A lovely afternoon by the sea  

Sunday, 29 July 2007

I have re-discovered the beautiful little seaside town of Broadstairs. England at its best. I sometimes forget that this country is not yet completely trashed, and we still have some wonderful places left.

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An inspiring experience  

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The visit of Hatakenaka sensei was universally considered a success, and I think all the attendees would agree with me when I say it has been a truly inspiring 4-days of iaido and budo. Hatakenaka sensei is very good indeed, superb in fact. I hear she will be challenging 8th Dan next year, which is the highest qualification possible in iaido under ZNKR rules.

But perhaps the most inspiring thing has been the enthusiasm and openmindedness of the organising club at the University. They have embraced these new ideas about their iai with real passion and committment. Their earnest and diligent approach to learning a completely new syllabus has been truly impressive. The efforts made by the guys at the Uni, Doug Evans and the attendees from Minato Ku have been tremendous and have had an extremely positive effect on my iaido, and of everyone that was there.

By contrast, the usual BKA "clique" was notable for its absence. There are several high ranking dan grades within an easy drive of the University that clearly could not be bothered. I wonder who have shown themselves to be the true students of budo - those with titles and high ranking dan grades, or those that have approached the teaching with humility and enthusiasm. I know what I think!

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Pure as the driven slush  

Friday, 20 July 2007

So, the cash for honours enquiry looks like it's coming to a conclusion. And - surprise, surprise - no charges are expected. Once again Blair and his odious chums have slimed their way out of being held to account. There is certainly no doubt in my mind, and in the minds of most people, that corruption lay at the heart of the Blair administration. While we can expect to see a lot of gloating, told-you-so faces over the next few days, I think most people are not fooled. Blair, after all, is a lawyer: If anyone knows how to cheat the system, he does.

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Touching the future  

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Microsoft are rumoured to be rolling out their Surface product early next year. Here is a sneak preview of where they see this technology going, and I must say, I'm pretty excited by this. Judging by the number of companies working on this idea of multi-point interactivity, it seems very clear that this is the technology vector for the next stage of the digital revolution. Cool!

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Hello World  

I am writing this while sitting in the Two Sawyers pub in Canterbury. Now that's what I call civilisation! Beer and blogging is of course a dangerous combination. But what a wonderful feeling of liberation to be able to interact with the world and - dare I mention it - even work, free from any physical bounderies. Sitting in the pub writing this with a cold beer is extremely pleasant, but the implications for my working life are quite profound.

With the growing confidence in the internet, there is a steady migration of our "stuff" from a personal space, to an online one. Banking, of course, is a familiar example. When people are willing to trust their personal finances to a computer or a website, then you know we have reached a kind of watershed. What's happening now is that we are starting to move our workplaces there as well. I have noticed a growing sub-culture of knowledge workers who are actually rejecting the whole organised office thing in favour of a nomadic lifestyle - moving from place to place, while maintaining their business presence solely online and interacting with it by laptop from wherever they happen to be at the time. I really believe these "cyber nomads" represent the future of knowledge business, and I really want to embrace that freedom. I've just got to convince all my clients that it's the way to go, then I'll be sitting here every afternoon!

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The life giving sword  

Monday, 16 July 2007

This weekend sees the visit of Hatakenaka sensei to Canterbury for a 4 day iaido seminar. This is a most significant event and one, which although I am looking forward to, I am also a little nervous about. From what I have read, Hatakenaka sensei is a hard taskmaster. I just hope my poor knackered body can stand the pace. The driving force behind this seminar has been a guy at the University who runs a karate club that includes iai-jutsu as part of its syllabus. The school that they follow is not a classical style, but one derived in the 1930s to teach Imperial Army officers how to use their Army-issue weapons. I don't know this guy, but I have seen the kata that they practice because they have posted videos on the internet. It does indeed seem a very "practical" style. This has prompted me to think about the differences between a "do" and a "jutsu" style and the implications that each have on the "why" we practice, as opposed to "what" we practice.

Most martial artists understand the difference between "do" and "jutsu" to be the difference between using martial arts as a means of self-development as opposed to learning how to win real fights. I read something recently that says this differentiation is actually a modern Western invention and has no meaning in Japan. However I am pretty sure that is incorrect.

Modern Japanese people in general have an abhorance of physical violence, and to resort to violence to settle disputes is to considered to be extremely course behaviour. This attitude comes in large part from the period immediately after the last war, in which the Japanese population paid an extremely high price for their nation's aggressive behaviour. Before the war, Japanese martial arts had become closely associated with nationalistic philosophy and for this reason, martial arts were all banned by the occupying American forces after the war. Even though the ban was lifted in 1953, This association between nationalism and martial arts still exists in the minds of many Japanese people. To see Westerners flailing around with swords makes many of them uncomfortable still.

Yet despite this, it is clearly recognised that the discipline and personal growth that the pursuit of martial training can achieve brings many positive benefits. So it was that the "do" philosophy, with its emphasis on personal development as opposed to combat effectiveness, has become the prevalent one in Japan today and the rest of the world. There are however a significant number of people - mostly in the West - that regard combat effectiveness as an important goal for them. Hence the rise in MMA and the endless discussions in martial arts magazines about "would it work on the street". I think when you are talking about unarmed styles, I think this can still be a valid point of view. We live in a violent society, and many people feel the need to equip themselves with effective fighting knowledge - this "jutsu" knowledge. However, as we don't (yet) live in a society where life and death encounters with a sword are common, I struggle to see the relevance of "jutsu" when it comes to the sword arts.

Iai-jutsu (Toyama ryu to give its technical name) arose as a practical response to a practical need, that of training Army officers to use their weapon to kill effectively. This is a very different objective to training in a classical style to improve awareness, concentration and co-ordination. Personally, I find it rather disturbing that anyone would want to follow this path. You don't, for example, see "Canterbury Bayonentting Club" listed anywhere, yet iai-jutsu amounts to the same thing. And, because it was designed to teach inexperienced students the basics quickly, it lacks the depth of a classical style.

I don't like to be critical of someone else's school, but I have to be honest and say that I feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea of "iai-jutsu" as I have seen it demonstrated. There is, for example, one technique in the syllabus that looks like it was intended to behead a kneeling prisoner. This is about as far away from the practice and philosophy of classical Japanese martial arts as you can get. I can only hope that this weekend will prove a revelation for these "iai-jutsu" guys to think again about what they are doing.

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A Flag of Honour  

Sunday, 15 July 2007

I have just finished watching Flags of Our Fathers. It was not the film I expected to see from an American director - particularly from someone like Clint Eastwood. But that's not a bad thing. It was a bold film; an honest film and certainly a challenging one for an American director. And given its graphic portrayal of the human costs of propaganda, a topical one. It refreshing to see America looking at itself with eyes unclouded by myopic patriotism. Can it be that America is starting to reject spin? I think what Eastwod has done with this film is to try to understand the true nature of the nobility of the American people, and by understanding that, the noblity of others.

Flags of Our Fathers is a sad film in many ways; Along with heroism, it portrays racism, injustice, brutality and cynacism. The dark underbelly of the American Dream. Yet, for all that, it also depicts something noble at the heart of the American ideal. An inherent honesty that shines through in spite of the best efforts of those who would try to manipulate simple courage and integrity for their own ends. This was a brave film for Eastwood. A brave film for any American director. Maybe the US is starting to grow up.

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The best eulogy to Blair - ever!  

Thursday, 12 July 2007

This great piece comes from the pen of "Curmugeon" who writes in the obscure "Magnet" - a magazine circulating in Kent & Sussex. The author is a writer of rare wit that never fails to amuse.

On my birthday Mr Blair finally announced that he was leaving. It seemed over generous, a card or a pair of socks would have done. After all, I am so obliged to
him for what he has done for me over the past decade, I hardly know how to express my gratitude. Perhaps I’ll start with the Millennium Dome. Remember how it kept us amused for so long trying to guess what it was for; well worth the best part of a billion spent on it and the couple of million a month it’s cost us since. I’ve heard it’s going to be sold to some nice American friend of Mr Prescott who is going to have some chums around for a little roulette. I do hope so. I wonder if anyone ever did guess what it was for. Tony has given me such pleasure over the years. The endless game of musical ministers was always a delight. As soon as one minister was eventually forced to resign in disgrace, he or she would run around to the back door, come in again and before you could say ‘Grace and Favour’ be back as a minister once more. The eventual loser would be the one who couldn’t find a ministerial desk and was shunted off to a million pound sinecure in Brussels. I don’t think there was one minister in the original 1997 cabinet who didn’t join in - what a lot of sports they all were. They certainly showed up the last lot who could only manage a few brown envelopes and a freebie weekend in the Paris Ritz. Tony left that lot at the starting tape, with free holidays all over the world, especially with that hospitable Mr Berlesconi, who I’m told did so much for Italian democracy and Italian actresses.

Closer to home we owe Tony still more. He has advanced the cause of women’s rights enormously by raising up all those delightfully identical women ministers. It is a great pillar on his legacy. Despite their incompetence being only exceeded by their ability to patronise and the fact that they all appeared to have been cloned by aliens in an artificial limb factory, they have decorated the political horizon like stench pipes at a toxic waste disposal plant.

On a more personal level I owe thanks to my leader for the extra care I now take with my appearance. Now that I know I can be photographed and filmed up to three hundred times, as soon as I pop a metatarsal over my threshold, I never go out without a top hat, spats, plus fours and my malacca cane. You’ve probably seen me queuing in Lidls. It’s the least I can do to repay Tony for all the trouble he has gone to, to create his 1984 theme park throughout our country. There is so much else that I need to hank him for. No longer do I have to face overcrowded train journeys unable to find a seat, because now, I can no longer afford to buy a ticket. And I am far less likely nowadays to be stabbed in the street, because I can no longer go out, as I have to stay in to save up for the monthly council tax bill. But then again I do save a lot on my dental costs as I can’t find a dentist.

There are so many boons and benefits under Tone. I have been driving since just after the man with the red flag no longer needed to walk in front of me. Down these motorised decades I have never had an accident or committed a traffic offence. Well no more do I need to rely on my intelligence, now all I need is a roadside flashing eye to dictate to me. Another burden lifted off me by Tone’s compassionate hand. Oh and there was education, education, education. How excited we were with all the reforms, which were then themselves reformed, replaced, cancelled, reintroduced and reformed again. I know your tuition fees have cost me over £10,000 in the last decade, but it has all been worth it, as now nearly 75% of 11 year olds can almost read. You have also removed a great worry from my student debt-ridden children. Allowing people to borrow as much as they can stuff inside a pantechnicon, has meant that house prices are so far out of my offsprings’ grasp that they will never have the bother of finding a home. Neither will they be troubled by the crumbling family bungalow, when I have finally laid down my quill, as they will have to sell it to pay Tony’s Inheritance Tax. So many worries lifted.

You had such a skill at doubling our taxation and using our money Tone, that it left us gasping with admiration. Your ability to spend our money incompetently, inefficiently and prodigally could not be matched. Every time you computerised to modernise it cost us billions. From air traffic control and identity cards to the NHS and everything in between. Some say it would have been better if you had just stuffed our money down a sperm whale’s blow hole, or thrown it out of a Tiger Moth while looping the loop over the channel in a north westerly, or used it to make a papier mâché model of Hemel Hempstead, but not me. I was entranced by all the jolly capers.

The new licensing laws that cost licensees 10 times more to do exactly the same as they had done before, the pointless farrago of £600 compulsory house surveys (as if any buyer would rely on one) and 30,000 doctors without jobs to go to all kept me rolling with mirth. I seemed to be falling continuously down Alice’s rabbit hole. I can’t believe Tone, you won’t be here for me any more. As a parting gift you have so generously spent 10 million of my money on trying to stop me having my evening glass of Moldovan Claret.

I’ll always be here for you Tony. Even when they come to arrest you for taking money from wannabe peers, or when they drag you off to the International Court of Justice as a war criminal or when the truth comes out about that awkward Dr Kelly who knew too much, I’ll still be here for you Tony. I know there is absolutely no substance to any of these wild accusations. Even if there were Tone, I am sure you could spin your way out of them like a king size spider and get it all sown up with a friendly report from a hand-picked lord. And if the worst comes to the ultimate worst, I shall still be here for you Tone, contributing to your two grand a week pension, until for one of us, the joke is finally over.

By Curmudgeon

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Tour de France Hits Canterbury  

Here is the best Tour de France picture that my poor little phone could manage. By contrast, Canterbury Council did an absolutely splendid job of organising the event. They even managed to arrange sunshine - these guys are WELL connected!

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My favourite brand....  

Spotted in Thais R Us, Canterbury

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Only in Britain...  

Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, "We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house."
(The Daily Telegraph)

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The Fall of Tone  

Well, that slimeball Blair has finally gone, and with him has gone the vitriol-powered engine that has fuelled a good proportion of this blog. All I can wish for now is that Blair's new career as Middle East "peace envoy" comes to a violent and ironic end at the hands of one of the gunmen or bombers that he has helped to create. It would be a fitting and neat end to the whole sordid disaster that was the Blair era. But...I can't help feeling we won't be that lucky: While countless thousands lay dead in Iraqi mortuaries, and the lives of hundreds of UK citizens are bound to be ruined as a direct result of Blair's folly, the man himself will doubtless avoid any kind of retribution for his many crimes.

The thing that is most annoying about the coronation of Brown is that he hasn't done anything to upset me yet. I was all ready to launch into a campaign of righteous indignation about having a new leader foisted on us, when lo and behold, he actually does something that makes sense - i.e. deciding it should be parliament and not the premier that decides whether we go to war in future. Firstly, I was surprised that this seemed to be top of Brown's "to-do" list, but more so I was appalled to realise that such a move was actually necessary. I had always thought that we lived in a parliamentary democracy, but it appears I was wrong. Anyway, if you're reading this Mr. Brown, don't get carried away with the idea that I think you're in anyway a decent sort of bloke. Nevertheless, one small step back down the road to democracy can't be a bad thing.

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