Spider Source

I put a spider on the back cover of the Fudebakudo book. People who know me well find this surprising, because I suffer from the relatively common affliction of arachnophobia — fear of spiders.

So maybe you don't like spiders either, but something deep down in my primal wiring really has a problem with them. I certainly can't voluntarily touch one of the beasties (well, tiny money spiders I can cope with… anything bigger than a thumbnail is out of bounds), but furthermore I can't comfortably handle photographs of them, or look at them. If a book has one on the cover (yes, even something like O'Reilly's Webmaster In A Nutshell, for example) in a room where I have to be, I'll discreetly turn it over so it's not in my peripheral vision (evolution has made sure that if you're frightened of something, just about the worst place for it to appear is in the corner of your eye).

The spider

I mention this because as an illustrator (albeit a cartoon illustrator) I can't really draw spiders — simply because I've avoided ever looking at them with the kind of intensity proper drawing requires. But (and this is about to get very nerdy) the cartoon spider on the back of Fudebakudo wasn't drawn, it was rendered in POV-ray. POV-Ray is a ray-tracer driven by a Scene Description Language. Huh? If you're not a nerd, then suffice to know I typed that spider. No, really: I didn't draw it, I typed it. If you don't believe me, here's the source code. Now that's scary.

Sweep the Leg, Johnny!

A beautiful video for those of you old enough to know better…

"I was a superhero
King of 1985
I showed no mercy
I was always Kobra Kai!"

 Sweep the Leg!

Wow. Nice Hero touch running across the swimming pool 😀

Although I recognised Ralph Macchio's cameo at the end, when I first posted this I hadn't appreciated that the video actually reunites all the male members of the original cast (except the late Pat Morita, of course). 

Over 10,000 Quizzes Completed

This week the 10,000th M.A.Q. (Martial Art Quiz) was completed. Ten thousand people have racked their brains. And because we delete repeat attempts, that even allows for those who took the quiz again immediately in order to get a better score. Wow. That's a lot of people. (Not all of them bought the book, heh.)

There are currently over 380 questions in the quiz database, and you get asked 15 each time you take the quiz. The quiz is tricky because it deliberately doesn't ask you much about your own art — that would be too easy —  and because, in true Fudebakudo style, it draws from eclectic sources. So in fact the logs show a further 8000+ people started but never got to the end.

The average score for all completed quizzes is 12.49 (that's from a possible range of -15 to +30).

The most common complaint I have received regarding the MAQ is "it's dumb" — which seems to mean "I couldn't answer the questions"… So I haven't done much about that.

But the other grumble is that there are too many questions about Entertainment (that's one of the categories from which questions are chosen). That's an interesting one. Some people don't think they should know who Hong Kong Phooey was. And they may have a point, but I think the role of the mass media (even cartoons) is an undeniable influence over the practice of martial arts in the West. Of course, Bruce Lee is usually cited as the classic example of this (his films really introduced kung fu to the West), but even the documentary-like realism of Karate Kid or Crouching Tiger (and, yes, you too can take a guilty bow, Mr Seagal) significantly affects the attitude to, and uptake of, martial arts outside their native lands. I'm sure many practitioners don't like to admit this because it's neither good for machismo or credibility to acknowledge that some of the people in the same class (not yourself, obviously) are only there because they secretly fancy themselves as Tony Jaa in Ong Bak or — God help them — Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Even the current popularity of MMA (with Brazilian jujutsu leading the way) has been driven not because it is a more functional system of effective combat (although it may well be), but because it coincided with the rise in demand for pay-per-view TV fight material. Yes, I know there never was a Gracie/Hong Kong Phooey grudge match, but it's still all to do with how martial arts get into the public consciousness.

Incidentally the MAQ is a rolling project and I am always adding a question or two to the database. So if you think you have a particularly insightful question that should be in there, please have a look at the submission guidelines and consider sending something in.

Oh yes, that grudge match. Phooey woud win, no problem.

Exploding Pen at Seni 2007

This year, for the first time, Seni will be in London.  It's the UK's biggest martial arts show, and if you've never been, well… hmm, well, it's an interesting day out. You have to go at least once, just to see what you've been missing. 

See us at stand C973

Seni07 is at London Excel (which is easy to get to on the DLR) over the weekend of 19-20 May. See the Seni07 website for more information. 

We're Seni veterans — in fact, the Fudebakudo book was launched at Seni03. Here are the reports of our previous attendances at Seni03, Seni04, and Seni05. We didn't go to Seni06 because the demo we had prepared was so lethal, so frightening, that even we couldn't bear to watch it. Besides, our attempts to train the panda to wrestle were running foul of some of the RSPCA's picky regulations.

If you're at the show, come and say hello. Our stand is in the Classical Zone, because, as you know, Fudebakudo is an ancient and sophisticated art. Of course, as well as adding a much-needed sense of inscrutable martial authenticity to the event, we will be selling our ancient and sophisticated T-shirts, giving free postcards to people who ask nicely for them, and signing books.

Battle Cats

On page 48, Fudebakudo describes the use of cats in hand-to-hand combat. When I was researching this unusual activity, I missed Jeff de Boer's astonishing armour for cats.

The original impetus for Fudebakudo's Battle Cats of Burma story was triggered on a trip out of Bangkok. Idly flicking through the Thai Airways in-flight magazine, a photograph caught my eye because — to my surprise — it was a face I knew. It was a cat, one that lived upstairs above one of the aikido dojo in Bangkok, with a quizzical expression and a striking pair of eyes: one green and one blue. Such creatures (called khao manee in Thai) are considered propitious and can fetch appropriately high prices. This one lived an indulged, air-conditioned life with a few pedigree cat friends (although those all had the regulation two blue eyes). It sometimes sat on the stairs looking down on the aikido classes through the smoked glass door to the dojo. So I read the article, which was about the history of Siamese cats. Within it was a throwaway line about the warriors of Ayudhya carrying cats into battle on their shoulders.

Of course, this kicked off a line of research that led me to arrange a meeting with the journalist when I returned to Bangkok. It didn't seem suspicious at the time, but he was a hard man to catch, and after a couple of failed meetings, he suggested instead that I could find out more from Martin Clutterbuck, one of the world's foremost experts on Siamese cats. I contacted Mr Clutterbuck and described the use of cats in battle to him, asking if he could give me more precision on, for example, the provinces where such warriors may have come from, and the kind of training they used to prepare their cats for combat. He replied with a polite but slightly exasperated email saying that if the story had even one shred of truth to it, he would have certainly known of it; but that this was the first he had ever heard of such a thing.

So two things resulted. One is a grudging respect for the bald-faced inventiveness of the journalist concerned. I decline to mention his full name here (Michael Something) because there is honour amongst thieves… I changed "Siamese" to "Burmese," and put the tall tale into the book. It's harder to check the facts of a story based in Myanmar rather than Thailand, you see. Perhaps one day someone will.

Incidentally, I did find one other intriguing precedent of cats being present on a battlefield. Soldiers of one ancient army, marching to do battle against the Egyptians, are recorded as having carried cats with them — not as weapons, but in the belief that the feline-worshipping Egyptians would not strike them, for fear of harming the cats. A human shield, but,well, made of cats. Strange but true.

Buying from Amazon.co.uk

It's been possible to buy the book from amazon.co.uk for a while but we've only just added links to amazon directly from our site. Although we prefer you to buy direct from us (while our online shop is still open) or from our preferred retailers (see the book FAQ for details), Amazon often discount heavily so it's worth checking their current prices.

If you want to buy from amazon,  please use any of the links that are now in the corner of every page, because Exploding Pen benefits from the referral fees.

Blog replaces Forum

The Fudebakublog you're reading now has replaced the forum. We had a few problems with the forum (mainly to do with spammers) so it's easier to shut it down and police this smaller, neater blog instead.

We may lift some of the more interesting posts out of the Forum's archives and post them here later.