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"

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


"KD is a b*tch or not? Dubs are choke artists or not? BDD is a scrotum-seeking missile? (yep), Lacob is a douche (probably). I get that this was an alignment of stars that might never come about again and I understand why KD did it and I understand why Myers did it.
But 3 honest questions:
1) do we believe that the Cavs are structurally and matchup-wise so much better than the dubs that a drastic move would be necessary? Didn't they just go to a seventh game in the finals?
2) is this the most reactive move in NBA history blowing up a historic team that fell 5 points short of winning another title (and basically ran out of gas towards the end) and
3) is blowing up this team worse than Krause/Reinsdorf basically pushing a team that three-peated out the door in '98?
Really curious as to whether people think that the Dubs as they were constructed on July 3rd didn't have just as good/better shot to kick some teeth in next year as they did this year. We all had a pretty good idea what the Dubs were going to be next year, and a pretty good idea that they would at least be in the WCF again. They were a known quantity. Now we don't know shit except what's on paper."

I admit when I titled this post I shouldn't have named it: Can we reflect for a moment on the fact that the Dubs just blew up a 73 win team? I should have more conservatively dubbed (heh, pun) it a 'retooling' since the core talents of the team remain intact.  The reddit responses were more or less predictably reactionary - focusing on the "blow-up" part rather than the other 225 words in the post.
But what I'm really curious about, and what interest me from a karate standpoint is: there is a strength that comes from being able to change.  And there is a strength that comes from just being patient.  No one would study for a test with a tutor, get an A, then study for the next test with the tutor, get a B and then fire the tutor and change classes.  A "B" is just a small setback - it doesn't spell doom.

The Warriors got a B in the NBA Finals this year, not an F.  They didn't get outclassed by a clearly superior basketball team, they came up short.  They did an unimaginable amount of things right compared to the twenty or so games where they deserved to lose.  What will be proved this season is: is the reward of a once-in-a-generation talent like Kevin Durant worth the risk of breaking something magical enough to do that which might never again be surpassed?

If they win three out of the next 4 season, then sure.  But lest we forget: The Warriors dominated this season.  They came up 5 points short but they dominated.  They didn't dominate in spite of having Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut in the starting lineup.  Those two men were part of the reason why.  If the Dubs had played any other team but the Cavs they probably would have won.   They did that with this group of guys: guys that had gotten better and better together, guys who came up together and liked each other, guys that knew their fellow players inside and out.  They were more than just the sum of the parts.

They won 88 games this year and if they would have won the 89th, how much would their roster have changed next year?  I dare say, probably not much.  But instead they lost their 18th game of the year and half the roster is gone.
This year will reveal whether this was an over-reaction.  I don't know why anyone would think that the Dubs wouldn't have been an even better basketball team next year, having played together and struggled and trusted one another, through the good and bad, as a team for three straight years.  Last year's team won the championship.  Then they came out with something to prove and punched the league in the mouth to the tune of 24 straight wins.  What would those guys have done after coming off three straight losses and losing the ring?  We'll never know. Because they aren't the same team.

At first glance, despite the shiny magnificence of 28-year-old height of his powers Kevin Durant, I feel like this is a mistake, not for the league but for the Warriors.  People love shiny things, people love theoretical things.  The Warriors were a known quantity.  A united team, out for revenge, would have been interesting to watch.  They were growing together.  Are they not, in a real way, starting from scratch again - having to accommodate the tendencies of their new, high usage, SF ?

And when you win 88 games in a season, how much can change be a good thing?  The replies on reddit seem to suggest the risk is worth the reward.  That breaking up the band because they won 15 not 16 games this playoffs is worth winning 16 playoff games the next 5, 6 seasons.  But that's not what they've retooled their team for.  They haven't broken up the band in the hopes of winning rings for the next 5 years.  They've broken it up in the hopes of winning precisely one more playoff game next year, because if they don't - if they win 14 games or 15 games - Kevin Durant is going to leave.  And then they would have broken up a historically good team for absolutely nothing. 

The whole organization prided itself from being built from the ground up.  They said that all their success flowed from that and from their faith in the process.  But the takeaway from the 2016 NBA Finals seems to be that that process is gone. Now they'll fly in mercenaries hoping to get a ring.  Now they'll play different, think different. They claimed they were doing everything the right way, that they planned to be a dynasty.  Yet it seems as though that plan has been abandoned wholesale, despite the fact that, save for maybe 20 games out of the last 200, they were the better of the two teams on the court.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The qualitative dimension of victory pt II

A year and a week ago I last updated this blog.  The Warriors and the Cavaliers faced off yet again in the NBA finals.  That series was characterized by slow games that didn't really showcase particularly good basketball.  Competitive sure, but not good. This time the outcome was different.  LeBron and his healthy Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit, as Golden State had in the Western Conference Finals this year, to beat the favoured defending champions.

In another series that didn't showcase particularly good or competitive basketball.

The Cavs are the champs.  They won the last game of the year.  They are the last team standing and they are the best.  This is why we play the games.

The Warriors, alternatively, are not the best.  They aren't the worst.  They just aren't the best.  The Warriors lost their last game, the last game of the season.  They lost to a team that was better than they are.

So time for a fun little game:  Two teams play each other 9 times in the season.  Team one wins 5 games, team two wins 4.  Team one scores 918 avg 102.  Team two scores 882 avg 98.  Team one goes 88-18, 15-9 in the playoffs.  Team two goes 73-30, 16-5 in the playoffs.  Team one never loses back to back games all year during the regular season.  They lose two straight for the first time in the Western Conference Finals.

The only time that they lose 3 straight is the last 3 games of their season.

Which of these two are the better team?

What is more of a measure of excellence: doing things that matter consistently or being consistent when it matters most?

There just isn't a right answer to this.

The Warriors answered every challenge except the last one.  Against the best 5 teams in the league during the regular season - the Cavs, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Raptors - the Warriors went 14-1.

The Cavs answered the last challenge at the last possible moment.  Against the best 5 teams in the league during the regular season - the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Raptors - the Cavs went 6-5.

The Warriors won the West.  They won the West that had the Spurs team that won 67 games.  They beat the Thunder team that beat that team and has two MVP candidates and two future Hall of Famers.  They lost their best player, this year's MVP, for a two-week stretch and still won the West.

The Cavs won the East.  They obliterated the Pistons and Atlanta, who had no chance of reaching the Finals, and then got a brief scare from the Raptors.  They didn't beat anyone on those teams that will probably be in the hall of fame.

So just to be clear: The Cavs weren't as excellent, having an easier time of it to begin with, had everything possible go their way (including having one of their best players getting injured and then playing much, much better without him), and managed to win the last game of the season.  The Warriors were excellent at every opportunity, when every team gave them their absolute best every night, lost their best player for a stretch, had one of their best players suspended for one of the last games of the season, and lost the last game of the season.

LeBron said it best this year with regards to the MVP award: how do you measure value?  Only in rare occasions can victory ever really bring with it certainty.  The Warriors had one of those rare opportunities to be the unambiguous best team in basketball.  But they failed.  Just as LeBron is more valuable to the Cavs than Steph Curry is to the Warriors regardless of any voting, aren't the Warriors still the best team in basketball regardless of who won the last game?  The Cavs won the last series by the slimmest of margins.  The Warriors dominated a season.

The simple answer is no.  They didn't win the last game.  But if anyone wants victory to silence all the doubters, few victories can accomplish this.  Because, again, not all victories are equal.  And so winning at all cost can never give us the certainty that we really want.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The qualitative dimension of victory

I was watching a basketball game last night.  I've taken to basketball with enthusiasm due to the remarkable overlap that I see between it and karate.  Before I get to the thought that I wanted to discuss I'll outline that overlap, as I see it, thusly:

1) Both are endeavors where skill development and attribute development go hand in hand.  Being able to jump high alone does not a good basketball player make.  To be a good basketball player is to develop the skill of shooting.  To be a good karateka, at least from the standpoint of jutsu, is to develop the skill of moving at the last moment and capturing the initiative.  In both, everything else is mostly an afterthought.  It doesn't much matter how big or fast you are if you aren't controlling the initiative just as it doesn't matter much how well you can jump or run if you can't shoot.  All those attributes are meant to maximize the skill.

2) The invariant contribution of emptiness of mind (or embodiment) in the application of skill. Mushin - the no-mind of sublimating your mental processes to your physical self.  In basketball if you think about your shot, it's a miss, plain and simple.  In karate, if you think about the technique, you get cut.  In the moment of technique, a karateka becomes the gap (called suki in japanese) in the opponent's defense - the technique just emerges without a thought, like water running downhill.  In the moment of release, a basketball player may appear to be a physical being separate and discreet  from the object of the ground beneath his feet, the object of the ball in flight and the object of the rim. But this is just what is seen from the outside - inside, the shooter, the shot, the ball and the rim are completely fused. You couldn't ask the shooter what his name was and get the answer; at that moment there are no words.  He is the shot.

This type of focus is obviously present in other sports but there is a purity and refinement of this condition in basketball I find for two reasons: one, unlike football or baseball, every player on a basketball court will at one point have to handle, manipulate or shoot the ball making the meditation of the shot a necessity for any one that plays; and two, the immense amount of offensive possessions and the more or less expectation of scoring on every possession in basketball makes consistency of the shot the determining factor - a clear priority to any one who has ever played.  In soccer or hockey, a turnover or change of possession is commonplace and even if it weren't, the goalie will also determine whether you score.  In football, a turnover can be dire, but not necessarily result in a score. In baseball there are no turnovers and depending on the pitches you see, you might never reach first base, let alone score.  But in basketball a turnover more than likely means both that you did not score and that the other team did score, because it is perfectly possible to generate a quality shot attempt every possession.  Because a good look at the basket is really just a matter of time, every basketball player has to be able to shoot dependably for when that time comes or they'll simply find themselves at the mercy of those who can.

3) The growing appreciation in professional basketball for the quality that I always instinctively understood to be the most important factor in basketball - spacing and ideal spacing.  Or as we call it in karate - ma and ma-ai.  Spacing creates the balance between shooting from range and driving. Spacing creates the opportunities to drive which collapses the defense (what we call kuzushi, in karate) that causes the defensive effort to become increasingly compromised and disordered.  Just like in fighting, the more defensive you are, the more effective becomes the enemy's offense.  This spacing exists both at the strategic and tactical level, both between all players on the court and between a single player and his defender.  Thus have I found that 'one-on-one' basketball is a spectacular venue for the use of footwork to destabilize the defender and capture the initiative to attack in much the same way that kumite attempts to use footwork and handwork to destabilize an attacker and capture the opportunity to counter.

But I'm probably just seeing things that aren't actually there ;-D

Anyways I was watching a basketball game yesterday, one between the two last teams standing in the 2014-2015 NBA season: the favorite Golden State Warriors and the underdog Cleveland Cavaliers. Both teams have earned the right to be at this stage through more than just winning.  Cleveland has persevered in spite of awful injuries to key personnel and Golden State won 67 games during the regular season - a consistent, historic and proven level of nightly excellence against every team in the league. Cleveland fields he who many consider the finest basketball player in the world today, LeBron James, and Golden State is driven by the phenomenal skills of this year's Most Valuable Player, Stephen Curry.  Like the teams that they lead, both players couldn't be more different in their means to sublime impact in the games they play.

LeBron is a genetic marvel.  It is for this reason, I think, that the standard for him held by others is so high and also that his ardent supporters are drawn to him.  The latter see the possibility of humanity in LeBron: swiftness, agility, speed, strength and power - like a lion given the form of man, power directed and channeled into basketball.  The man who can beat size with speed, the man that can beat speed with strength, the man that can outlast skill by simply doing more.  On top of that, LeBron has an instinctual mind for basketball - one of the few people in the world that could play at an elite level against the best, most experience basketball players in the world at the age of 18.  Only two players in the NBA ever won Rookie of the Year and the MVP in their inaugural season - Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld.  Unseld did it at 22 after spending three years playing college basketball at Louisville. Wilt was 21 having spent two years playing college ball at Kansas and was like LeBron, a mountain of a man.  LeBron at age 18 was averaging 21 ppg; a year later he was at 27 ppg and among lead leaders in scoring.  He just got basketball, right from the first time he played.

But those same incredible physical gifts, likely in equal measure genetic gift as they are refinement through strength training, are exactly what those who diminish LeBron's impact speak to in support of his supposed 'underachievement'.  These people say that LeBron's excellence in basketball is no marvel - on the contrary, it is obvious and banal.  Because LeBron, built as he is, would probably have excelled at every sport known to man: football, baseball, soccer, hockey, rugby - he's built to be competitive at a world class level.  His accomplishments are those of nature, not any particular virtue of his own.  If less physically able athletes in his sport had his physical attributes, their combination of acquired skill and physical abilities would make their accomplishments in basketball far exceed LeBron's.  He is superlative ability in physical form, vastly superior than his peers to such a degree that at no point in his life did he need world-class refinement.  If Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Isiah Thomas had been built like LeBron, they would far outshine him.

Fair or not, these are the stereotypical arguments.

In stark contrast to LeBron, we have Stephen Curry.  Whereas LeBron was a star from the moment he came into the league, Steph was considered a role player in the making.  Whereas LeBron leapt from high school straight to professional basketball, Steph, the son of an NBA player, was denied a scholarship to his father's alma mater and had to accept his second choice of college.  Smaller than average for an NBA player, slower than average for an elite point guard, Steph Curry led a team to 67 wins in the Western Conference this year.  He led a squad to a historic season and while that squad was talented and diverse, his impact simply cannot be overstated: Golden State was actually outscored when he wasn't on the court.  When he is on the court, they outscore opponents by 17 per 100 possessions; when he sits the team is outscored by 1.  In other words, this 67 win team should logically lose more games than they win in a season if Steph wasn't on the floor.  How has this one, not-particularly-tall, not-particularly-fast player had such a massive impact?

Simple.  He can shoot and handle the ball.

It remains a skill game.  Steph can shoot 44% from behind the arc in a league where the overall shooting average for all shots - layups, midrange and long-range - is 45%.  He shoots for an extra point about as well as other guys shoot everywhere else.  So he puts up a lot of them - record breaking amounts of them.  When he's scoring three after three, this makes the defense come out with more urgency to stop him - compromising the integrity of the defense's spacing outward just as a LeBron drive to the basket compromises its spacing inward.  So when they come out, he runs past them with some of the best ball-handling skills in the league or he sets up his excellent shooting teammates for very open shots. Him being one of the best shooters of all times, his consummate skill, changes absolutely everything that happens on a basketball court, to the same degree as a once-in-a-generation player like LeBron, in a way that completely belies his size and physicality.

In this way, Steph represents the opposite type of figure to LeBron: while LeBron is inspirational as a glimpse of what humanity can be, Steph is aspirational as an example of what each person can be through hard work.  Not everyone can be LeBron, but anyone can be a great shooter that changes the game, because shooting is completely up to you.  Because of this, King James and the Baby-faced Assassin both have their ardent supporters.

All that aside, they both played some awful basketball yesterday.  It happens to the best of us. LeBron missed 23 of his 34 shots.  Steph was even worse, missing 18 of his 23 shots and 13 out of 15 three-point attempts.  LeBron, for the second time in two games, missed a chance at a game winning basket: Steph with a chance to put his team up late in over time shot an airball.

An airball.  From the guy who is usually deadly from 25 feet...

Which finally at long last brings me to the point of this post.  LeBron has superlative basketball gifts. Steph is changing our ideas of what matters most.  A final between the two of them should be a celebration of two of the finest basketball talents ever, with a level of technical execution and artistry that should inspire all onlookers regardless of which team they wanted to win.  But instead, through a combination of nerves, injuries, and plain, ol' desperation, the first two games of the Finals have been an ugly, scrappy, slug-fest showcasing not the skills and abilities of coaching staffs, teams and players but rather the endurance of LeBron who is playing basically every single minute, and the rebounding skills of both teams having to absorb a whole lot of basketballs that were shot quickly, anxiously and poorly.  Players run up and down the court without anyone scoring and that is when they are lucky - when they aren't they won't even get a shot attempt because of errant and incomprehensible turnovers.  The turnovers that you stopped seeing in middle school basketball: trying to thread a needle that is already well-closed or jumping in the air to pass a basketball, before knowing your target.  Fast breaks that end up with a ball rolling out of bounds.

Instead of seeing the best of the best at their best, we are seeing them as they are when winning becomes so important that they can't even function properly.

My question is this: What satisfaction is there to be had in a victory that comes so ugly?

Obviously winning in sport is the primary consideration.  As Vince Lombardi said, it is not a sometime consideration; it is an all-the-time consideration.  But at this highest level, is that the standard that the audience should expect of the players and that the players should expect of themselves?  That they play to win however they can, scraping and clawing for every call, every foul, every free throw?  Is that the only consideration the audience or a fan should care about - that their team wins?  Or shouldn't the expectation at this level be that they win through some not-outlandish application of the skill and abilities that they displayed night in and night out?  That we actually see what it means to be the best, firing on all cylinders, at a moment that matters most?

Is it too much to ask that they have their best games in the Finals?

Nerves and anxiety obviously come to play, but they must have their place.  To be unable to put them in their place seems to go against any notion that we have of 'champion'.  One who succeeds should be able not only to outscore the opponent, outrun the opponent.  They should also be the one that is most themselves - most dependable to themselves and able to rely on their skills when they need it most.  This is the notion of highest merit in all of sport - not merely winning.  Many people win NBA rings who did not contribute in any meaningful way to the outcome.  But to be 'clutch': dependably reliable in the moments where the stakes are high, this is the true dream of sport and of karate - not merely crowning the last team standing, but crowning the team that was their best when nothing less would do.  It is my fear, listening to some of the reactions to the atrocious shooting display that we have been seeing in the Finals, that clutch is somehow becoming synonymous with victory.  That if you won, you were by definition more clutch.  But when LeBron shoots 34% from the field and wins, while we may laud him for his perseverance in the face of adversity and things not going his way, can we actually praise him for excellence?

These Finals have thusfar been a showcase of the wholescale surrender of skill to attributes.  Winning becomes more important than how you win and now it becomes a war of attrition.  Confidence in taking the shot has been replaced with concerns about securing a rebound.  You can see the tension in every step of every player, they way they hold themselves, the way the breathe and move.  They seem to think that if they hold onto that desperate hope, that prayer and wish for the future, that if they hold on long enough and simply fight long enough, they'll get there.  But in reality what they need to do is let go.  They need to let go of what they want and be who they are.  Let the ball fly.  They need to let go of the concerns of winning and losing and let those things be settled by their actions.

They say that winning is everything and in sports, with money and fame at stake, it certainly comes to seem that way.  But not all victories are created equal.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I need to go back to school.  Not school in the physical sense.  School in the physical sense is about paying a tuition, sitting down, listening.  But, having been to university, I can surely attest to the fact that going to school physically doesn't count for much.  As Coolio said, "If knowledge is power and power is knowledge, how come so many idiots keep graduating from colleges?"  The answer is that putting your ass in the seat is key, but it isn't anything if your heart and mind are elsewhere.

I haven't been a student in the general sense in a long time.  Of course, I am a lifelong student of karate.  But you get the piece of paper: black belt certificate, high school diploma, college degree...and it is very easy to put the spirit of study; the spirit of being hungry, growing, learning and preparing for the next test that awaits, in your rearview.  You hold that paper and all of a sudden - the lessons are over, you know what you need to, you don't have to stay hungry or grow or prepare for the next test.  Except, of course...nothing could be farther from the truth.  A life without hunger, testing oneself, growth - such a life isn't even worth living.  You get tested in video games, you get tested in sports, you get tested by friends at school, and you get tested by life without realizing it.  Your heart pumps and you either rise to the occasion or you falter.  But either way, its much more interesting than the 9 to 5 that is everyday the same.  We ask ourselves what we're missing - why life seemed so much more satisfying when we were younger.  Was it freedom, time, lack of responsibility?  I don't think it was any of those things.  I think it was the knowledge that we hadn't peaked - that we were still on an upward trajectory, that we were still defying gravity and mortality - that tomorrow we'd be even smarter and taller and faster and stronger than we were yesterday.

This process is called living.  Being tested and believing that tomorrow you'll be a little higher up the mountain than you are today - even if you mess up or fail or embarrass yourself - is what made it so much fun.  That is the essence of joie vivre and we forget this when we satisfy ourselves that our formal learning is at an end.  We forget because we convince ourselves, no matter how little, that it is all downhill from here.

So it occurs to me that I haven't graduated the way that my black belt diploma or the University of Toronto would indicate.  I have graduated at all.  I have still higher yet to climb and my best days are not behind me.  I want to be a student of human nature.  I want to be a student of strength training.  I want to be a student of flexibility training.  I want to be a student of massage.  I want to be a student of basketball.  I want to be a student of the Japanese language and shodo.  I want to be a student of Iaido and Kendo.  I want to be a student of Brazillian Jiujitsu.  I want to be a student of swimming and running.  I want to be a student of my love, Sheba.

I'm going back to school in the most important place of all: my heart.  That will make sure that I sit my ass down in the seats that I need to.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I've thought of the 'why' for sometime and dismissed the question consciously because I'd made peace with it. But only after reading this post from Mr. Miller, did I feel a need to articulate it.  People ruminate about the physical and temporal costs of training - I see a post like this on blogs about once a month. I have always framed it in another light: As low as the possibility of violence is for all of us in the developed world, and as high as the rigors of training might be, the physical and emotional costs of peril and violence can be enormous even if it happens once. Training - both physical and technical - is just like buying insurance for your business or saving for the future: just because you might never need that money doesn't mean you shouldn't have it. Having that extra money gives you peace of mind that is disproportionate to the amount of money that you saved. That peace of mind informs dozens of decisions that have nothing to do with the actual investment. There is a tangible value in that. In the same way, training and thinking about minimizing physical risk and danger synergizes with other aspects of your life to make that physical and temporal investment pay dividends in visible and invisible ways.

In short, how much time and money would you invest in becoming a better person, a tougher person?  A person less likely to be confronted, a person less likely to be attacked or victimized?  To do things out of love is a great motivation.  But love can't be the only basis upon which you do things.  There are plenty of things that we don't particularly love or enjoy - like saving money - that we should do and plenty of things that certain people love that they shouldn't do.  Smokers love to smoke - just because they love it doesn't mean they should do it.  I feel as though martiality and thinking about violence, confrontation, conflict are one of those things that we should do and learn regardless of our attitude towards it.  By framing it merely in subjective terms of love, fun and enjoyment, I feel it kind of reduces the endevour to something that is arbitrary and banal - like any other hobby that people delight in.  We should reach for a deeper motivation - a more profound calling to this pursuit. Protecting yourself - being a strong creature worthy of respect from others, a natural deterrent to violence - this isn't something to pursue just because its fun or because you enjoy it.  This is a quality that all humans should build within.  We should teach it to little boys and little girls - little boys should grow up knowing that if they try to hurt a girl, the average girl knows how to hurt boys.  We shouldn't live in a world where everyone can be made a victim.  We should live in a world where people operate with open eyes, know how to protect themselves physically, mentally, spiritually, and prepare for the future.