dal niente

Month: September, 2012

Adventures in Interning

A few weeks ago, I was in an class that discussed what we were doing at our various internships, and I was a bit surprised by the comments and concerns that were coming up.

 

“My boss doesn’t listen to what I say.”

“They give me more work than is possible to do in one day!”

“Everyone wants me to do something different, they just don’t understand that I have to do work for other people too.”

 

These internships have nothing to do with the summer clerkships that I’ve been bitching about for the past few weeks, btw.  I’m talking about something different– these are internships that we do for the university, who basically lends out our abilities to various community legal centres around the city to gain some practical experience.  Unlike clerkships, this is mostly us being “office bitch” or “coffee gophers,” in 99% of the scenarios without the prospect of actually landing a grad job afterwards.

So we have a bit of guidance, which is to say, a class where we all sit down and talk about our experiences.  It’s not that I don’t find the classes interesting– but to me, they’re simply not all that helpful.  Pretty much everyone in that room is an undergrad combined degree student.  That means that they’re studying law as part of their undergraduate degree– the majority of these people have never held a part-time job in their life, much less worked full time in administration.  As a result, some of the things that they talk about are just… boring.

 

I mean, really: “They give me more work than I can do in a day!”  Seriously?  Welcome to the real world, children.

Whenever the meetings to discuss come up, it’s clear that one of my peers (who is also a postgraduate Juris Doctor student) and I are doing most of the real ‘suggestions.’  I don’t say we’re doing any mentoring, because frankly, the class only takes place 1 hour per two weeks, and there’s only so much we can suggest when these kinds of discussions come up.  And, as all of you out there who have worked in beaureucracy for long enough know, there are a lot of these situations which are simply unanswerable– the only course of action is just to suck it up, because that’s how the real world works outside of a classroom.

 

Nonethless, some of the suggestions I’ve made are along the following lines.

 

First of all, whenever you’re a volunteer, yes, you’re getting some experience out of it from the organisation.  But you’re not dogmeat.  (Dogmeat is the exact word I used in that class.)  No organisation has the right to treat you like shit (Shit is another word I used in that class) just because you’re paid less than anyone else, or because you know less than the people there.

 

Secondly, a lot of the situations are solvable with a bit of communication.  If a bit of communication doesn’t work, try a lot of communication.  And if a lot of communication doesn’t work? Try filing a complaint somewhere– if that doesn’t work, either quit, or suck it up.

The way that we navigate organisational beaureucracies should be in the form of a flow chart, with emphasis on flow.  There should always be some sort of direction to what’s going on.  If you’re frustrated with something, you need to insert a choice there to see if there can be attempts to resolve the situation.  It’s just like life– if there’s a problem, you don’t just eat it unless you’re really, really sure that it’s worth it to you because it’s just some component of a larger puzzle.  If not? Fix the situation, or GTFO.

 

It’s not that I think I’m beyond these peers of mine or that I look down on them… I’m happy to trade stories with them.  In fact, it’s really nice to see the spark of idealism in their hearts when they talk about the world, untainted by common sense or reality.  For example: there was one of my peers who is working on this case of a person who has been essentially in solitary confinement for over a decade, with just 1 hour of exercise time per day.  Pretty rough, huh?  He’s not displayed any aggression in a decade. So, she’s helping to campaign to get that guy released.

I asked: that sounds pretty serious.  What’s he in there for?

“Oh, well, actually… that was pretty bad.  He was locked up because he went on a killing rampage, and killed 6 people or something.”

 

Or something.  So… in a way, it’s nice to see people with their ideals of justice, and civil liberties and all that, in a pure form, without regard for reality.  That’s a bit of an extreme example and I’m quoting her slightly out of context, but the point is that I’m in a situation where I’m in a class full of kids. 

 

I don’t mind that in itself.  Like I said, their energy is invigorating, even if their ideas sometimes are just retarded.  They’re trying though.  It’s just that, where I’m paying for an education at ridiculous international student rates, why am I being placed in a situation where I have more to teach or refute than I do to learn about certain things? That bothers me.

 


 

Observations from the actual work I’m doing at my internship:

 

The NSW Law Reform Commission report, People with Cognitive and Mental Health Impairments in the Criminal Justice System, tied in to the research that I’ve been conducting for my CLC. My research project involves an examination law enforcement usage of Tasers in NSW.

 

In the course of research, it was recommended in several jurisdictions’ model practices that law enforcement required more training on how to evaluate situations to see if Taser usage is warranted. A 2010 NSW Ombudsman’s report on the subject revealed that training for special types of targets, including youths, the elderly, physically impaired, and mental health impaired targets, is severely lacking. The statistics concur with the NSWLRC report in pointing out that mental health impaired people are overrepresented.

 

In our criminal law classes, one of the trends I’ve noticed is that it’s easy to point at law enforcement and accuse them of constantly abusing their powers and not exercising enough sound judgement. I’m not doubting that this does happen. But the NSWLRC report pointed out something important, which speaks to one of the roots of this problem— there is a distinction between “offending” and “being violent.” Often, being violent is misunderstood for offending.

 

I’m aware that this is a huge over generalisation, but it’s one of the lessons I take from my previous work experience in health care. One of the most common ways that mentally impaired people are notable is through their ability to communicate when stressed. Complicated questions can often lead to responses of “I don’t understand,” “I don’t care,” or “I don’t like this.” Sometimes, as part of their attempts to communicate their response, many patients respond very physically, which makes unaccustomed bystanders uncomfortable. In retrospect, I’ve often been surprised at a long-time care-giver’s ability to clam someone who is mentally impaired, from what seems like a particularly “violent” fit.

 

Which brings me to a simple point– even as a trained healthcare worker, who has done several rotations with the mental health department, I’ve found myself uneasy dealing with mentally impaired patients that I didn’t personally have a long familiarity with. So what kind of situation is the typical police officer thrown in, when on the scene with someone who he or she never met, and simply appears to be violent?

 

The typical criminal law class discussions that suggest being more aware, or to be better trained, are too simplistic. When an officer responds to a situation, there are no familiar friends and family of the suspect to help to diffuse the situation. There isn’t a team of orderlies and medical staff trained for this kind of situation. Nobody knows that accused’s history. The officer’s training states that he should be aware of the special circumstances of the accused, but doesn’t offer much more help than that, except to take a step back and re-emphasise that the safety of the officer is paramount. The problem solving tools the officer has been provided are a gun, a baton, a Taser, some gloves and handcuffs.

 

It’s no surprise to me that, as a result, Tasers often come out in these sorts of scenarios. I imagine that police officers have enough legitimate experiences with violent offenders to make this the default position. It’s the broad solution to situations with too many unknown variables.

 

It seems to me that if people with mental impairments slip through the cracks of our medical institutions, its inevitable that they will be treated even worse by our criminal justice system, both on the streets at the law enforcement stage, and in the courtrooms. Discussions in criminal law classes, especially debates about mens rea, reveal that it is incredibly difficult to standardise criteria for evaluating just what is going in an accused’s mind. If the courtroom has difficulty evaluating mental states with the benefit of retrospect, far removed from the passion of the moment, how much can realistically expect of an officer on the scene?

 

I have been struggling with the idea for some time. The literature seems to suggest no solutions. It seems to mostly reveal increased awareness of the problems, which I suppose is the first step.

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Use the Forks, Homer

I made myself some lemon chicken with rice to take to class today.  It’s my delicious lunch.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a fork, and it seems that all the normal places that I usually get a fork on campus are closed because it’s a saturday.  Grrrr.

Public Speaking

I’m sure it’s not an empirically produced statistic, but I would believe that many people would rather die than do public speaking.

 

I’m in a litigation class right now (yes, on a Saturday) and we’re doing exactly that.  There’s over 40 of us here in the moot court, and we’re running mock trials of various matters.  Our professor is sitting in the judge’s seat.  She’s a New South Wales barrister.  While we’re presenting our cases, she interrupts with questions for clarification, trying to throw people off.

 

Despite the fact that the process has a lot to do with responding to the judge’s interruptions, I’m surprised at how despite that this is postgrad law, so many people cling to their pre-written speeches.  You’d think they’d just jumped off the titanic and that their pre-written speeches were the only floating chips of wood in the ocean. 

 

I guess what I’m getting at is that when it comes to public speaking, I find it unfortunate that so many people rely on reading their writing.  Mind you, the majority of my clients are brilliant and quick on their toes, but there’s still a surprising number who can’t get up to a podicum and stop stammering.  Not only that, but even when given the freedom to read, word for word,  what they’ve written, they don’t make any efforts to read with feeling.  Mumbling into your iPad with your eyes buried is not a way to evince confidence in the points you’re presenting, or your confidence in your ability to sell it.

 

Many people will suggest that that’s the problem– confidence.  But that’s not it.  You don’t need confidence to be a good public speaker– you just need a method.

 

  • Memorise your speech, not word for word, but in terms of concepts.
  • Talk out loud and recite your speech when you’re alone… and do it more than once.  Start by reading. OUT LOUD.
  • Then move on to what I call “reading without reading,” which is to say, skimming, or speed reading, while you speak out loud.Every time you do it, it’ll come out slightly different, and that’s the point.  You’re trying to work out, in advance, what are your preferred ways of explaining something, and what to do if you accidentally lead yourself down a rabit hole.
  • Now, you might want to use a highlighter and just mark the words or phrases in your speech that are your anchor points– things that you can use as lifelines to get you back on track when you ad lib.  Now, try presenting your speech with just glances at these highlights for cues.
  • Now, do this 100 times.

Sure, confidence is nice to have.  But for those of us who don’t have it, we can fake it with method.

 

What do we recognise about people who are confident?  They don’t have their noses in their notes.  They aren’t speaking in a monotone.  They’re speaking loud, using inflections.  Inflections are very important, because otherwise your points will not be absorbed by ANYONE.

 

You can train to not look at your paper.  You can train to speak with variable tones, inflected, and clearly enough to heard.  So who needs to worry about confidence?

 

Saying that you don’t have confidence to do public speaking is besides the point– confidence isn’t something that is easily come upon.  However, as I mention, it’s not necessary– saying you have no confidence is just a way of scapegoat, avoiding the larger issue that you’re too lazy to practice at faking confidence.

Energy Efficiency

So now that judo is on the schedule about once per week, I’m starting to feel the toll.  Waking up the next morning is that much harder because my upper body just feels like a duffel bag full of small, chipped stones.  It’s just kinda tiresome to move.

Yesterday’s class was much better than last week’s, because there was a black belt who was there to show a few of us newcomers the absolute basics.  Things like rolling and breaking falls in various directions.

I’ve never been good at breakfalls, so this is a really good way to start me off right I think.  Somehow, I’m not sure if I’m doing it right because it seems like I’m still taking a shitload of damage from each fall, but the instructor says “excellent” when he watches what I’m doing compared to some of the other beginners, so maybe I’ll just give my body more time to get used to it and see.

 

What surprised me is that second hardest part of the basics is the rolling.  Actually, I don’t have much issue with with the technique– I’m much better with the rolling than I am with the breakfalls.  However, I’ve never had to do 10 or 20 rolls in a row.  By the time I stand up, not only am I feeling very dizzy, but my stomach doesn’t feel so great.  I remember that when I first started doing Jeet Kune Do that I used to get dizzy during the spins at first as everyone does, but this stomach nausea is definitely something new.  Maybe I have to really make sure that I eat hours ahead of time before going to judo, beacuse otherwise it feels like everything in my guts is going through cold wash cycle.

We learned several basic strangleholds as well, which are new to me, because I’ve never done any grappling that specifically made use of a gi before.  I very much like the instructor’s attention to detail.  He was explaining the principles of blocking off the arteries, but just as importantly, he was explaining ideal textbook techniques and how much energy you could save if you started off with a good grip, as opposed to a lousy one which you might still win because you powered your way through.

Energy efficiency is very important to me.  I mean, it’s kind of the point of any martial arts, in my opinion.  If you could just power your way through every technique, you might as well just a get a weightlifting membership.

 

Speaking of energy efficiency though, I’m rather dreading the bikerides to school for the next couple of days.  My body is just tired.  Days like this, I wish bus passes weren’t so damn expensive.

Everybody Play the Game

[CM] has some friends who are going through relationship issues at the moment.  One of them has just started dating someone; one looks like he’s being “friend-zoned”; and the final one seems like he’s just been rejected.

I don’t often extend myself as a dating advisor, but here are some general thoughts about things that I know I see as consnant problems with other peoples relationships.  They probably apply more for guys than girls because I speak from my experience as a guy, but you could probably genderswap the advice and use it anyways.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts.  This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, it’s just what came up in thinking about their situations.

 

-=-=-=-Don’t have standards that are too high.
This is for all you people out there who are looking for Ms. Perfect.  If you’re having trouble getting a relationship off the ground, maybe you have to consider a few things first?  Such as: are you worthwhile to Ms. Perfect?  While it’s true that a girl might go for someone who is a total underachiever for whatever reason, it’s also true that if you’re going to scoff at more ‘average’ girls you better be pretty over average in all the ways that count to her to make the grade.

If you’re not willing to do things such as keep your personal life in order, maintain a job, keep good hygeine, have interesting hobbies, keep yourself in good shape, etc– why should you be deserving of someone who perfect, when you’re so imperfect yourself?

Ask what YOU can do for your GIRL.  And if you can’t do much? You probably need to work on becoming more of a man, because you probably don’t deserve her.

In that case, maybe you need to start working on yourself, instead of trying to find a Ms. Perfect who is all amazing and who just happens to like you for the underachiever you are.  You don’t get a girl with luck– that’s just what gets you the first meeting.  What maintains the relationship is the substance of your character, interacting with hers.

-=-=-=-Don’t have standards that are too low.
This is addressed to people who date people left right and centre.  There is one advantage to this method– you do get a lot of experience in dealing with a lot of different types of people, which is very important.  Relationship experience  helps you define very specifically what it is that you do and do not like in a relationship.

However, if your relationships tend to be short and involve more sex than anything  substantial, chances are you’re going to start developping a dysfunctional view of relationships.  Which is fine, if you want to have short lived relationships all your life.  But if you want to settle down?  You need to believe in some sense of permanency and stability, and some sort of substantial, sustainable  goodness.

You need to feel that you deserve a happy ending, and you need to define a GOOD happy ending.  And then, you must make the promise to yourself to stop settling for bad relationships.

Quantity doesn’t substitute for quality.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-If your method isn’t working, change it.

The two above rules are basically stating the same thing– if your way of doing relationships is just leaving you constantly heartbroken, you need to have the courage to try something different.  That doesn’t mean to just date a different person– it means to consciously make the effort to challenge yourself and date a different TYPE of person.  Try a different age group,  ethnic background, socio-economic-class, education level– these things have a huge impact on personality, and force you to evaluate your own personality because you’ll necessarily have to interact differently.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-Deal with your self-esteem / Cultivate Substance

The  above problems usually happen as manifestations of a single root problem– self-esteem issues.

If you don’t already know what’s causing your self-esteem issues (we all have them)  one of the way  identify what you’re great at.  Now, try to function in your life without what you’re great at.  As in… imagine yourself at a first date, and not being allowed to talk about how you’re a rocket scientist.  What’s your backup plan?

 

Everyone has talents, but what a lot of people tend to do is overuse them to compensate for their weaknesses, or to cover them up. In a worst case scenario, being great at something  defines you to the point where you’re oblivious of other worldviews, because it makes you insufferably passionate about something.  If your first love is a particular hobby, then real relationships aren’t for you.

Relationships are a push pull sorta give take thing.  If there is anything about your character that is absolute and immovable, that’s going to be a problem.  It’s not so much that you can never have an extreme point of view or personality trait– but if you’re going to have it, you have to make sure that you know your reasons inside out for being that way, and you need to know how your extremes affect other people.  Absolutes are what block people out and turn them off.  In a relationship, it’s about finding connections, not establishing gaps. 

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-Connect

And this is where it takes a bit of finesse.  Women always say that men don’t listen.  Even CM tells me that every now and then when we’re fighting about something.  Why?  Because it’s true– we don’t.  But nobody’s perfect, and we get points for trying. 

 

However, this isn’t that day in class where everyone is doing presentations and telling what they have to tell… relationships aren’t about an information exchange.  It’s not about making backup copies and just uploading your data to a separate brain where it’ll just be filed away.  It’s about collaborative problem solving.  It’s about co-op missions.  It’s about engaging and interacting. It’s about beta testing your world views, personality, and substance in a different operating system: hers.    And you should let her do the same with you.

 

So many relationships are, frankly, useless– nobody says anything interesting.  The partners share no passions, and they share no interests.  How will that ever work?

 

For a relationship to work, there needs to be some sort of unified direction.  Sure, you can’t find this out on the first date– but what I am saying is that from the first date, you can try and make a conscious effort to connect.  People feel it when you try– and there’s a human instinct to react to those efforts.

 

-=-=-=-=-Nutshell:

You need to do two things: understand the world in your head, and understand your head in the world.

just installed the Android app for xanga. not all that great it just crashed and 8 my post. wonder can they do better …

On Competition

I found out a couple of days ago that [CaptainK] got through the clerkship process– he’s been accepted as a summer clerk for Clayton Utz, which is one of big law firms here in Sydney.  I’m really happy for him– it’s what he, [DilligentB] and I have just wanted to achieve for the past several months, and it’s been weighing down somewhere in the backs of our heads since we first started filling applications out.

 

As i mentioned in previous posts, I missed my chance– I wasn’t accepted for this intake, so I’ll have to try again next year.  DilligentB is in the worst sort of place right now– they called her last week to say that she was on a waiting list, and that she’d have a spot if some others refused their offers.  They told her that that they’d let her know friday or monday (note: it’s now tuesday here in australia), so she’s just stressing, hoping for phone calls.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Put simply, I’m jealous of CaptainK getting that internship.  I don’t think it’s important why I think I deserve an internship more or less than the next person, but I think what’s important for me to take out of this is just to see what I can do better next time around.

Between CaptainK and I, I know that he’s the friendlier person.  He’s a real social butterfly, whereas, nice as I can be when I want to be, it’s not my default setting.  I’m sure that kind of thing shows in an interview and a cocktail evening.  It’s something I’ll have to work on then– the small talk.  I have no doubt that people who get to know me really well think that I’m a pretty cool guy worth getting to know better, but when you’ve only got a limited amount of time in an interview situation, every second counts.

 

Simply put though, I’m jealous.  I don’t think I have any ill-will towards CaptainK himself, it’s mostly what he’s got that I want.  I want to have a summer clerkship because it would have meant that for the remaining 1.5 years of my degree, I could relax a bit on the schoolwork.  I’m always clawing away and it feels like a real battle of attrition at times to get grades– I’m always fighting to keep my grades up and it really has a toll on me mentally and physically at all times.  It’s not to say that it’s any easier for other people, but simply, I just wish I didn’t have to worry about grades.  I’d learn a lot more if I wasn’t just trying to game the system and get the best marks, rather than taking the time to understand and engage with things in ways that were interesting.

 

On the plus side, I half-jokingly say that it’s great that CaptainK gets his internship now– because that means there’ll be one more spot for me next year.

 

On that same logic, lets hope DilligentB gets in this year as well.  Not that I just want her out of the way for next year– that’s only half of it– the other half is that I just genuinely wouldn’t want anyone to go through another 1.5 years of cut throat grade scavenging if they didn’t have to.

 

-=-=-=-=-

 

My school is famous for bellcurves. In case you don’t know that that means, it means that even if you write a great paper or exam, if everyone else did better than you, you will still be ‘bellcurved’ such that you will get a barely passing mark.  I don’t think anyone particularly wants to cut anyone else’s throats out, but I have found that I personally have always consciously tried in paper writing to always put in some sorta ‘gimmick’ or schtick to make mine stand out. Simply, every little advantage counts.

 

I don’t like being competitive in this area.

 

I think it’s fine for badminton and martial arts or whatever else– but this, this is something different.  Me being in Australia with CM, lawschool is tied to something much bigger than just my own pride and achievement.  This is about career now, it’s about us being able to live the rest of our lives together.   Do you hear it?  That’s the sound of my hunger.  And hunger is stressful.

The Way of Gentleness

Yesterday, I went to my first judo lesson ever.  I had high expectations.  I don’t know much about doing judo, but [Zanshin]’s done judo for a fair number of years.  I also got to talk to his brother while I was in Montreal, who is also doing judo.  Overall, those opinions are what gave me the push to finally try going to a school, which I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years now.

 

The fascination to me is because of the throws.  I can punch, kick, knee, elbow, and I have a fair game on the ground, but I don’t know anything about throwing people.  I have always found it really spectacular to see though!

 

The first lesson had it’s pluses and minuses.

 

The first minus was that I’m recovering from a bad resppiratory illness that I caught on the plane ride back from Los Angeles.  For the entire ride from LA to Sydney, I was sitting relatively near someone who was coughing the whole way, and basically, there was nowhere to retreat to.  By the time I landed in Sydney, I was still okay, but over the next few days, I developed a fever and flu-like symptoms.  A few days after that, I got some of the worst lungs I’ve ever had, coupled with asthma problems.  I’m actually an asthmatic– however, I don’t have it as bad as some, so I’ve mostly been able to control the symptoms with hard breathing and mental control.  Usually, when I get really sick though, the asthma takes over my lungs, making it really quite uncomfortable.

 

So this is kinda my own fault at being too excited to just wait another week before starting, but I went to that class yesterday with my lungs mostly (but not completely clear).  I’d started on  a pretty tough cocktail of steroids and antibiotics just a couple days before which were doing a good job of clearing things up.  When I went to judo though, the warmup routine almost killed me.  I felt like my stomach was going to turn inside out, because my cardio was so strained.

The second minus has to do with the class itself.  The instructor was pretty nice, and extremely knowledgeable, but he didn’t seem to take charge of the room.  The consequence was that I spent most of my time there learning by copying other people, but I didn’t get any specific instruction on some really basic stuff, such as how to break my fall properly, or the establishing grips on the other guy’s gi, etc.  The instructor was more than happy to answer direct questions, but frankly… I don’t know what questions to ask, so where does that leave me?

 

To be fair, apparently most of the higher level belts were away on competition business.  Perhaps in the normal course of events, those senior students would be the ones in charge of white belts like me.  I suppose the only way to find out is to just keep going back for a few times before making up my mind if I want to stay with them or not.

 

On the plus side, for what I could do, it was quite fun.  I learned a technique called osoto gari (spelling?) which is a basica one leg sweep throw thing.  I can’t really describe it better than that, except that it does make a big satisfying boom if you do it right.

One thing that made me quite happy is that we did a fair amount of groundwork as well– it’s the kind of stuff that I’ve learned to deffend against, but without knowing too much about how to set up to attack.

 

It is a bit confusing to hear all these japanese terms bouncing around when you’re used to normal English MMA terms, but that’ll come with time I suppose.

 

At the very least, it’s a great workout and I’ve met some interesting characters.

Demon’s Soul

Don’t read this post unless your into videogames.

 

A few days ago I started working on a game called Demon’s Souls. Among RPG gamers, and gamers in general, it is largely considered one of the most difficult games ever created.

 

There are several things that make this game absolutely unforgiving.

 

When you die, you come back in “soul form.” Which has half the HP of your normal body. So, supposing you faced a really tough fight where you got killed, you can try again– but even weaker than the first time you fought him.

 

There are lots of instances where you will simply die instantly. You could be going up a dark staircase, and someone could roll an Indiana Jones styled boulder at you. You could be walking along a bridge and engaging in combat with soldiers when a dragon makes a pass and firebombs you and your opponents to holy hell. You could get mobbed from all directions by, say, 4 grunts, but if your back is open to anybody, you’re going to die. You could accidentally walk off a high ledge. You might get the camera stuck at an angle that you can’t see who you’re fighting. (To be fair, the camera angle thing doesn’t happen too often– but when it does, it’s infuriating, because that’s not even challenging– that’s just bad design.)

 

Every time you die, you lose all your hard earned money. Well, technically, there’s no money, there’s just souls you collect. But when you die, you lose all your amassed souls. There’s no EXP in this game– you buy your equipment, you buy your stat upgrades. So when you die, basically, you lose all your progress.

 

Every time you die, there are no ‘checkpoints.’ You start at the beginning of the stage. Even if the beginning of the stage is a hour of fighting your way uphill from where you died, that’s where you’re going to start.

 

You might not have the right tools for the job. Some opponents have special armors or natural properties that makes them immune or almost not affected by the weapon you have on hand. Depending on your character class, you may not be very strong and not good at carrying all sorts of different weapons with you. So sure, I guess you can go back to “town” and get an appropriate weapon, right? Well… no savepoints, essentially no teleportation, so you’re going to have to hike your way down that mountain the same way you came up. And that’s assuming that you have the weapon you need in your stash. If you don’t, you better hope you don’t die and lose all your money on the way there before you get to the shop.

 

Which is another problem. The shops don’t stock everything. Particular types of weapons are only available in particular locations (some of which you need to fight your way to get to) of different stages and worlds.

 

Did I mention that the game is hard?

 

However, the battle system is pretty ingenious.  Your character has a few meters– hit points, magic points, and stamina.  Since my character is a paladin, the MP part is pretty useless– I can do one who spell before my reserves are basically gone.  That basically means one free heal.

 

As far as hit points and stamina go though, that’s where things get interesting.  First of all, stamina goes down depending on what you’re doing.  If you’re running, it goes down.  If you attack, it goes down.  If you block, it also goes down.  Stamina regenerates gradually, depending on your endurance– but basically, you can’t just hack and slash away because your guy will get gassed out and won’t be able to deal any effective damage.

 

The blocking mathematics are where it gets interesting.  If you’re holding a shield and someone pokes at you with a spear, and you block it, and that spear attack should have taken off 50 HP, if you blocked, it will instead take off 50 stamina.  So basically, whenever you block, you take the damage as stamina damage instead of as hit point damage.  This is okay because stamina regenerates.  However, if your stamina gets depleted, any damage that can’t be contained by your block stamina is carried over.  Your character’s guard “breaks” and you take the damage in HP.  If there is enough of a guard break, your character might even get knocked back, or you might be crushed on the spot.  So, just because you have a shield doesn’t mean you can block everything.  You get tired from blocking too many successive hits… and the problem with that is that you won’t have any energy to immediately counter.

 

Shield also have damage modifiers– so that initial 50 points worth of damage? A shield will reduce that amount so that the actual amount of stamina damage you take, could, say, be like 40 or so.  A better shield acts as a better modifier!  However, the most protective shields are usually the biggest and heaviest ones, so they’re not good for parrying and or dodging– which are the best methods of saving stamina in the first place.  Why oppose force with force, when you can just get out of the way?

So, the interesting thing is that while enemies can get you because they’re fast, they can also get you just by crushing your guard.  Say I’m using a really heavy weapon like a two handed polearm axe.  If my opponent is using a dagger, and there are like… 3 of them in closed quarters, I’m probably going to die.  Even if I attack first, it’s very possible that they’ll attack second and still get their hit in before I do.  Even worse, in closed quarters, my axe can (and does) often get stuck on walls or ceilings.

 

On the other hand, if I’m deffending against a large polearm axe, and I have a shield, there are very high chances that if I don’t get the  hell out of the way, the amount of damage points a hard strike is good for will be enough to overpower my stamina and crush me altogether.  That pretty much means I’ll be knocked down, and while I’m down, he can whack me again (ergo: instant death).

 

The interesting thinga bout this game in a sense is that you have to learn about the weapon interactions.  There is no single best weapon– it’s highly situational, depending on the opponent you face, as well as your environment.

Then and Now

“So, do you feel especially wiser?” asked [Campbell], as we dug into the Black Forest birthday cake that [CM] bought for me.

“Well, I didn’t really expect to be in Australia at 30,” I said.  Life takes a lot of strange turns that you don’t really expect like that. That’s probably indicative of something, that new things keep on happening.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I’ve been talking to a few people lately about birthdays and stuff.  [DilligentB] theorises that guys tend to not make a big deal about their birthdays for whatever reasons– she doesn’t think that they necessarily fear or feel opposed to getting older any more than women do, it’s just that women think that birthdays are happy events that should be celebrated while guys just ‘don’t want to make a big deal out of it.’  [CM], I think, is in that camp that thinks that birthdays should be a big thing.

Over the past few days leading up to my birthday, CM has tried very hard to make it memorable– we’ve gone out eating, I got an awesome present, we’ve spent time just wandering around downtown Sydney together, we even went hunting for the perfect black forest cake.  To CM, she considers it part of her so-called “girlfriend duties” to make sure that I know it’s my birthday.

I don’t mind all the attention I guess; it’s nice to feel that people care, despite everything.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

When I was young, like up to college, I think birthdays were a ‘bigger’ thing for my close friends and I. They were different times. Age meant something very different.

In large part, my understanding of the world in my college years was highly characterised by competitive martial arts and badminton.  When I was in high school, I was never really active in any physical activities– truth be told, in early high school and elementary, I was a weakling, more prone to being the bullee than the bully.  I used to have asthma problems, and I rationalized not making the soccer or volleyball team when I tried in my senior years.  I went in the more ‘academic’ route of music instead, putting all my energy into the high school band, which was my life back then.

In elementary school?  I was the typical homebody, mal-adjusted Asian kid in a predominantly Itallian neighbourhood.  Booksmart, but twig thin.  Because I was not good for soccer (despite that I loved to play), schoolyard cred was pretty low.

 

It was when I was about 18 that I started doing Jeet Kune Do at the suggestion of my parents.  They were going for a walk in my hometown of LaSalle when they saw a class being held at an aerobics studio.  I don’t know why my mom ever agreed to it– she’s the kind of person who in reality is so opposed to any sort of violence that she must have thought that martial arts was all about movie-type wuxia practice, because she never would have agreed to the kinds of things I would eventually train.  But in any case, it was a major turning point for me in life.  It was there that I met [P-Chan], the instructor, and he gave me a lot of important initial views on life, challenges, and transitions.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Starting off in Jeet Kune Do opened up several doors to me.  P-Chan introduced me to the writings of Bruce Lee.  Most remember him just as an B-movie kung-fu flic icon, but he was also a philosophy major, and wrote extensively (and more importantly, in English) about the relationship between martial spirit and life.  The drive to improve oneself through martial arts, to seek the right questions, to become one with one’s body to the point where the body knows better than the mind what to do– all these sorts of things were feelings that I’d never experienced before.

Over the years, I trained in various martial arts.  From JKD, I moved on to kickboxing.  From kickboxing, I moved to a more freestyle form of standup fighting, which would eventually be put to the anvil of the Dawson Martial Arts club where I got my first tastes of opponents from karate, judo, brazillian jujitsu, capoeira, aikdo, etc…. and then I started training more as a mixed martial artist, learning techniques as I went.

 

There were periods where I would ‘quit’ martial arts due to injuries, and ironically, that’s when I started playing badminton.  I say ironically, because the main reason I started badminton was that I needed a gentle, recreational sport that was easy on my body.  In fact, badminton was almost just as rough on my body as mixed martial arts, although in different ways.  The rotator cuff, wrist, elbow, and knee injuries are testament to that.

 

The thing was, by the time I started badminton, I had so much fighting spirit in me that I could no longer do anything except at 105%.  More accurately, perhaps it wasn’t fighting spirit– it was more like something manifest of rage.  When I was in college and undergrad, I had so many made up reasons to be angry about life.  Martial arts and badminton gave me a channel to purge and make use of this rage, and I felt rewarded in how the channeling of this boundless energy gave me results that casual practitioners didn’t “naturally” know how to tap.  It meant that it took that much more to beat me down in a round of sparring.  It meant that if I had to pull a superman dive to get that bird that nobody thought I could get, I would be there.  Because, while the world made no sense, sparring and badminton did.

 

You can definately see how important those events are to me if you took a look at my resume.  I’ve opened up and run several martial arts and badminton groups, and I’ve even spent a fair amount of time coaching people in both.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

As injuries stockedpiled over the years, the reason why birthdays were important during college and undergrad were because another birthday was sort of like: “Wow, can you believe it?  We’re not dead yet.  That’s pretty fucking amazing.”  Every year was an attempt to top the past, and see how far we could push it.

 

Some of my favourite injuries were [RTB] getting an axe kick in the eye.  [Terminator] once accidentally blocked a side kick with only his thumb.  I had my spine cranked out once due to a rear-naked choke with hooks and I didn’t tap out fast enough– the result was that I couldn’t walk properly for a week.  Ah, the glory days.

I think I was at my most fit either during the peak of MMA training, or when I was doing black-belt testing for taekwondo while in South Korea.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

However, I think, if I had to think about it, the worst injury, and also the one that changed my view on life, was when I came back to Montreal 2.0.  I had joined a taekwondo dojang, and during warmups, I suffered a pretty severe back injury.

 

Given that it was during warmups, and not even during actual combat, I think it was a major blow for me psychologically.  It was one of the major hints that “you’re not as young as you used to be.”

 

-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Somewhere, since then, I think birthdays have come to represent simply “getting older.”  True, I do feel a bit wiser maybe from year to year.  I’m really, truly blessed to have constant chances at living different lives all around the world and doing different things.  I really consider it a privilege to be out here in Australia studying law right now, especially given how I’ve lived so many fulfilling lifetimes of different experiences even up to now.

But those are the mental aspects.

 

As someone whose motivations and drives in life are deeply rooted in physical development as much as mental and spiritual, getting older means more frequent reiterations that my joints aren’t as good as they were, that I’m not as fast as I used to be.  So what’s there to celebrate?

 

-=-=-=-=-=-

Over the past few days leading up to my brithday, CM and I have been talking a lot about my stance on birthdays, and I think I’ve come to actually be a bit more accepting of the idea as a result.  I don’t accept ageing very well, to be honest– I don’t want to get older.  Never did.  I always want to be young.  All the experiences I’ve had only tell me that there’s so much more to the world than I can ever see, and the limited amount of time I have on this planet to see all those things saddens me.

But what being with CM is gradually getting through my thick skull is that it’s not all about going full tilt at all times– there are finer things that result with experience that I couldn’t possibly have appreciated when I was younger.  Basically, not everything was great when I was younger, so it’d be inaccurate to retrospectively glorify it categorically as ‘better times.’

On the contrary: if I really look at things, I’m at a great time in my life.  In fact, it is the best time of my life– and that’s how it should be, with only things to look forward to, and only insight and experience to look back on.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I can’t change the fact that I’m going to continue to get older.  I can’t change the fact that that will have a direct consequence on my ability to engage in physical activities that I care about.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

What I can change is what I appreciate about things.   And it’s a necessity– ageing is almost like the “greiving” process, in that at a certain point, when you start realising that it’s  a “problem,” you need to eventually move on to that stage of “acceptance.”

 

 

Today, I turn 30.  It’s a huge freaking number, and unfortunately, it’s not the biggest number either– it only gets worse from here on. 

 

But that’s not all there is to me.  To answer Campbell’s question, do I feel wiser?   Not always– but little by little, I’m learning to accept my limitations.  The hard part, of course, is phrasing such an acceptance as something other than a negative thing.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

I realise I’m a stubborn man though.  I also realise that for all my idealism about physical development, it’s just that: idealism.  Nobody says that that’s the golden rule, and it’s not true that I’m even consistently dedicated to it.

 

My tactic, this year, will be to simply switch my physical activities to something I’ve never done before.  That way, I can appreciate developing an activity ‘new’ and get that feeling of constantly having my body learn, without knowing so much about the activity to be able to compare my current performance with past performance.  Basically, I’m going to try something new, so that without precedent, I can really feel that I’m learning and going forward.

 

That means that I’m mostly hanging up my gloves for competitive MMA or stand-up fighting.  This thursday, I begin Judo.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

This is not a mid crisis decision– I’ve been talking to [Zanshin] and [Terminator] about wanting to take up Judo for years.  It’s a very different game from the brazillian jujitsu that I’m used to, and I have no doubt that I’m going to get my ass totally kicked when I go out there.  But it’ll be fun, I’m sure.

I think that as I learn this new thing, it’ll be an opportunity to really rediscover myself and figure out my philosophy of life for the next decade.