Archive for March, 2010

A Martial Arts Show Gives Me A Little Perspective Shift On Age

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 21, 2010 by Joe Callahan

The other night I caught a show on the History Channel tracing the life of Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the most well known of Samurai swordsmen.  The show was hosted by Mark Dacascos.  Dacascos is a martial artist and actor who has popped up in a number of action flicks over the years.  I recognized him primarily from the strange but entertaining film Brotherhood of the Wolf (How could a martial arts/gothic horror/romance movie set in 18th century France not be a little strange?).   This show was a film journal of his travels around present day Japan as he explored Musashi’s life.  It was interesting and worth checking out but I was really struck by Dacascos himself.  Near the opening he mentions that he was born in 1964, one year after me.  As of the filming of this show last year he was 44.  That caused me to blink a couple of times.  Dacascos is in great condition.  When he is practicing during the show he is obviously still a very talented and athletic individual.   He surely didn’t look 44.

Maybe he has some fabulously lucky genes in his Japanese/Filipino/Irish ancestry.   Maybe he has had more plastic surgery than a Beverly Hills trophy wife.  None of that would be a substitute for what is obviously a lot of physical self-discipline.  Admittedly, Dacascos came from a family of martial artists and has been at this full time since he was a young boy.  He isn’t sitting on his butt behind a desk 40-50 hours a week.  He does this for a living.  Still, he must not be out partying till dawn and living on fried foods either.  That isn’t really what mattered to me.  For me seeing his birth date was yet another in a string of occurrences forcing me to reexamine my perceptions of my age and what it means.

Recently I took part in a demonstration with my kung fu school.  The event was a yearly banquet in Chinatown for a federation of kung fu schools.  I am not a big fan of doing kung fu demonstrations especially when the audience is made up of other practitioners some of whom are masters from China.  My negative perspective on this may be a little warped because I practice mostly with notably younger men who have been training religiously from an early age.  They just plain ‘ol look better.  It doesn’t help that our uniforms are traditional red and yellow Shaolin outfits.  Young Chinese men look like dashing monks.  I look like a degenerate Ronald McDonald who’s been fired for drinking on the job (remember Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa?).  Putting aside self-consciousness and criticism (and fashion vanity) I actually did pretty well.  I demonstrated three forms from our style and received some very encouraging positive feedback.  It wasn’t half bad.  Well ….. not bad for a 46 year old guy I told myself.

We all have to watch out for playing mind games with ourselves.  We come up with rationalizations for not pushing towards certain goals or running certain risks.  There is a part of our psyches that prefers short term goals and immediate gratification.  It will come up with some excellent ways to convince us we really are better off kicking back with a pint of Guinness instead of running a mile or two.   In my case I have sold myself the story that I am getting to be a little over the hill.  Why beat myself up over accomplishing things that are no longer within reach?  It is a seductive excuse.  I can also see it at work in other areas of my life aside from physical training.

This doesn’t mean I’ll now be spouting platitudes like “You’re as young as you feel” or “Forty-five is the new Thirty-Five”.  I am at a different point in my life and my body has indeed changed from fifteen or twenty years ago.  I do not want to replace one fantasy with another.  The Stoics taught the importance and the discipline of seeing things as they are.  My reality is impacted by the passage of time and aging, of course.  But not as much as I have been telling myself.

A lot more is within my control than I may want to admit because knowing that requires action.  It is an awareness I would do well to keep in the front of my thoughts.  Putting that awareness into action however requires the development of habits and that is a subject for another post.

Why Self-Sufficiency Matters

Posted in Agathos, Self-Reliance, Stoicism with tags , , on March 9, 2010 by Joe Callahan

The quick answer goes something like this……..

Self-sufficiency grants us autonomy.  Personal autonomy (and responsibility) is a defining characteristic of a free individual.  One who is Agathos will always be a free individual even if held in shackles because that is their character.

For more eloquent answers we can turn to two other worthy voices.

Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and all men, and all events.

…………..Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, — and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.  1841

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think everything you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned- Tyler.

Tyler Durden in “Fight Club”  by Chuck Palahniuk

Alright, what if I choose to become this bold unburdened figure beholden to none?   Does that mean I have to live on some remote farm and make all my own clothing and brew my own beer and mold my own musket balls in the fireplace?  That doesn’t sound half bad actually and it would be a valid ideological choice (and a lot of hard labor).  A life lived on one’s own land left to one’s own business is a compelling dream.   It would be a very concrete way to increase one’s self-sufficiency.  It is also not a likely scenario for most of us.  For most of us, participation in the world means navigating through complex interactions and entangling forces whose structure is increasingly determined by technology and bureaucracy.  We work for companies, we pay bills, we watch the government do whatever it does, we absorb media designed to shape our values and desires.  Claiming autonomy is not as simple as nodding in agreement with stirring words (at least I found them stirring) like those above.

Autonomy is a self-discipline to be practiced.  It is not accomplished in just one part of our lives.  It’s learning how to be self-sufficient and to maintain the individual sovereignty of our minds and our bodies, our dignitas and our virtus.

I don’t have any quick simple formula how to go about this.  Discovering how best to cultivate my own self-reliance is part of what my musings here are all about.  It is a fundamental concept.  I’ll let you know what I figure out.