Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sweat

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The day began unceremoniously after a terrible night’s sleep. I rose and ate and washed clothes and wrote for an hour. At that point it was already time to hurry and get ready to leave for class. One should not have to hurry to be awake and groomed by four thirty in the afternoon. I need to figure out why my sleep is so tumultuous lately. Food? Too much coffee? Leprechauns?

I traversed the distance to Sapperton feeling like I had been dragged behind a boat for an hour while being harassed by a sharktopus. Coffee and food helped a fair bit, though I was still feeling pretty lethargic. Yet things began to look up, and we garnered a new student. I gradually forced my energy level up despite my body’s protests. And lo, did class turn out to be smashingly good! By the time I had forced myself through the gymnastic portion of the evening I was alert enough to stay in good form for the 5×5 drills, knife sparring and longsword. After which followed a little Rapier and wrestling.

Our new student seemed quite friendly, and appeared impressed with our approach to training. It’s always nice to be impressive, regardless of how philosophical one is supposed to be. A little verification that what you do is worthwhile always helps to boost the confidence a bit. For a night where two of our students were in Thailand and a few others were watching the Hockey game, it went very well indeed.

And what it truly astounding is that, a day later, I’m not sore or stiff at all. Of course, it may still catch up with me tomorrow.

Thus far the deadline for beginning a regular sabre class is set for the first week of June. Over the course of the next month I will be trying to gather  as many people as I can for fencing practice, so that there will be at least a few people in attendance when the class becomes official. The specific location is as yet undisclosed, and I will post updates as to where these sabre classes will be taking place. But do not fear, by the time the weather turns favourable there will be regular duelling once more.

Daddy, What’s a Stoic?

Well little Timmy, let me tell you;

First of all, let’s dispel a common misconception about those good old Stoics; Being a stoic does not mean you are always stern and serious. If you are facing your death, a loved ones death, or the total loss of your worldly goods – then you face those losses with a calm, composed dignity. However, with the day-to-day stuff, there is nothing un-stoic about being happy, cheerful and content. In fact, it’s encouraged. Being stoic doesn’t not mean your Mr. Spock 24/7, just during a crisis. I’ve met a few people who have the impression that Stoics are no fun, and that is just not the case.

So what is a stoic then?

Well to begin with I should explain that classical philosophy arrived as a movement away from the organized religions of the time. This is because of the notion that, if religious truth are believed to rest upon authority, then those truths had to be impressed upon a mind at an early age in order to build faith. However, a truth (and a faith) that makes its appeal to Reason has to wait until a mind is old enough to develop a sense of reason. They believed it was important for a youth to form his own opinions before committing himself to any one school of thought. Basically, believing something that makes sense to you is better than believing something just because an authority figure told you to. At the same time, a person should not wait too long before choosing a philosophy or else they will most likely be too distracted by the affairs of their life to truly adhere to it.

Makes sense to me.

Now, stoicism was founded by a fellow named Zeno who began teaching his philosophy at the mature age of forty. Like other thinkers of the time, he was influenced by the Greek schools of thought, and the biggest lesson of Greek philosophy was that a person should always do the right and moral thing regardless of any hope for reward, fear of punishment, or concern for the brevity of their live. This concept was adopted by the Stoics, and became such a pivotal point of their teachings that it is often associated with them and not their predecessors. These things happen.

Philosophy, to the Stoics and some of their peers, was regarded as the ‘Art of Life’. Although they still had a strong sense of duty, their focus was a little less concerned with a person’s place within the state and more with the life of the individual himself. They also removed some of the abstractions from earlier teachers and stuck to a more concrete conception of reality. Zeno’s original axiom was to ‘live consistently’, meaning that only a mind free from destructive passions could be consistent with itself. This does not appear all that profound on its own, however Zeno’s successor in the school (Cleanthes) added the words ‘with nature’ to that little quote. Tah-dah! We now have the well-known stoic saying that the final goal is for a person ‘to live consistently with nature.’

The most important part of this saying lies in the classical definition of the word ‘nature.’ These days when we say that ‘it is in our nature to do something’ we mean that, left to our own devises, is what our animal instincts tell us to do. The stoic definition is quite the reverse. Something’s nature was NOT it’s origin, but it’s ultimate end. Nature did not refer to chaos or savagery, as we think of it now, but to the highest form of civilization. Nature, to the Stoics, was what something had the potential to become under the most favourable conditions – when it had reached full maturity and come to the end of it’s becoming. When something had ceased to grow, then it has reached the fulfilment in it’s nature.

Therefor, when the Stoics say that one should live in accordance with nature, what they mean is that a person should live a life that will lead them to the highest perfection that an individual is capable of attaining. In other words, to live in such a way to become the best human being you possible can. Since mankind is a ration animal, then it becomes it’s duty to try to live a rational life. The perfection of reason is, of course, virtue. Hence the ways of nature were in concordance with the ways of virtue. It was phrased many different ways, but it all boiled down to the same conclusion; The point of existence was to live a virtuous life / live consistently / live in accordance with nature / live rationally.

Same difference.

As to what they meant by the word ‘virtue’, I’m coming to that…Actually, I’ll get to that next time. It’s good to keep these articles digestible for now, it’s more likely people will actually read them all the way through. Tune in next time for more explanation of my chosen brand of philosophy.

Sabre

I’m pretty keen to get some more time to teach sabre work, and it seems that people are showing an interest in it. Sabre and rapier are tied in my mind for my favourite weapon. Each served its own purposes well; the rapier was a perfect duelling weapon inasmuch as it offered almost no room for error. Any mistake make in a rapier duel usually resulted in the conclusion of the fight unless the person who made the error was very, very quick to recover with a quick dagger parry or some such. For its scientific applications and unforgiving nature, I love the rapier and dagger, and by virtue of the reason that it is just to difficult to be really good at using.

Sabre, on the other hand, I love for sheer fun. Sabre is fast and (relatively) straightforward. Matches with this weapon are quick and energetic, the speed of the weapon allowing a faster recovery time and  little more leeway for minor mistakes. The tempo is fierce and the changes back and forth are almost as much fun to watch as they are to perform. Despite its evolution, the sabre has a military history, and it maintains the personality of a nineteenth century officer. Sabre is more sporting, shall we say, and never fails to put a huge smile on my face.

Therefore, it is sufficient to say I am pleased at the possibility of spending more time teaching and fighting with these two weapons. Whatever other skills I may possess in martial arts, I am still most as home with a rapier or sabre. I know exactly what and how I want to teach these styles, and I’m positive I can get some fantastic results out of my students. Sigh, returning to these subjects is like coming back to a comfortable home after a long day and knowing exactly where everything is…

Time Well Spent

*Photos by Holly Maclaren

I had quite a fine weekend this week. When I say weekend, I refer more to the concept than the actual days of Saturday and Sunday. My weekend is, in fact, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the occasional other random day thrown in when my employers feel I am superfluous. Anyhow, my work week was ended and I arose early(ish) to a pleasant Tuesday morning that promised a smattering of sunlight between the dappled clouds. I had been informed a few days earlier that the Vancouver Art Gallery was allowing free admission to those who were members of Vancity bank, and since I did my banking with said company I planned to take full advantage.

So Holly and I set out to the gallery after a delicious lunch of well-prepared Thai food. Admission was indeed free, and also carried with it a complimentary packet of Basil seeds. Not having any kind of garden area I have no idea what I am going to do with them, but there they are. Basil. I still think of Faulty Towers every time I think about Basil…

The gallery here is mostly modern art, which is not exactly something I know much about. Nonetheless I found some of it very interesting. I also found some of it very pretentious, but I suppose that is inevitable. I’m a very classical person, and some forms of modern art that rely on a certain amount visceral brashness will never really impress me. The mirror maze that was part of the Ken Lum exhibit was pretty impressive, and I actually got turned around and disoriented at one point. The whole outing was very enjoyable regardless, and afterwards it was time to get ready for class.

Class was as class is at SCG; lots of energy spent, plenty of wrasslin’, the usual. I was disappointed that the general consensus was for wrestling and not swordplay, as I miss the reassuring ring of steel on steel. On that subject, we have proposed to have another class just for working out on Thursday evenings, which met with some success. I also suggested having a Sabre and Rapier hour on Monday afternoons, which also received some positive feedback. I would love to really focus on teaching the finer points of swordsmanship, the subject I am most keen on.

After class it was a desperate attempt to get to sleep, as Holly and I planned to catch the 9AM ferry to Victoria, which meant getting up at 6:30 – not my favorite hour of the morning. I don’t mind a bit of sleep deprivation if it is for the purpose of travel as opposed to work, however, so up I got with only about ten minutes procrastination. Thus we stumbled out into the morning air to rush for the bus that would convey us to the train that would convey us to the bus that would convey us to the ferry. Each stage met without a hitch, more or less, and we arrived at the ferry terminal just in time for boarding.

The successful timing did mean that there was no chance to get foodstuffs before climbing on the ferry, which resulted in the usual monetary gouging for two sandwiches and some coffee. Not that things would have been much cheaper in that food court area at the terminal . The only real hitch was the whole passel of school critters that seemed to buzz around the ship, most likely on some class outing to the museum. Still, such minor annoyances are scarcely worth mentioning.

The ferry picked its way through the scattered islands and green, mossy rocks as the sea birds swooped across the dark water. It was alternately sunny and overcast as we passed the dense lines of coastal trees on our way to Swartz Bay. We arrived at our destination on time and departed the vessel, making our way to the bus loop just outside the arrival terminal. There was a brief wait before we climbed onto the double-decker bus and ascended to the top floor. We took our seats and the rest of our fellow passengers filed in, both of us noticing the pervading smell of pot smoke and beer that wafted with them. It seemed that some of the other travelers had been having themselves quite a good time on board the ferry.

We pulled out of the station and began the final leg of the trip that would bring us to downtown Victoria. We pulled onto the highway, driving past clumps of purple flowers that clung to rocks beside the road. It was a quiet preamble through the smaller cities and towns that sat between Swartz Bay and Victoria, most of which were decorated as such places usually are with large wall-murals depicting scenes of local rustic beauty. Finally, after about forty-five minutes of motoring, we arrived in the center of the downtown area in Victoria.

The most tourist-centric area of Victoria is much like Gastown in Vancouver, only a little bigger, cleaner and, in a few places, more dramatic. It took a few moments to re-orientate myself with the area, having been a few years since I last visited. After some brief deliberation and a visit to the mall’s food court, Holly and I decided to begin our wander with our one instance of typical sightseeing. This trip our one concession to money spending tourism was Craigdarroch castle. Having a penchant for all things Victorian/Edwardian, I was interested to see this particular local landmark.

The building was initially completed in 1890, and although it had been used as military hospital, school and music conservatory, it has now been restored as a museum. Guests are welcome to wander about through the twenty rooms full of turn of the century items and architecture. Had it offered guided tours, I don’t think I would have been as interested. As it was, however, I was not disappointed. (Although if we had arrived fifteen minutes sooner we would not have had our heels dogged by yet another group of adolescents, but whatever.)

I had never been in a Victorian house this large before. I have seem smaller, average people’s houses from that period, but not a custom built mansion for a wealthy family. I think I understand certain points of Victorian literature a little better now, especially the aspects dealing with eccentric old aristocrats who hide in their huge estates. As magnificent as the house was, it also had the potential to be very confining and gloomy. Most of the rooms had the shutters halfway down, which made some of the less-windowed rooms rather ghostly what with their dark wood walls. With the windows completely covered, I imagine the place would have been quite the shadowy maze.

I now fully realize just how dark, stuffy and spectral Miss Havisham’s house would have been in Great Expectations...

Yet it was as beautiful as it was intimidating. I would say that I would love to live there, but frankly I wouldn’t know what to do with most of the space since I don’t have or intend to have a large family. I also find having a breakfast room as well as a slightly larger (and almost identical) dining room just a wee bit excessive, but that was the way of rich folk at that time, I suppose – everything, including one’s meals, had to be neatly filed away. I suppose that is what I both enjoy, and enjoy to mock about that era. The amount of artistry that went into designing just about everything during that time period always impresses me, though.

I was also tempted to steal the 110 year-old fencing foil that adorned that mantle in one of the bedrooms.

After Craigdarroch, we meandered back downtown, stopping in some of the antique shops along the way, where of course I drooled over aged sabres whenever possible. Mmmmhhhhh, antique sabres… I was also sure to make sure our sojourns brought us past Old Morris Tobacconist, so I could acquire some delectably blended pipe tobacco. I hadn’t had a smoke in quite some time and enjoyed the opportunity to revel in some fresh supplies.

After our wanderings we decided to sit in a aesthetically pleasing pub and have a pint while sharing a small pizza. This had the prompt and unfortunate effect of putting me right to sleep, reminding my body that I had been awake since 6:30 in the morning after only a few hours sleep. One should never sit comfortable and have a meal when one is traveling in such a manner, it causes a vicious coma. After some more dozy waffling we considered catching the earlier ferry back home, but alas we just missed the but that would allow us to do so. Therefore it was time for my third cup of strong coffee and a leisurely puff on my pipe as we conceded to bide our time for an hour.

"Jelly Baby?"

I would also like to mention an interesting fact at this juncture; In the many months since I acquired my fabulous Fourth Doctor scarf, I have only had three comments upon it while home in Vancouver. Of those three comments only two of the people knew what it was to begin with as well. However in Victoria, in one day, than garment was recognized by no less than six very friendly people who all appreciated it’s magnificence. Apparently I’m in the wrong town for a Doctor Who fan. Either that or people are just more likely to actually approach you with a compliment over there, which is also possible, as Vancouverites do tend to be a bit cagey sometimes.

Anyhow, the time was bode, and we trundled back to the bus stop to begin out long trek homeward. By the time we finally set foot on downtown Vancouver concrete we were both so exhausted it was physically uncomfortable. We were also greeted by a sudden and torrential downpour that flooded the streets immediately. After a quick scarf of some last-minute pizza it was time for a speedy collapsing on the bed. And thus perished my well-spent days.

This little excursion verified to me just how much I love going places outside my own city. Obviously, I would rather travel to more far-flung exotic locations, but even so close to home I enjoy wandering around another town all day. When I do wind up in more colorful locales, it is the same way – I am much more interested in walking around streets, back alleys and jungles than sitting on a beach all day being inert. I suppose this annoys some vacationing companions, having me want to rush around, perpetually tugging on their hand and going “Ooh, lets see what’s over here…”

Philosophy

Plato

I would like to start by pointing out that there is a difference between studying philosophy, following a philosophy and being a philosopher. The aim of philosophy, classically speaking, is simply to find a way to live life in the best possible way. It doesn’t matter how many disciplines you have studied, how much information you have memorized, or even if you have a degree on the subject – if a person doesn’t actually commit to following a rational set of ordered principals, then they are merely studying philosophy, not following it.

As to people who qualify as philosophers; I would define that title as someone who has studied at least one discipline fully, followed the dictates of that system of thinking, and then become adept enough at it to be able to write or teach their own views on the subject.

Boethius & Philosphy

I don’t claim to know every branch of philosophy. In fact, I really don’t know much about any school of thought that came after Boetheus, apart from the textbook definitions of them. Nonetheless, I have chosen one which makes sense to me and I am sticking to it. My brand is Stoicism, and it’s been working pretty well so far. I’m not saying everyone should be a Stoic (though think how polite the world would be!) but I do say that everyone should choose some kind of guidelines for their lives. If something makes sense to you, and it will help you be a happier person, then use it. Philosophy is not a quick fix though, it is not a sale rack self-help book. It is a long and difficult commitment to changing the way you think to be more productive and accepting the truth about your own nature. Sorry, but there isn’t a shortcut to being a happy, balanced person.

I am far from a perfect Stoic (A term which is often misunderstood in

Marcus Aurelius

contemporary vocabulary and about which I will no doubt write about sometime soon). Yet I have made progress. I still get stressed, irritated, angry and selfish – but no where near as much as I used to. When I do get these distressing emotions, I can now at least recognize what I’m doing wrong and quickly fix the problem, a skill which has taken me about five years of practice to acquire. In another ten years I expect I’ll actually get quiet adept at cutting off those nasty, impulsive, negative thoughts before they start. Even then I most likely will be nowhere near the level of a true sage.

I’m not sure anyone really becomes a perfect philosopher, really, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get as close as we can.

Intergalactic Fan Boy

Something just dawned on me as I was eating a bagel; In Doctor Who The Doctor isn’t actually British, obviously, he’s a Time Lord. So while the way he talks can be chalked up to the TARDIS’s psychic translator, that doesn’t account for his tastes. Whenever he does things like sip tea and play cricket, he’s emulating English Earth culture. So basically, The Doctor is a Earth fan boy. He is the equivalent of a white kid who knows everything about anime, takes karate and idolized Japanese history, or a die-hard Star Wars fan who puts ‘Jedi’ down as his religion. The Doctor is the time-lord version of a total geek.

And I am writing about this, so what does that say about me…

Anyway, just sharing my lunchtime revelation.

Another Tuesday

Well, good old three hours of exercise again. I’m still feeling a little unfulfilled though, I think that is a hangover from the general down-ness I’ve had all day. Couple that with that fact that my boxing still feels a little off and it makes for a touch of unenthused. Something still seems to be missing, I seem just a bit off balance and my punches and kicks seems to lack their usual power. Ive had these phases before, sometimes in boxing, sometimes in wrestling, sometimes in fencing. Eventually whatever nuance is throwing off said game goes away and you feel untouchable again, so I just have to wait it out.

On the brighter side, my general fitness is improving what good. I’m still not getting as much exercise as I’d like during the rest of the week though, but I think that will change soon. Now that Randy has his nutritionist certification he will work out a diet plan that is supposed to give me more energy, which would be lovely. It should also help get rid of that frustrating amount of genetic body fat that sits there, just below my waist, constantly mocking me like a precocious child bully. So I suppose the future looks brighter, though that might just be the fact that winter is making a feeble attempt to shift into spring.

Not that I particularly like spring, what with my persistent allergies. April is, as usual, the most congested of months. Hmm, apparently I’m a little negative these days, must watch that.