Archives for posts with tag: Philosophy

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

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 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?