Monday, August 11, 2003

Eileen, you're such a fine paduan lerner!*

Back track a couple of weekends to Saturday August 2. I'm sure Eileen has told you all about it already, but hey why not hear it again.

Way back when, Eileen took like 4 weeks worth of kali classes from me. She was a fine student, if not for her coordination, but it's the spirit of kali that she understood. So hard to find that nowadays. Most people think it's just a technique, a movement that can be diagrammed and calculated. Oh, but Eileen had a fine eye and always understood that behind the calculations and the thought there was a spirit to feel.

And that's part of the reason that I invited Eileen off the mountain top to join me. I mean, how could she say no to a woman who carries a VERY BIG sword? Besides, she knows one of the great mantras of a kali artist: hit them when they're not looking. And what better place to hit folks with poetry, but at a martial arts demo when they're not expecting it. In the same way, we've awed audiences before by bringing kali to a poetry stage (Small Press Traffic Jamboree). People don't think they want to see poetry, and that's ok, they're going to get it anyway.

So here we are, Sonoma State University's Gymnasium. I've only read her poems over email, so I have her read them once through so I can pick up key words and know when she's done. She finishes and I explain to her the audience: 300 women martial artists from the west coast. ie do not piss them off, they carry weapons.

Personally, I hate doing the same demo twice to the same audience. I'm all about switching it up. Give them something new and different to see. I get so easily bored myself, I'd hate to bore myself with my own repetitive demo. Yawn! Every association has their "standard" demo. In Filipino Martial Arts circles the demos consist mostly of repetitive drills followed by the teacher explaining every move then going slow, then fast. At PAWMA, the "standard" demo was drills with some dance movement, done with some kind of grooving music: salsa, latin, empowered woman song, little talking. And always the more people the better. These are just general observations.

But Kali is poetry and poetry is kali. I rarely have more than 5 people in a demo, mostly because I don't have THAT many students. It's usually just me and one or two others. That means whoever is out there must be THAT much better because all eyes are on them. In this discpline, I'd much rather be effective and efficient.

Prior to the demo we decide the order of poems. She will read one by herself, then I will enter and perform on the last three. Reading one by herself to open, it forces the audience to watch her and listen to her. It also allows the audience to become used to her voice so that way when they watch me, they can still hear her voice. I have to know the order because I need to know the emotional movement through the pieces so I can match the kali accordingly.

The demo itself feels like forever, though on tape it's only a few minutes. Whenever demos get long, it's hard to stay focused and I really need focus when I'm swinging a live blade around. I stumble backwards (though on the tape, you can't even tell) and at one point I'm resting the back of the blade on my neck and have the panic thought, "this is a single sided blade, right?" It's too much time and the mind starts to let the fearful thoughts in. But Eileen always tests my endurance to new levels. I think she took extra long pauses between poems.

Eileen is too busy juggling papers and microphone to be able to watch my movement. I don't stop to look at her either, which leaves only her sweet angelic voice to carry us through. I'm trying to find her rhythm and time the movements to her pauses and breaths. Our slower pace overall compared to the other demos forces the audience to take longer breaths as well, lulling them into this time worp we've created. Bring them back to a time when Gabriela Silang lived.

Kali is a form of anthropology for me. I come to recover lost memory. The blade I used was one from Mountain Province, antique and heavy. I wonder if Gabriela's blade was like this. I wonder if her hair went down to her elbows, and if her skirt kept her steps small. I wonder how many ways she may have killed Spaniards by her blade past their armor. I wonder if they combed her hair after battle to remove the tangles or wept in the apron of her dress then men she had killed and the ones she had lost. I wonder what drives a woman to continue on barely mourning her husband, only to die months later to join him.

We finish the demo. There's a bit of a pause from the audience, perhaps it's a collective exhale, then applause. We were mesmerizing. I think it was Eileen's long locks swaying to her breath that did them in.

I am thoroughly winded, look around to figure out where I am. I'm not used to doing kali for 4 minutes straight. It's such an intense art that demands every cell to be in the moment, that whenever I'm done, I'm not exactly sure where I am. Not unlike poetry, which asks me to be in the moment. Eileen always pushes me to go longer because though a kali student, she too is my teacher. Any good teacher knows the moment when to push their students harder, get them out of their comfort zone, only because the teacher knows they can, even if they don't. And as I promise, I always make her look good.

*paduan lerner - the first stage to becoming a Jedi knight.

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