Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blogging from Poland

Two days visiting Warsaw prior to heading off to CentrumKongresowo-Szkoleniose Magellan in Wolborz, Poland the forest hotel venue where on Wednesday we (Pawel Olesiak, Pawel Bernas and I) lead the Samurai Game for Pierre Fabre Medicament(pharmaceutical) company.

Monday I decided to really walk the city - Warsaw - to rid the jet lag(which, by the way, this trip didn't work). Out the door at 10am and on and on and on for 4 and 1/2 hours into and throughout Centrum Warsaw.

Ninety-four percent of the city was totally flattened in Sept '44 by German forces while Stalin's armies stood across the Vistula River and watched 200,000 die in a 62 day assault on the city. Who was is that said war is an extension of politics? I don't remember, but I do remember that the great war in Europe which began in 1939 did so as Germany and the Soviets made a political pact to carve up Poland for their own mutual benefit. Here, in this city, five years later their war machines came face to face. One watched while the other wipe out the city. "Politics," Dr. Jeff McCausland (CBS Radio) reminds us, "is often a matter of kicking a can down the street for the next guy to deal with." Russian and Germany kicked the can down a street, and left nothing much for anyone else. Russia ultimately got the can ...well at least until seventeen years ago when the Polish people rose up and took it back ... which history shows is exactly what the Polish people have always done, i.e. taken their country (the can) back from all invaders. From an outsiders view, they've been doing very well since. Sure there are problems; what nation doesn't have problems. But here this country appears to be growing and very vibrant. Strikingly a head of Slovakia and Hungary.

There's literally nothing left of old (like 400 years ago) Warsaw.But, the rebuild is impressive, with a definite flair of Dutch influence mixed in. Why the Dutch, I thought? Don't know, but given what I've seen elsewhere in Poland, Holland's thumbprint is very much part of this country's lineage.

Inside Warsaw ... tucked away here and there ... you'll find half a brick building or half a wall. Testaments to a past of just 63 years ago reminding the youth that what once was done (rather undone) can happen again. But, are the young people listening? Do they care?

In June during my first visit to Warsaw a man in his early forties spoke to me about the problem facing his country today: the youth have no comprehension of what it was like even 17 years ago. His story(which he lived as a teenager): "Back then there were lines to get bread; buying chocolate was out of the question; having to wait months to purchase a refrigerator was common, and after the wait father and mother settled for whatever became available and were grateful. Kids today have no idea. They don't know. They've heard about it. But it's so un-real to what you see. It's as if it never happened. It certainly didn't happen to them. They don't believe it could happen again. But it can."

This week as I walked around I'd have to agree. I thought if such a story were to be suggested to an outsider walking with me the listener may reply, "Impossible ... here?" There is not much un-modern,un-appointed, un-fashionable, un-drivable, un-electrified, un-marketable or un-marketed, un-advertised, un-sexy, un-anything around. As I was leaving on this trip I told someone I was headed for Warsaw and their response was , "Well you'll see a lot of old Soviet style buildings."Hmmmmmm ... not really.

I walked the tunnels under the streets ... how you get across big streets in Warsaw ... and what did I see? Shops. Everywhere. What can you buy? What do you want ... that's what you can buy ... and it's pretty good quality, too.

On Tuesday my partners, Pawel Olesiak and Pawel Bernas, took me by car on a tour for "something special" before leaving for the countryside for the Pierre Fabre conference. The something special was WinalowPalace. Built in the mid 1600's it became the home to Poland monarch's. How it survived the onslaught of Warsaw I don't know but it did. Today's it's interior walls are covered with fine oil paintings,mostly portraits. Hundreds ... maybe thousands of paintings. The upper reaches of the palace are noticeably low ceilinged. The doors were made for short people. The floors are oak planks. It is aone-of-a-kind treasure. Too bad we only had an hour. To view for yourself go to then click on the British Flag in the upper right hand corner of that website (unless you want to wade through the Polish version). Quite detailed.

I have to say, though, that it was on the way off the palace grounds that I had one of my two most moving moments of this whole week. Therein midst the manicured gardens of Winalow, just having left the old palace. Looking down the path could see a woman standing. On a bench was a man sitting, hunched over. She singing. He playing an accordian. Two gypsies making music and ... making money. I was a ways off and didn't want to disturb them or somehow dishonor them, but wanted their picture. See attached.

My second most moving moment? Two hours later. Driving down the highway. Flat, green Polish countryside. Corn stalks. Forests. Blue sky. Hugh white clouds. Off in the distance black thunderheads and lightning. Two story brick and stone farm houses skattered across fields. A guy leading two cows by rope. A couple of young women pushing bikes up a path. And as we're zipping down the road ... there next to the road ... sitting on a wood bench ... her back flat,straight against the brick and stone side of what must be her home on her feet ... long dress to her ankles ... a sweater ... a scarf covering her head ... sits a woman, maybe in her 80's. And I wonder, "What has she seen?"

I couldn't get to my camera fast enough. But I'll never lose the picture.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blogging from China

Wenzhou – August 4, 2007

This is China.

Yes, so are the other cities I’ve been to over the past few months –
Beijing, Shanghai, Haining, etc. … but this IS China. Large, urban
constantly moving, not “getting ready for the Olympics”, gritty city
China. Right now the sun is a large hot smog-screened ball burning
through the haze scorching the skin. I don’t know it, the scorch, but I
feel it.

WHAT DO I NOTICE? The grit and grime. In the air. On the sidewalks. On
my skin. On the cars. On the bicycles.

What do I notice? The traffic flow, sometimes dangerously making no
sense – like other things in life – slipping past itself scarcely
missing death and injury in a disorderly form of order. The people get
by … don’t we all.

What do I notice? Along side the street where I walk adjacent to the
outdoor fruit market the stench of rot, yet the fruit is OK, it’s
edible, it’s nutritious. I guess the smell is yesterday’s discards or
juices mixed in with the dirt and the spit and the wash water left by
those who want to keep things clean.

What do I notice? The young woman riding past me on her bike who turns
and stares at me (the white guy in cargo shorts), and laughs and grins
and keeps looking like I’m from some of alien … and, of course, I am.

What do I notice? The puppy, maybe less than a week old still in its
world of wobbliness. The one year old kid sitting in diapers on the
sidewalk playing with a bowl full of small bolts and screws ( I
remember doing the same thing when I was a boy at grandma’s house –
‘cept I wasn’t that young). The city roadside shop keeper, legs propped
on a chair … no one else in the shop.

What do I notice? Old men and women … maybe not as old as they look ..
walking underneath the freeway (I don’t think it’s called “freeway”
here) scavenging wood into pots and bowls, and I wonder what will
become of the wood … and what will become of them – probably the same

What do I notice? A man peddling a three wheeled awning covered taxi
cab (they’re everywhere) and placing his right foot on a break attached
to the frame above the front tire. The motor scooters. I saw a Harley

What do I notice? Lexus, Buick, Audi, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan,
Honda. (Some of this is really curious given the anti-Japanese
sentiment here. Kind of like, “I hate you, but I’ll drive your car.
Thank you very much.”)

What do I notice? People love it if you smile at them… well most people
do. One guy looked at me like I was just plain stupid.

What do I notice? The trees and grasses are green. The buildings and
streets are brown. There are no clouds, but I can’t see the sun right
now. Funny it was here a while ago … but not the sky… it’s gone …
haven’t seen blue up there at all. It’s either gray or grayer.

What do I notice? The fumes of diesel, tobacco, coal, gasoline and who
knows what else.

What do I notice? People – walking, biking, working, physically active
everywhere. They’re all thin – regardless of age – well most are. Oh
sure there’s a fat one now and then. But over ninety percent (my guess)
are in surprisingly good shape. Hmmm.

What do I notice? I haven’t seen a 24-Hour Fitness Gym anywhere.

I begin to think – these are hearty people. And then I think that maybe
a hostile environment makes for being in-shape. If they had to they
could take care of themselves … because they already are. They seem to
move in peace, but don’t (screw) with them.

Then I think .. there are signs … billboards … now and then advertising
the military.
Then I think of my country where similar signs exist – in magazines and
on TV (I guess, because I don’t watch TV at home). And I think “citizen
And I think … I remember … an “ism” from my days when I was in the Army
and was instructed that the regular army was meant to be a ready force
that would exist to absorb the initial shock of war (in other words
“die”) so as to give time for the average citizens time to gear up and
sustain the fight themselves.
And I think, “That’s alive here.”
And then I think, “That’s not alive back home.”


These people live in peace. Lots of ‘em. Getting around each other and
all the (stuff) that’s around – iron bars, scraps of paper, bricks and
concrete blocks, a pan of water I see some guy washing his shirt in.
The people are constantly moving through and around each other. I don’t
see anyone running into anyone and I haven’t seen an angry person yet.
Maybe somebody is and I haven’t noticed ‘cuz I’m just too overwhelmed
looking at all this stuff, I don’t know, I just haven’t seen one
though. But then again – they’re all kind of straight faced people and
who knows what anyone’s really feeling anyway. Feelings change all the
time. I’m sure that there’s crime, problems and all that here … it’s
planet Earth for God’s sake (yep God’s here too … maybe no religion
here … but that doesn’t mean the people don’t believe in prayer or a
Higher Power … don’t you bet on it … the woman I sat across from last
night sure looked like she was saying a blessing over her food). Yet
even though they seem to live in peace, I get the sense that … they
could be ready for … anything. And … they could probably handle it. No
questions asked.

August 6 ... following up. I saw the blue sky yesterday and mountains
and a river about three miles away that I didn't know were there. And
last night I saw something spectacularly strange. A star! Actually, it
was a planet - probably Saturn ... I guess that's the brightest one up
there right now, and the ONLY "star" in the China sky. Thinking back
from here to Shanghai to Jinan to Shenzhen and Beijing a bunch of other
place ... I guess ... yep, that's right ... it's the first "star" in
the China sky in that I've seen in probalby two years. Hostile
environment, but at least I'm having a good time star gazing.

After "star gazing" I went to a tea house ... taken there by two of the
students from the Samurai (Warrior) Game ... both are business owners.
Wenzhou is a business/manufacturing center in China. The tea house was
a magnificent and quiet place (and very un-Chinese) filled with
valuable artifacts from all over Tibet --- all for sale, and some
priced as high as US$12,000. Place is owned by a woman and a guy -
he's a devout Buddhist. See comment above about "Higher Power".

We talked about peace.
I see what I get to see, when I get to see it ... and enjoyed the

An interesting trip. Too bad it had to end so soon.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


In early July I was invited to present two very experiential programs for The Leadership Group (TLG) Santa Barbara. Then on July 14th – 18th I had the great pleasure to host the sixth Allied Ronin Leaders’ Retreat. Both TLG presentations and the Leaders’ Retreat at times featured exercises influenced by the martial art of aikido. Attendees at both – many of them CEO’s, business owners or senior executives - received a brief article attending to pressures faced in a world where technology is increasing at an almost exponential rate, while the opportunity to slow down and live a balanced daily life seems to slip away if not diligently. In an effort to serve you that article is reproduced for this month’s e-newsletter. Consider the fact that in some fashion you are proficient at something enough to be ready for big-time challenges – signifying sincere and rigorous practice in your art, craft, skill or ability. In a sense you are ready for black belt level testing. If that is the case they you will face something know as Randori. What is this? Let’s look through the lens of aikido … and then you make the translation.

Our article begins with a series of thoughts from the man who created the art of aikido. Then we glimpse three simple principles foundational to all the techniques of that art (and perhaps foundational to skills that are important to you). Next you imagine being on a mat in a learning situation and facing “your test” – and you translate that scene into the real “mat” and daily “learning opportunities” that make up your life. And finally we take note four key principles from David Baum, Ph.D. and Jim Hassinger as presented in their book, The Randori Principles.

First – Thoughts from Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido

“The Way of a Warrior cannot be encompassed by words or in letters – grasp the essence…. Instructors can impart only a fraction of the teaching. It is through your own devoted practice that the mysteries of the Art are brought to life. The techniques of the Way… change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. Fiddling with this and that technique is of no avail. Simply act decisively without reserve. The Art … has no form – it is the study of the spirit. In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master, you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art…. ”

Second – Three foundational principles to all techniques in this martial art (with some translation for you to consider)

• Aiki – blend with your opponent (listen, understand and move with what you encounter)

• Kuzushi – break your opponent’s balance (speak and act in the appropriate moment)

• Shisei – retain upright posture (maintain integrity)

Third – Your Test … and Your Randori – As you read … you translate this supposed situation into the real tests, grabs and hits of your daily life.

Imagine - you have been training ten years. It is time for the test – black belt. You are alone on a mat in a room (soon to become hot) surrounded by thirty potential opponents, some you know, others you may not. For the next hour of your life you will have to respond immediately to your test director (teacher – sensei). A series of foreign words with which you should be familiar will be called rapid fire - a language for action learned through the body in response to a series of strikes and grabs aimed at your head, your face, your throat, your temple, your chest, your shoulder, your wrist, your stomach, your back, your knee … in short, where ever and whenever and for as long as the teacher decides whether or not you have learned what is expected of you. Your peers, your seniors and your juniors will all be watching.

The attacks will come - open hand blade and closed fist strikes, single hand and two hand grabs, perhaps kicks, plus attacks by weapons - tanto (training knives), bokken (wooden swords) and jo (wooden staffs). Sometimes your opponents will be allowed to stand and rush you from above while you remain kneeling. Sometimes they will stand behind you with a knife to your throat or against the back of your neck. You will have to move and disarm them in ways that if the knife were real you would not be cut, and somehow the knife would end up in your hand. Through a blend of your action with the energy of their aggression, and finding the risks reversed, your attackers will submit and yield … provided you give them no room to re-engage.

During five preceding tests over the past decade your opponents gave you some “slack”, appropriate for those stages of your development. But at this level they will seek and will take every opportunity given them to keep coming at you and increase the pressure. Your pins must be true or you will falter. Your throws must work, or your opponents will not fall; they will turn on you and be in your face, they will take your center and you will be upended.

At times the test sensei will direct the opponents to deliver particular attacks. At times permission will be given for jiuwaza (free form) and an opponent (you won’t know who until it happens) will attack anyway he or she wants and will change the attack forms at whim, coming again and again and again, as fast or slow, direct or sneaky, until they are called off.

Throughout the test you must continue – like it or not. If you are granted a rest, it won’t last longer than fifteen seconds … and getting more than one respite probably won’t happen. However, your opponents will be continually rotated on and off the mat. In this way they will remain fresh and relaxed, being always prepared fully able to move against you. You won’t know in what order they will be called. You must be ready … all the time. Is this randori? No, not yet. Randori happens at the worst possible time … at the end of the test.

It has been fifty-some minutes. You are tired. The test sensei directs you to sit seiza (on your knees, your butt resting on your heels) in the center of mat. He picks three or four opponents to similarly sit around you, each about fifteen feet away. He waits and then with his hand … he strikes the mat. The attackers simultaneously stand and rush you. This is randori. What do you do? Who knows, but you’d better do it. The time for figuring out what to do no longer exists: no time for scheming or making excuses; no one is going to let up, no one and nothing is going to rescue you, and if you don’t empty your mind of everything except for the fact that you are right here right now, you will be in trouble. Everything about you – your body, your thoughts, your emotions - must surrender into the notion of flexibility. You have to move yourself again and again and again without predictability or pattern, and you must live AIKI, KUZUSHI, SHISEI. As this occurs those who attack will hopefully miss or glance off you, falling to the mat or stumbling into each other as they attempt to grab and/or strike your side, your arms, front and back, in a line or from different angles, alone or in pairs. But know this: however it unfolds and for as long as it unfolds, your attackers will rise again. They will not give up. What the sensei is waiting for – looking for - is a moment when surrounded you are caught, with all attackers pressing in on you, because in that moment something crucial must happen. You must give up what you think will work to free yourself, and yet continue moving. You have to remain present, no matter how fatigued, you have to relax and blend, and you have to enter into every minute opportunity presented by your attackers and your environment. You will not be able to “out do” your opponents to survive. Rather, you will have to meet the person inside yourself and come alive with him or her. The Japanese kanji for this is a union of dagger and heart, and it means “to persevere”. The Japanese word KiKi, meaning crisis, becomes a reality. KiKi - every crisis is composed of two things: (1) Danger/Risk; and (2) Opportunity.

When your randori is complete this test is over – but if you are growing there will most likely be other tests in your future. Randori – facing multiple attack, you (individual, team, organization) must put yourself in the right place, with the right action, at the right time, and with the right amount of power. For 3,650 days (give or take some) you were a beginner. If you pass the test you can wear a black belt and are now considered … a new student.

And Finally … The Four Randori Principles” (from David Baum’s & Jim Hassinger’s book “The Randori Principles”)

    1. FULL POWER PRESENCE - Leadership Worth Following (You must at all times practice and refine your ability to Be Here Now)
    2. TENKAN – Turning Resistance Into Collaboration (You must be willing to Turn and Look at every situation from new perspectives including from a perspective that is completely opposite to your current stand)
    3. IRIMI – The Single Sword Strike (You must be willing to Enter Into A Crisis – as would a fireman or a police officer or a mother lifting a car off of her trapped child)
    4. GET OFF THE MAT – The Skill of Disengagement (You must study human interaction … individual and group … and from that study increase your ability to Know What’s Too Much, What’s Too Little … and most importantly … When To Stop What You Have Been Doing)