Better late than never! Maybe consistent blogging is one of those things that happen when you don’t force it. Maybe not ;-)
On June 23rd, 2018, friends and family gathered for the graduation of the Shaolin/Taiji students.
For a while, I was indifferent. What does it even mean to graduate? Training is a continuous process of many failures and few short-lived successes before failing again at the next level. Some of us will keep training long after graduation day. Some of the graduates (including Jon and I) are returning to the center for the fall semester. It won’t really hit us until we start training and our old partners are no longer there. Also, there are too many ambiguities and inconsistencies to define what it means to graduate from the center. It was an experiment for everyone involved. Therefore, a loose definition of “to graduate” could be: we survived. I wanted to do more than “survive” the Retreat Center. I wanted to thrive, but it didn’t end up that way.
Going in 5 years ago, I understood the toughest challenges would be mental rather than the physical training. That was half accurate. There were mental challenges related to training such as dealing with injuries and self-doubt. However, it was the mental challenges that had nothing to do with training which brought me to the dark side time and time again.
On graduation day, I realized why society celebrates occasions such as these. We put aside the negatives and highlighted the positives. We were grateful for the opportunity to live and train at the center with Dr. Yang. We were grateful for our training partners/teachers/housemates/friends. We could not have survived without the love and support of everyone in our lives. Graduation wasn’t necessarily about how many goals we did or did not reach. It was about appreciating what we had. If I didn’t stop to appreciate it, I’d be stuck on the dark side.
Based on what we had, the day could not have gone better.
We started with a 75 minute demo which went decently for most students. For myself, it was worse than I was capable of. Sometimes, I wish I could focus on a few sequences/techniques and 1-2 weapons and become proficient at them. It’s not really an option so I end up being mediocre or poor at many things. Additionally, I’ve had a serious hip injury that has put me out of 80% of the training since February. I had to take it easy so I only performed the following:
Shuang Jian (Double Short Rods) - with Kathy
Chai Shou (Barehand Matching Sequence) - created and performed with Piper
Kong Shou Dui Dan Dao (Barehand vs Saber) - with Jon (creator)
Kong Shou Dui Gun (Barehand vs Staff) - with Quentin
Barking Rabbit Media's YMAA Retreat Center Graduation Album
I won't nitpick at every correction, you know they're there :-) I do wish that Chai Shou and Barehand vs Saber were cleaner.
There’s one part in Barehand vs Saber where I freeze. I did a sting and Jon was supposed to come forward with a block. Instead, he backed away! I had a split second to decide how to proceed. There was no choice but to sting again to make it flow. I later realized 2 important things that happened in that moment.
I don’t believe we rise to the occasion but instead, we fall back on our training. (I don’t know who said that first.) This was a case where Jon and I fell back on our many hours of technical training and it worked.
There are many kinds of trust for different circumstances. We developed enough trust in each other and our skills to avoid hurting each other. Trust requires a different kind of training.
I can’t say it will always go this smoothly. I’ve accidentally injured partners in the past and it’s a terrible feeling. Swinging a metal saber at your partner is not easy and I still hold back. If I miscalculate a sting, it will penetrate. Being on the receiving end requires a lot of trust that I’m not sure I’ve earned.
Since only 7 students were graduating, the ceremony was intimate and personal. To show respect to our lineage, we bowed to portraits of our grandmasters: Grandmaster Li Mao-Ching (Long Fist), Grandmaster Cheng Gin-Gsao (White Crane), Grandmaster Kao Tao (Yang Taijiquan).
There were 2 guest speakers who gave wonderful speeches before the mic was open to the audience and the graduates. We laughed, we cried, we cringed, but in the end, we were happy.
The celebration ended with a discipleship ceremony for Quentin, myself, Enrico, and Piper.
Without going into details of the meaning of discipleship, I’ll summarize by saying that it is a huge honor that I will take seriously.
“Thank you” isn’t enough, but it will have to do.