AND THEN IT ALL GOT REAL
i can’t help but laugh at my male friends who call up and get my voicemail and then get all squirmy and uncomfortable listening to the message. it happened again last night. this time i asked my friend M what’s up with that? what’s wrong with the message?? “it’s all seductive,” he answered, laughing. i was like “wha??” because it doesn’t sound seductive to me. i was just talking to a mic that was held close to me. the content isn’t suggestive. i wasn’t like “hey girl…slip something into my inbox and i’ll slip something in yours…” or anything. the message is “welcome to the machine. do your thing when you hear the tone” and that’s about it. but i guess i know what they are getting at. i’ve had to make myself shout at Me Gusta when i order cuz the young woman was all “WHAT??” but i don’t really get loud unless my emotion or energy is up for some reason. my natural speaking voice is not brusque, harsh, or loud. it’s just not! i’m not trying to affect any certain sound.
but this is funny, and also indicative of what our society allows of heterosexual men. we are very uncomfortable (american males) with being near another male, touching them (unless coupled with aggressive, macho vocalization or gestures to compensate), any sort of camera gaze that sexualizes them, and—i guess—hearing a male voice that is…what? VELVETY?? i mean i’m laughing just trying to verbalize what’s happening here. basically, i think it gets men so messed up in the head that if they see or hear a male presented outside of a very narrow range of behavior or affect, they are thrown into a realm of confusion…a realm of confusion that never would have existed were men not forcibly shaped over the years to be some unreal caricature.
i remember when i was 21 and answered the phone at my place and it was my girlfriend’s friend’s father who got all weird and asked if i was a “faggot” (to his daughter, not to me directly) for just saying “hello?” !! just the way i said “hello” made him uncomfortable! can you imagine? but yes. this was also how my stepfather was…who gave me such a hard time when i was one of the first in my class (mid 80s!) to get my ear pierced. this was when piercing was NEW for us, younguns! no nipples, lips, scrotum, or eyebrows yet! just getting your damn ear pierced was enough to rock the foundations of convention. and it better be the LEFT ear or you’re…wait for it…a FAGGOT! this is a lot of men in the USA. very, very much a drag! (no pun intended.) very boring. very annoying. very ….weird. but…yanno. i’m just too sexy for my own good is what it comes down to….
anyway, i’m undecided on whether or not to change my voicemail message. for the moment, i think the fellas are just gonna have to deal with it. think about math or something when it’s playing. baseball stats.
a friend called me last night; a fellow Chodanbo. we have both been planning to test in march for our black belts. of course, “planning” is the operative word, here. as i wrote recently, just because you are Chodanbo, have the money for the test, and have put in your requisite minimum of 6 months at Chodanbo rank doesn’t mean you are going to test for black at the soonest date you are eligible to test. you still need to have Master Lee’s approval. he has no problem telling people they have to wait, nor (obviously) should he. it’s very clear that the belt he is most strict about awarding is black. you don’t even get your actual black belt until two months after you pass that test. first you pass (or not), and then he orders it from Kukkiwon (or not). i don’t know if it always was that way. i’ve been in his offices a number of times and there is a stack of black belts that belong to nobody. i asked about those from a friend who works closely with GGM Lee and he told me that those are belts from people that GGM Lee did not feel earned the rank. these days, i know that you basically won’t test unless he feels you are prepared, up to snuff, and have all your teaching and attendance credits in.
so that’s what the call was about. apparently, master lee approached M (my friend) and said something to the effect of “so, you are planning to test in october?” which stung M pretty bad, understandably. if you are expecting to test in two months, hearing that would be a disappointment. (the school has two yearly black belt tests: march and october.) we talked for a while, and i was honest about my thoughts. i won’t share all our conversation, because i’d feel like i was exposing a private exchange, even if i withheld his name. after all, we talked about our training, technique, attitude, dedication, goals…a number of things that are or can be pretty personal. but it did get me thinking about training…about the path to black belt. about what is expected, and what must be given.
as a black belt candidate you are asked to be on top of your game in a few areas. this is not something you run into in life a lot. for a moment or an hour here and there, you will be tested or expected to shine in a physical way, or a mental way, or a spiritual way, but rarely in life, love, or every day activities are you expected to show sustained, demonstrable progress in all three areas at once. and it’s a big demand. and you don’t get there by living your life the way you always do and just adding martial arts in there. it’s not a goal you can take casually. to take martial arts into your heart and give yourself to it in a true way, you must sacrifice. you must find your pain boundaries and step over them. you must find your fear boundaries and leap beyond them. by definition, it’s scary. it’s painful. you are tested many times, on many levels. perhaps the hardest part of it all is that nobody is going to force you. you can walk away at any time. if you want to make it through, you have to force yourself. of course, the flip side of this is the reward. and the reward is greatest in direct proportion to how much you risk and how much you give. and from watching GGM Lee for the time i’ve known him, i’d say that he has a very sharp ability to see your potential. if someone is doing their best, and can do no better, he will look well upon that. even if their best is not the best technique a person could theoretically have. but if you are not trying your hardest, giving it your all, or taking it casually in any way, he will know that. and he will not be thrilled about it. this can be a wake up call to those types of people who are used to excelling without trying too hard. but i think it would be a good wake up call. i mean this is the idea of martial arts. you hew and carve away all the nonsense and dead weight from your being. not your body, necessarily (tho that will make your workout a lot more effective and your technique better), but your mind. the excuses, the laziness, the shortcuts, the old thoughts….”come to me as an empty bowl” say many masters from the east. maybe i’m lucky because i was raised with this philosophy, as my family’s spirituality is very steeped in Hinduism. i understand this requirement; i understand well that to truly learn from a master, you must shed yourself of defenses and busymindedness and notions upon notions, and simply make yourself available to be taught.
and this means humility. this means vulnerability. this means commitment. these things are not easy. a lot of that depends on why you came to martial arts. what you are looking for. how much you trust your master. what you get out of it. what you want out of it.
the bottom line is i have no idea of GGM Lee’s evaluation of any of us. i don’t know his thoughts, and i don’t know all the reasons why my friend was given a heavy suggestion to wait until october to test (tho i know he puts a lot of hours into his job, and while that’s a real need in this life, it means you aren’t giving that time to training). nor is it my business. but it certainly did a couple things for me. one was a prod: stay on your game! it let me know that those eyes i’ve been feeling on me at various times were not hallucinations! they were GGML and his close instructors watching and evaluating. not that this takes me by surprise. i’ve known that, and written as much, here. ever since turning red belt, the scrutiny notches up. and Chodanbo–by definition–means you are under the red hot glare.
and to be honest, the other thing it did was give me a feeling of great relief. for i know i’m on the right track. all master lee said to me yesterday was “nice haircut!” with a smile, as i bowed in greeting. that made me smile, too, because…well. my haircut? the same one i’ve had since april of last year; the same haircut i’ve been giving myself about every week since i first decided to lean in on my training in preparation for black belt. the same one i gave myself when i knew i wanted no more energy drained from my training and funneled into distraction on maintaining my appearance: a shaved head. which i will keep until i test. and maybe after that, i’ll see what it’s like to have hair again. for now it’s a great joy to not have the consideration in my life. no worry about hair, drying, washing, frizz, length, blah, blah, blah, blah. no more frustrated glances in the dojang mirror because my hair is matted, sweaty, or in my face.
plus, i can gently stroke my scalp while i record my voicemail message and it makes me all goose-bumpy. O!