By now you’ve certainly heard about the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused massive destruction off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan. The results from this natural disaster are still unraveling, but I would like to share a few pieces of information that might help you more fully understand the situation. I’ll also provide a handful of verifiable aid resources that you can utilize in case you feel compelled to donate.
First, let’s quickly assess how the earthquake actually occurred. According to USGS.gov, the quake “resulted from thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates. At the latitude of this earthquake, the Pacific plate moves approximately westwards with respect to the North America plate at a rate of 83 mm/yr, and begins its westward descent beneath Japan at the Japan Trench.”
A thrust fault refers to the situation where one piece of the Earth’s crust is pushed over/under a neighboring piece.
As you might imagine, there are many different kinds of thrust faults and the matter gets quite complex. But this is the general idea of what happened off the coast of Japan. (image courtesy of Wikipedia.com).
The tectonic shift that occurred in March resulted in the most significant quake in verifiable Japanese history. “The March 11, 2011 earthquake was an infrequent catastrophe. It far surpassed other earthquakes in the southern Japan Trench of the 20th century, none of which attained M8. A predecessor may have occurred on July 13, 869, when the Sendai area was swept by a large tsunami that Japanese scientists have identified from written records and a sand sheet.” – USGS.gov.
Although the death toll from the quake itself was moderate, the ensuing tsunami raised the number significantly. At last measure the toll was over 1,600 and looking to rise. The number of injured is many more thousands still.
The quake itself ripped apart many homes and roads and caused near disastrous shaking in highrises. After the major quake event (lasting over 2 minutes), the real danger came in the form of tsunami. As reported by Yahoo News, “The earthquake unleashed a 23-foot (seven-meter) tsunami along the northeastern coast of Japan near the coastal city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture. The quake was followed for hours by aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said 124 were detected off Japan’s main island of Honshu, 111 of them of magnitude 5.0 or greater.”
Large fishing boats and other vessels rode the high waves ashore, slamming against overpasses or scraping under them and snapping power lines along the way. A fleet of partially submerged cars bobbed in the water. Ships anchored in ports crashed against each other.
The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing direction and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the homes, apparently from burst gas pipes.”
As damaging as the quake was, and as devastating the tsunami, even more concerns abound now as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is struggling against meltdown and radioactive emissions.
“The quake caused serious damage at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 65 kilometers south of Sendai. Three of the plant’s six reactors, which came into service between 1970 and 1979, were already shut down for inspection at the time the disaster struck. Those still in operation are designed to also shut down in the event of a quake, with diesel generators pumping water around the reactors to keep them cool.
But when the tsunami hit, flood water swamped the generators, causing them to fail. The reactors began to heat up.” – CNN Disaster Timeline
Over time the cooling systems proved inefficient and small amounts of radioactive cesium began to leak from the plant. In response the plant owners began a process of flooding the containment unit with sea water. This maneuver is nonreverserable and indicates a willingness to essentially destroy the facility to prevent meltdown (the corrosiveness of the salt compromises the long term usage of the facility).
Despite a series of fires and explosions, focused mostly around the No. 4 reactor, the containment vessels are still in place. These containment fields are built to hold or at worst leak, hopefully avoiding the kind of failure that occurred at Chernobyl. To learn more about the strength of these safety measures, view this article. To learn more about the worst case scenarios that are still possible, view this video.
As of right now, the area surrounding the plant is experiencing heightened levels of radiation, now at the point that could affect human health. Therefore precautions have been initiated to remove local citizens, U.S. Navy ships based nearby, and plant employees.
Social Media Impact
Due to the remarkable spread of social media, the world is experiencing this tragedy in a very visceral and connected way. More and more amateur video is appearing of the flood, the quake, and subsequent damage.
Here is some footage of the wave breaching some of the barriers already in place to guard against high waves:
And here airport visitors are stuck watching as the water floods around them, hoping that the glass and supports don’t give out:
Aid to the Japanese
Communication isn’t the only thing increasing with technology; the opportunity to help has improved as well. It’s important to recognize legitimate resources that are connected with rescue operations and avoid the scams and cons that are cropping up even as this situation unfolds.
Google has set up an outstanding Crisis Relief Center that makes it extremely easy to donate to the Japanese Red Cross, Unicef, or Save the Children. They also provide updated information on people and news in the area. Visit to donate.
CNN has also created an excellent article exploring the different organizations that have mobilized, including International Medical Corps, Shelterbox, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humane Society for Animal Rescue.
Samurai – To Serve
The term “Samurai” actually means “to serve”. Many of us that study budo believe that we have something, even just a thread, in common with the ethos of those old warriors. This is a way to thank the Japanese for the arts they’ve given us and to serve those in times of need.
If you check any tourism guide for Pennsylvania (yes, they exist) one of the ‘must-see’ stops is Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a beautiful piece of property that is rich in both natural conservation and history. I won’t belabor the details; suffice it to say that the place developed out of an odd mixture of arboreal enthusiasm and gunpowder barronism.
Amongst Longwood’s 1050 acres of finely tuned gardens and landscapes lies a very large conservatory. Areas inside the conservatory are dedicated to different climates and varieties of plant life. One such room is dedicated to bonsai.
For those unfamiliar, the term “bonsai” refers to the growing of miniature trees in pots or amidst small landscapes. “Bonsai” (bone-sigh) is not to be confused with “Banzai” (bahn-z-eye), which is used as a cry of enthusiasm meaning roughly “ten thousand years”. Banzai also has a connection to Kamikaze pilots in World War II, so it is proper to understand the difference.
Bonsai are famous (and infamous) for the amount of skill and care that goes into their care. The number of species used in Bonsai planting is extremely vast, as is their longevity if properly cared for.
The goal of bonsai growing is to test the imagination and skill of the grower, as well as spur contemplation and appreciation in the viewer. It is not entirely unlike Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement.
Here are a select few Bonsai on display in the Longwood Conservatory. Note their age and the amount of careful guidance that has gone into their growth. Click any of the images below for a closer look, and please excuse some of the glare. These trees were kept behind glass in a carefully controlled environment.
Japanese Black Pine Bonsai. Training begun 1949. This tree represents a recognizable and well known style of bonsai design.
Sargent Juniper Bonsai. Training unstated. This tree has a particularly strong ‘Karate Kid’ feel to it. I know I’m lessening the artestry of it by saying that, but it’s true.
Loose Flower Hornbeam Bonsai. Training begun 1990. This was a really cool display as it was like a miniature forest. The ground moss helped perpetuate that feeling and worked in proper scale.
Azalea Bonsai. Training unstated. Showed great symmetry and balance via the bifurcation in the trunk.
Ginko Bonsai. Training begun 1909. This was a Chinese styled bonsai with an incredible age of over 100 years.
Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai. Training begun 1966. This is an interesting specimen because it shows the Japanese penchant for intentional asymmetry.
The care and patience that goes into the development of these artful trees corresponds significantly with our martial arts. A product like this is not the result of a year of pruning, or even five years. It takes decades, and the more the tree grows the subtler it’s beauty becomes.
I recently did an interview with a fine fellow named Himanshu Ojha of the Columbia News Service based out of Columbia University. Himanshu was curious about the recent rise in availability of martial arts instructional videos. He was investigating their value and validity as training tools.
Himanshu’s finished article can be found here. He did a great job.
Unfortunately, as I was answering questions, I gave him way more information than he could possibly include in a reasonable article. So I thought to myself, where could I expound on this topic to an unreasonable degree?
That’s right. Right here.
Check out my take on how video can add exceptional value to your training, or dupe you out of time, money, and even safety (bad advice can be dangerous).
1) Firstly, terminology – martial arts vs self defense.
How do experts distinguish between the two? Is a video that uses “martial arts” in its title or promotional material promising something different than a self defense video?
Although there is no set line that distinguishes martial arts and self defense, it is generally understood that you are getting a slightly different focus between the two. When talking about self defense, the intent will likely be centered on scenario based situations. Most of the instruction will be relegated to likely street scenarios, such as getting grabbed, choked, punched, etc etc. Instructors will also often discuss things like street awareness, avoiding bad situations, and using body language and voice to further discourage attackers.
When talking about martial arts, you can generally expect a much wider array of topics. “Martial Arts” might include things like forms (kata), sparring, basic movement drills, as well as self defense applications (defending against choke, punch, etc).
Ultimately, one of the primary goals of both self defense and martial arts is to assist the individual in protecting themselves during altercations. “Self Defense” seminars and videos will go directly into it via scenarios, while “Martial Arts” will try to approach it from a more fundamental and holistic perspective.
2) What, in your opinion, has video added to training from the point of view of both student and teacher?
The recent increase in video availability has proven valuable in a lot of ways for both students and teachers. Not too long ago students were relegated to the specific experience of their direct instructor. There are plenty of good things about that, but it also creates a bit of a narrow window in regards to ideas and methods of growth. On Okinawa, many of the older masters would train under various different instructors to get the benefits of their combined wisdom and experience. The increase in video has allowed for a similar kind of sharing over much longer distances and time.
For students, video also helps ensure that their material stays in line with that of their instructor. If a student must be away from his/her instructor for extended periods of time, memory and natural growth will cause certain changes and adaptations. To properly pass on a tradition, that student must then go back and make sure they can teach material in the method they were taught (so as to properly preserve their art for posterity). While their personal art grows and evolves, the student can use video to stay grounded in tradition.
For teachers, video can help in the management and coordination of both long distance students and larger organizations. As experts (or “masters”) pass away, there are often schisms in opinion from their students as to how the master wanted techniques performed and preserved. Video can help reduce the amount of argument and misunderstanding, especially as more and more generations progress from that original source.
From a practical standpoint, learning a technique, be it for self defense or any other goal, requires plenty of rote practice and development. Having access to video, which you can rewind, slow down, pause, etc. is a great addition to in-person training (albeit not a substitute).
3) Conversely, what do you think are the downsides of videos and how are these pitfalls best avoided?
One of the major problems with video comes from an over-reliance upon it. The development of martial skill is extremely subtle and requires strong guidance. A live teacher will provide the necessary adjustments and corrections to make technique excellent and efficient in dangerous circumstances. Video alone simply cannot provide the kind of personal guidance needed to become a good practitioner of any style.
The dojo (dojang, gym, etc.) setting is also crucial to proper development. The ability to train with people of different body types and emotional dispositions allows a student to build mental toughness as well as physical technique. A video at home with one or two training partners will result in a very limited skill set, no matter how enthusiastic the trainee.
Another problem with video comes in the form of fraudulence. Ego is a very big factor in the martial arts, and people are all too quick to list their experiences and styles. Many needy individuals will purchase and watch a dvd of a certain style (let’s say Krav Maga just as an example), and then add Krav Maga onto their checklist of “mastered arts”. These individuals will claim a long list of black belts and personal experience with top experts. They’ll usually buttress these lists with a series of ill-gotten certificates and a host of trophies.
To avoid the common pitfalls of video, you have to use them for what they really are – a reference point. Video can help inform and enhance a solid foundation, but cannot be used in substitution of one.
4) There is a huge amount of material out there now. Is there any regulation of this or standards bodies that would give consumers a way of sifting through it all? Is there a perception of Snake Oil Salesmen?
Unfortunately there are no regulating or standard bodies in place to cull the good from the bad. If you so chose, you could photoshop a promotional degree, declare yourself a 10th Dan, and start your own martial art style tomorrow (it happens frequently actually).
There are many federations and associations that attempt to maintain the quality of practitioners inside their own style or system, however there are many more federations designed to prop up their mediocre headmasters and legitimize a whole lot of quickly and questionably gained rank. The various martial art associations have no effect upon one another.
The phrase “buyer beware” is in full effect when it comes to purchasing martial arts and self defense videos, or even believing that anything stated within them is effective or true. Buyers must keep a keen eye out for snake oil salesmen and women because there is an abundance of them. It can be frustrating trying to sort through them, but there is a little hope developing at this time…
Video is getting free. Not too long ago the only videos available were roughly shot and expensive as heck. People couldn’t really know the quality they were getting until it was too late. Now they can utilize websites like youtube to sample “experts” before spending any money. If the expert in question turns out to be terrible, or doesn’t offer free samples of his/her work, shoppers can easily go to a different resource and spend their money there.
5) It seems (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that there are new cultures of training videos.
Firstly, there are the MMA/UFC style videos.
Secondly, there are the “Real Street Fighting” videos.
Then there are the pseudo-military instructional videos which claim to teach methods from elite fighting units.
As a traditional practitioner of martial arts, how do you view these kinds of videos and their claims?
I think those videos should be treated with the same skepticism and critical eye that you would use for videos of traditional arts. Conceptually, I have no problem with their growth and existence. That’s really more a matter of what consumer’s desire. Traditional arts involve a full spectrum of drills, forms, fighting, etc. and some people don’t want to get involved in all that.
Much in the same way that scammy traditionalists will fake and embellish whom they trained with, “modern” fighters will fake and embellish their military service as well as their real fighting experience. These individuals will create false pro fighting records, phantom street encounters, military assignments, etc. etc. Once again, the buyer must beware.
6.) Going back to the newer styles (eg Krav Maga, SCARS, etc). I’ve seen a lot of promotional literature that emphasizes the speed of their training. Very often this is set in implied opposition to the traditional martial arts (adverts to the effect of “Why spend 15 years in a dojo when we will teach you what you need to know in the quickest most efficient way possible).
Is this because these styles are purely focused on combat technique and the traditional martial arts are more holistic in nature, and therefore have more knowledge to impart? Or is this just a way for an instructor to differentiate himself from the competition?
Some of it is marketing and some of it is factual . A large portion of individuals who buy these aggressive modern products are looking for a quick solution to their problems. They want the nastiest techniques that they can learn in a few sittings. Therefore, the makers of these videos key in on how quickly it takes to learn the techniques. It’s like a lot of other products that address complex art forms or skills. Think about materials that are supposed to teach you how to play the guitar or learn a second language in X amount of days or weeks. How often these products work, I leave to your judgment.
That being said, there are a lot of foundational things in traditional arts that modern programs do circumvent. Traditional arts will often spend lots of time on stances, basics, forms, etc. etc. Modern arts tend to go right for the techniques of doing damage. There is something to be said for these modern methods. After all, we don’t see Marines and Navy Seals doing kata and moving up and down dojo floors in stance. There’s no time for that.
Modern military programs need to install as much combative programming as they can in a short amount of time. Therefore they cannot slowly build soldiers in a gradual way. Furthermore, mental programming is significantly different for a soldier than a civilian. A soldier can use different levels of force in their environment and have a broader array of tools available to them, all while utilizing a soldier-specific mindset in order to survive.
Traditional arts use the slowness of their teachings to weed out excessively violent individuals who are likely to misuse the art. The gradual progress of development in traditional arts can result in significant power and effectiveness, but in addition provides a window for character development and philosophical theory. Needless to say not all traditional styles and schools do this well, but the opportunity is there.
One individual I study with, Major Bill Hayes, is a Vietnam Marine Veteran. He is also a 7th Dan in Shobayashi Shorin Ryu, a very classical style of karate. He was directly involved in the development of MCMAP and it’s growth over time. His karate is absolutely combat effective, so much so that he is a highly utilized resource for many “modern” fighting systems. This is true of other individuals as well (a surprising amount of modern techniques and programs are developed off of traditional styles). But I doubt he would substitute his karate in for MCMAP. The needs of the soldiers are different, and MCMAP is developing to try and meet those needs in the time allotted.
I think video-goers need to be honest with themselves regarding what they need, what they are willing to invest in the process, and what real-life resources they have available to them.