Do you remember when “Batman Begins” came out? Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took a fairly cheesy, misguided franchise and returned it to its gritty roots. They examined the darker side of the dark knight and investigated Bruce Wayne’s ninjutsu background. What resulted was an impressive, martial arts laden movie series that experienced great success.
We may be seeing something similar with Robert Downey Jr’s “Sherlock Holmes” (coming out this December).
Based off of the classic texts by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), and director Guy Ritchie are attempting to put a new spin on the franchise. Although the old movies, comic books, etc have been well received, Downey thinks that they are a bit unfaithful to the original character concepts and believes that this latest rendition faithfully captures both the intellect and physicality of Sherlock Holmes.
Check out this interview where Downey (after putting on a little bit of the ham-attitude that he likes to do), talks about the tougher martial arts aspects of his character:
As someone who has never read the books, I was surprised and elated to learn that Holmes had a combative background. Curious as to what exactly he studied, I ventured into Wikipedia for the answer:
“In ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’, Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Professor Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. He states that ‘I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.’ The name ‘baritsu’ appears to be a reference to the real-life martial art of bartitsu.” – wikipedia
Bartitsu is a historically established style created by Edward William Barton-Wright, who combined classic jujutsu, judo, savate, cane fighting, and western style boxing.
I wondered how this ‘new approach now integrated with martial arts’ might look, so I investigated a little further and found the official movie preview:
It comes quick, but you can definitely catch some hand-to-hand action and even a little Escrima stick fighting ala Rambo 3. Whether the Escrima has any textual precedence or not I don’t know. I think it can be assumed that they took liberties and hyped up the action for cinematic purposes.
The style and presentation of the movie definitely sets the stage for a grittier, more “real-world” Holmes. If done right, Guy Ritchie has the opportunity to create a remarkable mix of action and intrigue.
Personally, I’m excited for the movie. If they can learn the lessons of “Batman Begins”, use Downey’s natural humor and talent, and tell a compelling story, I think they could kick off an extremely successful franchise.
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A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I don’t get off on hurting others.
They’re also skeptical when I say they don’t need to love violence to join a martial art.
In conversation I never debate if martial arts are violent (they are) or if there are violent martial artists (there are). Instead I suggest that you needn’t be driven by bloodlust to get extraordinary value out of training.
Unfortunately, in the world we live in, violence can be thrust on us at any given moment. Whether we like it or not, we can find ourselves in altercations, scrapes, and even life-threatening situations. The two options we have are to depend on the ability of others to help us (like police, security, etc) and to prepare ourselves as best as possible.
In feudal era Japan, a lot of martial art activity involved the desire to kill. A Samurai often increased his status and the prestige of his sword style by dispatching other worthy opponents. This became even more prevalent after the Warring States Period (when most soldiers and Samurai had constant conflict to worry about as opposed to focusing on duels).
Nowadays the closest thing we have (thankfully) is Ultimate Fighting. Martial arts are still a tool of war, just ask the marine corp, but they are also a method of civilian self defense. The shift has been made from glory-through-killing to life preservation.
I’m tempted to liken our situation as civilian martial artists to that of the old Okinawans. The Okinawans were simple farmers, fisherman, etc who developed karate and kobudo as a means to defend themselves with what they had: farming tools and their wits. If a ronin or pirate were to start trouble in their village, the Karateka did what he had to do to eliminate that threat.
I’m tempted to compare us to them – but it’s not the same. The Okinawan Karateka were civilians, policemen, judges, doctors, and spiritual guides all rolled up into one. We are civilians through-and-through and have a deluge of laws to live by. Although I feel as strongly as anyone that we must do all we can to protect ourselves and the ones we love, there are gradations to violence and repercussions that we have to face.
So What Are We?
We are law abiding individuals who realize that the severity of life and death still plays a roll in our lives. Guns make the line of survival only a hairsbreadth wide. That’s not a comforting thought, but what can we do? We can’t pack heat all the time – even gun enthusiasts with licenses to conceal can be caught unawares or unprepared. What we do have is martial arts and they are just as crucial for people who abhor violence as those that love it.
One thing that does concern me is the amount of individuals I hear talking about how much they love to fight/spar, and what a thrill it is to knock someone out. Of course I understand the feeling of empowerment a good technique or strike can give, but I don’t believe causing aggressive dysfunction in another person’s body should be thrilling, nor should it inspire unwarranted confidence in ability. The most effectively violent practitioners I have met are also the most reserved. Their abilities have to be used with care and control in a realistic environment. If that sounds like a tough mixture to obtain – care and control plus realistic aggression – it is. Damn tough, but worth it.
I think a lot of people (including myself) ask themselves from time to time – am I the right kind of person to be studying a combat art? Shouldn’t it be left to someone bigger, tougher, stronger, better?
The answer is no – you need to train and the rest of us need you to train. The people in command of any given situation need to be those that understand and respect violence; those that can use it, but don’t want to. In a world that can snatch everything away quicker than a heartbeat, it is up to each of us to do our best to persevere.
Train if the thought of violence unsettles you – train harder if it makes you shudder.
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Last weekend I had the opportunity to hike the Glen Onoko Falls Trail with my GF FoxyCitrus. Onoko Falls is located in the charming little town of Jim Thorpe, named after the famous multi-talented athlete.
The thing that makes this hike so special is the level of difficulty and, of course, the water. As opposed to most trails that have very well established paths for bikes, walking, horses, etc, the Onoko Falls is as much of a climb as it is a walk.
The trail is very untampered with and climbers are expected to be resourceful. I’ve hiked Onoko twice, and the last time one of my companions wore flipflops. Sadly she didn’t make it to the top, where the best waterfalls are found (not that she died, she just couldn’t manage the climbing).
For a peek at the falls in action, check out this video (not taken by me, but still nice):
and here is a good picture for a sense of scale:
Takishugyo at the Top
As I tend to do, I tried to slip just a little bit of martial arts into the trip. No, I didn’t break out into spontaneous kata, making everyone around me uncomfortable. What I did do was indulge in the practice known as Takishugyo.
“Taki”, meaning waterfall, and “shugyo” meaning intense training, is the practice of spirit strengthening by stepping underneath the crashing waters of a fall.
Takishugyo can be used in a few different ways. The first is as an ablution, or cleansing of the spirit. This is most often found in the buddhist religion and was/is often conducted by priests. The waters are said to cleanse away the impurities acrued by the spirit.
Another aspect of Takishugyo is meditation. This is done by certain Zen sects and martial arts groups, including some karate and aikido practitioners (and possibly others, but I don’t know).
As a meditative tool, Takishugyo challenges the practitioner to overcome fierce external stimuli and focus completely on the self. The freezing cold water shocks the body out of its normal state of complacence and invokes many autonomic reactions including gasping, muscle tension, and flight response.
It is the practitioner’s goal to feel and understand these reactions and to move past them. (To learn more, click here).
Here is a good, quick example of a priest partaking in proper Takishugyo:
He’s pretty old and the waterfall is coming down hard. You have to respect that kind of commitment.
For me personally – I placed the term “Takishugyo” in quotations in my post title because what I did at Onoko was not really correct by any means. I’ve never had formal training from a Zen or Buddhist practitioner. I’ve done my research, but I do not consider myself a real practitioner. However, that being said, I did go for it and got to experience the shocking stimuli of the event for myself.
Whoa! is all I can say. I’m not sure I’ve ever had my train of thought erased so quickly. The speed, impact, sound,and sheer cold of the water caught and held my attention (to say the least). As a novice I decided to stay under for about 45 seconds as extended exposure can be dangerous. To quote the shugendo website: “The brain secretes a hormone that shrinks the size of the arteries when your head is exposed to extreme cold. If it is exuded in large quantities this hormone can cause diameter of the arteries to shrink violently and can result in a stroke or other brain damage! In addition the cold water of winter can provoke a drop in core temperature of the body that can be deadly(hypothermia or heart attack!) Therefore it should only be practiced with competent persons that transmitted to you the tradition.”
It may not have been winter, but it sure was cold.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, absolutely. But be safe. Have someone around to “spot” you and, if you can, be trained in the practice properly. Takishugyo is a fun, exciting test of courage that can teach you about yourself. At the very least if you are dwelling on something and need to reboot your brain…takishugyo will get it done in a hurry.
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