Friday, May 9, 2008

Tornado Kick!

旋風腳 (Xuanfengjiao - Tornado Kick) is gotta be one of the coolest jump kicks we get to learn in Level 2. I could watch the veteran Level 2 folks do the tornado all day. It's like you walked into a old-school kung fu movie when there wasn't any use of wires yet. It's a combination of speed, angular momentum, strength, jumping ability and sheer insanity.

Khalid and Heng De taught it to the new Level 2's this week and I'm still recovering from the storm. The basis for this move is 騰空翻腰 (Tengkong fanyao), my long time nemesis. You have to be able to use the angular momentum from the spin to perform a 里合腿 (LiHeiTui) and land on the same leg you jumped from. Whoa! Crazy! Now I know why 師父 (Shifu) is always telling us to spin faster and jump higher. It's to prepare us for jump kicks like these. That first step is now even more important. It is the start of a Tornado!

Last night, right after Level 1 class, I was practicing my tornado when Khalid saw me. He nodded and smiled and started to do it too. Next thing you know, we got a mini Level 2 Class going. Chris E., Heng Xu, and Rob all joined in with Level 1's standing on the sidelines watching. They busted out all the cool jumps and were dazzling, while I fell on my face and knees repeatedly. I didn't care though. I landed my first tornado! Can you feel it? Can you feel the storm rising? Yeah! YEAH!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Speed up, Slow down

Tonight's class was fun, though small. Only 10 of us, which is funny, because not so long ago 10 would have been a big L2 class. Lately, what with slowing down a little to help out my butt-sword/trying to train with renewed post testing chi, I've begun to value the importance of both going faster and going slower. The trick is, trying to figure out when to apply which approach.

For my biantuis, slowing down is helping me refine technique and build strength and balance instead of kicking desperately and ineffectually. For my bawang zakui, speeding up and really punching with chi have helped enormously in overcoming my choking in the ceshoufan. Speeding up my tornado tonight seemed to help it a little too (though admittedly it is still a disaster until I can jump higher). Slowing down my forms in places has helped me find where my stances are still weak and my body is not extended. Speeding up in others has helped me discover now power in some of my kicks and strikes.

Though depending on the move and your particular obstacle sometimes one is more helpful than the other, probably every move can benefit from a little of each technique. Speed overcomes the over-thinking, the slowness cultivates a precision that is lost in speed. The one thing that doesn't help, which I found myself doing tonight during one of my xiao hong quans, is going at a speed somewhere in the middle. In a desire to not just walk through my form but also not go at full chi and over-extend my dumb hamstring I was doing my form at sort of 60% pace. When I finished I realized that I had really gotten nothing out of that round of doing it. I was just going through the motions without focusing on speed or accuracy or chi. So I took myself back to chuji quantao and worked through it sharply, with chi, but very slow to be sure I wasn't glossing over anything or forgetting details. It definitely helped me find where I was missing extension and correct form. So slow down, speed up, but no giving up.

Know Yourself (& What You Eat)

A recent visit to my doctor for my yearly physical revealed I had put on some weight. *Gasp!* My guess is that while I was unable to train at full-steam due to my knee injury, I still ate as though I was training 3 or 4 times a week. And now that I'm training again pretty steadily, I am gaining back the muscle mass that I lost during that period, and while muscle weighs more than fat, I still have quite a bit of flab to lose.

So I decided to make losing weight one of my goals before the next testing in October. I figure it'll lessen the load on my decrepit knees, and hopefully allow me to run and jump better, which will only serve me well once I get into Level 2.

Mind you, I've never done the diet thing. And, yes, diet might be a dirty word, but I think we all could benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, and less barbecue and White Castle (but not cupcakes). As recommended by Cheng, I started a food log this week to keep track of what exactly I do consume. I don't imagine I'll do it for too long, but I do want a better idea of whether I'm getting the proper balance of carbs, proteins, fats and fiber. And to make myself more accountable, I decided to document my progress on a separate blog. Already in just the two days of charting my food intake, I have learned how to make better food choices and have done some reading on nutrition.

I invite you to check out my newest blog, and please give me any tips you might have. Like I said, I have never done this sort of thing before and would undoubtedly benefit from the wealth of knowledge the dorks could share. It won't be the most exciting blog, but maybe we can all learn to be more aware of what we eat. Amituofo!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Master Yourself

Today before class I helped Heng Ji rehang the Temple flag. It was definitely an acute training in patience and perseverance but we finally got it up, and Sifu even held the start of class. We ended up finishing class early as well because Sifu's younger brother was here from China, so it was time to celebrate! So training came out to about an hour and 25 minutes. That's basically the length of a daytime class, but combined with the facts that I hadn't trained two days in a row or L1 in almost two weeks, it was definitely a different feel psychologically and thus affected how "tired" I felt. Bad Cheng.

I try really assiduously not to let external things affect how I train: the length of class, who is there, who teaches, the weather, what happened at work, how much I slept, none of it matters in the end. You go in, you find the chi from yourself, and train as hard as you can. But on the way home with Shi, we were talking about how to polish your movements and I had a mini-revelation.

Here's the thing. Training isn't necessarily about finding the chi within; it's about mastering yourself even when you can't find it and training anyway. I have a hard time teaching, I still stumble and mutter, over-explain, and try to inexpertly reiterate all the nifty lessons given to me, but there is one original thought I had that I offered a student the other day and I was pretty proud: It's your leg. That was it.

I was teaching cetitui and I told them, "Don't let your leg swing and pull you over. It's your leg; you control it; make it do what you tell it." They kind of looked at me askance because with being tired at the end of class that sounded like a tall order. But then, amazingly, it worked. Because no matter what is going on, even at the end of an exhausting class when you think you can't move your leg - you can. So you should definitely always be able to get going at the beginning. Mastering myself is something Sifu says a lot that I really try hard to apply both in and out of temple; I really needed the reminder tonight.

You've been sworded!

There was a lot of rumor, mystery, hearsay and legend built up around the infamous Shaolin butt-sword. Every time I got a minor pain or injury in my hamstring I would fear that the alleged-horror of the SBS had descended upon me at last. Luckily, those pains always worked their way back out again to where I began to think the whole thing was a myth. Or at the most an injury cast upon the less fortunate by the wrath of God. Or Buddha, if that's your style, but I don't know how wrathful he is...

Damn my hubris. About a week and a half ago during L2, I was doing my best to pop during biantui and something gave up in my leg. It was very nearly debilitating so I started doing the other side. Alas, by the end of class both legs were condemning me for doing this stupid thing called kung fu. There's no question this time. I've been sworded. On both sides. A double butt-sword!?! I feel like a medical miracle. Only in a bad way.

The left side is definitely worse than the right so I have taken the last week or so very easy, cutting my usual 4 or 5 training days to 2-1/2 (the 1/2 was movie night). And I have been careful not to get over-zealous with the left side kicking. The pain has been ebbing slowly, though there are moments in class when I hit a pubu or a zhengtitui funny when it re-asserts itself. But I'm hoping that with conscientious stretching it won't turn into this 2 year extravaganza experienced by some people. I guess I should count my blessings that it's taken this long to strike me. Still, the only swords I want involved in my kung fu are from learning weapon forms. Uh oh... I just thought, there isn't a Shaolin butt-nine-section-whip is there?

Gin and Raisins

For those of you that were at Cheng's place this past Sunday, you had a chance to try my new experiment -- gin-soaked golden raisins.

What is this delightful mixture you ask? Well, it is a very popular folk remedy for arthritis and joint pain. But my question is, will it be able to help our regular soreness and pains from Temple training? A lot of people eat tendon for the very purpose of preventing injury. But what if there is a simple vegetarian solution? What if this remedy is somehow able to loosen the joints and make it less susceptible to injury? In some of the articles, people think the raisin itself has many anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving chemicals. Or maybe it is all a placebo effect. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, they are delicious and a wonderful way to start the day! I would stick to the recommended amount (9 raisins) though. You don't want to walk in the office and be forced to take an alcohol breathalyser test!

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