Monday, April 23, 2018

Practice the Martial Art You Like

Lou Schuler
Regarding exercise, certified strength and conditioning specialist Lou Schuler wrote in his book The New Rules of Lifting that what matters most is for people to

1. Do something
2. Do something they like
3. The rest is just details

I agree, and have the same philosophy when it comes to martial arts. You are more likely to practice and therefore get better at an art that comes naturally to and that you really like than an art you don’t like as much or aren’t as naturally inclined towards. (This is a big part of why I’m vastly better at Kali than BJJ.) 

For example, let’s assume you want to take up a striking art. You take a few classes in both
Muay Thai and Taekwondo. For whatever reason, you find you enjoy Taekwondo and don’t care for Muay Thai. Maybe it’s the art itself, maybe it’s the instructor, maybe it’s the vibe of the school. However, your UFC-addled buddy tells you should stick with Muay Thai because it’s been “proven in the ring” and is more useful for self-defense. Leaving aside whether or not that is true, signing up for Muay Thai classes won’t do you any good if you skip practice because you don’t like it. Being a consistent student of Taekwondo is better than being an inconsistent student of Muay Thai.

Don't get me wrong... It's good to challenge yourself and try things (including martial arts) that are outside of your comfort zone. I'm thankful for the time I spent earning my BJJ purple belt. But it's important to have a base core to work off of. It serves as your foundation. In my case, that foundation is built on Filipino martial arts. I came to that foundation by going through a period of trying different  martial styles and seeing what clicked. Kali is, simply put, the martial art I enjoy practicing the most.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Film: Quick Thoughts About Black Panther

I finally saw Black Panther, weeks after seemingly every other human on the planet watched it. This late in the game, an in-depth movie review seems rather superfluous, though I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Instead, this post will focus on some quick thoughts and general observations about the film.

One of the reasons I was slow to see Black Panther is because I’m rather ambivalent about superhero cinema and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular (I think I may be one of the few people who strongly disliked Iron Man). Yet in many ways Black Panther isn’t really a superhero movie at all. It struck me as more of a science fiction/fantasy hybrid with an occasional detour into James Bond territory. (I’d love to see director Ryan Coogler tackle a Bond flick, or at the very least a Mission: Impossible.) If anything, the blend of technology, hand-to-hand fighting, mysticism, and monarchy reminded me somewhat of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune, with vibranium as something of a stand-in for spice. Considering I love this sort of thing—I even liked The Chronicles of Riddick—it is no surprise I much prefer Black Panther over other superhero-based movies.

Not surprisingly, I paid quite a bit of attention to the fight scenes and weaponry. To prepare for his role as T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman worked extensively with martial artist Marrese Crump. According to Crump, T’Challa’s fighting style is a primarily a blend of Kali, Muay Thai, and Capoeira. If you know what you’re looking for, you can clearly see all these elements in the film. There’s also some prominent uses of Jujitsu.

In all due respect to the king of Wakanda, my favorite fight moves were displayed by T’Challa’s faithful spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). During a scene set in a Korean casino, she pulls off a cool Kotegaeshi (I think that’s the proper name), a wrist throw from traditional Japanese Jujitsu. Later, she performs an excellent snake disarm against Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). As a Kali practitioner, I was especially excited to see the snake disarm.

(You can see the snake disarm about 11 seconds in here. The wrist lock is about 40 seconds in here.)
The film also had some nods to Africa’s  traditional weaponry. For example, Killmonger channels the spirit of famous African monarch Shaka Zulu when he breaks the shaft of his longish spear, turning it into a Zulu iklwa. M'Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the Jabari tribe, carries a staff resembling an elongated version of a Zulu fighting stick.

I do wish the film contained more indigenous African martial arts, such as Senagese grappling (did you know wrestling is the No. 1 sport in Senegal?) or Zulu stick fighting. Thanks to my teacher Burton Richardson, I’ve dabbled a bit in Zulu stick work, and find it fun and fascinating. While there is still a tendency to immediately think of East Asia whenever martial arts are mentioned, Africa has a long, rich martial tradition that is well-worth exploring onscreen.

However, that’s a minor quibble. As great as the fight sequences were, what really made Black Panther work were the characters and their struggles. Despite the excellent special effects, design, and action scenes, the film was fundamentally about people, which is part of the reason audiences are responding to it with such passion. Yes, Black Panther is a popcorn movie, but it’s a popcorn movie with heart.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thought of the Day, March 26, 2018: Robert Wright on Being Buddhist


“I don’t call myself a Buddhist, because traditional Buddhism has so many dimensions—of belief, of ritual—that I haven’t adopted. I don’t believe in reincarnation or related notions of karma, and I don’t bow before the statue of the Buddha upon entering the meditation hall, much less pray to him or to any Buddhist deities. Calling myself a Buddhist, it seems to me, would almost be disrespectful to the many Buddhists, in Asia and elsewhere, who inherited and sustain a rich a beautiful religious tradition.”

For my own thoughts on this matter, please see my earlier post So... Am I a Buddhist or Not?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dealing With an Injury... Again *UPDATE*

Exactly two weeks ago I fractured my left kneecap.

It happened during my morning workout. I was preparing to do pull-ups using a doorway pull-up bar, something I've been doing for more than 10 years. Apparently that morning I got careless and didn't properly secure the bar, because on my first pull-up both the bar and I came crashing down. My left knee took the brunt of the impact.

It didn't take long for my knee to swell up massively. Had both knees been injured, I would have looked like Torgo. I proceeded to do all the RICE things you're supposed to do after sustaining an injury, i.e. rest, ice, compression, and elevation. That helped, and the swelling went down, though the first two or three days after my fall were quite unpleasant. Sitting down and standing up were very painful, and descending stairs was agony. 


By the fourth or fifth day, my knee felt better though it still hurt. Gradually the pain went from being sharp and acute to being more of a dull ache. After 10 days I was concerned that my knee still didn't feel right, so I finally went to a doctor. An X-ray revealed that I had indeed fractured my kneecap. Recovery time is around six weeks. Due to the nature of the fracture, there isn't much that can be done, though I am going to visit a knee specialist to make sure nothing else is awry.

Interestingly, the doctor was shocked that I was moving as well as I was and didn't seem to be in debilitating pain. I don't mention that to imply I'm some sort of "pain don't hurt" badass (OK, maybe a little...), but because I think it reflects positively on my training protocols. I suspect that yoga along with exercises such as Turkish get-ups, Hindu squats, and burpees have strengthened the muscles and tendons around my knee. My limp mostly went away fairly quickly, and I never had to resort to using a cane, even though as a stick-fighter I would have welcomed the opportunity to do so. (I should add that I own four or five canes.)

And speaking of "pain don't hurt".... A self-defense lesson from this experience: Pain is not always a reliable fight stopper. I was in a great deal of pain immediately after I fell, but still managed to do a few rounds of heavy kettlebell swings. Smart? Probably not, but the point is that I could do it, that I could work through the pain. So could a predator intent on causing you harm. 

I've mostly taken a break from training, but plan to resume soon, with some necessary modifications. Despite having a good incident-free 10 years with doorway pull-up bars, I'm a little paranoid about using them again. Maybe it's PTSD, but if I do pull-ups it will be at the park. At home I'll stick to cable rows. Turkish get-ups and Hindu squats are off the menu for the foreseeable future. Gentle yoga is fine, as are push-ups and moderate swings. Any martial arts training will be limited to simple Kali stick and knife drills. (By the way, Filipino martial arts have much to offer someone who is injured or has mobility issues.)

Diet-wise, I'm eliminating alcohol and drastically cutting back on caffeine, as both can potentially interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium and affect bone health. I'm also consuming more protein and calcium to aid with healing. For the discomfort, I take the occasional aspirin* (other painkillers spike my blood pressure) and drink plenty of ginger and turmeric tea. 

(For my adventures with a herniated disc, click here.)

* Update: I had a visit with an orthopedic surgeon and joint specialist yesterday. He verified that my knee is indeed fractured. However, there doesn't appear to be any damage to the surrounding tendons or ligaments. I have an appointment for additional X-rays in four weeks. By then I should be more or less back to normal. One interesting thing I learned during the visit is that many common painkillers—such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and yes, aspirin—can interfere with a broken bone's ability to heal. Acetaminophen, however, is fine. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

This One Goes to... 5: Favorite Books Read in 2016

In the past, my 'Favorite Books Read' lists have included 11 works of fiction and 11 nonfiction works. This year, that isn't the case.

To be honest, 2017 wasn't a great year in reading for me. Not only did I read far fewer books in general, of the books I did read, there weren't many that were really outstanding. Thus, a list of '11 Favorites' would be impossible.

Still, I did read some really great books. Here are my favorites for 2017, in no particular order. 



FICTION
  • The Book of Weird by Barbara Ninde Byfield (This vintage hard-to-classify gem is a witty encyclopedia of a fantastical alternate Europe. I wish I read this book back in my Dungeons & Dragons days.)
  • The Chronicles of Solar Pons by August Derleth (Yes, Pons is an unabashed pastiche of Sherlock Holmes. But he is also a great pastiche of Sherlock Holmes. The stories are a great deal of fun and I actually think August Derleth is a better writer than Arthur Conan Doyle.)
  • Lost Worlds Vol. 1 by Clark Ashton Smith (Along with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Smith was one of the "Big Three" writers for Weird Tales. His fantasy stories are very dark and nightmarish. I especially liked the ones set in the dying earth landscape of Zothique.)
  • Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (This tale of a convent that trains novice nuns in the ways of assassination is one of the best new fantasy novels I've read in a long time. Great setting and characterizations. Features some good quotes about fighting and martial arts.)
  • Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (Gorgeously written, surreal, and dreamlike. A novel to read slowly and savor.) 

NONFICTION
  • A Buddhist Grief Observed by Guy Newland (I struggle with grief and loss. So does Guy Newland. He eloquently writes about his Buddhist beliefs both helped and at times failed to help him deal with the death of his wife.)
  • The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights by Norm Phelps
    and
  • A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion Hardcover by Matthieu Ricard (Two excellent books about animal rights, both written from a Buddhist perspective. Phelps especially makes some very strong, substantial arguments regarding the place of veganism in Buddhism.)
  • Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women's Self Protection by Tim Larkin (The title is a little misleading; the book is not really a "total guide" nor is it only of use to women. Larkin address mindset more than specific techniques, and I find the things he has to say to be perfectly valid. His observation that "violence is rarely the answer, but when it is... it is the only answer" is spot-on.)


SPECIAL MENTION

  • Lazarus Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Incredible dystopian graphic novel series that explores themes of wealth inequality and environmental destruction. Very timely and relevant... unfortunately.)
(My list of favorite books read in 2016 can be found here, and favorites of 2015 can be found here.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bong Soo Han on Patience

Research shows that instant gratification is making us perpetually impatient. That is not a good thing. This anecdote about Hapkido master Bong Soo Han from Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams is a perfect illustration of the value of patience.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Books Read, 2017


For various reasons—a new job, some sinus issues that affected my eyes, etc.—I read far fewer books in 2017 than in previous years, much to my chagrin. Also, for various reasons—mostly laziness, really—I wasn't as good at logging the books I read in 2017, so I might have actually read more books and just neglected to keep track of them

That all being said, below is my Master Reading List for 2017, in alphabetical order by title. I'll try post a list of my favorite books read last year soon.

FICTION
  • Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
  • Bloodfire Quest: The Dark Legacy of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • The Book of Weird by Barbara Ninde Byfield
  • Calix Stay: The Circle of Light, Book 3 by Niel Hancock
  • The Chronicles of Solar Pons by August Derleth
  • Dhampir by Barb and J. C. Hendee
  • Faragon Fairingay: The Circle of Light, Book 2 by Niel Hancock
  • A Feast of Sorrows: Stories by Angela Slatter
  • The First King of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • Lost Worlds Vol. 1 by Clark Ashton Smith
  • Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
  • Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
  • Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
  • Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
  • Squaring the Circle: The Circle of Light, Book 4 by Niel Hancock
  • Tales of Mithgar by Dennis L. McKiernan
  • Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  • The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown
  • Wards of Faerie: The Dark Legacy of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • Witch Wraith: The Dark Legacy of Shannara by Terry Brooks

NONFICTION
  • Aikido Basics by Phong Thong Dang  and Lynn Seiser
  • The Art of Peace by Morehei Ueshiba, translated and edited by John Stevens
  • Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson
  • A Buddhist Grief Observed by Guy Newland
  • Do The Work by Steven Pressfield
  • Good Life, Good Death: Tibetan Wisdom on Reincarnation by Gelek Rimpoche
  • The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights by Norm Phelps
  • Kindfulness by Ajahn Brahm
  • Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage, and Compassion from the World's Greatest Warriors by Charles Hackney
  • A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion Hardcover by Matthieu Ricard
  • The Shambhala Guide to Aikido by John Stevens
  • Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, & Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye by Brad Warner
  • Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women's Self Protection by Tim Larkin
  • The Sword Polisher's Record: The Way of Kung-Fu by Adam Hsu
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
  • The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine

GRAPHIC NOVELS
  • Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood
  • Lazarus Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
  • Lazarus Vol. 2 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
  • Lazarus Vol. 3 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
  • Lazarus Vol. 4 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark

(Previous years: Books Read, 2015; Books Read, 2016)