The right way to open a banana.

July 10th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns

This could change my life for ever.

Atlanta Friendship Seminar

June 28th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns

Last weekend, our dojo and Peachtree Aikikai hosted a joint seminar with Yamada Sensei instructing. The event was a success with a good turn out from both dojos  and from out of town. The weather was very hot, so the training was slow and difficult. Beyond the importance of the event as a symbol for the improved relationship between the two dojos, the training was significant for me in two ways: learning about my health and seeing new aspects of Yamada Sensei’s technique.

On Friday night, we trained for about 1½hours in extremely hot conditions. For sometime,  I have noticed that my endurance has not been as strong as it once was. I have been teaching more than I train and while I try to train with my students when  I teach, I know that this is not enough to develop better endurance. While I’ve been planning for sometime to increase my training, I know that I have to control my exertions on the mat at seminars. I remember feeling tired during the training, but not unusually for me. After training, I sat to fold my hakama on Peachtree Aikikai’s canvas mat feeling now unusually tired. When I stood up I saw that I left a distinct wet mark on the mat from my sweat. I looked around and saw that noone else had left a similar mark on the mat. I sat down in the very nice lounge area they have outside the changing rooms drinking water and waiting until the sweating stopped before I took my shower. I was talking to friends and was in good spirits, but I noticed that it took at least 30 minutes before I stopped sweating and that my fingers and toes were tingling. All of this felt unusual and a little scary to me. I had been very tired after training before, but it never felt like this. Finally I stopped sweating and went to the seminar dinner at Atkins Park, where we had a very good diner in an upstairs room. I had the rack of lamb which was delicious, but in retrospect the filet might have been a better choice to get enough calories to recover.

The following morning I felt tired, but in normal health. I ate breakfast; again perhaps not enough. I trained through the morning, the day was extremely hot, and again I sweated more than usual afterwards, leaving a large sweat mark on the futon coach while I was recovering. I ate the pizza lunch, but was not very hungery and didn’t finish the second piece. I drank plenty of water. In the afternoon I only made it through one hour at which point I almost fainted while I was stepping off the mat. I sat in the relative cool changing room drinking water and again my fingers and toes were tingling. I tested my circulation by pressing my finger and it looked fine. As before it was a long time before I stopped sweating. I kept thinking that this was wrong; I get tired, but not like this.

It wasn’t until the following Tuesday that I felt normal. On Thursday I went to the doctor, who gave me an EKG and took blood. He didn’t share my concern that my experience was unusual. He said that it was classic heat exhaustion and that I needed to make sure that I ate more and drank more water before training. My EKG came back normal and the blood work report doesn’t come in until Monday. The only thing that gives me pause is that my resting heart rate measured 47bpm, which would be fine if I was a marathon runner, but seems low for someone who is aware of lack of endurance. I have no idea what this could mean, and the doctor seemed unconcerned. My conclusion, until the blood work comes in, is that I need extra work on endurance and have to be more conscious of my caloric intake before training. Today I started running. Later I explain the running program I’m trying.

The classes

As usual, Yamada Sensei focused on basic training. One of his themes, as in many recent seminars, is varying the amount of rotation on tenkan. It occured to me that I had noticed many years ago that his technique was unusual because he didn’t always take the same stance at the end of tenkan. At the time, I thought tenkan was tenkan and I always thought it should be done the same way regardless of the context. More and more I notice the degree of his tenkan, even on old videos. It is easy to get caught up in what one thinks is the right form and not see that the teacher is doing something different.

As always, I am taken by how low Yamada Sensei’s stance is. I have been working on this for some time and it still hard for me to maintain this low stance consistently.

Despite the heat, the general mood of training was serious, but upbeat. Yamada Sensei seemed to enjoy the event and kept the mood light.

SCP without passwords

June 10th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns

In embedded development, there is the problem that after you build the code on your host PC, you have to load onto the target. My normal solution for this is to create an NFS mount to a folder on the host that contains the binaries and the necessary auxiliary files. I was motivated to load the files via scp, but I prefer to automate my development cycle as much as possible. This means calling scp from the makefile, which means calling it without a password. I knew it was possible to set up a system that allowed this, so I turned to Google.

I searched for “scp in scripts”. The first link seemed very authoritative and gave instructions that used ssh-keygen to create a public RSA key to put in the host’s ~\.ssh\authorized_keys file. Possibly because the target is using Dropbear for ssh, these instructions didn’t work and I spent a significant amount of time trying to debug the system.

A co-worker that I had dragged into the problem gave me a different solution that did work. When I asked him where he found his solution, he said “Google”. To my frustration, his link was the first link for him on the search “scp without password”. This illustrates the principle that you should always ask Google for exactly what you want.

Chinese dance

May 27th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns

This weekend the whole family went to see a dance production by the The Atlanta Chinese Dance Company which we enjoyed very much. The dancers ranged from amateur to professional levels and watching triggered thoughts about what makes the difference in the quality of the dance and the connections between dance and martial arts.

The first half of the production was all amateur and focused on dances based on different ethnic traditions in China. Many of these involved wonderful choreography and were very enjoyable to watch. As with all amateur groups, the skills varied more than one would see in a professional group and I was trying to identify the qualities that made the difference with my very limited understanding of dance. Some of it was the sharpness of form, some dancers were more on the beat, had larger clearer movements and showed more mastery of the form. Some also had more expressive faces and movements even when doing the same dance steps. Teaching Aikido is in part a theatrical activity. A senior student at NY Aikikai made this clear to me when he explained that part of successful teaching is projecting your ego. He’s a professional actor, an experience that I’m sure informed his opinion. I could see that he was correct because the difference between strongly compelling teachers and ordinary was partly their ability to dominate the entire mat with their personality. I began noticing how Yamada Sensei and Sugano Sensei accomplished this. Both did this without much talking but instead with vigorous yet detailed technical demonstrations. I learned from this that the less one talks, the more attention students pay to what you say. There is no way that I can say how successfully I project my ego, as I still feel conflicted about this because of my desire to also show humility because there are many who have much more detailed knowledge. I know intellectually that to be effective I must be confident in what I teach, but as always the knowledge proceeds the ability.

The music was recorded and during one of the dances, there was a chorus yelling as part of the soundtrack. I thought about how much more effective it would have been to have the live dancers yell instead, that is if they could project effectively. Later a professional dancer did a modern dance solo with warrior poses and dramatic movements evoking a strong martial spirit. At a critical moment he let a strong yell, one of the best demonstrations of kiai I’ve experienced. My experience in Aikido has not involved much kiai except for torifune exercise that I like to do as a warm-up at the start of every class as Sugano Sensei did while I was in NY Aikikai. Some teachers, including Kennedy Sensei, use it occasionally as part of technique. Tangman Sensei once told me that Akira Tohei Sensei explained that kiai should only be spontaneous, not a part of form. My brain has a problem with truly spontaneous actions and I don’t think that I have ever used kiai as part of technique. Seeing a dancer use it so effectively has started deeper thoughts on the issue. My sense of humility in the face of the tradition I have been taught makes it unlikely that I would use it much, but I would like to understand better how it could be used.

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

May 5th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns

I recently read The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein. As a teenager, I enjoyed The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Orphans of the Sky, so I was intrigued by the idea of rediscovering Heinlein as an adult when I ran across this book at a used book sale at my kids school. Maybe you can’t go back, but I was disappointed by the lack of quality in the writing. I found myself skimming the text quickly with impatience to get to the end and when I did I felt that I missed something important because it didn’t feel right. I checked the Wikipedia page and discovered that I hadn’t missed anything, the ending just doesn’t make much sense and wasn’t satisfying emotionally.

I had expected that the author would be revealed as a character in the story as a consequence of the theory of world as myth. The book is a Greatest hits compilation where characters from previous Heinlein stories populate most of the pages, and it has all of the time lines and worlds that Heinlein created converging into one connected universe. Only the author was missing. The actual ending was a let down in comparison.

In truth, much of the references were lost to me because I didn’t read enough of Heinlein. Every Heinlein bio described him as the author of Stranger in a Strange Land, which I never read. My impression was that it was centered on Heinlein’s free love ideas that were not appealing to me. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has plenty of sex in it, but I didn’t find it arousing or psychologically believable. The political themes of Moon and the religious/philosophical themes of Orphans of the Sky were very well done and I reread those books several times. Perhaps a fanboy would have enjoyed all of the references more than I and I should instead try another novel to find out if my tastes have changed.

My Aikido history (part 1)

April 28th, 2009 by Edwin Stearns


While I was in high school in Winnipeg, I started to learn about the existence of Aikido. I don’t remember the first time I heard the word but I do remember the sensation that I kept hearing about it in different contexts.

One of the first mentions was in a book my mother had about conflict resolution that described an Aikido model for handling interpersonal conflicts. I now recognize that this model originated with Terry Dobson. I had not yet learned to be appropriately skeptical of fantastic claims, and the magic that was described was very appealing to me. All that was required was practice to effortlessly neutralize aggression. Using the Aikido for conflict resolution involved three steps: observe the energy of the attack, blend with the attack and redirect the attack. From the perspective of years of training, I now see the model as faulty in that Aikido techniques are ineffective if one passively waits for the attack. I still believe that it is possible to practically apply Aikido for conflict resolution, but it involves awareness long before as attack is formulated and the ability to take control before the attack becomes critical. People that are most effective in peacemaking have a loving but dominating spirit that can bend weaker minded people into self defeating aggression, not controlling the violence once it has begun.

Another early contact with Aikido was a yoga class taught at a Unitarian-Universalist youth event at Banff, Alberta. I have very clear memories of this class that took place in a linoleum floored room in the youth hostel where we were staying. The teacher showed several amazing things including standing on a step with legs straight and palming the floor of the step below. She also talked about Aikido, which she didn’t know well. She demonstrated tenkan from a slow tsuki and I can remember the surprised smile on her partner’s face as the yoga teacher escaped the attack and lead her partner in a circle. Although I didn’t formulate it into words at the time, I saw the potential for effectiveness, but more importantly the fun in this brief demonstration.

There was at least a year between this yoga class and the first opportunity to train. During this time a started to seek information about Aikido. This is before the Internet and the only places to find out more were bookstores and libraries. In Prairie Sky Books, a little new age bookstore, I found a book that I haven’t seen since. I now regret not buying it, but I never had much money at the time because I was so allergic to work. I showed mostly basic techniques, but I remember clearly a tanto-tori koshinage or aiki-otoshi that involved ducking under the knife attack. I am now convinced that the reason that I have never seen it since was because it is completely impractical. The downtown library had two books by John Stevens Abundant Peace and Aikido, The way of harmony. These books cemented my then understanding of a pacifist martial art. Violence could be solved without using violence in return and all conflict could end in a master controlling but not damaging the attacker. With enough training one would become enlightened and in this enlightened state the master becomes impervious to attack. When I look back on this now, I see a completely naive view of Aikido.

I would not have been able to admit it at the time, but I was excited by the fantasy of becoming a superhero where no one would be able to defeat. I was nonathletic, very thin and shy with a history of being bullied in elementary school. The superhero fantasy of a weak teenager is in part a sexual fantasy, the capability of dominating other men/boys being so connected to the concept of sexual potency. This sexual aspect of Aikido that is rarely discussed, but significant (in an unconscious way) to my interest.

There was no Aikido in Winnipeg at that time, so I would have to wait until I moved to Atlanta before I could start.