Saturday, December 9, 2017

4.5 Stars for Academic Approaches to Martial Arts Research

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes Title: Academic Approaches to Martial Arts Research
Compiled by: Michael DeMarco M.A.
Publisher: Via Media Publishing
Format: Softcover
Pages: 290
Price: $34.95 Cover Price

    Most people familiar with my reviews and other writings will know I'm a nerd and an academic at heart.  But that is not the extent of who I am.  I also love martial art, and its a rare occurrence when those two passions of mine overlap.  Martial arts have never really been given its proper due in academic circles. Kinesiology and sport science have some papers talking about injury reports, or forces delivered through various punches vs kicks. Psychology has linked up with sport science to talk about some of the beneficial secondary effects of martial arts, but that's really the limit of mainstream papers on martial arts.  This book sets about to give more people a founding on the what and how to do martial arts research for academic work.

Content

    When I first started my martial journey, there was an actual peer reviewed, published journal entitled the Journal of Asian Martial Arts edited by Michael DeMarco.  It is now no longer published, but the articles are still available in an online format.  This book is an anthology of some of the more important articles in that journal regarding how to describe and academically research martial arts.  Many of the articles deal with martial arts from an anthropological standing, which by definition makes them hoplogical papers.  Hoplology was a word first coined by Sir Richard Burton, but was brought to the forefront by the late Donn F. Draeger, who really pioneered the idea that martial arts could serve as an basis for academic study.

Pros

    Martial arts is a very complex subject, with politics, history, culture, language, kinesiology and technology built into every aspect of it.  This book does an amazing job of trying to tease out some of the meaning of these different aspects, and how they interact to form the thing we call "martial arts".  Each article is written by experts in their field, and deliver high level of academic expression that you would expect from such professionals.  I was particularly fond of the articles by Dr. John Donohue, especially "Social Organization and Martial Systems: A Cross-Cultural Typology."  This article put into (rather rarified) words, ideas I've been formulating about martial arts, and how to both define, and categorize them.  (See my two articles on martialjournal.com)

Cons

    Okay, I admit, the level of reading is very high.  Most of the papers are written by Ph.D's and Masters level writers in their chosen fields.  This makes for some in depth reading.  It took me a long time to get through each article, because I had to re-read certain portions, and make sure I understood where they were coming from, and where they were going.  This might turn some people away, and I understand that.  I specifically went searching for this, so I was happy, and enjoyed the intellectual exercise of reading each article.

Conclusion 

  Since I write a blog/podcast called Martial Thoughts, you'd figure an academic book dealing with martial arts would be right up my alley, and you'd be right.  My highlighter was out and in use for every article in this book.  Every piece led me to other thoughts and questions.  Some of which were answered in the other articles, some of which I'm going to have to look up more (and possibly write) on my own.  If that isn't the highest praise for a book, I don't know what is.  I understand the pure academic nature of the book may put others off, and I get that.  There are no techniques presented, there's not even really any philosophical points being made.  So that makes it different from almost every other publication.  All of which is why I'm giving this book a 4.5 out of 5 ninja stars.  I really appreciate a different take on martial arts, and I think everyone can get some deep thoughts about their own martial arts from this book.  However, the higher level communication found in this book may make it more difficult to appreciate.

Friday, October 13, 2017

4 Ninja Stars for Aikido's Hidden Ground Techniques

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this DVD for review purposes

Title: Aikido's Hidden Ground Techniques
Featuring: Dr. Jose Andrade-Shihan & David Nemeroff-Shihan
Publisher: Tambuli Media
Duration: 28 minutes
Price: $21.95

    I have practiced aikido for about 15 years.  At some point in my training, I realized aikido was not the "ultimate" martial art.  I fully had faith in the principals of aikido, but I was deficient in some experiences through lack of some training methodologies.  One of those areas was ground fighting.  With the rise of the UFC, and Brazilian Jujitsu, groundfighting was becoming more widely known.  In my own head, aikido is a grappling art, so it should have some similarities right?  So I started to do some research.  As it turns out, Aikido's founder, Ueshiba Morihei (O-Sensei) was a skilled ground fighter .  He put his same Aikido principals to the test through ground fighting.  So I started to look for how ground fighting could be incorporated into aikido training.  This DVD was one the pieces that I use to argue how Aikido principals can be used to create a complete martial artist.

Content


    This video is broken into two portions.  The first is in the dojo and demonstrates 15 techniques in gi and hakama  as is traditional in Aikido dojo.  The second portion takes those same techniques and demonstrates them in more realistic, environments, such as in parks, in buildings, or even in a garage.  The dojo portion shows the technique twice.  Once at training speed, and then again in slow motion, with specific instructions to describe the important points of the technique.

Pros


    This video has a lot going for it.  The techniques that the presenters chose to show are done so with Aikido in mind.  The set-up for the technique is from an Aikido throw, or from being thrown.  This does a good job of showing how this can be incorporated into existing Aikido training.  The dojo portion does a good job of instructing someone through the techniques.  They are filmed in such a way that the viewer is able to see all the pertinent movements for the technique.  I believe that if you have some skill in Aikido, you could interpret these movements and instructions enough to practice the techniques shown.

Cons


    I have only two negative complaints about this video, and those are both just minor things.  One, I would have liked to see a little more explanation of Aikido's principals at the beginning and then describe/demonstrate how these techniques still fall within those ideas.  The second minor thing is I would have liked to see multiple angles.  Both the practice speed and the slow motion replays demonstrating the techniques are from the same angle.  As I stated before, I do believe you get to see enough, but as someone not familiar with the ground techniques, I would have wanted another angle.

Conclusion


    The presenters of this information seem to be making a claim that ground fighting can and should be incorporated into your Aikido training.  They then go to show how this can be achieved.  This means the presentation is speaking directly to Aikidoka, most likely with some years into their practice.  If you take this into consideration, the video makes excellent sense, and you can easily see its function.  With that in mind, I'm going to give this video four out of five Ninja stars.  I really think this is an area of study that most Aikido schools need to incorporate more of into their curriculum.  The information is presented well, and even if you practice an martial art besides Aikido, you can adapt the information very easily to incorporate into your system.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

3.5 Ninja Stars for Hakka Unicorn Boxing DVD

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this DVD for review purposes

Title: Hakka Unicorn Boxing
Featuring: Tyler R. Rea
Publisher: Tambuli Media
Duration: 45 minutes
Price: $29.95

Edit: There are also digital videos for different aspects of Hakka Unicorn Boxing available at the Tambuli Media link above.

    First off to address the elephant in the room.  Chinese mythology doesn't have unicorns.  European mythology does.  If you are as confused as I was, "Unicorn" is a bad translation.  They do have Kei-Lun (or Qilin; Kirin in Japanese) which do have a single horn, and are thus translated as unicorn.  Not that, that has anything to do with the martial art or the video.  I just wanted to get that out there.
    This is the first, and hopefully not last, instructional video I've ever reviewed, so I'm not quite sure where to start.  This video shows the basics of a Chinese system called Hakkka Unicorn Boxing (Hakka Kei-Lun Kung Fu).  The Hakka people a group of non-Han that lived in Southern China.  Their name means "guests" as they were migratory, at least as part of the story goes.  So put those two pieces together, you get Hakka Unicorn Boxing.  This is not a system I, or indeed many others, were at all familiar with, so I was interested to see what it looked like.

Contents


    There are several chapters to this DVD.  When I played the DVD, they just started, but it seemed to me to be out of order.  The first section that played was the introduction to the footwork that is used in the system.  The second was a brief introduction about what Hakka Unicorn style is, and where it comes from.  Then there was a demonstration of the primary form of the system.  This was followed by the basic hand work that is part of their system, including a portion on the different fists they use.  The final section was the Qi Gong used by Unicorn Boxers.

Pros


    The DVD was high quality and did a really good job of both focusing on the material being presented and explaining what to look for and practice.  It was clear and easy to understand without seeming too basic or introductory.  The presenter performed the techniques enough times to actually get a feel for what the techniques were supposed to look like.  The backgrounds weren't distracting or so colorful that the viewer got lost.  In fact, no offense to Sifu Tyler Rea, but even he kind of becomes unimportant to the technique.  The demonstrator made the video completely about what was being presented, and I don't think even mentioned his own name once.  Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing, if the goal is about showing the techniques.
    I'm not a fan of using books or videos (or YouTube these days) to start, or learn a martial art, but I think this video does a good job of showing basics of a particular system without saying "In only six short weeks you too can learn...".

Cons


    The only thing I think I would have added to the video was an application section.  From the video, you get the basic foot and hand work, you get the first form, but some of the movements are difficult to see their application.  Perhaps a section, showing a demonstration of what the final product, or goal is might have helped.  Apart from that, I have nothing negative to say, only a small critique.  If that was a systematic choice to not include that, I completely understand that as well.

Conclusion


    One of the things that struck me about this system, was that it was similar in body movements, but
not training methods, to a couple other arts I've studied.  The basic footwork movements were very similar to how we move at Atemi-ryu jujutsu.  The hand motions are more similar to PCK Silat that I practiced.  The latter makes sense, as Hakka Unicorn claims to be an originator, at least in part, to both Kumtao, and Indonesian Silat.  Although this is a large claim, I can see the similarities.  Overall, I found this instructional DVD useful, and illuminating of a little known style of Kung Fu.  As such I'm going to give it 3.5 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  I would have liked to see an application section towards the end, and although it does a very good job of illustrating the basic concepts of the art, if you're not a student of Hakka Unicorn system, I don't know if this will improve your own art.  As I said, I found similarities to what I was doing, and even thought about the training/instructional methods they were using, and may incorporate them into my own training.

Monday, October 9, 2017

4 Ninja Stars for "Samurai Swords, A Collector's Guide" by Clive Sinclaire

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes

Title: Samurai Swords, A Collector's Guide, A Comprehensive Introduction to History, Collecting and Preservation
Author: Clive Sinclaire
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 187
Price: $29.99 Cover Price ($21.99 on Amazon)

    As readers should know, I practice Japanese martial arts.  My initial investment in martial arts came from a interest in the Japanese sword.  There is something involved in a katana that perfectly exemplifies what martial arts is supposed to be.  It is, in my opinion, the perfect balance between deadly purpose and gentlemanly refinement.  There are places to embellish a sword, but they must be done in a way that still has purpose first in mind, and speaks of refinement.  However, the world of Japanese swords can be a very deep pool to jump into.  There is a new level of attention to detail that must be paid to artistically appreciate them.  This book provides a place to start, an introduction to what Japanese blades are, and how to start to recognize real examples of them.

Content


  This book is a combination book.  It's one part coffee table book, full of glorious pictures, and enticing artwork, and another part instruction manual, and guidebook.  By the nature of the subject, you have to start with the history of Japan, and how the sword played a role, as well as was shaped by that history.  Many people don't know that there are different types of Japanese swords depending on the era it comes from, and the way it was worn.  This book does a great job of explaining what the details to pay attention are.  The high quality pictures give you superb examples of each of the details discussed.
    It then features other bladed weapons from Japan.  This is something, I haven't seen a lot of other Japanese sword books do.  It goes on to describe yari (spear), and the many different shapes used in Japan, as well as other Japanese polearms.  It concluded by talking about the more modern aspects of appreciating them, as well as the modern smiths that continue the tradition of forging.

Pros


    There are several things I immediately like about this book.  First, I love the size and high quality of the pictures.  There was no expense spared for quality for this book.  It also does a great job of balancing being an introductory book for such a deep subject.  It would be very easy to either gloss over a lot of detail, or to fall into the rabbit hole of minutia of Japanese swords.  This book does neither.  It is easy enough to comprehend, yet detailed enough to serve as a reference book for later study.  That's a hard thing to accomplish.
    The second thing that I really appreciate about this book is the attention paid to the other high quality bladed weapons of Japan.  Most books are specific about the tachi, katana (both long swords),  wakizashi (short sword), and tanto (dagger).  This book spends several detailed pages showing you yari and naginata, as well as other polearms, and bladed weapons.

Cons


    I really don't have anything to complain or nitpick about this book.  For what it is designed to do, it accomplishes this beautifully.

Conclusion


    This book accomplishes a lot.  It is a beautiful book just to have lying around house.  It can also be
a great conversation starter.  It fulfils both of these functions, while still being detailed enough in its information to be a useful resource.  So it has both beauty and brains.  That being said, I have to give this book only 4 out of 5 Ninja Stars.  And that's due to my other criteria for martial arts books.  How useful is it to ALL martial artists.  I think almost any martial artist, regardless of style can appreciate the craftsmanship, and functionality of the Japanese blades.  However, If you don't practice a Japanese martial art, specifically, one with swordsmanship as part of the curriculum, it might not be as readily useful in your martial journey.  If you're looking to at least be able to understand, and carry on a conversation about Japanese swords in an intelligent manner, than you shouldn't look any farther than this book.  The price is a little higher than most martial arts books, but the high quality of the pictures and material combine to make this book very much worth it.
  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Episode LXXII-WTP What the Podcast?


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Intro Music: Theme from Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin

Introduction:
  Recorded on: September 30th, 2017
  iTunes Review
  martialjournal.com

Interlude Music: Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden

Interview: Stephen K. Hayes

  Movies
    Ninja Assassin
    The Bourne Legacy
    Atomic Blonde
    Batman Begins
      The Dark Knight

   Contact Info
      www.stephenkhayes.com
      www.ninjaselfdefense.com
      www.daytonquestcenter.com

Interlude Music: Shadow of the Wind by  Black Sabbath

This Week in Martial Arts: Sept 27th, 1950 Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa
  Mortal Kombat
   Big Trouble in Little China
   Kickboxer 2
   The Perfect Weapon
   Showdown in LittleTokyo
   47 Ronin
   The Man with the Iron Fists 2
   Tekken
   Tekken 2
   The Last Emperor
   Memoirs of a Geisha

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Outro Music: Voodoo Child-Jimi Hendrix/Guyageun ver. by Luna

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Episode LXXI-Laughing Out Podcast


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Intro Music: Theme from Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin

Introduction:
  Recorded on: September 16th, 2017


Interlude Music:Noldor by Blind Guardian

Interview:Ben Kovacs of Guardian Gym
Interlude Music:Thorn by Blind Guardian

This Week in Martial Arts: Sept 16th, 1962 Harakiri Premiered

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Outro Music: Voodoo Child-Jimi Hendrix/Guyageun ver. by Luna

Episode LXX-Total Eclipse of the Podcast



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Intro Music: Theme from Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin

Introduction:
  Recorded on: August 21st, 2017
  iTunes Review from Coolvibes
  Blade Show in Atlanta

Interlude Music: Spirit of Radio by Rush

Interview: James Williams of Nami ryu Aiki Heiho
  www.systemofstrategy.com

  Movies
    The Last of the Mohicans
    Blackhawk Down
 
  Books
    Go Rin No Sho (Book of Five Rings) by Musashi Miyamoto (Translated by Thomas Cleary)
    Sword and the Mind by Yagyu Family
    The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho
    Heiho Okugisho by Yamamoto Kanutsuke
    Legacies of the Sword by Dr. Carl Friday and Seki Humitake
    Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsumetomo

Interlude Music: The Spirit of Radio by Rush

This Week in Martial Arts: August 22nd, 1951 Gordan Liu's Birthday

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Outro Music: Voodoo Child-Jimi Hendrix/Guyageun ver. by Luna