My Story - Chapter 3: Practise, Practise, Practise...So, I was taught how to sit (quietly, trying to think of nothing. If that sounds easy, you try it). And then how to stand (back straight, head upright not tilted, shoulders down, knees unlocked, weight on balls of feet, ...) and to walk, with which I am still having difficulties. But I am getting ahead of myself.
After the second class we were told that the Shifu would be giving a weekend-long seminar at the end of the month and were invited to go. "But we've only just started," I complained, "and how could we benefit?" "You will" was the cryptic reply "Just go." To be honest, by that time my curiousity was aroused. Who was this mysterious man who, as a youth, had been so ill as to be on death's door and who now, at over 50, claimed this martial art had kept him healthy?
I had to go. For the past few years I had undergone the joys of MRS scans on an annual basis to monitor my ever-weakening hands. Luckily, I don't have motor neuron disease or anything which will lead to my imminent departure from this world. However, whatever it is, my doctor has diagnosed it in my father and says it's genetic. My father, by the way, at over age 70 is as strong as a horse and twice as healthy. In my case, I have had to live with a tremor, a rapid eye movement, weakening hands and loss of balance. If my father has this same "muscular neuropathy," then why am only I affected? Well, if it doesn't affect him, then it doesn't need to affect me. Easy to say, difficult to do. So my teachers cultivated my curiousity in finding out whether or not this practise of Qigong and Baguazhang could have any impact on my health. OF COURSE I went to the seminar!
Without knowing what exactly to expect, we showed up with a lot of excitement and not a small amount of fear. And I must confess, a great deal of curiosity... it's a bit strange associating an ancient Chinese art with a rather large, deep-voiced Texan! Understand, I don't think of myself as TOO short at 5'4"... but Dr. Painter - well, he towered above us all, literally. If I had to summarise the weekend, it would have to be in the words of my colleague in the office the following Monday, "Wow. You look great. If this is what it does for you, I'd keep doing it.
Dr. Painter shared his knowledge, his experiences, and his stories. And what stories! His teacher seemed to me the epitome of a Chinese martial artist, mystery and all. As a new student, the young John Painter had been shown how to meditate ("Stand like tree!"). As John was "meditating" in his yard, his teacher Mr. Li walked past. "I'm meditating!" boasted the proud young student. "Not now!" came the reply.
As the weekend progressed, so did we. There were two memorable moments for me personally, and although I am sure each student has their own similar stories, I personally treasure these. The first was a simple exercise of standing and holding a certain posture where in theory, your hands warm or tingle or you supposedly feel some sensation. Mine of course were stone cold. Dr. Painter corrected my posture, held his hands over mine and I felt the warmth of his hands - even after he moved on. My first victory - improved circulation - the cold hands and cold feet have never returned (as my man will gratefully attest!).
The second moment was during our martial practise on Sunday morning. This art relies heavily on skill, and exact execution of timing, motion and intent, while remaining relaxed, are paramount. Needless to say, the skill is gained over time and I did not hold out hopes of trouncing the other students. I was just trying to assimilate the masses of information received over the weekend, hope that some would stick, and attempt to not look horribly out of place in the group. Maybe it's because I wasn't thinking about it. However, when Dr. Painter stood behind my man as I faced them both, then held out his arms and said "touch my hands" it seemed only natural to take a step and reach out. To this day, what happened next seems a bit unnatural to me and I hope one day it becomes natural to me, because not only did my man appear to fly backwards into Dr. Painter, but the both of them kept going until they hit the wall!
Towards the end of the weekend, I realised I wanted to learn this art and make it part of my life. The difficulty was, maintaining the maturity to practise daily without leadership - oh ok, without nagging. In any case, I knew I wanted more. And, of course, the practise demon was waiting for me...
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