The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, April 18, 2014

The 48 Laws of Power, #10: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

First of all, the 2014 Lenten Challenge is finished! I hope that everyone who participated got as much out of it as I did. 

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #10: Infection - Avoid the unhappy and unlucky.

From The 48 Laws of Power Blog:

You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. 
You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. - See more at: http://48laws-of-power.blogspot.com/2011/05/law-10-infection-avoid-unhappy-and.html#sthash.XwJSxmEW.dpuf

The infector possesses an inward instability that radiates outward drawing disaster to all that they touch. Marie Gilbert A.K.A Lola Montez of Ireland was one such person. Lola found herself in the role of a courtesan (prostitute of the royal court). In today’s society Lola would be considered a gold-digger. She only sought out men with high social standing in the community that she could use for her own gain.

Once she would have her hooks in these men, their slow demise began. One of her victims was king Ludwig of Bavaria, who felt compelled to help Lola yet once he was warned of the dangers of his affair with her, he could not seem to resist Lola’s aura and almost found his once peaceful country in a state of civil war. It was not until then that the king finally ordered Lola to leave but a month after she left King Ludwig was forced to relinquish his throne.

There are many men who suffered because of their association with Lola Montez.

King Ludwig said that he was “bewitched” by Lola. Lola was an unstable, incurable and infectious character type. This is not to say that these characteristics are only restricted to women, this is to say that there are some people whose emotions are so powerful that they infect the very soul of the people that they touch.

5 Ways to Affect Positive Change through Your Associations

1. If you are miserly by nature, associate with the generous and they will infect you, opening up everything that is tight and restricted in you. Only generous souls attain greatness.

2. If you are gloomy, gravitate to the cheerful.

3. If you are prone to isolation, force yourself to befriend the gregarious.

4. Never associate with those who share your defects—they will reinforce everything that holds you back.

5. Only create associations with positive affinities.

Your rule for life…

Recognize the fortunate so that you may choose their company and the unfortunate so that you may avoid them. Misfortune is usually the crime of folly, and among those who suffer from it there is no malady more contagious: Never open your door to the least of misfortunes, for, if you do, many others will follow in its train… Do not die of another's misery. (Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658)

More precious than all the therapy in the world...


The infector possesses an inward instability that radiates outward drawing disaster to all that they touch. Marie Gilbert A.K.A Lola Montez of Ireland was one such person. Lola found herself in the role of a courtesan (prostitute of the royal court). In today’s society Lola would be considered a gold-digger. She only sought out men with high social standing in the community that she could use for her own gain. Once she would have her hooks in these men, their slow demise began. One of her victims was king Ludwig of Bavaria, who felt compelled to help Lola yet once he was warned of the dangers of his affair with her, he could not seem to resist Lola’s aura and almost found his once peaceful country in a state of civil war. It was not until then that the king finally ordered Lola to leave but a month after she left King Ludwig was forced to relinquish his throne.
There are many men who suffered because of their association with Lola Montez.
King Ludwig said that he was “bewitched” by Lola. Lola was an unstable, incurable and infectious character type. This is not to say that these characteristics are only restricted to women, this is to say that there are some people whose emotions are so powerful that they infect the very soul of the people that they touch.
- See more at: http://48laws-of-power.blogspot.com/2011/05/law-10-infection-avoid-unhappy-and.html#sthash.XwJSxmEW.dpuf

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Set Your Troubles Aside

One of the things I like about martial arts training is that it is a concrete opportunity to take your cares and woes and put them on a shelf for a while. You have to set them aside to concentrate on what you are doing. Having set them aside, you give yourself a respite, create a little distance from them and gain some new perspective.

Recently at Steven Pressfield's blog, there was a post on this very topic. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

“Leave Your Problems Outside”
By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 25, 2013
Leddick ballet

David Leddick in Met Opera days

    I studied ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera when Antony Tudor, the famous choreographer, was the head of the ballet school. In fact, Margaret Craske was the teacher most students considered to be more important. She had danced with Pavlova in the ’20s.

    Miss Craske instructed us: “Leave your problems outside the classroom.”

This excerpt comes from an upcoming book by my mentor, David Leddick. David continues:

    Such good advice. And in that hour and a half of intense concentration on every part of your body, the music, the coordinating with other dancers you really couldn’t think about your troubles and it was great escaping them. You emerged much more relaxed and self-confident.

    We worked hard. We never had a sick day. You went on even if you had to lie down in the wings until you were needed. No one thought this was unusual.

    At the Met, the powers that be were only interested in two things: how well you sang and how well you danced. Your race didn’t count, your background, sexual preferences, family, none of that mattered. You had to deliver. That was the sole standard. It was great.

    In later careers all of this has stood me in good stead. I never had to work that hard in any of the various worlds I entered. I knew the quality of the work I was doing. Dancing at the Met was a wonderful experience and a wonderful preparation for the rest of my life.

2013 is almost over. How will you and I handle our work in 2014? What’s so great about “Leave your problems outside” is it’s applicable even if we’re only going to have one hour a day to pursue our artistic dreams.

One hour is plenty if we banish all distractions at the doorstep.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From Whom Can You Learn Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from the December 2013 Newsletter from The Center for Taiji Studies. The whole post may be read here.

Since this issue is near the holidays when people tend to reflect on the past and make adjustments for the future, I would like to share a famous saying by Kongzi (Confucius, 551-479 B.C) regarding a way to improve one’s self. This saying can be applied to our taiji studies as well as to daily life. A translation is as follows:
Three people travel together; at least one of them can be my teacher. If this person demonstrates merits, I shall learn from him. If bad behaviors, I can use them as a mirror to check myself. If I have a similar undesirable quality, I change it; if not, I can use it as a reminder to avoid this behavior in the future.
It is such a good attitude: that of going beyond criticizing others, a common habit when we run into poor traits. Instead we can improve ourselves and stay positive toward every interaction we have with the world.

When it comes to taiji/qigong practice, we can look to the master practitioners and ask a simple question: how did they achieve such a high level? Their accomplishment can be attributed to the following factors: 1) they had knowledgeable and generous teachers, 2) they practiced all components of the traditional curriculum (mind, body, and spirit), and 3) they studied and practiced seriously, and wisely (and therefore efficiently and effectively).

On the other hand, we can also look at practitioners who have practiced for years but remain empty, or have even hurt themselves. Why did it happen? Why are the deeper meaning and benefits of the art still hidden from them; why did they injure themselves; why did they gain so much weight; why are they unhappy, or arrogant, or critical of others? The answer can often be attributed to at least one of the following factors: 1) lack of knowledge or withholding of key information from a teacher, 2) failure to pay sufficient attention to sincere advice from a knowledgeable teacher, 3) failure to practice the mental/spiritual components of the art, especially wuji/static qigong, 4) failure to follow the foundational principles of nurturing and moderation, and/or 5) they have been close-minded and not open to learning new things. Kongzi’s advice above directs us to a higher level: am I making similar mistakes? How can I correct or avoid similar mistakes in the future?
.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Life Lessons

The following is an excerpt from a post at The Daily Runner Page. The topic is 10 lessons that running teaches you about life. I think that they apply equally well for martial arts training. The full article may be read here. Enjoy.

10 Lessons Running Teaches You About Life

1. When things get tough, just keep going.


2. Consistency creates habit.


3. You’ll have to get through hell before you get to heaven.


4. Reaching your goals will take a lot of work.


5. Every aspect of life is mental.


6.  You do have time– you just have to make it.


7. You define your own limits.


8. If you wait for the right conditions, you’ll never get anything done.


9. Go beyond your limits every day and watch the magic happen.


10. There is peace even in the most chaotic times.





Thursday, April 03, 2014

Beautiful Aikido Techniques of Christian Tessier

Christian Tessier is a 7th Dan in France. The only reason he isn't an 8th Dan is due to European Aikido politics. Look how his techniques flow. This is simply beautiful.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Focusing on the Wrong Things

Steven Pressfield is the author of many fine books. At his blog was a very good post by one of his associates which was made in the wake of Amazon's announcement that it was making some experiments with delivery by drones and the subsequent media chatter afterwords.

The gist of the article is that it is all too easy to get hooked into focusing on the minor issues, thereby ignoring the larger ones; the ones that really matter. 

Why the article itself is about the book industry, there are wider implications in our training; what we choose to focus on, and in our larger lives. 

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Don’t Major in the Minor

By Callie Oettinger | Published: December 6, 2013

“Don’t major in the minor.”
Mellody Hobson said it, but I’ve thought it these last few days, since watching Jeff Bezos on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

In case you haven’t heard, Bezos unveiled a prototype for package-delivering drones at the end of the interview. Without missing a beat, the character-bashing, Jeff-Bezos hating, Amazon-vilifying tribes descended, with articles and comments from one site to the next.
They majored in the minor.
I’m not saying that the drones weren’t newsworthy. They were—and I saw mentions pop up in everything from Outside Magazine’s site to Waterstones’ blog. And I’m not saying that Amazon isn’t above criticism, but . . .

There was much more to that interview than the last few minutes of drones. And if you are going to go down the drone rabbit hole, there’s a much bigger discussion that needs to take place, outside whether Amazon will or won’t ever be able to use them.
Instead of responding to the bigger ideas, they went for the jugular and the jocular, playing guessing games about why 60 Minutes ran the interview, why the secretive Bezos shared the drones.
...
1) Complaining is not a strategy
When Charlie Rose asked Bezos about worries of small book publishers and traditional retailers, and whether Amazon is ruthless in its pursuit of market share, Bezos replied:
“The internet is disrupting every media industry, Charlie. You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.” (about the 9:15 mark of the interview)
He’s right. And the future isn’t just happening to booksellers. Look at how the rise of e-mail played into the decline of the U.S. Postal Service’s revenues. After years of struggling, a plan was sent to Congress for approval, to end Saturday delivery. Congress nixed the plan. A few months later,

Amazon stepped in with a different plan—to add Sunday service. Via this partnership, the USPS will deliver Amazon’s packages on the one day of the week that no one else delivers them, thus increasing delivery options for Amazon customers and bringing in revenue to the USPS. A win-win.

The examples of industries sideswiped by the future is long, as is the list of industries that have risen, offering much needed innovation and efficiency.

But . . .

It’s easier to bash Bezos and Amazon than it is to look in the mirror and ask, Why didn’t my publishing house lead the charge to sell books online? Why did we focus on the chains as the future when we saw the indy stores struggling to stay afloat? Why didn’t we recognize the potential for the future?

It’s easier to hate Bezos and Amazon than it is to ask, Why didn’t my bookstore stock backlist, long-tail titles, and books from indy publishers in addition to all those big publisher frontlist titles? 

Why didn’t my bookstore create a model that could be tapped by indy publishers and authors, instead of requiring top co-op dollars that only the big guys could pay for prime placement?


It’s easier to vilify Bezos and Amazon than it is to ask, Why didn’t I keep spending dollars with indy stores instead of spending them at the big chains, which then caused the indys I love to die?

It’s easier to major in the minor.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Katori Shinto Ryu

This is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu - Japan's oldest and most traditional sword school - considered the pinnacle of classic Japanese martial arts. Features part of a rare interview with Otake Risuke, the school's instructor. See the full clip as part of the feature length movie, Art of the Japanese Sword. Enjoy - Empty Mind Films.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Explanation of Kata as a Training Tool

Over at The Budo Bum, there appeared a very good article explaining the use of kata as a training tool. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

What Kata Isn't

Let’s get this straight.  Classical martial arts kata are not practice fighting.  They are not what fighting is or was. Martial arts kata do not simulate combat conditions.  They do not recreate actual combat scenarios.  If kata aren’t any of these things, then what are they, and why bother with them?
Kata are pre-arranged training sequences.  Kata are training scenarios for learning about essential elements of conflict.  I train in both classical and modern Japanese martial arts, and both use a lot of kata.  Classical arts tend to focus almost entirely on kata training.  Gendai arts like Judo use a combination of formal kata training, randori/sparring, and informal kata.
Kata are not for mimicking combat . Kata are for getting better at combat. They are a training tool for learning the skills necessary for dealing with combat.  They are an exceptional tool that has survived hundreds of years of testing and application. As a training tool, they provide a framework for practicing various aspects of combat, not just repeating techniques or practicing in a sparring situation where much of what is effective is not acceptable because of the risk of injury.  
Kata is not sparring, and with good reason.  All sparring assumes a dueling scenario.  2 people faced off and fighting.  Any equipment is equal.  There are no surprises, no unexpected changes. There is an assumption of fairness.  Kata is not handicapped by any of these of these assumptions.  Kata allows a much broader investigation of conflict conditions.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Changing Up Your Training

I originally found this article through Tai Chi Nomad.

I find that I have too much material to practice all in the time I have set aside, so I've needed to come up with training strategies which allows me to concentrate on the central stuff, which continuing to work on the peripheral stuff as well. I have sort of a core that I work through, while rotating daily through other material.

According to this article, what I was doing out of necessity make actually be a benefit to one's overall training. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Why the Progress You Make in the Practice Room Seems to Disappear Overnight

by Dr. Noa Kageyam

Making the most of your hours in the practice room:

One simple change that could drastically increase your productivity

When it comes to practicing, we often think in terms of time: How many hours are necessary to achieve optimal progress? While this is a valid concern, a more important question is how we can make each hour count. What is the most efficient way to work so that what is practiced today actually sticks tomorrow? There is nothing more frustrating than spending a day hard at work only to return the next day at the starting line. Unfortunately, our current practice model is setting us up for this daily disappointment.

Repetition, babies, and brain scans

Early on in our musical training, we are taught the importance of repetition. How often have we been told to “play each passage ten times perfectly before moving on”? The challenge with this well-intentioned advice is that it is not in line with the way our brains work. We are hardwired to pay attention to change, not repetition. This hardwiring can already be observed in preverbal infants. 


Show a baby the same object over and over again and they will gradually stop paying attention through a process called habituation. Change the object, and the attention returns full force. The same goes for adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that there is progressively less brain activation when stimuli are repeated. The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information. And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged. But instead of listening to this instinctive voice of reason, we blame ourselves for our lack of attention and yell at ourselves to “focus!” Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blocked practice schedules

In the field of sport psychology, the continuous repetition discussed above is called blocked practice. 


In a blocked practice schedule, all repetitions of one activity are completed before moving on to a second activity. For example, a baseball player who must hit fifteen fastballs, fifteen curve balls, and fifteen change-up pitches in practice would complete all of the fastballs before moving on to the curve balls and so on. This most resembles the way the majority of musicians practice, especially when it comes to challenging passages. We work on one excerpt for a given amount of time and then move on to the next excerpt until all tasks for the day are complete. A blocked approach seems logical.  Muscle memory requires repetition and why wouldn’t we do all of the repetitions in a row? 

After all, if we are working on a difficult passage, it feels a lot more comfortable 10 minutes into practice than at the beginning. It is precisely this feeling of comfort and improvement that reinforces our reliance on blocked practice. The problem with this kind of practicing, however, is that the positive results we feel in the practice room today do not lead to the best long-term learning tomorrow. Practicing in a way that optimizes performance in the practice room does not optimize learning.

Random practice schedules

What if we took the blocks of practice on particular tasks and broke them down into smaller segments on each task? In the baseball example above, the players could hit the three different types of pitches in an alternating fashion, instead of doing all of one kind in a row. Two breakdown options are a repeating order (e.g., abc abc abc…) or an arbitrary order (e.g., acb cba bca…). In either, the net result will still be 15 practice hits of each of the three types of serve, exactly the same as the net result in the blocked practice schedule. The only variable that changes is the order in which the pitches are practiced. This type of interspersed schedule is called a random practice schedule (also known as an interleaved practice schedule).

In a random practice schedule, the performer must keep restarting different tasks. Because beginnings are always the hardest part, it will not feel as comfortable as practicing the same thing over and over again. But this challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective. When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. 


More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning. In the blocked schedule above, the baseball players must only construct the action plan for each type of pitch once, at the beginning of each block. In the random schedule, they must construct and later reconstruct an action plan fifteen times for each pitch. Although a blocked schedule may produce superior performance during practice, study after study has shown that a random practice schedule consistently produces superior retention following practice a day or more later (i.e., the amount actually learned). This phenomenon is called the contextual interference effect.
 

How much better is a random practice schedule?

It turns out that the hypothetical baseball example used above is not hypothetical.  In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches. Similar results have been found across a wide variety of fields. Most pertinent to our interests as musicians, my preliminary research at the Brain and Mind Institute in Canada provides empirical support for the use of a random practice schedule in music. Not only does this research suggest that a random practice schedule is more effective than a blocked schedule for practicing musical passages, participant interviews also reveal that random practice has positive effects on factors such as goal setting and focus.