Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Anniversary

Well, it's been a year since I started this blog. I originally began this as a test to see whether or not strangers would ever read anything I write. Turns out, there are a few people out there who would be so kind as to find my words to be of some minute interest. For that, I thank you, readers.

When this began, my reviews and such were written with quite a personal/relaxed tone. Over time, however, I think that I've become a bit more formal (if the reduction of my use of swear words is any indication). I don't know if I'll continue to write more formally, or go back to my original style of saying such things as "Fuck so-and-so" and "Cocksuckers". Most likely, I'll find the healthy middle ground and stick with that.

For the last month or so, I've been much more busy than usual. I've been working on film sets, dealing with plenty of school work (it's exam season!), and often simply being lazy (lounging around, reading, watching DVDs). Once my exams are over for this semester, I'll try to write with more frequency. Also, when I get some money, I'll be able to go to the movies again, and then I'll write reviews.

To start the next year right, I'd really like to know what you guys enjoy most out of this blog, and I'd like to read any ideas you might have for future posts. What do you want to see more of from this blog?

Let me know in the comments.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Batman -- Martial Artist - 06.01 - Wing Chun

Wing Chun is a style of Kung Fu that originated in Southern China. It primarily focuses on trapping, fast and accurate punching, and direct attacks.

The generally accepted history of Wing Chun goes as follows:
Sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century, the Shaolin monastery was burned to the ground because the Manchurian government feared that the monks (by this point in history well-known for their martial prowess) posed a threat. A small number of masters and disciples managed to escape and went their separate ways.
One of these escapees was the Buddhist nun Ng Mui. Ng Mui was a small, unassuming woman had spent many years training in the Shaolin school of Kung Fu. However, because of her diminutive size, she had gradually phased out her use of high kicks and any attacks or defenses that depended on muscular strength. She instead focused her training on sudden contraction and relaxation (explosive movements), “dirty fighting” like finger jabs to the eyes and elbows to the face, and kicks that were swift and powerful but were never aimed above the waist.
In her travels, Ng Mui came to meet a beautiful, intelligent young woman named Yim Wing Chun. Yim Wing Chun had attracted the attention of a local landowner who wanted her as one of his brides. Yim Wing Chun had no interest in marrying this brutish man, so Ng Mui came up with a plan. Yim Wing Chun told her boorish suitor that she already had a fiancée, but that she would call it off. She told the landowner that she would write to her husband-to-be, but because he was traveling afar the letter would take quite some time to reach him. She asked that the landowner wait the months that it would take. The landowner reluctantly agreed.
That’s when Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun got to work. Over the months, Ng Mui trained Yim Wing Chun in her particular variation of Shaolin Kung Fu. Since Yim Wing Chun didn’t have the decade or so that it would normally take to “master” a traditional fighting style, Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun learned to streamline Ng Mui’s variation even further, shedding many things they deemed inefficient and unnecessary. At the end of the training period, the new style hardly even resembled the style taught at Shaolin Temple.
The landowner came to collect his new bride, but he only found himself soundly beaten-up by the young lady. After seeing the success of this new style, Ng Mui named her art “Wing Chun” after her protégé.

Over the centuries, Wing Chun was taught and passed down as many other styles have been, having a grandmaster as the leader of the overall art. Eventually, the mantle was passed to Yip Man. Yip Man was the teacher of many of today’s top Wing Chun masters (such as William Cheung). Yip Man was also the master of Bruce Lee.
Yip Man was born and raised in Southern China and made his living as a police officer and occasional Wing Chun teacher before the Communist revolution. Like many Chinese, he fled the mainland for the British-controlled Hong Kong. There he made his living as the grandmaster of the Wing Chun school of Kung Fu.

Bruce Lee was a hyperactive kid who often got into a lot of trouble. After he came off pretty bad in one fight, he decided to take up a martial art that he could use efficiently as soon as possible. At age 13, he began his Wing Chun training. At first, he learned under Yip Man. However, Yip Man despised non-Chinese and refused to teach foreigners. Some students found out that Bruce Lee was a quarter German, and they pressured Yip Man to drop him as a student (because Bruce frequently beat them at sparring, despite being younger and smaller) or they would all quit and join another school. Because Yip Man really liked Bruce, but because he also had to make a living, he told his secondary instructors to train Bruce. From age 13 to age 18, Bruce spent a great deal of his free time intensely practicing the art of Wing Chun.
Bruce Lee went to America, and very soon began giving instruction in martial arts. He basically began by teaching modified Wing Chun, which gradually developed into Jun Fan Gung Fu, which eventually became Jeet Kune Do.

Wing Chun has become quite popular all over the world, due largely in part to efforts made by Yip Man’s students like William Cheung and Bruce Lee. Also because, while it is a style of Kung Fu, it has been demonstrated as quite efficient and more self-defense oriented than other arts.

There are several “famous” aspects of Wing Chun.
1) Chi Sao: “Sticky hands” is a practice in which two individuals make continuous contact of the forearms, trying to subtly move in for a strike, or feel their opponent’s intentions and defend against a possible strike. While this might seem bogus, after years of training, it has been shown to develop the reflexes to a point at which some practitioners may even be able to practice trapping and punching while blindfolded. (Even Bruce Lee attributed a lot of his ability to Chi Sao practice.)
2) Mook Yan Jong: The wooden dummy is used to develop various blocks and strikes. It is a makeshift representation of a human body and helps with practicing footwork and trapping, as well as the toughening of forearms, palms, and fists. (Also heavily utilized by Bruce Lee.)
3) Straight Punch: The primary punch of Wing Chun is done not by starting at the waist, but up by the shoulder. This allows the puncher to move his arm much more in a straight line. Also, the Wing Chun practitioner typically forms a fist vertically, as opposed to the normal horizontal formation. This supposedly provides a better surface area for punching.
4) Butterfly Knives: These are not the balisong typically used in the Philippines or by hoodlums in the US, but instead are broad daggers/short swords, the movements of which can easily fit with the basic principles of punching in Wing Chun.

I could continue to write about Wing Chun seemingly forever, but I figure that I have probably already written too much to keep the interest of the reader. So, I will move on to the most important part:

Would Batman learn Wing Chun? He would certainly find it beneficial. Although Boxing and Wing Chun have some pretty drastically different techniques, the smart martial artist/fighter who blends the two will have some very effective, even deadly, hands. Batman does need effective, even deadly, hands.
Trapping is good to know, but I think Batman shouldn’t rely too much on infighting. It’s best to keep one’s distance from his opponent if he doesn’t want to risk getting stabbed by some unseen knife. Also, it is a good rule of general self-defense to always keep your kicks below the waist (to the shins, knees, groin), but once again this provides only so much power and distance.
I think that Batman would spend some time learning and mastering at least the basics of Wing Chun, and he would blend the trapping, punching, and eye-poking techniques with other striking methods. After all, if it’s good enough for Bruce Lee…

Some sources:
-"A Handbook of Martial Arts" by Fay Goodman
-"The Tao of Gung Fu" by Bruce Lee (edited by John Little)
-"Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense" by Bruce Lee
-"Wing Chun Kung-Fu: A Complete Guide; Volume 1: Basic Forms and Principles" by Dr. Joseph Wayne Smith
-"Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit" by Bruce Thomas

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Batman -- Martial Artist - 06.00 - Kung Fu

I will be using the phrase "kung fu" to mean Chinese martial art(s). The phrase does not actually mean "martial arts", but rather something like "something achieved by hard work".
The Mandarin phrase that actually means "martial art" is "wushu". However, the use of "wushu" has been complicated in modern times by the much more popular use (at least in the west) of the phrase "kung fu" and the fact that there is a martial art-sport that was developed by the Chinese government called Wushu.

The most widely spread story about the origins of kung fu involves a Buddhist priest/monk named Bodhidharma traveling from India to China in the 5th or 6th century to translate Buddhist scripture.

The story goes that Bodhidharma came to Shaolin Temple, but was barred from entry because he was thought to be barbaric. Bodhidharma then hiked up Mt. Song and meditated in a cave for nine years. When he came back down, he entered the temple and was disappointed to find that the monks would frequently fall asleep while meditating. He taught the monks some exercises to improve their physical fitness, which he deemed necessary for spiritual fitness.

That, supposedly, is the origin of kung fu. Highly dubious, of course.

More realistically, there have always been fighting styles in China (as in all places). Many retired soldiers would become monks in their later years, bringing to the temples various martial techniques that would come in handy when monks might have to defend themselves from bandits. What Bodhidharma really did was bring some yoga exercises, and probably some Indonesian fighting techniques that now make up Pencak Silat. Bodhidharma did not create kung fu, but simply contributed to China's martial traditions, and helped institutionalize the style of fighting practiced at the Shaolin Temple.

(Arguably, Bodhidharma's more important contribution was that he brought with him the teachings of a particular sect of Buddhism that came to be known in China as Ch'an, which would eventually be known in Japan [and all over the world] as Zen.)

There are a LOT of different martial art styles that orignated in China, and I plan to write a little bit about a few of them. (These may include Wing Chun, Baguazhang, Shaolin, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Praying Mantis, Xingyi, Sanshou, Chin Na, Hung Gar, Mok Gar, Choy Li Fut, Five Ancestors Fist, Tiger-Crane, Wudang, Five Animals Style, and/or Wushu.)

Would Batman learn kung fu? Of course. He wouldn't really know too much in the way of martial arts if he didn't have some sort of training in at least one Chinese style.