I cherished every moment of our visit to the YMAA Retreat Center. It was vastly different from being in the full-time program where I was burnt out half the time. For one, there were no physical demands beyond teaching. My training was minimal because I was and am still recovering from a meniscectomy. Mentally, it was easier to manage the responsibilities without the physical exhaustion. My two weeks were fairly relaxing considering all that I did. Sometimes we need a change of scenery. Other times, returning to a place with an internal change can make a difference.
First and foremost, we were looking forward to seeing Dr. Yang again. We missed having daily access to our shifu but even more so, we missed his personality, humor, and fatherly remarks. We were also concerned about his well being. Dr. Yang has publicly mentioned some of his health problems including a serious issue that occurred just one week before we arrived. He was extremely fortunate that his family was already there to care for him and help kick off the first week of seminars.
By the time we arrived, Dr. Yang's state was much improved but he still recovering. He finally passed the ball and allowed me to help by taking charge. It was a huge contrast to two years ago. It’s not that I have an inherent need to be in control but a person of Dr. Yang’s age and accomplishments shouldn’t have to worry about administrative tasks, logistics, and communicating the peculiarities of the center to visitors. A master should be able to teach and leave the rest to others. He did have help from multiple people and thankfully, he was less stressed than he had been in the past.
There’s always an instant connection with people who enjoy doing something as much as you do. More than half of the visitors were either our students/friends, local friends, or acquaintances. We met several of our online students for the first time! They do a commendable job of learning online by listening carefully and watching us demonstrate an application on an invisible partner. To be able to train with them in person was like finally having our hands untied. We also met other wonderful people and got to know them through practice and discussions. For some reason, being at the center encourages people to talk about their life stories and philosophical outlooks. We all do it.
For the mandatory demo, I “encouraged” two of our students to demonstrate Lian Bu Quan together. In front of Dr. Yang. They learned it entirely online and had it checked just two days before the demo. One of them had only started taking Shaolin classes about 9 months ago. In between lectures, training, and chores, they made the time to practice practice and practice. Not only did they have to stay in sync but also remember their individual corrections. Their performance was fairly decent by any standard. What we admired most was their determination and willingness to step outside their comfort zone.
Convincing folks to sign up for the talent show is like pulling teeth. Afterwards, everyone is always pleasantly surprised to see a different side of the people we’ve just met. Visitors who barely spoke surprised us with powerful poetry readings or musical performances. There were stories told through dance, words, and images. I baked chocolate chip cookies and Jon shared a slideshow of his photos.
One of the big surprises was Dr. Lance pretending to give a presentation on body movement only to start pop locking the Taiji sequence to “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys. Then out of nowhere, he did a backflip! We later learned that he was quite the break dancer in his youth.
One noticeable difference during this trip was the absence of dogs. We kept them to help guard the chickens from predators and keep the humans company. Xiao Hu had lived at the center for almost 11 years and his presence was sorely missed. (He was staying with his human grandparents while we were away.)
Honovi (Quentin’s dog) was around for the first day. The massive black shepherd mix looks intimidating but he’s actually a sweetheart. It was strange to not have the dogs around us as we trained.
Following a packed schedule in a place with almost 30 people can be both invigorating and draining. There’s nothing like recharging your batteries in nature. A dip in the cool waters of the creek was my favorite way to beat the heat. The only hurdle was, you had to walk down the hill to get to the creek. This is the same hill we used to run while wearing a weight vest.
A visit to the redwoods will do wonders for the soul. It’s almost like changing ecosystems when you exit highway 101 and trade the blazing sun for the cool shade at Founders Grove. Being around these giants reminds us just how small and young we are. How big are your worries in the overall picture and how much do you appreciate the present?
Someone was going to back out of the trip but I encouraged him to come and said if he needed to be alone, he could wander off for a bit. I didn’t think he’d take my suggestion literally and actually get lost from the half a mile loop. Not all who wander are lost but he was definitely lost for a while.
After we returned to Massachusetts, I had an unusually difficult time readjusting. I missed the daily in-person training and the rhythm of the camp. There’s always next time, whether it’s there or somewhere else.
Thank you for reading and thank you to those who made the trip amazing in so many ways.