Category Archives: kungfu yay

big_brawl

The Big Fight

I feel like September's adaptation is shaping up to become a biiiiiig fight.  And maybe not one I can win!  Look at these "gotchas" that might interfere with my own adaptation:

  • unexpectedly (I just found out), I'm moving to a new apartment on or about September 1st
  • I have an irritatingly slow-to-heal sports injury I've been dealing with for a while, which I knew about and figured wouldn't be a big deal, but the recent intense acupuncture treatments (which are really working, yay) totally wipe me out.  After the last one I slept 7 hours on a day when I'd had two naps!
  • September might be my only chance to go freediving this year, so I was hoping to plan a weekend trip involving lots of gear and deep water…but that would be um, mid-adaptation…
  • ALSO, SEE: MOVING right when the whole thing's supposed to be starting!  The apartment is nice, but I'll have roommates, and their flexibility and tolerance for my being up / noisy is still an unknown.

So yeah, big fight.  Not that there's ever a perfect time, and nothing about this is really a deal-breaker yet; just a bit daunting.  Nonetheless, no sense dwelling on it; intstead, I figured it warranted discussion of one of my favorite movies of all time.

It's from 1980, though I probably didn't see it for the first time when I was two.  (Who knows, though.)  My dad had Enter the Dragon and used to put it on all the time, but I, at whatever very young age I was, couldn't really get behind the screechy guy who was funny without really being funny (this is how Bruce Lee looks when you're single-digit years old), so one day he put on something else.  The (VHS) case it was in said The Big Fight, though everywhere I've seen it since it's been called The Big Brawl or Battle Creek Brawl.  It was not, let's say, a commercial success.

It's very silly, very dated, and has many flaws.  But for all that, it may be the perfect kungfu movie.  Partly becuase it's silly enough to not let you take it seriously, but (unlike other gems like Kung Fu Panda or Shaolin Soccer) not silly enough to be only secondarily about kungfu.  The plot is classic, but well-paced; and the characters are stereotypical, but really well-executed.  And it's got everything you might want:

  • young Jackie Chan in sweater-vests and jaunty hats
  • inventive, no-special-effects fight-scenes with tons of humor, crazy props, and who-sat-down-and-thought-this-up stunts (including one of the first, I think, of Jackie Chan's "accidental fight" scenes)
  • the rollerskate race from hell:  makes underwater hockey look like a tame sport!
  • hilarious stereotypes, but not too many of them
  • awkward cultural and sexism stuff, but not too much of it
  • excellent old-school catchy whistled tune
  • a badass traditional Chinese uncle / Sifu / trainer who mercilessly beats his student into shape, like Mr. Myogi but cooler (trust me)
  • a surprising amount of sex — PG-rated, but a lot of getting laid goes on in this movie, and it's handled with fun and humor and hell-yeah without ever being squicky (or even really romantic, since "the girl" in this movie is the main character's established girlfriend, so they're like, obviously doing it and loving it whenever they can, but not "falling in love," which I find refreshing).  

In short, if you haven't seen this movie I've been watching for a score of years and still dig, go do it!  (At the moment, you can even watch it on YouTube. :D)

And if you think you can help with my own Big Fight in September, stepping up would be welcome!  I've barely started and already I feel behind.  :-\  …But that's another challenge I guess; August for me is going to be CRAZY, and I've just given up even trying to worry about my sleep then, figuring I'll focus on improving my diet (which has kind of sucked lately) and healing my foot, alongside the usual.

Have a great weekend everybody!

grass

Teaching, writing, maybe occasionally throwing people in the grass

Time to be brash nerd:  I love, love, love this blog.

What is it?  It's a detailed exploration of taiji and internal martial arts' depictions in Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The piece I linked is a guest blog on tui shou (push-hands) — with excellent animated .gifs! – and as you can maybe imagine, I about exploded into a poof of anime flowers when I saw it.  

SO, SO GOOD.

For those of you who haven't heard me squeeing about it in another format, I've been teaching regularly since the start of this year, and it's been eye-opening and absolutely huge for my education.  It's definitely a truism that if you're good-but-plateauing-before-excellent at something, a great way to advance is to teach beginners.  It's doubly good for me, since I want to do more teaching — teaching kungfu full-time would be a dream come true — but even if I was only in it for my own training, it would be totally worth the work I'm putting in.  People ask great questions, need different explanations, and give you an excuse to practice all those things you've been meaning to do more, over and over and over, with multiple partners.  And then they buy you a coffee and thank you for it!

And now, I'm off to a three-class-in-a-row day…since I need more things to do outside, I've been scheduling extra free-to-anyone classes whenever I can, in the local park.  Please wish my for-some-reason-still-annoyingly injured foot luck!

(P.S.  Internal sweeps are very hard to learn — I knew this, as I struggle with them.  Yesterday I learned that when teaching beginners, maybe stay away from things that *you* think are challenging — they're harder for you to explain, and can be frustrating for people who are still learning the early stuff, even if they are, like sweeps, legitimately fun and fascinating.  Use your teaching as time to practice your the all-important fundamentals.)

(image from en.qoloq.com)

IMG_20140510_160000

What you need, when you need it

When I started training Iron Palm, my sifu gave me a stout canvas bag, sewn permanently shut, stamped with Chinese characters in faded blue on one corner.  It was full of…mung beans.

mung beans

Yup.  Mung beans.

Now, beans are a good "starter filler" for this kind of conditioning — from there, it moves up to gravel, and then steel shot; and it's hard to explain why, but the beans do feel a bit softer.  (I've done a little on the gravel bag too.)  But why mung beans?  Just because they're cheap, or a good size, or something?

Nope, turns out it's cooler than that — mung beans are healthy and used as good food and medicine for many things, but the powder is often put into poultices to help reduce swelling and heal injured tissue.  As you smack this bag, you pulverize the beans just a little — you can see the powder puff out, in the right light — and simultaneously rub it deep into your skin.  It's a punching-bag that makes its own medicine.

It's a punching-bag that makes its own medicine.

So there you have it:  Technology without ingenuity can spit out crap products all day long, but ingenuity only needs canvas and beans to make a badass piece of tech.  

<3

(The image up top is of the dent I left in the bag, practicing.  I just like the texture.)

 

 

And you thought I couldn’t squee out about shoes

I need to give some love to Mad Rock shoes.  

My first pair were ballerina shoes on juice:

1186207_703287089688393_471467119_n

But then they got a hole in the leather, I swear for no reason I can fathom.  

madrock shoes with hole

D:

I sent the company that picture, and they said, no fuss, what size and what's your address; we'll send you a replacement.  Yay!  And they did, in less than a week.

Oddly, the new pair aren't the same model as the old ones.  (Those are "drifter"; these are "phoenix".)  I'm not sure why the switch, but I tried them on and I think I'm in love, so I'm not giving them back!

IMG_20140409_080444934 IMG_20140409_080525026

These are like superman's ballet-shoes.  The laces give them a crazy foot-forming ability the others didn't have, and the soles are much chunkier — the bottoms have an actual ridge around the toes, which I predict will be awesome to stand on when one has about 1/8" on which to stand.  :)

And–AND–one of my favorite silly things about the first shoes was that they said "SCIENCE FRICTION" on the soles:  What a shockingly cool phrase!  It wore off as I used them, but oh well.  And yet, in a stroke of omgwtfgenius, the new pair has that phrase carved into the deep rubber on the bottoms, guaranteeing that it'll last a while!  Hell yes upgrade!

So here's to good companies and cool feetwear and my favorite kungfu partner, Gravity.  ::toast::

aangbows

I’ve invented an emote

I invented this in honor of / to communicate accurately with my Sifu.  It goes like this:

–/@–

Or in other words,

aangbows

 

(No post could ever actually express the gratitude I feel for my Sifus and what they've taught me.  This one is just meant to nerd out.  Though…it might be a good time to say Wow, am I grateful for the classes I've been able to teach lately…they've taught me SO much; it's incredible.  I'm super fortunate to be allowed to share those lessons with such awesome people!)

I own my stomach!

That's not a political statement — I was singing this morning (and realizing that my life doesn't involve enough opportunities to really open up and sing; I need to fix that!) — it's a literal one.

Taiji (or more broadly the internal martial arts) is, I often find myself saying, a lot like bene gesserit training, especially in one particular way:  It involves gaining mental access, voluntary control, over all* of the muscles in your body.  It is also, as my sifu often says, really just one giant complicated abdominal exercise.

That exercise is "complicated" because, unlike to do a basic/normal situp or what have you, this one requires you to "find" (haptically map, I guess) and gain control of much more than just your "upper abs", "lower abs" and "obliques".  There are rib-muscles that need flexing, soaz that needs accessing, and more funny little muscles and tendons** in your hips than I could describe in three posts.  

My abdominal area has always been this really…fraught thing, psychologically.  I've noticed tons of body- and mind-patterns that obviously grew out of trauma that my mind and body have associated with my stomach, especially my lower abdomen.  Besides the psychological load from a childhood as a bullied pudgy kid and some near-misses with eating disorders, there's also physical trauma there — I have a five-inch or so scar on my lower abdomen, an emergency surgery which landed me with more than 250 stitches and a severed abdominal wall.  So that muscle had to heal, and I had to re-learn to walk and sit up and do a plank, and those things have always felt weaker since then.

So for me, this realize-ation, this mental and physical, feeling and controlling, access to my stomach is kind of an incredible thing.  (I still have miles and miles of work to go in this area, mind you — even without any initial handicaps, it's something some people study for a lifetime anyway.  But what I've achieved so far is really profound and worth appreciating in words!) 

And there's more, too.  As a woman, and as I mentioned a pudgyish one, I've always been super-sensitive about the layer of fat on my stomach.  Trying to un-train myself from the automatic tension of trying to look skinnier is a brutally tough part of my martial arts, and just in general my lower stomach is always the thing I've tried to hide when I want to look attractive.  Amusingly but predictably enough, losing enough weight to go from barely-pudgyish to woah-don't-lose-more-weight (and let's not get hung up on numbers; I barely weigh ten pounds less than I used to, but I'm four sizes smaller in the pants — muscle is heavy)…didn't make me feel any better about my stomach.  

But taiji did.

As I get more…access to those muscles, as I can more and more control them, relax them, feel them twirl and slide and wind up and release energy (and relaxing my shoulders and chest and arms to let it pass through, maybe with any luck out into some innocent punching-bag ;) — it's been a revelation.  I love my stomach now, inch or two of fat and all.  Not to be TMI, but the other day I took a racy selfie centered on my stomach, and not for any reason other than that *I* thought it was sexy.  If you'd told me even five years ago that that would happen, I'd have laughed in your face.

I guess the greater point here is that having a body can be pretty great, and it gets greater when you (gasp!) pay attention to it.  There are beginner and advanced levels of paying attention, as I think I've made clear by now; a dash of advanced attention to my stomach has not only done wonders to repair an old injury — to the point where those muscles are now in better shape than they ever were; under my inch of fat I have a hell of a six-pack — but resolved a fistful of psychological hangups I'd been dealing with since childhood, transforming them — if I may get a little flowery — into sources of joy.

 

 

*shorthand; maybe not exactly all but I don't care for now

**tendons matter:  because they're connected to the ends of your muscles, they can (and sometimes must) be relaxed.  And if relaxing a specific part of a specific muscle sounds really tricky, you're starting to get the idea.  ;)

Walking and being bigger: Receptiveness

This week's lesson is about being receptive, and balanced, and relaxing into being *bigger*.

I've been able to use walking as taiji practice for a while now, and that's been *super* useful. As I learn more about what the internal parts — specifically what people rather vaguely call the "core", but which I understand now to mean a thousand distinct muscles — do in taijichuan as a martial art, I've gotten to a place where I can practice with them while I walk. Not every time, but many times, I now manage to shift my weight and relax my hips and engage my lower stomach and open my chest all just so, and I hit this stride that feels…well, amazing. Walking like that feels like doing gentle situps, but it takes all the stress out of so much else, and optimizes all the forces at play to such a degree that I feel I could walk like that forever and never tire. And I go faster, too, which is odd because it shortens my stride — yet I gain more speed walking-as-practice than I do trucking full-out with huge steps.

I also…get bigger. (Apologies if this doesn't make much sense, but as I'm sure you know by now, writing it down is part of how I grok it.) Yang energy, or "the creative", moves in straight lines — think of beams of light. If it's moving, it's fast and direct; if it's stopped, it's "off". Yin energy, "the receptive", moves in circles — like the planet. When it moves, its energy spirals outward, moving with gravity in a less-direct and less-100%-wham, but still incredibly powerful (and sustainable) way; when it's still, it closes in around itself like a flower, storing energy inside. One's literal, kinetic sense of self — the haptic awareness of where your body is — changes depending on how the energy in your body is moving. Mostly these are subtle changes and/or related to energies we don't pay attention to, so we may not notice, in these terms, when we "are bigger" or smaller. But I've been learning to detect and control those forces for a while now, and one of the interesting effects is that if you can get the balance, the spiral, the spin from inward out and back again just right, it…unfolds you. (Again, maybe think flowers.) All the tiny parts of you that were holding tight relax, but you're not at rest; you're spinning a ball, and the motion is fast and effortless, but constrained by nothing other than the gravity that's helping it go faster. And you, your idea of the boundaries of you, expands.  I can't really describe it other than to say that it feels like being bigger — having a wider range of sense-perceptive area, I guess?

The trick is, this is yin energy. As soon as you forget that, forget how it works and why, or try to wield it like yang energy, it all dissipates.  Yang energy is expressed tension, and it's the absence of tension that makes this "receptive" energy possible.  (It's called receptiveness, by the way, because while it doesn't mean being weak or not moving — do you think of the planet as weak or unmoving? — it does have as a characteristic being open, paying attention, and making room for everything.  The phrase "yield to overcome" applies here.)

OK, time to go for a walk. ;)

Reminds me of taiji

Oh my god why isn't there more art like this?? I love this.  

The scrolling is just so…peaceful to me.  

Yes, yes, I have That History, of tinkering for hours and watching make scroll its deliciousness and feeling that rush of pseudopower, of moving through a dimension in which I'm barely an avatar.  But I think it stands as an awesome artistic element even without that — it just says so much, with so little, it reminds me of taiji.

And now, a bit on how kungfu works

Why are so many kungfu styles named after animals?

It's actually simple.  What do animals have less of than humans?  Right: Psychology; self-referential thinking-constructs.  What are animals?  Examples of evolution expressing itself as complex biology, similar in many ways to our own complex biology.  But what don't they have?  Self-generated, psychologically-generated, tension.  They don't (generally; or if they do, much less than us) "worry themselves sick", or get so hung up on regrets about the past that they can't unslouch their shoulders or un-knot themselves enough to sleep well.  

An animal is a machine.  We are too (we're animals too), but they're a level more "purely machine" than we are, not having that emergent self-consciousness thing going haywire in their software all the time.  And as a result, they can do physical feats that astonish us:  Cats can fall or leap huge distances and land gracefully; rodents can move and carry many times their body-weight; snakes can do a pull-up with their f*cking chin and move like greased lightning — and none of them have ever taken a single Pilates class, or done a single crunch to "get/stay fit".  Why?

The answer is simple physics:  It's because they're *not using any more effort than they mechanically have to*.  A muscle doesn't fire in a leaping cat unless it needs to fire, and to tense just that much:  A catbody that tenses its back muscles 15% more than needed to execute a leap is less evolutionarily-successful than a catbody that only burns the calories it needs to to catch the next meal.

"Show me a cat that can't relax," said a master once.  And of course, what's rule one of kungfu?  *Relax.*

Kungfu takes its movement cues from animals for a simple reason:  They're examples of what efficiency looks like.  If we want to learn to use what the human body can do in its best capacity as a conduit of perfect physics, we need to unlearn the things that prevent us from moving like animals.  Those things, those habits of civilization and domestication, cause tension, and unnecessary muscle tension is the great ruiner of all physical activity.

Reporting for Deontology, Sir!

Happy New Year and Post-Holiday Recovery, everyone!  

How about this year we all resolve to sleep better and think better, by whatever actions take us in the right direction?

 

Here's my one year report, cap'ns!  (Actually, this is just a report of the things that I accomplished or am building upon from last year to this.  There were plenty of failures to, but you know who has two thumbs and doesn't give a shit about past failures?  THIS GAL.  ;)

I started a new writing project that is Sooper Secret And Therefore Exciting!  Maaaaybe I'll talk more about that eventually, but possibly not; suffice it to say that I'm really geeked to have a new Personal Dare on my plate.

I did a lot of polyphasic-advancement stuff in 2013, I suppose — publishing the Second Edition, plus a pretty good handful of interviews, plus hooking up with a few really fascinating persons who are advancing knowledge in different ways related to and surrounding polyphasic sleep.  In 2014 I hope to finish brushing up this site, will probably do a few more interviews (there are actually two on my plate right now!), and maybe actually do something proactive to spread good information.  [I KNOW RIGHT?  I'm considering kicking off that task by doing an AMA on Reddit, as a polyphaser who's actually been at it for years, not just a couple months.  Would love to hear your thoughts on that!]

I kicked butt in kungfu!  Learned a bunch of applications (i.e. rillyfighting) and also more of the internal-arts thing than I'd ever thought possible; plus I made mad progress on my flexibility.  (Yes, if you were wondering, it is a little weird — and a little marvelous — to be coming into middle-age and to be more fit and flexibile than you ever were as a teen. ;)  And probably got much better in hockey, too, though most days it still feels like I SUCK; *but* this may be because of the seriously high quality of the people I play with, and that's a win too.  Oh yes, and I tried climbing for the first time in 2013, and while I only did a bit of it, I did get up to v3 in gym bouldering, and I went sport-climbing and even set my own leads once.  Will definitely do that more too, when I can.  And sailing!  I almost forgot; this was the year I first tried sailing, and two races and a bunch of classes later, I'm still ridiculously in love with it.  OH RIGHT AND I SHOT A FISH:  My first catch with a speargun was a nice-sized blackfish, perfect shot, on breathhold under 50ish feet of water.  THAT was an incredible feeling, and well worth the two years of effort I've put into swimming and diving.

There's other stuff, probably, but I'm sick of typing…having a Real Writing Project sucks the bloggage right out of me, but to be honest?  That's kinda fine.

 

I hope you all had a billowing wad of accomplishments too, and may you a) have great plans for the future and b) not get too attached to them, because we all know how plans work, don't we?  ;)