Tag Archives: teaching

Short…and Sweet!

Starting a business, while slowly extricating myself from a full-time job that requires a three-hour round-trip commute and continuing to train in and teach a discipline that requires abundant energy, may prove to be the unreasonable endeavor of my middle age.  It certainly leaves me with a fraction of my former blogging time.  In short, I have to keep this short; so I’ll get straight to the point.

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Just when I thought that the highlight of Sunday was teaching my most reluctant student to do a pretty decent long arm swing, I got the call…

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The store is mine!!

May the battle of licensing bureaucracy begin….  Stay tuned. 🙂

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The Probability of Blows

Martial artists know techniques for injuring quickly and with minimal effort.  That fact floats into my head whenever members of an increasingly inconsiderate public seem to enjoy acting uncivilized – but not for the reason one would think.

An instance of uncivilized behavior has stayed with me for a few days now.  A man was flying through the parking garage at the gym, ignoring stop signs.  I had to hit the brakes to keep him from plowing into the passenger side of my car – which, at the time, was occupied by my son.  I looked at the driver with a what-is-the-matter-with-you expression and motioned for him to continue on.  He stared at me a second, then laughed before peeling away.

“I wanna rip his face…” my son said angrily.  “Never mind,” he quickly added with a heavy sigh.  “But did you see that?? He was laughing!”

I told him I saw it but thought it best not to think about it.  Thinking about it would make me want to go chase the guy out of the garage.

A chase would be stupid and juvenile, of course.  A chase would automatically escalate the confrontation.  And once words were exchanged – particularly with a son who already wanted to “rip his face” – the probability of blows would be disturbingly high.

I’ve met many who, upon learning that I practice and teach kung fu, raise their eyebrows with what looks like disapproval, though usually cloaked in politeness.  One acquaintance actually made comments about promoting violence.  But the truth is precisely the opposite.  Most people don’t know that an evaluation of kung fu skills includes assessing one’s level of control.

Some of the most anti-confrontational people I’ve ever known wear a black belt or sash during their off hours.  The power to injure quickly and with minimal effort is sobering.  It frequently creates people who would rather just say “never mind.”


Herding Cats

My class was a playground today.   That was not a good thing.

Joining the four regulars was a four-year-old whose mom has been trying to get her in the door since the middle of the first session, but time was never her friend.  She told me that her daughter has an above-average attention span, bolstered by her enthusiastic interest in kung fu; so I was more than willing to see if she could follow along well despite being under five.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to see how well she can follow along, because in walked a world of distraction that made even my industrious five-year-old think about everything but kung fu.

My first-session kindergartener returned without warning.  That’s the one whose dad wanted him to be there far more than he wanted to be.  With him came the entire family: a two-year-old brother who kept running up to hug him; a mom who kept getting up from her seat in the back of the room to reposition her son’s feet, over my objections;  and a dad who kept popping into the corner of the room behind me to take pictures of his hugging boys.  To add fuel to the fire, my old kindergartener goes to school with the new four-year-old.  So, in between having mom, little brother and dad stealing his attention, his classmate – the newest and youngest member of the class – kept trying to “help” her friend correct his hands and feet, though she herself was having trouble getting into a fighting stance!

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On top of it all, the other little boy in the class, who’d previously been plugged into my every move and coming along nicely in his martial arts aptitude, went off the rails with the addition of two younger children to the class.  He also had a baby sister watching from the sidelines with mom and dad.  That seemed to turn on an ADD switch that I didn’t know this particular student had.

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Long story made short: there were more spectators today than students, and the students suffered for it.  The highlight, however, was that after I allowed the youngest and newest to bow out early, I watched the more proficient students do the first seven moves of the form with surprising dexterity (they’d been practicing while I worked with the younger kids), and I was more than happy to reward them by teaching the multi-step move number eight, the end of part one of the form.  If nothing else, the oldest members of the class earned their white sashes today in the middle of a circus… and I learned what it feels like to herd cats.


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.


…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.

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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.”

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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.

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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…. 🙂


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.

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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.

 


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.

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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 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.


Bending Before the Break

Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want.  I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late.  My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence.  I just love it when that’s the case.

Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command.  It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me.  But it’s not enough anymore.

I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day.  My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good.  More to the point, her  presence made the first grader work harder.  I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves.  I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat.  Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week.  (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)

The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that.  My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too.  I never thought marketing would give me a charge.

Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism?  I believe I could.  And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.

In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life.  Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!