Jocko & Louis

Posted: May 27, 2016 in Entertainment, Personal
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Life. It’s full of questions and the answers can be approached in multiple ways. In my search I am open to those multiple approaches and this is why I am hooked on a few podcasts and the FX show, Louis. My podcast of choice right now is the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink and Echo Charles.

Jocko_EchoWillink is a retired Navy SEAL but his show covers everything from the expected to the unexpected. Case in point, his recitation and review of the WWI memoir by Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel, was both insightful and touching. Willink discusses a lot of subjects including his military experience, his life now as a consultant, and his love of fitness and MMA.

Polar opposite to that is Louis C.K. who tackles the same subjects through his portrayal of an insightful schlub who embraces and yet hates his life and his persona.

Despite the huge difference between the two, both Jocko and Louis tackle issues that range from the singularity of human existence to the mundane. Their shows help me answer my questions and I enjoy them in the process. Really can’t ask for more than that.

Though Louis really should consider going to a gym…

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Musketeers

Posted: May 25, 2016 in Entertainment
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the_musketeers_headerBBC is running its 3rd, and final, season of Musketeers. It’s an enjoyable series to watch and it can be found on Hulu and is worth your time if you want a fun diversion and if you like swords and leather. I know I do.

The show quickly moves away from the original book which is good because it allows for more exploration and creativity and it allows one to be surprised.

The female characters are given more agency than their book counterparts (except for the character of Milady who was already a powerful protagonist in Dumas’ version) but it doesn’t get to the point where we lose sight of the core of the story, which is the friendship and travails of 4 close friends.

Ryan Gage Louis XIIISupporting actors are all quite good, including Ryan Gage as Louis XIII and Hugo Speer (awesome name!) as Treville.

The settings and filming locations in the Czech Republic are simply beautiful and you can tell that this is a European production. One gets a fine backdrop to an adventure story and I hope there are more like this.

Some images below and closing with an illustration of what actual Musketeers looked like.

location musketeers dobris chateau 1 White Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Musketeers

Elementary

Posted: February 4, 2016 in Entertainment

elementary headerMy appreciation of intelligent but damaged protagonists continues, with Elementary filling in for the now-departed Hannibal.
This show is far more nuanced and real than its’ UK counter-part, helmed by Benedict Cumberbatch. In Elementary, Sherlock Holmes is brilliant to the point of Aspergers with all the passions that only an imaginative, high-IQ, drug addict could have.

The episodes are “crime-of-the-week” and serve to showcase the brilliance of the actors who play Holmes and Watson (Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, respectively). Miller is excellent as the “nutty professor” that is Sherlock Holmes, using his talent for physical comedy and clearly displaying that he is a well-read actor.

elementary_dejavuLiu matches Miller with an understated but poised approach to the role of Watson. She is striking but restrained, showing glimpses of emotion in ways that make the viewer want more. She is in no way the bumbling Watson of other series. In Elementary, Joan Watson is the equal to Holmes in ways that challenge and complement both characters and that make the show so compelling to watch.

Both actors are also physically interesting, with Lucy Liu bringing her background in stick-fighting to the fore and Miller demonstrating his physical fitness from his passion for extreme sports and ultra-marathoning with his ability to move effortlessly in comic scenes or just going about shirtless.

Depending on your taste, you may enjoy either or both of the images below:

 

 

Elementary airs on CBS.

Masks By Mishima

Posted: January 7, 2016 in Literature, Personal
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Mishima Mask BookI don’t know what Mishima’s goal was, and maybe he didn’t either, but his actions signaled his understanding of the many masks that we all wear. Suicide pulled the last mask from his face.

Whenever I get bored or frustrated, I think of Yukio Mishima because he is the example of a truly less-than-heroic person who had nothing special except for an rich mind and inner life and he was able to externalize that life in some spectacular ways, including his own death.

I have no such need to die quickly or even spectacularly but I can learn from someone who did.

To what extant are concepts of honor, excellence, rhythm, and ethics,  cross-cultural? This question was prompted by Alex C. Bennett’s excellent book on the history of kendo. In it he talks about the internationalization of kendo and how the Japanese kendo leadership, sensitive to how judo was absorbed into the international community (and effectively taken away from them with the Japanese having their asses handed to them in tournaments).

Judo

That was due to the sportification of judo, where the emphasis shifted to victory in physical contests and not on the improvement of the self through vigorous practice. Judo’s founder, Jigero Kano, famously assimilated the various jujitsu techniques from several schools during the early 20th century into an exportable system designed for mass distribution in Japan’s rapidly modernizing society.

However, Kano was concerned about the use of judo in a competitive sports environment, fearing that the emphasis on victory would outweigh the focus on physical and mental improvement (like a lot of new sports programs in the late 19th and early 20th century in Japan, European and the US, those systems were designed to improve the strength and moral character of the individual so that they could be useful and productive citizens).

Ag School KendoIn the case of kendo, the concern runs deeper as kendo is related to the sword which the Japanese retain as something unique and special to their identity. Kendo is practiced with a bamboo waster that is used to replicate the katana. Practitioners wear padded armor and a helmet so hits can be done at full speed and intensity without a lot of physical risk.

Kendo also includes the practice of sword kata with bokken (solid wood swords) but without contact. Combined, these two practices enable one to improve their physical skills and explore the deeper concepts of kendo such as timing and distance with an opponent, poise, balance, and rhythm. There is also a deeper component to kendo and that is the focus on etiquette and form. In both the wearing of the uniform and armor as well as how practitioners engage with each other; whether in a class, a tournament, or a rank test.

It is the last point that is of concern to the Japanese kendo leadership as kendo becomes more popular, practiced diligently almost anywhere now in the world. Clubs and teams in Canada, the US, Europe, and Asia, maintain their federations, engage in tournaments, and participate in international tournaments. The US and South Korea have challenged Japanese dominance in kendo, causing fears that kendo is slipping out of Japanese hands.

Kendo Athlete LineupAccording to Alex Bennett and others, some Japanese kendo officials are retreating into a defensive position, claiming that while foreigners can certainly grasp the physical concepts of kendo, they will never truly understand the deeper, more cultural and spiritual aspects of this art.

I take exception to that as a student of history, where the record of mankind has shown that ideas and people have intermingled far more than governments would like to admit. Countries that hold tightly to their alleged uniqueness in the world very often do so from a position of weakness or defensiveness.

In the case of kendo, the concepts unique to kendo as a martial art are not unique to one society. Look deeply enough and you will find a rich record of sword arts, heritages, and philosophical teachings, that have their home in Japan, as well as Asia and Europe. In the case of Asia, specifically China, Japan benefited directly from imports such as sword making as well as religion, language, and the arts; assimilating them into their culture.

Furthermore, the system of modern kendo has its roots in the physical education systems of northern Europe (e.g., the introduction of formal exercise and warm up routines for students in the new school systems). Ironically, one can see that kendo has international roots mixed in with the old sword school systems of Tokugawa Japan. And that has been why kendo has become exportable to a world audience.

It is a shared culture of physical effort and personal introspection, designed to improve the person and widen their understanding of the world around them. It allows one to connect with the heritage of the sword, feeling something of what our ancestors may have felt.

Efforts to restrict that and to “nationalize” kendo would do no good and would not be true to the heart of what is kendo.

Daredevil Gets A Friend

Posted: July 7, 2015 in Entertainment
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Elektra Cradles Daredevil

 

 

 

Or an enemy, I don’t know but I do know that Electra is a kick-ass character in the comics and it is gratifying to know that a kick-ass actress has been picked to player Electra in Netflix’s awesome series, Daredevil.

Elodie YungElodie Yung is a French actress of Cambodian background who sports a black belt in karate so she comes to the screen ready to walk and talk the role. An excellent choice!

If you haven’t already, you should watch season 1 right now. From epic and real fight scenes to characters with depth (from lowly gangsters to the arch villains and the heroes), this show will grab you and won’t let go.

On a side-note, I loved that the show had entire conversations in languages other than English. This is an indication that the show runners respect their audience and assume that they are not your usual mouth-breathing fly-over state crowd.

Hard Knocks

Posted: June 26, 2015 in Sports
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Vonte David SadI love shows about sports training and team dynamics and HBO’s Hard Knocks provides that (plus I love football and the process of football).

There is something deeply satisfying to see the drama of people competing for placement and it is interesting to see the conversations behind the scenes (albeit, heavily edited snippets – but you get the gist of what is being said).

My guilty pleasure in this show is when people get cut from the team. A very scripted process happens. First, the player is asked to meet with team leadership (depending on his overall value this is the coach and one other person or just one of the sub-coaches).

The player is shown walking downcast or with a false swagger into a typical conference room (usually a small one but maybe that is because football players are big). The coach has his best “I’m sorry that I am firing you face” on and he utters some platitudes (“You have a great future but just not here..”).

Then the player responds with some blanket generalities (“I know I have a future” or “I know that I will be back”) before hands are shook and he is ushered out of the building. The camera shows them walking out the door, duffel bag in hand.

So why is this interesting? It’s interesting because success and its rewards are fun and easy to watch but seeing how people react to failure and bad news is a more revealing look into their character. Especially if you know that player ended up being ultimately successful or a spectacular failure.

We all compete for something and we all have a mix of wins and losses, even winners. How we react to that and how we display that is what separates a real winner from a real loser. For a winner, losing is just an experience that teaches. For a loser, losing is failure and nothing else.

Now get out there and do some push-ups or something…!

 

P.S.

Mike Pettine’s understated approach to life is just too entertaining to pass up. Some pics. From left to right we have: “thinking hard” and then “confused.”

Mike Pettine Focusing Mike Pettine Confused