My wing chun sifu played a classic martial-arts-master trick on me tonight.
We’re having a test. I’m not testing, not in my mind. I do the expected things, which in my case includes being a sparring opponent for whatever senior students are testing. Because I’m strong and aggressive, skilled with knife and long blade as well as empty hand, sifu likes to throw me at people to challenge them and elicit best performance. I’m OK with that.
The most interesting fight is knives with Lee, a teenager testing for 9th level. I’m 8th, nominally at the same skill level he is going in. But Lee is still a kid who sometimes falls off his mental focus and gets frustrated. He has speed, height, and reach on me, but I have more brute strength, more knife experience, and a better developed warrior mind (I’ve been training since before Lee was born). Usually this means the advantage is mine.
Tonight, though, Lee does a smart thing. He processes the fact that (more or less as usual) I’m chopping him into chutney at medium range. Instead of losing his focus or retreating he closes and grabs me with his off hand. This is so unlike previous performance that he gets inside my OODA loop – by the time I counter he has scored several solid strikes.
This is good; Lee’s tactical repertoire is broadening and he figured a way to use his superior speed against me effectively. Sifu deserves to know this because it bears directly on Lee’s growth as a student (yes, I think like an instructor, which not news to anyone at the kwoon) but I’m not sure he could see it; I was directly between sifu and Lee when Lee busted his move.
So when the test is over I go to the table sifu is sitting behind, all set to tell him how well Lee did. Before I can open my mouth he looks at me and announces “You’re a level 9 now”.
A few minutes later I find out that everybody knew I was being tested except me. Sifu had told them what he intended to do the previous week when I had to skip a class for work-related reasons.
Well, no fscking wonder he’s been vague about when he intended me to test next. It’s a classic trick – test a student when he doesn’t know he’s under evaluation. I’d do it to either (a) spot a student I suspected was being lazy if I know what his peak performance is like, or (b) reduce the pressure on a student who I think might be prone to choke in a formal test. I don’t think sifu is likely to put me in either of those bins, so he probably had some subtler reason in mind. He’ll tell me if he wants me to know.
I’m now the highest-ranking student at the school who isn’t a Black Sash (beginning master, like a 1st Dan in Japanese systems) or higher (we have one Red Sash, 2nd-dan equivalent). I guess I can expect to qualify for my sash within six months or so. Not bad for a 60-year old guy with spastic palsy! I feel I have some reason to be proud.