Category Archives: Humor

The Old Friend

I’m in the office today for the taping of two episodes of the weekly program I produce.  I’ll be leaving shortly before the end of the second taping, handing the escort out over to a production assistant, and jumping in a cab to the airport.  After about forty-five minutes of rainy-day, capital city traffic, I’ll get to lumber through the airport with equipment I don’t dare check, for fear it will either not make it to my destination or be damaged when it arrives.  I’ll practice a little Lian Huan Tui, if there’s room in the room, grab a bite, go over my notes for tomorrow morning’s interview, chat with the family by cell and hit the hay.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll check out, head to the home of the March guest for our monthly program, interview him about how he writes in the space where he writes, and thank him profusely for his hospitality.  Then, I’ll dash to the airport, again lumber along with equipment I don’t dare check and hope beyond hope that I don’t damage any upper body muscles needed to execute my long staff form to the best of my ability.  

I’ll fly home, get a cab to my house, drop the equipment in the entrance way, change into kung fu clothes, and double check to make sure the family hasn’t left at home anything I need to practice with.  I’ll then head back out the door to meet up with my better half and children, who will already be in sparring class at our guan.

I’ll get in my last practice in comfortable, familiar surroundings on Thursday night, get in as much conversation as possible with my children, in between each of our showers, replace the work clothes in my overnight bag for the kung fu clothes and jeans, and sufficiently pack up my weapons to prevent damage.  I’ll grab a bite, hug and kiss the kids goodbye – again, get in some conversation with my spouse and hit the hay.

Friday morning, I will rise pre-dawn, head to the airport with my sweetie, check the weapons and pray the staff arrives in one piece.  I’ll kiss her goodbye at the security checkpoint, then turn into a walking wall of nerves until my one “perfect” (hopefully!) minute of long staff form execution is over on Saturday morning.

I’m exhausted.  Right here, right now.  And I still have it all to do.  It’s a good thing adrenaline and I are old friends.

Murphy & Mother Nature

For those following the weekend’s storyline, our contender came in fifth overall, which makes him third runner up.  Given the quality of the competition I saw, that is a more than respectable outcome and a great first shot at the national team.  Here’s Sifu having a last practice with the Boy Wonder before his final performance.


And so a busy and tiring weekend has come to an end.  Now begins an even busier week.  Once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate and not close the school again – neither my children’s respective junior and senior high schools nor our collective kung fu school.  It would be classic Murphy’s Law, of course, having only two available evenings to practice for my tournament on Saturday, to be denied one or both by Mother Nature.  But I’m going to do my best to have faith in the powers of the universe that I’ll get what I need.  I am fond of saying that God has a sick sense of humor sometimes.  Now’s not the time to find out firsthand that payback is a bitch, as they say.

Worry will get me nothing, I know.  So I think I’ll decide to stop.  Okay… done.

Same Page, Same Time

It’s been a year since my knees have ached this much on a Sunday night.  That’s how rare it is these days for me to feel compelled to practice on the one day of the week that the school isn’t open.  Even when I’ve had the itch on the day of rest not to do so, I’ve kept practice time to a minimum.  But today, the need to conquer the physics and execute to my satisfaction was powerful.  It became even stronger when the answer of how best to execute finally made itself clear.  And so I ran with it.

I still didn’t have what I wanted from my body by the time my brain told me to save my knees for Monday’s beginner class and my long staff work.  But I was thrilled nevertheless, because I’d literally figured out the answer to the bane of my martial arts existence.  I deconstructed a sequence down to minute detail (e.g., which way are my toes pointing when my hand is here?), and I found the answer I’d been looking for since the fourth knee operation.  This epiphany led to the even greater realization of the day.

Kung fu has changed the way I think.  It long ago changed what I think about and when, but it’s now unavoidably clear that it’s messing with the how part of operations, as well.  My martial arts madness had made me, a previous monument to impatience, willing to break something down piece by piece, to determine how to get my mind, body and spirit on the same page at the same time.

Every time I think this love of mine can’t get any better, I get a new box of chocolates.  I don’t see a break-up happening any time soon! 🙂

First Order of Business

When some people do it, it looks like a split in mid air.  Mine looked like that for a brief period, back when I was a purple sash, back before I had operations four and five on the knees.  I have the video to prove it.

For others, the split never has the chance to form because the right leg is already on its way back down to the floor as the left is rising.  The latter technique is what I call the easy way to do a kicking combination.  The problem is that after sporadic practice in the family room of my house tonight, even the easy way was still not easy for me.

I pulled the hamstring on my left leg in the last month of black sash testing a year ago.  It slowed down what had otherwise become a much faster kicking combination than I’d thought I was capable of.  Months later, I came down hard on the right knee when coming out of the combo, and I’ve been struggling to make it look respectable – when I’m able to execute it at all – ever since.  It’s the first order of business when I get a pain-relieving shot: can I get my kicking combo back?  And since I suspect I may be given little else to practice later this morning, because of my run-in with Sifu over self-teaching, it’ll be my priority Saturday as well.

As I write, I wonder how many readers have any real idea of what I’m talking about.  I try not to get too bogged down in terminology that means nothing to most who are kind enough to regularly follow this obsession of mine, but there are some days when the a specific technique is all consuming and therefore what I find myself writing about in detail.  Thus, my lunchtime one-liner posting Friday.  If I’d been able to get away with it without someone calling for a straightjacket, I would’ve done kicking combinations in one of the office conference rooms on my lunch break and bypassed the salad.

In any event, I appreciate all of you who put up with the jargon and tunnel vision and keep checking in on what I’m up to.  Friday marked two months that I’ve been documenting this madness in the blogosphere, and I appreciate all who follow and comment, advise and encourage as I trudge on in my middle-aged martial arts love affair.

Until tomorrow…jiayou!

Lunch time at the office….

I just want to practice kicking combinations.  Is that so wrong?


I tried to lay off my wounded arm Monday night; I really did.  But I discovered something pretty obvious about kung fu that hadn’t occurred to me before: everything requires the hands and arms.  I thought that as long as I didn’t do any weapons forms, I’d be good to go.  Let the healing begin.  But freehand forms have big circular arm movements that irritate the tendons in my shoulder, too.  I’ve dedicated so much head space over the years to the performance and protection of my knees that I haven’t given my arms nearly the respect that they deserve for all they’ve contributed to my martial arts success, irrespective of my work with weapons. It’s clear as day when I’m sparring but completely subconscious otherwise.  Go figure.

I thought about doing the black sash freehand form without the parts that would heavily involve my right arm socket, but I quickly dispensed with that idea.  Turns out it would have meant leaving out everything from right after the opening empty stance through the beginning of the kicking combination.  About a third of the form.  I could have made it through from kicking combo to tornado kick, but after that – forget it.  Arms have to fly and circle and slam and double punch and turn into cranes, etc.  So I just did the damned thing and told myself it was much better for my arm than doing staff.  By the third repetition of Lian Huan Tui, I realized that was nonsense.  There wasn’t as much arm power involved, but it was really just a horse of a different color.

So at the end of the night, while stretching my leg muscles on the trusty foam roller that’s done more to keep the legs working than any physical therapy or massage (and significantly reduce the overnight/early morning pain that’s been a staple for a long while now, as well), I wondered if there was any way to transfer that magic to the arm.  It was awkward and unattractive trying to roll my upper arm and shoulder on a roller that was on the floor, but a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.  Low and behold, the wing is flapping like new – at least for now, and Tuesday’s another day of rest.  In fact, I’ll be lying around all day Tuesday after the second of two prescribed shots to the back (a story for tomorrow, I’m sure.)

Ultimately, my most significant obstacle to a complete hiatus for healing is teaching.  When instructing beginners, demonstration is a must; the arms have to be used.  Case closed.  I don’t have to be strong or fast, just reasonably accurate.  So the bare minimum is what they’re going to have to get for a while.  But that’s better than nothing – for the students and for me.

Farther Away

My boy celebrated his seventeenth birthday a couple of nights ago, and it felt unlike other birthdays.  Seventeen seems much greater than sixteen.  It feels much farther away from home.

He surprised me by foregoing the recent tradition of eating out at a reasonable restaurant of his choice.  For seventeen, he wanted simply to follow a good evening of kung fu training with a pineapple upside down cake.  I asked as we were leaving school if his training had been satisfying, and he told me with a smile how many forms he’d done and how achy he was feeling.  He was happy.

“You know we’re crazy to think that serious achiness is a good thing,” I told him.

“Yep, I know.”  His smile was even broader.

On the way home from training a few days earlier, probably under the influence of too much Gatorade, I told my high school junior, “Why don’t you forget about college and start a kung fu school with me?”  He looked at me as if an alien had taken over my body.

“Forget college?  You are suggesting that I forget college?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe I said that, too.  Never mind. Crank call,” I answered with both of us laughing.


Looking past the cake to the face of the baby boy turned young man, I remembered my so-called crank call.  And I was no longer sure any part of me had been kidding.

Risk and Reward

Euphoric, confused and concerned.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a day of kung fu training where I left feeling all three of these emotions, but I did tonight.  All came from the same occurrence: a correction of a move that I didn’t know I’ve been doing wrong for nine months now.  I’m still trying to sort through the implications of the evening; so let me take these one at a time.

“You’re lifting your leg nice and high, but then you’re lowering it almost to the floor before you drop down to do the slam,” Siheng Allen said.  He was referring to the portion of the form when one slams the staff against the ground (the idea being that there’s an imaginary opponent being smacked pretty hard by a long, hard stick that’s backed by the full weight of a person’s body).

“You mean, I’m supposed to essentially jump to the ground with a leg already bent, and you don’t want me to plant the foot first?”

“Uh-huh.  Exactly,” he answered with a pronounced nod and broad smile.

I immediately had visions of landing for the slam and having what’s left of my knees, buckle or shatter or explode – you name it.  Something that would end in me being loaded into an ambulance.  But there was no ambulance, no injury – no problem!  The slam looked and sounded great, and my legs got into proper position faster and easier than when I was planting the foot first for safety’s sake.

I’d gotten so used to doing it the safe way, I’d totally forgotten it wasn’t the right way.  And as it turned out, the right way was not – is not – the least bit detrimental to my knees.  It was a euphoria-producing discovery.  Then came the confusion.

What do I do now about moves in future forms that look like knee stressors?  I already push myself further than many think I should, avoiding only those things that I know will exacerbate an existing injury or compromised joint.  Clearly, I made the wrong decision in altering my feet positioning in the slams for the sake of my knees.  Should I try all risky moves until pain and swelling confirm that I shouldn’t?

That idea strikes me as inviting injury – which must be what I thought when I was first taught the slams.  I wish I could remember consciously deciding not to make the drop, but I don’t.  Which brings me to concern.

How many moves have I subtly changed without even realizing it, for fear of yet another significant injury – perhaps even one that would permanently end my martial arts life?  Have I done less than my best when I didn’t have to and without realizing it?

“Did you know I wouldn’t hurt my knees when you told me to drop without putting the foot down?” I asked Siheng Allen on the way out the door.  I expected the medical doctor to answer yes, to tell me that he knew something about the impact that I didn’t.  After extended explanation of theory based on leg positioning, I could only deduce that he’d made an educated guess the drop wouldn’t hurt my knees.

Eventually he said, “Well, it doesn’t hurt my knees.”

I didn’t remember until I was driving home that he too has had a knee operation and surgery on his back as well.  It was reasonable for him to think that what didn’t hurt him wouldn’t hurt me.  On the other hand, he can do kicking combinations and tornado kicks without the slightest problem, while I can go months at a time being unable to do either without pain that would reduce me to tears.  So it could be risky for me if he assumes that what doesn’t exceed his threshold won’t exceed mine.  Such assumptions are another cause for concern.

My head is obviously still swimming over it all.  But most importantly, my knees are still working. 🙂

The Sensitivity Gene

“You know nothing.  You go over there,” Siheng said to the new student attending his second class.  He was separating the class into three groups: those who knew their whole form, yellow sashes still learning it and white sashes still learning it.  I knew that what he meant to say was, “You don’t know the form yet, so go over there,” but that’s not how it came out.

The student was visibly surprised by the unintentionally rude sentence.  He opened his eyes wide and stared at Siheng a moment before moving toward his assigned side of the room, while shaking his head.

“He didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” I told the student. “Don’t take it personally.  He’s just missing the sensitivity gene,” I said with a chuckle.

“Yeah, I’m just not… I don’t…”

“- have the sensitivity gene,” I repeated, still smiling.

I can’t remember ever seeing Siheng Chris at the school before I finally reached a sash level that put us in many of the same classes.  But the first unforgettable shared class was one in which he openly, loudly, ridiculed moves I did incorrectly while still learning the Shaolin Fist form.  I thought he was obnoxious and, well, insensitive for doing so.  So no one could have been more surprised than I when he became one of the most helpful people at the school to me while I was training for black sash.  He gave me pointers, corrections and encouragement – and a person to compete with and improve against. As the only red sashes in the school for about seven or eight months, neither of us had anyone else to commiserate with about the stress of the 12 Kicks form.  I remember thinking that we were becoming friends because misery loves company.  There turned out to be a touch more to it than that.

He was impressed at my early aptitude for 12 Kicks, before the piece of floating cartilage in the right knee and the torn meniscus in the left took me off the floor for almost four months (and I actually could have used more).  When I returned, from the first operation, I could no longer “crush it” as he was fond of saying.  When I returned from the second, there were several moves I had to work exceptionally hard to execute properly, much less do with power and speed. By the time I had to fight him and another black sash in the two-on-one part of my black sash test, he remained polite but the friendship had already started to wane.  We were no longer sharing 12 Kicks misery.  He was already a black sash who’d moved on to other forms.

Now, I assist him when he teaches, sometimes rephrasing his sentences for new students, sometimes running interference for his mood, always doing my best to teach the assigned skill for the day to the group he tells me to teach.  It’s been an interesting evolution – one I choose not to take personally.

The Balance

One day was not enough recovery time, after pushing myself as hard as I did Thursday night.  My performance of Lian Huan Tui on Saturday was pitiful.  Everything from the waist down hurt by the time we got to the part of class where we practice forms.  The drills done in the first forty minutes took most of the mojo out of my knees, and I couldn’t do a decent sweep or tornado kick to save my life.  So, lesson learned.  These days, if I’m going to push the lower half of my body to the max, it has to be when I won’t be using it for anything but the long staff form for at least forty-eight hours…maybe even seventy-two.

But the day was still a happy one.  Some readers may remember me writing about Sifu criticizing me for my manner of teaching (12/17/13 post).   I argued then that style of teaching should be left alone, because it’s a personal choice that can play a large part in whether a student enjoys the class.  I still believe that, but the issue turned out not to be all that complicated.  Sifu simply wanted more boot camp, less me.

I can do boot camp; it’s practically in the genes on my father’s side of the family.  But I can also manage to slide in some warmth and humor when not barking directives.  Apparently, I’ve found the balance that makes Sifu happy without taking all the fun out of teaching for me, because on Saturday, Sifu pulled me aside after watching me with the beginners and told me that the way I taught this morning is the way it should be done.

Mission accomplished.  It almost made me forget that I hurt too much to do my own form properly.  Almost. 🙂

Rolling to a Stop

On the commuter train Thursday morning, I fell asleep as I usually do when I’ve only had five or so hours of sleep.  I woke with a start fifteen minutes before the train reached my stop, worried that I’d forgotten to ask Merle to bring my sword to training in addition to my staff.  I hadn’t practiced sword in almost two weeks; so I was immediately annoyed with myself, because I still wouldn’t be able to.  Merle was likely already in the car on the way to pick me up from the train to go straight to kung fu, I thought.  And we wouldn’t have enough time for her to turn around and go back for my sword then come get me.  We’d be late for class.  I concluded that I’d have to practice sword on Saturday, the same day as advanced weapons class for staff.  That was going to be intense for my arm.

When my stream of consciousness finally came rolling to a stop, it hit me.  I was sitting on the morning train not the evening one.  I had almost eight hours to call Merle and ask her to bring my sword.

Sleep deprived, anxious for kung fu and no idea what time of day it was.  Good thing Friday was right around the corner.  I clearly could use a break, even if I didn’t want one.

The Real Drive

For a few brief moments today, I actually tried to calculate how long it would take me to drive to Miami.  The answer is about nineteen and a half hours.  That’s if I’m driving the speed limit and only stop for gas and bathroom breaks and eat in the car while I’m driving.  Not going to happen – any of it.  The only reason such insanity was even batted around was because I did additional research on this weekend’s martial arts tournament and discovered it’s almost exclusively for karate.  It would be a complete waste of time and money to make an appearance.

So I decided to reconsider going to the tournament that I know is a kung fu competition – the one I also know I would need to buy a plane ticket to get to.  That one’s in Houston three weeks from now.  At the moment, it costs about five hundred roundtrip to get there and back.  That price is only going to go up the closer I get to the event, and that’s just the plane ticket.  It doesn’t include registering for the competition, two days of meals and sleeping somewhere.  I guess I could save some money by just renting a car and driving out to the Houston suburbs to crash and eat at my former in laws’ house.  But since I’ve never set foot in their house without being accompanied by their son or their grandchildren, I’m thinking it’s probably not a good idea to rely on their southern hospitality.  Scratch Houston, look to the next city on the circuit.  Which brings me to my imaginary marathon drive to Miami.

Now, the real drive to Miami, particularly if I’m driving alone, would require two overnight stops going and coming home, plus the night spent in the city itself.  So I’d need a week’s vacation for a one-day tournament that, for me personally, would last all of about three minutes.  Scratch Miami.

I’m starting to see why the bachelor with the disposable income is the only member of our school who regularly competes in tournaments that are more than a couple of hours drive away.  Like it or not, I’m going to have to wait until March for a tournament I can afford to get to.

I’m not good at waiting.  That’s probably why I’m always forced to do it.  The universe insists on giving me lots of practice.