Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Elric

I've been reading Elric again. Del Rey books has issued a 6 volume set with wonderful illustrations and great intros by such people as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Michael Moorcock also has added a new intro to each edition which describes both his history as well as that of his most famous character. One thing he states is that he still finds Elric interesting, as opposed to Conan Doyle who came to hate writing the later Sherlock Holmes stories. I just finished "Black Petals" which came out in 2007 and it is a real thriller. Scary. Filled with the Elric mood. We all wait for the action with Stormbringer, Elric's sentient black runesword. And though at the end ,it does not disappoint at all.

My earlier view was that my favorite stories were in "The Stealer of Souls" and "Stormbringer", the first 2 Elric books. I initially found the later books to lack what I considered the punch of the earliest works. But I am revising my opinion. Having just re-read both "The Revenge of the Rose" and "The Fortress of the Pearl", I find I really enjoy these later works. Since Elric dies at the end of "Stormbringer" virtually all the Elric stories are prequels. So even though stories are set very early in Elric's history, Moorcock when he writes them is a much more mature and developped writer. I am appreciating this more as I am on my current re-read. One thing that jumps out at me is that the Elric books are much more mature and complex than the Tolkien books when it comes to dark themes. And there is a lot of dark in the Elric stories. He is an albino, lacking natural energy and vitality. He relies on Stormbringer, his black runesword, for energy. Stormbringer drains the life force or soul from a victim, feeding this to Elric. Really the sword and the man are one. Elric is described as being much more rational and human than his ancestors, who ruled from the dreaming city for ten thousand years. Stormbringer can only be wielded by one of Elric's line, so the sword needs Elric as much as Elric needs it. The sword has a personality of its own. During battle it sings a wild song and emits a black radiance which can be noticed even in the dark. It is constantly pushing Elric on to take more souls. Elric is often wary of his dependence on the blade and on the addictive quality of the power and energy that it feeds him. Yet both sword and man have a connected destiny that is very vital to the universe going into a new cycle. Often times change needs a motive force or energy that can be perceived as dark or even evil. Yet the change requires it.

One of my main reasons for re-reading the Elric books at this point is that it deals with the end of one universal cycle and the beginning of a new one. Elric is the agent of this change. He must fight and defeat his own gods, the Chaos lords. This will enable the new era of law or science to come into being. And he is literally pulled along his destiny by Stormbringer. There is some evidence that we are currently experiencing a major re-balancing of the dimensions of the unverse. The recent Japan earthquake and tsunamis are a symtom of this. When the universe re-orders itself it is felt from the finer dimensions all the way to our matter dimensions. So re-reading the books gets me personally in the mood.

This is an excerpt from the end of "Fortress of the Pearl":

They would speak of a white-faced creature from hell whose sword poured with unnatural radiance, whose crimson eyes blazed with hideous rage, who seemed possessed, himself, of some supernatural force, who was no more master of it than were his victims. He killed without mercy, without distinction, without cruelty. He killed as a mad wolf kills. And as he killed, he laughed.

Of course all those in Stormbringer's path were evil, evil, despicable.......And they all had generations of heavy karma they had to face. Elric's foes are usually beings intoxicated with power given to them by the Chaos lords who totally abuse this power especially over the helpless and innocent. The sword also, however, has a liking for lovers and friends......

Moorcock first began writing about Elric in 1961. I discovered him probably in late '69. It is amazing to realize in retrospect how much you can be effected by a character in popular culture or literature. There is a reference to him in my Mrs Peel adventure. I went as the Melnibonean prince last Halloween. The newer novels though prequels give a much deeper sense of his psychological make up and battles. If you have never read him please take the opportunity to check out the new del Rey editions. I am sure you will enjoy them.

Last Saturday was the last of about 2 weeks of rain. Dennis and I came up with this piece.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Still Needed After All These Years

March is definitely "Avengers" month. The show debuted on ABC on Thursday Night March 28th, 1966. March 20th two years later Diana Rigg's last episode was shown on ABC(first run, it has been shown countless times since.) Since tomorrow is March 20th, it is an anniversary of sorts. Her leaving the show had a profound effect on me. Realizing there were going to be no new Emma Peel episodes, I thought of taking up martial arts, a main theme for her and the show. That eventually led me to aikido.

I guess with the years we must begin to separate out the character of Emma Peel from the actress who played her. Emma Peel is an ageless, immortal social archetype. So many women who have made a real impact on society cite Diana Rigg's Emma Peel as being influential in their lives. Diana Rigg herself is an actress now in her early 70's(she is 10 years older than I) and I hope she is doing quite well. She is one of our greatest actors, having been made a Dame of the British Empire, winner of a Tony award, 1 Emmy(she should have won 3 for Emma Peel), and still, I think, active on stage.

Both are very similar. Emma Peel was a futuristic, space age heroine who dabbled in nuclear physics, avant garde art, fencing , martial arts, modeling......You name it, Emma could do it. During the run of the show a widow, she had a very modern relationship with John Steed. Diana Rigg has led an equally independent life, being the first actress of note to play a nude scene in a play(Abelard and Heloise) and again later in Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers". She has her sun in Cancer conjuncted by Mars(energy, assertion, aggression, according to Andrea Mallis @www.virgoinservice.com important for an athlete or for playing a physical role like Emma Peel)and also by Pluto(power). So she has a lot of the same characteristics as her character.

One would wonder what Mrs Peel would be doing at age 70? I'm sure still active physically, mentally, and spiritually. Maybe she would have gone into science and solved the unified field theory that eluded Albert Einstein. Or maybe she is a tri-athlete setting records for her age group. Maybe she would have taken up Aikido. I am sure she would be a 9th dan(they are no longer awarding 10th dan). Maybe she would have gone into economics and created a global sustainable economy.

One of the show's trade marks of its second season(in color in contrast to the first which was black and white) were the little vignettes at the beginning of the show. Mrs Peel was not a full time spy. She would be occupied with something and Steed would some how sneak in and let her know that there was action to be had. Kind of like Holmes telling Watson"Games afoot". I found this on youtube. It gives you a bit of the flavor of the show. There is nothing like it before or since:

So what does Mrs Peel represent to me? Beauty, power, intelligence, and love.......Yes, after all these years I am still in love with her. TV guide referred to her as" and Diana Rigg's Emma Peel is after all these years still a woman ahead of her time". But I still draw strength from her. I guess the character inspired me to live a life that is certainly not the norm. Yes, you are still needed......

Sunday, March 13, 2011


First, I want to keep everyone updated on Aikido teachers and friends in Japan given the recent earthquake and tsunami conditions. Linda Holiday sensei says she has heard by e-mail from Shingu that Anno sensei and the dojo and people there are okay. And I found out by e-mail today that classes were held at Hombu dojo in Tokyo. So that is a good sign. Let us send good energy to Japan.

I found out in December that I had lost a dear friend. Sometimes you tell yourself that you should contact so and so and you keep putting it off. And then you find that they are gone. This unfortunately was one of those. After thinking about contacting him for ages it seemed I found out from his widow Irene that he had passed away in late November.

I first met Steven Malamuth in fall of 1969 when I started aikido at UC Santa Cruz. We were both undergraduates, although that was my last year there as a student. Steve was several years older than I and had been educated abroad at the University of Mexico. Even though he was studying aikido, he was a t'ai chi instructor. In fact he was the first person certified to teach by Master Choy Kam Man. I began to study t'ai chi with him later in that school year. We got quite close. We even began to work on the pushing hands exercises, which are the more advanced drills in t'ai chi. Steve even taught me the sabre movements. Later I went on to study with Master Choy myself and got the pushing hands and sabre movements from him as well. I graduated in June of 1970. I spent a lot of the summer between graduation and starting up in grad school at UC Davis doing push hands with Steve.

I went on to Japan and aikido. He went to law school at the University of Santa Clara and opened a law practice. But we managed to keep in touch. In the '80's there was an aikido instructors' meeting in Oakland. After the meeting I wandered out into an intersection in front of a moving car. And behind the wheel of that car was Steve. So we re-connected. He moved on from practicing law to running a church with his parents. In 1991 he passed on to me a non-profit that was connected to his church in order to better spread the message of aikido and t'ai chi. I spent 10 days with him in early 1991 in Mexico on property located in Costa Careyes. I still remember his driving me around, telling me to be careful of the scorpions there, wading in warm coastal waters with people fishing with nets in the water. It was a magical trip. And the day I returned the first Persian Gulf War started. So it was a time I still vividly remember.

He was someone who had a very strong influence on me in my early aikido career and also in my early spiritual development. He was very intelligent. Multi-lingual. As I said, he had been educated abroad. He even picked up Mandarin. On his forehead he had a scar from when someone attacked him with a knife in Mexico. He used the "Raised Hands " move from t'ai chi to break the attackers elbow, but in the process he had that ever so slight scar on his forehead. So to someone raised very shelteredly in the Santa Cruz pre-University age he was exotic, charismatic, and had great influence on me.I remember in spring of 1970 there was an outdoor gathering at Merrill College. Robert Frager sensei organized an outdoor aikido gathering and shared energy practices with the students from the university who had gathered there. Instead of joining us in the aikido group Steve put on his t'ai chi uniform and did sabre in slow motion. I remember thinking of the Nemuri Kyoshiro films and the engetsu sappo. By the way Steve became quite a Kyoshiro fan. When the dvd set came out I gave him all of my Ichikawa Raizo vhs series.

Unfortunately Steve's martial arts career took a horrible turn when he was parachuting and broke his back. Bad luck and ill health seemed to be his constant companions as the years went on. He was on such strong pain killers I am sure his life was not easy. In the last several years he was very difficult to reach. One of his favorite pieces of music was the Concierto de Aranjuez in the Gil Evans/Miles Davis classic "Sketches of Spain". I had done a version of it and I wanted to make sure Steve saw it. Unfortunately he never did.

The non-profit is what is termed the Takemusu Shinbuden. It is a church meant to support the growth of aikido and it's larger practice. It is meant to be a means of spiritual growth and not anything normally seen as religious. In honor of his passing I am going to try and expand the activities of the Takemusu Shinbuden. It is meant to be a shrine and not a church. In Japanese an older word for center is miya, which also has the dual meaning of being a center.

I am including a video of me in the Japantown dojo doing the t'ai chi sabre movements originally taught to me by Steve. It is reformatted from an earlier video with music. I hope you enjoy it>