Saturday, February 25, 2012

Enter the 36th Chamber

The two disciples of the 36th Chamber and Grand Master Eric
Allow me to demonstrate the skill of Shaolin. The special technique of shadowboxing...

Enter the 36th Chamber. 

My training partner and I met up at the pavilion in the afternoon yesterday to train with 'Grand Master' Eric.  I only refer to him as the Grand Master here well.. because.. it is what it is. People I know, including my coaches, would always tell me stories of Eric as if they were sharing legendary tales of an undefeated warrior who trained in the mountains of Shaolin and dwelled in the streets of Bangkok defeating all those who dare try to impose their will against him. He is The RZA of our Wu-Tang Clan.
Grand Master Eric

Training or just being in the presence of his teaching makes me feel like I've travelled to 1980's remote Thailand, learning the ways to defeat Tong Po in glorious fashion. Okay perhaps that's being a little ridiculous but working with him truly makes you feel like a warrior.

We started out with footwork drills. I always love starting at the root of all things and when I'm not over thinking it, footwork is something that I feel have slight confidence in (though I'm not sure why as it seems to get tossed right out of the window during sparring). He watched the both of us carefully, sometimes shouting out corrections that we both individually needed to make. Every 5 minutes or so of watching us just do footwork, he would add on some kind of movement to use in our repertoire. Resets, pivots, bobbing and weaving, slipping and pivoting.

Blended fight stance ala Operation Condor
After that we worked on our hand positioning/fight stance. I've learned so many different fight stances that sometimes I tend to blend them all together into something that really just isn't pretty to look at. But I really like what Eric showed us. I tend to keep my hands close to my body in order to protect it but it honestly does no good for my face. Our hands can be used as sensors but my sensors are so close to my face that once somebody throws a punch at me I won't have enough time to react defensively. He suggested I keep my hands more out but still at an angle in which you can quickly retract your arms to protect your body. It was perfect.

From there my training partner and I practiced defensive hand movement drills. We went back and forth deflecting each others punches by only an inch (or perhaps even less) using our own wrists. I really enjoyed this drill as it reminded me of the Wing Chun techniques I learned.

Once we finished up and went to grab a quick drink he asked us what kind of style we wanted to learn. I honestly wanted to reply with "Badass" but resisted. My training partner and I didn't really know what specifically we wanted to learn but I think he could tell we were leaning towards kickboxing. I honestly just want to learn techniques that work. I feel that it won't always be boxer vs boxer, kickboxer vs kickboxer and so on and so forth. So if someone is coming at me with things they are pulling out of their ass, I want to know the exact technique to counter or defeat it.

One day...
We started out with some kicking drills against the wall. He showed us a Kempo kick (which is his background). I instantly felt discouraged before we even began. As I stated in my first post, kicks are not something I am comfortable with. I am the least flexible person you will ever know (but perhaps with the help of The Kid, I'll be doing split kicks ala Trinity from the Matrix in no time). But none the less, I tried to work through it. Eric figured out that my stronger leg was the left one. I actually felt quite balanced kicking with that leg and after awhile it looked like I was throwing some decent kicks. Maybe one day I can throw some Michelle Yeoh kicks! Wishful thinking. My training partner had no problem at all with her CroCop-ness.

When we switched to our right leg... well things kind of went downhill from there. I had no balance, no power, and zero technique on this leg. And lawd was I stiff. Seeing this, Eric attempted to stretch me out in the most painful manner against the wall. "Does it hurt yet?!", he would ask as he pushed one of my legs upward. Uh yes. Yes it does Eric.

After doing these kick drills (which were pretty damn awesome... I'm going to insist that my training partner and I do them before each session), we were asked to do these drills without the support of the wall up and down the pavilion.  We started off with the left leg. At first I had a little trouble but after a few kicks and attempting to relax my kicks were actually looking pretty decent! That is... until we switched to the right leg. I had so much trouble with this leg again but continued to push through it, trying not to over think the movements ("Step.. slide.. kick!") as Grand Master Eric would yell out corrections and compliments to the both of us.

The next and final thing we did was work on the mitts. Eric's mitt work is INCREDIBLE. Dude is like Freddie Roach meets Roger Mayweather on the mitts. It's beautiful to watch and even better to be a part of. I always try to mimic him when holding mitts for the girls but... I just kind of look stupid. Eric just looks too suave. But enough complementing his mitt powers... My training partner was first up on the mitts.

Eric and my training partner
I enjoy watching people work with Eric almost as much as I enjoy training myself. Like I said it's like watching the creation of a magnum opus. It's beautiful. It was also great seeing my training partner work with Eric for what I believe was the first time. She's got beautiful movement and incredible power. Eric told her that if she used the lower half of her body more than trying to rely on her upper-body strength (which she has an ABUNDANCE of), she would be able to discover and unleash her inner Shaolin warrior (okay those weren't his exact words but you get my point). They started out with some boxing but eventually moved onto combinations of kicks and punches. Seeing her mix it up gave me goosebumps.

When it was my turn to jump on the mitts with him, we started out with the basic jab. All of my coaches have told me to just jab... jab jab jab. Jab offensively. Jab defensively. Jab for distance. Just jab. So I was happy when Eric told me I have a pretty solid jab. Both my training partner and I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to Eric's mitt holding. Eric just seamlessly flows from one thing to the next calling out (what seemed to be at first) random as hell numbers as he just held up a mitt. Sometimes two. Eventually we both sort of fell into a groove. I swear there must've been a twinkle in my eye, as I began to feel like Floyd Mayweather working with Uncle Roger (Eric and I share the same love for Floyd). I felt more precise and fluid working with him. Sometimes, when working with others on the mitts, I tend to feel like my punches are so pitter-patter (I'm sure the girls that I train with are tired of hearing this from me haha). It's true really... but for whatever reason... I felt strong working with Eric. He truly brings out the best of you.

We both did a couple of more rounds with Eric before ending our training session for the day. There truly are no words for how awesome yesterday was. My training partner found herself giggling like a little school girl while working with him... she made Grand Master Eric blush. HAH! I'm glad I was able to set this up for the both of us. We really needed it. And Eric seemed to enjoy working with us. We really are just so eager to learn and get better at this point.

And thus we became disciples of the 36th chamber. Until our return...

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Meaning of Strength

After much consideration and finally putting aside all lame ass excuses, I've decided to start blogging my training and thoughts about it.

I've always wanted to but I haven't blogged since the days of Xanga (Kudos to you if you even know what that is)... and let me tell you that was ages ago. But I've made up in my mind that I do not want to forget any of this. It's been an important year of change for me and I'd feel so ashamed not to have recollection of it.

So, let's do this.

Yesterday was, to put it simply and for lack of better words, intense.

I train at a pavilion in a district park nearly an hour to an hour and a half away from where I live. As my coach always says, the island is our gym. I've never really seen a need to have a fancy place to train with heavy bags lined up and enough equipment that could be hauled away in a dump truck. This place is perfect, beautiful and I can almost call it my second home as I've spent so much time there. In all honesty, I think I'd be severely disappointed if my coaches ever abandoned this place.

Anyways I arrived at about 4:30PM yesterday. I usually get there INCREDIBLY early... my training partners always feel bad that I have to "sit and wait" but I love it. It's really the only time of day I can be completely to myself without the distraction of my computer, work or just people in general.

Well a couple of other groups use this area to train in different arts as well. There is a group of guys who usually train around the same time as us who practice Muay Thai and Wing Chun. Pretty awesome stuff. One of the guys who train in that group, The Kid (who certainly does not look like a kid and looks like he's straight out of Street Fighter... but I'm going to refer him as that) was there sitting on a bench. We said our usual brief hello's and then went about our own business. I had just sat down when all of a sudden the Kid just came out of nowhere and approached me. "Hey you wanna warm up together?" I was kind of flabber gasted I almost wanted to do a double take to make sure he wasn't asking someone behind me. What... you want to train with lil' ol' me? HELL YEAH.

So I got to do a couple of rounds of light sparring with him. He used his Wing Chun against my boxing. I felt like I was in a Ip Man movie.. seriously my boxing was useless but he kept encouraging the shots that nearly landed (Okay dude is like 6 foot or something. I'm Alistair and... yeah you get the point). I had a brief encounter with Wing Chun last year when this guy who was working at Sports Authority called Calixto approached me. We conversated about all types of martial arts for an hour before I was convinced that I wanted to try Wing Chun. I did it for a month or so before scheduling got in the way and I just fell out of contact with him. I do miss it.

The Kid was so kind and gave me a lot of pointers on stretching and even some Muay Thai kicks AND also shared some words of motivation. I had a lot of fun and he asked if I could train with him every Tuesday and Thursday early as we are just always there before everyone else. How could I refuse?

Soon after my training partner arrived.  We usually always try to meet up before our actual class begins with our coaches. I'll talk about her more in depth in the future but for now I want to focus on the day. We started out with some quote-unquote light sparring. She outweighs me by like.... okay not to reveal our weights but just imagine the weight difference that Megumi Fujii and Gina Carano have. It's EXACTLY that. So most of the time light for her feels like my strong haha. But I don't mind it.

I decided I wanted to spar kickboxing. The past few months when we started this whole sparring extravaganza of ours we only did boxing. I don't feel confident enough to say that I actually know kickboxing. I don't. But I'm determined to get better at it and the only way to do that... well is to do it. Most of the time I don't know what the fuck I'm doing but I want to get used to the energy and feeling of it. I'm very adamant about training it first before doing sparring but I still feel like I have something to learn from it with my lack of knowledge.

After a few rounds our coaches arrived. One of my coaches asked how many rounds we did than asked us to do two more. And then I knew shit was about to get real.

Before the sparring began I knew I had no chance at all. Like I said... I don't know what I'm doing when I kickbox. But I wasn't going to let that be an excuse not to work hard. I knew I was in for an ass-kicking but I told myself before we began that as long as I pushed through it and didn't give up it would be worth it.

I honestly don't remember most of it as it really was just a blur but I do remember the pain. My training partner is like a female CroCop with her kickboxing. It's no joke. This is what my kickboxing looks and feels like... (The defintion of my kickboxing). Anyways her 'light' and 'slow' was still like trying to fight Neo from the Matrix. I honestly don't care how light and slow you go, if you get kicked by someone's shin, it's gonna hurt. She landed... well to be honest I don't even remember what kind of kick it was... but it hit my body hard. I felt the air escaping my body and then instant tears.

I hate crying... I hate it even more when I can't control it and it happens in front of people. But this was different. I half-expected that this moment would come one day after seeing my coach spar with his training partner. One kick and the guy was in tears. You don't want to cry but something about being hit in that area just forces it out of you. I remember facing the wall, just trying to recompose myself. My coach gave me a little pep-talk.. and with tears still strolling down I fought on. We only had a minute left and she just pretty much out-classed me from there on out and landed another painful shot to my hip bone. The body shot was soul crushing but the hip shot was just... awful. Bone against bone isn't beautiful.

The sparring ended and I quickly left the pavilion to just stop fucking crying. I don't want people seeing that crap. Steven (one of my coaches) came over to me to help calm my breathing and lower the amount of emotions that was running through me. After about 10 minutes I finally was okay enough to head back into training. There's no breaks in our training and we all had to jump right into a 2 hour session of Jiu Jitsu.

I really feel awful about my attitude during the rest of training, especially towards my training partner. I KNOW she could sense my energy and it quickly shifted to something different that I've never experienced before between us. It felt awkward. I've already apologized to her about it through text but I'm going to make an effort to apologize to her again in person today.

Jiu Jitsu was kind of a blur as well. I had a hard time grasping anything my coach was saying. When I'm frustrated my coaches might as well be speaking Brazilian because my comprehension goes straight out the window. I feel awful about that as well. We got to roll a bit. Besides my training partner, the other girl I train with, who's in high school is a beast as well. I always tell her that once she learns the kill moves in jiu jitsu.. I'm done for. She's getting good SO quickly. The last round between me and her was epic though. I did some transitions that I don't even know really (but my coaches seem to think I did great). I also managed to grasp her leg while on my back as she was standing and attempt to go for a leg-lock. The leg lock was a fail but the transition... I'm kind of proud of. Believe it or not... and as nerdy as this will sound... I remember seeing it in a manga I've been reading lately called All Rounder Meguru. It's about a characters journey through the world of Shooto and his trials and tribulations.

I got to roll with my training partner. That was again... intense. It was the first time I felt how much emotion is poured between the both of us. It was just heavy.

I texted her after the training session apologizing for myself. I tend to always feel bad not for myself... but for the fact that I may have let my training partner down in some way. It's the Asian guilt I tell you. But she texted me back saying how bad SHE felt and that she should go easier on me. WHAT?! No.

I don't do this expecting things to be easy. I know it's going to be hard. I expect to be hurt and in pain. I expect to get frustrated and maybe even get beat to tears sometimes. It's a part of the game. MMA is more mental and spiritual than anything I've ever experienced. And the moment she starts going easy on me is the moment that everything that we've been working so hard for is lost. I'm not saying she should beat me into a bloody mess but...

I will always be the smaller fighter. I will always have to work 20x harder than my opponent. It should never feel easy. I want to remain humble in this fact. My training partner feels that she's been bullying me as of late. Yes physically I've been taking a beating... but above everything...yesterday was mental and spiritual training. It was something I needed and will need for the rest of my years throughout this journey.

I got into this not only because I truly love it... but I want to know what it means to be strong. Besides filmmaking, throughout my school years and especially throughout middle school and high school I would give up. If there was the slightest window of opportunity for me to make an excuse and quit I would do it without hesitation. But there was a moment in high school where something clicked and everything became opposite for me. I don't want to quit. No more excuses.

I just want to know what it means to be strong. And discover my own inner-strength.