Mastering a single form is a lifetime achievement?

Well, that’s certainly a traditional saying, but I think if it takes you an entire lifetime to master a form, there is something seriously wrong. Actually, I can think of three things that would have to all be wrong.

1. Your instructor would have to be crappy.
2. You’re not practicing enough, and not spending enough time thinking about the form.
3. You ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

Of course, I know number three because you’re putting up with number one, and continuing to engage in the two aspects of number two, and you can’t just figure it out.

I have generally found that instructors of the “just do what I do” category fall into two categories: Really good at doing and really bad at teaching, or Really bad at doing and really good at conning people.

When I was taking Kali, Wing Chun and Muai Thai, we were allowed to go to all of the instructors various classes in different locations. I don’t know of anyone other than me who did so. At one of the locations, the instructor was teaching a Kali class and a separate Wing Chun class. The only people in the Kali class were a 60-something and a 70-something pair of little old Southern ladies. There were more than ten students in the Wing Chun, and the instructor wanted to concentrate on the Wing Chun class.

Now, we were halfway through the quarter, and the two little old ladies had not yet managed to get down the first move. The young Chinese instructor from Hong Kong really didn’t understand them at all, and had more ego than teaching skill.

I readily agreed to teach them for him, and started going over the course material. It was readily apparent to me that they just weren’t getting it. Now, an important thing to remember is that Kali is actually a double sword technique, and you practice with the rattan stick so you don’t kill people in practice class. I looked at the women and asked them if they cooked from scratch. The younger one had only been doing it for fifty years. At that point, I knew I could teach them. I explained every technique in terms of kitchen uses of a butcher knife that they had been practicing around twice as long as I’d been alive.

Before the regular instructor came back, they had mastered considerably more than that quarter’s course material in Kali, including all the basic attack and defense moves. Then one of them asked me, “How would I use this for self defense?” I answered, “Cut up a chicken.” They then answered, “Oh,” followed by a horrified, “Oh…” and then a delighted “Oh!” of realization.

Now, I realize that I had certain advantages in having cooking the same way as these ladies since I was 8, growing up studying German long sword, and having had at least three quarters of Kali prior to this, but what really allowed me to do this was that I have an open mind, think about what I’m doing, and understand it.

When the instructor came back and asked how the class had gone, he was obviously gloating. He had been spending the last quarter competing with me, not very successfully. I was just there to learn. Of course, when they showed him the techniques that they had mastered for over fifty years, he was more frightened than astonished. He never did ask me how I managed to teach them that. As soon as they thought of it as a butcher knife, and were told what cooking techniques applied, they were masters of at least everything I had shown them that day. There are very few people who want to fight someone with a blade who can filet meat in less than a second.

This is what I call using the same experience points twice.


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Money, Mojo and the Muladhara

Yeah, if it wasn’t for Wan Kim’s Urban Meditation (, I never would have thought of the connection between the chakras and money. Having thought of it, of course, I find myself contemplating it from a theoretical standpoint.

While the existence of money itself is a product of the brow chakra, being an intellectual construct, its primary placement with regard to the chakras would be the root chakra as a necessity for life and security, at least for those who can’t just walk off into the wilderness and survive, which, quite frankly gets boring after a few months, in my opinion.

Yet there are other aspects to money. It has a relationship to the second chakra, because it is part of how we relate to other people. (Many people mistakenly think that the second chakra is about sex, but this is an oversimplification that largely depends on the individual person. The second chakra is actually about how we relate to the world and other people.)

A lot of people get very emotionally attached to money, or spending it, and that is a third chakra issue, especially learning to gain self control with regards to our spending habits.

When you use money for altruistic purposes, or even give it to the person begging on the side of the street, this type of a mitzvah relates directly to the fourth chakra.

Any time you are using money to “vote with your money,” either boycotting something or buying something or donating to a particular cause, or spending cash to boost a post, you are utilizing the throat chakra.

Returning to the brow chakra, you can purchase school, or books or classes, or educational toys or any number of things that will stimulate the intellect. In a way, this illustrates how you have to have sufficient energy in the root chakra to supply the other chakras when doing spiritual work.

Still, when you’re talking about basic money and getting enough of it, you are talking first chakra. This is just off the top of my head, but I hope that it’s useful to someone.

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Flim Flam, Thank you Ma’am or: Spotting the Great American Con Artist

“Those who speak do not know, and those who know do not speak.” — Lao Tzu

Over the last week or so there, has been a conversation going around my house circulating between the topics of “The average person can’t tell the difference between a con man and a real martial artist,” and how sad it is that the most popular “martial arts” in America are not even real martial arts but sports.  There is a rather cantankerous old part of me that would be perfectly happy to tear apart and stamp on the grave of the common argument that these sports are even better for teaching you fightin’ than a traditional martial art with all the zealot that a convert can muster, because in this case that’s what I am, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.  Please rest assured that I would be more than happy to rant about the fact that, while we are supposed to respect all martial arts, some arts really are better than others. That having been said, it is the teacher and the student and how much the practitioner puts into the art that is more important than the art itself.  I realize that I have just made a really large post so far about what I’m not going to talk about, but please bear with me.

Over the years, I have seen my share of con artists trying to pass themselves off as the real thing, so now I’m going to pass along some of the telltale signs that I have identified, or just immediately spotted when dealing with people who are masters of the mystic art of “Who Flung Doo.”

The number of teenagers I’ve met that claimed they had been adopted into the family of, and had been taught the style of, the Grandmaster’s family while overseas in high school when I already knew the white suburban middle class neighborhood they spent their entire life in up to that point, approaches the number of styles there are in Japan.  A frighteningly large number of them have been ninjas, but there have also been mafia hit men in New Orleans. (Both of the people who told me this story had the distinctive feature that I knew that they had never been to New Orleans, but I had.)  There is also the occasional master of 108 wooden dummy techniques style or whatnot. Remember, this is their super secret family style.

One outrageous claim that I have actually heard went like this: “My Master made us stack uncooked rice and peas alternating on top of each other with chopsticks until they were at least six inches high. It’s really a lot easier than it sounds.”  This same person told me he was a master of Ishinryu and demonstrated by slapping both hands on his chest and flopping them out in random directions over and over again like a sloppy drunk doing calisthenics. Even if I hadn’t taken some Ishinryu before that, I certainly knew more than enough martial arts to know that there was a tractor with a nitrous injector on the other end of the chain that was wrapped around my leg.

In another case, a person I knew in Little Five Points wanted me to check out this couple that were telling her they were Baguazhang masters and wanted her to come over to their place so they could teach some to her.

Yes, I had in fact been walking the circle for some time when this happened and, being a practitioner of Baguazhang, I was really hopeful that they were telling the truth.  As soon as she introduced me, they started telling me that they were masters of fire dragon bagua (there is no such thing to the best of my knowledge) and discussing its precise linear attacks while describing it like the karate Movie of the Week, right down to the special effects.

You might get the impression that con men assume that you are very gullible and ignorant and that anything flashy, real or not, will drag you in. You are right.  The problem is that there are people who have been adopted into traditional families and have been taught, and some martial arts have some extremely flashy techniques.

The good news is that if they are for real, they probably aren’t going to brag about it all the time.  It may come up in conversation, they may have pictures of them with their class on the wall of their school, they may have a copy of Inside Kung Fu or Karate Illustrated with them on the cover framed, or some famous martial artist might suddenly walk in unannounced into one of your classes, but most likely none of those will happen.  While they may never mention it, you may find out through word of mouth.  It is possible that this will come from one of the other students, but it also may come even more impressively from a teacher or student of another style.

As to gigantic flashy moves, well, there’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that there are quite a number of legitimate arts and sports.  The good news is, big flashy moves are generally a sign that you are looking at an inferior art, if it is even real.  Unfortunately, those styles make the most money.

The harder thing for most people to spot are the quasi-real instructors. There are many examples out there of the classes that we refer to as the McDojo or the Black Belt Academy.  The cookie cutter McDojo is designed to sell things, but it is really just an after school daycare with uniforms.  The Black Belt Academy, on the other hand, is a term for a “school” where, as long as you regularly pay your enrollment fee and occasionally show up, you will automatically be advanced until you, too, are a black belt with no regard for whether or not you have actually learned anything.  Still more insidious are the schools that are teaching but don’t really know very much or are claiming to teach something that they are not.  In the 1970s, when Kung Fu became popular, an astonishing number of Kung Fu schools popped up overnight.  The years of dedication it usually requires for someone to learn any given style of Kung Fu was no barrier because these schools were being opened by people who had never even taken a class of Kung Fu.  Many were Karate practitioners, some were even Judo practitioners, and an incredibly high percentage of them were actually just dance instructors.  A similar thing happened with ninja schools in the early 80s, of course.  More recently, I found a school with an instructor claiming to teach Judo, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, Hapkido, and Taekwondo. Before you get too impressed, you might want to ask what this man’s qualifications were.  Upon investigation, it was revealed that he opened the school on the basis of the fact that he had been a policeman in this small town at one point, although if you really dug into his background, there were rumors that he had a black belt in American Taekwondo from somewhere.  I took some time out to observe his classes and never saw a single technique properly performed from any style.  I did, however, end up inadvertently picking up one of his students after they were injured in class and quit, but I did not actually know that until after the student’s first lesson.

One of the big giveaways that a school is not good, or is not planning to teach you, is that they will not give you a free introductory lesson.  This means they don’t want you to see what they are doing until they get your money. There’s an even bigger red flag if they won’t even let you watch a class until after you’ve signed up.  Another thing to look out for is if the head of the school never teaches the class, it’s always or almost always the top students who do all the teaching.  At one time, them wanting you to sign a contract was a way to know they wanted your money but didn’t care about teaching you.  These days, with the difficulty in keeping a school in operation, many people have turned to contracts in a desperate attempt to be solvent.  However, if they won’t actually teach you without a long term contract that is still a red flag.

As for me, while I have had many Masters, I am 85% – 95% self taught.  One elderly Chinese woman who was teaching me thought it was hilarious and would laugh every time I called her Sifu, because it means father, but she never corrected me because it was the correct title under the circumstances.  Please try and remember it is as much about the path to enlightenment as it is improvement in health, and that learning to kick ass really is more of an incidental benefit than a goal.  Be thankful, Grasshopper, for few learn so much of Ti Kwan Leep so quickly.

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Final Frontier or Die

What will be the future of space?

Well, that really depends on us.  We’re starting to see some private sector investment in space, which is a good thing. but really, mainly because government funding has dropped the ball on space back in the 1970s. NASA has never gotten even 1% of the national budget, and has been twiddling their thumbs since the Apollo Program shut down, and looking at each other going, “Are we going to be able to afford a Coke from the machine next week?”

There are things that most people forget like, whether for good or ill, Landsat discovered more oil within one year than all the oil that had been discovered up to that point, keeping us from running out by the year 2001.

I remember going to the Space Frontier Foundation Lunar Development conference back in 1999, and what really stood out to me was the complete lack of understanding of how society works and the extreme amount childish, petty ego going on. They all wanted to do lunar fly-by projects, but everybody thought that their one test was the only one that counted, and that they did not need to combine efforts or convince anybody other than other nerds at the conference. They had a disdain for the general populace that was, while possibly justified, entirely unrealistic and not useful. The one scientist who spoke because he had succeeded in getting a lunar fly-by project was an object of envious scorn. They were all praying for an angel that they did not deserve. Furthermore, they all snubbed the guy with the proven solar sail system that had been tested on the space shuttle.

If I had been an angel looking to finance a project, I would have forced a group of them to work together with removable test modules on one probe where everybody who had a test that could be done with the same piece of equipment was grouped together and attached solar sails to extend massively the ability to run tests while reducing the need for fuel. I also would have put the one man who had succeeded with a project in charge, and had them set it up so that it flew back by the Earth to have modules changed out to change the tests that could be done.

This model would have given us the equivalent of twenty probes for the price of one.

When I was at the ISDC in Milwaukee in 1998, I worked on one of the panels planning differing aspects of planning a space probe to the moon. Most everybody was in agreement as to what to do for almost everything that our team was supposed to work out, but we got hung up when it came to the orbit that should be used for the project.

I ended up arguing with all of them that the probe should be taking an off-planar orbit, and ticking off the various reasons why. I did not give up on my point because, well for God’s sakes, it’s rocket science, it ought to be logical! We had loudly been debating this for about five minutes or so when Buzz Aldrin came over (I think he was working on one of the other projects at another table or something) and said, “Yes, it absolutely should be an off-planar orbit.  That will work much better. I’ve already worked out the math. I’ll send a copy over.” (He has a PhD in Orbital Mechanics and has proven that he can find the moon in the dark.) Then he turned to me and said, “Sorry for stealing your thunder.” I said, “No, don’t be. They listen to you. We got them to change their minds. That’s the important thing.”

I think that if we make it as a species, that before too long we will have at least one “real” space station at one of the Lagrange Points, probably the one halfway between Terra and Luna, a Lunar base, at least mostly inside of the volcanic vents, where they will harvest water and mine the lunar surface for the ubiquitous titanium, aluminum and platinum, which will be used for space construction–such as the space station–and will proceed to build colonies on other planets such as Mars and Ganymede. By then, we will have worked out better propulsion methods, and will hopefully be at least sending probes to other systems and working on actual FTL drives.

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Food for Thought

Food for Thought

A lot of people make a big deal, one way or the other, about Bruce Lee, and lately I’ve heard people trying to downplay his role in revitalizing martial arts worldwide, especially mixed martial arts. Ultimately for the master, all martial arts become a matter of, as Bruce said, “Authentic self expression.” In the 1950s, when American music became so bland that Pat Boone was the most exciting thing on the radio, Rock ‘n’ Roll became an inevitable necessity, and without Chuck Berry we would never have had Little Richard, Elvis or the Beatles. When Bruce came on the scene, martial artists everywhere had become mired in tradition, down to copying their instructor when he did a move incorrectly, which is still a serious problem the further you get away from a grand master, and sometimes even they fail to get one move down correctly, and everyone’s afraid to correct them. “Oh, he must be right. He’s….”

The first person I know of promoting martial arts widely in America was Teddy Roosevelt, who opened a Jujutsu dojo in the White House. He had been a sickly kid, and credited his good health to constant practice. Even today, many schools refuse to fix a bad technique that all other schools can see is crap because “well, they’re not part of our lineage. This is how we do it.”

No, Bruce was not the greatest martial artists ever to live, but he may have been one of the fastest. No, he did not surpass his master. In fact, he was fourth down in the lineage of Yip Man, and everyone who outranked him could beat him. Yes, he was also an actor, but he was an actual fighter as well, and if you think that’s the important thing, you’ve missed the point of martial arts in the first place. Skin color, country of origin, luck of physical endowment, and style of martial art are not the important thing. I have difficulty remembering people’s names, and honestly the names of styles that I have not practiced. I am also not an expert linguist, mastering the traditional languages of the half dozen places of origin of the styles I have practiced. Yes, sometimes I annoy my students by using German, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, Cantonese and Mandarin in the same lesson.

However, this isn’t about me, and martial arts isn’t about famous personalities. Do you think when Jet Li was the all-China Wu Shu champion and nobody in America had heard of him that therefore Joe Corley was a better fighter?

The first rule of all martial arts is, “If at all possible, run.” but the second rule is, “If it works, use it.” By the way, the first rule of yoga is, “Pain is nature’s way of telling you you’ve done something stupid.”

The greatest martial artist on Earth is probably entirely unknown. The greatest martial art on Earth may well be being practiced by someone who is weak, uncoordinated, and has major health problems. While he might not be able to beat anyone else, it is keeping him alive and teaching him mastery. Some of the most famous grand masters have been really bad teachers, and some half-way decent martial artists have been great teachers, and very few of the people who are good at choreography are really any good at the other two.

So, ultimately, Bruce Lee was an inevitable necessity for martial arts in his time period.

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Irrefutable Evidence as to Whether Global Warming Is Real.

There are a lot of aspects of this question that can be ignored for the purposes of this blog.  The fact that the first sign of global warming would be expansion of the atmosphere is, however, significant.  As I explained to school mates in 1978, global warming doesn’t mean that you’ll be warmer all the time. In fact, it immediately leads to more chaotic weather with greater extremes of temperature fluctuation and larger and more powerful storms.  The third thing that will happen if you have global warming is that the ice covering the poles will begin to melt, dropping the planet’s albedo, and thus causing an acceleration of global warming.  As this occurs, material trapped in and under the ice for hundreds of thousands of years, and in some cases millions, will begin to rot, releasing methane and CO2, further accelerating global warming.  At the same time, diseases (bacteria, viruses, etc.) that are, once again, up to millions of years old, will be released from the ice and begin to adapt to the life forms that have no reason to have resistance or immunity to them which now live all over the planet.  I will not debate these, but will rather focus on the one undeniable truth.

               Hot air expands.

               Many years ago, the United States put up a space station outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, called Skylab.  Skylab was in a stable orbit.  Those of you who have the good fortune of being old enough and actually having a memory will recall that we sent many missions to Skylab and ran experiments similar to the ones being run by the International Space Station today.

               Those of you who are old enough and have a memory will also recall that Skylab came down and hit Australia.  Hopefully, you’re saying to yourself at this point, “Wait, you said Skylab was in a stable orbit outside the atmosphere?   Shouldn’t that mean that it would stay up forever?”  Yes, and in a beautiful example of an extension of Newton’s Laws of Motion, it could not possibly hit the Earth unless acted upon by an outside force.  “Well, what was that outside force?” you may ask.  The answer is both puzzling and enlightening.  That outside force was called “air drag.”

               Wait, how can you have air drag if it’s outside the atmosphere?  The answer is simple.  The atmosphere of the Earth expanded to the point where Skylab was orbiting.  The only ways that could happen is if we acquired more atmosphere, which we didn’t, or if the average temperature of the Earth went up, which it did, by three degrees Fahrenheit.

               In the early 1980s, we were due to go into one of the mini ice ages, and in fact had the type of situation occur which usually triggers the beginning of an ice age.  First, Mount Saint Helen’s blew, and then there were several other large volcanic eruptions around the Ring of Fire.  (The Ring of Fire is the most volcanically active area on the Earth, which forms a large circle around the Pacific Ocean on major tectonic plate lines.)  If that had not happened, the unstable weather changes we have been seeing in the 2000s would have happened in the 1980s and 1990s.  This bought us some time.  Unfortunately, we are not utilizing that time in a productive manner.  In this case, denial is the kind of action which leads to extinction.

               Man has been very good at surviving by the skin of his teeth.  I at least hope that we will do this yet again.  However, every day we wait to begin drastic action to reverse this process raises the price tag for fixing it by about a million dollars. It will also mean that everyone’s lives will be considerably more difficult while we try to fix it, and that means everyone—rich or poor.

               Now, you may say that this MIR-ly one example, but I would call your attention to the Russian space station, Mir, which was up between 1986 and 2001.   Mir had to be boosted into a higher orbit every year, and eventually was brought down by air drag.  That could only happen if the atmosphere was expanding.  Yes, by that time its orbit was affected by an expanding atmosphere every single year.

               These are facts that you cannot deny.   You also cannot deny the fact that companies which are the main cause of global warming in order to save a penny per ton on items they manufacture, and then finagle their way out of paying any taxes are going to expect you to foot the bill.

               That’s right.  I said that global warming is going to cost you money, make you work harder, and lower your standard of living.   If you don’t want that to happen, then you better do something about it right now.

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From the Admin: A Historical Interlude

     I administer this blog for Vulcan Jedi Timelord (and have even written a guest post for him in the past), and he has asked me to put some of his writings, pre-blog, here.  Honestly, they are from the only outlet he had at the time, Facebook Notes.  I will be leaving the date on which they were written at the top of each entry.

     Please enjoy them, and comment.   

— The City Druid

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