My friend Robert asked that I write more so that he could keep up with me and know what I’m doing. With that in mind, here you go, Robert:
This weekend, I am attending a Tai Chi workshop with our Grandmaster, Ma Foren. He has been studying martial arts for approximately 60 years. I had never met a Grandmaster before and had no idea what to expect. Students who have attended his annual workshop previously, all said that it was an event not to be missed.
I arrived at the school around 9:30 AM, for a 10:00 AM start. I looked around, but Grandmaster was nowhere in sight. I know what I look like from his Facebook page. Yes, our GM has a Facebook page! Around 9:45, I had to go back out to the car to get something. He had just arrived. He was walking across the parking lot, flanked by two other gentleman. He is a small man, probably about 5 foot, 6 inches tall, or for my metric system friends, 168 cm. If I had to guess, he probably weighs in at about 125 – 140 pounds (57 – 66 kg) … maybe.
When I returned inside, I went to our main studio to await the beginning of the workshop with approximately 80 other students. The room was awash with excitement and lots of anticipation about what we might learn and how it was going to be. Grandmaster entered the studio at about 10:10 and immediately, 80 or so students, which included or instructors as well as our Sifu, Master Eric Sbarge, came to an immediate, pin-drop silence. After he was introduced, we all applauded, we bowed-in, showing proper respect for our lineage, and then the workshop began. Grandmaster asked for us to form a circle.
He began speaking about a form that he was developing called the Shadow Form and how difficult it is for new students, masters, and some grandmasters to grasp. They have gave us a demo, not of Shadow Form, but to demonstrate the need for the ‘form’. He invited any student to come forward who knew Shaolin Kempo 10-point blocking system. Of course, someone volunteered. Grandmaster asked the volunteer to then place his left arm behind him and do the blocking. He couldn’t. Next, GM asked that he remove bring his left forward, place his right back, again, the student could not do it. Next, he invited one of our instructors to to the same thing. Of course, the instructor could to it, as GM expected, because he had had time to think about it; however, GM has a number of tricks up his sleeve and asked him to start with one hand up and one down instead of both down and do the system. He couldn’t do it.
This, he said, was not to embarrass, but to prove a point. Before I say what that point is, I would like to divert just a tad to a short story that I have read, in different variations, over the past year or two. It really had no significance at the time, but came into crystal clarity today. The story goes:
A monk went to the master and asked: How can I become the best archer that I can be? The master replied: You must go and learn everything that you can about archery. You must practice daily for many years and then you must forget everything that you know about archery. It is only then that you will become the best archer that you can be.
Mind you, this is certainly not verbatim, nor may it be even close, but you’ll get the picture. Continuing on … What GM was demonstrating to the two volunteers was that they knew a form, or ‘formula’. Real life doesn’t happen in formula. He said that were learning a Kung Fu form, but not becoming Kung Fu. When you rely on a form, you cannot be creative, in the moment. That’s when it hit me about the archery story. The master was saying learn everything that you can about the form, but then drop the form and become archery. Become the bow. Become the arrow. GM went on to say that when we train we must become the art form. We must become the Tai Chi, or the Kung Fu, or whatever. We must practice it so much that we become it, not only learn it.
What a profound beginning and we hadn’t even picked up our spears yet. There’s so much more to tell. At the end of the day, I was pretty tired. 5 hours of practice will do that to you. Today, I should be able to get some photos as there is a children’s class as well as some demos, so photographic opportunities should abound.