Martial Arts

Today’s Morning program


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





“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.





The Thousand Mile Road

Larry Niven asked me what I was working on.    I mentioned a couple of short stories, a novel in deep outline script form, and a movie deal currently under negotiation. He laughed and said that I was as productive as six ordinary writers.


To the degree that this is true, it is due to one thing only: I know how to harvest every day’s supply of creativity.   Sometimes it’s a drip, sometimes it is a gusher. But there is SOMETHING every day.


God knows that sometimes it is a grind.  But I know my commitment is to writing for legacy, working to create the very best work of my life. But to do that, to produce Quality, there has to be Quantity.


And the urge for Quality can crush your ability to create Quantity. Why?  Because your ability to judge your performance will usually be more refined than your ability to perform.  Your own mind will crush your heart.


When I was a kid, I wanted just three things: to be a martial artist, to be a writer, and to have a family to love and protect.   Problems: I was a geek, no one I knew knew any writers (and in fact my mother destroyed my stories) and I was a total failure with The Girls.


There were times I felt totally rejected, crushed, defeated.   But then, one day I remembered that everything I could to: walk, talk, ride a bike, do basic math, read and write…I had once been unable to do. That if I looked around I could see that EVERYONE struggled with new things, and that I actually couldn’t think of anyone who kept working at their goals who didn’t make progress.  The only problem was that they sometimes didn’t make progress fast enough. So they quit.


But everyone who kept trying, as long as certain conditions were met, got better and better.  That suggested that maybe one day I would be a fighter.  One day a writer. One day know how to relate to the opposite sex.   But I needed to see what experts in those different areas said about how they developed their skill.   And then do THAT.


Ray Bradbury suggested writing a story a week, or every other week.

Musashi Miyamoto said “The Way is in Training”

And every popular guy said asking women out was “a numbers game.”  “Imagine being at a dance. You ask a girl to dance.  She says no. You smile, thank her, and move to the next girl.  Repeat until you are boogying.”


There are refinements, of course.   I never really got the “hang” of asking women I don’t know to dance.    I didn’t let that stop me, just realized that I needed to be in a social context where I met enough women that SOMEONE at that dance would be familiar to me. Ask those.


With writing, I would have to get used to rejection, experience it as evidence of my own courage and persistence.   Just like Rocky re-defining victory to mean simply being on his feet at the end of the fight.


With martial arts, I remembered Steve Muhammad’s advice:   “The only thing that cannot be overcome is death.   I will find a way, or make one.”


So…I didn’t have the raw emotional strength to just fight my way up through the ranks. I had to nibble around the edges. To study art A until I couldn’t get any further and my fear pushed me back out.  Then go to art B, until the same point.   Then art C.


Had I been able to stay in a single art, I’d be more advanced: go deep, and only after you have reached “unconscious competence” (somewhere between Brown Belt and 3rd  Black) branch out and study other disciplines.


But…every time, I learned a few different things. Not techniques–that’s garbage.  Ephemeral.   Expressions of some deeper truth applied to a specific situation.  What you want is to understand the intent behind the techniques.   The principles  that make them work. The mind of the master who, in a moment of stress DID SOMETHING and then tried to explain why and how they did it to a baffled observer or  eager student.


Given the right insights, you can create a hundred techniques an hour.  Ed Parker’s Kempo is chock-a-block with complicated combinations, and they mean NOTHING if you don’t understand the very simple principles at the core.


So by putting myself in the learning situation as much as I could, whenever I could, my emotional blocks were slowly worn away.  The “water” of martial progress seeped over, under, around, and through the blocks.  I was picking the locks, crawling through the transom, visiting neighboring spaces, seeing pictures of my destination, getting glimpses,  and occasionally moving into that new room for just a while.


And I remember attending a “Soft Work” seminar with Scott Sonnon, where by some arcane technology I don’t understand he choreographed an “ah-hah” moment that let me see, for about 48 hours, the flow demonstrated by masters.   If I hadn’t KNOWN it would fade, I’d have been grief-stricken to watch it run out through my fingers, until I was almost back where I started. Not quite.


Every experience gave me just a clue.  Either a step along the road, or a refinement of the map of internal and external territory.


Not one step was wasted, ever.   EVER.


Thousand mile road, indeed.




When you define the basics needed to reach your goal, the 1/1000th part of the process, and you commit to taking one such step every day, something magical happens. You see the territory. You begin to understand the value of work, and courage, and planning.   You see how the quality of your allies and companions affects your progress.  You take pride in being one of the few with the ability to get up to bat and swing again and again.


Because from time to time, you hit the ball, and DAMN that feels good.   Yes, some people hit the ball more often, but if you love the game, that’s all right.  Your only task is to do the best YOU can.  Nothing trashes you faster than comparing your progress to other people rather than to your own being.


Yes, this can seem contradictory: don’t you need role models?   Shouldn’t you compare your results with theirs?


Yes.  Carefully.  But always remember that no two people really have the same resources or experiences.   Not even possible. You can get as close as possible, but “identical” is out of the question.  So if you perform the experiment and don’t get the results, sometimes the equipment or context is faulty, sometimes you performed improperly, and sometimes…the theory is just wrong.  It’s an art.


But the only way you adjust is by modeling experts, taking actions and noticing the results, while keeping faith that you can reach your destination.  Some combination of these things produced every success you can point to in your own life, the lives of teachers and mentors and companions…anyone.


Magic Equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction.


And if you only have a “1” or “2” in the other categories, but have a “9” in “Action” you are going to dominate.  You will get so many results that if you sort through them and double-down on what worked, that cycle of action-evaluation-course correction-action will change your life faster than anything I know.  You do have to have control of your emotions (Gratitude and Conviction) and must have a clear intent (Intention) but Action is king.


Walk the thousand mile road.  One step at a time.  It is true that some paths, however energetically followed, don’t take you to your chosen destination…


So please enjoy the journey too, o.k.?





The Sneakiest Way To Fail

You could be the strongest man in the world, and lose every competition.  Know how?  Its easy: simply put one more pound on the bar than you can actually lift.   In fact, that’s also a great way to fail to develop a potentially world-beating skill level: just always take on a LITTLE more than you can do.  Do this, and you’ll develop a pattern of failure that will crush your heart.

But few will ever blame you.  It is an elegant way to be able to always say “I’ve done my best” while never taking responsibility for actually becoming a new person.


I was tagged to a page where a guy has injured himself, and wants to rehab.  His intentions are to practice a variety of different athletic and martial and dance disciplines.   And asked me my advice.


Well…first, I’d look at that list.    Each of those  disciplines he wants is a full-time study, in terms of skill, fitness, and MOST importantly if you aren’t a teenager…RECOVERY time.  Just looking at that list screams injury.  Each of them demands different things from your body, mind, and emotions. Different coaches. Different supplemental training programs, nutritional programs…sheesh.


Trying to get to a level of biomechanical perfection where you can practice at full intensity without blowing out joints, muscles and tendons with a SINGLE discipline is hard enough. But…four?


Listen carefully: instinct tells me that this person is programming himself to fail.  To be disappointed and unhappy.  He reminds me of an obese person who wants to lose a pound a day.   An unpublished writer who wants to write a novel in the next three months.  An Incel with no idea how to navigate relationships joining a speed dating service.


The chances of actually succeeding are small. How do you eat an elephant?  ONE FORKFUL AT A TIME.


I was asked today: “How do I succeed?”   The basic answer is: find at least three people who have succeeded at what you want to do, whose initial conditions were as close to your situation as possible. find out what they had in common.  Figure out what their daily rituals of action, thought, and emotion were.


Then…Do that.


People programmed for success will look for the similarities.   Those programmed for failure will focus on the difference.


People with PERMISSION to succeed will look for simple small actions they can take daily that will take them to their destination, then develop a higher and higher tolerance for intensity, as well as greater efficiency and effectiveness, so that they accomplish more and more every month.


People without this permission will either take on LESS or MORE than they can really do. Both are paths to failure.


Yesterday, I spoke with a lady who started at 125 pounds.  She married an abusive man who crushed her spirit. She has struggled with depression and weight for decades, and is now 240 pounds, and reached out to me.


Wow.  I know a few things: that she has for all these years practiced daily rituals of action that led her to where she is today.  And…she knows it.  She exercises, but has never been able to SIMULTANEOUSLY exercise efficiently AND control her diet effectively.  And she knows it was fear, and anger, and guilt all mixed together.    Her brakes were on.   She could “do something about” her weight by EITHER “dieting” or exercising, but not both at the same time. When she did, she lost weight. When that happened, her fear rose up and sabotaged her, in an endless cycle that has beaten her down.


My suggestion?   A medical professional to help her set a target and plan of action to get down to 160.  Specific therapeutic and meditative work to deal with the emotions that will come up (AND THEY WILL).  And a “Morning Ritual” that will either take her to her destination, or provide real-time feedback of her process, things to talk about with doctor and therapist weekly.


Look into Intermittent Fasting.  Speak to her health professional about the possibilities.  If her wellness circle is onboard, if she finally has internal PERMISSION to move forward, then and only then does it make sense to strategize.


WHAT does she want?

WHY does she want it?  Is there more pleasure than pain associated with action? More pain than pleasure associated with the status quo?

Now and only now does the HOW factor in.


This stuff is hard. Whether it is a writer doing “a sentence a day”, an Incel connecting with his “Ancient Child”, a couch potato doing a few Tibetans every day or a desperately broke person learning to save a percentage of ever dollar that comes their way…


All you have to do is make the “Minimum dosage” small enough that there is no rational reason not to do it, and the raw emotions beneath are revealed, so that you and your wellness team can deal with them.   GET YOUR ALLIES IN PLACE. The harder it has been in the past, the more times you have “failed”, the more important this clarity is.


WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

HOW can you take a tiny daily action that moves you in the right direction, with real-time feedback?



Do this, and the Hero’s Journey suggests that you will have your very best chance to move to the next level of your life.


One step at a time.




“It’s Just Daily”

At a recent convention, we Guests of Honor were given slips of paper with questions for us to answer for the pleasure of the audience.   IMO the best of them was: “what was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?”    A lady to my right, the artist guest of honor got that one.  Her answer was great.

It was a neighbor lady in her 70’s.   The artist commented about how raising children was hard.  The neighbor said: “raising children isn’t hard. It’s just daily.”


When I meet extraordinary people, what I want is to understand how they see the world, themselves, their lives and goals. What motivates them, at the deepest level.    In some ways, understanding this is more important than the specific arena they manifested their excellence.  In other words, once you see mastery, you know that this human being would have mastered ANYTHING.   Yes, some seem to have “Seven League Boots” and have advantages. Others seem to be crawling over broken glass every step of the way.


But ultimately, all there is is the road.  And if you stay on the road, and keep moving forward, you are as much a master as anyone else who has ever walked the path, even if their skill is horizons beyond you.



The most advanced human being I’ve had a chance to be close to, to speak to just one person to another might be Danny Inosanto.   Anyone who is on my short list for “Greatest X who ever lived” is going to be fascinating to study.   He is a walking encyclopedia of martial arts, a genius level teacher, a physical marvel in his 80’s.   Because of a confluence of happenstance, he is sitting at the right place in history, geography, temperament, mentality, physicality, technology and personal “being” to have had opportunities to learn of movement patterns, tactics, and strategies from every continent, dozens of cultures and many, many thousands of gifted individuals from around the world.

Some spooky old monk on a mountain top could have greater genetics, greater focus, and even a couple of similar genius teachers…but they wouldn’t have the options of travel and Internet access that would bring as much knowledge to them.  They couldn’t be Danny.


But just as when I had a chance to observe Prince at close range what I saw was something surprisingly simple, the same is true with Danny.  When I trained with him in the late 70’s I was frustrated that he taught so much, so fast, a dozen options a minute.  Frankly, my ego kicked my ass: I couldn’t keep up.  Left every class feeling like my brain had been pumped full of helium.

When Leo Gaje, one of Danny’s teachers,  brought a nephew for Danny to train, the kid had no chops.   At first. But then Danny took him under his wing, and within a couple of months he was thumping us.


I was outraged.  Knew that Danny had taught him secrets that he wasn’t sharing with the rest of us.  In fact, what I thought had happened was that the oldsters in the Filipino MA community said: “you must not teach the outsiders.  Give them only scraps.”  And that Danny had smiled and said “I will not teach them too little. It is better to teach them too much.”


I had spent years there. Been on his demonstration team, fought my way up through the Jun Fan kickboxing classes to the senior class…and felt I deserved better.   I let myself get lured away to Hawkins Cheung’s Tai Chi class, and while I am happy to have learned that beautiful art, I look back over my life and realize that this was one of the larger errors.


It is not Danny’s nature to hold back. It is his nature to TRUST US that he can lay out a banquet and we will eat according to our needs, wants, and capacities. That he has beginners as well as masters in his audience, and must work with all of them.


And Leo Gaje’s nephew?  I think Danny taught him just a couple of things, designed specifically to his needs, and the kid drilled down on them until they became almost instinctive. When that happens, you can improvise like a mother.   You can just flow.


What is mastery?  Here defined: it is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have learned your basics, and committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path.


Danny can be such a loving, open-hearted giving person because every person who wants to learn is just another companion on the path.   He is what he is because he is ALWAYS learning, and ALWAYS teaching.  And the point in the middle is where he walks. One step at a time, one day at a time.


The greatest master of anything I’ve ever met, and all he is is a student. And a teacher.


That’s all I want. To learn, and teach.  To walk the Path without losing my way. To accept life’s constant unfoldment of mystery, without getting “spun” when my results don’t match my expectations.


This is my life.   Lived one day at a time.  My road, walked one step at a time.


Thank you for being my companions.  I couldn’t be me without you.




Fail Early…and Often

The discussion of “Incels” wound around to a lot of interesting thoughts, but one of them was my thought that they were likely under-employed.  A reader commented that many of the SORT of guys who now identify as “Incels” actually have pretty high-level tech jobs.  But that they were often the smartest person they knew until they hit Google or Microsoft…and then they were nothing special. And that that realization, that for the first time in their lives they were going to have to bear down and really find out who they were…breaks some of them.


Isn’t that the “Peter Principle”? The rising up through the ranks until you hit your level of incompetence, at which point you either evolve…or fall back into self-pity and delusion?


This is where the myth that “intelligence is a disadvantage” comes in: if you are smart, but lack wisdom, you’ll set out to solve the wrong problems.   Then when life smacks you with the REAL problem (growing, finding joy, mating) you have no idea what to do. The map of reality that has sustained you to this point falls apart, and under it is chaos.




A martial arts example.  Every dojo knows the phenomenon of the Natural. First day he walks in the school, he is a born black belt: fast, balanced, strong, fearless, right in your face and learning so fast it is spooky to watch.  On the fast track to be the best fighter in the school, and everyone knows it.  Heck, he damned near announces himself when he walks in the door: “I’m here.  You ain’t never seen anything like me!” And proves it.


Some of them had studied boxing or wrestling, or had a lot of street fights. Some are ex-military, and by having gone through combat are COMING from the place civilians are trying to GET TO.   It’s fascinating, and says a lot about what is really going on in training, on a psychological/spiritual level…but that’s another matter.


Sometimes they were fantastic athletes in another arena.  Let me tell you about one.  I’ll call him Frank.   Frank was unbelievably “quick”–he could kick you so fast it would cut your skin.  The guys in the BKF called him “the Black Bruce Lee” and said that “God made Frank, and then made Lightning in his image.”  Fearsome.


The story is that Frank’s secret was genetic: fast twitch muscle fibers bundled like bridge cables. That when he was in high school he ran track.  They said he would attend track meets, sit in the stands and smoke cigarettes, then when his event came walk down and beat everyone.


And in tournaments, he was just beyond intimidating. People would look at his speed and just shake their heads.


And why have you never heard of him?  Because that natural ability got him from the local to the city level.  By the time he hit city, he was running into people who didn’t have his “talent” but worked HARD.  He squeeked past them on sheer physicality.


But then…at the state level…he ran into people who had NEAR his physicality…but also worked hard.  And here, he finally stopped winning.  And this is the moment where you find out who you are.  And who Frank was was a man who couldn’t handle not being the best.  He knew on some level that the level above this was regional…and then national…and then international.  That he would meet people who were at his physical level…and also WORKED like demons…and also had a mental tenacity, a capacity to resist failure that Frank had never developed.




He didn’t know how to lose. How to be wrong. How to push through fear and doubt. He was in his early twenties when reality set in.  If he had hit that reality in his teens, when he had more behavioral and conceptual flexibility, less rigid ego walls…he would have known how to accept “death” and rebirth, would have taken the “dark night  of the soul” in stride.  Read any biography of any great man or woman, and you will see that they suffered such defeats…they are just the ones who pick themselves back up.


Frank couldn’t.  And didn’t. And the last person I know who ever saw him Frank was wandering down Crenshaw boulevard with  a stringy beard and six-inch fingernails, mumbling to himself, apparently homeless.




What a waste.  And so common.   If you are “smart” but not “wise” you get very very good at trivial things.  You create maps without testing them with reality.  “Awakening your Kundalini backwards” is a version of this, and dangerous as a coral snake in a nursery. Smart people can be SO convincing, so logical, so reasonable, with such gorgeous argumentation and rhetoric.


Doesn’t mean they are right, thought.  Means that they have convinced themselves something is true, and if they are smarter than you, or better educated in that subject, the chances that you can effectively refute their argument is slim…if you play their game.  But remember that once someone has a position, they will edit reality to defend it.


Frank’s belief was almost certainly “I’m the best.”

When he started having it tough, he probably thought “that guy was really talented.”

When he started getting beat, he probably blamed the judges.

When the crowd stopped cheering for him, when his friends stopped automatically agreeing that he was “the Black Bruce Lee”, he probably considered them false friends, unappreciative of his genius. When students fell away they were simply weak and foolish.  HE was right. HE was the best…

All of that because, at the core of himself, he secretly doubted. How could he help doubting? The instant he thought “I’m the best” he was in dangerous territory, because “I’m better than you are” is both highly effective as a competitive strategy, and only a hair away from “he’s better than I am”, which is down the hall from “I am nothing.”


Fear of nothingness. “If I am not brilliant and the smartest, I’m nothing” is common. The same in sports, or performance arts.   You are the best in your neighborhood, you are protected from failure during your peak flexibility years (how old?  I’m guessing right around Puberty.  You need to be falling on your ass) and it doesn’t hit you until you are in your late 20’s, early 30’s somewhere, more or less.


And the longer it takes to hit, the greater the shock. If you haven’t developed a sense of who you really are, gained a sense of humor about the human condition…it can be devastating.



Sigh.    The solution is to have goals in all three-four major arenas of life. Never met a human being who was just primo at all of them without ever getting their ass handed to them.   People who specialize in one arena…are like those houses at Universal City.    Look great from one direction, but get around behind and they are shells.


I’ll make a guess: Frank was a dog with women.  And ran through money like water.   Just a guess, but it would make sense.  And when his ego cracked…he thought it was him, and folded like a cheap chair.




I don’t know about this stuff for certain. But most of the most brittle people I know are actually very smart, and usually managed to confine themselves to the arenas in which they had “talent”. And when life caught up with them…had no coping skills.


One way or another, I think most of us hit this a little bit. Some of the unfortunate ones hit it a LOT. And hard enough to break.


Fail early, and often.





What Book Changed Your Life?

Is there an author who changed your life?   How?




Oddly, mine is Martin Caiden, the author of “Cyborg”, the book that became “The Six Million Dollar Man.”  He wrote a book called “The God Machine,” a very “Colossus, The Forbin Project” style book (probably not as good) but it contained a very fascinating scene.


It’s been almost fifty  years since I read it, but I hope the basic details are right: In this book, a young computer engineer is faced with a sentient machine that takes over the world.  It protects itself with a variety of mechanisms, one of them being defending an access port to its higher brain functions with enough radiation to fry you.  The opening is so narrow that you can only walk through without shielding, and if you don’t have shielding you are dead.


Humans bow to the machine, and things go from bad to worse, with Engineer forced to run for his life.  He ends up “off the Grid” hiding in hobo camps if I recall, essentially homeless.  He is riding from one city to another in a boxcar, “Riding the Rails”, and gets into a poker game with an old guy.  Engineer is sure that he is smarter, can reckon odds better, but the Old Guy just chews him up and spits him out.   Shocked as he loses his remaining stake, Engineer is despondent.   Old Guy takes pity on him.  And decides to tell him why he lost.   “You weren’t trying to win,” Old Guy says, more or less.  “You were trying not to lose.   You were trying to protect what you had, instead of playing to take what I have.  And that means that you were thinking about the wrong things.”


Not the actual conversation. Sorry. But the basics were obvious, and the Engineer grasped the implication: the God Machine was playing   poker as a matter of math rather than psychology.  It reckoned that living things want to live, and set its defenses accordingly.  But…what if your only aim was to win? To beat the machine…?


You guessed it.   Engineer simply breaks the rules. Stops caring whether he survives. And cripples the computer.  Unfortunately, the book cheats and finds a cheesy way to save Engineer’s life, and that lowers the quality of the tale.


But for me…well, I realized just today that I have to have read that book within about a year of the infamous incident where I walked out into the street to escape a gang of bullies, defeating them: I was willing to die, and they were not.  I knew it had worked, but not WHY.   Why? Because if you are willing to die, you become as efficient, effective, and powerful as you are capable of being.  Your brakes are totally off.  NOW you are one dangerous son of a bitch.


That notion became an organizing factor in my life.   Every time I read about a famous and accomplished person, some part of me was noticing that they were willing to sacrifice more than others did.   ALWAYS.  Sometimes time, or energy, or life itself. Sometimes self-image, comfort, connection to community. But that sacrifice was always there. And the more they accomplished, the more they tended to put on the line.  Reading the words of history’s great warriors, it was even clearer: to save your life is to lose it.  To lose your life is to save it.


Try to survive in combat, as opposed to focusing on killing your opponent, and you are more likely to die. You have to have your defense on automatic, and focus on offense.  Steve Muhammad doesn’t even HAVE “defense” in his lexicon.  It is “offense” and “counter-offense.”  A mental trick, sure, but it is the same notion.   Want to accomplish a goal?  Have an outcome that is important?




I know lots of people who say that they want X or Y success result in life. But they have NO idea what they are going to exchange for it.   “I want a million dollars,” they say.   Well, that’s nice. But what are you willing and able to GIVE that the community will consider worth a million?   The only answer I am clear on is:

Everything.  I will give 100% of who and what I am, so long as it is done with integrity.


Then you can go into questions of why people buy things, what human beings want, how you can select from your life experience the things that are unique, or rare, and valuable, and GET BEHIND THAT S^&%.  Ten thousand hours spent pushing the right plow will take you anywhere you want. Hell, ONE THOUSAND hours is enough for most disciplines, if you have taken your brakes off.


And if you are really smart? Choose something you’d do for free. Something you enjoy.  Use your executive function to see how expertise in subject X, combined with marketing ability Y and finding the right market Z has succeeded in the past.  X times Y times Z = $$$.     Do you love X?   Know how to communicate its value (Y).   Do you know where there is a “starving hive” of people who need and want it AND CAN AFFORD TO PAY YOU (Z)?


Yes? Then go for it. With all your heart.  With everything you have.   Be willing to die to learn who you are on that path, to change the world for the better, and demand to be paid what you are worth.  If you don’t think you’re worth much, you are laboring under a delusion that there’s someone out there “better than you.”   Check yourself.  People who think that also have the delusion that they are better than others.  Set yourself free.   Find your path, travel it with all your heart, with everything you have, not trying to hide from failure, or disappointment, or disapproval…remembering that all it takes to get everything you want…is everything you’ve got.



What book taught you something, and how and why?




A Letter To My Younger Self

I’m finally creating my full Morning Ritual program.  Part of what I need to do is unpack it so that I can really understand why so many of my teachers insisted on a Daily Ritual of physical motion, emotion, and mental focus across a balanced set of goals.  The Morning Ritual is magic, a body-mind sigil of transformative power.  It doesn’t care if you believe it works, only that you do it. If you do, you will change.

This morning’s thoughts deal with a tiny piece of that puzzle that transformed me.



I’ve talked about the fact that it took me seventeen years to earn my first black belt, due to bullying in my childhood.  And that it was a simple visualization exercise performed for a couple of months (visualize a glass tube filled with water. Glitter is suspended in the water, swirling. Watch until it all settles) that set me free.


And what I saw was that fear wasn’t the problem, it was (as Terry Letteau had said) lack of clarity.  I thought that the fear MEANT something.  That I was small, or weak, or cowardly. That I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or mustn’t.  I had experienced not just fear, but guilt, and shame, and confusion, and other secondary emotions, each of which drained away the energy I needed.


If I’d had the resources THEN that I have NOW?  Simple.

  1. I would have realized that what I was experiencing was an emotional storm designed by my ego to protect itself.
  2. I would have used “the Spider Technique” in my heavy-bag workouts.  Basically, spend ten minutes imagining the toughest guys at my school cleaning my clock, beating the hell out of me.  And then…work on the bag, working myself into a lather for 15 minutes until I entered second wind.


Just do these two things, and I’m using my fear to power my practice, raising my game. That is what fear is SUPPOSED to do–“Fight or Flight”, remember?  Aid in your survival by making you more prepared for combat, or fleet in escape.


Depression, from this perspective, is fear with no one to fight and no where to run.




I was in an emotional knot for SEVENTEEN YEARS because none of the therapists, gurus, biofeedback specialists, coaches, or instructors understood the body-mind as deeply as I needed.  There were answers…I just hadn’t found them. And once I did, it was obvious I’d been pushing a door marked “pull.”  There really are answers.  You just need to believe that, and keep asking until you find someone who can help you.



But there is another question: WHY COULDN’T I QUIT?  Why?  If I believe that we seek pleasure over pain (and I do, totally) then wouldn’t the sensible thing to  have done is just stop spending time, energy, sweat blood and money to practice odd Asian arts of…well, of hurting people?  WHY DID I KEEP AT IT?


I remember CLEARLY driving down La Brea avenue in Los Angeles, tears streaming down my cheeks, totally miserable, and praying “God, will you either take away my urge to practice these arts, or just let me do it???  Please??”


I couldn’t stop.   I couldn’t go forward.   WHY COULDN’T I STOP?


I know now.  I didn’t then. Man, I wish I could send a note back to myself when I was about twenty-five.  This is what I would say:


Steve, this is your future self.  I know you feel emotionally trapped.  Let be explain what is happening to you.  When you were a kid, your Dad wasn’t in the home, and you had no brothers or uncles to explain male hierarchical behavior to you. Those bullies? They don’t hate you.  They’re just looking for where they sit on the hierarchy of power, which will influence the money they earn and the women they can attract.    THEY ARE AFRAID they will be low. May have been told that at home, or by society. So they will step on you if they can, just to raise themselves up.  If you’d kicked their ass back behind the gym?  Most of them would actually relax, knowing where they are, and make their peace with it.  A very few would keep coming at you. An even smaller percentage would try to snake you when your back was turned…but that can be dealt with, too.


What is important for you to know is that it wasn’t your fault.  You took it the wrong way. In some ways, the negative attention was a complement.  They KNEW there was something special about you, and had to try to take you down. What they sensed, but could not understand, is that you won’t be stopped.  Won’t quit.   Ever.   They hungered for that, and I promise you that if you encounter ANY of those guys twenty years after high school, not one of them will have kept the dreams they had in school. 


You, on the other hand, will.   That’s who you are.


Why?  Because at some point in your life, you made a decision: “I want an authentic life.  Not an easy one.”


Understand that?  Your entire experience of existence is built around answering two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”


And you understood long ago that the kinds of men you respect, and the kinds of women you desire, will not be attracted to you if you cannot be authentic. And you have identified an area where you lack authenticity.   You are an intellectual head case with scrambled emotions that prevent you from having a direct, simple connection to your animal survival drives.   SOMETHING HAPPENED TO YOU along the way: you had pain, fear, shame and a warped, twisted view of yourself hammered into your nervous system.  You found out that if you put your head up, you became a target.  You are very very smart, but afraid to really shine: your Mom, bless her heart, helped to imprint that self-doubt on you as an attempt to protect you from a racist world.  DON’T BE TOO EXCELLENT. “THEY” WILL KILL YOU.   When people mock the ‘don’t achieve’ meme in some inner cities, they never ever ask why that belief exists. How it protects from pain.


How is it protective?  Because there really are people that would threaten your life if they could.  Some are white, afraid of your mind. Some are black, who have internalized racist standards, are afraid to even try to achieve, and are intimidated by anyone who shakes off those chains.


But here is the truth: you MUST be the best you can be.  You must grow up, wake up.   Because otherwise the forces of evil win.


And you cannot allow that.   You could write and be a great writer.  You could marry and be a decent husband and loving father.  But if you never make your body alive, never reclaim that part of your psyche that is pure primal male animal…first of all you will NEVER attract and hold a primal female animal (and you know damned well that’s what you want) because you will never know who you are.


You will never have access to all your emotional and physical energy: you will have access to PART of it, but skitter back from the full “white light” of human experience, the balance of human and animal, male and female that actually drives excellence, creativity, sexuality…everything.


You were programmed by your society to be a partial human being.  But the other thing your Mom gave you was a connection to Spirit.  You sense that you were born to be more…we ALL were.  That anything less than the best we can be is a denial of life.  You crave an answer. When you see masterful martial artists, you know you hunger for that kind of confidence and power. For the way others, male and female, respond to such men.  And if you don’t discover how close to it you can come, you will have cheated yourself.


When faced by a choice of ‘should I try?” “Should I have goals that large?” Ask yourself one simple question:


How long am I going to be dead?

And…armed with the answer to that question, dare to pursue your dreams. ANY dream that anyone else has ever accomplished with roughly your resources and origin point is possible.  You cannot live a life small enough that death will not notice you.


You wonder if the struggle can possibly be worth it.   The answer is: yes. There is NOTHING more important than knowing who you are.  Completing yourself as much as possible in the one life you have to live.


There’s this thing called the Spider Exercise I want you to try…


And know that when you are on the other side of this problem, you will understand yourself, and human beings, in a way few do. Because most people turn back from the challenge of shedding their skin and being reborn. They identify with their histories, or their emotional storms, rather than their true Self.


Do this thing, and what you learn along the way will be able to help people in a way, with a clarity and power you cannot dream of.  YOU WILL KNOW things that theorists can’t dream of.  Because because of your past, martial arts are a cauldron for you, a forge that tests your heart in ways that no one who can practice it easily and simply could ever do.  You may not be the “fighter” they will be…but you will learn to fight for the things that are most important to you: honor, dignity, truth, love…and be as lethal IF THOSE THINGS ARE AT STAKE as any of them can be.  But most of them will never learn this, because they are blinded by the prizes along the way, the trophies, titles, and money, which are fine as long as you don’t lose your perspective on what is really important:


The Two Questions: ‘Who am I?” and “What is true?”


Who are you, Steve? 

A damned fine answer:   You are a human being, standing in the center of a wheel of archetypes, all the potentials of life. Healer. Artist. Lover. Teacher. 




 What is true?  That you like all animals was born with an innate instinct to preserve personal and genetic life.   And that ANYTHING scrambling that signal is an interruption of a billion years of evolution, millions of generations of creatures who could hunt, fight, or evade predators surviving to have sex and reproduce. It is your heritage, your terrible birthright, just as is the tenderness with which you hold a newborn child. 

The two are linked. The children are not safe, unless someone can face the wolves.


 Keep going, Steve.   What you feel, what you are, is part of that authentic journey.  Keep asking your questions: you will find the teachers you need.  Keep loving, and hoping and striving, and at the end of life, either you will have missed your goals but had an amazing ride…or you will realize that your life has been more than a blessing to yourself and others, it has paid respect to the uncounted generations of men and women who came before you.


 You stand on their shoulders, and can therefore see further.


You have no right to quit.  You have an obligation to discover everything you can be and have, and do in the world if it is in alignment with your values and ethics.


 Go for it, young man.  The world is yours.


 And that primal woman you seek?  She’s looking for you. How can she find you if you do not shine?





Cliff Stewart Day

“Our very dear friend and martial arts icon, Maha Guru Clifford Stewart is going to be honored at the Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank next Saturday, June 2nd from 4:00-6:00pm.

If you’ve never been to the museum, this is the perfect opportunity to check it out and enjoy an afternoon of honoring a true giant among men.”



I will be there.  Let me tell you why.  Sit back a while: this will take some time.




Let me tell you a little about what I owe Cliff Stewart.  First, let’s get it out of the way: he is a genuine martial arts master, with FIFTEEN advanced black belts, as well as real-world experience as the bodyguard to Muhammad Ali, Wesley Snipes, Joan Collins, and Mr. T.  As Peter O’Donnell (“Modesty Blaise”) said about the most dangerous villain in the entire series, Simon Delicata: “Built like a rhino and moves like a cat.”


Can we move on?  No? How about the time he was mugged by three armed men at two o’clock in the morning outside a 7-11?    Mas Ayoob, one of the greatest combat pistol shooting instructors in the world, wrote the forward to Cliff’s book on bodyguard tactics, and describes the incident as   “a critical failure of the victim selection process.”  When the police arrived, so much damage had been done to the three men that they refused to believe a single unarmed man could have done it. Fortunately, Cliff’s brother was a police sargent on duty at the time. They called him and told him that Cliff had been attacked by three men. All the brother said was: “how badly did he hurt them?”


Yes, Virginia, there really are human beings that dangerous.  And in my experience, they are also some of the sweetest, warmest people in the world. Because when you have made peace with your fear, all that remains is love.   Cliff has that Buddha Baby nature, a wisdom and calm that must be earned, cannot be assumed.  While a phenomenal technician (you should see him explain how to destroy a body’s structure.   Just genius) the only time I’ve ever seen that “killing flare” in his eyes was on two occassions.  On one, someone mentioned a man who had hurt a child.  In the other, someone mentioned someone who had hurt a woman.


Dear God in heaven.   Something SHIFTED in the back of his head. Suddenly, a 240 pound PREDATOR was in the room, and it was terrifying. Just for a moment.  Then…it was gone.




I don’t remember when I first met Cliff, but he was one of the founding members of the Black Karate Federation, formed in the 60’s to push back against racist judges who would refuse to call points on black competitors.  (On one notorious occasion, Chuck Norris was present at a fight where Steve (Sanders) Muhammad scored on the “Champion” again and again and the judges ignored it until Norris, bless his heart, stood up and screamed “give that man his God Damned points!”


Yes, I know Chuck is a little problematic these days. But I loved him for that.


Anyway, yes, things were that bad, and “Big Cliff” Stewart was one of the young men who got sick of it and did something about it. The sight of a hundred young men and women marching into a tournament in military synchrony singing “I don’t know but I been told, BKF fights mighty bold!” changed the California martial arts scene in the early 70’s. Oddly, we started getting our points called.  Strange how that happens.


Anyway, he was a big dog, I was a newbie, but when I ran into him twenty years later in Pendekar Paul De Thour’s Penjak Silat school in Arcadia, he remembered me.  I saw him move with uncanny power and precision there. The man was terrifying…but so funny it was impossible to be intimidated.


I moved away from California up to Washington for almost ten years, and while I was there studied with Stevan Plinck (another giant.   Nothing but love and respect for him and his family), and by the time I came back to California I wasn’t sure I would continue to practice the arts. I felt…oddly stalled.   As if perhaps I’d gotten everything I was going to get from them.  I had two black belts, a brown belt, twenty years of Tai Chi, ten years of Silat and three years at the Inosanto Academy under my belt…but didn’t know what to do next. Maybe nothing.


That changed when I taught a   writing workshop at the Screenwriting Expo in L.A.  A very attractive young black woman was sitting in the packed room, and next to her was a large black man who seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place.    She was Karen Dean, California State Women’s Judo champion (and a hell of a belly dancer!) and beside her was…Cliff Stewart.   He re-introduced himself, and we hit it off instantly.


In life, they say, from time to time you get a “cubic inch” of opportunity. You either grab it…or it is gone forever.  This was one of about ten such moments I’ve had. The creation of “Lifewriting” was one.  Meeting Tananarive was one. This was on that level.


I asked them to dinner, and Cliff accepted.    When they came to the house, man, it felt so wonderful, so natural.   I showed him around (I was so happy.  He looked at my office with the kettlebells and clubbells right next to my and he said: “this looks like a MAN’S office.”  Damn, I didn’t realize how badly I needed that validation) and when he asked about my martial arts practice, and how I felt stalled, he thought carefully and said:  “Steven, I am going to complete your training.”


And…damned if he didn’t make good on that.  For the next couple of years I drove out to his house, where he conducted what he called his “master class” for a few chosen students.  And there, he continued teaching me Pentjak Silat, with a touch of Within Arms Reach, his bodyguard art.   Wonderful stuff, designed to deal with a threat in front of you if you cannot use footwork and lateral movement: your client is cowering behind you.


So much what I call “good,  evil fun.”




There was stuff going on inside me, though.  I remember being in a kempo karate school, and seeing a wall chart of the various black belts descended from Master Ed Parker.  Branching off from Chuck Sullivan and Danny Inosanto (Danny taught for Parker before meeting Bruce Lee) was…Steve Sanders.  I looked at the list of formidable black belts (what a school!  At one point in the late 70’s/early 80’s SEVEN out of the top ten competitors in the California-Nevada-Arizona tri-state area were all this one man’s students!!!) and realized what was wrong.


Despite everything I’d done, and how much I’d changed myself from the little four-eyed pot-bellied nerd who had so prayed to be strong…I felt like a failure.  I had never gotten more than a green belt from Steve, the greatest karate man I’d ever known.   I realized that despite the wonderful martial artists I had known since, HE was the standard in my heart.  And I didn’t measure up.


No offense meant to the other instructors, who were wonderful and helped me along the path, but I realized that I would give up all my rank to be so much as a brown belt in Steve’s system.  I found myself speaking that painful truth to Cliff one day when we were alone.


Why hadn’t I earned higher rank with Steve, he asked.


I sighed, and told the truth.  “I was just too intimidated by the young warriors in that school.”  They were too fast, too tough, too aggressive.   I just couldn’t handle it.


And…Cliff laughed in my face.  “Oh, Steve,” he said.  “They weren’t warriors. They were ATHLETES, playing warrior games.  They would have been good at anything: hula hoops, basketball, or break-dancing. They just happened to be doing karate.  A warrior is someone whose word is good. Who stands for his community. Who raises his own damned children.”


And…just like that, my heart healed. For the first time in my life, I understood why Steve Sanders had always welcomed me back to the school after I dropped out. Again and again.  Why so many wonderful martial artists had been kind to me, had accepted me in their circles. I hadn’t been one of their great fighters.


What I HAD been is sincere. I had never, ever been able to just have fun practicing. Every time, every class, it had felt like dying.   Like crawling across broken glass to get something I desperately needed.  I remember driving down La Brea avenue, tears streaming down my face with shame and guilt about being unable to return to the school to get a jacket I’d left in absolute terror someone would ask me to spar with them.  Why did they want to spar with me?  BECAUSE I WAS GOOD.   But I couldn’t see that. Too much pain and fear.


And through my tears I asked God “Please. Please.  Either let me just practice this art…or take away my urge to practice it.  I’m dying.”


I knew that if I didn’t keep going, I’d never be complete.  Never be the kind of man I wanted to be. But Lord…it hurt so much.


And my instructors had seen it.  They knew was I was. That unlike the “athletes” for whom this was entertainment, or self defense…this was life and death for me.  That every time I came to class, I was laying it ALL on the line.  I was offering everything I had.  And ultimately, all it takes to get everything you need…is everything you’ve got.




So Cliff asked me what I wanted, and I told him: to be part of Steve’s lineage.  Whatever that might mean.  I know that champions had come to Steve for rank, and he had turned them down if they were unworthy. Whatever he said about my ability, I knew would be true.  So Cliff said that Steve, who had retired to Atlanta, would be in town to conduct a workshop for the Whipping Willow Association, and suggested that I go to him and plead my case.


So…swallowing my heart, that’s what I did. Just about ten years ago, it was.  I had seen Steve a few times over the decades, and he’d always been friendly and warm to me.  But when I explained what I wanted: for him to evaluate my skills and tell me where I stood, I was so scared I wanted to vomit.


He was an older man, but still a lion tamer, and conducted a BKF meeting with the kind of power and authority he had held thirty years ago.  After the meeting, he said that at some point in the weekend, we would go off someplace quiet, and he would evaluate me.


Cool.   His workshop was brilliant (of course) but there was something interesting about the Whipping Willow association’s gatherings. There would be a dozen masters there, teaching in rotation.  When not teaching, most of them would hang out outside talking to each other, smoking, or whatever.  Not Steve. He would attend whatever other workshops were being taught.   I watched people pair up in one of these, and NO ONE wanted to work with him.  Too intimidating.


So…I asked him if he’d like me as a partner.  He readily agreed, and for the next two hours or so…we played.  Oh, it was glorious.  I was able to watch the way he integrated new information, and make it his.   Wow.   THAT is a nervous system. THAT is a warrior’s mind.  And yeah, he’s a warrior in any definition you choose, from being Force Recon in Viet Nam to the Sheriff’s department, to being a pioneering karate champion to transforming generations of boys and girls into men and women, to transforming street gang toughs into solid citizens with nothing but the force of his will.  The man is just…extraordinary.


We PLAYED.  And I was so happy I forgot why I was there, and just enjoyed the fact that my martial journey had taken me places his had not, and I was able to show him some things he hadn’t seen. Was able to dance with Fred Astaire, who, it is said, was performing with Barrie Chase on a television special and when they hit “The Zone” together was whispering under his breath:   “NOW you’re dancin’!”


We were dancing.




I saw Cliff a few weeks later, and he asked me how things had gone. Embarrassed, I realized that my ego had tricked me: I had never asked Steve what he thought of me.  Cliff just about put me over his lap.   “Will you CALL the man?”


Sheepishly, I did.   And boy, my heart was in my mouth. Again.  I stumbled out what I wanted: some kind of evaluation of what I was.  I had no idea, didn’t know where I was on the map. And humbled myself, praying that the news wasn’t too bad.


So…what did he think?


“That is so interesting, Steve,” he said over the phone.   “I was talking to Brian Hudley, who runs the school out here with me.  And told him that while I was in California I encountered a former student, Steven Barnes. And that in the intervening years…he has become…proficient.   And I was wondering if you would accept a fourth degree black belt from us.”


I was thunderstruck. I had no words, no slightest way to respond, except to whisper…”yes.”


Which is how, six weeks later, I knelt in Steve’s home dojo and received the single greatest honor of my life. I still carry that black belt with me in my backpack, everywhere I go.   To remind me of what it cost to become who I am, and to never, ever, ever go backwards, and to never allow my fear and doubt to stop me. And never, ever forget the kindness of the men and women who SAW me, who looked past the weakness to the strength, and helped me bring it forward into the light.


Whenever people wonder why I care so much, why I take time to help whenever I can, this is why.  Because of people like Steve Muhammad.


And like Cliff, who long ago said a few simple words: “I will complete your education.”  And kept his word.


What a human being. What a man.  I am so proud to be his little brother. And will always try to measure up.


Big shoes to fill.






Escaping an ego trap

I noticed that yesterday I commented on a political thread when someone got their facts wrong, and he responded with insult.  Immediately, I felt a “flash” of emotion, and began to engage.


I noticed myself looking for all the usual things: his underlying beliefs, any logical inconsistencies, assumptions, and so on.  But there was something lurking in the back of my head.  On some level, I was thinking Sun Tzu: there are battles it is not worth fighting.  It was as if someone had called me a bad name, and I’d gotten into a fight with them when I was supposed to be on my way to a parent-teacher meeting at Jason’s school.   Yeah, I might win the fight…but wasn’t I really losing just by participating?  Hadn’t I allowed an “emotional flash” to short-circuit my logic, taking me away from my goal?


Welll…let’s take a look at that.  How can I figure out when I’ve gotten off track?


Remember the RPM system:   WHAT you want, WHY you want it.  Only then does HOW to do it have the slightest meaning.


So…what is my long term goal?  Medium (5 year and 1 year) and short term (monthly) and daily goals?  Remember that they all have to be in alignment with my values, and plausibly be steps in that direction, and BANG.  I have the enthusiasm and clarity to accomplish them.


Facebook communications are ways to speak to my tribe, as well as learn to identify arguments and conversations that are positive and productive.    What works? What doesn’t work?  It is also a way to identify arguments that lead to negative outcomes.  For instance, the “Irish Slaves” comment never ever leads to anything positive: you are dealing with someone who is using an overly broad definition of a term, as well as being ignorant of history.  They may be innocent but misinformed (“asleep”)–but they are also running the ball down the field so that snakes can try to get it across the goal line (“see, white people did fine with slavery. Something must be wrong with black people.”)  As IMO this is not a logical but an emotional/faith-based position, it is virtually impossible to get someone to “change their mind” and any argument intending to do this is 99% wasted time and energy.  If you identify the argumentation chain early, you save a LOT of time and energy.


There are lots of clues like this related to highly politicized subjects, where underlying beliefs masquerade as logical positions.   AVOID THEM.


There are also people who simply see the world differently.   Again, unless they are willing to discuss politely to build bridges of communication…WHY are you engaging with them?


Critical questions.   This person saw the world differently, AND was rude.  So…there was little chance that there was going to be a positive outcome there.  If I have finite time during the day, and a definite goal for the day that furthers my long-term outcomes, does this conversation move me in that direction…SQUIRREL!!!!!


In other words, no.  But it is IMPERATIVE RATHER THAN IMPORTANT.  It hit my emotions (the insult) and tripped my competitive sense without offering any positive outcome.  Is there ANY chance something positive would come out of it?  Sure.   But that’s like saying playing slot machines sometimes pay off, so why not spend the day at the casino rather than going to work?


WHAT is the most important thing you want from today? What is the most important thing you can achieve today?


You should know this.  Spend time defining your long-term outcomes so that you can ask yourself, every day, what the most critical thing to do TODAY might be.    The WHAT and the WHY.


Then…be sure that everything you do, or at the very least everything that requires more than X minutes, is a step in that direction.   No?  Then why are you doing it?  Ego?   Competitive nature?  Anger? Fear?


Put that anger and fear in the right place.  In sports, you have people on a team who are high and low value. The low-value players will sometimes insult and provoke high-value players on the opposing team, to see if they can get them to violate rules and get them kicked out of the game.   Sure, the low-value players might get kicked out too, but it is trading pawns for knights.  Good trade.


The same with people who get you upset, get you to waste your time and energy.  If the conversation is pointless, they win simply by getting you to engage.   You lose simply by engaging beyond your threshold.


So…wow.  Easy to get distracted.   How do you avoid this trap?


  1. Be clear on your long-term outcomes
  2. Be clear on what you need to do today to bring them into existence.
  3. With everything you do, know WHY you are doing it.
  4. If you are motivated by ego or negative emotions, refine your “executive function” so that you recognize it.
  5. CHANGE YOUR STATE.  If you are getting sucked in, change your physical posture and movement (stand up, stretch, change your breathing, walk around the room), change your focus, change your internal language (check in. If you are thinking “I’ll get that S.O.B.” or what not, RECOGNIZE that yo u are in an ego trap, and change your state)
  6. Keep track of the time it takes you to get back on track.   The techniques you use to do it. The clues that you are “caught” in that limbic/ego anger/fear trap.  Anger is fear. What are you afraid of?   Do something POSITIVE to affect it, rather than getting down in the mud and wrestling with a pig. Did I say that out loud?



  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand history without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Support your tribe AVOID ARGUING WITH TROLLS
  5. Win with integrity.



Love yourself enough to avoid unnecessary stress and stay on track. Love your family enough to focus your time and energy and stay healthy–you WILL poison yourself if you aren’t careful. And those closest to you will feel it.   Be able to see that there are different ways to see reality, and that it is possible for good, smart people to disagree with you.  Identify the pointless arguments. And define what “winning” is and is not, and NEVER let your “opponent” define the terms of victory if they are contrary to your interests.



Do that…and if you can take just one small step toward your ultimate outcomes every day, YOU WIN.