Monday, 25 April 2016

The Emperor’s New Clothes : The untold part…



…and after the child had cried out that the emperor had no clothes he was surrounded by the emperor’s aides and advisors.

“Are you a tailor?” asked one councillor.

“No” said the child.

“Are you a fashion designer or some such?” asked a colonel, “or perhaps have been making clothes for several decades?”

“er, no”

“A fashion writer perhaps?” suggested a major.

The child shook his head.

“Some other branch of the press…?” ventured another minister. Again, the child replied negatively.

The aides huddled together and conferred.

“The emperor does look rather cold!” Observed the child. It is not very warm today. He really should wear something warmer.”

“Enough!” barked a councillor “We have determined that you are not an accredited subject matter expert, nor have you any experience in haute couture. Your opinion is irrelevant!”

With that, the aides walked away. The emperor was allowed to continue his procession. He contracted a nasty chill and died three days later, much to the bafflement of the aides.

The Books
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Friday, 22 April 2016

Hayfever cure.



Luckily I was not bothered by hayfever during my childhood or academic career. Many of my classmates had this added misery as they revised for and sat their exams. I believed that I was not susceptible to hayfever

Things changed when I went out into the big nasty world and took my first full-time job. I was working in the middle of a large country estate. One of the predominant crops in the surrounding fields was rapeseed. While the bright yellow fields were attractive I discovered they induced a hitherto unmanifested hayfever reaction. For weeks I felt like I should scrub at my eyes with a scouring pad.
 

 
During this period I had brought myself a book on acupressure. The research that had discovered that acupressure and acupuncture stimulated endorphin production was relatively new at the time. That didn’t sound like anything that would help with an immune reaction like hayfever but there was an entry for hayfever in the book. Not expecting much, I gave it a try.

Below is the page showing points that I used. Note the pencil drawing on the left. This was copied from another book and shows some points to stimulate around the eyes.
 

 
Much to my surprise, the next day my symptoms were gone! Several decades have pasted and my hayfever has not returned. Ok, perhaps I tend to sneeze a bit more often during summer, but nothing like the torment I was undergoing.

Since it is now hayfever season in the northern hemisphere this seems like a good time to pass on this knowledge and hope that it works as well for some others.

The Books
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Monday, 18 April 2016

1942 Battle Jerkin



My researches often take unexpected paths. While looking up something about Viking tunics I came across this interesting item:-



 From "British Infantry Equipments 1908–1980 Men at Arms series"






 
Load carrying vests or jerkins are relatively commonplace. Whether a vest or a more traditional webbing system is the best way to carry gear over body armour is still debated. Adding pouches directly to the armour and making a heavy item even heavier does not seem to be the most prudent option. What is most impressive about the 1942 Battle jerkin is its versatility. Not only will it hold a lot of equipment, but a great variety too. The designer remembered to make provision for “non-standard” items such as machetes and commando knives. Some modern vest designers would be advised to take a good look at the 1942 Battle Jerkin!

The Books
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Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Higher Education Con.



One of the less welcome parts of this year has been several weeks of debate about student behaviour. Numerous emails and meetings with higher-ups and constantly having to argue the same point over and over again.

What was the topic of dispute? We had suggested that well-educated twenty-somethings should dispose of rubbish safely in bins! Not just general waste but that chemical and clinical waste should be safely and promptly disposed of. Given that my girlfriend had a pair of nine-year old nephews who manage to put rubbish in the bin without even being asked to I had not regarded this as an unreasonable request for people who theoretically are being trained as the next generation of scientists.
One of the arguments made to me was “students really enjoy this course”. “I like doing it” is not actually an adult argument but here we get to the crux of the matter.
Science is a discipline. That means some things have to be done a certain way. There are right ways to do things and there are wrong ways. You only learn the right ways and get into the habit of using them if the wrong ways are corrected. Being told “don’t do that” or “tidy that up first” is not fun, however. So there are whole courses where basic safety and good practice are not enforced. People pay thousands to come to a university and supposedly learn a trade yet leave without the basic skills and disciplines they need. But that is fine, so long as “student satisfaction” levels remain high. Those might fall if someone who is being a jerk and endangering others is told not to be a jerk!
 
 
The problem revolves around money. In the past few decades the idea has arisen that each university should make a profit. The more students we can run through the machine and the more fees the better. However, the desired product of a higher education should not be a satisfied graduate. Students, by definition, do not know everything. They have no idea if they are getting an adequate education or not. Looking at each university as an isolated money-generating system is a fallacy Universities are supposed to produce graduates who are prepared for their future working roles. The better the quality of graduate the better for industry, the economy and the society as a whole. Institutions such as road-repair or the police force are not expected to make a profit. They exist because we know that their function facilitates the rest of society running more effectively. Universities should be regarded in the same light.
At the moment very little has been changed by our complaints about safety and professional behaviour. In fact the main result is that our warning has gone on record against the day when inevitably these laissez-faire practices result in someone being seriously hurt. Practical classes are little more than a crèche in white coats, but everybody is having fun and fills in the feedback reports as desired. I resign myself to the fact that courses are now entertainment rather than education.

The Books
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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Red Next To Your Head


I was having a light-hearted discussion on “field uniforms” with a friend. The idea was a practical uniform that could be used for general tasks rather than as a dedicated combat dress. I believe the latter role would be better served by combat smocks that can be worn over body armour.
One source of inspiration was the British battledress. I was also looking at the Afrika Korps. Why the Afrika Korps? Unlike most European combatants Germany had very few colonial holdings so when they went to war in Africa they had to design everything from scratch. It was a useful crucible to determine what traditional uniform features they were using were worth keeping. The first attempt included high lace-up boots, breeches and a sun helmet. Experience in Africa produced radical changes in the uniform. Ankle length boots with trousers that could be bloused into them, or shorts became commonplace. So too did a long shirt which could be worn instead of a tunic. The most distinctive uniform item, however, was the peaked Afrika Korps cap.

During my reading I turned up the interesting piece of information that these caps were lined with red material. Some green aircrew clothing has an orange lining. The idea is that if the crashed crewman wants to be seen rather than camouflaged he wears the item inside out. If a similar idea was intended for the Afrika Korps cap why red and not some other colour that might be more visible in desert conditions?

It is possible the red lining was intended for another form of signalling. Placing a luminous panel inside a patrol cap is described in this article.But if signalling with the red interior of a cap was a common technique why did later German army designs of headwear not have a red lining too? I have a post-war BW hat of similar design, but no red lining.
Another possibility was that the red cloth was the cheapest cloth available. A friend who is an English Civil War enactor has often pointed out to me that “many civil war regiments on either side wore red. It was often the cheapest cloth that could be had”. Including in this was Cromwell’s New Model Army, establishing the penny pinching and “just make do” traditions that the British Army has struggled with for so many centuries!
The actual answer is in fact far more interesting. Red lining was believed to improve protection against the sun. Read more on this topic here!
 
The Books
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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Dreaming Again!



A somewhat restless night, but some interesting dream fragments.

Generally it is advisable to attack or defend against an enemy from their outside gate. This train of thought naturally got me to thinking about ways to handle being on the inside gate. This train of thought evidently occupied the deeper parts of my brain and my sleeping mind had some insights.

According to my dream, part of the body can be viewed as a sort of arc shape. This runs from one hand, up the arm, includes the shoulders and head and goes down the other arm to the hand. These body areas constitute the most accessible targets if fighting on the inside gate. Certainly the arms need to be controlled or dealt with to facilitate access to other target areas on the rest of the body.

The second image I got had the defender viewed from above with his arms out straight holding the attacker away. The perspective changed so the defender could be seen to be actually in a crouch, hands about waist level on the attacker. At this stage my sleeping mind was drifting off into thinking about vampires. Against an attacker whose main weapons are his teeth crouching down out of reach and holding him at arm’s length does have a certain logic I suppose. There is a Capoeira technique where one squats down under an attack and then springs up and kicks with both feet. Perhaps my dreaming mind was thinking of this

Before my mind drifted into a dream about an Irish actress being interviewed about a movie it provided one more martial technique. The straight arms on the waist were swung up, the hands pointing upwards to strike with the finger tips in spear-hand form. Obvious use was to strike up under the jawbone and attack the throat. I had recently seen straight arm double upward strikes in some Wing chun manuals. These tended to hit with the upper wrist or backs of the hands. Using upward angled spear-hands like this was a new idea to me.

As stated, these were things from a dream so how logical they are remains to be seen. Perhaps these ideas will inspire someone.

The Books
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Sunday, 3 April 2016

You Might As Well Jump!


As I mentioned in a recent post, jumping is something that has occupied my mind recently.
While I was writing the bayonet (or rather, bayonetless!) sections of Crash Combat I came across suggestions that a soldier should jump to change facing, or even to move around. If terrain is uneven jumping has obvious advantages over the shuffle step often suggested for martial arts or bayonet training.
Joseph Wayne Smith’s book on Wing chun notes that jumping up and jumping down from heights is a good exercise for a martial artist. He doesn’t make the logical leap that jumping may be part of the solution to some of the deficiencies in manoeuvre that he identifies.
Other than some rather cinematic techniques such as flying kicks jumping is something that many martial arts overlook.
In Viktor Suvorov’s book “Spetsnaz” he relates how spetsnaz puts great emphasis on a soldier’s legs and jumping ability.

“And there is good reason why the training of a spetsnaz soldier starts with the training of his legs. A man is as strong and young as his legs are strong and young. If a man has a sloppy way of walking and if he drags his feet along the ground, that means he himself is weak. On the other hand, a dancing, springy gait is a sure sign of physical and mental health. Spetsnaz soldiers are often dressed up in the uniform of other branches of the services and stationed in the same military camps as other especially secret units, usually with communications troops. But one doesn't need any special experience to pick out the spetsnaz man from the crowd. You can tell him by the way he walks....I shall never forget one soldier who was known as `The Spring'. He was not very tall, slightly stooping and round-shouldered. But his feet were never still. He kept dancing about the whole time. He gave the impression of being restrained only by some invisible string, and if the string were cut the soldier would go on jumping, running and dancing and never stop. The military commissariat whose job it was to select the young soldiers and sort them out paid no attention to him and he fetched up in an army missile brigade.... The officer commanding the spetsnaz company noticed the soldier in the missile unit who kept dancing about all the time he was standing in the queue for his soup....”
This energetic soldier was there and then immediately recruited into spetsnaz.

“The long jump with no run has been undeservedly forgotten and is no longer included in the programme of official competitions. When it was included in the Olympic Games the record set in 1908, was 3 metres 33 centimetres. As an athletic skill the long jump without a run is the most reliable indication of the strength of a person's legs. And the strength of his legs is a reliable indicator of the whole physical condition of a soldier. Practically half a person's muscles are to be found in his legs. Spetsnaz devotes colossal attention to developing the legs of its men, using many simple but very effective exercises: running upstairs, jumping with ankles tied together up a few steps and down again, running up steep sandy slopes, jumping down from a great height, leaping from moving cars and trains, knee-bending with a barbell on the shoulders, and of course the jump from a spot..... At the end of the 1970s the spetsnaz record in this exercise, which has not been recognised by the official sports authorities, was 3 metres 51 centimetres.”

Where I work is a popular area for parkour training. As well as the more spectacular techniques I also observe apparently more mundane drills such as jumping from post to post.
Parkour itself has been described as a non-contact martial art. As originally conceived it placed considerable emphasis on self-discipline and humility. That is something a number of sportsman and modern martial artists would be advised to emulate. Like many martial arts parkour is in danger of having its core values diluted by pressure to create a sporting, competitive form
Parkour has a number of things that the modern martial artist can learn from.
A fate would have it a movie featuring parkour/freerunning was on the other night. The athleticism and coordination was impressive as always, but I was also struck by the realization that the techniques themselves were relatively simple.
 
I noticed that two landing techniques were often used. One was obviously an adaption of the parachute landing fall. As owners of my first book or Crash Combat will know, I include this technique alongside more traditional breakfall techniques. It use in parkour is logical. The second technique commonly used was the shoulder roll variant of the forward breakfall. Some websites on parkour have some nice sections on how to perform this technique. If the forward breakfall is something you need to improve you could do worse than have a look at how the parkour community learns and practices it. They are making it work for 20 foot jumps down onto concrete, after all!



The Books

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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Striking with Both Hands


Today I thought I would look at several techniques where both hands apparently strike at the same time.
The targets and techniques given in this article are potentially lethal. They are only to be used in life-or-death situations.
The first technique will be familiar from my book. It is “arn” from Tai chi. “Arn” means “press” but is often translated as “push”. Indeed, it does look like you are trying to push something. One of the maxims of Tai chi is that you should never be “double weighted”. You should never have your weight equally distributed between your feet and your hands should never be equally yin or yang. Arn seems to violate this principle. The common explanation is that arn is in reality two palm-strikes arriving in quick succession. The hands are hitting rather than pressing or pushing, and one strikes just before another.
 
Arn can be a powerful attacking technique. In a frontal attack the hands strike the dim-mak points around the pectoral muscles or use the springiness of the foe’s own ribs to bounce him away. As I have said before, this is a fighting technique that is overlooked by many other styles.
A number of combat styles do not share Tai chi’s aversion to being double weighted and include simultaneous striking techniques
Another thing to remember when interpreting forms is that if two hands are doing the same thing in a form that is not necessarily how they are intended to be used in combat. A form may have, say, double spear hands but in reality one spear-hand would be a feint while the other hand was used to parry or readied for a more powerful follow-up.
 
The second technique we will look at comes from Chuka, Phoenix-eye fist. Both hands are held palm upward in phoenix-eye configuration. The wrists or forearms are crossed, the lead hand being underneath. Both hands punch at once, the hands rotating palm down. The lead hand strikes low, the rear hand high. I regard phoenix-eye and one-knuckle fist as soft-tissue weapons so primary targets will be above the suprasternal notch and below the xiphoid process. The xiphoid/solar plexus region and a palm-width below the navel is another pairing.
A similar simultaneous attack is the double dragon palms, sometimes called butterfly palms. This is a double palm strike with one hand above the other. The upper hand has its fingers up, the lower hand fingers down. This can be used on the same targets as double phoenix-eye punches. Palm strikes are a weapon for both hard or soft body areas so this technique can also be used directly against points on the sternum such as between the nipples or the sternal angle.
 
If you are using both hands to attack it implies that you have less need to parry or control. Such attacks are therefore a more likely option when on the outside gate. So far we have considered frontal attacks. How might the above techniques be targeted if to the side of an enemy?
Double palm strike (po pai and other spelling variations) is used several times in Wing chun’s advanced-level wooden man form. Palm striking is rather common in this form, in contrast to the snap punches used in earlier forms. Wing chun students may like to ponder why this is so.
 
The last technique returns us to Tai chi. It is shown in “How to use Tai chi as a Fighting Art” by Erle Montaigue and is used as a counter to double dragon palms. One hand is held above the other, palms flat and fingers towards the enemy. The hands come in from the side to push the dragon palms off course. The finger tips then thrust forwards to attack the body beyond.
 
The Books
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Friday, 1 April 2016

What is the sound of one hand clapping?


The following scenario, or something similar may have occurred in your past.

You are out for the night with some friends. One of your male friends, or maybe yourself makes as comment. One of your female friends responds by playfully slapping or punching the male.

Male: “OWWW! That hurt!”

Female: “Oh, don’t be such a wimp! I barely touched you”

Male (muttering) “I DID hurt…”

What has happened in this familiar scene is quite interesting. The lady did not intend to do any real damage so she did not put much muscular effort into the punch/slap. Probably she used no more muscular effort than was needed to raise and move the arm. Because it was very relaxed the hand was moved very fast and thus acquired lots of energy. Paradoxically, she hit harder because she did not intend to hit hard.

A punch or similar strike can be taken to have three phases. There is the cast or throw, where the hand is moved towards the target. There is the impact. And there is the withdrawal.

Momentum is mass x velocity. Kinetic Energy is mass x velocity2. We cannot make our arm and hand heavier so if we wish to increase a strike’s momentum and energy we must move everything faster. Or looked at another way, we need to minimise those factors that may slow the system down.

The arm does not need muscular tension when a punch is being thrown. This would slow the arm down. Likewise we want the withdrawal to be fast too so that our arm is not grabbed or counterattacked in some other fashion.

The only time we need the muscles tensed is just before and during the moment of impact so that the energy goes into the target rather than being used to bounce our strike off. In fact a good punch or blow has something of a snapping action to it. It transmits a portion of its energy and then withdraws before some of this energy can reflect back into the hand. This is what Chinese arts are often talking about when they talk of fa-jing. You are probably more familiar with this effect than you think. If you swing a towel at someone it has very little effect. If, however, you make the towel end snap as it makes contact the effect is quite different.

Getting the correct timing of this relaxed:tense:relaxed cycle for a punch becomes quite labour intensive for some martial arts students. There is also the added complication of ensuring that the bones of the hand and arm are correctly aligned on impact to avoid hand injury.

Things become a lot simpler if you use a palm-heel strike instead of a closed fist. You still need to relax your arm and add a snapping action but tensing and aligning the hand seem to take care of themselves.

Let us consider another familiar action. Clap your hands like there is a big, fat, nasty, blood-sucking mosquito before you. That noise your hands make is energy being converted into sound. There is a lot of energy because you don’t tense up before you clap your hands. You just do it so the action is fast and relaxed and consequently quite powerful. There are a number of combat applications for hand-clap actions in my books . Today I am going to ask you to think of a hand clap as being a model for two palm strikes. If you can bring two hands together with such speed and force why can you not use the same principles to bring just one hand in contact with a target?

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  The answer is that of a palm-strike hitting your enemy.
 
The Books
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