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No Ifs, Ands, or Buts About It:

Friday, May 28th, 2010

“Hello, my name is Wintor and I’m addicted to kung fu.”

That was how I introduced myself when I started the instructor program a hunnerd years ago. When I was asked what it was about kung fu that hooked me, I said that it helped me slow my brain down; that it made me put aside everything that went on throughout the day, forcing me to focus on something outside my brain and trust me, that is no small feat.

After recovering from almost a month of upper respiratory funk where I wasn’t able to breathe and could only train minimally, I wound up in my enthusiasm of feeling better, dislocating my shoulder. I was completely out of commission for about two weeks before I relocated my shoulder and started feeling better. Once again, in what was at that point, almost overwhelming enthusiasm to be able to train again, I reinjured myself in weapons class. However this time the injuries were severe enough (and stupid) that I finally had to admit that although I had no problem working through the pain, I was doing more damage to myself than I was making myself stronger.

It was determined that I needed to see an orthopedic shoulder doctor and after some pulling of strings and some behind-the-scenes schedule manipulations, I met with the doctor who immediately sent me off to have an MRI (which is another story entirely in itself). When I met with him again he told me that based on what he saw on the scan, surgery was totally dependent on how I chose to handle things. He told me that he wanted me to see a physical therapist twice a week for two hours at a time for a month and then looked me in the eye and coldly said two things that got my attention: “I can see you’re going crazy, not being able to work out, but unless you want surgery you need to do exactly what I tell you. Ultimately it’s up to you.” and “Physical therapy only; no running and No.Martial.Arts.” At that point, if you included the upper respiratory funk, I’d been unable to train for about four months.

I’ve been told a lot that I can be a hard person to read, but I don’t buy it anymore. In one week I met two complete strangers who within 10 minutes knew exactly how to speak to me so that I accepted everything they said without rebuttal; the shoulder doc and the physical therapist who, for two hours a day, twice a week for a month laughed at my every attempt to finagle, wheedle and charm her into letting me do more physically.

When I started physical therapy she had some concerns that were based on the severity of my injuries and the extreme level of pain I was in daily (anywhere from 7.5-9 out of 10) on whether the amount of physical therapy prescribed was going to be enough to keep me out of surgery. For the first week and a half she would have me do a few very small exercises (which hurt me into delirium) for the first hour and then would spend 30 minutes tirelessly ultrasounding me and another 15 minutes would be spent with my shoulder completely wrapped in ice packs. After two weeks of working, ultrasounding, massaging and icing my shoulder still hadn’t relaxed enough for the inflammation to go down so she decided to tape my shoulder blade in place for a week. There was a pretty decent setback at the beginning of week three and she started to get worried – we were running out of time and she wasn’t sure the small amount of progress I’d made was going to be enough to keep the surgeons at bay. My list of exercises got smaller and more refined but more weight or resistance was added and our time was split evenly between exercises and her alternating between massaging my shoulder and manipulating the actual injuries – to the point where I would literally see stars and become nauseated. Somehow, somewhere within the last two visits my body worked; my range of motion and strength doubled and my pain was only registering a 3 or 4. When she signed off on my sheet and was saying goodbye she was optimistic for the first time in a month.

When Sifu suggested I write about my experience with being injured and how I dealt with it I wasn’t exactly sure how I would talk about it. Because honestly? I’m not sure I’ve dealt with it very well at all. In the five and a half months that I have either been sick or injured and unable to train I have learned that I am a very very physical person and that I have to have the physical to balance the cerebral. Oh. My. Goodness, there’s been a lot of cerebral going on. These five and a half months have continuously taken me out of my emotional comfort zone, to ridiculous degrees, which only compounded the barrage on my brain: for a while I would be jealous of strangers I would see in the park or running down the road and I still continue to experience intense frustration at my limitations; I experienced a prolonged period of discouragement, in which I seriously considered quitting kung fu; as a fairly independent person, I’ve had to ask people for various degrees of help, which I’m not accustomed to doing; and the hardest for me, through all of it I’ve had to rely on people; kung fu brothers & sisters, old friends and even a relatively new friend for emotional support which not only launched me into the stratosphere of discomfort but has also humbled me beyond words.

So even though I did the work and was given the ok to slowly add in regular activities (“No sparring for a while Wintor, end of discussion.” Is my addiction really that apparent?), have been taking advantage of every chance at physicality I can get, and am slowly starting to get things balanced, my dealing with being injured is really so much more about the people that I’ve had the good fortune to surround myself with and how they continue to help me through it, no questions asked and no rebuttals.

And He Could Show Up Any Day Now…

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

We hovered around the door, watching the young man testing play his staff form for a minute or so before the baritone voice of Sigung Fogg asked;

“Would you guys like to come in?”

Everyone stopped what they were doing to find some extra chairs as we tried to quickly (and subtly?) make our way from the door to the other side of the room, crossing in front of at least 3 Sifus, the tester and a couple of other students. Once we got our seats there were three things I noticed right away:

  1. The test was taking place in a school weight room which was probably the size of our big room, except that about 1/3 of it was filled with weight equipment – and that the whole thing was carpeted.
  2. An odd sticky thwap-thwap sound, and
  3. That there was no air conditioning.

As he moved through his weapons sets I realized that the thwapping sounds were the guy’s shirt – which looked like he’d literally been hosed off in the parking lot – thwapping and sticking against his chest.

After the staff he went into his straight-sword form which was interesting as I’d never seen that.  From the straight-sword he moved to the spear form.  The emotions I felt as I watched him try and try. and try. to pop that spear up off the carpet with his toe at the beginning and then flip it around his back and catch it with the other hand ran from pure heartache to relief, to “Yes!” when he finally got it.  He finished his weapons with Yin Ching broadsword which was the same but with totally different emphases than what we learn at our school.  It was interesting though, after he played his weapons sets he touched hands with a couple of people and eventually got what they called a boxer’s cut which bled quite a bit, but it was watching him struggle so determinedly with that spear form that was more disturbing to me.

While he was fighting, Sifu Perry and his student arrived with the benches and everyone was called into the office where we relinquished our funds and were told to grab a bench and head outside.

It was standing in that parking lot, in the bright sun that made it feel like at least 107°, that caused me to briefly question both my sanity and the black kung fu pants and dark shirts we had all decided to wear.  We’d all lined up and had done a couple of drills when Sifu Curtis came out and just started doing the form.  There was no warning, no “let’s get started”, just straight into the form.

With a jumping inside crescent kick.

Over.  The.  Bench. 

Needless to say, he had everyone’s attention then.  Sifu Curtis didn’t speak much; he would occasionally say something like “now, on your own,” or “ok, from the beginning” but he really didn’t need to, all eyes were on him.

“And then you set the bench down, do a front flip over it and bow.”

We finished the form after that final tidbit of information and then took a break to get some water, find some shade and catch our breath.  As I sat there Sigung Fogg came out from the school and as he walked over to where we had gathered asked

Everyone’s got it? Wintor you got that flip no problem right?”

and instinctually, before my brain could even engage I grinned and answered

Well yeah, frontwards and backwards!”

And just as my brain fired up and realized that maybe, just maybe that wasn’t the most appropriate response, he laughed.  Sigung Fogg has a pretty good laugh.

Sifu Jones asked me to write about my experience that weekend and it’s taken me a while to gather all of my impressions and try to get them compact enough for a blog post.  But there are definitely certain moments that stand out in my memory:

~  The thwap-thwap-stick of Dustin’s shirt;
~  Dustin’s determination to persevere through that dang spear form;
~  The searing heat out in that parking lot;
~  Uh? The jumping inside crescent kick. Over! The! Bench!;
~  Not getting a grunt of disapproval for joking with Sigung (whew!);
~  The smile that completely took over Sigung’s face when I mentioned that it was probably time for another trip to Jucy’s, and
~  Everyone’s enthusiasm, to both learn and help in the heat of the day, in a parking lot in Richardson, Texas in the summer.

Been Caught Stealing

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Honestly? I don’t like to fall.

I don’t like to fall and I try to keep myself from falling as much as possible. Oh, I’ve practiced falling safely and I’ve been thrown (a lot), and I usually learn something valuable when I get thrown, but I still don’t like falling; it doesn’t feel good and I’ve been known to break bones when I do.

I know that when I play hands it is inevitable that I will be thrown and that I will fall, and fall hard. I accept that, but I guess in a way it’s important to me to do what I can to keep myself from falling whenever possible. One of the most basic ways I know how to do that is by staying rooted and keeping my center.

“Aha! Your center you say…I hear about my center a lot in class but, what is it and how do I find it, much less keep it?”

Well, think of it as your center of gravity or balance point. When a person is standing straight and still, it is usually located slightly lower than and behind the naval, but since Kung Fu is not a static exercise, your center of gravity changes with every movement. When you hear someone talking about having your center it usually means that they’ve done something to make you off balance, therefore giving them a little more control of the situation.

“Alright, now that I’ve sort of found it how do I keep it?”

Horse stance! Forward stance! Ladyhorse stance! You thought those stance drills were just for torture discipline and strength training? They are. They also teach you how to root and to find your center in each stance as well as when shifting from stance to stance. For those of you familiar with 8-basic stances, think about when you shift from Ladyhorse stance into Cat stance; if your center is too high you tend to wobble a little until you get your balance again. The more you practice 8-basic stances, the more aware of your center you become and the better you can flow from stance to stance without wobbling.

Also? I love the motto “work smarter, not harder”.

I love Kung Fu because it is incredibly efficient (among a fragillion other reasons). I like the fact that theoretically I can play hands with someone bigger and stronger than me and by working within the principles, being solid in my stances and technique, and by stealing their center (replacing their center with mine) I have a better chance of controlling the situation – without muscle.

Lately I’ve really been trying to use all of the drills we’ve been learning and to be more aware of both mine and my opponents’ centers; using my stances to make me more efficient at making them work harder. Usually their skill is greater than mine or my timing isn’t quite right and I get beat up, but, sometimes I succeed–and wow…when everything “clicks” it is a feeling like no other and makes the 40 previous beatdowns and all those hours of stance drills Worth. Every. Minute.