Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Meditation Redux

So meditation is about mindlessness, about true relaxation, about rediscovering joy. It's not just sitting in a corner saying 'Om'. You've got walking meditation, breathing meditation, forms meditation. Heck, Kyudo is meditation if you do it right.

Since that's the way of it, here's a list of activities which ought to count as meditation practice:

  • Jamming on a musical instrument (right now for me it's the berimbau).
  • Playing with my dog.
  • Eating really, really good food.
  • Listening to music under the right circumstances.
  • Having some lap time with my cat.
  • Teaching my son to ________ a ________.
  • Talking to my wife with my head in her lap.

All these are exercises in presentness. Not the sort of meditation a lot of people have in mind, but they're all so freeing, so uplifting and joyful. Past and future fade away into a crystalline and wonderful now.

Isn't that meditation?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Two Diet & Nutrition Books You Need in Your Library

The UBBT lists as one requirement living by the Body For Life diet. I've tried that diet and didn't like what it did to my energy levels. To be clear now, there's nothing wrong with that diet. It's well reasoned, well constructed and has a sizable body of success behind it.

Trouble for me was it's a weight-loss diet. Weight has never been my problem. So I set about doing the research to put together a diet just as structured, but focused more on energy, immunity and longevity.

I won't bore you with the details of my particular diet, but - seriously - if you're at all interested in diet and nutrition, you need to pick up and read at least one of these two books.

The must-read is Superfood Rx by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews. It focuses on 14 foods with clinically proven health benefits ranging from immunity boost to significant reduction in cancer. Using those foods, it puts together a recommended weekly quota of each. From there, it's not hard at all to cobble together a weekly diet plan.

The second book, Eat Drink & Be Healthy by Walter Willett & PJ Skerritt, fills in the only hole I found in Superfoods. Superfoods does a great job of telling you what foods to eat, and what benefits you can expect to derive from those foods. Eat, Drink looks harder at the science behind why.

Seriously, these books have changed how I look at what I eat. I went through several books on diet and nutrition, some good, many bad. These two are consistent with one another, with what I understand of modern nutrition science and with what experts I've spoken with have to say.

And best of all...the last half of both books is full of recipes. Good recipes, even. My son's eyes light up at the mere mention of Mexican Lasagne from Eat, Drink.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Happens When The Shine Wears Off?

The trouble with journaling every week is sometimes I can't think of anything to say. I'm excited about next week's training opportunity. I'm pleased to have the chance to meet in person the members of my team. I'm looking forward to a weekend of rolling, getting hit with sticks and rock climbing on the beach.

But since when is "I'm looking forward to something fun" anything new or exciting? As stunning insights go, that one is pretty weak.

At times, this whole test is like that. Actually, many of the important things in life are like that. You get started on something: a project, a task, a job, a relationship, whatever. It's new. It's exciting. It's shiny and grand and a big ol' adventure. But sometimes the sexy wears off.

You're left with work, sometimes toil, and nothing much to say. What separates success from failure sometimes (at least for me) seems to be our ability to but head down and move forward during those times. This takes grit, determination, discipline -- something we have as martial artists. Again, this is not a new insight.

But it also takes faith. Faith is a loaded word in our culture. Makes the atheists twitch and the religious talk too much. But what about simple faith that the path, no matter how hard, is taking someplace worth going? What about faith in your own ability to make it over the next hill. What about faith in the wisdom of the folks who have walked ahead of you and are just waiting for you to come 'round the bend?

Tonight, I have faith that somebody, somewhere might find this inspiring, or at least interesting. Thanks for listening.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Today Was a Good Day

Got up this morning, meditated. Made breakfast for the family while I had a cup of tea. Did my first set of pushups and reps. Walked my boy DJ to school with our dog, stopping to pick up trash in the schoolyard (DJ helped without being asked). Came home and bagged lunch for me and my wife -- leftover tofu peanut stir fry from last night, a box of yogurt, an orange, fresh brewed green iced tea.

Went to work where (with thanks to a lot of our efforts last month) I had three folks come in to sign up for lessons. Got my workout in. Enjoyed my time with friends, students, teachers. Heard from the local paper that there will be a largish article about our food drive tomorrow. Full color photos and the whole shebang. Made good progress on my tasks and goals at work.

Came home and made stuffed green peppers for dinner. Helped the lad with his homework, played some before bed. Got my last set of pushups and reps after blogging and bed.

Thanks, UBBT.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Originally Written 12/28/07

It ain't fair.

Jenessa "Boey" Byers died just before 1 this morning. She had just 8 years here with us and that ain't fair. I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm relieved that she's no longer suffering and at the same time I feel guilty to feel anything that even resembles being glad a little girl is dead.

But in my saner moments, I think about it this way....

Boey got 8 years. In those years, she illuminated a community. She inspired literally millions through appearances on youtube, blogging and finally national television. She showed compassion and turned that compassion into real help for people who needed it. She pushed power brokers to draft a law that could make a difference all over this country and eventually the world.

When her time came, Boey met death with courage and honor. And she did it in a way that spared her family further suffering.

So really, people. How many of us can say we've done that with 8 years, regardless of what fraction of our span that happens to be? How many of us are going to fight for -- and win -- a beautiful death?

I suppose we'd best get crackin', hadn't we?

Originally Posted 12/24/07

Jenessa Nicole Byers was born on May 20th, 1999 to Rob and Rachel Byers. She has two wild but wonderful older brothers Chris(13) and Joe(12). Jenessa is not only beautiful on the inside and out, but she is smart, funny, creative, spunky, fashion conscious, and has a zest for life that is contagious when you are with her.

That's from her website www.jenessabyers.com

At age 6, Jenessa was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. For the past 2 years, she's been in almost constant treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. In that time, she's beaten it back twice at heavy cost.

While literally fighting for her life, Jenessa has found the strength to think of others. She has raised money to buy stuffed animals for other child cancer patients. She has contacted celebrities and worked to raise awareness nationwide. She's contacted senators to push legislation toward curing childhood cancer. She's even worked to support her parents while they were looking for the strength to keep supporting her.

Tonight, we're again at Doernbecher Children's Hospital and getting some bad news. I'm in the hall journalling because I want to make sure I don't miss the chance to list Jenessa among my ten living heroes.

Jenessa, your courage through this can teach a lesson or two to warriors with many times your years. I love you and I'm proud of you. We all are.

Originally Posted 12/12/07

This tournament rocked!

I've been bothered by the tournament scene in the Pacific Northwest for a while. It seems that we've lost our way. Competition (for children absolutely and I'd like to think for grownups too) is about certain things. It's about finding out exactly how well you're training. It's about having the courage to step up in public. It's about demonstrating self-control under charged circumstances. It's about winning with kindness and losing with grace.

Far as I can tell, in most of the tournaments 'round these parts it's about two things. The promoter's profit margin and the length of the coaches'....um...attitudes. The very last tourney I took my students to featured a black belt school owner heckling a judge and threatening a child competitor.

I've spoken to a lot of other small school owners in the past year and ya know what? I'm not the only guy who feels this way. So I tried a little experimental invite-only tournament right at my little school. We had a couple dozen kids show up from three different schools and we had a really, really good time. Everybody got a lot of chances to go up and strut their stuff. Everybody showed fantastic sportsmanship. Even the coaches and parents.

Man, that was fun.

Originally Posted 12/4/07

This weekend was spent in the hospitality of UBBT brother Shawn Knight at his training camp in Tucson, Arizona. I have to say it was a fantastic experience. Top shelf presenters (including Ed Parker, Jr., Larry Tatum, Lee Epperson, Lee Sprague and Rick Fowler). Great training partners. Mr. Knight and I have some shared lineage, so on top of it all I got to visit with a handful of old friends.

I especially want to thank Mr. Knight and his splendiferous wife for making me feel right at home. When I arrived Thursday night, they welcomed me like family. By that I mean they said hello and put me right to work. Guys, how did you know that sort of greeting means more to me than any sort of red carpet treatment ever could? Mr. and Mrs. Knight, thank you. Your mats are soft and your dojo warm.

I was also pleased and challenged by simply getting out of my local dojo rut. Nothing against the local scene (we have two UBBTers within a few blocks), but the familiar quickly becomes…familiar. Seeing new ideas and new ways of running things set my mind running in some new directions. I can’t wait for the official UBBT events to start up so I can get more of that.

Thank you again, Mr. Knight, for the invite and the fantastic shindig. We'll meet again soon.

The Results Are In

Alert readers may recall that our school took on a food drive for the fall, to end with the end of the year. We set the goal of collection 10,000 pounds of food in three months. This week we took in the last barrel, the last can, the last penny of collected donations and got the final count in.

Did we meet our goal? I hate to leave you in suspense (lying -- I'm doing it on purpose because I love leaving you in suspense. It's good dramatic technique), but I want to take a moment and recount our efforts and plans, celebrate a battle well fought.

The first thing I did was go to my students. We got ramped up, excited, ready to roll. I tasked students to set a goal of cans or dollars collected, got one of the instructors to coordinate, put up a barrel in the lobby. The cans trickled in from that, sometimes pouring in fast. One of our students was single-handedly responsible for bringing in more than 1500 pounds of food.

The second thing I did was go to other local businesses. UBBT brother Dan Sikkens and his school got their own collection groove on. Ernie Reyes Martial Arts, Family Kicks Tae Kwon Do and Dragon Tiger Tae Kwon Do soon agreed to host barrels in their lobbies. Stellar Performance Dance Academy and the Gym Nest, local schools in similar industries, also got in on the act.

The third thing I did was go to the schools. I talked to teachers of my leadership team about letting my student lead a food drive in their classroom, leading their classmates to meet a goal of 100 or even 500 cans. I was a bit disappointed in the response. It seems our school district does a food drive of their own each December and the schools are graded on the amount they collect. Many principals were afraid to jeopardize their own numbers and put the kibosh on the plan. Some were willing to participate anyway, and a number of teachers went to bat for the experience. At the end, we had several classrooms participate.

Next year, I'll dovetail the project in as part of the district's own food drive so as to avoid the conflict, or maybe just do our drive in the spring.

The fourth thing I did I've journaled before. Armed with our cardboard sign "Will teach karate for food", we stationed ourselves outside three different grocery stores and offered two weeks free karate to anybody who donated. I have to tell you I was touched and overwhelmed by the immense response to those events. If you live in the Portland, Oregon area you should ought to shop at Albertsons. Seriously, those guys rock.

The fifth thing I did was put out an ad campaign offering free lessons to anybody who came in with a food donation.

The sixth thing I did was to put collection baskets for change in a few local shops. The local Shell Station and Jan's Paperbacks both collected a shocking amount of change and small bills in just a couple of days. Who would have thought a used book store could collect enough money in a week to buy 350 pounds of food?

It was a fun ride, three months of watching my students become prouder and prouder as the stack of cans grew and grew. I had to empty my lobby and drop off donations four times.

The final tally? Let me break it down for you...

  • Our first dropoff (late October) was 3339 pounds.
  • Our second dropoff (just before Thanksgiving) was 1213 pounds.
  • Our third dropoff (mid December) was 1466 pounds.
  • Aim High Martial Arts (our UBBT brothers) collected 1600 pounds.
  • Our fourth dropoff (this week) was just 230 pounds of food, but included enough cash to buy 2287 pounds.

Final total: 10,135 pounds. That's just over 5 TONS of food. By way of comparison, that school district food drive I mentioned? They collected 73,601 pounds. That's the whole district in a town pushing 100,000 people.

I can't tell you how proud and pleased I am at what my students and colleagues were able to accomplish. Thank you all.