“Where’d you get this?” he asked sternly, trotting over to me just as I started the second set of staff spins in the White Eyebrow form. The “this” he was referring to was the form itself, the moves that he didn’t know I knew, the self-teaching he was not impressed to find out I’d done.
“From watching other people,” I answered slowly, subconsciously expecting a strike of some sort in my direction, based on the anger clear on his face.
He turned sharply away from me and said, “You know not to rush things. It makes me less likely to want to work with you on it. You know that about me,” he added, walking around the bodies spread out on the floor stretching for wushu class. When he came back to extend the leg of the student on the floor closest to my position, I said: “You don’t give extra credit, huh?”
“There’s extra credit for what I teach you,” he answered without missing a beat.
He made me wait through most of his wushu class to continue my end of the conversation. I almost thought he would refuse to hear me before we left. But I suspect he knew I was at least going to try to say what I needed to say, even if he didn’t want to hear it. That’s something he knows about me.
“I’m sorry. You have to know that no disrespect was intended,” I began. I knew he’d seen me practicing the open of the form months earlier; so I was genuinely caught off guard by his surprise and anger. I’d never been trying to hide from him that my overachieving gene was fast at work in martial arts as everywhere else.
“I know,” he said, sounding almost pleasant. “I know that you’re just eager. And I’ve done that too. The first day I was a red sash, I walked into class and told my instructor, ‘I know 12 Kicks.’ He was not happy. And so….”
I appreciated his willingness to make me feel better, to make me less anxious about his anger. The more I thought about it, it was probably no small deal for him to admit that he’d made the same breach of protocol, crossed whatever line it is that exists without explanation.
After a bit more chatter on my part about what I’d been trying to do and why, I finally asked: “Would you rather I have pretended I didn’t know any of it?” I asked, waiting to hear “no” or “of course not.” What I heard instead was:
“You still don’t know any of it. That’s what I want you to understand.”
His statement was true but inaccurate. I nevertheless left it alone. “Yes, sir,” I answered. Understood.