More and More About Nothing

Cult

/kəlt/

noun

  • a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
  • a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
  • a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.

All three of us had just finished our martial arts workout. So we decided to go to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and refuel. I had attended K-12 with Mary. She was the one who introduced me to the martial arts school. Standing just short of my height, she was attractive and assertive. Her deep brown eyes conveyed a depth that most women her age had yet to reach. Dustin was God's gift to martial arts with a body that rivaled the Greek Gods. I'd always found myself competing against him in everything, and consistently shown up short. Which was great for drilling my ego into the ground. Mary had a huge crush on Dustin. Again, the Greek God gift thing. Again, my ego.

"We're like a cult," Mary said.

"With all the bowing?" Dustin asked.

She nodded, then chuckled, then quickly checked the restaurant to make sure none of the black belts were around.

I chuckled. "Imagine if they were here, listening to us talk like this."

"They'd be pissed," Dustin interjected.

I kind of liked all the bowing. We were instructors at the school. Students walking in and out had to bow to us to show respect for the teachers. In turn, we had to bow to the black belts when leaving or entering the school. After each workout, we would all sit on the mat, like little school children, and the grandmaster would lay some wisdom on us. To question him, however, would be like throwing a shoe at him, and his subordinates would shout, "You've offended me. You've offended my family," and proceed to kick us out.

"You know," Dustin said, "they preach about honor and being humble, but they almost got away with stealing our fundraising money."

With twinkles in her eyes, Mary stared at him and covered her mouth in shock. "For the London trip?"

"Yeah," I said, "but Penn protested and the grand ol'master allowed us to have the money we worked hard for."

Penn was Dustin's and my teacher. Penn was one of the few that Dustin and I had termed thinkers. Everyone seemed to drink the grandmster's koolaid. We knew this because they spoke in his words instead of using their own. Sorta like a fifth grader repeating facts instead of internalizing the lessons.

Mary asked, "Wasn't the fundraising done to pay for the London trip?"

"Yup," Dustin answered.

I huffed. "It'll help offset the costs of flying there, paying for the rooms, the tournament, the food, the new matching uniforms we had to buy, all to make this guy look good."

Dustin shook his head. "In other words, we're paying for it all."

"You know they did this to another team who competed in China," Mary said.

"Yup. We heard."

"Didn't they raise a lot more money though?" I asked. 

Mary nodded. Eyes wide open. Meaning it was a lot of money.

"Crystal couldn't go because of what they did," I said. "She has two kids. There was no way she could pay for the whole thing on her own."

"Or even a part of it," Dustin said. He was close to her. The Greek God thing again.

Mary tapped her lip. "Grandmaster said it was to pay for his coaching services. But that's not how the fundraiser was marketed."

"It was to help pay for the plane ticket to China," she finished.

"Expensive," Dustin commented.

"For a mother of two," Mary said. "Very."

"I think we got our money because it wasn't as much as the China trip."

"I was worried the school would try and steal our money," I said. "But Penn assured us that it wouldn't be. And he followed up on that promise."

"Yup," Dustin said. "We're like a cult."

It wasn't long after that evening that several of us had decided to leave the school. The head instructors hadn't practiced what they preached. They fundraised through carwashes and other activities to help pay for material wealth under the guise of helping the school. They forced students to compete in tournaments to help fund martial arts organizations through tournament fees. They even tried to coax a brown belt to go easy in a full contact fight because his opponent was from a sister school. That brown belt didn't listen and won the fight handily. So the grandmaster threatened the brown belt that if he ever disobeyed him again, he would beat him.

It was a full contact fight. You can't enter a tournament where you're supposed to tear each other apart and hold back. That's a good way of getting seriously hurt in a game where you're suppose to seriously hurt your opponent. And for anyone to ask you to hold back in this situation is an idiot. 

The straw that broke the horse's back was when Penn had proposed several changes that would have improved the school, but he was rejected. A few weeks later, those same changes were being implemented without giving credit to Penn. He wasn't asking for money. So why had the school stolen his ideas?

Now, one of my spies told me they had formed an organization in order to certify their students' ranks. Sort of like a registry. What do they ask for in return? Cheddah. Moolah. A grip. Of course.

This makes no sense. If you've ever watched any cheesy Kung-fu movie, one of the pillars of martial arts is having a strong mind, the belief in yourself.

In other words, I can give someone a black belt, but that doesn't turn them into a lethal weapon. Or vice versa, you can have all the tools in the world to fight. But if you're not mentally ready for it, then those tools are useless. It's sorta like having a garage full of tools, a lift, air pump, and manuals. But if you don't know how to work on a automobile, then your garage and everything in it is useless.

And why would someone need to have their names registered to an organization as a black belt? Are they not one anymore if their names aren't recorded as such?

Think of it this way. If you're a skilled mechanic, and someone asks you to register your name as a mechanic, otherwise you won't be recognized by our organization as a mechanic, are you then not a skilled mechanic? That would be a hell to the no.

The funny thing is they always talk about putting your ego away. That ego can get in the way of personal growth. Isn't the need to have your name recorded as a black belt ego driven? That would be a hell to the yes.

This is interesting to me because I've been writing about insecurity in my posts lately. Here, we have a cult-like organization who has a number of followers willing to pay a fee to be a part of something that really has no meaning. They profess a strong mindset, but when they found my post about them in my teeny tiny corner of this massive thing we call the Internet, they had made the effort to comment against it. How insecure can they be? And it would be one thing if I mentioned the school, the instructors, the location, the system they teach, anything to point in their specific direction. But I didn't. And still they needed to comment on my little post, outing themselves.

So am I insecure that I left that school? No. I loved my time there. I made some lifelong friends. So why am I talking about them? I just needed cannon fodder to write about.

Cannon fodder

noun

  • soldiers regarded or treated as expendable in battle
  • an expendable or exploitable person, group, or thing

 

Friends

Wealth - an abundance of possession or money. So often we aspire to have wealth, to be rich, so we don’t have to work anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But rarely do we associate wealth with having an abundance of friends, and despite being in the age of social media, having an abundance of friends means having a massive list of people on your friends’ list. I don’t know how many Facebook friends I have. My accumulation of them has become meaningless, except for the fact that I’m building a list of people that I can say, “Here’s my book. Get it. Now!”

But I think I talk to less than 10% of those people, and I hang out with less than that! Oprah has been known to say that she trusts five people. And I can see why. People want to know her because they’re hoping to get something from her other than friendship.

For me, I’ve been pruning my list of friends for many years, or at least the friends that I’m willing to hang out with. A part of me is a little sad. Another part knows that it’s necessary.

A friend of mine only contacted me if he needed anything. For example, if I was going to a party and he wasn’t invited, he’d ask me to bring him as a guest. He’d asked me to use my account to get Comic Con tickets because the more accounts you have the more chances you get. The last straw came when he asked for my Apple ID to buy Watches so he can scalp them.

Sometimes it’s obvious when to cut people out. But what are the criteria or is the area gray?

I told a another friend that I was moving to Hawaii. He asked me which island. Oahu, I answered. “I’ve been there. That’s the worst island,” he proclaimed. He didn’t offer any reasons why. He didn’t state which one he liked. Of the four months that I’ve known him, he had been comparing himself to me a lot, putting me down every chance he gets. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s his way of showing dominance in front of the girl that he likes, which we both know. Should I give him more time before cutting him out since we’ve only known each other for a short time?

My closest friend and I had come from the same martial arts school. Our friendship was forged during our long stint teaching and our bond extended beyond that school as we explored the arts, trying to find our life’s work. Our friendship stretched over two decades, filled with ups and downs, conversations about what was important in life: love, marriage, children, passion, cheddah. After we both left the school, he had trekked across the globe in search of his life’s work, while I remained home in search of mine.

He eventually married and had children, but disagreed with my bachelor life, dating with no real goal of settling down. He chastised me about it, but I wasn’t in the place to settle down because I had been fighting myself on whether to move to Hawaii or not.

Two years had snuck by without a word from him, so I decided to look him up. I had found him on a messaging app called Whatsapp, he doesn’t have a Facebook account, and we chatted for a day or so. I said we should talk over the phone because there was too much to catch up on a chatting app. He agreed but I never heard from him. Our paths have split greatly. Shit. Our lives barely resemble those of our younger selves, but at least for me, I’m still pursuing my artistic dream of being a writer. That’s not to say that his pursuit having ended is bad or good. His focus has shifted. But does that mean our friendship must end, even though our lives have little in common?

As I’ve written before, chapters open and close in our lives, and with it new friendships begin, old friendships are written off. All I can hope for is to continue building my wealth with friendships, to delve into conversation other than with my characters in my book, which are really voices in my head, and color my day with people that have a joy for life.

 

Being the Bad Guy

Did I turn off the stove?

Did I turn off the stove?

Have you ever met the antichrist? A real asshole? Someone that you wanted to punch because that would feel so good?

One of the tenets of having a great protagonist, a fantastic hero, the chosen one must also have a great antagonist, an antichrist, a real bad boy, or girl.

I get newsletters from different writing sites, and one of them caught my attention. They wrote about the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. I hadn’t seen the movie, but the letter stated the bad guys made some stupid mistakes that allowed them to be easily defeated, which minimized the accomplishments of the hero. Despite the movie being based on real life events, the letter had a good point.

Oops I missed

Oops I missed

One of the greatest things about Star Wars is Darth Vader. As a kid, that guy was scary. He had ultimate control over the Force, could choke someone out without even touching him, and was a skilled swordsman with a lightsaber, the coolest sword in the universe. And he killed Luke’s teacher, a war hero in his own right. What? Luke was an underdog when it came to Vader. But we knew Vader had to go, and we knew Luke was the one to do it, but we didn’t know how that was gonna happen since Obi-Wan was dead. And the intrigue into Luke’s heroic path was something I loved.

So when I read the letter, I immediately remembered the post I wrote about the martial arts school I used to attend.

Ah-choo

Ah-choo

When I wrote that post, I had an inkling that it would find its way back to them, not through any active part by me. And I didn’t write it because I wanted to thwart their business, I wrote it because it was something that spoke to me, one of the main reasons why I left that school. It took them about four months to discover it, and I heard the owner of the school, who doesn’t teach there much anymore, made a special trip to talk about little ol’me.

Now, if I wrote a story and the owner of the school was the bad guy, and the hero, some awesome writer, wanted to draw him out, and all he did was write a post on a small site, and the bad guy took the bait, I’d say the antagonist was really stupid, and that I did a bad job in creating the bad guy.

As the writer, I have to make sure the antihero is formidable. Otherwise, anything the hero does to overcome the odds looks weak. And that’s what I hope I did in my book, Nightfall. The bad guy kicks some serious ass, and my hero is rubbin’ his bum, but that’s part of the fun in stories. The underdog is the underdog for good reason. He’s gotta pull himself up and take it to the baddie. Otherwise, the reader, audience will be bored.

Cultural Rant

I had gone to a happy hour with a whole bunch of Asian peeps. Most of us didn’t know each other, so the most common question was “What do you do?” I said that I had two jobs: one’s for money to feed my body, the other is my passion to feed my soul. Everyone else answered with some form of IT, engineer, or finance. In the Asian culture, we’re taught from the womb that we are to take practical jobs. I don’t know, but Tom Cruise’s acting career has proven to be pretty practical.

Where the slanty eyes?

Where the slanty eyes?

Back in my day when I taught kids self-defense, my teacher had taken on a new student, who had been on this planet for three-and-a-half years. He could barely speak, couldn’t remember the names of the techniques to save his life, but he learned the movement like he learned to speak, and became an amazing talent. As this young prodigy moved toward his black belt, toward adulthood, my teacher and I began to have pretty severe disagreements with our school and the prevailing arrogance and ignorance that bred within the limited bindings. It’s funny how arrogance and ignorance always seem to go hand-in-hand. And this school was literally the pure definition of this.

Tombstone of Fluid Man

Tombstone of Fluid Man

We finally left the school as we sought for widespread knowledge, much like Bruce Lee leaving the classical mess for something more open, taking what works and throwing out the rest. This was not something our former school understood, since they added more and more crap that only bred more ignorance and of course more arrogance.

Why do I bring this up?

My teacher tried to convince the parents that their son would be better off with him. They couldn’t, wouldn’t leave the school, despite the now adult having spent most of his life with the same teacher. The mother, especially, wanted her son to have earn his blackbelt from a Chinese martial arts school. And here’s the funny part. The school wasn’t even run by Asians. Sure, the system was Chinese; though, I’m not sure what that means (no slanty eyes to mark the school). Sure, there were Chinese characters imbued all over the school. Sure, they even had Chinese dignitaries and masters that would come by and teach seminars. But do those things make a martial arts, school, or practitioner Chinese? A freakin' punch is a frakin' punch no matter who throws it.

International Village People

International Village People

It’s that word: culture. According to my dictionary, one of the definitions is: the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

The customs of the school is Asian based, so not uniquely Chinese. The arts can be rooted back to Korea, Karate, some Kung Fu, but even the word Kung Fu is like saying Asian. There’s a lot of different Asians, and some of them Ajens don’t even consider themselves Asians. Most of the people teaching aren't even Asian. So when I heard that the mother didn’t want her son to be taught by my teacher because he wasn’t Asian, and she wanted her son to get his black from a Chinese based institution, I was beside myself, like I actually took a step to the side and was like “What? Get over yerself, lady.” And since the school had been based in the US, the achievements of that school, especially in international tournaments were considered US of Aye, not China, not any slanty-eyed nation.

The word culture has been on my mind since I started writing the 7th Province series because I’ve had to piece together the foundation of the society. A lot was drawn from my own experiences, a lot was invented, and a lot was used to help tell the story without giving too much away, through symbolism. Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert on what culture is, what it means, but I know this lady doesn’t really know what she was talking about. It’d be better if she had stated that she wanted her son to have the backing of an actual institution, and not by a single individual. As much as people see me as an American is how much I see this school as being Chinese.

My Dad Can Strike Your Dad Down

My Dad Can Strike Your Dad Down

Ultimately, she wanted to say that her son got her black belt from this school, not by an individual. And this is where culture and ego sort of mesh together, and it is from this place that I wrote the foundation of the culture of the 7th Province. Culture is very ego based. We see this in nations: America is the best country in the world. We see this in sports: My team won the championships. We see this in ethnicities: Blacks are the most athletic and can dance the best, or Asians are very disciplined. We see this in family: My dad can beat up your dad.

People throw the word culture around without knowing what they really mean. And some people love their culture so much, have so much pride in it, compare how much better it is than American culture that they’ve chosen to move here.

Just a Friday night rant.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Is Batman really Superman?

Is Batman really Superman?

I’d just gotten back from the San Diego Comic Con, 2013. If you search for that on the net, then everybody and their mothers’ brothers’ cousins’ roommates’ acquaintance who met at the bar the other night has written about it. So I’m not gonna add to that but will give my take as a storyteller and what this massive wet dream for fandom means. Hmm…women don’t have wet dreams so forget I wrote that. Can’t I just press the delete button? And Zack Snyder, director of MAN OF STEEL, made a surprise announcement:

Anyways, I’m letting my thoughts on Comic Con simmer before I ramble about it.

Today at work, I was catching up on all the emails that had accrued while I was out. Most of it was either deleted or filed away, and very little of it required my attention. I tried to get everything done before I left for the four-day weekend. When asked what I do for work, I often find myself stating that I manage emails, since it seems to be the main focus. And I also find that other people in the corporate world manage emails, too. So people go to university, study hard all night, go into deep debt with student loans to manage an email box. Woot! Love the corporate world.

Cynic? Yeah. What else do you expect of me?

I've won a million dollars!

I've won a million dollars!

As I was managing my email box, I was listening to a lecture. Not that deleting or filing emails isn’t fulfilling…but if I can learn something and work at the same time, then why not? Two guys were talking about knowing oneself, and that you can’t know yourself and not be vulnerable to emotional pain. For example, to be in a healthy and successful relationship where two people come together, be it plutonic or romantic, they suggested that we have to open ourselves up totally. It’s only then can relationships flourish toward whatever they are working for. Romance novels, movies, and Hallmark Specials often depict failing relationships due to miscommunication, and there’s truth in that. But to be that open, we do leave ourselves vulnerable. And the two guys support that whole-heartedly. If we do get hurt, then it’s exhilarating because it means we’re alive, that we’re feeling something.

That took me back to my martial arts days when my teachers were sparring. They said they weren’t alive until they felt pain. I was a lot younger and ignorant then, but I thought they were psycho.

But, again, there’s truth in that. Not the psycho part…well maybe.

When researching what it took to be a good writer, I ran across a book that stated you need to feel.

And that makes sense. Everything we do as artists, be it storyteller, actor, painter, sculptor, fighter, we’re communicating with emotion. As a writer, I'm trying to tie the reader to the character with emotion.

Watching an interview with J.J. Abrams when he started work on Star Trek, he asked himself, why care about James T. Kirk? Essentially, how does he get the audience to care about Kirk, who is an egomaniac? It’s an interesting question because Kirk has such a huge fan base. Abram’s answer: kill his father. I was like, he stole my idea! Not really, but the main purpose of my prologue is to root my main character to the reader.

As humans, we’re given emotions for a reason. It tells us what’s going on, it informs of us of any changes that need to be made, it's data of some sort. Man, I sound like I work in IT. I suppose it’s a good thing. But it sucks when we’re in it, freeing when we’re out.

Leggo My Ego

I’ve been waiting for this night for seven years! I write about ego in NIGHTFALL, talk about it, how it can affect choices. I don’t actually lecture about it, making the narrative a freaking lecture, which was how I felt Dan Brown was doing in THE SYMBOL. I just weaved the affects of ego through the narrative, hoping that I’ve communicated my views through subtext.

Broke Back

Broke Back

Tonight was a historic night.

One of the most talked about UFC fights was UFC 162, Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman (pictured left). Silva (pictured right) has been the reigning middle weight (185 lb) champion for the past seven years. In mixed martial arts (MMA), that is unheard of because no one has accomplished that, save Silva.

I’ve always felt that Silva had an ego, though you'd never know with the words he uses. Like a shark that can sense blood from a thousand miles away, I can sense a person's ego. We see evidence of Silva's arrogance in his previous fights when he taunts his opponents, giving little respect, despite the fact that he says he respects every single opponent.

[gallery columns="2" ids="2470,2469"]

Actions speaks louder than words. Women know this. I know this. Does this make me a woman?

Silva’s fights always starts with some form of reading his opponent, where they’ll attempt some form of attack, but Silva always evades, doing calculations like a supercomputer, reading their reach, timing, rhythm, skill, mind set, etc. And once he’s done with his calculations, he pounces and often finishes his opponents in the second round.

When the main event of UFC 162 started, I saw Silva come out, completely relaxed. Weidman charges to the middle of the octagon, also relaxed. In spite of Weidman, who is a very accomplished wrestler, taking Silva to the mat, the champion easily evaded all submissions attempts and got back to his feet. A few moments later, Silva’s supercomputer was on its way to finishing the calculations. I know this because when the champion starts taunting the challenger, he'd figured out Weidman. My body reacted from watching all of Silva's other fights, expecting a huge knock out finish of the challenger. From my point of view, Weidman seemed lost, but he also looked relaxed, a good thing. End first round.

Here’s the important part. When the second round began, Silva came out and taunted Weidman again. When Weidman tried to strike, Silva would dodge and move as if the challenger had nothing on him. The champion even pretended he was hurt when a punch grazed by his cheeks, an expert at going with the flow of punches, making him very difficult to knock out. More taunting, show boating ensued, something the fans of the UFC, and me, were used to.

Then it came. Weidman threw a combination, which was a little messy but worked because a half-hearted back fist had forced Silva’s head to flow left, and he blinked. Weidman quickly followed it with a punch to the chin, knocking down (out even as Silva’s eyes rolled up) the former champion. Weidman then followed Silva with punches to the ground to make sure he was done.

Knocked Tha Ef Out

Knocked Tha Ef Out

So this is a long diatribe about how ego can be anyone’s downfall. I’m not saying I don’t have one, but I’m aware of it enough to not let it step in front of me and control my actions. Most of the time.

Ego has brought down civilizations, religions war over which god is better killing millions upon millions, corporations have withered away when the focus is on material wealth rather than serving the people. Sometimes it takes time. I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it took a damn long time before it fell. Israel is still a subject of huge contention. Blackberry and Microsoft were caught with their pants down when Apple released the iPhone.

I’ve written how I’ve left my martial arts school because I didn’t believe in them anymore, their form of teaching, and the egos displayed in every inch of that school. They commented on my website, trying to dissuade me from my opinion, and as I’ve written here, I don’t read reviews unless I’ve solicited for it. My former school, on the other hand, have changed part of their system to accommodate for my criticism, and failed because they simply didn’t understand my article and the simple truth about how humans learn physical movement. The crazy part is that article listed simple things they could do to improve their student’s abilities. Dorks.

Yes, I do have a spy there. And they will never figure out whom. If they did, oops. Sorry, dude. Or dudet.

Cliche

No skid marks, right?

No skid marks, right?

I think the most common advice given to writers is not to be cliché. One teacher suggested writing opposite of your cliché tendencies. Dexter is a great example. He’s a serial killer. But his father raised him to kill with purpose, so he kills other serial killers. BREAKING BAD is another great example. Movies and TV have always pitted the drug dealer against the hero. How about the hero being a drug dealer, the antihero? SONS OF ANARCHY anyone?

There are two things I wanted to discuss today. First, is structure cliché?

My best friend is obsessive when it comes to knowing everything before attempting anything. Writing was no different. He read every single book on the market, went to seminars, visited websites, and hired writing coaches. Incredibly, obsessive—I mean—studious. To be honest, he’s opened my mind, and I’ve learned a lot from him.

He emphasized the importance of structure and how structure helps form our stories. So I asked whether being too structural can be cliché? Every story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s not cliché. Every good story should have at least one character experience change, becoming the person they’re meant to be. Fine. Then he advised that after a certain number of pages, this should happen, then another number of pages, this should occur, and so on and so forth. That’s cliché/formulaic. But then he started to nit pick and state that the first sentence of consecutive paragraphs should alternate between action and emotion, something he picked up from a writer we both admired. I said, “That sounds incredibly limiting.” Apparently, this is something Jim Butcher does. I have yet to confirm.

Damn. Those cars are speeding

Damn. Those cars are speeding

But to limit yourself in that way, to be formulaic and even too technical can leave your story dry, soulless. I read in a writing magazine that the worst thing for an editor is to have nothing constructive to suggest when an author’s work is technically spot on. Buildings are basically boxes stacked on top of each other. Architects, please don't beat me up. But the underlying foundation, the steel structure, the physics and obeying of gravity are constant in all architecture. But when looking at a skyline, it's rare to find any two buildings identical because it's also a piece of art.

I've always melded technique with instinct, my inner picture. Structure is always needed to serve the story. The story does not serve the structure.

In life we need to play against the norms, being cliché.

A friend, Dennis, set up a date for his pal, Fred. Fred asked for some advice on what to do on a first date.  Dennis suggested dinner and a movie.  Dinner. And a movie.

Wha—?

In a prior article, I wrote about my limited experience in the PUA world. Excuse me.  And the one commonality from all the wild and crazy advice was connect with women on an emotional level.  Another words, listen and talk to them like real people (wink wink).

Is there something in my teef?

Is there something in my teef?

Don’t know about you, but it’s really hard talking to a woman with food in my mouth. Cuz once I’m done with that bite, another goes in. And how attractive can I be talking to a woman as bits of food shoot from my mouth onto her plate? That ain’t gonna get me nowhere (double negative, I know).

Don't touch me there

Don't touch me there

Then we’re gonna go and sit in a dark room full of other people? Can you say intimacy? Or lack there of. Not to mention that that is cliché, as first dates go, very dry and unimaginative.

I wanted to suggest doing something different like window shopping, trying to find the most expensive thing. That way you can see what her tastes are, what she likes, leaves a lot of openings for spontaneous conversation. Or sit somewhere and people watch, create stories about them, a great way to see what your date self-projects. Fred is also a writer, so imagination isn’t lacking. But I held back because Dennis would address me as master, making fun of my mightier than thou attitude when my real intention was to help.

I left my martial arts school because of the massive heads I dealt with. So I'm very conscious of my own ego. It does get in my way, and I know to wait and let it stroll by.