Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Transitions—in “the valley” now...

On my way back to the east coast, I departed from Northern California this past Sunday morning to catch a late morning flight out of Arcata connecting through San Francisco. My three years “on the mountain” were officially over having graduated from the Taijiquan and Qigong program the week before. I was eager to leave.
My flights were uneventful and I got into Newark Liberty International Airport earlier than the scheduled 10:00 o’clock arrival. Worse case, I thought I’d be home in an hour. I didn’t get in until after 1:00am Monday.
The shared ride car service I used at the airport picked me up last and about two hours after I had deplaned. When we finally entered Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel, it became clear I had returned to “The Valley”. The intensity of the bright red and green traffic signal lights was exacerbated by the seemingly endless red brake lights as our driver found himself ensnarled in stop and go traffic traveling east along 38th street. He couldn’t make any turns because those streets had been cordoned off by the police in celebration of the Pride Parade.
As we moved along at less than snail’s pace, the overbearing signage from all the storefronts and the digital billboards were overwhelming visually. Consider that for the past six months I primarily looked at verdant scenery and the loudest sound I heard each day was the rooster or the dog barking. At one point, as we made finally made our way uptown, the wailing of an ambulance tracked behind us. And then there were the police car sirens...
My toughest challenges in returning have been the incessant noise and the thickness of the air quality. Whether it’s people constantly talking loud enough to be heard from the 6th floor where I reside, the blaring of rap music, the trucks, police sirens, and fire engines passing by or the revved up engines of cheap motorcycles, the noise never ends. And the air is just thick and heavy making it difficult to breathe easily compared to being on the mountain. Part of it is the heat and humidity for sure, but there is something different that I’m not able to pin point right now. It leaves me feeling tired and heavy like being underwater.
I haven’t been back a full two days yet. This morning I threw out the trash and was ‘welcomed’ by two large rats scurrying around from below the multitude of black trash bags overflowing from the metal bins. On the way to the subway station, the walking dead were shuffling about aimlessly, homeless, disheveled.
Nothing here seems to have fundamentally changed for those who have always lived here these past three years. In fact, nothing seems to have changed since I first became painfully aware of this urban blight of the spirit fifty-four years ago...Gentrification continues at a steady pace and those that have have more and those that do not have have less.
My hope, my prayer, my devotion is that this war of the Spirit can be waged successfully with those who are trained in the ways that promote and uplift the nature of who we truly are as spiritual beings having a temporary material experience. Learning and behaving as if we know how to be in the world, but not of it...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Graduation Day, June 22, 2019..

Dr. Yang, Jing-Ming & Dr. Woodbine
Photo credit: Jonathan Chang

Yesterday, June 22, 2019, my classmate, Nona Ikeda, and I officially graduated from the 3-Year Training Program in Taijiquan & Qigong at the YMAA Retreat Center in Northern California! The training experiences were demanding, arduous, challenging, and rewarding spiritually, emotionally, psychically, mentally, and physically. I gave my best efforts and, while I know how much more I need to refine what I've learned and continue to further explore this art, I am confident in what I learned and gained being here. The graduation marks the conclusion of the program, but it is not the end. Rather, it is a new beginning; a new chapter in my pursuit of being at my best in all ways to help others achieve their best...

All of my YMAA Retreat Center teachers, classmates, and visitors helped me appreciate more deeply these arts of Taijiquan and Qigong these past three years. I am honored to have trained with them. I am profoundly grateful to Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming for creating this center and for having chosen me to participate in the program. It is truly a lifelong study and practice.

This journey was precipitated by an unusual experience in a Boston Chinatown martial arts training loft in 1984 followed by my first exposure to Qigong and Tai Chi with Mantak Chia in Braintree, Massachusetts a year later. I have wondered about and sought answers to my experience ever since. In addition to the ten years I studied with Mantak Chia, I have been blessed to have had
Dr. Yang, Jing-Ming, Dr. Woodbine & Nona Ikeda
Photo credit: Jonathan Chang 
Dr. Woodbine & Noan Ikeda

training experiences with other notable teachers in these arts thereafter (Master Wang Qingyu, Heiner Fruehauf,  Fabian Maman). However, these past three years broadened and deepened my understanding of the scope of what Taijiquan is as a viable and effective martial art and to Qigong's intrinsic capacity to tap into and connect with the Source of who we are. Dr. Yang's lifelong study, practice and training in the practical use of Shaolin Long Fist, White Crane, and Taijiquan provided insights about Taijiquan I had not received elsewhere.

This day arrived quickly after seemingly taking such a long, long time. I am not without scars both seen and unseen from my time here "on the mountain." These will all heal in time and with proper rest...

I sincerely thank all of you who believed in me and supported me these past three years. I look forward to sharing what I have learned with you.

I believe that each one of us is a physical manifestation of the Light and Source of all. I wish to play my role in assisting those who are like-minded to assist this Light to shine intently to brighten the dark...

With gratitude,
Dr. Woodbine

Sunday, February 3, 2019

This Is It...

I've been back "on the mountain" nineteen days since the winter break which I need so desperately. I enjoyed resting more thoroughly while at home; sleeping in without any self-imposed demands on my schedule or my body. It was great to see and teach many of my students at SAGE and St. Mary's. I spent time with friends, family, and colleagues. Had my annual health check with glowing results. Saw and listened to Kurt Elling live at the Birdland Jazz Club.

The first week back felt like I had been here a month already. Now that it's been almost a month, it feels like I've caught up with myself and the demands of the training schedule. I can honestly say, at this moment, I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life! While I still have so much that I want to refine regarding how I move in space and time (either in solo or partner drills), I've reached an unexpected level of coordination. I had glimpses of this when I was a long distance runner and then a basketball player many years ago.

The rains have returned today after a few days reprieve. It was unseasonably warm last week when the sun was bright. Today it's been a dismal gray all day. We're without heat or hot water once more because there's a problem with the heater again. It's bearable since it's not too cold outside. My room faces North which makes it more challenging to remain warm, but I'm fine. The challenge is mostly at night before going to sleep when I'm sitting at my desk. I may have to fill up my hot water bottle with heated water from the stove tonight to keep my legs warm.

Within the past two hours, we've experienced a couple of tremors from the apparent aftershocks of a nearby quake! The feeling is very unsettling when the seemingly stable room your quietly sitting in begins to shake and you simultaneously feel this deep rumble and vibration through your feet. Both lasted no more than three seconds each, but were disconcerting nevertheless. And, it takes at least one of those three seconds to clearly register in your conscious mind that something is amiss and what that something is--an earthquake aftershock. There is, after all, a dormant volcano southeast of the Retreat Center...

I've been putting in a lot of work with my legs (squats, lunges, hamstring curls, weighted kicks, hip flexor marches with resistance bands) and I resumed doing both forearm planks and reverse planks. My morning panther crawls are faster and less winded. My shoulder and elbow strains are greatly diminished from doing pull-ups on the parallel bars. These and other routines are helping me feel stronger and more stable in movement during partner drills.

We're spending focused time refining the Taiji Sword sequence with a focus on applications. We've added additional parts of the Taiji Spear sequence and continue to refine the medium speed Taijiquan form for the first chapter. We've improved our execution of the Yang side of the Yin-Yang Symbol partner stepping drills and are polishing the Yin side as well. The Taijiquan Fighting Set is steadily improving now that we've learned the sequence and can slow it down to refine the exchanges. We continue to explore executing Applications from stepping Pushing Hands while paying attention to the four elements of Striking, Kicking, Wrestling, and Seizing/Controlling. We recently added doing Applications from Centering as well. We're focused on improving the cross body side of the Peng Lu Ji An partner drill, too. And, we've begun studying the variations for the Large Rollback (Da Lu).

For our Qigong curriculum, we are focused on reviewing and practicing the sequences we've learned (Eight Pieces of Brocade, Five Animal Sports, Four Seasons Qigong, Embryonic Breathing, Small Circulation, Taiji Qigong, White Crane Soft Qigong, Taiji Sword Qigong, Taiji Ball Qigong) and preparing for our final exam. The emphasis will be on case studies and how Qigong might be useful.

Well, this is it! With only eighteen weeks remaining, this 3-Year journey is quickly coming to a close. There remains a lifetime worth of studying and refining to do in these arts of self-defense and personal cultivation which I'll continue after graduation. Graduation is officially on June 22, 2019 here at the Retreat Center! I'm excited to complete my training and return home to teach. It has been a profound learning experience.

I sincerely thank all of you who have and continue to support me through this journey. I hope that these Blog entries have provided you with some level of access to my experiences along the way. It was one of the ways to express my gratitude. As this final semester progresses, I will keep you posted. Stay tuned...