Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Few Great Movies That Most People Missed Out On

In the history of cinema there have been films that never really garnered the attention they deserved. Some were not distributed properly, some failed to reach the right audience, some were only publicized in their country of origin and never made it overseas, some just weren’t the kind of movies people wanted to see at the time they were made. Here I shall illuminate a few of these unknown masterpieces.

BLACK DYNAMITE

This film had a successful tour of the festival circuit, but never made it into mainstream theatres. Released in 2009, it is THE best 70’s homage film ever made. The film quality, the costumes, the sets, the deliberately visible boom mikes, and the continuity errors are all flawless reproductions of B movies from the the mid seventies. If a you didn’t know better, you would never be able to tell that it was only released a few years ago. Black Dynamite is a kung-fu blaxploitation film that pays tribute to such classics as Shaft, Black Belt Jones and Enter the Dragon. The dialogue is humorously terrible, some of the performances are perfectly awful, the breasts are nicely gratuitous,  and the kung-fu scenes are pure 70’s camp. Writer/star Micheal Jai White put a lot of effort into creating a flawless reproduction of a bygone era of cinema, and the result is hilarious.

ALATRISTE

This film was slated for a big international release, but never made it to most places in North America. Admittedly the movie has one notable flaw; and that is that it attempted to cram all of the major plot points of a popular book series into one film. Trying to cover all the life and adventures of a sixteenth century mercenary into two and a half hours was perhaps not such a wise plan. The result was a somewhat disjointed story that sometimes seemed to jump from place to place too quickly. Had this been done as five or six films it would have been my favourite movie franchise ever. but unfortunately that did not come to be. However, the film does redeem itself in several ways; It has amazing cinematography of some beautiful locations in Spain, it features some of the best period costumes I’ve ever seen, the fencing scenes are almost flawless and, for those who have read the books, Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the protagonist is perfect. So, if you are in the mood for a swashbuckling costume drama, it is definitely worth a watch.

KNIGHTRIDERS

At first glance this film seems really silly, but do not be fooled by the cover picture of Ed Harris riding a motorcycle in Arthurian armour. (Actually I noticed that a more recent DVD release featured new artwork that looked more serious.) No, this is not a post-apocalyptic fantasy film about biker knights – it IS a surprisingly touching story about a group of travelling performers who put on a motor-jousting/renaissance fair show, and their leaders’ determined attempts to live an uncompromising life of virtue and knightly honour. What begins as an quaintly amusing premise actually turns out to be a serious explorations of how people try to find meaning in their lives in a world that demands the constant compromise of your dreams. It was written and directed by George A. Romero, of Dawn of the Dead fame, but was largely lost to the back shelves of history…

A Week in Summation

It appears that it has been over a week since I have actually posted anything on this blog. That is a shame, considering that I originally intended to post something every other day at the least. Shift work is the arch nemesis of health and productivity. It sits on a high-backed swivel chair stroking a white cat and plotting. It probably also has minions with such fashion accessories as scars, eye-patches, mechanical arms and Nehru jackets.

So, to sum up the last nine days;

The Tuesday following the first sabre class was another quiet one. May has proven to be one of our slowest months ever. Between the Hockey play-offs and the students who went on vacation it has been a bit of a desert in regards to attendance. Apart from that, class went as class usually does – we worked out to an impressive degree and then worked further on some of the new ground fighting stuff we have been playing with.

I honestly do not remember what I did on the following Wednesday at all, so either I worked on the computer all day or I lounged around doing very little.

Then came Thursday. Thursday is never good, as it signals the beginning of my non-martial arts work week. The rest of those five days consisted of being at work, working on sabre curriculum, occasionally writing creatively and reading the works of Robert E. Howard. Actually, I am really enjoying the Conan stories, 30’s pulp is some of the most fun reading material there is. You have to love a genre that has no illusions about the fact that is a complete male fantasy. Whether it’s Conan smiting mythical creatures and running off with the women, or the Shadow laughing maniacally while he kills a room full of gangsters, it is endlessly amusing. That and that era of fiction had a certain melodramatic poetry to it. H.P. Lovecraft is a perfect example of the eccentric, colourful, imaginative way authors described their fantasy worlds in the good old Weird Tales days.

Anyhow, and then it was Monday again. Work went by slowly, like dragging a huge heavy stone across a field of superglue. Afterwards I hurried down to Coopers park for Sabre practice. At appears that the other instructors were mistaken, and arrived at six rather than six thirty. I got there as soon as I could, snacked quickly, and prepared to teach more of the Victorian sabre style I have been working through. There were still no actual students, per se, so I skipped the basic warm-up and beginner footwork portion and and jumped to the parry and riposte drills. There were no real hitches in that department, and we covered all riposts from quarte after parrying cut 1. (I don’t expect that last sentence to make sense to most folks.)

Randy and Courtney had to leave shortly thereafter since their early arrival only left them so much parking time. After they departed, Holly and I moved on to the riposts from high prime. Holly had a bit of an issue with that parry, which is understandable since it is one of the more unnatural positions in fencing until you get used to it. After a little time I think she got the hang of it, however. At that point we were both tired and the hour had passed. We made our way home and prepared for…

Tuesday!

Class was still fairly quiet, although one of our new students did return for his second time and still seemed keen to continue his participation. After the work-out portion we moved onto some Capoeira-based techniques. Following that was some of the sword drills that Randy developed to build good habits in our students and work the bad habits out of ourselves. Afterwards, well, afterwards I took slight issue with the turn of things. We proceeded to continue cartwheel and gymnastic exercises, somewhat including the sword. I, personally, would like to see the second hour of the evening focus more thoroughly on direct martial applications.

Some of the exercises Randy comes up with are fantastic for building co-ordination and strength, but they do not always deal with actual martial arts techniques. I am going to try and push for such things to always be included within the first hour of class, and have the second hour focus more on direct fighting methods. Partially this is for my own satisfaction, since working out is never enough to satisfy me. On the evenings where we end up working out or practising esoteric maneuverings I always leave feeling unfulfilled – I need something that feels like fighting to gratify my own love of martial arts.

Which brings me to today; Thus far, today has been a good one. After breakfast Holly and I got back into our sweatn’  clothes and prepared for my third day of physical activity on a row (four for her). She donned her roller skates and we went down to the sea wall. We started off along the beach back towards Copper’s park. She skated and I jogged, ran, walked. This, by the way, turned out to be harder than I though, and Holly built up quite a bit of speed at certain junctures and I was hard pressed to keep up. Also, the sea wall route made the journey much longer and less direct that the street path, and it was farther than I had thought to run there.

Yet it was enjoyable nonetheless. Once we arrived (grateful that the water fountains in the park had been turned on since winter) we caught our breath for a few minutes in the refreshingly breezy shade of the park. I then did a few gymnastic moves on the playground equipment, afterwards coaxing Holly to remove her skates and participate in some boxing drills. When we were finished at the park we began a more leisurely stroll back towards our apartment. And thus concluded our enjoyment of this fine, sunny day.

Now I would greatly appreciate a cup of coffee…

Sabre Mondays

Depending on how you look at it, Monday’s inaugural and unofficial sabre class was a success. A success inasmuch as the outcome was exactly what I expected; lost of people heard about it, some people talked about it, a few people said they would come out and try it, and absolutely nobody showed up. (Unless you count the curious children or the obnoxious jeers from passers by.) I had anticipated this, though for a while there I was getting nervous that the six people slated to attend might actually arrive and force me to be totally cheerful and professional as in instructor right from the get-go. As it was, I was both disappointed and relieved that that was not the case. Disappointed, obviously, because it would have been a unexpected success to have a small class of students right from the first attempt, and relieved because it meant that Holly and I could finalize exactly what and how I wanted to teach.

The important thing was that people heard about what I was doing, and now there are about sixty people who know that I will be teaching sabre and rapier on Monday evenings. I’m certain that, over the course of the month, some of them will actually start showing up so that there are a few regular attendees by the time the class goes official in June. So in that respect, everything went according to plan. I’m also optimistic that, as people start to attend, I will be able to use the money earned to get a few more pieces of equipment for the classes – namely a couple loaner sabres to be used by new students who don’t have their own. I’m confident that by the end of the summer there will be the musical clash of blades echoing out over the sea wall each week.

Another bit of positive news is that the park was adequately full of people who could see what we were doing. There were two different Boot Camps going on (neither of which impressed me much) and plenty of people walking past. Fortunately none of these people seemed to want to use the basketball court that I had my eye on, so we were unimpeded. Perhaps after we have a few students practising there we may have some defectors from the other groups – one never knows.

This Week at Scatha

Well, this week’s class seemed to be an interesting example of collective consciousness. Apparently the hive brain of our students all unanimously decided to stay home and watch the Hockey game, and I do mean all. Only one person arrived last night. It was a very quiet evening, beginning with a relaxed set of exercises largely done on our own time without the usual structure and motivation. The single occupant is also a student who usually only stays for the warm-up/work out portion of the evening as well, so she left after an hour. Thus remained nobody but us instructors.

As disappointing as this was, it was also a good opportunity. It can be very difficult for us teaching types to actually get together to work on the new ideas we have, so a solid hour and a half without students was not wasted. We took the opportunity to work on some ground fighting techniques that turned out to be remarkable easy and effective. No doubt we will be teaching them to the rest of the students next week.

Normally I don’t care for wrestling and ground fighting that much (Given the choice, I much prefer to hit, stab and cut people. Not to mention all that rolling around in other people’s sweat that goes with grappling) but I do my best to enjoy it and gain skills with it since obviously I can’t neglect a whole aspect of combat just because it isn’t my forte. The stuff we were working on last night was different though; If wrestling usually feels like fast paced weight lifting, these techniques felt more like short bursts of sprinting. Never have I found it so easy to escape mounts and change positions. Brazilian jujitsu usually frustrates the hell out of me, but this style felt more like stand up jujitsu and came very naturally.

Hooray, for the first time ever I genuinely enjoyed ground fighting.

The last dredges of the irritating cold I have had for the last few days are MOSTLY gone, and the weather is a pleasant overcast that is perfect for outdoorsy-ness. My plan is to have a hearty breakfast, and then make my way down to the park along the seawall that actually has gymnastic rings. It is very rare to still find these apparatus in public parks anymore, though they used to be everywhere. I guess you wouldn’t want to encourage kids to actually get exercise when they could just sit in those horrible plastic buckets that make you dizzy instead.

The gymnastic training we have been doing at SCG is something I haven’t spoken much about yet, partially due to the fact that we were keeping it under out belt for the time being as our little secret. however, since George St. Pierre’s recent lauding of the same kind of training we have been doing, there seems little point in being discreet. It is true, by the way, basic gymnastics is THE best physical  conditioning there is. If you look at the physique of any professional gymnast, I guarantee you that they got that way without ever touching weights. I have done many different conditioning programs in my day, but the results I’ve had from just doing simple gymnastic exercises have by far outdone everything else. I have put on more useful muscle and gained more strength much faster than I ever have before.

If you were to take a weight lifter and a gymnast of similar build, the gymnast would most likely be twice as strong as the lifter. The kind of deep, raw power you get from gymnastics is far above the general strength that weights can build. Some people argue that you can develop the same muscles using more modern approaches, but that simply isn’t true. You might be able to bench press 400 pounds but you wouldn’t be able to do a proper planche push-up – It is a completely different kind of strength.

Planche

There is also the flexibility, agility and general ability to move more efficiently that also comes from this kind of conditioning. A martial artist who also has a gymnastic background will be capable of a much wider range of techniques than one who only does general exercises.

On a different note, today I will also begin working on my new sabre curriculum. This Monday will mark the first unofficial sabre class that SCG will offer, and hopefully this will garner enough students to make the classes official early in June. By August I hope to have a small but successful practice for classic duelling sabre running at least one day day a week. The specific time and place has yet to be announced, but shall be before the end of the weekend.