Archive for Martial Arts

You’ll Believe a Fat Man Can Fly

I tell people I like karate because there is a lot less high kicking and jumping than in an art like taekwondo.

Then I made black belt, and last week I learned this kata:

We run this one slightly different, but there’s still a 360° jump and a jump kick into a 180° turn with a four-point landing. Swell.

I’m not giving up, though. I’ve said “I can’t” in karate before, and before long, I could. This is why I’m still doing leg day this morning, even though my publisher is on his way down for a meeting. This is why I’m thinking about investing in a solid stand for box jumps. This is why I’m looking at tweaking my stretching routine.

I may not be as graceful with kicks and jumps as some of my instructors and fellow black belts, but I will be able to do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

White Belt Wisdom

Inspiration comes from the strangest places.

Three of us were promoted to black belt together, and last night it was my turn to demonstrate at the dojo’s graduation night. I chose to demonstrate an empty hand kata and a sai kata, then break a few boards. I could probably run these kata in my sleep at this point (I certainly had enough dreams about them as I was first learning them), and I’ve done this break before, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Yet I’m not a fan of demos and tournaments. I can do readings, panels and presentations at conventions all day, but put me in a gi in front of everyone—especially families and strangers—and I get this funky self-consciousness thing going on. I also have this added false pressure that says, “You’re a black belt now, don’t screw this up.” The demo reflects on me, my instructors, and my school. As such, I had a case of the shaky nerves as we got closer to showtime.

Shortly before I was set to take the mat, we had the white belts all lined up and ready to walk out for their demonstration and promotion. This seven- or eight-year-old boy looks out at the crowd and asks, “We don’t have to go out there by ourselves, do we?”

We assure him that no, they will all be out there demonstrating their punches and kicks together, and he breathes this huge sigh of relief. I tell him I have to go out there all by myself, though. Kid says:

Yeah, but you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have! It should be easy for you.

Kid was dead on.

So I went out there and rocked the shit out of that demo.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Black Belt, One Week In

It’s been a week since my black belt promotion ceremony, and I’ve noticed more change around me than within me.

Learned and taught in it for the first time today. Pretty cool.

First week teaching and learning as a black belt

Sure, it’s a big accomplishment, and I’m honored to be wearing it. But am I a different person from a week ago? Am I suddenly enlightened, or has my technique suddenly improved since last week? No, not really.

The recognition in others is the biggest change. I’m Mr. Oliveri in the dojo now, rather than Senpai (senior student) or just Mike. Students bow to me when we meet, and their demeanor and etiquette has changed, particularly with those students I didn’t know very well to begin with.

To me, that’s what the black belt symbolizes: accomplishment. It’s almost like a diploma. I am now recognized as an authority on Okinawan Shuri-ryu Karate. Not the authority, and certainly not a master or an expert, but simply someone whom other students and martial artists should be able to ask questions of.

It’s toughest to explain this to someone not in the martial arts. The week before my test, I had my kids in the dentist’s office and he saw me reading The Pinnacle of Karate, the manual for Shuri-ryu. We chatted about my upcoming test for a bit, and he wished me luck. Flash forward to yesterday, and I had my own dental appointment. My dentist asked about my test, congratulated me, and he said it must be nice to have more confidence as I walk down the street.

He’s not incorrect. I do feel more confident in strange places, or if someone gets in my face, but I had that before my instructor wrapped the belt around my waist. Six years of training is not trivial. There’s a huge difference between my skill and technique now and when I received my yellow belt, of course, but again, the belt is more about recognition.

What’s more, it’s an indicator of what I have done so far, as there’s a lot more training to come. I’ll be learning three new kata before I’m eligible for nidan (2nd degree), for example, and I’m expected to continue practicing and refining my technique. The black belt is a milestone, not a destination.

There’s some responsibility that comes with the black belt, especially in the dojo, and I’m sure I’ll adjust to them. In the meantime, I’m still just another martial artist.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Flicks I’d Like to See Made

The Kickstarter campaign for The Search for Count Dante failed, but I would still love to see this flick get made. The subject, John Keehan (aka Count Dante), was part of the crazy period of the martial arts world of the ’60s and ’70s, and he would have made a great comic book or pulp novel character.

I’ve also just learned there’s a Count Dante app on iTunes. 99c to help support the flick? I’m in. I was hoping it would include the actual Black Dragon Fighting Society book Count Dante peddled through comic books, but instead it has information about Count Dante, the film, and a few other bonuses like a jujitsu for women film from ’40s.

Meanwhile, the sample footage for the proposed The Goon flick is making the rounds again.

I don’t care who you are, the trailer sells itself. If goddamn Battleship can get green lit, how can The Goon not get just a portion of its budget?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Kobudo

Once again we have a photo taken on Friday, but not posted until Saturday due to my schedule. I once again shot photos during graduation at my karate dojo, and I rather like this photo of fellow karateka Bob Terry performing a bo (staff) kata called Shushi No Kon Sho.

Bob Sukui

This covering movement gets one clear of an opponent's weapon

I stuck with my Canon 50mm 1.8 prime lens during the graduation, and this time had an additional challenge of a couple of burned-out lights in the ceiling. After a few tweaks to white balance to several of the photos, though, I was happy. Next time I may camp out on the other side of the dojo, though, as much of the action came a bit close for the lens to capture.

The rest of the set can be found on Flickr.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

If Cost A < Cost B, Then VIOLENCE!

Today I learned I can mathematically justify karate.

This weekend, the Wife locked the back door into the garage. Note: we have no key to this lock.

Last night the Rugrats left the van’s gate open, then closed the garage door on it. This morning, the garage door opened two inches, the rails on the door hit the van’s gate, the opener felt the resistance and quit. We had a 2″ gap to attempt to squeeze a van and a motorcycle through.

The windows on the side of the garage are locked. We have no other way in.

Locksmith? Nobody local, going to cost bucks. Furthermore, the Wife has no sick or vacation time. The hours waiting mean lost wages.

The cost of a door? Not too bad. We almost had to replace it once already.

Cost of Locksmith + Cost of Lost Wages < Cost of New Door

Therefore?

Karate!

I delivered a front thrust kick just right of the door handle. Bang, crack, crash. Wood flies, door opens.

And thus violence is mathematically justified.

Update: The photo requested in comments.

The busted door jamb.

Oops.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Use It or Lose It

Now that we know how to practice and how to get feedback, we circle back to practice, practice, practice.

You’ve all heard it before: use it or lose it. You’ve got to keep at a skill to stay sharp.

Every Spring before I get back on the bike, there’s that brief moment of readjustment before I hit my stride and really take off. I know several motorcyclists who took a decade or two off their bikes, then caught the bug again. They remember how to ride, how to shift, but the little things like looking through the turn (something you don’t have to worry about in a car) take conscious effort to bring back.

Eve

Not that we'd ever forget our first ride

I know several people who took martial arts as a kid or a teenager. Ask them to demonstrate a kata ten years later and they have no idea. Some barely remember how to throw a proper punch. It’s no different from people who took Spanish in high school, never had cause to use it, and now don’t remember a word.

It doesn’t take decades to lose it, either. A good friend and fellow karateka missed a lot of class time last year due to injury and a return to college. He remembers the basics, but when he performs one of the more recent kata for his rank, he’ll stop in the middle of it and get that blank “oh shit” stare as he tries to remember the next step.

Karate Moleskine

The knowledge is locked away, waiting to be rediscovered

My instructors use a phrase frequently: “Practice makes permanent.”

On the motorcycle or in karate class, muscle memory will often take over. I don’t think about shifting gears, it just happens. If I consciously think through the steps of a kata, my body will often be three steps ahead already. I’ve learned to relax my mind and let the body take over.

In a sense, this works for writing, too.

Staying in the habit of writing makes it easier to slip into the groove. Your mind knows “this is writing time” and things click into place. Some writers need a trigger, like a walk around the block or a song playlist. Others have a specific time of day to write, such as right before work or after the family goes to bed. Full-time writers may have a set routine; Richard Laymon said he wrote in the morning, had lunch and a nap, wrote in the afternoon, and spent the evening with his family.

Brainstorming

Even brainstorming flexes the creative muscles

Practice brings routine. I ride the bike to and from work. I have class three times a week. I write… well, I’ll admit that routine is often shaken up by my schedule. But now that it’s warmer, if I sit outside with a cigar and the iPad I’ll be able to produce some serious word counts again.

Writing in a write-when-I-can method means taking a few minutes to shake off the rust, even if it’s just been a few days since my last session. I fiddle with iTunes, scroll through email, maybe open up Instapaper and see if there’s a short article or piece of flash fiction I saved. I have to find a trigger. If I sit outside on a warm night, though, all I have to do is light a cigar and connect the keyboard and I’m off to the races.

We learn a skill or take up a craft for a reason. Keep using it, keep learning, keep practicing.

Stay sharp.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Feedback Loop

When studying our own work, it’s difficult to be objective. Most of the time we’re either too easy on ourselves or too hard on ourselves. While the latter may be more preferable in some cases, it can still be counter-productive.

This is when it’s time to seek an outside opinion.

In riding a motorcycle, I simply have someone follow me. It may be my wife following in a car, or I may take a short trip  with a more experienced rider. When I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s riding class, our instructors watched us ride around the course and told us what we were doing right and what we could improve.

In karate, my instructors watch us in class and offer pointers. Even when they say nothing and move on to the next person, it tells us we’re doing just fine (for the moment). It’s also not uncommon for us to ask our fellow students to watch for something specific as we perform a kata.

Then we have writing, where feedback gets a lot messier.

Road Warrior

Yet we keep at it anyway.

First and foremost, we have to understand who we are seeking feedback from. Your mom, for example, is probably not going to give you an objective opinion. If that writers circle at the local coffee shop is full of romance writers and you ask for a critique on your splatterpunk opus, you’re not going to get an objective opinion.

Second, fans and reviewers are great, but don’t take their feedback individually. Know up front that no matter what you write, your work is not going to please everyone. You won’t even please all of your fans all the time! Don’t let a glowing, five-star review inflate your ego (too much), and don’t let a mean-spirited, one-star review shatter your hopes and dreams. Look instead for trends. There’s a big difference between one reader saying your protagonist is an unlikeable prick and half your reviewers saying they just didn’t care about your characters.

Third, not every editor is truly an editor. Examine their track record. Take a good look at what they’re asking you to change or what questions they’re asking about your work. Pay special attention if you’re getting the same feedback from several editors or agents during the submission process. I’m not just talking about laziness or inability, either. Some editors simply want to rewrite your manuscript the way they would have written it. This is your work and they should be helping you develop your voice, not molding you into their clone.

Fourth, stay out of the comments section on news and review websites. Seriously. It will save your sanity. Forums can be iffy, too, with their frequent circle jerk and sympathy threads. There’s a fine line between participating in a community and drinking their Kool-Aid.

Finally, it’s okay to pay an editor or book doctor. Not every rejection letter is going to come with comments and suggestions, so you may need to find an objective third party to help you out. Just be sure to get references first, and don’t be afraid to talk to their other clients. Just as anyone can claim to be an editor, any hack will be happy to cash your check in exchange for reading your manuscript.

Practice is critical, but nobody thrives in a vacuum. Seek feedback, but learn to separate the good from the bad.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Practice (with Purpose) Makes Perfect

Practice is important, but just going through the motions is a waste of time.

When I jump on the motorcycle, I can twist the throttle and go if that’s all I choose to do. In the “it’s just like riding a bike” sense, it’s that easy. Motorcycles want to go in a straight line.

Moto Photo 1

Hey, this is EASY!

Then come those pesky turns to mess it all up.

A rider needs to look through the turns. In regular riding, his knees should hug the gas tank. He should know when to roll on and off the throttle, how much brake to apply, how far to lean, and when to up- or downshift. It sounds like a lot, but in time it becomes natural, and when a turn doesn’t go quite as planned, it’s time to break it down and figure out what can be done better next time (especially if the rider just slammed into a tree on the corner).

This doesn’t take obstacles into account, either. Ride behind motorcycles long enough, and eventually you’ll catch a rider doing some lazy swerves back and forth in his lane, or performing sudden changes in his riding line. It may be simple boredom, it may be he’s trying to warm up or clean his tires, or it may very well be the rider getting a feel for his bike. Riders can run over rabbits and squirrels, but if a child or large animal runs into the street, the rider needs to have his avoidance technique down pat.

Practice, practice, practice, and study the result.

Karate works the same way. It’s not unusual to see someone just walk through a kata and throw some weak-ass punches. They may know “step into a front stance, throw a right front kick, shift 90° left, middle block,” but it doesn’t mean it’s going to look good.

AOKFFD - Kokutsu Dachi

Years of proper practice shows.

To improve our karate, we will examine our hand positions before and after techniques, or the angle or depth of our stances. We will perform our kata in front of a mirror or video camera. We ask ourselves if that last kick would have been effective, or what exercises might improve our speed, flexibility, and/or power. It’s not just about getting the technique out there, it’s about getting the technique correct.

And yes, this applies to writing.

Dashing off a draft, calling a work done and uploading it to Amazon isn’t doing the writer, the work, or the reader any favors.

Percolatin'

A little tunage doesn't hurt the process

Writers study the craft by reading and rewriting their own work as well as reading the work of others. Word choice, narrative tricks, plot, and characterization are just a few of the tools a writer wants to master. All that grammar and sentence structure our English teachers forced down our throats? Yeah, kind of important, too. Know the rules, then know when to break them.

We have to examine our work with an objective eye. This is where reading a work aloud comes into play, or why some writers will set a draft aside for a few days or a few weeks before coming back to it. Any writer who believes their work is perfect isn’t looking hard enough.

So yes, by all means, keep punching those keys.

But punch them with purpose.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s often said 10,000 repetitions leads to mastery. Practice something enough, you become good at it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Every time I get the motorcycle out of the garage for the season, I feel better about my riding skill than at the same time the year before. Turns feel more graceful, shifting feels smoother, and I feel more relaxed in the saddle.

PicPlz Lenore

Lenore likes the way I handle her

Every ride is practice. I may take the long way home from time to time for fun, but it’s also an opportunity to put more miles under the tires and more time in at the controls. If miles are reps, then I’ve got some time before I hit 10,000, but I’m plugging away.

It applies to karate for sure, whether we’re talking about kata or specific techniques. My dojo stresses hard the importance of practicing at home, and when review rolls around, it’s easy to pick out the students who have been practicing and those who haven’t been. Some say those of us progressing through the ranks make it look easy, but they’re only seeing our class time, not the many hours we’re putting in at home on our own.

Shihan and I

Shihan Joseph Walker and I when I received my 1st degree brown belt

I’ve been spending more time on the weights and on the track than doing karate at home of late, but I still get my ass to class and get my practice in. Over the next two days, I plan to put in at least an hour each day as last-minute prep for a karate seminar this weekend. I don’t want to be a guy they pick out as not practicing my art enough.

It’s all about practice, practice, practice, and it applies to everything, even writing.

Yes, that’s right, you should be practicing writing. Though instead of 10,000 repetitions, you’re looking at a million words or so. The saying goes something like this:

Every writer has a million words of bullshit stuck in their head. Once he gets these million words out of the way, the real writing starts to appear.

I first heard this from Mike Baron at a comic convention, and it’s been attributed to Ray Bradbury and several other greats. Get your butt in the chair and get writing if you want to get better. Writing is a craft that can be learned, practiced, and improved, just like any other skill.

The Only Way to Write

It's cigar season again!

It pains me to look at my older work. Everything from my word choices to my sentence structure to my dialog just seems… raw. I have no doubt I’ve become a better writer over the years, and I think many of my colleagues and readers agree.

Every writer will tell a similar story. Ask Tom Piccirilli what he thinks of Dark Father sometime.  Most of us have trunk novels that we later came to realize are part of the million words we needed to get out of  our brains (I have two). Many writers who appear to have just arrived on the scene have a stash of cringe-worthy sales to now-defunct small press rags they hope will never see the light of day again.

Now, are these works really that bad? Not necessarily, but you get the idea. A writer’s craft changes and evolves. Some may contribute it to age, or maturity, or studying others’ works or taking classes, but it all amounts to practice. Keep hammering the keys until the words start to play nice. Write, rewrite, and repeat.

Which brings us to the only bit of writing advice that counts:

Put ass in chair.

I first heard it from Norm Partridge who said he heard it from Joe Lansdale. Whatever the source, you have to love its simplicity. Sit down and write. Practice your craft.

You can get better.

You will get better.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Headshot

Portrait headshot, anyway.

The high school I work in wanted a picture of me in my karate uniform. They’re doing a “Did you know?” section and they’re putting me in there with a “Did you know Mr Oliveri studies karate?” They may also mention my dojo, the Academy of Okinawan Karate. I brought the camera along and took a few quick shots.

Karateka

"I'm your huckleberry."

I took it from farther away with a remote, but wasn’t happy with the result so I cropped way in and made it a headshot. I should have gone with my first instinct and used my 50mm prime lens, but I brought the 18-55mm kit zoom and played with and without the flash unit.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Brain Dump

Feeling hyper at the moment. Things are moving through my head at a million miles an hour. I’m going to exorcise some of it here so I can get some work done.

* * *

Part of my jaw still hurts from last week’s wisdom tooth extraction. More accurately, some of my teeth still hurt. So far I’m told this is normal and to stay on the ibuprofen regimen. I half wonder if these teeth are adjusting themselves now that the sideways bastard in the back has been ripped out.

Also, the insides of my cheeks look like I tried to eat a paper shredder. I suspect the reason I never got to see the dentist the day of surgery is he called in sick, and they brought in a substitute.

Edward Scissorhands

"AaaaaaaAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!"

* * *

Looks like I’m running the Warrior Dash this year. I’ve been telling myself I should run a 5K sometime, so hey, why not run one with rope bridges, rappelling, fire, barbed wire, and mud pits? I must be insane.

Some of my karate classmates have run it in previous years, and now I have coworkers who may do it, too. We’re going to have a planning meeting Monday, narrow down a time slot, and then I’ll sign up and make it official.

I started running again last weekend. Tonight, I ran after weight lifting. My cardio is back in the shitter after what little running I did last fall, but hopefully not for long.

And all of it—the running and the weight lifting—is to improve my karate. I don’t want to look like this guy in my gi:

"Wa-taaahh!"

I will also need the cardio for my black belt test when it comes. It’s an all-day and, on some occasions, all-night affair at my dojo. You can’t cram for fitness.

* * *

Hell, I just want to be healthier in general. Cut a few pounds, look better, feel better. I know too many people with health problems who accept it as part of life. Cholesterol’s high? Eh, they have a pill for that.

I hate that little pill. It’s a crutch. I’m better than that. I may not be able to fight heredity, but I can minimize the damage.

Now I enjoy lifting weights almost as much as I enjoy karate. I’m getting addicted to the pump and the burn. Unlike running.

Fuck running.

Sometimes running feels like my mortal enemy. I do it anyway. Every time RunKeeper tells me I set a distance record, it’s like I just kicked running in the balls.

* * *

Tonight I lifted, stretched, and then went for a run. Could have been trouble because the Wife doesn’t know CPR.

It got me up to level 14 on Fitocracy. Anyone wants to connect on Fitocracy (or RunKeeper, for that matter) is welcome. Geeking out on those sites by tracking everything helps keep me motivated.

* * *

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes are the latest to cross over into music.

The first song I learned of in Jiu-Jitsu Magazine is “Jiu Jitsu” by Eddie Bravo and his band Smoke Serpent. I can take or leave the rap, but I dig the guitar track. Good song overall. I bought it and my kids will dig it, too. Has a Linkin Park vibe, if that’s your thing.

The other song… ugh. Let’s just say Ralek Gracie should stick to jiu-jitsu. Extra negative points for the lyric about broccoli.

Incidentally, Jiu-Jitsu Magazine is pretty good. I only know a little judo, but I still appreciate the articles on nutrition, workouts, and warm-ups, and there are some good technical hints I’ve been able to use. I’m stockpiling the breakdowns of specific techniques for when I start hitting judo class on a regular basis. I just wish they’d hire a copy editor who knows what paragraph breaks are.

* * *

The outline for The Pack Book 3 is coming together. Book 2, Lie with the Dead is still with my editor.

Book 1, Winter Kill, is cheap on Kindle and Nook. Or you can get a dead tree edition. Make with the clicky. You’ll dig it. I promise.

TPWK Limited Edition Cover

Horror or crime? Flip a coin.

More work coming soon. Things are in motion, but nothing to announce just yet.

* * *

That should about do it.

I’m going to go be productive now.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.