Category Archives: Family

A Way of Life

Bob walked past the windows of the yoga room on his way to one of the “employees only” areas, holding up five fingers.  Since it was six fifty-five, I concluded that I either had five minutes to vacate the yoga room or five minutes to quit the gym. The man at the front desk ended my confusion, and I rapidly ran through the first half of the White Eyebrow form twice more, before throwing on my fleece and sneakers and heading for the elevator.

In the era of gyms that are open around the clock, I join the only one in the downtown area that closes before sundown on a Sunday, I thought, shaking my head and smiling at the irony.  I had hoped to get in fifteen forms, after spending the day at work producing a live show.  I was leaving with four forms to go and more than enough energy left in the joints to pull them off comfortably.  I was bummed.

I held the elevator for a fellow member who came through the exit turnstile just as the doors were about to close.  He thanked me as he got on and shot a glance at my staffs.

“Doing martial arts, huh?” I nodded. “Which one?”

“Kung fu, Northern Shaolin.”

“Aw, that’s great!” he said with a surprising depth of appreciation. “My father signed me up for judo when I was kid, and I did it intensely for years. Went to the Junior Olympics….

“Wow!” I gave the once over to the tall, thirty-something-year-old with solid muscle definition and genuine love in his face and thought: Yep, he’s one of us.

“I just loved it!” he continued quietly, seeming to go someplace special in his memory. “Martial arts. It’s not a sport. It’s… it’s a way of life.”

“It is!” I agreed, as the elevator arrived on my floor of the garage.  Smiling, we wished each other a good night, and I disembarked.

Though I didn’t get his name, I felt like I’d just met an extended family member.  And just like that, I was no longer bummed.


For Free

“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.


A Small Moment

“I don’t really want to be here anymore,” he said quietly with a perplexed look on his face. “I feel like I did back when I took those two months off.”

I was surprised to hear this from him, since just a month ago, he’d made clear to me that if I decided to leave the school, he was staying. He was prepared to pay for his own contract, and he clearly wasn’t clouded by any codependent need to go down with his mother in my fall from grace with Sifu. At the time, I couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt. I likewise couldn’t help but feel a bit pleased at his unexpected declaration of dissatisfaction.

“I’d rather be at the gym myself,” I whispered, conscious of the fact that the walled-off office we were standing next to has no ceiling‎. I’d aggravated my worn out right shoulder the previous day while changing a flat tire, and the bad mood I’d already noticed on Sifu made me fearful of further injury. Additionally, my changed feelings about the man and his school easily explained my preference for self-training at the gym. My son’s feelings were another story.

He didn’t know on Saturday morning why he didn’t want to be there, and the feeling may not last long enough to matter. But it turned out to be a small moment of needed camaraderie in a physically painful day of a ridiculously long month. And as long as I have to be there (to learn the rest of my new form), I’ll take all the good feelings I can get.

Inner Circle

Thursday is testing night at the guan, and it doesn’t matter to me at all. That’s a first since becoming a black sash.

I don’t have a family member, friend or student being promoted. I’m not running the floor or training the person who is. I haven’t been told to do a demonstration. And I’m fairly certain I won’t be asked to grade anyone who’s being evaluated. In short, my presence isn’t needed. And to my astonishment, I’m just fine with that.

The more I train in a warm comfortable gym that holds no drama, the more at peace I am with the change in my status at the guan. The more I compete and do well in tournaments, the more I prefer to pay entry fees not contract ones.

I don’t need to be in the inner circle anymore.  I’ll happily climb back in if invited, because most of the school’s black sashes are still family in my heart, but I’m fine if the invitation never comes.

For I no longer feel like I’m being punished. I feel like the loss is theirs.

A Smile and a Fist Pump

“If you do the Pittsburgh tournament, you can only do one event, because the entry fee is so high. But if you wait until June and do the D.C. tournament, you can compete in as many events as you want. D.C. has one price for everything.” I explained tournament economics as carefully as I could to a preteen who’s never bought anything more expensive than a birthday present for her brother, then waited for her to make the more cost-effective choice. She didn’t.

“I’ll do Pittsburgh.”

“You will? You understand that I can’t pay for both? If you do Pittsburgh, you can’t do D.C. – unless you pay for it.”

“Then I’ll wash more cars to pay for it,” she answered in a tone that implied I had somehow managed to miss her obvious solution and should be ashamed of myself. I watched my smiling daughter grab her towel and head for the shower, wondering who or what had taken over the body of my youngest child.

Only two weeks have passed since I told her she’s now the official family car wash, and I’ll pay her a couple of times a month for this specific job, while the remainder of her clean-up detail would still be just chores. She agreed without complaint but looked worried.  After all, it’s work; and she doesn’t like work.  She tried to console herself with talk of expanding her comic book collection with her pay.

Now, with her first paid foray with the sponge and hose just days away, the worried look has been replaced by a smile, a fist pump and a desire to wash the car more often than it needs – all because her father’s difficulty getting a day off from work forced her to come to a tournament she wasn’t supposed to attend.  Once there, she wound up competing, placing and wanting a shot at a higher medal.

I’ve always said that God has an interesting sense of humor, and this was definitely a punch line that I didn’t see coming. But I’ll take it, happily – along with a very clean car!

On the Circuit

Tournaments are scheduled to be an all-day affair, but I had never personally experienced one that was.  Until Saturday.

At the Fort Lauderdale tournament last month, I spent four hours warming up and cooling down over and over and over again, before my event was finally called.  It was a factor of having dozens of competition categories all slated for the same ring and not knowing exactly how many were ahead of mine.

In Charlotte on Saturday, rings were assigned on an ongoing basis, with none pre-assigned before the competition began. None.  We waited more than four hours for the first of the three of us to be called for an event; it took an additional two and a half hours after the first call for all of us to be done on the floor. So from first stretch to last bow, we spent almost eight hours warming up and cooling down, over and over and over again.


I did a lot of quacking in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The extreme test of patience made Saturday my best day yet at being a duck.  Most surprisingly, I was not alone.

I like to say that my daughter is me without the filter.  That missing filter is usually a very big deal.  But with a little late-in-the-day help from a smart phone, her complaints numbered exactly three and lasted a matter of seconds.  That’s in a day that was eight hours long – and followed immediately by a seven hour car ride home!

What keeps an experience that looks crazy on paper from being as insane as it sounds is being in a room with a couple of hundred other like-minded enthusiasts who’ve driven just as long or flown just as far as you have.  A Florida man I made friends with in Lauderdale greeted me like we’d known each other for years, and my son left the building with plans to meet up early in the summer with a fellow competitor he spent most of the day talking with.  It’s not just a competition circuit; it’s a community all its own – much like any professional sport.  And that community is a fringe benefit to an experience that can otherwise try the most passionate of martial arts souls.

Next up Pittsburgh.  I’m sure the gang – or much of it – will all be there.

A Formidable Family!

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‎A proud mama I am! About five long hours after this picture‎ was taken, my children left the tournament floor with their first medals in kung fu… and training plans for the next competition!

Even my better half, sitting through the day on camera and cheering duty while nursing a torn meniscus‎, is anxious to get an event under her belt, now.

Looks like I’ve started something. And so far, so good!

More later, when I’m finally out of the car. 🙂

Tournament Eve

It was a beautiful evening in Charlotte, North Carolina – especially from the top of the university campus at dusk, at the start of a track meet.



Tomorrow morning, the family and I will be pacing and warming up in the winding corridors of this building, awaiting the call of our numbers to show what we know in each of our events.


As luck would have it, I strained, sprained, pinched or otherwise aggravated the arm and shoulder that the staff demands the most of while sparring in Thursday night’s class.  So the jury is out on what I’ll be able to do tomorrow.  Meanwhile, my daughter has decided to get out of the audience and onto the competition floor, which made the trip extra special before we’d even put the weapons in the car!

It’s feeling a little like waiting for Santa….  A pretty nice feeling on the second day of spring. 🙂

“But That Was All”

“I had a really good day in sparring class,” my 12-year-old girl shouted over the whirl of cold winds as she threw her arms around me in a quick hug.  I’ve decided to alternate Thursdays and Fridays as a day of no kung fu, but when I skip Thursdays I forfeit playing chaperone to a preteen that has great difficulty getting motivated to use and show the fighting skills she’s been taught. So I was thrilled to be greeted on the edge of the train station parking lot by such unexpected news.

“That’s great, babe.  What happened?”

“Oh, Doug gave me a hard front kick and I fell on my butt.”  By this time, she’d completed her move from the front seat to the back, and I was closing the passenger door, nestled in the seat she’d just vacated.  “But that was all,” she added with a broad smile in her voice.  I had one on my face, understanding completely the joy that any stranger would find confusing based on the two sentences I’d been given.

But I knew that the stocky, powerful, dangerous, forty-something year-old man, who fought his own children as if they were in an MMA match, had once picked my daughter up off of her feet in a sparring match but caught himself before throwing her to the floor.  I also knew the force of the kick she took, because I’d taken a side kick from Doug on more than one occasion and doubted his front kick was any weaker.

When my girl said, “But that was all,” I knew it meant she fought well enough that Doug only took one opportunity to show her a hole in her defenses.  She was often so lackadaisical that he schooled her out of either frustration or irritation or both.  Today, she subjected herself to nothing more than a fall on the butt from a front kick.

It warmed my heart (and cold, arthritic bones) to get such good kung fu news, even if I couldn’t see it.  Sounds like she’s got a handle on just getting back up when kicked down.

What’s Possible

A great day!  Beautiful weather; an excellent decision to work from home and read a fantastic first book of the next guest on my live show; quality time with my son at the new gym (he’s as thrilled as I am with the new space); a cyberspace introduction to the person who could bring me back to teaching; and a brand new color for my kitchen walls, thanks to my better half.  This was the kind of day that makes it more difficult to rise at dawn to make the commuter train that’s always overcrowded, frequently late and occasionally outright broken down.  So I’m going to stay wrapped up in its literal and figurative warmth right up until the moment I’m snoring.

I have a few more lingering issues over the punishment inflicted by Sifu, but I’ll leave the mental spring cleaning on that until tomorrow.  For I also have a phone number for an open commercial space with high ceilings that’s just a five minute walk from my house.  I’m fairly certain the rent is going to be hard to manage, but truthfully, I wouldn’t even be looking at it were it not for the recent drama at my school.  Perhaps everything does in fact happen for a reason.  So much more looks possible when having a great day.

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.

Warmth, Peace & Pleasure

I spent the day enjoying congratulations for the win at Saturday’s tournament, with memories of my mother interceding at intervals.  Much to my amazement, there hasn’t been a single moment of anger or sadness over the inability to call and share the good news with her.  I didn’t even have to fight off daydreams, while in Fort Lauderdale, of having her drive down I-95 to actually watch me compete.  I just had one wave of nostalgia for the family vacations that used to be.  I felt it Friday on the long drive from the airport to the hotel, while passing one pastel-colored cement building after another and feeling a hazy humidity only rivaled in my experience by Houston and New Orleans.

There’s a distinct feel to being in Florida for me.  An aura of warmth, peace and pleasure that comes complete with a flood of almost exclusively happy memories – years of Easters, summer weeks and Christmases filled with watching my mother and formerly small children have fun together.

“I just realized that I didn’t give any thought to how it would feel to be back in Florida,” I told my better half on the phone, once I reached the hotel.

“I know.”  There was a hint of surprise in her voice.

I had a quick cry then for what was and for all that’s happened in our lives that Mom hasn’t been here to see.  And that was that.  On to the competition the next morning.

It’s been more than six years since my mother’s death.  Before this tournament weekend, it had been more than six years since my last trip to Florida.  I’d wanted to go back, to revisit the places I’d enjoyed with Mom and my children and make new memories.  But at the same time, I hadn’t been able to imagine setting foot in the state again without being able to see her.

It took kung fu to get me back in the state.  I didn’t even think twice about the venue when planning to go.

Though a mental health professional would probably have a field day with these facts, something about it all seems right.  Something about it feels like the powers of the universe doing for me what I could not do for myself.