Martial Arts and Writing

I had set this year as my year of writing.  Writing-related activities were the only things I had allowed myself to attend to. Blogging, bookfairs, writing groups —these were definitely within the rules. More importantly, I was already doing so many writing-related activities that I barely had time to focus on actually writing.

But my masochistic and restless soul wanted to pile on more things that would take time away from writing.

Our city had sent a brochure of all the recreational classes they were offering in the Spring of this year. I flipped through the pages, curious to see what kind of classes they offered. I was surprised to find that they had classes like Polynesian Dancing, Belly Dancing, Singing, Acting, Martial Arts, Japanese Cartoon Drawing, Ceramics, Jewelry Making and even Sign Language classes.

Naturally I wanted to take up Belly-Dancing.

Okay, NO. Not really.

The people who know me will know that I shy away from any form of dancing as my limbs are not flexible enough to “flow like a graceful stream”. The only kind of movements my limbs are amenable to doing are sudden, jerky movements much-like the actions of a rusty old robot.

No, the class that caught my attention was the martial art class called: Filipino Stick-Fighting (Kali, Arnis, Eskrima).

I’ve always wanted to learn the Filipino Martial Art of Eskrima. I just never had the time to pursue it. When I found out that our community offered Eskrima as a recreation course for a discounted price, I was ecstatic.

Then I remembered that I had vowed to attend only writing-related events and pursue only writing-related activities this year.

My heart sank. I realized that I would have to come up with very good reasons for taking the class. I sat down on my desk and wrote out several reasons I might use to convince myself that the class was worth taking.

I rationalized that taking this martial arts class would be:

  1. A good (and fun) way of getting much needed exercise.
  2. Useful, because learning the art of self-defense may come in handy when zombies attack.
  3. A great way of making new friends, and even spending time with my cousin (who also decided to take the class with me)

Then I came up with the one reason that cinched the deal:

4. Taking the class would be great research for the book I’m writing.

Bingo! I had the one reason that would make me feel less guilty about taking time away from my writing. (Yes, because reason 1. –which is a matter of taking care of my own health and well-being—isn’t good enough).  Since my middle grade fantasy novel actually involves the main characters learning a bit of martial arts to defend themselves, taking the class would be a great way to make my writing more authentic.

I eagerly enrolled in the course and by April I was attending the classes three times a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays after work and Saturdays from 1-3PM were all devoted to learning this new martial art.

It has been six months since I first started taking the class. I’ve become a little more lax in attending the sessions, and I’ve cut down from attending classes three times a week to attending twice a week. I often have to miss classes because of conflicts with writing group activities or family events, but my interest in Eskrima has never waned—despite the aching muscles and grueling schedule.

Last Saturday, along with my classmates, I took my first ever Belt Test. It was nerve-wracking yet strangely exhilarating experience.

Master Erwin Mosqueda, 9th degree black belter, and the highest ranking member of the sport in the West Coast, facilitated the exam and graded us according to our knowledge of the various empty-hand, single stick, double stick and knife fighting skills we’ve learned.

Since we were testing for Grade 2 (Yellow Belt), he focused mostly on our forms, footwork, and drills with both the single and double sticks. My limbs were aching by the time we finished twirling sticks and moving around for an hour and half straight.

We finished the test with a demonstration of Form 1 – a series of moves we had to learn patterned after the favorite moves and fighting styles of the old masters. After a whole minute of false starts and wrong moves, I finally got into the groove of things and demonstrated form 1 to finish my test.

When I finally had the chance to sit down and watch my other classmates test for their own belts, I reflected on how far I had come since I started learning six months ago. I asked myself if taking the class really had been the right decision.

Had my new knowledge of martial arts really helped my writing?  Definitely. The fighting moves my characters use have become more believable, their training more real. More than that, my experience put me in my characters’ own shoes. Like my characters, I had to learn a new martial art from scratch—hence all the physical, emotional and mental aspects of learning how to defend myself was reflected in my own characters’ learning experience.

I realized then that any activity we do can be used to improve our own writing. Life is a collection of experiences, emotions and learnings, and art should imitate life after all.

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4 Responses to “Martial Arts and Writing”

  1. Lee Wind says:

    Great epiphany – and congrats on earning your belt!

  2. See, everything’s writing related if you want it to be! Good for you for going out there and doing this.
    Martial arts actually figures into my mystery, too. Tai chi is my protagonist’s love (and it gets her out of sticky situations). But, unlike clever you, I spent a long time watching tai chi videos online for research. It would have been much wiser (and more rewarding) to have actually learned — as I’m still sure I did a very superficial job of writing it into the story.

    • nutschell says:

      Life is writing and writing life. Watching videos is great research as well. I just really prefer learning things for myself and actually doing them. It adds a layer of realism when I apply it to my own writing. Well, it’s never too late for tai chi. ( I remember having that for PE in High School). Maybe you could take some Tai Chi lessons then just go back to your manuscript and re-work your tai chi scenes based on what you’ve learned. I really love your story–and now that I know it’s got a bit of martial arts in it, I’m all the more eager for it to get published!

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