Tag Archives: wudang

I have a story in GdM Issue #11

I just found out I’m sharing an issue of Grimdark Magazine with Brent Weeks.

This is a bit of a special moment for me.

When I was studying sword in rural China, I got sick. Coughing-blood sick. The only way to get medicine was through an IV, and I was set to go home in a few weeks, so I tried to tough it out.

Sifu took me aside one night and said if I didn’t go to the hospital and get the medicine, I’d die. At the time, it felt like a choice between dying now, or dying in ten years from something on a dirty needle.

I stayed up most of the night trying to decide, and struggling to breathe.

I did wind up going to the hospital, and was on an IV for three days. The Night Angel trilogy kept me company while I recovered, and took my mind off whatever consequences I’d have to face for my decision*.
When I got back to the US, my little brother mailed me a copy of his new favorite book, The Way of Shadows.

Everything turned out fine.

*(and my ignorant notions about country hospitals)

gdm11

GdM Issue #11 is up for pre-order, dropping on April 1.

FICTION
– Cry Wolf by Deborah A. Wolf
– Devouring the Dead by Laura Davy
– The First Kill by C.T. Phipps
– For Honour, For Waste by Setsu Uzume (reprint)

NON-FICTION
– The Odd Hopefulness of Grimdark by Matthew Cropley
– An Interview with Anna Smith-Spark
– Review: Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister
– An Interview with Brent Weeks
– Review: Sam McPheeters’ Exploded View

Pre-order now on:
Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/Gl3SsX
Amazon.co.uk: https://goo.gl/GCi3YA
Amazon.com.au: https://goo.gl/yyqhYl
Amazon.ca: https://goo.gl/9P2sBB

Or, sign up for your subscription now over on their Patreon page. You’ll get the issue delivered a few days earlier through here, too: https://goo.gl/jJUm2r

Add this issue on your Goodreads feed here: https://goo.gl/F0YjfM

Magnolias in the Wind

My friend invited me to go hiking with her in the hills behind our school. We climbed almost straight up it was so steep. Then my friend said, come on, come on, I have to show you this. We got to the top of one particular plateau where a magnolia tree stood at the edge. There was just enough room for the tree and us, stage and audience. Soft petals lay all over the yellow dusty earth.  The tree had been shaped by the wind, like a dancer in mid-motion.

 

High on the mountain, and far from the sea
I came across a magnolia tree
It stood on an outcrop, as plain as can be
All hunched ‘gainst the wind, dusted and dirty
Half of its petals were buried in scree
Its roots all curled in, like wrought filigree
Despite the stark landscape, rusted and dingy
Touches of pink fringed one side, hopefully
It grew and it frayed, but it held steadfastly
Knowing one day a local would say, “come with me.”

Death, Antiquing, and Why I Don’t Buy Souveniers

Impermanence has been on my mind lately. There’s a certain freedom that comes with a lack of attachment, but sometimes I want to forget this truth.

I went to an antique show for the first time this past weekend. It was sunny and windy, and I got amazingly sunburned. There was a wide array of stuff — as you might guess — everything from 70s kitsch to ‘ancient’ coins to furniture in various stages of refinishing. The crowning glory of all of this was a medical model for giving birth. As my friend and I walked through the twenty-six aisles of history, we came across more energy-loaded objects. Piles of children’s shoes. Chipped bayonets and spearheads. Finally, a case with hundreds of diamond rings inside.

As I looked at the case, (I love sparkly things, one of my dearest friends calls me Magpie for this reason) I started to feel some kind of resonance off them. These had belonged to someone, once. How many broken marriages — or refused proposals — were sitting under this case? How many had been sold by happy couples, raising money for something greater than themselves? How many had been stolen, or lost, or trickled down from estate sales?

From then on, being in the presence of these precious objects became intensely surreal.

All these antiques, from jewels to dressers to road-signs were plucked from time. They’re imbued with their own stories and history even if they’re valueless otherwise. I can’t participate in collecting the way my friend and the other shoppers can, because I’m averted to souvenirs. I’m afraid of losing them.

Whenever I travel, I don’t keep things for myself. I’ll either leave them for the next person, or give them to my family. All the scrolls I brought back from the monastery are in different states — storing my memories in the safety of my loved ones’ homes. I move around a lot, and I’m concerned anything precious I collect will be lost or destroyed. My brother and sister are rooted, with families of their own; whereas I flit around, digging and exploring.

I can’t become attached to these objects without knowing — to my bones — that they will be destroyed in the fullness of time. I feel as ephemeral as they are, and I know that I too, one day, will be destroyed.

I only keep small things, sentimental things. I brought two stones back from China. One was for a friend by request (a chip of the training ground that Sifu threw at me in good-natured abuse). The other was a piece of stone from the mountaintop.

There had been so much mica on the mountain that the dirt and tree-roots glittered halfway up it. Once we had ascended, I remember looking out and watching the leaves blowing in the wind — rustling so loudly they sounded like waves crashing on a beach. The walkway to the temples are long stretches of stone that look like melted silver. I have a chip of that silver.

I feel so close to the knowledge that everything dies that it sucks the meaning from objects… Except for small things. Sentimental things. I’ll lose a souvenir, but I’ll always remember a scent, or a bit of music.

All of my stories have a character who experiences this. Someone so old, or so deep into the truth that they can’t cope with it. They can’t remember how to be human anymore. I’m grateful for their company, and the warning of what I could become if I’m unable to turn away from death now and then.

I can collect and lose objects. I have befriended, loved, and lost people. My memories of experience endure, like scent, like sight; but I’ve never found a way to capture and store the feeling of bonding with another person. My characters help me understand what it means to be detached — not only for them but for the friends and family they leave behind.

The ability to connect with others is as vital as food and water, to me — and I think it’s why I would never choose enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps us from losing ourselves in the sea of time. The ring is nothing. Attachment is nothing; and yet it is everything.

 

Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

 

Nothing endures but change.
― Heraclitus

 

shoes

 

Top ten reasons martial arts schools make your life better

I haven’t written about the katana side of katanapen in a while, so here’s a quick update in my martial arts life.

Yesterday I had to formally resign from my dojo due to inconvenient life-reasons. We parted on good terms; and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again when the situation is more conducive. It’s always painful losing a school, so instead of mourning I’m going to list the top ten ways being part of a dojo has made my life better. This is what I’ve learned from being in multiple schools, and multiple styles, over the past few decades.

1. Exercise – It’s healthy to be healthy. There’s a wide range of styles and dynamic movements, so even if you have chronic injuries you can work around them. If it isn’t fun, I don’t continue — and being able to train with my friends makes the most grueling workout bearable.

2. Self-discipline – You can accomplish anything you want to, if you put the work in. Being part of a dojo taught me how to adapt and problem-solve, no matter what I was trying to do.

3. Lasting Friendships – being part of a dojo has been the #1 best way for me to meet people I have something in common with. When you go through something intensely difficult, you bond with people who understand.

4. Second Family – The people you train with are your brothers and sisters. Period. if you need help, you have someone to go to. If someone needs help, you learn how to be there.

5. Community-building – you make friends, you perform at events. You participate in charities, marathons and fundraising. Some dojos can help you get things like first aid and CPR certifications, or host blood-donation events. The greatest teachers build relationships with other schools so we all learn from each other and promote good will outside the tournament circuit. There are dozens of ways good martial arts schools give back to their communities.

6. Hierarchy – You know where you stand, and where you want to go next. You constantly grow in mind, body and spirit.

7. Reciprocity – the key part of hierarchy. You defer to those above you so that they guide and help you on your path. You mentor those below you both to refine your own knowledge, and to help foster a community of upstanding citizens. That’s not just respect — that’s love.

8. Responsibility – I learned to own my mistakes, and also take pride in my accomplishments. I learned to help my brothers and sisters because their behavior reflects on me as much as mine reflects on them.

9. Identity – I’m always a martial artist, whether I’m wearing a uniform or not. I still see how I see, and move how I move. The lessons I learned in the dojo shape the way I live my life; with honor, justice and efficiency. I can be too serious at times; but when I do agree to something I do it whole-heartedly. It’s also great for kids and teens because you get a clear sense of how to be a good person in a secular context.

10. Outlet – I’ve always had a rotten temper, and when I don’t have a way to channel it, I lose my mind. The dojo was always a place to cut loose in a safe way — surrounded by other people who ‘got it.’ Training made me feel better. There’s always a sense of accomplishment; and the folks in your school are always there for you.

If your dojo isn’t giving you all the things I’ve mentioned; you’re in the wrong school.

You might notice that I said nothing about learning to harm human beings. I took that part out of the equation because learning to harm human beings has never helped me. What has helped are the peripheral skills — mental sharpness, preparedness and observation,  and most importantly, how to diffuse situations before they come to blows.

Anyone can learn to break things. It’s learning how to build ourselves up — build our community up — that makes being part of a dojo worthwhile.

For more information on how to choose a school and the benefits of martial arts practice, please check out Forrest E. Morgan’s book, Living the Martial Way. I had to write an essay on it a long time ago, and I find it’s still worth a re-read now and again.

Night training at Mt. Wudang

Night training at Mt. Wudang

Lying to be Liked

I wrote a short story about a hill-monster trying to survive in a city. The heart of the story is the fine line between wanting someone and wanting to eat someone. A lot of YA romance is from the prey’s perspective, so I wrote from the predator’s perspective. I read this story aloud for two audiences. The first audience loved it.

“I had chills.”
“It’s brilliant. It’s ready [to submit].”

The second audience hated it.

“Totally unrelatable. She’s like a vampire-bat, there’s nothing human to latch onto.”
“Oh, you suck. You are just awful. Can’t you just kill the guy already? Or better yet, they should come to an arrangement, have sex, and then she kills him by accident.”

The trouble with this story is that while the context was different, the interactions and reactions were 100% true. They happened. I wrote what I knew (like we’re supposed to). Most of my writing is fake. Fake characters and fake situations that remain self-contained in separate worlds. The fake stuff — the lies — are what most people relate to.

It’s interesting that first-person is so popular, and yet we have no interest in memoir.

I’m finding more evidence of this in daily life. I’m not Christian. I don’t celebrate Christmas. For years, the question “how was your Christmas,” seemed like a great opportunity to tell people about the Solstice — but now I know, in my heart, that there’s no room for truth in small-talk. In order to be liked, in order to be relatable, I have to give the shortest and most non-descript answer I can manage. Great, how was yours. Fine, what did you do — and it hurts my heart every time. I am lying. I am dedicating energy to lying.

I still use the bag I got at the monastery. In public, Chinese people stare at the logo, read the words, quirk a brow, and then stare at me. Or they talk to each other and point. No one talks to me about it. Chinese-Americans, and most other Americans for that matter, find the Wu-Tang Clan to be the only common ground and leave it at that. Wu-Tang got their name from a kung-fu flick about Wudang… so that’s the connection. The cool shit I did is totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because it’s not relatable.

When I saw Chuck Palahniuk at the Castro theater last year, he said that he tests out story ideas at parties. He’s not looking for anecdotes that shut the conversation down. He knows he’s got a winner when the person he’s talking to responds with a similar story. Oh my God, that’s just like the time I…!

Most of what I say shuts the conversation down, and it’s only getting worse.

I beta-read a YA novel starring a teenage girl. Everything was written in first-person POV, so there was no escape from her whiny emotional whiplash. It was awful. I wanted to beat the shit out of the main character. When I brought this up to the author, he said that no one else in his critique group had a problem with her voice. I guess I was wrong.

Even my mom once told me people don’t like the things you like.

So what do we do in our stories and our lives —  go along to get along, or be true to your oddities?

Before you answer, which path have you already chosen?

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.
― Albert Camus

Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Face spells “Liar.”

How to Cry Effectively in Three Steps

When I studied swordplay in China, I came across a piece of information that made me grimace.

Women are like water. They are supposed to cry. For men, even if something awful happens (like the death of their father), they should never cry.

I thought this was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I pictured Lin Daiyu; weeping at the slightest provocation, good or bad. She cries so much and so often that her constitution is horrible and she dies of it. Unrealistic. Revolting.

Surprise, surprise, many of the women at the monastery heard this lesson and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh good,’ they said. It seemed to legitimize what they, too, saw as an embarrassing weakness. All of these women were tough. They kicked, punched, ran and trained daily with the men; but I would never call them tomboys or unfeminine. I’d come to trust them.

The fact that those women didn’t bridle at the idea of crying made me second guess my own opinion. I’ve always embraced my masculinity and the behavioral expectations that come with it; but maybe this time I was wrong. I decided to look into the act of crying and figure out how to turn it into a useful tool.

There are three types of tears:

  1. Basal tears – Keep your eyes moist and clean.
  2. Reflex tears – Triggered by onion juice and/or shampoo.
  3. Emotional tears – Triggered by, let’s face it, practically everything.

It turns out that human beings are the only mammals that produce tears in connection with emotions. The tears produced by emotional crying have higher levels of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin; as well as the elements potassium and manganese. It may be the shedding of these chemicals that gives the act of crying a sense of catharsis.

The more you picture crying as a physio-chemical release, the easier it is to cope with the need for emotional release. It’s just another product we excrete. Not very many people are sentimental about pissing; especially when uric acid – the stuff that causes gout and kidney stones – is what you’re getting rid of. I’m not 100% on what those particular hormones do in your system. (As far as the elements, manganese helps stabilize blood sugar and prevents hypoglycemic mood swings. Potassium depletion is often associated with depression and general tearfulness.) These chemicals are a physio/endochrinological response to what the brain interprets as feelings.

That said, sometimes you just need to cry. Pressure, stress, anxiety, loss, love, beautiful sunsets, great books, poignant movies and broken bones all fill your emotional ‘bladder.’ Like your normal bladder, some people can hold it in longer than others. Some people are built for long road trips. Others need to pee every twenty minutes or so. If you drink eight liters a day, you will have to pee. If you find that your emotions are very responsive, you will need to cry. The more you hold it in, the more urgent the call for tears will be. Crying is cathartic. When you feel full, you need to let it out. Crying is good for you. Like pissing, like vomiting, you feel better when you’re done. Emotional dump is just like any other dump. Sooner or later, you will have to visit your restful-room.


How To Cry Effectively In 3 Steps!

Step 1
Recognize that you need to go
Ask yourself simple questions. Are you stressed? Do you feel shaky or light-headed? Are you snapping at everyone around you? Are you normally a good eater who has lost your appetite? Did something rotten happen to you or someone you love? Do you feel unusually nervous or uneasy? Does life feel suddenly unfair? Are you about to enter a stressful situation that you can’t freely step out of?

Has it been a while? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, you probably need to go.

Step 2
A trip to the rest(ful) room

The restful-room is anywhere you feel comfortable crying. It could be your bedroom, a closet at work, your car, or anyplace at all. Sometimes, it can be the presence of another person*.

*Crying, (like peeing) isn’t something everyone is comfortable watching. So, if you need someone to cry to, make sure that person is trustworthy, not a dick, and knows what to expect.

There are two ways to handle going to the restful-room.

The first is to wait until you really REALLY have to go and you’re doing ‘the cry dance’ (shaking, anxious, having trouble thinking, feeling overwhelmed, a little lightheaded, irritable/belligerent), or you can go in advance. Give yourself about an hour, and then go for it. Let the tears and snot gush forth like a fountain. If you need to really get into it, throw a cookie sheet at the floor. They make a lot of noise, but are hard to break.

The second is to have small, 5-10 minute bursts over smaller issues.

For example, if your week is going well, but you’re really nervous about an interview, cry before you put on your fancy interview clothes.

Depending on your needs, you could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours crying. Looking at your schedule for the next day or the next week can give you a hint about whether or not you need to cry, and also when it would be the best time to do so. It’s just like going on a long drive; you can decide to pee beforehand, or you can plan out some stops along the way.

Step 3
Mopping up

Now that your cry is done, you’ll feel a little worn out. That’s normal. Crying takes a lot of energy and stamina, just like a workout. Like a workout, it is critical to have a glass of water once you’re done crying.

Let me say that again. When you’re done crying, drink a glass of water.

I’m serious. Especially for hardcore throwing-yourself-to-the-floor-and-kicking-and-screaming-for-three-hours crying. You must drink water. You’ve just washed your system clean of all those pesky chemicals, now you need to replenish yourself so you don’t get hung over.

Wash your face with cool water.

By the time you’re clean and have had something to drink, your heart-rate should have slowed back to normal.

And you’re all set!

The key is to recognize when those feelings rise, and to get yourself to a safe and private place to do what you have to do.

Once you discover your rhythm, and can better predict when you’ll need to hit the restful-room. Other aspects of life will become clear. You’ll start to identify why things upset you. From there, you can look at them more objectively and be able to decide if it will affect you. If you are calm, and you’ve had emotional release, you’re in a better position to think clearly and find solutions to things that challenge you. If something is truly out of your control, then it does no good upsetting yourself.

It doesn’t matter if the bus is late. If it isn’t there, you can’t get on it. With a clear mind, you can pursue other options; such as walking, calling people to say you’ll be late, or enjoying the play of sunlight and rain on the passing cars.

If you’re an emotional person like I am, it often feels like your feelings are trying to put you in a choke-hold. You can’t talk, you can’t think, and you can’t see a way out. By taking an interest in yourself, your needs, and your own rhythm, you can save the choke-holds for something really important; like the asshole that made you want to cry in the first place.

Thank you for your contribution, thirteen-year-old Setsu.

(Fun fact, the genesis of this idea came about Halloween night in 1998 or so, while trick-or-treating with some of my dojo brothers. The original idea — crying is like masturbation — didn’t cover the full scope of cathartic experience. It wasn’t until the possibility of losing a family member that I’d experienced the emotional overwhelm and deadening that can only be described as ‘pissing from the eyes.’ Thus, the chemical research.)

Next week: How to control your rage!**

** Haha, just kidding. I have no idea on that one.

Addendum!  I wrote a post on anger, when it’s useful, and when it isn’t.