Secret symbols of power, martial arts-practicing heroes and villains, societies populated by outcasts — find out how this 21st-century superhero series resembles Tang-dynasty Chinese literature.

In April, I blogged about new TV shows that featured entertaining martial arts action but allowed their boldness to dwindle as seasons progressed. One of them was Arrow. When it debuted on The CW, Arrow displayed impressive weapons choreography. However, during the fall 2014 season, the combat quality waned. It eventually culminated in a highly anticipated sword fight between Arrow, aka Oliver Queen (played by Stephan Amell), and the skilled-but-ruthless leader of the League of Assassins, aka Ra's al Ghul (played by Matt Namble). It was a disappointing battle, to say the least. Arrow's expertise vanished — he seemed to forget how to move and wield a sword. Ra's appeared less skilled than a quarterback averaging 10 interceptions per game. The episode caused me to stop watching the series, but my DVR kept recording it. That prompted me to give Arrow a second chance, and once I stopped scrutinizing the fights — wow!


Photo by Jordon Nuttall/2015 The CW Network

I’ve concluded that although Arrow is based on the superhero character Green Arrow, launched by DC Comics in 1941, the series comes across more like an old Chinese wuxia novel. I also noted a nod to World War I's renowned Battle of Gallipoli (1915-16) — more on that later.

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Background: Jiang Hu is a staple of wuxia novels, a form of Chinese prose that gained repute during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). The stories are romanticized tales of altruistic heroes with magical martial arts skills. Jiang Hu, meaning “rivers and lakes” in Chinese, is an alternative society composed of beggars and outcasts, as well as kung fu heroes and villains. They all coexist in communities that have their own laws and ethics. The essence of wuxia can be seen in the Chinese characters that are used to write the word. Although wu means “martial,” the character's components mean “to stop the fight.” Xia loosely translates as “chivalrous hero.” Anyone with virtue is described as xia. Thus, wuxia writings feature virtuous people who use martial arts skills and morality to do good deeds. This winds up being a perfect description for Arrow and his clan. Photos by Cate Cameron/2015 The CW Network Jiang Hu includes a sub-community called Wu Lin, in which inhabitants compete to be the head fighter, swordsman or clan leader. They strive to attain that position by adhering to the unwritten but respected ethical codes of loyalty and righteousness. Yet some avoid virtue and attain power via violence. This is reminiscent of Arrow’s Ra's al Ghul, head of the League of Assassins. In Chinese films, Jiang Hu is often called the Kung Fu Underworld. In it, clans frequently vie for a symbol of power — perhaps a secret martial arts book, a special weapon or an ancient emblem. Whoever possesses the symbol rules the underworld. The Arrow parallel: Whoever wears the full-finger golden ring becomes the Ra's al Ghul.

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In 1915, when Mustafa Kamal of the Ottoman Turks arrived at the Battle of Gallipoli, the out-of-ammo Ottomans were retreating from the Allied forces. Kamal ordered them to fix bayonets, then famously said, "I don’t order you to fight; I order you to die." The Ottomans won the battle, and Kamal became Turkey's first president in 1923. In an episode of Arrow titled “The Offer,” Ra's paraphrases Kamal's words to Oliver: "My men don't have to kill for me; they have do die for me." Then Ra's explains that the League of Assassins has roots in the Koran and Muslim history. Photos by Cate Cameron/2015 The CW Network If Arrow consistently had good fights that didn’t tend to look alike, it could become a creative leader in the genre. It’s an ironic observation when you recall that in season 3, Malcolm teaches Thea how to fight, warning her to never use the same move twice. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what Arrow does: The action scenes have used the same techniques hundreds of times. Nevertheless, I find Arrow intriguing because of its connection to Jiang Hu, Wu Lin and the wuxia genre. In fact, it’s that connection that makes me wonder how much of what comic-book creators have done since the 1930s stems from wuxia. It’s possible that they were so inspired by wuxia literature that they — knowingly or unknowingly — borrowed from them. Maybe that’s their “trade secret.” Just saying. 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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