New Hampshire Three
That August at the 10th Bushi No Te Summer Camp after Saturday activities were over and talking with Laoshi till 3am, at that time he pulled me away and we went up to a large field in the dark and he asked me to perform the first row of my Yang form. This was after 15 years of work and I felt I had at least made some progress. Then the hammer dropped and he began his critique. Probably over a hundred corrections in ultra-detail. Sure it made me feel unworthy, but that was not his purpose.
Instead he had be begin again and continually lightly touched different points on my body and I immediately began falling each time. Then I started over again and at a different point he’d touch and the same result I was falling. I had no idea I was that bad. Then he gave me the ANSWER to Everything as well as the Ultimate Question. Exactly like the ’Hitchikers Guide to the Universe’.
He wasn’t touching pressure points, he was touching what he called energy points that because of my mistakes in correct body alignment were vulnerable to disrupt my balance. They weakened my technique, they left me open to disruption, open in a way I created myself. Relate this back to pushing hands, you don’t defeat your opponent but they defeat themselves because of their mistake, another expression of the same principle.
What he shared was a methodology to use to make sure the correct alignment was being used. It works to correct myself, it works to develop the student. Those corrections now made more sense, not mistakes but an opportunity to go beyond what I was doing.
Separate note: I immediately saw the implications to karate and the same principle works. I now could explain mistakes by showing a student how they were losing power, a way to confirm when they were doing something right, a way to evaluate and judge movement from any system. Interestingly I could review a video of a tournament form, and then compare the judges decisions compared against the alignment of the competitor. Most interestingly, now having a concrete method of analysis. Furthermore it provided a way to learn to immediately evaluate where to strike, to most effectively counter-attack exploiting an opponents’ weakness.
Laoshi explained he was now explaining this to me because he was training 15 years, himself, before it was explained to him.
That year was a focus point for many changes. This new understanding about my tai chi would work it’s way through my own studies, forever.
A new students, an Isshinryu sho-dan from NY, John Dinger, joined my program and almost immediately decided to study tai chi too. He took right to the program and while one of our younger students moved on in life the size of the tai chi group remained constant. Very shortly after he began he married in Derry and I attended his wedding. John became a cornerstone of all my programs.
As the years passed, it was fun to watch them become something in addition to their Isshinryu. They made real progress in tai chi. Hot or Cold we continued to share. My longest student was only home 3 months at a time. He was a Chief Engineer on an Oil Supertanker and worked 3 continuous months and was off 3 continuous months at a time.
During the end of the 90’s Laoshi and I would exchange visits.
When I’d travel to Pittsburgh I was asked to run a clinic for his students. In turn I started studying the Wu Tai Chi Chaun teaching form, the predecessor to the Wu Fast Form. I had his instructor’s book and video tape and learned the form in 5 lessons. It helped that the Wu from was a descendent of the Yang form I had a lot of fun, but each time he’d give me hundreds of corrections on what I already had. Very difficult to experience but his point was I’d remember enough to give me lots to work on, which was true.
I would note that I was not a Wu expert but found great value in that training. Because of the difference in palm formation and use I made a great impact on my Yang training. Not sure if anyone will understand but I found my palm as a resut of the Wu study.
When Laoshi visited Derry, he would do the clinics, covering kung fu forms and applications. Then in 80 he taught the Yang 24 form, which he was using for new Tai Chi students from his training with Shum Leung. Ifound the 24 interesting, but never took to it, feeling too much like tai chi light as I then had 20 years with the Yang long form. After some practice we set it aside. (note the Karate focused students didn’t have the inclination for tai chi, and the krate/tai chi students felt the same as I focusing on the long form.
One day John Dinger had a friend who taught Tai Chi in Maine visit and work out with us. Except for my wife’s time with Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming I really hadn’t spent time with others in tai chi. I had seen some video but that was about it. Outside of our tai chi being different he demonstrated his Yang Sword Form and then I demonstrated mine. My form was about 3 times as long as his and he was very impressed to see it.
The intersection between tai chi technique and karate technique became plain to me. It was not finding a tai chi move in kata. Where we’d work a tai chi application and focus on using exactly the same energy and shape of the movement from the form (much harder to do than to say), we would reach a point where we could feel the flow of the move made the application effortless. The next week we were working an application in karate class, a very different move, but there was a point where in that movement the hand moved at that point identical to the tai chi movement from the earlier weekend. I looked up and saw all of my tai chi students finding the same thing and they were just looking at me. It was a non-verbal sharing because those practicing karate didn’t have the same frame of reference. It became clear the link between the arts was at that instantaneous movement where the same forces could be tapped and applied. Very slight, Very Subtle and Incredibly powerful.
In 2001 John Dinger stopped training in our programs. Eventually we would learn he had an extremely rare genetic illness and was losing control of his normal body functions. Standing he might just collapse.
I began to visit John and we would study tai chi seated in a chair. Eventually he had to enter a nursing home during a year where he was continually tested for every possible test in existence as the Doctor’s were trying to find out what was the source of his illness. My visits continued and so did our smaller tai chi practice till we focused on just some basic warm up drills.
John’s condition was such he couldn’t pick up a glass, but we discovered while he lost much control of his body, he could control his tai chi techniques with greater ability. He and I worked on how he could use a tai chi technique to more complete pick up a glass. An extremely large group of Doctor’s were following his case in Boston and at the Mayo clinic with weekly meetings. They were amazed at his ability to perform tai chi technique (limited of course). When John could do no more, we focused on tai chi breathing.
Then John left the nursing home and eventually left us for the time being. I attended his wake and funeral and was surprised how his wife talked about his dedication to tai chi and continual practice through his life.
I still miss John but I am glad I was able to share tai chi with him as he began the next journey.
We’re here today and then one day we’re on the next journey.