Why I don’t write so much about VTK

It’s quite ironic, I reckon, that for a blog that was started in part out of my love of VTK, and takes its name from a maxim of the art, I don’t actually write about VTK all that much, apart from a post or two. The short explanation is that I don’t feel I’m qualified to write about VTK. But that wouldn’t really make for much of a post – and it doesn’t even cover the reasons why I don’t talk about something I care about.

If I could think of one word that would describe my journey through VTK, that word would probably be inconsistent. I started training in 2009, but that is not the same thing as saying I’ve trained for ten years. Going across four teachers (coming back several times to my second), often only training one day a week, hardly training at home, and a distinct lack of good old-fashioned grit – these things do not make a particularly good VTK practitioner. Not by a long shot.

So for me to talk about the finer points of Siu Nim Tau, or the various techniques I’ve learned would be a waste of my time – and yours. Plus, I’d fall into that category of people who can talk a good game about VTK but can’t really do it.

That said, however, there is probably still sometimes I can contribute to the discussion, such as where I think VTK is going, points I’ve observed about certain VTK guys, how I think VTK has shaped me as a person, maybe even training tips I’ve picked up (which will probably require me to start training at home to keep my skills from atrophying) and so on.

I have some content I’m planning to put out on VTK, but let me know what you’d like to see me cover. OK, take care.

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Ramadan Blues (Well, Greys)

I’ve never really liked Ramadan if I’m being honest. I don’t hate it exactly, but I’ve never been really psyched for it every year except maybe one time (and that turned out to be worse for me than Ramadan the year before that). Maybe it shows in the fact that, as I type this, the skies are grey (hence the title of this post).

On one level, it’s because I never really prep for it, even though I know I should. Never underestimate one’s ability to be extremely lazy. Also, on a practical level, it’s not the hunger that gets me, it’s the first. Especially for the whole day. I’ll have the suhoor (also called sehri by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis), which is the pre-dawn meal we eat before Fajr comes in, which I’ll pray before trying to get some sleep – and because of my sinuses, I’ll breathe through my mouth, leaving my throat dry for the whole day.

Of course, I know that neither of these things are the real issue I have with Ramadan. The real issue is, I’m not entirely sure what the point is.

No, that’s not quite it. I know what Ramadan is about. It’s the month when the Qur’an was revealed, and the act of fasting was mandated upon other nations before so that they could gain a deeper consequence of God. So we’re supposed to become closer to God and gain a deeper appreciation of the Qur’an. Neither of which has happened to me in any significant way – at least not in the last few years since Ramadan has been in the summer. Instead of thriving and striving during this month, I’m just trying to survive the day before I break my fast. And that’s when I’ve actually bothered to fast – sometimes, I just don’t bother. There have been days when I haven’t fasted because I’ve been ill, but there are days when I can’t get out of bed to have suhoor.

Then again, maybe part of that is on me. I know I’m not going to taste the fruits of this month of fasting unless I actually make an effort to exert myself during Ramadan – whether it be this Ramadan or the next. Maybe, at the heart of it all, beyond the dry throat, the lack of prep, or not getting the point of it all, is that I’m not willing to suffer a bit for a reward further down the road. Maybe for me, that should be the real lesson: being willing to go through a little bit of pain for my faith. And if I can do that, I can certainly go through it to achieve my goals in other areas of my life.

Not that I’d mind being able to get the sleep I need though.

Still here…

The blog, I mean. It’s me that hasn’t been around.

Apparently, it’s been two years since I last posted something. In those two years, I’ve left my old job and experienced the temp life (don’t do it if you have mouths to feed and rent to pay, unless you get a long contract – that’s my take), started up VTK under my old (and favourite) teacher, which I’ve unfortunately had to put on hold because of money issues and pressures at home, found myself a mentor who’s helped me to understand myself in a deeper way, and above all, despite everything, stay moderately sane. And that’s just the stuff I remember.

I better break all of this down, or it’s going to be a short post (which might not be a bad thing).

Living the life of a pirate contractor

So after spending almost eight years in a job I sometimes enjoyed but at the same time felt suffocated by, I finally managed to leave in early 2018 to start working as a temp.

Why did I leave a permanent job to work as a temp? Well, it was either that or stagnate. And I’d been stagnating for eight years. I had left briefly the year before, but the role was nothing like I’d been led to believe, and I was back in my old job a couple of weeks later, but still looking for that move onwards. This time, though, I found what I was looking for: a role to kickstart my career in HR.

The role lasted three months, and just like that, for the first time in over a decade, I was jobless, which was strange at first. I managed about two interviews a week but wasn’t able to land an offer until around late August, where I worked with a great company for a month on a restructuring project, and then went on to another company, where I spent eight months (which ended this week), and now, I’m looking for my next thing.

The life of a contractor is an interesting one – it’s allowed me to experience a range of different cultures and gain experiences I never would’ve otherwise. If a permanent job can be likened to staying on dry land, contracting is closer to being a pirate sailing the seas for their next score. After spending eight years in one job (over eleven years in the same building), having that relative freedom is pretty cool. It’s not without its pitfalls (like not have a job to walk into afterwards), but I like it. It’s given me the chance to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do, and it’s developed me as an HR professional, though probably not quite as much as I’d have liked. I’ll probably move back into a permanent role at some point, but until then, being a pirate contractor works well for me.

Back in the VTK game (for a while, at least)

I have no idea if any of my old subscribers are still here (I can’t even remember if I had any – I haven’t checked yet), but at the time I first started this blog, I was training with my third Sifu after a while out of the game. I didn’t stay too long, though – I never did kick down that iron gate. And then I spent a long time not doing anything. Took up Muay Thai for a while – lasted less than a month. Spent a month training in the WKL lineage of VTK, and I can’t say I took well to it, it was far too different to what I’d learned. Anyone seeing a pattern here?

And then, at the end of last year, I decided to go back to my second (and favourite) teacher’s class. It was like coming home again. Unlike before, where I’d only been able to attend the Monday morning class, now, I was going to the evening classes, where the real action was. It was amazing. I quickly realised that my VTK was so messed up from going to various teachers, I’d have to start over. And that was fine – I was more than happy to. And slowly, my VTK started to take shape again, even though I was still well off the pace.

While this was happening, however, I was getting a lot of hassle from my family, who complained that I was coming back home late and leaving them to look after Mum (who has Alzheimer’s), which made me feel a little guilty. It didn’t stop me going, but it did take up some of my headspace while I was training, knowing I was going to get it when I got home. Still, I was enjoying my training.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Pressure got a bit too much, and finances became an issue, so I had to put my training on hold – again. And it was just when I was starting to improve and get a more solid foundation for my VTK. But it’s only temporary; I will be back soon once I’m settled.

Meeting my mentor

Perhaps the biggest thing in my life, however, is meeting the man who would become my mentor – Obi-Wan to my Luke Skywalker. I’d only expected to spend a short time with him to see what he had to offer, but it’s been almost a year, and he’s still mentoring me. And the experience has changed me. I could write a whole blog post about my mentor, and perhaps I will, but let me just share some highlights.

My mentor – who I’ll call JT here, which is what I actually call him – has introduced me to so many ideas that have transformed the way I look at myself and the experiences I have gone through. I’ve come to realise that, even though my experiences have shaped me in a less positive way, I don’t have to let them run me and dictate my future – I can actually choose to be better. And I have started to choose to be better. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m slowly getting there.

JT has also made me realise how often I cast myself as a victim when things don’t go my way, as opposed to being proactive and taking responsibility. For far too long, I’ve blamed my lack of success on other people and my situation, instead of acknowledging that I’ve screwed up. Owning up to this hasn’t been easy either, but it is liberating to own your failures and learn from them. It certainly beats going ‘Woe is me’ all the time.

Probably one of the most important things he’s taught me is the importance of loving yourself, of giving yourself that compassion and concern, and of being willing to suffer in the short term to develop that love. For years, I’ve hated myself and seen myself as essentially worthless. It’s why I’ve eaten badly for years; why I’ve been reluctant to keep myself in shape; why I haven’t pushed myself to achieve greater things in my life. It’s why I haven’t kicked down that iron gate yet – because I haven’t believed I can, and because I haven’t been willing to suffer what it take to kick it down. That, however, is starting to change. I wish that changing my mindset was as easy as flicking a switch, but seeing as it isn’t, I’ll just have to suffer for a while and live the rest of my life as, if not a champion, then at least a much better version of myself.

Though it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, I have become a better version of myself since last year. I forget this sometimes, but JT reminds me that when he first me, I was in a much worse place than now. So I have come a long way, but I can go a lot further if I apply myself. For me, that starts with basic things like watching what I eat and how I dress – those two things, bust especially the former – do have an effect on how you see yourself, and how others see you, but also on how you carry yourself.

I think I’ve forgotten how to write a good blog post – it seems a little disjointed. Still, I am writing again, so let’s see how this goes.

18th March 2017

Apparently, I’m self-deprecating, according to a friend of mine who’s read this blog. Not a big surprise – I’ve done it for years, although I’m trying to stop. Tear myself down before others get the chance to – it’s a defence mechanism, and it’s a pretty rubbish one. It’s going to be – it’s a defence mechanism, i.e. you’re on the defensive. Any mechanism that doesn’t help you to proactively fight what it is you’re defending yourself against is, in my view, useless and inefficient. Then again, that view is informed in part by my VTK training. In VTK, we don’t just block and attack; we block and attack at the same time.

So, with that said, let’s see if I can not tear myself down today.

That friend of mine I mentioned got married last year. I know this because I was at his nikah and his walimah. For those who don’t know, a nikah is the actual marriage, which in Islam is the marriage contract signing with two witnesses, whereas the walimah is the wedding reception. It also doubles as the announcement that you’re married. Of course, some families do a two-in-one event, which more closely resembles the Western concept of a wedding. My friend’s family didn’t do that, though. I barely spoke to him during the walimah, though, as he was busy getting his photos taken. That’s probably the dullest thing about weddings for me – having to pose with people you couldn’t care less about to get your picture taken with them. It’s amazing that anyone would willingly sit through that for hours.

And yet, amazingly, they do. And live to tell the tale.

So here I am, sitting next to that friend, along with people I’ve known for forever, it seems, writing this post about someone else’s wedding. Worse ways to spend an evening, I guess. Especially when I’m sitting next to an aunt who doesn’t seem to have aged in almost twenty years. (She asked me to mention that.)

I’d probably write a little more, but I’m a little tired right now. Or maybe it’s just that I feel like I’d be forcing it if I tried to write more. So, I’ll end it here. Take care, and maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.

Writing after VTK

I would have said that it’s strange, going from writing pretty much every day to not writing for almost two months, except I thought that might happen. I just hoped that it wouldn’t.

If this blog had anything as identifiable as a muse, VTK was it. This blog’s very name is a VTK reference. VTK was, if not the direct focus of Fist From The Heart, then at least its inspiration. Everything else pretty much revolved around that – the social commentary, the personal reflection pieces, the short-lived training journal.

And now, that’s gone.

I haven’t trained for months due to personal reasons and things getting in the way, which I’m not going to go into right now. Although, perhaps, part of me wasn’t ready for it. I never did kick down that iron gate, but I like to think I put a dent in it, and that’s something. But without VTK in my life, I felt – and feel – like a major motivation for writing this blog has gone.

But I think it comes back to that iron gate, too. It wasn’t just about VTK, but life. I was able to reflect on my failings, but never quite followed through in addressing them. I did that so many times, I guess I figured it wasn’t worth sharing them anymore. My social and political pieces felt kind of forced, as if I wrote them because I felt I needed to, and not because I had anything worthwhile to say. So that went too. And I wasn’t going to go down the route of writing film and game reviews for the sake of content. So, with my muse having left, I felt like this was the end.

But perhaps, it’s a beginning.

I’m looking at the prospect of a post-VTK Fist From The Heart, and I don’t know what that’s going to look like, or what it should look like. And I’m not going to figure that out any time soon. But if I’m going to figure it out at all, it’s going to mean writing again. So, here we are.

And not training anymore isn’t the only big change in my life. You may recall I wrote some time ago about my refusal to take the medication the doctor had prescribed for me. Well, a month ago, I started taking it. The reason was pretty simple: I realised that I don’t want to die. It was kind of hard swallowing my pride along with the pills the first time, but I survived. It’s starting to become part of my routine now. I do hope for the day when I’ll be off the Vitamin D and the cholesterol tablets, and despite the odds being very much against it, being off the diabetes medication. For now, though, this is my life. And it’s not as dreadful as I feared. Unless they start putting me on more medicines, which is when it’ll become exactly as bad as I’d feared.

And with that, I’m off now. Hope you guys still follow this blog. Take care.

23rd January 2017

I remember when I started this blog not too long ago, I was training actively in VTK, and I was working to address my doubts about religion. Well, now I’ve stopped training, and my doubts have been resolved for now.

What that means, essentially, is the reasons I had for starting this blog don’t really apply here. It also means that I no longer feel the need to pour out my deepest, darkest thoughts on the Internet – not that there’s much for me to share anyway. I couldn’t care less right now about commenting about the world around me. I have enough work to do on myself at the moment.

I wish I told my friend this when he came today, but I knew he wouldn’t understand – so I resorted to the ‘I’m tired’ rubbish. He knew it was rubbish. I knew it was rubbish. The truth is, however, I’m done with worrying about this world. I’m done with being enslaved to it, I’m done with putting my hopes in it. I’m just straight up done.

I don’t know if this is a goodbye. Maybe I’ll see you later. Take care.

5th January 2017

He who is unwilling to forge his own path must suffer having to follow the paths that others have, or the ones imposed upon him.

That is probably as deep as I’m going to manage for a very long while, and it has a little history. I’ll get to that in a moment.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t really have a plan. I just felt the time was right to get back into blogging, sharing my thoughts and feelings on whatever I felt like. I also thought that writing regularly would grease the gears for my literary work. That hasn’t happened so far, but what has happened is that I’ve shared some of my deepest, darkest thoughts on this blog, and the catharsis has been pretty damn good. Trouble is, after doing that for so long, I have little left to purge, and what I do have, I’m starting to lose my nerve on sharing. Probably temporary, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that my family do in fact read this blog, and that’s caused me to hold back on some things.

An example: I wrote a post last Monday about having relatives over. There was a bit I left out, because I didn’t feel I could post it at the time (because I had my nephew looking over my shoulder as I was typing it out), but if you want to have a look at the post again, I’ve added it now. Basically, I had some friends over, and yeah, we did stay too late. My relatives came back from a dinner somewhere, and noticed my friends. As soon as my friends left, I had to suffer the ridiculous spectacle of being lectured on the friends I keep (my friends, by the way, are practising Muslims, the kind of friends I need more of, not less), being told that they were al-Qaeda (when they are furthest from such terrorists), and how they might harm my family, and on and on. I had to walk out of the room a few times, although my uncle did keep me from leaving at one point. They don’t even know my friends, they probably don’t want to, but they certainly don’t want me bringing them home. And I had to listen to this.

But I didn’t write about any of that, because I knew I was going to be criticised for that by my family, who have already told me not to write about certain things on my blog. And I’m only now realising how absurd it is for me to worry about that. Either I write the truth as I see it, and haters be damned, or I shut this blog down.

I’ve digressed a little bit, but it felt good to get that out. Anyway, the point is, after exhausting most of my inner demons (but not quite getting round to, you know, slaying them), I found I didn’t have much to say. I have done a few social commentary pieces, but I’m not sure they’re my best writing on here, but I’ll let you judge. I doubt anyone has noticed or cared, but that’s the reason I haven’t done a post a day as I’ve aimed to do. But I also haven’t done much writing, which I had expected this blog to kickstart.

Which now brings me to the quote I started with. That’s mine, by the way, but I’m sure others have expressed the idea better.

I haven’t read my writer friend’s recent work, but I can tell you that he is a writer. He’s written several books already, and is getting them ready to publish. He’s prolific, and he works very hard. None of what I’ve just described could actually be applied to me. He’s tried his hardest to get me back into writing again, but I’ve resisted. I have been writing of course – you’re reading this blog, after all – but nothing literary. It’s true that I’ve been lazy at times, and I need to knuckle down, but it’s also true that my writer friend and I see writing a little differently. Not radically differently – just enough to not entirely agree on it.

Writing fiction is a business, which is something that we both agree on. Where we diverge is on the act of writing itself. He seems to believe that all that matters is being prolific and getting your work out there. There’s nothing wrong with that, or to phrase it more precisely, that’s not something I’m prepared to criticise. We all have bills to pay at the end of the day – unless, of course, you happen to be living on a mountain somewhere (in which case you wouldn’t even be reading this). For me, however, the work itself has to be worthwhile. It isn’t just business for me; I have to be able to stand by the quality of my work, even if that means a redraft, or even starting over. If a publisher forced me to hand over a manuscript I wasn’t totally ready to stand by, the police would have to be called – if I left anyone alive to make that call.

 Of course, the problem with all of this is that, unlike my prolific friend, I haven’t written any fiction for two years. One poem, which is on this blog, and that’s pretty much it. Stephen King, I most definitely am not. So because I haven’t taken the initiative to do it myself (which I’m to blame for), I’m having to endure my friend lending me books which he expects me to read (which I should be doing independently anyway). I may have talked about this previously.

I finished a manuscript at the end of 2014, and it was a wreck. I should’ve really stuck to the plan on it, but there you go. Of course, my writer friend tried to take credit for it because he kept prodding me to finish it, and only recently has he given me the respect I deserved for completing it, which just isn’t good enough. It’s probably another reason I’ve been reluctant to write: I feel sometimes like it’s coming more from him than me. But anyway, I’m just venting.

The point is, he offered to take the manuscript off my hands and work on it, but I turned him down, because I wasn’t happy with what I’d written. He’d probably say I was being precious about it, and maybe I am a bit. But that’s just how it is for me. I’m going to start that project afresh (in addition to another project I’m working on), because that’s how it has to be. When I publish something, I need it to be the very best version of that story I can produce. ‘That’s good enough, it’ll do’ is not an option for me.

Is that profitable? Probably not. Is it time-consuming? Definitely. Is it worth it for me? Absolutely. The catch: I actually have to write something.

So, as things stand, I have three choices: do nothing, which is essentially what I’ve been doing; do what my friend tells me, which would deprive me of my independence as a writer; or I actually pull my finger out of my ear and do this myself. Option 1 hasn’t worked, and option 2 is not my way, so I guess I am going to sort it out myself. It’s about time anyway, and it’s not like I’ve got anything else holding me back anymore.

So while I’m definitely going to be continuing with this blog, I’m also going to be working on my writing. I think the gears are greased enough. I won’t write many updates, except for significant milestones, but hopefully, you’ll be reading at least one of my efforts later this year.

Speak to you soon. Take care.

My review of the Assassin’s Creed movie

Just got back from watching the Assassin’s Creed movie, a little later in the day than I had expected. Up until then, I’d read mixed reviews of it, and some of them I found rather irritating. Video game adaptations have a pretty awful reputation, and for good reason, and I felt that this coloured people’s perceptions of the film. Others thought they were being clever, when they weren’t. So, after having seen the film, what do I think?

I’m not going to lie: it wasn’t brilliant. It wasn’t as bad as people have made it out to be, and I did enjoy it a lot, but it wasn’t the best film I’ve seen. My expectations were coloured by a specific consideration: authenticity to Assassin’s Creed. And the film failed that in the first scene.

If you know anything about the fictional history of the franchise, you’ll be aware that in the timeframe of Altair Ibn La-Ahad, the Assassins cut off one of their fingers so that they could use the hidden blade. This was around the end of the 12th Century in the Holy Land. You’ll also know that in Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio Auditore da Firenze (undoubtedly the franchise’s greatest star) didn’t have to do that, as modifications were made to the design of the hidden blade (implemented by Altair after the events of the first game). The reason for the history lesson: the movie takes place around the same historical timeframe as AC2, the Renaissance period, and guess what the movie’s Assassin, Aguilar, does? He gets his finger chopped off so he can use the hidden blade. Now, you could argue that, since they didn’t have the internet at that time, that information couldn’t have been spread so easily, but seriously, come on. It’s a pretty key detail to get wrong.

And don’t get me started on the way the film portrayed the Animus. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was way cooler than anything in the games, and it works better cinematically. But that isn’t really the issue here: that’s not how it works in the games. Ubisoft had a hand in creating this film, so I’d have expected more effort at authenticity. Then again, maybe they didn’t have all that much influence.

I also find it interesting that the other characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. I did notice some of the easter eggs the film dropped, which was pretty cool, but I’d have gone for deeper layers of character instead. Still, at least the main character wasn’t completely one-dimensional.

I think the fundamental problem with the film, as with all video game adaptations, is time constraints. The film was almost two hours long, which is quite long, but an Assassin’s Creed game lasts a lot longer than that. Getting all that material into a film will mean some corners will have to be cut. It means that we get some glimpse into the war between the Assassins and Templars, but nothing more. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, that isn’t so great an issue, as you’ll already know the lore. If this is your first taste of the franchise, you’ll probably be left wishing you got the chance to know the characters a little better. As it stands, you almost get the feeling that they exist simply to kill, be killed, or push the story forward. It’s a missed opportunity, and it highlights the fact that, for a video game adaptation to be successful, it has to be able to stand on its own as a story. As much as I want to be able to say that about this film…… I can’t, really.

Still, they do get things right. The parkour, the combat, the philosophy (to a point), and the leap of faith was pretty cool. The ending wasn’t so great in my view.

Still, it was a great way to begin this new Gregorian year, so I’m not going to complain that much. Now, let’s see if they can actually sort out the games themselves…...

Goodbye 2016

So here we are: the end of 2016. It’s been quite a year. I’m going to be spending the last few hours of this annus horribilis at my uncle’s place, and then, roll on 2017.

And if things go according to plan, I’m marking 2017 by watching Assassin’s Creed. I’ve been reading that it’s not all that great, but that’s not going to deter me. It’s Assassin’s Creed, after all. Plus, video game adaptations have a generally bad rep anyway, so there’s that bias against it. But I’m going to enjoy the film regardless.

And after that? No idea. Maybe I’ll get that IT job I’ve been wanting for a while, or maybe I’ll change tack again. Maybe I’ll quit my admin job and do something else. The only definite thing is: I’m starting my book this year. Whatever it is I end up writing, I’m doing it. No excuses.

Enjoy the twilight moments of 2016, and I’ll see you all in 2017. Take care.

Christmas, WiFi and social calendars

I haven’t really had the chance to blog since my relatives came over last week from France. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve seen them. And it’s been great to have some life in the house after so long.

They’re actually here to attend the wedding of a friend of mine, which I should be as well. I’m certainly looking forward to it – I don’t go to many events anymore. It’s not that I don’t like going to them; I just don’t get the chance nowadays. Life’s like that.

My family had the idea to have a Christmas dinner yesterday (or maybe the day before, depending on when I publish this post). How did I manage to deal with the absurdity of a Muslim family having a dinner to commemorate a Christian/pagan holiday? Simple: I just focused on the food. There was a moment when I felt sad looking at the food: I thought of all the people in Syria, or who are fleeing Syria, who can only dream of such a feast. It was only a moment, though. I don’t do emotions very well.

I’ve had another thing to deal with as well: my WiFi acting up. For the last few days, I thought it could be resolved by switching to different wireless channels, but that didn’t work. Only today (or yesterday) did I finally realise that my router itself was the real problem. Should be getting a replacement soon. Let’s hope that solves the problem.

I feel like I’m a bloody teenager again being lectured about the friends I hang out with. Once upon a time, your family worried that your friends would have you hooked on drugs or throwing bricks through windows; now, they worry that your friends might ‘radicalise’ you. If encouraging you to be a better person is an example of being radicalised, then maybe we should all be radicalised. But then, it wouldn’t be, well, radical, would it?

I can’t remember the last time I wrote any fiction. You’d think that I’d be cranking stuff out each day with the output on this blog, but that hasn’t happened. And it isn’t going to happen until I make it happen. Time to sort out my to-do list.

Also, it’s time for me to be getting sleep. Take care.