martial arts

"Manly Arts Day"

Posted on: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:35 By: Tom Swiss

On September 19 (it's a Sunday), noon to 4pm, the Hampton National Historic Site (535 Hampton Lane, Towson, MD) will be hosting its fifth Manly Arts Day, with Western martial arts (fencing, boxing, etc.) lectures and demonstrations.

According to Park Ranger Victor Markland, "This year the theme is 'Up Close and Personal'. We will look at the seemingly more intimate quality of danger in the 19th Century compared to 21st in both military and civilian contexts. Lots of fun. Internationally known expert instructors Steve Huff and Mark P Donnelly."

"kung fu" bear (more properly, bojutsu bear)

Posted on: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 16:13 By: Tom Swiss

Comic book geeks know that Master Splinter -- the rat who was the sensei of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- obtained his skills when he was the pet of a ninja master. He would observe and mimic his master.

Apparently, then, the bear seen in this video was once owned by a master of bojutsu, the art of the wooden staff.

While some have suggested that the footage is fake, the Telegraph has corroborating information about the "Kung Fu Bear": he's at the Asa Zoo in Hiroshima, where zookeepers encouraged his hobby by giving him sticks.

(A nice historical overview of bojutsu and jojutsu is at

the karate punch: radioulnar pronation versus glenohumeral rotation

Posted on: Wed, 03/24/2010 - 01:24 By: Tom Swiss

This is a topic that's come up several times over the years on the Karate CyberDojo: in the classic karate punch, the hand moves from the chambered position, with the fist palm-up at the hip or beside to chest, out to the target, turning over so that at the end of the motion the palm is down. It is important to maintain proper body alignment throughout the movement, but I think many karateka do not understand the alignment of the elbow and shoulder here. This is from a post I made to the CyberDojo today:

Put your arm straight out in front of you, palm up, point of the elbow down. There are two motions you can make to turn your palm down:

1) Keeping the upper arm in place, rotate just the forearm -- "pronation of the forearm at the radioulnar joint", to get anatomically geeky about it. The shoulder doesn't move, nor does the elbow. If you bend your elbow after this rotation, your hand moves upward. This is, I think, the "correct" movement.

2) Allowing the upper arm to move, rotate the entire arm from the shoulder -- "medial rotation of the shoulder at the glenohumeral joint". As you do this, the elbow moves up and out (superiorly and laterally) away from your center line. If you bend your elbow after this rotation, your hand moves medially, toward your center line. This is the "incorrect" movement, because it puts the shoulder in a weaker position and moves the elbow out of line.

Of course we're not robots that move only one joint, and I think we all have a little bit of movement 2; trying not to move the shoulder at all probably is counter-productive. But most of the motion to turn the fist over should be movement 1, at the forearm.

Joe Gans, Baltimore's original boxing champ

Posted on: Fri, 03/19/2010 - 13:37 By: Tom Swiss

Joe Gans was the first black American to win a world boxing title. He was the lightweight boxing champion from 1902 to 1904 and 1906 to 1908 -- and many boxing historians claim he actually held the title straight through 1902 to 1908. (The records are not clear.) The 1906 fight in which he defended or regained the title went for 42 rounds!

H.L. Mencken called him "probably the greatest boxer who ever lived"; Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the musician) said Gans moved around the ring "like he's on wheels up there." Madison Square Garden has a statue of him, and there's a painting of him in The National Gallery of Art.

(110-year-old film footage of Gans most controversial fight, in which it's alleged he took a dive, is on YouTube.)

But Gans has largely been forgotten, even in his native Baltimore. Baltimore's City Paper covers Kevin Grace's attempt to rectify the historical injustice a bit:

As the 100th anniversary of Gans' death on Aug. 10, 1910, approaches, some fans and boxing historians are trying to resurrect his story. A Gans biography came out in 2008 and another is set for release in the next year or two. At least one screenplay is looking for a home, and rumors are afoot about a documentary film. But Joe Gans' most vocal booster isn't a writer or a filmmaker or even much of a boxing fan. He works in ground operations for Southwest Airlines at BWI.


And so began his campaign to resurrect the boxer's legacy. For months, Grace made phone calls, filed papers, knocked on doors, and leveraged friendships in the hopes of waking Baltimore--and the world--up to Joe Gans. He sought support from local boxers, City Council members, and community organizations; learned the bureaucratic channels that lead to street namings and city sculptures; and put together a short documentary about Gans to accompany his pitch. He had business cards made for the Friends of Joe Gans, an organization with a membership of one. He dreamed of grand gestures like a commemorative stamp, a statue, historical markers, and an honorary street naming. Grace is matter-of-fact about his unusual dedication. "I don't have a vested interest," he says. "I'm just a concerned citizen, and if I don't do it, nobody will."

vegan tough guys

Posted on: Wed, 03/17/2010 - 17:47 By: Tom Swiss

Two tough guys to add to your list of vegan athletes:

So for those who want to argue that vegans are a bunch of wimps and that you need to eat animal flesh to be strong, I invite you to contact these gentlemen.

buy stock in Shaolin

Posted on: Thu, 12/17/2009 - 16:18 By: Tom Swiss

Ugh. The Chinese government agency that handles tourism at the Shaolin temple, is going to take the Shaolin "brand" into the stock market.

I say again: ugh.

Shaolin is not just the setting for kung-fu dramas. It is -- or rather, was, prior to the murderous reign of Mao -- a real temple, regarded as the birthplace of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism. Legend has it that 1,500 years ago, Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of Zen, came from India (or maybe Persia) and ended up at Shaolin, where he spent several years in seated meditation, staring at the wall of a cave. He supposedly found the monks at Shaolin too weak to endure the rigors of his style of meditation, so introduced a set of exercises (presumably with some origin from yoga) that became the basis of kung fu/wushu and, later, karate, and also of qi gong and Asian bodywork therapies. (It's a good myth, but any connection to actual historical events is probably coincidental.)

Modern "Shaolin kung fu" is an impressive array of acrobatics that has fsck-all to do with Zen, wushu, or everyone's favorite red-bearded barbarian.

Pity the poor temple, ravaged decades ago by Maoism, and now by capitalism.

I say once more time: ugh.

exercise beneficial even for 85-year-olds

Posted on: Fri, 10/09/2009 - 11:45 By: Tom Swiss

A study of the benefits of exercise for octogenarians, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that active 85-year-olds had a three-year survival rate three times higher than those who were inactive.

Even those who started exercise late saw benefit -- previously sedentary 85-year-olds who got a move on had three-year survival rates double that of elder couch potatoes.

Nor did it take intense training to qualify as active. It seems that walking four hours a week had as much benefit (in terms of survival, at least) as more vigorous activity.

So keep moving! Me, I intend to still be continuing my karate training into my 80s. And 90s. And 100s.

on crime, bloodlust, and the "samurai sword killing"

Posted on: Thu, 09/17/2009 - 10:59 By: Tom Swiss

Posted in response to the comments on a comments on a Baltimore Sun editorial about the recent "samurai sword killing" in Baltimore. (Links have been added to this version.)

Wow. The bloodlust displayed by many comments on this incident makes me sad.

We don't have all the details, but it seems Mr. Pontolillo was probably acting in justified self-defense. I'm a martial arts instructor and a gun owner, and I stand solidly behind his right to do so.

But one of the few teachings that has stuck with me from my abandoned Catholic upbringing is that every single human being has the potential for redemption, regardless of their past mistakes. Mr. Rice has lost his chance at redemption, and that should sadden us.

If the very best thing that we, as a society, could do with Mr. Rice's human potential was let it bleed out onto the ground, then we are in sorry shape indeed.

Thanks to right-wing "tough on crime" policies, along with the economics of the prison-industrial complex, prisons have abandoned any attempt at reforming inmates. And so we see the sort of "revolving door" system that did nothing for Mr. Rice. A recent NPR story about Folsom prison notes that four decades ago, when it was a model institution where almost every prisoner got education and job training, most never returned to prison. Now, only 10% get job training -- and the recidivism rate is 75%.

So here's the end result of the "tough on crime" attitude spouted by those cheering Mr. Rice's death: more crime, more violence, lives wasted, and ordinary citizens with blood on their hands.

"Manly Arts Day" returns

Posted on: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 00:03 By: Tom Swiss

Thanks to Victor Markland for passing this along: Sunday, September 20th, 10am-4pm,
Western martial arts classes and demos at the "Manly Arts Day"
, at the Hampton National Historic Site (in Towson, MD -- directions here).

Ongoing demonstrations of swordsmanship, fencing, boxing, stick fighting, and more will show skills used by men to defend their honor, homes and country in Colonial times to those used by men and women in the Victorian era. (Although historically viewed as “manly” arts, all are welcome to participate in the exercises and demonstrations.) New this year will be a class on Bartitsu the “Gentlemanly Art of Self Defense” as practiced by Sherlock Holmes, and featured in the upcoming film due for release this fall.

Visitors will be able to view an array of historical weapons and practice their own technique using a variety of safe, wooden swords . Guest instructors include two internationally recognized martial artists and authorities Steven Huff and Mark P. Donnelley. They will be assisted by Park Ranger Victor Markland and members of the Mid-Atlantic Society for Historical Swordsmanship.

Subscribe to martial arts