Monday 22 February 2016


Being a writer, there are times you realize that all of the best stuff (characters, narrative, set pieces etc) comes from real life; because the clichés are true, most of it you couldn’t make up if you wanted to, and if you did, no one would believe it. This happens to me all the time when it comes to finding ‘characters’ in the real world. I suppose it is part of the reason why I’m rarely bored. When you’re out and about, if you truly watch and listen, you will pick up so much amusing stuff.

This weekend was one of those instances where my mental notebook went into overdrive. The King was being graded for his first belt in Kung Fu – according to my other half, self defence can never begin too young. This is all new territory for me as I know very little about Kung Fu (aside from seeing Kill Bill) and I don’t know the first thing about what goes on in a grading process. I just kept telling myself, they’re five, how daunting could it be? We arrive at the center where he takes the class and it was swamped with adults and kids hoping to advance to the next level. And the overwhelming feeling was utter anxiousness – on my radar anyway. The King, thank god, has that gene that tunes out the unnecessary b.s. and was focusing instead on the fact that his stomach was telling him he was hungry and he wanted the sandwich he knew was sitting in his rucksack.

We check in and they order us to all go upstairs to this room where we sit in rows of chairs like obedient subjects. All I kept thinking is why the hell am I so nervous when this isn’t my test?! After a few minutes, the grading Kung Fu ‘Master’ comes in. He’s from China, by way of Cambridge and immediately gives off this air or utter intimidation, with a dash of madcap disorganization and amusement. The room falls silent while he gives us his intro speech, in essence telling us that we are going to be sitting there for some time and moving during any one else’s grading is not acceptable. [Of course when anyone tells me I can’t move, all I want to do is move…and pee]. He shuffles through papers for several minutes silently, then proceeds to call out people’s names who aren’t there, which causes him to scowl, sigh and get annoyed. He then summons a few underlings to figure out what is going on and to be honest, even they seem scared of him. Meanwhile, one of his adult students suddenly appears holding a basket of fresh baked cinnamon buns. As you do apparently. She’s from Finland and she bakes for the instructor all the time – clearly a Bumper Kisser (to quote "Planes 2 Fire and Rescue").  Well, the sight of these muffins evokes a far different side to the Master. He suddenly looks positively giddy, and launches into a soliloquy about how much he loves cinnamon buns with tea and asks the room who has had them – appalled at those of us who have not. Thank god, the kids can at least see that this man has a soft spot for bread products and is indeed human. And trust me, if I had known the man had a penchant for white refined baked goods, I would’ve baked up a storm (or made my husband) the night before.

With the room back to silent, the grading commences and each group is called up in front of the entire room. I am ill by this point as I hate this sort of testing situation; one on one, fine; group settings, NO thank you. My husband meanwhile is whispering that I better hide my nervousness in front of the King. Then again, our son, albeit stone faced, doesn’t seem fazed by anything but the cinnamon bun discussion. As each group goes, we realize that this man’s poker face is for sh*t. When the students do well, he just smirks with a little twinkle in his eye and scribbles something on his heap of papers, when they don’t, he emits sighs, scowls, eye rolls, and the like clearly showing them they screwed up. Needless to say, most of the students look as ill as I do and spend more time watching each other (which I’m thinking is overt cheating, no?) than listening to his instructions. He of course keeps barking at them to listen AND NOT stare at each other, even making one student close his eyes and trust his ability to do the moves. Of course, Master Fu (I can't for the life of me remember his name) is right on, as most of the students know what they are doing more or less, but are getting stressed out by his insistent barking ‘Lower crane, to upper crane, walk, turn, jab jab!’

In the midst of all this, Master Fu occasionally launches into a tangent about baked goods, life lessons, and that the best investment we can make is a small kid’s piano so we can learn to play it with our toes. Apparently this will make you walk better). Meanwhile, my husband and I are of course giving each other our inconspicuous (ahem) ‘this is hysterical’ signs as we pinch and poke each other, trying not to burst into hysterics.

By the time the King goes up, I’m ready to grab his arm and run as the thought of him not knowing how to do a roundhouse kick properly utterly stresses me out. That said it suddenly dawns on me that this man may in fact actually get my son to listen, which is a feat in itself.  Adorably so, the group of 4 five year olds, hit the floor and get in their tree stance…wait, no, that’s yoga….horse stance, and sit in it until he tells them not to. He then tells them which moves to do and it takes them several seconds of utter disconnect to realize that they must actually MOVE when he speaks. To be honest, I can barely remember the rest as I was holding my breath each time he looked at them and said in that voice, ‘You’re not listening are you?!’ When it was over, the King just walked back to his seat and informed me that he was still starving. After thirty more minutes of watching others horse stance and crane block, I felt somewhat confident that I could be graded at this point. I’d show him how strong my damn toes were.

At the end – when the entire room gave a collective sigh of relief - he gave us his wrap up musings on life and how Kung Fu factors in to one’s everyday living and by this point he admittedly had me. Every time he said something and looked to us and said ‘Okay, yes?’ I would shake my head vehemently like an obedient child. His advice on life: keep moving until you drop dead (apparently people in China live until one week everything just plummets and they die. Ha!) His other bits of a advice: a hula hoop to keep your back supple, a toe piano to keep your toes strong and when you’re in times of stress and intimidation (oh he knew his power!), the number one thing to do, LISTEN. It’s the stress that throws us off our game, but if you know your stuff and you quiet down your mind and simply listen, the knowledge you’ve attained will spill out of you - apparently. Which of course is when it hit me, this man is not just hysterically odd, but he’s a wise, cinnamon bun eating Yoda.

Alright then, hula hoop, cinnamon bun and listening. I can do this.

Copyright © 2014 Anthea Anka - Delighted And Disturbed