my wushu story pre wushu


Mark’s Wushu Retrospective journal has made me all nostalgic about my own experience with getting in shape, loosing weight, and starting wushu at our beloved Wushu West.

I had gained a lot of weight right after Michele and I got married in August 2000. Well, after high school (1998), I gained 20lbs, but I proceeded to put on more once we tied the knot. You would have thought it was my second full-time job, eating crap.

I never had a problem with weight growing up, I was always in pretty good shape and it was mostly because my Step Dad had a never ending list of chores which included mowing an acre worth of lawns, raking, cutting down dying pine tree’s and disposing of the brush. My Mom was also into eating healthy, so we had a lot of plain food growing up that were appropriately proportioned. So, while i never played sports or exercised on a regular basis growing up, the lifestyle I was offered took care of that. It never occurred to me how quickly I could gain weight.

As soon as I was out of high school, I started to work at Sears. This gave me the exact amount of disposable income I needed to get two large donuts and a quart of chilled WHOLE milk. Every day. Oh on occasion I would mix it up with a Jack in the Box breakfast, but those costs more that $2 so I mostly stuck with the donuts. I did this the entire time I went to Heald (started in September of 1998). Those two places were the only eateries that were close to my house in Oakley that were open that early, and since I’m not a morning person I choose to sleep in that extra 5 minutes it would take to make a decent breakfast. So that’s how I ate on the weekdays (this is where being a creature of habit can kill you), and not to worry, on the weekends I would make my own breakfast of 3 toasted waffles smothered in syrup.

I had quit smoking in 98, so eating was the natural oral fixation I was trying to make up for and it tasted good. Well, two years of that plus a few months of marriage had a taken its toll

I keep those handy, just as a reminder. I was about 240 in those days, and I was totally oblivious to it until I saw the photo’s you see above. I think my waist was around 40 - 42" as well (in high school I was about 32", today I’m around 32-34"). So, one day Michele and I ordered an elliptical machine, and a weight lifting station online, for cheap. Once it arrived we assembled both of them in out basement, and we would occasionally go down there and workout for 5 - 10 minutes and then calling it a night. I figured this was good enough, and I mean, it’s better than nothing right? Well, obviously those first months (until June 2001) were very unproductive.

Two things happened, the first was my cousin Michael Abrue came to visit. Growing up, he and his sister Cat would come and spend a few weeks with the family ever few years, and it was always a celebration. My Sister and I loved seeing them, and we always looked forward to them coming out. Since the last time Mike had seen me, I was 160 or 170lbs, pretty scrawny compared to my then present figure. He was a pretty big health nut and he sort of coached me a little, gave me some eating guidelines, and made it seem realistic and even easy for me to cut out little things here and there. One big thing was soda, and I would get a LARGE 32oz cup of fountain soda at lunch every day. Of course eating waffles for breakfast was a big no-no, but also cutting out fatty dressings on sandwiches and salads. From then on I stopped drinking soda, had two egg whites (and thats it) for breakfast and stopped putting mayo on my sandwiches. Oh, it’s also important to know that I also started smoking again after I got married. That also curbs the appetite a little.

The second thing that happened at about the exact same time, was a co-worked asked if I had seen the movie Fist of Legend. This was probably the most important and crucial moment in my life (okay, maybe meeting Michele was really the first, but this was big). I watched it that night, twice in a row back to back. I then went down to the basement and went past my previous record of 10 whole minutes on the Elliptical to 20. I then came back upstairs to watch all the fight scenes again. Then I did what every computer geek would do, I googled for jet li (found his official site hosted by RT, and reading the handle “narom” for the first time), and then ripped FoL to DivX so I could watch it all the time. Imagine how disappointed I was when I found out Jet Li moved too fast for the DivX codec to properly render :)

Over the next few days, I started working out every night. Each night I would add one more minute to my time on the Elliptical, and I quickly moved the Elliptical out from the basement to our living room. I was bored, I needed something to entertain me while working out so I decided to watch more Jet Li movies ( then after than, ANY movie ) while working out. I did this everyday for about 60-90 days. I’m not sure, but at one point (before I started Wushu, but now im getting ahead of myself) I was able to last an entire 2 hour movie. This had ballooned my DVD collection from 6 to almost 100. I was getting new movies and every week to keep myself entertained, and I watched a movie EVERY night of the week. I soon started to get compliments from my family and co-workers, people were pretty impressed and surprised that I turned around in a relatively short amount of time. People asked me how I did it, and the weird part is I really enjoyed that attention, and when it stopped a part of me started to get really panicked and anxious. I would wonder if I was getting fat again, and truth be told I’m still pretty touchy about it now.

I do feel very bad for Michele, I never realized then that I was totally ignoring her to fufill my goal of losing weight. She started to stay in the back bedroom by herself, and eating more. It was almost like for every pound I lost, she would put on. I wish then I would have been more active with her and built up something we could have enjoyed together. But that was hard for me to do, I was very driven and had this tunnel vision mindset, and I figured I couldn’t afford other people getting in my way. And Why? What was my goal?

On the Black Mask DVD, one of the “special features” was about Wushu. It didn’t show any footage, it just said that Jet Li grew up on the Beijing Wushu Team. After googling for Wushu, I came across this killer video clips of all the China pro’s (including Patti). Raffi’s site, was my daily homepage after that. I read the bulleten board every day, read all of his articles, and checked out daily. I was in heaven, I knew I wanted to do it. I was so amazed that the human body could preform those feats, with such confidence too. I wanted that, I wanted to do that. Living in Antioch, your options are slim when it came to martial arts, especially if you don’t want to get caught up in a belt/money making scheme. I accepted Berkeley as part of my search scope, and thats where I found both Wushu West, and Cal Wushu.

I remember how sheepish and almost embarrassed I had felt wanting to do martial arts as an adult. Everyone I knew did that thing as a kid, with other kids. There were no adults, and then there was that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer joins a Karate school and it turns out his a giant middle aged adult with little kids. I was afraid of that, and I was also a little shy about being a white guy in a very Asian sport. I know, its stupid and a reverse racist thing, but those were a few things I had to mentally get over. I remember telling Michele that I wanted to do it, and I showed her all the clips I had saved on my computer. I think she was pretty perplexed, and probably hesitant, but I’m very annoying and persistent when I want to do something so she went with it.

After that, it was all about finding a place to learn from.