Jiemba Sands can move

Monday, May 20th, 2019

The oddly named Jiemba Sands has compiled his best Instagramwins and fails” into one YouTube montage and his acrobatic stunts into another:

It was the futility that amused us

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Dunlap found some instructors he could respect stateside:

From an old soldier, a master sergeant who was the best army man I ever knew, in all respects, I learned a little about hand-to-hand combat, judo bayonet and knife work, etc. He was an expert and had instructed at many army schools. We used to laugh at the old-fashioned bayonet drill some of the new organizations went in for. It was not really funny — it was the futility that amused us. We could kill the best army-trained bayonet fencer who ever lived, without extending ourselves to any effort to speak of, in practically no time. That judo bayonet system was really sudden death at close range. The sergeant knew the Japanese bayonet technique and taught us accordingly, among other things. His method of knife-fighting was different, and in my opinion, better than either the marine or Commando styles.

The clinging death

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

In Jack London’s White Fang, the wolf-dog goes through an ugly episode under the ownership of the ironically nicknamed Beauty Smith, an ugly man, inside and out:

At irregular intervals, whenever a fight could be arranged, he was taken out of his cage and led off into the woods a few miles from town.  Usually this occurred at night, so as to avoid interference from the mounted police of the Territory.  After a few hours of waiting, when daylight had come, the audience and the dog with which he was to fight arrived.  In this manner it came about that he fought all sizes and breeds of dogs.  It was a savage land, the men were savage, and the fights were usually to the death.

Since White Fang continued to fight, it is obvious that it was the other dogs that died.  He never knew defeat.  His early training, when he fought with Lip-lip and the whole puppy-pack, stood him in good stead.  There was the tenacity with which he clung to the earth.  No dog could make him lose his footing.  This was the favourite trick of the wolf breeds — to rush in upon him, either directly or with an unexpected swerve, in the hope of striking his shoulder and overthrowing him.  Mackenzie hounds, Eskimo and Labrador dogs, huskies and Malemutes — all tried it on him, and all failed.  He was never known to lose his footing.  Men told this to one another, and looked each time to see it happen; but White Fang always disappointed them.

Then there was his lightning quickness.  It gave him a tremendous advantage over his antagonists.  No matter what their fighting experience, they had never encountered a dog that moved so swiftly as he.  Also to be reckoned with, was the immediateness of his attack.  The average dog was accustomed to the preliminaries of snarling and bristling and growling, and the average dog was knocked off his feet and finished before he had begun to fight or recovered from his surprise.  So often did this happen, that it became the custom to hold White Fang until the other dog went through its preliminaries, was good and ready, and even made the first attack.

But greatest of all the advantages in White Fang’s favour, was his experience.  He knew more about fighting than did any of the dogs that faced him.  He had fought more fights, knew how to meet more tricks and methods, and had more tricks himself, while his own method was scarcely to be improved upon.

As the time went by, he had fewer and fewer fights.  Men despaired of matching him with an equal, and Beauty Smith was compelled to pit wolves against him.  These were trapped by the Indians for the purpose, and a fight between White Fang and a wolf was always sure to draw a crowd.  Once, a full-grown female lynx was secured, and this time White Fang fought for his life.  Her quickness matched his; her ferocity equalled his; while he fought with his fangs alone, and she fought with her sharp-clawed feet as well.

But after the lynx, all fighting ceased for White Fang.  There were no more animals with which to fight — at least, there was none considered worthy of fighting with him.  So he remained on exhibition until spring, when one Tim Keenan, a faro-dealer, arrived in the land.  With him came the first bull-dog that had ever entered the Klondike.  That this dog and White Fang should come together was inevitable, and for a week the anticipated fight was the mainspring of conversation in certain quarters of the town.

Then comes the clinging death:

Beauty Smith slipped the chain from his neck and stepped back.

For once White Fang did not make an immediate attack. He stood still, ears pricked forward, alert and curious, surveying the strange animal that faced him. He had never seen such a dog before. Tim Keenan shoved the bull-dog forward with a muttered “Go to it.” The animal waddled toward the centre of the circle, short and squat and ungainly. He came to a stop and blinked across at White Fang.

There were cries from the crowd of, “Go to him, Cherokee! Sick ’m, Cherokee! Eat ’m up!”

But Cherokee did not seem anxious to fight. He turned his head and blinked at the men who shouted, at the same time wagging his stump of a tail good-naturedly. He was not afraid, but merely lazy. Besides, it did not seem to him that it was intended he should fight with the dog he saw before him. He was not used to fighting with that kind of dog, and he was waiting for them to bring on the real dog.

Tim Keenan stepped in and bent over Cherokee, fondling him on both sides of the shoulders with hands that rubbed against the grain of the hair and that made slight, pushing-forward movements. These were so many suggestions. Also, their effect was irritating, for Cherokee began to growl, very softly, deep down in his throat. There was a correspondence in rhythm between the growls and the movements of the man’s hands. The growl rose in the throat with the culmination of each forward-pushing movement, and ebbed down to start up afresh with the beginning of the next movement. The end of each movement was the accent of the rhythm, the movement ending abruptly and the growling rising with a jerk.

This was not without its effect on White Fang. The hair began to rise on his neck and across the shoulders. Tim Keenan gave a final shove forward and stepped back again. As the impetus that carried Cherokee forward died down, he continued to go forward of his own volition, in a swift, bow-legged run. Then White Fang struck. A cry of startled admiration went up. He had covered the distance and gone in more like a cat than a dog; and with the same cat-like swiftness he had slashed with his fangs and leaped clear.

The bull-dog was bleeding back of one ear from a rip in his thick neck. He gave no sign, did not even snarl, but turned and followed after White Fang. The display on both sides, the quickness of the one and the steadiness of the other, had excited the partisan spirit of the crowd, and the men were making new bets and increasing original bets. Again, and yet again, White Fang sprang in, slashed, and got away untouched, and still his strange foe followed after him, without too great haste, not slowly, but deliberately and determinedly, in a businesslike sort of way. There was purpose in his method — something for him to do that he was intent upon doing and from which nothing could distract him.

His whole demeanour, every action, was stamped with this purpose. It puzzled White Fang. Never had he seen such a dog. It had no hair protection. It was soft, and bled easily. There was no thick mat of fur to baffle White Fang’s teeth as they were often baffled by dogs of his own breed. Each time that his teeth struck they sank easily into the yielding flesh, while the animal did not seem able to defend itself. Another disconcerting thing was that it made no outcry, such as he had been accustomed to with the other dogs he had fought. Beyond a growl or a grunt, the dog took its punishment silently. And never did it flag in its pursuit of him.

Not that Cherokee was slow. He could turn and whirl swiftly enough, but White Fang was never there. Cherokee was puzzled, too. He had never fought before with a dog with which he could not close. The desire to close had always been mutual. But here was a dog that kept at a distance, dancing and dodging here and there and all about. And when it did get its teeth into him, it did not hold on but let go instantly and darted away again.

But White Fang could not get at the soft underside of the throat. The bull-dog stood too short, while its massive jaws were an added protection. White Fang darted in and out unscathed, while Cherokee’s wounds increased. Both sides of his neck and head were ripped and slashed. He bled freely, but showed no signs of being disconcerted. He continued his plodding pursuit, though once, for the moment baffled, he came to a full stop and blinked at the men who looked on, at the same time wagging his stump of a tail as an expression of his willingness to fight.

In that moment White Fang was in upon him and out, in passing ripping his trimmed remnant of an ear. With a slight manifestation of anger, Cherokee took up the pursuit again, running on the inside of the circle White Fang was making, and striving to fasten his deadly grip on White Fang’s throat. The bull-dog missed by a hair’s-breadth, and cries of praise went up as White Fang doubled suddenly out of danger in the opposite direction.

The time went by. White Fang still danced on, dodging and doubling, leaping in and out, and ever inflicting damage. And still the bull-dog, with grim certitude, toiled after him. Sooner or later he would accomplish his purpose, get the grip that would win the battle. In the meantime, he accepted all the punishment the other could deal him. His tufts of ears had become tassels, his neck and shoulders were slashed in a score of places, and his very lips were cut and bleeding — all from these lightning snaps that were beyond his foreseeing and guarding.

Time and again White Fang had attempted to knock Cherokee off his feet; but the difference in their height was too great. Cherokee was too squat, too close to the ground. White Fang tried the trick once too often. The chance came in one of his quick doublings and counter-circlings. He caught Cherokee with head turned away as he whirled more slowly. His shoulder was exposed. White Fang drove in upon it: but his own shoulder was high above, while he struck with such force that his momentum carried him on across over the other’s body. For the first time in his fighting history, men saw White Fang lose his footing. His body turned a half-somersault in the air, and he would have landed on his back had he not twisted, catlike, still in the air, in the effort to bring his feet to the earth. As it was, he struck heavily on his side. The next instant he was on his feet, but in that instant Cherokee’s teeth closed on his throat.

It was not a good grip, being too low down toward the chest; but Cherokee held on. White Fang sprang to his feet and tore wildly around, trying to shake off the bull-dog’s body. It made him frantic, this clinging, dragging weight. It bound his movements, restricted his freedom. It was like the trap, and all his instinct resented it and revolted against it. It was a mad revolt. For several minutes he was to all intents insane. The basic life that was in him took charge of him. The will to exist of his body surged over him. He was dominated by this mere flesh-love of life. All intelligence was gone. It was as though he had no brain. His reason was unseated by the blind yearning of the flesh to exist and move, at all hazards to move, to continue to move, for movement was the expression of its existence.

Round and round he went, whirling and turning and reversing, trying to shake off the fifty-pound weight that dragged at his throat. The bull-dog did little but keep his grip. Sometimes, and rarely, he managed to get his feet to the earth and for a moment to brace himself against White Fang. But the next moment his footing would be lost and he would be dragging around in the whirl of one of White Fang’s mad gyrations. Cherokee identified himself with his instinct. He knew that he was doing the right thing by holding on, and there came to him certain blissful thrills of satisfaction. At such moments he even closed his eyes and allowed his body to be hurled hither and thither, willy-nilly, careless of any hurt that might thereby come to it. That did not count. The grip was the thing, and the grip he kept.

White Fang ceased only when he had tired himself out. He could do nothing, and he could not understand. Never, in all his fighting, had this thing happened. The dogs he had fought with did not fight that way. With them it was snap and slash and get away, snap and slash and get away. He lay partly on his side, panting for breath. Cherokee still holding his grip, urged against him, trying to get him over entirely on his side. White Fang resisted, and he could feel the jaws shifting their grip, slightly relaxing and coming together again in a chewing movement. Each shift brought the grip closer to his throat. The bull-dog’s method was to hold what he had, and when opportunity favoured to work in for more. Opportunity favoured when White Fang remained quiet. When White Fang struggled, Cherokee was content merely to hold on.

The bulging back of Cherokee’s neck was the only portion of his body that White Fang’s teeth could reach. He got hold toward the base where the neck comes out from the shoulders; but he did not know the chewing method of fighting, nor were his jaws adapted to it. He spasmodically ripped and tore with his fangs for a space. Then a change in their position diverted him. The bull-dog had managed to roll him over on his back, and still hanging on to his throat, was on top of him. Like a cat, White Fang bowed his hind-quarters in, and, with the feet digging into his enemy’s abdomen above him, he began to claw with long tearing-strokes. Cherokee might well have been disembowelled had he not quickly pivoted on his grip and got his body off of White Fang’s and at right angles to it.

There was no escaping that grip. It was like Fate itself, and as inexorable. Slowly it shifted up along the jugular. All that saved White Fang from death was the loose skin of his neck and the thick fur that covered it. This served to form a large roll in Cherokee’s mouth, the fur of which well-nigh defied his teeth. But bit by bit, whenever the chance offered, he was getting more of the loose skin and fur in his mouth. The result was that he was slowly throttling White Fang. The latter’s breath was drawn with greater and greater difficulty as the moments went by.

It began to look as though the battle were over. The backers of Cherokee waxed jubilant and offered ridiculous odds. White Fang’s backers were correspondingly depressed, and refused bets of ten to one and twenty to one, though one man was rash enough to close a wager of fifty to one. This man was Beauty Smith. He took a step into the ring and pointed his finger at White Fang. Then he began to laugh derisively and scornfully. This produced the desired effect. White Fang went wild with rage. He called up his reserves of strength, and gained his feet. As he struggled around the ring, the fifty pounds of his foe ever dragging on his throat, his anger passed on into panic. The basic life of him dominated him again, and his intelligence fled before the will of his flesh to live. Round and round and back again, stumbling and falling and rising, even uprearing at times on his hind-legs and lifting his foe clear of the earth, he struggled vainly to shake off the clinging death.

At last he fell, toppling backward, exhausted; and the bull-dog promptly shifted his grip, getting in closer, mangling more and more of the fur-folded flesh, throttling White Fang more severely than ever. Shouts of applause went up for the victor, and there were many cries of “Cherokee!” “Cherokee!” To this Cherokee responded by vigorous wagging of the stump of his tail. But the clamour of approval did not distract him. There was no sympathetic relation between his tail and his massive jaws. The one might wag, but the others held their terrible grip on White Fang’s throat.

I don’t think London would’ve been too surprised by those early UFCs.

Eating bitterness

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

Matthew Polly’s Bruce Lee: A Life is the first new Bruce Lee biography in decades. It presents Lee as a 145-pound, muscled collection of extremes, Kevin Chong says:

a short-tempered brawler who studied philosophy; a kung fu devotee whose fighting borrowed from Muhammad Ali and fencing manuals; a loving husband and father who blew his earnings on sports cars and whose dalliances were trumpeted on Hong Kong gossip pages.

Bruce Lee wasn’t exactly Chinese:

Polly begins his account with Lee’s father Li Hoi Chuen, aged ten, standing outside a Cantonese restaurant and shouting out the specials: out of the blue, he was talent-spotted by a Cantonese opera troupe. Bruce was born in 1940 in Oakland, California, at a time when his father was touring the US with his wife Grace Ho, a mixed-race socialite, in tow. (Through her, Lee had English and Dutch-Jewish ancestors.) During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945, it was thanks to Li’s star power as an opera and film actor that the family was able to eat. Lee’s own talent emerged early on: he became a child actor, a cha-cha champion and a student of the Wing Chun School of Kung Fu. He picked fights in his drive to dominate any group, and Polly mentions one childhood friend who “describes young Bruce’s personality as ‘teeth brushing,’ [Cantonese] slang for boastful, cocky, a peacock”. In 1959, after a fight got him in trouble with the school headmaster – Lee had earlier been expelled from another English-language Catholic school for forcibly removing a classmate’s trousers and painting his genitalia red – his parents sent him to the US to complete his education in Seattle.

At this point, the brash young man became an underdog. While studying at high school and then at the University of Washington, Lee washed dishes at a restaurant of a family friend; he married Linda Emery, whose mother disapproved of their mixed-race union. Lee also gained, however, the maturity through adversity – what the Chinese call “eating bitterness”– to merge his brawling tendencies with a philosophical approach to combat.

I hadn’t heard this version of his death:

The story of Lee’s life ends mid-stride, like the flash-frozen final frame of Fist of Fury (1972), just as his career is lifting off. Over­extending himself during the filming of Enter the Dragon, Lee collapsed in a hot recording studio while overdubbing dialogue, and died two months later. Conflicting rumours and theories emerged about what may have happened, and Bruce Lee: A Life concludes with a lengthy coda as Polly unpacks the details. Polly suggests a simple explanation: heat stroke. This idea fits with anecdotes about Lee’s poor physical reaction to high temperatures and surgery he had undergone, three months before his death, to remove sweat glands for cosmetic reasons.

Keep it to common terms of abuse

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Small-scale violence most frequently aborts, Randall Collins notes:

Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, a UCLA researcher, followed a loosely-organized gang in Tucson, Arizona, as they went looking for fights. It consisted of a couple of dozen young white men, all of them bored with middle-class life style, who went to parties hoping to find someone to fight with. They were looking for opponents who would give them some action and boost their prestige, at least in their own eyes: black guys, tough guys, Hispanic gangs, bikers, athletes. But although there were plenty of over-crowded house parties in this desert city, with plenty of loud music and drinking going on, the surprise is how difficult it was for them to find a fight. They took a belligerent attitude, bumped into people, gave people the eye, but most of the time fights didn’t happen. Fights were rare enough that when one happened, the group would spend weeks thereafter talking about it, going over the details, bragging about what they did and even about taking a beating if they lost.

Why did this action-seeking group have so much trouble finding fights? Jackson-Jacobs spelled out the subtle details that had to happen if two sides were going to fight. These little details were only semi-conscious, but they boiled down to the fact that both sides had to decide that a fight was coming up, and this had to be a mutual feeling of emotion and timing. Like a demo only turning into a riot a couple of hours in, no one walks into a party and starts a fight from the very first minute. And if the minutes go by long enough, there is a feeling that this isn’t the time and place, so the action-seekers go somewhere else.

[Another hypothesis is that fights were also inhibited because typically rival groups fight within the same identity or demographic: as we know from gang murders in Chicago (Andrew Papachristos’ research) and gang fights generally, most such violence is segregated: black gangs fight with black gangs, Hispanic gangs with Hispanic, Irish gangs with Irish, Italian Mafias with each other. Jackson-Jacobs’ white middle-class guys were an anomaly on the tough-guy scene; they didn’t identify as skinheads, so they had no counterpart group to fight with them. J-J’s crew were looking for the prestige of fighting somebody tough; maybe they didn’t perceive that the same goes for the other side, and real fighting gangs didn’t think they were a worthy opponent.]

The pattern holds generally across different kinds of small-scale fights: most encounters where people threaten each other with violence do not actually end in violence. Most stay at the level of angry insults — the human bark is worse than our bite. Even if it gets physical, most fights do not go beyond pushing and shoving. Videos of fights (posted from cell phones) generally show that after a few wild swings, fighters tend to spin away from each other, leaving themselves at a distance just out of reach while the fight winds down. Showing your willingness to fight is on the whole more important than what damage you do. Researchers in England, using CCTV from pubs and the streets outside, found that angry disputes were broken up, in the great majority of cases, by friends separating the fighters.

[...]

A key feature that keeps quarrels from escalating is when they are balanced. Two guys quarrel with each other. They push out their chests, get their hands into fighting position. They yell insults at each other, each getting louder, trying to shout the other down. A lot here depends on what the audience will do — whether other people take sides or encourage them to fight; or do the opposite, ignoring the quarrel, which tends to take the energy out of it. Left to themselves, the belligerents usually find themselves repeating the same insults, over and over; they are both talking at the same time, which means they aren’t listening to each other, and it just becomes a contest of keeping up the noise. (How long do dogs go on barking at each other? Check it out.) After a short period of time — usually less than 60 seconds — this gets boring. They get tired of a quarrel that is going nowhere. Typically they will break it off, with a gesture of disgust, or slamming the door on the way out.

This suggests some practical advice. If you get into a threatening face-contest with someone, keep it in equilibrium. Just mimic what the other person does; don’t escalate it. After a while it becomes boring — and boredom is your friend. (Sir Francis Bacon, 400 years ago, wrote that if you are in an angry dispute, keep it to common terms of abuse; don’t try to score a cutting remark with a personal insult that your opponent will never forgive.)

Eric Garner’s daughter has heart attack without being “choked” or tackled

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

How should the police handle a large man who won’t comply? That’s what I asked when Eric Garner, a large man indeed, refused to comply with NYPD officers, got taken down with a headlock, and ended up under a dogpile — where he had a heart attack and died. This was described as an unarmed black man being choked to death.

Now his daughter, Erica Garner, has suffered her own second heart attack, severe enough to cause brain damage, without being “choked” or tackled. It’s pretty clear that there’s a family history of heart disease.

I still don’t know how the police should handle a large man who won’t comply, especially if he’s at risk of a heart attack.

John Danaher on Mayweather–McGregor

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

John Danaher discusses Mayweather–McGregor:

Tonight is the biggest fight show of the year — a fight that has been dismissed by many knowledgeable pundits as farcical but which has nonetheless garnered more viewer interest than any boxing event in a very long time. On the face of it, this is a huge mismatch. Mr Mayweather is unquestionably the finest boxer of his generation and arguably of all time. He is both a master technician and a master tactician in the ring who has made the best boxers of his time look ordinary when matched with him. Mr McGregor is an an outstanding MMA fighter with an amazing penchant for proving doubters wrong. In truth however, this project would be the equivalent of having Mr McGregor compete in an IBJJF jiu jitsu tournament in a gi against say, Rafa Mendes — do you really think he would prevail against Mr Mendes under these conditions?

My experience of watching very good MMA athletes spar against elite boxers in the gym is always the same — they are quite competitive for the first 3–4 rounds and do surprisingly well. Then around the 5th round the elite boxer begins to figure out the unorthodox or awkward movement and begins to employ ring craft tactics to tire the MMA athlete by making him work harder than he is, making him miss punches etc etc. around the 8th round a very noticeable shift occurs where the elite boxer takes over.

I expect a similar pattern tonight — though probably taking less time, given the incredible skill level of Mr Mayweather. Mr McGregors only advantages are youth and size, but heavier punches are not much use if they are thrown at a target that can’t be hit, and Mr Mayweather is as always, in fine shape and has never tired in a fight. I would consider it a fine victory for Mr McGregor if he survived 12 rounds and had some competitive rounds among them. Like most people, I love to see an underdog take on impossible odds and win, so my heart is with Mr McGregor, but my mind knows this is exceedingly unlikely.

In a world of uncertainty I will offer you one certainty that I truly believe — however well Mr Mcgregor does in tonight’s boxing match, I ASSURE YOU IT WILL BE MUCH BETTER THAN MR MAYWEATHER WOULD DO IN A REAL FIGHT AGAINST MR MCGREGOR.

Researchers have quantified Muhammad Ali’s mental decline

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Researchers have quantified Muhammad Ali’s mental decline as he took more punches throughout his career:

In 1968, Ali spoke at a rate of 4.1 syllables per second, which is close to average for healthy adults. By 1971, his rate of speech had fallen to 3.8 syllables per second, and it continued sliding steadily, year by year, fight by fight. An ordinary adult would see little or no decline in his speaking rate between the ages of 25 and 40, but Ali experienced a drop of more than 26% in that same period. Slowing his speaking rate couldn’t indefinitely compensate for the deterioration of signals between his brain and his speech muscles. The paper suggests that by 1978, six years before his Parkinson’s syndrome diagnosis and three years before his retirement from boxing, Ali was slurring his words.

In addition to this overall decline in speech, researchers found a strong relationship between Ali’s activity in the ring and his verbal skills. The more punches he took, the more steeply his speaking abilities declined. (Listen to a sample of Ali’s speech changes.)

In 1977, the 35-year-old Ali fought a brutal, 15-round bout with Earnie Shavers. One of the strongest punchers in boxing history, Shavers hit Ali with 266 punches, including 209 power punches, according to the new CompuBox data. Before his fight with Shavers, Ali spoke at a rate of 3.7 syllables per sec. After the fight, his speaking rate fell 16% to 3.1 syllables per sec. His voice also became less animated in the immediate aftermath of fights.

Martial-Arts Move May Lessen Impact of a Fall on Hip

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

A meta-analysis suggests that learning how to break falls may — wait for it! — lesson the impact of falls:

The analysis, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looked at 13 studies, with a combined 219 participants, conducted in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and Taiwan from 1996 to 2012. The majority included younger adults in their late 20s. About 60% were women.

The studies examined falling techniques known as squatting, muscle relaxation, forward rotation, elbow bending with outstretched arms, stepping, and martial-arts rolling and slapping. Impact force was compared with falling while not doing the technique.

All the techniques, other than slapping, reduced fall impact. But only rolling lessened the impact on the hip, by 25%.

Breakfall Diagram from WSJ

Caveat: The underlying studies were small, and only one involved older participants. Reduced strength and impaired reaction time may limit elderly people’s ability to perform fall techniques, the researchers said.

You may want to learn proper judo breakfalls long before you need them.

Ancient and Modern Olympics

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

With the summer games approaching David Stuttard contrasts the ancient and modern Olympics:

While today’s Games stress inclusivity, their ancient counterparts were rigidly exclusive. To compete in this celebration of not just Greek (and, later, Greco-Roman) identity but of proud god-fearing masculinity, you had to speak Greek, be free from the pollution of murder — and be male. Women couldn’t even be spectators. Only the priestess of Demeter could attend.

The chief reason for these restrictions is that the original Games were not really about sport at all. Rather, they were one part of a major male religious festival in honor of the great god Zeus. Indeed, Olympia, site of the Games, was named for Mount Olympus, where Zeus was considered to have had his throne.

I’m not sure sure that the modern games aren’t religious — depending on your definition.

Olympic Vase by Pep Montserrat

The first Games, in 776 B.C., were small-scale and local:

Apart from sacrifices and other religious rites, it included only one sporting event, a footrace of 200 yards, a distance which the Greeks called a stade (hence our “stadium”), and which took well under a minute to run.

[...]

The stade race, run at the midpoint of the Games, remained the centerpiece — so much so that in the fifth-century B.C., when it became desirable to introduce an internationally recognized dating system, the polymath philosopher Hippias hit on the formula, “in the xth year of the yth Olympiad, when z was victor in the footrace.”

The formula caught on, not only promoting the importance of the Games still further but becoming the means whereby a triumphant runner could win everlasting fame.

The words gymnasium and gymnastics come from a time before lycra:

Like other athletes at the Games, runners competed naked. Again, the origins of this tradition were debated, but the most well-known involved Orisippus, a young man from Megara near Athens. Until 720 B.C., loincloths were de rigueur, but that year Orisippus raced so vigorously that his fell off. When he crossed the line to victory, it was seen as a sign from the gods and henceforth any kind of clothing was banned.

But the athletes probably didn’t look exactly naked. By Roman times, if not before, it was common first to anoint the bodies of competitors in oil, then to sprinkle them with dust or powder. One treatise recommended the dust of terra-cotta for helping to open pores, asphalt dust for heating the chilled and yellow earth for softening the skin, commenting that: “Yellow dust also adds glisten, and is a delight to see on a body which is in good shape.” Athletes may well have looked like moving statues.

It was also a time before sunscreen.

There were no team events in the ancient Olympics, by the way.

I find the tone of this passage almost quaint, like something from the pre-UFC 1980s:

The only contact sport forbidden to boys was the pancration, an almost-no-holds-barred free-for-all, in which only biting and eye-gouging were prohibited. A Roman commentator reflected that the competitor must “endure black eyes…and learn holds by which the fallen can still win, and they must be skillful in the various arts of strangulation.”

One pancratist’s win was particularly unconventional. Arrhachion came from Phigalia, a city in mountainous Arcadia. In 564 B.C. the two-time winner came to Olympia where “his opponent, whoever he was, got a grip first and held Arrhachion with his legs squeezed around his neck at the same time. Meanwhile, Arrhachion dislocated a toe on his opponent’s foot but was strangled and expired. At the same time, however, Arrhachion’s opponent gave up because of the pain in his toe. The judges proclaimed Arrhachion the winner and crowned his corpse.”

The ethos has changed most of all:

When Baron de Coubertin revived — or reimagined — the Olympics in 1896, drawing on the ethos of both the ancient Games and English public schools for inspiration, he averred: “What is important in life is not to triumph, but to take part; what is essential is not to have won, but to have fought well.” This may have been a fine late-Victorian ideal, but it was far from the ancient view. At Olympia there were no prizes for coming second, and, fueled by the Homeric exhortation “always to be best,” the desire to win kudos at almost any cost motivated every competitor.

For the aristocratic elite, it was in that most dangerous and exciting of all events, the chariot race, that the most kudos could be earned. Since its introduction in 680 B.C., leading Greek families from Sicily to Libya to the mainland and beyond coveted this prize above all others, because to win it was a sign of immense wealth and good judgment — and, since they hired charioteers to race for them, they ran no physical risks themselves.

Now I’m wondering why there’s no gilded Trump NASCAR car.

Harlem Knight Fight

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I have trouble taking the Harlem Knight Fight seriously:

It does give some idea what a medieval tourney would’ve been like though, with armored knights fighting in a rough contact sport.

Jocko and Tim Kennedy

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Jocko (@JockoWillink) recently had Tim Kennedy (@TimKennedyMMA) on his podcast, and they answered a few of my questions — or, at least, they talked about them:

0:25:30 – Bayonet Training thoughts.

0:35:46 – Green Beret VS Navy SEALS?

1:19:33 – Combatives with Full Kit on / multiple attackers.

Is Shooting a Martial Art?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

“Do you consider shooting a martial art?” I asked Jocko (@jockowillink). “How has your firearms training been like or unlike martial arts training?” He answered, and it went something like this:

Shooting is absolutely a martial art, maybe not the way people picture martial arts nowadays, because we picture a guy in a gi doing karate, that’s the generic picture. But for me that’s not martial arts actually. For me martial art is the art of war, the individual warrior skills which it takes, and firearms are absolutely a martial art. Because it’s something that you train, something that you get good at, something you need to maintain your skill at. To me it’s another piece of the puzzle, another thing that you need to know how to do, just like tactics that go along with shooting are an important part of being a warrior, you need to know how to shoot.

The training is very similar in my mind to martial arts training, in that it takes repetition, you have to know what the basics are, you have to repeat those basics, then you get more advanced.

It’s about movement and getting efficient with your movement, you want to train very similar to the way you train mixed martial arts. And once you get all those mechanical skills down, then you want to train your mind around this skill, so that your mind knows how to utilize it when things are unexpected and when there’s chaos and mayhem going on.

(Thanks to our Slovenian guest for transcribing that.)

From there, Jocko tells a fun story about Nerf “lazer” tag and the importance of good tactical training.

Edward Byers’ Medal of Honor Story

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

The door-kickers of SEAL Team 6 actually use grappling skills in combat, as Edward Byers‘ experience attests:

As the team got within 25 meters of the compound, a sentry at the door was alerted to their presence. The first member of the team, Petty Officer First Class Nicolas Checque, shot at the guard and ran towards the door of the compound. He fell wounded by an AK-47 round to the head as he charged into the building.

Byers was the second man inside the building, sprinting in on Checque’s heels.

“There were some blankets hanging up; it wasn’t like a typical door, so you couldn’t just open the door and walk in,” Byers recalled. “When I finally [made my way through the blankets], down my area of responsibility there was an enemy that I engaged with and then I saw another person that was moving across the floor. I didn’t know whether or not that person was [the hostage] or if it was just an enemy coming to and trying to get some weapons, so by the time I got to him, I was able to get on top of him, straddle him, pin him down with my legs.”

Locked in hand-to-hand combat with the unknown man underneath him, Byers managed to subdue him with one hand and use the other to adjust the focus of his night-vision goggles. Having done so, he saw that the man was one of the captors and engaged him with his weapon.

“At the same time, we’re calling out, trying to find the location of the American hostage,” Byers said.

Joseph called out, alerting the SEALs to his presence, three to five feet away from where Byers had grappled with the guard. Byers immediately tackled the captive American, using his own body and body armor to shield him from the fighting.

From this position, Byers noticed another man close by.

“It ended up being an enemy who had grenades and a weapon on him within arms’ reach,” Byers said. “And I was able to pin him to the wall by his throat until our team was able to come in and take care of that threat.”

The entire raid was over in a matter of minutes.

Byers is the first living sailor to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Two other SEALs have received the medal posthumously since Sept. 11, 2001: Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, for heroic actions in Iraq in 2006; and Lt. Michael Murphy, for valor during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005.

A Martial Art Is Born in Belém

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Over 100 years ago, a martial art was born in Belém:

The story of how the Gracies created the most potent martial art the world has ever seen began in the heart of the Amazon in 1913, in a city called Belém, or Bethlehem, which is the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The Gracies were a prominent upper-class family from Rio de Janeiro, the descendants of a Scotsman named George Gracie, who was born in Dumfries, Scotland, on August 14, 1801. George arrived in Rio at the age of 25 with four friends, one of whom died of yellow fever, according to Reila’s biography of her father, Carlos. “A man of Calvinist upbringing,” she wrote of George, “he was handsome and poised, with a shapely face, straight nose, very light skin, blond hair and blue eyes.”

Adventurous and gifted, the Gracies were eager to seek out new worlds. George’s brother Archibald had already emigrated from Scotland to Manhattan, where he became a shipping magnate and a friend to Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. He advertised his wealth by buying a piece of prime property overlooking the East River, where he built a grand house that bore his name. In 1896, the house was sold to the city of New York, which made it the statutory residence of the city’s mayor. In tribute to the tasteful opulence of its builder’s conception, the house retained the name Gracie Mansion, by which it is still known today.

Meanwhile, George Gracie prospered in Rio, becoming a partner in the trading company of Stockmayer, Gracie, Hobkirk & Co., and later a director of the Bank of Brazil. He married Mariana Antônia de Malheiros, the daughter of an elite Brazilian family, and had a son, Pedro Gracie, who also became a successful banker.

Pedro’s son Gastão was an aspiring diplomat who lived in Germany for 10 years. He spoke fluent German, Latin, Greek, and five other languages — none of which seemed to aid his career, which suffered because of his sharp temper, impulsive behavior, and lack of any appreciable aptitude for diplomacy. After missing out on a diplomatic post he badly wanted, Gastão returned to Brazil and embarked on a series of failed business ventures and tempestuous love affairs, in the course of which he fathered nine children, the oldest and wildest of whom he named Carlos. “I honestly did not have a moment of peace,” Carlos later remembered of his disorderly childhood. “My devilry got to a point that, even in my own neighborhood, I only felt safe when I ran through the streets along the streetcar rails. It was the only way of avoiding surprises from possible enemies.” During Carlos’s upbringing, the Gracies lived in nine different houses, and no two of his siblings were born at the same address.

Drawn to the jungle city of Belém by the Amazonian rubber craze, Gastão failed to get rich. He turned next to the manufacture of dynamite, which he stored in the house where his children slept. He also managed entertainers and ran the American Circus, which toured widely in southern Brazil.

On November 5, 1916, Gastão’s circus arrived in the port city of Manaus, where a member of the troupe, an Italian boxer named Alfredi Leconti, challenged a Japanese martial artist named Satake to a fight. As it happened, Satake was not the most distinguished Japanese martial artist in Manaus that day: He had arrived in town a year earlier with Count Koma, a Japanese judo master whose real name was Mitsuyo Maeda. Koma had fought more than 1,000 professional matches on four continents while suffering only two recorded defeats. As Satake fought Leconti, Koma watched from ringside, where he struck up a friendship with Gastão that would alter the history of combat sports.

Count Koma wound up in the Amazon after a chain of unlikely contingencies that parallels the emergence of Gracie jiu-jitsu as a global sport. The determined westernization of Japan by Emperor Meiji in the late 19th century led to the collapse of many aspects of traditional Japanese society, including the ancient art of jiujitsu, whose masters were forced to seek other forms of employment. Sekiguti Jiushin, founder of the Sekiguti style, wound up pulling a rickshaw in the street, while Kawanishi Iikubo of the Kito-Ryu style became a postal worker. “I am profoundly saddened by the agony that jiujitsu finds itself in,” lamented the jiujitsu master Tojuro Takeuchi, in a letter that is widely quoted by historians of judo. “A five-hundred-year-old tradition will likely disappear in my generation. Today, what we see in demonstrations is that the richness of the past is no more, they’ve reduced themselves to technicians and the poverty of those that remain is the general rule.”

In 1882, an idealistic young graduate of the Imperial University in Tokyo named Jigoro Kano conceived of a new fighting style based on traditional jiujitsu that he hoped might serve as a comprehensive source of physical education, intellectual training, and moral instruction for modern Japan. His interpretation of jiujitsu forbade traditional ground-fighting techniques like the ashi garami, a crippling joint lock that targets the leg of one’s opponent. Instead, Kano emphasized throws from a standing position. “When we talk about jiujitsu today, people often think of a technique in which one does only dangerous things, such as choking an opponent and bending his joints, or even, in extreme cases, killing him,” Kano later wrote, explaining what motivated him to create the ju-do, or “gentle way.” He was also determined to separate his new art from jiujitsu’s role as popular entertainment, which he saw as inherently debased. “There are also those who make jiujitsu into a sort of show,” he wrote. “They charge admission and have competitions at venues where sumo and acrobatics are held, so that people have become even more inclined to believe that jiujitsu is something uncultivated.”

Starting in a rented room at the Eishoji temple, Kano and his students founded the Kodokan, where hundreds of disciples would learn the high-toned art of judo, which they spread across Japan and then to the major European capitals and eventually around the rest of the world, where local variants soon emerged. In Russia, judo was transformed into the fighting style known as sambo, whose most famous student is Vladimir Putin.

Maeda, one of Kano’s finest students, made his way to Washington, D.C., where he and his companions arranged to put on a demonstration for President Theodore Roosevelt. The oldest fighter in the group, Tomita, insisted on personally representing judo in front of the American president, whose daughter Alice was wild about fighting and handpicked his opponent — a tall, powerfully built Afro-Cuban boxer named Bill Owens. The ensuing fight set back the cause of judo in America for decades. “Quick like a leopard,” one reporter wrote, “the black fighter completely dominated Tomita, who was literally flattened and unable to make any movement whatsoever, leading to his humiliating defeat in front of the President, his wife and daughter, members of the government, assembled athletes, reporters and members of the Japanese Embassy and expatriate community.”

In the hope of salvaging judo’s North American reputation, Maeda and Satake spent two years traveling across the United States, taking on more than 100 challengers and winning every recorded fight. They then traveled to Russia and continued west across Europe. In 1908, they reached Spain, where Maeda appears to have been given the title of Count Koma. As Maeda later told a European reporter, “An influential Spanish citizen, impressed with my victories, by my posture and my way of being, perhaps to be nice or without meaning to, gave me that title that later spread everywhere.” In 1909, Count Koma and his companions boarded a ship to Mexico City and then fought their way south, until they arrived in the Amazonian port of Manaus on December 18, 1915. The ensuing spectacle was recorded by a local newspaperman, who wrote: “Arriving today, aboard the yacht Pará, is the troupe of Japanese ju-jitsu fighters who come to delight the audience of the popular Politheama Theater. This troupe, led by Count Koma, world champion of ju-jitsu, will disembark wearing Oriental robes and be paraded through the streets in an automobile.”

The Count was eager to demonstrate his judo for the locals; he also appears to have coveted the fertile river basin as a future Japanese settlement. Gastão Gracie helped the Japanese fighter settle in Belém, a nearby city of perhaps 150,000 inhabitants. There, Maeda opened a martial arts school in a wooden hut on the grounds of the town’s rowing academy. (The successor to Maeda’s school in Belém is directed by the judoka’s great-grandson, Professor Alfredo Mendes Coimbra.) Grateful for Gastão’s help, the judoka taught a version of his centuries-old fighting style to four of the Brazilian’s sons — Carlos, George, Oswaldo, and Gastãozinho.

Hélio, the fifth and youngest Gracie brother, was judged too frail to receive active instruction, so he learned judo by watching his brothers practice. Abandoning judo’s showy throws, he modified Count Koma’s teachings to suit his lighter frame, creating a Brazilian variation that reemphasized wrestling techniques and elevated the mastery of mechanics over physical strength and agility. And so Gracie jiu-jitsu was born.