Archive for January, 2009

29
Jan
09

Back in the saddle

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Off season’s officially over, kids. stay tuned….

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19
Jan
09

The end of the sword

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We wrapped up our Chinese new year school show ( more pics pending) for yet another year, and at the end of this one, I felt particularly… old.

The day before the show, I had sequestered myself in the front room of school to get some broadsword form practice in, as I had been attempting to do for the past couple weeks…

While lion dancing is the most important and strenuous part of the show (and thus the part I should have been training for), the sword form is the most… personal part. Picking up my sword for the first time after a severely long hiatus from martial arts, a single run through of the form left me an exhausted wreck, and I put forth all my effort to crafting out a solid form for the upcoming season.

…Everyone was busy on the eve of the school show, fixing heads, arranging food trays and so forth, while I slipped away after the bulk of the work to get some serious last minute practice in. Having been a while since I picked up the sword, it was heavier than I could remember, and the finesse I had developed over the years had all but dissipated. The experience was retained, but the body struggled to keep up. On top of that, I felt the form needed a bit of sprucing up since the last few years had been a rehash of the same performance. This year, I endeavored to make the form less of a dance and more my half of a fight: cuts to be fierce, stabs tangible, blocks and chops to be meatier. Most of which had been steadily accomplished through the days of banging out practice in the back yard.

So, again, on the eve of the show, with confidence in my training (last minute as it may have been), I began the final tailoring of the performance, running through the form at various levels of speed and ferocity.

Catching my breath, I put my sword down as some people came in to set up the above mentioned buffet. at this point, my sword was accidentally knocked over from where I had leaned it, and it broke.

The blade of the sword was a single piece of metal, running through the handle to the pommel at the end. I pulled the pommel and it gave way, revealing the stem, the metal bit in the handle, had snapped. Sifu put the final word on it, stating the sword was indeed broken and unsuitable for any performances as the blade should now freely dislodge, liable to hit an audience member. Giving it a couple good tugs, the blade stubbornly remained in place, but I was still forbidden to use it during any performance, thus rendering it a decoration piece.

I had borrowed Melissa’s sword on the day of the show (which I suspect I’ll be using for the remainder of this year’s shows), and it was then that I suddenly felt keenly aware of the years past. Before the pre-dance ceremony, again, I slipped away to practice. I went out back, down the fire escape to the empty lot behind the school, a vestigial parking space for neighboring stores and garbage dumpsters. With the business of preparation and numerous guests flooding the school, this is the only place to be completely unseen and ignored. I began practicing there in the quiet solitude what I would shortly be doing in the front of the school, surrounded by onlookers, moments later.

In the cold, quiet night, cutting through the air with heavy grunts (more than there used to be), I began to recall the night of my first show, when I then also crept away there to practice the sword form in hopes to alleviate the powerful nervousness that engulfed me. My first show, first time before a crowd of people, desperately trying to remember the moves and steps of the form, walking myself through the whole thing as often as I could. I remember finally stepping up in the middle of the street, ready to perform, recalling at that moment sifu passed the drum sticks, the command center of the show, to someone best described as a dignitary of our martial art. My next memory is completing a jump, completely forgetting where I was (both physically and in the form), and bowing out.

So here I was, seemingly a century later, trying not to be nervous, but for all different reasons. This time around, I didn’t have to recall parts of the form, they have since been ingrained in me, and I didn’t care about being late to the ceremony or looking foolish in front of others. Indeed, I wanted to do well because I didn’t want to let myself down; I wanted to show myself that I still “had it,” trite as that may sound.

Nostalgia remained in my head during my pre-performance ritual of stretching and “zoning out”. I didn’t watch anyone else perform, I just went away again and prepped myself to go on after the hand forms, as usual. Stepping out in front of everyone, a different man than I was 5 or so years ago, banged out the form in that flash of a moment, and took off, satisfied, to prepare for the lion dancing.

With this sense of passing time still lingering in me, I again remembered how many years ago I followed the senior members around, fairly clueless, yet still ambitiously hoping to get at least a dance or two under the head of the lion and not solely the tail. As captains of the lion dance teams, the senior students wore ceremonial pants that corresponded with a particular lion head. They would be performing the most important parts, the beginning and the end, while the inexperienced performed the tail, and tried desperately to keep up with their leaping, dancing, and kicking. This year, I emerged upstairs in the school floor, where two students I hardly knew took my sword, handed me the pants for a brand new lion head and followed me back out, nervous.

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I mercifully had another well trained senior student with me to back me up, as I struggled to get through the show. My back was killing me (still does), my arms could hardly hold up the lion head, and I cursed my lack of training as fireworks exploded under me. The show finally ended, and I praised the FNG’s for a job well done, to which one said” I hope I didn’t trip you up too bad, I was just trying to keep up.” How things change.

The season has just begun, and I’m looking forward for this one because it’s the first one in a while that I can fully dedicate myself to. It’s also time to re-commit myself to the training I began so long ago and have taken for granted this past year. I might find myself in another 5 years, with a new sword in hand, looking up to a sea of nervous, fresh faces. Who knows who will be around to train them. I hope that I will be ready to do so.

-Alex-