Tag Archives: injury

Middle of the Last Decade

“There are muscles hurting I didn’t know I had.”

My son’s very glib response to this announcement was, “Well, at least now you know you have them.”  I wanted to go a round with him after that one, but in my state, he would have won before I moved a finger.

I attended Sanshou class Monday night for the first time and walked myself into a state of contented numbness. We did footwork drills – forward and back, side to side – for so long that the pain in my knees and calves had me moments from telling Siheng that I had to bow out of the exercise, perhaps even the class. But a funny thing happened on the way to paralysis.

While chanting in my head “get to the end” in the middle of what turned out to be row ten, the searing pain in my tense, overworked, pissed-off knees and calves dissolved. It just disappeared into the steamy air that covers the windows with condensation. In its place was a numbness that enabled freer movement.

What just happened here? I thought, switching directions to do the sideways two-step back down the floor. There was the obvious, clichéd reality that by continuing to do what I was supposed to do, I’d made it to the other side. But something brand spanking new had happened, too; I could literally feel it in my bones through the aching that set in later in the night.

Sure enough, I woke up Tuesday feeling like mind and spirit had been transplanted into someone else’s body. Nothing hurt! I mean nothing. The last time I could say that without aid of a shot was about the middle of last decade! If I’d known that moving around with bent knees for the better part of thirty non-stop minutes (and then another hour of it, with a handful of standing-up and sitting-down breaks sprinkled in) would be some kind of cure for what physically ails me, I would have joined Sanshou on day one!

Perhaps it’s a fluke, and my knees and lower back will be killing me by the end of eight hours at a desk. But for now, I’m a convert on a cloud of happy anxious to practice more footwork.

Did I just say that?

Retiring a Partner

I’ve been in denial about my beloved staff.  It’s time to give up the ghost.  I must replace it as soon as possible.

I aggravated my shoulder twice last night when I abruptly clenched my hand and arm to keep the former from sliding across the splintered section of wood on my staff.  I don’t know who I was kidding when I said the missing chunk wouldn’t interfere with the hand slides.  Maybe I was just tired at the end of training and not executing properly when I imagined I wouldn’t get splinters from the break.  But reality is now here.  And reality bites.


My attachment to my weapons is obviously strong, and I’m not alone in that phenomenon in the martial arts world. The better we get at our weapons forms, the more it feels like the object itself is its own actor in our performance, capable of doing powerful and beautiful things in anyone’s hand, because IT is so cool.  While there’s inevitable joy in starting over with an improved version (the first of any of kind of weapon is rarely the best fit, even after getting used to it), there’s still some grief in retiring a partner earlier than planned.

Ah, well.  One of the few guarantees in life is that everything changes.  Truth be told, this change should be a good one.

Hope and Headaches

It finally happened – the slam that broke the staff. A small section near the top of the narrow end splintered, leaving the length of the staff in tact with a chunk missing from one side. The damage isn’t even in a section that interferes with sliding my hands around; so I’m not at risk for splinters. Still, I’m going to have to replace it before I can use it in another tournament – an expense I was putting off as long as possible. That’s the bad news from the weekend.

The good news is that I learned a bit of how to spin the staff while also spinning my body around. It’s a move I’ve been most fearful of, since it always looked likely to come with a few knocks of the staff against my head. Sure enough, it does. The edges of my frontal plate, where forehead turns into temple, are both feeling pretty tender. I’m just glad there aren’t two symmetrical knots at the top of my face.

Even better news: I met with my future supervisor today at the gym and was also introduced to head of operations. They tell me that the soonest they’ll get the class started is the middle of May, but they’re toying with the idea of just waiting for the summer. When school’s out, I’m virtually guaranteed to have parents beside themselves looking for things for their children to do that don’t involve sitting in front of a screen. I still hope I can get back at it sooner rather than later.

Not much else happening in my kung fu world that hasn’t been written about incessantly. I’m just filled these days with hope and headaches and grateful for such a high class of problems.

A Small Moment

“I don’t really want to be here anymore,” he said quietly with a perplexed look on his face. “I feel like I did back when I took those two months off.”

I was surprised to hear this from him, since just a month ago, he’d made clear to me that if I decided to leave the school, he was staying. He was prepared to pay for his own contract, and he clearly wasn’t clouded by any codependent need to go down with his mother in my fall from grace with Sifu. At the time, I couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt. I likewise couldn’t help but feel a bit pleased at his unexpected declaration of dissatisfaction.

“I’d rather be at the gym myself,” I whispered, conscious of the fact that the walled-off office we were standing next to has no ceiling‎. I’d aggravated my worn out right shoulder the previous day while changing a flat tire, and the bad mood I’d already noticed on Sifu made me fearful of further injury. Additionally, my changed feelings about the man and his school easily explained my preference for self-training at the gym. My son’s feelings were another story.

He didn’t know on Saturday morning why he didn’t want to be there, and the feeling may not last long enough to matter. But it turned out to be a small moment of needed camaraderie in a physically painful day of a ridiculously long month. And as long as I have to be there (to learn the rest of my new form), I’ll take all the good feelings I can get.

Tournament Eve

It was a beautiful evening in Charlotte, North Carolina – especially from the top of the university campus at dusk, at the start of a track meet.



Tomorrow morning, the family and I will be pacing and warming up in the winding corridors of this building, awaiting the call of our numbers to show what we know in each of our events.


As luck would have it, I strained, sprained, pinched or otherwise aggravated the arm and shoulder that the staff demands the most of while sparring in Thursday night’s class.  So the jury is out on what I’ll be able to do tomorrow.  Meanwhile, my daughter has decided to get out of the audience and onto the competition floor, which made the trip extra special before we’d even put the weapons in the car!

It’s feeling a little like waiting for Santa….  A pretty nice feeling on the second day of spring. 🙂

The Next Challenge

I did twenty-one forms last night, and aside from needing more sleep, I feel good.  I wasn’t intending to supersize it on the training; I just threw in a few sword forms (to see, one last time, if I could pull off a performance worthy of public consumption on a form that wreaks havoc on my right shoulder.) I also did more repetitions than initially intended on the brand new staff form in my repertoire, White Eyebrow.   Toss in practice for the competition forms of long staff and Lian Huan Tui, and all of a sudden I was doing more than twenty forms in a day for the first time in about a year.  There’s nothing like the freedom of space, time, happy joints and dormant sciatica!

Another first last night was the discovery that I’ve regained great enough vertical distance on my kicking combination that I can once again do the mid-air kicks in the sword form.  The calendar year was 2010 the last time I could leap high enough to complete those kicks with a sword held behind my back and not come down too hard, too soon and sideways on a really bad knee, injuring it further.  In fact, it was the third knee operation (the first that occurred as a student of kung fu) that grounded those sword form kicks for me.  It’s great to know that once I find out what needs to be done to get the shoulder back in shape, I may one day get the complete sword form in as good a shape as long staff.   But that’s not something I’ll be putting a lot of energy into any time in the near future.  White Eyebrow is the next training priority, and frankly, it’s hard in the most irritating of ways – subtly.

I’ve been charged with perfecting the first half of the form before Sifu will teach me anymore of it.  And the impediment to improvement is spinning the staff with my feet together.  Turns out that after seven years of knee injuries and operations, I can’t put my feet together!   When my thighs and knees are touching, this is what my feet look like:

 feet apart

They’re supposed to look like this while I’m spinning:

feet together

The only way I’m able to pull off the feet-together position is to turn my legs and knees inward toward each other, to become pigeon…kneed.  That’s fine at the very beginning of class or a form, when bowing to the teacher, but sustained for several seconds, while twisting the waist and hips from right to left and spinning a seventy-seven inch staff???  Good grief!

The next physical challenge has officially been set!  And I haven’t even gotten to the running-while-spinning part…. Oy!

Coming in Flat

It was the summer before my last year of college, and I was at work waiting tables on a slow weekday night.   I took the microphone at the piano in the jazz lounge, as the boss often let me do when customers weren’t in the mood to take advantage of open mic time.  I was halfway through an old Fats Waller tune when I started to struggle with my chest voice and unexpectedly drifted flat on the high note.  Though I was still almost two years away from abandoning life as a starving artist, that was the moment I knew that although I’d spent a decade as a kid and young adult singing on amateur stages, I would likely never do so on a professional one.  That night at the mic with the Fats Waller tune was the last time I sang in public.

Tuesday at school, I began preparing in earnest for the next kung fu tournament, one in which I can afford to compete in more than one event.  When I reached the spin section of the sword form, my bicep screamed out in protest.  It wasn’t the first time the spins had damaged me.  My forearm was first stressed by the move as long as three years ago, and I relieved that discomfort with a brace that’s often given to folks with tennis elbow.  It worked well enough to get me through the sword form I had to master to pass from brown sash to red.  But a year of enthusiastic staff training (enough to cause shoulder issues shortly before the last tournament) has altered and expanded the problem.  It’s now moved up the arm to the muscles most used with staff.

Sword is my best under sash form.  I loved it for so long that you could never have convinced me it would be replaced in my kung fu affections by the staff.  There’s a beauty to it that doesn’t exist with staff.  The flow of the sword and the choreograph y of the jumps and lunges that accompany the “cuts” can be like watching an urgent ballet.  The common reaction to a good sword form is “oooh,” while the common reaction to a good staff form is “whoa!”  It’s beauty versus brawn.

The very first time I competed it was with the sword form, and I did pretty well.  The last time I competed with sword it was okay but greatly overshadowed by the new skills with staff.  I was looking forward to bringing sword up to staff level, but that’s simply not going to happen if I want to keep using my right arm.

Last night, alone in the basement at the guan as wushu class began, felt like being back at that mic in a DC piano bar some twenty-five years ago.  I can forever do the sword form for fun, for the pure love of it, but not in competition.  Skipping the spins would be like skipping a song’s crescendo.  Doing them slowly and unevenly would be like coming in flat on the high note.   It would just never knowingly be done – not in public.

It took a total of three executions of the form, two more attempts to get through the arm pain on the spins after the initial bicep scream, to admit and accept it.  My sword days are over.

I will mourn those days but only for a little while, for it could easily have been worse.  I could have lost my sword skills without anything to replace them.  I could have all together lost the ability to do kung fu.

The High End of Good

I’m not a natural at kung fu.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never been a natural at any sport or athletic activity.

I made the basketball team in junior high school on the strength of my height and blocking ability alone, then proceeded to fracture seven of my ten fingers, in one block after another, during the one season that I played.  I made the varsity volleyball team in high school, also on the strength of height and blocking ability, but couldn’t serve to save my life and therefore rarely played through an entire rotation.

I was overweight until my teens made me care about appearance, so it was actually a miracle that I thinned down enough to play any sport in school.  But being better coordinated didn’t come with the better figure.  So even if I wasn’t middle aged and arthritic, with easy-to-tear tendons and ligaments, martial arts still would have been a challenge for me from day one.

I separate my kung fu life into the pre and post black sash testing phases, because the nature of the testing process required that I significantly improve on everything that came before it in order to be awarded the prize.  So I did.  The difference in my testing grades for undersash forms versus those for the six months of black sash testing say it all.  And yet, even on a pain-free, properly-fed day, the quality of my kung fu execution at the time of my final promotion was never better than the high end of good – especially compared to the naturals.  Then, along came the long staff form.

It was instantly fun and obviously useful, with nothing subtle about its power.  There were plenty of stances that needed to be low and plenty of footwork timing to keep it interesting, but none of its moves were completely prohibited by my injuries and chronic pain.  Long staff was the first form in which my age, arthritis and operations didn’t work against me.  It was the first form at which I was better than the high end of good.

I was elated by this new reality and wanted to find space to practice at every opportunity, to maintain the higher level of performance.  I suspect that motivation was obvious to all sharing the floor with me.  That would certainly explain why they never asked me to move….

Game of Inches

I once believed that wet weather was a bad omen.  I can’t remember the exact source of that belief, though it was probably an older and allegedly wiser member of my superstitious family from a small country town.  I’m glad that’s one of the things that fell by the wayside as I aged.  Had it not, I’d be climbing the walls right now listening to the unmistakable sound of cars flying down wet roads and water falling from a darkened sky.  Instead, I’m just anxious to get out the door, as I normally am on a Saturday morning.  But this is not a normal Saturday.

The Chinese New Year demonstration is this evening.  Though I chose not to be in it, to keep from adding extra stress on my joints for something that’s literally just for show, I want everything to go off without a hitch for my kung fu family.  There are a lot of moving parts in this one – far more than in years past, and it seems to mean a great deal to Sifu to impress the local Chinese community.  The school this morning is bound to be filled with nervous energy.

As physically large, complicated and important to our leader as it may be, it’s all secondary to the main event of the day.  Our contender, the Boy Wonder, competes for the national team today.  Last he told me, there was a bruise on his heel causing him trouble.

One of the most impressive moves in the form he performs today requires that he come out of a jump and land into a split.  I haven’t seen the split happen correctly since the bruise appeared two weeks ago.  I can’t imagine he’ll make the team if he can’t execute that move.

It’s truly a game of inches – a fact that’s true in all sports, of course.  The difference between success and mediocrity can be just a centimeter or two one direction or the other.

May any and all gods he needs be with him today.  May the adrenaline of performing make that semi-healed bruise unnoticeable as he flies and lands.  If there can only be one flawless performance of the two that matter today, let it be the Boy Wonder’s.  His is for so much more than show.

Friday’s Resolve

Fridays have been my own for almost two months now.  I decided around mid-December that I was no longer going to subject my body to the often brutal regimen of the two-hour Friday night class.  Life being what it is, Sifu decided about a week after my decision that rehearsals for the Chinese New Year demonstration would take place of Friday night, in place of class.  So my resolve has yet to be tested.  But it hit me like a ton of bricks tonight that with the Chinese New Year performance occurring this weekend, that’s all about to change.

I’ve been all kinds of happy with my kung fu life since the holiday break and for very good reasons.  I’ve worked my long staff form into highly-respectable shape, enjoyed teaching a growing group of enthusiastic students, started learning forms that are outside of our curriculum; and improved the range and pain tolerance of my knees and back.  I want to maintain this level of happy for as long as possible.

So, I hereby publicly declare that I will not be guilted into returning to something that often hurts me to an intolerable degree.  I have a couple of weeks to work with, but I’m fortifying my mind early.  My physical ability to continue doing this thing I love for as long as I want may depend on it.

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!