Book Review – A Twofer from John Hennessy

I’ve got a special going on this week, two reviews for the price of one.  It wasn’t entirely intentional, but I couldn’t pass up a vampire book and a book on marital arts from the same author.  Now, if only John Hennessy would write a martial arts story about vampires I could sleep at night.  The first review is for Hennessy’s Murderous Little Darlings, the first tale in his series about young vampires.  The second is for The Essence of Martial Arts, Hennesy’s treatise on, among other things, Kung Fu.  Both are entertaining reads, well written and well thought out.  The first is a must read for anyone interested in vampires.  The other is a bit more rarified; if you’re into martial arts it’s a fascinating read.

First up: Murderous Little Darlings

Remember vampires?  The real vampires, not the ones that sparkle in the sunlight.  They were hunters.  Predators.  They fed on blood and were completely unapologetic about it.  Deacon Frost, the bad guy from Blade said it best:

stephen-dorff-as-deacon-frost

“For fuck’s sake, these people are our food, not our allies.”

The vampires in Murderous Little Darlings are young, little more than children with a taste for blood.  It’s a short story that explores what it’s like growing up vampire.  While the story has a twist ending (that I won’t reveal here), there are elements of the story that make me wonder if there’s a further twist that hasn’t been explored yet.  There are multiple books in the series ranging from short like Murderous Little Darlings, to longer works that I have yet to read.  I need – need – to read the others now because I really want to know what the overarching story is and whether I’m correct about my assumption.

That need to read to more is the mark of a good story; you become invested in it and want to know how it ends.  Had this been a poorly crafted tale I would have finished it with a “well, that just happened” mentality and moved on, but the characters have stuck in my craw and I want to know what happens to them.  This first story is like the opening salvo, a bloody good yarn that introduces you to some kids who are struggling to understand their world and their place in it.

I have a feeling their place will be, shall we say, interesting.

So, if you like vampires and want to see a better take on them than certain recent stories have done, check out Murderous Little Darlings.  You won’t be disappointed.

murderouslittledarlings

Next up is The Essence of Martial Arts,

This is a treatise John Hennessy has put together on his years of experience in the martial arts.  It focuses a lot on Kung Fu, specifically Wing Chun, but there are notes on his experiences with Karate and Tai Chi as well.

A bit of background for those not in the know.  The Chinese martial arts encompass a wide variety of styles and systems ranging from the antics of Drunken Boxing through the various animal styles and into things like Hun Gar and Wing Chun.  They all fall under the blanket term Kung Fu, which actually refers to a skill that is learned or a talent.  Some people insist on referring to the Chinese martial arts as wushu, which is probably a more apt term but Kung Fu has stuck.

I’ve spent a large amount of time in the Japanese and Okinawan arts (Shodinji Do, Kenjutsu) and the Asian-American fused Kenpo, but don’t know a whole about the Chinese arts, so this was an interesting read to me.  When you get right down to it, martial arts are martial arts and while they may look different, they all share certain similarities.  A punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick as Bruce Lee would say.

John Hennessy has spent decades studying and teaching martial arts and I found his insights fascinating, especially the parts about training.  The Essence of Martial Arts is, in some ways, Hennessy’s notebook about his travels.  Even if you’re not interested in the martial arts (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be), this is just a good book to read to understand why people study fighting even when they’re not really interested in fighting.  There are stories of how and why he started studying, where it’s come in handy in real-life situations, and some of the things he’s found as he’s traveled the path.

If you’re thinking about studying martial arts, this is a good place to start; Hennessy knows his material and presents it in an understandable way without resorting to nonsense.  He’s also one of the few martial artists I’ve read who is smart enough to draw a distinction between what we do in sparring and what we do in real life.  If you’re more advanced, The Essence of Martial Arts is still a good read because no matter how much experience you’ve got, you’ll still find something useful in here.

EssenceOfMartialArts

John’s written a lot more than just these two books, these just happened to pop out at me.  Trust me, though, I’ll be reading more of his work in the future.

Find John Hennessy’s complete catalog on Amazon.

Get Murderous Little Darlings here and get hooked

Find The Essence of the Martial Arts here

Follow John on Twitter

Check out his blog

Punch Out!

There are a lot of different ways to punch someone: strong arm in front, strong arm in back, jabs, punching along a straight line, hooking punches, uppercuts, vertical fist, horizontal fist, half fist, and so on.  If it’s a fist, someone has figured out how to hit with it and people tend to get themselves wrapped around the axle about which way is best.  Most sytems, especially the hard-style systems, tend to throw the power strike from the rear hand.

The hand that's furthest away from your opponent is your rear hand

The hand that’s furthest away from your opponent is your rear hand

Science!

Science!

The reason for putting the strong punch in the back hand is due to the way you can use your hips and legs to help generate punching power.  Simply put, when you engage your whole body starting with the legs, moving through the hips and up into the shoulders to throw a punch, you can put a lot of power behind it.  Boxers use this kind of punch, as do most karateka, kickboxers, Krav Maga, and Tae Kwon Do practitioners.  It’s relatively easy to learn (if somewhat hard to master), and highly effective.  It does, however, have one drawback: since your fist is further away from your opponent so it has further to travel before it hits.

Enter some other styles, including Wing Chun and the style put together by this guy

He just hit you.  You'll feel it tomorrow.  Maybe.

He just hit you. You’ll feel it tomorrow. Maybe.

That system is, of course, Jeet Kune Do, also known as the Way of the Intercepting Fist.  Jeet Kune Do emphasizes putting your strong hand forward and stroking quickly.  It makes for a different kind of generating power and is a tad harder to master, but works quite nicely when you want a fast strike.  So, your straight punch works like this:

Note the twist of the hips to generate the power.

Note the twist of the hips to generate the power.

But a strong forward punch can work just as well.

One inch punch.  Note which hand he's using.

One inch punch. Note which hand he’s using.

Lee could knock a guy down with a one inch punch from the front hand.

Both styles of punching contain a lot of power, you just have to generate it a bit differently.  The twist of the hips doesn’t work the same way with your strong hand forward.  You’ll still engage your hips but there’s also more of a push off from the back leg.  I’m sure someone has done some actual studies on this and found using the rear had for the power strike will generate more power, but there’s more to strike than just the power.

Kenpo is one of those systems that empasizes the power strike coming from the rear hand.  We tend to use our front hand to jab and parry.  Unfortunately, fighting is a fluid situation and you don’t always have time to set up that perfect position for a strike so over the past couple kids’ classes I’ve been trying to introduce them to punching from unconventional positions.  Last night we worked on using the front hand as the power hand.  I stole a lesson from Jeet Kune Do that I picked up somewhere or another and introduced them to the water hose analogy.  This is similar to the whipping philosophy for circular strikes in that it requires a relaxed arm but rather than working from arcing position the water hose analogy works on explosively moving forward.

To try it out yourself, get a solid stance that will let you push forward with your rear leg.  Keep your arms relaxed.  I started the class with their hands on their thighs, but you can really do it from anywhere.  Now, imagine what happens to a water hose when water suddenly flows into it.  It goes from soft and dangly to rigid very quickly, right?  Keep that image firmly in your mind and just raise your hand from your thigh into a punch.  You’ll get a kind of upward then forward movement in your fist.  Imagine it almost as your fist is attached to your shoulder with rope and you’re throwing your fist forward.  Practice, practice, practice and you’ll soon find you can whip that arm forward from any position and drive it forward with your rear leg.  If you’re relaxed you’ll get an explosively fast punch with almost no telegraphing.

Bam!

Bam!

It may not be as powerful as standard rear hand punch, but it’s wicked quick and it doesn’t matter how powerful a punch is if it doesn’t hit anything.

One thing to keep in mind is punching is like anything else: the more you do it the better you’ll get at it.  Find a heavy bag and start hitting it regularly.  Practice slowly at first and work your way up to experimenting with different strikes.  Make sure to use some kind of hand protection (I use cotton wraps) or your hand might wind up looking like this.

Broken arm

 

Now, if you’re so inclined, here’s the science behind Bruce Lee’s one inch punch.

Bruce Lee’s One Inch Punch

Go train hard and train safe.