Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tomorrow is Another Day

I'm heading toward my final days with my company. On Tuesday I have my exit interview and I give them back my gadgets, and then leave.

As for what follows, well, storms never last, darkness gives way to dawn, and tomorrow is always another day.

Since I've been an adult, I've never had the luxury until now to practice in the morning regularly, before I go about my day. While I hope this situation is short lived, I intend to take advantage of it. Since I've been practicing more, I feel great, my head is clear and I sleep like the dead.

The placement counselor thinks my study of the Japanese language might help me stand out among job candidates. I haven't had a chance to work on Japanese for a solid hour every day for a long time. I intend to take advantage of that as well.

The future is all about possibilities. I will probably end up doing something in line with what I've done in the past, either technical marketing, but software engineering. But I'm keeping both my mind and my eyes open. Perhaps I'll end up doing something radically different (like what? I don't know), or even perhaps starting something of my own (again, what? I don't know).

What we end up doing finds us as much as we find it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Force of Gravity

Rob Redmond has a very good article on gravitas in karate, on this 24FightingChickens site. Here is an excerpt. It's well worth reading.

The Winner Has Gravity
by Rob Redmond - March 25, 2009

Most advanced karate players can observe two people in a sparring match and tell you who is going to win as soon as they see the match begin. They are looking for signs of one of the players possessing the power to pull or push his opponent. In most matches, one person will advance aggressively while the other retreats in reaction to him. Sometimes, the more powerful player retreats and pulls the less skilled person along with him. Either way, this gravitational effect of the more powerful player upon the weaker is objectively observable and is an effective way to predict the outcome of most karate matches.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Navigating Treacherous Waters

I wrote some time earlier about keeping a clear mind when the world is in turmoil around you. This morning at work, I found out that my last day would be the at the end of the month. Our company sales are down around 50%, and the company simply can't maintain the current headcount. About 1/3 of our office would get the same message by the end of the day.

The unemployment rate in Michigan is the highest in the country. Jobs are hard to find, but I only need to find one of them. Companies are hiring ... selectively. Employers are looking for specific skills and experience; I need to make the match.

I've heard plenty of people say when laid off that they want to take it easy for a while. I don't think that's a very good strategy. What I do think is a reasonable strategy is to turn over every stone to see what's under it, and to try and first find something that's going to pay my bills, and then when the economy improves, find something that I'll want to do for hopefully a long time.

I do want to take the opportunity to work on my diet, practice more, read and work on my Japanese language studies, but my main task is to find another job. Having some time off should make the Lenten Challenge a little easier.

At least it's starting to get warmer outside and I won't be cooped up in the house. From time to time, I'll let you know how it's going.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Weekend in Shanghai

A friend sent me this article. It's from the Asia-Pacific Edition of the travel section of the New York Times. If you click here, you'll be directed to the full article. I've excerpted a portion below. If you follow the link, you'll find many more interesting Asia-Pacific related articles. Enjoy.

36 Hours in Shanghai

NOW that the Beijing Olympics are but a memory, the spotlight in China is moving to Shanghai as that city gears up to host the 2010 World Expo. With an anticipated 70 million visitors and 200 participating countries, the six-month World’s Fair will be enormous by any measure — not that Shanghai has ever needed an excuse to party. While the global economic slowdown has had its impact, Beijing’s naughty sister is still up to her tricks: from the flashing neon signs and light-bedazzled skyscrapers to the throbbing clubs and houses from the foreign-concession era hiding their decadent secrets. But beyond the clich├ęs, mainland China’s most cosmopolitan city still offers a breadth of experiences.


7 p.m.

Tonight is about embracing the kitsch. So set the tone by taking the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a Disneyesque ride from the historic Bund area (look for the sign across from the Peace Hotel on Nanjing Road East) to the futuristic Pudong district. Buy the 40 yuan ticket (about $5.70 at 7 yuan to the dollar), and a silver pod will shuttle you across the Huangpu River through an extravaganza of pulsing, flashing and spiraling lights, creepy blow-up dolls and even creepier voice-overs (“hell and paradise,” “nascent magma”). Don’t ask questions; just sit back and look forward to that cocktail at the end of the night.

8 p.m.

But first more sensory overload. Emerge from the tunnel in Pudong and walk toward the Oriental Pearl Tower, a TV tower that would be Shanghai’s Statue of Liberty if the Statue of Liberty looked like a rocket ship in Christmas lights. Then head to the skyscraper with the giant hole at the top: the new 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center. If you can stomach it, go up to the 100th-floor observation deck (150 yuan) with its terrifying glass floors. Otherwise, enter through the Park Hyatt Shanghai and take the elevator to 100 Century Avenue, the sprawling restaurant on the 91st floor with triple-height atriums. Its six open kitchens serve everything from oysters and pasta to sushi, Peking duck and wagyu beef (dinner for two, with wine, about 2,000 yuan). Admire the geometric mosaic floors and swirling bas-reliefs — if you can keep your eyes off the panoramic views.

10 p.m.

You can’t avoid the Bund. Across the river from Pudong, this waterfront stretch of Art Deco and other edifices is Shanghai’s signature promenade and a hub of upscale restaurants and bars. At night, its floodlit facades offer an unparalleled vantage point for marveling at the giant light show that is Pudong. So go for a nightcap at the Glamour Bar (No. 5 on the Bund, sixth floor; 86-21-6329-3751), a perennially popular lounge with a 1930s inflection.

11:30 p.m.

Caught a second wind? Head to No. 18 on the Bund, which, depending on your perspective, is either a hotbed for the stylish and beautiful or a nightmare of boozy, over-coiffed expats in too much cologne and too-tight camisoles. There you’ll find two swanky spots: Bar Rouge (seventh floor; 86-21-6339-1199) and Lounge 18 (fourth floor; 86-21-6323-8399). For something more underground, don’t miss the Shelter (5 Yongfu Road; 86-21-6437-0400), a testing ground for up-and-coming D.J.’s. Housed in a former bomb shelter and painted black, it’s packed with the hoodie-and-skullcap set.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Zen and Swordsmanship

Here is a blog entry that has to do with Zen, Kendo, and Musashi. Below are a few lines as a teaser, into which I've taken the liberty of inserting a few links.

Great Rivals, Great Treasures for Kendo

Yagyu Munenori was known to be a great rival of Miyamoto Musashi. Yagyu Munenori was the kendo teacher to the shogun, a great and gifted swordsman who was the founder of the “No Sword” school of kendo and just as famous as Musashi. Munenori was known to have favored using an early form of kendo bogu for the safe practicing of kendo. His mentor the the zen priest Takuan Soho was instrumental in forming his ideas for his kendo style and his book that he wrote “The book of the Shinkage-Ryu Martial Arts”. It is unclear how much he knew or if Musashi read Munenori’s insightful book. But it was clearly on his mind since soon after the book was released Musashi wrote his own book on kendo “a book of five rings” the most famous of all kendo books and unmatched in its wisdom.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The History of Judo

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a multi part history of Judo, from it's samurai jujutsu roots to the formation of the Kodokan, and beyond. I have included a portion below:

The Do form of martial art was a new concept. In place of older accumulations of technical skills, Judo linked these technical applications to the idea of philosophy and ethical application. The idea in Tao was to create a "natural man" free of prejudices, but bound by the development of character. Training in a prescribed manner toward a specific ideal of human behavior would elevate both the human and the human society. Adherents of Tao were to seek understanding of the whole of life through the intensive study of a segment of it, sensing and experiencing nature.

Self-perfection, the goal of Tao, was ultimately a Zen concept: of experiencing being the means to enlightenment, rather than attempting to substitute intellectual analysis for profound experience.

The physical experience, then, was useful in this quest only when it became natural, uninhibited, and spontaneous. Kano saw in British Philosopher Herbert Spencer's ideas of mutual effort in society to create a better society the modern, practical expression of these ancient Chinese concepts, and "mutual welfare and benefit" was a natural expression of how Kano believed individuals in society should function. Judo was meant, in its most basic elements, to be a physical expression of an ideal human society.

But Kano also saw in ju jitsu the antithesis of his concept of Do. Jujitsu was an amalgam of ideas and technical skills. The execution of the skills themselves often required either great strength, or superior leverage. In either case, damage, injury, disability and even death were not necessarily intentional, but plausibly accidental outcomes of the confrontational nature of the techniques themselves. Kano understood the idea of Kuzushi -- off-balancing prior to the execution of a technique -- had made a profound difference in both the manner and the strength necessary to execute a technique. Strong contenders suddenly became relatively weak when off-balanced. Iikubo, the jujitsu master, had been thrown easily when kuzushi was applied.

Kazuzo Kudo thought that Kano's fame was just as well founded on his exposition of kuzushi as a movement principle as it was for founding Judo itself.(6)

Kano, the Chinese literature specialist, looked back to Lao Tzu for inspiration; a two thousand year old guide to create a new martial system.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Asian Influences on Western Art

A friend sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal, a portion of which I've excerpted below. The article is about Western artists over the last 150 years or so, whose art has been influenced by Asian art and ideas. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. There is a slide show that accompanies the article.

A Look at American Artists Wrestling With Asian Ideas

New York

Not so much an art exhibition as a dissertation illustrated with artworks, "The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989," on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum through April 19, presents a new art-historical construct aimed at upending the view that American artists forged the idioms of modern art in dialogue exclusively with Europe.

The Third Mind

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
April 19

An enticing installation in the lobby hints at the show's central thesis. By Ann Hamilton, "Human Carriage" consists of a small metal cage that travels down the museum's spiraling ramp, its white silk canopy billowing. At the bottom, the cage sways while, floors above, an attendant loads onto a pulley a handful of bound book-slices. As these counterweights descend, the silk-clad contraption rises. Once the texts have plopped to the ground, the cage once again glides down the ramp. Intermittently, a bell inside it rings, its crisp tone reverberating among the show's 230-plus canvases, videos, photographs, prints and sculptures.

In an email to curator Alexandra Munroe, the artist explained that she was musing on reading, which "leaves no material trace, but which might forever change you." While the writings concern Asia and the bells are Tibetan, there is nothing visibly "Asian" in the piece -- as though signaling that we have to look beneath the surface to evaluate the show's contention that artists' engagement with Asia, and not just Europe, changed the very fabric of American art.

By beginning with 19th-century works, Ms. Munroe at once strengthens that argument and robs it of its bite. In a beautiful eddy of side galleries, John La Farge watercolors of Buddhas swirl near evening cityscapes by James McNeill Whistler, Japanese-inspired Mary Cassatt prints, and such clear homages as Charles Caryl Coleman's "Still Life With Plum Blossoms in an Oriental Vase."

Such overt references to Asia set the tone for some of the later works, from the poetry of Ezra Pound and Alan Ginsburg to the calligraphic paintings of Brice Marsden and Robert Motherwell, or the mandala-inspired paintings of Bruce Conner and Charmion von Wiegand.

At first blush, this might suggest that the show is not nearly as revolutionary as it claims. Artists' incorporation of, say, calligraphy in the 1950s and 1960s is hardly news. But Motherwell's broad strokes are not just about the adoption of an Asian form. They are about the "hand taking over," as the artist himself puts it, and they point to a distrust of the mind that overtook many artists -- and spiritual seekers generally -- as they read Asian texts and strove for spontaneous, unmediated gestures and valued process over product.

Similarly, a close look at John Cage's "Ryoanji series" reveals an intricate and illuminating backstory that begins with art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy, who preached that ancient Indian artists sought to emulate the workings of nature without letting their own taste and predilections get in the way. To achieve a similar no-self art, Cage used the Chinese book of divination, the I'Ching, to find random order for the circular shapes he drew to denote 15 rocks -- the same number that appear in the Ryoanji Zen temple's garden in Kyoto, Japan.

In framing the show, the Guggenheim ends before Asian-American artists emerged as a category and before the Internet drew the world into a virtual whole. The show also excludes decorative arts on the ground that their relationship to Asia has been extensively documented. Too bad. Even just one work in ceramic would have reminded audiences that potters' engagement with Asia led the likes of Peter Voulkos to punch holes in the wall separating craft from art.