The Back Parking Lot

Kung Fu of the Parking LotSome classes are so silent you can’t tell. Everyone is concentrating, their legs are quivering, every move is blindingly fast. A hard hour of practice creates a glow but often it also hushes the voices. You teach advanced stuff in an atmosphere of intense reflection. Listen, then move, then try again. The mirrors are steamed up, half the students struggling to keep form, partner practice is intense and a little dangerous with a punched rib here and a over-excited arm lock there. After class the energy pretty much carries through, like an audience who has seen such a great performance it cannot even make the kind of admiringly small talk that accompanies the merely good.

Kung Fu of the Parking LotWhen I have classes like this I wait, answer a few technical questions from the students, watch people collecting at the water cooler.  By the time they have all left I have started another class. But in that buffer zone of quiet warm-ups I listen, and find I can hear their voices coming from the parking lot. The conversations are lively and fast, laughter and long monologues. I can’t hear the words but can sense the energy.

Even more than the physical teaching I think of this parking lot training, if you will, as a natural extension of what is happening INSIDE the school. It’s easy enough to see the friendships and associations finding their hand holds. There is an exchange that happens like that, and you can never tell how or when. It may be a conversation in the changing room, or after class outside on the asphalt, or even at some other location where members meet on purpose or by coincidence.

Kung Fu of the Parking LotWe talk a lot in the school; probably too much. But the variety of subjects tells me—and over the years I’ve had it confirmed by students—that people sometimes bring concerns that they have shared with few other people. Some ask profound, or at least complex questions and I am reminded of the teacher KaiYing Tung who supposedly answered such conundrums by reminding people they were in Tai Chi kindergarten, not Tai Chi college.

Learning martial arts has a great deal to do with that eggshell boundary between the world of you and the world of them. Even the phrase “self defense” implies a bigger fence than most of us would admit. We can’t really be THAT unsociable or curmudgeonly. But the shortcuts that fool us into taking switchbacks often stem from the non-acceptance of a single, paradoxical martial idea: to really defend yourself you have to be able to let people in, even if only for their own downfall. Here again we realize the parking lot wisdom: that to punch at someone and then stand cross-legged in a relaxed conversation Kung Fu of the Parking Lotwith them some minutes later, shows not a mild form of schizophrenia but a recognition of the much more useful skill of changing to fit the terrain, even if it is only a hilly, neighborly rise and not a mountain. We are learning to defuse fear, to trust in our own creaky but personal radar, rather than to rely on the over-confidence and heroic nonchalance peddled to us at every turn.

Kung Fu of the Parking LotAs we chat in the gloaming, topics rise and fall like pleasant breezes on a July day. This particular flavor of feng shui is not about your living room or color coordination but about what feng shui really addresses, the intersection of you and your environment, human and more. To lean against your car and philosophize about nothing provable, to speculate on difficulties and rewards of a practice like ours, to re-engage in the minor discoveries and slight setbacks of any regimen where mind and body truly collaborate; this is the reward of being a person among persons.

Confucius informed us that, wherever he found three people gathered, there was always one who could teach him something. When I walk out for “a breath of air” I see people standing in small groups, or one group, and listening intently. And I think, class never stops.

2 Responses to “The Back Parking Lot”

  1. J. Andrews says:

    Yes, class never stops…

  2. Patrick says:

    Yes. Sometimes I learned way more when I accidentally met Sifu at a shopping center and was invited to join him for lunch. =)

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