Book Review – The Kenpo Karate Compendium by Lee Wedlake

bookReview

Most martial arts books aim to teach you martial arts by showing you pictures of people doing things. Some do it really well, others do it exceedingly poorly. Some of the books out there that purport to teach a martial art through pictures are trying to teach a shitty martial art poorly. In those cases, you’ve got the double whammy of suck.

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Don’t try this at home.

I have a huge library of martial arts books ranging from obscure treatises on Savate to modern explanations of Krav Maga and everything in between. Some are good, some not so good, but most of them can be counted on to have a gem or two ferreted away between the covers.

Whether or not you can learn a martial art from a book is debatable. I would argue that it’s really not possible to understand motion from static images, but once you’ve got a solid grasp of a martial art, you can start to pick things up from books and videos. The caveat, of course, is what you learn will be tainted by your understanding of whatever art you’ve been studying. In other words, you’d be doing Jeet Kun Do as a Kenpo practitioner, not as a Jeet Kun Do practitioner.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I’m of the opinion that if you can make it work, it’s all good. Others would likely disagree.

But, I digress. Lee Wedlake’s The Kenpo Karate Compendium: The Forms and Sets of American Kenpo isn’t one of those books that aims to teach you a martial art. It’s written for people who are already proficient at Kenpo and shows some extra details and notes that may or may not have been picked up during live training.

Kenpo’s a fractured system. It started out in Hawaii, moved to Utah, and exploded after that. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), that explosion has lead to a lot of different schools doing a lot of different things. My school broke from Ed Parker’s school at some point in the distant past, but we still use a lot of his techniques and forms. In fact, the bulk of the first forms from Parker Kenpo are still extant in AKKA Kenpo. There’s more divergence as the belts go higher, but especially the early ones are almost exactly the same as what Lee Wedlake wrote his book about.

That kind of fracturing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s nice sometimes to go back to the source and see that it hasn’t changed as much as we sometimes like to think it. It’s also nice to get some insight from someone else. Not knocking my own Kenpo instructors here, but it can be a great thing to break out of the norm and see what someone else has to say.

The bottom line for a book like this is it isn’t a great book for beginners. This is for people who want to dig into the original forms and pick up what’s changed here and there over the years or catch those little details that get lost from time to time. It’s also nice to have a different take on something.

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Book Review – Darkly Wood II by Max Power

Max Power is back and in full force with his very first sequel. Over the years, he’s written five books (including this one), but this is the first time he’s written a sequel to any of them.

That’s a good thing. Darkly Wood (check my review here) was a great horror story with other horror stories interwoven with it. It was a very unique story that handled the exposition of the titular wood through a series of old tales about the horrible thing that had happened there over the years, even as it was dragging us – and the protagonist, Daisy May – through the muck and claws of the woods.

Darkly Wood ended like any good horror story should – leaving you wanting more. The main story was finished, but it added more questions and begged for a sequel. Now, three years later, we get a sequel that answers some of the questions and introduces more. Darkly Wood II: The woman who never wore shoes picks up the story of Daisy May when her granddaughter wanders into the woods and history repeats itself.

This time, though, the stakes are higher and there’s a twist.

Power himself has claimed this isn’t a horror story. He sees it as a romance with horror elements and there’s certainly a bit of romance lurking in the dark corners of the story, ready to snatch you up and lovingly shred you. Certainly, Darkly Wood II uses the romance elements to both humanize and demonize his primary antagonist and give us tantalizing hints as to why he is the way he is, but the magic of the story lies in how we learn more about why the woods are the way they are.

As before, Power weaves stories of the woods into the narrative of the story, but this time the stories become important parts of the whole. Rather than simply provide exposition and allow us to see Darkly Wood as a long-time menace, the old stories become important elements in the final narrative.

Max Power is a masterful story-teller, so masterful you don’t always realize just how well-woven the tale is until the whole of the story hits you full in the face. If you haven’t read Darkly Wood, it’s not strictly necessary to start there, but it would definitely help.

If you like your horror stories with a bit of soul instead of a lot of blood, check out Darkly Wood II. It has some intense scenes, but it’s not meant as a scream-fest. This is the creeping, gnawing horror that sneaks up you in the middle of the night. Well written and entertaining, Darkly Wood II is a great read.

This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award winning author Max Power. Heart stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming…

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Book Review – Losing Nuka by Kayla Howarth

If there’s one thing we can safely assume about humanity, it’s that fear of the other is deeply ingrained into our consciousnesses. Much as we hate to admit it, we’re a clique-y group of primates who will put up with a lot from those are like us and tolerate absolutely nothing from everyone else. We all love to give lip-service to the notion of diversity, but when faced with “the other” a lot of that bravado disappears.

At least until we get to know “the other” and the nervousness disappears because we realize that most people really aren’t all that different.

There you go, the unspoken fact for the day: people aren’t that different from one another.

Back in around 2013 or so, Kayla Howarth set out to write a series detailing the after-effects of a devastating war and the impact it had on society. Consider it post-dystopian, if you will. Dyspostian, I guess. By the way, I just came up with that word, you owe me a nickle every time you use it.

Anyway, Howarth’s first books (The Institute Series) showed humanity’s enduring love affair with the other. After the devastation, a new group of people rose up from the ashes to live side by side with the rest of the survivors. They looked like humans and acted like humans – heck, they were even born to human parents – but they were far from human. This new group had manifested powers. Some of the powers were amazing – people could fly, they were powerful psychics, and all manner of strange and powerful people started popping up.

Naturally, the pure humans flipped their wigs and set about finding new and exciting way of jailing and exploiting these strange new humans. True to form, we set about punishing people for being different.

The Institute series gave way to the Litmus series, a collection of books about the aftermath of the aftermath. The first book, Losing Nuka, follows the misadventures of a young woman with purple eyes as she tries to – and does – find her birth mother. The problem is, her mother is somewhat less than motherly.

Long story short, Nuka winds up in an underground fighting ring where she uses her powers of heating things up rapidly against other enhanced fighters. It’s a brutal, terrifying world, but one Nuka sticks to even as it becomes more and more obvious how twisted that world is.

That’s another thing you can safely assume about people: If we ever did have mutants, we’d make them fight each other for our entertainment. That doesn’t say much for us a species.

The fighting Nuka engages in is brutal and detailed and Howarth handles it with an eye for accuracy. It’s not gory or excessively violent, but this is basically MMA for people with limited superpowers, so be forewarned. I’ve personally written the same kinds of things, so it didn’t bug me, but I understand there are people who prefer to avoid the nastiness. For those people, read the book anyway. You can always skip to the end of the fight.

Whereas the predominant theme of The Institute was one of tolerance in the face of “the other”, the Litmus series is more attuned to the gritty realization that there are some seriously messed up people out there and even as Nuka’s world had been healing itself, it is still very much in turmoil.

For all the gritty backdrop, this is a coming of age story. It just happens to be a coming of age story with underground superhuman fighting in a damaged, but healing world. Nuka leaves her past behind to find out more about her true self. What she finds is shocking even to her.

Losing Nuka is book one of a three book series and, not gonna lie here, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the remaining books in the series are available now (Howarth must type like the wind), so you won’t get stuck waiting for the next book to read.

As an added bonus, Losing Nuka appears to be on sale right now. If my math is right (and it sometimes is), you should be able to pick up Losing Nuka for only 99 cents until Feb 11, 2017.

Act now, supplies are limited.

*** WINNER OF THE 2016 KINDLE BOOK AWARDS YA CATEGORY ***

Raised by adoptive parents since the age of six, Nuka James starts questioning her past. Unable to get the answers she seeks, she goes in search of the one person who can tell her the truth– her birth mother.When searching lands her in the belly of Litmus, Nuka wants to prove she’s worthy. Litmus is an underground club where Defectives use their supernatural abilities to fight it out for money, fame, and glory. Litmus is where you find out what you’re made of.Winning her mother’s approval without losing herself won’t be easy, though.***Litmus is a spin-off of The Institute Series. While it is set in the same world, and characters from The Institute make appearances, it can be read as a separate, stand-alone series.Losing Nuka is a YA/NA crossover, suitable for people fifteen years and older.

In case you’re interested, my review of The Institute can be found here.

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Note: purple eyes.

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Book Review – Smoke and Mirrors by Tom Benson

I like short stories. Honestly, I always have. I guess it stems from reading shorts in various sci-fi magazines when I was growing up. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m not the most patient person in the world. At any rate, while I enjoy a novel I can sink my teeth into, a collection of short stories can be a blast to read.

I’m not sure if it’s a British convention or what, but the shorts I’ve read from British authors tend to be shorter than their American counterparts. Personally, I follow the US convention of fairly lengthy short stories when I write, but Benson follows the British convention which means some of these short stories are really short.

And yet, even given the paucity of words in a given story, Benson manages to convey a complete tale in a tiny amount of time. There are some in here that could be longer, but he manages to get his point across – oftentimes violently – in a concise manner.

Benson doesn’t shy away from action or violence. Being a former member of British military not only means he’s quite capable of dealing with the seamier side of life, but gives him an insight into detail most of us aren’t privy of. The stories in Smoke and Mirrors don’t always portray the best in people, but they portray what they find accurately and unflinchingly. From the mother who executes her son’s kidnappers to the imprisoned man who kills his captors without even realizing what they are, Benson delves deep into a dangerous psyche and wallows in the blood and madness.

Seriously, how can you not appreciate that?

These stories aren’t for the faint of heart. If you get the vapors thinking about bad things happening, this isn’t the collection for you. But if you like quick peeks into the dark underbelly of the world, Tom Benson has you covered in Smoke and Mirrors.

And for only $1.99, you really can’t go wrong.

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Book Review – Anthem For What’s To Come by Kimberly Coleman

They say war is a confusing time for everyone. Not only is the world exploding all around, but allegiances can constantly shift and it’s all too easy to point fingers at people on the same side.

Most books about war focus on the people fighting the war, but that’s really only a tiny percentage of the population that’s impacted by war’s far-reaching grasp. Regular people, the ones who just want to live out their lives and have little interest in the politics of war, wind up being the worst casualties. Look to any war-torn area of the world today – Syria pops to mind – and you’ll find the bulk of the damage is done not to the fighters of war, but to the people caught in the middle. Politicians start wars. The military winds up fighting them. Everyone else gets chewed up and spat out.

It’s rare to find a story about war that not only isn’t directly about the fighters of the war, but also has a hint of the paranormal woven through it. In April of 2016, I stumbled across Kimberly Coleman’s The Blind Girl’s Sword and found it a fascinating look at a place that could be anywhere on Earth, filled with people who mechanically went about the business of living even as things exploded around them. That was Volume 0 of the ongoing saga of war and witches. Anthem For What’s To Come is Volume 1. It’s an intimate look at a world stuck in perpetual war and what impact that has on people. In a way, it’s a treatise on how to make a monster. Take any normal person, put them in extraordinary circumstances, and watch what brews.

Coleman has a way with prose. The narrative is tight and concise. She doesn’t waste words, but still manages to build a richly-detailed world as seen through the eyes of a Blood Witch. Through those eyes, and the stories she tells to a dying girl, we get a sense of how devastation makes monsters.

Anthem For What’s To Come contains two stories: The Blind Girl’s Sword and Before the Sun Goes Down. Both take place in the same constantly-at-war world and look at the effects of that war through the eyes of normal people. Personally, I hope to see more about this war-torn world and its all-too-human monsters and witches.

“Anthem For What’s Come” combines the first two volumes in The Blind Girl’s War Series:
“Before The Sun Goes Down” tells the story of a young girl poisoned in a terrorist chemical lab…
“The Blind Girl’s Sword” focuses on that terrorist’s ill-fated relationship with a seamstress and how that led him onto his malefic path.

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Book Review and Martial Arts Theories: Nerve Centers and Pressure Points by Bruce Tegner

As was common with martial arts books back in the seventies, Tegner’s treatise on nerve centers and pressure points had a mouthful of a full title: Self-Defense: Nerve Centers & Pressure Points for Karate, Jujitsu and Atemi-Waza. It’s a bit lengthy for a blog title, but an interesting book nonetheless.

I have an extensive collection of martial arts books I’ve picked up over the years, everything ranging from the in-depth examinations of Donn Draeger to a bunch of introductions to various arts. Nerve Centers and Pressure Points is the first Tegner book I’ve come across in the wild.

With any book on martial arts, the author is of key importance. Unlike fiction, non-fiction books aim to provide facts and reading a book on fighting from someone who claims to be an expert is a good way to get yourself in trouble. There are dozens of Ninja books out there that purport to explain Ninjutsu, but are written by people whose sole experience with the art was watching Sho Kosugi movies on Saturday morning. Not that Sho Kosugi didn’t know his arts, but learning from a movie is a dicey proposition at best.

A bit of research on Bruce Tegner reveals he was ahead of his time. In the sixties and seventies, the world of Asian martial arts was still steeped in tradition and it was expected that practitioners would learn those arts exactly as they were taught and that should be good enough. Tegner respectfully disagreed and, decades before “reality based martial arts” became a thing, he was stripping out the parts of traditional Asian arts that simply didn’t fit the bill for realistic defense. This attitude of discarding things that had been taught for decades or centuries earned him no amount of scorn from the traditionalists.

In the final analysis, Tegner created his own martial art – Jukado – which combined what he felt were the best elements from the multitude of styles he studied over the years (Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Savate, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, etc) and rolled them into something effective and easy to learn.

He was quite the iconoclast during his life and it shows in his books. Nerve Centers and Pressure Points paints a very different picture of self-defense than was readily available at the time. He starts by analyzing the need for varying levels of combativeness depending on the situation, rather than saying “go hard all the time”, which is something the martial arts world desperately needed at the time. Tegner then proceeds to tear apart the results from attacking various nerve centers and pressure points. For instance, it’s a commonly held belief that a sharp, upward strike to the nose will push bits of bone into the opponent’s brain and kill immediately. Any study of physiology will reveal this simply cannot happen. At a time when things like death touches were still talked about as realistic, Tegner pointed out the flaws in the logic.

Nerve Centers and Pressure Points is a simple examination of what can happen when a particular point on the body is struck. It’s meant as kind of a layman’s book, but still requires a degree of understanding about how to strike. As a guy with twenty plus years of experience, the strikes made sense to me. For someone with less experience, the text might not be as useful.

Don’t expect a detailed examination of exactly how to poke someone in the ribs and have them fall dead five steps later; this is a simple look at what happens when various parts of the body are struck.

If you’re looking to learn how to defend yourself, this isn’t the place to start. Go find a decent school and do some studying. If you’re a martial artist, this is a good book to read if you can find a cheap copy of it.

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Read up a bit on Bruce Tegner. He was an interesting guy. Unfortunately, he died in 1985 from a heart attack.

Book Review – Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist by Katerina Novotna

The full title of the book and the author is actually Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist: Power of Kratom and Opiates by Katerina Sestakova Novotna, which is a little unwieldy for a blog title.

This is the second book Novotna has written. The first was a collection of horror stories set around Hawaii and called Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads – you can read that review here. Psychedelic Cure is a change in direction, away from the horror stories of Hawaiian Lei, but still an interesting story set in an interesting land. Rather than following the slow-burn horror stories, Novotna has turned her sharp mind inward and shown us the world through the eyes of a narcissist by the name of Eric.

Don’t worry, he’s not me. At least, I don’t think so.

Eric has, shall we say, issues. In the classic vein of narcissists everywhere, he views the world filtered through his own perceptions and sees everything only as it relates to him and his wants and needs. Like Lionel Hutz before him, Eric is a user of women. In his desperation to get back to the girl of his dreams, he agrees to be her guinea pig as she experiments with various mind-altering and mind-expanding chemicals. The result of this experiment is, shall we say, interesting. Just not in the way you expect it to be.

Here’s the thing about Psychedelic Cure, it’s not the book you really ever expect it to be, but it takes you in fascinating directions. It tackles some big issues including the relationships between men and women, discusses the idea of control in a relationship, and looks at the beneficence of chemical use for fun and profit. Much like the philosophers of yore before her (no great surprise since she has a Master’s in Philosophy), Novotna examines the issues through dialog between her characters. The story is, of course, important, but the sparkling elements of it are the underlying philosophical engagements with Miriam playing the role of being free as Eric plays the role of being a slave to his own desires.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s an easy book to read, not that it’s technically difficult, you just feel like you need a shower after being in Eric’s head for a spell, but it’s an excellent book to read and the ending is worth every word in the rest of the book. Don’t look for anything in your face (that’s my realm), Novotna plays things cooler and after reading Psychedelic Cure, you’ll find yourself going back and chewing on parts of it. That bit of subtlety is hard to pull off and makes this one of those books that you never really put down.

Eric is a selfish man who likes to come back to his exes for sex and money, but he does not pursue them as hard as he pursues new girls. Miriam, a student of psychology, becomes an exception to his rules. Three years after their break-up, the woman he thought he knew all too well to be impressed with suddenly claims to be able to guide people into a magical 4D porn experience.

Eric is trying to earn his place in Miriam’s privileged circle, but the girl who purports to be a therapist like no other is remarkably unstable herself. Eric suspects that she may have a different agenda than to entertain him, but the promise of a new form of sexual bliss seems worth the risk.

Does she want him back? Does she want to cure him? Does she want her revenge? It’s not clear what Miriam truly wants, but her wishes do not matter to Eric as long as he gets what he wants. But his own goals change, too, as the time goes on.

Miriam volunteers to be Eric’s guide in his psychedelic experience, but she also unintentionally becomes his teacher. He wants to learn to guide and fix others before he is fixed.

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As of right now Katerina doesn’t have any other social media sites out there.  I’ll update this post if she creates any.