Monthly Archives: May 2014

Warrior’s Jig


I end every training session by loosening up my over-exerted leg muscles on a foam roller.  From the floor after last night’s workout, this is what I looked up to find punctuating the quiet solace of my meditative stretching.



My Sanshou-loving boy is the only martial artist I know who winds down at the end of a sweaty night at the gym by tossing out a hundred or so fast-flying punches.  It’s an impressive display of youthful stamina that makes me… well, jealous.

When he finished his punches with earbuds still firmly lodged in his ears, he started dancing.  I watched him finish out the song and shared in the joy that accompanies a good night of kung fu – especially with classics from Red Hot Chili Peppers in the background.  He aptly named the evening’s finale “The Warrior’s Jig.”


And I danced one myself earlier today when I received an email from the Kid’s Club Director at the gym.  It said, among other things, “Attached is the application and background check. We will go ahead and get started to add you as an employee.”

It’s been quite the long wait, but unless someone slips a mickey into my water bottle that wrecks my drug test, I’ll be teaching wannabe white sashes after I return from vacation in mid June.  And that news is most definitely worthy of a warrior’s jig!



This is our Sanshou teacher and coach.


This is what my sweetheart looks like after we’ve spent half an hour trying to practice our Sanshou teacher’s techniques.


This is what my shoulder looks like after my son makes me pay for getting a Sanshou technique wrong.

There have been a few moments since I started this intensive sparring training that made me question the choice to do so.  But it just seemed to naturally come next. 🙂

The Inventory on the Shelf

Over the weekend I was subjected to folks offering an enthusiastic assessment of what they consider to be my flaws.  It was not a pleasant experience, but truth be told, it’s an exercise I used to be painfully good at.  In one of the circles I run in, we call it taking somebody’s inventory – a fancy way of saying being openly judgmental for little reason other than that we can.  For years I was told that’s something we humans are not supposed to do.  But my experience this weekend reminded me of the importance of inventory taking and the ground rules it should carry.

When I look back twenty-five years on the know-it-all, loud mouth I was, I cringe deeply and for a good minute or so.  I was the worst kind of inventory taker: I gave opinions without being asked, and I wasn’t the least bit mindful of whether I was hurting someone.  It took a few years in the real world to figure out that people didn’t care what I thought about anything and expressing my opinion made me very easy to dislike.  Once I got that lesson, though, I made the mistake that many converts make: I went too far the other direction.  I started feeling like I needed to find a confessional every time I had a less-than-flattering thought about the words or actions of others.

Then I made the very fortunate move of mentioning my guilt over continuing to be judgmental to an older and wiser friend.  She set me straight once and for all.

“People have to take each other’s inventory,” she began.  “How else are we going to know whether a person is a healthy, positive addition to our lives or someone that we should keep our distance from?  To be completely accepting of what people do and say is just not very smart.  Taking somebody’s inventory isn’t wrong, but sharing that inventory with them is!”

I’m grateful to have that fifteen-year-old mini-lecture to remember and hold onto.  It empowered me this weekend to politely point out to the person judging me that I hadn’t asked for her opinion.  It also empowers me daily to hold my emotional distance from folks with behavior on their storeroom shelves that can be damaging to me.

Slow Learner

His outlook hasn’t changed; his perspective hasn’t broadened – at least not in a way that’s visible to me.  Such was my thought two thirds of the way through Saturday’s upper sash class when Sifu responded to a humorous comment of mine with rigidity and scolding.

It all started when Siheng Steve came downstairs to tell Sifu that the beginners’ class was over and the upper sashes could take the top floor.  Sifu asked for the time and was surprised to find there were only twenty minutes left in the class. As we all dashed for the stairs and a quick water break, he chuckled and said aloud: “Oh, there’s a clock down here now.”

Two black sashes walking near him laughed a little as well, and I said: “Don’t worry, Sifu; we weren’t going to tell you.”

“Good.  You shouldn’t,” he answered sternly, with a tweak of annoyance, in a tone turned humorless.

Pointing out to Sifu something that he doesn’t already know is apparently a no-no, even something as innocuous as a long-overdue addition of a clock to the downstairs training area.

For the love of God, WHY?  I found myself screaming inside my own head shortly before our very short water break concluded.  Most people would just say, “Thanks for letting me know.”

But Sifu’s not everyone.  That’s exactly his point.  And I’m still trying to interact with him as if we’re all family.

The only time I ever feel like a slow learner is in finding the proper way to deal with the people in my life.  I like to think I eventually get it right.  But maybe that’s just hope talking.


Rescue & Reunion

I’m uncomfortable asking people if I can take a picture of them for my blog.  This is why I usually just take candid shots of folks in action. Most at the guan are accustomed to having their pictures plastered across the web, either on the school’s website or on its Facebook page.  So they simply raise an eyebrow at me and go about their business.  That’s how I got this one of “Pooh”…



…and this one of Siheng Steve.



But what to do about the ones who deserve to be commemorated that I would have to ask?

“Larry!” I said Thursday morning, mustering the right balance between middle-aged composure and the teenaged enthusiasm I felt.  He raised his hand high in the air and swooped it down to dramatically grab mine and shake it.  “Congratulations on baby number three,” I added.  “How old now?”

He answered eight months, confirming that it had been more than a year since I’d last seen him.  The shots I was given over the winter for my lower back problems eliminated any need to see my orthopedist and the physician assistant of hers who practically took my hand off saying hello.  So Larry and I had a lot to of catching up to do.

As he checked out the shoulder pain from my staff practice that’s impeding my sleep, we chatted about his kids, my new kung fu forms, his new house, my old job, the abandonment of his training as a runner, where I am in my kung fu teaching life, and so on.  By the time my x-rays returned to tell us that nothing’s broken or floating around in my socket, I felt like I’d been out to lunch with a college roommate instead of freezing my buns off in a doctor’s office.

I had once been near tears in his examination room, less than a month after my fifth knee scope, listening to him tell me that his boss, my surgeon, was not likely to authorize any additional cortisone shots to the knee (I’d already had my two for the year).  I knew that I probably couldn’t tough it through the end of black sash testing without mitigating the pain for my battered, arthritic, reconstructed joints. He knew it, too.  And he rescued me.

He chose the replacement synthetic cartilage shot that would get me to and through the final test, when the regular one suddenly stopped working.   To complete test number three with a little less angst and a little more skill, he squeezed me into his schedule on a day that the waiting room was overrun and extracted excess fluid from a swollen knee that was almost incapacitating.  Each of the three times I saw him from the last surgery to the award of my sash, he asked for the date of my final black sash test.  And after doing the math for the countdown, he told himself aloud how many more weeks he needed to keep my legs working, then reaffirmed to me that he’d do his best to get me to the finish line.

I love Larry.  I couldn’t thank him fast enough after it was all over.  One of these days, I’m going to have to get a picture of him.

The Untrained Trainer

“Don’t you guys have a school or something?” he asked, looking me up and down and settling his gaze on the bicep that was helping to hold up the staff.

“Of course,” I answered trying not to show my surprise and annoyance.  “When I’m not here, I’m there.”  He waited, expecting me to continue speaking and answer the question he wasn’t quite rude enough to ask directly.

“So… is there more space here?”

“Yes.”  I hoped that would be the end of his inquisition, but I knew it wasn’t.

He looked away, thinking for a moment, as the slow elevator continued to chug along to the third level of the parking lot.  “You’re lucky Ray’s not still here.”

Having no idea who Ray was, I shrugged.  The diminutive trainer with a model’s face and a body builder’s chest turned his face toward the two women who’d just left his 45-minute boot camp, but he continued talking to me.

“Ray ran the squash program.  If he was still here, you wouldn’t have any room to practice.  He had those courts filled every night.”

The elevator door opened on my floor, so I didn’t take the time to point out to him that I practice in all the gym’s spaces that are available to me and my staff.  So unless Ray could keep me out of the yoga room, the boxing room and the step-it studio, everyone would still have to deal with whatever it is about my weapons practice that’s apparently threatening to a professional trainer and boxing coach.  What I actually said was: “Okay.”  Then, I walked to my car.

I care very much about whether I’m taking up space that someone else is entitled to, but I just don’t have time to tip toe around the ego of an apparently insecure personal trainer whose classes never take place in a room I use for practice.  Life’s just too short for that kind of nonsense… and there’s way too much training to be done.

Not-So-Easy Streets

It was a beautiful day in the capital today, and I was conscious of needing a greater-than-normal infusion of protein to ready myself for a return to Sanshou class.  So I bypassed the salad I normally bring to work in favor of procuring a hefty sandwich.  The walk off the beaten path to a deli I only hit a couple of times a year afforded me a view of the street I work on that I don’t encounter often on foot.  So I captured it.


I’ve spent the majority of my waking hours for the past seven years in a building at this intersection.  It sends a shiver down my spine when I think of it that way.


About six hours later, I thought the street on which I’ve spent the second greatest number of waking hours in the last several years deserved to be commemorated as well.  This one – the one where my kung fu school has existed for more than thirty years – means a lot more to me than the first.  In fact, as the years have ticked on, my feelings for the two have completely reversed.

I was once so grateful to be back near Capitol Hill, bringing the news of what happens there (or doesn’t, as the case may be) to the interested masses, after a long hiatus for childbirth and another college degree.  Now, I go there almost exclusively for the paycheck.  There’s gratitude for that still, of course, but no longer the kind that’s wrapped around joy.

“Kung Fu Road,” in contrast, was once a place I went to get a little exercise and lose a little weight.  But most of all, it was where I dragged myself to make a resentful child a little happier, after I moved him up the highway against his will.  Now, it’s the street where I changed for the better when I wasn’t looking, and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve spent there for anything.

Neither has been an easy street to occupy.  But both have made my journey a fascinating one.

Here’s to the streets each of us trudge in our lives and the days we have to enjoy them….


Injury, Irony, Profanity & More

I hate being injured in Saturday class – absolutely hate it!  It’s not the pain of the injury that bothers me; it’s looking like a mediocre, mid-level martial artist in front of fellow upper sashes and, worst of all, in front of Sifu.

After pushing out twenty-five tornado kicks in a drill that almost made me homicidal, I let out a few profanities during Lian Huan Tui and made no apologies for it.  Sifu was on the other side of the room at the time; so I allowed myself the lapse in decorum.  I recovered an appropriate demeanor and more effective use of my knees after taking a long enough break during beginner weapons class to bury my knee in topical cream and an ice wrap.

Irony being what it is, my kung fu day ended with Sifu teaching me not one but five moves subsequent to the very spin section of White Eyebrow that turned my knee inside out.  Near as I could tell, that was my reward for having practiced the spins enough this week to execute them better than he probably expected in such a short time.

I’d like to say that being given so much more of the form to practice made the injury and morning frustration all better, but it didn’t.  I’m still pulling out all the stops, more than ten hours later, to make my left leg do all that it’s supposed to do – starting with supporting my weight as I walk.

The new moves were, however, worth the pain of the price of admission today.  They made me glad I didn’t bow out when I was busy swearing.  They made me feel like practicing as hard as I did this week was a smart thing to do.

Twisting & Turning

Out on Mother’s Day in heels over two inches….

Consciously walking properly (moving foot from heel to toe) for perhaps the first time since knee surgery two years ago….

Doing rows of footwork practice as part of warm-up before training….

Twisting the balls and heels of my feet repeatedly – a few hundred times this week – while doing the double spin section of White Eyebrow….

Whatever the cause, it feels like there’s something horribly wrong in the muscles, tendons and/or ligaments in and around my left knee joint.  So much so I’m not sure if I should attend any of the advanced kung fu classes that are a staple of my Saturdays.  That’s saying something.

I’ve been trying everything since the end of a surprisingly productive practice Friday night to relieve the edema and increase the range of motion in my left leg.  Not asking for a miracle, just a return to normalcy.

I certainly hope that’s not asking for too much.


Audience of Strangers

Everything hurts.  In descending order of degree, my knees, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, lower back, traps and calves are all aching – and I couldn’t feel more satisfied.  I got so lost in trying to nail the new spin section that by night’s end the ball of my right foot felt like it was missing several layers of skin.  The callus on that sucker is going to be fierce once I make it through the pain of forming it.

The squash court isn’t nearly as forgiving on the feet as the yoga room floor, but that’s the only place to practice on Wednesday nights at the gym, when yoga class runs to 8:30 and the yogis hang out until 8:45.  If I waited that long to train, I wouldn’t be home, showered and making myself dinner until almost midnight.  The choice is a no-brainer.  Tonight, it came with a ton of attention.

IMG_20140514_205624The yoga room is dimly lit and off-the-beaten-path.  The squash courts are more centrally located.  The result:  A boxer gave me a thumbs up and a big smile after stopping to watch me on the way to the bags;  the guys playing on court one watched me through two rotations before resuming their game; and everyone using a day locker across the hallway from the courts took time to get an eyeful as well.IMG_20140514_205622 If I keep practicing White Eyebrow on the courts, I’m going to feel like I’ve performed it in a dozen tournaments before I even finish learning it!  Now that I think about it, the very public nature of the training is probably why I feel so satisfied.IMG_20140514_202635I took fewer water breaks tonight and did very little sectional practice.  I did all of what I know of the form in every practice rotation, and I did it the best I could – because I was being watched.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever been conscious before of how an audience of strangers keeps me focused on doing my best, when there are no points to be scored or medals to be won.


I am now.

All Right With Limbo

For better or for worse, it seems I don’t have as much to say these days.  I’ve inadvertently taken to posting every other day for about a week now, and I have conflicting feelings about it.  I’m busy giving time and attention to other projects, like further indulging the baker in me, and enjoying it. I’m also spending some non-kung fu time screaming at the television as the latest overpaid pitcher gives away the game with one strike left in the inning.  (Pick a team, and it seems to apply.)  But the overachieving student I always was equates not posting with ignoring homework, and that’s just not something I did very often.  So it feels strange.

Perhaps the exact nature of my blogging state is that I’m locked in limbo – and thus lacking the source material that once came in daily like the tide.  I’m waiting to teach again, waiting to learn more of the new form, waiting for the next competition.  Waiting.

But here’s the thing: there’s an upside to waiting that this lifelong monument to impatience finds pleasantly surprising.  In between training, spinning myself dizzy, mother duties with the adolescents and – oh yeah – working the job that pays the bills, there’s more time for chats in the kitchen with my boy and planning a summer camp week with my girl…


and noticing more life on the streets in a neighborhood I spend as much time passing through as actually living in.


There’s something to be said for waiting.  But only when I take the time to do it right.

And only when it doesn’t last too long. 🙂

The Breakfast Hour Waltz

I learned a new part to the White Eyebrow form yesterday and was in the gym at 9 a.m. practicing it.  It was the earliest I’ve ever been in the gym on a Sunday, and it was rocking like I couldn’t believe.  Both squash courts were occupied, a spin class was rolling, the step-it folks were climbing and somebody was hitting the bags in the boxing room like they had a vendetta.  So much for having the place to myself to work up an appetite for the brunch my young man was treating me to! But what it lacked in privacy and peace it made up for in ego boosting.

Three people stopped during different points in my practice to watch me spin myself nauseous.  I’m used to people looking over through the yoga room windows as they walk by.  I’m not used to folks actually stopping on their way to wherever to watch for more than a moment.  That’s a testament to the form, mind you, not me.  I’ve finally reached the point in it that led me to want to learn it in the first place.  It’s the section where I must spin the staff and my body simultaneously.

It turns out that it’s easier than it looks, but that’s not saying much.  It’s still quite the challenge to keep the staff moving straight up and down, the torso twisting a full 180 degrees at a time, and feet moving smoothly along a straight line, in a waltz-like rhythm, all at the same time.  When well executed, it looks fantastic!  But I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home without a chiropractor nearby.

I caught myself in the mirror somewhere around the tenth rotation of my practice and was pleasantly surprised that it looks better than I would have expected less than a day after learning it.  Now, if I could just master the strike at the end of the section without looking like a completely uncoordinated dweeb, my Mother’s Day would be complete.  The beauty of being obsessive in my kung fu love and going to the gym during the breakfast hour is that there’s more than enough time to nail the section ending before day’s end.  After all, I haven’t sweat nearly enough yet today.

To all mothers out there, obsessive and mellow alike, I hope you’re having a nice relaxing day – something I clearly don’t know how to do!  🙂

Happy Mother’s Day!