Thursday, March 24, 2005

Skander-san's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld 9
or WTF?

The one where nobody seems to recall what we did the week before. Except me. Cunts.

I push the envelope a little again this week, rocking up 15 minutes late. Yeah, I can get into insolence when I want to. But I haven't missed a jot this time. They've only just started the warm-up, the old laps of the dojo thing, and I can see why: there are only 15 of us initiates here. After last weekend's massive crew of more than 50, it's v strange to have a grand total of 20 people forming the initial warmup circle.

So through the warm-up we go: ankle rotations, hip rotations, neck rotations, star jumps, calf rises, and then into the hemisphere things, first the left side and then the right side. The place looks so empty. Strange. Then the saburi, which are the practice cuts we do, 30 men, 30 side men, you should know the drill by now. But today, instructor Vu throws in a new one: the anchor-shaped saburi. Just in case anyone thought we may have been getting somewhere with this bloody art, he throws this in to make us all feel like a bunch of right dickheads. The idea is basically to get us back to practicing our footwork. I know my left heel likes to edge its way back in towards the centre of my being, so we must look a terrible bunch, because, of course, I am one of the best. Suck. This anchor movement, which I'm sure has a Japanese name that I'm unaware of, or unwilling to recall, involves us making men cuts as we move in, surprise, surprise, the shape of an anchor. Well, a half-curve shape anyway. So we move to the right, right foot sliding first and left foor following, with its toes, as ever, two fists out from the heel of the right foot. The difference here is that we are now facing a 30° angle inward. So our second movement is to the left, and here is where it gets confusing: we have to lead with our left foot, and follow with our right, and reverse our stance so our feet are in the inverse position to what we've been told for, like, ever, all while executing the stroke . WTF? We have been taught to always lead with the right and follow with the left, so this is basically turning our newly-constructed origami world upside-down, or at least folding it inside out, if I want to keep my metaphor alive.

30 of these then. And another 30. And oh, shit, I've fucked up a bit there, my feet are all over the place and I'm having a bit o' trouble with my balance when I'm not thinking about it. There we go. Another 30. Now 50. Okay, we get the idea. Moving from left to right and bacl again, always cutting to the same point in the middle, where we began. Which is quite a change, as we've only been cutting straight in front on previous occassions.

Thank god that's over. Now we line up for kiri-kaeshi, the 15 of us and 5 seniors, and I notice that I'm opposite the the oldest bloke in the beginners' course. Ands I notice that he wasn't for installment number 8 on our road to kendo enlightenment. Which was the essential lesson where we learnt how to receive the kiri-kaeshi. Which isn't that hard, but if you don't know what you're doing, it's godawful. For me, that is, godawful for the guy who does know what he doing when the other bloke has not got the faintest fucking idea. Anyway, "hanashimasu" is called and we begin. And this bloke has seriously no idea. He's waving his shinai around and looking like a right dickhead, and there's no time, and less inclination on my behalf to actually show the fucker what he should be doing. A pointed "You weren't here last session, were you?" and one or two tips sufficed, and "kotai" was called, meaning we all move round one place ('and the little one said "roll over" and they all rolled over and one fell out.' But I digress).

So I'm up against my next partner, and she was here last session. I sigh "Thank god you were here last time, that bloke has no idea what to do". Famous last words? She seems to have left her brain at home as well, and gets the whole motodachi thing wrong too. "But you were here last time!" my exasperated mind cries silently. Yeah, I know, I sound like a whinger. Well, I am having a bloody whinge, because it shat me half to tears.

At this stage I'm casting my eye around, and realise I am the last in line to get any practice with the seniors, who might actually be able to help my technique, and that won't be for a good, ooh, 8 more kiri-kaeshis. And that my next few partners weren't here last time either and have no idea and it's all gone very very pear-shaped as far as I'm concerned, and I'm all "What the Fuck is going on with you cunts? Can't you get this right? It's not that hard at all". The instructor notices the crappiness of what so many are doing, and so guess what? We have stop and go right back to basics. Infuriated, I am.

Now my issue with all these guys and their motodachi (I've decided receiving sounds a bit ner-na-ner) is not that they're getting their footwork wrong, or holding their shinai a little limp-wristedly, or any of the other things that the seniors are picking up. Being the tallest of this bunch, I naturally have a longer reach. But a lot of these people, and I won't single them out, but they're a specific group—you know who you are—simply don't fucking move backwards far enough during the exercise to maintain the proper distance between the two parties. Which leaves me trying to get my technique right with my target being three feet in from of me instead of almost 3 metres, and doing these funny wee men cuts which are a) wrong, b) exceptionally bad in terms of helping me perfect my technique and c) effeminate and pansy. It drives me crazy. And led to me using my right arm more than I should (this whole kendo thing is left-hand drive—and left foot for that matter) which in effect drags my strokes down, rather than out—ie my right hand has taken over in the strength department when it's meant only to steer the shinai, because the the targets I am hitting are simply way too close. It's like trying to swing a cat in a phone box. I am still feeing the effects of this now—I still get feedback from seniors telling me to stretch out further, a problem which has its genesis in these bastards' misjudgement of space.

They're better now, much better, but that night, I coulda killed a handful of my colleagues. Lucky there aren't proper swords in the dojo. As far as I know.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Today is my last day in my current job. It's only been a three-monther, but it's been one of the more enjoyable projects I've undertaken over the last coupla years. And so has the view out over Williamstown, watching the big red ships move slowly into the Yarra, which was an awesome way to zone right out when the stupid cow with the English accent was (in fact, IS) whinging that, yet again, it's not HER fault she hasn't done her work. SHUT UP. But her aside, the gang here have been a welcoming bunch–which isn't always the case with gun-for-hire project work.

Anyway, I don't have anything lined up, so I'm looking forward to some quality time with the playstation and my CV until after Easter. And I have some plans for the house too–like getting a phoneline put in.

On days like this, you know, turning points, I tend to get overly sentimental. Or so I'm told. As I type this, I've taken to riffing on my employment history. Which is really just an excuse to mention that I once worked for this crazed German who dresses like Indiana Jones and exhibits real human bodies. That still creeps me out.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ding Dong the King is Dead

The Amazing Race outrated The Footy Show in Melbourne last week, The Hun's "Hot or Not" column tells me.

Suck dogs' balls Eddie.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Media Watch

A handful of tidbits I picked up from Virginia Trioli and Stephen Mayne on 774 last night:
  1. Melbourne has the highest percentage talkback radio listenership in the world at about 30% of radio listeners.
  2. The Hun has the highest penetration rate of any newspaper in the world at around 700,000 copies for 4,000,000 people, assuming a readership of about 3 people per paper (that's me assuming the readership level). Still, that makes it read by more than 50% of Victorians, on average, daily.
What does that say about us?

And then there were these:
  1. Metropolitan Sydney has the lowest figures for 6pm news-watching, at around 8% of potential audience.
  2. Perth has the highest rate at about 13%.

  3. And incidentally, Sydney also has the lowest rate of people watching Desperate Housewives.

in the absence of an appropriate forum

How about Toadie's new love interest?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Skander-san's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld 8
or Urban Legend

Ok, the fun part of this week's Adventure was that it took a grimy, inner-city construction-site feel. Kinda like that arena in Tekken, the one that flat-top cocksmoker Paul Phoenix calls home—all cyclone fencing, graffiti and el-trains.

Again we had a celebrity instructor, and being a Sunday Session, we had the full complement of seniors too. For some reason there were a shitload of us beginners there–like a good 25, which is about the max I've ever noticed, and possibly more than that in seniors too. So much so that it was chockas on the floor of the dojo when we separated into our respective ranks and commenced our kiri-kaeshi. For those of you who have been waiting in anticipation of an explanation of kiri-kaeshi, it's about 200 words away. We beginners are told to line up opposite our partners–nine steps away, to be precise–and after a rei, start hacking away at each other–which is pretty much the best description I can offer, as our new instructor shook his head and whinced in disbelief. He calls us all in, muttering something about how ridiculous we all looked and who the fuck told us to do it this way. Robbie. Like every other Sunday morning, we can't hear jackshit over the clattering of experienced shinai, but for the very first time, a sane solution in offered: let's all walk out to the back carpark of the dojo, where everyone can hear properly. Ad this from a bloke with a fairly strong voice, as opposed to our usual instructor who is hard enough to hear without background interference. So yeah, I'm kinda like, um, good idea.

Outside we troop, to the concrete carpark with a single car and a skip parked in it, overlooked by an empty 5 storey construction site with scratchy red scaffolding, you know, labourer shit. So with a roll of the eyes and a shrug of the shoulders, we get the full story on kiri-kaeshi:

The aim of kiri-kaeshi is to practice all the skills we have learnt. All of them—our footwork and our shinai work, attacking and receiving. So lets start with the attacking side first–all post rei and sonkyo (the bowing bits). The attacker takes a step back, and then kiais to the motodachi, in this case he shouts some form of "kiri-kaeshi" to tell the defender he is about to commence kiri-kaeshi. This basically means "get the fuck ready, I'm about to lay a blow on your skull", therby encouraging the defender to defend himself by holding his shinai horizontally above his forehead to take any attack. And sure enough that attack comes, in the form of a lunging, straight men cut.

From there we snap, and I mean quick-smart, into a position fists-to-fists, knuckles-to-knucles. If we were wearing the kote, or gloves, we'd bash our fists into one another's, but as we're bare-fisted, it's a kinda symbolic thing. Whereupon the motodachi takes a step back with his left leg, holding his shinai erect, with his left fist at the base just out from his left hip. This is how we receive the first men cut of a series of four, taking a further step back, ayumi-ashi style, where our feet cross-over walking style, after each cut and moving the erect shinai from side to side in time with our back leg to receive the men cuts as they come from first the right, then left, right, left. As the receiver moves back ayumi-ashi, the attacker moved forward okuri-ashi, or the special kendo shuffle that was the first thing we learnt.

So we've made it through four cuts, another five to go. But this time the motodachi pushes the attacker back using the same footwork, the attacker stepping backwardwith each stroke, the defender advancing, defending five cuts this time, right, left, right, left, right. Once that's done, both participants return to kamae and the attacker begins his routine, perhaps not starting with the "kiri-kaeshi" kiai this time, coz we're only half way through the bloody thing.

And so he attacks again, beginning with the straight men, all the way through the nine cuts and ack tothe stat one more time. For the finale: another straight men cut, but this one followed through, past the motodachi until the attacker thinks they're safe enough not to be struck down from behind, and can return to face his opponent.

At this point the two return to where they began with the motodachi now in the position of the attacker, and the attacker where the motodachi was. And so we begin again, in the opposite role to before. "Kiri-kaeshi!"

Yeah, it's pretty full on. They tell us that the Japanese that study kendo at university (yes, they can take a bachelor-type degree in a martial art over there, like sumo, or kendo, or karate, judo, aikido) they spend a whole year on kiri-kaeshi. Getting it right, reforming their technique, doing it again. And I can see why, when we've only really been doing it for 3 weeks, and even then a bit off-and-on and skewiff and misdirected and stuff, and quite frankly we're shithouse. But we will improve.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Neighbours Tragic

This weekend in Melby, the Saturday Hun featured a whole magazine dedicated to 20 years of Neighbours. Apart from putting a picture of Lisa Armytage (Beverley Robinson #1: the brunette) next to a piece about Antoinette Byron (whom I remember playing a psycho nanny to Daphne Zuniga's dull, depressive Jo on Melrose Place), there was an full-page piece by the owner of www.erinsborough.com, a bloke called Alan Shade, and a reference to three, yes, 3 great Neighbours websites. That makes even a soap-tragic like myself shudder. The first cab off the rank was Neighbours.com which is ├╝ber-crap considering the show has been around for 20 years and has a following of something like 6 million poms a day and about a million of us. Another was perfectblend.net, which features a shitload of character bios n stuff, but will always play second fiddle to erinsborough.com. And so erinsborough.com gets this big-up from the Hun, with retrospectives and highlights and stuff are appearing all over the place, and ya know what: they're down.

I mean, it's like Alanis Morrisette's take on irony: you get all this publicity, and before it's even published, you've done something wrong, somehow, somewhere, and your site has disappeared on the very weekend you get this press. Irony. Maybe.

Skander-san's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld 7
or Will be Warriors

Episode 7 in the enthralling series detailing my experiences as a novice in the local kendo dojo. The action this episode takes place on the Wednesday following the St Jerome's Laneway Festival and the Trainspotting-inspired job interview.

This is the week I arrive 45 minutes late because 1) I'm flat-knacker at work, having to launch my site in 10 days time, and 2) I seriously can't be arsed. It's one of those things, when you've got a shitload to do, you can fit more stuff in, and when you're bone idle, the day flies by and you realise that you haven't so much as washed the dishes. Yes, that means we don't have a dishwasher chez skander. Well we do, and his name is skander. So over the last few weeks, I'm working like a bastard, doing mega-hour days and still fitting in enough time for the good things like alcohol and pot and food . So, at this point, I seriously can't rouse enough interest to get me to the dojo on time. Can't rouse enough interest to leave work, and so I do one of those deflection things were I blame someone esle for not being able to make kendo on time when I know full well that it is my fault and my fault entirely. And this is basically because they have that Japanese-inspired self-responsibility thing going there, where you're just plain expected to be together enough to get there on time, every time, else you're showing disrespect.

So, I thumb my nose at this crappy mantra that reminds me somehow of Anthony Robbins, and rock up 45 late. At least I fronted. But so late in fact that I've missed the warmup all together and the seniors make me go and do a mini version all by myself, most probably just for their own amusement. After I've gone through the motions, I get to join the group again, and notice that our usual instructor has gone AWOL, and we're being taken by a very obviously kiwi-bloke with a huge gap between his front teeth. And he's got us doing kiri-kaeshi. At this point I should say that it took me a long time to find the correct spelling of kiri-kaeshi today because it usully kiai-ed loudly and quickly before we enter into kiri-kaeshi, and usually something like "IKISH", which for a pedantic former Japanese scholar is truly frightening. So now Robbie, our kiwi instructor- for-a-day makes this word sound more horrific than I had previously thought. And he's got a helluva different training style, which is something we don't really learn until the coming Sunday when they try to unlearn us half of what he's had us do.

And so the big thing he tells us is that we need to swing our shinai around more, getting more angle into our 45° men cuts to the head, so that we're looking more and more like helicopters. The opther thing he does that is different is that at the end of the class, he selects 5 students he thinks have best picked up today's instructions, pull them out the front and gets them to demonstate to the rest of us. Ha! Particularly when they are the ones pulled up the next session for doing things the wrong way. Oh the schadenfreude!

And schadenfreude is a very good thing to take one's mind off one's own traumas, which this week, apart from terminal disspiritedness, include that pair of blisters the size of 20cent coins, one on the ball of my left foot and the sole of my right big toe. Yes, my feet, a pair of otherwise unremarkable size 10½s, have a habit of getting themselves into trouble. Like when I fell down the stairs last September and broke my big toe. Yes, the same toe that now lives half in agony and half in fear of agony as a result of its ingrown toenail, which itself is half dead. And so unbelievably attractive. But when you're sliding around on these particular parts of your feet with large flaps of dead skin hanging from the sole, proving the only cushioning for the ultra-senstive tissue below, it gets kinda dangerous. In an anticipation of pain kida way. And then you realise that is why everyone else is wearing these funny martial arts style sockette things. And that the guy who gave you the advice the first week about the blisters becoming calluses was right. And that the kiwi guy is urging you all to find a beach to wade in at 10pm on a Wednesday night—in Melbourne. He clearly doesn't know much about Melbourne to be urging us to put our feet in Post Phillip Bay at all, let alone in the DARK). Now that's a recipe for an infectious disease.

Skander-san's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld 6
or Memento

I'm going to be kinda brief this time around, seeing as it was a good 3 or so weeks ago, and my memory aint what it used to be. Well, it isn't that bad, they just blur into one another. . But I do know it was the first time we were taught kiri-kaeshi.

Now kiri-kaeshi is a bit of fun. It's the regular drill that kendo students (and masters, while I'm at it) use to practice their skills. And believe me they practice it over and over again. And then some more. What was that I said somewhere earlier about muscle memory? We're sure as hell getting there. But I don't think we got fully into the routine of kiri-kaeshi, so I won't bore you with that one till my next retrospective installment. Which will hopefully be later this arvo, as I'm in the skiving mood.

Having cast a cursory look over the previous installment of Skander-san's Adventures, I've recalled a few details. There was a repeat of the disgusting hyperhidrosis incident, this time precipitated by one of those heatwaves full of the super-dry 39° days that the Royal Ambulence Service revels in. Fuck it was hot. Still around 28° at kendo time, and with the dojo being former factory with an awesome sawtooth roof with few openable windows, I was not alone this time. Thank God for that.

And we finished up with a 15 minute condensed version of shinai maintenance 101. We all gathered around on the floor and pulled apart our weapons, which really aren't much more than four strips of bamboo, a whole bunch of strangely synthetic felty stuff, and a piece of yellow string. Well, the adventurous of us pulled apart our shinai, and the tepid woosy types sat there watching, thinking they were taking in all they need to know, but knowing full well that if they ever have to do anything like repair their sticks, they're going to be royally fucked. Mwahahaha!

Friday, March 04, 2005

busy busy busy

lack of posts due to three eleven hour days at work, one 14 hourer and an a full day of photoshot today. I've got to launch a site by midnight monday, and I got better things to do right now than hang out with my computer. Like getting riotously pissed.

But first I've gotta hit a christening. Let's hope I don't spontaneously combust. Good weekend, y'all.