She used to live at the school just like me. More than me, really. Now she doesn’t. She hasn’t been able to for four months now, but she’s been trying hard to get back consistently for more than two.
She used to be the resident female bad-ass in the building, the perfectionist kung fu practitioner, intensive wushu performer, and the hard-driving upper sash class teacher, who occasionally got heavy-handed with conditioning exercises that even Sifu never inflicted on anyone. She’s the only current member of the school who knows the chain whip form, and was the sole female member of the team that went to China to compete. Now, she’s a mother.
That fact fills her with joy and pride, but it also comes with a diminished capacity for martial arts – not by much, I’m sure, but diminished nevertheless. She very much wants to be back to the skill and ability she had before pregnancy, but she’s conscious of disturbing the training of others by bringing a crying baby with her to the school. Even with others there to watch the baby, she can’t train uninterrupted.
I feel for her. I worry about her. I wonder about the level of frustration she must be combatting, given a love and compulsion for kung fu that rivals my own. She’s the only other person in the building that admits to sitting at her desk at work and running through in her head the form she’s working on, as I do with regularity. She’s the only person there I’ve ever seen drive herself practically to tears when a move she’s practiced incessantly just isn’t gelling in mind or body. She taught well into her ninth month, often having to be reminded not to attempt to demonstrate moves. Quite simply, she loves kung fu and wushu, and she’s exceptionally good at both. She once told me that she wants to do a form perfectly before she does it in public.
So when I saw her the other night making her way across the floor in wushu class moving slower than normal, with kicks lower than she’d normally allow them to be, it wasn’t her speed that bothered me or her execution of the kicks in the drill. It was her expression. Her face spoke volumes. It made me want to take her aside and give her a pep talk, tell her that all she needed was time and she’d be back putting us all to shame. But I couldn’t – not simply because she was occupied in class, but because I was afraid it would do more harm than good.
Sometimes the last thing a kung fu woman wants is to have someone think she needs…anything.