Martial arts

When I was younger, I acquired an interest in the martial arts that led to a spin-off interest in fitness.  Over the years I have ummed and ahhed about it all.

The first martial art I practised was wado-ryu karate, when I was about ten, but I went off the idea.  I switched to praying mantis kung fu, but then I had to pack that in because I was no longer able to physically get to the classes.

A few years later I tried my hand at Tang Sou Dao, which was quite similar to the karate I had studied before, albeit with more in the way of kicks and various kung fu techniques being introduced at advanced levels, and I went through a few gradings over a good couple of years.

Up until this point, I had followed the conventional view espoused by “traditional” martial artists – that sport martial arts trained you to fight under a certain set of rules that would obviously not apply on “the street”, meaning that their value for real-world self defence was limited.

However, the counter-argument, as I discovered, was that all martial arts training imposed restrictions on realism as a matter of necessity because of safety concerns, sport or not, so the only issue was how best to make that compromise.  Further, getting used to dealing with uncooperative opponents in a full-contact setting was arguably far more important than theoretical knowledge of low-percentage techniques.

I tried a judo lesson and my mind was instantly made up.  I was effortlessly tossed around like a rag doll by a guy quite literally half my size to the point where the instructors had to ask him to go easy on me.  There was none of the pomp or pretentiousness of TSD, and people openly cross-trained – in fact, one student even ran a submission wrestling club and openly invited me to join it during the lesson.

In the years that followed I have had to change styles multiple times for one reason or another.  Some of it has been because of changes in study/work patterns and/or moving house, but if I am completely honest, laziness has played a role.

It occurred to me, a couple of years ago, that had I stuck at one thing at the time I had made my decision to move towards full-contact sport martial arts, I would probably have been pretty lethal by now.  I therefore decided to take up weightlifting as an alternative.

Even with the weightlifting, I haven’t been quite as disciplined as I might have been.  However, there has been a noticeable (albeit slow) change as a result of that training.  Although I have had occasional hiatuses for one reason or another, it doesn’t take too long for me to train back up to my previous level or even surpass it.  I also find it a bit easier to find time for the gym as I can just go when I can squeeze it in, rather than having to turn up to class at a preset time only to get lumbered with a last-minute court hearing to prepare for.

So I think weightlifting is here to stay.  Whether or not I have the time or money to take it REALLY seriously is another question, but a couple of sessions a week plus some cardio and reasonably healthy eating isn’t beyond me.

That being said, I have found a great deal for a nearby Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club.  It costs £30 a month for one lesson per week, and the Saturday morning session is two hours long, which is pretty ideal for me and insanely cheap by BJJ standards.  Plus, my gym membership itself is only £25, so it wouldn’t be a horrendous outlay on top of what I am already paying.  It would also be nice to have a bit of a social outlet.

I am due a couple of pay rises soon, and I expect to be able to afford this training by April at the latest (as I will be on £30k per year by that point).  The only hesitation I have relates to whether I will be sticking around in Romford at all, but maybe if I move closer to central London (as per my plan) I will be able to get a good deal for something similar.

Year Zero

A lot of people are cynical about the idea of New Year’s Resolutions.  After all, if you want to be a better person, then you can make this decision at any time.  But still, I think the New Year is an ideal time to reflect on your life and give yourself a (relatively) fresh start – you have just had the Christmas period, you are anticipating going back to work, and you have had the quiet time to think about a new direction.

So here are my New Year’s resolutions for 2015:

Vegetarianism (sort of)

When my vegan friend stayed with me recently, a curious thing happened; I actually saved money on food, even though I was cooking for the two of us.  Seriously, I couldn’t believe how far £10 went.  Plus it’s always good to get more fruit and veg into one’s diet.  So I will be cooking vegetarian food during the week, and perhaps treating myself to meat at the weekend.

As much as I love eating meat, I think the vegetarian direction will be a fun challenge for my cooking skills, too.  I am already thinking of making my own falafel and veggie curries.

Exercise

As per my previous post, it’s occurred to me that something has to give, as I just don’t have time to plough through the mountain of work dumped on me by my predecessor AND hit the gym three times a week, allowing for 48 hour recovery periods.  Additionally, I may struggle to get the protein and calories I need from fruit and veg alone.  But I do love the gym, and even if I continue to lose weight at least I will be able to retain some muscle mass instead of becoming skinny fat.  I will therefore hit the gym twice a week rather than three times; this means I only need to find one evening for it during the week, and then I can go once more at the weekend.  Cutting down by just one session makes it a lot more manageable.

Budgeting

I have resolved to stick to a strict budget and monitor my spending.  This will partly be achieved through my vegetarian diet, but I will also get into the habit of taking cash out at the start of the week.  That way, I can monitor my spending on the go and intercept the temptation to buy cups of coffee or other pick-me-ups here and there.

Reciprocity

This is a policy I have already started implementing, as per a previous blog post, but I am determined not to let others drag me down this year.  In particular, I am determined not to waste my energy on people who do not make an effort with me.  I can argue with them until I am blue in the face and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.  The new rule is, if you mess me around, you’re gone.

Something’s got to give

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with my new job.

It’s quite unusual for someone with my background to take this position on.  Usually, ASB officers are experienced housing officers or former policemen.  The reason I got this opportunity was because my boss was looking to take the legal work in-house and to prove a point in doing so.  It was therefore a bit daunting to suddenly be in charge of something.

My job is rewarding, but it does drive me mad at times.  My position was vacant for a long time before I joined, meaning that most of my cases have dragged on for months and even years, and a lot of the time it seems like no-one really knows what the hell is going on.  Staff come and go every five minutes, which creates issues with continuity.  Some people are just downright incompetent, which leaves me with egg on my face in front of tenants, courts and partner agencies.

The thing that really bothers me is that I feel like I just don’t get the time to really focus on one thing at a time so that I can get this mess cleared up.  It feels like I am constantly being collared to attend crisis meetings, or training seminars, or help people to do things that they should know better than me.  And what’s worse is that I am starting to get a reputation for a fiery temper.  The thing that keeps me sane is that I have been getting good feedback for my work, and my team are really nice guys, especially my line manager.

It’s with this in mind that I have decided to cut the gym sessions down to twice a week.  That way, I only need to find one evening during the week (plus one at the weekend) to work out, and on other days I can take some time in the evening to get some work done in peace and quiet,.  I can even find time to just relax and unwind.  Weightlifting is a great hobby, but it’s very demanding if you’re serious about it, and I could do with one less spinning plate right now.

Nice guys finish last… or do they?

This post will be even more of a ramble than normal.  It is completely unplanned, and I am just typing what comes into my  head.  But it’s a thought that I had on the brain today.

I have written previously that I struggle to cope with scenarios in which I am asked to accept defeat even though I am in the right.  I know you might say that there are always two sides to a story, and I accept that, but the line of inquiry should not end there.  The next step is to compare the two arguments to see who is correct.  Yes, sometimes, you will still find that it could be argued either way, or that it’s a matter of perspective or whatever.  But I have experienced many situations in my life in which my opponents openly and explicitly DID NOT CARE about the merits of the argument.  I know “(s)he started it” is a common trope, but there are some situations where it literally is that straightforward, e.g. school bullies who select their targets based on arbitrary criteria and take pride in doing so.

If the proper authorities are unable or unwilling to help you with such a scenario – as is often the case – you are left with two choices.  You can either allow the dispute to escalate to the level of a physical fight and thus risk bringing further harm upon yourself, or you can swallow the injustice and walk away.

When I look back on the past ten years, I feel I could write a list as long as my arm detailing the many incidents in which I really wish I could have just walked away.  I wasted so much time and energy driving myself mad trying to reason with people who simply did not want to be reasoned with, and I really should have just focused on my studies.  If I had, who knows what I would have achieved by now?

Of course, it’s easy to look back on things that happened years ago and rationalise, post hoc, that the argument was not worth it.  But at the time that these situations happen, the feeling inside of me is so incendiary.  I really hate letting the bad guys win, and I don’t want to buy into some BS doctrine about “forgiveness” – you can tell me all about the positive benefits of forgiving these people until you are blue in the face, but the problem is that I don’t truly believe that they deserve forgiveness.  I believe they deserve to burn in hellfire for not even CARING that they were wrong.

So I am loathe to cling to a self-serving rationalisation.  But on the other hand, one can consider what it truly means to be one of the good guys and what it truly means to “win”.

Part of being a good person is having a moral compass that guides you to do what is right even when it is very tempting to stray from the path.  And of course, there is a reason why the temptation is there.

At least in my case I can say that the love and care I receive from my friends and my family is genuine.  Even in the case of my family, as my Dad’s example has proven, their respect is earned, not given.  It’s not because I’m rich, or because I have some bullshit social status that allows me to lord it over others.  I’m not the wealthy, elderly mafia boss with a 25 year old bimbo trophy wife.  When I look at people who have shallow relationships based on such silly things, I honestly pity them.  I realise that I don’t really want what they have.  My frustrations with dating would not be so bad if I did not genuinely care about having a real relationship with a genuine connection, as opposed to casual dating/flings.

So I suppose the (somewhat) optimistic conclusion is this: letting arguments go, and letting people go, is an essential part of progressing towards acquiring what I really want in life.  There are some people who can’t and won’t be reasoned with; it’s not OK for them to be that way, but they are the ones who will lose out in the end if they don’t change their ways.  And I would suffer in the long term if I kowtowed to them in the short term.

A line in the sand

I have written previously about how I have had problems managing my money.  I think the time has come to say that enough is enough.

As I write this I genuinely feel like my heart is breaking.  I don’t know what else to do.  But I just have to stop socialising and seeing my friends.  I just can’t afford it anymore.

When I was at university I always assumed that I could just move back home when I finished, get a job, learn to drive, save some money up and then move out when I was ready.  However, that was not an option for me because my mum lives too far out for me to commute to work by public transport.  So the moment I got a job I had to just uproot myself.

I am finally in a job that pays reasonably well.  However, I now have dramatically increased outgoings as I have to pay £487 per month for the loan that funded my professional legal studies.  This is almost as much as my rent.  Accordingly, with a heavy heart, something has to give, and I have to accept that I just can’t afford to socialise.  Full stop.

It breaks my heart to make this decision because I remember what a hard time I had growing up with aspergers and finding it so difficult to connect with people.  At college and university I met some amazing, tolerant, friendly people who restored my faith in humanity.  My social skills came on in leaps and bounds.  I love all of them so much.  But I just don’t have the money, and my mum doesn’t have the money to keep bailing me out when I find myself short.

At least when I was in Chelmsford we could just have a couple of beers and watch a film at someone’s house.  But now, even that is too expensive, as I have to pay for the train ticket there and back.

Perhaps this is a clue as to why I have had so much trouble with those friends who are not as committed to meeting up as I am, and girlfriends who endlessly ummed and ahhed about whether they wanted to commit to a relationship because of reasons that sounded so pathetic to me.  I have always struggled to understand it because other people, including my Chelmsford friends, seem to manage, and I just can’t imagine making a decision like this unless I really felt it was necessary.  But perhaps some people just don’t care about building and maintaining emotional connections with others as much as I do.

I have my birthday party coming up this month, and then Christmas after that.  In the new year, it will be time for me to start drifting away.

Politically Incorrect (long)

Recently, I have been following the misfortunes of another of my favourite authors, Sam Harris.

Harris is commonly described as one of the “Four Horsemen” of “New Atheism”, along with Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and the infamous Richard Dawkins.  His published works include the End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, the Moral Landscape, and his latest book, Waking Up.

Until recently, Dawkins was considered to epitomise everything that was supposedly wrong with the New Atheism, and Harris was just someone you got into once you finished the God Delusion and thirsted for more vituperative antitheism.  Now, however, Harris seems to have eclipsed Dawkins due to controversy over his views on Islam, which culminated in a row between him and Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show “Real Time”.

Sam Harris singles Islam out as being particularly dangerous, mainly because of the doctrines like Jihad and the fact that the Qur’an is supposed to be the literal and perfect word of God, whereas the Bible is easier to rationalise if you really want to cherry pick it to make it compatible with liberalism.  He goes on to argue that this is reflected in opinion polls which consistently show that alarmingly high percentages of Muslims – if not always majorities – support actions and viewpoints that would shock those of a more liberal persuasion.  He also points out that groups like ISIS behead people, cite the passage of the Qur’an that admonishes Muslims to “smite the unbelievers upon their necks” as justification for doing so, and declare at the top of their lungs that they are doing all of this in the name of Islam.  The thrust of Harris’ argument is that the specific doctrines of Islam, rather than geopolitical concerns, are at the core of the problem.

Apologists for Islam, such as Murtaza Hussain, Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan and now Ben Affleck(!), respond to Harris’ arguments by attemping to smear him as an Islamophobe/racist via two methods:

1) Quote mining passages from the End of Faith in which he countenances the use of torture, or nuclear weapons, and claiming that this shows he is a genocidal maniac, even though these quotes deal with the hypothetical scenario of an Islamic fundamentalist regime that possesses nuclear weapons and is impervious to secular reasoning.

2) Claiming that Harris is wrong about Islam merely because Islam purports to be a religion of peace and most Muslims they know are not fundamentalists, which doesn’t change the fact that significant proportions of Muslims do hold these views and that there is a clear, logical pathway leading from the words of the Qur’an to the behaviour of the individual believer.

Harris has written article after article attempting to clarify his position on this and demanding that his interlocutors cease misrepresenting his arguments, but none of it ever makes a blind bit of difference.  Recently, he appeared on the Young Turks to discuss the issue, and the host, Cenk Uygur, asked him to consider how his views might “come across” to people and thus understand why he gets the reaction he gets.

The elephant in the room here is political correctness.

Political correctness is a term that gets bandied about a lot without really being defined.  I will attempt to define it here as follows: an excessive concern with tact and sensitivity towards purported victim groups that takes precedence over truth and logic.

The problem Sam Harris faces is that he does not merely have to be concerned with saying what he means and meaning what he says.  He does not merely have to be concerned with the literal interpretation of his arguments.  Rather, he has to be concerned with how his views could be misunderstood by someone who doesn’t have the intellect or inclination to take note of their nuances and caveats.  He has to be concerned with how his words could lend support to an Islamophobe who wanted to take them out of context and use them as a cloak for their genuine bigotry.

I have personally encountered this problem in debates about feminism, when I have been expressly told that I should not say what I am saying – not because I am actually wrong, but because my words could be construed in a way that sends the wrong message.

Once, I was on a martial arts forum’s “self defence” section.  Many martial arts classes these days teach avoidance and de-escalation strategies in addition to physical fighting techniques.  With this in mind, I started a thread in which I critiqued a common feminist claim: that rape is about power, not sex, therefore it is wrong to ever insinuate that women can influence their chances of being raped (e.g. by controlling how they dress or how much they drink), and anyone who disagrees commits the cardinal sin of “blaming the victim”.  Hence we have simplistic slogans like “don’t teach girls to avoid rape, teach boys not to rape”.

The starting point for my critique was that the “power not sex” claim cannot be correct as a matter of fact.  The legal definition of rape under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 consists of three elements: (1) penetration; (2) a lack of consent to that penetration from the victim; and (3) the finding that a reasonable person in the position of the penetrator would have realised that the victim did not consent.  This third element is the critical problem here, because it means that you can actually commit the crime of rape by accident!  It is not necessary for you to use overt force, or even to realise that your victim does not consent.  Simply being stupid/oblivious to the lack of consent is enough.  The “it’s about power not sex” argument could be one explanation for deliberate rapes in which the victim is literally forced by a cackling brute, but not accidental rapes in which the rapist genuinely does not realise that the victim doesn’t consent.  Sure, the latter type is still a serious crime and presumably horrifying for the victim, but it doesn’t fit the feminist script.  In short, you can’t insist that rape is an act of intentional violence but then use a definition that encompasses accidental offences.  In  fact, I sometimes wonder if feminists really do think that all rape is deliberate and forceful, and they cynically pushed for a more expansive definition to try and procure more convictions, thus vindicating their ideology.

Even if we did define rape as “forced sex”, it still wouldn’t necessarily follow that rape is about power rather than sex.  Sure, you can cite some instances of this happening, e.g. in times of war, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only reason why it happens.  If we know that bad men will sometimes use physical force to get things they are not entitled to, why do we assume that they would not use force to get sex?  And if it were always an act of intentional violence against women, wouldn’t violence against women be higher than violence against men across the board, not just in sexual offences?

So on this forum, I went on to argue why the distinction matters.  I argued, as I will here, that clinging to the feminist theory of rape not only misses the point but presents serious practical problems for dealing with rape that actually make things worse for women.  There is a line between blaming the victim and offering pragmatic advice.  It’s a fuzzy line that people don’t always tread, but it’s critical.  This is a point we readily acknowledge when it comes to other crimes, because we accept that we don’t live in a perfect world, but in the name of sensitivity, we throw it out of the window when it comes to rape and domestic violence.  The observation that rape really is about sex implies that women have some power to influence whether or not it happens by taking certain precautions, but that is not the same thing as saying that those women morally deserve to be raped by failing to take those precautions.  It’s no different to how men like me might be well advised to avoid certain rough pubs, or dark alleys in bad parts of town.  For as long as you refuse to acknowledge the real reason why a problem occurs, you will stupendously fail to address that problem.

The counter-argument was that, however well intentioned my argument may have been, and however valid it may have been, it could be construed as victim blaming by people with sinister motives.  So, much like Sam Harris, I found myself in a situation in which tact and sensitivity towards victims was considered to be far, far more important than actually preventing women from falling victim to rape.  Apparently, we shouldn’t give women practical advice on how to protect themselves against nasty people who exist whether we like it or not; we should instead pretend that they are utterly powerless, lest our advice be conflated with victim blaming.

To my mind, political correctness poses a genuine threat to our liberal society and to our personal safety.  It is nothing less than the sacrifice of reason on the altar of sensitivity towards the downtrodden. The logic seems to be that the general public cannot be trusted with the plain truth because they are too stupid to appreciate its nuances, therefore it is better to spread propaganda that we *hope* will lead to a positive outcome and attack those who dissent.  Welcome to 1984.

Love?

I have touched on the problems I have experienced in my love life in previous posts. However, I think it warrants a post of its own, as it and my executive function issues are the main problems that my (supposedly) mild condition gives me. For the time being, I am happily single, but that is not to say that I don’t think about the future.

As a boy becoming a teenager, I was led to believe in a stereotype that guys all just wanted to cheat and sleep around, whereas girls all wanted serious relationships. I don’t know how true this is, when I think about it now, but in my experience at least, the opposite has been true – I genuinely want a deep, meaningful, long term relationship, yet all I get are flings. The great irony is that, if I really was just after a bit of casual “fun”, I wouldn’t be doing too badly on that front.

Attraction to me has always been quite a black-and-white affair, whereas for girls I have been out with, there are many, many shades of grey. Their interest level flickers and fluctuates. They rarely seem sure whether they are attracted to me or not and it drives me mad. I just can’t relate to all of this umming and ahhing. Other people seem to manage to have straightforward relationships with no bullshit, and I don’t understand why I can’t if I am the great guy people say I am. If I am not a bad person, why do they always want to remain friends afterwards? And if my looks are the problem, why do they agree to go out with me in the first place?

The truth, however, is that I may be taking a bit of an extreme stance on this. In platonic relationships, levels of closeness between friends/acquaintances can vary over time as you get to know them better or as your life circumstances change. It happens without really thinking about it. For some reason, the example that springs to my mind is when I was in my first year at college and a new guy joined – a rugby player. I befriended him to be polite, but as time went on, he began to gravitate towards the more sporty, laddish types in the class. He meant no offence by it and I did not take it personally – he just had more in common with them and it was fine. There are also people I used to hang out with but don’t see so much anymore, e.g. because of distance, and it’s fair to say that I don’t feel as close to them as I once did, despite no ill will on my part. It’s not the case that I simply do not like them full stop because of some horrible thing that they did – we just drifted apart. We don’t harangue each other about it and demand logical explanations.  And this kind of issue will be particularly prominent for aspies like me, who may have problems in conversation and/or socialising without being bad people per se, and who may be more frustrated with this problem occurring again and again than neurotypicals would be.

This kind of drift happens in romantic relationships too, but it’s more problematic here. You may get on with someone like a house on fire at first, but then feel, as time goes on, that you perhaps don’t have as much in common with them as you first thought. Something just doesn’t “click” that you can’t quite put your finger on, even if they have not done anything technically “wrong”, such as cheating. But unlike friendships, you don’t have the option of just gently drifting away. The drifter will have to make a point of expressing the disconnect in a way that they wouldn’t need to bother with in a friendship, whereas the driftee feels that s/he has lost something with serious long term potential, albeit at an early stage, and they can’t just shrug it off and instantly find someone else – mere friendships are in much greater supply, so the expression “there are plenty more fish in the sea” carries a lot more weight.

I tend to stick to my guns when even I can see that I am not enthralling the girl as much as I did when we first met; I really want it to work and I complain about the unfairness of it all when that drift inevitably takes place. It’s like they have ticked all of the right “boxes” in my mind, so I want to force it to work. I want to reason with them because I strongly feel that it should work but for their neuroticism. I don’t want to let go and accept that I will just have to wait a bit longer for someone I truly click with.

I think some confusion also comes down to how one chooses to construe the word “friend”.  When people say they want to stay “friends” after the breakup, they do not mean fully-fledged mates.  They simply mean that they want to remain on good terms.  You are like a friend they have drifted from but will still say hello to when they see you, not a bosom buddy.  It’s all semantics.

To be clear, I can and do stand my ground when I feel that the girl I am going out with is actually mistreating me.  My last girlfriend was demanding and emotionally manipulative, and she impressed upon me the importance of being with someone who treats you right. But to a neurotypical, someone can treat you “right”, do absolutely nothing “wrong”, and still fail to float your boat.

I feel like I am beginning to understand “drifting” and the effect it has on the relationships I have been in. But this raises concerns of its own for me. The truth is I am lonely and I really would like a serious long term relationship. However, this is something that even neurotypical people find difficult and complicated, even when they are much older and more experienced than me, so what chance do I have of finding long-term happiness via my idealistic and simplistic outlook? Maybe just settling for the occasional fling is the answer.