Interlude: Kung Fu

In transit again, this time outside Kung Fu. I like sitting in my car and typing away. Maybe this could be a start of one of those famous Neurotic Writers’ Habits, like how Graham Greene would sit watching license plates until he saw the right number combination, and then he could write. Maybe eventually I won’t be able to write except in my car. Then again, who wants to be Graham Greene? Brrrrr.1

It’s been over 8 months since I started Kung Fu. This has been a year of sticking to things, notably KF and this blog. Sal says the first thing he ever followed through on was his Kenpo training, staying the course until he made shodan. Now it’s a permanent part of his life. I hope Kung Fu is a permanent part of mine.

It’s also the longest I’ve stuck to any specifically physical pursuit. I’ve gone to the gym on and off since I was maybe 15, but never for more than a couple months; and back then what inspired (or goaded) me were the Men’s Health magazines I pored over at the library. I wonder how much damage those rags do to the minds and hearts of men everywhere. They certainly didn’t do me any good, filling me with envy and unhappiness that spilled over into lust before I realized what was happening.

I used to swim sometimes, and that was pretty good, but it was lonesome; the only thing it had in common with sports was the physical exertion, but it lacked in all other ways, which is to say, most of the important ways. That must be why it didn’t stick.

Kung Fu is different, because it’s not about sculpting myself into a god — although it does feel great to see how abs have appeared out of the formless void of my gut, how my legs have hardened and bulged, all without my particularly thinking about it — but about striving, running the race, learning to move with grace and strength and confidence; and, maybe best of all, doing all these things in the company of others.

Walking into the school today I will say my habitual Hail Mary, a guard against the anxiety that dogs me whenever I’m around more than two other people, and a quick prayer to St. Joseph to look out for me, to silently cheer me on and to infuse my heart with strength, like a good father does. I’ve felt his encouragement more than once, in the middle of a particularly taxing stance, or at the end of the twentieth Temple Punch.

I feel a greater sense of community here than I have at any parish. Does that say more about me, or about the state of the Church? Probably both; or maybe it’s just easier, more natural,2 to feel community with people when you suffer physically with them, when you sweat and groan and laugh together.

But even this takes time. I’m rarely comfortable with people I’ve known for less than a year, or maybe less than five years. Still, I’m more at ease than I was my first class, when I was so nervous and eager to be liked that my smile started hurting. People here are not like the people you meet in most places. They bend over backwards to welcome you, shout encouragement, give you high fives; until you internalize it so you can do it for everyone else.

If it sounds like a class full of little league coaches — well okay, so it’s a chance to be seven years old again, only with significantly less terror and confusion.3

D’oh, it’s time. I’m here an hour early to stretch with the other early birds, because I’ve made an informal promise to myself to get the splits before I turn 30, which leaves me just less than a year. St. J, put your hand on my shoulder — right there, thanks — I’m going in.

1 Not that I don’t love Greene. I just would never, never, never EVER want to be him. Skill and depth and beauty of vision he certainly had, but what an incredibly dismal man.
2 Which is not to say “better”. Natural is the opposite of supernatural, and the supernatural never comes, well, naturally.
3 My main emotional memory of being very young is one of never knowing what the hell was going on.

14 Comments on “Interlude: Kung Fu”

  1. Iggy says:

    Love this post, esp. about the St. Joseph part. Thanks for sharing your hopes and struggles with us, Steve.

  2. Jon. says:

    “They bend over backwards to welcome you, shout encouragement, give you high fives; until you internalize it so you can do it for everyone else.”

    That’s why I love my youth group. That’s why I love the new evangelization.

  3. Aubrey says:

    Thanks for your post. I appreciate your light touch and humor. The Kung Fu sounds like a great way to have fun and make friends.
    One thing about the post puzzled me a bit, though. Is there a suggestion in this post that envy is at the root of SSA? Based on my own personal experience, that does not ring true. I don’t think there is any connection between envy and SSA. I remember experiencing SSA when I was a young child (around the age of 5) and it has always felt like part of me. I may have envied other men at times in my life, but don’t think it explains my SSA. Thanks.

    1. Hi Aubrey,

      Yes, that’s definitely what I am suggesting. I know it might not be true for everyone — I suspect SSA comes in many different flavors — but I know it is true in my case, and true for a lot of the men I know.

  4. Gabriel says:

    I don’t see that envy is a root of SSA, but I can certainly sympathize with first envying, and then rapidly transitioning over to lusting after, an attractive man. Though usually the envy (for me personally) is weak and short-lived; shame is my personal favorite, and lust is partly an anodyne.

    I love the footnote: “My main emotional memory of being very young is one of *never knowing what the hell was going on.*” I felt exactly the same, all the time, and even that wouldn’t have been quite as bad without the creeping suspicion (that, instantly, solidified into a conviction) that everybody else did know except me, that there had been some manual handed out that I’d missed and everyone else memorized. Come to think of it, I used to feel kind of that way around heterosexuals.

    1. Ha, the missing secret manual! Yeah, Gabriel, you nailed it.

  5. Aubrey says:

    Thanks, Gabriel. I like what you wrote, and I can relate to what you said.
    Personally, I think attraction is mysterious. At times, I have been attracted to individuals whom most others would not find very attractive—but there is a certain indefinable quality that makes the person attractive to me.

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  7. Narcissus Goldmund says:

    I told myself I would not comment here anymore, but I have always had a problem with discipline and self-control. Men’s Health, ha, I used to subscribe – it seemed to me the least gay of the fitness magazines and, for better or worse, allowed me to transform myself into someone who gets noticed. But attraction is mysterious. Personally, there are those little attractions: a good looking tan blonde here, that hairy dude with the muscles over there, and even a woman every now and then. They catch your eye but are ephemeral. But the funny thing about the obsessions, the longer crushes, the ones that occupy the fantasy life, the ones i want to save…. they all generally look like me. They could be (the whole? the hetero?) versions of myself.

  8. Sky says:

    “But the funny thing about the obsessions, the longer crushes, the ones that occupy the fantasy life, the ones i want to save…. they all generally look like me. They could be (the whole? the hetero?) versions of myself.”

    WHAM. They either look like me or how I wish I looked. And act how I wish I acted, are good at things I suck at, hold the convictions I can’t quite get right.

    Maybe envy isn’t the root of SSA, exactly, but it’s easy to see they’re linked. We may like dudes but we still *are* dudes. The really powerful attractions are the ones that are mixed: the envy of men and the lust of women.

    I wonder about the guys I find physically (and otherwise) attractive but don’t particularly admire, and conversely, the men I admire but don’t find attractive. I wonder if that’s close to what heterosexual people feel like on a daily basis.

  9. Brandon says:

    Take this for what it’s worth, but I do believe envy has a part to play in SSA (though I don’t think I’d say it is the sole cause of it). I’ve always found it fascinating how when you ask almost any gay guy what it is they find appealing about other men, they almost universally will say that they are drawn to guys who have certain features, qualities, or characteristics which they feel they lack themselves. This isn’t true of all homosexuals, but I have noticed it in the majority who I ever posed the question to. I’ve felt that way myself. Just as an example, I have always been incredibly shy, and have worked hard in the last few years to overcome that. I’ve always been attracted to guys who weren’t afraid to speak up and be themselves around others. I saw in them something I liked, and I liked it because it was something hard for me to do but wished I could do. Not that I was jealous, but there was more of a feeling of admiration.

  10. Paul Delgadillo says:

    I just contacted my spiritual director and he is happy I finally joined the gym. Since I live in a small town, it is easy to get to know everyone and the fact that my Zumba instructor is also the mother of four, soon to be five, and is a member of our parish has been a great incentive for me to show up. My rosary always gets prayed as I meditate and psyche myself up going to the gym, which is a half hour walk along a lake each day. I am finally taking the physical side of my person seriously and it is working. My contemplative life is better. I also take Yoga, fully aware of the Hindu influences, I just Christianize the meditations.

  11. sarah blake says:

    I know this is a very old post but I’ve only just discovered your blog and when I got to the bit about spending your childhood having no idea what was going on, I wanted to say, ‘me, too!’

    1. Sarah: Duly noted and appreciated. Glad you came by.

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