Thursday, January 26, 2006

And...I'm out

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Last day of teaching today, for about two weeks. I've been "dealing" with things (fiscal, academic, spiritual, etc.) the last few days. Sorry to leave you hanging (except for a couple posts at ScIn). Such is blogdom, eh?

I'm headed off eeaarrrly tomorrow to Li Shan for a few days' getaway. Then it's back in Taichung for a few days not-away, during which I do hope to post more in the never-ending series of series. And then, I'm off to Jing Shan, a Jesuit retreat center, for a more intense, more directed retreat.

During all this time, though I will have the occasional access to the Net, I am for the most part offline in every sense of the word. Feel free to contact me, but don't expect a prompt reply.

I hope you're well and God bless you!

Monday, January 9, 2006

Falling in love again?

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It dawned on me recently certain pleasures and joys of my life, which I had either forgotten or neglected and then embarrassedly tried to forget, have come back to life within me. To name a few: my desire to visit Montana and Wyoming, my esteem for Fr. Jaki's witness, my old love for rowing and erging, my taste for Scorsese and (pre-Rocky-&-Bullwinkle-and-Analyze-This) De Niro films, and now, my interest in judo. That's right, though I kept it secret for a while here in Taiwan, and have actually never addressed here at FCA, it's true: I like judo and I did it for a few months before World Youth Day. (The shrewd and those among with too much free time should have gathered as much from some early entries on my Amazon Wish List.)

I intended to return to judo (róu dào 柔道) quickly upon my return from Europe (September or so), but between post-WYD fatigue, new-semester fatigue, fall-illness fatigue, heavy-writing-commitments fatigue, a general disaffection for my dojo (which I find too small, too laissez-faire in its instruction and too populated by teens and small children), and, finally - why lie? – an occasional albeit genuine repulsion towards paying to fight a grown man and get tackled or thrown by him[1] - for all these reasons, I've put it off till now. (Oh, and let's not forget the shame of going back so late despite having expressed my intention to return promptly after summer. Sigh. What little "face" I as a foreigner have in this culture I do not too blithely risk.) But no longer. My desire to return to the mat is envigoratingly palpable and grows every day.

Alas, knowing my luck, just about the time I get back into the swing of judo, the school will shut down for Chinese New Year. Maybe just in time for me to hop back on that erg...?!

[1] Believe it or not, I've done my small share of reading about martial arts and "real" self-defense training and, after a little reflection, was not really that surprised to hear judo described by a leading combat trainer as the best all-around training for a real fight, or real self-defense, bar none. (This fact grates like nails on chalk in the ears of my friend who is a serious tae kwon do student. But, hey, facts is facts.) Aside from judo's natural ability to train your body holistically, according to the relentless, unpredictable and fluid demands of live close-quarters competition, and even aside from the vital technical skills judo brings to bear in a dangerous encounter, the most basic advantage of judo for "combat readiness" is the fact that at every single practice you get real live psychological training to face and handle an aggressive human being.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea about me - "The Cogitator, a violent psychopath?!" - I like judo because it is pure and visceral. For one thing, judo is a serious workout. It requires stamina, flexibility, agility and strength sufficient to withstand sudden attacks and/or to complete sometimes stunning throws. I also like judo because there are no overly technical chops, kicks and hops (these things are what you learn either in advanced judo or jujitsu, from which Jigoro Kano derived judo). There are no nifty gadgets, pads, weapons or special shoes. In judo, there is just energy, balance, timing, strength and - above all - the wisdom of "strategic relenting." Effective "relenting" in judo is tied directly to its name (柔道), which translates from Japanese (here, via Chinese) as "the supple or soft [ró] way [dào]."

Contrary to some popular conceptions, including my own several months ago, it is not judo's lack of "hard" blows, like those in gong fu or tae kwon do, that make it soft; in fact, when people encounter judo for the first, they are struck by just how not soft it seems! Indeed, the "soft" (ró 柔) nature of its name is prima facie misleading. Far from being gentle and fluid in the manner of a ballet, judo is "soft and supple" in the characteristically Japanese sense of taking more aggression than you give until you absolutely must return it and overpower your opponent. Judo is soft because it requires you to move with an internal softness, almost passivity, according to your opponent's energy. Rather than forcing and jerking your way into a "hard" artificial move, judo requires you to remain soft (at least within your spirit, since true physical passivity would get you tossed about like a sack doll) until the key moment: then even a soft or supple action suffices to overcome your opponent. The "passive" suppleness of judo to which I just alluded refers to the essential technique of exploiting what your opponent gives you; in this way, you become the softer, more relenting, athlete. Exploiting your opponent's actions does not merely mean receding back as he pushes you, so that you may "sick" him into a backwards throw; it also means giving him your weight in unexpectedly, and thus victoriously, greater abundance if he pulls you. A final aspect of judo's softness has everything to do with its most fundamental skill: falling (ukemi). If you can't fall correctly, you can't do judo. Period. This is why the first phase of any judo training consists of drilling the proper falling technique. (See what I mean about "falling" in love again with judo?)

It didn't dawn on me till this moment, but I am happy to say a final good of judo for me is the "cultural catharsis" it can and should be. Any regular readers here will know - why lie? - I have an unfortunate but undeniable bias against Japan. How apposite and redemptive it is, then, for me to love a quintessentially Japanese sport! Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Here are some good articles on the things I've discussed in this note:

Fundamental Principles of Judo by Kenji Tomiki

The Study of Falling by Neil Ohlenkamp

Judo: The Gentle Tao by Alan Watts

And a whole gaggle of others!

A rare gem

1 comment(s)
I try not to clutter FCA with too much silly stuff (oh?), but this blond joke is well worth the trouble.

Taxi Driver >> taxi = driver

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I read an intriguing but at times hammy analysis of Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver last night. The article has numerous spoilers, so be warned. However, since I suspect the only people interested in reading a fairly long article on the movie have already seen it, spoilers shain't[1] a problem. I have always enjoyed Taxi Driver. Seeing its ending in a new and more cinematically cohesive light was nice. Of course, not to toot my own horn, I always had an instinctual "Yes, but..." feeling about the film's ending.

Read the paper and see what you think. Besides rekindling my interest in that movie, the article (which I think was written in an American setting by a foreign student for, whether British or French, I don't know) also put a little fire under my heinie to see more of Scorcese's heady oeuvre.

[1] That's right: I just tried again to neologize. Shan't is standard albeit somewhat more anachronistic English and means "shall not." Ain't is "incorrect" but totally intelligible (i.e., correct!) English, one of my favorite turns of speech and means am/are and has/have not -- in the latter case "hain't" being even sweeter. "Shain't" is just a fusion of shan't and ain't, "shall ain't". To be fair, there is folk precedence for "shain't"; however, whether that's based on dialect or actually means what I mean by shain't, I ain't too sure.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Mmmmhhh... drooling...

6 comment(s)
Concept 2 Model D Ergometer



It's beautiful. Trust me: it's magnificent.

I did crew for six years in middle/high school. Working out today with a friend, I had to explain to him why I do certain exercises -- because they mimic rowing fitness demands -- which led me to explain the physics and kinesiology of rowing. This in turn sent me into a reverie of physical and emotional nostalgia, which in turn led me to show "an erg" to my buddy -- all of which now leaves me drooling, for the nth time in a decade, over the thought of having my very own erg. Sigh. (Post-Christmas and Chinese-New-Year donations warmly accepted!)

I have never forgotten and will never take for granted the inexpressible and life-changing privilege for me that rowing was. Don't laugh: the mere thought of the excellence and vitality that rowing consummates swells my heart and, at times, such as now, nearly brings me to tears. "Nine hearts beating as one," we would sometimes chant, as a reminder of the essential harmony rowing must attain. "The beauty and the beast," I would say to my friends, trying to capture rowing's perfect balance of raw power and exquisite technique. To my dying day I shall be proud to say that I personally know there are, within the sphere of fallen man, few things finer than a well coached, well maintained and well rowed shell; and for that matter, few things more thrilling than the finish of a bow-to-bow-to-bow race. The goose-bumped reverie I've been in for the past several hours -- not to mention my ongoing, though sometimes neglected, passion for crew -- are enough to make me pursue a doctorate in sports science and kinesiology, sidelighting as a crew coach in ____________.

P.S. While the beauty of the above ergometer is indisputable, I should be fair and warn you that actually using it is unlikely to warm your heart to it. All I said about rowing's excellence and harmony are true -- but not one iota less true than the total aognizing muscular exhaustion that an erg, or any period of sustained rowing, is easily capable of producing. Sweet dreams!

Clank clank clank

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I've been seemingly inert here at FCA but active elsewhere.

+ This week we wrapped up our semesterly book revision, which kept me busy all week (and some days, working into the wee hours of dawn!). As arduous as it may be, doing a marathon of lesson planning before the semester starts sure beats tedious ongoing generation of weekly lessons.

+ I've also put some good polishing to my two upcoming series: "Confession and the Sacraments" and "Popping the Population Bomb". Stay tuned.

+ There's a new post up at ScIn. Have a laugh.

+ I tweaked FCA's HTML template so it is viewable by both Expeys and Firefoxes. I'm peeved doing so means FCA in Firefox has a large gap between the post section and the sidebar, but I'm happy to have found a solution. "FCA: Where the Two Shall Read as One!" (Hmmm, maybe not...)

+ I finally got my parish's web page up and running. It's still very primitive, patchy and not where it needs to be, but have a look anyway: Our Lady of Guadalupe in Taiwan. After two weeks of agonizing over what idiotic error I'd made to prevent the whole site from publishing, I'm happy to report the delays all turned out to be the provider's fault. (Incidentally, here's the parish lector schedule I also organize. If you're ever passing through, let me know and I'll sign you up!)

Be well and be warm (Taiwan just took a sudden "turn for the cold")!

Sunday, January 1, 2006

New blog day!

2 comment(s)
I started a new blog, Scandendum Inscitia. Some of you might find the premise interesting. Check out ScIn's first query.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

P.S. I deleted the FCA-Explorer "shadow" blog. Sorry, Expeys, just read me on Firefox.

P.P.S. I also decided to drop Haloscan (comments). Not only do comments vanish in Haloscan combixes after long enough time (well, Haloscan being free, you get what you pay for...), but also, being notified of new comments by email costs money. (The very idea! PAY MONEY for a service, in this day and age!) With Blogger's comment support, email notification is free and I don't know about Blogger "comment evaporation." Either way, I apologize to you many whose hard-won comments were annihilated (not to mention all those dead links to comments in my posts!) in this sudden HTML purge.