Thursday, March 25, 2010

xing yi quan form of the month: swallow

Another of the fierce bird series in xing yi quan...

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Dread – there was a time (karate) when every new kata was learned with pure excitement, body shaking and tingling, adrenaline rush.

Now each new form is learned with a mixture of excitement and dread. For I have learned too much, and the burden is getting heavier…more time spent reviewing a new form or application means less time for reviewing the old.

Recently the demo / exhibition season has slowed down, finishing last week with the all-Tokyo tournament. My daughter joined the long fist / 长拳 group but I worked staff all day, so the pressure was off me.

Timed nicely, we are in the middle of a series of seminars – two full days of the 42 sword / 剑 form from tomorrow, and last Sunday with another Sun Style tai ji quan seminar.

So it is a great period for consolidation and integration, but as usual the prospect of Just One More new thing is hovering in the background…and with it, the usual mix of dread and excitement.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of balding heads and revolving planets

It's that glorious time of the year in Japan - spring. The blossoms on the plum trees are blossoming and the beer companies are releasing yet another This Spring Only beer (same beer, different can).

Yes, people are taking to the outdoors, shedding clothes and ... putting on hats. Yep, us balding (excuse me, maturing) folks must don baseball caps once again to protect our valuable pates as we practice outdoors, since the sun is shining directly from a different angle.

Spring is not too bad - the sun strikes my practice spot for only a couple hours a day and it is still a bit chilly. But with the hot, humid Tokyo summer also comes more hours of direct sunlight as our planet tilts a bit.

No matter to me today, outside working on the Sun Style (no connection to the sun, just a name, 孙式太极拳) tai ji form, inspired by yesterday's all-Tokyo tournament. That and the prior week's all day Sun Style Tai Ji seminar.

Side note - there is a great series on Chinese Martial Arts from Guangzhong TV. One of the episodes is on Sun Style tai ji and they interviewed one of the top people, who also happens to own a car repair service (in Beijing? memory fails me at the moment). All the employees go through the Sun Style tai ji form before work, or face a reduction in salary. I loved that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

learning how to learn (3)

Last post, I wrote about finally riding a bike with no hands, quite easy now that I am finally doing it.

Another thing I have been working on, also much too late in life, is the piano. I took lessons as a child but did not continue, much to my regret now. Frustrated at my utter lack of musical ability, I briefly took up the violin in university.

It was not long after I was thoroughly castigated by my then-girlfriend for a total lack of musical / lyrical / learning ability. We were taking a Shakespeare class at the time. She was a poet. I was a dabbler. The gulf between us soon became all too apparent. One of our assignments was to recite a section of Shakespeare.

She mastered hers in about two readings. I listened to “What a Piece of Work is Man” from the “Hair” soundtrack (purchased at The Antiquarium for one dollar, more stories there….) about 352 times and was still stuck on the final verses. After about ten listenings, she was reciting it, in its entirety, while I struggled on. After about 100 listenings, she began to heap scorn and derision upon me (much deserved, I must confess). By 150, she fled the apartment.

I somehow made it through that recital and the class but something was left burning inside me. Why was it that I, who could so quickly pick up martial arts motions, could not seem to get music / rhythm to enter my body??? Partly in answer to that question, I decided to take violin lessons.

I entertained no visions of studying for a long time or reaching any great level of accomplishment. I only wanted to give it a try, to see if there might be any musical ability lurking beneath my surface, or maybe to make up for past failures in trying to learn music, art, rhythm, all of it.

And try I did, week after week, in private lessons in a university professor’s office. It was a glorious time – I paid for a single credit of coursework, and could rent a violin for the grand sum of five dollars a semester. Work and family were still far in the future and I could pursue many whims.

The professor must be given credit for his patience, as I squeaked and squawked through each successive piece over three semesters, almost making it through the bumblebee piece. This was near the end of my 8-year college career. I finally graduated after 6 ½ years of coursework (and with a triple major), then couldn’t get away from the college environs, dawdling about for another 1 ½ years of scattered coursework, pursuing my own interests rather than a masters’ degree.

Friday mornings I joined a pair of back-to-back karate classes and then went directly to the violin lesson. I was completely “on” after practice and my senses were fully tuned…but it soon became apparent that while I could slog through some beginner violin pieces by dint of sheer will, there was simply no future there for me and those four strings.

In the past year, my daughter has been going to music class as a first-grader and has – in my mind – made fantastic progress. Maybe that’s where I went wrong – I skipped first grade, going directly from kindergarten to second grade, and may have missed those music classes that would have put me on the right path.

But my daughter has been enjoying first grade to the fullest, including her music classes. She zipped through 喜びの歌, the Ode to Joy, so one day I idly asked her to show my how to play it. She teaches by “do-re-mi” and I learn by “thumb here, middle finger there”, and six-year-olds are not known for their patience, so it has been a rocky road. But I have somehow managed to get through it.

I felt again the joy of making it through a kata or form for the first time, back when there was only one main art for me, and everything was so new and fresh. I felt also some vindication, for my failed attempt to learn piano a couple years earlier in my college career from a then-significant-other. And I felt a touch of the magic I had known 30-some years earlier in Ms. Valentine’s basement with its ancient Pepsi bottle vending machine in that part of Omaha so different from the area I knew.

My piano adventure is over for now, no need to pursue it any further. I hope my daughter will take it further than I ever did. And I will still be nagging her to pull her reverse fist back further on the hip with each punch when we do our gong fu practice in the morning. But I will also be careful to let her have her distance, to let other teachers do most of the teaching.

And I just might sneak into her room to buzz through the Ode to Joy on her keyboard now and then before stepping outside for some martial arts practice. I still learn most martial arts motions as quickly as ever, but the work of keeping everything up to date and integrated and separated grows harder and harder.

She is not bothered by such concerns – everything is so new and fresh for her. It enters her body and mind easily, and it stays there, and she welcomes more each day.

I would give much to know that feeling again.