The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

It's Your Turn to Do Better

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Do Better

Niagara's 2018 municipal elections are done and we have a new slate of politicians.

Congratulations to you all!

To most of those incumbents who lost your positions, thank you for your service. Your dedication to your community is commendable and certainly, it is appreciated and won't be forgotten.

To those incumbents who lost their positions because of crappy decision making, good riddance.

Now, to the new lot - what are you going to do differently than the previous bunch?

As a society, we want to be able to respect our politicians. We want you to make decisions that reflect OUR priorities, not yours. Have a pet project? If it's not truly for the benefit of the majority of your constituents, fughedaboutit. Get working on something that does the maximum amount of good for the majority of people you serve.

That's why we elected you: to do better than the last bunch. Not to just be different, but to be better.

Please remember that, because as you well know, the winds of change that brought you to these shores can just as easily sweep you back out to sea come the next election.

Good luck. We're watching.



Niagara's Most Interesting People

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Interesting Oranges

Who do you think is the most interesting person you know in Niagara?

I'd love to meet them!

I'm on a mission to learn more about Niagara, and I think the best way to do that is to meet more interesting people. To do that, I need your help.

I would appreciate it if you could please let me know who you think are the most interesting people you know. There's only a couple of criteria.

  1. They must be current residents of Niagara. (Sorry James Cameron!)
  2. They must be someone you think would be willing to be interviewed by me.

That's it :)

If you have a few names in mind, please click here to fill out our nomination form.

I'm excited to meet interesting people and share their stories!

Thanks in advance!

Click Here for the Nomination Form



Building Character Through Combat

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 22, 2018
Kendo builds character through combat

It's 7:35 on a Thursday evening in Welland. The kids karate class is starting to leave the dojo. As they exit, the kendo students enter. It's easy to see who's in kendo and who's in karate. The kendoka (kendo students) wear indigo coloured uniforms, which are a sharp contrast to the white uniforms of the karate kids. In addition, the kendoka are wearing armour, carrying their helmets and shinai (bamboo swords). While they're friendly and polite, they're also focused. They know what's coming.

After a few moments of pleasantries, the senior student announces the start of the warmup. Depending on the day, warmups are the traditional sets of stretches you'll find in almost every dojo, or a set of dynamic stretching exercises created for the Canadian Kendo Team by a sports conditioning specialist. Either way, the students loudly count from 1 to 10 in Japanese, stretching in time, knowing that they need to warm up well. When you come to kendo, it's best not to start off cold.

Rows of kendokaSEIRETSU!!! The instructor's call echoes through the dojo. Quickly, the kendoka assemble their kit and line up, ordered by rank, more senior students to the left. On command, they kneel into seiza and arrange their shinai, helmets and gauntlets so they line up neatly with the senior student's, aware that their instructors eyes are on them, ensuring proper etiquette is being observed. When you come to kendo, you'd best be mindful and respectful.

MOKUSO!!! A loud call from the senior student announces the start of the pre-class meditation. A cluttered, unfocused mind is an unnecessary distraction, so the meditation is meant to give students a chance to clear their heads of the problems they face outside the dojo. In the time it takes to breathe in deeply and exhale 7 times, students are encouraged to put their focus towards positive thoughts, on the techniques they intend to improve today, on being present in the moment. Newer students not used to kneeling in seiza begin to shift and sway slightly. More seasoned students power through, knowing any discomfort they feel now is just a taste of what's to come.

At last, the senior student gives the command to open one's eyes and as a group, the students and instructor bow, first to the dojo's shomen area, then to each other. Again, proper etiquette must be followed. Bowing to shomen shows respect to the purpose and principles of kendo. Bowing to each other demonstrates both respect and gratitude. One can't do kendo alone. A partner is required. Anyone who is willing to participate in kendo deserves respect from their fellow participants.

Another command rings out. This one informs students to ensure their bogu (armour) is tightly secured and to put on their helmet (men) and gauntlets (kote). Senior students help newer students to properly tie their head towels. It looks simple, but a loose head towel won't absorb sweat or cushion blows as well as a well tied one. Attention to detail is important. Tying on the helmet is also given a lot of attention. When you're going to receive a hundred or so strikes to the head, wearing your helmet properly is essential for safety and comfort. Well, relative comfort, anyway.

Basic drills in kendo quickly sharpen your senses. The first drill, kirikaeshi, involves one person making 21 strikes against a partner, who in turn must parry, keep a proper distance, and coordinate with their partner's movements. It's a quick drill. The first person in the pair usually finishes their strikes in 20 seconds or less. They then become the receiver. In under a minute, 42 strikes are delivered, 36 parries are made, and everyone's blood is flowing vigorously. Spirits rise as the kirikaeshi drill is repeated three to five times in as many minutes. It's a fast start to the rest of the drills which feature large, small and combination strikes to the head, wrist, and torso. By the end of the basic drills, most students are sweaty, breathing hard, and totally pumped and ready to spar.

Sparring in kendoSparring is where each player's skills and style are tested, because at its root, kendo is combat. It's highly stylized, even ritualized combat, but it's combat nevertheless. For all of its simplicity, it's not easy. One might think that hitting someone in the head with a stick doesn't require any particular skill. That's true if your target is standing still, defenseless, but your sparring partner is neither remaining still nor defenseless. They're looking to make a valid strike on you, probing your defenses, looking for weaknesses, finding opportunities and exploiting them. All while maintaining good form, a strong focus, and striking with determination, intent, and spirit.

An outsider might watch a kendo match and merely perceive two people hitting each other with bamboo swords. That would miss the point. There’s more to kendo than is apparent to a casual observer. How you hit is important. A strike's accuracy, control, distance, timing and intent are all factors that go into determining whether a strike is valid. An accidental strike is not counted. Nor is a strike that is not followed by a display of zanshin, a state of remaining spirit and awareness. Kendo requires you to unify your mind, body, and spirit in expression of a valid strike.

One reality kendo students must face is that they will be hit. A lot. Every student who dons armour will be hit repeatedly in the head, wrist, torso, and occasionally, the throat. Sometimes those hits are made by students still developing their accuracy or control. Poorly controlled or wayward strikes can leave bruises, even with armour. Especially when people strike unarmoured body parts. It hurts, but kendo students move on. While they may receive an awkward strike, they've also made them. It's an inevitable part of training. Learning to let go and focus on what's next despite one's own discomfort is an invaluable teaching of kendo. Continuing on in the face of adversity helps create an indomitable spirit.

When the sparring's over, the senior student gives the command for everyone to bow to their partner to finish the practice. Sweaty and exhausted students now line up by rank and remove their armour, arranging their kit in proper form. Another short meditation gives students the opportunity to reflect on their training, their strengths, and what needs to be improved. Finally, after a bow to the instructors, practice is over. One hundred and twenty minutes have flown by. Students share stories and show off bruises and welts as they stow their armour and fold their uniforms, paying careful attention to each knot, crease and fold. While practice is over, training the self doesn't end.

Kendo’s tough, and it should be, because one of its main benefits is the development of a strong character. It is through enduring, withstanding, or overcoming adversity that one's spirit is forged. If kendo were easy, it would be pointless. Despite being a less practical martial art, earnest kendo training improves your mind, your body, and your spirit.

Through kendo, you’ll improve your your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, your breathing capacity, balance, coordination, posture, and your overall health. In addition to all that, you’ll gain internal strength, improved self-esteem, confidence, discipline, and respect for yourself and for others. Changes don't happen overnight, but changes will occur. You may not notice them happening, but others will. Self-improvement inevitably leads to changes around you, as you adjust how you deal with your environment, your peers, your life.

Overcoming challenges in the dojo develops internal strength of character. Kendo requires exertion on all levels, thus making it an ideal way to develop all parts of one’s self, in the relative safety of the dojo. If you are looking to improve your life, you first need to improve your self.

Kendo is the "Way of the Sword". It is also a way to create a better life for you and everyone around you. Improve your self, improve our world.

Kendo for Life



Reflecting My Why

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 08, 2018

Niagara is full of fascinating stories. People. Places. History. Commerce. Community. The more people I meet and the more I learn, I realize there's so much I don't know.

I started The Niagara Guide with a desire to "connect the dots", so to speak. I wanted to have a place where people could learn about all aspects of Niagara. My job is internet marketing, but my passion is learning and sharing. This year, as The Niagara Guide turns 18, I want it to better reflect the underlying "why" that sparked its creation.

This year I intend to share more stories about Niagara. I want to explore and share the beauty of our communities. I want to learn about people's perspectives on the issues that affect us all. I want to shine more light on issues that deserve more attention.

What will that look like? Longer articles. Perhaps videos and recordings of interviews. More photos. Deeper coverage and hopefully some discussion on topics of interest. Overall, more interesting content. At least, it will be more interesting to me. I hope it will be interesting to you as well.

It's going to be an interesting year. I'm looking forward to the journey, and I hope to have the pleasure of your company. The first step beings . . . now.



Without Immigration, There Would Be No Canada

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Canada is a country of immigrants. Everyone born here is the descendant of an immigrant. Every. Single. Person. In. Canada.

This is a fact. Not fake news. It's true. Try disproving it. Go ahead. I'm waiting.

If I seem a bit snippy today, it's because I'm concerned about my fellow Canadian citizens who are anti-immigration. I don't get it. What the heck are they thinking?

It's a bit of a guess, but the folks making the most noise and posturing as anti-immigration on social media seem to have a conservative political bent. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm going to point out something those folks seem to have forgotten. Canada's former Conservative government proudly boasted about how they took steps to support immigration, welcoming more immigrants per year than the previous Liberal government, cutting the right of landing fee in half, and tripling funding for settlement services, among other measures. Why? Because it was what they felt was best for Canada's economy.

Let me say that again, in case it was missed. Conservative MP Phil McColeman in the Brant News said this: "Our government believes in the power of immigration to contribute to our prosperity." This was the Conservative point of view during the Harper years.

So, I'm confused. What exactly are people up in arms about when the Canadian government (now Liberal) announces it will welcome one million new immigrants by the year 2020? I think being against immigration is distinctly anti-Canadian.

I have a buddy who was born in the United Kingdom and moved to Canada with his son to be with his Canadian wife. He speaks English fluently (albeit with an accent), has found gainful employment, and contributes greatly to his community. He's an immigrant.

A friend's wife emigrated from Japan. While she worked when she first came to Canada, she became a stay-at-home mother when she and her husband chose to start a family. She speaks English very well (albeit with an accent). She's an active volunteer at her child's school and in other community organizations. She's an immigrant.

Another friend moved here from Pakistan to be with his Canadian wife. He speaks English fluently (albeit with an accent), has found gainful employment in the financial industry, and has recently purchased a new home, and is active in the community through service clubs and serving on the board(s) of local organizations. He's an immigrant.

My wife's friend came to Canada over a decade ago from Sudan with her husband. Now divorced, she supports her two daughters as a single-parent, working hard to provide as her children make their way through high school and university. She and her family are all Canadian citizens, and she pays taxes and supports the economy as a consumer. They're all immigrants.

These are our next door neighbours. These are the people buying homes, cars, groceries, clothes for their children, and so much more. They're Canadians, and they're immigrants. Just like all of our ancestors without whom we wouldn't be Canadians now.

I hear some of my fellow Canadians describing immigrants as "freeloaders", "criminals", "deadbeats" and worse. It doesn't make any sense, unless it means something else. I'm not going to go into those thoughts, but I urge my fellow citizens to think seriously about what they're saying when badmouthing all immigrants with slurs and smears, and more importantly, why they're saying it.

Our former Conservative government supported immigration. Our current Liberal government is carrying on. The immigrants I know are making positive contributions to the Canadian economy and to our communities, and I for one am proud to welcome them to Canada. For those concerned about how quickly immigrants integrate into Canadian society, I suggest that being more welcoming and supportive would be beneficial.

 



Niagara Community Radio

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, October 12, 2017

Radio Microphone

I'm probably jumping the gun a bit, but I'm excited. Coming soon: an online radio station that is all about Niagara, for Niagara, and by Niagara. It's Niagara Community Radio, and it's going to be a reality in the near future.

The purpose of the station is to provide a platform for Niagara voices. That's it. Sounds vague, I know, but I think it has potential to be an important platform for small business owners, artists, artisans, politicians, pundits and anyone else who cares enough to share their story.

Niagara Community Radio is a not-for-profit venture that is offering an online radio platform to anyone who wants to host a show about pretty much any topic. Want to talk about Niagara business? Great. How about environmental issues facing Niagara? Go for it. Want to talk about your local hockey team's performance? Sure thing. Want to showcase local musicians? Right on.

From what I understand, there will be shows on at a set time, and because it's the internet, those shows will be available to be streamed on demand. It's kind of like a podcast, but you don't have to download the shows themselves. They'll just be streamed to you via your computer or through a smartphone app (iPhone and Android versions available).

Oh - and another thing - won't be any advertisements. Just announcements for Niagara community events for local charities, non-profits, service clubs and the like. This platform is being provided free of charge to Niagara for the time being.

Coming soon. It's so cool! Watch - or listen - for our first show on Niagara Community Radio before then end of 2017!



Calling Bullshit

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 02, 2017

Manure Spreader

"Oh look. Someone's provided a quote / graphic / statistic that reinforces my worldview. I'll just re-post and share it. <click>"

Welcome to the world of social media, where something doesn't have to be true in order for it to be valuable. Only one problem: when you post stuff that's not true, you undermine your own credibility. If you're going to be spreading the news, it pays in the long run to spread the truth.

I know full well that humans aren't rational creatures. We don't respond nearly as well to facts as we do to fictions that support our values and beliefs. Stories are important, but if you're in the conversion business, it helps when they're based on truths instead of what you erroneously believe to be true.

What I mean by "the conversion business" is that you're actively trying to change people's beliefs and behaviours. Some folks (like my good friend Dennis O'Neill) don't think this is possible without addressing a person's underlying values, but that's another discussion for another day. Whatever your talking point is, you'll do better in the long run by telling stories that are based on truths.

Lies undermine your credibility. Sharing stuff that's false makes you appear lazy, both in thinking and in deeds. If you are truly convinced your position is correct, then you should be able to defend it based on facts, not fiction. You have the power of the internet at your fingertips. Taking a few minutes to do some basic fact checking should give you even more confidence that you've got things right. Using false information to bolster your position leaves you vulnerable.

This is true whether you're debating immigration policy or trying to convince a potential customer to use your service. While you might sound good or make the sale in the short term, creating change that lasts depends on whether your story withstands scrutiny. You reap what you sow, so choose your words - and your clicks - carefully.



Working Together is How We Evolve

Mark Kawabe - Friday, September 15, 2017

Working Together to Make Improvements

I haven't written a blog post since last November. Lots has transpired since then, both locally and on the world stage. I've heard and read a lot of perspectives that are divisive, bitter, hostile and full of vitriol. It's disappointing and concerning. On almost every topic, you'll find polarization. Reason and understanding take a backseat when the talk gets emotional.

What's not reflected in those many polarized views is that at the end of the day, we all have to live together. We can't spend our days slagging our neighbours and then expect to have a happy, safe and productive society. Our communities face challenges of many sorts, but the only way we're going to overcome them is by working together.

It sounds so easy, but we all know it's not. Differing belief systems of every kind get in the way. The structures and institutions we have in place can also throw up roadblocks. Whatever the barriers, we are all going to need to work on our communication skills. Moving away from rhetoric and towards really listening, understanding, respecting and caring for people who have views that aren't aligned with yours is the biggest challenge. Once we find common ground, we're going to need to be creative in figuring out ways to move forward in a way that respects people's values.

I'm not suggesting I have answers to the problems we need to overcome, but I believe that together, we're going to get there. It's just going to take time and effort to figure it out. I'm hoping for the best, from all of us.

 

 



Hoping for Understanding and Reason

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 14, 2016

Stay Calm and Try to Understand

If you've been anywhere near social media over the past year, you've probably heard there's a "divide". Actually, there are dozens of these so-called "divides". Thinking about the world this way is very common. I think there's a better way.

From an early age, we taught our kids about continuums. For example, "good" and "bad" are points at either end of a continuum. There's a huge range of possibilities in between. And, with this particular example, even good and bad aren't at the end of the continuum, because they too can be surpassed by "godlike" and "purely evil".

There is subtlety and nuance to every issue and yet, people believe and behave otherwise. From a psychological perspective, this makes sense. It is easier to believe you're right when the alternative is clear. When someone else disagrees with you, it's less taxing to demonize them than it is to take the effort to understand their perspective.

Humans are wired for something called "confirmation bias". We like agreeing with people who share our views. We are more comfortable with like-thinkers and are less comfortable when presented with people or information that aren't in line with our way of thinking. Because of this, we are more likely to dismiss information and people who we disagree with. The internet and social media make it easier for us to feed our confirmation bias. And, lest you think I'm vilifying you, I also want to point out that confirmation bias is a largely unconscious process.

Thankfully, we can choose to act differently. The choice is always there to open your mind to the larger possibilities an issue presents. Instead of jumping to conclusions, taking a moment to be genuinely curious and trying to see all sides of an issue is more productive than falling back to an entrenched view of an issue and to those who don't agree with your perspective.

Try this the next time you encounter a viewpoint that's contrary to yours. Genuinely seek to understand. Perhaps you'll be surprised to learn you have more in common with someone you disagree with. When we work from our commonalities instead of our differences, we'll be better positioned to build stronger relationships and more cohesive communities based on understanding instead of distrust.

 



Slow Progress is Still Progress

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remember - the tortoise won the race.

Whenever I drive, I'm passed by a faster driver. That's okay. For me, the purpose of driving is to get from point A to point B in a safe, relaxed and enjoyable style.

Perhaps those faster drivers are going to arrive at their destinations before I do. That's fine. I don't care. As long as I get where I'm going, that's what counts.

I take the same approach to a lot of things. It seems to work for me. Perhaps it could for you too. Let's look at a few areas where taking some time can be beneficial.

Eating

 Did you know eating slowly can help you lose weight? It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to let your body know you're full. When you slow your eating pace, you will feel full sooner and will eat fewer calories. You will also digest your food better, potentially leading to less bloating, gas, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Saving Money

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people don't have much in savings. It might seem hard to save, unless you commit to it and start slow. If you commit to putting aside an amount that works for you on a regular basis, you'll be ahead of the game in the long run. You're not going to get rich doing this, but at least you'll have money put aside in case of emergency.

The same applies when you're investing. You don't need to swing for the fences with every investment. Getting a solid rate of return over while protecting your investment is possible. Talk to a financial advisor and find out the possibilities for what you can afford.

Weight Loss

If you have 20 lbs to lose, losing it in a day would be horrible. Your body would have to go through a lot of painful adjustments. It probably wouldn't be pleasant, or worth it in the end. Losing weight gradually has been shown to be the healthiest approach.

Running a Business

If you run a business, you know it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. Success takes hard work and time. Patience and persistence and plenty of properly-applied elbow grease will get you where you want to go.

We're bombarded with messages that we can have it all, and we can have it now. Be grateful for what you have, and strive to improve yourself and your situation. Even if your progress is slow, it's still progress and it's better than not trying at all.




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