Tag Archive for martial arts

Bounce Flash and Timing

The Academy of Okinawan Karate ran their Winter Tournament earlier this month, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I decided to go back to shooting with flash rather than mess with focus problems due to uneven lighting. Rather than let a good lens continually compensate for rough skills, why not improve those skills, right?

Here’s what a nice bounce flash got me:

Mr Johnston Kanku Sho

Mr Joey Johnston, 4th-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

The lighting is soft and uniform, his gi is crisp and white, and there are no harsh shadows in the background or redeye problems in the audience.

The nice thing you wouldn’t catch right away about this shot, though, is it was easy to capture. I’m familiar with the kata he ran in the tournament, and I knew he would hit this pose and hold it for a moment. As soon as he struck the pose, I was ready with the shutter.

Where it gets tricky, however, is timing action shots. Continuous shooting modes help, but it takes a real toll on the external flash and I’m lucky to get bursts at all out of it sometimes. The more I fire it, the longer it takes to recharge the capacitor, especially as the batteries start to drain.

That’s when it takes good timing and a bit of luck. Consider this photo:

Ms Walker Kanku Sho

Ms Bree Walker, 2nd-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

Ms Walker ran the same kata, and there’s a point where the performer leaps into the air, kicks their hand (representing a kick to the head), and lands on one knee to scan for their next opponent. I knew when the leap was coming, tried my best to time the shot, and caught the moment of impact.

Once again I bounced the flash, so I have the smooth lighting I sought earlier, and a nice capture of the action.

I should add, too, that I do have RAW versions of each of these pictures. I shot RAW+JPEG for the convenience of getting these pictures posted to the web quickly. I’ll take the time to go back and play with the RAW files in the near future, but probably not until I finish writing The Pack: Lie with the Dead.

Another lesson learned: remember fresh AA batteries for the external flash. It became useless about halfway through the tournament, and I had to switch to the on-camera flash. Its recharge rate wasn’t wonderful, either, and even worse it wouldn’t let me shoot at all while it was recharging. (With the external flash, the camera just adjusted the settings to shoot without flash when it couldn’t fire.) Should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t take the prep time the night before, and that morning I hurried out the door to make it on time because I lost an hour shoveling the drive first.

Ah, well. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is always improving. The remainder of the tournament photos can be found on Flickr.

UPDATE: John made a good point in the comments — I haven’t mentioned my rig! I use a Canon Speedlite 430EX IIexternal flash. Though it’s capable of use off-camera, I’ve not experimented with that yet. May not be a bad idea at tournaments, but it’s not an expense I’m ready for right now. The dojo has a standard, white-panel drop ceiling, and I just angle the head of the flash toward the ceiling. It’s not straight up, it’s at about 45 degrees. In fact, I’ll bounce the flash about every chance I get, as that generally gets the most pleasing results to my eye.

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.

Officially an Ikkyu

Friday night, I was officially awarded the rank of Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt, in Shuri-ryu karate at the Academy of Okinawan Karate.

Shihan and I

The director of the school, Shihan Joseph Walker, and myself

The black stripe down the center of the belt signifies the next step is Shodan, or black belt. This means I’m done testing for rank for a while, and it’s up to me to keep going to class, refining my technique, and helping other students until the big test comes.

Ten years ago, I never would have imagined I’d come this far. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I was 19. (Yeah, I still cringe when I see pictures of myself in a gi or running kata, but I’m working on that, too.) I’m very fortunate to have found a school of this caliber so close to home, one that offers equal measures of instruction and inspiration.

Now I’m going to go cut that obnoxious white label off my snazzy new belt.

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: Hawai'i Karate

I may have been out of town last week, but I took a bajillion pictures. Tonight I selected one to be part of my Photo Friday collection, a simple shot of the group of karateka after a morning workout on the beach.

Karateka on the beach

Karateka on the beach

A total of 13 of us went to Hawai’i together, and as it was organized by our karate school and the majority of us were karate students, I thought this would make a great entry for the collection. Not so much for it’s photographic value, but for its sentimental value.

This was shot on the beach near the Outrigger Keahou hotel in Kona, Hawai’i. We worked out  here every morning at 6am, with the exception of the last day where we went down to the Magic Sands beach and got down into the surf.

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: Legacies

I delayed Photo Friday this week so I could take some pictures at the anniversary banquet for Shihan Joseph Walker on Saturday night. The banquet celebrated his 50th year practicing the martial arts, and several of his students from the Academy of Okinawan Karate, including many of the 40 black belts he promoted during the Academy’s 30 years in operation, were in attendance.

I didn’t take near as many pictures as planned because I was running the slideshow and helping with the video presentations, but I made sure to grab a few photos of the Kamiza.

The left side of the Kamiza display

The left side of the Kamiza display

The kamiza is the highest seat in the room, often the north wall. In a martial arts dojo there is often a Kamidana Shinto shrine placed on the kamiza, and it’s the wall we bow to upon entering the dojo. In the Academy of Okinawan Karate dojo, a cross replaces the kamidana and students are encouraged to bow to what they believe in.

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

When a student is promoted to black belt, the school holds a kamiza ceremony where they formally join the other yudansha in the top spot in the dojo. The new black belt brings a bottle of sake to share with the other members of the ceremony, and Shihan keeps the bottle for use in future ceremonies to represent the other black belts. The bottles were set up at the banquet hall to represent the school’s history, and the legacy Shihan has created so far in promoting 40 black belts in the school’s 40 years of operation.

The weekend went very well, and Peoria’s Journal Star ran a nice article congratulating Shihan on his 50 years in the martial arts. The banquet was followed by a selection of seminars on Sunday afternoon, and by all accounts everyone had a great time.

I feel fortunate to be part of such a great school, and while I intend to celebrate earning my Ikkyu (first degree brown belt) rank very soon, I look forward to the day I’ll earn the right to add my own sake bottle to Shihan’s collection.

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.

Taking Flight

There are two things that seem to draw the “oohs” from the crowds at a fight: good punches and big throws. There were a couple of good throws Saturday night at Throwdown IV, and I managed to catch one of them on camera. In this case, one fighter lifted the other off the mat, got him shoulder high and turned him over to throw him back down to the mat, and the crowd let out a big “ooh!” of appreciation.

He believes he can fly

He believes he can fly

Here’s the thing about throws and sweeps, though: they’re not very painful. The first thing you learn in Judo is how to fall without hurting yourself, which includes when getting thrown. Throws like this do look spectacular, but the objective isn’t to inflict damage to your opponent, it’s to get them to the ground and get a superior position from which to work a submission (or to ground ‘n’ pound in an MMA match). Now, there are times one fighter will pick up another and slam him to the ground as hard as possible, and that can be painful, but in general a takedown itself isn’t going to end a fight.

That all said, I’ve been getting more and more interested in judo and its throws and sweeps myself. There’s some judo in the Shuri-ryu karate curriculum, and I picked up a copy of Kodokan Judo to get a more complete idea of what’s involved in the art. I’m also reading a book called Falling Hard, a great book written by a British journalist who took up judo at age 50. I’m about 70 pages in and I’ve already learned a lot of interesting things about the history of the art and its founder, Jigoro Kano.

My karate school offers judo classes as part of the karate membership, so I may take advantage of those classes later this year. I need to concentrate on making ikkyu (first-degree brown belt) first because the last stripe is going to be a tough one. This just would not be the right time to shake up my schedule. Judo should round out my skills, and should better prepare me for my black belt test when the time comes.

If I do hit those classes, though, it’ll sure feel odd to wear a white belt again.

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: Airtime

I’m posting a day late, but this pic was actually taken last night at the Academy of Okinawan Karate‘s graduation.

Judo mocks your silly gravity

Judo mocks your silly gravity

Judo is something I hope to work on myself, soon. There is just enough Judo in the Shuri-ryu curriculum to give karateka a taste, but the AOK offers a dedicated Judo class as well. Once I make Ikkyu (first-degree brown belt), I hope to hit more of those classes.

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.

Bassai Dai

For once I can show you an exact kata I’ve learned.

At the last Academy of Okinawan Karate graduation, one of the guys I worked out with on a black belt attack team, Tim Mangan, was promoted to Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt. As a Nikyu (second-degree brown belt), we learn the kata Bassai Dai, also called the Breaking Through the Fortress form.

I’ve seen several interpretations of this kata, but this is Bassai Dai as I’ve learned it. One of these days I’ll try to get in front of the camera myself.

Making Ikkyu myself is my main goal for next year. In our style, Ikkyu is the last step before black belt. I’ll learn two more kata and a handful of new techniques, and I’ll bust my ass until Shihan Walker decides I’m ready to test for black belt.

One step at a time, though. Next up is learning the full interpretation of Bassai Dai.

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 Year to Come

Was there any doubt that writing would be a huge focus this year? Didn’t think so.

I solidified a relationship with a new publisher in ’08, and our goal is to do a mix of comics and prose work. It’s still too early to announce specific projects, but I’ve written most of the script for the first graphic novel and have the outline for the first novella ready to go. We have two properties we want to develop with the prospect of a third on the horizon. I’m itching to tell you more, but I really need to get some work in the can before either the publisher or I will be confident enough to make anything public.

Last month a small press publisher contacted me about a novel. I promised to send him what I’ve written of Powerless after I clean it up, which will be this week. It will also be pitched to Otherworld Verlag, my German publisher. Wish me luck.

The Top Secret Book is back on the path to publication, so I need to finish the novella that will go along with it. The publisher had asked that I not announce the publication or publisher, which worked in our favor when certain delays appeared. We’re going to have to stick to that policy until we have a release date.

My next goal, of course, is to get to the point I can actually announce these damn things. After that, the goal is to actually have something to sell at conventions this year. Otherwise 2010 will be the year I finally start reevaluating this whole writing thing. A secondary writing goal for 2009 will be to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. A lot more than previous deadlines and commitments affect that, so I’ll have to take another look at my schedule as Fall rolls around.

On the personal side, I have the luxury of being a little more specific. We’ve been talking about the difference between dreams and goals (not to mention resolutions and goals) in karate class, and that difference includes deadlines. Dreams and resolutions don’t count for much unless you have a plan and a firm deadline, and since I can’t really apply deadlines to publishers and contracts, I may as well slap them on my personal goals:

1) Cut another 20 lbs by October 1st. To accomplish this, I’m going to continue my karate training and I will start running again this Spring. Yes, I could probably run when it’s colder, but it’s tough to say I actually like running yet so if I’m out there and miserable, chances are that goal will be toast.

2) Make Nikyu in Shuri-ryu by Halloween. This is 2nd-degree brown belt. My original goal was to make Ikkyu, or 1st-degree brown belt, by Christmas, but there may not actually be time to do so, even if I nail every review between now and then. As such, Nikyu becomes a good goal and affords some realistic flexibility. We have review next week, and if I pass I’ll be up for Sankyu, or 3rd-degree brown belt, at the end of February.

3) Complete 25 themed photos by December 31st. The 52 Weeks Flickr group project was fun, but I felt self-portraits were a little restrictive and I had a tough time keeping up. This month I’m going to find a new Flickr group to join, one with a rotating or more flexible theme, and make sure I take at least 2 pictures a month.

Finally, I’ll close with a dream: I want a bigger motorcycle. Eve is great, but she’s a bit small. This dream will solely be dictated by financial capability, so this may or may not happen and thus is not a goal. I’ll be keeping an eye on the classifieds, but I haven’t ruled out a new Shadow or V Star.

Let’s get the party started.

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.

They're Out There

I stumbled across the following clip from Foot Fist Way and felt compelled to share:

If you want to make sure your martial arts school is worth a crap, just compare the instructor to Fred Simmons, the hapless protagonist of Foot Fist Way. If you walk into a class and see the above, chances are you’re going to want to find another school.

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.

Wandering Karateka

I had a good time at Wizard World, but man did I miss karate class.

I walked into the dojo for the first time in a week tonight, and I hadn’t done so much as a punching exercise or push-up in the meantime. A week may not sound long, but I felt out of touch. I found myself reviewing my kata, Naihanchi Sho, in my head while I stood in line. Lucky for me muscle memory kicked in as I bowed in and I made it through my kata and its interpretation without difficulty.

It’s going to get worse, though. I’ll miss three consecutive classes visiting family and attending a wedding this month, and then I’ll miss three consecutive classes again in early August on a family vacation. That also includes a review week, which may cause me to miss an opportunity to advance a stripe (and thus throw off my goal of achieving sankyu, or 3rd degree brown belt, by the New Year). In order to help keep things sharp, or to at least get a workout on the road, I started looking for karate schools in the areas I’ll be visiting.

As with many things martial arts, there are those for and against the idea.

The main problem is a question of style. Attending a kung fu or tae kwon do class probably wouldn’t do me much good, but there are Shotokan karate clubs not far from where I’ll be. I study Shuri-ryu, and both styles have their roots in Shuri, Okinawa. They each have a signature style, but they share a large part of their lineage.

In a recent blog entry, Sensei Charles Goodin says he doesn’t take students from other styles. He has several reasons for the policy, but in general he compares it to mixing gasoline and diesel fuel in a car: it just doesn’t work. The visitor will not gain anything from the visit, and their presence may only be a distraction to the dojo’s regular students. He describes it further:

“There is a saying that ‘you can’t catch two rabbits.’ The rabbits tend to run off in different directions. For this reason, if a student wants to join our dojo, I would expect him to only practice our style of Karate. Practicing two styles at the same time is very difficult. You have to empty the bucket before you can fill it.”

On the other side of the coin, Sensei Stephen Irwin compares karate to driving lessons: no matter your style, you’re learning the basics and it’s up to you to apply them. To pull a quote from his blog entry:

“Regardless of the vehicle driving is driving. Regardless of the art fighting is still just fighting. The presentation of driving/fighting skills might vary, but the underlying principles are the same regardless.”

Sensei Irwin’s post does not address the issue of visiting students, but I would guess from this post that he isn’t opposed to the idea. Which one is right? Both, I suppose. They each follow what works for them in their respective dojos, and I understand both points of view.

Personally, I think I would enjoy working out with another school. My school also teaches Haganah and Judo, and it’s always fun to get a glimpse of those arts. I like seeing how other karate styles interpret their kata, and it would be interesting to get a taste of their kumite or self defense methods.

From a student point of view, however, would it be a good idea? My sensei once said he would welcome students from other styles, and they would run their kata their way so we could discuss the differences. However, would other sensei tell a student his style is wrong? It hardly does me any good to show up at a Shotokan school if the sensei in question were to just turn his nose up at the way I’ve been taught. Even if I get a good physical workout, it wouldn’t be any fun to walk out of that dojo hurt or angry. In that case I’d have been better off skipping a week.

So what’s a rookie karateka to do? Two things:

  1. Work harder to get off my butt and get those personal workouts in. It’s not like I’ll be facing a con schedule during the next two trips.
  2. Call those dojos, talk to their instructors, and hope for the best.

Some of our school’s black belts travel frequently for their jobs, and they tell me they have attended classes with other dojos and it’s gone well for them. With luck it will be the same for me.

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.

I Love My New Camera

Sai Master
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

I’ve not played with it a lot yet, but I’m already in love with my new Canon EOS Rebel XSi. It’s pictures are light years ahead of what my old PowerShot G2 could accomplish (not unexpected), and it amazes me how much faster it is in everything from starting up to focusing to rapid shooting (not to mention continuous shooting).

Yesterday the Midget decided he wanted to use a karate frame for his Show & Share (same as what we used to call Show & Tell), so what better way to populate it than take a new pic with the new camera? He put on his gi, decided he wanted to use Daddy’s sai, and I sent him out to the yard to go nuts.

I could nitpick a few piddly things about the photo above, but we’re both thrilled with the way it came out. I haven’t decided if it’s the best of the bunch, but it’s definitely the one he wants for the frame.

I’m looking forward to really putting it through its paces this summer and getting more creative.

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.

Rockin' the Green Belt

I made green belt tonight! The official title is gokyu, which roughly translates to fifth-level student. Purple and three levels of brown belts are still ahead.

I’m eager to learn my next kata, Naihanchi sho:

It looks like a fun kata to learn and perform, but it also lets me geek out about karate history and my style’s lineage a bit. The last Okinawan in the Shuri-ryu line, Choki Motobu, felt this kata taught everything one needed to know to become a fighter. Motobu in turn learned it from Anko Itosu and Bushi Matsumura, both of whom are important names in almost all styles.

In other words, this is the first kata I learn that many other Shuri-te-related styles appear to interpret the same way we do in Shuri-ryu. Unlike the two Chinese kata I know, Anaku and Wansu, I feel like I could show up at another dojo, perform Naihanchi, and not get a bunch of funny looks from the crowd.

Cool stuff. To me, anyway.

The only killer is I probably have to wait until next week to start learning it.

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.