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May 2011

109. The Need For Randomness On A Sunday

In the middle of the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend and pulling thoughts out of dark places ..... ;-} 

Up at o'dawn-30 and then a full day of yard-work on Saturday doing some serious tree trimming and general clean-up with the reward of a fine cigar with a coooollllldddd beer, followed by a cool shower and a sashimi dinner cut by the finest sushi chef this side of Edo and washed down with champagne. 


Ahhh ... nothing like (l to r)   baby tuna layered with lemon, fresh ocean scallop, albacore with roasted garlic on green onions & cut to look like flowers and placed on a banana leaf, then (bottom) mackeral & cilantro .... ...... all on a bed of cracked ice to keep its cool freshness.  And then after we all did shots of some of the oldest tequila I've ever had with a slight smoky flavor .... an toasted to the veterans for Memorial Day ... those still with us and those passed on .....

Sunday; up at sunrise, feed the birds, cup of Southern Pecan coffee and now "simply sitting" (or sitting simply) while I surf and blog while sipping Pierre Ferrand and blog and surf the web looking for something useful to buy (like the order I just placed for a paella pan .... nothing like a good seafood paella to make a man sit-up and take notice).

The birds are outside the door to the pergola and taking a bath in the sprinklers; enjoying the water on a warm summer day.  Later we'll fire up the pit and burn some flat beef and round pig (beef steaks & sausage links) and down some honey wheat beer tinged with orange blossoms.  We'll simply have to follow this orgy of excess with a cigar and sum'more's (girl scout style); but I've got to decide whether to wash it down with cognac or frozen vodka .... decisions .. decisions.

Tomorrow it's another round of yard work before having lunch with the girls (my wife and daughter) and some serious "shopping" to end the weekend before re-starting the grind.

Whenever I sit and contemplate, do dojo work, drop a few lines into my book or just veg' (I think chillaxin' is the new term in use these days) I usually log-on and play tunes from Hearts of Space; a contemplative streaming music site that plays new age, contemplative music ("slow tunes for fast times") since it's background and I don't have to really pay much attention.   ( and no I don't get referral fees ... I just find it a wonderful break from the normal BS out there ... almost "music to zazen to"  ..... a little gozan incense ..  my black zafu and zabuton .... some Sennheisser earphones .... jack in ..... aauuuummmmmm ... om mani padme hum ... )

Right now they're streaming a program called "Chilled Euphoria" and I learned something new making today worth the effort in spades.  Rave is past my childhood; it coming into being well after I left college and went to work, marriage and seriousness in my life.  Always thought it looked interesting and exciting and the kind of event where I could walk around in public outside the dojo in a full black outfit (keiko, hakama, haori) with a battle fan stuck in my belt ........ and not look one bit out of place of out of time.  And if I wore some black eyeliner (like a vampire movie actor) they'd probably think I either ran the place, was the buy spinning the vinyl, or just a really kool guy standing n' posing.  But, it definitely looks younger than where I am in my time-line.  What I didn't know was that "raver's" need a "cool-down" before leaving the rave; after burning all the candles at both ends on overdrive.  Apparently in Europe, a rave has a "chill room"  and to quote the web sites' description ........

"In time, the chillout space became an alternative venue within the rave itself.  In England, the chill room took on a life of its own, spawning a subgenre of quieter music designed to create a kind of electronic landing zone — slow the mind, relax the muscles, and even achieve heightened awareness by manipulating brain states with more subtle rhythms and timbres."

So the Rave jacks you up, essentially making you fit into the environmental requirements of the Rave itself (but not the outside world) and the Chill Room calms you down (for re-entry and landing outside) as-it-were.

Too many times in our existence, as we sprint down the time-line like there's a rush to get there, where-ever the hell "there" is and we get so "jacked-up" (like the ravers) that we only fit the world of the Rave (or the office & the city streets) but not much else.  We miss the contemplative time and the ability to hear the little voices inside that say things like "creativity" or "call that person you haven't spoken to in years" or "what did Sensei mean when he described this waza as .... " or "my wife looks nice today ..... have I told her how special she is lately" or "the dog looks lonely ... why don't I be sure to scratch her belly this evening while I'm cooking" or "damn, the roses are looking good today ... what am I doing right for a change"  ........ you know, all those little things that give a life some meaning.

O'Sensei knew.  If you read him and consider that he spent lot's of time farming and working his garden ...... he knew.

I have for many years now considered an "a__-hole" to be, amongst other things, someone who seems to be so busy that they rush by like I, and everyone else around them, have no value.  They act like all around them are inconveniences who delay their rushed trip to greatness.  My father used to say, and I still use this phrase today, "No one is that damn busy.  Even the President takes phone calls from voters and God talks to us in church ....... so what the hell is his issue?"

You know maybe, just maybe, he's an actually a really nice guy.  He just doesn't know his way to the Chill Room so he can slow down, take a breath, gain a different view point and come back to the real world.  Workaholism can be of use but it prohibits us from being contemplative and thoughtful.

So this weekend is about done, less than a day and a half or so remaining,  but there are others.  Take some time to set out a day or two or maybe three and do ... absolutely ..... nothing ...................  If it's more complicated than sitting in a chair, watching the birds play in the water, sipping french cognac in the middle of the afternoon just because you can, or hugging the spouse as they fix your kid an old-fashioned grill cheese sandwich with a Coke and a pile of Funyun's, then maybe you need to just say no to that next dance at the Rave and find that Chill Room.  Just might make you a better man (or woman) for it.

After all, even God's not so busy that he can't take some time off and just sit ... and ponder ... and wonder how to live better, with more meaning.

Pass the cognac and the funyuns please ...........................

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

May 2011


108. A Cheeseburger Sizzles in Edo-WTF

Trying to get back to work but stumbled across this photo of cheeseburgers to go with my post.  Doesn't really match the article but I found this somehow "artistically appealing" so I decided ... WTF.  This guy has real imagination but obviously his world revolves around cheeseburgers so you just gotta' respect that.  See you on the mat Tuesday ... after a cheeseburger today .... ;-)

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Cheeseburger Paradise

107. A Cheeseburger Sizzles in Edo

When you've been teaching as long as I have you begin to feel pretty comfortable on the mat and standing in front of people.  Sometimes that comfort level leads to some "creativity" in how we present a lesson; so recently I talked about precision in our practice and how the mere act of inserting precision into a geiko is, in-and-of-itself, art (e.g., martial "arts") and I got some laughs as I used the metaphor of "Cheese Burger" to explain.

When I was a kid my hometown had two junior high schools.  The one I attended was at one end of main street with the county courthouse at the other end of main.  Everything in between was "Main Street" with the normal assortment of banks, record stores (they sold vinyl back then along with 45 rpm's .... go look it up in the history book), clothes stores, a Five and Dime (literally), tire store, etc., etc.  During lunch time since we could leave campus and we'd gang-up and "roll" onto main, harrassing store owners, spinning 45's on the turntables and dancing in the aisle, and generally being the kind of pests that all junior high kids are and can be.  (Remember tho' that during this time period in history bad things included chewing gum and sticking it under your seat and falling asleep in class.  If you really misbehaved then coach would take a paddle to your back-side and lift your feet off the floor.  Ouch but we got the point ... or the board actually.)

One of the real joys tho' of having your jr. high on main street (aside from watching parades on main street thru' your english class window or the traveling carnival setting up the roller coaster and rides one block from school) was the pharmacy.  It was an old style compounding pharmacy that everyone went to with the same kind of guy behind the counter as in the old movie "It's A Wonderful Life" (every body knew him and he was usually cranky all the time).

The pharmacy had a fountain with some older high school kids jerking the sodas ...  and running the fountain with an iron hand was the cook; a middle aged fat woman who was always smiling and who was deemed by all of us as being "The Goddess of the Cheeseburger".  OMG could she make a cheeseburger with fries that would make a sane man slap his momma and a crazy man kill anyone who got in the way while he was eating  ... (savoring actually)  .... every ... smooth ... luscious ... fantabulously  ..... splendid  .....  bite.

Her opinion (like the stock market commercials .. "When EF _____ talks people listen") on "The Art of the Cheeseburger" was quite simple ......... everything HAD to be right and if any little part was wrong then the entire cheeseburger might still be good ... but it wasn't THE cheeseburger that was supposed to cause all that "momma slapping".

The buns were custom made at the baker in town.  All the veggies were locally grown and loved and had little to no chemicals on them.  The meat was grown, killed and cut in town at the local ranch (so fresh you could hear it moo).  The cheese was even made locally since in those days every little town in Texas had an ice plant, a ranch, a farm, a diary, a meat packing plant ....... everything was small and locally owned and operated since the days of corporate food didn't exist yet.  Shucks  ....... even the Dr. Pepper that I had with the cheese burger was bottled just down the street and on days with the wind blowing just right I could sit in class during english (no air conditioning back then) and smell the bread on the wind from the bakery and see the Dr. Pepper trucks drive by as they left the bottling plant.

The cook (actually closer to a cow-boss pushing a herd of high school kids as they jerked soda and waited on customers) had things to say about the perfect cheese burger that I remember today. 

They are;

  • the buns must be soft and with the right amount of lightly roasted sesame seeds on the top ONLY, not the bottom bun and the seed should not be dark or burned.
  • The buns have to have butter smeared on them and toasted with the open face on the grill (the inside of the bun and not the outside should be slighty grill-toasted and browned).
  • The top bun has to have the right coating of mayo and the bottom bun with mustard with the mayo always on the top bun so that it wouldn't separate from the heat of the meat and get the bottom bun soggy with oil but instead, lightly run down into the veggies and onto the meat.
  • The lettuce has to be cut into smallish pieces and not torn or laid on in big sheets (bite size was best) and evenly layered.
  • Tomatoes had to be THIIINNNNN cut and NOT chunked on like they do today (you want to taste the burger and not get a mouthful of tomatoe) and the tomatoe had to be fresh ripened and not picked green and loaded into a ship from China as it's pressurized with ripening gases (corporate farm style).
  • Pickles, thin and crisp and cut into little circles ... not polish, not kosher, not sweet, not limp, not long ... but thin and crisp and tasty and NOT dripping with the vinegar (pat it dry with napkins before putting it on the burger so you don't get a mouthful of vinegar that chokes you).
  • Lastly the meat ........ grab a handful of ground beef that still has some fat in it for full flavor.  She'd be horrified at today'a tendency to view fat as somehow "bad".  The meat has to have full flavor and be able to stick together and not fall apart like some bad cut of zero fat buffalo meat.  (For those who think buffalo burgers are paradise then tell me why you have to smoother dry, tasteless meat with sauce to choke it down followed by beer to get the sauce taste out of your mouth .... hmmm??  Oh, but it's just ever so healthy! ..... ppfffffbbbbbbbbbt ... yeh and so are my gym socks .... ).

She'd grab a handful of that prime cut, ground-just-so beef with her hand (OH NO ... NO pre-cut, pre-measured patties for her) and she'd slam that down on the counter and into a pile of sweet, tender, bite-sized PURPLE onions (white onions? ......... you Commie! ....) that were garden ripened and that didn't drive cattle wild from the smell but were like a breath of garden sunshine and then she'd slam that round ball of meat onto the grill and yell, "All right baby, lets cook for momma.  The chillin's are waiting to eat and need to get back to school and learns."

And then the crowning glory ... the cheese.  Ahh yes ....... the cheese ...... old fashioned rat-trap cheddar that oozes the natural cheese juice and oils as it warms to room temp.  Swiss?  Fancy fat-free? Those were only good for putting into traps and catching rats in the garage or maybe driving cockroaches out of the kitchen.  This was real cheese for her burgers and not some diet-manic half-hearted attempt at something resembling "cheese".

The secret was to wait until the meat was almost completely done.  Put it on too soon and it gets tough and "over-melts" and losses its' character ... too late and it's not cooked down into the meat patty correctly and is "under-done".

Once the cheese was just-so she'd assemble her work of culinary art ... bottom bun, mustard, meat/onion combo with cheese melted into it, bite-sized lettuce, tomatoe rings, pickles, top bun with mayo ............. "Oh NO you don't you little heathen ....... don't you DARE cut momma's burger in half .... who do you think you are ... some fancy city-slicker ... that bun is big and comes in ONE piece so you can wrap both hands on it and hold it while you eat ... and those fries are for side-dressing to your 'burger and not the main event  ..... ".

She could get loud and direct when she wanted.  My home town was a rail-road town back then and she had worked as a cook for Missouri Pacific feeding train crews; a rough bunch so you get ahead of them and give them their ration of s___ in advance to keep'm quit and under control.

That woman took her burger serious (and don't ask about getting a "burger without cheese" ... that simply was unpatriotic and for people who just didn't understand the beauty of an old-fashioned American Cheese Burger (stand up and salute when you say that pardner').

Gawd ... we kid's would line up 3 deep at the counter at lunch time and those of us standing behind the one's seated would reach over and snag fries from their plates while the burgers got munched and scarfed and drooled on and finally wolfed down to a chorus of "uummmmm momma that's gooood ... " before the next kid crawled up for their turn. There was NO talking from the one's eating; only those of us waiting were cutting up, stealing fries and harrassing the one's with the food to hurry before we died of starvation.

It became quite a social gathering on those days when kids forgot their sack lunch or didn't want the drivel at the school cafeteria.   The best cafeteria days were ENCHILADA DAYS with all the food made and cooked right there as you stood in line, unlike today where the school buys some plastic food made in Taiwan and assembled on the south side of Chicago before being half-frozen and shipped to town by way of Tibet and Moscow so that it arrives "really fresh and tasty"  (insert your own image of someone biting into something so horrid that people would cut out their own tongue before being hog-tied and forced to take a second bite).  But other than echiladas no one liked to eat there ........ I guess some things never change in school.

There were probably life-time marriages and familys that came out of that social scene at the soda fountain (not to mention some hot-dates to the prom) although I suspect that jr. high kids back then were a lot more .. "naive" .. than many today appear.

So how does this apply to Aikido?

I tried to give what I remember of that time in my life and detailed how this overweight woman viewed her job feeding the kids cheese burgers ........... she made an absolute art form out of it and she insisted that IT BE DONE CORRECTLY EVERY SINGLE TIME OR SHE WAS NOT BEING FAITHFUL TO THE "ART OF THE CHEESE BURGER".

How may times do we go to geiko and half-heartedly lope thru' a practice?  How many times do we see deshi train and even tho' the actually make the throw or the waza work, it looks so damn sloppy that the person should be embarassed by their; poor posture, half-hearted kuzushi, stumbling feet, or lack of focus and awareness.

If that woman could make an art form out of a cheese burger to the point to where today at age 60 I still clearly remember what it tasted like and how she fretted over her trimmings and the cuts of meat to get it right then why can't we make the same effort to get our Aikido right the same way.

Every motion has importance.  Every foot position has importance.  Every hand placement has importance.  Every waza in every kata has importance.  Every look, every bit of focus, every single part of Aikido has importance  ... just as much importance as to how the pickles are cut, the meat is ground and the cheese is melted on at just the right moment.

She was cooking for her kids (and we were her kids even tho' the faces changed for her couple of  every years or so with a fresh batch every September to replace the ones moving on) and she wanted the food good and right and done properly.

We claim to train in Aikido for our well-being and our self-defense ....... why is that less important than a cheese burger with fries and a freshly jerked Dr. Pepper on ice?

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

May 2011