The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

4-Part Balance

I've always enjoyed getting close to that elusive Big Game--the balanced human being--and studying them carefully. Having the unique circumstance of observing someone for 35 years, and THEN becoming friends with them (heck, we darn near adopted each other. I've got a Dad!) gives me the chance to find structure within the chaos, and watch my own mental processes as a ton of information falls into pattern.

I want to preface this: Steve Muhammad is as flawed as the rest of us. I have no doubts about that at all. He also lives in a mansion, runs his own successful business, has a houseful of kids with a beautiful, strong woman he's been married to for thirty years, and at 70 years old is still the finest karate man I've ever known or seen in action. (But man, I heard stories about Mas Oyama!) He's been a father figure to countless young men and women, and was one of the all-time Horndogs before he met his lovely wife, for whom he changed his entire life for the better. What men will do for the love of a good woman!

Anyway, it makes sense to look at the core of the way he sees the world, and the search for excellence, and try to map it over with what I've gotten from other people who operate at high levels. Or super-high levels. Isn't that the Holy Grail for ambitious types?

1) Spiritual Law

2) Dietary Law

3) Fitness Law

4) Skill Law

There is an interesting "loop" going on here. I wanted to comment on these steps as I interpret them.

1) Spiritual Law. To me, this deals with your answer to the question: "what was the shape of your face before your parents were born? What will become of you after you are dead?" Answers may range from "dust to dust" to various Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, Druidic and whatever answers. Believers, atheists...on one level, this has to do with the sense of intent in life, what you ultimately want it to mean. In a more practical sense, having a context for the days of your life is useful in adding meaning to every moment. In an even more basic way, focus releases a fountain of energy. Focus on the finite nature of life, and the need to make our time matter--at least to us and the people we love. Courage, from the understanding that death comes whether we reach for our goals and dreams and loves or not. Why not go for it? Why be afraid of anything in life, especially other human beings, when death is inevitable? Energy, courage, focus, clarity. However one deals with mortality, it should be in a fashion that empowers. Sijo Muhammad embraces Islam, and has found in the Nation a way to serve his community and save lives--something he has been committed to the entire time I've known him.

2) Dietary Law. Sijo uses a variant of Intermittent Fasting--he eats all his meals between 4 and 6 in the evening, and is a rail-thin vegetarian. Interestingly, this is what is referred to as the "Warrior Diet." This provides both a rise in energy, improved health, and incredible discipline. Anyone who can eat like this (and he has for 27 years! Been a vegetarian for 25) simply has a different order of discipline than the average human being even dreams of. I think it's one of the easiest ways to develop world-class discipline, the kind that can kick your life into overdrive. Again--great energy, and the focus to apply it.

3) Fitness Law. Sijo exercises every day. Every day. Sometimes only for a few minutes. Sometimes for hours. Aside from martial arts, his routine is surprisingly mundane: pushups, rhythmic sit-ups (to a special 4-count beat), jogging (in place or on the road). I guess it works for him (!) but I prefer Coach Sonnon's increasing motor complexity approach. The mind is the edge of the sword, but the body is the sword. Many martial arts masters let themselves go physically, and it's sad to see. Physical fitness, again, gives energy and focus...there are other values as well (increased blood oxygenation leading to increased functional intelligence, for instance. Proprioceptive sense, much more).

4) Skill law. Here's where the rubber meets the road. For Sijo, these are mostly warrior arts: unarmed combat, firearms, team combat theory. But it applies to the law, writing, the sciences, whatever. The intent: to be great. He and I agree on this. Greatness is a poor reward for having to die at the end of life...but it will have to do. Why the hell settle for anything less than greatness? Mastery of almost any human task can be acquired in just 10,000 hours of practice. If the task involves real-world application or competition, you get serious feedback to your efforts, which can help you avoid falling into illusion.

What do we have here? An atheist or agnostic who wants to provide for his family or community, or just to make his own life meaningful to the max, can use this as well as any religious person. Total commitment gives grounding to all efforts. Diet and exercise give discipline, energy, health to invest in your chosen profession or activity. By going full-tilt boogie toward your goals, adjusting as you get results, always motivated by the urge to perfect yourself, find greatness, serve your community, God, or your own deepest emotional needs...well, it looks like a fantastic syntax for life success to me.

I see this overlapping with many other approaches to life success, and since I've had the opportunity to watch Sijo more closely than I have many others. Burns the reality in more deeply. I treasure my exposure to excellent men and women, the opportunity to watch the way they live their lives. Wouldn't give up those memories at any price.


Marty S said...

Steve: I'm very glad for you, that you have found a set of goals that work for you and help you order your life. But, I think they are more individual to you than you think. I remember when I first joined the company I retired from my new boss trying to mentor me on what I needed to do to "Get ahead". I listened politely and shook my head after he left because his version of a great future and mine had nothing in common. He was a PhD statistician, but was purely interested in management and making a lot of money. Three months later he took a promotion into the accounting department and left the technical work behind completely. I lived for the technical work and problem solving, getting into management in order to make a lot of money was the last thing I wanted. I believe that there are many different roads to happiness and that the most important thing is for each person to discover their own particular road and pursue it to the best of their ability.

Steven Barnes said...

My attitude: everyone wants every part of their lives to have meaning. We have that ambition beaten and worn out of us, and begin to compartmentalize: do X to get Y, without X having any emotional resonance at all. I believe that it is possible to find meaning in any life path, but we have to be very clear on what matters to us in life. Most legal means of making a living provide service. If I HAD to make a living doing something other than writing, you may be certain I would find a way to find satisfaction in it, and feel I was contributing to the common good.

Marty S said...

Steve: Quite often I find its the simplest things in life that give us the most pleasure or greatest reward. Last Friday I attended grandparents day at my grandsons school. In the older one's humanities class the teacher handed everyone students and grandparents a sheet with lines alternating I used to___________, with lines now I_________. and then had everyone read one pair. I will share with you my pair that you may understand better where I am at.
"I used to look forward to evening when parents when out for the evening and my grandfather came over and told me stories."
" Now I look forward to when My son and daughter-in law go out and I tell my grandsons stories."

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I watched the video of Steve Muhammad on his site, and was very impressed with his combination of openness and some other quality I don't quite have a word for. "Strength" and "solidity" are both too static for what I was seeing.

In any case, I'm interested in anything you'd like to say about his approach to emotions and connection with people.

suzanne said...

I've just come
from watching segments
fragments really
from Sifu Steve Muhammad's DVDs

what a lovely beautiful

how fortunate for you, Steve!