Friday, December 09, 2016

On Not Communicating

Something seems to have passed, or rather have become embedded, in our modern discourse: the unwillingness to discuss matters.

It has its origins in the rather bitter climate of politics over the last years:  people began using charged words instead of discussing matters.  Words became the weapons of choice, flung out with same sharp staccato as gunfire, the injury being done perhaps before the victim knew they had even been hit.

What was the response?  Twofold.  On the one hand, people began to not discuss matters in the presence of others.  They would simply listen as the discussions happened around them and make non-committal sounds, stay silent, try to change the subject, or just move out of the conversation.  One the other hand, the discussions within the groups that did believe as they did became more heated, more intense.  more about the "fill-in-the-blank-with-uncomplimentary-personal-comments" side  ("idiots" was probably the least offensive term used).

The U.S. election happened of course, and all of this from the last 16 years (yes, it goes back that far) was trotted out for the entire world to see.  Words had moved beyond bullets though:  they were now napalm weapons, bunker busters, meant to lay waste to whole populations (intellectually speaking).  The intent to understand or reason was completely removed; all that remained was the need to destroy the opposition for the intent of victory, to shut them down as a legitimate voice.

So here we are.  The election is done. And yet, things seem worse.

On-line media has lurched into the bottomless pit of trying to decide what constitutes "legitimate" news while carefully avoiding the question of the bias that gathers and generates that news.  Social media has become less about sharing and more about expressing one's self in ways that will not get one banned or will count coup on the other side - or simply going off somewhere else altogether.

The individual's response?  There are two that I have seen.  For some, they seem to have doubled down on words as weapons - to the point that one almost shudders to read or hear anything from them.  For others, they have simply stepped out of the communication time line that is modern society and simply do not engage. For some of these it takes the shape of choosing to communicate in such a way that they are producers of content but not of discussion, for others it is limiting what they speak of and respond to, for others simply to not communicate at all.

The last category is the most concerning because it represents the greatest danger to any form of human government.  If we have reached the point where words are only weapons and not tools of communication and discussion and reasoning and people are responding accordingly, then we have become no different than any society that has decided its tools of agriculture or building are really nothing more than potential weapons of war to smash the other side into submission.

If this is truly the case, then it is only a matter of time before we get there.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Kihon, Henka, Bunkai

In my martial art (and in at least one other I know, so maybe it extends to all martial arts) each kata (or technique) has three parts:

1)  Kihon - This is the approved form of the kata in question, the one that is to be taught and learned, the one that may have been handed down for hundreds of years.  This is the one done when a demonstration (embu) is being performed.  There are ideally no differences between eras or practitioners when doing this:  this is one way the kata is to be done, the essence and purity of the form itself.

2) Henka - These are variations of the kata in question, slightly different techniques:  a different step, a different cut, perhaps even the defender winning (instead of losing).  There can be multiple different variations but all trace themselves back to the original kata.

3)  Bunkai  - This is combative application, the kata put into the context of an actual attack and defense.  It may include variations and the purity may be largely forgotten (speaking from experience, when defending from an actual attack your blocks become less high and your cutting angle is far less precise).  The point is to apply the kata in simulated attack; in other words, to successfully win by killing or defending (and then killing).

For the most part we practice kihon - both the essence of the art as well as the most difficult to master (there are always small things that can be made better; any martial art is truly a lifetime project).  We occasionally practice henka, not so much to learn them as to train ourselves to think in terms of fluidity and adaptation - ultimately to win or excel in bunkai.

It occurred to me that just as in iai, I can get my focus in the wrong area.

Too often in my own life I attempt to practice things the way they should be practiced - perhaps even the way others have told me to do them.  I work, and then perfect, and then work some more.  Sometimes I get so excited I get off into variations or even into practical applications - and it is in all of this that I lose the ultimate purpose I should be aiming for.

All of these are not ends to themselves; rather, the purpose of them is to teach me to think - yes, about the correct way to do things and adapting to variations in how to do things and even in practically doing things but even more so, about being able to take all of the inputs of my life and expertise and practice I have been performing and use it in my life in a way that is fluid and strategic and adaptive and flexible.  I forget the ultimate aim, perfecting one's self, in the overload of doing things for a particular end.

Without practicing each kind, I will never become skilled - yet by not incorporating all into the larger whole of my life, they remain merely techniques to be practiced rather than skills to be used.  It is a balance - but much like a sword, there are two sides of it.

Focusing on one side does not make the other disappear.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Reflecting On The Upcoming Year

My reflections on goals and mission for the upcoming year (and years) continues apace.

One thing that has come out of this reflection to date is that more than likely the direction is very different from what I had expected.

The primary focus (personally, at least) is really for 2018. I want to go train in Japan.  That, of course, takes money:  money to fly, money to train (not all that much really).  But a concentrated effort to save is what will be required - and concentrated effort to improve my iai (and Japanese) and the physical fitness to support the training.

Which itself introduces other implications.  Time and money have to go towards those, which means time and money will probably fall away from other things.  As I have thought it through, it probably means my Highland Athletics will be less this year than years past.  And possibly a year skipped doing an Obstacle Run.

As I have continued to think, my world has contracted as well.  It started with Facebook but has been slowly extending itself towards anything resembling current events. . I am spending less and less time there now than in times past; quite likely once we get past the inauguration it will drop off entirely.

We have become firmly ensconced in our church at this moment, so more time will be spent in service and growth (as it should be).

With our managed budget and more of inward focus, items of the house now go on a list and projects will need to be addressed.  Some of these I cannot do myself; others, simply because of cost, I will have to figure out for myself.

Financially we are beginning to migrate to the point that college and retirement savings are becoming more relevant.  This means that spending on the whole will be a great deal more constrained and focused (plus going to Japan - did I mention that?).

In a word (if there is such a thing for this) I foresee next year and possibly the years beyond as becoming more focused and centered around a much smaller group of ongoing events.

Does it mean that all new things are now removed from consideration? Of course not.  I still have plenty of things I want to learn and, as a generalist, I really cannot focus on just one thing.  But the inter-relationship of those things are becoming more critical and the ability to sustain things are not related to the core is becoming a great deal more difficult.  Simply put, the time and money are not there.

I will be honest:  unburdening myself from the sense of having to finish books and maintain my website has been one of the most freeing activities I have felt of late.  My boundaries of what I am able to do and consider have expanded a great deal. This, combined with the change in jobs and commute time, has made a significant change in my life - the first one in almost seven years.  I sense that more of this is coming.

It has been a good period of reflection. And it is likely that things will change yet again before the end of the month.  But things are changing.  I feel it in my bones as clearly as I can see the leaves falling from the trees.

Friday, December 02, 2016

More Friends, Less Friendship

 One of the larger differences I have noticed since I switched jobs is how my friendship quotient seems to have dropped a great deal.

The good thing about working with one's friends...is, well, you work with your friends. You get to spend 8+ hours a day in the company of people you actually enjoy. Work becomes, if not a little easier, at least a little more enjoyable.

It all holds together, of course, until you leave that job. Then, just like countless other times in school or college, you get busy and they get busy and suddenly there is a gap which usually keeps expanding. What is annoying and a little concerning is that I find that this gap has expanded to encompass larger portions of my life.

Some of it is due to distance, some to activities that meet only certain times of the year. The outcome has been the same – in some ways, I have not felt this lack of deep friendships in some time.

Oddly enough, I am “friended” up on a certain social network site. Which is nice - I actually probably know more people than I ever have and probably interact with more folks than I have in many years. But that deep level of friendship, those hours of conversations, those shared experiences and stories – all lacking at the moment.

A fair amount involves me, I am sure. Just with work and family, I have become as inaccessible as I may have ever been, which matters for friendship. And I certainly respect (now more than ever) the boundaries of others with their families and their work and their own lives. But the margins seem increasingly thin looking forward.


I would like to say I believe this will change but I am unsure how, given that I do not see the catalyst for that change: I will continue to work where I work and have the hours that I have and have the family I have with things wedged in at the edges. Given that, where does such a thing pop up?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

On The Breaking Apart Of Things

Sometimes I believe we miss the moment of inflection, when things begin to break apart.

I suspect this is because we largely do not want to see such things.  We are, on the whole, a species that likes to see things going well, not going poorly.  And society certainly does not prepare us for such things:  we learn very well how to fall in love and be a team mate and to "come together".  We are not very well prepared for how things end and what signs to look for.

An example at this point might be helpful.

Way back in the yonder years (before this blog, even) I had a friendship that I had held - a close friendship - for over 10 years.  This was the sort of person I spent a lot of time talking with and doing things with, walking miles and miles in conversation and dreaming.  The sort of person that you envision one calls "brother", that one holds as a "friend for life".

But something changed.  Our lives were beginning to move in different directions.  I could feel the beginning of the pulling away, but saw it purely through a career lens:  he was going one way towards what I believed to be a success, but which would cause our friendship to dwindle.  I did not want to lose the opportunity - or the friendship - and so The Firm was born.

Fast forward 16 months.  The Firm collapsed.  In what seems like a sudden development, the friendship collapsed in a timely fashion along with it:  within 4 months we never meet again, within 8 months we never communicate again (to this day, actually).  When I look back, I suddenly realize that The Firm (besides being a business) was a way - perhaps only for me - to breathe life into something that was passing on.  It merely prolonged its life for a while but did not stop the process from occurring.

The difficulty is that I saw the thing 16 months prior.  I sensed that something was changing - but put it up to the fact that my friend was moving into a career field and was going to be a success and I was going to miss it (he has become a success, a very good one, for which I am glad).  The reality is that things were changing and we were moving in different directions - but I had never really been taught or trained myself to recognize the difference between a breaking apart and a mere divergence of career paths.

I have become better attuned since then, I think.  Early on it was mostly through mistakes on my part, misjudgments, a certain "tone deafness" to what people were actually saying.  I believe I have become better recognizing such things as they occur now and am hopefully a little better  about managing my own part in the matter.

The problem, of course, is that you come to see the signs in places where you either did not expect or not intend.  You know the drill from that point, at least for yourself - although curiously you find yourself in the position of wondering if the others see the same sort of thing or are chalking it up to a passing phase or career change or something other than what it is.

I wonder, on occasion, what would have happened if I had recognized the signs on that February night and, knowing then what I know now, had been willing to step aside.  Beyond just the issues of a failed business and failed friendships:  how would I personally be different now if I was willing to accept that things break apart and simply moved on?