Monday, March 28, 2011


March was sort of a bad month for writing blog entries. We're in the middle of the semester and I have more than a full course-load, so I've been writing less...but I HAVEN'T missed any class, which means that I've learned quite a bit even though I haven't written about it.

A few things have changed at the Refinery over the past month. Bruce went to a different Shotokan school to try and earn his 4th degree black belt, (which we can't supply him here at the Refinery), Zak's work schedule has made it impossible for him to come to class, and Blake's mom was pretty severely our classes have been kind of lacking in advanced students. Also, since school is in full swing, there has generally been less attendance over the past month, so on many days it has just been me and Sensei during the last class of the day.

Now that nobody is able to attend the 4:30 advanced class, it's just Sensei and I, as well. Let me tell you: if you want to really learn a lot, one-on-one training is absolutely the way to go!

Anyway, today during the 4:30 class, Sensei spent most of the time pushing me around. He told me to take a fighting stance and the object of the exercise was to stay on balance, no matter what. He pushed me, pulled me, tried to throw me, tried to sweep me, arm-barred me, tripped me, and the whole time I had to keep my base wide and my weight dropped in order to stay on balance.

Sensei has this new way of telling us to drop our center of gravity. Instead of saying, "Bend your knees" he says, "Be humble". Humility means serving, and in order to do that, you place yourself beneath those you serve...and it's also a lot quicker than saying, "Bend your knees".

Anyway, the wider my base was and the lower my center of gravity, the harder it was for Sensei to push me/pull me off balance. He said that this is because when you have a strong foundation, you have a strong stance. We practice stances all the time, but it really put things into perspective for me to be knocked over a few times.

Foundations are really important. Ask any home-builder. If your house isn't built on a strong foundation, when the hard times come, it will sink into the ground and collapse. This is why we spend so much time practicing the basics in karate. Every advanced move has basic moves in it...and every basic move will help prepare for advanced moves. Just imagine a jump-spinning-hook-kick without a bent front leg! Guess what that sounds like? WHAM! It feels even worse than it sounds. Trust me.

It's important to build our lives on strong foundations, as well. Sometimes we see something good and we realize that we really want to make our whole lives about that thing. Sometimes it becomes our job. Sometimes it becomes a well-treasured hobby. Sometimes, it's even a person!

But at any point in our lives, those things can be taken away. We might lose our jobs. We might become sick or injured. Our houses and possessions might be destroyed in a natural disaster. Friends and family eventually grow old or sick and die. Our lives and the very things that we believe to be so strong and steadfast...aren't. They are fragile and finite. Eventually, even the human race will cease to exist on Earth. Nothing lasts. Everything passes through the natural cycle of life and death.

So what foundation of this world can we hope to build our lives on? Nothing on Earth will last forever...but God is not of this Earth. He created it and lived on it, but he is not of it. He is not finite; he will not die. He will not even shake or stumble or sway in the wind. He is a solid foundation...the ONLY solid foundation. God is the only one that will not grow tired or crumble to the ground. He won't decay. He won't lose his luster or his strength with time. He won't even be out of breath from a series of sparring matches. He is not of the Earth, which makes it difficult to base our Earthly lives around him, but nothing else in the world will hold. Nothing else will last.

All of it will someday fade away...but God will always remain. Our orange belt verse is Proverbs 18:10, which says, "The name of the lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe". There is no greater foundation; no better place to build your life than on God. God, who commands the oceans and calms the storms; at whose whisper mountains shudder and nations fall to their knees...God, who is on his throne; who is reigning and who is never shaken; who never falls. Never fails. Never abandons.

The ways of this world say that we will die and ultimately lose...but God's promise is that we will win, either way...because through him, we cannot lose. If our God is for us, then who can ever stop us? If our God is with us, what can stand against us? Nothing, because our foundation is everlasting, eternal, true, and good.

We will be pushed and pulled in our lives. We'll be swept and arm-barred, thrown to the ground, choked, pinned, and rolled. We will be hurt. We will fall. But we will fall on something greater than the nicest martial arts mat, and we will stand back up with our base wide and our knees bent. And nothing will defeat us, because when the day is done and our time here is gone...we win.

And that's that.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I think that when most people think of martial arts, they think about techniques and kata and nunchaku and cage fighting. I don't think that the thought of being helpful to other people comes to their minds right away. But most martial artists, if not all of them, can probably recall a time in their training where they needed the help of someone else. Perhaps it was to better understand a technique or to begin a form. Perhaps they needed assistance with properly conditioning their body for the physical fitness level that martial arts requires...or maybe they needed help with something more esoteric; maybe a struggle with a life issue or coming to terms with something outside of their control.

I can name many examples of each of those struggles that I've had while training, and I've only been training for a little more than a year. At some point in class, everybody needs a hand with something. It's inevitable when there's something new to be learned.

For example, who can practice a throw on their own? Without a partner, it's difficult to really prepare for that situation, because you're only moving YOUR body and not someone else's. Who can practice a choke defense without being choked? Sure, you can go through the motions until you have it perfect each time, but you need fingers to grab. You need to feel deprived of oxygen. You need to know where to look for air.

When we train, we need other people...and they need us! Since everybody needs assistance with something at some point, this means that most people have an opportunity to give that assistance. Senior students help younger students. Younger students eventually become senior students and continue that cycle.
But whether younger or senior or sensei, everyone has a chance to help someone else.

Right now, in Japan, there are a lot of people who need help due to the earthquake and tsunami. While they might seem stoic and calm, this is because Japanese people have been raised to appear as though they can bear the unbearable (this concept is called 'gaman'). Accepting help is sometimes very hard, but for the Japanese it is much more difficult. Their culture raises them to accept hardship without complaint; to persevere through extremely difficult things with poise and a general "can do" attitude. For a Japanese person, accepting help often feels akin to dumping their problems on another, and that is completely counter-intuitive to their way of life.

Sometimes, we have a hard time accepting help because we're proud; we're embarrassed to not be able to do everything on our own, but in Japan this is just the way of things. With such widespread devastation, so many people are now in need of help, though they will never ask for it. In some cases, they will not even appear to need it. But we all know at least one person who behaves the same way in martial arts. Maybe we ARE that person. I know I've been there.

So my message in this entry is, when you see somebody struggling, help them if you can. When someone hits the mat, I try to help them up. When someone is struggling to learn a technique that I have some understanding of, I try to help them learn. Sometimes others will need help, but they won't ask. That may be a good indicator that you should take the initiative. Whether Japanese or American, we are all human, and humans are not meant to do everything alone.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Losing and Gaining (And avoiding a fight!)

Tonight, a friend of mine and I were walking in a McDonald's parking lot on a side of town that we usually don't explore. It was late and there was only one other car (a van) parked in the lot, but I didn't really think anything of it because nothing seemed suspicious. It's a Sunday night. Most people are getting ready for work tomorrow.

Anyway, we got out of my car and suddenly, this guy appeared from inside of the van and asked us if we had a second. Of course, I said yes because he seemed like he might have been having car trouble or something. It turned out, he was looking for money. He asked me for about fifty dollars and when I hesitated, he got really close to me and it really made me nervous. He seemed very desperate and the way he was walking/talking/moving suggested to me that something wasn't quite right. He may have had a weapon. I'm not sure. Anyway, I was glad to find that I had about fifty dollars to give him.

I would've given it to him anyway, even if I didn't feel threatened. As a matter of fact, I was reaching into my pocket to get my wallet when he got inside of my personal space. His wife got outside of the car, too, seemingly to thank me, but she was moving strangely as well. It seems that I might have avoided a fight tonight by simply giving the guy what he wanted. I just have this feeling, based on the way the two were acting, that had I told them 'no', they would've taken it by force.

I am broke now, and I probably will be for the rest of the month, but at least I'm not broken! I still have my head. I'm not hurt...and neither are they. Any kind of fight may have cost someone their life tonight. What if that guy had had a gun? What if he really did have a knife? The way he was moving suggested a weapon of some did his wife's movements. The way that he invaded my personal space suggested that he was desperate and perhaps willing to take drastic measures to get what he wanted. There was no need for that since I gave him what he wanted willingly.

The lesson here is that it's better to lose something that seems important to you than to lose your life. We have to die to ourselves in order to gain eternal life in heaven. This means that we must sacrifice what we think we need, here on Earth; we must change ourselves and leave behind who we were in order to become who we need to be.

It's much better to lose your life and gain heaven than it is to gain the entire world, but lose your soul. Likewise, losing fifty bucks means that I'm going to have some trouble paying for some essential things that I need this month, but I still have my life. I am not hurt. I am not dead.

Overall, a very obvious success.