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13 September 2009 @ 07:12 pm
The Martial Arts Game: A New Business, Teaching & Coaching Model For The 21st Century Martial Arts-Life® Coach The Martial Arts Game: A New Business, Teaching & Coaching Model For The 21st Century Martial Arts-Life® Coach by Rodney King

Like most American martial artists, I first heard of Rodney King (not to be confused with THAT Rodney King) some years back when he put out a series of DVDs through the Straight Blast Gym. In those DVDs, King introduced to the world his "Crazy Monkey" system, which was, to all appearances, a method of teaching fundamental boxing skills to new students. Depending on who you asked, it was either totally revolutionary, reasonably effective, or total hogwash. In other words, it was received just like every other innovation in the martial arts community.

Truthfully, I never paid that much attention to the system. Because most of my training takes place at a top quality striking school, I didn't feel like I was missing a lot in terms of training or teaching methodologies in that regard. A bit closed-minded of me, perhaps, but there it is. I did follow some of King's writings, and checked out the occasional clip on youtube, but nothing I saw leapt out at me enough to make me want to plunk down $100.

So why did I pick up this book?

A few reasons. First, the book appeared to be about pedagogy, which is something that I am far more interested in than technical material at this point (particularly in regard to empty-handed striking). Second, it appeared to have a lot to do with teaching private clients, which is something I do a lot, and hope to get some ideas from. Third, it appeared to offer a business model similar to the one I've been trying to work with, so I figured that it was probably worth checking out.

And it absolutely was.

The Martial Arts Game is a combination of business manual, self-help book, pedagogical treatise and impassioned plea to the martial arts world. King begins by outlining what he perceives as some of the major problems in the martial arts community. I think some of his observations are dead-on accurate, though they are clearly colored by his long association with the mixed martial arts community. It is through the observations that he comes to suggest a different model of coaching the martial arts.

I almost wrote that it's a new model, but the truth is, what King is suggesting is, for many arts, really a return to an older model. Small classes, with a good student/teacher ratio. Classes that focus on the student's needs, not on some arbitrary desire by the instructor to pass on the "style" to all of his little carbon copy students. It's a model that I think was much more prevelant in the arts in previous centuries, but has been lost with the growth of the martial arts as an industry.

But new or old, it is a great model, especially in today's society. It really allows teacher and student to develop in ways that are much more difficult to do in a large group class. And King outlines the whole model very well, from suggestions about how teach a specific lesson to how to market and run an entire business. At every stage, he provides some examples of the process that he's talking about, though some are more concrete than others.

The book is good, but it's far from perfect. For one thing, it's very general. King seems to have really only scratched the surface of his ideas here, and it seems like there is room for much more detail. His pedagogy and examples are focused entirely around using a combat sport as your teaching methodology, so teachers of "traditional" martial arts may have a hard time adapting his methods to their instruction.

And I confess that I would have a hard time referring to myself as a "Martial Arts Life Coach", but that is my own personal bias. I'm not sure that my skills at coaching martial arts necessarily make me qualified to help people run their lives; on the other hand, I have occasionally turned into something of a therapist in shorts for some of my clients, so what do I know? Maybe King is on to something there.

Actually, I take that back. King is definitely onto something here. If you're a martial arts teacher, whether you have one student or one hundred, this is book is worth reading.
 
 
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Stone
26 August 2009 @ 01:02 pm
Hood (King Raven, Book 1)Hood
by Stephen R. Lawhead


For reasons I don't entirely understand, I've always had a fascination with Robin Hood. I had a general fascination with archery as a child, and it may be that there was something about a character with a reputation for being such a skilled bowman that drew my attention. Maybe it was the entirely to numerous viewings of Prince of Thieves (which, awful though it may be, holds a special place in my heart) as a youth. Who knows? Whatever the case, the fascination is there, and it combined with my belief that I probably should have read something by Stephen Lawhead by now that caused me to grab Hood and bring it on my trip to Maine in July.

Hood is not just a retelling, but a reimagining. Not content to simply rehash the same old story, Lawhead transplants the story of Robin Hood into Wales in the year 1093. The Sherrif of Nottingham and King John are replaced with the Norman overlords, who are busy asserting their power in Wales at the expense of the local Welsh lords. The role of Robin Hood himself is taken on by Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, after his father is killed by the Normans while he travels to London to negotiate with them. Friar Tuck, Little John, Guy of Gisborne, and the Maid Marian all make appearances, though all changed to greater or lesser extents from the common vision of them.

Being the first part of a trilogy, Hood is less about the exploits of Bran, and more of an "origin story", detailing Bran's transformation from apathetic prince to rebel leader. Lawhead weaves an element of Celtic mysticism into the tale as well, which may be jarring to readers, but ultimately feels right within the context of the story. The major plot twists and turns come from the machinations of the Norman overlords, while Bran's story is relatively straightforward, though still fun and entertaining all the same.

Bran does not get all of the screen time, however, as the story jumps back and forth between him, other members of the eventual band, and several priests and dukes besides. Questions of religion and faith pop up surprisingly often for a Robin Hood tale--at least, more than I would have expected.

Hood is, by and large, and good Robin Hood story. It has humor, action, grief, drama, betrayal, and mystery, all in varying but appropriate doses. Some readers may find Lawhead's use of alternative spellings and archaic language off putting, but once you get into the book, it flows fairly quickly. If I have a complaint, it's that the book is a story unfinished, and while I don't begrudge the idea of reading the next installment, I find it frustrating to get to the end of a story without there being, well, an ending.

(Like this review? Please support my reading habit by purchasing this book through my Amazon store.)<input ... ><input ... >
 
 
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Stone

Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu
by Serge Mol


I've had a long time fascination with the Japanese martial arts, a fascination I blame primarily on a combination of my father's Judo stories when I was a kid, the ninja-craze of my childhood (when everyone knew that ninja were just the coolest things ever, and that pirates were lame), and the fact that Aikido was the first Asian martial art I ever seriously studied (I did Tae Kwon Do before that, but not very seriously or very well).

Whatever the source, I've found the history and practice of the Classical Japanese martial arts (Koryu) particularly interesting, but for many years, couldn't find much written on the subject. Donn Draeger wrote a series of excellent books on the subject, but that was all I was aware of until recently. Serge Mol's Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu was one of the first books on the subject that I found, though it appears to be part of a much larger body of recent Koryu writings that I am not familiar with. More stuff to read, I guess.

As the title indicates, this particular book is focused specifically on Koryu Jujutsu systems; that is to say, Classical Japanese Martial arts whose primary focus was on unarmed, close-quarters combat (as distinct from those systems which focused primarily on the use of weapons, such as swords, spears, and so on). The book opens with a general discussion of the possible origins of the Jujutsu ryuha, and some of the mythology connected with those origins. From there, Mol moves on to define some general terminology common to all of the ryuha, and to introduce some of the "minor weapons" (knives, fistloads, and other smaller fighting tools), before delving into a discussion of the ryuha themselves. A great chunk of the book is devoted to discussing a number of the various schools from different lineages within the Japanese martial arts. As Mol himself makes clear, this is not a totally comprehensive discussion, but it certainly is very large, and relatively in-depth. Mol cannot possibly cover ever Koryu Jujutsu system that ever existed, but he does hit a lot of them.

This is the sort of book that you're either into or you're not. In the tradition of Draeger, it is a relatively serious academic work. Mol has done his research, and he presents the findings of this research here. Oral tradition is cited as oral tradition, not as fact, and supernatural powers and events are treated with the scholarly skepticism that they deserve. If you want to be treated to stories about masters with magical powers that kill a man with a glance, this is not your book. Honestly, even if you're just interested in learning more about the Koryu, this might not be your book. While it's very interesting, and quite comprehensive, someone who has never read anything about the Koryu might find it a little daunting, particularly when reading the laundry lists of various styles and their creation, practices, and so on.

Also, a fair warning. While the book jacket advertises that this book contains "information on how to disarm opponents who are armed with daggers or swords, how to lock opponents with their own weapons, and more", this is not an instruction manual by any means. I realize the efficacy of books as an instructional medium can be debated, but this book doesn't really even try. While it does show some photographic sequences of techniques being performed, it's definitely not designed to be a "how-to" guide.

So who will like this book? Someone interested in Japanese history, or Japanese martial arts. Koryu practitioners may find it useful for placing their art in a broader historical context, as may practitioners of the Gendai Budo (Judo, Aikido, and so on). Even if you're not a student of the Japanese arts, this book will provide a lot of great information to the amateur (or professional) historian.
 
 
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Stone
22 July 2009 @ 05:45 pm
Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals
by Mark S. Fleisher
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press (August 15, 1995)
  • ISBN-10: 0299147746



Yet another book in the line of "stuff Rory Miller recommends". The last one was psychology. This one is anthropology.



Beggars and Thieves is the culmination of a multi-year anthropological study done by Mark Fleisher. Fleisher, a former prison administrator, spent an enormous amount of time with street criminals, both inside and outside of prison, working to construct a picture of how these criminals are created, and perhaps, to start looking at how they might be treated (or how their criminal tendencies might have been prevented).



After an introduction and overview, the book follows a fairly straightforward pattern, beginning with the childhood of the street criminal, and tracing that life forward until it culminates in old age (provided the criminal gets there). In each chapter, Fleisher includes numerous quotes, stories, and other bits of evidence from his study to help bolster his argument, but also to help create a better picture of the mindset of the people that he's working with. The final chapter of the book brings Fleisher's studies into focus, with a detailed explanation of how Fleisher believes public policy needs to be altered to better address urban crime in America.



While the book is clearly aimed at policy makers, it has a great deal of value for anyone interested in enhancing their personal safety. Fleisher's evidence reinforces the idea that most criminals simply do not think the way the average law abiding citizen does. they are not operating on the same set of values, or even variations on the same set of values, that the non-criminal does. Understanding this mindset, and how it works, is something that everyone working to better the safety of those around them should look into. Definitely worth the read.
 
 
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Stone
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910
by Alan Moore




I really, really, wanted to like this.



For those not familiar--the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was an interesting idea in which Alan Moore took a number of characters from various stories that were all roughly contemporaneous in their setting, and meshed them together in a sort of "Victorian superhero team". So you had Mina Harker, Alan Quartermain, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man all teaming up to, well, fight crime. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that was the basic idea. The second series pitted the same group against the martians from War of the Worlds, and was also cool in it's own right. The Black Dossier deviated from the original group by telling two stories; one, set in the 1960's, about a group related to the original league attempting to recover the titular Black Dossier. The other 'story' was really just the text of the Black Dossier itself, which explains a lot about where the League members came from, places them in a greater historical context, and contains a stupid amount of sex. Really. A STUPID amount of it. It made the framing story feel not only disjointed, but a bit weird, and I didn't entirely enjoy it.

This one though, seemed to just tell a single, straightforward story, and so I had high hopes. Such high hopes that I read it twice, just to be sure.

But even after a second read through, I found I really didn't like this. Mostly because this story lacks two things; engaging characters, and an interesting plot.

To the first; some of the characters are familiar (Harker and Quatermain, as well as Orlando for those who read Black Dossier). Others, like Carnacki, and the other guy, who I cannot remember at all, are new. It doesn't matter, because they are indescribably dull. This is the first story about the League where I absolutely, completely, and totally did not care about the members of said League at all.

Of course, there are plenty of other characters in the story; well, some, anyway. Unfortunately, they are all equally dull. Janni, daughter of Captain Nemo, has some potential, but her story arc is so grossly cliched as to just be somewhere between silly and dumb. I would think that someone so interested in pushing social boundaries (as Moore seems to be) would be able to come up with a story about a woman becoming strong in a way that doesn't follow such a ridiculously cliched path.

As for the plot; there isn't much of one. I gather from reading some other review that this is intended to kick of a series, so I suppose that could be forgiven, except for the fact that I don't really even know where the story is supposed to go from here. Or rather, this installment of the story was so boring as to make me not care enough to figure it out.

While I've read much worse in the graphic novel department (anything done by Rob Liefield comes to mind), this one ultimately just isn't up to the standard set by it's predecessors. It's not even close.
 
 
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Stone
01 July 2009 @ 01:59 pm
1776  
1776 1776
David McCullough



Once again, I find myself not entirely sure how I ended up with this book. I know it's from the time when I worked in Waldenbooks, but beyond that, I have no clue. Up until relatively recently (the last two or three months), American Colonial History has not really been my thing. I've generally preferred periods before gunpowder.

But, as I said, this was on my shelf, and having recently listened to a series on American history courtesy of the Teaching Company, I figured I'd give it a shot.

This is a very excellent book, but a bit strange. I didn't realize until I was almost done that this was actually written as a companion piece to McCullough’s acclaimed John Adams, which I have not read, but which might make this one flow better. Not that this is bad...on the contrary, the writing is excellent. Engaging, thoughtful, and well balanced, McCullough takes the events of one of the most pivotal years in U.S. history and turns it into a fascinating story. His focus leans more heavily towards the American point of view, rather than the British one, but the British get their time in the spotlight too. Nor do the Americans come across as perfect angels fighting for all that is good and right; even "his Excellency" George Washington is shown with all of his doubts, fears, and mistakes (of which he makes a number). The British are not painted as vile villains; even king George comes off reasonably well, all things considered.

So what makes the book so odd? Mostly that it's a book that tells the story of a year with very little context, and very little follow up. McCullough simply jumps into the story at the end of 1775, tells it through to the beginning of 1777, and then stops. There is very little in the way of detail on the beforehand or afterward, which makes a certain amount of sense for a companion piece, but which I found a bit startling reading this as a stand alone work.

Still, that's a quibble about a book that is overall, engaging, fun, and interesting. For those who enjoy American colonial history, this is an excellent choice. Those looking for a simple overview of the revolution should probably look elsewhere.
 
 
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Stone
10 June 2009 @ 10:31 am

I'm a bit late on this one, but...David Eddings apparently passed away about a week ago.

Eddings is one of those authors that I have weird mixed feelings about. I read the Belgariad and the Mallorean as a teenager, and really enjoyed them. Sometime in my twenties, I re-read them, and discovered that I still enjoyed them. They were popcorn fantasy, but the characters were fun and dialogue was witty, and by and large, I enjoyed it. None of it made me think very deeply, but I did enjoy it.

Everything I read of his afterwards got steadily worse. The Elenium and The Tamuli were mostly just dull. The Redemption of Althalus was just awful. I barely finished it.

Somewhere in there, I read one of his few non-fantasy works, The Losers, which actually turned out to be probably the best thing of his I've ever read. I remember being shocked, both because I kept expecting fantasy to creep in (the main characters names are Raphael and Damien, for crying out loud), and because in the end, it just turned out to be a good story about people. Nothing more, nothing less.

It's actually the book of his I'm most likely to go back and re-read, at this point.

I never picked up any of his other books; part of it was a belief that he probably wasn't turning out anything better than he more recent attempts. Part of it was reading a couple of statements of his that mocked the fantasy genre as a whole, which seemed a little crass to me (it's fine to not like it, but when you make your living writing it, it seems to me you shouldn't verbally piss on your audience...).

On the other hand, he does deserve credit for puting out some good, fun reads. And for fighting very hard to make sure that his wife eventually got the credit she deserved for helping him with his writing.

Thanks for the stories, Mr. Eddings.
 
 
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Stone
08 June 2009 @ 03:40 pm

The Ghost Brigades

John Scalzi

  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (May 1, 2007)

  • ISBN-10: 0765354063

When Poe Ghostal lent me Old Man's War, the first book in this series by John Scalzi, I thanked him. A few days after he lent me Ghost Brigades, I cursed him.

Ghost Brigades isn't just good; it's so good that it distracted me from the other reading I was doing. Hell, it distracted me from work. After about four chapters, it was distracting me from everything short of eating and other essential bodily functions. Fortunately, I finished it with no serious damage to myself or my upholstery.

Though set in the same universe as Old Man's War, calling Ghost Brigades a "sequel" is slightly misleading. This is not another story about John Perry (the titular "Old Man" from the first book); instead, the book focus primarily upon Jared Dirac, a recently created member of the Ghost Brigades, who was designed to be something a little different from an ordinary solider.

Specifically, he's designed to be a traitor.

I'll let the book jacket do the weight of the talking here

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

While some reviews seem to disagree, I actually found this book far more engaging than Old Man's War; I think a lot of that has to do with Dirac, who I found to be a really intersting character to read about. He goes through a very interesting evolution that is a bit different from that of John Perry, but contains a similar amount of deep introspection and thought. I also found the supporting characters in this story a lot more memorable, and even enjoyed Jane Sagan (one of the few major characters to reappear from Old Man's War) more this time around.

The plot itself is a good sci-fi military conspiracy plotline, as befits a novle that opens with a traitor faking his own death by kiling his clone, and working forward from there. The pacing is great, but very, very fast. I desperately don't want to use reviewing cliches like "it moves at warp speed", but I'm having a hard time dodging it. Once it ramps up, this plot MOVES.

In case I give the wrong impression, Ghost Brigades is not just a summer blockbuster in written form. Yes, it moves, and yes, there are fights and guns and explosions and sex...BUT, there is also a lot of introspection and thought about human beings, their motivations, and ultimately, what makes a person, well, a person.

There are apparently two or three other books in this series, and I can't wait to steal the rest from PoeGhostal.
 
 
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Stone
29 May 2009 @ 03:22 pm
PowersPowers
Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0152057706


It's been about a week since I actually finished this book...I've just been taking my sweet time in reviewing it. Which I'd apologize for, but I've been trying to work on things like my business, which sadly leaves little time for book reviewing (which, as of yet, no one pays me for).

Powers is the third novel in Ursula LeGuin's latest "Young Adult" series, The Annals of the Western Shore. I use that label rather gingerly, mostly because this series seems to be to be no more limited to young adults than it is to any other group. I've long since moved out of the age group that is considered "Young Adult", and I have found every book in this series marvelous. Powers is no exception.

Powers, like Voices and Gifts before it, is the story of a child born with abilities that somehow make him or her unique. In Powers, the child is Gavir, a slave boy with a gift for "remembering things that haven't happened." In other words, he's a precognitive, though Gavir himself never uses that word.

Powers traces Gavir's journey from childhood to adulthood, and from slavery to freedom. The story of his escape from slavery is an interesting one, and occurs in one of the most unusual (but quite believable) ways that I can think of. Once free, Gavir wanders the Western Shore, exploring and growing until, at the end, he finds himself connected with Orrec, Gry, and Memer, the protagonists of the previous books in the series.

Since it's been a week, my memories of the details of the book have become a bit fuzzy, but I can say this with certainty; it's an excellent book. Le Guin gives Gavir a lively and honest voice, that draws you into the story and keeps you reading right through to the end. The world she crafts feels very real, and very lived in...this is a fantasy "on the ground"; giant armies and world-saving quests are not the story here. This is a human story, with all of the grief, joy, confusion, pain, and delight that such stories require. Read it.

(And if you don't take my word for it, Powers also won the 2008 Nebula Award for Best Novel. So take it up with those who award such things too.)

 
 
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Stone

The Black Stranger: And Other American Tales

Robert E. Howard, Steven Tompkins

  • Publisher: Bison Books (April 1, 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0803273533

Robert E. Howard (REH hereafter) is probably best known in popular culture as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, in as much as he is known at all. I suspect that most people are more likely to recognize the name Conan than they are the name of the man who created him, but then, most people's vision of Conan is based of the very fun, but not very faithful, Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Erroneous picture or not, however, it's hard to deny that in the creation of Conan, Howard gave American popular imagination a figure who has survived for nearly a century, in pastiches, comics, movies. More recently, there has be a bit of a Howard resurgence, and several companies have begun publishing not only Howard's Conan stories (which are all excellent), but a great deal of Howard's other works as well.

The Black Stranger is, for the most part, a collection of REH's stories dealing with America. I say for the most part, because the titular story is actually a Conan tale, taking place in Howard's fictional Hyborian Age, rather than on the American continent proper. The story still fits perfectly, however, with it's dark, brooding forests, savage Picts (who are essentially Hollywood Indians with the serial numbers filed off), and stranded sailors, the story certainly feels like it could be set in a colonial or pre-colonial America. It's a very dark story, with murder, mysterious spirits, bloodthirsty tribes, and of course, some pirates. One of the creepier Conan stories, but compared with the other stories in this collection, it's actually rather...well, not uplifting, I suppose, but the protagonist gets out alive, which is more than can be said for some of them in the other stories.

The rest of the stories do take place on the American continent, though not all of them are "historical" by any stretch. "Marchers of Valhalla" follows a company of Vikings who have gotten themselves severely lost in an area that will eventually become Texas. Several other stories deal with Howard's vision of pre-Colombian America, which features mysterious civilizations paying homage to alien gods, conflict between civilization and barbarism (naturally), and, not infrequently, white men messing around with things they don't understand, and possibly should know better. As I alluded to earlier, some of these stories are pretty grim, and not filled with the sort of cheery derring-do that readers might expect. Which does not make them any less fun.

As the collection moves forward, the stories begin to move into areas of recorded history, and Howard's writing moves in a more horrific vein. "Black Cannan" tells a story of conflict between white and black residents of an insular area of Texas, while "Pigeons from Hell" is, in essence, a classic haunted house story. For the record, despite the possibly goofy title, "Pigeons from Hell" was, for my money, the most frightening story in this collection. If you have trouble sleeping after reading, don't finish off your night with this one.

The collection culminates with a couple of letters from REH, which are more interesting for their insights into Howard's mind and thoughts than they are for any literary enjoyment, and a single poem, "the Grim Land", which I enjoyed, but I'm not a big poetry reader.

The blurb on the back of this book compares the stories in this collection to dark classics like "Young Goodman Brown," "Benito Cereno," and "A Rose for Emily." I confess to not actually having READ those stories, so I'm hard pressed to say if the comparison is accurate. I can say that these stories are fantastic reading, full of mystery, horror, and adventure. Howard continues to impress me not just as a fun author to read, but as an author who really should be taken much more seriously on a literary level. This stuff is pure gold.
 
 
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