Saturday, September 17, 2016

Month 18: The Foundation

Eighteen months ago, I walked out of my first kung fu class feeling like I’d just spent an hour trying to calculate pi to the last digit while composing a symphony in a sauna. Everything was new and weird and really hard to do and also I was sweaty.

But I went back for a second class because … well, for a lot of reasons that I could wax all poetical about for a few thousand words and paint myself and the school in all the noblest of lights, but if I’m being honest with myself and the internet, there was really only one reason: for a few blessed hours after I left the school, for the first time in years, my hands didn’t hurt.

One of the hallmark symptoms of my systemic lupus has always been painful inflammation of the knuckles and wrists. Turns out, if I do enough huen saus I can clear that up right quick. At least for a little while. For someone who despaired to find any non-pharmaceutical solutions to a hellscape cornucopia of ailments, being able to do this one thing to help myself was a game changer. Give anyone with chronic pain an “off” button for their hurting that doesn’t involve addiction or creepy side effects, and they’ll happily keep pushing it.

So I kept going to class. Kept chasing that temporary relief from my forever illness because instant gratification is kind of my thing. And somewhere along the line, almost accidentally, I built up my kung fu.

And that’s the thing. The kung fu. When I first started training, I heard folks talk about kung fu like it was some kind of quantifiable substance. Someone could have a lot of it, or not enough. It made no sense to me. They were using the wrong kind of noun. Kung fu is a martial art, a philosophy, not an object. They might as well be talking about trading handfuls of impressionism or pieces of epiphany.

Which is, of course, exactly what we do.

Pictured: a staggeringly wide range of kung fu quantities.
(hint: I'm the sweaty, tired, disheveled one. ... no, the other one ... no, the other other one...)

Kung fu is a thing. Everyone has their own kung fu that they make for themselves. Nobody else can make it for you. Students can exchange it back and forth. Sifu can give bits of it that seem like pebbles when they leave his hands but grow to boulders by the time they reach mine. I don’t know how to explain it better than that without touching hands with you.

Over the past year and a half, without really meaning to, I’ve developed my kung fu. I’m not sure what anyone else’s kung fu looks like to them, but mine looks like less pain in my life.
... Like hands that can grip a coffee cup.
... Like getting knocked flat on my ass by injuries or setbacks, and having not only the desire to overcome them, but (finally) also having the physical ability.
... Like not being forced to take a nap every single day.
... Like slowly digging, inch by hard-earned inch, a well of stamina that can handle a weekend’s intense training workshop or a serious bout of illness without running dry.
... Like walking without a limp.
... Like not starting half of my days wondering if I’ll plummet through a Series Of Unfortunate Medical Events and find myself in a hospital by bedtime.
... Like a patient friend, on those days when I’m too sick to train, waiting quietly nearby with no judgement in its steady presence, just a readiness to get back to work as soon as I’m able.

Whatever else my kung fu may be - self confidence, personal safety, strength - it is, above all of that, the thing that has allowed me to regain some control over my health.

Not complete control, of course. Never that. No lupus patient dares to dream quite that big. But ...

After eighteen months of training, my kung fu is the solid foundation that I’ve built beneath my feet, layer upon layer of effort and focus and sweat, that makes sure that when my house of cards does inevitably come tumbling down … it doesn’t tumble quite so far.

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Thank you so much.