Martial Arts

Love Makes You Strong

(Trigger Warning:  There is violent imagery in this essay.  No joke)

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Coming from love doesn’t make you weak, or less capable of resisting evil.   Nope. It actually is the core of willingness to die killing something threatening your family or core values, which is arguably  the most powerful  and clarifying position in the world, beyond even personal survival.

 

I’ll tell a story I’ve told before.  Many years ago, I had a neighbor (call him “Bob”) whose daughter was a friend of Nicki, we’ll call “Janie”.   “Bob” was a nice guy, but there was something strange: he seemed to take some kind of odd offense with me. Challenged me verbally with intense emotions behind it.   Seemed to take pleasure sniping at me.   Called the police on my dog, and then came over to my house and bragged about it and dropped into a boxing stance to challenge me to fight him.  I just sort of shook my head, unable to figure out what the hell I’d done to trigger such a reaction.

 

I tried to make peace.    One day I was at his house, and Bob complained about a bad back.  I invited him to come over to my house and use our spa.   He gratefully agreed.  He came over a couple of hours later in his swim suit, and a folded towel.   He asked me to hold the towel for him. What it concealed was…a revolver.

 

WTF?

 

I asked him why he was carrying it. Without blinking he said that he was having trouble with his boss at work.  That the man was a terror.  And he was SO ugly. And…he looked just like ME.

 

Oh, shit.   Well, isn’t THAT special.

 

I remember sitting down with Swift Deer at my next Judo lesson, and telling him what was happening. That I felt paralyzed.  “I don’t want to hurt  Janie’s’ dad.”

 

Swift shook his head somberly. “And that’s why he’s going to hurt you, brother” he said.   “That’s what he’s counting on.”

 

I was thunderstruck. Swift was right. Whatever was going on with Bob likely had nothing to do with me.   But he had focused his anger and fear on me, and my very affection for his family weakened me.  ESPECIALLY my affection for Janie, which was enormous.  I was frozen: damned if I did, dead or wounded if I didn’t.

 

I went home that night, brain swimming.  What should I do?  I couldn’t hurt Janie’s dad.  I had to deal with this. But I just couldn’t. My love paralyzed me.

 

Then a thought crossed my mind, one of those “cubic inches of opportunity” that slide in from the blind spot: HE WAS TRYING TO HURT NICKI’S DAD.

 

Boom.  Something deep inside me bared its teeth.  Oh, yes.   He was trying to make my daughter an orphan.  My wife a widow.

 

And for some reason…that was TOTALLY different.  QUALITATIVELY different.

He was trying to hurt Nicki’s Dad?   The hell he would.

 

So…what was I going to do?  I remembered a story I was told by…hmmm…I’ll be just a little oblique here.  Let’s say a martial artist friend and instructor of mine who is extremely savvy about the psychology of martial art, science, and sport.   Yeah, him.

 

He told me about a day when a belligerent gentleman came into his school spoiling for a fight.    Roaring “I wanna talk to X!” My friend and teacher listened to the ravings, and got very calm. Reached into his desk, and pulled out a loaded 9mm (he is legally permitted to carry). He set it on his desk. Then imagined the man breaking into his office. Imagined himself shooting the man right through the head.  Rather dreamily imagined the guy’s  brains splashing against the wall, and the body sliding down, death clouding his eyes.

And smiled warmly.

Put the gun away, went out and talked to the guy…who was INSTANTLY as mild as cream.

 

THAT would be my tactic. I imagined “Bob” swinging on me.  And responding with a burst of violence the likes of which he had never dreamed of.   Imagined breaking his limbs and curb-stomping him, and thoroughly enjoying the resulting mess.     Oh, yes…there is definitely a part of me that enjoyed that imagining.  Anyone who really knows me knows it is there, buried deep down, a rabid wolf I’ve been feeding for decades, with the promise that if the justification ever came…I’d let him out.

 

I warmed myself on that vision of destruction, then  went out of my office to my family.  Kissed Nicki. Kissed Toni.  Patted my dog good-bye.   And walked across the street.

Knocked on the door. His wife “Kathy” answered.  I said, “hello, Kathy.  Is Bob here?”

A little puzzled, she said yes, he was back in his office.  “May I speak with him?”

Why sure, come on in.  I walked back to Bob’s office, and there he was at his desk.  He  looked up at me with surprise.  I said “Hi, Bob,” and just talked to him for a few minutes, to his slight confusion. Perfectly pleasant conversation.  Then I looked at my watch, said: “well, I just wanted to come by and say hello.”

He walked me to the front door, I said good-bye, and left.   Weeks later Kathy told me that after I left Bob looked at her and said “You know? That Steven Barnes is really a nice guy.”

AND HE NEVER BOTHERED ME AGAIN. Never. Not once.

Why?  Because I had absolute clarity.  Was 100% ready to go.  The slightest twitch would have triggered it. And on an animal level…HE KNEW. I had left him no uncertainty to exploit.  No fear to strike into.  No lever to manipulate me.

Ready to die. Ready to take him with me.  Hell, I’d said good-bye to my DOG.  Can’t get more serious than that.

How?  By connecting to what I really, really loved: Nicki.  Toni.  And my dog, of course. That love swept away all mists of confusion.  I might be of several minds about my own safety, but NOTHING will harm my family while I live.

Connect with your love, and you have strength beyond fear.    Connect that love to your own inner self, and you change your destiny.

Heartbeat meditation and visualizing the child within me for 20 minutes a day, every morning, is my path.   I hope you find yours.

Nothing is stronger than love.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

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Spiders and Draining Swamps

If there is something hurting you from your past, that pain is there because your unconscious is trying to get your attention.  IF you can extract the lesson from it, and really LEARN it, then your deep mind will no longer be concerned that that particular problem will hurt you again, and stop investing emotional juice in fear responses.  IF you learn the lesson, then you can release the emotion.  If you still have the negative emotions…you didn’t learn the lesson.

 

For instance,  when I was in about fifth grade, a bully followed me home, punching me in the stomach.  If I tried to cover my stomach, he threatened to punch me in the face.  Shame and helplessness and confusion mixed with the pain, creating a Gordian Knot.   In combination with other events, I had a self-image of someone small, weak, and helpless.

 

I remember when a fine young black belt named Uli asked me: “Steve…when will I stop being afraid?”  I had no answer for him. And…about four months later he committed suicide.

Why?

I think I know.   I started martial arts when..?  When I first saw Mr. Moto flip someone, and dreamed of being strong?  When I got my first MA book, INSTANT SELF DEFENSE by Bruce Tegner? When I stood in the street and challenged a bully to come after me, and realized the power of being willing to die to preserve your honor and values?  When I first took a Shotokan class in high school?  Wrestling in junior college?  Maybe Zen Do Ryu with Dr. Phillip Skornia, a guy I’d seen in a Black Belt Cologne ad?  (His classes weren’t bad at all, actually).  How about the Hop Ki Do classes with Sea Oh Choi?  That was good stuff. Real stuff. And I actually learned, and started getting strong.  Competed in tournaments and had a great time.  Took second place in 1972’s National Korean Karate championships and earned praise for my kicks from Jhoon Rhee himself!

 

Then the best and worst thing in my MA life happened: I saw Steve Muhammad. “Steve Sanders” then, the fastest human being I’ve ever seen, with supernatural precision and control. I started studying with him, building up skills, learning fast.  Then one day when I was about 25, a 14 year old kid asked me to spar.

And…he kicked my ass. I mean I COULDN’T TOUCH HIM.   And he bragged and boasted to everyone:  “I beat a man!!”  That kid was prodigy Alvin Prouder, who went on to become Welterweight Champion of the world in full-contact karate. I’d been playing Chopsticks with Baby Mozart.

And…

 

Something cracked inside me.  Emotionally, it felt that I was still the same 14 year old kid who had been chased by bullies in Jr. High school.  Nothing I had learned had made a bit of difference.   I was crushed, and that event created a phobic response that never completely healed. The strange thing is that it is situational: in real situations, I don’t experience much fear at all.  But in “play” situations?  That false self image thing can still boil my guts if I’m not very careful to maintain balance.

 

Why? Because I had “papered over” my image, learning all kinda speed and power and technique…rather than cleaning out the emotional cesspool.  I built my life mansion on top of a septic tank. All of that fear was my unconscious trying to protect me.  Don’t fight!  You’ll be hurt!   If I hadn’t driven myself for DECADES to find the tools to drain that swamp, it would have stayed with me, poisoned my dreams in other areas of my life, and I’d never have had the knowledge I have now.  My self image would have become my reality.

 

Uli had done this.  Papered over rather than draining the swamp.  So that his “impostor syndrome” was crushing him alive.   What would I have told Uli? The same thing I’d have told my younger self:

The fear is your body trying to protect you.   All you have to do is clearly identify the OUTCOME (the “What”): Being happy.  A sub set of that might be “happily practicing the martial arts.  Enjoying it.”

Uli was a more severe case.  I don’t know what happened to him that put him in the place where destroying himself was more attractive than living on.   And I don’t know if I could have helped him.  But I know that if he had asked me that, and opened himself, I’d have allowed myself no doubt.

 

So…while encouraging him to seek professional help, I’d have been willing to coach him in the following: DRAIN THE SWAMP.  Love himself.   Connect with his “child” self.  It would be hard…VERY hard.  If he had the proper adult/child connection, things would have been different: when something horribly frightening is happening to your child, IF you can see what to do, your energy is invested in action rather than self-pity. Parents can move heaven and earth for their kids.

 

Younger Steve was a chronic but less severe case.  But I’d have given the same advice to both:  The classic “Spider Technique””

 

  1. Do the following exercise when you are ALONE.
  2. Generate the emotions for 10 minutes.  Really dive deep until “you are crying out of your nose.”  Be sure the emotions are fully present in your body.  This is called the “Spider Technique” because if your issue was arachnophobia, you’d do this imagining spiders crawling on your face)
  3. Work on the heavy bag, going deep into aerobic debt.  No, you don’t have to think about your pain. Trust me, your unconscious will do that automatically.  Use the fear to drive every punch and kick, and envision the best fighters in the school, or anyone who ever hurt you.    SEE IT.  FEEL IT.  Use the emotion to push you, focus you.  Unleash the beast!.
  4. Keep this up for 12-15 minutes, until you hit “second wind”.  THIS IS CRITICAL. Do NOT do this exercise unless you already KNOW you can hit “second wind.” If you aren’t fit enough to do this, you’ll need a different technique.
  5. After you hit second wind, you can stop.

 

I won’t go into the neurophysiology of this, but if you want to research the “Neuro Immuno Endocrine Response” you’ll find some interesting data. The point is that every time you do this, your fear response to that specific stimulus will decrease about 20%.  You can do this about ONCE PER WEEK, or about 1 out of 3 times that you work your aerobic system. No more.

 

And if you make that adult-child connection, remember that your ultimate goal is to be happy, and remember that your body is just trying to protect you, over time you will “drain the swamp” of the emotional pain, removing the “shrapnel” that stops the wound from healing. You will also HUGELY improve your skills, Steve and Uli.  Until YOU are one of the “big boys” in that school.  And will have learned   the proper use of those emotions. You become an animal, uncomplicated by angst.  You’ve touched your survival drive, the “third rail” of the mind, a source of infinite energy, where you can literally push yourself until total systemic collapse. World-class ath

 

You are “rebooting” your nervous system. In the same way that you could take a depressed person on the verge of suicide, and if you stuck their head in a bucket of water THEY WOULD FIGHT.  That response trumps EVERYTHING.  Meditators can approach it cautiously by slowing their breathing until the carbon dioxide levels rise until they start to panic. Then, by relaxing and centering…they turn that panic response off.

Beautiful.

And friends, when you can relax even when breathing below 2-3 cycles per minute, the daily news won’t trigger anything vaguely close to paralysis.  It just gets your attention.

Can I do anything about this? Yes? You do it.

No?  You get on with your life.  Chop wood, carry water.

 

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I wish I could send a time capsule back to Younger Steve, and Uli.  I cannot.  But I can give these gifts to you. Some of you are dealing with similar challenges.  I want to say there are answers. Have faith, define your outcome (being happy) and seek the people who have walked the road before you, and have a map of the territory.

 

Please.

 

You owe it to that little kid inside you, who just wants to dance and play. And CAN, if the adult part of you will do its damned job.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

That’s How Boys Play

I want to be a little oblique about this.  Back in my 20’s I was in a martial arts school that produced many champions. And none of them were more impressive to me than someone I’ll call “Ted.”  Ted had distance, timing, and precision down to a level where he slid in and out of critical distance range like a magician. Man, he was beyond good.

 

I wasn’t even vaguely in his league.  We re-connected years later, when our mutual instructor was being honored, and got together a few times. The man was still magic, but like most of us, had moved on to other priorities in life, although martial arts was still close to his heart.  Still…I wasn’t even close.

 

About a week ago I got a call from him.   “I want to be you in my next life, Steve” he said.  I was a little puzzled by what he meant, then he mentioned that he’d seen a Youtube video of one of Cliff Stewart’s “Camp of the Masters” weekend workshops (there’s one coming up in three weeks–I HIGHLY recommend them) and apparently had seen some images of me working out and having fun.  I still didn’t quite understand…

 

Then he told me that he’d had a stroke early this year.  I was stunned.   It was a little hard to imagine this dervish with any kind of diminished capacity, but he was learning to walk again, as if for the first time.   He spoke of his friends, many of whom boxed, and how they couldn’t recognize him any more.

 

I felt something beyond sadness.  This is one of the things you learn to deal with in life: everything rises and falls.  He had been a great champion, that focus dictated by his environmental pressures: learning to fight was simply what every young man did in our neighborhood. If you didn’t, you were dead meat, victimized and disrespected by both the men AND women.  Did he stress his body too much? Take too many shots?   I don’t know. It’s possible.

 

Achilles’ Choice: a long dull life, or a short glorious one.  Or…just the circle of life.  Everyone loses everything in time.  And now, this paragon (who is about six years younger than me) envies me.   It is tough to think about.

 

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When I was a kid, I wanted to be strong.  Had been bullied by guys and ignored and mocked by the girls.  I understood where “Ted” was coming from, but didn’t have the athleticism to master the skills as he did. Lacked the self-confidence, and hadn’t had a father or brother or uncles to “push against” to discover my strength and learn what this aspect of “being a man” was about.  I remember when Jason was about eight years old.  Every night when I tried to put him to bed, he attacked me.  Every night. Heck, Nicki hadn’t been like that!  And one day I asked him point blank why in the world he did that.

 

He looked at me with surprise and simply answered: “That’s how boys play.”  That’s how boys play.   The simplicity of that answer was gobsmacking. I suddenly realized I had misinterpreted countless antagonistic interactions with guys over the years. They hadn’t disliked me. It was nothing personal. They just pushed to make themselves strong, using other guys like living gymnastic equipment (wrestling and boxing are among the most extremely taxing physical exercises. Believe it.  Nothing is more extreme than a resistant human body), or trying to learn where they were on the hierarchy.  Without that knowledge, it is impossible for a tribe to respond swiftly to external threat.

That’s how, and more importantly WHY boys play.

 

I couldn’t compete with those guys on their terms. They terrified me.  The energy was just amazing.  And even years later, speaking to Cliff about them, I was still a little nervous about the very idea.  “I was so intimidated by those young warriors” I said.

 

And he laughed in my face.  “They weren’t warriors, Steve.”  They weren’t???

 

“No. They were athletes, playing warrior games.”   Then….what WAS a warrior?

 

” Those guys would have been good at Hula Hoop, or basketball, or break-dancing. A warrior is someone whose word is good. A warrior protects his community. Raises his own children.”

And in that instant, the light went on in my head.   No, I hadn’t been the best.  Or anything close to it.  But my fear of being weak had kept me in the game.

 

I remember forty years ago, driving down La Brea avenue in Los Angeles, tears streaming down my face, wondering why I had so much fear and agony around practicing, but being unable to stop.  “Please, God,” I prayed.  “Either take away my urge to practice this stuff…or just let me do it.”

 

Why couldn’t I quit?  Because I knew on some level that if I did, I would never know who I was.  That I would have let fear stop me from becoming a complete human being. A complete MALE human being in some very specific ways.  Remember I said that a core perspective in my life was that I wanted to be respected by the men I respected, and desired by the women I desired?

Well, you can believe it or not.  I’m not controlled by gender politics, I’m interested in what is true, actual experience,  especially when it is aligned with history, anthropology and animal behavior. The reality is that once I saw it, it was obvious: if you couldn’t hold your ground, you were not respected, and I couldn’t marry a big guy to hold that ground for me.  Both men and women made it very clear.  VERY.

 

And anyone who thinks that the physical threat isn’t subtextual in emotional and intellectual arguments isn’t paying attention.  The animal and savage underlies the civilized shell. What is explicit  in the barroom is implicit in the board room and even the bedroom.

Fortunately, the answer is NOT a matter of physical size. It is a matter of the following statement:  “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”

That forces you to connect with your core survival drive, the emotional Third Rail of your psyche.  It is beyond culture, beyond social rules.   And all the techniques of the martial arts are secondary to “plugging in” to this high-tension line.  Really, in a lot of ways they are just toys to keep your monkey-mind busy while the real work, the deep work, re-wires your hand brain.

Everyone has it.  You could be depressed, and suicidal, and if I stuck your head in a bucket of water you would fight like a tiger.    Ego has nothing to do with this, and once you find it, it is almost like magic. And…the martial arts are about approaching it in a safe fashion, and plugging in in a way that doesn’t shred your psyche.  Real survival situations often do this, drastically, but without the care and balance, producing genuinely dangerous human beings who often struggle to function in the “normal ” world.

 

I was forced by fear and guilt and pain and hope to find that place. And once I found it…and connected it with what Harlan Ellison called the “Burning Core” that artists must find…and connected THAT to the kind of heightened orgasm experienced in sexual magic work…

 

Wow.   I began to be able to channel that energy, to put it where I wanted, and learned how to keep it in a healthy way in my mind and body so that it wouldn’t burn me out.    In other words…I turned my bullies into blessings.  I never would have found myself without them.  Thanks, Rudy.

 

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If I had been stopped by comparing myself to the Teds of the world rather than letting myself be inspired by them, I wouldn’t be who I am.  If I hadn’t kept 80% of my attention on improving who I was yesterday rather than beating or comparing myself to others, I would have quit, and lost my childhood dreams, and paid for it with a loss of aliveness.

 

You have to admire the Teds of the world. But not be intimidated by them. To use them to drive you on, without beating yourself up for not being them. Ted walked his own path.  He hit heights I never did, never could have

 

And now…he wishes he was me.    How humbling.  How terribly sad, and wonderful.  Life is an unknown adventure, and you must always, always, work your own diamond mine and not pay so much attention to what the other guy is pulling out of his.

 

Sigh.   I need to work out today, to celebrate my life and aliveness, and give thanks for all I’ve been given, and the wonderful men and women I’ve met along the way, so many of them fallen now.  Every one made my life better.

 

I think…I think I’ll make time to go and see Ted.  Thank him for being one of my heroes…

 

As I am now one of his.  You never know, you know?

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

 

 

A young lady struggling to pass the PT test to become a Marine was my coaching client a couple of years back.  She PM’d me a month or so ago, thanking me.  She was in!   I am so happy for her, and so grateful to have had something to offer someone who just wanted to serve her country.   My very great honor, and it would be false modesty to refuse to accept her thanks.

 

No.  I have the ability to help people. In person.  From a distance. On the phone or Skype or email.   And although I outgrew that stage of my teaching (I no longer do personal coaching: I’d have to charge the very people who need the most help more money than they can afford) I know what it took to develop a way to help people, make money,   and have fun in the process.

 

But as I said, about six or seven years ago I was curled into a knot on the floor, crying…

 

Because the entire map of my life, built in childhood and reinforced and refined for decades, had been blown up by a family emergency.  For the first time, I lost faith that I could create a desirable future: the best of my life seemed to be in the rear-view mirror.

 

My decision to try to sell my skills in a different way ran into every “But…” imaginable.

 

But…who would pay me money for the things I give away?

But…I don’t know how to structure my time and energy to do it.

But…I don’t have the technical expertise to build an on-line business

But…I don’t know enough people locally to build a business

But…I’m in emotional overwhelm. People will smell that desperation on me, and reject the notion that I can help them.

But…I’m too old

But…

But…

 

 

All that stuff. And more, that I wouldn’t even write down in public.  But I asked myself one question:

 

If I was thirty years younger, would I pay me money for the knowledge I have?  If I could go back and give that younger me lessons in love, or writing, or martial arts, would that younger me be happy to pay for them?

 

And the answer was…hell yes.  IN FACT THE VERY PAIN I WAS IN RIGHT NOW WAS EVIDENCE. I knew how I’d messed up, and some very simple changes would have made a world of difference.  (Specifically and most simply?  Saving 10% of my income in an investment account.  That would have created an enormous safety cushion that would have removed all immediate fear and given me plenty of room for brainstorming.)

 

Once I realized that I, personally, would pay me for what I knew, everything changed.   The truth was that I didn’t need to attract “everyone.”  In fact, I didn’t have the TIME or ENERGY for more than about twenty clients a week, and really, I didn’t want more than ten.   If I used the World Wide Web, were there ten people in the world who were enough like I had been, who I could reach and present my case to?

 

With three BILLION people on the web?  Yeah, I kinda think so.

 

It stopped becoming “poor little me” and started being “who can I help? Who needs what I have AND CAN AFFORD TO PAY ME what I need to support my family with integrity?  Who would be FUN to work with?”

 

And that was a different set of questions.    It all depended upon loving myself, respecting the time I’d invested.  Seeing my own heart and soul in others, and not hallucinating that I was so unique that no one else would want to cook with my recipe.

 

No: the principles of real success were general enough that I’d profited by studying others, training with others.   All I had to do was realize that I was another link on a long, long human chain stretching back to prehistory: one human being teaching another. We are the only animals with more information in our brains than in our genes. As individuals we aren’t much smarter than chimps. It is the NETWORKING and sharing of information that we excel.

 

In other words…to NOT believe I had something of value to offer, I had to say

 

  1. I’d wasted my entire life
  2. All my teachers had been wrong
  3. I was so unique and brilliant no one could profit by my life lessons
  4. Only people with X or Y credential could teach (that certainly hadn’t been true for me!  I’d learned from people who had created success in the real world far more than those with “mere” academic credentials.  Now…those with a Masters or Doctorate who ALSO created in the real world were often the cream of the cream)

 

In other words, I had to either put myself WAY down, or put myself above anyone who asked me for help.   But if I’m just a human being, flawed and fearful but so focused on what I believe is true about the world, and myself, that I pick myself up day after day after day and work like hell to create the life I love…

 

I can show other people that path. And for those who want something similar to what I wanted, I can guide them. That’s all I have to do. Not be all-wise, or psychic, or perfect.

 

Just someone with genuine skills who wants to help, and knows how to communicate value. Who respects himself enough to demand to be treated with the respect I extend to others, and has a sense of the structure of life that says it is right and appropriate to teach…and be rewarded for that teaching, charging whatever I myself would have paid for that knowledge and support.

 

That’s all it is, really.  What have you learned? What have you become? What would you tell yourself thirty years ago?

 

If you can define that…you have something to offer the world that can build you a career you can be proud of IF AND ONLY IF you are willing to be adult about organization and communication.

 

If you are…I have something for you, a free gift.   Coming very soon.

 

 

Share the wealth!

Steve

(and if you need to believe in yourself, NOTHING is more powerful than the first step I often taught clients, the MORNING M.A.G.I.C. program.   If that’s your stumbling block, please go to www.morningwriters.com and get that handled.  Your future will thank you!)

What Might Have Been

I was badly bullied when I was a kid.  I remember one guy, “Bryce”  I went to Mt. Vernon Jr. High with who simply insulted me and pushed me and mocked me daily, until it was almost more than I could bear.

 

Then one day I was at the bookstore   and saw a copy of a book called BRUCE TEGNER’S INSTANT SELF DEFENSE, and begged my mother to buy it.  Oh, it was a revelation.  When I was even younger I’d seen the line drawings for “KETSUGO! UNSTOPPABLE SELF DEFENSE!” or even “BLACK DRAGON FIGHTING SOCIETY!” in the backs of comic books, but never gotten up the nerve to purchase one.

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Well, Mom got it for me, and I remember practicing chops and kicks on the poor grapefruit tree in our back yard.  I was still too frightened to actually USE any of this, but I was starting to channel my fear into action.   (I would not understand the power of this approach fully for another two decades, unfortunately).

 

I carried that book with me everywhere, even to school, where I probably hoped that people would see it and be intimidated into leaving me alone. Didn’t work. Bryce took my book and played keep-away with his buddies.  Humiliating.  The teachers didn’t help.  Bullies are great at knowing when there is no authority figure to help.

 

This kept up for six years, through   high school.  Then, finally, just the week before graduation, he insulted me one final time and something just SNAPPED inside me.   “I’ve had enough,” I finally told him one day.   “Meet me out behind the school. Bring your friends.  Bring a broken bottle.  I don’t care.  Let’s settle this.”

 

He looked at me, laughed, and said: “Aw, man…I know you know that karate shit” AND WALKED AWAY.

 

I stood there with my mouth hanging open.  WTF?  You mean all I had to do was call his bluff?  I had suffered through six years of hell because I’d been afraid to fight?   That was the first glimmering I had of something which, again, I didn’t fully learn for another twenty years: EVERYONE FEELS FEAR.  The only question is what we do with that emotion.

 

He coped by inflicting fear on others, trying to control through intimidation. I coped by becoming an intellectual “brain in a box” and then later through meditation, therapy, and martial arts.

 

But then, at that moment, he had pushed me out of our social game (him bully, me nerd) into reality: a real fight is two cats in a sack.  No social rules, just using “every fang and claw in the awfullest way you ever saw.”

 

He’d pushed me until I had forgotten my ego identity as small and weak.  I was just focused on hurting HIM.   I was ready to crawl into the sack with him (so to speak) and he was not.    Shit had gotten a little realer than he wanted.

 

It was an important rule, and one of the hidden principles of the martial arts:  “it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” is one way to put it.   “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me” is another.

Sporting contests are decided by size and strength. That is why there are weight classes. The real world is determined more by who is more willing to go ALL OUT.  Who hits that point first. No bluff. No bullshit. No social rules.   Enter THAT space, and predators will leave you alone: they know they will be injured.

My own version of this: “no matter who you are, no matter what you know, no matter what you do to me…I’m going to take the left eye out of your head.”  You don’t SAY that, because if you say it aloud you challenge their ego.  You have that in your body language. In your voice, in the calm certainty of every action.    You cannot bluff this.  You have to mean it.  And the only way to actually mean it is to be very, very clear on what you are or are not willing to die for, and fight only for that.

##

 

The way I put it is that in every animal is the survival drive, that all-or-nothing response to fight or flight.   Fear arises from anticipation. Actual survival is IN THE MOMENT, and if you are acting, you don’t feel fear the same way at ALL.   That energy is going into fighting or fleeing.   The “I’ll get hurt” isn’t a factor because you are IN THE SHIT already. Its happening.  Anticipation will kill you.  Living in the moment sets you free.

 

##

 

The same thing is true in so many arenas.   Most of the really, really excellent people I know, in any arena, were not people with “innate talent”, they were and are people who love something so much that they obsess about it.   Artists draw all the time.  Singers sing.   Writers write, athletes play their sport and do drills all day.  And on and on.

 

And those afraid to enter that burning core, to commit, will talk about “talent”.   They never committed because they didn’t have the “talent.”   That’s fear of admitting they want it enough to be willing to give it EVERYTHING THEY’VE GOT.  They never picked the hill they were ready to die on. So…they often die for nothing.

 

I remember the day I realized that I’d rather FAIL as a writer than SUCCEED at anything else.  Boom. The world got simple. Ride or die, man.  This is me.

 

It wasn’t really any different from realizing I simply wasn’t going to take shit from Bryce any more, ever again.  Maybe I’d have gotten my ass kicked. Hey, I’ve had my ass kicked before.

 

Maybe I’d have died.  Hey, I have to die anyway.   What matters is how you live, and if you are totally absorbed by what you are doing, one day at a time, you really aren’t thinking about dying.  The people most afraid of dying aren’t doing much with their lives NOW.   If they were, they’d be too busy. Similar to worrying about “talent.”  If you are really focused on what YOU are doing, you are having such a good time (and you did choose something you love, right?) that you don’t really notice where other people are.

 

If you aren’t “observing yourself” you don’t notice if someone is ahead of you, or behind you.  It is said that a musician like Prince was hugely kind to other musicians and performers. He adored the icons who were ahead of him, supported those on the path behind him, and jammed with his equals as often as possible. He loved the PATH.

 

The time I attended the party at his house, and he jammed for us, he asked us to listen to the music and dance, NOT to look at him.  Enjoy the music, and the moment.   If our attention was on him he had to think about his performance, and all he wanted was to flow with the groove.   If we could be there with him, we were all One: lovers of music. Dancers, listeners, musicians, singers. All together on that patio under the stars.

 

The Path. Focus on it, and you enter a timeless space. If you notice fear…you aren’t there. If you are worried someone is better…you aren’t there.  If you take pride in being better than others–you aren’t there. Not at that moment.

 

What you want is to be “there.”  In the flow. Doing the thing you love. The people ahead of you have spent more time on that path, in that space.   They DESERVE the greater success, and it would be a cruel world if they didn’t have it.

 

And the greatest success is spending your life being what you want to be, with the people you love, doing what turns you on.    Being an authentic ‘you.’  That person is not your ego shell.  It is the “real” you and you can glimpse it in the moments you lose “yourself” in the moment.  Sex, by the way, can be GREAT for this, the most common human experience that extinguishes the ego, at least for a fear moments.  You know what I mean…if you can remember your name, it wasn’t good sex.

 

At the moment I told Bryce to meet me, I couldn’t remember my name.  At the moment I was deepest into any story I’ve ever written, I don’t know who I am.   When I’ve pulled off the best martial arts moments of my career, I wasn’t “there” at all.

 

How to learn this?  Focus on being present, five times a day, in sixty second increments of breath.  Focus on what you intend to accomplish today, and what you need to do and who you need to be AT THIS MOMENT to make it happen.

 

Connect those core outcomes to your survival, sexuality, power, love, communication, intellect and spirit.  Balance the child and adult, the male and female of “you” until you lose your language and enter the flow state, a world of emotions and images and feelings.

 

So wonderful. That part is the best and strongest “you”, and a wealth unknown to those who cling to their identities. Let it go. Eventually, you will, you know. Everyone does.

 

Don’t wait until your last moments until you learn this.  “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”– John Greenleaf Whittier

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

A Major new 5MM “Life Hack”?

I’m a mad scientist when it comes to personal development, and that’s kept me engaged with the process for decades.  On one level I ALWAYS feel that “the Perfect Program” is just out of reach…it’s a game I love to play.  Tananarive or Toni or Nicki could tell ya.  Notebooks full of plans.

 

Been percolating a notion for about a month.  It has to do with the cross-referencing of several things.

 

  1. 5MM.  The fact that if you take 60-second “breathing breaks” every three hours, you transform your relationship with stress.
  2. According to Pavel, the perfect number of reps for an exercise is 5: after 5, you cannot focus total concentration.
  3. Synaptic Facilitation suggests that a skill is best learned by practicing it in short sessions throughout the day, rather than all at once.
  4. There are Five Tibetans
  5. Islamic prayers are practiced five times a day
  6. The more often you remember your primary outcomes and motivations, and check where you are, the easier it is to maintain focus, and the more you accomplish.

 

 

What if I combined these?  Not “more time” spent meditating, exercising, renewing, but distributing and coordinating that time differently?  Can you see where this is heading?

 

I have longer blocks of time for some things, but that “Five Minute Miracle” every day…what can I do with that, as sort of a separate “track” of action?  Well…

 

WHAT IF YOU COMBINED THESE?  Here’s a sample protocol:

 

  1. Every three hours perform 5 reps of one Tibetan.
  2. With each, focus on the breathing, with a “cat vomiting” “be breathed” style exhalation/compression built into the rep.
  3. As you do, think of the Most Important Outcome for the day.
  4. Feel gratitude for the health to do this activity. Remember: one day you will NOT be able to.   Enjoy your body while you have it…remember it is just on loan.

 

 

How long would this take?  Five minutes a day.  What would the next level be?

  1. Increase the number of reps.  What would happen if the 21 reps of five exercises were distributed through the day instead of “clumped”?  Well..you’d lose the mild “cardio” effect but raise the amount of focus on structural integration.  If you focus on the breathing, you are accelerating the rate of re-programming the body-mind for extraordinary function.   SERIOUS intervention.    Imagine a night’s sleep where you have to get up five times to pee. How restful is that?  YOU CAN INTERRUPT THE “WAKING DREAM” state exactly the same way.
  2. Add another action (like practice three minutes of martial arts or a yoga asana)
  3. Extend meditation/focus time.

 

Minimum investment?  Five minutes a day.   But I could add a yoga asana AND a minute of Kali/Escrima, for a total of Fifteen minutes a day.  That is an AMAZING amount of re-programming.

 

I don’t know for a fact that this is an effective protocol. It is a theory, and the experiment it suggests is obvious, and exciting to me.  I’ll letcha know!

 

 

(p.s. This is NOT to replace the block of morning exercise time. There are aspects of fitness/wellness that require extended engagement (triggering the neuro-immuno-endocrine response requires 12-15 minutes of steady-state activity to enter “second wind” which is great for a whole host of reasons, especially managing fear) But in an emergency…its an amazing five daily minutes, providing basic integration and mobility, focus, energy, motivation, positive emotions, discipline, centeredness, and much more.

A great little “Hack” for you to try!)

 

Namaste

Steven Barnes

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What will this week be for YOU?

Every Sunday, my primary “work” is to figure out the most important thing to accomplish in the next seven days.  Last week:

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WHAT:  The most important thing I had to accomplish last week was a fabulous 20th anniversary celebration with Tananarive.

WHY: Because I adore her, and thank God every day that this fabulous, beautiful, brilliant, exceptional woman chose ME as her life partner.  And I never, ever want to take her or my life for granted, or let time pass without celebration.

HOW: An Air B’nB beach house in Malibu while Jason was off for a week of camp.

 

Get that?  Clear goal, clear reasons so passionate I vibrate when I think about it, and only then figuring the “how.”  Now…this week.

 

WHAT: Launch the “Your First 100k” course I’ve been working on for the last three years.   Rewrite the “Danakil” story for the blockchain “Celarius” project.

 

WHY: To provide a clearer road-map to my friends and students of how to take their passion to help people and turn it into the ability to support their own families and fulfill their dreams.   To finish a terrific shared-universe story

 

HOW:   By consulting with my tech guy Michael to be sure all the pieces of the marketing funnel are in place, all the contracts handled, the sales pages designed and executed, all the pieces of the course ready for download.  By editing five-ten pages of story a day.

 

WHAT then WHY then HOW.  Clear?

 

##

 

Once upon a time, I was a kid from a financially challenged, broken home, filled with fear about a world I had been told would destroy me if I was weak…or if I was too strong.  No role models, no one who believed in my dreams, and a mother who loved me but was destroying herself with stress and fear and toil.  But…she gave me a fantastic gift: the notion that our minds control our destiny.

 

And even if she was so rigid and wounded that she wasn’t able to take this notion to its logical conclusion SHE INFECTED ME WITH THE MEME.  And I spent my entire young life studying, searching, training…trying to find mentors, gurus, therapists, coaches, ANYONE who could help me achieve the things I needed to avoid catastrophe.  And…although Mom was limited by the rigidity of her traditional belief systems, I started seeing that all of these people, all these religions, all these philosophies were saying the same things in different ways, and slowly began to put it together.

 

Gaining success as a writer by writing every day.

Gaining success as a martial artist by training every day.

Building a beautiful family by being there as a husband and father every day.

 

I made mistakes.  Failed many times.  And deeply regret some of the choices I made along the way.  But…kept learning.   And growing.  Until one day I looked up, and realized that I’d literally achieved every goal I’d ever had as a kid.

 

Time for new goals.

 

##

 

The most evolved “Master” of any discipline I’ve had a chance to sit down and speak with one human being to another is probably Danny Inosanto, arguably the world’s greatest expert on Filipino and Indonesian martial arts, a walking encyclopedia, warrior, and gentleman.   At 82 years old he still teaches and trains every day, traveling the world every weekend to share his knowledge.

 

He is complex, not “complicated”.   In many ways a simple man of true genius, who teaches the history of his people as much as sharing their martial wisdom, which is phenomenal, music and mathematics on the kinesthetic level.  And all that makes him what he is is a clear goal:

 

WHAT:   to   be the best he can be.  To learn and grow and go as far as he can in his lifetime.

WHY: Because the weak deserve a chance to be strong.  Because bullies bleed too.  To fulfill a sacred promise to the great teacher of his life, Bruce Lee.

HOW: To train and teach every day.

 

That’s it.  A clear “What”.   An empowering “Why.”  and the “How” is simply doing it daily.

 

As the lady said, parenthood isn’t hard. Its just daily.  The same with ANYTHING else you want to master.

 

Know what your lifetime intentions are.   What your yearly outcomes need to be to reach them, and have a raft of kickass reasons to GO FOR IT.   What you have to accomplish this month to stay on track. What you need to do THIS WEEK to continue to refine your life physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually.

 

Know those things…and then know the minimum you have to do TODAY to make it happen.

 

Then…raise your energy by engaging with your body physically while visualizing your outcomes, chanting your gratitudes, and clarifying the ONE THING you MUST do today to take another step.

 

That’s all it is, people.   Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  It is being on the road, and learning and giving a little more every day.  Every.  Damned.  Day.

 

And, of course, celebrating your victories so that the little kid inside you, the sprite that generates all the energy and creativity, knows it is all worth while.

 

Do that, and the rest of life takes care of itself.  One day you’ll look up and have been married to your soulmate for two decades, have published three million words, and hold three black belts…

 

Or whatever the equivalent of those things is for YOU.   Or let’s put it more simply:

 

You’ll be happy to have been here on this planet, taking this journey.  One step at a time.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.dailywriters.com

OMG…That’s Jason!

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Oh My God. That’s my baby boy on the extreme right.   Getting ready for his first game.   Its one thing to no longer be able to just pick him up in one arm.  Its another to realize that he is so close to being a man.

 

I figured I had one job with my kids: to help them safely to their adulthood.   And all I can do there is to teach them the very best things I’ve learned over the course of my life.   Over the summer, Jason has really matured–I’m hoping the pressures of high school don’t crack him.

 

I have to take everything he needs to do and connect it to a long-term goal of his. As he hasn’t really gelled his adult outcomes, I have to be more general, and use Milton Erickson’s pattern, unless and until I get a clear indication of a refinement or healthy aversion.

 

On a basic biological/social level he needs to learn to care for his body, hunt and gather, satisfy his sexual needs with integrity, create goods and services he can enjoy creating and exchange with his community to support himself and two other people, understand his values and beliefs clearly enough to be a good father and husband, become a contributing member of society on the level of charity and pure giving, age with dignity, and die at peace.

 

Infinite refinements on that process, but those are good basic safety rails.   The single most important thing I’m doing, the “atomic” minimum dose, the mountain I’m prepared to die on, is that five minutes every morning. Checking in, evaluating the previous day’s work, clarifying what needs to be done today.  Being sure he knows WHAT to do, WHY he is doing it–in a way that aligns with his own personal goals, and only then turning him loose into the chaos of a school day.

 

WHAT does he have to do? WHY does he want to do it?  Only then going to the HOW.

 

I wish I could get him in a full-fledged “Morning M.A.G.I.C.” program, moving and chanting at the same time, but he’s not ready for that yet.  I’ll be happy with what I can do, slowly asking him to remember all he has to feel grateful for, what his clear intentions today and for a lifetime might be, the strength of his conviction that he can and should accomplish it, and what ACTIONS he is going to take to make it happen.

 

That’s enough. But one day…one day he will have a goal, and come to me and ask what he can do to maximize his chances of reaching it. This is where Football is hugely more happy-making than Skate Park. The kids at Skate Park tend to be somewhat counter-culture. The smell of pot wafts from the benches nearby.   And skating is fun, but dead end for all but a tiny few.

 

Football is a team sport, so he is associating with young men who are focused on winning as a team, being strong. They have to keep their grades up to play.  There is a route to college scholarships for athletes in some sports, and Football is his first introduction to the level of discipline and focus it requires.   Those coaches are screaming postive messages while the kids sweat and strain and push–(hey!  That’s like the missing piece of the Morning MAGIC program!)

 

He will experience the focus of a crowd’s attention. Learn to deal with the girls who are attracted to that power, and ask himself what he wants for a life partner, not just a dance partner for a night (ahem).   What was the single strongest step I took toward maturation?

 

Wanting the respect of the men I respected

Wanting to attract the kind of women I was attracted to.

 

Choose those men and women carefully, and life gets very simple.

 

This is a good step for my boy. There are downsides, of course, but I’ll keep my eyes open for them. Meanwhile…Summer 2018 goes down in my book as a dividing line between a big boy and a young man.  He is on the other side of that divide now.  The risks get bigger.

 

So do the rewards. Time to roll up my sleeves: the work is about to get harder. And a lot more fun.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

(if you want to create your own “Morning MAGIC” program, go to:

www.morningwriters.com)

Today’s Morning program

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So what I brought with me to exercise on the deck overlooking the Pacific is a yoga board, and two 36 lb kettlebells.  So the schedule today will be:

  1. Tai Chi with morning ritual.  Primary focus today?  Rewriting the story “Danakil” and having a GREAT time with Tananarive.  That party, if its any of your business, has already started.  Ahem.
  2. Martial Arts.  Basics of Silat, Kali, WAR, and Kenpo.   I paid blood and sweat for those skills, and damned if I’m gonna give ’em up in THIS lifetime.
  3. Kettlebells.   Now…I’m experimenting with an adaptation of a double KB complex designed by Steve Maxwell.  I’m gonna do a “ladder” ( 1 rep, then 2, then three, then four then five) resting as necessary, continuing up the ladder as high as I can go in 12 minutes.  Here are the techniques:
    1. Double Clean and Jerk
    2. Double Clean
    3. Double Jerk
    4. Double front squat.
    5. Double Dead Lift and Burpee
  4. Get that?  One of each, rest, two of each, rest, etc.  It is BRUTAL.
  5. YOGA.  One rep of each of the 24 (?) poses of the Bikram series.   Yoga is no longer optional in my life. It is mandatory.  If I don’t do it, my body remembers my  birthday, and the presents it has for me ain’t to my liking.

 

Total Time investment: about an hour.

 

So that’s getting started.  It is all built around the notion of focusing myself with my Morning M.A.G.I.C. program, then building energy with exercise and cooling it down with Yoga, re-integrating my structure.

 

Then…launch into my day and KICK BUTT on that story (which is already cooking, but needs to be strengthened in the second half).  Then…more fun with T. She’s working on a short film script, and her novel, THE REFORMATORY, which is going to blow minds.

 

Anyway…I know it will be a great day because everything is hooked into my easiest access to my own passions: love of my family.  Work, meditation, Morning M.A.G.I.C., martial arts, kettlebells, yoga…all are about raising the energy, aligning it, and protecting my body from its own dynamic flow.  Connect that physical drive to my emotional, in the same way that if your house is burning you will FIND the energy to save your family.   I’ve got every reason in the world to kick ass today: survival, sex, power, love, contribution, discovery, pure fun.

 

You can’t stop someone who aligns themselves like this. You can kill ’em.  But you can’t stop them as long as they have a breath in their body.

 

THAT is my commitment.    Now…hey…it’s time to buckle down and kick ass.  Later

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.morningwriters.com

“The Martian” and balancing thought and emotion

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?“–Matt Damon as Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.

 

When your life is on the line, you have to access your problem-solving ability, or you will die. The survival emotions motivate you…but if they overwhelm you you get stupid.  And that means there can be answers right in front of you, and you won’t see them.

 

###

 

 

I keep hearing people begging for help with their stress levels.  These are generally people terrified by the news, and disheartened by the viciousness of internet arguments.

 

In other words…they engage with the world to try to improve their lives, but are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, see nothing they can do to improve the situation, and therefore fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry.

 

The trick is that by the time you feel the stress you are often in a “tunnel” where you can’t do the very things most efficient and effective to deal with it.  What if you can’t do anything directly about a problem?  Then seek peace and joy in your own life, and be a role model for others.  When there IS something you can do…act with power and precision, be effective and efficient.  That’s how it gets done: when you can do something, act. When you cannot…live.  And prepare.

 

The Morning Ritual is a “sigil”, a compression of dozens of different ideas about human performance.  Let’s tease out a few of the most important ideas dealing with stress.

 

  1. Stress creates perceptual “tunnels” in which you cannot see anything but the threat.  In other words, denies you access to the very tools that could solve the problem.
  2. Stress is not the real problem–“STRAIN” is the real problem.  Stress is just the amount of pressure you are under. But if you can handle it, stress actually trigger growth: you NEED it to become strong.  Strain is a negative response, an “overload” situation. THAT is what you must avoid.
  3. External events don’t directly create internal response.  Your perceptual filters, beliefs, values, expectations and so forth will determine how you react to the things that happen in life.
  4. The more important the situation, the more dangerous, the more critical it is that you remain focused and balanced.  Especially if you are a leader of some kind–people look up to you to determine how they should react.
  5. The emotions are controlled by what we focus on, our self-talk, and the way we use our bodies.
  6. The most important aspect of the physical is the breathing, the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic.
  7. Your perfect choice is to integrate proper breathing and motion daily, BEFORE you need stress-relief.  By the time you are panicked, it is often too late.
  8. Tai Chi folks have a good idea: twice a day for 10-20 minutes, morning and night.  You focus, breathe, refine posture, control the internal dialogue. This maps over to life situations beautifully.
  9. IF YOU BREATHE AS IF YOU ARE CALM, YOU WILL FEEL CALM. It really is as simple as that.
  10. So…at a minimum integrate slow, steady, deep, diaphragmatic “belly breathing” into the Morning Ritual.  If you are stressed, do this every three hours for sixty seconds. If you are REALLY stressed, do it at the top of every hour.

 

As simple as that. If you don’t interrupt the cycle of stress with PHYSICAL MOTION, you are pretty much choosing to be unhappy.  Choosing pain. Which is irrational, and contrary to core survival programming.   That implies that some part of you associates more pain to RELIEVING the stress than suffering through it.

 

Why?  Perhaps we believe that fear and   panic are NECESSARY.  I submit to you that they are USEFUL in that they get your attention and begin the “preparation for action” spiral. But necessary?  No.  If you find that your fear turns to anger, and you are using that anger to motivate you to action…GREAT!

 

But if it is chewing you up alive, I suggest that you are pouring too much gasoline on the fire, and cannot control the burn.

 

The more important the situation, the more life-threatening, the more responsible you are for the welfare of others…the more important emotional control is.

 

And this is where a daily, a MORNING ritual of focus, motion and emotion can literally save your life.  You don’t have to be lost on Mars to need every “little gray cell” in your head.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com