Thursday, December 6, 2018

Domestic Defense: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for Women at Home

Some self-defense food for thought.

And the point about "statistically the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home"? Sadly true. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 55 percent of murders of American women involve domestic violence. In 93 percent of those cases, victims were killed by current or former intimate partners: boyfriends, husbands, of lovers.

Statistics about rape and domestic violence are harder to come by, but at least one study found that 76 percent of women who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date committed the assault.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thought of the Day, November 15, 2018: Chögyam Trungpa on Fear

"In the practice of yoga and also within the martial arts, one’s strength or power comes from the development of a balanced state of mind. One is going back or returning to the origin of the strength that exists within oneself. This kind of strength is known as strength in its own right, the strength of fearlessness. To be without fear is to have great strength."
– Chögyam Trungpa

Monday, October 1, 2018

Giving Up the Booze

Zelda doesn't care if I drink Martinis or not.
Nearly six months ago, I essentially stopped drinking alcohol.

It wasn't because I have problems with addiction or dependency; quite the opposite. As I wrote in an earlier post, I've always been a moderate drinker and virtually never drink to excess. No, the reason for giving up alcohol was a health scare my wife had this spring. Something unexpected showed up on her mammogram. We were of course worried it might be cancer, but it turned out to be nothing. However, the doctor did inform my wife that she was at a higher risk for breast cancer thanks to her unusually dense breast tissue. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Women with dense breasts, but no other risk factors for breast cancer, are considered to have a higher risk of breast cancer than average." The Susan G. Komen organization states that "Women with high breast density are 4-5 times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low breast density."

Another risk factor when it comes to women and breast cancer? Drinking alcohol. It's an underreported risk factor but a well-established one. With that in mind, my wife decided to stop drinking alcohol. So did I, more or less (details on the wiggle words to follow). I did so out of solidarity, and because having a glass of wine or a beer in front of my now teetotalling wife does not appeal to me. For the record, she never once asked me to quit drinking.

Shortly after we chose to give up alcohol, I came across an article in Mother Jones magazine going into great detail about the cancer risks of booze for both men and women. A short excerpt:
On 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it’s been proved to cause cancer. There is no known safe dosage in humans, according to the WHO. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent.... The research linking alcohol to breast cancer is deadly solid. There’s no controversy here. Alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in Everclear or a vintage Bordeaux, is carcinogenic. More than 100 studies over several decades have reaffirmed the link with consistent results. The National Cancer Institute says alcohol raises breast cancer risk even at low levels. 
The article also states that "researchers estimate that alcohol accounts for 15 percent of US breast cancer cases and deaths—about 35,000 and 6,600 a year, respectively." 
There's still espresso.
The article strongly reinforced our decision regarding alcohol. I highly recommend giving it a read, especially if you are a woman, though if you are a man with a family history of cancer (like me), you should read it as well. Really, everyone should probably read it.
Now, back to those earlier weasle words, about me "more or less" giving up alcohol. Since my wife and I made our decision, I haven't had a drink, nor have I especially wanted one. However, I could see potential circumstances in which I might cheat a little. For example, I'm not going to say I'll never join a friend for a beer ever again. That could happen. But, to be honest, I very rarely find myself in social drinking situations anyway so the little escape route I've provided myself with the phrase "more or less" might prove to be irrelevant.
Finally, though I'll probably change the main photo on this blog at some point, I'm not going to engage in some sort of Stalinesque whitewashing of history and delete any of my older alcohol-related posts. You can still find my thoughts on bargain bourbon, the joys of Campari, and mixing the perfect Martini.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Philosophy Thursday: Good Men, Bad Men, Anger, and Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is in some ways a better human being than I am. Whenever I read his work, I am moved by his dedication to peace and compassion, and try to incorporate his teachings in my daily life. I strive to be a bit more like him.

But not too much like him. To put it bluntly, I'm an angrier person than Nhat Hanh, and I'm OK with that. He strives to surpass anger, to rise above it, while I—paraphrasing Capt. James T. Kirk—need my anger.

In his excellent book 'Being Peace', Nhat Hanh shares the following story:
After the Vietnam War, many people wrote to us in Plum Village. We received hundreds of letters each week from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It was very painful to read them, but we had to be in contact. We tried our best to help, but the suffering was enormous, and sometimes we were discouraged. It is said that half the boat people fleeing Vietnam died in the ocean; only half arrived at the shores of Southeast Asia. 
There are many young girls, boat people, who were raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries tried to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continued to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day, we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. 
She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself. 
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can't do that. In my meditation, I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can't condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
While I certainly admire Nhat Hanh's ability to see the situation from the pirate's point of view, and can acknowledge the role of environment in shaping the pirate's life, this doesn't change my anger. When Nhat Hanh writes "If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can't do that..." I can't help but think, "Yes, we can. And should."

Perhaps Nhat Hanh is right that if I "had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can't condemn myself so easily." I actually can condemn myself so easily. If I try to hurt an innocent, I deserve to be stopped. Think of the horror movie trope about the man bitten by a werewolf, who then turns into a werewolf himself and terrorizes the community. The cursed man, unable to bring himself to commit suicide, begs others to kill or imprison him. Or, to look at things more scientifically, consider the fact that brain tumors and injuries can cause serious behavioral changes. There have even been incidences of brain tumors being linked to pedophilia. Taking that as an example, if I ever develop a tumor and it compels me to try to rape a child, I hope someone stops me, even if it means killing me.

I can't help but think of the fascinating graphic novel 'My Friend Dahmer' by John "Derf" Backderf. It's the true story about growing up and going to school with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Even though Backderf shows some sympathy for the young Dahmer, in the book's afterward he clearly states
It's my belief that Dahmer didn't have to wind up a monster, that all those people didn't have to die horribly, if only the adults in his life hadn't been so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent. Once Dahmer kills, however—and I can't stress this enough—my sympathy for him ends. He could have turned himself in after that first murder. He could have put a gun to his head. Instead he, and he alone, chose to become a serial killer and spread misery to countless people. 
I absolutely agree with that. There are times for compassion, and there are times for justice.

It's important to state that I don't consider Nhat Hanh's position to be wrong or unethical. I actually find it admirable. Quite possibly, if I could achieve his level of benevolent compassion, I would be a happier, "better" person. I just wouldn't be me.

To quote a great PiL song, "Anger is an energy." It motivates me. I wouldn't be a martial artist if it weren't for anger. I wouldn't teach self-defense classes if it weren't for anger. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I think in my own small way I make the world a better place by teaching people to protect themselves while at the same time being able to protect them myself if necessary. Breaking someone's knee while simultaneously slamming face-down into the ground isn't very nice, but there are times it is necessary.

In season one of 'True Detective,' Matthew McConaughey's character Rush Cohle is asked "Do you wonder ever if you're a bad man?" He responds, "No. I don't wonder. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door." The show's creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto further elaborated on that concept in an interview: "Regarding bad men being necessary to stop the other bad men, that’s probably more true than I’d like it to be, but the point exists outside of gender: You need physically capable, courageous, and potentially violent people to deal with the violent, dangerous people."

Again, I absolutely agree. Compared to Thich Nhat Hanh, I am something of a bad man. And I totally accept that.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Practice the Martial Art You Like

Lou Schuler
Regarding exercise, certified strength and conditioning specialist Lou Schuler wrote in his book The New Rules of Lifting that what matters most is for people to

1. Do something
2. Do something they like
3. The rest is just details

I agree, and have the same philosophy when it comes to martial arts. You are more likely to practice and therefore get better at an art that comes naturally to and that you really like than an art you don’t like as much or aren’t as naturally inclined towards. (This is a big part of why I’m vastly better at Kali than BJJ.) 

For example, let’s assume you want to take up a striking art. You take a few classes in both
Muay Thai and Taekwondo. For whatever reason, you find you enjoy Taekwondo and don’t care for Muay Thai. Maybe it’s the art itself, maybe it’s the instructor, maybe it’s the vibe of the school. However, your UFC-addled buddy tells you should stick with Muay Thai because it’s been “proven in the ring” and is more useful for self-defense. Leaving aside whether or not that is true, signing up for Muay Thai classes won’t do you any good if you skip practice because you don’t like it. Being a consistent student of Taekwondo is better than being an inconsistent student of Muay Thai.

Don't get me wrong... It's good to challenge yourself and try things (including martial arts) that are outside of your comfort zone. I'm thankful for the time I spent earning my BJJ purple belt. But it's important to have a base core to work off of. It serves as your foundation. In my case, that foundation is built on Filipino martial arts. I came to that foundation by going through a period of trying different  martial styles and seeing what clicked. Kali is, simply put, the martial art I enjoy practicing the most.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Film: Quick Thoughts About Black Panther

I finally saw Black Panther, weeks after seemingly every other human on the planet watched it. This late in the game, an in-depth movie review seems rather superfluous, though I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Instead, this post will focus on some quick thoughts and general observations about the film.

One of the reasons I was slow to see Black Panther is because I’m rather ambivalent about superhero cinema and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular (I think I may be one of the few people who strongly disliked Iron Man). Yet in many ways Black Panther isn’t really a superhero movie at all. It struck me as more of a science fiction/fantasy hybrid with an occasional detour into James Bond territory. (I’d love to see director Ryan Coogler tackle a Bond flick, or at the very least a Mission: Impossible.) If anything, the blend of technology, hand-to-hand fighting, mysticism, and monarchy reminded me somewhat of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune, with vibranium as something of a stand-in for spice. Considering I love this sort of thing—I even liked The Chronicles of Riddick—it is no surprise I much prefer Black Panther over other superhero-based movies.

Not surprisingly, I paid quite a bit of attention to the fight scenes and weaponry. To prepare for his role as T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman worked extensively with martial artist Marrese Crump. According to Crump, T’Challa’s fighting style is a primarily a blend of Kali, Muay Thai, and Capoeira. If you know what you’re looking for, you can clearly see all these elements in the film. There’s also some prominent uses of Jujitsu.

In all due respect to the king of Wakanda, my favorite fight moves were displayed by T’Challa’s faithful spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). During a scene set in a Korean casino, she pulls off a cool Kotegaeshi (I think that’s the proper name), a wrist throw from traditional Japanese Jujitsu. Later, she performs an excellent snake disarm against Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). As a Kali practitioner, I was especially excited to see the snake disarm.

(You can see the snake disarm about 11 seconds in here. The wrist lock is about 40 seconds in here.)
The film also had some nods to Africa’s  traditional weaponry. For example, Killmonger channels the spirit of famous African monarch Shaka Zulu when he breaks the shaft of his longish spear, turning it into a Zulu iklwa. M'Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the Jabari tribe, carries a staff resembling an elongated version of a Zulu fighting stick.

I do wish the film contained more indigenous African martial arts, such as Senagese grappling (did you know wrestling is the No. 1 sport in Senegal?) or Zulu stick fighting. Thanks to my teacher Burton Richardson, I’ve dabbled a bit in Zulu stick work, and find it fun and fascinating. While there is still a tendency to immediately think of East Asia whenever martial arts are mentioned, Africa has a long, rich martial tradition that is well-worth exploring onscreen.

However, that’s a minor quibble. As great as the fight sequences were, what really made Black Panther work were the characters and their struggles. Despite the excellent special effects, design, and action scenes, the film was fundamentally about people, which is part of the reason audiences are responding to it with such passion. Yes, Black Panther is a popcorn movie, but it’s a popcorn movie with heart.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thought of the Day, March 26, 2018: Robert Wright on Being Buddhist

“I don’t call myself a Buddhist, because traditional Buddhism has so many dimensions—of belief, of ritual—that I haven’t adopted. I don’t believe in reincarnation or related notions of karma, and I don’t bow before the statue of the Buddha upon entering the meditation hall, much less pray to him or to any Buddhist deities. Calling myself a Buddhist, it seems to me, would almost be disrespectful to the many Buddhists, in Asia and elsewhere, who inherited and sustain a rich a beautiful religious tradition.”

For my own thoughts on this matter, please see my earlier post So... Am I a Buddhist or Not?