Sunday, December 30, 2012

The more things change...

"Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people's weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes... If you don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will...." -- Epictetus, A.D. 55 - A.D. 135

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Judo for Kids

Lately, I've been wondering about judo for kids.
I got a lot out of my brief encounter with the art when I was about eight. I still use some of the basics from those classes in a little school in the woods. This was why I had to quit, actually, the location was too remote to have a sensei in to teach on any sort of regular basis. But my hip throws stayed with me; my scarf holds always a playfight go-to.
Currently, my five-year-old son does karate. He is learning to kick, punch, block, and keep his guard up while doing all these. He has done a couple of throws; a bit of play wrestling. But for some reason, at some point, I have this gut feeling to let him decide if he wants to explore judo, as well. It might just be a result of my own good experiences with the sport; it might be that I feel it would round out his training. And don't get me wrong, I'm in no rush to ask him. He's a busy little lad: hockey, soccer, karate, and, oh yeah, school. But at some point, if his interest is there, I'd love to give him the chance to do judo. 
The funny part is, I don't think I have it in me to explore judo again. Not right now. We cover a lot of judo in my jiu-jitsu classes, to be sure, and I find training hard enough now that my time goes mainly to my two boys. Plus, I have a date with aikido... the where and when to be determined...
But my judo cravings are there, but that tale is not for this post.
I'd just hate to be one of those parents who wants their kid to be a pro hockey player because they, themselves, failed to make it. So I'm learning to let go; I'm learning to open doors for my sons, and not close others in the process.
But at some point I'm going to ask, my gut just tells me to do so.
And whatever he says will be the right answer, I am sure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Tao of Tarot...

I stumbled upon this Feng Shui Tarot Deck recently. And I like the art.... a lot. I don't do tarot divination but as a visual artist, i love checking out different interpretations of the cards, especially the major arcana. This one, to me, was a great mixture (both mystically and artistically) of east meets west.

But what really caught my eye was the card above: Strength. This card is in all decks and often includes a depiction of a lion and a woman--symbolizing the balancing of our lower and higher natures. Anyway, the above version is different than normal as it shows a man practicing internal martial arts, possibly tai chi or qi gong. It depicts the balancing of internal strength with the external. The Strength card was once referred to as the Fortitude card--perhaps a more accurate name for the attributes it describes. Below I have found another "Eastern" style pack: the Ukiyoe Tarot. I have shown the Strength card, once again, and this time it has more of a traditional depiction with the lion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

movin' on up...

One of the largest condo structures in Canada is set to be built in Toronto and it is chalk-full of amenities. It has rooftop gardens, humidors, pools, basketball courts etc. etc. Oh yeah, and it's very own Mixed Martial Arts room.
Through my work, I talked to the architect about it. It seems that he's a pretty cool guy.
He said he thought it would be a good thing to add, to go with the fitness rooms, a spot for kids and adults to work out and even bring in a trainer if they wanted.
Hmm. Sounds good. Especially in eliminating those cold winter walks to the dojo during a Toronto February snow storm.
But what strikes me isn't the fact that he thought of it; and that it's a neat idea; but that the developer thinks it's a good selling point for the condos.
I guess MMA is that big!
Anyway, I don't have the $300,000 (to start) to pick out a condo at the moment--which would be, after all, a rather large membership fee.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

dropping the hands.. clip that works

i'm really not into the ufc these days.... this one was on tv though, and is a good lesson--by a fighter who knows better--of why you should keep your hands up at all times... even on a low leg kick...
new clip here

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Krav Maga...

I don't normally plug in videos etc., but this one is a dandy... start to finish....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

jab, cross, jab...

More and more I am thinking about multiple punch defense. Punches rarely come in one shot, yet often we practice against this scenario. It is definately a good starting point. After all, how can we deal with two strikes if we are unaware of how to protect ourselves against just one? That said, I worry sometimes many teachers focus on one-punch attacks--overlooking a possible situation to cope with outside the dojo. We should do exercises protecting ourselves from multiple strikes: some where we step back and get distance (a possible flinch situation); and other excercises where we try to get inside before the attack, or redirect the attack soon thereafter.

The other area I wonder about is jab defense. A jab is an uncommitted attack but potentially devastating. It is both underused, in my opinion, and under studied from a defensive point of view. Although an improper jab leaves a hole in the defense of the opponent (especially if not retracted fast enough), it can be difficult to read and still leaves bigger weapons available to your opponent, i.e. back arm and legs. To me, it is also a warning sign that the attacker is not ignorant to combat strategy in general. A jab, to be studied defensively, should be learned as a weapon as well.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Buddha Nature...

"There's a very amusing story of a little disciple who comes to his Master and says, 'Oh Master, am I of the Buddha nature?'
And the Master says, 'No, you are not.'
'Well I've heard that all the stones, and all insects, and all the animals are manifestations of the Buddha--all beings. And I'm not?'
'Oh,' said the Master. 'It's true. All nature, all insects, all stones are manifestations of the Buddha nature. But not you.'
'Why not me?'
'Because you are asking the question!'"

                                        -- Joseph Campbell

Thursday, September 13, 2012

two left feet...

instructor one: "I think your footwork has become more relaxed, and you're mixing traditional form with a looser boxing form... i like it."
instructor two: "Your footwork during technique is good, but your traditional stance exercises are sloppy."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

coloured leaves and thoughts on stuff

the leaves are already showing glimpses of colour; the air is cooler at night. it's hard to believe, for me, that i took more than an entire month off training. it was more work-related than summer-sun-related--although that's been nice, too. however, now I am ready.
what did the month off teach me? well, it taught me what life is like without bruises. it taught me how quickly time can go, and how easy it is to let things slide when you are on autopilot.
oh well.
as for my thoughts, budo-wise, i've been largely musing over the idea of closing distances; neutralizing strikes (punches and kicks); and overcoming strong grappling skills.
so basically, nothing has changed. 
i'm also pondering the notion of using initial distance (an instinctual reaction, often, to an attack) as a means to break the flow of the opponent's assault. huh? what? i guess i mean how to turn that first instinct to step back into something good.
i'll flesh out these thoughts more in the near future.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

judo in canada

Canadian judoka Antoine Valois-Fortier wins bronze... pretty cool for the 22-year-old from Quebec... here's the story:

Friday, July 27, 2012

chi (and fish)

i don't think i'm looking for chi anymore.
anyway, i'm not looking to define it; i'm not looking to be a superman, if you will.
i've been on a quest, it seems, to understand it. but, as we know, to seek something is often to lose it. i'm happier now that i accept chi as maybe real--maybe self-hypnosis--maybe science and mechanics. journeyman does a good post on these points here. i wonder if he was on a quest, too. he seems to be at peace with it, anyway.
i train with a sensei who really believes it is a factor in the martial arts. i don't disagree, but then there are guys like Bruce Lee and Professor Wally Jay who i admire and don't neccesarily worry about it too much. (at least outwardly).
maybe jedi knights ruined chi for everyone by making kids want to become supernatural , imbued with chi/Force. That said, i've seen some pretty crazy shit that i cannot explain. maybe it's chi.
but i don't see a lot of crazy stuff. maybe i need a temple to hang out at in a remote jungle somewhere. maybe chi is there.
or maybe it's everywhere, and we, like fish, cannot discern the water all around us. (does a fish use chi to swim? is the water its chi? does a fish prefer spelling it chi or qi?)
just because i'm not searching doesn't mean i'm against it.....
or against fish, for that matter.

Monday, July 9, 2012

job profile...

I was being interviewed today about possible employment opportunities and this awkward moment came up:
"Can you travel?"
"Are you self-motivated?"
"Do you have anything we should know about, like a criminal record or anything?"
"No. But I am vegetarian."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

turning the corner...

the past few months has been--as I said before--one of the most challenging periods of my martial arts career to date. doubts lurking around every corner; frustration rearing its ugly head. while I never considered quiting, my heart was clouded and my mind was frayed.
currently, i feel... well... better. while i'm not tooting rainbows and doing back flips for no reason, my mind has reset itself and I have been enjoying my training once again. do i feel further tempered and believe i've had a philosophic expansion as a result of my struggles? time will tell. does it feel nice to be back on track?
part of my imbalance, as I mentioned previously, had a lot to do with a lack of harmony between kata and technique. this was perhaps a result of a grading i was undergoing, where my kata was in worse shape than my technique and needed to be improved upon. grading gives me great ambivalence, but i will save those thoughts for another day.
in the mean time, while I cannot say exactly what is around the corner, i know now that at least i am turning one.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

the Self

You will never master the Self, yet it should be your life's work to try.
Perhaps mastery just happens in specific moments; perhaps the journey, is, in fact, more important than the destination. The physical world is too malleable and uncertain to contain Heaven or Nirvana. What is left is the Way--the Tao--the path back to one's Self.
And the Self is a sword blade that can cut all things around it, but never cut itself. We must try to keep that blade as sharp as possible. Our Minds need training and discipline.
"Nirvana is reached by that man who wisely, heroically, trains himself," suggests the Dhammapada texts.
Mastery, to the followers of Buddha, is to be found in the transcendence of the world's sorrows. Buddha sat under a tree until he mastered Himself; and His enlightenment was lasting. (So on paper, my argument is incorrect).
But most of us are not ascended beings.... at least yet.
So we train. And train some more. We seek after glimpses of Nirvana rather than total enlightenment. For this is our nature... we are seekers. If we found the entire truth, the game would be up. Right?
And maybe then, eventually:
"With the dust of impurities blown off, and free from sinful passions, (we) will come unto the glorious land of the great." (Dhammapada)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

more wisdom from my five-year-old...

"Daddy, when someone dies, and heaven is full, where do they go? Is it Australia?"

Monday, May 28, 2012

feeling a bit kata-tonic...

so here, basically, is the rant:
i'm suffering from an imbalance. there has been an extreme focus on a long series of katas in my dojo, that, although listed in the curriculum of the art form, have become the art form as of late. i will not get into the debate of usefulness of kata--surely there is value--but when it starts to become a more intrinsic aspect of one's studies than technique itself, for me, personally, it feels like my overall skills start to suffer. i feel like i am doing an intense weight lifting regime on half my body, while the other side weakens from misuse.
also, an imbalance in studies is hard mentally. it seems as the list of forms becomes more extensive, the more i am just trying to memorize movements rather than understanding the katas. i would much prefer to embrace a few kata forms fully, than boast a list in the teens that i can only reproduce mechanically and/or robotically. maybe that's just me, though.
while i have massive respect for my sensei, i find this is the first time i am being tested to this degree. a lot of it, as said, is based out of a curriculum designed by someone else, years ago. this imbalance, it seems, tends to rear its head when a grading is imminent--which it is for myself--another aspect of the arts i am ambivalent toward.
however, for me, quitting is not an option. i still value what i am learning and value my fellow students and their friendships as well. one thing i have begun to do is cross-train in other art forms to find the balance i crave. and my empty feeling is subsiding--slowly. i have attended a few classes where technique has come to the fore again, and my heart re-balances quickly.
I liked the comments following my recent post on emptiness, and have picked out a snippet from Yamabushi to conclude this post with. (hope he doesn't mind).
"I believe it was Churchill once who said "When you are going through hell, keep going." Good motto for a martial artist - Keep Going."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

despite my moodiness, this past week has provided some good classes to give me thought. one class was very physically demanding, yet playful. sparring, grappling, striking. i just had a good time and approached it like a child who wants to muck it up and enjoy himself. it had a lightness about it, yet at the end i was fatigued--in a good way.
 lesson acquired: don't forget to play.
 the other class, just as valuable, sharply contrasted the aforementioned. two students and Sensei, just talking for two hours. not a bead of perspiration; not a strike thrown or kata performed (kata overload is one of my major reasons for my  burning out lately, perhaps i'll blog about that another time, as i do think kata is eating away at my very soul). the conversation in itself wasn't specifically enlightening, yet it is an aspect of  training that my sensei feels has been lost in many dojos. in my experience, he may be right.
lesson acquired: kata stinks conversation is good.
we'll see what this week brings.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


it's been a tough spell for martial arts and myself  lately. i feel a bit empty inside, and am trying my best to wait it out. there is no one reason for this feeling that I can put into words ; no specific problem or anything like that. yet my passion is being tested nonetheless.
I feel i am stuck in one place; i feel like the next level is just out of my grasp. all i have been able to do is embrace this feeling and hope it is transformative in a positive way.  after all, as a student of the Tao, I know that it is the hollowness of the vessel that forms its usefulness; it is the holes in the wall--the windows-- that open up the room to light. And "truthful words are not beautiful.(And) beautiful words are not truthful." So I am being honest, and I think that is a good first step in the path of returning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I woke my son up for junior kindergarten today, and while normally he pops right out of bed, he took a few minutes and then said:
"Dad, sometimes I just need to warm my brain up first."

Friday, April 13, 2012

the tree...

In the old Taoist texts of Chuang Tsu, there is written one of my favourite parables about a gigantic tree. The tree is massive and thought to be special wood as "those of three or four spans are cut down to make beams for tall, elegant houses. (And) those of seven or eight spans are cut down to make side boards for the coffins of aristocratic and rich merchant families." Such good trees never grow as big as this one, instead, the trees "never achieve their full stature but fall in their prime under the blows of the ax." Even a tree of one span or more is used for monkey perches, it is said. So what kind of special wood is this? What will such a great tree be used to build?
Upon closer inspection, the tree's branches are observed to be gnarled and it's trunk curved and knotted. The wood would not be good enough for beams or rafters. "Indeed, this tree is good for nothing. No wonder it grew so big. That is how it is! Holy men treasure this worthlessness."
This explains the "hazards of being useful."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I'm learning that blending two offensive combat styles is a different beast than blending two defensive styles. As I've mentioned before, I have lately been adding a few boxing drills to my traditional training. And while the striking fits fairly seamlessly, switching from a TMA blocking style to a more compact boxing one is a bit difficult for me.
This is why I am trying to merge the two.
Firstly, there are pros and cons to each style. These involve a more side-facing stance or a squared-off stance. It involves a closer striking/grabbing lead hand versus "covering up" quicker. However, the premise is the same: minimizing damage by deflecting or absorbing the impact of an opponents attack. And for me, I'm mainly interested in blocking the initial strikes in order to crash inside and use my jiu-jitsu.
To complicate things, I spar with a strong-arm-forward southpaw stance. This is uncommon in boxing where the power comes from the back (same with many martial arts). But I feel stronger defending this way, and feel I can strike faster, and better get inside to utilize throws, locks, strikes etc. Also in sparring, I like to be able to switch stances, to confuse an opponent or readjust an attack strategy on my part.
But as always, I am really looking for a way to get the best of both worlds. Is this more dangerous than committing to one style? Is this counter productive and spreading my defenses too thin?
As long as I don't eat too many punches I guess I'm on the right track.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


"Crying is okay in karate."
-- My four-year-old's sensei (comforting him before encouraging him to try again)

Friday, February 24, 2012

drawing on experience...

Tell me when this seems familiar....
I do a lot of drawing and art in general. In fact, once a week, on a morning usually stiff and tired from the previous night's training, I attend a drawing class focusing on the human figure (the hardest overall subject to master artistically). Many of the other people there have been going for years, while I've been going the past few months. The work is humbling, yet the small achievements are very fulfilling.
While usually I sit alone and zone out into my own little world, this past week there was not as much room as normal so I set up next to a lady--likely the oldest person in the room. I went to work, creating detailed, intricate sketches which although I liked, I didn't feel were my best pieces. The lady next to me took a keen interest in what I was doing and praised several of my works. She was both sweet and kind.
"A lot of detail," she commented with a knowing smile.
But after awhile, I began to struggle a bit with my images. I was losing the flow and focus of the pictures. So, stepping back from my paper, I decided to watch the older lady, who was using the most simplistic of tools, a paint brush and a pot of ink. I was delighted to see her work: The cleanest lines; the smallest effort; the most accurate depictions. I was in awe at how loosely but confidently her images were formed. I abandoned my own work and just watched her for a long while.
Is it age? We have all witnessed the sensei who, in his/her maturity, whips the student around without effort or folly. We have all been blown away by the master who seems to "know" things no one else does, and utilize his/her tools more effectively than a less experienced individual could ever hope to achieve.
This little woman was like a real life yoda with a brush. She left out so many useless details in order to make a more coherent body of work. And she was teaching me without so much as a word.
Lesson learned.... again. From now on, I sit next to the elder, kind and talented lady and hope to learn a few things from her experience.
It's all so familiar, to me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

stagnation vs. time away

Luckily, my stagnation in blogging this month has not been mirrored in other areas of my life such as martial arts. Truth be told, I haven't had access to any form of computer technology at home. However, I am settling in to a new routine in a more public environment that seems to be working for me. Hopefully, it will keep me from being a total hermit this winter, as I am fighting the desire to curl up in a ball and wait for the spring weather to arrive. It's strange for me, since this has been the warmest winter I can remember in my entire life. But it is damp; I've become recently unemployed for the first time in almost a decade; and I'm a bit anti-social. (Except online).
My isolation, though, has produced peace of mind in many unexpected ways, including a lack of mainstream media influence in my life. Quite frankly, not being exposed to radio news feeds, constant advertising campaigns on the street, and TV clips of "wars and rumours of war" has had a purifying aspect in my life. Ignorance, albeit for a little while, has been blissful (if not sustainable). I know the world won't go away, nor can problems be ignored forever, but a small break from the madness has been welcome.
And hopefully writing again will help keep me grounded a bit--and get me physically and mentally out into the world again. As well as being on the mats each time I go to class.
But I will continue to indulge in a little bit of winter hibernation, even if it's just manifested in a bit more media ignorance.

Monday, January 30, 2012

what we like and what we need....

Inevitably, when it comes to training, there are aspects we all enjoy more than others. However, we all tend to suffer through the areas we don't like as much to better ourselves all around.
I'm not a fan of weapons (defense I appreciate, but I'm talking about weapons for combat). That said, I often find myself practicing with them.
So here's how I look at it:
- it could happen that in desperation I pick up an object to use in a life or death situation.
- it makes me better understand the attacks so I improve my defense in the process.
- it can't hurt my coordination skills.

I guess this is how I spin it, anyway.
Kata is another area where I do this sort of reasoning with myself. A bit of kata I think is valuable... I think we all can figure out reasons why this is so. However, I find too often I get bogged down in so many forms of it that my head spins like a top.
But what if I only practiced what I like? Would that improve my skills to the level I want them to be at? While sometimes the answer feels like it should be yes, I still trust my teachers, and try to focus on the good that can come from doing the things I don't enjoy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

kids class...

I find myself on Saturday mornings handing my trust--and my son--over to a Sensei of a karate class. I love watching my boy, who is four-and-a-half, and his enthusiasm each time he attends. I respect the Sensei and think he is great with kids.
But it is very strange sitting on the sidelines for me. Not the martial artist side of me, but the parent.
Here are some samples of what goes through my mind (none of which I would have ever imagined myself worrying about, or dwelled upon when I was a child):
- letting him learn etiquette and proper behaviour on his own
- worrying the mats aren't straight and he'll bump his head (and other injuries)
- having trust in his training partners, who are all older than him (but still kids)
- and, of course, him enjoying himself each time
It's funny, because, if I had my gi on, and weren't wearing my parent hat, my perspective would likely be entirely different. I'd maybe push him harder and worry less.
And while that time will come, some day, I really am happiest just watching him. It just takes getting used to a wee bit.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

good thoughts....

Journeyman's post, here, syncs in well with my last post on defense.... it combines defensive and offensive thought.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Defensive drills...

I spend too much time dwelling on how good my offence is. That is, in my mind, I focus on progression in terms of how successful my attacks would be in a specific situation.
Funny, since I practice a defensive form of jiu-jitsu. So, I've decided I need to spend more mental time on understanding my level of defense, and understanding the progression of my skills in this respect.
It reminds me of a couple of drills I have done in the past. One is setting up a sparring situation where one person can strike, and the other may only defend. This exercise can hone one's defensive skills and boost your confidence when it comes to evading attacks. You will also find many openings you might normally have overlooked due to utilizing extra patience. Both blocking and footwork will be crucial.
The second drill is almost the same as the first. However, the defender sets up a "wall" or "fence" with his/her hands held high in a defensive position. While your partner throws light and varied strikes, you must keep your hands in the same continuous position (think boxing), blocking strikes by footwork and torso movement alone. Surprisingly, a small percentage of strikes actually get through. This exercise also boosts defensive confidence and teaches economy of movement.
Taking away the attack refocuses your thinking process, and in my case, brings me back to the gentle art of defense.