Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Update No. 2: 9/19/2016

Had I posted this entry this past Friday, I would have told you it's been two weeks since I've been here, but it feels like more than a month! My body was tired and my mind full with all that I've learned and experienced in such a short period of time. It's been intense and I'm so glad I invested in the hours of conditioning for the ten months prior to arriving here. Added to that has been the real process of acclimating to a new lifestyle, other peoples' energies, and the time change as well.

However, today is the first day of my third week here and having enjoyed a real day's physical rest yesterday, I feel like I've finally begun to find my own rhythm amidst the busy training schedule we have. Oh, and then there are the scheduled chores and responsibilities we all have: caring for and feeding the numerous hens that provide us with at least thirty fresh eggs every day; harvesting the vegetables from the raised garden beds (you name it, Dr. Yang is growing it); maintaining the property and facilities; weekly cooking duties (e each pair up and cook lunch and dinner once weekly for everyone).

In the 3-Year Training Program, I am the most senior member. Close in age is Jamie from New Zealand. Then there is Declan in his mid forties from Canada, Colin from Ohio, Collin from Oregon, and Nona from California all in their thirties. We're an interesting and diverse group with various levels of exposure in the martial arts, Qigong, and life experience. Jamie owned and operated a small family farm and is the go to person for all things green here. He and Nona also are avid bakers making zucchini bread and sourdough breads and Jamie has twice made everyone ice cream (vanilla and strawberry) from scratch.

Our group is primarily taught by Frank who is from Switzerland and an excellent and patient teacher. I truly respect his Taijiquan skills and ability to transmit those to each person at their level of understanding. And the training has been intense. Were it not for my conditioning, it would be challenging to keep up with the daily demands physically. Not so much because it's arduous, but more because the fundamentals of learning Taijiquan correctly require a unique awareness and use of one's joints, tendons, and muscles; especially the spine, hips, legs, ankles, and feet.

You know, it's always interesting to me to be at the stage of learning something as if for the first time even though I may have maple previous experience. In that sense, my training experience these past nineteen days have been at one and the same time exhilarating and frustrating. Exhilarating when I've experienced breakthroughs in how my body finally 'gets it'. Frustrating when my body and mind don't seem to cooperate with one another. It's short lived and requires woodshedding which is a time honored formula for being on the road to self mastery...

Monday and Friday mornings at 7:10 are "Squat Days" where we focus on strengthening the legs using just your body weight before continuing the remainder of the training schedule. I made a personal commitment two weeks ago to do two hundred squats every day in addition to whatever other routines and conditioning. To date, I've been able to keep that commitment and have experienced a radical shift in strength, mobility, and flexibility.

The most notable experience I've had in my training so far has been the keen awareness of how much tension I carry in my body. That's relevant from my growing understanding of what's required to execute Taijiquan effectively at it's highest level where it is said, "If you move, I move first." The ability to transition in the face of pressure from an opponent, without thinking about doing so, between the substantial and insubstantial is a major KEY in effectively executing applications. Given my long history of accommodating to physical pain as well as emotional tension, it shows up in many of the drills we do every day. I can say that with continued practice I'm confident I can learn to let go and dissolve those habitual patterns...

Each day here is a blessing. The weather is typically cold at night and early morning, but sunny during late morning and afternoon. Aside from the hens that have the run of the property during the day, there are families of deer, and wild turkeys that come and go as they please during the day. Each morning, both roosters awaken everyone and strut with their proud chests ahead of themselves.

Let me not forget to mention Dr. Yang. He supervises the training mostly in late morning and early afternoon. He looks and looks and when it's needed, says a sentence or two and might even demonstrate. In that brief exchange, their is an encyclopedia of wisdom he transfers to you. He's mentioned three things to me that have made a dramatic change in my form and application. After he speaks, he typically goes to the garden to pick veggies...

Eggs I gathered from the chicken coop tonight; zucchini flower from a garden bed near the main house
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Thank you!

I finally arrived at the YMAA Retreat Center (https://ymaa-retreatcenter.org/about) this past Tuesday! I sincerely thank each of you who made this opportunity possible for me to take advantage of through your financial and/or moral support. Being here is truly a once-in-a lifetime experience--to study under the daily guidance of an acknowledged Grandmaster, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. I dreamed of this type of training for so long in my life and now, in my senior years, I've been blessed with this gift.

Of the 16 candidates that applied for the 3-Year Program, 6 of us were selected (5 men and 1 woman). Our training officially began on Thursday at 6am with an hour of meditation. The 3 days since then have been full with physical training, discussions and reading, and chores. It's only the beginning of a long journey of self-discovery and cultivation, but I'm clear that this is where I needed to be for this stage of my development in the healing arts that my father introduced me to so many years ago.

I will keep you apprised of my experiences through periodic posts in this blog. You can check in whenever you desire and post your comments and insights or questions. Our training schedule is very robust and most days it appears Ill be ready to call it a night by 9pm. If it takes me a minute to reply to your posts or questions, I hope you'll be patient with me.

Be well,

Meditation Gazebo southwest slope
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine