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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Solo Training 3: 50 and Older" by Loren W. Christensen. A Review

Solo Training 3: 50 and OlderSolo Training 3: 50 and Older by Loren W. Christensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started martial arts just at the end of my 40s and have recently earned my 2nd degree black belt. It has been sitting in the back of my aging noggin that the day may be soon approaching when I might need to move to something easier, lighter and more gentle on my mellowing physique. So I was quite interested when I picked up "Solo Training 3: 50 and Older" by Loren W. Christensen, 8th Dan in American Free Style Karate, retired Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), and senior citizen. This 316 page self-published paperback goes right to the heart of what I've been thinking, and gives a resounding "No!" to my question.

Christensen lays out a rationale and regimen for starting on martial arts or continuing your training even beyond 50, 60 and into the 70s. It's a motivating read with helpful practicalities and reasoned purposefulness. The book contains truck loads of descriptive information sensibly fitting for those 50 and older on ways to enhance a reader's martial arts training alone, at home, and back in the dojo. There are even training exercises for ending a fight quickly and hitting a downed attacker, with some levelheaded warnings. It's obvious that the author's LEO experiences keeps his karate real - it is a martial, or combat, art.

"Solo Training 3" has a few typos and grammatical faux pas here and there and could have used an outside editor, but none of those are show-stoppers. This is a readable, usable, employable volume good for anyone 50 and up. It would make an ideal addition to any martial art school library. But more importantly, it should be in the hands of anyone over 50 who is either beginning martial arts, or wants to keep what they've worked so hard to obtain. I highly recommend the book.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

"The World Beyond Your Head" by Matthew B. Crawford. A Review

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction
Matthew B. Crawford
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374535919; $ 15.00; 04/05/2016

5 Stars out of 5: Artful and Astute

I have tried for years to fathom where we are in our present-day location. As I look beyond the geopolitical commotions to the normal, day-in-and-day-out state of affairs, I find it alarming how easily distracted we’ve become, and the ways disruption has taken over our mental, visual, and audio space. Why is that, how did we get here, and is there a viable way forward? Matthew Crawford, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, fabricator of components for custom motorcycles and established author, addresses all of this and more in his recently published 320 page paperback, “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.”

The overall theme of “The World Beyond Your Head” has to do with seeking out authentic individuality in a social context and culture that is awash in a flattened-out democratic autonomy. The author describes the book’s aim in this way, “I hope to arrive at something like an ethics of attention for our time, grounded in a realistic account of the mind and a critical gaze at modern culture” (7). There is an urgency in this volume since the author sees that presently there “is a crisis of self-ownership: our attention isn’t simply ours to direct where we will, and we complain about it bitterly” (5). We have “allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want it back you’re going to have to pay for it” (12).

To map out the trajectory of how we got here, Crawford reaches back to the Enlightenment, looking at how Kant’s program underpins the American ideal of autonomy and freedom. This is a program that reaches out for a disembodied will that floats “free of all natural necessities” (74), where to be rational is not “to be situated in the world” (76). In other words, to become the autonomous self one must be “free to satisfy one’s preferences. Preferences themselves are beyond rational scrutiny; they express the authentic core of a self whose freedom is realized when there are no encumbrances to its preference-satisfying behavior” (17). The outworking of this Kantian “fantasy of autonomy” is that we become impotent (77), pliable to the architects of choice (117), succumbing to a fragility that can’t “tolerate conflict and frustration” and therefore is disposed to give ourselves and our cash to those who manufacture comfort and the best experience to “save us from a direct confrontation with the world” (77). It’s a rather chilling diagnosis that uses the gambling casino as a sample of these symptoms.

Next the author aims “The World Beyond Your Head” deeper into the present situation. Three of the most important trajectories of the Kantian “fantasy of autonomy” come through load and clear. In the structure of Kantian autonomy is the rise of the sovereign self that lives in the culture of performance “in which you have to constantly marshal your internal resources to be successful” (162); where the new ideal is no longer a settled identity but the “ideal of being flexible (. . .) of reinventing yourself at any time, like a good democratic √úbermensch” (163). This leads to a “weariness with the vague and unending project of having to become one’s fullest self” (165).

A second arc is the playing out of subjectivism, where right-and-wrong comes from me, the subject, and only applies to me, the subject. Crawford rightly points out how subjectivism can’t make sense of the experience of achieving greater clarity in one’s ability to understand moral consequences, and it can’t adapt to the idea that there might actually be a real right-and-wrong out there that applies to us and originates outside of us instead of originating from our own sovereign-self idiosyncrasies. Crawford calls this inability “the dogmatic inarticulacy of subjectivism,” which he goes on to define as a “moral autism” (184).

The final direction of the Kantian program is “the ideal of autonomy” that “prepares the way for massification” (196). This is the trend to cast off our situatedness, history, and inherited traditions and to self-identify along the categorical lines mapped out by social sciences (200) and social surveys. By absorbing these social sciences categories as our identity we become the decontextualized citizens and the homogenized residents bowing at the idolatrous shrine of the legacy-rejecting present: “When the sovereignty of the self requires that the inheritance of the past be disqualified as a guide to action and meaning, we confine ourselves in an eternal present” (205).

In “The World Beyond Your Head” Crawford also offers a remedy to the Kantian project: an antidote of embodiment and situatedness and a regimen of encountering things and other people. First the book the author brings out the value and virtue of being recognized as an individual which “seems to be possible only in the context of genuine connection with others, with whom one is locked into some web of norms – some cultural jig – that is binding, yet also rich enough to admit of individual interpretation” (160). Next, he illustrates situatedness and embodiment by picturing the short order cook who has come to inhabit the kitchen and the motorcyclist who experiences cognitive extension. Finally, he also spends a considerable amount of time and ink on the exemplary organ maker’s shop where “a readiness to rebel – against the self-satisfaction of the age – seems a prerequisite to discovering something you judge worthy of reverence. To affirm something in this way, freely and with discernment, is surely one element of what it means to be an individual” (225). It’s from within this “dynamic of reverence and rebellion” (236) one inhabits an inherited legacy, thrives in it, and becomes truly forward moving and progressive; “his own inventiveness as a going further in a trajectory he has inherited” (243).

In Crawford’s diagnostic and remedial blueprint, “The World Beyond Your Head,” we not only meet with Kant, but we also converse with Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Polanyi, as well as a few more modern thinkers. The discussion can, at times, get a bit heady, but in the end the author is able to hold the reader’s attention. Though Crawford simply wants to build a case for constructing “an attentional commons: a concern for justice in the sharing of our private yet public resource of attentions” (251), nevertheless the book will take readers into different places to reflect on other tangents that are worth their time and thoughtfulness: the gambling industry, craftsmanship, education, social surveys, Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Reports, historical norms and tradition.

“The World Beyond Your Head” is quite the stimulating read that makes philosophy – especially political philosophy – and epistemology easily comprehendible to reflective, non-technical readers. It would make a worthy addition to any university or seminary library. The volume will also make for good discussion and interaction in classes on philosophy and worldview. But even for anyone not engaged in academia, this manuscript is a must read to equip one for more reasonable and discerning engagement with the current era. I highly recommend this book!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Almighty God, You have Taught Us" - 16 October 2016

Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law: grant that we, who have been gathered here by Christ’s beckoning and receiving Christ together in faith and with thanksgiving, may love you with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves.

We pray for your Church all over the world, and congregations here in the OKC area: especially for Church of the First Born; Church of the Harvest; Church of the Living God; Church of the Open Arms; Church of the Savior; and Church of the Servant. For those churches who claim to be yours and have lost their way and begun traveling down side trails and pathways that dishonor you, reject the Scriptures as the final rule of faith and life, and embrace error; we implore you to restore them, grant them to see their fault, renounce it, and return in joy to you and your way. For those congregations leaning into being faithful to you, fill them with compassionate courage and sturdy resilience. Uphold our brotherhood in the world by fortifying those who face persecution, enlivening those who are broken down with grave worries, equipping those who are lacking, protecting those who are in real danger.

Good Shepherd who seeks that which is lost, who even sought out and restored an extorting tax collector like Zacchaeus; we pray for these…..may they come to know that you have come to seek and to save the lost; and as with Zacchaeus, may salvation come to their house.

O great physician, as you healed the sick, gave strength to the lame, opened the eyes of the blind and ears of the deaf, and set the oppressed free, we pray for you to mend, restore, fortify and make whole these who are afflicted and hurting….

For these United States of America, our leaders and all who reside here; along with every nation on this round world; Bring us all to sensible level-headedness, that peace, prosperity, healthiness and wholeness would win the upper hand; and human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, wickedness, savagery, child abuse, cruelty toward the weaker, and the raw barbarity of war might cease. And we pray for our own national future that your hand would guide us to better days so that we may leave our children and grandchildren a land of peace and a place to thrive in wholesomeness.

Mighty God, who has your way in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of your feet; who rebukes the sea and makes it dry; who dries up all the rivers (Nahum 1.3-4); we implore you to relieve us from the earthquakes, destructive floods, devastating hurricanes, and damaging tornados. And please give hardiness to those working hard to help in the recovery of disaster-ridden-flood-drenched places in our country: Louisiana, our East Coast, and Florida. May our MNA Disaster Response folks have plenty of funds, resources and coworkers to be successful in their ventures.

We present to you all of these prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"The Shotokan Karate Bible: Beginner to Black Belt" by Ashley P. Martin. A Review

The Shotokan Karate BibleThe Shotokan Karate Bible by Ashley P. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I'm always looking for ways to branch out. Therefore I was quite pleased to find and delve into the classy 222 page paperback "The Shotokan Karate Bible: Beginner to Black Belt 2nd Edition" by Ashley P. Martin, Chief Instructor and Grading Examiner at Just Karate of Cambridge, UK. The material is visually pleasing, glossy, colorful, and instructive.

After mapping out a brief history and lineage of Shotokan Karate, the author then gives the novice karateka a run down on the basics of uniform, stances, punches, kime, Japanese commands, and grading examinations. Once the reader has completed those chapters, then the next sections work the practitioner through the necessary subjects for each belt level. Martin covers basic forms, appropriate katas with a few applications sprinkled in, one-steps, and kumite. The pictures are clear and crisp, with short explanations and instructions next to each photograph. The first appendix tackles the grading system for every belt level with a simple set of usable charts. The second appendix works through each kata, from kihon to bassai dai. It is set out in a way to show the whole kata in a visually directional format.

The highlight of the book is chapter eleven which addresses kata application. The author recognizes that the basic level of application, omote bunkai, is not very satisfying as it simply sticks with surface details of the kata; "low block, high block, punch, etc." Martin then discusses a second level of application, ura bunkai, which delves deeper into how each move has multiple uses. Next he points out a third level where blocks, for example, can also evolve into strikes and joint locks. The author photographically delves into examples of this third level from various katas to make his point: kihon, heian shodan, heian nidan, heian sandan, heian yondan, heian godan, tekki shodan, and bassai dai. Beyond the basic information in the book, chapter eleven may well be what makes this book most valuable.

The only real weakness becomes obvious when attempting to follow the katas and learn them. The practitioner will need to have a personal instructor to figure out the arc line of blocks, grabs, kicks, stances and punches. The photos simply don't - and can't - show all of the finer details. The other option is to use the book in conjunction with watching a good instructional video, such as "Shotokan Sensei" on YouTube. The book is ultimately an outside-the-dojo supplement to actual instruction.

"The Shotokan Karate Bible" is a useful and valuable volume that will make a good addition to any martial arts library. Karate instructors of whatever tradition should obtain a copy to use as a reference, since many of the kata stances, strikes and blocks are very similar and the applications in the book will broaden out your instruction. I highly recommend the book.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Karate" by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard C. Brown. A Review

Karate The Art of Karate The Art of "Empty-Hand" Fighting by Hidetaka Nishiyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally published in 1960 (republished in 1990) "Karate: The Art of "Empty-Hand" Fighting" is an early, straightforward "how-to" book of principles of Karate. It covers a short history of Karate; lays out a weekly work-out and training schedule; explains the various punches, strikes, blocks and kicks along with their applications; shows samples of techniques in combination; various defensive moves from the floor, in a chair, and other venues; and walks the karateka through the heian number 4 kata.

It becomes quickly obvious that the material was pulled together long before Karate became commercialized in the West. All of the pictures are in clear, black and white photos. Sparring only takes up one short chapter and pictures the contestants without any protective gear. The main focus of the book is on learning the proper way to perform strikes, punches, blocks and kicks, and their martial applications. The explanations that accompany each chapter and every picture are sensible and lucid.

"Karate" is a basic, but useful volume. It will help the practitioner to have a sense of groundedness to one branch of the martial arts before the sports aspect took over. This would make a solid addition to any martial artists library. I highly recommend the book.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

"O Lord, Who Knows" - 9 October Morning and Evening

Sunday morning:

O Lord, who knows our path and our lying down and are acquainted with all our ways (Psalm 139.3), we pray for the besieged and beleaguered peoples in our world, suffering from hurricanes (Cuba, Haiti, the islands…), floods, droughts, tsunamis, unemployment, military threats, fears and pestilence. Please establish peace, justice, recovery and efficient economies in all lands, for the good of all, so that the Gospel of Jesus may spread unchecked, and that your Church may dwell securely in peace and quietness.

Guide our own leaders to throw off selfish programs, cut-throat tactics, and dastardly devices and to put on what is truly legitimate and will promote evenhanded integrity. Have mercy on our country, and restrain the evil, self-seeking and immorality that often arises from the governed. For those regions in the U.S. that are stressed and straining from economic trouble, bring around beneficial change and recovery.

Give ear to our concerns as we pray for those who are still in their unbelief and for those who have disserted the Christian Faith….may they turn around and believe in your Son Jesus Christ, and have everlasting life.

We pray for our enemies that you would lead them and us from prejudice to truth; and deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge to faith, hope and love; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you through Jesus Christ your Son.

O Father, there are some who are hurting with suffocating darkness and strangling distress, who need your aid and rescue desperately right now. Hear them as they cry out to you, and hear us as we cry out with them and for them…..lift up their hearts, lift up their heads, lift up their hope out of the dust and mire, and set their feet on the rock!

For your Church in all places, this congregation, and these churches in the greater OKC area; Christ Community Church of Edmond and OKC; Christian Faith Fellowship; Cherokee Hills Church of Christ; Edmond Church of God; Southern Hills Church of God; and Church of the Bride. Our desire is to see all who claim to be your people stand holy, whole and healthy in Jesus Christ. Therefore those who have stumbled into errors that dishonor you and create schism, restore them to your way of truth; those who have allowed their desires and ambitions to squeeze out brotherly love and create fights and wars, reinstate them in the cross-shaped ways of Christ; those who are towing the line and promoting the Gospel of Jesus and  wholesome doctrine and genuine godliness in modesty, encourage them by giving grace to the humble while you withstand the proud; and those who are standing firm against the pressures and persecutions of the world, strengthen them so that in life and in death they may remain faithful witnesses.

We present to you all of these prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Sunday evening:

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5.12-13).

We are so grateful for our deacons who keep up the building and grounds, who take care of our finances, who step up and help out in works of mercy for those having needs. We entreat you to provide them with resources, strength, emotional elasticity, and fellow helpers. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Thank you, Father, for the elders in this congregation, who care so deeply for this people; who pray for us often, look out for us, rejoice with us, and weep as well. Shepherd these shepherds with your constant merciful kindnesses; preserve their families; prosper their work; fill them with more and more wisdom that this vocation would always be a joy to them. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Our Father, we pray for our denomination, this congregation, and also Colleyville Presbyterian Church; Bethel Church; Cristo Rey Presbyterian Church; Lakewood Presbyterian Church; Mercy Presbyterian Church; New Covenant Presbyterian Church; New St. Peters Presbyterian Church; Park Cities Presbyterian Church and Providence Presbyterian Church. For all of us we implore you, by the mystery of our Lord’s fasting and temptation that you would arm us with the same mind that was in him toward all evil and sin. In all of our churches may your word be truly taught and proclaimed and truly heard; your sacraments faithfully administered and faithfully received; and your discipline lovingly given and lovingly accepted. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally Father, there are other concerns and requests that are in our hearts that we silently mention to you….You know our requests and you know what are the best outcomes; for these we beseech you. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139.23-24). O Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"There Is No God Like You" - 2 October 2016

As Solomon once declared, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below, for you keep faith with your people who strive to walk before you with all their heart (1 Kings 8.23). Because of your great love with which you have loved us in Christ Jesus, we long to completely put away the old methods of being human which grows corrupt through deceitful lusts, and we yearn to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, to walk fully in the new humanity created after your likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4.22-24).  Help us, O our Father! 

We plead for your Church world over, along with this congregation, and the numerous churches in the greater OKC area such as Bridgeway Church; Calvary Temple-Edmond; Capitol Hill Assembly of God; St. Eugene Catholic Church; Central Seventh Day Adventist Church; and Cherokee Hills Christian Church. Sustain our brotherhood in the world in the face of fierce barbarity; fortifying those who are challenged by persecution; supply the needs of those who are lacking; advance and prosper that which is faithful and valid; and guide and lead all of us into richer and fuller faithfulness and sound doctrine.

God of mercy, gracious Father, you have said you take no pleasure in the death of sinners, but rather that they should turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 18.32); we pray for these…..stir them up to see their need, to see their sin in the piercing light of your holiness, to cry out to you for mercy, and to find their life and hope in your Son Jesus Christ.

O great physician, as you healed the sick, gave strength to the lame and set the oppressed free, we pray for you to come and raise up these who are afflicted and hurting…

We are thankful how in small and big ways you have aided us in our need these last weeks and months….we thank you for successes, and how you have held us during the failures…and we thank you for blessing this congregation in so many ways.

For our country, our fellow residents, and our national leaders we pray; guide us all in the ways of godliness, truthfulness, industriousness, graciousness, courteousness, and virtue, for the good of all, and that your people in this land may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence. We pray for those regions in Ohio, Virginia and other places where heroin and crystal-meth use is becoming prevalent and destructive; Lord God, reclaim the users; give them help and lift up their hearts in hope.

Bring all the nations of the world to sensible level headedness, that peace, prosperity, healthiness and wholeness would win the upper hand; that human and drug trafficking, wickedness, and savagery might cease; so that all lands may enjoy your peace, and may come to know the One who is the Prince of Peace.

We present to you all of these prayers and praises through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.