Sunday, March 12, 2017

6. 20.5 or the Power of Numbers

One must imagine that if you were a person that felt intimidated by any type of math beyond arithmetic, that if you had anxiety looking at a page of calculation that had more letters than numbers on it, that the world would be much more freeing than it actually was.  The person who can’t appreciate the % sign, the relationship between a circle’s radius and circumference and geometric rates of change is playing the whole world by ear, getting by on rules of thumb.  Everything is immediate; uncertainty is replaced with comforting sham certainty.  We see this more and more today – this tacking back away from numbers.  Using numbers to obfuscate or simply making numbers subservient accomplices in what we’ve made up our minds about already. 

This is a sad state.  Mathematics is like philosophy – a way of interpreting the world.  But maths also has the benefit of quantifying the world as it qualifies it.  The shape of things comes to be seen; equations map out the relationships between things, between controls and variables.  One relationship after another comes to be appreciated right down to the fundamental relationships between subatomic particles.

If it seems daunting its because it is.  It’s supposed to be: the universe is daunting and gaining the power to understand it should be as well.  But I’m getting away from myself.  Because really I just want to illustrate the power of a number to change perspective.

20.5.  If it were working days in a month, it would be expected.  If it were vertical jump in inches it could be impressive.  But what if it were the amount of years you had left to live?  What would that number immediately do to even the person that resents numbers and math the most?  20.5 weeks?  20.5 hours?

Fortunately 20.5 does not signify this to me (at least, not to my knowledge).  But it is no less able to change my life.  20.5 is my body fat percentage as determined by an InBody 570 Body Composition test on Tuesday February 28.

I know of the limits of induction currents in determining the accuracy of fat stores.  That doesn’t really matter.  What matters is having a number.  A number to work with.  A frame of reference to move away from.  The number 205, which is my current weight, won’t do as well because it can go up with things I want, like muscle, as it goes down with things I can do without, like fat.  But 20.5 is a standard.  It is an island upon which I long stood.  And now is time to push away from that island and make sure that its getting smaller as I move away.

This will take everpresence of mind, which we call zanshin in karate, and mindfulness which we call shoshin in karate.  I will have to keep that number in the back of my mind and be mindful of what I put into my body, both from a nutritional and exercise standpoint.  In 8 weeks I will stand on that machine again and see if the island has gotten any smaller.  And if it hasn’t I’ll still have made progress.  Because I’ll know what I shouldn’t be doing.


A new way of being ready – I’ve discovered a new way of being ready…One that never occurred to me before.  Surprise, surprise – it depends on wantpower, awareness of self, and restraint.  Time to go exploring…

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

5. Sturdy, strong, powerful

I always want more, don’t I?  Always thinking of the horizon.  That’s never gotten me anywhere.  I’d go to gym and work out at the rep max that they say builds ‘optimal muscle’.  And I’d get so sore and hurt myself so easily.  It was like a bad joke.

How did I get strong in karate?  A lot of mundane, mind-numbing repetition of relatively, unchallenging things.  Chopping wood and carrying water isn’t about trying to chop a lot of wood and carrying a lot of water right now.  It’s just chopping wood and carrying water – nothing more or less.  The habit of a physical reality, a physical relationship with your own body.  Once it was punching at air in a mirror, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning for over three years…

And now its doing squats a little lighter than I think I should, doing fewer pullups than I think makes a difference, deadlifts lighter than I can, bench lighter than I’d like, handstands for shorter than is totally exhausting, plank before I collapse and crunches before I start to cramp.  I want to be powerful before I’m strong and strong before I’m sturdy.  I’m 36 years old.  I haven’t even been sturdy in at least seven years.

I can bench 140 lbs eight times.  But not one of those reps would be stable.  I wouldn’t feel like I was controlling the weight – I’d feel like the weight was controlling me.  Same for squats and deadlifts…the anxiety is always there.  The anxiety should be there for the last rep, not the first.  If it’s there for the first rep, you might be strong enough to lift it, but you sure aren’t sturdy.

Is it just about supporting weight or is it about handling weight with comfort?  The difference is night and day.  I can lift Sheba but she definitely doesn’t feel like I should do that.  It isn’t easy, and she can tell that I’m struggling.  I don’t want her to feel my struggle.  I want her to feel like she could stay there forever.

Consistency then volume then intensity... Do, do more, then do harder.

So, as I’ve been saying for years and never actually putting into practice, I’m going to show myself some consideration.  I’m going to go easy because I have a tendency to go too hard too soon.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even find that I enjoy it more than I ever did before.


The body betrays... The heart aches, not of the emotional kind, the kind that is joined with lost breath. When was the last time that I played basketball and kept my breath? 10 years now? 12? It isn't healthy. How to strengthen my heart for something I love so much. How to enjoy it to the fullest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

4. Soft Calloused Hands

Is the mark of a potent life gentle, but calloused hands?  Karate – the empty hand – an empty hand can be an open hand or a closed fist.  But many people close their fist and shouldn't punch something or someone.  Their fist is just a superficial feature of evolution: the semblance of a weapon, of potency.  Most unconditioned people who punch something hard will sprain their wrist or break a bone.  Having a fist isn’t enough.

In the same vein, hands that are too soft are obviously not indicative of a strong body behind them. The makiwara taught me this lesson first - pullups reminded me.  I look down at my hands and they hurt, long before my muscles burned.  Your training and your life can be hidden within your body in many ways but it really is difficult to hide them from your hands.  Your hands either have callouses – where you grip things with purpose or strike things with intention – or they don’t.  They are indicative of your growing skill and your dedication, or they aren’t.  They potentiate everything that happens in your body every joint in the chain later.  No one with unconditioned hands could have a truly strong body.  You can have a strong heartbeat without calloused hands but not a strong body.  And getting strong hands usually cannot happen without having more heartbeats.

Obviously callouses aren’t the only mark of strength, of a person who tests themselves.  It is the easiest to see perhaps, but hands aren’t merely the first link in a chain of applying force.  They are also magnificent instruments – perhaps in the final analysis the most remarkable instrument in the universe.  Maybe there is a species with better formed hands somewhere out there, or a form of life that can move things with their minds alone, but until we find that pinnacle, the human hand was ultimately the tool of note in every single made or crafted thing in our human world: from the plastic tips on the end of laces to the Panama Canal and the Great Wall of China.  Human hands, making tools, making more tools, making tools to make other better tools.  All of them which have their start from our first instrument – four fingers and a thumb.  There can be no mistaking the fact that a human that uses the hand primarily in fist form - as a bludgeon or to simply lift things from here to there - has barely scratched the surface of what it is to be human at all.

Soft, calloused hands then.  Gentle and precise, when sitting at the keys of a piano or signing one’s signature.  Strong and tough enough to support one’s weight, hanging from a bar.  This is self-realization, making the most of what we are physically and spiritually.  I would argue that karate creates an expectation of both – the hand capable of caressing and abusing.  Is a key problem to humanity that most people only use their hand as one or the other?  Would our world be more balanced if humans were more balanced?  And would humans be more balanced if they could use their hands as easily as an instrument of fine precision as they do a blunt, simple, dull object?

Chop wood, carry water – this builds callouses quickly.  Sitting and writing about chopping wood & carrying water – maybe this is part of the softness that should accompany the hardness.


Consider the shooters pocket

the feel of the release point, elevated, the elbow held high
fingertips – hold the ball lightly, like jello, tofu

guide hand? More like the anchor hand…locks the ball comfortably and then you drop anchor, pops off the ball, reverse flick of the wrist

elevated elbow, push through the elbow
minimal finger tension
relaxed wrist – tofu – more tension & action as range increases
up and over the rim

targeting b. r. a. d. – kime, focus intently upon the front then back ring
follow up and through to the point of your gaze
range doesn't matter, control & consistency

Saturday, February 4, 2017

3. Chop wood, carry water

We are forever fighting our nature.  We like to think that we were totally in control of something – if nothing else, than at least in total control of ourselves.  We made those decisions – they weren’t made for us.  The sleeping moments of our lives are 33%, the waking moments are 66%.  But our conscious moments aren’t the same as our waking moments.  Not by a mile.  Our waking moments are 66% but are conscious moments are probably less than 25% of our days.

Most of our conscious moments are dedicated to the pursuit and refinement of routines that we can do unconsciously.  Most of our lucidity is devoted to creating paradigms for not thinking.  We think hard about getting an income so that we don’t have to think about it.  We just get out of bed and take a pre-planned route to work.  We eat at familiar places and talk about predictable things. We are creatures of habit but by and large deny it to ourselves – and deny the power of that truth.

Do we inhabit our dreams, the same way we inhabit our other routines?  Or do we just visit them for a moment, the way that a glimpse at a photograph reminds you of a place from the past?  Dreams must be dragged into the present.  They have to be made real today – broken down, digested, disassembled.  And then they have to be inhabited – the same way that you inhabit your commute to work, your choice of television to watch, the foods you like to eat.

Chopping wood and carrying water.  Everything that we do is labour of a kind.  Every form of labour to one person is a labour of love to another.  Some people inhabit the pleasure that comes from sitting in front of a television for hours on end.  To others, the mere idea of such sedentary recreation is the same as drudgery.  Whatever your dreams or desires, the only way to get better at something, to inhabit a behaviour or routine or way of being is to make a habit out of it.  To make that shift from something that you choose consciously now to something that you chose for yourself long ago and merely delude yourself into thinking that you have some discretion over it now.

For the next 6 weeks, I’m just going to chop wood and carry water.  The choice was already made, all that’s left is to delight in the choice.


There is a difference between a good workout and a great workout that didn’t really exist before the age of 28.  Before 28, a good or great workout was anything that you did, hard or repeatedly, for anywhere between 1 to 2 hours.  Chances are that your body got stronger and your skill level improved, no matter what it was that you were doing.  Here at 35, that just isn’t true.  A good workout is exhaustive, draining you of the ability to perform at all.  But this almost always has some consequence the next day that on balance decreases your quality of life.  A great workout at 35 is about balancing the enthusiasm to push your limits today with being smart enough to operate at a reasonable capacity even as you recover and recouperate.  Before 28, this was not a consideration.

I could shoot balls in the morning for an hour and a half.  And I can convince myself that it will make me a better shooter.  But closing in on shin splints or cramps or the like, this isn’t success.  This is failure.  This is the worst failure of all, because it misleads people to thinking that it is success.  You leave exhausted saying that you pushed your limits.  When in reality you crossed the line from stress to strain.  Stress can make something stronger after recuperation.  Strain is warping something a little more each time until that something breaks.

Don’t satisfy yourself with good workouts.  Don’t settle for less than a great workout – the workout that leaves you feeling refreshed for today and optimistic that you’ll be more tomorrow.


Have I gone all this time not knowing how to relax?  In the pool, on a court?  The amount of effort and tension necessary to deadlift a weight is considerable.  The amount of effort and tension necessary to shoot a basketball or swim a length of a pool is very, very small.  A ball is very light.  The water buoys your body.  Relax.  Follow through with the stroke.  Drain the tension from your neck.  Like karate, keep the shoulders loose.

The guide hand should pop off aggressively.  The shooting elbow should push up like a handstand.  Consider handstand work to improve the release.  And the guide hand should secure the ball almost backwards towards you.  Hold the ball lightly, like tofu.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2. Planting Seeds

More heartbreak.  But I can count to 2.


I don't know why it took 35 years to actually put this into words but here goes.  A very special person taught me a lesson that had escaped me.  A lesson that was the main reason for my tendency to have my grand plans stagnate and stall.

Embodiment takes time. Taking a plan and making it a part of you has covert effects before the overt effects emerge. Anyone can lift a weight of perform a kata. The body and mind change immediately - but this change happens on the scale of the micron, the sarcomere, the synapse. For that weight or kata to leave a visible impression in your body takes time.  To be on the safe side don't assume that you will see any improvement until you've committed to doing something for a minimum of two moons unbroken.  That is not to say that if you do something for 6 or 7 weeks that you have not changed. You certainly have but the growth is below the surface at a level that cannot be overtly discerned.  The seed does not break the surface of the soil overnight.  The groundwork and foundation happens below the surface, the basement must be built before the house is raised.  We surrender prematurely and often because we don't immediately see the sprout, and figure our efforts are for naught. Give it a couple of months… You will see that the seed of your efforts was working the whole time.

Therefore to make real progress in life you have to be not just nurturing planted seeds. You also have to plant more seeds. Planting seeds and nurturing seeds - this is the cycle of growth and progress.

The Keiko for this year is a plant whose seed is only 3 weeks old.  Let's see where we are 5 weeks from now and see whether the seedling has broken the surface.


Consider the idea of sequence breaking in shooting.  The most important flaw of our shot has always been keeping the ball too low.  It has to be elevated before your toes leave the ground.  Feel the 'L', keep the wrist loose.  Hold the ball lightly.  Don't be afraid to move the guide hand a little further forward and flip the guide hand free just like you flip the shooting hand forward.  Often, misses have the guide hand in contact with the ball for too long.  

There is the jumper where the release is coordinated with the extension of the legs and the set shot which is based more on arms and wrist feel.  Play with both types of shot - look for where one can combine with the other. 


Neck pain from swimming or from squats?   Don't know.  Definitely need to improve breathing form for freestyle swimming.  Look down and relax with your stroke.  Relaxing makes it easier to hold breath and breath.  Use as few muscles as possible.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Stillpoint, Year One: 1. Can I even count to 52?

Today is Friday January 13th, 2017.  Two weeks into this year and I’m comfortable saying I’m at my lowest point.  This story begins with heartbreak – heartbreak that I won’t mention here.  All that’s left is to make something of it.  All that’s left is to take some meaning from it.

Bad news on Friday the 13th – yes it is cliché.  But the meaning of it, the meaning of it is clear.  I’m not young anymore.  I’m not young enough to be as dumb as I am.  I’m not young enough to not do things that I know that I should do.  I’m not young or naïve enough to beat myself up for the things that I should do that I don’t. 

I’m too old to still be trying, to live in between outcomes and results and be okay.  I have to decide on action or decide on inaction.  I’m not young enough to operate on inertia.

I’ve made some progress, have some directionality to my life – driven in large part by not myself but of course my wife.  I don’t take myself seriously enough because yesterday I was young.  But I’m not young anymore today.  And with each day that I live, I’m going to take myself more seriously than the last.

The Stillpoint lives in me, in my heart, threatening to burst, waiting to escape.  My Mind shifts slowly but surely, like the Plate tectonic beneath the earth.  It will be uncomfortable.  But I’m not young enough to be okay with comfort all the time.

Can I count to 52?  Is it such a burden, a mountain to scale?  Can I take myself seriously for 52 weeks, seriously enough to revisit myself over and over again?  And if I do that, if I revisit myself over the course of this year, will I like what I see?  Will I like it more than if I turned a blind eye to myself, or less?

I wonder if the hardest part isn’t already over, having written these final words as I count to…


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ramblings on language and unreality

I believe I've always been more sensitive to words than most.  I believe I've always taken them more seriously than others.  I believe I always felt an intimate connection between timbre, cadence, vocabulary, expression, phrasing, idioms and thought whereas others seem sensitive only to volume.

In exploring the dou, it is crucial to appreciate the power of words not only for how it changes others but also how it changes ourselves.  Terminology and language taken for granted, simply and at face value, can change the colour of the universe.  It can send us down paths of thinking and conceptualization that tacks in a complete different direction than reality.  It becomes the barnacles on a ship slowing us down from realizing which direction in which the truth lies.

Four examples spring to mind right off the bat.  'Fight fire with fire'?  People just nod their heads. There are so few ways in which that expression makes sense. It literally sounds like something that someone said when they were angry and other angry people listening got fired up and the expression stuck ever since.  But more importantly, and chillingly, the expression 'Fight fire with water', which is both sensible and true, really isn't as catchy or interesting from a linguistic standpoint.  So, mentally and spiritually, our first inclination is continually to fight fire with fire when so much evidence suggests that this only leads to bigger fires.

Next is ‘identity politics’.  There is a danger that I'm completely misunderstanding what people mean when they disparage the politics of identity.  But to my mind, politics is the absence of influence through violence.  Influence over others without violence requires compromise and persuasion.  Compromise and persuasion are only possible when you identify with what someone is saying or with the person that they claim to be.  Whenever someone identifies with you, you now have a shared 'identity' ('we' are Blue Jays fans or 'we' are university students) that differentiates you from others who aren't those things who have interests that potentially run counter to the interest of others who identify with you.  What form of politics is not the politics of identity – the politics of uniting through common ground with people that you identify with, against those who do not represent ‘us’ – those who constitute ‘them’ – the ‘other’ that is not self?  Politics without resorting to identity would be politics without opposition.  Which isn’t politics at all.  Is identity politics just a catchword for using race and xenophobia as the foundational basis of all other forms of identity?  If so, then why not just say race-based politics or ethnic politics or tribalism?  Because not much, not even most, identity politics is bad or done for irrational reasons.  Most of the politics of identity exists because its the only way to create enough support to accomplish anything.

Then there's ‘non-combatant.  Implicit in that word is ‘hey, some crazy, non-socialized, barbaric fucks are coming to your country to tear shit up.  But don’t you worry, you just hang back and don’t get involved, nothing bad will happen to you – we have rules in war, don’t you know?”  Heh.  That’s small comfort when a smart bomb dumbly detonates on your home because you happen to live next to a terrorist safehouse.  The Americans chose their side.  The ‘terrorists’ chose theirs.  It couldn't matter less whether one side or another was actually waging some kind of 'just' war - whatever that means.  The rightness or wrongness of the battle is an afterthought.  Peace no longer exists.  There is no such thing as sporadic peace.  It is either peacetime or it is wartime.  You can either appeal to a court to remedy a crime against you, or there are no crimes, or laws and you have to choose a side.  This idea that in a context where peace is clearly under siege, that you can know someone that is a combatant is living next to you and then complain afterwards that their fight spilled onto you.  Here’s an idea: fight for peace.  Involve yourself in the battle in some meaningful capacity to lessen the chance the fight comes to your doorstep.  Bystanders on a battlefield?  That’s encouraging complacency, at a time when you should be most involved.  Peace doesn’t come out of nowhere.  Peace only comes when the vast majority of people who would rather be ‘non-combatants’ universally decide that we will be non-combative, and enforce that stance on people quicker to take up arms.  ‘Non-combatant’ is a word that means to place responsibility for your safety upon others.  Others should take care not to harm you.  That would be nice but that is not reality.  Reality is we all have to take steps to responsibly protect ourselves.

And then finally ‘unreliable narrator’.  Where to begin?  Go on and tell me about that reliable narrator.  Tell me his/her story.  Tell me how Wikipedia or ABC news or Al Jazeera, or Woody Allen, or Thucycides, or Fox News or your friend, Donnie or that girl Mary that he may or may not have raped or any other person, organization or record is a reliable narrator.  Tell me how their story is not just another form of storytelling.  Tell me how the stories they tell are completely non-fiction.

I’m committing this to paper, right here and now, and you can cite me for future reference – 90% of humanity’s ills stem from the notion, held even for the briefest nanosecond, that what you heard or said came from a reliable narrator.  That what you heard or said was something that could or should be considered unvarnished truth.  We lie without even knowing.  Is the lie of omission a lie?  How perfect is human memory?  Is the well-intentioned lie a lie?  How many humans have good intentions?  Everything that you ever read, everything that you ever heard or learned in any way absent direct experience of a thing, in a double blind study, was filtered through another person.  A person that needed to eat, so they boosted the importance of what they were saying.  Or diminished the importance of what someone else said.  Or ignored something that they shouldn’t.  Or recognized something they should have ignored.  Humans with agendas, driven by motivations, biological, material, psychological, that most of the time they don’t even understand.  And through all that, somehow, you’re supposed to just take something, anything you absorb from somewhere else at face value?

To be over the age of…I’m gonna say, 12…and still think that the answer is in the Bible, or Gray’s anatomy, or the New York Times or a billboard for Guess Jeans – this is the most depressing thing that I can think of about humanity.  We all grow old – we don’t all grow up.  No, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, or the Pope, or Donald Trump, none of them have the answer.  What they all have in common, along with the Quran and Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and Gordon Gecko, and Mark Zuckerberg, is that they are trying to sell you on something.  They are happy to reinforce the beliefs of people who already believe and happy to call them 'enemy' those who refuse to believe. They are trying to get you to buy in but short of that they'll settle for a dependable audience.  They want your assent, your consent, your acknowledgement, your attention and your appreciation.  They want you to think that they are ‘cool’, that they have the answer and others are wrong, that they are ‘in the know’ and that you are now ‘in the know’ by following what they have to say, by doing the things they want you to do.  They want a powerbase...and your investment in their ideas and personality is the source of their power – and the root of mankind’s folly.  They don’t want what is best for you.  They want what’s best for themselves – and selling you on atheism, or Catholicism, or Guess Jeans, or Trump University, or Islam or Evolution or Greed or the merits of turning the noun ‘friend’ into a verb – is unambiguously good for them and only sometimes good for the rest of the world.

Here’s the uncomfortable reality: truth is a construct.  Truth is something we fashion.  It couldn’t possibly be something out there in the world, waiting to be uncovered.  It is something that we build over time (hopefully) and rest upon until the burdens and assumptions we ask it to support causes it to crumble. Then (hopefully) we build it again and test our conception of it again, in hopes that it will stand firm.  But then something we didn't think of or couldn't even imagine comes along and the 'truth' - our truth - fall apart again.

Because it isn't 'out there' (sorry Mulder...), no one can give it to you.  It's something that you are building inside.  All we can do is build an approximation of reality and then (hopefully) test that construct under uncontrolled conditions - namely, life.  Like any built thing, if you build with crappy materials, what you build will collapse under the smallest stress.  Many people build their truths out of garbage – opinions of stupid, short-sighted people; partial recollections; hearsay; nonsense, superstition.  Some people build their truth out of material that seems sturdy but is pretty hollow: scientific inquiry and discovery without introspection is about as valuable as being able to measure the vibration in a string without being able to appreciate the pitch of a note.  And then some people build their truth piece by piece, slowly and surely, spending way more time throwing crap out than keeping things that give that sense of unreliability.  They seem half-hearted and perhaps a little peculiar to others, almost as if they can’t make up their mind.  On the contrary, they actually know how few things in life are actually sturdy enough to lean on. 

If you aren’t seeking out the best materials with which to build truth, vigorously, with your own hands and eyes and ears, if you are just passively absorbing what others are shovelling your way, you will build your truth out of dung.  And that’s okay.  It’s okay to swallow what others feed you – babies do it all the time.  But babies learn. Learning is all they really do.   It’s okay to build a house badly and then build it again after it collapses.  The problem comes when you keep building with dung & manure, time and time again, and your truth seems to be filled with lies and contradictions and hypocrisy, and then act surprised that it comes tumbling down.  That you’re an evangelical and your kid is gay or pregnant and you can’t tell your friends.  That you hated your father for stepping out on your mother and then you proceeded to step out on your wife. That things don’t go your way or you aren’t truly happy, or any of the rest of the blah, blah, blah, existential horse manure that we made up the term ‘mid-life crisis’ for.  Just, be an adult and don’t be surprised.  Be a grown up and say ‘I didn’t really think that through and now I’m doing it again.’  But don’t be surprised…for the love of God, don’t be surprised.  And don't think for a second that what you took from it, and the story that you tell yourself about it, is the only lesson, or a 'true' story.  That's not the only lesson. That isn't the true story.  That's just what you took from it.  That's just the story you tell yourself.

Get real.  You’re depressing the hell out of the rest of us.  You’re making humanity look bad.

There are expressions like those above that are so loaded that they reinforce un-reality, seemingly without anyone noticing.  People nod their heads and think that their being clever, when in fact their being a little dotish.  

PS: on an opposite note...“swindler”…what a great word…"Horatio Bottomley was an English financier, journalist, editor, newspaper proprietor, SWINDLER, and Member of Parliament"