Sunday, December 10, 2017

Still Here...

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart

I'm still here... and preparing to leave "the mountain" once again. For all intents and purposes, this first semester is done. The day after tomorrow will be our final oral Qigong examination with Dr. Yang and Friday is the official last day of training.

I am so looking forward to soaking in a hot bath with Epsom Salts and essential oils! Here, we are limited to maximum 6 minute showers and/or doing a sauna (only if there are a minimum 3 people who want to sauna at the same time). My joints and muscles need more care and time for recovery than what a 6 minute shower or weekly sauna will ever offer ...

While the sky is cloudless today allowing the sun to shine brightly, it is pretty chilly outside (38F). We haven't gotten the usual amount of rain for this time of year either. By now, you must be aware of the recent new surge of fires ravaging Southern California as a result. Thankfully, we are far north of those fires.

I can imagine in ancient times, when bare hand and weapons' fighting skills easily determined whether you lived or died, that training in the cold may have been a minor distraction. For me however, once my feet get too cold, not only is it a distraction, it also becomes painful. I appreciate the potential hardiness that training in cold, wet weather confers, but it "ain't no fun..."

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart
You ever have that "feeling" that grabs your awareness and makes you move contrary to how your conscious mind prefers? For me, it's a feeling around the back of my neck and the base of my skull--like an itch/tingle. When that happens, I've learned to pay attention because something important and revelatory is about to occur. Early one morning about two weeks ago as I passed by the trampoline, it happened. Now, I've passed by that trampoline every time since I've been here. I've seen other students on it jumping and tumbling as well. Not once has it ever attracted my interest or attention. In fact, I've never been on a trampoline in my life. The closest I was to one was back in 1966 in the gym at DeWitt Clinton High School. Even then, I didn't get on it. I preferred the parallel bars and climbing the vertical rope.

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart
That morning, two weeks ago, I felt compelled to get on the trampoline. So I was obedient and nervously clambered up there. I felt wobbly at first and then it happened. I didn't jump up an down like I've seen others do, but instead felt how the surface of the trampoline gave way under my weight as I moved about. It felt like walking underneath myself. I got so excited because this was a visceral feeling of connecting to the ever-elusive roots mentioned in Taijiquan training. By deliberately pressing downward into the trampoline and it giving way, I experienced the joint spaces in my ankles and knees like never before. In fact, my overall stance was lower and my mobility in that stance was softer, more graceful, and free of the typical discomfort I feel doing so on the ground, pavement, or bricks. This was amazing to me because it has always been a physical struggle to get lower, still move with ease, and feel grounded! I knew that I had been gifted with a KEY that morning and immediately shared it with my classmates to confirm its universal applicability. Most agreed that this revelation was valid. I've seen them since then moving on the trampoline; even doing centering partner exercises on it.

Dr. Yang mentioned that part of traditional White Crane martial arts training is done while standing on rafts and/or logs on water. There you cultivate the ability to maintain exquisite balance while generating your power from the waist rather the feet and legs as in Taijiquan. Being on the trampoline has given me an inkling of what that process and experience might be.

I use the trampoline on a daily basis now. Rather than jumping up into the air from it, I focus on pushing down through it deliberately and slowly. It's helped me become aware of my psoas muscles and how they assist in generating power through my legs. My ankles, knees and hips are becoming more fluid, too. And, my legs have gotten stronger. I'll do upwards of 800 to 1000 repetitions on it and have recently included doing the Soft White Crane Qigong patterns with weighted wrists. Because the trampoline gives with every motion, it also increases proprioceptive awareness and balance and may hold promise for those who are challenged with gait issues.

This semester was a major shift from the previous two for me. The emphasis on moving partner drills highlighted the dynamic nature of Taijiquan beyond practicing the solo form itself. And the focus on martial applications has opened another door as well. More and more, the analogy between this art and the art of jazz music becomes so clear to me. Ultimately, having the type of strong foundation in the basics that so informs my creativity to, at a moment's notice, respond improvisationally to any circumstance is where I see my Self headed.

Recently, Dr. Yang shared with us the original meaning of the word 'martial' from the Chinese (止戈為武 Zhi Ge Wei Wu). You may be surprised to know that it means "stop the weapon is martial." So not only is Taijiquan translated as the Grand Ultimate Fist of the Mind, it's original intent and, therefore, design is defensive...

If you've been reading my posts, you know that I had set as a goal this semester to climb the vertical rope in less than the 12 seconds I did previously. Unfortunately, I had to alter my preparation for this due to straining my left elbow from overtraining (climbing both the vertical and horizontal ropes too often). While I've decided to not challenge myself with a speed climb for now, I am happy to report that I'm almost 100% recovered after having taken 2-3 weeks off from climbing and nursed my elbow with ARCH Oil (Arnica, Ruta, Calendula, and Hypericum) combined with Castor Oil daily. In fact, I was able to climb the vertical rope all the way to the top without any pain or discomfort today! I'll slowly work my way back to speed climbing and go for it next semester.

I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends and indulging in desserts I cannot treat myself to while on the mountain during this break. I wish each of you and your families the very best in all things this holiday season!!! Sincere thanks to all of you that continue to support me morally and financially to be here. I will resume the second semester mid-January and soon thereafter, I'll be celebrating my 67th birthday!

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Glimpse...

Though it was delayed by several weeks, the cold and rainy season has started, again. I am glad for the delay. Training in the cold when it's also wet is an energy drain just trying to find the comfort zone to feel sufficiently warm without sweating so much that you then feel even colder when you stop moving.
Horizontal Climbing Rope
Photo credit: Jonathan Chang
With the rains, I've had to change my rope climbing conditioning routine. They're too slick to climb safely; especially the vertical rope. It's given me a chance to rest my shoulders and, particularly, an elbow that I strained a couple of weeks ago. So, this past week, I've been still doing my panther crawls, but instead of pull/chin ups and knee ups each morning, I'm refocusing on my leg strength and flexibility as well as waist and ankle mobility. I'm back to 150 squats daily and added some drills using my legs with a heavy bag while I'm on my back on the gym floor. My knees and ankles are stronger and more flexible. This makes such a difference in initiating the coiling required to absorb, redirect, and deflect incoming forces.

Oblique Knee Ups (20 each morning)
Photo credit: Jonathan Chang

Ying-Yang Symbol Training
Photo credit: Jonathan Chang
The teaching and training has evolved from last year to introduce more partner drills that emphasize movement rather than stationary rocking. Whether it's Single or Double Push Hands, the Taiji Symbol, Taijiquan applications, or the White Crane Staff sequence, we've progressed to another phase of interacting with ourselves and each other. Something has shifted within me that I cannot quite put into words (of all times not to be able to 'say' what 'it' is...) as we've been experiencing this phase of engaging while moving forwards and backwards.

To state the obvious, the Taijiquan form embodies multiple layers of the martial aspects of this art. It contains striking, kicking, wrestling, and seize/control ("joint locking"). It is not until you begin to train these and so many other martial aspects of this art that you appreciate the depth and breadth of the form as a living template of options to be exercised at a moment's notice. I am acutely aware of how much I do not know. The blessing, however, is that I can see the destination ahead more clearly than ever and I know I'm traveling on the right road to arrive there one day.

I have gotten a glimpse of what it will be like to one day have the conscious integration of body, mind, Qi and spirit to flow with grace and effectively exercise power rather than mere strength in a martial way. It's just a glimpse, yet it is reaffirming and keeps my faith resolute about the 'magic' that is this art--Taijiquan. Some days have felt exquisitely uncomfortable to move at all during these past 11 weeks of training. However, that sliver of Light that it is possible to achieve a higher level of self-mastery motivates me to never give up.

Sunrise one very cold morning... photo courtesy RJ Woodbine
I know, without a doubt, that this journey will bear fruit that confirms my aspirations for being here. It's a process that I will continue to share to, hopefully, inspire others to go forward to make manifest their dream(s) martial or otherwise. The process for achieving success is pretty much the same at its roots-tenacity, diligence, discipline, resilience.

We have 4 weeks remaining in the semester before I leave "the mountain" for our winter break. We've completed our physical testing in Taijiquan for the semester and have the oral exams in Qigong in 2 weeks. Thanksgiving is later this week and I wish you and your families an enjoyable Holiday season and celebration. I am forever grateful to everyone who continues to support me and this incredible journey. Be Blessed and flow with the go...

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Practicing scales...

Many years ago in a class during my freshman year as a naturopathic medical student, one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Sherman, shared an important idea with us. I think many of us were feeling overwhelmed then with the shear volume of classes and information we had taken on. I don't recall the specifics of our semester course load, but I do remember that feeling of being inundated with so much to learn.

Dr. Sherman said that the more information one could expose themselves to, the greater the likelihood that you'd build unconscious neural connections that would provide answers to questions that didn't seem to have obvious answers at first blush. Since then, his statement has proven to be true many times in my clinical experience and otherwise. Seemingly out of nowhere, I've had clarity about questions that, at first glance, seemed difficult to know the answer to. I experienced an unexpected revelation last week while training.

However, this was a physical rather than intellectual epiphany. Five days a week we focus on Taijiquan Basic drills in the afternoon-stances, jumping, walking, coiling, and more. It was the solo coiling drill that got me. For more than a year, we have been doing Yang and Yin self-coiling drills, both stationary and moving. I understood what we were supposed to be doing, but it never quite felt right to me. Actually, I would sometimes wonder privately why we kept doing them. Not because I didn't intellectually value the drill--my body just didn't make sense of it. There was no connected flow between my intent and how my body moved.

To my surprise, last week Frank gave us some of the similar directions he's always given us--"Use the Dan Tian to make the movement; keep the torso upright, etc." Like magic, something shifted and I suddenly experienced this profound connection between my feet, through my legs and hips, up through my torso, my arms and hands, and I got IT! For the very first time since I started doing this drill, I KNEW what Frank was talking about because my body was moving fluidly and with clear purpose. I was profoundly elated and full of hope for all the work I've put in and will continue to devote myself to-not out of blind faith, but rather inspired faith knowing that the 'reward' for my efforts comes when I least look for it. Like Dr. Yang says his teacher told him, "Just put your head down and plow."

Tomorrow we begin our sixth week of this first semester in our second year here. Time is moving at an accelerated pace it seems. Each day is replete with drills, conditioning, and steady progress forward. We continue to refine the Taijiquan Long form, Yin-Yang Symbol partner sequence, Single and Double Push Hands, Applications, Qin Na, Taiji Ball, Taiji Saber sequence, Qi Mei Gun Staff sequence, Taiji Staff, and Qigong (Embryonic Breathing, 4 Seasons, 8 Pieces of Brocade, White Crane Soft, Small Circulation, and 5 Animal Sports).

My conditioning continues with the basics of White Crane Hard Qigong and, in addition to climbing the vertical rope 3 days weekly, I've now added traversing a horizontal rope (see picture and videos below). This 50 foot long rope is strung between two trees. One end is about 10 feet high and the opposite end is about 15 feet high. The rope is 1 and 1/2' thick. For now, we climb it twice weekly-forwards and backwards- using  our arms only. So far, I've only made it a third of the way across going forwards. Backwards, not so much... My goal is to make it from end to end without putting my feet on the ground. If not by semester's end, definitely sometime next semester.

I've also begun doing Panther Hops which are like moving forearm planks forward, backwards and side to side. More about those when I get better at it. Videos are coming...

In the meanwhile, I'll keep practicing my scales (a la John Coltrane and all the other masters)...

50' long rope strung horizontally
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine

Traversing the horizontal rope forwards
Video credit: Nona Ikeda

Traversing the horizontal rope backwards
Video credit: Nona Ikeda

The weather is rapidly shifting now. Most mornings are very cold with a promise to be even colder come November and January. At night, the temperature can drop 25-30 degrees from what it is during the day which now averages in the low 70's. The rainy season will begin next month.

The wild deer still come by regularly. Recently, we had to quarantine the hens because, most likely, a bobcat ate several of them. The hummingbirds are busy flitting about along with the wasps and bees.

The time seems to be moving at a faster pace than at this same juncture last year here. Each lesson is an invaluable one every day...

Wishing you well and appreciative of all your support!

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Transitions 2...

In March of this year, I started climbing the rope on a regular basis as part of my conditioning and strength training. Part of my motivation was to equal or exceed the existing record time for climbing up the rope--12 seconds. The video below records my attempt at doing this just as the semester ended in June...   

                                                              Video credit: Michelle Lin

I've been back 'on the mountain' exactly one week today, but only training since Monday (5 days). It feels like a month already! With my first year behind me, I have a different perspective and appreciation for the volume of work we put in each day with our training. It truly is intensive.

I'm putting into practice the lessons I learned about pacing myself and am discovering how to immerse myself in each training module throughout the day without getting overly fatigued physically or mentally. Yet, I'm somehow able to extract a deeper benefit than before. Obviously, some of that results from the time and effort I already invested the first year.

With time seemingly passing by quicker now, I have specific and measureable goals I've set for myself for the remaining 14 weeks. Each day is a building block toward successfully achieving those. One goal I have is to reduce my rope climbing time to 10 seconds or less... I'll share others as time passes.

This week I added Panther Crawling to my conditioning and strength training routine along with ground rolling and gentle tumbling. Remember when we were children and played on the ground in the playground? When was the last time you spent some time literally rolling around on the ground? It's great for flexibility, proprioception, and softening those hardened regions of our body (butt, attitude, etc.). The video below is of my Panther Crawling up and down the hill at the Retreat Center.

                                                            Video credit: Jamie Urquhart

This second year is a pivotal one toward preparing to complete the final year of the program and then return to "the valley" in 2019. I look forward to rejoining my colleagues in doing the Work required to help uplift the vibrational frequencies of those most in need that resonate with what I will be able to offer.

I sincerely thank all of you who have offered your financial support to make it possible for me to continue this journey. I am truly humbled by your generosity as well as your belief in the work I do. On those days when my energy may feel insufficient, I think of you and keep it moving...

Stay tuned for more that I'll share as autumn makes its way here in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, make the most of each moment, commit to being at your best, and express your gratitude for that which you have already been blessed with as you leave room to receive all that you deserve as your spiritual birthright...

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

In the Valley...

It's been exactly twenty-one days since I returned home, returned to 'the valley.' The transition from being away on the mountain for the previous six months and coming back here has been revelatory, disheartening, affirming, and challenging. More now than ever, I feel how oppressive living in an urban setting can be to the spirit of a person. And, while I've observed what appears to be a qualitative difference between living on 110th Street-St. Nicholas Avenue and living on 110th Street-Riverside Drive that is facilitated by wealth, the assault of asphalt, brick, mortar, incessant blaring noises, bright lights, and stench from sewers nevertheless assails us all.

About ten days ago, on the way home from teaching a Taiji/Qigong class in St. Nicholas Park, I saw a yellow dress and sandals strewn on the sidewalk near the wrought iron fence surrounding the buildings on the block. I assumed that someone had unknowingly dropped them, perhaps on the way to Goodwill? As I walked a few steps further down the block, I saw a black woman leaning against a parked SUV canopied by an overhanging tree. She was stark naked and barefoot except for her gray panties and bra. Her eyes were empty and she looked exceedingly tired. It was a miserably hot and humid New York afternoon, but her choice to unburden herself of her dress and sandals, in broad daylight, spoke more to me about how she was coping with the madness of her existence rather than an inappropriate reaction to the weather.

One morning earlier this week, I was on my way to the subway station to teach a Qigong class at the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Avenue. As I neared the corner before crossing the street, I saw this disheveled older black man humped over an even more disheveled older black woman. Both were clothed, but his dirty pants were down by his knees and so were hers. Their loose fitting and oversized tops hid the obvious, but it was clear that he was having sex with her. Right there. In broad daylight. And there was an occupied New York police car double parked on the street directly across from them. A woman going in the opposite direction from me looked and then turned her head in disbelief as she continued on her way. I was shocked, dismayed, and angered by this. I wasn't angry at the two people--it was obvious that they were not mentally and emotionally well; part of the homeless unseen and uncared for in our culture.

What I was angry about is that these types of contortions of the spirit, psyche, and body to chronic assaults from a culture that systematically denigrates human worth has been happening my whole life, literally. I first became acutely aware of this at the age of fourteen after retuning to Harlem from participating in an eight-week summer academic and cultural enrichment program (the Greater Opportunity Program) for one hundred inner city boys at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. This is a preparatory school (High School) that currently has over a half billion dollar endowment, a five to one student-teacher ratio, and where annual tuition and room & board is sixty-five thousand dollars per student. It is an eight hundred acre property with its own lake, golf course, etc. and where the progeny of the Fords, DuPonts, and Mars have attended.

Returning from the Hotchkiss School and getting off that Metro North train at 125th Street and Park Avenue that summer in 1965, my spirit was torn asunder by the vivid contrast between life in Lakeville and home--Harlem had a distinctive stench to it I had not noticed before, I was able to see what appeared to be teeming heroin addicts everywhere as if for the very first time, and the brick, asphalt and mortar of the city was overwhelming. I was traumatized by this and desperately needed to do something to change it, to help. It shaped the trajectory of my life...Not much seems to have changed in the past fifty-two years in that particular area of Harlem despite the steady march forward of gentrification. Those who have not seem to have less and are worse off, in fact.

I recently met a woman who heads an organization that now offers hot meals from a brightly painted freight container parked on the sidewalk under the Metro North train platform on 125th Street and Park Avenue. She also manages having a weekly farmer's market selling locally grown foods to the community at that same location. While the strong odor of urine and sometimes human feces still is noticeable, the darkness that was so pervasive there has diminished considerably, in part, through her efforts. We had a conversation about my experience as a fourteen year old, her strategy and goals for the area, and my years of teaching Qigong and Taijiquan. We agreed that space holds energy and that energy can transform space. As such, I suggested that perhaps having my students do their weekly Qigong and Taijiquan sessions there at least once monthly might help change the energetic field and accelerate the change we were both interested in seeing happen.

So, returning home to the valley from the mountain this summer has provided me an opportunity to come full circle in a very unexpected way. This journey that I was compelled to begin fifty-two years ago as a child has led me down a variety of paths seeking ways to make life better for those who are typically underserved in urban communities. I originally enrolled in college with the intent of becoming an architect or urban planner thinking that changing the tenement housing environments people lived would change their lives. I then pursued artistic skills as a writer and performing poet thinking that influencing the way people thought would be the answer. Subsequently, I became a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist seeking to improve the health and well-being of those beset with easily preventable chronic illnesses. And, now my goal is to synthesize all of my skill sets with a focus on teaching people how to cultivate their resilience to be self-reliant, self-referenced as they  live life optimally and well. In other words, teaching people how to fish rather than giving them a fish. I firmly believe that Qigong and Taijiquan  are portals providing access to energy and vibrational  resources that can literally help transform one's mind, perception, emotions, and behavior in support of living one's life with spiritual integrity and clarity. Change the vibrational field within yourself and consistently practice these disciplines to effectively influence the space you occupy. That seems to me to be the deepest level of lasting revolution-evolution...

I had hoped to practice and train more regularly while off the mountain, but that has not happened. I realized I actually needed to REST after nine months of strenuous training. The signs were there--the first two weeks my lower back was working itself through an unexpected series of spasms that were pretty uncomfortable probably from sitting in planes and airports for over 9 hours. Then I had sudden problems chewing without pain which got progressively worse. I visited my dentist to find out I had two root canals that needed to be done. This was painful, time consuming, and expensive (Medicare does not cover dental costs; especially root canals).

However, it hasn't been all gloom and doom. My Heather treated me to a trip to Mexico as a way to celebrate my completing the first year of training. This was a wonderful experience together! I was introduced to the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan by Julia Kulokova and had a wonderful opportunity to teach Qigong to the seniors there and look forward to doing so on my breaks. I also taught my students at the SAGE Center and, of course, my regular students at St. Nicholas Park. I also spent time sharing my first year experiences with a group of sponsors who continue to support me and my goals to complete the 3-Year Training Program. Without their support and the support of my family, this would be very difficult and I am continually grateful.

Soon, I will be back on the mountain. Once I get re-acclimated to the training schedule, I will keep you posted about my experiences. So, stay tuned...

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!

Monday, June 26, 2017

First Year Completed!

Yesterday, for all intents and purposes, was the final day of formal training for this semester and concludes my first year of the 3-Year Training Program in Taijiquan and Qigong! I never doubted I would finish successfully. However, it's always such a different feeling to actually cross the finish line compared to how I feel at the beginning of a race (I was a X-Country and long distance runner forty-eight years ago). And, in all honesty, I'm only 1/3 of the way to the goal of completing the full program by June 2019. This coming week, we have  two days (Monday and Tuesday) remaining of oral testing in Qigong followed by three days of cleaning up and preparing the Retreat Center for the summer seminars Dr. Yang offers to the general public. I then leave 'the mountain' on Saturday, July 1st.

Was this experience difficult, challenging? Yes, on many levels and for many reasons. While the prerequisite two-four week evaluation period experienced by candidates prior to acceptance into the program provided a good glimpse of how life could be here, it never revealed what comes to the surface from actually being here day in and day out over extended time. The physical demands of training daily coupled with the mandatory communal chores required resilience, resolve, rest, and the exercise of appropriate boundaries to preserve one's Self. The inevitable training injuries, strains, and sprains, fatigue, as well as emotional and psychological irritations would compound the stress at times. Additionally, personality quirks invariably made their appearances; usually invoked by the stress of the training. You know the saying--wherever you go, there you are...

How was this experience rewarding? Well, in many ways, it was/is a lifetime opportunity for me to study with one of the world's renown masters of traditional Chinese martial arts, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, and his students. The Taijiquan curriculum is well-structured with a progressive design that is both linear and circular--we progress along a clearly defined trajectory, but always place emphasis on the fundamentals. The experience is immersive and holds fast to building proper body structure and movement rooted in an understanding of the theory of Taijiquan. I now have a clear appreciation for the importance and value of partner drills and, as a result, am better able to execute the form and some of the relevant applications. My vocabulary for successfully teaching others has expanded considerably and I'm looking forward to being in that role again.
When it comes to the weapons, I have a new found fondness for the Taiji Saber. I still like the Bo Staff, but am happy to explore the Saber. I'm also considering learning the White Crane Double Short Rods when I return next semester.

The Qigong curriculum was purposely left up to our group to design. It has been an interesting approach and so far I've learned several medical and martial Qigong routines that I look forward to refining and teaching others: Eight Pieces of Brocade, 5 Animal Sports, 4 Seasons Qigong, Embryonic Breathing, and Soft White Crane Qigong. I also got some exposure to Qigong Massage which adds to my extensive bodywork training and experience.

Nothing can replace the specific and personal corrections that Dr. Yang provides to help improve my understanding of how to embody the principles of Taijiquan and Qigong. With his guidance, it has accelerated my learning and yet, I have so much farther to go...I remain excited and undaunted. I am more inspired to continue seeking and refining this craft of personal cultivation to be in a better position to teach and support others who desire to be at their very best in life.

There were moments here during this past year when it was very difficult to start my day or to continue it once I chose to begin--whether due to fatigue, physical pain, loneliness, and other circumstances. On those occasions, I summoned what I've always called on over the years to keep me going. It's an internal 'switch' I pull to shift me into gear in spite of how I might perceive a thing or feel. When I first started running X-Country in high school, I didn't know the trails and the running shoes they issued me didn't fit properly. So, I HAD to keep up with the front runners to avoid getting lost in the woods; especially those times when it would begin snowing during late fall/early winter and all I wore was a singlet and shorts. I never knew how to gauge my pacing because I didn't have experience running those 2.9 mile courses in Connecticut. Often, I'd feel like I was running out of gas and couldn't make it, but never, not once, did I not complete a race. In fact, I was typically able to catch and pass many of those ahead of me once I got a sense that the finish line was near. Then, I would sprint, if for no other reason than, to get those ill fitting shoes off my feet and to get warm.

Since those times, I've created opportunities to challenge my resolve to accomplish the various goals I've set. A favorite phrase I picked up along the way is "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits." For me, it underscores the truth that YOU are the one that has to do the work, put the time in to get to where you set your intentions. As Dr. Yang has shared with us, his teacher, who was a farmer, once told him to just put his head down and plow, plow without concern for who is or isn't doing or saying whatever might be a distraction to your resolve. And, while I wholeheartedly have proved this for myself over the years and agree with it, in this current endeavor I must thank each of you (you know who you are) who support me to make this possible. Without your love, caring, encouragement, and financial support this would be infinitely more difficult. Thank you sincerely!

I am looking forward to resting this summer from the rigors of our daily schedule here even though I will be busy teaching. And, I look forward to returning to 'the mountain' in the fall recharged for the second leg of my marathon run. Most likely, I'll write at least one post entry during the summer and I hope to see some of you to share my experiences with.

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


A Quitter Never Wins and a Winner Never Quits!    

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Twenty-Eight Days Remaining...

It's June 2nd. My paternal aunt ("Granny") who, together with her mother (Yeya, my grandmother), and her daughter, (Mina, my first cousin), raised me as a child and young adult would be celebrating her one hundred and sixth birthday today. It is through their care that I learned the roots of what it means to be a loving and kind person.

Today also marks the beginning of the remaining four weeks for this first year on the mountain. Since the annual BBQ several weeks ago, most of the Retreat Center students traveled with Dr. Yang to San Jose, CA for the 25th Annual Tiger Claw Kung Fu Championship to participate. There was a special evening celebration the day we arrived where many Grandmasters of various traditions performed their art and were celebrated. The following two days were devoted to Wushu and martial competitions and demonstrations (solo, group, Push Hands, barehand, and weapons). I did not compete and went to observe this time. Most striking for me was the enormous number of children who participated. That was great to see and experience. Additionally, there were a sizeable representation of adults and seniors competing. I most enjoyed several of the solo form demonstrations; especially the Chen and Wudang Tai Chi forms.

This was my first time in San Jose and we drove there and back. I got to experience the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time and the unique architecture of that area of San Francisco. On the way, we also drove through Napa Valley and I saw the numerous vineyards. Although we didn't visit, we did eat at a restaurant across the street from the sprawling Apple campus. Being off the mountain in San Jose was not as traumatic as re-entering New York during my winter break. I'll see how the summer goes...

In May, the 3-Year Training Program students (and some guests) performed during the annual BBQ. We presented the first chapter of the Taijiquan form and we also did an abbreviated presentation of the Tiger sequence of the Five Animal Sports Qigong routine. I didn't include footage of the senior students, because I forgot to ask for their permission to include in this blog. However, this is a brief video of yours truly doing a double Pushing Hands drill with one of my teachers, Mr. Lopes.

The training has reached a steady state of manageable intensity lately. My personal conditioning has shifted further and I'm now climbing the rope three days weekly rather than every day. I've added back in the High Intensity Interval Training sequence with the 70lb. kettlebell, Squats three days weekly with eight pound dumbbells in each hand, and recently have included a sequence using Coach Scott Sonnon's Clubbells for grip, wrist and shoulder strengthening.

Next week our primary teacher, Frank, returns from a well-deserved two-month break and will resume teaching us along with our current teacher, Quentin. I look forward to having both help us be better. The Saber sequence has accelerated a bit with Dr. Yang wanting us to finish it before we leave. Obviously, it won't be 'perfect' by any stretch of the imagination. What we will have, however, is a complete choreographed flow that we can then continue to refine; especially while we're away for July and August. We've also begun a Staff sequence. It remains to be seen how far we'll come along with that. Both the Saber and staff are exciting extensions of what we are developing within our bodies and primarily serve as tools to express that power. The Taijiquan form continues to be refined and we're now consistently doing all three chapters in the expected time period of eighteen to twenty minutes. There is still so much more to learn and refine just in the form itself. Each practice session is full of opportunities to 'get it right.'

The hummingbirds and bees are now out in numbers and they vie for the space on the feeders. The training area is literally abuzz throughout the day with their coming and going. The weather is more predictably comfortable every day now-slightly chilled and overcast in the mornings, dry heat in the early afternoon with breezes, and cool in the evenings.

I am grateful to be. I am grateful to be here. I am grateful to be able to still learn and refine my Self. I am grateful for your support.

Wishing you and those you love the very best in all things,

Be grateful for what you have. Ask for what you desire with all of the emotion you can muster. Release it. Expect to receive it NOW!  

Sunday, May 14, 2017


In ancient times, whether in Africa, China, the Americas, Europe or elsewhere in the world, there was a warrior class of men and women dedicated to cultivating their bodies, minds, and spirits to successfully engage in battle. It was a matter of life and death, not just sport or entertainment. One's life literally depended on one's level of tenacity, discipline, diligence in training and preparation as well as ability to recover from serious injury or harm.

These days, whether it's a distant, unmanned drone strike or a lethal bullet from a gun owner, we are generally far removed from the personal engagement between adversaries our forebears experienced. So why would I train in traditional martial arts the way I do here on the mountain? If it's far easier and presumably safer to be armed in a hostile confrontation, why go through the rigors of being here?

From my perspective, nowadays the national and local news media concentrates on the sensational stories of police brutality and killing of unarmed adults and children, as well as, urban neighborhood killings to the point of distraction. Now, the old cold war tensions between the US and Russia that had us practicing impotent safety drills under our school desks have been reintroduced. The air is seeded with fear that permeates our subconscious mind and continues to feed what it is that makes us different from each other. Yet, this clever prestidigitation covers the hidden machinations that sustain the real sources of glaring inequality that are systemic. This historic psychic and physical violence benefits the few at the expense of the majority, has nothing to do with so-called race, and precedes my 60 plus years on the planet. The major difference now is the technology available to spread the effects faster.

Where are the sustained investigative stories on the water crises in Flint, Michigan, the Monsanto GMO assault on our health, the accelerated efforts to erode our sensibilities about right, wrong, and the truth by denigrating anyone who points out that the emperor has no clothes as the bearer of 'fake news'? This protracted war against the majority of humanity requires, in my opinion, self-knowledge and clarity of purpose to know how to be in the world, but not of it in order to succeed in overcoming its negative effects. By being the best possible human being one can be physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically, and most important, spiritually, we set in motion a vibration that can go to the heart of the matter; especially for our progeny. That's why I'm here on the mountain...

7 Weeks and Now I'm Counting...
 It's almost strange to realize that there remain only 7 weeks before this first year of training concludes. Wow! Time has accelerated and each week whizzes by ever more quickly. My personal experiences of both conditioning and training at this stage are in a state of transition. On the one hand, I needed to have volume of repetition to the conditioning in order to secure my ability to train on a daily basis without flagging. However, I now am at a point where I recognize how to be more precise in what it is I need to focus on to take better advantage of the training itself. So, I'm not just conditioning just for the sake of conditioning nor am I training just to stay on track with the scheduled curriculum.  I feel freer to modify from day to day what it is I think I need in order to be better at not just doing a drill, but fitting that into my overall goals for being here.
In other words, I doubt that I'll ever be in a situation where I'll find the need or opportunity to have to use a Taiji Saber to fend off an attacker. However, mastery of my mind, emotions, and physicality in the process of learning to use the Saber or Bo Staff may preclude a confrontation from happening in the first place or quickly dispatching or transmuting circumstances that do arise. Speaking of the Saber training, I absolutely enjoy the process of learning its use and the sequence. I think it may, in fact, replace my choice of weapon-the staff...
As the weeks move along, my current semester end goal is to have at least 3 Qin Na applications and 6 Taijiquan applications solidly under my belt to continue practicing during the summer. Having completed the full Taijiquan sequence earlier in the semester, we ae focused on the Yang side of the moving Yin-Yang symbol with partner exchange, Double Push Hands focused on the feeling and movement against the extended leg, and Centering drills without becoming combative to ensure we have the fundamentals intact. In fact, Dr. Yang has offered to do centering with each of us weekly so we can improve our ability. Many of us have begun training on bricks to better establish our sense of rooting this semester. I just resumed this week and am taking it methodically slow to be able to experience that feeling both when I'm stationary, but more importantly, when I'm moving. Additionally, we will have completed the various Qigong routines including the 8 Pieces of Brocade, 4 Seasons (including Winter, Spring, and Summer), Soft White Crane, 5 Animal Sports (Tiger, Deer, and Bear), and aspects of Qigong Massage.

The Annual  Retreat Center BBQ...
Last Saturday, May 6, 2017, I experienced my first BBQ here with invited guests from the surrounding community. It was a fun experience as we each provided the guests with demonstrations of what we've learned so far. Our 3-Year group performed the first chapter of the Taijiquan sequence as well as the Tiger sequence of the 5 Animal Sports. My colleagues in the 5 and 10-Year groups also performed and it was such a treat to see their skills and poise! It's all on videotape which I'll share with you when it's been processed. I'm sure you'll be amazed at what you'll see...

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day...
My colleagues and friends that form the Harlem World Tai Chi and Qigong Day Committee did an admirable job of organizing and executing the 10th Annual Harlem Celebration of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day in St. Nicholas Park on Saturday, April 29, 2017! Unfortunately, I wasn't able to participate, but was there in spirit. As always, our venue included qualified holistic wellness practitioners offering free services to community participants as well as interactive demonstrations of Tai Chi, Qigong, and natural movement. My thanks and appreciation go to the New York Parks Department, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, WHCR 90.3FM New York, the Harlem News Group, the Harlem Ki Energy Center, Grandmaster Lamarr Thornton, the Noble Touch, YMAA Publications, the Afrikan Holistic Health Chapter of New York, Tru Movement Collective, Master Tony Rogers, Dr. Yvonne Noel, MD, Jomo Alakoye Simmons, Aswad Foster, Jana Cunningham, Norman Spiller, Margit Spiller, and my students.  Thanks to Margit Spiller for the following photos from that day:

Master Tony Rogers and Jana Cunningham
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Norman Spiller
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Master Aswad Foster demonstrating Tru Movement
Phot credit: Margit Edwards

Master Aswad Foster demonstrating Tru Movement
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

St. Nicholas Park Plaza looking eastward down 135th Street
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Master Tony Rogers teaching Qigong
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Group Qigong on World Tai Chi & Qigong Day in St. Nicholas Park
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Group doing Tai Chi led by Norman Spiller
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Grandmaster Thornton's New Breed Life Arts students
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Grandmaster Lamarr Thornton New Breed Life Arts (standing far left)
Photo credit: Margit Edwards
Norman Spiller leading Swimming Dragon Qigong
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Afrikan Holistic Health Chapter New York  providing Reflexology
Photo credit: Margit Edwards

Harlem World Tai Chi & Qigong Day Committee:
Aswad Foster, Norman Spiller, Jana Cunningham
Photo credit: Margit Edwards
My experiences here on the mountain continue to refine and enlighten. As this first of 3 years draws near to closing, I'm reminded of the flow in Dr. Yang's explanation of the Taijiquan form which has 3 chapters. The first chapter is to regulate the body with each successive chapter focused to regulate the breath and the mind/spirit. The second chapter focuses on raising the energy level to a high state while the concluding chapter, which is the slowest and longest, allows for recovery with a focus on the mind/spirit. The total sequence takes about 20 minutes and is repeated 3 times in succession so that the form takes about an hour to practice. Like a fractal, each successive 20 minute segment of 3 chapters represents the whole in of itself... So, now, this first year is my beginning and introduction to when I return in September to focus on elevating my energy and focused determination in preparation to conclude the third year...

Thank you to all of you who continue to support my efforts to be here. I appreciate you very much!


"First, pray to God, then move your feet!"    
                                                                               --African Proverb

Friday, April 14, 2017

Eleven Weeks, But Who's Counting?...

It's truly amazing how the time seems to be moving by quickly. There are only eleven weeks remaining in this semester and the first year of training will have ended! It seems like I just got here a minute ago last September...I've learned so much and am excited about sharing it with my students when I return.

In my last post, I realized that I didn't show me actually climbing the rope. Well, here's the evidence;-) This is the result after the third attempt to get the camera working correctly:

Video credit: Jamie Urquhart

The only days I don't climb the rope are Sundays (our scheduled rest day) and when it rains (for safety). Otherwise, I climb it at least once daily along with doing my fourteen chin/pull ups and thirty pushups.

Earlier this week, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my students from New York, Jean Matthews, arrived here at the Retreat Center.
Jean is standing, 2nd from the left. These are my 3-Year
Training Program classmates and two guests.
Photo credit: Quentin Lopes
Hopefully, she's the first of many that will take advantage of the opportunity during the next two years to train with Dr. Yang and his students in this unique environment. She now knows first-hand how rigorous the training schedule is.

For the past several weeks, we've been training the additional basics of the Taijiquan Saber that we learned from Frank during the first semester. The learning pace now is just right for me as I'm turtle-like in my learning process--slow and steady. We're spending adequate time with the conditioning, proper stances, and the beginnings of a Saber sequence which is the main goal for the remainder of this semester. Currently, I'm focused on executing a three hundred and sixty degree turn on the left leg, beginning from a crouched forward posture with feet together and then spinning left as I begin to stand upright. Ultimately, we'll have Saber in hand, arms outstretched horizontally while making this turn as the opening to the sequence. More to come...

We're still practicing the basics of the Bo staff, but the emphasis has momentarily shifted to the Saber drills. With the persistent and unexpected extension of the rain, it makes it challenging to practice this weapon because of the space required to move as well as avoid injury.

Additionally, we are spending more time on our Qin Na (joint locks) and applications with variations as found within the Taijiquan form. I really enjoy this section of the training and regard it highly in terms of practical use. Dr. Yang is world renown for his Qin Na and we are so fortunate to be his students.

While I still do my squats, I now favor walking the mountain to the creek and back at least three times weekly. This has deepened my leg strength from feet to lower back tremendously; not to mention my stamina because of the oxygen demand on the return climb. To accomplish my goal of running from the creek back to the Retreat Center with fifty pounds on my back, I'm contemplating a strategy of adding five pounds (I have a weight vest) weekly during my treks starting next week so that by the week of June 19th, I'll be carrying that amount. More to come...

In addition to regularly practicing Embryonic Breathing, the 8 Pieces of Brocade, White Crane Soft Qigong, and the 4 Seasons Qigong (All Seasons set and Spring set), we've begun learning the first patterns of the 5 Animal Sports Qigong. The first animal and most challenging of the five is the Tiger sequence. By the close of this semester, we'll most likely have learned the Deer and Bear patterns as well.

Next month is the annual Retreat Center cookout where the surrounding neighbors and community are invited to visit, eat, and enjoy presentations from the students. It appears the 3-Year Group will be presenting as well. Most likely it will be the Taijiquan form. Hopefully, there will be photos I can include in the blog.

That's all for the moment! Enjoy the blessings of each day and be well.


Thank you sincerely to all my financial, mental and moral supporters that continue to make this journey possible!! 

What would you do if you knew you could Not fail?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Climbing ropes, climbing mountains...

Happy Vernal Equinox! It's official--Spring has sprung? Despite the cloudy, dreary, and rainy day here today, it is warmer than it's been in recent weeks. And, the hummingbirds are making an appearance; especially since the feeders have been hung for them. I saw two of them this morning before breakfast. They're truly magical in how they move so quickly and then stop suddenly and hover in the air. Their wing flapping makes such a distinct sound. To my ears, the sound is reminiscent of a sweet didjiridoo drone.

In many cultural traditions, spring is the season for new beginnings, growth, expansion. The Rosicrucians posit that it is the best time to make plans and take actions to promote new projects and ideas; especially for the proceeding fifty-two days. I liken the season to caterpillars emerging from winter's dormancy in their chrysalis's with opportunities to spread their wings to fly...

This is a welcome transition point for me. It marks the near midpoint of the longest semester here training and my first winter on the mountain. Our first semester began last September and lasted sixteen weeks. This semester is twenty-four weeks long. The days and weeks are coming and going by rapidly now and I have a sense of urgency to get it all in because I know that this unique experience will soon be over--June 2019 is 'right around the corner.'

In the past several weeks, I've taken to walking down to the creek which is about a mile away from the Retreat Center--all downhill. Returning is, literally, uphill the entire way and, on average, the climb is on a 40-45 degree incline. I do this on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after our morning training in the hour before lunch.
The gravel path down to the creek
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine 
It's a training challenge I've added for variety to strengthen my legs, avoid injury to my knees from only doing squats, and to increase my stamina. My short term goal is to match the conditioning standard the Shaolin training group had to achieve their first six months here eight years ago--that is they had to run from the
The path up to the Retreat Center
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine
creek up to the Retreat Center within fifteen minutes--with fifty pounds on their backs! Right now, I'm able to walk back from the creek in seventeen minutes without added weights. Trust me, walking by itself is more than demanding on the legs and the lungs-never mind running. If not by June, I'm shooting for September to run the mountain...

My legs are probably in the best shape they've been in since I ran cross country in high school (1968). The significance of this is no small thing and plays itself out daily for me in our training drills. Whether it's doing the form, White Crane Qigong or our partner drills (Push Hands, Yin-Yang Symbol, Centering, etc.), my body continues to refine its understanding of what it means to be rooted without being stuck. The Taijiquan classics say that "power is generated by the legs, directed by the waist, and manifested in the hands". Understanding it intellectually is one level, but embodying it is quite a different experience. More on that as time passes...

30' rope on a Madrone tree limb
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine
The other day in our weekly discussion with Dr. Yang he mentioned that the rope hanging from the Madrone tree on the path to the gym was originally put there so that each time you walked by you would climb it. No legs, just hands and arms. That was a deliberate strategy to condition upper body and hand grip strength. I'm told the fastest recorded time climbing up the rope to the top is 12 seconds by a student here. So, last week I began climbing the rope. I haven't timed my ascent yet; just working on ensuring I do this safely and consistently each time. The rope is thirty feet up and I've managed to reach the top each time I've climbed it. Once I'm comfortable with it, I'll start timing my climbs with the goal of matching the current record...

Lately, I've thought about how favored my life is. My grandmother and aunt raised me and taught me the meaning and value of love. My father apprenticed me when I was about ten years old and gave me my footing in the healing arts. The Reverend David P. Kern chose me as one of one hundred inner city kids to attend the summer academic enrichment program at the Hotchkiss School (the G.O. Program) in 1965. I subsequently enrolled and graduated from the Hotchkiss School and attended Harvard University through 1973. In 1980, I was blessed to work at Xerox Corporation until I left in 1984 to work for Digital Equipment Corporation until 1992. At that time, I entered naturopathic medical school and completed that training along with a masters in Chinese medicine by 1999. After caring for and treating patients and their families for the past twenty-two years, here I am now at the YMAA Retreat Center further refining my mettle!

Most mornings here I awaken before my alarm goes off at five. There are times when I do not want to get out of the bed at all--tired, cold, achy, maybe even in pain. Yet, I pull myself up and out of my comfortable bed and continue training. My favored life is also one that taught me the importance and value of discipline, diligence, and tenacity. Those three keys that have unlocked my capacity to endure discomfort and maintain my faith even in the face of doubt, opposition, or any visible confirmatory sign that I was close to being successful. Truly, more important than the goal is the journey, the process of moving toward it. That, in of itself, is the gift I think I'll be able to offer when I've completed this program.

For now, I'm going to bed to sleep. Have to be ready to train in the morning...

Thank you to all of you that continue to support my being here morally and financially!

Dr. Woodbine

"What would you do if you knew you would not fail? What would you do if you knew now one was looking or there to encourage you?"

Friday, March 3, 2017

Practice makes perfect or perfect practice makes perfect?

There's a hint of spring in the air. Just last week it was bitter cold for several days to the extent that I had to put makeshift inserts in my sneakers to protect my feet from feeling like they were frozen. This was particularly true during our 7:00am and 9:00-11:00am training periods.

Coupled with the insistent rain, it could feel pretty miserable more often than not even if I were moving about training. We either train outdoors or in the garage. Rarely are we indoors and even when we're in the gym, it isn't heated. If it's raining too much, we'll be in the dining area on the wood floors either barefoot or in socks. Either way, the traction is different than being outdoors in sneakers.

Though challenging, the experience is not a hardship compared to traditional, non-modern martial arts training environments. It does, however, help me truly appreciate a cloudless sky from where the sun shines brightly. A day like this afternoon when my hands and face got tanned in just an hour! Spring is in the air...

We've finished all three chapters of the Yang Family Style Taijiquan form as taught by Dr. Yang. By no means does this mean we've mastered it. Dr. Yang will personally review our progress tomorrow morning at 9:30. His corrections and insights during this review are priceless gems that help clarify our efforts and refocus our practice.

Speaking of practice, I heard many years ago the phrase, "Practice makes perfect." Through my own experiences in a variety of training efforts (basketball, long distance running, Qigong and Tai Chi), I learned what seems to be a more appropriate phrase, "Perfect practice makes perfect." In fact, I don't ascribe to the notion of perfection at all. I believe it's a false aspiration that leads to eventual disillusion. I believe in continual refinement and correction toward a stated goal where the practice itself is the source of true satisfaction.

This is not to say that there is no value in practicing. Quite the contrary. The masters I've admired the most have been those who immersed themselves in the kind of devotional practice and refinement of their craft over time that eventually led them to a pinnacle of achievement--John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Malcolm X, Oscar Robertson, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Moses Powell...After years of practice, they present their craft effortlessly and with grace.

One of my classmates, Javi, shared a TED Talk with us during dinner this evening that I'm confident you'll appreciate. It's on the subject of effective practice.

I hope you find it helpful in your own endeavors.


P.S. Thank you to all those who continue to support my being here 'on the mountain' financially and morally. I appreciate you all!

Executing "Single Whip"
Photo credit: Michelle Lin

Preparing to execute "Press"
Photo credit: Michelle Lin

Preparing to execute "Snake Creeps Down"
Photo credit: Michelle Lin

What would you do if you knew you would not fail?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Last Day, 2/19/2017

Listening to Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh's "Background Music"...

Today is the final day of my sixty-sixth year on the planet. This time last year, having completed the testing period phase (the previous October) of the application process to be accepted into the YMAA Retreat Center's 3-Year Training Program, I had a pretty good sense I would now be here on 'the mountain.' The reality is, nevertheless, sobering.

Me at six years old on St. Nicholas Avenue, Harlem, NY
Photo credit: Peter A. Woodbine/Rose A. Woodbine
Sixty years ago I posed for this photo standing on St. Nicholas Avenue and the corner of 137th Street next to St. Mark's United Methodist Church across from Harlem's historic St. Nicholas Park. Little did I know then that I would someday teach Qigong and Taijiquan occasionally in the church as well as for sixteen years in the Park at 135th Street. Never mind that for several years, I also operated a clinic and lived on 137th Street across the street from the tenement building apartment my parents rented above the Mambo Bar on the corner of 137th Street and 8th Avenue. My life's journey has been amazing--taking me places I would have never dreamed of considering my humble beginnings in Harlem and the south Bronx. Here I am now immersed in studying two of the disciplines I love most--Qigong and Taijiquan.

It's been five weeks since the second semester of our training began. The current training experience has been nothing short of immersive now that I have a clearer sense of the overall additional communal routines and expectations. The current period is our longest (five and a half months) before a break at the end of June. I now know how to pace myself.

Last semester, one of the biggest challenges for me was carving out a sense of privacy to restore myself emotionally, psychically, and physically. Our daily training schedule is very demanding and when you include communal responsibilities along with minimal private time and space, it can be a formula for fatigue of a different sort, if not irritability. Sundays off become precious sanctuaries for self-care. I treasure my solitude...

We've covered a lot of training territory in five short weeks. Where do I begin? On the Qigong side of the experience, we are focused on experiencing the 4 Seasons Qigong routine in real time. That is to say, we are doing the winter set (Kidneys) concurrently with the spring set (Liver and Spleen) as it is designed to be practiced. Come spring, we'll continue the spring set and add the summer set midway. We layer these with practicing the All Seasons set as well. By the end of this calendar year, we will have the full experience of the 4 Seasons Qigong routines to be able to teach others with authority and confidence.

Additionally, we are regularly now practicing the standing set of the 8 Pieces of Brocade Qigong routine with increased repetitions of each of the patterns. We continue to also practice the White Crane Qigong routine patterns to condition the tendons and ligaments. The latest additions to this routine are using hand weights, increased walking with the patterns, and doing the patterns on bricks. All of these ultimately translate into cultivating a level of self-awareness and physical conditioning executable in whole body spiraling and coiling movements with a root. Most recently, a group of us have chosen to begin exploring the fundamentals of Iron Shirt Qigong with a preliminary focus on Turtle Breathing Qigong. More about this at a later date... Sometime this spring, we'll begin studying the Five Animal Sports Qigong starting with the Tiger sequence.

With Taijiquan, we are moving on several fronts simultaneously: the form itself, applications, Push Hands,  Qin Na, Taiji Ball Qigong, Yin-Yang Symbol (vertical and horizontal Yang side), and weapons basics (Saber and Bo Staff). It's demanding and rewarding... For the form, we are now nearly finished with the third chapter. Although it will always require refinements, the first chapter sequence is pretty solid for most of us in terms of memorizing the sequence. The second chapter has improved greatly and the third is getting there. Dr. Yang has reviewed our progress and offered invaluable corrections and Frank tirelessly drills and teaches us the deeper nuances of the patterns. He provides a practical context for the movements that motivates us to go beyond the 'static' patterns. For me, the key here is conditioning of my body and attitude so that they can better comply with my intent to execute. A habit I've begun in any of the training sequences which helps with this is to always begin the patterns with my non-dominant side and then translate that to my stronger, familiar dominant side. I also include walking backwards with the patterns when it's relevant (this mostly applies to the short and long weapons routines).

We've progressed from stationary Single (four patterns) to Double Push Hands (6 patterns) training. It requires lots of polishing still. The fifth pattern of the double Push Hands against the forward leg's hip requires increased flexibility of the hips, ankles, lumbar spine. Doing the Taiji Ball Qigong and White Crane Qigong patterns is helping to re-pattern tendons, ligaments, and muscles in the groin (inner and outer Kua) and pelvic cavities. My feet, ankles, and pelvic bowl are more flexible and stronger than they've ever been. However, I still have a ways to go to be where I desire to be...

The applications and Qin Na (joint locking/immobilization) drills have been an eye opener for me. It's not the first time I've been exposed to Qin Na. In fact, part of the first weekend workshop with Dr. Yang I attended with my youngest son in Boston in 2001 was a Qin Na workshop. The difference now is that there is a context for its use along with applications tied to the execution of the form itself. By no means do I have any of this 'done pat.' However, I'm thrilled and confident that I will because of how it's being taught in an integrated fashion. Here again, the role of proper and consistent conditioning is paramount. The focus for me is the hands/arms and lower body. I'm grateful for Arnold Tobin's Thenar Gloves and my daily two hundred squats. About conditioning, I'm still doing my two a week High Intensity Interval Training sessions with the seventy pound kettlebell intermingled with dead lifting two hundred and twenty-five pounds (personal best recently) during the last four sets.

We've explored applications from the form including the opening of the sequence, several from Single Whip, Grasp the Sparrow's Tail (left and right), Lift Hands to the Up Posture, Play the Guitar, Wave Hands in the Clouds, Brush Knee, Roll Back, and others. Coupled with the Qin Na, these are potent options that are not readily visible when you're just learning the form. We've also recently begun to add foot and leg Qin Na and exploring angling footwork. Again, this requires conditioning and resilience to be able to actually move with the WHOLE body as one unit. We continue to practice, refine, practice, refine, practice...

My favorite weapon basics training is the Bo staff. The Saber/Sword drills are also demanding, but challenge my shoulders from the 1999 motor vehicle accident I experienced that forced me to withdraw from Chinese medical school for six months before I could resume to graduate. Both the staff and Saber routines are new to me and require a different kind and level of conditioning; especially my hands, arms, core and back. I've recently started using the aluminum staff as a conditioning tool prior to using the wooden staff to train with and it's making an appreciable difference in my stamina. The partner drills we're learning are fun, yet require our full attention and focus to avoid injuries. Can't train when you're hurting...

There's probably much more that I could say, but it's not coming to mind at the moment. I'll stop here to get my laundry out of the dryer, make another cup of coffee to savor while I listen to some more classical jazz tunes, and ponder my good fortune to have made it this far this long. I had a good conversation earlier in the week with my life-long friend of fifty-six years, Smitty, about how blessed we've been. So many of our friends died young or ae not healthy now. We've been given opportunities and taken advantage of them and find ourselves still able to make contributions to others by our lived examples of tenacity, diligence, and discipline. Coming from the neighborhoods we grew up in and given the tenor of the culture and society we continue to find ourselves in, that says a lot. I am blessed... 

Tomorrow is the first day of my sixty-seventh year. I marvel at all that I have experienced and the rest that is to come. I'll continue to share my insights with you and hope that it inspires you to be at your very best in all things.

To those of you who continue to support my efforts, I sincerely thank you for; especially you who have sponsored my being able to explore this 3-Year Training Program. If you are moved to do so, please send your tax-deductible donations on my behalf via PayPal to: Please indicate that it's a contribution for Dr. Woodbine. Thank you!

Peace and Blessings!

"What would you do if you knew you would not fail? What would you do if no one knew you were doing it? Follow your heart's passion and live you life fully!"