Last weekend was a really good experience and I'm very glad I made the effort to attend both the maintenance and Bolognese seminars. I'll give the latter seminar its' own post later.
The maintenance seminar covered breathing techniques, chi kung form(s), wrist and arm conditioning exercises and massage of the forearms, neck, back, hips and knees. I liked the massage but noticed that I need to really practice this a lot more if I want to get any good at it at all, even for self-massage. We learned that for example, in the back musculature are basically three layers of muscle, each layer containg muscle groups which run in a different direction to the layer above or below. Super complicated! Also that experts are able to manipulate and feel which layer they want to target. Amazing to have such sensitivity in one's hands. I could barely feel the muscles just under the skin!
I noticed during the wrist/forearm conditioning that the small muscles and tendons and things in my right arm are noticeably more developed than in my left. How had I not noticed this before? I did injure my left elbow sometime during the early summer this year when I foolishly tried to pull an anchor rope without waiting for the boat engine to help me. In effect I tried to pull a 3½ tonne boat into a strong headwind. Stupid! Something "popped" in my elbow and it was sore for a couple of days but since gives off alarming twinges if I put stress on the elbow, i.e. when I try to do the wrap in the second drill. So, for the next month, wheon not otherwise training swordsmanship, I shall be incorporating forearm exercises and massage with medicine to try to build up the small muscles around the elbow and to strengthen those muscles and associated tissues involved in handgrip strength. I'll report after Christmas on my progress.
Other forearm exercises involved hand weights and sticks. The latter exercises were a lot of fun but we got lots of shoulder exercise as well because each time we dropped the damn stick, we had to do ten push-ups! The clangour of wood hitting the floor got so bad at one point that Guy got a bit annoyed and increased the penalty to twenty push-ups. Thankfully I didn't drop the stick again. I'm looking forward to getting my ash staff out for a forearm workout!
The chi kung part was very interesting. This stuff is very close to my heart as I've been practicing Wahnam Cosmos chi kung it for quite a while now, as taught by Sifu Wong Kiew Kit. We started off with the crane form, which is a very interesting exercise for breathing, balance and overall leg conditioning. Unlike Wahnam chi kung, where the breathing may be paused but never held, the breath hold phase in the crane form actually keeps air in the lungs and squeezes them gently, thereby expanding the lungs gently. I deliberately wrote "gently" here twice to stress that it must be done without force. I like this form a lot for the balance aspect, but also the sinking/rising along the central axis of the body, not just bending from the waist. Afterwards we did the chi kung form which is in the sword school syllabus. I had been practicing the first part on and off for a while, incorporating it into my daily chi kung routine. I got to fine tune the movements, which I had not been doing correctly.
The "fun" bit involves continuing to move in a relaxed, graceful manner, after exhaling, so running on "empty". It's a bit difficult as your brain is telling you to breathe in, you just have to ignore it, relax and continue. It feels wonderful to draw the next in breath, the air feels so good. Simple pleasures :-)
The next part of the exercise is even more, erm "fun". The moves themselves are not very difficult. It's just that the running on empty time is even longer! I'll have to practice the physical form for a while before I am able to do this part without passing out! :-) Guy reckoned that this form keeps him in pretty good shape physically and aerobically, when he is otherwise unable to train as normal. If/when my breath control becomes good enough to be able to complete the next part of the form, I'll definitely be in better shape.
So thanks to Mr. Windsor for organising the seminar. I was quite tired from a Christmas party (pikkujoulu) the previous evening and slightly hungover, and having to get up at 7 o'clock for the two hour drive to Helsinki. The material learned, particularly the chi kung and massage was a very welcome remedy for my battered body and soul. This, combined with the excellent chicken soup and lunch made by Ken Quek (from PHEMAS, Singapore) had me feeling relaxed, attentive and happy by the end of the day.