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The Gateway to Understanding

Practiced Aikido Wednesday with a friend CWS a knife disarming technique that involves locking the wrist that is holding the weapon, throwing, then pinning (Kotegaeshi). CWS threw me in such a way that had I been holding a weapon in my opposite hand (like the subway attacker four years ago who had one knife in each hand), I would have been able to stab his ribs in passing as I was being thrown. I have trained with CWS for four years now, and I thought it was about time for me to tell him. As he threw me, I touched his rib cage.

“This is a knife stab.” I said.

What ensued was various experimentation – him trying different angles and throwing me harder as he tried to close the opening.

He even resisted me at times as I took my turn throwing him. Once I touched his neck in preparation to throw. This was a sign that a punch would have reached his face. On the other hands he was only able to stand there as a result of my having slackened the tension in his arm.

I sensed frustration, and said no more. The answer was there. Sometimes people need to find their own answers. Six years of training this technique in a particular way, and me suddenly showing him a weakness in it, must have been unexpected for him, and it would take him time to adjust.

Two lessons:

1. When teaching, one must respect the experience of the other person, and understand that he may have a certain but if pride associated with it. One must provide the minimum necessary intervention to get the point across.

2. When faced with evidence that one has been wrong, the appropriate emotion is often frustration, but curiosity is more appropriate.

Found Out

This morning, I had the urge to bike to the customer, despite the rain. It was the first time.

Reminiscent of when I was working on construction sites in Tokyo, and would bring a suit in a bag. After work, I would wash my face, change into a suit, put my dirty work clothes in the suit bag, and go to interview for jobs at technology firms. Let them think I was just coming back from a business trip.

Today I biked to the customer a rain suit, changed into dry clothing after I got there, and hid everything in my backpack, which was dry because I had worn it under my rain jacket. Then I called my customer.
“Yo B, I’m here, waiting for you in the lobby.”

“Ok, I’ll be right down…”

My customer came down.

“Hey! Is it raining that hard?”

“Well, it is a bit.”

“Do you not have an umbrella?”

“I do, but I guess I still got a bit wet.”

“Did you… Bicycle here?”

“How did you know?”

“You mentioned cycling before. Hey, let’s find you a hair dryer. You’ll catch a cold.”

“Yeah, I was wearing a rain suit, but on my head only a bicycle helmet.”

“We have a shower room – I think there’s a dryer there.”

“Whoa, you have a shower?”

“The building codes require it. It for emergencies like chemical spills, but people generally use it to wash up after their commute.”

“That’s very cool.”

Thinking to myself – next time I can go stealth by biking here early and using the shower.

Early Summer Dusk

Early summer dusk, the colors of the sky changing as I type. This special moment where the changes come fast and visible. Pay attention. Life happens fast.

The last dusk I spent outside was in Tokyo, in a park in my old neighborhood, reflecting on impressions of Japan with an Aikido friend from Kazakhstan. His as a first time visitor, mine as a resident on a brief return.

At dusk,
At dawn,
At the moment a storm’s come or gone;
In birth,
In death,
In an awakening breath;
Change begets change,
And each is a window to new possibilities
Unfolding in visions in thoughts’ interstices.
Lord show me the way.

Time Travel

Last week one of my coworkers retired, I thought – shit I’m more than halfway there my myself. Same week one of my friends told of shopping for a funeral plot for his father, and since it’s a family plot, for himself, too. My friend is my age. Damn.

And how did it get to be fucking April already? Wasn’t it just January? As a kid, I’d hear adults saying stuff like this and think – meh, it’s because they haven’t made use of their time well that they regret its passage, but now I know it is simply letting oneself become aware of one’s precarious footsteps. Once, on the face of the earth, there were not any footsteps that were planted by me. Later, there will be a time when I shall plant no more footsteps.
The number of our footsteps and heartbeats is limited.

Hurtling through time and space, we can see what happened a hundred years ago, through the blurry filter of film, pictures, and books, but those people who saw it first hand are no longer with us, and though it may be possible for us to live beyond a hundred, what happens a hundred years from now, we will likely not see.

With slow conditioning, I am stronger, more balanced, and have better eyesight than I did ten years ago. My body has grown younger, and this has in some ways blinded me to the passage of time, but it is true – we are time travelers, and every day we get to make a few choices as to where we will be tomorrow. Life happens fast. Pay attention.

But in all our striving, we are not the final beneficiaries. Each day brings us a little closer to the dreamless sleep and the final forgetting.

Meanwhile every dance, every Aikido practice, every laugh is to me like a salve, like a refreshing wind or summer rain. In passing we can smell, touch, see, hear, taste, maybe remember it for a time, but we cannot own it. Surely my old friend PJ thought this as she sat on her back porch watching, smelling, listening to, feeling, and tasting the summer rain in the last stages of her struggle with cancer.

She has long passed into the unremembering sleep, but I can remember for her. In a way bits of us live in friends and family, just as I can be happy when my brother tells me of his vacation, so therefore his vacation is partly lived for me. Similarly, I can take a few deep breaths, and think of the pleasure PJ must have felt to be alive, and remember her healthy (the sound of her nerdy laugh) and share this pleasure of breathing with her vicariously.

Our time is too short.

Long has it been since I have reflected on the shadow of Death, but he is there, a faithful shadow who has followed me through all time, quietly whispering to remind me to be my better self, and promising though I may forget him, he will never desert me, until he lifts me up, and with a laugh or sigh, we say shit, fuck it, and step out into the void.


In a Krav Maga video, the instructor talks about the correct way to use a gun to threaten someone at close range – not to hold it in front of the other’s face, where there is a danger that one can get into a struggle over the gun, or even be disarmed, but to stand with the gun pointed at the other party, and the elbow pulled back, while pushing with the other hand to put distance between oneself and the other party. I suppose the same is true for a knife.

I think this is true of the power to harm in general. It is most effective when used defensively, and loses some of its strength if brandished overtly.

Observed and Overheard

Observed: After an Aikido demonstration, he bowed to his uke, then bowed to the front. This was customary. Then, he paused, and bowed to the audience, which struck me as  original.

“When standing under a low bridge, standing tall only causes you to hit your head.”
(compare with Japanese: 出る釘が打たれる。 The nail that sticks out gets struck.)

“That people are forgetting to speak Taiwanese is too bad, but this is the direction of history. I have friends who don’t speak Taiwanese. It’s not practical for us in a group to speak Taiwanese and then translate so that he can understand. Language is just a means. What’s important is understanding.”


I think I can keep going if I lose myself in this foolishness.
It’s not foolishness. It’s a dream.
Some might say it’s naiveté.
Work toward your dreams. Without them, what do you really have? What other people think is their business.
Don’t you think it’s naive?
Such a statement is not in my vocabulary.

我有障碍… 只是,我還在學。
I am handicapped… Well, it’s only that I’m still learning.


Reasons to live in a city as opposed to the country. Walking distance to work or school, plentiful transport links, more diversions for leisure (parks, libraries, concert halls, bars, restaurants); a wider selection of goods; food stalls with cheap, good food; access to markets.

All of this is mitigated by building codes that specify minimum house size, a lack of public transport and the resulting traffic and parking lot sprawl, zoning laws that keep businesses and homes separate, and a permit and finance regime that works for chain stores and against independent stores.

Los Angeles is more expensive than Tokyo, and not as fun.