on my black-belt promotions

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I blogged about each of my three black–belt promotions as they were happening. I was talking about that on Facebook with my buddy and fellow black belt Mike Agostinelli on the thread under the link to this blog entry, and thought I’d put them all in one post for easy reading….

Shodan promotion:

Nidan promotion:

Sandan promotion:

Essays:

 

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from the archives: thoughts while in the midst of my nidan promotion

I wrote this piece on 23 March 2013, after the second day of my promotion to second-degree black belt. I’m reprinting it here mainly because I like the discourse on kata in particular, and it’s a nice reflection of my views on karate and on my own journey from overweight, underpowered 35-year-old white belt to the in-much-better-shape 50-year-old third-degree black belt I am today.

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The second day was less grueling than the first, but that was partly because we’d already been through this, partly because we were doing the stuff that I know and love best: kata and various self-defense and prearranged fighting drills. This is my favorite part of karate, especially the kata.

We have three sets of kata: First are the basics, the three Taikyoku katas and the five Pinan katas. These are common karate forms — the links in the previous sentence are to YouTube videos of those eight forms being performed in the style of Kyokushin, from which my style derives, and while there are differences in how we do certain parts, the overall feel of the katas are the same as how we do them. Then there are the five katas that were developed by the founder of our discipline, and then there are the makuso katas.

The makuso, or meditation, katas are my favorite, as they are complex and graceful: Sanchin (the oldest known kata), Geki Sai Dai, Yantsu, Tsuki No, Sai-Ha, Tensho, Geki Sai Sho, and Seiunchin. That last one is the one I and three other shodans performed at our dojo’s 20th anniversary party, and I also adore Yantsu.

Of course, the real test comes during Sanchin and Tensho. Those two katas are primarily done with ibuki, or deep breathing, where movements are slow and strong and the body is tight and firm. Both kata are spent in sanchin dachi, a very stable stance (here’s a picture). During promotions, it’s kicked up a notch, as we did both those katas while several black belts do everything they can to destabilize us: punching us in the stomach (with or without handpads), hitting us in the back or thighs with handpads, kicking us in the thighs and stomach, pushing against our punches, and so on. (Here’s me getting pounded during my shodan promotion three-and-a-half years ago, for an idea, though the picture does not do it justice, particularly the part last night where Senpai Ryon used me as his punching bag for the second half of Sanchin Kata.)

What was especially amazing about that experience was how little I moved around during that part of it. I remember my shodan promotion — that picture I linked to in the previous paragraph has me at a 90-degree angle to where I started because I got moved around so much. This time around I was being abused much more than I was three-and-a-half years ago, but I barely moved from my original spot.

You have to understand, I was the stereotypical weakling who got sand kicked in his face by the bully on the beach. In high school, we did a production of West Side Story, and I was cast as Gladhand, the nerdy guy who ran the dance, because honestly who the fuck else would I play? The idea that I could be in any way physically strong has never been a part of my worldview.

And yet, there I was last night, several black belts (some of whom are fighters who score high in international fighting tournaments) were just wailing on me. These are the people who would’ve kicked sand in my face not that long ago, and here I was barely being moved by them.

That’s weird. Seriously. Eight-and-a-half years of karate, and I can’t even process the notion that I’m strong, even though I spent last night not only doing that, but also dozens of pushups and any number of other physically intensive activities for two hours straight. It just doesn’t fit with my self-image, y’know? I’m still surprised when people tell me how strong I punch during fighting class, too…

Anyhow, that was the first part of the evening. The second part was when we each discussed our essays. Once the promotion’s done, I’ll post my essay here, but mostly I talked about how helping Shihan teach and teaching myself has been an incredibly enriching experience. It was also great to hear Jorge, Charles, Cliff, and Rey talk about how karate has affected them, through the ups and downs of their lives. It’s a pleasure and an honor to go up with these people, who have become good friends, and it was especially nice to hear their stories about their lives.

What especially struck me was a story that Cliff talked about Senpai Joe, a black belt who helped him immensely when he was starting out at our dojo, telling him to calm down and take it easy and just generally looking out for him. It floored me — and I got to say so in front of everybody a few minutes later — because I could tell the exact same story except substitute me for Cliff and Cliff for Senpai Joe. It fit nicely with the theme of my own essay, which was about how you learn from the people who came before you and you try to pass that on to the next bunch of people. And, as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, Cliff was hugely inspirational to me when I started out. Shihan was the teacher, but Cliff was who I wanted to be when I grew up. And in a way, I have, as Shihan talked at length about how grateful he is to the two of us for all the help we give him especially with the kids classes (which have grown quite large).

Tomorrow morning is sparring. Tomorrow afternoon, I stumble home and lapse into a coma……

three years in our lovely home

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My Facebook memories are currently filled with stuff from three years ago when Wrenn and I moved into our current home.

Late July 2016 when we got the notice that our lease was being terminated was a horrid, awful, miserable day in the moment. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise (though it was a really really really really good disguise….). While I miss our old neighborhood a lot, I like our new neighborhood quite a bit.

And I can’t say enough good things about our home. Our previous place was a decent apartment. This is a great place that’s part of a house with tons of natural light, plenty of closet space, a huge living room/dining room that’s great for entertaining, lots of room, and it’s on two floors, so we can be together or avoid each other as needs be. In particular, we’ve got a big room for our joint office.

Dale loved it here, and I’m only sorry he didn’t live longer to enjoy it even more. And Matt has been a welcome, joyous part of our home as well. Plus, we have the sweetest, kindest landlords you could ask for. And we’re only 250 feet away from my parents’ place, which has proven to be the best thing for all of us. And we have wonderful downstairs neighbors who have done a lovely job of fixing up the house, particularly the back yard.

On the one hand, I’m amazed it’s been three years already. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve lived here forever. It’s a wonderful home, and I’m so happy we found it.

(Picture taken by me of Geoffrey the Giraffe, riding shotgun in the U-Haul during the move.)

on Conflict of Interest in the new Story Bundle

Here’s a guest blog from Lauryn Christopher on her novel Conflict of Interest, which is part of the “Racing the Clock” Story Bundle, which also includes my Super City Police Department novel The Case of the Claw (about which I wrote in this blog entry). 

Take it away, Lauryn….

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In most crime and mystery fiction, it’s pretty easy to spot the hero/heroine.

She’s the person in the wrong place at the wrong time, who often finds herself in some sort of peril, but, in spite of all odds, manages to rout the bad guy in the end.

He’s the intrepid investigator/police detective/average Joe, who hunts down the villain with steely-eyed determination and a resolve to see justice prevail.

Villains aren’t always quite so readily apparent, but are seldom the mustachioed characters we remember from Saturday morning cartoons.

They’re more often chameleon-like, with textures and variations that make them sometimes difficult to spot amid the Rogue’s Gallery of shady characters populating the pages of the story. But while each of these individuals may have had some combination of means, motive, and opportunity to have committed the crime-in-question, the villain is ultimately revealed – and usually captured – as the one who acted on their darker impulses as the story progresses.

Yes, I’m generalizing on the stereotypes, but since it’s so easy to identify the stereotypical heroes and villains, it should be just as easy for us to recognize the anti-hero, right?

Not always.

When I wrote Conflict of Interest, I didn’t at first realize that the main character, Meg, was an anti-hero. After all, she’s an assassin – not a typical hero’s profession; on the other hand (keeping spoilers to a minimum here), she actually chooses some heroic-type actions through the course of the story.

It was a fellow writer who read an early draft and pointed out that by telling the story from the assassin’s point of view, I’d entered the gray area and gritty streets inhabited by the anti-hero.

Of course, that suits me just fine. Meg is a complicated person, a woman with a dysfunctional past that has molded and shaped her into the person she is – someone who can kill quickly and efficiently when the need arises, who is not above selling secrets or using what she’s learned to her own advantage or to suit her purposes. At the same time, there’s a core of humanity in her that she frequently fails to recognize – a fierce loyalty to her few friends, a protective nature that asserts itself when she volunteers at a self-defense class or invests her ill-gotten gains in underdeveloped communities.

In her own stories, Meg never sees herself as the hero, but she doesn’t consider herself to be the villain, either. In her matter-of-fact way, she’d tell you that she’s just there, doing what needs to be done. A loner, a person who gets her hands dirty because there’s a job that needs to be done, and she’s not afraid of doing it.

Just don’t ask her to think too much about it.

“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”
–Ben Bova
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This is Keith again. You can get Conflict of Interest as part of the “Racing the Clock” Story Bundle for whatever price you want, along with a Fiction River Presents anthology and novels by Sam Stone and Kari Kilgore. If you pay $15 or more, you also get my novel Super City Police Department: The Case of the Claw, as well as novels by Mike Baron, Robert Jeschonek, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith. Do check it out!

 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch Extra: What We Left Behind

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In honor of the 20th anniversary of the end of Deep Space Nine, show-runner Ira Steven Behr put together a documentary to look back on the show, including interviews with actors, writers, producers, journalists, fans, and more. My take on What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Deep Space Nine on Tor.com…

An excerpt:

[Nana] Visitor talks frankly about the show, most impressively calling out Behr for the rather idiotic notion of having Kira get into a relationship with Marc Alaimo’s Gul Dukat. Visitor, who actually understood that this was the equivalent of putting Anne Frank into a relationship with Adolf Hitler, objected very very very loudly, and they switched gears and made it Kira’s mother having a relationship with Dukat, as revealed in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”

new on Kickstarter: Pangaea III, featuring me!

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Michael Jan Friedman of Crazy 8 Press has just put up a new Kickstarter for the third and (likely) final anthology in the Pangaea shared world series — an alternate history in which the continents never drifted, and so human civilization developed on one continent instead of seven.

The first Pangaea anthology came out in 2015, with the second one — subtitled The Rise of Dominjaron — came out in 2016, and they included contributions from Kirsten Beyer, Ilsa J. Bick, Michael A. Burstein, Adam-Troy Castro, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Paul Kupperberg, Ron Marz, Kelly Meding, Aaron Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Schoen, Geoffrey Thorne, Marie Lillian Vibbert, and Dayton Ward.

Now Mike is putting together a third anthology, which we’re shooting to have out next spring. Given that Mike’s shooting for a March publication date, we’re likely going to try to have copies at Farpoint 2020, where many of the contributors will be.

And who will those contributors be? Well, back for more are Ilsa, Michael, Russ, Peter, Kevin, Mike, Bob, Glenn, Paul, Ron, Aaron, Lawrence, Geoff, Marie, and Dayton.

In addition, there will be three new voices in this one: Mary Fan, Tiffany Trent, and me! I’m going to be doing a story for this, my fourth outing with C8P (having previously contributed to Altered States of the Union, They Keep Killing Glenn, and Thrilling Adventure Yarns). I’ve been fascinated by the alternate history of Pangaea since I first heard about it back when Mike first conceived it. I was sadly unable to participate in either of the first two, but Mike remembered my interest, and invited me to play along the third time. I’m very much looking forward to it.

So check out the Kickstarter, and please consider supporting this nifty-keen anthology!