Tag Archives: encouragement

The Corporate Go Ahead

The first email appeared around 9:30 a.m.  The member of the marketing department in charge of announcing the enrollment period for the second session liked all the changes I asked to make to my class.  She enthusiastically jumped into creating two fliers and website announcements: one announcing a demo session for parents and children; the other detailing the cost and session dates.

But I kept waiting for a shoe to fall.  I was quite conscious that, excluding the owners of the gym, there were three people above her on the company hierarchy.  Just because she liked the idea of a family class didn’t mean I had the corporate go ahead.  An hour later, I had that go ahead and more.  The head of the marketing department announced her approval of the class changes, and the program director for the entire company was cc’d on the email, indicating the off-camera conversation, as we like to say at that day job.

For the rest of the day, emails flew back and forth tweaking wording and pricing.  It felt like a joint endeavor to kick the next session off right – something I’d been sorely missing for a first session that was hastily thrown together after weeks of delays.

It’s been a depressing few days, as a job that would have paid me what I want and allowed me to work from home was waved in front of me like a cookie before a toddler, then snatched away just as I began to sink my teeth into it.  I wasn’t even looking for it; didn’t know it was there.  An old college friend breezed into town and told me I had to sit down with his boss to discuss running their communications department.  I left our impromptu lunch with him clearly stating he wanted to hire me.  But the partner I didn’t meet overruled him.  Or so I was told.

Today’s excitement and anticipation was small but important.  I needed to feel something going right.  And I got what I needed.

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.

Something in the Water

Self-training tonight could best be described as out of rhythm but back in step.  I didn’t regain the complete groove with the long staff form until I’d done it about a dozen times, but it was good to be back in the only place I’m able to practice it.  The key question of the evening was: would the shot alone provide relief? Unfortunately, the answer was no – and it was clear rather quickly.  So out came an over-the-counter pain reliever for the first time in two days.  The good news, though, is that the knees held up fantastically without the arthritis meds.  So, it would appear the shot to the back works better on the knees.

Okay.  I’ll take it!

Now, if only I didn’t have to return to work Friday.  And if only I knew whether to take as a sign this persistent, increasingly-overbearing reluctance to get up at dawn every morning, to commute an hour to a job that countless people would love to have, that it’s time to do something different.  It could quite simply be a clear indication to come up with a better way of commuting.  But I don’t think so.

I don’t know a single adult black sash at our school working a job they don’t want to do.  There are many who are still students working part-time gigs that they’ll be happy to dispense with when the time comes, but no one with an established career who wants to be somewhere else.  It’s possible that some are concealing their professional unhappiness, but it doesn’t seem likely they’d be able to do so for long with a group of people who’ve known them for years and who see them several times a month, at the very least.

No, I think there’s something in the water, something in the air of a kwoon, guăn, dojo (whatever word one chooses for martial arts training place), some kind of change that takes place in the mind of the martial artist – particularly one that makes it all the way to black – that makes settling for less a particularly difficult thing to do.  This, too, is why I love this crazy compulsion.

Onward!  Only…when?

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.

The Kid in the Room

At my age, the only thing that can make me sound and act like a five-year-old is to get a correction right in kung fu.

“I did it!” I squealed, fists raised to the ceiling in triumph, with the right one still clenching my trusty staff.  (The “it” was relatively simple, as it often appears to be – but only after I’ve gotten something right that spent far too long being wrong.)

Sifu Kevin looked at me and nodded with a momentary smile, before practicing a section of a wushu sword form that was so fast, loud and frenetic his own niece had once been frightened by the performance.  His expression to me was one that could be found on any parent at a playground whose child had requested that they watch some fantastic display of athletic ability.  In other words, it was a psychic pat on the head.

I couldn’t help but laugh quietly as I walked to the back of the rotation line, staying close to the wall to prevent being nicked by the blade as Sifu ran past me.

I’m old enough to be his much older sister or his frighteningly-young mother, but I’m the kid in this relationship…and I’m now okay with that.

“Maybe you have a problem with my age…” was something then-Siheng Kevin wrote to me in a long ago email, complaining about my propensity to question and explain, or rather my inability to simply say, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” when spoken to – and nothing else.

I reread that thought of his several times and tried to consider it objectively.  Had I ever, before kung fu, been in a position where I was expected to follow the directives of someone younger than I?  I couldn’t find an instance in my personal life, nor in my professional one.

The single exception had been in tae kwon do. But there, all the teachers below Sensei were within a couple of years of my age, not more than a dozen years younger.  With the age difference between Kevin and me (and several other kung fu teachers), I at least qualified as a contemporary, not a subordinate.  That was the thought existing somewhere in my head that I hadn’t bothered to consciously acknowledge until Sifu called me on it, back in my green sash period.

There’s a more martial attitude in my Baltimore kung fu school than there was in D.C. tae kwon do.  Sensei had been accorded a formal response to every sentence she uttered, but all other teachers were addressed by their first names, no titles.  I was, in essence, accustomed to being instructed by a compatriot who knew more than I, rather than directed by someone whose higher ranking I had to acknowledge at all times.  It was culture shock of the highest order.  And with every other thing going on in my life at the time (see post “Let Up Already!”) – and my natural propensity to say what’s on my mind – it served as one more hard thing to handle.

Fast forward several promotions and years later, and I’m looking for approval and a psychic pat on the head from the young-un in the blue pants (from my southern heritage, “young-un” is the appellation I attach to anyone who wasn’t alive in the 1970s!)  I was obviously won over somewhere along the line.  And I’m more than fine with that.

No Head Hanging in Kung Fu

“Okay… we’re going to do something fun tonight,” Siheng Chris said to the unusually small mid-week class standing in a single-file line in front of the office.

I smiled a little too broadly at the half dozen white and yellow sash students, hoping that the drill Chris had planned for them would in fact be enjoyable.  With about twenty-five years of martial arts training under his belt, Chris considers many exercises fun that a bunch of primary school students would likely classify as hard labor.  On behalf of the children, I inwardly braced for impact.

“We’re going to do flying sidekicks.”

No one made a sound.  But the student at the front of the line, a small, quiet nine-year-old who was one of the newest in the school, started to slowly move backward. He’d taken a couple of steps past the yellow sash behind him when I alerted him that he wasn’t invisible.

“Don’t go stepping back,” I said smiling.  “It’s okay if you’re in the front of the line.  Everyone here is learning this technique.”

“Yeah, don’t go to the back of the line;” Siheng Chris added, “Just stay right there.  That’s good,” he said, positioning him third in line.  Siheng then demonstrated what he wanted them to copy.  “Left, right, left, jump.  Be sure to turn your body sideways and lift your knee the way you would for a standing sidekick.  You don’t have to do the kick right now.  I just want you to practice the jump.”

From the back of the room, as I continued to stretch for the class I was assisting, I watched the first two in line do the assigned task with a small measure of confidence.  They were yellow sashes who’d done the technique before; they both threw in the kick, even though all they’d been told to do was jump.  Then came the brand new white sash.

He took the necessary running steps but instead of just jumping to prepare for the kick, he tried to copy the preceding classmates and execute it. When his legs appeared in the air, they were bent, pointing in near opposite directions, with one extended farther than the other and ninety degrees off course.  The impending landing looked potentially painful.  His feet were reacquainted with the floor much louder than one would expect from a body so small, and he stumbled slightly to regain proper footing.  As he turned and walked back to the line, he bowed his head so low I could see nothing of his face.  He came toward me with only the top of his black hair leading the way.  I immediately tried to reassure him and lighten his mood in one fell swoop.

“Hey!  It’s okay.  That was a good try.  You’ve got nothing to hang your head over.  Besides,” I threw in as he walked past me with his eyes finally visible, “there’s no head hanging in kung fu.”  Sijeh Stephanie got the joke immediately and laughed with me, but of course the child I was talking to wasn’t even alive when Tom Hanks made a similar line famous.  He simply offered a weak smile and took his next turn practicing the jump.

As I watched him tentatively undertake his next repetition, I remember the day I learned the same move.  I was at least as awkward at first go as he was.  The flying sidekick wasn’t the first technique I did incorrectly, but it was the first one that made me feel like I should leave the whole martial arts endeavor to younger generations.  It was a technique that smacked me in the face with my own lack of athletic coordination.  The only one that smacked me harder was the tornado kick.  At that I wasn’t just uncoordinated at first teaching, I was outright inept.  So I knew what it was like to look weird in public with no place to hide, to be comical when I wasn’t going for the laugh.  It was anything but fun.

As the chagrined white sash made his return to the line for his third go at his assignment, I wanted to reach out and grab him into a bear hug and tell him: “You’re going to get better.  Don’t worry.  I promise!”  But that would have been inappropriate and not at all kung fu like.  So I just threw him a smile and returned to my stretching, remembering not to hang my head.