Break

Ok, so first thing is first:  A combination of my horrible work computer and WordPress caused my last post to be both late in posting and half completed.  I had written my last post before Christmas weekend and intended to post it then.  Also had I planned on writing more and the post was literally missing half its intended length. 

Snowboarding happened.  Have you ever had a start to something that makes you want to quit the proceedings before they even start?  That was my snowboarding adventure. 

I went down the last feet of the tiny bunny hill exactly once before my bindings broke.  So, I went over and got part of my bindings replaced at the lodge and trekked my way up to the middle of the bunny hill.  While lacing them up they broke again.  So, there I was about 45 minutes in to a 4 hour span of snowboarding; I had gone down about 10 feet of hill and had two broken bindings  to show for it.  I was not happy.  I finally ended up renting a different board and using that one for the day.  My bindings would actually break a third time while putting my snowboard back into the car. 

I bought a new bindings and snowboard the next day.

The girl also didn’t seem to grasp the idea of being completely new at snowboarding.  Immediately after arriving she was trying to coax me up the lift to the big hill so we could go down together.  When I fell while simply trying to stand up on my board all she could do was express disbelief that I was that bad.  What is weird about this is that I said several times I’ve snowboarded exactly 2 times in my life for the total of about 1 1/2 hours.  17 years ago.  For some reason she translated this as “I’ve snowboarded twice before, I know the basics, let’s rock this place.”  This combined with my binding mishaps made for a really lousy first half of my first snowboarding trip.

Yes, I was lousy.  Yes, there were 4 year olds on skis flying past me as I lay with my face in the snow after a few futile feet at the foot of the faintly sloping bunny hill.  Yes I just used alliteration in that sentence to highlight clues as to what my favorite word of the day was.

But, dammit, I tried.

"Suuure, 'just stand up' you say."

 
One thing I like to think that ju jitsu teaches you is how to accept failure.  As a white belt you essentially spend every minute on the mat being submitted, dominated, sat on, sweated on, and made a fool of.  Sometimes this all comes at the expense of some 13 year old and you, as a grown man, can’t do a thing about it.  After so many months of this treatment one tends either to become somewhat adept at accepting defeat or one quits. 
Luckily this mentality applies to the slopes as well.  Falling didn’t bother me so much as it was interesting to learn that I did something wrongly.  No sooner had my sore behind hit the snow when I was trying to pop right back up to continue my slow trek down the bunny hill.  It also helps that I never fell extremely hard.  I would like to think that falling practice from ju jitsu helped but I had some spectacularly bad form falls.  However, decked out as I was in my helmet and several layers of clothing I knew I was in no real danger. 
 
So, I fell, got up, fell, repeated and continued.  There’s not much else to say about other than I simply got up immediately every time I fell and continued on.  After 2 hours something great happened.  I had developed a bit of a feel for what I was doing.
 
I’m happy to say that I got my revenge on the girl.  By the end of the 4 hours I was boarding somewhat uncontrolled circles around her.  This included going down the big hill and leaving her far behind in my wake.  All in all it was a very good day.  After 4 hours of boarding I went from needing lessons on which foot to put in the board first to tackling the main large hill. 
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Another Injury

Last Friday the head instructor of the ju jitsu gym came down from Gifu prefecture.  I  have no idea what that means in terms of hours because I’m too lazy to look it up, but I know it’s at least a 2 hour drive.  He seemed genuinly skilled, which was a relief.  The first thing anyone needs to know about joining a ju jitsu gym, heck any martial arts gym for that matter, is that all sensei’s are not created equally.

Yes, just about ever teacher is a black belt.  But if you have a teacher who is a McBlackBelt your training isn’t going to be very productive overall.  I don’t think he’s on the level as my previous head instructor, but he’s on a level that I’m satisfied with.

I also received some good news that the gym, in fact, will not be moving.  Simply, the head instructor guy will be returning to Brazil as his visa expires.  The gym I attend will stay in tact as is.  That was a relief as I genuinely enjoy it there and find the level of overal competition to be decent. 

So, as I said the head instructor came.  Almost 4 hours of ju jitsu and it was good times.  Plus, I’m  happy to say I kept up my goal of trying to pull/take guard every chance I got.  Of course it got obliterated, but that didn’t matter to me.  I think the fact that everyone else there tries to beat the next person into guard helps my cause.  It actually feels like a victory to get guard since the other guy is only going to give me about 5 secs to go for it.  Regardless of the after results this is almost as good as making someone tap.

The bad news was I hurt my knee.  This seems to be the way my training has gone for the past 3 years ever since I popped some ligaments in my left knee.  I get back on the wagon only to get hurt and be sidelined for a month or so.  Very frustrating.  I’m not sure exactly what happened but my right knee got hurt sometime during a guard passing drill.  I think the instructor just put too much pressure for too long on the side of my knee and it pressed my tendon funny, which seems to have….. bruised the tendon, if that’s possible.  It’s slightly stiff when I stand up and sore, but twisting motion or bending it doesn’t seem to affect it too much.  So, this week I’m taking off from ju jitsu for some healing.

This may or may not stop my snowboard plans for the weekend and my winter break.  I am itching to get out on the slopes.  I’ve had visions of being the snowboarding/ju jitsu guy instead of the typical surfing/ju jitsu guy. 

I just do this to relax....

 

Stage 3

For the past 2-3 months I’ve been in the downswing of cultural adjustment.  This basically means that anything I don’t particularly like about Japan is heightened and anything I enjoy is downplayed.  In essence, it’s a state that I just don’t like Japan very much at the moment.

The real downside about this is that the things I never understood or liked in the first place become somewhat “wtf!?” things.  For example, putting your hands in your pockets.  Or, I just learned a new one today – tying your hoodie or sweatshirt around your waist if you take it off.  These are STOP. THE. CLASS. and sternly tell the kid to change their roll before you slap them upside their head offenses.  Yet, things like having a 12-year-old girl try to stroke the salami while her friend attempts to check my prostate is considered perfectly normal and something I need to enjoy or at least get used to.  Does this strike anyone else as crazy or is it just my stage-3ness?

Why stage 3?  Well, as you can see by this highly technical graph there are some stages to culture shock.

Warning: explanation manual not included

Sometime after the initial adjustment and after you’ve settled into life in your new surroundings you’re presented with something not many people talk about:  confronting deeper issues.  You’ve tackled “there’s no cheese in this country!?!?!?” and now have to face “what do you mean I have to pay $300 for a trip I’m not going on because I said I might go to a teacher who casually asked if I was thinking about going over a cup of coffee a few months back?!?!?”  Basically, you’re now dealing with more actual life matters in your adopted country.  I know some people who avoid getting too deep into the second sinkhole, but I also know many very capable people who spent a few months wallowing in hating Japan.  There are so many differences, and so many things you can’t comprehend because the thought never occurred to you previously that it starts to weigh on you.

My Christmas prep has been spent trying not to let the last week or two of work get to me too much.  Yesterday was my last day at kindergarten, as mentioned.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  I illustrated the horrors of facing a troupe of young Japanese kids in a previous post and yesterday was no different.  I stayed, tried to play, got my pants and sweatshirt stretched out, previously sucked on fingers rubbed across my face, and fingers up my bung.  It all came to a halt, however, when one girl took a running start and lined up a perfectly placed punch to my left nut.  Yeah, that’s graphic but there’s really no better way to describe it.  After a few seconds (read: when the pain hit) I simply kicked my way out of the clutches of the kids and left for the teachers room to double over for 5 minutes or so.  I’m pretty sure one kid caught a decent knee right in the noggin’.  I had no guilt.

I once sat on the floor to eat with my legs out to the side of me and got scolded.  It’s rude, you see.  I have nothing inside me that can explain the logic behind thinking that sitting a certain way is rude but letting kids molest you and treat your privates like a pinata is something you’re told to enjoy.  Maybe my nether regions just need a rest and my attitude about things will improve.

In other news I have no chance to finish my kanji goal by the end of the month.  Suddenly this month I got very busy at work.  I don’t know what happened but I barely get any chance to study these days.  So, I’ve decided I’ll just have to put in as much work as possible and finish the rest up after break.

Holidays 2

Wow, so the last post wordpress just completely removed all of the text from the post.  Ironically, I spent a little bit of time complaining about how much wordpress sucks when trying to add pictures.  I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

I believe I talked a bit about the tree and setting it up in a previous post.  So, there it is, the nice, cheap, Japanese size Christmas tree I managed to find.

In other news this is my last week of work.  Thank god.  I need a break from work, especially kindergarten.  I hope this short week break can help me recharge.

I’ve been informed by the girl that Christmas dinner will be KFC.  Yes, that KFC.  You see, KFC is the traditional Christmas dinner in Japan.  As an American I’m constantly subjected to questions around this time of year about how much KFC we buy for Christmas.  I can only laugh.  I’ve eaten at a Perkins for a Christmas dinner with a friend’s family, at Old Country Buffet, and at mediocre restaurants, but I’ve never heard of anyone eating KFC on Christmas.  Heck, I’m not even sure if the place is open.

Yet, it’s big times in Japan.

See how happy they all are?  If you are wondering why it’s a 3 day deal, essentially the 23rd is a national holiday.  It’s the Emperor’s birthday.  So, they just fold that up into Christmas.  KFCs get around-the-block lines on Christmas.  It’s so popular that normal restaurant chains have giant specials for fried chicken on Christmas day.

So, I’m trying to convince the girl that KFC on Christmas is not acceptable.  I think she’s consenting to substitute a pricey fried chicken dinner at some restaurant instead.  I think I can live with that since turkey doesn’t exist here and actual ham is difficult to find.  I’ll be sure to get a picture of that.

 

Holidays

 

 

 

You can see the computer desk beside and behind the tree, which gives you an idea of its diminutive size. It's still half decorated here.

 

Taking a picture with tree-san. Wow I look tired. Wow she looks happy.

 

The Christmas tree, all finished. I tried to get a picture while the lights were blinking.

 

 

 

JJ

Well last week I hit my goal and got to ju jitsu for every class.  I also hit my goal of taking guard ever. single. time. I could.  This included popping to guard when I had just escaped from getting my guard destroyed and subsequently almost submitted.  Once more unto the breech….

What makes this more miraculous is that typically I fare very well against my classmates if I’m on top.  For example, the rare time they beat me to getting guard (or in the case of one of the higher-ups just laid on his back forcing me to take top) and I took half guard I dominated.  This isn’t too out of the ordinary as I feel my top game (control wise) is ahead of where I am otherwise.

The idea is this:  we as humans constantly do things that we are reinforced for doing.  If I get top position and do well I experience some sort of reinforcement.  This makes me want to do it again.  So I do.  I get better, making reinforcement more common, prompting me to take top more often.  This is why people develop ungodly guards, mounts, chokes etc. and have poor other areas.  It’s why only a few people are really true black belts.  I’m a top side and kimura person.  I’m alright at passing guard, I’m pretty adept at not getting swept, forcing my opponent to try something tricky at which point I sit into their half guard.  Half guard I’m strong and able to pass into top side well.  Do you see how this works?  My game has developed to get me to where I get reinforced:  in top side chasing kimuras.

What we don’t do as humans is seek out the things where we get no reinforcement, or worse negative reinforcement.  Or worst yet, negative punishment.  This is my guard game.  My guard gets destroyed.  I get nothing out of this except frustration at “f# another person who just obliterated my “guard” in 10 seconds!!!!  Hell with this!”  So, I don’t pursue the act of doing it anymore.  That area of my game stays stagnant and never progresses.

Let’s call this the Blue Belt Blues.  This is a bit of a misnomer as plenty of purple belts experience the same thing.  However, the main idea of a blue belt is to get this stuff sorted before all that.

Well, folks, I’ve been in the Blue Belt Blues for far too long.  Hence, the guard work.

What was amazing was that I was actually enjoying going back to guard when I can.  I think the reason for this is because compared to my gym back in the states the folks at this one don’t have very good top games.  Back home if I’m on bottom I’m in deep, painful trouble.  Here I can keep decent position and work to get back to my knees.  It helps me feel more comfortable giving up position.  However, I feel that the guys here have more tricks for passing guard than back home.  That’s not to say they are better at it but that certain “stall” tactics don’t work as the guys here will do something bizarre to get around the guard.

Oh, and they constantly go 100%.  Back home there’s a lot of focus on technique and not many people roll over 60%.  Here they are animals.  The entire time.  It makes passing guard easier if you’re going balls-to-the-wall.

With all that said, I’m happy I was able to stick to both my goals of going and of guard hunting.  Hopefully, I can keep that up this week.  At the moment I don’t feel like there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, but I know there must be.  It would be impossible to work something almost exclusively for 6 months and not improve.  Especially since the gym is a sport ju jitsu gym, which tend to focus mainly on crazy guard work.  I’m bound to improve.

Ju jitsu gods, here my plea.  Allow me to gain proficiency from guard enough to sweep my opponent, giving me access to that sweet, beautiful kimura.

In other news, I did find out that the gym is closing sometime next year.  It will move to some other prefecture.  I’m really quite bummed about that.  It’s not a bad gym and the head assistant instructor is actually really good.  The only other option I’ve found that’s close by has mediocre ju jitsu at best.  It’s also a kickboxing gym that adds in ground work as kind of an afterthought.  I’ll have to start the search for a new gym (again) in the coming months.  Luckily, my area is laden with Brazilians and I do have some leads on farther away gyms.

Note:  I’m not sure if it’s wordpress or this computer, but for some reason spellcheck doesn’t seem to think “gym” is a word.  Which brings me to this:

More “Is Japan For Me?” Stuff.. And Stuff.

I  have a bunch to cover so this might be a multiple post day.  Or there might be a string of posts the next few days, which will hopefully result in a little traffic to my insignificant blog.

This weekend was Christmas Setup Weekend (Monday included).  We set up the tiny Christmas tree last night.  It was the girl’s first time ever decorating a Christmas tree.  The idea, in theory, was for me to cook some spaghetti and for us to decorate together while it cooked, all while listening to nice Christmas music.  The reality was, however, me running back and forth between cooking, taking pictures, and making sure Christina Aguilera songs weren’t popping up while the girl became so entranced with decorating she forgot about the “together” part of everything.  Yes, my main contribution to decorating the christmas tree was plugging in the lights.  Still, it was a really great night and I was able to recreate to some extent a feeling of Christmas in a country that completely lacks anything other than a cursory knowledge of the holiday.

Pictures will follow soon.

This got me thinking about a followup or two on the Japan FAQ.

Q: How different is Japan?  Will I adapt easily?

First, let me state an anecdote or two.  Now, there are those who claim that Japan really isn’t that different than *insert western country here*.  I beg to differ.

First, see above.  Imagine a country where almost everyone you meet has never put up a single Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter etc. decoration in their life.  Heck, you can easily find people who have never seen a movie where people decorate a Christmas tree.  Obviously, this is just a holiday.  However, the simple fact is in the west we live in a world where there are a ton of shared experiences.  Many of these don’t exist in Japan.  Live somewhere in the north and associate winter with shoveling your driveway?  Most Japanese people don’t even have a driveway.  They park in an extended area of their garden, which is almost always in front of the house between the gate entrance and the front entrance.  And it’s public property, which means anyone can stroll through without being considered rude. (In theory.  In practice I haven’t seen this done too much).  Japanese people who live in apartments might associate winter with everyone going out at 7 am on a Sunday morning and shoveling the parking lot together.  For the record, I never plan on partaking in this tradition.

Have you ever gone over to a friend’s house, stopped at the door, extended your hand and used either the doorbell or knocked?  Many Japanese people (delivery men included) don’t bother knocking.  See, the entrance to your apartment/house, otherwise known as “no shoes beyond this point” spot, is also considered public property.  It’s not out of the ordinary to have someone open up your door and yell to see if you’re around.  The point here being that commonplace shared experiences might not be shared.  Even if this is trivial like knocking it extends to many things in life.  BBQing brats, hotdogs, and hamburgers out on the grill with friends.  Not here.  Going to the pool and going down the big slide as a kid.  Not here.  Take several of these and you start to feel like a fish out of water.

Today I watched a video with the kids.  A Mr. Bean Christmas video.  He plays with the manger scene and toys around with baby Jesus and the animals.  So, I asked the teachers if they knew who the baby was.  No one knew.  I said “Jesus”.  Still, no one knew.  So, imagine being in a place where it’s difficult to find someone who knows who Jesus is or what he looks like in various forms.  Different.

The point here is that it is quite different.  It’s not a bad different, just one that you might feel a bit isolated.  This is a big reason people stay put in the dreaded English Bubble. (see below)

You can adjust.  You will adjust.  It takes time.  It also comes and goes in terms of enjoying it or not enjoying it.  The main thing is to immerse yourself as much as possible but as comfortably as possible.  If you’re afraid of/not strong at swimming don’t jump into the deep end immediately.  Sometimes you have to wade toward the deep end, possibly while wearing an embarrassing ducky floaty. 

For the record most Japanese girls at a beach wear a floaty while walking around on the beach.  They take it off when in the water.  To them it’s neither embarrassing nor odd to wear one when walking around.

Q: What is the English Bubble?

The English Bubble is the fat kid that keeps popping your ducky floaty with a pin every time you get near the deep end because he’s jealous you’re progressing and he’s not. 

It’s impossible to live in Japan, heck possibly anywhere English isn’t a native language, and not hear about the English Bubble.  Let me rephrase that.  It’s impossible not to hear about it provided you aren’t immersed completely inside the bubble.  Essentially, The Bubble is what keeps many foreigners from progressing in their Japanese ability or be unaware of many Japanese customs or events.  The basic premise is that you surround yourself with other English speakers in an attempt to feel more at home. 

As odd as it might seem I’ve met numerous people who have lived in Japan 3,4,5 or more years and barely know more than the basics.  This is because their day-to-day life is enveloped by English. 

Whether or not The Bubble is a good thing is up to each individual person.  What’s important is to be aware it exists and what the disadvantages and advantages to it are. 

Q: I’ve heard Tokyo is expensive.  Is this true?

I wouldn’t know.  I don’t care about Tokyo and really don’t know much about it. 

I think I’m going to end every Q&A blog on Tokyo.  In my “research” to figure out common questions and what other people were saying about the subject I was unable to find more than 1 or 2 non Tokyo-based blogs about life in Japan.  This infuriates me to no end.  The perception that Tokyo = Japan is rampant to anyone who doesn’t know much about Japan.  But the fact that people actually living in the country still make the same mistake in thinking is bewildering.

I’ll reiterate something I said last time.  Tokyo is not Japan.  If you plan to spend any significant amount of time in Japan there’s an extremely high likelihood your life will be far removed from Tokyo.  It’s important to realize that before you come and understand what that means.  Things like “Japan is the most technologically advanced nation on earth” stop applying.  Or anything you read on the internet that starts with “girls in Japan wear…” or “many Japanese people like to do…..”  or anything similar.  That’s not saying you won’t find those things around wherever you end up, but what happens in Tokyo is often times confined to Tokyo.

And yes, Tokyo is expensive for a nation that is already ungodly expensive in my experience.  However, I’ve also found the cheapest things and best deals in Tokyo.  If you walk into a store and there’s more than 2 foreigners around or 5 Japanese teenagers chances are it’s going to be pricey.

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