Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Almost Gave Up

I almost quit.

For years I wanted to be a sensei. I dreamed of running my own martial arts club, teaching students how to reach black belt and beyond. I saw myself living a lifestyle of fitness and meditation, putting the core principles of budo into daily practice. I opened my own school, gathered a few students, and gave it my all.

Then I got sick. I was working a full time job and had four kids. I was hardly home, and when I was I was an emotional wreck. I was falling apart. My knees started to hurt constantly. I developed bone spurs. My wrists became chronically weak after a particularly brutal round of aikijitsu. My reactive airways syndrome (a cousin to asthma) went into over drive, frequently making me cough until I threw up. And I developed a mystery illness that left me physically numb and tingly, with next to no energy. I thought I was dying, or developing a permanent condition. At the least I had to confront the possibility that I wouldn't be able to run a school.

I closed the doors to my own school and tried to find homes for my students. I had become a failure.

Slowly I nursed myself back to health, although I'm not the man I was before. The knees will never be the same, and I tire easily. My wrists will be okay for stretches, but if someone applies a good kotegaeshi or 2nd control I'll be wincing for weeks.

There's a perception that an instructor has to be the best at everything, in perfect shape. They need to be free of underlying conditions, like asthma. They need to be nearly flawless. I was anything but.

How can a teacher be respected if they're in such rough shape? I asked myself this question during my long recuperation. Eventually I concluded that I couldn't ask my students to respect me in that condition without being a hypocrite. "Do what I say, not what I do."

I realized then that I could never run my own school. It is such a demanding job with almost no assurances, even when you're healthy. I gave up my dream of being a martial arts instructor, and I almost stopped training altogether.

Then people started asking for help.

I knew people who were getting ready to test for black belt. They asked me if I could take them through some kata they were having trouble with, or drills they had trouble remembering. They had questions about the philosophy, or the meanings of some more advanced concepts. I couldn't say no, and as I helped them in my small way, I realized I couldn't give up my training, either. I love the martial arts too much to let it go, and I find teaching in that capacity to be one of the most rewarding things in the world.

I have accepted that my role in the dojo will always be that of a learner, never a teacher. If my fellow students look up to me, I will try to be worthy of that respect. If they ask for help, I'm not cut out to be head honcho, but I'm quite happy to answer the occasional question after class. I'm never going to be flawless - not even close. But I'm content to push myself, learn what I can, and have a good time while I do it. I'm not out to impress anyone. Now that I'm free of that, I'm a satisfied student again.

This is my "happy place" in the dojo. And I'm so glad I didn't let go for good.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Migrating To Tumblr

In order to simplify my life, I'm migrating the blog over to Tumblr. As a consequence there will be no more posts on this blog until further notice.

My Tumblr blog can be found here: . It's a combination of my budo themed posts, my writing, and several of my other interests as well.

For those who prefer blogger, you can go to . IFTTT will copy every Tumblr post I make to that blog.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Blogging Question, Budo Edition

There are many blogs out there that I admire, full of inspiration and useful information. Every time I sit down to write a blog post for Laughing Crane Budo, I wonder if my blog is, or ever can be, like the blogs that I aspire towards?

I have a few handicaps. For one, I spend a lot less time online than I think is truly necessary in order to be a successful blogger. Every minute spent online is another minute I could be doing other things, like practicing kata, stretching, building strength, or going for a jog. (See also the other aspects of my life, such as four children, patient wife, chores, day job, and writing career.)

For another, I'm not sure I understand what a successful blog actually looks like. Ought I measure my progress in terms of likes, reblogs, or mentions on twitter? Is it my number of hits per day that makes me a good martial arts blogger, or the number of my followers?

Lastly, what is it that the world wants to hear from me? I don't mean to get existential here, but why do you, the reader, want to read my blog? Is it because I provide useful and inspiring information about the martial arts? Do you want to read about my own personal struggles and triumphs? Are you looking for areas in your own training that you could improve? Do you see that I have more than ten years of concentrated experience in the martial arts, and are you trying to tap into that, somehow?

Blogging is hard for me, because it takes a lot of time for me to compose something that feels right. I don't consider myself a man of the easy quip, the well-turned phrase that inspires and enlightens you. I see myself as the man who sits down with you, when the inspiration wears off, and provides you with some hard, and often dry, details, the reality of the situation. I'm not the guy who lights the fire. I fill the bucket.

I also have a problem just using other people's material. The whole re-blogging thing feels like cheating, to me. I'm sure the fault there lies with me, not the rest of the blogging world, so don't take that the wrong way.

So, in the end, when I have negative time to spare and plenty of other important things to do (like train, or spend time with my kids)

why do I blog?

I'm going to have to spend some time thinking about this problem. I'm no threatening to pull the rug out from under this blog, yet, but I am doing some serious personal value and cost analysis, here.

Until I figure it out, keep kicking and punching, and remember to spend your time wisely.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why the Splits?

Why does any martial artist need to do the splits? Is flexibility a requirement in order to be a good fighter?

Well, no. Not as such. On the other hand, here's a quick story that illustrates why I strive to become more flexible all round.

A few weeks ago I was working on a balancing drill with a partner. In this drill the attacker steps in with an attack and the defender waits until the foot is almost on the floor and gives it a nudge in the wrong direction, resulting in some of the greatest slow motion falls you can see in the dojo.

All was going well. My partner and I were getting comfortable with the drill, which usually when people stop cooperating with each other so nicely. I think I attacked, and he defended, and I decided to see what happened when I adjusted my fall after he took me out. What happened between that moment and the floor was too complicated for me to understand, but I think it involved him pulling his foot back because it was caught on my foot.

I landed in the splits.

Now, at best guess I'm about 190-200 lbs., and I landed with my full weight. If I hadn't been more flexible...

Well, anyway, I work my splits, so nothing bad came of it.

(This is also, by the way, one of the reasons why we don't work inside sweeps - the possible over-extension injuries are quite nasty.)

Be aware of the limitations and possible repercussions of your level of flexibility. Can't do the splits? Either work toward doing them, or make sure you never go down like I did.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Somebody Else's Rules

There are times when it's best to play by your rules, and there are times when you can gain a lot more by playing by someone else's rules.

There are times when you can do it your way and win, but that you could have learned a lot more by doing it someone else's way. Trying out another dojo, learning from someone who does the technique a bit different from you. This can be frustrating because you want to win. You want to do well. And you also don't want to waste time figuring out what their rules are.

I remember sparring with a girl who took Systema. One of my dojo buddies was there, and he pointed out that I could have "easily taken her". I think he might have been right, but that's just conjecture. But my answer was that I wanted to learn from her, not beat her. I study karate, which is such a different creature from the art she studied. Much better to take the chance to see what she could teach me - but I could only do that if I played by her rules.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dojo Placebo

I've mentioned the placebo effect and the nocebo effect. I have a few ideas about how they relate to things like meditation, chi kung, tai chi, and other martial arts.

What follows hasn't been researched (to my knowledge), and it doesn't count as science, medicine, or traditional Chinese medicine. I'm drawing on my own experience and the incredible things I've been reading about neuroscience and the human brain. I don't have the reference articles on hand, but I encourage you to go looking if you're interested.

Here goes.

What if the benefits of meditation, chi kung, and tai chi, are all mostly the result of the placebo effect?

Before any martial arts masters lambaste me for turning away from hundreds of years of tradition and martial science, let me say this. I don't mean that chi kung doesn't work, or that there is no such thing as chi. I believe chi exists because of my own experience with it. What I am saying is that so many of the benefits of chi kung can be traced back to the placebo effect, which is a measurable phenomenon we know exists.

Let's look at it another way. We know that the movements (or, in some drills, the lack of movements) have specific physical effects on the body. It is a gentle exercise and reaps the benefits in kind. We also know that it has certain slow but powerful effects, like decreasing discomfort or pain, and slowing, stopping, or sometimes reversing the damage caused by degenerative diseases (Parkinson's, Alzheimer’s, etc.)

These seemingly mysterious healing powers are usually attributed to chi, by practitioners. A blockage is removed, chi flows freely, and balance is restored, allowing the body to heal itself. If you don't believe in chi, you should believe in the placebo.

Consider that the placebo effect works even when the patient is aware of it. In other words, I could give you a long (and accurate) list of the things tai chi is supposed to help with, then tell you that it only helps because of the placebo effect. You would, if you took tai chi, still reap the benefits, even if you thought it was "all in the mind."

Also consider that the perceived effort, or sacrifice, in a treatment affects the degree of benefit. A sugar pill helps, but less so that a saline injection. That's because the injection "costs" more in terms of a big needle. (In the nocebo effect, it's the same reason that treatments performed by people in lab coats hurt more than those done by people in plain clothes.)

Tai chi and chi kung cost you. You have to learn, practice, improve, and perfect. You have to take on a whole new way of thinking about your body, about your breathing, your chi (real or imagined.) Since chi kung, like all treatments, is subject to the placebo effect, and we know that the higher the "cost" the better the effect, it seems likely that the placebo effect is very potent in chi kung.

Again, I'm not saying it's all placebo, or that there's no chi. My current guess, from my limited reading and experience, is that it's a bit of both.

There are so many rabbit holes we could go down here. What does this say about the responsibilities of the teacher? How does this translate into the martial aspect of things, or martial arts like aikido or karate? How do we avoid letting the nocebo effect slip into the dojo? What about the ethics of teaching something and espousing its incredible benefits, when you don't believe it's any more than the placebo effect?

All these discoveries are amazing and potentially quite powerful, but they're certainly making some questions very, very complicated.

I truly hope a concentrated group effort comes together soon, to properly study how all this hands together. In the mean time, when pressed on whether I believe in chi or if I think it's all in the mind, I'll just say:


Monday, August 5, 2013