Friday, December 22, 2017

The Gift of Failure for Christmas

Mushin University™ Self-Knowledge the Ultimate Knowledge

Most everything I have done in my life has blossomed from my passion for the martial arts. Although most of the time it seems to have sprung from a dung hill. Yet, I have noticed that martial arts have helped not only myself, but others to grow in three very distinct areas which are: Physically, mentally, and emotionally. The funny thing is that most of all these changes come filtered through strength, endurance and flexibility training that begins most of our martial art study. The martial arts changes our vision of how we see ourselves and the world. 

I studied martial arts on my own from FBI manuals as a kid and then from my first teacher who studied Kempo-jutsu in occupied Japan. It was a non-commercial type of instruction; on a one-on-one basis. I was to be his apprentice in magic but I had a strong interest in martial arts too so he showed me both. While pressure from churches my family attended, made it near impossible to study either magic or martial arts as both things were evil, in their sight. Many people from these groups even went so far as to tell me that my Asian friends and teachers were also evil. Still, I did manage to attend commercial schools now and again. These were mainly melting pot styles and/or Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do schools which at the time were called Korean Karate. 

Although I mainly worked in private situations, either from work or with basement/garage type schools and this happened from the late 60's to the late 80's. I had moved several times in my youth and continued to do so after I was married. This enabled me to train with many styles and mixed Americanized systems. The concepts of Jeet Kune Do (JKD) was a big influence on most of my teachers and myself. 

From my teen years out, I found that these teachings worked on the street. I learned this in single and multiple attacker confrontations as well as ambush situations throughout my life. I worked for doctors, lawyers, butchers and bakers to name a few jobs, I also worked in security and law enforcement. Because of some of my work, my background and upbringing I never trusted people and especially organizations. I always have held people off because of my experiences and I tell you this just to give you an idea of how hard it was for me to join my teacher’s organization. 

As it was, he hated the politics of martial arts and he had set up a primarily law enforcement type of family organization that covered an area of a few states. This set up worked well until he retired. My teacher was big into scenario based training, and he taught that everything was situational. It seems to me that the pedigree of the martial arts isn't as important as the value of the instruction. My first few instructors had given me confidence, awareness, along with a basis of hard training in grappling, strikes and throws but nothing in the way of concepts. It was merely a list of fitness goals and techniques required to go from rank to rank. That was where JKD came in and this changed things dramatically for me. 

Still, I knew something was missing that they were not willing to tell me or didn't know. This was where my greatest benefit in the martial arts was derived from an instructor that I met years into my development. While he didn't have a great pedigree in the arts he knew his stuff and most importantly he had experience in the field with non-cooperative individuals. So, even if others thought of him as a fake with a Soke title (which simply meant head of the federation to us), I didn't mind. He opened my eyes to study and encouraged me to train with other top ranked people. I was surprised when speaking with Joe Lewis that he knew the group that my teacher had come up through. My sensei had left his old group after he had achieved a 7th dan in karate, and a similar rank in jujutsu and a 4th in a Tomiki off shoot that had been specialized for LEO's, (law enforcement officers). 

At the time I joined his federation most of the leaders of the federation were LEO's. My sensei (Tom Manson), was in charge of three fifths of the districts in Ohio. He wrote the states sexual assault handbook along with another officer (master instructor in our federation). Plus, he taught armed and unarmed tactics to parole and probation officers, state troopers, county deputies, as well as municipal police departments. The tactics include pepper spray, shooting, hand-to-hand defense, rappelling, etc. and he was a gun armourer (certified by Glock, S&W and Colt), for the state. He also taught special classes that Federal Marshals, and the Langley type guys attended and I had the privilege to work with him. 

What drew me to his classes was that the men in his organization were on par with many of the greats that I had trained under. I was used to working with the likes of Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Michael DePasquale both Sr. and Jr. (Sr. was considered the father of American Ju-jitsu) and he had received the only lifetime achievement award from Black Belt Magazine before his passing in 2006. My sensei introduced me to men like John Saylor, Mark Shuey, and Tony Annesi to name a few, all of whom were inspirations. Tony Annesi's writings in particular had been a huge influence on me from my youth. 

More recently James Williams has opened my eyes to how the principles and teaching of the sword can future refine and polish our skills. This being that there are no good ways to trade blows with giant sized razor blades. The sword teaches us the importance of surviving conflict with modern applications in real world situations. From this we learn the spirit and mind of a warrior. 

Martial arts has been a gift to me as it gave me the confidence to stand up for others without having to go into a rage. It also helped me become self-deprecating to defuse situations or break down social barriers. Martial arts has inspired me to tackle areas where I had failed at before and it has helped me endure pain from injuries and try to work around them. Martial arts has taught me that failure is the biggest part of the gift of improvement.

Friday, December 1, 2017

EDC Do It Anyway

Mushin University™ Self-Knowledge the Ultimate Knowledge

"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Abraham Lincoln 

Most martial arts schools have in their creed an oath to protect those that cannot protect themselves. The wording varies from school to school but the tradition of service and sacrifice in the face of danger has been passed down over the generations in all groups that represent warriors. It is not any surprise that military and law enforcement branches are the foremost of these groups in our present-day society with martial artists, at least from traditional backgrounds coming in behind. Still all warriors need to know the tools of the trade and that means weapons.

Is it easy to stand up to armed criminals? If you ever have to do so, could you? Let me tell you it is easier to do so if you are armed and that is even if you don't have to use your weapon. Although if I ever have to draw my weapon, then nine chances out of ten it is because of an active shooter. I stay away from trouble and always have tried to do so. But sometimes trouble falls on you or others around you. Every day carry is the responsibility for anyone claiming to be a warrior. We never know the likelihood of having a dangerous encounter when we wake up in the morning. If we did we wouldn't need to study self-defense or carry tools of protection with us as we could avoid these situations. If you do not have the training needed to carry, there are courses you can take and daily drills you can perform to keep your skills adequate.

Carrying weaponry goes a long way in creating the awareness necessary for this mindset. People who do not possess the capability of controlling themselves mentally and emotionally are not fit to represent the warrior class nor to carry the tools of the trade. Likewise, people who rely on others to be the protectors in society are not fit to carry the mantle of being a warrior. I have heard people say that they don't practice every day carry because of the lack of comfort, while others do not carry because of fear of the responsibility that comes with it. Some individuals have even complained that they couldn't be bothered with always trying to be aware and in control of their weapon and/or emotions. While other people sometimes claim that warriors who practice Ever Day Carry (EDC), have an inferiority complex or are just afraid and they rely on their weapon to compensate for it. This, of course, may be true in some cases but it should not be the norm.

Often martial artists claim they don't need a weapon due to their training. To some extent this is true, until a weapon is pulled. At this point a martial artist will discover that EDC will enhances a martial artist's ability to intervene in difficult situations. EDC helps even when there is no time to draw. As a lifelong martial artist and a former LEO and personal protection specialist, I've never had to pull a weapon. That is with the exception of drawing weapons on felony stops, which was a requirement. That being said doesn't mean that I have not had guns, knives and other lethal weapons pulled or used against me. Yet, there are restrictions in our society to EDC but as a practice it truly enhances the warrior mentality of excellence, service, and sacrifice. EDC is a responsibility and a burden but do it anyway, you never know if your skills will be required to save the life of your loved one or the loved ones of others.

"The price of greatness is responsibility." Winston Churchill 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Practice Your Philosophy

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"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. "Seneca 

How do we practice the philosophy of a warrior? It is simple to do this we need activities that combine the mind and body together. To make this training successful it ought to be able to be used in and out of the training hall. This requires one to live simply by seeking the yin and yang in all things. It takes a great deal of mental training to simplify, and weak minded people have a hard time with it. Yet, the cutting away of our mental crutches are difficult as they give us a feeling of insulation against the perils of life. Recognizing that you began with nothing and will end in the same manner is a first step to cutting away useless things.

So, what are the things you require to get by with on a day-to-day basis?. What if you lost them all due to fire, flood or other disaster? What would you need to survive, succeed and thrive? Contemplating these things should get you started, but you can also apply this concept to your martial art practice. What skills and tools would you need to rely on in a hand-to-hand fight? Being mentally prepared should also be at the forefront in this training. Mindfulness and self-imposed discomforts are two of the greatest keys to developing a warrior's mindset and one of the greatest martial art practices of all time is that of musha shugyō. To practice musha shugyō is to follow the footsteps of the ancient samurai warriors.

What is musha shugyō? It is a warrior quest or maybe better put as a warrior’s pilgrimage. Being on a warrior’s pilgrimage is much like the knights errant of old, but today it can be as simple as visiting another dojo or taking a seminar in another style. It can also be made to go up another level simply by applying this concept to your journey to and from these events. Such as by limiting yourself to giving up some comforts along the way. You can begin by asking yourself what can you do without, such as giving up a hotel room or fancy dinners. You might camp out on the beach if you are near the ocean or stay in the dojo if it is open to sleeping bags for guests. To practice such training is to be a shugyosha and your environment itself dictates the level of harsh training you endure. This is the life of a shugyōsha and simply going out into the world while having to rely on yourself and your skills is in fact a form of musha shugyō.

One factor to help grantee that you have a great musha shugyō is to develop a good sense for premeditatio malorum. Premeditatio malorum is the Latin name for a martial art exercise that I have taught my students and it means the premeditation of evils. It seems to me that the samurai were masters in the stoic mindset. I have followed stoicism all my life, at least from the time of first reading Sherlock Homes; he seemed to me to be stoic. Logic and stoicism go hand in hand after all, but I have had people accuse me and later on tell my wife that I had no emotion, which is far from true. Yet, anyone that lives should be aware that life is often hard and that the only easy day was yesterday. Being prepared for the worst case scenario helps buffer the pain and shock of anticipated events.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to Be a Great Martial Artist

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"I became a martial artist in spite of my limitations.” Bruce Lee

Do you have what it takes to be a great martial artist? To answer this fairly, one should be able to define what constitutes being a martial artist. Second of all, you need to define what it is that fulfills your expectations of greatness. I would like to use illustrated art as an example to make my point. As for me, there is a difference between someone who draws as a hobby and that of a professional artist. Yet in the professional art category some differentiate between styles and mediums as to what is an artist. I often hold cartoonists in as high regard as photo realistic painters or modern artist and the old Renaissance painters, art after all, is very subjective and often influenced by popularity. However, procuring a living from your work is only one of the variables as this goes beyond just merchandising your artwork. I’ve seen many amateur artists that I prefer over professional artists, some monetary considerations aside, I would maintain that the relentless pursuit and desire to express yourself in any medium defines an artist, which would be inclusive of graphic arts, music, literature, dance and combative arts. 

The second part of this problem is much like the first, and it too can be very subjective. Although there are hallmarks, skills, and abilities that help define and establish greatness. Tenacity, determination, resolve are necessary elements for reaching the solution. In my opinion, it takes a balance between internal and external disciplines to establish greatness. Internally a martial artist should have intimate knowledge of the skills that define his or her art. Coupled with this is the desire to seek and refine knowledge. Yet having great knowledge without courage, sincerity, benevolence, the desire for justice, and respect for others leaves an artist in a position of deficit. 

While physically being well rounded, and diversified in the areas of strength, endurance, and flexibility is beneficial. No one has a perfect balance as we all have areas that show our hidden strengths and weaknesses. So, having a kinetic sense of these elements in ourselves and others also helps assess martial artists throughout our lives. After all, the ability to adapt to our environment around our shortcomings becomes more apparent as we age or need to recover from an injury or illness. We are martial artists despite our limitations. 

Every day training is the perfect balance for establishing ourselves as great martial artists. After all, it proves to ourselves that we have the mental toughness to do one aspect of our training despite whatever setback we are going through. Every day training can be applied to our weak points or our strong points and one of the greatest benefits of all is that it can vary from day-to-day. This at least keeps the rust from forming on any specific skill set that is not in our prime focus. As to having a prime focus, I believe this is determined by the individual's preference and overall natural abilities. Make sure that you establish greatness in this one area. Make sure that your technical knowledge, physical training, and mental strategies, overlap to aid in establishing world-class proficiency. Last but not least, do your best to help those around you.

“Instead of trying to do everything well, do those things perfectly of which you are capable." Bruce Lee

Friday, September 1, 2017

Are You a Pretend Martial Artist

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"When you are talking about fighting with no rules, well then, baby, you'd better train every part of your body." Bruce Lee.

I have often heard martial artists that train in systems that utilize no sporting contest in their curriculum, referred to other martial artists that competed in sport as pretend martial artists and/or weekend warriors. Then again, I've heard precisely the same thing in reverse. It seems that on the other side of the coin these other martial artists that didn't compete were looked upon as weak and untested. As I have experience in both camps I can see the validity in both arguments.

Sporting competition does helps develop the will to win. It also encourages us, martial artists, to keep in shape. Being in shape is important whichever camp you're in, as long as we realize that there is a difference between peak performance and everyday consistent readiness. A good argument can be made that you fight like you train and practicing not going for illegal sport targets will hinder you in a real fight. But, I have found that most of the time this goes toward sensibilities more than anything else.

Wearing protective gear helps to test your timing and other abilities while lessening damage to you and your partner. However, if you always wear gloves and safety gear to hit and defend, this can curtail your ability to keep your tools sharp and your body hardened. On the other hand, sometimes wearing safety equipment prevents both wearer and receiver from reacting in a natural manner. In the martial arts what it always seems to come down to is will your stuff work against an unwilling participant. You can not base this on if your style worked for someone else a hundred years ago, but only if you can pull it off. This also implies that you can defend against an attack that you don't know is coming. Not only that, but will your techniques work against someone that has picked up a telegraphed signal from you. Then, there is the psychological factor to consider. Part of the equation is do you have the stomach to get blood and gore on you in the process, fights are often bloody and even worse.

Plus, I have often heard individuals from either camp being squeamish about sticking their fingers in someone's nose or mouth. Although they often cite, that their first line of defense would be a finger jab to the eye. I have found that any time that you stick a finger into an orifice, including the eye, can be repugnant for at least one but often both individuals. I'm not that fond of having to do it even if it is for self-defense, but it is better than having to kill them to get them to stop. None the less I am partial to throat strikes, and other such soft targets.

But groin shots, knee kicks, and the like will not stop everyone. I personally have had my leg broken and hands at different time, as well as dislocations etc, this includes groin shots with no cup and I've finished off the attacker/s on and off the mat. I wasn't even on drugs or in a rage and I'm not a tough guy. Yet, if the attacker has a weapon or there are more of them, then these vulnerable targets must be used; especially if you cannot get to a weapon.

Speaking of which, another thing that always needs to be addressed and tested when you're training for real martial arts is weapon proficiency. On the street even if you are only in a strong arm attack once the bad guy begins to lose he will go for a weapon. This isn't even considering that the bad guy probably started off with a weapon or multiple individuals on his side to gain the upper hand. Real fights almost always begin as sneak attacks, so real martial artists will do training to develop awareness and avoidance tactics. All of these factors together can be foundational to developing yourself as a real martial artist.

"The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them" Miyamoto Musashi

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Stillness in Motion

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Psalm 138:8 The Lord will perfect that which concerns me...

Stillness in motion is foundational to motion in stillness, learning to relax is big step to both of these goals. One of my biggest problems in the martial arts and life is the fact that I have a tendency to giveaway or walk away from anything that I have or ever wanted to avoid conflict. Yet, this is a big part of why I study martial arts. The willingness to hack away at the unessential is part of the growing process. Over the years I have seen this doesn’t work well, as somethings are worth fighting for,but I also have found that entering into conflict (winning or losing), doesn’t work out well either. 
The trick is learning to identify what is necessary, so how do you define what is essential? I would suggest that you check out Maslow's hierarchy. The hierarchy may vary for each individual depending on where they are in life. My tendency to walk away is paradoxical as I have often stood up for others. In so far as to taking beatings to save friends and even strangers from having to endure pain, or unjust punishment. This willingness (some say stubbornness, or stupidity), did garner me praised from my old high school principle. Of course, that doesn’t buy a cup of coffee but the memory of old (HG) Harry Gardner, recognizing me years later and stopping me as an adult on the sidewalk to tell me so, has kept me warm many times over the years.

Still, I have never been pleased with anything that I have done; but I often try to act like it. While trying to figure out why I have been unable to change my mental reset despite years of affirmations, I came upon some interesting readings. They were comparing thought processes to software and the brain as hardware. It seems from my reading of these case histories of people in similar situations. These people that have had negative reinforcement during their formative years often have it programmed into their hardware. It seems that I qualified for this on many levels, from beatings, Stockholm syndrome, survival guilt, etc.

This might explain why I play Metallica’s “Bleeding of Me”, back to back on a continuous loop. Well it's either that or Green Day’s, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)". I use this as justification for why I never fit in with the good old boys from the dojo that wanted to go down to the bar and unwind. That and for having a tremendous stick up my backside. Seeing how I never have been drunk or high, not counting the opiates the doctors used on me during my recovery from any of the aforementioned beatings, conflicts, or gaps in wisdom.

Regardless music in the dojo is a very valuable tool, this is doubly so especially with advanced training. Music helps you develop rhythm and to understand when to break rhythm, and even more importantly to relax. Relaxation is vital to winning against greater speed, or strength. Relaxation is a key to finding an often untapped resource from within yourself. Hopefully, soon you will be able to develop motion in stillness, being able to feel the rhythm within, first with yourself and then with others. So, even if you are a wreck, mentally and physically, unable to be satisfied with anything you do, this relaxation technique might just help. At least until the end of the song, but then you can always hit replay.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Confidence & Awareness

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"Confidence comes from your technique." Joe Lewis

For many people ego and bravado is a mask of confidence, but it is a false mask. In the martial arts these individuals were referred to as paper tigers. However, that was before the advent of the internet. After the advent of the internet, these people have become to be known as keyboard warriors and other such directives. Many of whom have never had a fight. A few have only had a school yard dust up, once in their lives. Yet, for the most part none of them had to face someone with a weapon while they themselves were unarmed that wanted to take something from them. Generally, what they want can be boiled down to one of four things, money, sex, validation, or your life.

It is easier to face down a stranger (online), that they have never met in their lives and fight on the keyboard than face a living enemy. Although many paper tigers and keyboard warriors might feel as if they have faced down others and won a fight simply because the other person walked away before things escalated into violence. The truth is many verbal disagreements do escalate into violence especially if there is a chemical lubricant invoked in the mix, either that or sex and/or money.

It still is quite another thing to have a stranger or group of strangers wanting to tear you apart often with no warning. This is compounded when they are armed. Many of my friends that were great martial artists and could beat me playing by the rules for points always asked for me as an escort when we went out to any place that might have the potential for trouble. They knew that I had weight in my strikes. I was always being told that I had heavy hands, and the like, despite my slight build. Even after I first reached six foot late in high school I only weighed 135 pound. Still, I did thousands of calisthenics a day but it was my fascination with hand and body conditioning that set me apart in this venue. Even as I grew to 6 ft 1 and a half inch tall and exploded to 155 pounds my hapkido instructor would often tell me I had perfect technique. Yet, I knew that there was something else that was more important as many of my friends also had as good or better form than myself.

Don't get me wrong, I tried my best to have perfect techniques but I had already lived through several traumas that my doctors had told me should have killed me by this point. I spent a lot of time trying to merge my kempo, jujutsu and hapkido together, I used the guidelines of Jeet Kune Do to aid me. However, years later after I meet Tom Manson, sensei I found that by emphasizing the aiki arts helped this a good deal but earlier on I had come to see that the true element to becoming great was something altogether different.

It was mindfulness, but developing technique was a key to mindfulness. The simple truth is mindfulness is moving meditation, it is simple but simplicity is hard. Developing this brought me a lot of attentions in certain circles. Groups that I eventual tried to avoid association with altogether. After a while, it seems I managed to suffocate the flame. Today I wish only to fan the flames of consciousness, at least enough to keep a dying ember alive a bit longer; yet, there still is a desire to do so.  Along with it there is the memory of the burden of awareness. So my question, is it only ego that craves this illumination of the mind, or is there something else much deeper that yearns for it? My warning is this, be careful as being on all the time has a cost.