Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The age of the phone?

The last 3 years have seen an explosion in the popularity of smart phones. Whether you want one or not, unless you have lived under a stone, it's impossible to avoid seeing one in action.  

These phones are like mini computers, allowing the user to not only make telephone calls, but also manage communication and information from a variety of sources, including SMS messaging, internet, email and wifi networks. They take and edit photographs, play music and films. The very latest ones now offer face-to-face video calls. 

I believe that these communication devices were inevitable. As humans, we have an instinctive desire to keep in contact with the people we care about. As more and more of our lives is consumed by the demands for work, the smartphone allows us to keep reassuring each other without having to step away from our desks or shops. Conspiracy theorists would no doubt have a field day with this idea. However, it brings me to my first point..

Are we becoming too reliant on this technology for reassurance? Is it a crutch? Undoubtedly, many people will be using their phones as a means of emotional support. It is so reassuring to know that the emergency services, all your friends, and all of the information and all  the services that the internet offers are there for you - instantly. You can get your friends social status and personal information at the touch of a button. A recent survey with teenagers said that they would rather go without anything else than their phones (perhaps this is no surprise to parents of teenagers!). Are we breeding a generation of phone junkies who fall apart when separated from their phones? Perhaps.....

But, I truly believe the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. There are so many areas of society who have benefitted from the smartphone. Many people fear information overload. I consider this as a challenge to our generations, but future ones will adapt. I see the increasing complexity of our technology as a sign of humanity's collective consciousness improving. The more connections we make, the more knowledge we share and the more issues we discuss will only serve to broaden our understanding of what it is to be human.

Love them or loathe them... smart phones are going to be with us for a while. The challenge will not be whether we can make new technologies, but whether we can resist using them for personal gain at the expense of others - like warfare, unethical selling and spying.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Modern Weapons

One of the joys of learning traditional martial arts is that you get to train with some pretty interesting weapons. There are swords, knives, sabres, spears, whips and all manner of sticks. Personally, I love the Chinese Straight Sword (or Jian). I find it a quick, light, precise weapon that suits my body size and style. I love the movements and postures. The Chen sword form is one of my favourite forms.

But in the real world, how can I possibly carry my sword down the street without attracting lethal retribution from the local rapid response unit? In short - I can't. It is against the law for me to have a sword in public when I am not travelling to and from my place of practice. And what's more - swords are a relic from a bygone era. You are more likely to be confronted by an attacker with a concealed weapon like a knife or a gun. If an assailant has a gun, your sword is going to be pretty useless.

There are a whole plethora of small weapons that can be concealed. One of the most popular is a metal pen that can be used as a weapon:

But to be honest, any hard, blunt object can be jabbed into your assailant's tender spots - sharp handle to a brush - anything. Use your imagination.

Have you seen "The Men Who Stare At Goats"? It is a film about an American military group who were inspired by the new age movement. It is an interesting subtle film - well worth a look. But what has caught the imagination of modern martial artists has been this clip:

This is an actual weapon that was produced - and is still being used by the US troops in Iraq.

This seemingly innocent piece of plastic is used to exert pressure against the vulnerable parts of the body to cause pain. This pain can be used to neutralise an attack and then as an aid to make your assailant compliant.

Although the movie calls them "Predators", they are called "Defenders" in the shops. I have one of these weapons, and I have to say they are brilliant. Although they are ruthlessly efficacious, I don't believe they are a good weapon to carry, because they do not have an innocent use. Even a hand gun can be used to hunt for food (theoretically). There is no innocent use for the Defender. It is purely designed to inflict pain.

Traditional weapons like nunchucks, three-piece staffs and the 10 piece whips were all based on rice flails - things that were in everyday use during simpler times. So consider the applications that the Defender videos show, and try to find everyday things that are close to hand - like pens, keys, hairbrushes, coins, combs, torches (maglites) etc. They could become your best friend in an emergency.