Monday, January 4, 2010

A bit of the autobiographical

I went for a walk one cold winter morning. I had been at my friend Todds house drinking and playing cards. I was very hung over and chose to go for a walk with Todd's brother Tony, we were going to the coffee shop just about a mile from Todds house.

I had been interested in martial arts for much of my life. What few drawings I had from my childhood were mostly the Hollywood ninja, black clad chunky figures with ridiculous looking approximations of knives and knunchukka, topped off with an obligatory Rambo headband. At one point when I was six or seven my mother took me to a few classes of some martial art I did not understand at all. The teacher told us about killing people in bar fights and made us do a lot of push-ups. He spoke about pressure points around the head and using yelling outbreaths to increase power. I was disturbed by the class, as enthusiastic as I was about the Hollywood ninja, for some reason my drawings just had them, no corpses or disfigurement, no maimed opponents lying in a crumpled ruined heaps. I suppose I did not want to defeat or kill, I just wanted to be good at something, that something being martial arts. I didn't go to that class I mentioned more than a couple of times, the focus it had was clearly not the focus I had. The hard work I did not mind, I loved it, but the mentality of the teacher, his eagerness about violence, was something I could not stand.

I did not have another class in martial arts for years, instead I practiced the basics I had been shown and read every book I could get my growing hands on, that pertained to the subject. In no time at all the basics of karate were things I could refer to, even demonstrate poorly. In addition to this as a child I moved often, living in numerous houses in a handful of states and going to a handful of schools, all before the age of 12. Looking back I have moved dozens of times in my life, largely with my parents when I was young. I have a syndrome called Aspergers, though I did not know this when I was young. It amounts to mental functional difference, essentially a mild form of autism that is marked by increased social difficulties. In the various schools and churches and homes I lived in, I certainly had difficulties. I had no problem attacking a bully, but often this would result in myself getting beaten. Other times I attacked and hurt other children who were attacking or insulting me. I fought hundreds of times as a child.

At some point I embraced the religion of my parents, seeking to find solace in Christianity. Try as I did to believe in Jesus, I could not. I stayed up late into the night praying over and over and found nothing. I pretended to believe, thinking that if I did this I would eventually know it to be true. My behavior however did not improve and I fought numerous times, typically being attacked by a specific bully in my Church group. He would run up behind me and hit his heavy books into my head when I was waiting for the bus, and once he pulled some sort of gun on me and I insulted him for needing it and he left. At some point I took a few week course in kempo karate, learning only the basic kicks, blocks, punches, combining them all with footwork and then two basic katas. At this point I was about 13. I had a younger brother and we did not often get along either, so we fought many times, but seldom with the violence and hate that was so common on playgrounds in the fours states I lived in as a child. I am no stranger to violence. Even my father lost his temper with me and stuck me and threw me across the room by my arm. I have an old shoulder injury that I forget how it occurred, but it was likely that he threw me across the room when I was 6 or 7 because I was verbally antagonizing him. He never kicked the shit out of me, but he had no problem using violence and verbal threats against me either. Little did I know his temper was my inheritance.

However it all changed when I was at the Salt Lake City public library when I was about 12. I found several books by Hatsumei, being exposed for the first time to ninjutsu that was not of Hollywood. I found his works illuminating and spiritual, of a nature that combined the will to live and protect ones self from harm with a will to promote peace and personal attainment of a type that is not about power over others. I realized that nature was my religion, my source, and my purpose. This was also at a time when the incoherent aspects of my parents religion were becoming very hard to ignore. I began to look at many religions, via a book bought for me by my parents, and found that buddhism and taoism were more coherent for me than the other religions I had access too. In addition I studied the occult and mythology, examining the claims of every belief system I could find. I found that what Hatsumei had touched upon, our oneness with nature and zen, was the most coherent thing I could find. Little did I know I had found Tao, which never hides.

Conflicts grew more severe as I grew up, not just mine but those around me. Teenagers are remarkably violent creatures, especially religious teenagers and I was right in the middle of a christian community. Everything was about violence, the religion was about a war between good and evil, the TV was about violence, the news was about violence. Violence occurred in church, in school, in books, in scriptures, in our imaginations, everywhere. This was how god solved his problems, he sent death or people to deal it. This is how the good guy in the movie saved the world, through violence. It is even how Jesus threw money exchangers out of the temple. Violence was inescapable, I was frequently involved in it, and I hated it.

At some point this peaked, I got into a verbal altercation with another person, in a church. I had been jumping rope, using a denim jacket, in a church hallway and our youth leader came over to tell me to stop, backed up with his entourage of friends. he told me I could not do that in a church, but to do it in the "cultural hall" which is basketball court that is at the heart of every LDS church. I asked him if that meant the cultural hall was not part of the church, to which he replied that I was being a smart ass. Several of the people behind him started telling him to kick my ass. I chose to leave. I had been at the church to earn a wood carving boyscout merit badge. My friend and I walked out the back door of the church and began talking. The guy who had been the primary one egging on the youth leader to beat me up was my next door neighbor. My friend said someone should stab him, I told him that to do such a thing was so ugly that you would never want to do it, that no person deserved that. Our conversation took us from the back door of the church and around the church through the parking lot and out to the front. As we came around to the front, another boy, one I did not know well, came up to me arms raised and yelling at me that he was going to kick my ass. Apparently when I left, the other boys went into the cultural hall where he was and were saying that someone should beat me up for being a smart ass. And apparently he rose to the call. When he approached me I felt threatened, he was yelling and his body told me he wanted to fight.

I took the wood carving pocketknife out of my pocket. I opened the blade and kept walking away trying to leave, he would not let me leave. I turned around and hit him hard in the stomach with the knife blade in my hand. I was not thinking, only acting. I withdrew the blade faster than I had sent it, nobody had seen what had happened. I screamed loudly to call 911. The guy muttered that I stabbed him and fell over in the gutter. I waved the knife in front of myself to protect me from the same group which had called him to fight me. When adults showed up I shattered the knife on the ground in frustration and rage at myself. I knew I had done great wrong and felt very angry at myself for not avoiding it.

I went with some adults, letting the police know where I would be, to my parents house to tell them what I had done. I was shortly handcuffed and taken to the police station where I was interrogated until about 2 am, the interrogation was only me and the police, I was underage, and it took 6 hours at least. I was then taken to the youth lock up facility in the county. I did not sleep and made the decision that if the person I had stabbed died, then I would take my own life. I realized then what a fool I had been in regards to religion, that pretending that it was true so that I would then condition myself to believe did not work for me the way it did for others. I no longer cared what church policy was, it became obsolete. What I said I believed did not matter anymore, only honesty did. In all honesty I had likely killed another living human being and I could not live with that, praying for forgiveness became a joke.

The surgery that saved his life took more than 12 hours. I was told the knife hit at least 3 major organs, each one of which was a fatal cut, and nicked an artery. I was not eating or sleeping. I was getting out of the ordinary visits from some man who was a member of our church, I don't know who he was, but he asked if there was anything he could get me, and I asked for paper to do origami with. I have enjoyed folding paper since I found a book on it from the library when I was 6 or so. Eventually it was this man who let me know that the other boy was in serious yet stable condition. After many days I got out and into the court system. The police charged me with attempted murder, the boy would not testify against me. Charges were dropped to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but no witnesses would speak and the church paid for my attorney who flew in from out of state for my case. He reminded the judge of the oath of office, and then filed for a plea in abeyance with a period of house arrest.

And yet it is winter Tony and I are walking to get coffee, and I am hungover. At this point it is over ten years after the stabbing event. I had begun to trust myself with weapons and had been doing stance work with wooden swords and began to study Michuan swordsmanship, but had reached a problem. You see: I had no taiji experience. As I studied Michuan sword I realized that the system was coherent and based on the 8 energies of taiji. Problem was I had no understanding of these energies. So I was aware that the next step that I needed was to find a taiji teacher, but one I could afford and believe me that is a big deal for those who are in poverty. I had essentially given up on finding a good teacher and had not thought about it for some time when I found myself walking on a cold winter morning past a downtown courthouse with a nice courtyard like area in front of it. In a kind of greenishblue coat a man was moving slowly. It scarcely caught my attention but Tony, who had studied taiji with a man in the Portland area, insisted that we go over and watch this man.

So we ambled over, myself still very much hungover, dizzy and slightly intoxicated from drinking during the previous night. The man promptly stopped what he was doing and asked if we were there for the Taiji class. Evidently he was part of a free weekend class that had been going on for many years in the area. While not a master the man had done taiji for about 30 years and did it to maintain his health. My friend worked on the form with him, but I sat down and watched. I explained that I was too hungover to participate that day, but that I was interested and I would return the next weekend. And I did, over and over for about a year. I also started doing push hands after a while too. I was struck by the relationship of taiji to the tao. It was as if the taodejing was written for this system. More than that I had an introduction to the energies, at first they felt very strange and then at some point they started making perfect sense. The taiji classics made sense too, given the transmissions I received from my teacher. And above all he abhorred violence, as do I. This art was one that was deadly and yet could be gentle, it had total control and was about total control. It was overcoming motion through stillness and not fighting the way of things. It was brilliant and perfect and I could use it for what I wanted, health or martial art or both.

Since I have begun training in taijiquan about three years ago, I have developed skills that I was not aware of existing. This includes thinking skills, and physical skills. I have much to learn, and so much to practice. But have found the martial path that I love, one of tao, of a lack of differentiation. This lack of differentiation is the mental skill I did not know existed, it is also a physical skill I did not know existed.

I have had exposure to other arts since then. I currently practice Taijiquan via a special form (my own revised version of Yang style 13 postures, this will be demonstrated soon enough) and push hands. I also practice capoeira but have only weeks of experience in that. I have also had some basic training in Wing Chun, oriented around the first form and the footwork. My own martial arts style is highly personal but based entirely upon the energies of taijiquan.

The line of transmission(sic): (verified with documents and photographs proving it)
Yang Lu Chan--Yang Jiann Hau--Yang Ching Fu--Chan Wei Ming--Leung King Yu (Father) -- Alwin Leung-- Art Barret-- Josh Young
But I am no teacher or master.
Just a guy who likes taiji, and who detests violence because I know it all too well.

However should I list all my teachers then the list is rather long.
I accept the universe as my training hall, and all within it as invaluable resources.