Inspired… but Tired

It’s after 1 a.m. on the East coast, and I’ve just watched the Royals battle back to win the wild card game.  It’s hard not to be inspired.

In the wee hours of this first day of October, however, I realize, as I tend to my throbbing right shoulder, that I’ve now been working on this form for the same amount of time as a full-term pregnancy – and I still haven’t been taught the final moves.  I’m ready to have this baby already!

Not yet.  Not yet….

Sleep would be good, now.


The Probability of Blows

Martial artists know techniques for injuring quickly and with minimal effort.  That fact floats into my head whenever members of an increasingly inconsiderate public seem to enjoy acting uncivilized – but not for the reason one would think.

An instance of uncivilized behavior has stayed with me for a few days now.  A man was flying through the parking garage at the gym, ignoring stop signs.  I had to hit the brakes to keep him from plowing into the passenger side of my car – which, at the time, was occupied by my son.  I looked at the driver with a what-is-the-matter-with-you expression and motioned for him to continue on.  He stared at me a second, then laughed before peeling away.

“I wanna rip his face…” my son said angrily.  “Never mind,” he quickly added with a heavy sigh.  “But did you see that?? He was laughing!”

I told him I saw it but thought it best not to think about it.  Thinking about it would make me want to go chase the guy out of the garage.

A chase would be stupid and juvenile, of course.  A chase would automatically escalate the confrontation.  And once words were exchanged – particularly with a son who already wanted to “rip his face” – the probability of blows would be disturbingly high.

I’ve met many who, upon learning that I practice and teach kung fu, raise their eyebrows with what looks like disapproval, though usually cloaked in politeness.  One acquaintance actually made comments about promoting violence.  But the truth is precisely the opposite.  Most people don’t know that an evaluation of kung fu skills includes assessing one’s level of control.

Some of the most anti-confrontational people I’ve ever known wear a black belt or sash during their off hours.  The power to injure quickly and with minimal effort is sobering.  It frequently creates people who would rather just say “never mind.”


The Safe Subject

At about 10:30 on Thursday night, I dialed my father’s phone number for the first time in a couple of months.   Why I don’t talk to him more often is a long, complicated, sad story – some of which I mentioned here.  Tonight, our negative history was irrelevant.

Sounding simultaneously happy and sad, the first thing he said to me was: “I knew it was you.”  Of course he did.  Only I could be calling him when Derek Jeter had just knocked in the winning run in the last game he’d ever play in Yankee Stadium.

It was 1977, and I was in the third grade.  It wasn’t my first trip over the western state line, but it was the first I could remember alone with my dad.  My parents were thankfully separated.  Life was much quieter.  But I saw almost nothing of the former man of the house – until suddenly he was taking me to Yankee Stadium.

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(from Wikipedia)

We sat with his friends from work in seats right above the Yankee dugout.  I yelled out to Reggie Jackson and got a smile and a wave.  My father smiled a lot, too, in between answering my questions about the rules of the game.  I couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to me so much.  I’ve been a Yankee fan ever since.

The safe subject for most people is the weather.  For my father and me, it’s the Yankees.  Bad trades and costly contracts, win or lose, I’ll always love them for that.


Force of Nature

I am not a big fan of time today.

This girl..

..is now this teen.

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And she is, quite simply, a force of nature.  Her smile is infectious, and her bad mood can disappear on a dime.  She’s a talker with no filter and a math whiz who hates math.

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She throws a roundhouse that feels like a log and talks smack about sports better than a middle aged man. She’s made me proud and pissed off in the same moment on several occasions in her short life, and she’s sure to do so again.

Today, my youngest became a teenager….  I couldn’t be a more thankful and hopeful mother.  I couldn’t be less of a fan of time.


Herding Cats

My class was a playground today.   That was not a good thing.

Joining the four regulars was a four-year-old whose mom has been trying to get her in the door since the middle of the first session, but time was never her friend.  She told me that her daughter has an above-average attention span, bolstered by her enthusiastic interest in kung fu; so I was more than willing to see if she could follow along well despite being under five.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to see how well she can follow along, because in walked a world of distraction that made even my industrious five-year-old think about everything but kung fu.

My first-session kindergartener returned without warning.  That’s the one whose dad wanted him to be there far more than he wanted to be.  With him came the entire family: a two-year-old brother who kept running up to hug him; a mom who kept getting up from her seat in the back of the room to reposition her son’s feet, over my objections;  and a dad who kept popping into the corner of the room behind me to take pictures of his hugging boys.  To add fuel to the fire, my old kindergartener goes to school with the new four-year-old.  So, in between having mom, little brother and dad stealing his attention, his classmate – the newest and youngest member of the class – kept trying to “help” her friend correct his hands and feet, though she herself was having trouble getting into a fighting stance!

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On top of it all, the other little boy in the class, who’d previously been plugged into my every move and coming along nicely in his martial arts aptitude, went off the rails with the addition of two younger children to the class.  He also had a baby sister watching from the sidelines with mom and dad.  That seemed to turn on an ADD switch that I didn’t know this particular student had.

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Long story made short: there were more spectators today than students, and the students suffered for it.  The highlight, however, was that after I allowed the youngest and newest to bow out early, I watched the more proficient students do the first seven moves of the form with surprising dexterity (they’d been practicing while I worked with the younger kids), and I was more than happy to reward them by teaching the multi-step move number eight, the end of part one of the form.  If nothing else, the oldest members of the class earned their white sashes today in the middle of a circus… and I learned what it feels like to herd cats.


Automatic Pilot

They wanted to know how fast the form is supposed to go.  So I showed them.  By the time I reached move four of the sixteen step sequence, I knew I was sacrificing precision for speed, and I was glad that I realized it.

It made me wonder: in any given day, how many things do I do on automatic pilot?  How many tasks could use more precision – deserve it, in fact – but I speed through them instead, out of habit?

I’ve known the white sash form for six years.  I’ve done it thousands of times as a student and a hundred or so times as a teacher.  Though it’s the simplest form in most respects, it’s also among the most painful for me because of the number of horse stances that must be executed with battered knees and the number of stance transitions that occur without benefit of standing up.  So it came as no surprise to me when I recorded the form and saw that my stances were too high and a few transitions were too muddled.

So, tucked into the ritual repetitions of White Eyebrow, with finishing touches that thankfully look more finished by the week, I went back to basics and refined the first form, the one from which all others flow.  Now, my star students, the only two who consistently show up on a Friday night, won’t make the mistake of losing precision as they acquire speed.

Bad habits are inevitable.  I’d just rather not teach them, if I can help it.


…No Pressure!

I’m behind in my posting, which irks me almost as much as being late with homework.  But it couldn’t be helped.  Sometimes taking care of things is more important than writing about what you’re taking care of, and my days seem to be filled with that circumstance with greater frequency.  How cool is that?  I think, once the impulse to scold myself passes.

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My food manager certification is in the mail, as I passed the exam with flying colors!  So I’ve now begun working on the first real business plan of my life, the construction of which is redefining the term time-consuming as I know it. Rent or purchase?  Mobile or stationary? Wholesale or retail?  These are the questions for the baker side of my life.  Then, there’s the Sijeh part.  (Greater explanation of these “parts” discussed here.)

I ordered sashes this week to tie around my students and hopefully inspire greater investment.  The key to the success of the kung fu side of my future lies in keeping the students I have, of course, and acquiring new beginners every session.  Flier construction has already begun for enticing the next crop in November.  The difference between the number who expressed interest and those who finally showed up was too large.  I’ve got five weeks to shrink it.  But, no pressure.

Meanwhile, it appears there’s a new form on my horizon.  On Saturday, I was assigned a move with the staff that involves shooting it off the left arm from behind the back and catching it with the opposite hand.  It’s a nifty little trick that requires moving the breakables out of the way and making sure the lower back muscles are sufficiently stretched.  I thought Sifu was a making a change in one of the final moves of White Eyebrow until Siheng Allen (pictured below, instructing the Monday night class) said: “Oh, that’s for the spear.”

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Spear??  There’s a spear in my future…  along with a whole lot else!  :-)


Skip to My Whaat!?

For me, it’s another form of walking.  It’s almost second nature.  For the layman, it requires thought, concentration and suppressing the urge to skip.  Moving forward in a fighting stance is simply a lot harder than it looks – a fact I’d forgotten until a trio of primary school students reminded me by making a mess of their leg movements.

The lone parent in the class was the only one who got it right on the first try.  The five, six and seven-year-olds, not long from having learned that the fastest form of human motion without aid of machine is to put one foot in front of the other, weren’t comfortable being asked to keep one foot permanently in the backfield.

All of a sudden, I had to hit the pause button on my recently crafted curriculum.  Forget about doing rows of double straight punches.  We needed more repetitions than I had time for of simply moving down the floor in a fighting stance.  Ultimately, I assigned it as homework, so we could move on to form practice.

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All four of today’s students are enthusiastic, follow along well and catch on quickly.  Still, in the second class of the session, I find that we’re running out of time to complete the day’s tasks.  What I hope to determine next time is if having the mother-daughter team practice what they know while I keep the two youngest from skipping will keep me from having to strip techniques from the session plan.

It’s a learning experience for me, too, as a teacher.  I love that!  I wish I could do it everyday…. :-)


Clear and Close

Baltimore is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the onslaught of Fort McHenry.  That’s the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.  He didn’t know that ‘s what he was doing back on September 14, 1814, and I didn’t know so many people were moved enough by the tune to celebrate it and the Battle of Baltimore more enthusiastically than any July 4th of recent memory.

There were fireworks from every conceivable launching point in the waterways of the harbors and points that form miles of city coastline.  I caught the first sights and sounds of them from the passenger seat on the way home from grabbing some chow.

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The ones around the corner from the house, across the street from the seafood joint where my son used to work, were clearer and closer.

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But the ones I always like best are those that are set off from the water walkway three blocks from my stoop.

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My neighborhood is loud and boisterous during celebratory times for the city.  But that’s part of what makes it convenient and cool!


Charmed

I’ve never seen a single episode of the HBO program The Wire. What makes that strange is the fact that I live in the city where it’s set.  I’ve lived in Baltimore for six years, now; so I’ve had plenty of time to rectify the anomaly.  But the longer I live here the more I’m happy I’ve never seen a show that I’m told presents the worst aspects of the city, albeit in fictional form.

001-the-wire-theredlist(from HBO.com)

These were my thoughts early this afternoon walking five blocks down the street to my neighborhood Safeway.  It’s been forever since I’ve been out of the office and home, with the time and opportunity to walk to the grocery store, and it was a beautiful day for it.

This is the view in the front of the place where I buy most of the family’s food.

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The Wire’s settings are very real, however, and we go through a few of them on the way to the guan and back.  So I fully understand the D.C. friends who asked incredulously why I was moving to Baltimore – almost all of whom asked, “Haven’t you seen The Wire?”

Nope.  I’ll get around to it eventually.  But much to the chagrin of my D.C. native son (my daughter considers herself from Baltimore, despite being born in D.C.), in a battle between the nation’s capital and Charm City, the latter has won me over… in everything but baseball. :-)

Now, off to the first kung fu class of my second session at the gym.


Like a Walk in the Park

Week 1

Techniques

Rows of snap kicks

Backfist

Backfist-straight punch-snap kick in place

__

Rows of double straight punches

Rows of Backfist-straight punch-snap kick

 

Inter-mezzo

Palm strikes in horse stance

Up block

Front hand block and finger strike

 

Form

Through #4

And so on….

I spent so much time Tuesday night working out and writing down my curriculum, by the week, that I have nothing left to write a pithy post about the day’s events or even a stream of consciousness.  I’ll just leave it at this before I crash: I’m ridiculously excited to start implementing this night’s work on Friday evening.  It turns the annoyance of dealing with the trials of the television world into a walk in the park. :-)


Before Pizza

It was one of those days.  My boss was in a foul mood from the moment he walked in the door.  That’s not compatible with hosting three hours of live TV.  My director couldn’t see or hear clearly for the first ten minutes of the show, which resulted in several on-air errors.  Those are uncorrectable when you’re live.

I was sitting in the control room on the opening Sunday of football season – a fact that’s been frustrating for the last six years of my life.  But to make matters worse, both teams that matter most to me didn’t just lose, they embarrassed themselves.

I took a cab ride home from the train station with a driver who kept swearing he knew where my street was but still asked me at every red light if he was going the right way.  By the time I started chopping an onion for dinner prep, I was glad the powers of the universe had saved the worst day of the working weekend for last.

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My working weekend actually began right after leaving the office on Friday.  The first of my long-scheduled demo classes was waiting for me at the gym.  In it were two children with moms along for the ride.  By the end of the hour, everyone was sweating, rubbing their legs… and smiling.

“This was fun,” the seven-year-old girl whispered to her mother.  Her mom looked like she didn’t agree with the word choice.

“This is a real workout,” the other parent said rubbing her legs.  “I didn’t expect that.”

“Yes, it is.” Playdate with punches this ain’t!  I thought.  The mother-and-six-year-old son duo said they’d be signing up; the mom and daughter left without sharing a decision.

Fast-forward to Saturday.  An hour after inhaling a plate of pancakes to quell the hunger caused by intensive classes at the guan, I was back at the gym for the second of the demo classes.  This one introduced me to a five-year-old who approaches martial arts the same way my daughter did when she started tae kwon do at four: with a non-stop smile.  (I’m not sure if there’s anything cuter than a kindergartener doing double-straight-punch-snap-kick combinations to the chin with an ear-to-ear grin on his face!)

At the end of the class, he was still smiling but not as broadly.  So I asked, “Are your legs hurting?  Was that too much for you?”

“No,” he said without pause, sounding slightly insulted.  When he turned to his dad, I could tell it was decided.

“So what do you think?  Should we put kung fu before pizza on Friday nights now?” his dad asked.

“Yes!” he shouted, showing almost all of the pearly whites.

It looks like I’ll have a class of at least four people this session who know what they’re getting into.  That knowledge and the joy of future students’ smiles enabled me to handle a difficult time on the day job today with a healthy measure of grace.


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