Re-Education of a Stubborn Old White Guy

by Steve Doob on 2020/10/20

By the time I first met Master Chen at a Phoenix workshop in 2015, I had already studied martial arts for a long time, since 1963 to be precise. So, I had strong opinions about what was correct and what wasn’t. I thought (and still do) that tai chi is called a martial art for a reason. It’s not called a health, meditative or energy art. Martial means it can be used to kill, but at the same time the killing has to be done artfully. Just clubbing someone to death doesn’t qualify.

My last teacher said: “If it feels stronger it’s more correct.” It took me a long time to disagree (he does now also). But the road I’m following today is very difficult. I’ve been fighting Master Chen’s instruction from the minute I first saw him in a video. What do you mean: “Don’t compare my instructions to what you’ve learned in the past.” I was raised by a scientist to question everything. How was I going to give that up? How was I going to give up mulling over everything as my father taught me?

Now, I try hard to listen and just do what he says, but how can such a young guy (by 20 years) know so much more than me? Was he even born in 1963 when I started learning Kenpo Karate? I guess the answer is he had better teachers, was a better student and practiced much more than I did. Also, I’m easily distracted and just do what I like and always have. I was a weight lifter until I got bored with it, then did karate until I got bored with it, then Yang Style until the excitement was gone. Finally, Chen Style, but not Practical Method until I met Zhonghua. What has kept me going in the face of the constant knowledge that I’ll always be “low level,” or as I was told many times in China, “Bu Hao” and sometimes even: “Gou Fen?”

What kept me going was that Master Chen’s method is intriguing and practicing the foundations and Yilu leads to excitement—just the thing I’m looking for out of life. When suddenly I have a little insight, it’s very exciting and keeps me going for a week or more. And, although obsessively practicing that insight leads to boredom, it also leads to new insights that are just as exciting or even more so. This has been going on for some time, but has accelerated thanks to the Covid inspired Zoom lessons.

Several key things I try to be consistent at:

  • Getting out of my head and not comparing what Master Chen says to what I learned in the past (of course I’m not really there yet);
  • Practicing three quality Yilus a day six days a week;
  • Listening to my wife when she says I’m looking down (it destroys my posture; I need to find the martial target of each movement and focus on it);
  • Looking for problems with my yin/yang balance, constantly maintaining the zhongding rod in my body, making sure the rotational movements are the result of lower body action, seeing if the kua is doing as much as it should and if all the joints are being used as they should be;
  • Not doing the power issuing (internal torso stretching) until the part of me that will hit the opponent is first placed into position and locked there;
  • Realizing that in the positive circle and everywhere else, the arm follows a line, which requires it to pass through a narrow tube that doesn’t allow the arm to deviate from the line. This requires the elbow to rotate in so it can follow the arm through the narrow tube, not to mention the shoulder and shoulder blades, which also have to pass through their own narrow tubes. The pushing leg stretching out in the opposite direction also has its own narrow tube to pass through to keep it from “tossing.” To pass through a constricting tube all the joints have to be stretched to make them longer and narrower.
  • Not giving up when minor disasters strike—like today when I can hardly walk, much less practice, because I dropped a heavy weight on my big toe a few days ago. Instead, I have to find some other tai chi thing to do that I’ve ignored in the past and doesn’t involve my toe.

Anyway, I appreciate Master Chen’s and my wife’s persistence in trying to re-educate me. Despite fighting their efforts for years, I know they’ve been at least partially successful. I’ve made lots of progress and it’s been an exciting journey.

About Steve Doob

Studied Kenpo Karate with Ralph Castro in San Francisco from 1963 to 1967. Studied Yang Style with Choy, Kam-Man in San Francisco in 1968. Moved to southern Oregon in 1973. Taught Yang Style and self defense at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, OR from 1978 to 1995. Brought George Xu (Xu, Guo-Min) to Grants Pass for weekend workshops from 1987 to 2005. Been to Shanghai four times with my wife (who also practices Tai Chi) to study martial arts with various people. Moved to Durango, CO in 2005 and live in a large house shaped like a pyramid. My wife and I practice Chen and Yang Style Tai Chi and Ten Animal Xing-Yi in our basement. First learned of Chen, ZhongHua from online videos and am trying to learn his Practical Method, because I think its structural movements are correct.

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