Hello, netizens!

This post is going to be a little different, as it is serving a different purpose. You see, a friend of mine has a phone that doesn’t receive photos well. That same friend asked me if I know of something crafty they could make for a crafty-gift exchange. Since I’m a japanese school girl (that’s the only thing I can think of to explain why I know about this), I suggested she make little puffy origami stars in different colors and fill a glass container with them in layers, sort of like this:

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(except in layers).

I tried explaining how to make them over text, but that didn’t work very well. She can’t receive photos of me making it, so I’ve decided to make one more (there are already hundreds) Tutorial on Little Puffy Stars!!! But what’s more, I’m making it entirely on my phone (I’m on a bus). Without further ado; thusly, we begin.

Thing you’ll need:

    Piece of paper

Optional:

    Scissors

To begin, make a strip that is about fifteen times as long as it is wide. 1 cm by fifteen cm works well. Don’t measure. Just sort of guess. It doesn’t have to be precise. Scissors help with this, but if you put a nice firm fold in the paper, both ways, ripping will work as well.

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Next, you need to tie a knot in one end of the paper. It should be clean (I.e. it doesn’t wrinkle the paper) and should leave you with a nice pentagon shaped knot. The (now) short end of the paper should be about as long as it is wide.

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Now turn the paper so it’s aligned as in the last photo. Take the short end and fold it over the pentagon so that the folded edge and one edge of the paper line up with the pentagon:

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Now tuck the folded end underneath the top strip of the knot:

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You should now have a pentagon on the end of a long strip. The next step is to wrap the long strip tightly around the pentagon, folding along the edges of the pentagon until the remaining strip of paper wouldn’t quite reach to the next edge:

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Now just like before, tuck the remaining strip underneath the top of the pentagon:

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You should now have a perfect little paper pentagon!

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Now it’s time to make it a star. To do this, you need to pinch the corners, which will make them pointier, and make the star puff up.

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Repeating on each corner:

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Congratulations! You now have a bouncing baby b- err a little puffy star. Now all that’s left is to make about a million in several different colors and fill a jar with them. Or go bake something. That’s crafty too.

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Ah the salad days of my youth, when waking up from slumber required nothing more than a slight beam of sunlight, or a soft call from my mother; nothing more was needed for me to spring from my bed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take on a new day full of joy and excitement.

(Well that’s how I remember it, okay)

Since those days, however, waking up has become something different; something to be dreaded; something to be rebelled against on weekends, and indefinitely delayed with snooze buttons. And when I do eventually convince myself that my sweet slumber is less important than the mundane activities I have laid out ahead of me, I resolutely drag my sorry corpse out from under my covers. Bleary-eyed, I grope weakly for the light switch (my last hope in these dim moments to shock myself into some sort of alertness). Then, all is white, and my pupils dilate painfully, bringing me into the land of the living once more.

There has to be a better way.

This morning, I slept through my alarm, and only managed to wake up with a half hour to get showered, dressed, eat, and bike to work. My morning was terrible, I didn’t eat, and narrowly avoided a fatal collision with a jogger in my mad rush to be at work on time. However, for the last two months, mornings like this have been few and far between. This morning prompted me to write a post about what I’ve been doing lately (and did wrong today) to improve my mornings , and reduce my JMR (jogger manslaughter rate).

1. Never Hit Snooze. Ever.

I’m still convinced that had I never had an alarm clock with a snooze button, I’d be able to wake up like a kid on Christmas. Unfortunately, snoozing has become a firmly ingrained habit, to the point that I can set my alarm clock across the room from me and still manage to hit snooze without getting out of bed. (I don’t know how it happens. Just call me Mr. Fantastic). However, on the odd morning where I wake up and realize I do not have time to hit the snooze button (which involves noticing the time, remembering what day it is, and comprehending how much I have to do to get ready, all before my hand hits the snooze button) and I do get up, I find that I’m much more alert and comfortable than when I get up after snoozing even once. Lately I’ve been applying this with reasonable success. I have more presence of mind and don’t need to worry about getting trapped in an endless cycle of poor sleep and strange  dreams that involve ringing things.

This morning, however, I slept straight through my alarm. The snooze button was, therefore, not the culprit. Bringing us to…

2. Do Something in the Morning

Having an actual reason for getting up in the morning helps an awful lot, especially if that reason is something better than going to work (/school). Back when I was getting ready for my grading, I was waking up to complete part of my requirements. While this was a more motivating reason than the job I was later attending, it was not all that exciting (“Yes! 160 more pushups!”)

One thing I do like a lot is eating, especially breakfast foods. One of my fondest summer memories is family breakfasts on the Georgian Bay: eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, fried potatoes, or whatever else we saw fit to have that day. I’ve thus taken to making large (occasionally too large) breakfasts. While I’m sure my cholesterol has gone up (lol I’m 19. What do I care? I’m going to live forever.) having something to do in the morning that I enjoy is an awesome motivator to get out of that dastardly bed!

This morning, I fully intended to make toad in a hole (fried egg in a hole in a piece of bread) and pancakes, along with a bowl of cereal (Reese Puffs) and fruit. I didn’t get to do this unfortunately (my breakfast consisted of a single plum. There is no emoticon to show how I feel about that). The intention, however, was there, so surely this could not be the culprit either!

This brings us to…

3. Be Less Comfortable

So this part requires a bit of an explanation, as I kind of stumbled upon this. I used to never like making my bed- no, I hated it. So I never did it. At some point last year, some switch inside me flipped, and I grew to really admire a properly made bed. So I began going out of my way to not only make my bed, but to make it as near to perfect as I can. This meant hospital corners and a very tight tuck. I did not go so far as to involve a ruler in these antics, and I never achieved a bed that I could bounce a quarter off of (damn fitted bed-spread…) but I did achieve something that gave a feeling of serenity to some deep, mildly-obsessive part of me. Sleeping under the covers of such a bed, however, invariably destroys all of that work. While it is not a terrible concession to re-make the bed in the morning, during a couple of particularly warm nights, I decided I would be better served by sleeping on top of my bed with a small blanket. I found that I got both a better sleep and I was more alert when I woke up, nearly recreating the readiness I felt as a child. I was not, however, overly comfortable (key plot point).

On Sunday, I participated in an event called the Spartan Sprint in Toronto (which they naturally held in Oro-Medonte Township). Not only did I race, but prior to that I volunteered all day as a gladiator (using a pugil stick (giant Q-tip) to knock people down as they neared the end of the race; thousands of people). By the time I got home on Sunday night, I was exhausted and starting to really feel the days exertions, so I was in need of some comfort. I felt there was no harm in sleeping under the covers. And like most addictive things, the first hit was just great. I slept well, woke up on time, and Monday was just fine. However, as I progressed along this path, the ugly side of the covers showed themselves. Literally. I hadn’t made the bed Monday morning, and so it was all too inviting come Monday night, and I made the mistake of sleeping under the covers for a second night in a row. Thus, in seeking the womb-like comfort of my loose, unmade bed, my entire life fell apart (more or less). I did sleep in two hours after all…

While this post should be viewed as a glaring indictment of the life-sabotaging “comforter” industry, it should not be viewed as critical of sleeping in, in general. It is nice to do when one has such a luxury, and probably has health benefits (sleeping for an unlimited period of time rather than a limited one certainly seems like it would help balance out one’s sleep schedule). I’ve just found that the three things listed here have been very effective at helping me break my addiction to oversleeping.

It’s back.

And this time, it’s flexible.

Actually it’s not. And by it, I mean me. So I’m going to fix that. In three weeks.

At least, that’s the goal. The plan is to do 15 minutes of stretching 4 times a day for the next 3 weeks. “Is this really going to be enough to achieve the splits?” you may ask. Well, to be honest, I have no idea. What I do know, is that I am more productive and enjoy my life more, when I’m working towards a goal and pushing myself. So, the blog is back, and so is a regimen. The regimen for this is going to be as follows:

Session 1:

  • 5 minutes isometric left splits
  • 5 minutes isometric right splits
  • 5 minutes isometric centre splits

Session 2:

  • 5 minutes butterfly sit
  • 5 minutes kneeling groin stretch
  • 5 minutes V-sit

Session 3:

  • 5 minutes left pigeon sit
  • 5 minutes right pigeon sit
  • 5 minutes hanging hamstring stretch

Session 4:

  • 5 minutes left splits
  • 5 minutes right splits
  • 5 minutes centre splits

I like this breakdown a lot, as it begins and ends with the positions that I’m working towards. Also, the first session is designed to tire the muscles that are going to be resisting the position, and it ends with relaxed stretching which will give me a good indicator of how close I am to my goal.

I’ll update with results as I go.

P.S. I’m currently nowhere near the splits. At least 18″ off the ground.

Cheers

Update:

Considering how hard I failed at this and lost interest, I would love to delete this post, but for the sake of my journalistic integrity, I will leave it as a grim-reminder of making commitments with little reason to follow through on them. Splits are still a work in progress, but with nothing near the intensity as was presented in this post. Any further updates will likely occur in their own posts.

Hello,

I did my grading on Saturday. I brought three protein bars, three bottles of water, two powerades, a big tetrapack of juice, a towel, and a (puke) bucket. I arrived at 9:30, taught 3 classes, trained for an hour, ran the demo team practice, and then my grading began. I managed to eat a protein bar and have some water just before it started. I was then asked to go into the dojo and begin meditating in Seiza (kneeling) position. Kneeling has always been an issue for me. My legs don’t like it very much (nor do I), and before this, 5 minutes at a time would leave my legs quite sore and stiff. I was left to meditate in that position for 30 minutes. During this time, people who would be involved with my grading began to filter in. This included Gord, an adult green belt I’ve trained with before, Scott, a teenage junior black belt, Mike, an adult black belt in judo, and my Sensei’s sister who is also an adult black belt in Karate. As I kneeled and tried to meditate, I had a hard time ignoring how much my legs hurt. The more I could relax, though, the better they felt. At some point, a woman (I believe my Sensei’s sister) came in and asked me if my legs were numb. I nodded, and she said to hang in there as I only had a few more minutes. Eventually my Sensei came in and told me that I could now begin stretching. But he more so meant that I may now begin stretching, as when I went to stand up (even to sit up from my feet) I found that everything below my knees was completely numb. So I moved myself into a sitting position and began stretching things out as best I could. This meant first straightening my legs. I did get things stretched out and the feeling came back to my (no longer blue) feet. I was then asked to stand up against the wall, go into a horse stance, and stay there; basically a wall sit. I’m not sure how long I stayed there for but I’m sure it felt longer than it really way. I was then asked to begin doing suicides across the dojo and back. A few times, I was asked to speed up. This concluded the non karate-specific part of the grading.

Next, I began doing combos on focus mitts. I was then asked to do combos on both Gord’s mitts and Scott’s mitts, turning from one to the other continuously. At this point the black belts took their seats in the dojo, and began asking to see particular moves.  The first move they asked to see was a jump spinning kick. Next they asked to see a kip up. So I added a kip up into a combo and did that on the pads. Next was a cartwheel and jumping kick, so my last combo was simply a cartwheel followed by a pop-up front kick. Eventually I was asked to take my gloves off. The acrobatic kicks were more tiring than more traditional kicks would have been.

Next came katas. They asked me to perform each kata, and I would repeat it until they asked for the next one. Once I had finished all  of the katas I know, my Sensei asked me which kata I would perform if my whole grading depended on it. I said Seipai without hesitation. He then asked me to perform Seipai as though my whole grading depended on it… backwards! The kata normally takes me about a minute to perform. This took about five times as long. But I did it, and I believe it was close to correct.

Then I was asked to get my sparring gear on. Scott, Gord and Mike already had theirs on. Sparring gear consists of gloves, foot gear, a padded helmet and a mouth-guard. The sparring began with each of my three opponents rotation on 30 second rounds. So I would spar Scott for 30 seconds, and then spar Gord for 30 seconds and then spar Mike for 30 seconds, and then back to Scott. This way they didn’t get tired, but I certainly did. After a little while of this, my Sensei kept two people in at a time, so it was two on one.Then Sensei let the third person in at the same time. So I was sparring 3 people at once. During this portion, my left quad cramped. I managed to continue defending myself, only throwing kicks from my right leg. After the sparring, Mike and I got our gear off. I managed to massage the cramp out of my leg and we began grappling. I haven’t grappled since my days at Dynamic Arts. I could remember one lock, and I could only apply it from a weak position (for anybody keeping score at home, it was the Key-Lock applied from the Guard). Naturally I lost all three rounds of grappling; one to an arm-bar, one to a choke, and I don’t remember the last, but it was unpleasant.

I was near the final part of my grading now. All tired and sore, I had to demonstrate my ability to defend myself. So, Sensei had Gord put me in a Full Nelson (arms under my arms, hands behind my neck), and I had to escape. So apparently, the normal way to escape this is to lift the arms straight up and drop down, then do something awful to their legs. I, being unaware of this, maneuvered Gord to the side, took my left leg behind his right leg, bent my knee into the back of his and sent my weight backwards, knocking him over my leg. He released his hold when he fell. Unfortunately, this particular method caused my cramp to come back in both legs. I dropped to the ground, as I couldn’t stand without a lot of pain. While I was on the ground, my Sensei told me to begin thinking of a self-defense from Seipai to demonstrate. My main concern was getting rid of the cramps so that I could stand. I remembered something about electrolytes effecting cramping, so I started downing powerade while I tried to get ready. It didn’t help. I wasn’t able to get up.

I heard my Sensei say to his sister, “It’s sad to see somebody fail in the last five minutes.” That was when I realized what was at stake here, how close I was to completion, and most importantly, how close I was to failing. I decided that I would not let this make me fail. I asked my Sensei if this was the last part of my grading, and he said that after this I would have to stand and answer questions from the black belts. I decided on a self-defense and explained it to Scott so that I could perform it on him. I had him stand in front of me, and with my legs still cramping badly, I stood to perform the self-defence. Just like in Seipai, I reversed the wrist grab, popped the elbow up, stepped, struck the leg, struck the jaw, struck the neck, and kicked the knee. I managed to stay on my feet. They then asked me to expand on part of my essay, and to explain why I wanted my black belt.

“Grading dismissed” was the most relieving phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I wasn’t able to drive all the way home, and I needed somebody to come pick me up, but I felt good. I had never completed anything so difficult in my life.

The next day was the graduation, which went off without many difficulties and I think the kids all enjoyed it. Before Sensei brought me up to receive my belt, he spoke about how the grading went. He said that he, and the other black belts were only there to facilitate the grading. They are there to bring the person to the point where they want to give up and that if they find it inside themselves to carry on, that is the moment they become a black belt. He talked about seeing in my eyes that I wanted to quit when my legs were cramping, and that I pushed through that pain to complete my grading. He then asked me to come up on to the stage and he presented me with my black belt.

Reflecting back on the last 14 weeks, I realize how much I’ve really done, and how much I’ve grown as a person. I’ve found a lot inside of myself that I didn’t know was there, and while it was very very difficult at times, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am a black belt. And while this is an end, it is so much more a beginning.

This is, after all, only first dan.

So, here we are.

I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot outside of my dojo while I write this.
I’m very nervous. I have three classes to teach, a class to do, and a demo practice to run before I grade, which will be at 3:00. My understanding is that the basic format will be to tire me out and then have me spar. It will last at least 3 hours. I’ll have to do ground fighting which I haven’t done in three or four years. I’ve brought water, powerade, energy bars, a puke bucket, and a towel for today. Again, I am very nervous. I’ve done my best to eat and rest well before today, and I do feel good. I did some training last night so I’m not too stiff. I completed all of my requirements except for the hyper video, and I didn’t meditate enough. I still don’t know what my Sensei will say about that, but I’ll accept his decision either way. I hope I get to grade today and I hope I’m strong enough to complete it.
To anybody that’s been following my blog this little while, I really do appreciate it. I’ll have at least one more post after this to update on how everything goes, but until then, cheers.

Interview with Fire Captain Rick, a Living Hero

As part of my preparation, I was required to interview a living hero. I considered going with somebody who’d been noted for having done something heroic, however I changed my mind. I feel that a hero is somebody who regularly demonstrates heroism, and that brought me to the Waterloo fire department, and specifically to Fire Captain, Rick.

Jared: How did you get started in this business?

Rick: I live in a small town, and I joined the volunteer department there 29 years ago, and I was on there 6 months. I had a good job at the region of waterloo doing traffic signals, and I got in as a volunteer, and six months later I said this is what I want to do for a living. I wanted a change, and just the rewarding part of the job, and just everyday is different, it’s exciting.  Sometime’s there’s downtime, yeah, you pick up a book, you read, you learn something new every day. So, that’s kind of how I got into it. I’ve never looked back regretting any minute of it.

Jared: What sort of training have you gone through over the years to be able to do this job?

Rick: I’ve been up to Ontario Fire College, Gravenhurst… I can’t even tell you how many times. So many aspects of fire fighting; there’s hazardous materials, the medical aspect, high angle rescue, low angle rescue, confined space, the list goes on and on because when something goes on out there (gestures at the window), people have one number to call. They call 911, they need the fire department. The police’ job is very specific; EMS is pretty specific, meaning emergency medical services; they deal with sick people. We’re fire, we have to deal with a whole lot of different situations. Some of them; over in Wellesley We pulled a horse out of a manure tank, rescued people off silos, car accidents, you name it. It’s unlimited as to what people call you for. Cats in trees!

Jared: That really does happen?

Rick: Oh yeah. We don’t normally go unless, well the one time we did the cat had a leash on, a chain, and it was wrapped around a branch. We had no choice, so we went.

Jared: What does a typical day look like for you?

Rick: It’s pretty routine, there’s a set schedule as far as station maintenance, we set up the day’s training every morning, so its scheduled to keep the guys busy, but you never know when the alarm’s going to go, and all of that planning’s for not. We got two calls today, so we scheduled station tours for kids that come in; we show them the equipment, we get dressed in full scba gear, breathing apparatus, just so they’re not scared of… so they can see who’s under all of that equipment. It’s just us.

Jared: If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you would be doing?

Rick: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. It’s been so long, and I don’t think I could go back to working five days a week. We work four days on, this week it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then we’re off for four, and then we come in next week on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night, we’re off for four. So we know, beginning of the year, exactly when we’re working throughout the year, whether you’re working your birthday, whether you’re working your anniversary, whether you’re working Christmas. We sit down, we pick holidays at the end of the year for the following year, so you can schedule those dates. But what would I be doing? Again, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because, because when I go home I put the pager on, so its 24/7, 365 days a year unless I’m on vacation that I’m a fire fighter.

Jared: So then, if there’s a call, under what circumstances would you get called in on your pager?

Rick: Same thing. When I’m living in the town of Wellesley, medical calls, fire calls, same thing as we do here in the city. Not to the frequency that we do in the city here. Last year we ran 4411 calls here in Waterloo, and in Wellesley we ran about 70. Population out there: 2500. Population here a little over 100 000, but if you add the student population, its almost 50 000 more, so you’re looking at around 160 000.

Jared: So I imagine you’ve responded to an awful lot of events, but what do you typically respond to?

Rick: I would say 60% of our calls are medical calls. There’s a criteria for fire, police and ambulance, and they are difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, chest pain, vital signs absent, unconsciousness… EMS class their calls in code 3 and code 4, so anything code 4, which is an urgent call for them, a lights and siren call for them, or life threatening, those are the ones we get called to. So probably 60% is tiered response, medical, then there are car accidents, alarm ringing, set off due to cooking. Nowadays there’s a very small percentage of actual fires, because of the fire code regulations, better fire prevention, stuff like that. The fire marshal’s office have mandated more of an education. We go into schools, we teach them about fire safety. So they’re taught at a very early age to be careful with candles, be careful with cooking, and so on and so forth. Its changed since the 70’s and earlier. Fire retardant materials help as well, but it is mainly education.

Jared: So how often, now, would you actually get called to put out a fire?

Rick: I’m not sure, exactly, what the stats were for last year. We had a pretty good house fire in November of this past year, they just had one at the university. I would say monthly there would be a significant fire. They had a good one at Dale crescent on Christmas eve at the apartment building. So I would say once or twice a month you get a fire causing damage, a hundred thousand dollars plus.

Jared: Over the years, is there any event that you’ve responded to which sticks out in your mind as being just something really terrible, or something that was terrifying to respond to?

Rick: Yeah, last year, we were working, we were on day shift and we had just responded to an alarm down on Erb street, set off due to cooking, and as we were coming back, we get a medical call to an apartment building. Dispatch didn’t give us details over the air; she wondered if we could phone her. So I phoned her; she says we’ve got a two year old male and an adult male both VSA –

Jared: VSA?

Rick: Vital signs absent, possible suicide. And so, we had just passed the property, we turned around, we got there. We were the first ones there. The wife was in the hallway, very upset; we go in and the male had drowned his son, and then killed himself. That probably sticks out as the most upsetting one to me. There have been several others, but we’ve got a good critical incident stress team here and a process to help guys get through that, and move on to the next one. There’s nothing you can do, but it is sad. Well, it’s another human being and especially with a child involved. They’re human beings. We look after people, and we carry on.

Jared: Were there any that were very dangerous to you or to someone else on the team?

Rick: Sure. The last fire we went into, a room was fully engulfed in fire, and you just rely on your training and your equipment, each other, we have accountability systems set up, and its a command system which keeps track of people and eliminates that freelancing. Everybody is accounted for, works together. The commander, Platoon Chief, knows where they all are.

My interview with Fire Captain Rick continued; on the other hand my recording device did not. There were two things that stuck out in my mind, however. The first was that when taking account of a situation, Rick said that they will “Risk a life to save a life.” To me, that is the embodiment of a hero; somebody that will sacrifice their own well being, for the sole purpose of improving another’s even to the point that it may cost them their life. I also asked Rick whether he felt that he, himself and other fire fighters should be considered heroes. He responded that “hero” is a very big word, and that they were just people doing their job. I humbly disagree with Rick on that point. From what he told me, I would say that he and those that he works with are heroes. After the interview, I made a point to thank him for his time, as well as to thank him for doing the job he does. We’re safer as a result of his efforts, and I know that were it any of our lives on the line, he would do all that he could to help. He is completely dedicated to his work, and for that, we should all be thankful.

What Karate Means to Me

Jared Windover

Karate, literally translated means empty hand, and is thus a way of defending oneself when one’s hands are empty; a means of unarmed combat. Karate is a lone Okinawan defending his home and family, standing tall against a Samurai horde. Karate is a man striking a makiwara late at night while his family sleeps, with the threat of death hanging over his head if he is found out. Karate is the softness of yin and the hardness of yang. Karate is all of these things and much more, however, this is not what Karate means to me. To me, the meaning of Karate can be found in three things; a staff, a belt, and a pair of shoes. These are what Karate means to me.

The staff is often the first weapon a student learns, and it was the first weapon I learned. However, I was never attracted to it for its potential as a weapon. I was attracted to it for the way it moved. It combined power and grace, speed and control, and it allowed the person using it to transcend the confines of their body and become more than they were. I would sit there and watch while my Sempai practiced, hoping that one day I’d have the chance to use it. The class in which I first used the staff was the most exciting I’d ever had. I learned to strike forward, and to perform the four corner strikes. At home I started practicing those strikes on the street in front of my house, and I would practice for hours. I practiced until it was too dark to see what I was doing and I had blisters on my hands. Then one day, after a demo team practice, I was asked if I’d like to learn the more advanced staff techniques under my Sempai; an apprenticeship of sorts. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I learned everything I could about how to use the staff while I had the chance. The fervour that I had for the staff, I believe, is the spirit of Karate. It is practice and practice and practice, not because an instructor is telling you to, but simply to improve at your art.

Another symbol of Karate for me is the belt. Not just any belt, but the Karate belt. The first time I wore it I had no idea of the significance it would one day hold for me. In fact, when I first began Karate I intended to quit at black belt. At the tender age of 9, I did not realize the irony in that. Regardless, it is now something very important to me. I know very little about the origin of the belt, but one thing I do know is that when the belt went on I was a different person. I was focused, and I was there to train. When I’m wearing my belt, I’m not only representing myself, but I’m representing my dojo. Not only am I representing my dojo, but I’m representing an entire history of martial artists leading up to me; others who have worn the gi and the belt and have called themselves Karate-ka; others who have lived and died by their art, and those who have passed it on to the next generation. When I wear my belt, there is a certain protocol with which I’m supposed to act, and a certain role which I’m supposed to fill, and it must honour all of those who have gone before me. Eventually, as is the way for many things in life, the belt ceases to be the reason you act the way you do, and you take that action into the rest of your life. Similarly, I have heard mastery described as the point at which you forget all you’ve been taught. It is not forgetting in the sense that you no longer know; it is forgetting in the sense that it is no longer conscious, but subconscious; no longer what you do, but what you are. For me, this is embodied in the belt. I am a Karate-ka when I wear it, and I am a Karate-ka when I don’t, and for this reason it symbolizes all that I am as a Karate-ka.

Lastly, a pair of shoes; two shoes put side by side, evenly, against the wall, with a bunched up sock in each. This is the last thing I saw before entering the dojo on more days than I can count. It is a practical step, as training in bare feet develops strength in the feet and begins to condition them. As well it helps keep the dojo tidy, as you’re not tracking dirt and mud in. When students first begin, they remove their shoes hastily and rush into the dojo to begin their training. Sometimes students are reprimanded to tidy their shoes so that there’s room for everybody else. It takes time for this to develop independently, but it does, and it did in me. I now take a small amount of pride in making sure my shoes are put neatly in their place before beginning my training. I spent a particularly long time, however, rushing to remove my shoes and begin training, and this was evident in other parts of my life as well. I was reluctant to make my bed, do chores, or tidy my things. It all seemed like time that should be spent more effectively on other things. Eventually, however, and I feel this was due to my training, I began to examine these habits, and realized that they were not in the spirit of Karate. My previous Sensei had a saying, which I’m sure others have said before: “It is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice.” By being haphazard with the things in my life, I was reducing the value of my life. By rushing from one thing to the next, I was losing the lessons that could be learned from those things. It is this, more than anything, which now characterizes my training. My goal is no longer to learn something new, it is, rather, to gain as much value from what I am doing as I can extract; whether it be a kata, or simply putting my shoes away.

Karate is an art, a philosophy, and a way of life. As such, its meaning to me cannot be adequately summed up in an essay, nor a book, nor an entire library. It is something that has penetrated to my core, and will be a part of me so long as I live. It has realized fervour in me, taught me responsibility, given me a sense of community and history, and taught me to look for value in all that I do. It has changed who I am, and for that I am forever indebted to my Sensei, my previous Sensei, my Sempais, all of my classmates, and an entire lineage of martial artists. To make it perfectly clear, it has made me who I am today, and I can no more define what it means to me than I can define myself. The three items are images that, for me, are indelibly linked to Karate, and while Karate is much more than the sum of those parts, Karate can also be seen in the slightest of things; a punch, a breath, or the eyes of a master. Or a pair of shoes, side by side, with a bunched up sock in each.

Well… this is awkward.

I burned out.

I was going strong as of my last post, but gradually pressures built. My posts stopped, but I managed to keep most of my workout intact, and I finished my push ups and sit ups. I also finished my random acts of kindness, kata, and sparring. Then as soon as my work term ended and preparing for Christmas began I stopped all of it. I wasn’t at karate enough, and instead of spending my time fighting sparring partners, I spent much of it fighting with my girlfriend. I became completely undisciplined, and convinced myself I was just taking a breather. I wasn’t.

It’s not something foreign to me, and it’s not the first time it’s happened. It is however a weakness in myself that I must do everything to correct, even more so than a weakness in form or a failing in my technique. I have too long neglected the mental aspect of my training, and this is evident in how poorly I kept up with my meditation. Perhaps had I continued, I wouldn’t have lost my motivation, but, alas, I did.

I have since found it again.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish my grading, as the way I’ve acted is not at all the way a blackbelt should act. I have, however, decided that I will complete the requirements to the best of my abilities, because that’s what I should have been doing all along. I’ve since completed my jogging, and I’m meditating between 1 and 2 hours a day to make up for my lack thereof before. I interviewed a Captain of a Waterloo fire station as my living hero, and I’m back on the weblog. I considered writing more entries to make up for my absence, but I’ve decided against it. It’s not really a retroactive thing. I still have to write my essay, prepare my video for Hyper, and begin creating a Nunchaku kata, all before this Saturday which is the last day for me to do my grading before the graduation, which I also procrastinated planning and am now managing to pull together.

I regret what I feel to be a failing on my part, however I will not dwell on it. I have much work left to do, and what I’m beginning to learn as I meditate is that much of my own suffering has been caused by clouding my mind with worries about the past and future, when all I should be focused on is the present. I will complete my grading if it is at all possible and I will pull this graduation together.

That’s all for today.

How you doin’?

Anyways, I’ve been well at least. Glad to be coming to the end of this term. The hour commute has been somewhat of a drag, and I’m finding it very hard to make time for the things I enjoy. However, I am appreciating the free time I do get more than I used to. My plan of getting up early to do my workouts is going somewhat alright. I’m still sleeping in some days and having to make it up that night, but I think overall I’m getting more rest and freeing up more time (somehow) which is good.

This week, I’d like to talk about something off topic (at least as far as this blog has been concerned), and that’s performance. I’m currently preparing the demo team for their first performances, and reminding myself of some of the important aspects I’ll need to take into account when designing their routines. I have more experience performing magic (at least lately) so that’s the angle I’m going to take on it.

I’ve had an interest in magic since I was rather young, and I first started learning it with some seriousness when I was 9. Of course, this seriousness was no more than learning the mechanics of an effect and practicing in front of a mirror. It took me quite a while for that interest to develop into any sort of talent, and I still would not say I’m particularly talented, at least compared to other performers. However I am getting better, and Ienjoy it more every time. In fact, I had a performance on Dec. 3 which my lovely assitant (and girlfriend) was also a part of. I feel it went quite well. The reasons behind a show going well or not, are often difficult to discern, especially for the performer. Things that we think will go over stunningly, fall flat, and occasionally we miss an opportunity to amaze because we don’t realize the effect we’ve had on the audience.

One thing that is tremendously more important than the magician is the audience. If they’re not in the right mood, then the show will bomb. No matter how impressive the magic is, the show will bomb. That is not to say that the performer is not responsible for this. It’s up to the performer to get the audience into the right mood for some hot, hot lov- err magic. The best way that I’ve found to do this, and which I have blatantly stolen from other performers, is to make them clap. Literally. I go up, I make a joke about audiences being so amazed that they forget to clap, and then I tell the audience to applaud three times: first for a small trick (their polite applause), second for a regular trick (their regular applause), and last for an absolutely mind-blowing trick (their thunderous applause). The thing is, I don’t do any tricks. I just tell them to clap as though I had. Most of the time they’re perfectly content to do this, and even enjoy it by the third time. This puts them into a mood to enjoy the show, and puts me into a more comfortable mood to perform.

The cute factor can play enormously well, in a similar way to making the audience clap. When I tell the audience to clap for me, there is something fishy about that. However, when I tell them to clap for the young man who has volunteered to be a part of the next effect, there is nothing negative for them to feel. It is a little kid who is probably quite nervous, and the audience is more than willing to assuage that by applauding. Every little bit of applause improves the show, and this is no different.

Another thing is knowing how to pace your show. It’s very tempting to rush, especially when you’re unconfident in your material. This is something I used to do, where I would do probably twice as many effects, and none of them would get as good of a reaction as a single effect does now. The audience’s interest will follow the pacing of the show, and if they’re curious about something, then allowing a  time delay before revealing it can build their interest higher. Moving too quickly can lose interest before it’s been built..

Similar to pacing, is structure. If I go out, and conjure a cloud of smoke, from which a dark entity appears, and reads the minds of everybody present, that would be impressive. If I follow that by finding a card, it will fall flat. The order that effects are done can have a large impact on how they are perceived. An audience can only be so impressed, and if they’re less impressed than they were a moment ago, they will show it. Each effect needs to build on the previous. That is not to say that every routine begins better than the last ended. It will follow more of a wave, where overall the impression should improve, and within any one routine the impression improves. This is also why its important to clearly show when you are done with one effect, and when you are beginning something new, because the audience expects  a certain amount of lull between effects and will forgive that, however they will not forgive a lull inside of an effect.

Lastly, music is important. It gives the show a more professional feel, and helps to allow silences without losing the audience’s attention.

So, what does this have to do with the demo team?

Well, applause can be used in a similar way, having effective cues for the audience to applaud. Some of the members of the demo team are younger, and their youth will be fully exploited… for the cute factor. The pacing and structure of the show will need to be carefully planned out. Lastly we’ll need a rocking soundtrack: all Katy Perry, all the time!

Anyways, here’s my weekly recap:

Monday:

  • 190 push ups
  • 160 sit ups
  • 22 rounds of Seipai
  • 10 minutes meditation
  • 11 acts of kindness
  • 6 rounds of sparring

Tuesday:

  • 130 push ups
  • 160 sit ups
  • 10 rounds of Seipai
  • 11 acts of kindness

Wednesday:

  • 160 push ups
  • 160 sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes of meditation
  • 8 acts of kindness

Thursday:

  • 160 push ups
  • 160 sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 50 minutes of meditation
  • 10 acts of kindness
  • 8 rounds of sparring

Friday:

  • 160 push ups
  • 160 sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 18 acts of kindness

Saturday:

  • 9 acts of kindness

Sunday:

  • 320 push ups
  • 320 sit ups
  • 32 rounds of Seipai
  • 9 acts of kindness

So, for Week 7, I did 1120 push ups, 1120 sit ups, 112 rounds of Seipai, 80 minutes of meditation, 76 acts of kindness, and 14 rounds of sparring.

Cumulatively, I’m at 7010 push ups, 6840 sit ups, 685 rounds of Seipai, 725 minutes of meditation, 339 acts of kindness, 69 rounds of sparring, and 30 km of jogging.

I fully expect to spend the last few days before my grading focuse almost entirely on jogging and meditation, though it would help to take care of some of that sooner rather than later. I just find it so hard to justify sitting and trying to avoid actively thinking when I have so much else on my plate. I suppose that’s really no excuse though. Ah well.

Oh, I almost forgot! Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately, eagerly anticipating their new ablum in the new year:

So, until next week, cheers!

Good day to you!

My foot’s nearly back to full health, I’ve been getting up early to do my workouts, and I’m feeling pretty good. This week I’d like to talk about a hopeless mishmash of philosophy and character traits that I feel are related to the martial arts.

I’ll begin with a quote from Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan Karate) which I may have mentioned in this blog before: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” For a silly, media-based example, in the original Karate Kid, the deuteragonist (ooh fancy-talk for the secondary protagonist), Mr. Miyagi shows himself to be a superior martial artist to the secondary antagonist, John Kreese (the Cobra-Kai Sensei). Mr. Miyagi’s character is contemplative, serene and kind-hearted, while Kreese is a short-tempered, underhanded sadist. We see that the iconic Karate film equates the true path of the Karate-ka with developing a strong spirit and a strong body, rather than the body on its own. While this is a good example of what I feel to be part of the true philosophy of Karate, Hollywood is rife with poor examples, so let us dwell no further on media representation.

As part of graduation requirements for Kyu belts at Black Belt Schools (and similarly at other dojos), each student must complete an act of charity to receive one of their stripes. This can be organizing a fundraiser or participating in one, but it must involve a sacrifice on the part of the student for the benefit of others. Thus, even the most talented martial artist, if unwilling to be charitable, will never progress, while a less talented student with a kind heart will learn more and go further.

Training in Karate is at best difficult, and at worst gruelling, and will force you to confront and push through your mental and physical boundaries. This may involve changing one’s attitude, improving one’s physical health, or going back to the beginning of a technique to understand it further, and more often than not all of these. For example, I began my training in Kempo Karate, which emphasizes very deep and wide stances. This is an excellent way to improve one’s leg strength, and taught a great deal of perseverance while sitting in a deep horse stance (wallsit – wall) for 3 to 5 minutes. However, in beginning Goju-Ryu, I had to adjust to much higher more practical stances, which gave better stability and balance. While this was less demanding, physically, it required me to completely change my attitude to my stance and realize that at the end of the day, the techniques should be practical rather than showy. This is a significant mental barrier that I had to overcome. I’m sure I’ll push through a few physical barriers too before my grading is over.

Another character trait that the martial arts develops is fearlessness. I’d like to illustrate by paraphrasing a story I recently read:

An officer was speaking with his superior about the regiment he was in charge of. He said that one of the soldiers (Samurai) was completely fearless. The superior claimed that no man is fearless and went to see for himself. They found the man training with his regiment, and told him to commit Seppuku (honorable, ritual suicide). The man immediately kneeled and began making preparations. He unsheathed his sword, and just before he could plunge it into his stomach, the superior told him to stop. He asked why he had shown no fear. The man’s response was that a long time ago he had decided to conquer fear inside himself. He tied a very weak string to a very sharp sword and hung the sword over his bed, just inches from his throat. At first, he found it very difficult to sleep, as he was afraid of death, but eventually he grew to accept that death was immediately present, sword or not, and he learned to sleep soundly. There was nothing to fear from a sword in his own hand when compared to one hanging above his throat.

It is this fearlessness that a martial artists seeks. The martial arts are inherently violent, but in facing this violence, one learns to find peace in it. People often say, after hearing that you’ve trained in some martial art, “I guess I’d better not make you mad,” when in reality, somebody that has trained seriously will understand the impact of using violence and is the least likely to hurt another out of anger (though the occasional one slips through: see Cobra-Kai Sensei).

In the end, I feel, that the martial arts are a preparation for death. This may sound odd, or even offensive at first, however it should not be. I read an interview with a master of Karate, who said something similar to, “No matter what, be courageous. For then, even if a boulder falls out of the sky and crushes your body, nothing will ever crush your spirit.” Much of what we as humans do shows our preoccupation with our own death: keeping healthy, leaving a mark on the world, penance. The martial arts are no different. We hope that in learning to be truly courageous, we shall keep this courage even in death, and that we can face our final moments, not with fear and struggle, but with the quiet dignity befitting a fearless Samurai.

And now for a word from our sponsor, the Weekly Recap!

Monday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes meditation
  • 10 acts of kindness

Tuesday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness

Wednesday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 10 acts of kindness

Thursday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 30 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness
  • 10 rounds of sparring

Friday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 20 minutes meditation
  • 9 acts of kindness

Saturday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 8 acts of kindness

Sunday:

  • 160 Push ups
  • 160 Sit ups
  • 16 rounds of Seipai
  • 8 acts of kindness
  • 10 km jogging

So for Week 6, I did 1120 push ups, 1120 sit ups, 112 rounds of seipai, 130 minutes of meditation, 63 acts of kindness (record), 10 rounds of sparring, and 10 km of jogging. I’m pretty content with how things are going. Still need to do a bit more meditation, but I’m right on track with everything else. Except jogging. But who likes jogging anyways…

Cumulatively, I’m at: 5890 push ups, 5720 sit ups, 573 rounds of Seipai, 645 minutes meditation, 263 acts of kindness, 55 rounds of sparring, and 30 km of jogging. So yes, I need to jog more. I guess that’s one of those physical barriers to push through… Anyways, new goal for finishing is the 19th of December, which will give me some time to pull together the Break-a-thon so long as all goes according to plan. Need to write an essay in there, and interview a living hero. Anybody know of any heros?

How about this guy?