Salix's Shiny Things

A magpie blog.

Roughhousing: Relearning to inhabit my body August 21, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — LP @ 1:28 pm
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My son got back from visiting his dad’s family last week, and since then I’ve been catching him up on the kung fu movies that I’ve been previewing for us.  Well, mostly it’s been a Jackie-Chan-Film-Fest-o-Rama, and we’re having so much fun!

After every movie, he wants to tussle with me.  As an only child, he’s got no one else around to tussle with after hours, so I’m it!  Punches and kicks get thrown and blocked or avoided, Tickle-Fu gets deployed, and there have been not a few incidents of Bum taunting from my pre-adolescent son (as they are wont to do – and hey, Jackie Chan does it in Fearless Hyena, so that makes it cool, right?).

Jackie Chan, Fearless Hyena (1979)

Jackie Chan, Fearless Hyena (1979)

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I feel like I’ve been thrown back 30 years, to the days when my brother and I would watch old Three Stooges movies and then roughhouse in the same style, laughing at our goofiness until one of us would invariably really  hurt the other, and then real fighting would ensue… ah, those were good times (owch!)


The Three Stooges

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Since I’ve been exercising regularly (nothing fancy, just sit ups, push ups, leg swings, balance ball stuff, horse’s stance, and lots of stretching) I find myself mostly enjoying these tussles.  Before, he’d end up hurting me pretty easily, as I didn’t have the strength or body awareness or grace to be able to handle the blows effectively, and that made me pretty frustrated and angry.  It was also a factor of my depression, which magnified all the pain.

It feels good, now.  The slight pain of countering my 10 year old’s punches with blocks feels enlivening.  I love this process, now, relearning how to inhabit my own body.  I love being able to spend time with my son doing something we both enjoy.  I love feeling him collapse into fits of giggles with a well timed tickle counter-attack.  I love how these tussles teach both of us how to read each other’s movements and reactions,  how to move with control and respect.

Martial arts and family bonding!

Bruce Lee, Linda Lee, and Brandon Lee

Bruce Lee, Linda Lee, and Brandon Lee

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On the refreshing lack of romance in Jackie Chan movies August 20, 2014

This is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write without interruption for a week – whew!  My son has been back from visiting his dad’s family, and we’ve been having a great time watching Jackie Chan movies together.   This week, we’ve enjoyed Snake in Eagle’s Shadow (1978), Fearless Hyena (1979), The Young Master (1980), Wheels on Meals (1984), Project A 2 (1987), The Tuxedo (2002), The Karate Kid (2010).  Previously, we’d seen Drunken Master (1978), Project A (1983), and Legend of the Drunken Master (1994).

While I wouldn’t say that the Jackie Chan movies I’ve seen thus far do much to showcase women as characters or martial artists, I do find the lack of typical Western romantic narratives to be extremely refreshing. Well, uh, there was the embarrassment of The Tuxedo (2002), which, as one critic put it, starred “Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cleavage (source) “.  It was really terrible, for the most part.  My son enjoyed it, but then he’s 10, and the conceit of a suit that can give you amazing physical powers is pretty cool. But man, all the “leering camerawork” (as Grady Hendrix, again, brilliantly put it) makes it seem like a 15 year old boy made the movie.  I plan to make it an example for my son in discussing how not to make a movie, and what the worst sort of examples of “male gaze” look like, but I didn’t have the time to get into it this time around.

But leaving The Tuxedo aside,  I love the lack of love interests in most of the movies, especially the early ones.  For example, in The Young Master, Jackie gets into a fight with the daughter of the police chief who is arresting him (who happens to be the only female character in the movie).   She’s able to handily beat him by cleverly and effectively using her environment against him, which in this case, includes her long skirts to confuse him and obscure her attacks.   The central motivation for Jackie’s character in Fearless Hyena (1979) was revenge for his grandfather’s death, and there are no female characters in this one at all.  In Drunken Master (1978), he makes a bet that he could  get a beautiful young lady to embrace him, which he succeeds in doing by tricking her.  Her mother notices this, and beats him up with her superior and utterly graceful kung-fu.  The central theme revolves around Jackie’s character’s (Wong Fei-Hung) personal growth in responsibility, discipline, and kung-fu.  Which, in a twist, involves getting drunk to fight, but hey, it adds another layer of levity to the plot.  In Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978), there are also no female characters of note, and the central themes are again personal growth in kung-fu, as well as fighting against enemies whose only wish is to destroy you and the knowledge and skills you possess.

So, at least in the films I detailed above, there are no damsels in distress, no girlfriends getting kidnapped, no princesses to kiss and wake up and marry.  For me, this means that I’m free to identify with the main protagonists, Jackie Chan’s characters, without feeling split and pulled into also identifying with characters of my own gender.  Women are not prizes to be won here.  Also, they can be admired as clever and skilled fighters in their own right.  Even though I understand that part of the comedy shtick here is the “Look at him, he’s getting beaten by a girl!” factor, it’s a pretty minor factor, as he goes on to demonstrate that he’s not a bad fighter at all when he’s able to best, for example, a man with a sword in the next scene (Drunken Master).

Romance? HA!

Romance? HA! (Drunken Master, 1978)

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I’m looking forward to exploring more kung-fu movies, especially those with Sammo Hung (with whom Jackie went to Peking Opera School, and who is a masterful choreographer as well as martial artist).  Apparently, they’ve released the Shaw Brothers archives to iTunes and made some wonderful new trailers for the movies on YouTube.  My son and I watched a couple together, and he’s really excited to see the full movies.

Because adventures don’t require romance, and relationships like friendship and family and brotherhood and student-teacher, matter.





Beginner’s Mind and Renewal August 12, 2014

Filed under: Buddhism — LP @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I really love the Buddhist concept of “Beginner’s Mind”.  This is one definition:

Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgements and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as-it-is.”


Or, as Shunryu Suzuki Roshi wrote in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”


It’s not easy to cultivate this mind state.  Habits of mind are deep things, knowledge is important.

But so is a sense of wonder and delight at the new.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal this week because I’m at a new beginning for myself, or a renewed beginning, really.  I’ve started an exercise and stretching routine, and I have been diligent about keeping it up for the past several days.

It’s not that easy to get back into doing something you haven’t done in a very long time.

In fact, sometimes it downright sucks.  Trying to do even simple stretches and situps and pushups is difficult, but knowing that you used to be able to handle so many more reps with ease, remembering how this stuff used to be so much easier… really sucks.

But getting frustrated is very unhelpful.  It was the main reason why I haven’t been able to keep up any kind of exercise routine for very long for years.  I’d get started, all excited to get fit and feel healthy and slim down, and then… the awareness would grow that all of this was so much easier before… and if I had been a better person, then I would have never stopped training, god it’s so frustrating, I still can’t fit into those pants, why isn’t this working? God, what’s the point?  May as well give up now, I’ll never be able to regain what I’ve lost, I’ll never be that 105 pound kid, so lithe and strong.  That explosive, ever-moving ball of energy on the fencing piste.   I’ll never be able to kick above my head like I used to.

Who could persevere against such cruel judgment?

But this time, I’m meditating.  I’m learning how to let go of judgmental thoughts.  To treat myself with the kind of care and compassion I would show a friend, to treat myself as I would want a friend to treat me.

I’m learning to embrace impermanence, to learn to appreciate change.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes, to delight in the ordinary.

I begin, again.

Now, I focus on the fact that every time I stretch, I can go a little further.  Every time I do sit-ups, I can do a few more.  Every time I do pushups, they get a little easier.  Every time I do leg swings, they get a little higher.

Now, when I get up in the morning, I feel stronger, lighter on my feet, my core muscles coiled and ready like a spring.  Every day I get a little more confident about my body’s abilities.

This time, I’m not doing it to fit into those pants, to be slimmer and more attractive, and therefore more worthy of love.

This time, I’m doing it for me.  I’m training, you see.  I want to do martial arts.  I want to learn how to fight with a staff.  I’m doing this for fun, for the delight in being able to launch my body through space with strength, grace, speed, and power to meet an attacker.  For the strength and grace to be able to take the blows and still keep going.

Yeah, for the sheer badassery of being able to dance with a staff.

Jennifer Garner, Elektra

Jennifer Garner, Elektra

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Suffering, pain, joy, peace. August 8, 2014

Today I hurt.  Physically.  Mentally, I feel joy.  I’ve started an exercise routine and I’m sore all over.  And, for the first time in a very long time, I love the feeling of physical pain earned from good, hard work.  It feels good to ache, deeply good.

I’ve known for a very long time that physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body, that it can help depression and anxiety, and I have tried to get into an exercise routine, but it only went so far.  The exercise (mainly walking 2 miles to the store and back) was a good thing, it was helpful, but it seemed to have only superficial impact.

And now I’m beginning to understand why exercise hasn’t felt as good as it should, or as I remembered it feeling in college when I was on the fencing team (NCAA athlete!  Yes I was!) or in school when I was doing serious amounts of dance (ballet, mostly).

The bruises from my years of emotional abuse went deep.  My mental pain made me super-sensitive to any kind of pain, and it was overwhelming.  Therefore, I avoided all other pain as best I could.  The psychological pain turned me into a walking bruise, and everything hurt.  I could not find much joy or pleasure in exercise because it was mostly like pain on top of pain with no relief.

My mental and emotional and spiritual suffering was like a fog that made everything around me into more sources of suffering.

It has taken a lot of work and time to get to the point of truly recognizing that fact, and being able to do something to change it.

Beginning a formal meditation routine has been key, but what inspired me to begin meditating?  Those roots begin in the decision to get my son into Karate.  Then, being the nerd that I am, I decided to check out what the library had on karate, and martial arts in general.  That lead me to the connection between the martial arts of Asia and Buddhism, as the martial arts were said to have started at the Shaolin Buddhist monastery as a way to help the monks endure the rigors of meditation.

So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to meditate for real, waking up early and getting down to it first thing (even before coffee!).  I can’t say that I’ve been perfect in keeping my schedule, there have been slip-ups, but more often than not, I’ve practiced meditation.

Meditation has allowed me some space, some freedom of mind, to be able to face myself and realize that I don’t need to suffer all the time.  I can find peace.  Maybe not every day, maybe not every minute, but peace and joy can be found.  And that’s enough.  Even a small opening can let light into a dark room and illuminate it.

My son and I have also been exploring martial arts movies, and have discovered that they can be real sources of inspiration to him.  Learning karate or sinawali is not easy, and it takes courage to persevere.  Martial arts movies, especially anything with Jackie Chan, whose characters my son can relate to, inspire that courage in my son.

And also in me, as it happens.  Watching the classic Jackie Chan movies from the start of his career, I find myself remembering how much I love that kind of physical activity – the stylized fights are not unlike dance.  And fencing as well – facing your opponent, knowing that he or she is probably going to hurt you at some point in the bout, but launching into it anyway, using your training and reflexes to parry blows and deliver ripostes.

A real turning point happened a couple of weeks ago (July 25, actually, as I posted the event to Facebook).  I had a dream in which I had been transformed into Jackie Chan, and it made me so happy.  Not just in the dream, but throughout the day, I was happy.  I have been carrying that happiness and cultivating it since then.

I am realizing that, to be whole, I need to recover that joyful fierceness, that part of me that loves a good fight, the scrappy me, the me that likes to dish it out as well as take it.  I think I’ve been afraid of that, of my “fight”, because, for one thing, it connects me in uncomfortable ways with my ex, who was quick to anger, and quick to lash out, and wanted to fight to put others in their place, who punched cars because she was angry at their drivers who were driving or parking in ways she thought were bad (mainly, getting in her way).

But that’s not my kind of “fight”.  I fight to defend, to dance with an equal, to compete, to challenge myself, to grow, to understand my abilities and my weaknesses, to overcome those weaknesses.    I fight for myself, not to punish others.  I fight because there can be joy in the dance.

Thank you, Jackie Chan, for showing me the way.

Jackie Chan, Legend of the Drunken Master

Jackie Chan, Legend of the Drunken Master

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