Monday, April 01, 2019

Won't Get Fooled Again


I like a good laugh just like the next person, and for the last few years I've been running a gag blog post every April Fools' Day. In a weird twist of fate (and a bit to my chagrin) a few of my most popular posts are the ones tagged 'humor' and I don't think people are looking for laughs. My blog is subtitled Martial Arts, Philosophy and The Art of Living but most people aren't putting that into their search engines. Viewers want to know how to register their hands as deadly weapons, where they can learn Iron Crotch Kung Fu, and have info on some guy from Italy who holds black belts in 22 styles. You get the idea. Not really humor, but extreme and even bizarre stuff is what often piques people's interest in the martial arts. 'Body hardening workouts' and 'How to karate chop bricks' as search phrases find their way to my blog more often than inquiries into the loftier aims of martial arts, such as character, spirit, or even self-defense.

This site actually started life as part of a monthly newsletter for students at a karate school I used to train and teach at nearly twenty years ago. When the school closed I found another, but my days of writing a column were gone, so my wife suggested starting a blog to export my articles to. At the time I had a couple of dozen, and I wanted to keep future material philosophical in nature; writing posts on the traditions and history of combat systems, including references to authors that were experts in Japanese Martial Arts, such as Donn Draeger and Black Belt magazine contributor Dave Lowry.  After about a year of blogging, I acquired a modest online following.

To expand my newfound readership and to keep things interesting I began to lighten things up with the Top Ten Most Annoying Things in the Martial Arts and The Way of Spock. Later I uploaded videos from Enter The Dojo, a comedic web series starring Master Ken, a delusional instructor who hawks his self-proclaimed street lethal fighting system. In time I began to revise my humor into reservations I had for arts like The Drunken Style and dubious claims such as the ability to knock people out without touching them.

Several years ago I found and posted a video that featured someone performing so-called ki enhanced throws and takedowns on his students that looked suspicious, to put it mildly. The demonstrator came from a martial art I was familiar with. I had previously attended a one-day workshop in this style given by an active member of the NYPD that showcased brutally effective techniques, minus any of the woo nonsense in the video, and I mentioned that in my article. My point was that the video I put up was a grossly inaccurate and unfair representation of an otherwise legit style that was being peddled by a conman. Soon, my article in its entirety ended up on a very popular martial arts forum (with a link back to my blog) where many of the commenters were actually sympathetic to the "master" in the clip. Some of them claimed to have trained under him.

The comment section on this forum became a train wreck of believers versus realists. Rage ensued on both sides. The critical thinkers there had my back, but soon I began to receive threatening emails from wack jobs, including the chief instructor of a school. Somebody else derided my style (as if that mattered), and another promised God would retaliate for my flagrant disrespect. No, I argued, you cannot drop five people simultaneously with the flick of the wrist. Apparently I was the bad guy for pointing this out. It amazes me how certain "martial artists" don't like to have their fantasy bubbles burst.

The clip below features a similar demo with a different guy from the one I originally posted, now long removed by the owner. If you've never seen this before, brace yourself for a display in breathtaking stupidity:



Bear in mind that this is intended to be taken at face value. It's ridiculous, of course, so most of us can't help but laugh at this. Humor can be a way to cope with inanity, but in the form of satire (e.g., Master Ken) can be an antidote for credulity. I see it as providing a public service. So today if you can, goof on someone to enlighten them —  but do so with the best intentions. Happy April Fools' Day!

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Pre-faded Black Belts For Sale


Whenever you see a worn and frayed black belt on a martial artist, you're looking at the symbol of maturity and experience. Well, what if you're a newbie black belt holder, but you just want to give the impression of someone who's been at it for many years?

Fear no more, you no longer have to bleach your black belt or tie it to the rear bumper of your car for a week to get that cool effect. An online company now has Vintage Black Belts that you can order to your preference. That's right, pre-faded, worn out looking black belts for the martial arts enthusiast who doesn't have decades to reach the level of a grandmaster — but just wants to look like one. It's like cauliflower ears or calloused knuckles for the fashion-conscious.

From the website (via translation):

Black belts that are seen in old conditions / often used / so that the parts turn white.
There are aging rates of 25%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 100%.

So these are martial arts belts that have been artificially aged in incremental stages of wear and tear. Apparently there is a market for this. Amazing.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Are All Fighting Systems 'Martial Arts'?


When I was a kid, the term martial arts meant fighting forms designed for self-defense that had distinct Far Eastern roots. We all came to know that judo, karate and kung fu were martial arts. In time, non-Eastern forms would be included, such as Krav Maga, Sambo, and Capoeira. Recently, a thread on reddit asks if Mike Tyson was one of the top martial artists of the last century. It really begs the question: Is boxing a martial art? For some, this broadens the definition of martial arts too much.

Of course, some martial-art styles don't engage in contests. Iaido, a Japanese sword-drawing art that utilizes pre-arranged solo forms, is one. Others such as Aikido is strictly defensive in nature. Traditional Aikidoka do not engage in contests like in sport Jiu-jitsu or Judo. In Karate, point-style matches are scored where strikes — particularly punches and kicks to the head — do not make full contact. Adherents would be foolish to think that training exclusively this way would prepare you for the real thing. It would be like thinking that playing flag football could get you ready for the NFL.

Bruce Lee, Miyamoto Musashi, et al., have said that in the martial arts the way you train is how it happens in real life. Musashi was a 17th century duelist who faced over sixty men in his life. Lee, who died in 1973, had a combat resume that's a bit sketchy. Joe Lewis, one of the great full-contact fighters who briefly studied with Lee, said in an interview that while Lee was a great teacher with a wealth of knowledge, he was not a fighter. Lewis is using the term fighter in the same way you would call a boxer a fighter. Lewis himself was a fighter of course, as was Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Benny Urquidez, other karatemen who later became full-contact kickboxers.

So should all fighting systems be regarded as "martial arts"? Martial arts have roots in militarism. Are members of US Navy SEALs and Special Forces martial artists? Indeed, the Marine Corps has created a martial arts program dubbed the Ethical Marine Warrior, which has a philosophical core of honor, courage, and respect. Certainly, these are virtues that are consistent in the Japanese budo, the traditional martial arts and ways.



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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Cannabis Infused Jiu-Jitsu


Jiu-jitsu competitors have found a new way to get smashed on the mat — a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament where getting high on pot is a requirement. With recreational marijuana sweeping the nation state by state, it was only a matter of time for the next step in sportive martial arts events to happen. This is not a joke or a lark.

From the promoters' blog:

High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. The winner took home a pound of weed.

While we know athletes from various sports smoke marijuana, whether using CBD to treat ailments or to reduce pain after a tough match, perhaps nowhere is marijuana usage more prevalent than in MMA. As UFC commentator Joe Rogan has said, “A tremendous amount of UFC fighters smoke pot. A massive amount. […] More UFC fighters smoke pot than don’t smoke pot.”

But it’s still surprising to learn that High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. Organizers estimated about half the tournament was “pro fighters.” And the prize? A pound of weed, which is an estimated worth between $4,000-5,000.

Marijuana has some interesting affects on the central nervous system of users, none of which seem conducive (at least to me) to being an effective fighter. Unlike alcohol which loosens inhibitions such as aggression, pot (and other cannabis derivatives) is a drug of peace inducement. But according to proponents of these BJJ weed-smoking tournaments, marijuana has transcendent properties that help enhance focus, the ability to relax, and being in the "zone" where executing techniques happen spontaneously and effortlessly.

All kinds of positive research have been done on the medical benefits of marijuana. But I think you would be hard pressed to find a competitive fighter from another art who would extol the virtues of weed. Not all BJJ practitioners are on board with smoking dope before a match, as illicit drugs (including true enhancers, such as steroids) are antithetical to the spirit of martial arts, where practitioners are obliged to be good citizens and role models to look up to.

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Legalize It


Nunchucks are back!

Well, they never really went anywhere. But if you happen to live in New York, you are now legally cleared to carry them. New Yorkers are no longer prohibited from possessing the time-honored Okinawan weapons, courtesy of a ruling rendered by a federal judge on December 14, 2018. The story goes that in 1981 a martial arts trainee, Jim M. Maloney, was arrested in New York City following a public demo with the dreaded nunchucks. Unbeknownst to Maloney, nunchucks (or 'chuka sticks') have been banned in New York since 1974. After graduating from law school years later, Maloney began to draft a challenge to the now-decades long New York state ban on nunchucks.

Cops in various municipalities have included nunchaku (Japanese, lit. 'twin sticks') for years as part of their restraining arsenal. A while back I posted about a nunchucks certification program offered for police in California. Nunchucks are currently banned in several states.

Following the kung-fu movie craze of the 70s, nunchucks fever swept the land, with users brutalizing themselves on more than one occasion. I can't blame lawmakers for regarding them as a problem at the time, but times change. With the ban lifted, I don't see an army of nunchaku wielding maniacs tearing up the countryside. It's an interesting ruling in an era of the politicizing of citizens' rights to keep and bear arms of various stripes.


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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: Profile Of An Enigma


Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef and martial artist, has left this realm by his own hand. His death hits me hard, I suppose, because he was from my generation. But also the senselessness of it. A culinary savant and a de facto anthropologist, he traveled the world treating his television audience to exotic cuisines and cultures. I wasn't a huge fan, but the few times I caught his show, Parts Unknown, it left me invariably hungry. Bourdain took equal pleasure in watching the creation of a fine meal as he did in eating it in front of us.

He began studying jiu-jitsu when he was 58. He called it "physical chess", and the idea of being a beginner at something and learning a new skill at his age enthralled him. He competed in his art.

A down-to-earth, affable guy, he struck me as someone who wasn't overtly alpha, but not shy to speak his mind. He was famous, admired and charismatic. He was a gifted writer. What more could a man want?

He leaves a young daughter and a legion of fans. Anthony Bourdain — gone at 61. For reasons unknown.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Study In Real Violence


Human Violence By Category is a website that covers every imaginable scenario dealing with physical aggression and assault. The subtext "Violence categorised by type, technique, tactic, weapon and profession" pretty much sums up what this blog is about. Each category comes replete with a series of short-clip videos, all of which are accompanied by written explanations and commentary. Everything from road rage scenes, police and military interventions, bouncers doing their thing, and mentally ill assailants are given due consideration.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the video clips featured on this site are not appropriate for everyone. Please view with discretion and an open mind.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Strike First!


The title of this post comes from part of the motto of the Cobra Kai school from The Karate Kid movie. Cobra Kai is now a series on YouTube.* Yes, after 34 years, Daniel-san and bad guy Johnny ("Sweep The Leg") are back! These guys are in their fifties now, and they're still at it. Fifty is the new thirty-five. I'm pretty sure Johnny is still hawking "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy" at his new Cobra Kai school. This idea is diametrically opposed, deliberately I assume, to one of the most fundamental tenets found in karate, among other styles. But the Cobra Kai "Strike First" stance takes no prisoners. "Strike Hard" is a no-brainer, I suppose. "Mercy is for the weak" is dysfunctional; roles can be reversed. What goes around, comes around.

In 1938, Gichin Funakoshi put forth 20 precepts for karate students to train and live by. His Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate contains the famous excerpt karate ni sente nashi, or "There is no first strike in karate." This basically implies that you don't provoke a fight; it does not mean that in the midst of what looks like a potential altercation — after all other options have failed — you wait to get laid out on the sidewalk. Deescalation isn't always available. Unprovoked attacks and sucker punches happen. If you're lucky enough to factor in time and distance, then reading intent or energy (shin or ki) is possible.

In traditional karate, there are two basic strategies in dealing with an aggressor:

  • Go no sen. This means "after the attack." A basic example would be an aggressor steps in with a punch, you block and counter with a strike.
  • Sen no sen. This is "before the attack." An aggressor announces he wants to kill you, and without hesitation you strike. This is like the old military aphorism "The best defense is a good offense."

It's easy to see how both of these concepts can be misconstrued. Waiting for an attack with the sole purpose for a counter and strike is a recipe for disaster. And the legal ramifications of kicking someone in the head because he flips you off should be obvious.

These concepts are not exclusive to karate, and there are more no sen principles in other arts, such as Kendo and Aikido. These strategies go into much greater depth than I describe. For a deeper study into these principles dealing with situational assessment in actual combat, check out The Book of Five Rings by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1645).


* This is only on YouTube's new "premium" channel. So yes, that means it ain't free. It's either a monthly rate, or pay-per-view.

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