Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Wing Chun and Arnis/Eskrima/Kali

It's a great source of irritation that some of my fellow Wing Chun students are already training at a local Eskrima club, whereas I don't have any spare time to do that until June.  The club I'm talking about is Warriors Eskrima at Rhyl, North Wales.
To compound my misery, at least one of the class is taking lessons at a Jeet Kune Do class in Wrexham - http://www.scimitarmartialarts.co.uk/

I realised that this actually worries me more than my upcoming grading on Sunday.  The JKD class will include elements of Kali (Danny Inosanto's preferred term for Filipino martial arts), though it is questionable how much Kali it will include.  The Eskrima class will teach more distinctly Filipino martial arts, though I know the instructor has also studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (not a concern, because my Wing Chun instructor also studies Five Pattern Hung Kuen).

I should explain some differences in terminology.  Very few people in the Philippines will call their martial arts Kali, though the influence of Danny Inosanto is changing that.  In Manila, and the whole island of Luzon, as far as I know, it is known as Arnis.  In Cebu, they have a tendency to call it Eskrima.

Why am I concerned about other students learning Filipino martial arts?  Well, this goes to my whole motivation for learning Wing Chun.  The grading is not so important because my grade is of secondary importance; my main motivation for learning Wing Chun is for self protection.  Ever since the two were first combined, it has been known that Wing Chun and Arnis/Eskrima go well together as an effective combat art.  I'm more than a little concerned that this knowledge is becoming more widespread.

In every martial arts class, you get the testosterone-fuelled macho idiots.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not always the younger members of a class who feel the need to prove themselves.  When you are learning a martial art for self-protection, the level of skill you may come up against in an opponent is obviously more of a concern.  I was already troubled by the rise in popularity in cage fighting.  Now, let us not get caught up in the argument over whether MMA is more effective in any situation than traditional martial arts.  The point is that, regardless of my beliefs regarding MMA, a trained cage fighter will be more skilled than the average untrained trouble causer.  It is more of a worry, because MMA classes tend to downplay, or totally omit, any philosophical context of what they teach.

Traditional arts like Wing Chun have had centuries to develop.  The Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other arts which may comprise an MMA class also have a philosophical basis, but this tends to get lost in the bias towards competitiveness engendered in that environment.  Yes, the technical aim of Wing Chun is to incapacitate an opponent, but the philosophical context modifies that aim to a point where we only do what is necessary to assure our safety.  As my instructor has said many times, the only guaranteed method of self-defence is to run faster than an attacker can chase you.  It certainly sidesteps the issue of explaining your actions to a court.

What it all adds up to is that I have to start learning Arnis/Eskrima, even if I just get the basic concepts from a book.  When learning a martial art for self-protection, especially one that is constantly evolving, it is not wise to fall behind.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


It's hard to believe that I only got to visit Intramuros on my third visit to Manila, but then, my main focus in going to the Philippines is visiting the woman I love.

As luck would have it, we visited Intramuros on Rizal Day.  For those of you who don't know, José Rizal was a Filipino revolutionary and is apparently the national hero of the Philippines.  That information came from our tour guide, who managed to keep a large party of people, including us, entertained for well over an hour (the tour was meant to last for an hour; no one seemed to mind that it lasted longer).

It was my fiancée's idea to have a guide.  Though Intramuros is a beautiful and interesting place, it's fair to say that being there would not have been the experience it was without the tour guide.  We were shown around this old part of Manila, told the history of the place and the Philippines in general, and treated to a humorous take on the role of various foreign influences on the country.  There were odd moments where the narrative was in danger of becoming a political rant, especially during an interval where we were treated to a thoroughly disturbing account of what happened to Manila during World War 2.  The scars of that conflict affect Manila to this day.  Most of the old city was lost under a blanket of bombs, and many lives were lost to those bombs and also to Japanese swords.  An old city now looks very modern, and some would say soulless, because it had to be rebuilt largely from nothing.

I should stop right there.  If you want to know more about Intramuros and Manila, I highly recommend a visit.  Do your research before you go and, if possible, visit the Ayala Museum in Makati as well.  If you have a day to spare, the boat ride from Manila Bay to the island of Corregidor (a US military stronghold during the war; now a tourist attraction) is well worth the effort.  As the tour guide said, many just pass through Manila on their way to the white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of islands like Boracay and Palawan.  Those islands are no doubt very beautiful, but it is wrong to write off Manila.  There is much more to the capital than meets the eye.  Yes, it is noisy, overcrowded and polluted in the main, but also home to many hidden treasures.

I'll let the pictures I took in Intramuros speak for themselves...

Thought for the day: cheating

As a follow up to my piece on the rise of psychopathic tendencies, I offer a link to an article on The Guardian website, which continues the theme - http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/20/british-cheating-sport-parliament-banks

Maybe we should rethink the old maxim which says that cheats never prosper.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Thought for the day: rise of the psychopath

Thanks to a certain Hitchcock film, most people don't have a good understanding of what it means for someone to be a psychopath so, when I tell you that I see more people exhibiting psychopathic tendencies than ever before, I have to explain what I mean.

A psychopath is not necessarily a cold-blooded killer.  What we are talking about, when we use the word psychopath, is someone suffering from a personality disorder.  If we consider the developmental theory of Jean Piaget, we could say these are individuals who continue to display the egocentrism inherent in the preoperational stage of development (2 to 7 years) throughout their lives.  There will be a lack of remorse, empathy or fear.  Instead, the psychopath manipulates and breaks rules to get what they want.  They may have an inflated sense of their worth and a low threshold of boredom, together with an inability to accept responsibility for their actions.

What I see is a general lack of consideration for others, or how others will be affected by the actions of the individual, and it is more widespread than ever before.  Of course, I can only speak for the small part of the UK where I live, but it is still troubling.  In people across the age spectrum (not just youths, as the media would have us believe), there seems to be a belief that a person must always put themselves first, no matter if getting what they want inconveniences, or even hurts, others in some way.

More troubling is that seeing someone wilfully cause distress to someone else is not uncommon now, and it's easy to believe it is done for amusement.

Any evidence I provide will be anecdotal, so there is no reason for you to take what I say at face value.  Therefore, I simply put the thought out there: maybe there are more psychopaths than there ever were before.  Of course, the definition, or the very existence, of psychopathic behaviour is contested within psychiatry.  If we are becoming generally more self-centred and less empathic, could there be something driving this change?

A few nights ago, I saw a TV programme where a young child was demanding protection money from an adult, so that his car would not get scratched.  It was not a documentary, it was supposedly a comedy.  The clear message was that this child would scratch the car if he was not paid the sum demanded.  This is clearly anti-social behaviour, and the programme was passing it off as something approaching normal, or commonplace, and mildly comical.

Since the Thatcher/Reagan era, I have noticed a gradual desensitisation to things like this.  TV programmes, films, music and even the printed media have become ever more eager to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and seem to aim to shock the viewer/listener/reader.  Is it a coincidence that all of this ties in with the influence of neoliberalism under Reagan and Thatcher?  The very cornerstone of neoliberalism is the belief that people are inherently selfish, and protecting their own interests is the only thing that will regulate their behaviour.  Such cynicism, and desensitisation to increasingly shocking imagery, language and written words could, in my opinion, be the driving factors behind this change in behaviour.

We have also seen the steady decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom.  Even if you are not religious, surely you must see the value of the ethical guidelines of organised religion?

I don't believe there is any will to keep the problem in check, or even a recognition of the problem.  Our modern cynicism tells us that people are self-centred, they will put their own interests ahead of any other considerations, and that is just the way things are.

I don't have an answer to any of this.  My hope is that the problem is recognised for what it is, so an answer may come from someone with the intelligence to develop a solution.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The iPad effect, or the future of the desktop

Over the past few days, the latest release of Fedora Linux (https://fedoraproject.org/) went live.  As someone who doesn't use Fedora, you would think it would be a non-event for me.  However, it is significant because this release includes the MATE and Cinnamon desktops in the official repositories.

There are many reasons why I believe the IT industry has taken a few wrong turns over the years.  Don't get me started on the failure of OS/2 or BeOS, much less the failure of landmark machines like the Acorn Archimedes or DEC Alpha.  While we're at it, I wasn't happy when Apple abandoned the POWER architecture.  At this very moment, the industry stands on the brink of taking the wrong direction once again, and with arguably the most important aspect of an operating system: the user interface.

For years, various manufacturers have been trying to make tablet PCs viable.  Apple is by no means the first company to give it a shot, though they were the first to have the level of success necessary to sustain a market.  In retrospect, they took a gradual approach to the release of the iPad: it came to us via the iPod and, later, the iPhone.  I can't fault Apple for the way they brought these products to market: in marketing terms, it was a stroke of genius.

I also have to admire Android, and the myriad devices it has spawned.  It's arguable that I should wholeheartedly support Android, being an open source advocate, but the whole subject of tablet PCs leaves me cold.  Of course, the open source model will mean that Android quickly surpasses iOS in terms of features, usability and stability, but that's just my opinion.

My interest is in the desktop, or laptop, if you prefer.  Unfortunately, the industry took the success of the iPad and Android to mean that users are in love with the touch screen interface and wish to use it on every device they own.  On a tablet, it works well.  On the desktop, I'm less sure.

Microsoft have a long history of deciding how we, the users, should use our computers.  It is not up for consultation.  With Windows 8, the user interface has changed to one which is geared towards touch screen computing.  If I was the CEO of a large, or even a small, company, I would be absolutely furious right now.  Many businesses held on to their copies of Windows XP, forcing Microsoft to support that version long after the date of its planned withdrawal.  Why?  Well, the user interface is familiar, and it works.  Why change that?  Windows 8 completely changes the way a user accesses their applications and documents.  Staff will need to be trained in the use of this new system.  That will cost time and money.  In other words, it affects productivity.  I heard a nasty rumour that Apple intends to make OS-X more like iOS too.

In the open source world, we have the controversy over GNOME 3 and Ubuntu's Unity taking the same path as Windows 8.  On a personal note, I abandoned the mainstream Debian distribution for Linux Mint Debian Edition, so that I didn't have to "upgrade" to GNOME 3.  In theory, I am using the GNOME 3 platform, but it has the much better (for me, anyway) Cinnamon user interface.  The fact that Cinnamon is a Linux Mint project tied those wishing to use it to that distribution initially but, as usually happens in open source, enough people thought Cinnamon was a worthy project, and the work of porting it to other distributions began fairly swiftly.

MATE is a continuation of GNOME 2.  Whether this rules it out as the future of the desktop is debatable.  The reason why the inclusion of MATE and Cinnamon in mainstream distributions is a good thing is one of open source and Linux's major selling points: choice.  If you don't like the change to an interface more geared towards touch screen interaction, and I would count myself amongst that number, you have the choice to choose another way.

Upon searching this morning, there was even more good news.  The Debian project has included Cinnamon in their unstable release - http://packages.debian.org/unstable/main/cinnamon - meaning that, one day, I may well be able to switch back to my favourite distribution.  Of course, it will take time.  Currently, we are waiting for Debian Wheezy to be released, and the current unstable branch will eventually form the release following Wheezy.  Debian have a noble, though sometimes irritating, habit of making releases only when everything meets their very high standards, so releases are not made very often.  However, when Wheezy is released, Cinnamon will become a part of the Debian testing distribution.  The implication of this is that the many distributions based on Debian testing (and there are quite a few) will have Cinnamon available to them as an official Debian package.

As it stands, the Debian version of Cinnamon is already looking pretty good...

The final version is likely to look very different.  In the time it takes for the stable distribution to be released, Cinnamon will change, as will Debian.  However, Debian forms the basis of so many other distributions, so maybe this is the future of the desktop after all.

Now, I wonder when Microsoft will admit, as I believe they should have with Vista, that Windows 8 was a mistake.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Thought for the day: policy vs ideology

There was a time when allegiance to a political party, at least in the UK, was held for life.  Now, if people choose to vote at all, it seems that the political allegiance of the country alternates between the two main parties.

What is the reason for this?  What is the reason for large scale voter apathy?  Well, I don't claim to know everything, but I would argue that it is a focus on policy.  In an age where politicians are more accessible than ever - too accessible, some would argue - we hear countless promises about what they will do if they are elected.

Unfortunately, the nature of parliament means that election promises are rarely implemented.  The uncomfortable truth about politics is that those promises made during the election can easily be voted down or, worse, given up as unrealistic when faced with the reality of governing a country.  As a result, the population get the idea that politicians are inherently untrustworthy and casting a vote in the election will make no difference to how the country is run.

The great shame is that, if you were to ask people to which political ideology they subscribe, it is likely that most would not understand the question.  Can you, reader, explain whether you are left-wing, right-wing, centrist, centre-left or centre-right?  Given the perpetual shift between left-wing Labour and right-wing Conservative governments in the UK, it would seem that a growing number of people either don't know or don't care about their political ideology.  At the time of writing, our government is a coalition between right-wing Conservatives and centrist Liberal Democrats.

We have free access to more information, thanks to the internet, than ever before.  If you're reading this, and are unaware of your ideological leaning, you owe it to yourself to do some research...


So, short term policy (which may not be implemented within the term of a parliament) or long term ideology?  Please feel free to comment.