Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's Old is New Again! Ancient Strength Training Methods are Making a Comeback!

The latest and one of the greatest additions to my martial arts library.

In recent years, we’ve seen a move away from all the modern muscle-building methods and machines back to old-time strongman-type training. Iron boots, kettle bells, Indian clubs and anchor chains are taking their place in health clubs alongside Nautilus and Universal Machines.

What's old is new again! Old-fashioned strength training exercises like Indian clubs (above) and kettlebells (below) are making a comeback, even turning up in modern health clubs and gyms.

We’re also seeing a return to exercises that require little or no equipment, like the old-fashioned pushups, squats, planks (or as I used to call them, “gutbusters”) and lunges.

Modern athletes and fitness buffs are learning something from the old “physical culture” training methods made popular in the early 20th Century - namely, the value of “functional strength".

Modern methods of training do produce strength, but folks are learning that’s it not a coordinated strength. When using a Pec-Deck at the local health club, you build a nice set of pectoral muscles. Then you move onto another
machine that builds the shoulders. Then onto some contraption that develops the triceps.

Much modern fitness equipment is great at isolating muscles, like this pec-deck. (See above). But isolating muscles doesn't build a coordinated strength that is needed for sports or martial arts.

But the trouble is that you’re not learning to use your muscles together, to coordinate everything in a unit. Which is why bodybuilders, though strong, are not able to generate the power needed to perform specific athletic feats, like jumping, throwing, clim
bing, wrestling or boxing.

I was turned onto bodybuilding and weight training in seventh grade, inspired by the movie, “Pumping Iron” and by my health teacher, former Mr. Universe, Mike Katz. I’d also cross-trained in various martial arts throughout my teen years, which I found helped me to coordinate the strength I developed from weights.

Mike Katz, former Mr. Connecticut, Mr. America and Mr. Universe. As my junior high school health teacher, he was also my inspiration to hit the weights.

Though weights were my preferred way of training, I also loved to hit the heavy bag, the makiwara and use various weapons, like swords, sais, staves and that mainstay of every teen thug's karate arsenal, the nunchaku. Through those tools and the practice of kata/hyungs/kuens, jujitsu wazas (two-man drills) and karate-style free-sparring, I helped to round out my training.

As I got older, I came to enjoy straight weight-lifting less and le
ss. I wasn't exceeding in martial arts the way I wanted. When I was banged up and had my ass handed to me by two junior classmates during a tournament, I realized that something had to change if I was to continue as a martial artist.

Following some time off, I returned to the basics. Four years of chronic underemployment after college gave me a lot of free time to re-examine what I'd learned about martial arts and physical fitness. I soon learned to place more emphasis on trainin
g methods that related directly to martial arts training, including: sheer repetition of basic techniques; developing my own sparring combinations; hitting the bag and the makiwara; practicing judo and jujitsu throws by tying an obi (karate belt) around a tree.

I used do this type of training with my obi (belt) tied around a tree. I have to try it with inner-tubes when I get the chance.

During this time, I also discovered old fashioned Iron Palm training, using makiwaras, sandbags, heavy bags, buckets filled with dried beans and rice
as well as specified internal practices and the use of Chinese medicines.

Thanks to such training, I developed a confidence in m
y abilities that I'd never had. Though my techniques looked better as a teenager, they work better now, and with less wear-and-tear on my body.

Which brings me to the purpose (yes, I do have one) of this article. I received a book yesterday that will certainly take a treasured place in my very extensive martial arts and fitness library.

"The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional K
arate", by Michael Clarke, sets out to revive the ancient methods of physical training practiced in Okinawa which were inspired by time-honored Chinese kung fu training methods. (See photo of book cover at top of article).

The book is a treasure trove of classical training methods and tools used to develop full-body strength. You won't win Mr. Universe with these methods. The equipment and the results they provide are not pretty. But, speaking from experience using some of these methods, I can tell you they work.

You will find that you climb, run, jump and especially, fight better than you did before. It will be a functional type of strength, not necessarily the strength yo
u will use while laying on your back to do a bench press. Instead, you will be able to do things like moving furniture, carrying a sick injured person or pet to safety, pushing a disabled car down the street.

It's the type of power you need to throw a baseball or to dominate the soccer or football field, to scale a sheer rock wall.

Perhaps most inspiring from this book is the author's point that the Okinawans, though resource and financially poor, learned to make do with what they had. Their training methods were simple, such as tying a pot of water or heavy rocks to a stick to make a forearm exerciser. Or drilling holes rocks and sticking a wood dowel in there for a makeshift dumbbell.

Examples of hojo undo tools and training methods.

The book also includes versions of wooden training dummies. Having built my own 13 years ago, I can say it is easily the best investment of my time, effort and money that I have made to my own home martial arts training.

With my wooden dummy, practicing jeet teks (intercepting kicks)

One can't help but read this book and be inspired. I'm already coming up with ways to replicate some of the equipment in that book, particularly the stone padlocks (ishisashi) or the kongoken for my own use.

Kung fu expert with stone padlocks (above)
Okinawan karateka with kongoken (below)
I am so going to make these for the carport kwoon.

As time permits, I will work to make some of these items and post my results here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Funtime's Over! Enough Rest! Back to Work!

I spent last weekend visiting with my sister and her husband, who came in from El Lay to visit their Florida home. It was also and excuse for her to go trick or treating with Vitaly.

In addition, I spent the time giving my knee a chance to recover. That old karate injury from 1984 has been acting up on me. In addition to everything else I over-consumed this past weekend, I've been eating Ibuprofen like they were M & M's.

Come Monday, we started getting some of that nice, cool Florida fall, with noontime temperatures in the upper 70's.* It made for a couple of good workouts.

Monday's session began with a good full-body stretch followed by some circuit work with forms. Because of my knee, I was reluctant to do any forms that involved the knee drop. I didn't avoid them. I just saved them to the end.

Otherwise, my circuit consisted of five runs of the Yau Kung Mun set, Gao Bo Toi (Nine Step Push) and three runs of Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Crashes from Forest). Between each set, I did a few reps with the ab wheel and a pyramid with the claw pushups, going from all five fingers, down to four, three, two and finally with just the thumbs. I am proud of the fact that I did at least five reps of each pushup in a fully-extended position with the exception of the the sets on the thumbs.

From there, I broke out my sam jie guan (three-sectioned staff) and worked on the fourth trip from the YKM sam jie guan set. It was a lot harder than it looked. Going forward, you hold one end of the staff and do figure eights with the other two sections. At the end of the figure eight, you swing the staff under your armpit, like the hidden sword draw from the sabre set.

The trouble is, if you don't really twist your upper body hard and fast when drawing out the staff, the end section will hit you in the head. Another problem with the three-sectional is that you can't practice it in slow motion. If you go too slow, you hit yourself. If you go too fast, you hit yourself, too.

I closed that workout with some bag catches and a run of the Mook Yan Johng Kuen (Wing Chun Wooden Dummy set).

Today, feeling stronger in my knee, I decided to work some stance training. Contrary to popular belief, stance training is less about building strength than with developing good body mechanics and alignment. Doing Bagua with Bret last month really showed me how much I've been neglecting that kind of practice.

Since I was in a Wing Chun kinda mood, I worked my Wing Chun empty hand sets and basics. Afterward, I went to the front yard and went throught he first four trips of the sam jie guan. As I said before, it is a simple, uncomplicated set. Taking out the repeaters, there are probably less than a dozen moves in the whole form.

But it is still physically demanding. It takes a lot of strength and concentration. What's more, there are a number of spinning moves, as well as the roll-outs, which can really leave a practitioner dazed and confused if he's not careful.

I closed again with some bag catches and a run of the wooden dummy set.

*Okay, I can't resist throwing that in. One of the fun things about living in Florida is that you get to torment all your Yankee friends and relatives by reminding them that they are freezing their asses off.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One Shoe, Two Shoe, Old Shoe, New Shoe

The Changing of the Shoes - A Solemn Event in my Personal Training
(Note the nicks from a kwan dao on the left shoe, above)

This week’s workouts were a first for me - my first workouts in new wrestling shoes in more than five years.

The other pair has lasted me a good long time. I use wrestling shoes because they are sturdy, lightweight and flexible. When practicing kung fu or taiji, I think it is important to be able to feel the ground beneath your feet.

What’s more, I have better luck with wrestling shoes staying on my feet. The slippers that are considered part of most traditional kung fu uniforms are certainly comfortable. But, in my experience, finding a pair that fits is tricky. Too often, I’ve had them come flying off whenever I throw a kick or when practicing on a wet surface, like grass.

Other athletic shoes are just too heavy. Certainly those cross-training shoes are the worst for practice.

I hate getting rid of old shoes. The old ones are comfortable. They bend in all the right places. The rubber treads are worn off in all the right places, making it is for me to pivot, while the rubber itself still gives me enough traction that I don’t fall and kill myself.

I put off changing my shoes for about a year. The others started to fall apart when I came too close to my own foot while practicing with my kwan dao. I cut through some of the material in one of the shoes.

Once something like that happens, it’s only a matter of time before more holes and tears appear.

Changing my shoes forces me to take an inventory of my training equipment. I start to look at what needs to be cleaned, what needs repairs or maintenance. Especially now, given my economic situation, I don’t have any extra money for replacing broken gear.

I lucked out with my shoes. I bought two pairs during a buy one/get one sale at a sporting goods store. The new pair I put on isn’t exactly new. They’re five years old, but they’ve been sitting in a shoe box in my closet.

Practicing with my sam jei guan (three-sectioned staff). Note the new colors, black and red.

In addition to the shoes, I took a look at my old three-sectioned staff. It’s the same one I bought 25 years ago. It’s still holding up, but it did need to be painted.

Rather than simply break out with the spray paint and masking tape and have at it, I decided to try something different. I’ve been practicing the Yau Kung Mun version of the three sectional instead of just free-styling it, or trying and failing to recall the form I previously learned.

One of the risks of the three-sectioned staff is that at least one section will always be out of your direct control. I noticed that sometimes when I thought I was holding an end section, I was holding the middle, and vice versa.

So I decided to try different colors. The middle section is red with black trim, while the end sections are both black with red trim. Like my competition uniform.

Besides looking cool, I find it gives me a quick, visual clue as to what section is in my hand at a given moment. This comes in handy, especially during the opening move when the pieces of the staff go from being held together to spread apart.

Which brings me to my recent workouts. I’ve been working the three sectioned staff and the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Crashes from Forest) in my recent workouts.

Today, I managed to get a lot done in just a little more than an hour. Starting with a full-body stretch, I did an eight-rough circuit with the Mung Fu Chuit Lum form, the ab wheel and three to eight reps of claw pushups.

I did the pushups in a pyramid fashion, starting with all five fingers in the first set, and removing a finger with each set until I was down to just doing them on my thumb. For the last few sets, I only did about three reps, but I’m proud to say that I can finally do them with a fully-extended pushup position, not from my knees.

After the set on my thumbs, I started adding fingers with each set. I closed with a set of 15 pushups with all the fingers on each hand.

With the circuit completed, I warmed up with five rollouts on each side and five runs of the first half of the three sectioned staff. It’s a simple form. When you remove the repeating moves, there’s probably only about a dozen moves in that whole set.

But it will take a lot out of you. Especially with the rollouts.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday's Workout - Tougher than Expected

I was still recovering from Monday and Tuesday's workouts. My back, my legs and forearms were killing me.

What's more, Vitaly had a half-day at school. I'd already promised him that I would take him and his new bike to Lowry Park. We pedaled the two mile distance between our house and the park. Under normal circumstances, two miles isn't a long or hard ride.

But I was supervising my son, which takes a surprising lot out of me. I warned him several times that he had to follow all of my instructions, that he was not to cross any street until I got there with him. He did follow my instructions, but I had to keep him on a short (figurative) leash to reign in his daredevil side.

In addition to the mental stress, the fall temperatures we've been having gave way to some 90-something degree weather.

We stopped at two of the park's playgrounds. While he rode around on his bike or climbed on monkey bars, I did about five runs each of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Crashes from Forest) set. Like most of the other Yau Kung Mun sets, it's short and fast. I've also been placing some emphasis on the fu jow (tiger claw) strikes in that set, visualizing the arm grabs and throat chokes.

I closed with a quick stretching routine which emphasized hips, core and legs. On the plus side, my right knee feels better than it has in weeks. I'm a lot less stiff and sore there today as I have been for much of the summer.

Tonight, I'll probably take some time off of the MFCL set to work exclusively on some Baguazhang with Bret.

On that note, I want to inform my Tampa-area readers that Bret is teaching Gao Family Bagua to the general public. For more information, email me at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday's Workout - Pushing Through

The view from the docks at Rivercrest Park, another peaceful place along the Hillsborough River. At the right time, I get to watch manatees drift along while resting between sets.

I went to Rivercrest Park, another City of Tampa Park along the Hillsborough River. It's a bit more out-of-the-way than Lowry Park, but I wanted to include some back exercises in my circuit.

Unfortunately, they dismantled the chin-up bars along that park's Parcourse. I had to content myself with doing the best I could with the monkey bars. I still got in a decent circuit of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Charges from Forest) set, pullups and leg raises, even though the monkey bars were designed for children.

I completed the circuit in right at 10 minutes. For the rest of the hour, I worked on various basics including: two versions of Jik Bo, a training exercise from both Yau Kung Mun (Soft Power) and Bak Mei (White Eyebrow) styles of Kung Fu.

An example of Jik Bo. Not pretty. Not a lot of moves. But a very practical exercise that's good for developing a powerful jab/low cross combination.

I also worked on some of the new Baguazhang basics I learned from Bret last week before wrapping up with some basics and some sections of the Sam Jie Guan (Three-sectioned staff). Even though I didn't do the entire sent, which includes two roll-outs, I still managed to put myself through a little training hell and really wear out my forearms.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Good Monday Workout! It's Great to get Outside Again!

I took my Monday workout to Lowry Park. There's a fairly secluded spot with some nice thick grass and soft ground next to a creek that feeds into the Hillsborough River that is probably my favorite place in the park.

Located only a mile from my house, in the middle of Tampa, it is still possible to see some typical Florida wildlife, including turtles, alligators (see above) and even manatees.

Not many people are likely to come walking through. It helps me to avoid hecklers, or worse, those half-wits who think their idle curiosity gives them the right to interrupt my workout. Anyone who trains outdoors in a public place knows who I'm talking about.

"Hey, is that some kind of kerrotty?"

"Do you give kerrotty lessons?"

The only sounds were the loud "bloops" coming from a troop of siamang apes at Lowry Park Zoo across the street. I took it as cheers of encouragement even if they weren't able to see me practice.

One of my most vocal fans

The soft grass and smooth ground makes it the perfect place to practice the Yau Kung Mun Sam Jie Guan (Three Sectioned Staff) set. I'll write more about that later.

An example of the Sam Jie Guan or Three-sectioned staff

After staking out my spot, I did a full-body stretch. Surprisingly, I haven't lost much, but my glutes, my adductors and my hamstrings are killing me today. I followed that up with a simple circuit that will be the core of my workouts for this month.

This circuit consisted of five runs each of the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Tiger Charges from the Forest) set and the Sam Jie Guan. The soft ground makes it easier to do those set since the MFCL has several of the Yau Kung Mun knee drops.

But the reall killer was the roll-outs done while striking with the Sam Jie Guan. I've put on about 30 pounds since I last did any serious training in Judo, JuJitsu or Aikido. You'll really feel that weight when you hit the ground, no matter how soft it is.

Between each run of the Sam Jie Guan and the MFCL, I did a set of six to 10 claw pushups and 15 crunches. To keep things interesting, I did my last three sets of pushups with my feet elevated on a park bench.

Like the stretching, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I haven't lost much from lack of practice. In fact, my strength has increased and the pushups were much easier than the last time I did them.

I guess I did get something from that body building at Gold's Gym.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Back! And I Have Some Stories to Tell!

Hello everybody!

I'm back. Yeah, it's been a while. I've got a lot of catc
hing up to do, so let's get this started.

After a summer of health issues, between my stomach, a cold and a stubborn case of strep throat, I knew I had to get back into shape. Taking my mother's advice and her generosity, I let her pay for a trial membership for me at the local Gold's Gym.

I needed to restore myself to some semblance of decent condition. I also hate being at the mercy of the weather. I love working out outdoors. In fact, I generally prefer it. But as Jimmy Buffett once said, "You can't reason with hurricane season."

Sometimes, the weather just won't cooperate. Thunder, lightning and rain drive me into the small section of my carport where I keep my wooden dummy. It really limits my workouts. There's very few forms or weapons I can practice in that small space.

So after shopping around and getting jerked around by the local health clubs, I settled on Golds.
I'll give them a lot of credit. They certainly were conve
nient and well-equipped. I enjoyed doing maki komis using the weight stacks on a Universal-type machine. Even more, I enjoyed watching some other gym rats attempt the same exercise and get slammed against the machine because they have a poor root.

But beyond indulging my sadistic sense of humor, after three weeks, I got bored with it. Pure bodybuilding in and of itself has gotten boring. Don't get me wrong. I like weight lifting and I think it should be a part of any athlete's workout. But just going up and down with a barbell or weight stack without some direct martial applications doesn't do it for me anymore.

I opted not to join full-time. I'll probably go with the YMCA since they have some good activities for the wife and kid.

I did have a good introductory Baguazhang practice with Bret Bumgarner. He's starting to teach his art openly and I'm helping him with some of the administrative work and marketing.

The workout was tough. Bagua is a lot more than walking around in a circle. Bret's style, which is Gao family style, is very combat-oriented. It also has a strong Xinyi flavor to it through its use of the San-Ti (Trinity) posture.

By the next morning, my legs were killing me, but my back was looser than it has been in weeks.

After recovering on Friday, I had a good session with Don. He helped me get back up to speed on the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Tiger Charges from the Forest) set. We also did some chi sao, t'ui shou and t'ui kirk practice. Don's approach to sensitivity exercises is very unconventional to say the least. He likes to mix it up with moves not normally associated with such practices. In a previous chi sao session, he bit me in the arm.

I think such a move would get you disqualified from competition. But then, during his career in the Navy, I think Don was a lot less worried about being called out by a referree than he was with avoiding a stint in a POW camp.

Those sessions with Don and Bret did snap me out of my funk. With hurricane season drawing to a close and dryer weather on the way, I can look forward to some nice sessions along the river.

One other thing - Check out the November 2009 issue of Black Belt: The World's Leading Magazine of Self Defense for my article on "Five Urban Legends that Refuse to Die" in the martial arts. It includes my all-time favorite, the notion that a black belt holder must register his hands as deadly weapons.

Available at your local newstand, Bounders, Buns & Noodles, Crooks-a-Zillion or other megalithic chain bookstore.

P.S. In the past, I have used this blog to comment on a number of things only tangentially related to martial arts, fitness or self defense. In the future, I'll be putting such things on my other blog, Sean C. Ledig - Writer / Editor / Photojournalist.

While there will be some crossover between the two blogs, I'll be using this one to discuss martial arts, fitness and related topics. The other blog will be a chance to keep my friends, family and fans informed of my latest projects, as well as my musings on politics, pop culture and philosophy.

When you get a chance, check it out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Disney buys Marvel: Is this good for Marvel

Bart Simpson's favorite hangout. In real life, you're more likely to find middle-aged men than 10-year-old boys at comic book stores.

Watching Bart Simpson makes me nostalgic. In so many ways, I was Bart when I was 10 years-old.

One way in particular is that we are both comic book collectors and fans. From my childhood through my mid-teens, a great deal of my allowance, and money from other sources, like birthday and Christmas gifts, went to comics.

As soon as I had it, I’d be off to the Acme Mall Bookstore,
Sleeping Giant Books or The Paperback Trader, getting the latest issues of X-Men, The Fantastic Four or Captain America. Or, in the case of the Paperback Trader, back issues as well.

I identify so much whenever Bart is found hanging out at The Android’s Dungeon, home of John Anderson, aka Comic Book Guy. (If you’re a Simpsons fan and didn’t know his real name, shame on you!)

Trouble is, in real life, you won’t see 10-year-olds hanging out at comic book stores. When I was 11 years-old, my $1 allowance would be enough for three comics. Today, my son’s $2 allowance would buy him about half a Marvel or DC comic.

Comics have been priced out of most kids’ budgets. Plus, they are competing with so many other forms of entertainment - video games, DVD’s, hundreds of cable channels - that we couldn’t even imagine back in the 70’s.

Kids today still love their superheroes. My son’s superheroes are many of the same ones I had when I was his age. He likes them just as much as I did. But he doesn’t get his heroes from comics anymore. He gets them from movies, TV, DVD and videogames.

Two days ago, I wrote in this space about the cons of Disney's purchase of Marvel Comics. Today, I wish to talk about how Disney can help Marvel, especially in these interactive, multi-media times.

Marvel Comics has a long history of failures when it comes to bringing their heroes to TV or the movies. A 1960’s TV show, “Marvel Superheroes”, which featured the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, was so horribly animated that its only value is for the cheese factor.

Several animated TV shows for “Spider-Man” and “The Fantastic Four” had mixed success.

In the 1970’s, Marvel tried bringing several of it’s characters to live action on the small screen. Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Captain America all bombed. The live action version of The Hulk, with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, enjoyed some success and lasted for almost four years.

Marvel's live-action version of The Hulk (above) was a moderate success on TV that lasted for almost four seasons (1977-1981). The same could not be said for Captain America (below) which bombed after two made-for-TV movies.

However, attempts to introduce Daredevil and Thor in TV movies with The Hulk were horrible, horrible embarrassments in the late 1980’s. Movies based on The Punisher and Captain America in the early 1990’s went straight to video.

Matt Salinger (son of author J.D.) in a Captain America movie that went straight to video in 1990.

It wasn’t until a relatively minor character, Blade the Vampire Slayer, was brought to life by Wesley Snipes in 1998 did Marvel enjoy any major success on the big screen. The “X-Men” in 2000, as well as its sequels in 2003 and 2006, were also extremely successful.

Wesley Snipes version of a minor Marvel Comics character, Blade, The Vampire Slayer (above) in 1998, singled handedly turned around Marvel's poor track record at the box office. That success was repeated with the X-Men (below) two years later.

Several movies with Spider-Man followed, as well as Iron Man in 2008. Both of those characters were quite successful.

Sadly, the success could not be replicated with “The Incredible Hulk”, “Daredevil” or “Elektra.” The first Fantastic Four movie was pretty good, despite some liberties taken with the characters and their back stories. The second sucked, despite the introduction of the Silver Surfer.

“Ghost Rider” had some great special effects, but personally, Nicolas Cage was not my first choice for the lead role.

The fact is, comics are a dying art form. The only people who still read them are middle-aged to seniors, with the occasional college kid or serviceman. Just go to a comic store on the day the new comics arrive. Those 30 and 40-somethings with the suits and ties stopping in after work are not buying for their kids. Those books they buy will be bagged and boarded and stashed away where the kids can’t read them as soon as the buyer gets home.

If we are going to keep those characters and their stories alive, film, TV and animation are the ways to go. And Disney dominates in all three mediums. Disney gave us the first full-length animated movie with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1938. Disney owns the ABC television network, several theme parks, several cable channels and a shitload of downtown Orlando, FL.

Disney is synonymous with feature animations and for good reason - their movies are some of the best animated films ever made. And their live-action movies are very good, too.

As a corporation, Disney employs thousands of writers, actors, stuntmen, animators, special effects technicians, cameramen, editors, musicians and computer experts. In fact, they pretty much have everyone they need on their staff in any facet of the entertainment industry.

With Disney’s vast financial resources, coupled with their vast human resources, they could turn around Marvel Comics’ mixed success with bringing their characters to the large or small screen. Whether with live actors or animation, they have what it takes to make great movies, DVD’s and TV shows.

As long as they stay faithful and respectful to the spirit of the characters, as long as they realize that Wolverine is not Mickey Mouse and that the Punisher is not Goofy, I see no reason why this partnership can’t be successful.

But for now, the only thing we can do is wait and see how Disney and Marvel handle this great entertainment opportunity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Disney buys Marvel: Is this a sign of the Apocalypse?

Followers of “Tales from the Carport Kwoon” know that I tend to venture off into a wide range of subjects, no matter how tangentially they are connected to martial arts or fitness. In previous posts, I’ve proclaimed my preference for The Green Hornet over Batman and mourned the passing of “Kung Fu” star, David Carradine and “Enter the Dragon” villain, Shek Kin.

Most recently, I appealed to my fellow gun owners, no matter how you feel about the health care debate or about President Barack Obama, to leave y
our guns at home when you go to public meetings. You’re only playing into the hands of those who would like to obliterate the right to keep and bear arms.

Today, I’ll be commenting on Disney’s buyout of Marvel Comics Group for $4 billion. What do comic books have to do with martial arts? Well, martial artists are notorious comic book fans and comic fans are major lovers of martial arts in film and TV. I personally know three black belts who’ve owned or managed comic book stores.

I also know comic books have inspired many young men to enter the gym and build up their muscles in an effort to look like their favorite characters. Former professional wrestler and one-half of the champion tag team, The Killer Bees, B. B
rian Blair, once admitted to me that his love of Superman was what started him on his own physical fitness kick.

Pro-wrestler Brian Blair, left, said his desire to be like Superman inspired him to hit the gym.

If you’re looking for an easy answer about whether Disney’s purchase of Marvel is a good thing, stop now. There are few easy answers in life and you’re not going to find it here.

I’ve been a longtime fan of both Marvel and Disney. I grew up with Disney in my house, primarily because of my father. I had paperbacks and comics featuring Disney characters as a small child. When I adopted my son, the first place my father took him was to Walt Disney World.
The first Marvel Comic I ever owned.

When I was seven, I was hooked on Marvel Comics, especially with the purchase of Marvel Spotlight issue five, the first appearance of the Ghost Rider. Today, I have a collection of between 3,000 and 4,000 comics. At least two-thirds of that collection consists of Marvels.

First, lets look at some of the cons of Tuesday’s purchase by Disney. The Disney company is synonymous with “family entertainment.” Of course, family entertainment is pretty much a euphemism for “toning down and dumbing down entertainment for the palatability of small children.”

Perhaps the worst example is Disney’s version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a very dark tale by Victor Hugo, and turning into the usual song and dance production.

Not the only, but perhaps the most egregious example of how Disney has taken dark, gothic literature and toned it down for children.

But it doesn’t end with “Hunchback.” Disney has taken many classic tales from the public domain and adapted them for screenplays, especially fairy tales like “Snow White”, “Cinderella”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Little Mermaid.” Anyone familiar with the original stories, as recounted by The Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll, knows that they were also much darker, much more gruesome, than Disney would have you believe.

Meanwhile, Marvel has a well-deserved reputation for pushing the envelope. Even when under the restrictive Comics Code Authority, they loved to see what they could get away with. They even exerted pressure on the CCA to ease up on some of their standards. For example, the Code originally prohibited depictions of occult figures, especially “living dead” creatures like vampires and zombies.

Only under pressure from Marvel Comics did the Comics Code Authority ease up on their rules to allow horror comics, like these featuring Dracula and Frankenstein's moster, to hit the newstands.

In 1972, Marvel got the code to ease up on that restriction, and released a number of horror comics, including “Tomb of Dracula” and “The Monster of Frankenstein.”

In one famous incident, Marvel released “The Amazing Spider-Man” number 96 without the Code’s seal. At the time, the Code forbade any mention of drug abuse, even if it was anti-drug. But Marvel’s editor-in-chief and co-creator of most of its superheroes, Stan Lee, was asked to do an anti-drug story by the White House. When he asked the Code for permission to do a story about Peter Parker’s friend, Harry Osborne struggling with drug addiction, the Code said “no.”
Quick! What's missing from this cover?

Lee was shocked that they would say no even though this request came from the President himself. So Lee shocked the industry by releasing that issue without the seal.

But Marvel has pushed the envelope in other ways, ways that seem incredibly minor today but were shocking when they happened. The company gave us heroes like The Punisher, Wolverine and Blade the Vampire Slayer, who didn’t share other heroes self-imposed restrictions on killing bad guys. In X-Men 116, Wolverine fatally dispatched a sentry who was guarding an enemy’s hide-out. The reader doesn’t see the killing, but the horrified look on Nightcrawler and Storm’s faces leaves no doubt as to what happened.

In the 1980’s, while still operating under the Code, Marvel pushed the limits in another, then-shocking way in the pages of the Fantastic Four, showing husband and wife characters, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman sharing a bed. Horror of horrors! A married couple in the same bed! You'd think they were answering the question about whether Mr. Fantastic could stretch all parts of his body!

Though it should be noted that the same taboo wasn’t broken on prime time network TV until the 1970’s when Mike and Carol Brady were shown sharing a bed on “The Brady Bunch.”

Still, The Fantastic Four pushed a lot of boundaries. Long before the Simpsons, they were the first dysfunctional family in comics. The FF dealt with everything from marital infidelity, divorce, domestic violence and even child abuse just among its members.

Perhaps the other way Marvel pushed the envelope was with the vocabulary used by its characters. When Marvel was started, the general rule in comics was to avoid three-syllable words. Four syllable words were pretty much verboten.

But Lee considered himself a writer, first and foremost. He wanted characters and stories which appealed to adults. His critics once derided him by saying that a kid would need a dictionary to get through a Marvel Comic.

Lee responded that there are worse things to do to a kid than make him look up a word in the dictionary.

Of course today, Lee and Marvel are still going strong. Can rival companies, like Gold Key, Atlas or Charlton say the same?

So where do things go now? Will we see The Punisher forced to load his M16 with tranquilizer darts? Will Wolverine be forced to sheathe his claws? Stay tuned, folks.

And come back here tomorrow for the pros of Disney’s purchase of Marvel.

Same Kwoon time. Same Kwoon channel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For Once, I Agree with Jim and Sara Brady

News stories like this will only serve to turn Americans against guns and gun owners

In court, when two judges arrive at the same conclusion but through different methods, it is called a concurring opinion.

That's what I've come to today with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I've never agreed with them before, but I do agree that if you're going to a presidential event, you need to leave your guns at home.

Those who know me, know that I am a staunch supporter of the right to keep and bear arms. I've written and spoken extensively about that view. In this blog, I've written about how I enjoy living in Florida because I can take my kwan dao, my gim or the my three-sectioned staff to the neighborhood park and enjoy a quiet training session along the Hillsborough River. In other places where I've lived, such as California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, I'd be committing a felony if I did that.

Believe me, I am no friend of the Bradys. I learned first-hand how poorly gun control works to prevent gun violence when I was 18 and found myself staring down the business end of a .38 revolver. I've seen how well gun control d
oesn't work in New York City, Boston and Oakland, CA., three cities with abominable crime rates despite their strict gun laws.

But this week, as President Obama and members of congress take part in town meetings to discuss healthcare reform, some boneheads decided that now is the time and place to make a statement about the 2nd Amendment by showing up armed.

That's just what responsible gun owners don't need is more dumb (expletive deleted) perpetuating the stereotype that gun owners are a bunch of inbred, right-wing reactionaries bent upon violence if they don't get their way at the ballot box. Yes, we do have a legal, Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But by carrying them at these to
wn hall meetings, we are not making a statement, but instead playing into the hands of those who would ban everything from pocketknives to semi-automatic rifles.

God forbid if some psycho actually does take a shot at Obama. If you look at the history of gun control, you'll see that high profile assassinations are often the catalysts for more controls on weapons.

The killings of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. did a lot to turn the tide against gun ownership. Many new laws restricting carrying of weapons were passed in response to those shootings. *

In California, the Black Panther Party sought to make the same statement about the right to keep and bear arms as today's right-wingers are attempting to do today by carrying rifles into the state capital in Sacremento. The response by the California legislators and several local governments was to place more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms in that state.

Images like this, showing Black Panthers brandishing rifles, went a long way to scaring people into supporting gun control during the 1960's.

In 1980, the killing of John Lennon also spurred the call for more gun control.** Three months later, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan kept the anti-gun momentum going. What's more, that shooting turned White House press secretary Jim Brady, and his wife, Sara, into two of the most vocal and most successful opponents of the right to keep and bear arms following his near-fatal injuries at the hands of John Hinckley, Jr.

So speaking on behalf of responsible gun owners everywhere, leave your weapons at home if you're going to one of those town hall meetings. All it is going to take is one accident, or one nutjob to turn the tide against us once more.

* I don't believe for a second that all the gun control in the world would have saved the Kennedys or King. I don't claim to know the truth about how and why they died, but I have no doubt that their killings were orchestrated by factions within our government. Because of this, their assassins would have had access to weapons no matter what the law said.

**I'm no fan of John Lennon, but I have my suspicions about his killing, too. It just seems strange to me that such prominent foes of the Vietnam War all met the same untimely end.

Monday, August 17, 2009

No Workout, Just Some Ruminations

Some examples of classical conditioning found in both Okinawan Karate and Chinese Kung Fu.

I haven't worked out since Wednesday of last week. The respiratory issues are still kicking my ass. Tomorrow I'll be going back to my doctor for a refill of the antibiotics.

Thursday, Don paid me a visit. Due to illnesses and family obligations, we haven't had any chance to train together while he was home. Though we didn't get to practice, we did have a great exchange of information as we watched a DVD of some of his kung fu brothers going through Yau Kung Mun sets.

It was one of those times of information overload. There was just too much good stuff to recount it all here. Mainly, our conversation centered around the differences in the forms between different branches of Yau Kung Mun. In fact, we saw versions of two of the most advanced fighting forms of that art, the Sup Baht Mor Kiu
(18 Devils Bridge) and the Mung Fu Chuit Lum (Fierce Tiger Charges from the Forest) that were almost unrecognizable from what he and I practiced.

It can get confusing sometimes to see all the differences between the various sets, even in schools of the same style. I've studied Yang Taijiquan with three teachers who all have trained with Cheng Man Ching, but none of their forms bear a
ny resemblance to each other.

Cheng Man Ching (1901-1975)

But one thing I've come to appreciate about Don is that nothing is set in stone for him. While he has his way of performing the sets and the basics, he is willing to allow for some latitude in how others practice the techniques. While we strive to remain faithful to the spirit of those who've gone before us, we realize that people and times change.

You're not likely to see a 200-pound Shaolin monk with a 50-inch chest. Or a (ahem!) 34-inch waist. So we have to make some allowances for the size and shape differences to make the art work for us.

And if you can't make it work, then it's time to try something else.

On another topic, my birthday is in November and there is this book on "The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate" that I would like to add to my library. According to, it is scheduled to be released in September.

The product description says that the book not only teaches how to use this equipment, like stone dumbbells or padlocks, but how to make it as well.

If that's the case, I can't wait for this book. I look forward to getting out my tools and making some more gear for my carport kwoon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sweating It Out

"Sweating is how you give your insides a bath."
Jean-Claude Van Damme *

I'm not much of a fan of the Damme guy, but I'll give him credit where it's due. Sweating is how you give your insides a bath. It's a way of purging your insides of toxins, bacteria and viruses.

My old boxing coach, Steve Williams, was a firm believer in the value of sweating. So much so, that true to his Native American upbringing, he built a sweatlodge on his his property, using it religiously (pun intended) to remove pollution from his body.

A Native American sweatlodge, similar to the one my boxing coach built. To the Native Americans, sweating helped to purify your body and mind.

I've put that idea to use during Monday's and today's workouts. I'm still fighting a little bit of that strep, so I kept it light. Today's session lasted 45 minutes, but half of that was a much needed stretch.

But once my muscles were good and relaxed, I walked out into the humid noontime Florida sun. The thunderclaps in the distance let me know that a deluge is coming down and threatening to keep me indoors for the next few days. I set out to get done what I could.

I've been wanting to get back to using my kwan dao, but since I know I'm nowhere near healthy enough to swing around a 15-pound polearm, I decided to do some staff sets in my circuit. Today's circuit included four runs each of the Siu Sup Jee Kuen (Small Cross Pattern Set) and Luk Hup Guan (Six Coordinate Staff) from Yau Kung Mun. Between each run, I did a set of five reps with the abwheel and five claw pushups.

A slightly different version of Sup Jee Kuen, but you gotta admit, it looks cool in this video.

I managed to get through it without fainting. Still, as winded as I was, I managed to squeeze in one run of the Mook Yan Johng Kuen (Wing Chun's Wooden Dummy Form).

*Yeah, I know that picture's not that Damme guy! I'd rather look at some model glistening than see him sweat like a pig even if that's what this article is about!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Training While Sick

It's one of the biggest questions ever faced by any athlete.

How much can, or should, you exercise while you're sick? It's well-known that people who do exercise regularly tend not to get as sick as often as those who don't.

But what about when you're already sick? What can or should you do when you have that full-blown cold or strep throat?

I've been dealing with that question a lot lately. I've had several health issues keep me from training as hard as I would have liked to this summer. My old knee pain acted up on me a few weeks ago, then it was some stomach issues, then a cold that morphed into strep throat.

I find that doing a workout when you're just starting to feel sick can help prevent the onset of disease. Gichin Funakoshi claimed that by running through some kata, he could sweat out a cold before it took hold of him.

In my experience, sometimes a light workout late in the progression of an illness can be what's needed to fight off the last of the bug. But the secret, whether trying to head off an illness or purging yourself of what's left, is moderation. Pushing yourself too hard can cause a relapse.

So yesterday, I did my first workout in a couple of weeks. I kept it light, working on some chain punches or straight blasts, a couple runs each of the Siu Lam Tao and the Mook Yan Johng Kuen, with a little bit of the ab roller between runs.

Altogether, I spent a grand total of 20 minutes. Not a whole lot of time. Probably equal to the amount of time children get for recess these days. But it did make me feel better to get off my ass and do something.

And my lungs and sinuses do feel a little bit clearer today for yesterday's workout.

I'll probably keep it short again today. Maybe 20 to 25 minutes, tops. Maybe I can blow out the last of this creepy crud.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fighting a Bug

Yeah, you gotta dig those old educational films

Yes, it's been quite a summer.

First I have some undiagnosed stomach issue that may or may not be my gallbladder. I've been jumping through all kinds of hoops trying to find out what exactly the problem is and how to treat it.

Meanwhile, for the past three weeks, I've been eating a very low-fat diet. I've lost eight pounds, but it's hard to see how much of that is also atrophy from the missed workouts. Still, this diet is very boring. It's much harder than when I gave up red meat for Lent earlier this year.

I like chicken well enough. I've been eating it almost every day. But in addition to red meat, I've also abstained from cheese, butter and most sweets. I also cut back on the amount of spicy food I normally eat.

That's hard because I do love spicy food. I also believe that my generous use of spices and herbs improves my health, especially my digestion and my metabolism. Most importantly, it has helped me to beat my salt addiction. There are so many ways, and much better ways, to flavor food without added salt, and thanks to my use of herbs and spices, I rarely use salt.

Then late last week, Vitaly and I got hit hard. He has strep throat and I'm fighting a cold. I've had strep before, so I can recognize the symptoms and I don't believe that I have it. Still, this cold is in my chest and I am doing my best to avoid having to use antibiotics.

Kimchi - that nuclear-hot Korean sour kraut that is good for what ails you.

For the past four days, I've lived on chicken broth, rice, ramen noodles, grapefruit juice and kimchi. I credit the latter with keeping my sinuses clear and helping me load up on antioxidants. I don't know a native Korean who doesn't believe that their national side dish isn't a miracle cure. Based on my experiences with the stuff, I have to agree.

Still, it once again puts a hole in my workouts. I'll be taking it easy and eating even more simply than usual.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tae Kwon Do and Autism Article Appears in TKD Times

Hey all,

Just letting you know that my profile of Hunter Oliver, a seven-year-old Tampa Bay boy with autism is in the September 2009 issue of TKD Times.

I'm pretty proud of it. They gave the article good play and ran it in the entire length.

I got my advance copy today, so it should be available soon at your local newstand or bookstore.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Playing a little bit of catch-up

Hi folks!

Yeah, it's been a while. Between some health issues, paying jobs, trying to find paying jobs, home repairs and upcoming family obligations, I haven't had much time for training and less time for keeping up with the latest from the Carport Kwoon.

First of all, a week of regular rain kept me inside for much of the second week of this month. I know, I know, Tampa needs the rain. I'm well-aware of our drought situation.

But human beings need sunshine, too. And we need time outdoors to get fresh air. Without those two things, we suffer, both mentally and physically. I know that being stuck indoors did not have a good effect on my normally sunny disposition.

Early last week I was hit with some major stomach issues. I've spoken with four people who've all had their gallbladders removed and they seem to think that mine needs to go, too. I've been doing the usual jumping through hoops and taking tests. If it's gotta go, then it's gotta go. Just make it soon so I can get back to my life.

I did do some training this week. Mostly some light workouts in-between home repairs and cleaning. Wednesday, I finally got together with Bret Bumgarner, a mostly online friend who is no slouch when it comes to internal training in martial arts.

He offered some great suggestions for what little Baguazhang I know. Hell, he put me into information overload. I was really sorry I did not have my notebook, video camera and tape recorder handy. It's hard to know where to begin.

We also had a great push hands session. While my root is still pretty strong, my waist and hip coordination were my downfall. Thankfully, Bret lives near Carrollwood. Push hands is something that can only be developed with lots of practice with other competent practitioners. If you don't practice, you will very quickly lose any benefits.

Bret is no sadist. But his Baguazhang and his push hands have a very strong martial flavor. None of that new-agey, lovey-dovey, peace, love and understanding that permeates so much of Chinese martial arts, especially Taijiquan.

No, Bret loves his overkill. He would be a very dangerous guy in a streetfight. Contrary to what so many other internal stylists teach or practice, Bret's art is very aggressive. As he likes to phrase it, "Bagua guys don't give a shit!"

But it's not sloppy, either. He doesn't sacrifice solid body mechanics for aggression. He pointed out my overuse of my shoulder muscles showing how and why my shoulders get so tired in chi sao and push hands. He's forced me to re-examine how I do the bong sao (elbow-up) block in Wing Chun, both with partners and on the dummy.

Lastly, check out your newstand or bookstore. I have articles appearing in the Sept. 2009 issue of TKD TIMES and the Nov. 2009 issue of BLACK BELT.

In TKD TIMES, I profile a seven-year-old boy with autism and how he's benefitted from Tae Kwon Do training with local instructor, Chris Man-Son-Hing. In the interest of disclosure, Man-Son-Hing Sabum Nim (master instructor) was also one of my classmates in Tang Soo Do and Hap Ki Do under the late Kim Jae Joon Kwan Jang Nim (grandmaster).

For BLACK BELT, I take a look at the martial arts urban legends that refuse to die. Among them: A black belt must register his hands as deadly weapons; A black belt is legally prohibited from using his martial art in self defense unless his opponent is also a black belt; A black belt can rip a person's heart from his chest and show it to him before he dies.

Forgive me for including a spoiler here, but all those legends are just a crock of shit with no truth to them whatsoever. But they're still out there and I take great pleasure in debunking them.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Takin' the Knee to Rehab

"They try to make me to go to rehab, and I say uh, no, no, no!"
- From "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse -

Knee joints are a bitch.

It's easily the most complex, most misunderstood joint in the body. I had my right knee kicked in during a sparring practice in 1984. It was a pretty typical accident, especially in Korean martial arts. My partner and I tried to kick each other at the same time, our legs collided and I happened to take it on the inside of the knee.

Three years later, my left knee gave out. I'd just been favoring that leg so much that the wear- and-tear just got to it.

In 1992, my then-sifu, Lucjan Shila, and my kung fu brother, Andy Macaluso, taught me some new ways of stretching. Combined with some other changes in my workout, I've been able to manage my knee pain pretty well. Thanks to their advice and training, I often go for months, or even years, without any problems whatsoever.

But once in a while, I'll do something that sets it off again. I'll be limping around or even resorting to my cane while trying to rehabilitate my knee through the use of stretching and strengthening exercises, various medicines, both modern pharmaceuticals and herbal remedies, along with some common sense and rest.

I've hit one of those times again. My right knee has been giving me some pain since I twisted my foot getting out of my car. It wasn't a bad twist and that's how it usually happens. Just some moment of not paying attention causes a little twist or some impact that causes the old pain to act up. Of course, I don't think the wet weather we've had lately has helped matters, either.

So my summertime efforts at returning to some strong basics are taking on a whole new meaning. I've found that when dealing with injuries, very often, the best thing to do is the most basic exercises and techniques.

Today, I started with a short but good 15-minute standing stake exercise, aka "Embrace the World" posture. There is nothing like that exercise to gently get your joints back into shape and to force you to pay attention to your alignment and body structure. It's an incredibly basic exercise with benefits that carry over to the rest of your practice.

I followed that with a full-body stretch while I plan out my workouts for the next couple of weeks. I think I'll be focusing mostly on various qigong and stretching exercises in the morning, followed by the usual strongman stuff in the afternoon.

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Seeking Help from Fellow Martial Artists

Hey all!

I'm sure most of you know that I do some writing for the martial arts press. Well, I'm turning to all of you for help with an article I'm writing.

The article is about dangers of MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) for martial arts practitioners. I've got everything I need for the article except for one crucial part - personal testimonies and experiences of those who've contracted MRSA through the practice of martial arts.

If you, or anyone you know, has ever contracted MRSA through martial arts, boxing or grappling, and if you're willing to share your story in a magazine article, please contact me at


Surviving the Traditional Dojo: A Book Review

Terms like “traditionalist,” “classical,” “modern,” and “eclectic” get thrown around a lot in the martial arts. Sometimes, the martial arts world can seem like a war zone between two camps. One group seems frozen in time and place in Feudal Japan or Ch’ing Dynasty China. The other believes that anything created before Bruce Lee’s treatise “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate” is completely useless for modern times.

For me, practicing and teaching martial arts is a balancing act. We shouldn’t live in the past. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget the lessons that history has to share with us.

Some modern stylists often treat me like I’m some kind of frozen chosen traditionalist because I will incorporate classical training methods, forms and weapons into my practice. Though I don't often use the traditional terms to describe techniques, I am very familiar with the terminology in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino martial arts.

Meanwhile, some hardcore traditionalists (mistakenly) assume I have no respect for the old masters who’ve gone before me. After all, I use modern terminology, keep up on the latest health and fitness news, and I support cross-training for martial artists. Unless I’m competing in a tournament or visiting someone else’s dojo or kwoon, my uniform consists of sweats, wrestling shoes, a t-shirt and a bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes.

The reality for myself and other martial artists usually falls somewhere between those extremes. Matt “Ikigai” Apsokardu’s new e-book, “Surviving the Traditional Dojo,” illustrates this point. One thing I’ve always respected about his blog, “Ikigai” shows that there’s more similarity than difference between the various camps. Though he considers himself a traditionalist, he places a higher value on practicality than on blindly following tradition, a characteristic I’ve come to respect in him.

The book is very well-suited for beginners, as well as parents of beginners, in understanding martial arts, though advanced martial artists could benefit from regular refreshment of their basics. It introduces the proper Japanese terminology for the uniform, the instructor, your senior and junior classmates. But while the book is written from the perspective of a Japanese-Okinawan Karate sensei, it has a lot to offer practitioners of any art, whether Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, etc.

Apsokardu is no fan of the current state of martial arts, particularly the commercialism which permeates the scene. He offers some great examples of a dojo vs. a faux-jo. Personally, I like the terms, “McDojo” or “Belt-of-the-Month-Club”, but faux-jo works.

He creates a great mental image for the reader as he compares the simple “Clean, modest uniforms” of the dojo to the “Fancy Uniforms with stripes, patches, logos, etc.” of faux-jos, which sadly, seems to be the norm these days.

There’s also a great deal of information on the traditional etiquette for practitioners of Japanese martial arts. Any new student, or that student’s parental units, would benefit from knowing what is expected of them in a traditional dojo.

From an athletic standpoint, there’s some practical, albeit basic information on stretching and warming up. Most of it should be common sense, but so many senseis, and other athletic coaches, tend to ignore this, much to their students’ and players’ detriment.

I hesitate to call this book a consumer guide, especially since the author eschews the commercial atmosphere of the current martial arts scene. But that is one of this book’s greatest strengths. The sections on “Warning Signs of Trouble,” “What to do if You feel At Risk,” and “Sensei Behavior You Don’t Have to Tolerate,” should be must-reads for any new student or the parents. In my 30-plus years in the martial arts, I’ve seen plenty of examples of all three.

The information on history also blows away the stereotype of traditional martial artists being completely adverse to anything new. His chapters on belt ranks, and his biographical information on judo founder Kano Jigoro and Funakoshi Gichin, who introduced karate to Japan, illustrates that the martial arts have been in a near-constant state of change.

The book closes with submissions from various martial arts instructors and writers, (including myself) on what they think is necessary to survive a traditional dojo. The suggestions are all pretty much just common sense.

But sometimes, that’s what we need most to be reminded of.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm in a Grapplin' Kinda Mood

Entries for an osoto gari-type takedown on the wooden dummy

Ever since my attempt to learn the sam jei guan (three-sectioned staff) set from Yau Kung Mun, I've been in a grappling state of mind.

That set has two rollouts in it. True, I hadn't practiced them in years, but I figured "What the hell." I did them enough in my teens and twenties that it shouldn't be any problem.

Being laid up with a bum shoulder for several days got me thinking I needed to get back to the basics.

Since the start of this week, I've been doing the maki komis (entries for throws) using my old obi (judo belt) tied around my heavy bag. I'm getting a hell of a core workout from it. I've also been using my mat for something other than stretching.

Today, I warmed up with two sets of 25 maki komis, doing the ippon seio nage (shoulder throw) and the koshi garuma. I settled down with a full-body stretch before getting back into some more entries on the o-goshi (hip throw).

I ran through some Ly Jik Bo before moving onto the wooden dummy. I started out with some trapping drills, working up to some combinations. But for some reason, everything just naturally seemed to end in a takedown. I'd do a chi sao roll, then pak, lap, tan or kan sao a dummy arm while hitting with the other hand, then use the hitting hand to block or grab while I hit with the other.

This went on, always keeping a check on the dummy arm while hitting with my free hand. After three or four hits, I'd move in with a takedown involving a sweep, stomp or kick to the dummy leg.

I've never been one to make it as a pure grappler. But I can make grappling work if I soften up the other guy by hitting him. That seemed to be my strategy with the dummy today.

It gave me a lot to think about, like whether I could use this in chi sao competition. But I didn't take too much time for rest. I took the old bag-of-beebees and worked my grip by throwing it up, hitting it with a claw and catching it. I hadn't done it much lately, but I still eked out the traditional 108.

I closed with a variation of a sweep drill, combining methods from judo and shuai jiao. Stepping around the mat, I would sweep with one foot while pretending to pull someone down with my hands. But instead of doing it empty-handed, as judokas will do it, I doubled up my obi, took each end and snapped it as I did a sweep, to simulate violently pulling someone to one of his off-balance points.

It was a helluvan isometric workout. I had to do my 108 reps in two sets.

My shoulders and lats hate me now.