Sunday, February 25, 2007

Testing, Stripes, Belts etc.

I finished all my improvements last class, and got a green stripe taped to my yellow belt today. I'll test for a green belt on March 3rd. We'll be tested on only four kicks:

- sliding side kick
- sliding roundhouse
- hook kick
- spin hook kick

so hopefully I'll devote a good bit of practice to each. In sliding kicks, you slide ahead with your support foot while kicking to get a bit of extra distance. I'm best at sliding roundhouse and hook kick. My sliding side kick is passable, but my spinning hook kick is rather miserable at the moment.

I tried back kicks for the first time while sparring today, but I must have been slow, because I got bopped in the face for my efforts. I've tended to stick with roundhouse, side kick and hook kick during sparring so far.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Falling Asleep in Class?

How, you say, can one fall asleep in a fast paced class which seems to keep you interested so that you don't even feel the hour fly by?

For almost every class since the beginning of the semester, we have followed the following pattern. We start out with a quick warmup and stretching. Then its on to practicing combinations and kicks and being told how each might be useful while sparring. We then have about 15 minutes of free sparring where every person spars roughly half of the class, in parallel. This is achieved by lining up in two rows, and each person sparring the opposite person for a few minutes, before we're given the call to "switch!" and then moving down the line. Sometimes, in the middle of this, we'll be called to "form a ring!" and then two people are called to freespar in a match. After freesparring, we practice our forms. Time permitting, we end with situps or leg raises.

As I mentioned, things happen really quickly. Though we've followed this routine, there is enough variety that I've never been bored by it. A couple of classes ago, perhaps due to our dismal showing in forms, Dr. S. decided to do nothing but forms the whole class. So not a few were surprised when after warmup, we were suddenly all asked to launch into our highest form. I noticed some people completely blanked out, just because its not the usual order we do it in. And these people are usually good at their forms and I see them practicing after class and so on.

So that's how you can fall asleep in class.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Yesterday during class, I was channeling Anatoli Boukreev. Boukreev was an exceptional mountaineer who saved several lives in extreme conditions while climbing Everest in 1996 when bad whether and a series of unfortunate circumstances caused many deaths. Strangely, just about a year later, Boukreev himself was killed in an avalanche while climbing another mountain in Nepal, Annapurna. In his posthumously published diaries Above the Clouds, translated from Russian, you get a sense that he was a remarkable athlete and human being. He was physically and mentally superior and would climb tall peaks without supplemental oxygen. His preferred mode of ascent was a rapid climb, usually in under a day, which often amazed other seasoned climbers.

What I liked most was that he was not at all egoistical about his capabilities or triumphs. It's clear that it is his love for the mountains and the experience of the climb, the feeling of oneness with the mountain which drives him to climb these peaks one after another, not the quest to 'conquer' the mountain. He dislikes the increasing trend of 'clients' on guided expeditions who with little or not enough training for climbing peaks like Everest attempt to do so by literally paying their way there. Sherpas carry their heavy loads, oxygen, and clear the trails for them. They expect that by shelling out enough money, they can hire the expertise of the guide gained through years of experience to rescue them in difficult circumstances. Near the end of his life (he dies at about the age of 40), after the tragic events of 1996, he contemplates why people put themselves in great danger to try to summit Everest without the proper experience:

What is it that pushes a person to climb? Clients on our expeditions pay great sums of money to endure the hardships of camp life...Of course, inside each one of us is the ambition to reach the summit, to realize that you are stronger than obstacles, that it is within your power to do something uncommon and indeed impossible for most people. But one must be prepared to *face* these obstacles.
It would be far better if ambition compelled people to train, to commit to preparation that went from simple to complex, hardening the spirit. The individual should derive pleasure from the process of physical and mental development. The payment for ambition should be made in preparation, in training and improving oneself, not in the loss of a life.

His story really focussed me in class, and I found some hidden reserves of willpower to perform my best.

Monday, February 12, 2007


When I first started, I used to tape up my toes (with tape left over from the jammed toe incident) to avoid this, but the last few months I've decided not to be a wimp, and to toughen up my feet!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Last Night I Decided

to shake off my gloomy thoughts and go down to the local chain bookstore at 10 in the night. I'd gone wanting to find books like Mark and Delia Owens' Cry of the Kalahari, which I had found very engaging, but the store didn't have much of a 'nature/ nature ecology' section, which was what that book was classified under.

Randomly, I found myself in the martial arts section. I ended up going home with Joe Hyams' Zen in the Martial Arts and finished it by midnight. I liked the story of the karate instructor who speeds the healing of his badly fractured hand by visualizing little construction workers working on his hand as he went to bed every night. I liked the small reminders scattered throughout the book like

'The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.'-Bruce Lee.

which gave me the resolve (I hope) to practice without unnecessary straining. And I liked the reminder about the distinction between having patience -- having the capacity to endure setbacks calmly -- and giving yourself time -- working towards a goal without setting a limit on how long it will take. These are things that we all 'know' but its good to remind oneself and to think about them.