Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2008

It’s Christmas! So many things have happened in the past month. The S9 is finally out, and it’s as much a reviewer’s delight as any non-iPod player could be. Its sound and video quality are both awesome (Cowon is known for sound quality, and the AMOLED does videos superbly), but it’s UI is still rough around the edges despite the capacitive touch screen. One can’t possibly review it without evoking the iPod Touch, and quite frankly, nobody’s going to be able to come out with a new product that will be immediately comparable with the mature iPod Touch line. I await firmware revisions to fix the existing bugs, and maybe even to add more functionality. That having been said, I’m quite psyched about getting one myself. If only it wasn’t Christmas and I actually had the money to spare at the moment instead of spending it on presents…

On the same train of thought, I’m slightly disappointed at the lack of sales for the Panasonic LX3. I decided that while I’m waiting for Red to whip their Scarlet line into shape, I’d buy myself a nice point-and-shoot. I decided against the Casio EX-F1 because of the poor image quality and auto-focus. I’m not sure if subsequent firmware revisions have corrected the auto-focus issue, but I’ve moved on. The LX3 is comparable to the F40 in terms of low-light performance, but like the G9 in terms of features. The only thing lacking is that it has a max zoom range of 60mm, though it does have a wide-angle of 24mm. But since most pictures are taken at 50mm anyway, it doesn’t matter that much.

It seems a lot of other stuff have been discounted though, and I’ve taken full advantage of that. All this buying certainly accounts for my current lack of cash, though my lack of wealth in general can be fairly attributed to the recession in progress. But anyway, I picked up the UCS Millennium Falcon for less than $350 total, which to me, is a steal. In fact, I have the thing in a box, unopened, still sitting in the doorway where I left it when I picked up the package. I also picked up the Skeleton Ship Attack from a collector’s shop for a little more than MSRP. I now have a troll vs. skeleton vs. agents thing going on. As soon as I pick up the new pirate ship, it’ll be an all-out 4-way naval battle. I have the fireboat (that really floats) too, but I’m not sure I should include it yet. And yes, this entire paragraph was entirely about Lego.

On a more somber note, things are going to be bad for retailers this year. Yes, entertainment is probably at its peak. But it will be at the cost of big-ticket items such as TV’s. With the recession happening, the idea is to buy smaller gifts. And where gifts in the past averaged several hundred dollars, they’re now more likely to be in the twenty to fifty dollar range. The truth is, the economic meltdown is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. I’m seeing a minimum of two years before signs of rebounding even begin appearing, possibly another year or two before things actually get better. 2009 is going to be a bad year all around, and I know both companies and individuals are hording cash to brace for its impact.

On a lighter note, here’s a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/whatever present: a more advanced beginner’s tip.

True power can only be attained when the body is relaxed. That is not to say that any part should be soft and flabby. Instead, it means to be ready. To be holding power is to be tight. For example, clench hard, and your arms start shaking. This is a bad thing in practice. Power needs to be projected from the body in bursts. And in order to do so, the part of the body that the power travels through must be relaxed. The entire chain, from generation to projection, must not be tight. But power is useless if it isn’t focused. So if the power is coming from the ground, it is equally important to be able to have the legs focus the power travelling up. This basically means that even though the legs are relaxed, they do not move. This focus must extend to the part of the body that’s acting, so that the energy has a purpose and isn’t merely thrown out of the body like an old rag.

One must acquire strength in order to do this well. By well, I mean naturally. That is, after all, the goal of training. Anyone can copy motions if they go slow enough. But to be able to have the techniques come out as needed is a different story and requires significant training. And foremost is to have the muscles to be able to pull off the technique and do it well. But this isn’t the same strength as from weight lifting. The strength developed from weight lifting is dead strength. In order for raw, brute strength to become power, it needs to be alive. This means working muscle groups together in the same way as a technique, but with resistance. Such a training regiment doesn’t just improve muscle memory, it also links the muscles together, and strengthens that link so that the burst of power becomes a natural movement. Thus, you can say that this training is to accelerate the process of turning an unnatural movement into a very natural movement that would otherwise have to be acquired through years of repetition.

For example, one method of training the grip is to constantly lift heavy and cumbersome items from the top (as opposed to from the bottom). But because every style focuses on a different type of power from a different part of the body, I leave it as an exercise for the reader to develop the most appropriate exercise. The only requirement for the exercise is that its motions are the same as that of the techniques that need to be developed.

Then, when a technique has become natural to the point where you can put power into executing the technique but still remain relaxed, that is the the body has physically mastered the technique. The mental aspect is completely different, and something I will save for a subsequent post.

Range

November 10, 2008

Beginner’s tip: know your distances. There is a range for kicking, a range for striking, and a range for grappling. There’s no set measure for ranges. It depends on the individual style and the focus of that style. Know your distances. Your style, your body type, your mentality all contribute to what your distances are. Distance determines what to do–whether to bridge, to step in, or to retreat–and how to do it. It’s a good idea to know all aspects of a fight, from the footwork to the ground work, but not all styles are complete in this manner. One can either choose to pick up a complementary style, or work around the lackings. The latter path means constant repositioning is necessary in a fight in order to maintain the ideal range. It goes without saying that a strong understanding of distances is paramount to doing this well. After all, if someone can do in one move what you need two to do, you’ve put yourself at a significant disadvantage.

I might be training a little too hard recently. Old injures are starting to flare up again. The silver lining is that the pain is in the right places this time. Last time, I had pain in completely unrelated places, which meant I really, really screwed something up, to the point where parts of my body that shouldn’t be in pain were. But parts of by body are still screaming, and that’s never a pleasant feeling, whether the body part has a right to do so or not.

On top of that, I’m going to be stuck with Pug and Poodle for a week. So long as they don’t force me into action, I think I will survive. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

The good news is, I’m looking forward to Black Friday this year. There probably won’t too many good deals, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to pick up a big Lego set from Target. They typically have one or two big sets on sale every Black Friday, and I’m hoping one of these will be from the 2009 Pirate line. I’m also looking to pick up a camera. I know Red is announcing their DSLR killer, but I need a decent point-and-shoot. I’m still hoping Red’s new thing (or one of their new things) will be a good, small camcorder. But Red is good at camcorders. I’m looking for something I can stick into my pocket.

To that effect, I’ve picked out the Panasonic LX3. It is no Fuji F31 in terms of low-light sensitivity, but it does have 24mm at F2.0 and raw output, which means it might not need ISO800 in the same situations the F31 does. Its ISO800 compares well to the F31’s ISO1600, so I think it’s comparable. And it does 720p24 movies. I’m not sure how useful the movie feature will be if I get a Red camcorder, but at least if Red’s new thing isn’t to my liking, I can stick with the LX3. The only bad thing is that it’s zoom is to 60mm, which is paltry compared to 140mm or 175mm of other P&S cameras, but I suppose I can’t have my cake and eat it too. At least it’s not a lie.

So despite recent economic woes, I’m looking to spend a shitload of money in the next 3 months. I’m getting depressed just thinking about it.

Training tips

October 28, 2008

Beginner’s tip: there is an old saying in Chinese:

一膽,二力,三功夫

“First is bravery, second is strength, and third is kung fu.” What it means varies between people, and in fact, differes between level of understanding. On an abstract level though, it means that the most important thing in a fight is a determined mind, the next most important thing is a strong body, and the final thing is skill. If the mind is unprepared, no amount of strength or skill will suffice. And skill alone will not be effective without strength behind it.

Strength training (功) and skill honing (拳) are both essential to good kung fu. Both must be built up hand-in-hand, slowly, over time. Each style has its own focus, and thus has its own methods of training strength and skill. But at the end of the day, any school that lacks methods for one or the other will not be able to produce well-rounded students.

It is for this exact reason that tai chi is only an exercise when taught to the elderly. Without a strength base, a practitioner simply cannot use it as a martial art. Those who have reached the highest levels of tai chi no longer need their hard power. But in order for the soft internal to manifest its full potential, it must be built on top of the external, just as an arch must be built with the supports below it before the placement of the keystone. To continue with the arch analogy, once the keystone gets placed, the supports can be removed, and finally begins the difficult process of removing both ends, until all that’s left is a circle floating in the air. It’s impossible, but then again, the perfection that a circle represents is impossible as well.

Anyhow, a good training regiment will train both power and skill. After learning the ways and methods, developing a routine that would balance the two is the most important thing for a beginner to establish. And establishing a good routine is as essential as establishing a good base.

A Different Kind of Balance.

September 9, 2008

Beginner’s tip: it’s important to practice the left and right side such that the right is equally as strong as the left. Righties should practice their left side more, and lefties should practice their right side more. But being right or left dominant is more than just getting used to the motions of a particular side. The transitions on boths sides should become equally as smooth. This means one has to effectively become ambidextrous, by training the weaker side of the brain to be as strong as the strong side.

I think Obama’s minor slip up wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t have to do with religion, and the other religion wasn’t Islam. If he had slipped up saying he was a Jew, people would’ve probably just laughed at him. Regardless, such slip ups are commonplace for people when they are so focused on a particular idea that it comes out in the middle of talking, usually in such a way as to make sense, but not convey the right message. I have a tendency to do this a lot, and so he has my empathy.