Shotokan Karate in the Old Takudai Dojo – 1946 Part I

Old, historical footage of Nakayama, Kanazawa, Enoeda and others practicing Shotokan in the old Japanese dojo and training outside. This is not the original Shotokan Dojo. The original was destroyed during the war in a bombing raid. But it gives you a definite flavor of what the training was like along with the intensity.

This is Part I. I’ll post the second part tomorrow.

 

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The Source of Shotokan Karate

This is an excellent video which showcases many historical elements of Shotokan along with some very old footage.

As an old karate guy myself I can watch this kind of thing all day long. A lot of little snippets here which should give you a flavor of what karate is about, and martial arts in general.

Don’t worry, this is still primarily a writing blog, but martial arts have been a part of my life since I was in my early twenties, so it’s only right I share things like this when I find videos that might reach a broader audience. Speaking for myself I can watch old Shotokan videos of guys doing techniques all day long, but I know when I bring something like this to the blog I probably need to be a little more general.

Hope you like it!

 

Looking for Stories in all the Right Places

I started a brand new Haxan short story yesterday called “Talitha Koum” and so far I am making decent progress. It’s taking time, but the story is shaping up and I am beginning to see what it is really about.

It’s funny. I was looking through some old files and saw the notes and stuff for this story. I had forgotten I had this lying around! I think this is a good example of something I do which I urge other writers to do.

When you are finished with a story, or when it is not working for you, put it aside, forget about it, and move on to the next story.

This is something I am really good at. Maybe to my own detriment. If you pressed me to name all the stories I have published I probably couldn’t do it.* I know I couldn’t name all the stories I have written, both published and non-published. I was in a superb writing group in Mississippi and the members knew I had this policy to forget a story and put it away and always move on to the next one. One of the members asked me about one of my old stories he had read and I couldn’t remember the name of the story!

I wrote it, and I couldn’t remember it at all! He laughed and said, “It really is true, you don’t bother to remember what you did. You are always looking ahead.”

That has always been my philosophy when it comes to writing. When you finish a story you are finished. Why should you dwell on that when there are new stories waiting to be written?

This has gotten me into trouble a time or two. Sometimes at conventions an editor or writer will ask a general question about my work and I’ll stand there with a dumb and vacant look on my face. Oh, well, I’m not going to change. This old dog isn’t willing to learn that trick. I really do believe a writer always needs to be looking ahead and not obsessing over the past.

On the other hand there are stories that have been with me for decades. Usually these are stories I have had trouble writing but haven’t entirely given up on. We all have stories like that, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it depends on the person. I know I am very lucky as a writer and have had more stories published than I ever expected. I am not done yet, however. I am very grateful for the stories I have published…but it’s the stories I have not been able to work, or the stories that didn’t work, or the stories that didn’t come together that stick with me more.

I know, it’s crazy. I’m a crazy writer. But this time my philosophy of forgetting stories worked out rather well when I found the notes for it. It was like a brand new idea, and because so much time has passed I am able to look at it with entirely fresh eyes.

So that’s what I am working on right now, a couple of short stories. I still plan to delve into the Great American Hobo novel this summer. I am looking forward to that!

 

*But then again that’s why we writers maintain bibliographies, haha.

 

My Search for a Martial Art Might have Narrowed to…Shaolin Kung Fu?

Today I put on my gi and worked out. After some careful stretching I did all the basic Shotokan stances, strikes, kicks, and blocks. I ended up doing the first kata.

I joked on Twitter I was about to die, but I have to say I got through it pretty well. It was a good workout and I followed it with a hot bath.

As readers of this blog know I have toying with the idea of finding a martial art to keep me busy this summer. I was a big Shotokan guy for a long time but there’s not a dojo around within a decent driving distance. There’s one in Arlington, but that’s 50 minutes away. That’s too far. So I looked at some other classical karate around and there’s Wado Ryu which isn’t too bad. But if I’m going to stay in karate I don’t know about learning a whole new style.

What I mean is, if I am going to learn a whole new style…why not learn a whole new style?

I did some homework and found a Shaolin Five Animals/Northern Long Fist not far from me at all. I checked it out last night and liked what I saw. Did a little digging in their background (which you have to do with every training hall because some are shady) and they seem legit. Even better, the classes are unlimited, I can go anytime during the day to practice (yay!) and they have yoga for martial artists (yay, because I’m an old man!) and Tai Chi classes. That’s a lot to bring to the table.

So this is the direction I might be going. I’m an old karate guy: linear, straight-line, external. Kung fu? For me?

Maybe so. Stay tuned. 🙂

Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby (review)

I am not a big fan of romance. I don’t think much of most fantasy, either, because a lot of it draws too much on what has been done before and comes off as lazy. It feeds upon itself too much, especially when it comes to plot and motivation and the world the characters are supposed to inhabit.

All too often much of romance and fantasy is cardboard characters stomping through yet another two-dimensional background. Popular?15808673 Extremely popular. Do these kinds of stories bring anything new to the literary world? No, not much, or rarely, nor are they expected to. So everyone wins. I guess.

Is Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit one of these kinds of stories? Nope. Not even close.

Not that it’s easy to find new plots and develop them with twists that engage and surprise the reader. As a professional writer I realize there is no such thing as a new plot. Even Assassin’s Gambit by Raby, her first fantasy romance novel, doesn’t do that, nor does it set out to prove otherwise.

In Raby’s novel a beautiful assassin named Vitala Salonius (with a tragic past) is sent to, well, assassinate an emperor and ends up falling in love with him. She’s a Caturanga champion, a game much more complex than chess and one which mirrors the social and political machinations and upheavals of the world she lives in.  As you might guess the lovers battle intrigue and powerful political forces arrayed against them. Shades of From Russia, With Love at least as far as the basic plot line goes. Serviceable and robust.

So far so good. But Raby does something extra here which I find very welcome and wish more writers would take the time to do. She builds a world. More than that, her world and its culture and its unique magic system isn’t copy/pasted from some other novel or cliched background. She did a lot of research and homework for this novel, and it shows. And, boy, does it work.

It’s not often I become so immersed in a novel I stop reading critically and just read and enjoy the novel for what it is. But this is what happened to me with Assassin’s Gambit and it was a welcome change.

I read it in one sitting. You know how often I do that? Maybe once a year. So this novel was my quota for 2013. Seeing as how good this story was, I can live with that.

Amy Raby, author of Assassin's GambitI really like Raby’s magic system and how it all hangs together. Nor does Raby ignore the cultural impact her magic has on social and political institutions or the burgeoning gunpowder tech which is being developed. What’s more, the world she presents is itself multicultural, and within those cultures there are opposing factions. She doesn’t pull any punches, either, given the set up. She shows the racism and fear and hate and distrust you would expect.

It’s a believable world. I like that. As a professional writer….I like that a lot.

But aside from all that, which is considerable, I like how Raby subverts. From the cover of this novel of a pretty lady with wind in her hair, to the blurb (In the struggle for power, nothing is safe…not even her heart) you figure, “Okay, this is a fantasy romance which is maybe kinda heavy on the romance. I’ll test the water with my toe.”

And at first when you start reading it does read like a standard romance. But then Raby pulls a fast one, and this is why I liked the novel so much because not only was it subversive, it was dangerous.

It’s almost like Raby was laughing behind her hand a little and saying, “Do I have your attention? Good. Let’s get to what this story is really about.”

She pulls it off with aplomb. In essence, the novel stops being a traditional romance in an exotic setting and turns into a hard hitting fantasy tale that examines how (and more importantly why) two broken people are able to love and trust one another…while in the meantime killing some bad guys who really need killing.

Is the novel without fault? No. There are too many adverbs, too many exclamation marks (one per novel, please and thank you) and I personally would have liked it to be darker. But then again I wasn’t writing it so what do I know. I also thought Vitala made a crucial decision in a bean field that wasn’t true to her original motivation. (Although I do understand and sympathize with Raby’s limitations regarding Vitala’s decision.)

Finally, the novel actually ends on the penultimate chapter, and quite strongly, too. But, once more, Raby is playing with us a little here and it’s as if she says, “Okie doke, this is supposed to be a romance, so here ya go, one last chapter.”

I liked this novel a lot. It was damn good. Yes, it is a romance. A very good one. The characters are memorable and I found myself lost in the world. You can’t ask for more than that.

Give it a peek.

Finished the Novel and Synopsis. Yay!

I finished the synopsis for Quaternity and have sent the manuscript and everything else off.

I did it, guys, I finished it! What a long journey this has been. I feel I wrote the novel I wanted to write and told the story I wanted to tell.

It wasn’t like anything else I have tried before, but I honestly feel I was successful in reaching my goals to tell the story I wanted.

Welp. Now what?

Time to think about the next project I will be working on, of course…. 🙂

 

 

 

My Life as a Karateka

Came across old footage of Masters Nakayama, Nishiyama,  and Kanazawa practicing Shotokan self-defense. I love this kind of thing, and love the historicity of it all. We are watching men who helped shaped Shotokan into the martial art it is today.

I’ve always been a big fan of Kanazawa. He’s the man defending himself at the beginning of the video. I love his work at the table; good stuff.

This may bore some of you, but I used to be pretty heavily involved in martial arts. I started off in Isshin-ryu but college got into the way. Late nights studying multidimensional calculus and modern physics cut into my free time. Imagine that!

Later I went into Shotokan karate. Shotokan is known as a hard, linear style. I took to it in a big way. I was one test away from getting my brown belt.  I even trained a little in kung fu, but not a lot to speak of. Shotokan was my main focus. I participated in a few tournaments and got a couple of trophies, but trophies were never my main interest.

I didn’t care about competing against others. I only cared about competing against myself. I got pretty good at it.

Recently I have thought about getting back into Shotokan. There is a dojo in Arlington but that’s about 50 minutes away. That’s a little too far to drive several times a week. But I don’t know. There’s a Wado-Ryu place nearer, and at least that is traditional Okinawan karate, but I’m not sure I want to relearn a whole new style.

It’s been long enough, if I do get back into Shotokan it would be a relearning process anyway. The only other style that interests me is Krav Maga, and there are a couple of places I could go to study that. Well, one in particular, because this is a style that is often taught by some rather shady people who took a course and then were “proficient” enough to teach. So you always have to do your homework before you start training in any style within your area.

I would love to jump into judo, but there are no judo places around here. (It’s Texas, folks.) Anything else, like taekwondo, MMA, kung fu styles, and others don’t interest me much. Maybe kung fu. Wing chun. I don’t know. Maybe I am too invested in my years of Shotokan. Maybe it’s time to shift to another style.

Of course, I’m getting pretty old. I don’t expect to do much in any style other than get myself toned up and stretched. I’m not out to prove anything. I know my limitations.

So I have been thinking about this and I believe I will drag out my old gi and books and start going through the Shotokan basics like kihon and kata myself. Start off by doing the stretching and strength exercises, of course. Until a Shotokan dojo opens up closer to me, that’s about my only option.*

Meanwhile, I can always watch these historic videos! 🙂

*I’ve also thought about getting back into golf. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Моя маленькая “My Little One” by Polina Agureyeva

From what I have been able to glean, Polina Agureyeva is the singer. The song is “My Little One” from the Russian film “A Long Goodbye” by Sergei Ursuliak.

This song is beautiful and so moving. It’s not classical guitar, but that doesn’t take away one iota from the moment. I’ve been humming this song for a couple of days now!

This song has hooked me. I want to see this film.

Coasting Downhill

I finished reading my new novel Quaternity aloud.

This exercise was very helpful. Not only because I found some little mistakes, but I found places where it didn’t “sound” right. So I made the appropriate changes.

Truman Capote once said he wrote for the ear. There’s some truth in that, I think. Hearing the words read aloud brings the story into a new perspective for me. I’ve done this with parts of short stories, paragraphs, scenes. Never the entire novel. But this was something I decided to do a long time ago when and if I ever finished writing the novel.

I felt it was something necessary because I knew from the outset this would be a difficult novel to write. Since that was the case I figured I would have to go an extra mile to make sure it “sounded” right to the ear.

And, from what I can tell, it does.

All I have left is to write the synopsis and send it in to the publishers. Then I will read through the novel one last time, but that shouldn’t take long at all. It’s all downhill from here.

Whew!

Seeing Your Story in a New Light

Today my writing buddy, Melissa Lenhardt, was editing her novel on hard copy. That’s right, she was using real sheets of paper.

I had almost forgotten what that stuff looked like.

We got to talking and she said it was very helpful to see her story on hard copy rather than a computer screen. It was like seeing in a different light, or venue, and she could find things wrong with the storycropped-writer-smoking-pipe.jpg she hadn’t seen before.

I have noticed this, too. I don’t know what it is about our brains, but when we read something online compared to a printed sheet, we read it differently. Or perceive it differently, or something.

I don’t know what’s at work here. but I have noticed when I am editing my own story it helps to look at it in these different ways. When I first started writing everything was on paper. We wrote, edited, and read the stories on paper. That has changed. But going Old School to edit your stories somehow gives you a different perspective.

I’m not arguing it’s a better perspective. I often find things cropping up on the computer screen I don’t find on hard copy, and vice versa. But I  think, for me at any rate, having that tactile sensation and handling hard copy when editing a story fires up different neurons in the brain. Or whatever it is that gets fired up in the brain. At the very least, because it is a different, we connect, react, and interpret things about it that are themselves different.

It really is like seeing your story in a new light.

I hope this isn’t coming across as one of those “Things were better in the Olden Days” posts. That’s not how I feel. But I have noticed when I look at something written on the computer screen and then hard copy, I perceive it differently. And it’s almost as if the information I glean from both media is itself different in some way and I integrate that into a whole.

Anyway, one thing I have also noticed, and this part never changes, which I think is a good sign. When I do see one of my published stories either in print or online, I always have the same reaction: Satisfaction.

And when you get down to it I guess that’s what we are working toward to begin with. 🙂

Well, Guys, Theater 13 Radio is Off the Air

When I was thirteen I used to listen to a black and white transistor radio tucked under my pillow. One night I found a Chicago station and heardWhen I was young finding Old Time Radio was a way for me to head into the light....  The CBS Radio Mystery Theater hosted by E.G. Marshall.

Just like that I was hooked. I fell in love with radio dramas and wanted to hear more.

Popular for its time, CBSRMT was a modern program aired by CBS during the late 70s and early 80s and produced by Himan Brown. It was an attempt to recapture the magic of Old Time Radio. When we moved from Illinois I always made it a point to find a station that aired this program so I could continue listening, and I would often ask my grandparents what they remembered of OTR.

As an adult I discovered real OTR, old time radio, and its fans. I began to collect and research these old programs and listen to them whenever I could. As a professional writer I saw the intrinsic value of these radio shows beyond their nostalgic worth. I knew I could learn a lot from these programs on how to write a tight cohesive story, and I did.

I had fun running the station for two years, but it got difficult to maintain. We don’t have the best Internet around so I always had to worry whether we were streaming or not. Sometimes the electricity went off at night, a regular occurrance here in Dallas. So I had to restart the computer and more often than not go into the server and restart that.

It got too difficult to maintain. I was always worried I wasn’t providing the promised service I wanted to provide. Sure, the Internet station was free for listeners, but even so that shouldn’t mean they had to put up with spotty service.

I think we did well given the fact a lot of people said they liked it and enjoyed it, but the service didn’t live up to my standards.These were because of things outside my control (Internet, electricity, servers down) but that didn’t mean I wasn’t concerned and bothered by it.

So, the Internet station is off the air. I am going to miss it. I am not going to miss worrying whether we would stay on the air when a thunderstorm came through or why the computer shut down during the night or why everything appeared to be working correctly but we couldn’t connect to the server.

So we are off the air and the website and the servers are shut down. But the memories will remain. 😦

 

Mistress Zarella welcomes you to Theater 13 Radio....

Setting Aside Ego for the Benefit of Story

A writer friend of mine, Paula C. Brown, asked how I go about writing notes for a novel. She wanted to know the method I use because Writing is mostly mental,not physical. Work on that part more than the other and you will be successful.she was having a little trouble getting focused.

This is a problem I run into myself when it comes to finding focus and generating ideas. I don’t have a secret recipe or magic key. Mostly I try and ignore it and hope the problem goes away.

This rarely works, as you might suspect. So I do try some of the same exercises each time. They usually do work. Or at least they work for me. Every writer goes about this game differently. I’m only going to relate what works for me.

When I start a story, or more specifically a novel, I make a brief outline. And by brief I mean brief.  I hand write out quotes, bits of dialog, ideas, characterizations, and research notes on a yellow legal pad. I almost always kick-start this process by coming up with names for the characters. If I can give a character a name I can visualize him better and imagine what types of situations he might find himself in. The story outline will then unfold from that initial process.

One of the reasons I do minimal outlining is I like the freedom it gives me. I knew a writer who made extensive notes on 3×5 cards, even to the point of working out the genealogy of characters who would never appear in the story. This worked for him. That would never work for me. I would find it too restrictive.

I like having a general direction, but nothing more than that. I have a theme I start with on, and everything else, names, scenes, plot, spirals out from that.

So that’s how I do it. Nothing special as you can see. I have a beginning, middle, and ending, but it’s always sort of hazy and I am not above changing everything if I believe it will benefit the story.

I’m not locked into anything when I write a story. I always put my ego aside. I do what is best for the story.

I admit working this way might be viewed as difficult for some. There are writers who want a lot more structure before they begin. But I have structure. It’s a bit hazy, like I said, but it exists. I simply do not set down every little jot before I begin. I have a direction, but the journey I take to get to the end….that’s a process I prefer remains organic.

Even as I work deeper into the novel I keep writing down ideas and notes as they come to me, and as I do more research. I may change names, settings, ideas, but the one thing I almost never change is the original theme.

More than anything else the theme is the first “idea” that comes to me. Everything else spirals outward from that.

Pictures of My Border Trip to Ruidosa, TX

Once you drive through Presidio and make it through the Chinati Mountain Pass on Farm Road 170 the next stop along the Mexico/Texas Border is Ruidosa.

I wanted to stop because my latest novel Quaternity takes place outside the town for a chapter or three. It’s always beneficial for a writer to see a place first hand if you can, I think. Google Earth helps a lot, but you can’t beat seeing it with your own eyes if possible.

Ruidosa has an interesting history in the west. In the 1800s convicts used to be stationed here so they could fight the Native Americans. The land is stark and dry and you are surrounded by mountains on both sides of the border. Chinati Peak towers over the landscape.

Here are pictures I took around Ruidosa. I think there used to be a little community store years back, but it looked closed now. I didn’t see anyone about. There was an occasional motorcycle on the road, however, mostly sight-seers like myself.

Ruidosa Sign

Ruidosa Church

Adobe Church

Ruidosa Road

Mountain Range

The Reason of Literary Critique and Why as a Principled Writer You Should Ignore It Like the Plague

John LeCarré said in a 1997 interview for The Paris Review,  “I always argue that you should not accept the value of good reviews, because if you do you have to accept the bad ones.”

I must say I agree wholeheartedly with LeCarré’s assessment of critique and its debilitating influence upon creativity.

For myself, I tend not to read them much anymore since I don’t want any undue influence on my work. And I see it as a seductive, yet poisonous, trap. You read a rousing review of your work and you think, “Well, I better do that again.”

How horrifying that is.

I view it as horrifying because writers should never be in the business of pandering to reviewers. Hell, as far as that goes you shouldn’t be in the business of pandering to readers. That’s not writing, that’s whoring.

That is why I have argued from Day One you should never write for a market.* You should write for yourself first and let the market follow you.

Conversely, if you take good reviews to heart, should you not also accept the bad ones and change your writing to suit their worldview?

I can’t think of anything more enervating to the art of writing than going down this self-defeating path and thinking it will lead to artistic prosperity.

DesperateWriter

As someone who writes reviews and critiques, and will again in the future, I can fully attest they should never be taken as anything other than temporary place-markers to help guide readers into making qualified decisions. But they have no inherent worth in and of themselves, and I always have this in mind when I write them. I also subscribe to the view there is no such thing as a bad review, because there is no such thing as bad press.

When I was on Live Journal I started linking to reviews of a particular story of mine “Rubber Monkeys” in the anthology Destination Future published by Hadley Rille Books. The anthology got a lot of good reviews as did my story. Many people mentioned how much they liked “Rubber Monkeys” and how much it creeped them out.

But every time I linked to a review that mentioned my story it kind of creeped me out a little bit. I didn’t mind linking to the anthology as a whole and letting my friends know it was available, but what was I doing singling out my lone story in the collection?

What did I think I was doing? Who did I think I was fooling?

I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel fundamentally right to me in some ineffable way. Given my faddish view on things it was probably only me who felt that way. But now on Twitter and other social media I see writers linking review after review of their stories, even to the point of it becoming spam which ultimately gets them blocked by me, and all I can think is: What in the world are they doing?

No one is going to set higher goals and standards than myself when it comes to my own writing. Absolutely no one. So what do I care what a review says either about me or you? Either we believe in our work or we don’t. Either we are going to let other people set standards for us, or we won’t.

If I’m reading you and buying your stories and novels and I’m enjoying them, then what the hell do I care what some reviewer in Ballsuck, Arkansas has to say about your work?

If you have to link review after review on social media to the point of spamming everyone on your timeline, it reeks of desperation. It’s you jumping up and down, waving your arms and screaming, “Look at me. For God’s sake, someone look at me and pay attention.”

I find that behavior pathetic and I have little regard for professional writers who behave that way. I tend to give newbies more of a pass. They are still learning.

Professionals should know better.

So. Am I arguing you should never link reviews of your work? Of course not. Even I continue to do it from time to time. But if you do, you need to be aware of the pitfalls that may open up beneath you.

I think it’s a fine line which escapes a lot of people on my Twitter timeline. Writing is difficult enough, and getting people interested in your work is difficult enough without alienating them in the process.

I do wish more writers understood this. It’s not rocket science. It’s Writing 101.

Because, you know, otherwise I’m just going to block you and move on with my life.

 

*The only time you should write for a market is when you are invited to contribute to an anthology. But if a genre or topic is currently hot, I suggest you stay away from that and plow new, undeveloped ground. Following a trend only leads to the abattoir. Why would you follow the herd when you might be able to lead them in a new and interesting direction?

How I Wrote My New Haxan Story “Rado”

I had what I consider an unusual amount of trouble writing this short story. It wasn’t the plot but how the voice was developing that I had so much trouble with.

I had never written a Haxan story that featured Jake Strop before so maybe that was part of the problem. I didn’t want him to come across as a clone of Marwood and he had to have his own voice and way of looking at things.

I started this story about two years ago, dropped it and came back to it from time to time. I knew there was something there worth working for and I think I finally found it. But this was one of the more difficult stories to write, I found. I’m glad it all came together for me, however.

Anyway, The Western Online has accepted it and now it’s up for everyone to read. Just clickie on the linkie below.

I hope you guys enjoy it. Thanks for listening! 🙂

 

“Rado” published by The Western Online

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