Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Invisible Man, Revisited (In Which Our Hero Becomes An Obstacle Unseen)

It's Tuesday night.  Melissa and I are scheduled to have dinner with a good friend; but, he has to cancel at the last minute.  We are disappointed, but then, we can still enjoy a sit-down dinner together.  Picking a place proves to be a more difficult endeavor than expected, as our first choice has a ridiculous wait, and our second choice closes in ten minutes.  Finally, I suggest Honor Bar, located in Emeryville.  The place comes to mind because it's where I last went to dinner with Jeff, who had to cancel on us on this particular evening.

We pass the "Please Seat Yourself" sign that stands just before the five-foot wide entryway, and begin to look for a table.  It's a little crowded; but the table right by the door appears to have just been left.  We're right next to the ATM, on the left side of the five-foot entrance; but, it's the only table left, and it's serviceable.  A waiter clears it for us, and says that he'll be back to wipe it down.

Minutes pass.  No waiter appears to take our order.  We wait a little longer.  The table eventually gets wiped down; but still, no one has come yet to ask us what we want.  All around, everyone else seems either to be ordering, or eating.  Is this just a simple oversight, or is something more sinister going on?  I certainly hope I'm not being ignored.  Maybe they think that I'm not going to be a very good tipper?  Am I going to have to assert myself?  How will that be received?  Oh… my anxiety's being triggered.  Breathe, John, breathe; you're probably just hungry. 

These thoughts occur, and are dismissed, in the span of a few breaths.  By now, I have become accustomed to talking myself down in this fashion.  The reality of being "other" in America is, you never know when micro-aggression will strike.  Like the Shaolin masters populating classic Kung Fu movies, one must be prepared for social assault at the drop of a hat.  The downside, of course, is the risk of tilting at windmills.  Like, for example, when you go to a restaurant like Honor Kitchen, which doesn't really have conventional waiters and sections; you just order at the bar, or you can flag down a waiter.  This, our waiter explains to us when he comes over a few moments later.  He takes our order with aplomb, providing all the useful information one wants a waiter to provide along the way.  All is well, after all.  We are content.

We sip our drinks, and wait for our food.  A curly-haired young man enters.  He is tall, and has a Ben Savage look about him.  He stands on the opposite side of the five-foot entryway, next to the host's stand, looking around.  Melissa and I continue our conversation, talking of this, of that, and of my personal favorite, the Other.  After some time, I look back towards the door.  The young man is still standing there.  Is he waiting to be seated?  Might he have missed the "Please Seat Yourself" sign?  Perhaps he, like I a few minutes ago, is not fully aware of how this place works.  I decide to take action.

I get to my feet and cross over to the door, where he stands, waiting.  "You just grab a seat where ever," I begin to explain.  "You can order at the bar, or from the waiters." 

"Thanks," he says, almost apologetically.  "I know; no, I'm actually looking for a place for two people two sit."  He is waiting for a friend, it seems.  As we begin to idly chat, I can feel that someone has begun to approach from the right.  My back is turned mostly away from them; I am facing Ben Savage, who, in turn, is standing at the host's stand, facing into the restaurant.  Soon, the new person draws near enough that I can see her out of the corner of my eye.

"Excuse me."  Now she is standing directly to my left.  I turn to face her.  I can see now that this is an elderly woman; grey hair, red blouse, white sweater, glasses.  She looks at me expectantly.  Perhaps she, too, has a question about the restaurant?

"Well?" she says.  "Can I leave?"  Her tone is not kind, or polite.  She places the emphasis on "leave,"  suggesting that, because of something that I am doing, she is currently not able to leave.  I am completely nonplused.  While I and Ben Savage were having a conversation, this woman has walked directly up to me,  in such a fashion as one might if one were about to ask a question.  Yet she now seems to be demanding that I get out of her way?  Why didn't she simply walk around?  Did I mention that this entryway is five feet wide?

I do not move.  I turn on the spot, so that I can simultaneously look at the woman and at the remaining three feet of space, which neither I nor Ben Savage am occupying, through which she may make her means of egress.  "Excuse me, ma'am," I say; "but it seems that there is plenty of room for you to walk around me."  By the time I get to "me," I am already watching her walk away; after all, true to my word, she had about three feet of space to work with.  "Have a nice night, ma'am,"  I tell her, knowing that she is not thinking anything nearly so nice about me.

Ben Savage and I look at each other for a moment.  I can't remember who speaks first.  I know that all I can manage is "Was that?"  And then I just stop.  Because I don't know what I'm going to say next.  Ben Savage, luckily, intuits my meaning.  "Oh, no," Ben Savage says, "that wasn't you.  I don't know what her problem was."  Ben Savage goes on to explain that he's actually the type of person that, in that type of scenario, would give a little nudge with his elbow as he passes by, to let someone know that they're being a little inconsiderate.  "But no," Ben Savage finishes, "you didn't do anything wrong."  I already suspect this, of course; but there is something gratifying about hearing it come out of Ben Savage's mouth; a complete stranger whom I have never met.  I cannot recall being more grateful for the presence of a stranger.  It's a small thing, and yet everything, when someone honors your experience.

I sit back down with my wife, now deep in thought.  Truly, here was a person who seemed to find objectionable my very occupation of space!  This person felt empowered to walk directly up to me, in order to demand to occupy (momentarily!) the space that I was occupying.  Indeed, not only did she make this demand; at the time, there was no need for it!  The fact that she ended up walking around me, without my having to move from the spot, proved that.  I found myself staring at the doorway, over and over, asking myself whether it were possible that there might be some illusion at work, and that the doorway was only two feet wide.  At one point, my wife caught me staring at the entryway, instead of listening to whatever she was trying to tell me.  I even think I measured at one point.

I simply could not understand it.  I found it baffling.  What was going on in this woman's head, causing her to see an obstacle that wasn't there?  What was it, truly, that she was seeing?  And suddenly, I remembered this passage from Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison's seminal work on the 20th-century experience of the then-called Negro:

One night I accidentally bumped into a man, and perhaps because of
the near darkness he saw me and called me an insulting name. I sprang at
him, seized his coat lapels and demanded that he apologize. He was a tall
blond man, and as my face came close to his he looked insolently out of his
blue eyes and cursed me, his breath hot in my face as he struggled. I pulled
his chin down sharp upon the crown of my head, butting him as I had seen
the West Indians do, and I felt his flesh tear and the blood gush out, and I
yelled, "Apologize! Apologize!" But he continued to curse and struggle, and I
butted him again and again until he went down heavily, on his knees,
profusely bleeding. I kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still
uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood. Oh yes, I kicked him!
And in my outrage I got out my knife and prepared to slit his throat, right
there beneath the lamplight in the deserted street, holding him by the collar
with one hand, and opening the knife with my teeth -- when it occurred to
me that the man had not seen me, actually; that he, as far as he knew, was
in the midst of a walking nightmare! And I stopped the blade, slicing the air
as I pushed him away, letting him fall back to the street. I stared at him
hard as the lights of a car stabbed through the darkness. He lay there,
moaning on the asphalt; a man almost killed by a phantom. It unnerved me.
I was both disgusted and ashamed. I was like a drunken man myself,
wavering about on weakened legs. Then I was amused. Something in this
man's thick head had sprung out and beaten him within an inch of his life. I
began to laugh at this crazy discovery. Would he have awakened at the point
of death? Would Death himself have freed him for wakeful living? But I
didn't linger. I ran away into the dark, laughing so hard I feared I might
rupture myself. The next day I saw his picture in the Daily News, beneath a
caption stating that he had been "mugged." Poor fool, poor blind fool, I
thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Physics and Martial Arts, Part I: Of Staves and Gravity


a : a long stick carried in the hand for support in walking
b : a supporting rod: as (1) archaic : shaft 1a(1) (2) : a crosspiece in a ladder or chair : rung (3) : flagstaff (4) : a pivoted arbor
c : clubcudgel

I have recently begun a love affair with the staff as a weapon.  Perhaps the simplest martial arts weapon, and perhaps the simplest weapon of all, a staff is merely a rod.  By sheer definition, it is nothing more, and nothing less.  Yet, despite its simplicity, I argue that the staff is truly a thing of beauty; a wonder of a weapon, and, in the right hands, a thing to shock and awe.  What makes the staff such a beautiful weapon?  Physics.  Simple physics. 
We begin with the staff's construction.  Most staves used in martial arts are constructed of wood.  Red oak is common, or rattan, for a lighter-weight staff; but whatever a staff happens to be composed of, it is invariably a hard material, light enough to wield, but solid enough to make an impact.
It is here, in examining the construction of the staff, that we discover the key to its beauty: mass.  A staff, be it made of wood, metal, or plastic, has mass.  It has substance.  It is there.
There are two reasons why mass is important.  The less-important one is this: in order to be effective as a weapon, a staff must have appropriate mass.  It need not be excessively massive; a staff constructed of osmium, or iron, would be incredibly difficult to wield.  However, it must have sufficient mass.  A staff constructed of glass, or hard candy, for example, would be very little use as a weapon.
Mass is important because it gives the staff substance, and makes it effective as a striking weapon; but mass is significant for a far greater reason.  Physics dictates that, when an object has mass, it is affected by gravity.  Gravity is a force that causes an object with mass to be attracted to any other object with mass.  Here, on planet Earth, all objects are attracted to the Earth, the most massive thing in our immediate environment.  This is "weight."  Every object is attracted to the center of the Earth, in varying degrees, depending upon how great its mass is.  Regardless of weight, however, all objects fall at the same rate.

A staff, then, like any other object, must have weight.  Like any other object, the staff's weight is concentrated in its "center of gravity."  Everyone, and everything, has a center of gravity.  Depending on the object's shape, its center of gravity may be difficult to find; but an object's center of gravity is the point around which the object, if thrown, rotates.  It is the point where an object can be balanced, even upon a very sharp point, as long as the point is placed directly under.

This brings us back to the staff.  A staff, by definition, is a simple rod.  It is, in essence, a three-dimensional line.  Thus, a staff, as long as it is straight and true, must have its center of gravity directly in its middle.  There, in its exact middle, lies the point around which it rotates, and there lies the point where it may be balanced.

Ok.  A staff has mass, so it has weight.  It has weight, so it rotates around its center of gravity.  Its center of gravity has to be in its middle.  So what?

So, this brings us to torque, both the key, and the "ki," (ha!) to the staff's power.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

We are all Trayvon Martin ... and George Zimmerman.

The weekend before last, I had a rather distasteful experience.  I was walking down the street in my neighborhood, which, I am happy to say, is fairly nice.  There are "nicer" neighborhoods out there, of course, but I like the neighborhood where I live, and I feel reasonably privileged to live there.  As I strolled west on the northern side of the block, I noticed a man walking east, towards me, on the same side of the sidewalk.  He was fairly non-descript; older than I, perhaps 50's or 60's, carrying a bag from Whole Foods Market.  I probably wouldn't have even really noticed him.  I probably would have just nodded to him and gone on my way.  I certainly wouldn't have noted that he was of a different race than I...

...except that, instead of passing me on the sidewalk, he stepped off the sidewalk, cut a semi-circle around me, then got back onto the sidewalk once he'd passed.

I was floored.  Granted, I was dressed a little scrubby; I was wearing cargo shorts, sneakers, a baseball cap, a grey hoodie.  So  what?  I'm an attorney.  I wear a suit and look dignified every single day of the week.  I think I'm entitled to wear whatever the hell I want on the weekend.  Beyond that, I've lived in my neighborhood for years.  People I've never met still know my face, and smile, or nod.  Heck, I've even taught self-defense classes at the local Y.  Here I was, a pillar of the community; what gave this guy the right to question MY presence in MY neighborhood?  Although I couldn't be sure what the man was reacting to (my race?  my clothes?  some combination thereof?  just didn't want to crowd me?), I knew that I had a really unclean feeling about the situation.  Really, that's the insidious thing about prejudice; when someone mistreats you, you can't help but wonder if that was the reason.  At the end of the day, though, I decided that this was no big deal.  I  just fired off a quick tweet about it to let off some steam, and let it go at that...

...until the next day, sitting down to breakfast with my soon-to-be wife, when I read about what happened to Trayvon.

And then, at the breakfast table, I did something then that I never do.  I'm not usually one to let the latest tragic news affect me too much.  Oh, it's sad, sure, but beyond that, things happen, right?  Being sad about it isn't going to change anything, or bring anyone back, so why waste time on woe?  Better to just try to keep moving forward.  But this day.  This day was different.  On this day, I looked up from the news story, up at my wife.  I thought about what it would be like to be taken from her.  I thought about what she would go through; she, my mother, my father, siblings, friends.  I thought about the magnitude of such a terrible tragedy.  And then ... and then,  looking into my wife's eyes, I cried.

I cried because, in light of my recent experience, it hit just a little too close to home.  I cried because such a tragic thing could happen. I cried for Trayvon.  Because he died.  He died a child, already a tragedy.  He died, in fear, in pain, in a manner in which the worst of us should not have to die.  For nothing.  No cause.  No purpose; hell, poor Trayvon never even had the time to discover what he was willing to fight for, to die for.  At best, Trayvon died for no other reason than that George Zimmerman, was scared of him.

I cried because, by dying a death that no one deserved, Trayvon proved that really, truly, he could have been any of us.

That is the truth, of course.  If Trayvon could die this way, why couldn't any of us?  That messed with, and messes with, me. I just kept asking myself, what if Whole Foods Bag had been someone different?  What if we weren't in California?  What if it were nighttime?  What if he'd previously been a crime victim?  What if he thought the guy that victimized him looked like me?  What if he thought I looked like I was "on drugs?"  What if he'd had a concealed weapon?  Come to think of it, how could I be sure that he hadn't?  Geez, what if the guy had been just a little more scared?  I thought about a million different facts, a million different variables.  And each time, I came to the same conclusion: I could not sufficiently convince myself that I could not be Trayvon Martin.  No matter what I told myself -- that this could never happen to someone like me, that Trayvon and I were worlds apart -- I could not, and still cannot, place myself anywhere but directly in Trayvon's shoes.  Why couldn't any of us find ourselves, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, face-to-face with the wrong person, scared of us in just the wrong way?  Just think.  We're scared of things all the time that we have no real reason to fear: spiders, the dark, clowns.  But George Zimmerman thought that he was justified in taking a life because he saw a boy, in a sweatshirt, talking on a cell phone.  Okay, it was dark.  Okay, Zimmerman didn't know what Trayvon had in his hands.  These are facts that justify the use of deadly force?  These are facts that justify what essentially amounts to, at least, murder in the second degree?  Even Bernie Goetz might be scratching his head at this one.

The question that needs to be explored, truly, is why George Zimmerman was scared.  And I submit that the answer is this: it is because we, all of us, have failed.  We have failed as a society.  We have failed because we have permitted a status quo to exist whereby we judge people, taking into consideration traits as meaningless as the color of their skin.  We have participated in this status quo; we have permitted it to exist.  We have even ADAPTED to it; we accept it as an inconvenient truth.  We have all failed.  And now, we are all, yet again, paying a terrible, terrible price.  We failed Trayvon Martin most of all, because his was the innocent life snatched away without reason.  But we have also failed George Zimmerman.

"Now, just a minute," you say.  "He's a monster," you say, "he's nothing to do with me!"  "I'M not racist," you say.  "I love everybody," you say.  "Oh, sure, some people ARE racist, but that can't be avoided...".  "Anyway, what about free speech?"  These are all fair points ... but ultimately, they are excuses.  Maybe race isn't your particular issue...but you, too, have at some point in your life jumped to a conclusion about someone.  So skin color doesn't matter to you; maybe you don't like the gays.  Maybe you're a misogynist.  Maybe you've got a less, ah, "conventional" bias, like ginger kids, or plumbers, or something.  Or maybe, just maybe, you're one of those people who thinks that it's alright to use words like "hick," or "redneck." Maybe you think it's okay to use "Red states" as an epithet.

Guess what?  It's not.  None of these things are okay.  Because they all boil down, in essence, to one problem.  That problem, the true problem, is intolerance.  We, as a nation, have tolerated intolerance for far too long.  We have permitted fellow countrymen, our brothers, to harbor beliefs that are not serving them.  To harbor false tenets, ideas, about how to get through life.  To harbor ideas that have lead them to hate and fear others for things that they cannot change: race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality.  Yet, when fate, circumstances, or whatever you care to call it, places such a misguided person in a very, very unfortunate situation, where that person acts in the only way that, theretofore, they know how, we point everywhere but at ourselves.  We pretend that we have not all learned to hate and fear each other because of the things that distinguish us from one another.  "Distinct" is not the same as "other," "different," or "opposite."  "Distinct" means "disparate."  That's it.  No value judgements about which is better, or which is worse.  No pre-conceived notions about what a certain trait means.  Just the simple, important truth that, whoever you are, I am you, and yet not you.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once admonished us, once upon a time, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.  We have been given countless opportunities, over the years, to let that lesson sink in: Watts; Rodney King; even the afore-mentioned Bernie Goetz incident, just to name a few.  Yet we continue to permit these false dividers to exist.  We do not fight them like the insidious cancer that they are, the blight that eats at the very roots of our society.  Do we really need another wake-up call?  How much worse can it get?  How much worse does it have to?

It is time for us all to move forward as a nation.  Messrs. Gingrich, Santorum, Romney:  I implore you, all of you, to condemn what happened to Trayvon Martin.  Publicly.  Openly.  And in a way that makes it clear, crystal clear, that racism in America is unacceptable.  I am sorry, but no amount of votes, and no office, not even the highest in the land, is worth selling your soul.  Speak truth to power, and bugger the consequences; who wants to be President of the proverbial house divided against itself, anyway?  Oh, and, Mr. Gingrich?  If I, you, President Obama, or anyone else had a son, they too would look just like Trayvon Martin.  Because they would be a human being, you see.  An individual guaranteed "certain inalienable rights."  The right to live.  The right to be free.  The right to follow their dreams.

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton did have a son.  His name was Trayvon.  He was seventeen.  He had a sweetheart; he had aspirations.  He saved his father's life at the age of 9.  And now?  Now he is gone.  Not because he was "on drugs;" not that.  He is not dead because he failed to identify himself; nor did he have any duty to so.  He is certainly not dead because his "minority" parents neglected their purported duty to warn him about wearing a hoodie -- despite the ignorant, poorly conceived, and mind-numbingly stupid comments of Geraldo Rivera.  Indeed, Trayvon did nothing wrong.  Let's be crystal clear about that: Trayvon did nothing wrong.    Trayvon is dead for one reason, and one reason only: because George Zimmerman shot him.

George Zimmerman shot him.  Because he was scared.

* An aside, here at the end, because Mr. Rivera's comments really don't warrant serious treatment along with the rest of this subject matter.  But you, sir, should be ashamed of yourself -- you know, like your OWN SON is.  Thank God Gabriel got some common sense from somewhere; hopefully, he'll talk some into your other son, who apparently sees nothing wrong with what you had to say - or being advised by his father, essentially, that he'd better know his place. I'd call you a "Tio Tomas;" but that would be hypocritical in light of what I'm attempting to say here.  So, for God's sake, please just stop talking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Random Musings

Guy at the courthouse is wearing a t-shirt which says, "This is the shirt I wear when I don't care."

...I really hope he's not here for his own case.  If so, his lawyer forgot the talk about proper courtroom attire. Hopefully the judge has a sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Knowledge Gap: What You Don't Know That I Know (Could Help or Hurt You)

Some time ago, I was aboard a BART train, en route to my office for another exciting day of work.  I had gotten on the train at the Rockridge station, as is my custom; the train was now pulling into the Macarthur station.  The doors parted, and the new passengers boarded the train.  Among them was a young woman.  She took her place leaning against a post, facing toward the back of the train.  I was already positioned facing toward the front of the train, and so I had an unobstructed view of the woman.  She could have been no older than 25, and was, by all fair accounts, a knock-out.

Beyond that initial observation, I paid the woman no heed; she disembarked the train shortly thereafter.  As I got off at my own stop, however, I heard the following conversation take place between two others getting off the train.  One had been seated at the front the train, behind the woman.  The other had been seated near me, in front of her.  Both spoke as though they knew each other; perhaps they were coworkers who had perchance run into each other on their morning commute.

Guy #1:  ...I've seen her before actually.

Guy #2: Me too, but only from the back.  Is she as hot from the front as she is from the back?

Guy #1 (wryly):  I don't know.

Guy #2 (pleading):  Come on, man, don't hold out on me.

 Guy #1:  I don't know, man, you're going to have to find out for yourself.

I smirked and went on about my day; however, I couldn't help but mentally revisit the encounter some time later.  Here was one person who, by dint of being in the right place at the right time, had acquired some knowledge: specifically, what this woman looked like.  On the other hand,  here was his buddy.  By dint of where he had been seated on the train, he had not been able to acquire that knowledge.  However, he coveted the knowledge that his friend had acquired: he wanted to know what the woman looked like.  The friend, for his part, had three choices.  First, he could tell his buddy the truth about his observations.  Although this wouldn't be the same as if he'd seen the woman himself, at least he'd then have some idea what the woman looked like.  Second, he could tell his buddy nothing, in which case his friend would gain or lose nothing.  Third, he could provide his friend a false description; as a result, the friend would have false information, believing it to be true.  In this particular instance, it appears that the friend had opted for the second option.

The concept of the knowledge gap, the idea that I know something that you don't (or vice versa) is an interesting one.  It is not something that we are born understanding.  If you hide a toy in a room in front of a toddler, for example, and then a second adult enters the room, the toddler will assume that the second adult knows the location of the toy.  The toddler does not yet understand that all knowledge is not universal knowledge; the mere fact that one person knows something does not mean that everyone, or even anyone, does as well.  This realization sets in sometime later in childhood.

It is sometime after this realization sets in that we begin to recognize that, where a knowledge gap exists, and we possess the knowledge sought, we have an opportunity to affect that situation.  Your mother may ask you, for example, who ate the cookies from the cookie jar; further, you may know that it was you.  However, because you are privy to that information, and she is not, you have an opportunity.  You can tell her the truth, and risk punishment (or possible leniency for having been truthful).  You may lie and say that it was your brother (although this could backfire if he has an alibi).  You might simply shrug.  However, the mere fact that she says "Who ate the cookies from the cookie jar?" and not "You ate the cookies from the cookie jar" means that you, the person with the pertinent knowledge, have a choice to make about whether or not to share that knowledge.

What is the upshot of all this?  Simply put, we are all privy to knowledge which no one else has.  Some knowledge pertains to matters of grave import (for instance, who is truly responsible for the death of JFK?  Someone, somewhere, knows).  Some knowledge is trivial, e.g. what color socks someone wears on a given day.  Whatever knowledge we may possess, whatever the possibilities for that knowledge, the choice is ours what we will do with it.  The same knowledge may be used to hurt or to help, depending on the situation.  A martial arts expert may use her knowledge to assist a person who is being attacked.  The same person may also use her knowledge to attack another person without reason.  She may teach martial arts to others, so that they may acquire her knowledge, and be able to defend themselves.  She may instead hire her services out as a bodyguard, and keep her knowledge to herself for profit.  She is the guardian of her knowledge, and, up until the moment she shares it, its sole custodian.

The knowledge that we possess determines what we are capable of in this world; because you know how to tie your shoes, for example, you are able to tie your shoes.  Given that what we are able to accomplish while we are in this world is directly related to what knowledge we have acquired, it becomes clear that the sharing of knowledge is essential to our survival.  Accordingly, I want to take this moment to encourage my readers to be more aware of knowledge gaps in their lives.  Notice when someone doesn't know something that you happen to know.  Ask yourself the question of whether you will share your knowledge with that person, and if so, how much.  Ask yourself what will happen, on the other hand, if the knowledge is withheld.  I assert that it is best to use one's knowledge in ways that benefit other people, or in ways that enrich their lives.  Conversely, I would assert that one should not use a knowledge gap to take advantage of another person, nor withhold knowledge from that person if they will be harmed because they are uninformed. 

Either way, we must all use our knowledge in ways that we can live with.  Whether you choose to share your knowledge in a given situation, you and you alone must live with the knowledge of your decision.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Samurai Lawyer is online!

Welcome to the Samurai-Lawyer Blog, part of my all-new online presence here at samurai-lawyer.org!  After a fairly long hiatus from the blogosphere, I am excited to once more assume the "bully pulpit" -- particularly given that current events have not taken a similar hiatus, and that the direction current events have taken is, well, unsettling.  I'm not going to subject my readers to a laundry list of topics I plan to expound upon; suffice it to say that I still have quite a bit to say.  Rather, I'd like to take this moment to talk about my own perceptions and experiences of what it means to be a samurai lawyer.

Being a warrior and being a lawyer are not so different.  Both must study if they wish to have the best chance of success.  Both test themselves against an adversary in the heat of the moment.  In the course of engaging their foe, both choose which techniques to employ, at which times, in the hope that they will strike a decisive blow.  The techniques that each uses in the course of battle, whether the lawyer's well-timed legal objection or the samurai's well-timed kesa giri, comprise each person's martial art, or bujutsu.  From bu, meaning "martial," and jutsu, meaning "art," bujutsu generally refers to the techniques used by a person in pursuit of a martial victory.

Budo asks the question of why we use our martial arts.  An experienced martial artist, like an experienced attorney, has a certain power in the right situation.  Should they choose to exercise their power, and should they choose an effective technique for that particular situation, they may be able to affect the outcome.  The outcome that would have occurred but for their action will never be.  Given that samurai and lawyer carry such power, it quickly becomes apparent that both must also know when not to use that power.  The lawyer must not make arguments which are illegal or unethical, even if he or she knows that they will win.  The samurai, likewise, should not dispatch a harmless drunk with his sword if a supportive arm will suffice.

Thus, it is imperative that one must have a budo, or "martial way." A true bujin, samurai or lawyer, knows intimately the scope of his or her bujutsu, and seeks each day to improve those skills.  However, bujin's "martial way" is what guides him or her in deciding whether to employ those skills, and why or for whom.  Budo is why the samurai risks his or her life to protect a defenseless child from a much greater foe.  Budo is also the reason why the lawyer stands firm and keeps objecting, even under threat of contempt, if it is necessary to preserve his or her client's rights on appeal.

This blog, and this website, are all about my own personal budo.  Welcome, and please enjoy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Water, and how we relate to the elements

One way of understanding who we are as human beings is to realize our connection to the natural elements, Fire, Water, Earth, Wind and the Void. Most of us, through birth and through the way that we have been raised, emulate certain qualities of one or two of the elements through our emotions, thought processes, body movements, likes and dislikes, and this conditioning can both be a source of growth for us just as it can limit us into forming routines and habits.

A little bit of background may be helpful in visualizing this concept: a person who most identifies with the element of Fire may be very social and intense, and may have a great sense of initiative and an infectious personality. A Water person is generally pretty adaptable and is very good at caring for other people, and finds interesting ways to accomplish goals. Earth people are very steady and have great self-confidence, and generally are helpful in grounding others. People who identify with the Wind are great listeners, very sensitive, and unattached to one way of doing things.

Usually, a person has one element that is dominant, and another that is less dominant, and they manifest in different ways. Taking myself as an example, I was born and raised as a Water/Earth person, meaning that my tendencies are to adapt and flow with people and situations, while I like to be grounded and am very committed to people and ideas. One of our goals as human beings, however, can be to become more and more Void about our personalities and actions - meaning, to use Consciousness to utilize whichever element is necessary at any time, and become more Balanced by using all the elements in concert.

An example of this, which I think is very appropriate for the Water month of February, is the way that water moves in nature, perfectly. I took a walk through the UC Berkeley campus today, and spent some time in the eucalyptus grove that is just west of the campus center. From there one can walk along the creek that runs through the University. Just after the rains, the creek was running pretty freely through the small and muddy ravine by the grove. In watching it, an idea came to me that although the water has no established pattern of movement - it moves freely around stones, roots, branches, and debris while taking different paths every time - it always moves perfectly. One cannot judge its path, saying that it should move this way or that; rather, it moves where it needs to and where it is meant to, without judgement and without hesitation. It moves perfectly.

I think that one of the things to take away from this story is that as we study the elements to understand who we are, we have great examples in nature as to how we can become more Balanced. Even Water people can look for water in nature to find an example of the perfect motion of this element, without hesitation or notions of judgement. As Kancho Toribio says, we are perfect the way we are, and we are always working towards perfection.

Let's Keep Going!

Som Pourfarzaneh