Monday, 9 June 2014

Coloured threads

Since January, I have managed to complete a few projects but been very remiss in posting the results.

One item I have been very pleased with is the Maia shawl by Lisa Naskrent.
I completed it in time to use it all winter and have worn it every evening for a few months. It's perfect, large enough, warm enough, soft enough. I used the Araucania botany lace and Huasco. With hook #3. I used 3 skeins 1/2 in total (1 for first 9 repeats, 1 for next 5 repeats and 1+1/2 for border)

I also started and finished a granny square blanket, in DK cotton, lap size (10x10 squares). I saw a lovely picture of a blanket on pinterest, and that inspired me to try to make one with such warm dark/light theme. Of course, browns not being my favorites, I switched the tone to pink/purple, much more to my taste. There's no blocking as I have still not figured out how I can do it.

Also an assortment of smaller crochet items:
- little crochet amigurumi owls from here (craftpassion, by Lee Mei Li). I added a drop of lavender essential oil in the stuffing. That was a success with kids for Christmas (yes it was that long ago). Personnally I think they look cool upside down as well, in a pokemon evo-style.

I think that gives them a little fierceness. Eyes are squinted in focus, arms raised in preparation for something...

And then I did a few useful things like iphone cases, ipad case,  and small lunch bag (I don't know where the original pattern came from, though I would like to!).

I finally finished a bag, in granny squares, with Lang's Yawhol Magic bought in Verona last year. There a was a similar bag on display in the shop with that yarn, which made such an impression on me I bought the yarn. I think the shop was Mercerie Dian on via Armando Diaz.
The lining is a lovely Liberty tana lawn cotton in the same shades of fuschia/purple. The handles are "rope" for interior decoration from Moline in Paris, braided (the ends need a brilliant idea to look better).

So I really have not stopped making things. And I finally started working on a kit from Facilececile, the Antonietta basket.

This week marked the end of my first year living here in the States. This second year will have more Tai Chi in it!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

On how practicing martial arts is like doings lab research

Waiting for buses can (!) have positive side effects. There's little to do apart from reading or thinking - although chatting with strangers may be an option. My thoughts drift easily towards training.
In a circular sort of reflexion, I came up with an interesting pattern.

Reflecting on what motivates me I have long known that 2 main factors drive me. These are very basic  and already in place in childhood, but they can still be powerful long after.

The first one is curiosity, the need to know "why" or at least "how" since the first one is often impossible to answer. The need to understand is probably the most powerful and has led me away from the clinic into the world of research.

The second one is the need to do things, myself. To simply do, create with my own hands, to make. That impulse has had an impact in my professional choices in the past.

Given these two factors, there are many career choices that could have taken advantage of such drives. Obviously, doing lab research is one. After all, you can choose the questions you want to find an answer to and sit at a bench trying to make it happen.

But how is that relevant to martial arts?
I admit to some generalization here by speaking of  "martial arts", and extend it from my own experience of Taiji Quan ( or tai chi chuan, TCC) and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I do not restrict that to internal or external, since whereas TCC is an "internal" martial arts, BJJ  is not even classified. Some people debate whether it's a martial art or a fighting sport! I personally have no doubt it is a martial art, and more of an external martial art. Although there are internal characteristics in BJJ I think, which would make for an interesting discussion.

To answer my own question, I think the need to know "how" can be gratified by learning techniques and applying them correctly, and even in the strategy game. There are different types of learners, but the analytical learner (that I am), fits here I think. Both TCC and BJJ have a strong element of technique, even if only in the initial stage or a branch level. I will not say root as the core probably should be feeling in both, but that is more difficult to achieve and will still need the technique to express itself.
The second impulse, the love of doing, finds its outlet in the physical expression of the arts. You are after all making it happen, or trying. No passive observer, you are at the center of it.

So for me, doing research and practicing TCC and BJJ, are expressions of the same seeds, fuelled by the same fire. A true expression of myself. Is it a wonder I consider BJJ a martial "art"?

I wonder what motivates other people doing martial arts. How it fits with their professional careers. Not all people have the chance to have a career, as opposed to a job and that career may only be temporary, but that's where the heart is.

ps: I now have the privilege to accessorize all in blue in BJJ. Did I mention blue is my favorite colour? Blue gi, blue T-shirt, blue belt....

pps: my instructor never seemed to object to the solution I'd found for the stripes washing away every time. Since I do wash my belt every time (or almost), the tape stripes never stayed on. After a while I thought that tradition is all well and good, but should not get in the way of the spirit of the thing. so I tried embroidering the stripes. I'll have to wait a while now, but I liked it (thicker thread would be better). No hassle, stripes stayed put from wash to wash.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Thoughts on BJJ and Taiji principles

It has been a while and winter here has not been easy. More on that in another post maybe.
I want to put down a few thoughts about BJJ training (which is now 4 days a week) and the connection with martial arts and TaiJi Quan.
While I am still very much the beginner, knowing, well barely grasping, a handful a techniques with HUGE gaps with the strength of blackholes, I feel I am seeing and getting a better map on concepts. Whether that's because of my science background or my Taiji Quan I don't know.

So I know there are such things as flow, timing, feeling and relaxation. I do expect that feeling requires experience as in Taiji.
But Knowing is one thing, seeing is another.
There are a few other concepts and principles I am playing hide and seek with.

- Yin/yang give and take.
I've understood that there is a take/give balance sometime ago, that is if you partner is taking something from you (submission, sweep...) they are giving something with it, which you can take advantage of. Now of course, knowing there is a gift somewhere does not mean I know what it looks like, because, well, i have very little experience. But I do keep my eyes open.
Other people may conceptualize it differently, but i like the yin/yang imagery.

- connection
The principle of connecting to your partner I see applies as well. I see it, but I do not know how to do it.

The other concepts I'm still trying to glimpse are the space and relaxation ones.

- Space.
I have been realising that controlling the space should be one of my main goals during rolls. If  I am offensive and trying to maintain control, I usaully need to close space (with exceptions). When defending, however, I need to find or create space. This reminds me of the "opening and closing" that you express within your body in Taiji. Maybe one far-away day I will be in a position to look for opening/closing within myself in BJJ.

- Relaxation
The other principle is how to be relaxed. The chinese "Fansong" . And here just like in Taiji i mean "relaxed but not collapsed". I still can't be relaxed. But I feel I'm not most times. And I see the tension in the other beginners. They are my mirror. While i am still looking for "relaxed", i see the direction it is NOT in. I am trying to be aware of my own breathing and work where it comes deep and slow, avoiding the quick, shallow, loud breathing that i hear from most other white belts. That is wrong. Not the way to roll, methinks.

I tend to think that Taiji gives me a frame of reference and tools that I can use in BJJ.
How is it for people with external martial arts experience I wonder...

Apart from learning techniques (including escapes +++ and hip mobility) my current general goals are to keep Moving with purpose and structural strength, wasting my strength outwards less, I suppose.
Let's see if  I can do that and if it helps. I am probably overthinking things, but that can't be helped...

Friday, 18 October 2013

silent but busy

Well, it's been a while since the last post, and there's no other reason than that I've been busy and/or tired.
The life here is certainly different than it is in big European cities (I am not speaking for small towns, where I suspect, some things may not be that different). Birmingham is supposedly a big city, but I can't tell really. Cycling to work, training and grocery shopping is fun and sometimes hard (well, cycling uphill with a bike that's wobbling from everything that's piled on it, is hard. I cheat by pushing the bike some). There's no window shopping, compulsive buying here, contrary to what can happen in London or Paris. Does it mean that the lifestyle here is healthier? I wouldn't say that. And I will avoid discussing processed food, because that would be a full post in itself.

However, good raw or unprocessed products can be found and I have finally been able to make my own yoghurt and bread. I have invested in a large yoghurt maker (2 quarts) which can hold a glass jar. I will not recommend using solely dry powdered milk for that. Since milk here is mostly sold pasteurized, the milk has to be sterilized/boiled in a pan before incubation. I am using "1 quart or more milk + 1 to 2 spoon(s) dry milk + 1 fresh yoghurt" all whisked together and placed in jar, inside yoghurt maker overnight. The yoghurt will set over the following day, once placed at 4°C.
As for bread, a colleague lent me "the bread bible " by Rose Levy Berenbaum, a book I plan to buy now. I am not sure I would try most of the bread recipes there, but the introduction to principles of bread making is very good. There is a recipe for sourdough starter and breads. All recipes are in imperial/US and metric units. The whole recipe does take all sunday afternoon/evening for handmaking the bread. The simple hearth bread is the one I keep doing (with variations). I am starting to get a better feel for it, even though I have made it several times already and been very happy with the results. Both smell and taste.

I've also completed two crochet shawls since August, just in time for the slight cooling off. Since that means, 25°C, it still feels warm, but I now have the option to wear one in the evening!
For one I used a hand-dyed silk skein my mother gave me. I chose a simple chain motif based on Cécile Franconie's tutorial (and shells + chains for trim) in order to let the colours  take center stage. More complex motifs disappeared in the changing colours. Not having a pin to close it, I thought I would crochet a flower with a chain and a smaller flower at the other end, which I could pass through the holes on each end of the shawl to keep it closed. That works pretty well and I may improve the whole design in the future.

The second shawl is based on the japanese flower motif shawl, which has been very popular on the web. I used the alpaca fine yarn from Peru that I received last Xmas. Since the yarn is finer, I had to increase the number of rows to make a shawl of good size, which used all 2 skeins.

Next planned is another shawl (there's never too many) with Araucania wool yarn I bought. Possibly the Maia Shawl by Lisa Naskrent, with the two skeins in the middle. The rest is stash for now (apart from the malabrigo baby merino colourway arco iris, which will be a gift, either as is or made into something).  Those colours are beautiful...

Lastly, I will talk about exercise. Now the Tai Chi practice is doing fine, could be take up more of my time and I do work on that.
But I want to talk about BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). I am now in my 4th month, still enjoying it very much. I found quite a lot of interesting blogs by women when (after, it's not as if I had planned to start BJJ) I started, like this one
which has very nice info and lots of links to other girl's BJJ blogs.

I still had to do a bit of research to get set-up properly and I'l still struggling with a few things.
So here are the few tips for BJJ gear I've found so far:

- sports-bra. Yes, finally, it's much easier to deal with washing. I got mine online and it's just right as far as pressure/maintain is concerned. The Nike elastika short.

- shorts. Same source. Nike Pro essential.

both are good value I think.

I'm not too happy with my gi, as it is very thick and rigid, but it does the job. Cleaning it is the problem. I naturally wash it after each class, and leave it to dry (not drying machine). It takes 1-2 days to be ready, so it's just ok for 3 times a week. But with the low efficiency of the washing machine I have available, I am not perfectly happy with the results.
Non pre-shrunk gi are supposed to be washed machine-cold.
Disregard that.
There is no way to clean a gi in cold water!!!!
If anyone wonders (and I did): medium temperature + washing liquid + oxyclean for regular washings and once a week on hot with same ingredients. Leave to dry at room temperature (unless the weather's too cold I suppose).
I am much more happy with my short white gi pants, than I would be whith longer, yellow pants!
That's my tips on caring for my gi.

BJJ torn fingernail treatment? plasters/band-aids won't stick, so I tried nail-varnish (thick). Quite stylish I think....
What I am struggling with is skin care. Bruises I don't mind (trousers, great). But the skin of my hands is starting to crack and abrade on knuckles (see pic). That and a torn fingernail meant I bled over my partner's gi last time. I have not found much info on the web about "minor" skin lesions like this in BJJ. It is minor, but should be taken care of. Obviously, hand cream will have to play a big role here.
But then, bleeding hands have been a recurring problem for me. Strike that, it is a constant problem, except for the 2 summer months, if I don't use too much detergents at work (hospital or lab)... If I find a solution, I will post it, in case it can help someone else.

Friday, 23 August 2013

new directions

Moving to a completely different place has meant a lot of changes and compromises.
Of of these has been in my training. I have found some way to practice Tai Chi with other people, here, in addition to personal practice: it feels good to practice with other like-minded people. However, I have had to find a substitute for Push Hands practice as there's none here.
As someone told me once, things will come to you.
Walking on my way home one day I saw a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym. So I've started training there for not quite 2 months now. It was an opportunistic decision, as was my going to the Jeet Kune Do classes in Verona. I do no regret those decisions. The JKD experience (3 months) was great, good to become a little less apprehensive with punching and getting familiar with a different stance, getting to work on the kicks.
The BJJ is, of course, very different. There is still some training standing up, where throws, sweeps and trips can be done, but all with grips...... That makes a major difference with Tai Chi, since that is characterized by a NO-grip attitude, allowing for uninterrupted flow. The other obvious difference is the fact that it is a ground grappling art. However, for all that, I am realizing that enough principles of Tai Chi are applicable there (some of the times), though in a different form.
Keeping connected with your partner, being grounded, looking for  flow and following/redirecting are some that I can see, if not put into application myself.
I feel lucky to have found something that ties with what I am most interested in, and in a friendly atmosphere as well.  The students (and teacher) at the school are friendly and generous in sharing tips and understanding.
I will certainly try to make the best of my experience here.

On a very different note (although maybe not, as some meditative virtues are common to all of these), I have picked up my crochet again and needle. The lampshade is a simple conical tube in crochet that I have made on the go and which can be slipped on a small lamp I bought. I am quite happy with it. I used mercerized cotton with a size-2 hook. Three different patterns: 4 repetitions of first (from the top), then 2 repetitions, then almost one border. I didn't finish the complete pattern of the border as I liked it better with a round, soft ending. However, that meant that  the 5 petals were not yet connected. So I sewed a few turquoise pearls to link the petals of each motif.  The little bag is a variation on the 22 granny square bag. The motif for the granny square comes from a japanese book (Kawaï motifs, bought at Junku in Paris) linked after by chains.
The book is called: Kagibari de amu kawaii motif & komono, editeur Nihon Vogue Sha (ISBN : 9784529050142). Il est plein de motifs et projets très tentants.

Who needs a proper nightstand when you have tatami mats and futon? A simple box is all you need.

 And this the typical drink of the South: Ice Tea. That one is home made is is just tea + cold water, no sugar contrary to what people do here.

Friday, 21 June 2013


I've been silent for a long time now, but things have not.
My job in Verona finished (I will post some of the prettiest pictures I took there another time), and I stopped for a while in Paris before moving to the States for a new job. I have not had a lot of time for crafting in that time, but hopefully will soon be able to start again!
So, I am now in a completely different place. Both in atmosphere and climate.
Birmingham, Alabama.
86°F (30°C) today, 48% humidity, a cool and dry day....
I will get around to posting pictures of the area, as some of the streets in the Highland area have some nices houses and the parks are pretty.

On another subject, I have read a very good book called "The spirit catches you and you fall down", written by Anne Fadiman and published in 1997. It is about the clash between Western medical culture and Hmong culture, and is centered on the story of one of its victim, a young girl.
This was a book that you have a hard time putting down. Very well written and both very intelligent and sensitive. Having worked in pediatrics, it felt very personnal and true. And being interested in anthropology, even more fascinating. I wish this book had been on the reading list for my 2d year at med-school....

Another book I will recommend, even though I am not finished yet, is Ursula Le Guin's rendition of Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching". It arrived in the post this week.

Friday, 26 April 2013

fickle weather

That's what it is. After a beautiful thursday 26th (national holiday in Italy, as it is the celebration of the liberation), today is overcast again and preludes to another rainy week-end. So it is quite fitting that I should post rainy pictures from the previous week-end. Or maybe I am just trying to avert a repeat? But since I will be travelling to Lugano again this week-end, it is almost certain to rain....

Mantova (Veneto)
Apart from the first one, taken in Mantova, the others are from Lombardy, North of Italy in the mountains and around Lake of Iseo. A beautiful region. Around the lakes, the villages look like what you expect of italian villages, colourful, pretty. Up higher in the mountains, it is the mountain village look that is seen. No different form the swiss look, which by the way may only be 1 km away....
Although it is spring, there is still a lot of snow at fairly low altitude I thought (above 1500 m) and the contrast between the snowy tops and the green vegetation and colourful houses was a little bit surprising to me. It reminded of the amazement I had felt in Nepal at seeing Bougainvillé in bloom and lush tropical vegetation against the snowy majesty of the Himalayan range. The Alps are certainly smaller, but beautiful too.

Above Sondrio, the road to the San Marco Pass (closed)

Lovere, on Lake Iseo

Clusone, Monastery

View from the Basilica at Clusone

On another note, I had finished the Armorique shawl by Anntte Petavy / Eclat du soleil. I am very happy with it. The colour is beautiful, it was done in Madelinetosh Prairie, micas colourway, 1 skein crocheted with a 3.5 mm hook. It squishes in a small ball and can be draped around and give the warmth you want from a shawl. I followed Barjolaine in using a larger hook for an open lace look. I had been waiting for a sunny day to take a few pictures. Since I cannot block and like new things washed, I have just extracted the excess water in a towel as I had read on the web and hung it to finish drying, hoping that it would open the design. It does, although doesn't have the crispness of those who do a proper blocking.