Edge to the Whetstone

A blog of ten thousand hours.

Month: March, 2013

November 11, 2012 Sunday in Guangzhou

It started to seem like old China – anything not apartment houses that housed each a division of people, and dozens of them, all anonymous, all alike; or neon imitations of vermillion arches, materialism gone so rampant it was all-enveloping – was gone, bulldozed under, buried. Then what you did see – a beggar playing a one-string viol in pentatonic melodies, plaintive – its upright support another crippled begging human; an old man squatting between two rattan paniers piled with fruit, suspended from a pole, as painted on silk screens: these things would break your heart. But China has been breaking the hearts of foreigners for thousands of years, and is unlikely to stop any time soon.

The Toaist temple reeks of disrepair and shabbiness, some odd cross of piety – a lovely Quanyin, impressively fierce stone lions with loose round spheres in their mouths holding down paper money offerings, superstition, and tourism. It’s fairly evident the place has undergone a hasty rehabilitation after years of abuse and neglect. Equipment and oddments litter corners, and a small staff of determined monks seem to be holding on to tradition by their fingernails.

2013-03-10 Kotegaeshi & Kokyunage from a Munetsuki (Middle punch)

Last week’s seminar class covered Kotegaeshi (“Wrist-twisting throw”) from a grab and a punch, and also as a knife defense. The clip below shows some detail about the initial blend, to get the attacker off-balance. It also shows how to use a similar entrance to move into a Kokyunage (“Breath throw”).  I made it to answer a student’s question about how one could do the entrance (and not get hit – an important point!) yet not have uke off-balance.  While it seems there are very few hard-and-fast “rules” around executing technique in Wadokai Aikido, having one’s attacker off-balance is key. The off-balancing (“kuzushi”) may result from a large or small movement, may simply leverage the gift of the attacker’s energy, or may be caused by a distracting strike (“atemi”), but it’s generally there somewhere. In Wadokai Aikido, particularly as Sensei does it, the atemi can be almost invisible (due to the way it flows with, rather than disrupts, the technique), and the kuzushi can be helped along by subtleties that are easily missed.

If you’re a tactile learner, and the description doesn’t help you grasp the concept, you may need to just come to class ;->.

Iriminage Guangzhou

Started out as a travelogue for a recent trip to China and Manila with Sensei Suenaka and a group of fellow Aikidoka (“Ever wanted to take a virtual trip to China?  Here’s your chance!”). Then I added some notes for a seminar I taught. Now it has its own life. It’s becoming a place to leave notes about practicing and teaching Aikido – something that anyone who loves the art will tell you “infects” everything in your life, eventually.


November 18, 2012: Steamers – the ancient microwave

Anyone familiar with Asian cooking knows the ubiquitous steamer basket. While also made in steel (as one sees at dim sum restaurants), the traditional model is a round bamboo basket with open slats at the bottom. These stack neatly over a pot with water for steaming – a wok works well – and are topped off with a tightly woven rattan lid. In a street market in Guangzhou, I saw steamer baskets 2 feet or more across, stacked up 12 layers, at a dim sum stall.

Steaming is used as an alternate cooking method for crescent-shaped shoumai dumplings (which can be fried as well), and as a method for bao – fluffy bread prepared plain or with egg, red bean, vegetable, or meat fillings (these can also be baked). My mother favored steaming whole, cleaned fish in wine – sliding slivers of scallion and ginger under slits in the skin.  When I was young I didn’t appreciate its subtle flavors, but now this exceptionally healthy, fast, and elegant preparation resonates.

But I digress.  Here was the problem: my hotel room in Xiamen offered a selection from the usual assortment of amenities for a slightly nice hotel in China, including a tea kettle but of course no microwave. I had leftover small bean buns from our visit to the Southern Shoalin. I hadn’t wanted to see them wasted after our wonderful vegetarian meal (I still dream of the millet fritters and the hot ginger soup with tapioca pearls). You may say, “Why not just eat the bao cold?” but being about 24 hours old, they’d become a little dry, and when possible, I enjoy a hot breakfast. So here’s the method I employed:

1) Impale a bun on a chopstick (always travel with a humble pair of bamboo chopsticks), so the bun is about halfway up the stick.
2) Put about an inch of water in the electric kettle.
3) Put the chopstick with the bun into the kettle, carefully ensuring the bun is well above water level. This ensures your bun does not become a sodden mess, while making a sticky lump in the kettle as well. The chopstick may extend out of the kettle – this is okay.
4) Turn on the kettle so the water boils and steams the bun. A few minutes should do it – don’t over-steam (sodden mess alert).
5) Take out the bun and enjoy. Mine was hot and fluffy – better than when reheated in a microwave. And my water was hot for coffee or tea.

There you have it – a free 2-Yuan breakfast in bed!
Note that you could do something similar at home if you were reheating a bun or two and didn’t want to get out the steamer basket (or don’t own one). But I don’t think this would work with frozen Bao.