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

Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year

May 2005 be a good year for us all.

Is America Cheap?

America pledges only 350 million to disaster relief

I have to admit, this one really pisses me off, various entities are calling the US cheap for only kicking in a measly 350 million US.

Now admittedly the US started out with 15 million, then bumped it up to 35 million before arriving at 350 million. But is that a reason to call America cheap?

I have to admit that I get a little ticked off when the US is everyone's "Great Satan" until such time as they need money, then we are cheap for only giving more than everyone else.

I wonder why no one has bothered to call Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Emirates cheap? Were not the some of the countries hardest hit (Indonesia, Malaysia) Muslim countries?

Of course anyone who has spent time in these Arab countries knows that the Arabs living there regard Indonesians and Malaysians and fit only for menial labor, domestic service and as sex slaves. But no one bothers to point this out.

The Richest Arab countries combined had not even matched the 35 million that the US has come up with so far, and they have the moral duty to provide the most help to their Muslim brothers and sisters at least. So far, the richest Arab countries have come up with nothing more that pocket change to help the relief efforts, but no one has taken them to task for this.

What's up with that?

If the UN and everybody else that thinks that the US should be giving more money would get their collective heads out of their arses and start putting some pressure on the Rich Arab countries to bear some of the burden of helping the countries that they have so long exploited for cheap labor and sex toys I would feel a little better about my country giving so much of the money we need for services back home to help the relief effort.

As for the people (who are never the ones digging into their own pockets) who want to call Americans cheap I have only one reply,

Bugger Off!


Catagories

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe is an Idiot

Of course if I were in Zimbabwe I couldn't say that out loud because President Robert G. Mugabe made it against the law to say anything unkind about him.

Mugabe represents all that is bad about Africa, a parasite that is too stupid not to kill its host.

After a time in Africa you realize that the best you can hope for in most countries are politicians that are not too greedy, ones who will not let their greed and avarice to drive out the most important resources on the continent, which is of course competent people.

This is something we have seen with every country that has freed itself from colonial rule, the first thing that the new government does is drive away the most educated and competent part of the population, which consists of mostly the non-Africans, Indians and Europeans that have made their home Africa.

You have to remember that colonial governments did not want to educate the local population to be anything other than peasant workers in the most menial jobs.

Now driving out non-Africans does relieve some of the hatred that people feel toward the colonials, but it is a lot like shooting yourself in the foot because you don't like a shoemaker.

Mugabe is a classic example of the kind of thug that has managed to take over political office in post colonial Africa, not very bright by half, caring nothing for his country, and only interested in stealing as much from the national treasury as possible while ruining the economy of Zimbabwe.
As this buffoon (yes I am taking every opportunity to insult this dolt, anyone who passes a law forbidding people to speak badly of him deserves as many insults as possible) takes the large commercial farms away from the whites (who are the only ones who know how to turn a profit with them at the moment) and hands them over to his relatives and cronies we see two things happening. First we see the migration of the educated, skilled people to places like Zambia, who welcomes that sort of expertise, and we see the farms given to people who have no idea of how to run them failing, and the economy of Zimbabwe going down the drain.

While it would seem like an intelligent thing to tap the knowledge base of non-Africans who cared enough about Africa to stay on after the colonial governments departed, we rarely see it because it is much more personally profitable for the parasites like Mugabe to keep anger directed at an outside target so that he and his friends can finish looting the country.

So while countries like Zambia, Uganda, and Tanzania benefit from the skills of non-Africans who make their homes in those countries, Zimbabwe is losing its best and brightest, both African and non African, Because of Mugabe and his rampant greed.

When Zimbabwe is completely looted, Mugabe will head for wherever he has stashed all the wealth he has taken from his country and live like a king while his countrymen starve.

We can only trust that like most stupid parasites he may be his own undoing.

Catagories

Monday, December 20, 2004

The "Rules" Part Two

Musashi said "The Way is in training"

When Musashi uses the word "Way" He is referring to a rather specialized meaning. The word in Japanese is "Do" and it is hard to give an exact equivalent in English.

We can perhaps understand it al little better by contrasting the two Japanese terms "Jutsu" and "Do". Jutsu (also spelled jitsu) means "art", "technique", "method", "strategy" while Do means "path", "road", or "way", and implies a way of inner development.

So while Ai-Ki-Jutsu would mean "Mind-Spirit-Method" and give you good techniques for making people fall down and hurt themselves, Ai-Ki-Do would mean "Mind-Spirit-Way" and would suggest that you are working on inner development through making people fall down and hurt themselves.

So when Musashi says "Way" he means a set of skills that provide a structure for self development, such as Tea ceremony, Flower arrangement, Archery, or Fencing. The important thing to remember here is that pretty much any set of skills can become a "Do", it is all in the approach.

Then we have "training", what does Musashi mean by training?

Again it is a somewhat specialized meaning.

"Training" in this sense is not just learning a skill, but continual refinement and integration.

So when we train (with Musashi's understanding) we strive for greater and greater integration of body, mind and spirit, of structure, movement and breath.

There is no "upper limit" to this refinement, it is incremental, and as one progresses it also becomes more ephemeral.

So when Musashi says "The Way is in training" He is speaking of an ongoing process of refinement in one's chosen art. This refinement has no end to it and this kind of refinement in fact evolves as you do. As you progress there becomes less and less of the superfluous, leaving only what is essential.

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Things I have found to be True

(So Far)


The moment you think you have to be "right" you have stopped learning.


Confusion is the mother of discovery.


The single greatest cause of death for males between the ages of 14 and 40 is Pride and Ego.


No one can lie to you like you.


Attention is the coin with which you purchase knowledge, love is the coin with which you purchase wisdom.


Evil springs from seeing people as things.
(thank you Terry Pratchett for that one)


"If you have no teacher you have the Devil as your teacher. "
This does not mean that you have to have a formal "teacher" it means that if you see yourself as the "highest authority" then you will fall prey to the burden of omniscience and you will lose the truth, because the truth often comes from others and will often contradict what you think you know. Being able to accept outside feedback is essential to personal development.


Some seek to learn the Warrior's craft by practicing skills and techniques, others by the cultivation of strength and endurance. Some will attempt to attain to the Way of the Warrior by developing "chi" or through meditative practice. The Way of the Warrior is truly found in freeing oneself from all of these things.


Whenever someone gives you just two choices immediately look for a third. (And keep an eye on the fellow, he is up to something) .


Love is behavior.


Humility is the warrior's shield, his sword is good manners.



Kindness to people who you have no need to be kind to is a mark of moral maturity.



From my Grandfather;
"If you want to know the truth about someone don't listen to what they say, watch what they do."


Also from my Grandfather;
"Learn from the snake. The snake cannot work against it own breath."



Your Way it the Way (for you) but you will never discover your Way until you take your life back from your ego.


"It is better to teach one person to read than it is to say a thousand prayers"
The Prophet Muhammad



Man only begins to mature when he interacts with Woman as an equal.


The most difficult thing for a human to do is to see what is really there, we love our illusions too much.


Most of human behavior is mechanical in nature, nothing more that pre-programmed stimulus/response routines. Most of the rest of human behavior is the lies we tell to keep this first fact from ourselves.

Catagories

Dialog on the Nazifacation of America

Being as a comment can only have 1000 characters per comment, I have moved this dialog to the main blog as I think it is important to examine these issues.

This is a dialog between my friend Frank, who is a right wing Bush supporter and myself (I am not sure what to call myself, not a liberal, (the last time someone got in my face and called me a "liberal" I broke his jaw, he meant it as an insult and it seemed the best way to respond at the time) Not a progressive because I support stuff that the progressives don't like. I usually just think of myself as an American. Someone who loves the freedom that our Constitution gives us and hates seeing real American values given over for the so called "conservative agenda".

So here is the dialog

Frank Says (in reply to my last column) :

First, public opinion is not public policy.

Second, such a thing was done to Japanese during WWII without America turing into Nazis.

And finally, when the Bush Administration does not limit the rights of Muslims in America, will you apologize for all the ad hominum attacks you have made now and in the past?

I won't hold my breath.



I reply:
Frank, you depress me. It is sad to see you turning into a cog in the Bush administration's propaganda machine.

Yes Frank, when we imprisoned all those American citizens in the camps out by Bishop we became just like the Nazis. I visited those camps, they were prisons that were no better than what the Nazis had built for the Jews. (and I have visited those as well so I have something to compare)

And no, public opinion is not public policy, but public opinion drives public policy and the Bush administration drives public opinion with its fear tactics.

The real question is Frank, will you be able to look yourself in the mirror when you find out how badly you have been duped?


Frank answers:
Wake me when when your predictions reach fruition.

'kay?

And while the interrment of the Japanese was a mistake, it can in no way be equated with the Nazi death camps.

And to say so is as ridiculous as to say that Iraq is the equivalent of Poland.

You accuse the Administration of propogating the politics of fear while at the same time speaking of the "Nazification" of America,, blind to the irony.

And I come back with:
Frank, you need to wake up BEFORE this gets that out of hand.

I wonder Frank, when was the last time you found anything to criticize about Bush and his cronies? All I ever see from you any more is unbridled praise. It used to be that I would have some difficulty predicting how you would respond to something, but not any more, these days you just tow the party line. When was the last time you stopped to actually examine these issues?

One thing I find very disturbing is that you keep referring to the interment prisoners as "Japanese". They were Americans Frank, not Japanese. These were American citizens who were stripped of their possessions and imprisoned without trial. These were American citizens who's only "crime" was that their ancestors were Japanese. Why can't you see them as American Frank? Is it only whites that are real Americans?

The only difference I can see between the US internment and the Nazi internment is that the Nazis killed a lot more prisoners, we just took everything they owned from them and ruined their lives. And this happened what, less than 60 years ago?

So tell me Frank, why is the comparison between Poland and Iraq "ridiculous
" (other than the fact that you ridicule anyone and anything that is not supportive of Bush). Have you actually taken a look at the parallels or are you just reading from the "GOP manual for pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans"?

Frank, you need to wake up from your right wing fantasies and start doing some real research. Right now you first premises is twisted by your political bias.

So there you have the basic discussion.

As I see it we have a few issues here. First, should the fact that a poll from Cornell university tells us that 44% of Americans want to take away the liberties of American citizens who are Muslim. Frank doesn't think so, I do.

Second, should we view the people who the US government locked up in the internment camps out by Bishop CA to be Japanese or American? They were US citizens, but they were not white. Frank keeps calling them Japanese, I keep calling them American, which one is correct?

Third, are there any parallels between the Nazi invasion of Poland and the US invasion of Iraq. The best thing to do here is go to your history books and check it out. What were the reasons that Hitler gave for invading Poland? What were the real reasons?

You figure it out, then let people know what you think.

Catagories

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Nazification of America.

Cornell University has just finished an interesting poll. It was reported by ABC News and gives a good indicator as to the mental health of at least 44% of Americans. (You can find the full poll here)

If is fairly frightening for a number of reasons.

basically what this poll tells us is that 44% of Americans favor limiting the rights of US citizens who practice Islam as their religion.

Now being as I am a Muslim I find this rather disturbing, but I find it even more disturbing as an American. My family has been American for a long time. On my mother's side we came from Sweden and Ireland in the mid 1800's, on my father's side we crossed the Berring land-bridge a few thousand years ago and have been here ever since. So I am about as American as they come.

Now I find that almost half of my fellow citizens want to take away my constitutional rights. Why? Because they are scared. Why are they scared? Because of a massive media campaign to turn Muslims into the Bogey Man. (Do you remember those "wolves at the door" commercials that Bush used to frighten people into voting for him)?

You would think that after all these years we as a people would have learned not to judge an entire huge cross section of people by one trait, but I guess that this is too much to hope for.

The old saying "those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" really applies here.

How soon will it be before I am told that I have to put a big yellow star and crescent on my coat? How soon before we have "relocation" camps for the "Safety of the Nation"?

"Muslims" and "Christians" don't want this conflict as far as I can tell, only greedy and power hungry politicians and religious fanatics see any benefit in it.

And there is the rub, Osama bin Laden, al Qadia and the Wahabis are just the other side of the coin from George Bush, Haliburton, and the Dominionists. All both sides have given us is bloodshead, distruction and death.

As far as I am concerned Iraq is our Poland, and I see the same sorts of propaganda coming from right wing Bush supporters as was used by the Nazis to tell everyone why invading Poland was such a good thing.

So there you have it. We are just a little closer to a totalatarian government today than we were yesterday. At times like this it is good to remember the words of one of our founding fathers;

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759



Catagories

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Slicing Time, the 'In-between"

African Lessons, the Ladies of English 2

One of the first things I discovered upon arrival in Tanzania was that racism is alive and well in East Africa.

There are three basic groups in Tanzania, The Africans, the Indians and the Europeans. Each views the other two with mistrust and fear (sometimes hatred as well)

Each of these groups makes gross generalizations about the other two based not on objective experience, but through the filter of a sort of racial dogma left over from colonial days.

My hosts in Arusha were a very well to do Indian family. They had come to Tanzania early on during colonial times to work for the Brits and had been Tanzanian for several generations.

The Family had done OK for itself under British rule only to see everything they owned be "nationalized" by the communist government that came to power after the British pulled out. They had, being consummate businessmen, rebuilt their fortunes, but the experience had left its scars.

I heard stories of prosperous farms and coffee plantations that were taken from them and given to Africans (mostly family members of government officials) which were then miss-managed into the ground.

This, as you may well imagine, had left my friends with a bit of bitterness. It also colored their perceptions of Africans. This perception was created by the British, Germans, and Dutch when they were fighting over ownership of Africa's resources.

This was of course that the African was a simple, childlike individual without the native capacity to do more than menial labor, and certainly no head for business. The British outlook was that at best Africans could be trained to be halfway acceptable servants as long as there was enough discipline to outweigh the "natural laziness" of the African. (for an incisive look at this attitude see the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence which is a good example, though it takes place elsewhere).

So my hosts assured me that Africans were "unreliable" and that they were not capable of the discipline necessary to do business and if given responsibility without supervision that would mess thing up.

No, my hosts would not have thought of themselves as racist, and I have to say that they had a love for their country and wanted to see all Tanzanians become prosperous, they had just been conditioned to their dogmas.

The thing is, I had heard all this before, just directed towards other people, my father's side of the family. Many Anglos hold the same sorts of beliefs about Native Americans, and I grew up hearing exactly these sorts of things about Apaches. Being as it was not true for my father's people I suspected that it was likely to be equally untrue for Africans.

I got a chance to find out.

English Class

As you may remember if you have been following these columns I mentioned that I had inherited two English classes along with my teaching duties in graphic arts.

Well the day I met the ladies of English two I had a chance to discover some interesting things.

The first was that none of them had ever had a white teacher, some of them had never spoken to an American. They were all very, very shy.


ladies_1
The Ladies of English 2

When I asked a question, the answer would be given in a whisper with eyes downcast and often with a hand covering the mouth.

This was caused by a number of factors. First they were just a little afraid of me, I was "the other". Second, there is still a respect for "elders" in East African culture, and I guess with my white hair and beard I qualified.

So I had to find some way to break the ice with my new students. I fell back on a family tradition, I told them stories. I was delighted to discover that Tanzania is still a "story telling" culture, so my new students were very receptive to me spinning stories for them.

I told them that the first couple of classes would be a test for them so that I could evaluate their actual understanding of English, but the test would be easy because all we were going to do was talk with each other.

Of course I was testing more than just their English skills, I wanted to know how smart these ladies were and what they were all about.

ladies_2
More Ladies of English 2

So we spent the first week talking. We traded questions. I would ask them something, like "tell me what you will be doing five years from now?" and they would ask me things like "Why don't Americans stay married to the same person?".

It took me very little time to realize that I was dealing with some very sharp young women. There was no one in this class that was not "Above average" in intelligence, some of these young women were brilliant.

I did discover something very interesting though, none of these young ladies had any skills at all in goal setting.

While the idea of having and achieving "goals" is less politically correct in the US than it once was, I still consider it a necessary skill.

If I posed the question "what will you be doing in six months?" I would get answers like "I will be a secretary" but not one person could tell me how she planned to get a job.

Now one thing you need to understand, being able to create well-formed goals is a learned skill, there is no "goal setting" gene that some people have and others don't. So if these young women didn't know how to form goals in a way that would allow them to make step by step advancement to those goals, it was because on one had ever taught them how.

I decided that this was one thing I could change.

So from that day my classes were divided into tow parts. The first was the basics of English, nouns, verbs and such. The second hour was "conversational English" which was actually a thinly disguised class in goal setting and critical thinking built around the understanding of the English language.

The results were very interesting.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"The Rules" part one

Miyamoto Musashi gave nine "rules" in the earth chapter of his Book of Five Rings, the first of which is "Do not think dishonestly".

    I consider these nine statements to be the quintessential distillation of everything that Musashi wanted to tell his readers about his understanding of how to live life as a warrior.

    These are my comments on these nine "rules". They are not the "truth", they just represent my understanding at this moment. A year from now I hope that I will be able to comment on them more deeply.

    So the first is, "Do not think dishonestly"

    This may be one of the most important bits of advice ever given. If one were to truly embrace this one concept it would be life changing.

    One way to define "ego" especially for someone on a "Warrior Path" is as "The part of you that lies to you". For someone who wants to follow that path of the Teacher, or the Warrior (often there is not much difference) this is the area of greatest struggle.

    So how do we lie to ourselves? Just think back to the last time you justified to yourself doing something that you knew was not right.

    Let's take something simple, like deciding you want to lose ten pounds to get into "fighting trim". You decide to do so by eating less and eating better. All goes well until you are driving home and are somewhat hungry hungry. You see a sign for your favorite fast food place coming up in the next mile. You think of your favorite food there, you know the one, all those calories, but it sure tastes good.

    Take a moment to imagine what train of thought you might go through to justify stopping and getting some of your favorite food, and why it would not REALLY be violating your choice to "eat less and eat better".

    That is a simple example of thinking dishonestly.

    The consequence of thinking dishonestly in the long term is that you will build a false persona that will have to be constantly defended.

    You can find a great many examples of this in the world of martial arts. There are all too many people who, being insecure about who they were, have embroidered their history just a little, and then are stuck defending that small bit of dishonesty by any means necessary. This of course leads to bigger and bigger lies, and eventually it leads to disaster.

    So to walk a "Warrior" path means extreme self-disclosure.

    How do your start?

    Pay close attention to your emotions, notice when you start justifying how you feel or what you do because of how you feel. That is the first step.

    Second, examine your justifications. Tell yourself the truth about why you are doing what you are doing. (this part can hurt your ego a bit so start slowly).

    Third, and this takes some work, practice telling yourself the exact truth about your feelings and choices. This will take a long time for most people, because frankly a lot of us have spent a good portion of our lives trying to avoid doing this. This means that you have to take the time to examine your motives.

    Being brutally honest with yourself it probably the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and it will be life changing.


    African Lessons part 3

    Making Friends With Warriors

    The Maasai in Tanzania are still a warrior culture despite all efforts by European colonial powers to "modernize" them. The have managed to keep their culture and identity intact against all comers, and most of them still live in the traditional way of their people. While there is substantial pressure from the governments of Kenya and Tanzania to "bring them into the twenty first century", the Maasai still for the most part hold to their traditional way of life.

    All around northern Tanzania you can find traditional Maasai villages of mud walled houses with straw thatched roofs

    hut

    Where the Maasai live much as the always have.

    Traditional Maasai life is divided into discreet stages which reflect the truths of Maasai culture.

    For men this revolves around the transitions between child to warrior to elder.

    Maasai are easy to spot because they disdain western clothing and will mostly only dress in their traditional fashion.

    3 men

    It would be a mistake to assume that because these people "dress like natives" as I heard one tourist put it, that they are in any way "quaint" or "backward" .

    Maasai men, especially the ones who are in the warrior stage of their lives are often employed as watchmen in the towns. This is because they are both honorable and completely fearless when it comes to dealing with thieves and robbers.

    So one afternoon I am going over to a friend's home to have dinner with him and his family. When I get there the gate is opened by a young Maasai warrior. (You can tell the warriors by their hair, which is always long and done up in fine style). I should mention that in Tanzania if you have any money at all you build a ten foot or so high wall around your home and set broken bottles along the top of it.

    There were two other Maasai sitting in the yard, my friend made his yard and guard shelter available to all of the local Maasai watchmen to use when they were off duty, so they had a protected place to store their gear, to nap ant to fix food. And my friend always had three or four Maasai keeping an eye on his place for the price of a little kindness.

    The two Maasai that were off duty were working on sharpening their Sime (short swords) using a piece of sand paper and a board.

    Tanzania imports a lot of tools from China, and mostly what you get is complete garbage. I had purchased a Chinese sharpening stone when I first got to Arusha and any knife would shave a layer off the stone off with every stroke, it was almost worthless. You can find a decent sharpening stone, but they are quite expensive, and when the average salary is about $1.75 US a day it is not something that most people budget for.

    Seeing them work at getting their swords sharp gave me an idea.

    The next day I went out hunting around town. I finally found what I was looking for, a tile shop.

    The shop made tiles for upperclass homes and businesses and they had exactly what I was looking for, unglazed porcelain tiles. I got a half dozen of them for a very nice price, and took them home with me.

    The next time I went to visit my friend I took the tiles with me.

    When we arrived the same Maasai were there as well as a couple of others. I asked my friend to introduce me to them.

    He did and we shook hands all around. I told them that the last time I was there I had seen that they were having to work very hard to sharpen their sime and that I had brought something that they might be interested in. I pulled out the tiles I had picked up.

    Now you may not know this, but unglazed porcelain, once it has been fired makes an outstanding sharpening material, especially for carbon steel (as opposed to stainless).

    They were looking a little puzzled, but I asked my friend to bring out a sime that he had just picked up a couple of days before and a bunch of coffee.

    I sat down with my friend's sime and proceeded to put an edge on it with a tile. I passed it to the senior warrior for his opinion of the edge. He thumbed it a couple of times and you could see his eyes just light up and a big grin come across his face.

    I pulled out the rest of the tiles and handed them around, telling the Maasai that I would be honored if they would accept there as gifts from me.

    Within a few moments everyone had their sime out and were honing them against the tiles. There were a number of pleased exclamations about the fineness of the edge that the tiles produced.

    We sat around the yard sharpening, drinking coffee and chatting. My friend would interpret when my Kiswahili was not up to the task.

    The Maasai had all sorts of questions about America and of course I was very interested in how they lived.

    My friend had told his watchman, who was sort of the leader of this group that I was a martial arts teacher, and they were very interested to know about that. Of course I in turn was interested in how they trained with their weapons.

    We developed a nice rapport just sitting in the yard sharpening knives, talking and drinking coffee, and they allowed that it might be a good joke to try to teach an old Mzungu how to use a sime, rungu and fimbo. I told them I would try not to be too clumsy.

    It is often the simple things that break the ice and help to build friendships. If you give a warrior a way to keep his sword sharp he will be happy for it, and he will know that you understand what is important.



    Thursday, December 09, 2004

    More from the Bloggingsphere

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...........

    It has been all of eighteen days since I started this experiment, so it seems like a good time to do a short update on my explorations of the Bloggingsphere. It is still astounding to me how many positive comments I have received about my effort here.

    I have never liked writing all that much, and I have never kept a journal or anything like that. I have always been a story teller, a gift I think I must have acquired from my Apache Grandfather, who used to entertain us kids for hours with stories of all sorts. I have always preferred the spoken word to the written when it came to expressing myself.

    But I am having fun with this, and I have gotten around the dislike of writing by just "talking with the keyboard".

    But enough about me, on to the bloggingsphere.

    First off, My friend Steve Barnes' blog is up, running and getting a good amount of interest.

    The content is quite varied but with a strong focus on the craft of the writer. You may not realize that what you are reading will make you a better writer when he does things like a movie review. But what you are getting is a chance to see a screen play through the eyes of someone who understands the process from the inside out. Check him out sometime when you feel like you want to explore new ideas.

    Speaking of writing, I have been enjoying a very interesting on-line novel called "The Sulbani Sagas" lately. It is a strange and interesting tale, quite mythic in its essence but set in a strange, post apocalyptic world. Check it out, it's fun.

    I found a bit of high weirdness at Blogshares, a fantasy "stock market" for blogs. I haven't decided if this is incredibly lame or really smart on someone's part, I guess that will depend on who gets what kind of value from it.


    The New

    There are a couple of new blogs that I am reading these day that I would like to draw attention to.

    The first is ophe's promise. This is written by a friend named Ruth. This blog is about life as seen through the eyes and camera lens of one unpretentious person. It is about the human condition. Reading this blog is likely to make you feel just a little lighter.

    The second blog I am keeping an eye on is whalesoundervish, written by a young Sufi mystic named Azeem. The nice thing about reading a young Sufi mystic is that he is at the beginning of his journey rather than the end of it. This gives a whole different perspective to the process.


    The Old


    Over at the The Cool Blue Blog Frank is still slapping those naughty Democrats around. He thinks that Democratic party should become Federalists. That is the party of Alexander Hamilton, the elitist snob who had a total disdain for the common American, wanted a strong central government and a president that was much like a king. It is also the Party of John Adams, our second president who really wanted to be our first king. This is the same Adams who gave us the Alien and Sedition Acts, which are the great grand fathers of some of the most popular legislation in the last four years.

    Perhaps Cool Blue has not noticed that these people are already in power. We already have the Federalists running the Whitehouse, what we need is the party of Jefferson to counterbalance them.

    DisOrganization, the blog of writer Jennifer St. Clair, is still one of my favorite places to read. Her prose is engaging and she has the rare ability to draw you into her story. Though she doesn't write in the style of Steinbeck, she has that same feel of putting meaning to the "everyday" story of a person.

    Ecce Mulier is like good Blues, it tells the truth. The writing here is like that of some of the best "Beat" poets, only totally different. It reveals facets of life that are often not comfortable, but are worth thinking about.

    small flightless bird is still one of my favorites. I like the Canadian perspective and I like the way this guy looks at events.

    AnthroGal's World, what do I like about this blog? I like the perspective. It is perhaps because we share a couple of interests. I also took my first degree in anthropology, and the observations made on this blog have a familiar feel sometimes in that way. I enjoy people who go their own way and thin their own thoughts. It is one of the better things in life.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2004

    Martial Arts and Self Defense

    WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS WHAT YOU ARE SELLING

    Someone wrote me today with a question. It was :

    Hey, this big name person in the martial arts/self defense field said that "Martial arts are not self defense training", I want to take a martial art, but I want to be able to defend myself if I have to. You are old and wise and have survived many winters (OK, I made that part up, but is sounds good) Which should I study.

    There are so many problems with the statement "Martial Arts are not Self Defense Training" that I hardly know where to begin.

    The first thing I would have to ask would be "Is this person selling something?" If he is, he will have a strong bias towards whichever view sells more of his product regardless of what "objective" evidence may have to say one way or the other.

    Second, does the person making this statement get their livelihood from whatever it is that they are selling? If they do then the bias factor goes up exponentially. (Before you ask, I have a "real job" and so I teach for the sheer joy of it, which gives me a different sort of bias)

    Now comes the interesting stuff.

    The statement "Martial Arts are not Self Defense training" is functionally meaningless. It is such a generalization that it has no real information on the subject whatsoever.

    This is an old sales ploy. When a person is confronted with a statement like this, in order for them to understand it (as it contains no real information) they must pull from their own experience, and so are a bit more likely to agree with the statement, because they are finding the information to make meaning out of the statement from their own experience.

    The proper "challenge" to a statement like this is "which marital art specifically are you referring to and which "self defense training" are you referring to? Without this information all you are reading is a "press release".

    We know that from a general perspective that this statement is false, because we have a history of people who have successfully defended themselves with their martial arts training. So if the implication of the statement is "you cannot adequately use martial arts training to defend yourself" then there has to be another agenda to be found.

    This statement, from a linguistic point of view, represents a logical fallacy called "The False dilemma" which is part of a set of fallacies called Fallacies of Distraction and is found in a special subset of this logical fallacy called "argumentum ad ignorantiam" or argument from ignorance.

    In other words, the statement "Martial Arts are not Self Defense training" has the dubious distinction of being both false and meaningless.

    So what are the differences between "Martial Arts" and "Self Defense training"?

    Well, I could cop out and say "by the general definition, none" but that would be begging the question.

    So first we have to define what I mean when I say martial art and what I mean when I say self defense training.

    To me, a (civilian) martial art is a system of long term training that addresses individual conflict from a number of different viewpoints. These views will include physical and mental aspects of contesting with another person or persons. (They are different than military martial arts in the same way a rapier is different from a cannon).

    Self Defense training is in my opinion, a short term course, seminar or workshop that teaches simple, easy to learn skill sets that are designed to give one an edge in the regrettable circumstance of having to defend oneself.

    The analogy I like to draw is that Self Defense training is like boot camp. You are given a set of quick survival skills that are specifically designed to enhance a person's chances of short term survival. There is less care given to the long term effects of such training.

    So just as a farm boy goes into boot camp and comes out with some skills that give him a better chance of getting home in one piece from the war, Self Defense training gives you some easy to learn skills that can get you home on one piece.

    The downside to both though is that the trade off is usually shaving hours, days or months of the end of one's life. This is because both self defense courses and boot camp teach how to be effective without being efficient, so the strain on the body accumulates over the years.

    Now I also draw the analogy that martial arts are like "Special Forces" in that there is the time to do sustained, incremental training. This means that a person has time to become both effective and efficient, to have a more sophisticated skill set. Now if you want to refine your skills this is important. Self defense is not concerned with refinement, just with getting yourself out of a bad situation (and if you tear muscle and such it is OK because you will have time to heal).

    So the truth is (except for marketing) the whole martial arts versus self defense argument is specious.

    TAKING THE IDEA FURTHER

    Let me draw out a related argument that will, I hope shed more light on this issue.
    (for further elaboration of this argument see the works of Scott Sonnon as I am borrowing a lot from him here)

    Within the martial arts world that is an ongoing argument between the "sport" martial artists and the "combat" martial artists.

    The "sport side" says that the combat people are unrealistic because the never test their theories against someone who does not cooperate with them.

    The "combat side" says that the sports people are unrealistic because they fight with rules, one on one, and with a referee, so "sport" is not realistic.

    Both sides of this argument are missing the point because neither side understands what the other brings to the table.

    Most "combat styles" focus on drills and scenarios of one sort or another. This is very good because it refines the various skill sets that one has to work with. The problem with ONLY doing this is that a person can develop an unrealistic belief in what he is capable of doing. This belief tends to erode quickly when he is faces with an uncooperative opponent.

    Most sport styles focus on sparring of one sort or another. This give a person the chance to test their skills against someone who is doing everything they can to make sure that those skills don't work. Sport styles also develop a higher level of physical fitness than do combat styles and a greater degree of mental toughness. The downside to the sport styles is that they tend to "plateau" out quickly. They will often not develop the kind of sophistication and sensitivity that the combat styles do because sports players tend often times, to concentrate on working a small number of high percentage moves.

    For me, the best approach is to combine the two. To use drills and such to learn the skills and sparring to hone them and learn to make your skills work when the other guy doesn't want them to, and take that experience back to your drills. This back and forth seem to produce people who are both effective and efficient.

    A FINAL NOTE

    I have known a lot of people who have taught self defense courses, The good, The Bad and The Ugly.

    If someone wants to take a self defense course there are a few things to look for.

    First can, and will the teacher demonstrate that what they are teaching will work against someone who is not cooperating?

    If they can't or won't, then be a bit dubious.

    Does the course have padded attacker work?

    These are better over all than the ones that don't.

    Does the teacher tell you that he or she won't spar because their skills are too dangerous or deadly and they don't want to hurt their sparring partner?

    Be vary dubious about this one. It is just possible that the teacher is too lazy or too stupid to figure out how to spar safely, or they are being dishonest about their skills.

    Next, does the self defense course address issues of awareness? After all, your mind is your best weapon so you should be learning how to use it as well.

    So if a person wants to have basic skills to defend himself (or herself) taking a good self defense course will give them to you, but don't expect miracles.

    You will find everything mentioned above in a good martial arts school though, and even though it will take longer to refine your skills, you will have a much better chance of surviving (or even better yet avoiding) an encounter than any self defense course will give you.

    So it is up to the individual to decide what they want, a quick fix or long term gains.



    Monday, December 06, 2004

    Slicing Time, and Slicing Ego

    One of the really fun things I get to do as travel around is train with very good people. My Silat Aliran has schools in several places around the US, including Western Michigan.

    When I get out to Grand Rapids one of the things I look forward to is getting to work out with my friend Steve Van Harn.

    (Have you noticed that I have a whole lot of "Steves" in my life? I have suspected for some time that this is some sort of a conspiracy. I think people get together and say "hey when I introduce you to the old guy tell him that your name is Steve, it really confuses him").

    Well THIS Steve is a student and teacher of a Filipino marital art called Arnis Sikaran - Jornales System Sandatahan, and is a champion full contact fighter with WEKAF (a group of people who think it fun to pound the snot out of each other with sticks)


    Steve Van Harn

    Steve is a brilliant player at his art, and is one of those people who are a pleasure to work with because he always seems to be having such fun.

    Because we both have a philosophical bent, we often discuss the deep issues of life while he is chasing me around the room trying to hit me up-side the head with a stick.

    ( "Hey Mushtaq [wack, wack] what do you think about [hit] the meaning of life?"[beat, mangle] "Well Steve, [duck, dodge] I thing that life [parry, jump back] is a lot better [run away] if I am far enough away that you can't hit me with that great club you are swinging about")


    The other day he sent me a note after reading one of my columns here. I thought that it may be of general interest, so I asked him if he would let me reprint his thoughts here and let me turn my answer into a column for The Traceless Warrior, he graciously agreed so here is a dialog between Steve and I that may shed more light on Slicing Time.


    Mushtaq,

    I was reading your blog, The traceless Warrior, regarding "Slicing Time". Specifically the statement you made;

    A warrior's first and greatest battle is against his own ego, his mechanical nature, his "body of habits".

    To me this is a big statement. Ego, or lack of it, is something I struggle with on a daily basis, whether in training or in life. How can one have humility and confidence without arrogance?

    I recall two experiences very clearly. I mentioned (way back when) to my Aikido instructor that all black belts had egos.

    His response was, "absolutely, the important thing is whether one continues to fight it everyday or let it run it's course and take over".

    I said the same thing to my TKD instructor, and his response was "are you saying I have an EGO!?".

    Well duh, if ever a question answered itself. The point I was hoping to get across to him was the added weight and responsibility that putting on that black belt engendered, and that "ego", good or bad, came with it as a direct accoutrement.

    I don't think he ever got it, although he used to say "you have no idea how heavy this belt is".

    The Aikido guy had the right idea.

    Personally, I find that I struggle with lending more credence to what I personally think is good vs. what someone else thinks.

    If I discredit what someone says and believe in my own ideas, am I not surrendering to my ego? But if I am so willing to discount my own training/conclusions in favor of someone who's opinion I value, am I not doing myself a disservice as well? How do you handle this?

    Obviously I have differing levels of value assigned to different people based on how highly I respect them.

    For the most part I now will accept what someone says and then compare it with my beliefs/opinions and if it has merit I will amend my set. I started doing this some years back. I was emailing a newer acquaintance who was bragging "my master this" and "my master that". Then I found out his master had been training for less time than me! There are still a few folks I hold in high enough regard that I willingly accept what they say. Getting to be fewer though.

    Just wondering if you have any thoughts on the issue and thought maybe you could expound in a further blog.


    As you can see, Steve likes the big questions. So here are my thoughts on the matter for whatever they are worth.


    steve_v_2

    Steve,

    If I try to answer this question in one sitting I would have to write a book. So if you don't mind I will just tackle one small part for the moment.

    you have often heard me saying things like "Humans must strive to overcome their mechanical nature if they wish to grow". You would be surprised at how many people nod their head wisely when I say something like this, and how few ask "What do you mean by mechanical nature?"

    What I mean is that most people, most of the time, tend to think heuristically. That is to say people will make choices by unconscious "rules of thumb". This is a cognitive strategy has a lot of survival advantages in that one can react quickly to a given situation.

    For example, a person may have the heuristic, "Brightly colored insects are poisonous". This person, on seeing a Velvet Ant crawling toward his hand will, "without thinking" jerk his hand away (thereby avoiding one of the most painful stings in the insect world). As you can see, this sort of "rule of thumb" thinking can have a lot of positive survival value, and if one ends up avoiding all brightly colored insects, even the non-venomous ones, it will usually matter very little.

    As I said in my first article on "slicing time", most really good fighters use this strategy in their training and fighting. It will allow them to react to an attack without having to take the time to "think about" what they need to do.

    There is a problem with Heuristics as a strategy though, without a great deal of care one can develop cognitive bias that can create huge "blind spots" in one's thinking (and fighting).

    One way that cognitive bias develop is through ones "logic system". Even if a person says "I am very illogical" they will have some strategy that allows them to form "self consistent" conclusions and inferences about experience.

    The problem is that many, even most people in the West operate with a two value logic. This form of logic was first popularized by Aristotle, then picked up by Aquinas, who helped it propagated through the Christian Church. (The same logic became prevalent in the Mid East through a somewhat different route)

    With Aristotelian logic we can determine if a proposition is "True" or "False", which is useful for some things (like mathematics) and not useful for others (like human interaction).

    The problem with a two value logic system when it gets applied to human interactions, is that it is too rigid. When it is taken to extremes you tend to get "fanatical" personalities who insist that whatever they have determined to be "true" must in fact be TRUE for everyone.

    Even when it is not taken to its extreme, if you are working from a two value system and you have a two people with two different opinions about something, someone must be "right" and someone must be "wrong"

    To get out of this dilemma, and this is also, I think , the first step to solving the problem you stated of "how to balance your views against the views of others", is to develop a multi-value logic system for yourself. This is also where the "mechanical" part of a person comes in,

    If you have only two choices, true/false, right/wrong, black/white, off/on, then you are pretty much operating at the level of a machine in my opinion.

    I suspect that to break free of the mechanical nature of the ego you must, among other things, make sure that you have at least three choices, the "yes" the "no" and the "maybe".

    Personally, I tend to use a seven valued logic.

    The values are:
    1. generally true
    2. generally false
    3. personally true
    4. personally false
    5. indeterminate
    6. meaningless
    7. game rules
    "Generally true and false" encompass things like "the speed of light is a constant", "never poke a sleeping bear in the ass with a sharp stick"

    Personally true and false are, well, more personal, like "Salad is good" or "tripe stew is unpleasant."

    Indeterminate are those things you do not have any data on, like "mustard ice cream is good". Never having had any I could not say one way or the other.

    Meaningless is for example "cold red loneliness obscures the moon", it is something you get no real information from.

    Game rules are things like "you must dress in this uniform to train at this Dojo."

    Now of course there are many other ways to set up a multi-value logic system than this one, I just happen to find this one handy.

    So in your situation, having someone tell you something that you may disagree with, rather than having to choose which one of you is "right" in most cases, you can just file things under "personal". (He thinks golf is good, I think golf is stupid, he is correct FOR HIM and I am correct FOR ME).

    This also helps with the "General" area of your own values become more apparent and harder to challenge.

    The indeterminate is the fruitful area where you get to find out more about life, the universe, and everything.

    Meaningless is interesting. You will be surprised at how many things people take very seriously are in fact meaningless.

    Knowing that some things are Game Rules allows you to make informed choices dependent on how important it is for you to play the game or not.

    I think that if you work on something like this you will find your ego coming more under control without too much overt work on your part.

    A multi-valued logic also allows you to make finer and more accurate observations about both your outer and inner worlds, and this will have a direct positive effect on your martial arts.

    A multi-valued system also allows you to avoid generalizations more often, and as I implies at the beginning of this message, Heuristic Generalization is one of the main sources of negative mechanical behavior in human beings.


    A Buddy Holly Moment

    Some years ago I was hanging out at the home of my friend Steve Barnes in Southern California, doing what we always do when we get together (plotting to take over the world).

    This was when Steve lived in Canyon Country, a sleepy bedroom community on the edge of the desert about an hour's drive from LA.

    There was a point when I was waiting for Steve to get dressed, as we were going out to do something. I saw an interesting brochure laying on his coffee table and picked it up and started reading it.

    The brochure was about an African American Writers Conference that was going to be held in a few weeks. I noticed that Steve was going to be one of the speakers, which I thought was one of the things that would make this conference a lot of fun. Steve is a very engaging speaker.

    As I sat there reading through the list of presenters, I noticed that another speaker that was listed was Steve Perry. I found this interesting, as Steve Perry is a white guy.

    When Steve came out, I half jokingly asked if Perry had been invited as the token white person. Steve looked a bit confused and said "Steve Perry?" "Yeah" I replied, "See, right here", and I gave him the brochure. Steve read over the speaker list, and said "How odd, this was supposed to be an all black event, I wonder why they invited Steve?" I thought for a moment and then said "I bet it is because of Dirisha Zuri."

    Now Dirisha is one of Perry's most engaging, delightful characters, and one of the major protagonists in his Matadora series. She is also Black.

    After thinking for a minute, Steve picked up the phone and called the organizers of the conference.

    When he got the person he needed to talk to he said something to the effect of "I noticed that you have listed Steve Perry as one of the speakers. This is good news because Perry is an excellent writer and great guy, but you know he is white. Right?" I could hear through the phone's hand set "What do you mean, he's white?" "You know, pale, melanin challenged, not the descendant of African slaves"..... "Oh." ..."OK, thanks" "click".

    Steve turned to me and said "I think we just avoided a Buddy Holly moment."

    Steve was of course referring to the famous incident at the Apollo Theater where Holly and his Crickets were booked as a "Black band" because the bookers had heard his music but never seen his picture.

    Track back to 1978, "The Buddy Holly Story" with Gary Busey (in his only role as a thin person) standing on stage at the Apollo, gazing out onto a sea of silent black faces and saying "believe me, we are just as surprised as you are." And then proceeding to Rock the House Down.


    This little miss-assumption was in the same category. The conference promoters thought that if a writer created a powerful, sympathetic, competent black hero who had an inner life and did not get himself killed saving white people, then the writer must be black.

    Now I have to admit that in most cases this would not be an inaccurate assumption, but it is obviously not a law of nature.

    It does serve however to point out an odd little quirk in human nature, we like our heroes to look like us. Sometimes we can have difficulties connecting with "The Other".

    The publishing world knows this, and since it plays to a certain audience, (I suppose that no one has told them that people of color can in fact read) it is very difficult to find people of color in true protagonist rolls in books. (and when they are, they are often "crippled" in some way)

    Another example of the unfortunate situation can be found in one of Steve Barnes first books called "Street lethal" the protagonist, Aubrey Knight is a black man, but on the cover of the first edition paperback, Aubrey is portrayed as being white. (I am not kidding, this really happened)

    As you might imagine, this was a real slap in the face to an up and coming black writer.

    I don't know if Steve Perry ended up speaking at this conference, I hope he did, because he would have been able to impart some useful information.

    Perhaps the most useful thing he could have given the group is the idea that anyone, regardless of who they are can empathize with "The Other" to an extent where they can understand the feelings of someone who is "not like them". That would be a trait I think we would find useful in today's world.

    Cool Blue and Me Agree

    For the second time in less than a month! Is this a sign of the End Times?

    There is an interesting commentary over on the Cool Blue Blog on the character of American solders. It is a good reminder, and it is absolutely correct. It has been correct for the entire history of our country.

    While I think that the people who got us into this costly and pointless war in Iraq are greedy and evil, and of questionable sanity, it is good to remember that the qualities of the basic general Issue American are still good, and moral.

    So while the Generals plan for "acceptable losses" in our troops and in civilians, and Bush and his cronies divide up the Iraqi oil fields amongst their friends, and the legions of missionaries gather to convert the heathen, it is good to remember that who we are as a people is found not with the general, but with the private.


    Sunday, December 05, 2004

    Finding your perfect student (part two)

    Here is an excerpt from a very good book called Black Steel, part of an outstandingly fun group of books called the Matadora series By Steve Perry.

    Now this is a different Steve than Steve Barnes.

    Both are writers, both have lived in the Pacific North West (though Steve Barns just moved back to LA a few weeks ago) Both train in Pencak Silat with the same teacher (one of the very best in the country) Both write rip roaring sci-fi with some of the best action you will find in a book, and both have the dubious distinction of knowing me. They could almost be the same person, except Perry is a big ol' white guy and Barnes is a medium sized black guy.

    (I think that Perry was made an honerary black person a one point though, but that is a different story)

    This passage is about a master teacher discovering her perfect student. While it is a work of fiction it captures the sentiment very well, so enjoy a bit of Black Steel.

    =====================================
    ............esoteric weaponry. Swords seemed fairly impractical in a modem society.


    The few times he had seen Kee working out, she had been using either a wooden or a bamboo-slat sword. He had never seen the one inside the white-lacquered sheath. He glanced at the weapon as he came to stand in front of it.

    Behind him in the dressing room, the shower came on, the sound of the water obvious in the otherwise quiet building. He looked toward the dressing-room door. Kee was in the shower by now.

    Sleel reached out and caught the wooden sheath in his new hand. Maybe there was some kind of protocol about this kind of thing, looking at it required permission or whatever. But he was curious, somewhat surprised at himself for feeling that or any other emotion, and what the fuck, she was in the shower anyway.

    He took the sword's grip in his right hand. It was warm to his touch, the wrapping and pattern oddly comfortable in his grip. He had a sudden sense of deja vu. He did not recall ever handling a weapon exactly like this one, but his thumb found a button that latched the sword into its sheath, pressing the release as though he had done it a thousand times before. Slowly, he began to withdraw the blade from its scabbard. As he looked at the blade, his eyes widened as he realized that the metal was black. As black as the swords of Cierto and his assassins had been.

    Black! Why-?

    From behind him, a voice said, "What are you doing?"

    Steel spun, whipping the black steel blade all the way out and pointing it toward the sound. The sheath clattered on the floor as he locked his weak hand onto the butt of the sword's handle behind his right hand. The sharp tip of the curved weapon moved as if guided by dossier, coming up

    -to point at Kee Wu's throat.

    Naked, she stood in the doorway to the dressing room twelve meters away, dripping water into a small pool welling at her bare feet. Quite beautiful she was, tight and muscular and wet that way

    "Gods," she said. "It's you!"

    As Wu stood facing Sleel, it was as if she had been struck by a bolt of energy that welded her to the spot. It didn't matter that she was naked and dripping from the interrupted shower. What mattered was the realization that came over her when she saw Sleel standing there with her sword. It was a combination of what she saw-the way he handled the weapon, his expression, his stance-and what she felt, this a sense she could not define but also could not deny:

    Sleel. Sleel was her perfect student.

    "Gods," she said. "It's you!"

    Sleel was shaken, she could see that. As much as she herself was shaken? Wu did not know. She had finished her shower and dressed, trying to order her thoughts, but not managing that very well. Sleel was waiting for her when she emerged. He had replaced her sword and now stood next to the rack upon which the daito rested.

    ...........................................................

    Where did you learn to use a sword?"

    It was Sleel's turn to shrug. "Outside of the one I took from the guy who attacked us on Earth, I've never owned one. I can't remember even touching one before that. Knives and laser cutters, sure, but swords as such, no. I don't know dick about the things."

    A natural swordmaster, she thought. What she had been waiting for these last few years.

    "You must learn," she said.

    "What?"

    -About the sword."

    "My hands are enough, thank you. I'm not likely to be shooting anybody else since I parked my spetsdods, but I can defend myself with the Ninety-seven Steps if need be-"

    "This is not about defense, Steel, it is about art and spirit. Tell me, how did it feel when you were holding the sword?"

    "Feel? What do you mean?"

    "Was it clumsy" Awkward?"

    "Nah. It felt pretty comfortable, you get right down to it. Like I'd done it all my life."

    She smiled again, bigger. -It took me three years of daily practice to get to the place where a sword felt 'pretty comfortable' in my hands. You have to train with me. Sleet. You are my student."

    "Shit. You've got dozens of students-"

    "No, you don't understand. They are just ordinary students. You are my perfect student. Every instructor searches until she finds him or her. They are like soulmates; you only get one. There might be others who are faster or more adept or stronger or whatever, but only a single person who is it."

    "And you think that's me?" Steel's tone was halfway between amused and scornful.

    "I know it. Not here"-she touched her head-but here." She touched her heart with two fingers.



    Saturday, December 04, 2004

    The legacy of Umslopogas

    More African Lessons

    When I was a kid I devoured everything that H. Rider Haggard wrote.

    Yes, yes, I know; by today's standards Haggard was a Racist Running Dog lackey of the Imperialist British Government that raped and looted its way across the continent of Africa.

    But in his own time he was something of a liberal, and at the age of ten I thought more of adventure than I did of the politics of racism.

    So I followed Allan Quartermain across Africa, and explored the land of She Who Must Be Obeyed.

    But my favorite character in all of Haggard's books was Umslopogas, the great Zulu Chief.
    He was, I think, the only true hero that Haggard created, braver, more noble and honorable than Quartermain, and with a richness of inner life that Haggard did not give to many
    characters.

    And Umslopogas' nickname was " The Woodpecker". Umslopogas had become Chief of his village by winning an ax in single combat with the old chief.

    Afterward, when he used this ax in battle he did not do the brawn over brain "Conan the Barbarian chop down the enemy" style of fighting that you might have expected Haggard to give him. Instead he reversed his ax and used the long spike on the back of the blade to "peck" at his opponent with rare style and skill. Umslopogas was nicknamed 'Woodpecker" because of this unusual style of fighting.

    So the first time I saw Zulu knife fighting as practiced by two brothers form Cape Town, I though of Umslopogas. They favored short blades held in reverse grip and watching them play was a lot like watching a woodpecker chip away at a tree to get a tasty grub.

    This particular form of fighting uses short, very fast stabs, a lot of wrist motion which makes doing any kind of a check against the knife hand problematic, and exceedingly deceptive hand and footwork.

    If one were to look at it one way, South African knife fighting is just like every other kind of knife fighting. The human body moves only in certain ways, joints hinge the same for everyone.

    But if one did look at it this way, one would be wrong.

    Even though humans are all issued the same basic model body, (omitting the cosmetic differences) different cultures produce profoundly different styles of movement using that general issue body.

    This is because each culture moves to its own internal rhythm, and each culture has its own definition of what is and is not "acceptable" movement.

    The rhythms of a culture are discovered in its music, its dance, the cadence of its speech and walk and in the habitual patterns of breath.

    The cultural limits put on movement are directly related to this.

    What do I mean by cultural limits?

    Let us take for instance "white people" in Europe and America. There is a strong cultural inhibition against allowing one's core to articulate. (The core consists of the area of the torso below the ribs to the base of the pelvic girdle). In the West this inhibiting is very often stronger in males.

    So when you watch "White" Americans move you will most often that they move their entire torso as one unit rather than letting it articulate throughout all the joints of the spine and pelvis. This will also carry over into dance.

    Often, when a male in this culture is encouraged to start freeing his core by allowing his pelvic girdle to move, he will feel embarrassment and shame, because culturally we have associated a free core with negative sexuality.

    Regardless of all the work of the missionaries the West has sent to "civilize" Africa, Africans do not have anywhere as much of this negative association, and tend to be freer through the core.

    This allows a somewhat different pattern of joint articulation than people outside of Africa are used to. When this is coupled with the rhythms of movement unique to the culture you have a extraordinarily dangerous style of knife fighting.

    It is unlikely that we will see much Zulu knife on the world scene in the near future. It is viewed very much like Caporia was fifty or sixty years ago in Brazil, as something the lowest classes do, with a very heavy overtone of the criminal element associated with it.

    In the months I was able to explore the Zulu knife, it taught me a great number of things abut human movement. It has definitely changed my approach to the knife a bit, and I am happy to say that my South African friends found the Silat approach to the knife to be equally informative.

    The Silat and the Zulu have sort of blended together to produce a knife training subset I have somewhat whimsically named Kisua Umslopogas (which in Kiswahili means "the Knife of Umslopogas") in honor of my favorite Haggard hero and his "woodpecker" style.



    Friday, December 03, 2004

    African Lessons, part one

    TEACHING

    I moved to Africa last year to teach (Computer graphics and multimedia, Pencak Silat, and English) but also to learn (Swahili language, African arts, traditional cultures of East Africa, African martial skills). Both endeavors have been happily successful.

    Teaching in Africa is a delight, as students, and people in general, have a culturally strong respect for teachers. (If American elementary and high school Teachers saw just how polite, respectful and attentive students are here it would cause a revolt)

    I did not originally sign on to teach English, it sort of happened by accident.

    I walked into the Dean's office one day to find him looking very worried, I asked him what was wrong and he told me that one of the English teachers has left without notice, and he had two full classes of students who were coming to school and finding that there was no one to teach them.

    I thought for a moment, and after finding out when the classes were scheduled, said "no problem, I speak English like a native, I'll take the classes for the term, how hard could it be." (Please note the "famous last words" being used here).

    As soon as I got the text book I was supposed to work from I discovered that it was not only poorly done and completely uninteresting, but it was based on "proper" British English.

    Now I have nothing against "proper" British English, but it is very much a minority dialect. If you want business English you teach American English first, with references to Canadian, Australian and British dialects in that order. Of course Tanzania was a one time a British Crown colony (something they never did ask the Tanzanians if they wanted) so you have all these old remnants of the "Empire", like driving on the left, and judges in powered wigs.

    So I suggested to the Dean that I would like to work on the curriculum just a bit and modernize it some. Being as I had gotten him out of a jam, and as it would cost nothing he agreed (I like to think he trusted my judgment as well).

    My next surprise was that my classes consisted entirely of African women between the ages of 18 and 30. All of my other classes were a mix of African and Indian and weighted taward the male.

    As it turned out, these were all secretarial students.

    Now being a secretary is a good job in Tanzania, it pays well and is one of the few skilled jobs a woman can get, but your English has to be good.

    So, I had just been handed two classes of intelligent, highly motivated young ladies who intended not to fall into the old African traditional rolls for women.

    english_class
    Mushtaq Ali teaching one of his English classes
    Using as one of his textbooks "Think and Grow Rich"



    LEARNING

    In many ways Tanzania resembles the American "Old West" of about a hundred and twenty years ago. Of course the technology is more advanced but the mind-set and social structure are in many ways similar.

    One of the things I had intended to do in Africa was to learn as much as I could about traditional African fighting skills.

    coinsidentally, Tanzania, along with Kenya, is where the Maasai live.

    The Maasai are one of the last tribes of East Africa who have retained their cultural Identity and traditions. They are a very proud warrior people who have refused to adopt modern ways or be assimilated into a European influenced culture.


    The Maasai find work as couriers and watchmen in Arusha. One of the first things I was told when I got to Africa was that I should only use Maasai as watchmen because they would not run if someone tried to rob the house, they could not be bought off by thieves and they would not try to rob you themselves. In short, they had honor.

    They are also formidable fighters. A Maasai male will never be seen without the tools of his trade. He will always have his Sime, a double edged short sword, and either a fimbo, which is a short staff about a meter or so in length, or his rungu which is a war club shaped a lot like a femur.

    I was able to strike up friendships with a number of Maasai warriors and elders, who graciously shared their knowledge with me. I became particularly interested in the way they used the fimbo and made a study of the weapon while I was there.

    I also made the acquaintance of two brother who hailed originally from Cape Town, South Africa. They had moved to Tanzania a couple of years ago to make a better life for themselves and get away from the live they had in South Africa.

    They were familiar with the
    Zulu style of knife fighting found in that area. I spent as much time as possible learning everything I could about this very interesting system.

    All of this, as you can imagine kept me very busy.

    More details to come in part two



    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    The Perfect Student

    Teachers, at least the ones who know about such things, are always hoping to find their perfect student.

    The prefect student is not necessarily your "best fighter" (of course I am talking about martial arts here, because that is what I teach) or your most accomplished student, he or she is the one who can truly learn everything you have to teach and take it further.

    Your perfect student is the one who inherits your art.


    This is a concept that I think has fallen into disuse in most fields, especially martial arts. It is not modern or progressive.


    Of course finding such a student is not a simple thing.

    There Is that old saying "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear."


    But there is a lesser known, and even more important saying, "when the teacher is ready, the student will appear."


    To be ready for your perfect student (or students, there is no rule that says you can only have one) several things have to happen. Most of them seem to revolve around getting your ego out of the way.


    One of the things that happens with your perfect student is that he will surpass you.
    This is a good thing, but the ego never thinks so. As a teacher it is the one thing that you must do, to give your student what he (or she) needs to be better than you.

    I have see so many martial arts teachers fail at this one step, and when they do, it can be quite ugly. What most often happens is that the teacher will work to keep his students at a level where they can never challenge him. If a student gets to close, the teacher finds some way to get rid of them if he cannot "break" them. What also happens at this point is that the teacher stops learning.

    To be the best teacher one can be requires, in my opinion, a constant struggle to keep one's ego and pride out of the class. It also requires that the teacher never stop being a student.

    I can't stress how important this is.

    Without the realization that there is always more to learn, that there are always incremental refinements to make, a teacher will fall into a trap called "The Burden of Omniscience".

    When a teacher takes on the burden of omniscience a couple of things happen. First is that he can never admit that he might be wrong about anything, for fear that his "authority might be questioned. The second is that his students will stop telling him the truth about anything. If a student is honest he runs the risk of being thrown out. Eventually the teacher is surrounded by yes men.

    If the teacher's perfect student walked through the door, the teacher would never recognize him.

    So to be ready for the student, a teacher must always remember that there is no end to learning and that he will never know everything. He has to do more than give lip service to this idea, he has to live it.

    For a teacher to be ready for his perfect student, he must not be afraid to "fail" in front of his students. There is nothing worse than a teacher that thinks he must "win" all the time, at any cost. His students will never reach their full potential.

    Finally, a teacher must respect his students, even the ones that don't excel at the material. One of the really sad things that I see in the martial arts is a teacher that passes over the students that don't fit his image of what a martial artist should be. If you can't respect and care for your worst student, the one that always tries the teacher wits and patients, then perhaps the teacher should consider another line of work.

    If a student is not learning, the burden is on the teacher, who is after all the one who knows, not on the student, who is in class because he doesn't know, and wants to.

    When a teacher has embodied these qualities, then he will be ready for the student.

    Wednesday, December 01, 2004

    Slicing Time Part Three (Breathing is Very Important)

    I have to admit that I am downright excited to know that people fine this sort of thing interesting. So here is a bit more on the subject.

    As I mentioned in my last entry on this subject, the way to learn to slice time thinly is to integrate breath, structure and movement. I can't stress enough how important this is. Without this integration the best anyone can ever hope for is to be good. But someone who achieves mastery in their art (any art that requires you to move) will have made this
    integration.

    The fellow I mentioned in my first article on this subject is a case in point. In the time I knew him (something like ten years) he grew quantitatively, that is to say he added techniques and drills to his skill set, but he never grew qualitatively, his quality of movement was fundamentally the same from the first time I met him to the last time I saw him, about four years ago.

    This was because he never addressed the chronic tension he (like everyone else) carries, and that inhibited the
    integration of his breath movement and alignment. So he added new movements, but overall the quality of his movement never improved.

    So how do you
    integrate breath, structure and movement and improve the quality of your movement? (This is a question not just for martial artists, but for anyone who moves their body for any reason)

    There are several ways, but with my students I have found that in most cases you can start with breath and get very good results.

    You have to understand a few things about breath though, to accomplish anything.

    First, the lungs are a passive organ, they don't "do" anything, they can't, having no way to move.

    The lungs are worked through your movement. If you had no residual muscle tension your breath would bee seen a a wave movement that moved through the whole body.

    By the way,
    residual muscle tension is the amount of tension you carry beyond what your muscles need to keep you balanced against gravity. It distorts your body from its intended form and impedes your breath.

    Most people, because of this
    residual muscle tension have dysfunctional breathing patterns which must be addressed in order to integrate breath, structure and movement.

    I would go so far as to say that breathing is a specific form of movement.

    I often think of the breath as the fundamental note of a musical scale. If the body is integrated then all other movements are natural expressions of that scale and are in harmony with the "tonic" note of the breath.

    There is, to my knowledge, only one "style" of breathing that fosters this integration, it has a lot of different names in the various cultures that have noticed its importance, but I usually refer to it a performance breathing after the term coined by Scott Sonnon.

    How do you learn this? Obviously, if you can get into contact with someone who can teach you directly, that would be best.

    In lieu of that, there are a couple of good instructional videos on the market.

    My favorite is one called "The Five Minute miracle", and it is done by my buddy Steve Barnes (if you have been keeping up with the articles here you know it's Steve's fault you are reading this at all).

    The Five Minute Miracle is good because it is organized in such a way that anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can use it, and it takes very little time out of your day to practice. As a matter of fact, once you learn the skills of performance breathing you can practice it while doing other things, anything that requires that you breathe while you are doing it.

    More on this later.