From High to Low

Last night I was called into Sifu’s office, stripped of my teaching post and threatened with expulsion from the school.  So much for being on cloud nine.  The punishable offense was telling Sifu that my feelings were hurt by his response to my tournament win; I thought I would at least get a “good job.”

I am now crystal clear on the following:  he’s had problems with my level of respect for years (I’ve admitted to being a pain in the ass for a host of life reasons when I first started kung fu – see “Let Up Already!” from 12/8/13 and “Everything I Paid For” 12/11/13 – but I thought that was long behind us); and he believes I have a problem with authority.  Additionally, I’m clear that my feelings don’t matter; my expectations of him are irrelevant; and it is totally unacceptable for me to “tell him what he should say.”  Lastly, he owes me nothing more than the classes I’ve contracted to take (and irony of ironies, the family contract is up in two weeks).

I was under the impression that lunches with his wife, babysitting his infant daughter at the school while they’re both in class, and various personal exchanges with the man himself, through black sash training and since, had added a thread or two of friendship to the hierarchical relationship.  I was apparently very mistaken.

Were I permitted to speak, I would say the following:

“Dear, Sifu.

I’m writing to simply explain myself and hopefully have you understand me better, if you care to.

I respect authority a great deal. But I’ve spent my entire life working in collaboration – TV production, making a legal case or defense, publication of news articles, theater production‎ and restaurant work are all collaborative endeavors. So I have never had a boss that I wasn’t permitted to disagree with and make suggestions to. Doing those things with you has therefore never been something personal, designed to question or undermine your authority. That’s always been quite secure to me. We just seem to see interpersonal relationships that involve hierarchy differently. Mine have never been completely dictatorial – not even the one with my ex-Marine father.

I was taught to see questions and explanations – communication in general – as positive things that better most situations. I’d be surprised to find myself in the cultural minority with this trait. But I also get that tradition is important to you, and that tradition means silence.  I will therefore do my best to leave my life and personality at the door.”

But should I have to?  Is that what he should expect?  My tae kwon do sensei, who’s in her late sixties and started teaching martial arts the year before I was born, permitted both conversation and criticism. But she is also not a Chinese American.  So perhaps I’m comparing apples and oranges.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure which end is up.

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About T. D. Davis

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

14 responses to “From High to Low

  • amediablogger

    Wow! What ever happened to Kung fu philosophy? I’m upset with Sifu and the immature response he’s taken. I hope he’ll come to his senses. Perhaps you will seriously consider starting up your own school with your son/family. So sorry to hear this.

    • T. D. Davis

      Many thanks. I have to admit I wonder if that’s what the message is in this for me.

      • amediablogger

        In time you’ll discover the answer. I do hope that you consider starting you school. It would be wonderful to know that people can learn, grow and challenge. I’m sorry that this has happened to you. From what I’ve read you don’t deserve this.

  • pi314chron

    Things are rarely as simple, or complex, as they appear on the surface. But, I believe that Sifu is, for reasons known only to him, threatened by you. His callous display of insensitivity and disregard for your achievements and feelings are testimony to a tender ego and authoritarian bent that have no place in interpersonal relationships. I would dearly love to sit across from him at the chessboard and watch his ego crumble!

    Ron — with an ego that doesn’t seek to destroy

  • Blackbird

    Wish I could do something to help. You deserve better! You have shown nothing but a love of kung fu – which I would think would be appreciated and encouraged. You are awesome!…and not just at kung fu…and don’t let anyone, including Sifu make you question that.

  • Elizabeth DiFiore

    I think… it’s not really my place to have an opinion on this as I don’t know the man and I don’t know you either.

    I do know something my dad told me one time– it helps me cope when people I thought were special to me suddenly were not what I thought they were:

    There are only a special few who stay with you throughout your life, and they will support you. Everyone else, no matter how long they stay, are really just visiting.

  • sjones182

    It’s time to start your own school. Most Sifu’s (no matter what martial art they teach…mine for kung fu and tae kwon do) respect your feelings, and even if they usually don’t give acres of praise tend to nod, smile and say ‘well done’ no matter what their nationality.

  • Michelleintel

    I’m glad you made the cultural reference. That makes sense. My immediate impression reading your post was that this is a man with control issues. He needs psychological help. However, understanding different cultures, is an area in which I could definitely use some education. Perhaps you are right in that it is strictly cultural? Being the “melting pot” that we are, means that we must engage with many types of people. I’m a student of Goju Ryu. My instructor is Japanese but she has four American children and understands how our cultures differ and makes allowances for our ways. Is your Sifu an older man? Perhaps he is incapable of change? I think I would probably implement the old saying, “Kill ’em with kindness”. If you enjoy the workouts, then continue going and let him deal with his own problems. If you don’t enjoy the environment, then take advantage of the fact that your contract is about to expire and visit a new place. The important thing is not to let his issues affect you.

    • T. D. Davis

      That’s the kicker: he’s 31 years old and was raised in a major northeastern city! It amounts to asking for an adjustment to this own culture and generation (I’m actually considerably older than he is.) It’s mind-boggling, but you’re right – no intention of letting his issues affect me any more than they have already.

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