In Kung Fu tonight I struggled through a staff exercise, (not to be confused with struggling through a staph infection), and many negative thoughts went through my head such as “I can’t do this!” and “%$#)@&&!$%$%$#!!!!”. I asked my Sifu if I could sit that exercise out because I wasn’t ready and he said No. No. He has this way of saying “no” with a smile full of very sharp steel. It’s the kindest but hardest “no” on earth. I did it. I did not entirely enjoy it. But I did it.
You know how in films the martial arts instructors are always deeply wise and can also paralyze a ten foot tarantula just by thinking stinging thoughts? You watch it and you know that the master is going to do and say profound things and maybe you’re going to get a little annoyed at such VERY DEEP wisdom.
My Sifu is EXACTLY like that. Except not annoying. What makes him fantastic and what makes me trust him is that he is always showing us the chinks in his armor that make him human like the rest of us. He lets us know just enough about his struggles with his ex-wife (well, we don’t get to hear what those are, just that he has them) so that when he makes us do the brutal slow wall kicks* until our legs feel as though they are catching on fire we don’t hate him.
What I’ve learned is that when he says I can do something, he’s always right.
I’ve been taking Kung Fu for a year now and I’m still having to remind myself to trust him because he never lies to me. I have some trust issues.
This guy tells me I can knock down a 300 pound 6’5″ tall man and then, as though I was made of iron, I do it! I just do it. Like that. As though this were always true my whole life. I wish he’d tell me I can become a successful published novelist. Knocking down 300 pound really tall men is pretty great too, though.
So when he tells me I have to participate in this exercise that I suck at and am scared of, I just do it. Not well, but I do it. Most of the students are really supportive so that when I say “I only know the offensive lines” they don’t ridicule or revolt or hit me with their giant staffs (not to be confused with penises**).
I don’t love the staff.
But I’ll tell you what I do love: double sticks! We’ve been learning to fight with double sticks and I LOVE it! When I have two sticks in my hands and I’m doing the sinwalis with a partner and the sticks are smoking (literally) with friction and the smell of the hot rattan hits the air and the rhythm is fast- being in my own skin at these moments is amazing. Would you like to see what I’m learning to do?
(That’s my Sifu and his son Dakota. )
It’s a little long but I think you should watch it just for the broadswords comment. Because obviously many of us are trained in fighting with broadswords… when you watch two black-belts doing these exercises together it’s gorgeous. No other way of describing it. It is an example of the fluidity and elegance that I love so much about Kung Fu. To do it yourself though is even better, even more incredible and makes you believe in the power of the body to take flight.
My feelings about the staff are less warm. I find it cumbersome and confusing. So I’ve booked myself a private lesson with my Sifu to practice it. I can’t promise myself that I will learn to love the staff exercises but I’m deciding right now that I can do it, that I can become proficient in it so that the next time someone assaults me with a spear I’ll know just what to do and I’ll be able to acquit myself with some degree of honor and not die.
Sifu says I can do impossible things and I mostly believe him. Because so far he’s never been wrong.
*This is an excruciating exercise that could kill a lesser person than me. I’ve taken the hospital stress test for the heart where you have to sign a waiver that says you realize the stress test might kill you and I think this kicking exercise is about ten times more strenuous but with no waiver.
**One of the best Kung Fu class moments was when a few of the guys were discussing the size of their staffs and I got to tell them how wildly inappropriate their conversation sounded. Apparently guys do discuss size.