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How much is too much? (Classical vs. Modern)

I have always thought,”reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood.” I just learned that has a name, Chesterton’s fence.

It is easily seen when someone buys a successful and growing business and starts by changing large parts of it–because of ego–and then the business quickly goes away. This is true in the Martial arts as well.

Some people change things to make them “easier” or just so they can claim they are doing a different style and call themselves “Grand master.”

The other side of this is when people cling to “tradition” and will not change how they do a move even when a better way is discovered or a fatal flaw is literally discovered. Ironically this violates several principles of warfare, business and combat.

Henry Ford refused to change from the model T until he was almost put out of business by a far superior Chevy. Many businesses have done this until they were gone and forgotten.

There is an inherent obligation when you find a problem in an existing system to look for a better way to replace it, but you are not obligated to be the one who comes up with it.

When I was first learning, my Sifu said, “If you find something that you think works better come show me and I will show you what is wrong with it, or I will change the way we do it.” That is a really traditional way to look at things in Kung Fu. In the Shaolin Temple they started with the 18 hands of the Enlightened One for 250 years then the top fighting monk traveled around China and collected more moves that worked. He expanded the style to 75 moves, and later masters did the same to expand the art further.

Once again it comes down to balance.

Further suggested reading: History, Philosophy and Technique,  Tao of Jeet Kune Do: New Expanded Edition, and The Shaolin Grandmasters’ Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an

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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 Muay 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.

I know that there are people who will say that you can continue to get things out of a form indefinitely, but that is really dependent on two factors.  One is the person who is doing the practicing, and the amount they’ve managed to get out of it so far, and the other is the type of form in question, and how they were taught it in the first place.

There are three types of set, or kata: sets that teach the basic moves, sets that teach a particular strategy, and sets intending to recreate a particular fight or battle.  Siu Nim Tao from Wing Chun, and Skip Knees from Muay Thai are examples of sets intended to teach the basic moves of a style.  That is like learning how the pieces move in chess.  Thunder and Earth from Shaolin Kempo Ku Shu is a particular tactical attack.  That would be roughly the equivalent of  learning the Indian defense in chess.  No chess master is going to spend the rest of his life just practicing the Indian defense.  Certainly, there are perspectives that you can add to your practice as time goes on, from going back and practicing the sets and techniques you started with as your perspective changes, but saying that you have not mastered that technique would still be a stretch.

Every form or set, every technique or kata, has to be understood from both sides.  If you do not know the technique that you are defending against, if you cannot visualize it as a two-man form, then you really haven’t been taught the form.  When I go through sets with my students, I will go through the motions on the other side so that they understand what they’re defending against and where they’re attacking.  Since they understand what they’re doing, it’s much easier for them to learn the form in the first place and grasp its meaning and intent.   Yes, continual practice is needed to hard-wire the form and techniques into the body, and so that you will remember the form, and honestly to help you stay fit, but, hopefully, you understand what you’re doing and aren’t only waving your harms in the air like you just don’t care.

While mastery itself is a life-long process, the mastery of a single form should not take very long at all.  While continued practice will increase your proficiency, and thinking about it should continue to bring greater insights over the course of a lifetime, those insights really come from you and your understanding of martial arts in general, not from the form itself so much, unless of course you were missing stuff.

For some further reading to help you understand the process of learning, well, anything and put you on the road towards mastery, try The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life, by Timothy Ferris.

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Money, Mojo and the Muladhara

Yeah, if it wasn’t for Wan Kim’s Urban Meditation (https://www.facebook.com/daoism), 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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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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