“You know nothing. You go over there,” Siheng said to the new student attending his second class. He was separating the class into three groups: those who knew their whole form, yellow sashes still learning it and white sashes still learning it. I knew that what he meant to say was, “You don’t know the form yet, so go over there,” but that’s not how it came out.
The student was visibly surprised by the unintentionally rude sentence. He opened his eyes wide and stared at Siheng a moment before moving toward his assigned side of the room, while shaking his head.
“He didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” I told the student. “Don’t take it personally. He’s just missing the sensitivity gene,” I said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, I’m just not… I don’t…”
“- have the sensitivity gene,” I repeated, still smiling.
I can’t remember ever seeing Siheng Chris at the school before I finally reached a sash level that put us in many of the same classes. But the first unforgettable shared class was one in which he openly, loudly, ridiculed moves I did incorrectly while still learning the Shaolin Fist form. I thought he was obnoxious and, well, insensitive for doing so. So no one could have been more surprised than I when he became one of the most helpful people at the school to me while I was training for black sash. He gave me pointers, corrections and encouragement – and a person to compete with and improve against. As the only red sashes in the school for about seven or eight months, neither of us had anyone else to commiserate with about the stress of the 12 Kicks form. I remember thinking that we were becoming friends because misery loves company. There turned out to be a touch more to it than that.
He was impressed at my early aptitude for 12 Kicks, before the piece of floating cartilage in the right knee and the torn meniscus in the left took me off the floor for almost four months (and I actually could have used more). When I returned, from the first operation, I could no longer “crush it” as he was fond of saying. When I returned from the second, there were several moves I had to work exceptionally hard to execute properly, much less do with power and speed. By the time I had to fight him and another black sash in the two-on-one part of my black sash test, he remained polite but the friendship had already started to wane. We were no longer sharing 12 Kicks misery. He was already a black sash who’d moved on to other forms.
Now, I assist him when he teaches, sometimes rephrasing his sentences for new students, sometimes running interference for his mood, always doing my best to teach the assigned skill for the day to the group he tells me to teach. It’s been an interesting evolution – one I choose not to take personally.