No rest for the wicked

If I still have a noticeably weak side, it’s sleep. Man, I have to get my beauty sleep. Going without food or water can make me a bit cranky, still being all under control and cool – but man, I become a different person without my sleep. So that’s an issue I’ve been working on for some time now and I feel like it’s going well.

One of the things that needed to change was not only how much I sleep but how I sleep. I have a natural ability to fall tight asleep and not hear my surroundings while sleeping which is probably OK and even a good thing for a peaceful city dweller, but it’s a strategic weakness that has got to go – or I have no place talking about becoming overhuman.

You know how you always hear about supernatural abilities of ninjas? One of their amazing abilities is their capacity for light sleep. Even while resting, even while sleeping, there is still an awareness, a trained primal awareness that expects an imminent attack. Not claiming that all of it (or any of it) is true, I would say that it’s a thing worth examining and trying before rejecting as impossible. And that’s what I’m doing at the moment. To be sincere, that’s what I wanted to do before, but I didn’t know how. How can you train something while you’re sleeping?

And after some time I found the technique, and the technique is as follows:

Listening meditation.

So firstly, you’re going to have to accept the fact that this thing is no quick fix. If you’ve never meditated before it’s not going to work that well for you, so I suggest you start meditating on your own (or you can wait for my 30-day meditation program to get you through a month, but you might wait for some time in that case. :) )

Secondly, even if you’re an experienced meditator, it’s going to take some time in order for the technique to really show itself while you’re sleeping. It’s like training your body an entirely new trick, and that takes time and effort.

What you do couldn’t be simpler: you focus your awareness on sounds you can hear. It’s what you naturally do as a kid when you’re afraid in the dark, and you heard a weird cracking sound in the room next door. Only this is deliberate, whereas a child’s fear is by no means under control. You listen, and then you listen some more, and you take time to acknowledge each and every sound you hear, be it indoors, outdoors, near or far away from you – you acknowledge it and listen on.

As you go on through your listening meditation, your thoughts will start to wander naturally because there’s basically nothing interesting going on – or apparently nothing interesting is going on. Here’s where your experience in meditation kicks in – you are (or at least should be) able to put these first few waves of wandering thoughts under rein.

Then you’re slowly falling asleep, losing awareness and letting thoughtdreams flow over you – this is a natural process. Let’s just take a moment and appreciate the word ‘thoughtdreams’. Okay, we can go on now. What then? Well, at this point you’ve lost control and it’s going to happen for a while, better just accept it than try to fight it. Just keep on listening every night and you’ll realize that at one point, even though you’re not conscious, even if you’re fast asleep, you’ll be able to hear what goes on around you.

Test it: ask your friends and family to walk around at night at random times if they’re the night type, or if you have someone to train this with, ask him/her to sneak around you at night at random times. Later during the day, talk about when they sneaked around you, how many times during the night and so on. You’ve heard the person 2/3 of the times? Good job. Keep on training.

The quality we’re after here is that shallowness of sleep which let’s us go from full rest mode to full fighting mode in a matter of seconds. Naturally, sleep comes in stages and in some stages of deep sleep, I’m not even sure it’s possible to do this, but in all other stages, I’m pretty much positive that we can be much more strategic about them.

Stages of sleep. In stage 3 and 4, I think it's going to be near impossible or impossible to make this technique work, but I have to do some research on that before claiming anything.

Stages of sleep. In stage 3 and 4, I think it’s going to be near impossible or impossible to make this technique work, but I have to do some research on that before claiming anything.

As for the health implications of such sleep habits, I have yet to experience drawbacks. I get the same amount of rest – but that might be because I’m new to this technique and it’s necessary for some time to pass so that I can evaluate this. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but I think it’s worth a try. What I know for sure is that getting killed while you sleep is certainly not healthy.

Good night!

Thinking

Modern common belief, especially amongst the wisdom-seeking population, would have it that we’re thinking too much. After all, if meditation is removing thoughts or at least distancing yourself from them, and meditation is what you should be doing if you’re looking for self-improvement, then the conclusion that we’re thinking too much and feeling (or meditating) too little is quite logical to make.

But I disagree. I think we’re not thinking quite enough. What meditation proponents call for “too much thinking”, I would call “too much non-mindful thinking”. See, when have you last spent some time just thinking? If you haven’t, do you know someone that has, or does on a regular basis? Do we actually have a specific time, designated solely for the purpose of thinking? It is my belief that for the most people, thinking just happens along the way and that nobody has a time for thinking. Maybe it’s not that we don’t have time for thinking, we just don’t have a time for thinking.

le penseur

Thinking is an evolutionary gift, a necessity imposed to us by our environment. Instead of running away from thinking, we should strive to improve it, and meditation is, among its other uses, a way of improving our thinking. Through meditation, we learn mindfulness, and mindfulness in thinking is what stops you from analyzing a problem and making a mental turn towards that funny cat video you saw yesterday or imagining what you would say in an argument with that jerk that you dislike so much. Of course, meditation is only one of the ways we can improve our thinking. Designating a specific time for it, stating “Now I’m going to think” and seeing what happens is also one of the tools. Nootropics, chemicals that enhance your cognitive capabilities are also one of the tools. Surely there are many other tools people use. Maybe you think best while playing an instrument or while just picking at the strings, or maybe you think best while walking or while knitting, but the point is that there is a way to improve your thinking in terms of results.

Don’t avoid thinking and rely on feeling alone. Feeling is great, but it’s not all there is to the human mind. We have these cold, logical machines inside our heads, each and every one of us, yet many of us don’t use them as much as they could, or maybe should. Some out of pure inertia or ignorance (bluntly put, because they’re stupid) and some out of personal conviction, because they believe the thinking, cold, logical mind is not good. Neither are commendable, but the people that intentionally lessen the importance of logical, analytical thinking are blameworthy, in the same way that exclusive reasoners shun feeling and emotions. Only through accepting the both sides will the mind flourish in its entirety.

Think!

Unworm your ear

Earworm: A song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. (source: Urban Dictionary)

If you’re okay with earworms and they don’t bother you, stop reading and go on with your day.

If you mind earworms, if they bug you (wow much pun amaze lol wow), then keep reading.

I'm getting better and better at this stuff.

I’m getting better and better at this stuff.

I dislike earworms because there is essentially nothing different between an earworm and a thought. And I haven’t been meditating for the last 3 years for nothing. Nagging thoughts that repeatedly resurface and you can’t seem to let go of them – meditation is for you. You learn to observe and not think; perceive and not judge; feel and not reason. This is all good, but how do you meditate, how do you do such a thing, if there is a tune stuck in your mind and whatever you do, you just keep hearing it over and over and over again?

Well, luckily for you, I’ve come up with a technique (two actually). And they both work.

The first one is sleeping: I’ve come to realize that I have earworms when I’m tired. And what should you do when you’re tired? That’s right, rest. So rest. Sleep. That’s number one.

The second one is a variation on classical Zen meditation. In Zen meditation, you observe the feeling you get from your breath. In your “unworming” meditation, you close your eyes and listen to the world around you. To the birds, the trees, the wind, the cars, the people. If it’s silent, you just listen to silence (silence actually has a sound, that was amazing for me to realize, there’s this extremely silent constant beep or screech that you never perceive because it’s so impossibly silent. But I digress.) If you do this, you don’t listen to the song in your mind but to your surroundings, which also has a tactical positive side: you learn to mind the sounds around you. Think of cats – have you ever seen a cat that ignored a sound? I haven’t. They always react to sounds, even when they’re sleeping their ears move around, listening for danger. Try to be more like a cat.

That’s it. Next time your earworm starts bugging you (oh I’m just so funny), do one or both of these things and you’ll be fine in no time.

Crying under the shower

This knowledge is useful, so read this well – it took me more than 3 years in order to find this technique, I hope you will discover it in yourself in much less time.

What’s this about?

Basically, your body and mind, in one word, being, is more often than not under some form of stress, be it physical or psychological. Any kind of stress will result in emotions. You can be stressed by a hammer hitting you on the finger (a physical stress) but the end-result is emotions (in this case, probably anger).

This stress will resurface every now and then, depending on your lifestyle, but it will resurface in form of emotions. Imagine yourself as a pressure valve – you accumulate (emotional) pressure and then, if you don’t have a way of releasing it, and mind you, an effective way, you break apart, release a lot of it in a spur and then you’re empty. And then you start accumulating stress again.

Well, after 3 years of being aware of this fact and convincing myself that playing drums or writing or meditation or boxing would help me get it out, I realized that they might, but none come as close as simply crying under the shower.

plač

le paint art

 

Yup. That’s right. I cry under the shower when I’m feeling stressed out because that’s my natural way of releasing all the shit outside without freaking anybody out. You know, you could cry in the park or in the street or near another person, but I hope you have someone cry-worthy for that then.

(Wow! Cry-worthy! That’s my new favorite word!)

But yeah, cry under the shower because it muffles the sound, no one wonders why you’re all alone (I sincerely hope you can at least shower alone), and the warm water feels nice. The symbolic cleansing accompanied by a real one, you know, the whole package!

I think that girls generally have this part really nicely covered because the societal expectations on them aren’t the same as for boys. That shit about boys not crying is shit. We feel the same pain and respond in the same manner. Crying is, for a lot of men, still a taboo, even when they’re all alone, with no one to make fun of them. It’s just something they try never to do, ignoring the fact that, one day, they will cry, regardless of do they want it or not. It’s the same attitude people used to have towards sexuality (at least in highly orthodox countries). You know, masturbation wasn’t something you were supposed to do. Well, this is the same, after a fashion. People act like they don’t have to do it, then break apart, do it, and then the circle starts again and people act like they don’t have to do it again.

In my view, this is a very limiting mindset which possibly makes you chose situations that won’t result in you crying. I have no proof of this – this is just a stab in the dark – but it does seem true (we should probably have studies comparing lifestyles of people that cry and of those that don’t). But even if you don’t unintentionally chose non-stressful situations because you’re afraid to cry, you still have a big disadvantage: you’re emotionally more unstable than your crying counterparts. You’re maybe two heated sentences away from crying as a baby and maybe it’s not strategically best. Maybe you need to assert control in front of a group of people. Maybe you just need to show that you’re strong. Maybe something else. Maybe it’s okay to cry – but then it should be you who decides, not the pressure valve. You can’t get rid of it (actually you can, lobotomy works great) but you can learn how to use it and control it.

So there, I gave you a great tool in order to manage your emotional self. Use it. Get used to your crying self. Note which muscles contract when you cry, and why your throat hurts when you do. Become acquainted with your crying self. It’s as important as your industrious, hard-working self, and infinitely more important than your persona.

Party hard, cry harder.

 

Unorthodox use of weapons

For the next week or two, I’ll be working on an old concept that I’ve only recently re-discovered: Unorthodox use of weapons.

As we’ve previously discussed in the article There is no difference between armed and unarmed combat, there are certain unspoken rules and conventions that arise during physical confrontations which we are not aware of. For example, a person wanting to attack us will often just attack with his or her body – fists, feet, elbows etc, but not throw sand in our eyes or use a pencil as a stabbing tool. Despite the fact that the attacker might want to do something similar, he/she will often not do anything like that because it’s unconventional and unorthodox. There are some that will do such things and they are fearsome opponents because their creativity lets them do things other people wouldn’t.

That is why I often attack with a practice knife that I grab in the middle of a sparring session. My sparring partner is sparring with me and often doesn’t count on a knife attack happening because, you know, we’re just sparring. This mindset needs to be erased and reshaped into one that expects the unexpected. Even my knife attacks in the middle of sparring are quite conventional because knives are conventional weapons. An unconventional attack might involve throwing a focus pad on my partner in order to distract him, and then attack with something even more unconventional. This way my partner trains his/her response to creative attacks and I train my creativity in the middle of a fight. One friend of mine has told me that on several occasions, it happened to him that his sparring partner threw an unexpected strike at him, from up high, or a rotational/jumping kick, and that he just froze, not out of fear, but out of lack of expectation. This frame of mind needs to be changed.

So, what is unorthodox use of weapons?

It is a practical science as well as a philosophy. As regards philosophy, the main ideas have already been mentioned: through unorthodox use of weapons, you employ your creativity in order to give you more tools than you would have had. Thus a Muay Thai fighter will not only use his eight limbs but bottles, credit cards, keys, chains, teeth, fingers, sand, water, the blinding effect of the sun – to his advantage. Thus a person with a gun will not only shoot from it but use it as a striking and thrusting implement, and, with sufficient knowledge, as an explosive. Through unorthodox use of weapons, you are given many more tools and a mindset that expects attacks of a similar nature. Simply put, you are a better and a more realistic fighter.

As regards the practicality of it, some ideas have already been mentioned, and I will mention others too, but the main point is to invent your own unorthodox uses of weapons. One thing to hold in mind is realism: some unorthodox attacks are simply not effective or effective enough. Know what you gain from each attack. If it is better to simply punch and kick, then by all means, punch and kick.

But learning to use everything close to us as a weapon is a good habit. Form no favorites: learn to use each weapon and then discard it. If you are more inclined to some weapons than others, you already became a specialist, and not a generalist, and a generalist is in this context much better than a specialist.

Practical ideas for training:

(let this be only an inspiration, not a definite guide)

  • when sparring unarmed, attack with a weapon
  • when sparring armed, try to not use the weapon but only your body
  • when sparring in a room, subtly move towards the lights switch and turn the ligths off, and then attack
  • throw stuff at your partner before you attack
  • use other people as shields, or unexpectedly attack your partner together with someone else that wasn’t suposed to participate
  • look at the things in your room and try to figure out a way to weaponize them:
    • a pencil might be used for stabbing
    • a deodorant might be used for spraying into someone’s eyes, or hitting
    • shoestrings could be used to trap arms or legs, or to suffocate someone
    • a flashlight could blind someone in the dark, making a good introduction to a fight
  • yell at your training partner. Voice can in itself be a formidable tool.
Some ideas on the unorthodox use of weapons. How would you weaponize these everyday objects?

Some ideas on the unorthodox use of weapons. How would you weaponize these everyday objects?

Keep this in mind: if it saves your life only once, it was worth all the training.

Martial arts: what to train, which style to choose and how to train in martial arts schools for free

On the path of becoming overhuman, martial arts play a crucial role. Martial arts do not teach people how to fight but how to live. My original reason for starting with martial arts is the same for Parkour – there is an initial choice to be made before everything else: to live or to die. Both are morally completely acceptable, as they make no matter on the grand scale of things. It is this nihilistic notion of unimportance of life that actually freed me. I realized that life is intrinsically unimportant and that I make the choice of living or dying. If I want importance, I have to make it myself. So I decided to live, and the next step was learning how to live. If you decide to live, you must know how one does it. And if you decide to live, you must be aware that there are forces that may end your life and that means that you must prepare yourself to protect your life. These are the reasons for both martial arts and Parkour. These reasons are still relevant for me today as they were several years ago and I feel I have valuable insights and experience to contribute.

So… Let’s have a look at the world of martial arts through questions and answers.

Can I train alone, using video instructions or do I need to go to a martial arts school?

You can train alone, but don’t begin alone. If you’ve never had any martial arts training, it would be smart to find people that can guide you. That way you progress much faster – you do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Which style should I choose?

Any style. It’s never about the style, but about the practitioner. Take up what interests you, something that excites you. For some people it may be Krav Maga or Muay Thai, both very simple, aggressive and external styles. Some people may be more interested in old styles, the various types of Kung Fu and the like. It doesn’t matter which one you pick. What matters is how open you are to other ideas (styles) and how realistic and down-to-earth you are with regards to real combat. Which leads me to…

Should I choose one style and stick with it or experiment with other styles?

This one is a though question. I always advise openness and looking at different perspectives, but I know that I wouldn’t be half as good a fighter I am today if I hadn’t stayed in my school. There are simply some things that take a lot of time and effort to master, and it’s not enough to superficially go through them. In other words, quality instead of quantity. But on the other hand, I’m equally sure that my real-world fighting skill wouldn’t be as good as it is today if I hadn’t sparred and trained with people from other backgrounds.

My advice would be this: stay in your school if you feel that what you’re being taught isn’t shit and if what you’re being taught is something you still haven’t mastered. If your master, trainer, sensei or sifu is better than you and beats you easily, you have much more to learn. But dabble in other styles – train with people with different backgrounds. This is very important.

As a Wing Tzun practitioner, I’ve encountered some difficulty sparring with Muay Thai or regular boxers. Their “normal” fighting distance wasn’t my normal fighting distance. This unawareness might have cost me my health on the street, but through sparring with them, I understood the fundamental differences in our fighting approaches and corrected the errors in my movement. Now I can fight with them without feeling awkward.

How do I know that what I’m being taught isn’t shit? Are modern styles like MMA better than traditional ones?

It’s popular for today’s MMA practitioners to say that Kung Fu and any other traditional style is a bunch of nonsense. The argument is that they have been thoroughly tested in the ring and it has been shown that these styles don’t work. And when there is a video of a fight in which the fighters supposedly use a traditional style and they’re winning, they say that they see western boxing/muay thai/etc.

While I won’t deny that there truly are many bullshit schools, relying on dogmatism and the cult of the master in order to keep up appearances, I believe that there is a fundamental misunderstanding at play here.

First and most important, fighting in the ring is not the same as fighting on the street. It’s common to grapple in the ring and you usually see people trying to land frontal strikes at the person who’s holding them, but avoiding hitting the back of their heads and necks. On the street, you would never do such a thing. If someone grapples you and gives you the back of their neck, you elbow it and hammer fist it. This isn’t allowed in the ring because fighting on the street isn’t a sport. It’s dirty and it’s bloody. You go for their nuts and for their throat and for their eyes.

I’m not saying that combat sports are useless. They are very useful and have a lot of applicability on the street. But let’s not forget that sport is sport, and combat is combat. I’m not talking out of my ass now – I’ve had some training in Muay Thai and boxing and it was very exciting and useful to learn, but it’s not all there is to fighting.

Secondly, many traditional styles have wider concerns than one to one fighting. They try to teach you how to breathe, how to look at people, how to develop you mental resilience. In traditional styles, there are many things to learn except learning how to fight. With this in mind, it should be noted that many techniques are actually only training techniques, designed to make it easier for you to gain a certain goal, not goals in themselves.

Furthermore, teachers often overemphasize certain things in order for people to understand them at all. In my phonetics class, our teacher used to overemphasize certain sounds just so that we could say them correctly. We underemphasized, they overemphasized, and thus we said them just correctly. So don’t try to turn over-explanations into bullshit claims. There are enough of them already.

Try to feel it: if you feel that what you’re being taught is not BS, it probably isn’t. This is where your own objectivity comes to play. Ask questions. Spar with other styles. Keep at something, maybe it will make sense to you after more diligent training. There’s no straight answer here.

What should my primary focus be on?

Many styles have their own ways of training, and each one thinks its way is better than the others. Usually there is a valid explanation why. This question can only be answered by an opinion, so I give mine.

Learn how to straight punch and straight kick. This means hitting air, but even more importantly, it means hitting a bag. After two years of training Wing Tzun, I had a certain technical know-how, but I wasn’t accustomed to the very act of hitting something hard, which is, in turn, the most important part of the fighting process. I firmly believe that beginners’ focus should be on striking heavy bags. That way, you get truly comfortable with the act of hitting something. Naturally, there are some styles that don’t do bag-striking at all. This doesn’t mean that they are bad. They may have a lot to teach you, but if you want quick improvement in your ability and fighting confidence, hit a bag. And of course, I hope I don’t need to mention it, but hit the bag with no gloves or pads. You don’t wear gloves on the street.

Get tough. One part of getting tough is simply getting strong. Do strength exercises, they will do you a lot of good in fighting. The other part is getting resilient, not being psychologically or physically bothered by adversity such as rain, cold or your opponent’s punches. I have several exercises that might comprise a toughness training session, and they are as following:

  • hit yourself with a wooden stick on the forearms and shins
  • do Parkour rolls – this alone increases your toughness and overall “body armor”
  • while sparring, allow yourself to get hit sometimes
  • fall on the ground and bump into walls on purpose – this might seem funny, but it is very useful
  • train in the cold, in the snow, in the wind, in the rain, without having eaten previously and without having slept sufficiently – of course, don’t overdo it. You don’t want to get sick and unhealthy. Balance is key.

One thing to remember is this: if you are getting beaten, don’t lose confidence. Persist despite adversity of any kind.

Become very fast (without sacrificing technique). This means developing your strategic footwork (every martial arts has its own) and, well, becoming physically fast while executing techniques. Footwork and speed. Footwork, speed. Speed, footwork. Got it? Great.

Shouldn’t I just fight on the street? Isn’t it true that you only get better at things if you do them? So if you want to get better at fighting, shouldn’t you just head outside and fight?

No. Fighting is one of the rare things you don’t get truly better at if you just head outside and do it. The odds are against it. There are certainly some good street fighters, but I have yet to meet a good one that never trained fighting. Sure, your self-confidence might rise (even at the expense of being a jerk). But do you get proper technique? Real punching power? Anything. In my opinion, no.

But I don’t have the money to go to a martial arts school.

If you really like a specific school and really don’t have the money, ask the instructor if there is any way for you to repay your debt, if you could clean the gym or help in any other way. Try it, it might just work. I know I’d accept someone that’s really passionate but doesn’t have the money.

But there is also another way for the empty of pocket. Most bigger cities have hundreds of various gyms. The first class is always free (and if it isn’t, it’s probably not worth your time anyway). Go from one gym to another, ask for the first free class, try it out, say thank you and then repeat with another gym and another school. You could do this for an entire year, and still have places you haven’t seen yet. I do this when I’m not training Wing Tzun. I go from one martial arts gym to another one, see what they have to offer, absorb new perspectives, feel their pulse, see how they breathe, and then visit another one.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or objections, the comment field is below, comment away.

 

The only solution I’ve found for knee pain

As a Parkour practitioner, I’ve experienced knee pain on many occasions. Parkour involves a lot of impact and for some people knee pain never arrives, but I started to feel it after some two years of practice (and it wasn’t a completely bad practice, I did warm up and I did pay attention to good technique).

I’ve experimented with foam rolling, then with wooden stick rolling, with a lot more stretching, with more running, with weight training (actually, with one legged squats, popularly called pistols) and the only thing I’ve found to work and to stop my knee pain, not only prevent it, is static strength training.

I do not know why the horse stance is so good and why it helps so much, but it does. Just two days ago I’ve started feeling my left knee again and yesterday I did just five minutes in the horse stance and voila, the pain had all but disappeared!

So I advise you, if you have knee pain (and I know a lot of people who have have it, it’s common enough within the world of physical activity), do static exercises, namely the horse stance. Do it as long as you can. If you can manage one minute, try two. If you’re okay with 5, do 10. There are people in this world that can hold the horse stance for hours on end. So, it can be done. It is on you to do it.

This is horse stance:

Disclaimer – Cass Heaven pointed out in his/her comment the following:

(…) While you might be right that it can help with a lot of knee pain when you strengthen your quadriceps muscle (front of things) you are wrong that it is the best thing to help all kinds of knee pain.
There are a lot of different structures and depending on what is hurt this exercise can actually cause a problem to get worse.

I agree, it might make the problem worse, depending on what’s wrong with your knee. I advocate self-experimentation but I also advocate being smart, so be smart and find out what the best therapy for you is. I’ve only given my personal account of managing knee pain, and it is based on practicing Parkour and recurring low-intensity knee pain. It might not be the best solution for you, but it also might be, and that’s why I put up the post, to share this idea with all of you. Experiment and be smart people!