Monday, June 29, 2009

essential training equipment

Yes, the mosquito coils.

I was first introduced to them while living at Ping Yang Wu Shu School and being eaten alive by mosquitos at night. Once I made my distress known, a quick trip to the local store solved the problem and introduced me to the wonders of these coils that burn like incense and really do keep the mosquitos away. There must be something especially tasty in my blood because others around me were not bitten by mosquitos.

Here in Japan I have been using them for ten years ever since and they are lifesavers, as the bulk of my training is outdoors these days, either next to my house or in a large park. I realize that a True Warrior should be impervious to such minor unpleasantries as nagging mosquito bites, but let's face it, I would rather practice without such distractions.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

one of those nights

It started off well – I got an early start for the 90-minute commute and arrived early. The teacher came a few minutes later – and sat down in the lobby of the 6th floor of the building we use for practice.

The room had been reserved well in advance but the paperwork had not arrived with the teacher. And without the paper forms in hand, they won’t let people use the room. There is absolutely no flexibility on this issue.

So we set up shop in the lobby and got to work. No uniforms – if we wore them, they would tell us to stop. But without a uniform – then it is OK to flail about with all manner of weapons, and flail we did.

No time to waste. Heavy nunchaku review, then bo, then something new: the sai vs. bo exercises. All of them. Nice partner drills, good contact, and the sai always “win” the encounter, always started by the bad guy with the bo. We had a nice sai vs. sai set in Nebraska, but I have never seen that over here, and this was my first chance to work sai vs. bo intensively.

So the frustration of not being able to get into the workout room – after a 90-minute trip – melted almost immediately. I had been given a chance, one chance only, to nail this set. Once it is ingrained, I can practice and review on my own, and with partners before/after the usual practice time, but getting it into the body is the hard part.

Rather than going through each of them once, one through ten, then repeating the whole cycle, and so on (the inefficient method so common in Japan), we did it like this: 1, 1+2, 1+2+3, repeat 1-2-3, then add one in, and so on.

In short, we spent over an hour doing the right kind of repetitions and I have a decent feeling for the set – and can now really begin to practice it. We probably wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time or done as many reps if we hadn’t been locked out, so all worked out quite well. The rest of practice went well and was disturbed only by the sudden mid-kata appearance of a rather noisy and confused stag beetle in the room. We maintained focus, he was caught and released, and all was well.

It was raining heavily after practice and I had left some notes behind in the lobby and both my trains were late and I just missed the bus for home and had to wait another 20 minutes in the rain and that bus shortens its route since it is late at night…..and none of it mattered. All because of forgotten paperwork and inflexible policy and an hour’s spontaneous drilling in the lobby. Who needs a special room for training?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

mystery bruise (2)

No mystery about this one (see two posts prior). Last week I decided I would get the Akamine no Nunchaku form down for good. Last night, I got through it on my own but here is the price I paid.

It is the second nunchaku kata we learn in our kobudo group, the first being Maezato (mezato) no Nunchaku. I have been following along with higher ranked people when they do Akamine no Nunchaku but have not really made it my own until just now. It’s the same kata where I bashed my lip and bled all over some time back, yet another previous post.

We don’t really practice small parts of forms little by little and then put them together. No, you run through the entire kata / form once, maybe twice, trying to keep up with everyone who knows it, and that is it. So you try to grab a move or two each night and slowly, painfully make it yours.

But the time was right to make a big jump forward so I spent most of an afternoon on it, dedicated solely to the idea of walking into practice and blasting out the kata and leaving people wondering “damn, when did you learn that one?”

Well, I didn’t exactly bowl them over but it is mine now – and NOW I can do it with everyone and really start to benefit from the corrections and details.

Back to the bruise. Didn’t really notice any pain that afternoon, but the next day I felt a dull ache. No big deal. Took a shower that night and geez! The telling thing is that there is a lovely bruise on my left side, not on the right, despite having practiced the swing and catch on both sides. You know what that tells us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

adjusting to your environment (2)

Another week, another business trip – ah, the perils of having found employment once again.

This time – on the train back up to Tokyo – ended up working through the opening of the second Sha family tai ji quan form in the space between two cars of the train.

This is not any train, but the Shinkansen, or “bullet train” which zips along pretty quickly indeed and which connects all major Japanese cities.

The prior week I had a full schedule everyday (up in Hakone, another Shinkansen ride away from Tokyo), then gong fu with my daughter on Friday night, special Liu Jingru Laoshi review session all day Saturday, special Sha Laoshi review on Sunday – and directly onto the train from the workout, my roller suitcase full of sweaty clothes and clean suits, and my head still buzzing with three days’ intensive martial arts training.

That week had been spent entirely within the confines of the training facilities, apart from the solace to be found on the rooftop (read about that in a prior post). The change from that setting to three days of Chinese martial arts was immense and much-needed, though I might have used a brief transition.

Again without transition, I plunged back into the work world, spending the next week (i.e. last week) on a mountain outside of Osaka, having boarded the train immediately after Sunday’s practice session. Upon arrival at last week’s facility, I was pleased to discover that we were completely free to wander outside in the forest. So off I went, early every morning and late most nights. I had parallel lives going – work during the day and workouts before and after.

I was stuck between two worlds in another way. It was easy to get lost in the forest as I ventured further and the trail narrowed and I started to worry about getting back on time – and then glanced up to find a giant power line overhead. A small clearing in the forest with both wildlife – the frog I almost stepped on, the birdsong overhead – and reminders of civilization, with the sudden appearance of a set of concrete stairs leading down to….nothing.

In that clearing and other, smaller ones, I worked through the tai ji and tai ji jian (sword) forms of the Sha family, trying to lock in the recent corrections I have absorbed. For a brief period, I could put aside matters related to work and do nothing but move slowly in the mountain air.

I have been transcribing my stack of practice journals into a more orderly and digital form, typing everything onto a computer for my own use now and for possible development into a text in the future (very maybe on that one…). The going is extremely slow but I hope to finish (most of ) an early version by the end of this year.

But in such a wonderful setting, it was not the time to hunch over a laptop and make notes about the wrist curling inward in the direction of the little finger….no, far better to get out and do it, learn with the body and all that. Remember, there are precious few spots of nature left in Tokyo, so I got fairly excited about the woods on the mountain with birds and frogs and – gasp – even signs warning those who stray from the path to be on the watch for snakes.

Back to the Shinkansen and civilization. The week’s work done, I was on the way back to Tokyo and watching the scenery whiz past while hunched over my laptop and making notes on the second tai ji form of the Sha family.

This was actually the first form of theirs which I worked on, started by fortuitous chance but left largely on my own to review during the long gaps between sudden bursts of new motions. I have always been a little shaky on the first sequence of moves, which involves a series of horizontal circles and strikes with the palms.

I had ironed out the sequence of motions back in the woods but couldn’t type out a description of the motions without doing them. And with staring eyes all around my motions were constrained in my seat. So I did the only reasonable thing and moved to the space between the train cars and drilled that section even further between trips back to my seat to tap out more notes.

I got it figured out somewhere between Nagoya and Shizuoka in that small, swaying space and it will be forever etched in my memory. We can’t always choose the best times and places to practice. Sometimes they choose us, and when it goes well, it is an experience to hold onto. Leaning back into another bagua-like palm circle, seeing another unremarkable town flash past out the corner of my eye, returning with a double-handed push to the front – I was far removed from the peace of the mountains, but had created my own brief period of tranquility in a very different space.

Friday, June 5, 2009

the mystery bruise

I used to have them all the time, from sparring. When things are going you don't really recall the details of when and where you got tagged. Now that I seldom spar the mystery bruises seldom occur. But I found one on my thigh last week and couldn't begin to imagine where it had come from.

Last night at gong fu class, I remembered. I have been working on some basic staff (gun, pronounced "goon") moves, southern style. There is a characteristic motion of pulling the lead wrist down sharply onto the thigh to draw the staff down in a vertical circle. Just one swing and it all made sense.

Today I have a much bluer and greener reminder of the source.

(photo from an outdoor session last year)