I’m not a natural at kung fu. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been a natural at any sport or athletic activity.
I made the basketball team in junior high school on the strength of my height and blocking ability alone, then proceeded to fracture seven of my ten fingers, in one block after another, during the one season that I played. I made the varsity volleyball team in high school, also on the strength of height and blocking ability, but couldn’t serve to save my life and therefore rarely played through an entire rotation.
I was overweight until my teens made me care about appearance, so it was actually a miracle that I thinned down enough to play any sport in school. But being better coordinated didn’t come with the better figure. So even if I wasn’t middle aged and arthritic, with easy-to-tear tendons and ligaments, martial arts still would have been a challenge for me from day one.
I separate my kung fu life into the pre and post black sash testing phases, because the nature of the testing process required that I significantly improve on everything that came before it in order to be awarded the prize. So I did. The difference in my testing grades for undersash forms versus those for the six months of black sash testing say it all. And yet, even on a pain-free, properly-fed day, the quality of my kung fu execution at the time of my final promotion was never better than the high end of good – especially compared to the naturals. Then, along came the long staff form.
It was instantly fun and obviously useful, with nothing subtle about its power. There were plenty of stances that needed to be low and plenty of footwork timing to keep it interesting, but none of its moves were completely prohibited by my injuries and chronic pain. Long staff was the first form in which my age, arthritis and operations didn’t work against me. It was the first form at which I was better than the high end of good.
I was elated by this new reality and wanted to find space to practice at every opportunity, to maintain the higher level of performance. I suspect that motivation was obvious to all sharing the floor with me. That would certainly explain why they never asked me to move….