Sometimes You Just Gotta Zen It Out…

The martial arts can sometimes get a bit convoluted and complicated. Depending on the style you study, there can be so many different techniques and forms that keeping them all straight in your head can become difficult.

Martial arts are a bit like everything else in life; you can only learn one thing at a time and it takes a while to master it. This is an issue that many martial arts students frequently have while training. People in general, especially these days, tend to want immediate gratification. They prefer the high-flying kicks and fancy techniques that they see in movies, but most of what we see on screen is unrealistic.

Bruce Lee once said “Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I’d studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.”

Unlike a lot of what you’ve possibly read on the Internet, this isn’t a made-up quote! He wrote that in his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

I believe the quote essentially describes the growth a student a student must go through during training. When one begins the martial arts, they focus on learning the technique and practicing. Once they start gaining some experience, they focus primarily on the little details: position of the feet, angle of the joints, effectiveness and impact… But once they’ve been practicing for a length of time, those techniques become a passing thought in the grand puzzle that is the martial arts. It becomes about bringing it all together, and a punch once again becomes only a punch.

It’s important to find a balance between learning and doing. And in that learning, you start to recognize that you’re reaching a stage of understanding when you’re able to perform complex forms or techniques properly without giving them thought. This is what the Okinawans used to refer to as “No Mindedness”. It describes a state where one is almost in a meditative state while training.

But because of the time and effort it takes to master techniques and forms, many students become bored, complacent or lazy in class. Ultimately, many of these students will drop out and/or quit. Only those who stick with it and put in the maximum effort will be able to reap the benefits.

This concept applies to any sport or activity. Work hard, stay patient and focus on learning as much as you can. It will help carry you much further. ☯

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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! ☯

Crack A Cold One For These Boozy Facts…

I’ve covered coffee and green tea in previous posts (the green tea thing is going fantastic, by the way!) So today, I’ll be covering a beverage type most people don’t consider as having health benefits: alcohol.

Yes, you read that right. In certain circumstances, alcohol can lend a number of health benefits (when it doesn’t include getting black-out drunk).

When one drinks in moderation, and just to be clear, moderation means no more than about two drinks a day, here are some of the benefits:

It can lower the risk for heart disease. Moderate alcohol can help increase the amount of “good cholesterol”, help improve insulin resistance and can help prevent certain blood clots.

It can improve your libido! Although there’s a lot more study to be done on this subject, some results have shown that alcohol can help prevent erectile dysfunction. And I don’t know about you guys (pun fully intended) but this is an important detail. Again, this is based on extremely moderate consumption.

Alcohol can help prevent dementia and reduce the chance of gallstones. Studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol can help make brain cells more fit. I’m not certain how one would measure the reduction in chance of developing gallstones. I mean, maybe you’re just someone who doesn’t develop them, right? But then again, that’s why I’m not a scientist.

It’s also been shown to reduce the chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes. This is apparently linked to healthy lifestyle choices used in conjunction with moderate consumption, of course. But while we’re on the subject of Diabetes and alcohol consumption, let’s talk about carbohydrates.

Obviously, carb counting becomes extremely important to insulin-dependant Diabetics. With that in mind, just about any pure spirit is carb free. For example, whiskey and tequila are actually carb free. As long as you don’t mix your drink with sugared alcohol or juice, you should be good to go. Unfortunately, just about all blends of beer are heavy on the carbohydrates. You know, hops and yeast and all that…

Frequent or heavy use of alcohol can LEAD to several health complications and a bunch of inconvenient things like weight gain and addiction. So be sure to drink in moderation and check your blood sugars frequently while consuming. Alcohol can keep your liver so occupied that it forgets to release glycol and your levels can drop quickly.

You can visit the Mayo Clinic’s website to read further about the benefits and complications of alcohol consumption. Here’s the link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551

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! ☯

Wherever, Whenever…

Working out can sometimes get tough. There are a lot of things that can get in the way, such as work, studies, family, etc…

It’s important to remember that you can have a simple workout no matter where you find yourself or what you may be doing. For example, we’ve had an old fold out couch that I had to beat with a sledge hammer last year because the bed portion wouldn’t fold in properly. I properly screwed up the mechanism, so it’s had a piece of metal sticking out of the corner for the past year. It’s still been decent to sit on, but with the new couch taking up the majority of the living room space, we’ve been trying to get rid of it. This afternoon, a crow bar, a sledgehammer and a lot of sweat later, we tore the couch into burnable pieces of wood and the steel bed frame to bring to a scrap yard. It was actually a pretty good workout.

Sometimes when we’re on a trip somewhere, we tend to forego our fitness. Especially when staying in motels and such. Don’t forget that you can get a good sweat on, simply from your own body weight and body weight exercises. Some good examples would be push-ups, squats, lunges, crunches or sit-ups, leg raises and tricep dips using a chair. As long as you push yourself, you’d be surprised how good a burn you can get.

Check out this web page I found that contains all kinds of exercises that you can do when you find yourself without equipment and need a good burn: http://travelstrong.net/bodyweight-exercises/

Remember, travelling and daily obligations shouldn’t keep you from maintaining your physical health. As the old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.