Friday, December 18, 2015

The Dao of Forgiveness….

A blog about essential text in the Daoist tradition and tai ji is in the works, but for now I love this quick story about forgiveness from Derek Lin's "The Tao of Daily Life." The essential part of the story for me is that the practice of forgiveness never ends until we let go of the ego, let go of our sense of self-importance, and become one with the dao.

                                                 Prayer ribbons and locks on Mt. Hua in China. 

One day, the sage gave the disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes. 

"Think of all the people who have done or said something against you in the recent past, especially those you cannot forgive. For each of them, inscribe the name on a potato and put it in the sack."

The disciple came up with quite a few names, and soon his sack was heavy with potatoes.

"Carry the sack with you wherever you go for a week," said the sage. "We'll talk after that."

At first, the disciple thought nothing of it. Carrying the sack was not particularly difficult. But after a while, it became more of a burden. It sometimes got in the way, and it seemed to require more effort to carry as time went on, even though its weight remained the same.

After a few days, the sack began to smell. The carved potatoes gave off a ripe odor. Not only were they increasingly inconvenient to carry around, they were also becoming rather unpleasant.

Finally, the week was over. The sage summoned the disciple. "Any thoughts about all this?"

"Yes, Master," the disciple replied. "When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers."

"Yes, that is exactly what happens when one holds a grudge. So, how can we lighten the load?"

"We must strive to forgive."

"Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing the corresponding potato from the sack. How many of your transgressors are you able to forgive?"

"I've thought about it quite a bit, Master," the disciple said. "It required much effort, but I have decided to forgive all of them."

"Very well, we can remove all the potatoes. Were there any more people who transgressed against you this last week?"

The disciple thought for a while and admitted there were. Then he felt panic when he realized his empty sack was about to get filled up again.

"Master," he asked, "if we continue like this, wouldn't there always be potatoes in the sack week after week?"

"Yes, as long as people speak or act against you in some way, you will always have potatoes."

"But Master, we can never control what others do. So what good is the Tao in this case?"

"We're not at the realm of the Tao yet. Everything we have talked about so far is the conventional approach to forgiveness. It is the same thing that many philosophies and most religions preach – we must constantly strive to forgive, for it is an important virtue. This is not the Tao because there is no striving in the Tao."

"Then what is the Tao, Master?"

"You can figure it out. If the potatoes are negative feelings, then what is the sack?"

"The sack is... that which allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended.... Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance."

"And what will happen if you let go of it?"

"Then... the things that people do or say against me no longer seem like such a major issue."

"In that case, you won't have any names to inscribe on potatoes. That means no more weight to carry around, and no more bad smells. The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to not just to remove some potatoes... but to relinquish the entire sack."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Important lessons in tai ji

Yang Cheng Fu became the standard bearer for the Yang family in the early part of the 20th century, and published many materials about the art. Essential reading for any tai ji student. 

Narrated by Yang Cheng Fu 
Recorded by Zhang Hong Kui

Yang Cheng Fu Application - Vancouver Tai ChiThere are many schools of Chinese wushu (martial arts), all with technical skills based on philosophy. Since ancient times, many people have devoted their lifetime and energy to probing the nature and essence of wushu and mastering the maximum skills, but few have succeeded. However, a learner can improve his skill if he keeps on practicing and someday he will become an expert. As the saying goes: Drops falling, if they fall constantly, will bore through a stone.
Taijiquan is a part of the rich cultural heritage of China. It is an art in whose slow and gentle movements are embodied vigour and force. As a Chinese saying aptly puts it, “Inside the cotton is hidden a needle”. Its technical, physiological and mechanical qualities all have a philosophical basis. For learners, the guidance of a good teacher and discussions of the skills and techniques with friends are necessary, but the most important thing is persistent and untiring practice. Indeed, there is nothing like practice, and learners of taijiquan, men and women, young and old, will get the best possible results if they keep at it all the year round.
In recent years, the number of people studying taijiquan in various parts of China has been increasing. This is an indication of the bright prospects of wushu. Many learners are conscientious and persistent in training, which will enable them to attain a high level of achievement. It should be pointed out that two wrong tendencies should be guarded against. The first is that some some people who are young and talented acquired a quicker understanding than most other people and so become complacent and stop half way. These people can never achieve great success. The second wrong tendency is that some learners are too anxious to achieve quick success and get instant benefits. They want to learn everything in a short time, from shadow boxing to wielding the sword, broadsword, spear and other weapons. They know a smattering of each, but do not grasp the essence and their movements and postures are full of flaws to the expert eye. It is difficult to correct their movements, for a thorough “overhaul” is needed and , as often as not, they might change in the morning and return to the old habits in the evening. Hence the saying in Chinese boxing circles: “Learning taijiquan is easy but to correct a wrong style is difficult”. In other words, more haste less speed. And if these people pass on their mistakes to others, they will be doing a great harm.
In learning taijiquan, one should first of all start from the quan jia or frame of boxing; he should practice according to the routines and follow the master’s every movement carefully, and keep each action in mind. Meanwhile, he should pay attention to the nei, wai, shang and xia. Nei means using the mind rather than force. Wai means the relaxation of the limbs, shoulders and elbows, making the movements from the foot to the leg to the waist gentle and continuous. Shang means straightening the head, and xia means sinking the breath to the lower belly.
For a beginner, the most important thing is to remember these points, grasp their essence and practice each basic movement correctly over and over again, never seeking quick success and instant benefit. It is advisable to make slow and steady progress, for this will pay in the long run. In practicing taijiquan, it is necessary to keep all the joints in the body relaxed, so that the movements will be natural and unrestrained. Do not hold your breath (that may lead to puff and blow), and do not use stiff strength in moving the arms, legs and waist and body, but try to make your movements gentle and continuous. These two points are well-known among the wushu experts, but many trainees have difficulty putting them into practice.

The learners should bear in mind the following points:

1. Keep your head erect and do not incline it forward or backward. As the saying goes, “Its like there is something on your head, and you should take care not to let it fall”. But you should not hold your head in a stiff manner, and though your eyes look straight ahead, they should follow the movements of the limbs and body. Although your eyes look into vacancy, they are an important component of the movements of the body as whole. Your mouth should remain half open and half closed, with the nose breathing in and mouth breathing out naturally. If saliva is produced in the mouth swallow it.

2. Hold the torso straight and the backbone and free end of the sacrum vertical. When moving, always keep the chest slightly inward and the back upright. The beginners should keep these key points in mind, otherwise their movements will become mere formality or dull-looking, and they will not be able to make much progress in spite of long years of practice. 

3. Relax the joints of both arms, letting the shoulders droop and the elbows curve naturally; the palms should be slightly extended and the fingers slightly bent. Move the arms by consciousness and send qi (breath or vital energy) to the fingers. Remember these key points and success will be yours.

4. Take not of the difference in stance between the two legs which move as gently as those of a cat. When one foot is planted firmly on the ground,the other is in an empty stance. When you shift the weight on to the left leg, then the left foot is firmly on the ground, while the right foot is in an empty stance, and vice verse. though the foot is in an empty stance it is always ready to move. When the foot is firmly on the ground, it does not not mean that you should exert too much force on that leg, for if you do so, your body will incline forward and you will lose your balance.

5. The action of the feet is divided into kicking upward and kicking downward. When you kick upward, pay attention to your toes, and when you kick downward, pay attention to the sole; consciousness of the action will be followed by vital energy, and vital energy will be followed by strength. When you do all this, you should relax the joints and avoid stiffness.

In practicing taijiquan, one should first master and practice the “frame” as above mention (bare-handed forms), such as Taiji shadow boxing and changquan (long shadow boxing); then one can proceed to single-hand pushing, one-site pushing, pushing with feet moving and free-hand fighting, and after a period one can take exercises with weapons such as taiji sword, taiji scimitar and taiji spear.

Learners should practice regularly every morning or before going to bed. It is preferable to practice seven or eight times during the daytime; if one is hard pressed for time, then at least once in the morning and once in the evening. Do not practice immediately after meals or after drinking. The best place is in the gardens or parks where the air is fresh and the environment conducive to health. Do not practice on windy days or in a filthy place. For when you do exercise, you might breathe in too much dust or dirt which is harmful to your lungs. It is advisable to put on sportswear and comfortable cloth or rubber shoes. When you sweat, don’t take off your clothes or wipe with cold towels, lest you catch cold and fall ill.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Building relationships in China

In my many years of martial arts training, and my time in Chinese medicine school I have often heard teachers and other students claim that there are no more masters left in China, or the communists ruined Chinese medicine, and other such things. Usually those views were expressed by people who had visited China once, or maybe not at all. My experience has proven otherwise….

In 2005 and 2006, I made several trips to Sri Lanka with a small group of friends to do aid work. Everyone involved was a martial artist or yoga teacher, and one of them was my tai ji teacher. The work there had deep meaning for all. On each one of these trips I felt some major spiritual shifts, and on my last trip there, in the winter of 2006, I decided to make some big life changes - to devote my life to healing, Chinese medicine, and martial arts. Embedded in that commitment was the desire to travel to China to see for myself what was there. In planning my first trip I decided to go with Michael Winn of Healing Dao USA. Winn had been traveling to China since 1983, and had sponsored a number of trips to visit Daoist holy sites and mountains, to practice qigong, and to learn about Chinese culture. I was in!! Visiting China for the first time with someone who had already built relationships was and still is essential.

The Chinese have a word for relationships, guan xi, and without it you will get nowhere in China. It has deep cultural significance implying networking, connections, and favors. There is an inherent trust, and a bit of give and take for all concerned parties. Some people think this just involves cash, and payoffs, and indeed that can be part of it. But it is often more subtle, and can be as simple as lunch or a small token of appreciation from the visitors home country. Whatever form it comes in, developing guan xi takes time. The Chinese are cautious to enter into a relationship with someone they don't know as guan xi also involves responsibility, and the possibility of losing face if something goes wrong.

In the martial arts world, developing these relationships involves showing up more than once or twice. Imagine how many westerners have visited China or Taiwan, learned a couple of forms, and then returned home declaring themselves a master with secret forms they learned from unnamed teachers in Asia. Now imagine you're the Chinese teacher who may have gotten $100 for a weeks worth of training, and receives no credit for the work. It's disrespectful, and goes against Chinese culture which pays immense respect to lineage, and ancestors.

I ended up going to China 3 times with Michael to visit as many Daoist sites as I could with him, and to meet with hermits, monks and nuns. I met several of the abbots who run the main Daoist centers in China, and continued to travel there on my own as often as possible, sometimes 2 or 3 times per year. But really, China opened up for me about 4 years ago. Through friendships I had developed, I started to meet and visit with various teachers, and to gain access to people that I never knew existed or would never have met without the proper introductions.

For example, during my first trip to Nanjing in 2010 I was able to visit a friend's father in the hospital. He was older, about 88, and had had heart valve replacement when he was younger. However, the valves were beginning to leak, and at his age another surgery was too dangerous. At the hospital his chart was split into two sections - on one side was a list of western medications, and on the other was his Chinese herbal formula, as well as acupuncture points. I got to visit him several days in a row and observe his progress, and eventual release from the hospital. Afterward, we played mahjong at his home, and he shared his medicinal wine with me. Known as jiu, his recipe involved ginseng, goji, and red wine. Our time together also included a dissertation on how to choose ginseng, and how to make the tonic for myself. He also tutored me in the reading of the Dao de Jing in Chinese, and we spent time comparing the simplified characters to the traditional and classical Chinese characters, often referencing calligraphy books he used in his own painting.

On my next trip to Nanjing, I was taken to a Chinese medicine clinic run by the students of the Nanjing TCM University. It was setup one weekend a month in an herbal pharmacy off campus. The cool part was that the Chinese TCM students were scouring the countryside to find the older generation of Chinese medicine practitioners, barefoot doctors, who had been trained prior to Mao, and the formulation of TCM. The doctors would see patients, diagnose, and offer herbal prescriptions while the students observed and notated everything these doctors said and did. I was able to observe for the day, ask questions, take notes, and at the end of the day received acupuncture for the first time in China. It was vigorous to say the least, but the effects were long lasting.

And on yet another trip we decided to visit the Daoist temples on Maoshan. On the way there I mentioned what history I knew of the place, and the practices there. When my Chinese friends heard the excitement and interest I had about the mountain they made some quick phone calls, and within 10 minutes had secured meetings with the abbott and some of the top practitioners outside the typical tourist route. Again, guan xi is what made all of these experiences possible.

These are but a few priceless memories, but none are as meaningful as the meeting of my Chinese martial arts teachers detailed earlier in this blog. China can really kick your ass. It's crowded, dirty, and the people often just run you over. Language is a huge issue, and there is definitely a level of distrust for foreigners. But if you keep showing up, remain humble, and work hard you will find that doors open up for you, and with even just a taste of the rich history that China has to offer you will be a better practitioner for it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Nanjing, the last day

My last morning in Nanjing I arrived at the park at about 6:30am and practiced on my own for 30 minutes, moving slowly through the new form, and trying to simply get the postures and choreography. I was desperately sore. The park was much more empty than on the weekend days, and I practiced next to a group of grandma's practicing a choreographed tai ji fan form set to Chinese pop music. 

Shifu showed up alone and we began practicing. Thankfully, he was much more relaxed in our stances. Within an hour I had the rest of the form, faster than he thought I would have it. I ran through it many more times, and he would make small corrections each time. A couple of his older students showed up to watch and offer encouragement. Of course, the parade of onlookers continued, and Shifu continued to showoff the foreigner that had learned the entire Chen broadsword form in 3 days. Every time he would say "3 days", the Chinese faces would look astonished, and they would clap when I finished. 

By 8:45am Shifu felt I had it, so he called Li who had offered to drive me to the airport. To my surprise Shifu made the drive with us, the two of us falling asleep on the way. Li often commented on the high quality of Chinese cars, and the miserable skill of Chinese drivers. When we got to the airport I offered my Li some money and he said, "no you are my brother now, I can't accept." Shifu smiled, both at my gesture, and Li's reaction and understanding of gong fu etiquette and family. They presented me with a gift, small tai ji figures with shot glasses on top of their heads. Hinting at was was to come on my next visit. We hugged, took pictures, and I vowed to return in the spring to see my new teacher, and gong fu brothers and sisters. I really hope to see Gao Shifu again, to practice, thank him for all he has shown me, and of course for giving me this opportunity to study with his teacher. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nanjing, day 3

The next morning, broadsword in hand I got to the park early again, about 7:00am. Gao Shifu was in his usual spot, so I went over, and with just a bow and morning greetings we started tai ji walking drills across our little section of the park. Almost as if on cue, a man somewhere in the distance starting playing erhu, the Chinese two string violin, as we walked. With just a few people in the park we were mostly alone, just Shifu and I walking in silence, our steps and our breath in sync, moving as if were caught up in a river or the tidal change of the ocean. Once again I was overcome with emotion, and my heart just exploded open. I had rarely experienced such serenity. After quite a bit of walking he turned and said "Yang 24." Today my form was on point, much better than yesterday. When I finished he smiled, and said "very good, but you know yesterday the Yang looked terrible." We both laughed, and moments later Da Shifu walked in to the park. We bowed, I said "xie, xie," and I went over to my new teacher. When I turned to wave goodbye to Gao Shifu he was already gone. 

Da Shifu told me to stretch while the kids class warmed up. There was a funny moment when some of the senior students noticed all the mom's were dressed up for todays class, much moreso than yesterday morning. Da Shifu pointed to me, and said I was the cause. A few of the mom's blushed and we all laughed. The kids were very distracted by this new foreigner, and would run over to rub my beard and try to speak english. All the senior students worked through various forms and Shifu would offer corrections. He was very hard on them. We jumped right back into the broadsword form, reviewing the moves from yesterday, and adding a few new ones each time he felt I had them committed to memory. After a bit we took a break, and the other students would ask me to do forms with them, usually Chen forms I had never practiced before. I would follow along as best I could, and they would break out small sections for us to work on. It was great fun, and I was learning an incredible amount observing and moving with them. At various points in the morning a crowd would gather to watch us, and often just me practicing solo. At one point we had about 100 people watching as I was learning new moves. Often they would wander right in my path as I was swinging the broadsword with full force. The Chinese are not always completely aware of their surroundings. 

I had an amazing forms partner who tirelessly trained with me. She is Da Shifu's 7 year old prodigy. She would perform with me for the crowd so I wouldn't get lost, and offer corrections whenever possible. By the end of the class she was riding on my back, taking pictures with me, and I was calling her mei mei, little sister. It was also the first tai ji class I had ever been in that took regular cigarette breaks. After about 4 hours of work I had progressed well enough that class broke and we decided to go for lunch. Small issue, everyone had a bike except me and my sword partner from yesterday. They all rode to the restaurant, and we ran. Four and half hours of tai ji practice and then a 1.5 mile run with backpack and sword in hand. I was already in pain…

The restaurant was owned by one of Shifu's students named Li, so he ordered and prepared an incredible menu for all of us. I was asked what I liked and I replied anything but dog, they all laughed. Soon enough we were all joking and carrying on like old friends. Shifu called a few more of his students over for lunch to meet me. There were many toasts, and praises to each other, and of course thanks to Shifu for his teaching. We did our best to communicate with each other using translation apps. At one point the students toasted me, and called me their new gong fu brother. I was very touched. And then the wine came out, followed by more toasts, and we all joked about drunken tai ji in the afternoon though we were all a bit reserved as Shifu said we would definitely work hard this afternoon. About half way through lunch, a group of Australian students walked into the restaurant and I was asked to play translator and help them order. It was nice to speak English for a minute. After about 2 hours of good food and wine we headed back to the park, but this time I was on the back of a scooter. I would love to have video of that moment - me on the back of Li's scooter, a foot taller than him, carrying two broadswords, cigarette hanging in his mouth, both us with a bit of wine in us. Judging by people's reaction, we were a sight to see. 

Back in the park it was just Shifu, Li, and me. We worked through the next 1/3 of the set for 3 more hours. Every 15 minutes or so a new group of Chinese people would stop to watch, and ask Shifu about me and the form. Sometimes he would stop me and have me start the form from the top so they could see the whole thing. It must inspire the Chinese to see a foreigner do tai ji, because Shifu was handing out business cards all afternoon. Li was an incredible help. He is one of Shifu's senior students, and also a national champion. His forms are magical, and his coaching perfect. Again there were many cigarette breaks, and Li would often demo the sword movements with a cigarette instead of the sword. Just when I thought it was over Shifu said "we can leave after you get through the set 10 more times." I was toast, but determined to impress Shifu and Li. With just a few breaks I got through the 10 repetitions, and we said our goodbyes for the day. Shifu told me to come to the park tomorrow even if it rains, it is essential that I finish.

I stumbled back to the apartment to pack, and then ran out for some last minute gifts for friends at home. Ran might not be the right word. I was walking like an 80 year old man. My legs were jelly, and every time I stood they would shake. As I was getting ready for bed that night the rain started, and it poured all night until about 5am. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nanjing, day 2

Saturday morning, I practically ran to the park. As I entered I could already see him in standing meditation about 30 minutes before the usual 7:30am class time. As I got close he opened his eyes and did a double take as he saw me approaching. He broke into a huge smile and a look of disbelief. My eyes welled up with tears, and I tried my best to hold them back. As I spoke the word "shifu," I completely broke down, the tears flowed, and we bowed to each other. I tried to explain where I had been, about my divorce, and that I was sorry I had been away for so long. He rubbed my shoulders warmly, touched my heart for a moment, and then with very little hesitation said "show me the form." I tried my best to settle down and I showed him the Chen 18. I moved slowly, and powerfully when needed, and put all of my heart into the form. When I finished he bowed and said "very good, beautiful, now the Yang 24." I moved through the next form, but I could feel that I was all over the place, my body would not listen, and I stumbled. With a smile we worked through corrections until his regular students started to show up. 

Before his class officially started I presented a gift of wine, and he said "No, I cannot accept. You will give it to Da Shifu." I wasn't clear on what exactly he was saying. I knew Da Shifu probably meant his teacher, but I was struggling. A few moments later an older man walked into the park, and we ran over, Shifu telling me to bring my things. Introductions were made, and I gave the bottle of wine to Da Shifu. He politely refused a couple times, and then accepted the gift. Shifu gave him a quick explanation of what I was working on, and then I was asked to perform the Chen form again. I was finally settling in, and feeling grounded in China as I moved through the form. By the time I was done a crowd had gathered and there were applause from some, including Da Shifu. Without a word my teacher left. Da Shifu broke out a small photo album of his teachers, and all the champions he had trained. He explained where he learned each of the styles he teaches and from who, and we exchanged business cards. In the age of Youtube masters, and self-proclaimed gurus this was a welcome change. By now his students were showing up, and for the next two hours I was treated to performances of different forms from his many national champions. In all of my years of martial arts training I had never seen anything like this - not at tournaments or even on video. Such power and grace, I was blown away. I had to perform a few forms as well, and I was completely humbled by their acceptance and approval of my practice. And then, finally, he asked through one of his students who could translate a bit, "what do you want to learn?" I was surprised, as I still wasn't clear on what was happening or the protocol. I said "anything you want to teach." He decided on a Chen broadsword form. One of the senior students loaned me a sword and we worked on the beginning of the form. I pushed myself into very low stances as I tried to impress him and the members of the class. He also took the opportunity to teach one of his other students the form at the same time. I later learned he is currently on the Chinese national team as well. That entire morning he chastised the student whenever my stances were lower or I picked up the movements quicker. I felt terrible, and really did not want this guy to hate me. Da Shifu's favorite past time seemed to be getting his students into beautifully low stances, telling us to hold them while he runs to get his camera and snap some pics.

We parted ways at about 11:30, with instructions that I would buy a broadsword that afternoon, and return the next morning for a full day of training. I looked around for Gao Shifu, but he had moved his class and I couldn't find him to thank him, or even ask for an explanation of what had happened. I assumed this was a good thing, and an honor. I just didn't understand how or why it happened. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Back to Nanjing

Six years ago I was lucky enough to meet Gao Shifu (Gao Xiuming). I had traveled to China with my girlfriend, and was staying in Nanjing for a few days before moving on to Dali. My first morning there I woke up at 6:00am, and looking out the window decided to walk across the street to practice my tai ji. By 6:30am the park was starting to fill with practitioners - tai ji, and qigong mostly. I practiced some bagua around a tree away from the main groups of practitioners, and then a bit of the Yang long form tai ji. As is standard in China, I attracted a lot of attention being the only foreigner in the park. Many people stopped to watch, pass judgement, and point out what I was doing wrong :) After about an hour, I noticed a man in a bright yellow tai ji outfit watching me finish up my form before starting his own class. It was a peaceful morning, and I returned to the hotel for breakfast and to start my day. 

The next morning I followed the same schedule starting at 6:30am, walking through bagua, some xing yi, and tai ji. However, on this day the teacher in yellow came a bit early to the park, and he seemed to be paying a bit more attention to me. I finished for the morning and began to walk back to the hotel, but the teacher stopped me, introduced himself as Gao Xiuming, and asked if I would like to join his class. I jumped in, not knowing what to expect. We worked on some wushu kicking drills, silk reeling drills, and walking drills. It was fun, and I learned some new exercises to take home with me. We then worked through Yang 24 and 42 frame sets. At the end of the class he asked how long I was staying and said that he would like to work with me. I explained that I was leaving the next afternoon for Dali, but would be back after a weeks time for two more days before going home to L.A.. So he said, "let's try." On my third morning in Nanjing I started training with Gao Shifu on the Chen 18 form. He was meticulous, and pushed me into very deep stances. We got as far as we could in 3 hours, and I vowed to practice in Dali.

Upon my return to Nanjing the following week we got through the whole form. Leaving him after that first trip was actually very difficult. I felt very emotional as I said goodbye, and I remember having to leave the park quickly and awkwardly. I had found another great teacher in my life. Over the next few years, every time I returned to Nanjing, I would meet with him for his regular class. We would spend time polishing the Chen form, and I would get extra instruction on the shorter Yang forms that I had not learned in the states. Gao Shifu was extremely generous with his time, and completely giving in his practice and teachings. I have many videos of him performing the forms solo and along with me, as well as class video of drills and forms from my many trips to Nanjing. We would often share lunch after class, and with the help of his students and friends who spoke English, we would talk about tai ji theory, and Chinese medicine. 

Due to Chinese medicine school, I had to slow down on my China trips, and in the blink of an eye almost 3 years passed without me seeing my teacher. But finally this year, school and state board exams done, I made a plan to go back to Nanjing if only for a few days to see him, and show my progress. I arrived in Nanjing on a Thursday night to pouring rain, and lost luggage - not an auspicious start. In order to surprise him I had not called ahead. Besides he spoke almost no English, and my Chinese vocabulary is that of a 3 year old so a phone conversation would be difficult.

I woke Friday morning to a light drizzle, and made my way to the park. It was virtually empty as there is very little cover from the elements, but a few people were practicing. I waited until about 7:45, but he didn't show. I finally mustered the courage to speak to a couple guys who had been there all morning. They didn't practice any forms or anything but they had the kung fu walk. If you study long enough, and hangout with martial artists you can tell who practices within a crowd of people. I pulled out my phone with a picture of Shifu, and began to speak mandarin. I said, "sorry to bother, but this is my teacher, is he still here?" They said yes, but not today because of the rain. I asked if he'd be here tomorrow, and they assured me he would. I thanked them, and made my way out of the park for tea, and breakfast. Disappointed that I hadn't seen my teacher, but happy with the knowledge that he would be in the park tomorrow. That afternoon the sun came out, my luggage showed up, and I had a great day seeing the sights around Nanjing. I found a great meditation spot at Xuan wu lake, kind of the Central Park of Nanjing. There's a small island with a memorial to Gou Pu, a Daoist mystic and the father of feng shui where a few people practice tai ji and qigong. It's a nice peaceful place to sit in the middle of a hectic Chinese city. Things were looking up.