My Hands

I received a really hurtful email this morning. It was from a fellow flutist who said, and I quote:

“You have really ugly hands. Maybe you shouldn’t video yourself playing flute. Or doing anything. Its [sic] no fun to watch. Ever think about getting your nails done? Try some lotion, too.”

Well, to that, here’s my response …though I neglected to mention in the video, an expert equestrian’s hands:

For those who can’t hear, here’s a transcript of what I say:

“People comment about my hands. The brave ask about them, the concerned and well-intentioned offering me bottles of flowery-smelling lotion, presenting me gift certificates for a manicure and nail job, bringing me ointments and salves. It’s true, I don’t have elegant hands. I’ve got working hands. These hands play flute and piano, type 120 words per minute, move heavy objects, in short, do a lot of hard, physical labor. They’ve moved tons of hay and grain, dug post holes, strung barbed wire, carried wood and water. These are a martial artist’s hands, a musician’s hands, a swordwoman’s hands. They ain’t pretty, but I love them.”

Pragmatic Material Realists vs. Saturated, Infatuated Believers

In my daily life, especially with regard to both martial arts and the zentao lifeway, I often find myself besieged by one of two extremes — the pragmatic, material realist or saturated, infatuated believer. These two extremes are dynamically at odds with one another, yet love to seek me out, the former to argue and debate, the latter to try to gain reinforcement for their phantasmagorical euphoric belief systems.

Pragmatic material realists are the ‘safer’ of the two. People don’t get themselves into dire jeopardy, falling off the crumbling brink of their own sanity, when adhering to pragmatic material realism like do saturated, infatuated believers. Pragmatic material realists are ever steeped in skepticism, and skepticism for any method is very, very healthy. The mind of a skeptic questions, looks for holes in logic and reasoning, examines precepts and purported truths with an intent honed to detecting rot and misguided thinking. I applaud that. I invite it, even sanction and condone it. In fact, I do it myself quite readily and fervently, even in and to myself. It is the zentao way to do so. What I don’t condone, though, is that pragmatic material realists never bother to critically examine their own reductionist beliefs and question their close-minded, tunnel-vision. Worse, they outright dismiss anything and, worst, everything except pragmatically material explanations, no matter how contrived those explanations must become to fit the evidence. These folks ‘make decisions’ about absolutely everything, even when there are no grounds upon which to make such a decision.

Still, though, I much prefer the pragmatic material realist to the saturated, infatuated believer. While I won’t debate them (knowing very much the futility of trying to open a steel-reinforced granite vault whose 150 ton door’s locking mechanism has long-since rusted shut), I’m much more at home with their grounded perspective. Exposing the zentao thoughtway to the pragmatic material realist, though, is purely, for me, an exercise in patience and in accepting futility. Epiphany is beyond their any scope, yet they are apt students of martial ways, even Tai Chi, though it must be taught using principles of Newtonian physics. While the pragmatic material realist might never gain the ease and flow of Tai Chi, at least they gain a comprehension of the body mechanics involved in defending themselves.  Tai Chi is, after all, a very effective self-defense system when practiced as its founder intended.

Saturated, infatuated believers, on the other hand, are utterly and completely immune to any form of grounded, rational thinking. Their ecstasy at any possible supramundane suggestion they can, will, and do conceive, even the most ludicrous, propels them into ever-heightened euphoria. There can be no reaching the insidiously infatuated to bring their hot-air balloon brains back to earth.  Even suggest unlimited thinking to them, and their minds leap to the most fantastical, utterly and completely spurning any practical rationale whatsoever. Try to teach them a martial art, especially Tai Chi, and they embrace, not the self-defense system, but rather some dreamy, completely ungrounded oozing — people fronds waving in the sea of park — that they claim will magically protect them by sheer virtue of belief. To introduce them to the zentao thoughtway would be completely unethical …like handing a lit match to a toddler squatting in a pool of gasoline.

Focused on My Art

Since my injury in a car accident last year effectively ended my ability to teach martial arts to anyone less than at least a black belt who owns the necessary discipline and self-control, I’ve had the freedom to pursue my own art without a thought to “the next lesson.” It’s wonderful–the freedom to go full out…now that the doctors have released me to do so.  I’m still working my way back, but it’s so freeing to be able to concentrate fully on my own center, my own essence, my own art. And the sword–I’ve picked that back up, too, though not when there’s anyone about.  Today, dwelling in movement in moment, there came that unity of self with environment that I so thrill to–an awareness in self stillness where all sound and movement, my own and nature’s, blend and unify–the sound and movement of the grasses as the wind rustles each blade in chorused unison, my own movement and inner being completely harmonized within. An absolute self immersion within Way. I look forward to more and deeper stillness of being–deeply moving, silent, still–and I look forward without ever again having to give thought to student needs. I think teaching sacrifices too much. Better to be and do.

Psycho Stupidity

A friend of mine has been coerced into abandoning his honor, virtue, and principles. He’s being coerced by vindictiveness, a vindictiveness which was catalyzed by my refusal to continue working with someone who persistently acted out irresponsibly, with petulance, then with violence and viciousness when she didn’t get her way.

Assailed by family on all sides, he stood his ground pretty well…until the stupidity of psychiatry’s answer to the problem after several “suicide chump”* incidents pushed things to the brink. And psychiatry’s answer? To put a band-aide on a festering wound rather than expose the puss and necrosis. Pyschiatry made him buckle, and, finally, made him doubt himself so that he began living the lie everyone wanted him to buy.

I find psychiatrists and counselors who suggest that compromising self simply to mollify a situation without actually addressing the real problem to be abusive and corrupt. They create more problems by their insistence that everyone adjust to the sick. They prescribe modifying the healthy because they can’t modify the sick. In fact, they’re schooled to do just that. Reasoning? The deranged are incapable of successful treatment without their consent and cooperation which they will not give, therefore take the balanced individual and adjust their behavior to compensate, even if that action completely destroys their internal integrity. In short, do anything to avoid sending the deranged into an existential crisis; instead, coerce the healthy into complying with the demands of the lunatic.

It’s criminal, in my opinion.

The results?

The psychotic’s behavior is rewarded because “they get their way”, which was their intent all along, which further reinforces that behavior. Meanwhile, everyone else becomes the continuing victim of the psychotic’s selfish goals and needs.



* A “suicide chump” is someone who pretends to want to commit suicide and acts so just enough to scare others into believing they will, even though they have no real intention of committing that self-destructive act. Everyone then pays attention to them and works with them to succor their “needs”–demands and desires. In short, they manipulate to try to get attention and to get their way by using threats of self-destruction.

The answer to a suicide chump is to call their bluff, catch them in the act, and dump them and the evidence of their suicide attempt into the state hospital for the mentally ill.  Of course, the suicide chump never really means to harm themselves, though sometimes they slip up because they miscalculate.  What they want, though, isn’t death (in fact, not death, at all); they just want others to bend to their will.


Suicide Chump, Frank Zappa

You say there ain’t no use in livin’
It’s all a waste of time
‘N you wanna throw your life away, well
People that’s just fine
Go ahead on ‘n get it over with then
Find you a bridge ‘n take a jump
Just make sure you do it right the first time
‘Cause nothin’s worse than a Suicide Chump

You say there ain’t no light a-shinin’
Through the bushes up ahead
‘N we’re all gonna be so sorry
When we find out you are dead
Go head on and get it over with then
Find you a bridge ‘n take a jump
Just make sure you do it right the first time
‘Cause nothin’s worse than a Suicide Chump

Now maybe you’re scared of jumpin’
‘N poison makes you sick
‘N you want a little attention
‘N you need it pretty quick…

Teaching Martial Arts

I must receive thirty-plus phone calls a week from people wanting to enroll their 3, 6, 9, 12, 14-year-old into martial arts.  I dismiss them with a pleasant, gentle explanation that, 1, we’re not taking new students, and, 2, we only teach adults.  And not all adults, either.  It isn’t the age, per se.  It’s the maturity and mind-state.  I’m sorry, but children — American children (though there are, of course, exceptions) are generally unprepared and unwilling to submit to the rigorous discipline — mental, emotional, physical, and philosophical — required to study martial arts with us.  We’re very strict; we’re very demanding, and we’re very much a traditional school where “fun” isn’t part of the curriculum.

Oh, it’s fun, yes, if you have a high pain threshold and love ever increasing challenges, but it’s not entertaining (except for those occasional guffaws when you lose your footing because someone dripped sweat on the mat).  For Americans, both adults and youth, who have been raised to expect their hedonistic desires fulfilled, who are perpetually conditioned to expect reward for mediocrity, and who have been pandered to their whole lives, our martial arts classes are not quite what they expected.  We tend to direct callers and walkins alike to the McDojos, because, honestly, that’s what they want — instant black belt in exchange for no real effort and no true commitment and self-motivated development.

But what about the prospective student who does hold the duty, discipline, self-actualization, and focus that’s mandatory?  Well, taking on a student means this for the teacher: Be ready to become their life counselor, even after they’ve left town.  You’ll be the one they call, regardless of what time it is, what day it is, or if you’re down with pneumonia when they have any kind of life crisis, from marital difficulties to existential crises.  It’s the way of things, and, believe me, after years and years, taking on new students and adding to the calls for help and advice you get takes its toll.  As a teacher, you become very hesitant to add to your load, especially since, having invested the time and effort to get them to and then through the “gateway” that is earning the black belt, then going further, you are obligated to be there, always.  It’s a life commitment on both the student’s and the teacher’s part.  And it’s tough on both of them.  It’s also extremely rewarding.  My students…my husband’s students, it’s why both of us go to bed with gentle smiles on our faces.  They are our delight, even if they do occasionally cause all manner of bleary-eyed mornings.