Blog

It’s Never Too Late to Restart

Even after I got my first black belt, I could not do a side split.  My friends and fellow martial artists could, but not this guy.  It was the 80’s and Jean Claude was doing all kinds of Van-Dammage.  He made it a thing.  Damn you, Jean Claude!

I tried all kinds of things, including a torture device created from the same technology that made William Wallace taller.  That is, until it broke him.  Freedom!  Still, I cranked the gears, while my groin shouted obscenities at me.

It didn’t work.

I tried PNF; or, proprioceptive muscular facilitation, which is just a complicated way to say torture.  I tried dynamic stretching and even went full Russian in my training program.  Thanks Pavel, but still no split.

Then, someone suggested yoga, to which I responded, “Pffshhhh.  Right.  What’s next; ballet?”

But then, Raquel Welch launched her “Total Beauty and Fitness” video on VHS.  The commercials showed her doing yoga, so I thought, “Hmm, Raquel Welch in a onesy, doing yoga like exercises in my living room?”  Now that put a bustle in my hedgerow!  I purchased the video and to be quite honest, Raquel or not, it wasn’t very good.  And after falling over several times, trying to do Warrior 3 like the Raq, that tape never saw the inside of a VCR again.

Years turned into decades, while I trained in Judo, Aikido, and Hapkido, but still no side split.  Actually, it lost its importance and I let it go.  But then, five years ago, I began training in yoga at a real school.  Hmm; no Raquel Welch.  Weird.  Anyways, I got to experience some really talented instructors and in witnessing they’re body maneuverability, the spark was reignited.

While greater flexibility in my muscles, improved joint mobility, and some increased strength came as byproducts of the doing of yoga, there’s no specific focus on side splits.  No … splitasana.  However, this improvement of range of motion also improved my outlook and attitude on many things, including a possible splitasana.

After all the science, torture devices, and doing weird things to improve flexibility and range of motion, it comes down this: there is no magic pill.  No such thing as 6-minute abs or straddling two folding chairs in two weeks.  It’s like Bruce Lee said, “The best way to learn how to fight is to fight.”

In any venture, achievement comes from the doing.  Keep doing.  Be consistent.  Love the process and want the goal.  I found Jujimufu on YouTube and his side splits are legendary.  How did he do it?  By practicing side splits.  That’s it.  Every day.  So much time wasted on vudu, when reality was right there.

Success is in the process.  And … it’s never too late to restart.

 

We Live in the Empty Space

A house is not useful in its walls, roof, and floors.  It is only valuable for the empty space it creates.

The purpose of a doorway isn’t about its frame or arch, however grand or rudimentary it may be.  No; the doorway is a passage from one place to another.  It’s value is in the possibilities it provides.  Without the doorway’s empty space, it’s just a wall.

Without silence, there is no music.  Without pause, there is no dialogue.  Without the emptiness on a page, there are no words.  Without Ozzy, there is no Black Sabbath.  Just sayin’.

The application of a cup is not in its material or its shape.  It’s about what it can hold.  The value is in the empty space and the quality of what fills it.  It’s about who and what is in the room and what takes place there.  It’s not about the brick and mortar of the corporate building, a dojo, or a studio, but the atmosphere, culture, philosophy, and approach therein.  An art gallery is nothing without the art inside.

While the tangible can increase the monetary value of the space it creates, it cannot elevate the quality of whom or what fills it.  Oak over pine.  Leather instead of cloth.  Stone and marble; not plywood and stucco.  Craftsmanship and design also play their part.  Given the choice, most of us prefer high quality tangibles.  Nothing wrong with that.  I’ll take a Bentley over a Chevy any day.  But … who’s driving?

We have a weird relationship with empty space, don’t we?  Even when it comes to time, we want to fill it with busyness.  Even when it’s quiet, we put on some music.  And it’s Depeche Mode telling us to “Enjoy the Silence”.  That’s … not confusing at all.

Instead of focusing on doing, we should learn to embrace and enjoy being.  We need to ‘sway through the crowd to an empty space.  Thank you, David Bowie.  Now that there’s room, “Let’s Dance”.

The empty space is where creativity happens, relationships are made, deals are done, music is created and played, conversations take place, poems are written, and thought manifests into ideas, solutions, and maybe even enlightenment.

It’s where we learn, eat, sleep, relax, read, watch, listen, breathe (metaphorically too), dance, play, gather (not too many), work, and laugh.  It’s where we move.

Life is lived in the empty space.

Photo by Jez_Timms on Unsplash

 

Life: Let’s Not Be So Guess-So About It

“Walk on the road.  Walk right side, safe.  Walk left side, safe.  Walk middle; sooner or later, get squished just like grape.  Here, karate same thing.  Either you karate do yes, or karate do no.  You karate do guess-so, squish, just like grape.  Understand?”  Mr. Miyagi; circa 1984.

This is true everywhere in our lives, right?  We get up from the couch to go to the kitchen to do whatever, but our mind is on a completely different subject and we slam our shin into the coffee table.  Squish, like grape.  When we’re not fully present, we burn ourselves while grilling, spill our drink, and forget to get off at our exit.  Sometimes  we end up in a room and forget why we went there.  Relax, we’re not losing our memory; we were never fully engaged in the first place.

While we like to think we can multi-task, there are a number of recent studies showing that we actually suck at it.  Our brains just don’t work that way and things go sideways.  But, we continue to try at our own peril.

To get the most out of an experience, keep our shins intact, and actually complete a project that doesn’t need to be redone due to errors, we need to be there completely.  Or, at least the greater majority of our brain does.

We should never do karate guess-so, which is why we need to center ourselves.  At the beginning of Hapkido class, before physical warm-up, we practice Ki breathing.  Ki, in Korean or Japanese, is like Qi or Chi in Chinese.  Hapkido, Aikido, Qigong, Tai Chi.  Ki is the universal energy that binds all things.  It is our life force; our breath.  In yoga, it is Prana.  And pranayama is the controlling of the breath.

At the beginning of yoga class, we take a few minutes to center ourselves by focusing on our breath.  It switches our brain from the strobe-light effect to just on, while getting our brain ready for the practice to come.

To balance on one foot or to hold a twisted pose takes concentration, effort, and attentiveness; complete presence in the here and now.  These poses (asana), along with controlled breath, brings the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of our being into a state of harmony.

When performing Ye Ma Fen Zong in Tai Chi, Osotogari in Hapkido, Vrikasana in yoga, or the infamous crane technique in Miyagido Karate, that physical task demands our full mental focus.  This brings a stillness to the mind, allowing our consciousness to expand and access a higher state of awareness.  Strength, flexibility, and other health benefits come as byproducts of the practice.  Bonus!

Wait: A higher state of awareness?  Expanding our consciousness?  Am I getting smarter?  Uh …

Does it always work?  No.  “What was that move John Wick did to that guy?”  “What are we doing this weekend?”  “Ooh, frozen yogurt sounds good.”  And … it goes on.  This happens in martial arts as well.  It happens in basketball, driving down the highway, and playing poker.  “Why did I go all in with a Jack-Seven off-suit?!”  Well, at least now you’re out of the game, giving you freedom to think about that crap you were thinking about when poker was getting in the way, right?  Jack-Seven off-suit gets you squished, like grape.

Guess-so is okay, when its okay.  But when life matters, let’s not be so guess-so about it.  Squished grapes aren’t bad either.  I like a nice red blend.

Photo by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash

What Do We Do When Passion is Half Dead?

Half-life is a term commonly used in the world of nuclear physics and pharmaceuticals; the time required for a quantity to reduce to half its initial value.  And from there, it’s all downhill at an exponential rate.

But what about that doughnut.  Yesterday it was fresh, last night it was edible, but today its dried wood.  Other perishables like thoughts, emotions, and leftovers have a half-life as well.  I was going to use milk as an example, but that just seems to die the day after the expiration date.  It’s good, good, good, then bloody horrific.  No half-life on milk.

Passion has a half-life.  It’s an intense and barely controllable emotion.  It burns like a new star; a sun engulfing our thoughts, responsibilities, and our lives with heat and light.  Nothing escapes uncompromised.

Some advice from Ben Franklin; “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”  Just sayin’.

But then … the fuel begins to run out, the core contracts, and things begin to cool.  Now what?  What do we do about this?  Can we do anything?  Should we do anything?  Passionately speaking.

There are so many articles, books, and blogs on how to stay passionate, but they use words like dedication, work, perseverance, and goal-setting.  What?!  Logical advice to fix and emotional problem?  That’s like flipping the light switch on the wall to get water from the faucet.

Other advice from these same sources, address dwindling passion in terms of you as if you are the problem.  No shit!  Of course we’re the problem and its natural.  Even skydiving can get mundane and routine after the one-thousandth jump.  Nothing has changed with the activity.  Everything is exactly the same as day one, except us.

But our passion didn’t die, it just changed.  And this isn’t such a bad thing, because now we’re able to think a bit clearer, see the road in front of us, and make better decisions.  Oh shit, our neo cortex is communicating with our limbic system!  Love and logic, passion and responsibility, excitement and rationality; cats and dogs living together.  What is going on!?  Well, if we turn on the light switch, we can see the faucet.

Balanced intelligence.

So you’re not all over each other like it’s your third date (Hey, I’m old school; shut up).  But now, five years into marriage, the passion is still there, but its not searing your eyebrows off.  It’s changed for the better.  Seriously, have you seen anyone without eyebrows?  Eww.

When the adrenaline rush, hormonal overload, and nitrous oxide injection taper off, we’re able to drive better, control the vehicle, and relax into the experience.  Hey, are these seats Corinthian leather?

Whatever the passion, a relationship, a car, skydiving, yoga, martial arts, a new job, or playing an instrument; they all start out pretty hot, but when things begin to cool, we think we lost our passion.  No, the passion didn’t die, it’s just reshaping itself.  For some of us, we recognize the goodness in that.

And yes … stars burn out.  It happens.  That milk aint’ coming back.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash.

Why Do We Grasp for Dead People’s Possessions?

I never understood why, when someone dies, people flock to the scene to claim possession of the trinkets of the deceased.  I just don’t get it.

I remember when my grandmother died and four people were fighting for her punch bowl.  A fucking punch bowl!  When the hell are you ever going to need a punch bowl?  Is there a Happy Days-themed prom you’re expecting to have at your house?

“Oh, it’s a family heirloom.”  From the old English, “loom”, meaning tool.  And heir, of course meaning, the next family member to lay rightful claim to that “tool”.  A punch bowl.

I’ve heard the argument that “it’s” something to remember them by.  Um, if you need a tool to remember them, then I’m guessing they didn’t mean much to you in life and if that’s the case, why do you want to remember them now?  By the way, Walmart sells punch bowls. I don’t know why, but they do.

For many years, following my father’s passing, his brother believed that my dad threw away their mother’s pocket bible.  Maybe he did.  No one knows.  No one.  He couldn’t let go of this.  Still hasn’t.

Maybe two or three times a year, we’d talk for a few minutes on the phone and no matter what the conversation was about, he’d have to mention it.  “Your dad threw away your grandmother’s pocket bible.”

Okay, so what do you want me to do about that?  It was always an accusatory tone and it got old very quickly.  He was blaming my deceased dad for something he may not have even done.  My uncle wanted that pocket bible as if his life wouldn’t be truly complete without it.  He’d never find contentment without fulfilling this attachment.

No Santosha without Aparigraha.  Just sayin’.  

It’s just a book!  A very small, mass-manufactured version of the bible by some now-defunct corporate publisher.  It’s nothing.  God, however anyone wants to define “God”, is NOT in that book.  My grandmother is not in that book.  It’s just words on cheap paper.  He’s clinging to this object as if it’s some kind of talisman.

And then, this happened.

A few weeks back, I was cleaning out our garage and came across a box of old photos from my parents.  As I was going through it, I found a pocket bible.  On the back, inside cover, was my grandmother’s maiden name and signed by her.  “I found it!”  I put it in a cinch bag with a note to my uncle and mailed it to the other side of the country.

And … nothing.  No call.  No message.  Two weeks went by.  No response whatsoever.

Out of concern and to make sure it arrived, my wife called him.  Yep, he got it.  He was quick, because he was busy, but said, “That’s not the bible.  Bob (my dad) threw away the one I’m talking about.”

Okay then.  And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.  No thanks for the thought or anything like that.  Not that I need thanks or appreciation to validate what I did, but still.  You know what I mean.  Maybe acknowledgment; I don’t know.

So, I don’t do the anger thing.  Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t hold grudges or get angry with things like this.  Grudges are heavy, weighing like sandbags on our shoulders.  I don’t want to be hunched over when I’m 100.

I do get disappointed though.  Hey, I’m human.  But, this wasn’t even disappointment for me.  It was a realization about my “relationship” with my uncle.  There really isn’t one.  He doesn’t know me, nor I him, really.

While I don’t misplace value in inanimate objects, like a punch bowl or pocket bible, I do value people and the relationships I have with them.  My fathers efforts, hard work, tolerance, wisdom, and guidance he provided on my behalf is what I value.  I can never forget that.  Possessing his microwave isn’t going to keep him with me.  Like, every time I make popcorn, I would feel his presence.  No, I sold his microwave to help pay for hospice.

Anyways, the value my uncle places in this book and the negativity associated with its mysterious disappearance, permeated whatever little contact we had.  Ugh.

And for that reason, I’m out.  Sometimes, you just have to give the microwave away, because its too heavy to keep moving around.  Besides, I make my popcorn on the stove top.

Peace.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Number of the Universe

When I was in Yoga teacher training, I thought it would be cool to pick up a Mala necklace.  Yeah, I’m calling it a necklace.  A string of beads in a circle, we wear around our neck.  Necklace.  Anyways, I figured why not; you know?  I already have the bracelets, so why not the necklace.  I had no idea what it was about.

Then, I learned that there were specifically 108 beads or stones on the string, just like the Catholic rosary.  At first, I didn’t give it much thought.  Whatever.  Still, to this day, I haven’t worn it.  I don’t feel right with it.  I’m not sure I’m that guy.  I put it on, look in the mirror and … nope, not today.

Then I’m thinking, if I’m ever going to wear this thing, I should know something about it.  And if you already know this stuff; cool, but as I dug into it, I found it fascinating.  Maybe you will too.

For instance, this number connects the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. In fact, the average distance between the Sun and the Earth is the diameter of 108 Suns.  And … the average distance between the Moon and the Earth is the diameter of 108 Moons.  The diameter of the Earth, multiplied by 108 is the diameter of the Sun.  But, 108 isn’t just related to our solar system:  there are 27 constellations in our galaxy, and each one of them has 4 directions. 27 x 4 = 108.  108 covers the whole galaxy.  Maybe the Universe.

And speaking of the Universe, it is one (Uni). It is a great void (represented by zero).  And it is everything (infinity).  So, one, zero, and the numerical symbol for infinity; eight.

One thing. Nothing. Everything.  108.

Vedic mathematicians viewed 108 as a number of wholeness of existence.  Add the numbers together and we get nine, which is divisible by three threes and three represents wholeness, completeness, and perfection.  Three is the number of time (past, present, and future).

The Sanskrit alphabet is over 4,000 years old and it had 54 letters.  Each letter has a Shiva (masculine) and Shakti (feminine) energy.  54 x 2 = 108.

Stonehenge is over 5,000 years old and its diameter is 108 feet.  In fact, the Mayan High Temple of Lamanai was 108 feet tall, which is the same exact height of the funerary Tikal temple in Guatemala.  And … many Buddhist temples have 108 steps.

We knew the significance of 108 thousands of years ago, all over the world, throughout different cultures and belief systems.  How?  Maybe that’s an episode for “Ancient Aliens”, I don’t know.

Thinking of all of this is a bit scary, right?  The sun, the moon, the earth, the universe.  Stonehenge and temples!  I’m starting to sweat, just thinking about it.

By the way, did you know the human body’s vital organs begin to fail from overheating when our core temperature reaches 108 degrees?

Photo by Chelsea Shapouri on Unsplash

Why is Reality a Hard Sell? 3 Questions

While I was studying athletic training at Temple University, one of my mother’s friends came up to me and asked, “Hey Rob, what can I do to get rid of this?”, flicking her triceps fat, while eating a donut.  Hmm.  Very attractive.  As I got into the real answer, she interrupted me with, “No, I just want to get rid of this”.  Again, with the flicking of the fat.

She wanted the result; the destination without the journey. I couldn’t help her, because well … I’m not a warlock.  And even if I was able to do magic, there was much more to it than flabby triceps.  She would have looked very odd.  Funny though.

The thing is … there’s very little value in the result without the journey.  Fantasy is a cheap sell and after its purchased, whatever little value it had, is quickly diminished.

Three questions:

Why is the buying and selling of the fantasy so easy?

Because, reality is not easy.  It’s hard to sell hard.

The fantasy is wearing $90 yoga pants at the mall, while drinking a smoothie with a wrist full of mala beads.  It’s taking a selfie at the top of Mount Everest.  It’s six-minute abs, how to become a millionaire in three easy steps, and a guaranteed black belt with payment in full.  Easy money.

Why is reality such a hard sell?

Because its packaged wrong; focusing on the destination, instead of the journey.

Sell the journey, not the destination and package difficulty as something desirable.  The real rewards are in the climb, even if we don’t reach the summit.  Through effort, pain, strife, focus, determination, introspection, practice, training, breathing, and going inside ourselves, seeing who we are, we’re rewarded with some very rare knowledge.  We gained wisdom, we didn’t die, we’re fitter and more flexible, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And as a byproduct; yeah, maybe we summited.  Maybe we became a martial artist, became a yogi, and even uncovered those abs.

Should either one be sold at all?

No.

When the value of the journey is presented well enough, people will buy.  No one likes to be sold, but we all love to buy.

Buying reality takes acknowledgment of the truth.  The truth of what is.  Reality is freedom, self-awareness, and empowering.  It can hurt and it can abolish pain. It can bring us through the sadness to true happiness.  Its not always easy, but the rewards are real.  It’s an amazing place, but it’s not for everyone.

Don’t try to sell everyone.  But, for those who are ready to take the journey, let them buy.

Photo by Michael Clarke on Unsplash