The Cure is More Fun than the Problem.

Vulcan Jedi Time Lord: I entered this contest, and if I had known what they wanted, I would have given it to them.

City Druid: It shouldn’t be a matter of what they wanted—it should be a matter of quality, and of fulfilling the requirements.

VJTL: Yes, but they always have an agenda these days.

CD: I think you weren’t PC enough for iO9.  Funny.

VJTL: Yeah, but it’s not just them.  Everyone seems to have some sort of agenda, or they want you to write the same thing, or at least the same quality as everyone else.

CD: Right.  It’s not about having better quality, or superlative quality, but about being of the same quality.  That’s pretty sad.

VJTL: Yeah, I would tend to call that “death by mediocrity”.

CD: This is what comes of giving kids certificates for participation.

VJTL: I’m not so sure about that.  Over the past twenty years or so, I’ve seen Fandom and conventions and publishing houses and television shows taken over by cliques—high-school-esque cliques, with writing being done by fans, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, with was nothing but fanfic with no consideration for consistency.  Now a lot of stuff seems to be written by fans of fans of fans writing fanfic of fanfic of fanfic, so that you end up with Fifty Shades of Gravy.  You know, if there are fifty shades to your gravy, it’s gone bad and you should throw it out.

CD: You have a point.  Even Miyazaki, of Studio Gibli, said that was the biggest problem with anime currently, that it’s got too many anime fans, Otaku, writing it.  OK, he didn’t say Otaku, but he didn’t have to.

VJTL: Well that’s the thing: I’m a fan of science fiction, but that’s not all that I read, or watch, and it’s not absolutely everything that I write.

CD: In other words, it’s not all that you are.

VJTL: Right.  And the thing is, it should be about quality, about good writing.  And when it comes to science fiction, it should be about expanding our thought, considering the options and situations that are coming up, looking at the facts, not at a political agenda or, worse yet, looking around and copying what everybody else has already written.  Bad science fantasy is now being hailed as great science fiction, as if it even qualified.

CD: I think one of the problems is that everyone’s gotten genre-happy.  They want to break everything into smaller and smaller sub-genres, and they will defend their particular subgenre to the death.  Those are supposed to be suggestions of direction, not stone walls dividing one part of literature OR fandom from another.

VJTL: Well, as a science fiction writer, I write science fiction, whether it’s Space Opera, Time Travel, Alternate History, Steampunk, all of the above or, most especially, none of the above.  In-fighting in fandom only ever destroys things.  It never creates anything good or new, and B.S. politics has destroyed more conventions that I care to think about.  We need to unite against the common enemy: Mediocrity.

CD: And yet, mediocrity seems to be the order of the day.  I suppose the easy thing would be to blame the internet, though it started before that was commonly available (though it was already more available to fandom.)

VJTL: No, I think the internet just shows you the trends faster, and if you’re just writing for the trends, then you’re just a hack and should be drowned for the good of humanity anyway.

CD: If you’re just writing for the trends, it’s not going to last anyway.  You’ll sell for a few months and then be forgotten.

VJTL: True, but those guys can afford a nice house and a nice car, and get their way paid for conventions.

CD: At least until they’re forgotten, which doesn’t take that long.

VJTL: Oh, I’m sorry; who were we talking about?

CD: Yeah, that’s my point.

VJTL: Still, the core problem is that our society in general seems to have acquired this belief that an opinion has the same value and quality as a fact.

/CD: That explains high school science lately.

VJTL: I mean, when did the Texas school board get to decide what was science fiction?

CD: When it became harder science than what was in their curriculum?

VJTL: Oh, come on.  That happened hundreds of years ago at this point.  You know, this guy told me he didn’t evolve from monkeys, and I said, “I can see that.”  He thanked me.

CD: <facepalm>  Of course, Texas hasn’t been a state for hundreds of years.

VJTL: See, that’s where our science fiction story should start.  A contest should be about the quality of the stories and the ideas, not about being all the same.  Hell, even a collection of short stories should be about giving the reader the best entertainment you can.

CD: And even if there’s a theme, they shouldn’t all be the same.  Seriously, though, for writing to be published, or for it to win a contest, it should be exceptional.  Not just good.  Not just OK.  Not just the same as everything else.  Exceptional.  Exceptional in quality of writing, and exceptional in ideas.  It should make the reader sit up and think.  I’ve read a lot of books, and the recent ones are really running low on that.  At this point, I’d settle for exceptional copy-editing.

VJTL: Look, I’m not going to say that my writing is exceptionally good, but I will say that most of the things I’ve seen that have been published in the last two decades would have caused me to fill up my recycle bin, empty it, have a nice, stiff drink, and start over.  At the very least, I give my stuff more thought, and I’m not going to wallow in some dilemma that everyone else has wallowed in without offering a solution, or at least looking for one.

CD: Well, that is what science fiction is supposed to be about: finding solutions to problems.  You present a problem, you lay out all the ramifications of the problem, then you start looking for solutions to the problem, you weigh the pros and cons of all your potential solutions, and finally you implement the most useable solution.  I mean, ultimately, science fiction is a way to work through society’s problems.  It may not always offer the best solutions, but it offers options.

VJTL: Yeah, the fans aren’t even listening to that part any more, even when it’s offered.  I mean, the greats have gone ahead and offered solutions to some of our current problems, and the attitude seems to be, “Yeah, yeah.  This is fatal in the long run, but what’s going to make me a buck today?  I don’t care if it kills me tomorrow.”

CD: Well, that’s certainly society in general.  And, yes, fandom seems to be catching that, too.

VJTL: I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s just entertainment.  You can’t learn from it.”  Well, obviously they can’t, but that’s not what it’s about.

CD: If you’re not learning something, what’s the point?

VJTL: Well, they seem to think it’s all for funsies.

CD: Learning something IS for funsies.  As I said, if you’re not learning what’s the point?

VJTL: Well, to learn you have to be smart enough to be able to learn.  Science fiction, at one point, was for intellectuals.  It was for scientists and engineers and people who knew how to think.

CD: And now?

VJTL: And now even the colleges don’t teach people how to think.  I mean, sure, I’ve known how to do it for so long that I have no memory of not being able to, but the faculties of reason have to be learned in and of themselves.  Despite the technology, many people these days have a world-view that more properly belonged in the Middle Ages.  I mean, I know people running around claiming to be fans who brag proudly about the fact that they don’t read.

CD: At least some of them are sad that they don’t read.

VJTL: Yeah, but there are others that don’t see that there’s anything wrong with this.  They don’t see that they can’t properly be fans if they don’t at least want to be reading.

CD: So, what’s the solution?  Science fiction is about finding solutions, and this situation clearly needs one.

VJTL: Well, if the writers, the fans, and the publishers don’t demand something better, if there is no market pressure to repair this situation, then these genres will simply die out, because while they can live for a while this way, eventually even the people who are most strongly demanding it be this way will get tired of it.

CD: So, as with all other things, vote with your dollars.  And your demands.

VJTL: As with the music industry, when the record companies took it over and insisted that boy bands were more lucrative and more consistent than The Stones, the Beatles, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Hendrix, and instead decided that we should listen to Justin Bieber, new genres burst forth.  When all the music in America had become incredibly bland in the 1950s, jazz and blues gave birth to Rock and Roll.

CD: So you’re saying we’re going to get new genres of literature.

VJTL: Sure.  It’s already happening.  I mean, right now we’re getting these little subgenres that aren’t necessarily any better, they’re just people going, “Ooh, I can do this and it will be a little different, and I’ll have my own niche.” But out of this we will get some, just like in the 1980s while the Punk movement was giving music a much-needed shot in the arm, Sting, the Police, Genesis, Devo, Huey Lewis and others were busy giving CPR to Rock and Roll.  J.K. Rowling is the greatest thing to happen to Fantasy since J.R.R. Tolkien.  I’m sorry, but some of the things that have been best sellers in that genre in the past two decades were written by people who couldn’t even make proper sentences.  The next Wells, Heinlein or Sheckley is overdue.

CD: “Best sellers” do not necessarily mean “best”.  They just really mean that more people wanted something to pretend to read on the beach.  It’s why I have historically avoided best sellers like the plague, no matter the genre.  I would love to be the next Sheckley, or Simak.  I don’t know that I have the chops to do it, but I would love to try.  Unfortunately, our culture does not value art or science, and does not want to admit that a writer can be either an artist or a scientist.  How many of our future Wellses or Heinleins are stymied merely by having to pay bills?  As for not being able to create a complete sentence, where are they supposed to learn?  I mean, the best way is by reading, but that does not teach one the rules, and with much of modern writing it does not actually teach one to write a complete sentence.  Are we doomed by a shoddy legacy?

VJTL: Yes.  But that’s not all there is.  As long as the past masters are still read we have a chance.  I grew up on Pirsig, L’amour, Gilman, before I even heard of science fiction.  As a child, my mother read to me the complete works of Shakespear and then, while they were reading Dick and Jane at school, at home I was reading Kahlil Gibran and The World According to Garp.  When I discovered science fiction, I cut my teeth on Clarke and Asimov, fell in love with Wells and expanded my viewpoint with Sheckley and Simak.  If I didn’t read Poe, Shelley, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Tom Robbins, I would not be half the writer I am.  Greats like Niven, Spinrad, Delaney unfortunately will not last forever.  And while we have people like Steve Perry, Steven Barnes, Christopher Stasheff, and others, it’s just not enough.  Writing has become too much of a mob scene and the proliferation of writers and the drop in quality is choking the business like a garden full of weeds.  Now excuse me while I jump down off this soap-box and do a load of laundry real quick.

CD:  I read the classics.  I grew up, as a fairly young kid, reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Henrik Ibsen, Harold Pinter, George Bernard Shaw, Sir James George Frasier, Edward Albee, Sophocles, Euripides, Homer, O’Henry, my relative Samuel Clemens the steamboat pilot, and even the occasional modern writer like Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.  They made me, to a very real extent, who I am today as a person and as a writer.  Of course, they had editors, and they had actual courses in English grammar in school (in the case of the ones that wrote in English, anyway).  I fear that fewer people are reading these authors, and I am fairly certain that English grammar is no longer taught to any effective degree, at least before the post-graduate level.  I am frequently horrified at the level of editing that is not taking place in printed or virtual articles and books.  Now, I’m aware that language evolves, and I’ve seen a bit of it in my lifetime in the form of slang that moves from rare to common to a part of the language (take a chill-pill, OK?), but I fear that we’re looking at a re-randomizing of spelling and grammar after a huge and concerted effort by Messrs. Webster and Fowler to standardize these things.

VJTL: Yeah, Clemons was the Terry Pratchett of his day, and I’ve read a fair amount of these sorts of things myself, but I can say with a certainty that English grammar was not taught to any effective degree in any class that I was in in school, but I’ve had rants about the quality of school that I ended up going to on numerous occasions.  As a small child, my mother read me the Deer Slayer, and of course I’m not talking about the modern Vietnam War era movie, but rather the book that the aforementioned Mark Twain blasted as utter crap.  As a small kid, it was a lively enough adventure story, but the holes in not only the writing but its connection to reality were somewhat obvious even then.  As an adult, I would not consider this to be writing worthy of my time but, then again, White Fang by Jack London really isn’t any better.  Nonetheless, these used to be exceptions.  As a reader, I demand better quality than that.  However, even they teach proper sentence construction.  It’s bad enough that movies have stopped having continuity editors and most books no longer go through an editor, but if you can’t make a proper sentence, then I don’t think you really have any business calling yourself a writer.  I admit that I can’t spell due to brain damage, but my computer can, and I have my friends check my writing to make sure that there aren’t any glaring mistakes.  Hans Christian Andersen never learned how to read and write and had to dictate his stories because he was dyslexic, but he made proper sentences.  Despite my difficulties, I continue to read, but I have talked to a number of people who are handicapped in no way, have plenty of time, want to be writers, and just don’t bother to read.  I’m not quite sure why someone who has no interest in reading would want to write, but there you have it.  I think we’re all going to have to do our part if there’s going to be a future worth reading in.  Put simply, I think the cure is reading.

CD: That, I can do.

Related media: My Dinner With Andre , Sideways, and Stranger Than Fiction.

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How much is too much? (Classical vs. Modern)

I have always thought,”reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood.” I just learned that has a name, Chesterton’s fence.

It is easily seen when someone buys a successful and growing business and starts by changing large parts of it–because of ego–and then the business quickly goes away. This is true in the Martial arts as well.

Some people change things to make them “easier” or just so they can claim they are doing a different style and call themselves “Grand master.”

The other side of this is when people cling to “tradition” and will not change how they do a move even when a better way is discovered or a fatal flaw is literally discovered. Ironically this violates several principles of warfare, business and combat.

Henry Ford refused to change from the model T until he was almost put out of business by a far superior Chevy. Many businesses have done this until they were gone and forgotten.

There is an inherent obligation when you find a problem in an existing system to look for a better way to replace it, but you are not obligated to be the one who comes up with it.

When I was first learning, my Sifu said, “If you find something that you think works better come show me and I will show you what is wrong with it, or I will change the way we do it.” That is a really traditional way to look at things in Kung Fu. In the Shaolin Temple they started with the 18 hands of the Enlightened One for 250 years then the top fighting monk traveled around China and collected more moves that worked. He expanded the style to 75 moves, and later masters did the same to expand the art further.

Once again it comes down to balance.

Further suggested reading: History, Philosophy and Technique,  Tao of Jeet Kune Do: New Expanded Edition, and The Shaolin Grandmasters’ Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an

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Mastering a single form is a lifetime achievement?

Well, that’s certainly a traditional saying, but I think if it takes you an entire lifetime to master a form, there is something seriously wrong. Actually, I can think of three things that would have to all be wrong.

1. Your instructor would have to be crappy.
2. You’re not practicing enough, and not spending enough time thinking about the form.
3. You ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

Of course, I know number three because you’re putting up with number one, and continuing to engage in the two aspects of number two, and you can’t just figure it out.

I have generally found that instructors of the “just do what I do” category fall into two categories: Really good at doing and really bad at teaching, or Really bad at doing and really good at conning people.

When I was taking Kali, Wing Chun and Muay Thai, we were allowed to go to all of the instructors various classes in different locations. I don’t know of anyone other than me who did so. At one of the locations, the instructor was teaching a Kali class and a separate Wing Chun class. The only people in the Kali class were a 60-something and a 70-something pair of little old Southern ladies. There were more than ten students in the Wing Chun, and the instructor wanted to concentrate on the Wing Chun class.

Now, we were halfway through the quarter, and the two little old ladies had not yet managed to get down the first move. The young Chinese instructor from Hong Kong really didn’t understand them at all, and had more ego than teaching skill.

I readily agreed to teach them for him, and started going over the course material. It was readily apparent to me that they just weren’t getting it. Now, an important thing to remember is that Kali is actually a double sword technique, and you practice with the rattan stick so you don’t kill people in practice class. I looked at the women and asked them if they cooked from scratch. The younger one had only been doing it for fifty years. At that point, I knew I could teach them. I explained every technique in terms of kitchen uses of a butcher knife that they had been practicing around twice as long as I’d been alive.

Before the regular instructor came back, they had mastered considerably more than that quarter’s course material in Kali, including all the basic attack and defense moves. Then one of them asked me, “How would I use this for self defense?” I answered, “Cut up a chicken.” They then answered, “Oh,” followed by a horrified, “Oh…” and then a delighted “Oh!” of realization.

Now, I realize that I had certain advantages in having cooking the same way as these ladies since I was 8, growing up studying German long sword, and having had at least three quarters of Kali prior to this, but what really allowed me to do this was that I have an open mind, think about what I’m doing, and understand it.

When the instructor came back and asked how the class had gone, he was obviously gloating. He had been spending the last quarter competing with me, not very successfully. I was just there to learn. Of course, when they showed him the techniques that they had mastered for over fifty years, he was more frightened than astonished. He never did ask me how I managed to teach them that. As soon as they thought of it as a butcher knife, and were told what cooking techniques applied, they were masters of at least everything I had shown them that day. There are very few people who want to fight someone with a blade who can filet meat in less than a second.

This is what I call using the same experience points twice.

I know that there are people who will say that you can continue to get things out of a form indefinitely, but that is really dependent on two factors.  One is the person who is doing the practicing, and the amount they’ve managed to get out of it so far, and the other is the type of form in question, and how they were taught it in the first place.

There are three types of set, or kata: sets that teach the basic moves, sets that teach a particular strategy, and sets intending to recreate a particular fight or battle.  Siu Nim Tao from Wing Chun, and Skip Knees from Muay Thai are examples of sets intended to teach the basic moves of a style.  That is like learning how the pieces move in chess.  Thunder and Earth from Shaolin Kempo Ku Shu is a particular tactical attack.  That would be roughly the equivalent of  learning the Indian defense in chess.  No chess master is going to spend the rest of his life just practicing the Indian defense.  Certainly, there are perspectives that you can add to your practice as time goes on, from going back and practicing the sets and techniques you started with as your perspective changes, but saying that you have not mastered that technique would still be a stretch.

Every form or set, every technique or kata, has to be understood from both sides.  If you do not know the technique that you are defending against, if you cannot visualize it as a two-man form, then you really haven’t been taught the form.  When I go through sets with my students, I will go through the motions on the other side so that they understand what they’re defending against and where they’re attacking.  Since they understand what they’re doing, it’s much easier for them to learn the form in the first place and grasp its meaning and intent.   Yes, continual practice is needed to hard-wire the form and techniques into the body, and so that you will remember the form, and honestly to help you stay fit, but, hopefully, you understand what you’re doing and aren’t only waving your harms in the air like you just don’t care.

While mastery itself is a life-long process, the mastery of a single form should not take very long at all.  While continued practice will increase your proficiency, and thinking about it should continue to bring greater insights over the course of a lifetime, those insights really come from you and your understanding of martial arts in general, not from the form itself so much, unless of course you were missing stuff.

For some further reading to help you understand the process of learning, well, anything and put you on the road towards mastery, try The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life, by Timothy Ferris.

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Money, Mojo and the Muladhara

Yeah, if it wasn’t for Wan Kim’s Urban Meditation (https://www.facebook.com/daoism), I never would have thought of the connection between the chakras and money. Having thought of it, of course, I find myself contemplating it from a theoretical standpoint.

While the existence of money itself is a product of the brow chakra, being an intellectual construct, its primary placement with regard to the chakras would be the root chakra as a necessity for life and security, at least for those who can’t just walk off into the wilderness and survive, which, quite frankly gets boring after a few months, in my opinion.

Yet there are other aspects to money. It has a relationship to the second chakra, because it is part of how we relate to other people. (Many people mistakenly think that the second chakra is about sex, but this is an oversimplification that largely depends on the individual person. The second chakra is actually about how we relate to the world and other people.)

A lot of people get very emotionally attached to money, or spending it, and that is a third chakra issue, especially learning to gain self control with regards to our spending habits.

When you use money for altruistic purposes, or even give it to the person begging on the side of the street, this type of a mitzvah relates directly to the fourth chakra.

Any time you are using money to “vote with your money,” either boycotting something or buying something or donating to a particular cause, or spending cash to boost a post, you are utilizing the throat chakra.

Returning to the brow chakra, you can purchase school, or books or classes, or educational toys or any number of things that will stimulate the intellect. In a way, this illustrates how you have to have sufficient energy in the root chakra to supply the other chakras when doing spiritual work.

Still, when you’re talking about basic money and getting enough of it, you are talking first chakra. This is just off the top of my head, but I hope that it’s useful to someone.

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Flim Flam, Thank you Ma’am or: Spotting the Great American Con Artist

“Those who speak do not know, and those who know do not speak.” — Lao Tzu

Over the last week or so there, has been a conversation going around my house circulating between the topics of “The average person can’t tell the difference between a con man and a real martial artist,” and how sad it is that the most popular “martial arts” in America are not even real martial arts but sports.  There is a rather cantankerous old part of me that would be perfectly happy to tear apart and stamp on the grave of the common argument that these sports are even better for teaching you fightin’ than a traditional martial art with all the zealot that a convert can muster, because in this case that’s what I am, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.  Please rest assured that I would be more than happy to rant about the fact that, while we are supposed to respect all martial arts, some arts really are better than others. That having been said, it is the teacher and the student and how much the practitioner puts into the art that is more important than the art itself.  I realize that I have just made a really large post so far about what I’m not going to talk about, but please bear with me.

Over the years, I have seen my share of con artists trying to pass themselves off as the real thing, so now I’m going to pass along some of the telltale signs that I have identified, or just immediately spotted when dealing with people who are masters of the mystic art of “Who Flung Doo.”

The number of teenagers I’ve met that claimed they had been adopted into the family of, and had been taught the style of, the Grandmaster’s family while overseas in high school when I already knew the white suburban middle class neighborhood they spent their entire life in up to that point, approaches the number of styles there are in Japan.  A frighteningly large number of them have been ninjas, but there have also been mafia hit men in New Orleans. (Both of the people who told me this story had the distinctive feature that I knew that they had never been to New Orleans, but I had.)  There is also the occasional master of 108 wooden dummy techniques style or whatnot. Remember, this is their super secret family style.

One outrageous claim that I have actually heard went like this: “My Master made us stack uncooked rice and peas alternating on top of each other with chopsticks until they were at least six inches high. It’s really a lot easier than it sounds.”  This same person told me he was a master of Ishinryu and demonstrated by slapping both hands on his chest and flopping them out in random directions over and over again like a sloppy drunk doing calisthenics. Even if I hadn’t taken some Ishinryu before that, I certainly knew more than enough martial arts to know that there was a tractor with a nitrous injector on the other end of the chain that was wrapped around my leg.

In another case, a person I knew in Little Five Points wanted me to check out this couple that were telling her they were Baguazhang masters and wanted her to come over to their place so they could teach some to her.

Yes, I had in fact been walking the circle for some time when this happened and, being a practitioner of Baguazhang, I was really hopeful that they were telling the truth.  As soon as she introduced me, they started telling me that they were masters of fire dragon bagua (there is no such thing to the best of my knowledge) and discussing its precise linear attacks while describing it like the karate Movie of the Week, right down to the special effects.

You might get the impression that con men assume that you are very gullible and ignorant and that anything flashy, real or not, will drag you in. You are right.  The problem is that there are people who have been adopted into traditional families and have been taught, and some martial arts have some extremely flashy techniques.

The good news is that if they are for real, they probably aren’t going to brag about it all the time.  It may come up in conversation, they may have pictures of them with their class on the wall of their school, they may have a copy of Inside Kung Fu or Karate Illustrated with them on the cover framed, or some famous martial artist might suddenly walk in unannounced into one of your classes, but most likely none of those will happen.  While they may never mention it, you may find out through word of mouth.  It is possible that this will come from one of the other students, but it also may come even more impressively from a teacher or student of another style.

As to gigantic flashy moves, well, there’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that there are quite a number of legitimate arts and sports.  The good news is, big flashy moves are generally a sign that you are looking at an inferior art, if it is even real.  Unfortunately, those styles make the most money.

The harder thing for most people to spot are the quasi-real instructors. There are many examples out there of the classes that we refer to as the McDojo or the Black Belt Academy.  The cookie cutter McDojo is designed to sell things, but it is really just an after school daycare with uniforms.  The Black Belt Academy, on the other hand, is a term for a “school” where, as long as you regularly pay your enrollment fee and occasionally show up, you will automatically be advanced until you, too, are a black belt with no regard for whether or not you have actually learned anything.  Still more insidious are the schools that are teaching but don’t really know very much or are claiming to teach something that they are not.  In the 1970s, when Kung Fu became popular, an astonishing number of Kung Fu schools popped up overnight.  The years of dedication it usually requires for someone to learn any given style of Kung Fu was no barrier because these schools were being opened by people who had never even taken a class of Kung Fu.  Many were Karate practitioners, some were even Judo practitioners, and an incredibly high percentage of them were actually just dance instructors.  A similar thing happened with ninja schools in the early 80s, of course.  More recently, I found a school with an instructor claiming to teach Judo, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, Hapkido, and Taekwondo. Before you get too impressed, you might want to ask what this man’s qualifications were.  Upon investigation, it was revealed that he opened the school on the basis of the fact that he had been a policeman in this small town at one point, although if you really dug into his background, there were rumors that he had a black belt in American Taekwondo from somewhere.  I took some time out to observe his classes and never saw a single technique properly performed from any style.  I did, however, end up inadvertently picking up one of his students after they were injured in class and quit, but I did not actually know that until after the student’s first lesson.

One of the big giveaways that a school is not good, or is not planning to teach you, is that they will not give you a free introductory lesson.  This means they don’t want you to see what they are doing until they get your money. There’s an even bigger red flag if they won’t even let you watch a class until after you’ve signed up.  Another thing to look out for is if the head of the school never teaches the class, it’s always or almost always the top students who do all the teaching.  At one time, them wanting you to sign a contract was a way to know they wanted your money but didn’t care about teaching you.  These days, with the difficulty in keeping a school in operation, many people have turned to contracts in a desperate attempt to be solvent.  However, if they won’t actually teach you without a long term contract that is still a red flag.

As for me, while I have had many Masters, I am 85% – 95% self taught.  One elderly Chinese woman who was teaching me thought it was hilarious and would laugh every time I called her Sifu, because it means father, but she never corrected me because it was the correct title under the circumstances.  Please try and remember it is as much about the path to enlightenment as it is improvement in health, and that learning to kick ass really is more of an incidental benefit than a goal.  Be thankful, Grasshopper, for few learn so much of Ti Kwan Leep so quickly.

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Final Frontier or Die

What will be the future of space?

Well, that really depends on us.  We’re starting to see some private sector investment in space, which is a good thing. but really, mainly because government funding has dropped the ball on space back in the 1970s. NASA has never gotten even 1% of the national budget, and has been twiddling their thumbs since the Apollo Program shut down, and looking at each other going, “Are we going to be able to afford a Coke from the machine next week?”

There are things that most people forget like, whether for good or ill, Landsat discovered more oil within one year than all the oil that had been discovered up to that point, keeping us from running out by the year 2001.

I remember going to the Space Frontier Foundation Lunar Development conference back in 1999, and what really stood out to me was the complete lack of understanding of how society works and the extreme amount childish, petty ego going on. They all wanted to do lunar fly-by projects, but everybody thought that their one test was the only one that counted, and that they did not need to combine efforts or convince anybody other than other nerds at the conference. They had a disdain for the general populace that was, while possibly justified, entirely unrealistic and not useful. The one scientist who spoke because he had succeeded in getting a lunar fly-by project was an object of envious scorn. They were all praying for an angel that they did not deserve. Furthermore, they all snubbed the guy with the proven solar sail system that had been tested on the space shuttle.

If I had been an angel looking to finance a project, I would have forced a group of them to work together with removable test modules on one probe where everybody who had a test that could be done with the same piece of equipment was grouped together and attached solar sails to extend massively the ability to run tests while reducing the need for fuel. I also would have put the one man who had succeeded with a project in charge, and had them set it up so that it flew back by the Earth to have modules changed out to change the tests that could be done.

This model would have given us the equivalent of twenty probes for the price of one.

When I was at the ISDC in Milwaukee in 1998, I worked on one of the panels planning differing aspects of planning a space probe to the moon. Most everybody was in agreement as to what to do for almost everything that our team was supposed to work out, but we got hung up when it came to the orbit that should be used for the project.

I ended up arguing with all of them that the probe should be taking an off-planar orbit, and ticking off the various reasons why. I did not give up on my point because, well for God’s sakes, it’s rocket science, it ought to be logical! We had loudly been debating this for about five minutes or so when Buzz Aldrin came over (I think he was working on one of the other projects at another table or something) and said, “Yes, it absolutely should be an off-planar orbit.  That will work much better. I’ve already worked out the math. I’ll send a copy over.” (He has a PhD in Orbital Mechanics and has proven that he can find the moon in the dark.) Then he turned to me and said, “Sorry for stealing your thunder.” I said, “No, don’t be. They listen to you. We got them to change their minds. That’s the important thing.”

I think that if we make it as a species, that before too long we will have at least one “real” space station at one of the Lagrange Points, probably the one halfway between Terra and Luna, a Lunar base, at least mostly inside of the volcanic vents, where they will harvest water and mine the lunar surface for the ubiquitous titanium, aluminum and platinum, which will be used for space construction–such as the space station–and will proceed to build colonies on other planets such as Mars and Ganymede. By then, we will have worked out better propulsion methods, and will hopefully be at least sending probes to other systems and working on actual FTL drives.

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Food for Thought

Food for Thought

A lot of people make a big deal, one way or the other, about Bruce Lee, and lately I’ve heard people trying to downplay his role in revitalizing martial arts worldwide, especially mixed martial arts. Ultimately for the master, all martial arts become a matter of, as Bruce said, “Authentic self expression.” In the 1950s, when American music became so bland that Pat Boone was the most exciting thing on the radio, Rock ‘n’ Roll became an inevitable necessity, and without Chuck Berry we would never have had Little Richard, Elvis or the Beatles. When Bruce came on the scene, martial artists everywhere had become mired in tradition, down to copying their instructor when he did a move incorrectly, which is still a serious problem the further you get away from a grand master, and sometimes even they fail to get one move down correctly, and everyone’s afraid to correct them. “Oh, he must be right. He’s….”

The first person I know of promoting martial arts widely in America was Teddy Roosevelt, who opened a Jujutsu dojo in the White House. He had been a sickly kid, and credited his good health to constant practice. Even today, many schools refuse to fix a bad technique that all other schools can see is crap because “well, they’re not part of our lineage. This is how we do it.”

No, Bruce was not the greatest martial artists ever to live, but he may have been one of the fastest. No, he did not surpass his master. In fact, he was fourth down in the lineage of Yip Man, and everyone who outranked him could beat him. Yes, he was also an actor, but he was an actual fighter as well, and if you think that’s the important thing, you’ve missed the point of martial arts in the first place. Skin color, country of origin, luck of physical endowment, and style of martial art are not the important thing. I have difficulty remembering people’s names, and honestly the names of styles that I have not practiced. I am also not an expert linguist, mastering the traditional languages of the half dozen places of origin of the styles I have practiced. Yes, sometimes I annoy my students by using German, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, Cantonese and Mandarin in the same lesson.

However, this isn’t about me, and martial arts isn’t about famous personalities. Do you think when Jet Li was the all-China Wu Shu champion and nobody in America had heard of him that therefore Joe Corley was a better fighter?

The first rule of all martial arts is, “If at all possible, run.” but the second rule is, “If it works, use it.” By the way, the first rule of yoga is, “Pain is nature’s way of telling you you’ve done something stupid.”

The greatest martial artist on Earth is probably entirely unknown. The greatest martial art on Earth may well be being practiced by someone who is weak, uncoordinated, and has major health problems. While he might not be able to beat anyone else, it is keeping him alive and teaching him mastery. Some of the most famous grand masters have been really bad teachers, and some half-way decent martial artists have been great teachers, and very few of the people who are good at choreography are really any good at the other two.

So, ultimately, Bruce Lee was an inevitable necessity for martial arts in his time period.

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