2016: A year of change and adjustment for things to come…

2016 will definitely be a year to remember. Aside from the election of a new president (remember, God tests us…), this is the first full year that I have shared together with my wife since we were married in 2014 in Shenzhen, China.

I relocated to San Diego, California to escape the harsh winters of the northeast. I think I also brought some of the coldest (it recently registered 35 degrees F) and rainy weather the area has seen for quite some time! I found myself wondering: What happened to Global Warming?

Those cold nights and that rainy weather make up just a small portion of the climatic change for this New York City fellow. I like the fact that mosquitoes are virtually nonexistent. The air is relatively dry which is great for my asthma. It really can be Sunny Southern California!

The cost of living is a little lower. I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the foods. One minute I have a fetish for Fuji apples, the next, I’ve got a taste for sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Oranges are everywhere. I have developed quite a cross-cultural palate and my wife has become quite versatile in accommodating it. Why drink bottled orange juice when you can have fresh squeezed everyday?

This first thing she purchased when she disembarked from the plane from China was a rice cooker. I had been “conditioned” in college during economics courses to think of rice as an inferior food and for a long while, leaned toward pasta dishes. Today, you will find me debating whether to use long grain Basmati rice for a particular dish or medium grain “sushi” or Japanese-type rice. It’s all good as long as I can mix it with some sweet potatoes! I recently learned how to scramble an egg with turkey sausages in the rice cooker. The egg was extra fluffy. I have regained the 20 odd pounds I lost during depression. My wife’s goal is to make me fat. I don’t think it is possible but I do enjoy eating again.

On a more serious note, I learned the importance of the people that God has placed in my life, throughout my life. At this point in time, I have outlived both of my parents. My body is still relatively strong. My mind, which was damaged by my stroke in 2009, continues to heal itself. Alhamdulillah!

My Mother died when I was 7 years old. Fortunately, God provided me which many surrogate mothers, from my Cub Scout Pack 198 Den Mother, Mrs. Brice to “Mrs. Mac.” I remember my best friend’s mother cleaning the wax from my ears with a bobby pin. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but no one will ever know the love I felt this woman over this gesture. Alhamdulillah! I have learned to love all mothers. It is written that, “Heaven lies at the feet of mothers.” This I truly believe.

I have helped produce three healthy, college educated children who check up on me regularly, “Hey, Pop! Just checkin’ in to see how you are doing…” When I was experiencing extreme depression, after my stroke and was considering the intrinsic value of my life. It was thoughts of them that restored my will to live. Alhamdulillah!

I have made and lost a fortune, and seek to make another, InshAllah (God willing)! When I had wealth I shared it and tried to make sure everyone around me benefited. I gave a party for my 50th birthday. One hundred and thirty people showed up representing all aspects of my life. Family members, friends, business associates, Kendo brothers and old college classmates attended. I saw my “history” in front of me, from the infant who started life on Cumberland Street in Brooklyn, from Wall Street to Westchester County, New York. From Brooklyn Technical High School to Cornell University to Columbia University Graduate School of Business. But I really wasn’t that happy… Allah-u-Alim (God knows…)

Today, I am grateful for everything that I have experienced. I am even grateful for  social media such as Facebook! It allows to keep to contact with family, friends and colleagues throughout the world, literally, from New York to Florida, from Georgia to San Francisco to Seattle, Washington to Hawaii. From Jakarta, Indonesia to Algeciras, Spain to Morocco, to Margarite, Venezuela from Tokyo, Osaka and Kochi, Japan, to Shenzhen, Huizhou, Guilin, Guanxi and Yangshuo China, my family gets larger and the Earth gets smaller… I can attest to the notion that, the World is Truly a Beautiful Place!

God really is our Nurturer and Sustainer! He is Most Forgiving. All He requires is Remembrance of Him.

My Lord, please help me to avoid that which is wrong, evil, immoral and dishonest
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to achieve my dreams and aspirations
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to stay in thy favor
And keep me on the straight path.

And Lord, please watch over me, my family and friends in the coming year.
Please give us all wisdom, better health, greater prosperity and peace of mind.
Amin!

Advertisements

The Better Path: Indulging in Gratitude

As I reflect on 2016 and God willing, prepare for 2017, I have tried to pay particular attention the what worked well for me and what served to impede my progress this year.

The most common factor of note was gratitude. A standard definition is “the act of being grateful.”

Some of you may ask, “to whom?” I will make it perfectly clear and state, to God!

Others may pose the question, “for what?” My response would simply be: for the air I breathe with the lungs He has given me, for the fact that I am alive today. It is acknowledges Him watching over me when l am not capable of doing a better job on my own.

He nurtures and sustains and I am a beneficiary. I seek to express gratitude all He has done for me. Shouldn’t we all?

People of different belief systems often thank God for the food before they eat their meals. Many Christians will say a grace or give acknowledgment of a virtue coming from God. I recall some of my Japanese and Kendo brethren saying, “itadakimasu” or “I humbly receive…,” before we would partake of a sumptuous meal together.  Muslims utter Bismillah (in God’s name).

At times I question whether people are really sincere and truly thankful but then I pause and remember that it is between them and God. I can only legitimately seek to control my own intentions and actions…

Gratitude is increasingly a topic in social media these days. Its links to happiness and better health are now being examined.

I learned to consider gratitude as an emotion while attending meetings with Sultan Abdulhameed, author of The Quran and The Life of Excellence, years ago. He teaches that “prayer is a comfort”and that “all progress happens through adversity.” While contemplating these thoughts, a phrase I had heard earlier in life came to mind, “Let go, let God…

These notions enabled me to find peace with the thoughts that I am not in control of everything in my life, but that my circumstances are intimately connected to how I think. Now, I always think positively about all matters, no matter how grim they may seem.

One of my Dominican friends and Kendo brothers has been trying to attain the rank of NanaDan or seventh degree Black Belt for longer than I can remember. Twice a year, he would make a pilgrimage to Japan to challenge for the rank. It takes a lot of determination and resoluteness to maintain this arduous discipline and stay focused in spite of circumstances. The pass rate on this examination has always been extremely low. He was finally successful last month.! Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to God)! I remember the words of the late Nishino sensei,”Never give up!” This is a timely reminder for me. I am also happy when my friends achieve success.

You may ask what does this have to do with being grateful?    Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lead to a greater sense of well-being and reduced depression.

I recently had a personal problem which was driving me to wit’s end. I felt powerless. Reluctantly, I shared my dilemma  with some of my friends. Together, we came up with a solution and I was truly humbled by the positive outcome…  I am forever grateful for the friends that God had provided for me! Alhamdulillah!

There is a passage in the Quran which states, “If you are grateful, I will give you more (14:7)” I am only now beginning to grasp the meaning of this powerful statement.


I thank God for watching over me.

Thou has been with me throughout my entire life.

Please forgive me for my late acknowledgment.

Please continue to watch over me, my family and my friends…

Kendo, Ramadan and Sports Performance

20150628_124158

An area of training that has intrigued me for quite some time is whether someone can fast and still maintain a level of physical conditioning such that one can perform satisfactorily in Kendo.

I recently had the chance to test this thesis using myself as, pardon the term, “guinea pig!”

This was my first tournament since I suffered a stroke, several years ago. I also had the misfortune of almost passing out from heat exhaustion in kendo class one hot summer day. Now I always try to be well hydrated while participating in practice.

The temperature can reach as high as over 100 degrees Fahrenheit where we practice. There is very little cross ventilation in our space and the windows may be only partially opened due to possible neighbor complains about noise levels. This coupled with the Kendo armor and our bodies are probably exposed to temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above that!

My sensei (Noboru Kataoka) came up to me a few weeks earlier and asked if I would be interested in participating in the 2015 AEUSKF Tournament? I replied yes without any hesitation. While one part of me was a bit apprehensive. The other part was eager to take on the challenge. In the past, I have been active in Kendo events throughout Japan, in the Dominican Republic, in Jakarta, Indonesia and in Shenzhen, China. I believe that in Kendo, you must be able to apply yourself under any and all situations.

Some may view it as simply practicing a sport. I tend to take it a little more seriously. I perceive it as training the mind. “The path to Hei-jou-shin (calm, peaceful mind) takes you down the road of fear (odore), through the valley of doubt (utagai), across the mountain of surprise (odoroki), beyond the sea of confusion (osage)!” This was a motivational phase I created many years ago that puts all things in perspective for me. It is about enduring in spite of the obstacles, which may confront you.

Making this even more of a challenge, I had to consider that I would also be observing Ramadan. This is the month on the Muslim calendar generally highlighted by abstaining from sexual activity, food and any liquid during daylight hours! The first two are relatively easy for most people. It is the lack of water, which incidentally, makes up about 65% of the human body, which is the most difficult to endure!

Prior studies on Ramadan and sports performance have centered on individuals in the 34-year and younger age brackets, and one study focusing on fighter pilots in the 27-49 year bracket. Most concluded thatperformance during brief (e.g., squat jump, countermovement jump, maximal voluntary contraction, etc.) or very short-duration (e.g., 5-m sprint, 10-m sprint, 20-m sprint, etc.) maximal exercises is maintained during the month of Ramadan. However, single or repetitive short-term maximal efforts and long-duration exercises are generally affected by Ramadan even if some studies did not show any significant change.” I could find no studies deriving the possible effects on those 60 and above; hence I am the guinea pig!

Fortunately, I would be playing in the Senior Division at the Kendo tournament; I believe I was the only one who had prior experience with a stroke!

While I was later eliminated in my second match, my biggest concern did not occur. I did not get exhausted or feel tired or pass out. This to me was a personal achievement under the circumstances and will propel me to work even harder in the future.

This experience actually enabled me to analyze a very important element of Kendo. It is about how you engage your opponent or adversary. Your breathing should be controlled. Your mind should be in a constant state of readiness. You have to be ready to strike at will. After you strike, you must follow through into zanshin*

The beautiful thing about this is now I better understand what I now want to accomplish. It is embedded in my brain and will now become a part of me. This is part of the grace and beauty of Kendo, one of my favorite pastimes.

I belong to a good Kendo group (the New York City Kendo Club). I have one of the best Sensei’s and in my 34 years of training I know what has to be done to improve. I guess I am still on that path; it is truly a most exciting journey!

* Zanshin – is a term used in the Japanese martial arts. It refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. A literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind”

Sources of Inspiration

“Body Water.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 July 2015.

http://www.esciencecentral.org/ebooks. Effects of Ramadan Fasting on Health and Athletic Performance (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Salmon, Geoff. Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Aug. 2013. Web.

My experiences observing Layla-tul Qadr on August 3, 2013

prayerMy preparation to attend Layla-tul Qadr started out like any other day.  A cousin called to discuss her plans for starting an online business. I am used to people calling me for my advice on a myriad of subjects. I guess some of it comes from having reached a certain age (60s) and being able to communicate with people on just about any subject matter.

On my trip into the city that afternoon, I encountered a very tall drag queen, about 7 ft. tall in 6 in. heels weighing all of about 150 lbs. On the train, a dark-skinned woman about 7 months pregnant was asking for help. I looked into her eyes and felt compelled to give.

I was able to better grasp the significance of this most holy time on the Islamic calendar by reading part of Sura (44:3-4):

“that We revealed this Qur’an in a blessed night (Layla-tul Qadr); for We wanted to forewarn mankind.
In that night every matter is decided wisely”

This was to commemorate the night when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH), some 1,400 years ago. This “night of power” is also referred to as the “night of destiny.” It is a night when God’s power is all-present and we can choose our destiny. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

I was recently reading of attempts to correlate this holiest of periods with terrorist uprisings. It was reported on one news site that, such links between Islamic holy days and militancy allow al Qaeda to continue to define what Islam is. For them, Islam is not a religion with spirituality, but is a political movement, where the holiest of days are simply calendar markers to run campaigns…”

I repeat, this is the night when Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation.

Misguided may try to align their actions with this most holy event and misinformed may try to legitimize that notion but the moment is bigger than any can conceive…

But, I digress and this is about my experiences and my destiny. I tried to keep a fairly light schedule on this day: Attend Kendo class. Share in Iftar with some Egyptian friends and finally make my way to downtown Manhattan for Layla-tul Qadr with members of the NYU community. I attended the first Layla-tul Qadr by the ICNYU last year (http://wp.me/p2hekR-4K) and I was eager to participate in this years’ event.

I disembarked from the train a couple of stops before my destination and began a slow walk through areas of Greenwich Village I used to frequent over four decades earlier. The area really hadn’t changed much at its core, still students, deviants, shops to buy things and places to eat. One place on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue caught my attention, offering 2 slices of pizza and a drink for $2.75!

As I edged closer to my destination and was about to cross the street, I received a text message from a friend in Indonesia, 10,000 miles away, requesting I pray for her father. This was a strange request, considering I hadn’t heard from her in weeks, and just as I was around to cross the street. She had no knowledge of my intentions or where I would be at that moment. Occurrences such as this only re-enforce my beliefs.

Finally I arrived at the church where the event was to be held. There was a crowd forming outside. I could hear some brothers debating what Islam meant to them. My response has always been, “it is where I have found comfort…” My view of the world is such that we can all exist in peace and harmony and in the comfort of our own belief systems as long as they don’t infringe upon others.

Sura 98:5 sums up my position:

“But they were enjoined nothing more than to worship God, be sincere in religion and be regular in prayer and give charity, for this is the essence of religion.”

There were at least several hundred people at this event. One has to be mindful of all the Muslim communities in New York City and around the rest of the world that were holding similar events during this time period.

We finished Taraweeh or the extra prayers before tending to the prayers for Layla-tul Qadr, which are performed throughout the night.

You could begin to feel the power of God in the room as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder all began repeating a unison, over and over again, Subhan’Allah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), La ilaha ill-Allah (There is no God but God), Allah u Akbar (God is great)!

At one point I could feel the floor vibrating. I have a keen sense of such things. Maybe it was due to the resonance of trains in the nearby subway. Maybe it was just due to my vivid imagination. Perhaps God was making His presence known. I checked later, no one else seemed to feel it.

All I know is that night, I prayed for God’s forgiveness for all my transgressions, I prayed for the father in Jakarta, Indonesia, I prayed for my family and I prayed for a better life. This is the kind of person I was becoming.

Feeling it …

While perusing Pinterest the other day, I came across an interesting poster, which seemed to capture the state I was in.  The past few days have been both enduring and wonderful at the same time.

An old friend recently commented that I seemed to “move with a Zen-like quality” as I interacted with those who stepped before me during Kendo Keiko. I was simply trying to conserve energy while I was in the middle of my fast. I did not want to pass out due to the smothering temperatures at the gym where we practice, not to mention the heat generated within my armor and lack of fluid intake.

Some might say that this was a foolhardy effort on my part, but one does not practice a martial art for 30 plus years and then stop because of in climate weather conditions.

I have been in a good mood lately. I offer greetings to strangers. I smile at everyone. I truly believe that if we just clear our eyes, we will see that the world is a beautiful place. I feel the introspection. How can I explain the feeling?

Ramadan14

Bliss…

When I can read a thought and experience uncontrollable tears of joy.

 

Post Sandy Kendo Practice – November 3, 2012

New York City had just endured a major storm. We were still in the process of recovery. This was the Saturday immediately after the storm.

I had not been to Kendo in months. It was sure to be a long and arduous task! I wondered how I would get there. Would there be adequate transportation? New York City transit was in a state of disrepair.

When and if I got there, the five flights of stairs would be my next challenge.

The gym floor was certain to be cold and difficult for my bare feet.

These are but a few of the obstacles that I would have to overcome, but this is also the story of life…

Hei-Jou-Shin

There is a concept that we strive to learn and make a part of us in Kendo. It is called hei jou shin. It translates roughly to mean “calm, peaceful mind.” In just about any situation, one has to try and keep his state of mind unchanged, the same, to be able to think clearly and make the right decision. This is a very simple concept, but it is a challenge to maintain such stability during a time of crisis.

In order to achieve this state you have to overcome what is known as the four poisons: fear, doubt, surprise and confusion! When you think about life, isn’t it the same things that we have to overcome?

The path to Hei-Jou-Shin (peaceful mind) takes you down the road of fear (odore), through the valley of doubt (utagai), across the mountain of surprise (odoroki), beyond the sea of confusion (osage)!

Kendo will get me there…