January 7th, 2003

The gentleman is always properly dressed

Kung Fu Dreams

Before the soft and weak years, I spent a good 16-20 hours a week at the white crane school. As we practiced, Sifu Wu would observe, periodically getting up to make minor adjustments, but mostly just sitting and informing us of our progress, using clipped phrases like “no good” and “AAHHHH!” When one of us would really screw up, he would chuckle, mutter something in his obscure variant of Cantonese and then show the student something significantly better. There would be breaks throughout the night, and we would sit around listening to Sifu Wu telling stories, giving instructions, or answering our questions. All of this would happen in translation.

At one point, he talked at length about paying attention to our dreams about kung fu. He told us that they were more significant than we could imagine. The mind, it seems, continues to practice after the body is resting. I understood the process as a kind of rewiring. The mind recreates itself to accommodate the art.

I used to have a lot of fight dreams. I’d try out techniques in different situations, and occasionally I’d have a genuine revelation. A seemingly superfluous movement from a form would make suddenly make sense to me, and I’d go to class the next night to find Sifu Wu commenting on my improvement. Every once in a while, the dreams would get truly violent, and I’d find myself shouting out or kicking under the covers, much to the chagrin of my rather more delicate bed-mates. In one of these, I actually kicked over M- and broke my big toe against a cinderblock dorm-room wall.

I fell out of bed. No one should begin his morning with that much pain.

At the height of my training, I had a dream where I discovered an entirely new style while meditating somewhere on the Maine coast. The style borrowed strength from the granite cliffs and the tireless assault of the ocean against the shore. Most of the techniques relied on moving with speed and fury from a seemingly immovable base. Amidst the relentless tide, I would stand, catching incoming assaults and tumbling my opponents. I would keep them off balance, unleashing a torrent of strikes once they had lost their footing. They would be tumbled against the rocks and in the end I would remain, hard and serene. It was unnerving to get such a clear image of how it all fit together. The form captured the spirit of the place completely. I saw all of it clearly, and in the dream I practiced for hours. I became an extension and at times an expression of the place.

When I woke up, I remembered a good deal of what I had seen, but knew that it would be several years of hard work before I would be ready to attempt any of it. Even then, my body wasn’t ready for the rigors of what I had envisioned.

My latest dreams have involved getting my ass handed to me because I hurt myself or because I’m out of breath or otherwise just can’t keep up.
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