I miss learning Kung Fu -- thoughts on bodies, violence, and cultural appropriation

I wanted to write a post about how re-watching episodes of Avatar: the Last Airbender have reminded me of how much I liked learning Kung Fu in high school and made me want to look into starting again. But I have a lot of apprehensions about that topic. On the one hand, when I was learning Kung Fu -- and maybe even more so during the couple Tai Chi and Baguazhang classes I took -- I felt more physically connected to, and in control of, my body in a way I hadn't felt before, and can't remember feeling since. Coming from a place of life-long discomfort and self-loathing for my body that I'm only just in the past few years beginning to dismantle, that was an important experience, and while it triggered some cognitive dissonance at the time I think I'm in a much better place now to deal with, learn from, and internalize those feelings.

On the other hand, that dissonance wasn't the only reason I quit. For one thing, my school started reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of every lesson, which creeped me out. But more so, I got more and more uncomfortable with the rationalizations for using violence that we were being taught, in connection with the skills we were learning. We were told it was, morally, okay to return whatever kind of force an attacker brought to a fight -- so if someone attacks you with their fists, you can use your fists to fight back. If someone attacks you with a sword, you can use a sword. Presumably, if someone attacked with a gun, it would be defensible to shoot them under this moral system.

It made me uncomfortable to think that I was being taught to return what would obviously be a disproportionate response of force, assuming (as we were generally taught to assume) that our attacker was less trained than we were. (It was treated as a kind of unspoken assumption that the more martial arts you've learned, the more honorable you'll have learned to be -- therefore, nobody who's really equipped to attack you would ever actually do that.)

At the time, I was totally unaware[1. Edited 6:53 p.m. EDT, 5 June 2014 -- I just noticed I wrote 'aware' here, which made no sense. I'm sure readers could have figured it out from context, but hey, it's one word, and I can fix stuff like that. It's my blog.] of cultural appropriation as a concept, but now that I am aware, it seems to add pretty much only to the con column for taking up martial arts again. It seems to me like it would be problematic to take up a martial art if I'm rejecting the philosophy connected to it -- though, I'm not confident about how culturally consistent the philosophical claims my teachers made were, since they were all white guys -- and I think it's apparent from the first couple paragraphs that my interest isn't deeply rooted in an authentic relationship to Chinese culture.

All that said, European martial arts seem even more uncomfortably nationalist and violent, and I'm too socially anxious to take up dance.