Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Going back

One of my students recently went to the Exploratorium's Tactile Dome. A journey in complete darkness that you must feel your way through. The first time, you're just looking for the one way out. The next time through, you get a chance to feel around and see if you can find anything new.

The last few kali classes, I've been going back to the classic style. What I call the classic style is the style that I saw when I first practiced, what can be recognized as "typical" Filipino Martial Arts.

As I've watched the students practice, I've noticed some things that were missing. Little things. Subtle things. I had to go back. We've dropped stuff along the way.

I've been teaching for 12 years now and it feels like I'm beginning again. The first time around I kind of stumbled along trying to remember what was taught to me and repeating that method. This time around I'm getting a chance to see new things, how things connect, why this movement was needed to get to this movement. Each time I teach nowadays there really is something incredible to learn and uncover.

So I've been going back. The Classic Style. yes. The percussive left hand. We started with the left hand percussive because it's the only way anyone knew how to use it. Then people learned how to blend and manipulate. But then to go back to percussive really tests ones accuracy and sensitivity. When you return to something, do you go back to the way you did it then or are you able to return to it as another layer? Do you have a deeper understanding of what you did before? One of them simply defaulted to how they had learned it. I remember when I defaulted. I didn't think there was much more else you could do with the technique. Once learned, it was boring and repetitive. I just didn't know its potential.

Simply using the left hand was difficult for some. It forced them to move their trigger, stop using muscle, and learn to follow their weapon. Instead of forcing the weapon (typically right hand) to do everything (hold the weapon, generate power, manipulate for accuracy), we move the power and accuracy to the left hand. It's a switch in brain thinking. But when they did let go, you could see their entire bodies relax.

In high school, my track coach told me to "run faster." I didn't understand what that meant. I was running as fast as I possibly could go. I instinctively tried to contract my legs more, to harden, to run faster which only resulted in me going slower.

To go faster, one has to create mechanisms to spring them to go faster. The mind only knows one voluntary speed. The body has to be taught what faster feels like.

What it takes to actually go faster is contrary to the instinct the mind takes.I don't need more muscle to be hard, I need the muscle I have to relax. I need my joints to swing. I need muscle and joints to work together to store spring energy. I need less control to be in control.

Next week I think we will go pick up another piece we are slowly losing: to see and not see. Too too easy to fall back into the habit of tunnel vision in sparring.

We did a bit of it today and my student said, "I'm not a very good liar." in reference to how the technique uses some "magic". I told him, "I'm not lying to you, I'm showing you exactly what I'm doing. It's not my fault your looking in a different spot when it happens."

Monday, August 02, 2010

the circular nature of the spirit

I've been reading posts from Eileen, Leny and Jean on Eileen's mom's reading talking about the Dawac, healers she remembers from her childhood.

At the same time, there's a facebook email thread that someone included me on about the roots of the word Kali. (There are constant complaints my Filipino Martial Artists, usually non-kali folks, who believe that since the word was not documented, then it couldn't have ever existed.) I keep trying to delete the thread, but it just keeps coming back.

I also watch a stroke recovery progress through the memories of their life, rebuilding and reconnecting.

All this leads me to how does one search for a forgotten past.

Much of the memory of the Philippines faded quickly from my parent's memories as soon as they set foot here. A consequence really of needing to focus on building a new life in a different country, which rolled into the craziness of kids and work. There are few things that remind them.

I remember my mom tell us a story here and there of her grandfather, the abulario/local healer. He walked on fire and didn't get burned. When I met him, he was near 80, deaf and blind. Not sure if he remembered my mother, his eyes always in half trance.

When I took up Kali, the sticks I brought home triggered other memories not just from my mother but from her siblings. How he had sticks, but never taught his own sons. How he moved just like me. How when he slept he raised his arm to the sky and no amount of force would bring that arm down. Without knowing it, I had stumbled upon a memory and lineage I didn't know existed before. Was I genetically programmed to move in this way? Was there still a spiritual connection that brought me to this place, to pick up where 2 generations had left?

As I carried these stories with me and told them to others, they too had stories. A collection of anting-anting. The trance healing dances of their mother. The more I explored this Kali movement, the more I triggered memories that people wanted to share as if they wanted to keep the memories together, connect them to something living today.

I've come to terms with the lack of "proof" or written knowledge. I'm tired of people wanting "proof" that Kali ever existed. What does it matter if it existed before if it exists now? Why can't I rewrite my own history in the way colonizers have rewritten mine for centuries at a time? Why must history always be written to be proven? Why can't I carry my history in my body?

My teacher always felt that we were discovering new techniques, only uncovering ones we had forgotten. We have been exploring the movement of our basic human structure for thousands of years, surely someone somewhere in that time did this movement in this way.

I have no issues with wanting to document what is currently known. But this inverse that if it isn't written down then it does not exists, irks me like bible fundamentalists. And I know they copied me on that "thread" to "hear" what I have to say about this. And while they may honestly just want to know, I refuse to walk into a discussion based on prepositions that if I cannot show proof of my name, then I do not exist. So I refuse to respond. Just because the Spanish wrote about Escrima, does not make the existence of Escrima more legitimate than something that is not documented. There's something very colonized about that idea.

Close relations of the person in stroke recovery ask each other, how old do you think he is now? We watch as his body relearns movement, his mind relearns his life. He memories and stories bounce around a general age range and never in linear form, more like an interwoven tapestry. They hover. If you could relive your life, would you forgive yourself? What bits of your life are retained, who do you remember, what do you remember? What parts do you hang onto and should you? it's like his mind is repacking his bags: folding, reshaping. His personality may reflect this fragmented memories: the brash young man, the young boy on his own, encounters that changed his life, regrets. He must rebuild, bit by bit. Who can say what "normal" is anymore?

In searching for the forgotten past, I treat it like a treasure hunt. Stories here and there giving me clues to something larger. I note things I hear repeated and confirmed as possible truths. The clues are not "substantial" for academic standards, but they are big enough for me. If our history is shattered where do the dust particles go? Do they still exist. Or are they hidden in plain view, the way we traded pagan gods and gave them Christian saint names?

I know there are questions of the past I will never have answered. I also know there are answers I have that I cannot reveal. There are many things in this world where writing them into words kills the very spirit we wish to pass on. There are some things that have to be experienced.

I had to come to terms with what I could not have and have taken pleasure in what remains. I see them as points on a strand. They repeat and connect. There are confirmations if they strum the right way. It is possible to seed these stories. It is possible to create your own. These stories, these affirmations, remind me that if it existed before, it can exist again.