Tag Archives: learning

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.

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The Honest Answer

It feels like I’ve been a student of communication forever.  The thing I tend to catch pretty easily – probably because it’s a pet peeve as much as it can be a professional liability – is when an answer to a question I’ve asked is nonresponsive.  Politicians are great at that: telling an interviewer whatever sound bites they want repeated, rather than actually answering the question that was asked.  People who aren’t big fans of direct communication or who simply have their own reasons for avoiding the truth are good at it, too.

I thought of Sifu as good at being nonresponsive, after our communication catastrophe earlier in the year, which effectively ended with a demand for my silence.  But after six months of squelching my natural impulse to simply ask for the information I want, an overflowing class of first-timers on Saturday compelled me to offer to teach again at the guan and ask Sifu if he’d allow it.  If ever there were a time to call in the teaching cavalry, it would have been with Saturday’s motley crew; so I was surprised and upset not to have been tapped.

When I first read his emailed response, all I could see was this: “I appreciate the offer to help.  But it’s not necessary at this time.”  You didn’t answer my question! I thought.  But I received the email right before having to give my attention to a group of friends for a couple of hours.  The time spent not thinking about the nonresponsive nature of his answer was a godsend.  For when I reread the exchange later in the evening, I saw more than I had upon initial reading.

He’d also told me that he understood I was willing to help and would keep me in mind in the future.  I was still a possible substitute somewhere down the line.  I just didn’t know when.  He might not know either.

So what’s the big deal, one may ask?  The episode made me wonder if I need to reconsider what constitutes nonresponsive.  Perhaps questions of mine that I think have a definitive black or white answer actually don’t.  Maybe instead of yes or no, the honest answer is I don’t know.  Maybe the question itself isn’t as clear as I think it should be to the reader or listener.  Maybe, just maybe, I misread or misinterpret the answer simply because it doesn’t contain what I want it to.

Sifu may have just been letting me down easy.  I have no way to know.  But the questions his answer made me ask myself were a worthwhile lesson for this student of communication.


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.

 


Britches and Cheeks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Progress can be painful… especially when the goofing off is done.


The Corporate Go Ahead

The first email appeared around 9:30 a.m.  The member of the marketing department in charge of announcing the enrollment period for the second session liked all the changes I asked to make to my class.  She enthusiastically jumped into creating two fliers and website announcements: one announcing a demo session for parents and children; the other detailing the cost and session dates.

But I kept waiting for a shoe to fall.  I was quite conscious that, excluding the owners of the gym, there were three people above her on the company hierarchy.  Just because she liked the idea of a family class didn’t mean I had the corporate go ahead.  An hour later, I had that go ahead and more.  The head of the marketing department announced her approval of the class changes, and the program director for the entire company was cc’d on the email, indicating the off-camera conversation, as we like to say at that day job.

For the rest of the day, emails flew back and forth tweaking wording and pricing.  It felt like a joint endeavor to kick the next session off right – something I’d been sorely missing for a first session that was hastily thrown together after weeks of delays.

It’s been a depressing few days, as a job that would have paid me what I want and allowed me to work from home was waved in front of me like a cookie before a toddler, then snatched away just as I began to sink my teeth into it.  I wasn’t even looking for it; didn’t know it was there.  An old college friend breezed into town and told me I had to sit down with his boss to discuss running their communications department.  I left our impromptu lunch with him clearly stating he wanted to hire me.  But the partner I didn’t meet overruled him.  Or so I was told.

Today’s excitement and anticipation was small but important.  I needed to feel something going right.  And I got what I needed.


Playdate with Punches

Sifu and Siheng Steve have the same sports car.  It’s the school sticker on the back windshield of Sifu’s that alerts me to our leader’s presence before I reach the school door.  When I saw it Monday night, the only night of the week he doesn’t come to the guan, I knew immediately that he was filling in for Siheng Chris, teaching the beginner class.  It’s been six months since Sifu suspended my teaching privileges, and he still doesn’t call me to fill.  Even though I now have a class of my own that will hopefully grow, it still hurts a little to feel outside the fold.  I suspect that the pain will decrease in direct proportion to the success of my class at the gym.  So I’ll just keep the focus where it belongs.

To that end, I’m happily anticipating the announcement for the second session of the class.  This one will be open to parents as well, just as the guan is filled with families of students.  I’m finding, as my young charges become more annoyed with the increased level of energy required of them to learn the white sash form, that the class may have been assumed to be a playdate with punching, instead of an actual kung fu class.  It will be good to have parents know what they’ve actually signed their kids up for.  It will also be good to have students with a longer attention span mixed in with the ones who need to be entertained.  Here’s hoping I get a good turnout, whatever the mix.


Randomness and Reason

Does everything happen for a reason?  I used to believe adamantly that it did.  Then, a series of hard and horrible things happened over a few years, and I was at a loss as to why.  So my brain did a 180 and started thinking of everything as random.  It was easier that way.

Now, I wait to hear whether an unrequested gift that was dangled unexpectedly before me a week ago will in fact be mine.  I wait wondering if it’s a gift at all or merely the greatest reason I’ve had in years to reconsider whether everything happens for a reason.

Meanwhile a trip to Target before afternoon training at the gym brought another unexpected gift our way.  I was there for a reason: new workout shirts.  My son made a random decision to accompany his sister and me, and it led him to the happiest shopping moment of his life.

He’s wanted to be Batman since he was three.  Thanks to his afternoon purchase, he feels a step closer.  So… does everything happen for a reason?

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It’s the Little Things

The last couple of days have been filled with little things that make me happy.  Just going home to Connecticut means visiting with aunts, cousins and a cantankerous 95-year-old grandmother that would stop speaking to me if I photographed her at this stage in her life.

It also includes a mandatory visit to the grocery store of my childhood, which happens to be the coolest place on the planet to buy food.  I get a kick out of watching my kids make a beeline for their favorite items in a store that’s enthralled me from the first time I watched the milk go into the half gallon carton we’d later bring home.

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We later enjoyed the comfortable hospitality of the aunt-in-law’s beautiful Brooklyn brownstone.  That was actually not a little thing.  Having a relative with the space to put us all up saved the expense of hotel for four people. Yay!

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Come Thursday morning, we were back evaluating colleges in weather that teased us with threats of rain that thankfully never came.  Cloudy-turned-to-sunny is another little thing that makes me happy.

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I had the presence of mind to save my arthritic knees for pounding the pavement farther down the highway in Philadelphia and simply watched my boy wander around the Redmen’s Queens campus from the top of a very large stairway.

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After fighting the insanity of New Jersey Turnpike traffic, we arrived fifteen minutes late for the last tour of our trip.  But we managed to catch up with the groups just as they were leaving the auditorium and beginning the walk around the campus.  Perfect timing – a little thing that often feels huge.

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Another traffic battle through Philly’s rush hour brought us home to a water heater hose repair and more than an hour of separating preservable photos from the ones that had to be discarded.  The upside, of course, was a visit with old pictures and warm memories.

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Bottom line at the end of a whirlwind trip: it’s the little things that make for life’s big days!


Leaking & Looking

The day started with the hot water heater literally showering boxes of photos in the basement, with a profoundly poor-timed leak.  The four of us were on our way out the door for Aaron’s college visits but delayed the departure to spread dozens of pre-digital memories out on the family room floor.  Here’s hoping the pictures dry well enough to be worth keeping.

Rather than be bogged down with depression over drenched photographs, I spent the day taking dozens more of a child who grew much too fast and is a measly year away from moving on.   He’s still looking for where he’s going next, and we were along for the ride.  Actually, we were the ride.

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Robbers in the Bushes

Several months ago, a twelve-year-old was robbed of her cellphone at gun point by a fellow adolescent, in a neighborhood adjacent to mine.  It turns out she was a schoolmate of my six-year-old kung fu student.  A former schoolmate, that is.  My martial arts ingénue no longer goes to that school.

I learned this in a conversation that started with: “My friends think there are robbers in the bushes on my street.  I think so, too.”  I asked pointed questions in a curious and casual way as we did our cool-down stretches at the end of class.  She answered with several non-sequiturs and a tangent or two before telling me enough to remind me of the news story about the cell phone robbery that had so alarmed me in the spring.  Then she concluded with: “But I can just give them a karate chop!”

Is that why a six-year-old ballet dancer with piano lessons is also enrolled in kung fu? I wondered.  For self-defense, a sense of security, the ability to ward off the robbers she thinks are in the bushes?

In a six-week beginner course at the gym, there’s only so far we can get on that mission.  But if the bear hugs she keeps giving me on the way out the door are any indication, she seems confident I’m up for the task.  She certainly gave me a lot to think about as I practiced the newest moves of White Eyebrow.


The Right Right

The little guy can only keep his balance for about two seconds at a time.  That makes a snap kick hard to execute.  He, like most young children, can’t point his toes, which makes a snap kick potentially painful for him.  He doesn’t level out his thighs when he gets into a horse stance, and he has trouble remembering right from left.  Yet, he is an excellent student.

His eyes stay glued to my hands when we’re doing double straight punches, and I can see him mouthing the numbers I’m calling out to him, as the repetition count grows.  He emphatically announces, “I remember that!” for every technique reviewed from Sunday’s class and quickly demonstrates the accuracy of his recall.  He takes it upon himself to review his knowledge of left from right, sporadically checking with me on which is which: “This one is the right, right?”  Above all, he does every exercise I ask him to do without complaint.  That’s a first for a five-year-old student.

I’m fairly certain that, though he seems to like me just fine, he’s not all that interested in kung fu.  He’s in my class because his father wants to foster some kind of athletic interest in him.  He works hard regardless because he wants to make dad proud.

I can’t teach him the same way I do the ones who want to be there.  I have to switch gears and tactics to keep from losing his attention and his smile.  It’s a challenge I’ve never encountered before.  I wasn’t permitted to care at the guan whether students were having a good time – or, rather, I wasn’t permitted to show that I cared.  But now that the rules are my own, I have to do my best to meet this challenge.  An excellent student deserves no less.


Keeping Up & Staying Cool

Not much to say tonight.  Just feeling happy, joyous, free… and exhausted.

Kung fu this week has been high-flying, painful, satisfying and fun.  Keeping up with Siheng Brandon is an exercise in futility for my old bones, but it’s awfully fun to watch.

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Equally sweat producing was the beginning of the tours of college campuses that being the mother of an incoming senior brings.  As luck would have it, it was 100 in the shade as we pounded the pavement of Terp territory.  Here’s hoping next week in my beloved New England and New York will be cooler!

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