Thursday, June 30, 2005

Day 4: By special demand, The Beer Wall

Ever since i got my first apartment, I've kept a bottle from any alcoholic beverages (usually beer) that I buy and consume at home. About once a year or so, I take a picture of the collection that has built up. I figure its a good conversation piece plus its a great way to track how my tastes have changed with time. Here's what two different years look like.

June 2004

This was a crappy picture I took with a camera phone. From left to right, we have

A bottle of port (can't remember which brand)
This I bought as a graduation giftfor a couple of close friends. It was just sitting there until I took it over.

Dos Equis
A decent mexican import. A step above Corona but not quite at the lofty heights that others in the collection acheve in terms of taste. When I can't find the stuff I really want it makes a good substitute.

Jim Beam bottled Jack&Coke
In my defence, I had guests coming over when I bought a six pack of that and the Jack Daniels version two bottles over. That being said, they weren't bad. Since all drinking activities at home don't involve me getting drunk they are a good substitute for days you don't feel like a beer.

Goya Malta
Not alcoholic, just something I enjoy drinking. One of the side benefits of always living in the 'ethnic' parts of town is that I've never had issues finding stores that carry 10 different brands of the stuff. My favourite remains Malta Guiness, which is pretty hard to find outside of speciality African stores.

Aah, Heineken, the default import beer of choice for most people who actuallylike to drink beer, instead of chugging it in the hopes of getting drunk before you fill up. Incidentally, why do people do that. If you're trying to get drunk as fast as possible, take shots of the strongest liquor you can find. If you actually like to taste what you drink, find a good beer. Anyway, back to heineken. For a long time this was my beer of choice until it was unseated by another beer on that rack, which was in turn unseated by a beer on this year's rack.

In my early beer drinking days, before I knew any better, I was a huge fan. Now its something I only but reluctantly for mixed company. I guess I've run across so much better that's its been steadily falling down the ladder.

This beer is currently tied with Spaten Premium (no pictures, sorry) as my favourite beer when I don't want something darker. Great tasting, but unfortunately fairly hard to find. I used to shop at a Trader Joe's that carried them. Great way to unwind.

Smirnoff Ice
This, I'll admit to buying for myself. I like the taste, so sue me.

So that was last year. Since then I've been drinking even less (those were accumulated over an entire year) and have developed a taste for darker beers. Which brings us to this year's much shorter list

June 2005

As you can tell, I've been drinking very little of late. Also, Flavour has become more imortant to me, hence the shift to darker beers. From right to left, we have

Mike's Hard Lemonade
This is part of a set my brother gave me for helping him move out of his apartment. He didn't have any space so I got them. I must admit to liking the taste though.

Dos Equis Amber
A decent dark beer. If I can't find the other two to the left of it, it makes a reasonable substitute. It does, however, fall a little short in the taste department.

Negra Modelo
My favourite mexican beer and second favourite dark beer. The name and bottle alone are distinctive enough to get it noticed and it tastes great in addition,

Spaten Optimator
My absolute favourite beer on the planet. Nothing out there that I've run across beats the taste of this German dark beer. Apparently Its a product of the first brewery ever established in Munich and honestly it shows. If you're any kind of fan of darker beers, you owe it to yourself to try this. Between it and a good book or movie, any stresses in your life can be handled.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Day 3: Library books

I finally got a library card today. Its sad that I've been living in Newark for almost a year and it took me this long. Pretty much every place I've lived I have spent a little too much time in libraries. The Newark library is a little weird. For one thing its obviously underfunded when compared to other American libraries I have seen. Since I have some time on my hands this week, This is what I picked up

1. Richard K. Morgan - Broken Angels(already done)

I read his first book 'Altered Carbon' maybe a year ago and was really intrigued by the basic idea of a world where immortality can be bought and people's digitized consciousness transferred across space to be downloaded into engineered bodies. This is the second in the series, keeping the same main character Takeshi Kovacs, sort of an interplanetary mercenary, and using him to explore another world. I need to find the rest of this series. I enjoy them

2. Ursula K. LeGuin - The Left Hand of Darkness

As a long time fan of both science fiction and Ursula Leguin, I am ashamed to admit that I have not fully read this book *collective gasp from the crowd*. Yes people, I have revealed to you my secret shame . I must now resign from the society of sci-fi biblioholics until I finish this book. Especially since it popularly considered her best work.

3. Samuel R. Delany - Trouble on Triton

Continuing with my aim to read everything Delany has ever written, I will finish another of his works this week. Hope its good

4. Mat Johnson - Hunting in Harlem

I first became aware of him when he started writing the Papa Midnight Comicbook series. Generelly speaking, I liked his writing so i decided to check out his books. I'll let you know how it goes.

5. Rayvon Fouche - Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation

This book follows the lives and achievements of three black inventors ion the 1800's/early 1900's and chronicles their inventions and the setbacks they faced. As a physicist/tinkerer I enjoy this kinds of stories.

6. Terry Pratchett - Monstrous Regiment

Perhaps the only pratchett book I haven't read. I am really looking forward to this, especially since his writing has yet to disappoint me

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Day Two: Kwasi's martial arts past (part 2)

When we left off, I had just given up on the Aikido club since it became the refuge of people who either wanted to play at being Japanese (asiaphiles, really sad people) or just wanted to sound cool by telling people they were learning Aikido. Both groups were experts at whining over the least bit of discomfort and so they gradually sucked out any semblance of hard training from the group so a bunch of us left.

It just so happened that around this time, a little group calling itself OMAI (Oberlin Martial Arts Initiative, horrible name I know) was looking for new members. It was more of a free sharing space where people from dozens of different backgrounds hung out, trained together and taught each other stuff. I'll call the two guys who ran the group poser and sifu. Poser was just that, the worst example of a martial arts poser I have ever met. Imagine someone who'd read hundreds of books and gone to a few seminars but had no real steady experience outside of a couple of barfights acting as though he was an expert and you'll have a good idea. Basically Mushtaq minus all his life experiences and everything else that makes him interesting. Sifu, on the other hand, is the real deal. When I met him, he was a black belt in American kempo, a senior student at a close by kajukenbo school and had years of misc. training in longfist and excrima(his mother's family is Filipino). As of now, He's a second dan in kenpo, first in kajukenbo, a BJJ blue belt and just opened up a school in a suburb outside New Your City. I apparently have free sparring priviledges any time I want to pass by.

Among the people who trained there were the aikido refugees, refugees from the karate club and people with backgrounds in japanese and brazillian jujitsu, hung gar, tai chi, wing chin, jkd concepts, hapkido and muay thai. We worked lots of basics, learned some forms and spent a air amount of time sparring under several different rulesets. Everything from grappling to sticks to rubber knives to clinch work. It was hard and sometimes brutal but great fun. Eventually we got rid of poser and the club lost a couple of less motivated people, which was fine with the rest of us. I stuck with them for the rest of my college years. Some people came and went but it remained a pretty solid group where i learned a lot. In that time, we had a fairly well known capoiera teacher come through and then a brazillian foreign exchange student who had been training since childhood so I took the opportunity to pick up a decent amount of both capoera regional and angola. I plan to get back to it some day.

After college I was inactive for a while then I moved to NJ to live with my brother, look for a job and decide what I wanted to do with my life. There, by a weird turn of events I ended up studying dachengquan, northern mantis and hsing-yi with the teacher I am currently returning to. His main focus was on breath and alignment so we spent hours in standing and moving meditation. In his opinion, what separated styles were differences in 'flavor' and combat philosophy. The ability to remain calm, maintain proper alignment and generate power through intergrating breath and movement was the true skill to aim for regardless of the style you practiced. His methods seemed to work for me, so I see no reason not to stick to them for now.

Anyway, I ended up going back to Cleveland for a year during which time all sorts of weird stuff happened in the family and I hit a brick wall with regards to training and school. Now I'm slowly getting back into the game. As far as objectives go, I want to learn as much as I can and get better control of my body and mind. Plus I really want to get in more competition practice while I'm still young enough so getting banged up is not an issue. Now that Mushtaq is relatively close, I might drive or take the train up that way sometime so he can toss me around a little. I'm also paying close attention so Scott Sonnon's work since people I hold in high regard hold him in high regard.

I'll probably talk about specific training in my fitness post coming sometime this week.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Day one: Kwasi's history with the Martial arts (Part 1)

The post that plunged me into full scale writer's block. This is going to involve parts of my childhood which weren't necessarily pleasant, hence the reason I have been finding any and all reasons not to post on it. Its a good thing I told people it was coming, otherwise I'd duck it today too. The story starts from waay before I ever began seriously training. I could skip ahead, but then you'd be missing a large chunk of the story and the stuff in my head I'm trying to flush out, which is one of the purposes of this blog.

This story starts with me entering junior secondary school (junior high for the Americans). I skipped two classes in primary school so I was probably one of the smallest kids in an incoming class of about 300 people, and I was one of the smarter kids too, which really didn't help things. Suffice it to say that bu the time my three years were up, I had learned how to run, take a punch and keep my mouth shut. By the time I left I had made enough bigger friends so people left me alone. I had also learned a very important lesson. It doesn't matter if you are the more rational or the one with better ideas if the other guy can still just beat you up. Pacifism is nice but it only works if everyone does it. In the real world, some people choose to be predators and unless you have the means to fight them off, you always run the risk of being prey. Therefore, for me, one of the purposes of all my MA training has always been effectiveness.

From junior high I tested into a fairly exclusive private secondary school. Switching educational systems dropped me back a year so I was closer in age to my peers, though still the youngest. Since puberty kicked in late for me, I was still one of the smaller people and still one of the smarter ones, so the cycle repeated itself. At that point I was also really physically and socially awkward. I barely had enough confidence to look anyone in the face, which didn't help matters any. Things got better, I found friends. learned how to avoid most of those who didn't like me and just blend in. Puberty hit, I shot up a couple of inches and got tired of being a target. I started reading every thing I could on martial arts and exercising like crazy. In my last year there, one of my tormentors caught me on a bad day, I lost it and slammed him into a concrete post. Not particularly something I'm proud of, but it got me some peace once people realized I was strong enough to fight back. I got tested a couple of more times but generally people started to let me be.

The insecurity and anger from those days is something I still carry around these days. The reason I wanted to learn martial arts was partly some kind of Charles Atlas type fantasy of being able to confront my tormentors and beat the crap out of them. In my head I knew that was the wrong attitude to have but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a part of me wanted an excuse to be violent, preferably in defence of myself or someone else, so I wouldn't feel as weak or as frail. Somewhere inside me there's still a little kid scared of the bigger people around him and looking for a reason to lash out. In someways I've gotten past that need, in other ways I haven't.

So, what did I actually study? Well, in college it started with Aikido. I suspect one of the reasons I started there was my better nature looking for a less outwardly violent way to deal with my fears. Either that or Steven Segal movies. In the winter term of my freshman year I was signed up for two 2 hour classes a day, six days a week. Oberlin has a pretty old club that is affiliated with the Cleveland Aikikai, which was ironically founded by Oberlin alumni. That winter they were hosting a travelling sensei whose name I'm ashamed to say I can't remember. He was my first real teacher. His focus was heavily on basics. Hundreds of rolls and falls daily and long hours of randori where he stressed moving from your center, remaining mobile at all times and 'blending' with your opponents force. He was also pretty open to the use of atemi as set ups for throws and locks. It was long hours of fairly intense work and I loved it. After winter term he moved on and was replaced by a series of instructors from Cleveland or the school club. The quality of training fell quickly as the club became more and more accomodating of people who wanted to say they were doing aikido without actually doing any hard work. I pretty much left the club at this point. I continued to train with them on and off because I was friends with those in charge, but it got too 'nice' for me.

Part 2 of the story tomorrow kids, plus a special post on one of my favourite topics, Beer

Summer preview

I've been having a wierd case of writer's block recently. One single post has been taking me almost a week to get out. I suspect this is because of the emotions attached to the parts of my past I'll be exploring. To try and get out of it, I'm just going to set myself a schedule and make sure I spend at least half an hour a day doing nothing but blogging. That means I need topics. I plan to do this for at least a week so lets assume a minimum of 7, maybe more. Depending on how this goes, I might just stick to a regular daily schedule.

Anyway, the topics you will be reading about this week include:

Martial arts
For something that has been (and is rapidly becoming again) a large part of my life, I'm very hesitant to talk about it in public. This is actually the post that caused my writers block. Hopefully being open about it here will help deal with its associated demons from my past. Plus, a large chunk of my active readership are people who have so much more experience than I do. I need to pick their minds more.

My parents are in town and as usual, it is proving interesting. They just recently started treating me as an adult, which is so incredibly wierd and gratifying all at once. My father will be here for a week where I will have a flexible enough schedule to spend most of it with him. I expect that there will be some passing off fatherly advice over dark beer.

Book Review
I just finished reading Minister Faust's "The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad". Actually, I finished it almost a week ago. Loved it. Geeky and bohemian. I'll definitly be looking forward to his next book.

Another topic I'm learning to be more open about. I don't know where this one will go. I'm open to questions or suggestions though

The workout plan
This has seen some changes, and will probably see more as I learn more about my body and exercise science in general. I'll just outline my fitness/dietary goals and where I am now.

I'll probably come up with more stuff. I can usually find something to talk about. All questions and suggestions are appreciated. Help me help myself people.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins

Batman Begins

I've seen this movie twice since opening day. Once by myself and again with the geek crew (two of my brother's friends, both engineers and comic book geeks). I can honestly say its tied with Spider Man for best comic book movie. Then again, I'm biased.

Batman has always been my favourite comic book character, followed closely by Spider Man. Its really not that hard to understand why if you've ever met me. Batman has no powers. He's just a normal man who has developed his mind and his body to the absolute best of their potential. Granted, he's an emotional cripple, but he still represents the potential inherent in a trained, disciplined body and mind to accomplish great things. Kind of the reason I've always been a fan.

Sidenote: How many times is Morgan Freeman going to have to take a minor character and make him into someone memorable before hollywood gets the message that he deserves much bigger and better roles? Lucius Fox is a minor character at best in the comics. However, in the movie, he is transformed into someone as important to the story as Alfred, in no small part because of Mr. Freeman's acting skills

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tag, I'm it

I just picked up another meme courtesy of Mushtaq,

1. Total number of books I've owned:

Overall, between textbooks and stuff I bought for my own enjoyment, probably close to a thousand. I refuse to count comic books on the grounds that the total number would scare me

2. Last book I bought:

Non school or comic related,

Steve Perry - 'Black Steel'

Aaron Mcgruder, Reginald Hudlin and Kyle Baker - 'Birth of a Nation'

I bought them together

3. Last book I read:

Jess O'Brien - Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts : Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan, and Ba Gua Zhang

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:

(in no particular order)

Musashi - The Book of 5 Rings

David Eddings - Belgarath the Sorceror

Isaac Asimov - Caves of Steel

Ayi Kwei Armah - The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Richard Feynman - What Do You Care What Other People Think

I would pass this on to




Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Random 10

I have such a huge (and growing) music collection that these days unless I really feel like listening to something in particular, I use Amarok's '50 random songs' feature to decide what I'll be listening to. Its proving to be a great way to explore my collection. Since a couple of blogs I read feature 'random 10' lists, I figured, why not. So, my first 'random 10' list.

Sidenote: Amarok is easily the best media player I have seen on any OS. And its a Linux app! The future approaches.

1. Aaliyah - 4 Page Letter
2. Zero 7 - When It Falls
3. Thelonius Monk - Hornin'in (alt. take)
4. Santessa - Phased
5. Soul Position - Candyland pt. 3
6. Talib Kweli - I Try
7. Outkast - My Favourite Things
8. DJ Spinna - Surely
9. Maxwell - Everwanting: To Want You To Want
10. Floetry - Say Yes

Monday, June 06, 2005

Mr. Nice Guy

I spent a large chunk of this evening involved in a futile and somewhat irritating discussion on Okayplayer (which, incidentally takes up way too much of my spare time) on the issue of the idea that 'nice guys finish last'. This was an issue I had planned to discuss on this blog at some point. Since its fresh in my mind now, and I'm frustrated at people on both sides of the fence for refusing to own up to their side's complicity or consider points of view other than their own I figured, time to write it down so I can get it out of my system and sleep better. Here goes.

The complaint is that nice guys, here taken to be quieter, more soft spoken men who treat their women as human beings rather than ambulatory sex toys, generally lose out to the 'bad boys'. They are stereotypically louder, more arrogant and more inclined to treat their women with minimal amounts of respect. Now. my reasoning here may offend some men and women equally. If you are one of the offended, I apologize. I'm here to tell the truth as I see it. If you think I'm wrong anywhere, please feel free to call me on it. Last time I checked I was far from the ultimate authority on human interaction.

Lets start off with a bit of harsh truth. Both men and women generally make incredibly wrongheaded and idiotic decisions about love/dating/mating, usually due to blindly following societal standards without ever stopping to think through whether or not those standards make sense for them. Hypermasculine, arrogant men have always been put on a pedestal as the male ideal. Don't believe me? I invite you to spend time watching male images in television, movies, music or any other aspect of pop culture. Women have certain specific ideals of appropriate female appearance and behavior. Men follow the appropriate female image even when they either have no chance of obtaining said woman or would be unhappy with the result if they were to obtain said woman, a point I attempted to make in my 'know your audience' post. Women make exactly the same mistakes in the other direction, all going after the portrayed masculine ideal, with all the problems it embodies.

Basically the problem nice guys have is that we are not what pop culture considers manly, no way around that. Accept that you aren't cool in that way and probably never will be. Also, stop chasing the socially constructed ideal for a second and figure out what truly works for the person you are. If you don't like who you are, change or go into therapy to learn to love you. Whoever you end up as, look for who fits that person. Women, the same applies. If your last 5 boyfriends treated you like hell, you might want to take a step back, figure out why you want those men, who you are and which men actually make sense for you.

That being said, there is something nice guys need to do. In the immortal words of Denzel Washington, man the f$&% up. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance, between assertiveness and obnoxiousness. We tend to not be comfortable in who we are partly because we sense that we aren't 'sexy'. This lack of confidence hurts us. It keeps us from stepping honest with ourselves and women about who we are and what we want. I've been guilty of this more times than I'm comfortable admitting. Its something I'm still working on. Its something we all need to work on. At the end of the day, the only definitions of who we are that should matter are those we make for ourselves.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Black Comic book characters: Blackjack

Blackjack - Blood and Honor

For those of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning, my reasons for making a post, or series of posts even, on blacks in comic books will not be hard to understand. For the rest of you, take a look here. Incidentally, there will also be similar posts concerning science fiction and I still need to address the entire 'white male power fantasy' issue.

The subject of today's post is the gentleman in the picture above carrying a rather large gun, which he uses rather frequently throughout the book. He's Aaron Day, otherwise known as Blackjack. A soldier of fortune and explorer in the same pulp vein as Indiana Jones and Alan Quartermain, except he's also an educated, wealthy black man in the 1930's, with all the problems that brings. I own several Blackjack comic books but today we'll restrict ourselves to the 'Blood and Honor' graphic novel since, as far as I know, its the only one that's easily available.

In this book, Blackjack and his Chinese indentured servant(yep, you read that right) head to Japan and then China to protect the life of a Japanese minister against the more militant elements of his own government. In the middle of all the predictable violence. Aaron must also come to terms with the fact that he effectively owns another human being. There are several other subtexts to the book which I can't reveal without spoiling the book. I'll just assure you that it is action packed, really well drawn and deals with a lot of issues you will rarely ever find in comic books. If you get a chance, pick it up. you won't be disappointed.

Sidenote: Blackjack's writer, Alex Simmons, was responsible for the creation of Orpheus, the first compelling take I saw of a black character in a Batman book since Steven Barnes' 'Underground Railroad' story arc. Unfortunately every subsequent batman character had no idea what to do with him so he was depowered, shuffled aside and then killed off. An action that brought to an end my support of all bat-related titles besides Gotham Central and Gail Simone's run on Birds of Prey

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Keeping things in perspective

A couple of days ago, I was tolking to a lovely young lady (who shall remain nameless) when the topic of discussion ended up becoming my sense that I have been working below my pontential. I realized that a large part of that is my lack of perspective on my achievements.

I've developed this incredibly unhealthy habit of paying attention to my failures instead of my successes and letting them weigh me down. For instance, I'm working on getting myself back into fighting shape (bodyweight exercises, lots of basics and single movement work, standing meditation) and trying to study for my phd qualifiers. Increasingly, whenever I have a hard time getting started, miss a training session or miss a study session its because I'm remembering times when I failed to get things done in the past. I basically psych myself out by assuming that, since i messed up before I will again. This probably ties into the fact that I have never really been secure in my abilities. Why? well I could speculate on the reason but it wouldn't change the fact that I need to get used to the idea of paying attention to the things I do right and using my missteps/failures as learning tools instead of instruments to punish myself with.

In order to get here, I forged ahead and succeeded more times than I fell back and failed. I have worked long hours through serious hardship on my body, my mind and my soul. Somehow, I 've never really appreciated that part of me. That was a huge mistake I must now make an effort to rectify.

This also means that I have to learn how to let go of the fear of seeming arrogant that drives me to false modesty without simultaneously losing track of all I have left to do. True humulity isn't found in lying to everyone, including yourself, about what you are capable of. Instead it is found in being absolutely honest with yourself about all your strengths and weaknesses. Including those you are afraid to admit to yourself or to other people. Since I already know this, I just need to do it. But that discussion is for another post.