Monday, July 27, 2009

tai ji jian 42

What a weekend – nothing but tai ji jian (sword) 42 for two full days. Two long hot days of scorching heat and puddles of sweat in an elementary school gymnasium with no AC. And with the best of teachers.

It was actually a joint venture, 32 and 42 tai ji sword. But with a big test coming up, 90% of the people were there for 32. Which left a few for 42 – and us split into two groups based on experience. The result was much attention – and just the right kind of drive and push from the teacher.

I don’t have any regular classes in the 42 jian form, only these weekend seminars a couple times a year. So I go in hungry, knowing I must get all I can in a short time.

That means the week before has heavy 42 jian rotation in preparation, and the week following has heavy 42 jian rotation in review, and so on. I went in thinking I had a handle on the form but needed a lot of smoothing out.

Fool. I was smoothed out a damn lot but left feeling I don’t begin to know the form well at all. It is the best combination of frustration / dissatisfaction with my current ability and a deepened motivation to improve, and it is what keeps me going.

First and foremost, fang song. My old friend and nemesis. Everywhere, every motion. Fang song, relax and sink in. Fang song, then move. And again that voice of a child at Ping Yang Wu Shu School where I lived briefly 10 years back. He watched my tai ji 42 form and had only one comment. Fang song.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

rainy season (2)

I love listening to the rain at night, working out indoors in the humidity long into the night.

Now that this year’s rainy season has been officially declared over, it has rained all day today. And will rain tomorrow and the next day. Then a two-day sword seminar starts and I will be inside all day anyway.

Fine with me, as the three-day weekend gave me three days of working out in the sun (plus Friday night’s super-humid gong fu class with my daughter). Sensing that rain might follow, I spent extra time on weapons the next three days, and have pleasantly (?) sore arms to show for it. So tonight, with the rain, it will be the 64 hands of ba gua zhang in preparation for tomorrow’s class.

64 hands is quite unusual in that the techniques are performed moving in a straight line. There is plenty of characteristic ba gua circling, but the body is moving straight forward as a whole.

Created by Liu Jing Ru, he taught us this set last year on his annual visit to Japan. This year he is rumored to be bringing us the more commonly seen 64 palms. Not enough time, not enough time…

But this weekend had plenty of time. Hours of solo review and polishing, then a morning of much-needed iaido, a blast all the way through both seated and standing okuden forms, and on into a solid review of the paired kumi-dachi sets. The perfect, intensive review I needed, with both breadth and depth. I was on fire, moving well but not satisfied, looking for more. My head is still spinning, and not from the circles of ba gua zhang.

Less work than usual for the rest of the week means more of you know what. Truly glorious days are these….

Monday, July 13, 2009

hungry, thirsty, and gotta piss 5

I walked into the dojo, quite late because (A) work ran late, even after I had arranged in advance for it to finish early, just to get to the dojo earlier, and (B) there had been yet another train suicide and the trains were stalled and the train platforms impossibly crowded, and me with my bag-o-Okinawan-weapons.

N: “Hi Bryan, nice to see you. Are you free on the 29th?”

B: shit….loaded question….think fast….I think I know what’s coming…”Yes, I could be”.

N: “Good, there will be a test. You’ll need to do bo kihon and the tekko kata”.

B: “OK, I will be there”. Shit shit shit.

OK, we have focused rather exclusively on the bo-tai-bo and bo-tai-sai sets and I am getting familiar with both sides of each, if a bit by-the-numbers. I check again, just to be sure.

B: “So, only bo kihon (staff basics) and the tekko kata (knuckle-dusters, essentially)?”

N: “Hmmm, there might be one of the nunchaku kata as well.”

B: “OK, I ‘ll be ready.” I don’t want to push my luck by asking which one.

So it goes. Time to re-arrange the rest of the month, gear up for this chance.

It was another great practice, and I forgot all the problems. Hoping for those few extra minutes of practice, I had foregone toilet, dinner, and water. It took me straight back to last summer in Beijing, those glorious summer nights with Liu Jing Ru Laoshi.

I worked all day at the Olympics, dashed off as soon as I could, raced across that crazy and wonderful town and…sat down to relax with Liu Laoshi over tea in Tao Ran Ting park. Before scrutinizing my ba gua zhang or xing yi quan, he would critique my ability to snap a folding fan open and shut. Glorious and unforgettable nights. Go see the hungry, thirsty, gotta piss series in this blog, which started in Beijing.

Same story – how much will you give up for those few extra minutes of practice? And just like in Beijing, once I got moving tonight, I forgot all about having to piss, being hungry, needing a drink.

Yeah, I know, you should relax and slow down and all that. But sometimes we can forget the complaints and limitations of the body. And the relief is all the better once practice is done. No tea for me, thanks. I’ll take another cold beer. They taste so much better tonight.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

in praise of newbies

Things are going much better on the gong fu front. Most importantly, my daughter seems to be over her “I’m quitting gong fu” phase. It is tough for her, at age six, to be in a class of half adults and with the nearest kid at least three years her senior.

Last week I had a really good practice. My daughter was off at a school function and I went alone to gong fu for a change. No progress on the sticks (nangun, 南棍) but great progress in other areas.

Usually I partner with her through the extended aerobic / agility exercises so I have to hold back quite a bit. But last week I blasted all out and enjoyed it, pushing myself to the limit in the extreme humidity.

For some reason, five new people joined the class that night, all of them adults, three or four of them very experienced. That kicked everybody’s intensity level up several notches, on top of the all-Japan tournament starting this week.

Midway through practice, I was called over to run through basics with the new member who lacked much experience. Usually there is little explanation and there are few if any reps of the demos by the teachers. But that night, the teacher really slowed down for the beginner – and I could benefit from that and really soak in some motions that have been half –understood and half-assed for far too long.

This strikes me as being somewhat similar to my situation in iaido lately. The teachers tend to focus heavily on whoever has joined the group most recently. The longer you have been in, the less attention you get. The less direct attention, anyhow. You have a growing responsibility to watch how the teachers teach those who are newest – to steal what you can and apply it to your own practice. I got a lot of attention when I joined this group – a thorough re-tooling of my iaido to get in line with our style. But now I am seldom taught directly and have to watch the teaching of others.

I am in a strange position in gongfu. They know I have experience with other arts. Despite the fact that I have little background in long fist (the core of this class) or southern fist, I am treated as one of those with experience. That means I am always trying to get all I can while others are being taught – but I am struggling to learn it the first time. At least in iaido I had a strong grounding before joining my current group.

Anyway I had a rare and special opportunity last week, since my daughter was gone and I had been partnered with a newbie.

Now what we really need in this gong fu class are some new young kids, my daughter’s age, to join. That would do more for her motivation than anything. As for me, I hope the newbies keep coming, as their presence gives me the rare chance to get some in-depth explanation and slower reps while learning new moves.