I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way we work with and represent programs: almost exclusively as text files, while they actually have much more structure than that. Python has seemed like a good language to experiment with, so I’ve been looking at the formal grammar of python expressed here as an EBNF (Extended Backus Nauer Form) grammar. This lead me to think, “I should write an EBNF parser of some sort.” The linked page suggests there is a piece of the python build process that consumes the given document and generates a language parser. Parsing a document to generate a new parser. Maybe even its own parser. Seems cool. I also thought, “Know what else is cool? Haskell. I never gave Haskell enough love. I should learn more Haskell (for great good).” So I installed Haskell for Windows (because I work on a Windows laptop these days), fired up powershell, and remembered just how daunting it can be to look at that Haskell prompt:

HaskellPrelude

Also, I wasn’t exactly sure what it should do. So it consumes a grammar, but what does it produce. Another program for consuming grammars? Depending on how we define consuming a grammar, I could do that pretty easily with a program that ignores its arguments and returns itself (think about it). Clearly that’s not what’s intended. Regardless, best to start getting dirty and figure it out as we go. But, still the matter of that pesky intimidating prompt. What to do? Well, maybe I’ll want to split strings by some character (that may be sufficient to parse an EBNF. The parser it generates won’t be able to rely on that). So I try a few commands:

Prelude> split ' ' "Hello World"

<interactive>:1:1: error:
 Variable not in scope: split :: Char -> [Char] -> t

Okay. No split function. So let’s write it. Probably want something recursive (I always jump to recursion. But not before I jump to recursion), but that means we’re probably not working in the prompt. So I opened a file, and eventually wound up with this:

split :: (Eq a) => a -> [a] -> [[a]]
split x [] = []
split x (y:[]) 
 | x == y = split x []
 | otherwise = [[y]]
split x (y1:y2:ys)
 | x == y1 = split x $ y2:ys
 | x == y2 = [y1]:split x ys
 | otherwise = (((:) y1 $ head $ split x $ y2:ys):) $ tail $ split x $ y2:ys

Not the most elegant Haskell one has ever seen. Regardless, let’s look at what this means (this is as much for me as it is for you).

split :: (Eq a) => a -> [a] -> [[a]]

This line is the type signature of the function. Without going into detail about the specifics of the symbols, it states that for any type “a” that is a member of the typeclass “Eq” (which means we can compare things of that type with each other for equality e.g. ints, characters, most things) we define this function to take an “a”, a list of “a” and return a list of lists of “a”. The use of the same symbol to delimit the operands and to indicate the return type is intentional. We can also read this as, “Take an ‘a’, return a function that takes a list of ‘a’ and returns a list of lists of ‘a’.” Neat.

split x [] = []

Now we use pattern matching to specify some cases. If the first operand is anything (x) and the second is an empty list, we want to return an empty list (which was not initially obvious to me. Why not a list containing a single empty list? I actually went back and filled this in once I was convinced).

split x (y:[])

If we get a list with a single element ‘y’ (y:[] means a list beginning with y and ending with an empty list), let’s consider some more specific cases:

 | x == y = split x []

If x== y, get rid of y (its our delimiter) and continue processing the rest of the list.

 | otherwise = [[y]]

Otherwise, just return a list of a list containing y.

split x (y1:y2:ys)

If we have a list with at least 2 things, then we can handle the meat of the problem:

 | x == y1 = split x $ y2:ys

If the first element is our delimiter, ignore it and proceed. The $ means, evaluate the right fully instead of taking the first thing you see (Haskell favors left association). Without the $, Haskell would attempt to evaluate (split x y2): ys which is nonsense and would disagree with our type declaration.

 | x == y2 = [y1]:split x ys

If the first element is not our delimiter and the second element is, we want to return the first element as its own list, and then the result of the rest of the list. Here left association makes things simpler.

 | otherwise = (((:) y1 $ head $ split x $ y2:ys):) $ tail $ split x $ y2:ys

Lastly, if neither of them are the delimiters, then (split x $ y2:ys) will represent how we would split everything ignoring the first character. We know it won’t be an empty list, so we can take the head and tail of it. We want to attach y1 to the head of the list, and reattach that to the tail of the list. And what do you know?

HaskellSuccess

It worked.

Now to the parsing…

Yeup. I am.

Truth be told, netfolk, I certainly haven’t always been. I’ve ridiculed feminists and viewed them in the same negative light they are often portrayed.

I’ve laughed at “get in the kitchen” jokes.

I’ve viewed women as decoration.

Here’s what changed.

I can remember when it happened. I was reading an article on shakesville, a (pretty great) website that I had never visited before, and that had they not had an interesting headline, and been linked to from some other article I was reading, I never would have read. In fact, it was the author’s Helpful Hints for Dudes series, which being a dude, and recognizing that occasionally I can use a helpful hint, I was intrigued by.

This was the inciting incident, but it helps to have some context as well. At this time, I was also getting to know a girl who I grew to respect, care deeply about and view as an equal (something my slightly arrogant self often denies both genders). Reading through the article, I was struck by one simple, unshakable fact: our society, still, in this day and age, marginalizes women as a whole, which naturally included this incredible girl. Would I have felt anything terribly pressing had I read this article in a different context? Almost certainly not, because women’s rights had never seemed like an issue that held any relevance for me.

All of a sudden, I was faced with the realization that in my ignorance, I was a part of the institutional repression of a group of people, a member of whom I “claimed” to care about. Then I thought further: my mother, my aunt, my cousin, my grandmothers, my good friend, my other friends, that girl I held hands with in kindergarten, the girl I hurt, the girl who hurt me — any girl I’ve ever cared about is living in a society that (carefully, and often quietly) tells them they are not as good  or that they are “different” (in a less-good-sort-of-way) because they’re female.

The beauty of this article is that it did not pander. It was not somebody who believed men were incapable of understanding these things. It did not explain to me why I should care; that was not its purpose. Its purpose was, in fact, to give a set of guidelines for men attempting to understand feminism. This made me get my back up, because I don’t need bloody guidelines to understand a topic. I know perfectly well what issues are at stake and the sort of people who are holding women back, and I’m happy to say I’m not one of them! I’m not part of the problem! And then I read her fourth point:

Because of the way cultural dominance/privilege works, marginalized people are, by necessity and unavoidability, more knowledgeable about the lives of privileged people than the other way around. Immersion in a culture where male is treated as the Norm (and female a deviation of that Norm), and where masculinity is treated as aspirational (and femininity as undesirable), and where men’s stories are considered the Stories Worth Telling, and where manhood and mankind are so easily used as synonymous with personhood and humankind, and where everything down to the human forms on street signs reinforce the idea of maleness as default humanness, inevitably makes women de facto more conversant in male privilege than men are in female marginalization. That’s the practical reality of any kind of privilege—the dominant group can exist without knowing anything about marginalized group, but the marginalized group cannot safely or effectively exist without knowing something about the privileged group and its norms and values.

And I thought, “Maybe I don’t know all of the issues. It is plausible, at least, that I don’t know all of them, I guess.”

I read on and began to see how subtle the problems really were. They weren’t that all men abuse women, or even that society is tolerant of that, because we don’t and it’s not. But when somebody decries a woman for not leaving her abusive husband, something insidious is going on. And it’s the same as when somebody suggests that for women to be safe they shouldn’t wear skimpy outfits and should watch their drinks. But I’m cherry-picking my arguments right now, by only using women as examples. But that’s because it’s so hard to think of equivalent examples with men. These ideas are practically cultural stereotypes, whereas I can’t bring to mind a single way in which men are frequently the brunt of victim-blaming. “Huh, weird.” I still felt that I wasn’t part of the problem, though. Then I read her take on why rape jokes aren’t funny. “Now,” I thought, “is when the feminist comes out: the How-many-feminists-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb?Just-one—and-that’s-not-funny kind of feminist; the existing-solely-to-steal-joy-from-mirthful-males kind of feminist. But I read it and the argument was basically this: even if you don’t make the joke, and even if it is legitimately funny (which she acknowledged some were) if you laugh at it then you’re not just laughing with your other non-rapist buddies– because you don’t know everybody, and some people do think it’s okay.

And you’re not laughing at the same joke as he is. The joke he’s laughing at is the one where raping women is funny, and when he hears you laughing he knows that he’s with his compatriots. He knows he’s with like-minded people. He knows that you approve of what he does. He knows that you’re a rapist too.

These were smart, and scary arguments, coming from a dreaded feminist, and all of a sudden I asked myself, “Maybe I’m not part of the problem, but am I part of the solution?”

The answer was no. As I went on in my life, I began to realize the subtle ways that I was contributing:

  • I had been thinking of this important girl as “a credit to her gender.” Hmm. A compliment, undeniably. But what else am I saying? I might just be saying that of all of the women I know, you are especially great. But then, why wouldn’t I say “a credit to the species?” Perhaps it was just a stylistic choice. But it wasn’t. The implication is that most women are not smart and clever and even-tempered the way you are (true), because women aren’t usually like that (false).
  • Or how about the fact that when I see a woman my first inclination is to evaluate her physically. Okay, no problem, maybe I’m judgemental… except, I don’t do that when I see a guy. Well, I’m not evaluating guys as potential partners, so we’re okay there… except I claim to value more than aesthetics in my partner. So I’m left with being shallow, or naturally objectifying women, and I’m not shallow. Is this because I’m a bad person? Nope (some would argue this, but let’s go with it), I’m pretty normal for society. This is because women are supposed to be sex-objects first, and everything else second.
  • Now, my defensive reaction to this realization was, “Well I wouldn’t mind being evaluated as a sex-object all the time haha,” and then I really thought about it. To have people decide whether they would respect my ideas based on how I was dressed; based on how nice my haircut was; based on how much “effort” I put in; based on how big the bulge in my jeans is; to be yoked with the responsibility of arousing the people who look at me. I realized that if I don’t find a woman attractive, I don’t chalk it up to an incompatibility; I blame her. I actually would mind being on the receiving end of that.

Here’s where things really got out of control. What about fat women? It’s okay not to like them, right? I mean, I totally don’t like fat guys too. They’re utterly repulsive, right? All of them.

But the same argument applies. It’s none of my business. They are not maintaining their bodies for me. It’s not that they don’t care what I think; they very well may. It’s that I have no right to judge them as people for the way they look. I can completely disagree with the way they treat their bodies. I can hold the opinion that if I was them, I would do better, but that opinion is hardly worth the matter it takes to store it; the time it takes to construct it, because I’m not them, and strictly speaking, if I were, then I’d be in precisely the position they’re in.

So then who is it okay to dislike? If nobody can be judged for what they are, then who can I hate?

And just as quickly as the question came, so too did the answer: nobody.

Granted, I have freedom of speech(mostly) and certainly freedom of opinion and I can hate whoever I want. But maybe I can’t look at myself the same if I do now that I know. Maybe, I can’t judge women-who-play-the-victim-because-they-were-totally-asking-for-it. Maybe I can’t judge flamboyant-gay-guys-because-there-are-lots-of-them-who-don’t-have-to-throw-it-in-my-face. Maybe I can’t judge transsexuals-because-they’re-just-so-fucking-weird. Maybe, I can’t judge thieves-because-they’re-too-lazy/greedy/selfish/immoral-to-get-a-job. Maybe I can’t judge racists-because-they’re-an-archaic-vestige-of-a-cultural-disease. Maybe I can’t judge child-predators-because-they-pervert-the-most-fundamentally-innocent. Maybe I can’t judge anybody. 

That doesn’t mean I agree with what everybody does, or that there should be no consequences for people’s actions. That also doesn’t mean that I think a woman dressing in a way that I find provocative is the same as a man preying on a child. It does mean that hate is hate, and judgement is also hate, and if I hold hate in my heart, I am part of the problem.

So this is my feminism: we are all people with the same rights and freedoms and hopes and dreams, and to waste a single moment of this life in hating another (which is what all judgement boils down to) is a crime against all of us.

When they hated the fat, I did not speak up,
For I was not fat.

When they hated the sick, I did not speak up,
For I was not sick.

When they hated the LGBT, I did not speak up,
For I was not LGBT.

When they hated the women, I did not speak up,
For I was not a woman.

And when they hated me,
There was nobody left with a voice to speak up for me.

I’m not perfect (you’re shocked, I can tell). I hate people all the time, but when I notice, I try to correct it. I don’t mean I correct what I say, but I try to see the world as they do. I try to imagine how their life is, and to remember that they are somebody’s child, and that they are a product of their genes and their surroundings, and that I am not always (or even often) right and if I have nothing nice to think, perhaps I should think nothing at all. When I meet somebody I disagree with, I try to see what common ground we have before asserting my own views. When I hear of somebody who has done something heinous, I try to feel for the victim and the perpetrator, because the perpetrator has in some way had a life gone awry (but in no way does that take away from the victim’s pain. Steubenville reporters, I’m looking at you).

And when I meet a woman, I try to see her point of view before I try to see down her shirt.

Sometimes I try to see down her shirt too.

I’m a work in progress.

Cheers

I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.

-Chuck Palahniuk,   Fight Club

I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m not sure how much of the night was spent trying to find a comfortable position for my leg, and how much was spent dreaming about finding a comfortable position for my leg. It’s the third night in my life I’ve spent like that. I’ve never broken a bone, (except possibly a toe), I’ve never even stayed overnight at a hospital, but three times in my life I’ve damaged a knee to the point that I couldn’t sleep properly. It’s always near the end of training, and it’s always doing something that should be easy. It probably goes to show that I’m careless with things I’m competent at. It sucks. It really sucks. As I was turning in the air, I could tell I wasn’t going to land on the leg I’d intended to. I thought I could swing my other leg around fast enough to get me on to my feet. Had I of bailed, I’d be fine. For a moment I felt silly for crashing a 540 kick in front of the people at gymnastics. Then I stop feeling silly and things move in slow motion. My body is about two feet off the ground, with my right foot swinging down from over top of me to try and land (left side of my right foot is approaching the ground). It contacts before my body does. My foot and lower leg stop. My upper leg does not. There’s a sickening feeling as my knee briefly dislocates towards the ground, and I can feel the tendons and ligaments stretching (tendons are supposed to do this a little. Ligaments are not.). Before my body hits the ground, I feel foolish again. I feel foolish for throwing a move that I’m not good at at the end of a practice on a day when I’d had to walk for thirty minutes in the cold and I hadn’t been able to jump properly all practice. I feel foolish for damaging the knee that was still perfect.

I feel foolish for trying to show off.

Then the pain comes. I’d be lying if I said it was the worst I’ve ever felt, or that it was blinding. It was neither. But it was tremendously disheartening. A string of obscenities followed, not from the pain, but from the pain that was to come. In that moment I could see 6 months of recovery, hobbling about, wincing with every step. I calm down, and focus on my breathing, and the pain gets better. Practice ends. People offer to help. I stubbornly refuse. I get home. I wake up, and it’s today. I call in to work. I can’t make it down stairs let alone to work. A shower helps a little. Gradually, while reading in bed, the mobility returns. I currently have almost full extension, and can get to about 30 degrees of flexion. This is a good sign. I don’t think it will be as bad as the first time, and only marginally worse than the last time, which saw me back training within two weeks. What follows are the reasons I’m thankful for this injury, and for the others I’ve sustained.

  1. Freedom -Once I was up on my feet, I joked with one of the other people who had been at practice that I’d spent 8 years favouring my good leg, afraid of re-injuring my other leg. Now I don’t have a good leg, and I can become a more balanced athlete. Fear comes from having something to lose. There’s no reason I can’t make my leg stronger than it is now. My other leg is certainly stronger than when I injured it. Now I don’t have a “perfect leg,” to lose; instead I have two legs that can be broken, and can be fixed, and can be built stronger than they are. 
  2. Feedback -I know that if I had been at the same fitness and strength levels as before I came back to karate I would not be walking today, and would probably need surgery. My knee is (well, was, and soon will be again) more flexible than it has ever been and stronger than it has ever been (pistol squats were pretty unthinkable two years ago). The muscles around my knee protected it from a more serious tear that could have required surgery. As well, this tells me that I need to improve my discipline even with moves that don’t seem dangerous. I took my mind off of what I was doing, panicked, and hurt myself. Lastly, this shows me how much I’ve learned about my own body, and the body in general since my first injury. Rather than feeling at a complete loss for how to proceed, I feel comfortable assessing different aspects of what I’ve done, and am beginning to think of a regimen to get me back into fighting form (after a few days rest that is).
  3. Challenge -It’s relatively easy to keep your spirits up and persevere through something like the Tough Mudder, or even a black belt grading. You’ve got this great goal that you’re about to achieve. You’ve put lots of work in, and you’re finally going to be rewarded if you can just get through the next few hours. Injuries, on the other hand, are a different sort of challenge. They come uncalled and they seem unfair. Perseverance is the only option. You put in weeks, months, and sometimes years of work to heal completely, and what are you left with? You’re back to where you started. The challenge then, is to keep up hope: to see every difficulty as an opportunity to grow as a person and to meet the difficulties head on. There will be pain. There will be days when you don’t feel like stretching, or squatting, or getting out of bed.But at the end you’ll move smoothly and easy again, and nobody will ever know that you were injured. But you’ll know, and you’ll know that you paid for your right to move freely with your blood sweat and tears.

Hello whozits!

So 4 months, and several missed classes into Systema, and my most recent class was a near-complete debacle. I was distracted, and tense, and was only mildly comforted at how much cleaner the mats were from my being wiped all across them. I’m also fairly certain I got partnered with Snake Pliskin:

(That first guy in the beginning; that’s how I felt)

Anyways, despite my freshly humbled self, I’d like to compare and contrast some aspects of Karate and Systema. Now, while I will try to be as general as possible, do keep in mind this is from my experience in both. This is by no means a comprehensive survey of the two martial arts.

For God’s sake, don’t cite this in your thesis!

With that said, thusly we proceed.

First of all, I’ve noticed that they both seem to be complete martial arts, at their highest level, and by that I mean that if you train sufficiently long in both martial arts then you’ll be proficient in all aspects of hand to hand fighting, including, but not limited to striking with hands, elbows, knees, and feet, stand-up grappling (applying locks, chokes, and takedowns from standing), and ground-fighting. I’ve seen balance points, finger locks, and pressure points in both arts. They are both sufficiently complex systems that their mastery involves enormous physical, intellectual, and spiritual investment.

However, there are some important differences in focus, and perhaps more importantly pedagogy that can helpfully distinguish the two.

Karate originated as a method of self-defence. It has origins in family styles of kung fu, and in regional fighting styles of Okinawa. It has many tenets, but two of relevance are: “There is no first strike in Karate,” which can be interpreted as a karate-ka only responding to an aggressor, never instigating an attack; and “One strike, one kill,” which emphasizes the importance placed on ending a confrontation immediately. Thus, karate is strongly rooted as a civilian martial art, and while it has been adopted by military and law enforcement, that was not its primary purpose.

Systema, on the other hand, developed directly out of the Russian military, and Ryabko Systema is specifically designed by Mikhail Ryabko who is heavily involved in the Russian military. While the class work is definitely not of an aggressive nature, there is definitely a military focus. Deception and the ability to completely end and control an encounter are emphasized. Whereas some martial arts (karate included) advocate running away from a conflict (not a bad plan), so far I haven’t seen this at all in Systema, which suggests its designed for encounters where running away isn’t an option. To my way of thinking, this seems decidedly military. So the first important difference would be that Karate emphasizes civilian self-defence, whereas Systema emphasizes a more military approach.

The next difference is in the expected progression for a student. While a karate-ka will begin very tense and static in their movements, they will eventually become proficient at fighting in this way, and then move towards developing a more comfortable, soft way of fighting. This is a reflection of it being designed to quickly enable somebody to survive basic violent encounters. Systema, on the other hand, maintains its softness from the start. Tension is the enemy right from the beginning. In my opinion, this makes the beginner Karate-ka a more effective fighter than the beginner Systema student. However, as the Karate-ka becomes proficient at fighting in a hard way, the Systema student becomes a better fighter through softness, and at this point any advantage held by the Karate-ka may no longer exist.

The last (important) difference is pedagogy. While Karate is taught through practising techniques and kata, and sparring, Systema is taught almost exclusively through partner drills. This, I believe is a more effective way of teaching (though it doesn’t conform so easily to a nice, orderly line-up of students, which I suspect would have offended traditional Japanese sensibilities on some level). Working with a partner immediately gives you feedback on the technique you’re working on, and how it needs to be modified, or perhaps that it won’t work with a particular person. It also keeps you aware of the other aspects of using the technique (in a standing armbar, for example, it’s easy to forget that the person has another arm). In fairness, however, partner work would not be an effective way to learn a kata, and being able to practice kata without a partner is a significant boon (as surely some practitioners were practising in secret, and therefore had no partner). As well, my particular dojo emphasizes a lot of partner work in the advanced program (I’m sure, due in no small part to my Sensei’s having trained in a number of other martial arts as well).

So, to summarize, Karate is a civilian-oriented, initially hard, and solitary martial art, while Systema is a military-oriented, consistently soft, and social martial art.

But now for the important question-

Which is better?

And the answer:

Don’t ask dumb questions.

Cheers

Yes, it does indeed.

On Sunday, I took part in a 10-mile adventure race/obstacle course known as the Tough Mudder. That’s what this is about.

The day started at 5:30, when I woke up. Actually, that’s a lie. It started at 1:30, when I woke up and wondered if I’d slept through my alarm. Then it continued at 3:30, when I woke up and wondered if I’d slept through my alarm. Then I woke up to my alarm, “The Cave,” by Mumford and Sons. I gathered my things:

  • towel
  • running shorts
  • running shoes
  • normal shoes
  • 2x small elastic gauze bandages
  • medium elastic gauze bandage
  • hockey tape
  • phone
  • wallet
  • keys
  • banana

I ate a bagel with peanut butter, and at about 6:15 set out with my travelling companion/S.O. on our way to Oro county, about an hour north of Toronto, where the “Toronto Race” was being held.

We made the trip in good time, arriving at Burl’s Creek Family Event Park around 8:45. We collected our things from the car and made our way to the line up of school buses shuttling people off to the actual course (Burl’s Creek was just the parking area). The bus ride took about 15 minutes, getting us to Mount St. Louis Moonstone Ski Resort for 9:00. My heat ran at 9:30, so the pressure was getting on a little bit to get ready.

Self + S.O. smiling shuttle selvesie

I made my way to the registration line, and after sorting out that and my waiver, it was 9:15, and I hadn’t seen my teammates. I decided the best course of action was to get ready and then find them. So I went over behind a tent, quickly changed into my running shorts, wrapped both feet using the smaller gauzes and hockey tape, and wrapped my left hand in the larger gauze and hockey tape.

(Note: I neglected to replace the shoes I ruined doing the Spartan Sprint until last Friday. Expecting terrible blisters from using these non-broken-in, cheap, Payless Shoe Source-purchased shoes, I used the gauze to tape the blister-prone areas of my feet. Having gone over the handlebars of my bike last Monday, my left palm was scraped up nicely, and to help avoid an infection and/or bleeding on people, I wrapped that hand in gauze as well).

Tough Mudder WRECKS shoes

By the time all of this was sorted out, it was 9:28, and I could hear them pumping up the first heat. I checked my phone for messages from my teammates, or S.O., since I was still holding all of my other stuff, not having had time to check it. I saw that they had been on a hill just in front of the start area, so I went up there, did not see them, and left my stuff there (what a trusting fellow I am).

I figured my teammates had already gone into the start area, so I went in to check. This involved passing a 6 or 7 foot wall right off the bat. I didn’t see them anywhere, but I was right at the back and the pen was pretty full. When the race started I kept looking around for them, hoping I wouldn’t have to hop back out to find them. To my utter relief they both hopped over the wall at that point, before the pen had even cleared. We had a brief (but emotionally intense, I assure you) reunion and started off after the pack. They had been looking for me outside and I had been looking for them inside. But it didn’t matter; the Mudder was on.

So on

So we run for a little while, and then we come to the first obstacle: Kiss of Mud. Barbed wire is stretched across some shallow trenches, and you have to crawl through on your stomach. I, being worried about my cardio mainly, and not wanting to weigh myself down, went shirtless for this. The muddy trenches also contained a good number of rocks. This was unpleasant.

Those ants are people… mildly masochistic people.

The next obstacle is a little ways away, and is appropriately called Arctic Enema. You know those days that are just so hot, and you want to fall into a freezing pool of water immediately, and you think this would feel very good? Well, this was the case, and it actually kind of did. But then it didn’t. And then you have to go right under the ice filled water to duck under a low wall so you can get out the other side. It was probably about 15 seconds of this ice bath, but it was also not very pleasant (but actually not as cold as I was expecting). My teammate had been taking cold showers exclusively to prepare for this obstacle, and he said it wasn’t quite as cold as his showers.

Hills

After this was more running, but up a ski hill. We managed to run for parts of this hill, but it was also necessary to do some walking to make it up. The next obstacle we encountered was the Berlin Walls #1: a pair of 8 foot walls with a slight toe hold at about 2 feet to help people get up and over. We all cleared these without much trouble. Next were the underwater tunnels. These consisted of floating barrels in a small lake. You have to swim under each barrel to get through. This was the first potentially serious difficulty I had. Swimming to the other side after the barrels, my left knee (which has a habit of being rather messed up) tracked (read: kneecap pulled to the side). This was somewhat painful, but more just worrying for the rest of the course. It’s not a big deal if it happens when I’m not bearing weight, but I can do some decent damage when I am. Fortunately, when I came out of the water it had mostly sorted itself out. After a climb up some mud (Cliffhanger), we came to Hangin’ Tough: a series of rings suspended over water. I knew I’d be having some difficulty with things that required hands, thanks to my antics on Monday, but did not anticipate that my bandage would reduce my grip so that I fell on the second ring. Oh well. I swam across and reminded myself to come back next year and get that one.

Hills

After this was the Mud Mile (clambering over trenches), Spider’s Web (climbing up and over a cargo net), and Trench Warfare (crawling through covered, small trenches). Trench Warfare brought out a little bit of claustrophobia in me, but I just focused on moving forward, and before I knew it I was out.

Boa Constrictor – Halfway

Boa Constrictor – Conquered… now just to get out

Next up was Walk the Plank (a jump into water), Boa Constrictor (crawling through plastic pipes that were just narrow enough I couldn’t get my knees under me), and Log Jammin’ (going over and under approximately waist-height log walls). Through these, there was some very nasty hill work, and eventually going up, my calves started to cramp. I had to adjust my gait so that I wasn’t using the muscle so much, and consciously focus on relaxing my legs. Then came Greased Lightning which was basically an improvised water slide down part of a hill.

Down-Hills

We then came to one that I had been dreading: Funky Monkey (monkey bars, going up and then down). Knowing the state of my hands, and now anticipating the difficulties of my bandage, I was understandably concerned about making it across this one. I pulled the bandage as far down as I could so I could use the top half of my palm on the bars. I found that so long as I went slow, and made sure I had a good grip with my left hand, I was able to make it just fine.

Some more unpleasant hills brought us to the Electric Eel: the same as the first obstacle, except there are electric wires (lots) hanging down from the barbed wire. Every now and then (probably between ten and fifteen times) you get a painful electric shock of 10 000 volts (but low enough amperage for it to be safe). For this one I just kept my head down and kept moving. Some people try to avoid the wires, but I didn’t want to take the time, and I figured the shocks would feel worse if I tried to avoid them. Getting out the other side was a welcome relief.

We now met Berlin Walls #2, which were 12 feet high. One of my teammates was having trouble with his knee, so I helped him get a grip on the top of the wall and he was able to pull himself over. Next was my turn, and it was fine, except my calf cramped as I grabbed the wall. I let myself hang there until it relaxed (just a few seconds), scrambled over, and then went to the second one. This time I went straight to hanging to try and avoid the cramp, which worked.

Next the whole team grabbed a ten foot log, and carried it up a hill and back down (Hold Your Wood).

On the way down the rest of the hill, my hamstring started cramping as well. This was not a good sign, especially with the last two obstacles being difficult ones. The first up was Everest (a greased 12 foot high quarter pipe that you run up and have to grab the top of). My first teammate makes it up no problem. My second teammate (with the bad knee) makes it up no problem. All the while I’m kneading my hamstring to try and work out the cramp enough to make it up. It’s my turn, and I start running towards it, legs okay so far. I start running faster and the leg still hasn’t cramped. I’m at the pipe now, and I go for it. One step, two steps, three steps, and I’m eyelevel with the ledge. I grab it and manage to pull myself up: no problem.

…people with strange ideas of how to spend a Sunday

A little jog later and we’re at the very last obstacle: Electroshock Therapy. It’s a bunch of shallow trenches with electric wires hanging down. Most people either try to sprint through or try to dodge the wires. I convinced my team to do neither. We were going to look more badass than any three guys holding hands ever have: we would hold hands and walk through slowly, as a team, so that everybody took every shock.

I don’t know why they listen to me.

Anyways, we do this, it’s awesome, and we cross that finish line 2 hours and 42 minutes after we started, a time that we were all more than happy with, wearing our orange headbands.

Correction: Awesome Orange Headbands

Getting clean afterwards (except you’ll never be clean again)

I would like to note that after twenty or so electric shocks at the last obstacle, my toes wouldn’t uncurl until I sat down. I don’t know how to feel about that.

Also, my stuff was on the hill where I left it. Mudders are awesome people.

All in all: awesome day.

Tough Muse

Hello Interdwellers!

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot, lately, about different approaches to being happy in life. It seems like it would be awfully easy to proceed down a particular path, because that’s just what people do, or because you won’t be successful otherwise. But if in the end you’re not happy, then what was it all for? With that in mind, I’ve been searching for people’s ideas about how to lead a happy life. What I like the most, so far, is Leo Babuta’s sites, zenhabits.com and mnmlist.com, in which he advocates for a number of things: working towards goals, simplicity, family, exercise, and mindfulness. He advises, each day, setting out three (or four, or two) Most Important Tasks (MIT’s), at least one of which is moving you closer to a longer-term goal, and completing those above all other things in your day.

I like this.

By following it, every day could have a sense of purpose. So long as those things were completed, at the end of each day you can legitimately say, “I’m one step closer to achieving something important to me.” A good first step in this, then, would be knowing what’s important to you. So, I made a list of long-term goals for myself. The criteria I used for these was: a) it could not simply require a single large effort, b) it had to be reasonably specific (e.g. “travel” would not be specific enough), and c) it had to be something that I would feel a sense of accomplishment for completing (while I would love to go skydiving, I wouldn’t feel that much accomplishment. The plane and parachute are doing most of the work). Thus, without further adieu, here’s

Jared’s Long-Term Goals
(in no particular order, or organization)

  • Become an early riser
  • Design and build a puzzle-box
  • Learn to sing
  • Compete in the Iron-Man Triathlon
  • 100 perfect push ups in 100 seconds
  • Learn to play piano
  • Meditate more seriously
  • Achieve full front and (both) side splits
  • Start a non-profit organization
  • Learn to play the violin
  • 50 perfect, dead-hang pull ups
  • Learn to draw
  • Complete the Spartan Death Race
  • Start an (eventually successful) small business
  • Write and publish a novel

Clearly, many of these goals will take years of work, but by breaking them down over the course of my life, and using some strategies for maintaining focus and motivation, I think that they are more than doable (except possibly 50 dead-hang pull ups. I get tired just looking at that).

Since I don’t particularly want a mid-life crisis, and barring any serious extensions to our lifespan, I would like to complete all of these by the time I’m 40, which gives me 20 years. Since I’m at the point where gains in my physical aptitude will get more difficult over time, I should be working towards my physical goals first, along with anything that will take the longest time. So then, over the next 10 years, I’d like to work towards:

Jared’s 10-Year Goals
(in no particular order, or organization)

  • Compete in the Iron-Man Triathlon
  • 100 perfect push ups in 100 seconds
  • Achieve full front and (both) side splits
  • 50 perfect, dead-hang pull ups
  • Complete the Spartan Death Race
  • Start an (eventually successful) small business
  • Start a non-profit organization
  • Learn to play piano
  • Learn to play the violin
  • Become an early riser
  • Meditate more seriously

Since I’m still in school, and depending on the direction I take regarding Masters or PhD studies, could be for upwards of 7 years, and since I want to maintain a balanced lifestyle, I should be working towards my physical goals now, along with school, and saving my non-physical goals for afterwards. As well, since competing in the Iron-Man is part of my plan for progressing to the Spartan Death Race, I can exclude that from further entries. Thus, we have:

Jared’s 5-Year Goals
(in no particular order, or organization)

  • 100 perfect push ups in 100 seconds
  • Achieve full front and (both) side splits
  • 50 perfect, dead-hang pull ups
  • Complete the Spartan Death Race
  • Meditate more seriously
  • Become an early riser

Now we have something to work with.

For achieving 100 perfect push ups in 100 seconds, I’ll start off by following http://hundredpushups.com/, with the modification that every time it says “push up” I’ll replace it with “perfect push up.” Once I’m able to do 100 push ups (6 weeks by their estimate; 10 weeks seems more likely), I’ll develop a plan for increasing my pace.

For achieving 50 perfect, dead-hang pull ups, I’ll develop a similar progression, possibly using Brett Stewart’s “7 Weeks to 50 Pull Ups.”

For achieving splits, http://www.unique-bodyweight-exercises.com/splits.html

As far as meditating more seriously goes, I’m going to begin meditating 5 minutes before and after my workouts, gradually increasing to 10, and 15 minutes (I find it surprisingly difficult to sit and not do).

For becoming an early riser, I’m going to simply do all of these exercises early in the morning. If every week, I can get up 15 minutes earlier, until I’m comfortable getting up at 5:00, then I’ll be satisfied with my early-rising.

Finally, working towards the Spartan Death Race. My progression, in general will be:

  1. Tough Mudder
  2. marathon
  3. Spartan beast
  4. triathlon
  5. Ironman
  6. Spartan Death Race

probably repeating everything done before as I work towards the next level. The way that I prepare will largely depend on which stage I’m at. Since I’m currently “getting ready” (working 10 hour days and not exercising) for the Tough Mudder, my performance on that will also partially determine my preparation for the marathon. With the exception of the Ironman race, completion will be satisfactory for moving on to the next step. For the Ironman, I’m setting that I have to be in the top 25% of finishers to move on to the Death Race, otherwise I repeat the Ironman.

As a side note, since I’m currently working 10 hour days, and next term I don’t have classes before 11:00, I’m probably going to hold off on starting these until September. Possibly bad idea? Yes. Better than burning out one week in? Also yes.

So. That’s that then. I’m sure this won’t be the last post I write on these goals, but until then,

Cheers.

-Jared

Good Yester-morrow!

Over the last couple of months, on weekends, I’ve been working with two of the students at my dojo, Scott and Hayden, on developing some demo routines. The first we decided to tackle was expanding and refining a sequence of knife defences that they put together one class. It brought me back to the days when I was just starting on the demo team at Dynamic Arts, and reminded me of how far I’ve come (in a less prideful way than that sounds). My first practices were spent sitting and watching as the students who were already on the team practised their routines and got more help from Sensei Lachapelle than the rest of the school. Eventually the other newbies and I got to join in on the fun, starting off learning their foundational routines in which places would be found for us, to eventually being integral parts of an exciting new routine, to finally performing individually, or at the front of a group. It was quite a journey, and its sad that it ended the way it did.

But maybe I shouldn’t say ended, since now I’m getting to pass on what I learned there, and what I’ve learned other places to a new generation, and maybe build a demo team that’s as good as what we had there- or even better!

So, with that in mind, here’s a slightly outdated video of Scott and Hayden performing their knife routine:

Looking at it now (a few weeks after actually filming it) little things are starting to bother me, many of which we’ve already fixed or improved. I’ll post an updated one next week, showing where they’re at now.

Hello webbies!

Yesterday, I read every article on mnmlist.com. It’s a good blog, and was a good read. Leo (the blogger) is a minimalist, which for him involves owning few possessions, simplifying his work schedule, and following a vegan diet. Minimalism is an aesthetic movement that seeks to find the essence of something by removing everything unnecessary. An example of this would be an architect using flat clean surfaces to create a particular shape. Much of Apple’s products also have  a minimalist aesthetic. As a philosophy, though, minimalism seems to be about simplifying to find greater happiness and contentment. For example, Leo owns a minimum of clothing (it sounded like about a drawer’s worth!), has no car, a small house and no icons on his desktop. He also has a wife and 6 kids (Ha! Not very minimalist in the child-department, are we, Leo? Just kidding; he addressed this in his blog…).

So far, the philosophy has inspired me to clear out my facebook. I’m now down to about 70 friends (all of whom I actually care to keep up with), down from 200+. What I like about this philosophy is that it is extremely well-defined. In considering any choice, it is usually very easy to apply minimalism to help make it.

(LOLNote: I had this entire next paragraph written out in math-ese, to show how well-defined the philosophy was. Then I realized that’s ridiculous.)

Simply ask, “Will my life be simpler, or at least not any more complex, by making this choice?” If the answer is yes, then it’s a good choice; otherwise, it’s not. But, presumably, given the choice between a simple life, or a more complex one, we all would make the choice to have it be simpler. The problem, then, is that we don’t ask the question, and thus never frame the question that way. It’s a constant process of evaluation, and re-evaluation, looking for things that you don’t need or that are unimportant and getting rid of them, thereby discovering what’s truly important.  It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” (but presumably in Greek).

As a way of life, it’s a very interesting, albeit simple, philosophy that I think deserves merit. What I’d like to consider, however, is applying this philosophy to Karate (and to a lesser extent, all martial arts). Is there a way that our training can benefit from minimalism? I think there is, especially when we consider the origins of Karate, and Karate for self-defence. Most modern Karate-ka will learn at least 5 or 6 kata before their black belt, and I’ve heard of curricula with upwards of 10 kata. As far as individual techniques go, at my old dojo we had:

  • high block
  • low block
  • inward block
  • outward block
  • head block
  • leg check
  • reverse punch
  • jab
  • cross
  • hook
  • vertical punch
  • ridge hand
  • spear hand
  • back fist
  • hammer fist
  • half fist
  • throat strike
  • eagle’s talon
  • chop
  • palm heel strike
  • reverse crane
  • crane’s beak
  • middle knuckle
  • tai-chi palm
  • eye strike
  • tiger’s claw
  • front kick
  • lift front kick
  • round house kick
  • power-roundhouse kick
  • side kick
  • pumping side kick
  • spinning side kick
  • jump-spinning side kick
  • back kick
  • spinning back kick
  • jump-spinning back kick
  • knee strike
  • hook kick
  • spinning hook kick
  • inward crescent kick
  • outward crescent kick
  • wheel kick
  • axe kick
  • tornado kick
  • front fall
  • back fall
  • side fall
  • front roll
  • back roll

And don’t even get me started on self-defences. For my first black belt grading, I had to know upwards of 50 self-defences for things like “double wrist grab from behind” or “hair grab from behind” or “bear hug from behind”… huh, apparently all of my attackers are cowards…

I’m not the first person to suggest that this sort of “feature-bloat” is ultimately detrimental to a martial artist’s development, but what then should be done? We want to be prepared for all situations, and each of those techniques has a situation in which it is extremely useful.

Well, my Sensei has told me that before Karate spread from Okinawa, the old masters would know 1 or maybe 2 kata. They would practise these kata exclusively, and guard them closely. By doing this, they gained insight into the kata, not just understanding its practical applications, but understanding the subtle variations required for different body types; the flow from one movement to the next; where to breathe and how to breathe; when to be tense, and when to be relaxed. By reducing the breadth of their practice, they were able to increase the depth. During my preparatory period for my grading, I found the same thing, that by focusing on Seipai almost exclusively, I made more progress in understanding that kata than in all the rest put together. This is minimalism; narrowing your focus, to appreciate something to a greater degree.

By understanding these techniques better, their training became simply to get to a position to apply one of these techniques.

We must then decide what our goal is in training in a martial art. Are we looking to be devastating fighters? Or are we looking to be impressive athletes and acrobats? Or perhaps (as is my case) some combination of the two? I believe that in the former case, adopting a minimalist philosophy is wise, and having a small set of tools you’re extremely proficient with, will serve you much better than having a whole toolbox that you only kind of, sorta, “I-saw-this-guy-use-it” know how to use. In the athletic case, I think that training all of the movements is a perfectly legitimate path, will give you variety and will allow for more exciting performances. In the latter case, I think a combination of both methods is necessary. Train all movements, but focus on a particular set to develop proficiency for practical purposes.

Yes, I can do a butterfly kick, but I’ll stick to Seipai when my attacker gets a choke on me…

from behind.

Good day, all!

So I’ve been living in Vaughan, Ontario for the last three months on a co-op term. That means I’ve been working full-time, approximately 90 km away from the dojo I train at. Since I’m also car-less in the interim, I haven’t been to a single week-night class. I have, however, been back on weekends to teach classes on Saturday mornings.

The second thing that my co-op in Vaughan means, is that I’m in a completely new martial environment, one which just happens to include Vladimir Vasiliev’s Systema school.

Yup.

I’ve been cheating on Karate.

But with videos like this, who could possible resist that sexy little nymph of a martial art:

Systema (also known as Russian Martial Art) was founded by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev (Mikhail’s top student). A quick google (lol, verbing nouns) reveals that Mikhail and Vladimir are both accomplished in the russian military and secret service (read: Spetsnaz). Supposedly both were involved to varying degrees with Russian counter terrorism and black ops, and Mikhail is even cited as having literally written the book on hostage negotiations. Vladimir’s school in Thornhill (which is either part of Vaughan, or right next to Vaughan; I still don’t really know. Supposedly I actually live in a place called Concord right now…) is the Systema headquarters for the western world. So, naturally, living a mere twenty minute bike ride away, I made an effort to try out a few classes.

Okay, so I “tried out” classes the way a bear “tries out” your processed cheese slices; with no intention of ever going back to roots and berries again.  When I stopped in one day, before trying a class, I saw Vladimir hitting some of the students with a big leather whip. It looked painful (it also is painful). Coming from my pressure point work with Sensei Paul Simoes, any class with that level of masochism was immediately attractive.

(Side Note: The purpose of the whip was not punishment. It was an exercise to teach you where the tension is in your body. If you’re completely relaxed, then you’ll allow the energy from the whip to pass through your body effectively. If you’re not, then it will get blocked, which will be interpreted as pain. Big pain.)

The classes involve a multitude of drills unlike anything I’d ever done before. There’s a big emphasis on partner work, ranging from walking over your partners body using your fists, to rolling with your partner on the ground, to walking towards and punching each other, and all sorts of things in between. Some of the conditioning exercises are pretty brutal too. One involves using your fists against a concrete wall, walking down the wall as you walk your feet further and further out until you’re in a superman position, supported by the friction between your fists and the wall, and then going back up. Others involve holding your breath (on exhale, which is much much harder, I’ve learned) while doing push ups or sit ups (or squats or leg raises or running or that wall walking drill or just lying down or…).

I’ve been trying to understand the idea behind Systema (I think all arts are grounded in ideas), and here are the two I’ve learned so far:

  1. Be tensionless

    This is perhaps the most base concept of Systema: all pain comes from tension. No tension, no pain. There are stories of drunks falling over bridges and walking away with just a few scratches because they were relaxed when they hit the ground. Its the same concept here. When you get hit, breathe out and relax. When you hit, stay relaxed. When you move, stay relaxed. If you let tension develop in yourself, then it gives your opponent a method of recourse- a counter. A good way to test and train yourself in this regard is to do push ups while being aware of the tension in your body. If you can do a push up while staying completely relaxed, then you’ve got a good shot at being tensionless in your training. I’m just starting to be able to feel the tension in myself, and it is disconcerting. When I strike, I’m noticing that there are different parts of my body where the energy doesn’t move smoothly, and these areas would be especially susceptible to counters. The other place I’ve noticed tension is psychologically. In Karate, it’s become such a routine that its easy to focus on what I’m doing and clear outside worries, but with Systema, there is much less ritual and routine, so I don’t have the same ease. I often find my mind wandering to other things in my life, and it takes conscious effort to regain my focus.

  2. Do your own work

    In Karate, I’d learned (often from personal experience) that in sparring matches, the person who’s able to play his own game and make his opponent also play his game would usually be the winner. For example if one person had a very aggressive, quick style and was able to make his opponent (who supposedly doesn’t have the same style) spar in the same way, he’d probably win. But Systema takes it further. In everything you do, don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by what other people are doing. If you’re moving, move for yourself, not for your opponent. Similarly, when you take a stance, either to strike or for some other purpose, its important that you’ve taken the stance you want. You should be stable and centred. It’s the only way to deliver power effectively and, more importantly, consistently. I think I’ve improved the most in this regard. I’ve stopped worrying so much about what my partner’s doing, and focused on what I’m doing and what my goals are for the exercise. If I want to focus on taking a proper stance before striking, then I’ll make sure I’ve got that stance before I perform my strike, even if that means my strike misses, or is too late. It’s also good for the ego, being a beginner again.

Systema: it is not a magic system for destroying any attacker, but it is a legitimate martial art in its own right, and its instructors are highly skilled, leading people to alternately claim it as superior to other martial arts, or completely fraudulent. One thing I can say with regard to the sceptics out there: every demonstration Vladimir does looks just like the videos on YouTube, and nobody in that room is trying to make him look good; they’re just trying to learn from him.

I see this training, not as a betrayal of my beloved Karate; oh no! But instead as a complement, so that I can better understand the weaknesses in myself, and properly direct my training. It’s also given me some great drills to torture teach my students with!

P.S. I just learned that in the Japanese penal system, seiza position is an integral part of “correcting” prisoners’ faulty attitudes: http://amblerangel.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/hell-raising-teenagers-in-asia/

Hello webfriends!

First of all, kudos to anybody that got the title on the first try. I wouldn’t have. Also, for having a very musically inclined half of my family, and having taken 5 years of trumpet, it was embarrassingly difficult to put that title together. With that out of the way, I now offer a warning: I’m about to geek-out really hard, and, you know, if you’re a potential love interest, or if you’re really digging the whole, peaceful-warrior vibe I was going for with the earlier posts, I’d suggest you just stop reading now. Close the tab. Come back for the next post. It’ll be good. It’ll be about zen and stuff…

Well, you’re still reading, so here goes: I want to be Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). I don’t mean, I want to own the Iron Man suit (undeniably awesome). I don’t mean I want to be Robert Downey Jr. (also pretty cool). I literally want to be everything about Tony Stark! Let’s go over some of the key reasons why.

First of all, he gets to fly around in a badass robotic suit. Now the best part of that is the word “get.” For example, pilots don’t “get” to fly planes; they have to. It’s their job. Maybe some of them like it. Doesn’t matter; still their job. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jared, other people fly planes for fun. Not as a job. They’re hobbyists.” And to that I say, “A plane is not a badass robot suit.” Moving on.

While a robot suit is a pretty compelling reason to do just about anything (I’m not sure I can actually think of something I wouldn’t do to operate a flying robot suit), what makes me want to be Tony Stark even more is the way he uses his mind. He doesn’t solve problems with effort, or indomitable will; he solves them by being smarter than everybody else. He escaped from terrorists by being smarter than them and building a robot suit. He beat that other giant robot suit by being smarter than its operator and flying into the upper atmosphere. He beat being slowly poisoned by the device keeping him alive by being smarter than everybody (except possibly his father) and SYNTHESIZING A NEW ELEMENT.

But, I think more than anything else its because he’s free.

Not to get all pseudo-philosophical and suggest Tony Stark is some paragon of enlightened living. He’s a narcissistic, alcoholic, ex-womanizer with father-issues . But he can do what he likes in life because he’s smart. If he needs something, he can build it. If he doesn’t know how, he can learn, and if its never been done, he can figure out how. He does whatever he wants without fear of repercussion or social consequence. Henry Ford once said something to the effect of “If I lose everything in the collapse of our financial structure, I will start in at the beginning and build it up again,” and I suspect Tony Stark would feel the same, knowing that no matter where he ends up, he can build his way back to wherever he’d like to be.

All by being smart.

I think that more than anything, what we all want is to be free. We seek it by going to work and making money. We seek it by buying shiny things that will make us happy. And some of us seek it by giving it all up to find an Ashram and a Guru. We seek fame to be free from our insecurities. We seek religion to be free from death. We blog to be free from our loneliness.

Okay, so that was pseudo-philosophical. Or maybe a little actual-philosophical.

Freedom would be nice, but what I really want is to build my own robot suit.

Cheers