I told Sifu tonight that he looked sick. He’s not.
“How’re you doing? You look sick,” is right up there with “Why are you wearing that? It’s ugly.” It’s a classic example of the lifelong challenge I’ve had filtering my thoughts before I speak them… or merely keeping my mouth shut all together. This challenge of mine has been known to bother more than a few members of my kung fu family who outrank me – and probably a couple who don’t. And it was Sifu Kevin who got hit with it first.
“What’s the story with the little guy in the blue pants?” That was my first thought more than five years ago after having him come up to us, give us a quick instruction, and then walk away. I can’t remember what the first directive was that Sifu gave me, Merle and the kids. I don’t even remember him introducing himself, though I suppose he must have. I just remember that I had to strain to hear him, and it wasn’t particularly loud in the room.
He was still a Siheng at the time, but I assumed the blue pants meant he was the leader of the school. No one else in the building was wearing them. I later met – or more accurately, saw – Sifu Aaron in blue pants too, which made things a bit confusing until someone explained that Aaron was the Sifu, i.e. the official head of the school, but Kevin was chief instructor.
Sifu is slightly shorter than I am, and in the fall of 2008, he weighed less than me too. A lot less, I would say, since I was at the highest non-pregnant weight of my life when I started kung fu. My first debates with him were over exercise, if I remember correctly. The teachers had us doing conditioning exercises that were just awful on the back. At least they were on mine.
I was still very much a student of my tae kwon do Sensei – a no-nonsense lady who’d been doing martial arts since the year before I was born. The woman was phenomenal. She still is, I’m sure, though I haven’t seen her in action in about seven years. Sensei was very strict about not working the body hard in consecutive days. Tae kwon do classes were every other day. In kung fu, however, there seemed to be an expectation to show up at every available opportunity. “You need to come to more classes,” Siheng Perry used to tell me back when we were only going three days a week. I thought that was crazy. But that was then; this is now.
Nowadays, I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I miss a day of kung fu. And God forbid I miss two days in a row. But back then, I’d already torn my right meniscus and ACL to shreds; the former had been sown back up, the latter replaced, and I was all too glad to listen to whatever activity limitations were given to me by someone older and wiser than I.
That too was part of the difficulties I had following then-Siheng Kevin. He wasn’t older, and it didn’t seem at all likely to me that he was wiser than Sensei. So having him and the other teachers under his direction tell me things that were contrary to what I’d learned from the great lady… it just wasn’t working for me.
I kept going because I’d signed a contract, and I wasn’t about to throw away money. I had to at least get everything I paid for.
I certainly did – and then some.