I was having a good but bittersweet time watching the large class of green sashes who used to be my white and yellow sash students, when I paused in front of Sifu’s office to greet him. He was unsmiling as he returned my bow, and for a moment, I thought he might be angry with me for not greeting him sooner. But I quickly realized that I’d seen that scowl on him before when it had nothing to do with me. He was in a bad mood for some reason, and it was going to be a long class.
Those two facts are inseparable. Whenever Sifu is in a bad mood, it comes through in his teaching. Sometimes he’ll choose the most difficult of drills; sometimes the drills are manageable but the repetitions never-ending. Always he becomes more formal and easily irked by what he considers to be breaches of respect.
In a good mood, he won’t insist that everyone say “yes, sir” every time he speaks, even if they’re busy holding their breath trying to get through whatever maneuver he’s assigned. And when he does call for a “yes, sir” that everyone’s too busy hurting to remember to give automatically, there’s no anger in the call. In a bad mood, everything seems to be said angrily. He’ll bark at students for not moving fast enough, much less a failure to say “yes, sir” at the appropriate moment.
In short, what kind of class one will have with Sifu always depends on his mood. He is either unaware of the connection between the two, or he doesn’t believe that connection is problematic. In any case, he’s the other Jekyll and Hyde in my life – and he has the same birthdate as the first (see “The Old Man”).
What a cosmic coincidence that is! Is the universe trying to tell me something?