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Defeated by Playground Sand 
Fighting the Forces of Evil by The Centaur
October 10, 2002

I have a Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence, and I have been beaten by a bag of sand.

And it wasn't even evil sand.

Georgia Tech's taido class just got two new free-standing kicking bags. Some of taido's techniques, like shajogeri, are difficult to learn properly without a target to practice against, so we were glad to get them.

The kicking bags are basically man-height upside-down cones sitting atop a squat base. They're shipped empty, but when the base is filled with sand or water, it gives the bag stability, force feedback, and a definite wobbles-but-won't-fall-down vibe.

Based on his past experience, Andy, our sensei, didn't want to use water (it sloshes, it leaks) and since I drive an SUV and have a Home Depot near work, I picked up a couple of hundreds of pounds of sand to fill the bags up.

Sandbox sand comes in 50 pound bags, and seems so dry that it leaks out of even the tiniest holes if you aren't too careful. But it was easy to carry, and after Andy and another senior belt helped me lug the sand in, they left for a belt test --- and left me charge of the simple task of filling the two kicking bags.

I failed.

Whether it was the humidity, the light rain as we lugged the bags in, or water left over from the washing and filtering process that turns normal sand into "play sand", the bags of sand were wet. The dry sand leaking out into the back of my truck was just a reverse oasis, tiny little patches of dry at the corners of the bag where air could get in. The rest? Sodden wet sand so sticky it wouldn't really pour and had to be scooped out of the bags by hand. This wouldn't have been so bad ... if these kicking bags weren't designed primarily for water.

Instead of a dumping cap, they had a tiny little neck, little wider than a milk jug's, that, sure, could take sand ... dry sand. At first we tried to funnel sand into the necks, which was a two to three man operation because of the weight of the bag, the height of the neck, and the wet, chunky nature of the sand, but this was a failure: the sand would immediately clog up the funnel and not pour, and you couldn't even use a pencil to coax the sand through the funnel without jamming up a core sample of sand into the funnel's neck.

Since the Ph.D failed, we turned it over to the rest of the class ... and tried everything. Twirling the pencil in the funnel. Shaking the funnel. Using two funnels. Using a piece of paper. Dumping the sand into a bucket and shoving it in by the handful. Finally we found one bag of almost completely dry sand ... and then found that the "dry" sand was still sticky enough to clog the funnel just as fast and efficiently as the really wet ... but was too fine to be scooped and shoved like wet sand without creating a huge mess.

Caloo calay! He chortled in his joy.

Shifts of students traded off practicing and working sand stuffing duty, and by the end of class three shifts of students had managed to get 25 pounds of sand - yes, that's 1/8th of the job done - into the two bags. Defeated, we moved the bagsto the side and vowed to return someday ... with a hacksaw, a big-ass screwable pipe end cap and PVC glue to stick it on ... and a funnel the size of a wheelbarrow.

I'm too tired to talk about all the fun stuff I've seen recently right now ... new planets, new moons, and new Akira will have to wait. I'm going to bed now, and if I dream of shoveling sand, I'm going to wake up and break something.

> -The Centaur

UPDATE: Sand Loses Round 2
Our sensei Andy heard about the disaster and immediately came to our assistance. Using a special san-dan technique involving a pair of chopsticks, he and his girlfriend managed to fill the two kicking bags with the remaining one hundred and seventy five pounds of sand ... in just under thirty minutes.

That sounds like a joke. It wasn't - they really finished the job.
In thirty minutes.

Using chopsticks.

The details of the technique are left as an exercise for the reader.
-The Centaur

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The Library of Dresan ~ (C) Copyright 2002 Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr. ~ All Rights Reserved
Writer / Artist / Producer: Anthony Francis