Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Experts

My friend Chris and i used to work out early in the morning by the lake in TY Park in Hollywood, Florida back when the Florida Renaissance Festival was held there. Often times when people would wander by and see us training they would have something to say about what we were doing. We dubbed these people, "the Experts." These are the people who, no matter what it is you are doing, they know more and love to tell you about it. When your chosen path is fighting, you meet the experts quite often.

Males in this country for the most part all believe that they are the invincible warrior. I have met very very few people who have ever lost a bar fight, but many people with dashing tales of how they trounced fifteen men and swept away the damsel in distress while sipping on cognac and reading the Wall Street Journal. For a long time i believed there had to be one guy, somewhere in the world that had a record of about 0 and a million that was getting beat up by all these heroes of the modern age.

I have a few other examples. I used to teach at a high school in Philadelphia called Crefeld. I did an after school program and taught Jeet Kune Do. On sparring day i would work out with the kids to help them with their technique and see how they were doing. There was one student who was clearly an expert, about fourteen, knew everything there was to know about the martial arts. We sparred and at the end i started to give him a few tips. He interrupted me and said, "in a real fight i would have just come up underneath with an upper cut and knocked you out." I asked, "Why didn't you do that then?" He had a slightly shocked look on his face, "I didn't want to hurt you, i would get in trouble." I nodded, "Let's do it again and this time i want you to hurt me, i waive you of any trouble you may get in." We sparred again, same results. I asked him if he tried that time and he said with a slightly lowered head that he did. Then he was able to hear me. I was proud of him for admitting it.

Talking to another friend at the brew pub one night he was going on and on about fighting. I finally said, look, why are you good at what you do? It is because he practiced that thing. At the time i was teaching and training well over forty hours a week and i said, look, i am pretty good at this because it is what i do. Just like professional plumbers are better at me when plumbing is concerned, pro basketball players are good at basketball, people who practice fighting are better at fighting. His response was, "Well the thing you need to know about me is that i have killed 147 people with my bare hands." There is always that i guess, if indeed he did, he is probably good at killing. Not a skill i want really, but i digress.

Both of these two were experts. Both of them talk like they knew more than i did and their initial reaction was to defend their fighting acumen. The first of the two was able to empty his cup and hear what i had to say. He went on to learn something from the encounter. My logic to him which he understood was, "I have been training for far longer than you have been on this planet. You are not going to beat me. I have teachers that i can not touch because they have a lot more training than i do. If i put my ego away i learn from them and become better for it." The second expert could not hear me, there was too much of a need to defend an ego involved so stories were created to protect the innocent.

Fighting is a weird thing. Especially for we boys in the society. I call us boys intentionally because when we get involved in that whole posturing-story telling-flexing thing, boys is what we are. The people who know what they are doing do not have to strut. There are plenty of "experts" in the martial arts. I especially see them in Jeet Kune Do. So many people will tell you that they are doing the real Jeet Kune Do and John Doe has no idea what he is talking about. This is directly contrary to what Bruce Lee said. He felt that the name of JKD should be given up if people started to get hung up on it. Jeet Kune Do was supposed to bring people together and many of us in the arts have taken that idea and broken it. Traditional stylists are far better for the most part at respect and humility.

Dan Inosanto, the man who started the Jeet Kune Do philosophy with Bruce Lee, arguably the best martial artist on the planet, is also one of the most humble people i have ever met. He brings people together. When Guru Dan finds a new style he goes to learn it, insisting on starting at the lowest possible rank. This is because he understands what Bruce was talking about, what they both were talking about really. He has an empty cup and a true thirst for knowledge. Many try to mask their ego behind a show of cockiness and fancy belts. They want you to believe they have some sort of secret knowledge and that they know the answer, that they are expert. They are contrary to the example set by Inosanto.

The difference between the experts and someone like Dan Inosanto, when you come down to it, is confidence. People who strut and tell you how good they are are really insecure. They try and convince you of their grandeur because they are trying to convince themselves. The things they are saying are on shaky ground. The true master does not strut to you or show off because the master does not have to. They know what they are capable of and it sits on a firm footing that can not be shaken. Thus they are able to learn form those around them because the knowledge of someone else does not threaten the knowledge that they have, it can only enhance it.

I have a long way to go. I know many people far greater in skill than i am. I also know many who have less. I learn from both types of people. I am not better than those who know less or worse than those who know more. Where i am at is based on the experiences of my life and the things i have done with them. I am not an expert but i will share with you my humble opinions if your cup is empty and you are ready to learn. I am ready to learn as well.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Passion versus Career

I have been thinking lately, maybe i do not want martial arts teacher to be my career. Toward the end of Combined Forces, my job was 75% dealing with paper work and marketing, townships and permits and 25% teaching. I did not start doing this to be a businessman. I wanted to help people with their lives and have a place that i could work out with lots of equipment whenever i wanted. It turned into something that was draining my soul away with all the capitalism.

Since i have left i have been doing some private classes and workshops and the passion is back. I think that it is just more than a job to me, and trying to have it be the thing that pays my bills requires it to go to places that i do not wish it to go. I would much rather be the one-on-one solo teacher and remember what the arts are all about. I also do not want to only train rich people. I have never turned anyone away because they can not pay. If you are a student of mine and you are reading this, i would rather you train than not train because you do not have money. My students are important to me and consistency is important. So if things are tight, don't pay, but come to class.

Anyway. I believe it might be important, at least for me, to not let the things in life that are a passion, a beautiful obsession, not become a job. There is a corruption that happens there. The money becomes more important than the passion eventually. I do know that since i have left behind my "career" as a martial arts teacher, i am much happier and also have returned to loving teaching the martial arts.

In the Bible, i think Jesus said, you can not serve God and Mammon at the same time. How true. What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul? I think that can happen very easily when you let your love become your job. I am really thinking i am going to keep them separate from now on. Small things on the side but no more worrying about advertising and marketing my spiritual and holy passion.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Superposition is the state that an electron is in before you measure it. It can be anything. The act of measuring the electron gives it the result that you get. Physicists learned this from the two-slit experiment and other things that showed that there really is no way to separate yourself from the world you are trying to measure. The act of measuring has an effect on the world.

In hunting and gathering societies they had no problem with the concept of superposition. When a hunter would come out of the bush after a hunt, he would leave the game outside, enter the lodge and say something like this to his wife, "i found something out there in the Bush." (As we learn from myths like Kopit Feeds the Hunter, a Micmac Indian story.) Something. When you hear this in the story you ask yourself, what is it? At that point it could be anything. When his wife goes outside to see what it is she finds a bear, but until then the thing outside her lodge had plenipotential, it could have been anything.

We are made up of those minute particles and so is the whole of the universe. Superposition is a reality. My life is in a state of superposition right now. It could be anything. I am wondering where and which way to go from here. Should i be a stunt man, musician, fight choreographer, martial arts teacher, all of these things or something that i have not yet thought of? Where should i live? The undiscovered country of the future could be anything at this point.

At moments this is a terrifying proposition, but mostly it is freeing. I am excited to follow the path, follow my dharma to wherever and whenever it leads. The world is ripe with possibility. It is so rare to have these moments of superposition that i think i will enjoy. We always try and plan everything out. Let go. Flow. Be water my friend. Water always finds the place that it is supposed to go. It also finds the way of least resistance. Be water my friend.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Powerful Moments

Sitka stretched her legs and felt the cool morning air. She could hear the steady breathing of her husband and her sons in the lodge around her but it was still too dark to see. She pulled the blanket around her and walked out into the coolness of the early autumn dawn. She walked away from camp and up to the rise more by feel than by sight to the large rock with the view to the east. The sky was just beginning to come alive at the horizon with pinks on the low lying clouds.

The young people always would scoff at her. "Grandmother, why do you get up so early? The sun will come up whether you sing to him or not." She smiled as she thought of them. They had their science, she would stay with her myths and stories. She began to chant and sing. She sang the old songs that were taught to her by her grandmother, who in turn had learned them from her grandmother before her. As she began to sing Brother Sun peaked his first hesitant gaze out over the horizon to embrace the wide world.

Someone of the people had sung the sun up every morning since the Strong Time, since the beginning when the animals could speak. One of them would sing to Him every morning until the end of days. It was enough that someone sang. She was glad that it was her. Her granddaughter would make a strong singer in due time as well. Sitka did not want to ever miss a sunrise.

My professor Calvin Martin would always get up and watch the sunrise. To him, it was about standing witness to the event. There are powerful moments, moments that pierce through our alone and bring us close to old eternities and infinite present moments. I have had moments like this, where i realize that God truly is everywhere, all at once, including in the very flesh and blood that i call me.

I had one of these moments recently with Bethany and Azlan in the Arizona desert. As we walked about allowing the dog to do his business i spotted some movement in a rabbit hole. A brief white flash disappeared into the Lowerland and i stopped to see if i could catch a glimpse. My stopping caused Bethany to turn around and she witnessed it. The full moon was coming up over the horizon to the east. To the west, Brother Sun was painting the sky pink and gold and orange. We stood in rapt awe as we watched her emerge into full view before our eyes. We were there, present in that moment.

I have seen the full moon actually rise over the horizon only once that i can remember and this time, there in the desert, it rose precisely as the sun set. The moment was one of the most magical of my life and i am honored to have witnessed the glory of the whole thing. I was honored to stand there and watch with Bethany and her dog.

I do believe that these moments are something close to the heart of the importance of our lives. Moments like that break the bonds of the present moment and transcend time. They are like the myths of the ancients, always true, here and now. It is moments like that make everything else worth while. All of the hardships that i have endured and all the trials, they are worth it if there are moments like that included in the pieces of my tiny little life.

Have a great evening and look out for those magical moments.