Once a Runner

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.
-Washington Irving

I did not always know I wanted to be a martial artist. Before I got into martial arts, I was a distance runner. Before that, I was a goalie specifically because I wanted to play soccer but not have to run. Things change.

As a freshman, I was on the Cross Country and Track teams at the University of Notre Dame. I was coming from a high school team ranked as high as 24th in the nation, and I was recruited to run for a team that had just taken 3rd in the Division I NCAA Cross Country Championships. I dreamed of running in the Olympics. Posters of Pre decorated my walls, and my favorite book was Once a Runner. Running was my life. Now? I have gone running a grand total of two times since moving to Seattle. Things change.

In high school I suffered from a few setbacks which kept me from reaching my fullest potential, but none were as limiting as the IT band injury that flared up during the summer before my freshman year of college. I could not sustain regular training for an extended period of time without my IT band tightening up to the point where it caused crippling pain any time I tried to bend or extend my leg (something you do A LOT as a runner). Despite spending hours working with trainers every day and seeing several doctors, I was never able to overcome my injury. I was devastated, and it was one of the most challenging periods of my life. Little did I know it would lead to something that would change my life forever.

After making the decision to give up running, I was looking for something else to do for exercise. Upon seeing a flyer for a martial arts class hanging in my dorm, I joined the Notre Dame Martial Arts Institute, introducing me to a community that has had a profound impact on how I live my life. I could not be more grateful for the experiences I have had through martial arts.

Recently, I was laid off from my job at Microsoft. After over three years of doing a job I did not enjoy, all the while intending to use it as a stepping stone in my career, I was finally transferred to a team working on the next generation of graphics technology that will power all major video games in the future of Microsoft’s platforms. I finally made it to where I wanted to be, but only four short months later my position was eliminated and I was released from the company.

It’s hard not to wish I still had my job at Microsoft doing something I love, but I’ve learned through my transition from running to martial arts that this will lead to a new adventure I will look back on and be grateful for. Things change, but the world keeps turning.

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Outliers (Gladwell, 3 of 3)

During his Q&A, Malcolm Gladwell noted that he has yet to find an excellent example of a social phenomenon that does not follow an inverted U shaped curve. This prompted me to ask what I thought to be the most obvious question. What about mastery? If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, is there some point past that where you’re getting a negative effect?
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The Tipping Point (Gladwell, 2 of 3)

The afternoon started with me arriving at Gladwell’s talk, picking up my subsidized copy of “David and Goliath”, and realizing that nearly every seat was already taken. I found a lone seat close enough to the center aisle to give me a mostly unobstructed view. It wasn’t until after the rest of the seats were full that I remembered a blog post by Tim Ferris I had read.

Ferris relates an experience he had at a yearly conference put on by Warren Buffet and some other big shot financial types. The gist of the post is that every year, people line up early, clamoring for front row seats at the talk. But jostling for a front row seat is wasting a real opportunity for learning. Shaking Warren Buffet’s hand for a 5 second photo-op is nice, but you can learn just as much by sitting in the back. The real opportunity lies in the ability to ask Warren Buffet any financial question you want. However, if you wait until the Q&A session begins before getting in line to ask a question, there’s no way you’ll be far enough up to get a turn.
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David and Goliath (Gladwell, 1 of 3)

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt. -William Shakespeare

I approached the microphone, surprised there wasn’t already a line of people eagerly awaiting their opportunity to interact with Malcolm Gladwell. As I walked towards it, a woman standing next to it asked me if I had a question. I gave her a slight nod, too nervous to look anyone in the eye. At first I thought she was going to fall in line behind me, but then I realized she was one of the organizers. She was just glad someone was actually going to use one of the dedicated question mics. Malcolm Gladwell wasn’t.
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Male Survivors

Once a person is labeled “not like us,” the rules for civilized behavior no longer apply – Mary Pipher

BuzzFeed: 26 Male Survivors of Sexual Assault Quoting the People Who Attacked Them

Self defense is at the core of the martial arts that I do. It’s not that I feel generally unsafe or a specific need to be able to defend myself. There’s just something primal and grounding about basing training around protecting yourself. As a result I spend time pondering and reading about a variety of self defense scenarios, but none are as important to me as sexual assault. I know survivors (most of us do, even if we don’t realize it), and I have seen first hand the impact sexual assault can have on people.
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Back to Basics

I had a callous on the ball of my foot that I had been building for months, and I loved it. It protected me, and with it I felt I could play on and conquer any surface. Recently a blister formed underneath that callous. The callous was still there, tough and strong, but it was now on a shaky foundation. I remained grateful for the callous, it continued to shield me from the external pain of a rough surface, but it could not protect me from the pain that developed underneath it. All the while I began to wonder if I might be better off removing the callous and rebuilding.

That callous is now gone, ripped off after playing on its unstable foundation. The skin underneath is still raw and sensitive to touch, but that’s okay. Now I have an opportunity to build a new foundation.

Sometimes it’s important in capoeira to remember that you need to go back to the basics. What you’ve got might be serving you well in the moment, and you may even see visible progress in the roda if you pile on training in new techniques, but it’s not sustainable. It’s always important to reinvest in your foundation, even if it means taking a few steps back to pave the way forward.

Just Dance

Speaking of dance, I’ll do a more long form post on dance and performance anxiety in the future. In the meantime, here’s a video of a dance performance I was a part of at the Seattle Center during Brazilfest 2012. You’ll recognize me as the only male dancer on stage. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there.

A Warrior of the Light Dances

“Warriors of light are never predictable. They might dance down the street on their way to work…” – Paulo Coelho

As I walked to work today, I was doing some mental kata. I taught Pyung-An 4 in class this morning, so as I travelled I was visualizing myself going through the techniques. Swinging my hips, tensing my muscles, and contorting my face as I exchanged blows with my opponent, I danced my way down the sidewalk. Upon completing the kata in my head, I looked up to see the woman walking past me glance at me as if I had lost it.

“The warriors may look mad, but this is just a disguise.” – Paulo Coelho

All Previous Truths Apply

“All Previous Truths Apply” – James Laville

Mestre Curisco often reminds us “there are different levels within each level.” That is, within each rank there is a spectrum of abilities, and we should always be pushing ourselves to improve our position regardless of where we stand. One implication of this is that getting a new rank does not automatically mean you are on par with the rest of your peers who hold said rank, and you will have to work to keep improving your position on the spectrum in your new rank. I think this is fairly self-evident, so the focus of this post is precluding your rank from being a ceiling that limits your growth and the applications this concept can have in real life.
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Mastering the Commonplace

“The person who can vacuum an entire house without once losing his or her composure, staying balanced, centered and focused on the process rather than pressing impatiently for completion, is a person who knows something about mastery.” -George Leonard

Mastering the Commonplace, chapter 13 of Leonard’s ‘Mastery’, finally sunk in today. When he wrote about taking the time to be balanced and centered for each movement of washing the dishes, drying them, and putting them away, I scoffed: I am a busy man. The last thing I want to do is spend more time doing the dishes. I understand and completely agree with his position that we are a goal oriented society; in an attempt to see quick results, people often rush through tasks, and it costs them more time, energy, and money than doing it right in the first place. This is easily exemplified by my computer programming, where taking the time to code correctly in the first place saves time in the long run even if it postpones the initial results.

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