Sarah Neufeld: Yogi and Arcade Fire violinist gives us a solo album and a little serenity in NYC

I’m not mystical in any sense of the word, but I have to admit I do sometimes get tingly frissons of delight at certain coincidental cosmic alignments in my universe.  These might include nabbing the perfect parking spot, the introduction of seasonal coffee and frozen yogurt flavors, and most recently learning that Sarah Neufeld, violinist for one of my favorite bands, the Arcade Fire, is releasing a solo album this August and has a thriving yoga studio right here in New York.  Win, win, win.

I’m a recent convert to the joys of yoga, and to be perfectly honest, was pretty much dragged there more by a laundry list of aches including bad knees, lower back pain, and general soreness due to my other physical pasatiempos like Muay Thai, BJJ, and running, rather than any desire for enlightenment or peace. I tried it before and hated chanting, hated the noisy breathing, and hated being left alone with my thoughts. That was my twenties. Now that I’m slightly older and wiser (only slightly on both counts, but boy, what a difference a few well placed years make), I appreciate the Time Out a lot more, even though I’m not giving up on eating animals or switching over to an entirely organic cotton wardrobe any time soon. Basically, I need calmness and to practice mindfulness more now, and apparently so do a lot of other stressed out, button mashing New Yorkers at my yoga studio, if the constantly broken buzzer is any indication (we need serenity NOW!). However, perhaps the ultimate goal we can hope to achieve is to acknowledge that life in this city is crazy, and “you still get stressed out, but you don’t get as wrapped up in your own reactions,” as Sarah says in her interview.

Check out the rest of the excellent profile about Sarah at The Aesthete here and if you’re in NYC, you can try getting a little meditative stretch in at Moksha.

Happy Solstice!


Shine Bright – R.I.P. Ramon “Diamond” Dekkers

I seem to be the bearer of bad news lately. I was crushed to hear that the Muay Thai legend, Ramon “Diamond” Dekkers, had died of a heart attack while riding his bicycle in his hometown of Breda this past Wednesday afternoon. The rumor was so fresh that I literally had to translate Dutch news pages to get the story, and the whole time I was keening, “Please, let it be a hoax!” Unfortunately, it is all too true.  Dekkers passed away too young at age 43.

Anyone who is curious about Muay Thai or watches a fight eventually learns about Dekkers, an eight-time World Champion with over 200 pro fights by the time he retired.  For the uninitiated, I suggest doing a web search for the fights between Dekkers and Coban “the Crusher” Lookchaomaesaitong, which I consider to be the Muay Thai rivalry equivalent of Gatti versus Ward.

Finally, to give you another idea of what a legend the man is, a guy who knew I was into Muay Thai used a rare Dekkers highlight reel as date bait to bring me back to his apartment, claiming the tape (VHS, serious) had “kicks so sick, you’re going to lose your mind.”  Yeah, I went to his apartment to watch the tape.  It was amazing.

Keep on shining, Ramon.  Hope you’re still kicking ass wherever you are now.

Keiko Fukuda: “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.”

If you are remotely interested in the world of women’s sports and in particular, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), then chances are you have heard of a former Olympic Bronze Medalist Judoka named Ronda Rousey who is making waves in the UFC. However, long before Ronda was even a gleam in her daddy’s eye, another woman named Keiko Fukuda was making her own incredible journey in the world of martial arts, quietly and determinedly leading the way for Ronda and many other women like her.

I was incredibly saddened to hear that Shihan (Grand Master) Keiko Fukuda died recently at the very ripe and respectable age of 99. Descended from samurai, she was the last living person to have trained directly under Master Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, at the Kodokan, as one of a class of only 24 women. She is also the first and only woman ever to receive the rank of 10th dan. The first I ever heard of her was when she was awarded this honor from USA Judo after literally a LIFETIME devoted to teaching, in July 2011.

For anyone who whines about having to wait their turn, pipe down and listen up. Due to the sexist and traditional belief that there was no need for women to progress past the 5th level, Fukuda had to wait 30 years, while her male colleagues advanced, before she was finally promoted to the 6th dan in 1972. She was then denied promotion again to the 9th dan by the Kodokan just before her 88th birthday (although she received it later in 2006). A weaker person might have become embittered or turned their back on the sport, but despite these hardships, Fukuda displayed incredible grace, remained a lifelong devotee and ambassador, and was a living embodiment of her motto: “Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically.”

Her lifelong achievements and dedication are even more incredible when you think of the other traditional mores of her time and culture. If you think it’s hard to swim against the current here in the United States, you’ve probably never experienced the joys of trying to make your own way in a Confucian society. Members of her family hoped she would eventually marry one of the other Judo practitioners, but Fukuda remained unwed, dedicating her life to the art of Judo and teaching that art to others, saying that it “was my marriage… I just never imagined how long this road would be.”

Keiko Fukuda is a role model to any woman anywhere who wants to achieve something in a male dominated arena, athletic or otherwise. The first time I watched the above clip, I cried. In fact, I cry every single time I watch it, and am always amazed and awed by the strength of this remarkable woman. Rest in peace, Shihan Fukuda. Thank you. You were and will always be an inspiration.