Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

Yesterday's Level 2 class was thoroughly satisfying for me. Only eight people showed up last night so I knew we were gonna work har-dah. And, it was my first Khalid-led class. At first, I was a little anxious because I have heard that he loves jumping (which my cranky knees don't always love) and I've seen the explosive level of chi he exhibits usually. But, to my delight, he slowed it down to a calm pace and went over a smaller group of basics with greater attention to details. Sort of a less can be more approach. Not that we had less chi, but that it was not as frenetic and more exacting.

We did some stuff I hadn't tried before, including the so-called jumping lihetui, which is gonna take me some time to wrap my mind around. In particular, we spent a good chunk of time on punches, which can be overlooked sometimes. Khalid reminded us to be graceful with our punches, again not lacking with the explosive chi, and maintaining our balance and fluidity. He told us to envision some of the best fighters like Muhammad Ali, who move swiftly and quietly, but stun with their punches.

For the last part of class, he decided to teach me, Mike J. and Carlos what I consider to be one of the truly awesome basics of Level 2 -- xuanzi aka butterfly kick. Up until this Level 2 class, I had been learning some new Level 2 basics, but all of them seemed to be a slight variation of things we already kinda knew, whether it be a combination of Level 1 basics (e.g., gongbu shuang tuizhang housatui gongbu liang zhiang) or a new kick or punch. But xuanzi has always seemed distinctly Level 2 to me. If done correctly, xuanzi makes you look like you're floating in the air as your legs fly up above the rest of your body. It had always excited me to see the more senior students practice them before Level 1 class started, but I wasn't sure of the possibility of myself ever executing one. Then, my friends who got to Level 2 before me started learning it and only then did I think, hey, maybe that'll be me in a little while. And finally, last night, I reached that point.

At first, after Khalid broke down the move for us, I found myself thinking way too much about each step individually. But then he went off to check on the others working on their respective forms and left us newbies alone to practice. The three of us kept taking turns over and over again, trying to take the thinking process out of it and beginning the building of our muscle memories. It became clear to me that my mind was weighing down my ability to fly and whip my legs around, so I just went for it, with encouragement from the guys. And finally, by the time Khalid came by at the end of class to check on our progress, he said to me in his quiet way, "You got it."

Not that I've perfected it, and that's it. But that I was off to a good start. And that's all I needed to hear last night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kung Fu Dork Profile #9

(Editor's note: Please welcome Lukas as a new contributor to our blog! Also, if you are interested in being featured in a Kung Fu Dork Profile, please contact one of us! You'll notice we've tweaked the questions a little.)

Name: Lukas
Temple Name: Mr. George Lucas (I think. Sometimes Shifu yells that when I have a lot of chi but maybe it's a coincidence.) ... but I don't like it.
Occupation: Camera Operator

Borough: Manhattan
Chinese Sign: Ram/Sheep

When was the last time you trained? 12/5 Friday night L2! I'm not so good at waking up "early" these days.

How is your commute to the temple? 8 miles by bike! Which on a good day is about 30 minutes, but it's usually about the same on the subway.

How did you learn about the temple? I saw a special on Shifu when he first came here around 1994. I remember I was watching Wimbledon at my Grandparents' house when it came on. I was entranced. I couldn't believe someone like him was here teaching Shaolin's secrets! I didn't know how or when but I knew someday I would HAVE to train with him!

When did you start training? June/July 2007.

What is your favorite move? This is a perfectly dorky question! Zuopan is pretty dope ... I don't know it's hard to pinpoint a favorite. There are plenty that I struggle with that force me to focus and become obsessed till I figure out the basic mechanics of them. Aerials are definitely one of them. Pubu drills are my nemesis!

What is your most feared L2 basic move?
I don't fear any move but I think it will be a tie between Xuanzi and LiYu DaTing for most difficult for me. My back is not very flexible yet and in order for me to do these the way I want to it's going to require a lot of diligence and maybe a few hours on the rack!

What injuries have you had from training?
Ha! There is quite a laundry list for me. Over the years I've torn my meniscus in my left knee and had surgery to remove about half of it. I've probably torn the right one too but I just deal with it, plus they say physiotherapy is usually all you need anyway. Too many doctors run to the knife and unknowing patients comply because they trust their doctors. . . . you might guess that I wasn't happy with my knife toting quack--I mean doctor. Prior to I sprained both knees. I partially torn a ligament connecting my collar bone to my shoulder trying to roll out of a join lock. Recently, as most of you know from my whining, I've developed shin splints. With the help of a lot of sound advice from my brothers and sisters I'm recovering pretty quickly - thanks!

What's the most important lesson you learn from training? How to make my weaknesses my strengths in all aspects of my life.

How many uniforms? 3 total - 2 blue, 1 orange.
How often do you buy new feiyues? Are they white or black? Depends on what move I'm working on. Saotui or FanYao; one pair/month. Black is verbotten!
Straddle or wall stretch? I like both.
Favorite place in New York to train outside of class? Wherever my friends are. When I want to be alone for meditation or Tai Chi I like to go to the hill that overlooks the Harlem Meer.
Best place to eat after class? Nice Green Bow is really growing on me! I like anywhere we can do family style! It makes us all feel like family.
Movie you wish they'd show at movie night? Jet Li's "Fist of Legend" -- I love that movie! I also think we could see more films like PING PONG or TOP GUN -- movies where people realize their potential even if it's not Kung Fu related. Though if we did do a Shaw Brothers marathon I'd love it!
What's your dorkiest kung fu quality? My affinity for talking about Kung Fu, training and martial arts in general.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sore No More?

I’m not that sore.

(Knock on wood.)

(Actually, let’s knock on wood a second time just in case.)

It’s so weird, but 4 days of training in a row, after a week off, and I’m not feeling as stiff or pained or injured or throbbing as I have come to expect in my training experience. I felt a little bit drained physically last night, but I still felt I had a lot of chi. My back hurts a little, but that is probably more from my soft mattress than the kung fu. Why do I not feel, well, frankly, worse?

(Knock on wood a third time for good measure. Also maybe throw salt over your shoulder or whatever other good superstitions you have at your disposal.)

Talking to Sucheela last night I wondered, “Am I not pushing myself hard enough?” I mean, one can always push harder and train farther, but I don’t feel that I’m taking it easy on myself these days. Admittedly, sometimes I don’t get in as many kicks as I should going down the carpet. But that’s because I have been focusing on putting maximum chi into each one. And while those things should be united, not exclusive, I certainly can’t pin that as the source of my non-soreness.

Why am I worrying? Not being sore is a GOOD thing. Why question when good things come to you? Maybe I’m too cynical and I am expecting a dreadful backlash. Maybe I don’t have enough confidence in my ability to increase strength and stamina. It’s sick, I was almost excited last night when I thought I felt some shin splints starting (they weren’t). I guess, the real answer is twofold: 1) my body is ready to push through to training at the next level, and 2) I am not used to exceeding my own expectations. I guess that means I should set them higher and then I won’t be so disconcerted when I am able to sleep like a log without waking up doing caijiaos. That's what we call "normal."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Heat is On - Winter Style

Winter is my favorite time of year to train. It’s dark and cold out so you aren’t tempted to skip class to go lounge in the park or do some other activity. At 5:00 it looks like nighttime so, for me anyway, training feels like a small detour on the way to bed. But the real joy is that it isn’t hot. Yes, I have made the breakthrough discovery that wintertime is colder than the rest of the year. And even though the giant heaters are often blowing unpleasantly during class, it's still preferable to sweltering 100 degree temperatures outside. Winter means no labored breathing in the nearly solid wall of humidity. Only one uniform required per class. No “Shaolin Showers.” And there is less desperate over-hydrating during the stretching break.

Imagine my astonishment then, when last night, about 30 minutes into class, I went to femininely blot some of the perspiration from my brow (ok, swipe the pouring sweat from my face like the Neanderthal man) only to find there wasn’t a dry spot left on my uniform to absorb it! It wasn’t mid-August, drenched-like-a-rainstorm-soaked, but it was significantly more sweaty than I am accustomed to as of late.

At the water break I unabashedly, and gloriously guzzled my entire bottle of water, without any nauseating consequences for the second half of class. What was going on here? Was it actually Summer and I just blacked out for 7 months? No. It was simply the extra-chi class fueled by the always-exciting N’ou-taught class and the presence of the long-absent Hwalan.

Also, at the beginning when N’ou had me demonstrate caijiao. It took me back to my first L2 class when he had me demonstrate lunbi caijiao and my brain completely froze. It’s nice to know that if nothing else, your basics are developing and strong, and it’s an especially good mindset to have while training.

Another source of inspiration was that even though I was extra sweaty, nothing hurt. I’m sore from training after the lazy-food-fest of last week, but no injuries, no unbearable hip pain or shin splints. No phlegmy flu hampering my lungs; no bad lunch wreaking havoc in my stomach. I was training unhindered and was able to execute my movements, (I felt) with much more chi and much less angst than usual. So even though it wasn’t my typical Winter training session, it is a class like last night’s that makes me excited to roll in again tonight and continue the fun, sweat and all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stretching with Shifu

(Amituofo! A guest entry from our class leader tonight, Shi Heng De.)

So tonight when I was about to call everyone back into lines after stretching, a bunch of people were doing cetitui stretch after Shifu had been doing it with Randy and Khalid. So I thought, "Hey, that looks good, let's all do it."

Luckily for me I was the odd one out, so I asked Shifu to stretch me. So I paid attention to his technique. I got as sideways as I could, straightened my leg, and just relaxed. It would be great if everyone knew how to stretch people like he does! So he raised my leg up to where there was pretty good resistance (not from me -- I was relaxed, but from my leg), but I wasn't dying. I was still able to flex my foot even more. That's not to say I wasn't getting a good stretch though. Believe me, I felt it!

Maybe I should not train for 5 days in a row more often: I hit the middle split tonight and was able to extend my back up off the floor too. I know I'm gonna feel it tomorrow though!

But, anyway, he held that for just a few seconds, then brought my leg down and told me to relax more. Then he shook the leg around a bit to help it relax. He said, "Now can go more." And when he brought it up a second time, it did go up more.

After the second round, he told me to relax again, and then, using his chest against my foot, pushed my knee to my shoulder, still on the sideways axis. This was to counterstretch, and we do the same thing when we do zhengtitui stretch, or the butterfly stretch after middle splits.

When he did my other side, the knee-to-shoulder stretch really pushed it for me (my left hip can't open up much) and my right (standing) leg started to bend without me even realizing it. Shifu noticed and gave a light kick to my shin to remind me.

Oh yea and I didn't even tell him when to stop or anything; he just stopped because he could feel it himself. After you stretch with other people a lot you start to be able to feel their bodies just from holding them and looking at them I think. So stretch together more! :)

So to me it was the same as how we do multiple rounds for straddle stretch or anything, or how I get in my stretching machine around 6 then go out a bit, then a few minutes later come back again and go more. First round relaxes and opens you up a bit, but subsequent rounds are where you really go further. And each time, Shifu didn't hold it for that long. Maybe it was because we were in the middle of class and it was a time thing, or maybe that's just a good way to do it.

Try different things and see what works for you! Be honest with yourself and push yourself! Train harder!

Monday, December 1, 2008


I've been away from training for a week; my sister was in town and though I did intend to bring her to a class, what with Thanksgiving and sightseeing we didn't make it to the Temple. Consequently I was really excited to come back tonight. There was a lot of HEAVY eating over the last six days, (when people come into town I like to take them out eating + Thanksgiving = lots of eating and more food still in the fridge) and I felt like there was sludge running through my veins, sludge comprised mostly of butter and heavy cream. It was definitely time to train.

Class was great. Randy and Khalid led the lines setting off each move with synchronized super-power. At stretching Sifu joined in and showed us the real meaning of flexibility. During forms we broke into groups for each form and spent the rest of class urging one another on. It was great to clear out all the blocked energy that had been building up and fermenting. And as I stretch out some shenanigans that cropped up in my knee, and avoid eating all the leftovers in my fridge, I feel very post-Thanksgiving thankful for being able to train and for having such a great group of people around me.

I hope to keep the ball rolling as I move towards Christmas and another 10 day vacation so that when I come back I can feel the same level of chi that I felt tonight. Those are the kind of leftovers I really need.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It was two minutes to seven and none of the regular teachers was at the temple. I was playing with the idea that maybe Shifu would teach us tonight or maybe Richu would teach and I would get to learn Tongbaiquan.

And then the clock pointed at 7. Shifu turned around and said "Sucheela - start the class."

And I went Whaaaaaa....!!!??!! Meeee...????

And then it's all a blur. I remember hearing Shifu saying random things. I also remember having the class did all the moves that I could think of and the clock only said 7:30pm. Good thing people like Richu and Cheng remembered all the basics and "whispered" them to me.

Anyway, the hour passed. We stretched, did a few more rounds of basics and then forms. I taught Ellen, Mike J, Lukas and Zang Tixi Pubu Loushou Gongbu Chongquan (which I thought I did best of all the level 2 basics), Zhiquan and Baiquan. On the other side of the columns, Shifu taught Cheng, Le, EZ, and Eric Tongbaiquan.

I am embarrassed to admit that I felt a pang of jealousy. I wanted to learn a new form too!!!

Then I realized I was learning something as well. Shifu didn't teach me the form but he taught me something else. He taught me about leading, about trusting and believing in myself. He showed me how wonderful training is from the other side of the line and how all of us can make training fun/challenging/exciting.

Huuggggeee thanks to everybody in the class tonight for being so supportive and chi-tastic!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kung Fu Ping Pong?!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Family Affair

Feeling a little sad at the end of my brother's visit, I went to the temple on Tuesday night for a shot of action meditation. The class was extremely small and fast with Joshua and Chris E. leading the line (welcome back Joshua!). The Chi was high but everybody was tired. However Shifu was in a good crazy chi mood the entire class. He came up with funniest bits while we did the basics. He showed off his super stretch during the break, encouraged and corrected us while we had one-on-one teaching sessions. And most importantly, he mumbled "hmmm alotta chi" at the end of my Dahongquan!

It was as if he was compensating for my blahh. I know it's just me trying to reach out but like other people said - things are what you want it to be. I wanted the temple to be there for me that day and it did. By the end of the class, I was sweaty, smelly, and exhausted - but I was happy to be there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Family Affair

Yesterday's class was quite a lot of fun. Sucheela's brother was there, as was Zu's sister, and Zhou and Lukas both had friends trying class. I also discovered that one of the new girls I taught later in class was Zhi's sister. It was a big class with lots of chi and I enjoyed it immensely: except the whole coughing up a lung thing.

I'm no longer infected with any disease (hooray!) but the winter air is still congesting my lungs, and when I start breathing heavily the coughing and hacking being. I apologize to everyone I disgusted yesterday. It's completely involuntary. My body is trying to de-phlegm itself and I'm simply along for the ride.

In spite of this, I really did have a good time. I felt flexible (from having three days off) and energized (again, three days off) and really enjoyed the enthusiasm the group carried through the whole class even when Sifu gave us no walks.

I'm really happy to get back to the no walking breaks. I feel like I get mentally weak when I have these expected rests. I want to push myself without stopping. God knows sometimes the thought of that walk is the extra boost that helps me get through the fifth round of jumps, but really, you don't need it. Especially in a class that large. And with the weather taking a sudden dip back to regular November temperatures, too much stopping and there's going to be some cold muscles and accidentally injury. I only hope that when my sister comes for Thanksgiving we can pull together a class with equally awesome chi; it will be my second sister I drag to training, I hope she is as enthusiastic as my last.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Strawberries & Cream

I've been to a few Level 2 sessions now, and want to post my few early observations. It obviously is a new game with new moves to learn and the bright orange uniforms, but there are so many intangibles as well.

- The overall level of chi is elevated. Maybe it's partly due to the orange that makes the room sunnier, but it seems like all the players involved are more energized. The Level 2ers are generally people who've been training for a while and have manifested a long-term commitment to kung fu by virtue of them being there, so the chi is not necessarily greater, but of a different quality. There is a greater sense of group dynamic whereas in Level 1, a lot of newer people are still figuring out their individual energies and abilities to commit. During my short while in Level 2, I've heard a lot more laughing and seen many smiles. People are more relaxed, yet more intense at the same time, if it makes any sense. I really like this feeling of being the newbie again, and hearing every one else who knows me giving me encouragement so that I don't pass out.

- Speaking of passing out, I am finding myself struggling while doing basics in Level 2. Conditioning my body will be even more important, and I'm hoping that my attending Level 2 a few times a week will push it in ways I have yet to see. After being in Level 1 for so long, I kinda fell into a groove in terms of pushing myself due to the overfamiliarity with how class was run. Now that it's new all over again, I have to learn a different way of pacing. For example, basics generally run close to an hour in Level 2, and that also means no walking time! Awesome!

- In the three Level 2 sessions I've attended, I've had three different great teachers -- Han, De and N'ou. Back when I first started training (at the old Temple) we would occasionally have different senior students leading Level 1 class (Jie, Gu, N'ou, Zhou, Tiao, etc.), but in recent times, at the current location, Shifu and Xu teach most of the Level 1 classes. So it is wonderful to have this rotating cast of teachers. They each infuse a different style and energy which really keeps you on your toes, so to speak. This probably means very little predictability, so you really have to be AWAKE!

- And because these senior students are leading class, this gives Shifu the opportunity to really watch what we are doing. I've often felt his gaze, but am even more aware of it now. As I've been stumbling around at the back of the line, I'm partly worried that he's watching me and thinking, Did I make a mistake in promoting her to Level 2? but I gotta just ignore that thought and run with it all. And not collapse.

- I also love that with Level 2 comes a new sense of adventure. For example, I am now committed to the idea of trying straddle and side splits which I had never really done prior. Yeow! Also, before and after class, I watched my friends pull out the mats and trampoline and do all kinds of jumps and flips with varying degrees of success. In particular, after class I found it inspiring to see Leo, Richu and Han working on butterfly twists. It was great to see them keep trying over and over, despite tumbles and face plants and talk of strawberry bruises. People are learning to fly higher and want to help each other soar.

- Speaking of strawberry bruises, this morning I woke up and looked down at my ankle and saw I grew one of my own, probably from all the lunbi caijiaos N'ou had the newbies do on the side for a while. Love it!!! Evidence that I'm growing again!

- Oh, and can I say, handstand pushups?!!?!?

I know Level 2 is a whole different challenge. I am excited and honored to finally be part of the process, and I can't wait to express my chi at a whole new level!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


When N'ou walked in tonight, I felt a burst of excitement; it's been awhile since I've been in a class he taught, and I missed having his style in the mix. Sadly, pretty early on in class I managed to tweak/pull/or otherwise distress something in my left quad and I felt gimpy and debilitated the rest of class. Still, I soldiered on and tried not to be too melodramatic in my sighs of anguish/pain. Probably it's another sign of my atrophy over the latest period in the kung fu saga and I deserve this pain.

It's frustrating because, mentally, my chi has returned. Today I was back to training even though I'm working at staving off a bronchial infection. Slightly sick training wasn't unusual in former times, but the last few weeks (okay months) I latched onto any bogus reason not to show up to class. However, since I felt my haphazard training contributed largely to my prior illnesses, I knew I needed to show up tonight.

Still (to digress) sick three times in 1 1/2 months?! It's totally unprecedented. I usually get one cold a season. Never the flu really, and rarely to I get fevers or any other dramatic symptoms. But since coming to NY I have gotten sick very often. Some was adjusting to a new climate, new allergens, even new water. And some is moving to a city that's much more congested, spending time cramped in on public transportation, and lots of dirt floating in the air. But darn it, I'm from hardy country stock and I'm supposed to be robust and healthy, not hacking like an old lady all the time. Now with my leg gimped out I feel like some caricature of a grandma hobbling and coughing around the city.

Probably it will feel better in the morning, but I will still give it the night off tomorrow. And maybe it's greedy to want to train and not be sore. You can't have everything in life I suppose. I made it through without having to stop, and I didn't get sick from the slight nausea. It's all in my head, I always make it through class. So maybe that's the lesson all of this ties in to: who teaches, the pain of an injury, hangover, sickness, a long absence, none of it has yet caused me to pass out, throw up, break some body part, or give up before the class finished. And if I've gone this long without giving up, there should never be an instance where I'll have to. So no more thoughts of "God, I'll never make it through tonight." I always do. Those thoughts are a waste of chi that could be directed, as now, to rebuilding my quad as it rests under the heating pad.

Don't Cramp My Style!

I don't want to speak too soon, but I do feel like I'm at the beginning of another good training phase. All day I wanted to train. When the 4:00 blues hit, I still wanted to train. And when I walked to temple, I still wanted to train. When I got home, I got right back to blogging; two nights in a row! Good things are definitely in store.

I am still working at getting back in the swing of things. Yesterday, while not the hardest class of late, I did experience something I had thought was far behind me: stitches in my side. I learned long ago when running, and then again when I was a swimmer, that despite appearances, you can train through such cramps, and you end up stronger as a result. I applied the same philosphy to training kung fu, but I was extremely happy when I put the days of double-me-up stomach cramps behind me.

Last night I felt the chi from the first "Line up!" And Sifu even gave me muttered encouragement during caijiaos. But the amped up popping and extension caused me to start feeling those side stitches before we got to cetitui, and they didn't leave for the rest of basics. Luckily, they weren't too severe and I was able to finish class with the same chi I started (relatively). Still, it's a sign how my strength and endurance have dropped off. This time last year I had just finished my training mini-marathon. I really miss that fitness and chi-level, even though they came with a fair amount of soreness.

Luckily, as Spenser says "there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought." So I have never really lost my chi or my endurance because it is always there waiting to be rediscovered. Or, for a less esoteric reference, someone said (maybe Bruce Lee?) that kung fu isn't learning, but reminding yourself of things your body forgot. (Something to that effect. I'm better with 16th century literature I guess.) In any case, I'll do my best to not have those concerns either way, by not forgetting/losing/regressing anymore, but always moving forward, as we're taught.

Life Skillz

From the Daily News, "Wanna-be thugs nabbed after Karate Grandpa shows them his chops." Diogenes Angeles, 57, "kept his karate skills sharp by practicing every day, saying he knew they would someday come in handy."

Chi, yeah!!

(Picture courtesy of Daily News)

Ninja Kittens!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weighty Issues

I simply haven't been able to get back into my training routine. And it's been going on so long that not training is really my routine. I can't remember the last time I consistently did 4+ days a week continuously. But never fear, I have found the solution. A scale.

Now before you start posting lots of comments about how scales are bad, you're not fat, blah blah blah, let me clarify some facts.

I don't need people to tell me I do or don't look fat -- that's not the point of this post. Yes I know I'm tall; yes I know muscle weighs more than fat; and yes I know my hobby is baking cupcakes so that would account for any extra poundage. But the trickiness of buttoning my winter coats made me want to take a look at the scale, and muscle or no, what I saw was a quite a lot more that what it should be.

And yes I know weight is a number; and yes I know muscle weighs more than fat and yes I know there should be fewer cupcakes in my diet. My greater concern was it was a clear sign of how little I've been training, and that does makes me feel low on the self-esteem, the lack of follow through in my training. Also, I am very much concerned about what that extra weight must be doing to my joints every time I jump. It's not just a few vanity pounds when comparing last year to this, and I really don't need to handicap my jumping height or make any part of training that much harder on my knees and ankles and back.

So this is a lesson I wanted to share, don't let a passion for frosting and cake distract you from taking care of your body: both in how much you consume and how many nights you take off to bake more. Not only is one's body a temple and all of that lovely stuff, when you line up, it's all you have to work with; and lighter, well-conditioned things are so much easier to make work for you. Plus, think how much higher you'll jump.

(No, these aren't my feet.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Orange Crush

It is no longer an object of fancy for your humble Narrator; I finally got the call to the big leagues, to wear the orange robes, and no, I couldn't wait to try them on, as evidenced by the photo above. :)

It has been a mighty struggle for me, especially from the time I blew out my knee to not passing erluquan during testing six months ago. Well over a year had transpired since I finished erluquan, and I had to find ways to understand why I needed to be in Level 1 for another six months after not being elevated to Level 2 this past April. Of course, one can always polish and refine what one has learned, and one can become stronger, but the challenge also became a mental one.

Mainly, I had to fight to maintain my motivation. This was not about going to class and having Shifu motivate me with his barking. Rather, this was about me pushing myself, in spite of myself. I have witnessed several of my dearest friends who started after me get to Level 2 ahead of me, and while yes, I know it's about the individual journey, and not comparing yourself to others, most of us have enjoyed success in our lives largely due to a competitive sense. I wanted to be able to train with my brothers and sisters, learning new things together, like we used to. I admit to feeling traces of jealousy at times when hearing my fellow dorks discuss new moves. I felt bad for feeling simultaneously proud and envious of them for progressing through subsequent Level 2 forms while I remained stuck on erluquan. And so, when I cried like a baby after last certificate ceremony, it was for a multitude of reasons, none of which were hugely attractive.

But I had to keep reminding myself that I'd get there eventually. Maybe it'd take me a little longer than others, but I needed to keep plugging away. While I was recovering from my knee injury and couldn't train and missed my friends for two months, I remember thinking, geez, I can't wait to train kung fu again. Just to be able to caijiao and mabu again with my peers would be a wonderful thing! And it goes to show that it's not about how high you kick, or how fast you fly, but that you're doing it, and you try and try again to do it better. The action is meditation itself -- it's not about what you're doing, necessarily, but the doing itself.

We see people come to train at Temple with varying skills. Some so very amazing and lithe, others needing much training. But we judge not how well people do in terms of ability, but how hard they try, vis à vis their expressions of chi. I hope, for me, that ability to express my chi never dries up. As long as I can move my body, I hope to keep moving forward.

Thanks to all of you who've been so supportive. I am so glad to have had you along for my ride. All week long before yesterday's ceremony, I promised myself I wouldn't cry again, yet surely I did, but at least this time they were tears of happiness. I was one of the first Kung Fu Dork bloggers to write; I am the last of the bloggers to move to Level 2, and to that, I say, better late than never!

So, in five minutes, I shall depart my laptop, and jump on the subway, for what will be my very first Level 2 class, which promises to be scary and fun and challenging. I cannot wait to train harder, to learn new things, and to continue forth with the next chapter of my journey of getting to know myself.



Congratulations to everyone who passed their forms!

It was a pretty gratifying ceremony, with tons of cheers and a few (happy!) tears. I'm still mildly curious if there was a Xiao Hong Quan mix up. I can wait another 6 months to find out though. After all, I did add an extra move to my form during testing, and sadly the error was not just chalked up to my expressing myself :)

I'm just hoping the confusion related to faulty record-keeping is not a foreshadowing of any dubious voter-calculation activities which may want to rear their ugly heads tomorrow.

One more time: Congratulations!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Food for Thought

This past Sunday, after testing, Sifu's comments were that we were getting sloppy and slow. Not exactly the summary one hopes for. "Sifu!" I wanted to cry, "I had the stomach flu! I've barely eaten for 5 days!"

I managed to refrain. my only goals going into testing were to not pass out or throw up. But his words stuck with me, especially as he repeated them to the seven lonely people that showed up for Level 2 Monday night. He added, "No more. Starting today always be strong. Always be sharp."

"But Sifu!" I wanted to cry, "I had the stomach flu! I've barely eaten for 5 days!"

I couldn't bear being a disappointment, but instead of protesting, I shut up and began class. It was awesome and totally bizarre. After ten minutes we were still working on caijiao. By 7:30 we had gotten through three basic moves. By 8:00 we had finished going over 6 moves, all L1 basics.
You can imagine the intensity with which we were executing and fine-tuning the details of every kick. It wasn't at all frustrating but instead rejuvenating to get the tough love and be forced to go back and do those very first basics upon which we constantly build. During stretching, Sifu made a side comment, "Push yourself -- if it was easy everyone would be a master."

By the end of class something clicked. I didn't need to cry my excuse to Sifu because it didn't matter. I should have approached testing with as much chi as ever. Sure I had been sick, but I was kidding myself if I couldn't admit that part of the problem was the week I took off before the bout of illness. Before that I had taken another week off from an earlier bout of flu. There may have been sickness mingled up in there, but I was indulging it and more than the dehydration from stomach flu, the only 2 days of training in a span of nearly three weeks was more to blame. You can only lie to yourself just so much, before you realize your making excuses to make yourself feel better about something you feel guilty having done. I needed some time off; that was fine. But that was my choice and I can't milk an illness to justify that choice. You have to be confident in your decisions and then won't feel the need to justify them later.

So I can't go in and say, "I had the stomach flu!" and then settle for making it through without passing out and throwing up. That's trying to cover the fact that I was not feeling right about my choice not to train before that point. I needed to have gone in there with the highest level of chi I could muster. The same goes for class. I choose to come. As Sifu says, "Don't waste your life. You come to temple, then train harder." So I shouldn't come to training without giving it 100%. Even if physically or mentally I'm not at my optimum place, I can give all of whatever I have. Doing that, I'll have nothing to regret, nothing to reprimand myself for, and there won't be any reason not to be proud of every choice I make. I won't need excuses and I won't to worry if Sifu thinks I'm training hard enough; I'll know I am through being honest with myself and he'll see it. So, to sum up this public moralizing, let's try to do what we profess and train harder.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A few words from Heng Ji (Branden)

With testing coming up this weekend for most, I thought a little reflection might be appropriate.

- If your body is strong but your mind is lazy, you lack the mental discipline and focus to train harder and push your body further.

- Finish stronger than you began.

- True happiness come from a life that is fulfilled.

- A truly happy life is a life of action, not distraction.
True happiness comes from mastering and polishing your life.
It comes from self-respect and self-confidence, from developing harmony and balance so that you can savor 'THIS' moment, here and now, for the beautiful gift that it is.

- Happiness is spreading peace and love to the people around you.

That is the warrior way.

- Be fully mindful of the moment.

- Commit yourself to training everyday.

Good luck to everyone!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's good to be back

Taking a break has its own benefit. For one thing, my knees were pain free until I started training again. But it's good to be back. To see people I know and with whom I have at least one thing in common. To feel welcome.

Tonight was my third class after being away for one and a half months. The pain and stiffness were still there. The flexibility hasn't come back. The first 20 kicks still hurt like hell. But it's OK. There was chi in the air. At the front of the lines, there were Xu, Khalid, Zhou, Randy and moneyfoot. It was beautiful and inspiring watching them training - especially when it's time for Tengkong Fanyao.

After the class, Heng Zhou's parents and sister showed up. They were such delightful people. One bit of wisdom from Zhou's mom that kept coming up in my head: She said she learned a lot since Zhou he started training. It's not because he brought anything new to the table. It's because they started talking more about the meanings and reasons for things. Subjects that everybody already realized but never brought up. Just by talking about it makes you learn.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Test Prep

Yesterday was disciple ceremony, and as a result, class was cut a little short. But not before I was able to pound through some forms with re-ignited chi.

It was strange, I didn’t get all that much sleep, and I was pretty sure I was coming down with a cold (confirmed today) but there was no way I’d skip out on class before Disciple Ceremony, especially when I had only been to 3 classes this week. Heng Mo and I met up to walk to the train together and both of us were feeling a fair amount of indigestion from the unaccustomedly obscene amount of meat we ate at Qbertplaya’s BBQ birthday the day before. Our one consolation was that, at least the meat might give us chi (if we didn’t get sick first…).

I guess it worked because we both agreed that it was an excellent class. When forms time came I was able to attack them with a level of chi that I had been lacking since coming back from China. Or maybe we were both just feeling the chi in anticipation of Disciple Ceremony. But it was a relief, because with testing coming up, feeling exhausted during forms is not a good sign. Only so much endurance can be regained in 3 weeks. I am really looking forward to testing both XHQ and DHQ, but they are not walks in the park, so I will need all the preparatory chi I can get!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to Back

I love our Shaolin community. When packing up after work yesterday I saw two new voice messages on my cell. The first, was from fellow dork Heng Mo’s boyfriend, who was locked out of their apartment. (Mo and I also happen to be neighbors so I have her keys. Sadly, I wasn’t around to be helpful. Still, it was a nice reminder of our compatriotism.) The second was from fellow China-traveler Livia, who had just finished taking day class. The contents were, roughly, “Oh my God class was so rough! I know you trained yesterday, I wanted to see if it was as bad for you!”

Livia has more chi than several people combined, so if she was tired you know it must have been rough. No worries, Livia, you were indeed echoing my sentiments from Sunday. As I touched on in my last post, because of weird jet lag, I was up at 6 am Sunday, so decided to hit training and get it out of the way. In spite of appearances, we didn’t actually do that much “training” in China. We learned a lot, we hiked a lot of mountains. But none of it was really comparable to training an intense 2 hour class. And combined with the amount of un-nutritious eating and hours and hours of being sedentary on buses and trains, well, it didn’t spell for a triumphant return to training. All in all, her message, combined with the previous day’s training, left me with an ominous feeling as I headed to Level 2 last night.

As 6:45 rolled around and warm bodies remained scarce, I was really wondering where everyone was. I knew that Sunday I would probably be the only lunatic to come train. (Actually, Zhou was there too. More chi!) And I knew Monday might be somewhat sparse, but again, only one other China comrade, Richu, was in attendance. Now, I am not feeling superior for being stupid/crazy enough to train two days back to back immediately after disembarking a 13 hour flight. I was scared about what would happen if I started procrastinating. Plus, I missed it. And, in the end, despite the dubious mindset I went in with last night, class was more mentally enjoyable than it had been for awhile before leaving. I couldn't move so well this morning, but that's the price you pay.

Tonight, I'm not training, making sure that I get back in the swing methodically and without injury. (Plus I am still not totally unpacked…) But mentally, I would still love to go. There are lots of folks I have yet to see since returning, and there is much to review, both from the trip and in preparation for impending testing. But rest is probably wise.

Long story short, it hurts, but it’s great to be home!

Monday, September 29, 2008


Well, I know everyone was hoping for consistent, exciting updates from our journey into the Middle Kingdom, and when it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, began eagerly anticipating the promised deluge of posting that would follow quickly on the heels of my return. Now, you're patiently making excuses for me (jet lag, unpacking) for why I haven't yet provided the details on the China training. You're reading this now with joy and wondering when the heck I'll get on with it and talk about training. Here's the thing, there is just too much to even begin trying to capture it all in blog posts. Even when I leave out the stuff not strictly kung-fu related there is more than I can wrap my brain around telling everyone, and I feel inadequate to convey what happened without losing a lot in translation. I'm overwhelmed just thinking where to begin.

I can tell you that I learned eagle claw and sword, and that others learned tiger, mantis, and 7 star fist. But just from that I could devote an entire post to describing what eagle feels like, or what it's like to be taught by an instructor who doesn't speak any English. I could wax poetic for pages about the wushu schools, and watching the armies of children training on expanses of bare dirt doing rapid fire caijiaos and butterfly twists and intense stretching exercises. I have a whole post in my head about watching our instructors at Sifu's brother's school do 10 backflips in a row and suicides on a cement floor, jumping higher than any of us could if we had a sprung floor under us. I could talk about how we couldn't drink the tap water so I was never fully hydrated. How it felt to train with perpetual low grade indigestion.

Then there's all the spiritual moments. Climbing Drum Mountain at the Shaolin Temple; seeing the places we hear about in Buddhism class. I want to talk about the irony of watching a monk talking on a cell phone and the different feelings and thoughts that evokes. Or seeing the classic monk-coming-down-Bell-Mountain-stairs-on-hands-and-feet. Then there's the experience of meeting our Sifu's Sifu and how surreal that felt.

I can talk about the bizarre jet lag that had me training yesterday, about how totally whipped I was in class and how much endurance I lost in two weeks. the list is endless. So why don't I? Instead of summing up all the things I COULD talk about, why don't I just talk about them, you wonder? Besides it being an overwhelming amount of blogging, besides not wanting to bore the pants of everyone, and besides feeling unable to do it justice, honestly, I myself haven't totally absorbed everything or straightened out all my thoughts and feeling about everything I did and saw. Note the excessive run-on sentences in this post.

So, while I set it all in order in my mind, I invite you to ask any questions that I hope I can compile into a single "Answers here" post. For the rest of it, expect lots of anecdotes and references to crop up as I move forward in my posts. I beg your patience in this endeavor. In a way it's like looking at my photos, looking at them all en masse can never convey the experience and deadens your senses, whereas seeing one picture has its own story and its own impact it couldn't otherwise have. At the same time, the single picture isn't enough to express the whole trip. So as I move forward it will be like seeing the photos a few at a time, and I think it will provide the best story.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Learning to Fly

Before we learned to walk, we all repeatedly fell down over and over again until we were able to develop our muscles and coordination to the point where we can balance ourselves precariously on two feet. It is after millenniums of evolution that humans have become one of a handful of creatures that has chosen to walk on it's hind legs. And now, I'm on a quest to further that evolution. I want to aerial, butterfly twist, and TengKongWaiBaiLiang as my only mode of travel from Point A to Point B.

I feel like a child learning to walk again. Oooo...boy! I sure have the bruises to prove it too. On Wednesday night Level 2 class, I walked in and both John and Heng Ji (Branden) said to me, "So you landed an aerial, eh? Let's see it!" They proceeded to pull out the big mats for us to play on. We had about 20 minutes worth of jumping and fumbling through the air trying our best to land our aerials and butterfly twists. None of us landed it but it was nice to have the mats and not have to worry about landing too hard on the ground. It does pose an interesting question. Is it better to learn how to land it on a mat, build the confidence there and then land without it? Or is it better to venture out onto the real surface where we will be doing the aerial anyway? I suppose it comes down to personal preference. Do you want bruises now or later? You are going to fall a few times. It's a fact. It's overcoming that fear of self-preservation. It's letting it all go and just fly. During class, I put that philosophy to the test. Heng De let us do BaiWangZaiKui for about 10 minutes. I think the way I was falling was scaring some people. "Leo, when you land fall, it's like seeing and hearing a sack of potatoes fall on the ground. Ka-Boom! But you do it with no fear though. I don't know if I can do that..."

My body is still a little battered today. I am not sure if it is from the falling or my muscles getting used a new way of coordination and use. I would like to think it's the latter because if I let my fear control me, I will never be able to fly. It really isn't about the falling down. It's about the getting back up and trying again after you just failed. But maybe I should invest in some protection, just in case. A wearable airbag. I sure could use that!

Even though I wince in pain every step I take, I can't wait to get out there and learn to fly again.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Riding on the Wings of Victory

The Aerial. I did it. I landed one.

After seeing it all my life in kung fu movies, tv shows and acrobatic tumbling routines, I did something on Friday I've never thought I would be able to do. I landed my own aerial.

It's not that I never thought I would be able to do it. Lots of people can do it. Most of the senior Level 2's can. I remember one of my first classes at the Temple when Heng Li was leading the line and we were doing 側手翻 (CeShouFan). He did aerials oh-so-casually all the way down the line. And if you know Li, when I say "casual", I mean FULL of chi. :) My fancy took flight and I told myself, "If I trained harder, maybe I'll get there too."

It's been a year and a half since that day and I have evolved physically, mentally, and spiritually. I've been feeling and witnessing exponential growth within me. Friday was the day I tasted my first freedom and learned to fly. That's exactly what an aerial is. It's suspended animation gliding through the air. It's as if a mini-worm hole was created and the laws of physics and gravity no longer applied. For that split second, time stopped and the world ceased to exist. I was in a moment of total amazement and bliss. The next second came and the world came rushing back. All I heard was the class exploding in clapping and cheers. I landed one. My very first.

I've been on the cusp many times. But, right when I get to the vertical point, doubt would creep in and I would reach out my hands and fall back down. Not holding out your hands to touch the ground takes courage and fearlessness. You have to believe that your head won't get smashed on the ground. You have to believe that your body has enough momentum to carry you over the 90 degree point. You have to believe in yourself.

I've had horrendous pain in my neck and spine in the past two weeks. I'm not really sure how I got it but it just wouldn't go away. Now I know what that was. It was the blossoming of my wings of victory.

Friday, September 12, 2008

So long, farewell.

I can’t pull two thoughts together for this post because I’m going to CHINA tomorrow. It’s so exciting, intimidating, and downright exhausting thinking of what is in store for us there. I hope to be able to keep the blog fairly well updated with the training over there. But if not, expect a deluge of posts when we return in two weeks. I am going to go with no expectations except for adventure, and hopefully, will come back with all kinds of brilliant philosophical and kung fu insights. Or at least come back with some fun souvenirs and good photos.

Training last night, I got to thinking about how different classes will be for everyone still here with so many of us gone. And I realized, that while taking 21 people out of the mix will affect the numbers somewhat, there is such a strong group of new folks that the absence of those China-bound will not be felt that drastically. And while, I like being missed, I am glad to think that temple won’t be a ghost town while we're away. See you all soon!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Aaaaand we're BACK

Last night, the first half of L2 was an hour and 15 minutes long. Not the first time and I'm sure not the last. but then, we only had six minutes of stretch break before we started again. As the third to go in the wall stretch, I had just enough time to sit down before I heard "Line up!" no great tragedy. I was actually able to waibaitui much stronger having not just strained my hip flexors in the stretch. But when I woke up this morning, I felt the full force of what had happened. Absolutely ZERO stretching.

I go through phases stretching. Sometimes I come home and it's the first thing I do. Or I do it hot from the shower, or when I wake up. Sometimes I have a routine, sometimes I just hop out of bed, touch my toes and run to work. The hour before training I spend a good bit stretching. It feels great after sitting at a desk all day. My recent laziness, culminating with no stretch last night, resulted in an unforeseen level of soreness today. Some muscle around my knee that never hurt before was berating me the whole walk to work. I forgot how quickly you return to sore muscles when you take time off. More importantly, I forgot the crucial message I always give first timers - you MUST stretch. So I'm going to keep this short so that I don't get too comfortable here, and I'm gonna go make amends to my now VERY sore legs.
I do love it though. It's a sign I'm getting back in the groove.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sloth Style

Last week, I became a master of a rare animal form- one so closely guarded, only a few people have every had the chance to see it, let alone learn it. But I can now name myself amongst the few who have perfected this rare art: sloth style.

In the past we've talked about how KF can be so addictive, that you go into over-training mode without realizing it. You have to take a serious step back and assess yourself when you might be injured. It got to where the only way I could keep myself from training, and rest my body, was to leave all my gear at home.

Then somewhere in the middle of the summer I got deluged with activities and obligations and I was only making it three times a week. "That's okay," I told myself. "Three is still plenty to maintain." then I needed a week of rest. Or two. And I was still only getting three a week. "That's okay. You need to let your brain reboot also." Then I hurt my back and it all went downhill. "That's okay, you don't want to seriously injure yourself, you want to be healthy for the China trip." The voice in my head continued to smother my guilt. A back injury is really hard to push through, because it affects nearly every move you do and you end up so frustrated and in pain that it really is a downer to even come to class. But I knew I couldn't use that excuse forever. Still... "That's okay," the voice in my head continued to reassure me. "Reboot yourself. You have the rest of your life." Stupid devil on my shoulder. Never listen to that little voice. It's the siren song of your doom.

Suddenly, China deployment is this Saturday and I only trained ONCE last week. What the heck?!?! I came to Level Two ready to punish myself, but I realized I lost the chance weeks ago. Somewhere in there, I crossed over from the training addiction to the laziness addiction. Now, I'm glad I realized some balance in my life, and got other extracurriculars going. And I really had a blast this summer. But ONCE? It's amazing how quickly you find the joy of sitting on the sofa and reading for hours, or wasting a lazy sunday in the coffee shop and the park.

This is exactly why I over-trained. Because I knew as soon as I allowed myself the possibility of not training just because, that I would rapidly slide into sloth. Moderation is not a strong point of mine, and balancing in the middle has always been tough. Now suddenly I am slow and heavy and sloppy; my endurance is shot. I'm not sore, but what does that get me? I have to be
representing in China in just a few short days.

Hopefully, tonight's training will help kick start a successful week's prelude. While it won't have me back jumping higher and moving faster, at least I can re-coordinate and sharpen what I've got. And heck, whatever happens, I'm gonna be in Ch-Ch-Ch-China! Maybe everyone else will be learning mantis and tiger, but I'll show them something they never saw before. Sloth Claw!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sources of Inpiration

Thanks, Cheng, for your inspired call to action! I've been half-writing this post in my head for a bit now without committing any words on my keyboard, but now your poem compelled me to push it out... :)

Anyway, now that I've been training for a bit over 2.5 years now (and still stuck in L1), I am not learning anything "new" per se, so I strive to improve what I already do know by trying to make things sharper, doing actions faster, and so forth. Something that has been sort of a nemesis to me is trying to avoid taking steps in between kicks. Shifu has called me out on it so many times, and it really hit me hard this past Spring. I think I've made some progress in erasing this terrible habit of mine through a long process of almost having to re-learn by observing others, by changing my sense of balance, and by reminding myself that it's not about doing it fast, but doing it correctly. Constant evolution!

Recently, at the 100 day ceremony for Heng Ju, I saw Niederwelt's 5 year old niece Nina spinning cartwheels like it was nobody's business -- she effortlessly did one after another without any pauses or steps across the green carpet much to the amusement of herself and others. It really was ceshou-fun!

The next week I attended a day class and while we were doing ceshoufans during basics, I heard Xu call to me not to take extra steps. Buoyed by my memory of Nina a few days earlier, I tried it out, and wheeeee! boy, did those ceshoufans come whipping by faster! In fact, I felt like I was moving so much quicker that I almost lost my sense of balance and came tumbling down. I guess like with everything, I'm just gonna have to readjust and recalibrate. Oh, and maybe attempt ceshoufan again from the other side...yeahhhhhhh.......

Speaking of observing others, in recent classes I attended, I have noticed a new young fellow who has yet to learn all the basics, but does the most wonderful tenkong fanyaos. I don't know his name (yet) but I am inspired by how fluidly he leaps into the air and rotates. He is gazelle-like and strikes me as a dancer. I shall have to study his movements more and hopefully something will seep into my own labored tengkong fanyao.

It goes to show that you never know when you'll find something from which to learn.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wispy Participation

Because Summer is busy, it's true-- I haven't been around too much, and I miss my regular 3 or (that wishful) 4 classes per week. And because Cheng cared enough to write a rhymy poem, I wanted to participate in our blog with some non-rhymy musings.

Tonight's class was great. I'm easing back into it after "maintaining" a saddening 1 x per week "schedule". It's more like catch as catch can while work is so busy, and while weekends camping in Vermont are beckoning. I used to feel guilty when I couldn't make it to class, but I don't anymore. I love training when I can train, and while it is of personal importance to me that I maintain a balance in my life, Temple will always be a part of that balance.

To wit: Last week I learned something interesting in a Buddhist workshop that Cheng and I attended: Guilt can be transformed into what they called Intelligent Regret. While guilt eats at you and drains your sensibilities, intelligent regret is steeped in mindfulness and helps guide your future choices toward a more elegant outcome. Intelligent regret highlights the misstep as a lesson to be learned instead of bogging you down in the unhelpful darkness of self-admonishment.

It made me really happy to train tonight, to be back, to see everyone, to move my body, however sluggishly. The choice I made to prioritize training is reinforced by the way I feel when I train. Coming to Temple is a self-perpetuating cycle of awesomeness. If I could insert a checkmark here, I would.

Oh man, a checkmark would just be so perfect.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Absence makes the blog grow duller

I know I KNOW! We've been horribly absent from the blog of late. Aside from a quick, humorless note here and there complaining about my back or some such thing, posts have been haphazard at best. So, while I draft up a nice long new post that will hopefully supply hours of amusement my sparking a firestorm of comments, here is a mea culpa ode.

Oh KFD Bloggers! Where did you go?!
Your posts entertain me and work is so slow.
I know that you’re busy. You all have real lives.
Boyfriends and girlfriends and fake baker-wives.
But I know you’re still training; I saw you last night!
Yet no posts appearing? Now that just ain’t right!
I’m sorry; forgive me. I shouldn't complain.
But there’s something so lovely in sharing your pain.
So turn off the gchat, and turn off the phone,
And come back to blogging, I feel so alone!
It might not be pretty. It won't need to rhyme.
Just mention caijiao and we'll have a great time!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pain in the Back

I’m the first to admit, I’m of a melodramatic nature. The refrain of my childhood was my mother saying, “Stop being so dramatic.” So when I reach some physical or mental barrier in kung fu I really do try to reign in the grimaces and groans and involuntary gesticulations of frustration, pain and exhaustion. Everyone is tired. Everyone has pain. Everyone makes mistakes.

This is what my intellect is telling me. But my emotional reactions are, as I said, involuntary, and so controlling them can be difficult. Half of the time I don’t even realize that I am doing X melodramatic thing. Still, I don’t want to look like I am trying to prove something or enlist sympathy through my expostulating, so I am trying to learn to identify and control it. I don’t want to be making excuses even if they are subconscious scowls of pain.

That being said, where’s the line from mind over matter, and when is it ok to say, “I’m hurt.”? Saturday and then last night, Xu and the Sifu both asked me if I was all right. Going to show that however much I might try, my lower back pain has reached the un-hide-able point. I don’t want to be macho and deny that I am in pain. But I don’t want to be a pansy about making excuses. My penchant for melodrama can easily lead into whining and self-indulgence. My back hurts. But it isn’t so severe I shouldn’t be able to train. And if I make the choice to train then I should train. I shouldn’t be half-assing it.

There’s always going to be something bothering me; that’s part of the cycle of building muscles and flexibility. If I’m soreness and pain free I probably haven’t been training very hard. If I am unable to push through my aches without drawing attention to myself, then I need to acknowledge the weakness in my mind or body.

Sometimes I expect too much of myself. But I can’t stand knowing that I could have trained harder but I was being lazy or scared or weak-willed. Or melodramatic. Last night, the pain was not hindering me so much as a mental incapability of pushing through. I got really frustrated and trained worse than my two week back saga warranted. And that got me more frustrated and I was really struggling just to focus on the task at hand. And when a clock is mental and not physical, that makes me feel even more frustrated because the only thing tripping me up is me. Notice the recurrence of “frustration.” It took all my energy to control the melodramatic outburst that was violently bubbling under the surface. I don’t WANT to be irrational. And I recognize when I’m doing it and still can’t seem to flatten my heart.

Tonight I am skipping training to go get acupuncture which I am hoping will benefit both my physical pain and my mental build up. Because more than pain, I am tired of psychoanalyzing myself; I just want to train.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Everybody Sign In?

We have all been through those days when somebody forgot to sign in. Shifu would ask who didn't sign in. And I would have all these thoughts going through my head:
  1. I signed in. No problem. It's not me.

  2. Did I really sign in? Did I forget today?

  3. So I walked in. Said Amituofo. And then did I sign before changing or did I change before signing?

  4. Oh phew.... Somebody else. Not me. Yay!
Have you ever wondered why Shifu is so militant about signing in? My theory is that this is just one of the rules that he likes to enforce (other than no shoes in the temple, no talking during class, etc.).

Livia offered an interesting theory today. She said the sign in sheets are on the stool facing the main altar. Whenever we sign in, we bow to the altar unknowingly paying respect to the place. That's why when we forget, Shifu makes us do it.

I guess this is one of the things at the temple that you can make it into what you want. I see it as just one of the rules. Livia sees it a little deeper.

And here are words from Livia:


Today after class Sucheela, Cheng, Natalie, and I were talking about Bowing to Sifu. As a matter of fact today was the first time I did the whole bowing thing. I just felt it was right. Also I'm planning in becoming a disciple if Sifu accepts me. We were talking about how if you want to bow you do but if you don't you don't have to. But then I mentioned something that I noticed a long time ago which is that Sifu makes sure that you sign every class and when you sign you Bow. The way the sign in sheet is facing the altar and you have to bend to sign in therefore you bow. And I think is cool even if you don't know you are bowing because regardless you are.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A note on Sleep

I find when I don’t train I sometimes get insomnia. Not surprising; my body’s got too much pent-up energy; my brain is still going a-mile-a-minute. But oddly, I find that when I do train a lot, while I sleep like a log, I sleep fewer hours and wake up much less exhausted. The last few nights after training I’ve been going home and watching the Olympics until about 1 am. Then, angry at myself, I set my alarm for 8:30 (the absolute latest I can wake up and still get to work) expecting to hit snooze three times. Yet, strangely, I end up waking up at 7:15, all in one piece, and ready for the day.

Maybe it’s just a sign that the rest of my life is no longer stressing me out and making me, contradictorily, perpetually exhausted and insomniac. But I theorize that, once I hit a reasonable training routine, I don’t simply acclimatize, but my body is getting stronger and my mind is clearer, so both need less rest. In either case it’s like getting three extra productive hours a day. And with those, who knows what I could do? Train more? :D

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Savage Lotus

It's been awhile since my last blog post. I've been really busy with film making this summer. Writing, directing, and shooting. One of the reasons I joined the Shaolin Temple 15 months ago was that I would get some martial arts experience under my belt for acting. Little did I know, I would also love being behind the camera directing and choreographing my fellow kung fu actors as well. Here's the 72 hour project I've told so many of you about. You basically write, direct, and put together a 5 minute short in the span of 3 days. You don't sleep the whole time and you get a film out of it. I still haven't recovered from it. And that was in June!

Our film was disqualified from the competition because a random person not on our team looked towards the camera at the end of the film. It was a huge blow to the whole team's psyche at first, but after realizing how much fun we had while shooting, we realized this is only the beginning. I will make plenty more. And I can't wait!

So without further ado, here it is! Please enjoy! Oh and our very own Heng Ying (Hwalan) plays a character in it. :D

Times are Changin'

Training on Sunday was weird and wild. We started class 10 minutes late. (I can't remember the last time we started class that late) There were only 14 of us and I was the most senior person on the roster. In fact, I was the only person that was there from Level 2. I remember starting my training at the temple not so long ago and looking up to the Level 2's for technique and chi. And one of the newer people (I'm so embarrassed. I don't even know his name) pointed out to me that I am that person now. Not only was class small, there were also a group of Chinese people observing class. I don't know about you, but for me, any chance to perform in front of a group pumps up my chi. :P

I have to say, I was flying down the line. The newer level ones were definitely not used to being so near the front of the line. They weren't even quite sure what move was next. Should I have slowed down more and given them more of a chance to catch up? I am not sure. The person leading needs to set the pace and tone. It's also up to them to set the chi. Every time I went down the line, I could hear the Chinese group point and whisper, "Oh, that is this move, and this is that move."

Maybe Shifu heard it too because he was really paying very close attention to everyone's form and technique. Most people didn't make it out of the first half of the class before being sent to KFK (Kung Fu Kindergarten). Shifu had us do the first form at least 10 times. That's including all the times he told us to start over from the beginning. By the end of the first half, only me, Livia, and Julian were left.

Second half of class? Well, let's just say we got our own little piece of carpet and stayed on it for the rest of the class. It was really fun to push myself. But, in my unsettled heart, I wanted to start teaching. I wanted Shifu to call me over and say, "Leo, teach them Caijiao!" Now, I know Shifu picks people to teach for a reason and he hasn't picked me yet. It's probably because he feels I need to work on my forms and technique much more before I'm ready. Every time I'm in Level 2, I feel like my technique is one of the worst. I would say to myself, "How is it possible that I can't do this one kick that I've been doing for over a year?! What's wrong with me? Am I just not cut out for Shaolin material?" Then I realize that as with everything, caijiao is a kick we could work on forever because we could keep on polishing ourselves forever. It never ends. We could always use more pop and extension in our lives. I know Shifu wants to teach me this. And I feel that I still haven't learned it yet...but times are definitely changin'...


Saturday was my first weekend class in what felt like a million years. The last day class I did was on a Monday and that was three weeks ago. I forgot how it feels to have training be the first thing you do after getting up, and not being preoccupied with what you have to do afterward.

It was a small class, 15 of us, and I remembered the first time I ever led line: it was also a weekend class, a class of 12, and I thought my head would explode.

This time I was leading line as well, but I felt much more prepared to do so. Leo was on the other line and for the first few rounds of caijiao we were kicking in perfect synchronization. It was lots of fun, and in spite of the small class I felt we would be able to keep the chi going. I thought so anyways. But all that chi meant we were pushing ourselves really fast, and by ceshoufan I was, irritatingly, barely holding myself up. And when we finished the first half of class it was only 11:25!!

The second half of class it started getting darker and darker, and finally, a thunderstorm broke. I felt rejuvenated. Maybe because it broke the heat and humidity, or it eased up the air pressure, but it really lifted my flagging chi, and made the intimidating 1hr and 20 minute second half of class much more attack-able. And when class was over, it felt wonderful to not have to go home and get ready for work the next day or actually run off TO work itself. I think Saturday might be my favorite day to train. I mean, every day, is my favorite day to train... But Saturday is my most favorite.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


On Tuesday night a Chinese TV station came to film class. Not the first time I’ve been in a class with cameras, but the first time Sifu asked me to let them interview me. I’m not super comfortable being on camera, and especially not 30 minutes into a very sweaty class, but it turned out ok. The interviewer asked me how long I had been training, and when I told her she said, “Two years? That’s a long time!” And I had to wonder, is it?

I don’t feel like I am a senior student, and I’m definitely not when you look at those folks who’ve been around 5, 10 and more years. At the same time, though, on Tuesday, Jing was the only one in that bracket. After him, Sucheela and I were the most “advanced” on the folks training, and consequently I ended up running KFK while Sifu talked to the TV people. While I felt totally un-qualified to do so, someone needed to go keep things running in the back (I just didn’t want the the back line to be abandoned on TV), and so in effect, I was qualified, if only by default. Thankfully Jing came and helped, and it went smoothly; and I think Sifu was glad we stepped up. Still, I still felt slightly hubristic taking that initiative, do I subconsciously have a case of Senioritis? Not in the sense of being lazy, but of thinking too much of myself?

Anyone worried that I was acting on ego can rest assured that I wasn't, and if I had, my ego was suitably demolished in L2 last night where my xuanzi seems to be getting worse again. Yet, I was still somehow leading the line. I think it all stems from the fact that I want to step forward before Sifu has to tell me to do so.

In L1 Tuesday Sucheela took the initiative to start us all on waibaitui; I went to help out KFK; some people always jump to the front of the line as soon as Sifu says “line up”. It all comes, not from a ego-driven desire to lead, but a desire to anticipate a need for action. Because that’s what we’re learning in kung fu: to train our bodies and minds to react faster and faster. To not stand around waiting until Sifu yells “GO” at you three times, but going straight into your movement or form. To do everything with chi and enthusiasm. So I guess I do have Senioritis in the sense that, the longer I train, the more I learn this lesson.