We had had a grading a week or so before. Tonight was the night when new sashes were to be presented. Everyone is looking sharp in precise lines in their black cotton uniforms, all sashes and frog buttons correctly fastened. The student body treating the moment with the gravitas it deserved, as we all hope to make that jump to a higher frequency and level up. Faces wear appropriate expressions of utmost seriousness. We had already been through a half hour of hard callisthenics, ran three times around a large city block in black uniforms and bare feet, and followed that up with forty-five minutes of intense technical practice.
Because no one would disrespectful or dumb enough to just front up at the end of class and expect to get his new sash handed to him. Would he?
The Sifu begins delivering the generic lecture regarding the virtues of hard work and consistency., to set the tone for the grading, how pleased he was with our attitude, how we all tried very hard but cannot afford to rest on our laurels, slack off, get a big head, etc. etc.
About ninety seconds into this sermon. Les arrives, ready for the sash ceremony. In street clothes. He takes a seat on a visitor’s chair, looks around briefly, then pulls a folded copy of the tabloid-sized Rugby League Week magazine from his bag, unfolds it, and begins catching up on last week’s footy scores and ex-player analysis. Feet spread, elbows on knees, eyes only for the print on the page. Multitasking, making the most of his short time on the planet.
The entire class is sniggering. Some people are shaking with silent laughter they are having trouble containing. Others stare, open mouthed., mistrusting the evidence of their eyes.
The Sifu sees the joke, and keeps on with his speech, hardly missing a beat. Soon, he starts handing out the lower level sashes.
Les keeps reading, concentrating intently on the articles before him.
Kurt telling it like it is
The Sifu calls out Les’s name. A murmur travels through the student body like a Mexican Wave.
Les does not respond. He appears engrossed in the finer points of adversarial expert argument over a disallowed try between the Roosters and the Sharks that occurred the Sunday before.
The room is silent. All eyes are on Les. The tension is palpable.
Les looks up, realises he is the centre of attention. He gives no indication whatsoever that he realises his behaviour might seem unusual to others present.
The copy of Rugby League Week is quickly stuffed back into the bag from whence it came. Les jumps up from his chair in street clothes and stocking feet and goes up to the Sifu.
The Sifu plays it straight. “Glad you made the effort to be here,” he says.
Les bows, takes his new sash, goes back to his chair, stuffs the new sash in his bag, picks up the bag and walks straight out the door - and into Kwoon legend from that day forward.
Everyone laughs. The tension breaks.
The ceremony continues. Surprisingly, most of the gravitas has vanished.