Deep thoughts & Directions: Coming out of the ADD Closet

As noted in an earlier post, I it was recently discovery that I had ADD as a child. With reassurances from some in the blogging community I thought I’d go ahead and put a brief history of my life concerning this new revelation. This isn’t the complete cliff notes, but I hope you enjoy the beginning of the journey nonetheless.

As stated, on a visit to a psychiatrist  last month he had determined that as a child I likely went undiagnosed with ADD, otherwise known as Attention Deficit Disorder. I guess this didn’t come too much of a shock to me since as far as I can remember I was always a little off as a child; quiet yet emotional, physically adapt yet unable to academically “fit in” (I did have my scholarly moments). My academics were erratic as best; there were years where I was stellar in K-12; others I was in the dumps with Cs and Ds! (for those not from the USA, it’s kindergarten through 12th grade – ages 5-17).

One year in middle school however, I discovered a saving grace: sports and exercise. That year was the year I was on the cross-country team. Man was it tough! Running three miles for an 8th grader is no walk in the park. However I assumed that was what got my grades up to a 3.9 GPA (stupid French, I only got a B+).

So that was it. The only time my grades ever breached the 3.5 gpa mark. I use to have a 4.0 gpa the first semester of my graduate program but it was since fallen due to subject course load and subject matter. Goddamn.

So there’s my ADD history in short. Nowadays it’s just known as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder). Why the scientific community upped the standard of those with this type of existence is beyond me. Just being ADD already carries a badge (of honor or shame depends; I prefer the first) and just being typecast is already something to consider. Anyway, my academic woes didn’t stop at college, I’m still struggling with in my program and in my classroom placements.

That aside, I would like to share this part of myself because of my martial arts history. I did Shaolin Kung Fu for 4 years from 6th – 9th grades. Unfortunately that didn’t end well (different story). My cross-country experience was only for one season – I did it for 8th grade and entered high school being on the team but dropped out in favor of taking an accelerated literature course for freshman (a decision I’ve regretted ever since!).

My attitude towards the classroom has been a bipolar one; either I’m deafly neutral to them or they’ve been the bane of my existence. The only time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a classroom setting has been when I’ve had a great teacher. By “great” I mean “balls-to-the-wall-I-love-teaching-AND-I-know-my-stuff”. I bet that some of you have had teachers who were quite animated and enthusiastic about themselves and their topic(s).

Anyway I digress. So yes, the way to attract my attention in a class was to have an awesome teacher. Otherwise forget it! I’ve off into my own little world, drumming on the desks, daydreams, swinging the legs, etc. If you wanted to get me you’d need to go kinesthetic; that’s academic speak for “activities that involves movement”. Not surprisingly, my cross-country experience and my current forays into Aikido had yield positive results and growth in multiple facets of my life in terms of energy, self-control, self-confidence, self-dignity, and direction (among others).

I won’t get into details as to how to handle ADD/ADHD. I’m not a licensed professional (yet) and am just one guy among many trying to sort out his own craziness. But what I will say is that my journey is one that is riddled with trial and error (with amusing and tragic results!). There’s nothing particular at the moment that I want to focus on, but I will be including my “condition”, and will be sharing findings that I find of interest.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Deep thoughts & Directions

So this one took some thinking and a couple of months. Well, actually just 2; as part of my journey in Aikido (and martial arts in general) I feel that this revelation is one that will be a major driving force for the coming years if not for my life. I don’t really know why I’m doing this, but I suppose this aspect of myself has been with me since the day I was born. Additionally I’ve been thinking about the future of this blog; what sort of direction I should take?

Should I be writing about Aikido? My training? The connections between Aikido and other martial arts? How my personal life has been affected by my training?…And other goody stuff. 

I wanted to share about a revelation that a psychiatrist made about me a month ago. The news that I went undiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as a child wasn’t easy to take, but at the same time it was a relief. I’ve suspected this for over a decade due to a lot of things that have happened in the past. Something like this might be too much for some viewers, but I wanted to test the waters out first. Would anybody mind me including this aspect in my martial arts ramblings? For those of you unfamiliar to ADD, here’s a site that gives the juste .

Till next time ladies and gents!

Ukemi: The Basics and the Journey thus Far

It’s been a while since I have done a training themed post. With the onset of a series of fresh lectures by my Sensei about Ukemi, I thought I’d chime in with my own personal journey.

Ukemi is one of the most important components of being an Aikido practitioner, it is also from my experiences with other teachers one of the most abstract – and consequently misunderstood – aspects of the martial art. I might expand on this in the future, but for now I’m going to share with you some of the insights that I have witnessed, experienced, failed at, and done in terms of Ukemi.

What is Ukemi?

Ukemi is also the art of protecting oneself during the fall. You see all these spectacular turns, rolls, and falls by aikidoka and you may wonder: “It’s all flashy stuff, but it is real?” My friends, from the injuries that I’ve sustained from not doing ukemi, I will attest that it is quite real.

Ukemi by itself is translated loosely as “receiving with the body”. For a more technical translation view here at Aikiweb. The art itself, for those of us who train in it, is composed of two people – partners: Uke and Nage.

Uke: The person coming in with the “attack” and “receiving the technique” according to the situation.

Nage: The person receiving the “attack” and “executing” the technique.

These are just general translations. I will also get into the “attack” part later.

A good Uke leads to a good Nage. A great Uke leads to a great Nage.

~ J.Wada Sensei

But not necessarily the reverse. Running with this way of being it’s been an interesting ride so far with my Sensei and the senior black belts in the school. Ukemi is emphasized so much here that I have gotten scolded by my Sensei in front of the class for not coming in with a full body presence.

How is Ukemi done?

You see, Ukemi is not falling. This is a big part of the misconception of it in the art, the “falling part”. Most often times you fall in order to protect yourself from the motion of the technique. Take this in mind: some guys are hard-hitting – dominating guys, some are soft – more inclined to help you, most are somewhere in the middle. No matter the person – or body type, one should not simply cave in. The practitioner has to be present in the moment, allowing the body to be included in the movement. In the almost 3 years at this dojo it has been journey (still is) allowing my body to do this.

Take for example salmon going upstream to their breeding grounds/graveyards. If you look at the salmon they aren’t simply going with the flow. If they were they’d simply be swept downstream. Yet they are not fighting the water either – just watch them. They are “going with the flow”, yet to the untrained eye their behavior and actions would contradict this statement (that is so often used in Aikido circles). That’s the best I can describe the feeling.

Ukemi is simply the honest expression of the person who’s simulating the “attack” – one who is allowing themselves coming in with full presence, to be taken into the technique and taken out – either by rolling, falling, etc . Think of every exchange between Uke and Nage as a conversation, as my Sensei would explain it. Honestly I agree with him – and him (there’s two of them).

When I come into “attack” my Sensei or my partners, I allow myself to have the intention of coming in at them. Even at slow speeds and with new people, it is imperative that all incoming Ukes know that their movements simulate an “attacker”. Often times I find myself working with white belts and for my practice as well as improving theirs, I always take the time to show, demonstrate, and have them experience what it’s like to come in on someone with intention.

When one is “attacking”, the uke is balanced; when one is receiving the attack, they are balanced. If one is unbalanced (all it takes it one partner to throw the system off), then it throws off the whole practice. You see unlike most other martial arts where the point is to attack the “opponent” and take them down and hurt them in the shortest amount of time possible, Aikido’s aim is to have its practitioners achieve balance within themselves – a body/mind balance that is one part of a process of growth and evolution in that person.

How can I expect you to prepare for imbalance when you’re not balanced to receive it.

~ R. Nadeau Sensei

Among all of this activity of attack and receiving the attack, uke and nage are balanced. Not just in stance, but in body/mind harmony, their own energies, and that of the situation. As Nadeau Sensei has stated many times (I’ve lost count), the main themes of Aikido is achieve body/mind harmony balance. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s value in the experience of chaotic “street” situations where all hell breaks loose, your adrenaline hits the sky, and you throw every notion in the book out the window in 0.0003 seconds flat. These situations are lacking in many martial arts school and need to be addressed – I for one would love to delve into ways on how to handle high stress situations. Yet in the “typical” rough-and-tumble, put-em-down-keep-em-down martial arts, you simply are not geared toward achieving inner balance, whether martially or otherwise.

There’s still lots to be said about Ukemi. There’s the aspect (of lack of) kuzushi, balance, body/mind harmony, etc. If any of you want, I can delve into any of these into as much detail as my experience allows me to. My personal Ukemi is constantly changing – evolving. If someone were to have asked me what ukemi was six months ago I wouldn’t be this deep or detailed. If any of you would ask me what ukemi is to me six months from now I willing to bet money that my answer will be different from the explanation here. A good example of this would be how my rolls have changed since I started almost three years back. When I began I was the typical white belt – my rolls hurt me more than they helped me. Now I can say with relative confidence that they’ve smoothed out a little yet I can only hope that they will improve with the years to come.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Daily Life of a Ninja

This is what ninja training really is like. The video is titled “Daily Life of NinjaHinja”

Nigahiga is youtube channel run by a group of friends (Ryan Higa, Sean Fujiyoshi, Tim Enos and Tarynn Nago) who started just making videos for personal fun in 2006 and is now one of the most visited channels on Youtube with over 3 and a half million subscribers. Ryan Higa is the unofficial “head” of the team and the team is mainly based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Nigahiga is known to work extensively with other Youtube celebrities such as Wong Fu Productions, as in their recent short Kung Fooled that I had shared last month. You may find the link to Wong Fu Productions by clicking the “Kung Fooled” link. I also have their site linked in my blogroll on the right.

Since I’m in the topic of Ninjas, check out the short film Ninja Melk that was done in 2009.

Musings 052911: The Role of Martial Arts and Masculinity

– Note: this post will highlight the Asian American community and the years following World War 2 to the present day. I understand however that the sentiments are applicable to any and all martial arts from around the world and any person from anywhere around the globe.

Is martial arts the key to being a man? I can only imagine it being one of the many routes to becoming one. You can’t however deny that evidence of how in the past, forms of martial training were considered a big part of the “rite of passage” for most if not all young lads growing up.

A friend a while back wrote an opinion piece regarding the movie Fearless starring Jet Li.

In the Eastern perspective, a man’s strength should be used to support and protect the greater communal good, as opposed to the Western, where a man’s strength is used to obliterate and defeat the forces preventing him from reaching his personal goals and/or moral imperatives.

Which is where my journey for this post begins. So basically it all starts with a different mindset of the “ideal” form of masculinity between East and West. Back in the days before the modern era (pre-1900s), martial artists at least in China were held in high regard by their local village or town. A man capable of defending himself and the people who he cares about is on the manliness pedestal in that area.

So what does this have to do with masculinity? My personal theory is that martial arts has been one of the few ways that Asian men in particular have been able to “prove themselves” as having made the transition from boyhood to manhood. That and/or academics.

For those of you don’t know, the transcontinental railroad was built from both ends in the 1860s: California and Nebraska. The Union Pacific Railroad started the work in Nebraska using a primarily Irish workforce while the Central Pacific Railroad of California used a primarily Chinese workforce that began in California. Due to the racism during that time, the Chinese workers with their white team drivers didn’t fare very well (lower wages than their white counterparts, more hours, etc.). It didn’t come to a surprise then that stories of Chinese workers fighting back (against anyone) who knew Kung Fu and winning were the stuff of legends among the work camps and abroad.

Conditions depicted here are worse than they were in real life.

These men were usually married, leaving their families in China, and traveling by boat all the way to California, only to suffer extremely poverty, social and lawful discrimination in the US. To top it all off, their chances of going back to China alive were slim. The ones who fought back (for whatever reason) were considered mini-heros and were held to high regard.

Has this trend continued to this day and translated to the scale which those brave, individual Chinese workers have attained? Not really.

As far as martial arts never got too much mainstream exposure (in the USA at least) until Bruce Lee came on to the scene, first as Kato in “The Green Hornet” TV series and then his starring movies such as Enter the Dragon. As the status of Asian males in the US went up, the correlation between martial art and man was blurred. The stereotype of Asian men (regardless of country origin) being the “Karate Master” was lovable at best. Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid movies come to mind. Did it really help the status of Asian and American men of Asian ancestry? As my Sensei put it – and I paraphrase:

When Bruce Lee was around yes…From the 60s well into the 90s definitely with guys like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. But from the turn of the century till now there have been no icons of their caliber.

~ J.Wada Sensei, 6th Dan

My Sensei forgot about Donnie Yen of the Ip Man and Ip Man 2 fame, but whatever. In accordance to what we’ve discussed so far, many icons using martial arts eventually use their skill to the betterment of the community that they are in. Movies such as Ip Man, Fearless, Enter the Dragon, etc. show the protagonist martial artist using their skills for good – the betterment of their cause. Which is in many extents defending the rights of people other than himself. Was this manly, oh hell yes it was. But is it sexy and brought your personal glory? Yes but not so much.

Before I continue – Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, and other Asian male action stars don’t count as Asian American icons. That is because that they are not American born. Bruce Lee counts because he was born in San Francisco.

I’m making this distinction because although someone will state that someone of Chinese ancestry myself, shouldn’t I identify myself with such great action icons? To be honest not really because as I mentioned, the majority of them (minus the great Bruce Lee) are not American born.

Currently in the mainstream media you do not see many strong American-born men of Asian ancestry, even fewer are in positions of power and none with protagonist power. There’s a joke among my peers regarding Asian American men. We are usually regulated to five roles in the mainstream media and they are 1.) the guy who dies early 2.) the guy who is gay 3.)the guy who never gets the girl 4.) the scientist or engineer and 5.) Any combination of the four.

Now I am who I am and I really don’t care what “the media” thinks so long as I am continually growing and becoming a better man day by day. But seeing how there’s such little to no positive representation is disheartening to say the least.

Can martial arts be used as a vehicle towards masculinity in the Asian American community? Of course; however my gripe is that it is considered “not favorable” or “not economical” as compared to the professions that most of my peers are in (accounting, doctor, lawyer, etc.). And that is the problem; too much emphasis on how to blend in and no enough emphasis on social mobility. I remember my Sensei (who is a Sansei 三世 – a third generation Japanese-American) mentioning that when Bruce Lee was around, his presence in film instilled great pride in him as a young man growing up as among the White Caucasian majority in his hometown. In fact he did mention that Bruce Lee was one of the reasons why he picked up Aikido as his career and passion – as oppose to what his parents wanted him to be which was a Ph.D in languages.

There needs to be more of my peers who are willing to stand up for what needs to happen: social mobility. Like the unknown Chinese railway workers who stood up for their comrades, like the kung fu masters in films that we all so love and idolize, like Bruce Lee himself who toke on not only his own challenges but the racism found in Hollywood at that time. There needs to be more done.

This is obviously a much deeper and complicated topic than a post can handle but this is my two cents into this matter that has been a growing hobby of mine since my undergraduate days. For those of you who are finding hard to relate I thank you for your quiet patience and ears.

As always, till next time ladies and gents!

Tips on how to Choose the best Martial arts school for your Child(ren)

There is only 6 munchkins here, imagine having 25!

So it’s almost the end of summer and from what I hear kids will have lots and lots of free time. Which also means that martial arts schools all over the country will have kids (with their parents) swarming to sign up their children to classes so that they may have something to do other than play video games in the living room for 3 months.

With that in mind I’d thought it’d be a good time to put down a train of thought that I’ve had for a couple of months now: a small list to guide parents on how to choose the appropriate martial arts for their kid(s). This comes from having been a children’s instructor since May of 2010. This also comes from my memories from taking Shaolin Kung Fu as a pre-teen. This list is by no means a “bible” on which is the “perfect fit” for your child, just some mannerisms from my personal observations.

1.) Instructors matter more than the art. For most kids they usually don’t stay in their first martial art. Although some arts are more geared toward self-defense rather than “classical” (i.e. MMA vs. Okinawan Karate), pay attention to how to the instructor teaches the kids. Teaching kids is an endeavor in itself and requires more than just patience. There’s something of a “magic” that’s required to teach kids and few instructors can reach kids in order to not only teach the art, but also teach the kids discipline, respect, attention skills, etc. I will say from my personal ongoing experience that it does require a “fun”mindset. So walk into the school and just observe the kids instructor(s). Ask yourself questions such as:

– How do they connect to the kids?

– What activities/exercises do they do?

– What style of teaching do they do? (rout memorizing vs. relaxed style or a mix of both, etc.)

– Is there even “play” time, to balance the time spent memorizing katas, practicing techniques, etc?

– What is the experience of the instructors? (be nice to us, some are still in training – myself included)

2.) Don’t get caught by McDojos! Watch out for schools that seem to ask for money upfront or lock you – the client – in a long term contract. Though the term “Mcdojo” has multiple meanings and does not have specific perimeters, read this article regarding this phenomena (go down to the last 1/4 of the article) and this article. The point that I’m trying to make is save your money! Be wary of schools which ask you to make a down payment of X amount in order to “lock in” your child for a certain amount of time. Personal example: I remember my dad mentioning to me way back that he had put a “down payment” of a NON refundable amount of over $3,500 for 3 years of instruction from the Shaolin school that I was attending then (doing the math that’s at least $97.20/month). Withholding my opinions, my current dojo’s rate for kids and teens is $60 and $70 respectively and are on a monthly basis only (we do accept donations however). Try and look for a school that does monthly – or at the most a bi monthly or tri-monthly plan. Ask yourself will your kids be training for a long time? Things come and go and change and life happens; your child might not like the place, you move, etc. You don’t want to make any unnecessary holes in your wallet, drama, or uneducated financial decisions.

3. Availability: Check and see if the main instructor of the school teaches the kids class and/or someone who works closely with the main instructor. A good sign would be that the they (the head instructor) would be present during the class even if they are  in the office. This denotes that the head of the school cares enough about the people who are learning the martial art. A sign that a school is a “Mcdojo”? Usually the head instructors are not present at all and leave the kids (and some adult) classes to a 2nd or even their 3rd point person because they are too “busy” running the school.

4.  Make sure the school has a policy that requires adults/guardians to be present during class. Cases of child abuse/molester relations in schools are the stuff of parents’ nightmares. I had walked in on a meeting of various heads of Aikido schools in my area and there is a policy that if there is a child that is under 16/17, they must be accompanied by a parent/guardian that is over 21 years of age. Ask if there is such a policy at the school that you want to enroll your child(ren) in. As a children’s instructor I’m actually comforted that there is such a policy like this in place.

5. What do you want for your child? Self-defense, a place for them to “exercise”, a potential passion, overcoming shyness, all of the above? Some kids really do gain confidence through martial arts, others not so much. Some kids really do learn how to keep themselves controlled, others will find it a little distracting. Are they getting bullied in school? Are they having confidence issues in general? For this question, I would go back to #1; it really depends on the teacher(s)/master(s). This sort of goes into the argument of traditional vs. modern/MMA. Personally I’d throw out that whole argument and just go for the school and people who are best for your Johnny or Jane. A Wing Chun Sifu could do wonders to one child whereas another could find the same result with the Brazilian JuJitsu master down the street. The Aikido Sensei in the apartment block in one corner could be perfect for the bullied kid whereas the shy girl could find her niche in the Capoeira Mestre (master) in the next.

6. Window shopping: Last but not least, don’t be afraid to shop around. As emphasized in #1 and #5, it’s mainly about what you want for your child and what your child is naturally drawn to. You might like a certain place for its X self defense skills yet if your child does nothing but scream and pander even after 6 months there might be a conflict of interest. Likewise a teacher who emphasizes self-defense for children yet teaches it with an iron fist might not be great for a shy child. As a side note, you’ll be amazed as to how little  skill it takes for a child to throw a heavy punch!

Not a complete list by any means, but just some personal tips for you parents out there. Good luck and my hope is that these will come in handy at some point. Till next time ladies and gents!