Monday, April 01, 2024

Best Martial-Art Styles For The 21st Century

In my last post I discussed martial-art ads from the 1960s that were featured in comic books. Most of these "styles" could be best described as, well, comical. But it has recently come to my attention that there are new systems of combat that have recently emerged that should pique the interest of my readership. And not to insult the intelligence of anyone because of what today symbolizes, readers take note—this is not as joke. These styles are as legit as they come. They can be used in practical self-defense settings, and even have an exciting sportive adjunct. Here we go:


Power Slap


After a coin toss to decide who goes first, the first striker has a time limit of 60 seconds to deliver an open-handed slap to the opponent. Slaps must be below the eye but above the chin, without leading with the palm such that all hand to face contact takes place at the same time. Those being slapped may not flinch, raise their shoulder or tuck in their chins. After being slapped, the slapped competitor then has 60 seconds to recover and get back into position before it's their turn to slap. Fights which don't end in a knock out and go three rounds go to the judges' decision...


Car Jitsu


  • Two competitors are seating in the driver and passenger seats of a car. Before the match starts, they must both be buckled in.
  • Once the match begins, both competitors must unbuckle themselves and attempt to submit their opponent inside the vehicle.
  • Each round lasts for three minutes.
  • Both competitors are allowed to utilize any part of the vehicle’s interior to their advantage, including seat belts, steering wheel, window seals, etc.
  • Just like in traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu matches, competitors are rewarded points by judges for taking advantageous positions and mounts while moving around the vehicle’s interior.
  • A winner is declared to whichever competitor is victorious in two out of three rounds.
  • If both competitors win one round each, the final four-minute round takes place in the back seat.


Gun Fu


I saved the best for last. No rules for this one. A bit dated, but highly effective.


Happy Monday!

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Monday, December 18, 2023

Learn Forbidden Martial Arts

A while back I penned a post about martial-art ads that appeared in the back of comic books, a popular grift that took place during the 1960s and 70s. This is an update sourced from the original author that is far more comprehensive and entertaining than the first. This latest installment includes ads offering home courses for karate and jiu-jitsu, but also an array of fictitious martial-art styles whose only existence and purpose was to literally make a quick buck. A sampling:
  • Yubiwaza
  • Ketsugo
  • Poison Hand
  • Aicondo

To be fair, there were some ads that featured karate hawked by legit instructors who ran schools, such as John Keehan (Count Dante"The Deadliest Man Alive"), and Wallace Reumann, a Chito-ryu practitioner who trained under Hank Slominskithe latter who gave Elvis Presley his first black belt in 1960. Reumann's karate ads (which included a menacing "life like karate practice dummy" to whoop ass on) pushed the boundaries of appealing to the burgeoning masculinity and wariness of young men with doozies like this:

What would you do if you were insulted by a bully?...or if 3 or 4 hoodlums passed remarks about your girl?...or if you were suddenly mugged from behind?...or if someone came at you with a baseball bat?

If you're like millions of other Americans, you'd be absolutely helpless—and you'd be ashamed, humiliated, robbed, beaten, kicked—and pitiful in the eyes of your girl or friends.

To balance things out, this ad for Yubiwaza features a diminutive woman who turns the tables with this remarkable claim:

 I miss the days when you could get your money's worth for 99¢!

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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Deconstructing Seisan


Here's a fine demonstration of Seisan, the first kata taught in Isshinryu karate. Seisan is not unique to Isshinryu, but is an ancient form found in many systems of karate. Kata is typically practiced as a solo form, but eventually the student is taught how to deconstruct the kata itself (bunkai) and how to apply the self-defense moves within (oyo). Later upon testing, students are asked to show (with a partner) sections of various kata and their proper application. Here we see this particular kata in its entirety in a theoretical matchup versus multiple assailants. The guttural breathing you hear adds power to the technique.

The master featured in the video (the defender at the center) is Arcenio Advincula. He trained directly under the founder of Isshinryu karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku, during his US military hitch on Okinawa starting in 1958. Years ago I took a workshop given by Advincula-sensei that was attended by at least two dozen Isshinryu karate teachers and students on Long Island. One of my instructors got into a rather heated exchange with the master over a stupid technical issue that did not end well for the former. Pro tip: never argue with a Marine giving a karate demonstration.

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Saturday, August 26, 2023

Never Quit

I have a confession to make. I've been out of work for seven months (courtesy of some health issues I've previously discussed, but I go back at the end of September), and I'm not happy with the way I look. This morning on a doctor's scale I weighed a whopping 205 lbs., way up from my sparring heyday of 178. (I used to be 5 ft 10; I'm currently 5 ft 9. I have a medium frame.) A lot of this is just due to my inactivity, but also, to my defense, it's age related. I turn 63 in October, and my body just doesn't do what it used to do. Not just willful physical activity, whether it's performing job duties or exercising in my basement gym/dojo, but also trying to keep my weight down, recover from minor injuries, and incentive to do otherwise menial tasks. I find myself actually having to push myself to go on my daily one-mile walk. My strength and stamina in the gym over the years has diminished significantly, and when I confided this to a friend, he replied, "why bother pumping iron if you just keep getting weaker?"

"Alright," I replied. "What do you suppose would happen if I just completely stopped working out?"

Stopping my workouts is not an option for me. Perish the thought! But naturally I have to modify a routine to accommodate my pre-existing injuries. And as of late I need serious motivationfortunately fate came to the rescue. The other day a co-worker texted me a bodybuilding routine Bruce Lee created in 1965, before he became a star cinematically (although by this time Lee was an in-demand martial arts instructor). This flow chart, I'm assuming, is a catalog of exercises to be performed in a single session. It's a list of mostly upper body/arm exercises, but I really like how the first item is squats. Never skip leg day. I'm glad Lee knew his priorities.

As Lee's status as a star rose he continued his self created bodybuilding routine that emphasized both strength and muscular endurance. At  5 ft 7 12 and 140 lbs, Lee was not not an overtly formidable presence. But his devotion to fitness paid off. Chuck Norris once said that Lee was, pound for pound, the strongest human being he has ever trained with.

While Lee was making gains in the gym, he began to adjust his diet and cardio exercises that accelerated his body's ability to burn fat. In the 1965 photo above, I would guess his body fat percentage to be about 12. The pic below taken from Enter The Dragon (1973) depicts a much leaner version of Lee, evident with a marked increase in muscular definition and striations. I'd put his body fat here at about 7 percent. Understand that this level of body fat is quite low, even for an athlete, and is very difficult to achieve without resorting to sports enhancing drugs. (There is no respectable evidence that Lee used steroids or the like to achieve his physique. I'm also fairly confident this photo has not been enhanced.)

In the 1960s, bodybuilding routines were considered taboo for some sports, especially boxing. There are traditional exercises in karate that emphasize grip strength and isometric tension, but little else that bear any semblance to a modern muscle building regimen. 

As a martial artist Lee was ahead of his time in a few ways (e.g., he loathed the concept of styles as he saw them as inherently dogmatic), and embraced modernity, innovation, and common sense. However, several years later, Lee was training with weights and endured a serious back injury that incapacitated him for some time. (A detailed account of this can be found in this article.) Lee was about 30 when this happened, and somehow plowed through this and continued with his movie career until his untimely death from an allergic reaction to a pain killer (for a headache) just a few years later. I sustained a similar, albeit less severe injury to my back performing barbell squats when I was 36. At the time, I was working for the same company I'm at now, didn't see a doctor, and didn't miss a single day of work. I was lucky, the problem eventually resolved itself. Youth has its advantages. An injury like that now would likely put me out on permanent disability. 

These days I still train when I'm up to it, but I don't do barbell squats or heavy lifting anymore. And definitely no sparring with someone I don't know. With age comes wisdom.

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Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Mythos of Kata

A student once asked me if it was possible to learn karate without learning the pre-arranged forms (kata). Of course it's possible. But this notion of "knowing karate" without kata is taken as an affront to a tradition and culture that is foreign to many of us. But let me ask you this: do you think memorizing an entire catalogue of block-and-strike sequences will allow you to prevail in a fight? And how many forms are there in your karate syllabus? In Isshinryu there are a total of eight karate (empty handed) kata, but some styles contain dozens! Why so many? Conversely, Chojun Miyagi, the famous founder of Goju-ryu karate, would exhort his students to train on just a single (!) form for years before being considered for advancement. Entire books have been written on the Sanchin kata, an ancient form of Chinese origin that emphasizes isometric muscle contractions and constricted breathing techniques used to refine ki (chi or qi).

A high ranking Isshinryu instructor once described a training session he once had many years ago with Grand Master Seikichi Odo of Okinawa Kenpo karate. A veritable "collector of kata", Odo-sensei was described as having a petite build, barely over five feet tall, but possessed an innate kind of strength that was indescribable. In karate, chinkuchi refers to a type of focused energy that is the stuff of legends. In reality, developing this kind of mystical super human strength is probably the by-product of decades of training and performing certain moves tens of thousands of times.

I put the word mythos in this blog title to be a bit provocative. It's just a recurring theme in culture or tradition that may or may not be true. But is it a myth that kata will translate into being a competent fighter? 

Consider this tale:

Kuwada had begun martial arts training with the desire of becoming feared by all men. But he soon discovered there was no short-cut to his transformation into a master.

Discouraged by the incessant kata training, Kuwada asked his sensei, "When are we going to learn something else? I've been here for quite some time, and it's kata, kata, kata, everyday."

When the sensei gave no reply, Kuwada went to the assistant to the master and made the same inquiry. He was told, "The kata training is to polish your mind. It is better to shave your mind than your head. Understand?"

Kuwada did not understand, and in protest, he left the dojo, embarking on a notorious career as the best street fighter in Shuri. He was tough. No doubt about it. "A fight a night" was Kuwada's motto, and he often bragged, "I'm not afraid of a living man."

One night, Kuwada eyed a stranger walking calmly alongside a stone wall. It irritated Kuwada to see such composure in a person. He ran to the cross section of the road and waited for the man to pass.

When he did, Kuwada jumped out and threw a punch, but the man avoided the blow and grabbed Kuwada's arm. As he pulled Kuwada toward him, the man calmly stared into his eyes. Kuwada tried to pull away, but he could not. For the first time in his life, Kuwada felt a strange emotion—fear of defeat.   

When the man let him go, Kuwada ran, but he glared back to see the man calmly walk away as if nothing had happened. Kuwada later discovered the man was a master of kata; a martial artist who had never engaged in a fight in his life.*

 The summation of the story, "He who conquers himself is the greatest warrior" is banal. Tales like this are meant to be inspiring, but they're misleading. If you've never engaged in a fight, you'll never be prepared for the real thing by being a "master of kata". As Okinawan street fighting pioneer Choki Motobu (d. 1944) advised,“Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense.”


*Richard Kim 1974. The Weaponless Warriors. Ohara Publications, Inc.

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Saturday, June 03, 2023

We Can Rebuild Him

Father Time has once again taken its toll on my body. I'm annoyed, to put it mildly, that a lifetime of clean living, diet, and fitness has resulted in a now-beaten up body. Over the past three years I've incurred numerous episodes of arthritis that has resulted in herniated discs, knee and elbow pain, and as of late, a full-shoulder replacement surgery that has kept me out of work since roughly the beginning of the year. (See aboveyes, that is my new left shoulder!

It's been suggested that my years of sparring and performing endless drills of kihon (karate basics) may have led to this, but I don't think so. My chiropractor friend says I should be able to punch through cement blocks now with my bionic implant. Yeah, sure.

While I was awaiting my procedure it was revealed during a pre-op test that I had atrial fibrillation (a-fib), and a later discovery of right-handed weakness and atrophy, the latter diagnosed by a pinched nerve in my cervical spine. I'm currently wearing a Holter monitor to address the a-fib. As funny as this may sound, I'm in otherwise good shape.

Though I haven't been working for several months, my union is still paying my medical insurance. I'm very grateful my other health issues came to light now so I can address everything during my leave of absence.

Sometimes good news is disguised as bad news, but you never really know. There may be a cosmic lesson hidden in this so-called misfortune of mine, but who knows? As the Stones sang, "You can't always get what you just might find you get what you need."

For clarification, a Zen story:


There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

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Friday, December 30, 2022

Toxic Masculinity

There was a movie a few years back called The Art of Self Defense. Despite the unassuming title, the film explores the pitfalls of encountering the wrong dojo to train at. The lead character is a milquetoast pushover who's afraid of his own shadow. After getting beaten and robbed he decides he's had enough and ends up taking karate lessons from a deranged sensei who encourages his new charge to be a violent psychopath. The student takes his misguided teachings into the real world with predictable results. I won't spoil things by revealing more, but not surprisingly, the story does not end well. Cultish behavior is nothing new in the martial arts, and with the advent of social media, young men are finding inspiration in the rather vile corners of the internet. 

My son asked me recently if I ever heard of a retired kickboxing/MMA competitor named Andrew Tate. I hadn't, so with a little digging I found that after Tate retired from competition he started to monetize online courses on how to get rich and "male-female interactions." His Hustler's University turned out to be a pyramid scheme targeting young men who were buying into his hype to become an alpha male. An alpha is the apex of male aggression and dominance hierarchy in the animal kingdom. Primatologist Robert Sapolsky has studied this in non-human primates and its relation to the highly stratified social structure of baboons*. In humans, being an alpha male is associated with narcissism, entitlement and even misogyny. In layman's terms, human alpha males are highly predisposed to just being assholes.

Tate's net worth supposedly puts him in the neighborhood of 50 million USD, but has since been kicked off numerous social media platforms (where he earns most of his money) for inciting violence and dehumanizing speech, particularly aimed at women. As of this writing, Tate sits in a jail cell in Romania awaiting a judge's decision regarding Tate's (and three others') involvement in a human trafficking scheme using women to create pornography for profit, among other charges including rape. I don't know if Tate's years as a world champion martial arts competitor led to his self-indulgent dysfunctional worldview of male dominance. Maybe he got messed up as a kid. A long held psychology axiom states that events that occur during childhood can reveal themselves in unpredictable ways later in life. I doubt that an undertaking in a traditional martial art style during his formative years would've put him on the right path (budo), but who knows? Would an early-life intervention have made a difference in a guy like Tate?

Jason Wilson runs a youth program for troubled boys in Detroit called The Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy, a quasi-martial arts facility that "is not a martial arts school but a Transformational Training Academy." Wilson, the chief instructor who cites a background in jiu-jitsu, judo, and kempo (but doesn't hold rank in any of these styles), teaches young men in a traditional dojo-setting the values needed to become an upright man and a decent citizen. Wilson muses how some martial artists can attain a black belt in their chosen style, but remain a white belt in the game of life.

"When I first started the CATTA, there were many “Scared Straight” programs in Michigan, and I had even participated in a couple", says Wilson. "However, I quickly discovered that inflicting trauma will never help a boy release it but instead teach him to suppress it. Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Scared Straight or Bootcamp program because discipline without love is ineffectual."

Maybe that's the antidote to toxic masculinity in young men: The understanding that the best and even worst of us have an innate need to love and to be loved. And the sooner the better. As The Beatles famously sang, "Love is all you need."

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

*Robert M. Saplolsky 2017. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Penguin Press.

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