Sunday, November 25, 2007

Was National Geographic always this flashy?

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law with the subject line, "Thought a physics major would enjoy this." In the e-mail was a link to a YouTube video, or, more precisely, a commercial for a National Geographic special about martial arts entitled Fight Science. It looked interesting enough; testing martial arts with modern engineering to find out if the rumors/myths about their techniques were true (the ninja's deathblow, a boxer's one-punch knockout, etc).

I found myself a copy of the program, which apparently airs every couple months on National Geographic. It starts out quite well, measuring the impact forces from boxers, Karate, Kung fu, Tai Kwan Do, and Muay Thai masters. From there it shows how fast Kung fu hits, the leverage forces of Jiu-Jitsu, then the balance and pressure point control of Ninjitsu, and the reaction times of Tai Kwan Do. This far in it was quite interesting. They explained how the anatomy reacts to these blows, showed flashy computer generated anatomies that would expand when the blow was hit; all around interesting stuff. I think it could have been better if they had shown each martial artists doing each thing (which they probably did test each one, but didn't actually show the results), just for comparison. They also showed two brothers who apparently break bricks and cement professionally to show how they do that; I don't think it fit with the martial arts, but it was still kind of cool.

All in all the first half was fun to see, though I find it somewhat disappointing that, unlike Myth Busters who actually debunk or confirm myths, National Geographic managed to prove every single rumor/myth they addressed. I'm sure it made the martial artists feel good about themselves, but it really let me down, because it felt like they were trying to confirm the myths, instead of looking at it objectively and letting the data speak for itself.

They also made a big deal about "striking faster than a snake" which they said strikes at 8-10 feet per second. For reference, that's about 3 meters per second, or about 1/3 as fast as I can sprint. Not really that impressive.

Then, for the second half, they went into weaponry to explain how different weapons interact with the body. This was far less interesting. They stopped comparing any weapons, save for the Chinese broadsword and the straight sword, and just started talking about each weapon and what it does well, going through the kali stick, bo staff, bow and arrow, shuriken, nunchaku, the three-section-staff, and the katana. The problem was, what they were saying and showing was obvious. They didn't show anything new, hardly analyzed anything at all, and it felt like they just wanted to play with their computer generated graphics. It really let me down on the second half.

Overall I'd say it was a decent watch. Some things were interesting, some were repetitive, some were dull, some were really cool. The show also sparked my interest in martial arts again, though I can't afford (monetarily) to take Aikido again, but that's another subject.

So, thanks to Brady for letting me know about this. If you ever get the chance, the first half is worth watching, the second half...not bad if you have 45 minutes to kill.

1 comment:

Brady said...

Many thanks for the review! I think I would break if I tried to do any martial arts. Not because of the impact... It would probably be more my lack of flexibility.