Martial Heart Series: The Concept of Giri

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite parts about martial arts (and running as well) is that it is a mostly solitary endeavour. Unless one competes in unison kata, it is an art taken up and enacted alone. No cheerleaders or team captains or deadweight team mates. It is the overachiever’s dream: to work alone and take all the credit for it.

(Basically, I just want to be the Hermione Granger of karate.)


Except. Except.

Except no one ever gets anywhere alone. Or at least, not meaningfully. For every one who gets to black belt, for everyone who stays long enough to grade, there is an entire structure designed to help them get there. It’s easy to be solipsistic in karate – after all, when it comes to a grading, the karate-ka stands alone. You are responsible for your kata, and your training, and your extra-curricular studies around the art. Is it not written that a Sensei can only show you the door: you must walk through it yourself? (Though a bridge may be a better metaphor).

There’s a word that’s worth knowing. Giri. It is obligation and responsibility. It is integral to Japanese society, and therefore appears within Japanese and Okinawan martial arts. It is ‘to serve one’s superiors with a self-sacrificing devotion’. To the Western mind, a mind obsessed with individual achievement and the slaying of giants (why else is the David and Goliath metaphor still so pernicious?) such a term might seem servile and pathetic. Giri has its origins in feudal Japan, a society that had incredibly static social strata. In what was once an agricultural society where people put down roots and built homes, there were ‘giri books’, registers of families’ obligations to one another. Since no one really left, the debts had to paid. This wouldn’t have worked in a migrant/hunter society. The giri tradition continued into the samurai mode of service, in which suicide and a placid acceptance of death are seen as appropriate services to others. After all, samurai means ‘servant of love’. (The samurai tended to use seken-tei, which is social appearance and along the lines of saving face or matching to others. But that’s a blog post for another day.)

Of course, to Westerners, this has mostly been watered down to “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. ”


Admittedly, the idea of such servitude and obligation rankles your average Western martial artist. In much popular culture and media, it is the sidekick who is reviled, the Igor and the henchman and the maidservant. No one wants to be in service to another. And I agree – too much servility leads to a frail mind and weak heart. I think service given willingly and with meaningful understanding can enrich a person, but servitude can shackle and cripple the spirit.

As we discussed in black belt grading prep last night, giri should be willingly given for it to mean anything. No one should be forced into helping their dojo (even though, so often, dojos often desperately need the help of their older students) because it leads to resentment. But I have found great refuge and education in assisting my instructors, both past and present. Being chairperson for two martial arts clubs at Rhodes University gave me an anchor and direction in a town that remains notorious for thwarting even the best intentions. Helping younger students now highlights the flaws in my own karate and teaches me to have patience, something I had always thought happened to other people.

And I come back to where I started: no martial artist really accomplishes as much as they think they do purely on their own merit. Whether it is the federation that supports its instructors with consistent training by bringing in instructors from around the world, the sempai that took the time to train you on a Sunday morning on a rugby field when the dojo was closed, the junior that asks the questions that you hadn’t considered, or the Sensei who works tirelessly to keep the dojo open so that you can train with others – no one becomes a martial artist alone.

So, giri is obligation, but it is dynamic and concessionary and nuanced. And as mentioned in this fascinating essay by Masayuki Yoshida, “there is no explicit request by one party that the other act under an obligation to do, or refrain from doing, something. Indeed a large part of giri is for parties so obliged to act in advance of the need arising to ask for any particular favour”.

No martial artist is an island, and nor should we be. It remains a privilege that we can train and learn with others, to grow with them and learn from them. Giri is simply an extension of your training through contribution to the dojo and those who have given their time and knowledge willingly. So say thank you to your sensei, and offer to help out with the junior classes, or stay behind to help tidy up. It’s maybe not as exciting as doing some chishi training, but it’ll do your martial heart a world of good.

Because nuclear power is still worth defending.

It comes as a surprise to many — though it shouldn’t — that someone who is pro-environment is also pro-nuclear. And unlike most green-minded people, I know my shit. I have written several papers on the subject, and remain as well-informed as I can on the trends in alternative power sources. While there are options, they are not as feasible as everyone likes to think. Solar panels are too expensive and too fragile. Wind farms require vast, vast amounts of space and concrete. Biofuel is driving up the cost of food, and as long as the planet consumes as much meat as it does, biofuel will be too expensive as long as we have to feed cows/pigs/sheep as well as people. Wave power is slowly gaining popularity, but it is still very expensive and difficult to implement along coasts as most of the coastline already belongs to shipping lanes.

With people braying about Japan being the next Chernobyl, I would like inform people as to the real causes and issues, and how what is happening in Japan should not be seen as a crushing defeat for nuclear power.  With stupid, uninformed activists already retarding South Africa’s nuclear progress, I will not stand and let people fill the feeds with panic and idiocy.

What caused the meltdown at Chernobyl on the 26th of April 1986? Sheer, unadulterated human error.

As in the previously released report INSAG-1, close attention is paid in report INSAG-7 to the inadequate (at the moment of the accident) “culture of safety” at all levels. Deficiency in the safety culture was inherent not only at the operational stage but also, and to no lesser extent, during activities at other stages in the lifetime of nuclear power plants (including design, engineering, construction, manufacture and regulation). The poor quality of operating procedures and instructions, and their conflicting character, put a heavy burden on the operating crew, including the Chief Engineer. “The accident can be said to have flowed from a deficient safety culture, not only at the Chernobyl plant, but throughout the Soviet design, operating and regulatory organizations for nuclear power that existed at that time.” [11]:24 – Wikipedia, “Chernobyl”.

Bad construction, poor maintenance and worse responses are the causes of Chernobyl. What is happening in Japan? Japan got hit by a sister-fucker of a tsunami after being skullfucked by an earthquake of earth-shattering intensity. Of course this would do some damage to a nuclear reactor. But again, we’re seeing the problems of human error, which is not a problem that is specific to nuclear power. The fear of human error has never been enough to prevent human enterprise. After all, aeroplane crashes are often due to mechanical wear and tear caused by sheer bloody-minded laziness, or pilots who get too confused by conflicting sounds. AeroPeru Flight 603 was downed by a piece of duct tape left over a static port by ground maintenance, the best technology thwarted by human idiocy. Yet planes continue to take off every second of the day.

(On a sidenote, I obsessively watch Mayday and Seconds From Disaster.)

So why the fear around nuclear power? Because it can go so horribly wrong? Well, not really.

Let’s put this in perspective. France has 59 power plants. There are 439 nuclear plants in the world. To date, 3 have failed. (The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 is the one no one remembers. Like Michael Collins.)  The total deaths number less than 150. When we consider the vast number of people that must be working in these plants, and how wrong things have had to go for them to blow up, the fear of nuclear meltdown seems pretty ridiculous. (But, of course, everyone likes to be afraid of shit they don’t understand, and most people think Simpsons when they think nuke plants.)

Nuclear power’s only real problem is that the initial set-up is expensive. In South Africa, we also lack the skilled staff to run it, with most of our scientists having been poached. But it produces so little waste in comparison to coal, it creates no emissions, does not require vast tracts of land, is powerful and reliable and pretty much the best answer to our fuel-heavy lifestyles, it is patently absurd for people to harp on about wind farms. In South Africa, the size of a windfarm to generate enough electricty would span kilometres, and I don’t see Cape Townians that willing to use their wind at the expense of their beautiful land. We could put solar panels in the Karoo, but that would mess with the environment and all it takes is some rocks or stray animals and the panels are broken.

The resistance to nuclear power usually follows these paths:

– It’s too expensive.

Yes, but it works out much cheaper in the long run to maintain and supply than coal. After all, you wouldn’t need trains and trains just to carry coal, but a truck with uranium in it.

– It’s too dangerous.

Its more dangerous to let coal emissions fill the atmosphere. I’ll take my high chances of safety with nuclear power than the coast being under water in a few decades.

– But the waste!

Has anyone driven past a landfill recently? Seen nuclear waste glowing there? It is carefully and safely stored underground in researched containers and monitored.

There are ways to use solar and wind; getting houses off the grid is one of them. But we have a growing industry and nuclear power would go a long way to lessening our reliance on coal. It is also much, much cheaper.

So, nuclear is really the abused child of the power family, the prodigal genius with no support. I hope to help raise awareness for it, and that it is a hugely complex issue that offers a great number of positive outcomes. And also because I’m tired of fake hippies making the rest of us look bad.

5 Quick Writing Rules

Tally directed me to this list about writing, and I decided that it would be a totally expected of me to blog about it. So I did.

Here are my rules for writing, and I don’t know if they will always serve me well. I hope they will.

1. Its a waste of time trying to please anyone.

I will always write what suits me. To this date, it has involved pirates, mechas, feminism, atheism, vegetarianism, martial arts and a lot of ‘dammits’ thrown in. My friends who have read my writing are still my friends, and they know they don’t have to read it if they don’t want to. So, I still write for myself.

2. Writing for money is like throwing bottles in the ocean

Because so few authors can actually live off their writing, and because I don’t really write anything marketable, I am happy to write for the sake of writing. Hence, the blog.

3. If you haven’t pissed someone off, you’re doing it wrong.

That sums up my more vitriolic writings. People have to think about something in order to get angry about it. I used to get angry at vegetarians. Now I am one. So guess who won.

4.  Writing is wonderful solipsism, and totally acceptable.

In my laptop, there are thousands of words, creating worlds and people I like to spend time with. By adding more details to both, I can maximise my personal pleasure. If it makes me happy, maybe it’ll make someone else happy.

5. Read like its chocolate and sex

I love reading. I read through all the articles I can, and seek constant information. More often than not, it gets me going on my own writing. That includes everything from lists on the internet to my friends’ writing to newspaper articles to traditional novels. Even if its crap writing, it still provides a lesson. And even if it was written by someone amazing, its still something to aspire to.

Writing, more simply, is something that has to be in the blood, and it still keeps me sane and expressive. It is the medium through which I record my life and thoughts and joys, and without it I might be in a great deal of mental agony. Its never been about the money, not really. Because if it was, I wouldn’t be writing what I do. Like everything else in my life, my writing is about me. I know its shameful narcissism, but obnoxious honesty is still better than spineless modesty, and all I can hope for is that other people enjoy my writing. But if they don’t, and even if no one ever agrees to pay me for it, its still mine.

PS: Thank you to everyone who does read my special brand of writing. In a large part, you keep me from getting too far up my own arse or too far down the rabbit hole. Deeply appreciated.

Bad Humour

While I might not agree with Ivo Vegter at times, he is the closest thing we will get to a PJ O’Rourke in this beautiful and tormented country. In this article he discusses the potential blowback we may get as a result of Juju Fridays.

I understand the frustration that Malema arises in the best and worst of us, and while I still find him as puerile and insultingly bourgeois as the next person, doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to everyone to launch an entire day dedicated to making jokes? As Ivo pointed out, those who contributed to Juju fridays have handed him all the ammo he needs to mislead those who are unfortunate enough to follow him because they lack the education and tools.

Of course only the rich in this country can really afford and contribute to the Twitter campaign. Of course its not going to look good that an elite group is taking the piss out of someone who still holds some thrall over less-educated South Africans. We know that it was just satire and frustration and maybe a little meanness coming through. While I’m not calling for the policing of Twitter or any kind of social media, a little common sense would have been welcome.

Unforutnately, we still live in an age where white people think its funny to tell black jokes with that particular accent, and say ‘its harmless’. Of course, being a white, straight English-speaking male means that there are very few jokes directed towards that group, so it is easy to take the piss. Let’s consider the following joke types:

Stupid Afrikaner (Van Der Merwe), dumb female blondes, gay jokes, lesbian jokes, Muslim jokes, fundamentalist jokes, poor/ignorant black jokes (Philemon/Sixpence), disaster jokes (based on the suffering of others in natural disasters or others) and the list goes on.

So, when my white friends tell Philemon jokes, or dumb blonde jokes, then wonder why they’re just not that funny after standard 6, maybe they will understand how unfair it seems when its your gender or group that’s always having the piss taken. I don’t really like that the blonde jokes are always about women. I also really don’t find gay/lesbian jokes funny, as I am sure that they don’t either.

Of course there’s always place for humour, but some jokes are just downright mean. And while I myself am partial to a great joke that takes the piss out of something as indefensible as Shariah law or a sex joke, making fun out of someone for their hair colour seems a bit retarded. Especially since its always a woman.

Likewise, we should all just have the maturity to just ignore Malema. Like the child he is (calling other adults ‘cockroaches’ is not the most fabulous sign of maturity), he should just be ignored. He’ll eventually realise that there are better ways of getting attention. Speaking nicely to people is a start.

It’s all turned into petty name-calling, and a lot of people fail to see the danger of handing a child more sharp sticks to poke back with. Malema’s danger is that his wealth is not an insult to all of us. There are people who see him as successful, not corrupt, and there are enough people who are still ignorant enough to believe the tripe that comes out of his mouth. South Africa is one of the least literate countries in Africa. We are ranked 107th in the world for literacy rates, which is pretty fucking pathetic. Without going on a sidetrack about the failure of the education system, one of the by-products of failed education is the susceptibility of those who don’t have adequate education to the manipulation of politicos. There are some people who think raping babies and virgins cures AIDS because their traditional healers tell them so, and they unfailingly trust their authority. In the absence of education, structures like authority and tradition still hold sway. Churches and elders still have an influence regardless of their superstitious and backward ways. For the love of biscuits, we still allow polygamy. The fact that no one is marching in the streets to protest that our taxes support the president, his wives and 22 children is proof that, for some people, there’s nothing wrong with it.

So, let’s consider how Malema might use the ammo given to him by Juju fridays to show his following (shrinking but still enough to be worried about) that people use the internet to be racist. Because that is what it will be reduced to, and the intricasices of the argument will never go across. Could you sit and explain to people who don’t even have a standard six the full implications of free speech, the vivacity and turbulance of social media, as well as the signs of Malema’s aspirations to start something disturbingly like the SA or SS? We know there’s enough hatred rolling around in his oddly shiny head to make anyone worry. While we shouldn’t have the same approach to him as Chamberlain did with Hitler, there needs to be an informed, mature and firm response to Malema. I don’t promise to have all the answers, but I think that it would be more effective to organise a march to raise awareness around his ill-gained wealth, or launch an education campaign.

There has to be a better way to do this than name-calling on Twitter.

Feminist Cartoon

When I read this, I felt absolved, and like someone finally understood me.

That the cartoonist is a man is even more gratifying, as it shows that some progress is being made, and that some people ‘get it’ when I talk about what it is like to be a feminist in a misogynist world.

His blog is now on my blogroll at Gabby’s Playhouse. Please support this great writer/cartoonist!


The Battle Continues

As many of you may, or may not know, Graham and I are writing a book. Not just any book, but what we hope to be the definitive atheist handbook and reference guide. At least, the best one in Africa, looking towards Dawkins, Hitchen and Harris for guides.

As such, we are collecting articles about atheists, atheism and the non-religious battle and often come across numerous interesting titbits. Gaze upon the awesomeness of hackers in action here: Evangelists Hacked Off. Now, there will be the invariable bleating about ‘wah the evangelists are entitled to spread their word’. But let’s look at the nature of evangelical christianity. Who can doubt that it is nothing but a money-spinner? These falsely charismatic priests are often flashy and expensively-dressed, and often prey upon the poor. After all, atheism is something more often found amongst the rich, who have no need to hope that an imaginary friend will help them make money. So, the evangelists often exist to prey upon the frustrations and ignorance of those who simply can’t imagine letting go of Mr Jesus. Also, one has to wonder where they get the money from for a huge conference in very expensive Cape Town. Carbon footprint much?

Evangelism also suggests a more aggressive christianity. (I wish spellchecker would stop trying to capitalise that word. I refuse to do so until it tells me to write atheists with a capital A.) The following comment was attached to the hacker article:

“The growing war against Christianity, morals, respect and decency”, he says. Add to this the current Pope’s frankly ill-informed comment:

“Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the ‘final authority,’ and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.” (Pope Blames Atheists for Global Warming)

Wait, what? When we deny god, we burn baby rabbits? What’s going on here? Was it not the Bible that gave dominion of the environment to man (not humankind, because remember we live in a patriarchal world)  and initiated centuries of animal abuse and environmental degradation? ‘God gave it to us, neener neener’ seems to be the response. And yes, I was at a braai, and three christians told me they could eat pork chops and lamb because god said so. (I thought pork was banned, but anyway.) This was not the best argument, and as one can imagine, they lost that one.

Atheists are apparently amoral and godless and therefore violent. Considering that atheists aren’t bombing anyone in the name of no one, please consider the following list of current religious wars and combat zones:

Current Wars:

Afghanistan:……Extreme, radical Fundamentalist Muslim terrorist groups, non-Muslims. Osama bin Laden heads a terrorist group called Al Quada (The Source) whose headquarters were in Afghanistan. They were protected by, and integrated with, the Taliban dictatorship in the country. The Northern Alliance of rebel Afghans, Britain and the U.S. attacked the Taliban and Al Quada, establishing a new regime in part of the country. The fighting continues.

Bosnia:……Serbian Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic), Muslims. Fragile peace is holding, due only to the presence of peacekeepers.

Côte d’Ivoire:……Muslims, Indigenous, Christian. Following the elections in late 2000, government security forces “began targeting civilians solely and explicitly on the basis of their religion, ethnic group, or national origin. The overwhelming majority of victims come from the largely Muslim north of the country, or are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants…”
A military uprising continued the slaughter in 2002.

Cyprus:……Christians, Muslims. The island is partitioned,creating enclaves for ethnic Greeks (Christians) and Turks (Muslims). A UN peace keeping force is maintaining stability.

East Timor:……Christians, Muslims. A Roman Catholic country. About 20% of the population died by murder, starvation or disease after they were forcibly annexed by Indonesia (mainly Muslim). After voting for independence, many Christians were exterminated or exiled by the Indonesian army and army-funded militias in a carefully planned program of genocide and religious cleansing. The situation is now stable.

India:……Animists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Various conflicts that heat up periodically producing loss of life.

Indonesia, province of Ambon:……Christians, Muslims. After centuries of relative peace, conflicts between Christians and Muslims started during 1999-JUL in this province of Indonesia. The situation now appears to be stable.

Iraq:……Kurds, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, western armed forces. By mid-2006, a small scale civil war, primarily between Shiite and Sunni Muslims started. The situation appears to be steadily degenerating.

Kashmir:……Hindus, Muslims. A chronically unstable region of the world, claimed by both Pakistan and India. The availability of nuclear weapons and the eagerness to use them are destabilizing the region further. Thirty to sixty thousand people have died since 1989.

Kosovo:……Serbian Orthodox Christians, Muslims. Peace enforced by NATO peacekeepers. There is convincing evidence of past mass murder by Yugoslavian government (mainly Serbian Orthodox Christians) against ethnic Albanians (mostly Muslim).

Kurdistan:……Christians, Muslims. Assaults on Christians (Protestant, Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian Orthodox).

Macedonia:……Macedonian Orthodox Christians, Muslims. Muslims (often referred to as ethnic Albanians) engaged in a civil war with the rest of the country who are primarily Macedonian Orthodox Christians. A peace treaty has been signed. Disarmament by NATO is complete.

Middle East:……Jews, Muslims, Christians. The peace process between Israel and Palestine suffered a complete breakdown. This has resulted in the deaths of thousands, in the ratio of three dead for each Jew.  Major strife broke out in 2000-SEP. Major battle in Lebanon during mid-2006. No resolution appears possible.

Nigeria:……Christians, Animists, Muslims. Yourubas and Christians in the south of the country are battling Muslims in the north. Country is struggling towards democracy after decades of Muslim military dictatorships.

Northern Ireland:……Protestants, Catholics. After 3,600 killings and assassinations over 30 years, some progress has been made in the form of a ceasefire and an independent status for the country.

Pakistan:……Suni, Shi’ite Muslims. Low level mutual attacks.

Philippines:……Christians, Muslims. A low level conflict between the mainly Christian central government and Muslims in the south of the country has continued for centuries.

Russia,Chechnya:……Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims. The Russian army attacked the breakaway region. Many atrocities have been alleged on both sides. According to the Voice of the Martyrs: “In January 2002 Chechen rebels included all Christians on their list of official enemies, vowing to ‘blow up every church and mission-related facility in Russia’.”

South Africa:……Animists, “Witches”. Hundreds of persons, suspected and accused as witches practicing black magic, are murdered each year.

Sri Lanka:……Buddhists, Hindus. Tamils (a mainly Hindu 18% minority) are involved in a war for independence since 1983 with the rest of the country (70% Sinhalese Buddhist). Hundreds of thousands have been killed. The conflict took a sudden change for the better in 2002-SEP, when the Tamils dropped their demand for complete independence. The South Asian Tsunami in 2004-DEC induced some cooperation. The situation in mid-2006 is degenerating.

Sudan:……Animists, Christians, Muslims. Complex ethnic, racial, religious conflict in which the Muslim regime committed genocide against both Animists and Christians in the south of the country. Slavery and near slavery were practiced. A ceasefire was signed in 2006-MAY between some of the combatants. Warfare continues in the Darfur region, primarily between a Muslim militia and Muslim inhabitants.

Thailand:……Buddhists, Muslims. Muslim rebels have been involved in a bloody insurgency in southern Thailand — a country that is 95% Buddhist. The army has seized power and has agreed to talks with the rebels.

Tibet:……Buddhists, Communists. Country was annexed by Chinese Communists in late 1950′s. Brutal suppression of Buddhism continues.

Uganda:…. Animists, Christians, Muslims. Christian rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army are conducting a civil war in the north of Uganda. Their goal is a Christian theocracy whose laws are based on the Ten Commandments. They abduct, enslave and/or rape about 2,000 children a year.


Still waiting for a war funded and conducted by atheists.

My point is (and I do have one) is that christians and others refuse to acknowledge their complicity in global war, climate damage, animal cruelty and the suppression of human beings. Instead, everything gets blamed on atheists and atheism. While there are probably some mean atheists out there, there is absolutely no doubt that there are very many bad religious people out there. This article gives even more reasons just to oppose the Catholic Church, and does it well.

I wouldn’t mind so much if religious people accepted that they are part of a group of people who use a god (or gods) to motivate war, jihad and genocide. If I saw more christians and muslims and assorted other religious groups actually condemning the actions of their groups a bit louder, maybe we could have a dialogue. But all there is is tacit approval or silence. Too much bleating of  ‘but we’re peaceful muslims!’ There aren’t enough Catholics boycotting their churches because of Ratzinger’s defence of paedophiles, and 100,000 muslims were willing to march to call for Salman Rushdie’s death over a book that was not that inflammatory. These are not the actions of moral people.

Atheists are becoming a marginalised group, but we aren’t willing to turn to arms to defend ourselves. We don’t want to be as bad as the people that blame us for everything from global warming to nuclear war. So, we are using the internet, literature and documentaries as our places of defence. It is our hope that we can offer an alternative that does not allow violence in the name of an imaginary friend. So, I would like to add my blog to the peaceful movement that is atheism, and I look forward to a day when people stop looking at me funny just because I refuse to bow and scrape before Mr Jesus.