Friday, a child who isn’t mine hugged me as if she were. When I let my arms fall away from the bear hug around her lanky 10-year-old frame, hers remained so tightly wound across my rib cage and back that I couldn’t move if I wanted to without taking her with me. A blue sash level student of mine who’s leaving for six weeks of summer camp out of state isn’t just going to miss Kung Fu; she’s specifically going to miss me. I didn’t expect it and don’t know if I deserve it, but it was a most welcomed surprise.
“I miss,” are two words I find myself saying more often than I’d like. The most recent family funeral three weeks ago was a goodbye to the last of the four women – two aunts, a grandmother and my mother – most responsible for my character and my better childhood memories. But it isn’t just the dead I miss. It’s also the remarkable young man I raised who no longer lives in my house, and the eccentric, now-teenaged girl who stopped dancing in the car years ago. I miss the former colleagues who only kept in touch when my departure from the office was new. And I miss remembering with ease where I left my glasses – or simply what day it is.
There is nothing new, of course, about middle aged people bemoaning the passage of time and the unwanted changes it brings. There’s nothing new about melancholy accompanying loss. And perhaps the most familiar remedy of life for ridding me of any hint of self-pity is the embrace of a family member. So there’s nothing new in the comfort of a hug either.
But there was something new in having a child who isn’t mine hug me as if she were. It gave “I miss” a happy meaning for the first time in recent memory.
It felt like old times. Sifu was cracking jokes. The audience was standing room only and so was the head table. A dozen black sashes were on hand to evaluate those testing. Half of the promotion candidates must have been nervous enough to wet their pants when looking at a table full of teachers, all sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities, decked out in red from neck to ankles, waiting to rate their performances. The other half was composed of three red sashes anxious to wear black themselves. Two of those were my family.
Ava had the best sparring match of her life, fearlessly battling a faster, more strategic opponent, but one much shorter and lighter than she is. She knocked him down twice with her roundhouse kicks, and she wasn’t even trying.
Then, it was Merle’s turn. Her opponent was almost a foot taller and almost 40 years younger, but neither of those facts seemed to matter. The “old lady” put the kid to shame.
The black sash demonstration – the real main event of a day geared toward trying to attract more students – was one of the most entertaining in months. Aaron gave a near flawless exhibition of 12 Kicks, and I performed White Eyebrow in public for the very first time. Nerves slowed my pace, but I made no errors. Both Aaron and I received words of approval from Sifu.
October testing day was the first time ever that all four members of the family performed at the guan on the same day. We all had a reason to be proud and happy. It felt like old times… only better.
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!
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.
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. 🙂
My beautiful babes were in a goofy mood as they waited to get through airport security. I’m in the middle of day one of nine without my loquacious Minecraft and Warriors-loving girl and my ear buds-donning, bilingual boy, with arms full of self-made bracelets.
He held up the security line for a good five minutes getting them off and back on. I’m fairly certain he’ll pack some of them on the way back.
All four family members sweat together in Saturday’s upper sash class. It’s the only hour of the kung fu week that we’re all guaranteed to be together. So, of course, I missed my kids today — particularly as my beleaguered glutes started screaming for relief somewhere around the forty-fifth outside crescent kick.
Misery loves company. In this Saturday of seemingly endless kicks and horse stance holding, my daughter would have commiserated and then some. “Batman” might have asked to kick in another rotation or two. Then, I would’ve wanted to kick him. 🙂
Watching from the car as my children and other students awaited the arrival of Siheng, I realized that a month had passed since last we had a Thursday with Pooh. First he was on vacation; then, we were college hopping. It was good to see him again.
But my children’s adopted local dad came back from vacation with a bee in his britches. No more socializing, goofing off, complaining, he lectured. His is an advanced class; it’s time to stop acting like beginners, he told the class. He took half of the blame for the relaxed atmosphere on his watch, but no more. Pooh was decidedly out of honey, yet no one seemed to mind.
It was a hard-working, focused session. My son leaves town on a high note for vacation with the grandparents; my daughter leaves with the worrisome realization that even with Pooh, who’s awfully fond of her, she’s going to have to act like a red sash – finally.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? She might get tapped for black sash testing earlier than she thinks.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Merle practiced all of her under sash forms to prepare for her first of twelve black sash tests. The kids are going to miss cheering her on for the first test but will have a front-row seat for number two. If all goes well, my better half and I will share the same black sash award anniversary weekend every January. That thought makes me grin until my cheeks hurt.
Speaking of hurt cheeks, there’s nothing like a form full of deep empty stances (at least four, by quick count) to make this woman more conscious of her ass than I ever wanted to be. I’ve spent so much time this summer concentrating on swinging the staff, running with it, walking with it, turning, etc. that I was temporarily oblivious to the pain that can be generated just standing still with it, like below. Of course the only reason they hurt so much is because this pose is much closer to the floor these days than it is here.
Progress can be painful… especially when the goofing off is done.
I slithered out of the way just in time. A sixteen year old, who was a black sash before I even started kung fu, almost ran me into a mirror tonight by barreling against me with his head. But when the buzzer sounded two minutes later, he was the one staggering for balance to keep from hitting the floor.
My middle toe feels like I broke it on his elbow, and my ribs are grateful he was three inches too far from me when he began his sidekick. I felt the impact but withstood it with a flinch. The extra three inches would have put my stomach in my throat and my knees on the carpet.
This is one of those nights that I can’t believe I’m forty-five years old, severely arthritic and missing cartilage in both of my knees. If only I could move as fast and feel as good with the half dozen other daily challenges that keep the adrenaline pumping! But we really can’t have it all…. 🙂
My son, on the other hand, can have it all, it seems. While enjoying his Spanish immersion program in his month away from home, his martial arts skills got him adopted by the Chinese immersion folks. Here he is, front and center, at their world expo in the final weekend of the program (the one on the right). It’ll be good to have him back home and in Sanshou – though his sidekicks cause more than a flinch!
My gym is closed this Easter Sunday, which left me with far too much time on my hands after cooking and baking for the family. So what did I do? I fed my need for a kung fu infusion by revisiting my daughter’s tournament performance last weekend and my own. I got a touch creative with the video while I was at it.
Enjoy the minute of long staff and the rest of the day. Happy Easter to those who are celebrating it!
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:
They’re supposed to look like this while I’m spinning:
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!
The stances could have been lower and my knees could have been higher, but when all was said and done…I was a happy long-staff-loving martial artist Saturday. Here’s a bit of it, without audio (long story).
I have a live show to produce in less than twelve hours, so this is all for now. Everyone out there who cares about it: have a fun and safe Superbowl Sunday.