Monthly Archives: July 2019

Yellow Belt – Peterec’s Kickboxing

I’ve been going to Peterec’s Kickboxing for a year and a half now. The gym’s right downtown on Fisgard. And the Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes are super convenient–my office is literally blocks away. Hey, no excuse not to go! But even so, I only manage to go, on average, twice a week. Something always seems to come up, whether it’s a meeting that goes to long or an injury. But hey, we’re past the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra of the 80s. Rest is good. Of course, not too much rest! That would be sloth!

When I joined up, the goal was never to compete or acquire the different colour belts. I enjoy physical activity (I’ve run a marathon and done a 130km bike trek) and I wanted to see if I could toughen myself up. I’ve never been quite tough, you see. In fact, quite the opposite. Also, martial arts runs in the family. My father taught Wing Chun to police officers when he moved from Hong Kong to Canada in the late 60s. His teacher in Hong Kong was one of Bruce Lee’s instructors.

For some reason or another, I never took up Wing Chun with my father. He taught me for a couple of weeks, but, at that time in my late teens, I didn’t have the patience. Later on, I tried Tai Chi. But it was difficult for me to remember the sequence. After a few months, I moved on to other things. Kickboxing seemed different. You can start hitting the bag right away. And there’s only so many basic motions: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, leg kick, body kick, head kick, front kick, etc., (there’s also elbows and knees and other moves, but the basic moves seem manageable to a novice). In short, kickboxing seemed more accessible out of the starting gate.

I’ve been grateful for everything that Stan and the other instructors and classmates have taught me over the last year and a half. You know, when most people watch the fights, they look at how impressive fighters look when they throw devastating combos. But, when you go to the gym, you begin to understand and appreciate how impressive it is for guys to absorb the combos thrown at them. Even if a kick or punch is successfully blocked, it can hurt. During training, we hold up big thick foam shields for the training partner to kick. One time, this one kid kicked me so hard–even though I had this massive shield on my leg–that I crumpled to the ground in pain. After that, I realized how impressive fighters are for the hits that they can absorb. It’s not normal to be able to take that kind of punishment and keep going. That’s mental toughness. An insane amount of mental toughness.

There’s been a few injuries too. I ruptured a tendon in my left middle finger. The doctor had a good laugh when she saw. She said, ‘Haha, we call this mallet finger!’ And it does sort of look like the end of a hammer. The finger extends straight out, and then, on the last joint (where the fingernail is), it drops down 90 degrees. I didn’t even know it could do that. The weird thing is, it didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even notice until I took off the boxing gloves. They put me in a finger splint for two months and then the tendon reattaches. The finger is almost straight again today.

Then there’s the tendinitis. Tendinitis in both elbows. I think it’s from making a fist and then punching the bag really hard. It’s on the days that we practise hard punches on the bags that makes it worse. It used to be that if I rested a few days it would go away. But now it’s constant. And it is a little frustrating. I can feel it when I pick up things like a dinner plate. It wakes me up sometimes at night if my arm is straight (if it’s bent it seems to be fine). But, you know, the body’s meant to be used. Doing something meaningful and rewarding with some aches and pain is better than trying to be 100% healthy and doing nothing. Life is meant to be lived.

So…the belt test. Yellow belt. The first belt. Test is next Friday. 5PM. Allow two hours says Stan. The guys that have gone through it say it’s pretty brutal, but you’ll get through it. Some people throw up during the test, but most pass. Apparently, they don’t invite students to do the test unless they have a high degree of confidence you’ll pass. We’ll be drilled on everything that we’ve done. Punches. Kicks. Blocks. Movement. Movement is a particular weakness. I’m too stiff. Rigid. It’s funny. I was doing swing dance classes last year, and my dance partners were saying the same thing about my dancing. Kickboxing, you know, isn’t that much different than dancing. In both activities, there’s a pair moving in tandem. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

On top of the drills, there’s also different combos that will be tested. Here they are:

#1 jab, cross, jab, cross, left hook, right leg kick, slide back, snake kick

#2 jab, cross, left hook, right uppercut, cross, step through, left body kick

#3 jab, cross, step through, two left body kicks, cross, left hook, right leg kick

#4 left hook, beeline (step to right at a 45-degree angle towards partner so you’re on his left side), left hook to body, left uppercut, cross, use elbow to push partner away, step through, left head kick

This is going to be fun! Five days to go!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

“Tragedy and Dionysus” – Seaford

pages 25-38 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell 2009

Two articles into A Companion to Tragedy and both argue for a ritual basis for ancient Greek tragedy. Surprising. You’d think a reference work such as this would provide more balance. The ‘tragedy has nothing to do with Dionysus’ school of thought gets short shrift in this edition. Although Dionysus is the patron god of tragedy, so few tragedies feature Dionysus that a school of thought has arisen declaring that ‘tragedy has nothing to do with Dionysus’. In this article, Seaford argues that, although most of the stories from Athenian tragedy do not feature Dionysus, the art of tragedy is ‘Dionysiac’. Seaford frames the central question in this way: ‘Can it make sense to call a narrative or drama Dionysiac if Dionysus himself plays no part in it?’

Seaford argues that Athenian tragedy is Dionysiac, as drama originated from the cult of Dionysus. Specifically, drama came into being when the chorus leader broke apart from the chorus to address the chorus. When the chorus responded in a refrain, drama was born. In addition, even if many of the surviving plays don’t feature Dionysus, the tragedy festival itself indubitably belonged to the cult of Dionysus: at the beginning of the festival, the image of Dionysus was brought into the city and a ‘sacred marriage’ took place between the image and the wife of a magistrate called the ‘King Archon’.

Another prominent ritual in Dionysus’ cult is, of course, booze! Seaford postulates that the social elements of drinking naturally led to gatherings, festivals, and other occasions fertile for the development of drama. From the Anthesteria, a minor and ancient spring festival of Dionysus sprang the City or the Great Dionysia, the major festival where tragedy took centre-stage (this is where Oedipus rexThe Oresteia, Hippolytus, and other plays were first performed). According to Seaford, the Great Dionysia arose in the 6th century BC to serve a political end:

Suffice it here to say that whereas the ancient festival of the Anthesteria had long centered around a key moment in the agricultural year, the opening of the new wine, the new Dionysia was largely designed to serve a political end: the display of the strength and magnificence of Athens–to itself and to others. We should also note that the organization and coordination of the new urban festival was greatly facilitated at this time by the introduction into Attica of (recently invented) coined money: the universal power of money, deployed at a single center or even by a single individual, is especially good at coordinating a complex new initiative, and tends in our period to replace the less flexible power of barter and traditional observance.

Now, this is interesting: “the new urban festival was greatly facilitated at this time by the introduction into Attica of (recently invented) coined money.” Am I hearing this right–money had something to do with the birth of tragedy? In my book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, I argued that tragedy arose as a backlash to the introduction of money in Attica (or Athens, as I call it). Money made it possible to buy, sell, and exchange human life and values like bacon bits and deer skins at the market. As such, money degraded life and human value by turning it into an object of financial exchange. A counter-monetary spirit arose. It sought form and expression and found its voice in the new art form of tragedy. In the risk theatre interpretation, tragedy rails against money by routing exchanges involving life and human value through the shadow market instead of the conventional money market. For example, one can buy a title or a degree with money in the conventional market. In tragedy, however, the use of money is strictly forbidden. To acquire a title in tragedy–such as Solness acquiring the title ‘master builder’ in Ibsen’s play–one has to pay in flesh and blood. Solness, to become master builder, pays with his happiness, and the happiness of those around him. Happiness for becoming the master builder: this is the sort of existential transaction that takes place in what I call the ‘shadow market’.

By routing exchanges through the shadow market, tragedy railed against the monetization of life and human value. In this way, tragedy shows how some things cannot be brought with money. In this way, tragedy revolts against the monetization of life and value. Now, in my book, I turned the story of how tragedy arose as a counter-monetary art into a myth. I didn’t feel that my position could be academically defended, so I mythologized the process by weaving it into existing stories about Croesus (the tragic ruler of Lydia who invented money), Solon (one of the wise men), and the tale of Diomedes and Glaucus’ meeting (out of Homer’s Iliad). But from what Seaford is saying, it seems that this strange and bold view that tragedy arose as a reaction to the invention of money could find an academic footing. This to me is most interesting. At the time I wrote The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy, I would not have, in my wildest dreams, thought this possible.

But, it is possible. I checked the bibliography to Seaford’s article, and he does have a full length book on this topic: Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Philosophy, Tragedy (Cambridge University Press). It wasn’t available at my local public library (they can’t even get it interlibrary loan!). But I had to read it, and luckily there was a used copy available on Amazon. What a find! I’ll be reading and reviewing this book very soon, here’s the blurb:

How were the Greeks of the sixth century BC able to invent philosophy and tragedy? Richard Seaford argues that a large part of the answer can be found in another momentous development, the invention and rapid spread of coinage. By transforming social relations, monetization contributed to the concepts of the universe as an impersonal system (fundamental to Presocratic philosophy) and of the individual alienated from his own kin and from the gods, as found in tragedy.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.