Weekend warriors, Spring 2012 edition

Banner for martial arts classes near Boston, Massachusetts
Martial arts for all ages

On Sunday, 25 March 2012, Janice and I attended an open house at Guard Up! in Burlington, Massachusetts. The staff was friendly and helpful, and we enjoyed the martial arts demonstrations.

The Nerf battles, role-playing, and stage combat were popular among youngsters, so I talked to an instructor about European historical combat training. I’ve been interested in swordplay for years and own several blades and wooden practice weapons, but I’m not especially familiar with the German longsword, short sword and buckler, or other fighting styles.

The kendo demonstration was impressive, but that Japanese form would probably require more energy and discipline than I would enjoy. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the fencing. I donned some protective gear and learned the most basic moves. I managed to work up a sweat, and I won in my sparring matches, albeit against an instructor who was going easy on me. The more formal classes have clear benchmarks on individual progress.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how interested I am in long-term competition. All the typical restraints or excuses apply — I’m starting in middle age, am out of shape, and am concerned about the time and expense. I also wonder how much contact there is in the historical weapons classes. I dabbled in the Society for Creative Anachronism back in college, but found myself a better archer than duelist.

I plan to attend another free session to try to decide. Both the historical weapons and fencing classes are on Wednesday nights.

Kung-Fu Panda 2 review

Wallpaper for Dreamworks' latest animated movie
Kung-Fu Panda 2

On Friday, 3 June 2011, I met former co-worker and fellow blogger Ken G. to screen Kung-Fu Panda 2. While not as clever as its predecessor, the computer-animated martial arts comedy was still entertaining.

Kung-Fu Panda 2 has a similar plot to the first movie, in which a pudgy panda (played by Jack Black) must find hidden strength to fight a nasty villain. As before, Po has a strong supporting cast voiced by Dustin Hoffman as red panda Shifu, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, James Hong as adoptive father Mr. Ping, Lucy Liu as Viper, and Seth Rogen as Mantis.

New characters include Michelle Yeoh as a goat soothsayer, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc, and chameleon Gary Oldman as peacock dictator Shen. While Black doesn’t get to improvise as much as he has in other flicks, the other actors are well-chosen and don’t distract from their roles.

The martial arts choreography was strong, with each animal demonstrating a different style, and for once, I thought the 3-D helped rather than hurt the viewing experience. The writers and animators also expand the story’s venue beyond the monastery and village to the wider countryside and a city in ancient China. Ken even noticed that in one scene, funky music underscores a scene similar to 1970s action movies.

The movie is framed by animation resembling paper cutouts, and it clearly leaves an opening for another sequel. Overall, I’d give Kung-Fu Panda 2 a B or B+, 8 out of 10, or three and a half out of five stars. It’s rate PG for violence. I haven’t yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2: On Stranger Tides (which has gotten mixed reviews) or X-Men: First Class (which has gotten surprisingly favorable reviews). Ken and I also had dinner at Fresh City, which was OK.

On Saturday, Janice and I attended the Needham Street Fair and the Cambridge River Festival. Both had interesting vendors and varied cuisine (Thai and Indian were popular), and the latter had performers and several tables for progressive political causes that I support, such as Amnesty International.

After browsing at some of our usual book shops in Harvard Square, Janice and I had dinner at the Border CafĂ©, which is one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants. On Sunday, between a car inspection and picking up my comic book subscription at New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts, we had lunch at Conrad’s, a good family/pub-style eatery.

I’ll be busy with work and travel in the next few months, so I may not be able to blog as regularly as I have been doing, but have no fear, gentle readers — I’ve got more ideas coming!