Tournament: Round 2!

I entered my second karate tournament yesterday. There were five contestants in my division, which made me hopeful. Particularly when I was advanced to the second round without needing to fight, due to the odd numbers. That meant all I had to do was win one round to secure a medal (I think) and anything beyond that was for glory.

The tournament event started an hour later than it should have. I was nervous as hell and couldn’t stop moving, a huge knot of anxiety in my stomach making me feel slow and heavy like at grading. But after a few pointless stretches, I warmed up with a guy who turned out to be enterring the 14-year-old division, and he whooped my butt! I felt bad, but it was good to warm up and burnt a lot of my adrenaline. After a very long wait, I finally got to test my mettle.

The first opponent was the one who beat me in a previous tournament, the fellow named John. I was getting confused because they were saying "Wait there John, he’s coming to you!" or "One-two John!". I felt like I was in control of the fight most of the time, putting pressure on him, landing more hits and basically being a better fighter. However, I suspect the video Bethwyn took shows otherwise because I didn’t score any points. I lost 0-1, which was regretable but good practice.

To my surprise I was called on for a second round, which I jumped in to. I was a little tired but happy to be fighting again. Once again I felt I was in slightly more control, putting pressure on the opponent who was slow and predictable. However, I didn’t seem to be doing much better, because while I could attack and counter-attack, none of the hits seemed to be scoring. I did take a punch to the forehead which dazed me a little (it was a harmless stun, but they called the doctor over to check for concussion) and no-one scored for the entire three minutes. We went into a tie-breaker round of one minute, where I was penalised for using a reverse backfist twice (considered a dangerous move because you can’t see your opponent as you do it- you just swing and hope you hit something. I do this on instinct when my back is to an opponent because one of us has slipped past the other. This is a habit I’ll have to break for tournament fighting) so the round went to him.

All up an exciting evening, full of nerves and adrenaline. I came away with a few cuts on my right shin (apparently my roundhouses were blocked, but I didn’t feel them at the time) and a few odd bruises I don’t remember getting. I’m not too sure why none of my attacks scored (or why some of the opponent’s attacks didn’t score- they certainly winded me two or three times) but I’ll check that out by re-watching the videos (if I can find a way to brighten them). Thanks to Bethwyn for coming along and Craig for his well-wishes! Better luck for the state matches coming up!

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Gunslinger

Tonight I went for an introductory course on shooting. It was super cheap ($15 from guild, though two people who turned up just to spectate jumped in for free- they were very keen to have newcomers trying their hand) and, in my mind, give me the basic skills of knowing how a firearm operated and how to work it if I ever disarmed somebody and needed to use it for some reason. It wasn’t quite what I expected- there was a brief talk on safety and how the guns operate, but they weren’t pulled apart and we weren’t shown their individual components to know how they operate. This means that if I ever did disarm someone, the closest I could come to disassembling the gun would be (hopefully) removing the magazine. What the course was actually like was everyone being teamed up with an experienced shooter, had a rifle put in their hand and made to shoot at 50m targets. It was great!

I’m being jovial. It was a little more technical than that, learning how to operate single action caliber bolt and lever action rifles. The guys at the Shooting Complex are tournament shooters and consider it a sport rather than a survival tool (rightfully so). Although there are courses to simulate hunting, cowboys and indians and various forms of combat, these guys were mostly into shooting at targets across a field. I fired a few dozen rounds with different sights/scopes, different rifles (winchesters and a magnum) and different ammunition (tiny .22 shells with barely any recoil and .38’s that made my torso move a few inches, spouting fire from the barrel). It was more or less like the intro to archery course I took last year, except much easier to pick up because less technique was involved. It was still a process of you, the weapon and the target all becoming one motion, but the crosshairs helped a lot. Apparently I did really well for my first time- I impressed everyone by not only hitting the target but a good distribution of holes around the middle. I’ll post the photos and results below (if I can count them correctly).

Thereafter we tried our hands at pistols, specifically single and double action magnum revolvers. It was a little harder to aim accurately without a scope but I think I did alright for 25m. While double-action firing (immediately pulling the trigger to shoot, rather than cocking the hammer and then pulling the trigger) is faster and cooler, I was amazed at how less accurate it was. Even with half a second in-between shots to re-align my sights, the bullets went everywhere because of the last second resistance caused by the hammer being drawn back as part of the shot. I also tried one-handed cocking and shooting, which was fun and roughly as accurate as two-handed (if a little slower). Hopefully this implies I might be an average dual-wielder. The recoil was much less than I anticipated- rather than twisting my wrist like Ocelot, it just sort of bent the elbows a little more, relatively easy to absorb. Maybe he just uses awesome guns.

So that’s another weapon down! Although not quite 9mm glocks, I learnt the basics of shooting and found out I’m a "natural" (in the words of my minder), especially given how many different guns I was using (with varying weights, scopes and recoil). It’s strange how I’m naturally skilled in various forms of combat, even without training. If such things exist, I suspect I was a warrior at least once in my previous lives. I’ve now learnt the basics of the bow, the staff (long and short), the katana, the wakazashi, the tanto, the European hand-and-a-half sword and buckler, the battleaxe, bolt and lever action rifles, and single and double-action magnum revolvers. That just leaves fencing, and I’ll have covered all the basics of weaponry. Once I’ve had some practice with a rapier, I’ll hopefully specialise in something more specific, like tonfa, or the katana (which I’m less inclined to pursue because of the large number of people who have dedicated a lifetime to studying it- if I do learn kenjutsu, it will be purely for the art. I have no desire to prove my sword is the strongest).

Let’s see if I can get some photos up.

Scores are as follows (converted to out of 100 for easier reference):
1) Bolt action winchester rifle 81
2) Lever action winchester rifle 91.4
3) Lever action magnum rifle (.38 calibre rounds) 80.2
4) I think this was a (.22) lever action rifle without a scope 84
5) No scope (peep sighting- a special kind of sight) lever action 70
6) Single and double-action magnum revolver (.22 rounds) 73.9 (would probably have been fairly higher if I had stuck to single-action shots)
7) Single-action revolver (.38 rounds) 36 (regretable)
8) Side-on stance one-handed magnum shooting (.22 rounds) 28 (though I’m not sure if they were all mine… could have been 60)

Lever-action winchester
Bolt-action winchester (with scope)

Pyon’s Gaming Night

On Saturday, Pyon and Rebel Empire combined forces to provide a day (and night, and indeed, early morning) of gaming. A dozen consoles lined the hall of Rebel Empire with a section set up for LAN gamers and competitions running all throughout the day and night. There were possibly hundreds of games to play and prizes to be won, and best of all, iaido artsman Kaneda (Can-ay-da, as pronounced by the gaijin) de la Cruz was there.
 
I arrived comparitively late in the day, just after 4pm when the Mario Kart tournament was running. For a while I was bored- the tables of Star Wars and Yugi-Oh cards were beyond me. The consoles weren’t playing anything interesting (though half of them weren’t being used). I didn’t know anyone, and the whole place seemed, well… Geeky. At first it seemed a stereotypical gathering of nerds, coming together to celebrate their love for videogames, Star Wars and anti-socialness. But after I started playing with them, I found I bonded with them in a curious, non-sexual way. I was able to game to my heart’s content, and to be as excited as I liked about seeing epic Soul Calibur fights or playing Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles on the Xbox. And, furthermore, I found other people who were equally excited by such things, and for the day, these nameless strangers became my best friends. United by games, as a certain trader puts it.
 
I enterred most of the tournaments throughout the day. I wouldn’t have had a hope at Mariokart (these guys weren’t pro’s, but they were experienced enough to kick my ass), but Smash Bros… I thought I recognised one of the people who attended- a tournament player codenamed (and excuse my vulgarity, the pseudonym came from my friend and has stuck ever since) Fuckface McGee. He was the only person in the room skilled enough to pose as a serious challenge for me, but for some reason he didn’t enter the tournament. It’s only on reflection that I may have mistaken him for an old schoolmate… At any rate, after two short rounds, I won (not by any great margin, but with a certain skill that showed (in my eyes) I was in another league). The prize? A Resident Evil 4 chainsaw gamecub controller. Holy shit. I tried playing Smash Bros. with it, but due to its funky chain-saw configuration, buttons were everywhere they shouldn’t have been and the control sticks were facing two different directions (up on one was right on the other. It sort of split the hands up so the left hand had to face 90 degrees clockwise to be pointing straight). It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m keen to see if it’s motion sensitive like the PS2 variant. I probably won’t end up using it for tournaments though, cool as it would be, because it would take a crapload of effort to master and would take up all the room in my bag to carry.
 
I also enterred Time Crisis 3 survival challenge (who can progress the farthest), which I came second in. Tekken 6 was amazing with some truly proficient players. I went Hwoarang, pulling out all the stops, but for some reason I found it difficult to use my normal combos and moves and was basically button-mashing my way through. I lost that first round, but enterred the loser’s table to try and fight my way back up the ranks. Naturally I went Christie, the bane of all players. I managed to get into the semi-finals, but didn’t deserve to win against the pros there. Soul Calibur IV came surprisingly naturally to me. In Soul Calibur II, I more-or-less became proficient with Ivy, learning a certain combo that would almost one-hit-kill a player if I landed the first hit. That was on Gamecube, and transferring that combo to Xbox for the first time was not easy. However, I stunned everyone (most of all myself) when I overwhelmed my opponent in the first round without taking a single hit. What surprised me further was learning that he was an undefeated tournament champion and had practically never lost a game. To beat him in a Perfect round was… Unthinkable. Of course after that he wiped the floor with me, but I enterred the loser’s table once again and managed to fight my way back up to him. Although I only knew ONE of the moves I used to use (if I had remembered any of the other 6 or so I could have strung together some fierce combos) I managed to get back into the finals and challenge him again. It was a close match, but I lost 3-2. I was tremendously proud.
 
After all the gaming (at around 11:00 I think), Kaneda-sensei invited people onto the mats to try their hand at stage combat. Now, Kaneda has been training for many, many years. He wears a ponytail down to his waist, and has a cheeky smile and almost squeaky voice. He told us once that in tournaments he would prance around on the mat, saying "Please don’t hurt me!", then as soon as the referee said Hajime!, would let out a roar that stunned his opponents into hesitation. For such a short, sprightly man, he has many years of experience and a fierce warrior spirit which I have recognised only in people who have spent the largest majority of their life fighting. Furthermore, to add to his awesome, he has the reputation of being unbeatable in Soul Calibur, Street Fighter and the Tekken series. In fact, he was Melbourne’s Tekken 2 tournament champion. Are you seeing a corrolation in the games he’s mastered? It was basically part of the tournament that whoever won any of the above games had to take on Kaneda to prove their mastery. After he wiped the floor with me (while I was Christie, that unpredictable wildcard of a character, no less!), he was telling me about the difference in fighting styles between Eddie and Christie, who I thought were clones. He said Christie’s attacks were rounded and higher while Eddie’s were lower to the ground (lower even than Hwoarang’s, which made him the perfect opponent for a Taekwondo artist) and more through. And the hand motion he made to explain "through" can only be described as penetrating. Eddie attacks through the guard rather than around it, he seemed to say. I saw him watching the Soul Calibur screen like a hawk as he analysed the strengths and weaknesses of a character wielding two swords and using them only half-effectually.
 
We did a quick warm-up on the mats (and he was impressed by my eagerness and flexibility, which more or less equalled his and far surpassed everyone else’s) and ran some Hollywood-style drills. The trick in making fighting movies is to hit close to your opponent without touching them, but having them react as if they’d received a real blow. (Unless of course you master zero point- all the speed and contact of a real strike but none of the power.) It was lots of fun pretending to be knocked senseless by a strong right hook, or flinching from a hot iron. Another of the drills we did was simply checking- exchanging sets of attacks, but rather than blocking, just covering the body with the hand so that the attack is re-directed rather than stopped. We got into a good rhythm (which I occasionally broke by throwing in a reflexive kick).
 
Here I got to live my dream from Wai-con. During the convention, he and his students were demonstrating iaido with anime weapons- Kenshin’s sakabatou, Kadaj’s double-bladed katana, Sephiroth’s masamune… His skill was so great he demonstrated a quickdraw on an apple balanced on his student’s head. Before he could do it though, someone asked him to prove it was a real apple so he took a few bites of it. Waiting on the edge of our seats, we watched him unsheathe his weapon and re-sheathe it in a flash. The apple hadn’t moved. The student hadn’t moved. Nothing seemed to have happened. Until his student took the apple off his head and, to his wonderment, found it had been cored. That was his skill.
(Actually it was just a cheap and hilarious trick, but it made me love him all the moreso).
After his performance, I wanted nothing more than to run up on stage and kick him in the face and see if he would block it in time. Expecting Bethwyn would have stopped me, I didn’t act on the impulse. But here, in hand-to-hand combat with him, I was able to test his power safely.

The free-style sequences began, where each person would throw three attacks of any kind for their partner to check. I tried to mix it up, using surprise techniques, varying the combinations of kicks and handstrikes. I caught him off guard a few times, but I knew he was being gentle with me. He was very kind and let me win many of the short exchanges- if he had revealed his true strength I suspect I would have been on the floor before I realised it. But he saw no need to use his true power and humbly, and humiliatingly, allowed me to defeat him in an 8-move choreography we made up at the end. It was really awesome being partnered with someone who I could bounce ideas off and vice versa, getting into a flow of attack, defense, grab and counter-grab. I screwed up a few times, attacking too early or forgetting to block, but when we got it smoothly it was a thing of great beauty. I even learned a few things, like how to throw, how to be counter-thrown and how to check a sweep. It was awesome. He runs classes on lightsaber combat (blending Eastern and Western swordsmanship in a practical and highly entertaining way), as well as iaido for the more traditional students. It’s more for performance and fun than serious training, but I’m probably going to go back at least once just for the hell of it. It was tremendously enjoyable, and he is a man worth respect and admiration.

 
So that was my Saturday afternoon! Now to actually get to work and see if I can finish this essay. I can’t believe how long it took to write this entry… Ja ne!

Karma

I’m going to throw out all the good karma I made today by bragging about it now. I was waiting for the bus at 6:00pm at Curtin after a long day of study and classes, re-reading Eat Pray Love to pass the time. There was quite a sizable group of transmuters waiting to go home, maybe twenty people or so at the one stop. The moment the bus appeared I shut the book and grabbed my stuff, standing and moving to around the front of the line so I wouldn’t lose my place. And then, something stopped me and I asked myself, "Why am I trying to get on first so badly? What difference will  it make if I get a seat or not?" I recalled a story Ajahn Brahm told about a "bodhisattva", I think- someone who deliberately puts themselves last so that others may go before them. And so I stepped out of line, challenging myself to be with discomfort so others could get the seats under the air conditioning. And the moment I put myself last, another bus appeared behind the first, virtually empty. In the bustle of boarding the many buses to get home, I was the only one who noticed it, and when I got on, he told me it was heading directly to Oat St station.

And that, my friends, is why I believe in karma.

Another petal of the lotus

I went to the first of four Learn to Meditate classes today. Dr Lim, the presenter/teacher remembered me from the last time I visited the temple a year or two ago for a full day meditation retreat. In short, he repeated much of what I already knew, but it was truly wonderful to be in an environment designed to still the mind. The cushions, the statue, the very air was full of good will and peace. And although the meditation was brief, I stilled myself enough to realise another great truth: that all things are imperfect, and they are perfectly so. Nothing will ever be whole, or fully realised, complete or perfect. Nothing ever has been, nor ever will be. The world is in a constantly changing state of incompletion/imperfection, and it is perfect just the way it is. I cannot explain why I believe this to be true, except to say that I have seldom ever been as sure of something as I am sure of this. I believe this is what truth is- knowing to the heart of you that is must be so, even if you are unable to say why.

I also want to remind myself (next time I read this) how much I enjoy meditation. Yes it’s bothersome to settle down when I have so many other uses for my time, but it’s such a great pleasure to learn about my mind. And when there is stillness, there is bliss- everything appears sharper, sounds crisper, seems more real and more beautiful. And it is a wonderful thing to see the world like this, a truly happy experience. So find time, and really commit to the moment. After all, those who have not time for prayer and meditation have time for sickness and trouble. Pip pip!

PS: Apologies about the last entry. It seems that I really hadn’t gotten much more organised since first year. Although not quite to the point of tears, I became so stressed I couldn’t so much as go ten seconds without worrying about when I would next find time to study. I’m learning to recognise when I’m stressed, but I need to work on ways of dealing with it. Even though I try to be in the present moment, my subconscious is always worrying about the study I should be doing. I’ll have to work on letting go of this, and responsibly doing only one thing at a time.

It all begins again.

It’s only been a day and I already feel overwhelmed. I had only five hours of classes today (spread out from 8am-4pm) but somehow I feel swamped. I recognise that I’m stressed out, most likely because I’m trying to do too many things at once. Even though I’m not actively thinking of the future, I find it hard to relax in the present moment because there’s always this speech going on at the back of my mind planning out all the things I have to do.

I am going to resume writing to-do lists and see if that helps empty my mind onto organisable paper. Another 5 hours of classes tomorrow, this time spread out from 8am-6pm. Should give me some extra time to catch up with reading, at least. Gotta learn to let go if I’ll be happy, but I’m just so tense and coiled up, like a drowning man holding onto a liferope.

As a strange aside, I met a gentleman yesterday evening. I just left the SWSA meeting in Fremantle and decided to cross the road to Timezone to play some Guitar Hero (because I still had 43 free games left). The machine was positioned right next to Tekken 6, and as soon as I walked near it, the guy on the T6 machine called out to me and asked me to join him. He was Aboriginal, wearing a singlet and smelling strongly of alcohol. I considered it for a moment and sat down next to him to play, simply because there is no union like two strangers united by a common love (or two warriors acknowledging each other and testing the other’s strength). Unfortunately my other card was out of cash, so I had to decline. He was busy playing the 1 player mode, so I left him to it. As I fired up GH, every couple of minutes he’d call to me to watch an incredible replay- the man got so excited he was thrashing as he fought. I didn’t take my eyes off my own screen but I enjoyed watching him have a good, harmless time in my peripheral. Eventually he reached a boss and fought with such passion and fury he actually stood up and started beating the buttons on the machine. He lost one, he won one, and in an epic battle, he lost again. Swearing he got up and started pacing as the Game Over screen counted down, until in desperation he turned to me and said "Quick, give me your card!" I apologised to him, but it was too late- the counter had reached zero. He stared at the screen, paralyzed with despair, until he punched it furiously and left.

Just a story I thought I’d share.

A Busy New Year

Life for me has been going surprisingly well. Uni’s starting back up, and I’ve been surprised at the level of preparation it’s required. It’s taken me hours to buy textbooks, check blackboard, get unit outlines, organise stationery, set up a diary for the year, register for classes and other such things. In addition to my full time studies, I just started my casual job at the library working as a Student Assistant. You know, I don’t think I like working very often. I’d much rather spend the time at home. It’s not that I hate my job(s), it’s that I’d rather not have to do them. I could do a lot worse, of course, working 40 hours a week in a place I can’t stand with people I am tempted to hate, so I’m grateful for what I can safely call a comparitively good job. In addition to my own study and work, I’ve chosen to opt for the role of a student mentor, showing the ropes to fourteen first year social work students. I’ve done training and met up with them once already, throwing handfuls of (what I believe to be) helpful emails out there with limited replies. It’s disheartening, but not unexpected. While I won’t carry their weight for them, I’ll take some time to help them learn all the basic and important information about thriving in university- an experience I want to share out of gratitude to my own medium-term mentor, Tess. Speaking of Tess, I’ve moved into the position of Secretary for the Social Work Student Association (SWSA), Curtin’s student body in the department of social work. So far we’ve had a meeting in Leederville and hosted a morning tea for 40 (we were told to cater for 120: a lesson I am quickly learning) first years. On Wednesday we’re meeting with Robyn Martin, one of the academic coordinators to organise Ron Coleman (a big name in the field of the recovery model of mental health) to join us for a night as a guest speaker.

And all this before uni’s even started.

But you know? Something’s changed in me over the past few months. I remember in second semester first year I couldn’t bring myself to so much as read my unit outlines without breaking into tears. The stress and anticipation of weeks upon weeks of assignments and readings and never an hour to be found for leisure pushed me over the brink before it even started. But this year I’m more than ready- I’ve organised all the expected events that will be happening over the next few months in my personal and study life. My schedule’s a little busier than I would like it to be (with barely any time to see Bethwyn and even less time for video games), but so far it’s very manageable. I haven’t even begun to feel the strain (though I haven’t started studying properly yet).

So what’s changed? I think it’s just the way I look at responsibility. My semester at Centrelink, while trying, taught me many lessons. Of them, the most important is that I can do this. I am more than capable of being a social worker- I have many qualities to really be good at what I do, foremost compassion and maturity. That’s almost all you need to cut it in social work. My keen interpretive/analytic mind and capacity to perceive the pith of both problems and people can take me far yet. Being placed in the field has allowed me to see that I really can be a social worker if I want to, and that knowledge has filled me with such self-assurance that, not to be cliche, I feel there’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it. I could probably even change the world (though I think I have enough on my plate at the moment).

Despite the fact 2010 is looking busier than ever, I’m actually excited to start studying again. A further ego-booster came in the form of an invitation to the Social Work award’s night last Tuesday. Anticipating a stuffy evening of people being congratulated on a job well done, I politely ignored the email until Polly gave me a call asking if I was coming or not. What they had neglected to mention was that I was a prize recipient, so I instantly and candidly said I’d be there. It turns out I got the highest marks in second year! While not staggeringly impressive (80%, 80%, 79% and 81% for the four units), it was still a delightful surprise and further reassured me that I could continue to top the classes if I choose to. I’m not expecting to pull it off again (though it would be nice), but I know I have the capacity (or luck/karma) for it, and that’s enough for me to try my hardest.

What saddens me most about my chock-a-block schedule is how little time I have to see Bethwyn. I met her today for about a half hour when we ate quickly and quietly before heading to the guild reception to sign up for yoga. She rushed back to work while I joined the queue again to sign up for two more courses I didn’t have the extra minute or two to write on the first form I handed in. I’m a little worried that the rest of semester (and possibly life) is going to be like this- little snatches of ‘free’ time between too many responsibilities. I might just have to pick up and leave someday to spend months on spontaneous holiday or in meditative isolation.

Well, better get some sleep. Gotta get up early and meet Bethwyn so we can go shopping for her birthday present before study, work and karate. Pip pip!

PS: I met Garth Nix yesterday. He reminds me of Mr Mueller from Lit- witty with beautiful, flowing language. He told some pretty amazing stories that drew in the audience as they breathlessly waited for what happened next- it wasn’t so masterful that I didn’t realise what he was doing, but it was wonderful to hear an artist at work. As part of one of his stories, he gave a "cursed" silver ring to an 8(?)-year-old kid, which I childishly felt I would have appreciated more. I bought Lord Sunday (at last!) and had it signed to Xin, Nix upside-down/back-to-front. It was quite the pleasure. It seems Bethi might have missed out on meeting Julliet Marillier, but there may be a next year.

PPS: Bert’s surprise graduation picnic went off well! It was a devilishly hot day, and we arrived punctually an hour before Ai Lin, the organiser. When she did arrive, she left again within two minutes and came back another hour later with Bert for his picnic. Compared to Beth’s very Buddhist version of getting to spend some quality time with me watching ducks be ducks, I feel a little ashamed to write that I was a little annoyed at Ai Lin for being  solate, and then keeping everyone waiting while she had lunch at Bert’s house rather than coming to the picnic to eat. It was, however really very pleasant spending time with some old friends. You know, it’s only just occuring to me now that we could have invited some other people to come along and share the festivities. Ah well.
My favourite part of the day was wandering along the path looking for a public toilet. When I finally found one, it turned out to be automatic with a button to open and close/lock the door. The friendly voice on the speaker ran through the process, before playing "What the World Needs Now is Love". The toilet paper was dispensed with the press of a button, and the toilet flushed automatically when the handwashing basin began (or the door was unlocked, for those icky people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom). Brail was above each of the instructions, and the building was big enough for a wheelchair or two. The wide basin had three sensors for soap, water and hot air respectively, and one friendly push of a button later I was skipping off into the sunshine. Banal to you perhaps, but I love toilets (those bringers of cleanliness and taker awayers of filth) and this was a great discovery. I also spent some time enjoying the spring day so much I did the basic obstacle course on the playground and tested my jumping skills by clearing a picnic table after a few tries. Sadly, my skill has diminished, but at least I haven’t lost it entirely. I’ll have to practice free running more often.
By the time I got back about half an hour later I intercepted a search party (headed by Bethi) to make sure that the ducks hadn’t eaten me. Bless her heart.