Do It Properly, Not Easily…

Martial arts is a special creature. I may or may not have written that, a time or two in previous posts. But it is. It’s one of the only things in the western world that combines, sport, fitness, art and mysticism bordering on the religious. It combines aspects of discipline and repetition to encourage a student’s self-confidence and growth.

However, it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. Encourage it, that is. From my experience, only about one in every 8 to 10 students will put in the raw effort and will to gain the experience and growth required to excel in the martial arts. All the fun stuff I described in the previous paragraph needs to be sought out and worked for. It doesn’t happen simply by walking into a dojo and following along.

I’ve seen too many students who attend class after class. I mean, their attendance is almost flawless (minus the ones who are “forced” there by parents, of course) but the effort they put into the classes is almost laughable.

Now, before anyone gets too high and mighty with me, I understand that every student is different; their needs are different and their wants are different. And I’ve met students who have joined the martial arts for many different reasons. Some people join to get in shape, some to learn to defend themselves… Some actually join simply for the social aspect of meeting others and being a part of something. No matter the reason, it IS important to you.

Sweat is the fuel in the forge of progress!

I frequently train at the rear of the class. I’ve long been a believer that a teacher can learn more by watching the students than standing at the front. And these days, I see so many students who phone it in while standing in class. Sometimes it’s easy to put in a minimum effort while the head instructor is busy monitoring so many students. But why be there if not to get the maximum return on your physical and spiritual investment?

Train from your soul! Give it everything you’ve got. When you train, take a look at the other students around you. Within twenty minutes, there should be a puddle of sweat at your feet. If there isn’t, then you aren’t putting your entire being into your training.

You can be in it for your own reasons. Just make sure that while they’re your reasons, they’re still the right ones! ☯

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Why Having That Six Pack Is Bad For You… (And I Don’t Mean Beer!)

Listen, I know what you’re thinking. Having six pack abs is a trademark sign of someone who’s in shape, right? Maybe not. Trust me, I’d love to have a ripped midriff like the dudes we see in the movies. But there are actually a lot of reasons why a person shouldn’t.

Most genuine fitness gurus will agree that there are a number of health issues caused by training to get six pack abs. First and foremost, the type of fitness regime required to get and maintain ripped abs is ultimately unhealthy. The amount of work and effort required, combined with a stricter than strict diet, takes a toll on a person.

Although the current desired social aesthetic, ripped abs can cause all sorts of health issues.

The reality is that there is nothing wrong with developing those abdominal muscles. In fact, most people who exercise regularly will develop them regardless of their look. It’s making them visible that causes the issues.

You see, in order to have those nice, ripped abs, you need to lower your body fat percentage below what is recommended as healthy. It can cause all sorts of issues such as weakened immune system, hormone imbalances and bad structural support system for the body. Ultimately, we aren’t designed to have ripped abs.

Health issues in women can be even worse

Often, athletes who strive to get six pack abs will ignore or forego other important muscles groups in order to get that chiseled look. This means that as much as it’s the current social standard for someone who is in shape, having ripped abs in no way designates someone as necessarily being in good or proper shape.

The whole thing actually becomes worse for females, whose bodies are inherently designed for childbirth and serious damage can be caused to those reproductive systems while striving for ripped abs.

Men’s Journal actually put out a decent e-article about it and it can be read at https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/when-six-pack-abs-are-bad-for-your-health-w435224/

In the martial arts world, the Okinawans believe that the soul is contained in the hara, what is known in some circles as the chi. having just an ever so slight belly means you’re soul is properly balanced. They generally frown upon having ripped abs.

At the end of the day, there are a number of better, healthier ways to get into proper shape. And although there’s nothing wrong with slimming down your mid-section (in fact, SOME weight loss can lead to better overall health) getting those oily six-pack abs everyone in the movies flaunt isn’t the way to go. ☯

The Bigger Person Won’t Always Strike…

The world is a volatile place. It always has been. Violence is a predominant trait of humanity and has always had a presence within society. We simply hear more about it during modern times, thanks to mainstream and social media and the availability of the world’s information at our fingertips, courtesy of the internet.

But is it necessary? Civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

People have often asked me how I manage to consolidate the violence within my own life. Some often assume violence is dominant within me. Given my line of work (which I’ve always made a point not to specify on this blog, perhaps someday you’ll know why) and a lifetime martial artist, it can often be presumed that I have a penchant for violence.

And let’s be clear: every person is capable of violence. You don’t need a black belt or a weapon to cause harm. And I’m not exactly the smallest guy on the block. Although I only stand at 171 centimetres tall (5’7″ for you Imperial folks), I carry a hefty 95 kgs (210 pounds, again Imperial…) of which a reasonable amount is mass and not necessarily fat (although the never-ending gut battle rages on!) I have been taught how to fight from a very young age, both in class and on the street and some of what I’ve been taught will certainly do more than hurt a person.

Due to a number of the difficulties I’ve endured during the course of my life, I have an unseen cauldron of burning rage burning deep below, where I do not allow it to affect the surface. A radical mixture to be sure, when mixed with all the training I’ve received.

“But Shawn, doesn’t being Buddhist mean you don’t get angry? Aren’t you supposed to be all peaceful and stuff?”

No and yes. No, being Buddhist doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. I’m human like everyone else and I have the same full spectrum of emotions as anyone who isn’t. Yes, I am SUPPOSED to be peaceful. I actively seek out peace, in whatever form I can receive it. I am not always successful.

As humans, we shouldn’t be denying those feelings when they bubble close to the surface. Emotion is an energy; often created by endorphins and hormones, sure. But an energy nonetheless. And like any energy within our universe, it can’t be destroyed, simply transformed. So it becomes important for anyone to transform this rage into something else; something constructive.

For example, up until about two months ago I had access to a facility full of heavy punching bags and striking equipment. Speaking from experience, nothing quite helps quell feelings of rage, anger, frustration and violence quite like putting the boots to a punching bag for about half an hour. And performing an intense punching bag workout, in combination with drills and push-ups, can burn up to 500 calories per hour for an average person and help get a wicked sweat on.

Listen, no one is ever able to completely eliminate negative feelings or violence from their lives. Life, in and of itself, does not allow for such a thing. But we all have it within ourselves to take that negative energy and do something positive with it. Go for a walk. Have a workout. Renovate part of your house (ripping down walls REALLY helps burn off excess anger!)

And don’t forget to talk about it! If you’re angry, don’t be scared to SAY you’re angry. You have a right to how you feel, despite the circumstance. Whatever you do, make it a constructive choice and the outcome will never be anything more than positive. ☯

May The 4th Be With You…

It’s May 4th and that means that it’s Star Wars Day! Yes, yes, I know… I bring up a lot of these named holidays, but Star Wars holds a special place in my heart. The Star Wars universe has garnered a phenomenal following over the decades and has spawned several movies, television shows, cartoons and just under 400 books (and that number is still rising!)

Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV) came out in 1977. That was one year before I was born. But it was actually the second movie I had ever seen in my life to that point (the first one was Superman starring Christopher Reeve).

The Star Wars universe helped create my deep love for science fiction and space travel, and I was fascinated by the prospect of the Force. Everyone has always wondered at George Lucas releasing Episode IV before the first three episodes. But I’ve always been fine with it. I grew up on “A New Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”. Having “Phantom Menace” come out in 1999 suited me fine, since it helped to fill the gaps in the storyline I had been enjoying all my life.

I had mixed feelings when George Lucas sold LucasFilms and by proxy, the Star Wars franchise, to Disney in 2012. But the movies that followed certainly did not disappoint. Now, I know that some people haven’t been overly fond of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi but I felt they were fantastic movies and the choreographed scenes were amazing. I’m anxiously anticipating Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

The part that really pissed me off is how the newer movies disavowed the canon storyline from the books. There are nearly 400 books; this includes paperbacks, graphic novels and I’ve read nearly all of them (cue the sad music and the hockey jocks in my high school calling me a nerd). A lot of those books fill in the history of the Star Wars universe and deserved better than to be tossed in the trash.

Believe it or not, the Jedi faith is followed as an actual religion. Having started with about 21,000 folks listing “Jedi” as their religion on the 2001 census, it’s built quite a following. It hasn’t gained official status as a religion in Canada, but I’ve seen weirder things.

Anyway, although a far cry from my usual postings, enjoy the day and take the time to enjoy a Star Wars movie or two. Like all holidays, today only comes once a year! ☯

On The Road To Enlightenment…

I’ve had people ask about how I came about studying Buddhism. The question makes sense; a French-speaking white male living on the Northern shore of New Brunswick wouldn’t necessarily have a great deal of exposure to eastern religions.

I guess it all kind of started in the mid to late 1980’s. Although I hadn’t become entrenched in the martial arts by this point, my religious beliefs would feed off of my martial arts and vice versa, in the years to come. I had already become an avid reader and would pick up any book or manuscript I could get my hands on and read it. My father, in an attempt to steer me away from my grandmother’s medical text books (he felt they were inappropriate for a kid) started trying to find “cool things” for me to read.

Sometime in 1987, my father found a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and provided the manuscript to me in plain text format on a 3.5 inch floppy disk (I realize how old that makes me sound, and you new age kids can Google “floppy disk” if you don’t understand). It was slow reading, especially since there was only one computer in the house and I had to wait for my father to be gone to work to get a turn.

Without getting into details, the Tibetan Book of the Dead is the western title given to one of the three main manuscripts in Buddhism. It basically describes the transitional period in which a person exists between the death of one life and the beginning of another. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist. It was intense and fascinating reading, and I don’t think that my father knew exactly what it was that he had given me. It started me on a path of self-study that I am still entranced with to this day.

To explain how Buddhism gained some roots within my own life, it’s important that I explain a little bit about my family’s religious beliefs. This is not to shine a negative light on anyone’s chosen faith, but my entire family on my mother’s side was intensely religious. In fact, most of my grandmother’s siblings had studied the seminary and most had become nuns. Since my mother had also gone to seminary school, the Catholic faith had deep roots on my mother’s side and I was made to attend church twice, sometimes more, a week. Although teaching your family’s beliefs to the next generation is important, I would come to believe that a traditional church service holds no interest for a young child and can in fact get quite boring. In recent years, some churches offer child programs that allow for the teaching of their faith in a forum where young children are distracted and enjoy the experience. This was not so, for me.

By the time I had reached my pre-teens, my mother gave me the choice as to whether I would attend church or not. And like most children who are given the choice, since I had been forced through it for most of my life, I chose to walk away from it.

By the time the very late 1980’s came along, my health had waned to the point where I was facing death (I’ve written about this in previous posts, if you want to check out that story). Once I began my martial arts training, I began to learn more about Buddhism, Taoism and Zen. One began to feed of the other and I began to actively seek out Buddhist texts and study in greater detail. The more I read, the more I came to feel that the Buddhist faith reflected much more of my personality than my family’s religious faiths (I pluralize that, because my father is actually not Catholic).

My Sensei was a big help, since certain Zen precepts are very dominant in karate. What I study is called Zen Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that originated in China but built roots as a Japanese form of Buddhism focusing on meditation and intuition. Based on Mahayana Buddhism, it combines aspects of Zen and Taoism. Although there are obviously far too many details about it to draft in a blog post, the Buddhist faith has helped me through the decades by encouraging self-motivation, increased health, focus and concentration and acceptance of all other religious beliefs.

Although my studies were akin to a starving person in front of a buffet, most studies were done on my own. In October of 2001 I travelled to Japan with my Sensei, and had the opportunity to visit a number of Buddhist temples, including temples in Narita and Tokyo. I made friends with a number of the monks in Narita and was invited to stay and become a monk myself.

I was caught in a dilemma. Although their peaceful way of life and quiet study appealed to me, I didn’t know how survival would be possible, being a Type 1 Diabetic. The monks explained that they normally used monetary donations as a means to obtain medical supplies for monks who required them. The monastery would provide my insulin in exchange for joining them.

I could have stayed. A part of me wishes I had stayed. But I came to two realizations that night as I was trying to make my decision. The first thing I realized is that the world keeps on turning. Even if I hide within the walls of a monastery, how am I genuinely promoting peace if I’m hidden from the world? Would I be contributing in a way that would satisfy me and make me feel as though I’ve done my part? The answer was certainly no!

The second thing I realized is how embarrassing it would be to have my mother hop an international flight to drag me back to Canada by my ear! Being an only child, there was no way in hell she would have allowed me to join a monastery on the other side of the world!

But there you have it. I often wonder if my path would have been the same if my father hadn’t provided me with that first manuscript. Maybe so. But as much as I would like to say it all happened by accident, it likely wasn’t. As Jean de la Fontaine said, we most often find our destiny on the road we least thought to travel.

You Can Be Much More Influential If People Are Not Aware Of Your Influence…

It seems like a good day for a story…

A wise old master recalled a story from a century ago, where a young martial arts student came to a large city in Japan. The student began asking about martial arts schools in the area, as he wished to train during his stay. The local residents provided him with a number of local schools that were considered good.

The student travelled throughout the city and found a small, unknown dojo that was nestled in a quiet back alley, away from the beaten path. He trained for several classes until his skill was recognized and spoken about throughout the city.

Some of the masters heard of the student’s skill and asked him why he was training at this unknown school. The masters indicated that this school was reasonably unskilled, their techniques were inadequate and their students weren’t very strong. The student bowed his head humbly and responded to the masters:

“No matter the status of the school, no matter their reputation… Training with them is a win-win situation for everyone. If they have something worth teaching, I will learn it. If they have nothing to teach me, perhaps I can help them learn something. Either way, there will be an exchange of knowledge. And that can only benefit everyone involved…”

The point is, we often don’t understand the influence we have on others. I’ve had instructors and teachers who have taught me so much, but they have carried on, never knowing the impact or the amount of knowledge they’ve passed on to me (you likely know who you are!)

Be certain to take every opportunity to pass on your knowledge to the best of your ability. Sometimes, the rewards of passing on our knowledge can outweigh the rewards of gaining something from the places we travel through.

That student was travelling and sought out to learn something. The important lesson here, is that we can always earn something important when we teach. And we often learn just as much when we pass on what we already know. ☯

It’s Great To Shoot For The Stars, But It’s Okay To Stay On The Ground…

Many years ago, I unfortunately joined one of those multi-level marketing companies. It boasted many benefits that other companies didn’t have and promised a certain amount of generous residual income, based on how hard I was willing to work. As is usually the norm with these types of organizations, I had to give up work shifts in order to make certain info sessions, surrender money of my own to “invest” in the company and it’s products and I was “encouraged” to push my family and friends into signing up!

Obviously, I didn’t stick with the company for very long. I have this thing about putting in a lot of hard work and not getting paid for it! Plus, if you’re really committed to these “companies”, you tend to lose your friends and alienate your family rather quickly. But the point is, during one of the first info sessions I attended, the speaker used a tactic that’s quite popular in those types of forums. He asked the guests what they planned to do once they accumulated some wealth. This gets the guest daydreaming a little bit and helps them focus on working harder on the company.

Most people provided answers that one would expect; buying a larger home or taking destination vacations… When the speaker landed on me and asked what I would do with accumulated wealth, I provided an answer that threw them for a loop.

ME: I would buy a coffee.

SPEAKER: You would buy a coffee…? (look of awkward confusion on his face)

(Bear in mind that I was holding a cup of hot coffee, which had been provided for me at the info session.)

SPEAKER: That’s interesting, but perhaps you’d like to explain what you mean by that?

ME: Certainly. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t need to be rich. I simply need to be happy. If one is happy, then everything else in life can come in its own time. When I can make the amount of income necessary to allow me to stop and buy a simple cup of coffee every morning without worrying about my finances, then I will have achieved that happiness. Because if that cup of coffee gets me going and puts a smile on my face, then the rest of the day can be tackled with a better frame of mind. Therefore, I would use any accumulated wealth to buy myself a cup of coffee. Every morning.

SPEAKER: Uhh,… that’s interesting. Let’s move on…

I got the typical confused look I often get from people when I start getting philosophical in a public setting, and it took almost a full minute before people’s attention refocused on the speaker, once he stopped giving me a look that said he thought I was a random weirdo who walked in off the street (a look I’ve gotten more often than I care to admit!)

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a Journey. Not a Destination.” We often get so caught up in making goals and struggling to get to the finish line that we overlook the scenery along the way.

It’s important to remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. Ambition and goals are an important part of life and the gratification that can accompany reaching those goals can be immeasurable.

But there is also nothing wrong with taking your time, making plans and taking time to stop and smell the roses. Life is a fleeting thing. On the cosmic scale, we aren’t here for all that long. So make sure you’ve made it possible to stop and buy your cup of coffee. Every morning. That little slice of happiness may be just what you need to get through the obstacles ahead! ☯