The “A” Team

Every since Haru started gymnastics, I have always made it a point to try to get to her school at least 30 minutes before the class begins.  When she was in the kindergarten gymnastics class, that usually meant that we were always the very first ones there and we had the gym all to ourselves.  However, now that Haru is in the elementary school age class, no matter how early we get to the gym, there always seems to be someone who gets there earlier than us.  Most of these kids get there to do stretches, or train on their own.  I usually take Haru there early so we can do my own routine of stretches that are a lot more stricter and harder than what Haru gymnastics class offers.

For a while, no one really seemed to care whether we were there or not.  In essence, we were completely ignored by the other kids as if we were completely invisible.  Haru and I would just grab a corner in the gym and we would conduct our pre-class workouts and no one would really care or notice.

However, when Yuka joined last month, I also started training Yuka in much the same way I would train Haru before class, and lately Yuka has been really doing well.  She is already surpassing many of the older kids on the high bars and vault, and it’s only a matter of time she will also surpass the other kids on the mats as well.  So every Saturday morning, Yuka’s mother would bring Yuka in about the same time Haru and I would arrive and begin our own stretching routines.  But unlike before, we are beginning to grab the attention of some of the other kids, more specifically the girls in Haru’s class who are serious about becoming good at gymnastics.  One girl in particular, who is about the same age as Haru, tries to join in our workouts.  I don’t really mind that she joins in, as a matter of fact, I do welcome it.    However, I am not really a gymnastics instructor of course, and  I am just using stretching routines that I used when I was doing karate in high school, and they are pretty intense.  There were a few times when I even made Haru cry because some of the stretches are so painful.  So naturally inflicting the same amount of grueling punishment on a child whom I barely even know would not be good.  So usually, I  just let her watch us and emulate what we do, but for both Yuka and Haru, or my “A” Team, I actually push them into ungodly positions to get them to stretch themselves.

I also briefly did gymnastics as kid, and I was really good at tumbling, but not so good at everything else.  Although Haru surpassed my abilities a long time ago, I still know the techniques on how to do many of these skills, so I am able to teach Haru how to do the skills, without physically being able to them myself.  As a matter of fact, many of the floor or mat skills and bar skills were taught by me, not her gymnastics class, hence, she is far better and further along than the other kids.  I have also been trying to get Yuka up to speed well, but since I only have 15-20 minutes a week to to teach her, I often give her “homework” which means that she needs to go home and practice everyday, which she apparently does according to her mother.

Right now, I am training Haru to do the back handspring.  This particular skill is like the holy grail skill for beginner to intermediate gymnasts.  People who want to do gymnastics usually want to do it because they want to be able to do either a back handspring or a back tuck.  It’s not a particularly difficult skill to master (although I can’t do it), but it is a somewhat VERY terrifying skill to learn because you are essentially doing a back dive onto your hands, and then pushing off of it.  And while you are doing this skill, everything in your head is telling you to STOP because you’re going to land on your head and break your neck, and your body autonomously reacts accordingly to try to protect itself.  Therefore about 25% of learning the back handspring is about training your body the proper method and technique, while the remaining 75% is training your mind to get over the fear of jumping backwards onto your hands.  This is why it takes so long for a lot of people (especially older kids) to learn.  Unless you have complete control of fear, the older you are the more harder it is because of the fear factor.

Last Saturday, after we completed her usual pre-class stretches, we practiced some back handsprings on the firmer tumbling mats.  At about the same time, one of the older boys (going by his size, probably a sixth grader), was also practicing back handsprings on the other side of the gym while watching Haru and me.  I hope he doesn’t ask me to spot him too, I thought to myself.  He is only a bit smaller than me so there is no way I would be able support his weight.  Haru was already a handful.  At that point, one of the newer instructors came down, and the boy rushed over to his side and asked the instructor to spot him as he practiced his skills.  He had obviously been practicing quite a bit because his handsprings were really good.  The instructor took the boy over to the trampoline where the boy practiced his back handsprings.  Haru and I continued to use the mats which were admittedly difficult to use, because they weren’t soft enough to serve as a cushion, and not quite hard enough to get a good solid jump off of.  Seeing this, the instructor asked us if we wanted to use the trampoline, so Haru, with the assistance of the instructor, Haru was able to train on the trampoline and got some free tips on how to make her handsprings better.   The instructor then commented that Haru probably can do a back handspring on her own, but she needs to get over her fear first.

Training Haruka to the back spring has been a challenge to say the least.  She already has a fear of hitting her head, probably because when she attempted it while back, she did hit her head.  But since she was doing it on our bed, there was no real bodily harm done.  Over the last 6 months, between her cheerleading tumbling coach and me, Haru  got some really good training on her method and technique.  When supported, she has really good form, but when she attempts to do it by herself, she freezes up and she is unable to overcome the fear to be able to jump backwards onto her hands.  But last Monday, we finally made a breakthrough.  Haru managed to scrape together enough courage to be able to attempt a back handspring without support.  Although it wasn’t the best of form, it was the best attempt to date.  Now its just a matter of cleaning it up a bit to make it look like a proper back handspring.

Haru also has been doing really well in tumbling as well.   She’s been doing it for less than six months now and she is already in the top 2 in her class.  I already knew that she was the best in her class, but now it’s not just my opinion, because her tumbling coach confirmed it the other night when he told me that if Haru is able clean up her back walkovers so that her legs are much straighter when she does them, Haru will move up to the advanced tumbling class with one other girl.  This will be a serious step up, because most of the girls in advanced tumbling are much older and very good.  They are the “aces” and “elites” of the cheerleading team, so it was definitely nice to hear that Haru is doing well enough to join the best.

Still needs work, but here is Haru’s first attempts at a back handspring without any support from me.

Fast Tube by Casper



The 753


It’s November which means Haru’s 7th birthday is coming up soon.  This also means its almost time for her second and final Shichi-Go-San.  When I look back to when she had her last one 4 years ago, I can’t believe how much she has grown.  I remember back then thinking how she’s not a little baby anymore, but in reality, she was really just a little baby.  I also remember how desperately we tried to keep her from sitting down on rolling around on the ground while she wore her rental kimono.  This year, Haru was very particular about what kimono she wanted to wear.  Although I preferred that she wear a red kimono like the last time, Haru wanted to wear something pink.  But after trying on about five different kimonos, we all agreed that yellow looked best on her.

Last time, we did the photo shoot, the visit to the shrine, and the celebratory dinner all in one day, but this time we decided to split into two days.  We would do the shrine visit and the lunch this time, and then do a photo shoot next month.  This gave us a chance to try a few different hairstyles.  This time we would do nihongami, or the traditional hairstyle for Shichi-Go-San’s. It’s a bit old fashioned, but it really looks good on Haru, as opposed to the more contemporary look that most girls choose these days.   Next month, when we go for the photo shoot, Haru will be wearing two different outfits: a western style dress, and the kimono she wore today.  I am not sure what hairstyle she’ll be wearing with the western dress, but personally I think she would look good with French braids.  But of course, my opinion rarely counts when it comes to things like this.

For the kimono, Haru will probably be wearing a shin-Nihongami hairstyle, which is an updated and modern take on the traditional Nihongami hairstyle.  I always refer to it as the Anmitsu Hime hairstyle, named of the 1980’s anime character.  It’s basically the same as  the traditional Nihongami hairstyle, but has more trinkets and ornaments in her hair kind of like a first year Maiko-san.

At the studio, we ran into Sakura, one of Haru’s kindergarten era friends.  She was there for her Shichi-Go-San as well, and was taking photos with her mother and father.  Sakura was wearing her mother’s kimono that she wore when she was a Shichi-Go-San, but was styling a much more modern hairstyle.  I saw it as a great photo op to have both kids dressed in their kimono’s, but after a couple of shots, we were told by the studio not to take any more photos.  I was hoping that Sakura’s family would finish up their shoot early so that we can step outside away from the studio Nazi’s, and freely take as many photos as we wanted.  But it seemed that they had just started and it’d be while.

We took Haru to the shrine nearby our house and did the usual Shichi-Go-San blessing from the Shinto priest.  Afterwards, Haru wanted to tour the neighborhood wearing her kimono, so that the neighborhood kids would see her and tell her how cute she looked.  Airi and Moe, the two older girls Haru hangs around with a lot came over and took pictures with Haru.

Apparently the obi on Haru’s dress was wound pretty tight and it became somewhat unbearable after a while, so rather than going to lunch, we rushed back to the studio to have her dress, make-up, and hair undone, which was a big relief.  Afterward, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and finished just in time for her tumbling class that evening.