Saturday, April 8, 2006

Whirling Tiger, Hidden Idiot

“Kelly!” I hissed through clenched teeth, desperately trying to get my friend’s attention. “Kelly! As soon as I regain the full use of my legs, I am going to KILL YOU.”

It all started a week earlier when Kelly innocently pulled a Kung Fu brochure out of her bag. “I thought this would be a fun way to get some exercise. Will you do it with me?”

Of course I will. How hard can it be? I’m in pretty good shape. I can run a whole mile without stopping for a cigarette. Plus it’s only the “trial” visit. There would probably be some posturing and maybe a few kicks. Easy.

Twenty minutes into our first Whirling Tiger class I wanted to die.

I sensed trouble the second we walked up to the building. I had expected a well-lit storefront in a strip mall, like the place where weeks earlier I’d watched my friend’s six-year-old run wild in a pack of children while the frazzled instructor yelled “Discipline! Discipline!” This dojo was a run down building with peeling white paint that looked like it might have been a church long ago. (I did end up praying to god at least five times. As in, “Please God, make it stop, make the pain be over.”)

The inside was gritty and smelled like sweat socks and old spice. We were the only women there. Sensei Darrell led us through a gauntlet of boxers punching hanging bags. Arcs of sweat danced like lawn sprinklers and Kelly and I carefully paced ourselves to avoid getting sprayed. Sensei Darrell charged ahead.

He gave us a choice to start at level one or zero. For Kelly’s sake I chose level zero, thinking I could start at level one (two even) since I’m in good shape, but she probably needed to start out slow.

Sensei Travis stretched us out. After several standard positions he said, “Now this stretch I’m about to do might be kind of hard so feel free to skip it.” This immediately activated the show-off portion of my brain, compelling me to lie on my back and hoist my self up into the “Hovering Rainbow” position. It turns out my back doesn’t do rainbow. Muscles I didn’t know existed clenched into place and seared with pain. Kelly and Travis peeled me off the floor so I could hobble over and begin the lesson.

We joined a group of five men on a ratty strip of carpet. Sensei Darrell instructed us to stand in the back and follow along as best we could. We both kept up all right at the beginning, waving our arms back and forth in the “Swatting Fly” and the “Crazy Mosquito.” I held my leg in the air easily for the “Super Dog Hydrant,” and smiled as Sensei looked at me and said, “Perfect, just hold it for a count of two hundred.”

I was starting to feel a tremor in my thigh muscles. Kelly sat down to take a break. I pressed on, going count for count with the men for fifty “Crouching Crabs.” Next came the “Chirping Cricket.” My face was two inches from the Kung Fungus floor and I was positive I looked like a chirping idiot, feet in the air, nostrils full of the odor of stale feet. My legs were now shaking violently.

Midway through my seventy-fifth “Squatting Tiger” Kelly appeared back at my side, moving up and down with the group. “Oh my god!” She whispered, “Your ass is vibrating so fast you could make Martinis back there!” Mentally I named them Dojinis, and promised myself one as soon as I got home, if I ever got home. What had felt like five hours of torture was really only the fifteen-minute warm up segment and already my muscles were reduced to a hot, quivering goo. The pain in my back was so bad it was numb. I made another mental note, drop Kelly off in a field and make her walk home.

We struggled through the partner exercises while Sensei Darrell came around with astronomical numbers. “Just five hundred more sit ups, you’re doing great!” My normal workout routine consisted of crunches in more palatable sets of 10 or 20 or the stair master in front of The Dr. Phil Show. After twenty pushups (out of a hundred) my body melted into the floor, a puddle of sweat and black Lycra. I didn’t care that my hands and face touched the nasty carpet as long as I could lie down and close my eyes, just for a second.

Sensei Darrell’s voice came from above me. “You are already strong enough, you just have to discover your strength. Maybe we should move you both to another exercise.”

I didn’t know if I could move to anything. We unstuck ourselves from the floor. I lost my footing twice trying to stand up. Kelly held onto both my hands and we stood there like two oafs trying to balance on ice skates.

Sensei Darrell gave us each long sticks that we braced behind our backs and were supposed to swing around to hit a large padded pole. Normally, when my limbs are working at full capacity, I can’t go longer than five seconds without knocking something over, tripping or spilling spaghetti sauce on my shirt. Putting me in a crowded gym with a long stick when I’m numb with pain and can’t see straight because my eyes are drowned in sweat is probably not a good idea, a burly guy in boxing gloves eyed me distrustfully.

We were supposed to hit the bag a thousand times. The insides of my elbows were raw by fifty and I could no longer feel my right hand. I dropped my stick and waited for Kelly to finish. When she finally dropped her stick we just sort of stood there, swaying back and forth, arms locked in a bent position like we were waiting for serving trays to be placed on them. Sensei came over.

“Did you get to a thousand?”

We grunted. A whirling tiger had whisked off with my ability to form coherent sentences.

“Sit down” Sensei said gesturing toward the far wall.

“Sweet,” Kelly said, “Floor. Rest.”

I was distrustful, thinking we’d be expected to stand on our heads and shoot an arrow or punch a hole in the concrete using concentration.

“We’re going to practice our breathing,” Sensei Darrell said. “I want you to sit down, close your eyes, and practice slowly breathing from your belly. Do ten to twenty of these.”

Great. Kicking squats exercise—five hundred. Breathing exercise—ten. I did fifty. Propped up against a grimy wall, breathing in the sweet aroma of jock straps and mold, I assumed the “Sleeping Lady” position.

When it was finally time to go I made my way out with the spring of a ninety-eight year old who just woke up from a coma. The four concrete steps to the parking lot took me ten minutes to navigate and I had to ride home sans seat belt since I didn’t have the strength to reach back and pull it across me.

The next morning I left Kelly a message. I had some fun ideas for new exercise programs—Volcano Jumping, Swimming with Sharks, Running with the Bulls. I thought we should start out easy.

No comments: