Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some Musings on the 52

Hopefully you've had a chance to read and view the material on the 52 Blocks. It occurred to me today that 52 is an interesting parallel to Ninjutsu. Not necessary in the styles themselves, but the pedigrees.

The Takamatsuden "Ninjutsu" schools have had a hard time finding accpetance for many different reasons. First is the history and documentation of the lineages. As a "secret" art used by warriors considered less than the noble, honorable ideal, the ability to trace real history is hard. Documentation of the schools was nearly non-existent. Historians and Martial Arts Masters questioned the legitimacy of such an art, and even questioned the morals and motivations of anyone who wanted to learn an "assassin's art."

52 is also an underground style, closely associated in the popular imagination with thugs and prisons. It has no documentation associated with it -- so how are we to trace any development? We rely upon oral history accounts and vague connections to historical figures or developments, such as the more evasive style of African American boxers as they rose to prominence.

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification. But it makes you think about certain issues. If 52 Blocks is now emerging from the shadows to become a legitimately recognized martial art, what kind of frictions will it encounter on this journey? Will it find more ready acceptance?

I'm eager to hear more about the 52 Blocks. I think this is a fascinating American story and our country's contribution to the martial arts.

To: Hollywood

From: JRF @ Occamsbroadsword
RE: Proposed Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie reboot

Just say no.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The "Loch Ness Monster" of American Martial Arts

The New York Times ran an article yesterday on the notorious "52 Blocks." A super secret, underground African American fighting system of undetermined origin that sometimes goes by the name "Jailhouse Rock."

Ninja Wackiness

"Ninjutsu" is not getting great press these days.

People outside the martial arts community are beginning to make fun of anyone associated with Ninjutsu. Check out Number 8 on this list.

Then Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior pits a Spartan against a Ninja in a death match...

Which the Ninja loses.

Ninjas don't take losing lying down. Just check out this guy's spirited 20 minute intellectual defense steeped in history and artifacts that is spread over two YouTube videos. He's worked himself into a frenzy over a Spike TV show -- he even gets visibly emotional in the second video! Now... there's no doubt this dork has some serious book learning about ninja. If he, or his hair, amuses you in any way: he's got lots more videos in which he gets so frustrated he starts insulting YouTube whipping boy ChosonNinja.

Is there any hope this downward spiral into ninja oblivion will end? Or are we all doomed to get sucked into suckiness?

I found this today on a Bujinkan web forum:

The rest of the martial arts world, and soon the wider world, are increasingly finding our fame-hungry youtube-posting multidan obese cultist egocentric self-promoting ninja masters to be the biggest joke in the universe (we are only one ranking below clowns in the Outright Ridicularity League), and there are more and more examples for them to (often quite rightly) ridicule by the year. Eventually we will lull the world into a false sense of security until the prospect of being faced with engaging in combat with Bujinkan budoka is as frightening as finding a balloon in your garden. But amongst the mediocre, the fantasists, the talkers and Twitterers, the too-deadly-to-spar brigade, the too-deadly-to-diet brigade, will hide the all-too-real menace of real budoka, who don't make excuses, who train hard and honestly for the real world.

Let me sum this up: Train seriously. All else is fluff. And quit making stupid videos.

Setting the Record Straight

I maintain a white board at my office. Every week I write-up a quote on the board. Lately these have been humorous, mock-inspirational posters. You know, the ones with the black borders... Sometimes people are kind enough to provide suggestions. One of my officemates slipped a a page from her Zen-A-Day calendar onto my desk. This is the quote, from surrealist artist Salvador Dali:

Have no fear of perfection. You'll never reach it.


But hold on here... It is demonstrably untrue.

Perfection is actually named Matthew Xavier Dixon. He graduated from Mount Saint Mary's College in 1994. As an undergraduate he never slept, partied all night, never missed a class and maintained a 4.0 GPA. He also managed to earn a Shodan, first degree black belt, in the brutally hard style of Kyokushin Karate. If this weren't enough, he was damnably good-looking and was actively pursued by several women; including one very beautiful brunette named Amy whom he eventually married.
He earned a Ph.D in International Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and now works for a DC think tank -- probably thinking deep thoughts. He was promoted to Nidan, or second degree black belt and has a wicked roundhouse kick that is rightfully feared.
I swear, this is all true. You can verify Mr. Dixon's existence and much of his C.V. for yourself at this site. If you ever google yourself, Matt, and stumble onto this page... Please do not leave a comment telling me how wrong I am. Such an act of humility will only prove my point.
I now return you to our regularly scheduled madness.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Batman Returns?

io9 reported today that Director Christopher Nolan may walk away from doing a third Batman film. They say the death of Heath Ledger was a double blow to Nolan. Obviously it was an emotional blow, and given the praise both the movie and Ledger earned, that was probably a blow that kept on coming. Apparently it was also a storytelling blow: Nolan planned on bringing the Joker back in a major role for the third film. Now, he's not sure what to do.

I'm sure the Batman fans in the blogosphere will all have their say, so please indulge mine now:
Please don't walk away now, Mr Nolan. Tell the story you intended.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are clearly the first and second act of a larger story. Both are much better films than a comic films have a right to be. It isn't fair to your audience to only tell two-thirds of the tale.

Oh, I know there are already people saying this may be a blessing in disguise; after all Nolan can go out on top and who could possibly replace Heath Ledger? Bunkum.

Let me say this first: actors, even great ones, are servants to a good story. You're not going to offend the spirit of Heath Ledger by recasting his role. If your story demands the return of the Joker -- and what fan will complain about that? -- then tell your story and bring the Joker back. A brave actor will step up to the plate. I also have faith that Nolan and his production team won't cast a scrub actor.

There will also be those who say a third Batman is a risk, especially with a new Joker actor. This would be true after the tour de force of The Dark Knight even if you brought back the entire cast. If anything, I think the audience will come out to see another actor attempt the role. And if Nolan continues to tell the great, mythic, and surprisingly relevant stories he's been telling, then he may continue to pack non-Batman fans into the seats.

[BTW: I'm continuing the GI Joe theme with the above picture... But Batman wins this fight. He just does not lose.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Teaser Poster

Not bad... I'll have to see if I can't secure one of these for my collection...

But it's still not enough to make up for... THIS.

They cast the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun as Cobra Commander.

BTW, I've taken a lot of ribbing over the years for the pictures of Action Figures I've posted here. I could be doing this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Training Injuries

I have had lots of minor training injuries. Knock on wood, I've only had one serious injury -- my torn ACL last year. I am currently suffering from one of my oddest training injuries: I have mat burn on my toes.

We were practicing kuzushi in newaza last night. We started in a kneeling position and pummeled for position, grappling to feel the loss of balance, or the overcompensation in the other direction to fight a push or pull. Somehow, in the midst of this, the tops of my toes got a nice mat burn and I rubbed off the outermost layer of skin.

I was uncomfortable last night, but didn't think much of it. This morning I staggered into the shower and as the hot water hit my feet, I had a very literal rude awakening. Right now I'm looking at the thin scabs on my toes! Very weird.

Do they make sock rash guards?

Suck it, Daniel Craig!

That's right. It's a Daniel Craig-sicle. Apparently, in the UK they call these "lollies."

Go ahead and say it: "Lolly."

I'm not sure if these come in other flavors (Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, or Sean Connery) or not. I do know my wife says this looks yummy. I'll link another woman's point of view here.

The best parts from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

There. I just saved you $8.50 and the cost of a soda and popcorn... Not to mention at least an hour and a half of your time. You can thank me later.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Reading

Just a few of the items in my bedside stack for the Summer reading season. I got this book at a recent used book sale. It's a real treasure.

The latest thriller from Judoka, BJJ fighter, and former CIA officer Barry Eisler. This should be good too...

A couple of paperbacks for the beach. I always try to read at least one horror novel per Summer. A lot of horror novels are crap, so there usually aren't many to choose from. The "Genghis" novel is the second in a series. In this one the KhaKhan takes on China -- guess who wins?

Some military history. A couple of updates on US Special Forces, and then a general history of the Modern US Infantryman. I'm eager to see if it is pro or con SLA Marshall's theories...

Mmmmmmmmmmmm... Brain candy. Warhammer 40K novels to read on the beach. I've let these stack up for awhile. There's not much to these really. Good guys kill aliens. Good guys get screwed. Sometimes the good guys have their souls devoured... You know, the usual.
Most of these are going to the beach with me. I generally can finish about 8 to 10 books in a week. It drives my wife crazy. I also come home with a few more books.

It was just like this!

Yes! The Eighties really were like this. I swear to God!

Cue Piano!!!

Damn it, that was a freakin' show stopper.

Neck Knife

This is my latest acquisition: the AG Ringer Hawk from Columbia River Knife & Tool. It's a minimalist knife designed by cutler A.G. Russell. It was on sale last week, and the knife is being discontinued by CRKT. I picked it up for $13.95 plus shipping and handling. The knife is a solid piece of steel and the handle is designed to fit around the first two fingers. The tail provides some stabilization due to leverage against the third finger. The whole thing fits like a miniature brass knuckles. The two inch blade sticks out from the first at not-quite-a-right angle.

The sheath is a sturdy zytel and the ball chain was included. I'll probably replace the chain with paracord, which is more comfortable and quieter. The knife stays secure in the sheath thanks to an impression that acts as a hook on the first finger ring. I find the knife a little difficult to draw from the neck position. First, it's awkward to angle the fingers into the holes. Second, the latch for the knife takes up some of the room for your finger. Third, the hawkbill blade must be tilted to leave the sheath. I'll try to practice some more, but I'm not sure I'll get a smooth draw out of this design. That makes it somewhat awkward for the primary purpose of a neck knife like this: last ditch self-defense. I'd want something really quick on the draw in a situation that bad.
Once the knife is in your hand, however, this is a real monster for its size. It's like you have a tiny velociraptor in your hand. The blade is sharp and pointy. My self-defense guru told me to get a hooked neck knife because by the time you need it, the bad guy is in too close for a big blade. All you'll need to do at this point is rip and tear like crazy to inflict damage and make the guy get off of you. I think this will do the job.
Now... knife laws vary. I'm giving you the self-defense lowdown, but wearing something like this in your jurisdiction might constitute a concealed weapon. Moreover, the fact you've got something this vicious hidden on you might be considered premeditation if you use it in self defense situation. OTOH, it was $13.95... That's some pretty damn cheap insurance...

What I'm Wearing Right Now...

Gee, Dan...

This is kind of fun!

Below is what I wore most of the afternoon:

Unfortunately, wearing the white gi does not transmit newaza superpowers...

Flag Day

Today is Flag Day. Do you have your Stars and Stripes flying?

Last week we had the 65th Anniversary of D-Day. I sat my daughter down in front of the TV so she could see some real American heroes. We lose more and more of the Greatest Generation every day and soon no one will be witness to the close-run thing that was the Invasion of Normandy. Fewer and fewer veterans return to France every year to commemorate the event. This year one of those who went died in his sleep. I guess ever since he stepped onto Omaha Beach he knew his destiny.

Anyway, I was somewhat disappointed by the coverage of the D-Day gathering. They showed the leaders of the Allied Nations, they showed some of the vets sitting in the folding chairs. A few words were spoken about the actual historical event. I want to believe that was because the networks expect the American public to remember what happened -- but the cynic in me thinks the new producers are too young to have any clue about the significance of D-Day and really wanted to make sure there was time to fit more Jon & Kate + Eight gossip into my nightly newscast.

I got to wondering why we don't have a June 6th D-Day holiday. Too close to Memorial Day? That's an interesting practical possibility. I'm certain you all know Memorial Day started as a remembrance of all the fallen in the US Civil War and grew into a commemoration of all those who died in service to our Nation. We wouldn't want a second National Holiday sitting so close to an existing one...

And besides, a D-Day holiday would inevitably be moved to the Monday nearest to June 6. Would it really make any sense to remember D-Day on any day other than the actual date?

I suppose the same is true of a 9/11 holiday. This has been suggested as Patriot's Day, and an ideal opportunity to remember the Firefighters and Police who risk themselves for their communities everyday. But, it's too close to Labor Day, which began as a New York City holiday to give a day off for ordinary working citizens. Again, we're faced with the fact that a federal holiday would be under pressure to move to an nearby Monday, and does it make sense to remember 9/11 on a day other than 9/11? Attempts to create any kind of federal 9/11 holiday have also raised the issue -- can the calendar really take another federal holiday? Don't federal workers get too many days off already?

Interestingly, the only "obscure" federal holiday that has not been turned into a long weekend is Veteran's Day (November 11). [I'm deliberately leaving out Independence Day.] This is because it was originally Armistice Day, and recalled that World War I (you might remember this as "The War to End All Wars") was called to a halt at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In its original incarnation, it makes good logical sense to continue to remember on the precise date of the original event. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to change the focus to all veterans. This is not, in itself, a bad idea. But it does make you wonder why it is the holiday that has resisted being appended to a weekend. I mean, we have no trouble celebrating Martin Luther King's and Christopher Columbus' birthdays on the closest available Monday.

So, to go back to D-Day's 65th Anniversary for moment, my daughter watched the TV for a few moments before asking, "Daddy, why are all those old guys on TV?" What do you tell a four year old about D-Day? It's not like I'm going to dig out Saving Private Ryan and show her. But someday I'll probably do just that. But what worries me is this...

We have federal holidays for a reason. A bigger reason than picnics and parades and long weekends. But I often wonder how many people take a moment to think about those reasons. I also wonder how we sorted out our national priorities to arrive at the set of holidays we have. I'm not saying I'm about to start a campaign for a D-Day holiday, but if D-Day isn't worth a holiday -- what is?

Those D-Day survivors... excuse me: veterans and witnesses, will soon be all gone. Who will remember the razor's edge moment of that June morning in their absence?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I'm sorry if this is beginning to turn into a movie review blog (and probably not a great one even) but I have to say something about how much I enjoyed Pixar's latest creation: Up!

This is easily the best movie I've seen all year, and validates my earlier statement that stories matter. This movie explores the simple theme of "the wonder of adventure" and uses a relatively simple, straightforward story to take us for the ride. Although it is computer animated, it shows far more humanity than all of the live-action blockbusters I've seen this season. At times I even got a little teary.

Go see it. Only the most heartless bastard could hate this film.

(Note to several of you heartless bastards reading this: You know who you are already. If you go see this and hate it, don't blame me. Blame whoever shredded your soul previously.)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Additions!

I've added Dan Dorman's iconoclastic film blog, "Cinema is Dead" to my blog list on the left. Please see Dan's obituary on David Carradine. I gave him my best insight, and he manages to work it into a tribute to the man that acknowledges his bizarre ending.

I've also added what seems to be the definitive GI Joe fan site online: You can get news on GI joe in all incarnations and all media here. This should help keep you updated on the impending GI Joe armaggeddon: the August 7th release of the live-action feature film. It's looking dismal...

And, somehow and miraculously, I've managed to pick up a fourth "follower." Well, keep signing up, folks. It really strokes my ego. I notice his interest is in martial arts blogs, which indicates to me that I should start drafting more martial arts related posts. I've slacked off; sorry.