below. The full article may be read here.


For Claude Monet, a fascination with visual perception prompted a lifelong ambition to “paint the air”: to study and represent how light breaks up on objects and how it scatters on water.
Monet imagined the intangible and made it palpable--through thick brushstrokes and dabs of electrifying color. The result of his extraordinary grasp of color and light was impressionism, one of the most dazzling and innovative movements in art history.

His intent was to capture the fleeting conditions that surrounded and encapsulated objects, the subtle poetry of rural light mainly found on his Giverny estate and in neighboring fields.
...
Too often the production of vision statements is a stand-alone exercise with no forward thrust: meaningful strings of words with no impetus behind them. On the other hand, intent is the immediate precursor to action. Intentions keep us focused on what is most important to us and guide our behaviors accordingly. In addition, unlike vision, intent situates responsibility. When the author of an idea states what he or she is trying to do, there is no question who is supposed to do it.
Intent, perhaps, finds its nearest expression in a company’s mission statement, but again, we think intent has advantages for its:
  • Intuitive, compact simplicity
  • Clarity and specificity--as opposed to nebulous wishful thinking
  • Usability throughout the organizational hierarchy
  • Unambiguous link to action and accountability
Indeed, vision and mission have become the products of ritualistic corporate exercises that rest inertly on walls or in corporate promotional materials as camouflage for the real business of making money. If the mission were so important, then presumably you would know what yours is. Do you?
...
You should prepare yourself for a lengthy and trying exercise.

One of the most notable aspects of Monet’s work is that he devoted himself to his self-imposed problem for decades. He was consumed by getting it right. While he could have been resting peaceably on his estate in his later years, he continued his rigorous exploration of light and color. Once started, a journey of this magnitude is never entirely satisfactorily concluded. There is always more to do and to perfect.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Who Needs Fiction: Another Warrior Poet

A few months ago, I made a post about Cameron Conaway, who was formerly a MMA cage fighter and an award winning poet.

Here is another one from the pages of the news. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.


Have-a-go poet floors moped mugger with karate kicks

Justin Davenport, Crime Editor
27 Feb 2012


A 60-year-old poet karate-kicked a mugger to the ground as he tried to flee with a woman's handbag.

Neil Gevisser, who learned the martial art in his native South Africa, went into action after a heavily built young thug robbed a mother as she waited in her car to collect her child from school.
The robber smashed a window in the 4x4 with a stone, snatched the bag and sprinted away to a moped which he had left running when Mr Gevisser, alerted by the 40-year-old woman's screams, intervened.

Mr Gevisser aimed a karate kick at the moped, sending it spinning around and throwing the robber to the ground.

When the mugger leapt up and advanced towards him, Mr Gevisser, who is 5ft 8ins tall, kicked him in the stomach with a "karate roundhouse" and then in the shins. The robber ran off empty-handed, limping.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

One Who Practices

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau

At Weakness with a Twist, there was recently a post about living a "martial arts lifestyle" and what that might entail. The article may be read here.

I've also posted an excerpt some time ago, by the author Steven Pressfield on Developing a Practice.

What do you think? I’m interested in your comments.

It's not hard to practice. What isn't easy is becoming one who practices. I'm not thinking so much about a "professional" martial artist which is a whole other ball of wax, but more of a "lay practitioner" who is serious about his study but who is fully engaged in “everyday life.”

Budo is supposed to enhance your life, not replace it. Becoming a dojo nerd may allow you to accumulate a lot of time on the mat without the usual distractions of daily life most of us must handle, but what good is that? You'd still just be a dojo nerd.

I think we have the time and resources to do what we really want to do. Obstacles serve as a filter to help us distinguish between what we only think we want and what we really want.

I wrote about some changes I made so that I can practice every day without much chance of everyday life throwing a monkey wrench into my plans too often.

I don't know that just practicing a lot is enough to say that you truly have a practice. I think the next step is to let your practice shape you physically, mentally and psychologically. That's tough. You have to be willing to empty your cup to allow your practice to shape you.

The people I admire are not only good at something, they are good for something as well.