Sunday, December 17, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
There is no set rule for ma-ai, and the "critical distance" varies according to the bodies of the individual opponents and the tools engaged in the encounter. The determining of ma-ai is not intrinsically difficult. As has been pointed out (most recently by He Who Shall Not Be Named!), most people have a sense of their own comfort zone for conversation. Interestingly enough, although this comfort zone does differ from culture to culture and person to person, in the West, it generally extends to the limits of defensible distance.
If you want to see what I mean, the next time you have a standing conversation with an acquaintance, set a distance. Then try to shuffle forward as unobtrusively as possible. Even if your action is not threatening or alarming, the other person will probably take a noticiable step back to reset the original distance. You can expand your experiement by trying the same trick on a good friend. Chances are good the friend will let you get closer. But even so, if there is no perceived "need" for you to be so close, you may notice your buddy begin to get uncomfortable.
You can also watch ma-ai while driving. Tail-gating is bad ma-ai. But more importantly, the "critical distance" between you and the car in front of you will change depending on road and weather conditions, and the type of vehicle you are driving.
I was thinking about one of the rhetorical questions thrown out by HWSNBN! "Why are you in Ichimonji?" He said any response of "I don't know why I'm doing this" is incorrect. I liked that.
However, from a teaching point of view, I'm not sure that's always 100% true. Because the student's understanding of why he does anything should constantly improve.
I expect a beginner to say, "I have no idea why I'm doing this other than myteacher told me to, and I trust him." I think that's valid.
Somewhere in the middle, the student should be able to explain that the kamae is optimal for defense, offense, mobility, etc. How the student expresses that is going to change. Defense and offense might be defined as having the arms up to block strikes and be available for punching in response. Later the student might describe how blading the body protects the vital areas, and that three of the four weapons (2 hands, one foot) are between you and the opponent.
The student will later talk about more subtle concepts, "I feel right in this posture; I'm ready to act." Or be able to explain how and why power can be generated from the hips and knees more efficiently.
I think the most advanced people are fully aware of these parts, but probably (and legitimately) they go back to, "I've been doing it so long, I'm comfortable with it. I trust that it works, because I've experienced it working."
I'm told that our dojo needs, as a group, to work on bending our knees. We've been hearing that for ages. I was watching HWSNBN! demonstrate, and paid particular attention to his legs. He does get low, and he uses a rocking motion to create an illusion of distance for his opponent. Maybe the importance of the low knees will drive home when I finally understand the manipulation of ma-ai in that way.
I've also heard, in an ominously vague way, that some students, "Didn't seem to have a grasp of Gyokko Ryu Ichimonji." Comments like that cause me to ponder on my own training and lead to the first few paragraphs above.
Here's a training tip: Always assume that a criticism of your group automatically applies to you. Think long and hard about it. Never, ever, hear yourself say, "I'm glad he's not talking about me." He probably is talking about you in that case.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Only in America.
Now, which of you said that the Bujinkan is like a Comic Con, only without the hot chicks? Sky Ninja, was that you?
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Who's Jim Wagner? Glad you asked. Jim Wagner is a frequent contributor to Black Belt Magazine, and also the many editions of Budo International. He is a "Reality Based Fighting" martial arts instructor who spreads his knowledge through high-priced seminars, a video series , and a book. Prior to his breakthrough into the Martial Arts Media mainstream, he served as a "police and military defensive tactics instructor" (that's straight from the brief bio provided in Black Belt) with several different departments and agencies, and also as a "counterterrorist for the United States government [sic] after 9/11." (That's from the marketing material touting his New York City seminar to be held in the new future.)
Do I dispute his credentials? Let me make this completely clear: I do not. I am ready to believe he is absolutely 100% telling me the truth.
Do not mis-quote me on that. I believe his "stuff."
Mr. Wagner writes a regular column, High Risk, for Black Belt Magazine. Desperate for my martial arts information fix, I have a subscription to Black Belt and look forward to receiving it every month. Yes, I know 80 - 90% of it is pure drivel; I'm still hooked for the same reason I read Entertainment Weekly. I read it cover to cover. And generally speaking, I think the informatio Mr. Wagner shares is worthwhile.
My problem is with the enormous ego that oozes off the page. He's like a greasy used car salesman but his product is himself. Like the car, it may be a great product; but the sales technique completely turns me off.
Here's how he starts his most recent column: "Because of your votes, I was recently inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as 2006 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year." Well, no kidding! I read the write-ups for this year's Hall of Fame Inductees last month! I also noticed that Dana Abbott, voted Weapons Instructor of the Year 2006, didn't mention it even once in his column this month. (And let's not get into the fact that the columnists seem to be the ones winning the awards. That's probably my soapbox issue for next month.)
Mr. Wagner is in love with the use of "I" in his writing. Here's the first paragraph of his article contribution in the same magazine: "Four years ago, the martial arts community outside of Israel knew of only one Israeli art: Krav Maga. Then, after returning from my third trip to Israel, I wrote an article for Black Belt that introduced other popular systems of the Holy Land, including Lotar, the fighting system of the nation's counterterrorism school, and kapap, Israel's original close-quarters-combat style."
The very next sentence? "After I convinced kapap expert Maj. Avi Nardia to go public with the system..." I thought about counting the actual number of times he uses "I" in the article about Maj. Nardia, Kapap, and it's coming to the West, but I kept losing count.
"...I stood with Nardia assessing dozens of special-forces recruits. His job was to select those who would make good candidates for the program, as well as those who would be asked to leave at the end of the day. 'What do you think of that one?' he would ask me. I would respons, 'Yeah, he's special-forces material.' Nardia would then say, 'I'm putting his name on the list.'"
Let me get this straight: American citizen Jim Wagner is selecting Israeli commando trainees? Really? Would I believe that statement if Israeli citizen Nardia said he was selecting Delta Force candidates? I'd sure raise an eyebrow.
"His [i.e. Nardia] first two years were rough... I arranged some kapap seminars for him, designed the art's logo and hooked him up with some contacts in Europe."
"People would post vicious messages on the forums on Nardia's website, often sayng that he lacked the credentials he claimed to possess. I knew exactly what he was going through because I often sustained similar attacks inspired by my Black Belt column High Risk."
Here's a writing tip, if you want to tell someone's story, then tell their story. Do not insert yourself into the story. As a reader, it is very distracting.
Now let's talk about that "counterterrorist for the United States government after 9/11" credential. True. You bet. I have independent confirmation on this too. Mr. Wagner was employed by the American taxpayer as a Federal Air Marshal after 9/11/2001. And if you ask him about his counterterrorist experience, he is apparently very up front about this.
My first issue: yes, technically speaking, a FAM is indeed a "counterterrorist." And believe me when I say, I completely and totally respect a FAM's training. I have every reason to respect it. However, there is a world of difference between being local SWAT cop, and being a FAM, and being a Navy SEAL in DEVGRU, or being a JSOC supertrooper. And for that matter, there are plenty of analytical weenies employed by Uncle Sugar who also proudly wear the title "counterterrorist." All of these people have good reason to be proud of their service, but Mr. Wagner is being rubbery by using the word in his marketing. Why not say, "Former Air Marshal?" Not as sexy.
Here's something else. Based on my reading of a Budo International article that was Mr. Wagner's own account of his FAM stint, he completed his service on 9/11/2002.
Yes: 2002. That means he was hired, provided clearances, trained (at great expense to the taxpayer), and deployed on flights all in the space of a year.
Now, if someone knows different about how long Jim Wagner's experience as a FAM lasted, I'd love to see the evidence. But as a taxpayer, I'm a little disappointed that my security was used as a stepping stone for Mr. Wagner's resume. I'm sure his seminar fee increased based on the line item: "counterterrorist." Sorry if I seem cynical about this point. Maybe I'm just posting another vicous attack based on his column.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Friday, November 17, 2006
Korean weapons show many similarities with both Chinese and Japanese weapons, much as you'd expect from a country wedged between these two cultural juggernauts. You can see the influences in this sword.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Pankration (which should be pronounced "pan-cray-tee-on," not "pan-crash-un") was an ancient Greek unarmed fighting system. It received little notice from Classicist historian because it has effectively "died out" unlike the other major Greek unarmed combat systems that are familiar to us as boxing and wrestling. Further, the Classicists, where they understood what they were dealing with, tended to dismiss Pankration as a hybrid of recognizable boxing and wrestling moves.
Evidence suggests that Pankration, which means "all powers," was actually an integrated all-in combat system that included punches, kicks, pressure point strikes, takedowns and throws, submission holds, and other nasty tricks. The only techniques barred were biting and gouging. It was included in the Olympic Games and the bouts were apparently well-attended. We do not know much of the actual techniques, however there are tantalizing tid-bits in verse and pictorial art indicating that open hand strikes similar to modern, extant Asian martial arts strikes were used with fatal results.
Pankration was apparently a highly systemized art too. The art appeared in the Olympic Games in 648 BC, and probably existed in some form as a military only system long before that. The art continued to exist in some form or another up into the period of the Roman Empire, where it was part of their gladiatoral games. A history that long provides every reason to believe the skills were systemized and passed from master to student with every generation. Some styles may have lineages as impressive as any modern art that extends back to feudal age Asia.
The art was brought to a very high -- or at least lethally practical -- standard by the Spartans. The Sparatans refused to allow their pankratists to compete in the Olympic Games. Partly this was because they did not see pankration as an athletic endeavor -- there was only training and war; and even then the distinction might be blurred. They also considered their style of pankration to be a state secret, and while they might attended pankration contests to see what their rivals were developing, they were not about to let the other Greek City-States in on the Spartan tricks.
The controversial aspect of pankration history enters the story with Alexander the Great, who himself was well-trained in the Greek combat sports and saw to it that his army was also familiar with pankration. One theory holds that Alexander's army brought pankration to Asia and India and that veterans who stayed in the East passed their skills onto their new neighbors. In this theory, the martial arts skills were then transfered to China and the rest of the Far East through Boddhidarma, the legendary monk who suppossedly brought both Buddhism and embryonic Kung Fu out of India into China.
While this is not beyond the realm of possibility -- Greek warriors had plenty of opportunity to pass thier skills (sometimes through "hard lessons") onto their Asian neighbors (and enemies) -- I think it is simplistic. There are only so many ways to manipulate the human body, and the principles of combat are timeless.
Ancient pankration probably resembled a modern NHB fight. Then, as now, there were some who got by on their bruising ability, and others who won through finesse. There is a modern system calling itself Pankration which is championed by Greek-American Jim Arvantis. It does capture some of the spirit of ancient pankration, but is not a continuation of the original art.
Friday, November 10, 2006
"The Thousand Nations of the Persian Empire descend upon you! Their arrows will blot out the sun."
"Then we will fight in the shade."
There's a 19 year old kid in my office who likes movies about tough guys. His all time favorite is Scarface -- the Al Pacino version, not the black and white. Every couple of weeks he comes in hopped up on Achilles, becuase he's watched Troy over the weekend.
I think he needs to be prepared for the upcoming film, 300. The other movies are pure fiction. 300, on the other hand, is fact. 300 Spartans, the toughest men who ever lived (you're free to debate this point if you want. But debate is pointless; it will still be true), faced hundreds of thousands of their enemies -- warriors from across the vast Persian Empire -- for several days. They fought to the last man, delaying the huge army from the East, and buying time for the city-states of Greece to gather their forces for battle.
Several years ago, the poet-laureate of tough guys and comic artist Frank Miller published his version of the historical tale as 300. Now Hollywood is bringing it to life in a CGI heavy version that will capture Miller's art style in the same way Sin City did.
Prepare yourself here... The trailer is available for download.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Our War in Iraq has produced one Medal of Honor recipient -- posthumously. Sgt 1st Class Paul Smith, of the US Army, Engineer Corps, assigned to 2nd Plt., B Co., 11th Engineer Bn., 3rd Inf. Division. His unit was constructing a prison facility near the Baghdad International Airport when it was attacked. Smith took control of an M-2 .50 caliber Machine Gun and killed 50 of the enemy. He was in constant danger and took return fire from numerous automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. He was killed when he took a hit to the head. It is believed his actions saved the lives of over 100 fellow GIs, many of them wounded.