Masks By Mishima

Posted: January 7, 2016 in Literature, Personal
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Mishima Mask BookI don’t know what Mishima’s goal was, and maybe he didn’t either, but his actions signaled his understanding of the many masks that we all wear. Suicide pulled the last mask from his face.

Whenever I get bored or frustrated, I think of Yukio Mishima because he is the example of a truly less-than-heroic person who had nothing special except for an rich mind and inner life and he was able to externalize that life in some spectacular ways, including his own death.

I have no such need to die quickly or even spectacularly but I can learn from someone who did.

To what extant are concepts of honor, excellence, rhythm, and ethics,  cross-cultural? This question was prompted by Alex C. Bennett’s excellent book on the history of kendo. In it he talks about the internationalization of kendo and how the Japanese kendo leadership, sensitive to how judo was absorbed into the international community (and effectively taken away from them with the Japanese having their asses handed to them in tournaments).

Judo

That was due to the sportification of judo, where the emphasis shifted to victory in physical contests and not on the improvement of the self through vigorous practice. Judo’s founder, Jigero Kano, famously assimilated the various jujitsu techniques from several schools during the early 20th century into an exportable system designed for mass distribution in Japan’s rapidly modernizing society.

However, Kano was concerned about the use of judo in a competitive sports environment, fearing that the emphasis on victory would outweigh the focus on physical and mental improvement (like a lot of new sports programs in the late 19th and early 20th century in Japan, European and the US, those systems were designed to improve the strength and moral character of the individual so that they could be useful and productive citizens).

Ag School KendoIn the case of kendo, the concern runs deeper as kendo is related to the sword which the Japanese retain as something unique and special to their identity. Kendo is practiced with a bamboo waster that is used to replicate the katana. Practitioners wear padded armor and a helmet so hits can be done at full speed and intensity without a lot of physical risk.

Kendo also includes the practice of sword kata with bokken (solid wood swords) but without contact. Combined, these two practices enable one to improve their physical skills and explore the deeper concepts of kendo such as timing and distance with an opponent, poise, balance, and rhythm. There is also a deeper component to kendo and that is the focus on etiquette and form. In both the wearing of the uniform and armor as well as how practitioners engage with each other; whether in a class, a tournament, or a rank test.

It is the last point that is of concern to the Japanese kendo leadership as kendo becomes more popular, practiced diligently almost anywhere now in the world. Clubs and teams in Canada, the US, Europe, and Asia, maintain their federations, engage in tournaments, and participate in international tournaments. The US and South Korea have challenged Japanese dominance in kendo, causing fears that kendo is slipping out of Japanese hands.

Kendo Athlete LineupAccording to Alex Bennett and others, some Japanese kendo officials are retreating into a defensive position, claiming that while foreigners can certainly grasp the physical concepts of kendo, they will never truly understand the deeper, more cultural and spiritual aspects of this art.

I take exception to that as a student of history, where the record of mankind has shown that ideas and people have intermingled far more than governments would like to admit. Countries that hold tightly to their alleged uniqueness in the world very often do so from a position of weakness or defensiveness.

In the case of kendo, the concepts unique to kendo as a martial art are not unique to one society. Look deeply enough and you will find a rich record of sword arts, heritages, and philosophical teachings, that have their home in Japan, as well as Asia and Europe. In the case of Asia, specifically China, Japan benefited directly from imports such as sword making as well as religion, language, and the arts; assimilating them into their culture.

Furthermore, the system of modern kendo has its roots in the physical education systems of northern Europe (e.g., the introduction of formal exercise and warm up routines for students in the new school systems). Ironically, one can see that kendo has international roots mixed in with the old sword school systems of Tokugawa Japan. And that has been why kendo has become exportable to a world audience.

It is a shared culture of physical effort and personal introspection, designed to improve the person and widen their understanding of the world around them. It allows one to connect with the heritage of the sword, feeling something of what our ancestors may have felt.

Efforts to restrict that and to “nationalize” kendo would do no good and would not be true to the heart of what is kendo.

Daredevil Gets A Friend

Posted: July 7, 2015 in Entertainment
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Elektra Cradles Daredevil

 

 

 

Or an enemy, I don’t know but I do know that Electra is a kick-ass character in the comics and it is gratifying to know that a kick-ass actress has been picked to player Electra in Netflix’s awesome series, Daredevil.

Elodie YungElodie Yung is a French actress of Cambodian background who sports a black belt in karate so she comes to the screen ready to walk and talk the role. An excellent choice!

If you haven’t already, you should watch season 1 right now. From epic and real fight scenes to characters with depth (from lowly gangsters to the arch villains and the heroes), this show will grab you and won’t let go.

On a side-note, I loved that the show had entire conversations in languages other than English. This is an indication that the show runners respect their audience and assume that they are not your usual mouth-breathing fly-over state crowd.

Hard Knocks

Posted: June 26, 2015 in Sports
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Vonte David SadI love shows about sports training and team dynamics and HBO’s Hard Knocks provides that (plus I love football and the process of football).

There is something deeply satisfying to see the drama of people competing for placement and it is interesting to see the conversations behind the scenes (albeit, heavily edited snippets – but you get the gist of what is being said).

My guilty pleasure in this show is when people get cut from the team. A very scripted process happens. First, the player is asked to meet with team leadership (depending on his overall value this is the coach and one other person or just one of the sub-coaches).

The player is shown walking downcast or with a false swagger into a typical conference room (usually a small one but maybe that is because football players are big). The coach has his best “I’m sorry that I am firing you face” on and he utters some platitudes (“You have a great future but just not here..”).

Then the player responds with some blanket generalities (“I know I have a future” or “I know that I will be back”) before hands are shook and he is ushered out of the building. The camera shows them walking out the door, duffel bag in hand.

So why is this interesting? It’s interesting because success and its rewards are fun and easy to watch but seeing how people react to failure and bad news is a more revealing look into their character. Especially if you know that player ended up being ultimately successful or a spectacular failure.

We all compete for something and we all have a mix of wins and losses, even winners. How we react to that and how we display that is what separates a real winner from a real loser. For a winner, losing is just an experience that teaches. For a loser, losing is failure and nothing else.

Now get out there and do some push-ups or something…!

 

P.S.

Mike Pettine’s understated approach to life is just too entertaining to pass up. Some pics. From left to right we have: “thinking hard” and then “confused.”

Mike Pettine Focusing Mike Pettine Confused

Meditation on Death

Posted: June 17, 2015 in Personal

In general, death is not an exciting topic for conversation but it is the ultimate destination for every single living creature so it merits some attention.

The idea of an afterlife Renaissance Skullsatisfies the human organism’s desire for continuity since the alternative, obliteration, is so difficult to comprehend. Nature imbues everything with a will to live, from the simplest bacteria to humankind. The continual drive to exist is what enables life to grow and evolve but it also contributes to the inability to imagine no life after death.

This chapter from The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts entitled, Transformation of the Sparrow and the Butterfly, encapsulates my view or understanding of death. It somewhat ties in with the Hindu concept of the deshin, or life force, that exists in every person but somewhat as a third-party identity or energy that exists in our personas but then migrates on after biological death.

This is similar to Aristotle’s meditation on death by comparing it to the burning of wood. The wood burns and becomes ash. The smoke and heat rise up and disappear but, since energy in nature only changes but does not wink out of existence, they must go to some other place or time.

Existence, according to the dying man in the story of the sparrow and the butterfly, is dependent upon form. Form is what drives the various types of behaviors and thoughts and, when that form is destroyed, so too is the persona of that creature.Yet, the energy of that creature moves on to something new, forgetting what it once was; living in an eternal and universal present that goes beyond individual consciousness.

Going back to the Hindu concept of deshin, our life is a gift that we hold temporarily. It is our duty to make the most of it, to grow and develop it like an organism; simple or complex, striving to to be our best. Then we die our works embodied in that energy migrate on.

Is this empowering or is this so frightening that it stifles action? For me, it empowers because it frees me from consequence save for the consequence of wasting time and opportunity.

Mindfulness

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Health & Fitness, Personal
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Buddha StatueMindfulness is all the rage right now with studies showing that living fully in the moment and being aware of your surroundings and body drive the right behaviors in terms of nutrition and stress reduction.

More importantly, being mindful opens you up to your immediate surroundings and enables you to see more broadly and deeply.

In a stressful situation, being mindful allows you to see details that you wouldn’t if you are overwhelmed and in tunnel vision. Being mindful also helps you avoid those situations!

This also includes non-public safety situations like tense meetings, aggressive co-workers and managers, etc. Frankly, being mindful during the job interview process will reveal those issues and allow you to make the right decision.

Being mindful essentially allows you to say “no” to negative experiences. It empowers you to live the life that you want.

Re-Post

Posted: May 29, 2015 in Entertainment, Personal

Repost from my hitherto forgotten blog on Google’s Blogger.

I must have 5 versions of blogs across different platforms and it is the equivalent of screaming into the wind.

Anyway, I’m in a Tully’s waiting for someone so I will write something about…something.

One of the best shows on TV is definitely Hannibal and the books are equally as good, though I think that the books portray the Anthony Hopkins version while the TV series speaks more to me because of the excellent cast, especially Mads Mikkelsen. 

In a nutshell, Hannibal is a the fusion of passion, steel, love, and desire. A keening want that exists in all of us. To be heard and to be special; to be remembered even though we know that dust and air are our ultimate destination.

It’s the grisly now that holds us in awe and keeps oblivion well away.