Thursday, July 9, 2015

The pains and joys of learning a new martial art.

Chendokan Aikido
    I've been studying Japanese martial arts since 1995.  However, I recently moved to Nashville and decided a change in location could mean a change in martial arts for me as well.  There is a local school of Chendokan Aikido, and I still practice there a couple times a month, but I specifically wanted to go back to the beginning and study something where I didn't know the language or ideas presented.  So I started looking for a new martial art to study.  I looked around at a couple of local schools, some karate, kung-fu and others.  Then I listened to a podcast where Steve Perry (the writer not the guy from Journey) was talking about Pencak Silat, and he described the way it looked as Aikido combined with Wing Chun.  I was hooked with the idea.  Here was an art that was completely foreign in its language and culture, but should still have some familiarity right?  I looked around, and there happens to be a school not far away from me.  So I started studying PCK Pencak Silat.


    I've been practicing, and teaching martial arts long enough that I've forgotten what its like to start at the beginning.  I forgot how standing in an unfamiliar position uses small muscles that you're not used to using, and how they hurt the next day.  I'm decently familiar with Japanese language and how it's structure works, especially within the context of Aikido and martial arts in general.  I forgot how daunting and overwhelming learning all the language components can be.   Pencak Silat is from Indonesia, and I have no experience with that language or culture.  Because Aikido doesn't really use kata, or forms, I was specifically looking for a martial art that had forms.  Silat does have forms, and learning them is a completely new, and again, awkward experience.


PCK Silat
 I'm not complaining or whining, all those same things that are the pains of learning a martial art, are also the joys of learning a martial art.  After a little while, the newness of learning a martial art wears off, and all you're left with is the more difficult parts.  That's where you have to find your joys.  Find joy in learning a new culture and language.  Find joy in that awkward, uncomfortable position slowly feeling more natural.  Find joy in the ability to push past the learning curve and find pleasure in incremental learning of new skills.  All of those are the real joys of learning a new martial art. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Top 10 Fictional Martial Arts!

    Martial arts, in its weird, mystical way, has been a part of fiction probably since there was fiction, and there seems to be only a couple of different ways that martial arts are used: 1. Martial arts explains why a character can do certain deeds, 2. A new martial arts is created that uses fictional martial weapons, or non-human forms , 3. The "Ultimate" martial art where nothing else can defeat it, or 4, As a parody making fun of martial arts, or martial arts movies.  My list includes variations on all four.  They are of my personal favorites, with explanations as to why.  Enjoy.

10. Rex Kwon Do (Napoleon Dynamite)

    What can you say about techniques that were perfected after 2 seasons in the octagon?  Rex Kwon Do appears in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, when Napoleon goes with his friend Kip to try out Rex's dojo where you are able to learn "the strength of a grizzly, the reflexes of a puma, and the wisdom of a bear."  Rex is brilliantly played by one of those weird character actors that doesn't get used enough Dietrich Bader.  I didn't like the move as a whole, but those dojo scenes had me laughing.

9. Venusian Aikido/Venusian Karate (Dr. Who, 3rd Doctor)

    I know I'll probably get my geek card revoked, but I've never been a Doctor Who fan.  That being said, I like the daring of saying there is a martial art done by beings with completely different shapes than humans.  How the good Doctor managed to translate that to a human form is beyond me.  Also, It apparently switches terms between aikido and karate.  Because they're so similar right?

8. Gun Kata (Equilibrium)

    Equilibrium is a pretty good movie despite its Christian Bale-ness.  In this movie, his wooden acting is actually appropriate because it takes place in an emotionless dystopia where he plays a "Cleric" whose job it is to keep people in line with the program, and taking their emotion-blocking pills.  The martial art of Gun Kata is supposed to be based moving to the area of least probability of being shot while engaged in close quarters gun fights.  Its an interesting idea, and it looks cool, but it is ultimately impractical.  However, I do love a good dystopia...and it ends with a sword fight, so there you go.

7. Klurkor (DC Comics)

    Never heard of this one?  Well you're not alone.  In the 70's/80's (notice the roller skates), in an attempt to make Lois Lane a little less reliant on Superman, she learned the Kryptonian Karate system of Klurkor.  Where and when did she learn this, You might ask.  Why of course in the year she spend in the shrunken city of Kandor.  Only in comics would that make sense.  I've never seen any reference that Kal-El actually knows this art, so maybe Lois can teach him some moves.

6. Freman Kempo

    I love Dune, and there is a lot of physical hand-to-hand combat intermixed with all the political intrigue, and Weirding Way.  I found a reference online (you know how that goes), that says there was a martial art called Fremen (the desert guys with the blue eyes) Kempo.  I don't recall it being called that, but they obviously had a specific learnable system of combat with their Crysknives.  Besides where else can you learn to walk without rhythm?

5. Mok'Bara

    Klingons!  Enough said!  Actually that's not enough, The Klingons may have the most explored Sci-Fi martial art of them all.  Mok'Bara is an overarching martial art that includes both armed and unarmed components.  The armed portion covers the use of typical Klingon weapons like the bat'leth, while surprisingly, the unarmed portion is more like taijiquan, in that its about balance and calm.  There's been a couple scenes of Worf teaching a class aboard the Enterprise-D in what look like some futuristic gi clothes.  There's even a book, which I have to sadly/proudly admit I own, that goes over a bat'leth kata, that supposed to be based on a Chinese Staff kata.

4. The 7 Lightsaber Forms (Star Wars)

    Que the Star Wars theme music!  There may be no more iconic martial weapon to science fiction than the lightsaber.  I tell how old people are by which Star Wars movie they saw in the theater, so you're either Empire-aged, or Jedi-aged.  If you're a young whippersnapper, you're Phantom-aged.  I, like many martial artist my age, were really excited to see what the Jedi in their prime looked like in the prequel movies, cause let's face it, so far in the original trilogy we'd only seen an old man, a cyborg, and a not-quite-trained Jedi.  With the Prequel trilogy we got to see them, and their lightsaber skills on display.  If you really get into the geek-dom of it, there are seven "schools" or forms of lightsaber use.  Most Jedi lean towards one form of the other, but you can see parts of it in all of them.

3. Taroon-Ifla (Star Trek)

    Okay, back to Star Trek.  If you read some of  the non-cannon fiction, Spock's Vulcan Neck Pinch is part of an overall Vulcan martial art.  I included this one as number 3 because, honestly, touching someone in the right way to make them fall unconscious is the goal of many martial arts.  It is a peaceful, non-damaging way to end a conflict.  O-Sensei would be proud.

2.  Sumito

    Okay, I'm biased for this one.  This is from the Matador series of books by Steve Perry (read my review).  Sumito is a fictional martial art that is unintentionally based on Pencak Silat.  Since I've stared studying Silat, I've come to appreciate the way Steve Perry writes about this art even more.  I included it this high on the list because it seems an imminently practical art, which cannot be said for most on this list.  There is nothing super-human, or even alien about this one.  It just describes the way to move and to use techniques to manipulate a person to do what you want them to do.

1. Ameri Do Te

    Best of All, Worst of None.  Bat'leth are Bullshit!

If I left out any of your favorites, let me know in the comments, and I can re-edit the post to include "honorable mentions"

Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 out of 5 Ninja Stars for Steve Perry's The Matador Series

    First off, if you got the wrong impression, this is NOT Steve Perry the 80's band guy, this is Steve Perry the very good science fiction writer.  I first heard of this series just a couple weeks ago through an interview with Steve Perry on Karate Café Podcast.  Steve is a martial artist.  He's studied a couple different arts in his past, though for a while now, he's been studying Pencak Silat Sera.
  The Matador series of books is a series of science fiction/space opera type books that starts with the book, The Man Who Never Missed, originally published in 1985.  The book has a feel that's a combination of Dune and Star Wars.  Or maybe a better description would be Dune, if it took place in Star Wars dive bars.  It deals with the hero of the story, Emile Khadaji, and his works to take down the corrupt, and oppressive ConFed government.  He partially does this by learning a fictional martial art called "Sumito" which, although made-up, is based on real martial arts.

   This book was obviously written by an individual who knows martial arts, and he can describe those type of action scenes beautifully.  But more importantly, he is able to describe the headspace of a martial artist.  I've never read any fiction book that describes what occurs in your head during martial arts as well as this book does.  He perfectly describes the way one action, by itself, is really used to set up a desired reaction in the opponent.  I was hooked.  I immediately went out and bought the other books in the series.  The next two books Matadora, and The Machiavelli Interface build on those same themes, but because they don't have to world-build like the first book, they jump right into the action.  In the two months since I heard of this series I've read 8 of the books, and am waiting on the last one. 
I really cannot recommend these books enough.  In fact, I'm rather upset that I didn't know about these books earlier.  The first trilogy especially, but the whole series gets 5 out of 5 Ninja Stars from me.  I love the feel of the books, I love the martial arts mentality of the books, and I love the little inside jokes of the names and place names in this universe.  I just gave the first three books to my friend, and I told him I would kick him in the shins if he didn't read them.  That's how good they are.  I may go buy a couple more copies of the book, just to give them away to martial artists I know.  In fact, I'm going to have a contest and give away a copy of the book just because I want to spread the word about this series.  Immediately after reading these, my thought was "why isn't this a movie, or at least a mini-series?"  With the level of sci-fi on TV today, including the new series Killjoys and Dark Matter on Sy-Fy (is that how they spell it now?), which I'll review at a later date, they could do this series very easily.  Until then, strap on your spetsdōds, walk the 97-Steps, and READ THESE BOOKS!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review of Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia by Donn F. Draeger

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book by the publisher for review purposes

Title: Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia
Written by : Donn F. Draeger
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing

Format: pdf (not currently published)
Page Count: 256
Cover Price: ??

    I've recently started learning a new martial art.  I started taking lessons in a form of Pencak Silat after listening to a interview with Author Steve Perry on Karate Café.  Because Silat comes from Indonesia, and I have almost no knowledge of Indonesian culture, language, or the martial arts, I asked my instructor if there were any books to help me with more academic parts of learning a new martial art.  His immediate answer was Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia.  So as quickly as I could, I got a copy of this book.  The book is out of print so I took the unusual path of getting a digital version of the book.  In fact this is the first book I've read cover to cover (can we say that with pdf's?) in digital format.

EDIT: This book is available in digital format (i.e. Kindle) through Amazon


    In order to get an idea of how Indonesian martial arts developed, you have to have at least a basic understanding of the history of the Indonesian archipelago.  Mr. Draeger uses the first chapter to talk about the different cultural conquerors who influenced what became Indonesian culture.  He specifically describes how their fighting arts influenced what became the Indonesian fighting arts.  The author includes both of the major systems of Indonesia which are the more native Pencak Silat and the more Chinese influenced Kuntao. 
    Part of the problem with talking about Indonesian martial arts is that each little village has their own particular take on the martial arts, as well as some specialized weapons used only by practitioners of that particular region.  Because of that, he breaks down the martial arts geographically and takes you on a tour through the islands martial arts that way, taking extra long stops in Java and Bali.  Each cultural area has a section of the book that describes the trends of their arts, how they evolved, and what weapons they tend to use.  Mr. Draeger spent time learning and documenting these arts, so there are lots of interesting pictures demonstrating the ideas and stances presented, and because some of the blades are very unusual, he has many drawings showing the shapes of blades used by the different branches of the silat martial arts.


    This book is a great beginning for someone interested in Indonesian martial arts.  It's basically the standard.  The author does a thorough explanation of the various arts, and why they are different, as well as why they are the same.  Mr. Draeger is great at showing the arts from an overall cultural and historical perspective, which is why he's one of my personal heroes.  He really started the idea of treating martial arts like an academic subject in an overall context of a society.  He was a large proponent of the hopological approach to studying martial arts.


    Being that there is a very academic take on the subject, the way it is written is more stuffy tone than I would prefer.  But being that it is the starting point of most Indonesian martial arts research, having it feel like a textbook isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    Also, the book is a little dated, having been originally published in 1972.  The spellings of the terms have changed a little.  For example, the modern word "Cimande," where the "c" is pronounced more like a "ch" is spelled Tjimande.  It took me a minute to realize that they were the same thing. 
    My biggest complaint is that this book isn't being published right now.  Sure, you can still find older used copies on eBay, or, or even sellers on Amazon, but this is a piece of martial arts history, as are most writings by Draeger, that should be preserved.


    If you have an interest in Indonesian martial arts or, as I did, Pencak Silat in particular, there is no better place to start than this book.  Even if you just want to expand your martial arts horizon and look at martial arts from a completely different perspective, this is a great place to start.  It is a little dry, but hey, it's not an adventure novel.  It fulfills its role brilliantly as an introductory text to a regional martial arts that most people only know through name alone, and sometimes, not even that.  All that being said, I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 ninja stars.  It is a little dated, and dry, but it takes an esoteric martial arts and deals with it on its own academic merits.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Shownotes for Episode XXXI-The Podcast is Not Enough

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Intro:  Theme from "Enter the Dragon" by Lalo Schifri

  Recorded On: June 4th, 2015
    Hiyaa! Podcast
    Martial Arts Nation Podcast

Interlude Music: Would! by Alice in Chains

NEWS: by Ryan Lindsey

Interlude Music: Norwegian Wood by The Beatles

Interview: James Dinh of River Reed Crafts  
  The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  The Man from Nowhere
  13 Assassins
  Twilight Samurai
  The Hidden Blade

    River Reed Crafts (facebook)

Interlude Music: The Trees by Rush

This Week in Martial Arts:  June 13th, 1645
  Death of Miyamoto Musashi
  Eiji Yoshikawa
  The Samurai Trilogy
  Toshiro Mifune
  The Lone Samurai by William Scott Wilson
  Iron Maiden "Sun and Steel"

Contact Information
  Twitter Acount: @martialthoughts
  Atemicast Youtube Channel

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Episode XXX-Podcasts, Trains, and Automobiles

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Intro:  Theme from "Enter the Dragon" by Lalo Schifri

  Recorded On: May 23rd, 2015
  Begging for iTunes/Stitcher Review
  Asking for Facebook Likes 

Interlude Music: I've been Everywhere by Johnny Cash

Interview: Iain Abernethy
  Doug James
  Wado-ryu Karate
  Funakoshi, Gichin
  Gavin Mulholand
  Chuck Norris
  Kris Wilder
  Marc MacYoung
  Throws for Strikers
  Karate's Grappling Methods
  Karate-Do My Way of Life
  James Williams
  Rory Miller
  Jeff Thompson
  Dead or Alive
  Peter Consterdine
  Meditations on Violence
  Scaling Force
  Lawrence Kane
  Practical kata bunkai

Interlude Music: Territories by Rush

This Week in Martial Arts:  May 25th, 1977
  Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
    Akira Kurosawa
    The Hidden Fortress

Contact Information
  Twitter Acount: @martialthoughts
  Atemicast Youtube Channel

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shownotes for Episode XXIX-You Only Podcast Twice

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Intro:  Theme from "Enter the Dragon" by Lalo Schifri

Introduction:  Recorded On: May 1st, 2015
  Less laughing under my breath
  Karate Cafe (Episode 105)

Interlude Music: The Sundering by The Sword

Interview: Ben Miller 
  Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies
  HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts)
  Spirit of the Times Magazine
  Schools and Masters of Defense 
  The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho
  The Mark of Zorro (Youtube)
    Tyrone Powers
    Basil Rathbone
  Mississippi Gambler (Youtube)

Interlude Music: Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzepherions by The Sword

This Week in Martial Arts:  May 1st, 1971
  Billyjack Premired (Trailer)

Contact Information
  Twitter Acount: @martialthoughts
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