A tutorial. (A quick tutorial for Photoshop.)
Once you open that tap,
Beat the rust off
and crank the stream to full,
you can’t stop it again.
Images, feelings, beats keep coming
until you’ve got no place to put them.
I’ll take that flood over the drought.
Unlock yourself until you’ve got
more you than you know what to do with.
So it goes in…
In these things and many others, we begin our understanding through the use of shapes. To the master, the shapes are hollow and have no real meaning in themselves. But to a learner or a teacher, shapes are parables that contain the principles of the art.
We begin learning our ABCs by tracing out the shapes of the letters, tracing over lines our parents made for us, memorizing the marks that make up our name. We do this first, without any real understanding what a letter can mean, let alone how crucial the function of language is to our society and how all the rules we learn will eventually be broken. So too in the world of composition and writing. We construct simple sentences and identify parts of speech, eventually unlocking the key to expressive, innovative language.
We begin learning geometry by identifying shapes, with no concept of the formulas, proportions and relationships that define our universe, no concept of how to measure. The first step is pointing to the circle, counting the corners on a square. It’s just the first step, a toe in the cold water.
And so it follows in art. Tracing or copying drawings, coloring in pre-made lines. Only by building a foundation of the basic units of the world can we start to build completely original things with them. We start out without any principle, but learn by copying shapes.
For me, this is especially poignant in dance and martial arts. I’ve been dancing for 10 years, but a martial artist for only a little over a year. Beginner and intermediate dance classes are usually moves based, meaning instructors deliver new material in the form of concise patterns, small choreographed units. An outside turn from a swing out, a big sweeping turn from closed, a complex array of syncopated leads culminating in a leaping flourish. All these are shapes built upon shapes. Dancers learn when to step and where to step and how to finish and what’s the rhythm. But as dancers progress – well, as I progressed – I began to see that these moves were vessels for teaching technique. (This is especially true for follows who have little need to amass a repertoire because we do not execute patterns – we follow them, step by step.) What you can learn from a move are all the principles that make it work. How rhythm ties dancers together, how to lead where your partner has their weight, how to send the body, how to turn the body, how to disrupt patterns in favor of a variation. Every move in Lindy Hop is based on some principle of communication and body dynamics. Beginning with the shape, even if it’s merely a hollow, rote execution of a choreographed move, is the first step to accessing technique.
I mean, just try sitting down a new dancer and trying to explain what it means to follow. How to hold your body just so, how to live in the beat, how to know when it’s time to step, triple-step or not step, how to use your center to tell your lead to give you more or send you less. Try to explain the exact elasticity needed in each arm, and the nuances of how to center your gravity over your feet. That’s not the way to learn, I very much think.
Through performing these movements, so much technique is absorbed and internalized through self-discovery. Connections are made between different patterns and are then applied without thought to other situations.
My experience in Hapkido is very similar, and it helps a great deal that I can apply what I know of dance and learning dance. I know that first comes the shape, then comes the technique. We first learn to make the picture of the Z-lock, looking for the angles, hitting the right check points. But it’s not until a bit later that we begin to understand why it works, and what similarities (other than shape) it shares with Armpit or Wave. And the ultimate of finding out that it’s not at all about how strong you are and we all stop cranking each other. The same thing with the bigger movements, the sweeps and the throws. We learn the shapes first and both partners are generally complicit in making the shape happen. But through these movements we are taught concepts of breaking balance, control, locking and using our centers to make our opponent move.
It’s all starts with shapes. Yea. I think that’s really what it is.
I told a Hapkido master:
“It’s nothing more than dance
Bodies moving bodies
in and through a rhythmic stance.
I shift my weight
then you shift yours
And step in time
Across the floor.
It’s nothing more than dance.”
I told a Lindy Hopper:
“All you do is step and go.
Bodies moving bodies,
Balance soaring in a giant throw.
I shift my weight
and you must shift yours.
Then lay you out
Across the floor.
All you do is move.”
My blue belt testing last weekend was a great reward for hard work in both body and mind, the hardest of which is mind. The doing is something I can do, the workout, the strain, the figuring out. But the keeping calm, the focus inward, keeping the pace deliberate and clear – that’s been the struggle. But the experience last weekend was positive and exhausting. I feel good about the work I did and I’m ready to meet all the new members when they arrive at the end of the month.
Beautiful photos taken by Lisa Donaldson, a fellow dancer and Hapkido warrior.
This is a short story I wrote based on dreams I had in 2007. I’ve worked it over quite a few times, trying to achieve a sort of episodic account of events from a couple of points of view. All events are part of the same conflict. It’s violent, but hey – that’s dreams for you.
First there were days of bloodshed, the sun ever rising and setting on carnage and sacrifice. And with all the Good having given themselves to a purpose, then began the days of death where reason had abandoned mankind and all that was left was an unhindered thanatos. I lived and died in those days, as many times as the sun reached its lagging zenith.
They came with guns and restraints, without any warning. We were to clear out immediately. Hand on our heads. They wore suits and uniforms and guns large enough to need straps. We were taken to an airfield in trucks and put on our knees on the runway. And then we were shot in the face.
“We’ll go in here, here, and here, but we’ll have to be silent. On the mark we’ll start in – take down anyone you see. Guards, soldiers, secretaries, anyone. They want some of us alive, I think. They took Jere off in a truck.”
“That’s because his parents work at…”
“His parents are dead. Jeremy was took alive because he was took alive. But that don’t matter – we want them all dead, got it? Anyone you leave alive is going to kill one of us, so don’t let it happen.”
We never really figured out who they were or what they wanted or what we’d done. It was never really clear who we were either. It wasn’t about anything really except getting them before they got us. And they had the advantage of the initial strike. It had been a massacre. We were pretty sure we weren’t going to let that happen again with us, like it had on that runway. Whatever they wanted from us, we weren’t going to give them. And whatever they took from us, we were going to take it back.
And so we went in through the loading dock, the side door and the roof and killed as many of them as we could. And in the first ten minutes, it was a lot. Doctors, nurses, patients. We killed them where they stood. Our dark clothing of brown and green and grime stood out in the stark hospital halls of mint and taupe and sky blue. Our energy surging into the corridors, pushing out the sick, calm air. Some of us sacked supplies. Then the soldiers began to flood in. There were many of us, but they were many more. And all of them big and trained. They killed some of us with the butts of their guns. I got shot in the leg twice and ducked into a closet. They didn’t hit the bone. The soldier fired into the closet door. I came out and thrust a broom handle through his eye socket.
The bull crashed through the wall of my bathroom from the firelight outside. The thrashing corpse demolished the sink, the toilet and killed my cat before it died in a bloody mountain in the doorway. It was black and glistening with ichor and blood. It already stunk. And as I turned down to look at the agents on the pavement of the driveway, dark-suited men with pistols in their hands shot at me. I heard orders to go inside and fetch me. I climbed over the bull, and with a running leap over the rubble, I opened fire with my brother’s national guard issue rifle. I must have surprised them, because I got off five rounds before they started firing back. They had another bull down there, raging, wrecking havoc in the parking lot of the hospital. Trucks worked to corral it, soldiers fired into it, but it raged on as if only anger fueled it, not even flinching at the barrage of bullets into its side, its face, its chest. For a moment, he and I ran on the same fuel, both beasts unhindered.
I was nine years old, and dark-skinned. A boy made feral by blood. I trotted up the wide bright staircase. They opened fire, hitting me in the chest, the gut, the legs and arms. I crumpled to the ground and held myself as they continued to fire into my child’s body. I forced myself to look as dead as I wished I was, like the big boys told me, lying there on the cold linoleum.
“If they knows you’re dead,” they said, “they won’ be waste they’s bullets.”
The sun beat down on my top, my blood spread beneath me like a sanguine rug. A few more rounds and then, it stopped. And after the ringing in my ears faded I could hear them chatting about the siege last night on the dormitories. Their steps came towards me, halting above my head. I tried not to breathe, not to move. I tried to die right there as I lie. A noise that sounded as loud as a point blank explosion made me flinch and cover my head. An empty magazine fell onto me. I heard another one snap home. I didn’t hear the last shot go off.
It wouldn’t be budged, the beastly bullet in my shin. In the light of a ruined sun, I worked to dig it out with my knife. The dusty porch. Between my thumbnails, I dislodged the pustule cap and scab that had formed. I squeezed around it like a pimple and from the hole came a worm of red paste and flesh. I squeezed harder and wiped it on my sleeve. The bullet had not moved. I worked into the infection, the pain telling me I was only getting closer. The hole in my leg had grown from the size of a penny to a half dollar, a gaping bloody crater. My muscles surprised me, looking like ground beef, my bone as white as my teeth and as clean.
I took her dark, clean face in my hands.
“It won’t matter,” I giggled, “if you go along quietly.” She giggled back and we touched foreheads.
“They’ll just tie you up and shoot you in the face,” I laughed. “Just like they did Jere.”
“But why?” she said, still laughing.[/tab]
“It’s their modus operandi,” I told her, laughing more, Angels, the two of us, always laughing.
“That’s what they do, and they’ll do it to you.” I gave her the handgun. “So that’s why we have to do it to them.”
There was no more laughing. It was the end of those days.]
Being taken alive was a misnomer considering they’d kill you anyway. They wouldn’t shoot you in the face. They’d pen you up in the bottom of an empty swimming pool with one of their bulls. And if you somehow survived that, they’d shoot you in the face.
The south dormitory was ablaze with light and videogames and TV screens. The upper floors were lit like Christmas behind the blacked out, boarded up windows. The patrols outside would radio in if they saw a light seeping from a crack somewhere, if even a note of music found their ears where they crept about in the landscaping. All of the other dormitories were dark because of a series of massacres and failed sieges. But tonight was a night to celebrate. The raid on the hospital had been a success. We murdered scores of the assholes in their beds, and others as they stood on their feet. Fat men at their desks in their glass offices. And we broke many important things and as we made our retreat we set fire to the place. I laughed from room to room, taking heads in my hands and kissing them on the forehead. For Nate, I took his lips. All the weapons were unloaded, except for the guards on the roof with a full arsenal. With our unloaded pieces we mimicked the raid and paraded in hats mocking the soldiers who hunted us, and ‘shot’ ourselves in the face.
There was Hall Ball, and we slung the little rubber ball back and forth until it ricocheted down the stairwell into the dark, abandoned lower floors.
I trotted down to get it, creeping along in the dark.. From under one door at the far end of a hallway was a faint red glimmer that pulsed and danced as if made from a computer monitor, or diodes on a radar screen. Because that’s what it was. From the top of the door was a microphone taped to the ceiling, listening in on the party above. I stopped breathing and moved like a cat, putting my ear to the door. A sound of little engines turning, fans blowing into a CPU. And a crinkle of a burger wrapper. There was a man inside, balding in a sweaty white shirt and tie. He was spying on us. A leak. An infiltration sending the murderers intelligence on a stronghold in the dormitories. He would know if he’d been paying any attention that we’d been the ones to raid the hospital. And if he was worth anything, they’d already know too. I opened my mouth to yell, to sound the alarm, but the room patrol had already lit the alarms and the frantic static of the ground patrols filled the hallways. I could hear helicopters. And, at that moment, the door opened and out came the spy. He didn’t even see me there in the dark when I put his lights out.
I rolled him over and stomped the life out of his face. I went inside and tore the wires out of everything and took up the man’s rifle above the door. Upstairs glass was breaking and wood was splintering. And now, gunfire.
What is within must be without.
All that is within must now come out,
Like a happy dagger across the naval,
Spill everything out. Now
All your secrets are on the floor.
Dance with passion and abandon.
Stomp stomp and move in the moment.
Take your steps to move in time
and move in close. Now
All your secrets are on the floor.
No hiding now, ladies.
No hiding now, men.
If you’re moved, so move me too.
This is not a quiet game
Stomp stomp and now let me hear you.
We were young then, on a three day dance bender. Bright young things from all corners of the country had come to dingy Omaha and the dingier Eagle’s Club to dim the lights and tear up the floor. The Club was nasty with sticky, matted red carpets, a strange taxidermy eagle over the unused bar, clunky electronic dartboards on the walls. Folding chairs, folding tables. But the dance floor was rich, clean and glowing with heat. And the dancers were flush and fresh. I wore a skirt and high-heeled shoes.
The atmosphere was raw and spiritual – bodies moving and minds following. Movement preceding and replacing thought. Some of those hard-line societal expectations were hiding in dark corners, not touching me, I think. People were free to feel savage and only slightly sane. Nice clothes, dark eyes, shoes being the most important thing. I walked and danced among them and with them. I was a being of expression and I could touch anyone and they could all touch me.
All the light came from the band. The Hot Club – a Django gypsy-jazz band – was guitars and stand-up bases, clarinet, accordion. A handful of young men with old souls. Time-travelers. Their stomping feet set the meter of the pumping of our hearts.
We swung out. Smiles, heels, all of us moving, breathing, creating art as experience together.
Saturday night the energy apexed to a peak at pumpkin time, the band riding hot like a hell train full of spangled troubadours, thrusting inward and inward exploding exploding. We were drawn in like moths to the light, crowding in close, pulsing like all the blood in our ears. The sound and fury escaped through a tiny hole in the crowd. And from it were born dancers who emerged like fire. Swing out after swing out they danced like tigers. The jam circle grew around them.
The tigers traded their crazies in that pit, its walls a percussive force of elbows and palms. Our clapping was thunder chasing the guitars and the horns. When the bodies were spent, and the dancers melted back into crowd, our minds fled – no! – flew to the men with the music. The sound built higher than I thought it could go and in a feeling, a feeling, a feeling acquainted with orgasm it plummeted into a pool of pleasure and anguish. All ears to the horn. Chests in close. A baleful peal, love and anger in a glorious minor key. Silence. The torturous agonizing silence. And then with a slow thrumming from the bass, the slow slapping on the side of a guitar, the blessed sound came back. Slowly at first. Achingly slowly and quietly. But then it built. It accelerated and the band gathered power. The melody heated up again, that clarinet mad mad mad, the bass quaking like a god of thunder. We shouted in time with the music. The sound was back and we were resurrected. Our bodies lived again, and we lived and died by the four four time in that dark dance hall.
I often think to myself that I don’t write poetry. Then I realize I do. It’s more… prosetry, though.
I have a fantasy that
my psychological disorder
is me brushing
against truth. Gasping
for air. The pain
of birth. The shock
of being awoken by
The terrible things I know in those screaming, sobbing, broken shards of time is the truth and sanity is the distraction from it.