Thursday, July 9, 2015

Antigone Bezzerides on Why She Carries Knives

“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me, he’s going to bleed out in under a minute.”
Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), True Detective

(PS: Looks like she's doing the top half of a classic asterisk pattern. Nice!)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Philosophy Friday: On Truth

Note: I was going through some old files and stumbled on to this essay I wrote in 2010. Oddly, I don't actually recall writing it, nor am I a sure why I wrote it in the first place. I think it was in response to someone who asked me about my view on the idea of "truth." Or maybe not. Either way, it remains an accurate reflection of my thinking.

It was an almost normal photograph of an almost normal little girl. Two things make it abnormal. One was the black bar superimposed across her eyes to hide her identity. The other was her right arm, which ended at her elbow. I was a child when I saw the photograph, probably only a bit older than the girl herself, who was five. It was in one of my mother's medical books. She was attending nursing school at the time, and there were journals and textbooks scattered throughout the house. I often looked through them, amazed by the pictures of skeletons and nervous systems and patients with weird maladies. My mom didn't care, as she was pretty progressive and didn't believe in hiding anything from me. When I stumbled onto the photo of the anonymous, one-armed little girl, I asked what had happened to her. Taking the book from me so she could read the text I was too young to read myself, my mother hesitated a moment before answering. "The little girl was told to keep out of the peanut butter. When she didn't listen, her father put her arm in a vice and sawed it off." Some people have all sorts of moral truths: taxation is theft; abortion is murder; don't mix meat and dairy; and so on. Not me. Most of mine are pretty basic. Perhaps the most basic comes from viewing that awful photo years ago: Do not be cruel to the weak. It seems so simple, so obvious. But is it? From history books to newspaper headlines, there is a barrage of examples of those who gleefully inflict pain and suffering on those who are weaker than themselves. Whether or not I want to, I can't help but remember many of them. Some I read about, some I know of firsthand. A co-worker severely beaten for her purse. A preschool girl raped by her babysitter as punishment for wetting the bed. A friend's sister serially molested by their stepfather. A puppy with his eyes scooped out. A kitten doused with kerosene and set on fire. The Holocaust. Bosnia. The Sudan. And so it goes, forever, both forward and backward in time. So what does it actually mean to take a stand against cruelty to the weak? I admit, it's easy to be cynical. It's like looking at those bumper stickers that say "Another Man Against Domestic Violence" and thinking, well, that balances out against all those pro-domestic violence stickers out there. Cruelty is going to exist no matter what I do or don't do, so what can I do? For one, I can be kind, the opposite of cruel. It's such a little thing, but I believe minor gestures like helping someone carrying a heavy load or even holding the door open for somebody really do matter. Going back to the bumper sticker example, I hate to admit it, but there is something to the sentiment expressed in the one that says, "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." There is another, less overtly-hippie side to my hatred of cruelty. By accepting as a truth that being cruel to the weak is wrong, I not only must avoid being cruel myself, but I must strive to prevent cruelty from occurring in my presence. This is why I practice martial arts and work hard to be strong. I train to hurt people because I hate to see people get hurt. Knowing of so many incidents were innocents were brutalized while others looked on fills me with both rage and sadness. I truly hope I am never placed in that sort of position. I don't want to be a hero. But I don't want anyone to be victimized in my presence wit me unable to prevent it. It could be argued that this major truth of mine, this moral outrage against cruelty, is more of a reactive truth than a proactive truth. There is something to that argument. However, when it comes down to it, no matter how we define ourselves and our beliefs, there is always an element of reaction. There would be no liberals without conservatives, no atheists without believers, no light without dark. Senseless cruelty is very much the dark in the human soul. To some extent, it's in all of us. The trick is not to succumb to the darkness either within or without, but to be the light. For a little light can chase a lot of darkness.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Respect, Open-Mindedness, and Martial Arts Dilettantism

In many ways, this is a great time to be a student of the martial arts. Thanks to Bruce Lee, the UFC, and the tough guys in the bad parts of Honolulu who melded several traditional styles into Kajukenbo, the idea of crosstraining and experimenting with different arts is usually acceptable if not encouraged. This more tolerant approach to martial dilettantism allows individuals to become more well-rounded as they explore the rich world of the fighting arts.

Of course, there can be problems as well. Some students can become plagued with a sort of martial attention deficit disorder, flitting from one art to another without really taking the time to learn anything.

Then there is the issue of respect. A little knowledge—or even a lot—can be a dangerous thing, and can lead to arrogance and closed-mindedness.

Several years ago, there was a young, douchey dude visiting Hawaii who decided to try out one of Burton Richardson's Kali classes.  Before class, I heard him talking to his girlfriend, telling her he had never practiced Kali before but he had participated in some amateur cage fights, so stickfighting should be "no problem."

Watch your head!
That bothered me. Douchey Dude's comments were arrogant and disrespectful to Burton, everyone in class, and the Filipino martial arts in general. I looked forward to sparring with him.

The end of class came and we all put on our helmets and gloves and took out the soft sticks. I don't make it a habit of going hard when sparring with newbies. With Douchey Dude, I made an exception. For better or for worse, I wanted to teach him a lesson regarding the reality of stickfighting. I sought him out as a sparring partner, and made sure to hit him on the head really hard over and over and over again. As someone said to me afterwards, "You lit him up!"

Afterwards, Douchey Dude came over to me. "Man, you kicked my ass!," he said. "You just kept hitting me on the head!" I asked what he thought of Kali. He replied that it was way harder than he expected. We shook hands and parted on good terms.

The point of this story isn't my badassery. There is a good chance that if I found myself in Douchey Dude's combat milieu, he would have had the upper hand. But here's the thing: If I found myself at his school, I wouldn't get mouthy and disrespectful.

Another, less offensive way to show disrespect when training in an unfamiliar art is to
second-guess the instructors or not follow their instructions. I recall going to a martial arts seminar featuring many different teachers. One of them was a really good boxing coach. At
one point, he was having everyone do focus mitts drills. Since he was a boxing coach and we were doing boxing drills, we all threw boxing-style punches. With one exception. A woman who clearly came from a Karate background consistently threw Karate-style punches (such as reverse punches). She got visibly frustrated because they weren't really working all that well. It wasn't that the punches themselves were somehow bad. They just weren't the right type of punches for what we were doing. She tried to shoehorn Karate into boxing instead of just going with the flow and allowing herself to try something new. While I'm sure this wasn't her intention, she was inadvertently being disrespectful to boxing and the coach. She also cheated herself out of a great learning experience.

If you are going to experiment with a new martial art, you have to be open-minded if you expect to learn anything. There is a famous story about Zen master Nan-in, who told a student, "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" Same goes for martial arts.
Umm... no.

This isn't to imply you can't ask questions. We don't live in The Village. You just have to go about asking your questions the right way.

If you are attending a seminar, be very restrained in your questioning. After all, time is limited. If you are actually enrolled in a class, there are more opportunities to ask questions. Just be respectful. Many people ask questions not because they want an answer, but because the question itself is a way for them to show how clever or smart they are. Incidentally, I am skeptical of martial arts instructors who discourage their students from asking questions. That's taking the whole sensei/guro/sifu mentality too  far. Class should be a place for learning, and there can be no real learning without questions.

So take advantage of all the martial arts world has to offer. Just be respectful, empty your cup, and let yourself learn something new.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Chin-Ups! And How to Do Your First One!

Chin-ups are one of my favorite exercises. In the past, I've vastly improved my fitness levels and dropped serious body fat by adopting a steady diet of Chin-Ups, Push-Ups, Dips, and running. If I wanted to go super-minimalist in my current training, I would probably stick to Chins along with Kettlebell Swings and Turkish Get-Ups.

I need to pause a moment here, because any article on Chin-Ups has to address a bit of nomenclature. So here it goes: Pull-Ups (usually) refer to grabbing the bar with your palms facing away from you. Chins-Ups (usually) refer to grabbing the bar with your palms facing towards you. There are other variations, such as Neutral Grip (palms facing each other, which is requires a certain type of bar). In general, Chin-Ups are easier than Pull-Ups because the biceps are more engaged and take some of the pressure off the back. I like to use a Lifeline USA Jungle Gym, which allows for a sort of rotating grip that I prefer.

Why do I love Chin-Ups in all their forms? Besides being incredibly functional, there is just something emotionally satisfying about them. It feels good to pull yourself up. You feel powerful. It also looks cool, which is no doubt why so many films—Taxi Driver, Aliens, The Bourne Identity, G.I. Jane, The American, I Am Legend, Skyfall, etc.—feature scenes of characters to some sort of Pull-Up. It reinforces their badassery.

Chin-Ups are also very hard to do. Many people (most?) can't do a single one. For a long time, I was one of those people. 

How did I train to do my first Chin-Up? Through the power of negatives! A negative involves stepping or jumping up to the top position of a Chin-Up and then slowly lowering yourself. 

Here's specifically what I did:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thought of the Day, April 23, 2015: Rumi on Love's Power

“The power of love came into me,
and I became fierce like a lion,
then tender like the evening star.”
— Rumi

Armor Building, Double Cleans, and Silat

Lately I’ve been incorporating a bit of “Armor Building” into my training. I first learned of the concept from strength coach extraordinaire Dan John:
I work with a lot of people in the collision sports and collision occupations. One of the hardest things to do while preparing for these endeavors is what I call 'Armor Building,' a term that one of my football players coined a few years ago.
Essentially, Armor Building is all about preparing the body—especially the trunk—for collisions with other things.

Me, being taken down Silat-style.
As a martial artist, I am mostly interested in colliding with other people. Recently, I’ve been working on my Silat skills. Silat is a Southeast Asian martial art found throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. A few years ago, I helped my instructor, Burton Richardson, film a series of Silat instructional DVDs. While there are many different styles of Silat, Burton’s version is very much about colliding with your opponent. It isn’t a parry-and-hit-back art as much as it’s a crash-into-your-enemy-and-slam-him-to-the ground art.

(A vanity-related aside: I was nursing a nasty back injury when we filmed the Silat DVDs and hadn’t trained for months. I had flab around by midsection and my posture was all screwed up. I looked terrible. But that was then. To paraphrase a line from Night Court, "I'm much better now!" You can see some clips of the videos here.)

If I’m going to be crashing into people, I don’t want to hurt myself doing so. And that brings us back to Armor Building.