Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Morning Music: Odd little techno bands

I recently stumbled onto a pair of bands: Son of Rust and VnV Nation. I mention them together because there's a certain musical similarity - though they're not identical by any stretch of the imagination - and because I found them both in the same way: searching random words or phrases on i-Tunes. And, of course, because having found one song (each) that I really liked, I felt compelled to investigate further, and then to buy more of their music.

Both bands feature some wonderful dark imagery, striking lyrics, and (of course) the musical skill to really drive it home. If you aren't already acquainted with them, I'd recommend that you check them out. (The first song I found from Son of Rust was "Strange". The song that hooked me on VnV nation was "Nemesis". In both cases, I had put that particular word into the i-Tunes search bar and was just browsing through the results.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Staff Meeting

On Saturday I started a seminar on the Yin Shou Gun ("Yin Hand Staff") form. The name refers to the fact that both hands use a palm-down grip throughout most of the form. (I was going to link to a video, but the ones I'm finding don't look much like what we were doing. They're very pretty. We're not doing 'pretty'.)

The class is over at the Fort Worth school, which is a bit a of a drive, but it's only once a week so it's manageable. That also gives me a whole week to forget what we went over in the previous class, but in this case I have a small advantage - I've done this form before, or one very like it. Visiting the Fort Worth school was like Deja Vu all over again.

We did a few sequences to get started (and to get a feel for how this particular form works), and I wound up working with one of the Wing Chun students. (I studied Northern Praying Mantis, back when I was formally a student there.) This was interesting to watch, as some of the stepping that I consider basic to mid-level material apparently doesn't exist in Wing Chun at all.

Prior to Saturday, I had been seriously considering taking up Wing Chun. It's a much smaller martial art than Mantis - less to learn, fewer forms to memorize - which would be good, given that I don't have all that much time to devote to it. It also works at very close range, which means you can practice it in relatively small spaces. (Mantis, by contrast, is best done in a gymnasium or outdoors.) Unfortunately, since my main interest is weapons, and the stepping for most weapons is very different from the way Wing Chun sets up, Wing Chun is out.

That leaves four possibilities, from the original list. In no particular order:
  1. Aikido - $100/month, good exercise, staff/sword/knife, workable schedule.
  2. Pekiti-Tirsia Kali - $100/month, stick/knife, inconvenient schedule.
  3. Kumdo - Prob. $100/month, excellent exercise, all swords all the time, inconvenient schedule.
  4. Mantis - $50/month, weapons in weekend seminars only, convenient schedule.

Bugger. When I write it out this way, it's almost a toss-up. I guess I should confirm the cost on the kumdo, but... I dunno. We'll see.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today's Made-Up Word is...

As part of my ongoing efforts to help improve the state of education in America, I will occasionally use this blog to introduce words with which the average reader may not be familiar. In fact, I can pretty well guarantee that my readers won't know them already, since I'll be making them up as a go along. No, no - no need to thank me. It's all for the Greater Good. Today's word is:

Efeffiny: The sudden, overwhelming realization that you've just "F-ed" something up; an extremely unpleasant epiphany. Example One: "I had my efeffiny right after I formatted the hard drive." Example Two: "As I was climbing down from the bar stool, I had an efeffiny: eight shots in a row was a bad, bad idea."

Feel free to add your own examples in the comments.

(This was actually a direct result of mishearing a friend of mine. He was talking about FF&E - Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment - on one of our local construction projects; the sentence was something like, "Yeah, we're about to the FF&E." Given the way this particular project has gone, my inference wasn't entirely unwarranted.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Marriage is what brings us together, today...

In discussing one of my wife's friends - and, in particular, the love life of said friend - I observed this woman is capable of taking a tiny seed of drama and cultivating it until it becomes a giant drama bush that threatens to overwhelm yard and home alike. (I'm not sure what the botanical specifications of drama bushes might look like, but I suspect there's a marked resemblance to kudzu.)

Later, in a related conversation, I observed that I was extremely happy that my wife and I keep most of our drama out of our marriage. Drama is, by its nature, unstable and prone to collapse, and thus a poor building material for a lifelong commitment. Marriage should instead be the bedrock, the solid foundation upon which towering edifices of drama are built.

This will probably prove relevant to someone, somewhere, under some exceedingly strange circumstances.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday Morning Music: Appalling Covers

These are all songs which A) were originally composed by other artists, and B) have been.. re-envisioned... in ways that strike me as really funny.

Baby Got Back - Jonathan Coulton
Holding Out For A Hero - Frou Frou
Ice Ice Baby - Richard Cheese
Iron Man - The Cardigans
Let's Do It - Joan Jett & Paul Westerberg
The Metro - System of a Down
Need You Tonight - Gilli Moon
Ring of Fire - The Texas Gypsies
Rock Me Amadeus - Sturmgeist
Seasons in the Sun - Too Much Joy
Stairway to Heaven - Brave Combo & Tiny Tim

Feel free to leave your own recommendations and suggestions in the comments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

About September 11th

I don't think there's any way I can write this without insulting anyone. I don't know; we'll see. But another anniversary of September 11th has rolled around, and several people have been moved to comment on it, and that's led me to re-inspect my feelings about the event. And what I find...

I don't think it should be a holiday. I don't think the attacks on the twin towers should be commemorated - not this way. A monument at the site, fine. A tribute to the dead, sure. But yearly memorial services? No. Let it go. Let's move on.

I've hear people talk about September 11, 2001 as The Day Everything Changed. I still hear people say things like that. And I just don't buy it. Not only does it not seem that way to me, it didn't even seem that way to me at the time.

I came into work, and they had the TV on in the server room. Somebody - I think it was the CIO - told me that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. While I was making my tea, another plane flew into the second tower. I thought, Well, that settles one thing. It wasn't an accident. And then I went back and sat down at my desk. I may have been the only person in the building - possibly the only person in the United States - who wasn't all that surprised.

The thing is, I'd been reading for years - at least as long ago as the early eighties - that this was the way warfare was headed. Not big armies and big machines on the field of battle, but small groups or even individuals operating semi-independently. Yes, I pulled up news reports to get more information; but I wasn't particularly scared.

What I really remember is Bush's address in response to it. It was good speech; it hit all the right notes. We would not be cowed. We would find the ones who did this and make sure they couldn't do it again; and we would do it right, without making new enemies and with a real effort not to harm the innocent.

And if we'd actually done that, things might be very different now.

I don't want to dismiss the tragedy. Nearly three thousand people died, all told, and in a fairly hideous and spectacular manner. Count in the friends and families of the deceased, and you have a monstrous amount of pain and suffering. I don't want to sound like that doesn't matter - it does - but, well... in 2008, 37,261 people lost their lives in traffic accidents here in the U.S.A. In 2007, it was 41,259. (Source) I don't think their pain and suffering - or the effect on their families and friends - was any less than it was for the victims of the September 11 attacks. But since they weren't killed by terrorists, the world at large pays them very little attention.

I suppose what I'm trying to argue for, here, is some perspective. The world didn't change; it's always been like this. The whole goal of terrorism is to scare people. As a result, it seems to me that the best response is not to memorialize our fear and grief, but to move past it and make the world better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Running with the Geeks

Sadly, this is not too far from the truth...

(Courtesy of

My problem is that I simply don't enjoy exercise, and I don't have the discipline to force myself to do it. So in order to get any exercise, I have to find something that I enjoy doing, which just happens to be good exercise. This is how I, as a sword geek, ended up studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (which has exactly nothing to do with swords) for a year and a half.

Now I'm hoping to find something that will let me play with swords, and also happens to be good exercise. Aikido looks like the best option so far; I'd do taijiquan (Tai Chi), but the only school I know which includes a serious emphasis on weapons use is based near Washington, D.C. - so the commute is a bit prohibitive...

Wednesday Morning Music: Ain't through Alive

1. Ain't No Cure For Love - Leonard Cohen
2. Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own - Ella Fitzgerald & Friends
3. Airplane - Indigo Girls
4. Airwaves - Thomas Dolby
5. Alberta Postcard - Trout Fishing In America
6. The Ale is Dear - The Real McKenzies
7. Alice's Restaurant - Arlo Guthrie
8. Alice Everyday - Book of Love
9. Alison - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
10. Alive - Meatloaf

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I've still got it...

I dropped Theron off at my parents' church this morning. My parents were going to be a little late, and they're keeping Theron overnight. Since I wanted to drop the Podling's overnight bag in their car (instead of leaving it in the nursery with Theron), I took the opportunity to look around. This was partly just a way to pass the time, with perhaps a bit of nostalgic curiosity mixed in; I haven't really looked around the inside of that church in twenty years.

When I'd finished looking at the classrooms, I went outside and found my parents' car. I dropped the overnight bag in the passenger seat and locked the car behind me. Then I went across the parking lot, to see what they're doing to the Scout Hut. (It looks like they're putting in some sort of garden.) Then I wandered over to my car, and put my laptop back inside. Finally, I wandered back towards the sanctuary to make sure my parents were safely ensconsed.

In the process, I was accosted by one of the ushers, who wanted to know why I was wandering around the parking lot in a particularly suspicious fashion.

This sort of thing used to happen to me a lot when I still had long hair. It hasn't happened much recently, probably because it's hard to look suspicious when you're hauling a three-year-old around. It's nice to know that I haven't lost my mojo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Martial Arts School

So, my sister-in-law and I have been looking at local Martial Arts schools. We haven't had a lot of time, so we're basically hitting one a week. Results so far have varied from disappointing (good instructor, bad students) to pleasantly surprising (much better than I'd seen that style taught before), to last night's entry... which was interesting.

I'm reluctant to name names, especially on the less impressive schools, so bear with me.

Last night's entry was a small, local Kung Fu school. The instructor offers three sorts of classes: a forms class, a sanshou (free-fighting) class, and Tai Chi. We arrived in time to watch the very end of the forms class, and all of the sanshou class.

The forms class had four students, in the 12-15 age range. The forms had a very Wushu feel to them - flashy stances, wobbly-bladed swords, dramatic movements. (For those unclear on the distinction, Wushu is Communist state-sponsored Kung Fu, and tends to be more of a performance art and less of a fighting style; as part of the performance, it uses thin, flexible blades on any weapons.) This was a little disappointing, as I have no interest in studying swords that aren't actually swords.

The next class was the sanshou class, which was what we'd mainly come to see. I was particularly curious about how one would teach sanshou, as I tend to think of it as something you do as part of learning a style. In this case, the students were a young man (maybe eighteen), and a woman who looked to be in her early twenties. They worked on basic kicks, basic punches, and some stepping, either in the air or targetting pads. When they were targeting each other, they wore oversized boxing gloves. Apparently the sanshou class involves some knee and elbow work as well. This was Kung Fu stripped down to its fighting essentials... which is to say, it was basically just kickboxing. My reaction (which mirrored my sister-in-law's almost perfectly) was essentially, If I wanted this, I'd just study Muay Thai and have done with it.

As I said, it was interesting. The instructor was good - he could demonstrate exactly what he wanted, fast or slow, and his movements were graceful, balanced, and coordinated - but he managed to completely avoid everything that I would actually want to study.

At one point he asked what we'd studied, and we told him that we'd done a little bit of Northen Praying Mantis. (This is known as "hiding your tip". We've actually studied more than a little of it.) This led him to show a little bit of a mantis form, and explain that mantis moves were too flashy for real fighting.

There two problems with this. The first is that the phrase "praying mantis kung fu" doesn't actually tell you that much. Why? Well, first, Northern Praying Mantis is a completely different style from Southern Praying Mantis; aside from the name, there's no connection between them. Second, Northern Praying Mantis has several different branches, which do things differently - sometimes very differently. To further confuse the issue, at one point there was an effort to preserve and consolidate all styles of kung fu. As a result, there is now a mantis form in what is usually taught as "Shaolin Kung Fu".

I believe this last is what the fellow last night was thinking about. Because of its history, that form focuses on the distinctively mantis movements, and - if taught as part of wushu - actually will be more of a showy, display style. But that's the mantis form, not actual Mantis Kung Fu.

So that's the first problem: he didn't know what we were talking about.

The second problem is this: if someone comes to your school with prior training in another style, don't dis that style. First of all, even if you're familiar with the style, you don't know how they were taught. I've seen some good styles taught very poorly, and I've met some very formidable practitioners of styles that I would otherwise dismiss. You never know. Second, if the person liked that style, they're likely to feel insulted when you talk it down - and that's not the reaction you want from a potential student. Third, and most important, it makes you sound insecure about your own style. Again, this is not the impression that you want to make.

Seriously. Don't be that guy.