Thursday, December 31, 2015

What Would You Do?

Into a soul absolutely free

From thoughts and emotion,

Even the tiger finds no room

To insert its fierce claws

— A Taoist Priest, from the opening pages of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, by Bruce Lee.

While doing research for an article it happened that I got sidetracked by another blogger's post, in addition to an unrelated but relevant news report. So for now, I feel compelled to bring you a lesson in dojo etiquette and managing one's impulses out into the real world. A Karate Man Would Not is the fictional tale about a young trainee who is exhorted by his master to temper his relationships with others outside of the training hall. The master, in typical fashion, is not very direct about how one should exactly approach this, hoping that the student will get it on his own with minimal prodding. Without giving too much away, the story focuses on how to remain cool when challenged in a non-physical way. Easy in theory. Not so easy when it really goes down.

Case in point: A man confronts a group of people protesting a fracking project taking place near public schools in Mars, Pennsylvania. Clearly spoiling for a fight, the antagonist lets loose with a barrage of insults and insinuates that the camera man is somehow responsible for "milking my tax dollars" (to say nothing of the fact that oil companies are entitled to billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, but I digress) because citizens have apparently little better things to do than to worry about natural gas drilling where they live.

Please watch this to the end. Examine your inner state as you view this.

DISCLAIMER: Profane and racist language

I don't know about you, but my initial viewing of this left me feeling like I wanted to put my foot through a wall. The fact that this is an environmental issue, or about free speech, or that this idiot ended up getting fired from his job because his boss saw this now-viral clip on YouTube is besides the point. The peaceful group were for the most part unfazed by this verbal attack. There's no doubt they harbored some fear, and for good reason. Realize that this guy felt that he held the moral high ground with this tirade.

Who among us could remain poised in the face of such a vicious verbal barrage? In the past I've written about honor and a real life tale of what happens when self-restraint fails. Whether your reaction is one of fear or that of anger, it should not dictate how you respond. As Musashi said, "In fighting and in everyday life you should be determined through calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let the enemy see your spirit."

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rousey vs. Holm: My Two Cents

This post begins with an admission: I am, at best, a casual fan of mixed martial arts. By now, any real MMA fan has heard that Ronda Rousey, the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, was defeated last night (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015) by a relative unknown — Holly Holm. So the following is my naïve understanding of a sport that I really don't follow closely, and it is with this neophytic perspective (along with my actual knowledge of karate, among other things) that I'll weigh in.

Nobody gave Holm a chance. She was regarded as mere cannon fodder for the indestructible machine that the undefeated Rousey has been portrayed as, and justifiably so. Her last three bouts have lasted an average of 22 seconds each! An adept striker, Rousey's real forte is judo, as she earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics.

Witness the second and final round of the match. Rousey is forced out of her comfort zone of close quarter grappling by Holm's strategy of maintaining a healthy distance. Holm, a southpaw and a former professional boxer and kickboxer, repeatedly lands crushing left crosses against Rousey's unprotected face. Note the sweet slip Holm gives Rousey at 4:28. The coup de grâce was a brutal round kick to the neck by Holm.

Holm's transition from boxing to MMA may be wiser than she realizes. MMA has been shown to be less injurious than boxing.

Some thoughts I've held for a while, but culminated with this match:

  • Many fights don't end up as a ground-and-pound wrestling match.
  • MMA is not merely sportive head bashing, but a highly technical art that deserves respect.
  • Women in MMA can be as popular as their male counterparts.
  • The idea that competitive fighters of any stripe are heartless thugs that lack empathy is largely a myth.

The golden age of women's MMA has begun. Indeed, MMA in general is here to stay. Anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly mistaken.

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

The New App for Street Fighters

Normally I would tag a post like this one under "humor" or roll it out on 4/1. But this isn't April Fool's Day and this is not funny. There's an app almost ready to be launched for street fighting enthusiasts called Rumblr that allows users to scroll through other prospective scrappers who wish to engage in a fist fight. I kid you not.

From the website:

Rumblr is an app for recreational fighters to find, meet, and fight other brawl enthusiasts nearby.

  • Anonymously choose which members you want to fight.
  • Get matched with others who want to throw down.
  • Arrange and schedule fights right inside the app.
  • Explore nearby fights and filter by fight type.
  • Scope out your opponents with detailed statistics before fighting.

Stats on fighters would include age, height/weight, experience and "MMA Specialty."

Getting "called-out" is almost a rite of passage for adolescent males. And fights in inner cities are common, obviously. But organized fights broadcasted on social media will likely draw crowds and possibly gangs. This is a sobering thought. Check out some of the images on the Rumblr site.

Before we get carried away with visions of gang warfare, realize that this app was primarily designed to setup one-on-one matches.

Hopefully, this app doesn't survive. Between the possibility of lawsuits and the detrimental effects to already blighted environments, this cannot end well. Maybe those nunchuck wielding cops from the west coast could show up at a Rumblr event to straighten these thugs out.

Nah, another bad idea.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nunchucks for Cops

The police department in Anderson, California has decided to include nunchaku into its arsenal of weaponry. Sgt. Casey Day has recently been certified to use nunchaku for dealing with lawbreakers. "These were kind of designed with a different goal in mind to be more of a control weapon, but like I said, it's not like we can't use these as an impact weapon," Day explained. "They work really good as an impact weapon, but we try to emphasis a control tool over impact."

(For the uninitiated, nunchaku belong to a family of traditional weapons called kobudo that emphasized the use of farming implements for self-defense when weapons bans were enacted at various times during Okinawa's long history of dealing with Chinese, Japanese and Western imperialists. Nunchaku were originally used to shear crops, I've been told.)

What the criteria is to be "certified" to use nunchaku is unclear. The type the Anderson police will use will be made of plastic batons connected with a nylon rope. Interestingly, nunchaku are illegal in California. But this isn't the first time that cops have attempted to adopt an Okinawan martial arts weapon into its program. Starting in the early 70s, billy clubs were augmented with side-mounted handles, inspired by the tonfa.

Police defensive tactics, whether they involve weapons or hand-to-hand combat, generally follow the following principles in most municipalities:

  • Techniques must be easy to learn and easy to use for a majority of officers.
  • Techniques must be practical and workable in most street environments.
  • Techniques must easily integrate into department policy and procedures.

With the list of gear cops are required to use now, nunchaku would just make things more cumbersome. Police already have tasers, sidearms, batons, handcuffs, and more recently, body cams to deal with. Nunchaku techniques are difficult and often impractical. Even among experienced practitioners, at times they can be as injurious to the user as the one defending against. I vote no to this idea.

(h/t: reddit/martialarts)

(Note to readers: I realize that "nunchucks" is an Anglophonic aberration for the proper nunchaku. The use of the former in my post title was meant to have mass appeal.)

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

'Judo' Gene vs. The Boxer

While I was researching for a possible post on legalizing MMA in my home state of New York, I stumbled upon an old story (news to me!) about the grappling great Gene LeBell. Apparently, yesterday was "Judo" Gene's 83rd birthday, so to commemorate the event, the tale of his bout with a professional boxer has been popping up on MMA sites.

The story starts when an article in the August, 1963 edition of Rogue magazine included this gem about judo:

Judo … is a complete fraud. … Every judo man I’ve ever met was a braggart and a showoff. … Any boxer can beat a judo man. Judo bums hear me one and all! It is one thing to fracture pine boards, bricks and assorted inanimate objects, but quite another to climb into a ring with a trained and less cooperative target. My money is ready. Where are the takers?

The writer, one Jim Beck, obviously had judo confused with karate or something else, as if that would have mattered to him or most of his readership. Beck supposedly was an amateur boxer of some renown and claimed to have beaten a judo player using his boxing craft. So Beck promised to pay 1000 dollars to any "Judo Bum" who could whip him in a match!

LeBell, a former two-time US judo champ, was tipped off about this offer and jumped at the opportunity to fight an amateur boxer for a cool grand — serious money in 1963. The match was arranged to be held in Salt Lake City as this type of mixed event would be either unsanctioned or illegal everywhere else. At the last minute however, Beck sobered up to the prospect of duking it out with the likes of LeBell and substituted himself with a ringer: former middleweight contender Milo Savage. Savage's professional record was 49-46-9 and was 39 years old (LeBell was 31). He was an over-the-hill journeyman, but had beaten some highly regarded fighters in his day. There was even a rumor that Savage had broken the jaw of a local karate instructor during an impromptu match.

The rules for the scheduled 5-round bout were that punches and grappling were allowed, but no kicks. LeBell was barefoot and donned a judo gi while Savage wore lightweight speed-bag gloves, but also wore a gi top, as requested by LeBell's handlers. As the bout started both men were naturally leery of each other and managed to avoid any type of wild clashes. By the fourth round LeBell began to warm to the the task and finally closed the distance. After grabbing Savage he executed a hip throw with a sweep, taking him to the canvas, then finished him off with a rear choke hold. Not knowing how to tap out or signal quits, Savage was rendered unconscious and remained so for about twenty minutes. Pandemonium ensued as fans hurled garbage and chairs into the ring, likely because it was assumed their hometown fighter had just been killed!

Savage only fought one more time before he officially retired from boxing. For LeBell, it was a defining moment for judo — and really, martial arts in general. LeBell would become a sought-out stuntman and stunt coordinator for Hollywood, working on on hundreds of movies and TV shows. Today, he is highly respected by martial artists all over the world.

In conclusion: Never mess with someone nicknamed "The Toughest Man Alive" and who is secure enough to wear a pink gi.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Suffragette That Knew Jiu-Jitsu

This month the film Suffragette will be released that depicts the struggle for women's right to vote in the UK which officially began in 1903. As the movement for voting equality picked up steam in the form of protests and civil disobedience, there was the inevitable presence of harassment and violence that these women had to endure. When the police rounded up the suffragettes to be thrown into jail, many of them resorted to hunger strikes, were released to recoup, only to be re-arrested for the original "crime" of demanding civil rights. To prevent this game dubbed "Cat and Mouse", one of the movement's leaders — Edith Garrud — taught her followers the art of jiu-jitsu to be used against the police and male vigilantes who stormed their demonstrations and meetings. Garrud, who learned self-defense from her boxer husband, was also schooled in Bartitsu from Edward Barton-Wright and later jiu-jitsu from Sadakazu Uyenishi, one of the first jiu-jitsu instructors to teach outside of Japan.

In addition to jiu-jitsu, Garrud taught her entourage — who came to be known as The Bodyguard — to conceal Indian clubs (a weapon resembling an oversized bowling pin) under their hoop skirts to use in case their grappling skills failed them during clashes with police or hooligans. Garrud and her movement prevailed, taking a break to help out in the effort to win the Great War, and getting a portion of voting rights for women (over 30) in 1918. By 1928, full rights to the vote (over 21) were finally implemented.

Later in life Garrud would continue to teach jiu-jitsu and became a stage and film martial arts coordinator. Not a bad life for the 4-foot-11 suffragette who refused to quit. She died in 1971 at the age of 99.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Heaven and Hell

There was once a powerful samurai warrior in Japan, he was a leader of men and very faithful to his country. He would think nothing of giving his own life if it meant helping his emperor or country.

This warrior was used to battle and he had killed many men and so he was beginning to wonder if there was a heaven and a hell and if so how could he get to heaven and stay clear of hell.

He was concerned that he may not be allowed into heaven due to the fact that he had killed so many men this lifetime.

He had heard of the famous Zen master Hakuin and was told he could show him how to get to heaven. He decided to go and meet him and traveled long and far to find him.

After many days of gruesome travel over mountains and rough terrain he finally found the master. The warrior was doubtful when he met master Hakuin, he looked just like a simple peasant and the warrior really wondered if this simple man could authentically answer his question.

After all this travel it would be pointless to go back without asking the question and so the strong warrior asked Hakuin if indeed there was a heaven and a hell, and if so how could he get to heaven and avoid hell?

Master Hakuin being a very wise man, answered the question in a way the warrior would never forget.

Master Hakuin replied, "Who are you?" to which the warrior replied, "I am the chief samurai warrior of Japan and I work directly with the emperor. I am the leader of all samurai in Japan."

Hakuin laughed and said, "You a warrior? You are nothing but talk. You could not save yourself, never mind our emperor. Don't waste my time. Go!

At this the warrior was deeply offended and was immediately angry, he drew his sword ready to kill this peasant man in front of him, but just before he made the strike, Hakuin shouted. "Stop!" and continued, "This is hell." The warrior stopped and put his sword back in its sheath and Hakuin smiled as he said "And this is heaven."

The samurai got the message; the master had shown him how his anger was his own hell and his alert consciousness was his own heaven.

He realized that heaven and hell exist within us, it is always a choice as to how we respond to life.

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