Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Monday, December 24, 2007

¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!

As we say where I come from.

That would be the good old US of A, the State of New Mexico.

People who go around talking like America is an "English speaking" country really don't know much about our history. I grew up around people who's families had Spanish surnames, who spoke Spanish at home and who's family had been living in New Mexico since before there was a United States.

And of course there is a reason why there are so many Spanish place-names west of the Rockies.

I would hazard that Spanish is as important a language to the history of the US as is English, and more important than German, Italian, Dutch or French (though each plaid important roles in the building of America).

So for those of you not lucky enough to be from the South West, I want to share with you one of my very favorite Christmas traditions, Luminarias.

Usually, on the day of Christmas eve you will see all these brown paper bags lining the streets.

The Plaza at Santa Fe Christmas eve day

It looks like a big work crew just up and left their lunches laying about. But at night......

The candles, which are placed on a pile of sand inside the bags, are lit, and the streets and homes take on this warm glow that is like nothing else I know of.

There is nothing quite like going up in the foothills of the Sangre de Christos and look down on the town of Santa Fe to see it lit up with the glow of the Luminarias.

Or to wander through old town Albuquerque, following the lights to see where they lead you.

So Feliz Navidad Amigos, and remember, either we all belong here or none of us do.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My most popular blog articles ever

I have a bit of code installed on this blog that allows me to see who comes here and what they read.

I do this mostly for the sake of curiosity, and to know what people find interesting. Sometimes what other people find interesting surprises me more than a little.

I started writing this blog in November of 2004, mostly as a method of 'decompression" after being so long outside the US.

I have to admit that I have come to enjoy the exercise.

In the Number Ten slot

I wrote this in reference to the movie "Equilibrium" and its martial art. While the fight choreography in the movie was mostly just for fun, the last fight gave me an idea for working with pistols at trapping range that actually had some merit.

Number Nine

I wrote this just after the bombing attacks in Great Britain. The Times of London actually picked it up and published it. That was the first time I had ever had an article published in a major newspaper, how kewl is that?

number Eight

This is a short story I wrote illustrating the deeper meaning of the Bush presidency.

Number Seven

This contains the guidelines for Silat (with tongue firmly in cheek)

Number Six

This was my way of dealing with a little tin god of a Silat instructor and his stooge. Lots and lots of people have read it since it was published. The Stooge has stabbed Leonardo squarely in the back and both their houses are in disarray. Karma is a wonderful thing.

Number Five

This was just some thoughts on teachers and students, but people seem to like it.

Number Four

This was devoted to keeping yourself healthy while training. It was picked up and published in Circular Strength Training Magazine.

Number Three

This was my opinion on the Martial Arts industry versus the Self Defense industry flame war.

Number Two

This is actually a series of articles on martial arts. It started because there was a thing or two I wanted to say about an event that happened many years ago that somehow managed to get talked about quite a bit. The series grew from there. In some ways I think that this is my best work.

And the single most popular story on my blog
Number One

I have always found it very surprising that this story is so popular. It was just a bit of history I related because of being reminded of the events. It was also the first time anyone every quoted my blog on theirs, when Nietzsche's Wife posted a line from it on her blog. At least twenty people a day are reading it for whatever reason. Go figure. I hope it is helping Jen sell a few CD's

Monday, December 10, 2007

Flat or Edge?

Or "The difference between theory and practice is that in theory, there is no difference".

My friends often send me things that they think I might find informative, or amusing, or that they would like my thoughts on.

I just got a message forwarded to me by a friend from one of the Filipino Martial Arts lists regarding a video clip. He was interested in my opinion of a comment about the clip.

The clip in question was of another friend explaining some points on machete work from a couple of different perspectives.

Here is the clip:

Bobbe does his blade thing

Now before we go on, I should mention that there has been, among the academicians (or perhaps the theologians) of the so called "blade culture" a debate raging for years. One side states that "a true and realistic swordsman will never parry with the edge of his blade, it is just not done, and has never been done by real swordsmen."

The other side of this argument claims "a true and realistic swordsman will never parry with the flat of his blade, it is just not done, and has never been done by real swordsmen."

The argument between these two camps blazes up in the flames of Internet controversy every now and again across the various forums and lists. Names are called, insults are delivered, nothing is solved.

This brings us to the comment in question:

A very good clip. The most revealing piece on this clip was at the very end when the instructor used a blade edge to blade edge deflection as he ducked to his left and set up his counter. The long and short of it all? He's not a realistic blade-man.
You should NEVER go blade edge to blade edge! Flat side for either a forehand or backhand position is fine, but NEVER edge to edge!
Now I don't know this guy. Like all people who have been involved in the Martial arts for more than an hour and a half, there are people who think well of him and people who hate his guts. (what a surprise) but from talking to people who have had contact with him, who's opinions I trust, I understand that he is a competent stick player, Modern Arnis I believe.

What he isn't is anyone who has real knowledge of fighting with a long blade. Please note I did NOT say "sparring" or "training" or "doing drills", I said fighting.

Fighting, as in combat with real blades, with the intent to bring death or grave bodily harm to your opponent, who is trying to do the same to you.

If you are wondering what makes me draw this conclusion, it is this sentence. "He's not a realistic blade-man. You should NEVER go blade edge to blade edge!" Notice that all caps "NEVER"?

Spoken like a true ivory tower academic!

I am going to address this statement from a few different viewpoints.

First from the point of view of a blacksmith.

I have about forty years of experience in the art of shaping iron and steel. In that time I have made hundreds of blades, large and small, and have tested many of them to destruction in order to understand the truth about their properties.

I have also examined literally hundreds of blades used in combat over the years in museums, exhibits and private collections to understand the kinds of stresses that they underwent.

Academic dogmas of the edge versus flat schools aside, this is what empirical study has led me to conclude. (I will be speaking here in terms of swords, being as that gives us the most data on edge to edge and edge to flat contact)

Both being struck on the edge and the flat by the edge of another sword can and will damage a blade and both can cause failure. Of the two, edge to edge contact causes the most damage, and most quickly brings the blade to the point of failure. Every time a notch is made in the edge of a blade it creates a "stress raiser", which is a flaw that concentrates stress in that area. Stress raisers are probably one of the most common reasons for blade failure in combat, at least with a well made, well tempered blade.

When a (long) blade is struck it needs to deform in such a way that the stress of the blow is spread equally throughout the blade, and then be able to return to "true". A stress raiser stops the spread of stress through the blade and causes flaws to develop with each blow to the sword.

A blow to the flat of a blade can also cause stress raisers, but rarely to the extent that an edge to edge strike will. A strike to the flat of a blade with an edge at ninety degrees has the greatest possibility of doing damage.

For an interesting view of what I am talking about, the TV show Myth Busters did a segment on the myth of one sword cutting another in half.

They built a spring powered swing arm, mounted a good sword on it and tried to cut through (break) several different swords cutting edge to flat.

They only managed to break one sword, a cheap katana made fro 440 series stainless steel, which is an abysmally bad steel for swords. All the other swords flexed with the blow and did not break, though a couple took a set.

We can conclude from this that it is preferable to take a blow on the flat of the blade rather than the edge, ideally at an acute or obtuse angle.

That being said, of the swords I have examined which actually saw combat, almost all of them showed edge to edge contact.

This brings me to my second "voice", that of someone who has both been trained to the blade, has fought against people who were trying to kill me with a blade, and has seen real combat with long blades.

Anyone who uses words like "never" and always" in the context of real combat is likely not speaking from actual experience, but only from theory. Theory is great on the mat, but if adhered to rigidly in combat is likely to get you killed.

The other guy is called "The Enemy" for a reason.

He will do everything possible to make sure that you are fighting from a disadvantage. He will try to prevent you from making the perfect parry, he will try to keep you off balance, he will mess up your timing, he will confuse and surprise you. That is the point of the exercise.

Consequently, you may find yourself, from time to time, fighting from an odd position, or just a bit out of time, and, Heaven forfend, you may just have to parry with the edge of your sword.

In other words, "edge happens".

Now as it happens, I have crossed blades with Bobbe a time or two.

Love me or hate me, friend or enemy, I don't think that there is anyone who has spent time with me that would not say that I know a thing or two about blade combat. I don't claim to be the end all, do all of knife work, but I can say I am a survivor, which counts for something in certain circles.

Bobbe is smart, fast, smooth, cunning, treacherous, and has a survivor's instinct to do whatever is needed to go home to his wife, he is in fact everything a "realistic blade-man" is.

The dilettante who presumes to tell us what a realistic blade man will NEVER do is in fact not fit to hold Bobbe's scabbard. What a realistic blade-man (or woman as a matter of fact) does is survive, even if he gets a notch in his blade.

finally, I want to speak from the perspective of the anthropologist.

This is what I have determined, after years studying people who actually fought with blades from Sumer to Europe. A realistic blade-man when fighting in real combat, not some silly dual or the like, did not prefer to take a parry on either the flat or the edge of his sword, he would rather use his shield.

Swords are expensive, often the equivalent to the price of a car, shields are cheap and easily replaceable.

Realistic blade-men from Egypt 2000 BCE to the rice patties of Mindanao prefer to parry with their shield, but will use the flat of their blade, or even the edge if it keeps them alive and sends their enemy off the the after life of their choice.

Just say'n, ya know?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Freedom REQUIRES Religion?!?!?

Here's one of the uglier slippery slopes I have seen in a while

Las night on the news, most of the talking heads were raving about what a kewl speech Willard "Mitt" Romney, pretender to the throne, gave, and how "Kennedy like" it was.

Well, as it happens, I saw Kennedy's speech on his Catholicism when he gave it (on an old black and white, 19" screen TV with rabbet ears), it was one of the things I admired him for.

Romney is NOT Kennedy!

What Romney said, when you strip away the smoke and mirrors, is that there is no room in this country for anyone who is not a Christian.

As he said "Freedom REQUIRES Religion" And he goes on to talk about America in the context of the Christian view of God.

If that ain't downright Orwellian, I don't know what is.

What Romney wants is a theocracy, not a democracy. He wants an America that leaves no room for anyone who does not follow some religious (Christian) dogma, no matter how crazy it is.

It is telling that the President that Romney chose to quote was "His Rotundity", John Adams, who used the Alien and sedition acts for his benefit in a way that Bush would envy, who decreed days of fasting and days of prayer from his desk in the newly built White House as president.

I could only find one voice in the media who was not crying Romney's praises for his speech, that being Keith Olbermann. Take a look at his segment last night on Countdown. It is the only place I saw pointing out the really scary stuff in Romney's speech.

Countdown segment on Romney's speech

Of course all that lip service to religion is a bit questionable when contrasted with Romney's actions and his past. Let's not forget that Romney is the latest in a line of the American political nobility. Both his mother and father were politicians, his father being governor of Michigan, and a presidential candidate. (I could never figure that on out, being as dad Romney was born in Mexico where Grandpa Romney had fled to be able to continue his polygamous marriage).

So how do you find out the truth about a trained political chameleon like Romney? You certainly don't listen to what he says, he no doubt got his skills at dissimulating with his mother's milk.

The answer is to not listen to what he says, but to watch what he does, especially if he is caught off guard.

Take a look at this clip of Romney being asked an inconvenient question by a muscular dystrophy sufferer. Take a look at his body language (there are other longer clips of this confrontation, but I think this one shows enough). Ask yourself "Would Jesus have treated the man this way"? You can disagree with someone and still have empathy for their condition, still connect with them as a human being. Romney seems to have no empathy, just rhetoric.

Romney turns his back on the sick

Personally, that whole conversation creeped me out. It is obvious to me that Romney could give a shit about the guy in the wheelchair and was only interested in getting away. I consider that a perfect example of his "Christian charity".

Interestingly, some others did catch the drift of Romney's real message and did ask the important question "where do us non-Christians fit in Romney's America?" As we see, he is playing it cagey and has no interest in telling us the truth one way or another. Romney Spokesman Won't Say If Atheists Have Place In America .

The thing is, once there is a religious test for what a "true American" is, where is it going to stop? Here we see a bit of what might be in our future. German ministers say Scientology unconstitutional .

Yeah, I know, it's Scientology, a very wacky religion by most standards, They believe in space ships and such. But is that so much more weird than believing that the lost tribes of Israel jumped into boats, sailed across the Atlantic, colonized America, built a vast civilization, had wars, had Jesus show up, then became American Indians, leaving no trace of their having been here physically or genetically? Frankly, Hubbard's fiction is more believable as far as I am concerned.

But with Romney and his ilk in power we will have a religious test, and there is no room for the "unorthodox" according to Romney.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


They're such funny things.

Last evening during the usual after class discussion, one of my students insisted that my use of a word, "drug", was incorrect.

He informed me that "drug" was only appropriate to use for psychotropics such as Xanax or Prozac. (I was using the word in the context of "a substance used to prevent disease).

Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback. I asked him why he thought this correct, and he told me that it was what he was taught in school.

I know that public education has gone down hill since the Republicans got enough power to hurt public education in the hope of privatizing it, but one begins to wonder if there is some sort of Orwellian newspeak going on here.

The funny thing is, my student is quite bright, so there had to be some real information twisting to leave him with that skewed definition.

In case anyone was wondering, here is the etymology of the word, and its definition from Webster.

1327, from O.Fr. drouge, perhaps from M.Du. or M.L.G. droge-vate "dry barrels," with first element mistaken as word for the contents (see dry goods), or because medicines mostly consisted of dried herbs. Application to "narcotics and opiates" is 1883, though association with "poisons" is 1500s. The verb is from 1605. Druggie first recorded 1968. Drug-store is 1810; drug-store cowboy is 1925, Amer.Eng. slang, originally one who dressed like a Westerner but obviously wasn't. To be a drug on or in the market (c.1661) is of doubtful connection and may be a different word, perhaps drag, which was sometimes drug c.1240-1800.

Main Entry: Drug

Middle English drogge
14th century

1 a obsolete : a substance used in dyeing or chemical operations b: a substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication c according to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

(1): a substance recognized in an official pharmacopoeia or formulary

(2): a substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

(3): a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body

(4): a substance intended for use as a component of a medicine but not a device or a component, part, or accessory of a device 2: a commodity that is not salable or for which there is no demand —used in the phrase drug on the market 3: something and often an illegal substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness
— drug·gy also drug·gie Listen to the pronunciation of druggie \ˈdrə-gē\ adjective

Life is strange.