Sunday, July 29, 2012

July Roundup: Lovin' the Third Degree

On Tuesday, I am going to aikido summer camp to take my third degree black belt (sandan) test. In my organization, sandan is the last rank that a student can test for. Further promotions only occur through recommendation.  This is, essentially, my last test. Of course, I want it to be representative of the work I have put in and respectful of tradition, so this month has been somewhat consumed with preparations. My idea of what that means, however, has changed over the years.

When I was training for my first (shodan) test in 2003, I was going to the dojo 5-7 days a week, sometimes even twice a day. I was consumed and obsessed with showing the breadth of the techniques I had seen during my white belt ranks.  For the nidan in 2009, life was more complicated, it and did not allow for such narcissism.  I was writing my thesis while moving to Austin and navigating wedding preparations. Training in the midst of these other responsibilities was a great lesson. There was less time spent in the dojo, but I made that time count.  Quality over quantity, so to speak.  

For my sandan test, the responsibilities I have in my life off the mat take even more precedence than on the previous test. Thanks to my wife and family helping with the Little One, I have been able to train 3-4 days a week. Back on that first test in 2004, I wouldn’t have been able to accept this as a test preparation scenario at all, but part of what I am learning from my sandan test is how to integrate my practice into everyday life as a father and husband.

Of course, I’m nervous. I want to represent my teachers and the dojo that made my practice what it is in a memorable way.  I am sure that there are other people that will have trained more for their respective tests, but I can confidently say that I have trained as much as my life allows – and that is enough.

I’m planning on doing a post from camp, but for now I have a very short playlist from this month. I have spent less time in the car, and the albums I have in rotation right now are all pretty compelling, so I really haven’t changed them out very much.

July2012 by Jeff Hodges on GroovesharkNow NowThreads: Thematic patterns and threads show how Now Now, a relatively young band with amazing talent, chemistry, and promise, can make a uniquely relevant pop rock album in the 21st century. I foresee great things from them.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy: St. Vincent seems to capture the eclectic otherworldliness of Bjork and focus it through a David Byrne-like intellect. Catchy melodies sidle up to cacophonous Moog punishment in a somewhat schizophrenic relationship between noise and melody.

Rush - Clockwork Angels: A good concept album is constructed so that its constituent songs have meaning both in context and on their own. The songs from Clockwork Angels get their flavor from the main storyline, but are simultaneously embedded into wider, more universal concepts.

Baby Lemonade - The High Life Suite: An outstanding power pop album that is just too short. In spite of its brevity, the songs are absolutely stunning.

The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio: This recent Beach Boys release is perhaps a bit uneven, sometimes veering into the corny. It saves itself, however, with a nostalgic overtone and characteristically excellent vocal arrangements.

Anais MitchellHadestown: A gutbucket folk opera that retells of the story of Orpheus.  These days, "folk" music seems to mean "composed on acoustic guitar," which Hadestown obviously was - but it has much more musical depth than the label might suggest.

Sigur RosValtari: As I previously stated, this is a particularly atmospheric work from Sigur Ros. It does, however, open up into moments of arresting angelic beauty.

Also, not represented on playlist:

Astra - The Black Chord: Good retro-prog can go one of two ways: it can use the sound of a previous group asa blueprint, or it can mix up identifiably classic sounds in a unique way. Astra takes the second path.

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