dal niente

Month: March, 2013

Royal Easter Show

[CM] and I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show on sunday. That was a nice break from the everyday school life!  Part of the attraction was that there was a dog show– so we got to see several dozen dashunds.  One day, we will get a couple of them as pets.


I’ve never had a dog before, so to me, thinking about it is one of those things that gets me through tough days.


I wrote an email to my father a couple of weeks ago, in response to him asking me for advice.  I think that was the first time he ever explicitly asked me for advice.  I mean, he wasn’t just asking me to do something, or asking me to explain something to him– he was asking me for what I thought about something.  It was a question about work– more specifically, about stress.


My answer was that there are two kinds of stress– good stress and bad stress.  Good stress is the kind of stuff that challenges you and gives you a chance to be a better person in some way.  I mean, it lets you develop a skill or a character trait or something so that at the end of the day, you’ll be more of a man or woman than you were when you woke up.  On the other hand, bad stress is the sort of stress that doesn’t really have any point– it just makes you feel bad, nervous, and powerless.  Distinguishing between what kind of stress you’re dealing with will determine whether or not you should persevere, or say “fuck this shit” and get out before it hurts you.

He was asking me because he recently came out of retirement.  I think part of it is that he feels that he should be earning some money when the family is taking out loans to pay off my law schooling– although in reality, he knows that with my mom’s salary, the family earns roughly the same after taxes whether he works or not.  His initial problem was that, at his new job at a bike shop as a mechanic, he was having a bit of a hard time getting adjusted.  The person who is showing him the ropes only speaks Spanish and French.  I never realised it before, but my dad is pretty unsecure about himself when it comes to certain situations– he’s a real perfectionist, so in areas where he knows what he’s doing, he’ll want to get every detail just right.  The problem? Is that when it comes to learning something new, he feels discouraged easily when he can’t get it right from the bat.


Anyway, I told him to figure out which kind of stress he was dealing with, because he was thinking about quitting.  In the end, he decided that what he was feeling was good stress– at his age, it was good to be challenging himself and finding something to do outside of the house.  And I’m glad for that.


 I think that as I was growing up, I was so busy dealing with the stress of growing up that I never noticed really the kind of stress that my parents went through to raise me.  Nowadays, I find myself trying to shoulder more and more of the family concerns, even if that means trying to find roundabout ways to do things just because I’m halfway across the world from them.

The distance, though, helps me see things in a new light– in a sense, before, I was focusing on trees and not seeing the forest.  In a lot of ways, being in Australia has made me learn a lot about my parents, and how I am a product of their teachings– it has also let me learn a lot about myself and the reasons why I am the way I am.



Despite giving my dad advice about stress, I find that it’s an easy observation to make– but it’s difficult to always make the right choices.  For example, despite knowing what kinds of stress [CM] and I are going through, there are situations where we’re just undergoing bad stress due to school, but it’s unavoidable– we can’t quit.  You might argue that schooling is good in the long run, and I agree– but at the same time, there are pragmatically situations where the administration of the schooling process is simply abusive towards students in ways that serve no purpose.  These are situations that are attached to the status of being in school that do not make us better people, they just demoralise and degrade us. This is an institutional problem, I think– and in this sort of situation, the only real way of us dealing with it is to endure it and to get it all over with as soon as possible, and do damage control.

Wild Eyes

I coughed a bit, clearing my throat painfully.  He outweighs me by around 10 kilograms, and he’s in my guard– I’m on my back.  And I’m not sure what he’s trying to do, but it is uncomfortable, even if it isn’t very effective at making me tap out.

“You’re not… doing anything,” I manage to say through my teeth, grit tightly on my mouthguard.

“What?” He can’t understand me through my mouthguard.

“[Matahachi], punching me in the throat isn’t a valid judo move!”

“This is a valid strangle!” he says, without the slightest  sign of relenting.

He’s on one knee with the other knee up, so it’s hard for me to pivot my guard around him.  His weight is pretty solid– I can’t seem to get him off me, and he’s trying to stack me at the same time.  I’ve got a pretty flexible back, but I’m out of position and the weight difference is making it difficult for me to get away.  So I’m stuck in this stalemate situation where one of his fists, wrapped in the collar of my gi, is pushing down straight into my throat.  I’m still new at judo, so I don’t actually know for sure whether it’s a valid move or not– but all he seems to want to do is rest all his weight on my goddam throat, which seems like a pretty dick move.  I thought if it was supposed to be a strangle, it should be going for my carotid arteries somehow?



In the past few weeks, what started off as white belt camraderie with Matahachi back when I started judo at the November has started turning foul.  The thing is, he’s the closest opponent in the dojo to my weight size, so I often end up paired with him.  Basically, my problem with him is that I hate his softness– he’s too afraid to follow through with techniques because he’s afraid of hurting his partners, and on the other hand, he’s too afraid of being thrown.  At this stage, he should loosen up a bit.  I’ve tried to be supportive.  I daresay that I have been more supportive of him than anyone else in the gym, because I go out of my way to give him a chance.  In many ways, I recognise in him a lot of the insecurities I had when I started out martial arts– a lot of them have to do with the natural aversion to pain.  As a kid, I wasn’t into many contact sports– so overcoming the fear of pain was a huge hurdle for me.  I did get over it though, and learned that martial arts isn’t just about eating pain or dishing it out– it’s about a technical and strategic conditioning that help you prevent it.  Not just preventing your own injury– but the injury of others at your hands.


But he hasn’t come even close to figuring any of this out.  He’s out of touch with his own body.  Almost half a year into training, he still doesn’t have the confidence to attempt cartwheels of breakfalls from handstands or jumps.  As a result, it’s very difficult to learn techniques with him.  When it’s your turn to throw him, he holds on or tries to resist a throw so adamantly that you can never get a feel for how it’s supposed to feel.  I mean, for the most part, anyone can counter a technique if they can see it coming.  And that’s what he tries to do when we’re practicing– he doesn’t want to be thrown, so he’ll hip block, sidestep, and just generally resist the technique to the point where partnering with him is just kind of useless.  On the other hand, when I am being thrown by him, I’m usually quite compliant– the whole point of being a good partner is to help your partner to learn.  It doesn’t always mean throwing yourself for them, but it means being compliant enough so that they can feel what a throw will feel like if everything goes right.

Matahachi didn’t advance to yellow belt with [JJT] and I, and I think that the fact that some of the blues and greens are constantly picking on Matahachi doesn’t help his confidence.  One of the blue belts last week was literally standing on Matahachi last week.  I mean, Matahachi was doing some stretches when a blue belt literally walked up to him, and then onto him.  When some of the oranges told the blue to stop being so mean, the blue said simply: “I’ll stop when he tells me to get off.  But he won’t.  I’m waiting for him to say it.”

Now, I was bullied a lot as child.  When I was in elementary school though.  Not when I was 24+ years old.  But nonetheless, I worry that Matahachi is perhaps too much of a coward for his own good at his age.


WHen we were groundfighting, and Matahachi was actually trying to drive his fist through my throat by basically leaning all 75-80kgs of himself into it, I saw a wildness in his eyes– he was in a dominant position, and I saw that he was, perhaps unconsciously, actually trying to hurt me.  This is different from the determination of a martial artist who is trained and precise in their violence– these are the eyes of an animal, cornered and as willing to take off your limbs as they are their own if they believe it is their only opportunity to survive. 

If I were someone who hadn’t done a lot of grappling against heavier, stronger opponents like Terminator, I might actually have been hurt too.  So, there really wasn’t that much of a danger– I just thought it rather scary how for a moment, someone who normally has no rage or bloodlust could suddenly rev into the redline.


But there is no doubt– in a different circumstances, some of his less accustomed opponents, and even Matahachi himself, might not realise how dangerous this is.  My question is– what do we do with people like that?


They have no self confidence, and they live fearfully.  But when they see an opportunity, they lash out.  They manifest all the rage as an extreme overreaction to all that pent up angst.  If I had actually tapped out against that ‘technique’– would he have immediately stopped, I wonder?


And when the instructor’s voice boomed that it was time to switch partners, I saw the wildness receed from his eyes, as if he was coming out of a trance, almost as if he was unsure of what he was just doing.

What do you do with someone who doesn’t realise his own wild eyes?

Flying Step

On Sunday, I was still a bit sick but decided to push through it and try playing at the University of Sydney badminton club.  One of the med school people that I play with, [JZ], said that he’d gone once last year, and seemed a bit reluctant that we go to play there because “they’re pretty strong.” Well, I went, and won something like 8/10 or 9/11 of my matches (losing the last two mostly because I was getting really tired), including where I played mixed doubles against male doubles. /shrug.  They weren’t that tough.

It was nice to be able to play in this kind of environment though.  The problem with [CM]’s group of badminton players is that they’re all friends with eachother.  Not that having friends is a problem– that’s not what I mean.  It’s just that although they all want to get better, there’s no one in the group who really has that “killing intent” that you get when you play among strangers.  Basically, when they play against eachother, they’re too soft– and that kind of play doesn’t do much to prepare them for the real world of badminton.

Despite doing really well in the games I did manage to play, there was clearly an ‘upper crust’ of the club that I didn’t get to play much– about 8-10 (out of the 50 or so people at the gym in total) players or so who were really good.  I unfortunately didn’t get to play them very much because I didn’t have a partner, and it’s hard to challenge the top dogs when you’re the odd man out.  But alas, it’s not a big deal– they gave me a good run for my money. I had to dig up old techniques that I haven’t had to use in the casual badminton I’ve been playing lately, like some jump smashes, fei-bo (“flying step”), and other things… it was, overall, a very nostalgic feeling to activate these techniques.

The level at the Sydney club was just right for me to shake off a lot of the rust, but I did notice some differences.  For one, my right shoulder is much stronger than it used to be, the last time I was playing badminton.  I think the thing was that the last time I was playing competitively (probably around 2006), I was overusing my shoulder to the point where it was starting to show up as some form of chronic rotator cuff damage.  Now, my shoulder has had a fair amount of time to heal up (yeah, 7 years is pretty good for a rehab period).  Doing martial arts doesn’t use my shoulder in the same ways, and if anything, doing judo has probably helped me strengthen it somewhat.

On the other hand, I noticed that a lot of the footwork actually hurts the balls of my feet.  In particular, using “flying step” to get those hard to reach birds is particularly taxing on my left foot– which I guess is a sign that my 7+ year old badminton shoes are probably due for retirement.  I also found that a lot of the sharpness of my reflexes for cutting smashes and drives while right at the net have gone down, although that’s also partly because my MP77 is a singles “sledgehammer” racket that is a bit heavy for high speed doubles.

That said, playing on Sunday really got my blood pumping.  It was fun to play under conditions where my body was more or less in good form– it was like rewinding the clock and stepping onto a court back in time when I first started playing badminton more seriously at Dawson College and eventually at the YMCA in Montreal Chinatown.  While I’m now three decades old, the people at the club are all about the same age as I was when I started playing badminton.  As such, they have youth on their side– incredible stamina, flexibility, and greed!

I’m being pretty frank when I say that as I am now, most of the players there outclass me in terms of sheer physical ability.   However, what I definitely felt I had going for me were the things that I had developped over the years, both on and off courts– mental toughness, fighting spirit, analytical ability, and perhaps most importantly, sadism.

That last part there is what I mean by killing intent– it’s a side of me that I can’t use when playing friendly matches against friends because, as much as I critisize others for being too soft, I am the same– I don’t play [CM] and her friends the way I do strangers.  So being in ennemy territory?  It’s a nice feeling– because it’s a dojo bust, and you don’t care what casualties get in your way.  It’s a delicious feeling when both of your opponents stumble to their knees because they completely misjudged a drop shot when they thought it would be an attack clear.  It’s delicious when you give someone the smash, just to do a light counter to the net because you know that their feet won’t even be on the ground yet.


Yes, I know, I’m a terrible person for picking on people who are less experienced than I am, and I am getting a little big headed from the experience– but sue me.  I think I’ve earned the right to savour this sort of success, given how much I used to suffer for badminton ten years ago.


Perhaps on some level, this is why I enjoy shonen tales so much.  I know I keep bitching about how classic animes like Naruto, Bleach and Hajime no Ippo shaped my way of approaching challenges– but even before that, there was Ranma 1/2, and if nothing else, Ranma was about the madness of adapting to constant challenges.  It was about suffering bitter defeats and trying desparately to figure out what could be done to get revenge.


I remember when I first started trying to play badminton seriously, there were so many things I was bad at.  Actually, to put it more succinctly– there was nothing I was good at, except that I had a high tolerance for nausea from running my cardio to the limits.  I hit backhand shots two handed (like tennis).  I ran from corner to corner as if I was on the track team.  I did net shots two handed as well, because I couldn’t control my racket well enough one handed.  But through years of it– and I mean, years of being beaten, and winning, only to find there were always people stronger, and that every division of competition I ever succeded at had another higher level– I just learned some tricks along the way.  I remember the great joys of winning, but I very much also remember the great pains of losing– especially when I was captaining my RsM team.


It is, without a doubt, a nice feeling that I have come so far in  this sport, even if it’s just a modest amount compared to really serious players.  I guess I’m just happy that I started off as a total nobody who nobody at the courts would give the time of day to to who I am now– which is the guy with the outdated racket (my 77 is considered vintage now for sure, compared to new racket technology), the ugly shoes (out of style by todays standards, even if so much of them weren’t scuffed right off), the knee brace, elbow brace, wrist brace and headband that is kicking the asses of people five or ten years younger than me.


It’s a good feeling.  During some of the matches, I found that the hostility of my opponents had awakened something within me.  I was shouting, the way I did in competitions– “GO!” “Got it!” “NICE ONE!” “Back up!” “Nice save!”  “DON’T WORRY, WE GOT THIS!”


Earlier tonight, I was wrapping an overgrip on one of my spare rackets.  I don’t have many rackets with me here in Sydney– 5 only actually, of which the 77 is my best racket here.  The 77 was my first serious combat racket when I was trying to get better at singles.  I have an MP55 as well, which isn’t a great racket, but it was my first good racket, and I keep it for sentimental value mostly.  I also have a couple of others– the first racket I ever bought for myself, and the first racket I ever bought when I opened up RsM.  So it’s mostly a sentimental collection that isn’t great for modern doubles badminton.  But still– working on equipment, doing simple things like wrapping the grip?  It’s a zen feeling.  It’s like taking a whetstone to a blade– it’s an easy process in theory, repetitive and simple, but small details of the process customise the racket so that when you hold it, without seeing it, you feel its an extension of your willpower, and not just some rusty unloved loaner that someone passed to you.


Sometimes, I miss the days when [Vittek] and I would be standing at a metro stop, bundled to our ears in winter clothes, with our huge badminton bags over our shoulders.  The weight on our backs was comforting.  There were always more rackets in my bag than I needed, more everything than I needed– it just felt nice to have this subscribe to this cult of badminton memorobilia that gave you court cred whenever you were out being a vagrant at some new gym.


I think that when I started off playing badminton, like many other things, I did it to be more like Vittek.  But since then, I think I’ve managed to love the sport because I’ve made it my own.

One Thing After Another

So, managed to fix the email system.  Turns out that for some reason, the DNS settings had been reset to defaults– just had to point them in the right directions and then everything was fine after a few hours of resolving.


I caught a cold somehow (I say this is strange, because it’s summer in Australia).  Because of this, I’ve missed out on a couple of judo opportunities and a badminton opportunity.  Worse still, [CM] got sick as well– and for all the stress of med school, it’s just 23478% worse when you’re also sick.  But that’s not all.

I got her some medicine from the pharmacy– cough syrup and some aspirin basically.  She’s apparently never had aspirin in her life.  Then for some reason, she had an allergic reaction!! To be honest, I was pretty scared, despite knowing form experience that as long as the airway is good, it’s not too big a deal.  Her eyes were swelling up and all red, looking like she was in the 9th round of a heavyweight boxing match. There wasn’t so much swelling that she couldn’t see, but her eyes were only about half as open as they normally were. Thankfully we had some antihistamines, which slowed the process down a bit.  No throat swelling either.  But it was very uncomfortable, and even now, about 24 hours later, there’s still a bit of swelling (although it’s mostly gone).


Man, when life gets you down, it really tries to finish you off.

Back in School

Looking at the way that law has developed in Australia, there is no way to describe the process other than evolution. Normally, I’d use “evolution” pretty interchangeably with other words like “progress” or “development,” but in the strictess sense, law does evolve in the ways that Darwin talked about.


By that, I mean that if you look at the text of caselaw, you really do get to see how some creatures of law are trying to develop to effectively compete and gain popularity. Those that don’t adapt through iteration and reiteration? Dominance one day may be so affected by a single change in environment that the creature dies off suddenly.


The strengths of law are the precedents and reasoning used– but of course, the finesse is about coming out with the winning interpretation and focus, because there’s always more than one answer to the question. Whether or not we even arrive at the preferable view is itself up for debate– the important thing is to arrive at a convincing view. There’s a slight difference there that leads to an application of the law that doesn’t always set quite right with our inherent moral judgments.


Sometimes, you end up an evolutionary decision– those so called “landmark” cases that decide which evolutionary branches will persist, and which will be pruned.




Monday was the first day of school. I found the Law Society office for the first time. It’s basically a giant storage closet with a table at the centre, and a telephone. The telephone, I might add, is a huge ressource, because I don’t have a landline and paying by the minute is akin to giving a blood transfusion.


As the IT Director for Law Soc, you’d think that I have a lot of in depth programming knowledge about all things computer. The truth is, I don’t– I was originally applying for an editor’s position for one of the Law Society’s publications. When the administration reviewed my resume, they thought I’d be more suited for the IT position because nobody else had comparable experience (read: the one eyed man is king among the blind) so here I am.


On Monday, it came to my attention by word of mouth that the Law Society’s email system had broken somehow. Which, really, for a first day back to school, is quite the disaster. LawSoc deals with a lot of sponsorships and events, which for the purposes of record keeping means we rely on electronic mail for 99% of our communications. LawSoc has something like 10 divisions cheifs with another 5-10 people under each devision as well, and they’re all trying to coordinate electronically. Throw out email?


Ironically, I didn’t know there was a problem– because nobody emailed me. (And there I was, thinking that it was just a quiet weekend for once.)


The main challenge of the position is that there is no documentation from my predecessors. This is problematic for three reasons. The first is that any coding that was done for the website, specifically javascript bits, is a bit hard to follow. Some of the code gets pretty long (there are no comments in the code anywhere!) Secondly, especially when you’re using pre-programed websites with a lot of modular functions, there are often more built in functions than you actually need to use. This means that when it comes time to get something done, you have more than one way of getting it done, which is a problem– if you don’t know what specific methods your predecessors have been using, chosing the “wrong” method may lead you into problems with consistency and backwards compatibility with old data, because those procedures might not handle the information in the same way. And finally, no handover means that things such as administrator passwords and stuff are just not there. This is probably one of the biggest fundamental problems.


Solution? How do you fix a broken communications network without being trained to do your job? Well, it’s not perfect, but from access to one senior account, I’ve had to break into other administrator accounts and do a document discovery of sorts– basically, trawling old emails for any information. I’m basically reverse engineering policies based on evidence of practice. It’s not perfect, and it’s time consuming, but this is what’s taking my time lately.

Your Kung Fu Is Stlong

Imagine if some of the big philosophical/social issues influences all had superior martial arts skills.  What would they be like as kung-fu masters?







Back to School

Today is the first day of classes for me for this semester.  I have 3 classes only, since I took one during summer.  Hopefully this will allow me to balance some reasonable quality of life into things.

The major media company I work for part time, Fairfax, is apparently having some financial woes– my department at the Sydney building was relocated to temporary mobile “pods,” meaning we’re working on laptops in other departments, and no longer have a dedicated physical department of our own.  Our previous space is being sublet to Google, in order to get some money back.

Interesting times.

Google was, to me, an internet messiah when it started developing all of it’s initial services.  Now, its services are so pervasive that it’s hard to imagine what things would be like without Google. Things I use Google services for:

  1. My personal email
  2. My Law Society email, my Baduk Club email
  3. Many of my personal documents (Google Drive) as well as many of the Law Soc and Baduk Club documents
  4. Calendars for all of the above
  5. Website Analytics for the National Children’s Youth Law Centre (to determine traffic trends and stuff)
  6. My Android phone (contacts, photo backup, etc)
  7. Adminstrative features for Law Soc (managing other peoples’ lawsoc accounts, calendars, etc)

In short, there’s a shitload of information of mine and of others that Google has access to.

Ominous? Unavoidable? Dangerous…?