News of the Day

USA Today on a “Fight Club” in Silicon Valley

The New York Times on Kendo in NYC

Apart from the standard “Look at funny people doing funny things” approach of the press, a similar line in each article caught my attention:

“You get to be a superhero for a night,” Klimanis said. “We have to go to work every day. We’re constantly told to buy things we don’t need, and just for a couple hours we have the freedom to do what we want to do.”

“From the moment you set foot in this dojo, you are a New York samurai,” said Jose Pena, 51, who has been studying with Mr. Kataoka three days a week for the past 27 years. “It may be 2006, but we still follow the way of the warrior.”

I’ve always been bothered by this common attitude that doing martial arts makes one special, as if whacking somebody on the head a few times makes you superior to mere mortal office workers. I suppose that this hits a nerve somewhere for me because when push comes to shove, I too engage in martial arts in part to avoid feeling dull and empty. Yet, it just seems that one should have a bit more perspective. One should realize that even if playing samurai (or street-fighter) makes you feel special, that doesn’t mean that you are.

I know that that these quotes are taken out of context and edited to sound over-the-top, but a 27 year veteran of the martial arts should know better than to call himself a “New York samurai” and talk about following bushido. It makes him sound like an extra from “Ghost Dog”.

It’s Been a While

Well, I realize its been a while since I last wrote anything, but sometimes life has a way of getting so busy there just isn’t enough time to do everything one wants to. And contrary to those who think I burned myself out writing so much so quickly, I would love to have the ability to write every day. That said, I do tend to cycle through my interests, abandoning one for another.

However like I said some big projects at work, other obligations, and a very nice trip to Disneyland sometimes get in the way of normal activities.

Then there are also the times when I suffer through bouts of writer’s block, which I find very frustrating, since thinking of topics isn’t any problem. There are lots of things I want to write about, I just can’t seem to find the right words.

I also tend to research things I’m writing about to death, which of course just complicates the writing process. I start off with a specific idea, look for “facts” to justify my stance, and in the process come up with to many other things to think about, which more often than not distract me from my original goal.

This of course leads to my attempt to do several essays at once, often resulting in none of them getting done at all, or at least completed in a timely manner.

One day I may learn to disciple myself better, but for now I just have to accept that that is just the way that I am, and deal with it as best as I can.

Clearly, since I last posted many things of interest have come to my attention, and many of them are worth discussing, either because they have merit, are humorous, or because they expose the more “deceitful” side of the martial arts world.

However, some of these issues need to be discussed with tact, which means I have to sit back and wait until my initial reaction is over, and I can approach what I want to say in a more rational/prudent manner. Not that I won’t express what I feel, I just won’t express it as I would in my school among my students who know me. Not that that always makes a difference.

Case in point: there is a George Dillman video that is circulating around the Internet where he claims to be able to knock people out without touching them, or through barriers. PLEASE !!!!! These are the things that just make me want to scream.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-x4iJM2aU4&search=dillman

Of course I’m fully aware this topic has been discussed to death on the Internet already, and while I’m not going to discuss this matter today, all I can say for now is: Why, Dillman? Why?

On a more uplifting note I found two very interesting books, (neither of which I’ve had time to read yet), which look promising. If nothing else they cover topics most people are not familiar with, and that I’ve had very limited exposure to, which make these books all the more interesting to me.

While I only had a chance to glance through them at the book store, and haven’t received them from Amazon.com yet, I know I’m looking forward to reading them, and learning more about the history of these systems, especially the book on Lua, which I’ve I had some casual training in, but know very little about the art in general.

Of course what I’m really hoping for is that the book on Lua discusses some aspects of hakihaki (bone-breaking), and aalolo (pressure points), two elements of Lua I’ve heard a lot about, discussed with those that claim to practice/teach Lua, but haven’t witnessed first hand.

Of course when I’m done reading these books I’ll write a full review.

ISBN: 1581780281 ISBN: 1891448315

Lastly, while searching through my mother’s photo albums for a photo project I was doing for her, (and there are dozens of very large ones) I found several old pictures which I will also eventually add to the “blog.” An embarrassing thought in some cases to be sure. Of course I won’t be embarrassed alone since I fully intend on posting some of my kids in their Ninja/Ninja Turtle days, as well as some photos from the early years of the school.

Well, I won’t guarantee I’ll write daily at this point, but I promise it won’t be as long between posts from now on. Unless of course more work projects are added to my list, which I unfortunately have no control over.

References for Live Blades – A Follow Up

I just wanted to give some footnotes for Gary’s last post on live sword practice. This is some disconnected background that seemed relevent to folks who are interested in more detail.

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In contrast to the obvious dominance of the gun in the war-torn pre-modern Europe, the Japanese were able to cling to swords longer during the enforced peace of the Tokugawa despots. Interestingly, before the Tokugawas assumed the shogunate, Japan had been on the path to gun based warfare. Giving Up the Gun by Noel Perrin is an excellent read on how this happened. I highly recommend it to anybody trying to understand the history of Japanese martial arts.

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The loss of Western sword skills were, of course, more complex than can depicted in a few sentences. The cavalry saber and sword dueling were still important to officers and gentlemen of the 19th century. While it is a rambling book, By the Sword by Richard Cohen has some good chapters on the evolution of swordsmanship and dueling–and their degradation into fencing–in pre-modern America and Europe. My favorite two details in this are that Abraham Lincoln almost found himself in a saber duel in his early career, and that Teddy Roosevelt used to singlestick fence in the White House. Swords may not have been a focus of combat for centuries, but vestiges of sword culture remained in the West until World War I. The two world wars destroyed a tremendous amount of traditional culture, and changed the way all Westerners thought about violence.

Of course, in a similar fashion, World War II–and the militarization prior to it as well as the forced pacification afterwards–radically changed Japanese martial arts to a degree that most practitioners are not ready to admit. A lot of traditional styles disappeared in this period, and many of the remaining arts were pacified. Kendo in particular had to be purged of its association with military propaganda. Contrawise, it’s worth noting that a lot of the most interesting and technically deep Japanese styles extant in the West came from teachers who fled Japan during the pre-war militarization. But this is an essay for another day.

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Some of the relevant laws on martial arts weapons in California are in Penal Code 12020-12040. Apparently, this section of the law was written in the ’80s when the “ninja craze” was in full swing, so lawmakers were irrationally scared of such mystical Eastern ninja stuff. It’s very strange that in California, “nunchaku” are felonious, while you can legally walk around with a sword on your belt (although “disturbing the peace” type laws may trump this). The Sword Forum International Legal Issue Forum is a good place to ask questions or look for more information on other states/countries.

Live Blades – A Follow Up

Interestingly one of my students, Sam Wiederspan, brought up some good points about the issue of training with live blades, and why we in the West have such an opposition to such training. These were points that I was going to cover in my first essay, but left out since I didn’t want to go to far off topic. However, these reasons directly influence modern opinion, and fuel the controversy on why or why not live blades should be used when practicing swordsmanship.

The main issue Sam brought up was that the “taming” of the West, especially in regards to the United States was done with the use of the gun, not the sword. We live in a culture that is gun oriented, not sword oriented. Clearly the sword didn’t win the American frontier; it was the six-shooter, and as a result we now look to bladed weaponry as something mysterious and foreign.

In a historical perspective, few if any sword battles occurred on US soil; there are no indigenous American sword forms, and even in Europe the use of the sword became more symbolic with the advent and eventual widespread use of firearms. Sword fighting as a necessity and as an art form died out. Old sword masters died without ever passing on their knowledge, and entire Western style sword fighting arts were lost forever. They were lost to the degree that many people don’t even know these sword-fighting methods, many akin to those found in China and Japan, ever existed.

Because the sword was set aside in favor of firearms the sword became a mystical symbol. It was a link to our past, when man fought savagely in hand-to-hand battles. The sword marked a time when man had to face his opponent eye-to-eye, and actually thrust or slash a piece of sharpened metal in the body of another. Barbaric really.

Unlike a gun, where one can shoot another at a distance, fighting with a sword involves direct physical contact. As a result a warrior using a sword had to develop a mindset that allowed him to do such a thing, a mind set most of us in these modern times can’t even phantom.

This mind-set to kill, especially in such a face-to-face circumstance, is directly opposed to our natural innate adversity to kill. For example, we humans are so programmed not to kill that specific science based methods to teach military recruits to overcome this predisposition had to be developed. Prior to such programs being developed it wasn’t that uncommon to hear of soldiers being unable to return fire during an actual combat situation.

As I tell my students, anyone who attacks another individual with a bladed weapon, and has the mind-set to really stab or cut someone else, is a much more dangerous threat than a person who uses a firearm.

Pulling the trigger of a gun is easy and impersonal. Shooting someone is clean. Most importantly, shooting a gun, especially at close range, requires no skill. You just point and pull the trigger.

A bladed weapon has to be used close in, normally within two feet (spears excluded), and requires someone with the mind-set to actually forcibly push it through skin, muscle tissue, tendons, and organs. It is messy, and to be truly effective requires some degree of skill.

Clearly of the two weapons, the bladed weapon also has more of an emotional edge to it. That is why bladed weaponry is often used in “slasher” movies, or as the preferred weapon used by emotionally distraught lovers to seek revenge–think Glen Close in the movie “Fatal Attraction.” The act of being hacked, cut, perforated, chopped, pierced, flayed, diced, or slashed scares most of us on a very primordial level.

I for one have actually witnessed many individuals who actually fought a gun-wielding adversary; as opposed to those threatened with a knife. The knife victims are often far more traumatized. In fact, I’ve often had victims describe a pocketknife as a machete due to the fear the bladed weapon has evoked.

This leads to another point Sam brought up which I failed to mention in my previous essay. We have all cut ourselves at some point in our lives, and we know what it feels like. Few, if any of us have ever been shot.

Getting cut hurts, and since we know it hurts we avoid anything which might lead to being cut. We avoid handling sharp objects, are taught not to run with scissors, and learn early on to treat knives with a certain degree of respect.

However, as respectful as we may be when using bladed or sharp objects we all know accidents occur in an instant. We all know there is uncertainty when handling these objects, and how quickly the slightest wrong movement can lead to injury. After all, how many of us have cut ourselves while cooking?

Because we collectively know the inherent danger of sharp objects we fear them just a little more than we fear the unknown.

Sam mentioned that almost everyone who rides a motorbike has fallen at least once. Clearly, based on statistics many more people are injured and killed each year by motorcycle related accidents, than by swords or other bladed weaponry. However, few people have a fear of motorbikes, and I’ve never heard of a serious discussion stating motorbikes should be banned, or never ridden.

How come we don’t fear motorbikes?

The truth of the matter behind this whole controversy is the stigma we in the West have placed on martial art weaponry, or to state things more specifically the weaponry of the East. Because they are “foreign” to us, and require skill to use properly, they must for some unknown reason be more inherently dangerous.

Why else would so many laws governing their possession, transportation, manufacture, and distribution, make them illegal. Why would possessing (in public or privately) many of these martial art weapons be a felony, punishable by over a year in state prison, while possessing a firearm in public is a misdemeanor?

Examples of some of the martial art weaponry that is illegal to possess in the state of California.

It doesn’t make sense! When was the last time you read about a robbery where the robber used a sai, or a drive by that was committed with a blowgun?

The controversy over training with live blades is really a silly argument, stemming mostly from ignorance, irrational fear, and poor quality instructors. It is a direct result of martial arts training becoming more of a hobby (recreational activity) than serious life or death business.

The truth is that most devotees of Japanese sword arts don’t practice, nor have any real desire to practice, true “sword fighting skills.” They want to use a sword without acknowledging its lethal potential. Their sword is symbol and a link to the past. For many, the use of a sword is a way to grow spiritually.

These practitioners go through the motions with replicas, saying they are swordsmen. They cut mats or other objects and boast how they could cut through bone and body tissue. They see the sword as something that gives life, rather than take it away.

Ridiculous!

A real purist might say you can never be a swordsman until you’ve been a real sword fight. I won’t go that far, I do have my limits, but in a way these extremists would be partially right.

I for one have never been in a real swordfight, and I hope to never face that situation. However, I’ve trained my whole life in a manner that that has prepared me (mentally and physically) for such a situation, whether I should be fortunate to live, or lose and die.

I’ve learned the mind-set that when ever I pick up my sword to practice it’s not for fun. It’s serious business and I must give my training the full attention it deserves or be prepared to suffer the consequences of injury. My mind, body, and spirit must be unified and act as one.

I’ve learned to respect, sometimes to even fear the lethality, of my sword, and my actions with it.

Could I have achieved this level without using a real sword? Maybe, but I most probably would have missed many of the important lessons training with a live sword instills, lessons that in no way shape or form can be learned with replicas, or as a hobbyist.

Live Blades

Spencer brought up some interesting points when he discussed the controversy over training with live sword blades (see essay titled “Respecting Live Swords”).

To be honest, during most of my formative years of training I wasn’t aware that such a controversy existed. I was under the delusional assumption that everyone trained with “live weaponry,” just like my teacher made us do.

How wrong I was.

Spencer stated that the reason he trains with a live blade is because I tell him to, because that is how I learned. Yet, there is more to it than just making my students practice they way I did. Clearly, I’ve changed many teaching methodologies that my teacher employed, such as hitting students with bamboo canes when they do things wrong, so the “I had to and so will you,” argument is not the sole reason.

For the most part, I equate training with a wooden sword, or unsharpened alloy sword, with learning to fire a gun without bullets. It’s just not the same physiological mindset or real world preparation as one gets dealing with the real thing.

I can point and fire my empty gun all day long without ever imagining I’m missing the center of the bull’s-eye. All I end up teaching myself is that the gun is a toy, and I’ll never fully realize the true lethal potential the gun possesses. Without bullets I have no need to learn to respect my gun, or consider all the aspects of gun safety. I merely pretend to learn marksmanship.

The same analogy can be made about archery. If I never shoot an arrow, how do I know I can? I can pull the bowstring hour upon hour, but until I shoot some arrows I’m doing nothing more than going through the motions. I have no idea whether I’m a real “archer” or not.

The funny thing to me is that this controversy doesn’t seem to apply to other martial art related weaponry, especially those found in many Karate systems. Don’t the sai, tonfa, kama, bo, nunchaku, also posses some inherent danger, both to the practitioner and his or her training partner?

What about the jo (short staff), the sticks used in Arnis, or even the cane as taught in many Korean systems? I’ve seen people hurt with these weapons many times, and know of one person who was struck in the head and lost an eye.

Furthermore, didn’t Musashi fight and kill people with a bokken?

To me it really doesn’t matter what weaponry one uses. The truth is all weaponry should and has to be respected, and treated as a dangerous lethal tool. They are not toys, and were developed for one purpose, one intention: TO KILL. Whether you slash, cut, poke or bludgeon the intended results are all the same.

The only difference between the various martial art weaponry taught in most schools is the degree of skill one needs to be successful with them, and I will admit that a razor sharp sword has more immediate damage potential than most others. Of course this is one of the reasons for this controversy since in the hands a of a novice a sword is much more deadly than a stick, jo, sai, tonfa, bo, kama, or nuunchaku, especially in the early years of training.

In my formative years of training I’ll admit I didn’t always use live weaponry when practicing. Not because my teacher didn’t want us to but because none of us could afford to purchase weapons, if we happened to be fortunate enough to even find a place that offered them for sale.

In fact my first bokken, which I used for several years, was nothing more than a sawed off broom handle. However, I had to treat that broom handle like it was the real thing, and when I didn’t I was severely punished.

The truth is that sword etiquette and proper usage was so ingrained within me that by the time I finally had a real sword to use, it made no difference. Except for adjusting to the weight differences between wood and metal, I made the transition without ever really realizing the switch had been made.

The only notable difference was when we practiced two man forms. Clearly, using live swords for exercises such as these requires modifications, but one instantly develops a keen sense of timing and distancing you cannot, or at least don’t need to cultivate with wooden swords alone.

One also learns to really respect the lethality of the sword, and how fractions of fractions of an inch can make a world of difference between survival, debilitating injury, life, or death.

Furthermore, one learns to really gain control of their body as well as their hand to eye coordination, while at the same time developing and heightening their focus. These are very important elements for the true swordsman.

Training with live swords also eliminates excessive movement, unrealistic feinting, and wide-open postures often seen in many sword schools. Movements that may look pretty, but serve no realistic purpose.

Lastly, training with live swords, especially in two man forms, immediately demonstrates why large elliptical cuts, wide swings, and the heavy hard-hitting blocks were never really utilized by true swordsmen.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe training with a live sword is for everyone, nor do I advocate such practices. Over the years I have met and trained many people I don’t want to see anywhere near a live blade. I would never trust them with the responsibility, or have enough faith in them not to hurt themselves or someone else.

Then again I don’t consider these people serious students anyway, and they are not the type who should be learning a real sword fighting art in the first place. Fortunately, most don’t last at my school long enough to make this an issue.

Of course I can say the same thing about wooden weaponry. I’ve had many more people injured practicing with wooden weaponry than I ever have had with sharp metal ones. Most of these injuries, though minor, resulted from lack of attention, or people making a game of what they are doing, an unfortunate byproduct of not training with the real thing. It is very easy for people to get silly, lazy, or careless when there is no real threat of injury.

In my opinion, the worst thing to happen to the field of weapons training has been all the padded weaponry that is available nowadays. I, for one, see no use for these. They degrade the entire martial arts. In my opinion they are a real insult to those martial artists that came before us.

As awful as this may sound, without the fear of injury, any practice with foam or padded weaponry will eventually deteriorate into nothing more than a game of give and take–like playing tag. There is no such thing as “give and take” in a real battle using weapons.

I myself would rather use a live sword and move at a snail’s pace, than use a padded weapon and move in ways that have no bearing on reality. I have no interested in learning to play martial arts. Leave that to the kids who want to be Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers.

In Spencer’s essay he stated that I do have my students work with live blades in partnered drills sometimes, although extremely rarely. To me, whether the sword blade is live or not when doing sword work should be irrelevant. If one uses proper form, and respects the blade nothing bad should happen. It is all about demonstrating control, paying attention to details, and having precision reflexes–which I fully understand have to be cultivated over time. That’s why even I, unlike my teacher, don’t let beginners practice in this manner.

No insult to Spencer, my other students that have cut themselves or others that I know of that have, but injuries normally occur when one gets sloppy, doesn’t pay attention to the details, or gets lazy about how they are moving their own bodies. They have no one to blame but themselves. (This of course referring to people who cut themselves, not those injured due to the mistake of others, which seems to be the rarer of the two injuries.)

I’m not being harsh or insensitive either. I feel sorry for those that hurt themselves, and I make every effort when I teach to see that these things don’t happen. But the truth of the matter is, if one trains seriously with dangerous tools one will eventually get hurt.

In other words, dangerous endeavors can lead to dangerous consequences. Snake handlers get bit, lion tamers mauled, butchers cut themselves, welders burn themselves, bullfighters get gored, and race car drivers crash.

So why do we as martial artists fear live blades? Why is there this controversy? Training in the martial arts whether armed or unarmed is inherently dangerous to begin with. Why is training with a live blade perceived to be so much more dangerous?

It’s not! It’s just the mindset of people, and how they are taught to perceive things. Yes, a live sword in lethal, and in the realm of martial arts weaponry it can cause more severe wounds than other types of weaponry. No argument there.

However, it is this lethal nature of the blade, and its power to cut that we revere. The sword is not, nor was it intended to be some spiritual icon, or even a path to spiritual enrichment. If anything, those have always been mere byproducts of training.

The sole truth is the sword was invented and designed to kill. That’s it!! Just like a gun, they serve no purpose in life except to be used in life or death battle. Don’t be persuaded to believe otherwise. The romantic ideals may sound enchanting, even mystical, but our ancestors didn’t learn to use swords to make themselves better people. They learned to use swords to survive and protect themselves first and foremost.

Training with replicas, wooden copies, has its place, but it will never ever replace the real thing. Students will never achieve a sense of true swordsmanship until they use a real sword, feel how it moves, and discover how exacting and respectful they must be in order not to hurt others or themselves.

The difference of course is what one’s goals are. If you want to be a swordsman, then be a swordsman; use a real sword. If you want to say you’re a swordsman and go through the motions you might as well get your own broomstick.

Martial Art Ads – 1972

This is another one of those great old ads offering martial art instruction. Interestingly unlike many similar ads this ad goes beyond the basic offer to teach jujutsu, karate or kung fu skills. In fact it specifically states it teaches the skills of “French Foot Fighting,” Aztec fighting skills, “secret” police methods, and the fighting techniques of the “Carib.”

WOW!

Okay I’ve heard of Savate, or Boxe Française, and from everything I’ve read and seen Savate is a viable form of self-defense. At least it is in its older version.

I’ll even be gracious and pass on any comments about the Aztec warrior fighting methods, since historically the Aztec warriors were reputed to be formidable fighters. While I’m unclear how much of their fighting methodologies survive to this day, there is a man in the San Francisco Bay Area who claims to teach authentic Aztec knife-fighting skills. So I guess there is remote chance the advertiser knows Aztec fighting–very remote!

Of course, back in 1972, seeing some “authentic” Aztec fighting skills would be intriguing enough for me to buy this program. I’m serious too. Heaven knows that over the years I’ve already spent about $200.00 to learn some “authentic” Aztec knife fighting.

As for the “secret” police method that’s crap, and I have to make some comments since I’ve heard this claim so many times before.

Pay close attention…. There are no “secret police techniques!” I know. I was a police officer; I went to the police academy. The hand-to-hand fighting they teach you at the police academy is very basic if not just plain silly. Actually in my day (the 80’s) it was a joke, and some of the techniques were more dangerous to the practitioner than the bad guy, especially the gun takeaways.

Fortunately, I’ve heard things have changed a lot since my days at the academy, but what is taught today is still basic self-defense, and not much more than the average civilian can acquire at any commercial self-defense course.

The fact of the matter is that police officers and those enlisted men in the military spend more time learning to shoot firearms than learning unarmed skills. When I went to the academy we spent two weeks, (about 10hours), learning hand-to hand combat, which included how to cuff someone, the use of the nightstick, and some joint locks humorously referred to as “come-alongs”. Eight weeks were spent learning to shoot firearms, handgun and shotgun.

The funny thing is that in my fifteen-year career as a police officer I drew my gun maybe five times, and never shot it once. I used hand-to-hand skills all the time.

Just like the military, police officers spend very little time learning hand-to-hand fighting skills. I’m not sure why, but that is the reality of the situation.

That is one reason so many noted martial arts instructors have teaching military and police department personal on their resumes. Most police academies and military branches just don’t have adequate martial arts programs developed. Like most cultures past and present, the police and military emphasize weaponry, not hand-to-hand.

Of course if offering “secret police skills” wasn’t enough bad enough I really have to wonder who or what are the “Carib,” and what possible fighting skills they possessed that could be included in this system.

The Craib were reputed cannibals who inhabited the region of the Lesser Antilles Island, whom the Caribbean Sea was named. The Carib call themselves the Kalinago and surviving populations can now be found in St. Vincent and Dominica.

While it is true that the Carib resisted European incursion for 200 years, and the Europeans that encountered them considered them aggressive deadly savages, I have been unable to find any information about any fighting methodologies they possessed.

I’m sure the Carib had fighting skills, and were fierce fighters, but I truly question why they are mentioned in this ad. Not because what I doubt their fighting prowess or think it may not have any value, but because I would bet most people don’t even have any idea who the Carib are.

Putting aside the martial styles offered, what I like most about this ad is the claim that this program will teach you to fear no man in just 24 hours, and that Joe Weider endorses this product with the claim that using the system will turn anyone into a “destructive self-defense terror fighter in just 30 days.”

First of all, I didn’t even know Joe Weider knew anything about martial arts. I thought he was a body builder, and that his true claim to fame was training champion body builders.

I tried to find anything that even remotely stated he had some martial art rank, but based on my research it sounds like he just took an opportunity to cash in on the growing martial arts craze of the 70’s.

Secondly, while researching this ad it appears that some individual in 1972 felt the claims in this ad were fraudulent enough to file a lawsuit against it, (mainly claiming mail fraud), a lawsuit they appear to have won. www.usps.com/judicial/1972deci/1-131.htm

Score one for the good guys, although this ad did resurface in 1974. Basically it is the same ad, but there are a few revisions, which reflect the outcome of the lawsuit.

Lastly, and this was also part of the lawsuit, is the fact this program did not cost the twenty-five cents as advertised. The actual price for the “complete” program was $40.00. That was actually quite expensive in the 70’s.

Overall, this ad while amusing is just another example of BUYER BEWARE!