Monday, October 30, 2006

Capoeira and Kalaripayattu

Someday, I want to learn how to do this.

Capoeira was a martial art developed by African slaves in Brazil. Its practice was outlawed by the colonials, and so to disguise the martial aspect, they made the actions look more dance-like. That seemed to have fooled the villainous colonizers!

The sport is non contact and sparring is done surrounded by a circle of the other artists who clap, sing and play drums! They seem to be very good at doing the spinning kicks I have trouble with. In fact most of the kicks seem to involve spinning. A person I know taking a class said that the first thing you practice is cartwheels.

While I'm on the subject of other martial arts, here is a video of the Indian martial art Kalaripayattu. Its a fairly ancient art.

It seems to be practiced almost exclusively in the southern part of India, and is even popular there. But growing up in northern India, I had no exposure to it at all. (Taekwondo and Karate are the most widely learnt martial arts in India) Here is an interesting article on the state of traditional martial arts in India. I had no idea for example that the Kalari martial art was intricately related to the traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda, Indian classical dance forms and Yoga. By way of that article, I found this nicely written and detailed article on the practice of Kalari.

Training with Advanced Students

From now onwards, we will train with the rest of the students, instead of among ourselves, the beginner class. I thought it was really great. You get a lot more personal attention to your technique when you partner with a higher belt. All the advanced students I partnered with were very helpful and patient. I found their suggestions especially helpful for correcting the details of my forms. One small dilemna is if something they suggest about technique is a bit different from what you remember the instructor saying. It feels unseemly to argue, but you wish to follow your teacher's instructions too.


I don't keep the list of past injuries on the side because I'm morbid or want to dwell on them.

First, its to remind myself that I have gotten over injuries, and will keep doing so. The body has a miraculous capacity for healing that perhaps we don't fully trust in yet. To get over my fear of injury. Many injuries are caused by fear or inattention. Sometimes, because of our fear, pain continues long after healing has occurred. Secondly, I noticed a couple of times (through sitemeter) that people stumbled onto the site when they searched for injuries related to knees or toes. It always helps those of us who worry about the fragility of our bodies to know that someone else has overcome the same problem. For people dedicated to a sport, injury seems to have the effect not only of putting one out of commission, but depending on the severity, there is the added worry, "when, when will I be able to get back to training!".

If you are injured, and are worrying about whether to train or not, first, try to banish fear from your mind. The body is tough, and will heal! I have read that the biggest bone in the body, the femur, takes only 6 weeks to heal from a fracture, and is stronger than before it was broken. Take a few days off if training is too painful -- don't obsess about missing training, you won't fall behind drastically, it will have very little effect. Keep doing your non-training daily routine if possible. Lastly, if you just can't bear to keep yourself away from training, and are worried if you are doing further damage: obviously, be sensible about this, but within bounds, I think the body can cope with even this. Perhaps the injury will take somewhat longer to heal, but not indefinitely, and possibly it is a matter of double the time, depending on the injury.

So where are these thoughts coming from? We are confronted at every turn with a pessimistic or quick-fix approach to health and injury in society today. I liked reading Andrew Wiles' Weil's and John Sarno's books because they are doctors who speak with hope and enthusiasm of the capacity of the human body. Moreover, they talk about obtaining a deeper undertsanding of how the body functions, for example understanding how the mind interacts with the body. In medicine today, I have the impression that this connection is hardly given the attention it deserves; it deserves research not because it is interesting, but because it has the capacity to further our understanding of disease. They too came out of the same medical establishment. Why do they think differently?

Friday, October 27, 2006


I enjoyed my first time sparring. As I faced my opponent, I experienced a joyful, primal feeling. By primal, I mean that some very fundamental instinct which had seemingly been dormant, was awakened. I felt alert but at ease at the same time. I felt protective of myself, but that I could trust my brain to automatically give the commands to my arms to ward off blows without thinking about it. My eyes felt quick to move, looking for opportunity to strike. I felt light on my feet as though I wanted to imagine being a cat, or a panther!

I think what makes it easier is that we spar with only light contact. I wonder if this is a less effective way of preparing for an actual fight; one could tend to attack and move out too quickly without commiting fully to the punch or kick. The only low point was when one of my partners (he had said to me at the beginning of class, "I want to spar YOU!") got a kick through to my stomach, and actually made hard contact. I had the wind knocked out of me for a bit. Maybe he didn't have enough control, though I don't really believe that, and am putting it down to his immaturity. Good lesson for me I guess, not to trust anyone to hit lightly, no matter what the rules.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Moves and Sparring

Today we had our first class as yellow belts. The new things we learnt were:

* Punching, and kicking from fighting stance (body sideways). I need to remember:
- Punching: start punches underhand (forward hand or back?)
- Front kick: pivot on front kick first, then kick
- Step-side kick (not sure that this wasn't back kick): keep non-kicking foot in place while chambering, while the kicking knee points downwards. The foot closer to enemy is kicking foot.
* Dan Gun form
* One-Step Pattern #5: Block with (left) hand while executing punch which starts overhand, and hits underhand. With blocking (left) hand, grab attackers punching hand, and keeping feet in place, but pivoting away from attacker, pulling hand with their arm straight over my (left) shoulder, take step with (left) foot, while pulling arm over my head, still straight, bend their hand downwards, while pulling them to ground.
* I need to focus on pushing belly out more for my Side kick.

I've been out of town for a week, and the combination of eating out and no exercise were making me feel sluggish. So I'm glad I went to class. Unfortunately, I have to travel again this week. I'll have to miss my first class of sparring on Sunday...too bad.

I am nervous about sparring. About getting hurt, but also the very idea of fighting someone. I've been a terrible sissy since childhood. If I got into a fight, I would always back off, I had no idea how to efficiently fight someone. Sometimes, I would just retreat, humiliated, after trying to fight, and clumsily failing. I remember two instances. The first, I was 10, and the girl I was threatening to hit just grabbed my wrist, and I could do nothing. The second, I was about 11, and I ran up to this other kid to give him a 'flying' kick (he was calling me stupid names) and I just ended up short, not making any contact. I think of myself as a bit more coordinated and less clumsy now, but these thoughts are at the back of my mind.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Productive Rest

I took a day off from class today. I could have gone, and my toe would have been a bit sore later, but probably not terrible. I just wanted to train myself to be able to take a day off for rest, and not think obsessively through the day about missing class. And also I think I have been letting taekowndo dominate my thoughts of late, at the cost of letting work, cooking and housework slide a bit.

I'm pleased to report that I did quite well. I went to school early, and got a good bit of work done. After coming back home, I cooked myself a good dinner, which I haven't done for the last few days. I wrote a few important emails I've been putting off writing.

I hope my good rest will help me next class, physically and mentally.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I didn't make it. I didn't get my belt. I was very disheartened last night, even though I knew beforehand that I probably wouldn't pass. It's not a big tragedy, I have to remedy my roundhouse, back kick and one of my one-step patterns, and I'll get my belt within the next couple of classes. But last night I fell asleep wondering, "why I am putting myself through so much physical and emotional strain?"

It's not about belts or ranks. Its the feeling of failure. My wish to surpass myself at something and my need for approval, at the innermost level are rooted in my deep feelings of inferiority. When I fail in these, it's a blow to my unconscious which is enraged at yet again being shown proof of my (perceived) inferiority. This is just a fact about me, maybe ugly, but just the truth. The reason I want to write about this is that being aware of it will stop my mind from creating physical distractions in order to prevent the painful emotions from being experienced.

This is not my insight, but John Sarno's. I will write more on what Sarno thinks on the subjects of inferiority fuelling ambition soon. It is just amazing to me what the mind is capable of and how much of it we are unaware of during our waking hours.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Kurz's Stretching Book

I've been reading Thomas Kurz's Stretching Scientifically and I think I like it better than Sang H. Kim's Ultimate Flexibility.

Kurz's book is small, and easy to put together a warm up routine from. Kim's book has hundreds of exercises, and some suggested workouts. Moreover, Kurz has a biology lesson in the beginning where he explains how muscles work, what effect different kinds of stretching have on them and so on. Also, he seems to take a more optimistic view of injury, which is something I find reassuring.

I like that Kurz advises a vigorous warm up with front, side and back kicks before the actual activity. I found this more effective than static stretches. He argues that static stretches are not really preparing you for the dynamic activity. He advises static and isometric stretches only after the activity. This makes sense to me, and I like the feeling of gradually increasing the range of my kicks until class starts. I find that if I do even some static stretching after a kicking warm up, I lose some of my springiness.

I've always felt very stiff and restricted in the groin area. I found that doing many repetitions of quickly raising your leg sideways and touching your hand, in a controlled way, loosens up that area more than the stretch where you sit with soles of feet touching, and try to push your groin apart.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Aaaaargggh! I practised so much to step the right way while blocking in one step sparring. I wish my @!*%$#@ partner had done the same. In the last 10 minutes of class yesterday, while I was congratulating myself because my knee was finally starting to feel better, said partner stepped right into my punch to block it, and gave my toe a good jam. For a moment I thought part of my foot had been cut or something because the pain was so sharp!

I thought the pain would subside like a stubbed toe, but this morning it still feels very bruised and stiff. I've been icing and elevating like a maniac. I'm wavering between getting it x-rayed to check for a break, or just staying off my feet. I'm worried the trip to the health center will take away precious recovery time.

I am hopping mad! Belt test is on Sunday, and I'll have to stay off my foot for a while, and probably won't be able to practice forms like I wanted to. Shit!

Update: The health center people just buddy-taped it together with the next toe. They say they don't do xrays, at least not right away, so I don't know if its broken or just jammed. student health care. They said to come back if its too much worse after my test on Sunday. If I had my camera, I would post a picture of my taped up toes, it looks pretty neat.

Update on 10/7: Here is some inspiration to fight through it from Taekwondomom's weblog. I hurt exactly the same toe!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Need to Practice

Well, its a week before the exam, and I need LOTS of practice. I still need to work out the timing of pivots on all my kicks. It doesn't help that my knee is still a bit sore and preventing me from kicking as hard as I want to (I was chagrined to have to mention in class that my knee was still hurting after I was asked to kick harder on my back kick and lost my focus the remainder of the class. Practicing in the air is ok, but hard contact on the kick shield hurts). My sparring is abysmal; often I start by stepping the wrong way to block! I think I need to learn how to watch the opponent and react instead of just doing it because I know what is coming next. So things to remember:

* Stretch kick: Kick higher, keep head up

* Front kick: Stretch out ankle, but keep toes up; start the kick fast, and by almost kicking yourself in the butt, foot shouldn't hit someones hand placed a foot from the ground on the outswing.

* Roundhouse kick: Start by chambering knee pretty high up, knee pointed to opponent; then pivot, keeping knee pointed to opponent and kick fast hitting with ball of foot.

* Side kick: Chamber so that knee almost touches shoulder, spend some time stretching oo...uuuu...uuu...t, and then pivot to regain balance. Try to keep leg level during the pivot.

* Back kick: Bend low and start the kick by 'sitting', and with thighs almost brushing, then kick through the hole behind the support knee. Try to hold kick, and stretch it out far and high by bending support knee.

* Step back kick: Stance is lower than back kick. Take a fairly big step backwards, and stay low while taking the step, so that you're almost sitting after taking the step.

* Spinning kick: AAArrrggghhhh...I am SO bad at this. Anyway, lift up back leg to the side, and keep it there while spinning torso so that opposite shoulder is drawn towards the leg, then keep spinning (..err I think).

* Chon-ji: Do the moves fast enough, but try to keep body weight in between legs, as you would if you had full time for the 'prepare'.

* One Step Sparring: Yell when signalling ready for attacker. Keep eye on punching hand of opponent, and step away from it to block. While attacking, pivot while doing block (need to practice stepping back to prepare to block)
- Block with hand near punch (w.h.n.p), knife hand
- Block w.h.n.p, other hand chambers, punch to face, torso, face. In RIDING STANCE while punching
- Block w.h.n.p, stance should be facing attacker so as to generate maximum force while turning during elbow strike. Lift other hand to blocking hand and then two elbow strikes: first blocked side, then other. Remember to pivot feet , and use hips to generate the turning.
- Block with hand NOT near punch, bend at elbow, and straighten it out towards face of attacker while chambering other fist. Then punch with the chambered fist, while not moving the leg on that side, but move opposite leg a small step.

I heard in class today that usually all but one or two people fail the yellow belt exam the first time. GREAT! Now in addition to the stress of not knowing what will be asked, I KNOW I'm going to fail. I don't know whether to be relieved or depressed.