Thursday, April 26, 2012

Way of the Warrior: The Way of Self Reliance (Pt. 1)

Warriors must rely on their own abilities and virtues before all others. Of course, they can draw on support and assistance from others. If, however, those allies should fail, or those supporting systems give way, the warrior should be perfectly capable of solo survival, motivation, and action.

Woodblock of Miyamoto Musashi, 19th Century
Most warriors who have taken even tangential interest in the Japanese sword arts (and let's not kid, that is probably most of us) know of the name Miyamoto Musashi. If nothing else, Wikipedia access alone guarantees that you will probably know of it now. Swordsman, poet, painter, warrior; Musashi's resume was extensive. He is best known for his Book of the Five Rings, a treatise on sword combat and general martial principles. To this day, he remains one of, if not the, greatest warrior paragon we can draw inspiration from. In all likelihood, the humble Musashi would not have viewed himself (or even wanted himself viewed) in such favorable light. It is, however, more than merited.

Although the Five Rings is Musashi's most notable, if not only, substantial work, the focus of this post and those to follow is a smaller composition by the warrior. Entitled "The Way of Walking Alone, or, The Way of Self Reliance", his text consists of 21 single sentence aphorisms that advise warriors on the best way to live according to his own experiences. Although written after Musashi's adoption of Buddhism, The Way lacks the cryptic mysticism that characterizes many religious or spiritual writings of the era. It is frank, straightforward advice befitting its author. Over the next few posts, I want to discuss some of the most resonating aspects of his writing. At least, I focus on the most personally resonating qualities; as with most warrior writings, The Way will appeal to different practitioners in different ways.

For broader reference, here is a preferred translation. There are others, but this interpretation feels most in line with Musashi's teachings. Admittedly, I am no Japanese speaker, but I am somewhat familiar with the tenor of his writings. Like the rest, The Way is instructive without being pedantic, introspective without being esoteric.

Like with Nietzsche, Musashi's writings lend themselves towards the infamous collegiate "close reading" style of analysis. To that end, it is best to focus on key, illuminating lessons of the greater text, even if at the expense of less pressing ones. This is not to say that any one part of Musashi's Way lacks value. Rather, certain quotes tell more than others, and are deserving of more emphasis.

"Do not intend to rely on anything" 

This might be the oddest of Musashi's lessons. If nothing else, history and experience offer countless examples of people, objects, and societies that warriors relied on. How was the Mesopotamian spearman supposed to eat, if not from reliance on his farming home town? What of the Athenian hoplite who had to link shields and thrust spear in unison with his formation neighbors? Or even the modern competitor who trusts his trainer and training partners in preparation for the big event? These all seem strong counter examples to Musashi's principle.

In interpreting this quote, as with most of Musashi's aphorisms, I find that it is important to focus on individual words. It is too easy to try and comprehend the entire sentence at the expense of its constituent pieces. Here, the key word is "intend". That is also to say, "anticipate" or "count on".

Although Musashi's martial exploits were overwhelmingly solitary endeavors, there is just no way that the warrior would have been ignorant of the feudal soldiers and Samurai of his era. Musashi lived in a time of war and battle, and it would have been impossible for him to wield the blade without knowing of his contemporaries. He would not have been so arrogant to discount their cameraderie. This is especially true given that he wrote The Way in the last few months of his life, at the end of his journeys. Harboring great wisdom and humility, Musashi would not have been so vain as to ignore the importance of martial brotherhood.

So what is he saying then? Why is "intend" so important? Musashi wants to warn warriors that they should never have the expectation of relying on others. Warriors should not have the intention to depend upon allies and friends. But can they? Yes. Should they under some circumstances? Of course! But that should not be their intent from the beginning. That is also to say, warriors should be perfectly capable of acting on their own in the event that support systems and friends fail. If I harbor expectation that my comrades will always support me, and circumstances prevent their aid one time, I will be temporarily paralyzed and unable to act. Hence, the title of the entire composition itself: The way of SELF reliance.

Concluding the discussion of this point, we should remember that warriors must rely on their own abilities and virtues before all others. They can draw on support and assistance from others. Indeed, they should, and it would be foolish to spurn the aid of allies. If, however, those allies should fail, or those supporting systems give way, the warrior should be perfectly capable of solo survival, motivation, and action. To intend reliance on other forces is to mitigate your own abilities. To Musashi, that is one of the worst fates that can befall the warrior.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chicago Crime: March 2012 shootings were WAY up

In all the March's between 2004 and 2011, Chicago only saw an average of 122 shootings. This March 2012, we experienced 162. This was a statistically significant increase that suggests a broader change in Chicago crime; something has happened to increase the violence.

A few posts back, I promised an in-depth look at Chicago shootings in March. Homicides were definitely up, but the questioned remained as to whether shootings were also on the rise. 7 days have now passed since the month’s end, so the statistics are now live for public consumption. The numbers, and the conclusions we can draw from them, bode ill for the summer; March shootings were way up from the past few years.

You won't find these reports in the news (I certainly haven't). Of course, for most people, especially readers of this blog, the rise in shootings won't directly affect safety and well being. But in our lovely city of districts, we must know our home! Moreover, for the Warriors amongst us, we must know the dangers that our town faces. Here is a snapshot of the reality in this Chicago March Madness.

Statistical tests are admittedly not the best tool we have at our disposal in analyzing crime. That said, they can give us an acceptable, general sense of a problem. I'm no math or statistics major, but numbers remain interesting and important. They offer a clearly quantifiable portrait of a qualitative problem. So please, as usual, bear with my simplistic statistical analysis and look at the bigger picture that it suggests.

March 2012 saw 162 aggravated batteries with a handgun or firearm. The question stands: Is 162 a lot of shootings for a March? Did something change in Chicago to cause a spike? To figure this out, I took a look at the number of March shootings from the past decade. Here is what I found:

Year # of Shootings
2012 162
2011 101
2010 121
2009 128
2008 124
2007 110
2006 99
2005 122
2004 130
2003 281
2002 277
2001 268

The first thing to notice is that we had a huge plummet in shootings between 2003 and 2004. There are a lot of reasons for that which we don't need to get into right now. For this analysis, it just means that we should not view 2001-2003 as part of our current 'pattern' of violence. Those dates were remnants of an earlier era in Chicago violence, the leftover shooters and shootings from the wild 1990s. In considering the data, we are going to only look beyond 2004, after the city supposedly calmed down (for all those reasons which we can talk about another day).

That leaves us with the following dataset:

Year # of Shootings
2012 162
2011 101
2012 121
2009 128
2008 124
2007 110
2006 99
2005 122
2004 130

We need to see if the 2012 shooting number, 162, is an outlier given the other data. That is to say, if 2004-2011 represented a pattern of violence, was that pattern still true in 2012? To do so, I am going to conduct a one-tailed z-test. Now, before all my mathematically oriented readers pounce, I am going to re-acknowledge that this is a crude mechanism. It assumes a normal distribution of crime (not a safe assumption!), and it ignores a lot of variables. That said, it is a quick and dirty way of quantifying a problem that is very much qualitative.

The population mean (average) between 2004 and 2011 is 121.88. The population standard deviation is 18.77 (again, we are assuming a normal distribution). To conduct our z-test, we subtract the mean from the tested value (162), and then divide by the standard deviation. This provides us with a sigma score of 2.137. How do we interpret the sigma? It means that our value of 162 shootings is 2.137 standard deviations above the average. We can then check this 2.137 value on a normal distribution to find the area under the normal distribution curve. We find that area to be just over 98. Based on that, here is what we conclude.

If the 2004-2011 dataset mean of 121.88 shootings per March was still true in 2012, we would only expect to see 162 shootings in 1.63% of all cases. 98% of the time, we would never see 162 shootings. If, however, there was a NEW mean for our March shootings (that is to say, if shootings just went up), we would expect to see 162 attacks. For this year, shootings were way up.

Based just on this crude test, we would reason that something changed in Chicago this month to cause shootings to increase so dramatically. March 2004-March 2011 all saw between 100 and 130 shootings, with the average sitting at 122. 162 is an outrageous increase from this dataset, representing a major shift in Chicago for this current March 2012. That leaves us with just one question: What changed?

To some extent, temperature is to blame. It was record-shatteringly hot in Chicago this last month, which might account for the record-shattering number of shootings. Like most social scientists, however, I am leery of offering only one answer. Other factors are likely at play. Without delving too much into this topic, I hypothesize that recent Chicago Police Department efforts at targeted area policing are, in large part, to blame for this increase. By saturating certain areas with police officers, the CPD has displaced extant drug markets and gang/clique corners. Once displaced, the criminals do not just give up their guns and narcotics. They pick up shop and move somewhere else, probably to a neighborhood that already has its own established territory and markets. Increased competition in the criminal underworld almost invariably leads to violence.

No matter the explanation, it is clear that March 2012 saw a statistically significant increase in shootings from the past 8 years. Some other city-wide change, or neighborhood specific change, had to accompany this uptick in shootings. For now, it is enough to know that violence is on the rise in our city.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Warrior Training: Pushups!

Along with running, pushups might be the most commonly known exercise in modern-day America. It is an exercise that crosses lines of age, gender, ethnicity, strength, and experience. This is a problem, especially for warriors, because it is so easy to dismiss something that is common and well-known. We want our workouts to be filled with top secret strategies to gain superhuman strength and speed. We want to train on peaks of mountains in the hidden monastery of an ancient warrior order. Especially if you are paying money for training, you want an instructor to reveal profound wisdom that you would never have reached on your own. At first look, pushups do not fall into any of these categories. That makes pushups an easy thing to avoid or ignore.

Pushups, however, might be one of the top 3 strength exercises you should be doing as a warrior. Everyone who has ever suffered a gym class or personal training session can probably list off pushup merits; you do not need equipment, it gives full upper body training, with proper posture it trains abdominal and posterior muscles, etc. Professional trainers and coaches, even athletes, are better suited to discussing these benefits. I want to talk about the most important reason, in my opinion, that Warriors should be incorporating pushups into their routines. It has very little to do with the physical benefits of pushups, although there are many. This is an ideological endorsement of the pushup.

Pushups can be done virtually anywhere at virtually all times of the day. Pushups also lend themselves to concrete goals. When you take these two facts together, you have an exercise that is the perfect entry level activity for Warriors to start embodying their ideal every minute of their lives.

As a quick disclaimer, I have not mastered this. I engage in all sorts of lazy and time wasting activity (computer games being the most egregious offender). But I am getting better and try to improve.

Let us quickly break this down into a few points.
  1. Embodying the Warrior idealTo truly call oneself a "Warrior" today, at least by this philosophy, you must be striving to embody the ideal at any given time. We are not just warriors when we are training, or writing on our topic, or preventing a robbery. We are warriors even when we are talking with friends, walking down the street, or getting ready for bed. Yes, being a warrior is defined by the moments where it is MOST important (e.g. when you are saving a friend from being attacked by muggers, but it is also defined when it is LEAST important (e.g. when you are just brushing your teeth). It is not an occupation or career; there are no breaks or vacations from an ideal. It is a method of living, and living happens at all moments of the day.
  2. Pushups lend themselves to concrete goalsThis doesn't need too much elaboration. You can do pushups either for repetitions ("reps") or timed intervals. If you want to improve your pushups, you either try and increase your reps (going from 50 in a row to 60), or increase your interval (doing nonstop pushups for 1 minute and then upping the time to 2 minutes). Concrete goals are easy to keep track of. The intangible goals are arguably more important, but for someone like me who is just embarking upon the warrior path, it is helpful to have something a bit more substantial. Warriors seek personal improvement, and pushups are an element of personal improvement that you can easily track.
  3.  Pushups can be done virtually anywhere at virtually all times of the day
    Just woke up in the morning? Do some pushups on the bedroom floor. Slow day at the office? Do some pushups in the hallway or your office. Out for a walk in the park? Drop down and give yourself 20. It is critical to remember that this is NOT about showing off. In fact, in all of the above examples you should be alone. Being a warrior is not performing for an audience. That's a hard thing to grasp, given the potential 'coolness factor' of the ideal, but it is an important one. The fact that pushups can be done anywhere is important not because you want to show off, but because it teaches you to look for ways that you can train no matter where you are. It builds the habit of constant embodiment of a principle. 
When we consider these three points together, we can see how pushups are important for aspiring warriors. To become a warrior is to embody the warrior ideal in all circumstances and at all moments. Pushups give you an activity that introduces you to the warrior way of thinking and acting. Set some goals and reach those goals; pushups are an exercise that really allow you to do this. Try and achieve your goals at all times of the day, no matter where you are. It is easy to make excuses about training and personal improvement. I do it all the time. Pushups give you a crash course in how warriors have to think about betterment, training, and every day living. This makes them an ideal exercise at all stages of the warrior journey.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chicago Crime: MARCH MADNESS - 50 Homicides

Some real Chicago madness, and it's NOWHERE TO BE FOUND IN THE NEWS. That's pretty typical so I am not sure what I was expecting. In case it is unclear, 50 murders is a lot of murders. Especially for a March (this was the warmest March for a long time, however, so we need to take that into consideration). Also, as I have made clear in the past, it is better to look at Aggravated Battery numbers instead of just homicides. Unfortunately, given that it is only early April, all of the Agg. Batt. numbers might not be posted yet.

Homicides, however, are there for everyone to see. In case you are not as alarmed our outraged as I am, here are the numbers for the last 5 years of March murders. When the Agg. Bat. stats get released, you can bet they will be just as bad.

2007: 36 Murders
2008: 33 Murders
2009: 21 Murders
2010: 31 Murders
2011: 22 Murders
2012: 50 Murders (!)

I'd be willing to bet that is a statistically significant increase on its own. Of course, we do have to take into account temperature. As every Chicagoan knows, hotter weather means more crime. There are a lot of reasons for that, and a lot of factors that contribute to the crime increase. The general trend is still pretty easy to discern. March 2012 had record warmth, with some days hitting 80 F and many more hovering around 70 F. Using 3rd grade logic, we can deduce that record warmth should probably correlate to record crime, and that is indeed what happened here.

So should we be alarmed? Is this just an anomaly that won't repeat itself to any great extent in the summer or early fall? At risk of being made fool of later, I am going to make an ugly prediction; this is going to be an unusually high crime summer. Concerned Chicagoans, local residents, and police officers should all be very worried once June (or even May) comes around. As of now, I would be unwilling to speculate on a reason for this. It might have something to do with 2012 seeing the maturation of a new generation of criminals, ones who were raised primarily in neighborhoods and not in Chicago Housing Authority apartments and complexes. That would be my null hypothesis, but I would need more data to support it fully. Whatever the reason, violence so early in the year cannot bode well for things to come.