Philosophy Story Challenge of the Week

spar31cSo, Alayna and I were arguing about fighting last night, and I don’t mean that we were arguing about arguing. We were arguing about professional fighting (such as the UFC) and whether or not it is legitimate/wise/acceptable/etc. Now, I am a martial artist and have been for a number of years, and as such I have a lot of respect for the martial arts and those who practice them. In many ways the martial arts are a form of expression and communication more than anything else. There is a bond formed with regular sparring partners (or Randori partners) that isn’t exactly like any other friendship that I’ve had. Honestly, for anyone who is a serious martial artist (and by this I mean the equivalent of black belt or higher), you probably have a fairly good idea what I mean. However, I’ve found that this is very difficult to explain, and I’m guessing that most people don’t really understand what I mean. I am not advocating for rampant violence, nor am I trying to glorify violence. Anyone who’s been in a couple of actual fights will tell you that they’re dirty, messy, painful, and generally not a good thing. However, any serious martial artist will also tell you that there is a huge difference between fighting off a group of muggers who are trying to rob or kill you and fighting another serious martial artist in a controlled setting. One is about survival and the other is about an expression of style and skill.

So, in Western philosophy there is a strong tradition of Just War theory. In brief Just War Theory argues that for a war to be just it must 1) be for a just cause, 2) be lawfully declared by a legitimate authority, 3) be of good intentions (i.e. defending the innocent), 4) be a last resort after other solutions have been tried, 5) have a reasonable possibility of achieving victory, 6) use proportional means, 7) be cognizant and cautious with civilian life, and 8) be carried out according to the rules of war.

In Eastern Philosophy theories of just war are… well, rare is probably putting it kindly. In fact, Mengzi – a foundational Confucian thinker – argues that there is no such thing as a just war while Sunzi – a foundational military theorist – argues that the best victory is the one achieved without fighting, the second best victory is to take capture the opponent’s lands, facilities, and populace intact, but an acceptable victory is to wipe out your opponent to a man… he kind of makes Machiavelli look like a pushover.

However, Eastern Martial Philosophy, especially some of the Japanese writers such as Yagyu Munenori, Miyamoto Musashi, or Takuan, have fairly strongly developed arguments concerning the positive influence of martial training and, in some cases, even combat. The argument here tends to run along the lines of seeing violence as a form of discipline, self-expression, and communication that is intended to create understanding and lead to peace, rather than being intended to simply destroy the opponent. Similarly, the martial art Aikido is well known for its emphasis on peaceful means of resolving conflict, and even in its martial aspect for pursuing a path that seeks to create submission without destruction. A mantra that my own instructor drilled into me was this: Don’t fight if you don’t have to. Don’t injure if you can hurt. Don’t maim if you can injure. Don’t kill if you can maim. If you must kill, kill quickly. The mindset that this seeks to create is that of resolving the conflict with as little damage as possible. The purpose is not to cause pain, but to reach an understanding. However, if pain must be caused in order for an understanding to be reached, it should be the minimum pain possible, with the greatest chance of full recovery possible.

So, here is your challenge today: write me a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your answer to the following question – Is violence necessarily evil, or can it be a positive force?

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Sunday Picture Post

Well, it’s Sunday, and you know that means that we’re going to take the day off. Well… take the day off from blogging anyway. I have 100+ pages to read and a paper to write, so I’m not going to have much in the way of down-time today. Anyway, I hope that you’re all enjoying your day of rest, and hopefully resting a little more than I actually am. I did find you something pretty darn cool to look at though!

shaolin-monk-on-spears-big

Plot Challenge of the Week

Love this movie!
Love this movie!

So, I have set myself a new goal (we’ll see how long this one lasts). Since I am planning on reading at least 50 pages a day (probably more) of philosophy texts, I thought I might try to combine exercise and reading. So, my plan is to fast-walk/jog on a treadmill for 1.5-4 hours a day while I do my reading! Anyone else like the sound of that? If nothing else, I might lose some weight (which would be quite welcome). Anyway, it’s time for your plot challenge. So, here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Sunday Picture Post

I hope that you have all had a wonderful week. Mine was busy to say the least, and next week is looking to be even busier. So, I’m looking forward to my day of rest today. That being said, I did want to make sure that everyone got their weekly dose of sheer awesomeness, so I went out and found a great picture for you:

I bet you wish you could do that, don't you?
I bet you wish you could do that, don’t you?

Scene Challenge of the Week

Aikido | Photo by Sigurd Rage
Aikido | Photo by Sigurd Rage

Have I ever mentioned that I hate the phrase ‘hump day’. Honestly, I don’t know where it came from, but it’s appeared regularly lately to refer to Wednesday as the middle of the work week. Nonetheless, I am not a fan of the phrase. Anyway, regardless of my personal preferences, it’s time for a scene challenge. If you don’t know the rules: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your challenge: Go out people watching with a friend. As you watch, try to write a scene of a little over 300 words describing what you see. When you’ve both finished your scenes, trade and read what the other person wrote. How did your perspective and personality affect the scene that you wrote? What did each of you focus on? What details are present in both stories, and what details are unique to each? Consider your particular viewpoints, attitudes, beliefs, and emotional connections. How did each of this affect your scene?

Plot Challenge of the Week

DSC078561Well everyone, it’s almost Halloween. I hope you have you’re costume picked out already, because if you’re looking to buy one now you might have a hard time squeezing in the door of one of those costume shops. Admittedly, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I have a few very, very real costumes that I tend to reuse year after year, so I don’t generally go to costume shops. It’s Friday, which means that it’s time for another plot challenge. This week’s challenge is in character building, so I hope you’re ready to do some thinking. You know the rules: I give you a few simply criteria and you build a character based on those criteria.

Your Criteria:

1) You’re character must be exceptional in some way. He/she might be an autistic savant, he/she might be a champion martial artist, he/she might be a brilliant mathematician, but he/she is in some way exceptional.

2) You’re character must be physically average. Note that this doesn’t actually remove champion martial artist. Helio Gracie, the founder of Gracie Jujitsu, was physically below average, and yet fought some of the best martial artists in the world.

3) You’re character must strive for moral greatness. He/she may have some deep moral flaw, or perhaps he/she just desires to be a better person.

4) You’re character must be in love. The target of you’re character’s affections doesn’t necessarily need to return them (though he/she might return them), but you’re character must be devoted to this person.

It Rather Hurts, Getting Thrown by the Balls…

Just to show you what I mean by ‘Back Kick’, in case you didn’t get it.

So, I’ve mentioned before that I practice martial arts.  I have been for a long time (approaching twenty years now), and I’ve practiced a few different styles in that time.  However, currently I take (and often help teach) a class in Aikido-Jujitsu Ryu, which is an art that focuses on throws and locks.  I was working with one of our students on some kick defenses (throws that begin with an opponent trying to kick you) that he’s working on.  One of these was a throw off of a back kick (… this should be pretty obvious…) that involved the nage (defender) reaching through the uke’s (attacker) legs and grabbing… well, whatever he can find, then pulling very, very hard.  The uke generally flips and winds up on his back (at least if he’s smart), and even then the technique is very painful.  Generally, as the uke, we make our belts very accessible so that the nage has something to grab, and I did this.  The student did grab my belt, but he got a handful of… well… more delicate things as well… then he pulled… very, very hard.  I spent the next couple of minutes limping and yelling at the student not to apologize for performing a technique correctly.  Honestly, I really don’t know if he was trying to apologize or not… I wasn’t exactly paying attention at the time… but this student has a habit of apologizing whenever he thinks he’s hurt someone.  This happened about twenty-four hours before I wrote this post, and as I write I’m still hurting a little bit. So, why do I bring this up? Well… for one it’s a great story, and seriously, who can resist reading a post with this title.  However, aside from that, a lot of fantasy and action fiction has a… well, let’s just say a creative relationship with the reality of physical injury.

The man who can fight without his tendons…

I was watching the Princess Bride the other day (which is a great movie), and I was amazed (as I always am) to watch Inigo Montoya fight masterfully, even though he had just had a foot of steel rammed through his liver… and both shoulders… yeah.  In writing we can often get away with a lot, but we have to remember two things: 1) some people are going to realize that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, and 2) what you write influences what people believe. I’ve written about the first issue before. Whatever you’re writing about, if you don’t do your research, and if you don’t take the time to actually think through what you write, then someone, somewhere is going to catch it. Different people will catch different things. A hydrologist might point out that your rivers are impossible. A botanist might catch that you’ve written a jungle plant into a desert setting. A martial artist might catch that the fight you’re describing isn’t actually possible, and a doctor might point out that a person couldn’t actually stand with the wounds you’ve described, much less fight a healthy opponent to a draw. Sometimes you can get away with this, Princess Bride does so because the entire movie has a facetious, slightly ridiculous air, and this fight fits right in.  However, sometimes doesn’t mean always.

So… who exactly is cleaning up after this?

However, what I want to talk about today is responsibility in writing. I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch an action movie in the back of my mind I’m silently calculating the personal and financial tole that the character’s actions inflict. Some movies recognize this and handle it well. The Avengers is a good example of this. Many of the battles in the movie take place in relatively obscure locations where literal to no collateral damage is possible, and even though the final battle in New York City does devastating damage to that icon of American consumerism, this tole is recognized in several ways. 1) The heroes generally do their best to avoid unnecessary destruction of personal property (with the exception of the Hulk), 2) The personal tole is not only recognized, but turned into a integral part of the movie both through the death of Agent Coleson, and through the scenes featuring Captain America (in particular) going out of his way to preserve the lives of the citizenry, 3) The collateral damage that does take place throughout the move is briefly addressed in some of the new commentary featured at the end of the movie, and both voices calling for the characters to do their part in the clean-up, and voices calling for the heroes to be thanked for their actions are heard.

Compare this to Live Free or Die Hard, in which the ‘heroic’ John McClane causes massive collateral damage, apparently without concern, throughout Washington D.C. in an effort to ‘save the world’, and in which the lingering effects massive collateral damage is simply ignored throughout the movie. While some books and movies do a good job of bringing across the notion that actions, even actions taken for nominally ‘right’ reasons, have consequences, many bring across the notion that only the action matters, and the consequences don’t exist… an attitude that can be seen filtering down throughout our culture.

What’dya mean I blew up Washington?

Now, does this mean that movies like Live Free or Die Hard and Princess Bride have no place in modern culture? Absolutely not. While writers, filmmakers, and any other artists have a responsibility to consider the messages that they are presenting, we as consumers also have a responsibility to consider those messages, and determine what place they have in our lives.  Neal Postman argued that television was the great evil because it turned everything into entertainment, and the populace simply swallowed whatever messages were presented (I know I’ve talked about Postman before). He was correct in this, when we do not consider the entertainment that we take in, and make the time to reflect on the messages portrayed through it and their place in our lives, then we destroy ourselves, and the blame for this cannot lie solely on the feet of the producers of entertainment.

However, as a writer, it is your responsibility to present messages that you want your readers enacting in their lives, not simply messages that get their attention and titillate them. While accuracy in the enacting of violence might seem to be a minor issue in this pursuit, it often isn’t.  After all, our culture seems increasingly incapable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and if John McClane can drive a car off a ramp into a helicopter without consequence, what couldn’t we…

Obviously, this is an extreme reaction. A better might be, if the A-Team can fire off a thousand rounds without hurting anyone, then why can’t I (your seven year old son) play with your revolver.  After all, it’s not like guns hurt people. While we must balance realism with appropriateness for our audience, repeatedly presenting unrealistic situations for the sake of appropriateness is just as, if not more, harmful. Just something to think about.

Nidan!

Ok, I wasn’t going to post about this, and I hate doubling up, but this is a short post.  I tested up to Nidan in Aikido-Jujitsu Ryu last night, which is very exciting for me.  I’ve been waiting to test for four years, and I had to train another student from beginning up to Shodan before my instructor would let me test up to Nidan, so this feels like (and is) quite an accomplishment.  Anyway, the challenge post is just below.  This is simply my excitement overflowing… it doesn’t happen often.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’m now a second degree black belt in the Aikido-Jujitsu style.  A style that focuses on short, quick throws and handling multiple opponents.  For example, for my test I had to fight six opponents, two of whom had weapons, in two bouts.

Story Challenge of the Week

Alright, it’s Monday again, and I hope everyone is enjoying their July.  I suppose it’s vacation month for most of you, and I’m sure your having fun – I took my vacation last month.  So, most of you probably know the rules, but in case you’re new:  You must write a story of at least a hundred words, and not more than five hundred (if you want to post it as a comment – if it’s just for yourself, then it can be as long as you want).  The story must be about the theme given in this post.  So,  if the theme I give you is Life, don’t write a story about the lord of the underworld.  If the theme is War, don’t write a story about a farmer planting his crops.  Themes are very broad, so it really shouldn’t be hard to stay within a given theme, but I teach, so I know that some people have trouble with this.

Your theme: Fighting Spirit

You can take your own meaning from this, but as I write it my thought is the traditional martial definition.  That is the desire to hurt or kill an opponent in battle – though the term has taken on several other meanings as well.

The Longminjong Part 4: The Martial Styles of the Longminjong

AHHH!! Which one do I learn!!

Among the Longminjong the martial arts are not just a tool, pastime, or sporting event – they are a way of life.  It is as likely for a Longminjong child to learn martial arts as it is for an American child to attend school, and it is rare to find a Longminjong who has not received at least some martial training.  Because of this popularity there are hundreds of martial styles among the Longminjong, possibly more than among any other people group in the world of Avnul.  Some of these styles are beautiful, others are brutal, others are strange, and some are seemingly magical, but they are all deadly.

Among these hundreds of styles a few stand out.  Longshi is the official martial art sponsored by the God-King himself.  The style revolves around powerful strikes that have been known to crack stone pillars, or crush the tiles of fighting platforms.  Master’s of Longshi have also been known to employ powerful supernatural attacks such as explosive bursts of sound or fire.  It is this style that makes the Longxue Master’s one of the most feared mercenary companies in the entire Five Cities, even though they rarely number more than a score in membership.

Ogo’mukaima, a martial style that is even more unique than Longshi, is passed down secretly from master to pupil.  At any time it is unlikely that one could find more that a few dozen practitioners of this ancient martial art in the entire population of the Longminjong.  Even its practitioners no longer remember where the style comes from, simply that it has always been present among the Longminjong, like a hidden heartbeat in their midst, and that is calls on ancient and terrible powers to perform incredible feats.

Your kicks are meaningless. I do not even feel them!

Unlike Longshi and Ogo’mukaima, the Five Animal Styles – Houshi, Yingshi, Langshi, Sheshi, and Shenlingshi – have no supernatural backing.  It is believed that the first four styles were developed by the early Honjyu, before the coming of Abin-Thul, and passed down through the ranks, taught together to train the Honjyu in all of the essentials of combat.  Many of the Honjyu training schools still teach the first four styles.  Shenlingshi is the most recent addition, and was developed by Mao Yu Bi, a martial arts genius and the most famous winner of the Tournament of the Four Winds.

The priesthood has its own set of nine styles called the Fa Des.  No priest has ever mastered all nine of these styles, although some have tried, and few ever truly master more than one.  The priestly martial arts are intimately tied to their magic as well, and onlookers often have difficulty seeing the difference between the martial art, and the magic.

Lastly the various military forces of the Five Cities generally employ variations of the same three martial styles, the Arts of Virtue – Zhishi, Danshi, and Chenshi.  There are dozens of variations of these three styles, and they are very common because they are both effective, and easy to learn.