Right Speech In Social Media, and Being Interviewed

So by now everybody knows about the shit-storm blowing around social media involving Manny Pacquiao, the LGBT community, and those who support either side.  Personally, I support marriage equality – but I won’t go into detail about that here.  I just want to briefly sort out my thoughts and feelings about practicing the Buddhist precept of Right Speech via social media.

To make it really brief, it is freaking hard.  It is hard enough to practice it in the physical world, but there’s something about posting on social media that seems to bring out the worst in people.  Maybe it’s just so much easier to be a keyboard warrior.  After all, nobody’s going to jump out of your screen and punch you in the face if you piss them off online.  On the other hand, it is also so much easier to read something that offends you, and then pause and take a breath or two before you type.  And if you can do that, then your chances of sounding even remotely intelligent are higher.  But damn, the temptation to give a virtual middle finger can be so strong at times.

Right Speech is a challenging precept to keep.  And about the only thing I can say is, I will always need practice in this area.

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There’s a part in Neil Gaiman’s “Death and The High Cost Of Living” where the main character is narrating about “The Spirit of the Stairway” or something like that, which is basically all the cool shit you could have said but didn’t think of saying in a conversation, and that are occupying your mind now that you have left the conversation, and you’re going down the stairs  (Why it has to be going downstairs and not upstairs, and why it has to involve stairs at all – I don’t know).   It’s the conversation you wish you had but didn’t.

I was attending a birthday party last night, and there was a group of young filmmakers interviewing people for something they called the Happiness Project (or Project Happiness? Something Happiness – I don’t know, I had a lot of wine).  Anyway, they interviewed me briefly about my thoughts on happiness, and I did my best in my less than sober state to give a somewhat sensible answer.  The thing is, now that I am completely sober, I can’t help but think, “Damn, I could have explained it more clearly!” So here’s the answer I wish I gave, but didn’t.

Happiness, to me, can be likened to the peak of a wave, while its opposite can be likened to the valley of a wave.  This up-and-down movement is perfectly natural.  Which is why chasing after happiness doesn’t really work.  You’re basically going against nature.  It’s like insisting on breathing in air, then refusing to let it out because dammit, you really like air, air is good for you, and therefore “I’m just gonna keep on taking in more and never let it out.”  I trust that you’re all wise enough not to try that, by the way.

So if you want to be happy, the best advice I can give is don’t even try.  Yup, don’t even try.  Especially do not try to be happy all the time.  Trying to do that is like trying to control the waves of the ocean.  Instead, just relax and ride the waves – like surfers do.

How do you do that?

Forget about happiness.  Forget about sadness.  I don’t mean push them away – “Oh I will neither be happy nor sad.  I will become an emotionless robot.”  Nope, that doesn’t work.  What I mean is, let them come when they come, and let them go when they go.

“But how do I that?” you ask.  I can answer that in two words: Be kind.

Happiness and sadness appear and disappear like the waves of the ocean, but no matter what you’re feeling you always have the opportunity to be kind.  That’s why instead of focusing on happiness, focus on being kind.  Like, what’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself right now?  What’s the kindest thing you can do for others right now?  For the world right now?

The interesting thing is the more you do this, the more you practice this, and the less interested you become in selfishly pursuing happiness, the easier it becomes to be happy.  It’s not that happiness will just come to you as a reward for your good behavior – it’s more that by forgetting yourself, you relax.  And when you relax, then your movement becomes more natural, and riding the waves is not so much of a struggle.  It’s when you try to hold on to any positive emotional state while pushing away negative states, that you tense up.  And when that happens, riding becomes difficult.  But when you focus on just being kind regardless of what you’re feeling, then you forget yourself, and you’re now able to freely ride the waves of life.


Teaching Children The Way of Harmony

The following is a press release, which I wrote for my dojo, to be released to a local newspaper (hopefully soon! Please, Sunstar Davao!).  Doing press releases and stuff like that isn’t really my forte, but we do need to advertise if we want the dojo to survive and thrive.  So here I am doing my bit to let people know we exist.  Now if you will excuse me, I need to go into Marketing mode now.

Parents, are you interested in letting your children learn martial arts? This summer, Bu Yuu Kan dojo is offering six weeks of introductory Aikido classes for children from ages 6 to 12 years of age. But before we talk about fees and schedules, let us first make something clear: what is Aikido, and why should you let your child study it?

What is Aikido?

The word “Aikido” is often associated with action star Steven Seagal, who is himself a high-ranking instructor as well as Aikido’s most famous exponent. Anyone who has watched Seagal’s early films will likely associate the martial art with brutal throws and joint locks, done in a smooth and calm manner. It is not uncommon to hear this from people who don’t really know what this martial art is all about: “Aikido? Yan ba yung kay Steven Seagal? ‘Di ba bali-an yan ng buto?” (Aikido? Is that the one that Steven Seagal practices? Isn’t that bone-breaking stuff?) While there certainly is some truth to that, there is so much more to this martial art.

Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art developed by the late Morihei Ueshiba. “Ai” is translated as “harmony”, “union”, “joining”, etc. “Ki” is often translated as “energy”, “life force”, or “spirit”. “Do” means “way”, “path”, “art”. Thus Aikido may be translated as the “Way of joining energy”, “path of harmonizing spirit”, or simply, the “Way of Harmony”.

To the observer, an Aikido demonstration looks like a flowing, whirling dance among the participants. Aikido movements are circular and spiral. The movements are designed to allow the practitioner to neutralize the opponent/s by blending and redirecting his/her attacks into throws, locks, or pins that exploit the attacks’ speed and power. By utilizing the force of their attacks, it is possible for the skilled Aikidoka (Aikido practitioner) to neutralize even bigger, stronger, and more powerful opponents. Indeed, the more powerful the attack, the harder the throw or pin.

The Way of Harmony goes beyond the martial context, however. It also has ethical and moral dimensions. Indeed, the highest form of Aikido application would be to neutralize one’s attackers without harming them. The Aikidoka realizes that simply defeating an opponent, while perhaps necessary in certain situations, is at best a short-term solution. In the long run, it is necessary to work for lasting peace and harmony. Therefore, the first and most important opponent for the Aikidoka is himself/herself. Or as the Founder would say: “True victory is self-victory.”

The practice of Aikido reflects this philosophy. There is no sparring or competition. Aikidokas take turns in the nage (defender) and uke (attacker) roles, practicing two-person and multiple-person drills that teach the techniques and principles of Aikido. Students practice controlled falls on specially designed mats – these help them absorb the throws, locks and pins with minimal impact and reduced risk of injury. An attitude of caring and mutual respect among Aikidokas is emphasized.

What will your children learn?

The summer introductory course will be taught in eighteen (18) 90-minute classes, to be held three times a week for six weeks. In this period your children will learn the fundamental footwork and body movements of Aikido, as well as basic rolls and controlled falls. Because this is a class for children, there will be less emphasis on the combative aspects of the art, except for a few basic techniques that will be practiced slowly under the supervision of the instructors and senior students. They will learn how to apply the Aikido movements to evade strikes and escape from holds, while taking care not to injure their opponents. They will also learn to fall safely, which is a valuable skill that can be transferred to other physical activities. Furthermore, as this is a Japanese martial art, they will be exposed to the traditional culture of Japan.

Through this practice, your children will be able to cultivate the following qualities:

  • Discipline
  • Focus
  • Respect
  • Self-restraint
  • Confidence

They will also be able to enjoy the following health and fitness benefits:

  • Flexibility
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Agility
  • Mind/body coordination

Finally, they will be exposed to the philosophy of Aikido, which is resolving conflict not simply by defeating an external enemy but also and ultimately by addressing the roots of conflict.

Fee and schedule:

The fee is Php2000/student for eighteen (18) 90-minute sessions. They will also receive two Aikido Kids T-shirts. The classes are every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Start of classes will be on April 7, and the last day will be May 16. We also have adult classes on the same days from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, if you’re interested in joining.

What to bring and wear:

Your children may bring a change of clothing and water, although we do have a water dispenser in our dojo. Since this is an introductory course, wearing Aikido uniforms won’t be necessary. Your children may come in jogging pants and t-shirts.

Dojo address and location:

Space 17, Level 2, Esmar Plaza, Illustre Extension, Davao City. The building is behind OroDerm hotel in Magallanes Street.

About Bu Yuu Kan Dojo:

Bu Yuu Kan Dojo is an Aikido club under Seiwakai Inc., a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to the practice and instruction of the art of Aikido. Seiwakai Inc., is under Seiwakai Japan, an organization founded by the late Koichi Shibata (8th dan black belt) directly affiliated with the Aikikai Foundation in Japan.

 

For inquiries, text/call mobile no: 09228678733 (look for Ronald)

And like our Facebook page: Seiwakai Aikido Buu Yuu Kan Dojo


Reluctantly, for the Time Being

“Raf, we have a problem…”  So began my senpai’s (all you non-Japanese out there, read that as dojo senior) sentence last Wednesday.  But let’s backtrack first to several months before, when I informed everyone in the Aikido dojo that I was taking a year’s time off from Aikido to focus on my FMA practice.  That meant I would neither practice nor handle any classes.  That shouldn’t have been a problem given that there are several black belts in our organization, myself included.  But for reasons that I’m too lazy to elaborate here (let’s just say that we now have two dojos, effectively dividing the number of qualified instructors in half – but it gets WAY more complicated than that), there is a current shortage of available instructors in the new dojo.

And so once again I find myself reluctantly stepping up to teach.  I say ‘reluctantly’ but dammit I really do miss being on the mats, and I am looking forward to this Thursday evening.  It’s just that…

…you know the feeling that maybe you’ve bitten off way more than you can possibly masticate and swallow?

Thursday evening is when I go to my FMA class in the local YMCA.  Make that Thursday 7:30 to 9:00 in the evening.  Aikido class is from 6:00 to 7:30 in the evening – that’s assuming people will come on time.  Good thing both classes are located relatively close to each other in the downtown area.  That would mean that by the time I arrive at the YMCA they will probably be at least halfway through the basic methods and drills (assuming they start on time).  That would also mean that I will be coming to FMA practice at least a little tired.  That concerns me.

I can only allot one evening a week for martial arts training.  Let me rephrase that: given my current life situation, I am only willing to budget one evening a week for martial arts training in a formal class.  I can train on my own any time – it’s the evening classes that I’m referring to here.  Squeezing in two martial arts in one evening then going to work the next morning may be too much for my body – and maybe even my mind – to take.  I don’t think it’s healthy and sustainable in the long term.

People in their twenties will probably not appreciate this yet, but when you get to a certain age you will feel the aftermath of any physical activity you practice like you’ve never felt them before.  Your recovery time will not be as fast.  I know because when I try to do too much in terms of training – whether it’s martial arts, parkour, or whatever physical activity that floats your boat – I either start getting cranky, or sick, or injured.  Heck, having a hangover from drinking one too many beers the night before feels worse and seems to last longer than before.  So if in the past you worked out, had sore muscles the next day then the day after you felt fine, now it might take you two days to recover.  Add to that your daily responsibilities, your job, the chores, the kids, the other things you also want to do…

Anyway, that’s the reason I wanted to take time off from Aikido in the first place.  Given my life situation, both in terms of what I need to do and what I WANT to do, it just made sense to focus on just one martial art for a year.  That way I could also squeeze in some parkour training, plus music, plus writing, plus spending time with my family IN THE EVENINGS (because, DUH, I have a freaking day job)…. blah blah blah… yadda yadda yadda… I’ll stop here.

Now you have an idea why I am reluctant to go back to the dojo.  So why go back at all?

The simple answer is: I am needed there.  Of course I could have said no.  That’s a very basic discipline, by the way: the act of saying no.  No, I will not do X.  No, I will not commit to A at this point because I am already committed to B.  No, no, no.  And I’ve been very good at saying no this past several months.  But I will not say no just for the sake of saying no.  Right now, somebody has to handle the Thursday Aikido classes.

Right now, that person is me.

Reluctantly, for the time being.


Practising Listening with Empathy, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Just wanted to share a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1991. Though he said these words twenty-four years ago, they resonate with me very well – perhaps because I only recently had a rather unpleasant falling out with some people due largely, I suspect, to a mutual lack of listening ability.

Buddhism now

Mustang girl and prayer flags. Photo © Lisa DaixYesterday, Sister True Virtuetalked a little bit about the fourth precept concerning speaking and listening. This is a very deep practice. Listening is an art, and many people do not have the capacity for it, especially in the case of listening to the suffering of others. One reason for that is that in the listeners themselves, there is also much pain. The store consciousness is filled with pain and grief, and that is why it is so difficult for such people to listen to others. In order to be able to listen, we need to learn how to transform the suffering in ourselves.

Talking is also an art because if we have many internal formations within us and if we do not know the art of mindful breathing, then while speaking we shall be carried away by our feelings, our anger, and what we say may hurt people deeply…

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There’s A First Time For Everything (or how I managed to NOT blow up the recording equipment)

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This afternoon I took time off to mess around – I mean, try out the equipment in my brother’s home studio.  I should explain first that my brother and his wife (both musicians) are currently based in another country, but that they – especially he – regularly come back to their house.  Before they left a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, who also happens to be my bandmate, talked me through the jungle of wires, dials, microphones, speakers, and other recording stuff while I took down notes.  Anyway, I was really psyched this week because my schedule’s been pretty loose and I decided that today would be THE day.

It turned out okay, mostly.  I managed to record a piano track for my latest song.  But then for some reason, when I would try to play it back, no sound would come out.  After unsuccessfully trying to figure it out for well over an hour, I decided to call it an afternoon, saved the GarageBand project, exported the piano track to iTunes (where it played beautifully), then transferred it to my laptop.  I’ll figure it out next time.


On What Is Normal

And when your idea of Normal is someone else’s idea of extraordinary, you inspire, you start to shift what’s possible, and you elevate the kind of person you are, and thus the kind of life you are going to lead.

And when your Normal is extraordinary, just imagine what your Exceptional could be.

Khaled Allen

A few months ago I pulled a muscle in my back after working on my straddle press to a handstand and doing hindu pushups afterwards.  As far as injuries go, a pulled muscle isn’t exactly serious.  It can be, as I would learn that time, very painful though. It hurt for several days, and the night before the fourth day I had to sleep in a semi-reclined position on the couch because it was already affecting the way I breathed.  Heck, changing position or otherwise engaging my core in even the slightest of efforts hurt.  So I got a chest x-ray the next day just to be sure it wasn’t anything serious (I figured it was a pulled muscle but I wanted to be sure),   then went to see my doctor.  He took a look at the x-ray, felt around that spot on my back and told me it was indeed a pulled muscle, and that he felt a particularly hard knot on my back.  I explained I’d been working out and – well, this was roughly how the conversation went:
Me: Well, last time I worked out hard was last Tuesday

Doc: What was your workout last Tuesday?

Me: Handstands…

Doc: What!?  You can do that?

Me: Yup, and I also did hindu pushups.

Doc: What!?  You can do that?

Me: But y’know I’m relieved.  It’s a good thing I got the x-ray and called you, because I was beginning to worry that maybe I’d fractured my back or something after practicing throwing last Saturday (NOTE: I had attended an intro course for Pencak Silat that Saturday.  And yes, I am well aware that had I actually fractured my back I wouldn’t have been able to move, much less workout afterwards, but I have a rather active imagination that sometimes works against me.)

Doc: What did you throw?

Me: Oh we threw each other…

Doc: WHAT!?

I’m sharing this story because it made me think about the difference between what I think is normal and what others may think is normal.  Most 34-year-olds I know do not include handstands and tumbling moves in their workouts.  I don’t even know a lot of 34-year-olds who workout on a regular basis.  And yet, this is exactly what I do.  This is normal for me.  It ain’t normal for other people, though – not in my experience anyway.  Which is why although I found my doctor’s reaction funny enough to share online, I wasn’t really surprised.  He must have thought I was either crazy or freaking awesome – or both – for having such, erm, physical physical activities.

What’s funny is in the circles I frequent, there are people who can make me look like a wimp, both in terms of physical ability and in terms of bad-assery (is that even a word?).  Granted, I am neither a professional fighter nor am I a professional traceur, but I can say with confidence that I am no weakling.  Call me a wimp and I’ll probably just grin and say with confidence, “care to test that hypothesis of yours?”  And yet I personally know people in my Kali class who could literally mop the floor with me then have a beer and a cigarette afterwards if they felt like it – hell, who could do all three at the same time.  I have a guy in my Aikido class who can pop off several clapping pushups without even breathing hard.  The same guy is so flexible he makes me look stiff – and I make everyone else in the dojo look stiff!  I know people who do CrossFit, and people who, like me, cross-train in different martial arts.  I have a niece who dead-lifts and does diamond pushups.  I can’t even do a single diamond pushup.  What is normal for them is not normal, and in some cases not even possible, for me.

When I look back at my youth though, and what was normal for me then…

What was normal for me in my early twenties was to go to bed at 1.  Going to bed at 11 was early.  Normal fun for me was getting drunk, high, or preferably both.  It meant going out not just on weekends but also on the days before and after weekends.  Normal was finishing a pack of cigarettes and contemplating opening another.  It was smoking a joint and getting the munchies.  Normal was being just under 200 pounds and trying to hide in really baggy clothes that were also, well – let’s just say I didn’t so much dress up as much as just put on the most comfortable pieces of cloth that I could grab.  Being a chain-smoking, booze-guzzling, pothead and couch potato was normal.  Gasping for breath going up a flight of stairs?  Normal.

These days?  I sometimes look back at my old normal in disbelief.  “That was normal?”  If I stay up until 10, that’s freaking late for me.  Normal for me is waking up at 6 to make breakfast, then working out before everyone else wakes up, and then sitting down to breakfast.  Normal fun for me is staying home to play with my kids, and having the occasional beer or glass of red wine with my wife after we have put the children to bed.  Normal is training parkour and freerunning, and looking up parkour and freerunning tutorial videos on YouTube in my spare time.  Normal is yoga on recovery days.  Normal is having sore muscles after a hard workout.  It is going to martial arts class once a week.  It is popping off one-arm cartwheels and rolling on concrete.  It is being able to do things that I could not have done in my twenties or even in my teens.

This is my new normal.  And you know what?  I’m keeping it for as long as I can.  Until it’s time for another normal.

I guess, if there is anything I’d like for my readers to take away from all this, it’s that what is normal for you can change.  If you choose it.  What is your normal?  What would you like to be the new normal?

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Photo source: author’s Pinterest
This post was inspired by the article “Elevate Your Normal” by Khaled Allen (that’s where I got the quote at the top).  Check out the rest of his article, hell, the rest of his blog, if you want to be inspired.


For the New Year: Officially Starting the 5:2 Intermittent Fast (and returning to my bad-ass ninja training)

Today is my first ever 5:2 Intermittent Fasting day.  I’d decided during the holidays that I would give this at least 3 months.  As I’m typing this I am aware of a feeling of lightheadedness.  I’ve been feeling it all day.  I don’t recall ever having gone this long without food – not while I am awake that is.  I have had several cups of tea throughout the day to add to my two cups of black brewed coffee earlier this morning.  The lightheadedness comes and goes.  The Filipino phrase nalipasan ng gutom (literally, passed-over by hunger) comes to mind.  The feelings of hunger have definitely passed me over today – lots of times.

I’m pretty much okay, though.  My wife and I were concerned that I’d be cranky the whole day (something that tends to happen when I’m hungry), but so far so good.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve been psyching myself up for this for almost a week now, ever since my brother and his life partner gave me a copy of Mosley and Spencer’s The Fast Diet.  I guess there is a difference between feeling hunger as a result of purposefully and enthusiastically skipping a meal, and being hungry and just wanting to eat already but not being able to immediately do so.  There is a sense of control and purpose in the former, and maybe that’s why I haven’t snapped at anyone yet.  Don’t get me wrong: it is not the most comfortable feeling in the world.  But it’s not as unpleasant as I thought it would be.  It also helps that I have dinner to look forward to, which should be about an hour from now.

Anyway, below is my basic fitness and nutritional plan for the first quarter of 2015.  The nutritional plan is meant to help with my physical training in two ways: first, less excess weight makes for easier movement and less strain on the joints; second, less excess fat will help me fit back into my clothes.  I actually still fit in my training clothes, but I don’t wanna wait until I’m too big to fit in them before I take action.  Most of my pants are really tight now.

Nutritional plan:

Mondays and Fridays are fast days, the rest of the week I can eat normally.  I’m mulling over having Wednesday as an added fast day every other week, making it a 5:2, 5:3 fast plan but we’ll see how it goes.

Bad-ass ninja training plan:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays: yoga in the morning.  Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays: alternate between bodyweight circuit training (my Workout A) and tumbling supersets (my Workout B).  Tumbling supersets is performing cartwheels, parkour rolls, and working on floor kips in supersets.  Tuesday evenings is for Kali class.  Thursday afternoon is for parkour/freerunning practice.  Saturday afternoons is for solo Kali practice.  Sundays are rest days, though I may sneak in a few minutes of jump rope Tabatas if I’m feeling energetic.

That’s pretty much it for the first three months of 2015.  We’ll see how it goes.  Happy New Year everyone!


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by Brad Warner

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