Tuesday, November 30, 2010


For the dojo Halloween party Frite Nite this year I went as Elric. I'm sure not too many people understood the character I was supposed to be so I thought I'd do a short blog on this. Elric is a sword and sorcery character created by the British author Michael Moorcock. Of that genre, he is definitely by far my favorite. It is unique that Elric cannot be really listed separately from his blade, the black runesword Stormbringer. They really exist together and cannot really be separated.
In the stories Elric exists in a prior age ruled by the Gods of Chaos. This is where magic ruled over science. Elric is the last of a long line of sorcerer/kings of the Melnibonean race. He has the power to command the elementals of wind and wave. He understands and can speak the language of the great dragons. When they are active(and they hibernate a lot) he rides them across the sky. He is an albino and so lacks natural reserves of energy. However he wields the black runesword Stormbringer which is a magical blade. When he kills the sword feeds him the life essence of his victim. So this energy gives Elric great power and more than makes up for his albinoism....So Elric will not only kill you, he will steal your soul. In fact both Elric and the blade are sometimes referred to as the Stealer of Souls.

Elric exists at the time when the age of the gods of chaos is about to end, hopefully issuing in a new age of order where science will rule over sorcery and magic. Elric is the agent by which the shift from one age to another will be accomplished. He must face his own gods:Arioch, Xiombarg and others in battle. And through all this he is pulled onward by his sword. As the age of chaos nears its end Stormbringer grows stronger and stronger. It pulls Elric along to his eventual fate. Those interested will find the stories quite entertaining, so I won't give away the ending. There is some talk about an Elric movie, given the success of the Lord of the Rings films.

Elric is the first of many of Moorcock's character to bear the mantle of the archetype "The Eternal Champion". Instead of a universe we have a multiverse where the same themes are played about in different universes. Elric meets on occasion other aspects of himself. I never found the others to be as good as Elric.

I discovered him when I was in grad school at UC Davis. His adventures kept me going at what for me was a low time in my life. My sense was that I wanted to do aikido, and yet I felt I needed to get a graduate degree for my parents. I suceeded in getting my Masters then headed off for Japan. But the period in Davis for me was very slow. So Elric was one of the ways I kept going. He is very similar to the Nemuri Kyoshiro character. Instead of Kyoshiro's magical full moon cut Elric wields a magic sword. But they are both very dark characters who face the real dregs of an evil world and somehow their darkness helps restore balance where in Elric's world the Chaos Gods and in Kyoshiro's the decadent nobility and upper class create suffering and pain for those less fortunate.

Elric and Stormbringer face off against and kill incredibly dark and evil forces and the people they act through. But the sword also has a taste for the souls of those close to Elric and on more than one occasion kills a lover or a wife. Stormbringer is depicted as sentient and in its own way intelligent. That is why I say that they are one character. They can take on armies and win. My favorite stories include where the sword emits a dark radiance and has its own song of destruction that it sings as armies of dark and evil beings are being killed. I know this is rather dark, but when you are in seminars about 18th century Russian Classicism and studying the memoirs of Catherine the Great you'll take entertainment in any form.

One of Osensei's major Shinto Gods was Susano the storm god. Early on in the creation myths he is depicted as a destructive force. Yet as the age of the gods unfolds he becomes a guardian/protector of earth. Maybe I saw some of Susano in Elric. And Susano slays an evil dragon and from its tail finds the magical sword Ame no Murakumo.

I found the following clip on Youtube. Initially this song was given to me on audiocassette by Harry Concepcion. I found the song on youtube with a lot of Elric based art. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mr Peel to the Rescue---Again

I just found a great video on youtube of the end of one of my favorite Avengers episodes. It is entitled "The Superlative Seven". At the beginning its tag tells us that:

Steed flies to nowhere
Emma does her party piece.

The title invokes "7 Samurai" of Kurosawa note or "The Magnificent Seven". Steed flies off in a robot controlled plane with 6 other people. Each including him are shrouded in mystery. As the show goes on it is revealed that each is the master of something. A champion weightlifter. A western sharpshooter. A master of guerilla warefare. An expert fencer. A bullfighter. Steed of course is a secret agent. They are told upon reaching a remote island that planted among them is an assasin whose
job is to kill the other 6. So this is a combination of the "Seven" films mixed with a touch of Agatha Christies "And Then There Were None".

"The Avengers" was unique in that the heroine often rescued the male lead. This was the opposite of a formula that was used several times in the Diana Rigg episodes. Mrs Peel would be on her own to battle against strange and almost unbeatable odds(The House That Jack Built, The Joker, Murdersville). Steed would come in at the end of these episodes and for a change rescue her. This was Steeds chance to play a more or less solo role for most of the episode with Mrs Peel coming in at the end. When I first watched it I was afraid she was going to be missing for the entire episode. She comes in at the end to electrifying effect. Of course I watched the show mainly to see her.

Of note are an actor (Donald Sutherland) and actress(Charlotte Rampling) who both went on to some notoriety. John Hollis plays the bald headed man. He is a '60's and '70's version of Patrick Stewart. Mr Hollis also appeared in "The Empire Strikes Back" in the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

The assasin is supposed to be virtually unbeatable, and to prove this, is pitted against this team of experts. However, as you can see, he proves no match for Mrs Peel. I am pretty sure it is Diana Rigg in the fight scene.Her movement was choreographed to be more sensual than actually martial. And you get no argument from me on that point. I have all the Diana Rigg episodes on dvd, but it concerns me that "The Avengers" on dvd is no longer on sale. I am glad that they have a home, at least for now, on youtube. So here is the conclusion to "The Superlative Seven":

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Seven Samurai

Saturday night I was invited by Jackie Cossman sensei to her and her husband Charlie's home to watch Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai". It was an event that included the MT View dojo students and teachers. Nadeau sensei was in attendance. I believe this film was the first samurai film I saw as a youngster. And of course I have seen it several times since. And I've also seen the western re-make of it, "The Magnificent Seven".

It was fun to see it again after what may be 20 years or so. The film emphasizes that being a samurai is much more than wielding a sword or spear well. The virtues of being centered and aware are also essential. And following a path leading to the development/perfection of the self is also crucial. I remember really being taken with the character of the master swordsman. For me the saddest part of the film is always when he his killed by a rifle shot.

It is important to realize that aikido comes out of this tradition. That aikido also follows the path of self-development/perfection or shugyo. When Osensei said training never stops he didn't mean the training in the dojo, but rather the concept of shugyo must continue on forever.

The final battle in the rain seems to go on and on and yet keeps one on the edge of one's seat. A similar effect is the final battle sequences of Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke". If you haven't caught that, it is a must. And recently we've had the example of the Giants, evolving through the regular baseball season and transforming through the playoffs into world series champions. Nothing really good comes quickly and without a price.

My favorite samurai character is Nemuri Kyoshiro, played by the great Ichikawa Raizo. An invincible swordsman wielding a Musomasamune blade and practicing an almost occult style(The full moon cut). In contrast to Kyoshiro, who is a real loner, the Kurosawa film encourages the value of team work and group discipline, which is also important. And the ending is always a moving one. The farmers win, as their life style continues. The samurai must move on.

The following video was done by Dennis and myself on Saturday after class. In contrast to others we have done, this is largely vocal. I've recently discovered Anita O'day, a great female jazz vocalist. Artt Frank considers her one of the all-time great scat singers. So it was fun to try this song:

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

frite nite, fundraiser, and oh yes, the giants.............

It seems like forever since the last blog. Frite Nite. Our fundraiser/training to help on "Keep the Lights On". And the Giants memorable run. So in no particular order......

Our weekend fundraiser did its job, so the lights will remain on. Thank you Jackie Cossman, James Friedman, and Linda Holiday senseis for leading wonderful and very inspiring classes. Thank you to the students who came and trained very well. And thank you to former students and/or friends and supporters who just donated. All that you did helped us to have a memorable experience and event. And special thanks to Maurice Gregoire, who catered the after training party.

The night before we had our annual Halloween Costume Party. Special thanks to Mike Driscoll for organizing the event and for his continuing support. This year I went as Elric of Melnibone. More about this character, who might be a bit obscure, in a future blog.

As I am writing this blog I am listening to the celebration of the Giants World Series Championship in San Francisco. I cancelled the noon class today so we could celebrate this event. My original intent was to go to the parade this morning. I soon realized that with a million people or so expected that might be more than a little hectic. I heard that some people got their places for the parade as early as 4 am. So I realized where I needed to be was with my Dad. He passed away in 1994. He was a big, big Giants fan. He was a gardener who listened to the games on a transistor radio. I remember going with him to watch Giants/Dodger games on local tv. In those days other than weekend network games(usually the Yankees) those games played in Los Angeles were the only games on local tv. And he took me to my first game in 1959 at Seals Stadium. And in the '60's we went to watch the Giants at Candlestick Park. In those days it was really difficult to have a conversation with your Dad(maybe that is still the case). But we could always talk sports and that meant the Giants. Before I discovered the 49ers and the Warriors, I was a Giants fan. And this was because of my Dad. I remember the heartbreak of 1962 when McCovey's line drive was caught. I know my Dad really knew his baseball, even though his sports were track and basketball.

So late this morning I headed South to visit his grave(he is buried in Watsonville along with my Mom). One of baseball's real charms is that it is generational. So to go to him and talk with him. I remember when Chris Mullin was in his playing days with the Warriors and became an all-star. He lost his dad, but he said since he and his dad talked so much that didn't stop. When he was outside in his hot tub he would pick a star in the sky and talk to his dad through that star. Of course I can also do that at any time, but when I do visit his grave we tend to talk then. He would have loved the make up of this team. No superstars, just heroes is how someone expressed it. Just show up everyday and go to work.Just like he did.

So for now let us all bask in the field of this tremendous energy we have been given.Thank you to a starting rotation that went a fantastic four deep: Timmy, Cainer, Baumgarner, and Sanchez. And to the beard that inspired fear: Brian Wilson(and his sidekick Sergio Romo). Javier Lopez for his domination of the key left handed power bats throughout the playoffs and world series. Thank you to Buster Posey for reminding us that youth is good. To Cody Ross. Juan Uribe. Freddy Sanchez. Andres Torres. For providing enough offense and for the strength to battle and beat a series of "invincible" star pitchers. And of course to Edgar Renteria the series MVP. When he was on the opposing team I always feared his at bats with the game on the line. And of course, thank you, Dad.