Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aargh. Ow.


Having lately read a couple of very interesting books from a guy called Rory Miller, I've thought long and hard about martial arts, and most importantly, the application and the instruction thereof. I'm not going into any depth or detail here, but I will say this, just once: if you practice any form of martial art for any reason, or if you are concerned in any way about the potential necessity for dealing with violence, you need to read both Facing Violence and Meditations On Violence by this guy. I'm not going to sell him to you. If you're interested, you can look him and his stuff up for yourself.

I will say this, though. As an instructor, these days you can steal nifty technique and methods of practice from the Internet with ease. (Okay, if you're a hardcore traditional style it can be challenging, sure. But for a ju-jitsu instructor trained on the concept that "we will borrow anything that works", YouTube and similar resources are just fucking brilliant.)

Further: once you've earned a real black belt, you should be able to pick up technique and ideas from just about anywhere, assess them, and integrate them with either your own stuff, or the broader range that you teach, if they're worth keeping. Technique is an ocean. You're a bucket. You use what you can carry.

However, the underlying ideas behind combat and conflict and self-defense are extremely important. If you haven't thought long and hard about violence and conflict, then you have no business teaching anything called a "martial art". And no: I don't care if your aikido or your tai chi is the most peaceful exercise on the planet. If you're teaching it as a "martial" art, then you have to accept and understand that it comes from, and is related to, the human tendency to violence.

I've thought about it. A great deal. And read about it. And trained, and practised, and watched and observed. But Rory Miller has also done these things, and frankly, he's done them better. The man writes with clinical accuracy and crystal clarity about what violence is, and how it happens, and what we can do about it. The books are very useful. They are also inexpensive, and not particularly long or complicated.

As a result of reading Miller's stuff, I've done two things. First, I've made it mandatory that everyone aiming at a higher-grade belt has to read the damned things. And second, I've added a section of serious, high-intensity drills to every class. Ugly, potentially painful stuff. Tonight: you've been knocked down on your face. Before you can think of getting up, an attacker armed with a long weapon like an axe (or similar; a hoe, a stick, whatever) moves in to beat the snot out of you wholesale.

Fun stuff. We used padded weapons instead of axes or sticks, but we worked up to full speed and power. There are going to be some bruised people out there in the morning. Including me.

Meanwhile: the weekend was full-on. The Mau-Mau had her official birthday party, complete with helium balloons and a Godzilla Pinata, courtesy of yours truly. Also, because we had a spare kid -- young Deadly D of the Double-Banger clan -- he got a birthday party too. That was fun: Genghis and I went down to the local cheap-ass store, and bought a load of ridiculous stuff to wrap up for him. He got a garden gnome, for instance. And a CD compilation of 70s disco hit music. And a Fun Wig, and a Ninja Sword Kit, and a Bob the Builder belt with tools, etc. All good fun.

It was an energetic and busy day, and when I get time, I'll put up a couple photos. Meanwhile, I'll simply note that Tehani and half her brood were along for the day, including young Miss G, who stayed the night before as a guest of the Mau-Mau.

Once the wee ones cleared away, the slightly older crew stuck around. We barbecued some food, and then I made a load of popcorn and we retired to the Cinema Zone, where we watched The Raid (Redemption)

Yeah, I'm back on the martial arts thing again, but really - this is an interesting film. It's made in Indonesia, with an Indonesian cast and crew (though the director is Welsh, oddly) and it's very cool. It's a martial arts/action flick, and the martial art featured is a high-intensity version of Silat, with an emphasis on the striking. The hero character Rama is played by a young guy called Iko Uwais, whom we first saw in "Merantau". He's got the chops, I must say. He's fast as hell, knows his martial arts... and scarily, he can even more or less act. He's a shitload more convincing than Jason Statham, for example.

One word of caution. The fight sequences in this film are fucking brutal. This is not a movie for impressionable youngsters. There is blood, death, and savagery. And the little guy who plays a character called "Mad Dog" is one of the sc

ariest bad-asses to show up on screen for a very, very long time.

He's interesting, actually. You watch actors like Jason Statham, Arnie or the rest onscreen trying to project that sense of badass, and mostly, they just don't. They're actors. They do impressions. The bottom line is: you can tell the difference. Occasionally, though, you get a trained guy put up on screen, told to be bad. Really bad.

Now, someone who thinks of themselves as an actor will still act. Jet Li, for example. He makes a very cool villain, and he can project a degree of menace. But the guy playing Mad Dog? I think he's just a fighter, who got drafted into the film for his physical abilities. And I think this because he can, without moving a muscle, without changing expression, suggest absolute, ice-cold, psychopathic murder. The only other person I've met who could do that was my old instructor, Shihan Mark Haseman. Step on the mat to spar with him, and he'd just kind of... chill. The light in his eyes would sort of go away, and he'd just... watch you. And you knew damned well that the only reason you were still breathing was because he'd decided it would be that way.

Same thing with the little guy in The Raid. Watch it yourself. You'll see. He makes Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine" look like something from The Wiggles.

Aha. A little research gave me a pocket bio from IMDB. Turns out I'm precisely on the money. Yahyan Ruhian (the actor) is a professional Silat instructor who was hired as a consultant to Merantau (the first film by the same crew) and wound up being cast because he could do the shit they needed, and they couldn't find anyone else who could. So, yeah: professonal man of violence asked to be a bad-ass. Beautiful.

I don't know what they're going to do with the main actor, Iko Uwais. I doubt there are a whole lot of roles for Indonesian hero-types in either Asian or USAnian movies, unfortunately. But there are plenty of roles out there for savage bastards, and I will be extremely surprised if you don't see Yahyan Ruhian cropping up in a raft of films from this point forward.

So, there you have it. I'm going to finish up now, have a shower, and go to bed. Big day of writing and stuff tomorrow...