Saturday, February 11, 2012

Podcasts to Listen to and Fiction to Read

First of all, a deep apology for not posting lately. Between training for my new job, a heavy travel schedule, and trying to get enough sleep I just haven't had time. I've done hardly any formal karate training in almost two months either!

A couple of new things to keep your eyes (or ears) on:

If you follow kickboxing (and if you don't, you should) there are 2 podcasts coming out that you should be listening to. The first is Warman's Kickfighting Show, and despite the slightly World of Warcraft sounding title it's very sober, intelligent discussion of kick-sports (kickboxing and Muay Thai). The second is the podcast associated with the lovely LiverKick site. Search the site for podcasts and you'll see their own listed.  It's very good coverage of the sport.

Another absolutely wonderful site if you're at all interested in fighting sports is Fights Gone By. It's supposed to be coverage of classic fights, and it has wonderful links to classic fights in boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, but what makes it really special is the in-depth analysis of the fighting techniques used. It's the kind of site where you'll see a Mirko Cro Cop head kick, but unlike other places, it comes with exhaustive analysis of all the things Cro Cop does to make that head kick land.

Now any coverage of fighting sports is going to have some, but not perfect, relevance to unregulated combat. If you're into self defense you can't use kickboxing or boxing techniques as they are used in the ring exactly - gloves and tape and rules change the game. But a lot of the ideas do cross over to some extent, and if you enjoy fight sports for their own sake you'll enjoy them much more if you better understand what's going on. As wonderful as a big knockout it, it's much more enjoyable when you can see how the fighter set it up, got his opponent's defenses down, etc.

If you're interested reading more about conditioning and strength training while I'm not posting anything new hit my blogroll - especially Brett Contreras' site - I consistently find his posts entertaining and educational.  If you're willing to buy some products (there's stuff on the site worth checking out for free too) definitely consider 8 Weeks Out, he has a ton of really good material that's changing the way the strength world is looking at endurance training.

I've mentioned before that I have a weakness for martial arts related fiction.  I love material ranging from books that center on martial arts using characters to movies with MA themes to American and Asian comics (manga and manhua) that center on MA sports or MA using characters.  Loving martial arts and liking MA fiction go together like liking science and liking science fiction - lots of science lovers and scientists love sci fi, lots of them hate it.  A lot depends on how critical you are - how good you are at suspending disbelief when you read/ watch the stuff.  If a character dodging bullets really annoys you (because it is so unrealistic) you're not going to love Dragonball.  You might like Hajime no Ippo, though - that's a fairly realistic series about a Japanese boxer - no bullet dodging, no energy beams, just opponents with strong jabs or who fight left handed (both of which, you know, actually happen).

I'm not going to recommend any movies here - well, I lied, watch both Black Belt and High Kick Girl, I loved both, and anything starring Tony Jaa.  Other people do a much more comprehensive job of reviewing/ recommending MA movies online (try Kung Fu Cinema for reviews, news, etc.).

For books I'm a fan of Steve Perry (not the one you're thinking of) - he's a real life silat practitioner and his books have very strong MA themes.  His blog has links on the side to e-book versions of all his stuff.  Start with The Man Who Never Missed.  It's sci fi, and maybe it's not great literature, but they're fun reads and feature lots of MA action.  Another guy who used to write a LOT about MA is Eric Lustbader.  I grew up on his books - he broke out with The Ninja - and wrote a ton of bestsellers about MA in modern times.  It's pretty much all trash, but entertaining trash.  He's moved away from the MA themes in the last 15 years or so, so if that's what you like, start with his older work.

On the American comic side I'm mostly a reader of Marvel comics (nothing against other companies).  The best MA comics are from the past - if you can read (or torrent) a set of Master of Kung Fu comics from the late 70's that title was surprisingly good.  I liked the Iron Fist comic that was published just a few years ago - very strong MA themes - but  most of the time Iron Fist is just another superhero who happens to use MA, there aren't really much in the way of MA plotlines in his stories.

If you really want to hit the motherload of MA themes comics, you have to go to Asian sourced stuff.  There's a lot of material, and it really runs the gamut in terms of realism (from bullied teenagers taking up MA as an after school hobby to planet destroying aliens kung fu fighting) and seriousness (from very serious, like Holyland, all the way to ridiculous).

The cool thing about reading manga or manhua (manga are Japanese, manhua are Korean, and the manhua are usually read left to right, the Japanese stuff right to left) is that you can read/ sample all the good titles for free.  Many are unavailable in English (in any legal/ official form, no matter what you're willing to pay), so there's a dedicated online community of scanlators (scan + translate = scanlate) who scan the comics, put in English words, and release the results for free.  You can bittorrent the results, or, more easily, there are online readers where each page is a web page.  Click on the page and it takes you to the next page.

The legality of these sites is sort of questionable.  If you're morally opposed to using them, I understand, but bear in mind that many of these series are otherwise unavailable to English speakers.  If I read Holyland on, I'm not taking money away from the author - I literally can't buy that title in any store in a format I can use.

I'd rather not link to these sites.  Go to google and put in "read [titleX] online" and you'll find a half dozen sites that show it.

If you want something realistic (no superpowers) try Holyland, All Rounder Meguru, Shamo (Shamo is really, really, dark and not suitable for children), and Hajime no Ippo.  There are also a bunch of manga based loosely on historical samurai/ ninja stuff, and some are very realistic (some not so much).

If you're okay with some level of "super" abilities there are more options.  For historical/ fantasy stuff (not set in a world like ours) Naruto's the best, Hunter x Hunter, Gamaran, Basilisk, and Samurai Deeper Kyo.  For stuff in a modern setting try The Breaker, Baki (3 different series, same character), Tough (2 series), Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru, Tower of God, the God of High School (much better than it sounds).

I'm sure I'm leaving out some good stuff.  Feel free to post additional recommendations to comments.  If I have time I'll try to post more thorough reviews of some of these titles in the future.