Saturday, June 30, 2007

Update: Here's the Dante Movie Trailer

Floyd Webb wrote me and sent the link to the trailer for the Documentary he is filming; " The Search For Count Dante". HERE is the link to view it, give it a look and see what you think!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Floyd Webb's Movie On Dante Is Getting Close!

Floyd Webb has been very busy making a documentary movie about the legendary "Count Dante", AKA John Keehan. (Dante appears at the masthead of this blog, with a "Pack of Dojo Rats"). As he describes it, it is now far beyound the scope of Dante himself, and has morphed into a "Once Upon A Time In America" sort of epic; the dawning of the Karate scene in 1960's Chicago. People familiar with the subject know of the "Dojo Wars", in which people really got killed, and other nefarious hijinks involving the Mob and martial artists. Many of the individuals are still alive, and Floyd is filming their historical knowledge of the era. Much like in the old days, there is latent animosity amongst the disparate warring clans, and to Floyd's dismay there have even been veiled death threats. You can read about a similar threat to this blog just for using the picture of Dante, alledging I am dissing his memory HERE.
Floyd is re-editing a theatrical trailer for the documentary and I will try to post it when it is available. In the mean time, check out Floyd's blog, "Searching For Count Dante", and check out this fantastic article "The Life And Death Of The Deadliest Man Alive", By Dan Kelly of The Chicago Reader.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Opium Dreams: The Chinese Underground

Sun June 24, 2007
Unlocking the secrets of Oklahoma City's mysterious city By Ken Raymond
Staff Writer
The men gathered in darkness beneath downtown Oklahoma City streets.
In underground Chinatown, flickering bulbs sent shadows skittering across the hand-drawn pictographs on the walls. Amid the click of mah-jongg tiles and the bubbling talk of poker players, opium smokers lay drowsily on the floor, pipes slipping from languid fingers.
Nearby, other men rested on grass mats in cell-like living quarters or made egg rolls, wontons and tofu for the restaurants above them, in the daylight world. The pay was low, the hours long. Few women ventured below.
This wasn't what the men had come here for.
These men, these hidden men, left the famine and rebellion of 19th century China seeking peace and prosperity in America.
Many came to San Francisco — Jiu Jin San, the "Mountain of Gold” — dreaming of wealth, only to find hard labor and persecution. State and federal exclusion laws drove them south and east from California, and some settled in Oklahoma.
"At the very beginning, in the 1890s, we're talking about 50 to 80 (people),” University of Central Oklahoma historian Bing Li said. "At the turn of the century before statehood, we're talking about 200 or 250, mostly in the Oklahoma City area.”
By the time they arrived here, they had learned their lessons: Be discreet. Avoid attention.
Go underground.
Hundreds inhabit caverns
For decades, the existence of the subterranean Chinatown has been debated, despite Li's research and written records that seem to confirm its reality.
In 1921, for example, The Oklahoman reported on an inspection of a 50-room "colony” below 14 S Robinson Ave. An excerpt follows:
Witnesses: Six inspectors of the state health department; one police detective.
They waded into Oklahoma City's Chinatown Wednesday and visited all its nooks ever seen by white man, and came away reporting the 200 or more inhabitants of the submerged quarter in good health and surroundings and as sanitary as all get out.
A resident, Hauan Tsang, led the officials through "a dozen connected caverns.” Then the inspectors "slipped” over to another basement below California Avenue, where they were greeted with open arms and wide grins. The friendly reception made them wonder if word of their earlier visit had spread — and if so, how.
There are no telephones in the apparently unconnected places. ... The old police theory that a second basement beneath the whole raft of Chinese dwellings is connected by a tunnel with the suburbs of the colony was called to mind to explain the unexpected welcome.
The existence of such a tunnel was never confirmed. Nor were rumors of a third level said to contain a temple and cemetery.
In all likelihood, news of the inspection spread in a more prosaic way — by Chinese living and working in the daylight world. The 1922 city directory lists a Chinese library at 210½ W California Ave., not far from the second site visited by the inspectors.
The librarian, D.N. Koo, lived at 12 S Robinson Ave., near the entrance to the first site. A Chinese restaurant occupied the same address — where federal agents discovered 25 men in an opium den beneath the building in August 1922.
"Down a flight of stairs went the officers, tipped off by freight clerks, and through an oaken door which is (entered) by means of a hanging rope,” The Oklahoman reported. "They entered a room where air potent with sunny dreams of sleepers was only so much thick, stifling mist to them. ... Four Chinese lay unconscious when the raid was made.
"Their pipes had clanked to the floor. The opening of the den followed the discovery shortly before noon of narcotics, oriental tobacco and rum in a freight shipment at the Frisco depot.”
The restaurant proprietor, Wong On Chong, was arrested on suspicion of being "the operator of a gigantic smuggling business.”
‘A continual menace'
"There were legal Chinese-Americans, legal owners,” Li said. "They owned businesses above ground. You'd better believe they took advantage of the cheap labor” provided by illegal Chinese workers in Oklahoma City.
In part, cheap labor is what funneled the Chinese workers to Oklahoma in the first place.
The men sailed to America seeking gold but soon found themselves in a sweat economy, earning a meager wage amid the clank and clang of the railroad industry, Li said in a 2006 scholarly paper. By 1860, at least 10,000 Chinese worked for the Central Pacific Railroad.
But when completed railway projects resulted in mass lay-offs, sentiment toward the Chinese soured, Li wrote. In 1877, white workers rioted in California, and the U.S. Congress was told that Chinese laborers had driven wages so low that they were "a continual menace” threatening to "degrade all white working-people to the abject condition of a servant class.”
In 1878, the federal court ruled that Chinese people could not become citizens. Four years later, Chinese immigration was banned.
Unwelcome, illegal and unable to bring their families from China to America, many Chinese left the West Coast, beginning a decades-long migration inland to try to escape racial violence and persecution, Li wrote.
Some found a home along Robinson Avenue, lingering until about 1929 before drifting away from the area. Their time downtown prompted rumors and wild stories that lasted for years.
White families warned unruly children to behave lest the Chinese took them into their subterranean lair, never to be seen again. One account claimed the Chinese fled the basements after a man committed suicide there. The extent of the tunnels grew with each person who told the story.
"If recollections by some residents are correct,” The Oklahoman reported in 1969, "an underground ‘Chinese city' once extended from the North Canadian River to NW 17 and Classen — quite a distance for digging tunnels.
"And (if) everyone's memory is to be believed, there were so many tunnel entrances to this underground city that it was nearly impossible to walk a downtown sidewalk without falling into one.”
Abandoned ‘city' found
In April 1969, wrecking crews demolishing unused buildings in the downtown area discovered a set of "expertly handcrafted stone stairs” in an alley behind the Commerce Exchange Building at Robinson and Sheridan avenues, Li said.
The steep steps ended at a scarred, wooden door sealed with an intricate Chinese padlock and leather straps.
Underground Chinatown, it seemed, had just been found again.
As the city council debated whether to declare the discovery a historic site, former Mayor George Shirk — the director of the Oklahoma Historical Society — led an expedition into the long-abandoned ruins. Among those with him was Jim Argo, then a photographer for The Oklahoman.
"Shirk took us down there to see this place,” Argo said recently. "He told us it was a Chinese laundry and opium place. ... We went down that narrow flight of stairs until we were down in the basement. They had little individual rooms where people lived, about the size of a prison cell. I don't think there was any outside light coming in.”
Flashlight beams zigzagged around the low-ceilinged structure, picking out an old stove and tattered papers bearing Chinese symbols, apparently some sort of accounting system.
Yellowed editorial cartoons about China and a faded American map clung to a wall in a large living area, and a dozen coat hooks hung in a neighboring room.
Some of the walls were brick and cool to the touch. Others, used to break large spaces into smaller rooms, were made of wood or wallboard, while The floors were composed of damp cement. A sign attached to a small cubicle bore two words: "Come Gamble.”
In all, the chambers occupied a space about 50 feet wide by 140 feet long; Shirk's explorers found a second Robinson Avenue entrance.
"Shirk guessed that similar rooms exist under the remainder of the block,” The Oklahoman reported, "but no access to them were found.”
City council members elected not to save the site. It was destroyed in the name of urban renewal, and what once was underground is now buried. The Cox Convention Center marks its grave.

Contributing: Mary Phillips in the News Research Center

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tag Team Blogging: The Great Wall As Metaphor

New Feature: Tag Team Blogging
(Dojo Rat and Formosa Neijia Co-Blog)

The Great Wall As Metaphor:
Chinese Attitudes And The Martial Arts

When people in the West think of China, there is probably no better cultural icon that comes to mind than "The Great Wall". Magnificent and monolithic in scale, the wall snakes it's way across China's northern frontier. The necessity of protection and pride of construction is reflected in inscriptions that remain in this ancient structure, which was begun as early as 221 B.C.

I began thinking about this when reading the May 21, 2007 issue of "The New Yorker" magazine. In his excellent article "Walking The Wall", Peter Hessler describes his journey meeting some of the top researchers of The Great Wall. Here's a paragraph that describes details of how the Empire attempted to keep the Mongol raiders out:

" Consruction generally took place in the spring, when the weather was good but Mongol raiders weren't active. Energy in the Mongol world was fat on the horses – So Spring was not a good season for raiding – Summer was too hot, they didn't like the heat; they didn't like the insects. The Mongol bowstrings were made of hide, and with the humidity they supposedly went flat- this is described in the Ming texts. Most raids took place in the Fall."

Hessler describes how he walked with a backpack for over two days on the Wall without seeing another person. If you can get a copy, this article it is a great read.
What struck me is that Hessler states that "There isn't a scholar at any university in the world who specializes in The Great Wall." –He means even in China!
So here we have this huge cultural icon, The Great Wall, and not one university in China has a research staff documenting it. According to the article, there are a handful of Chinese hobbyists studying it, and some of the most detailed research is carried out by Westerners!
What I see here is a possible parallel to attitudes that we have seen in some aspects of the martial arts. The Great Wall often represents an insular and defensive society, one that keeps its secrets and plans for the long run. Martial arts in Asian culture appear to have the same qualities. Techniques were kept secret within family systems, and training of westerners was restricted to the basics only. This attitude has long since changed, at least on the surface. But just like the notion that some of the best researchers on The Great Wall are westerners, the martial arts (in my opinion) underwent changes when it was introduced to the west. I believe westerners like to take things apart, tinker with them and re-tool them. Look at how Ed Parker revolutionized Kenpo Karate, a style that was already a synthesis of Japanese and Chinese systems.
While preparing for this article, I thought it best to check in with someone who knows both cultures. That would be Dave over at Formosa Neijia. Dave is living and training in Taiwan, and I would like to turn this over to him so he can tell me if I am really off base or close to the mark. So with all due respect to Chinese culture, and hoping to avoid appearing ethnocentric, let's see what Dave has to say---

Dave from Formosa Neijia:
Well, non-original and inbred thinking in academia isn't exactly new, either East or West. Looking at Chinese intellectual history, independent thinking wasn't exactly highly valued and was even considered subversive at times. And yet, some people broke the mold. The concept of plagiarism also simply didn't exist in China culture until recently. Having edited academic journals for a living here in Taiwan, I can tell you that it's an open secret that much of Taiwan "scholarship" is filled with plagiarism. But hey, you can't plagiarize what hasn't been written, can you? So if no studied the Great Wall, then no one after would be likely to do it either since there was nothing to plagiarize. Weird, eh?
Western scholarship looks down on plagiarism, but it's just as inbred. In writing Ph.D's for social science and humanities (the only fields I know about), original research isn't as valued as showing you have a good grasp of already extent literature. So, again, if someone didn't already study it, you are frowned on for wanting to write about it.
Martial arts wise, I think using the Great Wall as a metaphor does work to some extent, but it wasn't always this way. Looking at the past, I always hold up praying mantis as a great style that was synthesized from 25 other great styles of the time. That took a lot of doing and shows some very creative thinking outside of convention. Whoever really put mantis together had to be an individual willing to upset some rice bowls.
Miyamoto Musashi is another great example. When I lived in Japan, I asked my iaido teacher about Musashi, who was a hero of mine. My teacher told me that most Japanese loathed him because Musashi stood for everything that was not Japanese -- independent thinking would be my guess. And yet, Musashi simply didn't care what they thought, which ironically is WHY we remember him and not those millions of sheep around him.
Having said that, I do see in recent times a great reluctance by traditional CMA guys (in the East or West) to break with recent conventions by testing themselves against others and adopting new training methods. IMO the reason is that we are once again at a crossroad for TMA's -- they will either adapt or take yet another big hit. The reason for the change this time is MMA and BJJ.
I've said many times that if you really want combat training or to learn just to use your art in general, you have MANY more opportunities to do that in the US than you do in China or Taiwan. We're just 20 years behind here. Look at all the MMA/BJJ schools in the States. They are everywhere. Almost all of them have "open mat" sessions where ANY style can go in and roll/spar with their guys. Can you even imagine a traditional CMA school doing that?
I'm really disappointed in traditionalists lately. I see them slipping further and further away from reality and more into fantasy. So many traditionalists are retreating into their stupid orange robes and using their fantasy weapons. People still talk about what great fighters IMA guys were in the past rather than build skills today. Rather than cross-train in things they obviously don't have, they use ridiculous styles like "dog boxing" as so-called examples of groundfighting in CMA. Funny how no actually TRAINS that crap. It's really pathetic.
So if you're looking at traditional CMAs, then yeah, the Great Wall is a good metaphor for what is happening right now in some areas.
And yes, there is a WHOLE LOT more sparring in the US as compared to Taiwan. I know of ONE traditional school in all of Taipei that does consistent sparring -- the Tang Shou Dao school that I talked about before. Heck, even Shaolin-do in the States spars in almost every school. Again, it's just pathetic. There's simply no excuse for it.
But these traditional guys are just getting ignored by others who are more forward thinking. That's as it should be. Sanda/sanshou is great and I hope it becomes more popular. MMA/BJJ is slowly taking root here and in China as the next generation once again gets tired of the secrets and BS from the traditionalists, just like their grandfathers did around 1911. Funny how that's happening again.
So there is hope yet, but the West is leading the way in the fighting area.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

One For The Grapplers

Dave has got me hooked on Sam Masich videos. Sam is an incredibly nice guy, and has a very laid-back teaching method.
I enjoyed this example of groundwork. I myself have a wrestling background, so I have always felt comfortable grappling. Most Tai Chi people are a little older, less confrontational than Karate or BJJ guys, and I think this is a great way to introduce them to ground work. Sam clearly transfers push hands and sticking to groundwork, I want to give this a try next week with the Dojo Rats!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nice Sun-Style Bagua Form

Bagua Form In Moscow

Sun Lu-Tang's Daughter

You know; the older I get the more I appreciate the ART in Martial Arts. We're not talkin' "fight sport" here. We are talking about true expression of the human spirit. Just like no two artists make the same painting or sculpture, the expression of the form is unique and varies from individual to individual. Though they are supposed to both be Sun-style forms, the stepping patterns I originally learned are different in various ways from the ones that Tim Cartmell taught us. Now I have the work of two masters to play with and find what works for me, and I suppose my "Art" will appear different than theirs. Does that make it incorrect? Certainly not.
The first video above is of a nice Bagua form at a demonstration in Moscow earlier this year. The second is of Sun Jianyun, the daughter of Sun Lu-tang - the founder of the system. I really wish I could see her do the empty hand form, to see what the original form looked like, as taught by her father. Boy, I hope I can move as smoothly as she does when I'm in my eighties!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Da Lu; Large Rollback

Dave at Formosa Niejia has given me a homework assingment. In the previous post, we are doing some free-style push hands. My opponent is very strong, and is able to move into my center in a very rooted position. This forces me to back up and fight from a defensive position, and I am constantly loosing ground.
Dave has suggested I work on my large rollback as a defense, and it is a great suggestion. Here is part of a two-man form that utilizes the large rollback. The video is with Sam Masich, a great instructor from the Vancouver B.C. area. We were fortunate to have a push hands class with Sam several years ago, and he is a very skilled practitioner. This shows a nice example of how neutralization is used in Tai Chi Chuan, not force-against-force. Yielding and redirection of the opponents force and energy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fun With Push Hands

Last night we were goofing around and started with a basic push hands pattern. Our goal here is not to just do patterns over and over, but to explore where we can go with the concept. The idea is to have a little give-and-take, Yin and Yang, and try to stay in contact and keep the flow going. This is one thing makes Chinese Internal Arts different than Kumite or point fighting in Karate. There are times when we could go for a takedown or power strike, but in this drill it is more important to keep the flow going.
Here's the beauty of video; it really allows you to do some self-analysis of form and technique. In this case, my training partner (in black; a former Nationally-ranked fighter on the Karate circut) has a superior root to my somewhat more narrow stance. He consistantly moves into my center, forcing me to fight from a defensive position. We move from the pattern, to some basic joint locking techniques, and then to a little free-style scrapping- In the end we trade a few low kicks.
Push hands practice is not self-defense fighting, or even sparring. It is conceptual in nature, about learning to alternate rooting and yielding, transfering power and proper structure and distance. Adding some hitting and kicking lends a little reality to what might otherwise be a dry pattern...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Parting Wild Horses Mane

Here is a nice application found in the Chinese Internal arts. The author uses it as a Bagua technique, but in Tai Chi Chuan it is also called "parting wild horses mane" or "slanted flying".
Notice how he uses it as a defense against an arm drag, which is commonly used to spin an opponent into a choke hold or similar technique.
I'd like to know if the Judo guys out there use this technique, I do remember using it in Aikido.
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gladiators: Fair Fights, Dispatched With A Hammer

Gladiator Trident Wounds

What gladiators were really like
7 June 2007by Hilary Jones

New evidence indicates gladiators may not quite match Hollywood's interpretation.
Image: AFP

When you hear 'gladiator', what do you picture? A fat vegetarian with bad teeth, who never fought wearing strappy leather sandals? Well, that's what evidence from an ancient mass grave is telling us.

The discovery of the first confirmed collection of gladiator remains has allowed scientists to apply forensic analysis - such as seen in television dramas like CSI, except with real science and not just fluorescent sprays and swabs - to bones, providing startling new evidence of just how gladiators lived and died.

Instead of the all-out brawling of gladiators depicted in film, the injuries discovered on the remains suggest the fighting in a nearby arena was organised and refereed, with fights between pairs of evenly matched gladiators. These gladiators would have been trained, well fed and given regular medical attention.

The gladiator cemetery was found in 1993 by archaeologists from the Austrian Archeological Institute in Vienna. They stumbled upon it in Ephesus, now part of Turkey, while surveying the ancient route from the city to the nearby Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Ancient cemetery

Located 300 m from the stadium where they fought for their lives, the gladiators' mass grave was found to cover an area of about 20 square metres. In it experts uncovered a three-metre-deep layer packed with over 2,000 bones and 5,000 smaller fragments which are thought to have belonged to nearly 70 men.

“I think the balance of evidence suggests these people were gladiators: skeletal data, archaeological data – graffiti on wall paintings at Ephesus, tombstones of gladiators at Ephesus and historical documentation for gladiators at Ephesus," comments archaeologist Charlotte Roberts from the University of Durham in England.

Historical sources tell us that Roman gladiators were mostly recruited from prisoners of war, slaves and condemned criminals, and were trained in specialised gladiator schools. There were seven main types of gladiators, each packing a different combination of armour and weaponry. These types were matched to fight in pairs with evenly balanced defence and attack weapons. The sources indicate there was no point system, and fights were pursued to a decisive outcome; generally injury, or even death, for one of the participants.

The first gladiatorial contests took place in Rome in 264 BC as a funeral rite, but they became increasingly popular as a public spectacle throughout the Empire around the time of Julius Caesar. Under the Romans, Ephesus was the capital of their Asian province. The Roman commander-in-chief Lucullus introduced the first gladiator fights to Ephesus in 69 BC and the stadium was then converted to an elliptical arena for the purpose.

Counting the dead

Now, anthropologists Fabian Kanz and Karl Grossschmidt, of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, are painting a picture of gladiatoral life as never imagined before. The pair have spent the past five years painstakingly analysing all the bones with forensic methods much like those used in modern homicide cases. They detail the technique in an article in the journal Forensic Science International.

"We've been able to prove theories about the weaponry and fighting techniques of gladiators based on wounds [on the bones and skulls]," says Grossschmidt. "Inscriptions on the tombstones also tell us that some gladiators survived 136 fights."

To estimate the number of bodies in the grave, the researchers used the standard procedure for analysing mass graves; they looked at the skeletal parts that are generally best preserved, to count the minimum number of individuals in the grave.

Of the minimum of 68 individuals, all were men aged from 20 to 30, except for one young woman found with a gravestone that marked her as a slave and an older man, up to 55 years old. While the men were short by modern standards, their average height - around 168 cm - was within the normal range for the ancient population.

When the pair analysed the bones further, they found high bone densities, similar to modern trained athletes. Enlarged muscle markers on arm and leg bones also provide evidence of an extensive and continuous exercise program.

Intriguingly, the high bone density of the feet hinted that to Kanz and Grossschmidt that the gladiators fought barefoot in the sand rather than with their feet protected by leather sandals - a common Roman fashion accessory.

Green diet

The researchers expected gladiators would need a protein-rich diet to build muscle - however their analysis of the bones in fact suggested a vegetarian diet.

Plants contain higher levels of the element strontium than animal tissues. So, people who consume more plants and less meat will build up measurably higher levels of strontium in their bones. Levels of strontium in the gladiators' bones were two times higher than the bones of contemporary Ephesians, according to research presented by Kanz and Grossschmidt at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Philadelphia, U.S., in April this year.

This agrees with some historical reports of gladiators eating a diet of mainly barley, beans and dried fruit, says Grossschmidt.

It would have given them a lot of strength, but may also have contributed to the tooth decay found in teeth in the cemetery and potentially made the men fat. However, a little extra weight could actually have had benefits in protecting vital organs from cutting blows during fights, argue the researchers.

Grossschmidt says that the gladiators also drank foul-sounding plant or bone ash solutions, acting as a kind of ancient isotonic sports drink. The mineral-rich drink may even have been a kind primitive painkiller, he says.

Expensive commodity

The large number of well-healed wounds found on the skeletons show us that the gladiators were better treated medically than they were with their limited menu. Some bones even show evidence of surgical intervention, such as amputations.

A sample of the kinds of head wounds suffered by gladiators, and the remnant of an ancient trident that may have been responsible for some of them.
Image: Fabian Kanz
"Medical care and physiotherapeutical treatment were excellent for them," says Grosschmidt, possibly because trained gladiators were such an expensive investment.

"As far as I can see, the treatment of gladiators (historical records) suggests they were well cared for because it was in the interests of their owners that they were healthy and ready for fighting," agreed Durham Universitiy's Roberts.

The most commonly healed wounds seen on the skulls were blunt force wounds to the front of the skull, which the researchers believe were most likely caused by repeated blows to a helmet just above the eyes. Other gladiators survived sharp wounds to the skull, such as that caused by the 'gladius', a thirty-centimetre sword used by most types of gladiators.

One skull struck the researchers as unusual, because it was the only skull with more than one deadly incision. The holes were five centimetres apart and consistent with stabs from a sharp, tapered weapon. These injuries show the same dimensions as a trident, a characteristic gladiator weapon. And a trident of these dimensions was found during excavations of the ancient harbour of Ephesus, and dated to the second or third century.

Death rather than retirement

In general however, the remains tended to lack evidence of multiple injuries or mutilation - unlike the excessive violence often seen on bones from mediaeval battlefield victims. This pointed to strict rules and refereed fights, not a free-for-all melee.

According to historical records, a losing gladiator's fate rested in the hands of the games organiser, who appealed to the mood of the people in the stands. "Upon the cry of 'iugula' (lance him through), it was expected of the vanquished that he would set an example of the greatness of manhood ... and would motionlessly receive the death thrust," write the researchers.

"We found evidence for the final blow to the throat (cut marks on the vertebrae), the chest (lesions on the breastbone/sternum) and on the back (lesions and cut marks on the shoulder blade)," says Grossschmidt.

Given that gladiators wore helmets, it's surprising that ten of the individuals had a single head wound that lead to death. Four of the wounds were a round to square shape of nearly the same diameter, similar to a Roman hammerhead, rather than any known gladiator weapon.

Kanz and Grosschmidt conclude that this could be consistent with historical literature and artworks depicting a death blow administered to condemned gladiators by an arena servant dressed up as the death god 'Dis Pater' carrying a hammer.

After five years fighting, if a gladiator survived he could retire or become and instructor in the Roman army. "They were much sought after, afraid of nothing, and everyone was afraid of them," says Grossschmidt.

Even though gladiators could retire after five years, the evidence shows that very few of them lived beyond the age of 30. The bones from Ephesus show one gladiator, out of almost seventy bodies, was able to survive the carnage and lived to old age.

Recent research, carried out this year for the BBC television's Timewatch series proposed that the body of a 45 to 55 year-old man found in the mass grave could have been a retired gladiator who went on to become a trainer. Evidence to back this up included two major healed wounds on his skull and a tombstone dedicated to a gladiator trainer named Euxenius.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sifu Glen Hairston's Tai Chi Chuan

Internal Damage Video

Short-Range Taiji Punch

Here's a guy that shows what Tai Chi Chuan can really do. Glen Hairston was a police detective, formal Federal agent and now runs a corporate security firm. I got his "Internal Damage" DVD a year or so ago and it's pretty good. He's a powerful guy and his student doesn't mind getting the crap kicked out of him. It's clearly an urban combat scene, and Glen demonstrates some interesting variations for all of the postures in the Yang-style form.
In the second video, he shows the short-range power (fa-jing) that Tai Chi Chuan is known for. As he says on the back of his DVD, "This aint your Grandma's Tai Chi"...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Navy Seals

Well, not really.
Here's a little Dojo Rat Animal Planet scene, I hope everyone can se it ok. We live in a wonderland, our home is in the deep woods with a huge swamp, teeming with wildlife. My commute to work varies, but because we live on an island it always meets the water. This is my first attempt to capture the wild nature of our home, so my timing was a little off with these seals. I think my dog may have scared them back into the water. There are several generations of seals that hang out on this rock. I hope to get pictures of the young pups that will come later in the summer. These guys are pretty funny; they burp, scratch and fart while they lounge on the rocks in the sun. Kinda' like Dojo Rats with a hangover.
Dojo Rat is about the Martial Arts, Political Arts, and The Art Of Living Simply.
What better instructor is there than mother earth and nature?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

OK, I Had To Do It...Paris Checks In To The Greybar Hilton

Tommy Chong slams the news media

I know you have been sitting there all week wondering "What does Dojo Rat think about Paris going to jail?? --NOT!
This video clip sums it up, Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) slams the news media, the criminals in the Cheney administration, Mel Gibson, the INjustice system, Marijuana laws and just about everything else you can think of. He stuns MSNBC news model Contessa Brewer and nearly leaves her speechless. This is priceless, and I tip my hat to a brilliant verbal sparring match clearly won by my new hero, the great Tommy Chong!
It's the weekend, so there is other fun stuff to follow...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

One Man's Journey In Karate

C.W. Nicol In The '60's

I absolutely loved this, from The Japan Times.

Reflecting on life's amazing twists and turns

I came to Japan in October 1962 to learn martial arts

Since the age of 14 I had practiced judo — taught to us at the YMCA in the leafy, western English town of Cheltenham by an ex-marine commando hard man. At 15, I met my first Japanese person, the legendary judo master Gunji Koizumi, who had been sent to Britain by the Kodokan Judo Institute toward the end of World War I to teach judo. That was still at the time of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Two world wars later, Koizumi visited us in Cheltenham, and his skill and his gentlemanly manners seemed, to this then 15-year-old hairy-bottomed Briton, nothing less than awesome.

It was about then that I first heard about karate. An American military policeman called Mike Devito, stationed at a local base, used to come and train with us at weekends. He regaled us with tales of a mystical fighting art called karate, whose practitioners could kill with a single blow. At that time, when I sometimes had to tussle with Teddy Boys — local townie louts with slicked-backed greasy hair, funny long jackets with velvet collars and "drainpipe trousers" — that facility sounded rather handy. However, in the mid 1950s there were no real karate instructors in Britain.

By 1962, I had gleaned enough about karate to believe its origins were in Okinawa. I almost hero-worshipped Mike, and liked Americans in general. But as much as American music, films and literature loomed huge in my life, by the age of 22 my feelings were turning against the mayhem in Vietnam.

Returning at that time from an expedition to the pristine peace of the Arctic, I had no wish to go to islands under U.S. military occupation. However, judo friends in Montreal had told me that in the early years of the 20th century, an Okinawan master had gone to Tokyo, and that there were now several schools and styles of karate flourishing there.

Stagger and dodder

So, in October 1962, Tokyo became my destination. Stemming directly from that, I now live in Kurohime, Nagano Prefecture, and have done so since 1980. Beneath my study and library is a small dojo, or gymnasium, where I still stagger and dodder through the practice of karate despite worn, creaky joints and an ongoing battle of the bulge.

On a few occasions, however, karate — whose Chinese characters are generally translated as "empty hand" (although I prefer to interpret them as "open hand") has saved my life. It has given me lifelong friends all over the world. And it has provided a kind of focus and balance that other physical activities could not.

As I get closer now to 70, I have to confess that if asked what karate is, I could no longer come up with any of the easy, standard answers I did when I first gained a black belt at the age of 24.

But to explain that apparent difficulty involves traveling again to the archipelago of Okinawa, strung out as it is like a necklace glinting across the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. Comprising more than 150 inhabited islands, many isolated by distance, ocean currents and storms, and often surrounded by deadly reefs, the small populations on these specks of land each developed their own language and culture, and were historically often in sometimes hostile competition with each other.

Meanwhile, China's influence on Okinawa has been huge. No small wonder. You can see Taiwan from the southern islands. China's official contact with Okinawa, which they called Liu Chi'u (Ryukyu), began in the sixth century. By 1372, Chinese-Okinawan relations were official, with the King of Okinawa declaring allegiance to the Ming Emperor of China. This greatly increased China's cultural influence on Okinawa — including in the martial arts.

Okinawa had been a unified kingdom since 1429. Between 1432 and 1570, it established 44 embassies in Annam (modern Vietnam), Thailand, Malaysia and among the many kingdoms of Java. All these embassies included warriors attuned to the fighting arts. Their experiences were bound to feed into the culture back home.

Among the many influences was the fighting style of the Shaolin monks, who had originally been brought to China from India. Over the centuries, such arts mingled with older fighting styles introduced from elsewhere in Asia.

With their small, scattered island populations, Okinawans had to learn to defend themselves — and with all this knowhow in the air, they developed a fighting art known as tode, te or ti — which basically means "hand." It was a style of fighting that emphasized quick killing or maiming of an opponent. It certainly wasn't a sport.

When I first practiced karate, I was told a simplified version of its origins. According to this, samurai from the fiefdom of Satsuma in southern Kyushu subjugated the Okinawan archipelago in 1609. They then banned Okinawans from the use of bladed weapons such as swords and halberds. Consequently, native warriors developed and polished their traditional arts into a more clandestine form of self-defense, in which agricultural or seafaring tools — such as sickles, flails, hand-mill handles and oars — were used to augment otherwise unarmed combat.

After subduing the islands, the Satsuma authorities still needed to recruit local officials to help police the populace, and although these Okinawan warriors did not carry swords, they bore long fighting staffs and steel truncheons with widely curved hilt guards known as sai. To this day, sai, usually used in pairs, are deadly weapons that augment karate moves and can be used by the truly skillful to overcome spears or swords.

The practice of karate has been a huge influence on my life, but it wasn't until 1975 that I finally got to Okinawa. I was seconded from Environment Canada to the Ministry of External Affairs in order to become the Assistant Manager of the Canadian Pavilion at the International Ocean Exposition. What a fabulous gig! I stayed for eight months in Okinawa and became enamored of its food, drinks, music, dance, martial arts, coral reefs and pretty well everything else except the huge expanses of priceless land still occupied by U.S. military bases. And that was even though Okinawa had officially reverted to Japanese rule.

Greedy construction industry
That return to Japanese rule, however, also gave the green light to a greedy and politically well-connected construction industry to "develop" — actually, to ravage for profit — the islands. More environmental havoc has been wreaked since the reversion to Japanese rule than was ever inflicted during World War II.

But as economically subdued as they may be, or otherwise pandering to the artificially bloated construction industry, ordinary Okinawans must also admit to and share the blame.

Despite a sadness nearing despair over changes to the environment that I have witnessed over the past 30-odd years, I still love Okinawa, and gladly accepted the chance to do a documentary television program in an NHK World series called (in English) "The Japan the Japanese Didn't Know." Rather a grandiose title perhaps, but a central theme on the origins of karate runs through the program — and besides, few Japanese know much about the history and culture of Okinawa, even those who have practiced some karate.

The last bit of filming we did was on April 14 this year. We went to Yagaji Island, Nago. This is reached by a long bridge across beautiful coral reefs. Our filming was during the annual shii mii devotions, when Okinawans visit their family tombs to clean them and have a party in memory of their ancestors. We chose our location because there the tombs are cut into the rocks along the shore. These folks' ancestors were immigrants to this part of the Okinawan kingdom, and land was too scarce for any to be given over to graves.

The tiny, uninhabited island is also named Yamaton Chuumi ("Japanese forest"), because legend has it that a lone Satsuma man once lived there (what kind of fascinating tale that would be!). To get to this tiny island of tombs, people wait for low tide and then cross the mud flats on foot. The islanders allowed us to film and the weather was fine. A few white clouds scudded across blue skies, and tiny white butterflies were fluttering over the tidal flats. Undisturbed by our passing, platoons of white egrets stood on sentry duty aboard fishing boats resting on the mud.

By then, only three of the shoreline cave tombs remained to be tended. The others had been neglected, their stone entrances smashed open by crashing typhoon waves. Broken shards of funeral urns were scattered on the muddy shore. I think somebody must have tidied up the bones. Shii mii visiting parties can be quite lively, with shamisen playing, singing and dancing. This group was rather quiet. The people cleaned up the area in front of a single tomb, changed the flowers, placed offerings, burned some packs of yellow grave money, then spread out blue plastic sheets on which to sit and enjoy sushi and other tidbits washed down with beer and awamori (liquor distilled from Thai rice).

Until the 1950s, it was the custom in Okinawa to leave the dead in a temporary grave for a few years. Then, when the flesh had decayed, the bones were cleaned with awamori, put in a funeral urn and placed in their final resting place in a family tomb. On this island, family bones all went in the same urn together, presumable until it was full.

A solitary old man
While the surviving relatives were having their little party, a solitary old man was wandering over the tidal flats, turning over rocks and catching small crabs. When I wandered out and asked if he intended to cook and eat them, he answered no, explaining that the crabs made a fine fishing bait. An osprey darted over the flats, then rose and darted on a fish in the calm water beyond. The osprey, the herons, the quickly scuttling crabs and the strange little perambulating, jumping mud-skipper fish carried on with what they did.

I, meanwhile, stood apart and alone for a while — remembering the American Mike Devito, and wondering about all the tides and turns that brought me to this corner of the world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

When Does A Class Become A Cult?

While browsing through Bagua videos I came across this one of Jerry Alan Johnson, who is demonstrating some applications of the animal forms of Bagua. It's a very theatrical production, with the participants wearing long Taoist robes and some cleverly edited slow motion for effect. As I often do, I found this guys website and gave it a look. I found it interesting for various reasons.
First, it appears that the Bagua this group practices is secondary to their practice of Taoist magic and sorcery. I actually have no problem with this, though I'm sure it scares the crap out of people who practice Evangelical Christianity. Taoism mimics the cycles of nature, which may be our best instructor. Let's face it, man's attempt to be dominant over the earth has brought us to the tipping point of global warming, war for resource extraction, and general degradation of the non-human life on the planet. His website lists classes and books on Talismans and charms, ritual, and some more esoteric practices such as use of intoxicating herbs and sexual magick.
Not exactly my cup of tea, but upon reflection, it is no different than any other shamanic practice found all around the world.
Take the Catholic Church for example; it is the largest organization practicing "White Magic" in the world. It includes ritual cannibalism, eating the wafer (flesh) and wine (blood of Christ). The ritual chanting is in ancient language, a new Shaman (Pope) is chosen with symbols such as puffs of smoke coming from the Vatican indicating selection. The whole mythology about Christ rising from the dead and appearing in the flesh is an attempt to preclude Gnostic self-enlightenment within the Church. Enough of that though...
Years ago in Portland, there was a woman's self-defense school called "Pokulain" (spelling?) which means "A rose with thorns". They practiced an Indonesian art that specialized in ground fighting, which assumed that women had a better defensive position in a low crouch very close to the ground. It became rather controversial at one point, with a few former students claiming that the school had become a cult. There were candlelight rituals, with oaths and sharp knives being passed among the members. Undoubtadly, this type of ritual is common in Indonesian arts which often delve into esoteric mysticism. On the front side, that's not so bad. However, there were some women that just wanted to learn effective self-defense. This practice offended them, and they made their opinions public.
Two thoughts: If someone teaches a martial arts school, they should make clear what the students should expect. In this respect for instance, informing students about Aikido founder Uyeshiba's spiritualism adds context to the art. Same with the concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese arts. But candlelight ceremonies with sharp knives may be too much for the average student.
And the students responsibility is to have enough self-respect to know where to draw the line. They should survey the potential class, become informed about it and decide if it works for them. If some instructor, through ego or abuse or esoteric ritual causes conflict, move on. That's the beauty of practicing the martial arts, at any level. We analyze and decide for ourselves.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Tim Cartmell's Shen Wu Combat

About a month ago we went to a Sun-Style Bagua seminar with Tim Cartmell. There was an incredible amount of grappling involved, but it was very different than Judo or conventional wrestling. This is a demo for an upcoming video they are producing. It shows how they mix stand-up fighting with grappling, in Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) techniques. Notice the smooth flowing entries, more representative of the Internal Martial Arts. There are also some unique counter-techniques. Towards the end, Tim lets his partner grab his kicking leg, then drops to the ground supported by his arm, uses his free leg to sweep the opponent. Pretty cool stuff!