|Play Recedes with Adulthood|
I’m currently hosting an ancient martial arts Master. He resents being stuck with a low-talent beginner, especially a woman. He says I’m no fun, pent up, and not a natural. In retaliation, I point out that he must have earned me, so he should be grateful for the opportunity to learn what I have to teach. He harrumphs.
He was the Laughing Master, he shares, though the only humour he’s ever shown me has been at my expense. One thing's for sure: he's pretty serious about being ridiculous.
MAKE NOISE! The Master decrees. I do not want to make noise. He prefers a deep, throaty Kiai, a death growl that isn’t, which sounds to me only like a silly girl trying to imitate a man’s sound. He wants me to yowl, howl, hiss and growl to add power to my strikes. (I feel like an idiot.)
MAKE FACES! The Master demands. Wide eyes, screwed up nose, teeth bared, nostrils flared – comic faces, extreme and grotesque. Appear slightly mad, he insists. When you make unexpected sounds and distracting faces, you take your opponent off-balance. You separate his energy. Your face is a frightening, changing mask, an integral part of your strike. Let the strike make the face. (I have no idea what that means.)
LAUGH! The Master commands. You find it funny to be forced to fight. It is funny! Laugh like it’s your privilege to be alive in a body in motion. It is your privilege! Your laugh creates anxiety for an opponent. What is she laughing at? Why is she not afraid? The aggressor loses focus. Laugh when you achieve a strike, laugh when you miss. Laugh when you win and when you writhe on the floor. Liberate your laughter, child. (I anxiously giggle.)
I wish I could give him what he wants. I try. He's right - I am pent up. I'm working on loosening the screws I tightened for years with all my might. I'm trying to re-learn how to be playful with my own body. In the meantime, I suggest, he will just have to find me funny. The Master replies that when I can find myself funny, perhaps I will progress. Until then, he deadpans, fake it.
I’m sure he’s right. I force myself to smile in the mirror. And begin again.