Last week I returned from China, where I was training my arse off for 40 days.
I was learning a different style of tai chi… one that hardly anyone outside of the small village I was staying in, has ever heard of, much less seen or practiced.
Turns out this style is what I’ve always wanted. It’s totally badass. Every movement has a ferocious fighting application, and you begin learning these applications along with the form almost immediately – not after 10 years of practicing nothing but forms.
Master Wang, my teacher, although over 60 years of age, could easily pick me up and launch me. Not only is he older than me (chronologically), he is also shorter and weighs substantially less.
None of this matters.
In a calm, relaxed manner, he would ask me to grab him. Then he’d say, “You are very strong. You are much stronger than I am.”
What followed was pure pain.
Master Wang is Old School. That’s what I prefer.
But here’s how “old school” looks in China.
1. If my leg is in the wrong position, he would tell me… once. After the first offense, pain became the teacher. Master Wang would kick my foot or my leg, instantly positioning it the correct way.
2. If my wrists got lazy, he would either joint lock me or slap my hand in a way that hurt all the way to the elbow.
3. He never verbally complimented me. Not one time. The closest was a “thumbs up” when I started to get the main idea of a certain complicated move. A week later, when I thought I had the move down, at least compared to the first day, I was shown other details that I wasn’t entitled to earlier.
4. He loved to learn new things, laugh and joke around. The smallest things, such as teaching him how to say, “Morning,” instead of “Goo-duh morning,” made him smile.
5. After class we’d sit and eat while he transmitted the essentials of the art.
6. At least once a week Master Wang would go off, telling me I was practicing very badly. This was designed to keep the ego in check. No matter how much progress was made, I was reminded that there’s a lot further to go.
Overall, the training was physically, psychologically and neurologically grueling. Much of the time, my life was little more than training, sleeping and eating.
In many ways, I was all alone. No one to speak English with. No other Americans or foreigners.
At times I fought with feelings of loneliness; something I never felt before. At least NOT at the level I experienced it. This gave me an entirely new experience, something beyond the platitudes. It gave me greater empathy for those who’ve felt lonely after the death of a loved one.
“What in the hell are you doing this for?” crossed my mind a few times. But each and every time I reminded myself that this is what I wanted… and what I still want. Suck it up. Learn to enjoy it.
I’m grateful that my wife and children are supportive of the excursions I take each year. As great as the voyages are for me, I also treasure getting off the plane in Tampa and seeing them in the wings, waiting for me.
And you can bet that I’m passing on what I learned to my children, so long as they want to learn. The benefits of this particular style are off the charts. They are truly badass.
Whether you’re an athlete or a dancer or a person who wants to kick azz – you can look forward to some big reveals from me in the future.
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