Saturday, January 15, 2011

Something Different -- How About a Little Kung Fu?

This is horse stance.

Horse stance is one of the basics of the foundation of learning Shaolin Kung Fu.

When you first start in Kung Fu, they make you hold that stance for about a minute.  By the time you get to the Intermediate/Advanced level, they make you hold it about 3 minutes.  But the people in black sash training have to hold it for 5 minutes.

This morning I held it for 5 minutes for the first time.

I took the self-portrait above before I met all of you on Barefoot Fresca blog.  Two years ago, actually.  Around the same time I decided I was going to run a half marathon.  Around the same time I decided to build a base by walking for 8 weeks or so and then walking a 5K as a preliminary to starting to run again.

This was before I knew that my plans to start training for the 2010 Disney 1/2, despite how carefully crafted they had been, were going to end with a bad case of plantar fasciitis.  Before I knew that I was going to have to quit my training the following Thanksgiving.  Before I knew that I was going to adopt a what's-the-use attitude and eat my way through the holidays and gain about 25 pounds.  Before I knew that I was going to get my can-do spirit back and begin again.  Before I knew that when I began again I was going to end up trying barefoot running.  Before I knew I was going to start another blog ...

That was then.

But this is now:  One of the reasons (amongst many others which I've iterated on this blog) I wanted to train for the 1/2 marathon was that I was slowly working my way towards getting into the black sash training at my Kung Fu school.  I had heard that the black sash training was tough, and I thought that some aerobic exercise would help my stamina.

Well, the time has come.  After four years of working to build my Kung Fu base, I have been invited to black sash training.  And the first class was this morning.  It was hard, and I'm very glad that I have been barefoot running because it helped me so much to get through that very tough class this morning.

I've come a long way with this Kung Fu stuff.  About five years ago I was looking for a mother/daughter athletic activity we could do together.  I was worried that I was not a good role mother as a mom.  My children never saw me participating in any physical activities.

As I was spending my time contemplating what athletic activity we could pursue -- run together?  take ice-skating together? roller blade? ride bikes? swim? -- my kid surprised me by coming up with something of her own.  How about we take Kung Fu?

Kung Fu?


Well, I knew it was a martial art at least.  Was it like karate?  It wasn't exactly what I had been thinking of, but why not?  Let's check it out.

I thought the forms were pretty.  I had liked taking dance and gymnastics when I was young, and it kind of fit in to that concept.  I didn't think there was any way at my age and level of conditioning that I'd achieve anything in it.  I figured it could be as good an exercise class as any I might go to and give me a nice workout and improve me somewhat.  So, we joined the school.

The first classes were agonizing and difficult.  I felt a knot of fear in my stomach each time I headed over to Kung Fu class in anticipation of the pain I'd be in, and the how much effort I would have to exert.  I also did not enjoy being the slowest and least member of the class.  It was a humbling experience. My face would go beet red and I'd be huffing and puffing during the sets of conditioning exercises -- jumping jacks, crunches, push-ups -- that occurred at the start of each class.  The instructors would look nervously over at me, "Mrs. Barefoot Fresca!  Are you okay?" and "Breathe, Mrs. Barefoot Fresca, breathe!!" (Of course I was not known to them as Barefoot Fresca then.  In fact, I wasn't even Barefoot Fresca then, but I'm using my stage name here to tell the story).

Well, I bet you can guess what happened.  That's right.  Little by little the body responded, as the body is wont to do with physical activity, and as the law of accommodation kicked in and my physical conditioning improved -- lo and behold -- I found myself actually really loving it and becoming interested in really learning how to do it, not just showing up for an exercise session.

And after a bit, I even began to believe that maybe I, too,  could proceed to black sash training

Well, the time has come.  I was so ready for it this past Fall, but something unanticipated happened.  I got a little Kung-Fu-de-conditioned in the past couple of months.  It's kind of a long story, but my schedule got pretty full and trying to juggle and balance everything resulted in my Kung Fu suffering a bit in the process.

So, my first day back after a little Kung Fu hiatus was this stepped up, incredibly intense Kung Fu workout.  Boy oh boy was I glad that I was in condition for it aerobically.  That helped a lot.  Mostly all I had to do was contend with a drop in my level of muscular strength.  I know that will come back in about 3 weeks.

It was a tremendously positive experience.  This school is very special and the black sash class is very encouraging.  We're all in it together.

There was a bit of pressure on because if someone "messes up" the whole class has to begin all over again.  I was the cause of everyone having to begin again a couple of times, but there were others there who caused it too, so it wasn't too bad.

At one point, we had to do these battle-line kicks across the floor, which entailed hopping on one foot.  Hopping across the floor when you weigh what I weigh is no easy feat.  I had been practicing them in the regular Kung Fu classes, but had not been able to make it across the floor. I would hop about 6-10 times and then step and then hop 6-10 times, then step.

But that wouldn't do today.  As soon as I took that step, he called everyone back to begin again.  Oh no! They'll all be mad at me for making them begin again!

But they weren't.  Everyone started cheering for me.  Sifu said, "yes, you can," and I made this act of the will, contracted my abs, focused on making sure I landed squarely centered beneath me each time, did not get my foot ahead of me or behind -- hey, kind of like running barefoot! -- and to my great surprise I made it across.  Not only once, but several times on each leg.

So, as you can imagine, I'm feeling pretty good (but a little stiff and sore).

I don't have as great a motivation to run barefoot in the cold as I did before.  Before, I was doing it to keep my feet conditioned for Disney.  I will try to run barefoot when it's favorable conditions out there, but I may be wearing my Vibrams more often for the winter months now. Monday will be my first run since Buzz and Woody's 5K last week, so we'll see what happens.

But I think for the winter months I may be writing a bit about Kung Fu on this blog, since my workouts for that have now stepped up in frequency and intensity and I'll be working for that black sash test in June.  I hope you will follow along as I write now about both barefoot running and Kung Fu black sash training.


Bob (Downtown Runner) said...

Cool photo Fresca! And congratulations of your new martial art endeavor.

All of my four kids took Tae Kwon Do, eventually getting their black belts. It was a really great activity for them.

I trained with the two younger kids and in the end the school gave me a BB too, probably out of sympathy and so I'd stop embarrassing them.....

Keep up the good work!

Avocational Singer said...

Bob, it's great to train alongside one's kid, isn't it? Martial arts is an amazing family activity.

Staci said...

Great picture. Looking forward to hearing more about Kung Fu.

barefootjosh said...

I really liked the "learning how to do it" line. I just commented on Neil's blog saying something to that effect re him taking boxing.

The benefits of dance, martial arts, yoga, and such is the growth of the brain more than the muscles. It's a great way to condition the body to wake up each morning and ask the brain, "what are we doing today?" instead of "we're not leaving the couch, right?"

Julie said...

What a great milestone you've gotten to! Looking forward to hearing more about the martial arts aspect - would love to do that when I'm more in shape.

Avocational Singer said...

Julie, I would have thought I needed to be in better shape to start, but I started when I was at a pretty low level of fitness and overweight. It wasn't easy, but sometimes just starting instead of waiting can be the way to go.