Kung Fu Quaker

One of my very favorite teachers from high school is absolutely delighted I am with the Quaker church, thrilled I agree that the way to peace is not through violence. Being a Mennonite, we are what you could call peace testimony cousins and she really likes that fact.

As a high school student, I wouldn’t have guessed Mennonite the way she pushed our entire class out the door every Monday morning and into the parking lot for “Dagio taiso!” (Japanese morning exercises that I think are called Radio Taiso, but that is the way I remember her yelling it out, one arm thrust into the air.) If you can picture how much effort it takes to pull 25 high school students out to a parking lot to do exercises on Monday morning with other students watching from the windows above, you may begin to get an idea of how much stamina this woman had, and still has. Add a slight frame and red hair, and you have our beloved sensei (teacher). She was one of those teachers any high school student is lucky to have in their life. Personally, I adored her. And I loved dagio taiso. I thought it was great fun and a great way to live in my body, moving around. Our sensei really liked me.

As a college student and early young adult, I was considered sweet and of the quieter variety. I didn’t push my weight around. (I know, I overcame this later.) So, since I highly disliked hitting people, I thought it a good idea to take a self-defense class while I was in college to learn how to push my weight if I needed to. In a beautiful, naturally lit room overlooking the Quad, I learned how to scream, how to hit and kick, where to go for the vulnerable spots on an attacker, and how to keep an eye out on where I was walking. It was a transformative experience for me, learning how to defend myself and learning I had a voice. I still didn’t like to start a fight, but I felt much better about finishing one.

However, no fighting was ever needed (thankfully!) until one beautiful spring day at a medieval event called Bargamels. Bargamels has a pub theme and was actually my favorite event of the year when I was involved in medieval reenactment. My favorite sport to watch was two fighters in full armor going at each other with swords. We did that a lot. But on this particular day, I was seated in the grass wearing my red dress (an inner black dress and fancier outer red dress) reading a book for the New Testament class I was taking at the time. Nearby, they announced the commencement of the Bar Wench Smack Down. Intrigued, I listened. That was my first mistake. They wanted women of legal age who were willing to hit each other with meat cleavers and other assorted weapons found in a pub. It sounded like fun.

You have to understand, up to this point, I rarely ever participated in something even loosely resembling the word, “sport”. I was the mild-mannered lady-in-waiting. But, sitting there, I thought, “Why not?” That was mistake number two. Mariana, my Baroness, whom I served, was not there. Neither were any of our guards. That was her mistake. No one to keep an eye on Roana to make sure she behaved herself. She would later learn this is important. Multiple times over. That is another story.

Realizing, (I’m a bright one!), I couldn’t kill people in the skirted layers I was dressed in, I removed the outer red dress and joined the queue lining up around the eric where we would be fighting. They explained the rules such as no hitting above the neck as we weren’t in armor, and to be your own judge of a mortal wound. This particular group has a culture of their own where honor and chivalry is highly valued. The fighters I respected had taught me well.

When it was my turn to enter the ring, I chose the meat cleaver. All the weapons were made out of PVC pipe, heavily padded, and covered in duct tape. There were knives, mugs, and even a stool we borrowed from an earlier tournament. You could have a weapon in each hand which was handy as you could then thrust with one and defend yourself with the other. (If your arm was hit, you dropped your weapon and hid the injured appendage behind your back. If it was a leg, you either jumped on one or went down on your knees.) I showed no mercy. I liked to take the arms off first, the legs if I could get at them. I figured if they had one less weapon, it would be easier for me to go in for the kill on the chest. Many a time, I had both of their arms cut off before killing them. It wasn’t long before the other women weren’t too eager to come into the ring with me. One woman took one look at me and asked, “I have to fight her?”

I was having a BALL. The time of my life. I LOVED fighting! It was so much fun to kill people! I could see why all the fighters enjoyed it! That is, I was having fun until one of the guards saw what I was doing and went to get my Baroness. Mariana, who was busy judging the baklava competition, and she loved baklava, came hurrying down the hill and as she told me later, spotted in the ring, me, killing people with a grin the size of Texas on my face, and she cried out, “Is that my sweet Roana?”

Yes, Mariana, it was. Your sweet lady-in-waiting took second place that day in quite a crowd of women. Second place was just fine by me though, since if you took first, you couldn’t join in the smack down again the next year. Second was good. I believe it was the next year I was awarded the prize for chivalry. (Just to defend myself a bit so this post doesn’t completely ruin my reputation.)

Since that time, I haven’t had much reason to fight anyone; although that reputation did follow me around for quite some time in that group. There was one fighter practice to which I went and they said I was pretty good. But I wasn’t interested in the investment it would take to be able to last more than two seconds in a ring with a real heavy fighter. That is, until…

My friend, Emily, recently posted on facebook that she is holding Kung Fu classes in her basement with a teacher from Corvallis. I have now been a part of the Quaker church for over four years. I know the peace testimony but that old saying that, I admit, gets me into trouble, “Why not?” came to mind. I am willing to try most (moral) things once.

I showed up in time to take the first bow. This is where all that Japanese dagio taiso training and language came in handy. (Thanks Sensei!) The teacher had us warm up with some exercises in a squatting position. He showed us how to hold our arms up to defend ourselves. He showed us how to kick. Then he taught us how to move our feet back and forth, side to side and we learned a series of movements put together to defend ourselves against multiple attackers. It was rather like a martial arts dance. My favorite part was when he started teaching us how to pull someone to the ground who is pushing us or grabbing our wrist. I thought that was pretty awesome and I admit, I was pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing.

At the end of the class, the teacher asked me what I thought of the class and why I liked it. I have been thinking about this question ever since. Being a part of a peace church, you would think I wouldn’t enjoy working on learning such skills. But I do, I really do. Something in me loves a good fight, learning how to take someone to the ground if I need to. I would still step out of that red dress and join the Bar Wench Smack Down. (Don’t worry though; I will be out of the country the weekend the event is held this year.) It is a paradox that seems so strange.

I realized while driving today there is a warrior in me. Someone who really needs to know how to, figuratively speaking, use a sword, a meat cleaver. I spent so much of my life stifling that warrior down that when I started letting her out in my twenties, she had a heyday. Now, instead of shying away from conflict, I engage in it. Not to hurt another person, but to reach a good, healthy conclusion. I am learning how to defend myself, how to control the power racing through me, channeling the strength held in my hands. I need to know what it is like to live in my body, to be joined to it in soul and spirit. I need to know that my actions affect the world and the people around me. And learning how to fight in my body helps me find the courage to fight in my soul.

The peace testimony isn’t simply a call to lay down all our weapons and not fight. It is a call to lay down the weapons that maim, that hurt and kill. It is a call to lay down damaging words, harsh actions, and prideful choices. It is a call to pick up compassion and thinking of others. However, the peace testimony is not a call to let others walk all over us. It is not a call to stop sticking up for the passions of God. It is not a call to run away from conflict but to instead face conflict with love and justice evenly yoked in tandem. Better yet, approach conflict with an attitude where you cannot discern where justice ends and love begins.

We can’t afford to ignore the power out-flowing from within each of us. Part of peace is knowing our power to hurt, to maim, even to kill, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, yet instead to choose to use that power to heal, comfort, and teach. If we do not know our ability to tear down, we can never wholly build up.

It’s okay to pick up a weapon! Go ahead! But make sure it’s the right one. God tells us to take up our sword of truth. It is a powerful weapon. We are not to use this weapon flippantly or unwisely. We need to know both the power it can hold and the damage such a sword can inflict. Some of the greatest hurt in our world is done by those who abuse their power or wield power unwisely when they don’t know they have it. (For a great book on this topic, read MaryKate Morse’s book, Making Room for Leadership.)

So can I be a warrior and a Quaker at the same time? A Kung Fu Quaker? I believe so. I don’t see any problem in learning these things. It’s hard to live in the world as a lion when one walks around with the stature of a cat. Learning the right way to punch, how to take someone down, spending time concentrating on the placement of my body and the body of others, helps ground me in the physical world and teaches me how I can better carry myself and my power within that world. In fact, it is downright fun.

God gave us physical bodies to live in and it has surprised me how much I enjoy learning how to be present to the physicality of our existence. It’s an important piece of our lives and one not to be ignored. Maybe this is my way of learning to set physical boundaries after learning years ago I could have the emotional ones. And how can we have peace if we do not respect the boundaries of who each other is? If learning to fight is my way of learning peace, with others and with myself, of knowing my power in a tangible way, then I believe that is a good thing. I think even my sensei would be happy with that road to peace. One punch-kick at a time.

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Walking the Sea: Kung Fu Quaker

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kung Fu Quaker

One of my very favorite teachers from high school is absolutely delighted I am with the Quaker church, thrilled I agree that the way to peace is not through violence. Being a Mennonite, we are what you could call peace testimony cousins and she really likes that fact.

As a high school student, I wouldn’t have guessed Mennonite the way she pushed our entire class out the door every Monday morning and into the parking lot for “Dagio taiso!” (Japanese morning exercises that I think are called Radio Taiso, but that is the way I remember her yelling it out, one arm thrust into the air.) If you can picture how much effort it takes to pull 25 high school students out to a parking lot to do exercises on Monday morning with other students watching from the windows above, you may begin to get an idea of how much stamina this woman had, and still has. Add a slight frame and red hair, and you have our beloved sensei (teacher). She was one of those teachers any high school student is lucky to have in their life. Personally, I adored her. And I loved dagio taiso. I thought it was great fun and a great way to live in my body, moving around. Our sensei really liked me.

As a college student and early young adult, I was considered sweet and of the quieter variety. I didn’t push my weight around. (I know, I overcame this later.) So, since I highly disliked hitting people, I thought it a good idea to take a self-defense class while I was in college to learn how to push my weight if I needed to. In a beautiful, naturally lit room overlooking the Quad, I learned how to scream, how to hit and kick, where to go for the vulnerable spots on an attacker, and how to keep an eye out on where I was walking. It was a transformative experience for me, learning how to defend myself and learning I had a voice. I still didn’t like to start a fight, but I felt much better about finishing one.

However, no fighting was ever needed (thankfully!) until one beautiful spring day at a medieval event called Bargamels. Bargamels has a pub theme and was actually my favorite event of the year when I was involved in medieval reenactment. My favorite sport to watch was two fighters in full armor going at each other with swords. We did that a lot. But on this particular day, I was seated in the grass wearing my red dress (an inner black dress and fancier outer red dress) reading a book for the New Testament class I was taking at the time. Nearby, they announced the commencement of the Bar Wench Smack Down. Intrigued, I listened. That was my first mistake. They wanted women of legal age who were willing to hit each other with meat cleavers and other assorted weapons found in a pub. It sounded like fun.

You have to understand, up to this point, I rarely ever participated in something even loosely resembling the word, “sport”. I was the mild-mannered lady-in-waiting. But, sitting there, I thought, “Why not?” That was mistake number two. Mariana, my Baroness, whom I served, was not there. Neither were any of our guards. That was her mistake. No one to keep an eye on Roana to make sure she behaved herself. She would later learn this is important. Multiple times over. That is another story.

Realizing, (I’m a bright one!), I couldn’t kill people in the skirted layers I was dressed in, I removed the outer red dress and joined the queue lining up around the eric where we would be fighting. They explained the rules such as no hitting above the neck as we weren’t in armor, and to be your own judge of a mortal wound. This particular group has a culture of their own where honor and chivalry is highly valued. The fighters I respected had taught me well.

When it was my turn to enter the ring, I chose the meat cleaver. All the weapons were made out of PVC pipe, heavily padded, and covered in duct tape. There were knives, mugs, and even a stool we borrowed from an earlier tournament. You could have a weapon in each hand which was handy as you could then thrust with one and defend yourself with the other. (If your arm was hit, you dropped your weapon and hid the injured appendage behind your back. If it was a leg, you either jumped on one or went down on your knees.) I showed no mercy. I liked to take the arms off first, the legs if I could get at them. I figured if they had one less weapon, it would be easier for me to go in for the kill on the chest. Many a time, I had both of their arms cut off before killing them. It wasn’t long before the other women weren’t too eager to come into the ring with me. One woman took one look at me and asked, “I have to fight her?”

I was having a BALL. The time of my life. I LOVED fighting! It was so much fun to kill people! I could see why all the fighters enjoyed it! That is, I was having fun until one of the guards saw what I was doing and went to get my Baroness. Mariana, who was busy judging the baklava competition, and she loved baklava, came hurrying down the hill and as she told me later, spotted in the ring, me, killing people with a grin the size of Texas on my face, and she cried out, “Is that my sweet Roana?”

Yes, Mariana, it was. Your sweet lady-in-waiting took second place that day in quite a crowd of women. Second place was just fine by me though, since if you took first, you couldn’t join in the smack down again the next year. Second was good. I believe it was the next year I was awarded the prize for chivalry. (Just to defend myself a bit so this post doesn’t completely ruin my reputation.)

Since that time, I haven’t had much reason to fight anyone; although that reputation did follow me around for quite some time in that group. There was one fighter practice to which I went and they said I was pretty good. But I wasn’t interested in the investment it would take to be able to last more than two seconds in a ring with a real heavy fighter. That is, until…

My friend, Emily, recently posted on facebook that she is holding Kung Fu classes in her basement with a teacher from Corvallis. I have now been a part of the Quaker church for over four years. I know the peace testimony but that old saying that, I admit, gets me into trouble, “Why not?” came to mind. I am willing to try most (moral) things once.

I showed up in time to take the first bow. This is where all that Japanese dagio taiso training and language came in handy. (Thanks Sensei!) The teacher had us warm up with some exercises in a squatting position. He showed us how to hold our arms up to defend ourselves. He showed us how to kick. Then he taught us how to move our feet back and forth, side to side and we learned a series of movements put together to defend ourselves against multiple attackers. It was rather like a martial arts dance. My favorite part was when he started teaching us how to pull someone to the ground who is pushing us or grabbing our wrist. I thought that was pretty awesome and I admit, I was pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing.

At the end of the class, the teacher asked me what I thought of the class and why I liked it. I have been thinking about this question ever since. Being a part of a peace church, you would think I wouldn’t enjoy working on learning such skills. But I do, I really do. Something in me loves a good fight, learning how to take someone to the ground if I need to. I would still step out of that red dress and join the Bar Wench Smack Down. (Don’t worry though; I will be out of the country the weekend the event is held this year.) It is a paradox that seems so strange.

I realized while driving today there is a warrior in me. Someone who really needs to know how to, figuratively speaking, use a sword, a meat cleaver. I spent so much of my life stifling that warrior down that when I started letting her out in my twenties, she had a heyday. Now, instead of shying away from conflict, I engage in it. Not to hurt another person, but to reach a good, healthy conclusion. I am learning how to defend myself, how to control the power racing through me, channeling the strength held in my hands. I need to know what it is like to live in my body, to be joined to it in soul and spirit. I need to know that my actions affect the world and the people around me. And learning how to fight in my body helps me find the courage to fight in my soul.

The peace testimony isn’t simply a call to lay down all our weapons and not fight. It is a call to lay down the weapons that maim, that hurt and kill. It is a call to lay down damaging words, harsh actions, and prideful choices. It is a call to pick up compassion and thinking of others. However, the peace testimony is not a call to let others walk all over us. It is not a call to stop sticking up for the passions of God. It is not a call to run away from conflict but to instead face conflict with love and justice evenly yoked in tandem. Better yet, approach conflict with an attitude where you cannot discern where justice ends and love begins.

We can’t afford to ignore the power out-flowing from within each of us. Part of peace is knowing our power to hurt, to maim, even to kill, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, yet instead to choose to use that power to heal, comfort, and teach. If we do not know our ability to tear down, we can never wholly build up.

It’s okay to pick up a weapon! Go ahead! But make sure it’s the right one. God tells us to take up our sword of truth. It is a powerful weapon. We are not to use this weapon flippantly or unwisely. We need to know both the power it can hold and the damage such a sword can inflict. Some of the greatest hurt in our world is done by those who abuse their power or wield power unwisely when they don’t know they have it. (For a great book on this topic, read MaryKate Morse’s book, Making Room for Leadership.)

So can I be a warrior and a Quaker at the same time? A Kung Fu Quaker? I believe so. I don’t see any problem in learning these things. It’s hard to live in the world as a lion when one walks around with the stature of a cat. Learning the right way to punch, how to take someone down, spending time concentrating on the placement of my body and the body of others, helps ground me in the physical world and teaches me how I can better carry myself and my power within that world. In fact, it is downright fun.

God gave us physical bodies to live in and it has surprised me how much I enjoy learning how to be present to the physicality of our existence. It’s an important piece of our lives and one not to be ignored. Maybe this is my way of learning to set physical boundaries after learning years ago I could have the emotional ones. And how can we have peace if we do not respect the boundaries of who each other is? If learning to fight is my way of learning peace, with others and with myself, of knowing my power in a tangible way, then I believe that is a good thing. I think even my sensei would be happy with that road to peace. One punch-kick at a time.

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11 Comments:

At January 23, 2011 at 5:02 PM , Anonymous Tim Magee said...

I have mixed feelings about my longtime involvement in Korean Tae Kwon Do.
One thing that made an impression on me was the growing realization that the Koreans greatly feared the Japanese. A Japanese Karate master had permission to attend Korean sponsored tournaments up in the Seattle area. When he would arrive at the venue with some young students, the temperature there would drop 20 degrees the second he came into view. After a while, attention would refocus elsewhere. My experience with Tae Kwon Do was one I found sobering in many ways. Holy cats.

 
At January 23, 2011 at 6:00 PM , Anonymous Tim Magee said...

Martial Arts helps a person find their voice as you pointed out. I would not have found my voice without intervention of some kind.
Also the awareness of being alive from the soles of the feet up is a feeling I value.

 
At January 25, 2011 at 10:04 AM , Anonymous Charles martin said...

Dear Sarah:

I read your piece and found it well written and provocative. Physical fitness in the broadest sense is glorifying God’s creation. Our bodies are out temples literally. Self-defense is part of physical fitness, the ability to disarm violent people is a gift. Caution is always necessary when using physical force. In fact being able to avoid the violence is really what enables the practice of non-violence. Some years ago I attended an all day peace conference. During one of the presentations a crazy guy got on the stage and was ranting away at the presenter. Some of us intervened. Another man was so agitated by the crazy guy that I was afraid fisticuffs were going to break out. I and another Friend talked the crazy guy down and got him to go out-side. I talked with him for about 1/2 hour. I think that he needed to vent and was unable to do so in a way that is acceptable by normal people because of his mental incapacitation. After talking with him I realized that most of the people at the conference would have agreed with what he was trying to say if he could have talked with them rationally and peacefully. I was also aware that once the first blow was struck it would have been impossible to have brought about a peaceful resolution to the event. Jesus told his disciples that when they traveled in the ministry that they were to bestow their peace upon those who accepted them in their ministry. And if they were rejected to take back their peace when they left. I’ve pondered what that means. Do you take your peace with you when you minister? Is your participation in games of aggression a preparation for your ministry? Does it enable you to tap into the peace that is within and is that gift from Christ? If so you should participate at your fullest, if not then you should consider if it enables or diminishes your preparation as a minister.
Peace be with you,

Charles

 
At January 25, 2011 at 7:16 PM , Anonymous Tim Magee said...

Participation in martial arts class tends not to involve games or aggression. Normally such training is so demanding that a person discovers many things about themselves through what amounts to hardships that are inherent to this activity. Also, the idea of clobbering somebody a good wallop loses it's appeal for most people if there was any there to begin with as a result of arduous training.
Yet I admit I've seen sociopaths use martial arts training as an additional threat to others. Such people use anything they can lay hold of in the pursuit of cruelty.

 
At January 31, 2011 at 6:53 PM , Anonymous Tim Magee said...

Four to five nights a week martial arts training was a bit much, but it was expected. It was a hard and in the long term rather grim pursuit. What was it exactly was I training for? In the absence of an adequate answer, mayhaps I should have gone ballroom dancing.

 
At February 3, 2011 at 1:10 AM , Blogger Queery said...

I love it, kung fu quaker.

 
At February 8, 2011 at 9:40 PM , Blogger Chris M. said...

An attender from another Friends meeting here in the SF Bay Area once told me he liked to think of Quakers as warriors. However, when he shared that thought, he had been met with some shock at that meeting. To him, it was about Friends' tenacity, standing up for what's right, and being a witness and minister amid conflicts.

Somewhat like Charles's example! Thank you, Charles, for that story.

 
At February 9, 2011 at 10:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gandhi said he couldn't do anything with a coward. I know many Quaker parents who are happy to take their kids to Kung Fu classes for all the reasons you've given. Thanks for this post,
Rosemary

 
At February 9, 2011 at 7:09 PM , Blogger Tom Smith said...

Early Friends used the image of "The Lamb's War" which for me means an aggressive making of peace as a pacifist not as passive.

 
At February 9, 2011 at 11:11 PM , Blogger Gil said...

Yeah, I'm a pacifist alright. I'm a pass-a-fist through your face.

Seriously, I am reminded of the fact that pacifism is more like alcoholism. Until we recognize our own capacities for violence and lay down our weapons we cannot take up the weapons of the Spirit. Good luck in learning your capacity for violence and how to control it.

Gil

 
At February 9, 2011 at 11:52 PM , Anonymous Markku H said...

One of reasons that I am a Quaker is my very much militant mind. Quakers pasifistic attitude directs my actions to something construktiv.
I have a green belt in karate but I whish to get black belt in peacework.

 

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