Monday, December 19, 2011

Working out again, and SWTOR goes live

 I haven't been writing as much this last week. That's mostly because I was really enjoying the Early Access I received for Star Wars: the Old Republic.

 I have been absent from MMOs for quite a while, but lately, I have a lot of free time in my evenings. I find it gives me some good diversion. Video Games are a poor substitute for having my wife around, but some things we just can't change.

 So, the outlet I found was SWTOR.

 I have to say, as far as new MMOs go, the Beta was impressive, and the pre-launch went really smooth. There have been complaints about FPS issues, which I have had; Lag issues, which I haven't, and the queue times for the servers.

 Well, it's brand new and they keep opening up new servers everyday, so I imagine that will be rectified.

 Other than that, all I have to say about the game is: It is awesome!

 It's no secret that I'm a huge Star Wars fanboy, so this is pretty much a dream for me. We had Galaxies before, and love it or hate it, it was what it was. I won't comment, as steered away from it by some gamers I trusted.

 As it is, SWTOR is what we have now, and I'm not disappointed in the least. The graphics are beautiful, if a bit stylized. The voiceover work is incredible. The big draw for me, though, is the stories.

 It isn't much of a surprise, as that is something Bioware does well, and has for a long time now. I actually care about the quests I'm moving through. I want to see where it goes next.

 WoW (which I played for 6 years) is a great game, but when it came down to it, it was a grind. All the early times I played were a grind to hit the level cap, so I could go raid. All the raiding was to go find better gear. The better gear let me raid more.

 In the end, it got to be like another job, so I stopped raiding and switched over to PvP. That was more like a job in the old days than raiding was. In the end, midway through Wrath of the Lich King, I realized I'd done it all before, and I quit, never to look back.

 Bioware made me care about the MMO again.

 So far, it is just fun. What a novel idea. One of the best things to come along, is the conversation options in your quests. Not only does it really give it a personalized feel, and you really get into the bits and pieces of your character's personality, but some of them are really entertaining.

 Meg has had a lot of fun helping me make my characters, so I have several female characters. The customization options are pretty good. Quite a bit better than WoW, though not as in-depth as CoH/CoV. My daughter had fun with it though. So did I.

 So, I don't know where the game will be a year or two from now, but right now, on the eve of the official launch, I have really high hopes.

 In other news, I signed up for the Pennsylvania Tough Mudder up in the Poconos with a team of guys I work with. It is gonna hurt, but it is gonna be a lot of fun. So today, I also started working out again. I have a little over 5 months to prepare.

 Robin always told me to spend less time thinking about things I want to do, and just doing them. So I said, 'what the hell', and went with it.

 Here is the link if you wan't to make any donations on my behalf to the Wounded Warrior Project, which Tough Mudder is a HUGE supporter of.

 The way I see it, this is a way to thumb my nose at the shit this last year was. The best way I can think of to get past everything is to go harder. If I can get through losing Robin, I can get through anything.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is new

 Some of you might have noticed I was messing around with this blog today. I have been. I decided to broaden the scope of it. My blog about Robin, and her struggle is not going to change. It is special to me, and it is focused solely on that process.

 This blog, on the other hand, is a constantly evolving clearing house for the rest of my life. So I made it reflect that.

 The martial arts have been a huge part of my life for a long time, but I realize there are so many other things I want to write about as well. So I opened it up.

 Basically, I joined it with my short-lived blog about being a geeky dad, which I am. I made this a better reflection of me, and who I am growing into.

 So I plan to cover the broad scope of things that are important to me. My family, my writing, martial arts, gaming, and whatever else comes across the page.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Journey Ongoing

 I've decided that this will be the blog I journal most of everything to come. I came to this decision, because at this point in the journey of my life, I've started to look forward again. I decided to live.

 I spent a long time the other day talking to Keith after we were done training at the Dojo, as he has suffered loss in his life as well. Not to trivialize it by saying we were comparing notes, but in a sense we were. One of the commonalities we discovered, was that grief and everything that comes after is an open ended process. It's like a scar on your life. It might heal over, but it is never the same.

 During our discussion, I kept coming back to a lot of the ideas Hatsumi Sensei presented in his works, and one that has struck me profoundly is the Shinobi Wind.
 The Shinobi Wind is the feeling He got when talking to the picture of Takamatsu Sensei after his passing. It is the feeling you get when you are sitting out in those special places in the world, and you suddenly feel like you understand your direction in life.
 I felt the Shinobi Wind the first time in my life when I was at Word of Life in New York for a semester. I went out for a hike one day, no real direction. I hiked up a mountain that I cannot recall the name of.
 I got to the top of that mountain, and there was a clearing with a stone. I sat on that stone in the sunlight, and communed with God's creation. It is those moments when you are truly communing with God and everything He has made.
 It's those times when you slow down and sense and feel the word around you.

 It's those times when you are talking to someone you've lost, and you know they are still with you.

 It's those times when you are training, and you know the shinobi that have gone before are watching, knowing that their legacy is safe.

 Studying Ninjutsu came at the right time in my life. Being in the process of losing Robin, I was lost in a lot of anger and grief. I was losing hope. I indulged those feelings and they were destroying me. Then, on one of those random paths of life, we drove home and passed the sign for the dojo, and the process began.

 I believe that was the shinobi wind.

 I believe ninjutsu calls to certain people.

 Like one of my buyu, or "Warrior Friends", Jake said to me after I talked of realizing what a long road of training ahead: "That why people either quit, or do it for life."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lesson of the Live Blade

 This is a post I meant to write after my first 'actual' kenjutsu class. Working with a skinken, or a real blade, has a way of reminding you to practice correctly. You work more slowly, cleanly. The fact that if you draw sloppily or hastily, you can cut through the saya (scabbard) should always be at the back of your mind.

 It is similar to the way the Marines train as riflemen. We spent a lot of time working on safety procedures before we ever went live with a weapon. But, no matter how safe you think you are, it should always be in your mind that you are working with live rounds.

 Clean and precise practice will lead to good techniques. Bad practice, quite frankly, can get you killed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pain is a Great Teacher

 Last week, I had a question about one of the kata we were practicing, about how all of the techniques broke down in making it a whole. I was wondering, why I, as the attacker would feign a kick to keep my balance when it didn't seem like my body would want to respond that way to the strike from the defender.

 Keith showed me why it was so, masterfully toning it down by using an open handed strike to my arm. I was able to understand after that. I saw, and felt, how with enough force, my body would want to do that. In this instance, pain was a good teacher. The pain was part of the feedback I needed to understand the technique. Also, it let me know that that was the only one I wanted coming in with that much force behind it.

 Obviously, I'm not advocating full-force training, as it would be dangerous and end up doing more harm than good. sometimes, though, there needs to be enough force behind a technique that we can feel it. Sometimes you have to feel it to truly understand how a technique should go, in a perfect situation. Once you have that understanding of the technique, then you can begin playing with the ways it might go.

 Either way, you need to develop good ukemi and not cheat your training partner. Don't be afraid of the discomfort from training, as there will always be some, and know that through it, you can develop.

 Also, you should be in tune with your body. The discomfort you get back from your conditioning  is a good indicator of where you are currently. I know, as I mentioned a couple posts ago, that my conditioning is not where it once was, and I am dealing with the associated soreness from working back to that. That's normal, it is when that it crosses over to pain that you need to listen to your body.

 Pain can also teach you when you need to slow down. "Don't be a hero." This is where you need to know yourself in your own training. You can't walk the Lonely Path if you are too broken to keep walking.

Happy Training!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why I Train

 Last time, I put forth the question of why people train, and I found myself thinking about it more and more throughout the week. And I asked myself the same question. Why do I train?

 Everyone has their own reasons, good or bad, and over time it sorts itself out. The people who train for empty reasons (the wrong mind) will find themselves in places that their mindset brought them. Or, they might discover the right mind through their training. I can't speak for anyone else's reasons for training. Only my own.

Why do I train?

 When I really look at it, and look at all the various reasons I stepped back onto this road, I can boil them all down into a single statement.

 To live well and be a good person.

  Hatsumi Soke told us "Real ninjutsu is not for assassins or wrongdoers, but for those who wish to cultivate perseverance and endurance in order to find better ways of leading a happy life." In my current situation, dealing with my wife fighting breast cancer, I find myself needing perseverance and endurance more than ever before in my life. Those are both traits that have both a physical and mental side, and really, the can be trained together.

 Physical and mental endurance can both be developed through training. Mental endurance will also come from your personal faith. My faith in God has lead me to believe that some good will come from this situation.
The endurance and perseverance I am developing through training is helping me to better strive forward through all of this.

 Through training, I am also finding again the importance of maintaining my calm, my kamae, or balance. Kamae, in budo, is thought of, at first, as your physical balance. As I train, though, I find it is also my mental balance. My bearing.

 The Marine Corps taught me that bearing is one of the most important things to be cultivated. It helps you deal with people as a professional. You maintain your outward calm even if you are truly raging inside. As time passes, though, I am learning (trying) to keep even the internal turmoil out of the picture.

 Hatsumi Soke said, "First, forget your sadness, anger, grudges, and hatred. Let them pass like smoke caught in a breeze. Do not indulge yourself in such feelings."
 That statement struck me deeply. That is something I had struggled with since Robin's battle started. I had been dealing with anger for a long time. I feel it was starting to consume me. It was starting to develop into a rage that I was not in control of. For a while, I failed.
 Instead of letting the smoke to pass, I had allowed it to smolder, and it was beginning to consume. I have held that image in my head though. When I feel it build, I let the wind smother it. Wind can help a fire start, or it can put it out. Now, I try to blow out the flame before it really takes hold. It is an ongoing process.

Getting my mental/ spiritual Kamae, my balance, my bearing, back has become a central goal to me. Having bearing and balance through all of life is a good way to develop into a better person. If nothing else, it will help you in your dealings with others.

 Secondly, developing physical endurance and perseverance will obviously help in life. I have let my conditioning go since I got out of the Marine Corps, much to my own detriment. That's something I should never have done, especially when I consider my employment. You might ask, how being out of shape leads to being a bad person? It might seem like something that doesn't hurt anyone but me.
 The more I think about it though, I realize it means I am out of balance. I have become a slave to physical desires. Temperance and moderation must be exercised.

 Georges Hébert said: "Être fort pour être utile", or "Being strong to be useful." In the Marine Corps, this made perfect sense, since we were always Riflemen first. The Martial Culture demands a strong and prepared body, able to react and overcome whatever is presented of it. Working in law enforcement, it is just as important, as I need to be able to respond to situations that are physically taxing. The lives of myself and my brothers and sisters depend on it.

 Furthermore, life in general demands it. We have our families to take care of. America, as it is now has let us become weak if we wish it. We don't have to hunt to bring down our food. We don't have to gather to survive, unless you count going to the grocery store. We are allowed to be weak.

 Sometimes, it almost seems to be encouraged, as these days those who achieve are penalized. (take a college class sometime) Competitions are 'fair' these days. We tell people it's ok not to win, as long as they try. It's ok, don't feel bad. You tried.

 As I'm starting to see it, that isn't correct. Master Yoda told us, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

 So go out to do. If you fail, go harder next time. Go smarter. Eventually, you can accomplish it, or you are unable. At that point, you have to gather yourself and attack it a different way. That is where perseverance and endurance come in. Being physically and mentally strong go hand in hand and give you the ability to endure and persevere through situations in life.

 Endurance and perseverance seem to be coming up a lot. Here is why:
Ninjutsu (忍術)
 The main character nin (?) is a phono-semantic compound composed of two greater characters. The upper character ha or jin (?) is the phonetic indicator; its meaning of "edge of the sword" is therefore irrelevant here. The lower character kokoro or shin (?) means "heart" or "soul". The compound means "stealth", "secrecy", "endurance", "perseverance", and "patience".[3] Jutsu (?) means "art" or "technique". Hō (?) meaning "knowledge", "principle", "law" or "system" when found with the prefix "nin" carries the meaning of ninja arts, higher order of ninjutsu.
 I find many of these factors coming together into my life right now. I need to be physically fit, not only for my job, but for my family. My wife is sick with cancer, and I need to be physically strong to have the endurance to take care of my family after I have been at work all day. I need to have the energy to be there to enjoy my children. I need the energy to keep the house going when I would rather rest.
 I need the energy to make it through my workday, to be watchful for the safety of myself and others. I need to be strong, because at the end of the day, I am coming home, no matter what is thrown at me. I will be strong to be useful.
 So, I still have a lot to work on. That is why I train, to be a better person. I want to be a stronger person, mentally and physically, more in control of myself, emotionally, physically. I will develop my kamae, my balance, my bearing.
 I will develop the endurance and perseverance necessary for life. I will be a man who can live.
 That is why I train.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Do You Train?

 It seems like an easy answer, doesn't it? At face level, one might say, "To Fight, of course." To some, that might be the answer, though, in my opinion, it is an answer and a mindset that is lacking, if not dangerous.

 If you are training only to fight, whatever tradition you have chosen to follow, you are developing only on one side. The physical side. What would that leave when we consider that Takamatsu Sensei told us that "the first priority of the ninja was to win without fighting, and that remains the way."

 Furthermore, Hatsumi Sensei talked of the fact that ninja made it a point to flee until the very end. That seems strange to many of us who study the martial arts, and to any involved it the art of war. When it comes down to it, though, at the point where a conflict becomes a fight (or war, on the global sense), someone loses.

 At Mountain Winds Budo, Keith has said that out motto is: "Everyone goes home." (See Shepherds) This is one of the reasons I made my decision to train here with my daughter. If you focus on fighting, even if it is in self-defense, and even if you win, you will possibly face some type of legal action. Or worse, retribution.

 In light of these, it seems like avoiding conflict, finding some way to win without actually fighting is the wiser choice.

 If you are training only to fight, what does that leave you with?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why this?

  Any of you who know me, know that I have a history with the Martial Arts. I started that journey while I was in high school, and have continued it on and off since then. It has always been a passion, though I let it slide somewhat over the past couple years. I was very much into the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) while I was on active duty, and I currently teach self-defense at the Bureau of Prisons. Maybe someday I'll have more input on that last one.

 If you read my other blog, you know that my wife is fighting breast cancer, so this is a trying point in our life. During this, I spent times being angry, depressed, hopeful, distraught, and lost. I had already lost some focus during my transfer from the Marines to the Bureau, as it wasn't where I thought I would like to be, and I childishly railed against that for a while. After a few years, I accepted it, embraced it and now I am truly thankful for where I am in all aspects of my life.

 So here I am now, I'm growing as a man and a father. I started to look outside of work where to define myself. My faith has grown, and now I am finding my center again.

 I looked at the center of this man, and found that the love of the Martial Arts was still inside.

 This actually started a few months ago while I was looking up Toshishiro Obata online, trying to find a replacement copy of a book of his that I lost during my PCS from California. It was a Five Dollar Copy of The Naked Blade that one of my friends (who shall remain nameless) borrowed, and I never saw it again.

 As it was, I found the webiste for Shinkendo, the Martial Arts style that Toshishiro Obata started, and I sent him an email, thanking him for witing the book, as it was a turning point in my martial arts journey. To my surprise, he responded to me.

 He told me thank you for the email, as it was humbling to know that something he had written had effected me, as we had never actually met in person. That email steeled my resolve to get back into the martial arts.
Now it was just finding a school.

 I often wish that while I was stationed in California and Maryland, I would have spent more time really taking advantage of the fact that there were literally good schools everywhere, but instead I only dabbled. I chalk that up to misguided youth. But the fact is, I am back in smalltown Pennsylvania, and there just isn't as much in the way of decent martial arts schools. Master Golla's school had closed while I was away (something I'm still sad about), and the other school (that I knew of) in my town was substandard.

 So the search began.

 Some things to think about when you are looking for a school:
  1. Type of school: There are, in my opinion, two types: Sport and Survival. The sport schools can easily be identified by the number of trophies in their windows or on their website. The are also prevalent due to MMA being so popular. MMA an jujitsu schools come right out and say they are sport oriented. Survival schools (as I call them) are the ones who look at Martial Arts as a way of life and a serious study.
  2. The Instructor. Talk to them. Feel them out as a person. If you don't like them on a personal level, there is usually a reason for that. And their personality will come through in their Art. (think of the Cobra Kai in Karate kid)
  3. Ask to watch a class. If they start blowing smoke about secret techniques and etc., question that. You will end up paying your money to train there, you want to see past waggly fingers and 'secret sword techniques' to see if there is any actual substance there. Plus, you can see what type of students they have. Master Elmer Golla always said that last one was paramount, and it hasn't steered me wrong.

  So I began to look. I found a few good schools, one was very close to what I'd done before, as it was a Shotokan dojo. There are several similarities between Shotokan and Tang Soo Do (what I started my Journey in) and I was looking to move outside of my comfort zone. So I kept looking.

 One day, when I was coming back from taking the kids to the park to play, I saw a sign for Mountain Winds Budo in the Plaza near my old recruiting station (Semper Fi) so we stopped in to check it out.

  It was closed, (I came to find out later that it was because Keith was in the process of actually reopening the school after closing it while he was finishing his grad school) but the sign on the door listed the website and some information about it.

 It said it was a Ninjutsu school. Bullshit Flags went up.

(DISCLAIMER: the aforementioned BS FLAGS in no way represent my current view of the school. They came, at the time, from being a child of the 80's during the Ninja Boom, and having seen schools, books, and now, websites all claiming to teach you "The Secrets of the Ninja", "Ninja Killing Techniques", "Ninja Love Techniques", "Secrets of Ninja Mind Control", and assorted other crap. There is good info out there, but at first, take it all with a grain of salt)

 So, not really sure what to expect, I went home and looked it up on the internet. There, I found a quiet website. No black suits, no shuriken, no trophies. What I found instead was a treatise on his philosophy, and how studying in the lineage of the Takamatsu-den arts as taught by Masaaki Hatsumi had influenced him. And, I found out that the Dojocho (owner/instructor) of the school, Keith, was also a Marine. Not that I'm biased, but I am. So I emailed him.

 The next week, after talking over email, I brought Meghan by to see about the children's class. After talking with Keith for roughly an hour (sorry honey) I decided to enroll myself and Meghan. I have no regrets.

 I do find myself feeling like a beginner again, which I love/hate. It is a different style, or, really nine different styles. I find myself fighting old habits, old training, and the realization that my conditioning is not what it once was. (really? not a surprise)

 What is similar, though, is the way I feel being back on that road. It feels good. It feels like me.

 So, I started studying the works of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi with The Essence of Ninjutsu: The Nine Traditions, and I like where the road I'm on is heading.

 I'm sure the Ninja's Night Journey leads to daybreak.
                                                                    -Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi