Saturday, 31 January 2009

We All Need A Little Validation

Do you ever have those moments where you start to doubt whether you're heading in the right direction?

It kinda goes like this:
You get excited about a new project, a new job, a new hobby, a new outlook. You start telling everyone you know all about it until you're so obsessed it's all you can talk about. Your best friend's eyes glaze over. Even your mother starts tuning you out.

And then something goes awry...maybe even something you shift the wrong way in your yoga class and botch a move and you're at the front of the room and you feel EVERYONE LOOKING AT YOU. And you feel so silly, you leave early and give yourself an oh-so-reasonable excuse for missing the next class. By're not even sure if it's worth the trouble.

A downward spiral of ridiculous shame and frustration. The death knell of your latest love. Your thrill ride jumped the tracks.

How much does it matter to you? Do you wait for someone or something outside of yourself to push you back into the ring? Do you search for inspiration on your own? Or do you walk away? Do you put the yoga mat in the closet? Do you give it to a friend or to Goodwill? Do you throw it away?

You see, I was one of those kids for whom so many things came easily, when I hit a wall, I often gave up. My parents tried to teach me "stick-to-it-tiveness" by making me slog through a whole season of soccer when I was seven...the only girl on the team with a rotten coach who never let me play anything but full-back and was once yellow carded for shouting obscenities at us kids. The last game of the season was played in drizzle and mud and cold--I was sure they'd cancel and let us go home for hot chocolate. But Dad squeezed my jersey over my jacket and noodged me back onto the field. My feet were so numb by the time we were done, I held my wet, yellow-white toes against the heater vents the whole way home. Dad still feels bad about that day, yet at the same time, he stuck to his guns. Lesson learned, right?

Not quite.

I think the big thing I took away from that game was a new-found hatred of team sports. I still love to kick the ball around with my two little girls, or join in a random pick-up game. But don't think you'll ever get me on a neighborhood team, no way. I know I suck. My coach used to tell me, every practice, just how much.

Now if I find myself disliking some new endeavor, no matter how attractive initially, I turn around and walk the other way. I resist buying special clothes or new gear. I question everything. I watch to see if my husband's tuning me out. Will I make it through this one? Will I fight this impulse, or give up? Is it worth it?

And the most critical question...the one that defines it all...


Afterall, we all need a little validation now and then.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

From The Sparrow To The Hawk

Over the summer of 2008, I began doing research while writing a screenplay. As part of this process, I began reading scripts and watching the films created from them. I fell in love with the movie "Chaplin" and started reading up a bit on Robert Downey, Jr., who earned an Oscar nomination in 1992 for playing the title role. In the course of watching an interview with Mr. Downey, I first heard about Eric Oram. Known to his students as "Si-Fu", he runs the Los Angeles Wing Chun Kung-Fu Academy in West L.A. I figured he must be someone special if he could help Mr. Downey turn his life around. So I read up on the school and the martial art. And then I took a class.

Have you ever walked into a situation or met a person and known that you were right where you were meant to be? I knew the minute I walked in the door that everything I'd been doing that summer had led me to this place, this feeling, this NOW. Before the month was out, I was a student.

Did I mention the Academy is in L.A.? Did I also happen to mention that I live in the Bay Area? Everyone who knows me thinks I'm nuts.

Mr. Oram doesn't teach the Basic Training class for newbies like me. But I figured if I could stick it out long enough, I'd get a chance to meet the man my fellow students raved about. I'd heard a podcast he'd been featured on, read articles he'd written, and caught snippets written about him by reporters. But shortly after I joined the school, Si-Fu left for London to help choreograph the fight scenes for the film, "Sherlock Holmes". And he didn't return until after Christmas.

Why on Earth would I drive or fly several times a month just to take classes at THIS school? Why not one closer to home? For those of you who have wondered what the heck I'm on about with this guy and his school, I thought I'd share a revised version of the letter I sent to him describing my reaction to meeting him on the mat for the very first time. To be honest with you, I just haven't been able to find anything like this place. Or this man. Anywhere.

9 January 2009

Si-Fu, all I can say after meeting you for the first time I get it.

For the longest time I've listened to everyone talk about how amazing you are and how much they missed you. They talked up Si-Hing Jim and the great classes he ran in your absence, of course--funny and demanding, kind and dedicated, we all enjoyed every minute of his instruction. Yet when I asked the other students why they were so anxious for you to return, they couldn't exactly explain what it was about you that was so special.

They'd squint and look sideways, thinking hard, and attempt to describe some intangible intensity. Something about the way you explain things, the way you make every moment seem immediate and important. And then they'd promptly launch into how "scary" it is having you around, with your penchant for launching random strikes at unwary students at the most inopportune moments, keeping everyone in a constant state of condition orange. That they were in awe of you was abundantly clear. But they just couldn't quite articulate whatever unique quality it was that made your Academy feel somehow empty without you.

I tried to take as many classes as I could afford over the holidays. Muslima and Dale had both clued me in when they'd heard from you that you'd be back for a few days before returning to New York to complete the filming of Sherlock Holmes. So when Si-Hing Jim announced you'd be teaching a special, all-level class, I was there with bells on.

We were warming up when my peripheral vision caught your dark eyebrows and eyes like night floating above your black work-out suit in the dark doorway. You did little more than grunt, a wry grin the only indication of your happiness at arriving "home" once again. The energy in the room became palpable as every head turned to you and every body began pumping adrenaline in anticipation. Ever the kindly father figure, Dale passed me with a whispered warning as you stepped onto the mat and the students began circling the room: "Keep your guard up!"

Watching the way the other students avoided you as you jogged through the group, looking to test how well each had stayed in shape in your absence, was like watching a flock of birds over a vineyard when a hawk flies over, the near-panic passing from one to the next until the whole flock has turned, and turned, and turned again. As much as they wanted you there, they were wary, clearly nervous.

And then you passed in front me. Jogging backward, eyes locked on mine, infinitely black, unblinking, and seeing everything at once.

I was totally lost for a heartbeat (okay several very rapid heartbeats), wearing what I'm sure was a ridiculous grin, too excited to be cautious, as yet untested and unaware what you were capable of. A key synapse finally fired off, a little late for my own good, perhaps. I remembered to watch your elbows, not your eyes. Watch the leading elbow...guard the center line...two of the most important first principles... Finally, either uninterested or, I imagined hopefully, satisfied that the sashless student did something right, you turned away. A hawk, intent on cutting down another sparrow from the flock.

I took a breath. It was a conscious effort.

The class you led WAS intense. And there was an eagerness among the students, a desire to please. Or perhaps, survive. I was suddenly grateful to be among them. All of the effort to physically get to the Academy over the last few months finally came to fruition. This was why I was here.

Thank you for the time and energy you spent in class that day, especially given that you were only in town for such a short time. After class, we all very much enjoyed the hilarious, suspenseful, fascinating stories of your filmmaking escapades and frustrations.

And, finally...though I fear it will be my downfall when next we meet on the mat...thank you for letting the littlest sparrow pass through your talons unscathed, thusfar. I hope one day to at least approach the level of proficiency of Si-Hing Craig (whose battle on the mat with you was really quite something to watch). Until then, however, I humbly but fervently await your return. As do all of your other students, I'm sure.

Deeply and Respectfully,
Angela Orr