2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Your moment of cuteness

Next time you’re feeling down, like the world just kicked you in the nuts and massaged your gums with a tire iron.  Every time you think you can’t go on.  Every time you feel like punching out a nun, come back and look at this and revel in the look of satisfaction on this little guy’s face.  Trust me, it’s all good in the hood.


Writing the martial arts

Here’s a couple of terms for you to digest for a moment: jargon and argot.

They both describe a similar concept.  The gist of both definitions is they’re a customized vocabulary used by a subset of the population that have a particular meaning to that subset.  Trade vocabularies, if you will.  The IT world is full of jargon.  I’ve spent entire days subnetting IP addresses or instantiating classes.  A delegate in programming is damn sight different from a delegate in politics.

The key difference between jargon and argot is their intended use.  Jargon is just a customized vocabulary that evolves.  Argot is a custom vocabulary meant to exclude outsiders from understanding the meanings.  I picked up the idea of argot from an Intercultural Comm class I took when I working on my Master’s degree.  Outside of academia, I haven’t heard it used much.  Subnets and classes are perfect examples of jargon.  Lolspeak is a pretty good example of argot.

Interestingly, if you stop and think about it, most jargon eventually evolves into argot, sometimes accidentally sometimes intentionally.  It’s doubtful that Lolspeak was intentionally designed to make it difficult for outsiders to understand since it originated with people texting on phones with limited keyboards, but it’s the closest example I can come up with.

The martial arts world is no different.  We have terms that we use that aren’t even necessarily interchangeable between systems.  A wheel kick in Kenpo is a hook kick in Jeet Kun Do and a roundhouse kick in Muay Thai.  There are, to be sure, subtle differences in how those kicks are executed between various systems but the basic concept of a kick that hits from the side remains the same.

So then, and this is where the writing part comes in.  Most people in the world are not versed in martial arts terms and even those of us who grew up on Kung Fu Theater might have some problems interpreting the various nuances.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

This was one of the problems I found when I was writing Henchmen.  It’s got a fair amount of martial arts in it because you’re supposed to write what you know (I know Kenpo) but I wanted to make it understandable.  Whether or not I was successful is open to interpretation, but it did force me to think about how I described things.  In my Kenpo school I can say “Darkness” and everyone who has learned that technique can do it.  Perfect example of argot.

So, let’s break it down and see if we can take a somewhat common Kenpo technique and make it work in a fiction environment.  I chose Thundering Hammers, largely because it’s an easy enough technique to understand but has just enough built in argot to make it a little weird.  It’s also one of the few Kenpo techniques that most schools seem to use to some degree or another.

As a side note, and this is just a personal defense thing: the hammer fist is a very effective tool for striking without worrying about things like breaking your fist.

About to get more than the purple purse he bargained for.  A hammer fist to the temple is an effective and safe strike.

That purse doesn’t even go with his outfit.

We’ll start with a technical description (essentially my own notes from I learned it for my green belt, lo those many years ago).

Thundering Hammers: Green belt chart

Attack: The opponent is attacking with a right punch, right foot lead, stepping in and punching at the same time.

Defense: As we step forward into the attack move slightly to the left to slip past the incoming punch and execute left inward block to deflect the opponent’s fist.  This should place us nearly hip to hip with the attacker.  From this position, execute a right rising hammer fist using the top of the fist to strike the opponent’s groin.  It’s imperative that this strike be powerful; drive it with legs and hips.    Expectation: this will stop the attacker’s forward movement and cause him/her to collapse at the knees and start to bend forward at the waist.  From here, the right foot slides back and to the left as we adjust our position to continue the attack.  Execute a downward hammer fist with our right hand to the opponent’s clavicle, furthering their bend at the knees.  The left hand now executes a left downward hammer fist to the kidney.  This should pull the opponent’s head back up slightly.  The left foot now steps back and slightly to the right to prepare our position for next strike.  The right hand executes a back knuckle to the back of the opponent’s head, forcing their head toward the ground.  Before the opponent can fall, the right hand executes an upward palm strike to the opponent’s face.  Target is the probably the nose or some other soft target.  The right hand now forms a claw.  The left foot shuffles back slightly and as we move backward we use our momentum to pull the opponent – using the claw hand – forward and further off balance.

End result: If all goes well, the opponent will be incapacitated and face down on the ground.

Further responses: It’s technically possible to kick the opponent in the head, but it would probably be overkill.  Cover out and escape.

Yee haw.  That’s some excitement right there.  For a bit more of a visual example, check this Youtube video.  AKKA’s Thundering Hammers is slightly different, but this is close enough for jazz and government work.  The video gives a pretty good example of body positioning and where the strikes will land, even if it’s not spot on with what we teach.

So, now you’ve got the technical description of the technique and a basic understanding of what to expect.  From a pure learning perspective, you’re probably ready to practice on a partner.  Don’t try it immediately on an opponent, it’s nigh impossible to learn something to that level from a video a text description.

Still, it’s not exactly what I’d call compelling writing.  We need dynamism if we’re going to have some action and adventure here, so let’s try to put it into fiction:

A cold rage burned in Chan’s mind.  With every taunt Rory threw at him, Chan’s desire to hurt the other man grew.  The fight had gone on too long, he’d spent too much time in snake mode, playing with his food and picking at Rory’s weaknesses.  It was time to unleash the monkey.

Rory’s smirking face was an example of everything that was wrong with this place; all the lies, all the pain, all the death.  Chan longed to charge forward, but the monkey was patient.  Wait, it whispered, wait for him to come to you.  Fight where you want to fight, not where he wants to fight.

Time slowed as a deadly calm rolled over Chan.  A slight twitch from Rory telegraphed the fast right hand.  The man was going to step in and strike, covering the distance and smashing Chan’s face in one neat move.  Chan steps slightly to the left, slipping the attack, and put up a right hand to block.  As he stopped next to Rory, Chan’s fist shot forward from his waist straight into the man’s groin.  The man in black howled a scream of pain familiar to everyone that’s had his testicles smashed.

They wind up right next to each other, shoulder to sagging shoulder.  The monkey begged Chan to press on, to finish the fight once and for all.  A simple movement of his right foot changes his position as the master raised a fist ready to beat down the beast.  Chan’s deep southern growl echoed the names of everyone Rory had hurt in his mad quest for power over this realm.

“Amanda,” he snarled as his right hand hammered Rory’s clavicle.  Rory’s body drooped forward.

“Nelson,” Chan growled as his left hand slammed into Rory’s kidney.  The other man’s back straightened from the pain.

“Kevin!” Chan yelled and slammed the back of his fist into the back of the beast’s head.  As Rory’s face hastened to meet the floor, Chan decided it wasn’t done yet.  His hand, still moving after smashing Rory’s head kept moving down before suddenly changing direction and opening.  Chan’s palm slammed into Rory’s nose.

Rory collapsed, Chan’s hand on his shattered nose the only thing holding him upright.  With one final bit of rage, Chan’s fingers closed into a claw.  “Alyssa,” he growled.  Chan stepped back and pulled on Rory’s face.  His strong fingers ripped canals into the other man’s face as he pulled him forward by the face.

There was blood under Chan’s finger nails as he watched the Beast of Aluna fall face-forward into the ground.  Not ready to be fooled again, Chan stepped back, ready to continue pummeling the man if he so much as moved.  Rory’s head bounced once on the hot pavement before the man lay prone and still.

Okay, so it’s a rough draft, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a hell of lot more interesting than the technical description.  Hopefully, it’s easy enough to understand, too.

Now, just so we don’t wind up taking ourselves too seriously, let’s hear Master Ken’s (another Albuquerque guy!) take on Kenpo.

Tiger claw!

Tiger claw!

Take it away, Master Ken.

Happy Holidays


You can totally be naughty if you want to. I bet you could take that guy.

However you choose to celebrate them, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Festivus, worshiping Bob, Hailing Satan (or satin – totally your choice), fighting evil with plastic lightsabers, or blasting across the Utah Salt Flats in a jet powered monkey navigated Lamborghini (my choice), have a great holiday. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

Createspace and Gutenberg

I’m sure at this point everyone knows about Johannes Gutenberg.  If you missed out on Gutenberg, go check him out, he was an interesting guy.  We’ll still be here when you get back.

Also responsible for first pictures where eyes follow you everywhere.

Also responsible for first pictures where eyes follow you everywhere.

Movable type printing presses revolutionized the world in the 1400s.  Prior to printing presses books were hand written, usually by monks or others who had all the free time in the world to write a book – and usually illustrate it – with a quill pen and some ink.  Needless to say this was something of a tedious process and it wasn’t uncommon for books to take decades to write.  Sure, they were absolutely gorgeous when they were done, but imagine waiting 20 years for the next Charles Stross novel.  Hopefully it wouldn’t land with a thud like the last Star Wars movies did.  And even when it came out there would be precisely one copy of it.  Ever.  Unless you could find a monk or someone willing to copy it, which could also take decades.

So, along comes the printing press and suddenly it takes a whack of time to set up a book because you’ve got to custom make the plates but you can crank out a ton of copies in a short amount of time.

Groovy, man.

Now, imagine moving from this world into the movable type printing press world.  Mass communication just became a reality and it was a serious thorn in the side of both political and religious leaders.  It made information easier to come by and made it a damned site harder to hide secrets.

In its own way, mass communication was a weapon more powerful than anything that had ever come before.  Movable type printing presses allowed the first mass production and dissemination of information.  Things like this allowed the Renaissance to happen, kick started the scientific revolution, and wrested information from the iron grip of the literate elite of the time.  Writing made information portable, printing presses made it affordable.  And that right there is a powerful weapon.

Information is still a weapon, and an amazing one at that.  To paraphrase Spider Jerusalem, with the right information in the right place you can blow the kneecaps off the world.  And you can do it with a single shot.  Wars are won and lost on information.  Kings fall because of information.  Lies are opened wide to the world instead of lurking in the shadows.  Information, as they saying goes, is power and printing presses redistributed power.

At the time Gutenberg was working with movable type the presses were expensive and cantankerous beasts.  It took some know-how and a lot of money, but you could put out a flier that not only said the king was a big doody head, but had proof.  You could publish novels and stories and all sorts of information that kings and priests would have preferred stay hidden.  It wasn’t easy, but you could do it without spending a lifetime writing it by hand.  Information could be more timely; maybe the king was a big doody-head at this moment in time, but he was okay at others.  By hand you could spend months or years writing up a diatribe about the king only to find when they were done that the king had been whacked and replaced with someone completely different.

You just look foolish showing up with fliers decrying the previous king.  Especially if the new one actually turns out to be a decent guy (or gal).

Things stayed like that for a very, very long time, at least until mimeograph machines and later Xerox taught us a few new tricks and became economically viable to print up a slew of flyers about your missing cat or candlelight vigils for dead rock stars.


Not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens.

For the professional set, though, the printing press was still king and even in the late 80s (when I started doing page layout), you still had to know a thing or two about design and the rules of printing.  My first page layout was done on huge sheets of grid paper with a large ruler and a pencil.  I didn’t get to work with actual desktop publishing software until I was in college.

Again, things stayed like this for while.  You could photocopy some stuff or you could do it right and take the time to put things together and send it to a printer.  If you want to send something to a printer you found out quickly that printing was fantastically expensive.  $20k-$30k for the first book off the press.  The rest of them cost less than a dollar, but that first one was a doozy.  And, no, you can’t skip printing the first book.  Trust me, I tried.

Into this milieu drops a little thing called the World Wide Web, a subset of the Internet.  Most people think the web is the Internet, but it’s only a small portion of the whole Internet.  HTML and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol were relatively easy to use and let anyone put together something that looked – well, pretty godawful if I remember the early days of the web correctly.

HTML gave rise to a slew of publishing technologies including ebooks.  Amazon spearheaded the indie author revolution with the Kindle and self-publishing became a thing.  Now everyone, including me, has written a book (or several).  Some of these are books that never would have seen the light of day under the traditional printing press model.  Printing was still hugely expensive and publishers were wary of publishing anything they didn’t think would sell well.  Can you imagine anyone ever printing Bigfoot erotica?  No way in Hell, right?  Yet, someone self-published it and it became a huge thing for a while.

I have no idea what bigfoot erotica looks like, so here's a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.

I have no idea what Bigfoot erotica looks like, so here’s a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.

Actually, when you get right down to it, the Kindle was a god-send for erotica authors.  Now you could be reading Bigfoot porn on the train ride to work and no one would ever be any the wiser.

There is a problem with digital printing, though.  The initial cost barrier, much like using a printing press, ain’t free.  You need a Kindle or a Kobo or an iPad or something similar to read these books.  If you lose power or network connectivity you’re boned.  This brings me to Createspace and on-demand printing.

Back in the day, some relative of mine (a great-grandfather, I believe) wanted to write a book.  He sat down, wrote that bad boy and found no one was interested in publishing a book about his dog.  So he did what any red-blooded American would do.  He payed to have it printed.  I still have a copy around here somewhere.

It was called vanity publishing at the time and it was hugely expensive.  That and you had to buy a lot of copies, which meant you just dropped a wad of cash on a bunch of books that you wrote and you still had no guarantee anyone else would want to read them.

On-demand printing is, in my opinion, a truly amazing technological marvel.  Forget ebooks, that’s just pushing electrons around.  I’ve seen on-demand printers and they’re incredibly cool.  Think about a large box, not entirely unlike an advanced copier.  Paper and instructions go in one end and a book comes out the other.

Chug chug chug ping!

Chug chug chug ping!

I hear Amazon has a couple of these things lying around somewhere.  Think of it as a World Wide Web in a box.  Gutenberg, after you peeled him off the ceiling and stopped his ranting about the demons controlling the magic box, would probably have loved these things.  The print on demand printer has finally done something Johannes set out to do back in the 1400s: made printing truly flexible and within the capabilities of the average person.  The input is relatively easy to do and the output looks pretty damned amazing.

I can see why traditional publishers would be leery of these things.  Now, after six hundred years of innovation, it’s easy to make a printed book.  Anyone can do it, Createspace lets you do it for free and even gives you royalties.  IngramSpark lets you do it for a minimal cost and even gives you royalties.  The eBook revolution may have let anyone write and distribute a book over the Internet, but eBooks are limited to digital distribution.  Print on demand technology will let you, with a minimal amount of work (Henchmen and Arise took less than a day to format) print an actual, factual book.  And it doesn’t even have to be a Bible.

And that’s a pretty amazing thing.

Smash, knee, elbow, kick

My son and I spent last weekend at AKKA’s bi-annual (biennial?  Hell, twice a year) Black Belt test weekend.  As always, it’s auspicious affair marked by loud music and rampant goofiness.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a serious component to it, too, but we also get Chinese lion dances and guys pretending to be grumpy Scotsmen.  I also got pestered more than once to test for 3rd Black.  I really don’t see the problem with holding a belt for nine years; so what if my rank is older than some of the kids I teach and if I had kept up my momentum I’d probably be heading for 5th now?

But I digress.

After spending the weekend surrounded by Kenpo I hopped on Facebook and found this image floating around.


Being the martial arts geek I am I immediately recognized some of the moves.  Steps one through three are almost directly from Defendu and are regularly used in military martial arts.  A headbutt to the underside of someone’s chin is pretty debilitating and I have no doubt that guy would be in a world of hurt as soon as her head impacted his jaw.  Step 4, the knee to the groin, would probably finish him off.  The rest may well be extraneous, but I’m assuming this guy is a potential rapist and he probably deserves what’s coming to him.

At a glance, it looks like a simple set of strikes that anyone can learn in a short amount of time and employ effectively against an attacker.  The devil’s in the details, though, and there are a couple of potential dangerous spots and at least a couple of murky areas.

Now, let me back up a bit and throw out a bit of an explanation.  As you may have surmised, I study Kenpo.  I’ve been at Kenpo for just over fifteen years now (yes, I know I need to test for 3rd, let it go.  I had my reasons), and studying various other arts for 25 years now.  I have a pretty good understanding of what I’m talking about.

Kenpo is an art that emphasizes multiple strikes all over the body, usually to soft targets and we’re not averse to kicking someone when they’re down.  It’s a fight; we aim to win it.  There are certain predictable elements to a fight that can be used.  For instance, if you’re facing someone and knee them in the groin their head will come forward and their knees will buckle.

I think it’s the little predictable things that make me wonder about the picture.  In step 4 she knees him in the groin.  In step five, she’s at his side.  How did that happen?  There’s a step we’re missing here.  The same thing happens in step 6.  Now she’s in front of him again.  After step 6, he should collapse straight to the ground, but in step 7 he’s on his side and she’s beside him.  Steps 8 and 9 seem to show an axe kick, which works like this:


The axe kick goes high up and then smashes the heel down on your opponent.  But the opponent is already on the ground so the axe kick is going to be less effective.  A better solution would be a kick to the back of the head or to move and stomp his ankles.

I guess the bottom line is this: you can’t really learn how to fight from a picture.  There are too many nuances and gotchas that you need some experience to catch.  If you’re really concerned about getting attacked, look around and see if you can find a personal defense class or something like that.  You could embark on a study of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, or whatever, but those are long-term studies.  Someone out there has to have a shorter class: a few weeks, a few nasty tricks.  Most of the people you’ll ever tangle with will back off after a couple strikes and most people will never need to fight a dozen ninjas at once so unless you’re looking for a long-term study, stick to the shorter classes.  If you are looking for long-term study, research schools, attend classes, try it out before you commit yourself to it.

How would I handle the situation in the picture?  If someone were to try to grab me like that I’d keep it simple.  Kick him in the side of the knee and get the hell out of the situation.  If your opponent is close, stick your fingers or thumbs in their eyes.  Be mean in general.