Books Lying Open
Answer of the Day:
Curse of the Day:
of the Moment:
Hey, it beats, "Shut up!" which is what we used to yell, which had about as much effect on the cat as you might expect. -- August 16, 2004
|Friday October 1, 2004|
of the Day -- QotD Archives
"Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days...What you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
esterday I said I was going to catch up on book reviews today.
It's 1am, it's freezing in here and my fingers are too cold to type quickly or accurately, and I need to go tuck Malaya in and get some writing done, after I had a very productive writing session last night. (Not so much new material, but I did a detailed outline/summary of the next two chapters that I'm quite happy with and that I need merely to elaborate on as I write them out.) So here's some news and movie stuff from today, and then some martial arts class comments below, and that's that. Reviews on Monday, in theory.
Also, the first presidential debate was held Thursday night, and while I didn't see any of it since I was at Kali class and wouldn't have watched it if I'd been home anyway, early verdict from every survey seems to be that Kerry did a better job than Bush, who was defensive, blinked too much, and repeated the same few phrases over and over again.
¤ On my continuing, "who on earth actually supports Bush for 4 more years?" quandary, I found this article informative.
I think the real moral here, as with other recent surveys about the Iraqi war, is that most Americans are dumber than a box of paint chips when it comes to news not related to who Paris Hilton is currently cheating on. When 50% (or more) of the population doesn't know what continent the Middle East is on, if Iraq had nukes or not, if we've found WMDs there or not, if Saddam was involved in 9/11 or not, etc, you really can't expect them to absorb the subtleties and nuances of presidential candidate speeches.
This sort of survey also painfully acquaints me with the utter pointlessness of 98% of political discourse online. I'm not really a political blogger; I just talk about it from time to time in amidst the cat photos and movie reviews. But thousands of people are political bloggers, and they labor hours a day on crafting devastating critiques of their opponents, or work hard to pump up their preferred candidate... and who really reads it but other people who already know all about politics and aren't going to have their minds changed by anything at this point? Meanwhile Homer and Marge are sitting out there eating pretzels and watching Jerry Springer. Their phone rings and it's Mr. Survey Guy on the other end asking them which candidate is propping up the high prices of the US pharmaceutical industry by fighting to stop imports of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and Homer says, "Dunno?" while turning his head side to side like a dog hearing a high-pitched noise.
And thus the world's first constitutional democracy marches merrily along for four more years.
¤ Good article about the 11 books most-frequently banned by schools in the US schools today. Here's a quote.
I have little to say about it since I read the books on the list decades ago, if at all (I've never even heard of the author or book in the #1 spot.) Also, after reading wackos like the CAP Alerts guy on the Internet, I'm no longer surprised by anything any self-professed Christian says about the evils of literature/film in our society. Check out the article though, it's a good read.
¤ I haven't talked about movies for a couple of weeks, for good reason... there haven't been any releases I've had any interest in seeing since Sky Captain. Two big budget movies are coming out this weekend, when Malaya and I have no time to go see any movies anyway. Luckily for us, both of them suck, so we're not missing anything.
Ladder 49 is apparently a Backdraft-esque movie about heroic fire fighters, though I couldn't have testified to that to save my life as recently as Thursday. There's some new firefighter show coming up this TV season and I've seen tons of TV commercials for it, and I must have subconsciously lumped this movie in with the TV show (which I don't remember the name of or what channel it's on, not that I was ever going to watch it anyway). Anyway, now that I know Ladder 49 is an actual movie, and there are actual reviews to read about it, I can go back to forgetting about it. It's at 35% (16/46 positive) right now, and most of the negative reviews say the same thing. That it's cheesy, painfully melodramatic, condescending, cloying, hagiographic, etc. The critical consensus seems to be: see it if you're not real picky about your movie entertainment and you really, really love firefighters; skip it otherwise.
Shark Tale (33%, 19/58 positive) is the newest big budget CGI animation from Dreamworks, with an amazingly star-studded cast. Every actor wants to be in a kid's movie or do an animated voice now, since most of the actors have kids of their own and they want to do a roll that their kids will admire them for. Unfortunately, having big name acting talent doing the voices in your film does nothing to make it a good movie; for that you need a good story, interesting plot, and good characters. And as the reviews make clear, Shark Tales has none of those. I've yet to see anything in a TV commercial or trailer for the film that looks any good, and most of them make it look actively awful; those Coke commercials with Will Smith's lead fish hectoring real life Mary Bilge are painfully-unwatchable. Moreover, was anyone crying out for Will Smith to reprise his sitcom role in a sort of Fresh Fish of Bel Air animated film? Are jive-talking funkier-than-thou-white-people black guys still considered entertaining? This one will probably make money with no real competition in the kid's genre, but I can't see it making Pixar money since it simply doesn't look good enough for adults to enjoy.
While Shark Tale may not be much of a film, there is certainly no shortage of other quality animated features in the pipeline. Check out the trailers for Robots (March 2005), Madagascar (May 2005), and The Incredibles (November 2004), and see what you think. All have interesting, very distinct looks (Unlike Shark Tales, which looks like Finding Nemo with 10% more color and 25% less 3D.) and all might be pretty good.
Robots looks the best; a very cool retro-futuristic robot world, though the trailer is nigh-unto unwatchable with entirely inappropriate background music that goes on at least a minute too long (I checked my other windows twice to be sure I didn't have that inexplicable hippy rock song playing from something else.) and way too much of Robin Williams doing his crazy babbling thing that was funny when he was Mork in about 1982, but hasn't been amusing since.
Madagascar I'd not heard of until I saw that trailer just now, and I like the look and it seems like it might be funny, but it also seems like it might get very old very quickly. Maybe pitched a bit too much towards the juvenile set there for my taste.
The Incredibles is the one everyone is really waiting for though, given Pixar's track record of turning out kid's movies that are good enough for adults to enjoy as well. I wasn't sure about this one until recently, thinking it looked too cutesy with the baby superheroes and comedy bits, but some of the recent trailers are damn entertaining. It sort of reminds me of my recent run of D2 holiday stories, where every character is such an intentional stereotype that you immediately know just what they'll do in a given situation, but in a good way, since you can then laugh in anticipation of their reactions, and any time they do something at all different it's a big surprise and laugh moment. I like the sister in The Incredibles best, with her brooding goth girl personality, and her invisibility and force fields powers, and of course she's got an irrepressible little brother who can run at the speed of sound and is always getting into trouble, and mom is powerful but sensible and holds the whole group together, and dad is the somewhat clueless patriarch of most every sitcom who has a good heart and comes through in the clutch despite his predictable weaknesses and fatty appetite. I'll give Pixar some benefit of the doubt though; they generally have quality writing, and they know how archetypal these characters are, so I'm thinking they'll have to skew things somewhat and tweak our expectations here and there and not make the movie as predictable (though still fun) as it looks from the trailers.
martial arts. Kali is the discipline I'm training in (if once a week
mostly for fun can really be considered "training") and it's a
Filipino style honed over the centuries. It's performed largely
bare-handed, but also includes a lot of work with short sticks, knives,
swords, and staves, though it's very adaptable; you can really use
anything as an effective weapon, once you know what you're doing. The
local master (one of the very few masters anywhere in this discipline) has
advanced classes at his home in which he regularly turns out very odd
tools. Shovels, rolled up newspapers, garden tools, etc.
What I enjoy most about the art is that it's not all pretentious or regimented. It's the antithesis of those strip mall karate classes where you see a dozen 8 y/o's dressed in their cute little Karate outfits, standing in lines and punching the air while shouting in unison, like very young Tae Bo students who lack music. Kali is also not high impact on your body (unless you get hit, I suppose); it's not jiu jitsu or some other art were you're doing cartwheels and spinning kicks and need padded mats, lots of leaping ability, and knee surgery to compete proficiently.
Kali is all about practicality. You don't wear a special outfit to class, and you don't spend a great deal of time practicing forms, learning how to bow correctly, memorizing foreign names for complicated moves, etc. Your first class you are right in there, learning practical things like how to block and hit, how to keep your balance, move with your correct feet, counter attacks, and more. You get to use weapons immediately also; dulled knives and staves right from the start, and it's fun. There are all sorts of spinning techniques that look like showing off at first, but that you soon find out are essential to the art. You could just hit and hit and hit with your stick from different angles, but if you know how to spin the stick some in between strikes it's a great rhythm breaker, throwing off your opponent, confusing them about the direction from which you are coming, and setting your timing for your next strike.
Almost all of the techniques are learned in twos; the teacher shows you something new, and then everyone pairs up to practice it, taking turns. Thursday night we were working (for part of the class) with a drop punch sort of technique that's hard to describe in words, but which was executed after the basic check/block technique (with which you turn aside/dodge a punch and then counterattack). Basically you move like you're doing a normal punch, but with your fist just a few inches from the target you fall downwards a bit, letting your legs go loose, and use the momentum from that to turn your short little punch into a hammer. It seems absurd, but after we tried it a few times (and I felt the gura hit me with it) I realized how useful it was. Not that that's the first thing I'd do in some hypothetical/mythical street fight, but it's a way to hit someone ten times harder than you could otherwise, in that sort of situation, and it's applicable to many other types of maneuver. With the punch (which we were all taking turns hitting each other with, pulling them short of course) we then learned to add a sidearmed shove/hit sort of thing that looks like it couldn't bruise fresh bread, but when done properly will shove you several feet sideways. Literally; I "hurfed" and staggered when the gura demonstrated one into my low back, and she wasn't even trying.
The trick of it is to use the momentum you gain by dropping down several inches and put that force/mass into motion with a punch or shove. So it's not just whatever your arm can muster, it's the weight of your entire body dropping six inches as you flex your knees, channeled into your fist. It's incredibly deceptive to watch and to execute; I didn't feel like I was doing anything, and the much more advanced student I was practicing with was taking two steps back from the momentum. (Not that he couldn't have sent me across the room if he'd wanted to, or that I was shoving him as hard as I could; the point is that by doing something seemingly simple a little maneuver was made enormously more effective.)
And no, that little trick isn't the basis of the entire art or anything like that, it's just what we worked on Thursday night. I am not experienced enough with Kali to comment on it at any depth; I can only talk about what I've done personally and how effective it seems to me.
The footwork was another thing we worked on a lot; when the experts move it's just amazing to watch them; they seem to be gliding, hardly moving their feet when they move, and yet they're always behind you, always moving around you faster than you can react, and always coming at you with the correct foot for their strike. The gura will show us something and it looks easy, and then we try it and it's thirty seconds of stubbed toes and missteps until we're like... "Okay, which foot did you step with first?" She doesn't even need to think about it, since after many years of training it's just instinct. Beginning dancers need charts of "left, right, right, left, right" type instructions; experts just go with the flow of the music and their partner, and everything builds on everything else; as we learn simple tricks and techniques and movements we see them included in the more advanced stuff the more experienced students are doing.
But for the footwork on Thursday, we were learning to do these sort of slide steps, keeping our knees bent quite a bit, keeping our weight centered and back on our heels, and keeping our heads still. Watching someone expert at Kali move is amazing, since they really look like they're on wheels, or ice. They just flow and slide, and they're almost silent doing it. No slapping of heels or toes or scratching of feet; it's like they're on cotton and the rest of us are wearing iron boots. And they're always in the right place, always moving to counter or react before I can even begin to turn. So Gura was teaching us something about that last night, how to walk, how to move, and how it should feel. And when I got just a little bit of it right, it felt so different. Stumbling turned to gliding for just a moment, and I felt light and smooth. It's the same with other techniques; the proper way to swing the stick around (letting centrifugal force almost pull it, so you swing faster with far less effort), or spin it, or whatever, and when you do it right you can really feel it. It moves straighter, faster, and more smoothly.
I harbor no illusions that I could actually turn any of the theoretical combat knowledge and sparring experience into actual street survival skills, at least not yet, but since I'm not in junior high or drunk in the cheap seats at a Raiders' game, I hardly need to worry about getting into any brawls. For now it's fun to learn, challenging, and excellent exercise. Every class I come home with something sore, and as another guy in the class said, "Kali works weird muscles." Thursday night with all of the footwork it was the thighs; Malaya was limping out to the car afterwards, and she does squats and presses and elliptical and such at the gym every day. Other times I've come home with the muscles on the outside of my shoulders so sore I could hardly lift them, or the backs of my arms, or my knees. Tonight Malaya and me both have bandaids on the inside of our right thumbs where we got healthy blisters from all of the stick work we were doing. It's surprising just how many muscles you use doing punching, or blocking, or stick work that are different from the ones you develop in a normal workout.
I'm enjoying the class though, and it's not too expensive (I'd go more often if I felt like I could afford it.) and I learn a lot every time, so I'm glad we're doing it. Malaya is even more into it than I am, and goes to 2 or 3 classes a week, and yes, it's useful to have each other to practice with, spar with, remind each other of proper footwork and technique, and so on. I'd recommend Kali to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting, but it's not very well-known around the country or world and I have no idea where you could get qualified training in it other than in the Bay Area, so just look into some other martial art you think you might enjoy. As long as they don't remind you of the Cobra Kai or force new students to do a bunch of Kill Bill style "punch your fists to a bloody pulp" bullshit they're probably pretty okay. I just wish I'd started something ten years ago, since I'd be expert in at least one form, and could easily apply that to the Kali work I'm doing now.
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