Ted Cleaver

Stress versus Output

Stress is by far the most detrimental force in my life. It takes hold of you and initiates a vicious cycle. The more stress I experience, usually due to deadlines piling up, the less output I produce AND the less stress-relieving activities I engage in. This sounds more dramatic than it is, however a state of being where stress is never an issue to me, is analogous to what an island retreat with like-minded folk must be for a nudist: Exactly where you’d want to be.

There are many constructive ways to deal with stress, ranging from hands-on techniques to mental conditioning. Eat chocolate, do sports, make a realistic overview of your agenda, or meditate; all are excellent ways to reduce stress levels. Being the inquisitive person I am, the why and how are of greater interest to me. Why does stress cause so much trouble, and why does it persist to be a problem?

The cause for stress in my case is obvious, deadlines. A more general reason, one applicable to most people, is the sheer volume of commitments we make. Balancing family life, social circles, work, learning, cultural activities, etc. is a challenging task. Whatever the trigger may be, the result is that your brain is flooded with stress hormones. A mild dosage may be helpful in getting stuff done, and a high dosage is perfectly appropriate in a threatening situation. One effect of stress hormones is that your sympathic nervous system goes into fight or flight mode. Simultaneously, adrenalin floods your brain and several functions, such as your immune system, are shut off temporarily. This response is a safeguard that signals you when to get out of harm’s way and provides the state of alertness necessary to do so. It is paramount however to return back to a normal state of being fast. The negative effects of high concentrations of cortisol in your brain are no joke.
Even when the trigger for releasing stress hormones was not as dire as a threatening situation, the cause and effects are similar. You are suffering from chemically induced imbalance in your nervous system. Stress hormones affect your metabolic functions longer than they should, unnecessarily prolonging the imbalance. In this state, brain cells die. The most cynical aspect of stress is that it kills off cells in your hippocampus, the area in charge of learning and memory, while failure to produce results that require learning and memory is a common source of stress.

Our hippocampi are part of our limbic systems. Next to memory functions, emotions are regulated in the limbic systems. Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller Emotional Intelligence, convincingly argues the detrimental effects of stress on emotion regulation and vice versa. The most visible effect of stress is a bad mood. Since the relation between stress and emotions is not a one-way street, emotional distress likewise causes stress and thereby impedes learning and memory functions. Going back to the unfortunate fact that stress levels remain up for extended periods, dealing with the affliction is even more important.

This is where my problem lies. I don’t really experience adverse effects on memory or learning capacity, as far as I can tell at least. I do however narrow my focus and obsess over a specific goal. In theory, it would be much healthier and more productive, to make a conscious effort to reduce stress. This can be done by recognizing the altered state of being and attempting to regulate it. Or you might simply go for a run and forget your duties for a minute. Perhaps I’ll live a stress-free life some day, for now however the workload and overwhelming amount of things I love to do regularly result in stressful situations. Time to accept it: When it comes to stress I should stop, but I’m not a quitter. Using the insights into the why and how however continually leads to more constructive coping strategies.

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Ipatch

We live in an individualistic society. Surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of individual traits, from life trajectories to consumer preferences, can be predicted based on upbringing or your postal code, respectively. No matter how complex our lives are, the rules governing social reproduction are exasperatingly pervasive. Judges I, because I prefer eccentrics to uniforms. Here are some thoughts on individuality versus conformity.

Georg Simmel distinguishes subjective and objective culture. Everything subjective stem from your internal creative capacity. Whatever it is, whatever you call it, it is there, and it is what makes you a unique individual. Objective culture is just about everything else. Through the rise of cities people are in contact with each other much more frequently and much more superficially. Our senses are bombarded with an unmanageable volume of information every day, a situation which has been exasperated with the rise of multi-media. Fashion trends, memes, viral videos and must-have gadgets are all part of a continuum that suggests, if not dictates, how you should express your individuality. This is obviously entirely paradoxical. What’s more, at the point you create something as an individual, it immediately becomes part of the range of “objective” influences on other individuals. Simmel made a passionate plea for subjective creativity.

Moreover, he associated the individual’s needs for conformity and individuality with time vectors. Our biography is in charge of belonging. Memories of our histories and personal past grow every second. They negatively influence our ability to come up with something different and new. In contrast with history, there is teleology. We cannot know the future, but we know there is a future point in time that we are moving towards. Asserting how we want to stand out once we get there is an individual expression. To be honest, the time vector part of Simmel’s teachings is not one I spent a lot of time on. Nonetheless, combining it with the distinction between subjective and objective culture, and you can derive a beautiful proposition. What will you leave behind that is truly unique to you? Next question, how would you go about creating something unique? The proposition is thus, achieving self-realization in the future is a creative process of adding to objective culture, not consuming it.

 

Ipatch will be continued tomorrow.

Piece of Mind

“When you are full of yourself, there is no room for others.”
– T. Cleaver

I’m a sucker for quotes. A true heavyweight champion in quotes is The Duke, who added one crucial word to the second phrase. Such a matter should not be taken lightly. These sayings work so well because of their simplicity. Expressing much with little is a difficult feat. If you manage to do so, you have the advantage that the reader fills in the blanks for you. “Room” is the perfect choice; it can denote physical, social, emotional or symbolical space. Or, if you’re English is really bad and food happens to be on your mind, you might read “no room for others” as the impossibility to eat more of what you are craving. Foolishness aside, I’m happy with this quote. So I googled it to see if anything pops up. For ef’s sake! Religious folk coined it centuries ago, replacing “others” with their deity. Here we go.

Bashing religion with rational arguments is like beating minesweeper on easy mode. Tricky on your first attempt, but understand the incredibly simple logic behind it and you’ll sweep away. Many great comedians excel at bashing religion, and I wholeheartedly admit that I fell out of my chair laughing many times, for instance while watching Carlin’s performances. A Dutch comedian said it best in a live “debate” – more like a rhetorical massacre – with three head scarf donning hypocrites: Religion, all organized religion, has the pretense of having a monopoly on truth. In a democratic and open society, the freedom to meet flaws and fallacies with satire is a necessary function. It reminds us to not take things too seriously and accept the pluriformity of perspectives. In the live TV incident, the comedian exposed the three hypocrites as such by pointing out how they openly discriminated against homosexuals on earlier episodes, and now cried wolf for being referenced in a pornographic context by the antagonist. He was actually the voice of reason, as grimy as it was. Quick quote:

“I was Catholic until I reached the age of reason.”
– G. Carlin

The problem with religion lies in ontology and epistemology. Can’t know, can’t prove it. That’s why poking fun at organized faith is no challenge. I’m bummed out. Who in the world would accept the warning that you must not let your ego swell, on account of the “room” a make believe omnipotence requires in your mind?
Here’s the thing. Look at religion functionally and it is very useful. It provides a moral compass, an ethical framework, social morphology, social cohesion, meaning and purpose, each of them for better or for worse. And the list goes on. I completely accept and respect people who choose to follow a faith, will however laugh at their believing in what essentially is a magic being. Since I try not to have double standards, I invite anyone to deride my run-of-the-mill conception that “there is more between heaven and Earth, I just don’t want to put a label on it.”
But the quote, which my pious forerunners claimed and wasted, has nothing to do with function. Sure you could wring it in, but fundamentally it is about idealism. In your mind, there should always be room for the invisible man, with his list of 10 things he does not want you to do (George! Genius!). Keep your self in check and let that set of abstract assumptions rife with unrealistic expectations nestle deep in your mind.

“When did I realize I was god? Well, I was praying and suddenly realized I was talking to myself.”
– P. O’Toole

“In your mind”. Science is advancing quickly. In your mind is a concept that is becoming more and more measurable. Take mirror neurons. They literally simulate in your mind what you perceive in the outside world. An abstract concept in a way does transform into a physical entity in your brain. Neurons and synapses build actual networks in your brain, representing whatever it is your CPU needs to process. So taking that into account, who do you want in your head? An old man with a beard, which is completely sexist; or your loved ones and sexy lover? In case anyone sees merit in this argument, thank you, I’m afraid neuroscientists would shake their heads at the over-simplification.
Let’s go at it from a different angle. Do you ever hear voices in your head? I hear voices in my head. I think situations through. This process is scenario-based and usually involves more than one actor. My scenarios are advanced enough for the characters involved to get speaking roles. Unless you are mentally severely impaired, the voices of others are a part of you. “What did Mr Freeze advise to do again? Lift the heavy thing?” He actually cautioned us to wear warm clothes, but regardless, point is that if you saw Batman & Robin and appreciate the brilliance of Dylan Moran, you might have just heard a commanding “get down” in a heavy Austrian accent.
The voices of others are part of me. My brain, like any functioning brain, constructs networks that represent what I know about the world. Who or what I know best gets special privileges like more room. Everyone will agree that the people most important to you occupy a special place in your life. Apart from the fact that we allocate more time to being merry with our loved ones, they have more influence on us. Influence is not only exerted during conversations, but also indirectly by taking into account the other’s expectations. If this happens consciously, there you have it, representation of another person directly in your mind. A representation that does not magically exist, but is the result of hardwiring a network and firing it up with electrical impulses. Our brains create the equivalent of entities in our mind, a repository for labels and information, memories and expectations, positive emotions and negative.

When you are full of yourself, there is no room for others.

It works so well when “other” refers to family, friends, and people who have stories to share. We are social creatures. We learn from each other, and we derive happiness from being with loved ones. I damn well make sure that there are many others in my life, many people whose attitudes and dispositions in life resonate with mine. For someone who’d throw me in a fire pit on a whim, no dice. But then again, one function of nonsensical propositions is to challenge, recalibrate, and reassert the validity of your own assumptions. I’m pretty clear on the matter.

Ego up. Mutual respect +1. Allowing yourself to let other people in, 1up.

SPSS

How dreadful. Most people who are confronted with this program hate it. Most people hate mathematics and statistics. They require abstract thought. There is no, at least in simple calculations, margin for error or interpretation. You’re either right or wrong. Its hard to pinpoint what might be the cause for the contempt most people have for studying how to manipulate numbers. But its not a sexy subject, not at all.

I’ll be using SPSS again this week, processing binomial regression analyses – although I might be able to transform my categorical into continuous data. I used to hate the subject and the program, but once you get into it it’s really okay. Statistics is all about understanding the underlying principles. I think it’s one of the subjects were a wise old man with a white beard can provide more insight with three well formulated sentences than a 600-page textbook. Honestly, the phrasing in some of my textbooks unnecessarily complicates things. Maybe consultancy firms should look into teaching statistics and provide supplementary courses where the principles are summarized on sexy slides.

What is most striking is that we perform statistical analyses every day, even if we are not aware of it. Like when estimating how long it will take for the next bus to arrive. Or, more fundamentally, when using a number of superficial indicators to estimate how much we’d like to be friendly with someone we meet. In essence that is a statistical calculation, grouping a number of predictors together and inferring a result from them. “Oh, you’re friend is from Cali? Bet she knows how to party.” See, the expected result is based on the predictor. The predictor is generalized to the point that it’s useful for making inferences.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be trying to find a causal link between a specific attribute of employees and the strength of their social relations in the workplace. The research is interesting and relevant. Peers at the workplace are crucial to our happiness. If you don’t get along with your colleagues you’ll dread your workplace. Looking for factors that influence social relations at work is part of the growing research in the softer aspects of organizational ordering.

Use SPSS well and it’s a pretty nifty tool. Notice how the geek in me just chose the word nifty – and ran with it. The geek in me is looking forward to produce significant results. Yay.

30-Day Challenges

I figured its time to address this subject. We talked it over. Its clear, we need a system. At the same time, we need to not feel the need to do that much. We don’t need to do anything, but we can do so much.

The 30-day challenge started after about a year of deliberation. It was Miss Whip who got things going for good. And now, five of us are challenging every day with unabated fervour. The idea is as simple as brilliant: Pick a challenge and do it every day for 30 days. Doing so will help you open your mind. You live more consciously and more lively because every time you perform your challenge you have a waking moment, something completely non-routine. At the same time, the period of 30 days is chosen because within 30 days it is possible to change a routine. For instance, I won’t continue writing a minimum of 300 words till kingdom come, but doing this for 30 days definitely is decreasing my lizard brain’s resistance to publish one-shots. It’s a skills building exercise, and one that has long-term effects.

Now, who wouldn’t want that? So far, it’s working out really nicely. I’m proud to see what my brothers are accomplishing, Miss Whip is drawing again like she used to when she was a little girl, and Tony Montana puts due thought into his haiku, challenging himself and letting go, going with the flow at the same time. One important element of the success so far is that we have a private blog where we share all our stuff – and where my writing that is not fit for the public is quarantined. Call it social control, or more positively, call it mutual motivation, we all check each other’s challenge every day and thereby create a stimulating and positive atmosphere in the group.

It’s working out so well that at least 20 people are joining the next round. We’re ecstatic; business models for our ponzi scheme are readily in place. I jest. But adding so many people at once will change things. With 25 people its impossible to keep up with everyone’s progress daily. The group effect will be different. Also, the actual architecture of our information system is not designed for more than, say 10 people. Things will change and we’re ready for it.

For starters, the core group will always remain. Next, the private blog will remain. However, it will no longer be a repository for all challengers, more like a master blog with links and general information. Everyone needs to make his or her own blog. Ha! I know someone I love who’ll need help with that. A personal blog can be set to public or private mode. Perhaps a combination is possible as well, either that or adding a page to your public blog but not linking it from your blog in a way amounts to an invisible web address. This URL can then be shared directly with friends.

It’s almost 4 am and I’m getting caught up with details. Rest assured that Kings Inc is on the job. The point is that 30-day challenges are a lot of fun and incredibly beneficial to you, as a person. It works best when done together with family and friends: Motivating and appreciating each other’s development adds so much more to it. We look forward to a flexible system, a network of bloggers, public or private, who challenge themselves to grow. Every day – Building Skills with Family and Friends.

Dance Like Nobody is Watching

What is dance, a performance art or a unique bond between the music and the individual? Obviously it can be both, and it can be both at the same time. The two definitions are stylized, or you might call them ideal types. Definitions like this function to delineate a concept theoretically and provide insight into the phenomenon, while in reality of course there are 42 million shades of grey.

Keeping with this distinction, dance as a performance art represents the external. In this view, the presence of viewers is emphasized to the point that the quality of dance is reflected by its reception. Quality is then highly dependent on context. The taste of the audience is what determines a show’s merit. A modern dancer giving the exact same performance at a children’s party and in a theatre would be judged differently. Performing by definition presupposes spectators, and performing without the onlookers in mind is at worst an exercise in futility, at best self-therapeutic. Don Campellock put it nicely when he said “you gotta be a ham if you want to be a dancer, you gotta make everyone watch you and you gotta make everyone love to watch you.” In this view, a crowd pleaser is an excellent dancer. Again, what pleases a crowd of classical ballet enthusiasts is a world apart from what entertains TV viewers who follow popular dance offs.

Moving on to the second concept, a unique bond between music and dancer is entirely internal. While performance is augmented by routinized and usually choreographed movements, for this concept control of basic movements is more relevant. The individual takes in the music and responds freely to the input. No one is a blank slate. However, being in the music means feeling the music completely. When feeling is developed, the body follows with movement. Basic building blocks and random innovations can be combined to continuously create new expressions. For one part, dance in this view is a direct translation of the music into physical movement. For the other part, it is expression of individuality. It is hard to imagine that two individuals feel music exactly the same way. There is more to it. Everyone has a unique physique and anatomy, distinctive motoric functions, and characteristic movements. Even more importantly, everyone has an entirely personal creative capacity that is nurtured by a wide range of inspirations, nourished by an innate quality, and cultivated by emotions. Putting it like this, the unique bond between music and dancer is the characteristic translation of music into movement. It is characteristic because it reflects something that is specific to the individual.

Dance is both, a performance art and the so vulgarly described spiritual bond. Both elements matter in almost any situation. As someone who loves freestyle and favours eccentrics over uniforms, my general disposition on the contrast between internal and external is simple: “Dance like nobody is watching!” And although this exclamation would be a nice way to finish today’s post, there is more to be said. Every once in a while you see a performance that perfectly connects with the audience, while at the same time the “performer” seems to be completely free and in tune with his expression. Mastery!

Laser

Big up to my brother Quan. Laser is the name of the song he produced for the 10th day, a new favourite like Unbreakable and his other cool productions. We dubbed his challenge 30 songs, 1 producer. By the looks of it he’ll make the finish line with at least 31 brand new productions, knowing him though it will probably be more. We all inspire and motivate each other, and now laser combines a samurai, atmospheric melody, electro, and a break beat. I’m loving it.

It’s not just the song, there is something about this universe that is conspiring with us and for us. You just have to connect the dots. So here we go. One major theme in my posts on Ronin, Samurai and Bushido is the singular focus required to make a dent in history. For warrior heroes this was a life long commitment. For us it is slightly different, but the lesson that passion and dedication allow you to advance in life and express yourself more freely is reminiscent of their pledge to excel. Ronin and Samurai saw the sword as an extension of their soul, while we internalize routines to the point they become natural, or, more profoundly, grow in unison as lovers, brothers or sisters. The focus in our case is on mastering our work or nurturing meaningful relationships, respectively. This, I do with pleasure, but in general my disposition is entirely different.

As someone who is highly active, quickly gets turned on by new ideas, and is very accommodating for impulses – internal and external – I have the gift of little focus. It is a gift because focus is inversely related with associative capacity. In short, I think out of the box all the time. Some type of work however requires a more regulated scope of attention, especially when the subject does not interest me that much. In these cases methylphenidate provides a welcome solution. An ingenious metaphor for the effect is that while before you were diffused light, you become a laser that beams through the material with ease.

In terms of focus on cutting down adversaries with ridiculously sharp swords, Samurai and Ronin were lasers. In terms of dedication to my loved ones, yup, laser. Bboys pulling off the impossible? Our 30 Day Challenge? The future of US naval warfare? Exactly!

Haiku

Seniority

The tree has strong roots

Fresh leaves grow

This is my first haiku. It was a gift for Tony Montana – he turned 61 yesterday. Tony is part of my 30 Day Challenge group, and family in a way because he’s Buddha’s father. Wait what? We use nicks for privacy and swag. And now, Buddha is Tony Montana’s son. Ain’t that something. I could/should/might/will come up with a fictional story how that relationship worked out, the ultimate showdown between the American dream fuelled by dopamine overdose and the embodiment of relinquishing ego and desire. In real life, the two are an inspiration to all people around them. Their father-son dynamic is characterised by love, open communication, learning from each other, and so much more of the social fabric that makes a home your temple and a family your reservoir for unconditional love.

Tony joined our group to write one haiku per day. He is a seasoned karateka, takes his lovely wife on motorcycle vacations to the mountains, works as a personal coach for C-level managers, and is extremely knowledgeable and curious about Eastern philosophy. His haiku are inspiring to read. Key characteristics of good haiku are that they are internally sufficient and independent of context (thank you Wikipedia). Moreover, commonplace objects and observations should be used. In essence, the haiku represents some fundamental truth by contrasting simple objects with each other. There is so much beauty in the simplicity with which abstract concepts can be described. A good haiku is timeless. Take this one:

Ambivalence

How simply human it is

Relieve this burden

First of all it is internally sufficient, no information needs to be added. Second, it is independent of context. Psychologically it applies to all humans, throughout history and across cultures, and externalized, in terms of perception or communication, it goes for any social system as well. The juxtaposition between elements (ambivalence, human, burden) creates more depth than is apparent on the surface. We are all ambivalent once in a while, that is simply human. However, it is a burden because indecisiveness creates stress. The way I read this haiku is that although ambivalence is natural for people, it is possible to relieve the burden, which would make your life a lot simpler. A beautiful insight, and beyond that the representation of a timeless struggle with ambivalence. It is easy to associate Eastern philosophy with this haiku. A lack of action-orientation focused on the now leads to hesitation. Ambivalence is not Zen. Knowing Mr Montana personally adds more depth to the haiku to me, although an appreciation of the theme is all it requires to contemplate its meaning.

In terms of structure and syntax, the traditional haiku uses 5-7-5 Japanese phonetic units. For us, a phonetic unit is simply a syllable. It is surprising, we have 26 letters whereas the Japanese have 46 times 2, and yet we have more phonetic sounds. Think of the r and the l mix-ups in translations. But I digress; the point is that Japanese phonetic units are not always one syllable. The word shoujo for instance has two syllables (shou-jo), but three Japanese phonetic units as the long vowel counts double. The nasal n at the end of a word counts as a separate phonetic unit as well. Fortunately for us, English haiku exist in various forms. It is not a stringent requirement to follow the Japanese “on” system, although I did try to in my own haiku.

On a final note, mastering the structure and syntax to the point it becomes a routine is necessary to truly write a haiku. The idea is not to think about a theme and come up with real life objects to contrast for a desired effect. I did, it took me about 40 minutes. The idea is that the haiku comes to you naturally. Like a samurai’s sword becomes a part of his being, the haiku should not be a tool, but the expression and extension of your soul. I’ll leave that to the masters. If you became inspired give it a shot, do share, and please let me know how you interpret mine.

Bushido

Yesterday I made an attempt to weave together the story of a dancer turned FTE and Japan’s warrior period transformed into administrative rule. While bboys and warriors are/were motivated by the expectation of upcoming battles, tenured employment in post- and pre-industrial organizations can quickly become a drudging routine. Many great thinkers have argued that the human soul has a creative dimension that should be nourished. Likewise, it has been argued that bureaucratic work organization saps the life out of human beings. In Edo Japan, samurai scholars problematized the identity crisis of the warrior class. Some found solace in the arts or intellectual pursuits, while others rejected the reality of their circumstances and idolized the past.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo for instance was very upset about the fact that he was not allowed to use his swords like in the old days. In primary sources he is described as rash and hot-headed, although fiercely loyal to and affectionate with his master. When his lord died, he got upset to the point of being butt hurt for not being allowed to commit ritual suicide – his master had purposely enforced that law before passing away. Tsunetomo then decided to become a hermit. He was not a real hermit, because a trusted companion stayed by his side to record disappointed utterances of the malnourished and frustrated man. As bitter and pessimistic he was about his own life, as enchanted he was by the past. The Hagakure, commonly known as Bushido, is largely based a collection of idolizations and fantasies of what samurai-hood was like before Japan’s unification. Unfortunately Tsunetomo’s ideas are not supported by more objective historic accounts. Few primary sources on samurai and ronin were recorded and survived the ravages of time. Existing accounts from the Muromachi and Sengoku periods however describe samurai in general as risk-averse opportunists.

The code of ethics and superhuman capabilities – committing seppuku is a medical impossibility – grafted onto samurai and ronin alike served a political purpose. In the first instance, Nitobe Inazo elaborated on the code of conduct described in the Hagakure to convince invading powers that the Japanese had a cultural heritage on par with Western nobility. His convoluted attempt to overcome an acute inferiority complex is understandable. For centuries, Japan had sealed off its borders and revelled in the unchecked certainty that they were the chosen and superior people under the sun. Then, black ships appear at their borders with superior technology, a globally more successful political and economic model, and an air of quasi-fascist cultural superiority. Nitobe conjured up a system of ethics for samurai, one he admits did not exist formally. His widely influential work on the popular conception of Bushido is best understood by taking into account the situational factors of his time and critically examining the reliability of his sources. In the second instance, during WWII the Japanese military employed the Hagakure to invigorate the spirits of an outnumbered army. Both instances largely increased the popularity of Tsunetomo’s collection of thoughts; in his time the compilation was circulated in no more than three provinces.

The most important realization on the truth of Bushido is that our popular understanding of the samurai code is largely informed by the writings of two untrained and frankly incompetent historians. This is not to say that the warriors of post-Heian and pre-Edo Japan were not exceptionally skilled. Simply by competitive drive, the level of mastery in any discipline increases when the number of participants in the field increases. Heroes like Musashi were very real. He made an impact by taking the road less travelled. While common samurai at the time routinely resorted to cutting off the heads of corpses on battlefields – hardly a display of honour, but they were remunerated for military performance by “head count” – others pledged their lives to a higher goal.

I’m not really comfortable with the term soul, I don’t know if I have one. One thing is for sure though, between meeting objective but flawed performance appraisal systems and making your own path, I’d rather do it my way. It is a romantic idea, one that screams adventure. While we have a romantic understanding of Bushido altogether, comparable to Asians thinking all European knights were like Sir Lancelot, the real lessons lie in personal accounts of warriors who aspired greatness. They became great because they chose their own journey with confidence. 

Ronin

It was Soul Saturday. Many don’t know, but Âme, the infamous German deep house duo, is the French word for soul. It is questionable whether two electronic music producers are able to do the concept justice, however their performance enticed a lively crowd to celebrate their humanity freely. If there is an innate human quality, this is the type of party where people connect with each other on a deeper level of understanding.

Enter bboy Ronin, an old friend I hadn’t seen for many years. Between then and now both of us have reached a new stage in our lives. Back then, we battled together and did commercial gigs as part of the same syndicate. More than that, we trained and hung out as friends. The affiliation with this syndicate was by no means exclusive; my most important bonds at the time were with my crew and friends – as was the case for all part-time mercenaries. As a bboy you are an autodidact, plus gaining experience by friendly or hostile exchange is the best way to improve your skills. You use your own creativity to develop your own style, keeping in mind and building on foundation and new schools of flow. Dancing is an expression of your soul. This is best observed when you feel the raw energy of a dancer who completely loses himself in the music. Ronin’s style was powerful, complex, and intricate. He stood out because he invested a lot of time into his brand of movement, and of course his badass a.k.a.

He tells me how he’s making good money as an account manager. More importantly, we talk about relationships. I can count the people I know whose eyes light up when they talk about their partner on one hand. He is one of them. Call it a soul mate, call it the Body Magic Index: you know a couple is meant to be when the chemistry between lovers sparks passion and spreads harmony at the same time. One of these people I know found out in Brazil that “every cell of [his] body wants to be with” his girl every second of every day. Now, my man Ronin tells me his fiancée and he are going to travel South America for a whole year. It’s fitting. A ronin in the modern sense can refer to an employee who is between jobs. However, this does not preclude involuntary unemployment. The ronin in his rawest form embarks on a path by conscious decision. The meaning of this journey has changed from mastering swordsmanship to leading a fulfilled life by sharing the most special experiences with the person most special to you. In the spirit of the Holstee Manifesto, by all means, travel often, share your dreams and wear your passion. Y.G., I salute you for taking the road less travelled.

There is an interesting analogy between the stages in our lives – from climbing the ranks in the breakdance scene to working fulltime, albeit interrupted by a meaningful journey – and feudal Japan’s history. Bear with me. A ronin traditionally is a samurai without a lord. The role and function of samurai and ronin changed drastically after the final unification of Japan by Tokugawa Ieyasu. From the 12th century up until the Edo period, samurai were fighting for a living. Especially the 200-year long Warring States period was plagued by never-ending violent conflict. During the first phase (1185-1603) of feudal Japan, samurai were the military strong-arm and police force of their lords or province. Ronin, basically samurai with no formal allegiance, could either seek to become new retainers to a master in need of more swordsmen, freelance as mercenaries for hire, or become entrepreneurs outside of the law: bandits. In all cases military proficiency was a necessity, however the average skill of samurai and ronin alike is largely overestimated. Unless of course the ronin chose for his status deliberately. Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the most famous Japanese warrior to have ever lived, chose to live by the sword. He devoted his early life to honing his skills beyond mastery. Being born late in the Warring States period, there were plenty of adversaries for him to crush with his signature style Niten-ryu. Later in his life, privileged as a warrior in good grace with the Tokugawa shogunate, he would reflect on his style and his philosophy in the Book of Five Rings.

The Edo period (1603-1868) was one of peace. Samurai were no longer warriors, the designation now referred to a social class accredited by birth right. As the dominant class, subdivided into three levels, they received a large chunk of the countries resources. With their primary function – doing battle – obsolete, many samurai spent their allowances on prostitutes, alcohol, clothes, and gambling. Most were employed as administrators in their province, while some, like Musashi, took to writing and philosophizing, or the pursuit of another art or craft. Disenfranchised samurai in this period had little hope of relying on their martial prowess to earn a living, but also for ronins artisan- and craftsmanship were a viable option. Grossly oversimplifying things, there were two options for the warrior class. They could either fit in the bureaucratic system engineered by the totalitarian state while spending their allowances on conspicuous consumption, or they could use their creativity in a chosen discipline and pursue a personal goal. True heroes did the latter, although one managed to produce the foundations for one of the most pervasive misunderstanding of Japanese history.
To be continued…