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The grey area

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Referrals change lives

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Short sighted eye testing

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Look straight ahead

Can see can’t see

Let’s talk about blind people in the arts. Why? because it’s important. And when I say “arts” I really mean theatre and film, the fine arts, and all the other ambiguous stuff doesn’t concern me. Because of what I do, I know a number of people involved in theatre. This includes a number of visually impaired people, which is fab, it means we’re heading in the right direction. There’s no doubt that visually impaired people are under-represented in the arts, and for a number of complex reasons, linked to discrimination and lack of opportunity, visually impaired people find it very tough to get a toe in the door.

I recently saw a Face Book post from somebody who is a visually impaired performer. They were talking about the fact that they were proudly doing there thing, whilst being visually impaired. This is of course, good, and I applaud it. But let’s dig a little deeper. I would suggest that most visually impaired people in the arts are not actually blind, just a bit visually impaired. I think there’s an important distinction to be drawn between visually impaired people and blind people. The person on Facebook, (no names no shit) has very, very good eyesight. In theory, I guess they are visually impaired, because they have less than perfect eyesight. But what this means is that the perception is that they are fighting the odds, fighting difficulties and negativity, and perform despite their disability. I would argue that the notion of visual impairment is so vague and ambiguous, that it is almost disingenuous to jump on the equality band wagon.

The issue is clear, yet cloudy. When a visually impaired person is cast, in some cases, it ticks a box. It is much safer and easier for a producer or director to cast a really high partial than a totally blind person. So when a very high partial is cast, the producer is getting a visually impaired person without the perceived array of complications. When totally blind people, or people with very little sight get more opportunities, I will applaud. But when people who are visually impaired on paper, and have excellent useful vision get chances, I really couldn’t care less, because on one hand they inhabit the sighted world, but when it suits, they play the visually impaired card.

I urge producers and directors to give opportunities to people with little or no eyesight, not those who have a tenuous and ambiguous condition which means that sometimes they have to wear glasses.

Swords or fists?

When does a martial art become a recreation of the past? Something akin to reinactment and re-imagining? The answer is, when it teaches weapons. Before I continue I’d like to qualify this by stating that learning a sword-based art has its place. Essentially you are learning the techniques for fun and historical interest, not for self-defence. So, if you have an interest in hilt weapons, by all means learn some Kendo, Aiaido, Bushido. Learn some fenceing or join a historical reinactment society. Personally, I have a passion for swords and have a small but interesting collection. As part of my journey of knowledge and discovery I’ve learned some Kendo and European Fenceing. But let’s move on and discuss my original statement.

As a case study we’ll take two martial arts systems I am very familiar with; namely Lau Gar Kung-Fu and Judo. In Judo you learn to throw, incapacitate, grapple, you learn to choke and lock joints. You learn techniques both standing-up and on the ground. These techniques can be used for both self defence and sport. After enough time, dedication and application, you will have developed enough skill, fitness, strength and technique to enable you to feel a degree of confidence in a confrontation, on or off the mat.

Let’s look at the Kung Fu example. Kung Fu teaches many valuable techniques at close and mid-range. Striking with the hand, the palm, the fingers, the fist. Kicking, and targetting at close range. With enough dedication you can learn to deliver blows quickly, efficiently and powerfuly, enabling you to both spar, fight and defend yourself. Utilising the balance of the centre line, Kung Fu has respected and valuable techniques. However… When you reach a certain stage in your learning; you learn the Butterfly knives, the staff and the Broadsword. Now, Butterfly knives are a defensive weafon to be used to defend against swords. The staff is the weapon of the peasant, used to attack and defend against would-be invaders, and the sword is a weapon utilised by the fudal overlords in ancient China. From a historical point of view, this is all very sweet, but in the modern context it’s an utter waste of time. There is absolutely no point in spending years perfecting your form and technique, only to have valuable time and resources taken away from unarmed combat, and put into what is essentially pointless roleplay.

In today’s world’ nobody needs to learn how to handle a sword or a staff. Nobody is allowed to carry such weapons, unless you have a license and they are in a bag. Unless your aim is’ to learn pretty kata, waving your sword around like a rhythmic gymnast on a drug-fuelled revery, I really can’t see the point. Use your time to make yourself strong, use your training to improve your strikes, your grappling, your throws, don’t use it to enter into a pseudo fantasy.

Let’s look at one more thing. Aikedo is a martial art that takes a high degree of motivation and dedication. At the novice level it is largely ineffective, earning scorn from those who worship at the alter of Brazillian Jojitsu and MMA. Aikedo takes a long time and many hours of practice before it bears fruit. Done well, it can be effective and even mesmorizing. But, why do some forms of Aikedo teach weapons? Ok, let’s rewind. Aikedo is a throw-back. It’s genesis was in the battlefields of Japan, developing from the need to survive again a sword, or to survive when you lose your own sword. So, essentially, in the modern context its application is questionable. However, some schools of Aikedo have evolved and many of the techniques are powerful and devastating. But given that it takes such a long time to learn, I don’t understand why students are asked to go off task and learn how to wave bits of wood and steel about. Surely, given the intricate ballet of enertia, force and momentum that needs to be mastered, using weapons is counter intuitive.

So,’ I suggest that weapons training in what essentially is unarmed combat is fantastical, redundant and pointless. I think that it is no more than roleplay. I think that the time spent on how to defend against a mythical attack, should be better spent on developing the core of the form- the unarmed combat. After all, would you ask a boxer in the middle of his training to learn to lob a spear at a punch bag? Off course not. Why? Because firstly it’s ridiculous, secondly its pointless, and thirdly, nobody is ever going to lob a spear at either him, or you.

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Heavy Coin

In honour of National Poetry Day, here’s a poem from Tesserae, my collection of poems. Feel free to buy it!

http://www.bjedwards.co.uk

HEAVY COIN

Make sense, make haste, make love.
Make a statue of your soul and fill it with dust and treacle,
A genuine thing of slip and slop, sticking and stuck.
Make a map of a nearby kingdom and touch it with flint.
Make honey from the flowers that bloom in your mind, Agonizing traces of who you used to be.
Now come, solemnly gather close,
Walk to the shores of the grey, and sip the limpid brew.
Forgive yourself your sins, forget your loves, those you conquered, those who vanquished you.
Now you are empty, a thing without spirit, spirit without soul.
You have no matter, no memory, no past.
Your wife of 40 years, your children blend into the sand and disappear from your heart.
Thoughtless, emotionless, useless you stand, awaiting the creek, the splash, the waft of the bark.
Through the lethargic mist it comes, a dark hulled ferry, gliding towards you.
Make ready to pay the man,
Heavy coin, heavy coin.
Make ready to release the life, Heavy coin, heavy coin.
Pale hand, dark hood, planks shrinking with the power of age.
Step aboard, you who were a man, a husband, a father, a friend.
Step aboard and pay for your existence,
Heavy coin, heavy coin.
Empty, closed, the echo of sadness drips from every cloud,
You drift through the mist to an unseen shore.
You have lived, you have loved, you have been a man.
You have struggled, you have worked, you have tried to understand the pastures of the world.
And now you rest, embalmed in tepid memory,
Waiting for your new time, your new existence.
For you have paid the ferryman,
Heavy coin, heavy coin.
You have made your statue and watched it sink beneath the waters of your soul.