Thursday, January 31, 2019

Miscellany: Krav Maga class journal, month 2

I was getting really out of shape, so I'm taking a local beginner's Krav Maga class. I'll post updates here, mostly for myself but also to give people an idea of what you might expect if you sign up for one of these things.

The second month of class started repeating most of the techniques I learned in the first month (the beginner's Krav curriculum isn't voluminous), so I'll glide over stuff that's been covered previously.

Session 9

Class opened with a shoulder tag warmup, interspersed with partner push-ups and partner sit-ups. We then trained front kicks from various positions - a full fighting stance, an unprepared neutral stance, and then seated in a chair. We drilled hair grab escapes and wrist grab releases (which weren't a heavy focus as they're not life-threatening like a choke). The end of class drill was a mix of wrist releases, hair grabs, and more aggressive wrist grabs that justified a combative response.

Session 10

This was the last class before Christmas. A couple of prospective students came in, so we did running around the room as a warm-up. We then practiced knees from the side position, 360 degree defense, and side kicks (which aren't strictly part of the basic curriculum):

The final self-defense drill was something I dub "shopping mall horror" - we trained breaking through a busy crowd with our elbows, and then immediately executed a 360 degree defense against a surprise attacker.

Session 11

In-between Christmas and New Year's was an "open-mat night." None of my normal beginner's level classmates were there, only folks from the advanced class. I practiced some basic striking and shadowboxing on my own, and then joined some of the others for some non-stop round kick practice:

Session 12

The first class after the break was chock full of new students, probably people fresh off New Year's resolutions. We did a lot of striking - punches, forward kicks, side knees, then front choke escapes:

Session 13

We practiced jab and cross straight punches with focus mitts, rear hammerfists (tip: turn your hips - they can't be all arm), then punching and hammerfist drills.  The self-defense portion was a rear choke defense. I needed to work on stepping into the attacker.

Session 14

After working on our jab punches, we drill forward, side, and rear horizontal elbows, side knees and then takedown defense. I need to work on fluidity with my elbows. You're not supposed to chamber them in order to get more power; the idea is that you've been startled at close range and have to throw the elbow ASAP:

Session 15

We practice front kicks to a vertical target, and then upkicks from the ground. Then some groundfighting; it's the same trap and roll technique we've done previously. I find that drilling it over and over again makes me dizzy, and I have to check out of the last 10 minutes of class.

Session 16

This class is all about side knees, punching, and rear hammerfists. Then we do a "monkey in the middle" drill, where one person has to alternate fending off two attackers.

Session 17

The warmup in this class was intense. We play push-up hand tag, and then form into 2 big groups, with everyone doing the plank position shoulder to shoulder to form a human tunnel. The guy at the end crawls through the tunnel, and then everyone does a pushup before the next guy comes through. We practice a total defense posture in a cover-up drill, tagging an incoming attacker with a right cross, and inside defenses.

Session 18

Front kicks, round kicks, 360 degree defense, and then front choke defense.

Session 19

This class was all groundwork. First we learn how to strike effectively from a mounted position, as well as upkicks. Next, we practice using our feet and knees to keep a standing attacker from gaining a mounted position. Finally, we do a hug, trap, and roll drill, which again makes me dizzy enough to stop before we finish.

Tech: Kindle Paperwhite (3rd Generation) review

The old Kindle Touch we bought was getting long in the tooth, so I picked up a Kindle Paperwhite a couple of years ago. It's a much better e-reader; while it doesn't really navigate books better than the old model, the sharper front-lit screen is an order of magnitude more useful in everyday lighting conditions.

I also picked up the nifty Aimerday Folio case. It protects the screen without adding any bulk to the Kindle, and it automatically wakes the device when opened.  In this format, the third-gen Kindle Paperwhite is just as convenient as a physical book.

Amazon released an updated Paperwhite a few months ago, but judging by the specs, the only major feature the new model has going for it is water resistance (for bath, pool, and beach readers, I guess). I think I'll stick with my current Kindle for awhile longer.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Music: Africa

Toto's soft rock anthem "Africa" has endured through the years, perhaps in spite of its cheesy conga beat and '80s synths. Artists of all stripes have covered the song, from Weezer's semi-ironic but straightforward track off the "Teal Album," to this incredible harp cover by Amy Turk:

Maybe the craziest performance of "Africa" is an installation in the Namib desert, rigged to play the song on a continuous loop:

Monday, January 21, 2019

Books: John Marshall

Anyone who thinks the partisan struggles over the Supreme Court are a recent development should read Richard Brookhiser's John Marshall. The biography is an interesting portrait of John Marshall's life and 34-year tenure as Chief Justice, and it illustrates how the political winds buffeting the early Republic - and the Court - were just as intense as those blowing today.

The book starts with Marshall's military and diplomatic service, including the deprivation he suffered at Valley Forge and his unwavering admiration for General Washington. These experiences heavily influenced Marshall's preference for a strong national government that could properly provide for an army, putting him into regular conflict with Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The Court thus became the stage for bitter partisan strife, including the only impeachment trial of a sitting Justice and several court-packing Judiciary Acts.

Although Brookhiser is not a lawyer, the book ably covers the ins and outs of the early Court's major cases, including Marbury, McCulloch, and Gibbons. It turns out that the politicization of the Court is nothing new, and the book's discussion of these landmark opinions fills in the partisan backstory missing from the average constitutional law textbook (for instance, many of these were "test cases," the kind that people would bring today). Above all, Brookhiser credits Justice Marshall's gregarious civility and intellectual rigor with making the Court the institution it is today.