Monday, October 7, 2019

Why I Finally Started Reading 'The Wheel of Time'

As I've mentioned in the past, I love fantasy novels. In fact, fantasy is my favorite genre of fiction. My fondness for the genre dates back to seeing the Rankin/Bass animated version of 'The Hobbit' as a young child, being totally enraptured by it, and then having my mom to read the novel to me out loud.

When it comes to fantasy, I'm definitely in the epic fantasy camp. While somewhat out of fashion these days, I still enjoy classic Good vs. Evil stories featuring long quests, magical items, Dark Lords, mythical peoples, Chosen Ones, etc. Professor Tolkien definitely left his mark on me!

Taking all that into account, it's odd that I never got around to reading the late Robert Jordan's 'The Wheel of Time,' one of the most beloved and important epic fantasy series of the last 30 years. 

I first heard about 'The Wheel of Time' in the early '90s, not long after the initial volume—The Eye of the World—had been released. My good friend (and then-roommate) Mike had read it and raved about it. He rarely recommended books to me, but he highly recommended 'The Eye of the World.' It was a recommendation I ignored. I don't know why. Maybe I was reading something else. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. I really can't recall.

Mike continued with the series and kept recommending it, and I kept ignoring his recommendations. I don't know how far he got with the novels, but I know he didn't finish the series. By the time the last two volumes were published, Mike had committed suicide. 

Thanks to the upcoming Amazon series. 'The Wheel of Time' has once again been in the news recently. That got me to thinking about the books, and Mike's hearty endorsement of them. I especially found myself thinking about them around September 22, Mike's birthday. It was about that time that I decided to finally read The Eye of the World.

I'd tried reading it a couple of times before. For some reason, the book hadn't quite clicked with me. This time, I decided to commit myself to finishing it. 

They say the third time's the charm, and that was certainly the case here. This time around I zipped though all 780-plus pages of The Eye of the World in just over a week. I absolutely loved it, especially the characterizations and rich worldbuilding. And while Jordan is sometimes criticized for being overly descriptive, I didn't find that to be a problem. On the contrary, I found his descriptions added to the immersive quality of the narrative. 

I'm now well into the second book, The Great Hunt, and look forward to the rest. At some point, I'll probably take breaks in between volumes with works from other authors, just to keep things fresh. I do plan to finish the series though, all 14 volumes and 4.4 million words of it. My friend Mike wasn't able to finish 'The Wheel of Time,' so I guess I'll finish it for him.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Thought of the Day: 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, September 23, 2019

Thought of the Day: Tennyson on Strength

"My strength has the strength of ten because my heart is pure." 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Revisiting A Gent in Training

It's the Autumnal Equinox!
It's been nearly eight years since I started this blog. Over the years I've been rather sporadic in updating it or adding new posts. In fact, the basic look of the blog has remained unchanged... until today. Some of you may have noticed that the original main photo (me drinking a Martini with my cat Dobbin) has been replaced with a new one (me meditating with my cat Dobbin). Why the change?

To put it mildly, 2019 has been challenging for me. I'll probably go into more detail in a later post, but suffice to say it's been a hard year. However, it has also been a year of growth and reassessment. Part of that reassessment has to do with this blog, and what sort of things I want to post about. 

Early on, I often posted about stuff such as cocktails and men's style. Gradually, I moved away from that sort of thing to more posts about philosophy, self-improvement, personal safety, and martial arts. I want to continue with that trend, and today, the first day of autumn, seems like a good day to recommit to this blog and to its mission.

And that's why I changed the main photo. I'm a different person with different priorities now. Meditation has replaced Martinis, and this revised way of thinking will be reflected in the future direction of this blog. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Books Read, Midway Through 2019 Edition

I realize I totally fell off the logging-the-books-I've-read train, both on this blog and in general. I failed to keep track of about half my reading for 2018, which is a shame, as I've found it to be a useful habit. 

I need reading glasses. So far Zooey doesn't.

For 2019, I'm back to being consistent in logging the books I read. In 2017 and 2018, I found myself reading less, partially due to my job and other real-life interruptions. I was also getting more tired when reading, and I didn't know why. A few months ago I had my answer: A routine physical revealed that I needed reading glasses! Now I get less tired when reading, no doubt because I'm not having to work so hard. The funny thing is my vision issues developed so gradually I barely noticed them.

Without further ado, here is my Books Read list for the midway point of 2019. A quick glance will show that fantasy and philosophy have been the dominant themes so far this year. That is by no means unusual for me.


  • Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
  • The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce
  • Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings
  • Fool Me Twice by Matthew Hughes
  • Fools Errant by Matthew Hughes
  • Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings
  • Night of Madness by Lawrence Watt-Evans
  • The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
  • Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
  • The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce
  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
  • Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce


  • Ancient Magic: A Practitioner's Guide to the Supernatural in Greece and Rome by Philip Matyszak
  • The Tao of WU by RZA
  • Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith Hall
  • A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe by Todd May
  • Staying Alive: How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters by Safe Havens International Inc
  • Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts by Jason Thalken

Friday, June 14, 2019

Back to Swings!

There are so many functional, fun exercises you can do with kettlebells that it can be easy to forget the wonderfulness of the classic two-handed swing. Lately, I've been concentrating on doing lots of swings, specifically 300 per workout, nearly every day.

Can you see why swings are so effective?
I start my workout with five minutes of meditation, followed by some joint mobility work and the Eischens yoga beginner's sequence. Then it's on to swings. I use a 24 kg kettlebell, and alternate between sets of 15 and 35 swings. (Hat tip to Dan John for the rep scheme.) Rest periods between sets us about 30 seconds to a minute. Once I hit 300 swings, I'm done, though I sometimes do a few sets of slow pull-ups if I'm up to it.

Why 300 swings? It seems like a nice, golden mean sort of number. I've done 200 swings in a workout many times before, and wanted something more difficult. On the other hand, going the 500 swings route popularized in various 10,000 swing challenges strikes me as a bit too exhausting, especially since I want to have enough energy to to other activities such as swimming, running, and martial arts. 

I've been doing the 300 swings workout pretty much every day this week before heading to work and I feel great. My entire posterior chain feels activated. I'll probably continue doing this for a few weeks and see how it pans out.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Educational Beatdowns

I just stumbled onto a great article by Greg Ellifritz on the Active Response Training website about a very common but often misunderstand form of violence, "the educational beatdown." As he notes in the article: 
"If you don’t interact with cultures who embrace violence as a problem solving technique you assume that everyone is like you.  You assume that if you offend someone (accidentally or otherwise), there will not be any physical consequences. It’s only surprising because you don’t understand that some groups have different 'rules' than your group has." 

I cannot stress how important this concept is. I frequently come across nice, educated, middle-class people who only associate with other nice, educated, middle-class people in nice, middle-class neighborhoods. They sometimes think they can act rudely and get away with it because, in general, they can. But if they venture out of their nice, middle-class comfort zone, they will find that the penalties for improper behavior can be more serious. 

To quote Rory Miller: 
"There are places in the United States where if you do something rude and improper you will get disapproving looks and people will whisper about you. They might snub you in the coffee room or not invite you to go bowling. And there are places in the U. S. where doing something that society considers rude will get you beaten without a second thought."
Do you think that’s wrong? Barbaric? Uncivilized? Maybe you’re right. But you know what? Being “right” probably won’t make you feel better as you are being beaten up for failing to realize that different people follow different rules than you do.

As the article concludes: "Be smart.  Don’t act like an asshole.  Don’t be condescending or insulting to people who live in an environment where violence is the consequence when you screw up. Understanding these 'rules' will keep you out of a lot of trouble."

Sound advice.