Fighting

I’ve been a student of the martial arts for nearly 25 years now.  Not only does this mean I’ve actively been studying an art, but I’ve also tried to learn about other styles in the process.  There’s a phenomenal amount of varying styles out there running the gamut from the recognized Karate, Wushu, Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga and Hapkido to the more esoteric studies like Drunken Fist.

In 1989 I started in Shodinji Do, a very traditional style of Okinawan Karate.  I managed a Green Belt.  Our classes started out very formal, but a bunch of us broke off from the main classes and started experimenting at the park or wherever we could find space.  During those informal sessions we exchanged other things we had learned.  We had a guy who had studied Muay Thai in California and he taught us some of that wonderful old Thai Kickboxing, a friend of mine had studied Kung Fu and taught me some of what he knew.  I took some Tae Kwon Do at the National Guard armory.  Over the years I picked up bits and pieces of a half dozen different systems.

When I left college I started Kenpo and have largely stayed there ever since.  I did take some time off to study Kenjutsu and Aikido, but ultimately went back to Kenpo due to time constraints and this and that and the other thing.  So far I’m at 2nd Black and will probably continue on.

So, anyway, like I said, I’m something of a student of the martial arts.  I love learning about the ways different systems approach a problem.  Krav Maga trends toward simple, effective techniques and emphasizes techniques that can be done under pressure.  Kung Fu (which should really be referred to as Wushu and actually encompasses dozens of different systems, but that’s another post) tend to emphasize soft-style, but not always.  Judo, Jiu Jitsu and, to a lesser extent, Aikido focus on turning an opponent into a pretzel or simple chucking him or her across the room.  Tae Kwon Do practitioners can kick like no one else.

The important thing to remember about all these styles is that none of them evolved in a vacuum and, if you dig in deep enough, you’ll find each one was founded on a simple principle of surviving a fight.  Some may have trended toward ring competition over the years, but they all started with a do or die philosophy and every single one of them was designed as a response to a problem.  Jiu Jitsu, as I understand it, was developed by Samurai who realized striking techniques were ineffectual on armored opponents, but throws were extremely effective.

One of the more arcane studies I’ve come across is a little known, seldom practiced art known as Hojojutsu.

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It would seem that back in the day, before the advent of handcuffs and leg irons, Japanese Samurai (who were functionally the police during their time) needed a mechanism to restrain prisoners.  The restraint had to be secure, but it also had to fit in with Japanese aesthetic.  Presentation is very important in Japanese culture.  Also, since honor is very important in Japanese culture, a restrained individual who had not been found guilty had to be tied without using knots, since a knot would bring dishonor upon someone who had committed no crime.  After you were found guilty, all bets were off and it was possible you could find yourself crucified and set on fire, but before guilt was established no knots were to be used.

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The tying structures were very elaborate and, needless to say, very secure.

Hojojutsu, as a martial art, has kind of fallen out of favor, but there are still schools that teach it and you can occasionally find books on it as well.  As an art, however, Hojojutsu lives on in the form of Shibari, which emphasizes the same elaborate ties, only for more sexual purposes that Hojojutsu ever intended.  Shibari also has no compunction with using knots.

So, there you go. The next time you tie up your partner remember you’re using the artifacts of an esoteric martial art.

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Lovecraft

I’ve always loved the idea of H.P. Lovecraft more than I actually like the man’s writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was hack or anything, and he had some wonderfully despicable ideas about the world and humanity’s place in it, but his writing was so damn tedious to get through.

Take, for instance, “At The Mountains Of Madness.”  This is the story where Lovecraft introduces some of the elder gods like the Elder Things and their servants, the Shoggoth, and gives us a hint that their culture may not have been much different than ours, but that the creatures themselves are anathema to us.  They built this fantastic civilization on the backs of slave labor and when that slave labor rebelled it took the whole damn civilization down with it.

Reading that story was like reading stereo instructions where all the components of the system are labelled things like “the hellish volume controls” or “the blasphemous bass-booster that should never have seen the light of day.”  Part of it, I’m sure, was the writing style at the time when Lovecraft wrote his stories.

Still, the man could tell you in no uncertain terms just how bad his bad guys were.

Like I say, I loved his ideas more than his actual writing.  He’s still considered one of the greats in his genre and his ideas have permeated popular culture to the point that you can purchase Cthulhu slippers, but I wonder how many have actually sat down and tried to get through his tales of the misadventures at Miskatonic University, or the Deep Ones, or the unholy terror that accompanies the ghastly visage of a sleeping god.

Lovecraft’s ideas are fascinating.  In his world, there were various gods and things wandering around, just under the vision of the human psyche.  His gods cared nothing for their followers  and his things ate humans with glee.  They were bad guys with a capital B, and there was absolutely nothing redeeming about them to the humans who had to deal with them.  At best, a human interacting with one of Lovecraft’s creatures wound up just plain old dead, at worst nearly dead and tortured for eternity.  More often than not, his humans would up shattered versions of themselves, the mere sight of the old gods having driven them hopelessly insane.

Charles Stross (a hero mine) has picked up these threads of the Lovecraftian mythos and woven them into a series of books called the Laundry Files that bring that mythology into the modern world and into throw a government analyst at those myths.  The books are incredibly fun, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something to read.

The Laundry Files (along with other works by such luminaries as Richard Kadrey, Richard Paul Russo and, to a lesser extent, Lovecraft himself) influenced Henchmen greatly.  Robertson, the guardian that turns into the giant squid-like thing that’s defending the entrance to the Dreamer’s prison, was pulled from Lovecraftian mythos, stuffed in fake human garb and dropped into place to act as a kind Cerberus.

I love the idea of a world just below the surface where monsters and madness lie.  In fact, I’m going to go find the “Button that shall not be named” on my stereo and push it, just to see what happens.