Wednesday, June 27, 2007
When I was young, I had it in my mind that I would be an artist. More specifically, a commercial artist, like, say Norman Rockwell.
I'd have done it, too, except for two little things:
1) No talent, and 2) No chance of getting any ...
I dabbled. Conned my folks into buying me the Famous Artists correspondence course when I was sixteen. I did two lessons, didn't like what they had to say, and quit. Spent three years paying for it at twenty bucks a month.
I once did an oil painting for a friend. He wanted a still life, a bowl of fruit. He was happy with it. Of course, he went on a couple years later to become a smack freak, so mayhaps his judgment was less than sound.
I did a storefront window banner at a meat market once, using tempera paint. My mother got me the job. It was terrible. Two of the words I lettered onto the glass summed it up: Fresh Tripe.
Later, I came across an engraving instrument used to identify tools, and realized that the process could be used to etch glass. I did a handful of pictures this way, and sold a couple at a flea market. As a gimmick, if you put them into a shadowbox and used a tensor light along one edge, they would glow an eerie green.
There were a few cartoons along the way. As a hippie, I was the staff cartoonist for an underground paper called The Word. Cost a quarter, if you had it. If not, Hey, no charge, man, peace. Did a panel about a bunch of -- what else? -- dope-smokin' hippies: Odd George, with JJ, the Kid, and Sweet Maryjane, whose head was always shrouded in smoke ...
Did some toons for a couple of house magazines for the forestry industry a buddy of mine edited.
Found a method of itty-bitty-dot drawing that appealed, and did a book cover for a doctor's self-published poetry book, based on his daughter.
Eventually, I transferred this technique to scrimshaw.
But, all in all, I didn't have the chops and knew I never would. I think the moment I realized it was the first day of college, when I stood in line next to a guy who had been a portrait artist at Jackson Square, in New Orleans, and who was putting himself through school that way.
He took a pencil out of his pocket and on the back of a notebook, and in about forty-five seconds, sketched a portrait of me that could have been a fuzzy photograph. I couldn't begin to do that, and knew I never would be able to learn it.
Writing is so much easier ...
Summer of 1966, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the first ever karate school there opened its doors. Had to be Goju-ryu though nobody ever got that detailed back then, it was just called "karate," and that to differentiate it from judo.
The teacher's name was Kako Martinez, an ex-GI who had been stationed in Okinawa for a couple years, and who got his black belt -- first dan -- just before he shipped home. He was probably three or four years older than I.
More than forty years ago, and I can remember how excited I was to hear that a dojo had opened in my town. Back then, such places were rare outside the west coast or New York City, and the only source of information about those was Black Belt Magazine.
I was out of high school and attending LSU, just eighteen, and I signed up for the first white belt class. There were only four of us to start, though a few more joined in the next couple of months.
The place was on Florida Blvd., behind a drugstore in what would eventually become a mini-mall.
The pictures are from my first Polaroid Land Camera, probably a Swinger, Model 20, and taken by my then-girfriend, later mi esposa. You shot the picture -- B&W only -- and it developed outside the camera. You had to wipe some vile-smelling chemical goop across the image using a little plastic-sponge thingee, or it would fade away. Miss a spot and it did just that -- you can see that on the edges of these pictures.
Most of my first karate lesson was spent doing a sanchin form. Basically, this is a convoluted and passing-weird breathing exercise, with a pigeon-toed stance, and you go back and forth in a kind of sweeping step while punching and blocking in slow motion. I was a lifeguard at the time, swimming a mile a day, and fit, and I can remember how exhausted I was after a few minutes of this.
Kako -- he wouldn't let us call him sensei -- gave out rank in small degrees, in order to keep student interest. You started as a white belt, then dyed half your belt yellow. Next step was full yellow, then half-orange, half-yellow, then full orange, then half-orange, half-some other color, etc. I was there about six months, made it to yellow belt. Then I got married and my bride and I pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles, where I spent a couple weeks checking out karate schools there before settling on Okinawa-te.
In La-La-Land, I could have trained with Chuck Norris, who had a school then; or at a Chinese kung-fu school on Hollywood Blvd. that allowed round-eyes, or in any of several other Korean or Japanese halls that were open in 1967, but on the day I went into Doversola's school, they were sparring, kicking the crap out of each other, and laughing about it, and I thought, "Wow! How tough are these guys?"
Turned out not as tough as they pretended, but they did play hard, and it was the most impressive school I'd seen back then. Plus Doversola had minor parts doing heavies in the movies and on TV, and had trained some actors for martial arts roles. There were pictures of them up on his office wall. Two I recall the most: Anne Francis -- you will recall her from Forbidden Planet -- did a short-lived series trying to become the American Emma Peel, Honey West. And Henry Silva, who was the houseboy/spy who duked it out with Frank Sinatra in the original movie version of The Manchurian Candidate, the best paranoia-brainwashed movie ever.
I signed up, and spent three years there, taking classes three or four times a week, getting to brown belt, and becoming an assistant instructor -- I had a key to the building! -- before we left town and moved back to Louisiana. Toward the end, I used to spar with folks like Jim Kelly, from Enter the Dragon, and was pleased that I could hold my own with anybody who walked in the door ...
Ah, the good old days ...
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California
Back when I was young and stupid and in my second martial arts class -- Sensei Gordon Doversola's Okinawa-te school on Sunset Blvd., almost to Hollywood, I used to think that smashing my hands into bricks and boards was a keen thing to do.
I gave that up a couple years later when somebody slipped a firebrick in on me ...
Found this in the old photo album. The first time I ever broke a brick with a "karate chop."
If you look really close, you can see my beatnik-style beard, such that it was ...
I gave that up a couple years later when somebody slipped a firebrick in on me ...
Found this in the old photo album. The first time I ever broke a brick with a "karate chop."
If you look really close, you can see my beatnik-style beard, such that it was ...
Monday, June 25, 2007
After pounding sand with feet and body and doing a fair amount of knifework this past weekend, I feel the need to point out yet again that if you are in close proximity of someone who a) has a knife b) has a clue about how to use it and c) wants to use it on you, you are in dire peril.
Let me rephrase that: Deeeep shiiiit ....
You are in huge trouble if you are barehanded; slightly less so if you have a knife of your own and have some ability with it. Once you are close and blades flash? Bad. Bad.
There are several sayings amongst knife fighters that address this, but one I heard this weekend sums it up: When two knife experts fight, the winner is the one who dies second ...
Can you say, "Pyrrhic victory?"
I have several short, low-quality AVIs, too, but they aren't for public consumption. (If any of the attendees want copies, I can email or burn them to a disk for you. They range from about three megabytes to almost ten megs. They are: Guru showing a groundwork takedown with the knife; Ron and Serge doing groundwork; the leg warm-ups; and Guru doing some standup knife) stuff. You can have any of these, but only on the condition that you don't post them on the net, or pass them around to anybody who might.)
Well, I survived without breaking anything. I hope you won't think me any less manly if I admit to being a tad on the decrepit side -- I'm gonna need a hot tub of balur tomorrow. I've discovered muscles I didn't remember I had, and they are all sore ...
The short version of the report is that the group was mostly Sera students, and we had a fine time rolling around in the wet sand -- 'cause it rained from time to time. We played with knives, and with sticks, substituting for machetes, did way too much ground work, two days of intense training. I got a lot of pictures, and even a couple of short vids, with the knife and some warm-up stuff for ground work.
I hope Guru decides to keep having the gathering at his house. Dogs, cats, horses, ducks, chickens, kids, and Special Forces Army guys all wandering around, a great venue.
Guru and his lovely wife Kim cooked and supplied a terrific dinner and lunch, the centerpieces of which were barbecued satay skewers with Stevan's secret-recipe peanut sauce.
And, oh, yes, beer. Even some that Euro-trash stuff, Dutch, in this case. Naturally, I avoided it like the vile stuff that it is ...
I'll post some pictures later, once I sort out the incriminating ones ...
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
This weekend is the neighborhood' s annual garage sale. Already, the streets around my house are thick with shoppers and bumper-to-bumper traffic. No place to park on the street, and you have to shoo them away from blocking your driveway.
Walking the dogs is always fun during these sales. They get to meet a lot of people and other dogs. And dog-lovers and most children smile at Jude and Layla -- face it, the stubby little critters are way cute. Not like taking hellhounds out and watching people run to cross the street.
More often than not, when somebody sees the pups, they'll grin and say something. And more often than not, here's how the conversation goes:
"Cute puppies! What kind are they?"
(Sometimes they get this much. "Are those corgis?" To which I say, "Yes, they are the Cardigan Welsh variety.)
Eight times out of ten, this comes next:
"Huh. I never saw one that color before." (The other two times, they say: "Huh. I never saw one with a tail before." Sometimes they say both.)
"Well," I explain smiling, "probably most of the ones you've seen are the Pembrokes -- like the Queen of England has? Usually those are brown and white, and the tails, which come in stubby, are generally docked. These are Cardigans, this color is more common among this breed."
Actually, among Cardis, black-and-white with a touch of brindle is the most common color, which means chances are good the speaker has never seen one at all.
My wife and I have heard this so many times it's become a private joke. I want to say, "Oh, yeah, we dyed them that color because it goes with the carpet." Or: "We had tails grafted on because we think is it cuter."
Naturally, I would never actually say this, since that would be obnoxious. It's a passing parade, and simple ignorance, which I can remedy by explaining, and that's part of my job as an owner of a relatively-rare breed. Last time I looked, there were only nine hundred or so Cardigans registered with the AKC, and over ten thousand Pembrokes. Nowhere near the numbers of Labs, which are well over a hundred thousand, but still, Pems are much more common than Cardis. (In fact, another family joke is that the Pembrokes are as common as dirt, leading to the shorthand description, "Jude and Layla and I saw a dirt corgi on our walk today ...
So now you know ...
One of the cool things about my not-too-long-ago acquired car, the Morris Mini, is the retro-look dials and gauges and switches. If you enlarge the picture and look to the bottom-left of the cup holder, you'll see the airplane-style switches that control the windows and door locks, each protected by a steel half-ring so you don't accidentally hit it.
But for the really amusing stuff, look at the speedometer, center-mounted in the dash, and notice the gradations: Top speed, 150 mph -- 248 kph for those of you on The Continent.
The tachometer, over the steering column, redlines at 6800 rpm. (What that means for you non-techno folks is that once the engine speed gets to the red line, that's like Kirk demanding warp eleven from Commander Scott. "I canna doo it, Cap'n, she won' hold together!")
And even if the engine wouldn't blow up at that speed, a bump in the road as big as your little fingernail would send the car into low orbit, and adios, mate ...
This speedometer is what is known as "optimistic ..."
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
So my hand healed up enough to try the rope again.
Went fine, and pleased I was that it did.
To -- I hope -- forestall a recurrence of the malady tenosynovitis or tendonitis, whichever, I am going to try it on an every-other-day schedule, alternating with a couple sets of fifteen chin-ups on the off-days. This will allow me to keep the upper body muscles worked, without putting so much stress on the hands.
Hell getting old, but one must make accomodations.
As for the picture here, you can probably figure out who those guys are. Two points if you can name them all without having to check on the web. I got three out of four ...
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
You Love That Guitar More Than You Love Me ...
I happened across this in the local bookstore yesterday, and it's hard to imagine a guitar player who won't find something to like in it.
Guitar Man: Or, You Love That Guitar More Than You Love Me, by Will Hodgkinson, is one the best books on why to play the guitar I've ever seen. Touching, amusing -- might-have-to-change-your-pants funny in spots, it chronicles the adventures of a thirty-something British writer who decides he need to learn how to play, and who sets himself a goal of playing in front of an audience in six months. And some of the players he interviews and tries to learn from along the way.
My edition is from Da Capo Press, just out in the states, apparently, though it saw publication in the U.K. in 2006
It is worth buying just for the scene where Will decides to get out of his basement and go into he woods to practice, to commune with nature using his acoustic guitar. Time I got to the end of the scene, I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.
If you play guitar, get it. You'll like it. If you are a good player, it will bring back memories of when you weren't.
If you are a beginner, it will give you hope ...
I came across Dan's blog via Steve Barnes's blog -- you can click the links over on the right side of my page to get to either -- and saw that he was considering the possibilty of doing new books.
Lord, I hope so. Moran is one the best space-opera writers ever. I thought The Last Dancer, the third book in the Emerald Eyes, The Long Run, um, trilogy, was as good as they get.
Probably hard to find these day, and buying them used doesn't put any money in his pocket, but if you can find copies, you should read them.
And hope that he gets back into the field ...
The Star Risk, Ltd. novel, The Gangster Conspiracy, a collaboration between the late Chris Bunch and the Perry boys, Dal and Steve, is scheduled to ship July 3rd. (I think they would have done it on the 4th, which will be the second anniversary of Bunch's passing, save for shipping problems on a holiday.)
You can get your copy here. Buy several. Pass them out to your friends ...
Some of you might be aware of the Star Trek online series, New Voyages, which is essentially a bunch of fans who wanted to continue the original series ... so they did.
The powers-that-be at Paramount decided this was okay, and now you can log onto the website and stream episodes featuring Kirk and Spock and McCoy and all the rest on Gilligan's -- oops, I mean, the starship Enterprise, with fan actors.
The episodes start a little rough, but they get better, and the latest one, "World Enough and Time," starring George Takei (Sulu) is set for a theatrical premiere at the end of August.
My collaborator, Michael Reaves, and Marc Scott Zicree, wrote and directed this episode, based on an idea that Reaves had pitched to Phase II -- a series than didn't get made because they went for a movie instead -- back in the day, and the script was terrific. From what I hear, the episode is also going to look terrific.
Information about when you can see it can be found on the New Voyages website.
(As to my connection, if you watch the episode, which comes out on August 23rd, and if you listen carefully during the opening sequence, you'll hear a com exchange with a shuttle pilot requesting permission to dock his craft. That would be me doing the voice-over.
I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille ....)
The Predator novel, Turnabout, is due next month and I am hammering away at it, which is why I haven't been blogging much of late. Lotta blood and gore, guns going off, all like that. Stay tuned, I'll let you know when it gets turned in, and when it is supposed to be published.
Friday, June 15, 2007
If you have any interest in such things, go check out Alan's latest collection for sale. Just put it up today. (They go fast, given his prices and the condition. If you want one, pick a back-up, in case your first choice is gone. Lot of times, it is.)
Aside from being a knifemaker of some repute himself, Alan is a terrific guy, easy to work with, and much more trusting than I. Australian, married to a Javanese woman, speaks the language, travels to Java every year or two. Knows more about these things than anybody else I've ever dealt with.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Back in the dawn of time -- 1958 -- there was a television series called Yancy Derringer, starring Jock Mahoney, a former stuntman turned B-movie/TV leading man. Mahoney did a series called Range Rider before Yancy Derringer, then went on to do, among other things, a couple of Tarzan movies -- he was forty-something when he played the ape-man. His last screen appearance, if I recall correctly, was in Hooper, the Burt Reynolds movie about a stuntman, loosely based on Mahoney. Reynolds was dating Sally Fields at the time, and gave Mahoney a bit part. (Jocko was Sally Fields' step-father, and as a boy, I thought he was waaaay cool.)
Yancy Derringer, about a gambler who became a kind of undercover operative in New Orleans after the War Between the States, was a black-and-white series with a lot of shooting and things burning down or blowing up. Derringer's sidekick was Pahoo, played by X Brands, a loyal Indian who had saved Derringer's life, and somehow had to be responsible for him thereafter as a result. Pahoo never spoke, and communicated in a weird sign language.
Pahoo -- aka Wolf Who Stands in Water -- wore a blanket poncho and had a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun under it that he employed frequently. Also carried a knife in a sheath behind his neck and could draw and spin that sucker like a drummer doing stick twirls before he threw it and skewered a bad guy.
This was back in the day when violence on TV was rampant -- the body count in this series was pretty high. Kill 'em all, God will know his own ...
I had fond memories of ole Yancy and Pahoo, and had heard that the prints of the episodes had all been destroyed.
However, it turns out, they had not gone away.. Tonight, my son showed up on my doorstep with the DVDs of the series. I must have mentioned it to him in a good light, because he was quite pleased at being able to present it to me.
As was I pleased that he remembered.
I've watched a couple of them, and they -- naturally -- aren't as good as I recalled. Over-acted and fairly silly, but it was almost fifty years ago, after all. The ten-year-0ld Steve was a tad less sophisticated about such story telling.
Even so, they have a certain ... je ne sais quoi. I plan to watch 'em all ...
Hmm. Apparently Blackstone Audio Books has made an offer for The Musashi Flex, which means that people will be able to get it on CD, or as a downloaded MP3, so's they can listen to it on their iPods or somesuch.
How fascinating is that?
Dunno how long it'll take before it shows up, there will be contracts to sign and like that, but hey, ain't it great to be living here in the future ... ?
Typically, this is about nice cents each. You get this mechanical license by going through the agency that reps the artist for such things, places like BMI, ASCAP, Harry Fox.
The music industry, finally having come into the 21st Century, has now included MP3s and other internet media in this licensing process, although this is somewhat tricky, and the cost is about the same. I'll get to the tricky part in a minute.
I bring this up because I am learning how to play El McMeen's arrangement of Jay Ungar's fiddle tune, "Ashokan Farewell" on my guitar. Assuming I ever get it down, I want to post it on my SoundClick page. If I allow people to download MP3s of the song, then I need to send Harry Fox nine cents every time somebody does so. (Practically speaking, what one does is get a license before posting the tune, based upon one's best estimate of how many people might download it. If you figure five hundred, that runs you $45. There is a minimum of 150, and so if you figure that maybe nine people will download it, too bad.)
License is good for a year, and I suppose that if fewer people download it than you figure, you might get change back, but I dunno.
If you are selling the MP3, you might make a profit. If you are giving them away for free, not so much ...
Since this would be the only piece on my site that isn't public domain, or stuff I wrote, I figured I should pony up, so I have gotten the license. Now all I have to do is learn the piece ...
Oh, and that tricky thing I mentioned? If you don't allow downloads, if the material is streaming-audio only? Apparently it doesn't count, though some quirk in the way the rules are worded. So somebody can log on and listen without getting the MP3 and it's no harm, no foul.
There is a liniment from the Chinese apothecary called dit da jow. This is a vile-smelling, alcohol-based, Coca-Cola-colored concoction with bits of grit floating in it. It is applied to bruises, sometimes used as an antiseptic, though one is supposed to avoid putting it on cuts, and is designed to help injuries heal faster.
It is full of ground-up or burned herbs, and tends to get better with age. Ideally, one mixes up a batch of it, bottles it, and sticks it in the dark for several years before use.
In kung-fu circles, this is usually just called jow.
In silat circles, there is a similar ointment, Balur Tjimande, and while similar to jow, instead of being completely alcohol-based, has coconut oil added, which means it is solid at room temperature. It liquifies at about ninety-degrees F., so to use it from a bottle, one sticks in into a sink of hot water, or pops it into the microwave oven for twenty seconds or so.
The advantage of balur is that the oil allows for a more vigorous application.
The most potent of these balurs is supposedly made so by the addition to the herbs and ashes of a pinch of dust from Mas Kahir's tomb, Kahir being the man credited with the founding of the silat art Tjimande (also spelled "Cimande.")
In the case of bruises, one applies the balur and rubs it into the flesh with vigor -- "vigor" here meaning painful ...
I have used this several times in the last few years and it seems to work. Early on, I was skeptical as to its efficacy, having been trained a bit in western medicine. I figured that the main curative was the massage and not the liniment. So when I got what appeared to be two identical bruises on my forearms, I did an unscientific test of sorts:
One bruise got balur, applied thrice daily and massaged in. The other bruise got plain oil, applied and worked in likewise. I tried to use the same pressure and duration on both bruises.
The balur-treated contusion cleared up three days before the oiled one.
Hardly a double-blind, and no, I wasn't running a stop watch or checking with a pressure gauge, but it was good enough for me. I love the placebo-effect. If I only think I feel good? I'll take it.
I've decided to try using this on my right hand's tendonitis, so that I might more quickly resume climbing the rope and working my way to Tarzan status.
The best balurs I have come across were made by Mushtaq Ali al Ansari, a silat teacher of some renown, and by Dan Gambiera and his lovely spouse, using more or less the same recipe. These were done in small batches, and while I think Mushtaq has sold out his supply. Dan might still have a few bottles from his most recent brewing, and you can contact him here,
In case you are interested ...
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
It's 1986: Imagine you are a talented young classical guitarist who has gotten a chance to be in a master class with the living legend, Segovia Himself. You get to sit in front of the Maestro and play a piece. (In front of a couple hundred other crack classical guitarists watching.)
But the Maestro is having a bad day, he's cranky, and he interrupts you constantly and eventually, he ... orders you off the stage.
For more than twenty years, the story goes around about how some hotshot punk got up in front of Segovia, gave him attitude and lip, and got booted for his surly and snide remarks.
But: somebody taped it, and lo, after all these years, the tape shows up on YouTube, and hey, the young guy -- who isn't you, but in point of fact, is Michael Chapdelaine, now a master guitarist in his own right -- is shown to be not the least bit disrespectful, and in fact, the epitome of grace under pressure.
Here is the link. After the lesson, Chapdelaine could not have been any more gracious, and was a damn sight more than I'd have been in his shoes.
Check it out:
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The header art on my blog, for those of you who haven't yet gotten your copy of The Musashi Flex, is Lazlo Mourn, from the cover of that novel, illustrated by Chris McGrath.
McGrath is passing good at this, and you should check out his illustrations -- uptop, the one he did for Vickie Petterson's dark fantasy, The Taste of Night, which is a mirror-like image of Mourn in female form ...
Here's a picture of the ultimate rejection slip, for an anthology edited long ago by the most-excellent writer David Gerrold.
Not everybody got one of these -- I think David saved them for people he knew.
I learned some good lessons from David when I started writing, not the least of which was, never argue with the man who holds the microphone ...
The artwork is by George Barr. A great illustrator, Barr doesn't get near the respect he deserves. He illustrated one of the first short stories I sold, "An Eye for Detail," (written under my pseudonym, Jesse Peel.) I always thought of that one as "The coffee cup story," 'twas in the September-October 1978 issue of Asimov's.
If you are a Star Trek fan, you already know who David is -- his first sale was "The Trouble with Tribbles ..."
Monday, June 11, 2007
Okay, so I borrowed a kettlebell. It was about twenty-kilos, a pansyweight, but something to get the feel of what one can do with the suckers.
To be fair in the test, I loaded a dumbbell with the same amount of weight, and ran through a series of exercises I found on the web. Apparently there are a lot of folks making money selling kettlebell routines, and they vary from not-so-hard to killer. I found some simple ones that seem to be somewhere between and tried 'em.
Two things: First, I have a sore throat that is probably viral, but after a couple days gargling with hydrogen peroxide and taking antihistamines to dry things up, still isn't much fun living with. Thus my energy level isn't what it normally is.
Second ... did I mention my energy level isn't what it normally is?
Okay, I can see why folks like these things. There are some amusing exercises, like lying down with the kb held overhead, then coming up to a stand and going back to to the ground that are passing hard to do. And there is the cool-factor, in that it looks retro and you can get flashes of Sandow in his prime, and like that.
But in terms of how it works the major muscle groups? I can't feel much difference twixt the kb and the db. The kb is harder to hang onto, the shift in the grip necessary to achieve some of the exercises does work the forearm more, and requires some adjustment of balance so you don't drop it on your head, but in the end, it's just a slightly different freeweight. Yeah, there are things that you can't do exactly the same with a dumbbell, some swings and stuff, but spending any significant amount of money on one of these for that doesn't seem worth it to me. (And there are ways to make them using dumbbell plates and pipe for about twelve bucks that -- far as I can see -- will achieve exactly the same physiological effect. Look at the one at the bottom of the page.)
So I won't be buying one. I'll just have to make do with the iron I have until my rope-climbing hand heals up ...
I mentioned in a previous post that I once had a little Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Actually, I sort of had two of them; one, I rented from a buddy who went off into the Army; and the second one, a little bigger enginewise, that I bought once I gave the borrowed one back.
Would that I had kept that thing tucked away in a garage somewhere wrapped in oil-soaked rags for forty years. It'd be worth about fifteen times what I paid for it used back in the sixties.
I don't have any pictures of those bikes, but the two uptop here are close. I didn't have a windshield, and the first one I rode was kind of a rusty-orange color, the second one blue. Both were probably Harley Pacers, aka the Super-10, and collectively called Hummers.
Ah, the good old days ...
So, I was half-listening to the TV news and a piece came on about some teenager swimming somewhere who jumped off a high bridge into five feet of water and broke both legs. And I thought to myself, Lord, how stupid can you get? I was shaking my head, when I had a flashback of repressed memory and realized that my hard-won experience sometimes tends to gloss over the stupidities of my own youth ...
On me, it looked different.
In retrospect, I have to believe that there is a deity who watches over fools and children, having been both at the same time, yet still somehow managing to survive. That god must have gone out to lunch when the kid leapt off the bridge, but, I can recall more than a few times when I did incredibly stupid things and didn't die, against all reason.
Three incidents spring immediately to mind, two involving motorcycles. Well, a motorcycle, and a motor scooter. And one involving a tall building.
The first was when I worked as a swimming teacher/lifeguard at a recreation association pool. I did this for three years in my late teens.
One day, a thunderstorm rolled in, as it did a lot of summer days, and there was enough lightning and thunder so we immediately closed the pool and sent everybody home. Since it didn't slack off for a couple hours, the four guards decided to bag the day and go home ourselves.
At the time, I owned a little Harley-Davidson motorcycle. So I climbed on it and rode home, which at the time was maybe ten miles away.
No big deal, right?
Save that all I wore on that ride was my little black nylon Speedo suit.
No shirt, no shoes, no helmet, nothing else but my itty bitty suit, rolling through the rain on a glass-slick expressway at sixty miles an hour ...
On a wet road, had I put the bike down, I would have been one monster abrasion.
In L.A. a couple years later, we couldn't afford a car, so I got a Lambretta scooter. One of those little two-cycle death machines, all the weight behind the rider, fat little tires, and one of the most unstable things on two wheels. Sounded like a sewing machine when you revved the engine: whing-da-ding-ding-ding ...
One Saturday, I had to go into the office for a half-day. After work, a couple of the guys and I went to a nearby bar to have a few beers and shoot some pool.
Among the three of us, we drank maybe five or six pitchers of beer in a couple of hours. I got plotzed.
How, ah, plotzed was I?
I remember getting on the scooter and cranking it. And I remember getting off the scooter when I got home, a distance of some fourteen miles through L.A. surface-street traffic.
I remember nothing about the trip. Nothing. Nada. Complete blank.
Stupid. (Learned from that one -- never did it again. Scared the shit out of me.)
The third incident was when I went to visit a friend to get back a camera he had borrowed. He lived in a high-rise apartment building in Hollywood, facing the old Columbia Records building. Sixth floor. I took the urine-scented elevator up, knocked on his door, but he wasn't home.
I needed that camera. This was long before cell phones. He didn't even have a landline.
His bedroom window was a few feet from where the stairwell opened up over the street. He had casement windows -- you know, the kind that open like a book, using a little hand crank? I could almost reach the partially-opened window from the stairwell, leaning way out.
Almost. If I jumped a little, I could grab the frame.
Six stories up.
All those years of reading Spider Man must have rotted my brain.
I climbed over the railing and did a little hop, caught the casement frame and swung through the window, ta da!
Really, really, stupid.
I would like to be able to tell you that I never did anything that foolish again, but that would be a lie. I did, however, gradually begin to do fewer and fewer idiotic things, when I realized that a mistake like those I had been making COULD KILL ME DEADER THAN BLACK PLASTIC!
So I cut the teenager a little more slack after that bit of head-shaking nostalgia. Not that much, but a little. And my advice for him: The fool-and-children guy might be on a break next time you decide you are invulnerable and gonna live forever. Keep that in mind.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Some time back, I wrote an article on our version of silat, as taught by Maha Guru Stevan Plinck. I had intended it for Black Belt Magazine, or Inside Kung Fu, but never managed to get folks together for a photo shoot to illustrate it, and life, as it sometimes does, got in the way.
But since a writer never throws anything away ...
“Old Style Still Works”
Of the many varieties of Indonesian pentjak silat -- and there are reportedly hundreds -- one is a west Javanese system named in honor of its founder, a mysterious fellow nicknamed “Sera.” This nickname was supposedly for his hoarse voice, though it could have been for his tricky manner, owl-like wisdom, or maybe that he had a particular shade of red hair, all of which the term can mean, depending on dialect, accent, and spelling. Bapak Sera, along with whatever else he was, supposedly had a clubfoot and a deformed arm, and from several fighting styles he studied, he distilled a most effective one to compensate for his disabilities.
Proving any of this is next to impossible in a land where written records are rare, but it's a good story. And it continues:
One of Sera’s senior students, Mas Djut, helped his teacher formalize the art, and eventually, the system made its way from Java to the west.
Pentjak Silat players are, even by most martial arts’ standards, a contentious bunch: there are long-standing and heated disagreements among various systems, and even branches within a single style will be at odds over techniques, history, or, it sometimes seems, in which direction the sun rises. Few statements about anything go unchallenged. The history of the art has been argued by practitioners and detractors for years. Who exactly taught what to whom, when or where they were born, what their influences were -- none of these are nailed down too tightly.
Oral history can be very colorful, but accuracy is seldom its greatest virtue. What is known for sure is that the related Dutch-Indonesian clans of de Vries and de Thouars learned, then brought a fighting system from Indonesia to the west a few years after WWII, first to Holland, then the U.S.
Silat is not a new flavor-of-the-month -- the de Thouars brothers have been quietly teaching it since they arrived upon American soil in the early sixties, led by Paul de Thouars, the eldest of three brothers living in the states, and the system’s lineage holder. (Along the way, the letter “k” was added to Sera’s name, though the new addition is silent, and the term Serak(tm) has since been trademarked by Victor de Thouars.)
When asked about all the arguments, Silat Sera teacher Maha Guru Stevan Plinck, of Kelso, Washington, just shrugs. “It’s all politics,” he says. “And, you know what? It doesn’t matter. What is important in a fighting art is, can you fight with it? Everything else is just background. Waving your rank certificate at an attacker won’t stop him from pounding you into the ground.”
Plinck, a deeply religious Christian in his early fifties, is highly-regarded as both a teacher and a player among knowledgeable silat practitioners; several of the factions who won’t talk to each other maintain friendly relations with the unassuming and modest Plinck, whose skills and talent they recognize. Born in Holland, but raised in the United States, Plinck began studying Setia Hati-style silat with his grandmother and uncle as a boy. As a young man, he spent several years training under Guru Besar Arthur Rhemrev before becoming a direct student of Pendekar Paul de Thouars. (See Black Belt, June, 1965: “Spice Island Fighting Men” for more on Paul de Thouars.)
Plinck trained assiduously under de Thouars for more than a dozen years, becoming a senior student in what was, at the time, a closed-door system. Later, Paul created the more public daughter-art of Bukti Negara -- another system in which Plinck became a senior teacher. Guru Plinck has a high regard for his teacher’s skills, offering “adat” and “hormat” (respect and custom), even though the two men have come to a parting of the ways.
“You’re not anybody in silat until you’ve been disowned at least once or twice by your teacher,” Plinck says, grinning. But he is quick to point out that Paul’s abilities were, in his prime, the best he’s seen, then or since. “All of the branches of Pak Sera’s art in the United States have roots in Paul’s teaching,” Plinck says. “Anybody who tries to tell you differently is probably selling something.”
After honorably serving his country in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret, Stevan Plinck eventually wound up in the Pacific Northwest with his family. In his back yard, or his garage, when it is raining, Plinck teaches a small group of dedicated students, most of whom have been training with him for years. Plinck travels occasionally and gives seminars, and serious students sometimes come from as far away as England or Sweden for intensive training sessions with him.
The foundation of the system’s practice lies in eighteen short forms, called djurus; various platform-based foot patterns, the langkas; as well as technical defense and attack combinations, sambuts. There are drills, both with and without weapons, and once students become comfortable with the basic tools, sparring sessions follow. These are carefully circumscribed at first, progressing in intensity as the students improve. Students wear grappling gloves and mouthpieces, and there are often liberal applications of balur cimande, a Javanese liniment similar to the Chinese kung fu stylist’s dit da jow, used to speed healing of bruises.
Learning to get hit and keep going is part of the training. “If you get hit in class by a friend wearing gloves, it’s not the same as being hit by an attacker on the street,” Plinck says.
"If you can't deal with the first, you won't be able to deal with the latter."
“The silat of Bapak Sera and Mas Djut is made up of interlinked laws and principles,” Plinck says. “It’s not about power or speed, but more about timing and position. What we practice, like most silat, is based on the blade -- and it incorporates elements of boxing and grappling, without any sporting applications. Fighting in the old days in Indonesia was serious business, and not something to be done lightly, since injuries might mean a man could not work to feed his family.”
Guru Plinck considers his major contribution to the art the formalization and explanation of these principles to a western audience, and he has articulated a well-known trio of them in particular: Base, Angle, and Leverage.
“If you have all three, your technique will work every time,” he says. “If you have two, probably it’ll work. One, maybe not -- if your opponent has any idea of what he’s doing.”
As Plinck explains the terms, “base” is not merely the position of your feet, but your entire stance -- including your balance, height, and distance to your opponent. “Angle” here does not mean the degrees aslant you might be to an attacker, but the direction in which you apply a force, usually a pull. “Leverage” is generally meant to be a push, and the application of all three is usually done using opposite levers, coupled with a sweep or foot drag, though not always.
These principles, he says, will work with any art, not just silat.
Plinck’s silat is useful at all hand-to-hand ranges, from knife- to grappling-distance, but particularly comfortable in close. “We like to bridge the gap, control the centerline, and finish with a takedown,” he says. “We assume our opponent will be at least as skilled as we are, probably armed, and there might be more than one of him. In such a situation, you can’t stand around waiting for attacks, you will fall behind the curve and never catch up. If you can’t run away, you have to go in.”
When asked about other branches of the de Thours and de Vries family art, including some stripped-down and questionable modernized versions, he shrugs again. “You can either do it or you can’t,” he says. “A lot of people claim skill but when you look at them, it’s just not there. Doesn’t matter it is some high-tech, updated blend, if it isn’t useful in a fight, it’s not real silat.
“There’s nothing wrong with classical, old-style stuff, if it is the right stuff,” he says. “If it worked against men a hundred years ago, it will still work against them today. Human physiology hasn’t changed. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?”
To this end, Plinck is a monostylist. “Cross-training is good for some things,” he says, “but not everything.”
Plinck has done a few videos that are available to the public, but these are more for his own students’s use than anything else. He has a job, he doesn’t need to do his art to make a living, so he can afford to keep his standards high.
To the students, most of whom come from other martial arts’ backgrounds, this variant of silat is amazing. My own experience? I had a black belt in another art and thought I knew how to take care of myself until I saw Guru Plinck do a demonstration. I couldn’t wait to start training. I was outside waiting an hour early at the next class he taught.
There are no closed doors in his art -- those willing to train are welcome, with no restrictions as to race, sex, or creed.
Pentjak silat as practiced by Stevan Plinck in the Pacific Northwest is not a new art, but “new” does not always automatically mean “better.”
Sometimes, old style works just fine.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Couple summers ago, when we were off to see our potential-puppy, Jude, we stopped at a campground in Washington state. It was August, hot, a hundred degrees or so, and as we pulled into the place, we saw several tents. I said, "Wow, those tent people must be cooking!"
Apparently not all of them were, as you can see from the picture I took ...
Friday, June 08, 2007
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I haven't been able to get to the gym recently, due to the vagaries of life. I do have some barbells and dumbbells at home, plus the rope and chinning bar and like that, so I'm not wasting away.
Now and then, I get ads and catalogues for fitness gear, and among these are flacks for kettlebells. If you don't know what these are, they look rather like an iron cannonball with a looped handle welded onto it, and they come in various weights, called "poods," in Russian, which is where they were supposedly developed. A thirty-five pounder is almost one pood.
I love that word: Poo-duh ...
The folks who like these things, which were forerunners to dumbbells, really like them, and claim they are ever so much more effective at building strength and endurance than are other weights, as well as there being a number of exercises that one cannot really do save with kettlebells.
I have, alas, developed tendonitis in my right hand, in the joint at the base of my ring finger, from climbing the rope. Yeah, you do have to pay for some of this stuff. Too much of a good thing will cost you.
I am simply unable to do that exercise until it heals, which might take some weeks. Laying hands on the rope while the injury is acute will almost surely make it chronic, and I don't need that.
I am working around it: A couple sets of twelve or fifteen reps on the chinning bar keeps the major muscles in shape and is much easier on the hands. I'm thinking that getting a kettlebell might be worthwhile trying, though they are expensive suckers, and the shipping costs are half what the things cost ...
Anybody have any experience with these things, yea or nay, you like to share? You can email me if you would rather not post in public.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
So, Scooter Libbey has been convicted and sentenced to the graybar hotel for two and a half years. He was the good soldier, he fell on his sword, and what he was nailed for was not the treasonous act of outing a working CIA agent, but lying to the congressional watchdogs about who he told, and when.
Somebody in the Bush administration lied. Huh. Imagine that.
Somebody in the Bush administration leaked the information to the press and got away with it, and did so certainly in retribution for Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, outing them over the infamous yellow cake canard.
Fuck with the bull, get the horn. These are seriously ugly folks to mess around with. I bet they have an enemies list that would put Nixon's list in the shade.
Now the question is, will George Bush, exercising his Presidential power to pardon criminals, give Scooter a get-out-of-jail-free card? He can do that, legal as the days are long in summertime Alaska.
Politically, it would be bad for his party, though since he's a lame duck, it won't bother him personally. And given all the things that Darth --, uh, I mean, George -- Bush, as done thus far in his occupation of the White House, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him let Scooter skate, and to hell with the party.
Twenty-seven percent approval rate. They can't all be Democrats ...
Then again, if you are happy that the Democrats are surging as a result of all the Republican machinations over the last few years, you have to thank George and company for that. Wasn't their intent, but there you go.
Hell of a price to pay, though, isn't it? War, alienating the rest of the world, massive debt, insufferable arrogance. I keep expecting Cheney to appear for a speech wearing a hooded robe, with Force-damage to his face from his fight with Jedi Master Mace Wendu ...
(Mace Windu: ""You don't need to see his goddamn identification -- these ain't the motherfuckin' droids you're looking for ...)
Yeah, Bill Clinton was a hound, and a bounder, but he wasn't screwing the country, only a few willing female partners.
The righteous make me very nervous, because they don't believe they can make mistakes, and they are willing to kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.
Maybe our long national nightmare will eventually be over. One can hope.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Whilst playing with a knife this morning, I recalled the seminar to which I went some months ago, tagged onto the end of the Barnes/Sonnon workshop in Portland. Silat teacher Mushtaq Ali offered some really basic knife training, in which he simplified that which is often made complicated.
I found this refreshing.
In that light, it occurred to me this morning that it could be made even more simple. I'll set it up, thus:
Voluntary muscles do but one thing: they contract. By means of a cleverly-designed system of tendons and bones and joints, certain levers are constructed in the human body, and by contracting, muscles move these simple machines in paths that are commonly referred to as 1) a push or 2) a pull.
By these, I mean -- and speaking in broad, general terms -- a push is an action that moves something away from one, and a pull would be an action that brings the thing toward one.
(Addendum: using anatomical terms, like origin and insertion, i.e. the fixed end of a muscle, or the body part that moves when the muscle contracts, then the push/pull thing is easier to see. Basically, moving bones toward each other in a folding-knife-closing motion is a pull; curling the hand toward the shoulder using the biceps, say; moving them apart -- opening the folder -- as in straightening the arm with the triceps, that's a push.)
A straight punch or kick, those are pushes; circular blocks might be both, first a push, then a pull.
Grab somebody by the back of the neck and yank them toward you, it's a pull -- but if you whack somebody behind you with the elbow of your same arm using the same motion, it's also a push when it passes the rubicon ...
With that in mind, then knife-fighting (all fighting, actually) is all going to consist of either a pushing motion a pulling one, or some combination thereof. Simple.
The position of the knife in one's hand will determine whether the technique will be a stab, cut, slash, slice, hit, or whatever, and for any kind of effective use, there are limits to how one can usefully grip a knife in one's hand, too.
Most of the time, holding onto the handle is probably the best idea.
The blade can be, at any given time, point up or down or any angle twixt and tween, with the edge facing at almost any quadrant on a compass, depending on what you want to do with it. Most of the time, it will probably be facing toward your attacker or yourself, or maybe at the floor or ceiling, though eventually, the point or edge will need to face some portion of the attacker, else you might as well use a stick.
That's pretty much it, insofar as mechanics go, isn't it? Not really that complex, when you think about it.
Of course, there's a trick to getting those pushes and pulls to go where you want, when you want, to deliver whichever part of the knife you want to utilize, but you know, it ain't rocket science ...
Monday, June 04, 2007
So the memorial service for my mother-in-law came off just fine on Saturday. The family, pictured a couple postings below, all showed up. We had a couple readings, every who wanted to got up and said something they remembered about Gram, all of it positive, and after we interned the ashes, we all decamped to my house for a day-long barbecue, with grilled critter-parts, beer, and catching up on family history.
A great gathering of the clans, no fights, as good as it gets.
A great gathering of the clans, no fights, as good as it gets.
The rope proved to be very popular. That's my brother-in-law Dave and his two kids, Ben and Josie, playing Tarzan and Sheena ...