I Remember

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I remember a dream of an airplane, falling sharply through the sky. I remember carts barrelling down the aisles and the floor falling sharply beneath me. I remember the screaming.

It was the night of 10 September 2001.

The following night, I understood what the dream meant.

I remember the phone call from a friend that night, claiming a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I remember turning on the television to see the Twin Towers burning, the news casters frantic rehashing of events halfway across the globe, repeating them every few minutes. I remember the face of Satan in the smoke.

I remember the fall.

I remember the smiles, the laughter and the cheers of many people who had seen the collapse of the towers. This was my first brush with naked evil, and my first encounter with those who wish nothing more than to watch the world burn.

It’s been 16 years since then. A lifetime. There is an entire generation of children who have never seen the Towers fall, but have lived with the consequences. A decade and a half of war, fathers and mothers leaving home for war and returning crippled or in coffins, regular reminders of terrorism and national security threats, the steady erosion of necessary liberties for temporary security.

To the generation after theirs, 9/11 would be something they read in history books or learn from their parents. They will never experience the consequences of that day, only the second- and third- and fourth-order effects. When the day comes, what should I tell my children?

I was born in the shadow of a nuclear apocalypse. The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a generations-long cold war, every word and gesture backed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over. A few years later, the Soviet Union suddenly ceased to exist.

My generation was promised a brave new world and the end of history. We merely enjoyed a brief respite before the war of our generation crashed into every television, every computer and every radio in the world.

While a War on Terror beats nuclear annihilation, it demands a new way of living, a new way of thinking, and the recognition that things never become better all by themselves — we must make them so, or hurtle into the abyss.

Being born in Singapore, I was sheltered from the shock. 9/11 was a tragedy, but not a personal one. None who died were my countrymen, much less people I know. We never had to go to war—though we were, and still are, targeted by terrorists. I could have been born in America and experienced far greater loss; I could have been born in Afghanistan, and forced to choose between the Taliban and the West.

There but for the grace of God go I.

The psychic wounds have healed over, faded to shallow scars. The rage, the grief, the horror, they have bled out long ago, leaving little more than a cyst of sorrow. Now that I am a man, I have shouldered greater responsibilities, and prepare myself for greater ones still.

Now, not so long after 9/11, there are new challenges. The never-ending War on Terror. The culture war between the social justice warriors and those who would face them. The Control-Left versus the Alt-Right. The clash of civilizations—not just between Islam and the West, but between everybody and everybody else. Corporations who arrogate to themselves the power to decide what speech is acceptable on social media. Governments who use all number of excuses to shore up their own power and take away everybody else’s rights. I have no doubt that my children will face challenges of their own.

What shall I teach them?

I will teach them of the boundless resilience of the human spirit and the breadth of the human heart. That sovereigns come and go, but ethics endures through the ages. That kith and kin matter more than the political fads of the day. That evil must be met with courage and righteousness and that all lies are sundered by the truth. That rulers and bandwagons must always be watched with a suspicious eye. That the triumph of evil comes simply from silence, but the triumph of good demands unbending virtue lived day after day. That they are the latest link in an unbroken chain stretching into the mists of antiquity, each generation building upon the achievements of the last, that for civilization to endure they themselves must be ready and able to bow their backs to the task and lay the groundwork for the glories of the next age.

Most of all, I will teach them to remember.

Cover image by Chris Schiffner.

TWO LIVES: Part 5 of 5

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Two scenes in a row. That was intense. I wiped the sweat from my brow—and then I realized I was mimicking the upwards parry Akira had used. My heart thumped in my chest. Blood pumped to my fists and feet.

I had to get a grip. That battle was long in the past. I had to leave it there.

At the shrine, I saw a large golden maneki neko. Gathered around the statue was a collection of smaller cats, their left paws raised. Legend held that keeping a maneki neko at a place of business was sure to bring good fortune. Which, no doubt, explained their popularity in Singapore and Japan.

There was a plaque nearby. It read: A manner of joining hands in prayer. Relax, join hands in front of your chest and close your eyes. Raise your left hand to the height of your left ear and mew. Your prayers will be answered.

I smiled. The Japanese sure had some strange customs. Then again, in Singapore, Chinese Buddhists pray by grasping burning incense sticks at chest height and bowing deep and often, sometimes punctuating it by waving their hands up and down in exaggerated motions. What would a Japanese think if he saw that?

Nevertheless, I clasped my hands together and nodded. Japan was a land of kami, and in that sense little different from the branch of Buddhism I had grown up with.

A strange thought popped into my head. Is there anything you want?

I’d experienced too much to dismiss it as a random thought. Instead, I smiled. How did Akira’s story end?

Here.


I was a ronin again.

Hattori was true to his word. He paid me for the job and erased my name from official mentions. The dead bandits were explained away as ‘self-defence’. The bandit chief himself was reported to have ‘died from his wounds’. I couldn’t think of a better outcome.

With the bandits eliminated, the merchant no longer needed yojimbo. With Hana dead, I had nothing tying me down to the city. I tried to stay, but I was surrounded by ghosts. Her smile in the moonlight near the river we had met, the tinkle of her laughter, the way she tugged at my sleeve when she wanted my attention.

I’d never known what she saw in a ronin like me. Perhaps I never would.

Summer surrendered to autumn. I continued teaching at the temple, but already I felt restless. The city felt a strange place, an alien world of noise and colour and strange customs. There was no place here for ronin like me. It was time for a new city, a new life.

After the final class of the season, I gathered my worldly belongings and prepared to leave. It wasn’t much: the clothes on my back, my weapons, my purse, a small sack holding travel essentials. Everything else I bequeathed to the temple.

I left Hiro with the monks. They could take care of it better than me. The road was no place for a cat used to life in the city. All I had left to remember Hana was the omamori I had never returned.

I headed north. I resumed the discipline of the road easily enough. Walk until tired, rest until ready, keep on walking. Sleep under the stars on dry nights, under trees during the rains, inside inns and temples if they were available and if I had the funds. For sustenance I had tea leaves and rice, and I harvested wild fruits and tubers where available.

I passed through an assortment of villages and towns, taking odd jobs for pay, but never staying for too long. I found no reason to stay, so I kept walking.

As winter approached, the days shortened and the air cooled. Falling ill now was dangerous. A man could freeze to death by the road and no one would notice. Or care. I quickened my pace, heading to the next city. I would shelter there for the winter. After that, well, who knows?

I pushed on, going further and further without rest. The first snows fell, dusting the world in white. I wrapped my haori tightly around myself and endured the cold. My destination was in sight, a black dot in the distance, past a sward of dried and yellowing grass.

I reached the gates in the evening. I pleaded with the sole watchman to let me in, and eventually he relented. At least he showed me the way to the nearest temple.

The snow grew thicker, occasionally slipping under my kimono and freezing my flesh. My geta sank deeper and deeper, barely keeping my feet clear of the layer of white. People retreated indoors, where they could find light and warmth. I doubted I could afford a room at an inn. But monks would never turn away a man like me.

Past the torii, I had to climb a series of stairs to reach the temple. Cold sweat clung to my flesh. I sneezed, wiping my nose against my sleeve. I planted my feet carefully, retaining my balance on the slippery stone.

The stairs fed into the sando, the narrow road that approached the temple. Two lines of toro lit the way. In the distance I just about made out the silhouette of the worship hall. There was another building on my right. Light beckoned from the windows. Perhaps I could find the monks there.

But first, I had one more thing to do.

To my left was a small pavilion. A temizuya. I checked the chozubachi; the stone water vessel was full. Rolling up my sleeve, I took a dipper and poured water on my left hand. The water shocked my skin and numbed my fingers. I rinsed my right hand and mouth, then dipped the handle into the water.

Now ritually pure, I wiped my hands on my hakama and my mouth on my sleeve, and headed for the lit building. By the light of the toro I saw a petite woman approach.

A woman?

She wore no makeup, but her long hair was tied into a neat bun. She wore a haori dyed a pure white, and a hakama the colour of blood.

She was not a nun. She was a miko.

This was not a Buddhist temple. This was a Shinto shrine.

She studied me as she approached. She saw the swords at my side and bowed, deep and low.

“Good evening,” she said.

I returned her bow. “Good evening.”

“May I help you?” she asked.

“I need a place to stay for the winter.”

She smiled broadly, fire dancing in her eyes.

“Come inside. We’d be pleased to have a guest.”


Is that everything? I wondered.

It is enough.

Another life. Another city. Another chance to try again. I hoped it was enough for Akira. For me.

I bowed, and walked away.

Here I was, living a life utterly different from, yet eerily similar to, the one Akira had led. We were ronin who had studied the sword. We were thinkers, not talkers. Buddhism had shaped us. We had lovers named for flowers. He had lost Hana. Mine was still around.

A quiet voice, deep and calm, flooded my mind.

You have one more chance with her. Don’t waste it.

Akira’s voice. My voice, reaching across the centuries.

I won’t.

In the evening, in my hotel, I brought out my laptop. My lover was online. I opened Facebook Messenger and touched my fingers to the keys.

Something funny happened earlier today…


The places and performances described at Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura are as I have experienced them in July 2016.

Earlier chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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Interested in more stories from me? Check out NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

TWO LIVES: Part 4 of 5

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My heart thudded sharply in my chest. I hadn’t seen that coming.

Cold crept through my chest. I breathed through it, focusing blanking out everything but the cycling of air through my lungs. A shard of grief embedded in my heart. Centuries removed from the event, I still felt the echo of the trauma; I couldn’t begin to comprehend what Akira had felt under his mask.

But I wasn’t him. I am me.

No, not quite. I am he, and he is me. How else could I have seen these images, spotted the parallels between his life and mine?

My parents beckoned me to go. I followed them numbly, trying to immerse myself into the flow of information. It was like trying to grasp water; every time I thought I had something it slipped through my fingers. Meaningless babble filled my words. Vague impressions lightly touched my body.

I paused to look around, careful to avoid bumping into people. We were heading towards a temple. Through the doorway I saw figures arranged on an altar. People prayed before them in their own ways. Some clasped their hands and closed their eyes, others added a bow or lowered their heads.

But that wasn’t the temple I remembered. The one I had known was…empty.


It was a quiet day. The children had gone. The priests were busy with their chores. That left me free to practice the sword.

In the empty courtyard, I practiced draws and cuts, thrusts and slashes, body slams and grappling techniques. With every stroke I imagined cutting down a bandit.

The monks continued their chores, already used to my regimen. Hiro was wandering the grounds somewhere, hunting for mice and other treasures. No one came to disturb me. Good.

Hana’s absence had left a hole in my heart, as though an unseen demon had clawed out a chunk of me. In the morning, I had lit incense for Hana and her family, and dedicated an hour of prayers. The funeral had been carried out long ago, well before I had returned to the city. This was the best I could do.

My chest throbbed. I kept training. My services were not required today. My employer said I needed time to grieve. He was right – but grieving can wait. The sword came first. Soon, there would come a time for vengeance. I had to be ready for that moment of truth.

I switched to my wakizashi, reacquainting myself with the feel of the smaller sword, studying how the length and balance affected my techniques. If I had to fight indoors, this would be my primary weapon; the longer katana would be too unwieldy.

A visitor stepped into the courtyard. His bamboo hat shielded his face from sight, but I could feel his eyes on me. He wore a dark green kimono with a white collar, matched with a heavy grey hakama. At his left hip he carried a daisho, and tucked into his obi was a jitte.

He was no ordinary samurai; he was a police samurai.

I sheathed my sword and bowed. He bowed back.

“Are you the ronin who lives in the temple?” the samurai asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I heard what happened to your woman. On behalf of the police, you have my condolences.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you doing well?”

Every living being must die. It is simply the way of things. Instead of dwelling on her death, the head monk had advised me to remember what made Hana’s life worth celebrating, and how I could live my life to honour her memory. It almost worked.

“Yes.” I paused. “But you did not come here simply to ask after me.”

He smiled. “Of course. Please, step outside with me. We have much to talk about.”

“Such as?”

“It is not proper to speak of bloodshed before the Buddha.”

I exited the temple with him. As we strolled down the street, he began speaking.

“Two months ago, we heard that a mysterious ronin cut down a pair of bandits in the marketplace. One was slain, the other’s hands were cut off. Leaving aside the legality of the incident, we took the maimed bandit into custody.

“We spread the word that he bled to death. In reality, we locked him up and questioned him rigorously. He revealed to us the location of the bandits’ hideout. We have since confirmed the information, and are putting together a task force to apprehend the criminals. You may come with us if you wish.”

“Why me?”

“What they did to your woman demands vengeance.”

“What do I get out of it?”

“A job. Monetary compensation. And the police would not look too closely into your activities on the day the bandits were cut down.”

If the police had truly wanted to question me, they could have found me anytime they pleased. They must have felt that dealing with the bandits was a higher priority than a ronin lodging in a temple.

“You look sceptical,” he added.

The money would be nice. The promise of reduced police attention would be a bonus, assuming he spoke the truth. But the rewards were ancillary. As soon as he had made the offer I had made my decision.

After all, what warrior would not avenge his woman?

I shook my head.

“I’m in,” I said.


The samurai called himself Hattori. At sunset I met his team of twelve lesser samurai at the city gates. They were clad in helmets and suits of mail armour, reinforced with plates on their sleeves, thighs and shins. Their primary armaments were polearms—arresting tools, not weapons of war—but they all carried swords by their sides. All of them had horses.

I was the only one without armour, a non-lethal implement or a horse. What I did have was Hana’s omamori, secured to my obi. None of them commented on my equipment. The moment I mounted Hattori’s horse, we set off.

The bandits lived in a house outside the city. Formerly an inn, the owners had long ago abandoned it, giving the criminals a perfect hideout. It was situated inside a forest by the main road, with a lone dirt path providing access.

The samurai left the horses a distance away and gathered for a strategy meeting.

“We will split into two groups,” Hattori said. “Sumimori, you will take six men and secure the perimeter. Mine will attack the house and apprehend the criminals. We should expect at least six bandits inside the house. In case we need reinforcements, Sumimori’s team will double as our reserve force.

“We will make our approach through the trees, parallel to the road. Sumimori, your group will go first and deal with any guards and traps within the forest. When you’re done, assemble on the left side of the road and mimic the call of an owl. I will reply with a similar call. My team will pass through the forest to the right of the path. When we’re in position, I will sound the attack with my jinkai. Sumimori, if you are discovered, blow your own jinkai and my team will rush in.”

Sumimori gathered his men and crept off into the night. I stayed with Hattori.

There was nothing left to say, nothing more to do but wait. Crickets sang all around us. The remaining samurai checked their equipment and gathered around their leader. I tugged at my daisho, ensuring they were firmly held in place, and joined them. Hattori retrieved his jinkai from his horse. Held in a basket, it was a large conch shell with a brass mouthpiece that served as a trumpet.

Time crawled. I focused on my breath, clearing my mind. There was no room for thoughts of revenge, of duty, of Hana. Only victory.

A long, low whoop filled the air.

Hattori placed his hands to his mouth and issued a similar call.

“Let’s go, he whispered.

He led the way into the forest. I followed. Most of the samurai was city dwellers, unused to the forest. Now and then I heard the snapping of twigs, the rustling of leaves, the soft thuds of weapons bumping into trees. I moved deliberately, keeping my swords pinned to my side with one hand and the other outstretched to detect unseen obstacles.

Reaching the tree line, I saw the house under the light of the moon. It was a sturdy two-story structure with a nearby stable. Long shadows crept under the roof. The windows were dark. Nobody seemed to be awake.

Something moved within the shadows. A man. He walked in a small circle, swinging his arms and stretching his neck. In the dark I couldn’t tell if he were armed, but there was no reason to assume he wasn’t.

Hattori placed his jinkai to his lips and blew a deep two-tone call.

Samurai boiled out of the woods, screaming at the top of their lungs. I drew my wakizashi and followed.

The guard stood his ground. Bellowing something unintelligible, he drew his sword and slashed uselessly at the air. He must be trying to scare the police – but they kept coming.

A samurai charged him, sasumata in hand. The bandit hacked away at the spear fork to no effect. The samurai ensnared the bandit in the crook of the sasumata’s horns and drove him against the wall. Undeterred, the guard flailed about, his sword passing dangerously close to the samurai’s limbs.

Another police samurai arrived, this one armed with a sodegarami. Approaching the bandit from the side, he thrust the sleeve entangler just as the bandit slashed again. The sword clashed against the sodegarami’s head, lodging between its forward prongs. Sliding his weapon down, the samurai drew a tight circle, capturing the bandit’s hand with the pole arm’s rear-facing hooks, and yanked. The sword flew away.

Two more samurai pounced on the halpless bandit, wrestling him to the ground. Inside the house, men yelled. Light spilled out the windows. The front door opened. The faint glow of a lantern revealed a huge man with a katana. His eyes locked on the nearest target.

Me.

Screaming, he raised his katana. The blade caught on the doorframe. As he struggled to pull it free, I thrust into his exposed throat. Retracting the wakizashi, I rammed my shoulder into him.

We tumbled into the house. The dying bandit flopped over, clutching at his throat. To my left, a pair of bandits stormed through an open door.

A police samurai barged past me, going for the left-hand bandit. I raised my weapon and approached the other one. He snarled a curse and rushed me with a frenzy of wild sword strokes. I leapt back, but I felt steel slicing across my arm.

He slashed again. I stepped in, raising my sword. My blade met his with a loud clang. I flowed around his slash, brought my wakizashi high and took off his head.

I looked down. The sword had scored my right forearm. Only bone, minimal damage.

The other police samurai seemed to be in trouble. He held a short jitte against his forearm, while the bandit had a much longer sword. The samurai backpedalled, evading a slash. The bandit stepped in and cut again.

The samurai shot in, blocking the blade with his jitte. Quick as a flash, he hooked the sword with the prong of his jitte and grabbed his opponent’s left hand. The samurai wheeled his arms around, and suddenly he was on his feet, holding the bandit’s weapon. More samurai swarmed the disarmed bandit, tackling him down.

Another police samurai ran past me. Hattori.

“Upstairs!” he shouted. “Follow me!”

I obeyed, running right behind him. Hattori had a te yari, a spear specially shortened for room fighting. This one had a crossbar mounted behind the tip. It seemed he wasn’t interested in taking prisoners.

The room next to us had a staircase. As we pounded up the stairs, I heard men shouting from above. Hattori yelled back, jabbing his te yari. I stepped back and down, giving him room to work. Over his shoulder, I saw a bandit waving a sword. Two more bandits waited nearby, watching the fight.

Hattori aimed high, going for the bandit’s face. The man moved to guard—but it was a feint. Hattori swooped low, hooked the crossbar behind his ankle and pulled. The man went down with a resounding crash. Hattori adjusted his aim and thrust. A high-pitched shriek filled the air and curdled my blood. He’d just been unmanned.

The surviving bandits turned and fled to a nearby room.

Ike!” Hattori urged. Go!

We chased the bandits into the room. Hattori stepped through the door, spear in hand. A bandit blindsided him, tackling him against a wall. Entering the room, I kicked the attacker in the temple. The bandit turned over on his side. Hattori released his weapon and grappled with the bandit.

That left one more bandit in the room. He wore an expensive indigo-dyed kimono and a fine grey hakama. A long scar crossed his right eye. A short sword dangled from his right hand.

“Are you the bandit chief?” I asked.

He snorted. “And what if I am?”

I circled to his right. “You killed my woman.”

He leered. “Really? I can’t remember. I’ve slain so many over the years, after having my way with them. The sight of women on all fours, begging for mercy, really gets the blood going. You know what I mean?”

He continued spewing filth, circling as he spoke. The banter was a distraction. He was slowly approaching me, sliding his feet forward to shorten the distance between us. I let him continue, trying to get an angle into his diminished right side.

He was in range. I stepped in, rearing my body up.

He cut at my neck.

I swooped in low, ducking under his stroke. With a loud kiai I cut through his belly. I stepped through and whirled around.

The bandit was down, blood seeping into the tatami under my feet.

I glanced at Hattori. Two more samurai had come to assist, one to hold down the prisoner and the other to tie him up.

I pricked my ears and listened. Men spoke to each other in conversational tones. There were no more orders, no desperate cries, no ringing of steel of steel. The metallic tang of blood intermingled with the odour of faeces and urine. I counted the number of men we had met along the way. Six of them. The bandits had been dealt with.

The bandit chief moaned, slowly bleeding to death. I wondered why he didn’t resist. Then I saw what had happened to his spine.

I flicked the blood from my sword. It splashed at Hattori’s feet.

“Looks like you’ve gotten your revenge,” he said.

I nodded numbly. I didn’t feel anything. Not satisfaction, not joy, just… calm. An understanding that the wheel of karma had turned once again, like it always had and always will. This wouldn’t bring Hana back—but it would stop the bandits from harming any more innocents.

“He needs a physician,” I said.

Hattori shook his head. “You cut through his spine. With a wound that deep, we should just put him out of his misery.”

“I shall leave that decision to you.”

“You’re not going to do it?”

“He’s…no longer a threat. If I did anything else in front of a police samurai, I could be charged with murder.”

Hattori chuckled grimly. “Come. We still have work to do.”


Earlier chapters: Part 1, 2 and 3.

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For more fiction by yours truly, do check out the Dragon Award-nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon.

Dragon Awards 2017 Winners

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The results of the Dragon Awards 2017 are in. The winners have my heartiest congratulations for producing such fine stories, and the voters have my thanks for making the Dragon Awards the premier fan awards in science fiction and fantasy.

While my own novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS did not win the award, against a titanic figure like Harry Turtledove there simply is no competition. Turtledove has writing since long before I was born, and has contributed immeasurably to the field. Likewise, while none of the authors I recommended for the award won, this was simply because they were up against names even more famous and accomplished than themselves. I am particularly pleased that John Ringo, Larry Correia and Jim Butcher have won awards; they are giants in their field, and such recognition is long overdue.

Going by the numbers alone, it’s clear that the Dragon Awards is far more representative of fandom. With double the total votes of the Hugo Awards, the Dragons have demonstrated which award fandom would rather be a part of. Bear in mind that in recent years the Hugos have benefited from press coverage (and lies) about Puppy-related drama, while the Dragon Awards have by and large flown under the radar.

Of course, the Social Justice Warriors aren’t going to take it lying down. N K Jemisin and Alison Littlewood failed to discredit the awards after they withdrew their nominations (and disrespected their fans). John Scalzi failed to win an award in spite of the drama he generated by first withdrawing from, then returning to, the ballot. To further discredit the Awards, the new narrative is that the Dragon Awards is sexist, because all the winners are men.

To this, I have the following rejoinders:

  1. Women swept the Hugo Awards. If this isn’t sexist, then it’s not sexist for men to sweep the Dragons.
  2. For women to have a chance to win an award, they have to show up and stay in the game. Jemisin and Littlewood, both women, abandoned the field of honour. Such a pity, too: being a double Hugo award winner, Jemisin would have had a decent chance at unseating James S A Corey.
  3. Patty Jenkins, a woman, won the Dragon Awards for directing Wonder Woman.

I have no doubt that next year the SJWs will again try to besiege the Dragons. And again, I must recommend that the organisers establish a firm withdrawals policy. They should either prevent authors from withdrawing works, or allow them to do so on the condition that they are permanently banned and blacklisted from future awards. They must be ready to stand fast in the face of pressure from SJWs.

As for myself, I’m in the final stages of preparing my next story. For those who have voted for me, thanks for your support, and please look forward to the sequel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

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If you would like to get your hands on the Dragon Award-nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, you can find it here.

The War on Truth and Free Thought

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The Bible posits that the world is in the grip of the Father of Lies. With each passing day I am inclined to agree.

Today there is a war on truth and free thought. It is a war fought on the airwaves, in the newsroom, on social media, in print and in lectures. It is a war for nothing less than your mind.

This is not a war fought with guns or bombs–not yet. The weapons of choice are obfuscations, emotional hijacking, memory-holing, cyberswarming and outright deception. When these weapons are exposed and blunted, the next step is censorship, discriminatory firing, demonetisation and no-platforming. In recent times we are seeing the latest round of escalation: riots and targeted violence. The purpose is to smother the truth with lies, and punish everyone who speaks the truth.

Who are the ones running this war? The radical progressives who wish to bend the world to their whims. The oligarchs who profit from the manipulation of demographics, economies and politics. The governments allied with them who seek to keep the people under their thumb.

Who are their targets? They are the people who commit the crimes of thinking for themselves and speaking their minds. They are the ones who express even a hint of skepticism of the party line. They are ordinary people whom these oligarchs wish to control. People like you and me.

The Quiet War

Everybody knows the political orthodoxy. Manmade climate change will lead to an environmental apocalypse. Neo-Nazis are right-wing extremists threatening the world. Anyone who criticises Islam must be Islamophobic and racist. Diversity uber alles, and everyone who questions it are racists/sexists/homophobic/transphobic/bigots. The mainstream media always tells the truth.

And if you question the narrative, you are branded a heretic and punished.

James Damore was fired for distributing a memo that highlighted the echo chamber in Google. The mainstream media lied about his memo and disappeared his citations. The Establishment turned him into a villain, ruining his job prospects everywhere in the technology sector, for the crime of daring to contradict the narrative and shine a spotlight on potentially illegal HR practices.

Damore’s departure is a symptom of a deeper rot within Silicon Valley. If a high-profile user’s politics do not completely agree with those of a platform, they are gone. Google, Facebook, YouTube, PayPal and Patreon have been relentlessly purging thoughtcriminals from their platforms–and the mainstream media ignores them.

Here is a sampling of their latest victims:

Paul Joseph Watson was banned on Facebook for a video making fun of a feminist, a video in which the ‘target’ was in on the joke. His YouTube account was also demonetised.

YouTube personalities Diamond and Silk discovered their videos were demonetised, and are now filing a class action suit.

Pop critic Rageaholic’s YouTube videos were demonetised shortly after uploading. Even an innocuous one discussing the games he’s looking forward to in 2018.

Giovanna Laine was issued a strike for a livestream and the video was removed — 3 hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Patreon deleted high-profile right-winger Lauren Southern’s account while allowing those of violent Antifa users to stand.

YouTube has demonetised every firearm channels — but not channels that promote gun control.

Public intellectual Thomas Wictor’s YouTube account was terminated. After he posted a video on Vimeo, his account was restored without comment.

PayPal banned Jihad Watch from accepting donations on its platform — though the ban was quickly rescinded.

The Amazing Atheist’s YouTube content was demonetised.

SouthFront, which reports on world conflicts, had their YouTube account terminated.

Social media network Gab had its app refused from the Apple App Store nine times, and their Android app was taken off the Google Play Store. The official explanation was that Gab promoted hate speech. But that same hate speech is prevalent on other social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and tumblr, whose apps are not banned.

Twitter has shadowbanned high-profile members of the SFF community, including Brian Niemeier. Shadowbanned users can’t see replies to their tweets, and their friends can’t see the original tweets. More troublesome personalities, chiefly right-wing personalities, had their accounts deleted.

Google altered its search algorithms to filter out ‘fake news’. According to Renegade Inc.:

Wikileaks experienced a 30% decline in traffic from Google searches. Democracy Now fell by 36%. Truthout dropped by 25%. Its own traffic dropped by 67% percent over the same period. Alternet saw a 63% decline in traffic. Media Matters saw a 36% drop in traffic. Counterpunch.org fell by 21%. The Intercept fell by 19%.

Silicon Valley is running a campaign to punish users who do not toe the party line, and the mainstream media isn’t covering it. With so many high-profile creators taken off the airwaves and so little from the media, the only conclusion is that the media is deliberately hiding the news through non-coverage.

And when the news can’t be hidden, the mainstream media will obfuscate it.

The media machine spotlit the Neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville. Self-righteous condemnation and op-eds flood the papers and the screens whenever someone so much as utters a “Sieg Heil!”. But what about Antifa and their riots in Berkeley, Hamburg, Seattle and Boston?

The media ignores the Antifa who show up with makeshift weapons and body armour, bottles of urine and brass knuckles and bike locks. They downplay the actions of the Antifa thugs who attack everyone around them, framing it as self-defence or as a response to right-wing violence or the presence of Trump supporters. They won’t talk about how Antifa rioters violently disrupted speeches by conservative darling Milo Yiannopoulis.

It’s clear who the mainstream media sympathises with. CNN claimed that Antifa seeks peace through violence before amending its headline shortly after. Other journalists have expressed sympathy with Antifa.

The media is painting Neo-Naxis as right-wing extremists to smear everyone on the Right while studiously ignoring Antifa violence. When Donald Trump condemned “both sides” at Charlottesville for committing violence, he is attacked for not explicitly calling out the Neo-Nazis. And the media won’t discuss the similarities between the antifascists and actual fascists.

The culture war is spilling into the streets. This war is not about the Left or Right; the victims of these oligarchs come from both sides of the political spectrum. This is about defining acceptable discourse and rewriting history. This is technology oligarchs punishing content creators who pushed controversial opinions that do not square with their ideology. This is the mainstream media burying the truth to further a political agenda. This is a deliberate collusion to hide the truth.

This is a war for your mind.

The Weapons of Truth

This war isn’t limited to politics. This is an extension of the culture war fought over Gamergate, Sad Puppies, the Hugo Awards and the Dragon Awards. The dark powers seek to control everything: your culture, your politics, your beliefs.

If you value freedom of speech and conscience, you have to fight.

Get off hostile platforms. Sooner or later, the oligarchs will come for you. Strike first. I stopped using Google as a search engine a long time ago. I barely use Facebook and Twitter if I can avoid it. If I have to reference a mainstream news site, I use archive.io. If the oligarchs choose to engage in economic warfare, reprisals are called for.

Use alternative platforms that support your right to think and speak freely. Gab is my social media platform of choice. DuckDuck Go is my default search engine. Brave browser can replace almost every Net browser, including Google Chrome. Infogalactic is superior to Wikipedia. I’m on Steemit partly as a defence against government censorship. By supporting and building these alternative platforms, the oligarchs cannot silence you.

Always speak the truth. Truth is the sword that cuts through all deceptions and sophistries. By always seeking and speaking the truth, you develop an immunity to manipulations and lies, and gain an understanding of the true state of the world. No amount of lies can override the truth; you need only the courage and the will to speak it.

If you diverge from the narrative by even an infinitesimal degree, the social justice warriors will brand you a Nazi — and they claim it is righteous to punch a Nazi. If you dare to speak your mind, you will be on their hit list sooner or later. Like it or not, you’re now a part of the culture war, the war to take back your right to speak freely.

But deny the oligarchs your soul and continue speaking the truth, and they will have no power over you.

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The Dragon Awards needs YOU to hold back the tide of SJWs who wish to hijack them. Vote for No Gods, Only Daimons under the Alternate History category. You can find the novel here, and you can sign up for the Dragon Awards here.

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Harem

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata is an anime all otaku can resonate with. Season 1 follows the ups and downs of a high school indie game development group, with a mix of humour, harem hijinks and character interplay. Season 2 exchanges the humour for drama, with interpersonal tension and conflict threatening to tear the group apart. With its mix of superb voice acting, characterisation and production values, Saekano is an excellent piece of entertainment – if you don’t think too hard about the relationships.

This is not a review. There are plenty of reviewers who can do a better job than me. Instead, I’m going to write how Saekano is emblematic of everything wrong with modern harem anime.

The Boring Harem

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Just a high school boy and his groupies, nothing to see here

Saekano is centred on Aki Tomoya, a Japanese high schooler who happens to be a diehard otaku. Right off the bat, you can tell who the anime is aimed at: like many high school otaku of his breed, Aki is the audience stand-in, distinguished by his undying love for all things otaku—light novels, anime, manga, video games—and his utter obliviousness to emotions.

One fine day, while Aki is cycling home, he sees a beret floating down a slope. As cherry blossoms swirl around him, he looks up to see a girl at the top of the slope. The encounter inspires him to create the perfect dating sim. Returning to school, he discovers to his complete shock that his classmate, Kato Megumi, was the girl he met.

Aki ropes Kato into his project, and quickly enlists his friends (naturally, all girls) to help out. The team artist is Sawamura Spencer Eriri, Aki’s half-English childhood friend, who also creates adult-themed art for a famous doujin group Egoistic Lily. Third-year student Kasumigaoka Utaha, in reality a bestselling author who writes light novels under the pen name Kasumi Utako, handles the script. Later in the first season, the anime introduces Hyodo Michiru, Aki’s cousin-cum-other childhood friend who plays in the band Icy Tail, as the music composer. Together, they form the doujin circle Blessing Software.

We see here the essential ingredients of a Japanese high school harem anime. First, there is a male otaku main character with the emotional intelligence of a rock. Second, a bunch of girls who for some inexplicable reason are attracted to him. Third, a joint endeavour that demands all of them to work together.

If Aki resolves the romantic conflict by choosing any of the girls, it would end the primary source of tension, humour and drama within the series – and, quite likely, end his life. Every girl except Kato (maybe) is motivated by romantic intentions, so if any of them are forced to give up on him, it’s quite likely they will quit the group. Thus, the story demands that the harem situation be strung out indefinitely, even well past the point of unrealism.

This is the primary pitfall of harem-type fiction where the harem members are motivated primarily by amorous intent: the second the romantic conflict is resolved the whole cast, and thus the story, must fall apart. To keep the story going, the MC must remain an idiot into eternity and the harem’s character development must centre on their relationship with the MC.

Of Stereotypes and Romance

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Go on, guess who’s the normal one

Saekano sets itself apart from other harem stories by making half of the female cast otaku. When placed side-by-side with the non-otaku, the audience can see a sharp contrast in their personalities and how their hobbies and lifestyles influence their behaviours.

Unfortunately, the show confines these characters to their archetypes instead of doing much about them.

Sawamura is the classic tsundere: blonde, twin-tailed, slightly shorter, zettai ryouki stockings, and prone to violently abusing Aki at the drop of the hat. She defined her entire relationship with him based on being childhood friends, having gone to the same elementary school as him. They fell in love with the same works together, be they dating sims, light novels or anime. However, their elementary school classmates started insulting and shunning Aki for being an otaku, and fearing the same treatment, she began to hide her otaku self and distance herself from Aki. Even though they still talk otaku stuff, their relationship is clearly strained. This becomes the focal point of her story arc in the anime.

Kasumigaoka is a yandere without the murderous intent…probably. They first met at a book signing, when Aki recognised her as his senior. Eventually they started talking intensely about her books, with him praising them to high heaven and starting a fan site that single-handedly accounted for a significant fraction of its sales. While she acts cold, sarcastic and domineering most of the time, she is also highly obsessed with Aki and will manipulate everyone around her to get time alone with him. She is the most aggressive among the girls, and can match Sawamura for jealousy. Many of the show’s comedic beats come from her verbal sparring with Sawamura and her cutting remarks, but her arc is focused on her trying to express how she feels about Aki through her work.

Through their portrayals, Saekano displays a stunning lack of understanding about romance. Shared hobbies are the basis for friendship. It can graduate to romance, but it needs more than what is portrayed on-screen.

In Kasumigaoka’s case, we see Aki chatting excitedly about her work and later helping her with her writing. This is functionally no different than the relationship between superfan and author, and then editor and author. As a bestselling author, Kasumigaoka would have received similar praise from other fans, and she works with an editor to produce new stories. Aki doesn’t offer anything beyond that.

As for Sawamura, it’s shown that she and Aki spent lots of time together reading the same books, playing the same games and discussing the same fiction. But nothing else. They don’t do much more than that, and we don’t see them trying to talk about stuff other than the otaku culture. Sure, Aki may celebrate and promote her work enthusiastically—but that is simply who he is, and as an artist of a renowned doujin circle she would also receive similar praise for her work from her other fans.

To be perfectly cynical about this, the girls’ feelings for Aki reflect a distorted image of romance: that obsessing over common hobbies and interests will lead to someone falling for you. That is simply not true. You need trust, emotional intimacy and overall compatibility, and throughout the show there are no indications of any of this between Aki and the girls.

Why would Sawamura and Kasumigaoka fall for him and act the way they do? Just because he is a superfan? Because they have similar interests? This is the basis for friendship, not romance. Romance demands both sides to get closer than that, and that emotional closeness is simply lacking.

Hyodo’s motivation is even more suspect. She and Aki were born on the same day at the same hospital, and they played together a lot as children. Eventually she moved away, enrolling in an all-girls’ school and joining a band. When she meets him again, though, she acts overly-familiar with him, deliberately dressing skimpily and clinging to him whenever she can. She is not herself an otaku, so she doesn’t even have the excuse of having a similar hobby, and they aren’t so close that Aki immediately thinks of her when putting together his circle. She is flighty and whimsical, but it’s hinted that she has feelings for him.

But why?

Her presence in the show basically serves two purposes: to throw Sawamura’s identity as Aki’s childhood friend into disarray, and to satisfy the disturbing Japanese obsession with cousin romances. There is neither rhyme nor reason for her to act the way she does with Aki, unless she were either toying with him or genuinely interested in him, and the show doesn’t make it clear either way. While they were close as children, such childhood experiences do not translate into shared intimacy as teenagers; indeed, after she moved away, Aki doesn’t even mention her until her it’s time for her arc. Throughout both seasons, Hyodo enjoys the least character development among the main cast, and her feelings for Aki remain as nebulous as her heart.

Throughout both seasons of Saekano, there’s only one character with whom Aki shares a quantum of emotional development: Kato Megumi, the titular boring girlfriend. It’s clear from the start that she’s meant to win his affections. As a non-otaku she isn’t read into the culture, but she begins to enjoy the process of making games. As the heart of the circle, she helps to mediate conflicts and keep everyone on task. True to her epithet, she is very reserved and has little outward expression. This sets her apart from the rest of the cast’s exuberance, and when she finally displays a wider range of emotional affect in Season 2 you can tell she is warming up to Aki. She is the only normie in the entire cast and, in a realistic setting, quite likely the only person for whom he would even have a snowball’s chance in hell of having anything resembling a romantic relationship with.

Our Hero, the Masochistic Idiot

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Otaku intensifies

Aki is an idiot.

Let’s examine his relationships with Sawamura, Kasumigaoka and Hyodo. What do they have in common?

Violence.

Again and again and again, the girls’ first response whenever they feel jealous or angry or embarrassed is to take it out on Aki. Sawamura smacks him all the time. Kasumigaoka alternates between acting scary and acting out. Hyodo reveals her secret passion for wrestling. Somehow, this is supposed to be hilarious.

It’s not.

Firstly, it’s predictable. Casual female on male abuse has been an anime and manga staple since well before I got into the scene. Whenever Aki trips up (read: all the time), you can expect a girl to lash out at him. The outcome is already guaranteed; the only question is how she, or they, will do it. By being predictable, it becomes eye-rollingly stale.

Secondly, why doesn’t Aki walk away? The violence is always out of proportion to what he did. He may simply be a high schooler, but why would he consider girls who routinely abuse him as his friends and co-workers? We don’t see the violence affecting him or his relationships with the girls; it’s almost as if it’s just some kind of harmless quirk that can be laughed off.
I can’t buy this. Abuse and violence poisons relationships, and a show that aspires to be a drama must capture this.

Abuse aside, I find it unbelievable that Aki can be so oblivious to emotions. He isn’t some random otaku; he is explicitly portrayed as a fan of dating games and romance novels. Instead of learning from them, however, he plays out the dense protagonist stereotype to a T, and continues to do it even though associating with the girls leads to emotional and physical violence. That makes him completely predictable and utterly boring—the only difference between him and other similar otaku MCs is his over-the-top reactions. It takes Aki most of two seasons before he finally wises up.

Despite his lack of emotional maturity, the girls still flock to him anyway. Because, well, harem. He doesn’t display any sign of romantic interest in the girls, nor does he display any attractive qualities. Only in Season 2 do we finally see Aki coming to grips with his immaturity…and even so, there will still be a harem if Season 3 ever comes around.

A Foundation of Sand

This isn’t to say that Saekao is unsalvageable. If anything, it’s remarkable how well the anime played out in spite of its shaky foundations. It remains true to the tenets of storytelling, marked by steady character development and its insights into the doujin industry. However, it asks the audience to accept as given the girls’ feelings towards Aki instead of diving in depth into them, and this as a creator I cannot do.

Giving every girl a romantic interest in the MC, and thus a personal stake in events, is an extremely tricky situation. If I were the creator, I would have gone on a different tack, even changing sexes if necessary.

The artist would be motivated by a desire to heal the rift between her and the MC once and for all, and take the opportunity to create work more meaningful than mere pornography. The writer joins the circle because she feels obligated to the MC for her success, and from a professional perspective, she wonders if she can do more than just light novels. The musician may not be an otaku like the MC, but she thinks it’s a chance to reconnect with her long-distant cousin and for her band to hit the big time.

By taking away romance and combining professional ambitions and personal motivations, Saekano becomes more than a high school harem. It becomes the story of young creators seeking to be greater than they are while grappling with puberty and emotions, with Aki providing the spark and the platform for their future. In this light, even if Aki picks any of the girls, the story can still proceed apace. In fact, other than the titular boring girlfriend, they don’t even need to be girls.

And, done right, you won’t need a boring harem.

NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS has been nominated for the Dragon Awards!

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I am pleased to announced that my novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, has been nominated for the 2017 Dragon Awards under the Alternate History category. The Dragon Awards seeks to represent the finest works in science fiction and fantasy, giving all of fandom a voice in selecting the best books, games, TV series and movies. This is the first time a Singaporean has been received a nomination for the Dragon Awards. I would like to thank all of my readers and supporters; this historic achievement could not have been done without you.

To celebrate, my publisher, Castalia House, has made NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS available on Kindle Unlimited, which you can find here. With 31 reviews and an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5, it is among the highest-rated and best-received Singaporean novel on Amazon today. If you love the novel, please register to vote here and vote for NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS by Kai Wai Cheah under the alternate history category.

Thanks for your support, and please look forward to the next novel titled HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

SIGNAL BOOST: The Ronin Genesis by Steven Hildreth Jr.

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I’ve known Steven for 13 years and counting. Back then, we were newcomers on the writing scene with more ambition than skill. Nonetheless, we kept each other going over the years, even though I veered off into science fiction and fantasy while he stayed a purebred thriller writer. With THE RONIN GENESIS, I can confidently say that he has reached new heights.

Previously in THE SOVEREIGNS, former Special Operations soldier Benjamin Williams intervenes in a terrorist attack at the Saguaro Towers in Tucson, Arizona. But the strike was a false flag attack engineered by Iran to breach the American covert intelligence infrastructure — and the true mastermind has fled the scene with a thumb drive filled with sensitive information.

With no other options, the Central Intelligence Agency turns to a small Private Military Company to find the Iranian and recover the thumb drive. The PMC in turn hires Williams and members of his former Special Activities Division team. Pursuing their target through Mexico, Williams and his teammates must battle mercenaries, a ruthless drug cartel and a shadowy wet work team. And in this multi-factional drug war, the Ronin Defense Institute will be born in blood and steel.

Steve made his mark writing hard-hitting action-packed thrillers intertwined with surprising depth of character. As a beta reader of THE RONIN GENESIS, I can confidently say he took his skills to the next level. Action scenes explode from the page from the first trigger pull, and once the shooting stops there’s no letting up until the last body falls. The operators are portrayed authentically, displaying the mindset, training, techniques, tactics and procedures that separate the best from the rest. When Williams and his allies clash with the opposition, both sides do their best to outwit and outfight each other, creating satisfying scenes of suspense, drama and all-out action.

It’s not all blood and guts and gore. During breathers, Steve explores his characters’ histories and personalities, letting his characters evolve with the plot. We see more of Williams’ backstory, gain insights into why the bad guys do what they do, and even peek into the hearts of many minor characters who, in other stories, would be shown once or twice and soon forgotten.

Steve’s writing is clean, precise and hard-hitting. Brisk and workmanlike, it is highly reminiscent of the best of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, with events proceeding at breakneck pace. While there are plenty of acronyms and military jargon in there, the book also comes with a glossary for readers new to the genre.

THE RONIN GENESIS also takes the series into a darker direction. Steve has never shied away from graphic depictions of violence and torture, but this novel kicks it up a notch. Even so, it’s never employed gratuitously for mere shock effect; instead, it underscores the brutality of Mexico’s drug war, creates chilling portrayals of human evil, and demonstrates the terrible cost of sustained violence on the human spirit.

I only have one main issue with the novel. Now and then the characters make references to past adventures that Steve hasn’t written yet. Having sat with Steve and discussed his ideas for the series, I can say that the novel will spoil some of his future novels set prior to the events of the currently-published series. Among the many stories I’ve read this is a novel issue — but it will not in any way affect your enjoyment of the novel.

You can pick up THE RONIN GENESIS on Amazon in Kindle or paperback here.

Martial Mastery: From the Fundamentals to the Complex

 

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Ikken hissatsu. One strike, sure kill.

It is the standard karate practitioners aspire to: to finish the fight in a single blow. Combative oriented martial arts echo this principle. Jeet Kune Do aims to swiftly end fights with decisive strikes. Self-defence instructors advise students to defeat an attacker with three moves or three seconds. In Filipino Martial Arts, when weapons are in play, combat can be decided with a single stroke.

In movies, television and video games you’ll see plenty of flashy techniques and drawn-out action scenes. During live demonstrations and exhibitions, performers will roll out complex and fancy kata. It may look beautiful, but it is not combat. It captures the artistic side of the discipline, but not the martial component.

If you train for real world applications, then you must align your training methodology with reality. Under the stress of a life-or-death encounter a cocktail of hormones will flood your bloodstream. You’ll gain strength and endurance and pain resistance, but you’ll lose the fine motor control needed for flashy stunts. You won’t rise to the occasion; you’ll fall to the level of your training. And the longer the fight drags on, the more opportunities the bad guy(s) will have to harm you and your loved ones. Thus, your number one priority is to end the fight now.

You don’t need a thousand techniques. You don’t need to memorise entire catalogs of kata. You don’t need to know how to do two-man drills blindfolded. What you do need is a toolbox of high-percentage techniques that cover the scenarios you’ll reasonably expect to find yourself in.

And these high-percentage techniques tend to be the basics.

The Hidden Complexities of Basic Techniques

Basics look boring. These are simple, uncomplicated moves that old, slow grandmothers can do with their eyes closed. It’s tempting to skip them and go straight to the fun stuff. But these moves are basic for a reason: they are the base upon which you build true martial skills. And the truth is, basic techniques are anything but.

A staple technique in Filipino martial arts is the number 1 strike. This is a diagonal forehand shot aimed at the opponent’s temple or neck and bisects him clean to the hip. It looks simple. It is simple. But to do it right, you need to understand the following:

  • Targeting
  • Footwork
  • Hip twist
  • Shoulder whirl
  • Elbow drop
  • Wrist alignment
  • Grip control
  • Range
  • Timing
  • Recycle

For this one technique to work, these eight elements (and more) have to be tightly integrated into a single fluid motion. Beyond that, you need to know a host of other things: how to avoid feeding your hand to the enemy, how the length of your weapon affects your footwork, how to adjust for a moving target, how to extend or contract your arm to suit different ranges, how to step and strike simultaneously, how to conceal your intent until the last moment, how to whip your arm if you’re striking, how to follow through if you’re slashing…

If you break down a single technique into the parts that make it work, you’ll find that you need to understand and internalise a huge array of concepts before you can perfectly execute it. Perfecting even a basic technique will take countless hours of sweat and hard work. Not because the technique is difficult — the number 1 strike is a gross motor technique and easily to remember — but because to get the most out of that technique you must be able to integrate all these principles into a single fluid motion. Hard enough to do when training; now imagine doing it when you’re facing a maddened terrorist with steel in his hand and murder in his heart charging at you while screaming “Allahu Akhbar!

Basic techniques aren’t basic just because they are simple. They are basic because they contain the base principles upon which the entire martial art is built. The principles I described above apply to every slash in every flavour of FMA out there. The body mechanics are the same, the considerations of range and timing are the same, the way the weapon and the target influences the angle is the same, the only real difference is the direction the strike comes from.

To master the art, you have to master the principles.

It’s not easy. With so many things to integrate, it becomes extremely easy to mess something up under stress. During my last training session, we did basic knife drills. A response to a low line thrust and a response to a horizontal thrust. They looked simple enough, but when we flowed at speed, everything broke down. Footwork became clumsy. Angles got confused. Suboptimal responses came out. More than a few times a stab or slash broke through. And it wasn’t even close to the speed of a true lethal force encounter.

Basics aren’t simple. For the basics to work you need to put together a vast array of seemingly disparate concepts. With the basics being so complex already, why make your life more difficult by jumping to the advanced stuff?

And, more to the point, there is no need to.

Martial Simplexity

The foundational skills are the building blocks for more advanced techniques. A thorough understanding of the basics gives you the keys to understand more sophisticated concepts, and build a toolbox of techniques that you can call your own.

In Pekiti Tirsia Kali, the forewall is the last-ditch block. You turn into an incoming strike, meeting the blow with your weapon and reinforcing your primary hand with your secondary hand. It is a basic technique, easy to remember under stress. The only major consideration is that if you have a sword, you should meet the enemy’s weapon with the flat of your blade to preserve the cutting edge. After you defend against the opponent’s attack, you dash in for the counter–perhaps a basic number one strike. To augment a forewall, step into the enemy. This shortens the distance between you and him, allowing you to absorb the shock of impact on the strong of your weapon (i.e. the lower half) and reducing the time you need for your counter.

This is a basic technique, but if you enemy has fast reflexes or anticipates the counter, he’ll just block or evade your counterattack and you’ll be back where you started.

Now suppose, when your weapons contact, you slide your secondary hand across your primary and check your opponent’s wrist. Then slide in with a cut from six o’clock to twelve o’clock, slashing up through his groin. With your blade now pointing at his neck, if he’s still standing, you can step in and thrust deep into his throat for the finish.

The check clears a line of attack and delays the enemy for a split second, long enough for your counter. As the groin slash comes from below his cone of vision, he isn’t likely to see it coming until it’s too late, and the arc of the slash chambers your weapon for the throat thrust if needed.

If you break these motions down into individual steps, you’ll see that they are all basic techniques. The forewall is the same, just with a slight modification. The slash is basic, and so is the thrust. But the application requires an understanding of range, timing and footwork, foundational skills which are less easily learned.

Now let’s say you get lucky. You step into the attack with your forewall, and you grab the opponent’s thumb. With your hands still crossed, swing your arms anticlockwise and turn the hand palm-up. Done properly, this would break his structure, weaken his grip and strip his weapon. If he hasn’t dropped his weapon yet, snap your primary arm to the side to disarm him. Then finish him as you please.

Every movement is still basic, but now everything must be perfect. You must land the forewall at the perfect distance to allow the grab. Your gripping hand must be dead on target, or you will either grab air or a live weapon. The wrenching motion must be swift and decisive. When you perform the disarm, it’s the same mechanic as a horizontal slash, but if the enemy has a sword you must present your arm to the flat or you will cut yourself. You must also send the weapon flying in a clear direction or send it straight down into clear space, lest you hurt yourself or an innocent person nearby. And the entire sequence must be performed so fast, the enemy must be disarmed before he realises what’s going on.

This is not a high-percentage move. FMA masters note that the best way to disarm someone is to dis-arm him: to destroy the offending limb. But if you are supremely skilled, if the stars align, if you have the opportunity to do it… Execute at your own risk.

Once you understand the basic principles, you can pull off some pretty cool moves. But you can only reliably execute these cool moves if you are intimately familiar with the principles that make them work.

Returning to the Beginning

My training purposes have remained the same: self-defence, research and health in that order. I would like to be able to defend myself against aggressors. I would like the knowledge needed to credibly write protagonists skilled at martial arts. I would like to keep fit above and beyond my regular gym sessions.

The advanced stuff sure is pretty, but in sparring and high-speed flow drills, I find myself reverting to the basics again and again. No flashy disarms, no eight-strike combos, just techniques easily remembered under stress. Even so, execution isn’t always perfect. And that’s okay; it just means there’s always room to grow. Basic techniques are complicated enough as is; there’s no need to make things even more difficult by adding additional complexity when the body isn’t ready for it. My current training goal is to grasp the foundational skills of my chosen art. It’s going to take a while, but that’s okay.

The basics will save your life. Everything beyond that is a bonus.

The Unnatural World

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The modern world is unnatural. Edifices of stone and steel and glass and concrete surround us. Electricity comes with the flick of a switch, water at the turn of a tap. Food is superabundant, and the only predators we need fear are human. Everywhere safety is engineered into every facet of daily living.

Life is good. Life is safe. Life is convenient. But it is unnatural.

You are a human. You are biologically engineered to survive the harshest of terrain on Earth. Your ancestors walked the savannahs of Africa, the plains of Europe, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of Arabia. You were designed to resist disease and starvation and injury. Your brains gave you the smarts to live the life you are living now. But this life, this modern world, stay in it too long and it rots your brain and entropies your ability to live as your body calls you to do.

Reclaim your humanity.

Embrace Discomfort

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Walk proudly under the sun and bathe in its heat and light. Saunter through a storm, feel the rain on your skin, hear the crash of thunder and track the flash of lightning bolts. Seek regular, hard physical exertion; measure your labours by the pounding of your heart, the rivulets of your sweat, the fatigue in your muscles, and your ability to push beyond and achieve greater heights. Make your personal records a point of personal pride.

Fast wisely and intermittently, and feel your senses sharpen with hunger. You won’t start melting the moment you cease supplying yourself with nutrients. Cut off everything that harms you. Eat only enough to give you strength, shun all foods laden with sugar and hidden calories, and refuse to eat when you are full. Gird yourself against the inevitable social pressure to eat and eat and eat: you are a human, not a goose to be stuffed for foie gras. Develop a nutrition plan, be aware of what passes between your lips, and cease consumption when you’ve hit your goals.

Take cold showers. Sleep without temperature control. Skip unnecessary suppers and desserts and tea breaks. Do not chase the taste of good food, the feel of luxury fabrics, the ease of sedentary living. Take softness and hardness, heat and cold, dryness and humidity, when they come with equal indifference; treat them as forces to be adapted to, not fodder for complaints and grumbles. Whenever the world tempts you to overindulgence, smile and say no. The world cares nothing for your wants and needs; every so often remind your body that you, too, can throw back at the world everything it throws at you.

The Green and the Blue

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Strike for the forgotten corners of the Earth. Seek the places where the green of the Earth marries the blue of the sky. Witness nature first hand and remember when you were a hairless ape. Observe the frolicking of animals and wonder at their instincts, their rituals, their behaviours, their societies. Notice how they interact with other species despite the lack of a common language. Study them at life and play, and wonder how you can return to that state of innocence.

Climb a hill and feel the contours of the earth beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, the sun in your face. Remember and reconnect with the world that made you. This is the world you evolved to live in, not the four corners of a dreary cubicle or the air-conditioned sterility of a modern home.

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Stand before a cliff and study the patterns of erosion and plant growth. Before you is the story of a billion years. Cast your mind through time and visualise the forces of erosion, propagation, climate and rainfall combining to sculpt the rock. Before them, what are you? If even the hardest and most enduring rock can change before the inexorable might of time, how can you avoid change? How can you not be shaped by time? All you can do is recognise it when it comes, and shape your evolution to reveal your truest and innermost self.

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On spoiled beaches observe the infinite variations of waves crashing against the shore. In flooded pits and holes spot the hidden contours of the world and reconstruct the natural rhythms that created them, and the face of the world to come. Know that the litter you leave behind lasts for tens or hundreds of years, but the ocean has been here for millennia and will last for millennia to come. Recognise that the world is greater and older and more powerful than you, and recalibrate your mind to embrace the vastness of reality.

You are but one human striding across the face of this world. You are but a dewdrop in the face of four and a half billion years. You are indivisible yet interdependent, an actor yet acted upon. Have you honoured your body and tempered it to face the realities of a world indifferent to your wants and needs? What role do you play among your family, your tribe, your groups, your nation? What came before you to place you where you are, and what will come after your role has ended?

Depart the unnatural world for the natural, if only for a while, and remember who you are and where you stand in the great dance of eternity.