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The Red Dress Club has introduced a memoir writing day, which is awesome. This weeks memoir prompt was:

This week, we want you to imagine that after you have died and your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.

Let’s have a maximum word count of 700 words for this post.

Once I open the door to the building the dusty smell of a freshly swept room assaults my nostrils. This is not like the Kung Fu Schools in the movies. This is no majestic temple, or floor to ceiling glassed in gym. As I head up the tenuously attached metal stairs I find it comforting somehow that in the real world Kung Fu schools flourish in any nook and cranny where they can afford the floor space. The hallway walls that were once red have now faded to rust. The ceilings are surprising tall and as I climb to the second landing I see a large plaster Jesus prominently displayed in an alcove several sizes to large for him.

“One floor above the Jesus,” is what my friend Chryse says who trains here, now I know why.

As I reach the second floor I hear the coordinated shifting of feet and the sound of “Hip…Quah” in unison and I know exactly what exercise they are doing. Standing outside the doorway waiting I struggle to get a handle on my nerves. I try to calm myself down, “Stop it. You know the form. Go through the moves one more time in your head. You are going to be fine. Calm the fuck down.”

I have to wonder what kind of 39-year-old woman stands in a hallway with her heart in her throat and her pulse thumping in her temples, voluntarily. When the class is over I enter, bowing to the altar, my Si-gung (my teacher’s teacher), my Si-fu (my teacher) and smell the familiar smell of sweat, concentration and something much more ancient. The floors are a dark cherry colored wood, the walls are white-painted dry wall and one of them is covered in mirrors. Hanging on the far back wall are weapons, things I am years away from learning. This space is a hidden gem in a building that is ready to stop standing.

20 years after my first self-defense class I am here to take my first Kung Fu test. I have been studying for a year. Being my Si-fu’s first independent student, the first one he has trained from day one outside his school is adding pressure that I am going to let him down. It is time. I take a deep breath and begin.

“My name is Jennifer Dillon. I am here to test for Gung Gee Kuen. I study at the South Park Slope branch. My Sifu is Mark Yarrobino. My family tree is…” and I list the nine names of the Sifu’s who came before mine, “May I begin?”

A thousand times Jennifer, you’ve done this a thousand times.

I start out strong. Then I make my first mistake. It’s a small one, but then there is another and another. I panic as I feel my form slipping away from me. I don’t stop, I keep going, but my nerves have separated my mind from my body, it’s agonizingly frustrating.  Finally, I finish and though I don’t say it out loud all I want to say is, “I’m sorry and can I do that again now that I’m pissed rather than nervous?” But there are no do overs in Kung Fu, like there aren’t in life.

Instead, I close my eyes for a second to remember that for 20 years I have wanted to study a martial art so that I can teach self-defense to other women, helping them to be strong, powerful and less afraid. I focus on the fact that a year ago I couldn’t do 20 sit-ups and now I do 300 daily. I remind myself that Kung Fu is reconnecting me to my body and spirit in a way that I sorely needed and that my Kung Fu friendships are some of the strongest I have. Moreover, I know now that it is never too late to realize a dream, even if it doesn’t quite turn out the way you expect. Realizing our dreams keeps the fire of our lives burning. Never stop stoking, learning, or reaching. I open my eyes and am for the first time all day calm and proud.