Martial Arts

Zero Net Time part 2

So yesterday, a reader said that my constant harping on the body made her feel uncomfortable.  Please desist.

With all due respect, I cannot.  All any of us can do is explore our answers to two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”   These take us along the path of evolution.  One truth is that the answers to these questions are ultimately beyond conscious grasping, in the way that the wind is invisible.   But our ancestors understood long ago that while the wind is invisible, various of its effects are not: the bending of the grass.


So to determine growth and change and the effects of the invisible world (“Detect those things that cannot be seen” as Musashi said) I take a different approach. When in Tanzania, I noted that in an entire herd of zebras, well, they all looked pretty much exactly alike.  The same genetics, the same environment, the same daily actions…virtually identical animals.


And zebras today are about the same as were zebras a hundred thousand years ago.


A herd of humans would be about the same. But in the modern world, it is clear that we are different (and yeah, to a zebra we might look all the same. But allow me my little analogies, please!)  And I suggest to you that where we diverge from the norm, especially where we diverge from the norm…or our ancestors.


What are these norms?  Well, we are descended from thousands of generations of human beings who mated, who could efficiently hunt and gather, who could avoid predators and navigate their environment with sufficient grace to survive.  And human beings are, in some important ways, the greatest athletes on the planet: no other animal compares in the decathlon of life.  Nothing else can run AND jump AND climb AND swim AND lift AND throw AND so forth like we can.   And our ancestors had that.


But look around us, and you’ll see that something has gone wrong.   We are maladapted to our own lives, so many of us lonely (mating), and struggling financially (hunting and gathering), or have bodies that out of balance with our caloric intake.  This stuff isn’t our FAULTS.  It is not about a flaw in our personalities.


But it is our RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it, if anything is to be done.  There is no one else to do it.


So I speak of finding love, although some are uncomfortable about it. I speak of financial success in a career you enjoy, although some are uncomfortable about that. And I speak of having a body in alignment with your own values (in other words…when you fantasize sexually, are you thinking of someone with a body like yours?   Is your caloric intake in balance with your output?)  If not…my path says that there is something to look at there. That there is an inhibitor to your joy in life. And that we must put guilt, blame, or shame aside…but take responsibility or we might wander off a path with invisible edges, and become lost.


It is not our fault. It is our responsibility.


Back to writing.   The modern world is unique in human history.  Hunter gatherer cultures in some parts of the world can produce a day’s calories with no more than three or four hours of gathering.   But in the United States, the average person can often earn an entire day’s calories with a single hour of sedentary work.   This breaks the connection between mind, body, and survival results.


To accelerate the problem there is the emotional element. The Hawaiian Huna suggest that the body is like a black bag, where we store all of our unprocessed emotions.   If you are sedentary, and deal with the normal grief, pain, fear, anger, and regret of life, it can build up in your body-mind like sediment.  Start to “break it up” through exercise and that pain surfaces.  It feels as if the activity CAUSES the pain.  No, it just breaks up the cysts that store the poison. Don’t break it up and it will leech into your system over time and kill you slowly.  Break it up quickly and it can make you dizzy and sick.


So if you want to change your body, and you have stored pain and fear in your body-mind unit, you have to take that into account and build some kind of compensatory activity, you will mistake the pain of awakening for the activity hurting you.  Major error.




But let’s say that you take no pleasure in physical motion (and doctors would tell you that a baby or child who does not play or explore his environment physically is sick), and have only sedentary goals: scholarship, writing, whatever. Why, we’re back with writing again!


THE PRIMARY FUEL OF ANY ACTION IS EMOTION.   Your emotions will drive you or hold you back. If you don’t have EMOTIONAL reasons to do something…you won’t do it.


So no program can succeed unless you feel a driving NEED for success, reasons that will keep you moving forward even when you are tired, or stressed.  Unless you see the value in it even when you are not given bad news by a doctor.  If being told “you will die in six months unless you exercise” is the only way you will stop watching television or logging into Facebook to do it (and it is hysterical to me…or tragic, depending on my mood…how many people will spend hours on FB every week, and then claim they have no time to exercise.   Wow.   Are they even aware they are lying to themselves?  Musashi’s first principle: DO NOT THINK DISHONESTLY. When you do, you are lost.)


So let’s look at the process of writing, the most sedentary of activities, and see how exercise fits in there.  What is THE MACHINE again?

  1. Write a sentence a day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Submit and re-submit until they sell
  4. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  5. Read 10x what you write
  6. Repeat 100 times
  7. Don’t write a novel until you’ve sold 10 stories.


Can you see the time, energy, fear mastery, discipline, capacity to resist fatique and discouragement necessary to do this?  Do you remember that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”?  That when you run out of energy life starts looking pale and progress impossible?  Can you see it?


All right, try this, the process of Behavioral Modification:

  1. Identify the pattern you wish to change
  2. Identify the pattern you wish to adapt.
  4. Practice the new program
  5. “Fail successfully”
  6. Correlate your results and re-adjust.
  7. Begin again


Do you see it this time? That without energy, you will fall back into your prior behavior patterns, your comfortable habits, and not improve?


Do you grasp that your energy is what broadcasts your identity to the world?  That your ability to experience JOY in life is related to your energy?


That is you had no other goal than to increase and refine your energy by 1% per day, in a year you would totally change for the better?


If you can’t see that, these messages are not for you. But if you do, and there is a part of you that longs to break out of a prison of diminishing life force, hope, joy and evolutionary potential…you are my tribe.


So the first thing to do is to demolish the lies and illusions, the “I will hurt myself” the “I have no time” and the “I don’t know what to do”  and “Its too expensive.”


We’re going to do that by putting “safety rails” on the entire process.

  1. It will take very little time: at the lowest levels, only FIVE MINUTES A DAY. And at the highest levels?   ZERO NET TIME.  I kid you not.
  2. By prioritizing health over fitness, and emotional health over physical health, we are placing things in the correct sequence, and not allowing you to hurt yourself UNLESS YOU IGNORE INSTRUCTIONS. And oh yes, any of you who do not have permission to access your joy, and heal your emotional wounds, WILL try to find a way to hurt yourselves, so that you can say “I tried.  It didn’t work”.
  3. We will start with things that take no money at all.   Later, an investment will be required. But the ZERO NET TIME program will help you handle that, too.  Yeah, I know how that sounds.   Bear with me.


So the first piece of the puzzle is to clarify the emotions while we build a few basic habits.

Stress is often mentioned as an obstacle to exercise, and that is a pisser, because exercise is one of the things that best handles stress. Moving the body is better than just bouncing ideas around in your head.


Hans Selye, the man who popularized the concept of stress, spoke about four languages, and English was not his first.    Before he died, he said that if English HAD been his first language, he’d have been known as the father of Strain rather than the father of Stress.


From an engineering point of view, Stress is “pressure per unit area” whereas Strain is “deformation per unit length.”  In other words: heat and pressure make DIAMONDS…but handled badly, they also crush and crunch us out of shape.  Stress is what we NEED to evolve.  Strain is what we need to avoid.


According to Coach Sonnon, the Russians look at all physical techniques as composed of three elements: breath, motion, and structural alignment. And say that each of them is created by the other two. In other words, structure is created by motion and breath, motion is created by structure and breath, and breath is created by motion and structure.


If you “dis-integrate” this structure, you create strain.  In other words, if you undergo more stress than you can handle…OR if you paradoxically take too little stress.


But if you deliberately work to integrate this triad, you are on the path of physical evolution, which connects to the emotional…which is then the fuel you need for the mental aspects.


Cool, huh?  Seeing how this all fits? Most of the world’s spiritual disciplines focus on one aspect of this: the breath. And this is appropriate, because the breath is the canary in the coal mine. It is the ONLY aspect of our body-mind that is BOTH voluntary and autonomic, and therefore the doorway to our hidden inner world.  Slow your breathing down below about four per minute and your carbon dioxide levels skyrocket, triggering your sympathetic nervous system controlling your fight-or-flight response, and attendant fear signals. This leads to anxiety, stress, and strain.


Learn to handle this, to breathe under stress without that breath becoming warped and shallow, and you have learned a core secret to a powerful life: grace under pressure.


Because in life, they pay you for how much stress you can take without breaking.


So what have we done so far?

  1. Given you THE FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE, a way to re-wire your body’s response to stress by performing deep, slow, diaphragmatic “belly breaths” for sixty seconds, five times a day.
  2. This not only begins your physical integration, but will reveal your own illusions, the degree to which your ego is destroying you, because NO ONE with the time to read these words doesn’t have five minutes a day.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say no one AT ALL doesn’t have five minutes a day.  There is a story about two woodsmen who went into the forest to chop wood for five hours. At the end of the time, one of them had chopped three times the wood of the other, and the losing woodsman was baffled, and asked the winner how he did it. “You didn’t see what I spent three of those hours doing” the winner said.  “I was sharpening my axe.”  The more critical the activity, the more important that you sharpen your axe before you go to work.  There is nothing sadder than burning up all your energy chopping with a dull axe
  3. We’ve given you JOINT MOBILITY drills. These are the single most important PHYSICAL exercise you can do, working your entire body in only minutes a day.


Here’s the next piece.    Again from Coach Sonnon, whose contribution to the basics of this system are enormous.


Create a scale of pain, from 1-10.  1 is “no pain” while 10 is “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.”  Those with chronic pain will need to modify this, of course.  If you can walk, and do walk, you need to exercise consciously just to limit the amount of damage from the simple action.  CONSCIOUS motion for the purpose of self-discovery and growth is different from motion designed to perform work or provide ambulation.  CONSCIOUS is the key.


Create another scale, and this one of proper movement. Think of the absolute most perfect movement you can imagine.  Fred Astaire, Bruce Lee, Barishnikov…like that.   That’s a “10”. Total, perfect alignment, perfect relaxation.


Then think of terrible, clumsy, tight, spastic motion. No balance or grace. That is a “1”.


Got that?  We’re all somewhere on that spectrum.  Now then.  When you are moving, you work to keep your pain levels below a “3”.  Again, this is subjective, and if you have chronic pain, you might say “no more pain than you experience walking”. If THIS is hugely painful, you may be confined to bed or a wheelchair.  In that case, say a “3” is “I can smile and breathe smoothly as I do it.”


Got it?  No more than a 3 in pain. And you simultaneously work for a level of “grace in motion” at an “8” or above.


And yes, you may never reach that goal. And that’s all right: keep your pain below a 3. Keep your breathing smooth.   PRIORITIZE HEALTH AND SAFETY.   But keep your eyes on perfect movement.   Keep your ego under control: don’t let your ego convince you to try to do a yoga pose that you can’t do. Don’t let your coach or trainer push you beyond the point where you can breathe smoothly or smile.  YOU ARE AN ADULT.  TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.


Got is?  Now here is the best part: how do you know when you are ready to push yourself? Get intense?  Really bear down and “go for it”?  If and ONLY if you can simultaneously keep pain below a “3” AND your grace of motion above a “7”.


Until you can do both, you are in the rehab phase, the building phase, and you are doing GREAT.  Competition is for people who can hold BOTH of those simultaneously. Only those people can plausibly push their effort above a “6.”


Those are your safety rails. Do the best you can, where you can, and over time your body will give you all the strength, power, and grace it is capable of.  When you push harder, you are letting your ego destroy you…and remember that it will KILL you to keep you from killling it.


That’s it for today.   Do your joint mobility every morning.  Breathe five times a day for sixty seconds. Never let your pain go higher than what you experience just walking down the street–OR LESS.


And you are on the path.  Want to keep the whole thing under five minutes a day, total? Alternate days.  Mobility one day, breathing the next. Or…be smart, and do sixty seconds of joint mobility AND proper breathing, five minutes a day.


And I’ll talk to you again, very soon.




The “Zero Net Time” System part one

Saw William F. Nolan at the paperback book fair yesterday.  He’s 89 years old, still sharp, still writing, still hitting the gym every day.  He made an interesting comment about “diets”: “diets are bullshit,” he said.  “Just eat right, and work out every day.   That’s all you need.”  That might be too simple, but its pretty close to true.   I was doing joint mobility drills in between the autographs, circling my fingers and wrists.  “What’s wrong?” one of the assistants asked.  “Just keeping things loose,” I said.


“Oh.  Do you have an immune system problem?”








He seemed confused. And I realized what the problem was.  Most people aren’t honest with themselves about the fact that they need physical discipline, on a daily level.  Their ancestors had to exert themselves to earn food, and if they lost physical efficiency they got less food. Very direct feed-back, which society has broken.  So they ignore their bodies, ignore the little signals that something is wrong, tell themselves they haven’t the time or resources or motivation to work out until something goes very wrong. Then, suddenly, they discover the time (odd how that works. Hmmm…where was it hiding?) and work out enough to prevent or alleviate the pain.  Hopefully.


But…what would have happened if instead of relieving the pain, instead of working out from fear of falling apart, they had exercised for joy of motion, for love of developing vitality and even some happy skill.  To be able to dance or climb or run or play in some way that puts a smile on your face rather than just avoiding a frown.


Love, rather than fear.


I want to start speaking about the “Zero Net Time” system I’ve been experimenting with.  It is designed to cover all basic aspects of fitness with, as the name implies, a “Zero Net Time” investment–if you follow the program you GAIN time rather than “lose” it.   Yeah, I know that sounds strange, but you’ll see.


I want to give it all away.   Eventually, I’ll take these notes and collect them, and sell them over on Clickbank, but you guys are my family.  So…


First, a piece I got from Coach Scott Sonnon. Several of these pieces came from him, and I want to be clear about that.   The man is brilliant.  It is the “Three dimensional performance pyramid”–the structure of high performance.  Each level builds on the level previous.


I’ve modified it a bit.   The foundation is EMOTIONAL HEALTH.  A belief in self, a love of life, a sense that your days have potential and possibility.     If you have enough EMOTIONAL JUICE, and a clear vision of WHAT you want and WHY you want it, you are half way there.    HEARTBEAT MEDITATION, JOURNALING, DREAM DIARIES, ANCIENT CHILD, and other forms of meditation and inner work are great for this.


The next step is PHYSICAL HEALTH.  This isn’t “fitness” per se. It is how you feel and function.   Not just lack of illness but vibrancy, energy, sex drive, the sense of sleeping soundly, waking up ready to go, and having all the energy you need to work hard all week and party on the weekend.  Resistance to stress.    JOINT MOBILITY and THE MORNING RITUAL will take care of these first two levels.  If you look at the “BE BREATHED” exercise, you get to cover this and emotional health at the same time. More on this later.


Next comes PHYSICAL FITNESS. Note: the first two levels are far more important.  But this is also great fun, and gives you an “edge”, and is critical if you want to enjoy any sport or physical activity.    This is “how high, how fast, how far, how heavy.”   Not just how you feel, but how you perform.    The best overall tools in terms of “bang for your buck” are probably various bodyweight exercises and Kettlebells.  THE FIVE TIBETANS and KETTLEBELLS cover this level and the previous.


Next comes SKILL.  Refinement of some activity you are interested in, something that gets your juices pumping.  This is neurological, assuming that you’ve developed the physical foundation.


Then finally PERFORMANCE and COMPETITION.   And this is where ‘weekend athletes” get into trouble. They don’t prepare themselves, don’t have health or fitness or refine their skills, but go out on the slopes or the court and compete with their own self-image or kids half their age…and rip their bodies apart.






More on this later.  But there you have it, the things you need to have a wonderful life on the physical level: Emotional health, physical vibrancy, fitness, skill, and then and ONLY then…performance and competition.  That is the syntax.  Anything other than that will tear you apart.


So…how to begin?  I’d say with the minimum investment of your time and energy.     That would mean a little meditation and your joint mobility drills.  Heartbeat Meditation is my favorite–it is the most powerful  “safe” meditation  and the safest “powerful” meditation.   Simply sit and listen/feel your heartbeat for 10-20 minutes a day.    MINIMUM INVESTMENT?   Five times a day for 60 seconds, listen/feel your heartbeat. Once every three hours.


Next, Joint Mobility.  Wake up, put on some fun music (preferably something slow and sexy) and work your way through your joints.  Because every tendon, ligament and voluntary muscle is connected to a joint, in just 3 minutes you can work through the entire body.  Wake yourself up.  Scott Sonnon Intuflow Joint Mobility Beginner Part 1



That’s all for today.   I have to lay a foundation, and then show you how to optimize it.    You have enough to get started.   If you’re REALLY smart, you’ll figure out a way to combine these first two, to get an amazing effect in just five minutes a day.


And…you are smart, right?  Right?






(Here’s an audio version of this first day’s exploration:


Seeing those things that cannot be seen

Why can’t you see the forest for the trees? Because the forest isn’t the trees. The forest is the space BETWEEN the trees. The trees GROW in the forest. In order to see the forest, you have to perceive negative space, something that we’re not really programmed to do. The martial art of Aikido is all about seeing the space between–that is (in my mind) the great treasure of randori training. Jazz is what happens between the notes. Poetry is what happens between the words. And so it goes.

Samuel R. Delany wrote a book of literary criticism and writing instruction called, I think, THE JEWEL HINGED JAW. In it, there is a great essay about writing, in which he states that every word must be chosen not for what it means, but for the mental processes that it will trigger in the reader–in other words, where the reader’s mind goes as she attempts to interpret the word. For instance:
THE (alright, we are talking about a person, place, or thing.)
BOY (ah. A human being. Male. Young.)
RAN (a verb. A picture forms in the mind.)
AWAY (a threat? A game?)
WITH (carrying something? Does the boy have a specific attitude or expression?)
ALL (a totality. A grouping)
HIS (possessions? Relationships?)
TOYS (visualizations of drums, stuffed bears. But is he happy? Crying? Angry…?)

Each word is chosen for where the reader’s mind goes IN BETWEEN the words. The invisible space is what controls the emotional content. The specific words we can react to, and filter our response. But we can’t really filter our responses to the spaces “in-between”–and that is where we can nuke the readers.

The same thing is true in martial arts. Movement “off the beat” is harder to react to, because we are motor-set to continue the motion. Using broken rhythm, therefore, is a way of beating someone who is actually faster than you.

In human relationships, you HAVE to read between the lines. You are dead in the water if you don’t. When you date a man or woman, as the saying goes, you are actually dealing with every person that person ever dated. I remember being crazy infatuated with a beautiful dancer we’ll call Rachel. Rachel was the sexiest woman I’d ever met, let alone slept with. But the nicer I was to her, the more distant and nervous she became. Eventually, I realized that her personal dating history included an assortment of real predators, men who came off “nice” at first, and then devolved into true assholery. The way I was coming on triggered her caution response–and some other things as well. Like most of us, she’d done some things in relationship she wasn’t proud of, and on a deep level didn’t believe she was deserving of a good, loving, simple relationship. And more: since in her experience everyone wears a mask, whatever I presented myself as, underneath I had to be something different, right? (Wrong. I’m pretty much the same underneath as I am on the surface. If you don’t like me at first meeting, chances are you won’t like me if you get to know me better. And if you do, chances are you will. I’m pretty transparent.) All of this complication was driving me nuts until I learned to let her behaviors create my picture of her internal representations–and I saw how complicated and confused they were. I remember telling her when we started our relationship that I didn’t think she had permission to be happy. And then, dazzled by her beauty and sexuality and promises, I let myself forget my instinctive hit. How had I known? Simply by taking a look at her relationship history. A long series of disasters. Look at the shadow. Look at the space between the trees. Trust your intuition. The small, quiet voice in your head is rarely wrong. The loud urgent voice in your pants, however…

Once again, it is by engaging with life on all levels that you begin to sense the patterns that go beyond the obvious. Pay attention. You’ll save yourself a world of hurt.

-Steve Barnes

Childhood and Adulthood

I like minimum investments, the smallest amount of work that will maintain forward momentum. Get them down small enough and you have an amount so tiny that there is no LOGICAL reason not to do them.  The real reasons are revealed as emotional.


Here are some examples:


  1. The “Smartphone” diet.  Simply take a digital picture of everything you eat before you eat it.  Don’t have to modify your eating at all–just be sure you are 100% conscious of every bite.  Amazing how hard this is. And how effective.
  2. “Five Minute Miracle”– one 60-second breathing breaks, one every three hours. A total of five a day.  Re-patterns your stress response.  Amazing.  Combine with your very best abdominal exercise, done very slowly (one sixty-second rep), and you up the game.
  3. A sentence a day.   First step of the Machine.  Because of a variety of logistical and psychological factors, you can ride a sentence a day to a book a year.  Again, it is amazing to watch.
  4. Morning Ritual. 10-20 minutes of movement combined with affirmation and dynamic focus.    “Flooding” yourself with positive emotions.


One of the saddest things that I see is people who feel that, without their pain, they would not be creative.   All I can wonder is: whose voice is that in their head? Who told them this?  What is their experience of joy?


Both pain AND joy can motivate us.  If I had to use one or the other, would definitely choose carrot over stick. If you cannot find pleasure to focus on, then pain will do…but wow, would you treat your own most beloved child like that?  And if you wouldn’t, why are you doing it to yourself?


Consciousness, speaking the truth, is a sovereign remedy for most of what ails us, even if it leads to temporary pain.  “These cigarettes will kill me” causes the temporary pain of discipline, guilt, withdrawal. And saves you the long-term pain of mortal disease.


Adulthood is about speaking the truth. Keeping your word to yourself.  Choosing long-term pleasure over short-term pain.  Taking responsible for your own emotions and actions.  We know this in raising children…

Why do we forget it for ourselves?

Don’t lie and say you don’t have “the talent” to do something: you don’t want to spend the thousand hours.  The fact that others might get more results for that investment of time is irrelevant. You can ALWAYS find someone doing better, or worse, than you.

Don’t lie and say you don’t have “the time” if you can start with five or ten minutes a day.  Ummm…you had time to read this, correct?

Don’t lie and say you have nothing to be grateful for.  You can read, correct?  You have the resources to get onto the internet, correct?  Wouldn’t you miss your eyes and computer if they were gone?  Then you can be grateful for them now.

Your focus determines how you feel. Your ability to tell the truth creates an accurate map. Your ability to keep your word to yourself determines whether you will take the small, constant steps that can lead you to love, or health, or success.

  1. Start by loving yourself.  (why change if you don’t love the person who will benefit?)
  2. Love one other person (we will do things for others we won’t do for ourselves.)
  3. Understand the world without guilt, blame, or shame.  (Forgive yourself. You’ve done the best you could, with the resources you have.  This will require that you forgive others as well–the same is true for them)
  4. Find your tribe.  (you cannot rise to your next level without allies and mentors.   Mentor and support others, and you gain the cosmic chips to ask for allies and mentors to help you.)
  5. Win.  (Define victory so that you can achieve it, EVERY DAY.   Five minutes a day will start you.  And from there…the world looks and feels like a different place.)







Healing starts with the heart

There was a discussion of how we can heal the rift in our nation. I believe it is in finding tribes, rather than fighting those we disagree with.
The trick is that EVERYONE is tribe with you if you find the correct perspective. There’s not a person our there you cannot create connection with, if you know how, and have the quiet time to connect. (The fact that we cannot always get that quiet time is the reason violence is a necessary tool to master. Sometimes you just have to deal with aggression physically.)
The Internet is not the best place for this: I’ve had people who are perfectly pleasant and sweet in person become raging ego-beasts online. We lack the cues of vocal tonalities, facial expressions, real-time reciprocal mammalian pacing leading and following, and body language. So I disagree that the answer is to first decide on “what is true.” That is starting with the head, and most of the conflict I see in the world is a clash of reality maps.
Rather, start with the heart: love is the core reality. (Heart). Go from there to the reality that we are all creatures seeking a cessation of pain (Body). Once connected, THEN we can discuss our maps (Head) and how we hope they will help us experience pleasure.
My page is open to all who are polite and courteous.   Those who are willing to communicate politely ARE MY TRIBE.  
The rude have no greater wisdom I need to hear. They are just rude, not uniquely smart. I can handle anything anyone throws at me verbally (those who think I cannot are welcome to engage with me personally, one on one, face to face.   I’m around)   but people already traumatized have difficulty with aggression. This is MY party, and my guests must know they are safe. So polite crazies are tolerated, but rude crazies are not. That’s the rule. If you don’t like it, there are people who welcome crazies and the rude, and you will find tribe there. Good luck.

The Hope and the Dream of the Slave

In many ways, the best and strongest man I’ve ever known is Steve Muhammad, my beloved karate instructor.  Not only a man of devastating physical skills, an innovative genius, fierce competitor, inspiring teacher and devoted family man, but a creature of deep spirit and vast compassion.   With more street experience than any four other people I know, he is also gentle and humble, a combination that still boggles my mind.


From the first moment I saw him at a Martial Arts Expo in about 1974, performing a mass attack skit where four students came at him and he responded with an explosion of speed, power and precision that blew my mind, I knew I wanted to sit at his feet and learn.  What I didn’t realize was that THE DEMO WAS UNREHEARSED.    Years later I got to participate in one, and he simply said: “come at me” to all of us.  And he took us out with absolute control, his punches, kicks, palm strikes and elbows coming within a breath of our skin, kissing our uniforms in machine-gun rhythm…without hurting us.

I’d wondered for decades: HOW COULD HE BE SO STRONG?   And one day, about seven years ago, I found out.

As a child, Steve had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, who had been slaves.  Suddenly, it hit me. Dear God. THAT experience had burned away all that was false.  All the lies. All the “First World Problems.” There are two reactions to such stress, really.  It breaks you, husks you, cripples you for generations…or the heat and pressure transforms you into a diamond. The majority are broken. But some few…


Suddenly, I grasped that under stress, the few who manage to stand up, to shine, to maintain their humanity, have a knowledge of self, a clarity of their values, that can be shaken by no lesser power.   The 99% will be crushed, diminished, driven to lower their eyes and dull their dreams, crippled by fear and hatred…


But those who maintain their humanity are amazing, with near-divine gifts to offer those who will listen: how did I survive? What is true? Who am I?  How can you protect your soul in the midst of chaos?

Oppressed populations reliably under-perform. But they also produce some of the finest music, art, athletics, and spirituality on the planet.   THEY DO WHAT THEY CAN. THEY THRIVE WHERE THEY CAN.  They love each other desperately,  nurture their children and grandchildren, believing in “milk and honey on the other side,” encoding their wrath in fables, channeling their suicidal/homicidal urges into their dance and prayer, finding small joys to warm their hearts as they somehow survive from generation to generation…slaves becoming sharecroppers, who become servants, who become merchants and teachers…who become doctors and lawyers…who become scientists, politicians…and storytellers.


They take the fantasies and mythologies, blend them with a burgeoning understanding of the universe around them, and the technology that explores it, and add their own rhythms, creating what the outer world called Science Fiction and Fantasy…and they themselves began to call AFROFUTURISM.


And just as Science Fiction has always both expressed human dreams and driven our inquiry, the version of this phenomenon that grew from the depths of black pain, keeping alive the spark until the laws and cultures changed and allowed us to speak our truth more openly, contains lessons that could not be spoken openly until after the fall of Jim Crow, the end of Segregation, the passing of the Voting Rights act, the birth of a generation unafraid of lynchings and oppression.


When I was ten years old, my mother, who had grown up in the segregated south, whose childhood had been darkened by the shadows of dangling black men, told me: “Steven, if you show white people how smart you are, they will kill you.”


The terror of that statement haunted me. Drove me into the martial arts, where I found a man strong enough to lend that strength to me, so that I could have the courage to create my own dreams, and lend them to a younger generation so that they could stand on my shoulders, see further and imagine a world where children could play together and work together and build together, judging one another not by the color of their skin, or even the content of their character, but on their capacity to create a bridge to a future brighter than any of them had ever known.


The wisdom passed to me is beyond my understanding, but a part of my bones.  How to deal with fear, and pain. How to stop hatred and resentment from poisoning you.  HOW TO LIVE WITH LOVE, AND HOPE, NO MATTER WHAT CHAOS AND DANGER SURROUNDS YOU.


Lessons for our time.  Available to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.


The AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class is a distillation of everything my dear, brave, brilliant wife  and I have learned about art, creativity, extrapolation, fantasy, and personal evolution. It will twine art and science together into a braid that cannot be broken.  You may have a story to write.  A screenplay to finish.  Want to understand what drove an Octavia Butler or Chip Delany or God help me…a Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due.  We will watch movies, study art and poetry, spend ten weeks walking in the footsteps of masters and ask YOU to find the dreams that sustain you, ask you to refine them, teach you to express them, share them with the world at a time we need them most.


I’ve been working toward this for twenty years, and its here.  Join us.  Be a part of a movement to be an awake, aware, adult human being by grounding your feet in reality while simultaneously reaching for the stars.

The future is ours, yours, our childrens…if you can keep your dreams alive, understand that we all aspire to the same things…and never stop fighting to create magic in your life


We have a special discount price for just the remainder of Black History Month.  If you are in total financial emergency, reach out to us and tell us what you can afford and we’ll do all we can to help you.  If you can afford to donate a scholarship for a needy student, please do so.

You can make a difference.  WE can make a difference.  Every one of you, black and white and yellow and brown…if you are a brother or sister in this struggle…YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.






Winning the Inner War

A reader made a very reasonable  statement dealing with negative emotions: that even after you find the answers, you have to keep fighting every day.


I’d say yes…and no.   That the SPECIFIC issues you deal with can, once you’ve found the right approach, be subsumed under a larger category of “emotions” that you are guiding into a healthy balance. The specifics don’t need to come up again and again and again.


The trick is that you need a Daily Ritual.   It could be meditation, prayer, affirmation, action of some kind, visualizations…there are many approaches. You know that mine is a combination of MOVEMENT, EMOTION, AND FOCUS, designed to check in on ALL your emotions and be sure that they are lining up to support your short and long term outcomes: body, mind, and spirit all moving in the same direction.


So long as you are getting the result you want: living your life on your terms, in your way, in such a manner to be happy, healthy and evolving toward your destiny, contributing to the world in a way that heals and expands your heart.


I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS.  I just want you to have the life you want.  But you need to grasp: the work is never complete.  In John Steinbeck’s wonderful memoir “Once There Was A War” he described the expression on the face of a naval cook, as if he is just realizing that there is “no way to feed a man once and for all.”




And that’s how you need to be. Every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY, you need to do the things that will protect, heal, and advance your body, mind, and spirit.   That ritual, whatever it is, is designed to keep you on the road of integration and progress.  The only measure of success is non-dogmatic: DOES IT WORK?  Are you able to take another step on the road, with joy and satisfaction?   Is fear in its proper place in your life: motivating you to action?  Or does it stand between you and your dreams?  If so, dig deeper.   Talk to people who have succeeded in turning their demons into allies. THEY EXIST.    “Put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell” is a perfect expression of this.


It’s your life.   Own it.  Every day that you eat you should exercise, play, and perform a ritual of emotion, action and focus that aligns your emotions so that you are a spiritual being with a logical mind driven by emotions on an animal chassis.   Nothing, no reward, is worth selling out your own dreams. There is no safety if you won’t stand up for yourself.  Love yourself, protect yourself, like a Mommy Tiger protecting her cub. There is no one else to do it.


Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!





(if you would like a copy of the terrific conversation T and I had about fear and writing, drop me an email at:  Put NO FEAR in the subject line, and I’ll tell you how you can get it TODAY!)

Review: John Wick 2

Hi,  Steven Barnes, here with a movie review

By the way, I really should be writing this from a hospital bed today.  Tissue elasticity is a wonderful thing.  Fell on the slippery pavement at the Arclight Pasadena, and if my left thigh socket hadn’t been flexible, the stress would have radiated down to my knee and probably torn tendons and ligaments.    Please practice your yoga and tai chi, or joint mobility at the least, and combine with balance work.


Now…back to nice, comforting FANTASY violence.

John Wick 2 is a kind of perfection of the ultra-violently absurd, so over the top that about 2/3 of the way through I was bored with all the action…and then suddenly I ‘dialed in’ on the movie’s frequency,   and was kind of stunned.   In a very good way.

I couldn’t recommend it to anyone who has never chuckled at a good head-shot, and even then you have to have a very sick puppy rattling around in your head somewhere.

I do.  Fantasy mayhem is where I put my anger and fear.  Works for me just fine.

The set up is that retired uber-hitman Keanu Reeves is called out of retirement when a marker is called in, leading to angst and lots and lots and lots of people killed in a variety of entertaining ways. If you like that sort of thing. Reeves is now the Fred Astaire of bone-cracking in American cinema, and the choreography is flat astonishing at times. But…be warned. NOT for every taste. At all. But I got into the mood, and somewhere past that 2/3 mark I felt like I was watching a genuine classic of its kind. If you ever wanted to watch Neo fight Justin Bieber, this is the movie for you.

For the aforementioned sick puppies like I can be…an “A.”


Without any spoiler not present in the trailers, let’s look at the film from the Hero’s Journey perspective:

Hero confronted with challenge: to accept a kill assignment.

Rejects: he cannot do it and save his soul

Accepts: He is forced to accept after his house is blown up–he will take the assignment, and then kill the man who destroyed his life.


The “Road of Trials” will be the places he goes, the things he does on the way to the challenge that forces him to grow and change.

The “Allies and Powers” will be his friends and associates, his will and focus and skills.


All leading to the confrontation with evil where he FAILS.  Oh, yes. You’ll know. And the dark night. And the “What have you DONE, John???”



After you’ve seen it, I challenge you to map out the rest of the process for yourself.  It’s all there, very clearly, once you understand.

A brief look at how this maps to the “real” rather than the “reel”:

My fall was a challenge, and if I hadn’t accepted the responsibility for protecting my health, I’d have ripped my knee out–allies and powers, people.

IF you want to know more about applying these concepts to your life and work, LIFEWRITING PREMIUM, our membership platform incorporating REVOLUTIONARY WRITING and THE LIFEWRITING TEN-WEEK program is now open until March.   Once it closes, it won’t open again until summer.  The first month is only ONE DOLLAR!   WWW.LIFEWRITINGPREMIUM.COM


Now…I have to get into some of the most important writing of my life.  Have a great weekend…and be safe out there!


Write with Passion!


The connection between “The Morning Ritual” and “The Machine”

I’ve been talking about both these things, and wanted to pause and make it more explicit.  I’m just a guy who wanted a particular kind of life.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to create a life of meaning, and knew that if I couldn’t do that, my life would implode in fear and bitterness.  I remember the day a bully chased me out into the middle of the street–the only place I was safe, even though there were cars and trucks whizzing past on both sides.   HERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF DANGER, I WAS SAFE.


OMG. The realization that I could risk my body–my ego–or risk my heart–my dreams–was stunning, and one of the strongest images of my entire life.  I chose my dreams. Decided that I would rather die here, now, than be a ghost in my own life.

I hallucinate that you are the same, or you wouldn’t be reading these words.

I never wanted to be a teacher.  What happened is that, over time, people kept asking me how I was doing the things I did.   And I couldn’t keep it to myself.   I’d traveled across the country, driven a thousand miles to spend ten minutes with someone who could give me an answer, and finally compiled, from countless teachers, a path that actually seemed valid.   Two expressions of this are “The Morning Ritual” and “The Machine.”


“The Machine” is the path ahead.  It might take years, months, at the least about 100 days.   With writing it is “100 stories”.  With the body it might be “100 weeks of dietary and exercise discipline”. With martial arts it might be “1000 classes”.   With your spirit it might be “100 days of meditation”.  With your heart, seeking your soulmate, it might be “100 different dates.” The point is that you set a number that is HIGHER than what you will probably need to reach your goal.     Most writers start selling about 30-40 stories in.  Most long-term marriages happen after the people have dated fewer than twenty people.     Most physical training programs will give you addictive results within about thirty classes.  You design your “machine” so that it is so powerful that all you have to do is operate it, and you’ll get there.   It makes logical sense to you, modeling the very best information from people who have actually achieved your goals.


Here is “The Machine” for writers.  It takes only a little imagination to create one for ANY goal you might have:


  1. Write at least one sentence every day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish What you write
  4. Put them in the mail, keep them in the mail until they sell.
  5. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  6. Read 10X what you write
  7. Repeat for 100 Stories.


Get it?  Have any doubt that if you DID this, you’d be at a different level of your dreams?  See how to adjust it to other goals?


But…HOW DO YOU KEEP ON TRACK?   The “Hero’s Journey” says a terrifying thing: you WILL hit the “Dark Night of the Soul” and slide into the pit of despair. You literally CANNOT move from one level of your life to another without killing your self image a bit.   I mean–if you could already do it, you’d have already DONE it!   Your ego thinks it is you, and doesn’t want to die.  So it will generate fear, convince you that the inevitable rejections, aches and pains, failures or doubts are dream-killing demons that will eat you alive if you continue.

IT WILL HAPPEN.  100% guarantee.


So what do you do?  You inoculate yourself against it by creating micro-cycles.  You make EVERY day a miniature version of your entire life, setting small challenges that are a push, but not big enough to break you.  Then, all you have to do is keep track of what you did TODAY.   And if you are off track, you get another chance tomorrow. But if you kick butt, you celebrate!

The “Morning Ritual” is a Sigil, a magical symbol, a compression of countless different principles into a form so compact that just this single action, performed for 100 days (there’s the “Machine”, get it?) will change your life.  And so powerful that you can feel the results within ten days.


THE MORNING RITUAL IS THE WAY YOU GENERATE THE FUEL TO FEED THE MACHINE.  It is also the way you create and read a “map” to be sure you are on the road to what YOU want.  YOU desire.  One day at a time, you are creating the life of your dreams, walking the “thousand mile road” to your destiny.  Here are the steps again:


  1. MOVE YOUR BODY for 10-20 minutes, moving with power, authority, and positivity. Walk, run, yoga, tai chi, joint mobility, dance.
  2. WHILE YOU ARE MOVING “flood” yourself with gratitude.  Think of all the things in life to be grateful for, all your blessings.  Are you lying to yourself and saying you have none?   Try this: you have the economic, cultural, and physiological resources to be reading these words on the internet. Would you miss your computer, your internet, your eyesight, your ability to read if they disappeared?  Then what the HELL is wrong with you?   Do you only appreciate things when they are gone?  That is no way to live–but it is a GREAT recipe for misery.
  3. Do Gratitude for 2-5 minutes.   Really connect with that feeling.   Then spend 2-5 minutes focusing on victories of the past.  SPEAK IT OUT LOUD.   Again, are you lying to yourself that you never had any?   I’m gonna bop you.  Once upon a time you couldn’t walk, or talk, or read, or ride a bicycle.  I PROMISE that when you learned to do these things, you were OVERJOYED.   All you have to do is reconnect with that emotion, those memories, and you are filling your tank with emotional gas.
  4. Now…THINK OF YOUR LONG TERM GOALS. SPEAK THEM OUT LOUD.   What do you want to be doing in 3-5 years?  Set a goal in your physical, emotional, business, and financial arenas.  BE SPECIFIC.  And here is where a bit of magic comes in: take your PAST positive emotions and flood them into your FUTURE PLANS.  Feel it.  Experience is.   And remember–you are MOVING while you do all of this.  2-5 minutes
  5. Now…what do you need to do TODAY to make these long term goals happen (your “Machine!) speak OUT LOUD what you will do TODAY to take just one more step toward your goal.
  6. If you need to re-make yourself, be sure you give yourself at least a year to do it.    A common mistake is to set such a short time frame that you have no prayer of doing it.  Then you can say “I tried!” and your ego grins like a thief in the night, slinking back into its cave, content that it has, once again, convinced you that it is the limit of your capacity.


That’s the basic pattern.   I could take any piece of it and make a month-long workshop out of it, but wanted to give you the overview.   If you are serious, define your “Machine” clearly ON PAPER.  Design your “Morning Ritual” ON PAPER.  The goals. The path. The affirmations you will speak aloud with passion.  Then perform your Morning Ritual EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.


That’s what I committed to doing.  Part of MY morning ritual?  Talking to you.  Every day.  Because I see you as me, at an earlier phase of my life.  Not that I’m better–you have things to teach me, too, if we ever meet, and I hope we do.  But I know THIS stuff. And I’m paying back my teachers by teaching you.

That’s how it works.

This pattern, along with other wisdoms, is what makes the LIFEWRITING PREMIUM program so powerful for writers.  Most programs supply tactical tools of structure and characterization. We stand that on its head, saying that YOU are the hero in “the adventure of your lifetime” and invite you to create your career, your life, as if you were writing a story about an intrepid explorer.  And we’ll cheer you on, help lift you up, tell you the truth about the journey ahead, as well as open our rolodex and introduce you to our friends and allies, so that they can tell you from THEIR perspective what it takes to succeed.


Help you build your “Machine”.  All YOU have to do is perform your Morning Ritual, and take your daily actions…and you will have a better chance of reaching your dreams than you’ve ever had.


Join us! The first month is only ONE DOLLAR!


Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!




This article states, in general, that the road to “superaging” lies on the other side of the valley of pain–or at least discomfort.  I’ve always  love the idea that our pain level shouldn’t rise above a “3” while our form and grace hits the scale at an “8”.   Do this for long enough and you learn a distinction it is difficult to describe.  “Intensity” is interwoven with “pain”, but deals with exertion rather than merely stressing our physical material.   So long as you can keep form, and the “pain” remains at 3 and below, we can take our intensity to “9” and above.  That’s what champions do. And, I suspect, that’s what “superagers” do as well.


I promised to share more about what my time with Danny Inosanto was like.  At 80, he moves better than any human being twenty years younger I’ve ever seen, and better than most 30 year old athletes.    He mentioned that his students are uncomfortable that he will take off his black belt and don a white belt to practice a new martial art, in this specific case Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.


I think that this is the key to his “Evergreen” status, “when you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe, you rot.”

Martial arts are PERFECT for this.  I thank the bullies who beat me up and set me on this path, because

  1. They can be practiced for a lifetime.
  2. It is always possible to find a level of intensity that takes you to YOUR edge
  3. It ties into deeply emotional survival drives
  4. You can practice it with or without partners, with or without equipment
  5. They can be approached through almost any emotional/mental “doorway”: cultural, social, physical, intellectual, emotional, practical aesthetic…however you are inclined


There are more, as well.   What becomes clear is that one key to life is finding ways YOU can improve every day, in ways that are significant to YOU.   Do this in alignment with what you know about a path that will support and nurture your spirit across the long decades, as well as provide the values you need to function in your daily adult world.


What’s that formula?   To live in accordance with your childhood dreams AND your “deathbed” values.  If you have no physical discipline to root this process, then use your “Morning Ritual” and make THAT physical exertion high enough to take you to your edge. Walking and Joint Mobility are a fine combination. Add abdominal “core” work, and you have a pretty decent overall program that can take only twenty minutes a day.   That investment to be true to your animal nature, your childhood dreams, your adult responsibilities, and your ultimate values…is about the best and most intelligent investment you can make, to honor your past, to brighten your present, and to fulfill your destiny.