Ask the Editor, 12/14/2004 – Kicking Ass Like Jet Li?

I heard you were big into martial arts. Can you teach me to kick ass like Jet Li?

Dear Knut,

How many matches must I play in order to have ‘reliable’ results?



Ooo, good question. Part of this question is dependent upon how good or thorough a tester you are, but assuming you follow a reasonable methodology and you are relatively versed with both decks, fifteen matches should be enough to give you good results. In the end, all testing is dependent upon your play skill and not having your screwups distort your results, but so is the game itself. This is one reason why Osyp and Eugene Harvey’s results playing Affinity against hate decks were radically different than people testing this matchup for themselves. Their skill with Affinity is so high that they distort results for the average player, giving them greater insight into what the actual best deck in the format happens to be, assuming the highest play skill. Those people telling you Affinity could easily be hated out of the format by G/R decks and the like during Mirrodin Block season simply didn’t have enough skill at playing Affinity to realize how wrong they were.

What are your thoughts own getting cards, storing and sorting them, etc? What do you do with your personal collection? Also, what is your trading policy? When do you decide to go after which cards, how does your trade binder relate to the rest of your cards, etc?

I feel an answer to this question can be appreciated by many players, excluding only pros and power collectors with ridiculous quantities of every rare laying around.


Justin Calderone

Welcome to the bane of my existence – paper/cardboard. I usually buy/receive a couple of boxes for each new set, and my friends will tell you I almost never sort it so that it fits in any reasonable approximation of “organized.” It takes me hours and hours to find Extended rares, and far too long just to put together a deck for a local Type Two tournament. It’s a good thing I don’t play Vintage or it would take me a week just to pull together a deck.

I am lucky enough to get a variety of promo cards that I generally use to trade with, though occasionally they are worth so much that I end up selling them instead. I love shiny foily stuff, but sadly it does not pay the bills, so I usually only keep one of each card I get and then trade/sell the rest. I was excited to be in Japan, because they have all sorts of cool stuff that we don’t get over here, and everyone knows that AZN is the bling, yo (or so our Type One writers tell me). Anyway, I did a bunch of trading there to get things like a Foil Keiga for Ittoku to sign, a foil Time Stop, four Japanese Time Stops, and sundry other cards not listed here. I’m not the best trader, but I often have cards that are more rare than the average bear, so it works to my advantage.

Honestly, the rest of your questions are probably better answered by Bleiweiss, since he’s the master at all the stuff you listed. Maybe I’ll pester him to write an article about this sort of thing… right after I pick up all the cards my wife has been bugging me about recently and throw them in a long box or three.

Do you think there’s a connection between gaming in general, Magic in particular, and the study of martial arts?

Almost all the players in my area of Cleveland study one art or another. I know that you are or have been a student of Kempo Karate and I am also wondering a couple things about that. Do you feel the practice influences your thinking about gaming? What is your level of interest, and ability in the fighting arts? How long have you studied and what sub-style of Kempo to you study? (ryu-kyu, shorin-ryu, ed parker etc.)

Thanks in advance for your time,

Josh Bell

This is something that I don’t often write about, even though it’s really important to me and I spend a ton of time (when I’m not traveling) working on it. I guess the reason for this is that martial arts are hard to work into your average Magic article or journal entry without focusing almost exclusively on the martial arts bit and excluding everything else or without going buck wild with the Jet Li references. Of course, when I do get a chance to work both of them together, it can produce some of my best work. Thus far, that sort of synergy has been rare.

Now I will admit that although I can kick muchos assios of the average man, I am no Jet Li. Part of this is due to lack of training, and part of it comes from the fact that I’m a large Nordic man and not an uber-cool Asian martial arts God. If I had gotten started earlier, I might have been able to become Fedor or Mirko Cro Cop. As it is, I’m just happy to be a reasonably proficient ground fighter and submission wrestler. Anyway, let us regress back to my even more humble beginnings, shall we? Back in college, I took about six months of Hung Gar kung fu before schedule conflicts drove me away, but I remember enjoying what little I learned during that time. Then one day in March of 2003, Tybuc messaged me saying, “Hey, a buddy of mine is opening up a dojo next week. You should stop by and see if you are interested.” Nearly two years later I’m still at it, realizing how little I actually know with every new class.

Now the following is going to sound like bullsh**, but all the research I’ve done into this says it’s not. The martial art that I practice isn’t any of the American Kempo styles you’d be familiar with. It’s called Kyu-Na Jitsu Kempo, which no one has ever heard of before. Basically it’s a really old combo style that crosses White Tiger kung fu with old Japanese jiu-jitsu, and it throws some pressure point strikes in for good measure. In the old days, it was only passed down from one master to one student at a time, limiting the spread of this particular style to hundreds of students total. As far as we know, there are only three masters left in the world – one 9th Degree, one 5th Degree (my sensei), and one 4th Degree – so my sensei decided to take the style and make it much more public in order to make certain it didn’t die out.

For those of you who aren’t into the whole martial arts thang, let me take a moment to illuminate the possibilities for you. Old Japanese jiu-jitsu is a mean, practical martial art that is about as far from “sport styles” like tae kwon do and traditional American karate as you can get. Without explaining a lot of the history behind the development (it was initially designed to deal effectively with guys in armor) jiu-jitsu involves a lot of throws and joint locks meant to incapacitate opponents as quickly as possible, and these days works from the philosophy that “people hitting you more than once is bad, mmkay?” Dislocations and broken bones are frequent when the kid gloves come off and a JJ practitioner decides it’s time to get dirty.

What makes our style significantly different than most basic “jitsu” styles is that the animal forms from White Tiger kung fu are also incorporated into what we learn. This significantly enhances your striking ability and gives the practitioner of this style an advantage when facing off against multiple attackers or situations that restrict you from locking up an opponent for any significant period of time. In addition to some of the more effective and lesser-known strikes like monkey’s paw (used for breaking bones) and dragon claws (destructive pressure point strikes), you can learn distinct complete forms of striking like mantis and snake. We also use the knees, elbows, and shins as weapons, again contributing to the “not very nice” and practical self-defence elements of the style. Students from our school can’t really compete in most martial arts tournaments because it’s far too difficult to deprogram them enough not to injure people in point system tournaments.

Essentially what we learn in class every day is full Pride/UFC fighting, with strikes, some minor kicking, and lots of throws and ground fighting. In addition to that, you add the street elements of pressure point strikes, and top it off with “iron-limb training” or what we simply refer to as conditioning. This is used to increase your pain tolerance and to develop weapons that most people don’t have like being able to block strikes with your shins and forearms without taking any real damage. At the very least, the shin conditioning is a big help walking around in dark rooms with lots of stuff on the floors.

Our belt system is exceedingly slow, which makes sense when you think about how much information you need in order to master this sort of style. I’ve actually been in class for about 18 months or so (minus travel time) and have enough information to probably test for my blue belt (belts go White, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Blue, Green, Brown, Red, and Black), but my fitness is literally about six weeks of hard training away from being able to pass my next test. When we leave Charlottesville, I’ll have been taking classes for three to four years and will still probably be a few years away from having enough knowledge to test for a first-degree black belt, though at some point I’d like to at least achieve instructor level.

I won’t give you the whole list of stuff I need to do for my next test because it’s kind of boring, but this is about half of the basic physical requirements necessary to pass my next test: 80 Front, Back, Roundhouse, Hopping Side, and Hook kicks, each side, half of which are on a 100 lb. heavy bag. 6 rounds of 20-yard wrestling drills, including duck walk, crab walk, bear crawl, and wheelbarrow with the last one double, plus monkey rolls. There’s a boatload of other stuff listed that involves physical aptitude and overall knowledge, plus at the end of it you get to do pressure point conditioning with the sensei so he can see what your pain tolerance is like. In short, it’s insane, but also insanely rewarding. The slow belt progression doesn’t bother me because belts are merely symbolic of the knowledge you are supposed to have, and sweet jeebus is there a lot of information to assimilate.

One of the things I like about my dojo is how laid back the environment is. People are there to have fun and learn safely how to protect themselves. The sensei understands this and therefore doesn’t make us put up with any bullsh** Cobra Kai-type discipline, even though we wear the black gis and look kinda badass. I was one of the first four students in the dojo, and it’s interesting to see how much softer the classes have become over time. In the early days, conditioning was mandatory and we pushed each other all the time to increase the pain thresholds and learn faster. Since then, that particular element of class has scared away a lot of potential students, so now you don’t have to condition at all until you reach purple belt. Other small “sacrifices” have been made since then to make the style more acceptable to students of all ages and abilities, but what you learn has lost very little of its edge. A couple of months ago we started learning Navy S.E.A.L. knife-fighting patterns as part of our weapons training, marking the first time my brain stopped and thought, “Wait a second… this will kill somebody.” Needless to say, I was more than a little freaked out.

As for my own aptitude, it’s pretty good right now and should be a lot better by the time we leave Charlottesville. My abilities are such that right now I can more than hold my own against anybody who doesn’t understand ground-fighting, regardless of their training. Aside from that though, my stand up skills are pretty rudimentary and have a lot of room for improvement. Upper belts in any of the major styles would give me major problems, but by the time you get a black belt in our school, most people of good athletic ability should be able to hold their own in any of the lesser UFC-type contests you see. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t had many high school wrestlers or football players some into the school during their off-seasons to learn a lot more about what we do, since I know for a fact that it will drastically improve their abilities. John Matthew Upton started taking Brazilian JJ a couple of months back, so maybe this summer I’ll invite him down for a class or two and we’ll spar and report our results.

As for your actual question, I think there is a connection between martial arts and any sort of athletic gamer. For starters, gamers are often the kind of guys who were picked on in school, making them a bit more likely to learn self-defence in their later years to make sure that never happens again. Add that to a natural cross-over between gaming and enjoyment of kung fu films, anime, Matrix-style fight scenes and the like, and I think it’s easy to understand why so many guy gamers find themselves in a martial arts class at some point. My actual reason for joining was part curiosity and part frustration at my frequent injuries from playing soccer. Since starting kempo, I’ve had considerably less bench time due to injury even though what I’m doing is arguably more dangerous.

I also think that there’s a real strategic benefit that can be gained from applying Magic to martial arts and vice versa. Both concepts are based around using the tools at hand to exploit weakness in one’s opponent, and systematic thinking in both areas can help you assimilate the lessons faster, thus giving you an edge on those with similar experience. Tragically most of the time I should be spending getting better at Magic is instead spent either traveling or in the dojo, so while I’m a reasonably proficient martial artist, I remain stains at slinging the spells.

If you can’t tell from this long-winded explanation, I am completely in love with my martial arts school and try to do everything I can to help it succeed. I can’t help you learn how to kick ass like Jet Li… yet. But I know who can. If you are interested in learning more about Kyu-Na Jitsu Kempo, feel free to contact Sensei James Baird at [email protected]. If you live anywhere near Charlottesville and find yourself wanting to stop in for a couple of free classes to check out what I’m talking about, the dojo is located on JPA, just behind Durty Nelly’s Bar, and classes are held Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 7-10pm, and Fridays from 1-4pm. Bring friends! We even feature student discounts for all the Wahoos out there.

See you tomorrow,

Ted Knutson

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