Kung Fu Cults and Other Clubs



Some invitations I’m glad I rejected.

Some years ago, my friend A— and I joined a kung fu studio.  We were roommates at the time, and had decided we wanted to do something more fun and physically demanding than Latin grammar.  The studio was just down the street from where we lived in Toronto, very convenient, not too expensive for a martial arts studio.  I enjoyed it and liked most of the people.  Nevertheless, after six or seven months we quit.

I was leaving for the summer; A— was moving to Japan; for both of us the expense had started to pinch.  We also shared a certain distaste for the culture of that studio.  We joked that it was something of a personality cult, focussed on the founder (who had a complicated back story involving his escape from the Hitler Youth, somehow ending up in western China).  There was also a sense that we were being drawn into something that wasn’t just a kung fu studio but a way of life, that I found vaguely worrisome.

About a year and a half later I decided I’d like to go back, that the expense wasn’t too much (especially compared to other places) and the minor esotericism and cultishness probably a result of A— and I not being the best of states that year.  I was no longer living just down the street, so I looked up their website to check times and prices.

It was gone.

I thought this odd, and investigated further.  Eventually I discovered that the studio had been closed down a few months after we’d stopped going because it really was a cult.

When A— and I finally stopped laughing, we congratulated ourselves on our perspicacity in evading being drawn too far into the pyramid scheme aspects of it, and wear it as a certain badge of honour that we once (however inadvertently) joined a cult — and then left.

I’m still trying to work out that inner distastefulness I found in it, something I’ve found in other clubs that were a little too devoted to being the inner circle for me.  There are many movements and ideals I favour, but something inward prevents me from ever quite joining: I don’t like being required to circumscribe my being in their rules.  It’s a discomfort similar, in an odd way, to hatred; there’s always a sense that one ought not to indulge in the feeling because its object is not appropriate.  It’s somehow off.  Religions claim to be appropriate clubs — I am a religious person; I find this difficult — and yet.  And yet I resist any earthly swallowing-up,anything pretending (however obviously, however secretly) to be the whole way.

Is this because I am incapable of commitment?  Because I was never part of the cool groups growing up?  Perhaps.  I’ve always been a come-from-away.  I yearn for the way in to the City, but don’t really like anyone else’s route.  I’m also not very good at forming clubs; a puzzle.

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7 thoughts on “Kung Fu Cults and Other Clubs

  1. On one level (not the one you’re primarily addressing, but it’s what occurs to me) I think what you describe here is the natural response of the person with many interests to the idea of being pinned down or defined by only one pursuit. “Swallowing-up” is a good way of putting it. I don’t think it’s a resistance to commitment so much as a desire to explore more of the City (if I may borrow that metaphor) than the narrow focus of obsession or esotericism would allow.

    The connection with religion is interesting; I’m still thinking about that. Do you mean that you find this aspect of religion difficult, or that you don’t, and that’s surprising? (Did that make any sense?)

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  2. I think what I mean with religion is that, while I feel part of the grand community — the City — sometimes I find the immanent particular versions of it a little too club-like, and I resist. I can’t quite decide whether that’s a good response or not; sometimes I go deeper in, sometimes I back out. It’s not quite sampling, but something more like getting used to cold water when swimming. I’m still deciding whether I’m quite ready to go under, getting used to the water round my knees — even in a case where I’ve intellectually decided that this is, indeed, an appropriate body of water in which to swim. There’s always still the possibility of bad currents.

    The point about disliking the prospect of being tied down to one pursuit is a good one. I think that’s definitely part of this: the idea that something human and limited can possibly try to claim my entire being for their own. (As some of the more cultish clubs definitely suggest by their actions and atmosphere, even when it’s certainly not at all deliberate — I am reminded now of a high school band director who seemed to feel that anyone in the band should be delighted to devote his entire existence to it.) There’s something in me that is repulsed by its being too thin, as it were, too little. The ambit is too small.

    Obviously lots of stuff to keep thinking about.

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  3. I have to agree. I think part of what you are feeling/describing is an awareness of the ‘closed’ nature of certain clubs/groups. Any closed social group is not merely a cult but more importantly, a dangerous situation for an individual.

    When the group is closed, there is no recourse (emotionally and socially) when the group becomes dysfunctional. An individual with no recourse outside the group, cannot choose to leave the group.

    As to religion, I think it is important to remember to maintain a certain awareness of the constructed aspect of religious law. That prevents you from being sucked in to a world where there is only one way of living or thinking.

    Just some random thought from a religious studies major with a special affection??? for cults.

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  4. @ Tory: Thanks for stopping by! You get the distinction of being the first stranger to stop by and comment — thank you very much.

    I think it is the closing-in, as you suggest, that (legitimately) puts me off. It’s not that the club is necessarily dysfunctional now, just that, if it were to become so, there would be nowhere to go. This is something, I have no doubt, that unscrupulous leaders use to their advantage. I always remember watching the Hitler propaganda movie, “Triumph of the Will,” in university, and thinking how hard I would have found it not to be drawn in to the spectacle, but instead see through to the spectacle.

    As for the constructed aspect of religious law: yes, that’s very true. I tend to remember that better some times than others! I know enough history to know how dangerous, and dangerously seductive, those claims can be, to the individual and the community. Even after becoming willing to grant the existence of the revelation, it’s still incumbent on us, I think, to think long and hard about how we interpret that revelation in our lives.

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