Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iaido for Real

Last Saturday was a terrific day for me. I had the great privilege of attending an Iaido seminar that was, in reality, a five-hour-long private lesson. Absolutely amazing!

On Saturday morning, I hopped in my car with my bag of clothes, my sword, my passport, and some bottled water. Two hours later, I was at Tallack Martial Arts in Kingston, Ontario. It's a really, really nice place to train. I can't tell whether it was originally a home or whether they built it specifically for their needs, but it's got two great training floors with tatami mats, plus a third room that's all bamboo laminate which is nothing short of gorgeous. If I'm ever involved in designing a dojo, I'll definitely look to incorporate some of what they've done at Tallack's.

Anyway, I met one other fellow - Brian, from Perth - in the parking lot on the way in. He also had a weapon bag with the distinctive shape of a katana. We knew right away that we were both there for the same thing.

I put on my full regalia. I'd picked up a traditional-style keikogi top in dark blue, and a hakama of the same color, as well as a wide, thin Iaido obi. I've been using them the last several weeks to train and it really made a huge difference in the feel of the techniques not to have my sword slapping around all over the place because my narrow karate belt couldn't hold it in place properly.

My biggest concern going into this seminar was that I'd taught myself some bad habits over the last two months. I've diligently practiced what I could remember from my first three-hour-long seminar, but I knew I'd forgotten some things and mis-remembered others. I would find those concerns justified. I'd forgotten quite a bit, as it turns out, and there was a fair amount that I was doing wrong.

It didn't really matter, however. Davis Sensei started us right at the beginning, basically as if we'd never learned any Iaido at all before. Which, really, we hadn't. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, three hours is negligible.

He began with how to walk into the room - how to hold the sword, where to bow, and where to go with the sword to set it down while warming up. He taught us the proper way to kneel down and set the sword by the correct wall. It's all very precise, very formal, very proper. In fact, that describes all aspects of Iaido - precise, formal, proper. Not to mention detailed and efficient.

That describes the next five hours, in fact - precise and detailed. We worked stances. We worked movement. We practiced drawing and sheathing our swords over and over and over again (a tiny, miniscule taste of the amount of practice it will take to do it correctly), focusing on the movement in a way Davis Sensei hadn't even attempted to convey to the full group at the first seminar I'd attended. Back and forth across the floor we'd walk in small gliding steps or shuffling half-steps. Back and forth we'd turn, again and again - a quick, efficient turn that kept you in line with enemies on both sides. In and out our blades would slide, snicking out of the saya (the scabbard) and back in again.

Later we worked some waza (techniques, sort of like kata. Actually, I'm not clear what the difference is between a waza and a kata. I need to look that up.), both standing and kneeling. I fear I don't remember them all fully. That's okay, though. I could easily spend the next month or two just practicing my stances, my movement, and the drawing of the blade and feel that I've spent my time productively. Those are, after all, the foundation on which the rest of Iaido is built.

Next year around this time, Davis Sensei has said that the Japanese masters will be coming to Ontario for the annual Canadian Iaido Association seminar and grading. According to their website, it takes one year of training to test for shodan. If Davis Sensei believes I'm ready, I'd like nothing better than to test at that time. And if I'm not... well, then I'm not. But I'll know a year's worth of Iaido that I don't know today, and that's enough for me right now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mind Games for Good

My daughter is a reasonably talented trumpet-player. Which is to say that she's not going to win any grammys or anything, but for a kid who's been playing for three years she's not awful. She recently played a solo of the Pink Panther at her school band concert (the only solo I can remember seeing in three years of band concerts that I've been attending), backed up by her teacher on trombone and another student on drums, and the accolades she got from the kids and their parents were terrific to hear.

But my daughter has a problem - she's just not self-motivated about... well, about much of anything, really. She'll do what I tell her to do under varying degrees of duress, but, for example, there is absolutely no chance that she would walk in and pick up her trumpet and practice it if I didn't insist. She never just goes in and plays the piano, either, despite being an even more talented pianist than she is a trumpet player. She'll sit for hours doing "crafts" like bead necklaces or friendship bracelets, which is fine, but getting her to spend time on music is a big challenge.

She actually learned the Pink Panther out of a book of sheet music we bought her two years ago. The idea was to give her something new and interesting to play over summer vacation, so she wouldn't get bored playing the same music she's been practicing throughout the school year. It didn't work too well - she's highly resistant to trying new things or figuring anything out on her own, so for that year the books of music mostly sat untouched.

The following year, however, she took them to school with her and asked her band director to help her figure out how to play them. She learned the Pink Panther and the main theme from The Lord of the Rings. And once she knew them, she'd practice them, but she never did try anything new.

Fast-forward to this school year, the end of which is fast approaching. As always, I suggested that she look ahead to summer break and think about learning to play some new music so she'll have something to practice that won't be too boring. The books we bought her have a couple dozen tunes in them, only a few of which she's played. No dice - once again, she's not interested in doing anything extra, even through we both know (well, I surely do, anyway) that by mid-July she'll be complaining loudly about being bored and soundly cursing her trumpet, her parents, and her sad, sad life.

But through a happy set of circumstances, I came up with a brilliant, devious plan. It started when I saw that musicnotes.com had the music for Haydn's Tumpet Concerto. I decided to look it up on Youtube to gauge how hard it was, when I found a performance by Tine Thing Helseth. Now here's a few things to note about Tine Thing Helseth: She's a girl. She's a smokin' hot girl. And she plays the trumpet really, really well. "Hmmm," thought I. "Perhaps my daughter might find it inspiring to see a beautiful woman playing the trumpet incredibly well." Honestly, I have no idea how much a role the "beautiful" part might have played. It might have been just as impressive to my daughter if she'd been an old hag. But I couldn't wait to show it to her.

After school the other day, I called her over to the computer and played that video. My daughter, ever adept at grasping what might utterly elude others said something profound like, "Hey, she's a girl." I think she was just enchanted by the performance, though. She noted some of the more difficult aspects of the piece and was clearly impressed. I told her I could get she sheet music for her, and SHE suggested taking it in to school to have her teacher help her with it. I even found the music for Jar of Hearts, a silly pop tune she likes, and got her that as well. Summer is saved! I'm a damn genius!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Sad State of "Modern" Nutrition

I believe I mentioned before that I'd read a book titled Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It was an "eat this, don't eat that" guide broken down into a series of rules, but it made some interesting points as well. One of those points really got me thinking. I don't have the book handy, so I'll have to paraphrase and hope that I get the sentiment reasonably close. Pollan suggested that the state of nutritional science is in its relative infancy, akin to medicine back in the Renaissance.

Wow. That's an amazing, and frankly horrifying, notion. I'm by no means an expert on Renaissance medicine, but I'm not utterly unfamiliar with it. It was pretty bad in the 1600s. Oh, and the 1700s. Yes, and the 1800s were also terrible times to be sick or injured. In fact, it wasn't until the middle of the 1900s that chemistry and biology had advanced to a state where medicines became somewhat reliable, vaccines could be counted upon to ward off disease, and surgery developed into something more than a quick amputation and a roll of the dice.

So imagine if Pollan is right (and I've seen very little reason to doubt him). Nutrition is clearly a mess, especially in Western society. We're fat, we're eating a LOT of garbage that we can guess isn't really good for us, and we're under a constant barrage of "knowledge" and "science" about what will fix us. "Don't eat eggs! No, wait, eat eggs! Don't eat meat! Eat more meat! Chicken, no... beef! Cholesterol kills you! No, just the 'bad' cholesterol. Oh wait, maybe cholesterol isn't such a big deal." It goes on and on. The big vitamin manufacturers try to get us to load up on nutrients  that we literally piss away. The homeopathic gurus tell us to eat this or that weed. And then a year later, we find out it doesn't actually seem to do squat, until some other new study tells us it does. It's one thing after another, leaving us running around like madpeople, crazed and confused and hungry for knowledge as much as for food.

If we're truly only as far along today as medicine was in the Renaissance, we may be nowhere close to actually understanding how the hell nutrition actually works. We might be hundreds of years away. That's hard to fathom for us - we see change happen so often and so easily these days, that it's difficult to imagine how we could fail to be right on the cusp of having this whole nutrition thing figured out. But the years go by, and we never seem to get any closer to clarity. We not only don't know for sure what we should and should not eat (and in what quantities) to fuel our bodies and ward off disease, but at a fundamental level we lack any understanding whatsoever of why one thing could be better than any other thing. We've identified vitamins, minerals, compounds, chemicals, enzymes, and all sorts of other stuff, to the point where we know it when we find it, we can remove it, add it, increase it, decrease it, and so forth, but we haven't the slightest clue why it does any of what it does. We might as well be bleeding ourselves with leeches for all the good it does.

Granted, there is stuff that demonstrably works. Getting off of a "western" diet full of processed foods, sugars, refined carbs, pesticides, hormones, and so forth seems to do a pretty good job of keeping people from looking like fat Americans, but, again, we don't really understand why (and anyone who tells you they do is just guessing. They may feel very strongly about their guesses, but they're still just making this stuff up. Which doesn't mean they're wrong.). We still need to invent the dietary equivalent of the blood transfusion, or the antibiotic, or the vaccine. I sincerely hope we don't have to wait 400 years for it (and, granted, the pace of change is MUCH faster than it was in the 1600s), but I'm not holding out hope that we're going to figure it out in the next decade, even with all the supermarket check-out aisle magazines tantalizing us with "dietary secrets revealed!"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Martha Stewart Food Reviews

So I found a link to a site where I could sign my wife up for a free year of Martha Stewart Living. These offers aren't incredibly rare - they assume that some number of people will end up subscribing, and the rest still see the ads, so it pays for itself in the long run. It's not my wife's favorite magazine - it's rather pompous for our more mundane tastes - but she likes to read it enough for it to be worth my time to make a couple of clicks and fill out an online form.

And if that had been all I'd needed to do... well, I wouldn't be blogging about it, for one.

You see, AFTER you fill out the form and you think you're all set to get your magazine, they throw a survey at you. Gah. If I'd known I needed to do that, I probably would have skipped the whole thing, but now I'm too invested to stop. They've tricked me, but I shall have my revenge. I click randomly through the survey, not even looking at the questions. My random responses will plague their statistical analysis! Mwua-ha-ha! But wait, there's more!!

I get to the bottom, and there are no fewer than FOUR large text fields. I'm now required to write a review of what I liked or disliked about four different breakfast foods. Cripes, really? Fine, I'll just throw a word into each box and... oh crap, it requires a minimum of 25 words. Dammit! Trapped again! I have no choice but to continue, but I don't have to make my responses useful! In fact, the more annoyed I got, the funnier my responses became. Enough so that I thought I'd share them with you. Note that all misspellings and other errors are intentional.

Review #1:
I like it cuz its tasty and fills me up in the morning an dhelps me get my day going. Its sweet and chewy and fills me up.
I know, it's not really funny. I was just getting started.

Review #2:
I like that its quick and easy and i can make it really fast with no truble. that way i have more time for other things like cleaning and making origami napkin animals.

Review #3:
I like it but its chewy and pulled out all my fillings once. I got new ones, but now I'm afraid to eat it anymore.

Warning - the next one is not suitable to read over breakfast.

Review #4:
I cant eat it anymore because it gives me the runs and makes me sneeze. And thats really bad if it happens at the same time and your not redy. 

So at that point my wife and I are roaring. She asks, "What are you supposed to be reviewing?"

"It doesn't say," I replied. "It just said to review four breakfast foods. I decided that not naming them was part of the fun."

Yeah, I probably won't get the subscription. I'm okay with that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life Choices

When I was a little kid, my intended careers had nothing to do with anything more than what I thought was cool at the time. My dad was a science teacher and he raised me on the Apollo space program (which was still active in my youth). My first LEGO set was the Apollo 11 moon landing, which was fairly awesome. I remember it had a grey moonscape base and the LEM lunar-lander. My dad helped me build it, which I really enjoyed. So, naturally, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Firemen were also intrinsically cool. I seem to vaguely recall owning a dress-up kit with an axe, fire extinguisher, and air mask that I liked to play with. I wanted to be a fireman.

I REALLY, and no, those caps don't do it justice, REALLY loved the short-lived TV show S.W.A.T., despite only being four years old when it debuted. I had the plastic M16 rifle, the belt with holstered sidearm, the bullet-proof vest with badge, the handcuffs - the whole set. I even had a blue cap that I turned around backwards when I was being the sniper. I spent endless hours running through the yard yelling the awesome S.W.A.T. theme song at the top of my lungs and shooting imaginary bad guys. I wanted to be... whatever the heck a S.W.A.T. guy was. I'm certain that I didn't recognize them as police officers. They were way cooler than regular police officers. But whatever they were, I wanted to be it.

When I grew up, I discovered that I didn't know what the hell I wanted to be. After two years of community college (with a straight-A average), I was no closer to figuring it out. I seemed to be best at English and it sure was easy, so I majored in that when I got to my four-year school. At some point I sort-of settled on "writer," but I don't remember how. I think I might have figured out that the two main things you can do with an English degree (aside from "nothing productive") are to write or to teach, and I sure as hell didn't want to teach.

Then I didn't get into the MFA program at SU (the fools!!), which left me with the option of heading off to the cornfields of Iowa or some damn place, leaving my brand-new fiancee' behind for a few years while I waxed poetic about corn and, if I was lucky, learned how to make a career as a writer. I sure as hell didn't know how. I tried sending query letters to a handful of magazines and such, and was roundly rebuffed. In some cases, it was clear they had entirely failed to appreciate the brilliance of my proposal. I don't have any of those submission letters, but I've found a few of my old resume cover letters and egads was I a pretentious prick. I've no doubt that my proposals were written in similar vein - as pompous and condescending as possible.

But the response terrified me. What would I do to support myself if these fools in the editing rooms weren't going to receive my work as the divinely-inspired work of unabashed brilliance that it clearly was?? So... I became a teacher. And, truth be told, I'm not convinced I was especially great at that, either.

Luckily I found my way into Information Technology and things went pretty smoothly from there for most of the next fifteen years or so. Ultimately, some of my choices panned out - I just didn't always get it right the first time. And as a kid, I definitely never said, "I want to be the guy who makes the corporate computer systems operate to effectively support the business objectives and day-to-day needs of the company." Though I might have if there'd been a TV show about somebody doing it, preferably with a really kickass theme song.

Yet my kids... my kids are taking a very different approach. My daughter waffled between dentistry and veterinary medicine, neither of which is a typical "When I grow up..." sort of choice. Okay, you could make an argument for vets because people love pets, but the only one who's ever wanted to grow up to be a dentist was that freak elf from the Rudolph cartoon. You know - the one that teaches kids that everyone hates a freak.So that's pretty different. But my boys are even weirder.

My older son has always really liked science. He likes what it teaches him, but he also likes the idea of investigative understanding of the way the universe works. When asked to consider what he might like as a career, he has actually responded thusly: "What was it that Albert Einstein did?" My response - "He was a physicist." To which my son replied, "Then yeah, I want to be a physicist." In elementary school, his role-model is Albert Freakin' Einstein. And yes, I do believe he knows who Oppenheimer was, though I'm less sure about Fermi, Szilard, and the others. Now, granted, he's not a boy-genius as far as I can tell, nor does he like to read quantum physics texts at bedtime (he very much enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and is currently reading Beast Quest number I've-lost-track). But still, that's a fairly uncommon career choice for such a young man. His brother's just as weird.

My youngest son, you see, has - at least for now - decided on engineering as his chosen occupation. He's something of a math whiz - certainly far better at it than I ever was in elementary school. He has, on occasion, been know to help his sister (who is five grades ahead of him) with her math homework. He's definitely better than her at adding and subtracting negative numbers. He's also the one kid in the house who will sit and build a LEGO set, according to the directions, from start to finish. I actually think he could be a very talented engineer just based on what I've seen in his admittedly short life. But really, what kind of little kid longs to be an engineer??

I worry - do my kids lack imagination? Are they too serious? Are they too grounded in reality? Then I watch them play pirates or spaceships and I know they're fine. If I'm lucky they're more than fine - they're way, way smarter than me. I'd rather they be really smart and very happy than that they just long for careers of glory the way I did. Yeah, that would be just fine by me. But now I've got that damn S.W.A.T. song stuck in my head!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

[Guitar] Back in Black!

I'm back, baby! In more ways than one, really.

I haven't played my guitar in about six weeks. I know, for shame. I just wasn't feeling it anymore. Part of it was stress - I really did have a lot going on for the last month, and it was hard to pull myself away from my computer. That's a convenient excuse, which is my favorite kind. Having to work for an excuse to slack off defeats the whole point of the excuse. Let's see, what else?

Oh yeah, my son and I got in a little bit of a snit. We had been practicing together every morning, five days a week, for nearly two years. We got through the initial struggle to learn the basic chords. We got through the Monday-morning whining session when he'd reliably break down in tears every Monday morning. We got through the achy fingers and learning the individual notes and the scales and so much else. But after a while, I found that when we were practicing together, I'd be playing and I'd look over to find him just sitting there daydreaming. He played fine when I wasn't there with him, but if I was, forget it - he spent ten or fifteen of the thirty minutes slacking off. It drove me nuts. We'd argue. I'd stomp off because I knew if I wasn't there he'd play fine. I always told myself I'd go back and practice later in the day, I just never did. Eventually, I stopped trying to practice with him in the mornings at all, and I still never practiced in the afternoons. I just quit playing. Let's see, what else?

Oh yeah, I still suck. I mean, even before I took a break, I still sucked. After nearly two years of playing, I still don't "feel" the instrument. I can't just "play." Everything I do on the guitar involves intensive thought and analysis and concentration. That drives me nuts. I'm ready for my muse to just wash over me, infusing me with the skill and ability to pick up the instrument and just go - playing whatever I want to play by ear, without thinking about it and without working at it for months at a time to play just a single part of a single song. I'm kind of sick of sucking.

So that pretty well sums up why I stopped playing for a while - stress, conflict, and intense mediocrity. They conspired together to wear me down, to defeat me, to do what the previous 21 months hadn't been able to do - get me to stop playing.

Well screw that. I'm back! I utterly slacked off on our previous assignment - a part of Bad Company's "Can't Get Enough" that I should have really been in to, but just wasn't, plus a part of Van Halen's "Runnin' with the Devil." The problem I had with "Runnin'" was two-fold - I couldn't play it, which was a big part. But I also didn't know what song it was - part of our assignment had been to figure it out, and I utterly failed to place it. The two were related, of course. With tablature, there's no indication of the tempo of the song, so you only know which notes to play, but not when to play them. Thus, you pretty well have to know how the tune goes or it's near-impossible to figure out. So that was a part of why we played badly. And as a result of playing so badly, I couldn't figure out what song it was supposed to be. Which in turn led to us playing it badly. It was a vicious cycle of sucking. Now that I know what it was, I want to go back and try it again.

Which is to say that, yeah, I'm back. I'm back into it, I feel like playing again, and I'm going to try to work through any issues with my son not playing diligently enough while I'm there. So what changed?

Well, first off I finished a major project that had been absorbing a TON of my time for the last month, so I'm genuinely not as busy (though I'd be busier if I got back to writing my book, but I wouldn't be doing that at the time of day when we practice). I actually think that's a big part of it. But the other big part is the new music we got this week. We're currently working on Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhodes's "Crazy Train," which is cool as hell! And as if that weren't awesome enough, we're ALSO working on AC/DC's "Back in Black"! Hence the title of this thread.

So yeah, I'm stoked. Partly because these are fantastic tunes that I like, but partly because I CAN ACTUALLY PLAY THEM! I mean, not great, but well enough. I can see where I could actually master them (well, the parts we're working on, at least) with some diligent practice. And apparently the spectre of potential success is what it takes to get me going. I'm not a big fan of struggling and then failing. It's a major turn-off. But struggling and succeeding? That I can handle.  So I'm back in black, riding the crazy train. And loving it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

[Karate] Aikido Seminar #2

Technically, I don't know what number Aikido seminar this was for me - I'm positive I went to at least four of them back in the early 1990s because I can remember training with Sugano Sensei (Sugano Shihan at the time of his very sad passing last year) twice, Yamada Shihan at least once, and a big guy with a mustache whose name I've forgotten. I suspect there were as many as two other seminars I attended and have simply forgotten, but those four I remember for sure.

To digress further, I think I've mentioned before that I'm baffled when I try to remember how long I spent training in Aikido. It seems like it was around a year, which would be consistent with having attended that number of seminars. Yet I only tested a single time - for 5th Kyu - and that test is usually administered after about 60 days of training, which would be around 6-7 months. Even assuming I was a terrible student (which would hurt my pride deeply, but wouldn't actually surprise me), I should have been ready to test around then, since I often went to class quite a bit more often than twice per week. So how freaking long DID I train for?? I just don't recall.

Well, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I was able to attend Collins Smith Sensei's seminar last November, and then on Saturday I attended Irvin Faust Sensei's seminar as well. And if that weren't enough, I've also taken two actual Aikido classes in the last few weeks as well.

Saturday's seminar was really unique. Well, it was for me, anyway.  I don't know - maybe Faust Sensei teaches like this all the time. You see, in Aikido you typically take turns with your partner, each of you performing a technique four times as the Nage, then receiving those same four techniques as the Uke. The Uke's job is to be a reasonably compliant partner, providing just enough resistance for the technique to be properly executed. The Nage's job is to do the technique without injuring the Uke or throwing them where another Uke is about to fall. Only one technique is generally performed at a time.

Faust Sensei mixed this up, though. For the first hour, we performed variations on a series of techniques. The Nage would begin with Nikyo, then move on to Sankyo, followed by Kotegaeshi, and ending with Shihonage. Actually, it didn't always end with Shihonage - after a while we added an Iriminage throw as the final technique. So that's four - or five! - techniques all done together, one after the next, alternating hands. The Uke's job was just to reach toward the Nage as fast as they could after each technique so the Nage could perform the next one in the series.

It was actually a really great way to practice these fundamental Aikido techniques, it was just unlike anything I'd ever seen done before outside of Rondori (where multiple attackers act as Uke to a single Nage, taking turns attacking with whatever attack they desire while the Nage adapts and selects a suitable response).

Faust Sensei was throwing all kinds of stuff at us that I'd never seen or just didn't remember. I admit, I was confused and frustrated - not so much at my inability to execute the techniques (I give myself a pass since I'm way beyond rusty), but at my sheer bafflement when I tried to comprehend them. I would watch him do the technique and come away utterly confused. Sometimes I'd even practice it for a while and still be utterly confused. It was a very humbling experience, and I'm not a big fan of being humbled and frustrated. When that happens, my gut instinct is to give up. I felt those rumblings stirring within me on Saturday. "This is too hard. I don't get it. I should go sit and watch instead of bumbling around here looking - and feeling - like a fool." It was REALLY tempting to just give up. I'm awesome at giving up. I wonder sometimes if I'm part French (Je plaisante!). I didn't, though. I stuck it out. I stayed with it. After a while, Faust Sensei changed the format and then things did get somewhat easier.

You see, for at least the fourth and final hour, he had us in lines, with a single Nage and everyone else taking turns as Uke. It was a constant barrage of attacks - each Nage got to perform the technique around ten times in rapid succession. I still frequently found that after those ten times, I was no closer to mastering the technique or even being sure I was doing it kind of correctly. Being the guy up there facing that whole line of Aikidoka was fairly intimidating, but it was actually better than being one-on-one. Plus you got to rest while standing in line, which was really welcome after several hours of near-continuous Aikido.

That was another big plus for me - in the past, I've left seminars and even classes feeling completely drained and ready to collapse. Then I've gone home, stiffened up, and literally spent the next four or five days barely able to walk, hobbling around grunting and occasionally crying out in pain. I remember when Collins Smith Sensei's seminar was done, I collapsed flat-out on the mat and just lay there for a while. Several people even came over to see if I was okay.

This seminar, however, I completely lost track of time. I literally misplaced an entire hour, so that when the seminar was finished and we were lined up, kneeling in seiza for Faust Sensei to say goodbye, I was sure we still had another whole session still to go. And I was looking forward to it! I was ready for more, and a bit disappointed to find that there wasn't any. I remember that feeling. It's the feeling I USED to get back in the old days, when I was a young, fit, enthusiastic college kid instead of an old, flabby, worn out man. It's the feeling I'd get when I'd attend a seminar with Sugano or Yamada Shihan back in 1991 at the OLD Erie Boulevard dojo. Maybe I was channeling my Ki or just catching a second wind, but it felt damn good. I'm looking forward to more.

Monday, May 2, 2011

[Karate] Five Star Martial Arts 2.0!

For the last month, I've been intensely focused on helping my good friends at Five Star Martial Arts take their business to the next level. It's incredible how much we've gotten done in just a few short weeks, and today is the official launch of Phase Two of their awesome Karate and fitness school.

One key component of Five Star 2.0 is that they now have an official website! They've wanted one for a long time, but getting the right team in place to create it and developing a cohesive vision that really captured their desire for a centralized web presence can be a little tricky. In the end, my lovely wife developed the site from soup to nuts, based only on a static mock-up in Photoshop, including some graphic design, photo editing, CSS, PHP scripting, server administration, and HTML. I had the job of writing all the copy. Luckily for us, we both had some solid background in our respective tasks, though it was the first time we'd worked together to build a commercial site from the ground up without a team of IT and Marketing departments at our backs. It was pretty cool, and everybody's super-happy with how it turned out!

Another aspect of Five Star 2.0 is the addition of two new fitness programs. Five Star now offers both Hatha Yoga as well as the ONLY Certified Russian Kettlebell classes in the whole Central New York region! Again, this took a while to pull together. We started reaching out to and interviewing Yoga instructors months ago, but it took time to find just the right fit. Meanwhile, I was contacting instructors in other fitness styles, and had the great good fortune to connect with the ONLY HKC-Certified Russian Kettlebell instructor within 40 miles! Russian Kettlebell is a hit all over the world for a fast, intense workout that combines strength-training and cardio in one workout. Plus, my wife loves it so I've gotten to see first-hand how quickly you can see the benefits.

On top of that, there's been a ton of search-engine optimization (more to come), Facebook improvements (we now have all the features of a "Place" page right on our Facebook "Business" page, including a check-in deal!), an active Twitter account that's already over 30 followers in just a couple weeks (not so hot if you're a bigtime Hollywood celebrity, but not bad for a little dojo in North Syracuse!!), and so much more I can't remember it all.

Plus, I set up our domain, including web-hosting and various email addresses, meaning that Five Star's owners and employees can finally have their own custom email addresses. It's not really a big deal, but it's not something anybody had even told them was possible and one more item on a fairly lengthy checklist for the month of April.

On top of all of that, we've got our first LivingSocial deal going live today, too! After the way our Groupon deal went completely ballistic, it'll be interesting to see what happens with this one. It's sure to be a smaller response, but we're anxious to see it. It's also one of the first (possibly THE first) LivingSocial Family deals offered in Syracuse.

Next up - Seminars! I'm making arrangements to bring some fantastic seminars to our dojo this summer and fall and I can't wait to announce them. I'm very much hoping to connect our school to the rest of the CNY martial arts community, make some great friendships, and share some knowledge.

I'm frankly amazed at how much we've accomplished so quickly. Of course, I've hardly seen my wife this month, but it's going to be an awesome thing when we start seeing the response. If you haven't already, definitely pop over to Five Star Martial Arts and let me know what you think. The "News and Events" page goes into more detail about some of what we're rolling out.

Now, off to work on more great stuff!