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As a teenager in Vancouver in the 1960s, I was fortunate enough to have former world champion and World’s Strongest Man Doug Hepburn guiding my training in the Olympic lifts, especially the standing press, his own inimitable forte. I also enjoyed many opportunities to listen to Doug philosophising. Here’s a short video of an interview during which Doug imparts an important lesson on life.
 

More than once I have heard someone say, “I like classical music, but I can’t stand Bach!” This is rather like saying, “I love sculpture, but I detest Michelangelo,” or “I love cosmology, but I have no use for Einstein!” To get an idea of just how important to the world of music Bach was and is, consider the following statements by other composers and musicians.
 
“Study Bach. There you will find everything.”
– Johannes Brahms
 

“Bach … the immortal god of harmony.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven
 

“Oh, you happy sons of the North who have been reared at the bosom of Bach, how I envy you!”
– Giuseppe Verdi  
 

“And if we look at the works of JS Bach – a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity – on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered. And in his works we will search in vain for anything the least lacking in good taste.”
– Claude Debussy
 

“Any musician, even the most gifted, takes a place second to Bach’s at the very start.”
– Paul Hindemith
 

“If one were asked to name one musician who came closest to composing without human flaw, I suppose general consensus would choose Johann Sebastian Bach…”
– Aaron Copland
 

“When you hear Bach or Mozart, you hear perfection. Remember that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were great improvisers. I can hear that in their music.”
– Dave Brubeck
 

“Bach is the supreme genius of music… This man, who knows everything and feels everything, cannot write one note, however unimportant it may appear, which is anything but transcendent. He has reached the heart of every noble thought, and has done it in the most perfect way.”
– Pablo Casals
 

“I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that — its humanity.”
– Glenn Gould
 

The Master of masters himself, however, simply says, “I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed … equally well.”
– Johann Sebastian Bach

 
Now, as I love the slow movements of all Bach’s music, I invite you to relax and listen to the Sarabande from the English Suite No. 4 in F Major, as performed by Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.

 

 

 

 

The name “Kimura” likely doesn’t mean much to most North Americans, but to Doug Rogers, the most successful Canadian judoka (exponent of judo) to compete internationally, the name was magic. The saying in Japan is “No one before Kimura, no one after.” In other words, Kimura was the greatest competitive Japanese judoka ever. In Doug Rogers’ words, “My teacher is the best there ever was!”

Masahiko Kimura September 10, 1917 – April 18, 1993

Masahiko Kimura September 10, 1917 – April 18, 1993

Rogers went to Japan in 1960 to study judo at the Kodokan, the world’s judo Mecca. Four years later he represented Canada in the Tokyo Olympics — the first Games in which judo was included — and won the silver medal in a very close final match against Japan’s supreme technician, Isao Inokuma. After the Olympics Doug trained under the direction of Kimura — he became the only Westerner Kimura had ever taught — and in the summer of 1965 he took part in the All-Japan University Championships, helping his team to victory. He was the first non-Asian foreigner to take part in this tournament, and he was also named the tournament’s best fighter. One can only speculate about how good Rogers might have become had he stayed in Japan for a few more years. Kimura wanted Rogers to remain in Japan and continue to train under his direction, as he felt that Doug could become the best judoka in the world if he did so; but Doug had to consider seriously his future, and he decided to return to Canada and begin working toward a vocation. As it turned out, he got married and helped raise four children while enjoying a full career in Canada as a commercial airline pilot. He still found time, though, to win a gold medal at the 1967 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg. (I was there, too, and won the silver medal in the middle-heavyweight class in weightlifting. I remember seeing Doug walking down the hallways of the athletes’ residence, but I didn’t know him on a personal level. He was certainly an imposing figure at six feet four inches and 260 pounds, a fine-looking athlete.)

 

Canada's Doug Rogers competes in the judo event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, on his way to a silver medal win in the over 80kg category. (CP Photo/COA)

Canada’s Doug Rogers competes in the judo event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, on his way to a silver medal win in the over 80kg category. (CP Photo/COA)

 

Fortunately, in 1965 Canada’s National Film Board produced an excellent little documentary on Doug’s judo odyssey: Judoka, which can be viewed online at YouTube.

As for Kimura, here are just a few relevant statistics concerning his life in judo:

* height 170 cm
* weight 84 kg
* promoted to 4th dan at age 15, after 6 years of judo
* at age 18, the youngest ever to be promoted to 5th dan
* promoted to 7th dan at age 30
* at his best Kimura performed 1000 pushups and practised for nine hours daily
* lost only 4 matches in his entire career, all in 1935, the year in which he turned 18 years of age
* easily defeated Brasilian Jiu-Jitsu co-founder Helio Gracie in a challenge match in Brasil
* trained in karate, in particular with his friend Masutatsu Oyama, founder of Kyokushin karate
* his osoto-gari (large outer reap) was performed so powerfully that many opponents suffered concussions and lost consciousness, prompting some to request that he never use this technique against them

 

Small wonder Doug Rogers declared, “Kimura is the greatest fighter Japan ever produced,” and that they say, “No one before Kimura, no one after”!

 

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NO Enbridge!!

    Vancouver "No Enbridge" rally (photo: Zack Embree [from http://www.defendourclimate.ca ])

Vancouver “No Enbridge” Rally (photo: Zack Embree )

Today I attended the “No Enbridge” rally at Science World in Vancouver. Below are my Facebook message of this morning regarding the gathering, followed by my brief sketch of the event, which was but one of more than 130 held across Canada as part of a Defend Our Climate day of action.

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Today’s “No Enbridge” rally at Science World at 2 p.m. is expected to draw a large number of concerned organisations and BC citizens. ForestEthics Advocacy’s Ben West puts it this way:

 “The Enbridge pipeline is not only one of the most irresponsible schemes ever proposed in this province, it also has become a symbol for so much more. This is about the power of people over giant, arrogant corporations that have too much influence on our governments. It’s about the rights of indigenous people and healing the wounds of past injustices. It’s about taking a stand to stop the ‘gateway to global warming'” (Georgia Straight, Nov. 14, 2013).

This view is consistent with that of West Coast Environmental Law, BC’s legal champion for the environment, an organization that provides legal information, guidance, and support to those working to protect the quality of BC’s water, lands, and air:

“For decades a federal moratorium has protected British Columbia’s sensitive northern waters from crude oil tankers. All that will change if currently proposed oil pipelines are built from the Alberta tar sands to the coast of BC’s Great Bear Rainforest.”

You can read more on this important issue at West Coast Environmental Law. And if you live in or near Vancouver, you might just want to show up at Science World today. It’s as much your and your family’s concern as anyone else’s; so don’t be afraid to become involved.

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After posting the above message, I travelled with my family to the rally. As it happened, a substantial crowd turned out for the event. According to The Vancouver Sun, “Thousands of protesters gathered in Vancouver’s False Creek area on a chilly, windswept afternoon on Saturday to protest the Enbridge pipeline proposal.”

First Nations speakers were joined by representatives from Vancouver City Council (Andrea Reimer and Adriane Carr), ForestEthics (Ben West), MLAs (Robin Austin and Spencer Chandra Herbert), MPs (Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen), and many other groups, including secondary school students, all expressing their commitment to the ecological integrity of the West Coast and their unyielding opposition to the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, much to the delight of the thousands of individuals of all ages who had gathered to listen and to voice their own dissent.  Hopefully the momentum generated by this event will continue to build and carry the citizens of BC on to victory — a victory over corporate greed and political irresponsibility, which would be a significant one for all Canadians, not only in terms of protecting BC’s coastal environment, but as a reminder that citizen protest is not only a right, but an effective means of expressing the will of the people.

(It is worth remembering that neither the provincial nor the federal government was elected by a majority of voters, although each is a majority government: in the most recent elections the BC Liberals won 44.4% of the vote [58% voter turnout]; the federal Conservatives, 39.6% of the vote [61% voter turnout].)

The photographs below suggest the way things were this afternoon. (To enlarge a photo, simply click on it.)

An elementary school student's sign.

An elementary school student’s sign.

The view along the quay.

The view along the quay.

Some came by sea in kayaks.

Some came by sea in kayaks.

Focussing on the speakers.

Focussing on the speakers.

The signs tell a story.

The signs tell a story.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The main message!

The main message!

STRONG MAN

Doug Hepburn and Buck, c. 1955

Doug Hepburn loved animals. Here he poses with his husky, Buck, c. 1955.

I came across a marvellous little vignette of Doug Hepburn at Geist: North of America, a Canadian literary site (click the link to read the story). The writer, Stephen Osborne, does a great job of portraying the unique strongman in a style that fits perfectly with Doug’s character.

I remember very well the place described in the story. From there Doug moved shop and living quarters to West 4th Avenue for a number of years, and then to his final workshop on West 5th Avenue. He continued to sell protein supplements and weightlifting equipment, and to invite guests in to discuss anything and everything. When I took my daughter there once for a visit in January, Doug was wearing four heavy sweatshirts and sweaters, because, as he put it, “I’m beating B.C. Hydro!” Times were often tough for him.

The description of Doug’s estimation of a tranquil life lived under the beneficent rays of the sun is classic Hepburn: “’I’ve seen life,’ he would say, with a sweep of the hand, ‘and nothing gets better than this.’” One is reminded of the story of Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who lived in a barrel (or jug, or tub, depending on the version of the story) on the outskirts of Athens. One day while leaning against a rock, enjoying the sun on his body, he observed Alexander the Great riding toward him on his horse. Alexander approached him and expressed his admiration for the philosopher about whose simple way of life he had heard many impressive tales. He offered to grant Diogenes anything he wished for. Diogenes merely replied, “Stand aside, for you are blocking the sun.” Alexander is reported to have said as he rode off, “If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes!”

The folding deck chair mentioned in the story followed Doug to West 4th Avenue and then to West 5th Avenue. In fact, he had more than one chair, and the last time I visited him on 5th Avenue, I found him sitting in the laneway parking area behind his shop, enjoying the sun on his bare upper body. Beside him was a second chair, unoccupied. He looked at me, said nothing, but pointed to the empty chair. I took the hint and sat down, ready for a typical philosophical encounter with the Master. I had planned on a half hour visit, but as it turned out I sat there listening and exchanging ideas for more than two hours. As I got up to leave, Doug said, “That was good! You know, you’re one of the only guys I can have a proper political discussion with these days!” I felt honoured to hear him say that, and I waved a good-bye, saying I’d come back soon. I had no idea that I would never see him again. Within a few months he had died of a misdiagnosed perforated ulcer, otherwise still strong of mind and body. Given his strength and the fact that his mother had lived into her mid-nineties in spite of having smoked cigarettes throughout her life, we all thought he’d live past a hundred. A lot of people felt the loss. They still do.

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The story contains a couple of inaccuracies. First, neither Doug nor any strongman untainted by heavy steroid usage ever held “a hundred and fifty pounds in one hand straight out from the shoulder”; Doug did, however, perform a strict, straight-arm (locked elbow) holdout with one hundred and twenty pounds, a feat which may be unequalled by anyone since (I’m not counting, of course, the walking drug-stores posing as natural strength athletes).

Secondly, the actual year of Doug’s victory in Stockholm was 1953, not 1958.

A point of clarification: The name of the narrative poem mentioned in the story is “Chinook,” a poem about the friendship between a wolf and a prospector in the Klondike, during the gold rush, written in the style of the Canadian poet Robert Service. I don’t recall Doug’s ever having sung it, let alone its playing on the radio, but it certainly could be put to music. Doug took pleasure in reciting the poem aloud to guests. I enjoyed that pleasure more than once.

A couple of years ago I was asked to look over a book manuscript and to make editorial suggestions, as well as answer some questions on self-publishing, an activity I had been involved in for many years. As it turned out, I enjoyed the task very much, and I found the manuscript of great personal interest; I knew immediately that many others would also find it both interesting and relevant to their own lives. The manuscript soon became available in book form as They Live Longer, subtitled “The Secrets of Healthy and Active Ninety-Year-Olds.” The authors, Harry Mouratidis, an organic chemist who has worked as engineer, educator, and environmental consultant, and Dr. George Price, a certified internist and rheumatologist who taught clinical medicine at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine for many years, carefully weigh many factors in an attempt to answer a single question: What is it that accounts for the fact that many individuals within certain communities seem to enjoy a significantly greater vitality and longevity than the general population?

Mr. Mouratidis and Dr. Price focus their attention on ten small communities of the “youthful elderly” in Greece, France, Italy, and Spain, and interviews with the nonagenarians themselves constitute much of the basis for the authors’ answer to the question. Stories from the lives of these youthful elderly people are intertwined with photos and details of their diet, environment, and way of living. The answer to the question the authors pose does not, of course, reduce to a simple magical formula, such as a vegetarian diet, or clean air, or regular exercise. Rather it turns out that there is a host of factors, most of which are present in each of the longevity communities examined but which are for the most part absent in the general population outside those communities. The authors summarise the key longevity factors in a Longevity Pyramid, a diagrammatic schema that encapsulates the lessons the authors distil from their engagement with the subjects of their investigation.

Interestingly, I was recently sent a link to a video of an amazing youthful elder living on the Greek island of Ikaria, which turns out to be yet another pocket of longevity. According to the BBC News, the people of Ikaria live, on average, ten years longer than those in the rest of Western Europe. The island, located just off the Turkish coast near Samos, the island from whence came Pythagoras, is home to many active nonagenarians, among whom is Stamatis Moraitis, who forty-five years ago was diagnosed with lung cancer and given six to nine months to live. Being unable to afford a funeral in the United States, he and his wife decided to move back to Greece, where at the age of 98 Stamatis continued to lead an active life, and in the video he reveals some of the factors that he believes account for his good health and longevity, among which are good organic food and wine, good company, and a peaceful environment with clean air and water. Stamatis Moraitis passed away in 2013 at the age of 102 years. (More about life on Ikaria, as well as that of other longevity communities, can be found in the Financial Times article at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/d3986dfa-d7fb-11e2-b4a4-00144feab7de.html#axzz2aw5RR3Ps .)

In the final analysis there is, of course, no single factor accounting for health and longevity among the people in these communities, but there are common elements in their lives (as summarised in the Longevity Pyramid). Mr. Mouratidis and Dr. Price do a splendid job of abstracting and summarising the relevant commonalities, and, in doing so, illuminate for their readers the path not only to better health and longevity but to a happier and more meaningful existence.