Tetris of the creativity kind

We may all have different conceptions of creativity, but I hope you agree that creativity isn’t just for artistic activities like drawing or writing. It is relevant to other areas of life. Philosophy, martial arts and cooking alike require one to see hidden connections; finding such connections is a creative act, I believe.

I  worry that I might have lost my creative self, as I grew older. I must say this worry isn’t a huge worry, though. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another issue. The fact that I don’t worry too much about it may indicate that the situation is quite fatal.

I used to draw a lot as a kid. I could spend hours and hours just drawing. As I grew older, I started to draw less frequently. Now I hardly draw. I can say I’m more playful and less mentally-constrained than the average 26 year old Japanese man, but if I compare myself with my 5 year old self, perhaps I might look like a dork who doesn’t know how to play in the eyes of my 5 year old self. But how can I compare myself with him when it seems I left him behind somewhere along the way. But I believe this: he’s not dead yet.

Now I’m playing Tetris of the creativity kind. I see there is a pile of blocks accumulated over years and years. New blocks keep coming and perhaps they will keep coming. But now I’m on my way to learn how to handle them as well as how to get rid of the old ones that I can recognize. There might be some more buried under what seems to be the bottom row, but that doesn’t worry me, because I will get rid of them. What I’m after is to rescue my creative self buried alive under these blocks.

Towards the end of 2009, I stumbled upon Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It is a 12 week “course in discovering and recovering your creative self”. Someone on my Twitter time line mentioned this book and it caught my attention. I checked reviews on Amazon and those reviews convinced me to get a copy for myself.

A few weeks ago, again on Twitter, someone else was talking about an event at a cafe in Tokyo. I got curious about this cafe. So, I checked the cafe’s website. In addition to the information I was initially looking for, there was something unexpected and delightful. There was a link to a Facebook group dedicated to the Artist’s Way. The group was to have its first meeting at this cafe in a week or so. Without hesitation, I decided to go to the first meeting and to go through the 12 week course with people from the group. As it turned out, it was not just a group of people, but a group of amazing and interesting people. How can I not enjoy working on the book with them, really.

One obvious advantage of going through this book with others is that you are more likely to finish the course with support and encouragement (and social pressure) from them. If you want to pick up a copy of the book and do the course, I recommend you to form a group and do it together, especially if you tend to ‘get busy’ and to forget eventually about what you’ve started as I sometimes do.

Since all I have done so far is the first week of the course, I am not qualified to write a review of the book. You can read various reviews on its Amazon page if you are interested.

By the way, in the book there are some references to God and whatnot, which might put off some people. But, let me assure you that from the pages I’ve read so far, the content is good. Don’t let those references disturb you.

The book has a contract page and here’s mine…

I, Masafumi Matsumoto, understand that I am undertaking in an intensive, guided encounter with my own creativity. I commit myself to the twelve-week duration of the course. I, Masafumi Matsumoto, commit to weekly reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artist date, and the fulfillment of each week’s tasks.

I, Masafumi Matsumoto, further understand that this course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I, Masafumi Matsumoto, commit myself to excellent self-care—adequate sleep, diet, exercise, and pampering—for the duration of the course.

Masafumi Matsumoto

20 January 2010

How would you use your $100?

One of my goals for this year is to create extra income streams. I aim to make these streams location-independent as much as possible. That way, I don’t need to fix myself to one location and can earn enough financial resources from wherever I am. I do work from home as a translator, but extra income streams would ensure my income to be stable. Achieving this goal will be a good step towards my long term goal of having a nomad lifestyle.

To those who know me: No, I haven’t given up philosophy yet. (And to those who don’t know me or got to know me only recently: I submitted my master’s thesis on metaethics/philosophy of language last year) In the long run, I want to design my life in such a way that I can spend time on what I like: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, philosophy, other creative activities and the like. I think it is highly advantageous for one to have skills for launching a small business and running it successfully. No one hires you? How about you hiring yourself? Or you can’t find a job that you like? Perhaps you can make one?

Do these sound too unconventional for you? Whether you take a shot or not is totally up to you; I’ll take it.

Chris Guillebeau has been inspiring me regarding this entrepreneur path. He is a writer, entrepreneur, and world traveler. Chris shares his knowledge, thoughts and ideas with us through his website The Art of Non-Comformity. If you fancy an unconventional way of living, you should check out Chris’s articles. There are a number of intriguing articles on his website. The one I would like to introduce to you for this occasion is the following: The Case for the $100 Business.

In this article, Chris remarks that it’s possible for one to launch a small business for $100. Then he talks about the fundamental principle behind running such a business. He also lists some $100 business ideas suggested by his followers on twitter.

Chris recently launched a 28 day online course on running a $100 business, in collaboration with Pamela Slim, the author of Escape from Cubicle Nation. I was quite surprised when Chris announced that the price for this course is $100. Considering what a student will get out of this course, I say that’s a bargain. The first round of the course will start from 1 February 2010, but it has been filled up already. I was one of those people who waited in front of a computer for the registration for this course to open. How could I resist such an offer after all! I am looking forward to the course and getting to know other 149 participants as well as Chris and Pamela.

I will write about how I go with the course and my not-yet-in-existence small business once the course has started. Posts on these matters may be useful if you want to consider whether it’s worth taking the course. You can certainly wait for my posts, but note that the second round of the course may also be filled up soon and that the third round seems to take place later in the year rather than soon after the second one. If you are interested in running a small business and want to take action now, I suggest you read Chris’s articles and measure for yourself what Chris can possibly offer through this course. If you are not in rush, wait and see how I go with it.

"What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu anyway", I thought.

I heard of Rickson Gracie when I was 17. Rickson Gracie is a legendary martial artist who never lost a fight. He had more than 400 fights. My friend told me about him and the Gracie style of fighting, which is now popularized as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I didn’t really get into Rickson or BJJ at that time, but I remember I was quite impressed with this Rickson guy.

About a year later, I ended up starting my journey of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It was in Tasmania, Australia and in 2002. I was there to take a university preparation course at University of Tasmania. During a campus tour, I noticed a poster for University of Tasmania BJJ club in the sports gym. I remembered about this style of martial arts and Rickson Gracie; I joined the club and started practicing BJJ.

At the BJJ club, I was the smallest person, both my height and weight considered. I’m about 177cm (5’8) in height. I think I weighed around 60kg (132 pounds) at that time. I did Kendo for 5 years. I did a bit of Judo for physical education classes at high school. But I wasn’t good at any sports. I wasn’t physically strong either. Get my 17 old self go for a run. He would be one of the last ones to finish. There was no way I could beat my training partners with my (non-existent) physical strength. This situation forced me to be smart about training. I had to sharpen and to rely on my techniques.

A BJJ match consists of two phases, broadly speaking. We could call them the standing phase and the ground phase respectively. In the standing phase, your primary goal is to bring the match into the ground phase while keeping a better position than your opponent’s. You can take your opponent down by throwing or tackling him or her. Alternatively, you can pull your opponent into yourself.

In the ground phase, your primary aim is to submit your opponent by locking his or her joint or choking him or her. To make this goal easier, you need to take a better position than your opponent’s. What’s meant by a ‘better position’ is quite simple: it’s a position where you can be safe and rest while your opponent has to struggle to get out. There are various techniques and moves that lead you to such a position. Scores are awarded when you take a better position or do a move that leads you to such a position. If the match doesn’t finish within the designated time limit before any successful submission happens, the winner will be decided on the basis of the scores the competitors got.

BJJ puts greater emphasis on the ground phase. Naturally, those ground techniques compose the heart of BJJ and BJJ tends to get attention for such techniques. I believe, however, what’s really striking about BJJ is not just how effective these techniques can be.

There are two factors to take into account if you wonder whether you should learn BJJ or not. One is how each technique can be taught in a systematic way; the other is how anyone can do the basic techniques. Every technique can be broken down into a few basic principles. If you understand these principles and how your body and your opponent’s body work, you just need to make sure you control your opponent’s body with no rush or unnecessary strength, and to execute the technique you wish to execute. Since the basic techniques don’t require great flexibility or strength, it’s possible for you to learn some of the basic moves at the first lesson and to try sparring if you want.

My point is that if your physical condition is such that you can walk with no problem, you should be able to do the basic moves of BJJ after a few hours of lesson. It will certainly take years to master those moves, but there are almost no prerequisites for starting BJJ. You don’t need to be crazy flexible or super strong.

By the way, the most important and first thing you should learn in BJJ is to tap before you get hurt. You can certainly practice tapping at the first session. It may be embarrassing to get toyed with by someone smaller than you, but it’s a necessary route. It can be a great way to let go of your ego as well. Your instructor should be able to match you up with senior people who know what to do. You don’t need to worry about getting hurt and smashed at the first lesson, unless the gym you chose was the wrong place to go.

After you’ve learned how to lose, the next thing you need to learn is how to survive. Survive first. This way of thinking is prominent in the Gracie way of fighting, I believe. Survive through every attack your opponent does, preferably in the safest position you can get. When you’ve survived from such attacks without using any energy, your opponent is likely to be more tired than you are. When you have much more energy left than your opponent, you have a greater chance of winning, even if your opponent is twice larger than you.

I’m inclined to think the Gracie way of fighting can be applied to real life, non-fighting situations as well. That’s one of the things I like about the Gracies and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Where do you think this ‘survive first’ way of thinking is relevant and applicable? In my view, to survive is to keep showing up no matter what. As long as you don’t give up and tire yourself, you can always increase your chance of winning.

Watch a demonstration done by Rickson and his brother Royler here.

“The primary objective of Jiu-Jitsu is to empower the weak who, for not having the physical attributes, are often intimidated. My Jiu-Jitsu is an art of self-defense in which rules and time limits are unacceptable.”  – Helio Gracie

If you want to get better at it, you must (insert your answer here).

I want to get better at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I want to get better at cooking. I want to get better at singing. The list goes on. In fact, it is much easier to put these together and say I want to be a better person; this will cover all of them.

I like learning new things, rediscovering and deepening what I already know. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy things like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and philosophy, because there is no final point where I can stand and say “I have mastered it all”. There is always room for improvement, as long as you are ready to be a learner. It sounds a bit cliche, but on this point, I feel as though I am on a life long journey and it gives me great challenges that make my life much more exciting.

I have a question for you. If you wanted to get better at something, what would you do?

I found a good reminder, which gives us an answer to the question above, in a bookstore. When I went to a bookstore few days ago, I picked up a certain (Japanese) book and started flicking pages. I am quite interested in the subject matter of this book. Something caught my attention. It was a piece of advice given to a male beginner in this subject matter. The advice goes like this:

If a man wants to get better at it, he must consider every woman as his teacher.

You might think the book I picked up was about relationships. I am certainly interested in that area as well, but it was something different. It was a book on Argentinian Tango. The background of this advice is the following: the authors of this book often notice some of their male students act as if they are always right and thus hardly listen to their female partners.

What I like about this advice is that it can be generalized and applied to various things. If you want to get better at something, you must consider everyone else involved in that thing as your teacher. How about the mighty ‘it covers all’ card? Easy. If you want to be a better person, you must consider everyone as your teacher. Perhaps you can add ‘everything’ as well. Everyone and everything.

It is fascinating if you can learn from everyone and everything. With this attitude, you get to have more learning opportunities. It is even better if you can appreciate others for being your teacher. They might set good examples or bad examples. No matter what examples they set, there is always something you can learn from. This is easier said than done, but it helps to keep this in mind and we can start small.

The forgotten first day of 2009 and kick-starting 2010

I don’t remember what I did on the first day of 2009. On the new year’s eve for 2009, I invited two of my friends for a pizza party at my place. My housemate at that time brought his friend as well. Five of us made pizzas together, drank wine and eventually headed off to the local karaoke place for some fun. We came back, 2009 started, and we drank more wine.

It was a hot summer night in Australia, where I was at that time. The heat, food and wine made me sleepy; I couldn’t keep my eyes open after about 2.30am. We called it a day, and I went to bed.

I don’t know about you, but I usually wear only a boxers if it’s too hot to sleep with other garments on. That was the case for this time as well.

The sleep was great. In fact, when I woke up in the morning, I felt as though it was the freshest and most beautiful morning ever.

I went to the kitchen to grab a cup of water. My housemate was up too. He asked me whether I remembered what I did earlier in the morning. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me he heard a door slamming noise around 4.30am. He went to check what it was. Then he saw me coming into the house. I had nothing but a boxers on. He talked to me and apparently I did reply to him and went back to my room.

I didn’t remember anything when my housemate told me about this in the kitchen. I wonder if this start of 2009 made a good indication for the year, which was a good year for me overall.

Since the feeling I had when I woke up on the first day of 2009 was great, I wanted to feel that feeling again for the first morning of 2010. However, I came back to the northern hemisphere in September, 2009; it would have been too cold for a sleepwalk with nothing but a boxers on. So, I chose another fun activity to kick off 2010.

On the new year’s eve for 2010, I went to the martial arts gym where I used to train in the first half of 2007 (i.e. Purebred Kawaguchi, also known as Redips), for a new year’s eve sparring session. It was nice to see my old team mates; I hadn’t seen them for more than 2 years since I flew to Australia in July, 2007.

If you know me, perhaps you know that I’m a massive fan of this submission technique called triangle choke (For those who are interested, see this video by Rener Gracie. His explanation is to the point and hilarious). I welcomed the year 2010 while attempting to set up a triangle choke on my sparring partner. The sparring finished before I made the choke work, but it made a good start for the new year.

The reason why I think I made a good start for 2010 is because not only the whole sparring session was fun, but also one of my goals for 2010 is related to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Submission Wrestling, which I practice. I will write more on my goals, projects and the like for this year in another post.

How did you start 2010?


When we think of a starting point, we tend to imagine somewhere clear.  Zero.  But let’s face it. My starting point was 1984. Not zero. This blog has started today; its starting point is 2010. Not zero either.

This brings me to one of my favorite quotes.

We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction. – Otto Neurath

This blog is an online representation of a certain Masafumi Matsumoto.  Since there are a number of people with the same name, I suppose, I want to give you some clues in narrowing down which Masafumi Matsumoto I am.

Having said that, however, I sense most people who read this blog have never heard of anyone with this name. If you happen to be one of such people, that’s great; I can be lazy and stop worrying about how I should introduce myself to you. You can remember me as that guy with a long, strange name (and perhaps I should give away another fact about me: My name was taken from the name of a famous Japanese baseball player, whose nickname was, by the way, Blue Thunder).

But the real trouble begins when you feel like shortening Masafumi to Masa for the sake of convenience. There are many with that name.

This Masa, whose blog you are reading right now, is mostly amused and sometimes absurd. Now you know this much about me. I say that’s enough for a starter.

If you keep reading on, you may find out who I am. A better way for you and me is to keep in touch with one another, though. That way, you’ll get to know me and I’ll get to know you.  That’s how we skip the beginning and get to the middle of somewhere. Don’t you think?