Category Archives: Mysticism

Throwing Hands: Martial Arts Training Involution #175

Giant hand sculpture outside Squash-a-Penny

Since I’m camping this weekend, this week’s T.I. comes out a day early.  It flows out of last week’s theme about dogs and ties into the monthly internal focus at Cabal Fang which is the Hand of Mysteries.  The details following are an excerpt from a forthcoming module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. on animal teachers.

Throwing Hands: Martial Arts Training Involution #175

  • No talking, groaning,  grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.  Let your hands do the talking.
  • Put your hands on the enemy.  Complete 100 Duck-Unders with the best form you can manage.  If you don’t have a partner, just do them shadow-style.  This is not a lunge.  Keep your spine perpendicular to the ground, head up, and pull hard on the rear hand.  Check your form here.
  • Throw some hands.  Heavy bag form drill.  Set a round timer for 3 rounds of 3:00/1:00.  Get after that bag with perfect form — practice your falling step, make sure your hips are fully involved, strike using the “right” part of your hands (based on your personal thoughts and/or martial style) and so on.  Count the strikes that you think are are not up to your usual snuff.  When all three rounds are over, do that number of Push-ups and write it down in your training journal.  Come back in a few days and beat your number.
  • Speak to the hand.  Not literally, figuratively.  Are you at least as evolved as a cave painter was 15,000 years ago?  Set a timer for  15 minutes and think about it.  What are your goals and aspirations?  What do you feel about  so strongly that would brave a dark cave with only a torch just to paint it on a wall?  Have you put in place an organizational method that insures you are setting goals and aiming at them?  Do you keep a journal?
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training journal when you’re done.

Of Hounds and Hands

The words hound and hand likely have the same origin in the Proto-Germanic word handuz.  What does handuz mean?  Well, as with most of these proto-lingual words, which are mostly interpolations and guesses, linguists aren’t exactly sure.  The best guess is to reach for” or possibly “to obtain.”  I’d add “to grasp” to that list. 

Think about it.  That’s what hands and dogs do, right?  Grab and hold?  I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that both seem awfully close to the word “hunt” which means to grab a-hold of something to eat.  Makes sense, doesn’t it, when you consider that hunting dogs are very important whenever and wherever you have to hunt in order to get fed?

Now let’s look at it another way.  One of the oldest symbols known to mankind is the hand outline.  It is very common, found across the globe in cave art created by prehistoric hunters.

Look at the example on the right from the Cave of Hands in Argentina.  These hands were made using a form of prehistoric air-brushing.  The painters placed their hands on the cave walls and used hollow bones to blow colored liquids onto the surface so that a negative would be left when the hand was removed.   

The Latin aspiro means “a puff of air.”  An aspiration is an expulsion of air following a choke.  But an aspiration is also a hope, dream or goal which one seeks to obtain, grasp or take hold of — something you hope a favorable wind will blow upon.  Is there a connection here?

So you see, the cave painting above literally screams aspiration.   There is even a target on the far left toward which everything in the entire painting is headed, as if toward some grand intersection.

The artists could have held an animal carcass or bone against the wall and created a negative in the same way the hands were created.  Or the hands could have been sketched to match the style of the animals.  But neither is the case.  The animals and geometric shapes are sketched and the hands are traced with realism.  So why is one sketched and the other rendered using the prehistoric equivalent of a photocopy?

Because the animals are symbolic.  They are the dream, the aspiration, the hope.  But the hands are real.

The animals in the painting are virtually identical.   Because you see, it doesn’t matter what the specific animal is.   Each animal in the picture is at once any animal and every animal.

The painting proclaims that if the human mind can conceive it and believe it, the human hand can achieve it.


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Canis Familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

Phoebe (L) and Gobi (R). Phoebe is my wife’s dog, Gobi is my daughter’s.

In T.I. #171 I talked about the formidable faculties of the cricket frog and what we could learn from him about contemplation and the origins of meditation.

This week’s T.I. emerges from lessons learned from the humble domestic dog.  For all the background — and for another excerpt from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. — check out the details below the break.

Canis familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

  • No talking, groaning,  grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.
  • Half Pyramid of Clean & Press.  Don’t have a barbell?  No excuses — get creative.  Use two dumbbells.  Gradually fill a ruck sack with barbells, chains, or tools from your garage (a bag full of wrenches and hammers weighs a ton!).  Start  with a naked weight bar and do 10 reps.  Take a 1 min. break while you add approx  1/10th of your max safe weight to the bar.  Do 10 reps, take a 1 min break, and repeat.  When you can’t 10 reps, that’s okay.  Just do as many as you can and keep adding weight until you fail.  My sets were #20 x 10, #30 x 10, #40 x 10, #50 x 10,  #60 x 9, #70 x 8, #80 x 5 #90 x 3, #100 x 2, #110 fail.
  • Heavy bag speed drill.  Set a round timer for 10 rounds of :30/:30.  Get after that bag as fast as you can for :30 and then rest for :30.  Count your strikes for the final round and write it down.  Come back in a few days and beat your number.
  • Dig a hole.  Not literally, figuratively.  Instead of digging in the yard like your dog, dig into yourself.  Sit down in your meditative posture of choice, regulate your breathing, and think back to the last time you were cranky, whiny or selfish.  What was the “pinch that made you flinch” so-to-speak?  Physical pain?  Fear?  Worry?  Stress?  Aren’t you better than that?  What could you do to prevent that from happening again?
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log when you’re done.

Our dog Gizmo, may he rest in peace. One of my wisest spiritual teachers.

The Delightful Demeanor of the Domestic Dog

If your dog is suffering enough to show it, take him straight to the vet.  If he’s in so much pain that he snips at you, he’s probably at death’s door.  Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this to be true.  Gizmo, my little Lhasa Apso, sixteen years old and falling apart at the seams, licked our hands and showed his love for us all the way to the euthanasia room.  I wish I could be half as loving, and half as tough, as that little guy was.

Underneath that happy face, lolling tongue and sleek coat lie millions of years of ingrained, evolutionary knowledge.  Sick wolves are unfit to be selected as mates.  Weak animals get singled out by predators and picked on by any bullies in the pack.  Snippy, grumpy dogs get less food from their human partners.  If you’re a dog, it has always paid to keep your whining to yourself.  It is, in fact, a matter of life and death.

Your dog’s happy demeanor is the result of practical stoicism.

Similar forces had to be working upon humans too.  Who knows why happy stoicism didn’t get baked into our DNA too?  My theory is that our self-awareness prevented it by allowing us an escape hatch — being two-faced.  If I’m right, that means that being a happy and loving stoic is directly linked to integrity.

You see, the stereotype of the stern and frowning stoic is just that.  Your dog knows that behavior is not a bilateral spectrum or a zero sum game.  Dogs — and people for that matter — don’t have to be either happy-go-lucky or  stoic.  Possessing self-control doesn’t mean you have to be inscrutable or have the deadpan aspect of a corpse.

Nor does it mean being fake.  To be clear, we are not talking about simply gritting our teeth and hiding the pain.  That’s grade school stuff compared to what any dog down at the dog-pound can do.  We are talking about actually being happy and full of love despite being in pain.  And this goes for physical pain as well as spiritual and intellectual pain, like stress, money problems, family strife, work pressures, and so on.

It boils down to being the same person all the time, no matter what comes our way.  Isn’t that what integrity is?  Being a dutiful person even when it’s inconvenient or dangerous?  Being kind and polite even when others aren’t?  Staying on course despite the winds of pain, anger, frustration and anguish?

Sometimes reality is literally a pain.   Deal with it.  Start with daily contemplation and awareness training.  Then make a resolution to be like a dog — to be happy and loving even when you’re suffering.  Be on the lookout for signs that you might be allowing your pains to change who you are.  Make a note in your training journal when you catch yourself being whiny, cranky or selfish.  Be introspective enough to untangle your behavior and figure out what’s eating you — just knowing what it is can release its hold on you.    

Toughen up buttercup, or your pains will become everybody else’s pains too.

———————————-

Note:  One of Mark Hatmaker’s readiness tests, the all-day tenderfoot drill, helped crystallize the above ideas in my mind.  What a great drill — thanks Mark!

 


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

Review: Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions” 

Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions is maddening – not because it is uniformly bad but because it contains a tarnished brilliance that is a clue to an underlying schizophrenia ultimately revealed in its conclusion.  At times you think it may be building into a tour de force, but then you are confronted by a disappointing blemish.   It is written eloquently and awkwardly at the same time:

“Guidelines are weakening even here, but it is still pretty much the case that if a corporation executive were to forget his necktie, he would have trouble getting through the day.” (italics mine)

Who would expect, in a thoughtful book like this one, to find “pretty much” or “corporation executive” instead of “corporate executive?”  Contrast these transgressions to this insight:

“Reality is steeped in ineluctable mystery; we are born in mystery, we live in mystery, and we die in mystery.  Here again we must rescue our world from time’s debasement, for “mystery” has come to be associated with murder mysteries, which, because they are solvable are not mysteries at all.  A mystery is that special kind of problem which for the human mind has no solution…” (italics mine)

An excellent way of expressing the religious mystery for sure.  And yet the ear begs for the clumsy transposition of “which” and “for” to be undone.  There are gems to be found in the dirt, but unfortunately there is dirt to be found on most of Huston’s gems.   It’s clear he spent years researching the book, and it’s painful to be so critical.   But passages like this one, found in the conclusion, sum up the central problem underlying his inconsistencies:

“Our realization that science cannot help us reopen the door to looking seriously again at what the wisdom traditions propose.  Not all of their contents are enduringly wise.  Modern science has superseded their cosmologies, and the social mores of their day, which they reflect – gender relations, class structures, and the like – must be reassessed in the light of changing times and the continuing struggle for justice.  But if we pass a strainer through the world’s religions to lift out their conclusions about reality and how life should be lived, those conclusions begin to look like the winnowed wisdom of the human race.”

This is the viewpoint of a person who supports the continued erosion of the world’s religions — the viewpoint of someone who is opaque to his own disrespect of the traditions he seems to endorse.  Is he blind to the living people he has studied, many of whom would take issue with his willingness to “pass a strainer” through their faiths and winnow out what he likes and does not like?  How many of them (myself included) would say that the world’s religions don’t “look like” the wisdom of the human race?

They are.

Huston’s book would have been better if he had embraced the world’s religions to an extent sufficient to make him willing to fight harder for their preservation.

Five Proven Addiction Fighting Strategies

As someone who has battled tobacco, overeating and negative behaviors with a little success, I’ve compiled a list of things that worked for me.  I’ve given this advice to others, and some have found it helpful.  So I decided to make a video.  Plus, it’s Sunday, I’m a deacon in seminary, and I’m trying to get in the habit of  doing something that resembles writing a weekly homily or sermon.

Locomotion: Martial Arts Training Involution #173

Me and my son going down the slide at Rugged Maniac

Last week we discussed why tanks are scarier than cannons — because tanks can move and cannons can’t — and we did some movement-related training.  This week we’re taking it a step further by doing some “next level” movement drills.

Why?  Because, whether you’re a martial artist or not, being able to move through your environment isn’t just handy for clearing obstacles so that you can escape danger.  It’s about ownership of the space you occupy.  It’s about confidence, command and mastery of one’s body, practical fitness, fighting the spectre of workout boredom, and more!

Locomotion: Martial Arts Training Involution #173

  • Martial warm-up.  Practice your forms or flow drills for 8 minutes.
  • Spar or work your heavy bag for 20 minutes.  If you have a partner, gear up and spar using whatever guidelines you prefer.  At my clubs we generally spar using standard MMA rules and equipment except that we don’t allow strikes to the head (only smearing, grinding and cooking) and we don’t push the contact past about 2/3.  If you don’t have a partner, work your heavy bag.  I recommend using some aspect of the “S.A.F.E.  M.P. ” protocol from the Cabal Fang Study Guide.
  • Practice some martial movement exercises for 15 minutes.  Set up a little course of six exercises as much like the ones in the video below as you can manage (modify, adapt and overcome!) which are  Suitcase Carry Sprints, Vault w/ Quad Run, Jump and Safety Roll, Log Walks, Kansas Burpees and Get-ups.  Set a timer for 2:30 intervals and do as many as you can of each exercise for 2:30.
  • Walking Contemplation.  Walk.  Just walk.  Go slowly to minimize the sounds of your footfalls.  Be silent and do not fidget or scratch.  Breathe silently and in a regular pattern, and narrow your eyes to minimize the need to blink.  Do not think in words, prepare your grocery list, or any of that.  Just put one foot in front of the other and allow your chattering monkey mind to gradually quiet  itself until you’re in a quiet state of awareness.
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log or journal when you’re done.


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

RAT TRAP SATRAP a poem

Rat Trap Satrap

Misering the counted days
Living in a zero sum haze
Rat trap satrap
Prince of the atheist craze

Puzzling the whodunit maze
With your TV detective ways
Pink Panther answers
And two-bit gumshoe dossiers

But there’s warp within the weave
Look up quick before you leave
At the apogee tapestry
It’s zero grieve and all vive

Infinite numbers that are odd
Even too eternal esplanade
Sacerdotal grand total
The unbound is not for naught

Receding when approached
The most sacred mysteries
Will not be encroached
Sanest of all insanities
To lose oneself and gain a soul


“Hey Mitch, what’s this poetry thing all about?” I want to collaborate with Blue Öyster Cult and I’m hoping the Öyster Boys will think this would make a good lyric.

Did you know I wrote a paranormal/mystery/romance book inspired by Blue Öyster Cult’s lyrical themes?  Click here to download it here for free!

The cover to my book “Chatters on the Tide” inspired by the music of Blue Öyster Cult

Hunt: Martial Arts Training Involution #171

The following essay is from from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program.  If you like this you’d probably like my workbook available here.


The Formidable Faculties of the Cricket Frog

I nearly stepped on him.  He was so still that I thought he was a part of the terrain.  I stopped and gave him a good look-see.  He didn’t seem to mind much.

He was a common cricket frog.  A storm had come bringing sheets of rain and a break in the heat of this late afternoon in August.  He had hopped onto the cement at the edge of the gazebo.  Like me, he was watching green leaves blowing from the trees and lightning cracking in the distance.  I’ve seen a million cricket frogs.  But there was something special about him, or rather, something special about the encounter.  I have grown old and wise enough to recognize this feeling.  I am about to realize something important.  Not right now, but soon.

The next day, after a very productive training session, I sat down to do some contemplation.  Let’s not play fast and loose with our words and refer to all forms of mental exercise as meditationMeditation is a form of medicine — both words have the same Latin root — it is focused attention with a purpose, often using at tool.  Those tools start with the letter M just like meditation: mantras (holy words), mudras (spiritual gestures), and mandalas (holy maps or visual aids).    Contemplation, on the other hand, shares its Latin root with temple, a space set aside for sacredness or divinity to enter.  To contemplate is to empty the mind.  You just just sit and breathe.  This is the zazen of Zen Buddhism.  You don’t think about anything.  You turn off your conscious mind and sit immobile.  

Like a frog.

It did not come to me in words, this grand realization, but in a rush of images in my mind’s eye.  I saw instantly that a frog contemplates in his own way.  Every creature that has ever lain in wait for a prey animal to come by — a frog waiting for a fly, a catfish biding for a minnow, a hunter in a tree stand waiting for a buck — has practiced contemplation.

The first three things you are taught when learning zazen are (a) do not fidget or scratch, (b) breathe silently and in a regular pattern, and (c) keep your eyes open to narrow slits to minimize the need to blink.  You are instructed to make no judgments or conscious evaluations about about what is before your eyes.  You do not ignore the world, you just choose not to react to it for a time.  You are completely relaxed, open, and empty — motionless inside and out — in a state of quiet awareness.

This is the behavior of a creature that is lying in wait for prey.

Contemplation is not a human invention.  We just differentiated various methods, gave them names, and basically did what humans always do: we codified, boxed, labeled and pontificated.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all human systems of contemplation and meditation (and maybe even prayer as well) have their origins in hunting behaviors.

From fish, to frogs, to mammals, to apes to humans, at every stage of our evolution, we contemplated in order to survive.  Contemplation is in our DNA.  It is not a skill that we cultivate.  It is something that we allow to happen.

Contemplation is going home.


Hunt: Martial Arts Training Involution #171

* Martial Fitness Warm-up.  Set a timer for 10 mins and complete as many 4-rep sets as you can of Sit-Out Push-ups, 5-yard Bear Walks, Leg Triangles, and Shots.
* Weapon practice.  Every martial artist should be able to pick up a weapon and use it to defend himself if necessary.  Select a dull practice weapon of realistic size and weight and a heavy bag for a target.  Advanced folks may use a live weapon and a pell or war post if desired, but only if capable of doing so safely.  Set timer for 5 x 2:00 and complete 1 round of each (1) Passing blows (strike as you sprint back-and-forth past target) (2) Stationary strikes, (3) Sprawl and strike, (4) Up and down kneeling strikes (strike as you go down to one knee, both knees, one knee, standing, repeat), and (5) Sit-up strikes.  Strike constantly, taking as few 12-count breaks as you need to finish.  If the business end of the weapon touches your body at any time, complete 50 Push-ups for each touch.
* Half mile run.  Cover a half mile as fast as you can.
* Contemplation.  Walk off your run for about 3 minutes or until your heart rate is back to normal, then sit still for fifteen minutes.  Do not fidget or scratch, breathe silently and in a regular pattern, and narrow your eyes to minimize the need to blink.  Do not think in words, prepare your grocery list, or any of that.  Be in a state of quiet awareness, motionless inside and out.
* Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log or journal.


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!