This November, after exactly 34 years, to get more floor space, an old wooden wardrobe style cabinet was removed from the kwoon. This cabinet’s time at the Academy pre-dates even Sibok Lloyd and Eric’s time. In our last newsletters, we enclosed Memoir of an Armoire: Part I and Memoir of an Armoire: Part II. Here is Part Three of a Memoir of an Armoire:
During my years as a cabinet in the Kwoon, the instructors and students were present with such consistency. I witnessed a pattern of practice of this activity they called “Kung Fu”. While most days were very routine, there were special events.
Most attended at specific times and days, but once the snow melted, there would be a day that brought out what seemed like everyone at once. They called this day the “Shiai” and it was filled with activity and excitement. Everyone gathered around two of the four squares on the floor (oddly described as “rings”). The Shiai opened with a song (sometimes to lovely live music) and a group “bow” (the move I’ve seen so many times, if I could move, even I would remember to look left). Students would perform for the Sifus, who watched intently, and then, on cue, flashed up numbers. They’d also spar each other, stopping more than normal for the Sifus to flip red and white flags, also on cue. The performers would receive medals of different shades that brought big smiles to their faces.
When the sun started to shine less and the trees started shedding their leaves, another large gathering occurred. On the night before this especially curious event, certain Sifus and students decorated the entire building with a strange assortment of things like pumpkins, chainsaws, skeletons and lights. They’d play music and stay very late, then the next afternoon, many people, mostly kids, would arrive. Normally all wore black pants and a t-shirt, but on this day, there was such variety: long gowns, painted faces, strange hats, props and so on. This was one of the very rare times Sigung wasn’t wearing his black top with white frog buttons. The day was packed with fun and games. People even ate food in the Kwoon (also very rare). In the early years, kids would watch something on the grey box above me, but later on, they shined a much larger moving image onto the big walls. I think they called this big party “Halloween”.
From my corner in the Kwoon, I watched our space change considerably from when I first arrived. Sifus and students would sometimes come in to do things other than hit one another. They did a lot painting and beautiful artwork was hung everywhere. Trophies, posters and plaques came and went, but others kept their spot; notably four above the mirrors that the Sifus refer to quite regularly—I believe they call them “Focus Points”. The younger students raise their hands when asked about them. Not often, but sometimes they shout in unison—something about stances and focusing their eyes, mind and body.
Certain Sifus added wooden structures to the Kwoon; one is along the brick wall and the students use it for balance on slow kicks and stretching. Planks suspend large canvas bags that get struck with such passion and energy. A rack was put in to hold their weapons. I guess I couldn’t house everything this growing group of regulars needed.
One of these “wood working” Sifus would eventually come to have a major impact on my life and role in the Academy, but alas, a story for later.