Friday, May 27, 2005

This Week in Kali

I had three consecutive days of Kali this week following my Monday Jujitsu class. My legs are dead, but I learned a little something. When I first started jujitsu about a month ago I was having a hard time trying to figure out how Kali applies to it, since its concepts pretty much apply to any fighting style. I think I figured it out, though.

In Kali, the parry-check is about as fundamental as it comes. Both hands parry a strike, one after the other, then one hand "checks" the opponent. What I figured out is that in jujitsu ground-work the parry-check happens with both the hands and feet. Before an opponent has a grip on you in Jujitsu, parry-checking with the hands can be used to manipulate an opponent to some degree. Once inside an opponents grip, parry-checking is transferred to the feet.

The armbars and joint locks in jujitsu are a little different in Kali in that its more difficult to use an opponents momentum to get into the lock when you're grappling on the ground. However, in both cases the difference between a good joint lock and a bad one can be a matter of an unexpectedly small distance. An eighth of an inch might be the difference between a successful hold and having an opponent escape.

In yesterday's Kali class we got to do some freestyle locks. An opponent would punch, and we'd counter it with whatever series of wrist locks, elbow locks, shoulder locks and other strikes we could think of. It's a great exercise, mostly because executing a lock at full speed requires a certain degree of calmness. A very necessary quality in fighting.

In Kali seminar the day before yesterday, we went over footwork. It turns out the Cha-Cha and the Waltz have more to do with gaining an advantage in fighting than I ever thought to even consider. An opponent is like a dance partner. By being able to match his rhythm, their defense can be more easily broken. That's when the strike comes. Also, once a fighter has his own rhythm mastered, striking on the beat of that rhythm becomes much more powerful. Especially in coordination with footwork.

I think I'm starting to ramble, but that's what this week was about. Rhythm, locks, and subtlety. Hopefully I'll be able to remember all this.

Monday, May 23, 2005

REVIEW: Peter Leeds - The Ultimate Stock Pick

After reading one of my blogs on making money, a reader sent me an email with a link to his client Peter Leeds, an investment advisor, and suggested I see what Mr. Leeds had to say about investing in the stock market. So, always being willing to invest in a little more knowledge, I paid the $70 bucks for the audio CD's. I just got them on Friday, and I listened to them today. I learned something very valuable, too.

The Ultimate Stock Pick CD is filled with pretty rudimentary information about selecting stocks. Period. If you don't know anything about the markets, this might be a good CD to get, but for me, the most valuable lesson had very little to do with Mr. Leeds' P.A.C.E. investment advice (which, by the way, doesn't incorporate identifying when or how to exit a position/stock). The interesting thing to me was that Mr. Leeds company seems to fit the description of the Ultimate Stock Pick. Here's why.

The investment advice is marginal at best, but with a mailing list of well over 10,000 and seemingly growing, with each member paying over $100/yr Mr. Leeds seems to be running a very profitable operation that could easily be run by a single person. Oh, then there's the profits from the CD's. With an up front cost of maybe $5 to $10K for design, copywriting, printing, and packaging, and audio recording, every dime after that is gravy.

After 20 years of investing, it seems Mr. Leeds has actually found the market's holy grail (something Charles Schwab and others figured out many years ago), market speculators. The true source of wealth in any market.

Whether we as market speculators make money or not, when we use Mr. Leeds services, or Schwab's, ETrade's, or Morgan Stanley's the service provider ALWAYS makes money. Now that's a company worth investing in. What the Charles Schwab company began to forget, though, at least while I was there, was how important it is to have some compassion towards investors (I should mention that Mr. Schwab himself understood this thoroughly). Even though I wasn't greatly impressed with Peter Leed's advice, solid though it may be, I was very much impressed with his attitude and his genuine desire to point people in the right direction.

You can find out more about Peter Leeds and his advice at or at Maybe I should invest in a web site, developing a mailing list, and some audio CD production time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

High Treason

Def. A crime that undermines the offender's government.

I've made no secret about opposing the war on Iraq. I feel the country was lied to, and those in power have/and will gain personally from the increased spending on military, and the profits currently being made by oil companies. However, no matter how logically I make this argument to some people, they can't accept the fact that they ... we ... have been duped. So, I'll let this letter, from a mother of an enlisted man that I found in the "Letters" section of Military Families Speak Out, speak for me.

Hi there,

My son is in Iraq, and we want to thank you for your efforts. Zac is a son, husband, and father who is much beloved, and he is very opposed to this war. We are outraged at the lies and manipulation of this administration. Nothing is as it appears, and new tricks are uncovered every day, it seems. And the audacity of the "president" who says, "Bring it on" while he and all his loved ones are safely out of harm's way is more than I can even address in polite company! Who does he think he's fooling? What is the real agenda here? My only son is there, and he's the one who has to answer to the hostility toward representatives of this lying administration. He loves this country, and he is glad to serve, but not in this action. He is ashamed, as should we all be, about the way we went about this action. Lives are at stake every day; danger is everywhere, and now they talk about cutting the hazardous duty pay of the service people whose lives are at risk every moment.

Zac was originally supposed to be finished with his tour early in September, but now says that there is no definitive end to his deployment. Morale is low, and anxiety is high. No one thinks Hussein was a good leader; he was cruel and inhumane. But going it alone, and continuing to insist on being the only arbiter of the fate of the citizens of Iraq, is leading us down a path that will ultimately destroy this country, not only in the eyes of people around the world, but in its own citizens as well.

I fell heartened to know that there are other military families vocally opposing the war, since the administration and some of the press have tried to paint opponents as non-patriots. Our children are the ones being sacrificed, and we have not only the right as Americans, but the obligation as citizens to speak out against an unlawful and wrong action.

Thank you again for your efforts!
Donna Williamson

The simple fact is, President Bush committed treason by leading us to war with Iraq for reasons he knew not to be true. I don't believe in the death penalty, but he should be tried, impeached, and jailed for life for putting this woman's family, and every other military family, as well as the families of previously peaceful Iraqi's, into harm's way over his lie.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Drumming For Shabnam and Ooh La La

This was the first time I've been on stage for anything since the sixth grade (not counting martial arts competitions). I got to drum for Shab's belly dance troupe Ooh La La at Tribal Fest, a 4 day belly dance convention. It wasn't too complex a task, but I didn't realize how much conditioning is needed to do percussion for 5 straight minutes.

Shab had the much harder job of balancing a 24 inch diameter tray with a complete (unattached) tea set on her head while doing a one-legged descent to her ground routine. I guess that's why she's Belly Dancer of the Universe. Her troupe did great too, even though they kept pestering me to perform with no shirt on. Overall, it was a pretty good performance. Thank goodness they had me there to keep the rhthym going. Who knows what would have happened otherwise. :-) Just kidding. Thanks for having me ladies.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How I Got The Vette IV

Now you’ve read the first three blogs in this series (I, II, III) and you’re motivated, you’ve started investing in yourself by reading and asking questions, and you’ve started putting money in a retirement account, or have done a lot of research and found a stock you’d like to invest in. What next? For me, the next step was to buy a house. I could have put down a sizable down-payment on the Corvette and financed the rest with a low-interest auto-loan (since I took those earlier steps to improve my credit), but I didn’t. First of all, there’s no way I’m parking a $50,000 car anywhere, but in a one- or two-car garage. Second, buying a dream car before a house is simply a bad financial decision. For me especially, Here’s why.

There are many ways to make money, or increase your worth by purchasing a home. First, they generally appreciate. Sometimes, very slowly, but over the long haul, they go up in value more steadily than a stock.

Next, as a home mortgage is paid off you can benefit financially because the interest you pay on the mortgage is tax deductible, which means almost everything you pay into your mortgage for the first few years reduces the amount of money you get taxed on. For me, that means my taxable income will be reduced by about $30,000. Not only does that put me in a lower tax bracket, but that means the taxes on the $30,000 (assuming I’m in a 30% bracket) would amount to $9000 I don’t have to give to the IRS. Not only do you get to deduct the interest payments on the loan, so too can the property taxes be deducted. Yet another opportunity to lower my tax bracket, and the amount of taxes I have to pay.

Also, there’s always the chance that you might buy a home for less than it’s actually worth, which I was fortunate enough to do. In the San Francisco Bay Area market I was purchasing in, it was unheard of to get a home without being in a bidding war. The first several homes I tried getting into had over a dozen offers (some over 2 dozen), and all of them went at least $50,000 over the asking price. Fortunately, I came across a nice older couple that had the clarity of mind to realize what a nice person I was  and let me buy the home at $15,000 over their asking price. The home was easily worth $50,000 more than even that amount, which meant that my worth had immediately gone up by $50,000. Conveniently enough, that’s exactly how much the Vette would cost.

The last way to make money on a home that I’ll discuss is renting. After buying a home, a room can be rented out to help pay for the mortgage. Or, just rent the whole house out and stay in your apartment, or your parent’s house. Uhh, right. If you live in a market where the rental amount is more than the mortgage, you’ll be making money every month. I haven’t gone that way yet, but it’s definitely in the plans for my next investments.

In any case, for the monthly amount you put into a home, there are many ways to get at least some of that money back with little to no effort. Not only that, but in the case where the value of your home is more than what is owed on the mortgage, the extra, or home equity, belongs to you. Your 15, 30, or 45 year loan can then be replaced by a higher value loan that can pay off your first mortgage and put the rest in your hands as cash. Of course, you’ll still have to pay it back, but in the meantime, you can use that money to pay off old bills, taxes, high interest credit cards, auto loans … auto loans?

A 6 year auto loan for a $50,000 car at 5% is about $800/month. Paying that off with by refinancing my home with a new 30 year loan means I can pay for the car entirely, which I’ll be doing next week. The $600/month I save I can put back into my 401K. So now, I have the title to the $50,000 car. Because its value is now incorporated into my home mortgage, the interest paid on that money is now tax deductible. Also, I can take a little extra out to pay for the damn insurance, along with a few other bills … and maybe take a trip or something.

So there you have it. It wasn’t a short process, but it was fruitful. Let’s recap. Buying a home gives you several tax benefits in the way of potentially reducing your tax bracket, and by reducing the amount of overall tax you’d have to pay. You can gain equity as the home appreciates, or gain it instantaneously if you’re fortunate enough to pay less for a home than what it’s actually worth. Renting the property out can provide an income stream that is every bit as reliable, and even more profitable than investing in stocks. Lastly, you can use (leverage) the equity of your home to make purchases, pay off and consolidate other debts, or just to put some cash in your pocket.

Let’s go over how I got to this point. First I invested in myself. I conditioned myself to believe that I could accomplish something worthwhile. I read and took action to improve the way I saved and treated money, and I took steps to improve my credit. The money I saved I put into stock purchase plans and 401K plans that were supplemented by my company and put me in a better position with respect to being taxed. With this money, I bought a home, which will provide an even better tax shelter, in addition to providing me with the leverage to buy a Corvette outright, and put some extra cash in hand.

I should mention that the car was bought initially with an $8,000 down payment. The $42,000 financed at 4.7%APR over 6 years comes out to almost $700 a month; an amount that I really can’t afford and never intended to continue paying for 6 years. By refinancing my home mortgage that monthly payment will be reduced to less than $200/month and I’ll have the title to the car. Had I bought the car first I would have lost $120,000 that I’ve gained in home equity over the past few months, paid significantly more in taxes last year, been stuck with 6 years of $700/month payments, and may not have been able to afford to get into a home at all with the rate of home appreciation in my areal.

Overall, buying a car generally isn’t a good way to spend money. However, me being a car nut, and a long time Corvette fan, I chose to make an exception. From here on out, though, I’ll continue to save and invest every dime. Hopefully, you will too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Gracie Jiujitsu

A few weeks ago I started taking jiujitsu classes at Ralph Gracie's new school in Berkeley. A great supplement to my regular Kali work. Great conditioning is a requirement, so I've been riding my bike and jogging more so I don't end up vomiting sometime in the middle of class. It's a great school, the teacher is accomplished and is a very good instructor.

What does this mean for Kali? Nothing really. As excellent as Ralph Gracie's school is, it doesn't replace what I learn from Kali. Whether it's weapon work, footwork, numerado (a lead-follow exercise), open hand, pressure points, feng shui, or finance, Kali provides an education in self-defense and self-preparation that you really can't find anywhere else. So, if anyone out there is looking for a martial art to learn, both Kali and Gracie Jiu Jitsu fall high on my list of recommendations.