Friday, November 26, 2010

Musha Shugyo


So it has been one month and one day since my return from New York. You know grandpa, he doesn't like ostentation or hyperbole, so I'm not going to say anything like it changed my life. But I have to be fair - my eyes were opened a bit.

First off let's just talk about the trip. Packing. The 86 to Kennedy. Kennedy station to Kipling station, right across Toronto. The 192 Airport Express - it's always strange being on a bus that goes on the highway. U.S. Departures at Pearson.

The winding lines. So much trouble, on account of 19 people who'd never live to see how much trouble they'd cause. 19 people who weren't really worth all the trouble. 19 hijackers and 10 years later I'm winding through a line. Keep moving, the impatient lady says. I come to the customs officer and he asks me what my business is. I tell him I'm going to a karate seminar in upstate New York. He asks me what belt I am. I say brown. More walking. I take off my boots and watch and put it in a basket at the security checkout. How long had it been since I was last on a plane? I don't remember any of this stuff. Then another long walk to the terminal lounge. All in all, it was relatively painless. I gave myself a pat on the back for my good execution: I felt like George Clooney in "Up in the Air", like I'd done this a dozen times.

We board. I sit by myself in a middle seat. I think to ask to move to a window seat and then the couple in front of me beat me to it. Shucks. I crane my neck to see out the window. LAN airlines is operated out of Chile. Everything is said in Spanish and then English. It makes me smile. I want to record the takeoff and then a beautiful stewardess with an awful expression on her face chastises me for turning on my cellphone. I apologize and turn my phone off. The seat belt light turns on and the plane backs away from the terminal.

The plane taxied for about 10 minutes. The flight was delayed an hour as it is and there seems to be a plane jam up for access to the runway. I see plane after plane escaping. I could die here in the next few minutes it occurred to me. The engine is going to generate an amount of force that humans aren't built to be around. But everything of worth involves risk. We finally reach the runway and the engine starts to power up. The rumbling is just on the verge of being troubling and we're accelerating. Faster and faster. Then faster still. The tarmac rushing past, the air whizzing by, the engine roaring, drawing more and more air, doing what it was designed to do. And then the rumbling vanishes and the seat is pushing up into me. The pressure in my ear quickly starts to build and the earth is falling away. Surreal.

How could this be old hat to the pilot and the staff? We're defying gravity, we're escaping the pull of the planet itself. Two hundred years ago, a journey from Toronto to New York would have taken what, a week? We'll land in 47 minutes. But I guess anything done enough becomes commonplace.

Only clouds out the window. I try to watch MacGruber on my phone. I look left and what the hell? - that's the Empire State Building. It's been too long. The plane banks and we're over the boroughs, over the marshland, and we're descending. We touch down with a bump and I thank God even though I know I probably shouldn't and I know I'm probably the only person on board that did. I thank the lady with the stern look as I disembark and walk up the ramp of the airport named in honor of the 35th American President.

Snazzy. Very high tech. I stop in the lounge and eat my first meal in the U.S.: A McDonald's Angus Burger with Bacon and Cheddar. Have to figure out how to get to the subway system from here. Need to get to Jamaica station. I also need to get my phone working, it isn't picking up the T-mobile network. I buy a phone card and talk to a Wind mobile operator but it didn't work. A nice lady at an info kiosk directs me to the Airport monorail which takes me to Jamaica Station.

On the cover of Kenji Ushiro's book is a picture of a snow-capped mountain top. It is an old metaphor for success, but it is an apt one. If the top is your goal, there are a lot of ways to get there. But you have to pick your way and you have to stick with it. Going half way up the mountain and then going back down and trying another would be better to tack to a new path from where you are. Oftentimes I feel as though I undertake things in the first way. I feel as though if I don't see something through from beginning to end then there's no point. I disregard the progress that I've made so far and don't use that progress to simply shift onto another path.

But I'm learning. I saw things in New York that at times disheartened me. That made me feel that my martial training so far has been a waste of time. But that's me thinking that I have to go back to the base of the mountain. When all I have to do is change routes.

The routes, the ways - they are very important. But they are many. Kenji Ushiro is one example of the way. But all over I'm seeing other names that are expressing this different kind of power. Different disciplines, different methods. Very similar precision and control and effortlessness and economy of movement. What Ushiro calls Zero Power. Akiro Hino's Budo Institute. Yoshinori Kono. Keishiro Shiroma's Ryufankai. Systema with Ryabko, Vasiliev and Secours. Minoru Akuzawa's Aunkai. Motion that acts on intention instead of reaction. Un/subconscious awareness instead of conscious analysis.

I felt like a fish out of water. I'm in my head so much. I only remember once doing a kata and thinking afterwards that I made no mistakes. That it felt right. It was Seisan. I remember it so clearly. Every other time I'm just thinking about how I did this wrong, how I did that wrong.

Karate is about living in the moment. Actually it's about living ahead of the moment, entering into the moment before the moment. But I'm nowhere near there, and the only way to get there is by feeling the present. Not shying away from it. Opening myself to it.

Everyday is both an end and a beginning.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Secular Religion pt II

In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.
- Paul Harvey

The Public. The Public wants this. The Public wants that. The Public is angry. We had an election in Toronto and they had an election in the U.S. And I'm afraid to say, I'm not part of The Public. Because I don't really feel what The Public is feeling. I guess it's because the only taxes I pay are consumer taxes. I guess if I paid property taxes and land taxes and so on and so forth, I'd feel what The Public feels. But if The Government isn't forcing me to go kill people, or telling me what job to work, or kicking down my door and hassling me, I'm pretty content. But The Public? You can't tell The Public about what they should feel grateful for. The Public wants to know what you've done for them lately. And David Miller here in Toronto and Barack Obama in the U.S. they haven't done much.

Rob Ford and the Tea Party, however, they know what The Public wants. The Public wants lower taxes. The Public wants better services. The Public wants jobs. The Public wants the future to be as stable as the past.

But can they deliver that? Obviously hope springs eternal, and I can't say enough about being optimistic and having high expectations of people and the World. My problem springs from the rather obvious contradiction that we have expectations of The Government that The Public doesn't have of itself.

In the U.S., the President has only one problem of any worth: 9.6. That is the unemployment rate in his country and it isn't budging. He's thrown a ton of money at the problem, he's got credit flowing again, he's reined in the Wall Street investors. But no one's hiring. The Public expects him to get them jobs. And perhaps that's what they elected him for. And it's certainly what he expects of himself. But is it right to hope that The Government will manufacture a job for you? If The Government disappeared tomorrow would we just sit on our asses and throw our hands in the air and say "Oh, well." Or would we start asking ourselves the really hard questions like, 'If no one is going to hire me, what can I do to get people to pay me money?' What can I do to be productive, to become valuable to society and others? With the exception of those who work for The Government, The Public never got jobs from The Government. They made them themselves.

The most The Government ever did after The Public made jobs was just tinkering with the result (and taking credit for it). Tinkering to protect members of The Public that couldn't take care of themselves, tinkering to build ways to communicate and transport things, tinkering to keep us from being so single minded about working that we started not caring about anything else. Hence we have welfare, and domestic infrastructure and regulatory frameworks. And The Public always acknowledged, grudgingly, that it needs those things and no one member of The Public was going to provide them. But the one thing that was never The Government's raison d'etre was making jobs. It could only do that if economics was a precise invariant science based on inert factors. Yeah, well, ever heard of free will? It pretty much takes science off the table.

So if The Public doesn't expect itself to make jobs, why does it expect The Government to?