Posts Tagged ‘martial arts’

Wait, that’s not dancing! It’s Judo!

But it sure feels like dancing. There’s nothing quite like flying through the air and landing with practiced grace, or moving around the room with a partner in a calculated effort to put them where you want them. And when the throw succeeds – it’s a thrill unlike anything else I’ve ever done. When you hit that sweet spot, it’s effortless, and if you’re the one being thrown it’s magical. First you’re on your feet, and then you’re on the floor, and you don’t know how you got from one to the other.

On Saturday mornings before work I teach Wu Chien Pai to a class of little girls aged 6-12. Today, I had 19 students! It was controlled chaos, but we started our Judo unit with gusto and a lot of giggling and rolling around on the floor. Judo with kids is great because most of them haven’t learned to be afraid of the ground yet. They’re short to start with, so it’s not as far to go, and they don’t know that it can hurt them because they’re down there all the time – playing games, looking at stuff, sitting at storytime or in front of the tv… the list of why kids sit on the floor is endless. With adults, you have to get over wariness and years of ingrained bad habits to teach them to fall in a safe way, but with kids it’s relatively easy.

I can’t post photos of my class because I don’t have permission from the parents, so I’ll leave you with an image from my belt test last summer:

Like magic!

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Shifu was out of town on Monday night, so some of the high-ranked students led us in a review of Nan Chuan. It’s a form from the Southern Fist style of Wu Shu, and is easily the most difficult form that we learn as a part of our regular curriculum. Shifu went to China several times to learn and refine this form, and we begin learning it, at least in small pieces, as early as white belt. For my red belt test this summer, I had to know the first third or so; for brown belt, you’re supposed to know the whole thing (SUPPOSED to).

We worked on the section between :54 and 1:11 (but watch the whole thing; this is Chen LiHong and she’s AMAZING.)  The net result of that body drop followed by jumping back up, repeated ad nauseum, is that my left hamstring has been aching for the last two days. Today I was finally able to stretch some of the cramp out, but making my way up and down the stairs at work is a project.

It’s that awesome kind of hurt that tells you you’ve really done something with yourself. If you’d shown me this video ten years ago and said to me “You can do this,” I’d have looked at you and laughed. Discovering that I was strong enough to carry a light up a ladder or nimble enough to walk through the rafters when I was in college did the work of getting me out of my head and really into  my body for the first time in my life, but learning martial arts made me love being there.

Women in western culture are bombarded with ideals of beauty, blah blah blah. Being good feminists, we’ve all heard this argument before. We see, hear, and feel all this crap around us; even when we’re raised in loving families by women with positive body images, we know we’re supposed to be white, thin, and blonde by the time we’re six. Some of us get away lightly; we just have days (or weeks or months) where we think we’re ugly, or fat, or we hate our hair or skin or the dimples on our thighs. Some women succumb to the more sinister aspects of this early conditioning and develop eating disorders or various forms of OCD. Some just get really, really depressed at the thought of looking themselves in the mirror every morning. I’ve had bad days myself, and I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t had these thoughts at one time or another.

For me, the magic bullet has been making my body into a tool I can use to do amazing things. I know that there are stories of dancers and gymnasts who starve themselves nearly to death, and anorexics who exercise themselves into nothing. But for me, it was like opening my eyes for the first time. How can I hate something that can kick over my head? What’s not to love about the arms that can do one more push-up today than they did yesterday? When I learn a new move, or execute a perfect throw, or hoist 80 pounds of socapex cable on my shoulder and carry it up three flights of stairs, I am proud of my body. I love the bones and muscles that make it go, the fine work that my hands can do, and the things that I know make me beautiful. Sure, I’d love for my skin to be clearer or my abs to be more defined, but at the end of the day I’m ok with how I turned out.

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Chinese Year of the Water Dragon

Semi-Calligraphic Script for "Water Dragon"

Happy Year of the Black Water Dragon! We celebrated at the dojo this year in our traditional way – with a calligraphy class from Shifu. I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about Chinese calligraphy, and I’m sure that anyone versed in proper technique or who reads Chinese fluently will look at my little piece of paper and find a million things wrong with it. Still, I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to learn in just two hours, and this sign will go up in my workroom to remind me to keep the spirit of the water dragon with me until next year.

It was a great class, and we had plenty of students this year participating. Everyone made a beautiful piece in their own way, with a mixture of styles of script and ability levels. Some of my fellow students have studied this art form in-depth, and you can really tell in their work because they have a masterful control of their brushstrokes and are developing their own styles of writing. Us noobs are just desperately trying to get the bristles facing the right direction and the basic strokes down. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and made me want to practice more on my own. (Because I need another hobby.)

FEMA students and their projects!











The Water Dragon is said to bring prosperity and great change, and I know that there’s at least one HUGE change on my horizon, with R and I getting married in September. We’re hoping for a little prosperity this year, both for us and for the world as a whole. A little certainty and comfort this year would be a blessing; it’s been a long time coming. R was well under-employed for the better part of a year, and with me covering his health insurance, it’s really taken a toll. Now that he has a job and I’ve gotten a promotion, I think things are looking up for us!

Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours, and best wishes for positive change and prosperity in the coming months.

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I’ve been kicking this idea around for some time now, wondering what I could add to the blogosphere that isn’t already there. There are dozens of great knitting blogs (I know, I read a lot of them). There are industry-specific blogs and blogs about wedding planning and “here’s my life, look at how I run it really well” blogs. In other words, I’ve held back because I didn’t think I had anything to offer.

So why now? Perhaps because I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t journal the way I used to, but I still have the urge to write things down before I forget them. Maybe because the on-line format lends itself well to adding in the photos and video that punctuate the words I write, and make the ideas and memories all the more visceral. Maybe because all the cool kids are doing it. Maybe because I know there’s a community of like-minded, completely disorganized people JUST LIKE ME out there.

Last night in martial arts class, our Shifu was talking about training in deep internal arts, and asking us how it is that we know chi is moving, how we learn to trust what we feel and see when everything in Western culture tells us that invisible energy is stupid. After doing a couple of exercises trying to manifest an external representation of an internal process, we decided as a class that the answer to learning to believe in chi is to have others, outside of our own experience, witness and describe to us the same things that we’re feeling. Knowing that chi is there comes from the validation of our community. Perhaps this is a part of why the art of the blog has come so far in the last 10 years, and why I am taking back to the screen for the first time in a very long time. We seek to validate our existence, our choices, and our experience with the love, support, and commiseration of our community. It’s great to share our joys and sorrows and disappointments and triumphs with others.

So welcome, bienvenue, salut! It’s great to have you here tagging along with me as I figure this all out from one day to the next. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions or let me know if I get boring. I’m just going to be as honest as I can, and share the stuff that I think is fascinating.

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