Our Digressions have not exactly been on a weekly schedule as of late, owing to a busier-than-usual social calendar and trade paperbacks for review that multiplied like rabbits while I was on holiday. Let’s get to digressing, shall we? Today’s edition has me revisiting Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, breaking in a new pair of Reebok RealFlex running shoes, playing the Spec Ops: The Line demo for the PS3, and of course, there’s the Digression Mixtape.
While browsing at the local Black Bond Books with my younger brother, I spotted a new, expanded 2011 edition of Bruce Lee‘s Tao of Jeet Kune Do. While I am by all measures a martial arts novice, if that—my meager formal martial arts training comprises all of a few months of a karate-based style in grade school and a month-and-a-half of Modern Arnis instruction in high school—I am actually quite familiar with the contents of the volume, as my father had a copy of the original edition in his small collection of martial arts books, and out of nostalgia more than anything else, I decided to pick up what turned out to be the store’s last copy of the title.
Tao of Jeet Kune Do was originally published in 1975 and was considered fairly groundbreaking (and in certain martial arts circles, border-line blasphemous) at the time of its release. In Jeet Kune Do (roughly translated as “The Way of the Intercepting Fist”), Lee attempted to develop an adaptive, “formless” hand-to-hand combat system, a protean fighting style that dispensed with the rigid formalism and the strictly choreographed forms of the traditional Chinese and Japanese martial arts schools while still being influenced by elements of Taoist and Zen thought.
In re-reading it now some twenty-five years after I first encountered the tome, it’s quite interesting to see modern kinesiology and popular sports psychology principles being discussed throughout the book, although some of the latter are couched in quasi-spiritual language. For example, Lee writes that “consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action,” and “there is no actor but the action; there is no experiencer but the experience,” statements that presage what CGU Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and CGU Assistant Professor of Practice Jeremy Hunter described in their 2000 journal article The Phenomenology of Body-Mind: The Contrasting Cases of Flow in Sports and Contemplation as the transcendence of normal awareness and the loss of self-consciousness that accompany expert athletic performances (this is related to what veteran coaches and athletes refer to as “being in the zone”).
Along with Lee’s clear disdain for highly-stylized choreographed forms (which he dismissed as “dry land swimming”), what made Tao of Jeet Kune Do such a lightning rod for controversy among many practitioners and teachers of the traditional Chinese martial arts was its incorporation of judo and Western boxing techniques. Most kung-fu schools in the United States and elsewhere in the West didn’t begin to openly teach their techniques to non-Chinese students until the late 1950s, and to many a conservative sifu, what Lee did with Jeet Kune Do, combining what he felt were the best and most practical techniques from Jigorō Kanō‘s “simple way,” the “sweet science” of pugilism, and the Southern Chinese martial art of Wing chun was simply unacceptable.
Lee never intended Tao of Jeet Kune Do to be the final word on martial arts. If anything, it was only intended to be the beginning of a new approach to martial arts study, and while the spirit of Jeet Kune Do lives on in various modern hybrid martial arts systems and the teachings of surviving Lee associates and contemporaries like Dan Inosanto, the seeds of the 1975 version of Jeet Kune Do’s inevitable obsolescence were planted by Lee himself in its philosophy of constant change and continuing adaptation. Still, Tao of Jeet Kune Do is an interesting and edifying snapshot of the absolute bleeding-edge of martial arts thought and philosophy at the time and its core lessons can still be applied in all manner of athletic and martial arts endeavours.
I’ve been determined over the past few months to change my running technique to incorporate a shorter and more efficient stride and a more natural, mid-foot landing. I’m not one of those “you can’t improve on nature” guys (the corrective lenses that I wear for my myopia is really all the argument I need against that rigid way of thinking) but years of dealing with post-run left knee soreness born from a meniscus tear I suffered while running in college and several months’ worth of research into the benefits of so-called natural running have convinced me that I need to at least try to change my form and see if it improves how I feel after my workouts.
My early efforts at adopting a mid-foot strike/short-stride running method were somewhat awkward, but I eventually got used to it. The fact that I’m a low-mileage runner these days probably helps: My form was already more suited to middle-distance running (that had me leaning slightly forward and utilizing considerable ankle and forefoot dorsiflexion to generate speed) instead of the more upright form used by traditional long-distance runners. My usual running shoes—I rotate between Saucony Excursion TR4s and Adidas Trail Response 16s—weren’t really conducive to the change in style, though. Both pairs of shoes feature a significant ball-to-heel drop, extreme lengthwise rigidity, and a restrictive toebox that is absolutely punishing to the big toe (slightly gross picture link warning!) when trying to run with more forefoot dorsiflexion.
Last week, I bought a pair of 2011 Reebok RealFlex Run running shoes. I know, I know, Reebok isn’t really considered a “serious” running shoe company and I admit that I had reservations about these kicks. My impression of Reebok has been coloured over the years by their “gimmicky” high-profile products like the ridiculously expensive Reebok Pumps from the 1990s and the trend-chasing EasyTone shoes that resulted in a $25 million settlement after an FTC investigation revealed that the shoes’ advertised exercise benefits were unsubstantiated. But tracking online conversations on various running forums seemed to point to the RealFlex Run as a good choice for an entry-priced “transition” shoe, a shoe that offers some of the cushioning benefits of a traditional running shoe, but with the light weight, flexibility, and low-to-the-ground feel that encourages a more natural stride.
I’m pretty happy with the RealFlex for now, although I’ve only run about five kilometers in them on a combination of asphalt and concrete surfaces. They actually feel a little like racing flats in terms of fit although they’re obviously not very responsive. They’re certainly lighter than any cushioned or trail running shoe I’ve ever used (I haven’t weighed them on a scale, but offhand, I think my size 9s are somewhere between 200 and 250 grams). The breathable mesh upper allows for air circulation and will hopefully allow for water to drain quickly when running in the rain or on wet surfaces (always a concern here in British Columbia). These shoes are very flexible as you can see in this picture, and allow for relatively unrestricted forefoot dorsiflexion on toe-off. Traction on dry asphalt and concrete is good, and I think the cushioning and protection is just right: Significantly less than on my old Saucony and Adidas pairs, but enough that I don’t feel like I’m at an unreasonably elevated risk for abrasion or piercing injuries. I do wonder about the comfort and traction these shoes will offer during winter running, but I’ll worry about that in half-a-year’s time.
I recently downloaded the demo for Yager/2K’s Spec Ops: The Line on the PSN. I’m in a bit of a gaming rut right now and haven’t really played any new games outside of thatgamecompany’s Journey (excellent game, but not really one I’m keen on replaying). Spec Ops: The Line‘s basic controls are reminiscent of that seen in most third-person cover shooters (think Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfare 2 or Sega’s Vanquish) but what really got me interested in the game is that it’s an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella Heart of Darkness. Writing and storytelling in video games have come a long way since the days of Super Mario Bros. and Contra and some modern games I’ve played recently, like the games in the Uncharted series, feature the kind of practiced and polished storytelling craft that wouldn’t be out of place in a summer movie blockbuster. Still, to me, there’s a distinct appeal to video games whose narratives are closely based on books and stories that I enjoyed previously. The last time I played a video game adaptation of a classic novel (Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, an adaptation of the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West), it ended up being one of my favourite gaming experiences of the current console generation, so I’m hoping this modern take on a novel that is considered by many to be a part of the Western literary canon will be just as good.
- Panacea – Coulda Woulda Shoulda
- Afro-mystik – Shoplift the Future
- J-Walk – Soul Vibration
- Huun-Huur-Tu with Carmen Rizzo – Mother Taiga
- Quantic – Sol Clap
- Summerland – Soulmate (Swag Remix)
- David Holmes – No More Timeouts
- Samantha James – Rise (Eric Kupper Mix)
- Mr. Hermano – Caxixi
- Bombay Dub Orchestra – Rare Earth (Forest of Thieves Mix)