Kung Fu Therapy

It’s hard learning a form I know I will never finish. I just began a staff form, and I really like it. Simple and direct at first, but I’m told it’s long and complicated. I have seven weeks left here. five weeks working, Chinese New Year, and the last few days before I leave. I’d like to say it’s coming together, that I’m getting better at moving, but it wouldn’t be true.

I’m dealing with the Peace Corps medical clearance right now, and it’s a familiar pain. I went once, and couldn’t get anything done. The second time, they were very helpful, amazingly so, and it was fast and easy to get the first steps done. Now, I wait. Blood test results, the x-ray, the EKG, and everything else takes time. They already told me that it would take two more appointments to get everything done.

There are moments when I can let it go. I’ve gotten better at not worrying about things that I have no power over. If I can fix it, I do it, no worries. If I can’t, oh well, no worries. But the twitch in my eye doesn’t seem to go away for long, and my time is filled with distraction rather than purpose. The worry doesn’t fade, I just try not to look it in the eye.

Kung fu is some of the best therapy I have ever had. There is a simplicity, and reality to physical pain that makes everything else fade. Not just the pain of the forms, the low stances, fighting against decades of lethargy to get just a little stronger. It’s the pain of conditioning. Why do we hit ourselves and give ourselves bruises? Sometimes I hurt myself so other people can’t. Once you get used to punching concrete, sparring doesn’t do much to your fists.

Other times it’s a way for the pain to leave. Some people cry. I haven’t had the luxury for a long time. I used to. I remember breakdowns in elementary school, middle school, high school. Toward the end it stopped. I kept repressing until it finally disappeared. Now, it takes way too much pain to overload to that level. Mostly, I’m lucky if more than a few drops leak out.

Practice is still hard, especially when I’m stressed. I still want to eat pizza and hope the problems will go away, but I’ve managed to reprogram myself a bit. The right song can get me moving, cycling up the anger so it surfaces in a useful way. I never practice harder than when I am stressed. There is something powerful in the chaos. Something I haven’t found anywhere else. I will never be a master, but being a student suits me better anyway. Jack of all trades, master of none.

It’s strange, but there are only two good memories I have of my brother from when we were young. The first is a series, really, playing dungeons and dragons on and off for years. It was always easier for us to get along when we weren’t ourselves. When we weren’t brothers. The other is the staff. We made staffs out of the bamboo that grew behind the house in New York and tried to reinforce them with duct tape so they wouldn’t split when they dried. It failed, but I still remember how to spin a staff because of that time, and later when he was learning on Long Island.

I know why most people don’t practice, or at least don’t keep up with it. Even he gave it up, years before I really got into it. Most people can find other ways that help them, but I haven’t. Kung fu is mine, for better or worse. All the schools I go to, every class I take, the times when I could go five hours a week, and the times when I had five hours of class a day. I can’t blame anyone for my skill, and even the best teachers can’t make up for the endless repetition required to remember a form.

It’s not something that came easy, or without cost. It’s something I’ve pushed on the people around me, and it would be hard for me to date someone who wasn’t at least a little interested in it. It’s expensive, in every way except for the price tag, but it’s better for me than anything I’ve ever done.


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