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Had a very pleasant afternoon at the Northcote Social Club today. It was nice to catch up with some fine company and good conversation, though i was sad to have to leave early (again) to make the trek back to Eastern Burbia and the usual pre-workweek chores.

One thing that did strike me though, being back in an inner suburb rock pub, was how familiar it still seems. Watching the crowd and bar staff, the clothes and tattoos, it felt like being back at the Empress ten years ago, or twenty years back at the Punters Club. After living in a different world for so long, it seemed odd to think that my old world still exists, seemingly the same as when i left it all those years ago.

No doubt, if i spent more time there i'd probably find plenty of ways in which things have changed, but today it was familiar enough to mess with my sense of time just a little.
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In the wake of that shooting in the US, some discussions going on about misogyny, entitlement and the right to say "no" have reminded me of a train of thought i had some time ago on the subject. 

Years ago, i read one of those Gor novels (the ones set on a fantasy planet where men are musclebound warriors and women are submissive slaves). It actually wasn't too bad as a swords'n'sandals adventure story, but one bit that really stood out was a scene where the hero buys and frees the obligatory abducted-Earthwoman-turned-slave. The moment he removes her slave collar, she suddenly changes from a sweet, affectionate girl to a bitter, cynical tease, alternately leading him on then turning to ice, until he finally has enough and makes her a slave again (after which she can finally enjoy her true nature as a woman and blah blah blah). That bit of writing was a real eye-opener for me as to where at least some misogynistic attitudes may come from. I generally believe that hatred often comes from fear, and particularly fear of being or feeling powerless. For some guys, i think this fear takes the form of the perceived power imbalance that comes from a woman's ability to say "no". Buying into the notion that "sexual favours" are something that women grant to men, this puts women in control of a sought-after commodity - not just sex itself, but the approval and validation that goes with it (after all, if society teaches us that the hero gets the girl, then if you don't get the girl you're not a hero, just a loser). For someone with shaky self-confidence, a sexual or romantic rejection can be taken as a complete rejection of your worth as a person, and i think it is the thought of someone else having control over that, having that degree of power over your own self esteem, that some men are afraid of - fear that can turn to hatred. 

What is it they say? "Women's greatest fear is men killing them. Men's greatest fear is women laughing at them". I think there may be some truth to that.
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A copy of the essay i submitted for my 5th Dan grading:



One night, when I was in training for my 4th Dan grading, I was on a train travelling home from a session at Boronia branch. As the train was about to leave Richmond station, two men with bicycles decided to jump off just as the carriage doors were beginning to close. The second bike’s handle bars became stuck in the door and the train began to move, while its owner was desperately trying to hold on to the bike with one hand and force the door open with the other. As the train started picking up speed, I could see that what was needed was for someone to open the doors from the inside so the handle bars could get clear. I suddenly realised that no-one was going to do anything and that I'd better go help him, so I got up, walked over to the door and forced it open so the bike came free. The guy took a tumble on the platform, but hopefully had only a couple of scrapes and bruises to remind him not to try something like that again.

What struck me about that incident wasn't the fact that everybody else in the carriage just sat there staring, but that usually I would have been doing the same. I started to wonder what was different about this time that allowed me to act instead of sitting there dumbstruck like everyone else. It occurred to me that all the time I'd been spending in training for my grading, especially for the self defence section, playing the role of someone in control and calm under pressure, had actually left me in the sort of alert and confident state that let me think clearly on the spot like that, as if I was still 'in character'. I have read that a big part of the 'bystander effect', where people fail to help others in an emergency, is that people aren't confident enough to take action and risk looking foolish if they get it wrong, so they wait for someone else to do something first.

I began to see how developing a more confident state of mind can actually help overcome this tendency, and that this is a real benefit that can be gained through martial arts training.

This started me thinking about different ways in which Taekwondo training can help in daily life, aside from the usual aspects like self defence and physical fitness, or the commonly discussed benefits like discipline or better grades at school, and ways in which we can try to encourage this, both for our students and for ourselves. This what I would like to explore in this essay.

Confidence

As noted above, one of the key benefits that can be built through training is a degree of self confidence. I am convinced it was this, or perhaps a lack of self consciousness and doubt, that made a difference to my reactions on that occasion. If someone was to gain nothing else from martial arts practice, this sense of confidence would perhaps be the best thing they could take away with them.

In all of our training activities, we should always be aiming to raise people’s level of confidence in themselves, as well as helping them to achieve their best. It's important to keep this in mind, to remember to focus on encouragement, not discouragement, especially when correction or criticism is needed. As well as positive reinforcement, there are many small ways in which we can help people find their confidence.

One of my favourite rules from our Doncaster branch is that when someone puts their hand up, they're not allowed to raise it in a small or timid way. Everyone has to raise their hands high and speak in a strong and clear voice. This is a great idea, as by practising acting in a strong and confident manner, even if you're feeling the opposite, you can not only give a more confident impression to others but also learn to convince yourself, as in the incident mentioned above. This is also a benefit to be gained from competition, particularly in poomsae, where you may be feeling nervous and doubtful inside, but you step out on that mat in front of the judges and put on a show of confidence and mastery. In my view, that part of it is even more important than how well you perform the poomsae, particularly at a beginning level, and is why participating in competition is of benefit even to those with limited technical skills or physical abilities. When higher degrees of skills are developed, additional goals like winning medals or competing at higher level competitions can add new challenges.

Another avenue to encourage confidence is in the use of voice. Many students, especially teenagers, are very shy about speaking up and speaking in a strong, assertive manner. As well as teaching this as a self defence skill, with words like "leave me alone", "let go of the knife" or a simple "no", we have many other ways to use this in the course of training. Through use of kihap, saying "charyeot" and "kyeongrye" together at the beginning of class, or counting "hana, deul, set.." together while doing leg-ups, there are many ways we can encourage students to use a big, strong voice, as a way to boost confidence and overcome shyness. For more advanced students, I've found training as a fight referee to be a good way to bring out this skill, as well as being a challenge in its own right. Within class, other approaches can be used to bring out a confident manner. Having more experienced students talk the class through stretching exercises at the start of class or instruct small groups of beginners is a great way to do this, and for the more advanced (black belt) student, calling a grading can be a wonderful exercise in confident presentation and using voice to encourage the best from those grading.

Beyond acting in a confident way, another great source of confidence comes from the simple fact of doing something difficult, whether through learning and improving difficult techniques or skills, through specific challenges like gradings or competition, learning valuable skills like first aid and self defence, or even through some training sessions that are simply a hard physical slog.

Last year, I attended a two day poomsae seminar with a visiting master from Korea. The training on each day consisted of a morning and afternoon session of three hours each, with only one water break at about the 90 minute mark. The pace was fairly arduous, with barely enough time to fix your uniform between drills, let alone rest, and I found the going pretty tough, as did a lot of the others. But I was determined to keep going, and found a sense of satisfaction and strength from reaching the end of each day without giving up or sitting out. That served as a good reminder of why it's important for at least some of our classes to be physically challenging for students - not necessarily an hour and a half without a water break, but enough for people to struggle with and feel some sense of achievement and confidence at having 'pushed through' In contrast, the risk of training that is too easy can be boredom, dropouts and, perhaps most importantly, denying students the opportunities to grow and develop in their perseverance and inner strength.

One other aspect of confidence, that's specific to martial arts, has to do with the ability to defend oneself. This can actually be a tricky subject, as you need to balance helping students to build enough confidence in their defensive skills to be able to protect themselves if necessary, without being hampered by doubt or uncertainty, but without encouraging them to hold unrealistic views of their own invincibility or developing 'something to prove' attitudes that may get them into trouble. Part of that I believe lies in working to make those skills as strong as possible, while noting the limitations of controlled training compared to a real, chaotic, violent assault, and placed in the overall context that self defence is about avoiding harm from violence, not winning a fight. It is also useful to introduce ideas such as having the strength of character to willingly lose face and walk (or run) away from a fight that doesn't need to happen, and also building up a person's overall confidence in a range of areas, not just dependent on their ability to fight.

On a similar note, in the area of personal safety, I feel that a balance needs to be struck between helping students be aware of potential dangers and practical considerations for keeping themselves safe in daily life, but without encouraging an exaggerated sense of fear or mistrust, leaving people afraid to walk the streets, talk to strangers or catch public transport after dark. This can be hard as the specific considerations for safe behaviour will be different from one person to the next. In my view, the role of a self defence instructor here is to equip students with tools to help them go about life in an alert and sensible manner, with an understanding of risks and sensible options for avoiding them, so they can decide for themselves how best to go through life safely but without undue fear. I believe one key element in this is awareness.

Awareness

An important factor for both self defence purposes and for general safety and wellbeing is awareness - not just of potential risks and safety concerns but also situational awareness and mindfulness of what's going on around us. Having knowledge of risk factors can help us plan activities and enable us to stay safe as we live our lives, without unnecessary fear or paranoia, while being aware of our surroundings allows us to make decisions, act and stay safe in the present moment. Both aspects are important skills to learn and need to be included in any discussion of self defence and safety, perhaps as a formal part of syllabus.

While in a martial arts and self defence context we often speak of situational awareness in terms of spotting potential attackers, ambush sites or escape routes, the importance of this skill goes far beyond that. I sometimes say that the most dangerous attacker we are likely to encounter on the street doesn't go on two legs but on four wheels. Someone walking around listening to loud music on earphones, with their head down typing a text message on their phone, is not going to see or hear the car they're about to step in front of any more than the sinister stranger lurking behind the bushes.

The same situational awareness that can lessen the chance of being caught off guard by an attacker can also help you avoid crashing into other people on the street, keep you from tripping over obstacles or stepping in front of cars, and might also help you notice someone in need of help, whether it's an old lady struggling with shopping, a lost child, or even someone having a heart attack. Approaching the topic in this way can help give an idea of the benefits of building awareness without limiting it to the possibility of a violent attack.

While this kind of awareness is something people need to practise and apply for themselves in their daily lives, there are some ways in which we can work on building these skills, or awareness of these skills, in our classes. Even simple warm-up games can be used in this way. With a large enough group, exercises where everyone is moving in different directions but not allowed to touch or collide with each other can build an awareness of surroundings with an element of spatial awareness and tracking of moving objects. Even simple 'tag' games with multiple people as 'it' can have a similar benefit, especially for juniors, while seniors can practise multiple attacker self defence exercises. For more general awareness of surroundings, asimple exercise is to have everyone close their eyes and then visualise what’s around them in the room - who is standing to their left or right or across the room from them, where are the exits in the room, what people or obstacles are between here and there? This can give just a taste of the sort of considerations that can be practised and applied outside the dojang.

One really good exercise in this area, which I came across on a martial arts forum, is called 'commentary walking'. Based on the skill of 'commentary driving', it involves observing and naming things you see as you walk down the street: "White van pulling away from kerb, red car on side street, man walking a dog, rusted letter box, street sign, etc". With time and practise, this can help build a habit of staying alert and observant while out and about, and lessen the tendency to be 'lost in thought' and distracted.

Presence of mind

A vital part of situational awareness is presence of mind. It's very hard to be aware of what's going on around you if your mind is somewhere else. On quite a few occasions, I’ve found myself walking down the street, preoccupied with something on my mind, and after a time I've realised I've walked half a kilometre without being aware of anything that was around me, or of even seeing anything but the footpath in front of my feet. One experience that really showed me how easily we can 'tune out' our surroundings when lost in thought came one morning when I was doing some T'ai Chi in a reserve near my house. My mind was racing along with all manner of mental chatter, until I realised I was distracted and told myself to concentrate on what I was doing. All of a sudden, as if someone had adjusted a lens, the trees and houses in front of me suddenly snapped into focus, which made me realise how much being lost in thought quite literally dimmed the physical senses and dampened my awareness of what was around me.

Mindfulness is a key factor in martial arts training, especially those far eastern martial arts that have a connection to Seon/Zen Buddhism. Japanese martial arts in particular have a strong emphasis on the concept of 'zanshin', or complete presence of mind, and while this word doesn't translate well into other languages like Korean, the cultivation of this quality is just as relevant in Taekwondo.

While it's obvious that we have to have proper attention when doing something like sparring or self defence training, when we take a closer look at some of the formalities we practise, aside from cultural and etiquette issues, they can also be seen as exercises in attention and presence of mind.

Recently, I started a course in Chan (Chinese Zen) meditation. As well as learning various meditation exercises, at the end of each class we are taught to maintain our mindfulness afterwards, in actions like carefully folding the towels we are given to use as blankets and placing our cushions back against the wall.

This idea of attention to detail on something as small as folding a towel made me think about similar approaches in Taekwondo. One that came to mind is tying our belts evenly. I've sometimes heard that an unevenly tied belt is a sign of an unevenly balanced mind but, in thinking about it, it seems to me to be more a sign of a distracted or inattentive mind. To take the time to tie a belt evenly is a way of paying attention to what we're doing and where we are. In fact, the simple act of tying on a belt can be used as a way of bringing the mind to attention, ready to start work in training or competition.

This focussing of attention can also be prompted through other formalities we use. When stepping onto the dojang floor, we bow. While we may chat quietly to other students and instructors, we are aware that we are there to work and learn. When the class begins we bow again - training has now started, and takes priority over socialising. When working with an instructor, we bow again - our focus is now on what we are being taught and practising and not other distractions. And when working with a partner, again starting with a bow, our focus should be directed to our partner. In this way, the bow is more than just a reminder of courtesy, but can also be used as a mental cue to focus attention on the task at hand.

Beyond these reminders, the effort should be made to stay focussed on what we are doing. When doing poomsae, for example, attention should be paid to the technique being performed at the time. If we're thinking about something else, even another technique in the same pattern, we can get distracted and perform the current one badly. I know quite well how much a simple thought of "that last front kick was bad" or "here comes that turning side kick" can increase the chances of making a mistake or losing balance on other techniques, especially in a competition or other times when nerves come into play. In this way, poomsae becomes an exercise in paying attention to the present moment, not the past or future, and this is the real meaning of the idea of poomsae as a form of 'moving meditation'.

And, of course, being distracted or inattentive during sparring or self defence practise can be disastrous from a safety point of view, so the highest degree of attention must always be paid during those activities.

Self Control

With presence of mind comes self control, beginning with control of our bodies and movements.

When we perform technical exercises such as poomsae, one of the key things we are learning is how to be aware of and in control of our body. Formal Taekwondo techniques have a precise form, with specific positions, paths, distances and angles involved in the correct technique. In practising to execute these techniques precisely, we are not only making them more effective but also gaining control over our body's movement. Knowing where our hands, feet and other extremities are and being able to place them where we want them to be is a key part of this exercise.

Due to the physical nature of the activity, Taekwondo naturally builds our coordination and bodily control,but there are other ways we can incorporate this in our training. For example, I like to use certain transitions between stretching exercises at the start of class as a way of staying aware of our bodies and movements (eg maintaining height while transitioning from quad to calf stretch, or bringing the feet together in one smooth move from hamstring to butterfly stretch).

Even something as simple as standing up straight, rather than in a slouching posture, can be a reminder to pay attention to the here and now and makes the semi-formal 'at ease' stance an exercise in both physical and mental discipline. I've often said that one reason we stand up straight in a formal way is that when our body is slouching, our mind is more likely to slouch as well. As Chan master Hsing Yun put it: "One of the best places to begin getting control of yourself is through your body. The mind is subtle and fickle and more difficult to control than the body. (..) We should all strive to gain some measure of control over our basic muscle movements and bodily functions; fidgeting, nail biting, scratching, yawning and other nervous habits should eventually come under the control of our minds." In this sense, conscious control over our bodily movements is a first step to gaining control over our minds and impulses. Making a conscious effort to stand in the correct way and not fidget or slouch is a good way to keep the mind focussed where it should be.

I've also noticed something curious when paying attention to my own posture as a mindfulness exercise. On a few occasions, while consciously making an effort to stand up in a straight but relaxed manner while out and about, I've had people come up to me asking for help, like a lost child looking for his father or people asking for help finding a train platform. It seems that just standing up tall somehow gives out a sense of trustworthiness, reliability or maybe even authority. This has interesting implications for making a good impression in social or work situations, as well as the possibilities to be of help to others.

On a related note, good posture is not only beneficial for our physical health but is in itself an important element of self defence. Studies, such as the famous 1984 study by Betty Grayson and Morris Stein, have shown that predatory attackers, such as rapists or muggers, will choose to target those whose body language and posture suggests that they lack self confidence and are less likely to fight back. Someone with an upright but relaxed posture and confident walking style is less likely to be seen as an appealing target for such attacks. In this sense, posture and body language is itself one of our first lines of defence.

Of course, control of the body and its movements is just the first step to exercising self control throughout our lives. The good manners and etiquette that we practise in Taekwondo is another - maintaining a degree of conscious control over our conduct and behaviour. This can be hardest for children, especially those that don't yet have the maturity to understand the reasons why, but even as adults we can find ourselves slipping into habits of inappropriate behaviour or language, and maintaining that control in the dojang can help us develop a discipline that we can work to extend into other areas of life.

Such simple exercises in self control can be a good preparation for facing more difficult issues in life, where self discipline may become crucial. If we are unable to stand for just one hour without slouching, fidgeting, talking when we shouldn't or otherwise messing around, then how will we be able to deal with other problems which may come up in our lives where self control will be necessary - issues like alcohol and other drugs, someone trying to provoke a fight, gambling, overeating or even impulse shopping? It's up to each of us to work out how to take the discipline we learn in the dojang and apply it to our daily life.

Courtesy

Another aspect of our etiquette is courtesy and respect.
It is said that martial arts begin and end with courtesy. All of our classes begin and end with a bow, as do our sessions working with an instructor, partner or opponent. It's important that we recognise just what we are doing when we perform an action like this and what the meaning is behind the formality. Karate master Mas Oyama said: "Courtesy should be apparent in all our actions and words and in all aspects of daily life. But by courtesy, I do not mean rigid, cold formality. Courtesy in the truest sense is selfless concern for the welfare and physical and mental comfort of the other person". This view of courtesy gets to the real point of our etiquette and takes it from an abstract set of rules and formalities to something with real meaning and human value.

At Boroondara, we encourage students to be more like Doctor Frankenstein, who was about 'building people up', and less of an 'Aussie knocker'. Insults and put-downs, even half-joking comments like 'oh, you idiot' are discouraged. While constructive criticism can be useful, it always has to be about helping the other person, not bringing them down or scoring points. All of our rules of etiquette, aside from being exercises in self discipline, have at their core the need for consideration for others, and this is the context in which we present them, especially with juniors. Other aspects, like respect for rank and for instructors, are also important, even essential for the smooth running of a class or club, but respect and consideration for each other as human beings is vital if we want to have a society and a world worth living in. If we can help foster and encourage this attitude, we will have done something to help not just our students but also benefit the world at large.

Integrity

One final aspect I want to talk about is a little different, in that it's something that doesn't automatically derive from Taekwondo training, but that I've found to be a common quality among practitioners.

Some years ago, when I first received some money for teaching Taekwondo, I was discussing with a couple of other instructors about how to declare it on my tax return. I found myself justifying this by saying that I didn't want to have any problems from the Tax Office. It was only when the others said quite matter of factly that they always declared everything that I realised I was actually making excuses for being honest and doing the right thing. Thinking about why this was, I realised there was a very different culture at Taekwondo than I was used to elsewhere. At work, for instance, there was something of a culture of dishonesty, where 'playing the game' for whatever you could get away with was the norm and being honest was seen almost as a weakness. While I never agreed with that view myself, it seems I had been influenced by it enough to think that being honest was somehow something to apologise for.

A while later, I was attending a seminar at another club, where they still started each class by reciting the old Taekwondo Oath. The middle line in particular caught my attention: 'I will endeavour to maintain a high standard of physical fitness and develop my character and personal integrity'. In other words, this was saying that character development, and personal integrity in particular, was regarded on the same level as physical skill in Taekwondo. More than that, in looking at it this way, personal integrity and honesty are shown to be a matter of strength of character, not weakness. It takes effort, courage and a degree of self confidence to try to be honest and ethical in your dealings with the world, especially when those around you don't. It's much easier to just go along with the crowd so as to not look like a mug, and it takes no strength of character at all to cheat for personal gain or lie to cover up your mistakes. As with anything that takes effort, aiming for a high ethical standard and doing your best to live up to it has its own rewards in building confidence and self-esteem. This realisation was profoundly important to me.

What I find interesting is that, even though we don't tend to recite the oath or even talk about issues like this very much, I've found quite a few times in talking to members of the club, especially black belts, that this idea of maintaining personal integrity as a characteristic of how a martial artist should be seems to be quite common. Whether it's fostered by simple statements in our club manuals like 'develop a strong character and integrity', a general image of the martial artist in popular culture, or just the example set by black belts and instructors, that notion seems to somehow get through.

While I tend to shy away from phrases like 'warrior code' or similar for modern life, I do believe that promoting the idea of a martial artist as a person with strong ethical values, personal integrity and strength of character is something that we should try to encourage. This can be as simple as casually mentioning the idea from time to time, including in our manuals and syllabus (even obliquely by reference to things like the Taekwondo Oath, the tenets of the Hwarang, or the meaning of Poomsae Koryo) or, when appropriate, discussing it directly. I don't necessarily believe it is our role to dictate just what values people should hold, but rather to indicate the importance of being true to your own personal code.

If it is our business to help people develop confidence and self esteem, then this can be a solid foundation on which to build.

As Mas Oyama said: "If you have confidence in your own words, aspirations, thoughts, and actions and do your very best, you will have no need to regret the outcome of what you do."

If we can help people be confident, considerate, mindful and true to themselves, this is perhaps the best gift we can give.
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I really should avoid watching Rage specials which feature lots of grunge era stuff. The conflicting feelings of nostalgia for the youthful enthusiasm of my 20s, combined with lingering disappointment that so much of that was wasted on the drab awfulness of the '90s, just leaves me dwelling on the past, tossing and turning all night and writing whiny journal posts into the next day.

Seriously, i'm way too old to be revisiting that sort of self-absorbed, post-adolescent angst trip.
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So, last night we went to see Peter Murphy and his band play their set of Bauhaus songs. While i was looking forward to it, after the great show they put on earlier this year, i did have some mixed feelings about the material they were to play this time. As i said to someone about the last show, i was actually more interested to see a Peter Murphy tour than i would a Bauhaus reunion as, to me, Bauhuas was something that happened at a certain time in the past, which lasted for a while then came to an end, and i felt that trying to recreate that past glory would somehow spoil that memory (even if i was too young to have experienced it myself). I wondered how I would feel about this tour - would Peter playing these songs with his new band make it more a tribute to the past, rather than a resurrected caricature of itself? Either way, after the last visit there was no way I was going to not go.

As it was, as soon as they kicked into Double Dare as their second song, followed by In the Flat Field and other early material, i was immediately transported back in time, not to the days of Bauhaus of course, but to a time nearly 25 years ago when, as a pimply faced 21 year old, i would play these songs to death, fantasising about seeing some band play them live. Not the real, already-legendary Bauhaus as such, but an imaginary fresh, unknown gothic punk band, playing some cosy inner city pub to a smallish crowd of black clad misfits. Now, a quarter of a century later, this was as close to that daydream as i was ever likely to get. It was a pretty good compromise - having Peter as the singer made it not a cover band, while his troupe of spunky young dudes gave it the freshness of a new band, not a wheeled-out reunion of old legends. And to top it off, it was at the Corner Hotel, one of the few haunts from those pimply, exciting days when i first came to Melbourne that's still left as a live venue. Needless to say, i loved every minute of it.

The only downside was spending the last three songs nervously watching the clock, before rushing out to catch the last train back to Burbia, without time to even say goodbye to anyone. That gets old real fast. But hey, that's life.

All in all, it was an awesome night, with just the right balance of nostalgia and immediacy. I'm pretty sure he said they'll be coming back again soon, to promote a new album that's coming out (as advertised in such a Sigue Sigue Sputnikesque way before the show), so that's something to look forward to, even though it won't be the same moment in time as this.
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The Misfits are coming back in January.  That's going to be a sweaty one. 

It's a little disappointing to see they're doing the "pay $100 extra to meet the band" thing that seems to be the fashion nowdays.  One of the things i liked most about their last visit was the way Jerry Only hung around after the show to chat with his fans, sign things and generally enjoy people telling him how cool he was, without feeling the need to charge them for the privilege.  Oh well, i guess that's the nature of the business now.

https://corner.ticketscout.com.au/gigs/1774-misfits
 

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I've been thinking a bit lately about that old question of what advice i'd give to my younger self if i could.  Thinking about this the other week, i realised that some of the things i came up with may be just as relevant for me now as then.  Unfortunately, i've since forgotten much of what i had in mind.  So i'm going to try to work out what i was thinking, put those thoughts down here and hopefully fill in the gaps as they come to mind again:

1.  Never, ever, try to impress people.  Don't try to be cool or clever or funny, don't try to fit in or be accepted, and don't look for approval or validation from anyone else.  Instead, always look for opportunities to give validation and acceptance to other people.  Don't try to make friends, but try to be a friend for whoever needs one.

2.  Don't go out looking to get lucky.  Ever.  Don't go to a party or club or enter a conversation in the hope that it will lead to some hot and steamy sexytime.  If the occasion arises where you get a real sense of mutual attraction, by all means explore it further and see what happens, but don't set out with that objective in mind, on the lookout for suitable candidates to hit on.  Don't be that guy

3.  Listen more than you speak.  Hear what others have to say, take a genuine interest in their lives and stories, and don't just wait for your turn to talk.  As the old saying goes, "seek first to understand, then to be understood".   See also point no. 1.

4.  Base your self respect on maintaining a sincere and positive motivation and trying your best to do the right thing.  Listen to that little voice that tells you when you're doing something to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but when you know that your motivation is good and unselfish, rely on that as your source of self confidence and direction.

5.  Try to make a positive difference in the world, and base your long term plans around that as a primary goal.  If possible, look for a career path that will have real meaning for you and make a real contribution to the world, not just pay the rent.

While no. 2 isn't really relevant any more, and 5 is an ongoing struggle (and maybe a ship that's already sailed), i think the other three points are worth listening to and bearing in mind even now.

identity..

Jul. 24th, 2013 09:44 am
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I shaved off my five-week beard on Sunday.

I didn't mind the way it looked, but it just didn't feel like "me", or most versions of "me" that i inhabit over time.  One consistent thought that kept coming up was that it seemed to represent an 'older' look for me, which maybe doesn't correspond to how i see myself yet.  After hanging out at B&D's on Saturday, listening to punk rock and revisiting old times, i found it even harder to remember what mental image i was trying to align myself to with the beard, so off it came.

Once that was done, naturally, it allowed focus to return to other things i'm not happy about with my appearance - particularly my hair.  It's looking very straight-laced and conservative these days, which doesn't fit very well with any of the alternative self-images i might identify with, whether the new age hippy or eccentric elder goth or gypsy pirate punk or whatever.  I'd love to keep on with the semi-mohawk, cropped sides thing i've always liked, but i've had to face the fact that my hairline has receded so much that it just doesn't work any more, and i'm all out of other ideas.  My current direction is letting the sides grow out and slicking them back a la Peter Murphy, though i don't kid myself that i can pull off the receding hairline look as well as he does.  But for the moment it seems very 'normal', and i'm feeling quite ill at ease with the dissonance between the image i have of myself in my head and what i see in the mirror.

What this does highlight to me, though, is that i am still very much attached to my self image, and through it to my body and appearance.  The Buddhists say that attachment to the notion of self and identification with the body are great sources of suffering, especially with the changes that age brings, and this week i can really feel that for myself.  The difficult thing is that i'm not even close to ready to start letting go of all that yet.
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Just yesterday, i realised that we've been living out this way for nearly seven years now, which would make this the house we've lived in longest since i came to Melbourne.  But it feels like we only just moved here.  While the Fitzroy years often seem like a lifetime ago, the time we've spent living here seems so much less - like maybe a couple of years.  Perhaps it's because there's so little change in my day to day life, that the months and years just slip by almost unnoticed.  Maybe this is why time goes by faster and faster the older you get.
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Earlier this week i downloaded a short e-book from the Geoff Thompson mailing list.  I haven't read a lot of his stuff lately, as i'm a bit over motivational, strive-for-your-goals writing, escpecially as i don't even know what my goals are.  In this case, that was one of the topics he covered, with some interesting thoughts which i'll paste here for future reference:

 

Read more... )

 


from http://geoffthompson.com/media/TheFormula.pdf

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Today, as my holidays draw to a close, i had a whole day to myself and took the opportunity to go on one of my favourite Eastern Burbian expeditions. 

I left home early in the morning to catch the train to Belgrave, where i strolled up to Earthly Pleasures for breakfast and a pot of tea.  After a leisurely hour or so there, i wandered along the main road looking at some of the old houses, then back to the station to catch the bus up to Mount Dandenong, choosing a good window seat to take in the scenery as the bus wound through tree-fern filled gullies, tall forests and touristy little townships on the journey up the mountain.  At the lookout, i spent most of my time wandering through the English Garden, watching the stream water flowing over rocks and pebbles beneath the little bridges and doing some walking meditation when no-one was around.  It was pretty chilly in the morning, but far less crowded than later in the day.  As the bus-loads of tourists started to arrive, i took a walk along a bush path until i reached a spot overlooking the Eastern Burbs, where i sat for a while looking down at the forest on the hillside and the farmland far below (the brim of my hat tilted low enough to screen off the industrial zones beyond them, including the one where my work sits waiting for me).  Rosellas and kookaburras were everywhere, as well as one very large bird which may have been an eagle but had passed overhead before i got a good look at it.  As 2:30 approached, i strolled back to the lookout to catch the last bus back to Belgrave, with enough time for one more wander around the (now much busier) English Gardens, soaking in the image of babbling brooks to call to mind in a couple of days' time when it's 36 degrees again.  Another scenic ride back down the mountain, getting off near Micawber's Tavern to sit by the creek for a while then walk the last kilometer into Belgrave, past the cute little houses nestled into the hillside below the road there, a quick stop in a gift shop to pick up a wind chime, then back to Earthly Pleasures for another pot of tea, sipped while listening to their soundtrack of jazz, blues, old rock & roll and African-sounding stuff and gazing across the tree-shade dappled lawn.  Tea and atmosphere drunk to the last drop, i took one more stroll, down the walking path by the railway from Belgrave to Tecoma station, then onto the train back home to hang my wind chime and relax in my own garden (with an extra bonus of kookaburras singing by the walking path here).  

Not a bad way to spend a day at all. 
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I've often lamented the lack or festivals and celebrations that i can relate to in our culture.  Most of the festivals in mainstream Australian society are either religious observances (or their consumerised forms) or sporting events.  Having no real connection to either, things like Easter, Christmas or the Melbourne Cup are to me as much a part of someone's else's culture as Diwali or Lunar New Year.  One exception is New Year's Eve - it's not connected to any religion or social group (other than being based on the Western calendar), you don't really need to know the customs or rituals involved, or have any special interest - it's simply about celebration for it's own sake.  While people might have different cultural or social approaches, what's shared is a simple act of coming together with their friends or family to celebrate in their own way.  It's probably the closest to a universal celebration across our culture, and there's a palpable sense of joy and excitement in the air.

Which is probably why i always find it so depressing to find myself stuck at home as the year draws to a close, listening to groups of people all around celebrating and sharing the moment with their friends, and wishing i was doing the same.

Maybe this year i should try to negotiate to do something i'd like to do for New Year's Eve.
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After reading p_cat's nostalgic post on '90s gothclub music, i found myself scratching my head yesterday, trying to work out what my own Olde Days soundtrack would be.  I couldn't even put a finger on an Olde Days that i could feel nostalgic about.  When i think about it, it seems that for most of my clubbing years, i actually loathed the bulk of the music that was played at the clubs i went to.  There were exceptions, and i did have many good times and met some great people, but musically it was always Russian roulette and too many times a good night out was one in which i *hated* less than half of what i heard.  When i look back now, it's the disappointment i remember, and a sense of settling for less and wishing for something different. 

Ironically, it's only been in recent years, since the deathrock revival has caught on, that the sort of scene i spent most of my 20s and 30s longing for finally exists.  Of course i'm now in my mid-40s, with different interests and priorities, and that sort of thing doesn't seem to matter as much any more.  This weekend there's a big deathrock night on at DV8, with live bands and "my kind of music" all night, but i've been in two minds as to whether i could even be arsed going.  It's not that i wouldn't enjoy it (i always do) but the question is whether it's worth feeling wiped out not just for the weekend but for the rest of the week.  I think i will end up going, even if it's partly out of nostalgia for a Good Old Days that never actually happened.

Do you think i if asked nicely they'd reschedule it to maybe 15 years ago?
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A while ago, i was reading an article about the issue of climate change and how it's discussed in the media and, despite my better judgement, started reading through the comments at the bottom.  

In amongst the usual bickering between 'deniers' and 'alarmists', there was one comment which went into great technical detail about the complex thermal interactions between gasses in various layers of the atmosphere.  The strange thing was that, as i was reading it, i couldn't work out whether the information sounded credible or not, because i couldn't tell which side of the argument the commenter was supporting.  I simply didn't know what to make of it.  I wasn't viewing it in a neutral or open minded way either - i actually found my impression of the validity of the information hovering in a sort of uncertain, indeterminate state, flickering between being either total sense or total nonsense, depending on where it was going.  It was only resolved when i reached the end of the explanation and found that the conclusion agreed with what i already believed, after which i could see clearly that it was a well researched, knowledgeable contribution to the discussion (even though i'm not really qualified to make such an assessment either way).

It's one thing to be aware of your own biases and how they affect your assessment of information, but it can be quite eye-opening to see it play out in real time.
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I've been reading a few articles on 'creepers' that have been doing the rounds on Facebook, such as:

http://captainawkward.com/2012/08/07/322-323-my-friend-group-has-a-case-of-the-creepy-dude-how-do-we-clear-that-up/

http://captainawkward.com/2012/08/11/the-c-word/

and others linked from those. 

While the perpectives are interesting and very good food for thought, what's been especially interesting has been to watch some of the emotional reactions it's stirred up for me.

There were quite a few things i recognised from the days when i used to knowingly or unknowingly act in creepy ways, and seeing some things spelled out clarified a lot about my past behaviour and what effect it may have had, both on others and for myself.  For one thing, not understanding that you don't have to be actively doing something sleazy to give off sleazy vibes was something that probably caused great confusion in my younger years.  I think for a long while i've at least half suspected that a lot of the social rejection i experienced in my youth may have come as a result of "emitting loud, obvious vibes of 'I'm only here to get laid'", as one writer put it.  I cringed more than once at recognising aspects of myself in the descriptions.

The topic of social ostracism itself dredged up some stuff too, and reading lines like "If you are creeping on other people, they have a perfect right to ignore you, avoid you and shut you out - and not tell you why.." or "..the group contracts or turns away from you.." rubbed at some very old wounds.  If such things only happened as a result of creeping, that would be understandable, but i doubt it's as simple as that.  Social awkwardness and poor self esteem give rise to many unskillful behaviours, sexual or non-sexual, which often result in more rejection and feed back into that lack of confidence.  I couldn't really say what had more effect in my case, even if the interplay of issues like awkwardness, self esteem, creepiness, sexual and social rejection could be untangled and isolated.  Short of having a time machine, i don't know what difference it would make anyway, unless i ever get the opportunity to give advice to someone making the same mistakes i did.

Past regrets aside, though, i realised last night that perhaps the greatest emotional response in me actually came from the simple reminder that there are people out there with active social lives, who have circles of friends, go to parties, interact with others socially and actually have a practical reason to consider the intricacies of sexual politics and interpersonal relationships.  All of that seems like an alien world to me, even more so since moving to the 'burbs.  I try not to think too much about things like that, but it's surprising how quickly the practice of appreciating the things you do have can be disturbed by an unexpected reminder of things you don't.
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I'm still not sure what to do about this grading business.

There are lots of different things i want to do with my training - that hapkido class and refereeing in particular.  Mr Roz said the other night that i should do fight classes to learn to move like a fighter, and when i did some patterns in front of him i was tense and tight, so i probably need to do some pattern competition to get used to doing that under pressure and learn to deal with nerves again.  But i can't do all of those things and also find time to do extra training for this grading as well.

I'm not sure which way to go on this - whether to try to put this grading off indefinitely, while i do the things i want to do, or to just get it done with and out of the way so i can concentrate on other things afterwards without having to worry about it.   I need to decide fairly soon, as i was about ready to contact that hapkido club to see about joining their Saturday class.

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Edit - Checking out bus and train timetables, it seems there's no way i could get from the hapkido class in Croydon to Doncaster in time for training, which means that every singe class there clashes with taekwondo.  I guess that settles that part of the equation for now. 

Perhaps it is better all round to just concentrate on this grading and put other things on hold until after that's done.  Something like hapkido is a longer term project anyway, and there may be something more accessible on offer at another time. 
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Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's idea of one "day of mindfulness" a week, i've decided that i'd like to try wherever possible to make Sunday a day of rest and quiet.  Special events aside, i'd like to set things up so that i don't have to rush around on Sunday and can keep it as a day to go slow, potter about, read, do some meditation and have a bit of peace.  Ideally, i'd like to not have to set foot outside the front gate, though i can be flexible if things come up or Elaine wants to do something.  In particular, if i can get things like shopping done during the week, then that's one reason for rushing about taken care of.  Hopefully, on most weeks at least, i can have that one day to rest and recharge before the week starts again.
 
Let's see how it goes.

directions

Mar. 8th, 2012 09:40 am
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I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about this 5th Dan business and where i'm going with taekwondo in general, turning things over and over in my mind and going in circles, so i think i need to put some of these thoughts down in text to get them out of my head.

In particular, i've been thinking about this 5th Dan grading, what it would mean to me and why i would want to do it in the first place.  The main reason that i come up with is confidence - having a 5th Dan could have some positive effects on my self-image and how i relate to the world.

Apart from enjoyment, one of my main reasons for doing taekwondo is for confidence and the ability to take action, not necessarily in a self-defence situation but for life in general.  One reason people often don't help others who are in trouble is because they lack the self-confidence to act (aka the "Bystander Effect") and i want to be more the sort of person who is willing and able to help someone who needs it, whether it's something like a first aid situation or just someone struggling with their shopping.  One incident that happened back when i was training for 4th Dan showed this perfectly, and gave me an insight into just how martial arts could have a practical positive effect on me as a person. 

But, while achieving 5th Dan might provide a boost to that sort of confidence in some ways, it's also a double edged sword.  While self-defence and fighting skills aren't my main reason for doing taekwondo, the fact that it is a martial art means that fighting is an integral part of it, and having a 5th Dan carries an expectation (in my mind, at least) of possessing a certain degree of ability in that area.  Put simply, to be a 5th Dan who doesn't know how to defend himself, with at least a reasonable degree of skill, would make me feel like a fraud and would undermine any gains in self-confidence that would come from achieving that rank.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.

Of course, the question is what to do about it.  I can say that i don't want to think about doing the grading until i have a better handle on more advanced self-defence skills, but the question that remains is how do i set about building those skills.  If i haven't learnt that stuff yet, after so many years, then i'm obviously going about it the wrong way and need to change what i'm doing.  One thing i have figured out is that i need repetition - i can't just do something a few times every now and again and have it stick.  I need to do things over and over, week in, week out, in order to remember and become fluent with them.  That's why poomsae is my best skill, because we do it all the time and i can also practise by myself at home.  Self-defence is not so easy.  One strategy i've thought of is to identify certain techniques that i want to master and then just grab another black belt any chance i get and practise them.  Another thing i really should do is talk to Greg and Barry about it and find a way to say "look, the way we practise this stuff just isn't working for me", though that's kind of difficult as it does seem to work for everybody else.

Another thing i've been toying with is the possibility of taking up a class in hapkido, so that i can spend more time working more systematically on those sorts of skills, though that's a more long-term prospect, as starting a new art as a white belt isn't going to enhance my advanced level skills in a hurry.  It is something i'd like to do though, as i think the techniques and principles of that art would be a good complement to taekwondo.  Finding the time would be the tricky part, as the classes near me all clash with taekwondo, other than a Saturday morning class. That one i'll look into, though spending more of my Saturday at training may meet with some domestic opposition.

I'd also like to get back into refereeing for fight competitions.  I was speaking to Bill about it the other week and it seems they are desperately short of referees.  I used to really enjoy it, but stopped doing it years ago when i somehow dropped off the mailing list and fell out of touch with the rules and practices.  I'd really like to do that again, because it's exactly the sort of thing that is good to build confidence, quick thinking, presence of mind and decisive action, all the things i'm looking for from martial arts.  It would definitely beat the hell out of spending a day watching people do poomsae and ticking off minor technical errors one after another.

One other thought also occurred to me this morning:  I should get back into reading martial arts magazines again, just to keep myself inspired and motivated.  Because sometimes, especially when i'm dwelling in these sorts of thoughts and self-doubts, i forget why i even like doing martial arts in the first place.


Edit - Looking back on some old entries, it seems i've been very much in this place before:

http://strang-er.livejournal.com/63083.html
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Last week, Grr wrote a post about the ways he used to find new music in the early '90s, which left me thinking about the music i was listening to in those days, and just how much of it i now consider to be utter rubbish.  I realised that a lot of the time i just settled for whatever vaguely passable stuff i could find because i really didn't have access to sources of good new music, as we weren't going out much, didn't have a circle of friends to get recommendations from, and my main connection to the music of the time was through Rage or JJJ.  That in turn left me dwelling on the social wasteland that much of the '90s (a.k.a. my mid to late 20s) was for me, and how that period in my life now seems like lost years. 

Sometimes it surprises me just how many hours can be eaten away once i start dwelling on the past.

This week, Cam suggested some pre-Sisters drinks, saying: "A few of us thought it'd be cool to meet at someone's place beforehand, chill out, put on some choons and get ready to go.  Like we used to.."

They say you can't miss what you've never known, but the way the words "like we used to" made me feel suggests otherwise.

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Last Urgent Action letters for the year sent just now (and copies to fax tonight) making a total of 156 for the year. 

Hopefully something in all that has to make some difference.
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