Martial Arts


Still with much too much free time on my hands, I’ve started re-watching Highlander: The Series, which is conveniently on youtube in its entirety. Some thoughts so far in the first season (which originally showed back in 1992, over 20 years ago!):

The series seems to hold up pretty well overall. The acting is decent, and the casting is good as well. Englishman Adrian Paul is a million times more believable as a Scotsman than Christopher Lambert ever was. Alexandra Vandernoot playing Duncan’s love interest is as exotic and sexy as I remember her, however some parts of 90’s fashion haven’t aged well, which is most noticeable with her costumes: her high-waisted jeans look like mom jeans today, and she (and all the other women in the show) have big poofy hair that looks pretty silly to our current norms.

Production values are good, and it turns out that the show had quite a big budget for a TV show: it was financed and broadcast internationally, allowing it to make profit from numerous markets all over North America, Europe, and Asia simultaneously. With so many financial backers, I don’t know how the producers and directors managed to avoid having everything about the show ruined by a committee, but they seem to have managed it somehow.

Getting Christopher Lambert to do a cameo on the opening episode was excellent: their characters Connor and Duncan McLeod really have great chemistry together, it’s a shame that Lambert didn’t agree to do any more episodes.

Of course my memory tells me that the show really went downhill on the last two seasons, but I’m still on the first season and I’m really enjoying it.

Now is the time of year when my wife and kids go back to Japan for a major portion of the summer, so I find myself with lots of (i.e. too much) free time. While I always have goals of doing something productive, it usually ends up with me playing lots of video games and watching lots of shows or movies.

So I just finished watching a web series called Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. Basically it’s 12 10-minute episodes, so total it’s about the length of a full-length film. And I really enjoyed watching it. I’m not extremely knowledgeable about the back story and such of the Street Fighter characters just that Ryu and Ken both use a style called 暗殺拳 (ansatsu ken or assassin’s fist), and that they were both best friends and rivals. I also knew that there was a 3rd character that used the same style named Akuma (Japanese for demon), and that he was antagonist of some sort. That was about it.

Anyway, I was really impressed when I saw it. It wasn’t silly and campy like the old Street Fighter movie with Raul Julia. The dialog is mostly Japanese with subtitles, and in fact all of the Japanese characters are actual Japanese actors, with the sole exception of Ryu played by Asian American Mike Moh. Even then both him and Ken regularly speak Japanese in the show. Overall I’d say that it’s probably the best film based off a video game that I’ve ever seen. If you played Street Fighter back in your youth, I think you’ll like this.

Back in our younger days, my younger brother and I were quite the aficionados for low-budget martial arts movies. We’re not talking Jackie Chan movies here, those movies are grade-A top quality compared to some of the stuff we regularly watched.

For example, I’ve seen pretty much everything by JKVD made before 2000, almost everything that Cynthia Rothrock has been in, all 3 of the Best of the Best movies (the first is the best of the Best of the Best, though #2 is more entertaining imho), all of the Master Ninja series before I had even heard of MST3K (same goes for Quest of the Delta Knights!), tons of Godfrey Ho Hong Kong drek that was made by editing together unfinished parts of movies (Ninja Death Squad being my favorite example. I could only find that one scene online, but it’s a very representative example), and everything that Billy Blanks did long before he did Tae Bo (which seems to be pretty much dead now).

And speaking of Billy Blanks, probably my favorite fight scene from a martial arts movie is from one of his movies, Showdown from 1993. It’s pretty much a remake of Karate Kid, with Billy in the Mr. Miyagi role and more-or-less unknown Kenn Scott in the Daniel role (seriously, the only mainstream thing he’s done was the suit actor for Raphael in the old TMNT movies).
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I’ve written several posts in the past about the fractionalization of a martial arts style when students leave their masters and go form their own style. My thinking on the subject was sparked again by a discussion I had with some friends a few weeks ago. We were talking about black belt inflation, which is where some styles have gone to actually award ranks higher than 10th dan!

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Which is more funny: someone purposely trying to be funny by lampooning martial arts, or martial artists that seriously think they are doing real technique but instead look like they are trying out for the ice capades? You decide.

Mullett Swordmaster

or:

Qi Power

… of wisdom were never spoken. That is all.

The other day I was browsing through various videos on YouTube, and I ran across some clips from Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first star role in a big action movie. There were quite a few clips, but the ones that I really liked were this classic line (evidently this is originally a quote from Ghengis Khan, which is certainly plausible) and the climactic battle near the end of the movie. Watching it brought back some nostalgia from 80’s action movies, so I got hold of a copy and watched it. Maybe I’m getting wierd, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood spewing out nothing but crap for the last decade has really lowered my standards, but I really enjoyed it. It’s probably one of the best action epics I’ve ever seen. James Earl Jones and Mako (Makoto Iwamatsu, r.i.p.) give excellent performances, even though their screen time is pretty short. And Arnold? He wasn’t bad at all. He plays a very convincing barbarian (don’t know if that’s a complement or not though).

Another thing that really surprised me is that the majority of the swordwork seemed, well, solid. It wasn’t the clang-swords-together-until-I-stab-you-because-that’s-what-the-script-says that is the de facto standard in movie fight scenes, and it wasn’t the gymnasticly-impressive-but-ridiculous type of thing that is the norm in kung fu movies and the new norm in post-Star Wars Ep. I and The Matrix Hollywood. Take this scene where Valeria kills a couple of Thulsa Doom’s guards. You just don’t see that kind of fight scene in other movies. In fact, a lot of the sword work seemed somehow familiar. It turns out there is a good reason for that.

So according to imdb, the ‘sword master’ for Conan the Barbarian is someone by the name of Kiyoshi Yamasaki. Certainly Japanese, and most likely a Japanese martial artist, which would explain the familiarity of the swordwork I saw. So a quick google search found this site, which explains that he is an iaido and ‘tate-do’ instructor in Anaheim, CA. There is an old post on e-budo that explains most of his background with links to other pages with info on him.

Bonus: He also did the fight choreography for the 2nd Conan movie Conan the Destroyer, the Conan spin-off Red Sonya (although I wonder if he willingly admits to this one, since this movie is universally lampooned), and Dune. I’ll have to check up on those too, although I might need an antacid to get through Red Sonya.

Also, it turns out tate (殺陣) is the Japanese word for stage combat, which makes sense. The Japan Tate-do Society even has a dojo in Shinjuku.

For some reason that I still don’t understand, my wife Ryoko really likes Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star). It’s not really a girl-oriented anime, so I’ve wondered on occasion what she finds so interesting in it. When I ask her, she just says something like “Because Kenshiro is so cool!” which doesn’t answer the real question that I’m asking. I mean, if you like Hokuto no Ken, then there is a good chance you would like, say…. professional wrestling, which she certainly does not.

So if you don’t know or haven’t seen what Hokuto no Ken is, the basic story is Kenshiro, a kung fu master (with a Japanese name, of course) is wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, searching for his lost love, Julia. So if you want to see what it’s like, YouTube is there to save the day again! With a bit of searching, here is the intro to Hokuto no Ken and Hokuto no Ken 2. I really like both of these songs, mostly because of the over-the-top 80’s rock style, and the hilarious lyrics. For example, here is my (albeit literal) tranlsation to the opening theme of Hokuto no Ken, Ai wo Torimodose (Bring Back the Love):

[falsetto]You are Shock!
The sky is falling from my love.
[falsetto]You are Shock!
It’s falling to my chest.
Even if you bind my burning heart with chains,
It’s impossible.
I’ll take down anyone who gets in my way with a single finger.
[falsetto]You are Shock!
My heart is beating faster from my love.
[falsetto]You are Shock!
My heart beats faster.
Looking for you, my wandering heart is now
burning fiercely.
I should just melt everything and send it flying without any remorse.
[falsetto refrain]
In order to protect our love,
You leave on a journey.
I’ve lost sight of tomorrow.
A face that’s forgotten how to smile,
I don’t want to see it.
Bring back the love!

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Between those lyrics, the 80’s metal, and the awesome head-exploding kung-fu animation in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, what’s there not to love about this show?

The action has been heating up in the comments section, where I have been getting a new comment almost every two months! I’ve already had several people comment on Albert Geraldi, generally agreeing with what I said and just filling in details while making it clear that Geraldi-sensei and Taika Oyata are still on good terms. Also some more detail on my inferences on George Dillman, also generally agreeing with me that his credentials may be less than accurate.

Just recently though, got a lengthy comment from Sharon Hayakawa, who is a close friend of both Taika Oyata and Sentaku-sensei. She censures me a bit and points out that alot of what I commented about Sentaku-sensei is also less than accurate. Well, most of what I said was inference and assumption anyway, since the solid facts I was basing them on were 1) Sentaku-sensei was the chief instructor at the honbu dojo for Ryu-te for several years, in addition to being the only person other that Taika himself that could teach the Shin-shu-ho. 2.) Sentaku-sensei is no longer affiliated with Ryu-te and has founded his own style called Ten Shin Ichi Ryu 天心一流.

Basically, it seems that Sentaku-sensei worked very hard for Taika for a very long time, and that his work was a little more thankless than he might have liked. Well, I guess you can’t blame someone for that. No matter how much you may enjoy the job itself, receiving little thanks/recognition/compensation could make the funnest job in the world next to drudgery. I suppose I should listen more to Jim Logue in his comment on my earlier post:

I”m not putting down any of these people, they were all talented and gifted and did much to help the organization grow. The falling out is always a two way street and I’m not going to get into any details about that. That’s a matter between each person.

Sharon also points out that my obsession with the overuse of the title “Doshu” 道主 is undeserved, since it simply means ‘founder’ in Japanese. This may just be my pet peeve then, but I feel that the martial arts culture suffers from an overuse of pretentious titles. Reading the bio page on Shintaku-sensei’s page, it still sounds overly pretentious to me, with the phrasing of Doshu this and Doshu that in 3rd person. I also feel the same about martial artists who always add titles like Shihan 師範, Kyoshi 教師, Hanshi (範師 or 範士, depending) , Master, Grand Master, or (not the most pretentious but the most annoying in my opinion) Professor after thier names.

Professor‘ always cracks me up, probably because I always imagine the following dialogue taking place:

    Normal Person: So, you are a professor?
    ‘Professor’: Yes, yes I am.
    Normal Person: A professor of what?
    ‘Professor’: Um, butt-kickology.

Maybe it’s just because of the inundation of people like “Grand Master Bill Dixon of Dixon’s Rebel Karate” and such that has given me a jaundiced view of such titles. Shouldn’t just a simple -Sensei be sufficient for any martial artist, or at least in Japanese martial arts? Granted that many of these titles are specifically bestowed titles by reputable martial arts organizations, but even as such I think I still prefer a simple “Sensei”. What titles would work for non-Japanese martial arts? Please tell me your opinion on this issue, I can always use more comments.

If you have a few minutes, check out some of the hits on a google search for martial arts Grand Masters. (Warning: the links may contain mullets)

Also, I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t gotten any comments from one of George Dillman’s students. That would be cool.

I was going to just write this as a comment to my earlier post, but there was a lot I wanted to say, so I’m just writing it as a new post. I mentioned how Oyata-sensei has had a problem with most of his students no longer being associatied with him. Here I will talk about three of his former students and compare/contrast what they have done since.

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