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A sign of the times

I don't know whether to be depressed that it's necessary or encouraged that it's happening:
Sara Wajid writes in The Guardian on why Muslim women are taking up martial arts:

... Uzma Naseem, a solicitor and mother who has been attending the classes, says: "It's not a question of being a Muslim woman, it's a question of being a woman and of self-protection generally ... It's hard for people to acknowledge that Muslim women need to go out and about in the city and be able to defend themselves. My mum's generation might think, 'Muslim women just go out with their men so they'll be protected.' But my generation is just so much more independent. It's not about being vulnerable women - it's just a good qualification to have." She plans to enrol her four-year-old daughter in martial arts classes as soon as possible.
Lots more interesting stuff via the link that's likely to dispel some social misconceptions.



The image of a woman wearing her hijabis while kicking and punching makes me think of Bene Geserit sisters. Emerging female power could kick traditional male Islam in the nuts. How fun.



Be encouraged, Charlie. Cities are probably no more dangerous for a woman of any sect now than they have been for at least a century, so there's really nothing to be depressed about. The only real downside to self-defense training for women is that the women who get the training may not really understand that it's not a placebo; no self-defense, up to and including blasters and death-rays, is guaranteed to keep you safe. But it may make a difference for some women, and in the long run it counters the standard female stereotype of weakness and vulnerability.

Also, a trend for Muslim women becoming capable of self-defense is one more factor breaking down the hermetic nature of the Muslim communities in Western countries, something that European countries in particular are going to need.


And it might even make the old man think twice before administering "discipline" at home, eh?


Gahn @3: Western enlightenment values are viral. Other cultures don't need to absorb all of them at once to be changed by proximity. If anything, I think the post-9/11, post-Iraq climate of fear in the UK and USA has put back the integration of the Muslim immigrant communities by a generation or more ... but it's still going to happen in the end unless we (meaning the non-Muslim majority) go collectively bugfuck.

(Alas, I'm not so optimistic on that latter point.)


I can't believe that a writer of ninja fiction could be so pessimistic about this development.


Michael, I know this will come as a great shock to you, but I don't actually write ninja fiction. (Maybe I should: NINJAS IN SPAAAAACE!!!)


I don't actually write ninja fiction


Some of us saw through that "Eric van Lustbader" pseudonym years ago.

(Starting the viral meme clock... now)


I think anything that promotes female confidence is a good thing. Especially within the Muslim community, but it's not as if our own culture is totally supportive of female confidence.

BTW I think the only way to put the ninja writer allegation to bed is for you to write a book with ninjas in it. :D

Actually, I think Michael is pulling your leg. ;)


Come on, Charlie - you know you want to...."Osaka G'l'kzam'te quietly crawled along the fins of the starship, unheard due to his Space Ninjutsu. He pulled out a Space Shuriken, and took aim at the alien creature's nearest tentacle..."


"... but it's still going to happen in the end unless we (meaning the non-Muslim majority) go collectively bugfuck."

Root for a strong economy. Keep at least a majority fat 'n happy rather than looking around for scapegoats and targets.


Oh come on, shurikens are so Web 1.0.

In any case, the analogous story in the US would be increased permitting of concealed carry of pistols for Muslim women, which would have hilarious effects on our pundits. HEAD A SPLODE.

Now, I wonder if there's some group I could give to in order to hurry this up....


But of course, space is a paradise for ninjas! Where else would they be able to crawl so effortlessly glued to the roofs? Where else would be as easy to aim with deadly shurikens? And it's quite easy to be absolutely silent in space... Granted, a black suit would be a little hard to keep cool, but ninjas are cool by default!

Regarding the original question, I think it's a great development. The traditional answer to violence would have been more male escorts and abandoning the streets. That they are independent enough to defend themselves as a matter of course is very encouraging.


Clearly, Ninja are more relevant than ever in space. Consider:

  • Bullets might vent the hull. Shuriken? Totally safe!
  • In space, black is stealth. And surely there are secret ninja breathing tricks to mask one's heat signature.
  • Ninja have a strange affinity with computers. Nobody knows why.
  • Ionizing radiation only makes ninja stronger.
  • Space, like the internet, is teeming with Pirates. 'nuff said.


"Ionizing radiation only makes ninja stronger."

Ninjas can live for months eating radiation-feeding black fungi and drinking moisture.

"Ninja have a strange affinity with computers. Nobody knows why"

Computer chips are made of silicon. Rocks are made of silicon. The way of the Ninja is becoming like a rock -> A Ninja has natural computer chips embedded!


Heh, that random remark by Doctorow is going to have repercussions, you'll see. Expect ninjas in the upcoming family trade series :-)


Mind you, the way the UK is going, I half expect a future government to ban the practice of martial arts due to "being usable for acts of offensive physical violence". Yes, I know it's Nivenesque, but it no longer seems quite as absurd.


@Nate : Already on it's way I'm afraid, Katanas are to be banned as soon as they decide how best to ignore the petition from every serious martial artist. "Samurai swords" are apparently the nutter's weapon of choice at the moment. Still no sign of them banning baseball bats though.


Baseball bats, like submarines, should be banned as being "underhand, unfair, and damned un-English". (Admiral Arthur Knyvet Wilson, VC, RN, 1901). Why aren't our thugs using cricket bats? Or golf clubs?


Didn't E.E. "Doc" Smith's lensmen go hand-to-hand with space axes? OK so that's not quite katanas but it's the same idea.

Now there was proper SF. Not like this modern rubbish...


The argument for banning katanas (and other swords) follows precisely from the logic for banning hand guns, and since we have a bunch of politicians who were eager to do the former at the first opportunity offered to them I imagine that all that will be required will be a suitable atrocity to hang the relevant law on.

Whether you think this logic actually holds is another thing entirely of course.


Japan manages to ban/control Katanas, so why not the UK.

I remember when I was studying in Japan, the first time I held an ancient sword I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was holding an implement of death, and one that had likely killed in its long lifetime.

A Katana has no function other than to kill and maim. Why exactly would you not want to control or limit their distribution?

Sure, there are a few thousand practicioners of Iado or other martial arts that would have a legitimate need, but keeping a $99 cold steel reproduction by the front door doesnt really qualify.


I've certainly heard of the Japanese law against allowing foreigners to take antique swords out of the country, but I've never heard of any other restriction, and I've lived and trained there.

And to be clear - there's nothing in the bill at present to provide an exception for Iaido practitioners. So at a stroke the government are eliminating the practice of an ancient martial art for all but a rich few for the emotional over-reaction of those ignorant of martial study.

And in case you doubt it's an over-reaction, I can assure you that in untrained hands a katana is no more dangerous than a large kitchen knife. Strangely despite a murder using said kitchen knife in the last twenty four hours there's a distinct lack of calls to ban said knives, or restrict them to qualified professional chefs. Odd that.


The problem with eliminating weapons is that, on occasion, you do have a legitimate need to kill people.


@21 Damien,

"Sure, there are a few thousand practicioners of Iado or other martial arts that would have a legitimate need, but keeping a $99 cold steel reproduction by the front door doesnt really qualify."

Folks managed to kill each other for centuries in fairly decent numbers long before the first katana reached Europe. In the hands of a determined person, an electrical cord becomes a lethal weapon. Should we ban electrical cords then?

How about automobiles? I will wager that more people were killed in the UK in the last ten years by autos than katanas. The problem is intent. You cannot legislate human nature, only make them improvise new and varied ways to kill each other.


Andrew H, I believe the US occupation authorities post-1945 banned katanas, probably due to a rather strong aversion to them among the US officers involved.

Andrew S: WARNING: I will not tolerate my blog comments being turned into a venue for a gun control flame war. (Nate, Crom, Andrew H: you, too, can consider this to be a friendly warning.)

If I think we're descending into the mire of pro-anti-second amendment/pro-anti-Snowdrop Campaign this'n'that, I will start deleting the offending comments. Without further ado.

Having said that ... I don't agree that there's ever a "legitimate need to kill people". I'll happily concede a right to self-defense, up to and including the use of lethal force where no alternatives are available, and I'll also concede that this is verging on a hair-splitting distinction ... but I think it's a really bad idea to set the price of human life too low, and comments like "on occasion, you do have a legitimate need to kill people" are pernicious precisely because they don't split the follicle finely enough.


My comment had nothing to do with guns, or any other weapon. I'm actually surprised something like a katana is still legal at all in the UK considering the bans on other martial arts weapons (or, more amusingly even depicting them in movies).

My musing was purely that given current trends, how long it would be until some minister proposes that the general public really has no justifiable need to know practices such as karate or judo. After all, there are much more effective and approved methods of physical fitness outlined in the £1.7bn Fit Britain 2017 programme.


Charlie @25: I didn't define what a legitimate need was, because that's the sort of thing that changes from time to time and place to place.

As you pointed out, self defense is one widely recognized legitimate reason for killing another person. War also happens to be another, within certain evolving guidelines.

A thousand years a go you had a legitimate need to kill someone if they stole one of your sheep or insulted your honor. Things change.

While I dislike any sort of force (I've only ever been in one fight in my life), I think it's important that the possibility of a deadly retaliation be there to deter criminals or other violent sorts -- up to and including national governments.


Charlie, of course you want to write post-Singularity ninjas in cross-dimensional space fiction. How could you not? Jeez, for a science fiction writer you sure don't have any imagination. (Ha, sorry, I know that after your 3x10^6-comment monstrosity this past week you probably have a low humor threshold on this matter, but I found those guys just hilarious. "Oi, you, you call yourself an SF writer? Haven't you ever heard of the Singularity?" Hahaha. Charlie fscking Stross.)

Andrew @ 27: Gvn tht fl th nd t cntrdct yr rgmnt dspt th xprss wshs f r hst, 'm frcd t prmptvl dsmvwl mslf.


Regarding ninjas and katanas and muslim women learning asian martial arts too, I was reminded of 'Thunderball', the old Bond movie with Sean Connery, 'Tiger' Tanaka and lots and lots of black clad shuriken-throwing warriors. Back in the 60s they actually had to explain to the audience what ninjas were! They still weren't part of Western popular mythology like they are now.

And I can't think of anything of Muslim origin (Muslim from a cultural point of view, I mean) which could even dream of exerting such a fascination on Western minds. Japanese culture has been truely a powerful influence during the last... 30 years, perhaps?

But, as 'Thunderball' seems to prove, that cultural influence and economic success went together. Without the incredibly successful 'Made in Japan' label, I very much doubt ninjas, samurais, yakuzas, giant robots and uniformed schoolgirls with utterly unbelievable hairstyles would be so popular today.

Perhaps the future will see comparable influence being exerted by Bollywood movies and Beijing Operas, but I wonder why the Muslim World seems unable to succeed in the modern economy. And I don't mean Arab, Middle Eastern, or 'rogue' countries; even peaceful, non Arab countries like Indonesia and Turkey apparently can't mimic the successes of India, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.


Alastriste: consider the etymology and history of the word "assassin" then get back to me.

Right now, the Muslim world is having big problems. But then, most nations and peoples who've been overrun by imperial powers, chopped up, placed under corrupt puppet governments, and then screwed over repeatedly ... have problems. Compare, for example, China between 1700 and 1950 with China in 2007.

(Sitting on top of my reading pile is: "The great war for civilization: the conquest of the middle east" by Robert Fisk. Fisk is unpopular in certain circles for a reason: he's about the ultimate exemplar journalist of the "reality-based community" insofar as he doesn't write about the middle east from a comfy armchair in Georgetown: he goes out there, speaks arabic, and sometimes gets beaten up by the likes of the Taliban while trying to understand what's really going on. I've been reading his work for about 25 years, and it sheds a very different light on the political history of the middle east: one that makes the current tidal wave of militant fundamentalism no less tragic, but much more grimly understandable.)


I believe the US occupation authorities post-1945 banned katanas, probably due to a rather strong aversion to them among the US officers involved.

Which reminded me of the classic wartime scene from Cryptonomicon:

Ronald Reagan has a stack of three-by-five cards in his lap. He skids up a new one: "What advice do you, as the youngest American fighting man ever to win both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star, have for any young Marines on their way to Guadalcanal?"

Shaftoe doesn’t have to think very long. The memories are still as fresh as last night’s eleventh nightmare: ten plucky Nips in Suicide Charge!

"Just kill the one with the sword first."

"Ah," Reagan says, raising his waxed and penciled eyebrows, and cocking his pompadour in Shaftoe’s direction. "Smarrrt — you target them because they’re the officers, right?"

"No, fuckhead!" Shaftoe yells. "You kill ’em because they’ve got fucking swords! You ever had anyone running at you waving a fucking sword?"


I believe that swords were declared to be illegal in public in Japan in the 1860's when they were attempting to break the Samurai class. Only officers in the army were permitted to carry themm, and they were not always Samurai. Ownership was permitted, just not public display. I believe that is still the case.


Japan and China are interesting because they went through a sort of quasi-singularity. Swords to Gatling guns in a few years. Fairly traditional rural culture mixed with late-Victorian industrialisation. Yojimbo is a Samurai movie, where the bad guy has a revolver.

And the martial arts concept came from the combination of old combat skills with the sort of idea of sport which also created the modern Olympics.

The Japanese also try to preserve the rather different combat skills--ken-jutsu is rather different from ken-do--as well as developing moden hand-to-hand combat skills--you kick differently when you wear Army boots.

Europe, on the other hand, had a much slower shift. The pike, and the other specialised hand-to-hand weapons, were replaced by the bayonet in the latter part of the 17th Century. and the officers at Waterloo weren't the sons of the Royalists and Roundheads who had fought with pike and sword and matchlock. There was time to forget.

There are manuals that survive: we do have some idea of the methods of Europe's ancient samurai. Our live traditions have been worn away by time, before we ever realised we should care.

And it's claimed that Ninja still exist, that their skills are still taught. I'm not surer about the legends which get printed in English, but we have the SAS. In 1940, we had the Auxiliary Units, and their desperate inventiveness and their discoveries fed back into modern Special Forces.

My Grandfather was in the conventional Home Guard, but I would be unsurprised if some of the people who taught him, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, didn't also teach people such as Christopher Lee.

But don't believe all you see in the movies. A real Ninja looks just like anyone else walking down the street.


No no no! You've all fallen for the classic misdirection. The Boingboing quote was:"Badass ninja science fiction writer Charlie Stross has just posted..."

Clearly Cory was slyly alluding (by clever use of a stealth comma) to the fact that Charles Stross is in fact a NINJA! As Dave@33 remarks, ninjas look "just like anyone else walking down the street." And everyone knows that ninjas are masters of stealth & misdirection.

Mister Stross, we are on to your cunning tricks. Your scheme has been rumbled, the cat is now out of the bag. All this time, you have been masquerading as a normal human but all this time, you've been a ninja in disguise!


Hmm. We've never actually seen Charlie and a ninja at the same time...


Well, if you see a ninja it's too late.

If you can still see Charles Stross, it's too early (I've sung drunken songs of the revolution while with him in some of the low dives and gin-joints of Leeds.)

S-100 Bus (tune: Bonnie Ship the Diamond) (Frank Hayes)

When I was young, my friends all worked like fools to get their share Of an S-100 system, like an Imsai or Altair; Well the S-100's still around, I'm very glad to say But friends, I'm here to tell you that it's not the same today.

chorus: And it's cheer up, my lads, let your hearts never fuss When you're integrating systems for the S-100 bus.

To tell the truth, the source of all our troubles seems to be A committee on computers of the I of triple E; They settled on a standard spec, 696 by name Now everything is standardized, but nothing works the same.

They say the 80 boards are way too slow - it's enough to give you fits If the 09 isn't fast enough, then go to 16 bits. 68 and z8000 and an 86 as well, And code compatability goes straight to bloody hell

Then add a board for the modem line and one for every port and a printer board and a keyboard board, and as a last resort For every problem we will add a board that has the cure, It's not too damned efficient, but it's a mother, that's for sure.

And when it's all assembled there's computer to your collar, It's nice to have a micro but a mainframe would be smaller. And when they turn the power on, it's sure to dim the lamps With plus or minus sixteen volts and fourteen hundred amps.


Speaking of Ninjas in the muslim world... A few years ago, on a guided trip to Istanbul, our bus passed a number of traditionally clad Muslim women on the street. Our guide turned to us and said the number of ninjas was growing lately. apparently this is Turkish slang for women wearing hijab.


Soon Lee@34

And he says in a post in this blog that he's going to be in Japan this September.


"You kill ’em because they’ve got fucking swords! You ever had anyone running at you waving a fucking sword?"

Something the unique fusion of the feudal squirearchy (the Royalists..) and the urban proletariat (the New Model) that is the British military establishment well understands. Orwell said in 1940 that millions of men were being trained with the bayonet, a weapon only useful for opening tins; on Longstop Hill in Tunisia in 1943, Longdon (whose two summits were codenamed FLYHALF and FULLBACK - cricket to rugby in 40 years) in 1982, and outside Cimic House in Maysan in 2004, it turned out that just being willing to stick a fucking great knife in your enemy's neck has considerable value.


[formerly 'Alatriste']

"Now everything is standardized, but nothing works the same."

So true, so true... (sigh).


Ninja hijab already exists.


Ho hum, been away on holiday so my reply falls on an empty forum (if someone posts and noone reads it, did he really post?).

However since my personal version of OCD cannot allow inaccuracy to go uncorrected:

@32 The practice of wearing swords was discouraged and eventually banned during the Meiji restoration in Japan. However this is not relevant to the discussion about British government legislation to outlaw the possession of katanas.

@25 During the Occupation Authority of 1945-52 the practice of martial arts in Japan was outlawed since there were understandable fears that this could be used as a cover for training for resistance/guerilla groups - martial arts training continued in secret. Personal possession of katana wasn't effected, though they could be confiscated by occupation troops. After 1952 normality returned, and martial arts practitioners were among those designated living national treasures for their retention of historically and culturally significant knowledge.

@31 My favourite scene from Cryptonomicon. Not to rub it in or anything, but Stephenson trained in Kendo and Iaido, which lent distinct credibility to the sword-fighting (virtual and otherwise) scenes in Snow Crash. Training that will die out in the UK after the legislation passes.

Still all fairly OT I guess...


AndrewH @42: thanks for the clarification!



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 19, 2007 3:43 PM.

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