I dabbled a little in martial arts before finding my true home here. Admittedly, I’d always been a bit of a Goldilocks. This style is too Jean-Claude Van Damme. This style is too … Thich Nhat Hanh. I wanted something beautiful and difficult, intense and compassionate. I didn’t want to have to be super agro and pretend nothing hurts. But I also didn’t want to engage in the Kabuki of subservience.
At first I was a baffled by the informality of the school. I came to understand that it didn’t stem from a lack of respect, but rather from a lack of interest in creating a hierarchical culture of reverence. This openness has allowed a very unique community to form. Wayward geeks and coders, social workers, artists and carpenters—the school is full of amazing Kung Fu nerds who care deeply about how they engage with the world.
One of my favorite moments at the school was when a young man came in; he was pasty white from gaming and probably on his second six-pack of cherry Coke, and he wanted to know if we were authentic.
“I heard that it used to be in the real upper levels of Shaolin you had to pick up a huge vat that burns a dragon and a tiger onto each forearm. Is that true?”
The teacher shrugged, “Who cares? It’s cool.”
This, I realized, was the perfect answer. The scene the young man spoke of came from the 70s TV show, Kung Fu. What I liked about the teacher’s response was that it didn’t out the guy for it, nor was it pedantic. Instead, it recognized what was really there. We all have Kung Fu fantasies. We all want to be Bruce Lee or Tony Jaa or we wouldn’t be here. These things keep our practice playful. Kung Fu is hard. The body has limits. It’s so much easier if I don’t have to leave my imagination outside the door.
I have never had a bad class at the school. There has never been a time when I walked out and didn’t feel better about the world and myself.