Start Early

We’ve been doing an exercise in Kenpo lately that nicely illustrates something that most people don’t quite understand. Your hands and feet have a fixed range and, unless you’re Plastic Man or Dhalsim, you’re not going to be punch someone if they’re further away than you can extend your arm.

The exercise works like this: find a partner who doesn’t mind getting tapped every now and then. Have him or her take a fighting stance and extend an arm, fingertips out. You do the same thing, but don’t worry about taking a stance. Stand naturally, like you would if you were hanging out at the grocery store or picking up people at the bar. Or disco. You know, whatever floats your goat.

The distance between you two is your kill zone. Even though you’re both out of range of each other, this is the distance that a normal person can cover with a single step. That’s right. At fingertip distance from someone, all it takes is single step and they’re on you like flies on a Taco Bell dumpster. If someone steps into that zone, you’re in danger. But, the really cool thing about it is you’ve got all the time in the world to get out of the way.

Unless you’re a lumbering monster.

Start with something simple. Have your partner step in and try to punch you in the head. All you have to do is step to the side and they’ll go right past you. As your reaction time gets better, start mixing things up. Instead of a punch to the head, try a nice, big roundhouse kick. Instead of just stepping to the side, step out of the way and punch ’em in the noggin. Go back and forth and appreciate the give and take. It seems simple, but it illustrates an important point. What you’re training here is awareness. If you’re looking off the to side or checking your phone, you’re going to get clobbered. If you’re focused and aware, you’re a much harder target.

There are a couple of important takeaways from this exercise. The obvious is paying attention to distance is extremely important. The less obvious one is the question at least one person reading this is thinking right now. That’s not how fights start, right? You’ve got to be closer.

Wrong.

Give this guy a very large kill zone.

All fights start at a longer range that you’d expect. Unless you’re standing right next to someone when they decide you need a beat down, that attacker is going to have to cover some distance to hit you. As soon as someone you don’t know gets within your kill zone, be ready to act. You don’t necessarily have to attack everyone that gets close, but you should be aware of their position and what you can do if they decide to attack. If someone gets too close and you don’t know their motives, move to a better position. That’s what I mean by start early. Before the first punch is thrown, be aware. Watch your surroundings, watch the people around you, and watch anyone who gets into your kill zone.

If we define winning the fight as “getting to go home that night and hug your loved ones instead of spending the night in the E.R.”, then you’ve got a much chance of winning if you’re aware of the world around you. Awareness gives you more time to think, more time to prepare, and – most importantly – more time to avoid the fight altogether. Start early, and you can win the fight before it even begins.

Got any self defense tips? Drop ’em in the comments! I love comments.

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Demolition Man

Back in 1993 the world bore witness to the majesty of Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes trading barbs and beating the shit out of each other. Demolition Man was mostly just a fun popcorn movie, but at its core, there was an interesting look at society as a whole. Now, I won’t delve into the details of the movie – it’s readily available and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re not likely to see it now. And that’s okay; it’s not a movie for everyone, even if Snipes does a wonderful job of playing an overpowered psychopath and Stallone does a surprisingly good job at playing someone who’s completely at sea in a world he doesn’t understand.

Not the poster you’re used to seeing, huh? I scour the edges of the Internet to find interesting things for you.

Interestingly, the basic story of a bad guy and a good guy frozen and reawoken to find violence purged from society was lifted (uncredited, I might add) straight out of István Nemere’s 1986 novel Fight of the Dead. From what I’ve heard, this wasn’t the first time Hollywood filched a plot out of some Eastern European author’s work (Nemere is Hungarian) and used it as their own, nor would it be the last. I’ll let the courts handle that one, although it’s probably only a matter of time before Hollywood writers turn their greedy eyes toward the indie authors knowing full well we don’t have the economic resources to fight them in court.

But that’s neither here nor there and, since to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet, it’s a waste of time to fret about it. I would like to point out to Hollywood that there are a wealth of stories out there that could be bought on the cheap from authors who’d love the exposure. Or they can keep cranking out sub-par remakes of existing properties. Also, my email address is in the contact link. Let’s talk.

And let me just say, “Ole!”

No, the reason I bring up Demolition Man today is because I just watched it again recently and something about it tugged at me. Deep inside its funny, black heart lies an interesting question: at what point can we say that a society that is functional for most needs to go? This is a question I’ve been grappling with in a book I’ve been writing off and on for a couple years now (dysRUPT, if you must know). The general gist of the story is society has become so enamored with safety, that it’s now illegal to do anything unsafe. There are rippling effects of this philosophy through the fabric of society: consumerism keeps people happy, even though they’re just buying slight variations on a theme, and it’s impossible to buy fried foods. As a result, some college kids start doing little things to shake up the world and soon it all blows up in their faces.

But Demolition Man got there first, even if its message was masked in explosions and shots at Taco Bell. That’s the subtle brilliance of the movie. Most of the action movies of the 80s and 90s didn’t even bother with a pretext of having a serious message underneath the big guys beating the snot out of each other, Total Recall notwithstanding. Demolition Man hinted at the idea that society should have some sort of balance between the safe and the unsafe, the good and the bad, and that even dangerous things can be okay (rat burgers). And yet, at the same time, it also asked an important question: If a society, no matter how lame it is, works, what right does the individual have to change that because it doesn’t work for him or her?

And that’s an important question to ask even in our real world. Theoretically, we should stick to a society that’s best for most people and it’s unlikely we’d ever create something that works well for everyone. So, for instance, if the plurality doesn’t give a rat’s ass what bathroom you use or if you’re doing a little wake and bake, what right do we have to create laws regulating those things? If a small handful of people get weirded out when someone says, “Fuck!”, should we fine people one credit for violation of the Verbal Morality statute? Or, should we tell people to shove it?

Sandra Bullock got the best lines.

I’m not a fan of going out of my way to be a jerk toward people I don’t agree with or making fun of their feelings, but at the same time, I don’t feel that lying down and taking it is the best answer, either.

What are your thoughts on this? Outlaw everything you don’t like or learn to live with the things that skeeve you out? I’m on the learn to live with it side, personally.

 

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

If you’ve been keeping up with current events, you’ll know the odious FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently decided to punch freedom in the teeth when he shut down Net Neutrality nationwide in the interest of getting more bribes deregulating things to make it safer for companies to make more money. To keep it light and fun, he referred to it as his “Restoring Internet Freedom” initiative.

It should also be noted that the idea of Net Neutrality was hugely popular with everyone except service providers.

For those not familiar with Net Neutrality, it deals with the idea that all network traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Think of it as a kind of social equality for TCP/IP packets. In a net neutral world, it doesn’t matter what kind of underlying data structure you’ve got, where it came from, or how many packets are going to the same place, they all get full speed for the brief time between when they leave the server and hit your device. That means packets coming from Netflix get the same treatment as packets coming from the White House.

By striking down Net Neutrality in the guise of freedom, the FCC has allowed service providers to treat each packet differently. For instance, your HBO Go packets could be throttled just when Game Of Thrones starts up because HBO forgot to bribe their ISP upgrade their account. Got a website that generates a lot of traffic, but pisses off a lot of people (I’m looking at you, 4Chan), your packets might not make it to where they need to go. Hey, sorry, these things happen.

In other words, the FCC just handed full control of your Internet content and speed over to a bunch of corporations who have never shown any interest in wielding that kind of power responsibly. To make things even more fun, Ajit and his network thugs also wrote a provision into the ruling that said states cannot implement their own version of Net Neutrality because reasons.

Fortunately, not all of the states in the Union bought into that. Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, signed an executive order that any ISPs with state contracts need to abide by Net Neutrality rules if they want to keep their contracts. Sure, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but so was the FCC’s flimsy justification for handing the keys to the Internet kingdom over to the service providers.

Now, there’s no guarantee Montana’s executive order will stand, especially in the face of the rule the FCC handed down that said states can’t do that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Way to go, Montana

We Are The World Blogfest is a collection of bloggers who take one day a month to drop a little good news on the world. This month’s hosts are:

Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Lynn Hallbrooks, Eric Lahti, Damyanti Biswas and Guilie Castillo.

So go check out their blogs and see what’s shaking all over the world.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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And now, your moment of Zen.

Could It Be…Satan?

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going to stop you right here: nothing untoward happened, so if you’re looking forward to a juicy rape scene or something, it didn’t happen. He was a nice, if strangely devout guy.

The moon that night was so full you could walk across the mesa and see every speck of dust. So, we just kind of wandered away from the group and talked. In time, he guided the conversation to the church and ongoing war that Satan was waging against the world. He told me a story that’s stuck with me over the years. It seemed some concerned parents had brought their son to his church because they were worried he was falling into Satan’s charms and were hoping this guy’s church could bring him back to the light of the Lord. “This kid,” he told me, “wanted to curry favor with Satan so badly that he sacrificed a rabbit by putting it in a box with a bunch of maggots. The maggots ate the rabbit alive.”

That’s the kind of thing that belongs in a horror story somewhere, so needless to say I was shocked. But the story got better.

He was driving the kid to a church somewhere to drive the Devil far from him when he put some clean Christian rock in the car stereo. The kid, probably used to heavier fare, was apoplectic. Without warning, the tape erupted from the tape deck and flew across the car! The power of Satan had flooded this young man and the Christian music was painful for him to hear.

When you’re sixteen and walking through the desert under a huge full moon with a guy who’s not supposed to lie – ever – stories like that take on an amazing gravitas.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way any of this happened. It has to be just another story I made up to sell books or something, but I assure this conversation took place. I can’t vouch for the events in the car or the existence of the kid, but this pastor actually took me aside and told me this story. It ended with a warning about the power of the Devil and an admonition to go his church and be safe.

I never did find out what happened to the kid. I suspect they read the Bible at him until he cracked. Fuck his religious rights; those only count if you’re following the right religion.

In retrospect, with thirty years of experience under my belt, the whole event was nothing more than the usual brainwashing attempts. Get someone separated from the pack, feed him some scary stories, and get a quick and dirty convert.

But at the time, it didn’t seem all that out of place. The whole country was nuts about Satanists. They’d become the new commies now that great Communist empire of the Soviet Union was cracking at the seams we needed someone to be scared of. Someone, somewhere, trotted out the old standby and started blaming everything that went wrong in the world on devil worshipers. It probably wasn’t a difficult thing to pull off. This was, after all the heyday of hair metal and plenty of bands were turning to evil for the shock value.

What? You thought Marilyn Manson was the first person to use shock music? Fuggedaboutit.

Satanists were even the main antagonists in movies.

The threat, back then, was very real and in deeply religious Farmington, New Mexico, we actually had school gatherings about the dangers of Satanism. Our dress codes at school extended to ban shirts that were evil or in any way promoted Satan. Basically, any shirt Iron Maiden ever made.

Nowadays, in the enlightened 21st century, most people have forgotten those time and Satanism has faded into the background noise. The idea of sacrificing animals to the Devil to get favors is pretty much gone, and if you tried to tell the story of a Christian rock tape getting pushed out of a cassette deck people would think you were bonkers.

Except Jack Chick; he’d think you were totally onto something.

All that mania, all the paranoia, and the sheer bonkers madness of the time has stuck with me over the years, even as I over-analyze the meaning of it all. Sure, it was another power grab by the religious right, but it was a fascinating time and it got me wondering what the world would be like if all that craziness was real. If sacrificing a rabbit – in an admittedly gruesome way – would net you the power to forcibly eject Stryper cassettes, what other things could be lurking under the covers?

A few years ago I scrounged up a copy of the Satanic Bible and actually read the damned (get it, double entendre there) thing. It was interesting – a bit over dramatic, but it had some good zingers in it.

Don’t try this at home. It’s impossible to get the smell of brimstone out of your drapes.

The Satanic Bible, 80s hair metal, and the general mania of the time all congealed late last year into a story. Any of you following me on Twitter have probably seen the tweets about Roadside Attractions; that book is a direct response to all of those things I grew up with.

It also got me thinking about the way we tend to blame groups for our problems. No jobs? Must be the Mexicans. Things seem out of place and scary: Liberals. Anything bad happens in the world? Smells like Muslims. I’ve lived through the ever-present threat of Communism, the existential agita of Satanism, and enough made-up threats to know it’s all just another bullshit power-grab by someone or another. Keep people scared and you keep them in line.

Or maybe it’s always been Satan. He is the father of all lies, after all. All I know is, I’ve got a kick-ass book in the works and I learned to avoid blaming The Other for all my problems.

Got any good stories of the 80s? Let’s hear those comments.

Happy New Year

I’m not much on resolutions. I figure I can break promises to myself without resorting to once-a-year resolvathons where everyone decides they’re going to make magic until it gets too difficult or time-consuming. You’ll see this at the gym where it’ll be packed with people until the end January, you’ll see people trying to start businesses and people deciding to write books only to decide it’s easier to kick back and watch TV.

Let me just say, if it’s worth doing, it doesn’t matter a whit how hard it is. A buddy of mine likes to say success at cycling is a matter of how much pain you can take before you quit. Writing a book means you’ll be eventually hit a point where your eyes are closed and you’re still writing. Being successful at martial arts mean sweating and bleeding on mat so you don’t have to on the street. Starting a business means endless stress and long hours.

All of these things are worth it. None of them are easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. And, let’s face it, it feels so fucking good to succeed when the odds are against you and you have to bust your ass to get it done.

I hope your next year is great. I hope all the ass-busting and endless hours and sleepless nights pay off. But most of all, I hope you don’t quit. Keep cycling. Keep writing. Keep fighting. Keep going, even when it seems like the world is against you because the difference between success and failure is the amount of times you can get knocked down and get back up.

Happy New Year, everyone.

And now, your moment of Zen.

Show Me The Stuff

Here’s an interesting factoid for you: The cast of the original Star Trek were among the last actors that were trained by picture. Apparently, when they were learning to act, part of their training consisted of showing them pictures of people doing particular faces to represent various emotions. This is what a scared person looks like. This is what a happy person looks like. So on and so forth.

Better than his Spocked face.

In a way, it makes a certain kind of sense. As a TV actor, part of the job is making sure the audience understands what’s going on. If you make a particular face, everyone knows you’re shocked. Then we don’t have to expend additional energy trying to decide who’s shocked, who’s got ennui, and who’s blasé about about life; we can focus on the antics of Spock and Bones.

What does all this have to do with price of tea in China? Funny you should ask. But first, allow me to digress.

Back when I was still teaching Kenpo, I learned more teaching than I did learning. The reason was I had to not only be able to teach the techniques as I learned them, but be able to explain why the technique worked. It required an in-depth understanding to do it well.

Editing can change things.

Editing a book is kind of like teaching. It forces you to look at things differently. While I’m editing someone’s book, I’m also mentally editing my own works and noting what works and what doesn’t work when I’m reading it instead of writing it.

I’ve recently been editing a book for some folks. While it’s not a bad book, there are a few things in there that had me scratching my head and a few things that could really be expanded. In the writing world, we love to say “show, don’t tell.” The things that needed expanded fell into the “show, don’t tell” category. It wasn’t that they were bad lines, they just needed some expansion.

I’m not going to reproduce their lines here. Like I said, they’re not bad lines. But you see bad lines all the time. Little throw-away lines that would be easy to turn from bland to interesting.

Take this:

“I could tell she was upset.”

It’s a classic example of tell, not show. It’s also boring and feels half-assed. To make it interesting, look back to the way the original cast of Star Trek was trained and start asking question. How could I tell she was upset? Well, she looked upset. What does that look like? If you were to paint a picture of someone who was upset, what would it look like?

Steam always comes out of ears when people are upset. Seriously, watch a cartoon sometime.

That’s the essence of showing instead of telling.

An upset person can scowl, furrow their brow, snort, frown, grimace, narrow their eyes, glare, yell, blow steam out of their ears, and break things. Think about a person you’ve known and what he or she looked like when they were upset. Then write that.

Instead of “I could tell she was upset” how about:

“Her glare could peel the paint off a battleship. Those expressive brown eyes I love so much wouldn’t meet my gaze. She was completely focused on the bent spoon in her hand when she said, ‘I can’t believe you cheated at Street Fighter 2. I had that match and you know it’.”

Without ever saying “she’s upset” we know she’s upset. If in doubt, toss in a line about steam coming out of her ears.

Show it, don’t tell it.

Got any tips for showing instead of telling? Drop ’em in the comments and let the world see. In the interim, keep writing.

Writing Process

 

I type like the wind.

Stephen King has repeated said he writes every day. I saw him when he was in Albuquerque being interviewed on stage by George R.R. Martin. Martin, at one point in the interview asked, “How do you write so fast?” Or words to that effect. I seem to remember him asking “How do you write so fucking fast?”, but that may just be my unrequited love affair with the word ‘fuck’. Either way it was asked, King’s response was “I write six good pages a day. Every day.” Again, words to that effect. I don’t seem to remember King saying, “I write six good fucking pages a day”, but he might have.

At any rate, this was not new information. I think everyone knows Stephen King writes every day. He’s been forward about that for years. After all, it’s his job and you don’t blow off work just because you don’t feel like doing it. On the other hand, George R.R. Martin is famous for taking years to knock out a new novel. In Martin’s defense, let’s face it, A Song of Fire and Ice is some crazy complicated shit and each scene has to work with every other scene that has come before it. So, it’s not entirely surprising that the TV series will likely end before the book series.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of tea in China? I’m of the opinion that writing every day is a good thing. It could be a couple lines, it could be a few hundred, but I write something every day almost without fail. For me, it’s just become something I do out of habit and I feel bad if I don’t do it. Writing is my way of unwinding and I feel a bit lost if I don’t get some in every night.

House is on fire, but I’m almost done with this chapter.

But that’s not necessarily for everyone. A couple days ago I came across a Twitter thread about exactly that thing. The general gist of the thread was that feeling like you have to write every day is bullshit. Life, it seems, oftentimes has other plans for our free time. Be it work, play, or a new Star Wars movie coming out, sometimes you simply can’t find time every day to put words on pages.

Besides, as I’ve repeatedly said, I didn’t start writing to follow everyone else’s rules. The world is already full of people following everyone else’s rules. My rule is trying my damnedest to write something every day, but it’s not for everyone. Rules are for suckers, anyway. Make your own rules.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about the magic of writing. Now that the year is coming to a close, I’d like to reiterate what I wrote then: If there’s something you love to do, find time to do it. It doesn’t matter how far you go. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It matters that you go.

So, get out there and go.

What about you? Got any thoughts on writing every day? Drop ’em in the comments; I love comments and am usually fairly good at replying to them.

And now, your moment of Zen.

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