Martial Arts

“When you be master?”

I remember my dear friend Amara Charles had a spiritual teacher who she adored.  A Chinese lady of great gifts and wisdom.  The sort of teacher you would travel across the world and climb a mountain just to sit at her feet for an hour.  Call her Madame, because I can’t remember her name.

Madame came to the U.S. to teach some workshops, and was staying at Amara’s house. While there, she didn’t seem to teach anything directly, but engaged with Amara’s life: cooking, cleaning, shopping…just “being there.”  And somehow anyone around her began to change.


One day Amara asked her about the path of Mastery, how Madame had achieved her level of clarity and power, and just what it took to do this, how much Amara admired her, how far above–

And Madame interrupted her:  “When YOU be master?” she asked.  Amara had studied countless profound disciplines, done serious work on body, mind, and spirit for decades, raised up students and had her own precious insights into the process of human life…but had not yet taken her rightful place on the path.

And I turn this around and ask you:  “When YOU be master?”



The subject of Mastery fascinates me.  Why? Because there few other things worth spending your life for.  I’m using a definition combined from Steve Muhammad (a man of “beyond Grandmaster” abilities) and George Leonard, Aikido master, men’s fitness columnist and author of the short, sharp book “Mastery”:


Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  And once you have learned your basics to the level of `unconscious competence’ and committed to your path for a lifetime, when you are on that path, you are on the `Path of Mastery’ as much as anyone else on that path, no matter how far ahead of you they may be.”

That I find a workable definition. It matches with the words and attitudes of every high-level expert  of every discipline I’ve ever known or seen. They’re just writers, martial artists, artists, musicians.  They just get up every day and get to work.   Nothing special about it.  And they are always, always “Just beginning to understand” what they are doing.


Masters?  Hah!  And yet…they also allow others to call them master, or Grandmaster, or Sijo, or sensei or sifu or Guro or Guru…because the new students need to believe in something. Need to believe that all of the sweat and blood and fear and doubt will be worth it. And what is worth it? TRANSFORMATION.


Don’t tell me I’ll be a better me. Tell me I’ll be a NEW me.  When you get there, of course, in some sense you’ll be the same: Master Banzai said “no matter where you go, there you are.”


But in another sense, you WILL be new.  At some point, you will have upgraded and upgraded your skills, replaced “pieces” of your psyche, until what remains is NOT the same as what began the journey.  But if you changed 1% of your car’s pieces every day with new pieces, at what point is it no longer your car?  Does its “car-ness” reside in the pieces, or the overall essence?  Or something else?


Fear of loss of self can be as terrifying as fear of death.  Or public speaking.  Whichever scares you more.


We will literally cling to damaged, unfullfilling selves, rather than let it go and leap out into the unknown.  I suspect that the process of Awakening can be violent if done “all at once” like smashing a car into a wall.


Or…it can be more gradual, if you replace the pieces as you go.  And one day, you will realize you have examined, removed and either replaced or substituted most of what you are…and you know where the levers are inside your head and heart and that you know why you do most of what you do…and have chosen it.   How long does this take?


For the sake of simplicity, let’s say ten thousand hours of focused work produces “mastery”, while one thousand produces “excellence.”  If this is true, then “mastery” in any arena, once you really integrate that thing, WHATEVER IT IS, into the rest of your life…confers this level of awareness, on average.


A thousand hours should be enough to get “unconscious competence” in a wide variety of disciplines.  So that may be the doorway to this state.


Choose something, anything that touches your heart that has an externally measurable aspect.   If you don’t have “free time” to invest here, then study marketing and sales in addition, so that you can monetize this arena.  Look at Youtube. People seem to be making a living at some of the strangest things imaginable. But they know how to monetize it.  So if it is really strange, you’ll need a minimum of a thousand hours on the thing, PLUS a thousand hours on sales and marketing, to find a way for you to do what you want to do, and be rewarded for it enough that you don’t have to split attention.


This will be hard: the more intimate the arena you want to play in, the more Marketing will feel like prostitution. The more “Oh yuck!” you’ll feel about the simple process of creating value for your community, finding the people who need and want it and can afford to purchase it, and have the adult self-respect to negotiate your worth.   It is stunningly difficult for many people to cross this divide.


Oh…back to FEAR, right?   If you can admit the problem is FEAR, then you can clearly state: “I am afraid to be excellent. I am afraid to present myself to the world for rejection. I am afraid to demand a value-for-value transaction.”


That said, you can then examine the WHYS and commit to dealing with those core emotions.  Google is your friend: there are infinite resources to improve skill at almost anything, and also to cope with negative emotions.


But you HAVE to admit you need it.  Have to stop hiding from that.


The core is going to be daily, ceaseless work.  Every day.  “The Road of Trials”.


To master life, you must master some aspect of it.

Choose an aspect that you love and take pleasure in.

If you need to make money, also commit to mastering Marketing.

Define “excellence” and “mastery” in either or both by studying those who have excelled.

Define the “gap” between where you are and where they are.

Divide that gap into 1% “chunks”.   Often these can be consumed within a year or two, with planning.

Then: how do you eat an elephant? A forkful at a time.


Every day.  One step.   One chunk. .1-1% down the throat.  Chew well.


And if you have no idea what you want?  My suggestion is to STUDY SALES AND MARKETING so that when you finally figure out what you want, you know how to make money at it.   Many writers go for a teaching degree, to support themselves as they work to build a career. While this often works (removing financial fear from the equation) it can also be a comfort trap, so that you submit to the demons that distract.   I dropped out of college because my favorite writing teacher couldn’t finish a novel he’d been working on for a decade.  Yeah, that was dumb on my part, but its the truth

I’ve had financial instability (which could have been defeated if I’d saved 10% of what I earned, dammit) but with constant motivation to work, I never quit and reached that point of “unconscious competence” with the basic aspects of writing: I write the way I speak. Relate character to human psychology, and plot to core view of life itself.  At that point, “art” or “self-expression” becomes a living thing.


Four areas of life: writing, family, martial arts, finances and business.


EVERY DAY CONNECT TO ALL FOUR.  Five minutes minimum, no matter what.  As a result…the territory I pass every day looks different, but the efforts are the same.  Chop wood, carry water. Wake up, align myself, connect with the world, Morning Ritual, exercise, business, writing, family, fun.  Scan my day: how did I do? What do I need to do tomorrow?  Watch “Robot Chicken”.  Go to bed and start over.


Day after day.  There is always work. Always nurturing myself. Always rest.   You cannot put me in a position where there is not something to learn, do, grow.


And the core of all of it is the “Morning Ritual”, and the doorway to the Morning Ritual is the 5MM, the notion of taking five sixty-second breaks during the day to focus and breathe.


The sad thing is that some of you are saying to yourself right now: “I don’t have five minutes” after having just taken five minutes to read this.  You don’t even realize how you are lying to yourself because of fear, and how that fear is stealing your life from you.


One day at a time.  Five minutes to begin with, working your way to 10-20 minutes.  And your are on the path of mastery.  No one you’ve ever marveled at every did more than just focus their time, day after day, until they were a couple of horizons ahead of you.  That’s all there is.


Well…that, and getting the joke, and also sitting and just letting life come to you, because no matter how far and how fast you run, you’re always the same distance from the horizon. So…move every day.


But also enjoy the scenery.






“Cobra Kai” and cultural appropriation

Some time back, I watched a documentary about  master Fumio Demura, one of the first to bring authentic Japanese karate (Shito-ryu) to the United States.   I thought of him because he was Pat Morita’s stunt double for the Karate Kid movies.


One of the things that struck me about the documentary was his struggles to integrate into our culture, his uncertainty about sharing his cultural treasure with us, the degree to which his masters in Japan didn’t really want him sharing (“cultural appropriation” anyone?) and his superhuman efforts to create not just a life of meaning but to uplift the children of Japan’s former antagonist.


As he is struggling with health issues now, the story is all the more poignant.  One of the most affecting portions was his interactions with Pat Morita.  Morita adored him, and the respect was fully returned. The “Mr. Miyagi” character was greatly beloved in Demura’s social and professional circles, and Morita was a super-star, the one who had “made it.”   They were so happy that he had made it, and his success was a beacon of hope and pride to the Japanese-American community. The love and admiration at a testimonial dinner when Morita took the podium was unmistakable. The shining faces made me so happy.


The “cultural appropriation” question is difficult. While it is true that all social or technological progress is a matter of exchanges between different people, there is also the very real fact that oppressed, dominated, colonized or marginalized people often feel that they have very little that is “theirs”, and it hurts to see that tiny remaining uniqueness diluted or misinterpreted. The fact that it is generally the larger group, often the dominator group, arrogantly asserting their right to take whatever they want is unfortunate.


Those are the polarities, and I can see both positions: the urge to protect, and the reality that we must share.


There is something missing from the “Cobra Kai” series, and while it is not unrealistic, and I really enjoyed the series, it didn’t hit me until this morning what it was.


Whereas the original movie was about a boy who wanted to find his way to manhood, and a man who needed an apprentice (there are only two stories, some say: the young man grows up, and the old man faces death.  Karate Kid touches both), it is also about the beauty of stepping outside your normal reality to see life from a different position.  And…the sharing of not just two lives, Daniel Larusso and Nariyoshi Miyagi, a  war hero and karate master. They need each other, and the exchanges between them are precious and beautiful.


Daniel learns an Okinawan art of power and grace, and the external “Rocky” structure of the film isn’t as important as his internal journey.


If I have a problem with “Cobra Kai” it is the reality that as martial arts moved away from the first generation, a matter of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants sharing their cultural treasure of body-mind unity with American students, the next generation was of Americans, some studying in the East, others here in America, opening their own schools. No more direct transmission.  And while great respect is shown the memory of Miyagi, I cannot help but wish that some of that dynamic could have been maintained.


Now, it is just about Americans teaching Americans, and while there is a little color in the system (a Latino student, a maybe 1/4 black student) it is basically all white people’s issues and challenges.


Again…this is statistically accurate. It is also legitimate.  Artists have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their experience.  I just…mourn a bit. When the only Asian in the cast is the villain, I flinch.


And while the Japanese community has aged out, and many of their children, most perhaps, see themselves more as Americans than Japanese…that creates a different set of problems when roles that COULD go to them are “whitewashed”, which happened egregiously as recently as “Ghost in the Shell” last year.  I know it hurts.


To see their images, and roles, and cultural treasures given only to others who often mock their very sense of exclusion.   Damn.  I have no easy answers here.


If Larusso’s student had been Japanese, that’s a facile reversal that could have backfired…or it could have been beautiful, if handled well.  But that could have been criticized too: “oh, look at the white guy who is more Japanese than the Asians…”  Sigh.    I understand both sides of that as well, and it is painful to realize that this has happened countless times as different cultures collide.


The only real answer I can see is to tell stories with respect and courtesy, with appreciation and understanding, and with both love and the strength to hold your center.


The answer is not JUST to beg the makers of excellent shows like “Cobra Kai” to be more sensitive (IMO), but for those who feel they are not represented to learn to express their essence in their art, to work their way into the business, to understand the marketing and sales techniques that allow you to express value to an audience and show them why it is in THEIR interest to buy your wares.


Don’t expect people to care for the sake of caring. That’s not human nature.


If I try to explain the ways in which INFINITY WAR is problematic, black people tend to agree quickly, white people more likely to argue.


Who is right?  One could say that whites are oblivious. Or that black people are too sensitive.


How about this?  If we assume equality, you split the difference: both are true.  If the average response from one group is a 5, and of the other a 7, you average them out and get a 6.  You go with the “hmmm.  There is a little more than I thought…but maybe the other side is being too picky. Or not picky enough.”


But you listen…while continuing to work to speak your truth and live your life the best you can. I’m not sure anyone can do more.


Meanwhile…”Cobra Kai” is a fine extension of many of the themes that made “Karate Kid” wonderful. Family, courage, maturity, awakening sexuality, what it means to find something worth fighting for, the power of both love and strength.  Connection between generations and the need of a father to find a son, a son to find a father.


It expands those themes a bit, and promises ways that future seasons could go deeper, explore more. The martial arts, like all profound disciplines,  are metaphors for all of life.  The west doesn’t have much of this body-mind stuff, arguably because the best of them, those that deal with death itself, have been supplanted as “technologies of defense” by firearms, and possibly the Cartesian body-mind split that has done so much damage to our Self-concept.


We need it.  And…we went and got it.  Yoga, Karate, Tai Chi and so forth.  Amazing, profound technologies that can take you all the way to genuine knowledge.   They are ours now, no doubt about it. We have our own masters. And have not just the right but the responsibility to teach our children to live within our world with integrity and grace and power and love.


And…eventually, if we go deeply enough, we are asking those two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”


The answer to those questions always takes us to the unity of the human experience, and the concept of Num: one soul looking out through many eyes.


The snarky folks complaining about Cultural Appropriation are, IMO, mostly just protecting their right to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, and screw you.


But those who appropriate with respect are being what human beings have always been at their best: respectful but moving forward beyond boundaries and dualities, sharing and listening and learning.  Always remembering that there really can be pain on the other side of the issue…but also that, as the Japanese community applauded for Pat Morita, proud that he was bringing their treasure to the American public…there is also joy.


No room for snark here.  But much room to celebrate how many ways there are to be human.  It’s what we do.


Do it gently, with love.





Separated from our own being

As a futurist, I think of both the positive and negative aspects of the technological culture we’re creating. And I see something that might relate to certain discussions of late.


Fandom has a disproportionate number  of people who came from abusive backgrounds, are brilliant, but stunted emotionally.  Does it take much to suspect they simply “clumped” all their mentation into one category, where they could get approval without being emotionally vulnerable?


Interesting that there are people who have no empathy with others, and others who cannot grasp that their personal view of reality or experience of events is not universal.   The “One soul looking out through many eyes” doesn’t mean that the other person is identical to you.  You can have a zillion containers holding water-based fluid, with no two of them having the same composition, shape, or temperature. Infinite variety.  Humans have the same basic motivations: avoiding pain and gaining pleasure.  They have the same basic emotions: fear, anger, love.    The same basic fears: falling, loud noises.  Hunger and discomfort.


A few other things that seem universal, with everything else learned along the way.  Basic animal drives of personal and genetic survival.


What is the genetic component of what we are?  What is the environmental?    Make no mistake: this stuff has been debated for thousands of years.



I remember a guy “Chuck” who couldn’t separate his personal feelings about a movie (“it’s good.  It’s bad”) from a general objective sense of what it was.   In other words, if he didn’t like it, he couldn’t believe anyone else did.  If he loved it, why, others must too, and if they said otherwise, they must be paid off by a studio.


Chuck had trouble understanding women.  His miscues were legendary.  I noticed that he assumed that they would enjoy the same interactions, at the same pace, in the same ways, as he.    A little grabby he was, because HE enjoyed being grabbed.


He didn’t understand because he didn’t ask.  He assumed.  And when he was proved wrong, he assumed there was some conspiracy to confuse him, or that they were nutty.


Needless to say, he was confused, lonely, and what we would now call a little “Aspy.”   He just didn’t get it.   His “theory of mind” was skewed.   What are the extremes?

  1. People with NO empathy.  Others are totally different from them.
  2. People with TOO MUCH empathy.   Others are the same as them.   There are a number of pathologies here.


I have a suspicion that we’re breeding more and more people disconnected from their balanced emotional empathy.  Why?    I’d say it is the degree to which modern people don’t have to interact with the physical world, with other real live physical human beings the way our grandparents did.   This is just a hunch.  Some things I think are growing problematic:


  1. A disconnect between the effort needed to earn a calorie and the number of calories available.    Danger: obesity.
  2. Communication via chat.  Danger: losing the ability to interpret facial expressions, vocal tonalities.    Miscommunications due to loss of those vital channels.
  3. Seeing the world as “flat” rather than three dimensional.  Reading and staring at screens.
  4. Seeing the time-flow as malleable because of freeze-frame and rewind.  A different quality of attention is created, one that works great in an artificial environment…but not so great in the “real” world.
  5. Confusion of mating cues.   “People” who seem real (but flat) acting according to the strings manipulated by writers and directors rather than real human emotions.    We absorb those lessons. Then when “real” people don’t react that way, we get confused and resentful.  “Incels” anyone?
  6. The danger is developing a twisted “theory of mind”, not being able to understand other human beings.  Or even our own interactions with the real world.   We don’t know why we can’t leverage our intellects and emotions to hunt and gather (earn), can’t connect with a mate (sex), can’t understand why our bodies bloat.  OUR CONNECTIONS ARE BROKEN.


Without the feedback of the real world, actually barking our shins on reality.   Both romance novels and porn set up unrealistic expectations.   Video games shelter us from the pain of actually learning physical skills.   We develop flash-friendships, anonymous internet groups to play with, and while they are fun, they aren’t real. Those people don’t care about you.  If they heard you got run over by a cement truck they’d say the current equivalent of “gnarly!” and play on.


I saw this with the first generation of computer programmers, with people who buried themselves in fantasy books, with people addicted to video games, and FB and work in offices and never get outside.


Lack of connection with the natural world, with other human beings…and perhaps with themselves.  This is why meditating, contemplation, connecting with nature, and physical exercise are so important. You can hallucinate all you want about your body, but a mile doesn’t care.  You either walk/run it, or you don’t.


You can’t “level up” by buying virtual coins. You have to actually do the work, push through the pain and fear, learn to overcome “sensory motor amnesia” and learn how your body works.


“Exercise is BORING.”   Yeah, because you’ve never engaged your mind and emotions.    Like your ancestors had to, OR DIE.  “I don’t understand men/women.”  Yeah, because you have surrounded yourself with fantasies about what they’re like, and when they don’t match your expectations, you blame THEM, not your fantasies.


I could be wrong about this, but its what I see.  The answer?

  1. Connect with your own heart.  The most basic piece of emotional reality we have is our own hearts. I think that if you don’t understand others…you don’t really understand yourself.
  2. Connect with your body.  Exercise.  Move.  Your body evolved to hunt, gather, evade predators.  Society evolved to express that with games and mating rituals (dance).  Re-connect there.


Just these: opening the heart, awakening the body, will anchor you to the world.   The opposite?   “Awakening your kundalini backwards”.  Smart, but body and heart “stupid”.   It isn’t your fault: humanity has won a battle with the natural world.  Don’t be road kill.




“String of Pearls” and the Five Tibetans

One of the frustrating things about the “Five Tibetans” is that everything DIRECTLY known about them is from a single book, one probably part fantasy.  Even if I believed the tale of “Colonel Bradford,” the notion that this guy learned anything but the raw basics of a set of baby exercises is rather hard to believe.


So this old, broken-down man went to these monks, and they taught him some healing exercises, and after X time he came back to the west and started teaching them.  Anyone think that they did anything other than say “wow. This guy is messed up. Let’s give him some basics and see if he sticks with it.”


Well, he did stick with it.  But every body-mind discipline I’ve ever seen has deeper progressions: the effect comes not from holding a position of some kind, but from maintaining a particular focus of attention on breath, muscle tension and balance that RESULTS in a particular external manifestation. And that if you can do X today, you have to do X+1 tomorrow, or you are actually back-sliding.  Why?  Because once you can do something it doesn’t take as much focus and attention to do it again.


This is the same reason why you  will look buff the first time you do a particular workout routine, but will actually decondition if you continue to perform it at the same level…the body and mind naturally look for ways to make things easier.  This is why a lot of martial arts instructors get fat. In the beginning, the workout itself taxed their bodies. Unless they do supplemental exercise, or continually push their edge in specific ways, they’ll decondition for anything but performing those specific movements.


So…what do we know about the Tibetans? There are five exercises. We know they can be modified to make them easier. We also know that you aren’t supposed to go higher than 21 reps of each.


To me, that implies that once you reach 21 you are either supposed to modify them to make them HARDER, or to make them more COMPLEX. Or…both.  “Harder” would imply greater strength, endurance, flexibility.  “Complex” would imply greater neurological sophistication.


Of course, that complexity could be greater synchrony of breath and attention, visualizations, muscle locks (“bandhas”) and so forth. Might not be anything you can see from the outside.  In fact, that would make sense in terms of yogic asana practice.


Sigh. So many possibilities.  And that’s before you start wondering if Bradford even perfectly represented what he’d learned.   Doubtful. Again, he was likely to bring back baby basics. Wondering what the real thing looked like…or what advanced versions might have been…is quite an exercise.


One of the things I do is look at different people performing them, and see how they make sense of it. Not serious changes to the patterns, but, for instance, someone theorizing that you spin in the same direction that water goes down the drain in your hemisphere. That is actually a pretty cool notion.


Sometimes I’ll see something and say: whoa!  That happened just a couple of days ago, when I saw the accompanying video.  Yeah, the guys are just doing this as a warm-up, but what was fascinating was the back/abdominal engagement.   Look at the spinal articulation in #3, #4, and #5.   The “string of pearls” feeling as opposed to the “flat back” approach.  If that doesn’t look healthier, more beautiful and more like a cat stretching, I don’t know what does.  It just LOOKS right, doesn’t it?   Presented for your approval…

Did I just hit “Master” level?

I might…just might have just fully matured my workout program.

The problem was that I wasn’t getting enough MA workout to maintain forward momentum (about an hour a day is standard for this). I don’t have that when I factor in the fitness and health activities: I can make an hour a day, but I DON’T have two hours.

But I realized that if I break up the time I DO have into shorter units and can do it 5X a day, I can multiply the impact of the time. So…if I have 25 minutes for daily skill work, and do it all in a bunch, that has X effect. But if I break it up into 5 daily pieces (say, averaging 5 minutes each) that same 25 minutes grooves my nervous system as if I’d spent over an hour. I’d guess almost 3X as efficient and effective, minute for minute. Of course, that isn’t working endurance, but I have other things for that.


The reason this works is the number of different reasons I have to perform this “5X” program: health, fitness, skill, focus, emotional centeredness, etc.  The more reasons you have, the easier it is to motivate yourself.


I realized I could do this when I played with the notion of doing 5 reps of each of 5 Tibetans, once every three hours as a body-mind discipline. While I miss the muscular endurance (and a bit of cardio) that comes from doing all 21 reps of each, if I figure that the most important aspect of the Tibetans are the skeletal alignment, balance, and body-breath unity, then all of the “educational” aspects are accelerated by spacing ’em out.  Same time (well, a hair longer) but more results.


So there is a morning program, involving strength-training and endurance work–takes about 30 minutes.  Then there is the “5X”.  I structure them fractally, so that there is recapitulation of the pattern:


  1. Tibetans
  2. Martial Arts
  3. Fitness (Kettlebells or Clubbells)
  4. Yoga



The “5X” program simplifies this:

  1. Tibetans
  2. MA
  3. Yoga


The Tibetans themselves have strength and muscular endurance benefits, especially if I hack them.    The morning and 5X programs overlap: I only do 5 reps in the morning, too.  I don’t do strength training in the 5X program because I worry about leaving muscle tension in my body when I try to go to sleep.  If my sleep pattern isn’t effective, my health breaks down. So while it would be ideal to work strength using a 5X pattern as well, it is NON optimal when I factor in recovery.


We learn as we go.   This may be a threshold of understanding.   Damned if this doesn’t sound like the kind of program a real master follows, doesn’t it?





The power of courtesy


Reading FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss’s book “Never Split The Difference” I’m struck by the fact that this man, negotiating with bankrobbers and terrorists, refers to the guy on the other side of the table as his “counterpart.”


“The guy on the opposite side of the table isn’t the problem. The situation is.”   This reminds me of a politician referring to an “opponent” as “the distinguished gentleman from such and such” and “my esteemed colleague.”


If Voss can speak with someone with a bomb, or a gun at a child’s head, as a “counterpart” rather than a “scumbag” perhaps there is something we can learn here.


The LABELS we use for things, and people, are critical.   When you call people negative names, you need to ask “why?”


Was it simple self expression? “I felt angry, and expressed myself.”   All right. That can be useful.  To their face? So…the intent was to anger them and have a confrontation and harden their resolve?  Yes?  No?


Was it…stirring the troops?   Speaking words that your allies want you to say, so they will rally behind you?  That can be effective as well, but you need to be sure that’s the result you really want.


The “courtesy” thing is important, in terms of not aggrevating the situation.  But there is a FAR more important aspect: empathy.  The ability to grasp that your Counterpart is a human being, with human needs and desires.   That if they are angry, they are experiencing fear.


I saw this clearly during riots in Fergusen and elsewhere.   Conservative pundits labeled them “thugs” rather than giving them humanity. Somehow,  the rioters (or “protestors”) were thought to…what? Want violence for the sake of violence? Chaos for its own sake?


Were just “outside agitators” trying to stir up racial animus for…what purpose? Certainly no purpose that is in alignment with anything rational, reasonable, positive, or on the same moral level as the labelers claimed for themselves.    The label itself puts the rioter “below.”  ALWAYS be cautious of people who encourage you to look down on others. When your back is turned, I promise they are looking down on you.


Dehumanizing keeps you from having to consider that they might have reasons to feel what they feel, react as they react.  It doesn’t take much to stay on the right track:


  1. Start by offering them equal humanity
  2. If the behaviors are different, the stimuli must be different.
  3. Violence is anger is fear.  Do they have anything which FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE, would trigger fear in a reasonable person, if true?  In other words, even if you think they are wrong are wrong, IF they were right, would their fear be reasonable?
  4. If they are wrong, but honestly wrong, the situation can be eased with rapport and education about the real situation.  But the rapport must come first.
  5. If they are right, the situation can be corrected, reducing fear and therefore defusing anger and ending violence.


The real problem is those who DON’T believe in equality, but won’t be honest about it.  They mouth the words, but aren’t willing to ask the questions.


Also, those who WANT the unfair advantage, but won’t cop to it because guilt, or because they want to take advantage of the “tragedy of the commons” so they can hold you to a higher standard than they hold themselves.


The worst are so dishonest that they delete or refuse to acknowlege instances of “their team’s” similar behavior.   I saw a ton of this garbage in the ignorant or manipulative who claimed “white people don’t riot”.  I mean…geeze.   Never watched a football riot?  Heard of Black Wall Street or the Draft Riots, right here in America?   Oh. None of that counts, because…um…ur…


I guess I’ll have to get back to you on that.




If I have to resist feeling contempt for people who go down that road against me and mine, I either apply courtesy to them, or risk becoming the very thing I loathe.  The following reasons come to me:


  1. Avoidance of hypocrisy.
  2. Encouraging a calm and reasoned response.   Some percentage of the “opposition” can be reached if they don’t feel under attack.
  3. Increased empathy.  If I see their humanity, I can see WHY they do what they do.   Remember: everything we do is to move away from pain and toward pleasure. Every human action is an attempt to connect with the divine. If I can understand their internal map, I SHOULD be able to see a more efficient and effective way to reach their goal with greater pleasure and less pain. If so, and I can communicate this to them, we stop becoming enemies and become voyagers on the same journey. They never cared about me in the first place. What they care about is joy, and a sense of connection, and peace. EVERYTHING else is just a means to this end.
  4. Increased inner peace.  I like feeling centered.  Dislike it when someone triggers an anger response in me.  Means there is unprocessed fear. That makes me vulnerable; fear is easily manipulated.
  5. Increases my justification for action, if action is required.  If I have given no offense, have embraced their humanity, expressed nothing but love, and they still attack me? To be frank, I now have permission to kill them.  I represent the good in the world, protector of what is gentle and nurturing.  And if you attack THAT space I no longer have any inhibitions against removing the danger to my family.     There is a rabid wolf in the back of my mind.   I know just where he crouches.  He really, really, REALLY wants an opportunity to hurt someone.  And I have a deal with that part of me: I will let it out if necessary. But only if really necessary.  And that means that I have done all I can to keep things peaceful and loving.    As a way to feel that my hands are clean if I have to bite someone’s throat out.


I contain multitudes.





Scrappers, Leaders, and Masters

It is unreasonable to expect oppressed people to be more circumspect with their language, and kinder and more forgiving than average. That said, it is those who CAN be circumspect kind, and empathetic who are most likely to build bridges. They must also be cautious to remain strong, because that strength will be tested.


The oppressor will always be the oppressed in some other category, so it behooves the wise to practice a doctrine of tolerance, compassion, and shared humanity–it WILL be your turn one day.  Absolutely.


But…how?  Isn’t it human to strike back?   Yes. But the more important the battle, the more critical it is to fight with efficiency and effectiveness.

Studying ancient texts of war, conflict when life and death is on the line, can give insight into this.  My favorite is Sun Tzu’s ART OF WAR for its universal applications and long history of stimulating top-level thinking.



This means not just “feeling good” about losing, or saying you won a “moral victory”.  It means winning.  YOU get to decide how merciful to be, not your opponent.


Paraphrased, Sun Tzu says:   “It is better to subdue a country whole and intact than to destroy it completely. Better to keep the entire army whole and intact than to suffer casualties after a battle.   Better to win when your enemy surrenders without giving you a fight.


When I say: “Don’t argue with trolls,” it is this notion of avoiding pointless conflict.    There will ALWAYS be people who just love to fight.  Scrappers, they might be called.    I respectfully suggest that you not aspire to be one of them.  To a degree they are both shock troops and cannon fodder. Burning up their life energy and time in battle after battle BECAUSE THEY CAN’T HELP IT.  It is their nature. And you know something? We NEED them.   But even more, we need leaders.


The scrappers can be helped by teaching them tactics and helping them be stronger and smarter and more motivated.   But the leaders, the ones who influence them…those need STRATEGY.  More of a long view. Eyes on the overall plan.  The ultimate outcome.


And the leaders of the leaders (let’s call them “Masters”)  need more than a plan. They need PHILOSOPHY.  What is their view of the human condition? The ethical structure of the universe?   That will drive their strategy, as strategy drives tactics.


If you aspire to be a scrapper, sharpen your tools and fighting spirit.

If you aspire to be a leader, clarify your vision of the worldly outcome.

If you aspire to be a master, clarify your philosophy of existence and live by it.


Those who can rise above the roar of the fighting hormones, the drive to strike back, can speak to the ones who MUST get into the fray. Remember: we need them, and in a way they are trusting us to keep perspective so that they can safely go berserker.


If you want to lead, you must have the long view.  The intention is not to destroy, it is to win.   Winning without compromising any core principles (if you are negotiating hostage release, you can’t setting for “o.k.–you get half the money, and we get half the hostages”).  Destruction may be necessary, but ONLY if it serves the overall purpose. The Scrappers might actually be disappointed by a negotiated peace.   This doesn’t make them bad: trust me, if you have no Scrappers, your Counterparts (the term used by hostage negotiators rather than saying “enemy”) are much, much harder to bring to the table. Without the Black Panthers, MLK wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did.  WHAT IS WINNING? Define this clearly.   Don’t forget it under pressure.   Like a boxer who will fight to the death, trusting his corner men to throw in the towel if necessary, the reptile brain trusts the executive function to put on the brakes.


And if you want to lead leaders, you need “Masters” who  have a view that does beyond winning and losing to the shared future.      These spiritual leaders are the only ones who SHOULD be expected to “rise above” IMO. It is certainly good for “leaders” to have this elevated perspective, but as long as they can be strategic, they are fulfilling their function.


So…what are you committed to?  What change do you want to make in the world, or what do you seek to protect?  Are you a Scrapper, a Leader, or a Master?


The tools and talents demanded for each are different.   And we can contain elements of all of them, and our positions can change from context to context, or from one time of life to another.


But   the perspective of a Master should be the highest good for all, seeing the humanity and loving heart in every human being, to destroy only with regret…but with absolute efficiency and effectiveness if it is necessary.


To remember that it is MUCH easier (and sometimes more emotionally satisfying) to destroy, much harder to build.


I speak to the builders, the leaders, the masters.    As for you Scrappers…thank you for being you.  We need you.  And always have.

But we need Leaders, or we will lose battles we should have won.

And we need Masters, too, or the world drowns in blood.





Happy 90th Birthday to a master

The reason I do the Paperback Book show in Glendale is the chance to see friends.  Every convention and event is an opportunity to see people I simply don’t see otherwise.  And one I seriously enjoy seeing is William F. Nolan, one of  the last of the generation of fantasists who were part of Ray Bradbury’s circle.   Co-creator of Logans Run, writer of countless books, stories, movies and television episodes, Nolan is a writer’s writer.


He uses a walker now, but at 90, I’d say he’s earned it.   His mind is sharp and clear, and he is still in love with life, and in love with writing.  His secret?


He writes every day.  He works out every day.  “Every day of the year,” he said.  “Christmas, Thanksgiving, my birthday.  Every single day.  People ask why I don’t take a day off.  I don’t.”


Why?  Because that’s when you start dying.




He works out to have the energy to write.  He writes to have the energy to live.  Every day. EVERY DAY.  That is mastery.  Remember the definition?


“Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  When you have the basics of your craft at `unconscious competence’ and have committed to your discipline for a lifetime, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path.”


Why?  Because no matter how far and how fast you run, you’re always the same distance from the horizon.  And so is everyone else.  There is just…the path.


You are either doing it, or you aren’t.  I have noticed that the greater the master, the more they tend to see themselves as just…students.  And they have a genuine curiosity about where YOU are on the path.   Martial artists don’t ask me my rank. They ask where I train.   Writers don’t tend to ask what you’ve written (READERS ask that question), they ask what you’re working on.


Are you on the path?


There are three things I care enough about to commit to mastery:


I have to work out EVERY DAY.

I have to write EVERY DAY.

I have to engage with my family and friends, be sure they know I love them EVERY DAY.


Everything you can think of in life can be tied into one of those three arenas.   You simply can’t name something I cannot.  Because those three (martial arts, writing, family and friends) are DIRECT connections to my core energy, all I have to do is connect anything I want to do to one of them, and BOOM!  There’s the energy.


I remember years back I wanted to see what Tony Robbin’s personal coaching was like.  Knew I couldn’t afford Robbins, but did some research and found one of his top trainers who was also his best friend, and had written a book with him.   I offered him 4500 for two days of work, and he accepted the deal.


We met at a hotel near LAX, and it was intense.   One of the first things he did was get into my head to find my “triggers” and discovered that any time he mentioned my daughter Nicki my energy shifted.   Blew up.   Instant clear and positive response.  Why?  Because my emotions toward Nicki are uncomplicated.  It is simply love.  Period.  No questions or conflicts.  He was then able to teach me to tap into that energy for ANYTHING I wanted to do, because you can tap ANY activity into any core emotion.


I just took that knowledge and created three different arenas with clear psychological USB plugs: Martial Arts, Writing, Family.


Boom!  Done.   Wake up in the morning.  Geeze. Why should I get out of bed..?  Jason needs me.   There is writing to do.


Boom!  Feeling lazy.  Why should I work out today?  Oh…because otherwise I won’t be energetic enough to be a good father for Jason. A good husband to Tananarive.   And I won’t be keeping my commitment to the little boy inside me who needs his daddy.


Boom!   Why should I write today?  I’m feeling lazy.   Because I promised myself I would.  Because we need to pay our bills. Because I have stories to tell. Because if I can sell this piece, I’ll use that money to attend a Danny Inosanto FMA/Silat workshop….


Boom, boom, boom.


What are your core goals? What are you willing to commit to EVERY DAY?    The clearer you are on what they are and why you want them and how they relate to your core identity, the easier it becomes to access your passion.


Find something that gets your juices running:

  1. Personally.  Family and friends, your inner world.
  2. Physically.  Some physical movement that gets you excited, that requires fitness and health to perform.  Dancing, hiking, martial arts, SOMETHING that makes the little kid inside you happy.
  3. Mentally.  Something related to problem-solving in hunting and gathering.   Money, career, education.    Something that thrills you, which IF you could get good enough at it…and also MARKETING it, would pay your bills and support that inner child’s playtime.


All three.   If you lack one of the three, you are going to leak life force.   You also will lack critical feedback about the world, and will tend to hallucinate that you understand things that are really only conceptual for you.


You can hallucinate all you want about your profound knowledge of human nature.  How are your intimate relationships?


You can hallucinate that you understand the world and your own physical being.  But if you don’t have your kinesthetic sense, you are blind and deaf to an entire range of human experience.  And won’t even know it.


You can believe you ae intelligent.  But if you can’t solve the problem called “how do I create products and services for which  my community is willing to exchange their time and energy, and learn how to communicate its value and demand what I am worth” you are either addressing the wrong problem, or aren’t as smart as you think you are.


In animal terms…you would starve in the woods, or be eaten by predators, and die without reproducing.   A failure as an organism.


The route out is to accept the challenge to master these three arenas.  Learn the basics.  Commit for a lifetime.   Walk the thousand-mile road.


It isn’t easy.  But it is natural.    Nothing more natural, and if you cannot do these three things: create and sustain human relationships, care for your body, hunt and gather…you have lost the basic animal capacities every rabbit in the wood has in their DNA.   The most frustrating thing is that you’ll numb yourself to the missing qualities:


I don’t care about relationships

I don’t need exercise

I don’t care about money.



I used to believe it when people said that crap. Then I noticed how often they complained about being lonely…or aches and pains and being thought unattractive…or how tired they were of being broke.


And realized they were lying. Just…lying.  “Do not think dishonestly” Musashi said.


And lying to yourself it the greatest sin.  It leads to everything else.  So easy to get lost.  Unless you commit to taking at least one more step, every day.


Well done, Mr. Nolan. You’re showing us how its done.


Write the story that heals the world…



What does Vegas know that you don’t?

Reading (well…listening to)  “Never Split The Difference” by FBI hostage negotiator Chriss Voss.  While some of the tactics are a little cut-throat for me, I understand where they come from–the man is talking to bank robbers and terrorists.  You don’t have the same responsibility to be honest and forthright that you have with your children, or even in a business negotiation.


I was pointed toward the book by someone who felt it useful in dealing with teenagers (remember Teen Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”? That was probably the all-time best line reading of “I am Groot” ever ever ever.)


And I can feel myself “zoning out” to some of it as I listen, my mind going down rabbit holes left and right, which suggests that there is something here that I need to absorb and have some resistance to.   I’ll get it.


But I noticed that there was something that I’ve heard before, from multiple teachers: PEOPLE MAKE DECISIONS EMOTIONALLY, BUT JUSTIFY THEM INTELLECTUALLY.


Yep.  Once again, and this time from a guy who is in a life-and-death context, where a mistake costs more than cash.    This is something I’ve believed for a long time, and observed.  But it hit a little deeper this time, because it connected with something Russell Brunson was saying about marketers alienating their audiences by falling into “tech speak” instead of conveying value.   And perhaps more importantly, in the political arena.


Discussion?   Gun control.  I mentioned to a participant at the Cellcon gathering that the problem was that both sides saw their solution as making them safer.  And he immediately began spouting statistics “proving” that guns are more of a danger than a solution.


And a light went off.   If the decision about guns is made at the emotional level, then ANY discussion of statistics is only preaching to the choir.  On the other side of the debate?  I see micro-managing of technical specifications, leaping on the arguments offered by gun control advocates, and using the slightest error to invalidate the entire argument.


Well…that’s interesting.  But I’m betting that on either side, you are only preaching to the choir if you do that.   No one is made any safer at all, and the line doesn’t move.


I’ve only begun my exploration of that book, but if it at ALL aligns with my previous studies, he will suggest:


  1. Start with respect and empathy.  Not “sympathy” necessarily, not agreeing with them.  But understanding how they came to their conclusion. Seeing the world as they see it, so that you can understand the way they arrived at their emotional position.
  2. If you can do this, they can relax their guard a bit.  Like two soldiers who might have to kill each other on the battlefield, but are relaxing enough to share cigarettes in the middle of No Man’s Land.  You are both human beings.
  3. The people who are screaming at each other, or quoting statistics, are a useful study. When you ask them how often they have changed someone’s mind doing this, they’ll usually say “never” or “very seldom.”   But then…why do they do it?


I’m just guessing here.    Perhaps they do it because they are angry, and have to do SOMETHING.   Fear is a message to run or fight.   If there is no where to run, you pick a fight.  Action feels better than doing nothing, even if it doesn’t accomplish anything.


But if these people are correct–and my discomfort with some of what he was saying tells me I need to look more closely–then the actual answer is to come from the love in your heart.   See their humanity.


It’s a little like two warriors meeting.  They know that they can kill each other.    But unless they WANT that conclusion, you get a combination of strength and respect.  How can we resolve this?  Is there a way for us to understand each other?  Or must we both die?


Of course, only one of them might die. But if you don’t grasp that in any actual combat situation BOTH may die, then the very common mental set of giving up your life before you enter the arena makes no sense.


The question is: what is the outcome of this negotiation?  In families, it is helping your children become independent adults.


In sales, it is helping a customer see the value of your offering, and negotiating a fair exchange of value.


In relationships, it is two human beings with different life paths resolving enough differences, or focusing on enough commonalities,  to spend their lives together…or at least the night.


In politics, it would be finding a middle ground between apparently irreconcilable differences.


And while it is POSSIBLE that you will not be able to find the common ground, if you START by yelling at them and assuming they are a fool or knave, unless somehow you believe that YOU would be moved by that approach, what precisely are you trying to accomplish?


FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT.   The OUTCOME.  If an FBI negotiator working with terrorists can remember this, we have no excuse when dealing with fellow citizens, family, lovers.


Or…ourselves. Think about it.  Frankly, the way you see people dealing with others  usually mirrors their own internal dialogue.  When people are harsh with their children, employees, customers, they use the same language in their heads when THEY mess up.


This is why starting with love for self is critical.  Without it, you can’t extend love to others.  And if you think you can…let me ask you a question: if you don’t believe you are of value, what is it you have to give to the people you love?   You’ll give without limit, and then one day you will reach the end of your resources, and because you’ve given without attaching any value to your efforts, the people you’ve given to won’t value you.  And you won’t get back what you need. Triggering fear. And anger. And often destroying the very relationship you wanted to nurture.


Of course, the hostage negotiator has an advantage: they are rarely dealing with their own families.  They can afford dispassion.  But  the more important the situation, the more pressure on both sides of the negotiation, and the more difficult it is to remain calm.


The “Law of Requisite Variety” says that within any complex system, the more flexible actor will control the system.  This suggests to me that the more critical the negotiation, the more critical it is that we remain calm, and centered, and empathetic.


This is SO contrary to the “fightin'” voice in our heads.  Strike out.   Crush. Destroy.  THAT is the voice trying to switch us from the “fear” to the “anger” track in our heads.  And it works. But there is a better way…but it must be practiced in advance, or it won’t be available under pressure.


Love yourself

Love at least one other person

Love mankind without guilt, blame, or shame

Nurture your own tribe rather than argue pointlessly

Vow to win with integrity and compassion.



Yes, every now and then arguing will change someone’s mind.  That’s a lot like the way Vegas casinos get your college fund: “every now and then” someone really does win, and you can hear the clanging and jangling, and you’ll keep feeding your quarters into the machine.


If every time you put in a silver dollar you got back 67 cents, you’d stop pretty quick.  They know that.  And if you really grasped that you were getting back bubkis for most of your screaming OR your data crunchin…you’d stop that, too.  And ask: how do the world’s best salesmen, parents, negotiators do it.


It isn’t screaming or data.  It starts with seeing yourself in others.  IF and ONLY if…you first love yourself.





Seeking Balance

When I was asked to participate in “Cellcon Zero”, a brainstorming venture outside Nashville, I realized that was only four hours drive from Atlanta, and that if I flew into Atlanta and rented a car, on my way back from Nashville I could stop in and see my beloved friend and mentor karate grandmaster Steve Muhammad.  We saw Black Panther together Sunday night.   Imagine this: a man who was raised in Mississippi by his grandparents WHO HAD BEEN SLAVES was sitting watching the most powerful images connecting past and future for children of the African Diaspora.  He had lived to see this.  He said that he has already seen young black people being more…relaxed. Centered. Loving.  Opening doors for their elders.  Smiling and walking with pride.



He’s seen it four times, and still can’t quite believe it exists.  Hopes that it is the beginning of the next phase of our lives, and that he lives long enough to see it come to fruition.


Fruition?   Well…neither of us will live to see that. But we both have seen more than we believed was possible.   The rest is up to our grandchildren.  And their grandchildren.




One of the most beautiful things in the world is watching some of the great warriors I know in the presence of their children or grandchildren. The precise same men and women who seem so hard and explosive when faced by danger or challenge turn into absolute mush.



And this is only a contribution if you are stuck in dualistic thinking.  In truth, both males and females have the capacity for both dynamic action and deep nurturance. It is an illusion to believe otherwise. Now, we humans tend to  SPECIALIZE in one or the other, which has led to a raft of misunderstandings., but in my mind, the myth of the European knight is a perfect example of what it all is at its best.


Consider the knight (remember, the myth, not the reality): all of that impenetrable armor, the razor-edged sword, the lethal lance, the fiery steed, the deadly skills and berzerker aggression…all is, optimally, “at your service, m’lady.”


In other words, the strength in service to the softness.  That strength can be an external shell (an immature version, often found around those without mature role models) or an internal essence.   Think “you can have a shell, or a spine.”   The angry attitude, the hair-trigger temper, the posturing and demands for respect…those are clues you are dealing with a child, and a frightened child at that.


But that same person who KNOWS they have love and meaning, that they are safe, “absorbs” that external emotional shell, and it becomes like their bones.


People often miss this in the martial arts, think that it is about hard muscles.  It is certainly about strength, and focus…but also about relaxation.   Power is a result of both strength AND speed.  Speed is a result of strength applied to relaxed muscles, combined with proper alignment and conscious focus on the end point, with the intervening points of action are controlled by the unconscious mind, through endless repetition.


Tai Chi is an extreme exploration of this softness, but without the moment of focus, applied tension, it is “merely” a health exercise.  Tai Chi is, properly learned, a blend of “yin” and “yang”, of “female” and “male” energies, and can help adjust this balance, with males usually needing more softness and females generally needing more tension.


Of course, you meet guys who don’t know how to focus, and women who don’t know how to relax.  After teaching thousands of students, and asking hundreds of them about their lives, there are very common reasons for the imbalance, too damned often dealing with neglect   or abuse from a same or opposite sex parent.  Fear or excessive hunger for one or the other energy.   OR…abuse on a sexual or emotional level from a (often series of) romantic partners.  The wounds manifest as need to protect. Our first rule is survival.   Only AFTER we feel safe can we develop the openness that can lead to love, and even willingness to sacrifice for the things we believe in: our families, our values, our nation or species or world.


It is beautiful.  A full human being has BOTH strength and softness. Two incomplete human beings can form a full relationship if they can balance these things between them.  It becomes “toxic” when one or both EXAGGERATE their polarity. The consequences are many and dreadful, and we are beginning to debate that now.


But…there are a thousand ways to NOT get to Disneyland for every road to reach it. Better to focus on what health is, what balance is, what wholeness is.


Steve Muhammad is one of those balanced human beings, an absolute sweetheart with a core of diamond.  For decades I had wondered how he could be so strong.   That was before I learned about his upraising.    Something like slavery burns away the cultural identities that most human beings need to defend them against existential loneliness and fear of extinction.  Most are broken when these things are stripped away (and the cost is so extreme that most people can’t even really conceive of it.  Foolish comparisons to “immigration” are a symptom of this mental blockage and avoidance of guilt and fear), but those who survive…


Those who survive?


Well…heat and pressure make diamonds, you know.   Forty-Five years ago I sat in the L.A. Sports Arena and saw a man I’d never heard of, named Steve Sanders, perform a mass attack defense against a half-dozen men, moving with speed and power and precision that seemed in human.   In an instant I knew THAT was what I wanted in life.   Dear God…how did I know? How did I know in an instant that THAT was what had been missing from my existence?


How did I know that Tananarive was what I needed…in an instant?


How did I know that I should leave college and follow my dream of being a writer…in an instant?


I can only think that we have within us an urge to complete ourselves, and that if we listen to those voices, and are prepared to act with courage when we see the opening, we can change our lives.


Steve and I are brothers of the soul.  To my shock and delight and confusion, this master of masters respects what I have accomplished in the arts, and who I am as a human being.  I don’t know what greater gift I can receive in this life than such an acknowledgement.  In truth, everything I am is the result of wanting to be respected by the kinds of men I respect, and desired by the kinds of women I desire.


The rest of the world is welcome to find its way to its own destiny, at its own pace.


I just needed my family.