It was the first time he spoke to me to say anything other than a whispered, “Yes, ma’am,” and it was because he was afraid. For more than six months, I’d been watching him execute roundhouse kicks with the snap, speed and height that would make an upper sash proud. But he consistently had the direction wrong, pointing them up instead of sideways, requiring me to tell him every Saturday morning, “Turn your hip over.”
Until tonight, I thought he might have a touch of an attitude. Not one of being openly disrespectful; he was too quiet for that. He just seemed to have a hint of cockiness, like he didn’t need to bother with corrections. But tonight he needed all the instruction and assistance he could get. Unfortunately, he was pre-testing, trying to show a panel of teachers that he could execute the requirements of his sash well enough to test for promotion. It was a decidedly wrong time to need assistance.
“Sijeh, do I do the green sash form first or white and yellow?” he asked in his usual whisper as he stood next to me waiting to be called to perform. He made eye contact for only a moment while asking, preferring to look at the table of black sashes about to evaluate him.
“You do the green sash form first,” I answered smiling, touching him lightly on the top of his head. “Don’t worry; you’ll do fine,” I added.
I watched him do his form several times during the warm up period. Though he made a few mistakes, he looked pretty good overall. But when his name was called and he walked to the center of the floor, his head seemed to empty of everything he knew.
Just ten moves into Dragon Fist, he froze, and I had to remind him of the next move. Two steps later, he froze again. And again. By the time he forgot for the fourth time, he wasn’t even waiting for me to show him the next move, he was looking over his shoulder asking me with his eyes to come to his rescue. I finally had to tell him: “You have to do it yourself; it’s a test.”
I knew when the testing group was called up to the head table that Sifu was going to tell the small, quiet, nerve-racked little boy he would not be eligible for promotion this month. As I watched the green sash nod at Sifu then silently go stand against the wall, he looked much more mature than his ten years. No tears traveled down his face, though his eyes were wet; he didn’t frown or even pout. He looked like an adult who’d just had his feelings hurt by his best friend, and he was trying to find the right words to confront the offender.
This child’s behavior is how we should all act when we have a meltdown on something important to us. This little man is anything but cocky, I thought.
As I talked to him about his nerves, letting him know that I knew he could do the forms just fine, I was moved by his continued stoicism, impressed by his composure and anxious for him to get his second chance.