Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's Official

August 21, 2009

That's my test date for my black belt. Sensei and I have been talking about the end of August for a couple of months now, but last week he finally said that August 21 was the date. For the last several weeks (barring the family reunion, when my cousin took over duties (Thanks, Jim!)), I've been having a extra private session each week with Sensei. He seems very confident for me - which is good, because my confidence seemed to fly out the window as soon as he gave a specific date.

This last session we started the stress testing of Sanchin kata. Just Sensei, thumping me at about 2/3 power right now (as opposed to the four people who get to have at during the test). I'm middling pleased with how I did - no faltering or loss of concentration - but I did get rocked back on my heels with a couple of the ab punches, so that's something to work on.

That was yesterday. Today was regular class which was primarily sparring. This was fairly painful, since I had plenty of nice fresh bruises to get re-thumped. And of course, I had given my e-balm to Sensei D some time ago, to see if it would work on his burn scars, which react badly to most moisturizers. E-balm, is short for Everything Balm, which comes from Goodies Unlimited, and is absolutely wonderful stuff. Works on most skin problems, non-toxic enough you can even use it on canker sores inside your mouth, and the best stuff I've ever found for bruises. Takes a lot of the tenderness away, and seems to speed up the healing process. Since I'll be adding new bruises to these this weekend, I think ordering more balm was warranted.

So for the next three weeks - lots of practice, lots of getting thumped, more practice. My neighbors are getting so used to seeing me waving weapons around in the front yard that they've stopped even noticing.

In other news, Nicky's hind end paralysis, after a brief rally, seems to be here to stay. Other than the dragging rear he seems to be fairly happy, so we've ordered a doggy cart to see if he'll deal with being a wheeled critter. If it works, he should have several more years. The cart was shipped today, and should arrive sometime next week.

Organ is going well - I played half the service on Sunday (and received half the pay, my first organ paycheck!), which went quite well. The painist who played the other half (who is an intimidatingly awesome player) was quite complimentary, as was pretty much everyone in the congregation. Now I get to ease off until after Labor Day, which is good because, you know, there's enough on my plate just this second. I'll still put in my daily practice, but I'll back down to an hour, instead of two or three. More practice time for kata!

Three and a half weeks - Eeeeek!

Monday, July 13, 2009

I'm going to hate Sensei in the morning.

Sensei has set up a training space in his basement. Today I went over for a little under two hours to go over my katas. Plus a little heavy bag training, mostly to see if I get faster when I'm tired (answer: no - but I don't get slower either). I feel like we accomplished a lot, but I am completely wrung. There's a huge difference between two hours in the dojo with all the other students, usually with some teaching intersperced, and two hours directly under Sensei.

Overall both I and Sensei are reasonably pleased. My kicks seem to have achieved a good speed (I was getting audible snap from my yoga pants, which seems a fair accomplishment). My hands are still lagging. They seem to move faster in combinations, but still not fast enough even then. Outside of that, most of the corrections are minor - improvements rather than corrections per se. The only kata he really panned was Kusanku Sai, panned for lack of energy (it was the very last kata we worked on). It suffered for it's position, but also just for sheer lack of confidence in it. I know the kata, but my gut doesn't believe that I know the kata, so I hesitate, and it shows.

Tomorrow we head off for the family reunion. I'm bringing my weaponry, and I'm afraid my various relations are just going to have to put up with me doing my practice. It's looking like the end of August (somewhere between the 21st and the 30th) is it, and I can't afford to miss the days.

Unfortunately the reunion does not come with available organ. My teacher (and our church organist) will be out of town the Sunday following the reunion (I.e. in two weeks). Since neither of us reserve organists is quite up to the job right now, we're splitting duties. The other guy is playing the hymns and service music, and I'm playing prelude, offertory, and postlude. Which is great, except that only one of those (the prelude) is in decent shape to play right now. The offertory is rough and slow, though coming along. The postlude is in lousy shape (Hey, I've only been working on it for a week!), fortunately, it's only got three measures that are truly problematical. If I had the full two weeks to practice, I'd be pretty confidant. Unfortunately, I'm only going to get six days from now, and that's much less confidence-inspiring.

Deep breath. For the reunion itself, I'm going to try not to worry - or at least only worry about karate, since I can do something about that. I'll just have to practice my fingers off once I'm back. It's only four pages of music. I can perfect four pages of music in a week, right?

I'll see everyone (in a manner of speaking) in a week!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

World Tournament AAR

Hey look! I said I'd post, and this time I'm actually posting again in a reasonable time-frame. Go me!

Since it's about the furthest thing back on my list, I should probably start with the Isshinryu World Tournament rundown - before I forget what happened.

Most of our dojo went to the World Tournament this time around, which was really nice. The only people missing were A, who only just got his yellow belt and has never been to a tournament, and Sensei D, who was planning on going (he was actually the first of us to register), but cancelled at the last moment due to unspecified conflicts. As a group, we did well - everybody brought home at least one earned souvenir. I'm especially proud of our teenaged brown belt guy. The tournament folks screwed up his registration (there was a lot of that going around), and he ended up being the first to go in his division, which seemed to throw him off his game. His kata wasn't half as good as I've seen him do it, and his weapons work wasn't stellar either - but when kumite came around he really pulled himself together. I had been worried about T in kumite. He's only in his division by about a month, and he's not generally an aggressive fighter. So, pretty much every other competitor was bigger and more aggressive than he was (advanced 15-16 boys is usually one of the most aggressive divisions going). Instead of being intimidated, he kept his head, played it strategically, and came home with a third place.

I don't remember everyone's placements, but J (brown belt girl) brought home a second (or possibly third) place in kata, and one of our kids came in fourth in kata using Naihanchi!

R (the other adult woman) and I were both in the same ring in sequential divisions. I'm not sure what was going on with our judges, but something was funky. We started with four judges (for those not familiar, a standard panel is five), and then they found another black belt they wanted to be on the panel, and tried to boot one of the four existing judges to put him on. It was strange. Sensei comments that the panel was pretty much entirely novice judges, and it certainly felt that way. During R's kumite, the center judge was making some very odd calls (failing to count his own opinion towards the three necessary for a point, for instance), and R reports the same for my rounds of kumite (When I'm in the ring all I pay attention to is whether I'm fighting or stopping; everything else is distraction). Sensei commented (with apologies, since he was doing the same thing) that as the day wound down, more and more of the experienced judges were deciding that they'd done their bit and calling it a day. Intermediate and advanced senior women were two of the last groups to go, so apparently we were down to the more eager but very inexperienced for our panel.

As I noted in the last entry, besides the third in kumite, I was fourth in weapons, and probably fourth in kata (I didn't check the recorder's entries, but that's where my informal score reading would have put me.). So first - NOT LAST in kata!!!! Wooot! (For those of you who haven't been reading since forever, I've finished last in kata in any Isshinryu-only tournament I enter for something like the last four years.) I talked to a couple of my judges afterwards, and what they said pretty much reflected the scores - middle of the pack. One particularly helpful judge noted that I was past the point of doing things wrong that had to be fixed, instead there are right things that I'm failing to do which could make my kata better.

In weapons, Sensei did peek over the recorder's shoulder and says I was .025 out of the medals. He was very happy with my weapons performance (says that if it were up to him, I'd have placed second), so I'm pretty happy myself.

I attended two seminars the day before the competition. One was by Hanchi Duessel, which was informative, as always. We covered Seiuchin and Sanchin katas, with a particular emphasis on "thumbs down" - meaning the extra torque to the hand that can lock in some techniques. The second seminar had been scheduled to be taught by Master Shimabuku, but he had cancelled due to concerns with his wife's health and the Swine Flu epidemic (which seems a hell of a lot more real since one of Rob's co-workers died (in Brazil) a couple of weeks ago). The seminar was taught instead by Kyoshi Wallace. I've seen Kyoshi Wallace before, assisting at Hanchi Duessel's seminars, but never seen him teach. He gave an excellent seminar - more listening and less physical than Duessel's, but highly informative. He covered quite a bit, what I remember most was about the mechanics of proper breathing (something I think is far too often ignored, possibly because of my own background in singing).

Kyoshi Wallace turned out to be staying on my floor in the hotel (unnerving to discover at 7:30am with your arms full of donuts). I saw him several times as we both popped in and out, and then I went and told him how much I had enjoyed his seminar during the after party. He was very gracious, and talked to me for quite a little while.

The hotel was nice, but a bit disappointing as the promised pool was still under construction, and as the parking added quite a bit to the final bill ($27/day for the parking), without being noted anywhere I saw beforehand. The boys were exceptionally good, and Robbie came down to see the Grand Champion portion of the competition, which seems to have cemented his desire to come back to class. When we checked out, I left him and Aaron guarding the luggage while I went to the front desk, and came back to find him deep in conversation with Hanchi Duessel, who was waiting for his daughter to pick him up.

In general, a good time was had by all. The 2011 World Tournament will be in Indianapolis, which is only about 90 minutes from here, and I'll definitely be going. Here's hoping that Master Shimabuku can make it this time!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Massive Updatery

Okay, I've been seriously lax, for which I apologize. My excuse is that about three million things have happened since my last post and I've been running around like a mad thing. My computer is beginning to make sad, forlorn noises at me, probably from the sheer neglect. I'll give the overview here, and then try to make more specific posts on each topic over the next few days - it should provide enough material for some time.

In roughly chronological order:

Nicky is not doing very well. He took a turn for the worse just before I left for my trip, and had slid even more by the time I got home. At this point he has no use of his hind legs, and frequently doesn't even twitch them when walking with his hind end supported. He's got some bad sores from scraping skin off dragging himself around the house (They're healing since I got home, and I'm not terribly pleased with my cadre of doggie watchers for letting them get so bad.) A lot of his fate is going to depend on if and how much he recovers, especially since is front end is so deformed (puppy-ricketts) that I doubt it will hold up for very long under the extra strain.

The World Tournament, on the other hand, went very well indeed. I brought home one very large trophy (3rd place kumite), and am generally pleased with how things went both for me, and for our dojo. Sensei appears to concur.

Visits went quite well, despite (and occasionally because of) their whirlwind nature. We got to spend another overnight in the Boston Museum of Science, which is all kind of cool, and was much more comfortable for Mommy this time, with a sleeping bag and a mat - bare floors with no pillow or covers was not a winner the previous time. I got to see my friend Beth preach, which I had not gotten to see before (she was ordained last spring). That woman can preach! I can safely say she's gotten over her fear of public speaking.

Our church organist's father died while I was gone. This was not unexpected. The timing was absolutely horrible for him, but actually pretty good for me (which makes me feel rather guilty). Because I wasn't there, I didn't have to do an emergency service - which I am not ready for - and because he is moving right now, he is in town more than he was intending to be in the aftermath, and therefore I'm not having to half-ass my way through any services, but will just be playing some individual pieces, which is not a problem. I expect it will be another six months to a year before I really feel comfortable taking over a series of services - I.e. able to play all relevant service music, and learn a service's worth of hymns in one week, plus enough of a repertoire of pre- and postludes to last several weeks.

The family reunion starts a week from tomorrow, and Rob did no laundry while I was gone, so I'm in a mad scramble to catch up from the trip and then get us ready to go again. I'll get to see both brothers, which is awesome, and I should get to go over my katas with my cousin Jim (a black belt in two different disciplines), which I'm much looking forward to.

And last, but definitely not least THE BOOK IS OUT!!!!!! Alien Hand Syndrome and Other Too-Weird-Not-To-Be-True Stories has hit the bookshelves. My mother reports that Borders (at least in her area) has it in stock. I have two articles, my first ever paid & published articles, in it. It's fun stuff so you should all run out and buy yourselves copies!

And that's the current rundown. I'll give each of these the full post it deserves over the next few days, but at least now you know what's going on.