That’s what I usually call the martial arts I do. “Oh, I’m training tonight.”
I make it vague and generic, because I’m slightly ashamed of it.
Wait, no, that’s not quite right. I’m not ashamed. I’m wary. I have seen the reactions of certain friends and colleagues when they discover this passion of mine, and it can be… less than entirely positive. It’s not the response of the majority, in fairness, but has happened enough for me to take note and want to explore it.
Watch from the beginning to get the context. The bit that made me sit up and frown is fifty-four seconds in.
To an extent, I can understand that perspective. What kind of person would actively try to learn how to inflict pain and injury on others? Wouldn’t you have to be crazy? Violent? Antisocial, at the very least? Someone I used to work with called it my “serial killer training”. She was fond of hyperbole, and it was for comic effect, but the kernel of something a bit disturbed/disturbing is buried in there.
Almost everyone I know is pretty conflict-averse. The thought of actually being in a fist fight is kind of horrifying. Pain, and blood, and shame and/or humiliation, and ambulances, and police, and… oh god. What a nightmare.
Mostly, we live quiet lives. What on Earth is the point of learning how to defend against a jab/cross combo if we have spent thirty years passively aggressively avoiding so much as a sarcastic exchange with that utter arsehole next door who keeps parking in our spot?
Well, here’s what I get out of it.
Wing Chun is very technical. We can spend whole lessons working on body mechanics, movement, structure, alignment… detail stuff that is hugely important and effective, but won’t necessarily make us break a sweat. Nevertheless, I do a lot of lessons. Twelve hours a week (including Escrima and Tai Chi), and I cycle nearly three miles to and from the classes. It adds up.
I have a sweet tooth (although, pleasingly, this seems to be changing recently). I don’t always eat healthily. These classes have noticably changed the shape of my body. I’m actually pretty bad at tracking these changes myself, but friends have commented that my silhouette has changed, so when I approach in their peripheral vision, it’s a surprise.
It’s pretty easy to find yourself only socialising with people from work. It happens at Jagex a lot. The Cambridge Kung Fu classes have essentially provided a ready-made social circle that I just… plugged into.
Because I’m there so often, I have quite quickly gotten to know the instructors and senior students. They are good people. I am a clown, and I caper to force people to like me, so I mess around in classes and make them laugh. Ross and Col, Nicole, Rin, Kate, Keith, John, Neil, Tiest, etc. etc. I like these people.
As an aside, it’s a curious bond that forms during a martial arts class. You are essentially expected to invade the personal space of a complete stranger, and vice versa. It’s weird at first. Different people have different tolerances for physical contact in that context, but after that initial bump in the road I find that it actually accelerates the friendship. There’s a necessary level of trust and (in a weird way) heightened intimacy that goes on.
I have a nickname at Cambridge Kung Fu. I always wanted a nickname.
A useful skill
This is ostensibly the whole point. One of my instructors put it very well, in a Facebook post that I am too lazy to hunt down, so will paraphrase. “I hope I never have to use my training. But it’s like learning to drive – I was taught how to control a skidding car because, even though it may never happen, it just might. And in the offchance that it does, knowing what to do could save my life and the lives of others. Martial arts is exactly the same.”
I haven’t been in a fight since I was at primary school, and I fully intend on keeping that record intact until the day I die. Okay, wait, I phrased that badly. I very much doubt I’ll ever be in another fight. It is, however, nice to know that I have a plan should the worst happen.
I saw a quote just the other day. “You will not rise to the occasion, you will default to the level of your training.” That feels right to me.
There’s even more to it, of course. I’m learning a skill. It almost doesn’t matter what it is – I’m on a path. I practise, and experiment, and refine. First, I listen. Then, I try to understand. Lastly, I try to apply it. If a step isn’t working, I go back to the previous step. The ultimate goal, of course, is to become self-correcting. To appreciate what needs to change as it’s happening, and adjust without external advice.
I’ve always told people that I’m better at learning through movement than by reading a textbook. I haven’t tested that theory very much, but it feels right.
It’s so cool. Seriously. So cool. Some of the stuff we do makes you feel like a complete bad ass. I hesitate to include this because, really, I should stop telling people that I want to be Jackie Chan when I grow up. But for now, to hell with it. This stuff is SO COOL.
That’s what I get out of it. It feels like a lot. It feels worthwhile – way more than just worthwhile, really. It feels like a win/win.
So why do I still hesitate to tell people I do martial arts? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stop caring sooner or later.
Maybe I’ll just point the tremulous to this post, in the hopes it will show them a different side of the story.