success-failA man once said to me, with evident pride, that he’d never failed a test of any kind in his life.

I guess he was expecting admiration, and must have been disappointed when I blurted, “how sad for you.”

But here is a person who has never stepped outside his comfort zone, who has no idea what he is capable of, and–moreover–he’s pleased as punch with that state of affairs.

DAILY PHOTO: The Writer’s Bookstore

Taken in the summer of 2011.

Taken in the summer of 2011.

My favorite store in Hungary. This bookstore is located at the corner of Andrássy út and Liszt Ferenc Tér in Pest.

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the Lion’s Den by Ken Shamrock

Inside the Lion's Den: The Life and Submission Fighting System of Ken ShamrockInside the Lion’s Den: The Life and Submission Fighting System of Ken Shamrock by Ken Shamrock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Inside the Lion’s Den is two (thin) books in one. The first, and longer, part is an autobiography of MMA fighter Ken Shamrock, and the latter part is a guide to his approach to submission fighting.

The first fifteen chapters form the biographical portion of the book. As is common in the modern biography, it doesn’t follow a chronological format. It begins at the height of Shamrock’s UFC career in the mid-1990s and introduces Shamrock and the Lion’s Den (his dōjō in California.) The book does, however, go back in chapter 3 and pick up with Shamrock’s childhood, beginning in 1969 in Savannah, Georgia. Shamrock had a suitably turbulent childhood to merit inclusion in the book. He lived with an abusive father and then a step-father unprepared for such a handful as Shamrock, before he ended up at the ranch of Bob Shamrock who would eventually become his adoptive parent and an important member of his entourage. Ken Shamrock had a raucous and—as is constantly repeated—rage-filled youth.

As might be expected of the biography of a fighter, one trained to psych himself up and psyche opponents out, the book can read a bit narcissistic in spots. Having said that, a fair amount of space in the biographical portion is devoted to topics beyond Shamrock’s fight career. There’s some space devoted to the development of UFC, but even more devoted to Shamrock’s fighters. There’s a chapter that follows a day of tryouts to get a slot as a Lion’s Den fighter. It’s entitled “500 Squats,” reflecting the fact that individuals must first do an insane number of squats as the first round of elimination during the tryouts. Later they’ll have to engage in sparring/rolling with legs burned out as an indicator of how the individual can gut it out. The book offers insight into how an individual goes about breaking into a career in Mixed Martial Arts.

An important theme of the biographical portion of the book is how Shamrock becomes less rage-prone and grows into an adult. This is both the result of the practice of martial arts and his familial relationships–most notably his spousal relationship. This is the human interest part of the story that centers around the man’s most prominent UFC accomplishments.

Perhaps the most important question one can ask about an autobiographical account is whether it’s accurate or not. There’s obviously an incentive to paint oneself in a more favorable light than an objective account might. There’s a professional co-writer of this book, Richard Hanner. One might expect that a professional journalist co-author would lend credulity to the work as that individual has a professional interest–based on reputation–in making sure the details are accurate. Whether Hanner’s presence lends credibility is hard for me to judge (he’s not a national name), but the work does read authentically. Shamrock, unlike politicians, admits many mistakes over the course of his life, and lets the reader know what his takeaway lessons were. Of course, as a public personality, there’s a lot that he couldn’t be duplicitous about if he wanted to, e.g. his fight record and details in the ring.

The last nine chapters are Shamrock’s guide to his submission fighting method. He covers a lot of ground from nutrition to advice for the day of a professional fight. Martial artists will not find a lot of groundbreaking information in this section, but rather will have to dig for nuggets of wisdom in the details. The submission techniques will be well-known to practitioners of judō, jujutsu, and submission fighting. The “crucifix” was the only technique I hadn’t seen before, and for all I know that one may be well-known to Greco-Roman / Pankration wrestlers. The photographs in this section are helpful in communicating Shamrock’s message, but are relatively sparse and small-format compared to the typical martial arts manual.

I enjoyed this book. Shamrock came across as an intriguing multi-dimensional character, and the manual offers a good overview and some important tips on subjects including nutrition, fitness, striking, grappling, and submissions.

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TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Smart TV Still Leads to Stupid

smartTVI learned the terms “hot media” and “cool media” during my weekend reading. These terms were coined by Marshall McLuhan, and don’t seem to have caught on outside of academia.


Hot media are information sources that are packed with data (often simultaneously transmitted to multiple sensory organs at once), and that require little or no interpretation or analysis on the part of the recipient. Television and movies are prime examples.


Cool media are those information sources that offer relatively little data, but which require the receiver to interpret, interpolate, analyse, and draw conclusions about the information they receive.  Books are the prime example of cool media.


There are people who proudly say, “I don’t have the time to read, but I only watch the Discovery Channel and Public Broadcasting.” If you think you’re getting smarter just like readers, you’re not. You’re still mainlining information, and the parts of your brain that have to exercise when you read (or otherwise take in information in an abstract form) are shut down.



I’m not suggesting one shouldn’t watch television, or that you can’t learn something from it. I’m just saying that if you don’t read, but try to educate yourself via TV, you are the intellectual version of this guy…




DAILY PHOTO: Under-Canopy Art Market

Taken on July 20, 2014 at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore

Taken on July 20, 2014 at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore


DAILY PHOTO: Royal Palace Chedi

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh

BOOK REVIEW: Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos, and Annam by Henri Mouhot

Travels In Siam, Cambodia, Laos, And AnnamTravels In Siam, Cambodia, Laos, And Annam by Henri Mouhot

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

If you can stomach the blatant racism and false notions of the virtue of Imperialism, reading the journals of 19th century naturalists and explorers can be fascinating for modern-day travelers. I will say that Mouhot’s work is less offensive than many of his contemporaries in this regard (e.g. the eugenicist polymath Francis Galton.) That is to say, he tries to be objective, and—when he fails–his condescension is as likely to be vaguely complimentary as not (e.g. noting certain “savages” are surprisingly intelligent.) However, one should remember that this is the journal of a journey that took place in years corresponding to the lead up to the American Civil War. (I should note that these snooty inclinations toward superiority aren’t uniquely Western, the Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan also viewed the Southeast Asian people with condescension.)

Alexander Henri Mouhot left London on April 27th of 1858, traveled to and throughout Southeast Asia, and died in the jungle on November 10, 1861. The journal was received by the explorer’s brother, Charles Mouhot, who is responsible for seeing it published, and for adding some front matter as well as tying up the end of the journal because Henri Mouhot died fairly abruptly of a feverish ailment that he contracted in the jungle.

In many ways, Mouhot’s work is similar to Daguan’s 14th century Record of Cambodia. Mouhot covers a lot more ground, but they both chronicle the natural, cultural, and commercial environment of these lands. Mouhot prides himself in being a naturalist, and he writes quite a bit about the diverse flora and fauna of these lands as well as of the geography. Mouhot collected many specimens of plants and animals that were unknown in his native France. About mid journey, he lost his collection to a maritime accident. However, he was able to reacquire some of these specimens in the latter portion of his journey.

Mouhot writes extensively about the locals and their customs. As I already suggested, these descriptions are often highly biased. For example, he tends to refer to the indigenous spiritual beliefs of the locals as “superstitions” while he bemoans the fact that these people are “living and dying in utter ignorance of the only true God!” However, for the most part he tries to maintain a scholarly detachment, and often he is complimentary of the local people (e.g. his apparent surprise that some of hill people would be offended by being referred to as savages is an example of his benign condescension.)

Also like Daguan, he discusses the possibilities for trade. It’s clear that one of his intended audiences are those interested in the commercial potential of the region. He writes both about what natural resources these nations contain, and what products they might be sold. He is ambiguous about the local market for European goods, first skeptical and then sanguine. He says that the locals don’t have much need for the goods produced in Europe, but then he suggests that the wealthier individuals do like to emulate European style and fashions. Perhaps, he is saying there are potential consumers among the small slice of wealthy individuals, but that is a limited market. Of course, the desire for commodities from Asia in conjunction with the wish to avoid drawing down precious metals reserves (i.e. forcing Asians to buy Western products) was no small cause of Imperialist shenanigans during that time period.

Among the most interesting chapters are those on Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. In these chapters, one receives an account of the state of Angkor between Daguan’s era (when the Angkor civilization was still active) and a modern-day Angkor that exists in the wake of successive waves of pillaging by the French (and other treasure hunters), the Khmer Rouge, and Vietnamese soldiers.

Mouhot was also interested in whether Jews had settled and integrated in the area. His theory was that there likely were. He says he sees a “Hebrew character” in some faces, but he acknowledges there is no hard evidence to support his belief and that the locals deny such a presence.

I guess the intrigue in Mouhot’s journal is a picture of this region during an era in which the world was not yet homogenized. Now when one travels to “remote villages,” one often sees people wearing the same mass-produced Western clothing that one sees at home, and they sit around with their smart-phones ignoring each other as at home. Mouhot’s era was one in which one traveled by elephant, boat, or by foot and often advanced no more than ten miles in a day in the jungle. It was an era of discovery. This may account for some of the xenophobic biases of that time; the ways of other people were new.

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DAILY PHOTO: Seurasaarenselkä

Taken in the summer of 2011 in Helsinki.

Taken in the summer of 2011 in Helsinki.

To the West of Helsinki there’s a large inlet from the Gulf of Finland that’s studded with small islands. This photo was taken in that area.


Taken in the summer of 2011 in Hungary.

Taken in the summer of 2011 in Hungary.

There are two ways to survive a harsh winter: you can squirrel away your pile of acorns or you can bear it by just not needing much.

DAILY PHOTO: Backwaters Public Transportation

Taken on July 4, 2014 in Kerala

Taken on July 4, 2014 in Kerala

This is the equivalent of a city bus in the Keralan Backwaters. These boats are loaded with people and cruise from pier to pier, picking up and dropping off local passengers. The houseboats give them a wide berth as they tool about much more quickly. However, because they make frequent stops, we were in a leapfrog match up with them in which we would pass them at the dock and then they’d pass us in motion, and so on.




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