Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cheesecake returns

I'm a fan of the artist Bawidamann. Maybe you can tell why in this side-by-side shot of the art and the artist's inspiration.

Dark Secrets

Somewhere on the server lurks an especially vigorous attack on the first ninjutsu dojo I ever belonged to. Now, I'll be the first to say that there was plenty worth attacking about this dojo, but somehow this young man missed all the shenanigans and instead complained for several paragraphs that the dojo didn't teach him to fight correctly.

Based on some clues within the post, I was able to do some rough calculations and determine that when this young man left the dojo he was between 12 and 14 years old. Now in his mid-to-late twenties, he's discovered the ultimate secret to fighting by training in MMA with adult men. Ok, tough guy.

I haven't seen any martial arts school teach the Under-14 crowd the secrets of brutal close quarters hand-to-hand combat. Maybe one is out there, But I'd be nervous about what they're doing to the kids' psyches.

This isn't to say what's taught to kids is some watered down version of martial arts. Rather, what's taught is how to punch, how to kick, how to throw, how to stand, how to move correctly -- but without focusing on the effects. And even while we're talking about a proper strike or throw, the kids themselves are happily ignoring the ultimate point of the strike or throw: to hurt another human being.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't want a ten-year-old assassin ready to kill the playground bully with a flick of his wrist. Most kids, up through high school, are in a martial arts class struggling to learn how to coordinate their bodies. The most effective self-defense for them is the inner strength instilled by the discipline of class, the respect for self and others, and the confidence that grows out of practice. I'm sure a few of them will get into physical scuffles, but (at least with the kids I deal with) the greatest danger is probably a minor injury, a bloody nose or a broken arm. I'm confident the skills we teach -- and they learn, which is the most important part -- will carry them through that level of danger.

These days it seems most kids go through a martial arts class as part of the parade of sports they try. Most won't stick with it, so while you have them, you try to show them the best and brightest side of martial arts. This is the part that makes the human spirit shine. You don't drill them in the ugliness of assault.

But as a teacher, it's important to realize that you're not teaching the physical movement differently. I've never modified a technique or kata. I've never not taught proper distancing and angling. I've never not shown how to properly transfer power through a punch to a target. And I've never taught flashy weapons handling over practicality. (Of course, this is all within the limits of my understanding at the time.) It's all there. So the foundations are being laid in every student.

But a time does come when you show the truth.

J, for example, has been with us since he was very small. Now he's about to go off to college on a ROTC scholarship. I remember scolding him in class as a kid. But he's pretty talented. As an aside, J's another one of those guys who think MMA holds the truth about real fighting. I hear hm talking about all the various, cool grappling moves he's practicing. I don't know if he's really cross training or messing around in his backyard.

J's even thinking about the Army's Top Fighter, an MMA-type competition fed by the Army Combative training.

I was working with J one recent Saturday. He asked if there was anything I was working on. Actually, I'm working on the first couple of Kukishinden Ryu taijutsu kata, so I showed him Seion. As we worked through it, I realized Seion had a couple of secrets worth mentioning to J.

So I explained how Kukishinden Ryu taijutsu is based on fighting in full armor against a similarly armed opponent. The idea in the first section is to use the armored opponent's top heaviness against him, and throw using the force of your legs. After a couple more tries, I explained how grabbing in kumiuchi allowed the right hand to latch onto the chest plate like a handle -- and more importantly for a future Army officer; that soft body armor had a similar opening that could be used. I could tell that got his attention. Then I showed how you should dump the opponent onto his head. And also how I believe, though it's not in the kata, that given the situation the proper "ending" of the kata is not a flurry of strikes before backing away. (Which is the self-defense response we usually teach.) Rather, stabbing the opponent in the neck, or using his helmet for leverage in breaking the neck.

"The point is," I told him, "kill the guy standing up, or no later than as he hits the ground; and use a weapon if you can."

I don't care how you get there. You can use Judo, BJJ, MMA, Taijutsu, TKD, Tai Chi, etc. As handed down to me by many different people whom I have every reason to trust, that statement is the only secret to combat as it really matters. Train any art with a deep understanding of this concept, and you are on your way to becoming dangerous.

It's a brutal, ugly truth. It's not something I see myself getting a class of 10-year-olds to chant like I'm Sensei Kreese running CobraKai. But I don't have to: I only need to teach the movement correctly. When the time is right, when the student is right, you can share the little secrets about the dark side. Those ideas that clarify the movement and make it all matter.

Olympic level Martial Arts

Although all the attention has understandably been on the swimming, and traditional sports, there is no shortage of exciting martial arts action at the Olympics: Judo, Tae Kwon Do, several forms of wrestling, boxing, fencing...

I think you'll find the Judo competition especially interesting. MSNBC has highlights available on line. One of the fascinating things about this competition is the talent from all over the world. Japan dominates this sport, but plenty of other countries have sent impressive athletes. One highlight features a spectacular throw from a Kazakhstan judoka.

It's possible there will be some coverage this week of Tae Kwon Do, because of the human interest story about the Lopez family, which is sending two brothers and a sister to compete: three family members in one Olympic event.

I'm no expert on the Olympic sports martial arts, but I am one of those guys who gets all geeky about the Olympics when they come on. I find them compulsive watching.

Bigfoot sighted!

I can't make this stuff up...

Of course, with DNA test results like: human OR opossum, it's no wonder OJ was acquited.

Generation Kill

I highly recommend the HBO mini series: Generation Kill. It's based on a non-fiction book of the same about a Marine Recon company during the initial invasion of Iraq.

Sideshow Collectibles presents: Snakes Eyes 12"action figure

Sideshow Collectibles have announced they will produce a line of GI Joe toys under license to Hasbro. These are pictures of the first figure they will release sometime next Spring: Snake Eyes. They brought prototypes to the recent San Diego ComicCon 2008.

The really scary thing is... This ain't that far off from my gear suite.

Yeah, I have one on pre-order...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Problem of Definition

My posting of the YouTube video below showing a ToShinDo trained "ninja" winning an MMA bout in 26 short seconds seems to have set off some heated discussion. I was hoping to get more open discussion, but I forgot I was posting on the open web... If you haven't already checked out the video, and posted any thoughts, I'm still encouraging opinions.

Part of the reason we have such a heated discussion is that we're not all using the same definition of the term "martial arts." At first glance, it seems like a specific enough term, indicating any method of attack and defense.

But really, "martial arts" is one term that encompasses at least three related, but different activities:
  • Reality Fighting: That is, techniques of movement meant to save your ass in life-threatening combat.
  • Sport Martial Arts: Which runs the gamut from fitness/exercise to professional and competitive sports.
  • Aesthetic Martial Arts: These are martial arts intended primarily for culture or entertainment, such as demonstration, dance, or even movie-making.
I say, "at least three" because there's plenty of room for overlap in these categories, and even some subcategories. For example, reality fighting includes personal self-defense courses within the context of violent crime, and you have military instruction that teaches methods to deal with the realities of the battlefield. Even that can range from non-lethal methods for use in peace keeping operations, to mass melee among bodies of troops, to sentry removal.
So without one, settled definition of "martial arts" it can be very difficult to discuss the topic across the internet.
One popular website demonstrates this problem. Their idea -- a paradigm, really -- of good martial arts is MMA competitive fighting. Based on what they've seen, they espouse the idea that this is the only way to be effective in martial arts. Why? Because two extremely fit, scary looking fighters get into a ring and connect with full force techniques that ultimately prove one man to be superior to the other. It sure looks like a real fight; and we're always told there are no rules. Except there are three very important rules:
  1. The fighters are matched for relative size, weight, and experience
  2. Neither intends to kill the other one, and both fighters know this.
  3. Most importantly, there are no weapons involved.
Meanwhile, the local strip mall martial arts school -- commonly derided as a "McDojo" -- gets a bad rap because they focus on memorizing forms, physical fitness, and some "feel-good" philosophy. Possibly there is some light sparring.
Yet this ignores the good work many "McDojos" do at keeping responsible, happy, fit students. They provide an outlet for stress and aggression, and also an opportunity to connect with a cultural tradition. Statistically speaking, most of these students are not going to end up in a fierce close quarters battle with a mugger or terrorist, and few will be foolish enough to choose to enter a competitive match -- at least not without increasing the intensity of their training. The most dangerous enemy they will face on a regular basis is themselves, and if they are good students, they will be equipped to meet that challenge.
I've been involved in martial arts for many years now, and I've been part of just about every approach to training you can think of. I haven't found it to be one size fits all because the reasons for getting involved are as many as their are students. I do think it is dangerous for any practitioner to fail to understand this spectrum of training. It can be very dangerous to think of yourself as a hard core warrior if your monthly session is Tai Chi at the Senior Center. But it is equally dangerous to think that you can take your MCMAP instructor's certificate and open a children's program when you leave the service -- you're not doing your wallet or your students any favors on that one.
Lastly, I've found that the key to a sustainable martial arts involvement, and the key to more advanced levels, is to embrace the spectrum and understand the importance of the different levels. The most common problem is to concentrate on the aesthetic and intellectual aspects and forget the martial in martial arts. I'm working on a post that will return to this point in the near future.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Have you heard about these? The geek in me is pretty excited. These are the EyeClops Night Vision goggles using 65-Year-Old infrared technology to allow you to see out to a possible 50 feet in total darkness for the low price of $80. And you'll be able to get them at ToysRUs.
The headgear uses invisible lights in the infrared portion of the spectrum to illuminate the area in front of the wearer. The goggles themselves translate the infrared light into a visible image. This is "active" night vision since you actively have to shine the infrared light. Modern night vision technology is "passive." It amplifies any existing light (visible or infrared) to create the image for the viewer.

Batman Returns

Well, here we are again, in the middle of Bat-mania.

The Dark Knight continues to generate hysteria. And since we're now on the downside of that hype, the rumors have turned to who will play the villain in the third installment of Christopher Nolan's Bat-Mythos.

(If you're just returning from Afghanistan or something and are among the deprived few who haven't seen the Dark Knight yet, there will be spoilers here, so watch out!)

The most prevalent of these rumors is that the Riddler will be the next villain. These rumors began even before this movie opened. Those rumors centered on Anthony Michael Hall playng the riddle. Hall, best known for being the red-haired dweeb in all those 80's John Hughes movies, has turned into a respectable character actor and appears in The Dark Knight as a TV reporter named Michael "Mike" Engel. This is the same reporter we last see captured by the Joker and displayed on video delivering the Joker's message to Gotham City.

This sets up a believable Riddler for the next movie. The Nolan Bat-Mythos strive for a certain believability about these fantastic characters. The Riddler is obessesed with all kinds of riddles, enigmas, and mysteries. A TV reporter obsessed with the true identity of the Batman might make a good set-up for the Riddler.

However, the latest rumors have the Riddler role being battled over by Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Johnny Depp. Okay, I can see Johnny Depp as somebody's Riddler, but not Chris Nolan's Riddler. And once Hoffman got mentioned, somebody suggested he'd be better as the Penguin, and again, I don't really see the Penguin fitting into this storyline.

Perhaps the wildest rumor is the Maggie Gyllenhaal's character, Rachel Dawes (SPOILER!) did not die in the explosion. Instead, Rachel survives and becomes Catwoman. I sure hope that's not the case. A move like that would "jump the shark," or is the new term, "Nuke the Fridge?" When Dawes died, it gave the whole movie a sense of urgency. Bringing her back would not feel right, or treat the audience with respect. On the other hand, Dawes death creates a vaccum in the story for Catwoman to have a purpose. Right now, Bruce Wayne is lonely and vulnerable emotionally. It's a perfect time for a sexy kleptomaniac who's also a little crazy -- but far from evil -- to cross his path.

But rumors like these are like so much smoke: insubstantial.

Red Sonja

One of the recent comments that came in recently asked if I had anything about next year's Red Sonja movie. Um, not much, really. All that's public is: Robert Rodriguez is directing. Rose McGowan is starring. And these two posters have been released as teasers. Honestly, I don't think they even have a script at this point. I do know they haven't started filming yet. But the posters look cool.

I'll withhold my enthusiasm for this until I hear more... But won't anything be better than the Bridgitte Nielson version? Well, won't it?

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Octogon

Here's an interesting bit: Although not real clear, it seems the "ninja" in this video of an MMA cage bout ended up the winner.

And one reason it's not real clear is that what technique is visible does not appear to be classic taijutsu. Of course, HWSNBN has said all along that "real" fighting won't look like practice. (Although he also says MMA isn't "real" fighting because both people start and end fully expecting to go home at the conclusion of the pre-arranged match, and there is no possibility of one or both fighters pulling out weapons, and... oh, you get the point.)

Another reason is that no one who posted this really bothered to identify the fighters. So why do I make the educated guess the "ninja" is the winner? Because it seems to be posted by one of the To Shin Do Quest Centers, and why would they post a loss?

Something for you all to mull over. Draw your own conclusions.

Don't try this at home!

Did that guy just spit fire at that kid?

Bonus II!!

(Relax, it's just for laughs.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Hummer for the Silent Master!

No, it's not a kung fu flick on late night Skin-a-max... It's the latest photos smuggled by JRF's spies from the set of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Here we see Snake Eyes having a bit of ninja style road rage

So just how excited does this make me? This about sums it up: kick up the volume first!