Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Martial arts/self-defense schools: how to choose

This is left over from a note to myself, June 21st, when I was in Seattle. I passed by a kickboxing/martial arts school as I was walking to the local post office. Watching them work out made me cringe. I'm no expert, but I have some potentially valid insights and opinions on what makes a good martial arts school.

I should also preface this by stating that you can find some good online articles on this subject by searching under "chosing martial arts school," or similar. To my knowledge, my thoughts (below) are above and beyond the usual advice.

Of course, it depends on what your goal is for taking a martial arts class. Exercise/physical fitness, self-defense/safety, and personal/spiritual development are all valid reasons. My comments below are inteded for people who are primarily interested in self-defense.

GENERAL ADVICE: Sit and observe a class for one full session. Taking a "free class" is also good -- but it's hard to see what's going on when you're actually particpating! Better to sit back and observe -- at least once.

(1) BAD: Throwing arts where people don't know how to fall. Here in Brisbane, I observed an introductary Aikido class where people were falling on their butts with their arms straight out behind them. I kept waiting for the instructor to stop the class and review how to fall properly; he didn't. That's a really good way to break an arm -- or at least sprain a wrist.

(2) BAD: Instructors who don't observe safety procedures -- or common sense. This includes not keeping an eye on maintaining safe distances between people who are sparring and the rest of the class. Also includes proper protective gear, using weapons in a controlled context, etc.

(3) GOOD: Logical learning structure. When you begin, are you taught the fundamentals? As you attend further classes, do you review the basics, but add on to them? Is new material added at a pace suitable for you -- neither a flood, where you never get a chance to master techniques, nor glacial, where you spend three months on the same two techniques. Neither is conducive to learning how to defend yourself.

(4) GOOD: Self-defense techiques are actually taught. Not just traditional stances and complex moves, but clear, straightforward, "Here are two ways of getting out of a wrist grab," "Here's an escape from a bear hug." Some styles either assume you'll figure this out yourself, or just aren't directly interested. That's fine for some purposes -- but not for a self-defense orientation.

(5) GOOD: Weapons defenses. Do they spend at least SOME time -- even at the beginning or intermediate levels -- showing you how to defend against handheld weapons? Ideally, both a knife-y sort of weapon and a baseball bat-ish weapon. It's good to know how -- ahead of time -- rather than experiencing an "Oh carp! [splat!]" moment.

(6) GOOD: Sparring -- at a relatively early stage. This includes both practicing blocks, locks, and punches on a partner, slow-motion and safely; it also includes more "free form" (though initially low-power and/or slower) working with a partner. If you've only practiced "one-two-three" pre-arranged exercises, you won't have had any practice with an actual punch coming at ya!!! So: if they don't allow ANY form of sparring until your way, way senior: no good for actual self-defense purposes.

(7) GOOD: Something tangible to hit and kick. A lot of "exercise kickboxing" classes -- and ones held in "temporary" locations, like church basements and shared exercise rooms at university fitness centers -- don't have actual punching bags. This is because they need to be portable, able to completely pack up at the end of each session. Some "portable" classes use focus pads, etc., which works pretty well. But a lot just have you shadow-box, kick the air, etc -- like most "exercise-kickboxing" classes -- which doesn't let you know whether you're holding your fist correctly (i.e. will your wrist collapse if you actually punch something???), whether you're getting the distance correct, or whether you're generating any power.

(8) PERSONAL PREFERENCE: Style of the instructor. Drill seargent? Gentle nurturer? Firm but fair? The personality/teaching style of the instructor that works for you is clearly a matter of personal taste -- but for myself, I don't see a particular advantage to someone that barks out commands and demands undying obediance. I go more for the "wise uncle," "firm but fair" type: someone that's encouraging, explains things clearly, and is open to questions for clarification -- but is willing to tell reckless people to "knock it off!" if they're horsing around.

(9) MINOR DISTRACTION: Memorizing forms. Some people love memorizing forms ("kata" in the Japanese arts). I'm willling to put up with them, as they give you practice in moving in the "correct" way for your style, can introduce some useful combinations, and serve as a memory device or encyclopedia for your style's catalog of techniques. You'll get a lot of these in "traditional" styles, including Tae Kwon Do, Karate styles, and Gung Fu styles. But I personally prefer schools where they just show you techniques, rather than filling my [limited!] memorization capacity with "which move comes after which." Aikido and Judo are good for just showing techniques; with other styles, it depends on the particular instructor.

(10) GOOD: Tricks of the trade Do they tell you why or how techniques are supposed to work? Do they give you little "tricks of the trade" -- the little nuances that separates the successful from the failed attempts at a block, a punch, a joint lock, a throw? The little tricks (e.g. "pretend like you're peeling an orange...")? Some styles (or instructors) will focus on this; others will only show you the physical movements, but not give you the "tricks" until you're senior enough. Or, they'll want you to "figure it out for yourself." You can ask about their orientation towards "tricks of the trade," but in my experience, you can only really tell after a few months. And it may vary from instructor to instructor, within the school.

(11) GOOD: Useful size and sex ratio of other students. It's good to have other students in your class that are (1) larger than you, and (2) male. This is particularly true if you're a female. Although it may be more comfortable to be in an all-female class, you really need practice in blocking punches and escaping from wrist grabs and bear hugs from large males. Partly for the physical practice -- techniques work a little differently against someone larger than yourself, compared to someone the same size -- and partly for psychological practice: getting used to physically competing against a large male. (BTW: statistically, everyone is MUCH more likely to be physically attacked by an acquaintance or family member than by a stranger.) Also useful: classmates who actually can punch and kick properly. I dearly loved my Aikido class, but too many of the guys were neo-hippies who were WAAAY harmonious -- and couldn't punch worth a darn. So there wasn't any "real" practice in trying to defend against them.

(12) SPORT VS. SELF-DEFENSE: Judo is cool -- but it's a bad tactic to turn your back on an attacker to attempt a hip throw (may result in a knife to the back). Tae Kwon Do is groovy -- but (depending on the school), they may emphasize "points/no points" techniques, thus rendering you vulnerable (for self-defense purposes) against people who try "illegal" tactics. If a school is heavily focused on tournaments, the training will be oriented towards maximizing points -- not keeping yourself safe in case of an attack.

(13) GYE GREENE'S PERSONAL LITUMUS TEST: How are the students holding their hands? If it's close enough that they can touch their hands with a drinking straw held in their mouth: too close. Try this: have one person hold their fists in front of their face in the stereotypcial "kickboxing-for-fitness" pose. Have the other person slap at the fist, in the direction of the fist-persons' face. The fist will, likely as not, collapse into the fist-person's nose; this is a bad thing. Holding the elbow flexed at a 30-degree angle is structurally weak; you want somewhat more than 90-degrees. If the instructor is telling the students otherwise, they're teaching garbage; go elsewhere.

(14) GUNS: Guns are scary. Martial arts are really only useful against punches, kicks, and hand-held weapons (knives; baseball bats). That said, guns are distance weapons: the WORST place to be, relative to a gun-holder, is a few feet in front. If you're immediately to the side of a gun-holder, you're better off (IMO) (1) immobilizing the gun, then (2) taking out the person. Running leaves you defenseless -- unless you're a few hundred meters away.

(15) SELF-DEFENSE COURSES: Taking a "four-hours-on-Saturday -- once!" self-defense course is a good introduction. But you need to stay in practice. Not necessarily enrolling in a martial arts class -- but every once in a while, get together with a friend and run through the drills. Gotta stay in practice: Being attacked is NOT the correct time to go "Um, um, um -- let's see..."

...and: that's my opinion, based on my experience and my musings. Take it as you wish; use at your own risk.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Brief review: "28 Days Later"

Oh, also rented "28 Days Later" on Friday, when we picked up "Bride and Prejudice." Watched it Saturday night at BrotherDave's next door.

Briefly, it's a quasi-zombie movie, except that instead of people rising from the dead, a virus -- spread by blood -- infects people within a minute, causing extreme rage (and apparently, a loss of higher reasoning functions). Takes place in Great Britain.

Pretty good -- semi-violent, but I've seen worse; I don't feel psychologically scarred. The first 2/3 of the move was stronger and less cliched than the remaining bit.

For some reason, I've been recently getting into "end of the world"-types of movies.


Tools for cheap!

I've been looking around for black nylon pouches for my misc. belt gear. I'm always on the lookout, of course -- but the pouch for my little LED "squeeze light" has almost worn through, and the belt loop has torn off. When you buy pocket-tools, flashlights, etc., they sometimes come with belt pouches -- but when they wear out, it's hard to find replacements.

Saturday, on the advice of a sales guy at Carindale Mall's Big W, tried the "Knife Store" near the food court. They have a **very** nice range -- although they're AU$15-$18 each, so I'm still search for something cheaper -- like maybe half that.

After church on Sunday, stopped off at the Cannon Hill "Warehouse" (name of cheapy store). Didn't find any suitable pouches in their cell phone, camping, or tools section. **DID**, however, find that all their hand tools were half-price!!! So, picked up an eight-pound hammer (like a small sledge hammer) for half of twelve bucks; four spring clamps for half of four bucks per; a big carpenter's framing square for half of eleven bucks(?); etc. A nice little haul. Mostly plastic-y and/or cheap stuff -- but clamps are clamps -- so long as they're sturdy, there really aren't any tolerances or fine craftsmanship involved.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Adjusting to being back

So, got back to Brisbane Friday morning. Warm welcomes from Ralphie and from Tall Guy. Somewhat jet lagged, but more due to lack of sleep -- very hard to sleep in those teeny airplane seats! -- than to the time change (seven hours difference, but a day ahead).

Went out and rented "Bride and Prejudice," watched it that night. Cute! Pretty good, worth renting; good dance sequences. Cultural differences that were intriguing.

Saturday, ran errands at the local mall. Forgot to bring the DVD with us to return (overnight rental), so that evening I got to drive it back to the local movie rental place. Surprisingly, I re-acclimatized to Aussie "on-the-left" driving remarkably quickly! But it was only a short hop, with two turns in each direction: I'll still let The Lady do the "real" driving for the next week or so.

Now that I'm back, the two things that I'm having a hardest time adjusting to:

(1) No free turns on red. Even if it's a near turn, you gotta wait for the light to change.

(2) Sales tax included in the sticker price. When I was visiting the Seattle area, I kept getting caught out by the total price being the sticker price plus sales tax. In Australia, sales tax is included in the sticker price -- so if your magazine is $2.35, you know ahead of time to get $2.35 out. A good sytem. More honest, less deceptive: the sticker price is what you actually pay. And it makes the lines at the checkout stand go slightly faster, in my opinion.

A good visit, but also good to be back. Nearly every day had a lunch appointment and a dinner appointment. Fun to be social, but also very busy, without much "down time."

Many thanks to all the swell people that spent time with us. :)


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Driving on the "right" side again

Yesterday I drove on the right-hand side for the first time in a full year (not counting teh day before, where I went about two miles), and a stickshift in more than two years. As I mentioned, we're staying at my brother's place in Seattle, and he's letting us borrow their car for errands. I'm pleasantly surprised at how quickly both driving on the right-hand side, and using a stickshift, came back to me: only took me three or four days before cars driving on the right seemed "normal" again.

But, as The Lady pointed out, I spent thirty-plus years living in a right-hand-driving country; two years in Aussie-land wouldn't be enough to completely wipe that out.

That said, this is my second visit back since moving to Australia. Each time it takes an extra day or two for me to acclimatize. We'll see how many years before I'm too confused to attempt driving while here.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Commencement/graduation addendum

Forgot to mention: Rained like the chickens during the graduation ceremony. Even though we're in the Pacific N.W., no one that morning thought "Hey! Very cloudy: put awning up over the orchestra." So we had music for the first fifteen minutes, and then they all bailed. (Literally: large buckets.)

So, wet, cold, and squishy -- the stadium is just off a large lake, so lovely wind chill factor. But, very memorable.

The other funny thing was when we first processed in, the stands erupted in proud parents and families waving their arms and jumping up and down, to attract their kid's attention. Which of course didn't work, 'cause every family looked just like every other family waving their arms and jumping up and down.

Similarly, when we all got seated, five thousand cell phoned whipped out and five thousand graduates waved at the stands: "Hey mom, can you see me? I'm the one in the graduation costume, waving -- holding the cell phone!"

It kept raining all through the ceremony, sometimes more emphatically than other times, so most people bailed early. The Ph.D. folks went across the stage first, then Master's, then Bachelors -- so by the time the Bachelors went across, most of the graduate students had left. Out of maybe four hundred doctoral students that graduated, I was one of maybe twenty that stuck around until the end. Seemed rude to do otherwise. Plus, I'd thought to bring my big, wide-brimmed hat, so I was only soaked from the abdomen down.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Aussie for baked beans

O.k., last bit of lexicon for the day.

In (IIRC) Western Australia (the name of a state, each of which are the size of a Canadian province), they call baked beans "cowboy caviar."

I suppose you could cross-apply that to chilli. Up to your discretion.

Something for the Texans in the audience?



Another one to try out on your friends. The Linux King and I came up with this. (The Linux King a.k.a. "Captain Linux" is distinct from Old Roommate.)

Instead of "n'est pas?" or "eh, wot?" or "desu-ne?", try using "dot-com?" at the end of a sentence to make it a rhetorical question."

Example: "It's a nice day, dot-com?"

Falling inflection on the "com."

It'll really bug your friends. But also increase your nerd factor by several points.



"Sweet ruby grapefruit!!!"

Keep forgetting to blog this:

Up at my parents' place (since Friday, we've been house-sitting my brother's place in Seattle), there's a cardboard box that they've been keeping all their little kid toys; it slides under the coffee table in the living room when the grandkids are in town.

On the side it says "SWEET RUBY GRAPEFRUIT." Which, like "Jumpin' jehosiphat!" or "Great Ceasar's ghost!" seems like a worthy exclamation.

Try it out among your friends.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Poseur graduation!!!

Did the graduation ceremony today. Even though I have a fair amount of revisions to do on my Dissertation -- so I have a few months of work still to go -- I was surprised at how jazzed I was to go through the commencement ceremony. Got the official pictures taken; got the unofficial pictures taken. And The Lady said I was just beamingwhen I came down the ramp after walking across the stage.

Am deliberately not thinking about -- and also coming to terms with -- the months I have left before I can embark on my "WIFMD(tm)" activities (shooting music videos; building a guitar cupboard...). But these next two weeks: pure vacation, baby!!! Family and friends.

So: hah!!! ;)


Friday, June 10, 2005

Lost a green sweater

The Lady, The Bub and myself walked from my parents' place to downtown, to do some errands. Somewhere along there, lost my green sweater. Re-visited or phoned the places we'd stopped in, but no dice.

Bummer; don't like losing things.

At least it wasn't a favorite. It may've fallen off the stroller as we were walking around. So maybe it'll be found by some homeless person that needs it.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

iMac quirk

So, this could be because the iMac is running OS 9-point-something, rather than ten-point-something:

Monday, Tuesday, couldn't access the web through my parents' iMac. Dial-up component worked fine -- but starting Netscape would cause it to hang, and I don't know how to terminate a specific application with macs -- so had to reboot.

Wednesday, didn't even try.

Thursday, took another look at the Netscape error message: something about trying to print something from a year ago. Huh. Unplugged the USB floppy drive, plugged the printer back in to the USB port, turned the printer power on. And this time, Netscape managed to load.

So, "pinging" the printer must be partof Netscape's startup routine. (Something installed by the printer's drivers, to check for updates or order supplies?) Weird. And stupid/annoying.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Computers are just machines...

Computers are just machines. No more, no less. And sometimes they don't work.

I'm realizing this, after going thru a "Windows are unstable, Macs are solid and easy, and Linux is amazing" phase -- most of it based on hearsay, rather than direct experience.

I've discovered that Macs are not necessarily stable, or easier to use than Win-PCs. They have some (IMO) design flaws. At least with an iMac running OS 9-point-somthing:

-the mouse doesn't have a right-click button, which limits the shortcutability [a new word?]

-the whole mouse acts as a "button," meaning it's too easy to accidently click on something without realizing

-if you accidentally click on the wrong part of the screen, the mouse goes into "scroll wheel" mode, and you have to find something solid to click on to get out of it

-NO FLOPPY DRIVE!!! What's up with that??? (Luckily, my parents bought a USB floppy drive; still, kinda silly if you ask me...)

-Only two USB ports -- one of which drives the keyboard -- so if you want to use the USB floppy drive, you have to unplug the printer (from the other USB port), and swap. Or buy a USB hub.

-The floppy drive has a button on it, but if you hit the eject button like one would expect, the Mac sends you an error message saying some of the data may've become corrupted. It took me a few warnings before I thought to drag the floppy's icon into the trash, to eject it. (Which then caused it to thank me for allowing it to un-mount the floppy disk.)

-Dangerously counter-intiutive way of ejecting media: drag a file to the trash to delete it -- yet drag the CD-ROM or floppy to the trash to eject it. Seems like that'd be how you would wipe it! Scary!!!

-No "taskbar" at the bottom (yeah, there's one at the top, kinda) with buttons for all the currently-open files and apps. Instead, gotta go to the top right area (forget what it looks like), or the "window" dropdown menu. Which means two clicks (and a minor time lag) instead of one. The Win98 method is more efficient.

-NO FILE EXTENSIONS!!! Too dumbed-down for my tastes -- I'd like to be able to see for myself -- at a glance -- whether it's a *.txt, *.rtf, or *.doc file, thank you. But I have the same issue with WinXP -- haven't figured out how to "un-dumb" that version's "hide file extensions" setting like I have with 98/Me/2000.

-And finally -- WHAT'S THE COUNTERPART TO Cntrl-Alt-Del? Netscape kept locking up the machine. Tried openapple-Q and openapple-W, to no avail. Had to hit the semi-hidden "reboot" button -- three times in an evening!!! At least in Win, you can access the process that's running and terminate the specific hang-up. Often. ;)

But, in balance, Win-Machines were out to get me today.

Finished my presentation this morning, here at school. Figured 20 minutes would be enough time to get my presentation onto the borrowed laptop. But! -- no floppy drive, not even a USB one. So, tried burning my powerpoint presentation onto a CD-RW. Wouldn't take; don't know why. So, borrowed a friend's USB flashdrive. No dice -- failed some sort of "cyclical check." At this point, it's time for my presentation to begin. Dash next door, apologize to my committee. Come back to the grad. student computer lab. Grab my floppy, go down the hall to the other computer lab I was at that morning, take a new copy of my presentation off the hard drive, run it back to the grad. student lab.

This version works, so the other version must've been corrupted. Had a very nice grad. student use their print quota to print it out as handouts. (I'd tried mapping the printer to my account the previous day, which supposedly had succeeded but still sent my print job into the ether; when you're out of town for a year, they apparently get new printers...) Get nextdoor, start my presentation twenty minutes late. Find out that one of my committee members had only about twenty minutes left, despite the fact that he had signed a form committing to the full three hour time period, and ended up only using maybe 10% of my prepared presentation.

So: went sub-optimally. Blech.

And, **that's** why I'm annoyed at computers. For they are... just machines.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

License to talk like Marlon Brando

Earlier today, The Lady and I were Godparents at my nephew's baptism (my younger brother's kid).

I'm now Godfather to two-thirds of my nephews. So, I have double the license to talk like Marlon Brando. If I want to.


iMacs and borrowing kitchens

I'm a Windows user who's intending to (largely) switch over to some flavor of Linux -- WIFMD(tm).

Which is mildly amusing, since I started out on roomates' Apple IIc and Apple IIe, and a Mac Classic (with an 80 MEGA-byte hard drive -- whooeee!!!).

So, I'm here at my parents' place, trying to type up some notes for my dissertation presentation, check e-mail, and what-have-you. And I'm having the **darndest** time using this here iMac!

It's like cooking in someone else's kitchen: basically all the same contents (dropdown menus, "start/apple" button, icons for everything...) -- but kept in strange places, relative to how you would do it:

"Hey, where do you keep your spatulas?"

"Second drawer, by the stove."

"Thanks! Um -- olive oil?"

"Next to the 'fridge."

"O.k.! Um. Um. Um. Fire extinguisher?"

That kind of thing.

Not better, or worse -- just different. But different enough that it hampers your efficiency. Esp. when the owner of the "kitchen" isn't home, so you can't just ask. ;)


Saturday, June 04, 2005

BTW, sorry for the gap

By the way, sorry about the gap in the blogs. Was **reeeely** busy cranking out my dissertation draft. What was supposed to go out Friday, then Monday, finally went out Weds. night, around 9pm. Bleh.

Thursday, swept and mopped and did dishes. The first time in a looong time I wasn't in the study all night, typing. A refreshing change.


Reasonably good flight

We're in [name of Seattle-area city] now, with my parents. Had a good Friday flight. We were a bit concerned over how The Bub would travel, but she was a little jewel. Plus she's good for special treatment.

The usual trip from Brisbane to SeaTac is by way of Sydney, then Los Angeles -- a nuisance, since you're going down, across, then back up, rather than straight across. (Picture a parallelogram, if you will...) We'd save two three(?)-hour legs, plus maybe five hours layover if we could just take the direct flight -- but they don't exist. This time around, we took advantage of the new Qantas Brisbane-to-L.A. route, which at least chopped off one layover and one leg (the Brisbane-Sydney leg). Unfortunately, when we booked, we'd have to sit through a seven-hour layover in Los Angeles -- with a baby. Oh well.

In Brisbane, the helpful ticket guy suggested we inquire about going earlier (via standby) in L.A. -- worth the shot. We did -- and managed to snag a flight just two(?) hours after we arrived!!! We think the kid let us jump the queue a bit; we also got special "traveling with kids" treatment when going through Customs.

Thus, instead of hanging around LAX for seven hours, we hung around for two, and hung around at my parents' place for an extra five. Not bad.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What does "Howdy!" mean to YOU?

As I'm mentally preparing to visit The States, I'm becoming re-aware [is that a word?] of American-isms.

Here in Brisbane, AU, when I say "Howdy!" to people, as often as not they reply "Fine, thanks!"

[click... click... click... Ahhhh...!]

I guess the derivation of "howdy" probably is "how-d'you-do?" -- but I always interpreted it as "Hi!"

Guess the Aussies don't get much cowboy movies, nosirree! ;)