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.)