Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fall Black Belt Demo Redux

Dojo Mates! Do not forget that we are still discussing options for a Fall Black Belt Demo. Please continue the discussion in the comments section of the original posting.

For those of you looking for that post, use the list on the lefthand side of the page to navigate.

By the Sword

I've been reading By the Sword, a social history of (mostly western) swordsmanship by Olympic fencer Richard Cohen. Mr. Cohen has an obvious passion for his subject and has undertaken extensive research, but his experience has clouded some of his perceptions of the subject.

For one, he seems to believe that Western swordsmanship has been a constant evolution towardsthe modern fencing form. This is true from a sporting perspective. His underlying thesis seem to be that western sword technique transitioned from the inelegant, haphazrd "hack and slash" to the elegant, focused thrust of the point, the essence of which has been distilled to modern fencing.
To be fair, Cohen is of two minds, and mouths a few platitudes. At one point he accurately quotes the noted expert Ewart Oakeshot on the fact that medieval swordsmanship had art. But he quickly dismisses the medieval form as unschooled and lacking in subtlty. The medieval form's greatest sin is that it lacks the complictaed and extended "phrases" that make up modern sword exchanges. Later, Cohen admires the Renaissance development of the rapier, and the corresponding emphasis on the thrust. But then he decries that rapier fighters still circled each other rather than fight in the straight lines of modern fencing.

There is plenty of evidence that medieval swordplay featured a great deal of technique, strategy and even subtlty. However, these characteristics emerge not in the intimate caresses of the blades, but in the totality of the fighting. The sword and shield fighter concerned himself with angling, distancing and manuervering. It was necessary to draw out the opponent into an overextension, or the opening of a vulnerable line to cover a feint attack. Medieval fighters, of course, usually had to worry about their environment and almost always had to deal with multiple opponents, very different from modern fencing.

The same is true of Renaissance fighters, who may have dueled one-on-one more often, but still fought their rapier combats in crowded streets strewn in garbage. Anyone who has studied or experienced actual combat understands why rapier duelists might circle each other in an attempt to gain advantage.

Moreover, swords change according to many conditions, but not because they are evolving toward a perfect pointy form of epee or foil. Cohen includes a section on sword metallurgy but fails to follow through on the interaction of technology with swordplay. He does explain that limited as they were to soft metals, the ancients used shorter swords. (He does not mention, strangely, evidence of a long rapier-shaped sword used by the Mycenean culture that fought the Trojan War.) But other factors contribute to sword shape, so he is mistaken in lumping the Roman gladius in with these soft metal short swords. The short gladius was intentionally kept short for tactical reasons. Roman close order drill trained the infantryman to fight in a well-armored line, stabbing and hacking at the enemy with a chainsaw-like effect. Against Greek adversaries, the dismembering results were demoralizing. Celtic and Germanic adversaries were unable to bring their longer swords to bear against the crowded line.

Swords of medieval times were well made status symbols among the elite knights, but they were secondary weapons on the field, to be used to slash lighter armored infantry from horseback after the lance was used in the initial charge. Early medieval swords emphasized the slash, and were made to hew through mail. The cycle of battle technology created improving defenses and the elite medieval warrior incorporated metal plates as armor. Swords did change to incorporate a more defined point to thrust through open gaps, but increasingly the weapon of choice against a plate armored opponent was a bludegeoning tool such as a mace, hammer, axe, or morning star. The sword was still mainly reserved for slashing the light infantry.

In tournaments, were the sword was still used against opponents in heavy armor, it grew in size, and was typically blunter. Compared to the lightning quick exchanges of a modern fencer, these duels did seem slow and ponderous. But the medieval armorer knew his craft, and even a heavily armored warrior was surprisingly nimble. The fighter used his whole body to propel the sword and avoid incoming blows. Tournament fighting caused deaths, but generally this was a battle against exhaustion as one fighter battered his opponent into submission.

The rapier did not emerge because the thrust of a point is "better," which is a subjective term. It appeared because there was need for a light (and even fashionable) defensive weapon for an emerging, town-based middle class. These people fought unarmored, and the quick thrust had certain advantages of speed. Rarely, however, were rapiers taken to the battlefield, and swords with heavy, broad blades continued to exist alongside the rapier for centuries. A bastard form, usually called a "cut and thrust" sword also existed though it lacked the speed of the rapier and heft of a battle sword.

When widespread firearms were introduced during this period, swords changed again as their use changed. Small swords emerged as fashion accessories and last ditch self-defense weapons. These are almost vestigial swords. Sabers, on the other hand were heavy military blades with a form useful to cavalry troops who still charged into infantry formations and broke them with shock and slashing attacks. For private duels, the weapons still tended to be heavier than everyday civilian counterparts, but were generally not as heavy as military swords.

Modern fencing is built on the techniques that developed in this last era of combat swordsmanship. However, it has taken on distinctly sporting habits. A sliding grip to extend the reach for a sly point is a common technique with sporting application, but nearly useless as a serious combat technique. The swords and their techniques are elegant, and the phrases exchanged during a conversation of blades is a beauty to watch. However, a long ago combatant would probably sneer at the foppery of entangling blades for extended periods when you might need it to ward off a second opponent.

I still recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of swordsmanship. But keep a close eye on the author's prejudices. They are as interesting a story as any he tells.

Guests of the Ayatollah

This month marks the 26th anniversary of the Desert One Debacle. For those of you either too young to remember, or old enough that Alzheimer's has set in, Desert One was the landing site for the failed mission to rescue the hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran.

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down has written a new account of the Iranian Hostage Crisis called Guests of the Ayatollah which will soon be released. For those of you only interested in the military end of things, the rescue mission segment is excepted in the current issue of The Atlantic, and available online.

Other books detailing the rescue mission include Delta Force by Charlie Beckwith, and Inside Delta Force by Eric L. Haney. Harder to find is The Guts to Try by James Kyle.

Yes, Mark Bowden has sold the movie rights to this book too. Who will play Chargin' Charlie?

Jamie Lynn DiScala

Hey. HEY! What you lookin' at? Just keep goin' if you know what's good for ya.

But are they still wrong half the time?

My interest, bordering on obsession really, with special operations forces has been well documented on this website. I've even allowed "Gene Simmons (No relation)" to spoof me about it a couple of times. But my academic interest is true and deep, not just some flighty wannabe-itis. How many of you knew about AFSOC's Combat Weathermen, or Grey Berets?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fall Black Belt Test Demo Project

OK, so I'm looking for some serious input from some of my "dojo-mates" who read this site.

As you know, next week will be the Spring Black Belt test. For the past several black belt test cycles, I have been saying that the advanced class ought to get our act together and plan a demo for the next test.

I think the time has come.

So the input I'd like first is you ideas for a demo. I'm willing to accept some humorous ideas in addition to some more traditional ones. But I want a brainstorming session first.

Just to throw a few ideas out there: we could do a live demo or a video. We could do a skit with a storyline, or simply demonstrate some techniques not usually seen outside our class. We could do traditional techniques, for example battlefield weapons, or secret weapons; or we could do modern applications, such as knife technique, or gun disarms. We can dress up in the silly outfits, or wear samurai costume, or BDUs and black fatigues.

But we need some ideas first. Then we'll worry about the logistics and practicality and time and who partcipates. So I'd like to see some suggestions filling the comments section of this posting. I'll take suggestions for a few weeks, and then we'll move onto the next logical step.

Everyone cool with that?

For Gene Simmons (No Relation)

Beauty and the Beast

OK, so I was riding around in the gas-guzzler yesterday when my wife stuck in one of her new CDs. It's all sixties covers, and I was less than enthusiastic, but at least it wasn't Sixties British folk. (And, I decided long ago that as a man who still regrets not replacing his Poison cassettes with CDs, I have no right to criticize someone's taste in music.)

But then I realize, gee those voices sound familiar; so I asked. It turns out that Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (yes, of the Bangles) cut this album, called Under the Covers (Vol. 1). So in an idle moment of curiosity at a stop light, I check out the liner notes to see how Susanna Hoffs looks these days.

Hey, I'm a man, baby. What do you expect? At least I'm honest about it.

Well, she looks great (see above photo). So here's a shot of the two singers together; not from the album stills, but it gives a good idea. Ready? Here goes:

Look at him. What a disgrace. He looks like he's just come home from the custom motorcycle shop where he's been artistically redesigning choppers all day. At least his hands aren't covered in black grease. Think it's just a bad shot? Think again:
At least he shaved for this performance. Look, I'm no Adonis, but I stay neat. I just don't know what to think. Except that maybe, in the words of a great philosopher, "I should've learned to play the guitar. I should've learned to bang them drums. That ain't workin'. That's the way you do it. You get your money for nothing and your chicks for free."

Anyway, here's another shot of Ms. Hoffs. I wouldn't want to leave you with Mr. Sweet on your mind and give you nightmares...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell Operative

Since I was in a video game mood this week...


Ever hear of Motosada Mori? You probably have if you play Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. He's the brains behind the fighting system called CQC showcased in the video game. What's CQC? I'm glad you asked. It's a unique system of armed close quarter combat in which the operator uses a drawn pistol and knife at the same time. Still never heard of it? (Man, you really don't play video games...) I don't blame you. It seems no martial artist or operator (LEO, special agent, or other warrior of your choice) in the US has seen much of anything about this "revolutionary" system outside the video game.
The obvious question is, "Does it work?" Beats me. It seems to work in the video game, but that's no test. Everything works according to script. (Certainly you don't believe Keanu Reeves can take on a room of kung fu fighters, do you?) While the techniques are suppossedly based on proven jujutsu and other Japanese budo styles, who knows if the new system works?
Well, Motosada Mori should know. His credentials beyond video games are that he has trained SWAT-type teams in Japan. So what? (I mean that respectfully, but truly.) Proof is in the doing. With all the hype for "reality-based" fighting arts in the US (with rabid consumers in the martial arts, local, state, and federal agencies, and the military), and the blurring line between empty-hand martial arts, and the use of guns and knives, you'd think this CQC system would've taken off somewhere here. But I've heard zip. No buzz outside a few videogamers posting on the web who seem to have a hard time telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

So is it legit? Again, I don't know. It sure looks interesting, though I have a hard time imagining exactly why I would play with both my knife and pistol at the same time. (One application I could see is for *ahem* "specialists" working in a crowded airframe, but then again...) Wouldn't it be better to have a free hand for utility work? (Opening doors, transitioning to a flashlight, picking your nose...) Until someone brings this guy over for a seminar and proves the system over time, I guess we'll never know. Still, interesting thought.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Amy Acker

So long, farewell...

It is with some sadness that Occam's Broadsword reports the death of Dr. Glenn Morris, 9th Dan Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, on April 1, 2006. (If Dr. Morris reveals this to be an April Fool's Day joke, I'll be taking back all the nice things I say below...)

Dr. Morris was a lifelong practitioner of various Asian Martial, healing, and mystic arts, including jujutsu, kung fu, kundalini, and yoga. While teaching at a small, liberal arts college, Dr. Morris began to develop his own blended martial art called Hoshin-jutsu, or Hoshin chi gung. The curriculum that developed bore a strong resemblance to the various areas of study covered by ninjutsu practitioners then appearing in the martial arts media. Dr. Morris took his students to various seminars presented by Stephen Hayes and began his own affiliation with Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He never stopped developing Hoshin-jutsu, however.

Dr. Morris enjoyed the reputation of an eccentric within the American Bujinkan. His three books, focused mainly on the mystic and spiritual aspects of Budo Taijutsu and martial arts, helped fuel the reputation. The less generous dubbed him "plum crazy."

Maybe so, but "plum crazy" has the welcome side effect of liberating the thought process. If his books are approached with a juxtaposed open mind and healthy skepticism, there are some interesting truths to be uncovered. But be prepared to wade through some sections you'll swear were more likely written by Dr. Timothy Leary.

JRF never met Dr. Morris, however he will miss the American Bujinkan's aging hippie uncle.

It will all make sense in a minute...

Sorry, I couldn't fit this one below. Chuck Heston as Nick Fury in True Lies.

Col. Nicholas Fury, Agent of SHIELD

Ultimate Nick Fury bears an uncanny resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson. Go figure.

Mego-style Nick Fury
The Nick Fury SHIELD Needle Gun, designed by Jim Steranko
The best Nick Fury was the Angelina Jolie version in the Sky Captain movie. (Just Kidding.)

And let's not forget David Hasselhoff's gruff turn as Col. Fury. To prepare for the role, he stayed constipated for over a week. And yes, that's Lisa Rina as his sidekick Val. You remember her, she was also on Dancing with the Stars.
Hasselhoff is his generation's Shatner. He'll have a major comeback someday.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Occam's Broadsword proudly celebrates its first year in operation!

Thanks for sticking with the weirdness. There have been a few dryspells from time to time, but I've been striving to bring you only the best stream of conciousness JRF possible.

So let's look forward to another year of crank conspiracy theories, wacky historical notes, martial arts, tasteful cheesecake, manly beefcake, comic books, movies, TV shows, action figures, WH40K, making fun of Tom Cruise, and of course: Tan Like the Desert Sky.

I may not be the Drudge Report, Fedblog, Wonkette, or any of the A-list blogs, but I'll keeo serving my niche with gusto!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Airship Flap of 1897

The first recorded sighting was in November of 1896, and in California, where all great fads must start. Over the course of the next year, there were hundreds of reported sightings of a long, cigar-shaped flying object the glided silently through the skies of the United States. Some reports said it had propellers, other talked about red and green lights. And a few even mentioned pilots. Before you knew it, we had the first major UFO sightings and the so-called Airship flap of 1897.

This was really big news back in the day. The government took it seriously. People were talking about it at home, in their workplaces, at dinners. Noted experts on science and technology, like Thomas Edison, were consulted. But it has been mostly forgotten in the hundred plus years because, well, most of the sightings were hoaxes, and human memory is short. Do any of us really think that our grandchildren are going to be taught the OJ Simpson murder trial? No way, not when their teachers will be hardpressed to include 9/11 in their curriculums. (It always disturbed me that none of my high school history courses seemed to have time to tell me who won the Second World War. ** OK. Except for an elective I took, but how many of my classmates graduated without being able to name the Axis powers?)

Anyway, lacking terms like "airplane," "flying saucer," and "blimp," the public stuck on the Edwardian term "airship." Now, before you go thinking that this was some misapplication of the would "ship" to the same phenomena we would call UFOs and describe as interstellar space craft today, you have to understand how weird this story gets. The descriptions of the objects were often pretty exact, and while they do describe derrigibles pretty closely, these were not "space ship-like" objects in the least. The airships were rather ornately designed and made blimp-like objects with fishy fins, batty wings, carved wood furniture, paddle-wheel-type fans, all kinds of craziness.

Also, as the story grew, a few reports of a mysterious inventor appeared, who was jealously guarding his secret in order to get it to the Patent Office after his "flight tests." One California attorney even stepped forward claiming to represent the inventor. In addition, there were stories of the airships landing and the pilots interacting with locals. In one case asking for some "lubricating oil, cold chisels, and bluestone." (Bluestone happens to be the predominant rock type in Stonehenge monuments, but whether or not that is in any way related is your guess.)

There was only one report that a crashed airship was from Mars. This happened in Aurora, Texas. The mystery pilot was buried (at least, according to the story) and his location was known until investigators, real newspaper reporters, went looking for him in the 1970's. The cemetery claimed they had meticulous records, and had no record of a John Doe related to this incident. However, the story surfaced that someone had exhumed the body and moved the gravestone.

So what is the likely truth? Was there a mysterious airship inventor? Well, in this case, the possibility isn't 100% impossible, but it is against the odds. What we do know is that the world was a very different place back then. Newspapers in the 1890s were known for enlivening slow newsdays with the kinds of distant wire reports we today only see in the Weekly World News. Telegraph operators use to entertain each other by making up outlandish stories to pass back and forth between each other, and sometimes these bogus stories were mistaken -- or intentionally passed off -- for real news. Maybe there was a kernel of truth to a few of these wild reports, but few have any hard evidence to attach to them. And we also know that no inventor, or his attorney, ever did file a related patent for an airship. At least, not in the United States...