“I do this for free, you know,” I remember him saying while scolding me. I nodded repeatedly, careful not to show any hint of what I was thinking, namely:
Of course I know you do this for free! So do I! We all teach here, and help keep the place up, and put up with conditions we don’t like – for free! We do it for the love of kung fu, the school, its history and each other. Isn’t that why you do it?
If anyone else had been angrily condescending to me the way Sifu was with that comment, I would have actual said all that I only thought in that moment. I’ve thought of it often over the last few weeks, as I remained on the teaching sidelines while several instructors were absent, due to family illnesses, business trips and vacations. I’ve happily covered for folks in the past. I changed my schedule with the job that actually does pay me when Sifu asked me to switch to help with the early classes. And he thought he needed to remind me that he does this for free.
I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking when he says that, what it really means to him that he runs a kung fu school without being paid. It doesn’t seem to be said with pride as much as indignation… when it doesn’t need to be said at all.