An acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker has directed a different kind of martial arts movie, and it's about to hit theaters. In the title role is Shu Qi, co-star of Jason Statham's The Transporter.

If I walk into a crowd and mention A Summer at Grandpa's (1984), Café Lumière (2003) and Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), I’ll probably be met with a sea of blank faces. If I do that with a bunch of Chinese-movie aficionados, no doubt many will immediately think of Taiwanese film auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. “Film auteur” is the term used to describe a director whose personal creative vision is so strong and recognizable that not even the studios behind his or her movies can eliminate the distinctive cinematic signature. There are more film auteurs than you might guess — in the Chinese martial arts movie genre, we have, among others, Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Zhang Yi-mou (Hero) and Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster). My goal with this blog is to introduce you to one more. Normally, I don't discuss martial arts films that I haven’t seen or that are pitched to the media as a “work in progress.” The reason: How many times have we all bought into the hype surrounding some martial arts movie star who’s in talks with so-and-so to make such-and-such a film — and it never happens? In this case, however, I carefully considered the impact the aforementioned martial arts films have had, then looked ahead to the potential popularity of the motion picture that’s being helmed by Hou Hsiao-hsien — and promptly made an exception to my own rule.


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Six of Hou's films have been nominated for the Palme d'Or (best film award) at the Cannes Film Festival. Not until he made The Assassin (Chinese title Nie Yinniang) did he garner the best director award at Cannes. Interestingly, it’s his first kung fu movie. The Assassin has been 25 years in the making. Based on a short story derived from a compilation known as The Extensive Records of the Taiping Era, the film was funded by China and Taiwan. Set during the Tang dynasty (618–906), it focuses on a legendary female assassin named Nie Yinniang. Nie is played by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, who co-starred with Jason Statham in The Transporter. A young Nie is kidnapped by a Taoist nun, who trains the girl to become an assassin. She’s eventually tasked with killing corrupt officials. Because of her success, Nie becomes a feared vigilante, but her world begins to fall apart when she defies an order to eliminate Lord Tian Ji'an (portrayed by Chang Chen). In addition to that intriguing plot, The Assassin also deserves our attention because it wasn’t designed to be a run-of-the-mill kung fu film. We won’t see any of Nie's 13 years of training in the arts of assassination. We won’t watch over-embellished fight sequences and elaborate wire-work choreography. We won’t witness the hero battling her way up a ladder until the final showdown with the villain. Instead, we will see Nie doing what a skilled assassin does: swiftly taking out targets and disappearing in an instant. The concept reminds me of the kind of fights we were treated to courtesy of two other film auteurs: Chu Yuan, who made movies for the Shaw Brothers in the 1970s and ’80s, and the great Akira Kurosawa, who was responsible for all those Japanese chanbara classics.

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Are you wondering who the fight choreographer for The Assassin is? Recall the iconic scene in Enter the Dragon when Bruce Lee says to a young lad, "Don't think; feel. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory." That kid was Peter Tung Wei, and as the fight choreographer for the film, he sees not only the moon but also the stars. With a budget of $15 million, The Assassin was picked up for American distribution by Well Go USA Entertainment. If it's as dazzling as all signs indicate, it will make a killing at the box office. (Photos Courtesy of Wild Bunch / Well Go USA Entertainment) Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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