Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Sweetest Music You've Never Heard

A few years ago I lived for a time in Southern Oregon.

The state of Oregon has two big cities, a couple of large towns, a bunch of small towns, and a lot of "back woods" area. Back woods was where I lived, the nearest towns were Merlin, Grants Pass and Williams.

The biggest industry in the south of the State used to be logging, but the bottom fell out of that, and now the main source of income for large parts of the rural area is pot growing. I knew senior citizens who grew ten or so plants on their back porch to help stretch the social security check.

But I didn't support myself that way.

I did a fair amount of graphics work of one sort or another, and I taught Pencak Silat to a nice sized group of very dedicated students. I did a few other things as well, nothing very exciting.

I had moved to Oregon because I wanted to rest for a bit, to let my soul heal, The wilderness is always a good place for that, so I got a small house with a fair amount of land around it near the Rogue River, and there I stayed for a little time.

One of my clients was the local herb shop, called (oddly enough) The Herb Shop, down in Grants Pass.

I had started out making them brochures and business cards, then built their web site and a few other things like that. Over time I started doing other work there, sometimes a little consulting, I have a background in herbal medicine from my pencak silat training and a lifelong interest in the subject, but we will save that for another time.

I became good friends with the owner and staff of the shop, and they all ended up in my martial arts class. This was a little amusing, as everyone there was your classic Pacific North West Hippy type, not the kind of people you would think would study one of the more brutal and viscous martial arts on the planet. But it worked out nicely. I think it was mostly because I am a good cook (we used to do class pot-lucks on a regular basis) and I know how to fix backs and sore muscles.

One day I walked into the shop, and discovered a new woman behind the counter. She was interesting for a couple of reason, one of which was she was one of the very few white people I had ever seen who looked good in dreadlocks. And what dreadlocks they were, massive, thick and down to her waist.

jen-1

I went up and introduced myself, I was always in and out of the shop and I didn't want her to be startled if I popped out of the back room or some such.

She was very pleasant but very reserved, there was nothing much for me to anchor her with in my memory.

I didn't even really catch her name, and for a couple of months I knew her I thought of her as "That Sadhu Girl", because her Dreads reminded me of the Shivite holy men that I used to run across in India.

One day I get a call from my friend Chris. He says "Hey, we are all going down to hear Jen play tonight, ya wanna come?" "Jen?" I inquired. "Yeah, you know, the girl from the Herb Shop." "ah" I said, "the sadhu girl, is she any good?" "I don't know, but it will be more fun than staying at home and watching the grass grow."

So we agreed to meet at a local pub and micro-brewery (Oregon is nuts for micro-breweries) that was the hangout for people who wanted to listen to local talent perform. A couple of friends and myself even played there a few times, but that is another story (The place has since gone out of business, but I don't think it was because of my playing).

Jen was working in a "side man" spot with her guitar for some guy that styled himself as "Nightshade" along with his girlfriend who did backups as well for him. During the break Jen was listed as doing a solo set.

"Nightshade" was terrible!

He was one of those acts that you will only find at the very mellow "local talent" venues in small towns. His mother no doubt knew the mother of the pub owner and used her influence to get him the gig. Any place else and he would have been booed off the stage, but in a local joint like this you just sort of ignore him, for his mother's sake.

His lyrics were badly done narcissistic platitudes about what an anarchist he was.

He wore a dress.

I think it was to show how in touch he was with his feminine side. But if that were the case his feminine side had no fashion sense. The dress clashed with his pumps and he had no idea on how to accessorize.

Whoever set up the sound must have been this guy's only fan (or his mother) because you could not hear anything from the other musicians. I could see the Sadhu girl's hands moving on her guitar, but I could not hear a note she was playing.

By the time their first set was wrapping up I was having a lot of good thoughts about watching my grass grow.

I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by walking out just then, before Jen had a chance to do her solo thing. It was a small club, she would have noticed. So I figured I would sit and grit my teeth through her set, then, having paid my dues, I could beg off the rest of the evening and go home to check on lawn length.

Jen came back out and sat down, plugged in her guitar, fixed her microphone and started her set.

I remember sitting up in my chair, stunned.

Her voice was sweet, rich, textured. He songs were poetry, original, from the heart. She still had that reserve that I always felt from her, but not as much. She was beautiful.

It was like walking out from some dark, fetid storm drain and finding yourself in a sunlit meadow full of sweet grass. I had never dreamed that there was so much talent in a small dreadlocked young woman.

I think it was in the last third of her second song that I fell in love with her.

I am not talking about the "hey you're cute, let's go to bed" kind of love, or the "hey, I would very much like to own you" kind of love.

This was the "pardon me, you seem to have left a window to your soul open and I accidentally caught a glimpse of who you are, do you mind if I cherish that moment forever?" kind of love.

concurrent with this realization was the understanding that nothing would ever come of it.

There were a couple of reasons.

First, she was already involved.

Second I am sort of old and beat up.

If I were a cat I would not be a regal Siamese, or a cuddly tabby. I would be that cat you see sometimes in the ally, all gristle, scar tissue and attitude. Not something you offer a saucer of milk to.

And she sat there singing, opening up a universe of poetic beauty to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

What do you do in a case like this?

I thought about immediately moving to another state, or perhaps out of the country again. But I was not finished with Oregon yet. So I fell back on "The Rules".

These would be how a "gentleman" conducts himself in such a situation.

Rule number one is you never under any circumstances let her get even the smallest hint of how you feel. It would be an unwanted intrusion, an invasion of her privacy.

Number two, become as much of a friend as she will let you be, without intruding, without ever expecting anything from her.

Number three, the most important thing, Support her in being who she is. Help her bring it out in whatever small way you can.

So over the next several months I proceeded to do exactly these things to the best of my ability, it was interesting.

I think we became friends, though I always kept something of a distance from her. I never wanted to get close enough for her to notice that I tended to get a little distracted by her.

I was able, I think to help support her as an artist in some small ways. I made sure that I was able to remind her that her art had value and that people would want to hear her.

I was able to do a few other small things as well. But mostly I just tried to be a friend.

There was a time that she needed to get down to San Francisco. I happened to be driving down at the same time on business and so was able to give her a lift. I managed to get her to talk about herself on the trip, she was usually quite shy and hard to draw out, but for some reason she opened up on that drive. She told me her life story. I came to realize that she was a person of great depth, I could have spent the next thirty years getting to know her, and still never understand the depths of her. She had the soul of a poet, with all of the infinite variation this implies.

At some point she decided to do a CD of her music. She had a bit of money to pay for studio time, so she went for it.

She asked me if I would be willing to help with some of the graphics for the album. I had just finished doing the cover and liner for a local Celtic group called Silverhand and was more than happy to do what ever I could to help.

One of the things she needed was promotional pictures.

Much to my delight I got to spend a day photographing her in all manner of outdoor settings. It was a lot of fun to get my camera to capture even a small part of her essence.

And I got to hear her music as it evolved toward its final form on the CD.

Then bad thing started happening.

George Bush ended up in the White House and the economy of Oregon went into the toilet a few months later. It was getting harder and harder to find work in the area, I was having to go all the way to California to find enough work to make ends meet.

Jen was also having trouble with getting the album finished within budget, and getting someone to do the mixing the way she wanted it. Things were moving slow.

While I tried to keep things together long enough to finish Jen's project it turned out to be impossible and I had to head south to resume various duties I had put aside for a while. I did have one consolation though, I was able to burn the various cuts to the album to a CD. They were not the final mix, but they were what I listened to while working on the project.

In the three years since I left Oregon I have gone entirely around the world, and Jen's music went with me. The music reminds me that there is still beauty in the world, and of a dear friend. Sometime I have played the CD for friends in one of the places my work has sent me, and they have all enjoyed the hearing of it.

Last night I was surfing the web, looking for new music. I hit a site at random and discovered that Jen finished her CD.

If you like Folk Music, you should take a look, have a listen and if you like it get yourself a copy

jen-3

The Cool Blue Blog: A State's right

The Cool Blue Blog: A State's right

Now here is something we can all agree about (and if Frank and I can agree about something you know it has to be true).

The federal government has taken draconian measures to stop States from being able to implement laws that have been passed by the people on the issue of medical marijuana use.

Whatever your opinion on medical marijuana use, if you are not concerned about the Federal government arrogating so much control to itself over what should be a State issue, then you had better take another look.

Personally, I have always found it suspect that the GOP, who is always talking about goverment getting too big, and having too much control, supports crushing State's rights and the will of the local people in this so strongly.

Of course if States let sick people use marijuana to feel better and cope with their illnesses, the DEA might get its budget cut, and drug comapnies (the biggest pushers in the world) might not be making so much money.

The only thing prohibition has ever served to do is fill up our prisons, glut the budgets of enforcement agencies and empower the criminal under-class to the point where they have more money and power than honest citizens.



Sunday, November 28, 2004

Views from the Bloggingsphere

I really had no idea what blogging was all about when I started this endeavor a few days ago.

A friend of mine, my best friend actually, a fellow by the name of Steve Barnes, wanted me to help him set up a blog.

Steve is a writer.

I don't mean an aspiring writer, or a part time writer, he is in that elite class of writers who make their entire living by working at their craft. (And he makes a very good living).

Steve has twenty novels published, two of which have made the NY Times Best Seller List, as well as several screen plays. Amanda Plummer picked up an Emmy for her work with one of Steve's Outer Limits scripts, "A Stich In Time".

Steve is amazing at developing characters. If you read his books you become totally engaged with the people he is writing about. (You can read a bit about Steve's thoughts on Characterization here).

I suspect that he can do this because he engages with people the same way. He loves to connect with people and find out what makes them uniquely who they are. He has more empathy than any other three people I know.

So when he started hearing about blogging, he decided that it might be an interesting way to reach out to people, make some connections, especially people who are interested in writing themselves.

So one day a couple of weeks ago Steve gives me a call and asks me to build a blog into his website.

Why would he ask someone who knows nothing about blogging for help on a project like this? Well, I build and maintain his web sites, so perhaps it was a natural assumption that I would know about setting up a blog.

The truth is I was woefully ignorant of everything about blogging. (though I was not going to tell Steve that, I like to keep him thinking that I am an expert on everything). I had read a few entries from a couple of blogs and that was it.

So I did what I usually do in cases like this, I went for the full immersion learning.

I armed myself with a pound of organic Tanzania Peaberry coffee, a good supply of Red Bush tea, and sat myself down in front of the computer, typed "Blog" into Google and hit my Enter key.

One of the first things I found was a useful article from Wired. This lead to other things to read, I spent a whole day reading everything I could find on the art and science of blogging. When I thought I had enough basic information, I grabbed my specially modified, heavily armored, Mark One Mozilla Firefox browser and took the plunge:

Into the Bloggingsphere

I began reading blogs. Every one I could find. I quickly came to realize that this was a whole other dimension of the Internet. It sort of felt like I had gone out the back door of "The Leaky cauldron" and found myself in Diagon Alley, only much weirder.

There was, at least for me, a somewhat voyeuristic feel to it. Sort of like when you go to one of those websites that have a web cam in a room, and you can watch somebody going about their life. Only in this case it is not a web cam into the room, it is a web cam into someone's mind, which is much more intimate than a camera in the living room, and sometimes a lot more spooky.

It, for me at least, has the feel of being someplace just a little different, like wandering into an ethnic quarter of a big city. It is like going to China Town in San Francisco and wandering out of the tourist strip. You know that you are still in the same city, but you also have the feeling that you are in a completely alien place. I started to think of it as a sort of alternate reality, and I named it in my mind as the "Bloggingsphere".

"They come not from the Spaces we know, but from the angles between them, what the Necronomican calls The Bloggingsphere"


One of my first discoveries was that Sturgeon's law held true in the Bloggingsphere. There are a lot of completely uninteresting, poorly written blogs out there.

I also discovered that there are some sad, pathetic blogs.

Some of the most heart wrenching are the blogs of teenage girls talking about their anorexia and bulimia, especially the blogs that give advice on how to avoid parental notice of one's eating disorder.

Bloggers seem to be quite young on average, teens and twenties are what I keep seeing in profiles, and it seems that a whole lot more women and girls are blogging than men and boys.

And, if you take the time to look, you can fine some real gems, blogs worth coming back to.

My favorite so far is DisOrganization, which has a nice mix of content, and is both engaging and well written. I found myself "cheering" this women on in my mind as she wrote about her life and her career as a writer.

A close second is Ecce Mulier, this blog is much more "poetic" than the first one I mentioned. Psychically, reading this blog is a lot like walking out of an air conditioned office building in Dar Es Salaam and being hit with the 85% humidity and 90 degree temperature, smelling the heavy, sweet breeze coming up from the Indian ocean. It can catch you off balance, but it can wake you up.

Then there are the "commentary" blogs, millions of them it seems. Most are fairly boring but there are a couple of note.

First is the Cool Blue Blog, which is actually run by an acquaintance and "internet friend". It is one of the only "Right Wing" blogs I can stomach reading, because regardless of the flaws in his politics (according to me) he can and does think.

Another is small flightless bird, which is fun because it gives a Canadian perspective. Most people in the US, as far as I can tell, are oblivious to the fact that there is a whole country just north of us, and that what we do often has an effect on them. The guy who writes this blog is often witty and it is worth a look.

I ran across a category that both surprised and delighted me, Muslim Women writers.

There are a couple of blogs that stand out for me in this category.

WriteousSister has some interesting writing on it, and is well worth a look.

and lastly we have AnthroGal's World, she has, at least for me, been an interesting person to read. I find what she has to say hopeful. She is not filling the stereotype of a "Muslim woman", which is refreshing.

The Next Big Step

Now, after all that research I was ready experiment. I had taken a look at all the blogging services I could find, and had decided that Blogger would be my best choice for building a blog. It is free, and you can, if you have some skills with HTML (and I do) customize it to your heart's content. Blogger is less intrusive than any of the other free services I checked out.

So I sat down and thought about what I would like to say to the world at large. What parts of myself would I be willing to expose to public scrutiny and what about my life and thought might be of interest.

I tend to be a very private person. I do a fair amount of work on the 'net, such as moderating eGroups,. I have built a persona for doing this, and whenever I need to do something with one of these groups I just slip into character and play my role.

So I decided that my experimental blog would be a sort of vacation, that I would talk about what I am personally interested in and the parts of my life that most people don't get to see.

Some of my Silat students (the teenagers) had been telling me that I should have a blog where I could put my thoughts about martial arts and the other things I talk about in class, so that is what I decided to do.

So The Traceless Warrior was born.

Surprisingly, people started reading the thing, and were seemingly enjoying what they read. While I thought that I would keep this blog going for a couple of weeks until I had learned everything I could from doing it, I now find that I am enjoying this. I suspect that I will keep it up as long as there are people who are interested in what I have to say.

And Steve's blog? (You remember Steve, this is a story about Steve and the blog he wanted).

Well I built it for him. He had a rudimentary blog that he had started at (shudder) AOL so I transferred his messages to his new home at Blogger, and he is up and running.

You should give him a visit at Dar Kush.




War and Killing

I have been hearing a lot of talk recently about the Marine who shot the wounded Iraqi fighter during the take over of Fallujah. You can read some comments about it here The Cool Blue Blog: Unconscionable.(my favorite "Right Wing" blog).

(If you want to get any kind of real view as to what is going on in the world you have to read both the Left, the Right, and the Middle, take all the data and divide by two, then add a large pinch of salt, only then is it possible that you may catch a quick glimpse of reality.)


Since the shooting was caught on tape, we have all sorts of spins being put on the event.

Some people are saying "Oh, that poor Iraqi solder, did you see how that Marine just shot him, FOR NO REASON!"

And other people are saying "Served him right for messing with the manifest Destiny of America! Kill them all, I say".

And of course pro-Wahabi groups are making a big deal out of the "Evil Marine's heartless killing of the wounded Iraqi Freedom Fighter." A sentiment notably lacking when Iraqis cut the heads off non-combatants, and murder women in direct opposition to the instructions on ethical warfare as laid out by the Quran and the Prophet of Islam).

All these people are missing the point! If you are in a war, and you walk by a pile of enemy dead, and you see one of them starting to move, you are SUPPOSED to shoot him.

Do you know how many solders have been killed by dead enemy troops after they walked by them?

In the history of warfare the number is too high to count. Since the first cave man played dead until his rival walked past, then got up and hit him in the head with a rock, till today, it is a tactic that has been used millions of times, and has taken millions of lives.

You will also find that the "enemy" (whoever they are this week) will booby-trap dead bodies and wounded solders, both his and ours.

Shucks, if it had been me going into the room, I would have shot the guy as well. It is very embarrassing to be shot in the back by the corpse you just passed.

The problem is that people no longer understand what Warfare is. It has become a big media event used to further political careers and to sell all manner of consumer products. War has become entertainment.

So let me explain to you what war is.

War is where a group of people (let's call them group A) goes over to the home turf of another group of people (group B) and starts killing members of the second group until they agree to do whatever Group A wants them to do. Or, in some cases Group B proves to be to tough, and Group A gives up and goes home. When that happens, sometimes Group B will go to the home of Group A and start killing them until THEY agree to do what Group B wants.

When you take away all the flag waving, self-serving moral justifications, religious hype, and "He said/She said" B.S., that is war.

If you want to have a war with someone else, then you need to tell the media to go sit in a corner while your military goes in and kills people until they give up and do what you want them to do.

And you need to do it quickly.
Sun Tzu said:
When making war, seek a quick victory.

A drawn out war will blunt weapons and dampen ardor.

If troops lay siege to a walled city, their strength will be exhausted.

If the army is exposed to a prolonged campaign, the nation's resources will not suffice.

When weapons are blunted, and ardor dampened, strength exhausted, and resources depleted, the neighboring rulers will take advantage of these complications.
Just take a look at the Viet Nam war, it is a classic example of not paying attention to the above statement, with the extra added insanity of politicians playing to the media at the expense of the lives of the troops.

Do you know how incredibly stupid and wasteful of human lives it is to fight a war based on ratings?

So, if the American people want to fight a war they should tell the media boys to sit down, shut up and let the military do their jobs without interference from arm-chair generals, or wimp politicians trying to lubricate their careers with the blood of solders.

Or better yet, send the reporters along with their cameras so we can all see what war is like.

Maybe we need to see some nineteen year old kid laying on the ground, trying to hold his intestines in and crying for his mother, maybe we should see children with their limbs blown off, or a baby sitting in the dirt, holding its mother's head, crying, with the mother's body in several pieces around her.

maybe we need to see some young marine put a bullet in an enemy solder who may be playing opossum, because he is scared, and exhausted and wants to make it home to his girlfriend, so he can feel loved by her rather than frightened all the time.

And we should have a big red banner across the TV screen saying

THIS IS WHAT WE DO IN YOUR NAME

Because it is you know. This is still a Democracy, a country ruled by the people. So what is being done in Iraq is being done in your name. If you approve of the war then stop sniveling about solders doing their job, and doing it in such a way that they have a chance of coming home again.

If you do not approve of the war, the rather than lynching some kid who was just trying to stay alive in a place where everyone wants to kill him, get on the cases of the politicians who you put in office and tell them to get us the hell out of Iraq. If they don't, then recall them and put someone in office who will listen to the will of the people.

That's the direction I take. I am pretty sure that the guy in the White House is insane and we really need to start taking responsibility for the actions of our government. After all, It still belongs to us.

So if you support the war, then stop complaining that people are doing things that are not proper in polite society, like shooting people who just might be hoping to shoot you and your friends in the back. Take A Look at what is being done in your name, count the body bags coming home. That is what is happening because YOU want it to happen.

And if you don't like the war, work to stop it. Recall your representatives, impeach Bush, Demand a full disclosure of who is profiting from this war.

But don't scapegoat some poor kid who just wants to make it through the hell we sent him to, and is doing what he must to survive, and don't blame the camera man for showing us what it takes to survive.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Red Bush Tea and other simple pleasures

When I came back to the States this time, I discovered that there was a growing interest in Red Bush tea, it seems like almost a fad. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised. Even though it is fairly common these days in Africa, I somehow never thought it would gain a following in the States. I am happy that it has caught on here though, It is really good, it is healthy, and if a lot of people buy it perhaps nobody will strip mine the mountains where it grows.

Red Bush tea comes from South Africa, which is the most developed country on the continent. South Africa is making commercial inroads anywhere in Africa where there is enough stability to support them. So in Tanzania you have a high end supermarket chain and a Fast Food franchise to name a couple of things.

The fast food chain is called "Steers" and it is quickly becoming the MacDonald's of Africa. You can find them all the way up to Kenya. They offer the standard fair of Burgers, fries and soda. The food is not very good, but it is expensive. People who eat there do it as a sort of status thing.

The supermarket chain (at least in Tanzania) caters to the Ex-patriot community, the wealthy, Tourists, and UN staff. (Arusha is where the Rwanda War-Crimes trials are going on). They are a place where people go to get luxuries rather than staples. You can find Lays potato chips there (licensed and manufactured in South Africa) and American style catsup. And you can get South African coffee, like "Kloof Coffee" which is a good quality bean mixed with chicory root. I sort of developed a taste for coffee with chicory when I was bumming around New Orleans, and it was a real treat to discover that South Africans had also taken a liking to the mix. You can also get Red Bush and Honey Bush teas, which until I returned to the States I though were an African secret. Try some of either if you would like to do something nice for yourself.

Speaking of coffee, here is a bit of high weirdness. Tanzania produces some of the best coffee in the world, like Tanzania Peaberry, and do you know what everyone drinks? Instant! That's right, instant coffee, go figure. As far as instant goes the local stuff, like Afri-Caf is OK, as long as you don't try to tell yourself that it is real coffee. You could, if you looked, find small bags of beans (but nothing to grind them with) or you could find commercial coffees, but they were all made from Robusta beans (shudder) imported form South Africa. And even if you could find the coffee, finding a good way to make it is not so easy. You can get a "Mr Coffee" for a huge amount of money, but who would want one?

This presented a problem.

I am not a "heavy" coffee drinker, but I do really love to have a cup in the morning, and maybe, if I have the time another in the afternoon. I have to admit, it is something I really enjoy.

I did manage to find an espresso shop down where the Mzungu hang out, but that didn't quite do it for me. Espresso and cappuccino are nice now and again, but sometimes the best thing in the world is just a plain cup of coffee.

Well, I guess the coffee fairy took pity on me or something, because one day a shop opened down in the tourist shopping center. This German Ex-Pat opened up a high quality coffee roasting shop. Not only that but he had imported a number of "French Presses".

Like a lot of Germans, he exhibited that tendency toward perfectionism which gave us Mercedes and BMW, when it came to selecting and roasting coffee beans. He also was a supporter of Fair Trade Coffee , so the beans he got put money in the hand of the farmer who was taking the time to grow pure organic Arabica coffee.

I spent the better part of a half hour bargaining with the guy to get the price of the press down to something that was not totally obscene, and then had him grind me a kilo of his best Fair Trade peaberry.

I hope whoever reads this will give a thought to the idea of making purchase of Fair Trade products like coffee a regular practice. The cost difference is usually minimal, the product is better, and it is good for your Karma.

Just look for
fairtrade.gif
on your products.


So thanks to a German perfectionist, I was able to spend my afternoons sipping truly magnificent coffee and nibbling on fresh mango. Living in the Third World can be a trial

Friday, November 26, 2004

More on Slicing Time

Since I mentioned this I have gotten a few emails asking me to say more about it, so here we go.

The idea of "slicing time' works sort of like this.

Let's say that we have a unit of time, say ten seconds. A "slice" of that ten seconds would be the amount of time that you were actually present and focused on the external world and paying attention to what was happening without commenting to your self about it.

A "slice of time" is very close to what the old Japanese martial arts call "Zanshin", which is often translated as Warrior Mind.

The degree to which one "slices time" is the degree to which one has one's attention is broadly focused in the present, in "Zanshin".

So in that ten seconds, perhaps two seconds are devoted to being in a "slice of time" and eight seconds are devoted to internal thoughts, planning, considering, and ruminating. This is what I call "slicing time thickly".

Another way to think of it is walking down the street with a camera, every ten seconds you stop and take a picture, each picture is a "slice". Now if you do the same exercise, but take a picture every second, you will have much more information at the end of your walk, that is "slicing time thinly".

In any kind of stressful situation you will do better if you are slicing your time thinly because you will be receiving a lot more information as to what is going on.

I should take a moment here to mention that these are not original ideas of mine. A whole lot of people before me have noticed this. Some of the language in describing it is mine, but a lot of the language and descriptions come from Coach Scott Sonnon, who has some of the clearest understanding of the inner workings of martial arts I have run across.

So what keeps us from slicing time in very thin sections? I call it "internal considering" for lack of a better term. This is the amount of time you spend thinking about what could happen, what did happen a moment ago, planning your future actions, hashing over what you should have done but didn't do, coupled with your body's emotional reactions. (Most often stress, fear and the like).

In any kind of martial practice, this sort of "inner considering" puts one at a disadvantage.

How do you learn to slice time thinly?

You must learn to unify you breath, structure, and movement. You must release the chronic tension that is associated with fear and pain.

In martial practice this is very much like the "fire triangle" you may remember from elementary school. If all three are present then you have "combustion" remove any one and the process begins to unravel.

So if I am sparring with someone and I can disrupt one point of this triangle while keeping my integrity, that I have an advantage, if I can disrupt two of the three points, then I have a big advantage, if I can disrupt all three then the match is pretty much mine.

One of the very interesting effects of slicing time thinly is that you will often experience "time dilation", thing will seem to happen in slow motion and you will feel like you have lots of time to respond to whatever is happening.

Well, enough for the moment. If anyone is reading this and finds it interesting please leave a note and I will expand further.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

An Armed Society? Part 2

It seems that I may have poked some sacred cows, or clasted someone's icon or something with my last post on this subject.

I even got a couple of messages forwarded to me from internet mailing lists where what I said was being discussed. (is that weird? It seem a little weird that I can say something and literally hundreds of people read it)

My favorite was a fellow from some kind of pro-gun forum who could only comment on a couple of spelling errors I made. I can never figure that one, even though I have seen it a lot on mailing lists. "Ha! Your argument is invalid and I may ignore it because you have miss-spelled a word and used a semi-colon rather than a comma!! Now I will taunt you with your mistake." (let he who has never miss-spelled throw the first stone)

It sort of reminds me of back when lots of Europeans thought that the Earth was flat and would kill people who disagreed with them. Now none of these people ever went out and checked to see if the world was in fact flat, they just assumed that whoever told them it was, were right and made it into a dogma.

personally, I like Heinlein a lot, he is one of my very favorite authors, but he is in fact a FICTION writer. And some of his ideas just don't stand up to actual objective experience.

If anyone wants to check out the proposition that "An armed society is a polite society", all they have to do is take a vacation. First spend two weeks in Sweden and then two weeks in Israel.

Swedes are, in my experience, the nicest most polite people in the world. Their whole culture is built on respect for each other.

Israelis on the other hand are just about the rudest, most abrasive people on the planet.

Sweden is not an armed society at all. Some people have guns for hunting, but that is about it. Israel is an armed society, lots of people have firearms so that they can defend themselves.

I would suggest that such clever generalizations as the one being discussed here are of very little use, and in fact operating from such assumptions can be dangerous when a person comes in contact with the real world.

Now I am not against people being armed, quite the opposite in fact. I just think that people should be a little more in touch with reality about what being armed does and does not do for you or your culture.


What in the heck is a "Traceless Warrior"?

Something to aspire to.

I had to come up with a title for this thing, at first I thought I would call the blog "Mushtaq Ali's senile ramblings", but that lacked a certain euphony.

So I pondered a bit more and came up with "Traceless Warrior". I though it sounded suitably mysterious and profound so I slapped it into the title section.

Sun Tzu said:
to overcome your opponent without doing battle is the highest level of skill.
Therefore, the best strategy is to defeat the opponent's plans, next is to divide and disrupt the opponent's resources, and energy, next is to directly engage your opponent, and the worst is to attack your opponent when he is in a fortified or strong position.
I have always liked Sun Tzu's idea that the best General is one that you have never heard of because he defeats his opponent without having to bring the engagement to the level of overt "battle" so no one ever hears of him.

Think about it. Everyone knows the names of the people who have destroyed hundreds of cities and killed thousands of people, but no one knows the name of the guy who arranged events in such a way that his city was never attacked, or even noticed.

So to me, the greatest warriors are the ones you never see or hear of, who leave no trace of themselves because they have no ego involved in what they do, and who choose effectiveness and preserving life over fame and glory.

What is a "warrior"? Ever since the Sixties, when "Teachings of Don Juan" became popular, the term "warrior" has been tossed about and claimed by all manner of groups and philosophies, each one saying that they know the "truth of the "warrior".

Personally, I think that there is no one true definition of "warrior", there are only personal definitions which are true for each individual.

There is an old fable from Japan That I often use to illustrate what a warrior is to me;

One day the inhabitants of a certain pond decided that they should have a king. They held a meeting, and after much discussion they all agreed to ask Heron to be their king because he was such a great warrior.

So the inhabitants of the pond, the frogs, the fish, the mice and all the others, went to Heron and asked him to be their king. Heron agreed, and within a month the pond was empty, Heron had eaten them all. The moral of the story is "Never allow the warrior to be the king."

A warrior must be the servant of something greater than himself (or herself) or he runs the risk of devouring everything around him.

So to me, a warrior is one who serves something greater than himself. A warrior's first and greatest battle is against his own ego, his mechanical nature, his "body of habits".

That's why it is something to aspire to, at least for me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Slicing Time

There has been a story going around for years about a sparring match I had with an acquaintance, it even made it into a book. (life is funny that way)

I bring this up because I was told by a friend the other day that the story is still circulating.

Now the stories as told in books and on the web are in fact a very accurate accounts of what happened as viewed by a hypothetical outside observer, but they don't really address why events unfolded in the way that they did.

The story is basically this.

several, even many, years ago I was introduced, by a mutual friend to a fellow who had just started out on a career as a writer in the area of self defense. He was a a likeable kid, though he had a very cocky attitude, and tended to focus on himself a great deal, he made up for it by being witty and personable. He had come out with a book on knife fighting just before we met.

We talked over the course of a couple of months, meeting frequently at the house of our mutual friend. We obviously talked a lot about things martial as it was an interest for both of us. He was not familiar with Indonesian or Filipino martial arts and I had been offering my opinion that they had a lot to offer someone who had an interest in blade based fighting. His interest was definitely up, but he was a little dubious about what I was saying. It sort of went against what he had come up with in the way of theory.

So one day we decided that he needed to experience what I was talking about and see how it worked for himself.

Now you need to understand that this was an entirely friendly situation. It was not a "challenge" match or anything stupid like that, neither of us wanted to, or had any intention of, hurting the other. It was just a friendly sparring session to put the experience to the theory. No winner, no loser.

So we repaired to the back yard and played about for a bit. He discovered that I was accurate in what I had said. We sparred for a few minutes, from the outside what someone would have seen would have been something like this.

My acquaintance and I squared off and began our engagement. I slipped his traps, moved in close to him and made a few touches while redirecting his attacks. After a couple of minutes of this he stepped back and gave me a WTF!!! look, and I uttered the now famous line "Dude, you're fighting me like I was a big guy".

Well, I am 6'2" and weigh about 200 lb, and the other guy is quite a bit shorter than me so he was, I suppose, expecting me to play a distance fight. It may in fact have puzzled him a bit that I tend to like to play a close game. But that was not the reason that he was so disconcerted by the experience (and he was, by his own account).

Think about it for a moment, the guy was a fairly competent fighter, and being small he was used to working in close, the fact that I would move in and press him should have given him no more than a moment's pause. I never did tell him why he was so thrown off by our engagement, and he drew the wrong conclusion from it (even though his conclusion was accurate as far as it went)

Here is a "secret". The person who wins an encounter, whether it is a fight or sparring or a mugging is most often the person who recovers more quickly from surprise, shock and failure.

I was able to disconcert the guy and slip in on him because I was "slicing time" more thinly than then he was.

Now there is nothing mystical or anything about this. It is a matter of how much attention and flexibility a person can apply to conflict. How much a person can stay in the "moment" and not be pushed into thinking about the encounter.

Here is the inner workings of the encounter. First knowing that eventually we would play together, I had paid attention to everything the guy had told me about his training, (a fair amount of "street" a bit of military cqc, and a little wing chun) I watched him move and studied him as he taught some of his stuff. I paid a lot of attention to the patterns of chronic tension he held. So I went into the session knowing a lot more about him than he did about me.

To slice time thinly you have to stay in the moment of the encounter, you have to work within your breath, you have to let thinking give way to sensing. Then you can recover from being surprised by things not going as you want quickly. (I know that this sounds semi-mystical, but it is not)

This is usually not enough though, you have to get the other guy to do exactly the opposite. And that is what I did to my acquaintance to throw him off and disconcert him.

Good fighters tent to fight heuristically, that is they follow unconscious "rules of thumb" that they have developed through constant drilling of techniques. This is an effective strategy in that one can respond quickly to a threat. There is a down side to this though. The drills become habit, and if a habit is interrupted then the person has to "recalibrate", and this takes time. The more a person has to "recalibrate" the more thickly they slice time.

So, when we engaged, I gave him a strike that he reacted to with a lop sao, but I rolled the lop and touched him in the ribs. As he experienced his technique failing he had to "re-set" and this gave me a moment to press in closer and disrupt him even more. As he kept "failing" he did what most people do, he started "bracing", that is to say that he began holding his breath and locking his muscles. This of course slowed him down even more and allowed me to both press him, destabilize him and make more of his techniques fail. This of course leads to a downward spiral and he was spending more and more time thinking about how to respond to what I was doing. There was also an emotional component that worked in my favor. He had a lot of ego involvement in being a "fighter", and having his skills not work unbalanced him at the "self image" level. When that happens a person can spend a lot of time thinking about things.

Here is another secret. The moment you take time to think about things in a fight, you are likely to lose.

My acquaintance, like a lot of fighters, carried huge amounts of chronic tension in his body which came out when he was put under stress making him very inefficient. He made up for this by putting a lot more energy into his techniques and causing his breath to degenerate.

A good fighter, especially one who focuses on drilling limited skill sets usually never learns the trick of slicing time thinly. This is too bad as it is a limit that is never really overcome.

How do you overcome the limitation? Free your body and breath, balance drills with sparring with an uncooperative opponent, learn to let breath power movement, live at the level of constant suprise as often as you can so that you can learn to be comfortable with it.

What happened to my acquaintance? a few years later I introduced him to one of the very best Silat teachers in the US, and he began to study with him. If he stayed with him long enough to get past the basics he will have learned to overcome his limitations.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Good Knife is a Joy Forever

Some of my friends in Tanzania are hunters.

Now I am not talking about the so called "big game" or trophy hunter, the kind of fellow who does come over to Africa from time to time to time to kill a few things so that he can have his picture taken with the carcasses. These people are usually viewed as a necessary evil at best. When they do come to hunt, they are taken for all they are worth by the locals (though they usually don't realize that they are paying twenty times what the real cost of the hunt is)

The people I know hunt to put meat on the table. Protein is much more expensive than carbs, and in a place where the average monthly income works out to about $50.00 US, you don't buy a lot of steaks, and tofu is an exotic food that you would pay as much for as beef (if you could find it).

So people will raise chickens or goats when they can, and hunt whenever they have the opportunity. (Of course I am talking about people who don't live in the big city, the folks in Dar have it a lot harder than do people in Moshi or Arusha)

And you know what? Wild meat is GOOD! For my taste Eland is as good as it gets, it is equal to (but different than) the best Colorado Elk. It is harder to come by than some game though.

Impala

impala_3

is also very good, as well as being plentiful.

So, one day I am talking with some of my friends about hunting, and I ask them what they do with the hides and horns. The look at me a little strangely (I get that a lot) and say "we leave them with the head and hoofs for the hyenas." "WHAT??!!" I said, shocking them just a little I think. "Don't you use the hide and horn?" I asked. "For what would we use them?" they replied, a bit puzzled I admit. I asked them to save me the hide and horns from whatever they took and I would show them.

I grew up hunting, and for the same reasons my friends here hunted, to put food on the table. It was a matter of honor that when anyone of my family took some game we used everything we could from the animal, letting nothing go to waste out of respect for the life we had cut short. It was something my grandfather insisted on (he was Mesclaro Apache and tried to give us kids a little of what he knew to be true about how to be in the world).

One of the things I discovered when I first got to Tanzania is that it was imposable to get a good knife of the kind I was used to. Everyone used either a Panga or a sime for cutting, smaller knives were not to be found or if you did find one the quality was VERY bad and the price was VERY high.

Most of my friends used Sime for dressing out game.

sword_2

Now as you can see, a sime is a double edged short sword. It is a weapon that can serve double duty as a tool. A Maasai can do pretty much anything with it he wants because he has been using it daily from the time he could first pick one up. For the rest of us, it is a rather awkward tool.

I had made the acquaintance with a young Massai Fundi (fundi means "skilled craftsman" in Swahili) who made sime for a living. I had purchased a good quantity of his work to ship back to the States and we had a nice working relationship.

I spend a couple of days doing up some drawings and then looked him up. I asked him if he would make some new blades fro me in a different pattern. Now Maasai are quite conservative, which is something that has served them well in that they have been able to preserve their traditions and way of live in the face of first colonialism then communism and then capitalism, so my friend was at first a bit dubious about these new blade styles. after quite a bit of discussion and haggling over price we came to an arrangement and he agreed to make the blades for me.

While my Fundi was making blades I was getting a nice collection of hide and horn from Grants and Thompson's Gazelle, Impala and wildebeest.

The blade designs I had drawn up were traditional South Western patterns, Large and small Bowie blades, skinners, and what I guess you would call "utility" blades. We call the smaller utility blades "patch knives", a term that goes back to the days of muzzle loading firearms.

When I got the blades, I locked myself in the workshop and started fitting them out. Here are two examples

arusha_bowie2

The one on your left is fitted with a Grant's Gazelle handle, and the one on the right with a Thompson's, which is nice because the shape of the horn makes the grip quite comfortable. That knife became my everyday carry blade and I was always quite happy with it.

I fitted the knives with sheaths I made leather I tanned from the hides and began to give the finished products to my friends. It created quite a stir, no one had ever used a knife that was actually designed for skinning and dressing out game, and for some reason no one had ever thought of using horn to make the handles. They have become quite the thing to have (go figure).

If there is a moral to this story it is "find ways to think outside the box". Learn to use everything around you as a resource. Try to waste as little as possable. Who knows? you might end up with a good knife (and that is never a bad thing).



Monday, November 22, 2004

An Armed Society?

In one of his books, Robert Heinlein suggested that "An Armed Society is a Polite Society".

He was wrong.

Sorry, I know that a couple of generations of Americans have taken this as dogma, but empirical evidence tells us that this is not true.

By-in-large, Africa is an armed society, and it is not a very polite one. In parts of Africa guns are easier to get than food, and in the more stable areas personal hand to hand weapons are common. In Tanzania, where I like to spend most of my time, you will find people armed with fimbo, a kind of short (1 M or so) staff, the Panga, a kind of machete, the rungu, the traditional Maasai war club, and the Sime, the Maasai short sword, as well as any number of small knives and improvised weapons such as screwdrivers and ice picks. This is all perfectly legal and you will see any number of armed people where ever you go. What you will not find is anything remotely resembling "politeness".

What you do find is that no one respects your "personal space", that you take your life in your hands if you try to cross a busy street (in most of Africa traffic laws are just sort of vague ideas that people give lip service to) That no one cares if they bother you. Drivers will lay on their horns for any reason, people will use loud speakers that rattle buildings to spam the town with whatever they are advertising.

People do get pissed off and kill each other over this sort of thing, and it makes no difference at all.

So, societies are "polite" because they have developed that way, not because there is an implied threat of "I will kill you if you are rude to me".

Africa

Africa

I love Africa, it is one of the most beautiful and intriguing places in the world, I think that if you go there and do not fall in love with it you may not have a soul.

On the other hand, it is one of the most dangerous places on the planet, if you let your awareness drop for even a moment you can end up dead.

I am not talking about "tourist" Africa. It is really funny to see all the "Mzungu" in their air -conditioned buses being herded from one
safe and antiseptic tourist attraction to another, protected from any meaningful contact with what Africa really is.

I am talking about the real Africa, the one that you see only if you live with the people, buy your food from the same market that they do, walk the streets away from the safe tourist areas, Talk to people on the streets.

Life in Africa takes place on the street.

Africa


All day people sit, meet their friends, chat about whatever is going on, do business, drink tea or coffee brought by local street vendors. Life in Africa is raw, in your face, real.

Westerners are often intimidated by this. I spend a lot of time watching the westerners. The Europeans are a little less nervous than Americans, they still get out and walk around back home. Americans spend so much time completely insulated from their environment, (House to car, car to store or shop, back to the car, drive home) that they don't know how to cope with life
out in the open.

And Westerners tend to freak when they see so many weapons openly carried. In the course of a couple of blocks you will see people carrying pangas, (like a machete) Staffs, war clubs, short swords, and the like (not to mention the various buildings being guarded by people with shotguns and AK 47's)

But I love it all, maybe I am just strange.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

An Introduction

I guess one starts these things off with an introductory note.

I have to admit that I am not up on the whole blogging thing, I really didn't give it much thought until a friend asked me to hook up his blog to his website, but several of my students have said that I should put my thoughts out on a blog. Maybe they were just having fun at my expense.

I spend most of my time teaching, mostly what I teach is an obscure martial art that has its origins in Indonesia called Pencak Silat (pronounced Pentjak Silat for you English speakers) When I am in Africa I also teach English and computer graphics. I travel a lot. In the last eighteen months I have been entirely around the globe. My favorite places are the American South West (but I grew up there so I am a little biased) Northern Tanzania, Australia, Sweden. Places I like the least? Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, France.

Like I said, I spend a good deal of time teaching my martial art, which involves traveling a good deal to put on seminars and such for the various schools in the style/system I teach.

The Throw

I have been teaching for about twenty five years now, and I find myself in the odd position of being the senior instructor for my art, with only the head of the system above me. I am not quite sure how that happened as I have never cared about such things, I guess it is just a matter of having lived long enough and having never given up.

Like some other martial arts teachers, and unlike others, I have had to fight for my life a few times. I suspect that this gives me a certain kind of perspective on things, at least I think my approach is a bit different than those who have not been in that unfortunate position.I am not saying my approach is better, just different.

As I understand the whole exercise of blogging, what I am supposed to do is speak into space (as it were) and other people may or may not listen. So that is what I intend to do.



Saturday, November 20, 2004

This should be interesting

Well, lots of people (at least three) have told me I should start a blog and share my thoughts on life, the universe and everything, with a focus on martial arts.

So I have.

It will be interesting to see what may come of it.