“There’s too much laughing going on over there,” Sifu yelled from the other side of the room. He was right. But it was impossible for there not to be, given the group of black sashes lined up against the wall, waiting their turn for their rotation. It’s the other thing I love so much about Saturday kung fu: it’s the most social time upper sashes regularly have together, and we can’t help but make the most of it.
I’ve been writing about my kung fu life for exactly four weeks now, and I’m happily surprised at the level of interest in it. Thanks to all of you regular readers and followers. Ironically, that interest doesn’t seem to extend to those actually in my kung fu life, it seems. I’m fairly certain that less than a handful of schoolmates are regular readers, probably because they assume I’m writing about my personal experience, which most have been witness to, not about them. That’s largely been true, but that’s about to change. See, the joy of Saturday kung fu and the social hour among the black sashes usually includes the same basic cast of characters. We were missing a couple this week, but obviously not enough to keep Sifu from insisting that we pipe down.
I joined the advanced class after not being the least bit disappointed by the first teaching session of the year. Almost all of the recently-promoted yellow and green sashes came to class, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping get them back into the swing of things, before following Sifu downstairs without reluctance.
The black sash comedy skit started forty minutes later with Siheng Brandon correctly predicting what Sifu was going to have us practice next. Brandon is another boy wonder who earned his black sash at ten or eleven years old. He is such a skilled natural at this art of ours that he’s been teaching beginner weapons class since he was a pre-teen. He is the primary person from who I learned the traditional long staff form, so of course I like him; but he actually earned a place in my heart long before I ever touched a staff. He earned it two years ago by talking my ear off about his career path and where he hoped to go to college. I couldn’t help but be taken in by the earnest young man. He’s also tremendously empathetic when teaching my daughter, who can sometimes be an impatient pain in the butt in class. In short, he’s one of my favorite people under the age of twenty-one that I’m not related to.
After I complimented Brandon on his correct prediction, his father, Siheng Steve, immediately began explaining how it wasn’t completely correct. Steve is a compatriot in pain and compulsion. Every time I think I’m too old and injured to keep doing this, I remember Steve, ten years my senior, hobbling around the room in a boot a couple of weeks after a foot procedure, practicing a form – albeit without the jumps.
“Are you supposed to be doing that?” I remember asking him.
“I’m not even supposed to be here,” he said with a chuckle. “The doctor said give it about six weeks.”
“What week is this?”
We understand each other quite well.
I was once in the beginners’ class of his that I now help teach. Steve was also one of my teachers for the sword form, which I started learning as a green sash, much to his frustrated consternation. He’s had a front-row seat for my kung fu transformation and made a point of telling me how proud the black sashes were of how much I’d improved on the way to joining them. I’m just as fond of him as I am of his son.
“Oh, come on, Siheng; you gotta give it him,” I said to Steve, interrupting his explanation for why Brandon’s prediction was only half right.
“No,” Steve said in a deadpan voice, facing away from his son with a smile on his face. That’s when we black sashes started laughing.
“He’s not going to give it to me –” Brandon said, also smiling.
“– He’s never going to give it to me,” he added, talking over his dad.
“He’s right. My head’s too big – just like his,” Steve said, lifting his hands as if an imaginary beach ball rested between them. “Our egos are too big to be in the same room.” Their banter caused a building crescendo that finally wore out Sifu’s patience – at least that’s how he acted. But I don’t think he minded as much as he had to represent while working with the blue sashes. Sifu himself loosens up most Saturdays and has a bit more fun with us all.
I could go on about the first Saturday classes of 2014, but I’ve written long enough. I didn’t even get to the other middle aged members of the Saturday posse that make three exhausting hours of training a blast. But there’s plenty of time, plenty of Saturdays, and every single one of us will be back.