Tag Archives: lifestyle

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.

Advertisements

…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.

IMG_20140903_232042

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.”

IMG_20140908_202509

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.

IMG_20140914_130714

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…. 🙂


Charmed

I’ve never seen a single episode of the HBO program The Wire. What makes that strange is the fact that I live in the city where it’s set.  I’ve lived in Baltimore for six years, now; so I’ve had plenty of time to rectify the anomaly.  But the longer I live here the more I’m happy I’ve never seen a show that I’m told presents the worst aspects of the city, albeit in fictional form.

001-the-wire-theredlist(from HBO.com)

These were my thoughts early this afternoon walking five blocks down the street to my neighborhood Safeway.  It’s been forever since I’ve been out of the office and home, with the time and opportunity to walk to the grocery store, and it was a beautiful day for it.

This is the view in the front of the place where I buy most of the family’s food.

IMG_20140912_120114

IMG_20140912_120130

IMG_20140912_120122

The Wire’s settings are very real, however, and we go through a few of them on the way to the guan and back.  So I fully understand the D.C. friends who asked incredulously why I was moving to Baltimore – almost all of whom asked, “Haven’t you seen The Wire?”

Nope.  I’ll get around to it eventually.  But much to the chagrin of my D.C. native son (my daughter considers herself from Baltimore, despite being born in D.C.), in a battle between the nation’s capital and Charm City, the latter has won me over… in everything but baseball. 🙂

Now, off to the first kung fu class of my second session at the gym.


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.

IMG_20140823_161039

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.


Dead White Guy Favorites

It used to be called the canon – the must-reads of Western literature that allegedly represent the best in creative writing and exploration of the human condition.  At the very least, they represent the books and plays most written about by those who study literature.  These books and their glaring absence from my children’s curriculums weighed heavily on my mind Thursday, after a fantastic kung fu workout in which I realized that I’m much more mentally aware of how to fix what I’m doing wrong in a form than I’m often conscious of.  This incredible “Aha!” moment was juxtaposed to the awakening just an hour earlier that, academically, my kids don’t know nearly as much as I did at each of their ages – at least as far as literature is concerned.

It all started at dinner out with my son earlier this week.  As we scarfed down Polish fare, he asked me to name great books for him.  He hadn’t read any that I mentioned; more disturbingly, he hadn’t heard of a number of them either.  I expressed my concern at the time, but concern turned to a mild form of ire yesterday when discovering that the syllabus for his senior year doesn’t include any canon books either.  Silly me, I thought his teachers would patch up the curriculum in the final year.

My son attends a Jesuit school that’s geared toward providing a better education to children of urban, working class families who can’t afford private school.  Now, I understand that there’s been a move in the last decade or so to get away from caring about the perspective of dead, white men and thereby make reading more appealing to the largely non-white student bodies of most of the public schools in America’s largest urban centers.  However well-intentioned, this move seems to have all but eradicated from those same schools any trace of what used to be required reading no matter where one lived and what one looked like.  If administrators remove from literature curriculums all but a few of the dead white guy favorites, we’re going to end up with a generation who, ten years from now, will immediately recognize and understand any reference to the “ice bucket challenge,” but who won’t have the slightest idea what grandma is talking about when she compares Johnny’s ill-advised pursuit of a person or thing to Ahab’s quest for the great white whale.

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny episode I’d seen dozens of times, listening to Bugs go into a riff about an apartment number that started with “2B or not 2B; that is the question” and understanding for the very first time that the Hamlet allusion is what made it funny.   Something about that realization felt good, especially since I could go on to finish most of the monologue, at the time.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things if today’s youth understand literary references?  I can’t answer that.  What I know is this: my children have excellent grades.  But I’m not sure if their grades accurately reflect how much they know.

Not getting the joke may be no big deal.  But not knowing what their grade point averages suggest they should could be huge.

 


Cramming

I’ve spent the night studying.  I haven’t had to study for anything since the last set of exams some nine years ago.  This is nothing like that.

Food, glorious food… and scary foodborne illnesses that I’m cramming to learn how to keep out of my baked goods.

IMG_20140903_232042

IMG_20140903_230707

Can it really be coincidental that I got my groove back on my White Eyebrow form tonight, in between study sessions?

Cupcakes and kung fu – a day closer to fruition!  Back to the book…. 🙂


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.

IMG_20140825_194137


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.


Predictable and Purged

Two people dear to me received bad news this week.  The issue for one was professional; for the other, medical.

Bad news produces a predictable response for me.  I feel angry and know that emotion will last a while.  I feel self-pity and immediately try to will that response away as quickly as possible, because it simply produces more anger.  (Self-pity makes me feel weak; the Marine father is responsible for that.)

I do my best to get a prayer out as quickly as I can, even if it’s one of complaint.  It serves to remind me that most things are beyond my control and that they always will be.

Depending on the news, I probably shed some tears or at least feel the sting of salt from the ones that don’t fall.  Then, I make a call or send a text to Merle, because being loved makes all things bad better.

Finally, I do some kung fu: a volley of triple straight punches into the elevator air, as if the bad news has taken physical form that I can strike.  A couple of sidekicks against the wall of the handicapped bathroom stall – gently, so as not to damage a knee or be heard by others.  The release is cathartic and just enough to get me to the next class, where I can thoroughly purge it all out and take the next right step to the next best thing.

Neither of my friends do kung fu, but they have their equivalents.  We all do, I believe, even if not recognized as such.  Whatever returns one to center, provides assurance that all will be right at some point, even if “right” looks different than initially imagined, that’s the best bet for getting to the other side of bad news.


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.

IMG_20140823_161039

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.

IMG_20140814_193142

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!