Saturday, April 19, 2008

Unsolved Mysteries

This week I dub "Unsolved Mystery" week. If you had read my previous blog entry, you would know that I mysteriously hurt my back and was quite unable to explode my chi to the fullest during forms testing. What was even more weird was that on Wednesday night, while I was sleeping, I managed to seriously sprain my ankle. I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating ankle pain. It felt like someone dislocated my ankle by dragging me across gravel road with a 4x4 truck. I couldn't walk for most of Thursday and Friday. I had really wanted to train Level 1 on Thursday and Friday. I tried to do a gong bu during the day and it nearly killed me.

I haven't had any Shaolin injury till this week. I definitely haven't sprained my ankle for well over 10 years. I am an avid runner and cross country runner. Our ankles are made of steel. We train them to be.

This leads me to believe that there is something happening to my body that I am not aware of or I am doing something wrong and my body is rebelling. One thing led to another and I believe it is a combination of the way I am stretching and how I regulate my chi. For all the extension we do, I don't nearly stretch enough before and afterwards to maximize strength, flexibility, and enhance recovery. All that is going to change. I bought a really cool stretching book that shows all the anatomy of the muscles so you can understand to stretch better. It's actually been really helpful for my back. I never realized that I haven't been stretching my lower trunk at all!!

Here is also a helpful link for everyone about cause of injury and preventive exercises, i.e. stretching.

Stretching Reference

It's a good read and as you can see, Hamstrings Inflexibility, Gluteus Maximus or Adductor Magnus Inflexibility, and Hip Flexor Inflexibility all can increase Lower Back Injury.

I have also uncovered another "Unsolved Mystery", it is "the Shaolin Butt Sword." This topic has been talked about quite a bit, and I believe it is the Adductor Magnus muscle. Here's one stretch that may help prevent and alleviate the infamous Shaolin Butt Sword.

With my newfound knowledge, I will be stronger than before!! I am going to stop blogging and go stretch!! :D

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Thin Line Between Confident and Cocky?

I tell ya, nothing like a day in training to remind ya to check your ego in at the door before you enter Temple!

So, all week long, I've been basking in my post-testing glow, really focusing on good vibes from others and within. I kept thinking, yeah, I did do pretty well at erluquan at testing, I'm gonna make to Level 2, yeahhh.... On Tuesday, before class, Shen asked me how testing went and I told him pretty good, so he asked if I wanted to buy an orange uniform right then and there. I laughed off his suggestion and told him my balls were not as big as his, but our conversation got me thinking -- is it possible to know for sure where one really stands?

And then during Tuesday's class, I ran out of gas during the last 40 minutes or so, perhaps due to my procrastination in doing and then filing my income tax returns at the last minute, so that worried me a bit. I thought for half a second, am I too wimpy for Level 2? But I shrugged it off -- won't happen again. Yeahhhh...

Wednesday, in my apartment I rearranged on my wall the certificates for chujiquantao and yiluquan that I had thrown in cheapo frames a while ago and made room for a third frame....

Thursday, I went through most of the first half of class feeling gross as a result of some spicy grilled chicken and hummus I had consumed for lunch. Here I was, over two years into training, and hadn't I learned anything about foods to avoid before a class? Argh!

But what really threw me? During lihetui, Shifu yelled at everyone to stop skipping between kicks, and then he saw me, and Blammo! Q. gets sent to kung fu kindergarden! Oh noooooooo! No, no, no!!!! To my recollection, I hadn't been sent to KFK by Shifu since last August, when I had a really horrible class. He grumbled something at me to the effect of you've been training so many years and you still skip?! Unlike the prior times I was sent to KFK, this time I felt no trace of anger. I knew I blew it. Skipping between kicks is something I've struggled with forever. I felt sad and ashamed. Here I was, on the cusp of joining the Level 2 club, or so I thought, and failed in the most basic of ways. *Sigh!*

So for the second half of class, I went through KFK basics, ever so mindful of Shifu's eyes watching me. I felt like it was testing all over again! And thank god, I didn't screw anything up again to the point where I'd need a remedial tutorial. By the time the KFK group for the evening had dwindled down to just me and two other guys, Shifu had us do forms for him. First guy went and got some fine tuning for his chujiquantao. Then it was my turn. And I swear, I felt more nervous doing 1st form this time than during actual testing, maybe because I was painfully more aware of Shifu's scrutiny. Testing was a blur, but all I could think about now was, Man, he's probably re-evaluating more whether Qbertplaya is Level 2 material. We cycled through and then it was time for yiluquan. First guy didn't know it, so then Shifu looked at me, and I went, heart-pounding, doing each gong bu and mabu as low as possible, throwing each punch as though my life depended on it. When I finished, I heard him do an abbreviated, somewhat approving, Hm. (I think.)

So last night I tossed and turned a little over this. Is Level 2 gonna happen for me? Damn. I thought I was over this mind-torture. Gahhhhh....well, I guess I'll know in about 49 hours from now, won't I...tick...tick...tick....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nice Shoes!

Check out what Orlando was recently spotted wearing on his feet on the set of his latest film in New York:

(Picture courtesy of Splash News)

Usually, I'm not so keen on him -- too scrawny? -- but I think his choice of footware (or at least that of the wardrobe designer's!) ups his hotness factor tenfold. He might wear ballet slippers normally for all I know...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Getting Out of Your Own Way

Tonight before training, Cheng and I were practicing Ceshoufan, and attempting to articulate the force or thrust that allows you to go faster. We came to understand that it definitely involves alignment, balance, and continuous movement, but we never had that "Aha!" moment where the missing piece was revealed.

Ji suggested flipping around, the way Han teaches, and I think I've blogged about this before, but I absolutely love this exercise. This is Ceshoufan, but FAST, and in place-- and you become a spinning wheel, hovering above the floor, squelching friction, defying gravity, and yes! Getting out of your own way.

Getting out of your own way is an amazing anti-skill. It is the absence of blockage, the elimination of procrastination, the banishing of excuses, of clouded thought, of fear and doubt. It is returning-- not to where you've been, but to where you are, again and again. It is yourself chasing yourself, around and around, until you merge fully with the "you" that you're chasing, until you catch up and are fully gathered at one centered point.

To do this, to merge fully, you must make room for yourself by getting out of your own way. This requires the perfect timing of orbiting hands and feet around your center. It means using the power from your core, but letting your limbs steal the show. And it employs movement-- continuous movement, and balance, and alignment.

Every time I do it, I note the wonderful feeling of replacing myself. We are always creating and re-creating anyway, undergoing constant regeneration at every... *ahem* ... turn. And although I know part of the objective is to stay in one place in order to embody the aforementioned hovering wheel, I always get satisfaction from finding myself just a little bit ahead of where I was when I began.

I think whatever it is that helps to speed up Ceshoufan is the same thing that will help with xuanzi, and xuanfeijiao (sp? Tornado?), and it has to do with launching from your center, not your extremities, and being aware of all of it at once. This is something I'm definitely still learning about jumping and getting height in general-- how to be aware of my body when it is aloft-- how to expand that slice of time so that I can be in it and understand it.

All ponderings aside, any advice about how to jump higher is greatly appreciated. Getting out of my own way implies that I've created a way to begin with, but "up, higher" is still relatively unchartered territory.

A strapping young woman...

I've always been minimalist in my uniform. No socks, no straps, so sash. The less I have to fidget with the better. But after a long time of seeing other folks rocking the straps, and getting tired of catching my pants in zuopans, I decided to try them out. It was quite an improvement, though a little hot. I need to perfect my tying technique both in speed and effectiveness, but once that's done I think I'm going to be a straps-on kind of girl from now on. It's great not to trip on your pants (and my elastic is so stretched in the waist one good tug could pull them all the way off!) and also it gives you a new feeling in the way you kick, and allows you to see the line of your leg and body better when you are looking at a move in the mirror. We'll see if I feel the same when summer starts and it gets really hot. Till then, straps stay.

Last night, aside from trying to keep the straps up, I concentrated on two things: relax, and "kung fu is fun." It seems counterintuitive that repeating these phrases in your head would make said activity relaxing and/or fun, but I'm the personality type that needs those things spelled out sometimes or I forget. Combined with the fun of wearing the straps. I had a great class. Kung fu is fun. Meditation, workout and all that aside, it's simply fun to explode and tumble and train. And by relaxing and enjoying myself I do then also reach my goal of getting technically better. I have to remind myself that taking your time and relaxing is not the same as being lazy and not training hard. As Richu/Nike so succinctly put it, "Just do it." And have fun. And wear straps.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More chi, but try not to train quite so hard....

I never was crazy about the phrase "You're trying too hard." Trying too hard? Usually people aren't trying hard enough. How can you try too hard? The thing is, it's true. After testing Sunday (which was fine overall, except for uncontrollable shaking from beginning to end that left my erluquan a little wobbly), I had all kinds of ideas in my head about how I wanted to make an extra effort of certain things that I felt were lackluster. But therein lies the problem. Training last night, it seemed the harder I tried, the more I messed up. If I trip in bawang zaikui one more time I swear I'm gonna go ballistic. My balance keeps degenerating in my cechuaihtui and biantui. The harder I try on my strikes the weaker and more incorrect they become. And as I try to concentrate harder, things fall apart. I see what I'm doing wrong but it just gets worse and worse. Gha! And then when people tell me to slow down/relax/whatever, I want to beat the living hell out of them.

Not that it is their fault. They are trying to be encouraging, and more than that, they are right. It's my anti-relaxing, my trying too hard, that is making things worse. But how the heck can you relax when you keep messing the same thing up? When you desperately want to land the bawang zakui and not stumble over like a drunk donkey? I hate gratuitous encouragement, especially when I know I am doing something badly. It just makes me feel worse. I know, I'm full of issues, but seriously, there is nothing more frustrating than someone telling you that you're doing well when you know you aren't. For me anyway. And then I try harder and get worse, and well, you can see where this cycle is headed...

I just can't relax. I am impatient. I want to get better faster and so I try to train harder, and instead I am backtracking. The sheer illogic of it all is so incredibly frustrating. Sifu has told me to let go. To breathe, to slow down, etc. and I really honestly do try. But how can you work at speed and pop and power while simultaneously being nonchalant and que sera about whatever you are doing? Man, I think some serious meditation is in order...

Kung Fu Monk-ey?

From Heng Mo:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Testing, schmesting!

So testing weekend came and went, and life still goes on!

Sure, we each could critique ourselves at length for we probably know best what we could have popped better and extended more, but overall, I agree with Leo's thorough recap that we as a group rocked it pretty hard.

And yeah, I can't wait until certificate ceremony on Sunday to find out who gets to wear an orange uniform next (please let me be one!), but
considering just six short months ago, I was wondering whether I'd ever set a sweaty foot on that green carpet again, I am absolutely thrilled that I made my recovery in time to show Shifu that I learned erluquan and hopefully improved my basics and other forms. In the end, the lesson I take away is that don't take for granted what amazing things we are accomplishing by training. Training in itself is achievement!


So Friday night, mere hours before my testing was to begin, I asked Bestest Boy if he'd like to come see me test, but that I had to clear it first with Temple whether that was permissible to have non-students come and watch. We discussed it somewhat -- he was concerned it might add to my nervousness, or create a distraction akin to what happened the last time I brought visitors (my parents, and then me wrecking my knee), but I dismissed that notion -- part of our training is that we learn to rid our minds of distractions, and focus on the task at hand.

I called Temple in the morning, and Shifu answered the phone, so I asked if I could bring a friend, and he said, Beautiful, no problem. So, it was set -- Bestest Boy would come along to watch and give us chi. On the train ride in, I told him I was so excited and proud that I was gonna be able to show him all my hard work during testing, and he replied that even if he hadn't been able to come, he didn't have to see me in action to be proud of my hard work.

As schmoopy as that may seem, it is true -- be proud of what we've done with our bodies and minds! And, as always, TRAIN HARDER!

Testing Recap

Level 1 Testing is over! The final verdict? Everyone did really well! My testing time was at 2:30pm but I went to watch/support the other erluquan (二路拳) people in the 11:45am group. Needless to say, I was there warming up, training, and testing for a little over 4 hours.

The 11:45am group was led by Rob and Ted, who were the only ones testing for erluquan. Everyone else was testing for yiluquan (一路拳). Rob was picked to lead the line. Thanks to his last minute cramming of all the names of the moves the night before, he led wonderfully well. Not once did he mess up, except for when Shifu asked him to do tuizhang (推掌). I know what tuizhang is, but I've never done it while going down the line or just as a standalone unless it was at the end of class. So I don't fault Rob for not knowing what it was, and Shifu didn't asking anyone else to do it the rest of the day.

Both Rob and Ted performed erluquan superbly. I hope they both passed in the eyes of Shifu and move on to Level 2.

The 2:30pm group was full. Everyone was excited and nervous. We were all testing for erluquan. There were 13 of us and Jaka led the line, as I knew he would. He is the most senior out of all of us in terms of the amount of time spent at the Temple. And, he has been asked to teach basic techniques and/or forms almost every Level 1 class. Heng Yu was second and I followed up as third. (Edit: Line Order-> Jaka, Heng Yu, Leo, Mark, Chris, Heng Shan, Heng Shi, Steve, Mike, Heng Zang, Elaine, Ellen, Heng Jin)

My nemesis tengkong fanyao (騰空翻腰) reared its head and I messed up horribly while going down the line. I even bumped into the person behind me as I was trying to get up into the air again. I hope I didn't mess him up too much. It just shows that I need to practice tengkong fanyao much much more.

During a break between basics and forms, I over-extended my back and hurt it somehow. Every step was painful and I didn't think I was going to be able to walk let alone do 3 forms for Shifu. But I resolved that I was already there and the worst that could happen would be that I make many many mistakes and don't pass. If I didn't test, I definitely wouldn't pass. I might as well take my best shot and accept whatever may come.

My erluquan was okay. It lacked any pop and I couldn't really extend or jump. I made it through. The only real glaring mistake was towards the end when you twist your body and jump into a pubu. When I landed, I felt a jolt of searing hot pain shoot up my spine. I lost my balance and almost fell backwards. I bit down hard and quickly recovered and finished the form wincing from unbearable agony. Shifu probably didn't notice because he just thought I was tired from doing the whole form. I actually don't remember doing the last few parts of the form. I was merely concentrating on not doubling over and saying, "Amituofo Shifu, I'm sorry. I can't finish."

I dragged myself back into line and those words kept repeating in my mind. I tried to take my mind off of the pain by watching everyone else test forms. I actually don't remember doing them at all. All I remember was the sensations of a sharp hammer violently assaulting my lower back (which it is still doing as I write this blog entry).

Everyone in our group was really strong with erluquan. I was ecstatically happy for our fellow KF Dork Qbertplaya for finishing erluquan in front of Shifu at testing. I know it has been a long hard-won journey for her. Heng Shi really impressed me for being able to do erluquan after only learning the rest of it this past week. Elaine's form was beautiful and graceful. Jaka's and Heng Jin's form were technically flawless. Heng Yu had massive chi as usual and pushed everyone on. Heng Shan couldn't finish the form the first time, but with heart and determination, he was able to do it all the way through when Shifu gave him a second chance.

All in all, it was a great experience to go through, with many highs and lows. Even if I don't pass, I've learned many valuable lessons to carry with me throughout my journey. The ability to overcome pain. Trusting in muscle memory. Not giving up. How much I love what we do. How much I love being a part of this Shaolin family.

I hope everyone passes and moves on to Level 2 where we will train even harder!! It's time to put our tax refunds to good use by buying new orange uniforms!!

Thank you Heng Cheng for coming to cheer us on with your chi and cupcakes! Both were tremendously appreciated!