Folks warned me there’d be ups and downs with this training. I just didn’t realize both could happen in the same week. Silly me.
Tuesday night started simply enough. We warmed up with Siu Nim Tao, and then Simo offered us the option of starting with conditioning or drills. I appreciate conditioning, but I like drills. See the difference? Lemme ‘splain.
Conditioning is … It’s a lot of things. I’m not about to try and explain the theory and spirit of it better than much smarter people than I already have. The long and short of it is that I’m pushing my body to the point of discomfort, and then a little farther. Every time I do, that point gets reset to that new distance and I can measure my body’s growing strength in how long it takes me to get there. Incredibly valuable work, if not very exciting.
Drills are a different beast. Not just the motions, but the response to those motions, and the response to that response. If conditioning is a monologue, drills are a conversation. Two people dancing to the music of skin and breath while calculating the endlessly mutable equations of muscle and bone around the infinite variables of physics and human thought. Or, ya know … trying to hit each other. Depends how poetic you’re feeling. I tend to fly a bit fancy in my own head about it (as you might have noticed).
So on Tuesday, when I was presented with the choice of which aspect of training to start with, I chose conditioning. Having the brain candy of drills to look forward to would, I figured, help the conditioning go by faster. Spoonful of sugar and all that jazz.
And you know what? I rocked that conditioning. The body that had spent half the day nursing a migraine had no complaints about moving through the exercises Simo presented. I sailed past points that had once been full of breathless near-agony, and actually caught myself grinning when my legs finally, long after I thought they should have, began to shake just a little.
I was mighty. The superhero version of myself. I could arm wrestle bears and hurl exploding cupcake grenades at evildoers. Obviously. Pondering how many busloads of orphaned kittens I could save with my newfound powers, I sat down for a quick break to rest and rehydrate.
Break done, I measured off with my partner for cross-arm drills. Imagine my bewilderment as every word of Simo’s instructions skittered off the surface of my mind like oil across a hot skillet. There and gone, nothing sticking or sinking in. With a buzzing behind my eyes, I watched my partner move through the drill a few times and hoped I’d catch on. Alas. The buzz turned into deafening static on the line of communication between my brain and my body. Signals were being sent out, but the reception was garbled. Lacking any clear orders from my brain, my arms became sluggish noodles, delivering my hands to their positions long seconds after my partner’s fists arrived.
The fog had rolled in. The dreaded brain fog.
Lupus Fog is a real thing. You can tell, because it has a page on WebMD. When I get tired, or the lupus kicks itself into high gear, I find it hard to think around the fuzz inside my skull. Memories disappear for a little while. I lose the words for things and the will to find them as my vocabulary dissolves and my attention span shrinks to microscopic levels. It’s like being stuck in that moment when you’re just about to nod off to sleep. There’s a short list of things you can do with a brain in that state, and Kung Fu isn’t on it.
The fog is frustrating under any circumstances, but when it happens while I’m trying to learn a new thing? When I should totally have seen it coming, what with the migraine and the conditioning-induced fatigue, but either didn’t see it or didn’t want to see it? When my goals for the night rapidly dwindle from the long, lovely conversation of drills to simply getting the damn sequence right once, just one time, before I call it a night? That took me so far beyond frustrated that I would’ve chewed nails and spit bullets if I could’ve focused on my teeth for more than two seconds.
It felt like I was saying "I won't do this because it's too hard", which is something that I'd sooner walk on my own lips than say. But I didn't exactly have a choice.
Simo and the other student were fantastic, very empathetic and totally willing and able to work with my sudden onset of special needs, but ultimately I had to concede defeat. Splash some water on my angry face and quietly play through Siu Nim Tao until I calmed down. The drive home involved a lot of really loud, melodramatic music.
The next day dawned on a clear, but discouraged mind. I made coffee and did the grumpiest Siu Nim Tao ever. But I did it, so that’s something. Eventually, I remembered that there were people I could talk to about this mess. Sifu and Simo, other students. Plenty of folks had reminded me, repeatedly, that they were available to help out. One student at the school, in particular, had also started his training with a disability, and he had said I could ping him if I ever needed to.
Now, look ... I’m not normally one to reach out for help or commiseration. People say things like “if you need anything, call me” all the time, and they don’t really mean it. It’s just the Nice Thing to say. Besides, it’s been the habit of a lifetime to stew in my own moody juices until I either work through the mess or decide it’s not worth my time any more and just move on. But this wasn’t something I was going to get over on my own. And it seems to me that maybe Kung Fu isn’t made for loners. There’s a community that builds itself around the study, the teaching and the learning and the work that goes into it. People who have been, if not precisely where I am, then at least very near it.
So I took a deep breath, got over myself, and messaged my fellow student:
Bless his socks, he got it. Mine was not a unique incomprehensible snowflake of an issue. Someone else had gone through something similar, survived it, thrived on it, and was happy to help me do the same. I’m starting to get the idea that, in this Kung Fu life thing that I’m still trying to figure out, when someone offers to help you it’s not an empty courtesy. They actually want to help. They have energy and knowledge and muscle on reserve for you, should you ever ask.
So we talked, and I felt better. I walked into the Friday morning class expecting no more of myself than to get through the basic forms and drills without falling apart. Setting the bar low makes it easy to step over, thus scoring myself a quick victory to help rebuild what discouragement had knocked down. It’s pretty standard op when you’re used to nursing yourself through rough spots. It also turned out to be pretty unnecessary.
I don’t want to wax fangirly, here, but that class was … it was fantastic. Somewhere in the quiet intensity of a room full of people working very hard, an environment both soothing and invigorating, through the calm encouragement of instructor and friends, I found the superhero me that I’d left behind on Tuesday. I wasn’t leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but I was damn sure throwing and pak’ing hundreds more punches than I’d thought possible, testing my balance in new and exciting ways, and finally starting to grok the concept of relaxed energy.
In the middle of conditioning, with sweat soaking my bandana and one foot in the air, I realized … If I have to power through the Crucible Of Teeth-Gnashing Frustration every now and then, I'm cool with it. Because now I know that there is support within the school for me and my crazy princess disease, and that for every day of defeat there will be at least one day of triumph. Maybe more, if I play my forms right.
The drive home from that class may or may not have involved Uptown Funk on repeat and car-dancing all the way to Round Rock. No regrets. Everyone should have a chance to feel that awesome.