Thursday, December 29, 2011

adjusting to your environment (7)

Oh yes, the good old Inside-The-Train stretch. Not advisable in the crowded trains of Tokyo during rush hour, but once you are deep in the countryside with almost no one else on the train, what better way to while away the hours while heading to your in-laws' place????

Getting Your Weapons

Actually, it has already been several days but they have arrived safely, all of them that were shipped. My pointy Klingon bagua weapons are still buried somewhere in Tokyo, but I have enough other toys to keep me busy.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

moving your weapons

waiting, waiting, waiting.

Most of them are due to arrive in Omaha today or tomorrow (or next Monday, depending on who I talk to). They are already over a week overdue because of some kind of trouble in LA, where they landed at a port after traveling over the ocean from Yokohama.

A normal person would probably have packed all the weapons, especially long pointy things, in one box and shipped it economically with the other zillion boxes for very little increase in cost. But between Moving Day #1, when the truck came to take stuff from our house in Tokyo to the port in Yokohama,and moving day #3, when we actually flew out of Japan, I had a kobudo demo and last practices with long pointy and non-pointy things. My daughter also needed some of her stuff for her last practices.

So I made a giant box out of littler boxes and put in naginata, spear (oops! one inch too spear), sticks, lots- o - swords, etc) and sent that in advance with the other stuff. Then I made another giant box for the leftover stuff and brought it over as luggage (oh, they charge for oversized boxes now, even if within the baggage limit....). Of course I also snuck a few goodies into the suitcases. You know, nunchaku, tonfa, sai, pointy Klingon bagua weapons....

Somehow we got through the Tokyo and Minneapolis airports without them opening the giant weapon box. And the security people only searched one of our suitcases in our absence, one stuffed with clothes, not weapons. So the group of late weapons made it over safely.

I've had plenty of toys to play with these weeks in our new apartment in Kansas but it will be nice to get them all together again. And nicer to set up a little studio over here...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

last kobudo practice in Japan

Last practice, and back to the basics: how to use the wooden staff or bo. There are several weapons in our group's curriculum, but the bo is the most fundamental and has the most forms, as well as the most detailed sets of basic motions. We practice many techniques against the bo with the other weapons as well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

adjusting to your environment (6)

Oh yes, the second floor of xyz Junior High School, somewhere in Tokyo. We usually practiced in the gym but arrived one Friday night to find that the school had already decorated it for a weekend event. The young kids worked out in the hallway outside and I went upstairs to work on the nandao southern broadsword routine.

Didn't get that form down as well as I would have liked before leaving Japan. Anyone teaching nanquan / nandao / nangun in the Kansas area??

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

last tournament in Japan

Days before moving out of Japan, my daughter joined her last tournament. It was for young people, so I could actually enjoy the day, not worrying about my own performance. I was free to videotape people for my reference library, chat with folks, just generally enjoy for a change.

My daughter placed fairly low as I had expected - you've got to practice more than once a week to be among the best...but it was a good stimulus for her, and a good memory to bring over to the US.

Friday, December 2, 2011

essential training equipment (9): the one-shape-fits-all hockey stick

Used by junior high school kids for floor hockey on occasion, this little piece of plastic can double as a double-bladed straight sword (jian) for your daughter as well as for a single-bladed Southern-style sword (nandao) for you on those last nights of practice before leaving the country. Yep, you are stuck in a junior high school gym for a training hall. You have your own swords but your teacher needs one two. Of course you grab the hockey stick so your teacher can use the real thing while demonstrating. And you hope no one takes video and posts it on Youtube....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

relaxed at last

OK, the last couple months have been a whirlwind. It is not so easy to wind down 16+ years of life in a foreign country and return to your home country (with family in tow). But we have made it, are now spending our first night in our new apartment in Kansas.

Now we are waiting for the 115 boxes we shipped over the ocean to arrive at a warehouse in Omaha....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

new uses for your weapons

skis or skates or something like that.

Anyway, the last enbu / demo went well. I did a tunfa kata, bo vs. sai (on the sai side), and bassai dai. I felt a sense of redemption as I once failed miserably in a tunfa demo in Hachioji....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

saying good-bye to old friends (2)

This one was a hard parting.

From the basement of the former Japan Energy kendo dojo....a karate group also used the dojo and left behind a makiwara as things were being shut down (company was acquired by another company....former president was a kendo man, had a kendo dojo built in the basement of his company's building, a center of kendo that attracted the highest level of kendo players throughout Tokyo (and a few like me, who slipped in between the cracks). But the president of the new company does not seem to value kendo and the dojo is long gone.

have used the makiwara for several years at my home. But it could not be left behind in moving out, and cannot be taken to the US, so it met a sad fate. Long wooden posts, after all, do not fit into the specified size of garbage bags here in Tokyo.

I've kept the leather pad and hope to give it new life in the US.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

going to fu

Just a couple pictures of my daughter on our way to gong fu practice, she proudly bearing her jian for a change.

Big build-up to last weekend's regional kids' gong fu tournament, good progress in her changquan. That was the total focus for a few months (she did 初級長拳) and now she is hoping to start work on the double-bladed straight sword in our remaining practices over here.

Cleaning house and desktop before the big move...

saying good-bye to old friends

Less than one month left in Japan and everyday is filled with good-byes // thoughts of the future.

I said good-bye to two close friends yesterday, my kendo striking dummies. We have been close for many years but sometimes we just have to harden our hearts and cut ties.

I sent them to another kendo person not far away in Tokyo. Curiously, we share a strong China connection even though we have never met. He will use them, may send one up to a tsunami-affected kendojo in Iwate Prefecture.

Farewell old friends, thanks for the time shared, and sorry to have neglected you in recent years.

Friday, October 28, 2011

my last practice....

…outside my home of ten years.

Yes, it is moving time in (from) Japan. One month to go – and that means moving out of our nice little two-story rental house of a decade, into a tiny, one-room apartment for the final month. There are only three of us moving now, as we carted the cats off to a cat motel for the final month.

So, I should have been packing and cleaning. But knowing that Tuesday night Sha Style sword class would almost certainly include my performing the Chen Style Dao form for scrutiny by the instructor, I went outside for “just five minutes” to buzz through the form. After all, I had given it good attention at last Saturday’s all day practice (oh, yes, should have been packing and cleaning).

But one time led to another and I spent a perfect hour outdoors with Chen Style Dao. The space is not great – it is paved, basically large enough to park one really big car, and it is shared by four homes. However it is my practice space and just outside my home, the biggest advantage.

I fired up some trusty mosquito coils and got to work. Dusk was falling and a heavy breeze was loosening dried leaves from their branches across the street. Many good final memories – the sound of the trains down the street, a huge and intricate spider web waving in the breeze (the seasonal joro gumo – more on that spider elsewhere).

I can’t say that my final run through the form was perfect, but I was feeling good.

And indeed, my instructor gave the form a very close look later that night. It looks like I will need to find another practice space right away.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

one month gone

It has already been a month since Liu Laoshi's last seminar in Tokyo. It was a glorious 10+ days and passed much too quickly. Now it is time to practice and consolidate and get ready for the next meeting.

How long will it be before I can go to Beijing again??? Gearing up now for moving from Japan back to the US at last, every day a blur. My taiji friend and mentor in Canada told me to live my last days in Japan to the fullest. But now there is nothing to do but work work work and get ready for the move. oh, and practice in those spare moments.

We'll be moving from our current house to a small weekly rental apartment in a few weeks, and I will have less work. time at last to start the years-delayed Liu Laoshi interview / article???

Monday, September 12, 2011

beware pandas bearing tunfa

Yes, hand-delivered fresh from Shureido in Okinawa, one hot steaming pair of tunfa, a weapon I have neglected far too long.

I brought a clunky, too-short handles, cheap wood set over from the US, had an all-too-brief exposure to a tonfa kata at my karate dojo here in Japan, then nothing for it is time to start all over again, starting from zero, this time with a much better pair of tunfa.

Not very good timing, given the amount of new material I have amassed on the Chinese side over the summer. But what can one do? Grab the sticks and start swinging.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

essential training equipment (8): small sticks

The ba gua dao is a weapon unique to ba gua zhang. I translate it rather loosely as “big-ass sword” because it is just pretty dang big. People love old photos of ancient Chinese masters of smaller stature standing next to swords as tall as them.

Think of a normal dao or broadsword. There is only a single blade and it is curved (in contrast to the jian, which is straight and double-bladed). It has a nice, workable length and is used in a large number of Chinese martial arts.

Then comes the ba gua dao, with the same curved single blade but much bigger and longer. In last month’s trip to Beijing, one of my goals was to learn the ba gua dao form taught by Liu Jing Ru Laoshi.

I learned the form but have yet to practice it with a real ba gua dao. I had contacted my usual martial arts supply store in Beijing but they had none on hand (though, as usual, I walked out of there with a large stock of weapons, Fei Yue shoes, and the like).

We spent the first couple days working through all the praying mantis forms in his set (liu he tang lang quan). The next morning he showed up with a small branch from a tree, nothing more than a switch really. That was to be my ba gua dao. Maybe half the length, no curve, no distinction between the bladed and non-bladed sides….

No big deal for now. I learned the ba gua jian form from him in the same Beijing park in 2007 using foot-long folding fans. But at least later in that trip I was able to buy a ba gua jian at the supply shop.

The ba gua dao form is quite similar to the ba gua jian form (he created them both) so I already had most of the principles of motion down. The biggest challenge was finding and working through the differences in doing the form with a totally different kind of sword, thinking about which motions he had deleted / altered / added to take into account the shift from a straight, double-edged sword to a curved, single-edged sword.

The next day, some groundskeepers were cleaning up in the park and I found a longer branch with more curve to it – not the same as a real dao but much closer, anyhow. It felt much better than the small branch, but was still not satisfying. If any of you readers has a spare, unused ba gua dao available, do let me know.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

adjusting to your environment (5)

I flew out of Tokyo as a typhoon hit the main island. My plane was delayed three hours, not too bad.

Practice started early the next morning in the Tao Ran Ting park as usual. It was raining heavily in Beijing. We usually practice outdoors but not in heavy rain. If it rains, we go inside the little tea restaurant, move some tables aside, and practice in there. But it was completely full that day. We walked across the park in the rain and found a hotel with an empty room (no easy feat in Beijing).

The space was very narrow, so all plans for ba gua zhang review / ba gua dao were set aside. Liu Laoshi ran me through several of the smaller Liu He Tang Lang Quan forms -- a little cramped but workable in the small space.

Though my intention was to focus on ba gua zhang this trip, I had also polished my mantis fist forms, and that was a good thing due to the sudden change in content.

We continued working on the tang lang forms the next day and, after reviewing all the others, I finally got started on the remaining form in the set, zhao mian deng 照面灯, whose namepiece motion bears striking similarity to a fall - back - and - attack motion found in several ba gua weapons forms. More on that later, as we get to the ba gua dao later in the trip...

The remaining days were marked by excellent practice in severe heat and humidity. The moisture finally broke one hour before my scheduled flight. Beijing AIrport was hastily shut down and we hapless travelers were marched back through immigration, customs, picked up our luggage and began the hours and hours of waiting in line, fending off line-jumpers, arranging flights the next day, fighting for a hotel room, giving up and sleeping in the airport and arriving one day late in Tokyo.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011 Beijing

Just a quick mention for now - spent five days in the massive heat and humidity of Beijing last week, four days of good training with the boss, Liu Jing Ru Laoshi. More on that later - ba gua dao is nice, so is the 7th/final form in Liu He Tang Lang Quan.

And the boss is coming to Tokyo for his (final) annual seminar at the end of this month....

Monday, July 18, 2011

All-Japan tournament

Every summer in Tokyo we can see the all-Japan tournament, combining tai ji quan and wushu/ bujutsu/ other martial arts. It is really an extraordinary event, overwhelming because there is just too much going on, with action in six courts running almost non-stop for three days.

Due to work or practice commitments, I usually go for just part of each of the three days. I spent far more time there this year than usual, mostly because my daughter wanter to meet her gong fu friend. They didn't watch any of the action on the main floor - DS and other games were more important.

Fine for me, plenty to see below and many good friends to talk to. A quick search at youtube you bring some highlights for those interested.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

kung fu fightin'

I love this picture, something my daughter drew some months back, a couple people in gong fu uniforms.

We are still going to gong fu practice together, but since the earthquake in March, our practice time has been limited since many public buildings are closed at night to save energy. Still, we had an excellent class with our teachers last Sunday morning. It was kind of a breakthrough for my daughter. The first two hours were 自主トレ or self-practice, meaning that you are completely on your own to review by yourself, no help from the teacher. For the third hour, we had a lesson with one of the teachers (chang quan or long fist) and it was quite good. My daughter had her long-awaited introduction to the double bladed sword or jian.

More importantly, she worked hard for the first two hours. She loves her teacher and has no passion for self-practice. We tried a couple times at various locales, but being 8 years old, she was not interested unless the teacher was leading the class. So this past Sunday was great. Of course I had to guide her a bit and we did some drills together, but mostly she worked on her own, a big step forward.

Seeing her practice reminds me of my time spent teaching a childrens' karate class many years back. Not sure if she will continue gong fu in the US or not, or whether I will teach kids once back in the US, but it makes me think a lot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

kuden -- oral transmission

What is kuden, the oral transmission? It represents an extra bit of teaching, something not given to everyone. It figures highly in iaido, though it is no longer so secretive as in the past. You can even find a book which collects many kuden teachings, now available for anyone to read. And it is even translated into English.

We sometimes practice variations in the established technique called kae-waza 変え技 in iaido. To me it is a great chance to explore and add options to the regular syllabus. Simple as the changes / additions are, many of the students cannot seem to grasp them and we endlessly review the same stuff. Hence group practice is slow, not advancing much at all.

Once in a while I can catch my teacher whipping out a slight variation on a higher level okuden 奥伝 form. Of course I will copy it on the spot, glance to him for comment. The best I can get is the tiniest of occasional, grudging nods. More often, I am left wondering whether I should be copying it, doing it in front of others.

Once I asked him about one such variation. He had done it in front of many people but no one seemed to notice. I practiced it on the spot (and did not get a nod). I asked him about it and his reaction surprised me. That’s not kae-waza! That’s kuden 口伝! (oral transmission, usually somewhat secretive)

I think I had made a mistake of asking too directly (and in front of other people), and had unintentionally put him on the spot. Hence his reticence / anger.

In the Chinese arts the same feeling comes up, though it may be more about haphazard transmission than guarding secrets (though that secrecy would have been much more important and guarded in the past).

Working on my notes for the Chen Style sword (jian) form, I realized I had encountered the same thing, just without the terminology of Japanese style koryu bujutsu.

I was running through the Chen taiji jian sword form. My teacher walked over and said “Haven’t I ever shown you this?” Then he proceeded to demonstrate a crazy new variation which I have never seen him show anywhere in the past ten years.

That was it. I have never seen it from him again. I make a point of adding that motion whenever I practice. When I have the chance, I try it out in front of him, seeking encouragement or at least reaction.

No nods of approval yet. But neither any smacks on the back of the head. Yet.

(notes for a better and more well-organized piece to come in the future)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

pure and correct transmission

I met Mr. Wu in 1999. I had been living and training at Ping Yang Wu Shu School in Zhejiang Province, China. I suddenly relocated to the larger city of Wenzhou and was introduced to Mr. Wu forthwith.

We began practicing tai ji immediately, meeting early every morning atop various buildings and in a few parking lots. He taught me the 42-motion competition form which I had started at the Ping Yang Wu Shu School. It was basically an English language and Chinese tai ji exchange and most of the lessons were one-on-one. We made occasional visits to the masters in the park for advice, but otherwise it was just he and I, morning after sleepy morning.

After my short year in China, I made a few trips back to Wenzhou, trying to balance my time between my many friends there, my former kendo students, and Mr. Wu. Each visit, we ran through the 42 form and he noted my progress as well as places for further improvement.

We keep in touch by email and his messages are often sources of inspiration for me. I will paraphrase one recent message below and may take great liberties in giving certain points more emphasis than they received in the original.

“It is your long-term goal to transmit Chinese taiji directly in America. Moreover, it is your goal to transmit it purely, exactly as you learned it, without changing or adapting it in any way.

This is an admirable goal. But to be honest, if your aim is to transfer it directly, purely, exactly as you learned it, without any changes or modifications, it may be impossible.

According to the scientific view, a message is always attenuated during transfer / transmission. This change or reduction in the message is inevitable.

I used to see some Italians and Portuguese teaching Chinese Gongfu in Europe, in a very different format or a strange format. But people enjoyed it. That is enough.

And anyway, Chinese Gongfu is developing, even in China. It will die if it does not change and develop.

In short, you work harder at Chinese Gongfu than most Chinese people. You should make a great contribution to the future of Chinese Gongfu.”

Fairly heavy burden, but that is not our topic at the moment. Given that I will be relocating to the US within a year, I have much to think about. And much to practice and polish in these final days in Japan with my teacher here.

My first several years in Japan, I was extremely focused on Japanese martial arts and planned to take them back to the Midwest in the US. I have never thought of anything but pure and exact transmission, however much that may limit my commercial opportunities and the like. I have always seen myself as a cultural preservationist.

I learned it well. You come to my school, you do it my way. Changing or adapting the arts or the teaching style to the culture is not to be considered. (Am I getting old and stodgy or what?) (Yeah yeah I know, go read Dave Lowry’s book)

Ten years back, I met Mr. T, who has been my primary teacher ever since, and so began my drift into a heavy focus on Chinese martial arts. Though I now envision teaching mostly Chinese arts in the US, my stance remains the same: pure and correct transmission.

Then comes this message from Mr. Wu, throwing everything out the window…..

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Storm rolling in

Last weekend, I had a short time slot between other events in the late afternoon, my only chance for some outdoor practice. I could practice any of 57 forms that need work, but I opted for some Ryukyu Kobudo, since I have a test coming up soon.

The dark clouds of a storm were rolling in quickly and the smell of rain was in the air. Time only for a short stretch, then outdoors to get down to business. I focused on a form with the bo or staff, 佐久川の棍小, sakugawa no kon sho. got through several reps before the rain started, and a few more as the drops fell lightly, tentatively.

Many thanks to the weatherguy in the sky, as those few reps were what I needed most. Heavy rains after that, but I got in what I needed just in time.

I will swing a wooden bo staff about in light rain, but certainly not my metal weapons like the sai. Just a few more days before the test. Today was sunny and I had an hour open in the afternoon, just right. tomorrow looks good, then rain from tomorrow night until test time....

Monday, May 23, 2011

you shoulda seen the other guy

yeah, not a scratch on him. Total self-inflicted wound, 自爆.

We were working on bo vs. sai.

hmmmmm. test coming up for me, lots of pressure every practice, very good feeling.

But I smacked myself good.

teacher / friend T. said that until you injure yourself with a weapon, you don't really know the weapon. Well I have cleared the nunchaku (past post) and tonight cleared the sai. Which one is next?

I recovered well, switching into free-style and doing whatever worked to restrain the opponent, but still, the pictures are not pretty.

We ran through the full set of bo vs. sai and I mucked up a couple times but recovered well -- not the official form but I adjusted naturally, smacked the other guy in an unexpected but effective way. Still, tonight's performance would not pass the test.....So I was satisfied, I could adjust in different circumstances, still whack the guy, but I couldn't pull off the needed techniques to pass the test.....

Check back next week....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

more reps of smaller chunks

That’s the advice I dole out to language / communication students and trainees regularly.

If you want to work on listening comprehension in whatever language, you need to take a small bit, say 3-5 minutes or less, and repeat it several times. But most people don’t take this approach. They have an hour’s commute by train, so they listen to a one-hour CD in the target language. Or they watch a complete, two-hour movie, rather than targeting a few minutes of that movie for intensive drilling.

It is human nature, I suppose. After, movies are supposed to be fun. You put one in the machine, sit back and enjoy uninterrupted. None of this once-with-script, once-without-script stuff. No vocab review and preview.

Vocab works the same way – to really master new vocabulary, the best approach is to work through several repetitions of a small list of target words or phrases. But most people (myself included…) invest the same amount of time in going once through a longer list. Less effective / efficient, but again, human nature.

Same in martial arts. I am one of the people who tends to do reps of entire forms, even though I know it is better from a learning perspective to isolate a part of the form and do more reps.

I attend several classes with my main teacher most weeks. In a typical class, we might go through a form once or twice uninterrupted, then spend most of the class isolating small chunks for intensive scrutiny and repetition. That’s especially true with the more common competition forms like tai ji jian 32. But it might also reflect the generally lower experience level of most people in the 32-motion tai ji sword classes.

We also have a class that focuses on the tai ji sword sets of the Sha family. Sometimes we follow the pattern above. Other times, like last week, we get a surprise. We started with several reps through the 36-motion tai ji sword form. Then we ran through the two-person paired sword form – an unprecedented 11 times.

I was wondering about the very unusual class format. In part, it must be related to the generally higher level of experience (even so, many of The Venerable Tai Ji Ladies were not quite on top of the form, shall we say). But I think it may have been the instructor’s way of cementing the form, drilling it in deeply one final time before moving on to something else.

And indeed, it looks like we will be starting the long-awaited second two-person / paired tai ji sword form of the Sha family. More reports on this later as it develops.

This is so-called Golden Week in Japan, when a number of national holidays fall together closely in sequence. The lucky people are able to arrange their schedules for about ten consecutive days off work. Others among us will be working most of today, teaching Business Communication Skills (notice the capital letters? It’s a fancy way of saying Business English. Which is a fancy way of saying “teaching English”).

I’ll be working one-to-one with a guy (oops, a Salaryman) from Company K. I am sure I will give him my regular lecture on “More Reps of Smaller Chunks”. I’ll also be running through some of the Sha family tai ji sword forms this morning before work. I wonder which style I’ll follow…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

late night xing yi quan

I have never been much of a morning person. My natural body rhythm would have me going to bed about 1 or 2 AM and getting up about 9 AM. That worked very well during my 8 years at university but had to be modified slightly upon coming to Japan. And then modified significantly as I made the painful transition from a practice-first, work-second lifestyle to a work-first, practice-second lifestyle (and added a family, just for good measure).

I am known to return home at 1 or 2 after a few nutritious health drinks, but now that reality has sunk in, getting up early is unavoidable.

But that reality changes once in a great while. Like last year in Beijing. I was heading back to my hotel about 2 AM in the morning when I stumbled across a fellow practicing xing yi quan in the street. Well, on the sidewalk anyway.

We got to exchanging words and then exchanging techniques and it was quite nice. Two guys who had each been doing xing yi quan for awhile comparing notes on their styles in a friendly, non-threatening way. It was really a strange and fortuitous meeting. We study different strands of xing yi quan, but the roots were clearly the same.

He declined my parting offer of a beer and I declined his of a cigarette. He continued his practice and I ambled on my way.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

xing yi quan form of the month: bear

We have been working on the bear form for several weeks now. In the short / simplified version of the 12 animals, the bear form is combined with the eagle form. But in the set of longer, more complicated forms, the bear and eagle are separated. There are still motions where the bear blocks upward while looking up at an eagle overhead, but they remain separated.

To be honest, I wasn’t very sure about the practicality of the bear form – there seemed to be a lot of motions without much combative usefulness, which is very much unlike most xing yi quan.

But that was while just doing the form, whether reps of isolated motions are going through the whole thing. This week we basically “played” with the form, exploring how each motion could be used. And suddenly I gained a lot of respect for the bear form! The form is nice by itself, but by moving off at an angle for most defenses and attacks, instead of moving directly forward / back as in the form, everything was much more useful.

This was one of my best xing yi quan practices in a long time, and I hope we’ll spend more time like this, actively exploring applications. And not just focusing on one application (yes, that is important too) but freely mixing motions from different parts of the form.

This is part of my long-term situation. I came to Japan after 7 years’ hard training in the US, with free fighting a regular part of most practices in karate. After some years of transition here, Japanese arts to Chinese arts, I am in a wonderful training situation and am satisfied with most practices. But we don’t do any free fighting.

Someday, back in the US, I will be teaching this stuff and one of my long-term challenges will be how to convey the things I have learned here in Japan within a different country / culture, and how to add in much more fighting practice to the basics and forms I have learned.

This week’s practice was a good wake-up call to me. Forms are all fine and good but I need to be doing much more application work, and moving in the direction of training with un-cooperative partners. I have been away from that for too long. Maybe I have been sleeping like a bear and am now ready to wake up after the long winter of hibernation?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

more shoes

OK, I really wasn't going to put up any more cheeseball photos of worn-out shoes, but these were hard to pass up. Besides, I was enjoying ohanami cherry blossom viewing with a friend and he complained about the prior post having been up so long.


No thoughtful reflections on the meaning of practice tonight, then. Actually the loss of much work lately has meant a great increase in practice time. But for now, just a shoe for you.

Friday, March 18, 2011

adjusting to your environment (4)

Factory floor

It has been over a week now since the earthquake struck and the tsunami followed. Small aftershocks continue throughout the day but everyone’s attention remains focused on the danger of nuclear meltdown / fallout.

I was teaching in a beer company’s factory in Yokohama when it struck. I had been out two days earlier and joked about it feeling like a small earthquake each time one of the heavily loaded beer trucks passed by.

It was immediately clear last Friday that the shaking was much more than that caused by a beer truck. It didn’t stop and didn’t stop, just kept on shaking. We took cover under a sturdy table and listened to the voices outside.

When it finally subsided, I packed my gear in a flash (computer etc.) and we went to the main office, donned helmets, watched the news a moment…and then it all started again. Under the desks this time for another long rumbling and shaking.

Once it stopped, we all went outside, several hundred employees, everything amazingly neat and orderly, lining up by work unit. I watched the weird clouds in the sky and waited until the all-clear.

We went inside, found out that all the trains were stopped, no way to get home that night. All the hotels filled very quickly. Streams of employees from the three large companies based near that train station began long walks home (those who lived in the Yokohama area). We Tokyo people settled in for the night. At that point, we knew nothing about the nuclear reactor situation. True, another quake might come at any moment, but that is everyday life in Japan for 16 years for me.

First things first. No email of course (I don’t have wireless on my laptop and couldn’t use company computers for security reasons). After an hour or so, there was very sporadic text messaging available on my mobile phone, but no phone calls were possible.

By lucky chance, there had been a PTA meeting that day and most of the moms were at school with the kids when it happened. So my wife and daughter (and all her friends) made it home quickly and safely, and we exchanged text messages intermittently.

Next important things. I went out to the local convenience store which, though busy, was not in a panic. After withdrawing cash in small bills from an ATM machine, I leisurely walked about and picked out snacks, beer, instant noodles, and more beer. Like many people, I naively thought “what the hell, let’s make the best of a bad situation”.

I got back to the factory with two bags full of food and beer. I was quickly told the bad news. “Um Bryan we are very sorry but we cannot drink tonight.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that. I’ll drink quietly by myself in this room”
“Um, very sorry but ‘we’ includes you. We have to think of safety and be able to evacuate safely if there is another big quake”.

I was quite disappointed but had to admit their point. Moreover, I was a guest in their premises and presumably they would have legal liability for anything that went wrong. So I underwent a quick attitude adjustment and settled in to eat instant noodles and drink alcohol-free beer-like substances.

Let me be very clear: I have no complaints whatsoever toward the company. In fact, I have nothing but praise for them. They took excellent care of me and let me --- a non-company person -- stay overnight on their premises. I shall be forever grateful for that.

Also, once I got all Buddha-like and threw away my earthly desires for beer, I felt liberation (as opposed to libation). No alcohol. Several hours of free time. My teacher’s tang lang quan (mantis fist) book in hand. You know what happened next. And seeing as we had recently run through the sixth of the seven forms in Liu He Tang Lang Quan, what a perfect opportunity.

Many of the TLQ routines are quite short and can be done in a small space, and the longer ones (duan chui, shuang feng) can be easily adjusted.

Also, as it turned out, my student happened to teach a style of karate there in the factory so we got to talking and comparing a few notes on my old Shotokan karate kata. Further distraction came when I found buried treasure – a giant tome on “research into Okinawan karate kata” by old guys at Todai. The section on Gankaku took me back several years and good memories. But the focus for me was TLQ.

Anyway, next morning we decided to continue the previously-scheduled 8-hour training (language and communication skills, not MA) there in the factory since no trains were running and we could not get to the intended location in Tokyo.

By the time we finished in the late afternoon, there was limited train service and I made my way slowly back to Tokyo and home, glad to be with family. We watched the news and learned more and more about the increasingly bad situation. It was the beginning of a very long week here in Japan.

Friday, February 25, 2011

essential training equipment (7)

Oh yes, the chopstick swords.

These can be found after many kendo practices have dissolved into drink and further into drunk. Great secrets of swordsmanship derived from centuries of practice and actual combat, amazing pearls of wisdom, bestowed upon young neophytes....and too often forgotten the next day.

Once in a while the chopstick swords come out at gatherings of Chinese martial artists as well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

after a tough demo....

Yes, after a tough day at the gongfu demo / exhibition, what better way to relax than reading Japanese manga!

November and December passed in a blur of demos, then a couple in January....February has been quiet, time to focus on regular practice. one more demo coming in March....

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

worst technique (3)

Continuing the series…here is another motion that I just can’t seem to nail.

It should be simple, really. This is a chest-level block, swinging into the center line from the outside. The forearm is kept vertical and the block is against an opponent’s weapon – probably a bo staff – thrusting in at your own body.

I do it well in solo forms. But in the sai vs. bo set, where some amount of real pressure comes on, I get hurried and the metal of the sai separates from my arm, a definite no-no. The problem is even worse when blocking from the centerline outward…

Sunday, February 20, 2011

the fruits of practice

My daughter's school had open school for a few days. I was lucky enough to be able to go and observe for a short period each day. Mostly I was interested in how she interacted with other kids, whether or not she would raise her hand and volunteer answers, and so on.

Then I noticed something that made me very happy. Not only was she raising her hand on occasion (she used to be too shy); but the shape of her raised hand was just right.

All the other kids were raising their hands with the fingers slightly spread. Her four fingers were together and the thumb was bent in slightly -- if the thumb were bent in a bit more, it would be a perfect open hand from chang quan or long fist. We have recently been running through a section or two of one of her chang quan forms every morning before school - a very short amount of time, but the daily rhythm is now established.

And the results are not just showing in the practice hall!