Jeremiah Savage is testing with my teacher Sifu Brown for black sash. It’s a very rare and special occasion, so some of the staff at our dojo and I are flying to Michigan to take part in the ceremony. Jeremiah and I began practicing with Sifu Brown at around the same time, so I have known him for nearly 20 years. He is an excellent martial artist, wonderful father and all-round inspirational human. I consider him, like the other black sashes, a friend and kung fu brother.
I don’t remember where I first heard the term kung fu brother, but my fuzzy memory tells me it was in a Jackie Chan movie. He was talking about one of the other main characters in the film, possibly played by Sammo Hung, who was his friend and fellow student of their teacher. They likely ended up fighting off hundreds of bad guys and saving the day.
While Savage and I have never stood back to back fighting off mobs of attackers, we have definitely been in the same room fighting (often each other) hundreds, maybe thousands of times. This creates a special kind of bond. I often refer to the horrors of practicing martial arts; the challenges that forge us. However, practice is also filled with many more fun experiences that also transform us. Savage has been a part of many of these.
Kung Fu brother challenge
Years ago, Savage, Sifu Donahue and I decided to lay down the gauntlet. All three of us had a goal of becoming more flexible. We placed a friendly wager on who could make the most progress in the splits over a certain amount of time (I want to say a few months). The losers would have to do 1,000 pushups, 1,000 situps and 1,000 squats in a single day, while the winner would be spared. We took our initial measurements, then got to work. Every day I came to class, I would see Savage off to the side, stretching. That lit a fire under my butt and made me stretch even more. Every day I stretched, knowing that he was doing the same. And I made progress, centimeter by centimeter. At the end, we all gathered in the dojo and measured to see who would be spending a day in agony. I, of course, had made the most progress, buoyed by the efforts of my kung fu brothers. Yet Savage and Sifu Donahue weren’t done challenging me. They said I must have sandbagged my initial measurement. For my own good, they guilted me into joining them in the day of strengthening. My ego assented.
This is what a kung fu brother does. He has your back against a gang of attackers (sometimes in the dojo he is with you facing off the gang on the other side of the room). But he also challenges you (he may be in that other gang, possibly holding a weapon of some kind). He knocks you down and picks you up. Sometimes he smiles while he punches you. Both of you smile at the end, and look forward to the next time you meet.
This is a unique relationship, nearly as important as the one between student-teacher. Without our kung fu brothers and sisters, practice would not be the same, and neither would we.