Thursday, May 28, 2009

An unwelcome promotion

This past week I hosted 2 guests from Okinawa, Japan. They were visiting the Kodokai Dojo in North Smithfield to provide us with some instruction in a form of martial arts called Motobu Udundi. They were only able to visit for three days, but it was a great experience for everyone involved. Several people from our dojo have visited Okinawa in the past to learn techniques in this martial art and we've been practicing for a few years now, so it was a great opportunity for us to show our teachers what we've accomplished and get some much needed correction on details.

When I visited Okinawa this past December / January, I was dreading one aspect of the trip - the potential of being given a rank in Motobu Undundi. Even though I've been practicing this style for a few years, I don't feel confident that I know what I'm doing or that my techniques are very good. So, the last thing I wanted was to be given a black belt and then have people look at me as an example of how something is supposed to be done. Much to my relief, I was not promoted in January. My teachers had mentioned they were going to promote me, and they had me wear a black belt while taking classes at their dojo, but nothing official was ever done (again, much to my relief). So, I was quite content to return home and continue to wear my white belt and blend in with the crowd.

And I almost made it through this visit last week. While driving the two senseis back to the airport, I was asked what my current rank was in Motodbu Udundi. I said that I didn't have a rank. A discussion then ensued in Japanese between the two teachers and the end result was I was told I was being promoted to Shodan (the starting black belt rank). I was then asked what I thought of it. I explained I didn't think I was good enough to deserve it. He said that was good. The sensei then explained that he didn't think he was good enough to be called an 8th degree black belt, and that his sensei didn't feel he was good enough to be called master (10th degree - highest black belt rank), yet that was their titles.

He further explained that the point of the rank is people will now expect more of me - I will need set a good example - and this will force me to work to a higher standard. In his profession, he is a public speaker. People look to him to know what he is talking about, they expect an expert speaker, yet he doesn't feel he really is an expert. Instead, he must make sure he learns more and thoroughly knows the topic he is presenting so people have the impression he is the expert. He said, as a teacher, you end up learning a lot more than the people you are teaching.

The same applies to rank in martial arts. Being given a "promotion" in not an award - you are now being asked to do more, to live up to a higher standard than you are currently setting. It's a big responsibility and that's one of the reasons I've been trying to avoid it for so long. And I almost avoided it this time - if only the drive to the airport had been a bit shorter...

So now, like my sensei said tonight at class, it's up to me what I do with this new responsibility. Hopefully I won't disappoint anyone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Time for Bullies

While eating dinner this evening I decided to do something I rarely do. I turned on the television. I caught the end a National Geographic program about stress, its causes, and how some baboon studies were giving some insights into how stress affects health.

One interesting event was described where a certain troop of baboons experienced a mass death in the early 80s. The baboons had been foraging in a garbage dump for food and ate some meat tainted with tuberculosis. The majority of the baboons that died were those that were considered "alpha males". They were the most aggressive and dominant of the troop. As the researcher put it, the remaining male baboons left alive were "nice guys". This dramatically changed the social behaviors in this particular baboon troop - less time fighting and more time was spent grooming. As a result, the baboons had reduced stress levels (as shown by medical tests) vs. baboon in other troops.

Even more interesting, this change in baboon culture has been preserved for 20 years. Adolescent male baboons normally leave their troop and find a new troop to call their home. When a new adolescent baboon arrived in this troop, it displayed the usual "jerky male" behavior of a normal baboon, but after about 6 months, the baboon some how learned that the jerky behavior was not acceptable in this troop and he became more passive.

It's a very interesting study. You can read more about it here:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Saturday Morning Physics

Some days I'm just struck by how much there is to know about the world, how much I'd like to learn, and how little time I really have to get things done. There are so many things that interest me, but there's no possible way I can dedicate time to all the topics.

Today I ran across this video podcast series called "Saturday Morning Physics" (link opens iTunes). It's a series of 45 to 60 minute long physics lectures from the University of Michigan designed for the general public. Based on the audience in the videos (retirees), it appears these lectures were probably really given on Saturday mornings for the general public. (Not many college students would get up early on a Saturday morning to listen to a physics lecture for fun.)

Anyhow, it's an amazing resource, currently with 38 videos available - and it's just one small piece of an enormous collection of education videos found on the Internet.