Thursday, January 21, 2016

From My Martial Arts Bookshelf

I have, over the past several months, gradually become more interested in weaponed martial arts (other than firearms, of course :)); specifically Historical European Martial Arts, to the degree that this past weekend I purchased a life membership in HEMA Alliance to compliment my NRA membership.  It will be a few more weeks or months before I'm physically ready to take up active training with others.  In the meantime I am using the inexpensive Cold Steel nylon bastard sword, single-hand sword (that's their description - I don't believe the design can be traced to any specific period or style of sword other than possibly "viking" or "crusader", neither of which would be correct in this instance, just convenient examples of broad sword descriptive types), and dagger I purchased to begin practicing the basic stances, steps and grips for those type weapons.  I'm able to do these alone and in front of my apartment, further confusing the neighbors (it's no secret I'm a shooter; over Christmas I constructed a shipping tube out of PVC to send some fishing rods to my son in Oregon - several neighbors apparently thought I was building a potato cannon or rocket launcher).  I can't imagine what they are going to dream up as a result of my latest hobby.  Hopefully it won't require the participation of the local PD.  :)

I've never been a dedicated martial arts student, and I'm much too old to be a serious one these days, but I do have a rather extensive (and fairly eclectic by most standards, I expect) library of books and a few instructional videos on the general topic of human combat.  A fairly recent acquisition is Guy Windsor's VENI VADI VICI.  In the Introduction (page 17 of the paperback edition, for those following along at home), he describes several word translations that are pretty much essential for any student of historical European swordsmanship to know and understand.  One of these stood out for me in particular, Mezo Tempo.  The following may be pushing the bounds of "fair use", but the quote in full is:
This is literally "half time", but refers to the use of blows that stop in the middle of the target, instead of traveling through to the other side.  Tempo in this instance means "completed movement" or something similar.  So the "half time" is the use of "half blows".  
Anyone who has spent any time training in any discipline involving hand strikes (and even kicks) will recognize the technique being described.  One maneuvers an opponent with footwork, of course, but also by means of the type and force of blows delivered.  Boxers, for an easily accessible modern example, are trained to "punch through the head"; that is, to deliver a strike to the head or face that is from sufficiently close range to reach at least the middle of the opponents head at full extension.  By punching only to the surface of the head, you can conserve energy and deceive an opponent while you maneuver in a manner that makes your footwork more effective in setting up a structured attack.

What I take to be Vadi's meaning in Mezo Tempo is that this same category of tactics from the un-weaponed fighting arts also applies more-or-less directly to sword fighting/sparring too.  It has been my belief from the outset of my interest in swords, and western martial arts generally, that this would indeed prove to be the case. That strategy and tactics from one discipline would apply to swords and other historical weapons just as well (accounting for differences in distance and such, of course).

I will take this opportunity to throw this thought out for consideration and (probably separate would be better) discussion as well; History Begins Yesterday.  My cyclical involvement in Krav Maga is what made the observation above so obvious to me; it would be hard to argue that KM is not a direct modification of European historical martial arts forms, as are a number of modern martial arts (Imi Lichtenfeld's book is quite specific on Krav Maga's historical lineage).  Are there organized courses of study within HEMA that connect the modern expressions of western martial arts to the historical forms we practice?

I would value any thoughts of others, particularly critical ones, about my conclusions and observations.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

sic transit gloria

Glenn Fry, RIP

11/6/1948 - 1/18/2016


sooner or later, we all have to die

sooner or later, that's a stone cold fact

four men ride out, only three ride back

no more time to borrow, maybe no more tomorrow Desperado


Monday, January 18, 2016

13 Hours

Went to see the film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi in the cinema Sunday afternoon; definitely worth the price of admission just for the cinematography and Special Effects.  No spoilers, but like virtually every other "based on historical events" (and in this case specifically "This is a true story") movie, there are gaping holes in the historical record as it is portrayed on film.  I'm not going to go into a long dissertation about the differences between written story and film story; leave it as stipulated that the two formats have mutually opposing criteria and thus there will always be a need to adapt a written record into the more compressed film format, and that that compression often is achieved by illustrating a condition with a fictionalized example that evokes the impact of the more complex actual events to a viewing audience in a reasonable period of viewing time.

Also, it is the height of stupidity to bring your personal ideology with you to any movie.  Enjoy the show for what it is, then have fun dissecting it with your friends and commentariat afterwards.  I guarantee you will have plenty of opportunity to rip it to pieces no matter who wrote, directed, or starred in it.

Ok, one tiny spoiler (paraphrased):  "Shorts to a gunfight?  That's a bold statement, brother."

Go see the movie in the theater if you possibly can.  This is one of those films that really benefits from the big screen viewing environment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

About That Retirement Thing ...

Once I discovered the actual amounts involved, I realized that, while I can live comfortably enough this year, by its nature "retirement" lasts the rest of your life and the amounts involved didn't permit a lot of confidence for 10 years out (never mind the actuarial life span numbers).  So, dis-engagement from the .gov borg is underway and I am so looking forward to 4 more years of active employment.

My employer's opinion was not solicited, but so far the weekly checks keep not bouncing.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Finding Zara Larsson

Ever had one of those days when you almost can't quite convince yourself that it's really worth the effort to not go ahead and take that last step?  Most military veterans are familiar with that convoluted train of thought, and mostly we manage to do something else.  For the last decade and more too many of us haven't though, at a rate of 22 a day on average here in the US.  Thousands of us every year.  Why isn't this strange company to find myself in?

This is my story of how I'm not one them quite yet, and how a teenage Swedish Pop singer plays an important part in continuing that string of accomplishment into the future.

Most stories have a beginning, and this one starts when I was a teenage Californian whose voice stubbornly wouldn't settle into any recognizable vocal range.  Instead of singing, I read.  In particular, I read Robert A. Heinlein, and the works of his that most impressed me had to do with the Howard Families and Lazerous Long in particular (no links - consider this an exercise of your Google Fu :)).  Never mind the wiz-bang technology or the somewhat questionable philosophy; the thing that stuck in my testosterone-flooded mind was the reason ol' Woodrow Wilson Howard claimed to be the real cause of his having lived for so long (English tense gets a little bit fuzzy when you're describing a Future History event you read about 50 years ago). 

Basically, he didn't want to miss what comes next.  You see, in the first few decades of his life he recognised that not only did change continue to occur, it occured in a recursive fashion.  A new thing over here leading to something entirely else over there, inspiring an improvement to something totally unrelated some other place.  Sometimes good, sometimes not-so-much, but always the predictable pattern that, if you can just hang around long enough, you will see some wonderful newness and have a chance at experiencing greatness.  The trick being to live through the experience, of course (if there's no trick to doing it, where's the adventure part of the story?).

Which brings this story back around.

 I first read about the concept of a "wikiwander", following one wikipedia link after another until you find yourself in serious need of a loo and more coffee, from Tamara Keel though I doubt she would claim to be the originator even if she was.  You can do the same kind of thing on You Tube.  Lindsay Sterling leads to Pentatonix, which (somehow - I was there and even I'm not real clear how) leads to Five Finger Death Punch, which obviously gets you to Taylor Swift, to ... wait a minute, who's this chick? 

Have you ever heard a voice that touched a void place in your soul?  That you didn't even know was there (that last is sort-of in the nature of a void, actually; the absence of any detectable presence)?  It's not the lyrics especially, that's a different thing; this is about the timbre and presence of the voice itself.  They say when you first hear your childrens voices is like that, but ... sorry, not so much. 

It all tends to run together in my memory now, but I think the first song was "Endless", or maybe "Carry You Home", and I know "Rooftop" was in there.  It mystifies me why no commenter has correctly identified the emotion in "She's Not Me, Pt 2".  That's not anger; if the girl was pleading any harder, she'd be in tears (which I'm guessing is more of an Italian thing than Swedish).  If I'm wrong, and she is anrgy instead of frustrated, then Pt 3 is going to feature something large, sharp and pointy if Swedish cultural history is any guide.  More probably, Pt 3 would demonstrate the effect of finding someone who appreciates that Me is not She and how little interest Me has in how anyone else is (that made sense when it was between my ears).

Most people I expect, but military vets for certain, have a recurring schedule of hard-to-get-through times; you'd think after so many years of practice dealing, it would get easier.  I know it was late summer (which here in Texas runs from June till "will this never end?"), and there were other stressors I was letting get the better of me, but that was when I first heard those songs.  I let the experience of Zara's voice get lost in the mix of (mostly non-) events that were also taking place at the time. 

I re-discovered her in early October, which is fortunate since birthdays are a pretty common trigger for dark thoughts and emotional desperation.  The CD "Zara Larsson 1" was only available through her european music company then (via Amazon natch), but I bought it anyway as a BD gift to myself.  I'm thinking it isn't actually possible to wear out the electrons in my computer, but I've been giving that theory a rigorous test ever since. I downloaded my copy of the CD into Windows Media Player, made a playlist of it, and have proceeded to try my neighbor's patience mercilessly.  I can say without reservation that there is widespread sentiment where I live, work, and even among people I only occasionally drive by, that "Zara Larsson 2" can't be released soon enough.

Man, am I in love with that girl's vocal cords.

Proof of my boyhood belief that life will offer new and different relief if I can only just hang on, is illustrated by my discovery of Zara and her love of song.  Those of us who take the periodic opportunity to look the void straight in the eye are usually intimately familiar with both ends of the gun barrel.  I keep all my blades sharp enough, and know how to push away instead of cut across.  And then "Uncover" comes up in the rotation, or maybe it's "Wanna Be Your Baby", and all that other relief stays on the shelf.  There ... but not, you know?   

And that's how I do it.

All my life this sense of certainty that, no matter how bad it gets there will be some newness for me to discover and learn to experience, is what keeps me from stepping into the void instead of tossing off the usual wink as I turn away.  I'm lucky really; my lifetime accumulation of owies are bearable with the usual abuse of OTC nostrums.  I've gone through the amatuer pharmaceutical pursuit and come out the other side (mostly) unscathed and un-arrested (there was that one time, but moral certainty doesn't rise to the level of actual evidence so far in this country, so a misdemeaner charge had to suffice) (also demonstrating that the human capacity to survive the spontaneous over-consumption of at least one particular amatuer pharmaceutical is way more than US government anti-drug propaganda would have it) (just sayin' ... :)). 

I've always managed to find a way to get to the next newness, and that always enables me to keep looking elsewhere than the business end of one of my guns or (literally) fall on one of my swords.  Oh yeah!  Martial arts aren't just chop-socky these days, there's Historical European Martial Arts!  With ten centuries or more of Western Martial Arts tradition to pick from, there must easily be a dozen or more time-tested tools to make one hell of a mess of yourself for the crime scene boys and girls to wade through after.  :)  The books alone stack up to a pretty stiff drop, never mind the sharp stuff.

All of this is very hard for anyone else to go through.  Mostly (and completely understandably, trust me) they haven't.  Not for long.  There always comes a point where all the good becomes entangled with all the rest, and I must offer a powerful attraction to otherwise sane women because they all have shown good sense and stepped away eventually.  There's a school of thought that has it that, after you reach a certain age, you shouldn't take on another pet because you'll die before it does. That pretty much sums up my thoughts about involving another woman in my life. 

There's a positive thought in there somewhere.

That's another thing about human anguish; I don't understand why Zara singing about it is solace to a kinked-up soul, but I'm grateful.  It's not like music hasn't always been a big part of my life, because it very much has; I've just been miserable at doing anything with it myself (and everyone around me has been too, on the occasions I've tried).  Song has always moved my spirit, but this girl's voice transports my imagination like (almost) nothing else ever has.  Resist the temptation to help me over-think this.

After decades of accumulating ill-health, I find myself losing weight and gathering strength again.  Daily yoga (this is a good starting point) and working on the footwork of long sword make other exercise more likely.  Whoever said life doesn't have a soundtrack never heard of earbuds and MP3 players.  :)

Tip-toeing cautiously around the "that's kinda creepy" boundary, I keep having this day-dream about a rooftop cafe in Stockholm.  I can't tell if it's a Wednesday, but I know it's the 3rd of September.  Right as the sun goes behind the skyline, and the day's heat begins to fade, I stand up from my seat at our table and wave to this astonishing blond girl in a really nice dress just inside the entry.  She walks towards me in the way only a woman can and I help her into her chair.  We talk about the places between eternal love and no longer, and how our questionable cardiac health makes hanging on so much more possible.  Later, we dance to a song she loves but never gets to dance to normally.  Meat is on the menu, because life is a pretty simple choice really, so make sure yours are your own and not for somebody else's reasons.  Humanity is this planet's apex predator because we are omnivores.  That said, just because we can eat damn near anything doesn't automatically mean we have to eat everything all the time.  (I wonder if I can get the chef to include that little homily on the printed menu for the meal?)  (Why am I asking you?)  My dream dinner date with Zara Larsson (with a lyrical assist from Taylor Swift apparently :)).

Let's just face facts here, shall we?  If your imaginary fantasy life isn't as vivid, satisfying and confused gratifying as mine is, who's loss is that really*?

Watching and listening to Zara Larsson over the coming years as her music grows and develops, promises much distraction from the final choice.  That's not a reason for her to do all that, but I'll take it all the same. 

If you're a fellow vet, I hope you find your Zara Larsson.  I can recommend a good one. 

*Oh, and just for the record, my memory of that "really nice dress" usually involves helping her back into it after finding it amongst all of my own clothes in her room.  What!?!  I'm old, but still a guy. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Proof Of Life

There's an interesting post on the ever-debatable topic of "money" over at the Al Fin Next Level blog in which I offer some commentary and (does 8+ years qualify as "historic"?) observations.  You should go read it; good stuff as always.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy Birthday To Meeee ...


Given the inspiration for my pending retirement from my current employment, as well as my lifelong tendencies in general, I thought John Mellencamp's Authority Song would be most appropriate for this year:

If I can't be me* where I am, I'll go where I can ...

*Since "me" keeps changing, I expect I'll keep going 'till I can't.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

More Updatedness

As mentioned here last month, I am retiring from my current place of employment.  My Social Security is set up to begin on 1 January, 2016 and my last day of work (on this job ... I am looking into an alternative potential option) will be 29 January, 2016.  My willingness to do the job correctly remains in place, but my supply of fucks to give is completely depleted.  I cannot fully express just how refreshing that circumstance is.  :)

In Accordance With The Rule of Tam

Tam writes

"Can you articulate to a jury how someone attempting to draw a gun at you poses an immediate, potentially lethal threat? Can you articulate that it doesn't matter whether the gun they're trying to draw is on their belt or yours?

As I understand the general legal principle (and the actual statute here in Texas), the first question is the only real issue of concern in a legal defense of a homicide*.  If you can demonstrate that someone(s) present a lethal threat to you (or another), the law doesn't care what legal means you select to defeat said lethal threat with.  You should be aware that "legal means" would be any object you use to kill the individual(s) lethally threatening you.  Local ordinances always apply, of course, so the prohibited weapon choice list varies wildly, but as a general principle of self-defense, if you are at risk of losing your life, you can use whatever you have to to not be non-judicially killed (which pretty much rules out nukes, chemical weapons or that seriously irritating toddler whose oblivious mother will not shut up, to beat the guy to death with in just about any non-ISIS jurisdiction around).  Basically, if you are lethally threatened, you can shoot the person making the threat no matter what weapon s/he threatens your life with (to include your own gun).

Similarly, the law pretty much doesn't care what you use if you should prove to be the one offering the lethal threat, so the second question ought to be sorta irrelevant.  Prosecuting attorneys being what they are, you better hope your attorney is well versed in the applicable laws.  I recommend these guys without reservation.  You quasi-ferinners can go with this option until you can get here.

*For the hoi polloi, the term of law "self defense" is an explicit admission that you have committed homocide.  The only remaining issue thereafter is whether or not you were justified in doing so, and the cops don't get to make that call.  Should you ever find yourself in the vicinity of a freshly deceased example of the genus homo sapiens, make absolutely certain that the two words never to exit you mouth at any point thereafter are "self" and "defense".  The way that works is, your lawyer presents evidence of the justifiable nature of your actions to the court, thereby leading the jurist-in-residence to rule "justifiable homocide by reason of self defense".  Self defense is a legal ruling by a judge, not a statement to the police.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood Moon!

Last night, you couldn't turn around without having to shield your eyes from the moonglare (totally a word).  Tonight, the big show, the one that won't come again until the 2020's sometime, if then ... clouds.

Story of my life.

End of the world, heralded in by dreariness and elevated humidity.

Sigh ...