The Great U-turn

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This year I find my self being reminded of the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the mid-1980s and LA Rebellion in the early 1990s when I’ve been a reluctant witness to the ghastly things people choose to do to each other.

Back then, I remember only feeling fear and confusion. Tonight, I add ‘grief’ to the mix of feelings I have as I process what’s happening in the U.S.

My grief feels different from mourning, and weighs heavier than exasperated idealism. This grief feels threatening; it interrogates.

It problematizes my core belief in our collective ability to behave in a more enlightened way in a time of turmoil, such as this, when we face off with racial hatred rearing its ugly head at home.

It turns a disapproving eye toward those of us who treat hard-earned education like a medal we win, but only display in its case, instead of using it as the upgrade that improves our thinking, transforms our discourse, and guides our deeds.

This type of grief asks:

– where to find the critical thinking adults to guide a truthful, probing discussion in service of unlocking breakthrough?

– why we easily retreat into our tribes, instead of opening up more constructive ways to understand a world more gray than black-and-white?

Too many of the things we now think and say about each other have — in the past and in other places — allowed brutal dictators to grab state power and fueled neighborhoods to burn.

Surely we are better than this.

I hope the day is still early and that sooner than later the dialogue we should be having on domestic terrorism, police violence, and structural racism can still be had.

To my social work colleagues old and new, our profession has something good to offer as we find our way. Keep using your professional perspective to help enlighten your personal networks. Remember the matrix of domination from CRT, for example.

If enough of us model critical thinking — if a courageous number of us resist reacting and succumbing to the anger that comes easy — we can, at least, model among our friends how to think more deeply and in a more solution-focused way. Parroting dishonest ideas and old excuses leads to dead ends, not breakthroughs; only critical thought does that.

#TakeTheKnee is FeudArt

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Sharing my own 9/23/17 tweet storm re: Trump NBA and NFL comments…

Self-expression is patriotism for thinking men & women of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution. #TakeTheKnee #MyKnowledgeCounts 

2/ Self-expression is the foundation for civic engagement, climate action, and tech-enabled problem solving in Info Age and era of climate

3/ change. Self-expression is the outcome of critical thinking, of analytical and creative thought, among fully individuated adults.

4/ As such, there would be no new ideas, no innovation without self-expression. CleanTech is self-expression, and self-expression is

5/ CleanTech. Self-expression is decarbonization. Self-expression is #GlobalGoals #MyKnowledgeCounts #GlobalPeopleSummit @ThePeopleSummit

Infinite hope in the age of Trumpism

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“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of us will naturally measure the year about to end, and hopefully in a way that accounts for not only our deficiencies and strengths, but also our social value.

Idealism, compassion, activism–these may not reliably make money, but they enrich nonetheless for they awaken and assert what this moment needs now the most: the ‘radical-ness’ of our decency and humanity.

Moments end only to renew.

In the ‘in-between’, we are transformed by our experience of these moments. Constructive moments improve us. We feel more deeply. We generally understand more about the world and ourselves. We tend to be propelled forward, better equipped to do more.

Then there are destructive moments, like now, that contract all social progress — moments when the aim is to extend one hand out as if to say, “STOP!” and “GO BACK!,” then raise the other into a fist to coerce.

The extreme conservatism and naked nativism gripping our current politics define this ugly moment. We are torn part; we fear for the ones we love.

Many are reminded of past trauma. Some of us recall the hate and violence we left in our ancestral homeland. We worry of the retrograde now revived, retooled, and refreshed into vogue.

Let’s embrace how this moment in our history jolts us out of complacency from striving so long in our respective career.

Let’s embrace how it renews us both into contemplation and action, heeding the conscience of our upbringing or profession.

Our new context will certainly alter us — like a crucible that animates our nature, sharpens our work, and fuses our collective impact. As a person of color and conscience, the activist in me is certainly renewed.

Perfecting our union this July 4th

Thurgood Marshall, who argued Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and, in 1967, and became the first African American on the Supreme Court, is known to have said the quote below about the Constitution on its bicentennial in 1987:

“The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we now enjoy. I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”

May we live with an open enough mind to recognize and stand against what is retrograde. May we today remember to be respectful not just of the original words of our Constitution but also, and perhaps more profoundly, the ideals it aspires to fulfill.

An Earth that does not kill: A reflection on Newt Gingrich’s silly, unserious question

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I had a strong negative reaction to Newt Gingrich’s recent claim that it is pure hubris for climate advocates to work to mitigate climate change.

Why my strong reaction?
1) He appeared to take by surprise the other panelists for a split second, and (2) as result of that effect, I suspect that we’ll be hearing this silly question thrown around by the Right and other climate deniers for a while, distracting us from the real, more urgent dialogue around how to work together to prevent unnecessary further loss of life from climate change-related events.

He asked, “What’s the right temperature…for the planet?”

My short answer: bad question. Asking and answering his question does not inspire the right dialogue; it evades it.

Governance requires a line of thinking more grounded in the imperatives of public welfare. Clearly, arriving at a consensus on the right temperature, while I guess important, is beside the point when the immediate need is a pragmatic policy framework and public dialogue that work to prevent climate-related loss of life and property, something that continues to happen needlessly.

On CNNs GPS recently in June 2014, the President Anote Tong of Kiribati lamented that it is too late for many of his people whose islands have been swallowed up by rising seawater. From that interview, what I remember the most is him saying, “[It] is already too late for us…we are working together collectively with the countries in the (sic) like situation, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, where the impact of climate change is about total annihilation of … our nations.” You can watch the interview and read the transcript here.

How have we allowed our world to get so sick that it is now its own destroyer???

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said that if the wealthy start losing money from climate change, things will change for the better at the policy level. I disagree. Regardless of what the elite chooses to do, those of us who have solutions with even the most remote chance of success should act. Ordinary people need to change, mostly in how they see themselves as non-actors in this global issue. Climate change solutions need to be as personal as its negative impacts which are many and varied depending on where one lives.

I see climate change as an all-encompassing mega issue that wraps together so many others that have haunted us for generations: Poverty, North-South power imbalance, Group marginalization, Community empowerment, to name a few.

The vulnerability to its impacts that we share is shaped by these underlying issues, which are all too familiar. To be actors in climate work, therefore, in part means being solution-oriented toward all the familiar barriers to social justice and human development.

Independence Day, June 12 & July 4, 2014

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“Prevent others from suffering what you have suffered, that in the future there be no brothers murdered or mothers driven to madness. Resignation is not always a virtue; it is a crime when it encourages tyrants: there are no tyrants where there are no slaves!” – Dr. Jose P. Rizal (Simoun to Basilio in EL FILIBUSTERISMO)

Advance happy Philippine and U.S. Independence Day, all…I write again after a long break. Glad to once again have time to write.

In its modern form, tyranny no longer always towers over us but instead now burrows itself deep into our psyche that we, ourselves, stand in our own way, perhaps more profoundly, aiding and abetting those who strip us of our true power and value, after they mine from us the same for their own use.

Independence Day should remind us not only of history but also of the modern day internal struggle we all have, which we must also heroically win.

We all endure our own struggle in finding our true personal power. What I have learned through my own life is that while it is important to look outward for inspiration, we should not neglect to also fix our attention inward so that we may draw from what we abundantly already have within.

Over the past 18 months, my personal journey has been replete with blessings. I have had to teach my self to take in these blessings graciously, a mark I suppose of my own personal development, noteworthy enough in my mind to process and share a bit.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have seen myself ‘undeserving of winning’; I still, to this day, look away from the glare of praise, even from my trusted students. I was raised to be humble, and I was trained by mentors to lead with humility. Community organizing, after all, has no celebrities; there is only room for solutions and everyone’s empowerment.

liberation-poster

Somehow and somewhere along the way, my mentors’ valuable lessons morphed into some kind of negative limiting belief that made me not only put my original dreams on pause but also made me build the dreams of others, thinking that it was not my time still. I believed this for years.

At the end of 2011, I woke up, thanks, primarily, to my beautiful wife who made me see more clearly, and, secondarily, to my family and good friends who believed enough in my dreams to also make them their own.

Trust me when I tell you that there is self-belief in waking up, that there is power in self-belief. I wish all of you to find soon your self-belief for it is sweet and its gifts are abundant. At some point, all the preparing, learning, and observing must give way to doing.

If you have also been keeping your own dream hostage, set her free. It is time. Do not fear it. She will be a blessing to you and to many others, many of whom you are destined to meet.

Best of all, by doing so — by believing enough in your own dream to give birth to it — you will set your true self free.

 

PETITION TO PROTECT OFWs POST-HAIYAN: The other dimension of relief and reconstruction

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Since Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda 1.9 million of Filipinos have become homeless and 600,000 displaced. At the same time, many Filipinos who live and work in the U.S. are a key source of aid for their families in the Philippines and are at risk of deportation. It would only burden an already strained infrastructure for the Philippines to reabsorb thousands of its nationals currently abroad during this national emergency. TPS would stop deportations and provide working authorization that will empower Filipinos here in the US to more effectively aid their own home country. DHS and USCIS acted quickly in a very similar circumstances to designate Haiti and El Salvador for TPS after massive earthquakes. That response can and should be repeated for the Philippines.

That’s why I signed a petition to Rand Beers, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, President Benigno Aquino, Philippines, and President Barack Obama, which says:

“Since Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda devastated the Philippines, the U.S. has been directing much-needed food and relief aid to the country, but more needs to be done to move the Philippines from “Relief 2 Recovery”!

We urge Philippine President Benigno Aquino, President Barack Obama, and Secretary Rand Beers to designate the Philippines for temporary protected status (TPS) under Section 244B of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Will you sign the petition too? Click here to add your name:

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/relief-2-recovery-temporary?source=s.fwd&r_by=564161

Wealth in purpose

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nelson-mandela-poverty-is-not-an-accident-like-slavery-and-apartheid-it-is-man-made-and-can-be-removed-by-the-actions-of-human-beings

I first grew interested in understanding poverty at a young age when my parents would bring me to the big town and I would see so many beggars. They puzzled me. In the small farming and fishing town where I lived, I never knew of a beggar; everyone had something to do,  somewhere to live, something to eat, and each had neighbors and friends and family who cared, no matter how much each struggled, at least as I remember it.

Fast forward three decades and I am still obsessed by the idea of poverty. While, in my youth, poverty was an idea easily represented by  pointing out beggars, in my adulthood, I have come to understand it to be an idea that is much more complex and even more wide-reaching.

It is a reliable proxy for the many -isms that plague us, its multiple dimensions made quite clear to me in the graduate thesis I wrote. It is a painful reminder, a relic that reflects as it tethers us to the absolute injustice of the past. It is a pox not only on life as it is lived, but also on the human spirit as it finds its way and its voice.

No one dreams to be poor, but many among us accept it as a fact of our life. No one thinks it unsolvable, but many among us toss our hands high in the air in the throes of forced surrender.

I am driven to passionate action by it. I am driven to the ends of my stamina by the plausibility of mitigating it. I am driven to dream ceaselessly. I dream. I dream. I dream.

Poverty is an underlying force behind the disproportionate burden of climate change and health disparities faced by some groups. That these three are the results of how we treat each other is perverse and fundamentally inhumane. If we are anti-poverty, it isn’t just classism, gender inequality, and racism that we should fight against, but also the antipathy for at-risk and vulnerable populations. We cannot go on depriving millions of the health equity and climate resilience required in modern life. It is inhumane, immoral, to assign vulnerable communities the role of being the first to die, in greater numbers, and more often.

Music behind post-Haiyan Philippine reconstruction

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This holiday season and well into the new year, especially if you’re in Southern California, please check out our benefit concert series. First in series is ‘Concert by the Sea’ at Seabridge Marina, Oxnard, CA on Dec 21, 11am-6pm.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7DpPGW4FOTxNFZ4SmdSWUc5elU/edit?usp=sharing

Is Philippine culture flawed?

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I recently read a blog post about former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his thoughts about Philippine political leadership and culture. Needless to say, it evoked a strong reaction in me, thus, this post. Read the blog post that is the subject of my ire here.

Philippine culture is not flawed. How could culture be flawed? According to whose standards is it flawed? Based on whose measures of ‘healthy cultural functioning’ is it flawed? — Whatever your race or ethnicity, would you accept a serious proposition that your culture is flawed? To argue and seriously believe that a people’s culture is flawed underlies flawed thinking, and a deeply limited understanding of the construct of culture.

Culture is like an iceberg: we often only see what’s above the water line, when it reality it is much more expansive and far-reaching.

Social norms can be flawed, and, therefore, the true subject of significant change. Smoking used to be cool; in 21st century California, it no longer is.

Between culture and norms, there is a difference; we don’t need experts to argue the distinction for us for we can think deeply about it ourselves. Culture, on one hand, is about creative, intellectual, spiritual, and material heritage, traditions, and values; norms, on the other hand, are patterned social behavior based on an interpretation of or rebellion from heritage, traditions, and values.

Kundiman and martial arts are parts of the Filipino culture; the teaching of these in the teacher’s backyard, instead of a commercial space, is a norm.

classrm_standard thinkingFrom my perspective, what holds back the Philippines lies in her education system:

1). The fundamental problem is an education system that deposits ideas into the people, instead of cultivating the people to have original ideas of their own.

2). The problem is an education system that breeds dependence at the grassroots and entitlement at the grasstops.

As a result, public dialogue is coopted by a chattering class that frequently serves the interests of the elite; patrons are entitled to political leadership as though it were any other family heirloom; ordinary people too willingly give up their responsibility in self-governance due to their perception of their own ineptitude.

In all three cases, for a majority of the time, no one bucks the conventional thinking; no one demonstrates depth of thought, or braves to critically think. It is thus that we are prisoners of our own collective mind and the social system we create and transmit to the next generation.

Those who flee the Philippines do so to be free from this flawed social system and the flawed social norms that normalize and sustain it. They leave not because they reject their culture; they leave because leaving is the most generous and loving act they can do for their families. Away from the flawed social system, free from the corrupting social norms, those who leave thrive, like most everyone else. Their source of strength, their anchor, the foundation of their identity, is their beautiful uniquely Filipino culture.

Training with the late Guru Bill Aranda, Note #4

Training date: Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I remember the most from training:
I was taught the meaning behind the ‘single’ in single sinawali and the ‘double’ in double sinawali. I was also taught upside down double sinawali, and ‘bak-bak’ (?). In addition I learned a little bit about distance and an application of ‘hakbang paiwas’.

What the session made me understand/think/learn
1) Sinawali is a method of striking and connecting with a target in a very organized way. Single sinawali is about single-motion striking: one arm strikes high, medium, low in sequence. Double sinawali is about double-motion striking: both arms working in a loop and in a parallel but opposite motion, i.e., as one strikes, the other is cocked, ready to strike. Sinawali is an efficient defense and offense against multiple targets because of the multiple strikes it can generate in a short amount of time and at various levels (high, medium, low). Sinawali can be executed wildly with extended arm movements in order to strike undefined targets, or more conservatively with small/short arm/wrist movements in order to strike specific targets.

To help me visualize it, I think of another similar approach to making a connection, this time electric current, namely series and parallel circuits. Single sinawali is similar to a series circuit in that it is about single motion, like a series of light bulbs being lit one after the other; there is only one path in a series circuit in which the current can flow. Double sinawali is similar to a parallel circuit in that it is about parallel motion, like a loop of lightbulbs being lit simultaneously.

Training with the late Guru Bill Aranda, Note #2

Training date: Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I remember the most from training:

It was much more a contemplative session than a physical training session.

  • While I was taught a “sayaw” primarily to show me what to do with my ‘live hand’
  • I also got into an honest and probing conversation about both things personal and FMA practitioner

What the session made me understand/think/learn

Novelty/innovation is always there. Dynamic systems theory says novelty, or innovation, is built into systems; it’s always there because solutions — some of which may need to be novel ideas — are always available to a system internally when that system goes off balance, at least according to this theory.

My evolving view of martial arts nowadays is that FMA is not a system, gung fu is not a system, none of the specific martial arts is a system. These are subsets of a larger system. The larger system is using human limbs (which number only four for everyone) to fight. So, from this perspective, innovation is always there, and its comes from human creativity, represented by the different subsets, or fighting styles. I think this view is older than Bruce Lee, by the way. Humans have been fighting and adapting to each others’ fighting styles for as long as we learned how to punch and kick.

You reminded me that you teach me what you learned, not what you were were taught. To me that means the same thing that I’m now looking for: not a style but how to optimize how I naturally fight, i.e., uncover and hone how my body naturally moves. Why would one want this? So that you fight with more fluid movement without thinking; so that you fight according to the way your body naturally moves.

In this sense, all fighting is both unique and common. A #3 strike is either going to come from the center line, or outside it. Whatever unique path or extra steps we take to get to the target from inside and outside the center line is and can be unique to how we naturally move, but ultimately, the strike can only come from inside or outside the centerline, i.e., the expression may be unique, but the principle is the same.

Is novelty/innovation possible in martial arts? My take on the answer is yes and no. It is both/and, not either/or. Innovation is possible and not possible. I say this not to be philosophical, but to express a nuanced view of novelty, or innovation. It is possible, but this is so when you focus on media, or expression, or ‘hardware’. It is also not all that clear that the principle behind an arrow versus a bullet — a projectile traveling at high speed to pierce a target — is all that different. When you think of ‘software’ – the underlying principle or meaning behind the use of an arrow or a bullet, you find that there is one underlying principle, as is the case in any punch or kick or strike.

In many ways, this both/and perspective is what FMA and ‘gung fu’ teaches us: there is innovation between the blade and empty-hand, between the stick and the blade. But the underlying principles behind strikes are the same.

Life lesson. In life, we have it within us to help ourselves, because novelty — new ideas, innovation, solutions — are baked into each of us. But it is also true that only in our engagement with others do we see our strengths and our weaknesses, and our interrelatedness to everything. Alone in our thoughts, in our inner world, we can find the answers we seek, the power we need to adapt and survive. But we are flawed; so some ideas are flawed. And it is only also through our engagement with our environment and in the quality of our relationships that we find what is right, the true path, the meaning behind life, behind personhood, behind community.

A student learning to fight has it in him to sort out how to use his limbs efficiently and effectively, and how to use tools as extensions of his limbs, if need be. But it is also true that he only learns to fight because his neighbors provoke him, or his teacher shows him principle and which techniques will not work in a real fight.

Training with the late Guru Bill Aranda, Note #1

Guru Bill asked me to do written homework in 2013 after each training session with him. His homework question was simple: “What did you think I was teaching you?” This series (four posts total) covers some of my notes resulting from training with him in his last year of life. Part of me still mourns him for he taught me not only FMA but also life.

Training day: Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I remember the most from training:

  • I was taught an alternate set of 12 angles of attack. They were similar to other sets of angles I already know, except for three: #7, #9 and #10. The transition from #6 and #7 was unnatural for me but I have sorted it out after repeated practice.
  • I learned three ways of executing angles #10-#12. These ways are combinations of thrusting and slashing/cutting strikes. Completely new material for me.
  • I was also taught a framework for understanding the origin of strikes, namely a framework of two origins: “abierta” (strikes originate from outside the center line) and “cerrada” or “serrada” (strikes originate from the center line). Knowing this allows me to figure out how to generate other strikes. I had never known this before.
  • We also reviewed footwork, but this time, using the asterisk drawn on the ground as a cue. This reminded me of GM Manaois footwork.

What I think I actually learned

I had to really think about this, knowing that the answer cannot be the obvious. It turns out the only way for me to be content with my response was to not make the search for an answer strictly an intellectual pursuit, but also a personal one. Doing this allowed me to be content with an answer that is true for me, as opposed to an answer that may be true only in the abstract. What is true is contingent on your standpoint.

I think I learned three fundamental things: fluid movement, precision, and speed.

I think these are some of the fundamental lessons of being asked to do all 12 angles progressively faster, i.e., in a count of 6, then 4, then 3, then 2 and finally as a singular, flowing motion. Speed makes the strikes carry more power. Precision makes them serve their function. And fluid movement enables the person to integrate the strikes into the way his body would naturally move, including where to place one’s weight, how to manage one’s footwork, how to move one’s shoulders, when to dip closer to the ground, and how to turn one’s body. Without consciously focusing on fluid movement, I find myself moving less gracefully, less natural and more contrived. I find that this not only slows my motions down because I have to think, but also disproportionately makes me rely on memory when striking instead of just naturally striking. Reminds me of that one lesson about “fighting with no mind.”

Is there innovation in martial arts?: Training with Guro Bill Aranda

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Reposting. Originally posted on January 22, 2013.

Dynamic systems theory says novelty, or innovation, is built into systems; it’s always there because solutions — some of which may need to be novel ideas — are always available to a system internally when that system goes off balance.

My evolving view of martial arts nowadays is that FMA is not a system; gung fu is not a system; karate is not a system. None of the specific martial arts is a system. They are subsets of a larger system: using human limbs in offense and defense. From this perspective, innovation is always there for it comes from human creativity, which has neither beginning, nor end. We can imagine a beginning and an end to human creativity, but that imagination arises precisely from the power of creativity.

Over time, fighting within the limits of two arms and two legs came to be formalized into and represented by the different fighting styles. I think this view is older than Bruce Lee, by the way. Humans have been fighting and adapting to each others’ fighting styles for as long as we learned the limits of talking and decided to develop effective ways to punch and kick, and throw a rock or a stick at each other.

The value of the question

If we resolve to answer the question for ourselves — is there innovation in martial arts? — we could guide our skill development. We can either focus on the medium (i.e., techniques, drills, style), or we can search for principles.

On one hand, if we focus on the medium we develop a skill within the limits of the medium; true enough, if you focus on stick-fighting exclusively, you will be really good in stick-fighting, but not necessarily empty-hand, if you don’t expand your training outside the limits of using sticks.

On the other hand, if we focus on learning principles behind the medium, we find more opportunities in offense and defense; true enough, if you learn the principle of ‘palm-up/palm-down’, for example, you can figure out the logic behind effective offense and defense more easily.

My teacher, Guro Bill Aranda, tells me that he teaches me what he learned, not what he was taught. To me that means the same thing that I’m now looking for: not a style but how to optimize how I naturally fight, i.e., uncover and hone how my body naturally moves. Why would one want this? So that you fight with more fluid movement without thinking; so that you fight according to the way your body naturally moves.

In this sense, all fighting is both unique and common. A #3 strike is either going to come from the center line, or outside it. Whatever unique path or extra steps we take to get to the target from inside and outside the center line is and can be unique to how we naturally move, but ultimately, the strike can only come from inside or outside the centerline, i.e., the expression may be unique, but the principle is the same.

So, is there innovation in martial arts? My personal take is yes and no. It is both/and, not either/or. Innovation is possible and not possible. I say this not to be philosophical, but to express a nuanced view of martial art innovation.

It is possible  when you focus on the medium, or the martial art style, or physical expression. It is possible if you think in terms of ‘hardware’. For example, there are multiple great leaps of innovation from propelling an arrow to sending a bullet downrange. The hardware is  unique in each lethal expression. Soon, I am sure we will be shooting laser beams, not bullets, at each other; once that day comes, we will have made another major leap in innovation in terms of the medium.

It is not possible when you think of ‘software’ – the underlying principle or meaning behind the use of an arrow or a bullet, for example. It is clear that the principle behind both is that of sending a projectile at high speed to penetrate a target. When you see that there are key principles at work, and that these principles are fundamentally the same, it is not possible to innovate. There is one underlying principle behind any punch, or kick, or arrow, or bullet: thrust forward toward the center of the enemy. Principles are limited and immutable.

In many ways, this ‘both/and’ perspective is what FMA and ‘gung fu’ teaches us: there is innovation between the blade and empty-hand, between the stick and the blade. At the same time, the underlying principles behind strikes are the same throughout time.

Life application

In life, we have it within us to help ourselves, because novelty — new ideas, innovation, solutions — are baked into each of us. We use innovation to problem-solve, to adapt, to overcome. But it is also true that nothing is entirely new under the sun. There is no new principle of being within our shared human experience that is completely brand new. Because we live in closed system, planet Earth, with the pretty much the same environmental stimuli over time, there are no new principles of being human under the sun. What is only ever changing is our engagement with others for each of us are inherently, boundlessly creative.

Through our engagement with others, we see our strengths and our weaknesses, and our interrelatedness to everything. Alone with our thoughts, in our inner world, we can find ways to best adapt and survive. But we are flawed; as a result and necessarily, some of our ideas, no matter how clearly we think we understand, will invariably be flawed in some way, as well. It is only also through our engagement with others in our environment and in the quality of our relationships with those we engage that we find what is true, the right path, the meaning behind personhood, behind community. Engaging the world is key to being more fully effective and human in the world.

A student learning to fight has it in him to sort out how to use his limbs efficiently and effectively, and how to use tools as extensions of his limbs, if need be. But it is also true that he only learns to fight because his neighbors provoke him, or his teacher shows him principles and teaches him which techniques will work or not work in a fight.

Kundiman music #1

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Meditative and evocative at the same time, this video makes me feel more Filipino. I have watched it many times.  My aim is to easily find it whenever I want to watch it by posting it here. If you are to be similarly touched by the music as a result of my selfish act, then that would be icing on the cake.

For little-known historical info on the lost practice of ‘kundiman’ and ‘harana’, go here and here. May this beautiful practice of nationalism, respect, chivalry and tenderness find the youth generation that will aim to restore it with sincerity.

More info from youtube:
“Guitar Duo of Michael Dadap and Florante Aguilar perform Joselinang Baliwag, the most popular song during the revolution against Spain in the 1800s. Arranged by Michael Dadap for 2 guitars, the song is part of the Folkloric Suite in Dadap and Aguilar’s upcoming duo album.

This footage is also an excerpt from the upcoming film Harana directed by Benito Bautista and produced by Fides Enriquez. Music video edited by Emma Francisco.”

Personal reflection on training with Guro Ramon Rubia: Note #1

Since the passing of Guro Bill Aranda, I have been searching for a new teacher, and I found one recently in Guro Ramon Rubia. Last night marked my second month training with him, and my experience so far has been eye-opening. It is with deep honor that, in able hands, I continue my development in escrima, or as an elder, Faustino Caigoy, told me “digma” presumably an older term that acknowledges FMA’s pre-Hispanic roots.

To those who know Guro Ramon Rubia, it goes without saying that his teaching style is unconventional; he doesn’t simply teach techniques and when he does he doesn’t just show you a few. Hindi siya maramut. He teaches you multiple related techniques that force you to see the possibilities, not the limits of techniques. He discusses principles of striking and the live-hand. I leave every training with a lot of “Aha!” moments as well as questions. I aim to someday remember all the old escrima terms he introduces in training.

Last night was the first night that I got completely lost and confused, so the experience weighs heavily on me and I am one who dwells on things that confuse me until I understand them. He warned me two months ago that his “teaching methodology is confusion.” Last night, no kidding.

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On the value of largo range, conditioning, and constant motion

I now better appreciate the value of constant motion and the largo range. In Guro Ramon’s words, “There is truth in motion.” He taught me that there are three levels of being in constant motion: ‘handwork’, footwork, and homework. I learned that the largo range is equally valuable as the corto range.

‘Handwork’. We are more effective in FMA when constantly in motion: when the weapon and live hands are constantly searching for opportunities to strike, control, and redirect an opponent. He taught me that there are multiple ways to weaponize the live-hand, to make it truly alive … and kicking. The live-hand is not only for passive parrying or blocking, or holding; it is also for active hooking, pulling/pushing/jamming, redirecting, setting up a counter, and deceiving the opponent. The live-hand is not the non-thinking Army grunt I used to think it was; it is a crafty Marine Division Recon doing sensitive reconnaissance.

Long distance striking — largo range striking — I now know to be a vital striking competence. Striking is not at all the exclusive purview of the medio and corto ranges. You should not only know how to strike well in close quarters. Whether with a blunt stick or a sharp bolo, long distance striking is the key at first contact, as it is more likely that the fight has already started well before the corto, or even medio range.

As for conditioning reflex and response, last night I saw some clear link with psychology and human behavior theory (i.e., saw things that reminded me of conditioning via stimulus-response and operant conditioning) that never occurred to me I would see in a martial art. The link I saw is that FMA conditions the mind and body to make best use of involuntary, automatic reflexes, as well as voluntary, learned patterned response.

Many if not most of the techniques condition the mind, eyes, hands, and body to react as they automatically would given their natural reflex to a stimulus, like an opponent’s blade flying straight toward your face. How would you naturally react to that? FMA hones the series of natural reflexes involved in that automatic reaction to a strike.

And then there are also some techniques that aren’t necessarily natural; these are the ones that confuse. The ‘trangkada’ striking technique, for example, is one whose motion is not so natural; learning it for the first time last night bewildered the sh@! out of me. It is difficult because it is simple but unnatural, not because it is complex. Techniques like this, it occurs to me, condition our voluntary responses to stimuli, like operant conditioning does, so that we learn to move even in unnatural ways because of the consequences of those voluntary responses. We don’t naturally move in staccato; we naturally move smoothly, with weaving and flowing motion. Last night’s ‘trangkada’ lesson is the opposite; it is a technique that makes you move like you have two uncoordinated left hands while being naturally right-handed.

Footwork. The feet don’t just serve to prop you up and move you; their skillful motion shapes the effectiveness of your engagement. Footwork, if sloppy, will either neutralize your power and speed, or worse, end up getting you easily off-balance. As such, FMA footwork is not just about walking; it requires practice and the development of skill. As such, FMA footwork at the largo range is among the most important skills to develop.

Whether zigzag footwork or the circling footwork made possible by the old wide stance, good footwork is key to constant motion. While you need to be proficient enough to stand toe-to-toe with an opponent, it is quite smarter to be encircling him and using a variety of footwork that enables you to do this. I have never really paid as much attention to footwork as I should even though I know it is important. I just always thought that you stand, advance, retreat and crouch the way you would naturally stand, advance, retreat, and crouch. In fact, I was previously taught by others that footwork is like walking. Obviously, not the complete truth; footwork is not just about walking.

The obvious ramifications of not having good footwork is that you leave yourself a stationary target, someone easy to find, hit and throw. More importantly, you communicate to your opponent via your footwork. What is not so obvious and what I now know is that good footwork is good psy-war, and in long distance, it reaches out and touches your opponent to disarm his spirit and intimidate him.

Homework. Practice at home; be in constant motion at home. Needless to say, repetition is the constant motion at home. Even visualization is useful as it imprints the techniques, and their motion, in the mind. Physical reproduction is key, and repetition the effective teacher. There is no equal substitute.

Reflecting more on homework, Guro Ramon’s point, I think, is really one about motivation and reproduction. Just like Bandura’s internal mental states required for self-efficacy, Guro Ramon’s emphasis on ‘homework’ reminds me that if I want to learn a skill and develop a high level competence in it, I have to have the motivation to learn it and be motivated enough to reproduce it on my own using my own understanding. We all choose to learn martial arts for various reasons. Mine are in constant flux. In many ways, Guron Ramon’s point is that your reasons are irrelevant. If you want to learn, you have to be motivated to learn how to learn even well after formal training hours are done.

Final note — I don’t think it is possible to be an expert in all the FMA lessons that one is formally taught. I believe it is only possible to be an expert in the FMA lessons that one actually learns, takes in, and can reproduce. As such, there is a function of customization and self-expression inherent in FMA, one that makes it fresh and refreshed throughout time, even when some day, we will grow a third leg and a third arm.

This is how FMA is boundless. FMA self-reproduces, self-replicates like a living being. In addition, it conditions both involuntary and voluntary responses to strikes. As a result, FMA’s boundaries are false boundaries. Its apparent structure — the techniques and styles that makes it a complete system — is built by established, clearly defined, routinized drills. But this apparent structure is a non-rigid one for it makes room for innovation, and the practitioner’s creativity and natural way of moving. The challenge is finding this natural way. The search for many is one that does not come easy; such appears to be the case for me.

My ancestors were either unaware of the ‘badass-ness’ of what they created or they were deep-thinking, madly observant men and women of combat. Possibly both. I find myself fortunate to have this link to the spirit of my ancestors.

Climate solutions on the cheap: Climate change work unbound by climate finance

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Climate resilience work is:
1) anti-poverty work. It is community development that values broader community interests, that values the environmental context and the community’s welfare;

2) health disparity reduction that accounts for the vulnerability of the population to the negative health effects of severe weather;

3) community advocacy that promotes the empowerment of communities to overcome the challenge of a warming climate to survivability;

4) human development that promotes the self-determination of communities in defining the problems that ail them and the solutions best suited to address those problems.

Framed as fundamentally about these, promoting climate resilience should be familiar work to those who currently do community work.

So why do our communities not claim their vital role in addressing climate change? Why do so many of us accept that climate resilience work is only for policy-makers and scientists who require major climate finance? The answer has many aspects, many of which are predicated on our shared lack of belief in our own ideas and our paired values with positivism in terms of what counts as knowledge and professional perspective.

As I read climate change studies and as my team and I explore local manifestations of the problem in a rural community in Southern California, I am often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate problem and the conventional solutions to it. What helps me persevere is the very thing that led me to this work in the first place: anti-poverty work.

Poverty is a critical social problem, more now in the U.S. than in recent years, and definitely an intractable one in the Philippines. I began my undergraduate and capped my graduate studies with my own ideas on anti-poverty work, and one lesson I found is that poverty is too big when perceived as a whole. To address it, poverty needs to be broken down into its smaller bits. We need to do the same with climate change: break it down into smaller bits. The tool with which to define these smaller bits is you, the reader, and the commitment you have to doing something about it in your own way based on your own understanding of the inherent solutions in your personal experience of climate change.

Community workers and individual community members are vital actors in addressing climate change just as they are also key in addressing health disparities and poverty. The growing recognition of the importance of community engagement in climate resilience is deepened by the notion that, like health disparities and poverty, climate change has social determinants.

I increasingly fundamentally view climate resilience as anti-poverty work, and that climate finance does not have to be a barrier to it. Big solutions are not the only relevant solutions. Expensive solutions are not the only effective solutions. Affordable community-driven and community-defined solutions are relevant and could be effective solutions, too.

The Limits of Climate Finance

If we subject the health of the planet and the survivability of life on it to cost-benefit analysis and a ROI framework, instead of a more integrated analysis of how we are all networked, then you end up with the financialization of a genuinely collectivist enterprise designed to produce a social good. While the role of finance cannot be dismissed or avoided, its super-sized role in climate resilience could be scaled down. Climate finance as we know it does not have to be the context of our choices. We cannot let it for it has the potential of corroding them. Besides, climate finance has to set right its own backyard first.

The current climate finance system has many complex moving parts whose interaction leads to the following unresolved issues:

1). Competing rationales on the source and direction of climate finance funds: There remains a debate on whether funds should come from North and flow toward the South, since the developed world has primarily been responsible for the bulk of the anthropogenic causes to climate change, or if funds should come from the South, itself;

2). Prioritization of competing uses of funds: There are competing interests that pit mitigation and adaptation against each other — subjecting climate resilience work to an ‘either/or’, instead of a ‘both/and’ framework — which in turn turns our view of reducing emissions through deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) as an ancillary activity, as opposed to a complementary component of an integrated strategy; and

3). Limited coordination among stakeholder sectors: There are multiple funder stakeholder sectors like carbon finance, development banks, private capital, and public finance that do not necessarily coordinate well, especially in the use of their respective funding instruments, e.g., debt, equity, grants.

This complexity leads to a tremendously drawn-out and highly-technical (to be read “inaccessible to most people”) process of analysis, planning, and pre-development work that, by nature, overestimates the value of professional actors and underestimates that of community stakeholders. Affected communities are relegated to being beneficiaries when it is the engagement of these same communities that often is ultimately the most vital to the sustainability of climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The net effect is a commodification, privatization and financialization of climate resilience work that hollows out the collectivism inherent in it, and that limits the pool of possibilities because of an exclusively high finance framework. Ordinary individuals, families and communities whose engagement is vital are pushed aside for lack of technical know-how, when in fact they should be valued instead for their potential as networked sources of cost-effective, innovative, and alternative local interventions.

For climate finance to be more responsive, we, together with conventional actors, should focus on coordination and ‘meaningful stakeholder engagement’ across sectors to guard against the financialization of climate resilience work. We should aim to link the grass roots with the grass tops.

For climate solutions to be unbound by the parameters of high finance, we need to further engage local communities to play a role in the mitigation of and adaptation to the local effects of climate change. We all need to define the problem based on our experience with it and derive solutions directly from that experience.

Just as local communities have contributed to the practice of poverty alleviation and population health, communities also have a lot to offer in climate resilience by way of cost-effective and sustainable solutions. Unlocking these community-defined solutions is the mission of my team, and I hope it also becomes that of at least one reader who agrees with the broad argument I attempted to lay out here.

Sometimes the spirit understands what the mind cannot, so the two must work together

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I view the human spirit and, therefore spirituality, as a thing that is not exclusively about one’s relationship with a god. I view it as that plus a sense of relatedness to everyone (all living things) and everything (cosmos), as the positive essence in each of us. Because of this, I am able to see the value of the individual within the context of the value of everyone and everything — “both/and,” not “either/or.”

My team and I have been building a program — Goodbranch Vergara (check us out on facebook) — for a while now to address a complex problem that no one individual could possibly thoroughly understand. The stakes are high; we have invested time and money into our work, so instead of surrendering to the magnitude of the problem, we persevere driven by a belief that our current understanding and our unique perspective on the solutions are good enough for us to keep going. The limits of our rational understanding is not a barrier. The intuitive understanding that we cannot put into words does not constitute a problem. Both, together, are good enough starting points for us to continue sorting out our contribution to a solution.

My epiphany comes from understanding that we need to awaken the mind AND the spirit, jointly. To just focus on rationality is flawed; post-modern thought looks at positivism as naive for not being more integrative in its thinking. There are alternative ways of knowing that are equally worthwhile, and more importantly, more effective in asserting our shared humanity for we are NOT computing machines who must exist and relate to the world only with logical reasoning.

It is possible to be analytical without being empirical. We can be imaginative, creative, and intuitive. We can persevere despite the odds. There is value in being these for to be internally-motivated to act even when the there is so much that is unknown, and perhaps unknowable, is what an ailing world requires. What makes us more fully human is expressing and realizing the authentic dreams we each have, especially when these dreams are about how to best serve others.

Thus, the back story of my epiphany –“Sometimes the spirit understands what the mind cannot, so the two must work together” — is the understanding that we need to awaken both the mind and the spirit; we need to awaken our competence for critical, original thought and our ability to express our positive self who I believe is fundamentally a caring, conscientious, unselfish being.

The state of Philippine mental health

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“The Philippines [has] a National Mental Health Policy (Administrative Order # 8 s.2001) signed by then Secretary of Health Manuel M. Dayrit. There is no mental health legislation and the laws that govern the provision of mental health services are contained in various parts of promulgated laws such as Penal Code, Magna Carta for Disabled Person, Family Code, and the Dangerous Drug Act, etc. The country spends about 5% of the total health budget on mental health and substantial portions of it are spent on the operation and maintenance of mental hospitals. The new social insurance scheme covers mental disorders but is limited to acute inpatient care. Psychotropic medications are available in the mental health facilities. A Commission on Human Right of the Philippines exists, however, human rights were reviewed only in some facilities and only a small percentage of mental health workers received training related to human rights. These measures need to be extended to all facilities.

The National Program Management Committee of the Department of Health (DOH) acts as the mental health authority. Forty-six outpatient facilities treat 124.3 users per 100,000 populations. The rate of users per 100,000 general population for day treatment facilities and community based psychiatric inpatient units are 4.42 and 9.98, respectively. There are fifteen community residential (custodial home-care) facilities that treat 1.09 users per 100,000 general population. Mental hospitals treat 8.97 patients per 100,000 general population and the occupancy rate is 92%. The majority of patients admitted have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There has been no increase in the number of mental hospital beds in the last five years. All forensic beds (400) are at the National Center for Mental Health. Involuntary admissions and the use of restraints or seclusion are common.

There was an effort by the National Mental Health Program in the mid 1990’s to integrate mental health services in community settings through trainings of municipal health doctors and nurses on the identification and management of specific psychiatric morbidities and psychosocial problems. However, at present it appears that the majority of the trained community-based health workers are no longer in their place of duty, and the current primary health care staff seem to have inadequate training in mental health and interaction with mental health facilities is uncommon.

There are 3.47 human resources working in mental health for 100,000 general population. Rates are particularly low for social workers and occupational therapists. More than fifty percent of psychiatrists work in for-profit mental health facilities and private practice. The distribution of human resources for mental health seems to favor that of mental health facilities in the main city. There is a consumer association involved in planning and implementing policies and plans. Family associations are present in the country but are not involved in implementing policies and plans, and few interact with mental health facilities. Public education and advocacy campaigns are overseen by the DOH and coordinated in the regional offices. Private sector organizations do their share in increasing awareness on the importance of mental health, but they utilize different structures. There are mental health links with other relevant sectors, but there is no legislative or financial support for people with mental disorders.

Non-standardized data are collected and compiled by facilities to a variable extent. Mental health facilities transmitted data to the government health department. There have been several studies done on mental health but not all were published in indexed journals. Some studies on non- epidemiological clinical /questionnaires assessments of mental disorders and services have been conducted.

In the Philippines, the mental health system has different types of mental health facilities, and some need to be strengthened and developed. At present, mental hospitals are working within their capacity (in terms of number of beds/patient), even though there has been no increase in number of beds in the last 5 years. Some facilities are devoted to children and adolescents. Access to mental health facilities is uneven across the country, favoring those living in or near the National Capital Region. There are informal links between the mental health sector and other sectors, and many of the critical links are weak and need to be developed (i.e., links with the welfare, housing, judicial, work provision, education sectors). The mental health information system does not cover all relevant information in all facilities.

In the last few years, the numbers of outpatient facilities have slightly grown throughout the country from 38 to 46. Moreover, efforts have been made to improve the quality of life and treatment of patients in mental hospitals. Some aspects of life in hospitals have improved, but the number of patients has grown steadily. Unfortunately, the low priority on mental health is a significant barrier to progress in the treatment of patients in the community.

In order to put the information contained above into context, comparisons with regional norms are made. The Philippines, like most countries of the Western Pacific region, have a national mental health policy. However, in comparison to other countries, it was put into operation relatively recently. Community care for patients is present, but as seen in many low and lower middle income countries, it is limited. Unlike the majority of countries in the world and the region, the Philippines have no mental health law. The poor involvement of primary health care services in mental health is also a feature shared with many low and lower middle resource countries. The number of psychiatrists per 100,000 general population is similar to the majority of countries in the Western Pacific region and about average for lower middle resource countries in the world (Mental Health Atlas WHO, 2005). ”

SOURCE: http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/philippines_who_aims_report.pdf

The Limits of Anger, Part 1

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I consider being in serene places — where you can commune with nature and hear more clearly your own thoughts — a rare privilege. They transport me from the turmoil of the city, the dysfunction of the modern world, and the decay in our relations to a state of contentment that quiets the negative self-talk and quenches the anger away.

And as I look out into the wild and be dazzled by the red-colored earth that blankets the cloud-capped mountain range, and feel the cool breeze on my skin and in my lungs, I am grateful to be alive. I am compelled to see more broadly, to think more deeply, to feel more openly, and to share my very best with the world.

It is true that when we witness beauty we wax poetic; and nothing is more superlatively beautiful than the natural world unspoiled. It is so beautiful that it heals and nourishes deeply, beyond the marrow, all the way to the spirit. We all deserve this form of rejuvenation, and I hope you will choose to make it happen for yourself as frequently as possible.

This is what Maslow called plateau experience, a concept I try to explain in class, and now thoroughly understand not only intellectually but also viscerally. It feeds the soul such that the inspiration to write overflows. Anger is positively transformed by it: anger is channeled inwardly into self-reflection, outwardly into insight.

The product of my ‘plateau experience’-inspired self-reflection? — The insight that anger has limits; that anger is as constricting as it is liberating, that it is as corrupting as it is empowering. For these reasons, at least in my own life, I seek the ways for my anger to be contained.

In subsequent posts, I will share my own thoughts on the limits of anger. Your feedback is welcome.