Saturday, October 27, 2007

Random Stuff

Spent the morning re-reading Strangers In Paradise 1-60. Every so often I become a helpless slave of romantic tales of people who can't get their shit together. I don't think that makes me a bad person. One of these days we're just going to have to invest in the final 30. You know. I don't think I'll ever pull together characters like Moore can. Jeez.

I read this blog post on "Don't Talk So Much, You Pompous Windbag" and immediately thought of OTHER PEOPLE. Yeah. (via Lifehacker)

Apple programmers have a sense of humour.

Groove Armada are pretty cool. I'm just never going to be that smooth.

Almost have a True20 Dinosaurs book ready to go. Me, with a book full of dinosaurs. I know, hard to imagine. Rarrr. I don't really know why it is that I love them so much, except that they're TOTALLY AWESOME. Which reminds me, there's this insane bookstore down the street from us (well, about ten blocks or so away, but whatever) that, uh, is insane. And a bookstore. Anyway, this bookstore has the most incredible collection of bizarre special-interest books I've ever seen. Forget about coffee-table books about architecture. Forget about coffee-table books about Arabic architecture. Forget about coffee-table books about Arabic architecture in Morocco. How about a coffee-table book (full-colour illustrations, hardcover, the works) about Arabic architecture in a particular six-block region of Morocco? Or about, say, Art Deco pieces that were on auction in like, January 1935? Or cowboy illustrations by American women artists in the mid-50's? You think I'm making this up, but I'm not. Anyway, that's where I found Dougal Dixon's new book on dinosaurs. It makes me happy.

And thank you, world, for Kahlil Gibran.

On Giving


Kahlil Gibran
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have--and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers... and you are all receivers... assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.


Damn. I'm just never going to be that smooth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

These Things Take Time

...and I know that I'm...
The most inept that's ever stepped...


Okay, maybe not the MOST inept. I do try to be less self-important than Morrissey. Not that it's hard, but nice of me to try.

A couple of weekends ago a number of us travelled up to Montreal to study once again under the watchful eye of Sugino Sensei. He had come to spend some time with Michel Martin Sensei, as he had done last year when I saw him, and we were not going to miss the opportunity to practice with him this time.

At one point in the practice session Sensei asked half the group (there were about 30 folks there) to move to the sides of the room and merely WATCH the other half practicing. "Practice with your eyes," he said.

One of the interesting things about watching other people do stuff is that you are denied the opportunity to demonstrate your own skill and cleverness. You have to sit there and wait and watch until they're done. You must observe.

In our education system, passive observation is what is asked of students. Because of this (I guess, little armchair sociologist for you here) we devalue the idea of "studentship". Being a student is a phase that most of us are only too eager to put behind us, as we move into the rareified realm of "being an expert."

As I posted previously about The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, there is a strong thread in martial arts literature that tries to glorify being a student. The Demon's Sermon makes the claim that only when you are truly and without expectation observing your opponent can you hope to react appropriately no matter what he attempts. That is, the master swordsman is embracing the role of the student, of the observer.

But this form of observation cannot be passive. This is why Sensei insists we "practice with our eyes". We are not to sit back and simply let the kata performed before us leave empty impressions on our retinas. We must attentively inspect the actions of the other students; consider where their choices differ from ours, and take away from what we see lessons that we can put into practice when our turn comes. We must engage with the other students and relish the opportunity to see from the outside what it is we have such difficulty understanding from within.

A dojo without students is an empty shell. I was reading an article today about fostering learning teams, self-organizing groups that accomplish goals and build lasting social capital. The lesson of the article was that the only way to actively build such teams is to listen. By being a good listener, you create an environment where listening is valued, and it is only through listening that teams can ever truly come together. If no one is listening to each other, how can a team pull together?

A dojo where no one is observing will suffer the same fate. And just as telling a story to someone who anticipates every sentence, or keeps interrupting to expand on points they consider themselves experts on is frustrating and useless, so is practicing kata before those who will not observe you as students: without expectation, without the need to demonstrate their expertise.

Being a student is a tremendous honour and a great privilege. Only a student can never be surprised -- because when you consider yourself a student, you EXPECT to be surprised. When you consider yourself an expert, you are in part claiming that you are unlikely to be surprised -- which puts you at a significant disadvantage when (as invariably happens) things occur that you did not expect. A student, unconcerned with how they appear, will be able to react naturally and without self-consciousness. An expert, on the other hand, will be consumed with the fear that if they do not react appropriately, they will betray their own lack of expertise.

Sensei asked us to observe carefully and to find points that we could translate into action for ourselves. I take his own behaviour as a model; when he is watching me practice, he zeros in on the fulcrum points where the tiniest change will bring about the biggest impact on my performance. Just as he did last year, with one simple direction he changed my understanding of maku-uchi men, the foundation cut of Katori Shinto Ryu.

Observing. Listening. It is so easy for me to become passive when I do these things, and so much of modern pastimes encourage a passive engagement (or rather, lack thereof) with whatever is presented to me that the habit is well-ingrained. It is useful for me to have a reminder that when I am watching, I am still practicing.

But you know where you came from,
You know where you're going and
you know where you belong...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

From White to White

It was a historic moment. For me, anyway. For the first time in my life, I was practicing martial arts wearing a belt other than the one pictured here. This was my father's judo white belt. I have worn this belt since I was a child. It doesn't go around me as many times as it used to, that's for sure, but it's stood me in good stead through my brief association with Judo at College Heights Secondary School, and more lastingly at Skoyles Sensei's Nakayama-kai Ko-Aikido in Calgary, across the Pacific Ocean to Sugino Dojo in Kawasaki, and now at Tong Sensei's Katori Shinto Ryu practice here in Toronto. It's done right by me, that old belt.

I never wanted to wear anything but a white belt. Fortunately, aside from Judo I've never practiced a tradition that used coloured belts for anything, so it's never been a problem.

My white belt reminds me that I am always a beginner. That I need to approach my art with humility and that everyone who practices with me is my teacher. It's a lesson I need continual reminding of, prone as I am to thinking I've got things "figured out".

One of the things I love most about swordsmanship is that there's so little to "figure out". It drives me crazy, but it's that lesson again. It doesn't matter how much thinking I do, or how much terminology I memorize, or how many different cuts I know. It only matters how much and how well I practice.

My new belt is from Aoi Budogu, a splendid outfit in Vancouver who sell a wonderful array of fantastic products for us swordsmen. Not many retailers cater to our demographic, so it's great to have folks like this who offer the sorts of wacky things we think are important. This lovely obi is much more functional for a swordsman. Its greater width holds your sword more firmly in place.

It's good to have fine tools if they encourage one to practice more and better. While you don't want to get all hung up on having the perfect tools, or use NOT having them as an excuse to practice, there's no denying that beautiful things raise one's spirits and encourage practice. Plus it didn't cost very much.

As you can see, my new belt is also white. It's a little flashier than the old one, sure. Don't hate me. But it's still white. I would feel strange wearing anything but white around my waist. I'm a beginner. I don't practice much. But boy am I capable of feeling incredibly proud of myself. Even though I've moved on from my father's Judo belt, I don't want to pretend I don't need a reminder like this.

Also, this one is much longer, so it goes around me a few more times than the old one. THAT reminder I don't need so much.

New obi photo courtesy of Aoi Budogi. Used by permission. Copyright 2007 Aoi Budogu

Monday, October 8, 2007

Creepy, But I Love Her

Steph's short film Amniotic was picked for the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, last weekend. We believe it screened yesterday (it was a last-minute addition and sadly does not show up on the festival's schedule).

But anyway, it's wonderful that it was picked, and for those of you who haven't seen it yet (if you somehow missed the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, last weekend), here it is, in all its creepifying glory:



Eew. But awesome.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Raining, Pouring, Capturing the Flagging

I've posted before about these folks, but I need to give another shout out for an upcoming event that the good people at NewMindSpace are putting together.

That unfortunately I'm not able to attend.

But next Friday night downtown Toronto will be host to an immense game of Capture the Flag.



I bought a button to support this because really and truly I love this stuff. Even if I can't go run around like a silly person. Because tell me this doesn't look like total fun:



I've said it before; I'll say it again. Silly is important.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ya Gotta Admit, That's Pretty Cool

Free Multi-media Language Learning on the web. I don't care where you come from, even if you just came from midget Mexican wrestling strip tease, the idea that there's hundreds of lessons for tons of languages all available FOR FREE is pretty damn cool.

Not as cool as being able to just KNOW every language in the world automatically, but baby steps, right? Baby steps.

But won't it be weird when we don't really need to store this kind of stuff in your head? I watch people walking around talking to people WHO AREN'T EVEN THERE, who are probably a thousand miles away, and I can only imagine that those little headsets they're talking on are just going to seem so crude and clunky in ten years. We will laugh at the idea we once thought BlackBerrys were cool and "high-tech".

It's only been thirty years since computers started showing up in our houses. Assume BlackBerrys will move ahead further than computers did over the same timespan and see what you come up with.

At some point, we're just going to naturally carry on conversations with people without really needing to pay any attention to their geographic location. Or ours. I'll just be able to say, "Hey, Carl," and Carl and I can have a conversation, even if I'm in Toronto and he's in Vancouver.

I think it's going to get weird. And when the going gets weird, the weird, as the good Doctor Gonzo told us, the weird turn PRO. It's already underway.

If people are getting paid to dress up in masks and pretend to fight, the limit has got to be in the ballpark of the sky.