Play, But Play Seriously

Play, But Play Seriously

I woke up yesterday as the early morning light peaked through my window, revealing portentous grey clouds blanketing the sky. Like any Monday, I was less than enthusiastic leaving the comfortable warmth of my bed, but this trivial discomfort would not be the worst part of my day.

Around mid-morning, as I systematically responded to an accumulation of untouched emails from the weekend, my phone gave off a short, spastic vibration notifying me of a freshly pressed email waiting to be read. I unlocked my phone, expecting to see a weekly newsletter or bill notification that one typically receives at the beginning of the work week. Instead I saw an email from my Sifu, Ed Monaghan, with the subject “Sad Announcement.” Like a phone call at 3am, I knew the message before I had finished processing the title.

A week ago Sifu Fran Joseph cancelled her normal Monday night class. Her husband, Sifu Jerry Poteet, an original student of Bruce Lee and considered by many to be the authority of Jeet Kune Do, was in the hospital with a Staph infection. Although in his seventies, the news seemed somewhat normal, having survived two liver transplants and a number of other health issues, so there didn’t seem like great cause for concern. After complications with a biopsy, however, his conditioned worsened and he slowly faded away. Sifu Jerry passed away on Sunday evening, leaving behind a legacy that would have made his teacher proud.

The news still seems surreal. Anyone who had the privilege of knowing Sifu Jerry and feeling his indomitable energy will understand what I mean. His worn physical appearance from years of fighting was deceptive, as anyone foolish enough to challenge him would quickly learn. His spirit was more suited for a body like that of King Leonidas or Herakles, which makes his passing all the more poignant, bringing issues of mortality sharply into focus.

Until yesterday I had decided to move to Orange County in a career move that I thought would be beneficial, but death is an oddly clear lens through which to view things. I realized that my desire to move south is merely a foolish hope to relive the carefree, socially vibrant circumstances I enjoyed while in college, but ultimately I would be doing the same work I am now with a different view. I was going to move because I felt, and still feel, that it’s a safer bet financially, but I’ve realized that mode of thought is why my dad seems to have suffered for so many years in his career. He works harder than anyone I know (I’m not saying that just because he’s my father) and yet I’ve never seen him genuinely smile at the thought of his job. I’ve been in my current occupation for two years now, and finding motivation becomes more difficult each day. Consequently, it would be utterly naive not to explore my other options.

Since college my life has largely revolved around martial arts, and I have the fortunate opportunity to transform a passion of mine into a career. My innate cynicism constantly reminds me of previous failures, but every successful person has to learn from past mistakes and move forward cautiously optimistic. I know that I cannot spend my days sitting in an office, or I will quite literally go insane. When I was discussing the position in Orange County with my potential new boss, he told me that it was important for me to want to help people, that it was just as much a job requirement as knowing how to use a computer. I told him that wasn’t a problem, that I love helping people. With that in mind, however, I think I can help people a lot more through teaching martial arts than through fixing phones. Sifu Jerry’s memory is a testament to the lives he touched, and I hope to follow in his footsteps with even a small fraction of the same tenacity.

After receiving yesterday’s news, I made an extra effort to be in class last night to show my support for Sifu Ed, who was teaching. When I arrived the studio had been decorated for the celebration of Chinese New Year, the upcoming year of the dragon, which is the same year Bruce Lee was born. The bright red and yellow decorations were a sharp juxtaposition to the somber tone of the class, but the picture it painted couldn’t have been more fitting for a man who embodied the admonishment of his teacher: “Play, but play seriously.”


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