Good luck on your J-Term finals – or safe travels if you’re returning to us soon! This week, I’d like to my story about growing up at a kung fu studio in Waukesha, WI, called the Shaolin Center. This sets the stage for next week: a little background on the Chinese New Year holiday, AND an invitation to celebrate it in style with all of us at SLC on February 10th with a lion dance and kung fu demonstrations! Stay tuned!
I spent most of my young adult life following the path laid out for me, as most suburban kids in the public school system do; in elementary school, you’re being prepared for the challenges of middle school. In middle school, you are warned of how much more difficult high school will be. In high school, you are told that you must diversify yourselves (by taking AP classes, leading clubs, doing sports, volunteering — just like everyone else) to make colleges want you.
On top of that, I was an introspective, highly imaginative and largely solitary kid who hated sports and found little to enjoy in athletics of any kind. I preferred books and adventurous video games. However, early in high school, I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with my mom one night and was awestruck by the grace and fluidity of the actors. It was the first martial arts-related movie I had ever seen. Wow. Flying aside, could people really move like that? What must that feel like? Incredible.
In my sophomore year of high school, I became unlikely friends with a kid in one of my classes who mentioned that he was part of a kung fu studio. Though it emphasized sparring less than a karate studio might, and taught tai chi, yoga and traditional Chinese philosophy alongside Hung Gar and Shao Lin kung fu, it did teach Chinese weaponry as well. Spear, broadsword, monk’s spade, tiger fork, rope dart, guan dao . . . they apparently had quite the arsenal. My head was filled with visions of Crouching Tiger. You mean . . . people could actually learn that in real life?
Not me, though. Probably. Right?
It took me nearly a year, but in January of 2007, a shy, withdrawn, trembling young introvert walked through the doors of a kung fu studio – and that single day has irrevocably shaped the rest of my life.
I entered the door to find two men fighting each other, one with a red-tasseled spear, the other with what appeared to be a pitchfork. I was aghast — but underneath the shock was a small voice, triumphantly crying, “People can do this in real life!” I barely remember my first class, except that it was impossible and familiar all at the same time. You wanted my feet to go there and my hands to go — where, again? Whoa! Would I ever learn to kick like that? I was overwhelmed, terrified, and completely out of my element.
But underneath it all, it felt familiar. My brain was lost, but my body felt at home. This felt right. I probably spoke no more than a few sentences that day — but I knew I was going back.
Over time, the studio became my home, my refuge from angsty teenage relationships with divorcing parents. Classes routinely took me out of my comfort zone, but I couldn’t stay away. I competed in my first tournament. I passed my level 1A test. I may not have known how to fight yet, but my confidence in other areas soared. I became less shy at group events. I even started to hang out with a few students and instructors — though I was secretly surprised that they really existed in real life, and weren’t just mythical residents of the studio. This only child had older brothers at last. Unlikely friendships began to grow, and I finally felt like I was part of a family.
Every time I walked through the door, I knew I was home.
Next week: More about Chinese New Year and how we’ll be welcoming in the Year of the Water Snake with free demos and a lion dance at the Shaolin Center in Waukesha, WI. In the meantime, more studio/event information is on Facebook.