Ah escrima. It makes me so happy. It keeps me calm. I love learning escrima.
That said! If I’ve been in tech for a while (and these last few months, I’ve been in tech a lot), when I finally go back to stick-hitting, I really feel it. My lungs try their very best to pack-up under nearly all conditions. In winter, the air is so cold that it feels like everything’s frozen up inside, and I can feel my windpipe trying to contract down to the size of a small straw in my throat. In spring, all the pollen comes out and sets off the hayfever/asthma whammy, and in autumn, when it rains, the old inhalers come out as the colds come in.
However, my dubious lungs are at least zappable with ventolin. (Which, by the by, our government demand I pay for because asthma is a ‘controllable condition’. Sure. If I don’t laugh, walk or breath during pollen season… sure it is, government… sure it is….)
My week and weeble arms, however, are something only I can fix – assuming I even want to?
A few months ago my teachers decided that as a ‘treat’ we’d have a ‘fun’ session where they bought in a wide range of eclectic weapons – buckler, staff, machette, palm stick, biro etc.. (I’m particularly a fan of knives; just saying.) However, amongst all the awesome that arrived in our club, there also rocked up an iron bar. Now. Leaving aside the basically valid merit of being able to hit someone with something heavy, I had qualms about training with an iron bar. Being barely able to lift it in one hand didn’t aid my enthusiasm. The fact that my teachers couldn’t quite hide their sniggering, despite their best attempts at ‘professional face’ as I failed to be able to complete a strike without almost falling over, only rounded off my sense of doom, and in fairness after only five minutes of making me suffer with this implement they, in their own words, ‘put you out of your misery’ and let me train with something I could carry.
Since then it’d be lovely to pretend that I’ve been doing push-ups every day and practicing my epic strength regime of awesome. It’d also be a total lie. Frankly, I’ve got a lot on my plate. What with theatre, books, some semblance of a social life and feeding myself, I don’t really have time to embark on a ruthless strength-training regime. Nor am I entirely sure that I want to. It’s a tricky debate, one on which I don’t really have a firm position or deep thoughts – do I want to get physically stronger?
I mean, yes. Obviously I do. Of course I do. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’d be lovely. It’d be convenient for more than simply escrima. It’d up my stamina, my ability to train with more and bigger things, and would probably also help me move fast while holding heavy things, all of which are bonuses. It’d also make doing fit-up in theatres and moving furniture around easier. Universal win.
However, it also looks like it could be a double-edged sword unless carefully used. I watch a couple of people in class who rely on physical strength to get through lessons, and it seems that when you’re a six-foot-three dude built like a concrete breeze block, there may not be such temptation to move your feet as I, being a somewhat frailer creature, experience in the face of oncoming doom. From some of the stronger members of the class you can sometimes sense an aura of ‘I’m coming… doesn’t really matter how… I’ve arrived! You still here? I hope not. Because if you are you are crushed.’
And this is awesome, and indeed rather enviable, but I can’t help but wonder what our Strong Man will do when, on arriving, he finds the skinny dude has got a knife, or a steel-capped boot and an unchivalrous attitude to his future fertility. Strength, I suspect, is nothing unless it’s fiendishly matched with dexterity, intelligence and speed, and relying on it too much looks like trouble set to come.
I say this partially to make myself feel better. I think the obvious counter-argument now leaps off the page – that I could be as fast as greased lightning, but if I can’t hit to hurt, block with strength when my movement fails (and it shall and does – because I mis-read an attack or just get myself in a tangle, sooner or later I end up blocking badly, and awkwardly, and needing to have a bit of heff to do it) – then really, I should reconsider my own position.
All this theory is well and good, but do we not then sneak back to the original problem – when exactly am I going to find time to get physically stronger? Answer: probably no time soon. And this is actually one of the things I like most about escrima – that it feels like a martial art that is vaguely helpful even after only a few months of training. I have a sparring-partner-in-crime who knows tai chi as a martial form, and studied it for three years. Three years is long enough for him to have a few tricks up his sleeve, but by his own confession, it would probably be another five or six years before he was truly devastating, and I mean devastating. Do not be fooled by the slow turning of the hips, or the gentle flutter of hands… I have sparred with him long enough to find myself on the floor, on the other side of the room, without quite knowing how I got there, to have massive respect for tai chi. But to get to where he is has taken years, and yes, it will take me years before I am anything other than a novice in escrima. But even in my very junior state, I still feel that I can aim to get out of the way (rule 1) of an attack and have no qualms about hitting with everything I’ve got should things go tits up. I’m not yet good; I am better than disastrous.
When I dallied with jiu jitsu, we had horrific warm ups of push-ups and sit-ups and squats while being shouted at and… oh the horror… simply because there were things we couldn’t do in jiu jitsu without a certain level of physical fitness. And yes: the boys had an inherent advantage. When it comes to a 63kg International History student at LSE attempting to throw a 6’5 muscle-bound, 95kg Economics student over her shoulder, sure, I can twist at the hips for all I’m worth, but I dunno… I just think he’s going to have an easier time of it…
It’s that, right there, that bothers me. I want to be good at escrima when I’m 70 years old and have an artificial elbow. I want to be able to kick up a stink even after I’ve spent three months in tech and my arms are limp from too much novel-writing. I want to be able to use my brain and my understanding of bodies and techniques, even when having an asthma attack, and to win against any opponent of any size in preferably less than 5 seconds, then waddle home on my zimmer frame for a nice cuppa tea after. Working in theatre, you do have to do a lot of heavy lifting, but as a woman you also learn methods of getting round it. Strong male technicians who have invested heavily in Being Strong, may pick up a Mac TW1 moving light, one in either hand, but they look like right plonkers when they have to stop, put one down, gasp for breath, and have a quick tea break after moving only two lights because they’ve worn themselves out. As a woman, I’ll lift one TW1 at a time, bending at the knees, putting as much weight as I can on my shoulders, rather than in my arms, and sure, I’ll be slow, and I’ll hurt after, but I’ll get it done not through being strong, but through technique. And sure, in theatre, there will come a moment when there is something you can’t do. I can’t rig a VL3k by myself, because it weighs a lot more than me. However, I’d argue that a man can’t rig that by himself either – at least, not safely. Two big words that so easily get forgotten in a fit-up, and alas two words which I think we could apply to that escrima student who charges in with strength, weight, and no sense of moving out of the way.
So here it is. I would like to be strong, sure I would. It’d be handy and it’d be nice.
But I have techniques for now that get me through life, and more importantly, I find myself wondering whether good technique, once learned, might not last a lifetime, whereas my limited strength is at risk of always coming and going.
Right now – I don’t know.