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Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones in Action:

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

***

“Joseph, stand up and tell us about 1812.”

Joseph sat to my right, two rows over. At the sound of his name, he slumped over as if he had a heart attack. “OOhs” and “uh-ohs” filled the room. As he stood, I could see his hands trembling. His brown hair covered his eyes but I bet he had them closed, praying.

Mrs. Jones clapped her hands three times. “1812, boy, speak up.”

Though he probably knew the answer, Joseph just stared at his feet. Joseph was extremely smart but he had no people skills. He spent all his time reading fantasy books, drawing wizards, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and feeding quarter after quarter into Xelda at the mall arcade. Whenever a girl smiled at him, his entire body turned red and he lost the ability to speak. He was no match for Predator Jones—which is why she attacked him daily.

“Boy, did you drop your tongue out in the hall?”

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron shouted, “I tell you what happened in the war of 1812. A bunch of people died!”

The class went ballistic.

Mrs. Jones was on her feet. “That’s it, boy. That’s it! Get up here. I got somethin’ for you.”

Realizing he was no longer in her sights, Joseph dove back into his seat.

Mrs. Jones started rummaging through her drawers looking for her paddle. It was a long wooden thing with holes punched in it. She had named it Bathsheba. She told us ‘that King David in the Bible made a bad choice when he laid up with Bathsheba, so any time she pulled out the paddle, that meant somebody made a stupid choice.’

After several minutes of slamming drawers and looking under piles of books, Mrs. Jones gave up her search. Myron had hid the paddle the day before. Frustrated, she pounded her fist on the desk. Her yellow hat went lopsided and her left clip-on earring fell off. She’d worked herself into a sweat. Her freshly applied face powder was quickly turning to cake batter. She pointed at Myron. “I said get up here!”

“But, Mrs. Jones, you don’t have your paddle.”

She started cracking her knuckles. “I got somethin’ worse than Bathsheba, boy.” Mrs. Jones then lifted her hands and a made a show of curling each of her thick fingers into a fist. “You about to get the five finger death touch.”

The entire class jumped to their feet. Everyone was shouting and clapping. Since the beginning of junior high, we’d heard the legend of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch. Rumor was that if she couldn’t find her paddle, she would punch you in the butt instead. I had never believed it, but now here she was about to send Myron into orbit.

As he headed to the front, I told Myron, “She’s gonna beat you down.” I should’ve known by the look he gave me that something bad was about to happen.

“Oooh, Mrs. Jones.” Myron brought his hand to his mouth like he’d just heard something shameful. “Brandon said your five finger death touch couldn’t get him because he knows kung fu.”

“Oh he did.” Mrs. Jones eyes flashed like a hungry wolf that had just discovered she could have two kills for the effort of one. “Well, come on up here, boy, and let’s see if your butt knows kon fu.”

“Whoa, whoa,” I lifted my arms in surrender. “I did not say that.”

“Too late now.” With the power and elegance of a sprinting rhino, Mrs. Jones made her way around her desk.

The class was in a frenzy. The laughter and applause was louder than the crowd at an NBA final. Everyone was pumping their arms and shouting, “Go! Go!”

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to reason with her some more but with all the shouting she couldn’t hear me anyway. I thought of running from the room, but honestly, even though it was happening to me, I didn’t want to miss this. I was about to become a part of Marshall Junior High history.

I met Myron at the front, in the isle between the front row and Mrs. Jones’ desk. Instinctively, my right thumb went rigid. For dragging me into this, I wanted to ram it into the soft spot beneath his floating rib to execute the horrible spinal-column-shock-and-instant-bowel-release technique. I decided to let it go.

“Y’all lean over and putcha hands on the desk.” Mrs. Jones circled behind us.

I was laughing so hard that I almost couldn’t stand. Myron moved in beside me and as we lay our hands on her desk, the sounds of laughter increased by a hundred decibels. I looked over my shoulder and Mrs. Jones was actually winding up her arms the way Popeye does just before he knocks out Brutus. Then she started doing a shuffle like Curly on the Three Stooges.

“Watch out cause here it comes!” Both arms swinging, she stepped in. I thought of hopping over her desk but I was paralyzed with laughter.

“BAM!” she shouted as her big old fist hit me in the left butt cheek.

Myron collapsed to the floor and faked a seizure. I dropped to my knees overcome with laughter.

“Everybody sit down and shut the hell up before I tap somebody else.”

The class was over the edge. Papers were flying. Books were scattered across the floor. It was a madhouse. Even the two teachers, whose rooms were on either side of Mrs. Jones’ had rushed in to see what was happening.

We had to go to the office and after telling the principal what happened, he laughed, told us to not provoke her again, then dismissed us. I could still hear him laughing as we closed his door and started down the hall.

To this day, I’m certain that it was my kung fu skills that kept the poisonous affects of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch from harming me.

As for Myron, I received word recently that he lived in Colorado teaching band.

He walks with a limp.

Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones Returns:

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This tale comes with a warning: (To better prepare you for what you’re about to read, please search the archive and read the blog titled, Mrs. Jones, before going any further. For those of you who have . . . well, you’re on your own.)

And yes, all of it is true. There was a time when teachers could get away with this, especially, old ones about to retire.

With the start of each new school year, I can’t help but think about my own school days. The one teacher that still stands out in my memory is my eighth grade history teacher Mrs. Jones. I remember her not because she made a positive impact on my life, but from a skill she possessed—the Five Finger Death Touch.

Mrs. Jones was a very large, very old teacher and she always dressed as if she was going to church. Long floral pattern dress, fat clip-on earrings, and multiple pearl strands dangled around her neck. The big flowers on her dress only accentuated her double-plus size. Sometime she even wore a hat with a flower stabbed through the top. And to accessorize her saintly wardrobe, Mrs. Jones had the largest, thickest Bible I’d ever seen. It sat like a holy shrine on the corner of her desk. Rumor was it weighed fifteen pounds. One day before class, a girl named Pam sprained her wrist trying to pick it up.

My eighth grade year was her final year before retirement, after what she called, “forty-one years of hell”.

And we loved to wind her up.

One of the funniest tricks we played on her was turning our desk around to face the back of the room. We had maybe ten seconds to do this and we had to do it in complete silence in order for it to work.

Mrs. Jones was always hot, constantly fanning herself with a newspaper or one of those handheld fans she brought from church. Most days she even sweated her make-up off. That’s what we were waiting for.

No matter what she was doing, she would stop, sit down, and begin the ritual of re-powdering her face. We knew what was coming. With the stealth of ninjas, we would signal each other. The message was clear. Get ready.

I gripped the top of my desk as I watched Mrs. Jones go through each step.

With lots of grunting, she would bend over, grab her purse and plop it on the desk. The whole desk shook from its weight. She then slid off her bifocals, unsnapped her purse, plunged her hand to its bottom, and pulled out a round container of beige face powder that was as big as an IHOP dinner platter. She sat it on the desk and unscrewed the lid.

I waited, ready to make my move.

She sat the lid aside then ground the massive face pad into the powder. Then with the intensity of a herd of elephants stampeding through a small African village, she repeatedly pounded her face with the pad. Powder dust billowed around her like a brown cloud.

That was our moment to act.

In perfect synchronicity, twenty-three of us clutched the top of our desks, stood up enough to lift the desk’s legs off the floor, spun a one-eighty, and lowered the desks back to the floor. We called it the desk-flip. We had it down to an art.

I sat third from the front, middle row. I could hear her snapping the powder lid shut. The “rule” was that we were to sit there in total silence. I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut to keep from laughing. I knew that in three seconds, she’d put her glasses back on.

“Well then,” she said. “I guess I didn’t get the memo. Today must be Comedian Day. An ever body think they funny.”

I opened one eye and peeked left. Michael Wilson was crying from holding his laughter. I peeked right and Rebecca Johnson was doing the same. I could hear Mrs. Jones pushing away from her desk. Her tired chair squealed, pleading for mercy to be set free from the burden it held. She stood.

“Well, let me tell you about the memo I did get. Today, the principal declared this class to be the retarded class. And guess what? Ever body in here gettin’ an A.”

I couldn’t hold it any longer. Neither could the class. Laughter erupted. Next to me, Michael fell out of his desk from laughing so hard.

“Now ever body turn around and shut the hell up.” She collapsed back into her chair. The old wooden thing just moaned from the onslaught of weight.

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron Anderson, the boy in front of me shouted. “You can’t say hell.”

The noise of everyone returning their chairs back to normal went instantly quiet. Myron was Mrs. Jones’ nemesis. They fought constantly and none of us wanted to miss a single moment of what was about to happen.

Mrs. Jones leaned forward, rested her elbows on her desk and started punching her fist into her palm. She stared at Myron. Behind her thick bifocals, her brown eyes narrowed to thin slits. She looked like a cobra ready to strike.

“Boy, let me tell you about hell. That’s where you about to go.” She suddenly jumped up and reared her fist back as if she was about to come over her desk. For a large woman, she could move blindingly fast. Emily and Claire, sitting in front squealed and scooted back. Every body else laughed.

“As soon as I knock you out that chair, boy, that’s where you going, straight to hell. Now shut up.”

The class went hysterical. Some students in the back shouted, “Preach on, Sister Jones.”

But Myron couldn’t leave it alone. “Mrs. Jones, how you know I wouldn’t go to heaven?”

Shantal, a girl behind me said, “Oh no, here it comes.”

Mrs. Jones sat back in her chair, crossed her arms, and shook her head in disbelief. “Cause, boy, you so evil, that’s why. You filled with nothing but the devil. Matter fact, I can’t believe the good Lord ain’t done struck you down with a bolt of lightening.” She clasped her hands together in prayer-style and looked to the heavens. “Lord, please overlook this heathen’s evil heart and don’t kill him in my classroom. Kill ‘em outside, Lord, so I ain’t got to be bothered with disposin’ of his dead body. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”

Veronica, a girl sitting in the front said, “Ooh, Mrs. Jones. That’s mean.”

Mrs. Jones sneered at her. “What’s mean, girl, is you talkin’ and killin’ us with your funky breath. Now shut up.” She looked back at the class. “Now everybody open up your books. Last night, I told you to study the War of 1812.” She squinted her eyes as she scanned the room. Her head swayed left and right and up and down, like a badger following the scent of a wounded animal he was about to eat.

Hunters tell you that the basic rule to deter a wild animal from attacking you is to avoid eye contact. After only two months into the school year, my class understood this rule very well. We all kept our heads down pretending to read. And that was fine by me. I could keep writing on my Wade Cheng Ninja Adventure novels.

Hunters also say there is an amendment to the survival rule: Don’t be the weak one. The predators always go for the weak one.

Just as I opened my journal and began writing Ninja CIA Operative Wade Cheng out of a sword fight in the middle of Disney Land, Predator Jones attacked.

***

Quit?

Friday, August 6th, 2010

As some of you may be aware, last weekend was our yearly national titling in Austin, Tx where many of the schools associated with The United States Kung Fu Exchange gather to test our upper level students.   This year, we had two students ready to title, Philip Anthony (Level 2) and Tina Knight (Level  1).   Both did very well and helped uphold the excellent reputation that our school has earned.  So be sure to congratulate them when you see them!!

Now on to my topic; Following the Titling on Friday night, we had Sigung Fogg’s workshop on Saturday.  We started around 8:30 with a warm up, followed by two seminars from Sifu Leverett and Sifu Medley, Lunch, a seminar by Sifu Jones, and then Sigung Fogg’s, ending around 4:30.  Since 7+ hours of Kung Fu is not enough, we moved outside (in the Austin summer heat) to play some hands.

After playing with several of my Kung Fu cousins, I had the pleasure of touching hands with Sifu Medley.    At this point, I was tired, very tired.  I fought myself to keep moving almost as much as I fought Sifu Medley.  My hands felt like they were filled with lead, and my feet felt like they had begun melting into the concrete on which we stood (not even having started yet).  I felt like I was moving in slow motion, barely able to move to attempt to deal with the incoming attacks.  Then something amazing happened, which has happened many times before, and I was hoping would occur, It got FUN.   The weariness drained away, clearing my mind, pulling energy from where my body stored it, using it to keep me alive (and loving it).   Time outside of the hands ceased to matter and passed without my knowledge (estimated at around 20 min or so). I was keenly aware of my surroundings, but my focus was wholly upon the Kung Fu master in front of me.  When we finally stopped, around 6:40pm, Sifu Medley said “You Tyler guys don’t know how to quit.” “No Sir.” was my response.

Quit.  To Give Up.  To Admit Defeat.  – “No Sir” I will have none of that.  And neither will Sifu.   I’m told that the inability to give up is a character flaw.  I do not accept that.

At Tyler Kung Fu and Fitness, we do not quit.  Not when so tired we want to fall down.  Not when our family is in danger.  Not when everything seems hopeless.  Not Ever.   It is the same attitude that produces survivors in otherwise fatal instances (Read ‘Deep Survival’ by Laurence Gonzalas ).  It’s the same attitude that makes the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers the best in the world.

There is nothing in this universe that will make me give up on my beliefs, my family, or my friends.

Quit?  Not a chance.

Kung Fu is in Everything! (Karate Kid 2010)

Monday, July 26th, 2010

“Kung fu is in everything.”

When Jackie Chan said that in the new Karate Kid, I actually jumped to my feet, shouted, “Yes”, and clapped my hands. My daughters tried to bury themselves under the seat and pleaded with me to stop doing that. I couldn’t help it. That one line nailed the entire essence of kung fu!

See, for the last thirty years, kung fu has been in everything in my life. Other than my parents and my Christian walk, nothing else has been this constant in my life. A few years ago, John Cheng reminded me that for the last twenty-plus years we haven’t gone twenty-four hours without thinking about or doing KF.

I knew that watching the new movie was going to be emotional, but I wasn’t expecting it to move me the way it did on so many levels. It was like watching a time line of my own life on the big screen. That sounds hokey, I know, but seriously. With each scene of the movie came a flood of memories.

I remember meeting Sifu Fogg for the first time. Like Dre with Mr. Han in the movie, I didn’t understand what skills Sifu possessed and that what he would teach me would change my life forever. I had no clue that KF would become so ingrained in my being that there would be no distinct separation of kung fu life with no kung fu life. A kid in high school that wanted to fight me and said that I couldn’t use KF. I said OK and did anyway. I remember, for a second, trying to figure out how I could actually do that. I realized very early, that KF wasn’t something I could turn off and on. And what a revelation for a teenager! To have such a passion for something other than girls at that stage in life is huge. It gave me direction and focus even though the rest of my teen life was spinning in complete chaos. If I wouldn’t have had KF to channel my energy into after numerous girlfriend breakups, man, that would’ve been bad.

In the movie The Incredibles, the daughter had the power to create a protective force shield around her and her family whenever the bad guys blasted them with machine guns. The bullets simply bounced off. That’s how KF was and still is for me. Once I threw the first punch of a form, I entered into that bubble of protection. My life’s worry-bullets simply bounced off.

Mr. Han (Chan) demonstrated this in the scene when he was so devastated by the loss of his family that he was paralyzed with grief. Yet, once he and Dre began to train, his pain and anguish began to slip away. It was like the shackles of a prisoner suddenly breaking apart and falling to the ground.

Kung Fu is way more than a hobby or sport. It is in everything.

For Real

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Last Tuesday I learned real kung fu.

A new student who recently moved to the U.S. approached me after the morning class and asked me to watch him practice with the walking stick (short staff). He swung the staff with such intensity and focus that I remember thinking, Wow, he’s doing this as if his life depends on it.

Well, I found out that it did.

With little income, my student lives in a rough apartment complex inside an even rougher neighborhood. In very broken English, he told me that in just the last three days, he’d had to fight his way into his home, and then had to throw people out of his home. He said fighting is never one-on-one. Always three or four. And they are big, with big hands and big arms. They want my money, my food. They no work for nothing, he said, they only want to take. He also told me he had to use a broom as his weapon and that’s why he needed more practice with the short staff.

I stood there, not only dumbfounded, but totally humbled and even ashamed.

For the last fourteen years, I’ve been teaching martial arts professionally. And though the lethalness of the arts is always in the back of my mind whenever I teach a technique, I admit I’ve taken KF for granted. I mean, thank God we live in a society where kung fu is not a necessary skill to have in order to live from one day to the next. But in that, how many punches and kicks—entire forms filled with hundreds of techniques— have I taught just going through the motions on autopilot with little thought of how the student may really need this in order to survive the evening at home.

Weeks prior, I’d shown him a few techniques with the staff. Good stuff, effective, but I showed him the movements more as an exercise, with little focus on the combat uses. The humbling part is that he told me those moves saved his life. He shook my hand and thanked me for it. I felt an inch tall. See, in my mind, from the get-go, I should’ve taught him those techniques with the seriousness of what they’re really used for, not just exercises.

You guys know the definition of martial arts but it lets reexamine it.

The word martial literally means warfare or combat. Placing the word arts behind it implies pooling all aspects of combat, studying them and then seamlessly imbedding the techniques into your being so that it (combative moves) flows out naturally. People who train in the martial arts are students of both science and art. Think of all the physics and biology you learn just from practicing kung fu. And of course it’s the repetitive practice that forms the art.

Spending thirty years with a Sifu who relied on his KF to survive the dangerous streets of DC and New York, and then the perilous jungles of Viet Nam, I can’t help but intimately understand the combat side of martial arts. I just allowed my focus to become lazy. Not again.

The Hole Inside

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The Kung Fu that Sifu Jones teaches fills the hole inside me. Wow, what a statement. Let me clarify. I believe that most of us at some point feel incomplete. That we’re missing something in life. But we continue on doing the same old thing. Work, sleep, eat, entertain ourselves, go to church, spend time with family, etc.: all the things that we have found that we need. But what if you still feel that something is missing? Then you read a book, watch a movie or meet someone. And then you think, “What about martial arts?”. Then you start looking at different schools in your area. You go to some classes, maybe you participate or just sit and watch. You have searched online, looking for advice about how to choose a martial art. You have read hundreds of articles about which one is the best. But the problem is that everyone says that theirs is the best. Karate is the best; no, Tae Kwon Do is the best; no, Kung Fu is the best; no Aikido is the best; no, Boxing is the best. You get so confused about which is the best that you think that you’ll just pick the cheapest school because they’re all the same. Then you go to one more school to try it out. You walk up expecting the same old thing. But during you time there, you start to feel good, excited to be learning, and part of the group. At the end of class you go to the instructor and ask about how to join. You don’t wait for anyone to ask you if you are interested, you just know that this is what you want to do. You have found what you were missing.

I think that choosing the right martial art for you is a combination of the right instructor and the right style. It’s not about which style everybody says is the best. It’s not about which school has the nicest instructor and staff. It’s about finding the right place for you.

Stretched Thin

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I have been asked several times “How do you balance Kung Fu and your normal life?” For several years now, I can not separate Kung Fu from my “normal life”… its one and the same. But I completely understand why the question is asked. The more applicable question is actually “How do you fit Kung Fu training into your normal day-to-day routine?

Now that can be a difficult question to answer, as each of us are different. Instead of telling you how you should incorporate it into your routine, I will share with you how I have in my own life.

I am a very busy person. I have a job that works me at least 40 hours a week, usually more, and requires travel that has lasted months before. I also have a wonderful wife and daughter (and expecting another in Sept). I also have all of my family and friends, and quite a few hobbies and projects ( not counting honey-dos and daddy could yous). On top of all of that, I learn and teach Kung Fu. Needless to day, I don’t get to be lazy very often.

Fitting Kung Fu in is not easy. I try to come to class and meet up with my Kung Fu brothers and sisters for hands as often as I can. But for the most part, my training is solo, intermixed throughout the day. I try to start and end every day with some Kung Fu. A good stretch in the morning, roll out of bed, maybe do a little horse stance while brushing my teeth, then the last few moves of the form I am learning before getting dressed for work. The morning drive usually entails me going through a form or one of our fighting drills in my head several times. At work, I try to take a morning and afternoon break, and maybe take a brisk walk around the parking lot a couple times to get the blood and muscles moving. Perhaps running a form through my head, sometimes stopping to physically work a move, pondering applications. Lunch time is usually relaxing with a book, but if it’s getting close to test time, or I need a different kind of relaxing, its form time, either at the school (less than 5 min from work), or in the parking lot.

Evenings are usually the best and worst times to fit in the Fu. I try to take an hour or two a week and play through my forms in the back yard, but it can be hard. It may be 9:30 or 10:30 before I can even start, and after a long day, feeling exhausted, it can be difficult to actually get out and do it. But it is so very rewarding when I do. If I don’t get a chance to get outside, then I will play a form or two before showering (or while in the shower), then some more horse stance while brushing the teeth. After that, laying in bed, I will work for a bit on feeling/controlling my Chi. Many times the last thing to go through my head at night is Kung Fu related.

It all comes down to fitting it in wherever you can, however you can. This usually requires some sort of sacrifice of doing something else, from watching TV, to sleeping, or another hobby. By and far, though, the greatest asset to my Kung Fu outside of the school is my wonderful supportive wife. It was actually her urging, many years ago, that got me to visit Tyler Kung Fu and Fitness, which greatly changed my life for the better.

So to all of the Kung Fu wives, husbands, parents, and children who support your loved ones Kung Fu aspirations; THANK YOU. For without, you, we could not do this which brings us so much happiness!

Become the Principles: Part I in the series

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The young monk slowly picked himself up off the hard brick floor. He tried to ignore his kung fu brothers’ whispers but Grandmaster’s disapproving stare hit him harder than his opponent’s tiger claw just did. He stifled a groan when he stood straight. Every joint in his body ached, even among his toes. The puffy knot above his left eye throbbed as a hundred of tiny beads of sweat, mixed with rivulets of blood, rolled off his bruised, bald head.

Ashamed, the young monk stared at the floor. “Grandmaster, I’ve studied and memorized the combat principles, yet I can never defeat my brothers.”

From the raised platform, Grandmaster rose from his seat. His traditional orange robe rippled in the afternoon breeze as he walked to the edge of the stage and looked at the wounded young man slumped beneath him. He smiled, stroking his long white beard as he remembered saying those exact words to his grandmaster so long ago. He nodded, agreeing with his thoughts. Time is the answer. He spoke to the monk.

“Memorized the principles, yes, but you have not become them.” The wise master bowed and left training hall.

I remember memorizing the twelve soft principles of 7-Star Mantis years ago. I was so proud of myself. I could speak of the principles as if I were a kung fu scholar. But like the young monk learned, knowledge of something (mental) and becoming something (physical) is two different worlds. I can read and go to school for years to learn how to play the piano—and I bet I could even pass a written test on the subject—but if I never once sat down and played, then I would fail my final recital miserably. Totally the same with kung fu. To learn any art you must first understand the principles that make that art what it is, and then become it.

Sifu Fogg always says, “Believe, conceive, achieve.”

First, believe in your art, believe it WILL work, only then can you move on to the conceive part. Once you begin to understand (conceive) how it works then you can achieve it—in this case, achieving the ability to fight like the most feared predator in the insect community!

So, here is the HOW. (Let’s cover one each visit)

Principle #1: Evade full force. In Fu Slang, Don’t get hit!

Let nothing make contact with your body, a punch, palm, elbow, knee, kick, head-butt, a tackle or takedown, a baseball bat, nothing.

  1. Face-off with your partner. One of you will throw only straight punches (painstakingly slow at first) while the other simply moves away, whether this means to duck, step back, spin, fall, flip, whatever, don’t get hit and DON’T touch your partner. This is all about evading. No contact. Do this for 60 seconds then next person punches. Do 3 sets, increasing speed each time. Then go to avoiding hooks, uppercuts, elbows—make your way down the punch list.
  2. Move on to evading all manner of kicks. Talk with each other; ask “what ifs” as you kick this way or that. Be real. Help each other. Later you can strike with long padded weapons, fast and hard, while the unarmed student evades.
  3. Evade tackles. Have partner charge you and tackle you if you don’t move.

Do these everyday, if able. Maybe pick punches one day, kicks the next. Remember, your goal is to become the, evade full force principle, not just memorize it. This is how you do it.

Begin with these drills. Next time we’ll discuss Redirecting with a dil sao.

Oh, please let me know about your own evasion drills. We all can learn.

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.

The Running Man

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Being separated from my kung fu family has been harder than I anticipated. While I’ve always been one to push myself, it’s so much better to have support and motivation from others. I have really started dissecting my training and trying to find new ways to push myself and reach the next level. While most of you might not be as geographically separated form the school as I am, we all have times when we work out alone or individually and that’s good for your kung fu.

We all have plateaus and stages we go through in our training as well. The secret is to not fight them but use them to your advantage. If I am honest I have been through 3 or 4 serious plateaus even close to burnout in my training. We must remind ourselves that this is normal and not the enemy of our training but a tool to help us progress.

When I go through a plateau I try to change my focus and accept some changes in my training. I often use it as a chance to focus on other aspects of training I normally don’t spend much time on. It’s a great time for very slow hands for example. Maybe just do feeling drills and chin na drills for a couple of weeks. Its all about being completely “rounded” (no pun intended). If you tend to dislike really slow drills then use them on your tired days, or during a plateau. If you have been pushing your forms really fast, take it easy and think about each individual move in a form, play them “tai chi” slow and think about your balance in each stance. If you have been playing your forms 25 times each every day, maybe cut that down and use the extra time to write down each move of the form on paper. This gives you another way of thinking about the forms and really gets them in your head and in your body. We often get blinders on but the truth is we have to work on so many things in order to increase our skill; these times can be very useful.

One of the things I’ve done recently is embrace running. I’ve never really been a big fan of long distance running but I was very fortunate to have a group of kung fu brothers that helped and motivated me to run and work hard. Sifu Jones would push us both mentally and physically in our runs. I found myself looking forward fondly to the bonding that happened during those runs and in turn enjoying the physical effects running had on my skill. Still, running was simply a part of training I had to push through, sort of like horse stance. You guys at the school have a great opportunity to motivate each other and help each other reach greater levels of skill than you could alone. Take advantage of it, we never know what life has in store for us and I can honestly say the time I had with my kung fu brothers and sisters was invaluable to my skill in kung fu.

Since moving I found running a quick way to get some cardio in, warm up my body for forms and P90X (another post altogether), and spend time getting my head mentally prepared to push myself in my training time. As time went by I began to look forward to my morning runs as a time to clear my head, enjoy being outside a bit, and think about things in my life such as medical school, and especially kung fu.

Take some time and think about what you can do to use your plateau to increase your skill. Figure out a way to make it work for you and add to the overall journey of increasing your skill!

Since I’ve been running everyday for quite a while now, thought I would share my “relaxed” running play list with you. I go through stages in my music as well but here are some recent favorites I use to try and relax into my run rather than push for speed right now.

In no particular order:

  • Superman’s Dead – Our Lady Peace
  • Salvation – The Cranberries
  • Ignition – Toby Mac
  • Just Like a Pill – Pink
  • Undone (Sweater Song) – Weezer
  • Suddenly I See – KT Tunstall
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (This includes No Easy Way Out, they must be together!)
  • Uprising – Muse
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  • Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
  • Sugar, We’re Going Down – Fall Out Boy
  • Going the Distance – Cake
  • Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz

Feel free to comment and add your own favorite running songs. No making fun of my song selection, unless you are going to come visit me and hang through a full workout with me, then you can make fun of them.