Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tangents and Inflection Points...

I finally have the mental energy to write an entry. It is the final one for this semester as I prepare to finish our training and tests before going on winter break at the end of next week. I have been demanding a lot of myself physically and mentally with the training and not getting sufficient quality rest. I've also been dealing with a consistent nagging shoulder pain which hasn't completely healed. It has interfered with my training and has been an energy drain, too. Nevertheless, I have chosen to persist...

While I have been able to climb the vertical rope on several occasions this semester, my shoulder injury has prevented me from doing it consistently. I haven't gotten to the point where I can climb with speed safely. Therefore, I've chosen to forego that goal for this semester and postpone the effort to beat my previous climbing record until next semester when I'll have 6 months to do it.

The rainy season has finally started. With it has come colder mornings and nights. We now relegate most of our training indoors in the garage and gym. In spite of the rain and cold, I like walking the path between the main building and the gym without an umbrella. The trees along the way provide a good canopy from being drenched. One major drawback, however, is that the vertical climbing rope swells and becomes slick making it unsafe to climb with just my hands and arms.

Of the original six students that began the 3-Year Training Program in 2016, only two of us remain who will graduate next June. With only two of us to train, we've had to adjust our training to accommodate all of the other demands on our time. As a result, it's been an interesting and challenging semester in many other ways...

Midway through the semester, we were told we had to complete the Taiji Sword solo sequence by semester's end. Well, we recently finished the 54 sequence Taiji Sword routine! Now it will take us another 30 years to 'master' it and the sword applications...The Taiji Sword has become my favorite weapon for its grace, beauty, and deceptive power. Next week, when Dr. Yang returns from traveling to the Boston, we will have him check our form for corrections. various partner drills that we practice- stationary and stepping Pushing Hands, Yin-Yang Symbol, and Peng Lu Ji An have taken us from the world of solo practice into a dynamic sphere of interactions with another body in motion. The coordination of muscles, tendons, ligaments, skeletal structure, and breath required to correctly react/respond to an oncoming strike or kick while maintaining personal equilibrium is a fascinating experience.

Several weeks ago, we also were told we had to finish learning the entire Taijiquan Fighting Set by the end of the semester. I'm learning the defensive side of the set and my classmate is learning the offensive side. We are 3/4 of the way through it. Our goal is to finish it by Tuesday and have it checked for corrections by Dr. Yang before we depart next Saturday. Next semester, we'll switch roles and continue to refine the sequence. The objective is for us to know both the offensive and defensive roles of this choreographed fighting sequence in preparation for free-style sparring using Taijiquan principles.
My favorite math subject in High School was Geometry! I loved it. There is a saying in Chinese about the power of Taijiquan being able to use 4 ounces to deflect 1,000 pounds. While I had both an intellectual and experiential about this, it wasn't until I started practicing the Fighting Set that I gained a deeper appreciation for its meaning.

There have been moments; especially in the beginning stages of learning the sequence, when I literally felt stuck in place and unable to coordinate the proper and effective movement of my legs, torso, and arms. The beautiful thing is that one day after many, many repetitions with my classmate and then working alone with the heavy bag in the gym, it finally clicked for me. There is a moment when we make contact, call it a tangent that becomes an inflection point of departure or segue, that leads elegantly to the next movement(s) between us. Therein rests the power, beauty, and seductive mystery of this art for me. The ability to be so well coordinated and calm as to elegantly interact with an oncoming force with the timing to consciously and effortlessly neutralize it. have memories of doing something similar when I played street basketball and would use my defender's body, at just the right time, as the pivot point from which to make my next move toward the basket or to pass the ball to a teammate. Increasingly, I am embodying the clarity about the meaning and value of the first and thirteenth Taijiquan postures- Peng (Ward Off) and Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium). This experience of being a sphere in dynamic balance with an opponent makes more sense with every practice session we have in the Fighting Set. I'll have more to say about these ideas next semester...

Finally, I'll have Dr. Yang check my progress in the Taijiquan form (first chapter-22 movements) executed at medium speed. Although far from perfect, I've made progress with this. It was challenging to switch from my ingrained reflexes of doing the form at slow speed (4 minutes) to medium speed (40-60 seconds) and still maintain a root throughout the movements. The medium speed progression from slow speed is preparation to do the form with Jing (issuing power with velocity and a firm root without injuring yourself). 

What became obvious to me about my form at medium speed earlier this semester was that I had habituated my movements in favor of my slow twitch muscle fibers. Trying to get all of this mass to move correctly at a faster pace while still being rooted proved to be challenging and highlighted several areas that needed focus. Most important among these was the weakness of my Psoas Muscles. 

I did some research and implemented a daily program of hip flexor marches with Rubberbanditz  latex bands ( followed by squats and then back-to-back repetitions of the first chapter of the form. This strategy helped balance the power relationship between my glutes, sacrum and hip flexors and strengthened my ankles, knees, and hips/waist so that I could accelerate and be still be rooted rather than feeling like my body was ahead of itself and floating when doing the form at medium speed. Gradually, with other drills as well, I've gained the ability to use both my slow and fast twitch fibers in harmony with the joints to move quickly and have the connection from the soles of my feet up and through to my hands without any joint pain below my waist and with less leaning forward of my torso.  The next phase will be to transfer this into moving at fast speed while issuing power...

I'm truly looking forward to being at home during the Holidays! I wish you and your families the very best for the season and the coming year. When I return, it will be for the final semester of this program. We graduate on June 22, 2019!!

Thank you for all of your encouragement and support!


Tenacity | Discipline | Diligence | Resilience | Confidence

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Where did the time go?...

Listening to "Hocus Pocus" from Terell Stafford's album Brotherlee Love-Celebrating Lee Morgan and "Shiva-Loka" from Alice Coltrane's  album Journey in Satchidananda...

It was exactly 4 weeks ago that I returned back here "on the mountain" to resume my training. Like magic, I was transported by the wizards of United Airlines from the hot, humid, and rank city streets of Harlem, New York to this Northern California butte in the dark of night. When I finally arrived ten hours later at the Retreat Center around 1:30 in the morning, the most obvious difference was how exquisitely quiet it was compared to Harlem. I could actually see ALL of the stars in the night sky. And, the air was so fresh and sweet, breathing was like drinking down a cold glass of water every time I inspired.

The first week here felt as if a month had quickly come and gone. Now that a month has passed, the tempo is synchronizing to real time and my body and mind are finding a sane rhythm with which to complete this final year. Can you believe it (ironically, I'm now listening to "I've Known Rivers" by Gary Bartz...)-I'm at the tail end of the program already? Our graduation is tentatively scheduled for June 22, 2019. As I have more details, I'll pass them along to you.

It's my humble opinion that this program should have really been at least 4 years, if not 5 years, long. Three years is not sufficient time to grasp, practice, and embody all of the curriculum qualitatively. This is especially true of the partner-based training drills. Truth be known, this is a lifetime devotion and I will continue to train even after I graduate, still in search of that elusive 'power'. Practice makes progress...

While the graduates of the 10 and 5-year programs are no longer officially here en masse, several have returned as temporary guests focused on polishing up their areas of personal interest. It's good to have them here to answer training questions that come up unexpectedly. Our 3-Year group is down to only 2 active students. We're missing one teammate who will join us sometime this fall. We originally began with six. There are also five new students in the new 3-Year Program group and they are going through those initial pains of accommodating themselves to the daily grind. They are very enthused and dedicated to learning.

At the end of our first week, Dr. Yang strongly recommended my teammate and I do our Centering drills on bricks. This is to help us create a deeper ability to root when we're not standing on them. It's been a great practice to firm up our equilibrium. We are also 3/4 of the way through learning the Taiji Sword sequence. Of all the weapon sequences we have been taught, by far the Taiji Sword is my favorite. Grace and power are intricately woven together in a way absent from the other weapons (Staff, Saber, and Spear). I haven't been taught the White Crane Two Short Rods yet which I'm highly attracted to as well. So, I'll see how they fare against the sword...

We (Nona Ikeda and I) began learning the Taiji Fighting set. It is the extension and integration of the other skills we have been training these past two years: Pushing Hands, Yin-Yang Symbol, Taijiquan Form, Peng-Lu-Ji-An, Qin Na, and Applications. The set is a choreographed sequence that will prepare us to better execute our applications.

Video courtesy of Quentin Lopes

I've begun integrating more of the hard and soft White Crane Qigong and got a sampling of the basic repel and cover drills. In the next 2 weeks, I'll resume practicing the Shan He White Crane sequence and get instruction on the basics of Two Short Rods.

My conditioning is pretty much on target. I'm really happy to be back Panther Crawling up and down the hills at least 3 days weekly. My shoulder has improved considerably even though a slight twinge lingers. Yesterday I climbed up the vertical rope a little a little more than 1/2 way just using my hands and arms. It was a good climb, but didn't include speed yet. I resumed my pull ups, chin ups and dips this afternoon and will continue doing all of the hand and grip strengthening drills. My goal is to make it to the top in 10 seconds or less before the end of this semester which ends in 11 weeks.

On the Qigong front, we are doing the complete sequence of all the animals in the 5 Animal Sports routine. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish and feels great to transition from the Tiger to Deer to Bear to Monkey and finally to Bird. The most challenging of them is one of the movements in the Monkey routine-combing. That really works the feet, knees, and buttocks!

We'e still doing Four Seasons Qigong and I've been practicing the All Seasons set on the bricks as well. I'm also now standing on 3 bricks doing Central Pole (Embracing the Tree).

With 11 weeks remaining in this first semester, there are several areas that I'm focused on: Qin Na, Applications, Taijiquan Form medium speed, the Fighting Set, and Taiji Sword. I'll keep you updated on how I'm progressing.

Thanks, again, for all of your encouragement and support!


Saturday, June 30, 2018

I CAN do it...

Nothing compares to the feeling of having set a goal and accomplishing it! Nothing... Today, June 30th, is my final day “on the mountain” for this second year of the program. I slept later than usual since there was no group meditation this morning. When I finally got out of bed, I was focused on finishing my packing to get ready to leave in the afternoon to catch my evening flight to San Francisco.

As I moved about, I realized I wanted to take advantage of the morning to do some conditioning and review a couple of the sequences (Taiji Saber, Taiji Sword, and the Taijiquan form itself). Sitting in the airports between flights, as well as, the 5-6 hours on the plane itself was not appealing; especially after all the moving and training I’ve been doing these past 6 months. So, I skipped breakfast...

I began with Panther Crawling up the hill. I then did my trampoline push downs followed by pull ups and chin ups. Afterwards, I went to the enclosed gym and did my HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) routine using the 70 pound kettlebell (squats and swings). When I left the gym, I walked down the hill toward the main building. As I approached the vertical climbing rope, it beckoned me to the challenge.

Earlier this semester, I severely strained my right shoulder and had to stop climbing the rope as well as curtailed and/or modified several of the solo and partner drills. As my shoulder slowly healed, I promised myself to climb the rope all the way to the top before I left this semester. I made some good faith efforts along the way which were encouraging because I didn’t reinjure or aggravate the shoulder. I just didn’t have the extra power and strength to make it to the top.

Additionally, the focus of the past two months shifted to managing my time and energies around all the varied guests and prospective candidates for the upcoming new 3-Year Training program that begins in September. This last month, the focus was on preparing for the graduation ceremony for the Shaolin students. Needless to say, I hadn’t paid much attention to my climbing goal. However, this morning there it was right ahead of me.    

At first, I wavered a bit. My arms felt good. It was my mind. I felt doubtful and a little nervous, too. Then again, I always felt nervous every time I got ready to climb the rope even when I had no problem doing it before. So, I reconciled those thoughts and feelings and made up my mind to do it. There was no one else around. I gripped the rope firmly; right hand above my head, left hand just below my chin; elbows tucked in tight. I took a few deep breaths and used my legs to literally jumpstart me upwards.

I surprised myself the first few feet because it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. However, not long after that feeling, the doubt returned. I fought it off each time I pulled my body up. It got more difficult and there was a moment when I felt like completely giving up, but it was the furthest I had climbed up the rope since I had stopped. I paused for a microsecond and then committed myself to reaching the top no matter what. And I did it! It wasn’t elegant and smooth. In fact, it was pretty ugly, but I did it. I didn’t give up on myself. I didn’t give in to the doubt and fear.

I descended slowly and part way down I had to use my legs to help. In the past, I was able to climb up and down just using my arms. I know that will come again. I know I can...

It took me several minutes to gather my wind and emotions after I got to the bottom. It’s been a long time for me not being able to make it to the top. Now I know I can again...

Once I got my wind back, I Panther Crawled down the hill to the main building. I spent some time doing the Taiji Sword basics and the Taiji Saber sequence and then called it a day. Now I’m ready to leave the mountain...


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Faith, Discipline, Tenacity, and Diligence...

Sunrise at the Retreat Center
Faith has always been about things unseen for me. Absent of any concrete evidence to support one’s dream, there is this steadfast belief that a way is possible to fulfill it. And more than belief, there is the behavior, the actions that eventually shape the journey and manifest the goal. “Faith without works is dead.” -James 2:14-26 New King James Version

Yesterday, June 23, 2018, we celebrated the first graduating class of the YMAA Retreat Center training program! This was the initial culmination of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s vision to preserve the traditional Chinese martial arts and culture. Jonathan Chang trained here for 10 years, Javier Rodriguez and Frank Verhülsdonk trained for 9 years, Quentin Lopes trained for 6 years (and will be returning for an additional 3-5), and Michelle Lin, Piper Chan, and Enrico Tomei trained for 5 years. They trained in Shaolin White Crane, Long Fist, and Yang Family Style Taijiquan barehand and weapons.

To view this momentous event, Google the YMAA Retreat Center FaceBook page and either scroll down the Home page to yesterday’s live-stream video or click on the Videos button on the leftside of the page to open the video section. Once the video begins, make sure to turn up your volume on your device as well as on the video screen itself. You’ll see a variety of individual and partner demonstrations of barehand and weapons sequences performed by the graduates as well as members of the current 3-Year Training program; presentations by Dr. Yang and special guests; and the ceremony for accepting the new disciples into the YMAA family.

Dr. Yang provided the unique environment, opportunity, and mentorship for these young men and woman to experience this journey of self-mastery. The sponsors of the Retreat Center, the local community, and the families and friends gave their financial and moral support to help them achieve this goal. Most importantly, however, it is the graduates’ discipline, tenacity, and diligence which got the job done. This ability to make their bodies, minds, and emotions bend in service to their wills has rewarded their faith in themselves, Dr. Yang, and their process of personal, moral, and spiritual cultivation.

Yesterday was an inspiration for me! With just 5 days remaining now to conclude my second year of training, my aspirations have been further bolstered. The phrase, “Anything worthwhile having is worthwhile working for...” comes to mind and I understand it with crystal clarity. The challenges of a strained shoulder, recurrence of vertigo from a 21-year old car accident, and just the fatigue from these past 6 months of training stymied some of my goals this semester. Nevertheless, I learned so much and am looking forward to this summer’s break to then return for my final year “on the mountain.” Tomorrow we begin 2 days of oral testing on Qigong. Thereafter, we’ll devote time to preparing the Retreat Center for the summer seminars which commence in July.

Thank you, again, for all of your support these past two years! Perhaps we’ll see each other during the summer. I’ll be co-teaching a Tai Chi and Qigong workshop with my teacher, Quentin Lopes on July 14th in New York. The deadline for registering was 2 days ago, but if you’re still interested, please call me: (914) 482-3984, to see what arrangements we can make to have you join us.
Yin-Yang Symbol Partner Drill

Monday, May 28, 2018

Second Year's Homestretch

Bear Butte--southeast of the Retreat Center 
Listening to Bobby McFerrin, Irma Thomas, Gregory Porter, and Betty Carter from my playlist. It's a bright, sunny, and mildly breezy Sunday! I'm really enjoying today and the time to just BE; no scheduled demands or obligations to fulfill...

There are 28 days remaining before the first graduating students from the Retreat Center celebrate their achievements. Some have been training here as long as 10 years, but none less than 5. Dr. Yang provided an environment for them to train and they have taken full advantage of the opportunity.

In preparation for the event, we've had performance rehearsals. Our group, the 3-Year Program, continues to improve and refine the Taijiquan Saber sequence we will perform that day. My shoulder injury continues to improve and won't interfere with wielding the Saber correctly. In fact, I've managed to resume climbing the vertical rope albeit only 3/4's of the way up so far just using arms. My speed is understandably slower for now, but I feel I can still aim for my goal of getting to the top in 10 seconds or less.

After having spent much of this semester using the trampoline to refine my rooting and leg work, I've added back the brick standing drill to explore rooting further. The trampoline work I've done has literally given me access to a spring-like momentum in my ankles, knees, and hips I don't recall experiencing before. It feels similar to when I played basketball growing up. It's both a horizontal and vertical feeling of ease of movement with control and power, not just strength. It shows up most clearly now whenever I do Centering partner drills. I'm more relaxed overall and less prone to losing my balance under duress from my training partner. Additionally, Quentin introduced us to some stepping drills that are very helpful with leg conditioning.

I'm definitely more comfortable with the applications and Qin Na from the first chapter of the form. We keep practicing and refining and I see the improvements coming. I had to back off somewhat from the Peng-Lu-Ji-An partner drills because of the shoulder, but used that time to work on other drills that didn't aggravate my shoulder.

In the past several weeks, we've had a number of visitors train with us. They've included prospective candidates for the new 3 and 5-Year Programs, returning visitors, as well as YMAA students who come to refine their skills. I've enjoyed training with the variety of people and the different skill levels they bring to our experience.

This second year of training "on the mountain" is coming to an end quickly. The 6-month long second semester sometimes feels interminable physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychically. Now, the end is in sight--5 more weeks. I look forward to being with family and friends, students and colleagues "in the valley," and to sharing what I've learned to date. I accept that my daily training will be radically different when I'm home. More important is that I need a break to recover and recharge.

I'll be doing at least 2 workshops in the City this summer. One is scheduled for July 14th and that flyer has already gone out. It will be taught by me and one of my teachers here, Quentin Lopes, who is a disciple of Dr. Yang and graduates in June. The other will be co-taught by me and Julia Kulakova who is a certified MELT™Instructor. We'll explore the intersections between MELT™and Taijiquan. Details about this workshop will be sent out soon.

As I prepare to shift into my third and final year of training, I am pondering and weighing my return to teaching in New York when it's my turn to graduate in June of 2019. The synthesis of my experiences in the healing arts since I was 10 years old through my career as a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist and now culminating in my training with Dr. Yang is taking form. I look forward to sharing that with you in the not-too-distant future.

I sincerely thank each of you for your support in making this journey possible. It's been 2 years already! I've learned so much in so short a time. I hope that my experiences shared with you through this Blog have given you some insights and appreciation for my journey.

Depending on how busy the schedule becomes between now and June 30th when I leave, I may or may not be able to share another posting. If I am not able to before I leave, I will certainly reach out to you once I return to New York this July.


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 is just PREPARATION for more than you ever anticipated achieving. Don't give in; never give up!


Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Deja vu'"--That Feeling of Having Been There Before...

I didn't purposefully plan to write a Post to coincide with the one from last year this time, but here it is--eleven weeks remaining in this second semester again. The big difference now is it's my second year and I'm near completion of 2/3 of the program! Ironically, I'm nursing a joint injury again--my right shoulder. This time last year it was my left elbow from overenthusiastic rope climbing. Now, my shoulder was injured from fervent and improper body mechanics in centering drills.

Taiji Sword- "Waiting for a Fish"
Photo courtesy of Jamie Urquhart
Luckily, my training partners are pretty compassionate, understanding as well as skilled in a variety of healing modalities (massage, the MELT Method, energy work). Coupled with my own expertise and patience, I'm confident I'll be back in ‘fighting’ shape before the semester ends. It's challenging to be in pain yet find a way to sustain my training progress without further compromising my well-being. Were I not self-referenced, it would be very easy to fall prey to another's agenda of what I 'should' be doing. The intensity of this training regimen requires a delicate balance between short-time assertiveness and long-term functional performance. I see it as an investment strategy for quality longevity physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically, and spiritually. In other words, by the time this program ends, I should feel better than when I began it; not worse.

Taiji Sword- "The Fairy Shows the Way"
Photo courtesy of Jamie Urquhart
 I’ve been giving thought lately about my life after the program ends. I’ve also been thinking about my death, but not in any morbid sense. One Saturday afternoon recently during the time we do our weekly chores (I typically clean the bathrooms, mud/laundry room, vacuum the carpets, etc.), I found myself looking out the framed bathroom window upstairs in the main building. It happened to be sunny that day. For some reason it was crystal clear to me at that moment that there would be a time when I would not be present to see through that window. I wasn’t sad per se; just acutely aware of my absence in the world save for the memories that others might have of me from time to time.

That experience made me ponder the value of how I spend my time with myself and with others. I remember my mother, father, aunt, cousins, and friends that have died. Those recollections are always tinged with frayed edges of clarity and I'm never able to fully feel the past exactly as when it originally happened. Being here on the mountain nurtures my desire and capacity to be present at each moment now; savoring it deeply enough to, hopefully, have robust recall in the future.

The weather is gradually warming up and it's beginning to feel more like spring. We've switched from doing the winter set of Four Seasons Qigong to only the spring set coupled with the All Seasons set. I passed the Linear Yin-Yang Symbol test and just missed passing the Peng Lu Ji An stationery test. None of us passed the level 2 Centering test. So, in the next several weeks coming, we'll be retesting what we missed and include testing the Taijiquan form at medium speed. Hopefully, we'll be prepared

Taiji Sword- "The Fairy Shows the Way"
Photo courtesy of Jamie Urquhart
to test for the applications in the first chapter of the Taijiquan form, too.

The graduation ceremony for the 10 and 5-year disciples is on June 23rd. Our group has been asked to perform the Taiji Saber sequence as part of the festivities that day. It's an honor to do so as a token of our respect and appreciation for the efforts they have invested in achieving their goals here at the Retreat Center. Many family members and other honored guests will be in attendance to celebrate their achievements.

As we practice the Taiji Saber sequence assiduously in preparation for the graduation performance, we continue to explore and learn the elements and sequences for both the Taiji Spear and Taiji Sword forms. What plays over and over in my mind is the saying, "One hundred days for Barehand. One thousand days for Spear; and ten thousand days for Taiji Sword." We literally began Taiji Sword several weeks ago. So, I have another 30 years of training and practice to attain some level of proficiency in Taiji sword. What is inspiring to me is that we are able to somehow hold these different sequences in our heads and bodies-barehand Taijiquan form, Taiji Staff, Taiji Saber, Taiji Spear, and Taiji Sword. Never mind the various Qigong sequences, too- 8 Pieces of Brocade, 5 Animal Sports, 4 Seasons Qigong, White Crane Soft Qigong, Taiji Qigong, Taiji Sword Qigong, and Taiji Ball Qigong. Then, there are those amusing moments when our minds are prepared to do a particular sequence, but our bodies begin doing something else. We laugh at ourselves and each other with a deep recognition that we are slowly embodying the ability to respond through improvisation rather than just rote memory.

Taiji Sword- "Send the Bird to the Woods"
Photo courtesy of Jamie Urquhart
This current semester is drawing to a close very quickly. There is so much to still learn and to practice primarily in the Taijiquan part of the curriculum. While there are somethings I want to refine in the Qigong part (i.e., Taiji Ball Qigong and White Crane hard Qigong), the bulk of the material to learn, digest, and be comfortable with is in the Taijiquan partner drills and the weapon sequences. The current 3-Year Training Program concludes in June 2019. The remaining 48 weeks of training between now and then will be intense and robust for me. With the 10 and 5-Year disciples leaving this June after graduation, it becomes paramount that our 3-Year group remain as healthy as possible to sustain our training goals and schedule.

There are several applicants to the new 3-Year training Program that begins this September. Many have already spent the required 2 week minimum evaluation period with the community here "on the mountain." Those who are selected will be the beneficiaries of the errors and corrections we made and will, hopefully, inherit an improved program experience. More on that topic at a later date.

For now, thanks again for all of your continued support. As I come to the home stretch to complete this program and prepare to be "in the valley," I may need one last generous donation from those of you who are not subscription donors. This summer break, I will be in New York City and have at least 2 workshops that I'm organizing to share some of what I've learned so far, as well as, to raise funds to complete my final periods of training. I will keep you posted on those details.

Taiji Sword
Photo courtesy of Jamie Urquhart

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 ever anticipated achieving. Don't give in; never give up!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gratitude and Resilience

As of today, there remain 15 weeks in this semester, in this second year of training at the Retreat Center. The time has seemingly flown by. This coming autumn will begin the final and third year with graduation in June 2019.

I am really grateful for ALL of the support I have received to make this experience a reality. I remember how excited I was several years ago when Dr. Yang publicly announced he was thinking of creating a 3-Year Program that was not age restricted. Then I recall when he made the actual decision and began accepting applications. Each morning I prayed at my altar asking for the opportunity to be chosen to participate.

Now, I find myself here in the midst of the daily routines training and preparing myself knowing that soon I will be looking back remembering when I used to be "on the mountain". Each morning at 6:00 we sit as a group to meditate for an hour. Each morning I give thanks for the precious breath that flows in and out. There have been moments when I am acutely aware that without that breath, my life would cease. I do not take it for granted and, thus, inhale and exhale slowly and deeply. I give thanks each morning to the Creator, my Ancestors known and Unknown, my spiritual guides, and all my family relations. Often, I name all of my relatives and their children's, children's, children to be blessed for seven generations. I give thanks to all of the women in my life who thought me worthy to share their time, affection, and love. I give thanks to Dr. Yang for selecting me to be in the program and to my training mates who make me a better person and aspiring martial artist. Likewise, I am thankful for all of the people who have and continue to support me to make it possible to be here "on the mountain".

Each morning I give thanks to all my friends, all of my teachers throughout the years, and all of my students and former patients. I am grateful to all of the doctors who helped mend my broken body.

Each morning I am grateful for being healthy and of sound mind. I am grateful to be blessed with knowing that I don't know everything--I am not full nor satiated with life. I am grateful to have met my Kindred Spirit who is also my friend. Since childhood, I knew she was there and that it was possible, but it took my being prepared through life's experiences for us to recognize one another--I never gave up hope...

It is chilly and windy today. The sun made its brief appearance and has now retreated to oncoming evening. There are only a handful of us here until next week because Dr. Yang, his family, and the graduating students (from the 10 and 5 Year Programs ending this June) are in Taiwan to celebrate and meet Dr. Yang's teachers. Those of us in the 3-Year Program look forward to that same trip next year.

The past 2 weeks have been an unexpected time to rest my body and mind. I didn't realize I needed it so much until I kept falling asleep in my chair several times. I've had to modify the intensity of my personal conditioning as well as the partner drills. I'm also redefining what my specific goals are to focus my energy on for the remaining 12 months of training. Our curriculum is very robust physically and mentally and it's clear that I cannot learn absolutely everything. So, I'm choosing quality over quantity knowing that this is an ongoing discipline; especially after graduation. Like going to a great restaurant with a fabulous menu, you have to pick and choose exactly what it is you are actually going to eat and enjoy. Oysters anyone!?

Last week, before Dr. Yang left, we had our first testing this semester: Yin-Yang Symbol (Linear); Peng-Lu-Ji-An (stationary); and Centering level 2. We'll get the official results when everyone returns. For now, the experience was a lot less anxiety provoking than previous tests. It's now serving it's purpose which is to provide clear feedback from Dr. Yang about our progress with specific skill sets.

I'm really enjoying learning Taiji Spear and Taiji Sword! While I still like Taiji Staff and Saber, there is an elegance to the former that is remarkable to me.

Most days, I still do my panther crawls up and down the hill. I think it's paying off in unexpected ways. My training mates commented the other day that they notice a difference in the quality of my strength when we're doing centering drills. One said I now move more like a bull rather than a cow. You have to move out of the oncoming force of either, but a bull is different. The other said I used to feel like an oncoming train, but now it's more like a boulder. I was unawares until they mentioned it. In their comments, I have a glimpse of what it is I'm in search of which is the 'power' and not just physical strength. I'm still searching for it through one of these qi portals...Knock , knock!

Thanks, again, for your support and encouragement. By my example, I hope to inspire others to be at their best in what they choose to do, in how they choose to be. Ase'O!

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! 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sixty-Seven and counting...

Today marks the first day of my 68th year living on the planet...I was blessed with phone calls and text messages from family and friends, an unexpected care/love package in the mail from my Kindred, chocolate and pear cakes from my training colleagues, and FaceTime kisses from my grandson and granddaughter. I am fortunate to have lived this long in good health and to have the many relationships that are mutually valued. I am pondering what the next 10 years will be and look forward to the following fifty-nine when I'll be 128 years young!

I've been back "on the mountain" 36 days now and much has happened in such a short time. Upon returning, we wee informed that one of our training partners in the 3-Year Program chose to terminate his participation. Our numbers are now down to 3 from the original active 5. Our group expects to graduate in June 2019 and we are half way through the program with 13 months of training left.

While the scope of what remains in the program to be studied can feel overwhelming at times, I've come to accept that, realistically, these 3 years provide a solid foundation from which to continue to explore and refine my devotion to these arts after I graduate. That perspective removes any anxiety and angst and helps me focus in on what it is I can learn within the time remaining.

Log push ups in the snow 2/19/2018
Photo courtesy of Michelle Lin
Our learning seems to have accelerated during these past 5 weeks compared to our initial year and a half. While it was tough for me to get right back into the swing of arduous training when I returned in January, the focus on partner drills has paid off in unexpected ways. I'm still at the level of playing scales, but with the added awareness of what effective improvisation feels like in an active person to person exchange. Our drills include stationary Peng-Lu-Ji-An, moving Single and Double Pushing Hands, moving Yin-Yang symbol (Yang side), stationary Yin-Yang symbol (Yin side), and Applications from the Taijiquan form (including the kicking, striking, wrestling, and joint locking options)
Chin ups 2/19/2018
Photo courtesy of Michelle Lin
We've also begun learning both the basics and a sequence using Taiji Sword (36" long) and Taiji Spear (12' long). I can say, unequivocally, that studying the Saber (30") and Staff (7-8' long) really did prepare me for now tackling the Sword and Spear. Both the Sword and Spear are, by the nature of their design and length, more elegant and graceful instruments with which to express one's Qi. I've surrendered to the notion that it will take TIME to really feel comfortable wielding all 4 of these weapons correctly. My plan is to also include learning the 2 Short Rods of White Crane before I graduate.

My conditioning continues well. I recently calculated that the actual upward 50 yard slope that I Panther Crawl most mornings is not 45 degrees. It's 75 degrees! I now do it while wearing a 20 pound vest. This is going up as well as down the additional 45 yard side. I resumed climbing the ropes (vertical and horizontal) about 2 weeks ago, but it was an ugly affair. Because I had severely strained my left elbow doing too much during the  fall semester, I had to stop climbing as well as doing chin and pull ups. During the winter break, I rested and treated my elbow and forearm with Wise Woman Herbals ARCH Oil as well as used Castor Oil. While I can climb again without pain, I lost much of the gains I had made previously because I had stopped lifting my body weight with the chin and pull ups. So, I've resumed the chin and pull ups (sometimes with the 20 pound vest) and am slowly regaining my capacity to lift my body mass up the vertical rope. My goal remains the same: climb up the vertical rope in 10 seconds or less just using arms, no legs. I'll keep you posted.

I had one mishap with my lower back about 3 weeks ago that lasted about 3 days. I reintroduced dead lifts into my regimen, but took it a little too far one session. I was lifting 205 pounds, but did too many repetitions. It wasn't until late that night that my back muscles tightened up and didn't release for several days. I still trained, but cautiously. With saunas, self-massage, ARCH Oil, homeopathic Arnica, and daily stretching and Yoga's 'Happy Baby' pose, I found relief.

Overall, I'm stronger and more flexible and have increased stamina. Unexpectedly my body mass has increased and I now weigh about 168 pounds (up 8-9 pounds from last semester).

Our Qigong training continues and we are now doing the winter and spring sets of the Four Seasons Qigong routine. Additionally, we've learned and now include the Coiling set of the Taiji Qigong routine. We recently learned the complete set of the Bear sequence in the Five Animal Sports routine and started learning the first of 5 patterns in the Monkey sequence. We're also reading and discussing the Muscle-Tendon Changing, Bone-Marrow, Brain Washing book written by Dr. Yang.

 The weather has been unusually warm for the majority of the time I've been back. This time last year, it was miserably cold AND wet most days from heavy rain. Yesterday morning was the first time in many years that actual heavy snow fell (about 4") here on the mountain. We trained anyway... By late afternoon, it had mostly melted away.

There are 4 months remaining in this semester before I return to the city in July. I'll keep you posted on my progress and experiences throughout the time. Thanks, again, for your ongoing support and encouragement. Feel free to drop me a line or ask a question at

Hard White Crane Qigong with Quentin Lopes 2/19/2018
Photo courtesy of Michelle Lin

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!