Saturday, August 16, 2003

Because you understand the fight in me, Part II

Just got back from Tuhan's (my kali master's title is Tuhan, which means master) seminar. He held it at a Cayuga Park in San Francisco. Cayuga is in the not so nice area of San Francisco, off of Geneva and sits under the BART tracks. It is here that this Hawaiian Filipino guy who had never carved wood his entire life, starts finding faces in the stray wood he finds, eventually erecting an entire wonderland of tree carved faces and animals. It's very enchanting.

We just so happened to be practicing next to on the them that looked like a stickfighter, his hair tied and waving behind him holding a stick in each hand crossed. "too wierd" my teacher says.

This class was special. A lot of the older Guros/Teachers back from when I was just beginning were there with some of their students. There were other kali folks I hadn't seen in ages as well. It was good to see them. One of them brought his daughter and month old baby! When you give up your body a few hours a week to these people and they give theirs to you, there's a connection. I always love seeing them and seeing how they're doing and hoping the best for them.

I arrived a bit late over the bridge (accident totaled a VW bug) with one of my students. As we approached the group, one of the other Guras greeted us happily, "yay! More girls!" as I looked around to the big tall buff guys practicing techniques.

We got through the morning practicing the various techniques Tuhan shows us. It's Saturday morning. I haven't been up this early on a Saturday morning in a long time. My control is just a bit off as I apologize to my partner for pegging her a touch too hard. When you practice for accuracy and control, you know when you are off and when you are on.

As others come in, the pairs are uneven and I practice on my own a bit watching. I learn a lot from watching people practice, see what they've picked up from what Tuhan is saying. No one ever gets it the first time. I still don't get a lot of it and I've been doing it for a few years. It's also just a beautiful style to watch, the sticks float and bounce in and around the bodies, quite graceful. The BART train passing overhead drowning the normal soundtrack.

Near the end of class is time to spar. A lot of the guys were from the old San Francisco class that I started in. That was a fighting class. They were younger, in their 20s and could bounce up faster. They would wrestle to the concrete. Tuhan would have to yell for them to stop before they went too far, before someone got hurt.

In those old classes, the women would mostly watch. Every now and then Tuhan would throw us in. I was in my early 20s then with little muscle mass. I got good at deflecting shots, but Tuhan would always yell at me to hit them and hit them so they could feel it. It's the only way for women fighters to show guys you're not a pushover. You have to get your hits in, you have to hit them so they feel enough pain to know, "yeah, you would have gone down." It's easy for the guys to overpower me. Their hands wrap easily around my wrists. Tuhan told me to hit them for years and years before I started figuring out how to do it right.

But it's been a while since I've seen them and they've seen me. Tuhan sends me out with a staff to defend a stab with the staff. I'm off and it takes me a while to get into a groove and defend properly. As I fall into that groove, the targets become clearer: deflect, hand, knee, ankle, calf. The staff reaches each target as if knowing what I mean with the precision of my own finger. This is warm up.

Tuhan switches people in and out. Open hand, sticks, staffs, push hands. I play with another Guro, more recently appointed, and the play is smooth. I play with one of the older ones open hand: the strikes are strong, but my body is stronger now. I try different techniques to get a shot in on him. His biceps are twice as big as mine. We're able to get a fair trade of strikes.

A few other people go. The two Guros from back when go against each other using the heavy mahoghany/kumugung sticks. It's getting dangerous but they have trained together for so long, it's an easy dance for them, they know each other's moves.

Tuhan sends me out with one of them. I left my other sticks in the car and I have to use someone else's weapon. Though light, the grip is big. I can't be as accurate with it nor manipulate it as fine. I strike for him. In this drill one strikes the other defends. After a while you can't tell the difference. Tuhan tells me to throw change ups (in other words, "hit him, trick him"). I do as he says. Now we're getting more into the sparring fighting. It gets intense. He's hitting hard and so I make sure my tags have a bit more on them.

I was taught, that if a guy is going to hit you, hit them back. A stab here, a strike to the hand there. He wants to end the fight and goes for a stick lock to a joint maneuver. I haven't been able to figure out how to get out of a man's power, I can't really stop it from coming. If he grabs me, he grabs me. I can feel the grip on the lock, the pain rising to my shoulder. My free hand cocks back, elbow high, and comes down on his face, right on his nose. The collective "oohs" from the group watching pull me back quickly realizing where I am. His head rocks back a bit, he's stunned but doesn't let go of his grip. "Sorry" I say, before he sweeps my foot out from under me. He storms off with a not so nice look. A kind of look that makes you watch your back. I pick myself up off the ground where he left me, "Sorry. reflex." and shake his hand.

A couple of more matches and we close out and bow. We chit-chat and laugh with folks. No hard feelings. This is what we do. This is what we sign up for. Count the bruises on our hands and shins. It's alright. They heal.

A handful are left with Tuhan. He asks me, "did you do it on purpose? hit him in the nose?" "I just wanted him to let go," I say. "Boy, he was pissed, but he shouldn't have lost it with you." "What was I going to do, Tuhan? He was 'hitting' me, it's not like he was going soft!" "Yeah, he was hitting you, you could see it. He always gets so competitive with you."

"He's mad, cuz she's a girl!" proclaims the other Gura. The other woman and I smile, we know what she means. The other two women were kind of glad to see me get a lick in. It means that if you can't mess with one, you can't mess with any of us. Going through the years of training, there was always a special bond with the other women. When they went out to spar with the guys, it was our fight too. When she got hit, we got hit. But when she got one in, it was all of ours to share. When another woman gets a shot in, it makes you believe that much more that this might work for you, that you too might be able to get one in. Women learn to take the shots, last long enough so you can get one shot in, the one that takes them down.

In the moment, I couldn't really tell you what was going on or why I did it. All I know is that it was there, and I went for it. All I know is that I wanted him to let go. All I know is that, I didn't realize what happened til my hand hit his face. There's a part of me that says, if I'm going down, I'm going to get a shot in, might as well. I'd rather not go down easily. He had me on the lock. I wasn't going to pull away or get out of it. There's a reflex in my arm, that I have felt before. When I feel it, it goes.

Part of me felt bad cuz well, I should have had better control. Then again, he didn't get a bloody nose from the punch. Part of me was scared of him. Part of me said, well, this is what happens. Part of me felt I didn't have a choice, he was going to throw me anyway. Part of me replays it in my mind and thinks, damn, that's some fine kali.

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