My Thoughts on the ‘Muhammad Ali’ PBS Documentary

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhhhhh!” This catchphrase from the Greatest boxer of all-time, Muhammad Ali, still ring in my ears as I write about the legend.”

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhhhhh!” This catchphrase from the Greatest boxer of all-time, Muhammad Ali, still ring in my ears as I write about the legend. After 8-hours of rarely seen footage, insightful interviews from those people who knew him best, and catchy music and news events highlighting the era and period in which the Greatest grew up in, the Muhammad Ali documentary on PBS (American public television) is a real knockout. There is too much television and movies out there to choose from especially with the streaming services but the Muhammad Ali documentary, recently released in September of 2021 is worth a watch.

Eight hours in total length, split into four ‘rounds or parts, the documentary chronicles the entire 74-years old in which Muhammad Ali or Cassius Clay walked among us mere mortals from his childhood in Louisville to his rise to boxing stardom dating from Rome to New York City to Manila to his old age, where he sadly struggled through the progression of the fatal Parkinson’s disease. Ali was a man who was almost too unreal to believe he had existed because of all he said, accomplished, and did during his life.

If you looked in an English idiom dictionary for the expression, ‘larger than life’, a picture and short description about Muhammad Ali should be there as well. The swagger he had when he walked in a room, his way with words as a poet and the ability to dress down his opponent with insults as powerful as his punches, and his commitment to not only his religion but the people around him such as a friends, family, and even random strangers who he would often give money, food, or anything they needed when they were going through a tough time.

Ali was not just talented in the ring, but he was also extremely intelligent, wise beyond his years, and able to be charismatic with many people he would meet. Most boxers would keep to themselves back in the 1960s or 1970s and would not embrace trash-talking, denigrating their opponents, or making bold claims that they weren’t sure would come to fruition. Muhammad Ali did the exact opposite and he built up a reputation to the point where billions of people knew who he was from America to Africa and from Asia to South America. His rants became legendary, and his diatribes were shown to garner a huge amount of press to sell his fights. In my view, he made boxing a global sport and he connected with all people regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. He had love for everybody except for the men he would fight against.

The difference with Muhammad Ali compared to other braggart boxers is that he would often back up his predictions by making them real especially in his early days beating boxers like Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. He would not only predict that he would win his fight, but he specifically predicted the round in which his poor opponent would be knocked out. His legend grew the more he talked trash and made fun of his opponents and he backed it up in the ring by winning constantly. If he were not Muhammad Ali in terms of talent, hard work, and pure drive to be great, as a boxer, he would have faded away quickly, He simply was a once-in-a-century talent who kept boxing as a world sport in his era and it was the height of its popularity as a sport in America.

Ali, perhaps because of his family upbringing, his change of religion to Islam, or because of an innate sense of right and wrong was a plain-spoken activist who didn’t mince words. He was against racism in all its forms, was against the Vietnam War, and stood up for the poor and disenfranchised people around the world who were without the same opportunities that he had been able to take advantage of because of his boxing talent. While he was a devout member of the group, the Nation of Islam, and had his differences with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., because of his affiliation with that group, he often strived to be a critical thinker on issues of race and religion and would dutifully follow his conscience often when expressing himself in public, as he often did in the national and global spotlight.

Sadly, Muhammad Ali, in pursuit of fame, fortune, and women, made serious mistakes along the way to become the greatest boxer of all-time. The constant time spent on the road, the brutal training regimens, the temptations he succumbed to with extramarital affairs, and even his disregard for friendships such as with Malcolm X or neglecting his wife(wives) or children due to his first love of boxing. He was an imperfect man who committed many sins as he puts it in the documentary.

However, even his sins did not stop him from putting in the work to commit more good deeds than sins throughout his life and for which when it came down to his estimation of himself as a Muslim at the end of his life, he felt comfort knowing he committed more rights than wrongs upon his death. The difference too with Ali is that he knew he had done wrong and tried to make amends later in life for his misdeeds. He apologized and atoned for his womanizing, unnecessary insults of other boxers, and his previous disavowal of friends and family like Malcolm X when they conflicted with his loyal membership to the Nation of Islam.

When I think about this documentary, the way it was able to catalog every major event in Ali’s life while simultaneously describing how he must have felt or acted the way he did during those pivotal moments in his life make this documentary the greatest one made about ‘The Greatest’ himself. Few documentaries go into that much detail, use relevant interviews and narration, while maximizing the quality of historical footage to draw the viewer in. If you are new to the good works of Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, Lynn Novick, David McMahon, and the rest of his wonderful documentary team, he is one of America’s greatest filmmakers in this genre.

Having done previous documentaries on ‘Baseball’, ‘Jackie Robinson’, and the other famous American boxer, ‘Jack Johnson’, you can tell that Ken and his team feel as comfortable documenting American sports history as much as his other documentaries on American politics and war history too. The sheer years of effort it takes to create an eight-hour long documentary like this one on ‘Muhammad Ali’ shows you how dedicated to the craft of documentary making Ken Burns and his team are. They have been doing it for over forty years now and it seems like they get better and better with each new documentary. If this documentary is the first you’ve seen by Ken Burns, do yourself a favor and watch the other sports history documentaries and check out his other ones on other aspects of American history.

What I enjoy most about documentaries about sports or political figures done by Ken Burns and team is that they highlight major events, victories, and defeats of that person or the team, but they also make sure to put that figure or people fit in with the swirling tide of history and timeline through the music soundtrack, the relevant footage, and the interviews with those people from the same era or who know that era in history.

The ‘Muhammad Ali’ documentary is not just about ‘The Greatest’ himself but about the times he lived in as an American and how he changed the country just as he was changed by the country himself. He influenced America more than most figures throughout the 20th century and will be remembered by future generations. He will be known not simply as the greatest boxer of all-time but also as a man who stood up for his principles, fought or did not fight for what he believed in, and enacted positive social changes by helping the poor, the disenfranchised, or even the stranger on the street.

He was a larger-than-life figure who transcended both sports, politics, and culture, and this ‘larger than life’ documentary pays great homage to one of the most celebrated and remembered Americans in the nation’s 246-year long and counting history.

A Day at Citi Field

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Citi Field; Queens, New York City, USA

The Cathedral of Baseball

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Yankee Stadium; The Bronx, New York City, USA

Nighttime at Nationals Park

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Nationals Park; Washington, District of Columbia, USA

The Maracanã

“One of the most famous football stadiums in the world and which was featured in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Maracana Stadium or Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Japan House and Sao Paulo vs. Corinthians

Japan House Exhibit and Corinthians vs. Sao Paulo

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Japan House; Estadio do Morumbi, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Thursday Night Lights

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Morumbi; São Paulo, Brazil

Finding Your Flow State

What’s one thing that all professional athletes, musicians, artists, writers, and anyone devoted to their craft have in common? They have all achieved a ‘flow state’, which is difficult to relate to unless you are fully immersed in terms of what you are pursuing and truly enjoy what you are doing. The flow state is elusive for most people because they either haven’t found their passion in life or haven’t put the time in yet to get better through consistent practice or play. The flow state is a higher state of being because for a point in time, your concentration is matched with your intensity producing a beautiful result.

When you can put other thoughts or other concerns out of your mind to focus on your craft regardless of what it is, you are utilizing your full potential and will be able to achieve a better result for yourself. To outside observers, the flow state looks nearly impossible to accomplish but when you are devoted to art, to music, to sports, or to writing, the final result is nearly guaranteed because you have put blood, sweat, and tears to produce something meaningful.

To me, the flow state is the most optimal state of mind that you can be in because it requires you to be at your best and to perform at the highest level. It’s requires being in a state of movement and using your body in some way to produce an action. You are putting your energy, your concentration, and your focus into a singular goal and it’s inspiring to those people who get to benefit in some way from what you were able to produce. It’s better to be a doer than to be an observer but it can inspire others to find their flow state when you see them do theirs and to do it extremely well.

For example, I was at a popular Jazz club in Mexico City recently and the headliner was a talented Danish guitarist along with a group of local musicians backing him up on the saxophone, the drums, and the Jazz bass. Every one of them was talented at what they do and were in sync generating a group kind of ‘flow state’ that is even more powerful. The thing with a good Jazz group is that you start to yourself get into the ‘flow’ of enjoying the music and moving your body to the rhythm as well.

As someone who played trumpet for 11 years straight and enjoyed the feeling of togetherness and comradery that playing in a Jazz Ensemble can bring, it is impressive to see a group working well together and nailing their parts to achieve their flow state together. To play a musical instrumently proficiently on your own is tough enough, but to work together with different musicians to produce a catchy tune without making any mistakes is as near to a modern-day miracle as it can get.

Musicians thrive off the energy and the drive of others as well as professional athletes and even politicians. It is much harder to achieve a flow state on your own in the solitude of one’s house especially if your craft requires some sort of public attention. Writers and artists tend to be more introverted on average and don’t need the attention of others to achieve an individual flow state. However, there’s something to be said for achieving a group flow state when you’re cheering on a ruthless dunk from a professional basketball player or listening intently in an arena to a Presidential candidate’s stump speech.

People want to believe in the achievements of others, and I know that we prefer to lift each other up rather than to tear each other down. While it’s beneficial to take part in watching other people reach and show off their flow state, you should be trying to find yours every day. You will get much more satisfaction out of life when you are in that mode where you are merging with your craft whether that’s art, music, writing, sports, etc. While it’s fun to cheer others on and take part in their joy, you should always be trying to create a little bit of your own.

Intense concentration and effort is not easy to achieve, but it is extremely rewarding to put your worries and anxieties aside to focus on a singular goal that you want to achieve. It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to get to where you want to be but there is joy to be found in putting away all distractions and devoting yourself to a craft that you enjoy and are able to put serious time into. Our individual potential will not be able to be achieved unless we are able to reach a flow state relating to a kind of creative or intuitive pursuit.

Do your best to try different activities out and see what you like. If you find an activity or an interest you enjoy, continue to add more time to it and you should start to see results. Don’t start to look for monetary rewards or personal fame to keep you going with this pursuit but you should be doing it for yourself primarily and for your desire to reach that state of flow where you can fully immerse yourself in the activity whatever it may be.

You should find happiness and joy in what you do and become the best that you can be at it. If you can enjoy the activity, you’ll eventually find your ‘flow’ with it and be able to do it effortlessly. While you will have a lot of frustration and stress with practicing and doing the activity, if you like it and find it worthwhile, you won’t mind the downsides when the upsides can produce such an intense ‘flow’ where you are in the zone and are able to produce a beautiful result that others will appreciate. Being able to inspire others to reach their own ‘flow state’ creates its own ripple effect allowing our society to become more creative, intuitive, and productive as a result.

Yankees v. Red Sox

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CameraiPhone 8

Location: Fenway Park; Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Cultural Spotlight – Tejo

Most visitors and newcomers who arrive in Colombia may be surprised to find out that the national sport of the country is not ‘football’ as most people would guess given how popular the sport is around the country and due to the high quality of the national team shown in international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup. While Colombians may have the most passion for ‘the beautiful game’ of football, the national sport of Colombia is actually the game of ‘Tejo.’ This was actually an official decree made by the Congress of the Republic of Colombia back in 2000. While not as massively popular as football, Tejo is considered the second most widely played sport in the country and actually fields both teams and competitions in different cities.

Tejo is the oldest sport in Colombia and dates back over five hundred years and is said to have originated with the Musica indigenous tribe who speak the Chibcha language and were based in the northwestern part of Modern-day Colombia. Luckily, the game of Tejo hasn’t changed much since the Musica indigenous people first introduced it in the early 1500’s. However, it’s likely that they used a golden disc known as the ‘Zepguagoscua’, and the game of Tejo was known as ‘Turmeque’ back then and was played mainly by the indigenous peoples located in the modern regions of Cundinamarca and Boyacá.

The Spaniards who came to Colombia are known to have used wooden disks when they played the game and focused more on the accuracy of their throws than the distance of the throws, the latter which is more of a factor when playing the modern game today. From gold disks to wooden disks to stone disks to now using iron metal discs for playing, the game has evolved mainly in what material you’re using in order to get the furthest yet most accurate throws.

The main objective of Tejo hasn’t changed that much though in that you’re going to want to take the iron metal disc in your hand and underhand toss it about 15-20 meters so that you’ll hit the metal ring known as the ‘bocin’ as well as the ‘mechas’, which are triangular paper packets that are filled with gunpowder. You get the most points for hitting the bocin in the middle of the clay landing field but you can also receive from three to twelve points from hitting the different mechas and causing some loud explosions that are likely to earn you both some cheers and high fives.

While players should focus on the metal ring, you’ll also want to focus on hitting as many mechas as you can when you step up to throw the iron disk. When you hit the gunpowder packets, there is a loud bang like an actual gunshot and you may even see some white smoke emerge from the exploded triangular packets. Tejo is a pretty simple game to learn and only takes a couple of tries for you to get the hang of it. The iron disk only weights about two kilograms or so and if you get a good arch on the underhand throw, you’re likely to hit the clay field or even the mechas, bocin if you’re lucky. Tejo is a mix of skill and luck in my opinion but it’s quite exciting to play especially when you make some of those gunpowder packets explode for everybody to hear.

Both men and women are welcome to play Tejo and the only difference is that guys use the two kilogram iron disc and the ladies can choose to use a smaller, one kilogram iron disc if they would like to as well as being able to do the underhand throw from about fifteen meters away, which is a bit shorter than the regular distance of twenty meters or so. These rules aren’t mandatory for women so it is up to the individual lady what kind of distance or disc that she intends to use for Tejo.

Tejo is also a team game so you can play with up to five other people on the same time to face another team with the same amount of people. You’re often rooting each other on to hit the bocin or mechas in order to reach a certain amount of total points in order to win the match. There are numerous amounts of teams and competitions that are held all across Colombia and even in the neighboring countries of Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, etc. Prize money is often involved in these competitions so certain Tejo players take this game very seriously if you’re playing for more than just bragging rights.

Tejo has become quite a popular sport with tourists and foreigners who come to Colombia and you can include me amongst those people. One of the aspects that Tejo that first time players find to be interesting is the ability to drink alcohol such as beer, rum, or aguardiente during a game. While this next statement can be disputed, it’s possible that you will get better throwing the Tejo at the clay field the more you drink although it depends on the individual player. It’s important to note that you can play Tejo completely stone cold sober and you would still have a lot of fun. Tejo is overall a social sport that should be enjoyed either amongst friends or between close-knit teams.

Unfortunately, it took me about ten months of living here in Colombia to finally play the sport of Tejo but it’s easy to say that I’m glad I finally did. While I wouldn’t play it competitively, it’s a sport that is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people or locals in your city. The combination of throwing metal discs at gunpowder triangles while drinking a cold beer is a good one overall. Tejo has been apart of Colombian culture going back to over five centuries ago and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.