Wishlist: transforming leg

A friend of mine fired through a link for a story about a double amputee in New Zealand who had a mermaid tail prosthesis created by WETA, and it got me to thinking about stuff.

When I was 12, I was watching the very awesome third series of Robotech (which I later found out was called Genesis Climber Mospeada when ADV were kind enough to release the set on DVD, which I promptly snatched up several years ago πŸ˜‰ ) on repeat on early morning TV, and in that series they have these awesome futuristic motor bike things that transform into these equally awesome power suit things (Wikipedia tells me they’re called Cyclone Veritech Ride Armors).

Genesis Climber Mospeada cover

Anywho, I remember thinking at the time that it would be awesome having a leg that could transform into something cool from Macross, like a rocket or something, and when I was reading that story I linked up above, out of nowhere I remembered that crazy thought I had when I was younger.

But who knows, following Rodriguez’ awesome premise behind Planet Terror, maybe the dynamic duo of the former + Tarantino (or someone following in their stead!) can do something crazy and awesome. I mean, when Rodriguez comes up with this:

Planet Terror (Dutch promotional poster)

… I think anything’s possible πŸ™‚

This reminds me, I really need to buy Planet Terror and Death Proof πŸ˜€

I was about to finish this one off, but I realised I hadn’t posted a video of the super awesome opening animation from Mospeada πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Gold!

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Another lightbulb moment – amputee-friendly round kicks (mawashi geri)

So, recently Wifey and I watched Enter the Dragon (again). And me being me, afterwards whilst getting ready for bed and doing the last-minute clean-up before bed, I started doing karate around the house – in the kitchen, the lounge room, the hallway, stuff like that. Weird thing though – I was practicing my mawashi geri (round kick) with my real leg (i.e. right leg kicking, left leg pivoting), and had a crazy lightbulb moment. This doesn’t happen often, so bear with me while I try and make this coherent!

The secret as I understand from all of you out there with two legs is that a good mawashi geri relies on awesome hip power (in fact, the root of all good karate comes from the use of your torso, which works in conjunction with the rest of your body in perfect harmony… right???). Unfortunately, things get a bit tricky for me because my mawashi geri with my right leg is generally pretty weak, as there’s no knee/ankle/foot to drive and pivot the left leg, which are essential in throwing your hips into the technique to create a controlled reaction. Think of it chopping off your left leg, substituting it with a vertical pole with a hinge in the middle, and blindly flailing around 180-240° trying not to get the pole to collapse underneath you whilst trying to make a decent kick. Doesn’t work too well.

The answer, possibly, is a simple one, and crazily enough I mentioned the precept in one of my posts from my old blog in 2007 (here) – use your upper body to control your body’s rotation. I found that by simply using my shoulders, I could regain control of my hips and follow through with a considerably improved technique.

I’ll try and explain further – I start with my left leg forward, right leg back in a short fighting stance (give me time to get it working reliably in a long zenkutsu dachi!). Follow the usual components of a mawashi geri – knee-raised to the side, lower right-leg pulled in tight to help with producing a snapping motion; make this form whilst pushing off your right foot to propel the action forward.

Now here’s where the new stuff begins – try and swivel your hips to get you started, but twist your shoulders going in the same direction of your mawashi geri. Don’t go crazy, make it a measured, control action, keeping your arms up in a defensive position, controlled, and tight (i.e. don’t flail them about). The combined use of these forces will drive the leg by way of the hips in a circular motion, using the planted left leg as a single vertical axis.

Once the leg extends and snaps forward, start with the hips as much as possible with control, then use your shoulders to finish the backwards snapping motion. Pull the foot back and land from the technique with control, no arms flailing, no landing in a sloppy stance. Control is essential, which in turn means watch your speed and stay focused.

I’ll have to keep at it to see how this technique holds up, but I’m really, really excited by this – my mawashi geri with my right leg has always been rubbish, but through this lightbulb moment and my consistent efforts in stretching my legs regularly during the week to increase their flexibility, I reckon I’m getting somewhere πŸ˜€

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Kata is kinda like watching subtitled anime…

So, let’s get it out of the way for the nth time – I’m a bit nerdy, right? Anyway, part of my nerdy habits is that I like watching anime, but I’m picky in that I only like watching it in Japanese with subtitles (mind, I extend that to all foreign film/music – I’d rather watch/listen to it in its original language with subtitles than something dubbed into my native tongue). So, Jyastin-kun and I were heading to karate last week and we were chatting about stuff, and I came up with this awesome analogy, that kata is like watching subtitled anime – if you take it all at first glance and verbatim, you only get one aspect of the whole story, but as soon as you begin to understand it and read more into it, you get a greater understanding of it.

The part of the conversation this came from was how we were talking about how knowing a smattering of written and spoken Japanese reveals all the inadequacies of a simple, literal (or localised) translation from one language to another gives. In the English language compared to Japanese, the system of honorifics does not exist to such an extent, and the gravity of different accents, levels of formalities and other specific eccentricities unique to the Japanese language makes it difficult to bring all this across in a series of subtitles. However, as soon as you start to learn some of the language and cultural norms, your viewing of the material changes – you understand the various levels of honorifics and how they establish hierarchy within the context of the story. Awkwardly-translated phrases (not awkward through any fault of the translator, but awkward through the act of transliteration) somehow make much more sense when you understand the language behind it, and in-jokes and cultural norms suddenly open your eyes to a much deeper experience of the story at hand. Then, with all this in hand, when you watch something you can take the subtitles as your guide, but you’re free to interpret the deeper or more subtle meanings behind the language or content your own way, and in turn, gain a deeper understanding into what’s happening on-screen.

Similarly, when you start learning a kata, you start by following the movements verbatim. As your knowledge of the kata and what the movements signify increase, you gain a deeper understanding of the routine actions represent. Once you have developed your base understanding and precepts behind the actions, you begin to make the kata your own, and instead of it simply be a series of pre-assigned movements, it becomes an involved exploration and an expression wholly personal to you, the individual.

I’m hoping the above is reasonably coherent… and in looking over this post, it’s not just subtitled anime that this can be applied to – movies based on books are another example (i.e. you’ve read the book, then seen the movie), exploring other literary works with an understanding of the context of its creation or expression by the author (whether it be music, film or literature), and so on. I just chose subtitled anime because it came up in discussion and proved both obscure and apt in the grand scheme of things πŸ˜€

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Movie time: Enter the Dragon, in high-definition

So, Enter the Dragon is one of those quintessential martial arts flicks that anyone who is into biffo on celluloid has seen at least twice. I first watched the movie years and years ago on late-night TV, and absolutely loved the combination of crazy afros, flares, martial arts biffo, bad dubbing and crazy 70s porno music. I won’t go into the importance this movie played in the grand scheme of East / West martial arts movies in contemporary cinema (which, to be honest, hadn’t been equaled insofar as Eastern influence on Western martial arts film making until The Matrix hit the silver screen in 1999, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog… or two!), as I’m sure IMDB or Wikipedia will have plenty of accessible info on this movie (plus any half-decent Bruce Lee biography will give enough space to discussing it). So, this is about watching the movie, again, and why I still think it’s awesome πŸ™‚

So, I bought the original R4 DVD release when it initially came out and watched it several times; when it got re-released later on with extra features and what-not, I then bought it again! I’m such a sucker for this stuff πŸ˜› And when Wifey and I picked up a PS3 at the end of 2007, once again I fed the money-making machine that is Hollywood and bought it in HD on Blu-Ray a few months later. And I recently convinced Wifey that it would be an awesome idea to watch it, and she (quite surprisingly) agreed!

Watching it again, having studied martial arts for 4-5 years now and having had the opportunity to learn and read more on various styles and their respective histories, it’s still a pretty awesome movie. Surprisingly, there actually wasn’t a lot of fighting in it compared to some of the other Bruce Lee movies, much less than what I remembered. Sure, there are some amazing moments of truly brilliant choreography, and more than its fair share of crazy zooming close-ups of Bruce or one of the other cast striking a crazy pose, but at the end of it, of the time dedicated to the film, there’s plenty of other scenes dedicated to somehow trying to wrap some kind of James Bond-derived spy/thriller action or plot, laced with a bit of sex, watered-down philosophy on martial arts (watered down not because of the late Mr Lee, but to make it palatable to the masses Warner Brothers were marketing the film to; that being said, it was very ahead of its time…) and a bit of token character development. It’s hardly the most striking example of 70s film, but it’s still a damn good ride!

Hmmm, I’ve wandered off-topic… again πŸ˜› Must be from being absent from the blogosphere for so long, will just have to write more posts on my blog and get back into it! Anywho, waxing lyrical aside, it was awesome to take a trip back in time, but this time it was in such high clarity! I know that the film stock would have hardly been of super-high quality, but it was great being able to watch the movie with so much detail compared to the previous DVD releases of the movie. Colour was also reproduced with greater accuracy and depth, and seeing it in 24p was awesome – no 3:2 pulldown or PAL speedup. The audio was certainly a bit clearer, but the production values weren’t exactly high in this regard even in the first instance, so let’s not pretend it’s any different this time πŸ˜‰

So, what new insights came out of the recent viewing that I can appreciate now better than before? John Saxon’s form actually wasn’t too bad when he was being choreographed correctly (he apparently got just shy of his brown belt in karate at one point in the late 50s/early 60s, stumbled across an interesting interview with him here), though he doesn’t get a lot of screen time delivering biffo. Jim Kelly is quite impressive on-set, there’s a certain grace and power to his techniques that’s pretty amazing when you consider Hollywood-produced martial arts films in the 70s and even 80s often lacked grace and flow when depicting martial arts on-screen, though that’s probably more to do with bad choreography than anything else…

And of course there’s Bruce, he really does look awesome delivering all his signature moves and silly close-ups. Still, as much as I love him in this movie, I think for pure biffo, Way of the Dragon wins out (though the fact that Chuck Norris is in that one certainly helps!), and there’s something about the enthusiastic, raw energy in The Big Boss that really appeals to me as well… wasn’t much of a fan of Fists of Fury, so I’ll leave that one out of discussion – it’s good mind, but I prefer the others.

There’s something timeless about Enter the Dragon, and while I’m sure the movie won’t exactly convert anyone to the joy that is martial arts movies, it still makes for an awesome ride and was definitely worth the purchase… again… on Blu-Ray.

On the topic of martial arts flicks, haven’t watched too many of late, but John Woo’s apparently back in awesome form with his new flick (even if it is two films chopped and joined into a single film to please the West [grumble, grumble]), so might have to add that one to the list of movies I should check out. Oh, and Wifey and I recently re-watched Kill Bill vol. 1, might have to suggest vol. 2 soon and post some impressions on them afterwards. I know it’s hardly cutting-edge discourse, but I like rambling on about the occasional movie on this blog, so hopefully it’s likewise appreciated by those reading my random thoughts printed on these pages!

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