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!