Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bo Staff

Self-defense is a crucial tool to have.  As a child, my parents enrolled me into karate classes after being abused by bullies at school.  For two years, I began to grow on this fighting style from China.  But more important than learning how to protect myself, I learned self-discipline.  Yet with all this new self- control, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting more out of the art.  I can remember most notable the obsession to wield some sort of weapon like a lightsaber.  But with hundreds of ancient weapons to choose from, how is one to choose?  It’s simple.  Just get yourself a bo staff.

The bo staff, properly known as the bo, was originally made from hardwoods, typically white oak or bamboo.  A traditional bo is exactly 1.82 meters in length.  Today, many are metal or plated with metal to enhance their strength.  The most common shape, the maru-bo, is round while other polygon shapes exist (squares-octagons). 

Did you know?-
The first bo was called ishibo and was made of stone.

The Japanese art of wielding the bo staff is bojutsu.  The bo is gripped in thirds, and when held horizontally the holder’s right palm faces outwards while the left hand faces the body.  This enables the bo to rotate; its power generated by the left hand pulling back towards the body with the right hand used for guidance.  When striking an opponent, the wrist is twisted, like turning the hand over when punching.  The staff’s techniques include a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments.  It can even be used to sweep sand into an opponent’s eyes.

Like most weapons, the bo staff was once an everyday item.  It was used to balance buckets or baskets; one at each end of the pole which was balanced behind the neck on the shoulder blades.  But with all the advancements of modern technology, the weapon has become obsolete.  If you are interested in learning the art of bojutsu, I encourage you to look for instruction.  Please do not purchase this weapon without understanding its raw capability to harm.  To learn what type of bo staff is right for you, go here to view a complete guide.

I want to know…If you could wield any human powered weapon in existence, what would be?  Leave a comment below.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Race Across America

Superstar athlete Lance Armstrong has boosted cycling’s popularity through the roof. Yet I’m disappointed that when people think of the bicycle race they say the Tour de France. And while I am in no way questioning the race’s difficulty, there is another event that makes the Tour de France look like a walk in the park. Don’t believe me? Yeah, well you try bicycling 3,000 miles in 10 days!

Arguably the hardest sporting event in the world, the Race Across America (RAAM) is no picnic. It was created in 1982 originally titled the ‘Great American Bike Race’. Competitors start somewhere on the East Coast and finish on the other side of the United States a little bit over a week later. And while the Tour de France is still 2,300 miles long it is divided into daily ride segments prolonging the race for three weeks. The coolest thing about RAAM is that there are no pit stops. In order to be competitive, one has to pedal at least 22 hours a day!

Most cyclists begin with an all out surge, sometimes pedaling in access of 40 hours before taking a sleep break. And during that time riding, they are only off the bike for about 10-15 minutes. They even pedal in the night, followed by their trusty support vehicle (with flashing lights on) providing mechanical and medical assistance, as well as much needed moral.

If you’ve ever witnessed this race, you have one man to thank for its creation; John Marino. In the race’s debut, there were only four competitors (John Marino, John Howard, Michael Shermer, and Lon Haldeman). Some of these competitors would literally train by riding across the U.S. back and forth solo with no assistance whatsoever. Lon Haldeman won the first race with a time of 9 days, 20 hours, and 2 minutes with an average speed of 12.57 miles per hour (mph).

Did you know?- More than half of the starting athletes end of up having to quit.

Since then, hundreds of competitors from around the world have come to take on this challenge. There are now 23 race categories including a separate class for woman and teams of multiple riders (2,4,8).

Did you know?- The fastest nonofficial race time was completed by Michael Secrest in 1990, in 7 days and 23 hours.

In closing this post, I leave you with some inspiration. Released this year, filmmaker’s Stephen Auerback’s Bicycle Dreams is a documentary of the 2005 RAAM. But for of those who aren’t into cycling, this movie is not about a sporting event. This is a classic example, if not the best I’ve ever seen, of man vs. self. The film is more of a window into the lives of ultramarathon athletes displaying their inner victories and defeats. Below is the movies official site description.

"They are seekers, madmen, and angels hell-bent on riding across America on a bicycle in less than ten days. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime is transformed in an instant when tragedy strikes the race. These voyagers discover what is truly at stake as they pedal on, praying for the deliverance only the finish line can bring. By journey's end, some are saved, others are lost, but all learn that the fuel that takes a soul toward its own true destiny is desire."

To find out where to buy this piece, visit bicycledreamsmovie.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Christmas is a time to be thankful. But sometimes it seems like a corporate scam. With things like Black Friday and dollar limits on gift exchanges, the true joy of Christmas is been overseen. One could easily ignore this most mainstream of holidays, but some have decided to celebrate holidays of their own creation. And one in particular makes absolutely no sense to me.

Festivus is celebrated on December 23 annually. Created by writer Dan O’Keefe in 1965, the holiday wasn’t formally introduced to the world until 1998 when his son Daniel, a scriptwriter for the popular 90s sitcom Seinfeld, worked it into an episode’s story line. Festivus is affiliated with no religion and was created by the elder Dan in celebration of his new wife Deborah.

The holiday has three main components: the festivus pole, the ‘Airing of Grievances’, and the ‘Feats of Strength’. Right off, it’s important to know that there are no decorations. Only the festivus pole denotes this time of year; aluminum pole similar to a stripper’s. While the show displays a dinner of meatloaf, the original Festivus featured turkey and ham followed by a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms. It is also tradition to consume large amounts of alcohol, probably to make the following proceedings less painful.

After the family has eaten, each member goes around the table telling each other of all the ways they and the world have disappointed them over the past year. This process is what is known as the Airing of Grievances. This is followed by the Feats of Strength. Here, the head of the household challenges one person in the room to a wrestling match. The holiday does not come to an official end until the head of the household has been pinned. If the challenger loses, he/she is banished from the Festivus celebrations (normally just thrown outside in the cold for 10 minutes then let back in).

In Dr. Brian A. Krostneko’s book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, he found the word “festivus” originated in ancient Rome originally referring to the ways people would misbehave on devoted religious holidays.

If you’d like to adopt Festivus into your life, visit festivuspoles.com where you’ll find everything you need to get your tradition started.

Happy holidays and have a Festivus for the rest of us!

Punkin' Chunkin'

Halloween has always been in a league of its own. But as you get older and the more of an idiot you look dressed up each year, the holiday loses much of its appeal. So what do you get after a night of handing out candy? An empty bag of candy and some rotting pumpkins on your porch. Well, about twenty years ago, a couple of men in Delaware found a more enjoyable use for this fruit then just making scary faces.

I speak of the new art of “punkin’ chunkin’”, where one attempts to throw a pumpkin as far as possible with some mechanical device. Yet for the competitors who matter, there is only one place to throw pumpkins. The World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest is held every year on the first weekend after Halloween in Sussex County, Delaware. Here teams are divided into different classes including catapults, trebuchets, centrifugal machines, and pneumatic air cannons; only battling against those in their class.


air cannon

Punkin’ chukin’ may sound like a redneck paluza but this event is very popular. In 2007, the competition drew more than 20,000 people and $100,000 dollars in ticket sales of which over 60% was given to charities. And when pumpkins aren’t flying, there is a carnival holding amusement rides, and a pumpkin cooking contest.

Each machine enrolls in different contests including height, fan favorite, straightness, and range. The teams get three chances to hurl their specimens out of which only their best launch will be recorded. The association usually only fires white pumpkins because they have a thicker rind and better withstands the forces exerted upon them.

Did you know?- The current world record for longest pumpkin chuck is held by Young Glory III of the Adult Air division at 4483 feet!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jet Packs

When I was a kid, I loved watching those old Warner Bros. cartoons; the days when violence was not yet strictly monitored on television as it is today. And characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester the Cat, and Tweetie Bird made animated shows popular. One of my favorite cartoons was Road Runner, where the coyote was always trying any new ACME product or other crazy idea to thwart the ever escaping road runner. A contraption that even I thought couldn’t be built was his jet pack. And while in this episode it worked (the coyote smashing into a cliff wall though), I later learned that this fictitious device had some real history to it.

Also known as rocket packs, jet packs attain liftoff from fast escaping liquid or gases that propel the pilot skywards. The first rocket pack was designed by (who would have guessed) the Nazi regime during World War II. Its user wore two shortened Schmidt-Argus jet pulse engines that were used to power Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) flying bombs. The machine was called a Himmelsturmer (“Skystormer” in English). To take off, the flier ignited both engines simultaneously whose propulsions were channeled into a single, angled rear tube that provided lift and forward thrust. There was also a smaller tube mounted on the user’s chest that maintained a lower, constant upward thrust.

V-1 flying bomb

Sustained flights weren’t possible so only short jumps of up to 60 meters (180 feet) at an altitude of 15 meters (50 feet) were attempted. The device was intended to assist German engineer units across minefields, barbed wire, and wide waterways. As soon as the throttle was disengaged, the jet pack shut off. Surprisingly, there are no recorded casualties at the hand of this machine.

In the 1960’s the United States army began to hire companies to design a similar apparatus to be used by soldiers in combat. Most, if not all of these designs, used different types of compressed gases (i.e. hydrogen peroxide, nitrogen) to obtain lift.

Another application that came from this work was using similarly working device in space. One such design was the Bell Pogo, a small rocket powered platform that two people could ride on. In the 1980s, NASA demonstrated its Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) which later was replaced by the SAFER to be used in case of an accidental separation from the spacecraft or station.

Bell Pogos

While it may have been fun to ride, engineers realized that rocket packs would be able to traverse longer distances in they had some form of a wing. One of my favorite examples of such a device is Yves Rossy’s jet pack. His pack was built with rigid carbon-fiber wings spanning about 8 feet (2.4 meters) holding four small kerosene-burning jet engines underneath. After being lifted to a proper altitude by plane, he ignites the engines just before exiting the plane with the wings folded. The wings unfold while in free-fall, and he is then able to fly horizontally for several minutes, landing using a parachute. Rossy controls his flight by adjusting his body position and uses a hand throttle to maneuver. He and his sponsors spent over $190,000 to build the device.

A water-propelled jet pack, the Jetlev-Flyer, debuted in 2009 as a product that could be purchased by the public. Instead of gas, it uses two water jets for thrust. A small unmanned boat with a pump delivers pressurized water to the jet pack via a hose. This amazing idea has a MSRP of $129,000.

If you’re already thinking about building your own jetpack, I implore you to reconsider. Not only are your chances of success minimal, but there would be no truly safe way to test it. However, you’re likely to see someone else perform aerobatics on one if you go to a popular air show. Companies like Jetpack International and Martin Jetpack often perform stunts at large venues or can be hired to be at your own event.

Martin jetpack