Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do or do not. There is no try.

"To live in hearts we live behind is not to die." Thomas Campbell

"Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?" Terry Pratchett

"There's doubt in trying. Just do it or stop thinking." Toba Beta

On December 1st, 2010, I sat down to write about one of the most influential people in my young life. He passed away just a few days earlier, unexpectedly, rocking the world of my friends and family and creating a strange hole in my own life. It was as if there was suddenly a missing piece of something I had never realized was such a huge part of who I was, that is, until it was gone. Today is that person's birthday. As I "see" others thinking and talking about him, I find myself wanting to share again what an amazing impact he had on me, my family and everyone around him. I wrote these words five years ago, and they are still just as true today.

I used to be a very lazy, selfish girl. No, really. I was a complete and utter brat. I didn’t like to work hard and I didn’t like to be criticized. I was young and acted as if the world owed me something, though even now, I’m not sure what. Anyone who knew me at the time will willingly tell you, I definitely had some difficult preteen years.

This happened to be the time I began training with Sifu in an after school program at Inman Middle School. To be honest, I think I mainly joined because my twin sister Jessica was doing it. I remember often feeling like I didn’t want to be there. Actually, I remember often saying it (boy, was I a whiner). There were these two girls, one in high school, who sort of (really) scared me because they were so intimidating… and Sifu! He was so tough on us! He always wanted us to hold our stances longer or lower. He always pushed us to work harder and he would tell us these crazy stories. Being a brat, I didn’t appreciate much of it… and I even talked back to him. I remember him laughing and making jokes when I whined, which made me think, “I’ll show him!”

But even though I never stuck with anything back then, I kept going to kung-fu. I wanted to prove to Sifu how strong I was. I’d act like it was so I could show off after him teasing me about my stances or comparing me to Jessica. I wanted a sort of, “Anything you can do, I can do better” kind of moment. You never would have gotten me to admit it back then, but I really just wanted to be strong enough so that Sifu would tell me how good I was doing. I didn’t want to show it, and I didn’t even realize it, but I cared what Sifu thought, even when I was fighting him every step of my training.

Eventually Sifu opened the Ying Jow Pai school in Midtown. By that time, I was already good friend with the girls who used to scare me, Alice and Jessie. Along with Jessica and a few other training brothers, these were the best and closest friends I had growing up. We’d walk to the kung fu school stopping by Winn Dixie to pick up a half gallon of ice cream or a bag of oreos, and then eat it all while Sifu shook his head at us. He’d get his laughs in by making us run laps after consuming a giant Hershey’s kiss or 100 of each kick when we downed a cookies and cream pie.

I was still a lazy brat, but I went to kung fu everyday, just to mouth off to Sifu when he teased me. No matter what a bad kid I was, Sifu always kept laughing and smiling. Sometimes I did go too far, and I disrupted class to the point that Sifu would get serious and I would be in trouble. On the surface, I’d be mad at Sifu for not going along with all my jokes, but underneath it all I was mad at myself. I’d think, “He’ll never like me as much as Alice or Jessica or Jessie if I keep making him mad.” I’d never apologize, because I was so proud, but nothing made me happier when Sifu would laugh his laugh again with me. I’d act annoyed at his teasings, but inside I was shining from the attention. To be the butt of Sifu’s jokes was like getting a hug from him.

Still, Sifu was my kung-fu instructor and he always expected the best, because that’s what he gave. I don’t think I ever met with so much will in a person, and it was hard to measure up to. Sometimes I’d get so frustrated, I’d quit doing kung-fu for a few weeks or sometimes months. I’d swear to myself I’d never do stances again. But I still went to the school and watched Sifu train my friends and family. I still joked around with Sifu. And when everyone was focused, quietly training hard, I’d watch them and listen to Sifu and I’d miss it with every fiber of my being. He always drew me back in.

My proudest moment was when Sifu decided to teach me Wan Sin - the fan form. I don’t know how to express how special I felt, how happy I was. It was suddenly so much more important to work hard, to be perfect. I wanted to make Sifu proud he had chosen Wan Sin for me. I hadn’t given up on all my wild child ways yet, but that was when my training with Sifu really changed.

I thought I’d be doing pretty good, but Sifu always knew that there was more in me. I remember when Sifu would be coming down on me hard, and I would say, “I’m trying.” And he’d get that look (you know the one) and say, “Well stop trying and just do it!” I’d get so angry and say some smart ass comment right back, or stomp off angrily (he’d probably tell you the story about when I threw my fan at him). Afterwards I’d just do it, and you know what, he was always right. Trying always got in the way of doing. Even now, I don’t use the word “try” and tell people Sifu’s motto with him in mind, “Just do it.”

This is just a little bit about my story with Sifu, but I’m not sure how to explain exactly who Sifu was to me.

He was my kung-fu teacher, but not just that. Even if I told someone that I spent half my day, five days a week, for seven years with Sifu in his school, it’s not enough. Even if I told them he taught me about Stevie Wonder and Flo Jo and dozens of other heroes for me to idolize, it wouldn’t tell you anything. If I said, he is the reason I met some of my closest friends, or had the most beautiful sister-in-law, or have the sweetest step-mother and baby siblings a person could ask for, it would barely scratch the surface.

Sifu was my teacher in all things. He taught me about strength and willpower. He taught me grace. Sifu opened a door into his heart and his greatest passion and brought together so many strangers and made a family out of them. Sifu showed me how to laugh at myself, and this gift has helped me go through some of my hardest moments without losing my smile.

There aren’t enough words to describe who Sifu was to me.

Sifu, we were your kids. We weren’t always good kids, but I know you always loved us anyways. I know it’s been too long since I saw you last, and I know it’s been even longer since I stopped training, but I hope I still make you proud. Please keep teasing me and pushing me to work harder from wherever you are, because I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t keeping me on my toes. I hope you know how much I miss you and I love you.

My kung-fu family at a national competition in St. Pete, Florida. Sifu is pictured in blue, and I'm the munchkin to his right. Everyone is here, always, with love.

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