Virus Variants of Considerable Concern

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B.1.427/B.1.429 – California

B.1.1.7 – southern England and Wales

B.1.351 – South Africa

B.1.526 – New York City. This has apparently been around since November and features the E484K (glutamic acid to lysine) and the S477N (serine to asparagine) mutations.

Pfizer and BioNTech have announced plans to study the effects of a third COVID-19 vaccine dose – the current thinking is six to twelve months after the second dose.

I would expect a clearly stated official announcement from AstraZeneca shortly. FDA approval for Johnson and Johnson is expected any minute now so there will likely be a commitment to start or restart studies involving a booster to counter the variants. That would leave China’s SinoVac and Russia’s Sputnik 5 makers to make announcements.

LATE FLASH: the FDA just approved Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine – it is different because it requires (so far) just a single shot and just ordinary refrigeration.

Ox-horn crutches again

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The Mandarin Duck knives have several names (Ba Gua Meridian Yin Yang Rooster Claw Knife – for sale on WLE.com – search for W554) and some interesting aspects: /1/ the hand holding the weapon is somewhat protected /2/ they probably (on me) should have a slightly longer main shaft to cover the elbow /3/ the small blades near the elbow are harder for an attacker to land a direct blow on /4/ the small blades may provide a little extra sting if used to jab an opponent /5/ the weapons are not really focused on delivering spinning attacks /6/ the small hook-like extension appears to serve to partially prevent direct blows against the forward section of the hand guard /7/ the triangular blades are likely to be doing the real work /8/ the triangular blades extend the reach /9/ unlike the ox-horn crutches there really isn’t a perpendicular striking surface – the weapon is meant to attack in a forward direction /10/ the chicken feet are very small so it is hard to imagine them adding much damage to a downward block or strike.

Ox-horn Crutches revisited

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Gene Ching, long-time publisher and editor of Kung Fu Magazine, should get a lot of credit for introducing and perhaps also preserving, the Bodhidharma Cane shown above. To work with two canes or crutches at the same time requires shortening the main shaft. At the same time, to be of some use as a blocking implement the main shaft has to be thickened somewhat. That meant that a skilled Shaolin monk could do one set with the Bodhidharma Cane, a second set with two Ox-horn crutches and a third set with one saber and one ox-horn crutch. I would think it would require consummate skill to survive very long against saber, sword, staff or spear were you armed with a Bodhidharma Cane. Just as there are limits on how well the Bodhidharma Cane serves on defense, there are concerns about just how deadly the Bodhidharma Cane is on offense.

Perhaps we can glimpse through the fog of history someone hastily adding a prepared dagger to a prepared crutch or short stick. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine using the crutch on a regular basis. But the problem is that the Ox-horn crutches as built have a knife whose blade faces the elbow. That means it cuts only when the hand draws back toward the body. If a dagger (two sharpened edges) were used then there would also be cutting when the hand moved away from the body.

The weapon is currently out of stock at Martial Arts Mart (item 25-214) but they do have the DVD (DVD-CA117) and the DVD with two tonfas (DVDK-CA117B). The allied merchandise site of Tigerclaw.com MAY have the weapon in stock. The Cane Master DVDs are worth a look

California’s Very Own COVID-19 Variant

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Several readers have written to ask about the California COVID-19 variant. More formally known as B.1.427/B.1.429 COVID-19, the current opinion by Dr. Charles Chiu and others at UCSF is that the variant /1/ spreads more readily than its predecessors /2/ evades antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection /3/ has a greater chance of severe illness and death.

One problem during a pandemic is that bad news and more virulent variants dominate the information cycle. That goes back to the consideration that it is not really confirmed cases, probable cases or suspected cases that is the problem – it is that some of the cases evolve into severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. So if there were a variant that caused no symptoms, produced useful antibodies and spread quickly, that would be good. But that is not B.1.427/B.1.429. Other variants with similar unfortunate properties have been initially identified in South Africa, Brazil and southern England (including Wales, but not including Scotland or Northern Ireland to acknowledge several readers who felt the variant there should not be described as a United Kingdom variant).

There is a second problem: during a surge the testing rate tends to plateau so one has to be very careful in interpreting confirmed cases per day, as well as probable cases and suspected cases. A third problem is that during a surge hospitalizations and deaths tend to increase reflecting stress on the medical infrastructure so some caution is needed before claiming increased lethality.

/1/ Is this new variant the end of civilization? No

/2/ Is this new variant dangerous? If the early trends hold true, yes

/3/ Should we expect more variants that spread more quickly, are less sensitive to current vaccines and are more deadly? Probably, although there is something of a limit on transmissability. For a vaccine maker B.1.427/B.1.429 and others are a challenge: at what point, if you are SinoVac, do you reproduce lots of B.1.427/B.1.429, cook them, test the result and distribute another version of your vaccine. Is your old vaccine still useful? Similarly, for Pfizer and Moderna at what point do you make another mRNA, test it and distribute another version of your vaccine. Is your old vaccine still useful? A third technology is used for the Sputnik V vaccine from the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia: a synthesized adenovirus (cause for the common cold) is combined with the spike protein from the coronavirus. The status of Sputnik V testing is a blog entry in itself.

For now, stick with masks and social distancing. If you are thinking of getting vaccinated, by all means as it will be months before any vaccine for B.1.427/B.1.429 will be ready – if one is made at all. If you have been vaccinated you may well be a candidate for a second vaccination with a new vaccine that prevents newer variants like B.1.427/B.1.429.

Ox-Horn Crutches

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It being the year of the Iron Ox

Some would prefer that the name be 牛角拐杖 – adding a ‘zhang’ = stick in English. Many moons ago a pair of personal weapons (pictured above) of the late Grandmaster Wing Lam were sold after his death by his business. As far as I know, he never taught or performed a set with the Ox-horn crutches. I do not recall ever seeing the weapons at either of his schools or even hearing rumor of them back in the 1970s. I would like to think I would have noticed them. I have managed to find two older YouTube videos by other people. I asked the esteemed Sifu David Chang of San Jose California if he had ever seen them in tournament or perhaps even heard of them. He graciously e-replied that he had not, but that the weapons were likely from Northern Shaolin style (one of the arts Grandmaster Wing Lam taught). Further, the most well-known practitioner of them was the Eminent Monk Chun Nian 淳念 from the Qing dynasty period (1644 to 1912). So the looming questions are

/1/ If Grandmaster Wing Lam knew a set for the weapon
/a/ why didn’t he make a recording?
/b/ Did he wish to re-engineer the set?
/c/ Who might he have learned the set from?
/2/ Why didn’t he teach the set or display the weapons?
/3/ I am not much of a fan of tonfas despite owning several pairs:
/a/I usually was not able to land really devastating blows on an opponent
/b/ most commercially made tonfas did not cover my elbow;
/c/ gripping bare wood meant my hand was going to absorb a lot of vibrations
/d/ when taking a blow from a staff a tonfa was much better than nothing but the vibrations went from my fingers to my shoulder
/e/ not well-suited to fighting against sword or spear
/f/ generally did not do well against kwan dao or fork or trident
/g/ I don’t recall anyone breaking a forearm trying to use a tonfa to block a saber. But an allegedly dull saber cut through someone else’s tonfa and I had a saber get temporarily stuck in one of my tonfas and leave a slash behind

/4/ Of interest will be if students, particularly those who have challenges managing long weapons, especially the lau gar pole and the kwan dao, like these weapons.

I plan on having an all-wood set made. Probably no metal knife blades this time. We’ll see about wraps for the handle and for most of the long arm. If you know of anyone making or teaching this weapon please leave a comment. If you would like to order a pair of your own leave a comment as well

Tai Rulers and Bangs

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Over the years we have spent a fair amount of time and effort observing the interaction of students and two of the Tai Chi tools: the Tai Chi ruler and the Tai Chi Bang. Lengths and diameters of both have to be matched to the dimensions of the individual student. Just about everyone despises PVC pipe as a material so the focus was on choosing woods that appealed to the following senses of the individual student: visual (color and grain), tactile (smoothness is usually a function of the grain and finish), weight (heavy versus light wood relative to wrist and finger strength – a big deal for some students with arthritis, cerebral palsy and arthrogyposis) and even smell. There are some limits imposed by CITES and the Lacey Act as well as what woods are actually available in the needed diameters and lengths. The students are not supposed to lick or bite the tools but that has happened. As far as I know, no one has hit themselves, another person, a houseplant, a lamp … We do have students who sleep with a Tai Chi ruler.

A new project will be to try and have a Tai Chi ruler and a Tai Chi Bang turned from a solid copper rod. If you would be interested in your very own, send us a comment. Yes, we realize we are not Copper Coyote Kung Fu, but rather Silver Wolf Wushu. Depending on how the copper versions go, we would certainly want to explore turning a Tai Chi ruler and a Tai Chi Bang from a silver-nickle bar.

Iron Palm Training Table

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At various times in his long career the late Grandmaster Kwok Wing Lam taught two sets of Iron Palm exercises. They used the same table (shown above), the same Dit Da Jow (available from WLE.com either as a ready to use liquid or bags of herbs for do-it-yourselfers) and the same canvas bags of mung beans, gravel and steel shot (also available from WLE.com). There is also a recommended book by the Grandmaster titled Ultimate Iron Palm. WLE.com has not sold the tables for years and years. Is anyone out there making tables, selling tables or selling plans? Or if you would be interested in either a table or a kit (“some assembly required”) send a comment.

COVID-19, California and New York state

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The famed Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 map [https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html] now has the state of California passing the State of New York in COVID-19 related deaths and now leading all US states in COVID-19 related deaths and COVID-19 cases. As noted previously, California would be expected to do so by virtue of its much larger population. Per JHU California now has 3,491,496 cases and 47,126 deaths. These figures lead Texas with 2,568,530 cases and New York state with 46,128 deaths. Were California a country it would have the seventh most cases on our Planet Earth behind the rest of the United States, India, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Russia and France. Likewise, were California a country, it would have the fifteenth most deaths behind the rest of the United States, Brazil, Mexico, India, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Russia, Spain, Germany,Iran, Colombia, Argentina and South Africa. However, California has a lower lethality rate than the rest of the United States in aggregate: 1.35% versus 1.82%. In terms of cumulative likelihood of infection 8.73% of California’s population has tested positive for COVID-19 while only 8.22% of the population of the rest of the United States has tested positive. So more likely to get infected but more likely to survive.

Guinea Declares Another Outbreak – Ebola

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The Republic of Guinea (French: République de Guinée) is located along the northwestern coast of Africa and had an estimated population of 12,414,293 in 2018. The current estimate from the World Factbook is a population of 12,877,894. According to wikipedia 14,764 confirmed COVID cases and 84 COVID deaths. However, the official government website for ANSS-Guinee has 14,687 cases and 83 deaths, while the famed Johns Hopkins map has 14,895 cases and 84 deaths. In any case, the Government of Guinea declared a new Ebola outbreak as tests came back positive for that virus after at least three people died and four fell ill in the southeast. All seven had attended a burial in Goueke sub-prefecture. It remains unclear if the person buried on February 1 had also died of Ebola: she was a nurse at a local health center who had been transferred for treatment to Nzerekore, a city near the border with Liberia and Ivory Coast (red rectangle on the map below). The 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa started in Nzerekore, whose proximity to busy borders helped spread the virus. Note that this Ebola outbreak is not believed to be related to the four recent cases in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ten Years After – Another Major Earthquake East of Fukushima

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The large orange marker is a Richter 7.1 (according to the USGS) with four aftershocks. The Japanese Meteorological Agency has also rated the event as a Richter 7.1 but with 34 aftershocks. If the event had been a Richter 7.5, so 2.511 times larger and releasing 3.981 times more energy OR if the calculated epicenter was about 50 kilometers to the west who knows what might have happened to the three still-burning (but nominally contained) reactors as well as any radioactive debris and millions of gallons of contaminated water.