Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Koichi Tohei's 10 Rules in Daily Life

Koichi Tohei was was a 10th Dan aikidoka and founder of the Ki Society. He developed his own style of aikido called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (literally "aikido with mind and body unified"), often known as Ki-Aikido. He was also a prolific writer and philosopher, and his books on ki are well-worth reading even if you don't practice any form of martial arts. 

Here are his 10 Rules in Daily Life...

  1. Have Universal Mind
  2. Love all creation
  3. Be grateful
  4. Do good in secret
  5. Have merciful eyes and a gentle body
  6. Be forgiving and big hearted
  7. Think deep and judge well
  8. Be calm and determined
  9. Be positive and vigorous
  10. Persevere

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Borscht

Ever since I saw John Wick, I've been in something of a Russian frame of mind. Taking up Sambo isn't exactly convenient right now, and I have no real desire to get vory tattoos. However, I am dabbling a bit in Pimsleur's Russian language program, and I have been making more Russian food, especially borscht, which I love. 

The first time I ever had borscht was about 20 years ago at a Russian restaurant in Las Vegas who's name escapes me. Even though it was located in a dinky strip mall, the interior was all wood and decorated like a dacha. The customers wore lots of black leather, smoked cigarettes, and resembled extras from Eastern Promises. To call the staff surly and brusque would be an understatement.

Ah, but the food! I ordered borscht primarily because I had never had it and it is such an iconic dish. I wasn't disappointed. 

In the following years, I rarely ate borscht. It isn't an easy item to find in Hawaii restaurants. Late last year, in a Wick-inspired haze, I decided to try to make it myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Atticus Kodiak's Training Novel* Montage

In an earlier post, I wrote about my fondness for the Atticus Kodiak books by Greg Rucka. A quick review:
The Atticus Kodiak series by Greg Rucka follows the adventures and (more importantly) transformation of a ex- U.S. Army soldier turned bodyguard.
The first four books of the series are very well-done but fairly straight-forward thrillers.... The fifth book in the series, Critical Space,  marks a turning point in the series. While the first four books were essentially bodyguard-based crime novels, from here on the books become something more akin to international thrillers.
I also touched on something I really enjoyed about Critical Space:

While all the Kodiak books are worth reading, this one really stands out from an inspiration standpoint. Atticus Kodiak finds himself on an island in the Caribbean, where he spends months making learning to be one hell of a badass. The chapter in Critical Space detailing his regimen is one of the best of its kind I've ever read. It's sort of like a written version of a training montage from a movie. Essentially, Atticus spends his time strength training (with lots of pull-ups) and practicing martial arts. To aid in balance and recovery, he uses yoga and ballet. (Don't scoff at ballet; it's far more challenging and even dangerous than people realize.) He also goes on long ocean swims. As for diet, Atticus gives up alcohol and caffeine while eating lots of fresh fruit (especially watermelon) and seafood.... By the end of his training, Atticus Finch is essentially a new man. Critical Space is a great example of how a commitment to fitness and wellness can lead to something akin to a personal rebirth.
While poking around on the Web, I found the text for the aforementioned montage. Here it is, in its entirety. Of course, from a training standpoint, I don't agree with everything Atticus does, but it's a cool sequence with some stuff worth thinking about. Please note that no copyright infringement is intended. By posting this excerpt, I hope to encourage more people to buy Greg Rucka's work.

(* Double-meaning intended. It's a novel montage because it is unique. It's also a novel montage because it is from a novel.)

 It is always about you and your body.

It's how you see yourself, and as a result, how you see the rest of the world.

The body dictates everything. It's where it all starts.

What you can make it do. What you can make it endure. How quick you can be. How precise. How quiet, and strong, and flexible, and still. It is the one tool you always have at your disposal, no matter where you travel, the one weapon that can never be discovered going through customs, never be spotted by a watchful guard or an attentive police officer. It is at the heart of everything you do, and you must be able to trust it absolutely.

The body.

This is what it takes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

JKD? MMA? CQC? A Post About Martial Arts Nomenclature

It can be hard to find a simple word or phrase that accurately describes what I do when it comes to martial arts. 

One of my instructor certificates says I'm authorized to teach Burton Richardson's JKD Unlimited/MMA for the Street. That's a good place to start.

JKD refers to Jeet Kune Do, a martial philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. Believe it or not, the sentence you just read is controversial. Not everyone thinks JKD is a philosophy. Some people consider it a martial art in and of itself. According to the Bruce Lee Foundation, "For our modern day purposes, Jeet Kune Do is the name we now use to describe those techniques and strategies that Bruce Lee developed and more important, employed, over his lifetime." Of course, Lee himself wrote in an article called  "Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate" in Black Belt magazine...

I have not invented a "new style," composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from "this" method or "that" method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see "ourselves". . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don't, and that is that.
Those who consider JKD more of an attitude and approach than a system tend to think of JKD in terms of Bruce Lee's concept of "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

As you can probably guess, I'm firmly in the JKD-is-a-philosophy camp, not the JKD-is-a-martial-art camp. Yet it seems that most people do consider JKD a separate martial art. If I tell someone I teach and practice JKD, they often tend to assume I'm all about trapping and fighting with a strong side lead and assorted other Enter the Dragon techniques. While I do a bit of that sort of thing, it isn't a totally accurate description of my martial repertoire. Thus, calling what I do JKD can be confusing to some.

How about the "MMA for the Street" part? Mixed martial arts? In many ways, that's closer to summing up what I do. A great deal of the techniques I utilize are indeed based on things that have been proven to work in MMA competition. And yes, my approach is definitely self-defense based, so the "for the street" part is apt.

And yet the MMA label remains problematic.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why Work Out?

It's January, the time of year when many people start working out as part of their New Year's resolutions. But how often do they stop to think about why they want to work out in the first place?

Quite a few people would probably be taken aback by that question, perhaps responding with a vague answer such as "to get in shape." What does that mean, though? A powerlifter and a gymnast, for example, are both "in shape" in very different ways.

Knowing the why you workout is important, because it will determine the how you workout. Individuals need to really think about what they specifically want to accomplish, do their research, and figure out the best way to proceed.

For years, I floundered at fitness, mostly because all I knew is I wanted to "get in shape." I didn't really know what I meant by that, so I just ran around, went to the gym, goofed around with weights and machines, and didn't get anywhere.

What helped me focus was getting serious about my martial arts training. I decided I didn't care about having a six-pack, being able to run a marathon, or benching 300 pounds. I just wanted to be a better fighter. And I don't mean I wanted to get fit like a professional, UFC-level fighter. I simply want to be fit enough to do well when I train or spar with friends and be reasonably prepared in the event of some sort of actual altercation. To accomplish this, I needed to concentrate on endurance, explosiveness, functional strength, and flexibility.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Film Review: John Wick

I rarely post film reviews. In fact, this is only my second one (here's the first). However, I was
so taken by John Wick I felt compelled to write about it.

I'm not going to bother with recounting the plot. You can find that anywhere. Besides, plots are for graveyards. Also, consider this the official SPOILERS AHEAD warning. 

John Wick is another entry in the tough-guy-coming-out-of-retirement-to-wreak-havoc genre. What sets it apart from lesser movies of this ilk is the style and care that obviously went into it. 

Perkins enjoys a drink between hits.
The cast is top-notch. Keanu Reeves is so good it's almost as if he's a different actor. I don't know if it's because he's a bit older now, but he seems to have way more (cliche alert!) gravitas in this film. Mikael Nyqvist portrayal of crime-lord Viggo Tarasov brings complexity to what otherwise could be a standard villain role. Alfie Allen is at his sniveling best. Adrianne Palicki gives it her all as assassin Perkins. Equally good are the character roles: Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and John Leguizamo all prove the maxim that there are no small parts, only small actors. It was also great to see David Patrick Kelly on the big screen again. You might nor recognize his name, but you've surely seen his work.

There are several homages to classic thrillers. In one scene, an extra is seen reading a copy of Trevanian's Shibumi, which is one of the great hitman novels. The concept of The Continental—a hotel that serves as a sanctuary for assassins and where no "business" can take place—echoes the Abelard Sanction safehouses of David Morrell's book The Brotherhood of the Rose.

One of the most prominent homages involves the name of the club that serves as the setting
Inside the Red Circle.
for one of the film's best action sequences: the Red Circle. In French, the red circle is le cercle rouge, which happens to be the name of an excellent crime drama directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville also directed Le Samourai, one of the coolest, most influential hitman films ever made.

The idea of the circle manifests itself not only in the name of the club, but in the film's dramatic arc. Early on, it is revealed that John Wick is largely responsible for creating the crime empire of Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov. Wick worked for Tarasov, but wanted to leave the criminal life to get married. Tarasov said Wick could make a clean break if he carried out a seemingly impossible assignment. Of course, Wick succeeded in his task, and from that Tarasov was able to built his extensive operation. Years later, Wick manages to destroy the same organization he helped to built. A red circle, indeed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Recipe Wednesday: Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic, Pepper, and Nutritional Yeast

This recipe is a slight variation on the classic Neapolitan dish spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino

I first had aglio e olio on a trip to (you guessed it) Naples, Italy. My wife and I were visiting our friend Mike, who was stationed at the U.S. Naval base in Naples. The first night we were there, we all went to dinner at a mellow family restaurant. It was called Angela's, or something similar. 

Still a bit tired and jet lagged, I wanted something comforting. Mike recommended spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino, a basic dish made with pasta, olive oil, dried red chili flakes, garlic, and Italian parsley. Heeding his advice, that's what I ordered. When the food arrived I took a few forkfuls and was instantly in a state of bliss. How could something so incredibly simple taste so incredibly good? By the time I finished my meal (and a few bottles of wine), I had a new favorite Italian dish.

On returning to the U.S., I started experimenting with different recipes and making my own aglio e olio. What follows is more or less my go-to method of preparing the dish. I say "more or less" because I don't put much thought into it when I make aglio e olio. I just sort of do it.

A major change I make involves switching out Italian parsley for nutritional yeast. To be honest, most of the times I make aglio e olio it is a spur of the moment thing and I usually don't have Italian parsley on hand. Plus, nutritional yeast gives the pasta a nice nutty, cheesy flavor. The  extra B vitamins are a good thing, too.

So here is my rough recipe. It's a one-pot dish:
Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic, Pepper, and Nutritional Yeast
8 ounces pasta
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup of olive oil (or more!)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

1. Cook the pasta until al dente ("to the tooth"). Right before you drain the pasta scoop out half a cup of the cooking water and put it to the side.
2. In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, add the olive oil and reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and stir frequently for about two minutes. Add the pepper flakes and continue to stir.
3. Just as the garlic begins to get soft but before it becomes too brown, toss in the pasta. Stir it around, and then add the reserved pasta water. The pasta water contains starches that will help the ingredients stick to the pasta. Continue stirring for another two or three minutes. Don't overcook!
4. Serve the pasta immediately topped with nutritional yeast to taste, fresh ground pepper, and cheap wine (optional, but recommended!)

I make this at least once a month. I recommend enjoying a cocktail such as a Martini or Negroni while cooking, and listening to this cool track by Nicola Conte.