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Not Really A Fan

FanExpo is completely insane. It's full of, well, of fans, I guess. Fans of Star Trek. Fans of assorted anime titles I've never heard of. Fans of Freddy Kreuger, Call of Duty, Spiderman -- in short, fans of anything that might be represented in a ridiculous (or awesome) costume.

I'm not particularly a fan.

Oh, I like Spiderman well enough. I've been known to watch assorted anime titles you've never heard of. I don't really care for Star Trek, to tell you the truth, but on the other hand, I really dig Steven Erikson. But I wouldn't call myself a fan.

I wouldn't dress up as Steven Erikson, that's for sure.

So it's not so much my thing but I did in fact have a blast at FanExpo. I ran a couple of sessions of DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, of course, that went splendidly (the PIRATE KING face-planted both times). Sara McMillen and the other great folks at TAG kept that whole arrangement smooth and pleasant, but I had an ulterior motive in attending this insane event.

I was looking for artists. And artists I found.

First up, I met Neil Chenier, He's a local guy working on a book called "Gangrene" he and his writer partner have sold to Markosia. He had pages on display that looked fantastic -- sort of gore-porn noir, if you can picture that. Severed limbs and trenchcoats a-plenty!

I walked around a bit and had my eye caught by this striking image by Eric Vedder, whohas an entertaining webcomic called Aardehn. I picked up a copy of a print of this image for S, and Eric and I got to chatting. Eric has, as you can see, a great classic comic-book line married to the sort of exaggerated form and high detail I expect from manga illustration. Very cool stuff, and his sketchbook was a prized acquisition.

Day Two I ran into the very charming Mark Rehkopf, and his astounding dinosaur illustrations. He builds full-scale dinosaur models! Holy Moses! And covers for the Prehistoric Times! Obviously I could only just restrain myself from slobbering all over him and his lovely work. I think I loved his pencil dinosaur illos the best. I would totally buy a book full of those. So evocative and enthralling.

A few rows over from Mark, I was yanked from my prehistoric reverie by the startling character pieces of Sanya Anwar. A lot of people try to do the Art Deco thing, but it was her expressive line work and knack for telling character details that really caught my attention. She described for me the new version of 1,001 Nights that she's doing, using folk tales from all over the world, and it sounds amazing. I couldn't resist, and ordered a commision from her which she turned around and made into a beautiful anniversary gift for S. Fantastic.

I was pretty much done by this point, but anyone would have been distracted by a comic book called Kill Shakespeare -- I spent some very pleasant minutes chatting with Conor, one of the writers. It's a fantastic idea and the first two issues are very well done. I strongly recommend looking this book up -- you don't have to be a Shakespeare fan to love it!

I don't know much about art, but heck, I know what I like. Which is mostly dinosaurs and chicks with swords. FanExpo honestly could have used more of both. And less Star Trek.


FanExpo, next week here in Toronto, is a massive event with celebrity guests from all sorts of genres and forms. I'm not the sort of guy who goes for autographs or paraphernalia, so it's not for the most part my scene, but they are holding a RPG component this year, so of course:

DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND will be representing, with two games running: the classic SLAVE QUEEN OF THE RUINED CITY adventure (available on YourGamesNow for the low low price of $6.00), and the much newer (debuted at GenCon) PIRATE KING'S DAY OF RECKONING.

Both games promise plenty of swashbuckling adventure, terrifying opponents and the sort of rollicking good time that players of DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND have come to expect.

Wrecked on the forbidding shore of the SLAVE QUEEN'S island, heroes much penetrate deep into the underground labyrinths of the RUINED CITY to foil her nefarious plans, battling as they must mindless minions, terrible torturers and GIANT MONKEYS.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed PIRATE KING has made too many enemies on too many sides, and in his desperation has unleashed an ancient weapon of horrifying power. Can our heroes track down the misnamed monarch and force him to put down that cauldron?

Both adventures feature of course the five essentials of any DINO-PIRATES game:
  • Dinosaurs

  • Pirates

  • Ninjas

  • Monkeys

  • Robots

Come on out and enjoy some classic DINO-PIRATES action! And I guess you can meet famous people at the same time. Like me! Well, not so much famous, as, well, tall. Really quite tall.

Happy to sign autographs, too.

The Principle

The most important truths in life are few, and yet so hard to set down in words. This is why literature endures, century after century. Each generation, each society, has to find new ways of expressing the same truths. There are many paths to learning these truths -- literature is one that has long held value to me. Likewise, swordsmanship. There are deep truths buried in the practice of Katori Shinto Ryu -- but expressing those truths is almost impossible.

We had another lovely visit with Sozen Sensei this past July. A gifted practitioner of Sugino-style Katori Shinto Ryu (he holds a fifth dan in the style), I know Sozen Sensei from Japan, where we practiced together for years at Sugino Dojo. This year, instead of working on one kata after another, Sozen Sensei spoke of the differences between "principle" and "technique", and we spent the weekend exploring the myriad techniques that arise from the principles of Katori Shinto Ryu.

For example, an early move that must be learned is a way by which uketachi (the partner who receives the attack) may receive an incoming cut from kirikomi (the partner who initiates the attack) in such a fashion as to not only deflect the blow, but place his own sword in position for a thrust, forcing kirikomi to retreat. The principle is simple enough -- bring your sword down in time with your opponent's, the tip directed at his center. Actually performing it is not quite so simple, of course.

And even when it is performed correctly, the purpose of such a move is not always obvious. "If both our swords come down together, " a beginning student may wonder, "why does kirikomi retreat and uketachi advance?"

Katori is a style in which what is seen is not always what is happening. The principle -- the action that is practiced over and over again until it becomes automatic -- is not in fact the technique. We practice the principle in the kata, because in the principle is the simplest truth that must be manifested in that moment. Match the timing, keep your tip in the center. You need not know what you are doing at this point, but if you simply practice it again and again, the techniques that are available in this principle will begin to reveal themselves.

Strike the enemy's sword down. Cut the wrist. Lean in and cut the throat. Slide back and thrust in deeply. These objectives, these desired results, are all techniques, and in any given manifestation of the principle, some techniques may be possible and others may not be. It is impossible to know ahead of time which technique ought to be used. But the principle is always valid.

When we practice the kata, at times these techniques may spontaneously arise, and this is fine. But we should never lose sight of the principles themselves, and we should always return ourselves to these simplest truths that Katori reminds us of. Maintain one's center. Understand the lines of engagement. Manage distance.

Katori is so rich, so full of meaning and depth, that I could never imagine mastering every possible technique. Sometimes I discover a new technique that opens doors throughout my mind. This happened in July, watching Sozen Sensei demonstrate some of the techniques hidden inside hakka no tachi. He pointed out the similarity between one movement and the basic cut of Katori Shinto Ryu, maki-uchi, and I had a sudden moment of revelation. I could only laugh as astonishment flooded me. Hidden inside this kata lay the most basic principle of Katori Shinto Ryu, and I now see it everywhere. What was once a matter of technique has become the flowering of a single principle.

It's impossible to share these insights. They cannot truly be transmitted through words, but that makes them more, not less, important. Our words are a technique. A novel is technique. A cut to the wrist is a technique. The wisdom that lies behind the cut, the novel, or the words -- that's principle.

Great instructors like Sozen Sensei are able to reveal the principles to their students, and share in the boundless techniques that arise from them. We are very fortunate to have such people join us in our practice.