I wrote this for a college English class. I thought it would make a nice companion piece to the earlier Rollercoaster of Memories post. This is what happened at my first kung fu class.

I step through the large iron gate which marked the entrance of the kung fu academy, and go up a very narrow flight of stairs, flanked by my cousin, who had asked me in passing the night before to accompany him. I step through a ceremonial gate, which had a very curious looking Chinese charm with a Chinese character and red threads hanging. I spot on the other side of a large room one man shouting at two other men who are performing some kind of acrobatics. Dips, acrobatic flips, moving them hips, they’re doing it all.

They motion for my cousin and me to step towards them, so we precariously do so. Here were some guys practicing what must surely be a deadly art, judging from all the bad guys in movies who knew some style of eagle kung fu, and I was just a scrawny little high school kid, staring uncertainly at them in their disheveled states. To them it must have been hilarious, I imagine.

First thing I remember, the teacher, (referred to as Sifu or Shifu) asked us both to make a fist. This is pretty simple thing, but I was so nervous that I didn’t even make a fist right. They just stared at me, and although they might have laughed a bit inside, were patient in showing me how to do so correctly.

That first night was brutal. I hadn’t properly exercised in the nighttime for a very long time, though I was one of the few students in my high school’s class that actually exercised. We’re paired off with the two students in attendance, one very tall man with a huge head of black hair, and another shorter, closer to my height, with a slight belly and a strange grin on his face. I get the latter. My cousin, being a few inches taller than me and with longer arms, gets the taller of the two.

Afterwards, we warm up a bit, the Sifu shouting “Pushups, sit-ups” and a few more exercises that are too painful to remember. The entire first practice consisted of just the two most basic stances in kung fu: the Horse stance and Arrow stance. Our Sifu, and those who taught him firmly believed in a very strong, basic foundation. Sifu continued to teach in the same way, focusing strongly on the basics of everything, but also acknowledging the desire for new students to learn practical applications of everything learned.

Two very simple stances proved to be a source of discomfort, and in some cases pain. To demonstrate that it was not at all impossible and all the while saying, “You can do what we do with practice”, the shorter, pudgier man, who I later learn is like our second teacher, assumes a Horse stance. He is very low to the ground, and I am amazed at this man’s flexibility. I see Sifu approach him, and stands on him!

Horse stance is like taking a seat with an invisible chair, legs spread out to distribute your weight. I briefly wonder if there really is an invisible chair there, for this pudgy man to hold another man’s weight on his hips. I wonder if it’s like those early 1900s picture of levitations, fake levitations accomplished by erasing chairs and tables from pictures. Sifu tells us how this very simple stance will help us build muscle, and allow us to do this and so much more. I’m extremely excited at this point, though a bit apprehensive at the prospect of having to do something like that anytime soon.

Later, he does the same with the Arrow stance, standing on the back of his leg, a leg striking down diagonally, like a diagonal rod supporting a bridge. We’re told this is expected of us as well. I shudder, for I’m only a 120lb skinny high school kid. How can I hold someone who weighs literally twice, if not more, than me? I’m the guy who weighs the least, surely. The three adults in the room each weigh between 180 to 210 pounds. Massive in comparison to me. “David and Goliath”, I think to myself.

So we start practicing. He made it seem easy enough, right? Surely if this pudgy man can hold another man aloft like that, then I should be able to do this very simple stance for a time, right? Hold it for 30 seconds? I can do that….I think. These are just the basics after all, right? I’m thinking if everyone who has ever been here can do this, I can too.

It’s much harder than it looks. My legs are trembling after just doing it myself for 15 seconds. I think to myself, “How long are we supposed to do this? 30 seconds? Ok, I’ll do it.” We switch to Kung Sek. That’s the Chinese name for the Arrow stance. This is tough, I think, but I can do this! Ok, now do it in the other direction, I hear. As Sifu shouts Ma Sek, meaning Horse stance, I painfully slide into the stance, although finding it a bit more comfortable than just a minute ago when I first tried it.

Now, do that for an hour, Sifu says. We just stare at him; even my gung ho cousin is a bit…nonplussed. We continue to stare at him, until he says something to the effect of “What? Want to do it for longer?” and we quickly snap back to work. My last thoughts before we snap into work? Cousin, I thank you for finally pushing me to do this. If we survive, I will kill you.

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