Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Martial Art of Inclusiveness

Original Sources:

A little fellow recently joined one of my children’s classes with the weight of the world pressing down upon his shoulders, a type of child that doesn’t regularly look up except perhaps to plan his escape. Mr. Serious’ little face was granite hard but I did manage to encourage him to shift his eyes every once in a while. No mean feat, I suspected.

His mother was most surprised initially, not by the fact that he came back for a second class, but that, from the outset, we had accepted him into the group …easily, comfortably, and without much concern other than he feel welcomed. Several of the children made it a point to approach him and hug him with a: “I’m glad you’re here!” That was before the start of his first class, when he still couldn’t unlock his emotions. His level of comfort has skyrocketed, given that he’s attended every class for over a month.

Here’s my most recent report: he’s smiling; he’s gifted; he’s smart; plus he’s decided to hold his head up and face the world straight on, like a battle tank. I’m sure he’s figured out the next step, well in advance.

Enabled by the group of other kids, he’ll soon be out in front of the class leading in some capacity or other, explaining things, being a role model for newer kids who have recently crossed the same threshold. Trust me, this will happen much sooner than his mother might anticipate.

How about the little guy who already carries a history of violence around with him, a child that goes nowhere really fast at whatever he tries, and the look on his mother’s face when we give him one of our patented we’re glad you’re here.

Glad you’re here? Come on, the guy’s going to destabilize everything he touches…and we don’t even blink when he enters the training hall and shows us he wants to belong.

The tiny two and a half year old who stands by the door and watches her older brother stroll forward to join the class. How many seconds of living is contained in a human being the size of a chipmunk? My tactic is not to wait until there are signs of mature life.

Get in here; we need people like you. Tell us how you feel about things. Tell us how you can make us better people too.

(As a side bar, she sparred for one hour and then grappled for yet another as part of her Yellow Belt test, and whenever I try to crack a joke, she tells me: “No being silly!”)

Included –and with deep surprise – was how I felt in the mid-60s when my Kung Fu teacher and my seniors, all Chinese, took me into their circle of friendship without a second thought, this in a social climate where the otherness of birthright, those born on foreign shores, often find themselves excluded from the norm. How do you include me into your sphere when historically your families have had their access to this society’s norm alienated or restricted? I tried to find the value of a huge effort on their part, a leap of faith on their part. There was none; friendship arrived as naturally as did their skills at fighting. The “their” instantly became “ours”. I was included; I became part of a “we”.

Inclusiveness is not always neat and tidy. In Canadian cities, for example, people bump into each other as if in a stream. They attract; they recoil. And the strength of the current constantly changes, depending on the structures of power and the political will. But each person’s participation touches us all. Each person participation’s serves to enrich us all.

Toronto Kung Fu culture wasn’t always an open door. Powerful figures like PAUL CHAN  reached out to other segments of the community, literally saying: “This culture that we’ve brought with us… share in it if you wish!”

Stephen Tom was the most charismatic figure to have accepted me, a kid, into the Kung Fu family. I wanted desperately to be like him. The first time he took us to dim sum, the hard wall of cultural stereotyping cracked and crumbled to pieces. I’m not a European-born  in downtown Canada becoming acquainted with a new culture; I’m part of a group…and now my European blood runs back through thousands of years of Chinese history. Man, that felt good!

Inclusiveness is a potent force that changes the lives of everyone. I grew up in Toronto, and I wasn’t familiar with the Montreal scene, yet I do know that just a tiny part of that cultural momentum referred to as the city of Montreal wherein people of all ethnic origins congregate, has enriched my life. Just a few names out of one very narrow genre…IRVING LAYTON, MORDECAI RICHLER, and…LEONARD COHEN.

We were sitting at the altar of a church in Toronto, ‘round midnight, a young woman and I. We’d withdrawn into the shadows when it was time for the entire group to depart, and now we had the church to ourselves. The high windows allowed in a bit of light and I recall the branches of the trees outside softly sweeping back and forth in that same light.

Cohen, one of the early Montreal poets, has written much since he wrote SUZANNE. At, 80 he’s still going strong. The body of the poem/song Suzanne contains three stanzas: the first is concerned with the singer accepting the lady of the title; the second, deals with a Jesus who includes all sailors in his watch even though the force of wisdom forces him to fall into the sea like stone; and at the close of the third stanza, he is tempted to follow Suzanne who has made a place for him in her life.

So I sang this song for the young woman in front of the altar, playing my guitar, and we watched the branches sweeping across the light beyond the windows, one of those peaceful moments when all aspects of our lives are served up and included. She wanted me to sing it again, so I looped the song, and Cohen and his Montreal, the young woman beside me with all of her life’s wisdom and experiences, the Kung Fu, the Karate, the Jiu Jitsu that made me who I was, played on through the stillness of the night.

I am included. It is in a martial family that I am included. I have seniors in Karate; I recognize those who arrived at the door after joined. Jiu Jitsu for me is the same.

My Kung Fu sisters and brothers mapped out my place in the universe shortly after they committed themselves to me. It’s structured a little on the following basis –

Sijo – founder of system
Sigung – Grandmaster
Sibak – elder uncle
Sibakgung – elder granduncle
Sidai – junior brother
Sifu – teacher
Sijie – elder sister
Simui – junior sister
Sisook – junior uncle
Sisookgung – junior granduncle
Sihing – elder brother
Todei – students
Tosuen – students of your students
Tong Moon – follower of same system

The training hall is the melting pot where we come to be accepted and where we discover inclusiveness, whatever our background may be. Some arrive broken at the door, others stride in like the beginning of a long parade only to discover the wisdom behind the smallest of gestures. The training hall is where we find ourselves, and where we are allowed to develop into the person we want to be because the group, the tradition, the lineage has, through inclusiveness, provided us with that opportunity. 

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