Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kokusai Aikidō Kenshūkai Kobayashi Hirokazu Ha

AKA Kobayashi Aikido is the style I am currently practicing. It is a second generation style of Aikido (created after Ueshiba Morihei died). That is what I found out tonight, soon, I will investigate further about the styles particularities.
Also, I was practicing a technique that was dangerously similar to bagua zhang! And tasty! A dojorat told me that I would be realizing the similarities between the two arts, tonight that certainly happened, and I am starving to eat mat!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Calm Within the Storm

On one night, we're surrounded by a large karate class. On the other, it's kendo. Each time, the gym is booming with kiais or crashing sticks; but it is not from our side. Slapping skin on mats and the swishing of rolling aikido practitioners is the common sound. In a gym, it can be hard to hear an explanation with the demons screaming in the back.

Each class two things definately have happened so far: One, I try to ask Hirobe Sensei a complicated question about martial arts in unintelligible Japanese, and two, Hirobe Sensei gladly obliges, yet in equally unintelligible-to-me Japanese. There is frustration here, but there is a long way to go for both of us, and I imagine these two far points will only get closer together.

In class I was able to discern something interesting though in Japanese. I asked a question about a new stance, and it was gladly answered with a comment that goes like, "I thought about that for so long to myself to finally figure it out, but you asked about it within seconds of seeing it ... that's great!" This is not a class to withhold questions, and any one that does, could probably use some.

Today, a third year student approached me and asked me if he could practice speaking English with me, I said of course. He asked if we could "now", and I realized this was going to be different than most other students that approach me at my desk outside of class. This was a student who wanted every day to practice his English with me before he left for Osaka University, and he approached me despite what I assume to be a large amount of nervousness. Questions like this are rarely asked by students, and usually due to its conflicting nature to Japanese education, especially with a barbarian foreigner, and about speaking in English. This student was certainly nervous, but even more brave. After talking about various things, he mentions that he cannot meet with me in English club on Thursday nights because he has Aikido class! He lives and practices Aikido in a different town, but the next hour drips quickly away as we start talking about our experiences in different arts. Here begins a daily dialogue about martial arts, and I can finally understand the selfishness of a teacher sometimes! Here I will be able to ask him about numerous questions I have about Aikido vocabulary, which at this point is invaluable to me and nearly inaccessible, this is my benefit. But this experience will be just as much, if not more to the student who can practice casual English with a native speaker for an hour a day. This is a wonderful thing ... a blessing of sorts.

The 10,000 things have certainly swirled about me today, but now, I feel comfortable within the storm.

6 Levels of Cognition for Teachers

After a few mediocre lessons I taught at my high school, I finally decided to delve into one of the many mountains of teaching handbooks that was given to me in my orientation for JET, and I think I found a gem that has helped me out lately .

After a bit of searching, I came across "Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain," which was developed by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950's to help develop a "classification hierarchy for types of knowledge, cognitive processes, and skills." I'll just go ahead and dive in.

1.) Knowledge
This encompasses observing, recalling data, and knowing information by rote.

2.) Comprehension
This is more about grasping meanings, interpreting information, translating knowledge into a new context, and predicting consequences.

3.) Application
Applying methods, concepts, and theories you have learned into new situations, solving problems using skills and knowledge, and generalizing information.

4.) Analysis
Recognizing patterns, breaking down complex information into components or parts, and organizing information.

5.) Synthesis
Building a more complex idea from a set of components or parts, and organizing information.

6.) Evaluation
Comparing and discriminating between ideas, judging something against a standard or set evidence, and recognizing subjectivity.

So there you have it. Now, for all you teachers, how do your teaching methods address this matrix? When you introduce a new concept to a student, are you forcing their brains to work on all six of these cylinders? If so, they may have a hard time understanding it.

A good example of my mistakes was making Japanese students EVALUATE on level 6 in English right off the bat. My favorite course that I teach is a Language Lab course for second year students, and I basically get to design the class. I work with a teacher who on one day translates a long essay from English to Japanese with the students, and on another day I get to do whatever I want. The essays are about difficult questions and situations one encounters in different cultures. This is the class that focuses on my role to explore ideas of internationalization with the students, which is awesome. We inevitably end up running on level six, and thats good, but I must start the class out a little easier. For instance, having sentences read a dialogue I've written to simply practice reading with each other and getting comfortable in the rythm of speaking English. Then on level two, have them change key words so that they can interpret the situation correctly and begin translating the knowledge into a new context. Then to level three with them writing their own brand new situations to practice applying knowledge to new situations. Now we begin the harder stuff. Maybe for level four I'll start explaining stories about my travels and experiences and they have to break down that complex information and generalize in order to understand. OK, here we go, then I will ask them generalized questions about my experiences and travels, maybe connecting different ideas discussed in class. THEN, finally, I can give them complex essay questions asking them about their opinions.

I don't think this is so difficult, and can actually be very satisfying at the end of a lesson to see the progress made up the cognitive ladder. I think its important to break down each part and go through the steps one at a time , for a relaxed and coherent learning atmosphere.

One goal, one step at a time, one mind.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Class 2

I have a guessing game for you:

What martial art utilizes relaxated techniques, ones issued from the center, requires stable stances, and works regardless of body strength and size?

A good one!

These are concepts paramount in Aikido, my new endeavor, but of course I'm remembering these same ideas from every teacher I've had that new what they were doing whether its Hawaiian Kenpo, Judo, Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua Zhang, or Hsing I. However, my body still does not quite follow these ideals yet.

Tonight in class I reviewed excercises and techniques learned in the first lesson, and learned a new waza! AND ... picked up a ken (wooden Japanese sword) for the very first time ... !!! While my experience accelerates learning the open-handed techniques, everything with Aikido weapons is 100% fresh, and my clumsy gaijin hands display this accurately. I think that's pretty cool. That's what I came to Japan for right? That's what I started Aikido for right? Not to reaffirm old habits (though that can be a good thing), but to experience brand new fresh things. There's no string of adjectives I know that can illustrate this concept. Perhaps the Eastern ideal of the newborn baby is the best analogy. I always hated that one too; why should I emulate a baby? Its small and mushy, stinky and loud ... but after many years of repeatedly and reluctantly hearing this idea, it may be starting to shed light.

I am again amazed at the generousity and friendly nature of the other students, and in awe of the teacher's effortlessly powerful techniques. To be specific about my perceptions of Aikido so far though, it seems wholly a system based on levers and angles. I'm left with an image of Tim Cartmell dissecting a technique like a physicist.

I have to wait four more days for my next lesson! I guess its time for solo experimentation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My REAL First Aikido Lesson

Seeing as last week I went to visit my first aikido class, this next one was the first class I participated in, and I'm sure its not a dream because my wrists, stomach and back muscles are aching immensely!!! It really is real! And fun as all hell. I was ready to give anything a shot to see how a Japanese aikido class went, and I had a pretty good feeling after watching last week, but I was surprised at really how ideal it was. I decided to tell the sensei that I have had some experience in the martial arts, but none really in aikido, and wasn't sure of the treatment I'd get. I suppose I expected he'd leave me in the corner to practice the same stance for one week, but he took me step by step until I obviously needed to stop. Which means I was able to blaze through stretching, moving through stances, ukemi (rolling), and three different waza! The sensei is a genuine dude who recognizes a student who is genuinely interested in the art and is there to make ends meet. Beautiful. He is a very kind man indeed, but when he starts moving on the mat with others you can see the air of someone who has thrown many people many times with little effort. There were 13 people at the lesson, all Japanese, and surprisingly a lot of black belts, and certainly a lot of humility. I was pretty nervous when everyone lined up (in seiza) and sensei brought me to the front of the class for an introduction, but everyone was very kind and I ended up (trying) to talk with everyone and getting phone numbers.

As for the order of class, we warmed up together, did beginning excercises, and then most everyone began working on wazas with each other. About every five minutes the class would regroup to show a new waza, then back to work with each other. The sensei spent the first third of class getting me started, and then handed me off to the next in line, a very kind, subtle, but powerful woman who generously showed me a lot of material. I honestly rolled from throws probably 200 times, but had about as many oppurtunities to reciprocate to my partner. The rest of the time the sensei circulated between the students helping where he should.

At 9:00 when the class ended, people walked off the mats towards their gear and I assumed that was it for the night, until I saw everyone reveal their jo's and approach the mat once again. I was content to watch the spectacle of the aikido jo until someone handed me an extra jo! So of course I jumped in and fumbled around best I could. After 20 minutes of that, class was actually over, and talked with the Sensei about usual class times and costs. There's about a $100 entrance fee to the class, $70 for a new dogi, $20 for a jo and sword, and after all that, $30 per month, which from what I've seen is damn fine with me for 3 nights a week.

With no snags and a great first class, of course my enthusiastic optimism is riding on high, but I feel very good about this group of people.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Aikido Lesson

After the anticipation left my imagination run wild in many different directions, I've finally been allowed many to dissipate with my first actual encounter with an aikido class. Thanks to advice from my very first sensei a few years back, I just visited and watched my first lesson tonight.

The sensei is a policeman I think, 53 years old, the same height as me but definately has a few to 20 pounds more than me, is very fit, but more importantly, very relaxed. My mind raced through the many possibilities of the teacher's potential attitude, and usually visited the strict and traditional. However, this man seems very much a normal person. Ha, that sounds ridiculous to say, as we are all just people.

Perhaps a good image is that while the aikido class was in session, so was a kendo class in the same gym. There were three young children and their teacher, and the lesson was conducted with the loud cracking of sticks and frequent grunts and screams likening them more to goblins to me than anything else. It looked very interesting and lively. But the class tonight was conducted in a very quiet, relaxed, and yet with constant motion. Only the sound of heavy breathing, the swishing of gis, and the slapping on the mat were to be heard from the aikido corner. The teacher said that there's usually about 13 students that attend, but due to the extraordinarily heavy snows, only 2 other students were present. The teacher did everything with the students, and frequently gave verbal instruction between falls. Though the teacher and his other blackbelt student tonight wore traditional hakama, this seems to me a very informal and relaxed class.

I understood very little of the words spoken in Japanese, but when talking with the teacher, I felt comfortable with the fact he was trying to express to me that you don't use external force and sporadic attacks in aikido but rather subtle circles and body position. He seemed unimpressed by the kendo, and that also made me a bit more interested.

Fresh ramblings from an exciting night. I'll participate in class next Monday, and that is good.

Neverland Seems to be Fading Away

The word on the street here is, we are experience the most snowfall in Kurobe in about twenty years. On every block there are heavily dressed Japanese of various ages and sizes shoveling snow on every corner, and every car seems to barely avoid a collision with something. The boy students are pushing each other around in it and the girls are freezing their revealing legs. And of course, the teachers are saying that finally the youth is realizing what they dealt with every day when they grew up ... uphill both ways in the snow.

Well, this morning I definately thought the snow was quite a lot, quite a lot more than I've ever seen, but I wasn't aware of just how much. When I arrived at school, attendence was minimal, and a great fuss was buzzing about the office. I realize that someone is trying to find someone else at the top of the chain to cancel class today.

"What? Really? They might cancel school here in Japan?"

Something that is quite a rarity, in fact it seems maybe only happens once every twenty years with this kind of snow.

"What? Really? Class is cancelled today?" I confirm with a teacher who has quite a grin on their face.

By now I have been fantasizing about returning home to sleep, and basically, do whatever I want!

"Well, is there anything I should do to help get the students out? Or can I just go home?"

Can you guess what happens next? ...

"What? Oh no no no, 'class' is cancelled, but the teachers need to stay at school. It's a business day, ne?"

Wow ... I am getting old ... or at least filling an adult role at this point in time. How could I possibly think that I would go home? What an immature thought. Is this what it is to be an adult? Getting excited about not having class so that you can plan more classes or look busy without having to stress? Images of my teacher asking what I do at night flash in my mind. This is after I ask am them how they are doing and they answer that they're exhausted because they've been grading papers long into the night. They seem less than excited about my three week vacation in New Zealand and weekend trips snowboarding. Wow again. This is my first experience with a job of such responsibility, and it is very provocative. I actually enjoy teaching in a highschool atmosphere, and appreciate the respect the Japanese treat their high school teachers, but I don't know about the extra stuff.

Neverland looks a little farther away, but don't worry! I will keep its bearing, and get my jetpack ready in case of an emergency escape. Plus, after the initial shock of it all, I decided to have fun anyway, and had a great day doing my own thing, and doing some good lesson planning as well. I even stayed later than I had to. So its not so bad.

Plus, on my way home I saw a boy maybe 8 years old, ominously packing a clump of snow into a ball and looking at me without trying to with what seemed like a sizeable grin. I passed, and awaited a clump in my back. ..

and kind of wish I got one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Haiku 3

A piece of gravel,
Dreams of falling like a leaf,
Yet now it must sit.

Haiku 2

Thoughts reach to the sky,
Drifting up towards the sun,
Far they have to fall,

Haiku 1

The black monolith,
Impenetrable reaching,
Jokes surround its base.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Part III: "Of the Flies of the Market-Place"

Part 3 of the similarities between the book, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," by Friedrich Nietzcshe and Taoist thought.

The plot of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" is about a man, Zarathustra, who struggles to live in society and thus searches for a better life, which most often takes him to the mountains in solitude. Zarathustra essentially becomes a mountain ascetic, which is a very prominent role in Taoist philosophy.

Nietzsche writes in the section, "Of the Flies of the Market-Place":

"Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you deafened by the uproar of the great men and pricked by the stings of the small ones. ... Forest and rock know well how to be silent with you. Be like the tree again, the wide-branching tree that you love: calmly and attentively it leans out over the sea. "

Then he continues to explain the fickle nature of man in the market-place and his dainty values. Worshipping the newest, latest, and most popular is rank of the mob mentality, and not of true quality. Isn't "good taste" often just the mimicking of another's words? Often it seems one must be knowledgable of the latest gossip in order to be on top of their respective obsession. A fickle world balancing upon the whims of the charismatic and terrifying. This is a notion perceivably small from a wider scope that sees more virtue in rocks and flowers. To the immortal qualities and tendencies is where I believe a Taoist looks for wisdom; and thus does Zarathustra.

"The experience of all deep wells is slow: they must wait long until they know what has fallen into their depths. ... All great things occur away from glory and the market-place: the inventors of new values have always lived away from glory and the market-place. "

Here I can't help but indulge in the image of someone amidst their solitary morning practice of martial forms and meditation, searching the deep well within constantly every day for that small gem of new inspiration or knowledge that may appear from their constant training. For this quest has less to do with glories, fancies, or attractions of society, but rather within themselves. Perhaps this occurs surrounded by the subtle beauty of a quiet forest or empty tatami room. It seems the constant and steady progression befitting of a student would appeal to Nietzsche.

However, such an image is not so befitting to Nietzsche's passionate writing. As I have attempted to reveal parallels between the Taoist life and Nietzsche's ideals, his writing is markedly more aggressive than what one would usually find from a monk of eastern religions. I find an attractive grit and audacity to Nietzsche's thought process. Perhaps maybe a Taoist priest blasting Alice in Chains through a large stereo would be a better description of Nietzsche.

With such a powerful and very fitting passage of Nietzche's, "Of the Flies of the Market-Place", I conclude this entry:

"Flee into your solitude! You have lived too near the small and pitiable men. Flee from their hidden vengeance! Towards you they are nothing but vengeance.

Your nieghbors will always be poisonous flies: that about you which is great, that itself must make them more poisonous and ever more fly-like.

Flee my friend into your solitude and to where the raw, rought breeze blows! It is not your fate to be a fly-swat.

Thus spoke Zarathustra. "

Part II: "Of the Despisers of the Body"

Part II of the similarities between the book, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," by Friedrich Nietzcshe and Taoist thought.

In this section, Nietzsche speaks of the ignorance of those who neglect the importance and power of their bodies. Among many philosophies is the notion that are bodies and physicality are not important, or even a hindrance to our lives. Nietzsche however, disagrees vehemently, and what philosophy better than the Taoist's recognizes the importance of our bodies.

In Nietzche's words:

"You say 'I' and you are proud of this word. But greater than this - although you will not believe in it - is your body and its great intelligence, which does not say 'I' but performs 'I'."

Are you saying that my body may be its own sensing, computing, and processing entity? Can there be an organ other than the brain that is capable of cognition?

"Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage - he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body... There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom. And who knows for what purpose your body requires precisely your best wisdom?"

So there is! Or at least may be. How do blind people experience the world through touching? Why can certain negative thoughts suddenly trigger an upset stomach? What of our gut feeling? Would it be strange for a tai chi chuan practitioner to tell you that he avoids concscious thought in order to experiences one's life more fully? There are examples in our everyday lives that indicate the importance and potential cognition of our body.

"The creative Self created for itself esteem and disesteem, it created for itself joy and sorrow. The creative body created spirit for itself, as a hand of its will."

I've often heard of our bodies being a manifestation of our spirit, but rarely our spirits created by our bodies! Perhaps what is evident in the physical realm is not so impure or simply materialistic. To martial artists of the Taoist persuasion, our physical bodies are inextricably linked to our path to understanding. Only by daily practice and tending to our bodies with the right balances may we find such evolution of the mind and spirit. A change in our mind also changes our bodies, and vice versa.

I tire of exclusivity, especially thus condemning what is so infinitely complex and beautiful. I say, let our bodies be the maps for our lives, ever consulting for a path to our treasures.

Part I: "Of the Three Metamorphoses"

Part 1 of the similarities between the book, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," by Friedrich Nietzcshe and Taoist thought.

In the section, "Of the Three Metamorphoses," Nietzsche mentions the important qualities of a baby, an idea often visited by Taoists. In this passage Nietzsche explains the evolution we can experience as humans to realize our full potential through an analogy including a camel , a lion, and a baby. First he says:

"There are many heavy things for the spirit, for the strong, weight-bearing spirit in which dwell respect and awe: its strength longs for the heavy, for the heaviest. What is heavy? Thus asks the weight-bearing spirit, thus it kneels down like the camel and wants to be well laden. "

This reminds me well of the spirit of one beginning a study or training in the Taoist arts, particularly of the martial quality. After one searches and finally meets a teacher they find wise, do they not bow and ask humbly for their teaching? And do they not often desire a heavy load, or even the heaviest load of training in order to fully realize their quest?

Then, one must become a lion:

My brothers, why is the lion needed in the spirit? ... To create new values - even the lion is incapable of that: but to create itself freedom for new creation - that the might of the lion can do ... To seize the right to new values - that is the most terrible proceeding for a weight-bearing and reverential spirit. Truly, to this spirit it is a theft and a work for an animal of prey. "

In order to make way for "new" learning, we must destroy the old. I think in Taoism, and again particularly in the martial arts, one is encouraged to learn and forget. To forget and to kill I believe are the same here. How can one possibly learn more, and in the end ideally express themselves freely with so many old thoughts, ways, forms, and habits? We must cleanse our palates as the winter does for the earth. The winter, the lion, to forget.

Now, for what I started this for:

"The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes. Yes, a sacred Yes is needed, my brothers, for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will, the spirit sundered from the world now wins its own world. "

Yes! We must create and experience from and for our own experience. Innocence is pure, untainted by ego's folly one acquires after many years. To experience the world around us fully and in our own most personal way is the ideal, and to Nietzsche and the Taoists, it seems there is no better example of this than the infant. After years of training, and a period of forgetting, destroying, and clearing, one may emerge again, reforged and with NOTHING ... the great Nothing from which one can truly see again, and inevitably start the process once again.

Ever spiraling upwards towards our enlightenment. It must be seen through the eyes of a babe.

Friedrich Nietzsche as a Taoist

After reading, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," I noticed many parallels between Friedrich Nietzcshe's writings and those of many Taoists. Many years ago I read, "Human, All Too Human," which is surely also an amazing text, however I read it before my introduction to Taoist thought and could not possibly recognize the parallels, but I think this work is even more evident of the similarities. There are also many differences between Nietzche's writings and what one would normally read from the Taoist point of view, but honestly and literally, one could write an essay on the parallels between Nietzche and Taoism on every single section (of which there are hundreds) in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." In my blog, I will attempt to do so on particular ones I found most poignant.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ah, Sweet Failure

Well, today I gave my most boring class to date.

After a long winter vacation and memories of a very informative mid-year seminar on teaching English still fresh in my mind, I proceeded to do everything I learned NOT to do, and nothing of new innovative ways to get students learning and excited. It was a class of third-year (the last year in Japanese senior high schools) seikan (home economics) all-girls class, and I was attempting to have them to write a small presentation about a movie they watched over winter vacation. Here was my example:

"This winter vacation I watched, 'The Dark Knight.' 'The Dark Knight' is about the superhero Batman, who is trying save Gotham City from the villain, the Joker. I liked this movie because there was a lot of action and it had an interesting plot. I recommend that all of you watch, 'The Dark Knight."

Easy. Maybe one of the easiest lessons I've done at school, and these students are the oldest in the school and have been studying English the longest, but certainly not the highest level. One has to realize though, that English is not emphasized in seikan classes, mostly because the students really don't care about learning English, otherwise they would be in different courses. What is needed here are fun and easy assignments to get them talking and understanding the big, WHY they are learning English. My lesson today however did none of the sort. My mistakes did horrors for the English student, but I imagine they are applicable to teachers of all sorts.

Mistake #1: Don't talk for extended periods of time without participation from the students.

I remember hearing that on average, people can pay attention to lectures for about 20 minutes before losing focus. Well, in the low level foreign language business, its about 20 seconds. This part wasn't too bad, but I probably had about a 4 minute explanation while pointing at an example worksheet with a few questions I had made for them. This was too long, and by explaining it all at first, I left little to return to. What I should have done, is have the students do one question at a time, regroup and go over it, and then proceed tothe next one. Short bursts and quick changes like this are necessary in teaching/learning a foreign language.

Mistake #2: Leaving those who really need help left behind.

As I explained everything at first and sent them on their own to compose their presentation, most of the class was spent with them staring over their blank pieces of paper trying to look busy and studious, while I walked through the classroom, trying to look like I was helping somebody. Some of the students braved ahead, bless their souls, and though they made lots of mistakes, they completed the worksheet and tried to listen to my help. However, there were a few others that wrote absolutley nothing. Who knowsfor sure, but I guess that they were not confident in their ability, were tired at this late time in the day, and did not know how this stupid worksheet could help them. I tried to help by asking them questions to inspire some ideas or answers, but only made things worse by isolating them and intimidating them with questions that I don't think they understood a single word of, honestly. My answer to this was tell them that they had toturn it in at the end of class for me to correct, scare them into answering! Well, it may have worked to get them to write more, but the pressure tactic to me is fairly barbaric, and now I have a huge stack of papers to correct. So, as said earlier, if I was to do this lesson again, I would certainly break it down in much smaller chunks instead of throwing it at them all at once.

Mistake #3: Affirming bad English.

Often times in writing classes with excercises like this, at the end we (I always teach with a Japanese English teacher) call on a few students to give up their answers to be corrected on the board in front of everyone as examples, which usually works I think in more advanced classes. However, this time things would not be so easy. So we called on a few students, but by that time I was praying to hear the bell, and knew that writing and analyzing their answers on the board would not be well-received. These seikan students can be much more nervous than others and did in fact become painfully embarrased when called upon to give their answers. Also, I think the majority would not understand the reason for my corrections, which is the point to this activity. Well, when the students gave their answers, I could not possibly correct their bad English effectively in this scenario, and was forced to applause and say, "Good Job!" to sentences that made no sense. What I should have done...WAS ANOTHER ACTIVITY! Its important to pick appropriate activities and methods that fit the students' abilities.

So for now, I will enjoy my weekend, return to school on Monday to grade their papers, and finally read one of the hundreds of books I have on English games and Team Teaching Lessons. Next time will certainly be different, and most importantly, MOST MOST MOST importantly, I'll try to make it FUN!

I make the mistake as a teacher by always trying to reinvent the wheel, when I should just get a fricken car.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweat Is Dirty!

Today I saw my sweat, and it was dirty!

After a day of snowboarding and returning to my Japanese apartment which is probably three times as cold as outside, I decided to take a bath ... a really hot one. After about fifteen minutes of soaking, I had already begun sweating profusely. When I bowed my head a bit and opened my eyes, I watched my sweat drip from my head and into the water. However it was not what I expected. I guess I expected it to dissipate into the water as a clear liquid and I would not be able to see it, but I was very much wrong. What I saw was what looked like a drop of dirt hit the water, and slowly disperse, but keep a thick form; this was certainly different and much less clear than water!

I was truly amazed by this sight and began thinking over the many times I've heard of sweating be a spritual release of sorts. I imagined my impurities leaving my body through this dirty liquid, and perhaps returning to a sort of infancy or purity. I felt a catharsis happening that would make my body and spirit very happy.

Fluffy weird new age feelings babble aside, I investigated and very quickly found out some physical details about the nature of sweat from I have understood for a while that sweating is generally a cooling system for your body, but what I did not know was what is in our sweat exactly. Before this particular question was answered, I first learned that there are two different kinds of sweat produced by different parts of our body. There is eccrine, which are more numerous and all over your body, especially in the hands, feet and face. They are generally the smaller of the two kinds, are active from birth, and do not contain proteins and fatty acids. The other kind is apocrine, which are found in the armpits and pubic area. These are larger, active once puberty hits, and do contain proteins and fatty acids. That is why sweat stains will usually appear only around our armpits and genital areas after a workout. So maybe it was the proteins and fatty acids that came out a dirty looking brown?

However! I was watching the sweat from my face make this color, not my armpits. Mmmmm ...

Very interesting indeed.

It is certain there are physical things leaving your body in your sweat, and for the metaphysical out there, maybe some other stuff. I encourage you to try this experiment and investigate what you see and how you feel, and then WASH YOURSELF AFTER!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sakamoto Ryouma

After many years of being an avid student of Japan and history, I am amazed that this man, Sakamoto Ryouma, had escaped my knowledge until only a month ago. His image is known to all Japanese, and yet, like most in the limelight, not many know actually what he did to acquire such reverence. Though I am not enlightened on the subject, I am better informed after reading "Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai" by Romulus Hillsborough.

Like inquiring magnets, my eyes have daily been gravitated to my school's Japanese history teacher's desk. Immaculate, mass volumes tidied, rare copy map of feudal Japan under his clear desk cover, and his presence often missing, there is one other detail that deserved attention above all. Within a frame standing atop the mountain of Koshiba Sensei's realm is a picture, that is actually the composite of a jigsaw puzzle, sits a samurai sternly squinting into oblivion. The samurai image is ubiquitous in Japanese culture, modern and traditional both, and yet this man haunted me daily since my first steps in the room. Soon I asked his name, then ordered his biography, read it, and now I sit amazed at his life.

In mid 19th century Japan, the Black Ships of the U.S. anchored off the coast of the island nation with guns pointed towards land demanded the long-introverted country opens its doors for trade. While enraged samurai of southwestern Japan who supported a xenophobic emperor would gladly sacrifice their lives to keep the disgusting and shameless barbarians out at whatever cost, the corrupt and hoarding Shogunate bakufu would sell Japan at any price to protect their weakening control. Few well-educated men sat between the chasm of these fatal positions, and only Ryouma could be the one to pull the seperate Han (regional domains) together to defend Japan's honor by cooperating and not subjugating to the Western powers.

What I just wrote was painfully vague and generalized, but that is my attempt for now of paraphrasing what I have read from Hillsborough's wonderfully written 602 page detailed account. I highly recommend the book, or at least some examination of Sakamoto Ryouma beyond this limited blog entry.

But here I will briefly mention some qualities that Ryouma displayed, that I hope I never forget, and that the World need adopt as a whole to evolve from our self-destructive state.

By looking beyond traditional cultural superstitions, Ryouma held Reason above all else, and had the courage to defend it regardless of its unpopularity or foreignness. This lead to a devotion to democracy in the place of a caste system, and cooperation with Western nations for mutual benefit instead of rashly murdering or committing suicide for a culturally biased honor system. Ryouma also maintained the courage to support such alien ideas, though it meant abandoning his samurai status for the life of a ronin to pursue his goals, and dodging daily attempts on his life, which in fact finally got the best of him.

It seems time and time again in history through bloody civil wars, heroes often emerge to forge an evolved future for their people, but they are quickly forgotten. For hundreds of years people have stood for peace and rationality, but we still fight wars over ignorance and greed. In such a light, I feel helplessly faithless in the future of humankind.

P.S. You see his rockin' leather boots? He's also packin' a Smith & Wesson under his Kimono.

Return of the Gaijin

If you were to ask me one month ago, I would lavishly say "Oh yes! There are SO many similarities between the two wonderful countries. To love one would be to love the other!"

Now, I leave these two photos as my feelings after a bit of maturation.

Well ... OK; so they aren't exactly the opposite of each other, and the two remarkable island nations DO have quite a bit in common (in some lights). However, from my latest traversing across the Pacific between these two countries , all I can feel are the sharp contrasts. Naturally, those differences can yield hostile emotions. Especially, when one leaves a small surfer's / artists' / trekking enthusiast's paradise town in the Summer time where they weren't working and with their girl friend 24 hours a day who happens to be the obsession of his adoration ... to ... a sideways snowing town of rice fields at 4:30 am (the sun will not rise for another 3 1 / 2 hours, and set 8 hours later ) to teach the wonderfully nonsensical language of English.

Well ... OK; so I may be exaggerating again. But for obvious reasons, can you blame my bias? In fact, shouldn't such an endeavor that so strongly stings us to reveal our most exaggerated of states be desired? Are not lonliness, feelings of inadequacy, and irrationality states to be sought after? And should I not express these as truths to my peers? For years I have been told by my predecessors, "No matter what, you will screw up, and you will screw up often. This my friend, is inevitable. "Well, I believed myself to be an exception without a pubic hair of doubt! And now, I feel these" negative "feelings while whipping between extremes. Very few values remain consistent between galaxies. So, what is the point of living as a Saturnian on Mars? In the millions of light years between these outposts, I would spend my time burning what I will not need, and studying that which I will be. And that which survives the winter , well, it may be worth keeping.

I think such an epic analogy fits the situation. Just look at the pictures!