Tag: martial arts

Spinning Inside Crescent Kick

Of all the outrageous, glittery, wild, fantastic things I’ve dreamed of doing in my life (non of them involving bungee cords) I never for a micro-second imagined that one of those things would be a spinning inside crescent kick.

It is a thing of wonder to me that I can do this.  That before I turned forty one years old I couldn’t do it, but now I can.  I couldn’t do a plie to save my life when I was eight and engaged in the obligatory girlhood stint in ballet.  My ballet teacher made it (gently) plain that ballet was not, perhaps, the ideal activity for me.  I don’t remember being hurt by this.  I remember knowing it to be the truth.  I had no flight.  I had no grace and my limbs were stubbornly stocky and though I wasn’t in the least bit fat I was what could be described as being of “sturdy” build.

As a young person without aching joints or fat or any previously broken bones I never experienced what it felt like to achieve something with my body; to reach high for some impossible physical feat and actually grab it.  I did know what it felt like to feel my body working well, doing as I told it to do; running or walking and getting that sly burning stretching feeling in my muscles as they work against an increasing demand for speed and strength.  But I never asked my body to do something my mind thought was impossible or wonderful.

Like the spinning inside crescent kick.

I haven’t tried doing this kick since dropping the regular Kung Fu classes in the spring.  I was barely able to hit the practice pads at that time.  I haven’t practiced it since then because I’m scared of this kick.  I’m scared of falling on my ass.  Not because I’m afraid of making a fool of myself.  Screw that.  I have no fear of looking foolish.  I’m scared because it was an unlikely non-violent fall on my ass that broke my hip in the first place and from which event I suspect I am still suffering post traumatic stress disorder.

There are two things I know for sure (down from the ten I previously knew for sure) and it’s this:  I must NEVER give birth again and I must NEVER break my hip again.

So I’m scared to do things that take me off balance.  This spinning kick requires momentum and turning while extending your leg out to catch a target.  I’ve seen people fall doing this kick many times.  You can feel your balance shift while you’re doing it.  Last night in Kung Fu I had to do this kick I haven’t practiced.  I don’t know how it’s possible but I hit the pad nearly each time I did the kick and even better than that is that I was able to complete the 360 degree turn at least fifty percent of the time.  I could hardly do that at all in the spring.

Bodies have memory.  That’s a well known fact.  I think they have extraordinary memory.  I know this for unpleasant reasons but this is one of those times when my body remembering something has been a gift and an exhilaration.

There is another thing that’s changed and that I’m at a loss to explain- I am now able to do a power yell in class.  I had to do it in forms.  Though some students (they know who they are!) don’t do it anyway.  I did it.  It took me two years of Kung Fu to be able to do that.  I did it in forms class because I had to.  Then last night a saucy young punk in class told me to give him a power yell for an exercise we were doing and at first I said no because I’m used to saying no.  But then I did it.  And then I did it again.  We changed partners and I was doing an exercise with a friend and he told me to do the power yell again and I did it.  Almost no one else was doing them.  I threatened my friend that I would make him do them in his turn and he told me he is too scared to do power yells.

I was floored.  This is a student whose strength and power I admire.  This is a guy who I would not want to get in a physical fight with.  How could such a person be scared to make a power yell?  Yet I obviously understand the fear of the power yell.  I told him it took me two years to get to that point.  He said maybe he’d get there too when he’d been doing it two years.

It made me realize how far I’ve come.  I’m still just a purple belt and it will take a long time to get a black belt from my Sifu but I’m giving myself a black belt right now for not quitting every damn time I pull a muscle or a ligament, for coming in spite of panic attacks and all my anxieties being triggered at once, for taking my deepest fear and dread (physical abuse) and taking its power away and making it mine.  MY power.  For finally being able to yell a terrible yell even when the rest of the class are all silent as spiders.

For being able to do a spinning inside crescent kick.

My next goal is to do it well.

Shaolin Wushu Training: Listening to Carl Orff

I believe the only way to listen to Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna is REALLY LOUD.

Obviously I’ve been very busy being crazy writer lady locked in her wild eyrie shouting down the sky and raving in rage over pitches and other fun things.  And that certainly does take up an enormous amount of my energy.  However, less loudly, I have continued to work on my forms.  I can’t afford any more private lessons for them and this, now, becomes a huge incentive to become a more successful writer.  I want to be able to take private lessons all the time.  I’ve been doing my forms in 1/2 hour segments aiming for every other day (I found that every day was too much) but I’m managing to do them more like every two days.  Every single time I practice them I feel more powerful.  No one would ever know it looking at me.  Not yet.  Not now.  But I still have the optimism to believe that if I keep on doing them and keep on working on the things that are holding me back, someday I’m going to look like a person who trains hard at Kung Fu.  If I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t make myself do them at all.  I have to believe it because that’s part of what propels me forward.

My household is not a calm oasis.  It is not a place for quiet lone contemplation.  Not inside.  Not outside.  Not without aid.  I can’t do forms with my mom or Philip or Max talking to me or making noises around me so I’ve taken to listening to music on my headphones.  This works beautifully.  For some people meditation is a question of quiet, no noises, no thoughts in your head.  If you have normal brain wiring you will not understand what it’s like inside my head.  I am incapable of clearing my head of its own noise unless there is something to replace it.  I have come to laugh at those who insist that all I need to do is practice clearing my head and eventually I’ll be successful at it.  Not so.  If that were true I wouldn’t need psyche meds.  If that were true – it doesn’t matter because I know it isn’t true and I have spent many hours of my life working at meditating the usual way.  My parents were Buddhist hippies after all.  What is true is that with white noise is the only road to meditation for me though white noise thought to be soothing such as a babbling brook is distracting rather than soothing to me.  White noise in the form of music that engages my head without giving it the space to form thoughts- that gives me the calm in my mind to really meditate, to be in my body, to concentrate on breathing, and to truly relax.

Watching familiar movies has the same effect on my brain.  It calms, it distracts the part of my brain that NEVER STOPS NEVER SLEEPS NEVER STOPS NEVER STOPS NEVER STOPS.  This is why I love watching television via DVDs.  Watching movies or shows while doing forms would not provide the right frame of mind, however.

My favorite to listen to right now is Carl Orff’s “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana while doing them.  The last time I did forms I practiced doing them fast, fast and powerful.  I chose this song because it’s like a battle ax flying through the air victoriously dripping the blood of your enemy.  (It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, it works for every side).  It made me work harder.  It made me tighten my muscles when I punched and my pace wanted to increase without my even thinking about it.

Tonight I listened first to a version of “Ave Maria” sung by The Vienna Boys Choir.  Then I wanted to feel more power.  I put Carl Orff on and was going fast and really feeling it, but then, then I decided for the last five minutes I needed to practice at tai chi speed.

Imagine that you have a hundred thousand men with brutal looking iron and steel weapons clanking behind you, restless to charge, you can feel the heat of their breath behind you and you feel fire in your veins to charge, to RUN, to raise your own broadsword high and yell like a fiend- and with this fierce energy all around you and in you- you move in slow motion.  You go slower than a Superbowl replay.  You go slow enough to feel your muscles burning and shaking because you’re forcing them to hold hold hold in place and you’re sweating but even your sweat is slow.

It seems like it couldn’t work, like you’d explode or be crushed by the energy charging from behind and charging towards you and charging in your own bones.  It seems like if you don’t move fast you can’t possible harness a speck of power and you’ll be nothing but entrails on a mace.  Instead you have to feel all your power in your center.  You are storing it, using it to maintain stances that will be much more effective if you can hold them still for a long time or move gracefully from one to another.  Listening to a piece of music like Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna puts all this power in your mindset, it makes you feel like a great warrior but then when you make yourself move painfully slowly to it you take all that energy and it goes into your solar plexis rather than outwards.  It goes inward and makes you feel like steel.

Until you feel like putty because your muscles scream with the pain of having to hold such strong poses.

I love doing forms.  I think it’s changing how I feel about my own body.  Even in its current state.  It’s changing what I believe my body is capable of.

I know many people already know what forms are but in case you don’t have a clear idea of what they are I am going to include a youtube link I want you to watch.  I want you to watch it because I think you’ll get something out of this.  I’m going to post my favorite one which is of Kung Fu school doing a demo at Venice Beach California.  Not all of what they’re doing in the video is forms.  The kicking is not.  But a good part of it IS forms.  Then I’ll put a second link below it that’s only forms.  Please watch them because I think you’ll appreciate what I’m writing about more if you do.  I want to share forms with you all.  Please note that I am going to purchase the mp3 of this Chinese rap song because it’s fantastic!

LA Shaolin Kung Fu Demo

And then this one which is just the cutest Asian chick you don’t want to mess with doing forms:

Shaolin Taizu Chang Quan

One more.  Please, watch.  These are Shaolin monks and this looks more like battle training which is what forms is:

Shaolin Wushu Training and Demonstration

Love the music in that one and also- those are some kids that will NEVER be bullied. Time for me to wind down for bed.  Whatever way you choose to meditate and strengthen yourself, to work towards becoming a stronger better version of yourself, it doesn’t matter.  Everyone needs to find their own way.  My sister Tara goes on meditation retreats when she can and has been doing yoga for years.  My friend Ann also does yoga.  Many of my friends go to the gym or run.  Whatever way you choose, I just hope it makes you feel as empowered as forms makes me feel.


Friday Night Wushu Forms

Doing forms is quiet at first.  You move through your counts carefully, ticking off each part as you do it, counting them down, moving yourself through them.  It’s casual at first.  Like you could do this in a field full of butterflies and California poppies spreading open sleepily and your muscles are relaxed and maybe a little arrogant, as though you’ve just asked them to do nothing more strenuous than a breezy morning stretch.

Then it deepens and grows weighty.  Your muscles aren’t laughing anymore because while they were making fun of your light demands they are caught off guard by how deeply you’re sinking into each move, your knees bending more, your back getting straighter, and to keep doing the moves your head must now focus on what it’s asking your muscles to do.  They must coordinate, something they do all day every day but now it’s different.  It’s different because you’re asking your body to become equine in strength.

It isn’t enough to coordinate your mind to your muscles and bring your focus into your core, you have to breathe.  Something you do every single day all day long without cessation and you might think you’re pretty good at it.  But you’re not.  So you have to focus on your breathing being even and deep and in a rhythm with your movements which are beginning to make you sweat and you will find you need more oxygen than you thought.

Then you become a body of water held together tenuously by your skin and the water is rushing and fighting to break the tension that holds it in.  Maybe it’s because you start to feel your own blood pumping through your body, like a roar in your ears, and you push it and push it and push it some more.  You have to keep it as directed as possible while pushing it.  It feels like you have become a mad river heading for your origin.  The burning you feel as your muscles try to follow the water is like light.  Everything is connected.  Everything is fluid.

That’s when you stop fighting.  You become bones, blood, oxygen, and muscle moving together in a shared language.  It’s power choreographed to look like water.

My Staff is not Bigger Than Yours (by much)

In Kung Fu tonight I struggled through a staff exercise, (not to be confused with struggling through a staph infection), and many negative thoughts went through my head such as “I can’t do this!” and “%$#)@&&!$%$%$#!!!!”.  I asked my Sifu if I could sit that exercise out because I wasn’t ready and he said No.  No.  He has this way of saying “no” with a smile full of very sharp steel.  It’s the kindest but hardest “no” on earth.  I did it.  I did not entirely enjoy it.  But I did it.

You know how in films the martial arts instructors are always deeply wise and can also paralyze a ten foot tarantula just by thinking stinging thoughts?  You watch it and you know that the master is going to do and say profound things and maybe you’re going to get a little annoyed at such VERY DEEP wisdom.

My Sifu is EXACTLY like that.  Except not annoying.  What makes him fantastic and what makes me trust him is that he is always showing us the chinks in his armor that make him human like the rest of us.  He lets us know just enough about his struggles with his ex-wife (well, we don’t get to hear what those are, just that he has them) so that when he makes us do the brutal slow wall kicks* until our legs feel as though they are catching on fire we don’t hate him.

What I’ve learned is that when he says I can do something, he’s always right.

I’ve been taking Kung Fu for a year now and I’m still having to remind myself to trust him because he never lies to me.  I have some trust issues.

This guy tells me I can knock down a 300 pound 6’5″ tall man and then, as though I was made of iron, I do it!  I just do it.  Like that.  As though this were always true my whole life.  I wish he’d tell me I can become a successful published novelist.  Knocking down 300 pound really tall men is pretty great too, though.

So when he tells me I have to participate in this exercise that I suck at and am scared of, I just do it.  Not well, but I do it.  Most of the students are really supportive so that when I say “I only know the offensive lines” they don’t ridicule or revolt or hit me with their giant staffs (not to be confused with penises**).

I don’t love the staff.

But I’ll tell you what I do love: double sticks!  We’ve been learning to fight with double sticks and I LOVE it!  When I have two sticks in my hands and I’m doing the sinwalis with a partner and the sticks are smoking (literally) with friction and the smell of the hot rattan hits the air and the rhythm is fast- being in my own skin at these moments is amazing.  Would you like to see what I’m learning to do?

(That’s my Sifu and his son Dakota. )

It’s a little long but I think you should watch it just for the broadswords comment.  Because obviously many of us are trained in fighting with broadswords… when you watch two black-belts doing these exercises together it’s gorgeous.  No other way of describing it.  It is an example of the fluidity and elegance that I love so much about Kung Fu.  To do it yourself though is even better, even more incredible and makes you believe in the power of the body to take flight.

My feelings about the staff are less warm.  I find it cumbersome and confusing.  So I’ve booked myself a private lesson with my Sifu to practice it.  I can’t promise myself that I will learn to love the staff exercises but I’m deciding right now that I can do it, that I can become proficient in it so that the next time someone assaults me with a spear I’ll know just what to do and I’ll be able to acquit myself with some degree of honor and not die.

Sifu says I can do impossible things and I mostly believe him.  Because so far he’s never been wrong.

*This is an excruciating exercise that could kill a lesser person than me.  I’ve taken the hospital stress test for the heart where you have to sign a waiver that says you realize the stress test might kill you and I think this kicking exercise is about ten times more strenuous but with no waiver.

**One of the best Kung Fu class moments was when a few of the guys were discussing the size of their staffs and I got to tell them how wildly inappropriate their conversation sounded.  Apparently guys do discuss size.