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The link below is a must-read for instructors of any fighting art or sport. Simply replace “soccer” with karate/Judo/MMA etc. and be leave your assumptions at the keyboard.  Of particular interest are “Myths 1-5,” which seem to be standard in the so-called traditional martial arts, yet are not shown to actually improve a learner’s ability to learn a skill and to parameterize (adapt to new/changing conditions) it as needed in relation to performance environments and action outcomes. In fact, common practices such as endless, detailed feedback, blocked repetition and authoritarian instructional styles actually degrade skill learning.

The floor is open for discussion…

Practice Instruction and Skill Acquisition in Soccer: Challenging Traditions

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James over at the Hellinahandbasket blog often posts very informative discussions on the merits of handguns vs. rifles and shotguns for home and personal defense. Below is a link to his latest look at this topic, which contains some excellent information about the velocity of handgun and rifle rounds and their ability to penetrate the walls of a typical home:

Rifles for Home Defense

The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence
by Michael P. Ghiglieri
Published 1999 by Perseus Books, Reading Massachusetts
ISBN 073820076x

Michael Ghiglieri served in Vietnam and went on to study primatology. Both his combat experience, and his time spent observing chimpanzee troops in the wild inform this dark and deeply troubling work.

This is a wide ranging book and Ghiglieri does not shy away from criticizing people he believes harm our understanding of violence by portraying a world they wish existed, instead of the one that we in fact live in. He is impatient with what he describes as feminist accounts of rape (rape as power), liberal accounts of violence (blaming society rather than the criminal), gun control laws, and socialism. He supports the death penalty by arguing that lex talonis (eye for an eye retributive justice) is both justified and effective at reducing violence in societies. Ghiglieri describes the reproductive advantages of aggression, rape, murder, war and genocide. He seeks to demonstrate why the advantages realized by aggressive, violent males (in all species of the great apes) inevitably lead to magnification of these traits in populations. He is not prepared to let men get by with this sort of behavior however, he devotes the end of his book to a discussion of cooperation and retributive justice as means of inhibiting violence.

Whether or not one shares Ghiglieri’s social or political views, his theory of justice, or believes that his description of violence is accurate or adequately portrayed; this book demands more than comfortable cliches and responses based on naive Rousseauian views of human nature. I recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of violence.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Published 1995, 1996 in Canada by Little Brown and Company

isbn 0316330000-Hard cover

isbn 0316330116-Paperback

There are plenty of reasons to read Grossman’s book “On Killing”; there are historical lessons to be gleaned, there are matters of strategy to be considered, there are lessons for society regarding the importance of honoring the service of members of its military, there are the lessons regarding drilling and conditioning, Grossman’s discussion of PTSD is very insightful, the list could go on and on. This is an incredibly rich book that not only offers the reader profound insight into the psychology and history of killing in combat, and of preparing men to kill in combat; it also examines and reveals the deep humanity at the heart of professional soldiers.

Sometimes I find the referencing of military science and literature by practitioners of the gendai budo a little off-putting; sort of “Vanilla Ice wanna be” like. I probably run the risk of putting myself in this category with this article.

Reading this book I was struck by three areas of potential relevance to the karate or martial arts practitioner:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Gift of Fear

by Gavin de Becker

ISBN 10: 0440508835

Do yourself a favor and read this book. I have probably read hundreds of self defense and martial arts related books over the years and only a few stand out for me. This is one of them (although it is not in fact either a MA or a SD book).

The information this book provides regarding assessing threats, responding to your intuitive fears (without resorting to ridiculous claims based on phony mysticism or telepathy), the utility of restraining orders, and so much more is extraordinarily useful. I will be recommending it to all my karate students.  I think it will go further towards keeping them safe than years and years worth of technical training, or reading stacks of martial arts related books.

Last year our group at Washington University hosted an extraordinary seminar by Ellis Amdur called “Grace Under Fire” that dealt with deescalation skills for people facing conflict. The book reminded me of the seminar a great deal, not so much in terms of the content but in the maturity with which the subject of violence was treated.

There have been periods in my life that have been extremely scary and violent. Some of the incidents during those periods still haunt me. The straight forward manor in which de Becker describes even the most horrific crimes  left me feeling less anxious (which seems counterintuitive). The author is not a scare monger,  he carefully distinguishes healthy fear which we should take heed of,  from unhelpful worry.

Visit this page for a concise listing of notable Okinawan karate figures. The information is brief but accurate, includes information on some rather lesser known figures, and there are links to a very useful appendix of Ryukyuan feudal social rankings.

I took an evening to watch the 2007 film Kuro Obi this weekend, and my reactions were immediately divided. Within the first 5 minutes, a major point of contention made itself obvious: this film has very little relevance to the real-world history of karate. The film follows a plot that rewrites karate into a historical context that simply did not exist. In doing so, it adds to the heap of disinformation that karate students have to dig through to get past the hyperbole and to the facts of karate history.   But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

In a nutshell, the story plays out in early 1930’s Japan. A woodland dojo of earnest karate students and their elderly sensei is visited by the Kempetai, the dreaded military police of militarized Japan. The Kempetai are on a mission to secure more training locations for their operatives, who will be sent to Manchuoko (the name give to Manchuria after a brutal Japanese invasion). Violence ensues, one student is injured, an officer is killed, the sensei dies, and the Kempetai return later to overtake the dojo and commandeer the students. One student makes the choice to cooperate with the Kempetai for his own goals; one chooses to avoid anything to do with harming others; and the last is left to decide which one will inherit the dead sensei’s frayed old black belt.

Despite its revisionist treatment of karate history, several components of the story are historically accurate. Japan was in a period of militarist expansion during this time period. Manchuoko was an embattled Japanese colony taken by questionable means. The Japanese military and intelligence branches did request karate instruction for certain units. The Kempetai were engaged in all sorts of bad behavior in Japan and occupied countries. Martial arts techniques were revered as semi-mystical methods for dominating barbarous foreigners. But the major unspoken assumption by the film is this: karate sprang up in Japan as a distinctly Japanese martial art with no Okinawan heritage. Maybe the writers didn’t want to clutter up the film with too much background explanation, but this is a major loss of opportunity to correct several decades of Hollywood karate myth making. An opening photo montage shows some Okinawan karate notables, such as those at the 1936 “Meeting of the Masters”  but I can’t help but feel that the lack of further background information serves to imbalance the obvious efforts at authenticity evident in the rest of the film. Instead of helping to restore some understanding of where karate developed and why, the  story reinforces the Japanophilic notions that seek to ignore history- a history that has now been amply researched and made widely available by Higaonna, Cook, Bishop, McCarthy and others.

As far as karate movies go, this one does do a very good job of showcasing some authentic practitioners from the Goju Ryu and Shotokan schools. The aggressive Taikan is played by JKA instructor Tatsuya Naka. His passive counterpart Giryu is played by Akihito Yagi, grandson of Meitoku Yagi (founder of Meibukan Goju Ryu). The fighting is very tasteful as far as special effects go: there are none. No wire flying, no one doing the Matrix limbo, or killing people with one flip kick or fireball. There are a few “movie moments” to be sure, but overall the combat scenes did not make me cringe with embarrassment. It’s interesting to watch the contrast in fighting between Taikan and Yagi. Taikan is purely aggressive, looking to down opponents in dueling encounters that bring heavy sport kumite to mind. Yagi on the other hand refuses to strike for most of the film, and relies almost entirely on defense, accepting several injuries from attackers rather than causing them. Some of the techniques that were chosen for these scenes were taken directly from classical Goju Ryu kata. The Goju predilection for heavy hand-type palm deflections (think Sesan) is put to good use in deterring a few attackers from attacking again. While it is nice to see these kata referenced, the way in which some of the segments were applied can at times leave something to be desired as far as reality goes. During two fights in particular, the characters take the time to assume a kamae from kata, which has nothing at all to do with the fight itself. However, these moments are thankfully few and the “hero pose” shots do not dominate the film.

Because my opinion of the film is somewhat divided, I will refrain from assigning it a grading  based on our usual rating system. I will however, recommend that karate enthusiasts take the opportunity to see some very talented karate practitioners from the Goju Ryu and Shotokan schools side by side, and to see a martial arts movie that is heading in the right direction. Despite my objections to the way in which karate’s origins andlater introduction to Japan is presented, it is an enjoyable film overall.  If your significant other is not generally a fan of chop-socky flicks, this one may turn out to be an exception.

If you’ve ever wondered just how much cold a human being can tolerate, or how much heat, water pressure, air pressure, or physical exertion the human frame can safely function in,  take a look at “Life at the Extremes: The Science of Survival” by Frances Ashcroft.  Ashcroft is a professor of physiology at Oxford who also offers first-hand accounts of the subject material, whether that be from climbing Kilimanjaro or soaking in Japanese hot springs. She succeeds in making a scientific topic highly accesible, educational and entertaining.

The book is essentially a survey of what our environmental limits are and how it is that we know them, as well as live within them. The science behind these topics is extremely clear and well presented. Each chapter offers tutorials in the interaction of various human body systems and environmental conditions, ranging from extreme heat and cold to the effects of altitude sickness and the ocean depths at which oxygen becomes toxic. The chapter on human speed and endurance is especially interesting in that it provides an excellent synopsis of muscular function and the related physiological and chemical processes, as well as the narrowing search for hard limits to human athletic performance. While we may never experience some of these situations for ourselves, a knowledge of how, when and why the body fails is invaluable for karate students and teachers alike.

Ashcroft’s explanations are jammed full of related facts from history and the animal world that shed some light on our own limits and adaptations. For example, the relationship between a muscle’s size and the speed at which it can contract tends to limit larger animals from being sprinters. Horses and kangaroos sidestep this issue by utilizing more numerous short muscles to load specialized tendons, providing an elastic rebound on each step, thus reducing energy expenditure and allowing them to move at high speeds. Human beings have a less specialized version of this adaptive mechanism: the calf muscle and Achilles tendon.

If karate is ultimately a process of learning what we can survive, “Life at the Extremes” should be interesting reading indeed.

Kempeitai: Japan’s Dreaded Military Police” by Raymond Lamont-Brown
First published in 1998 by Sutton Publishing Limited
ISBN 0750915668

Speculation regarding the involvement of martial artists of the Showa era in war crimes (or the facilitation of war crimes) in the Sino-Japanese war, and Second World War has been generating a great deal of interest among contemporary western practitioners of budo for a number of years now. Aikido’s Morihei Ueshiba, and Shotokan’s Yoshitaka Funakoshi (assisted by Shigeru Egami) both taught unarmed combat at the Kempeitai training facility at Nakano.

The kanji for “bu” is a compound consisting of two elements: at the bottom left is a character meaning “to stop”; above and to the right is a character meaning halberd (or arms);  put together the idea conveyed is “to stop arms”. However historically naive, this is the idea of “bu” that first drew me in and it still resonates deeply with me.

Looking carefully at how it is that civilized, educated people, be they the Japanese Kempetai of the Second World War, or be they American military officers at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib,  can become so callused and brutal should be of interest to anyone with a serious interest in bushido.

This deeply disturbing book provides little information concerning the involvement (or lack thereof) of prominent martial artists of this period.  This book paints a damning picture of Showa era Japanese policy towards POW’s, and towards non-Japanese people though out Asia who were unlucky enough to find themselves under Japanese control. The conduct of the Kempeitai is particularly disturbing.

The author’s father was detained by the Kempeitai on 5, March, 1942 making this personal. Lamont-Brown’s outrage at the sadistic and outrageous abuse of prisoners and indigenous populations throughout Asia by the Kempeitai is palpable throughout the book.

Lamont-Brown describes the systemic brutality of the Kempeitai prior to the second world war in Manchuria and Shanghai, as well as throughout Japan’s war with the Allied powers.

Here are a few excerpts that illustrate the focus of this book:

From page 8:

Historians endeavoring to research Japanese Second World War studies in general, and Kempeitai activities in particular, have long come across the two main ethnic characteristics to thwart their success: namely, ‘Tactical Myopia’ and ‘Strategic Amnesia Syndrome’. For decades the Gaimusho have had a blinkered attitude to such events at Taisho Iwane Matsui, commander-in Chief of the Central China Area Army’s ‘Rape of Nanking’ on 13 December 1937, in which 300,000 Chinese nationals were slaughtered and maimed, and actively discouraged all who sought to build up a picture of Japan’s role in the Second World War. Only since the 1990’s has the Mombusho allowed new textbooks to give anything like detailed accounts of the Second World War from any point of view.

From page 43:

June 1945 saw the position of the Japanese forces in Burma turn precarious. For some time British paratroopers had been teaming up with local guerrillas to harry Japanese positions at Tenasserim, between Moulmein (the city-port capital of Mon state) and Dali Forest. Shosho Seiei Yamamoto,  Chief of Staff to the 33rd Army under Chujo Masaki Hondo ordered a group of soldiers from the 3rd Battalion the 215th Regiment and OC Moulmein Kempeitai to sweep Kalagon and kill as many British paratroopers and dacoits (Burmese bandits) as possible. By 7 July they had occupied the village and and all the inhabitants were rounded up to be interrogated by the Kempeitai.  Although Women and children were raped and beaten, no information about the resistance movement was elicited and the Kempeitai ordered  the whole village to be massacred. The people were taken tied up, in batches of five to ten, to a nearby group of wells. There they were blindfolded and bayoneted into the wells, alive or not. On that day the 3rd Battalion and the Kempeitai killed 600 villagers.

I will include one last excerpt, from page 151;

Chusa Oishi quickly and meticulously divided Singapore into manageable sub-divisions under Shosa Tomotatsu Iyo and Chusa Yoshitaka Yokota, who commanded the screening of all civilians and characterized Chinese suspects as ‘undesirable and anti-Japanese’; and decided who should die. Soon Kempeitai lock-ups were bulging with suspects, and during 17-24 Febuary 1942, the Chusa Tsuji monitered every step of the killing programme, berating the Kempeitai if the numbers of the Chinese slaughtered seemed to fall. In all some 5,000 persons were to be murdered in Singapore in the ‘Tsuji holocost’.

Because of the profoundly disturbing nature of this book I will refrain from using our usual light-hearted rating system and simply recommend that you take the time to read it.

Pavel Tsatsouline’s name is bound to come up in discussions of Russian kettelbell training, climbing, gymnastics and conditioning for martial arts and combat sports. His book on bodyweight strength training “The Naked Warrior” is extremely popular with martial artists, climbers, and the gym-less legions. He has an impressive pedigree upon which to base his work: he was a nationally ranked Soviet Kettlebell competitor, physical trainer for the Soviet Special Forces, and has trained members of the US Army, Marine Corps and Secret Service. After reading countless gushing testimonials in a variety of martial arts and fitness forums, I got a copy of “The Naked Warrior” to see what the buzz is about.

The goal of “Naked Warrior” is simple: to develop maximal strength without the benefit of gym equipment. Pavel (as he is known) explains at the outset that body weight strength training is not superior to standard weight training. He points out that, “You will make your best gains if you have access to quality hardware: barbells, kettlebells, etc.” Simply put, when one has access to a gym, use the gym. But when one does not, it’s preferable to use whatever is available than to go without training. For the broke or on-the-go martial artist, Pavel contends that BW strength development is advantageous only in that it can be done almost anywhere, requiring the purchase of no special equipment- hence the term “Naked Warrior,” a phrase coined by renowned self defense instructor Tony Blauer. If left with absolutely nothing, the competent martial artist ought to be able to take care of him or herself. Otherwise, all available resources for strength development should be used without bias. Strength development is governed by the same principles regardless of approach- neither is magically superior to the other.

I’m not familiar with his other publications, but it would seem that Pavel draws his information from Soviet strength research, various forms of martial arts training, experience in competitive strength training and his background as a physical trainer. The training plan laid out in the book is built on the concept of “Greasing the Groove.” In a nutshell, Greasing the Groove is a matter of incorporating a few exercises into your daily routines, such as stopping to do a few pull-ups on a certain door frame every time you pass by it. Without a set exercise routine (or the time to pursue it) GTG is Pavel’s solution for incrementally building strength in short bursts of training. He explains that after a few weeks of doing numerous small sets throughout the day, overall strength will improve and the maximum number of reps one can perform will increase substantially. Of special interest to karate practitioners is his frequent reference to the Sanchin kata as an example of a suitable exercise for isometric contraction, muscular control and the accompanying posture development. With GTG as a framework, Pavel goes on to describe how to best develop strength with limited time and resources.

For the purposes of this book, Pavel defines strength as a skill, and outlines three types of strength development:

1. Maximal strength

2. Explosive strength

3. Strength endurance

His principles for achieving gains in maximal strength are few:

– Strength is developed with bodyweight by focusing on a limited number of high-resistance, low rep full body exercises (sets of five is his typical suggestion)

-Intense contraction of the muscles over shorter durations is preferable to working a muscle to failure; add more resistance to increase difficulty

-Higher resistance is achieved by ‘deliberately imposing poor leverage and unfavorable weight distribution between the limbs’ while minimizing bounce and momentum

Explosive strength and endurance strength can be gained through variations in exercises or by executing longer sets. He cites related strength skills that should be familiar to karate folks: breath control under tension, application of pressure from the legs upward (the “static stomp”), and contraction of the core muscles to lower and support the shoulders. As an aside, these concepts go hand in hand with many of boxing legend Jack Dempsey’s field-proven guidelines for exploding the body’s weight into knockout punches, but that is a topic for another article.

Pavel prescribes two exercises to use in a GTG program: the one arm pushup and the one legged squat, or pistol. He refers to these two exercises as the “power lifts of bodyweight” in that they involve maximal contraction of the body as a unit to perform correctly. The minimal number of recommended exercises is offset by the wide range of variety offered by manipulating leverage and variations in execution. For example, the pistol can be varied by lowering to the bottom of the motion, rocking backwards onto the butt, rocking forwards onto the foot again, pausing, then powering back up with clean form. Another variation involves holding the free leg bent behind the body and dropping until the bent knee can touch the floor, sort of like a one-legged lunge. Likewise, one arm pushups can be executed as a dand (i.e., “dive bomber” or “”tiger” pushups), with one leg extended, or for the advanced, from a handstand. Combining these variations with other variations offers an escape from boredom as well as strength development that targets different muscle groups and ranges of motion. The basic exercises as well as several variations are shown in clear photographs, as well as some strategies for using blocks or furniture to gradually build up to unassisted execution. For the Iron fiends out there, several photographs depict the pistol combined with kettlebell lifts as an advanced variation to be pursued after establishing basic overall strength and safe technique.

Despite the practicality of Pavel’s recommendations I would like to look at some of the Soviet strength studies that much of this work seems to be based on, but these sources are not provided in the text. Normally this pulls at my attention as I read such work; the information is useful, but how was it arrived at? How was it tested, and by whom? However, after several weeks of conscious effort with the pistol and several variations, I’ve noticed a considerable increase in leg stability and strength. Kicking power, takedowns and control from the bottom guard have improved. Combined with a sensible free weight program or through bodyweight alone, the training methods of “The Naked Warrior” should be useful to martial artists of any stripe for developing strength and control.

Despite the lack of supporting objective data, I would recommend this book to a student who is beginning to get interested in developing strength specifically for karate, or to someone whose schedule just doesn’t allow much time for trips to the gym. I’ve found that incorporating various bodyweight manipulations into training time can address strength development for students who may otherwise never visit the gym. In my experience, BW exercises can also help to illuminate certain physical alignments and abdominal muscular contractions that often get over-mystified in inexact karate terminology. As an exponent of Duct Tape Ryu (if you can’t afford it, make your own), I appreciate the utility of another avenue for nudging students into basic strength development and body awareness without the need for equipment. This book can provide some starting points for incorporating such exercises into one’s training routines.

For overall content and applicability, TKRI gives “The Naked Warrior” 4 out of 5 possible Bruised Knuckles.

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"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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