Friday 29 February 2008

Martial arts: check up and maintenace.

I’ve been getting fairly frustrated with my training recently. Inevitably after so many years the learning curve is going to flatten out. But I’ve often come away with the feeling that I’m actually getting worse. This may or may not be true but it isn’t a good feeling.

But last night I had a session where I felt as if I had progressed more in a half hour than I had in the previous three months.

One of my problems is that as a supposed ‘senior’, I tend to spend a lot of my training time teaching less experienced people. Doing so is a blessing in many ways because you don’t really get to understand something until you have to deconstruct it and explain it to someone else. But is has a downside too: If you don’t want to be the kind of bullying teacher who beats up on his students, you can end up with some bad habits. Like letting your opponents into openings so they can try moves out, or over-elaborating your moves so that you can demonstrate things, or breaking your flow to explain something.

Which are exactly the traps I seem to have fallen into. And it only took a half hour with my Sihing (elder brother) to point this out. Of course it’s going to take a lot longer to eradicate ingrained bad habits but at least I now know the cause of my frustrations.

It makes me quite realise how lucky I am to have found the school that I have: small private and old-skool with a high student retention rate. At most ‘McMartial Arts franchises’ I would long ago have been pushed out to teach my own students. But at our place, even though my own teacher (Sifu)is no longer around, with sixteen years training behind me, I still have maybe five or six Sihings who train regularly. And that keeps me (or gets me back) on course.

And it does make me wonder about all those ‘black belts’ that you will find running martial arts classes at just about every sports-hall in the country. If they are not regularly checked out and stretched by their seniors at best they are going stagnate, or worse, if they are not honest with themselves, develop some serious ego problems.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Plastic bags make strange bed fellows

My front yard is a magnet for a particular variety of bright blue plastic bags that are given away with EVERY purchase from the Turkish general stores we have in either direction on our street.

Cans of Special Brew and cheap imported Polish lager are the most common purchases - consumed pretty much on the spot and the unnecessary wrappers discarded almost instantly – into my hedge and yard.

Indoors we also seem to have accumulated more than a lifetime’s supply of plastic bags. I’m not sure if my partner is just an obsessive hoarder, or if she is making an environmental statement, but we never throw the fucking things away. And of course the council’s re-cycling service aren’t interested in them. We used to have one of those long sausage bags to store and dispense them – but we’ve long outgrown that and the unwanted plastic bags now leap out at us whenever we open a cupboard door.

So all of this, along obviously with the sea life being killed by the millions of bags dumped into our oceans, leads me to support the anti-plastic bag campaign of the Daily Mail. And M&S’s initiative to charge their customers for plastic bags. Now there’s something I never thought I’d see myself writing. Bloody hell.

Whatever happened to those brown papers bags and sacks that we see in the movies but never have in real life in this country ?

Monday 25 February 2008

Opiate for the star struck

Is it just me or is there more than the usual amount of bollocks about the Oscars this year? When I turned on the TV before going to work this morning it was actually the lead item on the BBC breakfast news.

Possible explanations for this unjustified hype:

• Something serious is really going on in the world and this is just a diversion before we hear tomorrow that the invasion of Iran had begun.

• It’s part of a well orchestrated PR campaign by the film industry to down play the effect of the screen-writers’ strike.

• We have become a generation of morons: Celebrity is the new aristocracy and star–gazing the new religion.

I like films. But I don’t give a shit about stars or their industry awards or what they are wearing on the red carpet. Much as I don’t imagine they are too bothered about the packaging design or pre-press awards.

(I’m not in a good mood today).

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Unfortunate tattoos

I don’t flaunt my tattoos at work but I don’t particularly hide them either. Consequently people tend to come up and talk to me about tattooing.

One guy recently proudly showed off some Kanji characters that he’d had on his bicep. Apparently they spelt out his daughter's name – Sharon. I tried to show a sort of non-committal politeness and conceal my feelings that it was total bollocks.

I’ve never heard of any Asian girls called Sharon so I’m guessing that it is spelt out pseudo-phonetically. Which of course is nonsense and liable to produce the kind of comic ambiguities that ended up recently with one girl being tattooed with what was dangerously similar to the name of a Hong Kong supermarket chain (which is actually funnier than simply the word ‘supermarket’ as reported by the BBC).

Having something tattooed that you can’t actually read just seems like a recipe for disaster. From my martial arts experience I know the huge arguments (and actual fights) that have raged for years over differing interpretations of the characters that represent my chosen style of Wing Chun – ‘Forever Spring’ or ‘Praise Spring’ or ‘Beautiful Spring’. And this is between people who can actually speak the language but where context is everything and interpretation is not literal but contextual.

There also seems something inherently disrespectful about appropriating an aspect of another culture and then using it out of context. Ironically there is a beautiful and fascinating tradition of Japanese tattooing (horimono) going back for centuries, and none of it, to my knowledge, uses characters.

Come to think of it, I’m really not convinced about any sort of lettering as the basis of a tattoo, even if you do understand the language. As a means of commemorating a loved one it shows a distinct lack of imagination, or maybe it just means that you’re not good with names and feel the need for a memory-aid.

Monday 18 February 2008

A tale of two diaries

For the past four years I’ve been using a Molskine diary. Not in a Samuel Pepys sort of way, just as a practical organiser; I carry it everywhere because my memory is like a sieve.

Also, because I’m a bit sad that way, I keep the old ones in my desk at work in case I need to check back on the date of a meeting or something. Most of the time I don’t – which is why I only just remembered that they were there this morning. Flicking through them got me thinking:

I usually go for the version of the diary that has a week on one side and a blank page for notes opposite. Most of the stuff on the left hand (diary) side consists of the times of various meetings, deadlines for projects and domestic arrangements. On the right hand (notes) side the entries are titles of books and CDs I want to remind myself to buy, websites I want to remember, Harley Davidson parts numbers of stuff I need to order, little nuggets of information I have picked up whilst surfing at work – usually bikes, martial arts, politics or history – often they end up getting regurgitated in this blog.

What does it say about me that re-reading the right hand pages fills with memories and ideas, whilst reading the left hand side just makes me want to groan ? To paraphrase John Lennon: “Life happens when you’re busy not working”

Friday 15 February 2008

Politicians with bottle

Politicians often talk about taking up a fight against something or other. But generally they’re a pretty wimpy bunch and don’t really mean it.

Which is why I loved the story about Obama-supporting Democrat congressman Jesse Jackson Junior (pictured here). After a row in the House with geeky conservative Republican Lee Terry, Jackson suggested that the pair of them ‘take it outside’.

Washington-insiders seem unanimous in the view that Jackson, a martial arts practitioner, would have kicked Terry’s ass.

Nice to see a return to principled, confrontational politics.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Bloody scooters

I find myself developing a loathing of scooters and their riders.

I don’t mean that in a mods and rockers kind of way. Funnily enough proper scooterists, the guys who run old Lambrettas and Vespas, and bikers rub along quite happily these days.

They even turn up at the same rallies and shows, we pass them on the roads to the coast, playing a kind of group leap-frog as they pull over at the roadside one breakdown after another. There is a kind of respect for their perversity in choosing a vehicle that is so mechanically unsuitable for long distance riding.

The scooter riders I loathe are the hoards of non-riders in London who have taken to two wheels to avoid the congestion charge and the horrors of public transport.

On the road they are a liability. Perhaps because they are supposedly easy to ride ‘twist and go’ machines, it is assumed that no training or skill is required. Or fucking common-sense either. So I constantly find them overtaking on the inside, cutting me up and generally entrenching the already homicidal feelings of four wheel users towards anyone on two.

It gets worse when they come to park.

Despite the massive increase in scooters, the London boroughs have not increased the number of bike-parks as this would mean turning over car parking spaces and losing revenue. So bikes and scooters are jammed in solid next to each other in the few bike-parks available. The scooters have no prop stands, and this along and with the engine over the rear-wheel, means they often can take up as much width as the heaviest touring bike.

The riders have no sense of biking etiquette or camaraderie: Four times now I’ve come back to my bike to find it damaged by scooters jammed in solid alongside it. I’ve had my speedo smashed, a mirror cracked, my number-plate broken in half and now scratches put down the side of my exhaust. And never once a note of apology or contact details left. On the other-hand I damaged a bike I was parked alongside last year. I felt mortified and obligated to do the right the thing. It cost me about £200 and a bottle of Jack Daniels, but I would expect any other biker to do the same in return.

Why don’t these tossers just learn to ride and get themselves a little trail bike for the city? Or better still, stay on the bus?

Monday 11 February 2008

Sun ...& simple pleasures.

We are simple creatures at heart – well at least I am – and a bit of sunshine this weekend, a ‘false spring’ in fact, was all it took to put a smile on my face.

I had Friday off work to get my bike through the MOT test. For some reason every year I feel inexplicably nervous about my baby being examined. It passed, with an advisory note about the loud exhaust, the small number-plate and the solo seat fitted with pillion pegs. This is a very English ritual – the shop knows it’s bullshit – I know it’s bullshit – but it covers their arse if I get pulled over on my way back from the test.

I celebrated the fine weather and legal status by heading off to Cambridge. Had lunch in the Eagle and wondered around for a short while – always strange to return to somewhere you used to live and find that it has managed to carry on quite well without you. For a few minutes I am seduced by its charm and I get nostalgia for being student, then I hear a few braying voices and their uniquely penetrating irritation and I remember everything I hated about those students when I was one.

Saturday - off to the tattooist for the next part of my half-sleeve. It’s developing slowly bit by bit as I find suitable images from pieces of Celtic-Norse-Pictish-Saxon archaeology: Not only do the pieces have to appeal to me, they have to be suitable for tattooing and be able to fit together. They also have to avoid any of the associations with Aryan Brotherhood/neo-fascism which seems to has taken over much of this iconography.

It may be a form of masochism, but I love the whole process of being tattooed – the anticipation waiting around whilst the drawing and stencil is done, then the permanent design being applied, even the small talk whilst in the chair. And the after-glow of having acquired a new bit of personal art. Extra entertainment was provided this Saturday when the two very slight female staff cleared out half a dozen pissed-up football fans who weren’t happy to be told that they couldn’t turn up for an appointment in a drunken state. They handled the situation wonderfully, and I suspect that if it had been a bloke who had turned them away the whole situation would have turned ugly …

Sunday and I was on the bike again to see my parents down in Kent - open face helmet, shades, and a smile again.

See – it only takes a bit of sun.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Return to the tied-cottage & workhouse.

Housing Minister Caroline Flint wants to kick claimants out of social housing if they are able to work but not actively seeking employment. More compassionate ‘social justice’ from New Labour.

Before the Daily Mail digs up a story about some family with 12 kids who are caning the welfare system and make Shameless look like the Archers, I have to accept that such people do exist. And I wouldn’t fancy living next door to them. But I don’t see how making them homeless is going to improve the situation.

It’s not as if social housing is a charitable venture; only available to the deserving poor who if they misbehave forfeit their rights. Well actually that’s exactly how New Labour see it – and whether you call it ‘work-fare’ or whatever else, it is a return to the Victorian politics of the workhouse.

There’s a couple of very obvious reasons why much social housing has been turned into sink-estates for the poorest and most troubled sections of society. Housing benefit tends to be accepted only by councils and the very worst private landlords. And ever since we had the right-to-buy and the myth of the property owning democracy, the better off sections of the working class have moved away from social housing.

The vision of the sixties planners that council estates could provide a model for living (a mechanism of social justice in today’s bollock-speak) is now universally derided. But it was not the concept that was doomed to fail, housing and education can provide progressive social engineering (now there’s an apparently dirty word) but the vision failed because pro-market politicians chose to sabotage it.

Caroline Flint is tipped as a future rising star of New Labour. She’s definitely more photogenic than pudding-faced Brown. I remember her from Labour Students as an earnest and joyless Kinnock-ite careerist zealot. With her current Thatcherism and disregard for the most vulnerable I’m sure she’ll go far.

Monday 4 February 2008

Grindhouse: DeathProof

Watched Tarantino’s Grindhouse feature DeathProof last night.


Simply cannot understand how it hasn't been as well received as his previous offerings.

Of course it’s ridiculously self-indulgent. That’s the whole point. Not only is Tarantino referencing all those cult B-movies he watched as a clerk in a video store, he’s now referencing his own previous movies as well.

In the early 80’s I used to frequent what I imagine was a pretty similar video store. It was a couple of miles out of town, at the end of an unpaved track in a builder’s yard and over a 24hour mini-cab office, entered by a steel fire escape. It didn’t open until the evening and then it seemed to be open all night, I’m fairly sure it was a front for something else, but I never found out what. In fact I can’t even remember how we found out about it in the first place. But having joined, you felt like you were a member of some underground club that was in the know.

The choice of films was pretty limited, not helped by the fact that the stock was doubled up with Betamax as well as VHS. So we got to see Death Race 2000, Assault on Precinct 13, Dawn of the Dead, The Warriors, Escape From New York etc again and again. Come to thing of it, Tarantino could well have been the nerdy clerk working there. (He probably never lived in East Anglia though)