Woo Hoo!

From a friend in the U.K., the person who introduced me to the word nemophilist, a review of Arise.  Much thanks to Sylva Fae!

You can find her whole blog here.  It’s full of wonderful things.

BTW, the new cover is live and you’d like a copy of Arise, you can get one here.  You can trust Sylva more than me on this one, she’s far less likely to lie than I am.

Cover design © 2015, Eric Lahti.  Background Stock Photo by Pixattitude. ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
Cover design © 2015, Eric Lahti. Background Stock Photo by Pixattitude. ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com

Clean Reader

So, if you haven’t heard of Clean Reader you’re probably not an author and there’s a high chance you’re sane.  It’s an app that removes offensive words from a text so people who can’t handle reality can still enjoy reading.  The backlash among authors was, to say the least, pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately, once a book is out there it’s in the hands of the readers and there are always people who will like the general story and the writing but the occassional use of “fuck” or “shit” or “goddamned mother fucking shit eaters” is just too much for them to bear.

Sure, it smacks of censorship, but it’s really no worse than an edited for TV version of “The Terminator”; clean to be sure, but insipid as all get out.

The app kind of got me wondering; sure, you can remove the offensive words but can you remove the offensive content?  Will reading about about a man’s groin moving into a woman’s buttocks still turn you on?  Strangely, and this may just be because that’s how Americans think, the app apparently did nothing about an axe running through a person’s heart.

Which makes you wonder what’s worse: a little cursing or a lot of killing?  Henchmen doesn’t have an enormous amount of cursing in it but it does have no small amount of violence.  Plus there’s that whole “trying to kill Congress” thing going on.  When you get right down to it, if you want to censor a book to make it more palatable for you by all means, go for it.  I’ll kind of feel sorry for you living in your limited little world, but if that’s how you want to live, that’s how you want to live.  Clean Reader is, after all, self-censorhip and I’m basically okay with that.  If you decide it’s time to start outright censoring a book because you don’t like the contents, then we’ll have an issue.

Until then, if you want a cursing free copy of Henchmen or Arise, you have my blessings.  Just realize that even though you removed the curse words it won’t necessarily make the rest of the story palatable for you.

Kenpo vs Damaged Goods

This is bit of long setup, so bear with me.  Also, I kind of stole the title idea from Adam Oster’s blog, so props to him and a promise I won’t do it again.  It was just too perfect to pass up.

When I was in college I slipped on some ice in Colorado Springs, CO, and folded my left leg under me and landed right on my knee.  Yes, it hurt, but I was in my early twenties and indestructible, so I got up, walked it off and put up with the discomfort until it healed.  I could, and probably should, have gone to the student health services and gotten some advice on it but young and stupid trumped wise course of action.  Over the years, it’s gone in and out of whack from time to time and I usually just put a brace on it and wait for it to heal.

Last week in the kids’ Kenpo class I was trying to get them to understand that you don’t always have the perfect position to strike from, so we worked through punching from a bow stance.

Forward knee bent, holding most of the weight of the body, back leg rigid to keep from being pushed back
Forward knee bent, holding most of the weight of the body, back leg rigid to keep from being pushed back

We also worked on crescent kicks from a horse stance.

Weight evenly distributed, legs loose.
Weight evenly distributed, legs loose.

And striking from a twisted stance.

Stand with a wide stance and twist.  Now try generating some power from here.  You can unwind or rise up.
Stand with a wide stance and twist. Now try generating some power from here. You can unwind or rise up.

One thing all of these have in common is they all require a lot of leg strength and put some serious pressure on your knees.  I’m pretty sure the kids were less than pleased with me, but it was kind of an important lesson to learn.  Amazingly, my legs (which were already sore from running and lifting that morning) held up but my left leg was feeling a bit wobbly.

Flash forward about fifteen minutes and I’m teaching one of the brown belts a black belt technique called Whirling Python (Sorry, can’t find a video on it).  Whirling Python looks like a fairly simple technique but it has one of the hardest kicks in the system to pull off.  The gist of the technique is to deal with an incoming punch by slipping to the opponent’s side and winding up behind their back.  From there, you twist their neck to stress the vertebrae and strike the side of the neck.  That part just requires some speed and dedication.  The next section involves a chicken wheel kick.  You hit the side of your opponent’s right knee with a wheel kick (most people call it a roundhouse, the JKD folks call it a hook kick, we just call it a wheel kick).  This starts to collapse the opponent over to their right side.  Now, jump off your left foot and bring that left kick way up to the opponent’s head and continue the turn.  Do it right and you’ll wind up pulling them down onto the ground.  It’s effectively a throw with a kick and it’s pretty slick when you do it right.

Do it wrong, or have an aleady weak left leg, and the results are less impressive.

I’m pretty sure I pulled every muscle in my left leg.  That was Wednesday.  Now, on Sunday, I can mostly walk again although my leg muscles stiffen up when I sit down and getting up means I need to stretch the muscles back out again.  Rather than just sit on my butt and wait for everything to be fine, I’m working it gently and actually made a trip to the gym this morning to do a little workout on the heavy bag.  Needless to say I didn’t do any kicking, but I found I was having to fight my instincts to kick.  This just left me with punches and elbows.

While I was hitting the bag I was kind of thinking about how this whole debacle could be turned into a lesson.  In some ways it spins off my original lesson of realizing you don’t alway have the perfect position to strike from.  In others it should probably be an object lesson about listening to your body when it tells you to knock this crap off.  So, I guess in some ways, I taught myself an advanced lesson about mobility and striking from bad positions.

Monsters of the Southwest: Skinwalkers

“Grandad always refused to talk about yee naaldlooshii at night.  He said the Skinwalkers could hear their names and would come speeding through the brush to take their vengeance.  ‘Be wary of yee naaldlooshii,’ he would say.  ‘You think you’re tough and safe with your technology, but great Mother Earth will always be stronger than you.’  I always thought he was a tired old fool and his superstitions sickened me.  So we gathered at night in the hogan, lit the fire and told the stories.  We all had a good laugh until I opened the door and found him staring at us with cold, evil eyes.  You could look at him and see both the man and the wolf together.”

No, not the Wolfman
No, not the Wolfman

It actually wasn’t all the uncommon growing up in Farmington to hear people telling stories about Skinwalkers.  We were located right next to the Navajo reservation and little bits of information would pass through the porous membrane that separated the two cultures.  It wasn’t an every day occurrence by any stretch of the imagination, but as kids we like to talk about monsters; especially when we were safe and sound in the middle of the city.  Bright lights have a way of washing away the mysticisms and worries.  Get out of town, especially toward or on the reservation, at night and the world was a completely different place.  Suddenly that fun time in the boonies got a wee bit scarier and the skinwalker legend looked frightfully real.  I never saw one, but I can see how you could imagine all kinds of things in the dark, flat expanses of Northwestern New Mexico.  Places like that at night let you see all kinds of things lurking in the darkness and it’s probably one of the reasons UFO sightings are pretty common in the area.

Like most of the monsters I’ve covered so far (Coco, La Llorona, El Chupacabra, the Greys), Skinwalkers are very real to the people who live in their hunting grounds and if someone says “Be careful, skinwalkers are out tonight,” it’s quite possible they’re being serious.

To understand the Skinwalkers you need to have some understanding of Navajo religion.  Mine is shaky at best, but should suffice for our purposes.  Yee naaldlooshii, (the Navajo term for Skinwalkers – literally “with it, he goes on all fours”)  are powerful magicians who have turned their backs on the Blessing Way and embraced the Witchery Way.  The Blessing Way, unless you had any doubts, is the way of generally being good.  The Witchery Way is the antithesis of the Blessing Way.  To put it in anglo terms; think of the Jedi and the Sith, although the concepts of the Blessing Way and the Witchery Way predate Star Wars by at least a couple millenia.  When the Navajo refer to the Witchery Way as being evil they’re not joking around.  The Witchery Way revolves around the use of ’áńt’į or corpse powder and it’s use in curses.  Corpse powder is, no kidding, made from corpses and the best corpses to use are from kids, preferably ones you killed yourself.  The corpse powder, when used in a rite and directed at a victim causes the victim to waste away to nothing.  In order for an initiate to finish the journey to the Witchery Way one must perform some truly heinous feat, such as the murder of a close relative, necrophilia, cannibalism, and so on.  Once a person has completed that journey one of the rewards is the ability to transform into an animal.

Skinwalker - Zahadolzhaacute

It used to be that in order to transform, a Skinwalker would have to carry around the pelt of the animal they wished to transform into but this doesn’t seem to be a requirement anymore.  In this day and age it’s sufficient to go through the trivial tasks of murdering your brother and turning your back on all that’s fine and good in the world.

There are various descriptions of Skinwalkers out there ranging from “that rabbit looked at me funny, it must be a Skinwalker,” to “the beast was huge and vaguely man-shaped and it tore apart the village like it was made of tissue paper.”  It’s also said if you lock eyes with a Skinwalker, the Skinwalker will be able to take over your body.  They’re supposedly extremely fast, quick to attack and kill, very tough, and impossible to catch.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re usually powerful magicians as well.

I didn’t make use of the Skinwalkers in either Henchmen or Arise for a couple reasons.  The first is Skinwalkers are native to Northwestern New Mexico and they’re not commonly seen in Albuquerque.  The other reason is Skinwalkers have been written about by much better authors than myself and I doubt I could add anything to the stories Tony Hillerman has already told.  (True story: I met him once at Page One Too back when the place was still open; he was extremely nice.  I hope if I ever get famous I can keep the down-to-Earth feel he had.)

Skinwalker - 6518532_orig

They may not have the wide-spread popularity of creatures like Coco (or the Greys), but Skinwalkers are well known and feared in parts of New Mexico.

Stats:

Size: Varies according to chosen form

Speed: Crazy fast

Attack: Can vary according to chosen animal; corpse powder; black magic

Special Abilities: Can change into an animal, kill you from afar with black magic

Armor: Probably none

Environment: Navajo reservation, Northwestern New Mexico

Alignment: Definitely evil

Redesign

Okay, so it should probably be titled re-re-re-re-redesign, at least in the case of Henchmen, but I decided to redo the covers for both Henchmen and Arise.  I liked the old covers, but they weren’t really catching anyone’s eye and didn’t really give you much of an indication of what the books were actually like.  So, with the help of the fine folks in the Indie Review Exchange Group on Facebook, I rebuilt both covers.  They’re not updated on Amazon yet, but I’ll get them up there pretty soon.

So, without further ado, enjoy some redesigns.

Cover design © 2015, Eric Lahti.  Background Stock Photo by Pixattitude. ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
Cover design © 2015, Eric Lahti. Background Stock Photo by Pixattitude. ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
© 2015, Eric Lahti Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
© 2015, Eric Lahti
Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com

Shove Off

It’s been a while since I’ve talked martial arts on here and it’s high time I try to be a bit more regular about it.

I recently got hold of a copy of Gershon Keren’s Krav Maga: Real World Solutions to Real World Violence and have been reading it when I’m not busy reading books for the Indie Author Review Group or writing my own stuff.  Amazingly, that still leaves plenty of time in the day to glance through and pick up a new idea or two here and there.  Now, I don’t know Krav Maga at all, but I find it a fascinating study in simplification and generally meeting fire with fire.  To the best of my knowledge no one in Albuquerque is teaching it so I’m picking up bits whereever I can and fusing them with Kenpo.  Both systems are pretty practical and all martial arts share a lot with each other, so the fusion isn’t too hard to accomplish.

Every Wednesday, or almost every Wednesday, I’ve been teaching the kid’s Kenpo class.  It’s been an eye opener for me because teaching something requires a much better understanding of it than just learning something.  It’s forced me to examine my assumptions about how and why things work and also let me branch out a bit.  I try to bring in something new every Wednesday, some small bit of arcane knowledge or a different way of looking at things.  For instance, we’ve done exercises where one student will close his or her eyes and another student holding a kicking shield will move around the first student.  When someone calls stop, the student with his or her eyes closed will open up, find the target and strike it.  It’s designed to teach them how to pick up a target when the opponent isn’t directly in front.  We’ve also scattered kicking shields all over the floor and done kata to show that your environment isn’t always as smooth the school floor.

So, back to Krav Maga.  Most of what the Krav Maga folks deal with is fairly practical stuff but things like knife and gun attacks aren’t things most of the kids are going to need to learn to deal with at this point.  At least I hope not.  There was one thing I pulled from Keren’s book, though, that was pretty appropriate for the kids: dealing with a shove.

Mess you up, sucka.
Mess you up, sucka.

The shove is a classic fight starter, it’s a way of pulling off the alpha dog thing and is usually accompanied with a pithy phrase like “I’ll fuck you up.”  Kenpo, like Krav Maga and most other fighting systems, has numerous ways of dealing with a shove and most of those end with the shover on the ground crying.  All of our techniques, though, are predicated on the assumption that the fight is already started and both parties are fully committed to the fight.  Stances are set and both people are primed and ready.

What happens, though, immediately after the shove is important and there are a few ways to go:

  • Shove ’em back
  • Back down and apologize
  • Fully commit and end the threat immediately

Most people choose to shove back, which is really the worst thing you can do in that situation.  Shoving comes down to that alpha dog mentality I was talking about earlier.  It’s a way to exert authority and dominance.  As humans we like to think we’re above all that but we pull that kind of nonsense all the time.  “Accidentally” bumping into someone, getting in someone’s space, pushing your way into an elevator before anyone can get off, yelling, and many other things are just attempts at dominance.  Shoving is just a more physical way of saying “I’m tough but not quite ready to commit to the fight.”

Grrr.  Bark.  Woof.
Grrr. Bark. Woof.

Just in case you think it’s a stupid guy thing, women do it, too.

Wait for the fight, kids.
Wait for the fight, kids.

So why is shoving back such a bad idea?  Two reasons: 1) it ups the ante, forcing the other person’s hand, and 2) it takes away an important tactical advantage.  When someone shoves you the best bet, depending on the situation, is to either walk away or decisively end the fight.  For the kid’s class I emphasized the idea of walking away.  In fact, for the most part, it’s best to just walk away from a fight whever possible, after all it’s always easier to avoid a fight than to win one.  Walking away, apologizing, whatever it takes to defuse the situation costs you nothing but some ego points.  The way I see it, I have a huge amount of ego already so losing some doesn’t really hurt me.

It's all good, bro-dog.  It's all good.
It’s all good, bro-dog. It’s all good.

Interestingly enough, even though picture is supposed to be just a one-off funny, Kramer has actually adopted a good defensive stance.  His hands are up, palms out.  He look innocuous and non threatening.  Look at the position of his hands, though; he’s actually in a position to intercept or block incoming strikes and counter strike if necessary.  This kind of stance is pretty prevalent in the martial arts.  The Krav Maga guys call it the interview stance, other systems have different names for it.  We don’t really have a name for it in Kenpo, we just call it being prepared and non-threatening, but ready if necessary.

Defensive can become offensive in the blink of an eye.  Or a finger in the eye.
Defensive can become offensive in the blink of an eye. Or a finger in the eye.

So, the lesson for Wednesday was basically this: if someone shoves you it’s best to let it go, but get into a position where you can defend yourself if absolutely necessary.  Hopefully the lesson stuck.  I’d hate to see some of the kids getting in trouble at school for fighting.  Although, my son has been hit before at school and hasn’t pummelled anyone into pulp (even though he loves sparring), so maybe the lessons are sinking in.

Next time you get shoved, rather than shoving back or putting on your Ninja face and going to town, you might want to consider just apologizing and walking away.

Ninja Mask!
Ninja Mask!