dal niente

Tag: experience

Show me the Money

I am decidedly tired of being a student, especially when it comes to learning things that I really don’t need to know for future work or being a useful member of society. I find that doing any sort of studying, researching or writing for school is simply aggravating– moreso because I’ve worked before undergoing this postgrad course.  And now that I work pretty consistently in legal practice, I’m way more challenged at work anyhow.  I’m doing essentially all the work of a lawyer– but I have to tough out the “education” because I need a practicing certificate before I can actually be paid the salary of a lawyer.  So that means that while I’m actually learning the useful stuff on the job, I continue to learn and research mostly useless stuff at school, and I have to keep on paying them to force me to complete the most irrelevant sorts of busywork.

You can just tell when you’re writing papers for school that the professor is just crowdsourcing their own research goals onto a class full of students.

Tertiary education is just one big mafia-style protection racket.

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The Interview

The interview for the training contract has come and gone.  The interview lasted about almost an hour and a half.  How did I do?

Well, at the end of the day, it depends largely on how my peers did as well, so I don’t really know.  I do know that I was specifically being asked certain types of questions just to see how I would react.  One of the topics that came up as a random “world issues” issue was the recent trouble the NSA has been getting into.

Somehow, the most difficult question was for me to convince them that I really wanted to be a lawyer, given that I had a background in public healthcare and things that are normally more condusive of social justice types of law.

Well, I guess we’ll see how it turns out. You never know.

The Internship, Continued

Some scattered thoughts follow about the Internship in Hong Kong so far.

 

First of all– work culture here is intense.  Reminds me of South Korea.  I’m reminded that, from a professional point of view, Sydney is a pretty relaxed place, comparatively speaking.

Week 2 of the internship has come and gone.

I haven’t blogged much about anything in the past 3 weeks because, as I mentioned the last time I wrote about the Internship, it’s just been madness.

 

The two weeks that I spent working in the Intellectual Property department were really good though.  As of Monday, I’ve moved on to my second rotation in the Banking department.

 

The two weeks in IP were really something.  I had the opportunity to do some real work—actually, so much so that it was a bit scary.  Although day one was just a day full of orientation presentations (how to use a photocopier, who’s who in the zoo, etc) day two was like Normandy.  Within a few hours of my day beginning, I was buried under work that I had little or no idea how to do.  And this continued until my last day in the department, when I stayed two and a half hours after the normal check-out time.

It was very stressful, yet at the same time, kind of rewarding.  The scary thing about the situation is that unlike my work in any other legal firm or NGO so far, I was treated as the last line of defense for everything I did.  I think that was something that, frankly, I wasn’t used to in a legal workplace.  In Sydney, I always had someone who double checked my work and filled in the gaps—Hong Kong? It’s really been a high standard.  Big things have been expected of me, and this was daunting at first—but because of the trust they put in me, I was able to really learn a thing or two and get my hands dirty.

During my performance review, as well as a conversation I had with the trainee solicitor who was in charge of most of my work, I was given some very useful feedback.

“I tell trainees, it’s like a game of tennis.  Except that you can never let the other person score.  That means that you never have the luxury of missing a ball, and you can never hit the ball out.  It’s different from university because in university, if you get it 80% right, that’s already good—clients don’t want to be missing 20% of the story.”

 

I have an interview on Thursday.  This is basically stage…. 6?… Of the hiring process.  I already completed stage 1 and 2, which were phone interviews while I was still in Sydney.  Stage 3, I would say, was the first rotation.  Stage 4 was a 10 minute presentation I delivered yesterday on a topic of my choice to solicitors.  Stage 5 is my rotation here in Banking.  6 will be a formal interview by HR, and two partners.  And stage 7 is a “group training exercise,” which will be me in a room with the other 4 interns, solving a hypothetical problem scenario. 

 

It’s all very “Survivor” if you ask me. HR tells us that it’s not a competition… but who really, among the interns, believes that?  Image is everything in these situations.  They offer something like 8 contracts per year max, and they have a new batch of interns every couple of months. While it might not be explicit, you know that doing well all around all the events is really quite important.

 

As far as the presentation went, I think I did pretty well. The other interns did subjects on a pretty wide range of subjects—the other ones were: how to cook a perfect steak; phobias; social media versus connection; raising children in an internet age.  I did mine on mortality, referring to some of my work in healthcare.  Good old hospital work– always good for a conversation starter.

 

I’ve realised over the past semester that I’ve really come to try and manage my time for maxium efficiency of results.  I’ll actually sacrifice doing something better (when I objectively know that I can do it better) if I think that time can be spent doing something else with a bigger return on my time.  Presentation-wise, that’s what happened– I know that I can create a pretty killer PowerPoint presentation, but instead opted to use less slides and less effects and work more on delivery.  It worked out pretty well– I basically gave a 10 minute speech without looking up.  Only tripped 3 times, but the audience wouldn’t know anyway.

 

While I guess prioritisation is a useful thing, what I need to keep in mind though is that now that this is the big leagues, I need to make sure that what needs to be 100% perfect actually is 100% perfect.

 

 

Throughout my work, I felt like it was a constant struggle to work towards the completion of tasks, balancing accuracy with deadlines.  My performance review reflected it—get the accuracy 100% right.  You’ll probably get better at the deadlines with due course.  However, my superiors don’t have time to check my work, so it’s important that I take ownership over giving them finished products at all times.  “Ownership” is going to be my personal mantra for the rest of the time I have here.

I started gradually seeing this as my time went on in the department. Consultants and partners were asking me, bluntly: “do you think we will win on this issue?” And they didn’t want me to sit on the fence and consider both sides like I do to get my grades in university.  They wanted me to give them a flat out answer to take to the client, right then, right there.  They were asking me for my legal opinion.  They were treating me as if my opinion mattered.

 

I realised early on in the internship that that’s actually quite frightening, as all true responsibility or accountability is.

 

Mind you—it was a rought start, but I started getting better at it.  By the time I finished IP, I think I had a grip on getting things mostly right in process, and just how my work fits into the grand scheme of things.  I got the chance to work on an incredible range of tasks that I had no idea went on behind the scenes in an area of law that I thought (wrongly) would be very straightforward and transactional in nature.

 

I’m glad I decided to take up law.

Fortress of the Will

I don’t remember if I mentioned, but a couple of weeks ago at judo, I took a bad fall in judo.  My opponent was a good 40 pounds lighter than me (a bit under 20kg lighter) and at least a foot shorter than me.  He attempted a one-arm shoulder throw, ippon seoi nage.  This is one of the classic basic throws of judo– my opponent spins around in front of me with control of my right sleeve or lapel using his left arm, hooks his right arm under my right armpit, and does a forward twisting motion that should theoretically cast me over his right shoulder in a high arc, with me flipping forward and landing on my back.

 

There’s a few components to a throw– the first is the off-balancing of the opponent; the second is the entry to get your body into position for the throw (usually placing yourself in a good fulcrum position); and finally, the execution of the throw.

 

My pretty good for the first two elements– but execution of the throw is where it went all wrong.  Instead of him sending me over his back and flipping over him, he lost his balance halfway through execution.  The result was that I half side-dodged to avoid his throw, but at the same time, was half sprawled over him as we fell, because he didn’t let go of my arm.  Normally in a competition situation, this would be a failed throw because I didn’t land on my back or on my side.  But regardless, the way we fell with him still hanging on to my arm, I wasn’t able to break my fall.

Imagine doing a one armed right handed pushup– now imagine both of your legs are pointing about 30 degrees upwards, instead of towards the floor.  And then imagine that the vector of your force is forward, as if you are about to plow the ground with your face.  Now imagine that your left hand can’t help you (it’s blocked by his body) and that you can’t really chose how to absorb your impact with your right arm (because he’s got it locked in with both of his) and there’s no angle for you to tuck your head and roll.  WHat happens in this situation?

 

Well, in my whole case, my whole body weight landed on my right arm, and the weakest link was somewhere in my shoulder.

 

From what I have manged to gather from my visit to the physio last week, and reading up on the subject, and having [CM] do various physical tests on me, my condition is more than likely known as a shoulder impingement due to some complaints of the supraspinatus tendon.  To give you an idea of what this entails practically, it’s difficult for me to find the strength to raise my right arm to scratch my left shoulder if my right elbow is shoulder height.  Anything where my right forearm is parallel to the ground and left to right in front of me is kind of difficult.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the motion is covered by other larger muscles– so if I move my arm quickly in one fluid motion, I can put my right arm in those positions I just mentioned.  However, if I do the motion slowly, I might find that I have a lot of difficulty doing it.  This is because the large muscles don’t engage for slow movements unless the brain feels they’re needed– and the brain usually only feels they’re needed for larger more quick motions.

 

 

Being the former hospital employee that I am with limited medical training, I’ve been doing what most people of my experience do when they think something is wrong– be a cyberchondriac about it, and spend a day self-diagnosing myself.  I’m really grateful for Youtube, actually– there’s a lot of information that’s so quickly available, and of a pretty high calibre quality, that is helping me understand my problem in ways that my physiotherapist just wasn’t all that good at explaining.  Getting the same information from several different perspectives makes it easier than just reading the one or two paragraphs of my flatmates’ highly technical medical textbooks.

 

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

 

I’m not sure how I feel about knowing what’s wrong with my shoulder though.  It will heal, no problem. It’ll take time.

 

But every time I get sick or injured, it’s just my habit: I feel mentally worn out.  I can say with a lot of confidence that I am a lot better at dealing with physical injuries and sickness than most people I know– I’m quite “tough” really.  But the fact of the matter is, I also go through a lot more injuries than the average person.  Which means that despite my higher level of physical activities, depending on how you evalutate “health” I may not be better off than the average person.

 

If we think of health in terms of biochemistry, body fat ratios and and cardiovascular endurance, then I suppose, yeah, I’m in great shape.

But if you were to think of health in terms of having a well-rounded body that is suited for all rounder use, I might actually score as unhealthy.  Acute injuries are one thing.  But I’ve got a pretty long list of in-between and downright chronic conditions, especially when it comes to joints.  This most recent supraspinatus injury is the most recent installment in a history of tears and strains to my right rotator cuff from all that badminton, especially when I was trying to improve my smash power.

 

I know that bumps and bruises are all part of growing up.  And it is true that a lot of my fellow orange belts in judo are mostly ten years younger than me.  But I have almost two decades of fighting experience at this point– and when this all started, I never would have suspected that it would all take so much of a toll on my body.

The experiences have been invaluable.  Both in terms of badminton and martial arts.  But having been able to train myself so hard in the past, I suppose it’s ridiculous that I’m only 31 years old and I feel like I’m reaching certain peaks in terms of physical condition.  Yes, I can improve on my mental game, on techniques and strategies– and I think, largely, this is what differentiates my style of judo from the other orange belts.  But I do not feel that my body is getting any stronger.  I mean, I’m certain I am getting stronger overal– but the weakest links in my physical strength are gradually getting worse.  I take an injury that shaves off 10 hit points from some part of me. I heal up and recover, but it only ever restores 9.9999 points.  Rinse and repeat.

 

I suppose my big gripe is that I have always believed in an interrelatedness between mind, body and spirit– but if the body starts to grow weak, where will I house my mind and spirit?

 

I’m probably getting ahead of myself though. I’ve still got a few more decades of ability left before I’m reduced to the  “average” person’s standards of physical wellness.  I don’t have to figure out how to deal with aging in just a day.

In It Till I Win It

Yesterday evening, while [CM] and I were taking a nap, I received an email.  It showed up in the notifications of my phone.  It basically said, thanks for your interest, but regretfully, your application for clerkship will unfortunately not be progressing further at this time.

Sorry, and good luck.

 

 

I’m all out of clerkship opportunities for this year.  Yes, that means game over.  I will not be getting a clerkship, and that’s all there is to it.

 

 

 

 

I went to judo after that to see if I could distract myself a bit, and that was an interesting experience: I was total crap.  I had no fight spirit and no focus.  Without those things, I was crap.  Normally, for the other people of my belt grade, they usually have superior physical stats in terms of speed, reflexes, strength and weight– the only way that I really take them on is through concentration and tenacity.

But I didn’t have any of that.  As a result, I felt myself constantly being simply overpowered.  People were breaking my position easily, my counters lacked sharpness, and I was burning through energy at an incredible rate that left me feeling totally gassed halfway through the practice.

 

At a certain point, when sparring with [Curt], I just had nothing left.

“I have no idea what you’re trying to do,” he said. I didn’t either.  I apologised, and excused myself, saying that I was just too exhausted.

 

I sat on the bench for the next round of randori, just catching my breath and pausing to think a bit.  It’s something I know about my own cycle of effectiveness– it ebbs and flows.  And at times, it goes from a total hurricane to a complete drought.

This was the drought.  It was the point at which everything about me felt parched and stagnant.  All that fire from that that self-motivation for months on end, it had burned away everything.  All that passion, all that desperation and “one last heave!” after another– it took away everything.

 

As I sat there on the bench, watching others fight, I felt sublimely empty.  Not so much like a car without gas– but as a big organic machine that had simply been dehydrated of all spirit.  No ordinary refuel could fix this.

 

I thought about this for a while.  Focused on my breathing.  Slowed down my heart a bit so that the sludge would flow more regularly.

In one sense, it’s back to square one.

 

I thought about the situation in judo.  Whenver a part of my life is totally out of my control and doesn’t make sense, then I try to solve it using parables from other aspects of my life.  Martial arts have always been one of the major sources for analogy, especially when it comes to reevaluating the causation between hard work and results.

And these are some of the things that  I figured out. 

  • No, I hadn’t managed to land a clerkship. 
  • In retrospect, it was simple arrogance that I would allow myself to expect a position in such a terrible market on the basis of my merits alone. 
  • While I am unique as an individual, my individuality can be broken down into proficiencies and experiences– and for the purposes of an HR department, there are plenty of people with similar proficiencies and experiences, in different combinations.  In that respect, my uniqueness doesn’t matter.  What matters more is their search for a particular blend that suits them.
  • One of the companies gave me a bit of feedback when I asked for it– they told me that I hadn’t demonstrated, as strongly as other candidates, that I was ready and willing to work with a majority of younger lawyers.  The implication was that because of my long work experience, I had come to develop a particular understanding of ways that I liked and didn’t like to work.  In that sense, their guess was that I would have more difficulty working with a team of young lawyers than someone who had no previous experience.
  • In the end, it means that I had much more realistic expectations, and that didn’t fit the bill– they wanted someone more malleable.
  • I don’t necessarily agree with that. ANd I probably never will.  But what I do need to understand is that I have to learn to play the game their way if I want to get a job.  That means, initially, that I have to sell myself as being able to play that game.
  • In a sense, experience became my handicap. I didn’t get feedback from the other firms, but maybe this is what they sensed– was that my experiences gave me certain expectations and a certain way of working.

All the above realisations came from a bit of a judo epiphany.  My attacks and my deffenses in judo are all thinking in two dimensions– well, lengths and widths of ground coverage, basically.  I try to tip people over me, trip them, sweep them, counter them… but what I realised was that the brown belts in the class had a completely different dimension.  Up.

From my experience in striking arts, up was never a useful direction to go.  The basic motions are forward, backwards, sideways, and circling (relative to the opponent).  And so all my mechanics in judo basically came from that understanding.

Then I realised, from looking from the sidelines, that the higher class judoka were using that third dimension, the vertical one.  On one hand, by using well timed sags in weight, they were making themselves unliftable.  Conversely, when an opponent could not be taken out with the first two planes of movement because they were blocking or dodging, they lifted their opponent’s feet off the ground.  And once in the air? Their opponents couldn’t use any footwork to dodge or block.

I think I always knew that an element of judo was lifting, but, until I got to step outside and watch it really closely I wan’t really able to see just how important it was.  In a sense, the realisation on that bench was that I would have to reconceptualise everything.  My past  experiences were actually what had prevented me from seeing this simple reality much sooner.

 

The truth of the matter is, the whole clerkships thing is a combination of two things– what they want, and who I am.  Both ends of those things are in flux.  The only thing that is really in my control is the thing in between– how I present myself.  But that depends on what I think they want. Sometimes, it’s not apparent because they don’t tell you– sometimes, they make you think you want one thing when really, they want another.

 

Depending on who is interviewing you, they’ll want different things, regardless of what the corporate values are.  I don’t think that it’s actually possible that there is a candidate who has “everything” and is “everything.”  There is just the persona that the interviewer and the interviewee compromise with, without breaking the fourth wall.

 

What the interviewr wants will change depending on the market conditions.  I looked up the stats for what I was applying for– ultimately, the actual offers made out of applications for all the firms that I applied to was literally between 1% for the smallest firm to 3% for the largest firm.  It’s a tough market.

 

But it’s not enough to say that it’s a tough market– in a sense, I am, and will continue to blame myself for not being among that 1%~3%.  That element I mentioned– being the difference between me and my experiences and the average recent graduate who had no previous work experinece– that could have been the thing that cost me.

So during the next year, I’m going to integrate it into my life to make sure that my experience doesn’t get in the way of me working with these “young lawyers.”  As with martial arts, all it is is practice, so that when the time comes, the performance comes naturally.

 

I’m moving on to plan B.

 

That means that clerkships are out.  This means that I have to apply directly for graduate positions next year.

 

It is a bit of a setback not to do this the “easy way,” but I am not out of options, and I am determined to fight for this all the way to the end.

Sic Parvis Magna

I recently finished playing Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It’s was a fantastic game overall. Gameplay was nothing out of the ordinary, but the world is beautifully crafted, the music is full and really gets the moods going, and the story is strongly character driven, yet over the top. It’s like living through the Indiana Jones movies of my youth.

Good things have been happening lately. I don’t really believe in knocking on wood, because I think that these good things are an intersection between hard work and luck. But maybe I should knock just in case? I got my fourth invitation to a first round interview a couple of days ago. That means that I have four chances at clerkships, which is pretty big, considering the market is pretty shitty right now. (Australia’s economy isn’t doing so well.) Mind you, interview are not a guarantee of anything. It’s just chances.

But perhaps that’s all I need.

In Uncharted, the protagonist of the story has an heirloom ring with an inscription: “sic parvis magma.” It roughly translates from Latin to “greatness from small beginnings.”

It made me think about how different I am from who I was in the past. I’ve sorted myself out in many ways. I’ve been doings things the way that I want. And yet, I’ve come to want good things for myself, as well as others. I think I’ve grown to be of stronger moral fibre, and having my foundations set right has let me make strong moves outwards into the world. I’ve learned to channel my energy and obsessiveness a bit better in socially acceptable ways, and in ways that benefit those around me as well. [CM] tells me that from studying clinical psychology, they call this practice “sublimation.”

I think that given lots of possibilities for different ways of doing things, it all started with making better choices in life.  I think that I am getting to that point where I have learned to apologise for the things I’ve done wrong, but I understand that feeling guilty about anything never helps– mostly what matters is moving forward.  It’s not that the ends always justify the means, but if it’s done, it’s done, and there ought to be some benefit derived from it. If you’ve done wrong by anyone, then either make it up to them, or at least gain something from the sacrifice you’ve made of them.

I was talking to CM recently about the entourages that we keep. I noted that I don’t hang around losers by choice anymore. At the same time, I don’t hang around people who are unhealthy for me. I think a lot of becoming who I am today has been about trimming the fat, and making conscious efforts to cut out bad habits– and that includes hanging around people with bad habits who will only drag me down. I had to learn to let go of the comforts of what were ultimately self-destructive behaviours. It was almost like a magic forumula– suddenly I had time to engage in the things that I really wanted to do, or at least, to fight in pursuit of what I wanted.

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

About a month ago, I was asked to give a welcoming speech to the new Juris Doctors. A JD is what you call law school graduates when you finish our particular postgrad degree. There were two faculty members who gave speeches, as well as another postgrad student who spoke at the event. There was a common theme to the speeches that they gave: this is a great school, this is a great opportunity, and you will have a great time.

My presentation was the last thing before we broke out the food and wine, but my message was somewhat different.

“You’ve heard a lot of things about services at this law school, like the LIbrary, Law Society, the teachers, etc. But there’s a lot of services in upper campus you should be aware of as well,” I explained. “Psychological services is one of them. And I’m serious. You have a wonderful opportunity here– but the stress could get you before you make full use of this opportunity.”

I went on to explain a lot of harsh realities about law school as I saw it, which in a way was just advice about life in general. It included taking the time to do something other than school to keep your mind balanced and capable of happiness. I reminded them that they needed to take care of their personal health, and take care of the health of those around them.

I pointed out that it was important be adventurous, and to brave trusting people.

I also told them to read. Law is based on precedents– as such, a lot of the cases we red are often old ones. And even new ones, if they’re of any importance, someone on the internet has probably written something about it. Case summaries and commentaries basically. But at the end of the day, you cannot pretend that you know how to read. Reading what you find on the internet, instead of reading the cases directy in all their complexity, is cheating yourself.

What separates the people who are truly good at things from the people who are just on cruise control are the habits. Excellence isn’t a single result– it’s a way of life, and it is fraught with frustration and hardship.

A  number of students approached me after the talk, and said that frankly, my talk had scared them a bit.

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

A strange turn of events had one of those  new students from that welcoming event asking me for advice. Next thing I know… I’m running a mentoring group.  It started off as one person, and now it seems that I’ve got about 10 of them who I’m meeting on a weekly basis.

The thing about mentoring these first semester students is that it gives me a pretty interesting view of something that is normally difficult to notice– how much I know now, compared to when I started just a couple of years ago.  They represent a snapshot of hisotry– analogous to my own history– and the questions that they’re asking of me force me to remember just what choices I made to get to where I am.

 

It is always difficult to see what is possible in the future– but in retrospect, it’s always nice to see the small beginnings.

Breathless

Wednesday, I had a judo grading exam.  It was just for an orange belt, which is the second belt you obtain after the initial white belt starting position.  Four of us out of a class of about 20 were being tested.  Two of them, I don’t think should have passed, but they did.  Rergardless, my training partner and I did really well. [Krav] and I worked our asses off and we got near perfect performances of our required techniques.  (note: in previous entires, I used to refer to Krav as [BJJT], because I thought he did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but it turns out he studied Krav Maga. Hence the renaming.)  The instructer called out a technique name in japanese, you would hear a couple of steps, and the sound of 60-67kgs of human flesh and bone slamming into the tatamis.

Today, the day afterwards, I’m surprised that it was just last night– somehow, it feels like so long ago. Time dilates I think, when I’m healing.  I don’t like feeling tired or injured.  Nothing serious, mind you.  I have bruises over my knees, and some over my ribs and bicep where grips went in on me hard.  My trachea was also a bit injured due to collar chokes, making it slightly painful for me to swallow.

There are some times when I come back from an event like this and  next day, I am simply exhausted.  [CM] doesn’t really believe in the idea of “ki,” and I myself have my doubts that it works in the way that Asian cultures describe it, but perhaps it’s the easiest way of describing something that I don’t really have words for.  Yes, I have injuries– but I consider those “external” in nature.  The part that I’m talking about is just feeling exhausted “internally.” 

I suppose it might just be a deep muscle fatigue, but I feel it at my very core– almost as if it’s my very cardiovascular ability that has been exhausted.  No, I don’t have fluid in my lungs or something–  my best bet is that my diaphragm and intercostal muscles are just overworked.

In part, I think it might be because of the particular nature of cardio that you need to do judo.  Like all martial arts, you don’t get to chose when your opponent attacks or leaves openings– breathing is what gives you energy, but the ability to mobilise your entire lung capacity to explode at a given moment is something that takes practice so that it can happen as a muscle memory reflex.  Breathing, a normally involuntary action that we take for granted, in a martial arts scenario is a violent process.  As an added dimension, it even becomes a privilege to be earned.  The type of cardio vascular endurance that you need, and the whole way that your maximum aerobic capcity (also known as VO2 max) is put to the test is completely different.  Unlike cardio activities where your environment is constant, contact sports, including judo, test not only your ability to maintain effective oxygen supply but your ability to protect that oxygen supply from external interruption.  Namely,  because someone is actively trying to crush your rib cage or choke you.  Perhaps then, it seems quite scientifically feasible that the very mechanics of the human body’s breathing apparatus gets tired, to the point that the next day, you just don’t feel 100%? Maybe that’s what all these old school martial arts are actually alluding to by a reference to ki, qi, chi, chakra, hei, etc.

It’s all just talking about a combination of aerobic and anerobic capacity, factoring in that fortification of the delivery system.

 

 

Some observations about the phenomenon, in general:

The same rules apply to badminton. Fast feet are essential to badminton to getting you around the court, but energy conservation is also important in maintaining your ability to stay fast and hit hard.  Oftentimes, one of the biggest mistakes I see between even people with a few years experience is that they don’t manage their energy well.  If someone clears a bird to them, they run like mad to get into position, wait, and then hit.  Why run like mad then wait, if you can just walk at a measured pace to get there?  You won’t be able to hit the bird until it comes into hitting range– why rush to get there too early when you can get there just early enough?  Similarly, efficiently managing energy has a mental aspect– you have to react sooner, but you don’t need to necessarily move quicker.  A lot of people spend so much training foot speed and agility, because the opponent hit’s the bird, they wait a moment to decide what to do, then they have to run twice as fast to get there just on time, but with so much momentum from their double-effort that they’ll often have to run past their target after hitting, or expend extra energy to apply brakes.  Ideally, perception and conscious thought, which are all facilitated by conscious muscle memory training, allow you to react sooner so that you have the extra split second to move at a measured pace and keep your energy burn at a constant rate.  Violent spikes in energy are the things that the core hates the most.

I participated in an in house judo tournament about a week ago, when I was still a yellow belt.  Two of my opponents, I beat, not because I was necessarily physically or technically more adept– I just had a better conscious management of my energy.  The first opponent, [Wiki] (so named because he has an almost encyclopeadic knowledge of judo theory) had a completely different fighting sytle to how he conducted normal sparring.  Suddenly, he was operating at 300% his normal intensity.  It is good to get serious when someone says “competition” but I don’t think it helps to deviate from your gameplan at the last minute.  In his case, it involved a sudden burst of fancy footwork and aggressiveness that was outside of his normal style.  My strategy against this was to play deffensively, because I didn’t think that his normal, more passive style of randori would support such a high energy rate of burn for very long.  I was right– in a bit under a minute, I had him on the ground in a rear naked choke, which he was too tired to fend off.

 

The Last Crusade

At that point, the nazi shoots Sean Connery in the stomach.

“So, Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford)… if you want to save your father, find the Holy Grail.”

…or something like that.

We had VHS, and my mom had friends at work, sometimes who had two VHSes video machines, so that meant that they could copy tapes for us.  It didn’t happen often, but for the movies that we did have, I cherished them.

Before my college days when my outlook on life came to be defined by shonen tales and bildungsromans, my life started off idolising adventure:  Swinging across chasms of snakes and fire with a bullship; dueling with lightsabres at the ends of the galaxy; flying to Neverland on nothing but faith.  Compounded with my uncles comic book collection, there was probably always the understanding that nothing in real life would ever be quite so fantastic– but there was nothing stopping me from trying.  ANy  little fantasy in life that I could play out would be an objectively small, but subjectively priceless.

The Holy Grail in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade is one of the most fanstastic items that I have ever come across in all my years of childhood (which I extend to underlap even my adult life).

It represents the ability to keep things as they are.  Not that kind of situation where someone asks you “would you like to be 18 again?” because, really, I wouldn’t.  

“Would you like to be 18 again, if you could take with you what you have now?”

Hmm… maybe.  Maybe if I had the mind of my 18 year old self, who, at the time, was only concerned about getting better at Jeet Kune Do.

But on the whole?  Would I give up all the experiences I’ve had until now, just to be able to start again at a certain point?

Probably not.

There are many points in my life that have been good, and many times that have been bad, but on the whole– I would no more go back in time than I would commit suicide.  

And what is suicide, really?  To me– it’s putting an end to all experiences.  It’s a decision that the pain of seeking out more outweighs what I could get out of the process.  And I don’t feel that.  I don’t feel that at all.

It’s one thing to go back in time out of curiosity, or because you don’t remember.  It’s another thing entirely to go back because you feel regret– that you could have or should have done something different.

I don’t like story arcs with time travel– it gets too messy with time travel and those kinds of things.  But what I do like, from The Last Crusade, is the idea that I can live forever– because who I am now is who I am. I can’t change that.  I don’t have to be proud of it, because it’s not necessarily an acheivement.  But I shouldn’t feel guilty about it– because if that were the case, I’d constantly be living to the dictates of something in the past.

That might be why I’m constantly bothered by the fact that I’m about a hundred thousand dollars in debt.   Debt is a lot like guilt, except that it doesn’t go away just because you decide to feel confident about yourself.  It is, however, a representation in some way or another of something you must do because of something in the past.

I’m slowly but surely coming to terms with the fact that debt should not be guilt.  You might think this should be pretty easy– but for someone who grew up under a pretty tight family, my conception of “owing” gives it quite a bit of weight.

Ironically, studying law has helped me sort that out a bit– borrowing money isn’t wrong, so long as it’s contractually agreed upon by both sides.  It’s a means to an end.

Getting over the guilt of being about a hundred thousand dollars in debt has not been easy, but it has been necessary for me to enjoy enough quality of life to keep myself sane.

I just finished an essay for one of my classes, Business Associations.  It was only 2000 words, but given that I had other midterms, and I was working pretty heavily on clerkship things, I really only managed to start working on   Sauturday, even though it was due Monday at 4pm.  No matter how you look at it, 2 days and something isn’t really a lot of time to get a research paper done.

But when it gets done, it’s done– I get this sense, not of relief, but more akin to triumph: here’s me, and here’s the world.  The world tried to kick me down, but I got through it.  I survived.

And while it might not be glamorous– slaving away in front of a laptop for two days straight without proper food or sleep never is– it is glorious, because that’s what life is: glorious, compared to the alternative.

My greatest fear is that some day, all my adventures will come to an end.  I wish there were such a thing as the Holy Grail– not because I want to be able to turn back time and fix whatever regrets I might have– but because I want to be able to keep going forward.

I often forget my age.  Someone at judo  a couple of weeks ago thought I was kidding when I said I was 30 years old– he thought I was early twenties.  Awwww, shucks.  (“Just because I can throw you around doesn’t mean I’m young!”)   But maybe that’s because I’m at a stage in my life where, despite all the shit that goes on, I keep finding reasons to justify going another day. 

There might be a difference here– when I was in my twenties, I had no purpose in life. I was trying to sort out who I wanted to be, but I had no idea of the mechanisms or the pathways to figure that out.  So I was just there idling, and being egocentric, and jumping on any interesting opportunities that fell into my lap.

At my current state, I feel like I have a very good idea of who I want to be, and a better idea of how to get there.  As a result, I’m pretty busy– but those few things that I make time for, I treat them as lifelines that keep me grounded as a person.

 

From an outside view, there’s probably no difference– because that just means that when I do things, I do them with energy and conviction.  If I am somewhere, it’s because I want to be there.

 

Largely, I think this is probably one of those things that I’ve become better at– managing how much trouble I get myself into. I mean, a lot of the times, we have the ability to make choices in our lives about what we want to get ourselves into.  Sometimes, we get into things that we don’t enjoy, and that’s okay for a bit.  But we must never forget that at the end of the day, time is limited and we should only do things that we can really attribute worthwhileness to. 

Even lacking the Grail, we still must go forward.

Walking Softly

When I went to judo yesterday, I was told when swiping my membership card that my subscription had expired.  I was surprised, but in counting, I guess it made sense– I’d just not noticed that 6 months of training had already passed.

 

It was the first time I went to a beginners’ class in a while.  It’s not that I consider myself advanced enough to go to the advanced classes like I normally do nowadays– it’s just that with my work and school schedule, time conflicts don’t let me go to the beginners’ classes anymore.  I’m a yellow belt now, which really, is only one step above white belt.  I’ve never really felt that good at anything– as I mentioned in my last post, about 6 months of training has basically lead to one successful genuine throw during randori, which I feel is a pretty slow rate of return.

But when I went to the beginners’ class, I was surprised.  It’s a much more crowded class now, with twice or thrice the number of people on a typical advanced night.  But most of the people can barely stand after the warmup, which I now find to be a piece of cake (even though it’s almost an hour long).  In retrospect, I remember when I first started judo, I couldn’t survive the full warmup routine either– I always felt a bit sick in the stomach from the cardiovascular exertion and more than a bit dizzy from all the rolls.  I think the more senior students of the evening, a couple of brown belts and blue belts, were appreciative of the fact that I was keeping up with them when it came to at least that part of the routine.

 

The thing that always surprises me when it comes to meeting new people in an activity is how little substance people have.  Before class started, all the white belts were standing around socializing.  [JJT], one of the other yellows who was promoted at the same time as me, were warming up on the matts for fifteen minutes before class, and a lot of the more senior judokas were also loosening up.

 

There’s a sort of pack mentality I think– when people start a new event, they don’t have the confidence to look serious about things even though that’s exactly what they should attempt to learn.  I suppose there are a lot of different reasons to do a martial art– but being social has never been one of my aims, and because I gear myself towards other goals, I suppose I look down on the people who just jabber when they could be working hard.

 

To me, a dojo, a dojang, or a training gym is a scared place– it’s like being at a blacksmith’s.  It’s not supposed to be a comfortable place to be– at best, you get used to the heat and the exertion and you find some calm and manage to focus in the sweat of the forge.  In my book, perhaps occasional laughter is permissible, but this is no sunday picnic– unless you’re on the bench, get the fuck to work.

 

I have an expectation for everyone, including myself, that there should be no complaining– there will be failure, but there should also be anger and obstination to get better.  I maintain, always, that there should be no embarassment from not doing well, so long as you have genuine want of improvement.  Above all, there should be no whining, no sense of despair, and no giving up– the body should always break before the will.

And I think that’s the difference between a white belt who joined for social reasons versus someone who really wants to learn judo because he wants to learn judo.  One of them has the judo as an means to an end, some sort of auxiliarry or secondary goal– and the other has the judo as a stepping stone to another judo goal, which is another stepping stone to another judo goal, which is a stepping stone for…. you get the idea.  It’s a question of framing.  The former practice lacks substance, which is a word I haven’t been using in a while, but which should probably come back into my posts more often.

Subtance is that special something that, if somone else is adept enough to notice it in you, they’ll either be elated to meet someone who shares a passion with them, or they’ll downright be too scared to fuck with you because you’ve got “that look” and you just have that presence about you that says that you’re not there to dick around.

 

The amount of substance can clearly be seen in performance.  It’s not necessarily about results, it’s more about method, but eventually good methodology results in good good resuts, so the two aren’t mutually exclusive either.

The easiest way to see who is serious is to see who is working before you need to work, and who only works when they need to.  Warmups are a perfect example.  Who is warming up before the warmup?  Those are the ones who are just powering through the actual routine.  The ones who were chatting around the wattering hole about traffic, the latest movies, and Angry Birds?  They’re the ones who have crawled to the side of the mat because they don’t have the willpower to do spider laps across the room anymore. 

I don’t really feel I should or shouldn’t be annoyed with people for being who they are.  I don’t think it matters, frankly.  But I do sometimes mentally feel like teaching people a lesson when they have no humility.  When someone takes an activity non-seriously, I feel like, to a certain extent, they’re shitting on something that I think is important.  I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I don’t like it when people take lightly the way they behave around the things that I love doing.

One of the white belts, [Bastien] was a pretty good example of that.  Before warmups, he was the centre of a crowd of whitebelts– I guess he’s a decent looking guy, hipster with good charisma and a joking attitude.  Pretty similar to my weight and height, although about ten years younger than me.

Warmup time?  He couldn’t get through any of the exercises, and was constantly making excuses when the seniors were giving him tips.

When a brown takes the time to tell you “use both legs at once,” you do not answer “I know, but it’s really hard! Do we have to do it like that?”  You answer “thanks for the tip, I’ll keep trying.”  Or, if your cardio can’t spare you any energy to form words, you just shut the fuck up, nod, and keep trying.  You don’t whine about how the program is too hard– this isn’t a tea party, this is fucking martial arts.  What did you think we were going to do here, except hurt you?

Later on, Bastien got a black eye, which was further threw his morale in the gutter– because he got the black eye while doing a cartwheel.  He lost strength in his arms, and basically collapsed in mid motion, and somehow managed to knee himself in the face.

Later in the night, the seniors told us to newaza randori.  This means groundwork sparring, or basically, wrestling from grounded position, usually on your knees (as oppose to standing up and trying to throw someone down).  Every white belt was attached to a higher ranking belt, and I just happened to be assigned Bastien.  Despite that I didn’t like him, I was being a great partner, frankly.  We were similar sizes, but from a few seconds of tugging I realized that the guy was basically a “skinny-fat person.”  He was about the same volume as my body, but pound for pound, his muscles and cardiovascular system could produce maybe half the output that mine could.  Anyway, we were rolling, and I resisted realistically by matching his power, while leaving particular openings for him so that he could apply the techniques that we were learning in class that day.

Eventually, this lead to him getting me with a strangle choke that we’d been practicing.  After I tapped out, I told him he’d done a good job, and gave him some pointers about how he could make it better with certain angles and leverage here or there, etc.

And he actually said “what rank is yellow?  It doesn’t like you’re any tougher than a white belt.”

And something inside of me snapped– I was thinking to myself… jeezus, kid. I might not be the strongest guy in the room, but I’m certainly shitloads stronger than you– and if you can’t even recognise how weak you are…

 

The next roll was him basically driving straight at me.  I sprawled, caught him in a headlock sprawl.  He just kept driving forward.  I butterfly guarded, then transitioned to normal guard when he just kept insisting on driving forward.  Note that by now I had established a tight lock on his neck,  a textbook guillotine choke, and with my legs around his waiste and loocked at the feet.   And I don’t know what he was thinking, but he trapped my arm against him just kept on driving forward, trying to stack me.  Maybe he learned how to stack from watching UFC on television or something, but that’s completely the wrong time to do it. 

To put it simply, the basic result was that he basically put himself into a headlock and was forcing me to break his neck with his own weight.  I was actually a bit alarmed by this so I struggled to push him away, because of our positions, and the fact that he wouldn’t let me take my arms away, he was basically choking himself.  He pretty much tapped himself out.

“Wow, that really hurt,” he said afterwards.   “That’s never happend to me before.  Is that technique even legal?”

And I thought to myself, yeah, that’s never happened to me before either.  You are one dangerous fucking moron.  I’m actually not sure if a neck crank is a legal judo move (I learned it from jiu-jitsu), and I wasn’t exactly aiming for it– I was using it only to deter him from his drive.  He just kind of went full force into my deterance, making it a full fledged counter somehow. Which is why I suppose they pair white belts with higher grades, so that the white belts don’t just naturally select themselves out of the genepool.  If I hadn’t fought to get him off of me, he probably would have probably hurt his neck really badly before he even felt the strangle or the choke, because of the way he was driving his weight into me.  If I was better, I could probably have transitioned this into something a bit more gentle– and, I must guiltily admit, if I had a bit more mental toughness, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered by his earlier comments, and it would have made me more likely to not subconsciously want to choke the shit out of the little bugger.

 

I should say it again– There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner– I myself am still one.  But there is something wrong with having no substance, and really thinking you’re the king of the world.  It is, frankly, not only annoying, but in martial arts, it can be dangerous.  What a beginner needs, and indeed, what anyone needs, is the willpower and humility to learn.  That means not scapegoating people for your failures– it means biting down on defeats, and finding ways to learn from anything and everyone.  You cannot be dismissive of any expereinces.  There are certainly some experiences that will teach you more than others, but if you’re too quick to think you’ve covered all your bases, you miss the details that will lead to lousy foundations.

 

Personally, and this is a life lesson that I’m working on, I think I need to take it less personally when people have attitudes I don’t like.  I’ve always kind of tried to associate with people of “substance” who I feel have something in them, beyond who they try to show off to be in crowds.  But I think the prolem with this is that it makes me a bit of a sociopath– I’ve gotten so focused on only trying to associate with people based on how we work together well (either at school, work, or activities) that I’ve cut out a lot of the social small talking skills that I used to have.  I find lots of topics boring and trite, because people are talking about them without really caring about what they’re talking about– so what’s the point?

 

Why not tell me about something you’re passionate about?  Something that truly dissaopinted you? Something that really made you feel good?  Not just the “lols” and the “OMGs” and the “like, kill me now!” situations– I mean the stuff that you have really thought about and lived with?

 

Social media nowadays makes things all about friendship and shared experiences– look at the average Coke commercial.  But what are these experiences about?  What is the substance that even makes these experiences worth remembering?  Is it enough to just have fun?  Or are real experiences characterised by the trust we place to suffer together?

Shonen Tales

I have a pair of shoes that, nowadays, I always use for biking.  They’re all leather, but not dress shoes or anything like that. They’re a unique set of shoes in that they’re almost like leather slippers, with soles on them.  They have zippers on the sides of them as part of the design.  They’re thin. In some ways, they resemble rock climbing shoes in form, except they’re fancy-ish.

 

I consider them, in a way, like my “agile” shoes.  They’re great for biking because their thinness fits easily into the toe-clips of my bike pedals.  THeir thinness also reminds me of my Jeet Kune Do days– back then, [VIttek] and I wore kung fu shoes on our feet.  These aren’t the kinds of shoes that protect my feet– they’re the kinds of shoes that stay out of the way of my feet, and give you just enough protection so you don’t get cut by stones or get your feet dirty.  Basically, they stay out of the way of your feet when you’re using your feet for various things– like  kicking ass. Indeed, if I ever did kick someone sideways with these shoes, the zippers would probably gash someone pretty good if I used them properly.

 

I bought these shoes in 2008.  I remember it specifically, because I got them somewhere in Calgary.  It was a layover to visit [TheChairman] on my way back home from South Korea.  These shoes have stayed with me since– simple, but functional.  Worn, but they have a lot of history to them now.  I sort of associate them with my “awakening” after coming back from Asia, revisiting Montreal for the first time after having embarked upon my unwitting pilgrimage.

 

I was just thinking about them the other day because, when I wear these shoes, I feel every stone that I step on.  I can feel the shape of cracks on sidewalks. I can feel the grooves of my pedals.  I can even feel the creak of the joints between the small bones of my feet, if I walk slowly enough.

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

 

When you really think about the things we do to entertain ourselves, they’re really just exercises in blunting our awareness.  If you watch a movie, if you drink alcohol, if you play a videogame– it’s escapism.  It’s escapism to get away from the things that you’re aware of when your mind idles and notices.

 

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

 

It’s important, though, to find a way to blunt your awarness, and to numb yourself to certain things. It’s necessary to keep morale up– you need to figure out coping mechanisms to get through the struggles of life.

 

I found out a few days ago that I wasn’t going to be progressing to the second round of interviews.  I found out while I was out biking home.  It didn’t hit me at first, but I knew it would.  Later when I got home, I took a nap in the middle of the afternoon and slept like the dead.

 

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

 

The thing about rejection and me is that for me, it’s really like Neitszche and the footpath– when you are rejected, you question yourself.  Everything that led you up that rejection suddenly becomes suspect: was it because of this? or that? Why, when I was measured and tried, was I found wanting?

I know myself well enough to know how I deal with these things.  [CM] knew that I was totally off, and she seemed noticibly worried about me and how I would cope with the news.  I just told her I’d be fine, and that I needed some time alone.

 

At certain times, I don’t want escapism– I want to wallow in self pity, and really bring myself to rock bottom.  I want to let the despair, misery, and feelings of powerlessness completely seep through me to the marrow and sinew.

 

Why do I want that?

Because it’s only when I completely purge myself of hope that I can accept a reality.

 

And it’s only then that I can start summoning up the rage I need to find a new way to do things.

 

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

I don’t take kindly to losing.  The fact of the matter is, I work hard– damn hard.  I can say that for a first-world citizen, I really go out of my way to make my life hard on myself.  I want things out of this world, I expect things from people.  I accept that I’m not perfect, that I’m not the best– but I am to be reckoned with when I set my mind to something.

THe truth is, missing out on a successful clerkship this semester is a missed opportunity.  But, I was jumping the gun a bit– I still have next year to really apply.  I shouldn’t, technically, have been applying this semester– I was just trying to see if I could get in.  The fact that I got an interview at the biggest firm in Asia-Oceania is already an achivement, and I should pat myself on the back for that.

 

I guess what I’m getting at is that now that I’ve worked it through my system, now that I’ve gone through the motions of grief and rage, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I didn’t get chosen for one of those valued internship positions.  And I’m moving on.  I’m doing what needs to be done for this semester.  And next year? I’ll be back.  I’ll have learned from this experience, and become 1 year tougher.

 

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

 

The typical shonen anime is a story of an underdog– very often, an outcast or underdog kid with no friends, and no self-confidence.

 

CM often wonders why I keep watching that stuff– it’s really all quite predictable, isn’t it?

 

I think I continue to watch that stuff because it’s an act of self-hypnosis.  The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t always who I am now.  I was weaker.  That’s not to say that I’m strong now, but I am stronger.  I’ve come a long way– and a lot of it had to do with being stubborn, and not being afraid to make mistakes.  Every now and then, I let myself go rock bottom.  It’s not an event of failure that makes that happen– it’s me.  I let myself really feel despair and hoplessness. I let myself go days and weeks even with terrible sleep, belittling myself.

 

Why?

 

It’s a cleansing process.  It’s a deconstruction, to really get to the point where I can figure out: okay.  What’s the new game plan?  That one back there didn’t work for X, Y, and Z reasons.  What’s our new angle of attack?  What have I learned?

 

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

 

Today, [Campbell] was too busy to go to the riverside and spar with me.  So, on my own, I picked up the punching bag, lugged it down the hill, strung it up, and just went at it until the drizzle turned into rain.

 

I know that scientific studies have shown that giving into physical violence actually doesn’t do much to calm your nerves.  But for me, it’s not about ‘venting.’  It’s about having an activity where output leads to result– it’s about moments in time where there is a directness connecting my efforts and the way I’m able to shape reality.  The beauty of martial arts is that you can transfer intention into the real world, and nothing in between is muddled by chance– you turn your shoulder at a bit of this angle, you lean in with a bit more weight this way– and a technique explodes forward, and you see the result.

 

For me, hitting a bag, brutish a solution as it sounds, is me exercising a re-calibration.  It’s me grounding myself in reality.

 

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

 

If you watch enough shonen anime or read the mangas, the inevitable problem is that you start wanting to be a hero. 

 

The thing about shonen tales is that everything is laid out for them– there’s a destiny to them, some sort of script.  In real life? Not so.  We don’t know how it’ll turn out.

 

But I don’t think that’s an excuse.  Even if we don’t turn out to be heroes, the fact is, the only chance we have of become heroes and heroines is if we build ourselves in that direction.  I’m not going to be walking to school one day and then suddenly become the pilot of a giant robo– nothing is going to fall on my lap that will have that kind of lasting effect.

 

What do you need to do?

 

You need to keep hitting.  And when you get knocked down?  You get back up.  And you hit some more.

 

 

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

 

One of the Go Club members, last week, showed up, looking a bit dejected.  This was the guy who I taught how to play back in January– it’s been 7 months that he’s been playing now, and he’s made enormous progress.  He’s climbed up from a 30 kyu level all the way to about 13k.

 

He’s going back to HK, so the chances of him keeping on his promise to beat me by the end of the year? Well– it’s unlikely.  He loves the game though– you can tell, by the way he studies it so intently.

We had a game, an even one, no handicaps.  I crushed him.  I crushed him as if we had a blood feud.  Because, really, a serious game?  That’s what he wanted.

 

Afterwards, we had a good laugh, we shook hands, and promised to play online again at some point.

 

The thing is, life is the kind of situation where you can take it seriously, or you can take it easy.

The thing about passion is that you never really take it easy: you grab at it, or more accurately, you grasp at it, and if you do manage to get your fingers around it, you clutch it because your life, in a sense, depends on it.

 

You want life to take you seriously.  You want to be recognised and respected for what you put your heart and soul into.

 

If you can work at something, and really sweat and bleed for it, and suffer for it– even if you don’t get what you want, isn’t the fact that you’re being taken seriously halfway there?