Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thought of the Day, January 17, 2017: Lao Tzu's Treasures

"I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures."
—Lao Tzu

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

This One Goes to 11: Favorite Books Read in 2016

As a follow-up to my Books Read, 2016 list, here's a list of my favorite 11 books in two categories read last year, in no particular order. 

FICTION


  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (An excellent weird horror tale that has some similarities to the first season of True Detective, though the novel was written before the TV show aired.)
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley (A dreamy fantasy story of beekeeping, love,  and fire worship.)
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier (The start of Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim series. At times dark, it is ultimately an inspiring story about the main characters' struggle to overcome their tragic pasts.)
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (One of the earliest weird horror stories, and one that writers such as H.P Lovecraft acknowledged as an influence.)
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue (Classic fairy tales beautifully retold, often with a feminist twist or two.)
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (A heart-wrenching book about a boy forced to abandon his pet fox. Also very powerful in its anti-war sentiment.)
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Another book by Beukes. Brilliantly combines the serial killer and time travel genres. Kudos to Lauren Beukes for not romanticizing the killer and for humanizing his victims.)
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (This also has a True Detective, season one vibe, but with some Wes Anderson overtones as well. Really.)
  • A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham (And another book featuring witty, well-written takes on classic fairy tales and supernatural stories. His version of "The Monkey's Paw" is especially good.)
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (And yet another retelling of a fairy tale. This one is a novel based on the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.)
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories by Emma Donoghue (More Donoghue brilliance. All of the stories in this volume are inspired by obscure historical events. It's one of the most mind-blowing story collections I've ever read.)



    NONFICTION

    • Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training by C.M. Shifflett (One of the best, most informative martial arts books I've ever read. And I don't even practice Aikido.)
    • Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh (Is it possible for a book to ooze compassion? If so, this one does.)
    • Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies  by Hadley Freeman (A witty analysis of several classic films from the '80s. Fun and informative.)
    • The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum (Nice examination of various non-aggressive ways to approach and resolve conflict.)
    • The Other Nietzsche by Joan Stambaugh (One of best books on the controversial German scholar I've read. Stambaugh explores the idea of "Nietzsche the poet mystic.")
    • Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy (Unlike many self-help books, Cuddy describes scientifically-proven ways to better yourself and be more confident.)
    • The Secret Teachers of the Western World by Gary Lachman (A strange, fascinating history of the role of esoterics and mystics in Western civilization. Trivia note: Lachman was a founding member of Blondie.)
    • Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking by Lydia Cacho (Powerful book about an important subject. You can read my review here.)
    • What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (Wry and rather sarcastic yet both informative and entertaining. I can’t think of another book about Buddhism that I could describe as “bitchy.” I discuss some of the concepts here.)
    • When Buddhists Attack: The Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial Arts by Jeffrey K. Mann (Fascinating story of the relationship between Zen and the warrior class in Japan. Dispels many myths, and shows how a peaceful philosophy can be warped and perverted for nationalistic purposes.)
    • The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru (A classic tome on the deeper philosophical aspects of traditional martial arts.)
    (My list of favorite books read in 2015 can be found here.)

    Friday, January 6, 2017

    Books Read, 2016

    A couple of years ago I decided to log every book I read and then compile a master list at the end of the year. Below is my Master Reading List for 2016, in alphabetical order by title. I'll try to post a list of my favorite books read last year soon.

    FICTION

    • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
    • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
    • The Caller by Juliet Marillier
    • Chalice by Robin McKinley
    • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
    • The Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn
    • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
    • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
    • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
    • Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock
    • Harpist  in  the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip
    • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
    • Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip
    • Indigo by Louise Cooper
    • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
    • Legacy by F. Paul Wilson
    • Low Red Moon by Caitlin R. Kiernan
    • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
    • The Northern Girl by Elizabeth A. Lynn
    • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
    • The Promise by Robert Crais
    • Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier
    • The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip
    • Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
    • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
    • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
    • Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly
    • The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson
    • Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier
    • Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories by Karen Russell
    • Walking Dead by Greg Rucka (reread)
    • Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
    • A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham
    • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
    • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories by Emma Donoghue

    NONFICTION

    • 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation by Clint Emerson
    • 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity by Charles Lewis
    • Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training by C.M. Shifflett
    • Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get Your Way by Terry Dobson and Victor Miller
    • Becoming Kuan Yin: The Evolution of Compassion by Stephen Levine
    • Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
    • Budo Secrets: Teachings of the Martial Arts Masters by John Stevens
    • Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism by Thich Nhat Hanh
    • Cheap Shots, Ambushes and Other Lessons A Down and Dirty Book on Streetfighting by Marc "Animal" MacYoung
    • Crime Signals: How to Spot a Criminal Before You Become a Victim by David Givens
    • Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded--and What We Need to Do to Remake Them by John Perkins
    • I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator by Daniel Ribacoff
    • It's a Lot Like Dancing: An Aikido Journey by Terry Dobson
    • The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
    • Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps' Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life by Jason Riley and Patrick Van Horne
    • Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History by Richard Shenkman
    • Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies  by Hadley Freeman
    • The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum
    • Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century by Robert W, Smith
    • Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior by John Man
    • No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
    • The Official Prisoner Companion by Matthew White and Jaffer Ali
    • The Other Nietzsche by Joan Stambaugh
    • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
    • The Power of Internal Martial Arts: Combat Secrets of Ba Gua, Tai Chi, and Hsing-I by B.K.  Frantzis
    • Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
    • Pretentiousness : Why It Matters  by Dan Fox
    • The Secret Teachers of the Western World by Gary Lachman
    • Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking by Lydia Cacho
    • The Spirit of Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba
    • Superpatriotism by Michael Parenti
    • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
    • Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War by Andrew Bacevich
    • What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
    • When Buddhists Attack: The Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial Arts by Jeffrey K. Mann
    • You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
    • Your Magickal Cat: Feline Magick, Lore, and Worship by Gerina Dunwich
    • Zanshin : Meditation and the Mind in Modern Martial Arts  by Vince Morris
    • Zen For Beginners by Judith Blackstone and Zoran Josipovic
    • The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru

    GRAPHIC NOVELS

    • Batman '66 by Jeff Parker and various artists
    • Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    • Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    • Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    • Saga, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    • Saga, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    • Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

    Five Ways to Improve Hand Speed

    Many years ago, I was at a bar and witnessed an interesting altercation. A very large, tall man was harassing a much smaller man, saying the standard “Hey, whatchoo looking’ at?” dialogue. The big guy was about a foot taller and was least 100 pounds heavier than his would-be victim. The small guy kept his hands up in a placating but slyly defensive position while trying to extricate himself from the situation. The big guy seemed to be backing down, but suddenly pulled back his right arm as if to throw a haymaker. The small guy responded with an incredibly fast jab-cross-hook combination that knocked the big guy out cold. He then promptly left the premises.

    A key lesson from this little story is the importance of hand speed. It’s a lesson I’ve seen time and time again in sparring. I have encountered quite a few strong, muscular guys with really slow hands. It’s actually rather amusing when they spar with seemingly out-of-shape partners who happen to have really good hand speed. Guess who tends to get more strikes in?

    In a self-defense situation, hand speed could mean the difference between life or death, especially if a weapon is involved. Fortunately, there are ways to improve hand speed. These five have worked for me…

    Thursday, December 29, 2016

    Philosophy Thursday: So... Am I a Buddhist or Not?

    Buddhism is a tricky thing. It can be a religion or a philosophy or both. It can be metaphysical or purely materialist. It can be laden with ceremony and tradition. Or not. 
 Because of this ambiguity, it can sometimes be difficult to decide if one should or should not refer to oneself as a Buddhist. This is doubly true if you happen to come from a non-Buddhist, Western cultural milieu. 
 I’ve been interested in Eastern thought and Buddhism in particular for many years. I first encountered Buddhist teachings when I was a teenager. My parents and I were staying at a hotel in Hilo, Hawaii. It was mid-afternoon, raining (as it often does in Hilo) and my parents were taking a nap. I had some time to kill but didn’t feel like braving the rain. On a whim, I looked in one of the drawers of the hotel room desk and found a Gideon’s Bible as well as The Teaching of Buddha. This is not uncommon in Hawaii. Some hotel rooms even have copies of the Book of Mormon. 
 Curious, I sat down and read the Buddhist book. I was impressed by the gentle, compassionate nature of the teachings therein. A seed was definitely planted in my being, but it was one that would take a long time to sprout. Soon after I discovered Buddhism I stumbled onto  Existentialism (thanks to a song by the Cure), and my philosophical excursions came to be dominated by Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Friedrich Nietzsche, with Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius sneaking in here or there. Plus, in college, I took several courses about East Asian history, cultural, and thought, so Buddhism never was completely off my radar. 
 As I got older, I became involved in martial arts. I also found myself having to contend with the deaths of some people who I loved very much. It was around this point I started getting more serious about exploring Buddhism. I started reading the usual, classic authors—Alan Watts, D. T. Suzuki,  Christmas Humphreys, Thomas Cleary, etc.—before moving on to contemporary Buddhist writers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and others. 
At this point in my life I essentially accept the Four Noble Truths and try to live with a spirit of loving compassion. I meditate, though probably not enough. I’m a vegan who refrains from harming other sentient beings whenever possible. But can I really call myself a Buddhist?
    
 According to an article written by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche for Lion’s Roar, the answer is “Sorta.”

    Wednesday, November 16, 2016

    Thought of the Day, November 16, 2016: Erica Jong on Cynicism

    "Many people today believe that cynicism requires courage. Actually, cynicism is the height of cowardice. It is innocence and open-heartedness that requires the true courage, however often we are hurt as a result of it."
    —Erica Jong

    Tuesday, November 1, 2016

    Witnessing Domestic Abuse in Everyday Life

    October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In his proclamation President Barack Obama said it was a time to “shine a light on this violation of the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse.”

    It is important to “shed a light “ on domestic abuse because it is a complicated issue made even more complicated by myths and misconceptions.

    For example, some people think that domestic abuse is mostly something that happens in private, or that it always involves physical violence. On the contrary, domestic abuse can and does occur in public and often doesn’t involve violence.

    I know this first-hand. For several years in the '90s I worked in retail at a local shopping mall. While there, I saw a surprising number of acts of domestic abuse. Two examples particularly stuck with me.