Diary of a Failure (Part 2)

Disclaimer

One, this post isn’t finished yet (see: Part 1). Two, I’m looking for things to criticize in order to try and justify his failure and my own desire to continue practicing. Therefore, most of this stuff is stuff you might not care about in a normal situation. I may have intentionally misread or misunderstood the details of what was going on in order to paint what he said as contributory to his failure. Three, and again, he did not actually fail at anything. I am sure he is very successful now, albeit in another field.

Almost “Getting it”

It was ten years ago today that my friend finally discovered his own Qi. Good for him. He had a quantum breakthrough understanding of his martial arts. That is good. But several strange things happened over the ensuing years which bothered me. He would complain of strange injuries he would get from forms and pushing hands. He would pull a muscle in his hand while kicking. He would have an inexplicable problem with his hand or arm joints in push hands. In hindsight I view this as a sort of “chi sickness”. My theory is that he was involved in too many arts. He probably picked something up, some sort of general understanding, but it was not deep enough and his familiarity with tai chi (etc.) simply was not there. Many key points of internal and neijia training were simply not there or were very unclear. For example, I remember once when we discussed the importance of forms. He did not understand the concept of why the form was so important. I recall reading the Tao Te Ching, chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, and many others, speak of the way to practice Tai Chi. But somehow he did not seem to have learned these lessons, or lacked a teacher who was able to explain them — either in simple terms or from the classics. As a result, he had many troublesome points of understanding. Yet he worked so hard. I wondered, if it would be enough for him.

No respect for Kung Fu

In retrospect I think I can sum up many of his problems from pulling one idea out of the part 1 post. He had very little respect for traditional ways. In Dai Family Xingyiquan there is a saying, “Three years of standing, and two years of walking”. This refers to the incredible amounts of time required to train the internal shenfa and come to properly express it in taolu. My friend would always say that was bullshit. But there is a strange truth to it. Some things cannot be rushed, and often even when one feels he is making progress, he is not. Sometimes it comes in waves and doesn’t mater what you know or what you trained. It is in those moments I myself have realized that the only thing that mattered is that I was training for a certain length of time, at a certain intensity. Hard work over time. That was the only factor. But before such a realization it always seemed so important what I was training. Perhaps it is a combination of both. One cannot leave out the kung fu or getting it is impossible.

For me, personally, I am scared that if I put in the hard work it will be fruitless. This is because I am older now and if I fail in this try I only will have one more chance, at best. It is different for me than for someone younger. Perhaps being younger my friend had a more careless attitude. Perhaps this youthful reckless carelessness was the culprit. At least, a contributor.

The Fall

Looking back I can identify the first major fall he took. He began filling in the blanks. Once it became acceptable to him to make judgements about how past masters trained, and the time and effort they put into their kungfu (a point I will touch on in one of my next posts) it was also acceptable to start making things up about how internal arts worked and how they were supposed to function. Since he could apparently “feel his qi”, this made him an expert on almost everything, and he closed himself off from future learning.

I remember one event in particular when we were discussing how jing and shen was taught in taijiquan and he told me that you absolutely must be taught the specific visualizations for the particular series of jings at every stage of the tai chi form. This, obviously, is rubbish to anyone who knows taijiquan at a higher level. There are no such visualizations which are required for anything. I’d always known this to be bleed-over from other arts and qigong sets. But he believed it and felt that any tai chi that didn’t have visualizations of jing and so forth was a waste of time. He also didn’t believe in practicing the form for more than one hour a day. It was difficult to talk to him at this point because he was more interested in just spewing out whatever came into his head about tai chi and internal martial arts. It was already too late to reach him. I wasn’t skilled enough to show him either. This was my failing, a failing I one day hope to recover from. It will be a difficult task. One of the things he began doing shortly before the end is criticizing multi-decade Tai Chi lineage holders for how they practiced. I knew then it would not be too long before he gave up. He had lost his connection to the source. Maybe he would land safely in xingyi — maybe he would catch some Dai family and it would shake him up a little. I didn’t know, but I had hope.

Missing the point

My friend began to miss the point. Why was he doing the form? What was it supposed to do, exactly, Why train sword? Why do push hands? It’s just wrestling right? Look at all these people pushing and shoving. This is the way to get what works? Soon he became so disillusioned he had to take a break. I didn’t see him for about two weeks. When he came back he confided something in me which I will never forget. He told me he didn’t really get it. He told me he didn’t really understand the internal arts. That whenever he got frustrated in push hands against someone who was far above him in skill he would try to win with external techniques — roughing it up a bit so to speak.

There is another thing that struck me about him. Throughout all of this time he would give a running commentary on his blog about why people didn’t get internal arts, how they didn’t have a good teacher, weren’t introspective enough, how certain people were no good because of x y or z, how Western people could never understand kungfu and why, and so on. But all of it applied to him. Read another way it was almost a confession. I began to feel sorry for him. If only he would listen to me. I could teach him everything. It was so simple. So easy. All he had to do was trust me. But he had already made his decision. I could tell in his heart he was preparing the way for him to admit he did not believe that IMA were even real.

The Reprise

My friend suprised me. He began an in-depth study of past masters. He read everything he could get his hands on. He talked with people. He went and met people. Through this he met a sifu he eventually baishi’d to a year or so later. He gave it one last shot. I was relieved. I thought this time, he would do the work, this time, he would listen to his teachers, this time would be different. But shortly after he had begun with his new teacher he began telling me many stories of Chen Man Ching’s secret teachings, secrets of the Yang family, Tai Chi secrets and so forth. Facepalm. Now he was being led down the garden path in an entirely new way. I knew if this continued, when he fell flat on his face he would finally break. This time he would feel lied to, defrauded, and perhaps rejected. Now that he had been let in on some lineage’s “secret” qigong (oh boy… eyerolls extreme…) there was no turning back. If he didn’t “get it”, then it must not exist.

He really bit in hard. He reversed his position on science being applicable to CMA and qigong, he idolized past masters, and he searched for wisdom wherever he could find it. After all this time he had finally been taught the very basic push hands exercises for ting jin in a somewhat proper manner. No bullshit. But to him it was new, an eye opener. Perhaps because of this he was unable to accept it’s importance.

Some part of him just didn’t agree. Ultimately I think he decided deep in his heart he just didn’t “believe” — whatever that even means. And he said so. He was calm and cool about it. He confided to me my worst fears. All along, he thought the IMA and it’s training methods were complete bullshit. I asked him what he was doing baishi’d into a lineage that did all three major IMA. I’ll never forget his answer:

This is real Tai Chi, we don’t go in for any of that “secret” bullshit.

We use force as well as emptiness. It’s yin and yang. Not all yin like those other Tai Chi people. We spar in push hands and we spar using valid techniques from many CMA.

I was dumbstruck. In one fell swoop he threw out all the traditional training methods, all of the word formulas and songs, the concept of qi, proper relaxation, nuturing the small, mind intent, qigong, and so forth. And what did he replace it with?

Basically? Wrestling, shuai jiao, judo, I guess, in a word. Basically his practice was to mimic the external forms and go through the motions in push hands, until he felt some opening and then use hard, external force to apply technique. He would take moves directly out of shuai jiao or judo and use them with or without the opponent’s consent. He had no idea of “leader” and “follower”. He would just resist, and use the shock of it to distract (feint) and set up a throw. He was at this point beyond reach and beyond help because although he had some experience with qi and sensitivity, his tai chi had become permanently corrupted by what he knew from other arts. In a sense he was unable to let go of his other knowledge and learn the tai chi way. He wanted to learn HIS way, which was picking and choosing whatever move, shape, form, or energy he could from everything he knew and putting it into push hands like it belonged there. He didn’t even understand the point of push hands. It was a total train wreck. About this time, we stopped talking. That was many years ago. Most of this post comes from remembering what he wrote on his blog.

From what I remember he lost a lot of friends over his decision, actually. A lot of the more traditional people he hung out with began to stop talking to him. About this time he would start to go more and more back to judo, aikido, and finally MMA classes. He had made a strange decision, despite being baishi’d, to leave his lineage and study Judo and MMA. Hey whatever works. I am not calling him a traitor and I don’t think he made a mistake necessarily. I don’t want to paint it like that. But in the ensuing years, as his blog transformed into MMA central, and then died, I kept wondering;

Why did he Quit? Why didn’t he get it? Am I a fool for believing? Did he know something I didn’t know?

Ultimately as I look back on his life and the things he was involved with I come to three very distinct conclusions about why he quit IMA after being so deeply involved with it. Why he felt it was useless. Why he made a switch.

  1. The culture of IMA, Tai Chi in particular, is not appealing. Frankly it is difficult to find good push hands partners. Many tai chi people do it for health. Etc. Not conductive to your average martial artist.
  2. He simply did not put in the required effort. Unfortunately this is more true than he and even I would like to believe. The fact is, money matters to a lot of people. And as it is said, it is dangerous to try and become stronger. If you fail, can you support your family? Not everyone can train six or even four hours a day. We have jobs and families. For some it is possible but they would rather play their videogames, have their guitar or their piano, or have their friday nights our with the boys. Some people just like drinking and smoking. Some people just don’t really want the kung fu. They would simply rather do something else.
  3. He did not specialize. Kungfu requires specialization and true honestly not just with oneself but a with a deep understanding of the theory and practice of the art. How much history did he know? How deeply did he understand Tai Chi (or any one of the literally 10 different arts he was interested in)?

In the end I believe these were the three greatest contributions to his failure as an internal martial artist.

Within a year or so after getting involved with MMA he quit MMA and closed his blog. He doesn’t come around here anymore. I don’t even know if he lives in Taiwan anymore.

I wish I was strong enough to help him or to show him a better way. But I am not strong, I am just a beginner.

The Kettlebell

Just a cheap little 12kg Kettlebell
Say hello to my little friend.

I’ve been interested in Kettlebells for quite some time as a sort of weight training device which was closer in principle to Taijiquan than dumbells, barbells, and larger weight equipment. Promises of training the “core” were what attracted me, and the “whole body” workout you could get with just a couple of simple exercises really appealed to my knowledge of Taijiquan. However I was (and remain) skeptical because I know what spot training will do to me and my precious sensations during practice.

So I bought a 4kg kettlebell to try it out, then quickly realized that was a mistake because I should start with a heavier weight. This 12kg kettlebell is on the low end of recommended starting weights for an adult male. So I’m going to try a basic “simple and sinister” workout. Ten sets of ten swings and five sets of two Turkish get-ups (one on each side).

I’ve already noticed, however, that I bought the wrong kettlebell. This one’s horns are too wide to do halos. I mean, I can do the halos, but it bothers my hand. It’s kind of annoying. The kettlebell was less than $1000 NTD (about $30 US) so it was relatively cheap, no big loss, and it’s still a great looking kettlebell. It will just annoy me to buy a different one. Even if I use them together I am betting one will be slightly heavier and it will annoy me.

Well, that’s life. I guess I’ll buy a different brand of kettlebell when I start looking for a heavier bell.

The Imperative of Falling Off a Cliff

Everything else in my life has basically faded away.

I quit playing Go, and I quit playing Guitar. I quit basically all my other hobbies. I don’t really play video games anymore. I quit drinking, and I quit smoking. Smoking took a very long time, and I paid a dear price to quit it, but I did that on purpose. The point is I quit. So yay me. I still have one problem left, which is my weight, but it is the sort of concern which will resolve itself over time as long as everything else goes according to plan.

I did all of this to prepare the way to study Tai Chi Ch’uan. We all start martial arts for different reasons, or from a short list of reasons I suppose. But over time I can say that Tai Chi grew on me in ways that playing Go (Wei-Qi) or playing Guitar, and video games did not. I touched on this in the last post. The thing is that with Tai Chi, when you have it, it’s really yours, you own it. Like cash in hand versus in the bank. So however I got here, somehow, I got here, and now I have a very serious problem.

I am dying.

I cannot stand this anymore. The lifestyle, even as much as I have changed it, is killing me. I feel like I am trapped in time, trapped, or like falling off a cliff and I am about to die. I have to rent a place and open a Tai Chi school. I have to get out of Taiwan. It’s not that Taiwan is bad. I don’t mean leave the country. I mean get out of the oppressive heat and bugs in the park. If I can rent a good place for a Tai Chi school I will end up spending 6 to 8 hours a day in that place. That will only do me good. That is what I need. I know I need it, and I know I can do it. I’ve done it before, in better climate, and in kung fu schools, I would spend as much time as I could in a community center gym, just going over basics. So it’s not like I don’t know what I am getting into. It’s not like I don’t have the time or the will. I do. In fact I have the kind of time that “nobody has time like that anymore”. I can do that kind of training. I can make this my life. It kind of already is.

And that is why I am dying slowly here, now. Trapped and alone with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

I console myself by telling myself that this situation will resolve itself within a few months. But this is going to be perhaps the most difficult few months of my life so far. Then again, I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to be able to say that.

When I get this whole enterprise up and running, this blog will die. It will die by being reborn. I’ve always liked the Tsukino clan, so we will see what happens, but I am probably going to be looking for a new name this time. The fact is, this is a Chinese pursuit, and it should rightly be given a Chinese name. I already have one in mind, from one of my old books.

Day 1: Jogging for Life

Day 1.

In many ways this is so true. I’ve let my practice down severely after a series of accidents and ill health. The big one was a motorcycle accident I had a few years ago after which I stopped practicing altogether. But today I feel better. I feel out of practice, but I also feel like I have turned a corner in my life. Finally — in many ways, not just physically and mentally but with my job, I finally can set aside all the worries of my daily life and concentrate on kunfu.

Why Kungfu and not Weiqi, or some other art or hobby? I’ll bring that up later (or not at all). But the focus on martial arts has multiple benefits for be besides fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

For now, here’s day 1. There will be more to come soon; I have three days worth of footage lined up for editing.