Silk Pants

Silk pants, in the day...

Silk pants, in the day...

The thing worked like this. You slipped into the pants. You definitely did not bend over and secure the ankle ties because you had to hold the waist band with both hands. The pants at the waist were at least double your circumference. You took the left panel and folded it in front of your stomach about the height of the solar plexus. Then you folded the right panel over that. You switched hands so you could keep yourself together by pressing with the belly of the left forearm while you half squatted and snatched up the sash. You placed one end on your right hip then wrapped the sash around you once. On return to the right hip you tied a knot to hold up your pants. This allowed you to fold the entire waist band down over the sash. You went back to the belt and wrapped it a second time around your waist. When it was back at the right hip you undid the old knot and tied a new knot with the end, trying your best to make the pull loop come out the right length but not so long it would catch your thumb if you passed your hand close to your side. Then you took the folded section of the waist band and tucked it up under the sash so you would not resemble a wrinkled brown bag by the time you went out on the floor. Oh, and THEN you reached over and tied your ankle ties simultaneously making sure they weren’t so tight that they held your pants immobile rather than slide up and down a little, and hoping you didn’t split your pants in the bending action.

If you were lucky enough to have a brother or a friend in the same school you would have him hold an end of the eight foot sash and literally spin toward him until it was perfectly smooth and tight. This was much better than wrapping yourself. Of course you returned the favor.

Kung Fu forty years ago still followed much of this ritual…

The boots, for instance, had suede tops with rubber soles. They were perfect for what they were. If you slapped them they sounded like a cannon blast. They had no sole support so your ankles became flexible. No shoe string aglets so you did not pierce your hand when slapping a foot. There was a single snap on the ankle side and that was it. Some had the leather toes with the cloud design, a benign wish that your kicks “flew above the clouds”. By the time I studied with Ron Lew, Y. C. Wong and Wing Lam, the soles all were cut from tires and the name GOODYEAR was in relief on every shoe.

Then there were the tops. Start at the bottom, clasp loop on cloth button then stick loop “A” into loop “B” and go up one, continue until you have reached the end of the road up around your collar: knit one, perl one. I felt like Mr. Lucky, only not so. Finally you were done and you noticed that you had missed one somewhere back at the lingerie department in the basement so down you went to deja do it again. It was a revelation of inestimable import when I was shown by a Hong Kong guy that if you did not loop all the way up to your Adam’s apple you could slip the top off and on without having to re-string it.

What could have been a better bridge for all the people entering the world of Chinese Martial Arts? Ritual was a part of the process as much as punching and kicking. TV, movies, tournaments and online discussion (and, yes, even Plum) have turned the whole thing into public consensus. When you wore the clothes, bowed your school bow, and imitated your teacher you knew that this was how we did it here, not everywhere. It was idiosyncratic, flavorful and eminently local. Outside our little school everything was night.

It runs deep this experience, whether you are Asian or not. I have students who have been with me for years because they noticed, on their first visits, that my Dit Da Jiu smelled “right”. There was a lot of wasted time in the day, before Velcro and elastic. And if button-shy Steve Jobs were to challenge me on what could be the possible advantage of all this rickety preparation I would say just that: as we hooked up we prepared ourselves to walk on that particular floor this particular night and learn some Kung Fu. Just that.


3 Responses to “Silk Pants”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    heh, heh, we tied our sashes, one end on a parking meter then rolled ourselves into it.

  2. Craig says:

    Beautiful & nostalgic.

    I’ve not made my students wear any “traditional” gear, but have thought about perhaps suggesting the advanced to do so, giving a somewhat visual cue to seniority, adding flavor, community and a slight sense of the exotic to the students. Not sure yet, but this article brings it to mind.

    Patrick – lol nice creativity there 🙂

    This article definitely brings back some memories 🙂

  3. Jonty Kershaw says:

    In the Indonesian arts, students are only allowed to wear their uniform (a sarong) after they have been accepted as an indoor student (these days after their first test.) After that, we display our rank entirely based on how long we wear our skirts!

    At large gatherings, there is a lot of commotion at the beginning as everyone tries to adjust their sarongs so they are longer than the more junior students and shorter than the seniors. If you are a beginner and everyone else doesn’t adjust their sarongs carefully, you may end up wearing a miniskirt.

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