Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Borscht

Ever since I saw John Wick, I've been in something of a Russian frame of mind. Taking up Sambo isn't exactly convenient right now, and I have no real desire to get vory tattoos. However, I am dabbling a bit in Pimsleur's Russian language program, and I have been making more Russian food, especially borscht, which I love. 

The first time I ever had borscht was about 20 years ago at a Russian restaurant in Las Vegas whose name escapes me. Even though it was located in a dinky strip mall, the interior was all wood and decorated like a dacha. The customers wore lots of black leather, smoked cigarettes, and resembled extras from Eastern Promises. To call the staff surly and brusque would be an understatement.


Ah, but the food! I ordered borscht primarily because I had never had it and it is such an iconic dish. I wasn't disappointed. 


In the following years, I rarely ate borscht. It isn't an easy item to find in Hawaii restaurants. Late last year, in a Wick-inspired haze, I decided to try to make it myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Atticus Kodiak's Training Novel* Montage

In an earlier post, I wrote about my fondness for the Atticus Kodiak books by Greg Rucka. A quick review:
The Atticus Kodiak series by Greg Rucka follows the adventures and (more importantly) transformation of a ex- U.S. Army soldier turned bodyguard.
The first four books of the series are very well-done but fairly straight-forward thrillers.... The fifth book in the series, Critical Space,  marks a turning point in the series. While the first four books were essentially bodyguard-based crime novels, from here on the books become something more akin to international thrillers.
I also touched on something I really enjoyed about Critical Space:

While all the Kodiak books are worth reading, this one really stands out from an inspiration standpoint. Atticus Kodiak finds himself on an island in the Caribbean, where he spends months making learning to be one hell of a badass. The chapter in Critical Space detailing his regimen is one of the best of its kind I've ever read. It's sort of like a written version of a training montage from a movie. Essentially, Atticus spends his time strength training (with lots of pull-ups) and practicing martial arts. To aid in balance and recovery, he uses yoga and ballet. (Don't scoff at ballet; it's far more challenging and even dangerous than people realize.) He also goes on long ocean swims. As for diet, Atticus gives up alcohol and caffeine while eating lots of fresh fruit (especially watermelon) and seafood.... By the end of his training, Atticus Finch is essentially a new man. Critical Space is a great example of how a commitment to fitness and wellness can lead to something akin to a personal rebirth.
While poking around on the Web, I found the text for the aforementioned montage. Here it is, in its entirety. Of course, from a training standpoint, I don't agree with everything Atticus does, but it's a cool sequence with some stuff worth thinking about. Please note that no copyright infringement is intended. By posting this excerpt, I hope to encourage more people to buy Greg Rucka's work.

(* Double-meaning intended. It's a novel montage because it is unique. It's also a novel montage because it is from a novel.)


 It is always about you and your body.


It's how you see yourself, and as a result, how you see the rest of the world.

The body dictates everything. It's where it all starts.

What you can make it do. What you can make it endure. How quick you can be. How precise. How quiet, and strong, and flexible, and still. It is the one tool you always have at your disposal, no matter where you travel, the one weapon that can never be discovered going through customs, never be spotted by a watchful guard or an attentive police officer. It is at the heart of everything you do, and you must be able to trust it absolutely.

The body.

This is what it takes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

JKD? MMA? CQC? A Post About Martial Arts Nomenclature

It can be hard to find a simple word or phrase that accurately describes what I do when it comes to martial arts. 

One of my instructor certificates says I'm authorized to teach Burton Richardson's JKD Unlimited/MMA for the Street. That's a good place to start.

JKD refers to Jeet Kune Do, a martial philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. Believe it or not, the sentence you just read is controversial. Not everyone thinks JKD is a philosophy. Some people consider it a martial art in and of itself. According to the Bruce Lee Foundation, "For our modern day purposes, Jeet Kune Do is the name we now use to describe those techniques and strategies that Bruce Lee developed and more important, employed, over his lifetime." Of course, Lee himself wrote in an article called  "Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate" in Black Belt magazine...
I have not invented a "new style," composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from "this" method or "that" method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see "ourselves". . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don't, and that is that.
Those who consider JKD more of an attitude and approach than a system tend to think of JKD in terms of Bruce Lee's concept of "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

As you can probably guess, I'm firmly in the JKD-is-a-philosophy camp, not the JKD-is-a-martial-art camp. Yet it seems that most people do consider JKD a separate martial art. If I tell someone I teach and practice JKD, they often tend to assume I'm all about trapping and fighting with a strong side lead and assorted other Enter the Dragon techniques. While I do a bit of that sort of thing, it isn't a totally accurate description of my martial repertoire. Thus, calling what I do JKD can be confusing to some.

How about the "MMA for the Street" part? Mixed martial arts? In many ways, that's closer to summing up what I do. A great deal of the techniques I utilize are indeed based on things that have been proven to work in MMA competition. And yes, my approach is definitely self-defense based, so the "for the street" part is apt.

And yet the MMA label remains problematic. Even with the addition of the "for the street" phrase, people hear "MMA" and jump the conclusion that I am into competitive, sports martial arts. I'm not, not by a long shot. Personally, I  have no interest in  sports, including martial sports. I find watching UFC fights to be rather dull, and couldn't even tell you who the top fighters are right now. So while "MMA for the Street" is a good label for my martial arts, it isn't perfect.

I mentioned self-defence earlier, so perhaps that is the best phrase to describe what I do. It's one I feel comfortable with, and I often use it when talking to non "martial artsy" individuals. My main qualm with it is the fact that so many questionable instructors teach "self-defense classes" featuring highly iffy tactics or simplistic ideas (for example, groin-shots-are-death-rays). I frankly consider that irresponsible, and don't want to be lumped in with those instructors. 

Then there's CQC, or close-quarters combat. Ummm.... no. Sorry, but while there is a degree of accuracy to the term, I find it way too mall-ninja, wannabe Rambo for my tastes. 

So where does that leave me? It leaves me with the knowledge that a simple word of phrase is probably not enough to fully describe what I do as a martial artist. And I am perfectly fine with that.

PS: I didn't even delve into my training in Filipino Martial Arts, aka Kali, aka Arnis, aka Escrima, aka Panantukan, etc. That's a whole different bunch of sticks!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why Work Out?

It's January, the time of year when many people start working out as part of their New Year's resolutions. But how often do they stop to think about why they want to work out in the first place?

Quite a few people would probably be taken aback by that question, perhaps responding with a vague answer such as "to get in shape." What does that mean, though? A powerlifter and a gymnast, for example, are both "in shape" in very different ways.

Knowing the why you workout is important, because it will determine the how you workout. Individuals need to really think about what they specifically want to accomplish, do their research, and figure out the best way to proceed.

For years, I floundered at fitness, mostly because all I knew is I wanted to "get in shape." I didn't really know what I meant by that, so I just ran around, went to the gym, goofed around with weights and machines, and didn't get anywhere.

What helped me focus was getting serious about my martial arts training. I decided I didn't care about having a six-pack, being able to run a marathon, or benching 300 pounds. I just wanted to be a better fighter. And I don't mean I wanted to get fit like a professional, UFC-level fighter. I simply want to be fit enough to do well when I train or spar with friends and be reasonably prepared in the event of some sort of actual altercation. To accomplish this, I needed to concentrate on endurance, explosiveness, functional strength, and flexibility.