The Sensitivity Gene

“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.

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About T. D. Davis

Baker and former journalist. View all posts by T. D. Davis

4 responses to “The Sensitivity Gene

  • cho wan yau

    i don’t think people realise how one throwaway negative comment can really affect a person’s self esteem. In primary school the music teacher divided us into two groups, the ones who could sing in tune and those who couldn’t. Yep you guessed it, of course I was assigned to the latter and ever since I don’t dare sing in public or even join in with the crowd. My ex forbidding me to sing at home drove this home.

    Beauty of living alone is I can sing at the top of my voice and there is no one to roll his eyes and tell me I sound awful!

    • T. D. Davis

      Sing away, lady!
      It’s true these comments can be dynamite. But I think that most people truly don’t know they’re probably doing damage with these remarks – which makes it all the more unfortunate.

      • cho wan yau

        Yep this 10 yr old girl I’m teaching said the other day I’m useless when she got some grammar point wrong. Now where did she get that message from? I told her of course not, your parents love you very much and never say that again.

  • Ann Koplow

    I learned a lot from this post today, T.D. Thank you.

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