Saturday, January 30, 2021

Are High&Low and other Asian high school fighting films Martial Arts Movies?

 I've been watching High&Low on Netflix. I highly recommend the films - they're highly stylized but the action is surprisingly diverse and exciting. Parkour, kickboxing, some MMA, and the plots and acting are much better than you'd think (but not good, don't get me wrong). Also lovely music and great, great Japanese street fashion, if you care (I am not fashionable but I enjoy a good outfit on screen).

I've also read a number of gangbanger manga and manhua. I don't know if there's a better name for the genre - stories about kids in rough high schools who belong to gangs and settle things with their firsts (and feet). Some have really good stories and characters, some are funny - it's a range.

What's interesting to me is that the stuntmen and stunt coordinators for these films are clearly martial artists and informed by martial arts. The characters throw good boxing combinations, kicks with solid technique, etc. The fights look like fights from a streetfight in an MMA movie - it's not just two guys standing at melee range and throwing haymakers until one falls down (though that might happen occasionally, it's rare).

Since the actors are using martial arts, and those martial arts are a key to the plot, why would I say these are NOT martial arts movies?

To me, a martial art is a system of movements that have martial intent. The system can be loose - I don't mean to say a martial art must have a single response to any particular attack - but it has to have moves (punches, kicks, throws, joint locks) that make sense as a response to an attack (someone else punching, kicking, etc.). There has to be a 'right' way to do things. You can have different jabs in your boxing system, but there are also movements of the arm that don't count as jabs. And this system has to be taught, it has to be teachable and trainable. Otherwise it's not an art.

In a 'real' martial arts movie the characters have to be martial artists. There has to at least be the implication that they trained - that they were taught a system, and are implementing a system, in combat. It's fine if they are using a system that they changed themselves, but it has to be a system, not just "being really naturally good at fighting." And I'm fine with films where the training isn't explored on camera. Some films have training montages, and some do not, but in true martial arts films it is at least implied that the characters are heavily trained.

In the gangbanger manhua and films there is very little implication of training. There are no or very few montages. The best fighters are just naturally better fighters - they're inhumanly athletic, but you never see them train or practice fighting (again, with rare exceptions). There is some sense that the morally just characters are also better at fighting, or at least the ones who are more emotionally committed. But again, no training, no system, at least in the majority of cases.

In High & Low the Amamiya brothers are shown being trained as kids, but EVERY OTHER character get tough just by fighting a lot. In their down time they're just smoking and hanging out with friends, not practicing their jumping kicks or doing pushups. I think there is one other scene where a character is doing pullups when approached.

This doesn't make the movies bad. They just aren't promoting martial arts virtues - the commitment to discipline, to training, to self improvement. Those aren't messages in these movies. The tough are tough by birth, and the weak are... weak. If anything, these films use martial arts movements to give a sort of anti-martial arts message. 

If I were able to make a high school fighting movie I'd love for a group of friends to get their asses kicked early, find a down on his luck instructor (probably someone's older brother) to teach them, train ridiculously hard using makeshift implements, then go out in a triumphant battle. That would be a martial arts movie. An even truer martial arts movie would have the friends decide they didn't want to be involved in streetfighting at all, and go off to college or something at the end, secure that they could fight if they had to. But High&Low isn't any of that.

Just to be perfectly clear, this isn't a criticism. High&Low isn't billed as a martial arts movie, it's not pretending to be one. Just food for thought.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Read My Novel: Wistful Ascending - it's like Dragonball Z, written for grownups

 I wrote a novel. It's a science fiction about people with special powers that also know how to hook off the jab. Sort of Dragonball Z, but written for grownups.

If that sort of thing interests you, please check it out!

Click here for a free sample of Wistful Ascending! If you read and like the book please leave an Amazon review!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

OMAD: When to eat?

I'm a huge proponent of OMAD (One Meal A Day) eating, which is a type of intermittent fasting. Basically, for people who need to reduce caloric intake, I find that restricting the time you eat is a much easier way to manage that reduction than just trying to have smaller meals. Going from 3 meals a day to 1 or 2 large meals is easier than just eating 3 smaller meals for many people.

Suppose you are interested in this style of eating, and you want to know when you should eat. Have a big breakfast and then stop? Splurge on lunch? Big dinner?

I've been seeing a few posts recently relaying scientific evidence that frontloading (having calories earlier in the day) is healthier.

I'm not going to argue one way or another, and I'm not going to analyze the evidence. Maybe it is! Maybe if you are going to eat one big meal every day, you should try to have it earlier in the day rather than later.

The problem, as I see it, is that in Western society dinner is the social meal (lunch to a lesser extent, but mostly dinner). Dinner is when we go out for dates, when we celebrate special occasions, it's the meal for weddings, and so on and so forth.

From a purely physiological perspective it might be healthier to have your one big daily meal earlier, but you also have to ask yourself, what is easier to maintain? What plan will give you the best quality of life?

In my experience, if I'm available to eat dinner, I miss out on very few social occasions and I inconvenience other people very little. I might be healthier if I ate a big breakfast or lunch and skipped dinner, but I'd miss family time and socializing time, and that's not worth it to me.

Just pointing out that there are things the medical research doesn't well account for.

Monday, May 18, 2020

PIT: Pulse Interval Training

This is the training protocol I've been using lately. I know, the name needs some work - feel free to make suggestions.
I'm going to explain the WHY of this methodology at the end of this post, so if you don't care about theory you can just skip it.

What is Pulse Interval Training?

PIT is a a step up and down from High Intensity Interval Training. The intervals are meant to be very short and as explosive as possible, and the rest period is long enough that you never get local fatigue.

Here's an overview:
1. Warmup, ballistic stretching, etc. Take as long as you like (you can, if you want, do the warmup with the same parameters as the PIT sets, just go easy - do the kicks at 1/2 or 3/4 speed, do the punches lightly, etc. Or do a 'regular' warmup. Just make sure to get nice and loose.)
2. Set a timer.
3. Every 30s do a "set" of exercise.Do not do the same exercise over and over - mix it up. For a default, pick 12 movements (there can be repeats) and cycle through, so you repeat your giant set every 6 minutes.
4. Repeat for 20-60 minutes. Breathe through your nose the entire time. If you can't catch your breath with nasal breathing alone, take a set or two off or truncate your work sets. If you lose explosiveness (your punches and kicks slow down) stop your workout.
5. Cool down. Do your static stretching here, if you want to do any.

What do the 'sets' look like?

Each set of exercise - each pulse - needs to be done at absolute maximum intensity. If it's a set of punches or kicks, each technique must be done as if it's the only technique you're throwing that day, in front of your instructor, or your one chance to take out an opponent who is about to kill you. I don't really care what imagery you use, but it shouldn't be an effort you could repeat easily.
If you want a visual of what I'm talking about, get a martial arts class (not beginners), and ask them to throw a hundred punches. Watch the level of effort in each punch. Than, another day, ask them to demo three punches. Watch the difference in speed, power, and snap.
A pulse should last less than 10 seconds (this is not a hard and fast rule, but most of your sets should be under 10s. If you find your sets creeping up into the 15-20s range, do something harder).

What are some examples of a good pulse set?

5 kettlebell swings - use a forced negative (swing the ketltebell hard enough that it would go very high, but when it reaches chin level, push down hard on the kettlebell to stop its upward momentum and force it down faster than gravity alone). Don't use the heaviest kettlebell you  can manage, go for snap and power.
4-6 kicks. I'll get into a fighting stance and throw a lead leg kick, a back leg kick, then switch stances and repeat. I'll do the same kick. Front, round, knee, side. I will do spinning kicks, again a total of 4. If you have a heavy bag, hit it.
4-8 punch combinations. I often do these with a 1 lb dumbell (do NOT use a very heavy dumbbell, it reduces the transferability of the exercise to regular punches). Make them snappy. If you have a heavy bag, hit it.
Stance work. I'll step forward in front stance 2-4 steps.
Any 2-4 counts from any kata. Be reasonable - counts that include long slow portions are not suitable for this.
Pushups done FAST. I'll do 5-10 pushups.

What should the sequence of pulses look like?

The goal in sequencing exercise is to avoid local fatigue. In other words, you do NOT want the same muscles worked over and over again, at least not as the primary movers (yes, your core will be engaged in almost every set, but you're not focusing on it in every set).
I alternate punch sequences and kick sequences. And yes, the punch sequence does involve the lower body, but it's not heavily fatiguing on the lower body.

What should my rest look like?

Between sets you should move around but at VERY low intensity. In other words, walk slowly around your workout area; do NOT lie down but do not force your pace. Continue to breath nasally.

What is the purpose of PIT?

HIIT is lovely, but it is highly lactic. If you watch someone performing that kind of training their movements quickly become slow and relatively unexplosive.
As martial artists, our goal should be to be as fast an explosive as possible. By doing a small number of repetitions with plenty of rest you can keep the quality high and train those physical qualities
By sticking to nasal breathing we are doing our best to maintain in a zone of intensity where we're primarily working the aerobic system. There are many good reasons for that which I won't address in this post. Short answer is that once you're past your anaerobic threshold motor learning and speed development go down.
You don't NEED a timer to do a few techniques, rest, then do some more. I'm sure many people could self regulate their intensity (by staying on the edge of how hard they can work using nasal breathing). However, using a timer makes it easier to gauge progress over time and makes it harder to accidentally drop too low in intensity.

Give PIT training a try and see if you don't see quick progress in  your martial arts skills.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Karate and Clovid-19

I haven't posted much in a while; been working on some things where I don't have them figured out enough to write them out. Hopefully I'll have a bunch to write at some point soon.

In the meantime, about this Clovid-19 thing.

Here are a couple of things to remember that are specific to karate practitioners (washing hands, social distancing, and other advice is great, but applies to everybody):

To protect yourself:
1. Don't attend martial arts classes. Sorry!
2. Very intense, exhausting exercise depresses your immune system. Long term, you'll probably be healthier if you work very hard some of the time, but in the short term, you'll have reduced immunity. So, don't exercise very hard, or only do so if you're in a semi-quarantine situation. Don't worry, this will blow over eventually and you can get back to your 'wish I were dead' style workouts.

To protect others:
1. Don't attend martial arts classes. Sorry! You might be infected right now, even if you're asymptomatic. You won't spread the disease if you aren't breathing on anybody.
2. Feel free to watch/make/share videos, train remotely, read books, and work out on  your own to maintain your martial arts practice.

Here's the thing: Clovid-19 is not end of civilization bad, but it could be very, very bad. If you want details, you shouldn't be reading my blog, read something written by medical professionals.

Here's my workout plan for those of you at home:

The Official Karate Conditioning Pandemic Training Program

First, warm up. Do some dynamic stretching, mobility work, up to but not past the point where you have a light sweat going.
Set some kind of timer.
Every 30 seconds do a 'set.'
Each set must:
1. Be performed without opening your mouth (breathe through your nose only, for the set and the rest period).
2. Last between 5 and 15 seconds so you have some rest before the next set.
3. Consist of a few basics or exercises. For examples (each set would be only 1 of these choices):

  • 5 Kettlebell swings.
  • 12 blocks - 3 each upper, outside middle, inside middle, lower, performed at full speed/intensity.
  • 4-6 kicks - say, lead leg front kick/bag leg front kick; switch stance; repeat.
  • 5-15 pushups with variety - knuckles, fingertips, etc.
  • 2-4 lunges, bodyweight only.
  • Punching combination with very light (1 lb) dumbells. Jab, straight, hook, uppercut; switch, repeat is a good example.
  • Any 2-4 movements out of your kata (any kata, any counts). Do them full speed and full intensity.

4. Make the 'sets' harder or easier depending on  your fitness level. If you feel like you're barely working, make them harder (do 6 kicks instead of 4, more pushups, etc).  If you feel like you're having a hard time breathing and need to open  your mouth, do easier sets (3 pushups, 2 punches, etc.).
5. Go for as little as 10 minutes to as much as an hour.

Breathing through your nose will prevent you from working at a high enough intensity to compromise your immunity. You'll also prevent fatigue and thus improve your skill development.

Osu! Stay safe!

Friday, September 27, 2019

On Fandom: Little Men in Sumo

I think a lot about the philosophy or psychology of fandom in fight sport - as in, I think about questions like which fighters should we be fans of, and why we follow certain fighters.

Sumo is a very interesting combat sport for many reasons, but one big oddity is that it doesn't have weight classes. There is simply sumo, and if you're not very big, then you don't get to compete against other little guys, you have to find a way to compete with much larger opponents if you want to be a professional rikishi.

Also, unlike some other sports, mass is a HUGE advantage in sumo, to the point where it's one of the few sports where being obese is almost a requirement for success. The top ranks are dominated by very, very large men, and a big part of the sport is eating and living in a way to support huge bodies.

Yet there are usually a couple of much smaller (smaller being relative here - they're all still over 200 lb) guys in the upper division. They manage to compete by utilizing their assets - usually incredible agility and balance - and using moves that other rikishi can't keep up with. It's not a great strategy - if it were, there would be lots of guys doing it - but some competitors manage to pull it off for a while.

If you want current examples of competitive little guys, the best is Enho, but recently we saw Ura doing quite well (he's hurt, but if he gets healthy again he's a must-watch), and Ishiura can be great fun though not consistently. Kotoeko is worth a look as well.

Many sumo fans (including me) root hard for those little guys for two reasons, I think. First, we like seeing people overcome tremendous odds to achieve success. We generally like rooting for underdogs. Second, the little guys are almost always putting on exciting matches. They can't just lean on and grind out opponents (because it's physically impossible for them), so they have to try all kinds of exciting, crazy moves to win. And they do.

If you want to watch sumo, the best way has been through Kintamayama's channel, but he's phasing out his posts, so try Natto Sumo. If anything, Natto Sumo's coverage has advantages, because he puts up lots of graphics showing information about the recent history of each rikishi (so you can easily see who is on a slide, how long they've been competing, etc.).

Keep your sadness hedge alive, though. The likelihood of an Enho or an Ishiura ever dominating the sport is very, very small. If you want to root for a winner, you'll have to learn to appreciate some of the bigger guys as well. If you want suggestions, I can't get enough Takakeisho or Hokutofuji (though Takakeisho was injured at the end of the last basho, and we have yet to know if he'll ever be the same again).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Handstand Training for Martial Arts

Don't do handstand training for martial arts.

There, I saved you tons of time and energy!

I regularly see advice given to martial artists along the lines of, "you should train in gymnastics," "you should do Olympic lifting," "you should jog several miles a day," and so on. Not all of these are bad ideas, but it's important to understand something about exactly how much these practices will help your martial arts.

A handstand is a highly unlikely position for you to be in while doing martial arts. I have never seen anybody hold a handstand in a fight of any kind - free sparring, UFC, kickboxing, or boxing. Which doesn't mean it could never happen, but it's so unlikely that it's not worth training for. Strength is position specific (as well as speed specific) and there's nothing in karate that's very much like holding a handstand.

Handstand training will not carry over well to your karate, so any time and energy you spend on handstand training is unlikely to improve your karate. And since time and energy are finite resources, it will possibly detract from your karate (by keeping you from doing more karate practice).

Please notice that I'm not saying you shouldn't train handstands. I'm saying you shouldn't train handstands for martial arts.  BUT you may WANT to do handstand training. Maybe you think doing handstands is cool. Maybe you're bored with martial arts and want to spend some training time on non-martial arts activities to give yourself a mental break. Maybe some person you're attracted to thinks people who can do handstands are super hot.

These are all great reasons to do handstand training. There's nothing wrong with mastering a skill (assuming it isn't inherently dangerous, which handstands aren't).

Handstand training will develop your overhead pressing strength, which is good and useful. But it would be more efficient (unless you can already do handstands) to just do some dumbbell or kettlebell overhead pressing than to take up a handstand training routine if that's your only goal.

Whenever you add supplemental training to your martial arts practice, you should be clear on WHY you're doing it, so you can figure out whether or not it's a good idea. If you are doing curls at the end of your workout because you want bigger arms, great. If you're doing it to improve your punching power... that's not going to work. If you like to run triathlons, great. If you think training for them will make you tireless in sparring, that's not going to work (unless your aerobic base is really bad).

Knowing WHY you're doing any of the parts of your workout will ultimately make you better at reaching your goals, whatever those goals are.