Kung Fu Story Time:
I kicked a car.
In my defense, the car totally started it.
One fine morning, I’m walking my kids into their school (they’re in elementary, so they’re still young enough to enjoy being seen in public with their Mom), and I have one kid holding each of my hands. We’re about to cross the line of cars dropping off their respective kids, so I clock which car we’ll need to walk in front of and catch the driver’s eye. My hands are full, so I gesture with my head as if to say “Hey, we’re gonna walk past you”. The driver nods. The three of us start to walk in front of his car when it suddenly lurches forward and -
- I shove both kids behind my back, plant one foot on the ground in backhorse stance and slam the other foot into the bumper of this guy’s car so hard the sound of it turns every head in the school drop-off line. I don’t even think about it; just get the kids safe and kick.
The driver is staring at me, all wide eyes and dropped jaw. I’m staring at him, my heel digging into his bumper like it wants to punch a hole through the engine block. Everyone, teachers and kids and other parents, is staring at both of us. Slowly, I take my foot off the car and hold the driver’s gaze with a hard glare while my kids and I finish crossing his path. Only once we’re safely past do I glance down to make sure I didn’t leave a dent on the bumper (nope, not that strong, more’s the pity).
As we walk away, my son asks, “Mommy, why did you kick that car?”
My daughter answers him, “Because that car wasn’t Being Safe, so she had to kick it to make it stop. Right, Mommy?”
“That’s right,” I reply, with all the quiet satisfaction of a Mama Bear polishing her claws.
Maybe his foot slipped off the brake accidental-like.
Maybe he misinterpreted my eloquent head gesture to mean “Hey, you in the car, go ahead and drive by while my two young children and I stand here in the middle of a parking lot because that’s totally safe” and was honestly surprised when we walked in front of him.
Maybe he got swept up in the Lord of the Flies-esque entitlement warzone that is the elementary school drop-off line and tried to intimidate us in retaliation for the two-second delay we were causing him.
I’ll never know. We did not have a conversation. My inner Mama Bear was in charge at that moment, and she didn’t give a shit what the driver of the car that nearly ran over her two children had to say for himself. He seemed to sense that and wisely stayed in his car.
To be clear: I am not saying that kicking cars is a good strategy. It’s not. Don’t kick cars. There is nothing a wee human foot can do to stop a half-ton of moving metal. I’m very lucky the driver stopped.
What I am saying is that, once upon a time, my reflex would’ve been to grab my kids by the scruff and jump back. Maybe squawk a little. Definitely scurry out of the way and splutter with impotent terror and anger at our near-collision. But nowadays, when confronted with an incoming threat while my hands are full of my beloved offspring, my reflex is to calmly plant a solid horse stance and kick the bad thing as hard as I can till it stops coming at us. Apparently.
That is a fundamental change. A thorough rewiring of basic caveman-level functions. Somebody took the time to tinker with my Fight or Flight responses, bypassing Flight entirely and adding a complex option tree of aggressive defenses and crippling techniques to Fight. That somebody was me, and my Sifu, Simo, a small army of other students, and Grandmaster Moy Tung. And the time it took was two years.
I have completed the Two Year Training Program at Moy Yat Kung Fu Academy.
According to the structure of the Two Year Program, based on the consistent time and effort that I’ve put into my training, I am now a basic expert in Ving Tsun kung fu. Which is quite possibly the strangest sentence I’ve ever written about myself.
At first, it didn’t feel real. For a while now, I’ve been cruising on a wave of steady momentum in my training, only somewhat hampered by my wackadoo health. Somewhere along the line in the past 24 months, kung fu became less about physical therapy for my lupus-addled body and more about genuinely enjoying the training. I’d been happily trucking right along on my kung fu journey, so interested in the new bits of road beneath my feet that I missed the milestone as I passed it by.
Then Simo reminded me to stop wearing my dingy white training shirt (for 2nd year students) and start wearing my bright blue training shirt (for 3rd year students). I blinked. That couldn’t be right. No way that kind of time had passed. I mean, sure, I had been attending class three times a week, almost every week, for as many weeks as it took to add up to two years. And yeah, finishing the Two Year Program had always been the goal, but … surely that was still in some kind of hazily defined distant future, like always?
Grappling with my own warped kung fu space/time continuum, I slipped my old training slippers off of my feet, the ones I’d been wearing since my third week, ready to replace them with a brand new pair. I stopped. Stared at the soles of my slippers, old and new. There was all the proof I needed.
|One hour of training (left) vs 500+ hours of training (right)|
My old slippers had been through some tribulations. The seams were frayed, the insoles were shredded, and somehow the hard plastic soles had been worn paper thin by floors made of smooth wood and slate. Unless some mischievous fey creatures had been sneaking into my home at night and gnawing on my slippers, this damage was all done by me. By my training. For two years.
Well hot damn, I actually made it. Me. The middle-aged overweight chronically ill suburban mother of two. I did that.
Technically, I could stop here. Having completed the program, I have all of the basic tools of kung fu that will serve me well for the rest of my days even if I never set foot in another class again.
Physical Protection - While I have no desire to know if I could kick someone’s ass, I’m confident in my ability to keep someone from kicking mine.
Health - My mind and body have reconciled, and now my body is stronger than it’s ever been. Not in terms of raw power, so much as what it can endure and how easily it can recover. And when you’ve got a forever-disease that’ll drop-kick your body through the seven layers of hell just for funzies, that comes in pretty handy.
Patience With My Limits - Used-to-be, I’d rage against anything that tried to limit me, fling myself against barriers just because they dared to thwart me and then sulk when I couldn’t get past them because that’s kind of how barriers work. Now, though, I know what I can handle (a helluva lot) and what I can’t. I’ve figured out that if it’s bigger than what I can handle, it’s probably pretty damn big. I’ll either try again when I’m stronger, or just ask for help.
Doing Less Harm … - I’ve been hit really hard, many many times, by people who are much scarier than me. The world didn’t end. In fact, I kept going, knowing that if I got hit again I’d be just fine. Bruised, maybe, but fine. The calm that comes with that knowledge seeps into my everyday life. I’m nicer than I was two years ago. Not too nice (*cough-car kicker-cough*) but certainly more patient, more helpful. Less cantankerous now that I don’t feel like I have to gnash my teeth and swipe my claws at the whole world just to keep myself physically and emotionally safe.
… Taking Less Shit - All of those things - self-defense, health, knowing my limits, being at peace - add up to a person who can’t easily be pushed around. It’s hard to intimidate a woman who happily spends her free time learning the most efficient ways to make an attacker swallow their own blood.
All of that is my kung fu. Every student has their own kung fu. There are others like it, but this one is mine. A big shiny treasure trove of skill and experience that I’ve spent the past two years building, gathering bits from other students, catching pieces from instructors. My own personal hoard of calm badassery. I could stop my training right here, and for the rest of my life I would be a better person for what I’ve achieved.
… why in the WORLD would I stop now?
Now, when I’m finally comfortable enough with my own kung fu to enjoy the work so much that I forget to compare myself to other students.
Now, when the voice in my head that used to be so loud when it told me how fat and slovenly and ridiculous I look can barely be heard over the roaring quiet of my kung fu.
Now, when I suddenly realize that the amount of effort I once spent scrambling for a white-knuckle grip on just one or two concepts in a class, I can now spend on absorbing multiple new details and integrating them into known techniques and flowing comfortably from one drill to the next because I’ve either done them before or I know the pieces that make them.
Because it turns out the more kung fu you have, the more kung fu you get. Which means that there is a potentially infinite world of kung fu out there, an endless landscape of wisdoms and humilities and epiphanies and tricky brutalities, all waiting for me to learn it … if only I have the will to keep training.
My choice is pretty clear.