Category Archives: sports

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.

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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…. 🙂


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.


Nothing But Crickets

The God of my understanding has a strange sense of humor.  I can’t say I’ve ever liked it much, and last night was no exception.

My better half has never had an affinity for martial arts.  It’s just exercise to stay in shape and provides quality time with the kids and me.  She’s also never been all that enamored with her career as a massage therapist.  She’s extremely gifted at it, as any client of hers will attest to, but it too is exercise.  It requires body mechanics that are probably more complex than those needed for good kung fu.  In short, her work can be as physically taxing as the family hobby.

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For the nine months that she’s been eligible to test for black sash, she’s vacillated on wanting to, while also dealing with minor injuries.  There are a number of red sashes perfectly content to stay where they are in rank.  They attend class mostly to become better fighters and nothing more.  But after watching both me and our boy go through the process, Merle decided to try her hand at acquiring a few of those positive changes the experience gave us.  Mostly, she didn’t want to regret not having tried.

Thursday night, at her second test for black sash, the first of six with sparring, she caught her foot against a loose rug in the basement training room while warming up.  The resulting injury to her knee left her unable to test… and possibly unable to work.

As she sat in the waiting room of the orthopedist’s office this morning, she was notified by gallery personnel that she sold a second piece of art in as many days, after months of hearing nothing but crickets by way of artistic reception.  Sculpting is the other work she does with her hands, the one that feeds the soul, if not the family.  It’s the job that brings her joy.

What are we to make of this debilitating injury sandwiched between music to an artist’s ears?  God has a strange sense of humor, all right – one that I’m rarely fond of.  And yet… I can’t say I’d want to gamble on living without it.


Ninety and Ninety

Ninety minutes of learning in the guan today.  Ninety minutes of teaching at the gym.  My most faithful student came early and stayed late for the final class of the session, and I hobbled together an hour of self-training in the time before and after she left.  By the time I washed off the day’s training and teaching in the shower, I’d been in one set of kung fu clothes or another for more than eight hours and felt like I’d worked every muscle I have, whether I wanted to or not.

It was a successful, exhausting day of martial arts mania.  And I liked it.  A lot.

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Here’s hoping the next session brings many more like it… along with new and better ways to  nurse my knees when the days are done! 🙂


The Only Variable

I took a night off from kung fu last night, which always leaves me anxious to get back a little faster.  My mind’s already in the guan. But there’s a lot besides kung fu going on in my head today; so I’m going to let things tumble as they may.

A third member of the family has begun black sash testing.  Here’s Merle post sparring practice with me, sometime last week.

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Our girl has decided that she’s not thrilled about being the only member of the family who’s not yet eligible for testing.  All of a sudden, Ava’s stepping up her game and executing some of the better kicking combinations she’s ever put out.  Today will tell the tale on whether she’s really pushing for eligibility. Today, she has the sparring practice that she dreads, and I want her to do well.  I want her to be deemed eligible for testing if she wants to be.

In her favor is the absence of a brother who’s normally a thorn in her side whenever the sparring gear goes on.  Tonight, he’s going to work.

This fact was a bone of contention of sorts last night, as I always seem to be the last to know when his plans change.  Now that Merle is testing, that can be inconvenient, with one car in the family and three people who often have different places to be that are 10 to 40 miles apart or the same place to be at different times.  I’m apparently supposed to “just chill” when a conflict arises, even if it could easily have been avoided by a sharing of information – and even though I’ve requested info sharing ad nauseum.  Such is the plight of parenting a teenager who, by definition, thinks he should be in charge of all aspects of his life at all times, legal liability and severe financial restraints aside, among other things.

Every once and while I have to stop, take a breath and say aloud, “I’m sorry, Mom,” because what goes around truly does come back around.  My son has become just as good at telling me what he thinks is wrong with me as I was at telling my mother.  And that’s just the way it is.  It’s his turn.

Here’s what I know about parenthood, regardless of how my children assess me, each other, themselves: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid.”

I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I remember feeling socked in the gut with its undeniable truth.  I was so moved by it when I first heard it a dozen years ago that I repeated it to half a dozen friends and co-workers, all of whom visibly had the same reaction that I’d felt.  This fact is the reason my son probably hasn’t heard the word “no” from me more than a half dozen times in his 17-plus years (and my daughter’s heard it a lot less than she should, given behavioral issues not entirely in her control).  It’s also the reason I make myself nuts getting them to where they want and/or need to be.

I am unhappy when they are.  Period.  The only variable is the extent.  I can chill all day long if all I have to care about is me, but I doubt there’s a good (custodial) parent on the planet who lives that way.

I have children living near downtown Baltimore, going to underfunded public and parochial schools, with peer influences that haven’t always been good.  But today, I’m not worried about drugs, sex, gangs or bullies – just whether my girl can get eligible for testing if she wants to and if my son can get into and afford the college of his choice.  I’m still moving slowly at becoming a duck (explained here), but I’m surely doing something right!


Surreal but Serene

It all started with flying headgear.  My right hook flung the old, ill-fitting, vinyl-covered foam across the room, where it struck the mirror before laying limp over the air conditioning grate.  I stepped back with hands up, giving the 15-year-old powerhouse the room to retrieve it, but she declined.  I insisted she return the protective covering to her head; she insisted I continue the fight.

I looked at her face, hidden behind long, disheveled hair, and for just a moment I could see it.  She wasn’t simply exhausted after the ninth fighting rotation of the class; she was irritated – more than was warranted by losing her headgear to the second or third punch of our match.

I looked to my left and quickly caught a glimpse of a grin on her older brother’s face.  Less than a minute earlier, she’d been fighting her greatest and longest-standing rival, an 18-year-old bulky brawler with good footwork (long-haired blonde in the picture below), who was good at keeping his hands in motion before punching.  My opponent was annoyed at her brother, and she wanted to take it out on me.  She wanted to be the one doing the beating for a while.

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Against my better judgment, I got back in fighting stance and threw a jab to the top of her stomach.  Immediately after it hit, she was wrapped around my midsection and driving hard, trying to use her uncovered head to push me to the floor.  It was reminiscent of a fight earlier in the summer discussed here; only, my most logical and effective weapon of throwing upper cuts to a face in perfect position to receive them couldn’t be used.  I had to remember that she wasn’t wearing headgear.  Just as I was swinging my hips to fling her off of me, I caught sight of the wall she was rapidly approaching and knew her head would hit first.

“Wait a minute!”  I said as I pulled my hips back the other direction to slow her collide with the wall.  “I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t hit you in the head.”

“Hit her in the head!” her brother said while punching someone else.  She agreed.

I looked around for our instructor, thinking he’d put a stop to the MMA-style thinking these kids were famous for.  He was too wrapped up in his own match to say a word.  He was also used to granting their family permission to bloody each other.  So, with no one telling me I couldn’t hit her in the head unless she was wearing headgear, we proceeded.

It was among the more surreal experiences of my martial arts life.  For the remaining ninety seconds or so it felt like I was fending off a mugger – an upper class, suburban mugger with a few pounds on me, despite the three decades I have on her.  Fending her off required that I pummel the unprotected head (and body) of a doctor’s daughter – with the doctor in the room, saying nothing!  Go figure!

“That was not at all ‘light and fast,’” I said, quoting Siheng Mark’s directive on how to fight.  Moving on to the last opponent, still winded from fighting the kid and the eight opponents before her, I thought: What is with these teenagers?  Do they always fight like they have to take out the world, even with each other?  Or do they just need to prove that a middle-aged woman with really bad knees is not going beat them?

I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t care.  I just know that the two teens who literally tried to knock me down this summer couldn’t.


Sash Levels and Surveys

This is what boot camp must be like.  Going to sleep late after nursing one’s strained muscles until well past midnight, then rising early to abuse the body all over again.  Only in boot camp, one gets paid for the privilege.  As much as I love kung fu, sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  The  morning after the Friday night class is usually when that happens.

With my students out of town this weekend and Merle beginning testing (and thus required to attend Friday class), I accompanied her to the guan last night to find that things had changed a bit since the last time I was there.  In walked two green sashes and a blue sash, making me wonder if I was in the right place.  Friday night used to be a red and black sash class only where the body was put through the grinder of kung fu techniques for two hours.  The presence of the lower sashes didn’t lessen the repetitions, but it drastically eased the difficulty level of the drills.  What’s happening to Sifu?  I thought.

This discovery came in the same week that my inbox included a survey from him.  A survey.  The man who practically screamed at me back in February that things are the way they are, they’re going to stay that way, and I need to take it or leave it, is now asking all his students to tell him what they think could stand to be changed about the curriculum, teaching methods – the whole kit and caboodle.  I like to think that his unfortunate exchange with me in February set him to thinking about being set in his ways.  But maybe it’s just fatherhood that’s changing him.  Either way, I’ll take it!

Now, I’ve got to get ready for more kung fu.

 


Bending Before the Break

Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want.  I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late.  My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence.  I just love it when that’s the case.

Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command.  It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me.  But it’s not enough anymore.

I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day.  My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good.  More to the point, her  presence made the first grader work harder.  I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves.  I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat.  Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week.  (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)

The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that.  My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too.  I never thought marketing would give me a charge.

Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism?  I believe I could.  And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.

In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life.  Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!