Tag Archives: performance

Old Times and New

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.

Delicious Irony

I had a tournament yesterday.  It meant so little to me that I neglected to mention it beforehand on this blog, where I subject readers to all things kung fu in my life.  The obvious question is why it meant little to me.  The obvious answer is that the whole competition thing has become old hat.  That’s not it.  In fact, the DC tournament’s “seniors” division is actually 36 years old and up.  That puts me up against several more competitors than when the division is 44 or 45 and up!  The challenge is too healthy to be boring.

I started learning White Eyebrow at the beginning of February, and aside from time spent in June correcting the walk (which I was only told needed correcting the same day I left for Florida with Ava), I’ve taken to the form pretty quickly and could easily have learned the whole thing by now, were that Sifu’s inclination.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t do White Eyebrow at the D.C. tournament.  When I registered for it, I expected to know the whole thing by the time the day arrived.  That disappointment was a big reason the tournament felt like a chore, as I stretched out for my events, and felt even more like something for which I should have just forfeited the entry fee after I messed up the end of Lian Huan Tui.

Then, the God of my understanding decided to whip out the fantastic sense of humor that makes so many ironies just delicious.  At this tournament in which I competed merely not to have wasted the money, I scored a personal best with long staff that I can’t possibly beat in the future.  I should now retire the form from competition, having seen not one but two 9.9s out of a panel of three judges.  The third judge scored me at 9.7.

Frankly, I think they were ridiculously generous.  Though it felt overall like it was my best performance of the form, I was conscious of not having the proper grip on the staff when I began the spins, which made the spinning slower than it should have been.  Obviously, the judges didn’t care.

So I guess we can never know what’s in store for us, despite what we may expect, and even if in a low mood.  Just showing up can sometimes do the trick.

The only thing to dampen the moment was the absence of my son and fellow kung fu fanatic, who had taken off that morning for a month of Spanish immersion at a college in Vermont.  That, too, dampened my competitive fire, as I knew he wanted to compete as well but had other obligations.


Congratulations to my daughter for electing to compete in the more difficult advanced division, while allowed to compete with the intermediates.  She took home third and second place medals – and a great deal of personal and parental pride.

IMG_20140622_142130 IMG_20140622_151659_edit

And thanks to her father (bushy-haired guy staring at her in upper right hand corner) for coming out to support her – and having the presence of mind to capture my personal best on his phone!

The Payoff

Just when I thought there was nothing left to surprise me about tournament competition, along came a trip to New Jersey, where the United Martial Arts Referee Association is based.   Yesterday in Mount Laurel was the first tournament competition for my better half, after spending two road trips being the keeper of the camera while nursing a torn meniscus. IMG_20140531_105323 IMG_20140531_120757 She came home with two silver medals, though one should have been gold (and yes, I know I’m biased).

We were the only “elderly” women in the room, and initially thought that as the only members of the oldest competitor age group, we’d simply be competing with each other.  We thought wrong.  It turns out that in New Jersey, black sashes and belts only compete against each other; the “advanced” category is composed of solely of brown and red.  So both Merle and I were competing against much younger folks who matched our sash color – and still we both lost the gold by two-tenths of a point or less.  Not too shabby for a couple of old girls in a room full of competitors and judges who all knew each other.  Additionally, we seemed to be the only ones in the room doing the Northern Shaolin style of a Chinese martial art.

I had the whiplash-producing experience of competing in the “open” weapons division.  At this particular tournament, that meant the event contained all ages, all styles and both genders all up against each other with radically different weapons and forms.  Everyone over thirty-five got creamed in points by a twenty-two-year-old guy who pretty much seemed to fly.

The biggest surprise of my day was tying my all-time high score not with a weapons form but with the killer open hands form of Lian Huan Tui! That surprise alone was worth the entry fee. Gym training is definitely paying off.

Audience of Strangers

Everything hurts.  In descending order of degree, my knees, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, lower back, traps and calves are all aching – and I couldn’t feel more satisfied.  I got so lost in trying to nail the new spin section that by night’s end the ball of my right foot felt like it was missing several layers of skin.  The callus on that sucker is going to be fierce once I make it through the pain of forming it.

The squash court isn’t nearly as forgiving on the feet as the yoga room floor, but that’s the only place to practice on Wednesday nights at the gym, when yoga class runs to 8:30 and the yogis hang out until 8:45.  If I waited that long to train, I wouldn’t be home, showered and making myself dinner until almost midnight.  The choice is a no-brainer.  Tonight, it came with a ton of attention.

IMG_20140514_205624The yoga room is dimly lit and off-the-beaten-path.  The squash courts are more centrally located.  The result:  A boxer gave me a thumbs up and a big smile after stopping to watch me on the way to the bags;  the guys playing on court one watched me through two rotations before resuming their game; and everyone using a day locker across the hallway from the courts took time to get an eyeful as well.IMG_20140514_205622 If I keep practicing White Eyebrow on the courts, I’m going to feel like I’ve performed it in a dozen tournaments before I even finish learning it!  Now that I think about it, the very public nature of the training is probably why I feel so satisfied.IMG_20140514_202635I took fewer water breaks tonight and did very little sectional practice.  I did all of what I know of the form in every practice rotation, and I did it the best I could – because I was being watched.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever been conscious before of how an audience of strangers keeps me focused on doing my best, when there are no points to be scored or medals to be won.


I am now.

Strange Day

Testing day yesterday was small, quiet and lonely.  Only six black sashes were there to evaluate the candidates, and for the first time since his promotion, my son was not among them.  He had a school obligation, and the rest of the family simply had no reason to attend.

Adding to the unusual vibe of the day, only one Siheng joined Sifu in the demonstration portion of testing.  A two-person demonstration was a first in my testing day experience – but it certainly made the morning move faster.


The upside of so small a contingent of black sashes was that I ranked higher than normal in the hierarchy of those present and thus was able to award the sashes for the first time.  I enjoyed that – particularly since I got to award the yellow sash to my last new student, the seven-year-old who joined the school and my class right before the class was no longer mine to teach.  It was bittersweet.


I ended the morning bolstered to come out of the box I’ve been assigned to for two months.  Taking advantage of what seemed to be a decent mood for Sifu, I asked if he has an idea of when I may return to Friday class.  I’m not actually sure I prefer his Friday class to the quiet and freedom of intense self-training in a gym that’s near empty during end-of-the-week happy hour, but I’d like the freedom to choose.  It’s strange to be without that freedom after three years of taking it for granted.   Conscious of both Sifu’s discomfort with confrontation and my own with face-to-face disappointment, I waited until I left the guan and emailed the question.

While waiting (now at the twenty-two hour mark) for Sifu’s response, I look forward to hurrying through an extra Sunday workday and finding a solution to the broken down laptop problem along the way.  It’s been a bit of an abnormal weekend with no Saturday kung fu class, no family quality time, no home computer and an extra workday… but I’m still smiling. 🙂


Kung Fu Infusion

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!


Not Today!

‎I’m spoiled. This is not a revelation, actually. I’m an only child, and my mother was loving, though critical. Today, however, I learned that I’m even spoiled in the context of kung fu tournaments. Though I know they are all-day events that are often chaotic in their administration, I’m used to doing my thing and being out the door in no more than two hours. But not today.

For reasons that only God and the tournament organizers understand, youth, teens and adults over thirty-six were all competing out of the same ring for both traditional and wushu styles. Each style and age group had open hand, short weapon, long weapon and “other” weapon categories, and each was divided by gender. And because they put the old folks, traditional style and weapons all last, I spent just shy of four hours watching the competition before I was finally in it.

At one point I was irritated. At another, my muscles were completely cold. But when the moment of truth arrived, I felt my nerves in my throat for the first ten to fifteen seconds of the form – much too long not to make a mistake because of them, and still banged it out like I love it, because I do. Either the judges didn’t notice the flubs, or they liked the rest of my minute so much‎ that they didn’t care about a spin being too wide and a stance being too high.

I took first place for advanced women over thirty-six and got the highest score of all adults, men included! I’ve said before that I never seem to be able to show my kung fu abilities when it counts, only when it’s me and a mirror. But not today.

Not today!

Touch Down…

One of the most beautiful sights in recent memory was that of two long, black casings sliding onto the floor in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport. They appeared after almost ten minutes of watching the conveyor belt spin suitcase after suitcase to its waiting owner. They appeared when only two other travelers remained to stare intently, along with me, at the hole in the ‎wall withholding what we needed. But they did appear, finally, and my heartbeat returned to normal. Hopefully, the only drama left is a performance that gives me a score I’m happy with…and maybe a medal to go along with it!

Murphy & Mother Nature

For those following the weekend’s storyline, our contender came in fifth overall, which makes him third runner up.  Given the quality of the competition I saw, that is a more than respectable outcome and a great first shot at the national team.  Here’s Sifu having a last practice with the Boy Wonder before his final performance.


And so a busy and tiring weekend has come to an end.  Now begins an even busier week.  Once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate and not close the school again – neither my children’s respective junior and senior high schools nor our collective kung fu school.  It would be classic Murphy’s Law, of course, having only two available evenings to practice for my tournament on Saturday, to be denied one or both by Mother Nature.  But I’m going to do my best to have faith in the powers of the universe that I’ll get what I need.  I am fond of saying that God has a sick sense of humor sometimes.  Now’s not the time to find out firsthand that payback is a bitch, as they say.

Worry will get me nothing, I know.  So I think I’ll decide to stop.  Okay… done.

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.

All’s Well

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.


…Good Show?

When I was five years old, I was assigned the part of the businessman in “The Little Prince.” I sat in a chair in the middle of the makeshift stage, practically swallowed whole by my father’s blazer and a hat that had to be pushed as far back as possible to keep it from completely covering my eyes.  I don’t recall there being anything inherently humorous about the constant counting the businessman character did; so it must have been my appearance in my daddy’s clothes that brought me laughs so rich and warm that I never wanted to leave that chair.  I fell in love with the dramatic arts that evening four decades ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sweating it out at the guan tonight, practicing the long staff form as best I could with a hampered wing, the lack of power on my right side was obvious.  To make matters worse, I repeatedly made silly mistakes, based on misjudging distances that I should know like the back of my hand by now.  At one point, I slid my hand so far down the staff, I was no longer holding it.  On another repetition, I scraped the floor with it, which is never supposed to happen.

As the training wore on, I felt shadowed by younger versions of my theater-loving self: the junior high school student in tap shoes, the sixteen-year-old lead in the spring musical, the seventeen-year-old salaried wardrobe supervisor in a union dinner theater.  What they all had in common was the repeated experience of dress rehearsals littered with faulty props, forgotten song verses, follow lights that were too slow and entrances that were too soon.  The majority of productions I worked in or on had bad dress rehearsals. But as any stage rat will tell you, a bad dress rehearsal, in theater superstition, meant the cast would likely have a good show.

With Saturday morning just two and half days away, tonight was a pretty bad dress rehearsal in my martial arts life.  I could use Thursday to iron out every nuance that I think still needs it, but my younger selves are telling me not to.  They’re telling me to trust that tonight foreshadows a good show.  They’re telling me to trust myself.