Cathy and I passed our Level 6 test in kuntao last night.
That’s the hybrid martial art we study, part traditional wing chun and part Philippine kali. The empty hand stuff is mostly wing chun, a South Chinese close-fighting style which … OK, if you don’t know much about martial arts just imagine the fights in The Matrix without the high kicks. The weapons stuff is mostly kali, knife and stick and (relatively short) sword.
We’re unequivocally senior students now. Wing chun is a fast-takeoff style, not one of the temple forms like shaolin where it takes eight to ten years to get any good. We’ve been at it for a bit over two years, training intensively, and we’re getting respectably skilled. We can tell this by the challenges thrown at us by sifu and the guest instructor he has in monthly to teach advanced wing chun. While we still do forms and basics the percentage of time we spend on sparring and combat applications is going up a lot.
Our sifu is rather clearly grooming us to become assistant instructors, which I’m happy about but Cathy would prefer to avoid. I like teaching and have been an assistant instructor in other styles; Cathy dislikes the always-on conscious awareness of technique required to teach and has mostly avoided having to do it so far.
Unfortunately, Cathy also recognizes that sifu doesn’t have much choice but to draft us. The school is only three years old and sifu has only had time to train one instructor to the point where he can run a class without sifu looking over his shoulder. That’s Doug, a bright geeky sort who is not coincidentally my best buddy there. We push each other hard in drills and sparring, often playing at force levels that most of the students couldn’t handle and liking it. He’s still much better than me but we’re both working hard at bringing me up to his level.
There are about five or six students besides Doug higher-ranked than us (as opposed now, to 18 to 20 below us) but only one of them – Chris – is a regular enough attendee to be a reliable instructor. His wife Bonnie would be too but she’s in slow recovery from a wrist-tendon injury and hors de combat. One of the ways I know I’m making good progress is that my fighting skill is now roughly equal with Chris’s – with long blades usually better, empty hand not quite as good.
(My wife and I are both unusually able with blades by school standards – comes of our Western sword training elsewhere from years before we started kuntao. Sifu sometimes expresses respect for our skills in this area in front of the class, which is nice given that he can be pretty snarky at other times.)
I’m really looking forward to the next major range of techniques that’s opening up to us now. It’s called “chin na”, joint locking, and there are early indications that it’s going to be a big win for me. The time or two we’ve touched on it I found I could do the basics instantly and effectively after having seen them just once. I think this is an area where having lots of upper-body strength is an advantage, allowing me to do them with power slowly rather than having to speed up and possibly fluff the technique.
Cathy continues to respond to the training in one unexpected way; she’s turning into a what I can only describe as a slab of muscle, as if she’d been bodybuilding with free weights. It’s a startling development to observe in a woman who’s about 5’2″ in her stocking feet and well into middle age. Not that you’d know that to look at her; she’s always looked young for her calendar years and being really fit has increased that effect. She grumbles about having to buy new clothes, but she’s clearly enjoying the increased strength and the fact that when she’s not tired or stressed she can look like 40 hasn’t mugged her yet.
(There are other less obvious physiological and psychological effects. Guys, trust me on this, get your wife to the dojo; among other things, it’ll be good for your sex life.)
It goes well. I still have challenges due to palsy-related range-of-motion issues, but sifu and Doug and the other assistant instructors are doing a sensitive and excellent job of helping me find workarounds. Everybody expects that Cathy and I will both make it to 1st level guro (master, or “black sash”) and I don’t think we’ll disappoint them.