Facing the Door

“You have to turn more. You should – ”

“Just go.” Sifu told him, interrupting Siheng Steve’s instruction to me and keeping the rotation rolling. Siheng did the section of the spear form Sifu assigned to him, then immediately came back to me to finish his sentence.

“You have to swing your hips, then your arm, then the staff,” Steve said with an earnestness that made him seem vested in my ability to get it right. “Make sure your body is facing the door before you swing – on both swings.”

Oh! I thought. Why didn’t anybody tell me that earlier?

“Yes, sir,” I answered happily, with the imaginary light bulb in the balloon over my head shining brightly. Sometimes it just takes one turn of phrase, one short and sweet sentence to make it click. The elusive move doesn’t just become doable, it becomes easy to master with just a little bit of practice.

Siheng Steve was the one who came up with the directive I needed. Only three words to remember: body, facing, door. I was starting the swing ninety degrees early. In an art of inches, that’s a big error to correct without the perspective with which to fix it. One of the three instructors I most look forward to seeing in the school had just saved the day.

“That’s much better!” he said smiling, when I got it right for the first time in three classes of drilling on it. It felt like he was happy I got it right – not just satisfied or content, but happy. He reminded me of myself back in my teaching days, when a newbie would finally perfect the stomp kick in the white sash form.

Siheng Steve is a kindred spirit as both an instructor and a fellow student. He’s the only other middle-aged, martial arts diehard I know who shares most of the injuries, ailments and limitations that I do.

“Aging stinks,” he said laughing with me, as I limped away from a rotation last Saturday with an aching back. He’s right, of course, especially for athletes of any kind. But as I thanked him today for his correction, I couldn’t help but note that aging isn’t so bad when falling apart in good company.

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