Labour are not the only hypocrites  

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Conservative spokesman Liam Fox has just appeared on TV commenting on the capture of 15 British service personnel by Iran. His argument was that this seizure was "illegal, outrageous and completely against International law." What a shame he didn't use such vociferous language against the war in Iraq. If the Conservatives had made such a stand before the invasion, maybe our people wouldn't be put in harms way in the first place.

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The Rotten Heart of London  

The Kyodo News Agency reported that Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, has launched an amazing racist tirade against the Japanese nation, inferring that the Japanese Embassy’s refusal to pay the congestion charge is somehow linked to past war atrocities. Speaking at a news conference about congestion charging, he told the LBC radio station, "I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they've not got round to doing that, I doubt they're too worried about the congestion charge."

The Embassies of around 50 nations are refusing to pay the congestion charge because they argue the charge is in fact a tax, which under diplomatic law they are therefore exempt from paying. The United States is reported to be the worst offender, notching up an incredible £891,000 in unpaid fines. Several African nations are well over the £500,000 mark, while Japan is sitting on a relatively modest £312,000 of unpaid tickets. The revolt over congestion charging was lead by the US and Germany in 2005. So why doesn’t Ken Livingstone attribute Germany’s refusal to pay to its Nazi beliefs? Or condemn the Americans for their savage imperialism in the Middle East which has left countless thousands dead and whole nations in ruins? Why is it that amongst all the countries of the world, Japan is the only country where it is acceptable to tar an entire culture with one collective brush?

A look at the BBC news website will reveal a similar racist bias against the Japanese - giving free reign to Chinese commentators to rage against Japan for past atrocities, while conveniently forgetting about more contemporary Chinese misdemeanours such as Tibet and the brutal crushing of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Everyone seems to have forgotten too about past British atrocities such as the massacre of 120 innocent men women and children at Amritsar in the 1920’s. Why is it that everybody finds it so easy to condemn Japanese people?

Most people would answer that question by saying – like Livingstone – that it’s because the Japanese have never been held to account for wartime aggression. That may or may not be true, but nobody ever asks why that might be: Why is it that comparatively few Japanese wartime leaders were executed or imprisoned after the war? Why is it that Japanese people were never, and still aren’t being given the opportunity to understand and acknowledge their country’s role in the Pacific war? Why doesn’t anybody ever question why the Japanese went to war in the first place?

The injustice of Livingstone’s remarks are that they in effect accuse all Japanese people of being complicit in wartime atrocities, when in actual fact most Japanese people today have very little understanding or knowledge of the war. Why? Because the US conveniently ripped-out that page of the history books to serve its own interests in post-war Asia. It allowed Japanese political, industrial and military leaders to escape trial, so they could help rebuild Japan in America’s image, thus providing a bulwark against the spread of communism in Asia and a convenient trading post for America. Not too mention, of course, a captive supply of cheap manufactured goods, rather like the US theft of the Iraqi people’s oil wealth. Of course it could only achieve this by also changing the perspective of the Japanese people themselves, who were encouraged to believe that their own culture is tainted: Prior to their adopting Western “civilisation” Japanese culture is often either not mentioned, devalued or seen somehow as sub-standard. People also forget that, like Germany, Japan was effectively under a military dictatorship at the time of the war. It’s therefore difficult to see the justification of labelling an entire nation as war criminals, for a war they know nothing about and in which they were not complicit,. It would be just as preposterous and outageous to label all American’s “baby-killers” for their guilt in the Vietnam war or all modern-day Germans as Nazis.

And while we are on the subject of wars fought in Asia, it’s also worth reminding ourselves why Japan was forced down the road to war in the first place: America’s commercial and political interests in Asia led it to intervene militarily in Japan’s internal affairs. Commodore Perry’s fleet of US warships that arrived in Tokyo Bay in 1853 effectively forced the Japanese to respond by adopting Western-style militarism, setting in motion a chain of events that would inevitably lead it into conflict.

In some ways, I agree with Livingstone that war criminals should not be allowed to hide their crimes under a cover of silence. The only problem is, he needs to start a little higher up his list of unpaid parking tickets to find the real criminals in this story.

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Free the mind and your ass will follow!  

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Writing in his work Hei-Ho-Kaden-Sho (Hereditary Manual of Martial Arts), Yagyu Munenori (1571-1647) said ,"A mind that stops changing and becomes rigid will result in disaster. While mind, with no shape and no colour, is imperceptable to the eyes, it is still recognisable if it is fixed and strays over something. Just as white silk becomes red in colour if it is stained with red dyes, so the human mind becomes visible if it is stained by emotion or thought." Achieving the state of mushin ("no mind") is the goal of martial arts training. A mind that is visible because it is coloured by thought or emotion, cannot by definition be in a state of mushin. No embu in Iaido should therefore show the emotions or thought because this would betray a mind that is fixed and rigid. This illustrates the link between Zen philosophy and martial arts very well. A mind that is visible to an enemy means that he can easily devise a strategy to gain victory. A mind that is free and can move without restriction cannot be caught in this way.

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Where did all the money go?'s a clue  

Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Fujitsu manager who recently told a conference that the NHS I.T. programme “isn’t working” and “isn’t going to work”, found himself up before the Public Accounts Committee last wek. Suspended from his job as soon as his words hit the pages of Computer Weekly, Andrew Rollerson confirmed that although he remained an enthusiast for NHS I.T., all his comments, including that the whole thing might end up “a camel, and not the racehorse that we might try to produce”, had been accurately reported.
Rollerson went further and declared that “the appropriate mechanism for consultation in order to achieve the objective has not yet been found.” In other words, four years into the programme, the people running it still don’t know what’s required by the NHS trusts having to use the wretched systems. (Private Eye)

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Only in Britain...  

Friday, 23 March 2007

A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman commented, "This sort of thing is all too common".
(The Times)

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Making the grade  

My recent grading to 1st Dan Iaido is a source of great satisfaction to me. But with it has come some mixed feelings. Or possibly, the act of achieving a personal goal has simply revealed that there are many more peaks to climb on this journey

I discovered, by chance, an excellent blog by a young guy called Richard who also graded to 1st Dan on the same day that I did. One of the things that he mentioned was that he'd spotted a couple of people grading to 1st and 2nd Dan that he felt didn't quite hit the mark in terms of the standard of their Iaido. Hopefully he wasn't referring to me! His comment was that by being awarded the grade, his own - our own - grading had been devalued as a result. My gut reaction was to kind-of agree with that: I have heard of people that have graded to ikkyu after just one or two months of practice. In our dojo, we have to pass kyu gradings all the way up from 6 to 1 before we are allowed to go forward to do the national grading. In my case, around 3 years of patient study. And this is pretty fast by Japanese stadards! I have seen some pretty appalling Iaido (thankfully not too many examples at Watchet)which has neverhteless resulted in a grading pass. There is no doubt in my mind, that there is a definite BKA "clique" which favours certain individuals over others. However, on reflection, I have realised that to trouble ones mind with such thoughts is actually to miss the point of Iaido

The point of Iaido - in my humble opinion - is simply to enjoy the journey, not the thought of the destination. We don't wear distinguishing marks like coloured belts because such outward manifestations of grade are actually quite meaningless. It is the inner journey that marks out the committed traveller from the casual one. It's no accident that Koryu has no gradings. We all like to feel we've achieved some form of recognition for our efforts. But personally speaking, the satisfaction that comes from understanding and performing a technique well is infinitely more rewarding.

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A cruel day  

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Today I had the unenviable task of bringing back home the dead and broken body of our dear cat Rocky. A gentle, intelligent and affectionate creature, hit by a car and skittled into the undergrowth like a lifeless rag doll. What a sad day. What an ignoble end to a beautiful young life. And what a bitter lesson in the impermanance of things. Yet it's worth remembering that, short thought it was, Rocky had a wonderful life full of love and happiness. How many of us will be so fortunate in our lives? I'm happy that we could make that life for him. But I am so sad that a little light has gone out of my life with his passing.

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The art of expression  

Monday, 19 March 2007

In Iaido, we are constantly challenged with trying to achieve the 'correct' way to demonstrate technique. This search for perfection is an indisputably important aspect of practice, for it is through this constant effort that we train and hone the spirit to become better individuals. But, worthy though it is, the quest for perfection is a virtue that can be taken too far. Taken to excess, slavish adherence to 'perfection' can, I believe, damage the true spirit of Iaido.

Iaido is a martial art. An “art” – as opposed to a science – encompasses a broad range of truths. Unlike the cold logic of a science, an art is a distinctly human expression; an individual’s expression of a personal idea or belief. In his writings, Bruce Lee made many references to the need for individuals to express themselves freely. Because any art is an individual expression, any assessment of it is largely a subjective one. In music or painting, it has no meaning to say one style of art is better than any other. Could you say objectively, for example, that classical music is better than Hip-Hop? Or that the Impressionists were better than the Old Masters? You can analyse painting or music objectively in terms of its technical difficulty or its lifelike qualities, but not its artistic virtue. That could only be a subjective assessment based on your own personal beliefs, preferences or abilities. Some people want to be moved by music; some people just wanna dance!

Continuing the musical analogy, it is not necessary to be classically trained to create good music. Many of the greatest musicians of modern times have had no formal training at all, and yet they still managed to write songs that moved entire generations. It could even be argued that too much classical training or a slavish adherence to established wisdom actually stifles expression. Take away the freedom to bend the rules and you take away an individual’s ability to express themselves. Without this vital spark of expression, art is reduced to mere science. I have known world-class concert pianists, for example, who were unable to improvise a single note without seeing it written down. Expression is why composers, and not pianists, are remembered as great artists.

But in all but a very few cases, innate talent alone is not enough: There has to be some kind of formal structure to act as a framework. Truly great music arises when the desire to express oneself in a uniquely personal way is tempered with technical ability – the “classical” knowledge of harmony, rhythm and melody. Every musician has their own unique style; a combination of technical and expressive elements, fused within the crucible of their own experience. The martial artist has to be the same: We are all individuals with our own motivation for following whatever path we have chosen. For some, pure technical excellence in a classical style is their goal; for others, a burning desire to develop practical combat skills. Either way, there has to be an element of one within the other. There is, therefore, a relationship between the two.

Of course, there has to be a technical structure to any art. But within these bounderies, it is meaningless to say that an individual's particular expression of it has no value because it doesn’t fit with another's classification of what is 'correct', just as it would be meaningless to say classical music is no good because you can’t dance to it. Each has its own place and its own value. The classical bedrock of knowledge that underpins all fighting arts has been laid down through the efforts of countless individuals over countless generations, each expressing their art in their own individual way. It is only by building upon the efforts of others that art itself can evolve and move forward, and this can’t happen if your mind is closed to the teachings of others. A true artist searches for inspiration wherever it may be found. There is an old Norse saying: “None is so good he lacks all fault, none so wretched he lacks all virtue.”

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