Thursday, June 26, 2008


Last year I decided that I needed some form of regular exercise. My reflection was getting to be a little more pear-shaped than I liked, and before that happened to me I figured I better start working out. I have tried the local 24 hour gym, and that was a bore. Bowling doesn't qualify, which is about as close as I have gotten to exercise lately.

So I thought "I need something with a high fun factor, something I could really geek out on." As a long time card-carrying nerd, I love fantasy and have always wanted to learn to use a real sword. So I started looking for something I could do daily that involved sword training. Kendo came to mind first and I had my eye on a couple of dojos when I stumbled on a website for something called Shinkendo. It had a cool mpg of a japanese guy that looked really familiar (later found out I saw him on Teenage Mutent Ninja Turtles the Movie, and a couple cable documentaries). I gave the dojo a call talked with someone who said to come in and watch a session. I did, and from that moment on I was hooked.

The dojo happened to be the world headquarters for the Shinkendo Federation--the Honbu dojo-- and my "sensei" was actually the Kaiso of the artform: Obata Toshishiro, and that someone I talked to on the phone was his Mrs. Obata.

For those that don't know, Shinkendo is a martial art that teaches practical fighting techniques using a katana. We don't use shinai (bamboo wrapped in leather used in Kendo) but wooden practice swords called bokken or bokuto. We also do not use armor; just a judo gi and hakama (looks a lot like a skirt). And here was the deal clincher for me: we progress to using a shinken (live "sharp" blade).

Training under Obata Kaiso has been a life-changing experience for me. I attend about 4 times a week and work out on my own at home each day I don't attend practice. For a time I also tried Aikido, which Obata Sensei also teaches, but my 40-year-old back hasn't taken kindly to being tossed around, so I am taking a month break while I try and strengthen it.

Even though I have only been a shinkendoka for less than a year, I already plan on opening my own dojo sometime in the distant future. My wife has already been informed that we cannot move out of range of Kaiso until I am that level, and if I have my way I'll still be close enough to attend the Honbu at least once a week.

I could go on about the spiritual and philosophical affect is had had on me, but I'll let that be a future article. After nine months I am Jiho rank (second), have begun training with iaito (unsharpened metal sword) and have performed tamashigiri (test cutting tatami omote mats using a live blade) once a couple weeks ago. John Lui made us DVDs of that event, and once I can figure out how I'll post my first baby steps into the worlds of real swords.

Every practice I feel I am walking the first mile of a very long, steep, beautiful mountain trail. So much to see and experience and I don't really know what is in store down the road. My goal is to feel this way every day from now on, even after I am "Jim Sensei."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deep Thoughts

What do atheists say to someone who sneezes?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What my fortune cookie taught me

Listen to friends with an ear to the future.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Note about Tim Russert

Today was a sad day.

I am usually pretty jaded about celebrity deaths. I'm not sure why, but hearing that someone famous has died usually doesn't matter to me. But when I heard that Tim Russert had died suddenly today, I felt the loss in a real way.

No I didn't know him, or meet him. Meet the Press was always on my DVR list, but I often fast forwarded through his soft interviews. I didn't read his book.

But in an era when the media has turned almost entirely to position politics, taking sides like Fox News or NBC, and not even hiding their biases in their reporting, it came as a shock that one of the last real journalists was gone so suddenly.

His reporting style was always worth watching, especially when he was facing off with people in real power. Okay, his style of pulling up quotes form 20 years ago sometimes was tiresome at times, but when someone was trying to spin the truth Russert was able to cut through that and show the truth, or at least expose the liar. His everyman style made him always watchable and interesting.

NBC news has skewed to the left lately and seems to be carving out a niche on the left similar to where Foxnews is on the right, and of all their personalities, Russert was the one who I felt had resisted letting that show in his work. Yeah, it didn't take an expert to see where his politics were, but everyone has a bias and his shows were fair. And Fair is high praise in this era. NBC is in huge trouble now. I can't imagine anyone who could step into the Sunday slot and make Meet the Press even a shadow of what it has been in the past.

I'll watch the show this weekend and mourne Tim Russert's loss.

The fourth estate has lost something that cannot be replaced.

Another Worthless Prediction

I think I like making political predictions for the same reason I like putting $10 on a hockey game: I can put my money where my mouth is.

Prediction for 2008

Obama will win (with a few IFs)

IF #1: Obama can find a way to rebuild that "post-racial" persona that was shattered with his springtime faux pas: Wright and other BLT preachers, Michelle's "Proud to be American" comment. In short, if he can tell the people he has used to get to where he is in the past to be quiet for a few more months, he'll be able to secure the independent white vote.

IF #2: Obama can break his "sweety" habit. I don't think he's a sexist, and I don't think most of Hillary's supports think he is sexist, but if he keeps making slights like that he will alienate enough politically-borderline women to lose.

IF #3: He can show us enough to not fall into the traps that each of the past couple Democratic nominees have fallen into. Specifically, he can't be seen as an elitist liberal. In fact he has to downplay his liberalness, which never plays well in a general election (ask Mr. Card-carrying ACLU member Dukakis). He also needs to mend the hurt feelings his "bitter" comment caused in white rural voters.

If #4: If there are no more Reverend Wright level problems in his future. I can imagine some real killers for him here. If a tape exists with a Wright giving a controversial speech with Obama in the audience would be a big one, as Obama's excuse that he never knew how bad Wright was is flimsy at best. There will be some kind of "swiftboat" attack, probably more than one from (supporters of) both sides. Obama, as the relative-unknown, is particularly vulnerable to this.

and the biggist IF of all:

If # Last: Obama has to actually commit himself to real policies. This was my problem with Kerry (as stated here a few years ago): there just wasn't anything there but "I'm not Bush." Well, Obama is trying the same failed tactic with the "Bush's third term" thing. But other than a couple whitepapers on his sight, there is very little know about what he would do as president when you tear away the fluffy glittering generalities.

Obama has to make his case that he is different. McCain will try and paint him as the stereotypical elitist liberal masquerading as a moderate. Given that Obama has friends (parishoners?) in the mainstream media and a war chest that could fund a small government, I think I have to give the race to Obama.

What I didn't factor in: VP. Who cares with Obama (as long as it isn't Hillary, and it won't be). I can't imagine a candidate that will help him in a significant way. My guess is that he will choose a Biden-like figure to fill a policy gap and not get a candidate that helps him in a particular state.

McCain may be able to nudge the vote his way a tad with a surprisingly good choice. Condi would be such a choice, but my guess is that she will say no. Leiberman would be another, but I can't see that helping him much.

As for the rest of the election, only two things are apparent to me:

1) The dems will win a big and perhaps veto-proof margin in both houses of congress, sadly.

2) California will vote in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectively ending 4 months of same-sex marriages. Sadly.

Other predictions:

  • Ducks will make it into the Stanley Cup finals in 09 (but I'm a fan)
  • Dodgers will do great for a while and fail to make the playoffs, again.
  • Jimmy Johnson will threepete the Sprint Cup (but I'm a fan)
  • Lakers lose to Boston in 08 finals (but they are already 1-3 against the Celts already, so...)
Edit: had to add the sports predictions. Politics is just a spectator sport, really.

I promise not to promise to write here more

That subject is getting a little old.

Here is a quick update:

Still working, same job, survived another round of layoffs.

Started shinkendo, which is a form of modern japanese swordsmanship using real (sharp) katana. I'll be performing this weekend at the Queen Mary, though they don't trust me with shinken (live, sharp blades) yet, but more experienced people will be doing cutting there if you get the chance to watch us. Me? I'll be the bald guy in a skirt (hakama) swinging a stick (bokken).

My oldest has another child on the way. At 3 grandchildren now I suppose I should feel more old. My two younger children are starting their sophomore year this fall. Old. yeah.

I have spent some quality time on blogs lately, just not my own. I like, though lately they seem to think I'm a troll because I had the audacity to question Charles himself in a public posgt. Doh, I said "audacity," that must prove I support Obama. I'm outed for sure now!

Edit: Charles emailed me apologizing for implying that I was a troll. I do admire his site, even if I disagree with half of what he says. That is about how much I disagree with everyone else anyways.

I browse the left-wing side too, but to be honest the left side of the blogosphere is so vitriolic that I have nothing to say to them. What is the point saying things to people who just shout their idiology back at you? I get that on the right wing sometimes too, but on average I get more real responses from right-wing bloggers.

The contrast on the internet is always so high middle-of-the-road people like myself have a hard time finding a voice. Maybe someone can point me to some "moderate" blogs. We should have a newsgroup just for us: