Thursday, January 26, 2017


In my most recent post, I forgot to mention a visit with my hand grip strength coach, Arnold Tobin. He's the inventor of the Thenar Glove hand strengthening system and highly regarded in his field. I first met Arnold about eleven years ago when we teamed up with Kenny Leacock, PT to provide a successful health and wellness workshop at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York.

I bought a pair of the Red Thenar Gloves he invented and had been using them ever since to enhance my hand grip strength as an intrinsic aspect of my Taijiquan training. Just prior to leaving New York to begin the 3-Year Training Program here at the Retreat Center, I upgraded to Arnold's newest Red Thenar Glove design. Similarly to Dr. Yang, Arnold is always refining his approach to fitness. Along with the new gloves, he taught me his latest hand stretch and strengthening exercises.

Arnold Tobin, Thenar Glove System Inventor
Photo credit: Jana Cunningham
The morning that I taught my students at St. Mary's Episcopal Church about three weeks ago, Arnold stopped by and shared his hand strengthening system with them. They received him with great enthusiasm! Before leaving us, he provided me with a pair of the Black Thenar Gloves and taught me additional enhanced exercise and stretch routines. He also taught me a sequence using both the Red and Black Thenar Gloves. He shared that I am the first and only person he's authorized to use the Black Thenar Gloves as well as the two glove system. I felt humbled and honored.

The Thenar Glove system is an integral part of my hand and grip strengthening strategies. It is playing a fundamental role in the basic weapons (staff and saber) drills we have been learning since September here on the mountain. There are now six Retreat Center students who use them as well.

"Success favors the prepared."
                                                               --Author unknown

Monday, January 23, 2017


After more than fifteen hours of travel/wait time, I finally arrived at the Retreat Center early Sunday morning a week ago. It's now a rainy and cold Sunday afternoon a week later and I'm listening to Russell Gunn's "Fly Me to the Moon" jazz tune as I write. Did my laundry earlier, groomed my nails and shaved after a nice hot shower, had a nice breakfast and lunch. Talked with my Heather on the telephone...

The training schedule is as robust and demanding this semester as the previous one, but each day has been much smoother. I was pleasantly surprised that my body got pretty much in the swing of things easily despite my not doing much training during the four weeks of the winter holiday break. I had planned to be more consistent. Yes, I had some stiffness and soreness the first couple of days this week, but relatively minor discomforts. I'm very happy about that and feel the investment I made in conditioning during last semester is paying dividends now.

Transitioning from 'the mountain' through to the pace of typical living and back again has been revelatory for me. First, I developed a deep cough and head cold the week just before the semester ended. I know it was due to my poor eating choices the previous fifteen weeks. I allowed myself to overindulge in wheat (home made breads and pasta) and ice cream (home made, too) to which I'm hypersensitive. I also didn't get sufficient rest doing extracurricular projects (teaching auricular acupuncture, hydrotherapy, editing and writing, coordinating CPR/First Aid classes). Coupled with the stress of testing the final four days of the semester, my immune system fatigued and I left here not feeling optimal.

The first half of my trip off 'the mountain' was spent traveling. We visited my granddaughters, oldest son and daughter-in-law for several days in the Los Angeles area. They were such a treat to be with; especially because I haven't been able to see them regularly previously. One of the highlights of our stay was visiting the Buddhist temple my son frequents.
Life sized wood carved statue of Bodhidharma
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine

I had an emergency visit to the dentist a day before departing because the previous night one of my upper molars mysteriously broke. Thankfully, I was able to have it diagnosed and repaired that same day although it took a traumatic seven hours of dental work to get it all done. My face was swollen and I was in pain for a while thereafter in addition to dealing with the cough and head cold.

From California, we flew to Massachusetts to visit with my youngest son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and the newest addition to the family, my two month old granddaughter who I met for the first time. She was such a treat as all of the grandchildren have been. We visited with them for several days.

We then traveled to D.C. to visit with Heather's family and friends for a few days. I got to see Howard University, the White House, the Monument, and the outside of the National Museum of African  American History and Culture. Tickets were sold out way in advance for the museum and its a trip for another occasion perhaps with the whole family. We finally returned to New York for New Year's eve.

While I thoroughly enjoyed visiting family, I must share that it was an intensely traumatic experience being in the world off the mountain. The sheer numbers of people, the bright lights, the hustle and bustle, the pervasive technology, the noise were overwhelming. Being away at the Retreat Center for sixteen weeks is the longest period I've been away from urban life and I was surprised at how sharp the contrast is between the mountain and the cities. Riding in the New York subways was particularly disturbing for me. Although it wasn't claustrophobic, having so many people jam packed into each subway car seemed oddly inhumane. No one looked at one another and most people were distracted into their own smartphone space tethered there by earphones. So many men and women were homeless and somehow existing in the frigid cold wrapped in layers of blankets and cardboard for shelter. We walked by them as if they were a normal part of the landscape...

I was fortunate to be able to teach a workshop for my former students at the SAGE Center Midtown the week prior to departing for the Retreat Center to resume training. It was wonderful to see everyone and to share some of the new Qigong (Four Seasons Qigong-All Seasons set) I had learned. I also taught a mini-workshop with my St. Mary's Episcopal Church students to review the Taijiquan form first chapter with some applications. It was great to spend time with them all. I also taught a workshop entitled "Care for the Caregiver" to many of the Noble Touch, Inc. practitioners who practice pranic healing in service to the urban communities of New York.

One of my favorite moments after the New Year was going to Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center to listen to saxophonist, Billy Harper and his quintet! The music was superlative and the food outstanding. If you love jazz, promise yourself to visit Dizzy's at Jazz at Lincoln Center the next time you visit New York.

The incomparable Billy Harper
Photo credits: RJ Woodbine; HD Payne

The winter break was short and bittersweet; especially with all the traveling we did. I thoroughly enjoyed being with family, seeing students and friends, getting my haircut from my barber, Denny, at Denny Moe's, getting my annual physical and check-up with my physician, and receiving a well-deserved massage Heather gifted me with. And, yet, the harsh realities of urban living were in stark evidence. The concrete, brick and mortar, and asphalt were an affront to the heightened sensibilities from being on 'the mountain.' Even so, it was difficult to leave the city knowing I would now be gone for twenty-six weeks without a break before returning to the city.

It's difficult to imagine now how I might feel in six months given my recent experience. However, I'm very clear that I have to put a plan in place to live my life differently once I successfully complete my training in 2019 and leave this mountain for good...

Thanks to all of you who morally and financially continue to support my being here! Your generosity makes it possible for me to pursue this dream and share the harvest with you once I've completed the journey.

Blessings and Peace,