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Birthday drinks for [ profile] a_carnal_mink at the Tyranny of Distance. Lovely to catch up with her and [ profile] kits_the_dm . Had nice paella for dinner, then the stress of the last week hit me and I had to go home and sleep.

Karate. Lunch with Toshi, a fellow karateka who's going back to Japan for a year.

Dinner at Ito, then off to the East Brunswick Club for Sugar Kitten Cabaret. Which was tight and funny and fun, as well as raising money for WIRE. Thumbs up to [ profile] missmalice  for organising it.

Lunch in Royal Park with the High Tea Society.

I'd offered to make gluten-free scones. They came out less like delicate little pastries suitable for elegant dining and more like something you'd put in a sling-shot and use to slay giants.

Still - the High Tea included antique linen, a working gramophone and a game of croquet. Plus lots of charming people. (waves at all the new people we met, and whose LJ names we've promptly forgotten).

Sunday night was finished off with Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game at Alex's house.
Board game geekery... )

First day of two weeks leave. *relaxes*

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Survived my first ever sparring class at karate. Sensei only kicked me in the head twice. : )

I spent most of the class trying to work out exactly how long my arms actually are. It seems like something I should know by now, but I've always been terrible at judging distances.

The other thing I need to work out is how to block kicks.

Punches, I kinda know what I'm doing there. Kicks, though... I need to a) spot that a kick is coming and b) block it properly, rather than just waving my hands vaguely in its general direction. Otherwise Sensei will be kicking me in the head many, many more times.

For those who missed it, Jel's photo of me in my sparring gear:

And finally: jockstraps feel really strange.

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Well. I passed my Advanced Yellow Belt grading.

Had serious doubts I was even going to grade the last few days. Came down with a  virus or something on Wednesday, have been feeling very drained and tired since. I felt better this morning, but it was better in that nebulous  "Should I grade? Should I rest? I don't know..." kind of border zone.

I went. I graded. I actually feel better now that I have since Tuesday.

But I'm still going to go have a nap.
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On Saturday, my sensei posted a list of the candidates for the next grading. My name wasn't on the list. I had a polite word with him last night, and now it is.


This is a significant grading: I'll be going for my Advanced Yellow belt. Which in Seido school is the belt at which you start sparring.

I'm very excited. I mean, I'll suck horribly at it, and I'll end up covered in bruises. But this is why I took up karate: I want to do more than just punch and kick the air.

For my last grading, I invited my family along.This time I thought I'd invite my friends along too. And so...

An Invitation To My Friends:

Want to come watch me prance around in white pyjamas? Want to watch blackbelts whack me in the stomach while I do sit-ups? Want to see a room full of grown people yell in Japanese?

Then come to my grading!

Date: Saturday, 20 December
Time: 12 noon until about 2pm. (Try and get there 10 minutes early)
Place: Seido Karate Melbourne, 439 Swan St. Richmond.

Seriously, though - my karate means a lot to me, and I'd love to be able to share this with some of you.

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I've been doing a little bit of reading about Zen and martial arts. And I came across this quote:

"You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair."
- Taisen Deshimaru

I found the quote here: Zen in the Martial Arts.

I don't really know a lot about Zen, but it's always amused me that it's a philosophical practice for both swordfighters and painters.

One of the principles behind Zen is that you don't think, you just Be. Or as Morpheus put it in the Matrix: "Stop trying to hit me, and hit me."

Thinking about an action, analysing it using the conscious mind, can introduce all sorts of doubts and hesitations. If you try to hit someone, you hesitate, and you miss. But if you just hit them, you bypass the analytical conscious mind and the 'subconscious' systems take control. The action seems to flow spontaneously.

John Lennon said he didn't write his best songs, they just came to him*. That's the aim of Zen.

Meditation teaches us to turn off the conscious mind, to allow the deeper lever to take control.

Which is all fine and well, provided these deeper levels know what they are doing.

And that is why we train. First we train with our conscious minds, learning the techniques, correcting them, repeating them so that they are stamped into our subconscious. Then we disengage, and let our "instincts" take over.

I put instincts in quotes because the word carries connotations of "natural' or "innate", and neither of those are true. Our instincts are learnt. They only feel natural or innate because they bypass our conscious reasoning.

First you train. Then you forget.

I can't remember where I heard that quote from. I think it was one of my Tai Chi instructors. First you train, programming your instincts. Then you forget, disengaging the conscious mind and letting the subconscious systems take control.

For an artist, this means free, spontaneous brushwork.

For a sword fighter, it means you act fast, and (literally) keep your head.

* I'm paraphrasing from memory here.


Oct. 15th, 2008 10:10 am
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Went to the doctor this morning about my sore ribs.

Doctor: "Yep. That's a cracked rib. It's not too bad, but you're off karate for the next two or three weeks."

Me: *sulk*

There's a grading in three weeks. Looks like I won't make it. Which is a right bugger, because after this grading I can start sparring. (And -- no doubt -- start injuring myself in all sorts of new and interesting ways.)

Oh well. Osu. I will have patience.


If yesterday's post about Kate Perry left a sour taste in your mouth, here's something positive you can do to cleanse it: GetUp are running a petition urging Parliament to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as mixed-sex couples. You can sign it here:

(And what was with the lack of love for the Veronicas? Don't you lot like pop music or something?)

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It must have been a good weekend. I'm still bruised and aching.

Friday night was Destroid/Diary of Dreams/Covenant. Diary of Dreams were excellent. Covenant were suited-up and magnificent. Destroid were on fire.

Saturday morning, up for two hours of karate. Including a special grappling class that was just myself and two black belts. I hurt my neck and ribs when I screwed up a break fall, but I don't care. It was fantastic fun. Also a sobering reminder that punching and kicking don't count for jack when someone has got you down on the mat in choke-hold.

Saturday evening we went to see Circus Trick Tease at the Fringe Festival. They're three acrobats who dress up in 1940's style costumes and tie their strength and balancing tricks together with some saucy pantomime and a bit of swing dancing.

The tricks were amazing - a headstand on a wine bottle, a handstand on the stomach of the showgirl while she's arched overbackwards in the bridge position. But the thing that really impressed me was the casual grace of the performers, the elegant way they'd swoop up into a handstand, or slide over each other as they came down.

Also: there was a cute little queer love triangle through the whole performance, that ended with the strongman running off with the other male acrobat, leaving the bratty showgirl sobbing on stage and yelling at the audience to fuck off.

Sunday: shopping, recorded some more demos. Then dinner at Cookie for Kate's birthday. Lots of yummy little Thai dishes. Including a mung bean pudding with star anise sorbet for dessert. Gluten and dairy free, refreshing without being too sweet. Very nice.

An excellent weekend. Although I'm feeling a bit like a Leonard Cohen lyric today:

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play


Sep. 18th, 2008 12:29 pm
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Just over a week ago, I was kneeling on the bottom of the sea. Ten metres of teeming blue water stood between me and the surface.

Last night, there were four people in the first karate class. The second one was just me and the instructor.

Restless today. Can't focus on work.

I can understand why people run away to become dive instructors, or warrior monks.
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SLR at Ilk Bar. They started off loud. The owner told them to turn it down. That seemed to throw the band for a bit, but they perked up towards the end. First time I've heard them. Reminded me a bit of early NIN (although I'm sure they'd claim much cooler bands as influences).

Then Cabaret Nocture at La Di Da. There was open doorway between the goth section and the "mainstream" bar. It kind of felt like a Tim Burton film - normal town on one side of the wall, monster town on the other. Only instead of a waif-like Winona Ryder crossing over, we had drunk guys leering at the goth chicks.

Not awesome.

On the plus side, my new tie was a hit. Who doesn't love a cephalopod with gigantic brains?

Up at 8:30 for two hours of karate. New belt means new syllabus, which means feeling confused all over again. But that's good. That's exciting. It means I'm learning things.

Lunch. Guitar. A quick grandpa nap.

Then we went to Ben McKenzie's Science Week show, "A Brief History of a Brief History of Time". Basically, it was a comedy talk about the Stephen Hawking book. Lots of fun. My review is here.

Shopping in town. Played with phones at the new Telstra superstore. Bought a rashie shirt so that I don't get hideously sunburnt on our trip to Heron Island. As I came out of the change room, the attendant asked how well it fitted.

"Good," I said. "Although now I know how a penis feels when the condom rolls on."

I don't think he appreciated my joke.

Yummy Japanese dinner at Ito. Then Josh Earl's musical librarian stand-up comedy at the Writers Festival club.

Home now, watching the Communist Party Propoganda Olympics Closing Ceremony on TV.

How was your weekend?
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Friday Night:
VNV Nation rocked the house.

Let's be honest: the last few VNV albums have been a bit samey, and their lyrics try a little too hard to be profound, and so come off sounding a bit wet.

But live, that doesn't matter. There's no hand to forehead angst, no cooler-than-thou prentention. They're just here to throw a celebration. And they throw it beautifully. I had a grading the next morning, so I was going to be fairly restrained at the concert. I think that lasted three songs. Then I said fuck it, and danced.

Special nod to Angel Theory, who are the only local support who can get people dancing.

Saturday Morning:
My karate grading for yellow belt.

Got woken up at 8am by a courier delivering a present to A. from her art friends kozyndan. Managed to get a bit more sleep before heading down to the dojo.

i was worried that I'd be tired out for the grading, but I felt fine. The grading was a blast. A bit smaller than previous ones, so not quite as much cheering going on. But [profile] andricongirl and my family came down to watch, which meant a lot to me.

Everyone passed with flying colours. And at the end, when we were all receiving our new belts, I may have had some VNV lyrics running through my head.

I have never felt so proud as I do now.
It's like the Sun is placed behind me,
Feelings that matter never end

(Ok, VNV didn't actually play Procession. But you get the idea.)

Saturday Afternoon:
Lunch at the pub with my fellow students. Home for a nap, interrupted by the Fire Brigade visiting the block of flats next door.

Then out to the Empress for dinner and Simon's birthday party. Had a fun conversation with a poet/designer/magazine editor and his Latvian friend who did Peter Sellers impersonations.

Was going to go into town. Wrote a standup comedy routine instead, then spent several hours playing my guitar and singing loudly out of tune.

Made roast sweet potatoes with fried kidney beans and homemade salsa for dinner. It was delicious
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Drinking absinthe + 4.5 hours sleep + 2 hours of karate on Saturday morning =
  1. feeling fantastic at lunchtime
  2. feeling sleepy around 5 pm
  3. unable to form incoherent sentences at [info]guerillamagilla's party, let alone coherent ones
  4. all of the above


My next karate grading is in two weeks -- Saturday, August 16th.

The VNV concert is the night before.

Given that, should I go to the VNV Concert?
  1. Don't be silly. You've got a grading the next day and you want to be refreshed and ready for it.
  2. Don't be a wimp. There'll be more sleep, no absinthe, and you've shown you can do it. Live a little, already.

Hi [profile] aske. it was great to see you at the party. I wanted to talk to you, but my brain... wouldn't... function. Apologies.
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([profile] strang_er  asked me to write up more of my karate stuff. Blame him, okay?)

I've been a blue belt for a week and half now. New belt = new syllabus = whole new set of aching muscles.

It's been difficult, training this last week. I'm feeling... not burnt out. But tired. Grading was such a peak experience, returning to the weekly grind feels like a let down. And that stupid infection is still with me. It's moved from my throat to my stomach and is now currently touring my lungs, making it hard to breathe.

All this is part of the journey

Yes, it gets hard. Yes, you lose focus. You just have to stick with it.

I used to think the way through it was to grit your teeth and push forward with all your strength, like a ox pulling at a plough. But strength only lasts so long. Eventually you collapse in exhaustion.

Now? Now I think it's the love that carries you forward. Love gives you the strength. Love motivates you, pushes you to reach beyond what your limitations.

I'm not talking about romantic love here. Or, not just romantic love. I'm talking about love for your school, your fellow students, for the beauty and the tradition of your art.

God. I sound like a hippy.

The first kata we learn in Seido Karate is Taikyoku Kata Sono Ichi. In Seido Karate, each kata has a meaning, a little philosophical idea that you're supposed to meditate on while you perform the kata.

The meaning of Taikyoku Kata is "Take An Overview".

They say the first kata is the hardest one to learn. Because you're not just learning the sequence of blocks and punches -- you're learning how to learn.

The trick to learning Taikyoku Kata is to realise all the moves make a big H shape on the floor. So you concentrate on that shape. If you make a mistake, don't get frustrated or upset or mad at  yourself. Just concentrate on following the shape. The correct movements will come in time.

This applies to all of our karate as well. As one of my blackbelts put it -- don't let a small failure stop you from reaching a huge success. Keep your focus on the overview. When you make mistakes or don't understand, don't give up. Take the overview. Look at how far you've come. Realise how small these hurdles are, and how huge the goal. The little difficulties can only overwhelm you if you stoop down to their level.

Stand tall. Breathe deeply. Let the love be your strength.
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I wasn't going to talk about this stuff on LJ. I wanted to have fresh news to tell people when I met them in person.

But fuck it. My rules. I can break them if I wish.

For the last two and a half months, I've been learning Seido Karate.

On Saturday, I had my first grading.

It was... intense. Doing-pushups-while-blackbelts-sit-on-your-shoulders-until-your-muscles-stop-working kind of intense.

And I loved every second of it.

It's weird. I'm constantly amazed by how much I love karate. I'm amazed by how much it feels like home.

I mean, I suck. I'm old, I'm gangly, I have the reflexes and co-ordination of an epileptic sloth. But then I read this, in an essay where Grand Master Tadashi Nakamura explains his reasons for founding the Seido school:

It should not be a karate where we fight each other to become strong, but karate where each person can become just a little bit stronger each day than the day before. A karate where each person cooperates with those around him or her, everyone working together to become strong.

And I just thought... yes. We grow stronger not by beating each other, but by helping each other grow stronger.

The atmosphere in the grading was amazing. Everyone cheering and yelling "Osu!". Encouraging each other to push themselves to new heights.

And when, at the end, Sensei asked me to kneel and remove my white belt, and as he tied my new blue belt in its place, my heart just swelled. I felt calm. Proud. Not just of myself, but of all my fellow students.

We had to sit a written exam before the physical grading. The last question was deceptively simple: How have you changed since you started Seido Karate?

I don't remember my exact answer. But it went something like this:

I used to study Tai Chi. It's a beautiful art. But it's very inward focused. And I'm a very inward focused person too. After a while, it started to feel like I was disappearing inside myself.

Karate has its own grace and beauty. But it's focused outward. We grow stronger by help others to grow stronger too.

So that's how I have changed. More outward focused, keener to help other people.

Also? A lot more muscly.


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