Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sprints for Fitness, Fat-Loss, and Emergencies

At this point, it's old news: Sprints are good for you. As Men's Health sums up,  sprints are better than jogging for weight loss, heart health, and maintaining muscle.

From a practical standpoint, I would add that sprints are a more vital life skill then jogging. Think about  it... How many situations can you imagine finding yourself in that would require you to run at a moderate pace for three or more miles? Probably not many. How many situations can you imagine having to run at a high speed for a short  time? If you see a child about to walk in front of a car, my  guess is you'll sprint, not jog, into action. You may sprint to catch the bus. When possible, one of the best options for avoiding violence is to run away as fast as possible.

So sprinting is a good thing. What spring routine is best? Do a bit of research, and you'll get all sorts of answers. The Polinquin Group has a good rundown of a few options on their website.

One thing that many sprint routines inadequately address is rest periods. Sprinting is tremendously taxing. You need to have recovery time built into your workout. For shorter sprints lasting just 10 or 15 seconds, a good ratio of work to recovery is 1:3. If you sprinted for 15 seconds, you would rest for 45 seconds. And by rest I mean rest. Do nothing more difficult then walk around. No jogging, no  push-ups. Rest! If you are really going all out during the sprints, you won't be able to do much more.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Roz Chast (!?!?) on Self-Defense

Roz Chast is one of my favorite cartoonists. Her work is often featured in The New Yorker, which is where I found the cartoon below.

Though I doubt this was her intention, Chast actually did a good job summing up one of the key components of practical self-defense: avoidance.

For example, consider "Can sense trouble from ten miles away." I sort of read this as a simplification of the principles behind Gavin de Becker's excellent book The Gift of Fear. If you can sense trouble (and you can, if you trust your instincts) avoid it!

How about being an "Expert at making self invisible"? Despite our exhibitionistic society, being noticed is not always a good thing. I had a good friend who was a life-of-the-party/class-clown kind of guy. Unfortunatley, he couldn't really turn it off, and more than once he encountered critics who were willing to express their disaproval of his antics with their fists.

Finally, "Master of deflection." For some types of violence, especially the 'Monkey Dance,' there is a verbal interview phase; e.g. "What you looking at?" This is the time for deflection or talking your way out of the situation, instead of playing the game by responding with something stupid ("What am I looking at? Your ugly face!")

In his book Meditations on Violence, Rory Miller writes
It is better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die.  
I think Roz Chast's cartoon illustrates some of those principles nicely.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rattan Sparring!

My friend and fellow JKD/Kali instructor Manny Valladares recently travelled from  Las Vegas to Honolulu to attend a seminar featuring the legendary Dan Inosanto. While in town, Manny and I did a bit of rattan sparring. Here are a few photos...

Nice hand hit by Manny. 
Nice hand hit by me.

Manny both blocks and evades a head shot.

Grazing shot. Still  left a mark.

Right on my head.

Manny closes for the clinch!
Hand-check to clinch!

Manny is a very gifted martial artist with over thirty years of experience. If you are in the Las Vegas area and are interested in quality training, check out Manny's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Single-Serve Never, Pour-Over Forever!

Like so many modern trends, K-Cups and their ilk strike me as insanely expensive, and unnecessary.

How expensive? According to the New York Times, most single-serve coffee costs at least $50 per pound. That's about double the price of a really good whole bean coffee.
Throw in the price of the single-serve coffee maker itself, and you are spending some serious money. Why would someone opt to pay these crazy prices? From the Times article“Americans under the age of 40 are thinking about coffee pricing in cups,” said Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “If you asked my mother how much coffee cost, she would have told you that the red can was $5.25 a pound and the blue can was $4.25. If you ask people in their 20s and 30s, they’ll say coffee is $1.75 to $3.75 a cup.”
I find it a bit disturbing that people now think of coffee as something that is prepared by others and served to them at an enormous mark-up. Don't misunderstand me: I love a good coffee shop. But I know that coffee shop coffee is a luxury. Plus, I actually do know how to make a decent cup of joe.

As you can guess, I do not use a single-serve coffee maker. I use the classic, tried-and-true pour-over or manual drip method.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goths, Violence, and the Group Monkey Dance

This is my third Goth-related post (see my earlier posts on the Cure and the Crow) and it's about a serious topic applicable to many people, Goth or not.

I was inspired to write this by something shared on Facebook by the good folks at Gothic Volunteer Alliance (GVA)* of San Diego. The GVA is "an action league of individual volunteers who conduct humanitarian acts for the betterment of the local and global community." The organization has a sad origin:
The Gothic Volunteer Alliance (formerly Goth Help Us – San Diego; a part of the now defunct Goth Help Us International organization), was founded in October 2006 after the unfortunate, and unprovoked, brutal verbal and physical assault upon four Goths in a busy San Diego tourist area. The horrifying encounter left two of the four Goths with bruising and one requiring reconstructive surgery for orbital rim and socket fractures, a broken nose and dislocated jaw. What could have manifested as anger and hatred was instead channeled into the desire to undo the negative image that society and the media cast on the Gothic Subculture over the last several decades. From that, the San Diego Gothic volunteer base was formed.
Sophie Lancaster, killed for being Goth.
Recently, GVA brought a 
news story to my attention. It was about efforts by U.K. police to "note offences against Goths, emos and other groups as hate crimes, as they do already with crimes aimed at race, disability or sexual orientation. One report against Goths and others has been received every week since the recording began in April."

These efforts are part of a campaign launched by Sylvia Lancaster. Her daughter Sophie died after she was brutally attacked alongside her boyfriend simply because they were Goths. Sylvia Lancaster set up the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her daughter's memory.

Sophie's story highlights a sad but true fact about the world: Those who are different, who are considered on the margins of society, are often victims of especially brutal violence. 

Rory Miller, in his excellent book Meditations on Violence and elsewhere, describes the many forms of violent behavior. Miller is 17-year law enforcement veteran with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology.

Miller writes that one of the worst is the Group Monkey Dance. The Group Monkey Dance (GMD) is "a show of group solidarity." 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes: The Crow

Since I'm still in a post-Cure concert euphoria, I figure it's the perfect time to take a look at
the Crow, both the film and the comic.

Lots of people love this movie. So do I, though with a bit of ambivalence. While it has some great scenes, a fantastic soundtrack, and a classic performance by the late Brandon Lee, I just felt the overall movie had some flaws in terms of the screenplay, and some of the departures from the source comic were ill-advised.

So why do I still  have a fondness for the film? Simple: As slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies, I loved seeing another slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies kick some serious butt.

And to this day I find Stone Temple Pilot's "Big Empty" a great song to listen to on a rainy night, driving home from a hard evening of training.

While I may be ambivalent about the cinematic interpretation of the Crow, I  am not at all conflicted about my feelings for Jay O'Barr's original comic. I love it, and probably reread it at least once a year.

The comic is full of cultural touchstones that have a great deal of significance for me: the music of Joy Division and the Cure, French decadent poetry of Rimbaud, the general tone of a dark horror story. I love the fact that the Crow is modelled on Iggy Pop and Peter Murphy. And of course, there's swordplay and cats.

But what really makes the Crow's story so powerful are the twin themes of loss and rage.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revisiting My Goth Days with the Cure

This post may seem a bit off topic, but hey, it's my blog! Plus, this will in a way lead to another post I'm working on about violence comitted against those on the margins of society.

I discovered the Cure around 1986, largely through the classic compilation "Standing on a Beach." It was revelatory. I had never really been into most of the standard Top 40 stuff played on American radio. Here was music that was exciting and alive and different. It was music a sensitive young man like myself could relate to. How could I not love a band that introduced me to Albert Camus?

The Cure served as a gateway to other bands: Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, etc. By the time I graduated high school, I had joined the ranks of the perpetually black clad, where I would remain for several years.

Both my musical and sartorial tastes would eventually expand, but my love for Goth music has never gone away, and it is still the musical subculture I most relate to.

This was reinforced on July 27, when the Cure played their first ever show in my hometown of Honolulu. It goes without saying that I was there in the audience.

I had seen the Cure previously in San Diego in 1992 during their "Wish" tour. It was the best concert I had ever been to, bar none. (Incidentally, I saw Peter Murphy around the same time. It was like Goth sensory overload!) 

The Cure, Honolulu 2013, may have been even better than the Cure, San Diego 1992.

Some thoughts on the Honolulu concert…

Thursday, July 11, 2013

James Bond on Losing

Largo: "Do you lose as gracefully as you win?"

Bond: "I don't know. I've never lost."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bruce Lee and Fighting Armed Opponents Unarmed

I broke one of my personal rules and read some of the comments to a Escrima YouTube clip. These two caught my attention:
Commenter A:"In my opinion, anyone who is unarmed that willingly fights somebody who has a weapon is a moron." 
Commenter B: "Bruce Lee fought many people with weapons unarmed. And he is the greatest martial artist ever, and not a moron."
One of these commenters made a truthful statement. The other just engaged in mindless hero worship.

What do I mean by mindless hero worship? Consider the line about Bruce Lee, “And he is the greatest martial artist ever...” For one, Lee is dead, so saying he “is” something is not really accurate. But even if you switch out the offending “is” for “was,” the “greatest martial artist ever” bit is silly and hyperbolic. Martial arts have been around for thousands of years. Bruce Lee was around for 32 years. There have been countless martial artists both before and after Lee. To say he was the “greatest ever” is to make some pretty major assumptions. This is not to diminish Lee's awesome accomplishments. Bruce Lee is undoubtedly the most influential martial artist in memory. His reputation is secure, and there is no need for needless exaggeration.

And speaking of exaggeration... “Bruce Lee fought many people with weapons unarmed.” Really? I am not aware of any examples of Bruce Lee fighting “many people with weapons unarmed.” Sorry, but movie fight scenes don't count. (Here's a secret: Movie fights are not real fights.) I don't even know how often—if at all—Lee sparred empty handed versus an armed opponent. Even if he did, here's another secret: Sparring isn't real fighting either.

Of course, the statement that Bruce Lee was “not a moron” is totally accurate. Since he wasn't a moron, I doubt he ever advocated fighting an armed adversary unarmed if it could be helped. He was too smart for that. I can't help but think of one of Lee's lines in Enter the Dragon, “Why doesn't somebody pull out a .45 and, bang, settle it?”

As for Commenter A and the observation that “anyone who is unarmed that willingly fights somebody who has a weapon is a moron..." Yep, I can get behind that. It's important to train in empty hand combat against an armed opponent because those sorts of situations do occur and sometimes you have no choice. But to willingly get into that sort of fight? Kind of moronic indeed.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rest Periods for Ladders

Readers of this blog no doubt know I am a big fun of using ladders to get in lots of reps with little risk of overtraining. To reiterate how ladders work, here's an explanation from Clarence Bass:
Pavel pull-ups.
Here’s how Pavel describes the technique used by special forces personnel to work pull-ups into their busy classroom and training schedule: "We would file out to the pull-up bars and perform what we called ladders. I do a pull-up, you do one. I do two, you match me, etc. until one of us cannot keep up. Then, if we still had time, we started over. One rep, 2 reps, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We totaled hundreds of pull-ups almost daily without burning out, and the extreme PT tests of our service were a breeze.
Most of the time I train alone, so the question arises... How much do I rest in between reps?

My solution to this dilemma is pretty simple. I use a rough formula of 10 seconds rest per completed rep. So if I'm doing chin-ups, I will do 1 chin, count to 10, do 2 chins, count to 20, do 3 chins, count to 30, and so on. This is not a set-in-stone system, and sometimes my rest periods will be little longer or a little shorter.

While everyone should find a system that works for them, I find that this method allows me to do quite a few reps with good form.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Joys of Campari

Many Americans have yet to warmed to the joy that is Campari. Perhaps it is our childlike aversion to anything that taste remotely bitter. Maybe would-be John Waynes are put off by a drink that is so gloriously crimson in color, as opposed to the manly brown of whiskey. Whatever the reason, people are missing out on a truly glorious spirit.

Campari is a classic Italian apertivo with a heritage dating back to the 1860s. It's infusion of fruit, herbs, alcohol, and water remains a guarded secret. Like all apertivos, it is traditionally consumed prior to a meal to stimulate the appetite.

Perhaps the simplest, most classic Campari drink is the Campari and Soda, recently hailed by Dappered.com as "The Drink of Summer." Here's their recipe:
  • Put ice in a rocks glass (or highball if you’re thirsty)
  • Pour Campari over ice to taste (at least half Campari)
  • Top off with soda water
  • Garnish with orange twist
A close cousin of the Campari and Soda is the Americano, which adds a shot of sweet vermouth to the mix. This was the very first cocktail ordered by Ian Fleming's James Bond in the premier Bond novel, Casino Royale. 007 orders one again in the short story "From a View to a Kill." Remember, Bond's tastes in spirits go far beyond vodka Martinis.

Speaking of Martinis, another wonderful Campari drink is a Negroni. It involves equal measures of Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. It's often served on the rocks, but I sometime enjoys serving them shaken over ice and served in a cocktail glass, Martini-style.

If you want an extra dose of Vitamin C, another option is Campari and orange juice, which is far more refreshing than you might imagine.

With summer rapidly approaching, I look forward to lounging on the patio, sipping assorted Campari concoctions, bossa nova playing softly in the background.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Film Review: The Bladed Hand

Last night I attended the Hawaii premiere of The Bladed Hand: The Global Impact of the Filipino Martial Arts at the Honolulu Art Academy. As a student and teacher of Kali, I may be biased, but I thought it was one of the best martial arts documentaries I have ever seen.

Here's a description of the film from producer Sonny Sison:
A documentary featuring numerous Filipino Martial Arts luminaries and established styles and systems propagating the growth of an indigenous form of self defense from the Philippines with historic and social contributions to the world at large including its influence from military and law enforcement training to Hollywood films and television.
The film took over two years to complete, and was a labor of love for director Jay Ignacio.

The Bladed Hand proceeded in a fairly chronological fashion, moving from the indigenous, pre-Spanish conquest roots of FMA to modern trends of the early and mid-20th century through FMAs increasing popularity in Hollywood and the international special forces community.

An obvious highlight of the movie was the great footage of important Grandmasters training and sparring. It was a real pleasure to see Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo in his early 80s beating the crap out of guys a quarter his age. If I didn't already think FMA was incredibly cool, I would after seeing all of this footage, and if I didn't already train in FMA, I would immediately start.

Some of the most famous masters of FMA were highlighted in the film including Rodel Dagooc, Bert Labaniego, Daniel “Mumbakki” Foronda, Christopher 'Topher' Ricketts, and Dan Inosanto. I'm also pleased to note that my own instructor, Burton Richardson of Battlefield Kali, was also prominently featured.

Roland Dantes and some Austrian guy.
Though I've trained in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) for over 10 years and have read quite a bit about its history and lineage, there was still quite a bit in the film that was new to me. There were several Grandmasters profiled that I had never heard of. For example, I am embarrassed to say I was unfamiliar with the late Roland Dantes, a bodybuilder and martial artist who was quite well known in the Philippines and played a considerable role in the modern development of FMA. (He was also one big guy… sort of a Filipino Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

I think part of the reason The Bladed Hand is so successful as a documentary is because Jay Ignacio is not himself a practitioner of FMA. Why is this a good thing? Because it means he doesn’t have a stake in the endless (and needless) bickering and quarreling that seems to be part of the FMA community. Also, because Ignacio didn’t initially know very much about the subject, he has a legitimate curiosity and unbiased desire to learn that reflects in the film.

There was a touch of melancholy to the film that is worth noting. As the film points out, FMA is not particularly popular or well regarded in the Philippines. Most Filipinos who practice martial arts gravitate towards arts such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do. Why? Partially because those arts are far more structured than most FMA. (Plus they have neat uniforms and multicolored belts and things like that.) There also seems to be a class issue involved, as FMA is apparently deemed something only poor people do by many Filipinos. (There may be some truth to that: Despite being an incredibly important and influential martial artist and war hero, Antonio Ilustrisimo died poor and was buried in an unmarked grave.)

Because few Filipinos are interested in FMA, as the various Grandmasters die (and four died while The Bladed Hand was being made) no one is opting to carry on their legacies. Since most traditional FMA is passed on verbally and via teaching as opposed to through books, this means techniques developed over generations risk being lost forever. For better of for worse, the future of Filipino Martial Arts may very well lie in the hands of non-Filipinos.

Do I have any quibbles with the film? Nothing serious. I would have liked to see a bit more about FMA empty hand arts such as Panantukan and Dumog. And it would have been nice to include something about the influence of FMA on western boxing. But these are small complaints that no doubt reflect my own preferences and biases.

If you have an interest in martial arts, you should check out The Bladed Hand: The Global Impact of the Filipino Martial Arts. However, if you have even a slight interest in Filipino Martial Arts, than the film is a must-see. It deepened my depth, appreciation, and love of the art I am proud to teach and practice.

(FYI: The Bladed Hand is slated for a DVD release in Fall 2013.)

The Bladed Hand from ShowVIS LLC on Vimeo.