The way of the Sword

I tried out for Curtin’s kendo club on Wednesday. Here are my thoughts on it.

Kendo is a highly ritualised art, both efficient and inefficient. It teaches the very basics of landing a strike to four different areas of the body and little deviation thereupon. However, in a swordfight, you would hardly need to use any other techniques unless your opponent was a better kendoka than you, so I think it’s quite cool. The lack of variation or embellishment is disheartening, though I understand the necessity of simplicity.
Stamping the foot and shouting the name of the area you plan to strike are, I feel, more for point-keeping rather than to improve the art itself. It would more than likely alert your opponent that you’re about to strike and, if they’re particularly adept, allow them to prepare to defend the area/s you’re striking at. Plus, after hours of training, I imagine one’s voice would get very hoarse. Furthermore, shinai are very, very different to katanas and so I believe learning to fight with them can hinder swordsmanship itself.
The sensei himself is a terrifying man. He is of little patience and demands great respect and discipline, expecting utmost obedience from all of his students. While I respect him as a swordsman, I would not want to learn from him for any extended period of time.

So no, I will not be picking up kendo for the moment. Tryouts for Wushu were moved to a time I couldn’t make, but my first lesson for karate is on Tuesday.
Couldn’t find the capoiera or judo club, but I’ll keep looking.

Also something important I’d like to mention…

These past few months I have let my arrogance consume me. While I still respected and sought to learn, I did not allow myself to see just how very much I have yet to learn. I aspire to once again humble myself, as I did in January 2007, and return to my roots as a warrior. I remember now, and must do so always, why I learn the arts:

Bushido.

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Fearless

I know I write about this a lot but it’s just such a big part of my life. I was reading a book I found amongst my Dad’s ancient tomes. It was written in 1962 and is a compilation of secret martial art techniques and styles from around the world, their basics and their principles. I was reading a chapter on hardcore Indian boxing and I thought, Would I ever want to learn this? Admittedly, being able to take a full strength punch to the face without batting an eyelash would have its advantages, and being able to punch steel walls for hours without injury would be impressive, but… The philosophy of basically being completely and fully able to kill your opponent doesn’t sit with me. The more vicious you are, the more you let go of morals and limits and mercy, the more powerful you become. But it is those inhibitions, that morality that makes us human, able to judge when enough is enough. Animals can kill in rage but humans can choose to kill in perfect calm, in cold blood. And I don’t want to be one of the people where strength and domination is the number one reason for training. It’s just not worth what you’d have to give up. And should I ever come across an Indian boxer, I would feel no shame in losing to him, because I have more to live for than that.

Now I’m not so sure I want to learn Wushu or the more deadly arts, just because of what the power implies… Strength to kill and cripple should never be taken lightly, and only with purpose. Maybe I don’t want that power. Heh.

I’m really keen on capoeira at the moment. When I was learning to dance with Caysin, I busted out my poor attempt at the jinga. The dance teacher recognised it and started playing with me, and that was really cool. It’s an awesome form of dance and really athletic. If my shoulder ever heals I’d love to pick it up. Plus it’s mostly harmless and serves as a cool party trick. Hardly risk of death, unlike krav maga for instance (sorry Derrick). Or maybe I’ll just pick up French knitting, ’cause that’s kinda cool too…

A Play by the Marshalls, Part 2

John: Sock slips on the smooth carpet of Genting and falls down three stairs and nearly breaking what’s probably a very expensive vase.
John: I just fell down the stairs. Thanks for noticing Mum.
Mum: Sits and stares blankly at the wall.
John: Mum, I just fell down the stairs.
Mum: Sits and stares blankly at the wall.
John: I can’t believe this. I’m going to see what I can get away with.

Two minutes later…

John: I killed a man in New York.
Mum: Stares blankly at the elevator.
John: Cracks up laughing.

My Holidays Part 2

Now that my holiday has concluded, I have one or two points to add…

My bajillionaire uncle (the one with the plantation) giving us free accommodation at the five star Highlands Hotel in Genting. Furthermore, we didn’t just stay in an ordinary room- we stayed in the executive suite of "Club Elite" on the 17th floor. It was by far the nicest place I have ever stayed in my whole life.

The theme parks at Genting. Because several five star hotels in the misty mountains aren’t enough, throw in a few theme parks why don’t you, just for a ripping good holiday. Those rides were magnificent, the Flying Rollercoaster in particular. Eugene and I yelled "Meine Kampf!" and laughed maniacally, to the amusement of all within earshot I imagine.

The Log Flume ride. It’s one of those ones where you sit in a log-boat and go rushing down a steep decline getting sprayed by gallons of water. Eugene and I were absolutely soaked, and laughing we decided to look as wet and miserable as possible when we pulled in to the station. The sight of us, looking down with wet hair in our eyes, hunched over and glancing up briefly to meet the eyes of those next in the ride… It must’ve been terrifying because two girls at the front of the line just looked at us before climbing out and leaving. Eugene and I couldn’t stop laughing. But seriously, we saved them from a soaking, so really it was a favour…

Dreamz, also at Genting, was a illusionist show crossed with Cirque du Soleil choreography/dancing with a live band. My favourite magic trick was when the magician was chained down to a platform and put in a box while a gigantic jigsaw came down to saw him in half. He used his "magic" to undo most of the locks, but he didn’t have enough time to break the last one as the saw cut him in half sending shreds of his shirt everywhere. Children cried but I grinned. His two halves, torso and legs, moved independently of each other, and after being wheeled around for a bit, he put himself back together, used his "magic" to raise the saw and flattened the box without ever touching it. Pretty sweet, ne?

The arcade at 11pm! Eugene and I wandered around wasting money on various games before finding Silent Hill. We played that for a little over an hour, shooting the incarnations of some poor girl’s tortured past (or something). It was awesome and terrifying.

Ordering pizza to our room at 1:30 in the morning! Just ’cause we could! I ate that badboy like it was my last meal, and damn did it taste good.

Going for a drive/walk with dear Yi Qian. It was truly wonderful to spend some quality time with her at last and to learn a little more about what I’ve missed this past year. Good luck for Canada my dear cousin! Gambatte!

A certain pink "Vietnam kimono" made from Vietnamese silk. It was beautiful and embossed with floral designs, almost sakura, and I thought of Bethwyn immediately. So, struggling not to show too much interest, I asked the lady behind the counter how much it was. When she wrote down the price I had to read it three times to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. 130000 dong? That was… $12! Holy shit! No, no don’t panic, keep calm, don’t look like you’re interested. Even though it’s an insanely good bargain it’s still traditional to haggle. So… 120000? Okay? Done! Yaaahooooo!

A pimpingly awesome red and gold gown for myself. I just found out it’s reversible, so it also has a black side with a red dragon emblem. Awesome.

Dance classes with Caysin! I learned the very, very basics of hip hop: the up bounce, the down bounce, the knee lift and the head… nod. It was surprisingly difficult. I only joined to appease Caysin- I’d wanted to learn break dancing but my left shoulder had been hurting so much that I couldn’t even lift my arm above my head. However, Caysin dropped out about two minutes after the class started, and then the remaining three people in that class slowly wandered off. Leaving me with the teacher. Bouncing. It was actually really fun once I got past my inhibitions and let go a little bit. I think with a little more practice I might actually enjoy dancing, now that I kinda know how. Kinda.

Archery! As well as being awesome in every way imaginable, Genting had an archery field. Unfortunately because of my shoulder injury I could only shoot two arrows with my right hand, which were excruciating by themselves, before switching to my left hand for the remaining 24. I’m not particularly good, but I like to think if I could use my right hand I’d be all right. All the same, it was AWESOME.

Eugene and I watching Inkheart at Gerney Plaza, Penang. Two tickets plus a large popcorn and drink? RM28.50, or roughly $10AU. We went nuts.

Even more tosai! Yaaaay!

Shiki in general. She’s the most brilliant, beautiful 10-year-old out there and she’s going to accomplish so much in life. I admire her for remaining on a higher level of thought than most people consider possible for one so young- she’s highly observant and very mature, though I can tell she enjoys acting like a kid too. I also admire her maturity when she’s upset- she doesn’t scream or cry or hit, she just becomes very quiet and she might leave until she’s feeling better. I wish I could do that. Sweetest kid.

Hiro Nakamura, in "Saving Charlie" (a Malaysian best-selling book based on the brief romance between Hiro and Charlie in Season 1).

Hm… that’s all that comes to mind for now! Good stuff though, holidaying. Pictures hopefully posted soon. Ja, ne?

EDIT: Oh and, I’ve gotten a replacement simcard so essentially, I’ve got a new phone. It is, however, quite empty. So if you’re reading this would you be so kind as to either leave a comment, send a text or send an email with your number on it? Many thanks :)

My holidays

So Vietnam! And Malaysia. Rather than keep a travel journal like I originally intended, it’ll just be easier to write about what parts of the trip stand out for me.
 
Crossing the road. The fastest way to commit suicide, probably, is to try and walk across the road. My aunt, having been in Vietnam for a full one hour, nearly got ploughed down by a motorbike. They don’t even slow down, not even at zebra crossings.
 
Becoming a millionaire overnight. $1AU is around 11000 dong, the Vietnamese currency. Furthermore, everything is insanely cheap. Peddlars tried to sell my cousin a wooden model boat for 80000 dong. We haggled it down to 32000, and I just thought it was hilarious.
 
Peddlars, however, are especially pushy. We were on a boat ride where two of them rowed whilst Eugene and I sat and admired the scenery. Ten minutes before we reached land one of them turned on us and tried to make us buy shirts and bags from her. Also, the boats selling food gave drinks to the rowers and made us pay for them. Weakness is pounced upon- show no mercy and no interest!
 
Watching the sun rise over the mountains from the balcony of my millionaire uncle’s house. This is a man who bought a plantation, demolished the old house, and built it twenty metres to the right just so the sun would be framed perfectly between two mountain peaks. He built his own lake for 20000 ringit, filled with mountain springwater and Japanese koi. It was pretty cool staying there.
 
Seeing a beggar with white films over his eyes. He was standing at the train station holding out packets of tissues for people to buy. I passed him on the way to a shopping mall and six hours later when I returned he was still there. He seemed to follow me with his opaque eyes as I walked past, so I ran back and gave him 10RM for two packets of tissues.
 
Awesome shopping! Both in Vietnam and Malaysia. Got some pimping new outfits, including a silk nightgown.
 
Climbing Penang Hill for the first time. It took 80 minutes and pushed me quite close to my physical limits, but the satisfaction of reaching the top (a goal I’ve had since I was maybe 7) was immense. The scenery was beautiful, too. We left at 6:30am and climbed the first quarter of the hill in the darkness of night. But the sunrise was immaculate, and some of the views breathtaking.
 
Having one of my aunt’s dogs walk up to me and lick my hand. It was starved and abused, its ribs showing and it skulked around keeping its distance from everyone who shunned it. I wanted to cuddle it and feed it schmackos all day. I felt so bad for not wanting to pet it (because I’d have to wash my hands again). I promise to pet it if I see it again.
 
Praying at Buddhist temples.
 
Being called a ninja by my uncle.
 
Seeing the preserved body of Prime Minister Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum where he rested was guarded by immense numbers of guards and the room itself with his body had dimmed light and deathly silence. Four guards surrounded his body, staring straight ahead, pistols at their hips. I spent most of that trip wondering if there would be a way to infiltrate and escape alive if I wanted to do something to his body. I reasoned I’d be shot dead within three to ten seconds. There was an incredible reverence about the place and I bowed to him.
 
My many relatives. Let me see if I can name them all. Ignore my terrible attempt at spelling. Read them out loud, I dare you. Yi Qian, Sien Sien, Chen Chen, Aunty Shirley, Lieu Shu, Aunty Susan, Siao Shu, Shicky, Colin, Wu Shu, Aunty Everlyn, Sin Ler, Qi Shu, Aunty Vivian, Yi Shing, Yi Ching, Ah Chong, Twor Pe, Twor Ku, Twor Kim, Twor Ii, San Qu, San Shu, Shing Yin, Seng Peng, Mei, William, Brian… I forget the others.
 
Having William teach me Chinese chess. He was brutally ruthless, deriving great satisfaction from beating me with tricks that "many beginners fall for this one ah".
 
A riddle, told to me by Colin. Here, I’ll quote it.
"One day there were three fish ah, and the man with the very good gun want to shoot the fish ah. He shot- pong!- and the fish did not die ah. But the other fish which the man did not shooten die lah."
Do you give up?
When he first asked me I didn’t even know what the question was. But it gets better. Would you like to hear the answer? 
"The fish which the man shot at was robot fish, and the shoot –pong!- like this ah and so it hit the other fish."
If you didn’t quite catch that, the first fish which the man shot at was actually magnetic, causing the bullet to swerve and hit the other fish. 
What. The. Fuck.
 
Seeing people wear rice hats as they sold goods, rode bicycles, sat by fireplaces and of course worked in paddy fields.
 
Seeing someone with a pet ox.
 
Seeing this guy on a back of a pushbike holding a shotgun. I can’t be sure if he was discarding a plastic wrapper or an empty cartridge, but it looked pretty freaking real to me. I also saw many, many kids playing with BB guns, which I believe you can buy on the street.
 
Returning to Eden Cake House, the place where I grew up. It still smells the same.
 
Aforementioned river boat ride.
 
Seeing chickens boiled alive and sharks clubbed over the head. And dead carcasses of birds and buffalos being cut up in back streets and sold on front streets. Really makes you appreciate butchers and those friendly little packets of mince you can buy at shopping centres.
 
Having Yi Shing, Qi Shu’s and Aunty Vivian’s 18 month old baby, take an enormous shine to me. She basically held my hand for days and refused to let her mother carry her. We asked her if she wanted to come back to Australia with us, and she said in her little baby voice "Okay!" I felt so bad for Aunty Vivian.
 
Eating tosai! Wooo!
 
Winning 240 ringit within an hour of gambling. My brother and I won 6 out of 7 games. That said, overall we still lost several hundred ringit, which just goes to show… karma sucks!
 
Having a martini with my brother on the top floor of the hotel we were staying at in Vietnam. It was beautiful, the view, and the bar was so alone and empty. The bartender was a young man a little older than me who spoke enough English for us to converse and talk to him about his life. I really miss that kid. The martini he whipped up was pretty smifftacular too.
 
Going to the hotel’s fitness centre with my brother. It was more of a closet than a centre, with four or five machines in the place, but it was still really nice.
 
Wake-up calls! Such a nice luxury.
 
The Vietnamese water puppets, where dragons breathed fire on the stage. Wicked stuff that.
 
Ringing the Bell of a Thousand Truths with my brother.
 
Two ‘indestructible’ remote controlled helicopters that fit in the palm of my hand. Eugene and I have been struggling to make them rise off the ground, so we suspect we’ll need awesome batteries before they reach their full potential, but when they do we’ll make them battle and race. We bought them for about $35AU each.
 
Staying up ridicuously late talking to my dear cousin Yi Qian.
 
Losing my phone. I think I left it at a restaurant table or it otherwise fell out of my pocket during a scuffle with the little’uns. I realised it had gone missing ten minutes after we left, and calling the restaurant staff they searched the place but couldn’t find it. Shortly after, my phone stopped ringing implying someone had turned it off. Tragic, but probably inevitable. I’m grateful to  get a replacement for free when I return to Australia. Oh and by the way, if you’ve been trying to reach me the past week I’ve had no idea whatsoever. Hopefully I’ll get your messages when I get back.
 
 
 
 
Wow, seems like I remembered a lot more than I thought. I’m sure there’ll be much more to come. Beautiful holiday, this. I’m liking my family more and more. Might have to come back next year for adventures in Taiwan :) I’ll update again later. Ja, ne?

Roots

Just re-reading the last entry, I’d like to make a comment or two.
 
I watched a fight scene from a movie in a DVD store yesterday. It was a fight between a Kung Fu master and a Taekwondo master. The styles were so enormously distinct, I could see the advantages and disadvantages of both. But, as I would have predicted, the Kung Fu master beat the absolute shit out of the Taekwondo master, who could (only once or twice) penetrate the former’s incredible guard. So yes, I believe Kung Fu to be a superior art and well worth learning. But not to be the best fighter.
 
That’s my second comment. I am trying, quite hard, to let go of my ego. To stop pretending I’m the best fighter around, to keep telling myself how awesome I am. I know I’m not the best, and I must humble myself, to learn the true purpose of the skills I have learned. And, returning to the humbleness at which I started training, I’d like to learn other arts. Yes, to cover the weaknesses of the others so I might defend myself and my loved ones better. But also out of respect to each art, its philosophies, its teachings, its styles. I believe that the martial arts reflect different ways of engaging with conflict and different approaches to coming out alive at the end. Some I respect more than others, some just look plain fun. All of them are good for the mind, body and soul. I wish to humble myself and learn what I am capable of. That is the reason I first devoted myself to the arts. I must return to my roots so I might continue to grow.
 
 
 
 
Moving on to something entirely different…