Thursday, September 22, 2011

Musashi Inu!

Since Sensei Nick has been back in the country we have been working on Aikijutsu and Shotokan Karate. It has been wonderful to have my Sensei here to answer all my martial arts questions. We have been working specifically on refining the techniques in and learning the applications (or Bunkai) of the Heian Nidan kata. We have been working loosly and across the board with Aikijutsu techniques and kata, as well as sword play, among other things. Life is awesome.

However, Sensei Nick will have to leave the country again in another few weeks. Since I am watching the house and helping with the school while Sensei Nick is out of the country, we decided it might be a good idea to have a dog around. Both for protection and companionship. 

Yesterday, we adopted a 9 and 1/2 week old Great Dane puppy. I named him Musashi. After Miyamoto Musashi. 

--> Wikipedia says this about Miyamoto Musashi:  a Japanese swordsman and rōnin. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin No Sho?), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today. Miyamoto Musashi is widely considered as a Kensei, and one of the greatest warriors of all time.

So that gives you some idea.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to post about getting a dog is because I am excited for the learning experience this is going to provide. The main reason I am here with Sensei Nick to learn Martial Arts, to learn Practical Self Defense (As I do not believe these two are always necessarily the same thing) and to learn to teach both of those things.

I am really looking forward to working with Musashi and teaching him. I also expect him to teach me as much as I teach him. I know there will be times when he really tests me, but I consider this a lesson/exercise in being patient, being calm, being assertive and in control at all times, and working with people (or in this case an animal) that has a very different learning style and/or needs than my own. I want to use Musashi to better help me observe and pick up on behavior patterns. Dogs cannot tell you what they need. (Sure they can whine and scratch at the door or their food bowl, but they are not capable of communicating to us if they are ill, hungry, thirsty, have to go out, etc. if we do not pay attention to them.) Sometimes, I think students have trouble with this as well. Whether because they are shy or simply don't have the right words or knowledge to articulate themselves, sometimes we (students) just don't know how to communicate what we want or need to our instructors. Sometimes we don't even know what we need. But by learning to watch and observe behavior, movement, etc. I think it will help get me in the habit of looking for those kinds of things by the time I am ready to start teaching.

In addition, dogs need structure and schedule. Musashi will have to be walked between an hour to an hour and a half EVERY DAY. This will be great exercise for me, and also give me time to think. I think it will help regulate my schedule a bit, and overall be good for my health. 

Now, please don't get me wrong. I am incredibly excited to have Musashi and I already love him very much. I am determined to take EXCEPTIONAL care of him. We did not get Musashi to be used as a tool or turned into a learning experiment. But I believe every situation in life presents an opportunity to be learned from and getting a puppy is no different.

We should always be seeking ways to deepen our understanding of the world around us and to grow and better ourselves as people. No matter what the situation or circumstance, we should always strive to treat each other with honesty, sincerity and kindness. This I believe with all my heart. 

Have a great week all. 

~ Samurai Girl Sahara

This is a picture of Musashi on the day we got him. He was 10 weeks old. D'awwww!
A picture Musashi as of April 2013. He is 21 months old. Just over a year and a half.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Martial Training Conundrum: Take 2

My last post apparently created a huge uproar. I apologize if I stepped on anyone's toes, or hurt anyone's feelings.

I closed the comments on the last post because I was encouraged to do so, and because I needed to step away from the issue for a bit. I did what I felt was the most appropriate course of action, at that time. Honestly, I felt the questions I was trying to ask were getting lost in context of the situation I used to explain what drove me to thinking about these questions. Not because I didn't want to hear the truth or because my feelings were hurt, but because I felt comments were off topic, so I shut it down.  (Not that that stopped the comments anyway). @.@

With that being said:
I really want to try this again, without the context from the last post. I am going to ask the questions I was trying to ask in my last post, BY THEMSELVES. Ignore and disregard EVERYTHING from the last post.

Everyone is welcome to comment on this post, and believe me when I say that I DO GENUINELY want to hear everyone's opinion, and I will not shut down the comments, but please focus on the topic. THIS IS A CLEAN SLATE.

The questions I was trying postulate are these:

  • When is it ok to stand up for yourself or a friend?
    • Please keep in mind, this doesn't mean knocking someone's block off for calling you a name. To me, this means you say "Hey, leave that me/guy alone." maybe you call the cops. Those, to me, constitute action/intervention/standing up for yourself/someone else.
  • I understand our priority as Martial Artists is to always walk away from a fight. Why? Why legally and why morally as I believe these have two different answers.
  • When, or at what point, if ever, is it ethically and morally right to intervene on violence? 
    • Again, to me intervention could mean calling the police, it does not necessarily mean going up to some guy and picking/joining the fight.
  • When is it ok to use force to stand up for yourself or a friend?
  • When is it ok to use force to DEFEND yourself? (How high does the violence have to have escalated?)
    • If the answer to some of these is "ONLY when you life is on the line", WHY does it have to get that far along before you can defend yourself to the utmost of your ability? 
    • Is it wrong to end violence with a preemptive strike? Be it physical or metaphorical. (punch, call for help, etc.)
  • Why is it legally wrong to really put the hurt on someone if they try to hurt you first? Is it morally wrong? Why?

Now, context has a lot to do with the answers for the questions above. So context may be, verbal violence, physical violence, death is impending violence, etc. So feel free to use those types of context for you answers.  

Now, the second set of questions, which I think is more to the point of what I was trying to get at yesterday.  (Thanks Sam for articulating this for me, because I think this is a valid point, and something I want to know, it helps me understand my confusion I think)

  •  One of the simple answers is simply the social context. Physical violence is not acceptable because we live in a society and society has rules. You insult me, you punch me, whatever, I punch you back, society says this is not ok, therefore society makes the rules and the rules say this is not ok, in the eyes of the law you are wrong.
    • To every situation, action reaction, there are social, legal, moral, personal ramifications. Obviously you have to decide if you can live with all of these. Can you live with yourself if you do ____. Can you live with society disapproving of you if you do _____. etc.    
  • This leads me to my next point. Where, when, and why did society change to its current set of rules? 
    • Years ago, if you had a dispute, you went and dueled it out. 
    • Further back, if someone stole from you and you caught them, you could kill them. (Or beat them up, or whatever.) 
    • So, when and why did we gravitate away from these courses of action?
    • Why was it ok to go out back and duke it out, settle it, and move on back then, but not now? (I will not take, 'we are more civilized and evolved now' as an answer.)

And finally, the last of the points I was trying to make. Along the same topic as bullying. We are taught and trained to walk away from any kind of confrontation. I have asked why. But I want you to consider this when answering. We were all also taught when we were little that, "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, by words will never hurt me." In my opinion, this is a lie. I understand engaging in the monkey dance is stupid. But when someone comes after you and verbally attacks you, as a person, sometimes once, sometimes repeatedly, that damage can be more devastating than a broken nose, cracked ribs, missing teeth or a black eye. That damage is lasting, weeks, months, years... I have known people that have taken their lives or that of others, or both because they are pushed to the breaking point by this verbal violence.

So when people say "In my view the mere fact that a person asks themselves if it is acceptable or appropriate to use your training to "stick up for yourself" puts the monkey in the driving seat. I believe it was written that if something does not result in some injury you can see with your eyes and record with a camera it ain't an injury or damage." I must disagree. Maybe some people have this thick of skin, but most of us don't. And some people have incredibly sharp tongues. I promise you, the effects of that kind of violence can last a life time.

Why is it so bad that we fight it out before it gets to the point of guns and knives and even more violence? Why is it so bad to stand up for yourself? I am not talking about looking for opportunities to use your skills, going out of your way to find a fight or prove yourself or anything like that. I am talking having the human decency to help yourself or someone in need. Be it calling the police, notifying the authorities, or delivering a swift punch in the nose as the situation dictates.

Call me old fashioned, idealistic, stupid, or naive if you must, but rest assured if, somewhere, someday, I see you getting bullied, mugged or gang-raped in an alley, I firmly believe it is my moral and ethical obligation to intervene and I will help you. (AGAIN, all I may be able to do is call the police and tell them what is happened and where you are, but it is still something and better than nothing in my opinion.)

Just some things to think about... Or comment on, if you so desire. Again, I promise not to close the thread, but I do ask that comments are kept on topic and are not made personal.

Hopefully my questions are presented better this time and I look forward to reading everyone's response. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Martial Training Conundrum

*This post is may be considered offense to some people. I am merely thinking out loud and trying to work through and understand some aspects of society and culture as opposed to martial training.*

I have lived in a few different parts of the country and traveled to lots of them. I haven't yet had a chance to explore other countries but I am working towards this goal. One thing I can be certain of is that culture is very different from place to place, even within the United States.

Miller said in the seminar that violence happens in specific places, one of which being a place where we don't understand the rules or the culture. Now, this wasn't necessarily a violent encounter, but it is something that happened in a place I was not familiar with. What I am having trouble understanding is if the rules were different here, or if it is just because there is an epidemic of rudeness in our country right now.

(I know people like Charles James mention rudeness and the power of words and Rory Miller have mentioned things like cultural differences, in their blogs.)

Anyway, so the situation is this. My mom and I stop at a Jack in the Box off the interstate to grab a bite to eat. Its near the highway and the closest thing around and we are starving. So we pull off and head in, because we're tired of being in the car. The place is mostly empty. There is one person ahead of us in line. So we order and sit down to wait for our number to be called.

Then the lunch rush hits, or something, because all of a sudden the place is packed. The lobby is very small and there aren't enough tables. People are giving mom and I some strange and dirty looks. We're not sure why. We're sitting quietly, minding our own business. We are clearly waiting on our food and everyone else is in line, no one is sitting down yet. Eventually it becomes so uncomfortable mom and I consider just taking our food and go eat in the car when they call our number. I decide to run the restroom so we can be ready to leave if that's what mom wants to do.

It figures, the second I run to the bathroom, they call our number. Mom doesn't want to leave her purse at the table, so she takes it with her to get our food. She comes back and some guy and some of his group sitting at our table. He's with a large group and they have several kids with them.

Mom said, "Oh... my daughter and I were just getting our food, thanks for taking our seats..." Or something like that. Either way, she wasn't rude. My mom isn't the type who is rude or aggressive up front. She might get upset and rant about it later but she tries pretty hard to be kind to people. The guy looks at my mom, right in front of all the kids and everyone in the restaurant and says loudly, "YOU'RE FUCKING WELCOME."

This, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable. If I hadn't been in the bathroom, I would have said something. I came out and mom was standing by the trash can trying to hold the tray and her drink and purse and all that. So we took our food and left, she didn't tell me till we got in the car what happened.

Now... here is the conundrum. I wanted very badly to go back in there and kick that guys ass. Obviously I don't have the skills to do it yet but I really wanted to anyway. It's not ok to talk to anyone like that. Especially someone's mom. However, as Martial Artists just, because we can kick someone's ass doesn't mean we should, even if they deserve it, right? (I know that at this point Charles James will link me some things on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense.)

I expect most people to say, "Of course, just because you can doesn't mean you should." I want to know: why not? Why is it not ok to use your skills to stand up for yourself??? Granted, all this guy did was snap at my mom, which doesn't necessarily warrant a punch in the face. But let's consider some other scenarios:

Why is it as Martial Artists we train and train, but we're not allowed to use our abilities unless it is a life or death struggle? This is honestly something I have always struggled with. Maybe I will be more at peace with this as I progress in my studies, but I do not understand why it is not ok to put people in their place if they deserve it. If someone tries to mug me, why can't I break his kneecaps to discourage him from doing it to anyone else? If someone is a bully, why do they just get to get away with it? If someone tries to rape me, why am I expected to run away and let the law deal with it? If he has a good attorney, he'll just get off with a slap on the wrist and will probably do it to someone else.

Yes, I understand the only fight you are guaranteed to win is the one you never have, and how do you really distinguish between when someone deserves a punch in the nose or not, how do you keep yourself from becoming the bully, etc etc etc. I know all this sounds ridiculous coming from me, who has not much experience with violence. I'm sure people like Miller and MacYoung and Wilder will tell me they really hope I never get into a fight, because they are not fun, they are messy, brutal, awful affairs.

I'm sure its safer for people in the long run if we don't have violence running rampant through our streets. (Except, the other day in Joplin, I saw two guys get out of their car at a stoplight and proceed to have a fist fight right in the middle of the street... so... on some level whether we like it or not, violence is going to happen anyway)

But I still just don't get why it isn't ok? If I were better with my skills, why couldn't I have used Aiki to make this jerk stand up and move so mom could have her seat back? Why does that make me the bad guy? (At least in the eyes of the justice system)

Maybe people would be a little more polite and respectful to each other if they didn't think they could get away with being a complete ass hole to everyone all the time? "If I say something incredibly rude to him, or behave in this inappropriate manner, he/she could haul off and knock my teeth out. Hmm... maybe I better not say/do that..."

Does this make any sense to anyone else? Am I alone in thinking that maybe Hammurabi's code "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" wasn't such a bad idea? (Some of his other laws were pretty harsh, and most of them involved putting someone to death, but this one seems to make sense to me. You reap what you sow. Karma and all that.) I don't believe Martial Artists should go around looking for fights. I do not approve of this behavior at all. But if someone starts it, if they make the first move, why can't we finish it?

Why do we have to just stand by and allow people to treat each other like dirt or hurt each other and get away with it? This doesn't seem right to me. I don't care if it's not my business or not, if you are hitting your girlfriend in public while I am watching, or screaming at the cashier while I am in line behind you, or  stealing from someone while I am a in the same parking lot, then it is my business and it is my human/moral/ethical obligation to help. For me, in most cases, that would probably mean calling the police. If some guy is beating his girlfriend at the park, or I see someone down an alley way attacking/mugging/raping someone else I am not going to walk by and pretend I didn't see it, I will call the police. I would want someone to do the same for me. If some dude is screaming at a cashier, I would say something. I have worked retail. We're people too and you do not have the right to treat us like trash because you are having a bad day. Not enough people stand up for each other in those kinds of situations, and it sickens me that someone can come into a place of business, scream and throw a fit, and be rewarded for their behavior with apologies and coupons from managers.

This whole dynamic is just so confusing to me. You train and train with the understanding and the expectation that you will never have to use your skills. I really would like to think there is more to it than just my monkey brain seeking to do the monkey dance. This isn't about having something to prove. This is about human decency. When you were little and you misbehaved, you were reprimanded, right? I got spanked, or had my mouth washed out with soap, or sent to time out, or stood in the corner, or grounded, etc. The punishment always fit the crime, but I always knew there was a certain way to behave and that it was not ok to treat people a certain way. So why is it when we grow up, we're suddenly exempt from punishment and repercussions from our actions? Why is anyone who tries to curb or adjust your snobby attitude considered the bad guy? (again, I am speaking from what I expect the legal stand point would be. I'm guess if you go to court and say, "Well, Judge. I just don't believe in bullying. Someone had to put a stop to it, so I punched him in the face." You'll be the one who winds up with a fine or in jail.)

This is such a complex topic and there is a lot more that I could say/ask. But I think this post is long enough and I am talking myself in circles at this point.

I am open to hearing thoughts and opinions from others on the subject, especially anyone with martial arts experience and/or experience with violence. Dialogue is encouraged, I really want to know what other people think, but I do not want to start an argument, so if you comment, do not attack anyone's thoughts or beliefs or comments, I will remove your comment. What I have written are mostly my thoughts, considerations and questions on a very broad subject that is very gray in terms of right and wrong. I do not claim to be right or wrong, nor to have any of the answers. I am merely seeking understanding.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Eating Healthy on the Road

long day with totoro...

I took a short road trip this weekend to see my mom in Joplin, MO and check out the Japanese festival at the botanic garden in St. Louis. Which was amazing. If anyone gets the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The gardens are beautiful and the whole trip was a lot of fun. I even got a Totoro hat!

But I digress...

I really wanted to post about how to eat when you are on the road!

I absolutely love travel, but I HATE fast food. (Don't get me wrong, I love the occasional fast food burrito, but I have gotten to the point where my body hates me for eating out.) But what are you supposed to do when you are on the road and there are only greasy icky options and gas station foods all around you?

Here are helpful tips for eating healthy on the road!

When you are traveling by car, the easiest thing you can do is pack a small cooler and stock it with water, juice, fruits, veggies, nuts, yogurt, string cheese, sandwiches, etc. Avoid drinking soda as much as possible, and try to stay away from very salty/greasy or sweet snacks like chips, cookies, chocolate, etc. If you are unable to pack your own cooler, or you forget, here are some tips for picking snacks at the gas station and places along the road:

Try to find the fresh fruits or foods with an expiration date. Most gas stations now will usually have a basket with apples and/or bananas and such in them. You can also look for things like string cheese and yogurt in the cooler section. If you cannot find these foods in the cold section or the fruit looks a little on the questionable side, opt for nuts or dried fruit. Trail mix is usually a pretty decent option.

When looking for places to eat, if you just have the munchies, if you can find a Starbucks, grab a fruit and cheese plate. If your only option is fast food, you can opt for a salad, making sure you go for grilled chicken as opposed to crispy chicken and go for a light dressing. You can go for a burger and fries, but the key is portion control. Do NOT super-size your meal! You can get away with a small burger and fries without too much damage to your calorie intake. As far as dinners and sit down places are concerned, be sure to avoid fried foods if at all possible and make sure you eat your veggies.

Most hotels now have mini-fridges and microwaves in the room. Avoid the temptation to eat out and swing by the local grocery store instead. Grab some T.V. dinners (Lean cuisine) or other small easy prepare foods (a loaf of bread and sandwich meat, cheese, etc) as well as some fruit (apples, grapes, etc) and string cheese, nuts, and such for snacking on. This will probably save you a bit of money and your stomach will likely thank you for it later.

When traveling by air, go ahead and pack nuts, dried fruits, protein, cereal bars, and such into your carry on bag. You may not be able to take your water through security, but I have had no trouble packing an empty reusable water bottle and filling it up at a water fountain on the other side. If you have to eat airport food avoid the burger joints, pizza parlors and taco stands and go for sandwiches if you can. Pick one with a lean meats like Turkey or Chicken and try to get as many veggies as you can on your sandwich. Go for fruit at the counter and always choose water over pop. Juice and low fat milk are also good options.

Hope this helps or gives you some ideas. Happy traveling everyone!

~Samurai Girl Sahara

Useful links/sources:
Best Picks No Matter Where You Are
Meal and Restaurant Advice
More of the Same