There’s a paperback coming soon! In August, the First Fifteen Lives will go from being a big heavy book, to being a slightly lighter big book. I’m excited, my publisher is excited, hopefully readers of this blog who’ve been hanging on in there waiting for the papery version bound up with glue are also excited too…
There’s a paperback coming soon! In August, the First Fifteen Lives will go from being a big heavy book, to being a slightly lighter big book. I’m excited, my publisher is excited, hopefully readers of this blog who’ve been hanging on in there waiting for the papery version bound up with glue are also excited …View full post
So as part of this twitter thing, I’m trying something new. For the next week or so, I’m in Edinburgh as a lighting designer, working on a show on the Fringe called Crazy Glue. And as Edinburgh schedules tend to reduce my blogging activities anyway, I figured I’d try this ‘twitter’ thing, telling tales of …View full post
1. The 243 bus route, as it gets to Goswell Road, announces the stop in one of the most sensual voices ever to grace the London transport network. It’s almost indecent how excited the automated recording sounds to be pulling up at this venerable, sometime-gateway to the old city. (Footnote: it’s also at the stop …View full post
A reminder that, as well as giving a reading and talk at the National Maritime Museum on July 24th as part of Dark and Stormy, I will be at Nine Worlds on August 8th, signing books and talking about time travel and awesome stuff with amazing dudes. (I’m also in Edinburgh for the festival tech …View full post
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but a lot of the time, anywhere between 30-80% of a lighting designer’s job is a battle against adversity. On massive productions this may not be the case so much, but on your standard fringe-ish show, an LD may have all the vision in the world, but …View full post
Recently I attended a seminar on self-defense for women. It’s totally my cuppa tea. There are very few Causes with a Capital C in my life, but environmentalism, literacy and women-awesomeness are probably the top three, followed closely by respect for the scientific method, and maybe a campaign to lower the price of belgian chocolate …View full post
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/30/paperback-wheeeeee/
So as part of this twitter thing, I’m trying something new. For the next week or so, I’m in Edinburgh as a lighting designer, working on a show on the Fringe called Crazy Glue. And as Edinburgh schedules tend to reduce my blogging activities anyway, I figured I’d try this ‘twitter’ thing, telling tales of things seen and stuff done in this tech-tastic-adventure-ambling week. Come find me under #lightingadventures and we’ll see how it all goes….
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/27/lightingadventures/
1. The 243 bus route, as it gets to Goswell Road, announces the stop in one of the most sensual voices ever to grace the London transport network. It’s almost indecent how excited the automated recording sounds to be pulling up at this venerable, sometime-gateway to the old city. (Footnote: it’s also at the stop where time is frozen at 14.10, according to the clock above Survival International’s office. The world may turn, the sun may set, but within the walls of that charity is a workforce trapped in a space-time bubble where it’s always that depressing moment just after lunch when you haven’t quite got back into the swing of work.)
2. Different underground lines sound different. The Jubilee Line has a slow electric build-up, not particularly high in the auditory frequency range, whereas the Circle and District Lines rattle like any second now they’re going to break apart. The new Metropolitan Line trains whoosh; the Overground whines. It’s just a little thing that makes me happy.
3. There is a man outside Stockwell Underground station, (which carries a memorial to Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent man shot by police in 2005 during the height of the 7/7 terror in London) who sells the largest, cheapest, forest-like flowers I’ve ever seen. Trying to get a bunch of these onto the underground, my friend had to bend down and turn sideways to try and wiggle them in. Nearby another flower-seller has set up shop outside a church in Kennington, and as well as his stall, maintains a community flower patch rich with bright colours and smells, in the bed of a local tree.
4. Continuing with our South London theme, there is a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Soviet Union outside the Imperial War Museum. Given that relations between the UK and Russia have been and remain turbulent and tense, I think it’s worthwhile keeping and honouring monuments to the people of each other’s nations, even if the politics continue to collide.
5. Regents Canal is home not only to a cormorant (my third favourite bird after herons and flamingos) but also to rapidly-growing baby swans.
6. Now that the days are longer in London, there is stronger sunlight which can reflect from higher angles off things in the city. As an LD, this makes me happy.
7. There is a day – it was a few weeks ago now – when all the ants in London swarm up. The new, fat young queens, with wings on their back, take off looking for nests, and for a few hours the pavements from Acton to Leytonstone are busy with tiny, bustling ants in search of next year’s place to hide.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/23/london-things-that-make-me-happy/
A reminder that, as well as giving a reading and talk at the National Maritime Museum on July 24th as part of Dark and Stormy, I will be at Nine Worlds on August 8th, signing books and talking about time travel and awesome stuff with amazing dudes. (I’m also in Edinburgh for the festival tech week July 27th-31st which has nothing to do with books, but as people always accuse me of never leaving London I figured I’d mention it! Bring me books and I will sign them verily though there be spinners in my bag and cue numbers in my head….)
Hopefully see you there!
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/19/geekfest-2014/
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but a lot of the time, anywhere between 30-80% of a lighting designer’s job is a battle against adversity. On massive productions this may not be the case so much, but on your standard fringe-ish show, an LD may have all the vision in the world, but it doesn’t count for piss when you’ve only got six hours and three parcans with which to realise it.
Firstly, at the junior end of the spectrum where I’m working, LDs aren’t paid much. Given the hours we’ll work, we’re usually paid a long way below national minimum. This sounds like an aside, artistically speaking, but the very real knock-on effect is that we have to work elsewhere to supplement our income, or on multiple shows (or, in my case, on books!) which means we simply aren’t able to give as much time to a show as perhaps we’d like. Dear god if we were paid more, we’d be there more, we’d be able to afford to be there more, but as it is the motto of most LDs is ‘sorry, got a meeting, gotta go’ and it’s almost invariably true, and almost invariably necessary for us to continue to eat.
As a result, we can miss things. Details in rehearsals, last-minute changes, all stuff which we should have seen, but miss, because we’re simply not there.
Then there’s the perpetual communication problem. LDs tend to be a department of one. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a support team of electricians and riggers who’ll understand what we’re talking about, but in terms of the rest of the show, the LD is the only voice that has much to say about lighting, and carries the entire responsibility for how it’s going to work. A sad side-effect of this being that other departments don’t necessarily know about, or understand the needs of lighting, and those needs can tend to get pushed down the pecking order. Which isn’t a problem necessarily… I always tell my set designers and directors to do what they want to do and I’ll work round it to make stuff happen, and this seems right and sensible as my rig is a moveable feast, whereas the set and text isn’t so much. However, it does become a problem when trying to explain why a very specific lighting effect they want, will need a very specific set of circumstances to achieve – very fast things get very technical, and the room glazes over with a look of ‘oh god the LD is saying something about cable just nod and smile, nod and smile…’ and you don’t really get anywhere.
Physical problems stand in your way.
How many times have I been forced to move lighting positions because of a rogue speaker stack that I wasn’t aware of, or because a bar has been moved from its position on my lighting plan, or because a bit of set gets moved back 30cm at fit up? How many times have I had to juggle some very basic design decisions on the fly because a bit of truss is 50cm shorter than it should have been, or the unit I wanted to rig has a dodgy reflector and there’s no spares? Answer: too many times. Lighting is surprisingly physical. Rigging lamps is heavy, knackering work, best done with as many skilled people as possible, and an emphasis must be put upon skilled here. You don’t need much training to paint something black, or help carry boxes around. You need a lot to fault-find even the simplest broken lighting circuit, simply because the range of exciting and tricky things that could be wrong with it is extensive.
Once the set is built, a whole different range of problems emerge. The lamps which you rigged easily enough when the stage was clear, become suddenly inaccessible now there’s a mass of scenery in place, and you find yourself engaged in complicated maneuvers with ladders and uncomfortable, reckless climbing positions as you try to get a grip on the lamp itself to point it in the right direction.
Then there’s the biggest stinker of all – time. Time is an absolute killer of lighting designs. Say you’re designing for a theatre that has 150+ dimmers and +200 lights to rig. ‘Fantastic!’ you think. ‘I can do some really good stuff with all this equipment!’ Alas, hope fast fades, as you receive an email from your production manager stating that you have only one day – twelve hours – in which to get all the lights rigged and focused, before technical rehearsals commence the following morning, and your crew is three people including yourself.
Immediately you have to start killing ideas. There simply won’t be time to rig 200 units. So farewell your steep warm sidelight, bye-bye your pipe-end parcans, so long specials as you start slashing at your ambitions. Similar problems of time will also effect set, but with two key differences: 1. a set can be built in advance 2. if the set isn’t quite perfect for technical rehearsal, it can be tweaked and adapted as the rehearsals roll by. Whereas lighting cannot be rigged until fit-up, and it has to be focused and ready to go by technical rehearsal otherwise you’re not going to do an accurate tech. Under these circumstances, lighting feels the pinch massively, and your rig starts shifting away from your artistic dreams and towards a more workmanly thing full of contingencies and backup plans for when stuff goes wrong.
Time also destroys lighting’s ability to work well during a technical rehearsal. A technical rehearsal, for civilians reading this, is the period of time where the actors (who’ve had 4-8 weeks to rehearse) are finally plonked, on stage, in costume, with props, in front of the set, and the sound, stage and lighting departments put all their plans together as we work through the show to make everything work as a whole, instead of in parts. From a lighting point of view, this means running cues – building and adapting changing states throughout the show. If you’re lucky, you’ll have had time to plot (design and store, basically) a few states beforehand. If not, you’re going to have to design as you go. This is fine, really – stressful, but fine – because seeing actors in the space and watching what they do allows you to create a far more appropriate and lovely lighting state than you could do with just a bare stage and a bit of imagination. Technical rehearsals are vital for lighting designers – and yet something which also often gets time stolen from it.
Sometimes time is eaten up because of sheer financial concerns. Every day that a theatre isn’t selling tickets it loses money, and this creates a massive pressure on a team to get their show opened as fast as possible. Sometimes the pressure comes from directors, determined to give their cast as much dress rehearsal time as possible. Which is fine – dress rehearsals are good – but actually at dress rehearsal stage the best a lighting designer can do is adjust and adapt the design, rather than design something thoughtful and precise. What this practically means is that, if we’ve rushed through tech with some okay-but-not-great lighting states, then at dress rehearsal the best you can realistically hope for is to get them to okay lighting states, not great states. Beautiful lighting takes a bit of time, with cast on stage doing what they’d do, for you to light them.
Finally, if something goes wrong with another department – the set isn’t quite right, or choreography doesn’t quite work – then a technical rehearsal can stall. I have spent hours of my life teching the first four or five minutes of a show, clinging to my desk in a fume of impatience, knowing full well that the hours we are spending on these three cues, trying to make them perfect, are hours that I won’t be able to spend later perfecting lighting for the rest of the show.
As an LD you do everything you can to work round this. You plot ahead; you plan, you prep, you build layers of contingency in your mind, your tie your ideas to not one thing but to half a dozen ways of making a design happen. You invest emotion, sure, in making a good design, but above all stay calm and adaptable. I’ve done… probably over thirty professional designs now, so far, (excluding rock and roll gigs, which is a totally different barrel of stress) and in not one, not a single one, can I remember thinking ‘this is easy’. From thousand-seater theatres to the back rooms of pubs, in every single one there’s been something to battle and cajole, and massive pressure from every quarter. Which is fine – LDs who can’t handle pressure and things going wrong tend not to make for good LDs! And LDs who don’t expect it are geared up to be constantly surprised.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/18/satisfied-against-adversity/
Recently I attended a seminar on self-defense for women. It’s totally my cuppa tea. There are very few Causes with a Capital C in my life, but environmentalism, literacy and women-awesomeness are probably the top three, followed closely by respect for the scientific method, and maybe a campaign to lower the price of belgian chocolate ice cream. (Why is it always the most expensive?! Why?!)
We did various bits and bobs – a lot of moving, a lot of attacking back immediately, which makes total sense since a) you don’t want to stand trading blows and grappling and b) if you can win a fight in five seconds, why not aim to win it in three? (Another side-note: why don’t people ever move their feet in movie fights? Both double-stick fighting and fighting with more readily available weapons such as pens and bits of furniture seems to be on the up in films, and yet no one ever bothers to move their feet, merely stands there and takes it. Perhaps, thinking about it, they are taking it Like A Man. Or rather, in the interest of fairness and to skew the gender within the statement: Like A Very Silly Person With Out-Dated Notions Of Masculinity. Anyway…)
At the end of the seminar, the teachers asked if there were any questions. Mine – partially to see what the response of the room was – was to ask if we could do more stuff where we, as women, specifically faced off against Big Men. Preferably, Big Stupid Angry Strong Drunk Men since they can frequently present a problem. What happened, I mused, when we failed to get out of the way, when we were caught off-guard or someone managed to grapple with us? What then? It’s a generic nightmare for all women – the moment someone a lot bigger and stronger simply crushes you into submission. Not least, because lurking just beneath this scenario is another, blacker thought of the threat of sexual violence. We almost dare not say the words, dare not acknowledge it even in a class dedicated to women’s self-defense, but it’s there in the unspoken terrors, a thing so vile we hesitate to speak of it. A question for the floor: how can we ever end rape and sexual violence against both men and women, if we as society do not have the courage to talk about it? Go. Discuss.
However, before our thoughts could walk too much further down this path, one of my teachers spoke up.
“Yeah,” he said, “So like, if someone tries to strangle you or that, I mean, there’s things you can learn in other classes.” Cue: a demonstration. A strangle hold was broken by rising up through it; a grapple was broken by twisting to the side and pulling the attacker’s weight down. An arm grab became a wrist-lock etc. – all stuff I vaguely remembered skirting the surface of in jiu jitsu and which my chen-style-tai-chi-sometimes-sparring-partner does without thinking twice.
“But the thing is, yeah,” he went on, “It’s all like, total bollocks.”
A moment here while he wondered if ‘bollocks’ was something you’re allowed to say in front of women. Bless my teachers, I love them so much, but I’ve never before seen them hesitate before when trying to explain to their students the notion of ‘you can attack the testicles’. Chivalry isn’t dead, it’s merely hopelessly, hopelessly bewildered.
Thankfully, ‘bollocks’ seemed the most appropriate word to describe my teacher’s feelings on this subject, so on he went. “If someone tries to strangle me, yeah,” cue: strangulation, “They’re like, using both their hands so I’m just like, you know…” cue: he sticks both his thumbs in his enemy’s eyes. “I mean, it’s simple, yeah?” cue: clothes grab. “Someone grabs you, just give them pain,” cue: more thumbs in eyes. “They’re busy with their hands,” cue: more strangulation, “and like if they’re bigger and stronger than you then bollocks, all that bollocks, all that fancy stuff, it ain’t gonna work on someone bigger than you, don’t do that fancy shit, and I know, I did it for years, that fancy shit don’t mean nothing when a guy comes at you in the street so just…” cue: thumbs + eyes. “‘Cos a big guy’s gotta be able to see, yeah?”
There was a bit of a pause while the room considered this. Tactically, there was nothing to argue against. The thumbs-in-eyes strategy has a lot going for it. And indeed, there were several people in the room, including a friend of mine, who’d been surprised in the course of the seminar to discover a great deal of pent up and willing aggression within themselves. The day before the class my friend had wailed, “But I don’t want them to come at me with a knife, even a blunt one!” and by the end of the seminar she turned round and said, “I think my problem is that if I feel threatened by someone, I just keep attacking them until they’re dead, because that’s just what comes naturally to me. I’m really surprised to discover how much anger I’ve got.”
I suspect the problem, perhaps for all martial artists, but for untrained women in particular, is not so much about moves – strikes and counter-attacks, footwork and body mechanics – but about will and control. The will part is the first and most important – and arguably most difficult – bit. Are you willing to hurt someone?
Are you willing to hurt them?
Stop and think about it now. Picture someone coming at you. They’re going to punch you. Perhaps they’re going to hit you with something. You don’t know if they’ll stop. You hope they will. You have a moment to decide.
Are you going to hurt them?
Can you picture yourself kicking their knees hard enough for something to fracture? Are you willing to try and break their elbow? Will push your fist into their face? Are you willing to stick your thumbs in a stranger’s – or an acquaintance’s, since most violence happens between people who know each other – eyes? Perhaps you have a weapon – something small, simple. Are you willing to stab someone with the sharp end of a pen? Drive the butt of a mobile phone into their throats?
Will you do it?
I’ve been doing escrima for a couple of years and even now, I’m not 100% sure. I attack people who attack me in class, and that’s fine. But on the spur of the moment, when my life – and possibly the life of my attacker – is on the line, will I do it? To merely disable an attacker, to take them to the floor so they can’t hit you again, is far, far harder than just frickin’ hurting them. Takedowns require skill and confidence, and bring with them risk. Thumbs in the eyes don’t. Moreover, I’ve only come close to experiencing proper violence-threatening fear maybe twice in my life, and it’s fast and it’s paralysing. You reason; you try to think; you can’t quite believe it’s happening. You ask yourself what you’re doing wrong, long before you think about how you’re going to fight your way past this instant. Martial artists train themselves so that the movement of their bodies become instinct, but kick-starting the brain into action is, for my money, far, far harder to drill.
Then there’s control. From being really rather nervous about hitting or being hit, my friend went in the course of two hours to being an explosion of pent-up aggression and fast-firing punches. (I realise I should have seen this coming from having played her at chess. A defensive opening style always gives way to a stunning series of aggressive moves in the middle game….) My mate had ‘will’ totally nailed: now what was missing was control.
“So yeah, we’ve got like, some things from lady’s handbags,” explained my teachers, producing a collection of mobile phones, deodorant, mascara pens and a hairbrush. (My rucksack looks nothing like this.) “We want you to learn how to think of everything as a weapon. So like, if I attack Cat,” cue: attack, “she can use the sharp end of the mascara case as a weapon.”
He was right: that’s precisely what I was doing, holding it so that the pointed plastic end of the case was a couple of inches from his eyes. Turns out that the ‘go for the eye’ instinct is fairly well embedded.
A few minutes later, I’d swapped mascara for a biro, and a teacher was explaining how to use that as a weapon. “So yeah, you can like jab it into nerve clusters,” he said cheerfully, prodding a few bits on the body. “You can work up the arm – like, really drive it into the muscle,” cue: a demonstration ow, “rake it down the spine to push their body out of shape and off balance,” more ow, “jam it into the thigh which is like, god it just hurts so much, or just use it for shock effect and run! But be careful with something pointed, like a pen, because you don’t actually want to kill them. I mean, there’d be like, court cases and the law and that, so don’t actually stick it in their throats.”
At this juncture, I paused to consider where I was holding the biro. Instinctively, it turned out, I was holding it point-first a few inches from my partner’s jugular vein. A medley of feelings ran through me at this moment. On the one hand, this was Bad. My body was instinctively putting itself in a position where it could inflict massive, possibly terminal damage on someone else, and I didn’t like it. Fail. On the other hand, this was Very Good Indeed. Even if my mind froze up, would my body still fight? Would I blink in that moment of animal terror and discover that I had, in fact, fought the good fight for the 0.7s that mattered without even noticing it? This could certainly be handy, if my mind failed. More important though – vastly, infinitely, ridiculously more important, is that the end of the biro was still a few inches from my opponent’s throat. The sharpened end of a mascara case had not, in fact, wound up in my teacher’s eye. Instinct had made me ridiculously more aggressive than I realised I was, but control stopped my arm every time. And not bad control either – not, I suspected, the kind of control that means I won’t strike, that means my arm is trained to pause, which would be the greatest disaster of all. Good, conscious, calm control.
So here I am, at the end of the day, a little bit bruised and very happy. I didn’t learn a huge amount beyond what little I already know about techniques or footwork – but that wasn’t the point of the day. We all took different things from it, but I think what I mostly got was all in the head.
I picture people attacking me now – random, violent, unprovoked attack – and find that I’m not hugely afraid. I don’t think I can win anything particularly, since I’m still pretty junior, but I don’t think I’ll seize up either. I picture myself fighting back, and yes, my body is automatically working to inflict massive amounts of violence, and that’s fine, but as I run through options and targets in my mind, I can also choose to find other, less fatal targets, and should things escalate, still have the options and tools of aggression at my command. Will it work in reality? No idea. Sincerely hope never to find out. Am I a little bit closer, a little more prepared in my mind for it? Perhaps, cautiously: yes. All the rest – all the footwork, all the techniques – are a distant second concern.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/13/sticks-and-brains/
I don’t really read reviews. Sometimes I do – sometimes someone will send me a link to something, or a cutting, but generally speaking if someone’s actually sending me there, it’s probably a nice review, and my ego and joy overwhelms my sense of caution. What I tend not to do, is go looking for reviews.
Sure, usually reviews are lovely, and make me happy. But mixed in amongst the nice reviews there’s usually also something that will begin, ‘reading this was a waste of my life’ or ‘can’t believe I even bothered’ or something of that ilk. Objectively speaking, this is fine. I know that not everyone will like my books – hell, there’s a fair number of books out there I don’t like. Sometimes my distaste is purely about personal preferences in writing style – sometimes about content – sometimes formed from my political views. However, beneath every quiver at every bad review writers receive is the deeper, almost-unconscious fear: what if, having not liked the book, the reviewer doesn’t like me? Writers tend to work alone and not get out much, and this can risk embedding the already fairly-human desire to be admired, liked and respected. One review starting with ‘I don’t know what the writer was thinking’ can stick deeper than ten going ‘oh my word this was fantastic’.
Two things which further make me shy away from reading bad reviews. Firstly, reviews are not criticism. Sometimes you might get a review saying something like, ‘I would have enjoyed this book more if the female characters had been more rounded’ or ‘this book was ok but the ending felt a bit weak and it wasn’t really my style of voice’ and that’s fine! That’s almost brilliant, since it’s considered, judicious and acknowledges more than just personal inclination. However, too often reviews can stray towards spouted opinion – ‘a dull, flat-footed shuffle through pretentiousness’ which, while it may sound great to say (bad reviews are often much easier to write than good ones) actually says nothing at all. The second reason I shy away from looking at reviews too closely is the rise of the internet as a power of reviewing. On the one hand, this is an amazing thing – everyone having the power to read and comment on a book is fantastic, is incredible, is How It Should Be, and I genuinely believe that this can enhance the conversation around books and the spread of reading hurrah! Hurrah and huzzah! Unfortunately, as a rare side-effect, you are now also somewhat more prone to getting reviews that simply read: ‘Dull. Stupid. Hated it. No one should read.’
Alas. This isn’t a review. This is a piece of personal opinion that is pithy enough to wound a reading author, but also says absolutely nothing about the novel. Attached with this is usually a star-rating too – one star, guessing by the content – and therein is another deadly trap. How many two-star reviews are there in existence which read, ‘the book is interesting and I see why people like it but it’s not my thing?’ And how many people read, not the review, but merely the rating? Books are hugely complicated and subjective things and the power to ‘rate’ them like a tennis racket is a potentially dodgy thing.
Nor do I do as I know at least writer does, and read bad reviews in search of things I can do better. It sounds like a potentially noble endeavour, but once again the subjectivity of a book and the infinite number of different ways in which different readers can read it, mean I’m inclined to steer away from anything that might resemble crowd-sourcing. Bouncing ideas around is great; doing research, meeting people, immersing yourself in conversation and life – all awesome! If, however, you’re scouring bad reviews in search of ideas and advice, it’s probably time for your editor or agent to sit you down with a cup of tea and a kindly chat about life.
‘Kindness’ is an under-rated thing in this society. We say ‘kind’ as if it’s somehow a lesser quality than ‘funny’ or ‘beautiful’. Yet ‘kindness’ need not be dull, need not be a wishy-washy thing, but can be as simple as a bit of thoughtfulness in the face of adversity, or gentleness in the presence of bad news. It’s good that books are reviewed, and it’s good that opinions are spoken out loud and are as wide, varied and interesting as possible – we need bad reviews for society to be diverse and thought to be free. You’ll just have to forgive me if I don’t always read them….
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/08/bad-reviews/
So, there’s this thing happening…:
And it’s awesome. I’m going to be there, doing stuff (including a reading of a short story what I wrote for an anthology being published as part of this) and some amazing dudes are going to be there too also doing awesome stuff. And it’s at the National Maritime Museum! Which is one of the most awesome museums there is (all the clocks…) so basically, it’s funky, it’s fun, you guys should totally come along…
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/07/03/dark-and-stormy/
I love learning escrima. Classes make me happy, thinking about it makes me happy – it brings me joy. When I first started learning, I found half a broom handle to practice the movements with. Now, when I’m working as a lighting designer during intense periods, and can’t make it to class for a while, I practice some basic stuff at home by myself. Footwork; basic strikes, that kinda thing. However, there’s only so much a girl can do by herself, and though the gentleman in my life occasionally lets me practice twisty twisty body mechanics stuff on him, there’s only so much he’ll tolerate on a Sunday morning before a cry of, ‘right, tea!’ passes his lips and all violence must cease.
All of which has led me to thinking about sparring partners.
99% of all things we do in escrima ever are done with partners. We spar (gently) to warm up, we practice drills together, we change partners constantly and, in this way, get to experience (with luck) what it’s like to go up against every size, shape and level of experience in the club. It’s good – it’s particularly good when, having done a drill with Short Guy, you then do it with Tall Guy, and discover that their methods, their style, their strikes – everything is completely different, yet somehow oddly the same, and what you did before suddenly stops working and you have to adapt. This makes me happiest of all – every time I get hit it’s a great regret because blimey it can hurt, but it’s also absolutely thrilling because hurrah, learning something new about a thing I didn’t even realise I was doing wrong! (This is particularly true when my teachers hit me. A drill which I thought I was doing fine, I’m suddenly going to do very badly when a scary wall of teacher appears in my space, coming at you like you said something rude about its grandmother. Often painful, frequently terrifying, it’s also one of the highlights of the class.)
It’s interesting observing, as you move through the class, the different kinds of style that different people have. Certain trends slowly manifest. For example, the Strong-Yet-Stiff-Male, of whom there are several sub-categories. Generally he has a great deal of strength in his body when he strikes, but doesn’t actually step much into a space when attacking, and on certain strikes always seems to show his elbow, his arms as he pulls them back for an attack, gaining power from his shoulders rather than his body, so you can see what’s going to happen before it does. The consequence of this is that he is wonderful to jam (block before anything’s really even happened), but a bit of a nightmare to disarm or use takedowns on, as there’s just so much locked-in-place strength you have to overcome to get there.
There’s a couple of Uber-Strong-Males too, in whose presence you half-wonder whether there’s any point fighting, since they could probably just grab you with thumb and little finger and that’d be it, farewell victory. (Except let’s face it, beneath this thought is another, harsher revelation that crops up whenever one of the Uber-Strong crowd attack me, and it is this: that the only way I’m going to actually achieve anything against these boys, if they don’t respond with grace when I try a lock, for example, is by really hurting them until they’re more obliging, and no one wants that.) At the other end of the spectrum are a number of wonderfully Delicate Ladies (I’m not really in that category, I suspect) who’s arms are so thin and light that even I, with my limited sense of remorse in these things, feel a shudder of anxiety every time I do a takedown, in case I break something, and yet whose joints are so supple that if anything you have to keep turning and putting on more pressure to get a lock, lest they just wriggle away from you.
There’s a recurring trend of Too-Polite-To-Ladies, who will strike softly when sparring with me, until I remind him that I’m not going to be soft back. Then there’s Kung-Fu-Laddies who tend to have done another martial art before, and who is usually fast, strong and prone to putting in kicks when you least expect it (which I personally love, as things I least expect are precisely the sort of things I wish to happen) and will catch you wonderfully off-guard when you least expect it. There’s Dudes-Who-Flow and who will just keep coming, gracefully and often sneakily, who are amongst my favourite people to spar with as you have to be constantly alert and able to change what you do. (I’m usually neither.) Then there’s Dudes-Who-Don’t-Flow, but stop every third of fourth move to shake their heads and chide themselves for not having put their feet in the right place and they too, have great advantages as partners in that my feet are frequently in the wrong place, and occasionally reminding myself of this fact is helpful and good.
Then there’s that moment of surprise when you meet Person-On-Their-Second-Class. They’ve only had one hour of training, and they’re very, very nervous, and when they first start hitting they’re going to pull punches and come in with absolutely nothing, afraid of striking you. At this point, being a Good Person (you hope) you stop, and suggest that really, they actually do come for you with their whole bodies, and don’t worry about hitting me because honestly, my teachers have done far worse (and occasionally not even noticed the damage You-Know-Who-You-Are-Ow) and it’d be better for everyone if they gave committed punches. And then – joy! From nervous newbie this explosion of energy emerges and not only do you have to move to get out of the way of the strikes, but you get for a moment a sense of what it’d be like to go against someone who hasn’t had two years of learning to control their punches, of learning when to pull power and when to slow an attack in order to be kind – in short, of fighting someone normal. Someone awesomely, wonderfully, heaven-blessedly normal. And this too, is brilliant.
Only one thing my club really lacks now, I think, and this is a group of people who don’t do escrima. I’d like to spar with karate boys. I want to see what sneaky things tai chi laddies can do, and what they can’t, and where wing chun ladies get their awesome from, and how they use their bodies to achieve miracles. I want to find out how to deal with taekwondo kicks and judo locks, and at the end of the day I want to experience what it’s like to deal with those most famous and notorious warriors of this age, angry-drunk-males-who-just-want-to-hurt-you-with-a-chair. But mostly – mostly! – I want to find someone who lives nearby, who’s not exactly brilliant, but just a bit better than me, who doesn’t mind spending a Sunday morning hitting and hitting back, and playing around with joints and footwork, and just generally having all the fun while finding out together, all the stuff that I still don’t even notice I’m doing wrong.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/06/30/sparring-partners/
Firstly, I do keep an eye on comments, and am always thrilled and grateful when people a) add to b) reply about c) criticise a lot or d) just generally get involved in a conversation on this blog. To you all: my thanks.
Secondly, as Tim Minchin once pointed out, all those people who, as a humanities student at LSE, I’d cower from or laugh at, who take regular exercise while the rest of us sit at home reading books: you’re right, I’m wrong.
This isn’t a new or exciting revelation. I haven’t spontaneously discovered a love of exercise and make no mistake, I will never be a gym-savvy-tastic kinda lady. I do not wish to exercise in order to achieve bulgy arms or a ‘perfect’ body, not least because, if we are going to waxy sociological here, ‘perfect’ is a word which should be taken out and summarily executed for all the harm it has inflicted on men and women down the years. I do not wish to be admired for my body, although if anyone wants to admire the fact that, despite the pain, I sometimes look after it against all odds, that’s more open for discussion, in the sense that my motivation sometimes wavers and the occasional ego-boost wouldn’t go amiss, if it helps me carry on.
No – I wish to exercise because, when I am 83 years old, I don’t want to be in chronic pain. Plain and simple. My Dad took almost no exercise and died young; my Gran likewise took not much exercise and is in distress in her old age. My Mum walks absolutely everywhere, and is in extraordinarily good nick. I look at my family, and the moral doesn’t take a genius to suss.
All of which brings me back to sometimes reading comments on my blog, particularly a comment by Salubri which directed me to Neila Rey. To Salubri: my especial thanks. Leaving aside the fact that Neila Rey’s website is full of the kind of nerdy references that I love; ignoring the funky images and the sensible advise, one of the real reasons why I’m mentioning it now is, unsurprisingly, more social than physical.
Exercise is expensive. A swim at my local pool is £4.45; to swim twice a week, every week, is £35 a month, which if you’re struggling to make ends meet, is a lot. Gyms and clubs require monthly memberships, and as someone who can spend whole months in rehearsal rooms or tech, unable to do anything except rage against my lighting console, the mathematics just doesn’t add up. I am not hugely skint; neither do I have an employer, a guarantee of employment, any prospects of a pension or certainty of pay. Committing to memberships is bad logic.
Even leaving aside my personal situation, there’s another, nastier truth lurking beneath this all – that exercise, and by implication good health – runs the risk of being a prerogative of the wealthy. To exercise regularly, you need time. To have time you need to not be holding down two jobs, raising a family by yourself, pinching pennies and struggling to make ends meet. Whenever our government proclaim that the poor aren’t trying hard enough to get rich, I want to beat the offending minister over the head with a tin of sardines, screaming, ‘how, when every day is a battle for the basics, how do you think anyone has the time or the money or the energy to achieve the good health and full education which they desire?!’ And in energy, I don’t just mean physical energy – I mean the emotional energy, the strength of will, that it takes to exercise, after another day of anxiety and working to the mill.
The same argument extends to healthy food. I have more time than most, courtesy of my freelance life, but when working flat out there’s no choice but to eat badly, because I don’t have the time to eat well. Fresh, good food is more expensive than cheap processed stuff. There is a social divide in this country that isn’t merely defined by a wealth gap, but also by a health gap. Exercise is part of that problem.
So! To Neila Rey again, and to those communities and voices that promote exercise and good health for everyone, either for free or for as little as possible. Exercising when you don’t have other people egging you on can be hard. And so to every free online resource, every library guide on fitness, every online community that supports fellows in its disciplines, every park running group, every local football pitch where you can kick a ball around of an evening, every budget cookery class in the local hall, or online recipes for meals which are quick, healthy and cheap; to every communal basketball court and local noticeboard inviting people to do stuff, for free, together – to them I give thanks.
Nor should we be shaming people, putting up false idols of ‘perfect’ bodies with ‘perfect’ abs and ‘perfect’ weight – these are falsehoods that only serve to make health even less accessible than it already is. Eating well, and living well, should be as intrinsic rights, not luxuries.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/06/25/okay-i-admit-it/