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2016 Retrospective and 2017: 希望

Well holy shit.  I just read through my 2015 recap and it was all kinds of hopeful.  Needless to say, 2016 was another shit year but in totally different ways.

Before I get started allow me to explain my months of absence: I sold out.  Yes, in what was one of the positive developments this year, I’m currently a Staff Writer for a website called http://www.List25.com.  I’ve been there for about four months now and I meant to let y’all know officially much sooner, but I wanted to get some posts under my belt and then, life got really, really busy, and I haven’t been back.  Obviously I am back at the moment, but I can’t promise much consistency here because, frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with my post requirement over there.  However, I’m not quitting here.  I’m just not going to commit to frequent posts for now.  That being the case, you should subscribe, so when I do post, you can come look!  And meantime go visit me on List25.com and check out my ultra-cool bio on the “about” page ( http://list25.com/about/ .)

screenshot-2016-12-31-23-22-58Enough shameless pluggery, let’s talk about sucky years.  2015, as mentioned in last year’s post, was a hard, hard year.  Uber was fun but I barely got by.  By the end I had found my new workplace, and was feeling pretty good.  Well, 2016 continued the workplace success,
and then some.  Not only am I writing part-time, but my full-time job is paying for accounting classes to further expand and refine my skills.  This is a great benefit, and I’m grateful for it.  It’s also probably a good thing my social life is more or less nonexistent.

Yeah, for just under half of the year I was something I really, really shouldn’t be for long periods of time: Alone.  While you all know I’ve been single for literally a decade (as of this last November,)  I have, for most of those years benefitted from either a relatively close-knit friend group, or a somewhat regular “companion”, or both.  But as of around July this last year, both got very quiet, and I honestly grew pretty bitter about it.

I’ll vent, briefly, and then move on because this is not meant to be a rant.  But I feel like some people use words like “friend”, “always”, and especially “love” far too loosely.  I don’t, and I understand that individuals assign different levels of meaning to them.  But when somebody promises they’ll always be there, part of me tried to believe a couple years later they still will be.  And if they tell me they love me… well, if I’ve ever said that to anyone, they could more or less call on me years later and I would do my best to accommodate.   So I guess coming out of 2014-2015, when my life made its first major shift before shifting again in 2106 and finally settling down, I just expected some of those friendships that had been built over years to endure more.  When many didn’t, and I had already grown dark because life had worn me down, it just made me more resentful and bitter towards those that made claims they simply weren’t willing to back up.

I get it.  People grow, and change and move on to new phases, but that doesn’t mean you forget who your friends were.  What they meant to you and what they did for you.  You don’t get to just write off years of experiences without reason.

2016-12-22-23-43-58

Not totally alone. 🙂

That’s not to say there weren’t those who didn’t have their reasons, myself included.  That’s also not to say that some people didn’t step up (or at least try.)  I’ve joked in person that I have like… two friends now.  But when I think about it, that’s not true.  I still have a ton of friends, we’re just distant, and spread out, and belong to different groups.  All of that is okay, and if any of you are reading this, I probably think about you, and I would probably, very easily pick up right where we left off.  I’ve been busy too, so I haven’t been super proactive in social settings.  (Even tonight a friend invited me out to a New Year’s party last minute and I declined.  I’m exhausted.  But it’s nice to know you’ve got somewhere to go.)

Speaking of, I really do appreciate those people who have hung in there through the years, and who came back on radar, whether randomly or because they knew I needed company.  It was because of them, my job going well,  and a few new people that have recently popped up, that I’ve been able to make it through the remaining months of the shit-show that’s been 2016 and not move away to a distant mountain in New Zealand (that was a very serious consideration post-election night…)

Speaking of the election.  Fucking humans.  I KNEW he would be elected.  Hell, I knew it before he even officially announced he was running.  But I prayed, and begged, and pleaded that just this once I could be wrong about something like that.  That people would recognize the absolutely horrible and absurd concepts that are becoming disturbingly normalized and think that no matter HOW much they bought into the carefully-crafted hatred of Hillary, they couldn’t possibly elect an insecure, belligerent, hateful, lying, monster of a man like Trump to lead and represent the United States on the world scene.  YOU HAD ONE JOB.  And now, a very large shadow looms over the incoming year(s).

hollowhalf

He’s had a lot of playtime.

There were, I think, three times this year, when I did my best to stifle the disdain and contempt for humanity that has steadily grown in me.  When things felt like they might be okay, and I could try to discard my emotionless, robotic manner in order to have a better attitude about things and maybe have a little hope.   Election time was one of those times, and obviously it was swiftly and utterly crushed.  There was another time before that, and one since then in which it lasted a day or two at most before I felt it was a lost cause and retreated back to the all too familiar darkness that’s grown comfortable.

But now a new year is upon us and I’m going to try again, and I’m going to try harder.  My foundation finally appears to be set, and those who have stuck by are being joined by a few new faces that will undoubtedly multiply.  The path for this year can initially go one of two different ways, and the first few days of 2017 will decide which of those paths I will start down.  Either is a path of growth and personal development, and more importantly; 希望 cheers(kibō) the Japanese word for hope.  With Carrie Fisher among the last of the many icons 2016 took from us, it seems appropriate that this is my sole, general resolution.  I’m going to try to be, and remain, hopeful in the face of whatever setbacks and obstacles come at me in 2017.

“When you defend your ideas in public, you then have to make an effort to  live accordingly.”  – The Manual of The Warrior of the Light. (Paulo Coelho)

Happy New Year Everyone!

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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.

Maintainance and Placation

I think I mentioned before that show season is a very busy time of year.  As such it’s been ten days since my last post.  The majority of that time has been spent working very long hours in Atlanta and then Athens, Georgia.   The upside is the paycheck that will come from it.  The downside is the near total lack of social or any other sort of life outside of work.  It’s a season, only a few weeks out of the year, after which it becomes easier to balance living with working.  In the meantime though, it can take it’s toll and sometimes in unexpected ways.

This is the awesome sort of communication show season is made of...

This is the awesome sort of communication show season is made of…

Communication has evolved a lot over the last few decades and it makes staying in touch when long distances away much easier than previous generations.  However, with that evolution has come what I like to refer to as “connection maintenance”.  Essentially it’s that infrequent check-in that says “Hey!  I still think of you sometimes so we’re still connected and should hang out.”  Over the years I’ve used it to maintain a number of connections of varying nature with a fair amount of success.  No casual relationship (essentially, any non-committed relationship) should be forced into communication requirements.  But there’s a flip-side to that too.  What happens when all your communication becomes maintenance?

Over years people grow apart.  Interests change, situations change, people change.  Because of that, relationships of all sorts require work, or maintenance to keep from breaking down.  But like anything, as time continues to wear on those connections, a little more than just maintenance becomes necessary.  The problem with solely maintaining a relationship is that over time the personal touch dissolves.  Sure you text regularly or exchange dirty snapchats, but all the while personal familiarity is diminishing.  Technology cannot imitate all the subtle, subconscious messages that pass between people and it cannot reinforce the personal connection that develops when you spend time with somebody.  It can slow the process if used properly, but ultimately the only way to keep such a connection going strong is to actually connect – in person.   There is no better way to communicate, and no better way to relate to another person.  And though this most certainly applies in terms of physical relationships, I also speak of friendships that can be forged and reinforced through hours spent talking over coffee, wine, great food or netflix binging.

"You again!?"

“You again!?”

What’s more dangerous is when maintenance turns to placation.  Over time, as connections diminish it’s very easy to fall into a mentality where you simply humor or do what you feel you need to in order to appease your relationship with somebody.  You don’t really care, but instead of talking about it, you respond out of some outdated feeling of obligation to whatever you were before.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Almost everyone knows when they get to that level.  When a connection who once really cared obviously no longer does, physical visits basically disappear (as do the attempts to plan them) and their messages become robotic, thoughtless and eventually non-existent.  As the connection continues to erode, you never hear from them unless you instigate communication and even then your attempts often go ignored.   Attempts to connect personally are thoughtlessly and ambiguously agreed to, but plans are never made and if group plans are made, they probably won’t show for you.  We’ve all been there, I’ve seen it happen cycle after cycle and have always accepted it as another finite example of life.

There has to BE a relationship first...

There has to BE a relationship first…

But this time something is bothering me.  Before, I was a bad guy and frankly when you’re the villain, you lose people.  It’s a selfish and self-destructive path that naturally pushes people away.  Lies and betrayal can utterly destroy some of the strongest connections, and even those that remain are changed forever.  But this last time, I was alright.  I certainly haven’t been the most moral person in the world and I never will be, but I feel like for the most part I did good by the people I called my friends and connected with.  So then, when
those connections began to diminish and my attempts to maintain them were ignored, I developed a major dislike for this situation.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, I began to take being ignored personally.  Further, even those who didn’t ignore me were simply placating me out of some long-passed loyalty or connection they once felt.  I realized I really hated being ignored or placated.  Not necessarily because those connections were fading, but because some of those I was once connected with didn’t have the heart or personal strength to talk to me about it and admit it.  It’s frustrating when people that you used to feel important to act as if you’re no longer important enough to even discuss the state of your connection with you.  They’d rather mindlessly respond or simply ignore me and get on with their lives. It feels weak to me… and I don’t like weakness (especially my own!)

Eventually I realized that being sensitive about it only made it worse and came to terms with it, but it’s a sad thing to simply watch connections you might like to keep diminish.  In some cases it seems it’s meant to be and that’s not to say that some won’t return stronger one day.  But I submit to you that it’s a good idea to pay attention to the connections you have now in whatever form and decide which ones you want to do a little more than maintain.  Some relationships are worth keeping, nurturing and investing in so that they remain through the cycles and grow stronger.  Even after we leave this world, some of those connections remain in the form of memories and legacies they create.  Sometimes, with a little more than just maintenance, relationships really can last forever.