My Martial Art Journey Part 1: Beginning
Why I started learning martial arts
In 1969 as a freshman in high school, I witnessed a friend get beat up by five bullies. In that moment, I decided that I needed to learn a martial art. Not to fight with anyone, but strictly in case I ever had a need to defend myself.
That same evening my father took me to watch a karate class. The moment I entered that school and observed the way of training, I knew I had found my lifelong study and passion!
Passionate about martial arts after all these years
Since that day in 1969, I have practiced martial arts faithfully every day without exception. Martial arts have taken me around the world numerous times, both as teacher and student, and also lead to my decision to become a doctor.
Over the years I was very fortunate to study with many great masters, and to study different forms of martial arts, meditation, qigong, and yoga. Today I focus exclusively on Chen style tai chi as my main form of training. I am still just as enthusiastic and passionate about teaching and my own daily practice as I was 55 years ago!
Benefits from tai chi and other martial arts
Practicing tai chi and other martial arts is a wonderful way to dissolve nervous tension, heal pain and sickness, and reverse many of the symptoms associated with the “normal” process of aging. I believe it is the best way to cultivate vibrant health and to achieve balance in daily life.
Deeper meaning of martial arts
But there is something much more, much deeper about the practice of martial arts than merely as a form of physical exercise or self defense. To the outsider observing tai chi’s gently flowing, continually spiraling, powerful movements, they may feel a sense of awe. To the one immersed in the practice, there is an indescribable feeling of inner balance, harmony, joy, and stillness. A feeling that can not be expressed in words, but must be experienced directly. This only comes from years of daily dedicated practice of this “internal” martial art.
I invite you to experience tai chi’s wonderful benefits for your body, mind, and spirit, and hope to have the opportunity to teach you in one of my Tai Chi Immersions in Costa Rica one day soon!
My Martial Art Journey Part 2: China
Arrival in China: Smiling Jade
I can’t remember if it was a 30 hour or 36 hour flight until I arrived in Zhengzhou. It was nighttime. Jade, the local high school English teacher in Wenxian greeted me at the airport, and escorted me to Master Wang’s school in Chen Village. It was late, around midnight, and everything seemed so foreign. Except the conversation with Jade, who always seemed to be smiling. And she spoke such perfect English!
First impression of Master Wang Xi’an
We went directly to Master Wang’s school in Chen Village, but no Master Wang. Back to Wushu Guan (the martial art training center where I had most of my training with GM Wang) in Wenxian, a large old training center for Master Wang’s students and other Chen teachers that studied with him. It was really late and I was exhausted. Still no sign of Master Wang!
And then, out of the dark, he appeared. Tall and standing very straight I remember, and his movement when he walked was elegant! As if he were floating. He had an entourage of men with him (it was always like this) – about 8 men, all smoking and talking energetically.
Real Chinese food for a vegan
I was taken to eat at a restaurant on the street that was inside a large tent. When we entered, it sure smelled good! Real Chinese food I thought! Then I thought, how am I going to explain that I am vegan, in a country where the people eat everything and anything? After using every Chinese word I knew, and through an interpreter, I got the point across. Master Wang at first seemed shocked, and a moment later nodded OK.
The food kept coming, and it was delicious! One thing I can tell you for sure is, if you’ve never been to China, then you never ate real Chinese food!
My interview with the Master: no extra charge for cigarette smoke
After dinner I was taken to my hotel room where I would be staying the next 6 weeks. With Master Wang and his 8 buddies all still smoking. Sitting on my bed with 8 men smoking. And then, my interview began.
You see, I made this long voyage to learn from Master Wang. But that didn’t mean he would actually teach me! Hence, the interview that would decide if I was worthy of his time and teaching…
He asked a lot of questions (through his interpreter) – what I studied before, with whom,etc When he asked what I wanted to learn, I responded that it was up to him, as he was the teacher, as to what he felt I needed to learn.
His last question I found strange. He asked me if I was a tai chi master. Then he was kind of looking at me out of the corner of his eye, cigarette hanging from his mouth, as if OK, this is the deciding question.
My answer: I said that until then, I had practiced tai chi and other martial arts already every day for more than 30 years. By the standards of where I came from, I had some definite skills. But to refer to myself as a master? I saw no reason why or what purpose it would serve to call myself master, other than to feed my ego or maybe convince others to pay me more to teach them!
That was it. Interview over. The next thing I heard was the interpreter saying, “Teacher Wang will take personal responsibility for your training”. I almost fell on the floor with excitement!
Then he said, “Teacher Wang will instruct you personally 5 hours each day!”
I felt like crying. I passed the interview!
A lifetime dream come true
You see, for someone like me who had dedicated most of my life (since age 15) to the study of martial arts to have the opportunity to learn from a teacher as skilled as Master Wang was literally a dream come true! For years I had dreamed of going to Asia to learn from the masters. And now, here I was, and together with one of the highest skilled tai chi masters alive today. Cigarette smoke and all!
I was instructed to be in the training hall at 9 AM the next morning, ready to start my training.
As exhausted as I was, needless to say, I did not sleep at all that night.
Here is a sample of Grandmaster Wang’s senior trainers performing Chen style tai chi Old Frame Second Routine, also known as Cannon Fist.