The Balancing Game

So much of life seems to be a balancing game between two crucial resources: time and money.

When I first started working full-time, I earned so much that I didn’t know what to do with all the money. Going from the sufficient income of $250 a week to  $1000 a week was mind-blowing. I found ways to spend it of course, a creeping sense of entitlement that I had always hoped to avoid when I was living comfortably enough on humbler means. “Why yes, I have worked hard this week, I do deserve that cup of coffee from the cafe rather than the instant stuff.” “Why yes, I am working more now, and that means I can definitely pursue a third martial art while I practice the other two.” “Why yes, I am having a bad day, I do deserve to buy myself a new video game, because gosh-darn it I’ve earned a little treat.” And so, in a short span of time I had cancelled out much of the extra income I was making to keep myself happy amidst all the stresses of working full-time. And that wealth that I did not spend accumulated, waiting dormant in my bank account for whatever long-term investment, grandiose holiday or material whim I could throw it at. When I told people honestly that I didn’t know what to do with it all, they joked that I could give it to them. My mother, a passionate believer in saving every cent, was happy that it was accumulating for the day I might need it. I found it so hard to fit in housework, relationships, video games, martial arts and every assortment of errand around my new work schedule. In short, I was working so much that I didn’t have time for anything else in my life; I didn’t have time to live.

This pattern has played out before, when I was working as a youth worker and a library assistant simultaneously. I found I was too busy and resigned from one of my jobs (the wrong one, perhaps), and I suddenly had a wealth of free time to pursue every pleasure in life, and not very much money to do it with. All those things that I’d been neglecting were suddenly available to me, those books and games and friends and hobbies and passions and interests that I’d always wanted to dive into… And yet no long-term goal, nothing beyond “enjoy the pleasures of today and make sure you earn enough to do the same tomorrow”. And enjoy them I did.

I face the same dilemma now. At my current workplace, I work three days a week. I’ve been offered a fourth, possibly a fifth working in another (highly stressful) team. In truth, I think three and a half days is about the right amount for me in terms of enjoying my life and managing my wellness without slowly breaking down over time. I’m sorely tempted to leave it at those three days, and yet that fourth would add an income that I am finding myself needing for the first time in my life. Yes, all my material needs are currently being met. And now that I have that much financial stability, I long for the next big expense: a house of my own. To afford such a luxury would require me to work more than I want to. And that’s the age-old problem: we work not because we want to but because it gives us money in return. If we loved our work so much, would we do it for free?

Logically I know all that. I guess I’m just stuck at the moment between working harder than I want to so that it enables me to live a more comfortable and luxurious life later. That is, if I don’t burn out from the challenge of trying to sustain more than I can handle. It may just be temporary, but I find myself slowly collapsing under the weight of this new opportunity for dosh in exchange for, it seems, my health, my wellbeing, my life. Is life worth the cost of money? Maybe. I think I’m being a touch dramatic because my mental health is not the best today. Well, I guess we’ll see how things are going a week from now.

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Finding a Gentler Way

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned on this blog, so if I haven’t done so already, I’ll mention it now. A few months ago I decided to pursue my desire to learn judo, the Japanese art of “the gentle way”. From what I understand, it takes the brutal efficiency of jujutsu (the “gentle art”, the empty-handed grappling art designed to break joints even against an armoured samurai) and turns it into a safer sport based on throws (with grappling as a slightly lesser focus).

I’ve may have mentioned before that I get cravings for certain martial principles and I practice them obsessively. Off the top of my head, I can recall being obsessed with side kicks, spinning kicks, single whip, teisho, mae ude hineri uke, mawashi uke, bagua’s fourth and eighth palm change… Actually, the more I list, the more there are. Suffice it to say I’ll spend weeks drilling one movement as I go about my daily life. A little while ago, my “flavour of the month” was osotogari – the great leg sweep – and I decided I’d follow up on my desire to get better at throwing people.

A little while later I found myself at a judo club, and I picked it up very quickly. It seems that it never gets less scary stepping onto a foreign school’s mat – it was just as awesome and terrifying as that first day of Taekwondo – though I had a good grasp of the basics already and picked up the throws as quickly as I picked up my opponents before dropping them on the crash mats. It was ridiculous how fun it was to pick up someone more than twice my body weight and throw them clean over my shoulder. Although I’m probably among the weakest students, my stamina and flexibility are among the highest that I’ve seen, and my practical fighting skills seem to be more advanced than those of my comrades. I do acknowledge though that the judoka, while more crass than the students of the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts, are good at what they do, and I would like to get good at it too.

However it’s definitely harder for me. Leverage is everything in judo, and for a little guy to throw a taller, heavier or stronger guy is significantly harder. Seriously, size matters a huge amount. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but by jove it makes a difference in the early stages. I recently attended a judo conference (which was targeted mainly at black belts, and I felt sorely out of place there learning advanced knowledge when my basic curriculum was still mostly empty) and did randori with the other attendees for 45 minutes straight. It became pretty clear to me that most of the time they could read my intentions clearly and stop me with a little resistance, and overcome my resistance with a bit of force or muscle. Any time there was a situation where I had to pit my strength against my partner’s in order to break their structure, I invariably lost despite the advice of my teacher (yelling at me to apply my strength against his weakness, and yet I still struggled to dominate).

The greater lesson I learned from the experience is that every single one of my scabs had come off at some point and I bled all over myself and my uniform. My fingers were torn from the rough fabric of grasping other people’s gi’s, I got kneed in the balls (and they still hurt days later), my shoulders are wrecked and my back was horrendously tight due to the improper warm-up, and I was left with dark bruises across much of my chest and arm where my partner had grabbed me with all of their might. I expended huge amounts of energy, gained numerous injuries, and I don’t think I’ve learned enough to realistically apply any of it in my karate randori. I acquire new injuries every time I go, and after every lesson I ask myself whether it’s worth the pain to acquire the skill.

True, I would love to learn how to throw people more easily, and true, my few lessons have increased my success rate already. I guess I’m going through the white belt phase which is horribly disheartening and feels like I’m making no worthwhile progress compared to the skill of the higher belts. I think for the moment I’ll stick with it (at the very least for another lesson) and see if my mind changes once I’ve filled out more of that empty curriculum in my head.

EDIT: I think I’ve figured out why I don’t like judo as much as karate. I’m definitely going through the beginner phase where I’m disheartened by how much I have to learn and how much better everyone else is. However it’s harder to get the balance between practicing basics and practicing techniques dynamically. That is to say, my partners are either letting me throw them without resistance, or resisting so much that I struggle to throw them. And this hurts! Unlike karate where all the strikes are pulled, I seem to be acquiring new injuries every class from straining or being grabbed strongly. Maybe I just need partners who can teach me at just the right level of challenge to encourage me to learn.

My Islands of Personality

Having watched Inside Out twice now (once with Beth and once for work), I’ve realised there a few concepts in the movie that I disagree with. Foremost, I disagree with the idea that our emotions completely govern our actions and that we have no reason or choice to act out of accordance with them. Secondly I think that the five emotions they chose were not a complete spectrum, even for an 11-year-old girl. Thirdly I didn’t like the idea that you could only feel one emotion at a time. I am heartened that by the end of the film she had memories mixing tinges of two emotions simultaneously.

When I was watching it the second time, I started wondering what sort of islands of personality I might have. I’m probably missing a few here, though it was pretty fun to think about. In no particular order, I think mine would include:

  • Martial Arts Island
  • Video Game Island
  • Language Island
  • Romantic Love Island
  • Gentleman Island
  • Heartsong Island
  • Japan Island(s)
  • Eros Island (which is a little embarrassing to admit, though my sexuality is an important part of me)
  • Introvert Island (where I spend time alone, recharging)
  • Dreamer Island (where the big thoughts and feelings are)

That’s all I can think of right now. I feel like I’m missing some big ones! For those who know me, what would you suggest I add to the list?

Writing this blog has reminded me of I was 12-years-old. I did a similar exercise where I asked myself, “Who is Xin?” My answers were along the lines of: “A warrior, a scholar, a gentleman, a mystery. He is all of me.”

-X