Month: July 2015

Ramadan Retrospective 2015

I know some of you are just waiting for one of my edgier or “NSFW” posts, and I’ve been keeping ideas that come to me written down, but timing and proximity are important so you’ll have to stay tuned a bit longer.

Ramadan this year was a whole different animal… specifically a nocturnal one.  It’s a bit ironic that during the longest days of the year possible (we crossed the summer solstice) my schedule took place primarily at night.   Prior to Ramadan beginning this year I was discussing it with a friend of mine and she suggested I swap day and night (Fast at night instead.)  Though I gave it consideration, I decided that it undermined the definition of Ramadan if I wasn’t doing it in unison with the billions of participants worldwide – meaning if I took it upon myself to swap the time-frames, I was no longer practicing anything that resembled “Ramadan” fasting and was instead simply observing a personal fast with similar rules.  It did occur to me that my original purpose – to support one of my best friends in her fast – might be better served if I swapped my fast because we’re in opposite time zones, but in the end I decided I should stick to the structure that everyone else followed regardless of advantageous personal circumstances.

Oh sweet face-stuffing...

Oh sweet face-stuffing…

Though it was almost definitely much easier than those with a day job, this year provided some unique challenges and taught me a few things.  The days were right about sixteen hours long, meaning I was only really sleeping through between one-third and half of the fast.  The first part (just after a hyper hydrating and face-stuffing breakfast) was the easy part, but I noticed that as time went on I would get hungrier, faster.  It got to the point that ninety minutes after stuffing myself I would be hungry again and over fourteen hours would remain before I had the chance to address that.  For whatever reason that hadn’t happened as much for me in previous years, so I can only theorize that my body schedule had something to do with it.

The one downside to sleeping the latter third of the fast, is how you feel when you wake up at hour sixteen.  If you think getting out of bed in the morning is rough now, try doing that when your body is in emergency conservation mode due to lack of food or water.  The first issue is that actually regaining consciousness is harder… I slept past my “end fast” alarm on several occasions, causing me to continue fasting even longer, which then continues to amply the effects of the fast (as specified in my previous post when I went nearly twenty hours.  It did not go well.)  The second issue is that even when you wake up, you pretty much feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.  It’s actually pretty similar to moderate hangover as both of these states are caused by your brain being dehydrated.  Waking up is hard, staying awake is harder.  Fighting that desire to fall back over and not feel like crap any more is tough, especially when even sitting up takes a monumental amount of effort.  You’re weak, you have no energy and you’re trying to tell your body to wake up when all it wants to do is shut down to conserve your energy.  But eventually the promise of cool, refreshing water will give you the strength to fight the amplified gravity and draw you out to the kitchen where you can chug your bodyweight in the clear, clean nectar of the clouds.  Except you can’t, because if you do you’ll be sick.  You have to go slow, very slow, and work your way up to food, coffee or whatever else you need.  But once you get past that barrier, you’re newly-nourished body will feel great, right?  Well…

This is not a motivated face.

This is not a motivated face.

This is another part that was new to me this year.  You see, normally you go to work just after beginning your fast.  This means you start strong and deteriorate throughout the day.  Then you break your fast at night, and usually go to bed pretty early to recover and wake up early to eat before you resume your fast.  But this year my opposite schedule meant I went to work after breaking my fast.  In theory this would work well since I can eat/drink while I’m at work (the fact I’m driving actually kinda made it essential.)  But in reality I encountered a new issue: post-fast lethargy.  You see, after sixteen or more hours without food or water, your body doesn’t simply wake up and return to peak condition because you finally gave in to it’s demands.  It needs time to recover and rebuild with the resources you provided.  Normally you break your fast and head to bed so it can make you ready for the next day, but now I broke my fast and tried to work while my body was trying to rebuild.  The result was a constant battle to escape weariness, sluggishness and a mental fog.  Only a considerable amount of coffee allowed me to eventually pull free of it, but my prep time before work increased dramatically and sometimes included additional short naps (voluntary or otherwise.)

This is by no means harder than dealing with your slowly-deteriorating condition throughout a normal workday, but it is an interesting byproduct that I’d never encountered before (bedtimes had to be pretty structured to wake up in time for the brutally early breakfast.)

Finally, this year moreso than any previous years I was alone in my fasting.  Though it’s nobody’s fault, I did not make it to my Muslim friend’s house for Iftar (he invited me several times, just didn’t work out.)  My best friend is on another continent and there were no curious supporters trying it out this round.  This year I even lacked a workplace full of curious people to relate my experience to.  However, with all that said, where last year I questioned the process, positivity and relevance of my fasting, this year there were no questions.  I did it and when it was done, I was a little sad to let the routine go.  If anything, perhaps because of the ease of my schedule, it didn’t seem like quite enough.  I even found it easier than normal to find some local homeless folk to feed in order to make up my time at MAU.  This year, everything happened in stride on my terms, so it was much simpler to work around it.  The result was that it seemed it was over as quickly as it started.  All the normal symptoms were there, but because it was all on my terms, the invasiveness was minimal.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Perhaps on some level my convenient situation was “cheating”, and perhaps my experience wasn’t as profound as a result.  But I am reminded of what Leslie would tell me about how in the middle-east, shops change hours, employers grant earlier shifts and mid-day time off and the entire culture shifts to accommodate Ramadan… or rather the shift is built-in to their predominantly Muslim culture.  So from a certain point of view, you could say that my experience this year was closer to that sort of experience (situational support as opposed to community support but similar result.)  On the other hand, I’ve also heard of Muslim folk who place little importance on Ramadan and simply go through the motions because they feel they have to.  They cheat the fast and take the situation very lightly.  I don’t participate because I have to, but I still want to be mindful of the experience as opposed to simply fasting because I have for the past few years.  But then again, if that were the case I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.

It is safe to say that this year was highly unique.  I don’t believe next year will be anything like this one was.  There will be new situations, new challenges and I might even look back and wish the subsequent years were as simple as this one has been.  If nothing else I’m glad I did it and glad I understand as much as I do about it.

Eid Mubarak.

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Of Laziness, Fasting, Discipline and Trying to Learn From It All

The alarm shot through my instantly-forgotten dream like a blazing torch of sound; shattering my warm, comfortable darkness to reveal the last bit of daylight fading into evening outside.  Last I knew it had been mid-afternoon as the storms outside had gently drawn me off to dreamland.  My bed is entirely too comfortable,  and it was not necessarily time to wake up, but it was time to break my fast and I had learned a week prior that extending the fast beyond the long, sixteen-hour summer days was a very bad idea.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

After returning from MAU, I had passed out without resetting my alarms and had woken up at 11AM the following day.  The issue was, I hadn’t eaten anything since the airport in Atlanta the previous evening and had only had coffee and ginger ale to drink on the flight home.  So now, a little over twelve hours after my last calorie of any sort, I had roughly ten more hours to go.  In situations like this, it might be considered appropriate to break your fast.  I had just come back from traveling and I realize now that fasting for so long could actually harm me.  But at the time I didn’t know that, and I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I pressed on through the day and felt relatively good… until around hour 19.  After that my condition had rapidly declined into near-uselessness: basically zero energy, fighting nausea despite a very empty stomach and the feeling that a white-hot metal rod was being driven into my brain from the back of my head (I was really worried this was going to trigger a migraine as it was a similar feeling, but fortunately it subsided.)  Thankfully all it took was proper hydration / nourishment and a nap to get me feeling right again, but the experience taught me that after twenty-four hours or so without food and water (especially), I would be basically useless.  It also taught me the importance of my regiment – even if I wasn’t hungry or meant to sleep through breakfast (around five AM during Ramadan), waking up to drink a couple glasses of water before returning to bed was a minimum requirement.

So the other day I had awoken to my “water” alarm and for a few moments after drinking it, I considered staying awake and getting a jump-start on my driving for the evening.  I’ve found myself wasting more and more time on distractions recently before heading out to drive.  It’s silly too, because I actually enjoy myself the majority of the time I spend driving.  On a few recent days it’s taken a bad mood and improved it.  But getting to the point I’m ready to drive I’ve been so, so lazy. It’s easy to blame Ramadan and the extended effects of fasting, but I honestly feel like that’s a weak cop-out in my case.  Mind you this isn’t anything too new, I’ve always been relatively lazy by nature, especially when I’m overly comfortable.  But right now I shouldn’t be.  Needless to say, that day I went back to bed until my second alarm sounded a couple hours later.

My extended time out of a “real” job combined with my laziness has taken it’s toll on my plans.  Yes, I’ve got the freedom I wanted in spades, but as is always the case when things are out of balance, the price I pay is heavy.  My goals this year were to: 1. Sleep seven and a half hours of sleep per night more often than not.  2. Save enough money to visit my best friend in Japan.  And, 3. Save enough money to purchase a pro-level full-frame camera as to further my photography.  In all three, a little over half-way through the year, I have failed.

Delayed, but not forgotten!

Delayed, but not forgotten!

In fairness I had the savings for Japan ready for the right ticket, and had I purchased it and kept on as I was, It’s highly possible I could’ve worked out the camera before the end of the year.  But then I was put in a position to make a decision about my future and how I wanted to live my life, so I made the only choice I thought I could, and it cost me those goals.  For now.  Uber is paying the bills but I’ve been too relaxed about my diligence and thus my savings have been slowly dwindling to nothing.  Now, my efforts with Uber must be more focused if I am to maintain my life at it’s current level, meanwhile my job search should intensify so I can get myself back to the income I am used to and begin working on my goals and plans.

So the solution boils down to a word that has an undeservingly negative context: Discipline.  More specifically, self discipline.  Since we were children we’re taught to dislike this concept; discipline is what happens to you when you do something bad.  But that’s not actually what the concept is.  Discipline is an investment you are making now so that you can continue to develop and accomplish things through proper actions.  It is this accomplishment that ultimately makes us happy, wether it be professional, personal, mental or even sexual, when you feel like you’ve done something, and done it well you are naturally a happier person.  It is this very concept that allows people to maintain their balance properly and be both happy and productive (so long as you balance it out with appropriate rest.)   When you’re naturally inclined to be lazy like me, self-discipline is what keeps you from swinging too far to the rest side, thus diminishing your accomplishments as I have more recently.

"A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity."

“A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity.”

A lack of accomplishment has a major effect on your ego, and if not corrected can send you into a downward spiral of even less accomplishment and more negativity.  I’ve noticed for instance that I haven’t been nearly as social or proactive in any sort of dating recently because somewhere deep down I don’t feel like I have the means to properly “court” somebody – this is a direct result of a lack of accomplishment affecting my ego.  The answer, of course, is to be more self-disciplined, therefore increasing my productivity, reinforcing my (healthy) ego and ultimately giving me more access to the resources that allow me to operate how I’d like to.

It’s fine line, balancing this freedom to do what I want, when I want, with the structure I require to keep myself productive.  Since I’ve been paying attention to my own issues, I’ve already begun to make changes in my schedule and mentality – allowing more time for Uber at high volume times and pushing myself when I know I’m distracting myself or being overly lazy.  I’ve already began to see improvement as well and with Ramadan ending this week, whatever excuse I feel I might have will be gone.  My freedom allows me to customize my schedule, and that should make me more productive but that requires that I reprogram some of my lazier, more wasteful habits.  That’s much easier said than done, but if I can pull it off, I can probably at least still accomplish the seven and half hours of sleep goal while keeping the rest of the balance in check.
Stay tuned!

Uber Tales: Why Taxis Are Scared and Uber is Good For People.

Taxi drivers hate Uber drivers like me.  I’m being literal, they really, really do not like us.  It’s not so bad here in Orlando where I drive in the late night / early morning hours (I get glared at occasionally), but in major cities like New York and other countries where Uber hasn’t already been banned, taxi drivers will actually become violent towards Uber drivers.  It’s not hard to see why; they’re being beaten at their own game.  Taxi service has been around since before we had motor vehicles.  Over the years as places like Manhattan grew into the sprawling metropolises they are today, public and alternative transportation became a huge necessity, which gave rise to the booming taxi cab service that would become a major component of city transportation and a prominent cultural icon.

For nearly a century cab service was without competition.  Sure, there were different cab companies, but they all abided by the same general rule set and system.  They were competitive with each other’s pricing and most often operated the same style of vehicle.  Sure, you had different levels as you do today: Private, higher end “town car” service and localized “pedal cabs” for getting around downtown, but for the most part the position of the taxi cab in our society went without competition or alternative for many decades… until now.

Originally only upscale cars.

Originally only upscale cars.

Where Uber Came From:

In 2008, Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon (which he sold to Ebay) got together with another web visionary named Travis Kalanik.  Both were coming off of previously successful ventures and looking for their next big thing.  They teamed up to tackle the taxi problem in San Fransisco, and the original “UberCab” prototype app was born.  By 2009, Camp had re-taken over StumbleUpon and hired Kalanik to directly control and develop their ongoing UberCab application.  After much testing and development, UberCab was launched in San Fransisco on July 5th, 2010.

However, even from the beginning, challenges arose.  By October of 2010 the city of San Francisco served UberCab with a cease and desist order for operating a cab company without proper licensing.  So Uber dropped “cab” from their name and officially became “Uber”, an “upscale ride-sharing service” just as AirBNB allows hosts to share their apartment.  Using this model, the founders raised significant capital from eager investors and launched in New York City by May, 2011.  Following that success was Seattle, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago and even Paris as the first international expansion.

In some places it's almost warfare.

In some places it’s almost warfare.

Up to this point, Uber had been primarily based an affordable premium vehicle (“Black Car”) service.  But just as they began to face some backlash regarding surge pricing and fares over the holiday, the unveiled their next secret weapon: UberX.  Based on the above mentioned AirBNB philosophy, this service is cheaper and focuses on newer model hybrid and sedan drivers to get customers where they need to go.  This facilitates expansion into more cities and draws even greater ire from taxi services and cities seeking to regulate the quickly growing trend.  By 2013 Uber was facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines and new competition from other ride-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar.  However, that same year, California officially recognized “Ride-Sharing” as it’s own official transportation category, providing specific regulations, but paving the way for Uber and other services to operate without the previous fines and roadblocks they had faced.

However, opposition is fierce for Uber, from competitors like Lyft and especially from large, well-established taxi companies and unions.  Because of this, less progressive states are slow to act on regulations regarding the status of ride-sharing platforms.  Much of it is because of outside pressure and in other cases they simply don’t know what to do with it.

Why Uber is Important:

With the history out of the way I can relate a bit more personally to you.  With all the politics involved and the headlines, what you don’t see is the actual good that Uber and it’s drivers are doing for the everyday person.  Allow me to give you a few examples:

"Are you my Uber?"  "No."

Perfectly normal night for an Uber driver.

A few weeks ago I got an early AM request in the Winter Park area.  Shortly after accepting the ride through my app, the client called me.  He had a flight leaving in just over an hour, and the taxi that he had requested a day earlier “couldn’t make it”.  This was for a very important meeting,in Chicago that day and he could not afford to be late.  I didn’t promise I would get him there because the time frame was tight, but I was at his door within five minutes and had him to the airport with about thirty-five minutes to spare.  I don’t know if he made it or not, but he was grateful to have some kind of hope and without Uber he never would’ve had a chance.

Fast forward to about four nights ago and a much more severe situation.  Around five-thirty in the morning I get a request from a neighborhood nearby.  As I’m traveling to the address given, the client calls me and I pick up.  She says: “Hello? Listen, I need you to help me.  I don’t know where I am and I need you to get me out of here.”  I tell her that I’ve got her location on GPS and I’ll be there in a couple minutes.  When I arrive in the area, I find her walking down the side of the road in a black dress with her phone flashlight on for visibility.

She gets in the car and immediately thanks me.  She explains that she had been downtown and had foolishly come back to this guy’s place.  When she arrived she discovered she was alone with he and three of his roommates, and while he had been relaxed and laid back while they were out, he had become aggressive and “creepy” when they arrived at his place.  When she politely (tactfully) tried to defuse the situation, he had put his hands around her neck and began acting more aggressively (to be clear, not violent yet, but implying that things could escalate if she wasn’t cooperative.)  Keeping her calm, she managed to talk her way out of the house by telling them that her friend was worried about her and was already on their way to get her.  Once outside, she used the Uber app to request me so that I could find her and get her home safe.  She relayed this story to me as we were driving and said things like “you probably saved my life”.  While that might be an overstatement (she was already out of the house by the time I got there,) the fact is that a taxi would never have made it to her in the five minutes it took me to get there (especially at 5:30AM in the morning.)  She believes that if she hadn’t gotten away soon, he would’ve come looking for her and it could’ve ended badly.  We stopped at McDonald’s along the way and I dropped her off at her apartment with the trip costing her somewhere around fifteen dollars.  Small price to pay for “salvation”.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

The two above are specific examples, but I also want to talk about the huge number of drunken college students and downtown dwellers that might otherwise decide to try to drive if not for Uber.  I’ve heard numerous stories from people who’s friends have been killed in alcohol-related crashes and others who have had their licenses suspended.  The general consensus is that taxis often take too long, cost too much and the drivers are often rude and/or “creepy”.  In contrast Uber is “cool”, “fun”, comfortable” and usually much cheaper than their taxi counterparts.  This social standing and minimal financial impact makes a huge difference with the (often underage) college students to whom conserving image and money are their primary concerns.  At two in the morning, when the partying is either done, or ready to move to the next location, people don’t have a lot of patience, so they want something quick, easy and that doesn’t require too much thought.  Uber fits that description perfectly and that’s why despite opposition the company is growing at an exceptionally fast rate.

Why taxi cabs are scared:

Taxis are working on an antiquated dispatch system that is unreliable at best.  Larger companies like Mears Transportation have launched apps to attempt to compete, but that’s only a surface improvement.  In order to really have a chance their entire system needs a modern overhaul.  The general consensus is that taxi cabs are more expensive, far less reliable,  have lower quality and/or dirtier cars and have drivers that are either not personable, angry or (once again) “creepy.”  I think this has a lot to do with the structure.  Most cab drivers rent the car from their company.  They pay something along the lines of $100 to take the car for a twelve hour period.  That means they begin their day in the hole, having to make that money back before they begin to make money for themselves.  Then, they are pushed to maximize their twelve hours in order to make as much as possible.  This means that breaks, meals and naps are all discouraged during their on time.  I’m not sure about you, but after ten hours (or less!) sitting in a car, I’m ready for a nap, and that’s with several breaks.  It’s no wonder that a lot of cab drivers are irritable.

Realistically... this doesn't happen... (at least not involving the driver...)

Realistically… this doesn’t happen… (at least not involving the driver…)

In contrast, Uber is modern, easy and convenient for both the driver and rider.  As the driver It’s my car, so I’m inclined to keep it clean and take good care of it.  I drive when I want, for as long as I want and take breaks whenever I want to.  That means the only time you’ll see me driving is when I want to be driving.  If I don’t feel like it, I can simply shut the app off and take a walk, take a nap, or meet a friend for a meal.  Combine that with an app that allows the customer to summon me or another driver in three taps or less and you pair up happy riders with happy drivers.

Meanwhile for the rider you have an app-based, cashless system (your credit card is attached to the app.)  There is no worry about tips (you CAN tip, but as drivers we never expect it and don’t get grouchy about it… the point is to keep it all in the app) and no need to fumble for cash or a credit card.  You simply get in, get where you’re going and get out quickly and comfortably.  On top of that, in my experience Uber is about one-third to half the rate of a taxi during normal pricing.  Surge pricing can close that gap some, but it needs to be nearly three times our normal rate to match up in most cases (and if you wait twenty minutes the surge will probably reduce or go away completely.)

Orlando has only had Uber for about a year now, and it’s continuing to gain in popularity.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about riding or driving Uber.  I strongly recommend you give it a shot, and if you plug in a promo code given to you by an existing driver before your first ride, it will be free up to $20 (which can get you a long way!)  I shamelessly dropped my promo code a couple posts back, but since we’re on the subject, it is P9W5KUE.  You can use that for your first free trip and also if you’re interested in becoming a driver for some kind of kickback after so many miles.

They aren't slowing down.  At all.

They aren’t slowing down. At all.

I’m not so much concerned about any extra bonuses as I am getting more of you into using Uber though.  I really feel like it’s an ideal solution for modern transportation that is being embraced by all walks of life from the poor college student to the rich celebrities and everyone in between.  Furthermore, it builds connections between people that might otherwise not exist and enables those who otherwise wouldn’t have feasible transportation to more easily get around.  Whether the taxis like it or not, this is the future of private transportation and it’s good for everyone involved.  Their only choices are to evolve and keep up, or get left behind.

For a great and well-written article on typical Uber rides via GQ, check this out: http://www.gq.com/story/uber-cab-confessions

Thanks for reading!  

Martial Arts University 2015 – Afterthoughts

First, this post is far longer than average, and I’ve already trimmed a bit, so bear with the novel and I hope the content keeps you entertained.  Second, I’m going to admit right away that I will have trouble writing as candidly here as I have for most entries. This is primarily because I realize that a fair amount of my audience from Facebook is comprised of students (and at least one Master) who are members of Martial Arts World. However, I am nothing if not honest and I do not wish or expect my opinions to be shared by them. In truth, anything that could be perceived as negative at any point in this post is a result of my own issues and not necessarily the fault of MAW or those who operate their schools.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

With that disclaimer said, this was probably the best Martial Arts University thus far. Generally speaking the attitude and experiences were very positive. Grandmaster has greatly refined his speaking and philosophy to a level that is much easier for his students of all levels to digest. Meanwhile the team of Masters and CEOs that lead the week-long event appeared unified and supportive of one-another (for the most part…) Having been away for a time now, I found myself approaching the same questions with new answers and some level of uncertainty. I think the best approach in attempting to explain this to you is to quote some of said philosophy and comment on it so you have an understanding of the sort of discussions that go on both internally and externally.

“Discover who you really are. What do you do? What do you want to do?”

This is, and always has been difficult for me. At any given point what I want to do changes. I want to write, so right now I am writing. Am I a writer? Sure. But it is certainly not anything close to the majority of what I do.   I am also a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Executive Consultant, Mentor, Uber Driver, Assistant, Teacher and Martial Artist.

These are all things I want to do… sometimes. But some aren’t feasible as a career, some aren’t something I want very often and some, frankly, I’m just not good enough at. So then I’m left with the question of how to define myself. Which leads me to…

“Your habits make up who you are.”

 Well… shit. I don’t have the best habits, but I like them. What are my habits anyway? I try to write here at least once a week on average (months of hiatus notwithstanding… I DID say “try”) I take tons of photos on my iPhone and contrary to popular belief they are not all selfies and food porn… I currently drive much of the night and sleep much of the day (granted Ramadan facilitates that) and when not fasting I make it a point to do something physical (be it Running, Lifting or Martial Arts class) every other day. Meanwhile the search for ideal steady employment continues.

But that in itself is an entirely different question: Is what you do for work who you are? Some people say yes, others absolutely refuse to let their work define them. I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum, except that I must find my work fulfilling or I will get bored easily. There must also be a good work/life balance. Many at the executive level preach more of a work/life synergy, but most of the people who do so successfully are the founders of the company to whom their work is more or less a part of them, even a hobby, so to them it will never feel the same as it does to any other employee who is there out of some level of necessity.

“Successful people often set their goals by their talents.”

Sometimes

Sometimes “mediocre” looks kinda cool though.

Well then what are my talents? I write this blog, but does that make me a good writer? (If we’re talking about editing, I think not, but perhaps content sometimes…) I’m a mediocre Martial Artist on the physical side. My photography skill is good, but unpracticed and still developing and my photo-manipulation work is meticulous but much slower than some of the pros I’ve seen.

My real talents are a bit more intangible: I’m highly adaptable, versatile and capable of adopting new concepts to a functional degree in a very short time. I have high mechanical reasoning ability that allows me to recognize systems (including people) and figure out how they work and what I need to do in order to alter them (as in repair or modify… or destroy in some cases.) This makes me relatively good at tech work, assistant work or anything involving multiple tasks over multiple disciplines. Basically I’m pretty good at finding the button and pushing it, wherever it may be.

But how does that translate to goal-setting? It means I can pretty much set my goals to do anything and everything and eventually reach them. It also means I will probably take a fair bit longer to do so and never quite to the level of somebody with a natural focused talent in any particular area. But with no clear talents, I suppose it is up to me to decide what to shift my energy towards and what goals to create.

“Positive goals with clear deadlines create purpose.”

Remember this?

Remember this?

Ah, my eternal weakness: “What do you want?” That’s why we set goals right? To achieve what we want?   Well as I said in my “Who Am I Anyway” section; I don’t know, I just want to “make it”. My only dream is that of the iconic “Christian Grey” style setting in which I stand at the top of a tower in a lavish marble-clad setting overlooking the city below me through floor to ceiling windows. There I watch the sun setting and smile because I finally made it.   But I don’t know what “it” is, and I don’t know how to get it, so there’s a small chance that will never happen simply because I can’t even decide what direction I want to go in to get there.

And then there’s the issue of family. Since I was a boy I’ve wanted children. I don’t know if it’s a biological thing or if I just like myself so much I want to make clones, but part of me feels that a happy family/children is one of the greatest legacies we can leave behind when we depart this world. However, trying to balance this dream with the one above will require a delicate balance, as I said, I want my children happy. Of course I have to find the right person to make those children with first, and almost nine years later the search continues.

“Without goals you have no reason to wake up early.”

 These days I don’t really…

“The moment we commit to a huge goal is the moment we invite obstacles into our life.”

This scares me less than anything else that was said, but I found it pretty profound. It’s just a really good way of saying once you’ve chosen your path, it’s going to be blocked in places and we have to work our way around in order to continue. I don’t mind the work as long as I can find the motivation.

“How can you lead others if you can’t lead yourself?”

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

About that motivation, the truth is I don’t much care about being the leader. Except that it drives me absolutely bonkers when the person who is supposed to be the leader is completely inept in some form. It usually boils down to either leadership skill or specific skills toward the task at hand, but I expect both from the person I choose to follow. When it’s obvious to me that I can do better, I feel motivated to either remove said leader, enable a replacement to somebody more qualified, or move on to somewhere that I feel is better suited for me.

More and more I’ve felt like perhaps despite my hesitance I am meant to lead in some capacity. I don’t fear it, I’ve been advising people for a long time, I just don’t care about the spotlight. Recognition among my peers is enough for me. But if I am to lead I need to figure out where I’m leading to, where I want to lead to, and to believe it’s best for everyone involved.

 “You cannot live for even four seconds without hope.”

While I understand that this is probably not meant to be literal, I believe I’m the exception. I have very long periods of simply existing. In fact, I find that hope is a dangerous thing because it is when that hope is combined with expectation that breeds disappointment. On the other hand, to walk without hope is to walk in darkness, so it is indeed necessary for happiness. But life doesn’t always have to be happy (certainly ideally so,) sometimes it’s okay for it to be grey for a while.

“If water stays in one place for too long, it becomes stagnant.”

Sometimes the flow is looks very still, but it is still moving.

Sometimes the flow looks very still, but it is still moving.

In context he meant that you must keep growing, learning and innovating to be successful in your life. But part of me also wants to relate this to “You’ve gotta keep moving.” Though I’ve traveled much in my time and lived in many places, where I sit now I the longest I’ve stayed still since I was a boy in the Seattle area. Obviously much has changed while I’ve remained here, but I have to admit a part of me was excited to move on to a new place again.

On the other hand though, remaining in one place, having a “base” is the best way to establish roots and relationships. Granted, as I will comment on later, I may not be great at forming long-lasting relationships on any level regardless of my location.

Closing and my MAU Insanity: Among them but not one of them.

 There’s a lot more than above, but this is enough for one post. The final admittance/revelation is that every year that I go to this thing, about halfway through it drives me a little insane. What I mean is that something in my normally composed self goes off-kilter and it throws me for a very odd, often negative loop. The all too familiar feeling of separation that I struggle with takes hold and despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, I feel alone. These camps almost always take place over the full moon cycle, so that’s one explanation as the full moon has been known to… unbalance me a bit (among other things.)

Another more obvious reason is that until this year I’ve always had the role of Grandmaster’s Assistant, which is much like I wrote above; among the students at camp, but separated because my focus is Grandmaster. There is both security and isolation in this position, and it is possible previous years have simply imprinted this mentality on this particular event. Further, the stress level for anyone who takes serving Grandmaster seriously has been quite high historically. It seems this year we saw a slightly more balanced, kinder grandmaster than in previous years, but this may also be because I was not directly involved with him this round.

Balance Pieces

Balance Pieces

With all that said, there is some evidence to support that this isn’t all in my head. With the exception of the Masters and some of the CEOs who are more familiar with me, the other students, (including those I was close to from my home school) for the most part regard me at a distance. There are exceptions of course, especially from a particularly outgoing school from the west coast, but in general it indeed feels like I am seen as not another student, but something else. Respected for the most part, but separated.

For instance, there was an abundance of photos taken, selfies, group pictures, and celebrations throughout camp and after testing on the final day. But never was I approached to be a part of these groups. I was not excluded purposefully (this is not a rant!) but more it was as if I was invisible. Sometimes I was of course, serving one of the Masters as I did required that I slip away at times, but other times I simply went about my business and was paid no mind. Again, this may simply be a matter of that being how it’s always been. As Grandmaster’s Assistant, even when I received my own Black Belt certificate two years ago, I had perhaps twenty minutes for pictures with a few close friends before I had to vanish.

The offset of this is that I have the honor of spending a great deal of time with Grandmaster and the Masters of my organization to the point I can speak my opinion over meals and discussions and be regarded with consideration and respect (that’s not to say other students wouldn’t, they simply have far less opportunity.) So that is, in effect, my “group of friends” as a substitute for the ones that pay me little attention since I stopped actively working for Martial Arts World.

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned!

Admittedly, my training has been sparse over the last eighteen months or so because I have little reinforcement from anyone other than my master. My peers that I trained with over the years have either left the organization or simply don’t much care when I try to motivate them to take class with me. Though I appreciate the training, a huge draw of martial arts has always been the people, and when you don’t have those people to train beside, or motivate you, motivating yourself becomes more difficult.

Fortunately this camp has renewed my resolve a bit, and renewed my selfishness. I have never needed people before and I don’t need them now. My plan is to train, refresh and test for the rank of instructor next year. When I do, I want to be qualified to do so in my own mind, meaning that even if my technique is not perfect, I know my philosophy, physical curriculum and the physics behind it well enough to pass it along. I will do it, and not for anyone but my master(s) and for myself. Hopefully along the way, new connections might form and I may not feel so isolated among my peers. If not, I’m pretty used to being different, and I’ll just have to take pride in that as well.  I can, and I will.

Martial Arts University 2015 – Day 1: Prologue

**On the plane to Raleigh** – 9:12 AM

Four years in a row I was Grandmaster’s Assistant for these events.  I was there during a key time when MAU evolved from a mind-numbing week in a single hotel conference room, to a trip into nature that was at some times magical and other times maddening.  I was a special classification that kept me out of the majority of the classes and isolated with Grandmaster and one or two other chosen assistants for the event. As the assistant it was a grueling, non-stop and often nerve-wracking as every attempt had to made to preserve his mood, condition and mindset. Simply put, he had to be utterly focused on what he was going to present, so it fell on me to make everything about him. There was little time to lose focus, move slowly or relax… for essentially four straight days it was all about Grandmaster, all the time, nonstop.   It was here in 2013 that in front of hundreds of my peers with Grandmaster seated directly in front of me, I shattered a block of concrete and earned my Black Belt.

And then, a bout a year and a half ago, shortly before the 2014 Martial Arts University, I left.   Many people told me it was a very different Grandmaster that presented their seminars that year and the event overall was said to be a great success. I thought perhaps my departure had made some sort of impact. It remains to be seen for sure though.

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? ;)

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? 😉

One year later I am in the air over Georgia heading to Greensboro, NC by way of Raleigh. But this year it’s different. This year I am a guest, and it’s weird. I had no intention of attending this year, I have only been attending class sparingly and doing occasional favors for the company president (who is truly one of the best men I know) as I very much respect and feel I owe him. But he and Grandmaster reached out to me and went through a great deal of trouble to request my presence here. Finally, the company president asked me directly to assist him here, and I know that he needs it, so I didn’t wish to refuse. That and watching a friend and former companion of mine test for her second dan and instructor certification are my reasons for being here.

But Grandmaster is happy to have me here, so much that it is odd. I am not expected to carry his bag or hold his door. I offered my business class seat to him and he politely declined (I was keeping my free drink ticket regardless) and overall it seems like he is almost awkwardly attempting to cater to me however he can. He appreciates me, he has told me that much, even though I left him. He too, for all my previous disagreements with him (and there were more than a few) is a good man. At the same time though it is almost a little awkward to accept so much (they are paying for meals and such) while not being in direct servitude. Before it was part of the package, now it feels unearned. They have both said that the things I help them with occasionally now combined with my previous service more than make up for it. Perhaps they are right and I’m selling myself short. Just last night I lost sleep staying late in their office to help with final revisions on a flyer.

With that said, Martial Arts World supported the majority of my previous cycle, and I do feel that on some level I owe them for the great years they gave me. Those experiences and people will stay with me indefinitely. It’s also true that even now the organization makes connections for me I wouldn’t otherwise have. So how much influence it will have over my current cycle remains to be seen as well.

So I’m not really sure what to expect this round. I want to feel useful, because that’s what my mindset going into these weeks

The gorgeous weather doesn't hurt.

The gorgeous weather doesn’t hurt.

always have been (I’m a “tool” after all.) But it seems like they want a bit of it to be about me. So I will try to take some time, try to enjoy myself while still being useful. This year I might keep my sanity intact and relax a bit. Maybe. Obviously I know what the real endgame here is; they want to bring me back into the fold. But if that’s ever going to happen it will be a long process involving a lot of evolution that I’m not certain is possible.

For now, because of the travel and unusual circumstances I am taking a break from Ramadan fasting (this is accepted in the Muslim religion anyway) and I’m having to re-adjust to operating in the daytime, so it’s a refreshing change of pace before I return to the grind. The moon is full, so the timing on the break is good and as usual everything seems to make perfect sense as it falls into place. With everything that led up to my ending up on this plane (I very nearly didn’t make it to this year several times for several reasons) I feel like I’m meant to be here. As for the “why?” is anyone’s guess, but I’ll certainly try to keep you posted.

**10:31 PM** 

I need to wrap this up quickly as I am utterly exhausted by my four hours of sleep in the last forty-eight hours (I’m dozing as I write this.)  After the ridiculously massive lunch we had provided for us in Raleigh by Grandmaster’s good friend, it was a miracle we had room for the dinner provided to us by the camp this evening (I kept remarking that I had forgotten how much we eat on these trips.)  During dinner a group of familiar faces arrived to round out the initial group of leaders.  One of them sat next to me; a tall slender Korean man from another organization who had been a friend to me at many seminars in the past.  He regarded me for a moment before remarking quietly: “You’ve matured.”  Being that it had been at least two years since I last saw this man it was a pleasant compliment, and one without any sort of innuendo or side meaning.

A short tour before the meeting.

A short tour before the meeting.

After dinner we had a brief tour for those new to this location and then all met for the opening meeting.  Despite my having been away for some time now, I am included in the inner-circle as I was when I worked here.  The meeting drug on for a while with the familiar and predictable goals to make this year the best MAU yet while maximizing the return on next year.  While many good point were brought up, the fact remains that these points are not new, they’ve just never been fully and thoroughly implemented each year.  So the secret lies more in the execution than the discussion.  I had been fighting dozing for a fair amount of the meeting, so afterwards I checked to be sure I could retire, showered and called it a night (this is the last thing I do before bed.)  I should get a fair amount of sleep tonight (at least six hours,) but this is the calm before the storm.  Everyone arrives tomorrow and MAU 2015 officially begins.