When I first started training in Kung Fu, I promised myself that I’d stick it out for at least six months.
I know it doesn't seem like much of a commitment, but I honestly wasn't sure I would survive the first class, let alone forty-some-odd more classes after that. Considering my physical condition at the time that I started (poor-to-middling) and my own natural tendency to not do difficult things, six months felt like a pretty ambitious goal.
It also seemed like a reasonable amount of time to dedicate to an activity so far outside of my comfort zone that it would need to invent faster-than-light travel in order to reach my comfort zone while I was still young enough to participate. Two months to warm up to the training, two months to settle into a routine, two months to decide whether or not I hated it. And if it turned out that Kung Fu was not for me, that the benefits were outweighed by the costs to my family, my time, my poor beleaguered health, nobody would judge me for bowing out after half a year of honestly trying.
Sensible, right? So here I am, six months later. Time to evaluate. Continuing with the sensible approach, I shall attempt to list the pros and cons of my training experience.
PROS of Kung Fu training:
- Improved physical and emotional stamina. If I can slog through hours of sweat-soaked exertion and only dissolve into a puddle of scalding, frustrated tears once in half a year? Well, then there just ain’t much I can’t do.
- Symptoms of my forever-disease have never been so mild and manageable. Starting this training was a gamble, a wild toss of the dice that such a dramatic change to my exercise might do more good than harm. I had nothing but a vague hope that studying a martial art might be like couples’ counseling for my mind and body, giving them a project to work on together instead of fighting each other all the time. And it seems I may have been right: the inflammation in my joints is minimal, my mobility is hugely improved, and I’m just not so daggum tired all the time. Which is great, because I love being right.
- Now a part of a solid community of people who know that I have lupus and treat me like an adult about it. By which I mean they’ll scrub up with hand sanitizer before we work out, and they’ll respect my need to take breaks, but we are Gonna. Work. Out. And they generally don’t say any of the facepalm-worthy things that people can't seem to help saying to the chronically ill*, either because they’d never think to say them or because we’re all too busy training to talk. Either way, I’m happy.
- Greater confidence moving through a world that is suddenly much less full of insurmountable threats. Spend enough time imprinting your muscle memory with a variety of efficient ways to overcome physical confrontations, and the world is a less scary place. Especially for a lady.
- Greater humility to balance that confidence. I train with the kids’ class most of the time, see. Nothing keeps you humble about your kung fu, and about life in general, quite like getting your ass handed to you by a sihing who’s half your size and one-third your age. Speaking of which ...
- My kids and I have something in common besides the fact that we live in the same house. They’re training right along with me. We bond over the challenge of drills and our mutual post-workout stank.
CONS of Kung Fu training:
- Spangly dangly earrings no longer swing prettily over my shoulders. Because I have muscle there, now? Apparently? Weird.
- Newfound tendency to talk about Kung Fu. Like, a lot. Please stop me.
- No longer able to pawn heavy lifting tasks off onto my mighty husband. I am now perfectly capable of lifting rather heavy things. A solid tan sao can haul an awful lot of groceries, y’all. (note to self: move this one to the Pros list)
- Strangers seem to feel that I owe them an explanation for my forearm bruises. Dear Concerned World: I am not being abused. Promise.
|Girls can play rough, too, ya know.|
Well. That seems like a pretty clear balance far in the PROS favor. But what about the introspective overthinking about the philosophical impact of my choices? Haven’t done nearly enough of that.
How has my perspective changed over the past six months?, I wonder to myself. Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I had never thrown a punch in my life. Physical confrontation was something that I blithely pretended could never happen to me in this modern civilized world. Because ignorance is the best prevention. OBVIOUSLY.
Now, though? I’ve lost count of how many punches I’ve thrown and have been thrown at me. Thousands, maybe? No idea. Enough that a punch has ceased to be an astounding alien weapon, and has become a common tool, something that I use so often that it’s worn shiny and smooth, comfortable and efficient. All of the techniques that I’ve learned are tools. No more exotic than a hammer. There’s nothing mystical about them, just the simple physics of muscle and bone, plus a lot of practice.
It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of people are not familiar with hitting and being hit. That when such things happen, it can seem too fast to follow, mysterious and complex and a little scary. Recently, Sifu and I did a brief demonstration of basic self defense techniques on a morning news show. During the demo, I did a simple tan sao followed by a pak dar to escape Sifu’s grip. My punch happened to tap his microphone, which made it sound very impressive to the viewers at home. Ditto for our lovely hostess, apparently:
It was just a twist of a tan, then a pak dar. Just a little something that I learned on maybe my second night at Women’s Self Defense, before my actual training even started, but to the nice lady on camera with us it was magic. And Six Months Ago Me would have been right there with her, all agog and what-sorcery-is-this. But after spending hours out of every week for the past half a year training, immersed in the small, quiet sea of Kung Fu, where force is not the rocks we crash against, but the tide with which we ebb and flow, I’m seeing a different kind of magic.
The kind of magic that inspires swooning waxy-poetic run-on sentences, apparently. Not even sorry.
What I see is the kind of magic that’s not magic at all. It’s just practice. Hard work. Sweat. Repetition of good technique, or at least repetition until the technique gets good. Learning all of the pieces and then mix-and-matching them to suit any situation. Hitting and getting hit, and conditioning the body’s reflexes to handle both ends of that equation.
Any ol’ fool who’s willing to work at it can do this stuff. You can tell, because I’m doing it. A lot has changed in the past six months, but the basic facts about me remain the same. Still thirty-five years old. Still clumsy. Still the stay-at-home mom of two. Still chronically ill. And also? Still training.
Seems I’ve gone and talked myself into not quitting. I’ll give that Six-Month Milestone Quit Option a jaunty wave as I cruise by, on my way out the door to class. Because this training is totally worth a little less dangly in my spangly earrings.
*I’ve heard every single one of these things, in some form or another. If you look closely in that video around the 3:15 mark, you’ll find me and my overly aggressive lipstick.