Sunday, June 08, 2008


When i was a freshman in college i spent a couple of years studying the Hung Gar form of kung fu with a grad student named Aaron Chen. I really loved it, but when Sifu Chen returned to China i didn't seek opportunities to continue. I always wanted to pick it back up, but life intervened. Being primarily interested in Chinese martial arts, it was also harder to find a convenient school, at least compared to the ubiquitous karate and tae kwon do schools.

Flash forward almost twenty years to the start of my midlife crisis. Since i've always been slightly kinesthetic, i figured i needed some sort of skill sport to balance my obsession with endurance sports. As luck would have it, a Chinese martial arts school had opened not far from where i was working at the time. It was not Hung Gar, but it was another southern style called Choy Li Fut. It took me a while, but i finally took off a lunch hour and went over to check it out.

I had some skepticism of an established school like this at first. Sifu Chen had no ranking system. He didn't even have a school-- we just practiced on the school commons or in the gyms. Soon though i was won over, mostly by the skill of the new school's chief instructor, Sifu Ming Lau. There's an Arthur C. Clark quote that goes "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". I would say the same about sufficiently advanced physical skill. Sifu Lau, like Sifu Chen, could do things that seemed superhuman. It would be years before i would see the breadth of his abilities, but the depth was quickly apparent.

Not quite six years later i've finally managed to advance through all of the basic ranks to achieve my black sash at that school, White Dragon of Mira Mesa. The significance of this black belt status is hard to explain to somebody on the outside of the system. The popular notion of the black belt, i think, is of reaching the pinnacle of a martial system. In our school the black belt conveys some of that and it is the goal of most students when they start. Most people who reach that level are also pretty fit and pretty capable of defending themselves. However, it also implies mastery of only the basics, and it signifies a sort of transition where you have to decide if you will incorporate the martial arts into your life permanently. Although there are advanced tests, it's not really about levels any more. What's left to a person at this point is only to get better-- in short what's left is kung fu.

Although i've got a long way to go to become truly adept, i have to admit that this is one of the more satisfying accomplishments of my adult life. It's not something that i'm naturally gifted at and i had to train pretty consistently for a fairly long time to get to this point. Unlike running marathons there is no age-group standard to measure myself against, so as the years passed i had to work harder to do things that would have been easy for my twenty-something self. The irony is that by the time you reach this point you come to realize that the levels and goals are less meaningful than the process. For me at least, i just love the motion and the contact and the sense of purpose that i get from the martial arts.

1 comment:

cat said...

This is so great! Congratulations. Definitely a huge inspiration to several people at WD Mira Mesa! :)