The New Place

It took a month of searching but finally the new place is ready. It’s a 1,300 square foot area, training area about 1,000 square feet. I could teach five or ten people in here. Currently I have one student who comes once a week, which is something, but I think I will express to him that he should come more often. Maybe I will just offer him to come every day.

In the month since I came back from Toronto I didn’t practice very often. The shock of a new environment once again dragged me back into old patterns. However I have many things to look forward to. I don’t smoke or drink anymore, at all. Before I would smoke and drink only a little bit. But at this time it is all gone. This is a great headwind for me but it will be temporary, I must work hard. Second, of course, I have my new place and the teachings I have received. One, what I have been taught is still with me, I can do it. Also I know I am willing to push myself to practice and remember it all. But this door that my teachers have given me is a difficult one. I can get back to where I was and perhaps go further this time but it will not be easy. As I work myself into this new way of living there are two things I meditate on. One is the difficulty of my new path. A fellow player wrote it on his blog and I would like to share here.

It is said that a teacher can only lead one to finding the door.
Its up to oneself to walk though it.
One must be clear otherwise many years of practice is of no use. It may take many tries to find the right door.
Often its not the door we think or want.
Its the door that is, waiting.
Out there with out thinking or wanting… its there. Like the broom waiting for one to put it to use. Not quite finished the sweeper of the mind, waits for the mind it “Finding the door”

This helped me remember some of the things my sifu said. Such as, we must always remember our goal and not to get distracted by other things. It’s one of my faults.

Another thing which has been troubling me for some time, which I call ‘the poisoned cup’. It is a surprise, a bonus post, which appears within this one.

The Poisoned Cup

What is Taijiquan? Every time I visit a different school I get told something completely different. My first teacher, Patrick Kelly, told me that he would teach me Taiji but first I must learn Praying Mantis and Eagle Claw kung fu. Why? Because without a solid grounding in external arts, I could never master the internal. This made sense to me and I had read it in other places. I also knew something of Chen style Taijiquan, having practiced Yang and derivative forms of Taijiquan on a daily basis for quite some time (about three years). With gusto I began my training and I learned two forms, the 18 hands and eight step linked fist. I loved these forms and I learned quite a lot of applications for them. Sadly I had to leave Winnipeg, because I was quite young and not in control of my own life. But I vowed to understand Taijiquan at some point.

Years later I found myself in places like Eddie Wu’s Taijiquan academy, Ji Hong Taiji College, Andy James’ school, the Jing Mo guys on Augusta (great guys, BTW, thank you all), and various groups in the park. The park people were mainly a place to ‘just do it’ for 2 or 3 hours in the morning. Everyone taught a little differently. Different jibengong. Different qigong. Different forms. I began to notice a few things. Today I will talk about one of them, tomorrow maybe another.

We do it this way because we don’t understand what is really going on

The first thing I noticed is that people at the student and ‘new instructor’ level (5-10 years) generally did their forms one way and it was the one true way things should be done. But not because they knew how to teach or do Taiji. It was because they didn’t know. They became locked into a certain way of doing things because their master taught them that way and out of a personal lack of commitment they never picked up on what was really going on. After a very long time I realized this kind of instruction could no longer teach me anything. Even for a long time I just sat around learning different variations of the Taiji form. This kind of stubborn, almost ignorant patience paid off however for three important reasons.

a) (most important) I got a lot of practice in. And it was all ‘Tai Chi’, my taichi in the end.

b) I was exposed to a variety of frames, so I learned to look for something behind the frame to tie everything together.

c) I met a lot of people, including some non-taiji people, who had some interesting skills to share.

In particular with c) I met a tachi preying mantis group which did a 108 taichi preying mantis form. These people had an exercise which is commonly known in Canada from another school. In this ‘other’ school they do not know what the exercise is for. However with just a few minutes of coaching from this group I was able to experience chi flow from my dantian out to my hands and back. This experience was one of the crowning achievements of my Taichi career, however as someone who was still not in control of my life I was unable to grasp and hold this experience.

In particular with c) I met a xingyiquan and yiquan master who taught out of the basement gym of a school on Beverly street. He was able to feed me jing. Quite an interesting experience and something I will remember and be able to work on in the future.

In general I began to realize the commonalities of neigong work and what neigong work was really all about via these experiences and my own personal study. And I realized that for most people even at this level they were not clued in to the particularities and specialties of Taijiquan but had instead fallen down into a wrong path (and there are several). This is a dangerous wrong path for people because it feels like you are making internal progress (and you are!) but it is just not the internal progress of Taijiquan. And you can’t get out unless you go back to the basics and double down on your practice time. You wont find out unless you find out for yourself. I look at these experiences as stepping stones along the Taiji path because I think getting your internals woken up to some degree is something you need to do before you can really understand why tai chi does things in a certain way. Before that point you don’t know and you are too easily misled by others.

But this is not the poisoned cup. The poisoned cup is the great number of tai chi people today who can’t even get to this point because they very impatiently mix taijiquan with other arts that go in a different direction (see above). And they don’t practice enough to get anything anyways. So their cup is poisoned, the information they give is poisoned, any success or gong they get is poisoned, and they are shocked and often insulted when you try to tell them what is really going on, what tai chi is supposed to be. They think they know. But they don’t know at all. The cart has gone before the horse. Reaching for the far and disregarding the near.

To be fair I am still working out what Tai Chi is supposed to be, but I have been set on a certain path in opposition to contrary teachings. I’ve become the mind that waits. I owe it to myself and my teachers to fully explore the path I have been given before once again branching out and seeking the truth elsewhere. Who knows, I may find it this time. But it is the years of doubt, of waiting and wondering, crying, difficulty searching, only to be told in the end I am still not ready (but I knew that).

It’s just that this time, I finally have not just the information and the path, but the means to explore it. Everything has come together. This is what I have been waiting for! With what I have I will be able to explore the future. And then, finally, there will be peace.

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.

What you have and what you don’t

What attracts me to martial arts most of all is that when you have it, you really have it. I mean, you own it. It’s yours. And no one can take it away from you, of course, without chopping off an arm or a leg.

A martial arts wiki? Not really. You don’t own the wiki. The server is a liability. Most of the information is available in other places. And if it’s not? Then all your doing is giving away what you could be charging for. Well, it’s a living, if you pursue it to that end.

A youtube channel is much the same. I wanted to inspire people about losing weight by making a youtube channel where I did a daily episode and lost a little bit of weight each time, by doing kung fu and tai chi. It was cool for a while but how long can I keep that up? And in the end what would I have to show for it? None of the videos would be any good because they would represent me at a time when I wasn’t that great. What’s the real point of that? Wouldn’t it be better to actually affect people’s lives by helping them, training them?

But you have to be good. Really, you do. Because you have to aim high. Tell you a story to help explain why.

Knew this guy. Names not important. Back in the day, 15 years ago, I met him at the park doing Tai Chi. He was okay, I mean, I knew he wasn’t very good, he was actually a Karate teacher, more or less, back then. But he was getting into Tai Chi so we became sort of friends. Tai Chi friends. One day we pushed hands and he suddenly jerked back and plowed me one right in the stomach. I was a bit shocked but asked for another round. He just walked away like he was the champion and I wasn’t worth being near. No biggie, the next day he came back and apologized, it was no biggie but it was very clear to me he really didn’t know anything about Tai Chi.

Fast forward to these days, when I’ve come back to Toronto to train with my Sifus once again. I decided to look this guy up since he is some kind of Tai Chi teacher now. He teaches out of his defunct cafe (never open — just uses it as a training space in the morning) and he teaches in Scarborough and possibly other places. He isn’t very good. I mean, he hasn’t really improved in the last 15 years. His posture is ridiculously bad. But, all things being equal I am not there to criticize people, I just wanted to meet my old friend. The problem is he was really laying it on thick. The things he said and the way he acted, it was obvious he felt he was superior not just to me but to most people in the community. He told me about his 4th degree black belt, his 40 plus years in the martial arts, what a good student he was, etc.


He didn’t live the lifestyle, and his form was bad. I’m sorry to say it, but it was just bad. There were many beginner deficiencies. It was very clear to me he was still using his Karate and other arts to fill the gaps he never learned in his Tai Chi. And the whole culture of secrecy thing. Wow, it was difficult to talk about the art even in general due to his lack of knowledge and his hiding what little he did know under a veil of “teacher’s secrecy”.

I wouldn’t feel so sorry for the old bloke if I knew he practiced as much as he preached. But sadly he is a ‘family man’ who does not have time to practice very much or very often. He teaches one or perhaps two hours a day and I have never seen him practice outside of those times. He has forgotten how to learn — knowing only how to teach.

So how do you reach people like this? You have to be good — better than good. See? You have to be the best. You have to shine. Your lifestyle and your character must be impeccable as well as your skills in martial arts. Only then can you climb the unreachable peaks and save those people who cannot save themselves.

Monday the 3rd

I woke up a little late but got to the park around 7:30. I warmed up with stretches and kicks practice, then 8 reps of the 24 postures Wu Laoshi taught me. Then I did the first three sets of Sun style. It began to spit a little so I moved over to the door of the CC and waited a few minutes for the center to open. I got in first and changed my shoes and went into the corner to practice. I had no encounters today with Mr. class leader (good).

But what was really interesting is that two or three other groups showed up to practice at about 9am. A sword group, and a Cha Quan group, and I think another one. Fortunately Mr. class leader did not confront those other groups either, or we would have had a big brawl on our hands.

Frankly I can’t imagine that he was not embarrassed at having been so confrontational and lying so much. I really don’t know what his problem was. I am probably going to have to accept the fact that I may never know what got into him, as it doesn’t look likely he will approach me again with a schpeil like he tried to pull off last Saturday. Then again, seeing me another twenty plus times this month might change something in him I don’t know. This is actually a really interesting situation, a good test of emotion and spirit for me. We will see what happens in the future.

Class with Hu Laoshi was spectacular. He is so generous and accessible. However I feel clubbed over the head with information and technique. It isn’t that I forget what he taught me per-se. It’s that I am going to have to work very hard and do my homework immediately without rest in order to grasp what he has taught me. He has gifted me, and I must appreciate it by oening the gift.

In the afternoon I happened to walk by a branch of the Taoist Tai Chi society. Someone inside was doing the form — not particularly well, but not the worst I had seen. I didn’t really want to go in but I did anyways, and I asked them about taoism. They basically do not teach taoist meditation or philosophy as a separate practice, as I was told, not even in the temple on D’arcy street. I was told that everything is wrapped up in their form. Honestly, I am not really surprised, only maybe that they have managed to survive this long in today’s Toronto, which is much more enlightened than 30, 20 or heck even 10 years ago. I also saw a few other schools notably northern karate on st. clair which has a very nice studio.

I want to promote Tai Chi in a nice downtown studio. But that is going to take more than just skill, I will need money! Maybe I can partner with some other masters somehow. It is a dream for the future.

First days in Toronto

I landed in Toronto a couple of days ago and have finally begun to settle in a little bit. I don’t enjoy my space as much as I had hoped, but it’s not bad.

I’ve already had two classes with Sifu Wu and although I wasn’t expecting it, due to the material we covered, I do find that it is helpful material. I’ll continue to trust Sifu on those matters for now. Sifu knows best!

And now the curious case of the Scadding Court Tai Chi drop in. I went in on Thursday, and the instructor, a younger Canadian man, was leading the class — full of older Chinese people. Observing the class this did not make sense to me, as I recognized at least one of the older Chinese was a tai chi teacher in the park from 10-15 years ago. Why was he joining this class, did not make much sense to me. The lead instructor’s form was not good or bad, well, it just seemed average for the class. In some ways the students in the class were better than him. But not in any meaningful way. But what really surprised me was his attitude. I’ve been thinking about it for days.

Encounter 1
I went into the Gym on Friday morning to see him doing standing meditation near the benches. I approached him and asked about the Tai Chi drop in. He was immediately evasive. I kept asking him about the drop in because I was confused at the information he was giving me as it was obviously inaccurate based on what I had from the community center director and also from personal experience going to Scadding Court for many years prior. He then excused himself to go to the washroom. When he got back he simply pretended I wasn’t there. I got the hint and went off to practice by myself on the other side of the gym.

Encounter 2
After his class I attempted to ask him again if he taught Tai Chi and if they did push hands but he just ignored me and left.

Encounter 3
The next day (Saturday) I showed up and just did my thing, standing meditation, in the corner. He approached me and asked if I wanted to join his group. I said I wasn’t sure, because I was doing other styles of Tai Chi (in all honesty I didn’t want to pick up on yet another style/group, I wanted to practice what Sifu showed me). But he didn’t let me explain anything, he just cut me off and said he only wanted to know if I was going to join his group. I said no and he went back.

Encounter 4
About 3 minutes after the previous, he came back an asked me to leave since I wasn’t going to join his group. I was shocked but it still didn’t “sink in” to me. So I explained to him I was aware this was a Tai Chi drop in, that the director had explained to me about the different groups and tensions between them etc. He just interrupted me and told me that since I wasn’t going to join his group I had to leave. At that point I kind of lost it (kind of) and told him that I had done Yang style for 20 years and that I wasn’t going to join his group because he was rude to me. He didn’t seem to care or to understand and just said I had to leave. So I told him in no uncertain terms I was very well aware of what was going on, i.e. that it was a drop in, there were multiple groups sharing the Gym, and so forth. I told him I was nice to him in the beginning and I couldn’t understand why he was being so rude. But he just said he was going to call security and that was it.

So we went up to talk to the front desk lady. At that point he demanded to speak to her alone so I said sure, and waited. Obviously he was not giving a fair and balanced account of what happened. But during this time my friend Henry who had been coming to the Tai Chi drop in for 20+ years happened by and we struck up a conversation at the front desk. I don’t know if this helped when the desk lady saw it but the long and short of it is that the lead instructor went back down to the Gym and I was given an official membership card for the center and told to come back on Monday (it was the end of class by then).

Encounter 5
During this time I went back down to collect my things. This may have made it look like he ‘won’ and that I was told to leave. In any case I went back down to the Gym and tried to apologize to him. I just wanted to diffuse the situation but maybe because he thought he ‘won’ he just continued to ignore my apology and walk away. Needless to say, me apologizing for his bad behavior is backwards, but it is a friendly gesture to allow him to save face. I did it for him and I was really and honestly surprised that he did not accept this opportunity. But no, he did not accept, he just totally ignored me and walked away while I was talking to him. How this man came to lead the seniors at Scadding court is far beyond my ken.

I wonder if he will be surprised to see me there on Monday! I really don’t know what will happen on Monday morning but I sure as heck am going to blog about it. See you then 🙂