Old School

by Jinryu

Before reading the Gospel at a Catholic mass celebration, a priest or deacon usually makes a three part sign with his dominant hand– he draws a cross on his forehead, his mouth, and then on his chest.  The significance of this is a reminder that the Word of God be on our minds, in that we must be consciously intellectually engaged with the Word; it should be on our lips, in that we must spread the Word to others and not be afraid to profess our beliefs; it ought to be in our hearts, such that we genuinely feel an emotional and spiritual connection that must be nourished.

Though this is a ritual of Catholics, the Word has throughout history been preached in a number of differint ways for different beliefs.  I like the greek word “logos” which refers to some transcendant word, or purpose.  But you could just as easily substitute it for the words “passion,” or “love.”  Anything that engages a person on all levels at once.

There are various interpretations of this idea, and you’ll find them all over the place.

Mr. Kesuke Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. [laughs; then, seriously] Daniel-san, karate here. [taps his head] Karate here. [taps his heart] Karate never here. [points to his belt] Understand?

An alignment of one’s being comes with different names: moxy, grit, substance, gung-fu, etc.  When someone is of that state of being, one where everything about them has been put behind a singular goal, there is a certain aura about these people that is at once both amazing and frightening.

While I was in Malaysia with [CM], I got to meet a lot of her family, and by far the member of the clan who left the most lasting impression was her grandmother.  I’m not sure of her age– probably over 80.  But from the moment she started talking in Cantonese, I could tell there was something to her that was out of the ordinary.

One of the things that’s a bit quirky about me is that I tend to be kind of bad at facial recognition– however, I tend to pay a lot of attention to body language, and that’s usually the primary means of how I remember people.  I tend to get the hang of peoples’ faces significantly after I’ve gotten used to the mechanics of movements.  Most people tend to have movements within a range of very common traits. For example, many people will shuffle while walking, will slouch while standing/sitting, will rock on their heels when stationary, etc.  Though there are a lot of little traits on the list, a lot of them are reused, and people tend to be defined by the particular combinations of these common factors.

There are, however, a number of uncommon factors that some  people display.

In the case of CM’s grandmother, it was the way that she moved her hands.  Most people do not use slow, circular movements with their hands to demonstrate things at about chest level.  For most people, bringing their hands up this high in everyday life is simply uncommon… and thus, it makes them uncomfortable.  Yes, people point fingers at people.  Yes, some people wave their hands or make agressive gestures.  But when’s the last time you saw someone make slow, measured, fluid, demonstrative movements with their hands?

The thing about body language is that oftentimes, its a much more accurate way of assessing someone’s personality than what they say or what they wear.  People can chose their words differently, and people can wear different clothes, but body language is harder to fake– and when people do so, you can usually sense their tension.

CM’s mom was the matriarch of the best noodle restaurant in a village in China when her husband passed away.  As far as I can tell, her life is closely related to cooking.  It’s not everyday that you meet someone who easily dismisses Hong Kong food as being garbage– it’s a high standard indeed I think!  I don’t know much about making noodles, but from what I understand, it’s extremely labour intensive.  The techniques involved thus involve a fair amount of working-skill– gung fu, if you will– and like all working skills that are honed long enough, it affects a person’s body mechanics even outside of their job.  Thus, decades after retirement, CM’s grandmother still moves her hands with the authority of a noodle master.

When you’re cutting a carrot, experience will make it so that you tend not to lift the knife more than you need to to deliver the chop.  Lift too much, and you’re wasting energy building up momentum that you’ll have to counter before you can chop downwards.  Lift too little, and you won’t be able to use the weight of the knife to drive through what you’re cutting, and you’ll use more muscle than you need to ‘push’ the knife through the carrot rather than ‘chop’

So basically, if you get good at a movment, it’s fluid, and it’s direct.  There is less hesitation, more economy of motion.  It automatically exerts the right amount of energy.  It is simply a right movement.

I guess it’s just interesting to see someone who has the ability to make such an uncommon right movement. It was really fascinating– whenever she was talking, I was hypnotized by her hands.

Perhaps that’s what we all ought to aspire to.  While I’m sure that being a noodlemaster isn’t without it’s challenges or dissapointments, isn’t the idea of being so great at something that you carry a defining aura, an unmistakable substance to your being, just by saying a few words?  Maybe that’s where something really old school, some sort of courage to just do something that you feel in your heart is what you ought to be doing, something that’s on your mind, in your actions, and fueled by your spirit… That’s only achieved by being totally permeated with the is-ness of something.