Category Archives: Writing

Intent is the Secret Sauce

\In*tent”\, a. [L. intentus, p. p. of intendere. See
{Intend}, and cf. {Intense}.]

1. Closely directed; strictly attentive; bent; — said of the
mind, thoughts, etc.; as, a mind intent on self-improvement.

2. Having the mind closely directed to or bent on an object;
sedulous; eager in pursuit of an object; — formerly with
to, but now with on; as, intent on business or pleasure.
“Intent on mischief.” –Milton.

Watch this video.  In it you will notice that when people attack they have the intent to poke the other person in the torso with the wooden training weapon.   And since the defending person  fears the discomfort, this practice is real.

Intent is the secret sauce.

This is true in martial arts and in life.  Whatever it is that you’re doing, you need to have the intent to get it done.  In other words, you may laugh and joke all you like, but do not play.

If somebody is accused of murder, the prosecution must prove intent.  Did the accused have a plan?  Did he or she lay in wait?  At any point was there hesitation?  Did he or she ignore one or more opportunities to turn away from the act?

If somebody has the intent to harm you, you better have the intent to get home safely.

Learn this in martial arts class and then manifest it in your personal life, at your job and at home.  Have the intent to get a promotion at work and you might get one.  Have the intent to hit a financial goal — like saving up the money for a new kitchen, getting your car note paid off early, etc. — and you might get there.

But if you just play at it?  Success is unlikely.

Did you enjoy reading this?  Then the Cabal Fang book will blow your mind.  Buy a paper copy on Amazon or from Createspace or download the ebook here.



On Taking Down Monuments

Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Last weekend I went for a hike in Libby Hill Park where stands the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Afterward I went to Shamballa meditation at Ekoji Buddhist Sangha with a friend.  Although I’m in Christian seminary, I enjoy sharing spirit with others.   Some in the group expressed complex feelings about having not gone to Charlottesville to stand against the white supremacists gathering around monuments there.

Later that day the tragedy unfolded and an innocent young woman named Heather Heyer died while spreading love.  It was hard to think straight on the subject of monuments.  But I think I’ve processed enough now that I can think and speak clearly.

I fear that we’re missing an opportunity to be culturally vibrant, awake and mature and that we’re failing to engage with ourselves, each other and our ancestors.

Robert Mitchell — November 21, 1934 ~ July 8, 2008

Realizing as boy that my father wasn’t perfect, well, that was part of growing up.  But the day I realized, as a young father myself, that I had been unconsciously trying to be my father was the day I began becoming my own man. Growing into an adult means figuring out which of your parents’ ideas and behaviors  you should carry forward and which ones you shouldn’t.  Pop was awesome.  My assignment is to be even better.

We have to try and outdo our parents.  And we had better succeed.  Because if we don’t there’s no hope for the future.

And if I do succeed in being a better man than Pop, would it be right for me say so out loud?  When I discovered that my father was human, did I disrespect him?  Did I rub his nose in his faults?  Now that’s he’s gone, do I bash him in conversation or on my blog?  No, no, no and no.  I respect his accomplishments too much to do anything other than focus on what he did right.

It’s no wonder ancestor veneration and worship are still very common practices worldwide.  Almost everything we enjoy — our science, art, architecture, music, customs, fashion — comes to us as a fantastic gift from our imperfect predecessors. If they hadn’t invented agriculture and medicine, for example, we’d be sick and starving. We owe them big time.

Taking down a monument is a metaphorical act of patricide.  And that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

One of my favorite monuments — the “Iron Mike” monument to the Civilian Conservation Corp in Shenandoah National Park.

I personally dislike Christopher Columbus.  I think he was a buffoon who thought the earth was pear-shaped, a mercenary who butchered the natives of Hispaniola.  But to the 2 million members of the Knights of Columbus, who do great charity work, Columbus is a hero.  Should we tear down all of the Columbus monuments?  There was time when I might have said “yes.”  Now I’m not so sure.

Thomas Jefferson bowed to public opinion and gave up on emancipation.  Davy Crockett bought votes with liquor and tobacco.  Teddy Roosevelt had imperialist tendencies and made some bigoted remarks.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt put 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.  All of those guys are heroes of mine.  I’m not forgetting the facts, I’m just choosing to focus on the most positive attributes of those great men — not their faults.

If we only allow monuments to perfect people there will be no monuments.  

Millions died at the hands of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.  That’s a clear cut distinction.  No monuments to genocidal maniacs should be allowed.  But what about Robert E. Lee?  I’ve read Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox, and my personal opinion is that Lee was a good man who faced an impossible, unwinnable choice — fight against and kill his fellow Virginians and his own family or side with the secessionists with whom he disagreed.  After the war he became a college president and set a positive conciliatory example for his fellow southerners.  This man was no monster, no murdering despot.  The decision to take down his monuments should be made calmly, fairly and respectably.

But it’s impossible to have a calm conversation about any of this when there are evil, bigoted, white supremacists, Klansmen, Nazis and other domestic terrorists standing in front of our monuments spewing hate and and killing people.  Perhaps we’ll be able to talk about it later when we’ve locked up the killers and healed our wounds.

In the meantime, let’s not surrender to our anger, over-react to what happened in Charlottesville, and start smashing things that don’t belong to us the way they did in Durham yesterday.

Remember, we need to do better than our forebears.  Violence begets violence and two wrongs don’t make a right.

At the Crossroads of Arete and WOOTW #66

I just finished re-reading Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the third time.  It gets better every time I read it.  Haven’t read it?  You should fix that.

Anyway, one of the ideas central to the book is the Ancient Greek concept of arete or excellence.  Pirsig’s point (as I see it anyway) is that you as soon as you pluck a flower it starts to die, as soon as you mount a butterfly under glass you’ve destroyed it’s ethereal beauty, and as soon as you define excellence you’ve killed it’s dynamic, transformational potential.  Excellence (Pirsig uses the word quality) has to be ever-receding.  With excellence you never arrive.  Arete is a carrot hanging on a pole in front of a mule.  It should never get caught and eaten.  

As Lao Tzu said in Tao Te Ching,

“The tao which can be described is not the tao.”

The other day I stumbled on to an unusual coincidence concerning arete.


My mother had some challenges in her life that made it hard for her to be positive.  She always struggled focus on the future and on moving forward.  But she had a Bible passage that she clung to as an inspiration to be positive, and she passed on the wisdom of that passage to me when she gave me my bible about 40 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago something pretty awful happened, something really shocking and scary that put me on my heels.  So I reached out to that passage for some much-needed comfort.  The passage is Philippians 4:4-9, and it goes like this:

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  And finally my brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”

There are two things I want to point out in that passage.  The first is that Paul says “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which sounds a lot like the tao, or like ever-receding goodness.  The second is that, in the original Greek, the word Paul used for “excellence” is arete.

Yep, arete.

There was a Greek goddess named Arete who personified the idea.  According to Wikipedia,

“The only story involving Arete was originally told in the 5th century BC by the sophist Prodicus, and concerns the early life of the hero Heracles. At a crossroads, Arete appeared to Heracles as a young maiden, and offered him glory and a life of struggle against evil; her counterpart Kakia (κακία, “badness”), offered him wealth and pleasure. Heracles chose to follow the path of Arete.”

The concept of arete is an example of universal wisdom, and it’s embedded in all the world’s great philosophies and religions.  The quest for arete is personified in the tale of every hero, and I think also in the idea of Logos.

Which is why arete inheres in the Cabal Fang concept of mettlecraft.  Want to know more?  Get a copy of the book and read about it.  Ebook here, hardcopy here.

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #66

Part One — High Intensity Circuit Training.  Set up four stations — a hitting station, a lifting station, a swinging station and a squatting station.  Set a timer for rounds of 2:00 minutes, no breaks, and complete 8 rounds — that’s 16:00 minutes. For the hitting station, hit a stump with an ax, punch a heavy bag with your fists, or beat on a tire with a sledge.  For the lifting station, flip a tire, squat press a barbell, lift a sandbag, etc.  You get the idea.   Improvise!  You must go as hard as you can — hit, lift, swing and squat with the maximum intensity you can muster.  Take as few 12-count breaks as you must in order to finish standing up.  Video below.

Part Two — Meditation on arete.  What the hell is excellence anyway?  Well, if you don’t have any idea what it is, you probably aren’t going to have any luck in your pursuit of it!  So set a timer for 8 minutes.  Assume your usual meditative posture and meditate on arete.  When you’re done, get out your training log or journal and write at least 100 words on what arete means to you.



TRUTH! (and Workout of the Week #65)

“Truth?” you ask.  “What about it?”  Well, truth is a big deal.  So much so that you can, as a thought experiment, divide the world into two camps: (A) those who believe in rigid, timeless, objective truths and (B) those who believe that truth varies from person to person and objective truth is a fantasy.  And it sometimes seems as though the evening news is just a blow-by-blow retelling of the unceasing conflict between the two.

In this video, philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch walks you through how to start getting at the truth through the idea of shared, common reality.  He says,

“Protagoras said that objective truth was an illusion because “man is the measure of all things.” That can seem…liberating, because it allows each of us to discover or make our own truth.  But actually, I think it’s a bit of self-serving rationalization disguised as philosophy. It confuses the difficulty of being certain with the impossibility of truth. “

One of the best TED talks I’ve listened to in recent memory.

And now for the Cabal Fang Workout of the Week.  Sorry, by the way, for missing last week.  Stuff happened.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #65

  • Heavy Bar training drill.  Get yourself a heavy bar — a digging bar, barbell bar, etc. — and pick it up.   Small folks use a #20, big folks use a something heavier.  Beginners work for 6 minutes, intermediate 12, advanced 18 — do not put down the bar for the duration of the drill.  Move that bar around like you would a staff if you were fighting — spearing movements, jabs, pokes, blocks, bracing maneuvers (striking with the portion between the hands), and so on.  In addition, practice your Figure-4 locks.  If your arms completely gas, put the bar behind your neck and do 10 to 20 Squats, then start again.  Wear gloves if you’re a tenderfoot.
  • 24-Hour commitment to truth.  Make a commitment to speak the truth for the next 24 hours.  The point isn’t to be blunt, rude or hurtful.  To avoid that you’re going to need to slow down, choose your words carefully, and express what you’re feeling.  Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about truth.  If you like this one, you might appreciate the previous one.


Alchemical Transformation and WOOTW #64

This week’s workout is in video format.  Enjoy!

The View from up Here

I have friends, employees and acquaintances who suffer from depression, struggle with their weight, and have issues with career.  I try to give them advice as gently as I can, reminding them that I used to be unhappy, 80 pounds overweight, and working for just over minimum wage. 

But while hiking and fishing with my son this weekend (pictures below) it occurred to me that it’s very hard to describe to someone what the world can be like for them if they embrace changes in how they think, act, feel and believe.  You can describe the view till you’re blue in the face.  But until you get up here and look down yourself, it all seems so impossible. 

People think you’re crazy, lying or exaggerating. But I’m really not. 

The world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, evils and problems big and small will always intrude. But the world is amazing and beautiful. And if you can take charge of your direction you can find a place where the view is better than you can possibly imagine.

My America and WOOTW #63

Here in the good ol’ USA we just celebrated July 4th, Independence Day.

Despite all the nastiness and acrimony of the recent presidential election, despite all the political rhetoric and the vitriolic spew surrounding Trump, I find myself feeling more and more patriotic these days.

The reason I feel more patriotic and optimistic about America than ever starts with the knowledge that Donald Trump is not us and Hillary Clinton is not us.  Neither was Obama, Bush or Clinton before that.  Trump, who campaigned and won as an outsider, has filled his cabinet with old guard Republicans, senators and rich elites.  Obama won on a platform or change, but largely did the same thing — he appointed the same old neoliberals and bankers.  Bush lied to us and go us into perpetual war.  Bill Clinton?  As Jordan Chariton said, he talked like a populist too.  But when it came down to it,

Clinton, NOT Reagan, deregulated the Telecom Industry. Clinton, NOT Reagan, repealed Glass-Steagall, the cornerstone of banking regulation for 60 years. Clinton, NOT Reagan, deregulated credit-default swamps [sic]—which was the gasoline that lit the financial crash fire. Clinton, NOT Reagan, loosened banking rules that forced them to make loans to low income neighborhoods.  And it was Clinton, NOT Reagan, who signed NAFTA, which was the largest nail in the American middle class’ coffin, with the TPP potentially being the final one.

These presidents we elect are all out for #1.  Their loyalty to big business and big banking is baked in from the start because it takes half a billion dollars to get elected.

“But Mitch,” you may ask, “that’s pretty cynical.  How could that possibly make you even more patriotic than ever?!?!”

Isn’t it clear?  Look –even Mike Rowe, that bastion of the right-wing middle-America, gets it.  As he said on his blog,

These two candidates were the choices we gave ourselves, and each came with a heaping helping of vulgarity and impropriety. Yeah, it was dirty job for sure, but the winner was NOT decided by a racist and craven nation – it was decided by millions of disgusted Americans desperate for real change.

I’m more patriotic than ever because I know that we are better than these candidates or any of the candidates who came before them.

Americans are just trying to make sense of a changing world, trying not to fall to their doom in the ever-widening culture gap.  As we fight for our lives and livelihoods, we do what people always do.  We grasp at straws (like nostalgic slogans, antiquated economic ideas, fantasy jobs, and unsustainable minimum wage proposals) and play the blame game, putting everyone but ourselves in the cross hairs (like Mexicans, cops, politicians, scientists, evangelicals, you name it).

Sooner or later we’re going to realize that we are the solution.

George Washington didn’t free us from English tyranny.  American citizens made their own uniforms and did it with their own guns. Abe Lincoln made some amazing speeches.  But when slaves needed emancipating, we rolled up our sleeves, created an underground railroad, and started saving people one at a time while the government dragged its feet and got us involved in a bloody war.  FDR didn’t defeat Hitler and empty the concentration camps, our soldiers did.  Obama didn’t nail Bin Laden, our Navy Seals did.  LBJ didn’t prevent unfair voting practices by passing the Civil Rights Act, American activists and the cops who backed them up did.

Americans did all those things.

Governments and their presidents almost always come last, long after ordinary people have blazed a trail.  Americans are strong.  They are kind.  And they are the most giving people in the world.  So yeah, I’m pretty darned patriotic this year.

And now for the workout of the Week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #63

  1. STRIKING FROM UNCONVENTIONAL POSITIONS.  Set timer for 2:00 minute intervals.  Strike heavy bag as you drop to one knee, then two knees.  Put one foot on the floor, and then stand up.  Keep striking the entire time.  As the Little Dragon said, “Hit while you move, move while you hit.”  When the timer beeps, get on the floor and practice kicking the bag from every angle, with your weight on left hip, on right hip, on your back, on your butt with hands on the floor, back kick on hands and knees, etc.  Next interval, lie down next to a floor bag — don’t mount it, you’ve practiced that plenty! —  and hit it with hammer fists, palm heels, punches, etc.  Hop to the other side and keep going.  When the timer beeps, stand up and run through it twice more.  That’s a total of 18 minutes — 9 intervals of 2:00 minutes each.  Take as few 12-count (or 7-breath) breaks as you need to finish.  If that’s confusing, there’s a video below.
  2. EXERCISING GUMPTION. After you’ve cooled down, set a timer for 10 minutes and assume your meditative position of choice.  Regulate your breathing and think back to the last time you waited for someone else to solve a problem that you could’ve addressed yourself.  This could be something as simple as not picking up some litter sitting next to your car in the parking lot or cleaning up the messy break room at your job.  Or it could be something as big as letting a teacher or principal deal with your kid’s decaying attitude or not voting in the last election.  Explore that failure and ask yourself some questions, like ‘How would things be different if you had taken responsibility?’  Record your thoughts and insights in your training log or journal.