Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bullying

       As a people, Americans tend to be aggressive. This aggression can take many forms, and it permeates our society from the top down. Since I have little experience as a venture capitalist, I will scale down to a micro level and talk about our schools, a topic I have slightly more experience with. 

Aggressive behavior is commonplace in our schools. News stories and government initiatives targeting 'bullying" make the rounds once or twice a year. The solution most often offered is to is impose stricter punishments on 'bullies". I will admit that something should be done to prevent children from being verbally and physically abused by their peers, but I don't believe that enacting stricter punishments will stop these instances of abuse. It's similar to increasing jail time for certain crimes. This punishes people that transgress against the law, but it doesn't actually lower than instances of crime. 

I think we need to look at the problem of bullying from a personal level. First lets define bully. I consider it to be anyone who uses aggression as a tool to have their needs met.  Money, material goods or peer recognition are examples of a bully's needs. This aggression can be verbal or physical. I consider the main attribute of a bully to be this aggression. 

Here is where we run into trouble. Few children self-identify as bullies. The reason for this, as I see it, is that our society allows for several labels to be applied to people who exhibit aggressive behavior, both positive and negative. Nowhere is this more evident than in our media, namely movies and video games. In the stories we tell ourselves, 'bad guys' exhibit aggressive behavior, but so do our 'good guys'. A common theme used in movies and television is the quirky sidekick who absorbs verbal and physical aggression from the protagonist. Because our society views aggression as being both positive and negative, many children I have dealt with view their own aggression as positive, or justified, even if it is obviously not. 

Even if they are brought before a councilor or a group of their peers to have their actions laid before them, they will often not accept that their behavior was that of a bully. Humans do not like to place negative labels on themselves. If, by chance, a human does apply a negative label to themselves, they often refuse to accept the legitimacy of the society from which the label came. An example would be a criminal, who self identifies as a criminal, and has a kind of pride in that label. In this case the individual will most likely continue the aberrant behavior, and we are no better off. So, labeling people doesn't work. I believe we have another option, but it will require a radical shift in perspective. 

Here it is. All aggression is negative. All aggression is bad. Now, I'm sure were I having a conversation with individuals, I would start getting a large number of 'what if' questions that would put these assertions to the test. 

What if my girl friend is being beaten by five men in an alley? Should I non-aggressively ask them to stop?

No. The obvious answer is that there are times when aggression is justified, and even needed, but it is always a negative experience. It is always a bad thing, and should be avoided at all costs. Most children don't understand this. Hell, there's a large percentage of adults who don't understand this, as can be witnessed by going to a local club, pub or bar. I believe that if we want to see a drop in the aggressive behavior, then we need to characterize that behavior as negative and undesirable, regardless of the justifications. 

Self-defense can still play a roll in keeping our children safe, as long as it is truly self-defense. I have seen many instances of children attacking their peers and claiming that they were defending themselves, even if they were striking someone who was running away. True self-defense involves extracting yourself from dangerous situations before they become a problem, sometimes at the expense of your ego. Physical violence in a self-defense situation should be almost unheard of.

An individual who beats someone, or uses verbal aggression to belittle another person shouldn't be lauded as a hero regardless of the situation. A person who uses aggression to resolve a conflict, justifiably so or not, should receive no more glory than someone who mops up the floor. The behavior should be demonized, not the individual. This is a radical statement, and I'lll accept criticisms of it, but I do think that this shift in values will lead to fewer instances of 'bullying'.

Thoughts?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gear Review: Knife - CRKT M16



Quick switch from my regular posts. Every now and then I come across a piece of gear that I like to recommend to everyone I know. One that I am constantly telling people about is Columbia River Knife and Tool's M16 folding knives. There are around 46 different variations. The major differences are in color, blade style (tonto or spear point), serrations, hilt (full or single), size, and integrated functions (glass breaker and seat belt cutter). For the average person I would suggest a spear point tip, serrations and a blade not larger than 3.5 inches, but a lot of that is up to preference. On to what I like about all of them.

I'll keep this short and sweet.

All M16 variants have a dual locking mechanism. Whereas most folders can be closed with one mode of input (pushing the locking mechanism to the side), these CRKT folders require two modes of input (pressing down the safety, then pushing the locking mechanism to the side), making it much safer. This is also what is known as a virtual fixed blade. I've used regular folders before and nearly had a few accidents. I've had zero close calls with my CRKT folders.

The M16s have a simple to use opening assist. A wrist flick, combined with pressing down on the assist opens the knife. I find that my opening time is as fast as a spring loaded knife.

Third. These knives come with a dual edge and are exceptionally easy to sharpen. The serrations need to be sharpened rarely. For the serrations I suggest taking it into a professional, or buying the right tools to sharpen them.

These are the most ergonomic knives I have ever used. I suggest buying one with a longer handle. The 4.8 inch handles fit my hand best. For most people the spear point is a better option than the tonto blade. Tonto blades are harder to sharpen and it's harder to make clean draw cuts with them. Tonto blades do look more intimidating, have a stronger tip, and supposedly are better at piercing body armor, if that's your thing.

        The knife in the picture above is my zombie apocalypse knife.

        One problem that some people complain of is that these knives can be hard to close one handed. The video below will show you the simplest way to remove the knife from your pocket, open it, then close it.

How to close a CRKT M16 folding knife




Sunday, June 23, 2013

World War Z - Spoilers Inside (but you shouldn't care, that movie sucked)


I can't prove anything, but it seemed to me that World War Z was designed to make vaccinations more appealing. In my peer groups, vaccinations have been falling out of favor. I don't know many people who take yearly flu vaccinations, and I know several people who have not vaccinated their children. Though the movie obviously made some money off of Pepsi product placement, I don't think it's too farfetched to speculate that they might also have received some support from companies who create vaccinations, or the backers of these companies. No proof, but I think it'd be worth looking into, if anyone who reads this is an investigative journalist.

Why do I think this? Many of the details from the source material, World War Z the book, were changed, to the detriment of the movie.

 First, the incubation to full infection period of the virus is roughly 12 seconds to ten minutes. This fast turnover, from normal human to flesh eating, undead zombie, makes for spectacular scenes in the movie, but is far removed from the book. The book had a much longer incubation time, if I remember correctly it was at least as long as a day, maybe more.

The reason many zombie universes allow for a longer incubation period is so that the virus is capable of spreading to all corners of the world, because of our vast transportation infrastructure. Some rich man gets bitten, and tries to flee to another part of the world. The plane lands 18 hours later, he gets a hotel, then turns. With a 12 sec incubation period the virus would move through a city like a wild fire, but the threat would largely be contained to a geographic area, as governments would quickly destroy any planes or ships leaving the area. . With the long incubation time, the threat is spread worldwide before it is understood to be a threat. With a short incubation time, the immediate threat is great, but easily contained.

Second, these zombies are like suicidal, kill happy, lions. They sprint and leap and bite and show far more coordination than the average American citizen, unless they are fighting Brad Pitt. This, coupled with the speedy infection time, makes it completely impossible to fight these zombies using conventional means. Even the solution proposed in the book World War Z, which included firearms, would not be sufficient to quell this form of zombie tide.

Most of the characteristics that make up these zombies are ridiculous, even by zombie standards. It truly looks to me like the makers of this movie set out to make a movie where vaccinations saved the day, then tailored the universe around that. Some of the zombie's abilities, such as the ability to 'sense' if someone has a fatal disease, seems to be lacking in logic.

But hey, it’s a summer zombie movie, who cares?  
I do. Damn it.

The parts of the movie I enjoyed the most were the last two minutes, where they were showing large scale zombie conflict. They left out all the best parts of the book. In fact, I think the only thing they took from the book was the Israeli response to zombies. Any of the storylines from the book would have made a better movie.

In my opinion, this movie was CDC propaganda. I'm making no comment on vaccination's effectiveness or safety. What this movie seems to be doing is trying to sway public opinion toward viewing vaccinations as a positive thing. I think it does a decent job at that. As a zombie movie, its lame.

Hiking, Mental Toughness, and the Acceptance of Pain

               Walking with a pack. When I was in the military we called it humping. Some people have superiority complexes, and believe you can't call it 'hiking' unless you are in the wilderness. Well, I don't care much for where it's done, but walking long distances, far away from home, with all of your basic needs strapped to your back has done me good. (Notice my narration voice is far more provincial when I talk about outdoorsy stuff.)


My father introduced me to hiking. I usually didn't do it with a pack, but with a rifle during hunting season. The distances we covered weren't huge, maybe three to five miles in a day, but to my ten year old self it seemed like I'd been through a true ordeal. Fast forward to the military.

My father's hikes were designed to keep me from getting too tired. He wanted me to have a nice time. Every hike I encountered in the military seemed designed to make my life as miserable as possible. I had Inadequate sleep, because we had to be up at 3:45 to get our weapons. I had inadequate stores of energy in my body, cause I hadn't eaten breakfast. My pack was too heavy and the twenty pound rocket launcher and eight pound rifle I had to carry didn't help. Neither did the flack jacket or kevlar. Moving the gear around didn't help. One thing you learned was that you were going to be in pain. There was no way around it. No matter how you arranged your gear, or carried your weapons, it was going to hurt. In the words of Stephen Pressfield, the Marine Corps taught me to be miserable.

That might not seem like a valuable skill, but it has served me well. I find that there is a separation between my body's pain, and my mind. When I am in pain, I no longer need to respond as if it were bad. This has helped me immensely during my conditioning training. It has allowed me to set aside my pain, and figure out a way to lessen it.

When I ride my bike, if I am pushing hard, my legs burn. If I switch my breathing pattern so that I am taking in more air, the burn begins to subside. If I'm doing burpies, instead of concentrating on my pain, I concentrate on economy of movement.

If there is one thing I have learned about fighting, it's that you are going to be in pain. No matter what you do, you're going to get tired. You can't escape it, if you try you're probably going to get hurt, or put on a weak show. The best thing you can do is accept it. Live there, in the pain, and remove your attachment to it. This was taught to me by hiking.

If you are reading this and you feel you need to increase your mental toughness, strap a pack to your back (35 pounds will do) with a little food and gallon of water and go walk twenty or thirty miles. It doesn't need to be in the wilderness, it could be around your town. I suggest you walk for three hours, then take a one hour break, rinse, repeat. Take some mole skin, wear some moisture wicking socks. If you've never done it before, you'll want to quit after the first hour. You'll probably tell yourself that it was a stupid idea, or that it isn't even a good way to train. You'll come up with  many reasons to quit. I suggest that you don't. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Roll in the Creation of a Warrior

               Because it is Father's Day I've decided to speak about the role my father played in my life, as it relates to martial arts and the warrior archetype. As I was growing up I wasn't aware of what I was striving towards, but looking back on my young self, it's obvious to me that since I hit adolescence I have been seeking to personify the righteous warrior. That term sounds silly, but it's the best way I know to describe it. This seeking has had its boons and repercussions, but where did the seeking come from?

               I can distinctly remember the first time my father introduced me to martial arts. It was after watching a television episode wherein a father teaches his children, who are in danger of being eaten by dinosaurs, some karate techniques. I guess it inspired my dad, because after that episode he had us doing katas from what I think was kung fu. From that point on, every few months, my father would slap box with me, wrestle, and stress the importance of being kind and never using force to harm another person unless you had no other choice. These small training sessions, and the lessons that went along with them, were fun, but they didn't change my world perspective. No doubt they planted seeds  that would guide me as I grew older, but even now I only half remember them.

               There is however, one moment that I remember perfectly clear. When I was a child, I had what might be called night terrors. To put it simply, I literally believed that a werewolf was going to claw through my wall, or run down the hallway, and eat me. A few times a month I would lose composure and scream for my mom and dad. This didn't go over well at three in the morning, when both of them had full time jobs to work. Their reactions ranged from sympathetic to angry. My father even tried to reason with me.

               "Where do you think I'd be if those creatures were real?" my father asked.

               "On the roof with a gun?"

               "No, I'd be dead," he said.

               At that point I fell into another fit of crying, and it certainly didn't put my fears to rest. After many of these episodes, for some reason, my father took a different approach. I screamed, he came to my room, but he didn't turn on the lights, he didn't speak angrily. he quieted me down, and walked me out into the living room. I tried to flip on the lights, but he stopped me.

               We sat in the living room. Light from the moon snuck in from between the curtains. The house had an eerie feel to it in the dark. I hadn't ever sat in it like this. If I was ever the one to turn off the lights I ran to my room as quickly as possible. My father took me through a small meditation, then he walked me around the house. We pretended to stalk, to slip from shadow to shadow and hide there in wide martial arts stances. I've no idea how long we did this for, but I went back to bed with a quiet, fearless mind.  This taught me many things, but the most important was this. If you fear something, envelope yourself in it. Face it, move toward it, understand it, then gain power from that understanding.

               I've gotten into trouble by moving toward my fear and seeking to personify the righteous warrior. It's what caused me to become a foot soldier for the military-industrial complex. I came out lucky on that front, as I don't have any physical or psychological damage to speak of, but it has also guided me toward everything in my life that I consider good and worthwhile. It has allowed me to follow dreams and ideals, rather than easy paths set before me.


               Small acts can change a child's life, and give them strength. I believe that contemplating, and acting on that idea can change lives.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Midweek Question

               I've noticed I get a spike in traffic on this blog every Thursday. I'm not sure why, but I figure it means I should drop something down midweek. Here's a chance to expand community through communication, and let others gain some insight from your experiences.
              
               I have several disciplines. The major ones are martial arts, exercise, flute playing and writing. In all of these things, I seek to improve. They fit well together. When my body is worn out from martial arts and exercise, I can still better myself by playing the flute or writing. Playing the flute helps to calm me when I'm nervous about competing in martial arts. It also helps me access my creativity. I play sometimes when I'm having 'writer's block'. Writing forces me to think deeply about subjects. This often gives me insights into my training methods (exercise and martial arts) that I wouldn't have otherwise had. Exercise releases stress, which aids me in all aspects of my life.

Are there any disciplines in your life that complement each other?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Connections Between Food and Exercise

               Many humans living in first world countries don't engage in strenuous physical activity often. For a large majority of people exercise is low on their list of priorities. They know that they should be exercising, but they don't. If they do happen to begin an exercise program, it is rare for a person to adopt it into their life permanently.  Part of the problem was discussed last week; people don't know how to create effective exercise programs. Another factor that I believe plays a major role is diet, or food choices.
               Here is what my own experiences have shown me. Using my body for exercise gives me a large amount of feedback about how my body is performing. Because of my exercise routine I have become aware of how my body is affected by my water intake, carbohydrate, fat and protein intake, by different sleep and rest patterns. Before I used my body seriously, and had a baseline of performance, I didn't realize that my everyday food choices directly correspond to how I feel.
               From speaking with friends, family, people I train with and individuals at different gyms, I find that many people eat their meals by default. They pickup what is easy and what they are used to. This isn't necessarily a problem, unless the person in question wants their body to feel good and perform well.
               When a person begins a new exercise program, they often complain of feeling terrible or not having energy. Part of that is because they are out of shape. However, I am in shape, and that is exactly how I felt the week after my last fight when I went crazy and ate a 'normal' American diet. I ate lots of bread, a lot of meat, few vegetables and probably twenty scones. I drank a beer, maybe two every other night and at the end of the week I felt terrible. When I started doing timed exercises again at the end of the week, while still eating poorly, my reps on pushups, sit ups, burpies and squats had all dropped. I didn't even want to get out of bed. It took me about another week of eating clean to get back to where I felt good exercising.
               Now my diet wasn't even that extreme compared to what the average American eats. I ate no fast food, most of the bread was 'healthy' and the meat was often grass fed. What I am suggesting with all of this, is that if you are having a hard time sticking with an exercise program, look into your food choices. Try changing to healthy alternatives. If you want an idea of what that looks like, look into the USDA's MyPlate food suggestions. They aren't perfect, I don't agree with all of them, but it is a good baseline to work from. If you have a reasonably healthy diet, exercise is far easier.
               Once you have a decent diet, play around with your macronutrient intakes (carbs, protein, fat) and see what feels best for your body when you are exercising. Every human has a system of feedback built into their body. To benefit from it, you must listen to it. Unless you are going to go talk to a professional dietitian, you are the best judge of what you should be eating because you know how it makes you feel. Are their athletes who eat like shit? Yes. Are they the best that they can be. Probably not. Our bodies are a complex mix of chemical reactions, what you put into it does matter.


 Lastly, a website I found helpful.              www.supertracker.usda.gov

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pain = Strength. Right?

               Having witnessed close family and friends attempt to get in shape and adopt a healthy lifestyle, I have noticed two barriers that pop up for most people. The first is running; the second is diet. This week, I'll talk about running.

               For many Americans the first and only instruction they receive in how to maintain a healthy body type comes from physical education (PE) classes and school sports. From my own experiences as a child, and from what I have witnessed while working in the school systems, children are taught that fitness comes down to three exercises: running, pushups, and situps. In many sports coaches will use distance running and sprints as a way to exhaust their players. From school sports and PE many of us learn that to feel pain is to become strong. This is reinforced by says such as "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

               Because of what they were taught in school, it is not surprising that many out of shape adults will opt to run in order to get back in shape. They usually aren't capable of doing more than 5-15 pushups or situps with proper form. They will, however, push themselves to run for twenty minutes or so. They choose running because it is painful, during and after the exercise, and they view it as a way to lose weight. After all, they have been taught that pain = strength. This then leads to an intense force of will being applied in order for the person to make themselves workout. They can keep this up for one to two weeks, then their workouts taper off and they are back to not exercising at all. It is my belief that, unless you are already in good shape, running is an extremely stressful exercise, both on your body and your mind. It is easy to quit doing it in the winter, or in very hot weather. If you are starting a workout routine, and you are using running as your main exercise, you're at a high risk of burning out.

                I suggest anyone who has a desire to become fit, but has no training in how to accomplish that goal, pay for a few sessions with a reputable personal trainer. Have them create a weekly workout routine for you that includes mostly low impact exercises. One mental attitude that I would like to eradicate from the fitness world is that pain = strength. Of course there is some muscular pain involved with getting into good shape, but it must be done intelligently and deliberately, or you run the risk of going through a lot of pain, and making small, or no gains. It is easy to make an athlete feel pain, but it's hard to make them strong.