Sometimes you have to suck to get the creativity and productive “flow” going.
The other day I had a memory of a time when someone needed to transfer gas from a friend’s car to make it to the gas station. He took a hose, held it at a certain angle, sucked some gasoline through the hose, and started the flow of gasoline to his container. (Don’t try this at home, folks!) He was able to get his car started, make it to the gas station, and go on with gasoline mouth self.
Sometimes you just have to suck to get the flow going. I experienced that lately with my samurai mind notebook. I haven’t really been filling up pages and have been really slow about doing my reviews. There are so many pressing matters, blah, blah, blah. But I decided that I could at least set my timer to five minutes and just write a little and review a little. I felt a little resistance at first but after a while my notebook became fun again. Ah, the benefits of suckage.
I was introduced to the concept of “suckage” when I came across alljapaneseallthetime.com when I decided to learn Japanese. Khatzumoto, the webmeister, explains that learning a language is best done when you can break it up into a series of “short winnable games.” I learned to embrace “suckage” and use timers to turn study sessions into a game. In his article, “Intermediate Angst: Dealing with Feelings of Suckage” Khatzumoto explains:
If you want to win the long game, stop playing it.
Stop running the marathon and start sprinting instead.
Start running and playing and winning short games instead.
Start the suckage and run. (Mixed metaphor alert.) Turn resistance into a short, winnable game and turn resistance into flow. Dame la gasolina!
Talk about life long learning. I love that there is a book dedicated to teaching seniors how to play The Ventures. But why wait until you retire to do what you want to do? My Japanese father-in-law is taking up guitar. I’m thinking of seeing if I can join his classes. Japanese and guitar, wow!
Yesterday, I decided to stop at a cafe to have an iced latte. Because it was hot outside and their air conditioner wasn’t on, it was relatively empty. Then they turned on some Best of Jimi Hendrix, which I hadn’t heard in a long time. Listening to Hendrix after a long drought is like drinking a cup of coffee after I’ve “given it up”–it blasts me to the stratosphere. What was interesting was that as I was listening to it, I was thinking things like, “oh he slid up the strings there” or “how and where did he get that idea?” I didn’t do the usual hero worshiping, practice stopping rant. “I will never get there.”
If you think you never will “get there” you are right. You will never get there because where you are is right here right now. So what are you going to do about it? Find a way to hit just one string clearly or worship the rock gods? (Hey, why not do both 🙂 ) Will you find a way to just push for a few minutes to write a little scale or moan about how you wish you could write songs?
Part of pushing is allowing yourself to “suck” while you move forward. Part of why reading alljapaneseallthetime.com was so liberating was Khatz’s concept of “suckage.” As he explains, you have to be comfortable with were you are with your skill but not so comfortable that you aren’t doing something about it. “Accepting permanent suckage is not humility. That’s resignation. Sucking is a temporary condition. Contact is the cure.” Have contact with your desired skill at many ends from the theoretical pushes to just having fun listening to the “masters” without being threatened.
You will never get there. You are always here, now. Push. Play. Repeat.
I celebrated with neighbors and friends in NYC on New Year’s Day. A mix of traditional Japanese osechi and other delicacies for a tasty new year.
I’m not a New Year’s Eve guy. I have nothing against other people’s celebrations. For me, I like to start the new year well rested and not hung over. I went to bed at 9:30. I celebrated New Year’s day at a mid-day party with Japanese New Year’s food. I don’t necessarily have resolutions, but I have some general directions I’m taking. Maybe they’ll help you become a content samurai and help you know more, do more, and play more in 2013:
read the table of contents before and after I read a book
add speed to the game
play/study with the things that intrigue me
turn the things that bother me and seem impossible into a game
honor the vessel aka find ways to get off my derriere
go a little berserk (which I discovered is also a manga while trying to figure out the exact spelling)
Read the table of contents before and after I read a book
I can be a perfectionist and that sometimes prevents me from playing around with really helpful books, in English and Japanese. I feel like I have to read it cover to cover and I get the いやいや attitude about reading. Lately, I’ve been re-reading Study Hacks! and focusing on the table of contents and just having fun with it. Let the content warm the cockles of your heart. More of that, please.
I was looking at my notes from Furuichi’s book ,１日３０分を続けなさい！Each Day 30 Minutes. Learn to Win! and was reminded of his hint to study things while they are hot for you. That is the best time to study. Looking at my notes on Furuichi’s book he seems to do a lot of calculating of how much time you can gain and up your skills or become a better person. But he also emphasizes the joy part of the game and that you never know where it will take you. Follow the rainbow.
Turn the things that bother me and seem impossible into a game
Osechi ryori includes sweet black beans and other foods, some which symbolize health, wealth, and happiness. I say yes to it all!
I bought a guitar tuner and have a guitar strategically placed in a hidden location away from home. Am I going to be Jimi Hendrix? Probably not. But I can take one part of the piece and dip into Jamplay.com. If music is a language, then maybe taking a little piece every day will help me communicate with music. Today power chords. Tomorrow the world.
Go a little berserk!
Steve Chandler, in his book, Wealth Warrior, asks the question: “Are you willing to go berserk? . . . . It’s usually a person’s unwillingness to go crazy (in a good way) that has them stuck with a boring and financially demoralizing life. ” Study and act on your dreams, inside and out. Don’t be afraid to pull out from the crowd and do what you need to do. Read the book backwards. Find ways to serve. Go berserk! Join me.
As I approach learning and writing, I’ve noticed the power of not only small minute blocks of study but also the power of a second, or even a nano-second. There is a split second, draw your katana decision. Will you 1) hate yourself for what you didn’t know? 2) throw out the fact because it isn’t interesting any more? or 3) breathe and smile into it and find something to love and have fun with? The point is not to ever feel bad, but to take advantage of the moments when you can make a decision to turn that moment into a learning, loving moment.
I’ve been dipping into this book by Masami Utsude about adding speed to your learning methods. He recommends learning English by watching and reading materials that you enjoy. Good advice for learning any language!
Part of the reason that I am so obsessed with the small is because I am doing a Japanese immersion program called Silverspoon. I get all kinds of study suggestions, funky Japanese links, and inspirational quotes in English and Japanese. A lot of these quotes emphasize doing rather than not doing. Today’s “sprints” had this banner over it: “Good Enough Now > Perfect Later.” It also included a link that led me to my youtube page, which is crowded with all sorts of Japanese content.
Khatzumoto, the not-so-evil genius behind Silverspoon, has gotten subatomic and created a study program called Neutrino. I haven’t really given it a spin but I love the smaller than an atom principle. It’s the power of the teeny tiny, the force of the small–drops wearing down mountains.
Lately, I haven’t had much time for writing. This post has been written in five minute chunks. Sentence by sentence. It’s better to push a little bit than let your dreams and ideas slip away.
According to Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” Get small and in that subatomic moment lovingly choose your direction. Be a split second samurai.
If I were to really be a samurai, I would probably be a samurai during the Tokugawa era, when the country was pretty much unified and most samurai were bureaucrats sitting around in the entertainment district trying to write haiku or decide which spot would be best for lunch. Everything I learned about the fighting arts I learned from two weeks of Aikido. (and when I got tricked into learning to fight by a slow moving Chinese guy–see below) I left my gi at the dojo almost 18 years ago. If you see it, it’s mine.
This is the only evidence of my martial arts “prowess.” I stopped going to the Tai Chi studio over five years ago, however I still do a set of exercises called Nei Kung. I also dispense advice based on my superficial knowledge of these arts. 🙂
I may not have a fighting license, but I do have a poetic license which allows me to dispense Aikido life lessons. If you’d like to skip my stories and metaphors here is the “Little Moves, Great Power” cheat sheet:
“stretching” is activity
you have to learn how to fall
a little each day is better than nothing
slow helps you go fast
one small mastered move can transform the potential of your power
you don’t always have to fight head-on– roll with the force of the obstacles
stay grounded but loose
“Stretching” is activity/learning
When I started Aikido, I thought it was pretty funny that we started the class with little hand stretches. One of them involved putting the thumb of one hand on the back of the palm and torking the wrist a little bit. Then I saw one of the master teachers use that very hand stretch to flip a dude on to his back. Don’t underestimate the power of whatever stretch activity is part of what you are trying to expand in your life. Guitar scales and warm ups have the power to transform your playing. Brainstorming and free-writing could change the way you write. Shadowing, babbling, and playing around can put the sizzle in learning a foreign language.
You have to learn how to fall
In addition to those puny little hand stretches, the Aikido folks also practice how to fall. They practice rolling into the falls to avoid injury and also as a defensive/offensive strategy. What a perfect metaphor for learning. When it “doesn’t work out” how are you going to fall? Ready to spring up again and try a different approach or are you going to leave your uniform at the dojo and never return again? (Like a certain person I know?)
A little each day is powerful
Many years later I stumbled across a Tai Chi center near my old neighborhood in Hell’s Kitchen. Hey, this is Tai Chi, I thought, it’s gotta be easy. C.K. Chu, the sifu, would come around and teach me a new move each day I came and I kept adding to the form. Uhm, ouch.
I stumbled on to the Tai Chi Chuan Center in the late 90’s. A wonderful, quiet place in the heart of Times Square, with dedicated but not pushy teachers and students. Photo from http://www.ckchutaichi.com/chu.shtml.
Slow helps you go fast
Eventually I learned that if you sped up the Tai Chi form it is actually a fighting art. I thought Tai Chi was something I could do while my crystals were getting patchoulied. But then one day sifu showed us how those curvy little moves are actually powerful thrusts and parries. Big surprise. Going slow can be challenging and helpful in many fields. In guitar, using a metronome and practicing difficult moves at a very slow tempo and then graduating to a faster tempo can build accuracy and fluency.
Khatzumoto at AJATT is quick to mention the power of small but also mentions that you shouldn’t wait for magic bullets and magic methods. He suggests in “Three Minutes Of . . .” that you work small and:
Don’t hold your breath until you figure out some mythical, I dunno, “Aryuvedic”, “correct” way of breathing
Don’t stop drinking water until you analyze every brand that exists
Don’t get it right. Get it started. Don’t get it good. Get it going. Don’t get it finished. Touch it. Don’t do it. Do three minutes of it.
Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.
You don’t always have to fight head-on–roll with the force of obstacles
Part of Aikido and Tai Chi/Push hands is learning how to roll with the force of your opponent and use it as part of your defense. The force of your opponent’s punch with the rightly guided defense move can be used against your opponent. (At least that’s what they told me 🙂 ) It makes me think that as far as learning tools you need to find ways to roll with the resistances to learning and use them. Are you too busy reading trashy Hollywood celebrity news to learn French? Find French celebrity news websites and look at all the trashy pictures. Two birds. No stone. No killing.
Tai Chi works on more levels than I can write or even know about. It is supposed to activate “chi” and help your health. However, I was surprised by how most of the moves were powerful fighting moves. Key to all of this is staying grounded and fluid at the same time. Image from CK Chu Tai Chi.
Stay grounded but loose
The other day I was talking to a fellow dad at the playground. He used to be a boxer and he still trains. We were relaxing and talking while our little ones were playing in the sandbox and he made a point and brushed me on the shoulder. He nearly knocked me off my feet. The great ones in any field are grounded in their field but loose. They “fly like a butterfly but sting like a bee.” Whatever you are learning, analyze and master the basics but stay loose, stay grounded, find the different angles, and enjoy!
Sometimes you have to bookmark or tread water with your skill. If you can’t do all guitar all the time, do five minutes. Photo by sudyasheel. http://bit.ly/UChtLh
The other day I was minding my own business and paying attention to @ajatt’s twitter conversation when a rockin’ young ma twitterin’ man named @Mikeylovesrock asked, “Could someone create an @ajatt method for guitar fluency? :p I’d be much obliged.” I told him that maybe he is the man that everyone is waiting for. Khatzumoto didn’t know Japanese when he began his immersion experience. Now Khatzumoto has a cool blog helping people all over the world learn Japanese through fun and immersion.
@mikeylovesrock graciously conceded that he would give it a shot when he finished learning Japanese. I let a few hours pass, thinking about the fact that even Khatzumoto began from nothing and I replied, “fair enough … but what is one thing you could do in guitar? keep strings tuned hold guitar five minutes/day.” Why wait?
The Importance of “Treading Water”
“Relax your mind and float down stream.” When you are treading water, a relaxed attitude will help you “float” better. Photo by Jim: http://bit.ly/S1Kvpd
Even if you have a big learning project underway, I think it is important to “tread water” in the other skills you want to develop. Why?
Your mind loves a challenge and progress is made in minutes of doing rather than not doing.
The next skill can become a motivator for continuing and progressing with the on-going learning project.
A little bit a day lays the groundwork for more each day and gets your mind thinking like a guitarist/pianist/speaker of French/coder etc.
Because it’s just plain old fun.
Tips for “Bookmarking” or Treading Water on a Future Skill
use your current learning to shore up future learning–i.e. play around with the guitar books written in Japanese
keep the instrument(s) of your future skilled out and “tuned”-take the guitar out of the case, keep it tuned, and just touch it for five minutes
have a place in your notebook for future goals, dreams, and skills in your notebook and find fun ways to keep reviewing them in your notebook…create ways to keep bumping into your desired skills
if you can’t do five minutes, do one minute. If you can’t do one minute, do one second. If you don’t physically pick up your skill, hold it in your mind. A friend of mine says he practices guitar scales and patterns in his mind when he is too busy being a dad. Guilt and self-hatred don’t count.
create an online flashcard deck for your future skill….even if you just put one card it in the deck it counts
The nice thing about giving advice to other people is that sometimes it spurs you to follow your own advice. 🙂 I blew the dust off my flashcard deck for guitar and landed on Jamplay.com lesson based on an AC/DC song called, “You Shook Me All Night Long.” For five minutes, the bright lights shone on me as I had my Angus moment. Of course, this was a four day weekend. Let’s see if we can sustain the five minutes during the stress of the school year. In the meantime, stay “tuned.” 🙂
All I need to know is how much is enough. —James Heisig’s translation of saying on a small stone basin at Ryonji, a Zen temple
Buddhist poet Saigyo tried to live “one inch above the ground.” . . .not with one’s feet planted firmly in the everyday, not walking on the clouds, but floating a thumb’s length above the ground. –Heisig, Dialogues at One Inch Above the Ground
Stop being a jerk to yourself. You did your best given what you knew at the time. Now do your best now. —from a Silverspoon email.
Remember, in order to actually get better at guitar you need to actually take the guitar out of its bag. —Dan Emery, head of NYC School of Guitar in a postcard to all the students
I decided to shut up and show the samurai up with guitar. I picked this book to begin with because it will reinforce my Japanese. Of course, it has a mangalike character on front. If you are interested, here is the closest version I could find on Amazon Japan. Two birds. No killing. Just a rolling stone gathering no moss.
In my last post, I focused on Heisig and how he examined his systems and perfected them. Heisig optimized his learning and the learning of many more through his system for learning kanji. I also suggested that it’s great to examine your methods, find your weaknesses and reassess. I still believe that is true, but I also believe you also just have to show the Samurai up! If you can’t think of the “right” thing to do, do something! In short:
if you can’t think of the most fun or targeted learning activity, do the “boring” one until you are inspired
inspiration sometimes comes through “work”–sometimes it doesn’t
keep your brain myelinated …keep the mental and physical conversation of the skill going
still, don’t forget the fun–what’s really great is when some fun activity or experience reinforces the work and seals the deal on what you have learned
stay “one inch above the ground”…grounded in the practice of what you are trying to learn and also dreaming and enjoying it . . . watch experts and children who still enjoy learning and model them
I need to practice what I preach. 🙂 Lately, I decided to start playing guitar again. I have no dearth of materials, in Japanese and English. I was getting my underwear all in knots thinking of which set of materials to use: a Japanese guide, Jamplay.com, or the many English DVD’s and books that are hidden in different corners of my apartment.
Did anyone notice how good Japanese graphic arts can be? In addition to these homey little characters (this one is showing you how to hold a guitar correctly) there are also very precise and sharp schematic drawings about how to hold the pick and hit the strings.
I finally to stop fretting (guitar joke!) about all the materials and just get started. I had an old flashcard deck devoted to guitar playing and started with some scales. Then I decided to open up one of the many guitar books I have and just go through it. It includes a DVD and I fired up an old Dell that I now use as a spare DVD player. The first few lessons are really simple, and explain how to hit the strings with your pick. The first few video lessons show how to hit one string with different rhythms. It’s kind of boring but hitting the strings and doing it rhythmically correct is fundamental to a lot of guitar playing. Hey, someone should write a book called Zen Guitar! (It’s an actual book!)
This is a reference manga for the manga series, “Beck.” The manga is about a 90 lb. weakling who joins a rock band. (I didn’t end up following the manga or the anime.) The music guide gives background to all the characters and all the real-life music influences that run throughout the manga. If I read this, not only will I know more Japanese, I will also know more about rock and roll music history. Amazon Japan Link.
After doing scales for a few days, I thought about perusing the lessons at jamplay.com and found a new series on the guitar playing of Eric Clapton. I went through a beginning lesson that covered the style of the Yardbirds doing a song called “Boom Boom.” I listened to this song and the many versions of the original by the blues-man John Lee Hooker. It’s so much fun to watch what the masters can do with their guitar. (of course you never hear what they sounded like when they were sucky beginners)
The Beck Music Guide is fun and encyclopedic. For example, one character is really influenced by the blues, so here you see the character and then all the real-life albums that “influenced” his playing. It’s great to see the cover art of all these great blues albums from Bo Diddly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, etc all in one place.
But all of this happened because I decided to show the samurai up! Use a timer if you need to do but do something daily instead of fretting about the methods. Stay grounded but not at the point where you are digging your own rut. Get inspired by the masters but not to the point where it looks impossible and you stop practicing. Work. Have fun. Stay “one inch above the ground.”