Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

This week has been a little on the rough side. I’m not going to divulge the details, other than to say it’s not a week that will be remembered fondly. I’m actually still in the process of recovering from the emotional fall-out, and that generally includes a remedy of three things: chocolate, uplifting music that will bolster my shattered confidence, and remembering the lessons I learned while training in the martial arts. To that end, I’m going to do something unprecedented and re-visit a post I did about this time last year.

There’s a stigma in the martial arts that once you stop physically training, you’re no longer a black belt. While there is some merit to that argument — since, without practice, your self-defense skills rapidly become rusty — I humbly disagree. Those that learn the real lessons of the martial arts never lose them. They might not be able to do the most impressive jump spinning kick anymore, and they might not remember all their forms, but they still practice the things that make them better people, that make them black belts. Instead of an outward display, it’s internalized, crossing over into every aspect of their lives. So even though I’m currently on hiatus from my physical training, I don’t consider myself a former black belt. The intangible gifts I was given through Tang Soo Do are ones I’m grateful for every day, and they will continue to shape my life, my relationships, and how I conduct myself, whether or not I ever return to my training.

Which is why I felt this post needed to surface from the archives again. It’s not just an argument for why everyone should train in the martial arts, it’s a reminder to myself. These are things I strive to embody, and I know with absolute certainty that the situations referenced above would have played out quite differently if it weren’t for a few of these qualities. So thanks, Tang Soo Do. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And since I couldn’t say it any better than I did in that original post, I give you:
 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts

 

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally posted on 3/1/13)

 
Last week I mentioned how I apply a tenet I learned in the martial arts to my everyday life, and since it’s about time I branched away from writing/publishing to show my other categories some love, I think that’s a topic deserving of elaboration. What I’m about to say won’t be news to any of you that have trained, but to those of you unfamiliar with the martial arts, it may be enlightening.

There are three reasons that automatically come to mind when someone says they want to start training:

  • Discipline
  • Fighting/Self-Defense
  • Exercise

And for the most part, that sums up 90% of anyone’s motivation for enrolling. But there’s a lot more to the martial arts than that. Yes, it will help your unruly child learn to respect their elders and shut their mouth without the aid of duct tape. Yes, you will learn self-defense and how to fight. And yes, you will lose weight and tone muscle from all the exercise. But you’ll also miss the much richer elements of personal growth that society never glorifies if you only focus on those three things.

I learned a long time ago that you can easily spot someone who’s made it to black belt. Partly because all martial artists have a certain way of moving; a certain poise and grounded familiarity with their body that screams “black belt” a mile away. And partly because of the way they conduct themselves. There’s a reason they say martial arts is a way of life. It’s because, by the time you reach black belt, your training has gone beyond the physical techniques and has become an ingrained part of your outlook on the world.

Every style has their own philosophies and tenets, but I think there are several that are universal. Not because they’re part of an unwritten code of martial arts brethren, but because they’re the principles that make someone a better person. Things that should be common sense but that have been lost over the years to the majority of society. What are they? Let’s take a look and find out.

Integrity:

In a world where selfishness reigns, it’s refreshing to find someone that actually understands this word. And I would bet that 9 times out of 10, that person is/was a martial artist. Why? Because this is one of the core principles instilled by training. It’s also one of the first that spills over into everyday life. Integrity can be anything from keeping your word, to doing what’s right even when it’s not easy or for your own benefit, to taking responsibility for your actions. This is an attitude that translates to success in everything from school, to personal relationships, to career. A person with integrity is someone that can be counted on, and that’s a sure-fire way to the top of any pack.

Humility:

The second tell-tale sign of someone who’s spent time in the martial arts is humility. People who have learned this have an easier time connecting with others. Nobody likes a braggart, and arrogance is a one-way ticket to alienating all your potential allies. Martial artists learn the fine line of being confident in their abilities without the need to brag. (Well, most do anyway.) And that translates into things like leadership roles, community involvement, and personal satisfaction. Just like integrity, humility is a trait that instantly earns you respect and appreciation, without having to demand it.

Perseverance:

News-flash: life’s hard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and just give up, becoming complacent with whatever hand you’ve been dealt. Getting a black belt isn’t easy, either. It involves dedicating yourself to intense workouts, potential injuries and having to hit the floor hard. A lot. You will get knocked down, and you will get hurt. But you also learn how to get back up, how to roll with the punches, and how to achieve any goal you put your mind to, one step at a time. I think the parallel should be obvious. You can apply that same philosophy to anything in life, be that earning a college degree, starting a successful business, or just being present for your family. With a little perseverance, anything is possible.

Situational Awareness:

Self-defense is becoming more and more important, especially for women and young people. So many horrible acts of violence could have been averted if the victim had been more aware of their surroundings, or had avoided putting themselves in danger in the first place. Yes, the martial arts are about fighting, but more importantly, they’re about learning how not to fight. They teach you the self-control to walk away from situations that are turning ugly, and they teach you not to do so many of the stupid things that get people in trouble, like going places alone in the middle of the night, taking drinks from strangers that you didn’t see mixed, or getting in random cars with people you don’t know. The first act of self-defense is knowing how to assess the risks around you; a lesson I wish we taught in schools.

Altruism:

This one may come as a little bit of a surprise to those outside of the martial arts family, but it’s actually a pretty big element in our training, especially the higher ranks. Most styles promote giving back to the community, whether that be the studio itself or the community at large. Some even use it as a criteria for advancement. Which is why you’ll find a lot of black belts volunteering in their communities. The idea of paying forward the time and effort that was given to you, of showing pride and commitment to the people and places around you, is one that translates well into other aspects of life. You don’t have to join the Red Cross, or Habitats for Humanity, or some other grand organization of do-gooders to make a difference. Simply volunteering in your child’s classroom, helping a coworker with a hefty project, or donating your time at a library/care facility will make the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned that a few moments of selflessness can make all the difference to someone in need? Maybe we wouldn’t see so much violence then.

Those are just a few of the positive affects I’ve seen the martial arts have. Every student will choose the lessons that resonate most sincerely with their own lives, and may not need every one, but you can guarantee they’ll be given the tools just the same. Whether you’re thinking of enrolling your child in the local studio, or whether you’re considering it for yourself, take a moment to think about what I’ve said here. Remember that it’s not just about learning to punch, kick, yell and break things. It’s about learning to be the best version of yourself. If that doesn’t convince you the martial arts are worthwhile, then I’m not sure what will.

And to my fellow martial artists out there, what lessons have you learned in your training? Share the ones I missed in the comments below. ūüėČ

How to Write Martial Arts Fight Scenes

Fight scenes. Whether live action or written, they can be such a pain to pull off, falling all too easily into the realm of cheesy. You know the ones I mean; we’ve all seen and read them– fight scenes where the creator was more focused on what looks cool and/or badass, and less so on believability.

Recently, I sent a frustrated plea to the Twitterverse, begging authors to do their research before including the martial arts in their fights. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after I sent that plea that the light bulb appeared and I realized I’m in a unique position to help my fellow authors. As both a martial artist and a writer, I have insight that could help authors overcome the hurdle of fight scenes. So today, I’m going to use that background to dissect a written fight scene and hopefully illustrate how to effectively incorporate martial arts techniques. About time, right?

First, let’s take a look at what you don’t want to do.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, his opponent’s hands wrapped thoroughly around his throat. He struggled, trying to kick his opponent in the groin but only managing to connect with the man’s shin. The attacker snarled, loosening his hold on Charlie’s neck. Without pausing, Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping the attacker’s arm against his own chest before elbowing the man in the face.

The attacker stumbled backwards, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He had the upper-hand. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxed into a sparring stance. The attacker glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance.

With a yell, Charlie threw a round-kick at the attacker’s head. His opponent ducked, sliding between Charlie’s legs on his knees and jumping to his feet with a swift kick to Charlie’s back. Charlie stumbled forward, turning to face his attacker before he was struck again and instantly ducked the knife hand strike aimed at his head. Charlie responded with a flurry of punches, varying his target from the man’s head to his torso and back again. The man blocked most, but a few landed, knocking the attacker from his feet.

Charlie stood over him for a split second before finishing him off with a well-placed axe kick to the sternum. As the attacker rolled on the ground, sputtering, Charlie ran for the safety of a nearby cafe.

_________

Now, that’s shockingly not as bad as some I’ve seen, although it’s sure not going to win me a Pulitzer either. Some of you may even think this is an alright fight scene, aside from the obvious grammatical flaws that could be fixed with a few more drafts. But this is the example of what not to do, remember? So let’s figure out why.

Did you notice that I gave you very little about why this fight is happening, or where? I didn’t even give you the attacker’s name! But I did tell you in agonizing detail the techniques they’re using and where the blows land, placing all the emphasis on the choreography, and none at all on the characters or motivation behind this moment. The result? A laundry list of steps you could re-enact, but that you feel not at all.

That’s because this approach is all telling. That’s right, the infamous telling vs. showing debate. I tell you exactly what’s happening, but I don’t show it at all. You don’t feel invested in Charlie’s situation. You don’t feel the emotions. You feel excited, sure, because it’s action, and even poorly written action is exciting. But it has no lasting impact on you, does it? This scene is about as forgettable as they come.

It’s also unrealistic. Who out there noticed the completely implausible choreography I threw in? I know the martial artists in the audience did, because it screams “cool factor,” it’s entire existence a nod to something awesome and badass, but that in reality is actually physically impossible.

If you guessed the knee slide under Charlie’s legs, you’d be correct. Bravo! You get a cookie.

This is why it’s important to understand the dynamics of a fight, not just the choreography. Those who have done a round kick know that while performing it, you balance on one leg, your body positioned so that your center of gravity is entirely over that back leg. If someone were to try and go through your legs the way I described, they would take out your supporting leg and you’d both end up in a flailing pile of limbs.

And then there’s the knee slide itself. If you read it closely, you realized the attacker is standing still. Where’d he get the momentum for a knee slide? Unless they’re fighting on a slick, hardwood floor that’s just been mopped, he would need a running start. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to drop to my knees to slide anywhere, I’d be sitting on the floor looking like an idiot asking to get kicked in the face. It’s just not believable.

So let’s try that scene again, this time, fixing all those things I called out.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, Eric’s hands wrapped around his throat. Hate emanated from his friend’s eyes, judgement and accusation burning them into a sinister shade of blue. Charlie gasped, choking as Eric’s fingers cut off his air like a tourniquet.

His mind screamed at him, desperate to know why it was being punished. His lungs burned, his mouth working like a fish on dry land, sucking in nothing but fear. The edges of his vision started to grow fuzzy, black dots appearing over Eric’s shoulder, distorting the red glow of the club’s EXIT sign like reverse chickenpox.¬†Panic flooded his veins with adrenaline. He struggled, clawing at the fingers sealed around his throat. He tried to kick Eric in the groin but only managed to connect with his shin, the impact ricocheting painfully through his foot.

Eric snarled, loosening his hold, giving Charlie the opening he needed. He threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping Eric’s arm against his own chest before elbowing his best friend in the face.

Eric stumbled backward, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxing into the sparring stance he’d practiced for years– knees bent, weight forward on the balls of his feet, head lowered. Eric glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance. Their eyes locked. It was just like old times, only now there was no one to referee the match, to stop it before it went too far.

All this for a girl. Charlie knew it was ridiculous, that he should walk away, but fury mixed with adrenaline, coursing through him like a pulsing heat. If Eric wanted a fight, that’s what he’d get.

With a yell, Charlie threw a kick at Eric’s head. Eric ducked, sliding easily into a leg-sweep, knocking Charlie’s support from under him. The ground smashed into his back, forcing the air from his lungs in a rushing wheeze. He rolled backwards to his feet, still fighting against the tightness in his chest. Eric closed in on him, pushing his advantage, arms and legs flying. Charlie blocked as many of the blows as he could, his arms jarring in their sockets every time he did, his ribs and face blossoming with pain every time he didn’t. He stumbled back through the shadows of the alley until he was once again cornered.¬† Cringing, he held his hands up in surrender. Eric backed off, eying him warily as he spit blood onto the darkened pavement.

Charlie’s knuckles were bleeding, his ribs bruised, and his lip split into an oozing gash. It was time to end this.

“Alright, I give,” he said,¬† the words gravelly and pained as he forced his battered throat to work. “I’ll never go near your sister again.”

_________

Still not the most epic writing sample, but you see the difference, I hope? Now we not only know who Charlie’s fighting, but why. I’ve also fixed the choreography so that it’s believable, and added emotional content and description, putting the focus on the characters instead of the martial arts. No one cares about the techniques, but they care a lot about how those techniques feel, the emotion behind the action. Understanding that is the difference between creating a scene from a clinical distance and creating a deeper POV that will resonate with readers.

So, how can you take your fight scenes from flat to amazing? Easy, just remember these three things:

  1. Show, don’t tell. The techniques themselves are not important, the emotion is. Only use a technique name if there’s a reason we need to know the exact kick, etc.
  2. Believability is king. Never throw something in just because it sounds awesome. Make sure it’s actually physically possible and makes sense with the choreography and your world.
  3. When stumped, ask an expert. If you’re at a loss, find someone familiar with the martial arts and ask. Don’t just rely on Google and Youtube. They won’t give you the insight personal experience can.

That’s really all there is to it. Not so hard after all, is it? And if you ever find yourself in need of some martial arts feedback, I’m always available. Just send me a note with your questions and I’ll happily provide some help. ūüôā

How to Effectively Use Props in a Demo

It’s that time of year again– Dance season!

Those of you who have followed me for a while are already familiar with my obsession over Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. It’s my favorite part of the summer and if it ever gets cancelled, I will cry like a four year old whose lost their favorite blankie. No joke. I really mean that. *serious face*

To me, it’s the epitome of everything I wish martial arts demo teams would emulate– athleticism (which, come on, has always been part of the martial arts), grace (again, always been there), theatricality (yep, now we’re getting somewhere new), storytelling (totally foreign territory for martial artists), and performance (what? What’s that?). So it’s not surprising that this week’s post was inspired by a routine from the current season of So You Think You Can Dance. We’re only one week past the auditions and already they’re providing examples of things every demo should incorporate. Which is why July was always ushered in with a resounding chorus of groans from my team– they all knew that when Dance was on, they’d have to watch out for difficult new tricks making sudden appearances in the choreography. ūüėČ

But anyway, on to today’s topic– the effective use of props in a demo. (There’s even a visual example courtesy of SYTYCD.)

Props are one of those notorious trouble spots for demo team choreographers. Most teams will either avoid them like the plague or go to the complete opposite extreme and overload their demo with them. (A prop is anything beyond the human bodies on your team. It can be costume, weapons, set design, anything but your team itself.) I understand; it’s confusing stuff.

My first demo featured a massive dragon similar to the ones you see during the Chinese new year, except medieval style. It required 8-10 people to man the thing (the head alone took someone with a significant amount of muscle to operate) and basically upstaged everything else on the floor. Now, granted, I was 15 and just starting out, but still. I fell prey to one of the fatal errors I see teams make– I allowed the prop to be bigger than everything else, and the story/choreography suffered for it. I wasted valuable manpower, hiding those 8-10 people under a massive black tarp for the entire demo; I had people standing around doing nothing, staring at the dragon like it was an altar to the demo team gods; and I placed the storytelling emphasis on a prop, allowing it to carry the entire performance. Needless to say, we didn’t win. But it provided a valuable lesson on the purpose and utilization of props. A lesson I’m about to give you.

Props should never ever be the focus of your demo.

If you find yourself spending more storytelling time on the props and less on the choreography, you’ve crossed to the dark side of demo team hell and you may as well kiss that shiny trophy goodbye. Yes, props are visually fascinating for an audience (we’re all over-grown mockingbirds, distracted by shinies), but they’re completely ineffective storytelling devices. They’re static, inanimate objects that only take on importance when someone uses them. So to expect a lifeless lump of material to carry your entire demo is demo team suicide.

An effective prop is one that is completely integrated with the rest of the demo. It’s the supporting role to your starring actors, reinforcing your message and enhancing the story. Which brings us to our example. The following video is an inspiring piece by choreographer Christopher Scott. This dude’s my hero. Seriously. Not only is his choreography brilliant, but he’s a master storyteller, seamlessly using musicality, props and staging in an enviable display of how to make the most out of a large group of talented people. I’ve long been a fan of his League of Extraordinary Dancers, so his appearance on SYTYCD was a match made in heaven. But enough of my gushing; watch the video. You’ll see for yourself how awesome he is. ūüėČ

Pretty cool, wasn’t it? There are so many things this video could serve as an example of, from staging, to musicality, to even storytelling. But today’s focus is props. So I want you to watch the video again and this time really pay attention to the way the sand is integrated into the dance, how it almost becomes a dancer in it’s own right. Christopher Scott not only choreographed the guys, he choreographed the sand as well! This conscious attention to the way the sand moved placed emphasis on the exact moments he wanted to highlight (staging), created a visual echo of the musical nuances (musicality), and reinforced his message of how humanity/man is tied to the earth (storytelling). That’s how you use a prop effectively.

(Travis Wall is another choreographer who brilliantly uses props. Case in point, the blindfolded dance from this past week’s show.)

Now, I’m not recommending using something as messy as sand. Most of us will never perform in venues where we have a clean-up crew following behind us, erasing all evidence of our performance in seconds. But you can still take the principles Mr. Scott used and apply them to your own demos, your own props. The important thing to remember is that every prop needs to have a reason to exist, and that reason has to somehow support the larger whole of the demo. So before including any prop, ask yourself these simple questions:

1) What does this prop enhance? Staging, Musicality or Storytelling? (If you can’t answer yes to any of those three things, you don’t need it. )

2) Does including this prop take away focus from something else in the demo? (Think my massive dragon that basically ate the rest of the performance. Choreography and Story should always be your main focus. If the prop distracts from that, it needs to go.)

3) Can I effectively convey my message without the prop? (This is the best test for whether a prop is holding you back. If it’s a crutch, your demo will fall apart the second you take it away. Ideally, you should be able to perform your demo without any costumes or props and still convey the same story to the audience. Yes, it will be a little less impressive, relying heavily on your team’s acting ability and the audience’s imagination, but they’ll still get it. Adding the props should only serve to make that message more powerful, not be a requirement for comprehending your tale.)

By taking the time to really think about how and why you’re including a given prop, you’ll subconsciously transform it into it’s own character, like Christopher Scott did with the sand. This shift in thinking will then allow you to fully integrate it into the rest of your demo in a seamless way, taking it from a distraction to a dynamic and important part of your story. And that’s the difference between having a prop simply for cool factor, and effectively using it. Any questions?

Story vs. Concept; A Demo Team Showdown

Recently, I found myself on the wrong side of an angry, pitch-fork touting mob after I eloquently shoved my foot in my mouth. (Turns out, there’s a fine line between snarky and jackass. Especially when it falls on the wrong ears.) And as I was being schooled by a student who naively believed I was a demo team idiot, I was amazed at how often the terms “concept” and “story” were used interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. I’m not sure if this is a common misconception, but since I was due for a demo team post, I figured why not take a moment to clarify the definitions and try to make something good out of my embarrassing mistake. And what better way to do that than to pit story against concept in an epic battle of demo team terminology. Sounds fun, no?

So, here we go! Contestants to your places, aaaaaaand…fight!!
 

Round One: Concept

 
Concept does not, in fact, equal story. If it was synonymous with any word, it would be theme. And what is theme? The point of your project. It’s the message or idea that you want to convey to your audience. Let’s check out some examples.

(These are some of the more common demo themes/concepts I’ve seen over the years.)

  • Video Games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Etc. (I’m guessing there’s a secret sect of Comic-Con Cosplayer geekhood within the martial arts.)
  • Medieval Asian Warlords (Yes, the Asian part is particularly important. How else can you create something as awesome as a D-grade Kung Fu movie brought to life?)
  • The Korean and/or Association Flag (Especially prevalent in the WTSDA. Apparently, we have a lot of association pride. And unoriginality.)
  • Badass little kids taking over the world (Cute factor combined with awesomeness. Who doesn’t love that?)
  • The Matrix movie franchise (Does this really need further explanation? The Matrix was just, like, the most epic movie ever!)
  • Pretty much any popular movie franchise (Further proof of my statement on example one. Maybe we’re all nerds at heart?)
  • Women’s self-defense (The only thing better than badass kids is watching a bunch of girls pummel a bunch of dudes, right?)
  • Peace, Love and Unity, Man (Otherwise known as the undefinable, “high” concepts.)
  • The Elements (Because there can never be too many interpretations of wind, fire and water.)

(I hope by now you’re laughing with recognition.)

Despite my mockery, these are all perfectly acceptable examples of concept. I’ve used some of them myself. (There may or may not be multiple versions of Mortal Kombat costumes lurking in Dragon Heart’s demo team archives. ūüėČ ) The problem comes when that’s all there is to your demo. The concept should be the foundational element, the first spark of creativity. Not the entire focus. Here’s why; concepts are simple. They contain absolutely no allusions to the story they might evolve into, making them a two dimensional, cardboard cut-out experience guaranteed to bore the life out of your audience. Don’t believe me? Let me show you. A concept’s inception typically looks something like this:

Student One: “Dude, let’s do a demo about the Korean flag!”

Student Two: “Like, oh my god! That would be totally awesome!”

Ok, maybe that’s a little facetious, but it’s not that far off the mark. A concept is that first burst of enthusiastic direction, not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, concept is very much an important part of any demo. Not only does it provide the inspiration, it has influence over decisions like costuming, set/prop design, characters, and overall presentation as well. But it’s focus remains purely on technique, and will rarely impart any lasting impression or emotion on the audience. For that, you need story.
 

Round Two: Story

 
If concept is the idea, then story is the way you impart said idea to the audience. It builds on the foundation concept provides to create something with a far richer experience for everyone. However, story is often misconstrued to mean flash. As in, an overly theatrical fluff-fest that’s trying to compensate for a lack of technique. That, my friends, is sadly mistaken. And probably the reason story is given so little respect in the creativity division.

All those components that instantly scream flash– costuming, props, etc– are not actually controlled by story. They reside within concept’s domain. (Cheeky bugger, fooling everyone by pointing the finger at story.) The only thing story controls is choreography. Why? Because choreography is how you tell a narrative in a demo. The rest is bonus to help ensure the audience understands. But you don’t actually need anything beyond choreography.

Story is defined in the literary world as conflict. Meaning, there has to be something happening. A journey from Point A to Point B. I’ve gone on about this topic at length in my previous post, Storytelling for Demo Teams, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll provide an example of how story elevates concept. And how it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated to be effective. (There’s only so much you can cram into a 5 minute span, after all.)

I’m going to use one of my own demos for this exercise– The Dream Sequence— which I have featured before.

The concept for this demo actually came from the music itself. (As do all my ideas, which many of you know by now.) I wanted to show a dreamy, ethereal world that matched the tone of the music. But since that isn’t enough for a competition-grade demo in my opinion, I needed a story that would deliver that message to the audience. So I created one about a little boy who falls asleep and finds the dolls he was playing with have come to life around him. When he wakes up, the dolls disappear. Literary genius, isn’t it? But that’s my point. No one said you had to be a master storyteller; you just have to tell something.

So, to recap:

Concept = dreamy, ethereal imagination.

Story = slightly creepy dolls coming to life inside a child’s dream.

See how neither of these statements is really that complicated or involved? And how, when combined, you end up with an idea that’s far more powerful and interesting than the concept alone? That’s the beauty of story. (If you haven’t seen the demo I’m referencing, take a moment to go watch it. I’ll wait. ūüėČ )
 

And the Winner is…?

 
Neither.

That’s right, our epic showdown actually ends in a draw. Anti-climatic, I know. But that’s because one isn’t better than the other. They work in tandem, not competition. The ideal demo is a balance of both, pulling from the strengths of each to create a wonderful masterpiece people remember for years. But, because the two terms are separate elements, it is possible to create award winning demos using only one of them. You can have a traditional demo that focuses primarily on technique, with no storyline, just concept. And you can create a moving, story-driven demo featuring absolutely no costumes, props or flash. (Technically, though, if you have a story, you have a concept, regardless of the addition of flashy elements. Concept can live without story, but story needs concept to survive.) The trick is knowing your ultimate goal and utilizing your team’s talents to their fullest. (I’ve given out a lot of helpful tips about how to do this.)

And remember, if you find yourself having to explain what your demo is about, you failed. (Harsh, but true.) Whether your aim is traditional/concept-driven, or theatrical narrative, your audience should always receive your message clearly. That is, after all, the entire point of demos, is it not?

Blogiversary Link Round-Up

Well, the day has finally arrived– the one year anniversary of my first blog post. (And the announcement of the giveaway winner, which is why you’re all here, I’m sure.) I’ve made some incredibly awesome new friends over the past year and written a total of 51 posts. (Not counting this one, obviously, or my year would have magically lost a whole week. You know, now that I think about it, maybe that’s where all the non-existent time I wish I had disappeared to.) That’s a grand total of 60,172 words! (Yes, I counted them. So what? I was bored, and just a tad curious.) That’s officially a record for me. Sad, but true. Just think, if I had spent all that energy on Unmoving, the darn thing would be almost done by now! But then I wouldn’t have met all of you and discovered that I actually thoroughly enjoy blogging. Most of the time. ūüėČ

Before we find out who the lucky winner is, (Don’t you dare scroll down and spoil it….Don’t do it…Darn you! I told you not to do that!) I want to share a few highlights from the past year by way of some statistics. Think of it as a little mini-archive, a chance to catch up on some of the cool things you might have missed.

My most popular post, with 49 page views was: Marketing via Wattpad & Authonomy–Smart? (I’m not counting the miscellaneous catch-all known as Home Page/Archives or any of my Bio pages, which surprisingly outranked everything else. Who knew I was so fascinating?)

Randomness Galore: An Interview With Me received the most likes, (again, who knew I was that interesting?) while Nightwolf’s Corner Birthday Giveaway clocked the most comments. (Not shocking considering that was one of the ways you could enter.)

The Devil’s in the Details was shared the most, while my series on the merits of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing– The Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Debate (Part One), The Traditional vs. Self-Publish Debate (Part Two), The Traditional vs. Self-Publish Debate (Part Three) — received the most references on other sites.

My record-breaking day, with 58 total page views is thanks to Storytelling for Demo Teams, the last installment in my demo team basics series. The other posts in that series are Demo Teams: A Brief Introduction, So You Think You Want a Demo Team, All About Staging: The Invisible Spotlight Effect, and A Lesson in Musicality, just in case you missed them.

The Definition of Black Belt is a fan favorite outside of the blogosphere, and Featured Image: Myusa Won Hwa Logo has been the most Googled, thanks to a shout out to Larry Wick’s Split Second Survival program. (Which appears to have vacated the web temporarily and is currently unlinkable.)

Writing…With a Twist is my least popular post (poor thing, maybe go show it some love?) and Introducing REUTS Publications is the shortest. The honor of being the longest is currently held by All About Staging: The Invisible Spotlight Effect, but that could change by this time next year.

I had originally intended to do a round-up of all my favorite posts. But conceited has never been on my list of personality traits, so I decided this was a better approach. I’m curious though, do you have a favorite post from the past year? If so, please share in the comments below. I may not be conceited, but I’m also not anti a little ego boost now and then. ūüėČ

Which brings us, finally, to the moment you’ve all been waiting for– the giveaway winner. Drum roll, please!

The lucky winner…

is…

Jon, of Jumping from Cliffs fame.

Congratulations! You’ve won your chosen prize– the substantive editorial critique. Be sure to check your inbox for more information.

But wait, there’s more!

I decided I was feeling extra generous, and to thank all of you for showing me more support than I expected, I decided to extend the total number of prizes to three. (Apparently I think three is the golden number. That’s how many winners I did last time too.)

So….the second winner…is…

Rose B.

and, last but not least, the third winner of the Nightwolf’s Corner Birthday Giveaway is… (Kudos to anyone who figures out the reference I’m snarkily mimicking, by the way)

Raven P.

Both of whom also selected the editorial critique as their prize. Looks like I’m going to be doing a lot of reading soon. Thanks again to everyone that entered. It truly means a lot to me that you did. And thanks to Rafflecopter for providing the venue and random winner selection tool. Look for more chances to win something around the holidays! Until then, I return you to your regularly scheduled program of sarcastic commentary on the nuances of storytelling.