At my age, the only thing that can make me sound and act like a five-year-old is to get a correction right in kung fu.
“I did it!” I squealed, fists raised to the ceiling in triumph, with the right one still clenching my trusty staff. (The “it” was relatively simple, as it often appears to be – but only after I’ve gotten something right that spent far too long being wrong.)
Sifu Kevin looked at me and nodded with a momentary smile, before practicing a section of a wushu sword form that was so fast, loud and frenetic his own niece had once been frightened by the performance. His expression to me was one that could be found on any parent at a playground whose child had requested that they watch some fantastic display of athletic ability. In other words, it was a psychic pat on the head.
I couldn’t help but laugh quietly as I walked to the back of the rotation line, staying close to the wall to prevent being nicked by the blade as Sifu ran past me.
I’m old enough to be his much older sister or his frighteningly-young mother, but I’m the kid in this relationship…and I’m now okay with that.
“Maybe you have a problem with my age…” was something then-Siheng Kevin wrote to me in a long ago email, complaining about my propensity to question and explain, or rather my inability to simply say, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” when spoken to – and nothing else.
I reread that thought of his several times and tried to consider it objectively. Had I ever, before kung fu, been in a position where I was expected to follow the directives of someone younger than I? I couldn’t find an instance in my personal life, nor in my professional one.
The single exception had been in tae kwon do. But there, all the teachers below Sensei were within a couple of years of my age, not more than a dozen years younger. With the age difference between Kevin and me (and several other kung fu teachers), I at least qualified as a contemporary, not a subordinate. That was the thought existing somewhere in my head that I hadn’t bothered to consciously acknowledge until Sifu called me on it, back in my green sash period.
There’s a more martial attitude in my Baltimore kung fu school than there was in D.C. tae kwon do. Sensei had been accorded a formal response to every sentence she uttered, but all other teachers were addressed by their first names, no titles. I was, in essence, accustomed to being instructed by a compatriot who knew more than I, rather than directed by someone whose higher ranking I had to acknowledge at all times. It was culture shock of the highest order. And with every other thing going on in my life at the time (see post “Let Up Already!”) – and my natural propensity to say what’s on my mind – it served as one more hard thing to handle.
Fast forward several promotions and years later, and I’m looking for approval and a psychic pat on the head from the young-un in the blue pants (from my southern heritage, “young-un” is the appellation I attach to anyone who wasn’t alive in the 1970s!) I was obviously won over somewhere along the line. And I’m more than fine with that.