Friday, July 05, 2019

Neat Tricks

Eric Shahan, a martial arts practitioner who specializes in translating classic Japanese texts into English has translated a treatise on acquiring supernatural powers in a new book, Twelve Rules Of The Sword, that was passed down verbally from a 17th century samurai school. Among other things, the rules for prevailing in combat involves saying two prayers and writing Sanskrit characters on your palms. Could be a tad time consuming when the heat is on. But supposedly the book also discusses some practical strategies for combat, similar to those found in The Book Of Five Rings, which deals more with the psychology of fighting than physical techniques. Training, attitude and situational awareness, while paramount in the martial arts, are far from magical concepts.

In Okinawan karate, performing the kata Sanchin over and over is supposed to develop otherworldly stamina and strength. The ancient form, of Chinese origin, is akin to a dynamic-tension routine that was hawked in comic books by bodybuilder Charles Atlas in past decades. It's a slow motion punch-and-block sequence that mimics pushing and pulling a heavy weight with isometric contractions and forced breathing. Entire books have been written on the single topic of Sanchin. The kata is a staple in many schools of karate, especially Goju-ryu. Its founder, Chojun Miyagi, made his students perform Sanchin many times each day, with the idea that it would transform them mentally, physically, and spiritually. Miyagi himself was built like a bull and purportedly could perform superhuman feats. In one public demonstration in 1924, he...

[T]hrust his hand into a bunch of bamboos and pulled out one from the center. He stuck his hand into a slab of meat and tore off chunks. He put white chalk on the bottom of his feet, jumped up, and kicked the ceiling — leaving his foot-prints on the ceiling for all to see. Spectators hit him with long bo (staffs) with no effect. He tore off the bark of a tree (with his fingers). And with his big toe he punctured a hole in a kerosene can...He did many more feats which had to be believed.*

These types of feats today are rare. Most modern demos involve crowd-pleasers like self defense moves and board breaking. Gymnastic feats like tricking or parkour (the latter which is derived from military obstacle course training) flood the internet. Most recently we have the Bottle Cap Challenge, originally uploaded by Farabi Davletchin, a champion taekwondo fighter from Kazakhstan. The trick involves setting up a bottle of some beverage roughly chest high, and executing a variant of a spinning hook kick which grazes the pre-loosened bottle cap, spinning it off the top while leaving the remaining bottle untouched.

Everyone seems to be getting in on the action with their own clips, including famous martial arts actor Jason Statham (see above). Pretty impressive for a guy over fifty. If Chuck Norris were a bit younger he would have a go at this. Hell, maybe I'll give it a shot. Still, Miyagi would probably outdo everyone with his barefoot hole-in-the-kerosene can move. Then again, Miyagi also said at the conclusion of his demo, "Karate is a total commitment. I have not done anything that someone else cannot do, or, for that matter, you. There is no halfway measure. Either you do it or you don't. Nothing is impossible."

Indeed. There is no magic.

* Richard Kim 1974. The Weaponless Warriors. Ohara Publications. (Originally written by journalist Tojuda Anshu.)
† Want to feel old? Norris will be eighty next year. Can you believe it?

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