Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" from the 7th Chapter

Hi all! I'm back again with another excerpt from my novel, "Taming the Tiger." In this chapter, Charley Batchelor starts to use his artistic talents to create a manual of Hung Family Kung Fu.
Enjoy.


Al and I arrived at his house immediately after school on Tuesday, just as we planned. Simo greeted us in the kitchen.

"Albert! Charley! How are you?"

"Fine, Simo," I said, giving her the salute. She smiled and saluted right back at me.

"I have something I'd like to show you, Simo."

"Yeah, Mom," Al added. "You gotta see this. Charley's an artist."

I smiled, and tried not to blush as I put my backpack on the dining room table. I pulled out the sketchpad with my notes and diagrams from the weekend. I opened it to the pages with the sketches of the ceremonial bow.

Simo looked inside. I scanned her face for any reaction, but her expression never changed. She flipped the pages, looking over my pictures and text describing the horse stance and the various punches. Lastly, she checked out my failed attempt at showing the applications of the fighting techniques within the ceremonial bow.

I didn't really want her to see that. Those were nowhere near complete. I would have rather waited until she or Al could help me with getting those right.

Her face relaxed as she closed the sketchbook.

"Very good, Charley," she said. "I think someday that you should put together a training manual for Hung Family martial arts. It would be a great honor to have you do that."

My eyes opened. I started grinning. I wanted to laugh, I was so happy to hear her say that.

"But first," she added. "You need to develop a good understanding of our family's art. I think writing and illustrating a training manual for us would be very good for you to help with that endeavor.

"In China, we believe that you cannot be a true gentleman unless you are versed in the arts of the pen and the sword," she said. "You are already on your way with the first and I look forward to having Albert help you with the second.

"Now get into your exercise clothes and train!"

I saluted Simo and followed Al into the garage. We changed our clothes faced each other. After the ceremonial bow, Al told me that we would not do any warm-ups.

"Class time is very precious and very short," Al said. "I hope you're practicing at home and not just drawing pretty pictures. You will need to keep up on your basics and your exercises on your time. Most of our time together will be spent learning new techniques. As soon as we complete our horse stance training, we have a lot of new ground to cover. I hope you're ready and I hope your shoulder is better.

Al set the kitchen timer and placed it on the table behind him. As we settled into our stances, I felt confident that I would do well. After all, the horse stance and my stretching exercises were the only things I could do while my shoulder recovered.

It didn't seem very long into our time before my legs started trembling. I've come to expect it, but I didn't think it would happen so soon. Shortly, I could almost feel my heels want to rise off the floor. My back muscles started to tighten and contract.

What's more, I started pouring sweat. I blinked repeatedly as drops ran into my eyes, burning them. The sweat mixed with tears, both to flush out my eyes and out of the pain in my eyes and my leg and back muscles.

I could see Al was also starting to feel some strain, too. It surprised me as he made it look so easy last week. His legs were still rock steady, but sweat poured down his face and soaked his t-shirt and sweatpants. He hardly blinked even as the sweat ran down his forehead and cheeks. I'm sure some of that sweat was also mixed with tears as I know the sweat must have burned his eyes as well.

But Al never let on it bothered him. At least not until the timer went off.

"Aaaaaahhhhhhh!" Al said, standing straight up. I followed.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Pretty good, but it seemed harder than the last time and I've been practicing over the weekend," I said.

"Well, we did 15 minutes!" Al said. "I've been neglecting my horse stance. Since I've been training you, I've had to work on all kinds of things that I haven't worked on in a while."

Fifteen minutes. I was amazed. Surprisingly, my legs didn't seem as tired as I thought they'd be when I got out of the stance.

From there, Al took me into the basic kicks. A snap kick, with the toes extended; a front "stomp" kick with the heel; A sidekick, also with the heel; and a roundhouse kick, with the lower shin.

By the time we were done, the ground of the garage was soaked. Our sneakers slid in our own sweat. The windows on his garage were completely steamed over, almost like someone took a shower in there.

That's what it felt like, too. I knew it would be in the 50's on my way home tonight, but inside that garage it felt like summer.

"Now, we're going to start on the first form of Hung Gar," Al said. "It's called, 'Gung Gee Fook Fu'. It can mean 'Challenging the Tiger' or 'Tempting the Tiger' or as Mom prefers it, 'Taming the Tiger.'

"Now stand next to me and do what I do."

I took a position next to and slightly behind him. We both faced the mirror, so I would be able to see what he was doing from both the front and rear.

Standing there, I followed Al through a series of dynamic tension exercises. We thrust our palms forward with the fingers upward and the edge of the hand facing away from our bodies. The air hissed from Al's mouth and I could see the muscles flexing throughout his entire body - his back, his shoulders, his arms. In the mirror, I could see his chest and ab muscles flexing beneath his shirt. It reminded me of some of the exercises I'd seen Bruce Lee do in magazines and movies.

Turning his palms upward, he curled in his fingers to make a pair of fists. Suddenly, he pulled those fists back to his chest. His back arched forward. He looked almost like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope pose.

Opening his chest, his bent arms flew to his sides like a pair of saloon doors flinging open in a western movie. His hands were in the bridge hand position from the ceremonial bow.

Using dynamic tension, he pushed his arms out sideways, like he was trying to stop the walls from closing in on him. Each time he used dynamic tension, his face turned red and the air hissed slowly from his mouth.

After three reps, he thrust both hands open and out to the side. After doing the dynamic tension, my hands felt very light and very fast, like a rubber band snapping. Then, clenching the right fist and making the bridge with the left hand, we repeated the ceremonial bow.

"Have you got that?" Al asked.

"Yeah," I said. Even though we only did a few moves, it took a lot out of me. Going from normal movements to dynamic tension then back to normal movements takes a lot out of a person.

"Is that the whole form?" I asked.

"Oh no!" said Al, laughing. "That's just the beginning."

"Oh," I said. "Then why did we do the ceremonial bow twice?"\

"Because we're very polite," Al said. "Hung Gar is the most polite form of kung fu. We'll also do the ceremonial bow at the end of the form, too. Just in case anyone missed it the first two times."

I waited for Al to make another joke. Then I realized, he wasn't joking.

"I told you before, Hung means 'upright and moral,' " he added. "That's the most important thing in Hung Gar. And if you can't be upright and moral, then you have no business here.

"Even when you leave this kwoon, Mom and I still expect you to behave in a manner that will show us both respect, especially her!" Al continued. "And because you're our student, we have an obligation to make sure that you behave in an upright and moral manner."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sam Chien? Who's that?

Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju Ryu Karate, considered Sanchin to be the most important kata in his art. So much so that his students learned nothing but hojo undo (strength training), high repetitions of basic techniques and multiple repetitions of Sanchin kata for their first three years.

His contemporary, Uechi Kanbun, founder of Uechi Ryu Karate, shared those sentiments. He believed that the core techniques of karate were found in Sanchin and two other kata.

Until recently in my martial arts training, I never liked Sanchin. I still don't like the way that most people perform it with an emphasis on dynamic tension. If I got nothing else of value from my years of Yang Taijiquan, it was breaking the bad habits I acquired as a result of dynamic tension exercises.

There are also good arguments to be made that dynamic tension is bad for your health. Some have argued that Miyagi's death at 65 from a heart attack was due to his practice of Sanchin with dynamic tension. I've also heard that Miyagi and his student, Yamaguchi Gogen, suffered from severe hemorrhoids as a result of their dynamic tension training.*

But there is more than one way to do Sanchin, or its Hakka Chinese predecessor, Sam Chien. My friend, instructor and training partner, Don, brought back a version of that form from a trip to Malaysia several years ago.

Uechi Kanbun (above) and Miyagi Chojun (below, checking a student's kata) both considered Sanchin Kata to be the core set for karate students. Though I disagree with their use of dynamic tension in Sanchin practice, I've come to appreciate the Sanchin Kata from my study of the form's Chinese predecessor, Sam Chien.


He told me that there were three ways to practice it: with dynamic tension, like the Okinawans and Japanese; slow and relaxed, almost like a Yang Taijiquan set; and fast, with full power and intent.

I've always preferred the latter two methods.

At first, I wanted to learn that set out of curiosity. I've trained in both Chinese and Okinawan/Japanese forms and this form was the missing link between the two cultures.



A comparison between Chinese Sam Chien Kuen and Okinawan/Japanese Sanchin Kata

Over time, I did research on that form. Thanks to Youtube, it is possible to watch different versions of that set. In addition to the three ways listed above, I've seen versions using both hands simultaneously, (like Don taught); alternating hands; using front kicks during the forward step; moving forwards; moving backwards; and with weapons.

.

Sanchin Kata practiced with sai (aka chai, gen, tjabang)

Since I'm doing more forms that avoid knee drops and duck-walks to rehab my knee, I've been working that form into more of my workouts. So I was pleasantly surprised when Don suggested we run through Sam Chien several times during our Saturday workout.

Don made added a few twists to that form, adding a more pronounced salute to the beginning and a fa-jing exercise.

Today, I worked the Sam Chien form as well as the Yin Ching Kuen from Yau Kung Mun Kung Fu, into my circuit. It was an interesting contrast, going from the short, uncomplicated Sam Chien to the much longer Yin Ching Kuen. On the other hand, both forms make use almost exclusively of hand techniques and place a great emphasis on the hourglass stance in their footwork.

But it turns out my knee isn't the only part in need of rehab. Almost two weeks ago, I wrote about how I did more than 100 pushups on either five or three fingers. It turns out, I overdid it.

Normally, I do my claw pushups on softer ground or on the padded floor of the Carport Kwoon. But that day, I did them on much harder ground than I'm used to.

For several days, my knuckles on both hands were very stiff. My left hand is back to normal, though the knuckle of the middle finger on my right hand is still stiff and sore. To be honest, it feels almost like I broke it.

So I've been doing my pushups just using a good ol' fashioned pushup bar. Though I haven't had x-rays, I'm treating it like I did break that knuckle and refraining from knuckle or claw pushups.

After closing the circuit part of my workout, I decided to experiment with doing Sam Chien with weapons. Today, I broke out with my chai (called sai in Okinawan) and my sam jei guan (three-sectioned staff).

Nothing fancy. With the chai, I did 10 reps each hand of some flipping and thrusting moves using the Sam Chien footwork. For the sam jei guan, I did some figure-eights, alternating sides, with the Sam Chien footwork.

After doing that, my fingers and forearms didn't miss not doing claw pushups.

*For more information on the health risks associated with dynamic tension training and how it may have harmed men like Miyagi and Yamaguchi, check out pages 36 - 37 of "Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques", 2nd edition, by Mark Bishop.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Taming the Tiger, Chapter VI

Hiya, kiddies. Sorry, I'm a little behind with bloggin' about my workouts or other martial-related topics. To pass the time, I'm presenting another excerpt from my latest novel.
Taming the Tiger
Chapter VI

I thought I had it tough Wednesday morning.

I woke up early Friday, my entire body store and stiff from the previous workout. It took several minutes to straighten out my legs so I could stand to walk to the bathroom. This time, my back and neck were also sore, probably from the roll I took when Al showed me how to defend against a punch.

I made my way into the bathroom, I could see a huge, round black-and-blue bump on my left shoulder. Looking over my shoulder, I posed in the mirror to try to get a better look at it. I moved my arm, but I couldn't lift it any higher than my shoulder.

I started to panic. I wasn't sure if I should see a doctor or not. And if I did tell Mom I needed to see the doctor, she'd know I was still practicing kung fu with Al. I wished I'd had some of that dit da jow* that Al's mother used on my other bruises. Maybe I would ask Al at school if Simo** could let me have some.

My morning shower helped to alleviate some of the pain, but most of it remained. As I got out of the bathroom, I could see Mom coming down the hall.

"Morning, Charley," Mom said. "Are you alright?"

I kept walking forward into my room. I worried that she'd seen the bruise, or noticed that I was still walking a little stiff.

As I closed my bedroom door, Mom shouted, "Charley! Are you alright?! You're moving like you're hurt."

I hurried up and dried off as I heard her walking through the hall. I wanted to get on a t-shirt before she had a chance to see the bruise. I felt a pain shoot from my shoulder to my neck as I lifted my arm to pull on the shirt.

"Charley, I asked you a question!" Mom said as she flung open my door. "Don't walk away from me!

"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, pointing to my shoulder. "What is that?!"

"Mom!" I said. "What the hell are you doing in here?! Can't you see I'm getting dressed!"

"Charley, there's a big bump on your shoulder!" she said. She was right. The shirt could hide the bruise, but not the swelling, which looked like a half-a-tennis ball under my shirt.

"Did you get into a fight again?!" she asked. "Do you need to get x-rays again?"

"Mom, I'm fine!" I said. "Now let me finish getting dressed!"

I grabbed the rest of the clothes from my dresser and pulled them on. This time, I was too angry to feel the pain in my shoulder or neck.

"Are you still doing kung fu?" she asked. "Answer me! If it's either one, you're going to be in a lot of trouble, young man!"

"Yeah, I'm doing kung fu!" I declared. "Not that it's any of your business! The only time you ever cared about what I'm doing is when I'm getting in trouble at school. I'm doing something I like and now you're all pissed!"

"I knew it!" she said. "I'm going to have a talk with Al's parents. I don't want you hanging out with him or going over his house anymore. I'll call the police and have his parents arrested if I find out they're letting you come over."

"Mom, this is what I like to do!" I said. "You have no right to tell me I can't. I'm going to learn kung fu no matter what you say!"

"If you go over there again, I'll ship you off to live with your father!" she said, glaring at me. I knew I had her.

"Go ahead!" I replied. "Dad lives in Oregon! I'll be there's lots of kung fu teachers in Portland. If you send me out there, I'll find someone else to teach me. In fact, Dad will probably pay for it if he knows it pisses you off!"

I knew I hit a nerve. Mom's face got red and she slammed the door on her way out. Her feet stomped on the floorboards in the hall.

"I'll see you at breakfast," I said, sarcastically.


I ran into Al outside of homeroom.

"Hey, Charley, how're ya feelin'?" said Al, smiling broadly, arms held out wide.

"Hey Al," I said. Before, I was worried about people seeing me with the guy who kicked my ass last week. But that day, I was more worried I wouldn't be able to hang out with him again.

"What's up?" Al asked, his expression changed. "Is everything alright? You didn't get hurt from that fall you took, did you?"

"No," I said. "But I did want to see if you could get me some of that dit da jow. I've got a big swelling on my shoulder that hurts pretty bad. I thought that might help."

"Sure," he said. "I'll pour you a bottle of that after school today. Just stop by my house. Maybe we can even get in a short training session."

"Yeah, sure," I said. "It could be the last one."

Al started to look worried.

"What are you talking about?"

"My Mom doesn't want me learning kung fu," I said. "She's worried I'm going to get into more fights and get into trouble, or that I'm going to get hurt or something."

Al looked down and shook his head.

"That sucks!" he said. "I was going to start you on some kicks and teach you the 'Taming the Tiger' form.

"You're the only guy I ever tried to teach who stuck with it more than one practice," he added.
"What about your Dad? How does he feel about it?"

"My parents are divorced," I replied. "My Dad lives in Oregon. I told her if she tried to stop me, I'd move in with him. I'm sure there's lots of kung fu teachers in Portland."

Al chuckled and added, "You're not kidding. One of my uncles runs a school out there. I hope you don't go, but I could put in a good word for you if you do. I'll tell him you were off to a good start for a gwai lo."

"What's a gwai lo?" I asked.

Al laughed, turned slightly red and added, "Honkey."

I laughed, too. Just a few days earlier, I was calling him "chink." I guess white people don't have a monopoly of bad names to call people of other races.

"Seriously, I'll keep teaching you as long as you're willing to learn," Al said. "You know, some of the greatest martial artists learned in secret. They wouldn't even tell their families about what they knew.

"Really?" I said. "I don't want you to get in trouble for teaching me. My Mom knows she couldn't stop me if it was something I wanted to do, but she might make trouble for you with your Mom."

"Don't worry," Al said. "You know, my Dad hates kung fu. He thinks it's something only punks do. Why he married my mother, I don't know. But he gives me shit for learning kung fu, too."

I really enjoyed that conversation. I could see we had so much in common, including a parent who didn't like kung fu. And neither of us was willing to let that stop us.

But I would have to wait to see what my mother would do to try and stop me.


After school, Al and I made our way to his house, entering through the garage, which doubled as his kwoon. Simo sat in the living room, watching TV.

"Hey Mom!" Al said.

Simo looked back. She smiled, as if glad to see me.

"Hi, Charley, are you here to train again? Don't you boys ever take a break?" she said.

"Don't worry, Simo, I'm taking it easy today," I replied. "I was just wondering if you could help me."

"Yeah, Charley has a bad bruise on his shoulder from yesterday," Al added. "He wants to know if he could have some dit da jow."

"Of course," she said. "Albert, get a small bottle so he can take some home. Charley, you take off your shirt and have a seat at the dining room table."

I did as she asked and took my seat. Al came back with that big jar, filled with the brown liquid, as well as some cotton balls and a small brown bottle with a medicine dropper.

Simo opened the jar. Once again, that cough drop smell filled the room. She dipped in a cotton ball, then applied some of the liquid to my shoulder. It hurt to the touch, but like my facial bruises last week, it started to go slightly numb.

"Before you go to bed tonight, I want you to put a few drops of jow on that bruise and rub it in. Do the same tomorrow morning, too, and three or four times a day through the weekend," she said. "Work on your horse stance and do some stretching exercises for your legs. Don't do any punching or pushups at least until Monday."

"Sure," I replied, looking over my shoulder. Though the bruise remained, I could see the swelling go down almost right before my eyes.

When the swelling almost disappeared, I could see the bruise get smaller in size and lighter in color. I would still have the bruise for the rest of the weekend, but it would continue to shrink each time I put on the jow.

Then, the doorbell rang. Simo said something to Al in Cantonese and he went to answer the door.

A small boy from the neighborhood stood in the doorway.

"There's someone here who's looking for you!"

I could hear someone come up behind the boy. When she said, "Thanks" I knew it was my mother. She probably asked around and found this boy who showed her where Al lived.

Mom came in. Her eyes opened wide seeing me sitting at the dining room table while Simo applied some jow to my shoulder.

"What the hell is going on here?!" she demanded. "Charley, I told you I didn't want you coming over here!"

"Excuse me, but you must be Charley's mother," Simo said, putting the cotton ball on the table. She got up, extending a hand in greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat."

"NO!" Mom said. "I am not here to talk! I just want to get my son and take him home. I think he should also have a doctor take a look at that shoulder and make sure your sadist son didn't break anything!"

The smile left Simo's face. I could tell she was angry, but she kept it down. I could also vaguely hear a car pulling into the Cheung's driveway.

"Mrs. Batchelor, please," Simo said. "I am helping your son. He had an accident while practicing with my son and I'm just putting on some medicine that will help him. I'm also giving him some to take home."

"Accident?!" Mom said. "It was no accident. If he hadn't been taking kung fu lessons from your son, none of this would have happened."

The door connecting the kitchen to the garage opened. A tall, well-dressed man came in and I assumed it was Al's father. I was right.

"Hello, Hannah," he said, also with the same slight British accent as his wife. "Albert. Who's this? Is this the boy you got into a fight with last week?"

"Yeah, Dad. Now, I'm teaching him kung fu," Al said.

"First a guy beats you up, now you want to teach him kung fu!" Mr. Cheung said, rolling his eyes as he set down his briefcase next to the dining room table. "That's one of the stupidest things I have ever heard."

I couldn't believe that Mr. Cheung thought I beat up his son last week. "There must be something wrong with his head," I thought to myself.

"Are you Al's father?" Mom asked. "How could you let him beat up on my son? What are YOU doing teaching him kung fu? Are you training him to be some kind of gangster or something?"

Without showing any sign of annoyance, Mr. Cheung responded.

"Mrs. Batchelor, it was your son who attacked mine last week. And for your information, I hate kung fu. I think it is childish and immature and suitable only for gangsters and ruffians."

For the second time, Mom's eyes looked as though they would pop from her head. Her expression was a mix of shock and relief. I could tell that she felt she now had an ally.

"If you don't like kung fu, why do you teach it to your son?" Mom asked.

"I teach it to my son," Simo said. "I learned from my father, my uncles and my older brothers. You might say it's both our family business and our family tradition, going back hundreds of years.

"In fact, Hung Wong Fei, a famous hero in China at the turn of the century, was a grand uncle of mine," she added with some pride. I didn't know who Hung Wong Fei was at the time, but I would soon find out that he was so loved by the Chinese people, that he appeared in more than 600 movies.

"He was a bully and a thug," Mr. Cheung said. "Just like all those other low-lifes who waste their time learning to beat up other people."

Simo glared at her husband and the two exchanged some short, angry sentences in Cantonese.

Turning to my mother, Mr. Cheung said, "Mrs. Batchelor, I fully understand your concern. I am a Christian and I believe in turning the other cheek. I don't believe any good can come from this kung fu. The only reason Albert knows anything is because his mother teaches him. I never had a lesson in my life and I don't approve of his mother teaching him.

"I would rather he use the time he spends training on something that will help him get into a good college and get a good job when he graduates," he said. "I teach English Literature at Yale, and I can assure you, I would not have accomplished it if I wasted my time with all this fighting.

"Besides, my parents would have beaten me with a stick if I ever so much as did some shadow boxing, let alone laid a hand on another human being," he added.

"Beat you with a stick. So much for their Christian pacifism," quipped Simo, which led to another short, heated exchange between the two of them. When things quieted down, Mom added her two-cents.

"Personally, I don't care if he wants to do sports," Mom said. "If he wants to go out for football or basketball, that's fine with me. Those things will help him get into college and keep him in shape. But like you, Mr. Cheung, I don't want him fighting. He already does too much of that. He almost got expelled for it last year and I want it to stop!"

"Mrs. Batchelor, I can assure you, I disapprove of violence, too," Simo said. "My husband and I are both Christians. While I am not a complete pacifist like my husband claims to be, unless Albert were defending himself, there is no justification for him to fight with anyone. As much as he loves kung fu, I can safely say that the only fight he's been in outside of a martial arts class or tournament was with your son."

Mom said nothing.

"Mrs. Batchelor," Simo added. "I fully believe that learning kung fu will keep boys out of trouble. It gives them a chance to let off some steam, if you will. They also develop a sense of self-confidence that comes from physical training. Certainly, they can get it from anything, including football and basketball.

"But I believe, that a child needs to find something he enjoys for exercise if he is going to stick with it," Simo said. "If your son enjoys kung fu, you should let him do it.

"And I can assure you, Mrs. Batchelor, that the first time your son uses his training for anything other than exercise or self-defense, it will be the last time I would let my son teach him."

Satisfied with Simo's remarks, Mom agreed to let Al and I continue to hang out and train together. In the car on the way home, Mom reiterated what Mrs. Cheung said.

"I don't like kung fu," Mom said. "But I'm going to let you give it a chance. Hopefully, you'll outgrow it.

"But I'm going to put your ass into a sling if you ever get into any fights this year and you will not get to train with Al or see him ever again! Do you understand?"

"Fine," I replied.

*Dit da jow is a Chinese linament used to treat bruises, swelling, scrapes and fractures. It's use is very popular among martial artists in China.

**Simo is the proper title for a female martial arts instructor.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" - Chapter I, part 2

Hiya, kiddies, and welcome back. Today, I present the second half of Chapter One of "Taming the Tiger." Enjoy.
-Sean-

I don’t know how long I was out. Al would never tell me. All he would ever tell me was that I tried to get up, but then acted weird and fell on my back. Whatever I did, it grossed him out and he never wanted to talk about it. For a tough guy, he could get awfully squeamish when he saw someone getting hurt.

When I came to, I could see his face looking down at mine. He asked me if I was alright. I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t seem to get air into my lungs. I stood up, struggling to get to my feet. I was surprised to see I was at the bottom of the stairs. Al offered me a hand, but I pulled away. I would at least get up on my own.

“Hey, are you alright?” Al asked. “Can you speak to me.”

As soon as I was on my feet, everything went black again. When I came to, I was on my knees, holding onto the handrail. I could feel my breath coming back.

“C’mon,” he said, leading me away from the handrail. “Let’s get out of here and get home before we get in trouble again.”

We made our way up Newhall Avenue to Augur Street. My head was in fog. I didn’t know what to think. I was surprised by Al’s concern for someone who wanted to kick his ass only a few minutes ago. That was something totally new to me. Usually, the guy I was fighting would finish me off, sometimes with the help of his friends if any were around. I know that’s what I would have done.

My lungs hurt. I must have had the wind knocked out of me. My face hurt, too. It seemed hard to breathe through my nose.

“Are you doing alright?” Al asked.

“Yeah,” I said. It hurt to speak, but I sure wasn’t going to admit it. Just that one word made the side of my head hurt along with my face and lungs.

We turned left at Augur Street. I didn’t know where we were going, but I just staggered along wherever Al was taking me. I got drunk for the first time that previous summer. I remember my friends having to escort me then, too, because I could hardly stand on my feet.

This was like that, except I didn’t have the fun part of getting drunk.

We entered Al’s house through the garage. There were boxes of all kinds of household items waiting to be unpacked. In a corner stood something I’d never seen before. It looked like a part of a telephone pole, about as tall as me. It had three wooden arms sticking out, two at the top and one from the middle. Near the bottom was a tree branch, that stuck out and curved toward the ground.

Several large swords and knives were also grouped together in a pile near the dummy, as well as a large glass jar, half-filled with some brown liquid.

A door connected the garage to the dining room. We went inside and Al said something in what I would later learn was Cantonese. A woman’s voice responded from the kitchen, also in Cantonese. When she came out, I saw a very attractive Asian woman. She had a body like someone who lifted weights, with the biggest shoulders and biceps I‘d ever seen on a woman at that time. Her hair was in a ponytail and she also had some of the thickest glasses I’d ever seen, too.

“My God! What happened to you?!” she said, this time in English, with a trace of a British accent. “Lop Pun, did someone beat him up?”

“We had a little fight,” Al said.

She glared at him, grabbed his arm and pulled him toward her, yelling in Cantonese. Al’s face grimaced in pain and he tried to pull away from this woman. Her fingers dug right into the muscle in his arm. I could even see a couple of tears running out of his eyes.

“Ow! Mom! He tried to sucker punch me on the way out of school!” Al shouted. He said something else in Cantonese, then added in English, “Mom! That hurts! I was just protecting myself!”

She said something else in Cantonese, then released Al’s arm. I could see the bright red imprint of her hand on his bicep as he walked into the kitchen. He came back out with a small, half-filled glass jar of that same brown liquid I saw in the garage.

“Are you alright?” she asked me. Her voice was much calmer, much gentler than when she spoke to her son. She touched my face, around my eyes and nose. I started to pull away, but she said to relax.

Meanwhile, Al was rubbing that brown liquid on his arm. He grimaced in pain as he did it, but the imprint of his mother’s hand disappeared as he rubbed.

“Get me some cotton balls and some tissues!” she barked at Al. He did as she asked, but cut me a nasty look out of the corner of his eye as he went to fulfill her request.

He came back with a box of tissues and a half-full bag of cotton balls. His mother then took a tissue and wiped my face. I could see some blood on the tissue. She then called Al to her, in Cantonese. As he stood next to her, she handed him the dirty tissue.

Taking a cotton ball from the bag, she dipped it into the brown liquid.

“Close your eyes and relax,” she said. “This might sting a little, but it will help with the swelling and keep your scrapes from getting infected.”

She was right. It did sting on the parts of my face that were scraped by Al’s sneaker tread. As she rubbed it on the bridge of my nose, I could detect an odor kind of like a cough drop. It opened up my sinuses and I could finally breathe much more easily.

It had a warming sensation to it, too. I could feel my face go slightly numb as the pain disappeared.

“What is that stuff?” I asked.

“Dit da jow,” Al said. “It’s my mom’s recipe. It’s good for all kinds of things. Bruises. Scrapes. Broken bones.

“See, it even took care of the bruise my mom gave me,” he said, holding up his arm. He was right. The red mark was completely gone from his bicep.

She asked Al another question, also in Cantonese. Al said, “Yeah.”

“Why did you push my son into the waste basket?” she asked.

“Well, someone else pushed him in first,” I said. “I don’t know who. I only pushed him in again as a joke.”

“Some joke,” she said, looking straight at me. “So you both got hurt and you both got suspended. Was it worth it?”

Al didn’t look too badly hurt. At least not by me.

Still, if a teacher or my own mother asked me that question, I probably would have had some wise guy answer. But I couldn’t do that with her. I only meekly answered, “no.”

“I don’t understand what it is with boys!” she grumbled. “Al knows he’s not supposed to get into fights. You’re what? 14? You’re ninth graders. You’re supposed to act like high school students.”

“Mom, he started it!” Al protested.

“I don’t care who started it!” she snapped back at him. “You’re almost men now! You’re supposed to act like it!

“You guys are lucky!” she said. “When I was a girl, if I got into a fight, my teacher would hit me with a switch. Then my parents would also hit me. Then my sifu would hit me, and he hit worse than the rest of them!”

“Seefoo?” I asked.

“It’s her uncle,” Al said. “It’s the guy that taught her kung fu.”

I stood up and thanked her for treating my face.

“I wish I had an uncle who could teach me kung fu,” I said. “Then I wouldn’t be needing all this stuff on my face.”

“That might be a good idea for you to learn,” she said. “It might teach you some manners and keep you out of trouble. Though it doesn’t always work for Albert.”

They escorted me to the door. Al’s mother offered to have him walk me home, but I turned her down. It was bad enough to be walking home looking like I just got beat up, but I didn’t want to be helped along by the guy that did it.


The pain was mostly gone by the time my mom got home. My nose was a little swollen, but the bruises were nearly gone. I had two red circles under my eyes instead of the bruises I thought I would have.

“You got into another fight, didn’t you?!” Mom shouted.

“No, Mom,” I said as I filled a plastic bag with ice. “I told you, I fell down a flight of stairs.”

I sat down, wrapped the ice bag in a paper towel and held it onto the bridge of my nose.

“Bull!” Mom said. “You only get hurt like that from a fight! We’re going to get you some x-rays. I only hope the other kid’s parents aren’t taking him to the hospital, too.”

“I wish,” I thought to myself. The only mark on Al was the one his mother put on him.


“Well, it looks like you’ve broken your nose a few times,” said Dr. Franklin, looking over the x-rays at his office. “But not this time. I can’t see any new damage.

Turning to me, he added, “You got lucky this time. I see you’ve got a few other scrapes on your arms and back, from ‘falling down the stairs.’ ” There was a note of sarcasm to the last few words. He didn’t buy that story, either.

“You know, if you keep going like this, sooner or later you’ll break something worse than your nose, or your hand, like you did last year. You might end up with a skull fracture or a broken back. You don’t know how hard it is for me to tell a young guy like you that he’ll be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Never get to learn to drive or play sports or go swimming. Is it worth it?”

That was the second time I heard that phrase that day. I was in no mood to hear it again.

“Sometimes, you just gotta fight,” I said.

“Well, I hope you still think it’s worth it when you get hauled into Yale-New Haven Hospital on a stretcher and you can’t move your feet. Maybe then, you’ll see what you’re giving up.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Where's the kerrotty in "The Karate Kid"?

In the interest of disclosure, I haven't seen the remake of "The Karate Kid." I'll probably catch it at the Fun-Lan Drive-In next week depending on the weather.

But it's interesting to see the articles and commentary out on the 'net about the martial arts depicted in that movie. Already, people are up in arms over the fact that it's not the Okinawan-Japanese martial art of Karate but Chinese Kung Fu. They could have just as easily called it "The Kung Fu Kid" but they were obviously trying to capitalize on the name recognition from the classic 1984 movie of the same name.



Mr. Miyagi explains the Chinese origins of Karate to his future student, Daniel LaRusso.


At one time, I would have been one of those complaining. I used to get tired of trying to explain to people that I wasn't doing Karate (pronounced ker-rot-ty) while practicing a set from Yang Taiji, Wing Chun, Lion's Roar, Hung Gar or some siniwalis from Filipino Escrima, Kali or Arnis.

To just keep it simple, I'd just agree with them and say, "Yep. It's kerrotty."

Truth is, the word, Karate, has come a long way from its origins. At one time, it was one of several names for the martial art practiced by the Okinawan people. Other names include kenpo, tode and te.




In its original spelling, Karate used the Chinese characters for "China" and "Hand". The word denoted an art from the Chinese mainland with its origins in the T'ang Dynasty, as practiced by the residents of Okinawa. At the time, Okinawa was a Chinese protectorate. (See above picture).

Eventually, the Satsuma samurai conquered Okinawa, eventually annexing it for Japan. Karate was driven underground until the early 20th Century. As the art caught on in the Japanese mainland, Okinawan master Funakoshi Gichin changed the spelling of Karate to use the characters for "Empty" and "Hand."

It was during this time that the Japanese occupied Korea. They did a great job in suppressing and destroying Korea's culture, including its indigenous fighting arts of Taekyon and Kwanbop.

In addition, many Koreans were forcibly taken by the Japanese and conscripted into their armed forces or used as slave labor in factories. While in Japan, many of them learned Japanese martial arts. Upon their return to Korea, many of these masters blended arts like Shotokan Karate, Kendo and Daito-Ryu Aikijitsu with what remained of the indigenous Korean arts, creating blends like Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do and Hapkido.

Those arts came to be considered Korean Karate by both their respective founders, (like Gen. Choi Hong Hi or Hwang Kee) and by American servicemen stationed in South Korea.

Starting in the 1950's, when those servicemen came back to the U.S. following tours of duty, Asian martial arts became part of the American pop culture scene. It was everywhere from comic books to TV shows to movies. With only a few plateaus, the popularity of martial arts just grew and grew.

As a result, the word Karate (mispronounced as "kerrotty" by Americans, as opposed to kah-rah-tay in Japan) became catch-all word for any Asian martial art no matter its country of origin. More than that, many American and European martial artists created their own versions of Karate, inspired by the Asian versions of hand-to-hand combat.

So like it or not, Karate is now the generic word for "martial arts" in 21st Century American English.

We might as well get used to it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" - Chapter I, part I

Note to my loyal readers: From time to time, I will publish excerpts of my novel, "Taming the Tiger". Today, I post the first half of chapter one.

My grandfather used to tell me about how when he was a kid, when two guys got into a fight, they would settle it with their fists. No sticks. No knives. And certainly, no guns like so often happens these days.

And when the fight was over, the two boys would be friends. Some of his longest, closest friendships were with men that he fought with when they were boys.

When I was a kid in 1979, things weren’t as bad as they are now, with the guns. But they weren’t as good as my grandfather recalled his own childhood. When I was a kid, getting into a fight with someone was not the end of a situation. It was often the beginning of a lot of trouble. We didn’t use guns, but there were plenty of guys who thought nothing of using sticks, knives, or just getting some friends and ganging up on you.

Only one time, did I ever become friends with someone after I had a fight with him. That was from my fight with Albert Cheung in the 9th grade. Today, more than 30 years later, he still remains one of my good friends.

Al transferred to Hamden Jr. High in the middle of September 1979. He was a skinny kid, like me, and one of the few guys in the class who was shorter than me. In that inner-city school, the blacks and whites were more or less equal in numbers. Out of almost 500 students, there were only a couple of Asians. That alone would make Al stand out.

On one of Al’s first days at school, someone, pushed him into the wastepaper basket in the corner of homeroom, right next to the door. It was probably Derrick Adams who did it, but I’m not sure.

I helped him out and asked him if he was alright.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Al. “Thanks.”

“Good!” I said, shoving him back into the wastebasket. I was a cocky little shit in those days, so I let out a laugh as he fell in so deep he was actually stuck.

Al shifted his weight, falling sideways with the wastepaper basket still stuck around his butt. He wiggled free and sprang to his feet. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow, he got behind me.

I felt something hit the backs of my knees, making them buckle. I started to fall, but caught myself. The next thing I knew, Al gripped the back of my neck with those iron-hard fingers of his!

“Now you’re going in head first!” he said.

I struggled to get free, but it took all my strength to keep my face out of the trash can.

Our teacher, Mr. Scalzo, came in. He tried to pull him off my neck but couldn’t do it.

“Will someone get in here!” he yelled down the hall. “Charley’s fighting again! I need help!”

Another teacher and Mr. Edwards, our assistant principal, barely got through the door with everyone standing around and cheering, mostly for Al to get my head in the can.

I was busy trying to keep out of the trash can, break free so I could kick Al’s butt. It took the teachers and Edwards at least a minute to get through the door and pull us apart.

Eventually, Edwards got me in a full nelson, while the other teacher got Al in a headlock, and marched us down to Edwards’ office. Along the way, I could hear the other kids laughing that I got beat up, "by a chink.”

Once in the assistant principal's office, Edwards and the other teacher sat us down next to each other. Edwards took his seat behind his desk.

“I think you should get some of the other kids in here as witnesses and ask them what they saw,” Al said. “They’ll tell you he's the one who started it.”

I rolled my eyes. I could tell he’d never been taken to the main office for fighting.

“It doesn’t work that way,” I told him. “They don’t care who started…”

Edwards cut me off.

“Charley, I don’t want to hear another thing out of you!” he snapped. “The school year is only two weeks old and you’re back in here for fighting!

“And you, what’s your name?” he asked Al.

“Albert Cheung.”

I snickered. “Aaaallbert.”

“That’s enough out of you!” Edwards said, pointing at me.

“Well Mr. Cheung, I’ve never seen you in here before,” Edwards continued. “Am I going to
expect to see you in here often, like our friend Mr. Batchelor over here?”

“No,” Al replied.

“Good,” he said. “Since this is your first time, I’m letting you off easy with one day indoor suspension. Charley, you’re getting off lucky since you’re in here with him. You’re also getting indoor suspension even though you should be getting three days out-of-school suspension.

“You both report there tomorrow,” he said. “And this better be the last time I see either of you in here. Especially you, Mr. Batchelor. You came very close to expulsion last year. If this is what we can expect this year, I don’t see you making it through June.”


Personally, I thought indoor suspension was worse than out-of-school. For indoor suspension, we had to sit in a room with other guys who also got indoor. We had to be quiet and do the work that was sent down by our teachers. If we finished the work, we still had to sit and be quiet.

Of course, I still had some of the other punks in there pointing fingers and snickering. I could hear a couple of them talk about how I got my “ass kicked by a little chink.” before the teacher shut them up.

Anywhere or anytime else, I would have gotten up and thrown down with them. But Edwards’ warning about being expelled stuck with me. I could feel my face and ears turning red with rage over what they said. It also made me want to go after Al all the more. As far as I was concerned, he was the reason I was in here and he was the reason I was going to catch shit from the other kids over the fight in homeroom.

On our way out of school that day, I followed him out the front door, to the stairs leading to the bus stop.

“Hey chink! I’m fuckin’ talking to you!” I shouted. “We still have some unfinished business!”
Al started walking a little faster. I picked up speed, too.

“What’s a matter, you pussy?!” I said. “You only want to fight when Edwards is there to break it up?!”

Never slowing down, Al looked over his shoulder and said “Hey, I don’t want to have to hurt you! Just back off!”

I was never one to back off. No matter what the odds, no matter who I was fighting, I just couldn’t back off. Even if I knew I would get killed, I still kept fighting. It was a source of pride for me in those days. I didn’t win all the time. I probably got my butt kicked about half of the time. But at no time did I ever back down.

I caught up with him at the top of the stairs going down to the driveway. Grabbing him by the shoulder, I spun him around and punched him in the face.

Al turned his head, rolling with the punch. He then glared at me. He was angry and I was glad he was angry. I thought I could draw him into making a mistake. But the first mistake was mine.

“C’mon!” I said. “Take your best shot!”

Al’s left foot shot up from the ground. It was one of those times when something bad is going to happen, and everything seems to go in slow-motion, but you still can’t do anything about it. I could see the foot coming at me, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I couldn’t move or block fast enough to protect myself.

The instep of his foot nailed me right on the right side of my head and neck. I felt my neck stiffen as I fell to my left. I barely kept my balance, but I stayed on my feet as I staggered sideways down the stairs.

Halfway down, I stopped my fall. Looking up, I could still see Al glaring at me from the top of the steps. I shook it off, charged up the stairs, yelling and swearing at him.

“C’mon!” I shouted. “Try some more of that karate shit on me!”

The next thing I remember, I could feel the treads of a size 8 Puma running shoe scraping my face. I could see the sky and clouds. I felt my back hit the ground and the air hiss out of my mouth.

Then, everything went black!

A Little Cramming on a Friday Afternoon

I promised all of you that I would keep up with my workouts even if I fell a little behind in my blogging. Like last week, I've been forced to try to cram as much into a short time as possible, and take my workouts whenever and wherever I could squeeze it in.

Even though I finished my novel, "Taming the Tiger" on Tuesday, I still had other obligations this week, including the search for work and/or paying freelance gigs. In addition, Vitaly's summer vacation began yesterday at noon.

With a paying job to complete, I also had to plan on keeping Vitaly busy this afternoon. Naturally, since he was off from school, he wanted to spend some time with his old man. I promised him that if he let me finish the story I worked on this morning, we could go to Al Lopez Park and ride bikes this afternoon.

As a man of my word, I loaded up the bikes into the van and we undertook a three-mile loop around the park. Vitaly has gotten much, much faster with his bike. I have 15 gears on my old mountain bike, but I still had a hard time keeping up with him.

For Vitaly, it's not a trip to Al Lopez without stopping at their playground. For me, looking at that mass-produced playground equipment is a sad sight after recalling the large, wood castle that once stood on that site, built by the Tampa Bay Woodworkers.*

To take my mind off my sorrow, I worked in a short session while Vitaly climbed on his impersonal, mass-produced jungle gyms. I did a mini-circuit consisting of forms, shadowboxing and 108 claw pushups.

It was harder doing the claw pushups than I expected. At home, I do them on the padded floor of the carport kwoon. I mix it up with sets varying from all five fingers, down to four, three, two and just the thumbs.

But the ground at Al Lopez was much harder than I'm used to. I managed to do all 108 pushups, but the sets consisted only of five and three-finger claw pushups. No two-finger or just thumbs.

In between sets of the pushups, I did runs of the Siu Lum Tao, Chum Kiu and Biu Jee from Wing Chun, the Sam Chien set (the Chinese originator of the Okinawan/Japanese Sanchin kata) and two runs each of the Gao Bo Toi and Sup Baht Mor Kiu from Yau Kung Mun. Also, I did some short combinations of jeet teks (intercepting kicks) with straight blasts, aka chain punches.

It may not sound like much, but in that 90-degree Florida sun, following a three-mile bike ride and doing it in less than 30 minutes, it's a killer.

ITEM: Just giving my faithful readers and friends a heads-up - I will be posting excerpts to "Taming the Tiger" here on this blog. Stay tuned.

*Though I didn't have a hand in building the castle, I was a member of the Tampa Bay Woodworkers in the late 1990's. Thanks to their help and instruction, I was able to make the arms for my wooden dummy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Busy "Taming the Tiger." Be Back Next Week


Happy Trails to you, till we meet again next week.

It's been more than three years since I adopted my son, Vitaly, and brought him home from Ukraine, but I still feel very much like a new father. I still get excited watching him get excited over some new move he learned in gymnastics, doing art, making music or even just relaxing with TV or a DVD.

I've all but kissed R-rated movies good-bye. Strangely, I don't miss them as much as I thought I would. A lot of those kids' movies and TV shows are pretty good.

Being a father made me want to do something for kids. All kids. Not just my son. I played with all kinds of ideas for children's and young adult books. I reread some of my favorites from my youth, mostly adventure stories like "Treasure Island" or "The Call of the Wild." I also read and reread books by various children's and young adult authors, like Judy Blume.

I watched a lot of kid and youth-oriented movies from the 70's and 80's, like "Goonies", "The Karate Kid," "The Breakfast Club" and "Some Kind of Wonderful." (The first two I enjoyed sharing with my son. The others will have to wait.)

I thought back to my own childhood and teenage years and how things have changed from the 70's and 80's to the present day. I recalled how perhaps the two things that best carried me through my own turbulent teenage years were my interests in the literary, the visual and the martial arts.

To be honest, I hated what they assigned me to read in school and with few exceptions, I wasn't crazy about what they had me do in art class, either. Though I was pretty fit, I wasn't crazy about P.E. I'd preferred lifting weights, practicing martial arts and boxing, to basketball or soccer.

Then it hit me! Why not write a young adult novel about the martial and the visual arts? Those were two subjects with which I was most familiar. I also thought it would be a good idea to illustrate my novel myself. Part of the problem with writing about martial arts, especially for an audience of laypersons, is spending page after page describing action that might only last a few seconds.

By illustrating the novel as well as writing it, I save myself a lot of undo exposition and save the reader a lot of boredom.

Since last fall, I've been putting myself back in the mind and body of a 15-year-old boy during the 1979-1980 school year. I've been thinking how I wished I had a chance to learn some real kung fu, instead of training by myself in my basement because I was between instructors.

And that's when I came up with the idea for "Taming the Tiger." It's the story of a 15-year-old misfit and small-time hood who comes to develop self confidence and an appreciation for art and beauty through the study of kung fu. Charley Batchelor, the protagonist in "Taming the Tiger," goes from being a wannabe tough guy to someone who is truly tough and truly gentle.

I've really enjoyed writing this and I'm thrilled to say that I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I've written more than 14 chapters, roughly 140 pages of text, and have about two chapters left to complete.

I'm on a roll and I don't want to stop. I honestly think that, text-wise, I can complete this novel within a week. The artwork will take a little longer, but once the text is complete, I can start marketing it to various agents and publishers.

I'm going to be taking some time off from Facebook and from "Tales from the Carport Kwoon" for the next week. I'll still be working out, but I'm not going to have time to write about it here, especially with paying jobs and my search for regular employment in addition to completing my novel.

So take care of yourselves. Be sure to exercise. Try to eat right, though I'm learning how hard that is with this diet Roxanne and I are on. Take some time to socialize and say "hi" to some old friends once in a while. Tell them I said "hi" too, and I hope they're doing well.

Take some time to get alone, too, with your thoughts.

If you're of a mind to, take some time in prayer. Don't expect it to change your circumstances. It might do that or it might not. But if done right, with the right heart and mindset, it can change your attitude and your viewpoint.

Have fun. I'll get back to you all next week when I've completed the text of my novel and we can have a blast going over what we've been up to in that time.

Have a good one.

Sean

Friday, June 4, 2010

Intensity vs. Duration

Is it possible to get a good workout in less time?

That's a subject for debate among athletes of all kinds. If time keeps you from training the way you want, is it possible to squeeze a lot of benefits into a shorter, but more intense, workout?

Some, like Bruce Lee's sihing (older Kung Fu brother) William Cheung, believe that intensity is more important than quantity when it comes to training. This past week, I've been putting that to the test. My financial situation has been pretty rough. It's put pressure on me to either find a real job or at least come up with more paying freelance work.

That's cut a lot into my workout time.

On the other hand, I am trying to be mindful of something I read over at my friend Don's Yau Kung Mun blog - that you should try to do at least a little something each day.

I am determined to get in a workout session at least six days a week. Even if I only have 20 or 30 minutes, I will get something done in that time. I may not get to do a lot of forms or some heavy bag work, but I can get a lot of conditioning done in that short of time.


Dan Ivan (above) is an American karate pioneer who served as a military intelligence agent in post-war Japan. He had several opportunities to use his training in real life-or-death situations. One key piece of advice he had for students was to stretch.
"If you have time for nothing else, do your stretches."

Today's workout was a little longer than usual - a full hour! I put it to use with a good full-body stretch. It's not particularly glamorous or exciting, but given my knee and neck problems, it is probably the most important part of my workout. I really feel a difference for the better when I stretch faithfully. Conversely, I feel a helluva lot worse when I'm not stretching regularly.

Following that, I did a short circuit, alternating between runs of the Siu Lam Tao set, pushups and sets with the abwheel. After watching a video of some Gurkhas practicing with the khukuri knives, I was in the mood to play with something sharp. Since I couldn't find my own khukuri, I used my steel kris, doing redondos and figure-eights between sets of abwheels and pushups.

In addition to my circuit, I recalled a training method I used as a 15-year-old middle class white punk from the suburbs. In those days, I didn't have a heavy bag or a makiwara, not that I would have known the proper way to use the latter. Instead, I conditioned my hands using mass quantities of knuckle pushups.


The phoenix-eye fist. One of the nastiest techniques of the Chinese martial arts. But like anything else in Kung Fu, you must approach it gradually and condition yourself to be able to effectively use it.


Assume a pushup position on a soft exercise mat. With your hand in the phoenix-eye position, balance on your bottom knuckles.

GENTLY roll onto your extended forefinger and do your pushups. Two or three will be very good for a beginner. I personally do eight to 10 in a set.

At least twice a week, I made a point of doing 100 knuckle pushups. It didn't matter how many sets it took. By the end, I was doing sets of only four or five pushups. But, I completed them.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of claw pushups and phoenix-eye pushups. My goal is to do a set of 100 of them twice a week. I mixed it up with sets of up to 30 pushups using all five fingers, to sets of only three or four reps of the forefinger-and-thumb pushups. I averaged about six to eight pushups of the phoenix-eye pushups. But no matter what, I did the full 100 pushups.

It was barely an hour. By my recent standards, an unusually long workout. It's not much, but I feel like I'm getting a lot done.

Wooden Dummy Lesson of the Week

In response to my Facebook friend and fellow martial arts blogger, John "Dojo Rat" Titus, I've been including some combinations to practice on the wooden dummy. This week's lesson is a defense against being sucker-punched. This combination includes a lot of overkill and I don't recommend it except for extreme life-threatening situations.
In the above photo, I am being my usual mild-mannered self.
From the corner of my eye, I see some bad guy trying to sucker-punch me. I respond with a mon sao from the Biu Jee set in Wing Chun. It's one of those "Oh shit!" moves that you used to clear something out of the way.
Once I make contact with his arm, I grab (lop sao) and nail him with a side kick to the ribs.

While he's still hurting, I maintain my hold on his arm and punch him in the armpit. You can use either the Wing Chun verticle fist or (if you're in a bad mood) use the phoenix-eye fist.


While he's doubled over in pain, hold his arm with both of your arms. Place your right hand right at his elbow. His natural reaction will be to bend at the waist and straighten his lead leg. He might as well have a sign on him saying "Please dislocate my knee."


If you want to be a real dickhead, check his injured arm with your left pak sao (palm block) and elbow him in the back of his head while he's doubled over.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yes, I Have Been Training!

From Sup Baht Mor Kiu (18 Devils Bridge) from Yau Kung Mun. I've been doing this one a lot lately.

Just to reassure all of you, I have been doing more than reminiscing this month over changes in my workouts and comparing my life in Connecticut, California and Florida.

As I said at the start of the month, there would be some changes to my workouts. The first, and most noticeable was that I'm temporarily eliminating certain forms from my repertoire. Namely, and form with knee drops or duck-walking, which includes most of what I've learned from Yau Kung Mun.

I also decided to return to some strong basics in an effort to strengthen my knee. I'm doing my full-body stretch two to three times a week, instead of my usual one to two times. I'm already seeing a big difference in my leg flexibility. My knee is also taking much less time to fully recover from workouts. I'm sure the glucosamine condroitin and vitamin C are helping that, too.

I'm doing more qigong practice, including a seated hand qigong I learned from Lucjan Shila. I don't know why I'm doing it. Probably since I'm spending less time on forms, I had the time to do this.

I've been very pleasantly surprised. Since doing hand qigong regularly, my hand strength is increasing, my arthritis pain is decreasing, and my hand speed is better than it has been in years. When practicing on the wooden dummy, it almost seems like the rest of my body can't keep up with my hands.

I'm also working on my stances. I've started to return to an old form of stance training which was recommended by one of my old sifus. While Kung Fu is famous for its horse stance, my sifu didn't let it stop there, requiring time spent in the cat stance and bow-and-arrow stances as well.

In concept, it's a simple routine, but it will take a lot out of you in a short time.

Start with a two-minute horse stance. Then two minutes in a cat stance, on both sides. Then, two minutes in the bow-and-arrow stance, on each side.

Close with another two minutes in the horse stance. If you're feeling ambitious, you can include two minutes on each leg in the crane stance as well.

Altogether, you're looking at eight to 12 minutes. Not much, but if you're taking your stances as low as you can in the horse, cat and bow-and-arrow stances, you'll really see some results.


Filling a bag with beebees, throwing it in the air and catching it is a great way to build total body strength and a powerful grip. (See photos above).

Another exercise I've been getting into heavily is catching the bean bag. Of course, this bean bag is filled with 15 pounds of copper beebees. NOTE: DO NOT USE LEAD SHOT FOR THESE BAGS. LEAD IS TOXIC AND WILL BUILD UP IN YOUR BODY OVER TIME.

While 15 pounds may not seem like much, when you've been throwing and catching it in the air for sets of 108 reps, you will feel it.

Of course, I always include my wooden dummy. In addition to doing the classical Wing Chun dummy sets, I find that next to a live partner, there is no better training method around for brushing up on individual techniques or for creating your own combinations.

Face the dummy (or your partner if you have one). Reach out with your lead hand.

As soon as you make contact with the arm, shoot in with a tan sao da (palm up or "wedge" block and punch)

Follow up with a pak sao da (palm block, punch combo)


Close with a right lap sao/backfist. Note: Though you do this combination from a stationary position while on the dummy, in actual use against a partner, you need to keep advancing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Fists of Florida" or "Hardcore on the Hillsborough"

"I'll just sit right back and watch the river flow!"
- Bob Dylan -

I had a lot of changes in my life in 1991. I got married, took a job at The Tampa Tribune that I would hold for the next five-and-a-half years, became a dog-owner for the first time in five years, and, became a homeowner for the first time.

Roxanne and I settled into our home in Seminole Heights immediately after our honeymoon. It was a small, one-bedroom house in what was still a rough, yet up-and-coming neighborhood in Central Tampa, with a huge, level lot.

The previous year, I'd burned out of martial arts, primarily after getting my butt handed to me by two guys I'd brought up for white belt in a karate tournament. I'd become discouraged with Tang Soo Do and was looking for something new.

I threw myself into Yang Taijiquan, Judo, Jujitsu and Aikido. And, having this large yard and covered back porch and carport, I had lots of room to practice.

I bought myself a small mat for practicing rollouts and breakfalls, a set of weights, and later set up a couple of makiwaras and a heavy bag. I had everything I would need to train.

I attracted a lot of attention to myself when rolling out on mat or doing uchi-komis with a judo belt wrapped around a palm tree. I didn't really care, though. Years of outdoor training got me used to sarcastic wise-guys singing "Kung Fu Fighting" or nosey busybodies trying to start a conversation with me while I was in the middle of my workout.



If you don't have a partner, this is a great way to practice your judo. I used to do this by throwing an old judo belt around the palm tree in my yard. It actually made the tree stronger from pulling on it and later, using the tree to condition my forearms.

The following year, I graduated college, only to find myself stuck in the same part-time job with little chance for advancement. I spent four years of chronic underemployment. But if there was one good thing about that, it was that I learned a shitload about different martial arts during that time.

Working out became my means of preserving my mental health. In addition to the above mentioned arts, I'd hooked up with Lucjan Shila, who taught me Lion's Roar Kung Fu; John Angelos, who taught me the empty-hand sets of Wing Chun, Chen Taijiquan silk reeling and push-hands; Scott Collins, who in addition to being my church pastor, was also a former professional boxer and kickboxer; lastly, a man who became like a brother to me, Anthony Chan, who eventually taught me Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Tribal Arts, Escrima, Kali and Arnis.

Outdoor training in Florida gives me lots of chances to commune with nature. Even living in the middle of Tampa, I still see manatees, dolphins and alligators (above) while practicing along the Hillsborough River.

Much of my training with them took place outdoors as well. John took over a section of Ballast Point Park, at the southern-most end of Bayshore Boulevard. Scott would have us practice in his backyard. And Tony and I would use the pool area at his apartment complex.

But most of the time, I trained in my backyard or along the Hillsborough River. There are many nice areas along that river, including the Lowry Park Boat Ramp, Rivercrest Park or Plant Park at the University of Tampa Campus.

To me, that is the way to practice martial arts. Outdoors, where I have all the space I need. I can breathe clean, fresh air, not stale, indoor air. I'm not much for sunbathing, but seeing sunshine does a lot to life my spirits, especially as it reflects off the water.

Despite being in the middle of one of Florida's largest cities, I get to enjoy nature as I train. Between sets of forms or exercises, I've watched mullet jump, I've seen alligators drifting lazily along the river. I've even seen dolphins and manatees seeking warmer waters in the winter.

One other thing I've come to appreciate about living and training in Florida are the state's liberal weapons laws. As I've complained about in other posts, in other states where I'd lived, I'd be committing a felony if I took an unsharpened sword, staff or other practice weapon to a public place to practice.

It's funny how state legislatures and cops can't say shit if someone carries a baseball bat or hockey sticks with them. Those are sporting goods!

Well, I've been threatened with both bats and hockey sticks plenty of times in my youth. And as far as I'm concerned, my kwan dao, my sam jie guan, my gim or baht cham dao are my sporting goods.

Some guys play hockey. Some play baseball. My old boss lived for his Saturday morning tennis game. Another co-worker went running everyday after work.

In the words of Bruce Springsteen, "Some guys come home from work and they wash up, and go racing in the street."

For me, I practice martial arts. It's my sport. It's my art. It's my exercise.

It's what I do.

P.S. I just want to give a shout out to James A. Keating, Master at Arms and publisher of MAAJAK. It's a great online magazine with lots of neat stuff to inform, educate, entertain and challenge. I feel like I made the big time when Keating linked to "Tales from the Carport Kwoon." If you get a chance, check out MAAJAK. It may shock, offend or amuse, but it will never leave you bored.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Placerville Pugilism" or "Fists and Feet in the Foothills"

Financial circumstances forced me to leave Florida in 1986 and return to my father’s home in California. After several months of failing to find any satisfying work in Oakland, I took my father’s advice and took a volunteer position for the U.S. Forest Service.

As a volunteer, I got a weekly allowance for groceries and free travel and dining anytime I had to leave the El Dorado Forest for work. It also got me a free place to stay in a bunkhouse at the Institute of Forest Genetics in Placerville.

The Institute of Forest Genetics, an experiment station for the U.S. Forest Service in Placerville, CA. The bunkhouse in the upper left corner was my home for several months in 1986. It's actually one of the nicer places I've ever lived.

Since I didn’t have much money in those days, my main source of entertainment consisted of watching broadcast TV or practicing martial arts and exercising.

In addition, with a lack of a real gym or even a set of barbells, I was forced to make due with what few fitness or martial art supplies I owned at the time, including:

1. Two gis

2. Two makiwaras

3. A steel gim (Tai Chi sword)

4. A sam jie guan (Three sectioned staff)

5. A six-foot metal pipe, which I used for staff work.

In addition, I had lots and lots of outdoor room to practice on some nice maintained lawns, in the Northern California sun with fresh air in the Sierra foothills.

I also had to admit that for much of the previous few years that I’d become a gym rat, relying on weights and modern machinery like Universal and Nautilus for strength training. As much as I missed that type of training, I had to admit that such training is fairly new in the history of physical culture. I took inspiration in the pages of Black Belt about how martial artists in China, Korea and Okinawa made due with what they had while training outdoors in all kinds of weather.
I alternated between working different parts of my body, like with weight training, but used my own body weight instead of barbells and dumbbells.

It was my first foray into circuit training, working forms, weapons, repetitions of the basics, punching my makiwaras and doing lots of chinups and pushups. I did my pushups on wood stumps from the firewood piles and chinups hanging from the ladder on a cherry picker truck.

My then-roommate, Keith, was fresh out of the U.S. Marines. He offered me lots of suggestions for body weight exercises, including fingertip pushups and one-armed pushups. Though he had little martial arts training, he did join in to the exercise. We inspired and motivated each other during these times and became good friends in the process.

I got some great training in that year, as well as a great tan, coupled with sun-bleached blonde hair and beard.

And I got some great inspiration and ideas that helped me over the years with my training.

TOMORROW’S POST: “Fists of Florida” or “Going Hardcore on the Hillsborough River”.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Outdoor Training in the Nutmeg State" or "Connecticut Yankee Karate"

The woods surrounding Lake Whitney in Hamden, CT. It was one of my favorite places to get away from other people. It was also where I liked to practice Karate and weapons, out of sight of the public but in the fresh air and sunshine.

My love for outdoor training began in 1982, when I started learning Tang Soo Do.

As I've said before, a new year is often used as a time to make a new beginning in a new direction. The previous two years, '80 and '81, sucked for reasons too numerous to get into here.

I was off to a good start in 1981, having hooked up with a couple of good kung fu teachers.* But by March, I had to take time off due to a badly sprained shoulder, the result of learning roll-outs on a concrete floor.

When I recovered, their school had closed and I had no way to reach them.

Combined with some other difficulties I faced that year, I lost any real interest in maintaining my health. I didn't exercise. I flunked out of school. I didn't practice any of the martial arts I'd learned from various instructors over the years. I pretty much became a couch potato.

By the end of 1981, I found out about the Southern Connecticut State College Karate Club from a guy I'd met at a party. At $25 a semester, it seemed like the answer to my prayers. Even working minimum wage, I could easily afford that.

So in January 1982, I B.S.'ed my way into the club, pretending to be a college student even though I was beginning my second sophomore year of high school.

I threw myself into a major fitness regimen, which included joining the Yoga Club at my high school, lifting weights, running and, of course, learning Tang Soo Do at the SCSC Karate Club.

I'd had a strong knowledge of the basics of karate from other teachers. To me, the important thing was learning the forms in Tang Soo Do. But since I felt confined trying to practice sets in my basement, I took it outside.

In those cold, New England winters, I would often do up to five runs each of an individual form in the Putnam Avenue Schoolyard behind my house, wearing my gi pants, sneakers and a sweatshirt.

Occasionally, someone would see me practicing, but they left me alone. I had a reputation as a non-conformist, so seeing my practicing karate outdoors really didn't surprise anyone.

At school, when my friends took smoke breaks, I often ran through my forms in the courtyard. There were actually a few good martial artists and boxers at the small private high school I attended for my second sophomore year. Some of them would join in and show what they could do.

By the end of the spring semester, I'd earned a high green belt and learned the first nine forms, the three Gichus, the five Pyang Ahns and Bassai Dai. I'd also earned straight A's on a report card for the first and only time in my life.

Also in 1982, I'd cross-trained in different arts as I made the acquaintance of other local martial artists, particularly Steve Williams. Steve, who became my boxing coach, also held a shodan in Jujitsu, which he also taught me, along with bits and pieces of other styles of Kung Fu and Karate.


Muhammad Ali, chopping wood at his Pennsylvania training camp. Chopping wood is one of the best exercises for fighters. My boxing coach, Steve Williams, and my father, both spent a lot of time around lumberjacks. Both spoke from personal experience when they warned me "Never get into a fight with a man who swings an axe for a living."

Most of our training was very impromptu. Our sessions often happened when he happened to be visiting his brother-in-law, Alex, who lived down the street from me. Steve and I would spar, practicing boxing drills or two-man Jujitsu sets in our street clothes on Alex's front lawn.

In addition to his knowledge of martial arts, Steve saw himself as a Native American shaman. Seriously. He was quite knowledgeable about Native American art, culture and mysticism. From his home in Northford, he taught classes in survival techniques and did his best to educate people on the Indian ways.

He had a love of the outdoors, which showed itself in his preference for training outdoors. He also chopped wood, both as a business and an exercise. Both Steve and my father, who spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest, taught me the same lesson - "Never get into a fight with a man who swings an axe for a living." It strengthens the exact same muscles you use to throw a punch.

By the end of 1982, I hooked up with my old Kung Fu instructors. Through 1983 until I left Connecticut in October 1984, I met and trained with other martial artists, picking up whatever I could from them, whether forms, training methods or skill with weapons.

All of this happened while earning my black belt in Tang Soo Do.

But when I couldn't be with my instructors or training partners, I let the woods or lakes become my dojo. I did my breakfalls and bag work in my basement, but forms, weapons and shadowboxing took place mostly out-of-doors.

I could train in public parks, in wooded areas new my house along Lake Whitney. Because the latter was not public property, I could practice with weapons without fear of arrest since no one would see me.

But more than the privacy, I came to enjoy my time outside, breathing in what passed for fresh air in Southern Connecticut and soaking up sunshine in a too-short New England summer.

TOMORROW'S POST: "Placerville Pugilism" or "Fists and Feet in the Foothills"

*Nearly 30 years later, I gotta admit, their way of teaching breakfalls and rollouts not only sucked, but it was downright dangerous. I would never, ever advocate practicing breakfalls or rollouts on anything but a well matted floor, at least not in the early stages. Even then, practicing anything on concrete is stupid and dangerous and I have only three words on that subject - DON'T DO IT!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday in the Yard. I think it was the 15th of May.

Don came by today for the first time in a couple of months. The life of a secret agent* is a busy one that takes him away from town for weeks at a time. When he gets back, he has a lot of catch-up to do with his wife and kids. As much as we enjoy our workouts, I gotta respect that he puts his family obligations first.

Today's Saturday session was pretty typical. We pick each other's brains about various forms and applications from Chinese gung fu, discuss the latest in personal fitness and try to get as much done in between breaks to watch the Tsarevich do his latest bike trick.

But the latest entry in today's Dojo Rat blog got me thinking about my long history of outdoor training. As journalist and martial artist Joe Hyams once said in his classic, "Zen in the Martial Arts," - "Anyplace can be a dojo."



Easily, one of the greatest books ever written on the martial arts.

Don and I have trained together for nearly 10 years. It started when I read an ad he put in a weekly newspaper, looking for training partners interested in Yau Kung Mun and Hung Gar Kung Fu. I'd had some training in Hung Gar and was interested in learning more about that art.


For the most part, our training sessions did take place outdoors, sometimes in Don's backyard; sometimes in the cul-de-sac where our friend, Tony Chan, holds his workouts; but usually, here in the Carport Kwoon.

I should mention that the carport is the only shelter for my practice area. When doing some heavy weapons work or a lot of forms, I use the side or front yard. The backyard is for the dogs to shit in.

One of the first times Don came over to practice, he was reluctant to use the front yard. He's always been a very private individual and I try to respect that. But in addition to the greater open space in the front, I also prefer to practice on grass.




You gotta admit - a sight like this will slow traffic on your street.


Wood is my second choice for a training area. A padded floor, like the floor of my carport, is somewhat better than bare concrete, but not by much. Over the years, I've learned that exercising on concrete is a recipe for rheumatoid arthritis, among other health issues. Truth is, I'm not even sure I believe it is safe to stand or walk on concrete for extended periods, let alone exercise on it.

Don relented when I convinced him that my street is generally pretty private. It's not a major through-street, so I don't have to worry about cars constantly going back and forth. After 12 years here, the neighbors have gotten used to me.

They also know that some strange behavior on the front yard is a small price to pay for a great neighbor like me. I don't mean to brag, but I don't drink, I don't throw loud parties, I don't blast my stereo or have a loud muffler on my car.

And since I started swinging my kwan dao or sam jie guan in the front yard, it has slowed down traffic as people try to take a look at what I'm doing.

Occasionally, someone does stop and try to talk to me about what I'm doing. I remember one morning in particular, one of Tampa's Finest came by in a plain brown wrapper** while I was working the kwan dao.

He slowed down, pulled up and said "hi."

"That thing looks pretty heavy!" he said, leaning across his seat.

"Yep," I said. "That sucker weighs about 15 pounds. It'll give you a helluva workout. Wanna give it a try?"

The officer said "thanks" but that he was looking for someone in the neighborhood who failed to appear in court.

"Well, have a good one and I hope you catch him," I said.

It's times like that that make me glad to live in Florida. In other places where I've lived, I'd be committing a felony for training outside with a weapon.

TOMORROW'S POST: "Outdoor Training in the Nutmeg State" or "Connecticut Yankee Karate".

*Look, I don't know for sure what he does for a living. All I know is that he travels abroad, often for weeks at a time. Calling Don a secret agent is just a lot easier than just admitting I don't know what the hell he's doing.

**Policeman in an unmarked car