Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Miscellany: Krav Maga class journal, month 4

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 fourth month of class repeats numerous techniques (the beginner's Krav curriculum isn't voluminous), so I'll glide over stuff that's been covered previously.

Session 31 was all about kicking: we practiced front kicks, front kicks to a vertical target, "defensive" front kicks, and kicks from the ground.

Session 32 focused on movement. Drills included advancing and punching, retreating and punching, and punching until exhaustion. Then it was front choke defenses.

Session 33 was a special class. Kristina ran us through backward rolls (which I completely suck at), back and side breakfalls, and a simple foot sweep takedown from the front:

Session 34 was another special class. After some basic striking (punches, front kicks, knees), Matt brought in the blue guns and we did a long gun disarm drill. Unlike a lot of krav maga long gun disarms, we trained to wrap the muzzle up with our arm using our bodyweight, which seemed a lot more secure than trying to wrestle a gun away with just your hands.

Session 35 included yet more advancing and retreating drills, elbows and knees, and a special "disruption" drill where we pushed and grabbed people who were focused on striking in another direction.

In Session 36, we practiced punching without gloves, including a right cross from a neutral position. Then we did kicks from that same neutral position, and a bar arm choke defense with a chin takedown for when the escape is stuffed. Same principle as this video:

Session 37 covered forward and rear hammerfists, then kicks from the ground, then rear choke defenses.

We focused on developing"vision" in Session 38 - this meant doing inside and outside defenses, and then a drill where we hit the bags while trying to keep track of whether a third party was raising his left or right arm.

Session 39 was all about the close quarters strikes - knees, elbows, and defending bearhugs from behind. I favored the groin strike, which I found to work surprisingly well.

Session 40 was general striking, exhaustion drills, and one-handed choke defenses.

Session 41 practiced knees, punches, and defenses against bar arm chokes/knives. It reminded me of this scene from "Redbelt":

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Books: Magical Mayhem Limited Series Double Feature

I've been working on my backlog of comics, and I thought these two magic-focused trade paperback collections were worth a mention:

Monte Cook's Ptolus: City by the Spire

I had never heard of Monte Cook's Ptolus campaign setting, so maybe it wasn't surprising that this book was sitting in the bargain bin in my local comic shop. It's not an RPG sourcebook, but a straightforward comic series about swashbuckling treasure hunter Sheva Callister and her adventures in the titular city. The series only lasted six issues, so this is a breezy read if you're in the mood for some swords and sorcery.

Sheva's a great fighter and thief, but otherwise she's in way over her head as she tries to recover a mystical artifact, resurrect her dead friend, and avoid getting fried by otherworldly monsters and powerful arch-mages. "Ptolus" gets the nod from me based on an interesting Indiana Jones-meets-noir tone, pretty good art, and interesting mystical factions that I'm probably going to steal for my next D&D campaign.

Smoke and Mirrors

Many comic books have magic in their settings, but "Smoke and Mirrors" is very much about magic. In the book, stage illusionist Terry Ward is suddenly transported from our world to a parallel universe: one where real magic not only exists, but is so ubiquitous it powers stuff like cell phones. Stranded in an unfamiliar land, Terry finds that his sleight of hand and mentalist tricks seem like "magic" to the people in this new world, and he must use them to survive.

It's a fantastic conceit, but "Smoke and Mirrors" doesn't quite do enough with it. The story centers around Terry's friendship with a teenage boy and his battle with a Steve Jobs-esque tech mogul, so you actually see very little of this strange new world. Still, it's co-written by professional magician Jon Armstrong, and there are actually mentalist tricks woven into the book itself that the reader can try - how many comic books can you say that about?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Books: The Moth Presents Occasional Magic - True Stories About Defying the Impossible

Dad and I are fans of The Moth Radio Hour, a program where real people tell true stories about themselves in front of a live audience. I think we like it because there's something primal about hearing the experiences of others told in their own voice. Whether it's a daughter saying goodbye to a dying mother, a soldier reunited with a friend from a war zone half a world away, or a couple going through a surrogate pregnancy, the storytelling format taps into basic human emotions that are sometimes lacking in other 21st century fora.

Periodically, The Moth transcribes and collects the most noteworthy stories told on the program into books. I picked up the latest such release, "Occasional Magic," and came away slightly disappointed. While the stories' content was fine and the book was good overall, printed words just can't convey the texture and emotion of a live human being. For instance, Phyllis Marie Bowdwin's wild tale of confronting a street groper in '70s New York City loses a lot when translated to the page - the uproarious laughter of the crowd, the dejection she experiences midway through, the crazed triumph of the final twist. I guess for some things, you just have to be there.

Tech: Diablo - the Ironman variant

Blizzard re-released the original Diablo last month on GOG.com, so I've been doing a few Ironman ("IM") runs through the game. The IM variant has a few simple rules: (1) you must start with a new character, (2) all monsters on each level must be killed, (3) you cannot go back to town, and (4) death is permanent (no save scumming!).

The net effect of these self-imposed limitations is an experience which closely approximates the original Rogue and the other classic games Diablo is based on, because without townsfolk to heal you and provide items, everything becomes precious. Abilities that you would never use in a normal Diablo game, such as the Warrior's Repair skill, become vitally important. Items that you wouldn't even take a second glance at, such as a humble Scroll of Identify, become the most valuable things in your inventory. And monsters that you would normally roll over, like the goat clans in the catacombs, become dangerous threats due to your sub par equipment and lack of resources.

Which is not to say you can't go far if you're persistent - some IM multiplayer groups have even beaten the game on Hell difficulty. For my part, I managed to get a Warrior down to level 15 of the dungeon, the penultimate level. The stat sheet tells the tale - I had zero magical resistances because of my awful item drops, and my character was eventually killed by a a pack of Cabalists who laid waste to his unprotected hide with lightning spells:

It was still refreshingly fun to play a game that the player wasn't guaranteed to beat from the get-go, a game that required skill and a bit of luck to get through to the end.  If you think modern action RPGs are too easy and want a hit of that old Roguelike flavor most games used to have, try firing up an IM Diablo session and see how far you get...