Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going Hard at Home

Though this blog is called "Tales from the Carport Kwoon," I probably do at least half of my workouts away from home. My side yard is a little cramped, what with fitness and martial arts equipment and yard tools.

The backyard, though wide open, is where the dogs play. I don't want to have to worry about them while I'm swinging kali sticks or a kwan

In the past, I've done a lot of training in the fron
t yard, especially a lot of my forms work. However, Roxanne and The Tsarevich have taken that over for their garden, which is coming along beautifully.

In addition to the increased space I have when practicing at Rivercrest or Lowry Park, I thoroughly enjoy the out-of-doors, the re
asonably fresh air and a chance to see some of the nature for which Florida is known.

Practicing on my dummy in the Carport Kwoon. It's a little cramped, but it's where I keep all my equipment and weapons.

On the other hand, my Carport Kwoon is better equipped than most commercial dojos. I have everything I need there: bags; a wooden dumm
y: a power tower; weights; and mats. I'm also close to my medicines, both Chinese and more mainstream first aid equipment. And, I have all my weapons and training gear in one place.

I used to do a lot of my weapons and forms training in the front yard, due to lack of space in the Carport Kwoon. But now, my wife and the Tsarevich are turning the front yard into a garden, which means much less space to practice weapons at home. (See photo below).

Tomato and cucumber plants in Roxanne and Vitaly's raised garden, which they just completed in the front yard.

On Monday, I returned to a hard workout after skipping training on Sunday. While The Tsarevich worked in the garden, I went through a good long, rigorous circuit involving: high repetitions of the basics; the ab wheel; several runs each of the wooden dummy and Biu Jee forms; and more than 100 claw pushups, spread out over six to eight sets.

It's a lot different doing those pushups at home rather than the park. At the park, I have nice, soft earth, which is a lot less punishing on my hands. At home, I do those pushups on the padded floor of my kwoon.

I can't do as many in a set on the padded, concrete floor as I can on the grass. However, that small change challenges me. It keeps me fresh as I struggle to maintain my strength and continue my goal of doing 108 pushups in a single set.

For now, I'll continue on the circuit training. It keeps me fresh and constantly challenges my muscles and my metabolism.

And I'll continue to alternate between my Carport Kwoon and one of the beautiful parks in West Tampa.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Playing through the Pain

By Thursday morning I was pretty wracked with pain.

It took a few days of some moderately hard workouts and long walks with a weight vest, but there was no doubt about it: I was hurting!

Knowing I had an overdue practice session with Richard, my sole regular student, I decided to save myself for our workout. Even then, thoug
h, I took it pretty easy. Since my wife and The Tsarevich were both sick, I didn't want to make myself sick. My own throat was starting to tickle, too, a sign of either an illness coming on or my allergies.

Also knowing that I have only a few weeks left before hopefully starting the Masters of Education program at the University of Tampa, I'm determined to cram as much as I can into Richard's head as possible. I have to give him
a lot of credit - he works hard and he has a passion for learning what I'm teaching him.

I started teaching him in 2006, when I used the Northwest Community Church building for classes. Eventually, I gave it up due to a lack of interest. But Richard never lost interest. He emailed me regularly over the next few years, asking when I would start teaching again.

I started again with him last summer. His chi sao has improved greatly and he's almost through the Biu Jee form. My goal is to at least take him through the Biu Jee (Shooting Fingers Form) and the Mook Yan Johng Kuen sets by June. If possible, also to include the Luk Dim Bun Kwan (The Long Pole). I believe that with those sets, he should have enough of Wing Chun to effectively use it in self defense.

The Mook Yan Johng Kuen: The Wooden Dummy Form.

Still in some pain on Friday, I managed to squeeze in a short workout on the river. I've been pleasantly surprised by the increase in flexibility and some shrinkage in my waist. But like Thursday, I kept it short, preferring to focus only on the stretching and the Wing Chun hand sets.

Also on Thursday, I finally tracked down all my Yau Kung Mun DVD's. I even found that Holy Grail of YKM DVD's, the video of Sigung Garry Hearfield teaching Don the Say Mun Bagua Kuen.
Not only is that DVD a great source of information, but I do derive some pleasure watching Sigung Garry harangue Don over his forms.

In addition to maintaining everything else, my goal for this week is to begin work on the Say Mun Bagua Kuen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doing a Little Bit Every Day

Practicing the Wing Chun Biu Jee (Shooting Fingers) form at Lowry Park near my house.

One secret to maintaining a training regimen is to do a little something every day.

Since I began preparing for the International Chinese Martial Arts Championship in Orlando, that's what I've kept in mind. Even if I just do a little exercise, even if I just get outside for a little while, then I feel like I did something and I don't get discouraged.

Weekends are usually the hardest time to train, especially now that I'm a parent. My wife and son both demand my attention. As a result, unless Don comes by for one of our early Saturday morning sessions, I don't usually do anything on weekends.

So on a spur of the moment, I decided to just take a walk. There's a one-mile loop that goes around Lowry Park. I invited the Tsarevich to join me. He brought his scooter and I put on my weight vest.

We repeated that on Sunday evening only with his bike.

The weight vest is definitely one of my better fitness investments. I've always felt so much stronger after accompanying The Professor (i.e.,
my old man) on one of his death marches through the Sierras. I don't get out there anywhere near as much as I'd like, so hiking around the park with a weight vest is about as close as I can get to a backpack trip through the Minarets, Desolation Wilderness, the Wind River or any of the other trips I've done with the Professor.

Come Monday, I felt some soreness in my legs from those short walks. Even carrying 20 extra pounds makes a big difference.

That day, I packed up for Rivercrest Park to squeeze in a workout before picking up The Tsarevich. I marched down to the docks carrying my long pole, my water bottle, a Thai pad (for hitting) and my camera. The latter was in case I saw the manatees again.

I haven't seen the manatees again, but Vitaly pointed out this baby alligator sunning himself on a rock at Lowry Park today.

Following a long and leisurely stretch, I began a work on some hard Wing Chun basics consisting of the individual punches and kicks.

Feeling pretty winded in the hot Florida early afternoon, I pushed it through with five runs of the Biu Jee form. I also meant to do five runs of the Luk Dim Bun Kwan, but only made it through three of them before I had to pick up The Tsarevich.

Tuesday, I took my workout back to Lowry Park. I thought I'd gotten a little too much sun the previous day, so I wanted a place to practice with lots of shade. Beneath the oaks near the big picnic area, I ran a circuit consisting of basic techniques, claw push ups, and five runs each of the Biu Jee and the Luk Dim Bun Kwan.

My sifu's grandmaster, Sam Kwok, demonstrating the Luk Dim Bun Kwan form.

Going through that pole set makes me laugh. So many people think it is easy to learn to effectively use a weapon. They don't realize that any weapon, from a pocket knife to a nine-foot oak pole, is added weight. That means it takes more energy to use it than to use bare hands.
The Luk Dim Bun Kwan is easily one of the most punishing weapons I've ever studied. It takes full-body strength to control that pole, to thrust and strike effectively with it. After five runs of that set, I felt it in my entire body, but especially my legs.

For today's workout, I got a little discouraged. I meant to focus on Yau Kung Mun Kung Fu forms and techniques. However, I misplaced my master video tapes and all except for one of my Yau Kung Mun DVD's. That DVD I did find didn't include Don doing his versions of the forms. Not only are those versions more familiar to me, but Don did a better job of shooting them than whomever did that tape of the guys in San Diego.

I felt discouraged, but determined not to let it ruin my day. Instead, I returned to the Carport Kwoon, which looks better than it has in months. I decided to continue to focus on my Wing Chun techniques. Taking advantage of the increased space as a result of my cleaning last week, I devoted most of my time working on the dummy. It's a big change going from practicing individual basics on the air to doing those same basics, alone and in combinations, on the dummy. It gave me a sense of the type of spatial awareness and timing I would need in the Chi Sao competition. It also gave me a helluva workout.

So now I'm off to located those DVD's. It could take me a while, but I'm determined to find everything I have on Yau Kung Mun and Wing Chun.

Lastly, I'll be returning to eBay next week. I've got a lot of comics, paperbacks and LP's I'll be posting on there, as well as selling locally on Craigslist.

If you're into comics, go ahead and email your wish list to heykidscomics(insert symbol for "at" here)tampabay.rr.com. If you're into stuff from the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's, give me a try. I've got more than 3,000 I'll be willing to part with.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Still Training" or "Whipping Out My Pole for the First Time in Years"

I have been training. Honestly. I just haven't had time to write about it.

For the past couple of weeks, my main activity has been cramming for my Florida Teachers Certification Exam for Middle School Science. I've
read that study guide through at least three times. Yesterday, I spent four hours reviewing it.

My only breaks for the past couple of weeks have been housework and training. For the most part, my training sessions were short and intense.

Today, I had a little more time than usual for practice. I decided that to keep my mind fresh and relaxed I wouldn't do any studying the day befo
re of the day of the exam. Since the test is tomorrow, that meant I had extra time to train.

Following a relaxing morning of sleeping late, I drove to Rivercrest Park along the Hillsborough River. I brought along my luk dim bun guan, a
Thai pad which I've been using as an improvised sandbag, and my camera. The camera was in case I saw those manatees again.

Well, the manatees never showed, but I got in a goo
d 90 minutes of stretching, forms and basics.
Following a good stretch, I went out on one of the docks overlooking the Hillsborough River. Not only do I enjoy the fresh air, but the wood decking is a lot easier on my joints than training on most other surfaces. That's something to consider for all martial artists if they want to have a long training life.

It's also a link to the past. Many of the classical southern Chinese kung fu styles, particularly Wing Chun and Hung Gar, were practiced by
sailors. The Red Boat Opera Troop traveled from town to town on rivers and canals in Southern China. Their performances were also a perfect cover for their anti-Manchu activities. Their Kung Fu training served them well, no only in performing stage combat, but to fend off river pirates and actual Ching spies.

Other sailors, who traded with the Japanese and Okinawans, shared their Kung Fu with the native peoples, giving birth to the predeces
sors of Karate.

Practicing by the river gives me a feel for thos
e old masters.

My main Wing Chun sifu, Hunter von Unschuld, demonstrating the Wing Chun pole.

I was pleasantly surprised how well I've done going through my basics and my forms. Lately, I haven't trained as hard or as often as I should. I strongly suspect my commitment to practicing Hung Gar Kung Fu last year did a lot to prepare me. Hung Gar is a very demanding art, especially the forms I practiced: the Gung
Gee Fuk Fu Kuen (Taming the Tiger Fist) and the Dai Pa (Great Fork Trident).

A demonstration of the Hung Gar Tiger Fork. Practicing with this really kept up my strength during the Year of the Tiger.

After running through the basics and the three hand sets of Wing Chun, the Siu Lam Tao, the Chum Kiu and the Biu Jee, I closed with three runs of the Luk Dim Bun Kwan, AKA the Wing Chun pole.

I expected that would be much more difficult than it was. Unlike the other Wing Chun sets, it uses the classical stances of Chinese Kung Fu, particu
larly the cat and the horse stances. Also, a nine-foot pole can give you a helluva workout if you're not used to it.

I can only say "Thank God, I did my Dai Pa last year!" All that training with such a heavy weapon did a lot to prepare me for the Luk Dim Bun Kwan.

"It is like a finger pointing to the moon." An instructor can only point the way. It is up to the student to follow the path and see where it takes him.

P.S. If you check out Dojo Rat, he has a great blog post today about the importance of solo training. As a martial arts student and instructor, one thing I've learned is that to be a good martial artist, you have to be self-motivated. You have to be willing to train as best as you can on your own between regular classes with your instructor.

When learning Wing Chun from Hunter von Uschuld, I could only train with him at most once a week. He lived about 30 miles away from me and to get to his home, I had to drive on some of the worst roads in two counties.

And while learning Yau Kung Mun and Hung Gar from Don Weiss, I've had to contend with his regular, extended work-related trips to various Third-World hellholes.

But as hard as it is to be separated from our instructors, we modern martial artists have some huge technological advantages. For example, it doesn't matter if Don's at home or on the road, I can almost always reach him via email when I have questions or need suggestions.

We also have video and DVD's, both commercially available and homemade ones. We can capture our teachers, seniors and classmates in action to preserve their forms and techniques.

And yes, we can also travel farther and much easier than martial artists of the old days.
But the important thing to remember is that our instructors can only point the way. It is up to the actual students to get off of our asses and do the actual work.