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CicLAvia Westisde 2015

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CicLAvia “started as a grassroots initiative in 2008 as the outgrowth of discussions held by a number of individuals who recognized that open streets events could address active transportation, urban land use and public health needs in Los Angeles.” They also describe themselves as a group that “catalyzes vibrant public spaces, active transportation and good health through car-free streets.” What this translates into is periodically CicLAvia closes off car access to certain key neighborhoods throughout LA: Downtown, Pasadena, the Valley, and most recently, the “Westside”. CicLAvia closed down a substantial stretch of Venice Blvd, from downtown Culver City all the way to the beach, ending in Windward Circle in Venice.

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Unfortunately, transportation by bicycle isn’t very practical in LA: the distances are far, theres no rail system (yet), the weather is extremely hot, and the traffic particularly intense. In light of these facts, it is good to see an organization that aims to counter this hindrances to the bicycle lifestyle.

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What other organization you know of aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve and promote health, and stimulate the local economy? Im sure there’s quite a few that do this actually, but the cool thing about CicLAvia is that it accomplishes these noble and lofty goals simply by getting people to ride their bicycles.

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My particular trip started in Mar Vista, which is my neighborhood. Sunday just happens to be when Mar Vista has its famous Farmers Market, and the CicLAvia course ran right though it. With CicLAvia happening, the normally sleepy open air market turned into a carnival. It was a pedestrian only zone, slowing the pace down a bit and making it a good place to get off your bike, find some shade and get something to eat and drink.

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I hadn’t ridden my mountain bike in months, and the tire in back was extremely low. Thankfully the local Mar Vista Bike Co-op bikerowave had their tent up and running, repairing bikes for free! All I needed was a bicycle pump, but people were getting brake jobs, spokes repaired, tires aligned, you name it. This place was very impressive, and right on Venice Blvd.

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After the Farmers Market I joined the masses careening down Venice Blvd. on our bicycles. I’ve done numerous “critical mass” or “bike gatherings” before, but this by far was the largest. By the time I got to Lincoln and Venice, the surreal nature of the event kicked in. One of the busiest intersections, if not the busiest, intersection in LA was being completely taken over by bicyclists. This was a moment that I felt was more than worthy of capturing.

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In a city that famously let it’s rail car system be bought by Firestone tires and shutdown, it is pleasingly ironic to see the City taking an active role in public transportation. In fact the old rail lines are being reinstalled as I type this, and soon it may be practical to use a bicycle to traverse the city because there will be a public transportation system that supports it.

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CicLAvia drew an incredible number of cyclists out on the streets. In fact I noted several times how it felt just like LA traffic, with the sheer number of people involved. The irony that there is still traffic even when people ride their bikes is easily countered by the fact that there are this many people who are interested in getting outdoors and living a more active lifestyle. Hopefully with continued popularity we will see more and more of this cool events, whether there is traffic or not!

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Next up on the event schedule for CiclAvia is going to be on October 18th, in downtown LA, or “the Heart of LA. Heart of LA will have six miles for participants to explore by bike, foot, skateboard, wheelchair and other non-motorized traffic. The route will take people through Boyle Heights, the Arts District, Little Tokyo, Civic Center, Chinatown, Historic Core and as far west as Macarthur Park.” This marks the 5th year anniversary of this program, and I look forward to participating with the masses and getting out and exploring this historic city at the pace of a cruisey bike ride.

Instructorship at the Inosanto Academy

I feel extremely privileged to have been able to train at the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in Los Angeles California for the past 5 years. Recently, I have attained Associate Instructorship Level 1 at the Inosanto Academy in Kali and Jeet Kun Do, and I received my Black Ikat from Guro Dan in Silat as well.

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This event marks the greatest personal achievement I have ever attained. I am very honored to train under the famous Guro Dan Inosanto for as long as I have, and to continue to do so. He is an amazing thinker, who’s scope of study and experience goes far beyond the movements of Martial Arts; Guro Dan is a scholar of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Education. Through his eyes, and by his example, I have learned how inter-disciplinary Martial Arts is, and the myriad of benefits it can bring to an individual.

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This video I made with two of my training partners from the Academy. It aims to demonstrate the variety and depth of knowledge in Martial Arts I was able to gather in the past five years. It shows me demonstrating the arts of Filipino Kali, Indonesian Silat, Thai Boxing, and Jeet Kun Do. I learned far more than just movements and self-defense at the Academy, but this is an example of the self-defense techniques I did learn. _/|\_

“The Highest Form of Learning is Teaching”

As a martial artist, there comes a point in your path when simply taking classes is no longer sufficient to progress your training. In order to fully progress from student to master, there is usually an interim phase were one must be a student AND a teacher at the same time. Guro Dan Inosanto, my teacher in so many ways, often quotes Socrates, saying “the highest form of learning is teaching.” These words always made sense to me, and I naturally agreed with the idea, but I never really knew what it truly meant, until I started teaching.

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I had the privilege of teaching a women’s self-defense program at The New High School Project, in Monterey, CA. TNHSP is a very unique learning environment; it is an independent high school that specializes in teaching children with Learning Differences such as Dyslexia, ADHD, and Autism. I myself have Dyslexia and ADHD, and I went through extensive after school programs to help me learn simple things like reading and writing. I, like many people with a Learning Difference, don’t learn these skills the same way as most people do. As an adult, I have learned many things through martial arts that made me say to myself, “I wish I knew this when I was a kid!” So I tried to take these techniques and ideas that I think are helpful for those with a Learning Difference, and tie them into my women’s self-defense program.

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We covered two martial arts in the women’s self-defense class, Jan Fun Gung Fu and Filipino Kali. Jan Fun Gung Fu is a style of fighting developed by Sijo Bruce Lee, my teacher’s teacher. It is a very utilitarian and street oriented system of fighting. It has very straight forward fighting concepts like western boxing and low groin kicks, but Sijo Bruce also added a lot of Wing Chun, a martial art developed by a Chinese nun. Wing Chun is one of the very few martial arts that was developed by a woman, and it’s techniques are ideal for close quarter combat and self-defense, naturally. One of the hallmarks of Wing Chun is “hand immobilization”, basically trapping someone’s arm or hand in a pre-emptive move so that they cannot attack you. I taught some of these hand immobilizations techniques, but also how to counter hand immobilization as well.

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No self-defense system is complete without some kind of offense, so I taught them the finer details of the eye jab! A poke to the opponents eyes really is the easiest and safest way to defend one self, but it must be in self defense. Using this technique to assault someone is a serious crime, as it should be. All the ladies at TNHSP fully understood this, however, and I was happy to teach them some life survival skills.

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Towards the end of the class, I taught them Filipino Kali. Kali is a mother art of various Filipino Martial Arts. It involves literally every form of combat imaginable: spears, swords, shields, daggers, punching, kicking, grappling, trapping and wrestling. For this class however, I stuck to the basic double rattan stick training method. This is the first fighting modality that people learn in Kali; out of all the vast choices, two rattan sticks is first. The reason for this is that the rattan sticks are excellent tools for performing various coordination and attribute development drills.

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In Kali, the emphasis isn’t on learning techniques first, but in developing the practitioners attributes so that they can adequately execute the techniques. This is atypical compared to most martial arts, that mostly focus on techniques through repetition. In Kali, the focus is on attribute development through repetition. Ambidexterity is a prized asset in the martial art world, and Kali is one of the few martial arts that actively develops this attribute. By using both hands simultaneously and in conjunction with each other, you’re increasing the brains ability to use both hemispheres of the brain. This activity will increase the hemispheres abilities to communicate with each other, which is a valuable attribute for dyslexics in particular to have. So I snuck in a little bit of cognitive training while developing the students’ attributes such as coordination, dexterity, and sensitivity.

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This was a very rewarding experience for me as a student, and for me as a teacher. I realized that you really don’t know something until you can teach it to someone else, and than unfortunately you can become so self-aware that you realize you are making so many mistakes that previously had gone unnoticed. And than you realize that there may be a million other things that you’re probably missing, and than you get anxiety because you no longer have a hold on things like you thought you did. And than it all becomes clear, again, and the wise words still echo in your head, “the highest form of learning is teaching…”

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Tai Chi with Liping at Tassajara Zen Center

After such a wonderful initial trip, I decided to return to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center the first chance I got, which was the beginning of the Guest Season in May. I signed up for a week long retreat, studying Tai Chi with lay monk and Tai Chi Master Liping. A week at Tassajara is an ambitious feat: no electricity, no cell service, no contact with the outside world at all. When you are at Tassajara, your are AT Tassajara. But, after all, that is the point…

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Although I was eager to get back in touch with the world by the end of the week, I throughly enjoyed my week long stay there, and made many personal discoveries. It truly is a wonderful place for contemplation and self exploration. As far as I can tell, that’s what Zen Buddhism is about. Abbot Myogen told me once, “Just sit, and see what happens. See where your mind takes you…”. So even though I was there to learn Tai Chi and study Zen, ultimately I was there to “inquire within”.

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Tucked away throughout the grounds are numerous alcoves and nooks for people to sit down, relax, contemplate, read or just simply observe.

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I had numerous spots that I frequented while I was here, but my favorite was a flat stone down by the creek that meanders it’s way along the Monastery’s grounds.

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Many of the guest quarters are built along the creek as well, which has been a home for humans since prehistory.

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These hollowed out holes in the stone were used by Native Americans to grind acorns into mush that they would eat as their main staple.

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The love and care that has been put into making Tassajara what it is today is palpable. This handmade walk way leading to the Zendo from the Monks quarters is a piece of art in itself. Observe how each piece of wood was independently measured and cut to make a smooth a sinuous path that leads to the Zendo.

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All over the grounds there are small pieces of art that act as functional pieces of the Monastery: A dead Sycamore tree turned into bench seating, tiny shrines tucked away in obscure places, everywhere are small details some Zen monk took the time to create with care.

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The entrance to the Monastery.

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One of the several gardens on the Monastery grounds.

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Another great reading nook to take a book, or to just sit and observe.

The Tai Chi retreat was an amazing experience. Liping is a Chinese national who immigrated to the US almost 20 years ago. She lived at the San Francisco Zen Center, studying Buddhism, for over ten years. During her time in the US, she has been a practicing Zen Monk, as well as a practitioner of holistic Chinese medicine. Liping is a very unique individual indeed: a native practitioner of Chinese medicine and arts, but also a devotee of Japanese Buddhism.

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Liping demonstrates a Tai Chi sword form.

She has taught numerous Tai Chi retreats at Tassajara. The style of Tai Chi that she teaches is very rare, dating back all the way to the last royal family of China. Her style is known as Swimming Dragon Tai Chi, and it is known for it’s fluidity, grace, and athleticism.

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Liping, mid form, with students looking on.

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Liping performs while Phillip, her husband and also a Tai Chi Master, watches on and names the techniques Liping is demonstrating.

Tai Chi was a challenge for me because of how slow we were required to move. Tai Chi is very much an Internal art, but I saw numerous correlations to self defense, or “External Arts”. Swimming Dragon Tai Chi was developed by an Imperial General while he was held prisoner during the cultural revolution. It was designed to enhance and maintain physical attributes such as grace, strength, flexibility, and stamina. From some of the photos posted, you can easily see that this is the case.

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Liping getting grounded with Swimming Dragon Tai Chi.

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Effortless grace.

By the end of the week I became close friends with many of the participants at the Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Retreat. Everyone at the retreat, and at the Monastery in general, are extremely warm and inviting people. It is easy to make friends, but I was surprised at how many GOOD friends I made.

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The Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Class, Spring 2014.

As if learning the ancient art of Swimming Dragon Tai Chi with amazing people in an inspiring environment wasn’t enough, Master Liping asked me to teach a small workshop the last day of her retreat. I was, and still am, extremely honored to be asked to share my knowledge by such an esteemed master as Liping. It truly is an honor beyond words. I demonstrated various southeastern martial arts: Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai. All of these arts have a history of music, dance, meditation and ritual connected to them, similar to Tai Chi and it’s relationship to Kung Fu. So instead of showing the lethal our fanciful techniques of these arts, I decided to do a “Tai Chi Speed” demonstration of Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai.

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Urban Warrior_1 giving a short lecture on the Southeast Asian Martial Arts and their various elements, which includes meditation and restoration.

In the Indonesian art of Silat, they have what is called the Bua and the Bunga, or the fruit and the flower. The Bua, or the fruit, is the actual application of a technique, but the Bunga is the flowery presentation of the art. Just like the fruit and the flower can’t exist without each other, the external application and the internal practice of the art cannot be separated from each other. The Bunga will often be performed very slow and gracefully, with music accompaniment. This concept is very akin to Tai Chi and how it relates to the External Martial Arts of China.

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Yours truly, Urban Warrior_1, demonstrating a Hari Mau Silat technique.

In the Filipino art of Kali, there is something called Karenza, or “Dancing with the Wind.” In this practice, the Kali practitioner will often ask a question or seek guidance from God. Than the practitioner will practice Kali in the air, visualizing opponents and attacks, but also entering a meditative state through motion. Often they will dance with their shadow from candlelight or the moon. After a certain amount of time of moving meditation, the practitioner will find a solution to the problem that they face. This practice, although Filipino, bares striking resemblance to Tai Chi and the other Internal Arts of Asia.

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Karenza at Tassajara, an honor beyond words.

In Thailand, Muay Thai has been the warrior art for centuries, if not millennia. All warrior arts have an internal element, a time for the warrior to turn inwards, refelct and be introspective, heal and recuperate, and Muay Thai is no different. In Thailand they have what is call “Wai Kru”. It is a ritualistic dance that today is practiced by combatants before a Muay Thai fight. It symbolizes what camp you are from, part of your history, your connection with God, and your confidence and ability as a Warrior. Essentially it is a war dance. Again, it is practiced very slowly, much like Karenza or the Bua.

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Demonstrating “Wai Kru”

Lifestyle: The Intangibles of Life

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(photo of pro surfer Dane Reynolds, enjoying the intangibles of life.)

As I was out in the water surfing the other day, I reflected on how much more enjoyable a surf session is to spending time at my home gym. Whereas time in the gym is all about quantifying things, (minutes, reps, sets, pounds, etc.) surfing has no quantifiable outcomes attached to it. Surfing, like any adventurous outdoor activity, is a lifestyle more than a sport. It is a lifestyle that revolves not around a goal or a particular outcome, but a constant search for an ever elusive, ever changing, and always fleeting phenomenon: the wave.

Try to focus on your health and wellness “lifestyle”, not just focusing on your weight or your waistline or any singular and specific goal. Lifestyle encapsulates all the intangibles in life. Pay more attention to the little things, and less attention to specific goals, such as “loosing 5 pounds.” Enjoy activities that are social, that are outdoors, that bring you enjoyment beyond simple exercise or being fit.

The website for “Marine Layer Productions”, written and maintained by world renowned professional surfer Dane Reynolds, is a great example of the recreational lifestyle of surfing. Dane is considered one of the best surfers to ever ride a wave, but his focus has steered further and further away from the monetized, corporate, professional contests that can dominate the surfing industry. In recent years he has put more and more attention towards promoting a lifestyle; his production company, Marine Layer Productions, is the home for his thoughts and imaginings. The site is worth a perusal, to say the least.

Check out Dane Reynolds’ vlog site

www.marinelayerproductions.com/

And here is a clip of Dane Reynolds movie, Slow Dance, featuring Craig “Ando” Anderson. Both of these amazing athletes have turned their backs on the competitive nature of professional surfing, and have instead decided to be ambassadors of surfing culture

Also, check out this movie starring Dane and Ando, Dinner for Deux.

Capoeira Documentary: New Generations

Urban Warrior Academy presents New Genereations, a documentary on the history and modern evolution of Capoeira Regional.

Mestre Nenel has dedicated his life to preserving and spreading the rich cultural tradition that his father, Mestre Bimba, created. Mestre Bimba was responsible for the legalization of capoeira in Brazil, and he opened the first capoeira school in Sao Salvador Bahia in 1932. Filmed over a three day period at the Inauguration of the first Capoeira Regional School in the US, in Oakland CA.

http://capoeirabayarea.com/

Recreation: Surfing

One of my favorite past times is surfing. Being in the ocean is a great break from the noisy and busy world that we find ourselves running around in.

Surfing exists in a world without numbers, without letters, without words. It is simply the ocean and you. Of course it is fun to be with others in the water as well, but ultimately surfing is a simple sport that involves only you, the ocean, and its waves. Because of it’s simplicity and closeness to nature, surfing can be a very meditative art as well.

Even if you can’t surf, spending time by the ocean is truely a time tested cure to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. The ocean helps you to truly relax. Try it and let me know what you think!

Capoeira: Legendary Mestre Suassuna

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Reinaldo Ramos Suassuna, or Mestre Suassuna as he is known by thousands of students worldwide, is arguably the most famous capoeira master alive today. Mestre Suassuna was born in Itabuna, Bahia in 1938. At a young age, a doctor recommended to Suassuna that he started training capoeira due to an ailment in his legs. Mestre Suassuna trained with most of the legendary capoeira masters of the time: Mestre Bimba, Mestre Waldemar, Mestre Canjiquinha, and Mestre Pastinha.

Mestre Suassuna founded the world famous capoeira organization Grupo Cordao de Ouro. Known for his friendly demeanor, humor, musical ability, and capoeira prowess, Mestre Suassuna truly is a living legend. Always playful, often mischievous, Mestre Suassuna is a joy to be around and to train under. If you ever have a chance to see him live at a seminar near your area, do so, you will not regret it!

This is a clip of Mestre Suassuna singing a song composed by his close friend, Mestre Accordeon.

This clip exemplifies the playfulness that capoeira can embody, with a capoeira game between two famous and venerated masters, Mestres Brasilia and Suassuna. Bear in mind both of these masters are in their 70′s! Capoeira is an excellent art form that will keep your legs, core and upper body all in great shape, as well as promoting full range of motion in all your joints. There are no old capoeiristas.

Recreation: Greens eggs and waves…

Today started off with farm fresh eggs, as in straight from an 11-acre-ranch-that-has-25-chickens kind of eggs. Each egg had a different color and size, they even had different shapes. Some shells were tougher to crack than others, and they obviously came from different breeds of chickens as well.

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I fried them on the skillet at a medium temp with non-soy Earth Balance. Now the flavor, texture, and color of these can’t be over exaggerated. The health benefits of free range eggs aside, they make a fine tasty breakfast! There are however documented studies that prove farm eggs are more nutritious than store bought eggs. So if you have the ability, find a rancher or farmer in your area and ask them if you can buy some eggs. Usually $5 a dozen is a fair price. And don’t forget you don’t need to refrigerate them.

After the amazing breakfast I got to paddle out into the ocean and catch some of the North-West Swell that came through California this MLK Jr. Weekend. The waves were very big for LA standards, a foot or two overhead at times, but they weren’t breaking too well and were mostly big close-outs. It was great fun and exercise getting out into the ocean though, and the cold water is invigorating. Being in cold conditions is good for your circulatory system.

Capoeira Angola

Capoeira is a great martial art that increases your bodies attributes, such as balance, coordination, agility, core and leg strength, timing and rhythm. It is a great way to increase your range of motion and flexibility as well. Capoeira Angola is a traditional form of Capoeira that emphasizes stylized movements and expression, as well as guile and trickery, over flashy kicks and brute strength.  A style of capoeira that is very richly steeped in history and culture, Capoeira Angola also has an elaborate percussion ensemble that produces beautiful hypnotic music.

If this looks remotely interesting to you, than look for Capoeira classes in your area today! Capoeira must be seen first hand in order to be truly appreciated.