Saturday, 28 February 2009

Don't Fight Force With Force

There is an old story about a mighty tree and a lowly blade of grass. The grass looks up to the tree, impressed by its girth and its gnarled, weathered bark and wishes to be so strong. When a powerful hurricane comes, the great, old tree is upended, pulled from its roots and left to die, while the tiny blade of grass bends with the wind and survives. Sometimes it is better to bend to a greater force and let it pass by than to try to withstand it head on, or fight back with equal strength. The allegory is apt, I think, for studying the second basic principle of Wing Chun:

Don't fight force with force.

What does that mean, exactly?

As a mother, I watch my children face me head-on on a daily basis. "I don't want to go to school!" my preschooler cries, as I struggle to pull her shirt over her ducking head. She's learning to use the toilet, but has accidents now and then. Does spanking and shouting work? Or the encouragement of stickers and special privileges? Take a guess.

The nail won't go any deeper as I try to hang my favorite painting from the newly-painted living room wall. I slam the hammer down as hard as I can, bending the nail and sending the hammer head careening off to the side, where it makes a glaring, half-moon dent. At that point, it's all I can do not to throw the hammer across the room in frustration.

Don't fight force with force.

Wing Chun was developed by a woman (or so the legend goes). And as strong as many women like to believe they are, there remains a high percentage of us whose bodies will never be as strong as those of the men in their lives. I can admit it--while I know it would never happen, if my husband and I were ever to go head-to-head, he'd most likely lay me out in a matter of seconds. I could never stop his fist from moving forward. But I could send him off course. And it doesn't take much, once you know how to guard your centerline. A well-directed, forceful slap will change the vector of a moving fist. A little goes a long way.

I should point out that I said IF we were to ever throw down. There was one lesson I learned long, long ago, so far back that I'm not even sure where it came from. There is one sure-fire way to keep from ever being hit.

Don't be there in the first place.

Sounds stupidly simple, doesn't it? But think about it: if you're not walking in a dark alleyway, no one can jump you there, can they? If you walk in the middle of the quiet roadway instead of on the sidewalk near the dark and threatening landscaping that dresses the homes in your neighborhood, you'll have a much better view of anyone approaching you, won't you? And more time to react. (I'm assuming, of course, that this isn't a thoroughfare and that you're smart enough to get out of the way if a car approaches you.)

Of course it doesn't address every situation--humans are collective creatures, after all. We like to be around our own kind. Sometimes we forget to check our 6 o'clock. Still, it's an effective technique, in its own right.

Don't want to get hit? Don't be there.

It's as simple as: Don't fight force with force.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Guarding The Centerline

After another class with Si-Fu (and his reassurances that he'll remain in L.A. for a while while filming Ironman 2), I've decided to take it to the next level. I've got my first sash. I'm ready to move beyond Beginner. I'm pumpin' up the volume and goin' for the gold. Er, black.

Holy crap.

Why am I freaking out? Let's see...I'm a 38 year old, out-of-shape, part-time college instructor, mother of two little girls, and a struggling writer. I'm not entirely sure how I'll be able to afford this. Not just the classes themselves, they're expensive enough. But what about the plane tickets or drives to L.A.? Once a month is one thing...but once a week? What the hell am I doing?

I know this is something I want--and want badly--so I'm going to take the plunge before the water dries up. It's certainly not a blind leap. I've spent a lot of time studying and planning this path. Testing the waters, as it were. No, it's more of an educated jump. I just hope the water's deep enough to keep me from hitting the bottom.

I don't have some grand, over-arching vision. I'm not doing this to save my soul or change my life or become Lara Croft (though, come to think of it, those all sound like great ideas). As much as I joke about throwing down with senior student Robert Downey, Jr., I'm realistic enough to understand it ain't gonna happen. Seriously, friends. I'm not that stupid.

So I guess I'm doing this because... because...

Because I want a piece of something that is indefinable. A piece of mind, perhaps? I know there's another side to Wing Chun, one that involves meditation, healing with pressure points, and development of internal energy, or "chi". I haven't seen it yet, but then again, I've only been there on occasional Friday nights. I haven't had the chance to talk about these components with Si-Fu or my current instructor, Si-Hing Jim. I'm hoping those are part of the next training level. Part of what I'm looking for is the opportunity to learn from a man I believe is destined to become a Master. Granted, I don't have much to compare him to, but as far as I can tell, he's an amazing instructor.

Just in case the thought presented itself, it doesn't feel like any kind of cult. No one's preaching, pushing, or intimidating. So far, the only person I've heard of who's had a life-altering experience there has been Robert Downey, Jr. And I'd say he's none the worse for the wear, wouldn't you?

So why this? Why now?

Maybe it's a family thing. At age 35, my father decided he didn't want to be stuck a police Sergeant in Vacaville, California, so he moved us all to L.A. He wanted to work for the best S.W.A.T. team in the nation. He followed his dream, despite all of the nay-sayers and hardships, and he eventually earned the right to own that dream in real life. An element leader, an expert marksman, a hostage negotiator, a member of the climbing cadre, and the underwater strike team--his accomplishments are too many to list. He's not my only inspiration, either. My mother is a breast cancer survivor. At age 50, she decided to learn how to S.C.U.B.A. dive, spent over a year in Writer's Bootcamp learning the craft of screenwriting, subsequently wrote four feature films, and is currently working on a novel. So you see, I have a lot to live up to.

Life doesn't end after 30. There's just too much to do.

I'm not going off selfishly on my own. I'd rather take my kids and dear husband along with me, on this ride. It certainly couldn't hurt to see Michael and I both get into shape, or Emily and Caely learn some discipline and self-preservation skills. And there have been unexpected side benefits. I've always been a white-knuckle flyer and the one-hour plane trips have helped me conquer one of my worst fears. It's been good to spend time with my parents and connect with people I've known since I was a kid. And, ultimately, I'm learning a new skill that I'm passing on to my family. One that could even save my life one day, literally or figuratively.

I'm not quite ready to uproot the four of us and move to L.A. the way Dad did. I'm not trying to make bold pronouncements or grand gestures. I'm not quitting my job or leaving my spouse. I'm not making promises to my kids that I don't intend to keep. I'm not becoming a "new" person or changing my religion. No.

I am, quite simply, trying to learn Kung-Fu.

Is it worth all the effort? Dear friends I'll be happy to share the journey with you, should you be so inclined. So let's start with the very first principle of Wing Chun, shall we?

Guard your centerline.

As I understand it, this basically means protect your middle and guide any blows away from the center of your body. It doesn't take much force to nudge a moving fist off its course toward your nose. And if you do it correctly, your attacker ends up with you at his side, roll punching him in the jaw before he can turn and get in another shot.

But I think tonight I'd like to look at it another way. My family is the line that keeps me centered, keeps me grounded, keeps me sane.

And you know what?

Perhaps that's what this is really all about.