Friday, January 30, 2009

Cut The Crap!


It's no secret to anyone who knows me (or just follows me on Twitter) that I love kung-fu movies. A lot.

And kung-fu movies have some pretty awesome music in them, and I'd been wanting for a long time to jam some of that music on top of some beats and have kung-fu people yell at each other over top of it. Made perfect sense to me. This song uses samples from Kung Fu Cult Master, Swordsman II and Supercop. The folks above are Sharla Cheung (who appears in Kung Fu Cult Master), Jet Li (in both that and Swordsman II), Kenneth Tsang (Supercop), the incomparable Brigitte Lin (Swordsman II) and Leung Kar Yan (Kung Fu Cult Master, and the guy who actually says "Cut the crap!").

"Cut the crap!" is one of those colloquial phrases that pops up in a lot of subtitles, and it always cracks me up. It's the primary sample in this little ditty, getting repeated every bar here and there.

It's also got a nice sort of sideways glance at scratching, which pleases me. I hope the song pleases you.

Listen!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Opening The Gates

One day a samurai came to see the Zen master Hakuin and asked him, "Is there truly a heaven and a hell?"

"Who are you?" the master asked.

"I am the samurai..."

"You, a soldier!" Hakuin exclaimed. "Just look at yourself. What lord would want you in his service? You look like a beggar."

The man grew angry and drew his sword. Hakuin continued: "Oh, good, you even have a sword! But you are certainly too clumsy to cut my head off with it."

Losing all self-control, the samurai raised his sword, ready to strike the master. At that very moment the latter spoke, saying "Here is where the gates to hell open."

Surprised by the monk's air of calm assurance, the samurai sheathed his sword and bowed before him.

"This is where the gates of heaven open," the master then said.


* * *

That passage was just one of many in a lovely book J lent me after class last week: Martial Arts Teaching Tales. It's a collection of short essays on some of the key concepts any teacher of martial arts most consider, such as "The Snare of Appearances" or "Winning Without Fighting". Each essay is followed by a number of short tales like the one above.

Some are familiar -- the story of Bokuden and the insolent samurai on the ferry, or the teachings of the venerable old ratcatcher (also picked up in The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts) -- but many of the tales here were new to me, and all are well-told. Short, to the point and without commentary, challenging the reader to confront and understand them.

There are many stories of untouchable masters who are able to avoid every blow, who cannot be defeated, and a shallow sort of understanding might come away thinking that this book puts forward the notion that becoming Superman is the point of studying martial arts. But I have found myself engaged in very few swordfights over the course of my life. Very few moments of life-and-death violence. So why study? Why read a book that lists one master after another effortlessly defeating thoughtless challengers?

Because to practice is to take action on the belief that you can transform yourself. And not by getting a better job, or a cuter girlfriend, or by winning the big game. These rewards are denied a follower of kenjutsu (these days, anyway. SIGH). But simply by submitting yourself to something bigger than you -- something that has no ulterior motive, asks nothing from you, that just exists, and by existing, challenges you to confront it. These stories are all like that. They want nothing from me, and if I turn away from them, they still exist. Just like the endless kata of Katori Shinto Ryu. But if I face them, and push myself to confront them, they open up within me gate after gate.

And they help me to see that at every moment, in every challenge I face, there are gates I can choose to open.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Parental Guidance Suggested

This was inspired by an overheard exchange. I'm not usually one for large amounts of profanity, but this really fucking amuses me:


The Sopranos Meet Abbot and Costello



A: They give ball players some funny fucking names these days.

B: All right, fucking wise guy, tell me about the fucking team.

A: Well, we got Who on Fucking first, What the Fuck's on the second and Fuck You on third...

B: You don't know their fucking names?

A: Fucking right I do.

B: All right, who's on fucking first?

A: Fucking right.

B: I mean the fucker's name.

A: Who.

B: The fucker on first.

A: Who.

B: The first fucking baseman.

A: Who is on fucking first!

B: I'm fucking asking you who's on fucking first.

A: That's the motherfucker's name.

B: That's who's fucking name?

A: Fucking right.

B: Fucking tell me.

A: That's fucking it.

B: That's who?

A: Fucking right.

PAUSE

B: Look, you gotta a fucking first baseman?

A: Of course we fucking do.

B: So who's playing fucking first?

A: Fucking right.

B: When you pay the fucking first baseman every fucking month, who gets the fucking money?

A: Every fucking dollar.

B: All I want to fucking know is the name of the fucker on first fucking base.

A: Who.

B: The fucker that--

A: That's fucking it.

B: Who gets the fucking money?

A: Well, sometimes his bitch rolls down and collects it.

B: Whose bitch?

A: Fucking right.

PAUSE

B: All I'm trying to find out is what the fuck's the guy's name on first fucking base.

A: No. What the fuck's the guy's name on second fucking base.

B: I'm not asking you who's on fucking second.

A: Who's on fucking first.

B: One fucking base at a time!

A: Fuck. Take it easy.

B: I'm just fucking asking, who's the guy on fucking first?

A: Fucking right.

B: Ok.

A: All right.

PAUSE

B: What the fuck's the guy's name on first base?

A: No. What the fuck's on second.

B: I'm not fucking asking you who's on fucking second.

A: Who's on fucking first.

B: Fuck you.

A: He's on fucking third, we're not fucking talking about him.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

DINO-PIRATES UNLEASHED!



AT LAST!

The DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND complete rules are now available online. This is a full-blown system reference document for the game, and includes absolutely everything you need to run your own DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND adventures. Create characters, resolve challenges and get on with the cool part of the story-telling. All you need is here. Now. Free.
Except of course for the setting. That's still underway.
But this is a big step for the DINO-PIRATE faithful. Combined with the release last year of SLAVE QUEEN OF THE RUINED CITY, you can now play this legendary game in the comfort of your own home. Without needing to invite me over.
Although I am available for most of January, if you have a last-minute booking you want to make. My rates are very reasonable.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Linkslutting, Jan 17, 2009

FINALLY caught up on my blogroll. Blogs seem so 2007 all of a sudden. Anyway, some awesomeness for you:

Via Mind Control Division:



Somebody over on Circvs described the Japanese film industry as follows:

Director: "I have an idea for a movie, honourable Producer!"

Producer: "Ooooh. Is your idea TOTALLY INSANE?"

Director: "Yes, honourable Producer! TOTALLY INSANE!"

Producer: "Here is yen. Make your film. Bring us honour. And make sure it is TOTALLY INSANE!"

On a less TOTALLY INSANE moment, here's Oli's latest photo-set: some gorgeous shots he took in Costa Rica:



Browse around his site, there's plenty of staggeringly beautiful images there.

And finally, this sweet, sweet little piece of animation evoking a daughter's memories of her mother:



Just lovely.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Respond With Life!

After practice tonight I was polishing my sword (no, that's not a euphemism (and yes, I can hear you snickering back there, Joshua)) and D mentioned that while she feels like she's able to do the stances when we're just practicing the stances, she has a hard time recognizing them in the katas.

And I missed out on the classic "Horrible Things Great Teachers Say" moment -- I totally FAILED to say, "Don't worry, you aren't doing them right in practice, either." Damn. That would have been pretty funny.

What I DID say was something or other about how they're supposed to be different, because the kata aren't just there to link together each stance in a particular order so that you can pretend you're swordfighting. The kata are living, breathing intellectual artifacts that only exist because people embrace them, possess them and then pass them on to others.

I said, "It's a practice, not a formula."

So I was riding the Ossington bus back down to King Street and listening to the Propellerheads' version of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (which if you don't know is MIND-BLOWING) and thinking about D's question and how that principle of practice over formula really applied at every level of Katori practice.

When I am going through the kata with my partner, I cannot just "do the moves". The "right" stance will be fatally wrong if my partner is doing something other than what I expect. Katori asks you to pay attention with your WHOLE self to your partner, and to adapt your body, your posture, your soul, to what they bring.

To respond with attention and focus and vitality. With life. Respond with life.

And I thought, as John Barry's fantastic horns rose up around me, as the bus turned onto Strachan Avenue, that "Respond With Life" was just a great... I don't know. Thing. Saying. Stance.

Hey, yeah. Stance. The "right" stance in Katori, always, is to Respond With Life. SEE what's really there, shed your expectations and see through to the heart of things, and then see into yourself and find exactly the position, the posture, the STANCE that will make the most of it. That will be alive and vital and strong and courageous.

Respond With Life. It's a stance.

Photo by Arty Smokes

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Participate, Don't Originate

Alan held up that card at the end of a conversation late in 2008 (that's LAST year) and three words echoed in my head.

PARTICIPATE, DON'T ORIGINATE

I grabbed a Post-It Note (there was no shortage of Post-It Notes there) and jotted those words down. I think they're going to be my slogan for 2009.

PARTICIPATE, DON'T ORIGINATE

I have been guilty throughout my life of rejecting opportunities because they weren't MINE. I'd come up with an idea, say to myself, "That sounds worth doing," and then discover somebody else was already doing it, and toss the idea.

Which is selfish and retarded and I realised, in that moment of insight, how dumb I was being all along. I'd beat myself up for not coming up with an original idea, and forget the most important lesson of finding someone already on it: that it WAS a good idea. If somebody else is already on it, then it's probably a great idea. Whereas if nobody is doing it, it's probably a bad idea, no matter how clever it seems to me, odds are it's a dumb idea.

Getting involved in HoHoTO was a real watershed moment for me. Instead of starting something, I was just joining in with others on something underway. My contributions weren't even all that significant, but as I noted in a Twitter conversation, the whole point of events like HoHoTO is about the ability to pull together many many SMALL actions into a meaningful context, so that good things can result.

There's so much going on in Toronto right now. Things with strange-seeming names like #themvmnt, #svc, #tsTO, none of which are "mine", but then they aren't so much anyone else's, either. But they're all things I can meaningfully participate in, maybe with huge contributions, maybe with small ones. The point is that there's stuff that needs doing, and I can help.

Somewhere or other I read the quote: "Don't ask what you can do; ask what needs to be done." This past month has really brought home to me how important that can be, and maybe helped me see a framework within which that statement leads to action, not just musing.

PARTICIPATE, DON'T ORIGINATE

My reluctance to engage in other people's initiatives only makes it less likely that I'll get my own off the ground. Heck, why would anyone want to join in and help me if I haven't rolled up my sleeves and gotten to work on theirs?

I think this is the biggest thing I learned in 2008. So my resolutions are all about participating.

What about yours?