Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Got Your Silat Right Here ...

There is a discussion going on on Bobbe's blog about pentjak (pencak) silat, and more specifically, the variant from west Java, Sera.

The discussion is somewhat contentious.

I used to engage a fair amount in the silat word-wars -- I got megabytes of files, ranging from online debates that have been fairly civil, to some that contain outright libel, and a number of published print articles and statements on web pages. Buncha martial artists get together and a fight breaks out -- what a surprise ...

I used to take these things seriously, but these days, I am inclined to allow the folks with whom I disagree to stew in their own juices. Karma comes round, and I've got enough to pay off; let them deal with their own.

But it's kind of like being a retired boxer watching a match -- you know the game, and it's always more fun to watch if you have that knowledge.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Duck and Cover

Duck and Cover was a drill we practiced at school when I was a boy. The deal was, when we saw the nuclear flash that indicated the Russians had just lobbed a big one into the Plant a couple miles away, we were supposed to hop under our desks ...

Yeah. That would help ...

So now, we have our own spy sats falling on us ...

It's always something ...


Got into a discussion on anther blog about over-training. I allowed as how the guy who was talking about his routine was getting a bit long in the tooth, and, as a fellow old-fart, I warned him against pushing too hard.

Whereupon a poster who is an expert trainer and far more knowledgeable than I, allowed as how there was no such thing as "over-training," only "under-recovery," and being "under-prepared."

I confess my first reaction was that this seemed to me like cutting a piece of rope off one end and then tying it to the other end to make the rope longer. I understand that the emphasis was more on an active recovery process rather than simply passive, but still ...

If your cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn't make them biscuits.

Without getting too anatomically-correct, the way the human body works to get stronger and fitter is by a process of overload and recovery, and the building of new muscle tissue needs both. If you overwork the system, either by too much exercise -- or too little rest and nutrition -- you don't get fitter, you burn out. There are signs and symptoms, and easy enough to recognize 'em. For a fairly inclusive list, look here. Basically, if you are tired, your heart rate is high, you have trouble sleeping and you are depressed and you are working out hard every day, probably you are doing too much -- or, to be fair -- too little on the other end.

So, I'm hearing all the latest thoughts on what constitutes "active" recovery, while I don't know what they all are, I kinda feel that I have a handle on it for my own system.

Over the years, I have done a fair amount of strenuous exercise. I was, at various times, a fairly serious swimmer, runner, martial artist, iron pumper, bicyclist, and even a yoga-wonk. Not so much any more, though I do manage to work up a sweat now and then.

Along those lines right now, I am admittedly less flexible than I should be. My bad. I should do better.

To aid in recovering from these sweat-making things, I've used assorted methods that have worked for me. Warming-up, warming-down; stretching; plenty of rest; good diet, supplemented with vitamins and minerals; drinking a lot of water. Got a hot tub/spa I use almost every day, and I get a deep tissue massage a couple times a month. Breathing stuff, too.
A little red wine before dinner.

Even so, I sometimes overdo it, and I've learned that -- Jack LaLanne notwithstanding -- you have to pay more attention to these things as you get older. Jack is in miraculous shape for ninety-two, but he isn't the man he was at fifty, much less thirty. Once you are on the downslope, you get to a point if diminishing returns -- you can't do as much as you used to.
Unless, as I said there, you know where Ponce de Leon hid the map, or Dorian Gray's portrait painter did a picture for you that you keep in the attic.

People who say "no limits!" have their hearts in the right place. If you reach for the stars and miss, at least you don't come up with a handful of mud. Thing is, them stars are a ways off, and your head needs to know this.

How many people you know that are, say, a hundred and fifty or sixty years old? If there were no limits to human physicality, there'd be some Methuselahs running around. I don't know of any. (Kind of like those Oil of Olay commercials where they show some twenty-something babe putting the cream on her face and everybody goes "Ooh, look how it gets rid of wrinkles!" Please. You want to impress people, bring out an eighty-year-old granny and smooth out those lines with a few days of cold cream ...

So I found it interesting that somebody seemed to be saying there is no such thing as over-training. Because from where I sit, if you go to the gym six hours a day and hit the weights and the treadmill and the stationary bike like gangbusters, you are apt to overdo it, and if you are on my side of fifty or sixty, there isn't enough time for you to recover from that, unless maybe you came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

As always, your mileage may vary. I could be wrong. I have to allow for the possibility ...

Unreality TV

There are two martial arts shows on the tube I've been watching of late. One is Human Weapon, on the History Channel; the other is newer, but essentially a clone of the first, called Fight Quest, on the Discovery Channel. Oddly enough, the second was put into production before the first one hit the screens. And I know of a third one that was on the drawing board months ago, being considered by the National Geographic Channel.

Great minds think alike.

Or, maybe not-so-great minds think alike ...

Um. If you haven't seen these, here's the deal. Two jock-y guys, one little and trained in MMA or kickboxing, and one bigger one, a wrestler-slash-other, fly into an exotic location, hook up with reps of the local indigenous martial art, split up, and commence to study for four or five days. At the end of this period, they go against the local champions, to test their new skills.

The local color is fun, the travelogue aspects interesting, but it's about as realistic as a Shakespeare play wherein all the characters are portrayed by hairy-legged men. Or maybe Noh theater ...

I mean, come on! You been doing this stuff day in, day out, for eight, ten years, and some round-eyed Yankee comes in, and after getting thumped and wrecking his body for four days trying to keep up, to the point he can barely stand, is going to turn around and kick your ass?

It was me, I'd be too embarrassed to show my face in that country for the rest of my life -- assuming I didn't find a bridge from which to jump after being shamed thus, so that said life would be mercifully short. If, of course, the matches were real ...

Sure, a good fighter can hold his own against the locals in a lot of arts, using what he already knows, but to pretend that he can come in and spend four days training in it and then use only that art to run with local guy who has years of experience? That's not just silly -- it's flat-out insulting.

And yet, the Discovery and History boys usually manage to take at least a round or two, and sometimes, fight a match to a draw!

Talk about quick studies.

Talk about utter crap.

If you are thinking that perhaps the locals pull their punches? Well, not to put too fine a point on, they surely fucking do.

Jeez, some of these guys ought to be on their Olympic diving teams the way they go down. I saw one silat guy on the History show get tapped by an instep that you might use to move your beloved kitten over so you wouldn't accidentally step on her, and the guy thus touched flew through the air like like frog with a Saturn rocket jammed up his ass. I nearly choked I laughed so hard. (At the end of the match, they did the replay in slowmo, and oh, how sad it was.)

I would not find it unbelievable to learn that money changes hands, and that somewhere in the future some of these karate-kung-fu-silat guys are going to be talking to their brothers saying they coulda been contenders, if they hadn't taken the money and laid down ...

Sans bribes, it must be from having a sense of leaving somebody face that the locals usually allow the TV stars to win one match, or a round, at least.

Not always. The Discovery boys, who -- gotta give it to them -- get the crap beat out of them pretty good and keep going, much more so than the History boys, got shut out in their silat matches against the mande muda players. This even though the locals were sticking legs out and leaving punches dangling like skinned rabbits hung up to ripen. I could have booked a flight from Beaverton to Jakarta, got there, landed, and hiked to the match in time to catch some of those kicks and punches.

From there I sat, the locals were either the worst silat players on God's green Earth, or they were completely dogging it for the cameras, and even so, they still won every round, which says something, I'm not sure what. Maybe that if the round-eyes couldn't win with all those gimmes, they deserved to get their asses kicked.

I can't watch these with my wife dozing in her chair in the room -- me yelling "Bullshit! Bullshit!" at the screen wakes her up.

But if you need a good laugh, watch the episodes they did, or plan to on your art. It will be passing funny, trust me ...

Music R Us

For most of the last couple years, I've been working on my playing when I pick up the guitar -- mostly finger-picking kinda stuff. I'm not good at it, but I am better.

So I've been adding in some vocals to go with the instrumentals from time to time, and if I had to work up a set-list and fill an hour, I have enough stuff I can passably play. Here's what I've been singing to the walls and the dogs the last couple weeks. Pretty much I can do all these, save for "Year of the Cat," which I just started learning today. A week or so, I should have that one down. Too bad I don't have the keyboards, bass, and sax to go with the guitar ...

Latest Set List - Guitar/with Vocals

1. We Just Disagree - Dave Mason
2. No Nookie Song - Perry
3. Long, Long Time - Gary White/Linda Ronstadt
4. Sail Away - Randy Newman
5. Never Be a Country Singer - Perry
6. Year of the Cat - Al Stewart
7. Different Drum - Stone Poneys
8. Way Down in the Hole - Tom Waits
9. Stagolee - Traditional
10. Sixteen Tons - Merle Travis
11. Science Fiction - Richard O’Brien/Rocky Horror
12. Blackbird - Paul McCarney
13. In My Life - John Lennon
14. Time Was - Perry
15. The Second Time Around - Perry
16. Black-Hearted Soul - Perry
17. Layla - Eric Clapton/Derek & the Dominoes
18. Lola - Ray Davies/Kinks
19. Angel From Montgomery - John Prine
20. Whitebread Blues - Perry

Manuscript Biz

Okay, the doorstop-fantasy isn't done yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe we are talking weeks now instead of months ...

Here's how it's supposed to work: I get the draft done and shoot it to my collaborator, Michael. He applies himself to it, cuts, adds, fiddles, fixes, and when he is done, sends it back to me. Whereupon I will make one more quick pass, mostly to be sure of continuity, to catch typos or other small glitches, and to revenge-kill some of his darlings as he did mine.

I then ship it to my agent, she casts our novel upon the waters, and in short order, a book company offers us big bucks, with a contract for the next two in the trilogy/dekology ...

That's the theory, anyhow.

Normally, when I finish a novel, either on my own or in collaboration, it's already contracted-for and on a tight deadline. Book is due on Friday, it gets done on Wednesday, and that's the name of that tune. No space to send it around for comments.

This go-round, however, we have a luxury we aren't used to having -- time. No deadline, nobody tapping their foot -- well, unless you count Michael -- and this will allow something that is now and again useful for writers: first readers.

My books never turn out as good as I envisioned them going in. Nature of the beast -- I'm a better writer in my own mind than I am on paper, alas. Even so, I am usually pleased enough to let them out of the house.

Sometimes, there arise questions, the two primary ones of which are these: 1) Did I tell the story I wanted to tell? and, 2) Did I tell it well? If I did those, I'm good.

Readers sometimes spot things that writers -- none of whom are objective about their own work, in my experience -- miss. Things that would bear some attention. I know what I think I said, but sometimes, I didn't say it as clearly as I thought. They are sorry things, words, when it comes to telling a story, but they are what we have.

To help, and because we have time, I am looking for a few first readers. No literary expertise is necessary -- I don't write for critics, but folks who are gonna plunk down their beer money for a book. I'm talking about my draft here, before Michael finishes his. Useful suggestions will be passed along to him, and I'll plug others in when I do the final draft.

Here's what usually determines useful: If half a dozen people all balk at the same sequence, probably it needs to be fixed. If all six of them have different gripes and there is no pattern, then those comments need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Example: Billy Bob thinks the swordfight scene with the prince is the best sequence since Rob Roy's duel with the fop assassin in that movie. Mary Jane thinks that scene is unspeakably cruel and it made her want to throw up. Whichever one comes closer to what I think will probably get the nod.

There are a few caveats: You need to be somebody I know, either personally, or with some degree of interaction online. I don't want the manuscript going out into the void for general consumption, and that is part of the deal: You get to read it, but not pass it around, and since I'm trusting you on this, I need to know who you are.

You need to be somebody who dips into the science fiction/fantasy genre often enough to be familiar with the basic tropes of such tales. If you think magic and wizards and like that are all totally silly? No point in reading this -- I already know that and I write the stuff anyhow.

What I am looking for is simple: Did the story work for you or not? If so, you needn't expound on it at length, although if there are gems that sparkled, why, I'm always happy to hear about those.

If it doesn't work for you, say so, and why, as best you can. (I fancy that I don't need writing lessons per se, I'm not doing this for Mrs. Cowsar's English IV class, so you can skip the basic grammar and construction stuff -- that's what the copy editor gets paid to do.)

Address the book that is -- no point in telling me that instead of writing a fantasy novel with a steamship dreadnaught set on an alternate world, I should have written one about marines fighting alien invaders in New York City. Doesn't help because I didn't write that one, and I'm not going to toss this one out and do so, either.

Talk as you would about plot, character, setting, whatever strikes you. No holds barred.

Be timely. If you are a slow reader and can't get it read in a month or so, chances are we'll be done and late input won't help. What you'll get is a .RTF doc, which is readable by either Macs, or Wintel machines running MS Word. Read it onscreen or print it out, up to you.

For your efforts, you get our gratitude and a mention in the acknowledgments. Plus you can tell your friends when the book comes out, "Oh that? I read it a year ago. I helped them with it ... "

If you have any interest in this, drop me a note and an email box address, I'll put you on the list, and send the ms when it is done.

I'll warn you first ...

As Long as We are Here (Pachelbel's Canon)

My favorite versions of Johann's little ditty:


And if you act right now:

But wait! Now how much would you pay?

And one more ...

Jude and Layla

So, our dogs are named for rock songs. Long ago and far away, first time we heard those songs, but here's why:

So young and earnest we all were ...

And from Derek and the Dominoes:

Although this is the version I play -- or try to:

My kind of music. We get another dog, we'll have to name her Silver Girl, from Bridge Over Troubled Water ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Dark Ages

Power went out here a little after noon. No doubt connected to the snow and icky weather -- somebody probably plowed into a substation or power pole somewhere. Rarely happens here, because our lines are all underground, so when it does, it's something of a surprise.

Eating lunch, poof! dark!

Fortunately, there was a break in the clouds so that opening blinds allowed me to move around without having to hunt up the hurricane lanterns. Phones worked to call out, though they wouldn't ring if somebody called in. I dialed up PGE, got the phone tree and after punching buttons, determined that power was out to four thousand customers in my area, ten percent of whom had already called it in.

It should be repaired in an hour and a half or thereabouts, the recording told me.

So, I played guitar, and after an hour and a bit, the juice came back on. I reset the electronic clocks, and had no more excuse not to work. Foo ...

What's Black and White All Over?

Corgis in the snow ...

Have Trouble Parallel Parking?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Sidewalk is Deadly

So, it's raining. Plain old Oregon rain, cold, but not a big deal -- except the temperature at ground -level is currently 28 degrees F., which makes for a nasty condition sometimes called a "silver freeze." (When it gets worse, they tend to call it an "ice storm." I'd never heard of such things growing up in Louisiana. First winter we were up in Oregon, we had one. Didn't look like much to me, so when I went out for my daily run of a couple miles, I stepped onto my driveway and promptly slid all the way to the street corner on my ass. At that moment, I decided to take up lap-swimming at the nice heated indoor pool instead of jogging ...)

If the condition gets bad enough, you just stay home. Snow-chains don't help, studded-tires, Yak-tracks on your shoes, nothing.

Unlike seeing great icicles hanging from the eaves as a warning, the first stages of this are deceptive. With the silver freeze comes black ice, a term that would be better called invisible ice. The sidewalks, being concrete with a higher albedo than asphalt, tend to ice over first, whereas the roads absorb more heat, such that it is. (Albedo is why a black car is hotter in the sun than a white one, though even dark material can reflect quite a bit of light. I have it that the surface of the moon has the same albedo as asphalt. Pretty impressive.)

Come the freezing rain, you step out onto the sidewalk, it looks fine, but of a moment, you find yourself skateless on an ice rink. Even so, you can keep your balance on the flats. But, if you come to a rise? Ice-skating uphill is a bitch.

When walking the dogs, better to keep to the ground. It gets crunchy, but unless the condition persists for a while, the thin layer of ice breaks as you walk upon it, and footing is more secure.

Which is to say, if you are in or around Portland, OR, today, and you need to go out, tread with care. The hip you save may be your own.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steampunk Keyboards

Those of you who are science fictions fans know what steampunk is. Basically, it's a retro-future/alternative Victorian timeline kind of thing in which mechanical analog-stuff is taken to the lengths that are now done electronically. Guys like Jeter, Powers, Blalock, and like that, and fun stuff. I think K.W. gets the credit for coining the term, which was probably a riff on "cyberpunk."

J.D. sent me a link to a guy who makes steampunk keyboards for computers. I got another link from there to a second guy who is also making them, including a laptop you just won't believe.

I'd love it if they'd do something with my Kinesis board ...

Have a look. It's amazing what folks with talented hands can create.


The term "virtuoso" is applied to a musician considered a master of his or her instrument and the chosen form of musical expression.

Behold Australian Tommy Emmanuel and Hawaiian Jake Shimabukuro playing George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and know what virtuosity means.

These guys are burning up their uke and guitar and laughing while they do it.

Man. Makes me want to shoot my guitar and put it out of its misery ....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Naked Truth

So, back from the dentist, left upper lip and nose insensate after some drilling to repair a cracked filling ...

It's always something.

Um. Anyway, while reading some 'zine in the waiting room, I came across a reference to a study on pheromones.

The jury is still out on the details about these in humans, where they are produced and how exactly we smell them, but scientists know we have them.

Women who live together sometimes start menstruating at the same time, and pheromones are most likely why. Both women and men seem to be able to take notice of the subtle chemical signals. Men tend to be more solicitous of women who are ovulating.

The experiment I refer to concerned strippers/lap dancers. It seems that women who are ovulating when they practice the ecdysiast's art make bigger tips than when they aren't; more, women who are menstruating make less in tips than either.

Boy, wouldn't you have loved to see the class when the professor announced that project?

"Okay, so much for refraction analysis and hormone sifting. Now, we are going to do a study on strippers, are there any volunteers who are willing to undergo lap-dances and -- hey! Easy, easy! Sit down!"

And consider the guy who came up with the idea in the first place ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Current Word Processing

A few years back, I started getting some RSI symptoms in my hands. Tingling, numbness, cramps. Developed a case of "trigger finger," tenosynovitis, that eventually required surgery.

I've mistreated my mitts over the decades, and for the last seven or eight years, I've foam-taped the heck out of them when I work out, because there is no connective tissue left in a couple of joints. I can sprain my thumb taking my socks off, I'm not careful ...

Bad ju-ju for a writer.

I went looking for ways to ease the stress on my hands, and tried various split or ergonomic keyboards, starting with the Mac's now-out-of-production version; then one by FingerWorks that was flat and so sensitive that if I spilled a drop of water on it, it would type a letter. Bad keyboard for me, but a great touch-pad, the iGesture, also now out of production.

Ended up with the Kinesis Advantage, which looks, as I told J.D., like somebody took a big ice cream scoop to it in a couple places and then filled the hollow with keys. Major control keys lie under the thumbs, and it is every so much easier to use than any board I've tried. Even has an optional foot switch that can allow one-handed input, by shifting all the keys on half a board so each can input two letters, depending on the foot switch's position.

First one I had had a QWERTY/Dvorak switch. (Dvorak, a much more reasonable method of letter and sign placement, supposedly requires on 1/16th as much movement as classical QWERTY keyboards, which were designed to keep typists from going too fast and jamming the keys, back in the mechanical machine days.) I wore that one out. (Actually, wore the wire out, and didn't realize I could replace that, so I got a second one. They come up with a wireless model, I'm going to buy several.

Unfortunately, when I'm on a roll, I can type somewhere between seventy and ninety words a minute, and trying to learn the changeover to Dvorak, where on a good day I might could do twenty-five words a minute drove me nuts. They say it takes about forty hours of practice to get relatively adept at it, but I couldn't make myself wait while I was actually trying to get work done. My brain had run off down the road babbling to itself while my hands were struggling to keep it in sight. No good.

If you have RSI problems, or even carpal tunnel syndrome starting to loom, consider trying one of these babies. It's not cheap -- about three hundred bucks when I got mine -- but compared to the cost of hand surgery or not being able to type, that's a pittance.

They told me it would take while to get used to it. It did -- all of thirty seconds. I sit with it on my lap, lean back in my chair, and haven't had any real problems with my hands since.

I can't go back to a regular keyboard. One of the reasons a laptop isn't of interest -- keyboard is all wrong for me now, and if I have to lug this one along, it kind defeats the point ...

Word Processing

Somebody asked me what I thought the biggest advantages/disadvantages of a computer word processor were, vis a vis writing fiction.

Interesting question.

I was never a pen-to-paper writer, save for those rare instances when I couldn't make to a typewriter and I absolutely-positively had to get a scene down right that minute. I keep a notebook with me, and something to write on next to the bed, but I took typing class in high school because I knew it would come in handy.

So, I composed at a typewriter from the git-go. I started out using a manual portable my wife bought in a pawn shop for about $50 in the 1960's, a pica machine. I liked that better than elite.
(For those of you who don't know these terms, they were the two most common fonts.)

In the following years, I owned maybe half a dozen other typewriters. Five years after we moved to Oregon, I got my first word processor. This was late in 1983, an Epson QX-10, a CPM machine that ran something called Valdocs. Printer was a daisy-wheel that did all of 15 characters a minute. I could manually type faster.

What a turkey that system was. Taught me the value of backing up files in a big hurry.

Second system was a Mac toaster, and it's been Mac OS since, probably half a dozen to the current iMac G4 running OS 10.xx. Probably get another one of those in the next year or so.

I went from manual to electric typewriters, and ended with an IBM Selectric clone, made by Sperry, at which point I didn't think it could get any better. You could change fonts using type balls, there was a sticky lift-off tape that allowed you to erase! and it used carbon ribbons for smudge-free print. It was a lease/purchase, and cost me about nine hundred dollars. I wrote my first three novels using it.

The biggest advantages of typewriters? None of them ever once said, "Sorry, that file is gone." With the manuals, the muscles used got worked better, and I never had a problem with any kind of RSI, which is much more common when keying computers.

Disadvantages: To get two copies of a manuscript, you had to use carbon paper, and every draft had to start with page one and go to the end, so you did a lot of retyping of stuff that didn't need to be retyped. And you had to have two copies -- if you sent your only copy out and it got lost? You were screwed. At least with a carbon, you could -- sigh -- retype it one more time.

If you had more than three errors on a page, even corrected with white-out, you had to retype the whole page, otherwise editors would spit on it and reject your story. The least they expected was clean copy.

With a computer system that shows the words black on a white screen as fast as you can type without lag, the advantages are legion -- assuming you back everything up frequently and in more than one place.

Probably the thing that is most useful to me is the ability to quickly fix and move stuff around.

What has happened more frequently in recent years is that I sometimes write out-of-sequence. Back in the day, I started on page one, chapter one, and wrote through to the end of the last chapter and -30- .

(This is an old newspaper thing, wherein articles were ended with XXX to show the editor you were done and the copy boy hadn't lost a page. XXX eventually became -30-, not too hard to figure why.)

So if, whilst writing chapter thirteen, I suddenly get a vision of a fight scene that isn't going to take place until six or twelve chapters later in the book, I can write that scene while I have it in mind, save it, and when I get to that place later, just paste it in. No worry about pagination, the computer does it. Sometimes the piece will require some tweaking, because the tone of the book might have altered, or a new character might step up and demand more screen time, so I have to give him or her the scene, but it is a big advantage to be able to get it down while it is flowing and know it's there.

Flow matters. If you have something come to you and you don't write it, later when you do get back to it, it won't be the same. Could be better, could be worse, but it won't be the same. And you'll wonder if it would have been better or worse ...

This is a great way to get the beast moving if it is stalled, by the way. I've been lucky enough not to have suffered from writer's block so far -- knock on wood -- and this is one of my tricks.

Current scene necessary, but not exciting, and you know you must, but don't really feel like grinding through it? Skip ahead, write something that gets the juices flowing, and then go back.

Inertia is both curse and blessing. If you are standing still, sometimes it is hard to get going. Once you are moving, it's easier to keep moving, and you can return to the sluggish sequence with renewed vigor.

And of course, there's all that electronic shuttling you can do, you can now submit books to some publishers without having to generate hard copy at all, but being able to fix copy and move it around is right up there at the top of the list. In the days when I routinely did three drafts of a short story -- first, rewrite, and final -- that meant each page got typed three times.
On a twenty page short story, this wasn't so bad. On a novel? Yeah, you had to do it, but it's a whole lot easier just to fix what's broken, and sometimes, a draft-and-a-half will do it.

The typewriter picture with this post is an Underwood Standard, probably made about 1930. I can't be sure, because the serial number plate is gone. (We have another, even older machine, a portable, circa 1920, that belonged to my wife's grandmother. Still works just fine.)

When we bought our first house, the old woman who lived there had passed away, and in the place when we looked at it were two items we wanted: An old Singer sewing machine treadle base of cast iron, and this typewriter. We had our real estate agent write that into the contract, we'd pay extra for those, and the heirs went along with it.

The treadle base is out back, with a board on it full of hot tub supplies now, after various incarnations as inside tables or desks. Treadle still works.

The Underwood is atop the reference bookshelf in my office. Dusty, and the ribbon is shot, but it still works, too. I wouldn't want to have to go back to such a machine, but it has a certain cachet sitting there. Probably weighs about forty pounds, a solid, well-made, utilitarian device that has, like buggy whips, its own place in history ...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dog Show '08

Yesterday, we went to the Rose City Classic, a four-day cluster of dog show events -- confirmation, agility, rally, etc. at the Expo Center.

We wanted to attend Saturday. Packed up the camper with the dogs and got there early, with the idea that we'd park the rig out in the lot, and come and go -- have lunch, walk the dogs, let them socialize, like that. We got there about 9:30 a.m. and the parking lot was already full.

Four thousand dogs entered in various events over the life of the thing, and on a cold and rainy, even sleet and mixed snow day, being indoors apparently was a big draw.

Sunday, we left our pups home and drove in Dianne's car; even so, we had to park at a satellite lot a mile away and get ferried in. They had a small fleet of school buses, and speaking as a man of just over average height, there isn't enough leg room in those Bluebird coaches.

If you are a dog person, walking around among all the critters and seeing dog-smiles is worth the trip.

There are people who don't like dogs. I feel sorry for them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Forget It Jake ...

... it's Chinatown ...

Flipping around the channels and happened across "Chinatown," last light. Been a while since I've seen it, and naturally, I got hooked into it again.

Movie gets better every time. As good an example of late film noire (and in color!) form as exists. It won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, for Robert Towne, and it sparkles.

Everybody else was nominated for best something: Jack Nicholson, for best actor; Faye Dunaway, for best actress, Polanski for direction -- his last American movie before he skipped the country to avoid going to jail after his conviction for sleeping with a little girl who was twelve or thirteen. Music by Goldsmith; cinematography; editing; best picture, should have won them all, but it was up against Godfather II, which also wasn't bad.

Nicholson was brilliant, and he carried the picture, was in almost every scene. Polanski even gave himself a bit part as a knife-wielding thug. Yeah, he's a child-molestor, and piss on him, but he was a great director.

If you haven't seen it, do. That scene with Gittes slapping Mrs. Mulray is as freaky a movie moment as any, and unforgettable ...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Movie Stars

And, of course, seeing Walter Brennan brought up Bogart and Bacall, and fond memories of movie stars from back in the day when glamour was something special.

Lauren "Betty" Bacall and Katherine Hepburn -- now those were movie stars. To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, Bringing up Baby ... they don't make 'em like that any more.

And both of these woman aged extremely well.

I got your Britney and your Botox right here ...

Your Mileage May Vary

Three B's, l. to r. -- Brennan, Bacall, Bogart

The late Walter Brennan acted in a couple hundred movies and several television series. He was the go-to guy for more than thirty-five years when you needed a wisecracking, crusty old geezer -- and he started doing it in his forties. (Gives me hope that I might still have a chance at an acting career, things get tight in the writing biz -- I can do geezer ...)

Anyway, Brennan starred in a TV series in the mid-sixties with Dack Rambo, playing as usual the crusty old wisecracking grampaw, and after a crusty old wisecracking tirade, he would sometimes end it by saying, "No brag, jest fact."

The subject of experience comes up here from time to time, and I thought I'd address it. I don't want to sound like the guys who step out of Courville's Bar across the river on a hot Louisiana summer night and start to recite their felony-arrest records to each other before they get to slugging it out. But just to be clear ...

I'm not a streetfighter. Nor do I want to be. There are plenty of folks who drop round here who have worlds more experience in that arena, and all props to them. They have kicked multiple asses multiple times, and could probably do so to me without working up a sweat.

However, I am starting into my seventh decade, my experiences are what they are, and, I believe, are of some value.

I've lived in different states --- cities, towns, country -- in a score of apartments and houses in places ranging from biggest urban sprawl to way out six miles of bad road. The streets have been mean, pastoral cow paths, and bedroom community. I've done blue collar and white collar work, and even a stint as a private eye, during which I did a bit of bodyguard stuff and sometimes had to carry a gun. (Once helped a client retrieve his baby son from across the state line in Mississippi where the guy who was shacked up with the ex-wife was tight with the state po-lice. Father had legal custody, but the mother took off. That was an interesting drive back from Jackson. Being stopped by the state patrol for what might seem to be kidnapping until it all got sorted out was a passing scary thought.)

I started dabbling in martial arts forty-two years ago, played in six or seven styles, have rank in a couple, and have spent the last decade and some in the same art.

During those years, I have had times when things got dicey, and push came to shove, or a knife or gun came out. Nothing major, but it wasn't as if I spent my time in a monastery chanting "om."

My experience was, every time, I saw it coming. Sometimes with plenty of space to move out the way, sometimes not.

Of course, part of my training was that I was trying to avoid trouble and in order to do so, I was on the lookout for it.

I won't argue with guys who say that surviving a surprise attack is a nasty job and one it will serve you to know how to do. I will say that if you pay attention -- based on my experience -- you can sometimes avoid an attack. I have done so, so I know that it sometimes works.

Which is not to say that I couldn't get decked by a little old grandma walking her pomeranian next trip I go to collect the mail, and rat-bitten by the little dog as I lie dazed upon the sidewalk. Shit happens. I watch those little old ladies carefully, just in case ...

No brag. Jest fact.

Local TV Nostalgia

Talk about things you couldn't do without the internet, how about local TV shows you watched as a kid fifty years ago?

In my misspent youth, there was one TV station in Baton Rouge. A couple years later, there came to be a second -- these were, respectively, WAFB, and WBRZ. (If you were lucky and had a father who was an electrical engineer who liked to do things like motorize your TV antenna, you could just barely get WDSU, out of of New Orleans.)

The local stations had local programming: Most notable were Buckskin Bill, (Bill Black) on WAFB, starting in the early-fifties, and Count Macabre, on WBRZ, in the early sixties. These were the mainstays of afternoon viewing, and along with probably ten thousand other local kids, I was several times on both of these shows.

My first appearance on television, at age seven, came as a Cub Scout, on Buckskin's afternoon show. (He had one in the morning, too.) I played Robin Hood in a skit, and carried Little John (the likeable but detestable Davy Morgan) across the imaginary river on my back. No speaking part, alas.

Probably did Buckskin's show six or eight times over the years. There's a great, almost certainly, apocryphal story about an episode when Buckskin, talking to a group of Cub Scouts as he did frequently, had one of the lads ask if he could tell a joke.

(Buckskin's show was live-and-direct as he liked to say. No tape delay.)

Buckskin figured, what-the-heck, a seven-year-old? Go ahead.

Kid said, "So, how is a woman like a frying pan?"

Apparently ole Buckskin hadn't heard that one, but alarm bells went off and he was considering how to respond when the kid blurted out, "You have to get them both hot before you put the meat in!"

Oh, crap! "T-T-Time for a P-P-Popeye cartoon!"

Buckskin for years signed off with "Remember, Baton Rouge needs a zoo!" and over that time, kids sent in pennies enough to buy the first elephant when the zoo finally was built. Two elephants, actually.

Buckskin ended each episode with a bit of Choctaw, and "Chikama, Scouts!" Buckskin was a stand-up guy, and much beloved. Last I heard, he was on the Parish school board.

Count Macabre (Jay Marlborough) dressed in ghoulish gear and make-up and hosted a horror theater in the afternoons, starting in '63 or '64 He started out playing it straight, but quickly camped it up. "Pay attention out there!" was his catch phrase. He even ran for Governor one year. I was on his show a couple times, the last being as part of the cast of Oklahoma!

He told us a joke when we were on: "Want to see my imitation of Frank Sinatra?" Whereupon he put his top hat over his hand and held it up. If you are old enough, you know why this is funny. Not very funny, but a little.

Doing a riff on Buckskin, the Count would sometimes end his show by saying, "Remember, Baton Rouge is a zoo!"

Ah, the good old days. Oprah? No way.

Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright ...

So, add to the list of Stupid Things Not to Do: Getting drunk with a couple of your buddies and hopping up on the railing of the tiger's enclosure at the zoo to scream and taunt the big cat.

Talk about instant karma.

Gotta wonder how some folks remember how to breathe ...

The Best Things in Life Are Free ...

... but you can give 'em to the birds and bees ...

Came across an interesting site while doing some research on American paper money, sparked by the fact that the ten and twenty dollar bills both feature men who were wounded or killed in duels.

Most of you probably know the faces of the men on the current circulating denominations up to a hundred (and not counting coins): Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin. Five presidents, a secretary of the treasury, and an original American patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, plus the apocryphal kite and all.

But did you know that there used to be much larger bills floating around? $500, McKinley; $1000, Cleveland; $5000, Madison, and $10,000, Salmon P. Chase. Three presidents and a banker. I am given to understand they took those out of circulation for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to address the problem of counterfeiting. A bogus twenty is one thing, a fake ten thou note would sting if you got stuck with it. Plus there weren't a lot of places to use such notes. Big Mac, fries, a Coke, here you go, got change for a Chase ... ?

Only two women who were real people appear on the paper money. Martha Washington and Pocahontas.

One Native American man made it onto the green: Running Antelope -- a Sioux, who was depicted in a Pawnee headdress by an idiot of an artist, which pissed off both the Sioux and Pawnee.

Ain't the internet great?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yon Cassius Has a Lean and Hungry Look ...

Generally, once a week, I take a break from food. Works out to be about thirty-six hours without eating. Nothing spectacular, and I'm not a fanatic about it; I drink a couple-three cups of black coffee in the morning; lots of water during the day; and now and then, I'll even have a glass of wine in the evening. (Often a breath mint, though that is for the benefit of others -- fasting tends to give one bad breath, though not so much in the first day or so.)

Vitamins and minerals, I allow, but nothing with any degree of calories from food.

If my fast day happens to fall on Thanksgiving or when we are going somewhere for dinner, then I skip it until next week. Usually, I try and do it on silat class days, the theory being that lean and mean makes for sharper uptake and movement.

I've been doing this for about twenty-five years, and I feel that there are great benefits.
The scientific evidence is not in on the assorted forms of fasting, but speaking from my small and personal experiences, I feel better. I may not be any healthier, but I also feel healthier.

On the morning after a fast, I have noticed that my sense of smell seems to be much more acute, and that I tend to wake up sooner than usual, and more alertly, too.

Good to know that if I have to go a day or two without eating, I can function pretty well.

For me, it is, more than anything, an exercise in discipline rather than in dieting, but my clothing sizes and weight have held pretty steady for a couple decades and some, so it's likely of some use there.

The only real drawback is in the winter. I feel the cold much more on days when I don't eat. If on Tuesday, talking a walk when it's chilly, if I feel comfortable in shirtsleeves, then on Wednesday, if I fast and if the temperature is the same, I need a jacket, and almost surely, gloves. My hands, having relative poor circulation, cool off in a hurry.

This is to be expected; if there ain't any wood in the stove, you don't get a lot of heat. Your metabolic system tries to tell you, Hey, eat something!

It is interesting, how subjective such things as the cold can be, and it makes you realize that there are people who suffer in the cold or heat and whose thermostats don't match your own.

Food -- or not -- for thought ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dueling Arts

In an earlier addendum to a post, I said something in the follow-up remarks to the effect that useful martial arts were all dueling arts. Not speaking of things like kendo and kyudo or other do -- ways -- that are more for sport or exercise or spiritual development and thus certainly useful, but fighting arts designed to be used in life-or-death situations.

Methinks a further explanation of what I mean by "duel" is in order. These are my definitions, and may vary somewhat from what Mr. Webster has to say on the subject.

Historically, "duel" referred to one-on-one encounters involving weapons that were agreed upon in advance. There were strict rules to govern these meetings and a fair number of such encounters around the world during those eras in which they were legal, quasi-legal, illegal-but-done-anyhow. Duels were quite the rage to settle affronts to a man's honor.

Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton -- the latter whose picture is on the $10 bill. Andrew Jackson -- he's on the $20 bill -- got wounded and potted a couple guys himself in duels. A man who wasn't willing to defend his views simply wasn't well-thought of in many circles.

Stupid so much of the time, but there it was, and whaddya gonna do? It's history.

Thus, swords under the oaks at luncheon, pistols at dawn, boxing or wrestling matches were (and still may be) considered formal duels. MMA fights, karate tourneys wherein contact is allowed, toughman competitions still are. Let's-step-outside-the-bar-and-discuss-this-further dust-ups, while something less formal than having one's seconds call to arrange the matter, those still qualify for the designation. It isn't a matter of how much time before the glove-across-the-face and the set-to, but the idea of arranging for a fight, no matter the proximity of time.

When more than two fighters were involved, duels were more apt to be known as gang fights, or -- in my youth -- rumbles. On a national scale, they are called wars ...

The key element of a duel for me is that the would-be fighters are both aware that a confrontation is about to take place, as opposed to one of them being bushwhacked, dry-gulched, back-stabbed, or otherwise footpadded in a sneak attack by the other.

I say, it's rather a Pearl Harbor morning, isn't it?

Pearl Harbor morning?

Yes, there's a bit of a nip in the air ...

Sorry. My son's brother-in-law, a retired British Army colonel, told my wife that one at my eldest grandson's christening in London some years back, and I've been waiting for a place to use it ...

Um. Back to the subject at hand-to-hand:

The first definition was of a formal duel. But as I see it, there is another kind, the impromptu or spontaneous duel. This is a spur-of-the-moment decision usually forced upon one person by another.

What I mean here is this: Assuming that somebody hops out of the bushes and takes a swing at you and misses, or does little enough damage that you are still able to mount a spirited defense against further attack. He's there, you are here, and you certainly ought to have a good idea of his intent, given his recent actions. While you might not be squared-off in the traditional martial arts have-a-go-at-it sense, and while the time before things re-commence might be a few heartbeats instead of dawn at Twin Oaks on Tuesday week, you are now essentially in a duel.

You see him, he sees you. You have an idea of his intent, and he yours. Whatever abilities your martial arts have given you will come into play, if you can access them. Your goal might be escape, pure self-defense, or to defeat your attacker in such a way that he cannot continue his aggression toward you. Whatever.

My point is that, once the situation commences and assuming you are still there and able to put together mind and body and you can't safely run away, you have entered into a kind of duel, and your art needs, if it be useful, to speak to the onrushing attacker.

Like Harvey in Butch and Sundance, you might think there are no rules in a knife fight, but just because there isn't a referee there to enforce them, there are, and plenty of them. It is a matter not just of your conscience, but of law, what you can and cannot do, even in a fight to the death. While you might choose to disregard those -- better to have twelve trying you than six carrying you -- those rules will come back later and you'll have to deal with them. (Hint: If you punch the guy and he falls down and is out of it, you don't get to go over and stomp his head in or slit his throat with your handy-dandy Swiss Army knife. Even against deadly violence, you are only allowed to use as much force as necessary to stop the threat, and not an iota more. Of course, as the victim on-scene, you have to decide how much is necessary, and might be overzealous in your interpretation, but best you keep in mind that you will almost certainly have to justify it to a cop, judge, and jury later. If they don't buy you were in fear for your life from a guy lying unconscious on the alley floor, you could be looking at a long vacation in the graybar hotel.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sera(k) DVDs

So, I got the DVDs for the Sera(k) vids Joe Daggy shot a while back. For those of you who have the first two on VHS tape, I & II are identical -- they run an hour and some each. Volume III, covers Djuru 3, some drills, like 4-count and tiga stepping, but is only half an hour long, and all of it from the second two-day shoot.

For students of this art, especially this branch (tjabang) these are a must, and the DVD format is worth having because you can watch it on your computer and do step-frame a lot easier than you can on tape.

For silat students in general, there are some things you might find interesting, but without a foundation on the ground, what you can learn will be limited.

For civilians, you might enjoy watching the basics of the art explained, but don't expect to watch these and come away a trained killer. Ain't gonna happen.

For fellow students up here in the rainy north woods who were in the vids, re-watching them again will be a ... um ... mixed experience. On the one hand, every one of us who is still training is in better shape -- we've all lost weight, gained muscle, and are fitter. Among the weight losers, we could probably claim enough dropped pounds to make a fair-sized sumo wrestler. Cotten probably picked up twenty, twenty-five pounds of muscle. So that's to the good.

On the other hand, we moved like -- being kind here -- crippled walruses ...

At the time of the second shoot, I can recall thinking, hey, we were pretty sharp, we had some smooth moves, and --

Wrong. We didn't.

It is to cringe to compare then to now. Especially the first tape. Yeah, we weren't totally inept, but it does make you realize that we've all come a long way. And that however good we think we are now? We ain't ...

Damn. I hate that.

Amazing what a difference a few years makes.

What's maybe even more amazing is that Guru was either pre-op or post-op major back surgery for that ruptured disk when those were shot, and maybe 60% functioning on those vids, which makes me feel even worse. We didn't have that excuse. Once his back healed, it was downright scary how good he got. Even with a bad knee, his groundwork exercises are ever so much better than ours ...

Oh, well. Live and -- I hope -- learn ...

Whatever Happened To ... ?

This is a short post, likely of interest only to silat players, and, in particular, those who are long-time students of Maha Guru Plinck's class in Washington.

Remember Rocco Latino? That's him on the milk crate. He's studying silat with Guru Sean Stark, down in Florida. You can see the vid here, about 2/3rds of the way down the page.

Rocco was a student at our class for a year or two. This was back when we were divided into two groups, beginners and -- I hesitate to say "advanced," but perhaps "a little past beginner" is a bit unwieldy. "More advanced" wouldn't be too far off. You get the idea.

I don't recall exactly how it happened, but Rocco somehow managed to con his way into the more advanced class instead of the beginners where -- in my opinion -- he belonged. I believe he told Guru that he couldn't schedule things to get there for the beginning class, and I suspect this was probably not the case ...

He was a pretty funny guy. "Before you can be the tiger, you must first be the monkey." was one of his pesudo-Bruce Lee aphorisms.

Two memories in the class center around Rocco: The first was one cold Hallowe'en night in Cotten's garage when Rocco and I were paired and doing one-step sparring. I hadn't warmed up properly, I pushed off, and tore my right calf muscle pretty good. Six weeks, much of which was using a cane, before that healed. I don't recommend that you try this at home.

I warm up real good these days before I start serious dancing around.

The other memory, somewhat more amusing, was during the second vid shoot when, dressed in a sarong (and bicycle shorts), I was the attacker and Rocco the defender. The technique ended in a sweep, I went down, and the camera got this great upskirt shot, which somehow made its way onto both of the first two tapes ...

Rocco was a teacher, and fed up with the local school system, elected to fly off to Auckland, NZ, to teach there. Apparently, dealing with some of the problem kids down under, some of whom were big and tough, wasn't the most pleasant experience, either, and he moved back to Florida to be near his aging parents ...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Malia Nurmi


Apparently, the actress Malia Nurmi has passed away. For those of you too young to remember, she was quite a beauty in her youth, and most famous for her role of Vampira, the first TV horror hostess.

(The name came from her husband, Rudy Gernreich, a screenwriter, who among his other credits, wrote Dirty Harry.)

Later, Vampira went on to co-star in Plan Nine from Outer Space, a movie of some note, if not the best example of the filmmaker's art. (In fact, it was voted Worst Movie Ever in a number of places, and earned its director, the infamous Ed Wood, a Golden Turkey for Worst Director Ever.)

From her Wikipedia entry: "Nurmi was acquainted with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and briefly dated Orson Welles. In the early 1950s, she was close friends with James Dean, and they hung out together at Googie's coffee shop on the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Her explanation for their friendship: "We have the same neuroses." Dean commented, "I have a fairly adequate knowledge of satanic forces, and I was interested to find out if this girl was obsessed with such a force."

Adios, Vampira.

Coil/Rail/Gauss Guns

In a note recently, J.D. brought up something about how small arms technology hadn't changed much in a long time, and it reminded me that I had I posted something on coilguns a while back. I haven't been keeping up on it, but I kinda like the way Donnie's coil-pistol looks and shoots. (Go to his page, and click on the four-target demo vid at the bottom.)

This technology still has some drawbacks. Projectiles need to be ferrous, and you don't want to shoot it next to anything that magnets will screw up. The rounds require more juice than you can stuff into a handgun to kick them out fast enough to be any kind of potent. The recharge times tend to be slow to get the capacitors up to snuff, but with better batteries, these things show some promise down the line.

Nothing useful in commercial production, and I suspect it'll be a while, but it's another interesting direction.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Not Quite a Spedsdod, But ...

It's a little hard to conceal in this configuration, and a tad bigger than a spetsdod round, but have a look at the Taser Xrep ...

Future is getting here in a hurry ...

Friday, January 11, 2008


An addendum to the previous posting on timing, and action versus reaction.

We have two gunslingers, call them Tex and Whitey. Both are crack shots, and they don't miss at combat distance, and they always aim right between the eyes. Otherwise, they are average guys, about thirty-five years old each. They have decided to have a Marshal Dillon face-off out in front of the Long Branch.

As the tumbleweeds do their cliches in the dusty afternoon, some scenarios, and what I think are reasonable conclusions:

Scenario A: Tex and Whitey are equally fast, but not especially so. Takes them each over a half-second to clear their holsters and cook one off.

1) They both reach for their hoglegs at the same time. Result: Both get shot, because they will clear leather and come up to battery together. Simultaneous head hits, both croak.

2) Tex waits until he sees Whitey reach for his gun before he goes for his. Result: Tex gets shot, Whitey doesn't. This is based on the idea that Tex's reaction time is going to be at least a quarter-second, and probably longer. (If you want to take a reaction test, check here.) This means that Tex is going to be a quarter-second behind Whitey, which isn't much, but Whitey's round is on the way before Tex's, and in terms of bullet-travel, if the old six-shooter is throwing slugs at a mere 800 ft/sec. and they are, say, twenty feet apart, it won't take long for the bullet to cover that distance. About 0.031 seconds, if I didn't misplace the decimal.

Which means Tex's aim is apt to be off a bit as he pulls the trigger, what with the bullet smacking into his skull, and Adios, Tex.

Scenario B: Tex is much faster than Whitey. Say that Tex is three-tenths of a second to draw and shoot, to Whitey's six-tenths.

1) They slap leather together. Result: Whitey goes to boot hill, because his gun is still in the holster when Tex shoots.

2) Whitey draws first, and Tex moves when he sees Whitey go for it. Result: Whitey still pushes up the daisies, Tex goes back to the Long Branch for a beer. Because even with his reaction time of a quarter-second, he's still faster, by a piddly tenth of a second. Enough for his bullet to drill Whitey.

Scenario C: Whitey is the fastest cowboy on the plains, he can draw and fire in a quarter-second, and Tex is much slower, but sneakier. (Nobody was this fast out of a cowboy rig, by the way. Nobody got close to that until the modern fast-draw rigs, but just for the sake of the argument. And the kind of shootout I postulate didn't happen much, either, but never mind.)

1) They step out on the street, and Whitey realizes that Tex, the sneaky bastard, already has his gun out. He goes for it anyway. As soon as Whitey sees Tex reach, he shoots his already-drawn peacemaker. Result: Both die, because Whitey's reaction time is is equal to Tex's draw and fire time.

This is most unlikely. In any situation where the guy with the drawn gun has an average reaction time, and the one going for his holstered piece isn't the reincarnation of John Wesley Hardin and Wild Bill, with a dash of Annie Oakley, the guy reaching dies. In order to beat a drawn and aimed gun, if you aren't faster than his reaction time, you are taking the dirt nap.

Even an old guy like me can average about a quarter-second on the reaction test linked to up above; somebody faster already lined up wins every time. Fastest guy who ever lived who draws against that might manage a-uchi, or mutual slaying.

2) As the two men step out onto the dusty street, Whitey realizes that Tex has his gun out. He calls him a cheatin, low-down, fornicatin' hoss-thief -- and Tex shoots him dead before Whitey stops yappin' and goes for his gun.

Remember that scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? If you are gonna shoot, shoot, don't talk ...

Of course, without the head shots, those hundredths of a second don't matter as much. Center of mass impacts, the guy hit first might still get off a shot, since he likely wouldn't die instantly. Which is why I stipulated head shots, which are pretty much the only quick stoppers, and that only most of the time.

The point of all this is that, other things being equal, action beats reaction. Two guys roughly equal, the one who moves first has the advantage. It's not a perfect metaphor, and even if it was, it would still just be a metaphor, but I think it makes my point. If most fights are won by, as Stonewall Jackson used to say, getting there firstest with the mostest, then initiating the action, provided it is done effectively, is better than waiting and then counter-punching.

Except, of course, when it isn't ...

Here I Am Moe

Over on Rory's blog (Chiron), the subject of expectations in a fight came up, and Rory made some excellent points. I asked a follow-up question, and it's only fair that I offer my thoughts on how to address things from the silat perspective. Rather than clog his blog, I'll do it here.

Silat, as we practice it, is a positional art. Being in the right place at the right time is better, we believe, than having a hard punch and a killer sidekick.

Range varies, and there are all manner of ways to divvy them up. In unarmed combat, these tend to be broken down into four distances -- kicking, punching, elbow, and grappling, from longest to shortest. In armed single combat, there are many more: rifle, pistol, shotgun, spear, sword, knife ...

For us, what is paramount are the same three things most valuable in a small business: Location, location, and --

-- yep, location ...

What this essentially means is that we believe the person who controls the position, (of which distance and timing are an integral part), that person has the advantage. (There is a good study of how people come up with various maps of distance, and what constitutes personal space in the recent pop neurological book, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, which is worth a read.)

Having the advantage doesn't make you bulletproof, you could still get your ass kicked, but better to have it than not.

So, how do we approach this? Well, a big part involves being proactive instead of reactive.
What the attacker wants to do isn't nearly as important to me as what I want to -- and can -- do.

Somebody jumps out of the bushes behinds you and whacks you on the head with a cricket bat, you're screwed. Total surprise is a big advantage -- more often than not, the first solid hit to connect decides the fight. If you don't see danger coming, it is apt to get you. Baddest fighter who ever lived doesn't shrug off a .308 to the brain.

So part of the strategy involves paying attention. Don't turn your radar off when you are out and about.

Once you have lift-off, once it is obvious somebody is meaning to do you harm, you don't have to wait on him. It isn't necessary for him to throw the first punch. (Or, if he has a gun, fire the first shot. That's only in Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger's worlds.)

Waiting puts you behind the power curve. Reaction is simply not as good as action.

If the bad guy punches and you block, then he punches again, and you block, and he throws another and you block that one, sooner or later you lose. If you block ninety-nine and he launches a hundred, you eat one. No solace in getting a 99% in that situation.

If you block, then counter, and he blocks and counters, then the match goes on until somebody flubs. One-two, one-two, one-two, one-oops ...

Bad idea. Don't go there. It's a mug's game.

So, part of what we try is to change both the timing and our thinking. Blocking is a last resort; better to think hit, using the same motion. Cut the line, block the attack as you generate your own attack. Catch up -- and forge ahead. It's not about pure speed, it is about timing. In muscial terms, you want to be playing a triplet to his single note, or sixteenth-notes to his quarters.

Whatever an attacker's game is, better you don't play it -- play your own, and make him do it your way, if you can.

Of course, how do this isn't necessarily easy, but it is pretty simple. If, for every attack he throws, you offer him three, you take away his initiative and force him to react to you. If, as he is roaring in to smack you, you get to a position of balance first, better for you.

No, you can't go into a dust-up thinking, "Okay, he's gonna throw a right and a left, so I'll block this way, then that, and then step in and give him an elbow for lunch." Pre-planned specifics aren't going to work unless the bad guy follows your script, and chances are, he won't. But stealing his time and upsetting his position and making him react to what you are doing isn't a bad general idea. Exactly how to do it, you won't know until you get there.

This is why we drill our tools, so that when the opening comes, we'll have something to put forth.

And yeah, shit happens, and you are going to have to deal with things not going according to plan, but the more you depend on basic principles and not specifics, the more wiggle room you have.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just When You Think You've Heard It All ...

Here are two odd little news items that gave me pause:

The first concerned a fellow who passed away down under. Apparently the Australians really do mind their own business.

The second involves an interpretation of the Bible that goes well beyond what they used to do at the Methodist Sunday school ....

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hello, Earth Calling Steve ...

Well, completely by accident, I came across Omar Daggy's site today -- he's the guy who shot and produced the Sera(k) tapes my teacher did a while back.

And lo! not only are they now available on DVD, and not just VHS-videotape, there are three of them instead of the two tapes I have.

I knew Guru Plinck had been talking about finishing the third volume -- we shot enough, or almost enough for it, back when -- and recently Todd mentioned something about needing a scriptwriting program somehow connected to this, but I missed the part where it got done and put on the market!

Sheesh. I guess I need to start paying better attention in class ...

Those of you who enjoy seeing such videos might want to get these, which you can do at Omar's site, here.

More on Scrimshaw

For a time, I tried to do scrimshaw. I wasn't very good at it. But the guy mentioned in the previous post, Bob Hergert, was, and is.

My attempt to get our Sera logo is on a piece of artificial ivory, about 5"x 7". Nothing to write home about. Hergert's version, which requires a jeweler's loup to truly appreciate, was done on an oval an inch and a half across. Bob works under a stereoscopic microscope. He's done portraits that looked like photographs on ivory bits the size of a dime.

My camera doesn't give near the full detail, it washes the image out, but under ten-power magnification, you can see every one of the bird's feathers; under twenty-power, you can see the cougar's whiskers ...


Dirisha ~~~~~~~~~ Tananarive ~~~~~~~~~~ Dirisha

I wrote Matadora, the second book of the original Matador trilogy, in 1985; Rich Berry did the cover, and the book was published in 1986. (Detail of that illo is to the left, above.)

At the time Tananarive Due was probably still in college. Later she became a journalist and novelist, and what? -- about ten years ago, married the writer Steven Barnes. That's her in the middle.

Has it been that long? My, how time flies. Seems like just last summer that wedding, and the reception up on the hill at Stevan and Kim's place ...

When I met Tananarive, I was struck by a certain resemblance to Berry's cover illustration. Maybe it's just me, but have a look. That's T in the middle, above.

Later, I had a set of gun grips done by scrimshaw artist Bob Hergert featuring Dirisha, detail of which is the image on the right. Bob is a master of the form, and I have two small pendants that he also did for me. One of these is the logo for Plinck's-style Sera -- a mountain lion superimposed on a red-tailed hawk, with a tjabang and a Bowie knife clutched in the bird's talons.

The other pendant was a case of art imitating art: I had a scene in one of the Clancy novels in which the protagonist bought a piece of scrimshaw for his bride, in Hawaii. The piece was Cynthia, Goddess of the Moon, a nude woman sitting in lotus and floating in the air, and attributed to Hergert. There was no such piece, but Bob read the novel, and then made it as a gift for me.

How cool is that?

What It Was, Was Football ...

I'm not much of a football fan (American or soccer); we watch the Super Bowl each year, and root for the underdogs, whoever they are. That's pretty much the extent of my football viewing.

However, we did watch the college championship game last night, featuring Ohio State and LSU. My wife is a graduate alum, and before I dropped out to move to L.A., first to study martial arts and eventually, become a hippie, I attended for a couple years Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.

This is was in the mid-sixties, and a lot has changed since then.

As a boy, the Tiger football games were the hottest tickets in town. Deaf Valley, they called Tiger stadium -- still call it that -- and you could hear the roars of the fans miles away. So loud it once registered as an earthquake at the geology department's sensors. Before the games, streets close to the campus were one-wayed heading in; after the game, the streets were one-wayed heading out.

You could hear the roar of the tiger, too. Mike the Tiger -- there have been, I think six Mikes -- attended the games in his portable cage, and in those days, lived in a larger enclosure right next to the stadium. Mike the II was stuffed and in a museum on-campus when I attended the school. You stepped on a plate in front of the display, and got a recording of his roar.

Mike got out of his cage a few times; fortunately, he never bothered anybody. And woe to anybody fool enough to offer that cat harm when he did get out -- I'd hate to be the guy who shot the school mascot -- he'd have been run out of town covered in tar and feathers.

At the games, the Tiger marching band would come out onto the field, and before they played the National Anthem (and Dixie), they'd play Tiger Rag. If Mike roared, it was considered a good omen.

As a Boy Scout, I was an usher at the home games, and thus on Halloween in 1959, saw Billy Cannon make his famous Heisman-trophy winning eighty-nine yard run against Mississippi, LSU's traditional rival. Everybody on the Ole Miss team who could tackle tried, Cannon broke them all, and you never heard a crowd make so much noise. (Cannon went on to play pro ball, retired, became an orthodontist, and was eventually busted and sent to a federal pen for his part in -- of all things -- a counterfeiting scheme. The joke at the time was, they reason he got caught was that, instead of "In God We Trust," on the bills, it said, "Go to Hell Ole Miss ...)

As a teenager, I sold hot dogs and unflavored snow cones (left unflavored for those patrons who needed ice for their illegally-smuggled in liquor. I sold a lot of those.)

There were no black players on the team back then, and I can recall the wonderful racist chants when a team that had black players ran out onto the field: "Leroy, Leroy, Leroy ..."

A far cry from last night's game, after which, a cheerleader ran over to hug one of the Tiger linemen -- she was white and he was black.

Things change slowly back home, but they sometimes do change ...

Oh, and the Tigers won, thus becoming national champions.

Go, tigers!

The vid is Chet Atkins playing Jelly Roll Morton's Tiger Rag.