It’s tough to be a married woman and a kung-fu student at the same time.
2002 was a bad year for me in a lot of ways. I had just graduated to Sit’s class, and my attention was being pulled in a lot of other directions. I was heavily into my writer’s group and the local sci-fi convention, because I was still trying too hard to be a professional SF novelist.
Mostly, though, I was busy with weddings. I did three that year: my brother, my future ex-sister-in-law, and my own. I married my long-time consort in October of that year. It was a bad match from the very beginning, although we went to great lengths to convince ourselves and each other that it would work.
Eight days after the wedding I went back to class, after being gone for much of the summer, and one of the first people to welcome me back was Tony. “Hey, I thought we’d lost you!” he said.
I hate to admit it, but I right then I sensed I’d made a terrible mistake. My attraction to Tony was still unconscious at that point, but I felt a connection to him via this art we both loved, and I knew that the experience was something I would never share with my new husband. I had invited him many times to come to class with me, or even find a class of his own, but he had always declined. He had no interest in physical activity, whereas I couldn't imagine doing without it.
In February of 2003, four months after I was married, I started kung-fu class. It wasn’t a difficult decision; I was on friendly terms with the guys and they urged me into it. Mary Ann even told me Sit said I should be in kung fu, because “she has very precise movements.”
There was no arguing with that, so the next Sunday I showed up early. Sit's the only person I've seen do a real-life double-take. “You going to do kung-fu?” he said, pleased and surprised.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said happily.
Kung-fu was a whole different animal from tai chi. The students were younger and more fit, the emphasis was on fighting rather than health, and the pace was a whole lot faster. I wore myself out trying to keep up with those guys. I just didn’t have the muscle endurance at first, although I gained it pretty quickly. My thighs got tighter, my stomach got flatter, and my back got broader. My weight didn’t really change, but my body shape did. More women should realize that if you want toned thighs and a tight ass, kicks are the way to go.
I was the only beginner that year, so Tony had to student-teach me a lot. Outside of class I had to rely on myself to remember form, because I was determined not to be held back as the remedial student. I learned to practice in my head, with my eyes closed as my husband watched TV, or during my horrible morning commute (not with my eyes closed). Sit pushed me along pretty fast, too. I learned the first kung-fu form in five weeks, and I think we moved on to the cannon-fist form immediately afterwards. I know we started on longstaff that first summer. I took to that staff like a duck to water—I remember clapping my hands with glee when Sit brought it to me, which caused him to tell Mary Ann, “She is a kung-fu girl!”
I think Sit was amused by me. He hadn’t had a woman in kung fu for years, at least not one who lasted past the first form. Before long he was actually smacking me during application demonstrations. I relished the compliment; it meant he was taking me seriously. I think I startled both of us when I requested permission to attend the Wednesday-night class. This was rather bold of me, because traditionally, lessons in the master’s house are invitation-only. But when I asked him, he did another double-take, as if the idea had never occured to him, and said, “Yeah, yeah, sure!” (He told me later that women usually aren't interested in learning to fight, so maybe the idea hadn't occured to him.)
That first night it was only me and Matt. I was nervous, but by this time I figured I had a right to be there. The instruction was deeply intense and exactly what I’d been looking for all my life. There were no newbies to nurse along, there were no biddies who’d rather chit-chat than work, there were no dogs, frisbee-throwers or church-folk wandering through our practice space. It was just me and Matt getting the spit slapped out of us, pushing each other around, and enjoying every minute of it.
It’s around this same time that accounts of tai chi doings start cropping up regularly in this blog. I think that’s significant. My financial situation was slowly deteriorating all through 2003-2005: my car was a 17-year-old POS that was dying by inches, and I was carrying all the living expenses of my household. My husband tended to "lose" any money I gave him to pay the bills. When I quit giving him money, he got more creative about stealing from me. (He had two jobs, but I still have no idea where his money went--or rather, some ideas, but no evidence). At one point he actually had the gall to suggest I give up tai chi because of the expense. In the summer of 2004 I was so broke that I took a part-time job at the rental office of my apartment complex (various amusing anecdotes of that time can be found on this blog). The Sunday work hours meant I could attend kung-fu but I had to skip out early and miss tai chi, so I never did learn the ba'qua form properly. Despite and still, I always found the cash to attend Wednesdays, and Sunday kung fu.
Tai chi class had become my refuge and my family. Nobody demanded anything of me there, other than that I show up, pay attention, and practice once in a while. Ironically, I was probably more diligent about practicing and attendance during my first marriage than at any other time. My ex worked two jobs, and was gone on Sundays, so I had the day to enjoy myself. In the early days I hoped that my good example would inspire him to exercise; later on I refused to become as grotesque as he was; at any rate I went to the fitness center to practice at least twice each week.
I kept learning forms. Little Buddha. Umbrella. Close-hand (bik-da). Broadsword. Chen style. Sitting around Sit’s kitchen table on Wednesday nights, I got used to his speech and his weird habits. I got to see him as a person, and it made a difference. I got fond of him. I stopped thinking he was going to throw me out of class.
And yet I was still holding back. I could have earned more lesson time with Sit. The guys did yard work and odd jobs in exchange for private lessons. I could have lingered on Wednesday nights and had a drink with them, listened to gossip. I could have taken up Tony's and Mary's urgings to join them for lunch, but I didn't. I feared a deeper involvement. I feared distraction from my writing, which reached a new plateau in ability and productivity. And I was really starting to fear my attraction to Tony.
By the end of 2005 I was approaching critical mass. My soon-to-be-ex and I had degraded to roommates who never saw each other; I was going through one of the more productive periods in my life, writing like gangbusters on Trace; End of the Line had been bought by Jintsu (although it went out of business before EOTL could be published). I was hoarding money, not-yet-consciously knowing that I was ready for a divorce, but on some level I was waiting for the straw to break the camel’s back.
The first Sunday of 2006, Sit came up to me in kung fu class and said, “It’s a new Year, you want to start on a new form?”
“Sure,” I said.
So he started me on the Tai Hui/Six Elbows form. It may have been coincidence or it may have been another example of Sit's prescient tendencies, which had become eerily focused on me.
To be concluded tomorrow....