Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why do I participate in HEMA?

On a poll online I was asked: what motivates you to study/compete/participate in HEMA,

There were a lot of options but it made me think about it. Why do I do sword? 

To me, it is personal betterment. Any form of self improvement comes down to that. It comes down to this: All my life I have been judged one way or another, all of us have it is a part of being in a cultural society. For a long time my personal value was tied to the things I had or did not have. It was all about what others thought of me, and if they thought badly, It must be something that I needed to fix or prove rather than something that was their perspective. 

So what has changed for me?
6 months ago I did very poorly in my sword competition. My first match was great, the next 2 not so great and I ended up placing where I really had no intention coming in there to be. Things kind of snowballed, I had some bad exchanges in my second match, and got discouraged, now I was down, my third match should have been better but I let the cloud of the first loss run things and so, my third round was not as good as it should have been. This is not to say I had bad opponents, but mentally, because I was not doing well and I let that color how well I was doing. I beat myself in ways that my opponents could not. In light of that, I decided that I needed to work harder internally than I had before, Worry less about how many points I was down, and work more on each exchange, looking at them for feedback. Try something and it did not work? Try again, or do something else. That worked? Great, lets do something else. Have a plan in mind, and let my body execute it. Make the opponent fight the way I want them to, and do what I want. If it does not work, try something else, or try it again. You do not win a match in one large chunk, but by winning the most exchanges. or less with the most points scored.
 What changed for me was the game. 

I am now rounding 3 more training weeks until our local competition. In some ways, I am in much better shape physically than I was last time. I am running several times a week. I am eating better and watching what I am doing more often. I am in no way in peak condition, but I am getting better. I have been taking a Fencing class to spend some time working on the speed of my feet, and feel like in many ways it is helping, and overall I am working on speeding up my slow methodical way of fighting to pick up some faster, and better timed things. 

All of that is recent. 6 months ago, I was winning all of my matches. Now it is hit and miss on how well I am doing, but I feel like somethings are going better and if I can focus those things, and drop the attachment to definite placing I feel that I may be able to do what I need to. For me the fight has to come from inside. I have to focus, even if it is after a few points scored against me. 

A few months back, when I really dedicated myself to running and training multiple times a week. I realized something. Perfection is not a destination, it is not towards perfection that I must strive, but to do as well as I can, each moment, not being, attached to the outcome, but to my pest in each step of the path towards it.  This is what my goal is, this is what I do it for. I will never be the best swordsman in the world. but as long as I am working on it and doing all I can to improve, then that will be enough. Anything short of it, is cheating myself. My instructor wants me to do well, my fellow students want me to do well, but unless I remain focused and dedicated to myself I am cheating myself out of my best. 

Albert Einstein once said: "Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person." 

For me, the reason to persist and continue to push my limits is to become better. It is in training that I learn my limits and sometimes, find out that the limits I have are more imagination than real. I find out just what I am made of, and sometimes I find out that where I thought all I was, was slow and awkward, was really just me limiting what my real potential was. I do HEMA to figure out what I can do, what I may not be able to yet, and sometimes I do it to surprise myself just how little space there is between the two. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On faith: an evolutionary realization, Not sword related.

This morning I watched the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin, and had an interesting revelation  about faith and purpose for me, as well as my understanding of the world around me.

In the documentary they spoke quite a bit about Charles Darwin's journey and though not talked about in depth they touched on some of his struggle with releasing his findings. In it, they also spoke to some Christians who refute his theory of evolution, preferring the creationist belief that God created the world in 6 days, and it all happened as the bible told under 6,000 years ago. I am not going to get into my take on this as I find it irrelevant, but there was something in all of that which seemed to underlie some of this belief. and it began to make me think about life and meaning and how we as people connect the two.

There were several people who as I heard it anyway said that if the bible was not true, and if the creation of the world was not done as outlined that our lives would not mean as much, and our meaning would be lessened, as if the story of creation is not true, it begins to unravel the fabric of their belief and as such the only way for the rest of the faith in the Bible to be true was for a literal translation of the bible.

I have also heard, over the years that people, without God's laws fall into chaos and would not be good people without the word of God as outlined in the (Christian) bible and so, prayer in school is needed, and teaching of biblical thought, should be required in schools to counter this kind of failure in faith that leads people to do bad things and leave the grace of God himself.

 There are some, who the belief in their faith makes life meaningful for. I do not hear in these cry's desperation, but hope, and faith that they are doing what is right for them because they believe it is right. Along those lines since it is what they believe is right, they would like to encourage others to follow the same path, because it is one that works for them. That there is only one true way, and all who do not follow it, they either do not know better or have not seen the truth in it and should be shown the way.

I have also known plenty of people, who are, as I see them people of good upstanding character who have no faith, or no concept of something beyond themselves that still act in a way that I think most would call good. Some of these call themselves atheist, some call themselves  agnostic, some at one time had a faith that they grew up in, or had at one time in their lives, but through means have fallen away from the faith because of the way that it was practiced or the actions of a person or group of individuals in the faith and as such have not found someplace they feel is their Spiritual home. More to the point, they are not looking for one, it has no purpose to them.

What struck me in this documentary was something that I had not given a lot of thought to, which was, some people rely on their faith to give their lives meaning. To me, that is a great thing. If that means that you go to church and pray and do what you do because it is your belief that it is what God wants you to do and from that you are good to your neighbors, and work to be a good person, then to me that is awesome. If embracing evolution is something that you cannot do because it shakes that, then I understand a reason behind fighting against it, to you, it is an attack on you and your faith without which life simply would not have the same meaning.

So the thing that really strikes me is that we, as humans look for our place in the world. Since long before we had agriculture, and probably since before we were humans even, we have had a burning desire to figure out what that place was. We want to know what happens to us after we die. Is it lights out and that is all? Is it an afterlife in a land of milk and honey? Do we return and live again to become better and better until we can break free from the cycle of life and death?

Ancient people answered these questions different ways. Some answers were in the questions asked. Yes we live on as something else or something more, no, we do not and go to an underworld presided over by Hades, yes we are reborn into another life over and over until we reach perfection, then we are free from the cycle. But what all of these answers created for the ones asking and answering them was a purpose and meaning to life.

I know some Atheist who believe that life is only what we experience with our 5 senses, and that when we come to die, it is only the purpose that we have had here, and the impact that we have made that matters. I also know some Christians who believe that living a good life is important because it means that when we come to die, that we will live a good life after we are gone that we would not had we not been good to one another. I think the irony in both is that without knowing what the person's faith was, you may not be able to tell them apart by the life that they lead. The Atheist helps someone bring in their groceries not because they are building up good Karma here in life, but because it makes them feel good to help out someone else. The Christian who feeds the neighbor kid who they know does not have food at home to eat, may be doing it because it is right to help each other, or because love one another is something they believe in, or even because doing so will help them feel like they are being a good Christian and is good in the eyes of God who, when they come to die, will judge them and so, should be as good as they can.

What matters, regardless of faith, is that we find something that makes life worth it. If Darwin was right, and that shakes your faith so badly that you could not live a good life. Then I support you believing what you do so that you are a good person. If believing that there is nothing more than the life we lead and as such it drives you to be a better person, then at the end of the day it is a good thing as anyway that we as people can make the world better makes it better for all of us.

Maybe it is just me, but I would rather a room full of people who are good regardless of their faith then people who are not, because of their faith. I would rather a christian who is doing good works to help his neighbor because it is the right thing to do, then the one who is mean and terrible to them because they do not agree on the nature of life, and death, and what it all means.

We will not all see eye to eye on things. That is the nature of individuals living together. But that does not mean that because we do not see eye to eye that we cannot be friends based on what we do agree on. I would rather a atheist who does not steal from my house, then someone who shares the same faith that does. I would rather a neighbor who I can greet if I see them on the street, then one who will not talk to me because they do not share my faith. What it comes down to is that it is better to have good people around you who for whatever reason they are doing the right thing are being good people to each other, then 10,000 who share the same belief in the nature of life and death, but who are cruel to those who do not share it.

The last thing I want to say is this. We do not agree 100% on anything I promise you, but why not build laws that support the things we do have in common. No one likes having their stuff stolen. I am not sure there are a lot of people who believe that killing people is a good and just thing to do without definite cause. If we are going to live together, we have to respect each other, we do not have to agree, but you can respect someones right to choice without letting it have bearing on you. I do not smoke, but if I went around beating people up who choose that for themselves, then I would be a jerk and deserve the repercussions of that. So I can do this. Not smoke, choose to not be around those who do, and let those who do, do it, it is their choice and not mine. If there is conflict, lets agree to sit down at the table and talk about solutions that work for both of us, not just my way, or just your way, but a way that is somewhere in the middle, that though not perfect for both, works enough for both of us. If at the end of my life, my decisions are wrong, and my choices were bad ones, then let me face my maker and face my judgement on my own, If you are right, it will happen either way anyway, so let that me my cross to bear, until then lets try to work together rather than

Monday, March 3, 2014

Training and thinking about a lot.

Every man is a hero of his own story.”

― Brandon SandersonWarbreaker

This has gone through my mind a lot lately. Over the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of running and exercise, and as a part of it, have been posting quite a bit about it on Facebook. In the past, it has been easy to see people posting about their work outs and thinking, good for them, I am happy they are doing something they like, but so what to me?
What occurs to me about it is that when I do the same thing, I am at best, a supporting character in someone else's story, just as they are in mine. What is interesting is the way it makes me think about other people. Here they are, doing their life, and I am doing mine, and to a huge majority of the world, I will be a unknown, as billions of people are to me. If we meet on the street, I am just another person, another face in the crowd, as countless are to me. It is strange to think of it that way, but in a big way, it is important to think that way. Your life is about you, your family, your kids, your friends, the things you are passionate about, the things that you dislike, somewhere in that may be some overlap with my life, but even my wife, who I am the very closest to in my life, is not me or my story 100%. It is an interesting perspective, and something to keep in mind when dealing with others.

With all of that in mind, and given that it has been awhile since I posted, here is what I am working on right now. It may not be your story, but if someone else can get anything out of it, then it is reason enough to share it.
Before the winter, I had started on a couch to 5K program. When it snowed I stopped but was trying to work on staying more active.  In September I weighted 346 pounds, since that time I have lost about 16 or 17 and it fluctuates a lot depending on the day, my diet and whatnot. I have decided that the weight is not as important as how I am doing at certain things, and in that I feel like I am making progress. 3 weeks ago, when I went back to running I was able to start where I left off without a problem so for that I am very happy. In the past 3 weeks thing have changed more and though the number is not changing, I am able to run a lot longer than I could when I started.
Perhaps ability is not the question, but knowing how far I can go, when I would have stopped before.   Since pushing myself a little bit, I am feeling like I can do some things much much better. In sword class when I used to get winded in a match, I can, if not push longer and harder, at very least, not be as winded.

Some other things have come out of the last few weeks that I am really starting to enjoy. At 7:00 almost every night, my wife and I have started turning off the TV and taken the last couple of hours of our evening to read, or in my case, work in the garage, read, exercise or do something else that is not sitting in front of the TV. A key is the DVR, so if there is a show that we usually watch, it can be recorded to watch later. It has really helped me have some control of things since now, I "have the time" to work out.

The other thing was a bit of a slap in the face that woke me up about some things. I was having a discussion with some people in HEMA nationally and was called on some of my stuff about, "I can't do everything because I am fat" the point was, yes, I am overweight. There is not a scale I have seen that puts me at healthy, but what matters is that regardless of my size, if I am not training to my potential, nothing I am doing will make any difference, and I will keep excusing it by saying that I am the big fat kid. But more than that a few people I know, that I have never met in person told me that if I wanted something bad enough they believed that I had it in me to go for it.
More to the point, in 3 months from now, I am going to my first Sword event that is not a local thing. It is a bit scary, what if I do not do well, what if I shame myself or my class? What if I do not pour into my matches all that I have and in holding back show just how unskilled I feel I am at times? What then? This is also over my 33rd Birthday weekend, so it is another time of transition in my life.
All of those what if's have turned into reason to train harder and do more than I have before. What was good enough, (going to class, exercising there, then not doing much outside of class) has changed. If I am going to get better, I cannot just let what I have been doing be enough. As a result I have been pushing myself harder, and noticing results. Now it is time to level it up, If something is better than nothing, then something more is better than something.
What it all comes down to is remembering that I am the Hero of my story, and as such no one is going to make me better if I am not doing anything about it myself. No one is going to push me harder or farther than I am willing to go, and no one is going to make me better if I don't do it myself. Guess it is time to hero up, and get things done.