The 7 coffins, my Khatami grading

I am not allowed to talk about exactly what happened during the 7 coffins. Because half the test as I have found out is not knowing what’s going to happen, so on the off chance that someone other than my dear Mum is reading this blog and they happen to be someone who wants to do the 7 coffins Khatami I will not spoil it all for you. The 7 coffins is a grading for the Lian padukan Silat. It is the comparable to getting a black belt. It is a culmination of having learnt the syllabus of the martial art and having what you know pressure tested. People may think that it would take years to get up to black belt status and how have I been able to do it in 3 months?


On one hand Silat is not the same as Karate. On the other hand I have been practicing various martial arts since I was 14 years old and I do not have to spend so much time practicing basics as a complete novice would have to. I know how to punch and kick with reasonable technique and I can learn forms at a quicker pace than someone who has never done so before.


On top of that and I think most importantly it’s not about how many years you have been studying a martial art but how many hours. You could have been doing Karate for 5 years and still be a novice if you only went to one class a week and did no practice in between. You could have studied Silat for a month intensively and your body and mind would have made a leaping improvement if you worked hard. I have been practicing roughly 7 hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 months. If you do the mathematics how many years does that add up to for someone who only practices an hour or two a week? All I can be bothered to work out is one day of hard training is like doing two months of one hour a week.

What I can say it that the 7 coffins is meant to span 7 days, each day you are meant to focus on one of the secret deadly vital points of the body. There is nothing secret about the 7 vital points. Just think of the 7 places that you would least like to be hit and your probably right on. We did not do it for 7 days. We condensed it into 4 days. Yet again I am not allowed to say how long we trained every day but just imagine going to work and doing 7 full days in the space of 4.

We got very little sleep. Being woken up at any time, day or night with no more than 4 hours sleep at a time. In fact 4 hours was a holiday amount of time during the 7 coffins. Lian, Vin and myself were required to perform each of the Lian padukan forms 100 times each. This was not such a mission with the basic sets which take under a minute to perform but as we worked our way through the forms and into the ones which took over a minute things dragged. We would spend hours and hour’s continually repeating the forms. Entering a trance where our minds no longer were needed and the body with its reflex and memory took over.


Thankfully for a few days there was a storm. The rain beat down heavily on the metal roof of the training area and cooled us, Nigel Sutton said this was a good omen for us. Other times the weather was steaming hot. Depending on what we were doing we had to change into different uniforms. Sometimes in our full black gi, other times in our green Tai chi t shirts and finally into our white Tai chi t shirts. It didn’t matter either way as they were all permanently wet. No time to wash them and no time to dry them either. Alongside repeating forms for hours we did well over 150 fights each throughout the 4 days. The fighting was bare knuckled and on the mats so we could take each other down full speed. Not hitting full power to the face but everywhere else was allowed, we would take each other to the mats or batter each other out of the arena. We practiced striking the venerable areas of the body over and over.


We had to meditate for very long periods of time, once for so long in the kneeling position that we could not walk for a couple of minutes. We lay there in pain waiting for the blood to slowly comeback to our legs. Standing meditation with surprise repeated attacks which have left my legs and chest bruised still after a week.  I was in the standing post stance hoping that I would not feel faint again when Nigel Sutton came into view and kicked and punched me.


There was alot more but I cannot talk about it. I had a lot of bruises on my chest and cut lips and a painful head from a skillful elbow from Vin. The worse thing was the sleep deprivation, by the 3rd day it was hellish. During the night time Vin, Lian and myself took it in shifts to stay awake. One person would stay awake for 4 hours continually training while the other slept beside him outside in the training area. Things became distorted and magical during this time.

You are in the dark, you have not slept properly for days and you have been doing rigorous exercise over that time. I remember when it was my time to train and I was running over the Lian padukan forms again and I fell asleep while I was standing, I didn’t notice because I immediately started dreaming that I was doing the forms. I woke up suddenly as I began to lose balance.


Even the short time when I was allowed to rest was almost useless as I was so on edge that I found it hard to sleep, my dreams were like I was awake and when I was awake I was in a dream. Nigel Sutton gave us a permanent assignment which meant that none of us could relax at any time; we had to constantly be on guard and to look for opportunities to attack each other’s backs. Even when we could eat we had to be alert. Sometimes when we were napping Nigel would wake us up and we would have to run quickly to a door or gate with weapons and stand with the weapons in out stretched arms until he tells us to relax.


PART357 Rob leaves

Sunday, 1st, April, 2011. Our trip to Ohekune has left me weary. I got up at about five in the morning and in a sleep walk I packed the lap top into its case, stacked my books into a neat pile and cleared the table next to our bed. I just remember thinking “there isn’t enough space. After this little tidying frenzy I sat on the side of the bed in the nude thinking how cold I was but not having the wit to know that climbing back under the covers would remedy the cold. I stayed sitting in this rather uncomfortable manner until 6:10 when my alarm properly woke me up.

I am sure this episode added to my fatigue but I recon the main bulk of my tiredness was from our trip. I am always amazed at how tiring travel is.

Work was very busy all the live long day. At the end of the day Rob the silent Canadian man handed over his florescent jacket and belt with scissors and holder over to Sebastian who is to be the new trolley boy. “Thanks for being the best boss ever, I mean it” Rob said as he shook Raywens hand. The rest of the team murmured in agreement. He shook my hand, Sebastian’s and waved to the rest of us and left. So long Rob.

Back home I draped myself on the sofa and watched tv until it was time for bed. I peeled myself off and fell into bed tired to the core.

PART348 the wheels on the reels

Friday, April 22, 2011. When I woke up this morning it was still dark and cold. I was having a dream that a large handsome Spanish man was making me a massive cocktail, it was looking so good but he never seemed to finish making it, anyway I woke up and I thought it must have been the middle of the night but to my horror the alarm went off, it was morning already!, what a sorry excuse for a sleep. I want my money back, what made it even more irritating was I had gone to bed so early. Unlike when you stay up all night and the next day’s tiredness is your own fault I felt as if I was unjustly set a pone by feeling so tired. A deep tiredness, in my very marrow.

I got up and ate a bowl of special K, it tasted like cardboard, but I suspect that if I had eaten cardboard it would have had the good manners to have kept out of my teeth. Not so with the special K, it was like glue clinging to my teeth. Everything was subject to my moody scrutiny. Why was walking so hard? Gravity had a personal vendetta against me surly, as we walked to the bus I felt like a lead man. I was so tired I had to remind myself to breath. I would feel a building stress and then I would remember that I had dent breathed in a while.

We had to stand up on the bus on the way to work as well, the movements of the bus as it went round the bends in the road felt unnecessarily forceful, couldn’t this oaf drive with a little more care? Then to work and back to my station, I was thinking to choose a line of boxes which wasn’t moving fast but today I saw the dark green boxes for organic kiwis at all the stations so it wouldn’t matter where I went.

I was to find exactly to what extent it would matter when Muki the boss of shed 1 told me that for the second half of the day I would be trained to take charge of the sticker changing job.

The conveyer belt runs like a straight road through the middle of the shed, at the far end where you can see the graders as they check the fruit and either send it onto the conveyer belt or to be thrown in the bin, there is also a small bridge going over the conveyer belt, a stair case goes up and down to either side of the belt. On the runway over the belt there are many reels of stickers, looking like old cinema film reels, they are attached to an axel which has many octopus like suction pads, they suck the stickers off the reels and moving round at the same speed as the conveyer belt they stick a label onto each fruit which passes under the bridge. You have a small desk to change old reels for new ones, with an assortment of pens, screw drivers and lights which flash when reels need to be changed, pressure valves which periodically need to be released.

 The view is interesting as you can see the whole workings of the shed. You can see the graders as they watch the fruit slowly roll into view, they look them top to bottom and all over and then release them into the fast moving conveyer belt if they are suitable, then from there they tumble down a green springy plastic and onto the straight of the belt, under the bridge where they become labeled and then onwards, soon they fall either side and down into an inclined shoots which lets them roll into the readymade boxes to be arranged by the packers, then when the box is full it is pushed along a roller table and sealed by a stacker who then carries the completed box to a pallet and stacks it there. When the pallet is full the stackers will use the trolley and bring it to the shed hanger door were a fork lift will come along and carry it away from sight to be loaded onto a truck.

All this was visible from this elevated platform. The constant millings of the workers instantly made me think of the movements of ants. On the surface they appeared to be moving in random directions but as the eyes adjust to such a large amount of movement you can see patterns emerge. The bridge is also the noisiest part of the Shed 1. It is the oldest shed at Trevelyan’s and the machines are noticeably older and noisier.

I was trained by Andy, an older man from the UK. Although he had dent been back there for 40 years. I guessed he must have been his mid to late fifths but to my surprise he told me he was 72 years old. “Wow, what’s your secrete? No drink or drugs?” I asked “no I used to drink a lot and do drugs” he laughed. Andy took me through the tasks which were part of the job. The first and main job was to take out the spent reels and quickly put in a full one to the axel so that as few kiwis miss being stickered as possible. Then to go through the fiddly and laborious jobs of re loading the empty reel. Cleaning the dusty thing with the air pressure gun, threading through the new stickers, in one hole, through up and over this wheel onto that grip and finally out the end again. “There must be a simpler way of doing this” I told myself as I finally finished my first one. The other job involved watching the reels and checking that they didn’t jam or get out of control. There were three rows of reels each in succession to the next, with 6 reels in each row. The front line as it were got the brunt of the work. The octopus suction caps whirring round as kiwis passed under them at a rate of 10 a second.

The beginning of my training which was the early afternoon was easy. Andy and I chatted leisurely and only had to change a few reels every hour, and only a few stickers flew off and had to be picked up. Although Andy on the outside wasn’t old the things we talked about reviled what time he had come from. He told me about even though he was little and down in Devon he can clearly remember the air raid sirens and being rushed to the air raid bunker. He remembered rationing and he remembered how when he had traveled to New Zealand he was applying for a job at the Ministry of works. His future boss asked the group of job applicants “we have now got a room which we will be putting a computer in, does anyone here have experience with computers?” On seeing that no one raised their hand Andy took the initiative and told the man how he used to use a computer when he was in the navy, it was strapped to his knee and it was used to calculate the air speed and the direction of the ship. This information was then relayed to the air craft which wanted to land. Andy said with this information he got the job on the one computer in the office. “What I didn’t tell my boss was that the computer I used was made out of card, it was similar to one of those astrology charts, like a wheel which shows what star sign you are when you put it on the right date”

Andy seems to have almost completely cut himself off from his past. In 40 years he still hasn’t been back to the UK and only 2 of his three brothers have come for a visit in NZ. I asked Andy if Maoris can stay in the UK in the same way English can stay in New Zealand; his answer was that they could stay for 2 years. “ it’s strange how we invade their country and take it over then only let them stay in ours for a few years, England has always been funny with immigration” I said to him as we lent against the bridge banisters watching the sticker reels do all the work. “ well according to my brothers they should be kicking more of the immigrants out, you know they just let a group of immigrants in from Libya, Jesus what are they thinking?, they are just going to bring their cousins and family as well aren’t they?” Andy said, giving me a smile. “Well after all the grief we have caused the middle east and Africa, taking a few refugees in is the least we can do I think. What else should be done? Where else could they go? If they stay in their country they would probably be killed” I said back, trying my best to round my words and not sound too angry. Andy gave a shrug and a wimpy little smile as if to say the problem was unsolvable, or rather that he couldn’t care less. Indifference is infuriating.

I asked Andy if there were any problems between the Kiwis and the Maoris. “ oh no no, nothing too bad but you know the Maoris are like the girl with the curl, when they are good they are very very good, but when they are bad they are very very bad”

At this point everything went crazy, the machines were sped up to the point the poor old reels kept breaking and jamming and so Andy and I spent almost 3 hours running around the bridge fixing the constantly breaking machines. The reels aren’t the sort of thing which haste works for, you can only fix one so fast, if you go beyond so fast then you make another mistake and the whole process of threading and lining begins again. I felt like a mule, working for the man, working for the machine. Having to keep up with it. My rider is gaining ground by the sweat of my brow.

 The noise was deafening, the speed was ridiculous, I was sweating, eyes budging, in a constant state of semi panic as Andy and I were always seconds away from complete collapse, if the labels stop then the whole operation is mucked up and we would get a serious talking to. Almost 100 people stopping work even for a minute costs a lot of money.

The end of the day came and I went home so tired that I was angry. I closed my eyes in bed and saw the reels spinning round and round. The reels on the bridge go round and round, round and round. I am thankful that this will not be my job tomorrow.

PART347 sleepy Alex and the joy of Dogs

Thursday, 22nd, April, 2011. A busy day, I was only manning one shot today but it was keeping me fully occupied. With speed I reached for the pallet and taking a stack of 6 boxes I put them on the table next to the shoot. With one smooth motion I rip off a sheet of plastic and with a flourish glide it over the box and make it square on top, then with a pinch, the very same sort of pinch one might pick a peck of pepper with I pluck up from its station on the table a sheet of hard plastic, inlayed are indents which will serve as a bunk for a kiwi fruit. Once plucked I put this sheet on top of the box and ram it home until it is firmly wedged into the box, Then I pry from the other boxes this finished product and rotating it as I move it I send it long ways along the green conveyer belt. This belt travels under the bridge which is the main conveyer belt that sends the Kiwi fruit to the packers. And so it was box after box, hour after hour without a stop to the rush.

Like most intense states I only noticed how in the zone I was when I began to exit it. The line finally began to slow and I watched as my body kept moving independent of my thoughts. I have developed muscle memory for this job.

Alex, a short muscle man from Chilly came and asked me a question about English grammar while we experienced a well needed lull, as I answered his conundrum I thought how like a Latin Ben Stiller he was. He boasted that he never drinks or smokes and always eats well. “You can look like me one day if you try really hard” he laughed as he pulled up his shirt to revel a set of chiseled abdominal muscles. Alex has been living the hard life of a double shifter. Today I saw him sit down occasionally head in hands, he had worked all yesterday day time and night time and now on his second day he was feeling the fatigue. I asked Alex about his state of mind, I remember on the occasions I have stayed awake for long period of time I would enter a other worldly state were everything looks strange, eyes wide, breathing is hard like the air is thick, shots of nerves energy pulse through tired tingling veins. Blotchy shapes shift around the outer view, emotions run high then quickly descend into anger or depression. It’s an interesting thing to try, utter exhaustion. When you really cannot get enough of life, when you just don’t or won’t go to bed, pushing the boundaries of your body until you’re a shaky object very near collapse. Alex told me he hallucinated a bit and felt unusual.

The lull was short lived and served to make me realize how tired I was rather than to relieve me of my tiredness. The day eventually ended, after the end of day ritual of cleaning I prepared to run home, it was raining and with the memory of my sodden shoes from my wet run last week I thought better of it and took the bus home with Sarah.

I went through a leg busting work out when I got home. Out in the dark under the covered barbecue area I squatted, twisted kicked lunged and flung my legs about like a kangaroo. Bessy and Milo the black Labrador mother and son duo where in the garden as I exercised. They ran around me, into me. I very nearly took Bessie’s head off on a few occasions and twice I managed to step on Milos paw. He was very good about it, not even showing pain he kept standing in the same place, watching me and wagging his tail. I had forgotten how lovely Dogs are. Our family used to have a golden Labrador, I had forgotten about that way they play with a foot ball, pawing at it with uncontrollable excitement, their bodies convulsing with the sheer joy of play. The way they try every angle to fit their jaws around the ball and how eventually they draw their lips back and nibble at it frantically, like someone eating sweet corn. Of course the ball usually fails to keep its air. The football in the garden lasted as long as my work out, after half an hour the ball was no longer proving such a mouthful, Miko had somehow deflated it and he was now thrashing it about in his mouth.

So tired, I felt warm and after my work out I sat on the sofa and read my book, fighting the epic urge to fall asleep. Reading a few lines and with a quick review finding out I didn’t know what I had just read. Reading again and taking a yawn, I rest my eyes for a moment. Like a light switch they shut and there is blissful darkness. Then to open them again, like trying to light a fire with wet wood, the task is difficult and involves resolve and effort, they open again and I try and read some more.

Sarah and I have been having some small problems with Jorine and Candy so we all sat down and had a chat about the rules of the house, we had dent done this before and in hindsight it was an error. Sarah stated the rules that once a week we should clean the house, that when one of use is going to work the others should stay out of the kitchen and bath room and she told them where their cleaning effort were falling short. Candy was apologetic but Jorine I could tell didn’t like being told what to do. I could sympathize but really if people are to live together in harmony rules must be set out. I was very impressed with Sarah’s firm but friendly way of clearly setting out the rules. I find doing even the smallest bit of confrontation hard but she managed it very well.