Monday, March 12, 2018

Five days of karate

I'm into the final day of five days of karate. Every year Ishinryu Australia hold a summer camp at the Wollongong Surf Leisure resort. This was my third year of attendance, my first of staying over for the full three days, beginning with a Friday night session.

On the Thursday prior the dojo hosted a special session from Sensei Wayne Otto, a nine times World Karate Championship winner and current coach of Norway. Also a bloody good teacher of kumite techniques and someone who can bring a smile to kids' faces no matter how well they try to suppress it!

The course was fantastic and I learned (or tried to learn) heaps of good stuff, including kumite moves, improving my kata and knife defense. There was an early morning session on the beach where I discovered that mindfullness and mean a pair of shorts full of wet sand.

Alex stayed with me. It was a lot of karate for a nine year old and he was a bit ambivalent about some of it until the Sunday when he entered the team blocker competition. Team up with our Sensei's daughter and her best friend the three of them made it to the final.

He drew his bout, then his team mate won hers. The other team won their round, but by only a single point, not enough to win on aggregate, so the combined scores were tied. So another round was fought, but they drew as well! It came down to Alex and another nine year old from his dojo.

Alex won and so his team got gold!

This was his first gold for anything and he had won it for his team. The look of joy and pride on his face was amazing and I was so proud of him too. No more "Can we go home now?" He wanted to stay for the presentation in the afternoon (and was even prepared to do his homework first!).

He had also competed in the team kata on the previous day and by virtue of there being three teams won a bronze trophy, also his first trophy ever. Considering the age and skill level of his team, especially compared to the high belts of the other competitors, I was just proud that they all gave it a go and tried so very hard.

I think we'll be back next year!

Tonight it's just the regular Monday session in the dojo, but the fact that I can sustain so many days of karate in a row is evidence of how far I've come in three years. Still stiff though!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Star Wars in Concert with the SSO

For so long have I waited for this concert series. The original Star Wars trilogy played by a live orchestra.

I grew up with Star Wars. Yes there are lots of people that can say that these days. I have it, my son has it, his sister has... Well no, she doesn't because he doesn't have a sister. But you know what I mean. Star Wars was what introduced me to the music of John Williams, was what opened my mind to the world of film music.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (and many others in Australia) has decided that the only time they'll now perform film music is in front of the source film, complete with dialogue. I'd rather just focus on the music without the dialogue and the visual distraction, but beggars can't be choosers.

So I payed far more money than normal for a movie ticket and bought premium seats at the first of the concert series, Star Wars A New Hope in Concert.

This was my first visit to the venue for the performance, the new International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour rather than the Sydney Opera House. The entrance displayed the concert name on the big screen, giant lightsabers were setup for a photo op with characters in costume and an area set aside for Jedi lightsaber training.

Inside were other characters in costume. We had our photo taken with a huge Chewbacca. There was a Darth Vader and stormtroopers and even a George Lucas lookalike with an R2D2 unit.

Then we filed into the cavernous hall and took our seats. The orchestra gradually took their places, eventually joined by young conductor Nicholas Buc, who introduced the concert with the help of a couple of stormtroopers.

The Twentieth Century Fox prelude sounded and the concert began.

When comparing the soundtracks to the three original Star Wars movies the first of them always sounds a bit "thinner" than the others, as if the orchestrations weren't quite so full. That was true here as well, so perhaps it is not just the sound quality of the original recordings. There were times to that I wondered if the sound was coming direct from the orchestra or via the big overhead speaker installations.

I know the music intimately after four decades of listening to it, but I didn't mind that sound levels from the different sections of the orchestra didn't quite match the original recordings. It offered an element of novelty and highlighted hitherto unrealised contributions, especially from the piano.

The music itself is rich and complex, tearing my eyes from the screen to watch the strings racing or the brass and woodwind in unison was fascinating.

Yet there was something missing in the performance. Maybe it was the acoustics, but I felt like the orchestra just wasn't contributing as much as it should. The real letdown was in the performance of the final credits, which was messy and lacking in love and energy. I've heard it performed so many times by this orchestra and others, but I've heard it better. It was a disappointing end to a much anticipated night.

Maybe I should look to go down to Melbourne for the subsequent performances. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra hasn't failed me yet and it is my spiritual home for Star Wars...

Monday, January 01, 2018


Here, in the first hours of 2018, and I cannot sleep. Outside the open windows of this Avalon beach house the waves pound furiously at the sand and rocks, as if trying their best to erase them from this Earth. Celebratory searchlights still dance in threes across the clouded sky, competing with the flashes of yellow lightning from an offshore storm, as the roar of the waves obscures the thunder.

The sea breeze gradually cools this hot upstairs room in which three people attempt to sleep on two pushed together single beds, but the open windows also allow in the tempest outside.

Now the pop pop pop of illegal fireworks released in the park by the beach wakes them briefly.

I should be tired like the others, worn out as they are from fighting the waves on the beach and each other with glow sticks turned magic weapons. But the world outside is trying to tell a story, its unfamiliarity calling out in the dark to we of the further inland.

"Come out, let us embrace you, chill you, sweep you away," demands the sea.

Gradually, unwilling to gaze too long into the grey world outside, the constantly dancing song lulls, and I feel myself ready to dream its magic and the new year, in hope of one less tumultuous than the reality outside.

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