Tag Archives: ego

The Untrained Trainer

“Don’t you guys have a school or something?” he asked, looking me up and down and settling his gaze on the bicep that was helping to hold up the staff.

“Of course,” I answered trying not to show my surprise and annoyance.  “When I’m not here, I’m there.”  He waited, expecting me to continue speaking and answer the question he wasn’t quite rude enough to ask directly.

“So… is there more space here?”

“Yes.”  I hoped that would be the end of his inquisition, but I knew it wasn’t.

He looked away, thinking for a moment, as the slow elevator continued to chug along to the third level of the parking lot.  “You’re lucky Ray’s not still here.”

Having no idea who Ray was, I shrugged.  The diminutive trainer with a model’s face and a body builder’s chest turned his face toward the two women who’d just left his 45-minute boot camp, but he continued talking to me.

“Ray ran the squash program.  If he was still here, you wouldn’t have any room to practice.  He had those courts filled every night.”

The elevator door opened on my floor, so I didn’t take the time to point out to him that I practice in all the gym’s spaces that are available to me and my staff.  So unless Ray could keep me out of the yoga room, the boxing room and the step-it studio, everyone would still have to deal with whatever it is about my weapons practice that’s apparently threatening to a professional trainer and boxing coach.  What I actually said was: “Okay.”  Then, I walked to my car.

I care very much about whether I’m taking up space that someone else is entitled to, but I just don’t have time to tip toe around the ego of an apparently insecure personal trainer whose classes never take place in a room I use for practice.  Life’s just too short for that kind of nonsense… and there’s way too much training to be done.

To Be a Duck

I was awakened on this snow day out of the office by a call from The Home Depot.  It seems the estimate for new countertops was off by a whopping thirty-three percent – a difference so dramatic and unexpected that I became instantly alert and annoyed.

“Am I locked into this?”  I asked with irritation clear in my voice.  She said I wasn’t, and I could call the suppliers if I wanted to make changes.

As I wrote down her name and telephone extension, I realized that I was upset about something relatively minor.  Either I could get the cost reduced by changing my choices, or I could pay the balance quoted straight out of my tax refund, without going into debt.  It was more than I wanted to spend, more than I thought I would have to spend, but at least I have it in the bank.

There was no need for me to subject anyone to my irritation.  She was just making the phone call her job requires her to make.  I wasn’t rude or surly, but I didn’t have to be so unquestionably out of bounds for me to be aware – almost immediately – that I was overreacting, however slightly.

This is the mental and emotional effect of my fall from grace with Sifu, the part two to yesterday’s elation with the positive physical effects:

I was not mindful that my obsessive training in the guan was bothering the head of the school.  I was not aware that how I communicated being hurt by his lack of praise at my tournament success made him unwilling to care that I was hurt.  I’ve decided to pay more attention to the subtle reactions of others and to my own, how they’re communicated and how they are not.  And it’s working much too well.

I’ve been uncomfortable often in the last couple of weeks, seeing many traits that I’ve always intellectually known are a part of me, but didn’t clearly see in action: impatience, selfishness, sense of entitlement…. Did I mention impatience?

Talking about all this alone at dinner with the adult who loves me most, I confessed that I may not be all that nice a person.  She quickly dismissed that notion, as a biased person would, and told me that what she’s seen for the last dozen years is that I’m a nice person who needs to let more things roll off my back.

“You don’t need to learn how to be a nice,” she said.  “You need to learn how to be a duck.”

It’s the significantly more challenging effect of the fallout with Sifu, but I’m doing my best to embrace it.  In fact, it feels more like it’s embracing me!

The High End of Good

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….

Just Ninety

I wasn’t going to ask her again, but my desire to know the next moves in the form outweighed all the conflicting emotions evoked when interacting with her.  It’s not one hundred percent wine and roses in my kung fu world, just ninety.  As is the case with family, there are members that challenge me in ways I don’t appreciate.

On the surface, she’s easy to like: smiley, bubbly, outgoing, talkative.  But my issues with her aren’t on the surface.  They’re rooted in the instigative, sometimes condescending comments that I’ve been hearing from her for years.  I can’t say with certainty what she’s been intending to say.  I just know that what I hear has consistently raised my cackles.

The problem couldn’t possibly be that we’re both competitive only children, theater-rats-turned-martial-artists.   It couldn’t be that we each have our moments of being hypersensitive, especially on a bad kung fu day (which is any day that an instruction is tougher to master than we want it to be.)  It’s almost like an Abbott and Costello routine that isn’t funny, the way we’re prone to misunderstanding each other, as if we’re speaking two completely different languages that aren’t even based on the same alphabet.

“Own your diamond,” she once said sternly, when I was out of position without realizing it during a synchronized form section.  From head to toe she was clearly annoyed, as if her child had just willfully disobeyed her.

Who the hell do you think you’re talking to? I thought.  “Excuse me?” is what I said.  When given the invitation to repeat it, her tone softened, but not by much – and her frown didn’t move an inch.  These types of resentment-creating moments are infrequent, but they can suck all the oxygen out of the room.

I don’t want discord in this family.  I’ve had enough of it to last a lifetime in my family of origin and families of choice.  It’s why I want to give her the benefit of the doubt when her words and actions strike a nerve.  It’s why I very much want to hear what she means to say or, perhaps, hear nothing at all.

A True Fact

The “revolution” is only a week old and it already has unintended casualties.  My knees buckled getting out of bed this morning.  That hasn’t happened for a few months, since I stopped putting constant pressure on them doing tai chi.  So I have to conclude that the pressure from the newly-acquired Xing Yi and Pa Chi practice are taking their toll.  It could also be that the effects of frigid cold weather on arthritis has put a little more wobble into these less-than-sturdy joints.  It’s almost enough to send me to a vintage store for some leg warmers.  Almost.

I could just take a break from the extra-curriculars for a while and keep the focus on staff. (Funny how I don’t even consider that staff practice might be a problem.)  But it’s difficult for me to take a rest from something that’s giving me a challenge.  I tend to want to practice it until the problem’s corrected and I’m getting the move right.  That’s exactly what I was doing Saturday after advanced class, practicing a new part of Pa Chi that Siheng Allen taught me – and doing so badly at it that he declined to show me the next move.  Ouch!

I couldn’t keep my right arm straight as I swung it; I couldn’t keep my body on a forty-five degree angle after the step back; I kept leaning over too far when I stepped together and bent my knees; and the timing of all these moves was slower than it was supposed to be.  How could it not be with all those mistakes?

I’ve been told by different black sashes that the reason our school’s founder yanked Pa Chi from the curriculum is because no one ever did it correctly.  I’m beginning to understand why.  But Siheng Allen decided to pull it out of the dustbin and teach it to black sashes in his Monday night class, and my ego had to jump on the bandwagon.

If I mind my own business, my knees will be happier.  A true fact but a pointless one, when new kung fu knowledge is there for the taking.

Now… back to straightening that right arm on the swing.

Sharing with Sanshou

The sanshou class Monday night did at least thirty rotations of kick lines before they started fighting.  Just watching them made my knees hurt, and it also made me envious.  Not since I was at my best in tae kwon do have I had a kick that looked as powerful as those invading the edge of what I call my corner of the room, and I will never have one again.

But my little pity party lasted only about twenty seconds, though.  By the time the second row of kicks forced me to halt my long staff form in mid spin, frustration had evicted envy from my head.  See, when kick rows are going, there’s only about a four foot by eight foot rectangle of space free for one who’s not in the kick line to practice anything else.  On Monday nights, from about seven to eight o’clock, I will fight rather fiercely, when necessary, for rights of possession to that rectangle.

There are any number of short sections in freehand forms that can be practiced in a small square of space.  But imagine trying to spin, strike, swing and slam against the floor a solid shaft of wood that’s taller than your head – all within a space that’s about four by eight feet.  It can’t be done.  Not without coloring outside the lines.  This is why practicing the long staff form in such a small space requires stopping, moving back and turning around at least half a dozen times before the one-minute form is finished.  And that’s when there are no kick lines creeping into the rectangle.

Every time a sanshou student gets close to the edge of my practice space, I have to stop again, even if I otherwise would have had space to finish the section.  I say all this to say that trying to practice with a weapon in a small rectangle of space, when the kicks of 180-pound men are barreling toward you like a freight train can be just short of crazy making.

So why not just wait until the kick lines are over, one might ask?  Because the time it takes for half a dozen people of various ages and skill levels to do thirty rotations of kick lines is considerable.  It amounts to half the time I have to train on a Monday, after assisting with the beginner class.  If I sit for half an hour or more waiting for space, I might as well go home.  And there can be no just going home on a Monday.  On Mondays, I’ve already waited more than fifty-two hours since Saturday’s class to get back on the floor!

So when sanshou class starts with kick lines, there’s a cloud in my kung fu world.  It’s not that dark, doesn’t hang that low and only stays for about, oh, thirty-three-point-six minutes.  But, man, it can be crazy making….

Already Over

“I’m going to watch you,” are not welcome words from someone who outranks me when I’m teaching an introductory class to fresh-off-the-street kung fu students.  It’s even more uncomfortable when Sifu’s the one watching, as he was Monday night.

I’ve only assisted in teaching the beginner class for the last six months, but I’ve spent years making basic techniques muscle memory for my own body.  When I have to instruct someone who’s completely unfamiliar with martial arts language, I’m often surprised at how hard it is to verbalize to others what is automatic for me.

A veteran black sash put it best just a few days ago: “First we learn how to do it, then we have to learn how to teach it.”

One would think the latter follows naturally from the former, but not necessarily.  People earn degrees in education.  So, clearly, someone caught on a long time ago to the idea that folks need to learn how to teach whatever their expertise is, particularly to young children or those with minimal foundation.

So what’s the big deal about having to learn how to teach kung fu, one might ask?  It was indisputably harder to learn how to do it, and that part – at least for the first degree – is over.

What’s bothering me is this: there are almost as many different ways to teach as there are personalities.  Teachers, like parents (and people in general, for that matter) have their own style.  And style is valuable.  It’s what makes one teacher a favorite and another a snoozer.

But teaching is also about uniformity.  Everyone should be getting the same information, be told to do the same technique in the same way.  It’s what I always wanted most as a kung fu student.  In fact, it could often frazzle my type-A personality to be given variations on the same technique, because a variation meant that whether I was doing it right depended entirely upon which teacher I was talking to.  That just didn’t sit well.

Still, there’s a difference between being taught to make sure that the technique is uniform and being taught to make sure that the manner one uses to teach the technique is the same.  Which takes me back to where I started.

When a more experienced instructor (especially if it’s Sifu!) is watching me teach, it’s my style that’s under the microscope, the thing that’s personal.  I’ve been told before to tweak how I deliver the lesson, not what’s in it.

In short, it’s hard not to take personally a threat to something that’s personal.  But that’s one of the things we so-called grown-ups are expected to do.  And I’ll get there, I know.  After all, the hardest part of my kung fu education is already over.