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.