Do you, your teachers, or students suffer from sifu or guru voice?
As we ease into the holiday weekend, now may be the perfect time to meet your martial arts community in a more social setting: watching fireworks, or eating chicken wings or quinoa salad. And in this setting, do people still talk like Kwai Chang Caine?
You find them in every walk of life, but primarily life coaches, spiritual advisors, yoga teachers, and of course the ubiquitous kung fu sifu. They must have a hard time breathing because their voice goes up a few tones and down a few decibels whenever they think someone may be listening, as if the power of their wisdom or chi may blow a hole through you if they’re not careful. It’s not just about pitch or rhythm; it’s a whole attitude and act that you can feel in your bones.
Now I’m happy to be educated on this, but the gay speech affectation has many possible sources that I can sympathize with, from seeking community to identity to self esteem and acceptance. Assuming it’s not genetic, in a better world it would be primarily be a voluntary aesthetic at most. But with the things they’re seeking and dealing with, you can’t help but get a pass whether it annoys you or not. Even valley-girl voice has at its core some misguided motivation to please, fit in, and smooth out the social dynamics.
But what is guru voice all about? I have some sympathy with the insecurity, search for identity, and genuine desire to help that underlies part of it, but when utilized by anyone who also seems to have no problem putting themselves out there as an expert or educator, it’s not only annoying but goddamn stupid. If they’re not actively trying to con people, best case is they’re horribly un-self-aware as well as emotional cowards.
Wisdom doesn’t come from talking wisely anymore than acting helped Val Kilmer learn how to calculate Einstein coefficients. And no, this is NOT a time when faking it until you make it works, because no part of wisdom ever involves talking like a spaced-out hippie.
Now, some people have a similar speech rhythm because they’re either very deliberate speakers or just socially awkward. Many shy people seek out martial arts and other disciplines but are still comfortable with a more quiet speech pattern even after they have gained some of the confidence they were seeking. But the kind of person who can have a genuine belly laugh but then breaks Michael Jackson when they see you come in? Or talking about baseball in normal voice, but then the high-stress giving advice switch flicks on? If they don’t want to engage like a real human, fuck ’em.
Shy people can speak with authority. So if someone can’t carry on a casual conversation with less pretension than Elon Musk can give a speech about changing how we generate, store, and utilize power, they have no business giving advice on life and behaviour, even if perfectly qualified to correct your numerado.
And to get a little meta here, it’s kind of racist to adopt a speech pattern of someone who doesn’t speak English at a native level. Everything from Orientalism to code switching to post-Colonialism to identity politics and fetishization can be thrown at such behaviour. Don’t know what those things are? Then you’re not fucking wise enough to be speaking like that.
Oh, and I suppose that I should take a moment to remind that martial arts does not grant wisdom. It may be part of your overall tool box and even be a vehicle for your journey. But even if it’s a large part of your life, if it’s a large part of your wisdom, you have no idea how ignorant you are.
So take this holiday season to pat your friend or teacher on the back over a hot dog, and tell them that you’ll still accept them if they try to grow up.