Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fight Science

National Geographic Channel recently aired Fight Science which showcases many different martial arts and the physics behind their incredible skills. I have this on tape, but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. I know several of you have, so please feel free to comment on the show's best and worst moments. I'd love to know what you thought of the show and the way they presented the skills. I should get a chance to watch my copy over the course of the next few days. (3-Day weekend coming, you know!)

"Specialized" is a much more politically correct term than "Ninja"

A very reasonably priced "ninja-to" from Cheness Cutlery. If I had an extra $190.00 I'd be buying this in an instant.


Godzilla finally gets released in original form on DVD in Gojira!

"Gojira" literally means "gorilla whale." Don't ask why. Who cares, why? Before you run out to buy the new 2-disc DVD set, you should know that the original Japanese movie is an allegory about the Atomic bomb and was meant to be taken seriously. The good news is, it is easier to take seriously without Raymond Burr added in. However, if you insist on the cheesy version, they do include the Raymond Burr version also. Enjoy.

Shinobi Katana

I came across this and thought some of you might be interested. Sorry about the really small picture posted here. Check out the link for better pics.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, Sir Sean!

Today is Sean Connery's 76th Birthday!
Here is Sir Sean with several karateka back when he was filming You Only Live Twice. This is a movie of special importance to ninja history in the West. It was one of the first mainstream mentions of the mysterious art of ninjutsu. The plot, which was ridiculous of course, has James Bond traveling to Japan to investigate the disappearance of numerous space capsules. He teams up with Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese Secret Service, and commander of a specially trained band of ninja. Bond undergoes brief ninja training (accelerated by his sheer "Bond-ness" no doubt) and later leads the ninja commandos on a raid of the Spectre hideout deep within a dormant volcano. (Why yes, I'm sure this was a real Bond movie, and not an Austin Powers. Why do you ask?)

When the producers went to Japan, they interviewed a number of martial artists to portray the ninja. To their surprise, they were pointed to an actual ninjutsu practitioner, Yoshiaki Hatsumi! They contacted Hatsumi (who hadn't yet changed his given name) for a meeting. Unfortunately, the producers were delayed by other business, and did not make the meeting. They attempted to reschedule the meeting, but Hatsumi declined. If the producers were not going to take ninjutsu seriously, why should he treat them seriously! This may have been the right attitude. The filming of the ninja training took place at Osaka Castle, a historic landmark. Tour guides still point out the marks left in the walls from shuriken, left not by real ninja, but by careless extras in the 1960's!
Hmmm. A Sean Connery mask. Do you think real spies use this to get past suspicious border guards?

Sean in The Rock. Which may be a bad movie, but sure is a lot of fun!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Most Controversial Man in Martial Arts

The balding man on the left in this picture may be the most controversial man in martial arts right now. His name is Dave Lowry, and he is the author of several books on traditional Japanese martial arts, Black Belt Magazine's The Karate Way column, and his hometown's food critic. This is a good, brief biography of the man.

So what makes him so controversial? Well, he still believes that traditional martial arts, with their funny uniforms, their dated rituals and etiquette, and reliance on using kata to transmit knowledge actually matter. Pick up a copy of Black Belt any month these days, and you will find at least a couple of letter writers ready to tell the world that this man is an idiot who obviously knows nothing about "real fighting." What drove me to write this posting was a recent letter in which the writer misunderstood a statement about the historical existence of ninja in Japan. I'm guessing that the writer probably studies some branch of the Takamatsuden martial arts, and has fully and completely bought the store-front version of ninja history that we frequently recount to the newbies, and use to confuse the masses of lookie-loos...

Here's the deal, at least as I see it: Mr. Lowry began his martial arts career in the 1960's in Judo. He had the extreme good fortune to meet a visiting professor from Japan who agreed to teach him Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, one of the most prestigious martial arts systems (focusing on sword) in all of Japan. Mr. Lowry, over the years, has practiced a good many of the traditional Japanes martial arts, both ancient koryu bujutsu systems and modern Budo forms, including karate, aikido, and jodo. He has witnessed all the major martial arts trend come and go: the kung fu craze, prizefight kickboxing, the ninja boom, ultimate fighting, tournament stars becoming movie heroes, and "reality-based fighting"... He's been there and done that.

And over the years, he has stayed true to his teachers, who gave him much more valuable lessons than how to disable an Islamic Fascist Terrorist in a phone booth with a good leg choke and a dull toothbrush handle... One lesson was that truth endures: things may change, but a throw is a throw, a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, a cut is a cut. If you learn the principles and understand why they work, you will be able to apply them in any situation.

The other lesson was that martial arts aren't just about kicking butt, but enduring even though a blade may be held over your heart. That's more about character than being the deadliest man on your block. That's about being the best person you can be, because you only ever have control over your own destiny. I know those are statements that a lot of young studs just entering on their martial arts journey may have a hard time understanding, but if they endure, they will come to appreciate the full gifts of the martial arts.

In the meantime, Mr. Lowry will have a new book published very soon. Is it 100 different ways to apply an armlock, or 30 best ways to choke somebody who isn't wearing a gi? No. It called In the Dojo and it will explain the hows and whys of etiquette in a traditional school. I can't wait for it. My order is already in at my local bookstore.

Maybe I'll explain Mr. Lowry's views on ninja history in another post.

Is this, like, even legal in some states of the Union?

The Pussycat Dolls. These girls are described as "entertainers." Welcome to Spice World, ladies...

Navi Rawat

Who? Okay, she's not a household name, yet, but you wait. You watch. The Hollywood machine will eventually make her big, huge, and unexpected.
Navi Rawat is probably best known for playing Mathematics Grad Student Amita on Numb3rs, an FBI solves crimes through math Friday night procedual/thriller brought to you by Ridley and Tony Scott's production company.
But she's been bouncing around Tinseltown for a few years doing journeyman work, and when the whole "Latin Girls are So Hot" thing dies down, her smoldering, Subcontinent ethnic looks will be a prime seller for the casting directors. Joss Whedon fans might recognize her as the psycho Vampire Slayer that captured Spike in the last season of Angel -- and chopped off his hands! That debacle led to one of the few really good philosophical exchanges that season; a rumination on the true nature of the real things that go bump in the night.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oh, boy...

Mel. What can I say?
As gossip columnist Liz Smith pointed out, you're way out ahead on digging yourself out of this hole with your mug shot. You've got theat winsome, bad boy smirk and only a single stray hair somewhat out of place. Who could forget Michael Jackson's mugshot? Or Gary Busey? Or Hugh Grant? You've got them all beat. You still look pretty good for post-bender, post-arrest. And we all learned from Billy Crystal, "It's better to look good, than to feel good."

My theory is that you were doing your little bit to normalize realtions between the US and the Arab world. It was a misguided attempt, but when everyone else complains about current events, you actually try to do something. Too bad it was such a horrible miscalculation.

Good luck.

Next Project

I have been planning a new WH40K army for a couple of months now. My previous army was Black Templars, and with a name like that, it is no surprise that their armor was mostly black. I plan on going the opposite route this time and do a White Scars army.

The White Scars have a couple of interesting quirks. Their background is based on the Mongol hordes. Instead of fighting on horseback, the White Scars fight mostly from motorcycles. And, of course, white is the major color in their livery. There are very few actual White Scars models, which means I have to do a little converting to get the full "We live in the saddle" effect for the army.

Unfortunately, I was waylaid by th need to effect some (minor) roof repairs. So my timetable to get started on this project has "slipped" and I probably won't get to it until early Fall. I'm thinking this might be a good opportunity to learn how to actually post my own pictures and not just ones I've stolen off the web. So stay tuned for work in progress pictures of this project.

Favorite Authors: Barry Eisler

I just finished The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler, which is the latest (and hopefully not the last) in his John Rain thrillers. These books follow the misadventures of Japanese-American John Rain, a cosmopolitan man with a love of Jazz, Scotch and Judo, who happens to be a top-notch hitman.

Mr. Eisler maintains a first class website, with an attached blog and his favorite links. I think many of Mr. Eisler's obsessions will appeal to my readers, so I heartily recommend his website, if only for the links.

There are many interesting tid-bits in the author's biography, but my favorite is his admission that he has always been interested in "forbidden topics." I sense a kindred spirit, and my mental image of his personal library matches my own bookshelves pretty closely. But I bet his collection is even better...

Another really cool thing about Mr. Eisler is that he has "been to see the elephant," so to speak. For example, John Rain is a Judo black Belt trained at the Kodokan dojo itself. Mr. Eisler also is a Kodokan trained black belt, earned while he lived in Japan. His love of martial arts is evident throughout the books. Mr. Eisler shells out the bucks to keep his own self-defense skills at a peak level, so if you ever go to a book signing of his... don't mess with him!