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 ~


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Living a Long Time

As we end one year and move into the next, I think it's only natural to want to make it to the end of another one, and so on.

Here is an excerpt from an article on people who tend to live a long, long time. The whole article may be read here.

The bottom line is that drinking wine and taking naps is good for you.

Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
After enlightenment, eat pizza and drink beer.
 - Me

Enjoy.

The Island Where People Forget to Die

In 1943, a Greek war veteran named Stamatis Moraitis came to the United States for treatment of a combat-mangled arm. He’d survived a gunshot wound, escaped to Turkey and eventually talked his way onto the Queen Elizabeth, then serving as a troopship, to cross the Atlantic. Moraitis settled in Port Jefferson, N.Y., an enclave of countrymen from his native island, Ikaria. He quickly landed a job doing manual labor. Later, he moved to Boynton Beach, Fla. Along the way, Moraitis married a Greek-American woman, had three children and bought a three-bedroom house and a 1951 Chevrolet.

One day in 1976, Moraitis felt short of breath. Climbing stairs was a chore; he had to quit working midday. After X-rays, his doctor concluded that Moraitis had lung cancer. As he recalls, nine other doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him nine months to live. He was in his mid-60s.
Moraitis considered staying in America and seeking aggressive cancer treatment at a local hospital. 

That way, he could also be close to his adult children. But he decided instead to return to Ikaria, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery shaded by oak trees that overlooked the Aegean Sea. He figured a funeral in the United States would cost thousands, a traditional Ikarian one only $200, leaving more of his retirement savings for his wife, Elpiniki. Moraitis and Elpiniki moved in with his elderly parents, into a tiny, whitewashed house on two acres of stepped vineyards near Evdilos, on the north side of Ikaria. At first, he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. He reconnected with his faith. On Sunday mornings, he hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started showing up every afternoon. They’d talk for hours, an activity that invariably involved a bottle or two of locally produced wine. I might as well die happy, he thought.

In the ensuing months, something strange happened. He says he started to feel stronger. One day, feeling ambitious, he planted some vegetables in the garden. He didn’t expect to live to harvest them, but he enjoyed being in the sunshine, breathing the ocean air. Elpiniki could enjoy the fresh vegetables after he was gone.

Six months came and went. Moraitis didn’t die. Instead, he reaped his garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up when he felt like it, worked in the vineyards until midafternoon, made himself lunch and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he often walked to the local tavern, where he played dominoes past midnight. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of rooms to his parents’ home so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard until it produced 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, three and a half decades later, he’s 97 years old — according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Aikido in Daily Life

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Forbes. The full article may be read here. The link mentioned in the article is to a free .PDF that is worth reading.

Study Aikido To Become A Better Business Leader

Drew Hansen, Contributor
I write about innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership 

The Japanese martial art, aikido, keeps appearing in my life. First I read that Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, studies aikido. Then I spoke to the director of Naropa’s Authentic Leadership program, and she said that an aikido master presents to the students. More recently I learned that Michael Gelb, the writer and personal development trainer, is a black belt.

How does it apply to leadership?

In Aikido, Harmony, and the Business of Living, Richard Moon expounds on the principles that form the foundation of his executive coaching practice. Generally speaking, aikido emphasizes the blending, rather than resisting, of energy from an attacker (or situation). Paradoxically, I’m learning to succeed by surrendering.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dao De Jing #46: One Will Always Have Enough

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's literary treasures, it's one of the foundations of philosophical Daoism. An online translation by the renown DC Lau may be found here. In the meantime, below is verse #46:

46
When the way prevails in the empire, fleet-footed horses are relegated to ploughing in the fields; 


When the way does not prevail in the empire, war-horses breed on the border.

There is no crime greater than having too many desires;
There is no disaster greater than not being content;
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous. 

Hence in being content, one will always have enough. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Last Sword Maker

This is a video about Taiwan's last sword maker.



Below is an excerpt from a post by Francis Boyd, who is an Asian trained American sword maker. The full article may be read here.

An article on Thai-Chinese swordsmiths by Francis Boyd

Hi guys

This article titled "Blades of Bangkok" was written by American Japanese-style swordmaker Francis Boyd, and published in the American knife magazine "Blade" in March 2000. Francis is an accomplished smith himself, having trained under a Japanese swordsmith named "Nakajima" (if I remember correctly); a fellow apprentice was Michael Bell. I understand that Francis has a tremendous interest in Chinese and Japanese swords and look forward to meeting him personally one day .......



"Christmas of 1998, my wife, Eleanore, and I journeyed to Saigon and Bangkok. We had a wild time in Saigon but, aside from a few antique purchases, it was rather uneventful in terms of blades. After only four days in Saigon we flew on to Bangkok. There we were met by Wiwat Chantape, a professor at Rajabhat College in Ratchaburi province; Sawate Poopakorn. a teacher at Mahidol High School in Bangkok; Pint Sangchanda, a lovely young lady who is a graduate student at Rajabhat University in Bangkok; and at least a half dozen of Wiwat's students from Ratchaburi. The next day Pim and her father took us on the grand tour of Bangkok-the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Dawn and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We finished the day at Thailand's National Museum, which contains a superb weapons collection. Housed in a single room, the collection, while in rather poor condition due to the local climate, is nonetheless impressive in scope and historical significance.

Upon entering the room the first thing you see is a full-size model of a war elephant (the ancient Thai equivalent of the modern army tank), mounted by a warrior and weapons handler equipped with spears and halberds, bristling like a porcupine. From there you wander around the room to case-after-case of swords of all Asian types-Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian. Pole arms are everywhere, including some European halberds. There are also some very fine European firearms, the most impressive a revolving cannon custom ordered from the French by a king of Thailand. The collection was easily as interesting as anything I saw in Thailand.


Gang Hammering

Christmas Day we were up early and off in search of blade knowledge. About two miles down the road, Wiwat took us to a country smith's workshop. As we hopped out of the van, we were greeted by the melodious sound of gang hammering as three men pounded away in rapid succession on a blade. The workshop was outdoors with just a makeshift roof to keep the rain off. When they finished pounding, I was introduced to Guan Shou Shui, the master of the shop, along with Pa and Som, his assistants.

With Wiwat translating for me, I was able to discern that Mr. Guan was making sugar-cane knives. He is Chinese and wrote his name in Chinese for me, but my Mandarin did me little good in communicating with him because he spoke a Southern Chinese dialect that I did not understand. With help I learned that he forges exclusively with bamboo charcoal. Amazingly, the man worked completely barehanded. Due to holding hot steel for 30 years, the palms of his hands looked like the soles of my shoes. His family comes from the Southern Chinese city of Tou Po and has worked as smiths for three generations.

Thanking Mr. Guan after buying one of his sugar-cane knives, we boarded the van and headed into Ratchaburi town proper. There we stopped at the shop of Loau Pin. She is an 82-year-old Chinese smith who, when we walked into her shop, was sitting on the floor chiseling the serrations in the edge of a rice sickle by hand. She told us that she had been making blades for 60 years and that her husband had also been a maker of swords and knives before passing away three years earlier. She is second generation from Southern China and blademaking has been a family craft for many generations.

Mrs. Loau had four men working for her, including two brothers. One brother led the hammer gang while the other worked the bellows and tended the fire. We watched the men work for a while and then stepped next door to the shop of another lady swordsmith, Mrs. Ying Pairot.

Ms. Ying is a sweet little lady of such small stature that it is hard to believe she has been making blades for 45 years. Furthermore, her family has made blades for over 300 years! She has a 250-year-old European post vise that she said is the family heirloom to prove it. She said her father worked until he was 84 and her brother also was a smith. They had come from Tou Po right before World War 2. Her husband was her assistant and her son already had earned a Ph.D from a college in Australia with the financial support of his mother.

This lady knows her stuff and gave me a real going over. Like all Thai smiths, she makes everything from swords and bowies to everyday tools and cutlery. The most astounding thing she said was that the reason all the Thai smiths use bamboo charcoal is that you can forge in it without using flux. She makes her swords with eight folds (eight being lucky to the Chinese) and uses an inlaid-edge construction that the Chinese call jiagang (qiangang). She inlays the edge steel about 30 percent of the way through the body steel. She questioned me thoroughly about how I make my temper line after I showed her a tanto I had brought with me. After a fairly lengthy discussion on swordmaking, I came away quite impressed with the sweet little old lady. She also gave me the Thai names for her tools: tao -- fire; tung -- anvil; kim -- tongs; and korn -- hammer.

From Mrs. Ying we went to the Ratchaburi Museum, where I was shown the sword presented by His Majesty King Rama V (Chulalonkorn of The King and I fame) to Ratchaburi state in 1910. The sword was made of solid gold with jewels and cloisonne. Unfortunately, I could not get a picture of it because the museum does not allow cameras. The blade easily rivals the solid gold dagger of Tutankhamen and is much larger. What a day! How could it get any better?

But it did.

Friday, February 15, 2013

When Lunar Calendars Collide

Tai Chi Nomad sent me this. Below is an excerpt from an article about how this year, Chinese New Year and the beginning of Lent line up and the implications for Asian Christians. The full article may be read here.

A New Lent, and a New (Lunar) New Year


Red rolls of exploding Chinese fireworks chase away evil spirits and prepare the way for the New Lunar Year. Dragons and Lions dance (龍獅舞) as a reminder of one’s inner strengths when facing challenges of the upcoming year. Offerings of bright, colorful fruits piled on plates pacify hungry and thirsty spirits. Kumquat trees, peach blossoms, and chrysanthemums cover every corner of the room, and incense rise up before altars and shrines to God, ancestors, and other spirits.  


For many Asians, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliations, the Lunar New Year is a special time to recall our shared origin, honor those who came before us, give thanks for the past year and pray for a better year. The festivities begin approximately two weeks before the New Year and continue for about two weeks after.  

This year (Feb. 10), like most years, New Year celebration “clashes” with Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13), a time for penance, and for those of us who are Asian and Catholic, this might seem to be a cause for internal conflict, a crisis in identity.  Yet, living in paradox, in the “both/and,” is as Catholic as it is Asian.

So what do we do when Lunar New Year crosses paths with Lent?  We cross ourselves and continue to celebrate.  As we end the old year and start the New Year with the celebration of Mass (yes, there are special prefaces in the Vietnamese Roman Missal for these occasions), we begin Lent with the celebration of Mass.  And when the week of Lunar New Year coincides with the first days of Lent, bishops would often dispense us from the obligation to abstain from meat that week.

Hỡi người hãy nhớ mình là bụi tro (Gen. 3:19).  More important than abstinence and fasting, during Lent as during the Lunar New Year, we remember with devotion and affection those who labored to bring us out of the dirt and ensured that we live abundant lives.  A humble recognition of one’s nothingness without one’s elders, ancestors and above all without one’s God is the foundational and relational grace necessary for a new beginning.

For the Vietnamese, our strength lies in our roots, and it is no wonder that our parents taught us long before we learned to use chopsticks that we were Con Rồng, cháu Tiên (Descendants of Dragon and Gods); and for us Catholics, beyond Dragon and Gods, we can trace our roots further back to One Creator. Sinh khí của Thiên Chúa đã làm ra tôi, hơi thở của Ðấng Toàn Năng đã cho tôi được sống. (Job 33:4).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The 2013 Lenten Challenge Begins NOW!

The 2013 Lenten Challenge starts ... NOW! I am tracking my progress on lift.do (Lenten Challenge - Rick Matz).

To help get the 2013 Lenten Challenge off to a good start, I've included an excerpt from my ebook, Cook Ding's Kitchen: A Kung Fu Carry Out (if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the FREE Kindle Reading App here) below. It's the first chapter on the practical Daoism of the name sake of this blog, Cook Ding.  Enjoy.


We do not receive wisdom,
we must discover it for ourselves,
after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us,
which no one can spare us,
for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.
The lives that you admire,
the attitudes that seem noble to you,
have not been shaped by a paterfamilas or a schoolmaster,
they have sprung from very different beginnings,
having been influenced by everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them.
They represent a struggle and a victory.

Marcel Proust, Things of Remembrance Past

I named my blog “Cook Ding’s Kitchen” in honor of ruler Wen Hui’s cook. To me he was an exemplar of practical Daoism. After years of hard work and study, the very definition of “kung fu,” he was able to insert the knife into the smallest gaps in the ox’s frame, which then seemingly then divided itself into pieces. If I could be half as good at anything as Cook Ding was at butchering oxen, I would be content. There is something so down to earth and practical in nature about a kitchen. The kitchen is really the heart of a home, and represents so much of our everyday lives. In fact, “Instructions to the Cook” is one of the classics of Zen literature.

The meat of Daoism is found in our everyday lives and activities.


I don’t cook, but I paint. No, not that kind of painting. I’m talking about kitchens, bedrooms; the more mundane kinds of painting. Not a project finishes that I don’t learn something about myself while changing the appearance of a room. I think this kind of activity is every bit as important in my study as practicing martial arts, reading and meditation. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig has been one of my favorite books since the first time I read it in the early 80's. A very good newer book that I've just finished can't help but be compared to ZAMM, and indeed the author himself makes reference to it. I am writing of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. To give you a taste of it, I have placed an excerpt from an essay Dr. Crawford wrote for the NY Times below. The essay itself is a sort of rendered down version of the book. The whole essay may be read here. Enjoy. The Case for

Working With Your Hands By MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD

The television show “Deadliest Catch” depicts commercial crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. Another, “Dirty Jobs,” shows all kinds of grueling work; one episode featured a guy who inseminates turkeys for a living. The weird fascination of these shows must lie partly in the fact that such confrontations with material reality have become exotically unfamiliar. Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive. “Dilbert,” “The Office” and similar portrayals of cubicle life attest to the dark absurdism with which many Americans have come to view their white-collar jobs. Is there a more “real” alternative (short of inseminating turkeys)?

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses. When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. Such sacrifice does indeed occur — the hazards faced by a lineman restoring power during a storm come to mind. But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it? I take this to be the suggestion of Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use,” which concludes with the lines “the pitcher longs for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.” Beneath our gratitude for the lineman may rest envy. This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale.

A car mechanics’ trade association reports that repair shops have seen their business jump significantly in the current recession: people aren’t buying new cars; they are fixing the ones they have. The current downturn is likely to pass eventually. But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India. If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.” A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom.

It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work. The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people. After finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy at the University of Chicago in 2000, I managed to stay on with a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the university’s Committee on Social Thought. The academic job market was utterly bleak. In a state of professional panic, I retreated to a makeshift workshop I set up in the basement of a Hyde Park apartment building, where I spent the winter tearing down an old Honda motorcycle and rebuilding it. The physicality of it, and the clear specificity of what the project required of me, was a balm.

Stumped by a starter motor that seemed to check out in every way but wouldn’t work, I started asking around at Honda dealerships. Nobody had an answer; finally one service manager told me to call Fred Cousins of Triple O Service. “If anyone can help you, Fred can.” I called Fred, and he invited me to come to his independent motorcycle-repair shop, tucked discreetly into an unmarked warehouse on Goose Island. He told me to put the motor on a certain bench that was free of clutter.

He checked the electrical resistance through the windings, as I had done, to confirm there was no short circuit or broken wire. He spun the shaft that ran through the center of the motor, as I had. No problem: it spun freely. Then he hooked it up to a battery. It moved ever so slightly but wouldn’t spin. He grasped the shaft, delicately, with three fingers, and tried to wiggle it side to side. “Too much free play,” he said. He suggested that the problem was with the bushing (a thick-walled sleeve of metal) that captured the end of the shaft in the end of the cylindrical motor housing. It was worn, so it wasn’t locating the shaft precisely enough. The shaft was free to move too much side to side (perhaps a couple of hundredths of an inch), causing the outer circumference of the rotor to bind on the inner circumference of the motor housing when a current was applied. Fred scrounged around for a Honda motor. He found one with the same bushing, then used a “blind hole bearing puller” to extract it, as well as the one in my motor. Then he gently tapped the new, or rather newer, one into place. The motor worked! Then Fred gave me an impromptu dissertation on the peculiar metallurgy of these Honda starter-motor bushings of the mid-’70s. Here was a scholar. Over the next six months

I spent a lot of time at Fred’s shop, learning, and put in only occasional appearances at the university. This was something of a regression: I worked on cars throughout high school and college, and one of my early jobs was at a Porsche repair shop. Now I was rediscovering the intensely absorbing nature of the work, and it got me thinking about possible livelihoods. As it happened, in the spring I landed a job as executive director of a policy organization in Washington. This felt like a coup. But certain perversities became apparent as I settled into the job. It sometimes required me to reason backward, from desired conclusion to suitable premise. The organization had taken certain positions, and there were some facts it was more fond of than others. As its figurehead, I was making arguments I didn’t fully buy myself. Further, my boss seemed intent on retraining me according to a certain cognitive style — that of the corporate world, from which he had recently come. This style demanded that I project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning. As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun. Seeing a motorcycle about to leave my shop under its own power, several days after arriving in the back of a pickup truck, I don’t feel tired even though I’ve been standing on a concrete floor all day. Peering into the portal of his helmet, I think I can make out the edges of a grin on the face of a guy who hasn’t ridden his bike in a while. I give him a wave. With one of his hands on the throttle and the other on the clutch, I know he can’t wave back. But I can hear his salute in the exuberant “bwaaAAAAP!” of a crisp throttle, gratuitously revved. That sound pleases me, as I know it does him.

It’s a ventriloquist conversation in one mechanical voice, and the gist of it is “Yeah!” After five months at the think tank, I’d saved enough money to buy some tools I needed, and I quit and went into business fixing bikes. My shop rate is $40 per hour. Other shops have rates as high as $70 per hour, but I tend to work pretty slowly. Further, only about half the time I spend in the shop ends up being billable (I have no employees; every little chore falls to me), so it usually works out closer to $20 per hour — a modest but decent wage. The business goes up and down; when it is down I have supplemented it with writing. The work is sometimes frustrating, but it is never irrational.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Year of the Water Snake

From ChineseFortuneCalendar.com. To read the whole post, follow the link.

2013 is Year of the Snake and it will arrive on February 4, 2013. (Note: Chinese New Year Day is on February 10, 2013. The first day of 2013 Chinese Astrology Year is on February 4, 2013.) Many people are eager to know if they will have better luck in the forthcoming year than previous years. Here, we want to use Chinese Astrology's Five Elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth) theory to explain people's fortune in 2013 and foresee what will happen in their lives in the Water Snake year.

According to the Chinese Five Element Astrology Calendar, 2013 is the Year of Water Snake Female Water. The color of Water in Five Elements system is related to Black. Therefore we can say 2013 is a Black Snake, Water Snake or Black Water Snake year.

Chinese Astrology is a Balance Theory of Five Elements. Each animal can be converted into Five Elements. Snake contains mainly Fire. It also contains some Metal and Earth. Snake is in the File group. Water of 2013 and Fire of Snake are opposite elements. Therefore most of people will experience mix of good and bad fortune.

Water Snake is Fire under Water. Snake is a clam, shy, cautious and low-key animal in Chinese Horoscope. Snake won't attack its opponent, unless it's disturbed or hungry. If Fire is not your favorite element, then you should keep a distance from Fire in 2013. Otherwise, if you fool with Fire, then you may get burn.

Snake is the 6th animal in the Chinese horoscope order sequence. Six (6) is an even number, Chinese horoscope treats Snake is a Yin (female) animal. However, Snake contains Male Fire , Male Metal and Male Earth . The outside of Snake looks soft, but the inside is tough. Male Metal in the Snake is very special. Metal's mother element is Earth and Earth's mother element is Fire. Snake is a birth place of Male Metal. Male Metal will become mature when the Autumn comes. If there are Chicken and Cow in the birth chart, then Male Metal will become very active during the Fall season. Since Fire and Metal are opposite elements, people's fortune may start to change direction after Summer.

Snake is a no-limb animal with fork-like tongue. Although, Snake uses its tongue to smell, people don't like the spitting tongue which is associated with moth action, possibly argumentation. Therefore, the Snake has the potential to hurt people relationship, especially, when Tiger and Monkey are around.

2012 Year of Black Dragon was the last year of Wood cycle. 2013 Snake year is the beginning year of the Fire cycle (Snake, Horse and Sheep). If people's lucky element is Wood, then their fortune will slow down. If the people's lucky element is Fire, then their fortune will begin to take off. The energy of Wood is on the East side. The energy of Fire is on the South side. The Element's Luck is turning from East (Wood) to South (Fire) in 2013.

Before predicting your luck in 2013, you have to know what Type of Element you are and what your Lucky Element is from your Astrology Birth Chart. The Lucky Element is the major factor to determine people's fortune. 2013 is the Year of the Black Water Snake, which contains Fire, Metal and Earth. If your Lucky Element is Fire, Metal or Earth, then 2013 will bring you some degree of fortune. Since 2013 is Water Snake year, people whose lucky element is Water will obtain fortune in 2013. Fire is the opposite element of Water. People whose lucky element is Fire can get some benefits, however, will reach the limitation.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Throw Away the Yardstick

When I was a young man training in aikido a long time ago, one of the people in the dojo whom I admired most was an older guy with the nickname "Wyandotte Joe."

When I met him, he was in his early 50's (younger than I am now). He had never done anything athletic in his life. His wife was out of the picture (I can't remember if that was because of a divorce or she had passed) and his kids were grown. He was always interested in Asian things and found himself drawn to the aikido class.
 

Joe just showed up. Every day. He was always there. He had his physical limitations, but trained sincerely. He tested for rank whenever he was due and as I recall failed as many tests as he passed, but it never seemed to effect him (the last time I saw him which was decades ago, he was a 3rd Dan. 

I don't even know if he is still alive. He just showed up and trained.
 

Perhaps there is a lesson there for us all.

At the end of the day, I'm basically an engineer. It is my inclination to organize and measure things. Sometimes this can have a detrimental effect on my practice.

I may get so caught up in doing x number of repetitions that I focus on the quantity and not the quality.

Below is an excerpt from the excellent Zen Habits blog on the wisdom of sometimes perhaps not measuring. The whole article may be read here. Enjoy.

Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring

‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’ ~old management adage
‘You can’t manage without pleasure.’ ~Leo Babauta
Post written by Leo Babauta.
There are a few old management adages that seem to run like a current through our society, powering our work and personal lives: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” and “You are what you measure” and “You get what you measure”.
And I’ve fallen for it myself. At various times, I’ve tracked workouts, miles run, everything I’ve eaten, every single work task I complete, progress towards goals, my weight, my body fat percentage, how many days I’ve done a habit in a month, words written each day, books I’ve read, expenses, earnings, debt, website visitors, ad clicks, tweets, followers, and on and on. Sometimes I’ve tracked a few of these at the same time.
I’m not alone — there are people who track the most minute details of their lives, from heartbeats to steps walked to hours slept (and quality of the sleep) to emails sent. As a society, we’re tracking and measuring more than ever before.
What’s the theory here? And is it true? And is it necessary?
The theory behind measuring: is that unless you measure something you don’t know if it is getting better or worse. You can’t manage for improvement if you don’t measure to see what is getting better and what isn’t.
And to some extent, this is true.
If you measure how many hours you spent writing, it’s very possible that that number will increase, simply because you are measuring it, more aware of it, more focused on it, and motivated for that number to increase. If you measure miles run, that number will likely improve (until you get injured or burnt out).
But how do you measure the hills you ran during those miles, or the spurts of speed you occasionally threw in, or the enjoyment of the view? How do you measure the great conversations you had with your wife as you did those runs? How do you track the ideas you had on the run, the health benefit of the runs, the new places you explored? You could try to track all of these things, but then you’d be tracking 20 things instead of just miles run.
Work is the same way — you can measure 1 or 10 metrics for productivity, but does it measure the relationships you’ve built with your readers or customers, or the enjoyment you’ve gotten doing the work, or the things you’ve learned by making mistakes, or the pure joy you’ve gotten in making someone’s life better? Go ahead and try to measure that.
When you track a metric, such as hours or dollars or miles, you are saying that’s more important than all the things that can’t be measured. You put that in the forefront of your head as the thing that must be improved, at the cost of all else. What about relationships and joy? Are those less important?
Then there are other problems with tracking and measuring everything:
  • It takes time to measure and track — that’s valuable time you could have spent doing or living.
  • It creates a mindset that we must always improve, always measure, always manage things, always strive for better, better, better. What about learning to be happy with yourself? What about focusing on joy and compassion and people you love? When does the improving stop? Are we ever satisfied? And is that the point of living — to improve endlessly, to always make things better, and never be happy with where we are?
  • It’s stressful to measure and track a lot of things, and it’s disappointing if those numbers don’t go up, or don’t go up as much as we’d hoped.
  • We have to choose what to measure, and how do we know we’re choosing the right thing? Why is that thing the only thing that matters? It’s a narrowing way of looking at life.
  • It doesn’t improve happiness. It doesn’t make us content. It doesn’t keep us in the moment.
I could go on and on. Measurement and tracking are tools, and there’s nothing wrong with using them. I’ve obviously used them many times, and still recommend them to most people. I just think we should consider whether there are alternatives, and question our dogma, and experiment to see what works best for us.


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The 2013 Lenten Challenge

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Feb 13) until the day before Easter (Mar 31), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it. I plan on tracking my progress on lift.do (Lenten Challenge - Rick Matz).

I've been tracking some of my activities on lift.do since before the Advent Challenge. As of today, I've trained for 71 consecutive days. I am hoping to keep the streak going at least through the Lenten Challenge. It's amazing how motivating it is to make a couple of clicks every day.

If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.
For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?

Best Regards

Rick

Monday, February 04, 2013

A New Member

One of the things we regretted in raising our last dog Annie, was that we didn't have a companion for her. Another dog would have better socialized her and kept her occupied when either we weren't at home or wasn't paying attention to her.

Not wanting to repeat this with Bella, we decided to get another puppy. We bought her sister (same parents) from another litter.

She joined the family Saturday. She's two months old. Her name is Mabel.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Look! Purple Turkeys!

An article caught my eye. An excerpt is below. The whole thing may be read here.

If You're Too Busy to Meditate, Read This

This morning, like every morning, I sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, rested my hands on my knees, closed my eyes, and did nothing but breathe for 20 minutes.

People say the hardest part about meditating is finding the time to meditate. This makes sense: who these days has time to do nothing? It's hard to justify.

Meditation brings many benefits: It refreshes us, helps us settle into what's happening now, makes us wiser and gentler, helps us cope in a world that overloads us with information and communication, and more. But if you're still looking for a business case to justify spending time meditating, try this one: Meditation makes you more productive.

How? By increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.

Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance. If you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions. You can be more intentional about what you say and how you say it. You can think about the outcome of your actions before following through on them.

Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It's probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.

As it turns out, that's one of the things meditation teaches us. It's also one of the hardest to learn.

When I sat down to meditate this morning, relaxing a little more with each out-breath, I was successful in letting all my concerns drift away. My mind was truly empty of everything that had concerned it before I sat. Everything except the flow of my breath. My body felt blissful and I was at peace.

For about four seconds.

Within a breath or two of emptying my mind, thoughts came flooding in — nature abhors a vacuum.

I felt an itch on my face and wanted to scratch it. A great title for my next book popped into my head and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it. I thought of at least four phone calls I wanted to make and one difficult conversation I was going to have later that day. I became anxious, knowing I only had a few hours of writing time. What was I doing just sitting here? I wanted to open my eyes and look at how much time was left on my countdown timer. I heard my kids fighting in the other room and wanted to intervene.

Here's the key though: I wanted to do all those things, but I didn't do them. Instead, every time I had one of those thoughts, I brought my attention back to my breath.

Sometimes, not following through on something you want to do is a problem, like not writing that proposal you've been procrastinating on or not having that difficult conversation you've been avoiding.

But other times, the problem is that you do follow through on something you don't want to do. Like speaking instead of listening or playing politics instead of rising above them.

Meditation teaches us to resist the urge of that counterproductive follow through.

And while I've often noted that it's easier and more reliable to create an environment that supports your goals than it is to depend on willpower, sometimes, we do need to rely on plain, old-fashioned, self-control.

For example, when an employee makes a mistake and you want to yell at him even though you know that it's better — for him and for the morale of the group — to ask some questions and discuss it gently and rationally. Or when you want to blurt something out in a meeting but know you'd be better off listening. Or when you want to buy or sell a stock based on your emotions when the fundamentals and your research suggest a different action. Or when you want to check email every three minutes instead of focusing on the task at hand.