Archive for the ‘Snapshots of the Good Life’ Category

—– As a descendant of families of the learned and well-read, I am very fortunate indeed. As fate would have had it, I was born here in the United States. At an early age, though, I had to accompany my parents when they returned to the land of their birth, the Philippines. Their love of books and of knowledge was never diminished, so we accumulated a modest collection of volumes during my formative years. I read a lot of these voraciously as a child. I had already read about the history of Western Civilization by the time I was ten. Back then, before the Age of the Information Superhighway, our only outlets were TV, newspapers and magazines, and the first two were already suspect under the dictatorship of Marcos. My father had friends whom he’d take us to, who were also intellectuals, and happily shared stashes of Time and Newsweek with us, as well as the current in popular books that had made it through the censors.  Good, valuable stuff like that was rare to come across. There were no accessible public libraries, and our choices were usually the local bookstore or the British Consulate, an hour’s ride away by jeepney. Yet, nothing seemed to stop me from going great lengths to find good, quality reading, and much of my early teens found me roaming both.

So when I emigrated here to the United States, I experienced a euphoria of sorts. While there was the fairly low cost of food (back in 1980’s, a few dollars could get you a lot), cars, and of course, freedom — I saw the Mother Brain, Knowledge and Intelligence Central. And of course, books — plenty of them. My brother took me to the very first public library I was to see, the Amelia Earhart Branch Library in North Hollywood, where, in a sense, my eyes were opened for the very first time. I remember seeing a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and becoming wide-eyed with excitement over it.  That was nothing compared to the wide variety of reading I would see at bookstores later on. While I was unemployed for the first few months, though, I had to be happy with a stash of books from the library.

In two months, when I got my very first job, flipping burgers at a Wendy’s, I followed Erasmus’ example: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Before my brother and I both realized, we had already begun to amass a small collection that we took with us. My first purchases were not anything special, just books about soldiers and current events, mostly. Fast-forwarding 24 years into the future, I look at my shelves, and the boxes of books that I’ve collected — bought or acquired for free, or greatly-reduced prices — and realize a collection of just about 1,000 volumes! Along the way, I sold off the majority of what I had, at least twice; I had also sold a few of my textbooks online.

Sadly, bookstores and printed media have hit a twilight of sorts. With the advent of digitization, of e-Readers and online reading, it has been harder to justify the presence of a standing bookstore. In the past few years, I’ve seen a few — both for new and used books — close its doors down permanently. Twelve years ago, a bookstore chain I had come to appreciate, Waldenbooks, went out of business. In a way, I should be alarmed; the writing had already been on the wall for quite some time. Far from being spurred to buy more, I’m actually slowing down my buying. For one thing, there are space constraints. There’s also the problematic issue of transporting them from place-to-place. When I moved from my one-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park back in 2008, I realized that I had never hauled off so much shit on my own. In fact, I had nearly twice the amount of stuff I had to move, as compared to when I moved in there in 2000.

2011 marks an interesting beginning for me as a book-owner, because I don’t really have the urge or need to acquire yet more books. I don’t think I’ll stop completely, either. I just won’t acquire them as prodigiously as I did in the past. I can’t say I’m necessarily in a rush to sell all of them, either… although the temptation to make some quick money occasionally calls. Instead, I find myself doing something I might do for another 20 years with these books: Actually read them. Just because I acquired 1,000 volumes in fairly short time span, and am a fairly fast reader, does not mean I’ve read all of them. And if I did, have I truly appreciated them? With rare and quality books being dispersed at ridiculously low values, I now see myself as a fringe part of bibliophiles who are saving print knowledge. I have accounted for those that are physically here; there are other books that are now digitized, and easily downloaded (some you might even get for free). We are the cultural equivalent of Noah’s Ark, in a time when real-time information and a lot of noise distort and confuse sensible people everyday.

This morning, I rediscovered two books I’d bought. Both of them were by Guy Murchie, a lover of knowledge, of wisdom, and a practicing member of the Baha’i faith. I had bought both of these volumes with my partner, one at a used bookstore in Venice Beach; the other at the Borders in Pasadena. I always knew that I would come full circle to them, and in a certain sense, I am continuing that cycle of wisdom and learning.

Copyright Anabasius 2011

Advertisements

Notes on Martial Arts Training in the New Year

At dawn on New Year’s Day in Japan, people will rise up early and drive down to the eastern coasts to catch a glimpse of the very first sunrise of the New Year,  HatsuhinodeIt’s a tradition for which many spend a night on the beach the previous night, the same way spectators in Pasadena hold an all-night vigil for the Rose Parade on January 1. Hatsuhinode has a charm and appeal of its own, that everyone could relate to.  Not everyone digs parades; I’m willing to bet that a lot more people dig sunrises. Especially in Japan.  It’s a good way to start the New Year and there’s nothing particular- ly mystical about it. One simply “looks forward” to better things and a bright future, as represented by the Rising Sun.

There are a few other traditions in the Japanese New Year (which, until 1873, was based on the Chinese lunar year) that are noteworthy, and that we would do best to emulate. Hatsumode (First Trip to the Temple), giving away money, Mandarin oranges and mochi<… mmmmmm, mochi…>, writing poetry, are but a few small, nice gestures to oneself or to others. One can start the year with a clean conscience, start the year right by becoming more spiritual, generous and artistically-inclined, instead of simply making resolutions to do so. It’s the Japanese version of a “Positive Mental Attitude,” simple and not so over-the-top.

For karatekas and other Japanese/Okinawan-style martial artists, there is Keiko Hajime – The First Training Class of the Year. Dojos that emphasize rituals (e.g., iaido and aikido) will hold formal gatherings and inspirational speeches. Others may incorporate spirituality in the form of meditation sessions. For most dojos, Keiko Hajime is marked simply by good old- fashioned intense and ass-kicking training. The reps increase a notch, the pacing is faster and more vigorous. I don’t know of a much better way to start the Training Year right.

Photo Courtesy of Xste35

For us humans, Life is one part being active, and another part just being.  In the martial arts, it is both. A karateka is always active in body, mind and spirit.  He or she is also always living, being in the moment.  One objective is to constantly train, to the point that actions become automatic, become part of one’s own being.  It’s a Zen thing, and something that can’t easily be ex- plained in words. Of course, in the beginning it’s important to be mindful of proper technique, application of strength as needed, speed and all that. As one’s training progresses, he or she is expected to combine these elements without thinking (mushin), in a singular flash of a moment.

It has been more than 12 years since I first put on a gi to take up karate as a serious activity. I was a very different person back then, and so were my reasons for training. However, the routine has hardly varied.  A thorough training session (which we have the wry honor of experiencing when we visit the hombu or main dojo) consists of a 15-20 minute cardio and agility workout, like running, sprinting or jumping, followed by a good stretching routine. Afterwards, there is kihon training, the basics: punching or striking, blocking and kicking; then short-form or combination exercises. Towards the end, the agenda might diverge to either long-form exercise (kata), free sparring (kumite) or self-defense applications. In karate, a good karateka would be one who is able to fully appreciate and integrate the basics and the formal aspect of training (typified by kata), the sport aspect (kumite), and their true applications in life-or-death self-defense situations (characterized by randori). By definition, that would be reserved for the master practition- ers, the senseis.  In each training session, I catch a glimpse of that mastery, if only enough to appreciate what karate was designed for, and the serious nature of its training.

Photo courtesy of Indrek Galetin

Karate was and is a system of self- defense; it was meant for an individual to fight his or her way out of a pinch, out of an attack at close quarters, with- out guns or weapons. It was never meant to be used offensively (as kung fu was used in the Boxer Rebellion, with disastrous results). In general, and like most Japanese martial arts, it’s not meant to be used at all, unless truly ne- cessary.  This idea is a paradox which we fully understand, yet may not be able to clearly explain to anyone else. Just as soldiers train extensively during peacetime for a war that may never come, we in the dojo train twice, maybe thrice a week, practicing specific moves that might happen at any given mo- ment in this crazy, random world. Unlike soldiers who have to respond to orders and have little choice when told to fight – we as karateka don’t have to fight if, we can just as easily walk away.

That’s when it hits me (almost literally): We train hard for something that, in all likelihood, will happen very rarely or not at all, if we conduct ourselves properly in our everyday lives. And this is where Keiko Hajime comes full circle to Hatsuhinode. When we start living Life on a good note and on good terms with ourselves, others and Nature, there is no need to enter the dark and terrible aspects of martial arts. Keiko Hajime – and any given training class for that matter – simply becomes a cycle of affirmation and reaffirm- ation of one’s appreciation for Life and the World of the Living.

Copyright Anabasius 2010

Over the course of a weekend, after random discussions with my partner and mother about fertility drug treatments, and a good dose of Peter Drucker’s Post-Capitalist Society, I have discovered a fundamental truth that we have often overlooked:  For certain things to happen — be it motherhood or a healthy economy — we in our frail human ways cannot hope to directly create their manifestation out of thin air.  However, what we can do is increase the odds of making things happen.

How do we make such a thing happen? The same way everyone and everything does, by creating the conditions that make this possible.  I just learned that for a woman who wants to be a mother, one or even multiple sessions of fertility drug treatments are not enough. According to The Baby Center, the clomiphene that is administered to a woman stimulates hormones in the brain, to generate one or more eggs, that would be fertilized.  In addition to that, other factors such as increased estrogen levels have to be stimulated artificially.  For a woman to successfully give birth to a healthy child, she must be biologically ready.

motherhood_manifesto

In a similar fashion, politicians and economists, with all their rhetoric and cajoling about improving the economy, cannot really be held responsible for whatever headway is made, when the stock markets improve, or when unemployment dies down and jobs appear on the horizon once again. What they can do, however, is create the necessary environment for everyone, people and businesses, small and large.  What they can do is enact legislation that hastens and stimulates savings and earnings for people, and even a little bit of consumer spending that helps businesses go on. As I write, President Obama and Congress are busy working out a new round of budget allocations that would bypass banks and eventually trickle down to businesses, enabling them to hire more and produce more. Even the Federal Reserve, much maligned after its mismanagement of interest rates, is once again back on the bandwagon. After all the finger-pointing in the previous year’s economic meltdown, the long and painful business of recovery and reconstruction must begin.

Is it enough to simply create conditions for birth or manifestation of a desired thing? To create life is one thing; to prolong, to sustain and see it grow is yet another. Motherhood, I’ve come to see and appreciate, isn’t just about seeing a new baby or a new economy in the world. The hardest part, perhaps, is sustenance, seeing the fledgling become mature, able to navigate its way through the wilderness. Or in the world of finance, seeing bonds mature – or having enough capital to be able to call them (which, in banking lingo, simply means gaining enough money to buy ownership back).  In a certain sense, we are all coming of age, once we realize this bit of wisdom.

There’s a family of stray cats living around our residential complex. We first encountered them when we moved in over the summer.  Back then, the kittens were still small enough to cradle in both hands.  Now, all three in the litter are big cats, able to fend for themselves. Sometimes, they’re a bit of a nuisance when they squat in our yard. But they are quiet, determined little survivors. Perhaps they are there to remind us that life thrives, and will continue to thrive, in the places where you least expect it.  All you need to do is believe – to make and be ready for it to happen.

Copyright Anabasius 2009