On October 5th, I woke up early in the morning to meet with my master Wu Guo Zheng for a demonstration taking place in Miao Li, Taiwan.The name of the event was called "臥虎藏龍之夜 Night of the Stealth Tigers and Hidden Dragons." You may have heard the term Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which in my opinion is a bad translation. A tiger is usually crouching because he is sneaking up on his prey. The term is a Chinese idiom that indicates hidden or unseen power.
This would be the second time I participated in this event which invites masters from all over Asia to be representatives of their styles. It is like a martial arts master fiesta and I'm always honored to be invited.
But the truth is that on this particular morning I am feeling the continuing pressure of what has been a difficult, but blessed year. I have been bounced around on the job market since my wedding took place last summer. I have been screen play writing, acting, editing and working on my second novel. All of these jobs have taken a lot of energy, sweat and grit, but I have nothing financial to show for all of my effort. I know that this is only a season that will prove to bring a harvest in the near future. Of course it doesn't make it any easier to get through the day to day concerns.
"You need to just buckle down and give up all of this dream stuff." I hear so often from people who would attempt to be friends. "You can't live in a fantasy your whole life." They say when I mention the different ideas that are in my heart. The only person that could understand a Stealth tiger is a Hidden Dragon and vise versa.
These voices echo louder and louder in the mornings when you realize that you are down to your last dime. I have been hunting for "stable" jobs all year and still the ground never seems to come beneath my feet. Being unemployed when my wife is 9 months pregnant is as real as it gets.
But in the morning when I feel those fears seeping into my brain, I fight back with God's promise.
"You have plans to promote me, not harm me." I say to myself as I arrive at my masters house.
When I meet with my master he hands me a cup of Ethiopian coffee that really jump starts my braincells. Master Wu Guo Zheng often uses his martial arts to see deeper into many crafts, cuisines and hobbies. Most recently he has been brewing different coffees from all over the world and every time I see him, I get a cup of jo from a different country. Diligence is a lifestyle that will eventually creep from your kung fu into your everything else.
"Thanks master." I said smiling as I put my uniform into the back of the trunk.
"Me and Tailong have a very interesting relationship." The master explained to my two kung fu brothers. "Sometimes we are master and student and others we are more like father and son. But I think most times, we are just close friends." He finished while patting me on the back and letting me in the car. It's amazing how a few words can really change the rhythm of the day. As I sipped my coffee my stealth concerns and hidden worries were forgotten altogether.
"You and the master are performing the two person combat today right?" One of my kung fu brothers asked as I was taking a big swig of my coffee. "How could you not be nervous?"
"Tailong doesn't get nervous for demonstrations." The master said before I could answer. "He knows that kung fu is kung fu. It's not going to be any better or worse because people are watching. It's just practice on a stage." The master said elegantly as I nodded my head in agreement. "If anything, he is nervous that his baby will be born while he is away doing a demonstration." He finished jokingly.
"That's for sure." I agreed. The truth is my son was due to be born on the 23rd of this month, but I had a feeling that he could be hear any minute.
The master was also right about me not being nervous about the demonstration. I have always felt that people's opinion of my martial arts has very little to do with me. I know what I need to work on and all my little flaws and imperfections. I have learned a lot, but I have so much more to learn. At these particular events with the masters, I was sure to have an opportunity to learn much more.
Two years ago, I was really impressed with all of the different styles from different genres. I saw masters that trained the military, exotic weapons, secret styles, the whole nine. Although they call me one of the masters at these events, it's pretty easy to feel out of place. When we arrived The coffee kicked in and my eyes lit up to see the many different masters and groups sitting together in a nice restaurant.
I always closely watched their different gestures and habits. If you saw these guys in the street you wouldn't know they were dangerous because of their goofy Yoda-like grins. But if you watch their motions carefully, it was easy to see it was all tigers and dragons. After you have practice footwork, spacing and timing for decades it leaves a stain on all of your movements. Just watching how they poor the tea can tell you a lot about their style.
"Master Yo Yo please sign here" One of the staff said to me while handing me a small envelope.
"What's this?" I asked confused. He just smiled as if I was joking and the others took me to our table. I was shocked to find that my envelop had cash in it. Seeing a demonstration with so many masters was my version of the Superbowl, I didn't need any payment...but I do have a baby on the way so I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Our Xin Zhu Bagua Association group was a lot smaller than the other groups, meaning we had to eat twice as much as the other groups. Also because one of my kung fu brothers didn't eat sushi and the other was allergic to shrimp, the master continued to pile the delicious food on my plate by the bowl full. I was already stuffed after the first 3 courses of a 9 course meal. This food cost way more than anything than I could afford, so I had to shovel in bite after delicious bite until I felt I was about to pop. I looked over to see all of the tables were having the same difficulty getting all of the food down.
"Should we eat this much before a demonstration?" One of the elderly masters asked as he came to the table to talk with my master. It's customary for the guests to go table to table greeting each other in Chinese culture with a drink. Usually it's an alcoholic drink, but of course this event is an exception. The elderly man smiled as my master stood to shake his hand.
"You used to teach the spear in an area next to my house." My master said. "How long did you teach there?"
"I taught the spear for 18 years before I moved on to teaching snapping kick techniques. Here is a book on my recent teachings." He said while smiling and handing the book to my kung fu brother. As he left I smiled and sighed with both admiration and intrigue. Just hearing the conversations motivated me even more to pass on the information I had been given. I can't wait till have been teaching Bagua for 40 years...teaching is where true learning takes place. They may have called me master, but it was obvious that my journey had just begun.
The demonstration wouldn't take place until the evening so after the large lunch we all gathered in a small room just large enough for the 30 of us. At this point it was only masters in the room and the staff was left outside to attend to preparations for the performance. I had seen a few of these masters many times over the years, but there were also many others that I hadn't seen before. Just as last year, the masters began discussing the future of martial arts and plans on how to handle many of the difficult changes. All of my projects I had been working on were directly related to these conversations I had heard over the last decade, but I just kept my mouth shut and pulled out my note book. In these conversations with the masters behind closed doors, I usually just do my best to be invisible.
"These events are our opportunity to separate the martial arts from the circus and sports." One of the masters who was about 90 years old began to speak." Sports and entertainment is great, but if you don't know the depth of a style, then you will never know the depth of a human being. Look at this black guy here." He said while all of the masters looked in my direction smiling momentarily. "This is an example of a warrior who is not interested in BS. Look at the way he scans room, the way he walks and breaths...." The master then continued in Taiwanese leaving me out of the conversation for the next few minutes. When he finished everyone applauded and some even in my direction. If I wasn't black you might have seen my blushing. Then the next master spoke.
"We are glad to have Yo Yo here who has been doing a lot of great work for martial arts. He just returned from Beijing and I'm sure he will make even more great things happen for the next generation of martial artists. I expect to hear great things over the next year from him in the media." He said while giving me a thumbs up. "Speaking of which, it doesn't matter how many events and classes we hold unless we are able to have a place we call our own. Something that will be maintained regardless of the change in the number of students from season to season..."
I was touched that over the years the masters not only knew me, but knew what I was doing in my life. I hadn't seen them for at least two years...how did they know what I was up to?
Another master stood up who looked like a science nerd with clothing twice the size of his limbs. "I am one of the younger masters here...I've been teaching for twenty years. I'm humbled to be at a demonstration with both my master and my grandmaster. I feel that our unity with each other is the only way to have a future for the next generation. We must utilize more methods to present martial arts without turning it into a bad fantasy or some kind of Olympic sports event. We must use our lives to preserve the arts."
"I started when I was four years old." Another master began. "When I was young I really disliked it because my father often hit me to make me practice more often. I had many endeavors in my life regarding business and other opportunities. Slowly martial arts became the most important thing as everything else began to lose it's significance. I am grateful for my father's tough love that took my whole life to fully appreciate."
The masters went on in more details of their personal life as I scribbled in my notebook frantically to keep up. One of the master's was Jackie Chan's snake fist instructor, who was still obviously in great shape. Another master made mention that his master had 10,000 students before passing. One of the masters built like a brick was an ex super cop and discussed the true beauty of breaking bones and how the "flowery" martial arts on TV is not only less effective, but also less beautiful.
"The sun, electricity, a storm, a tornado...all of these things are extremely deadly and yet all of these things are truly beautiful. True art is beautiful and powerful. There is no storm that only pretends to be a storm." The super cop said while sitting down. "So just a reminder that as we expand to those who have a respect for this power, we must avoid the knuckle heads. It is better to remain hidden dragons that die with secrets, than to create poisonous dragons." He finished.
I felt at ease hearing all of the masters expressing the same feelings and difficulties as myself. It was like looking in many mirrors of different shapes and ages that clearly reflected the pros and cons of being a lifetime martial artists. The continual shaping and strengthening of self that seems to put more distance between us and society everyday. I began to sense that it wasn't that dragons remained invisible, but that society has become blinded to values that can not be counted in dollars.
When the performance began me and my master were in the first group to perform. I watched from the side as the sword master began the show. There was such precision and grace in his movements, but I could hear his sword slice with a faint and almost humming sound. It sounded like he was holding a vibrating sword or some kind of special technology, but when he was finished, I could see clearly it was just a regular straight sword. The only magic was in his technique.
The drunken master then attacked in all directions while stumbling and tumbling around the stage. He looked one direction while attacking the other. His eyes were glossed over as he fell to the ground and kipped back up into another attack. His unpredictable movements made every limb a possible attack. I had used this tactic many times while working in the club. Their is nothing more effective than giving your opponent too much confidence.
When it was time for me and the master to trade hands, I suddenly realized it had been at least two years since we had practiced this technique together. But I just relaxed as I took my stance and the crowd faded away completely. As the master attacked I parried and countered and we separated for another attack. Before when my master used to shove me I felt like paper as I tried to keep up with him. This time I only felt relaxed as his energy passed right through me and I returned it back to him. I had finally grabbed the understanding of moving like water and stopping like a mountain, that allowed me to more effectively divert power. As we finished, I bowed out and suddenly the crowd reappeared around me with a loud and gracious applause.
After my performance I could finally focus on all of the other martial artists on stage with a clear mind. I watched as the stage was then taken by three sword practitioners. There were two very beautiful women and one guy who was pretty much invisible..because he was mixed in with the two women. I took mental notes that I would use later to fix my own sword problems as they moved like a human poem.
The master in the loose clothing then began to perform the rope dart. As the rope dart swung back and forth wrapping and unwrapping around the body, it almost seems to hypnotize the crowd. It always seemed to surprise the mind as it whipped out like a bullet in the direction of choice. I heard that the rope dart was one of the most difficult weapons to master. As he moved across the stage it became easy to see that it was as difficult as it was dangerous. The weapon would first stick into one opponent in a vulnerable artery and then drag him into another soldier. As the opponent stumbled to his knees another opponent was attacked from over head. It was like sewing the battle field in your favor.
I smiled as I saw the monkey master hit the stage because of the effective and almost humorous attacks. It seems like the requirement for becoming a monkey master was you had to be a little bit..."bonkers". He made cutesy facial expressions as he launched attacks from below and above. The deception acted as a shield or a curtain for every attack. Yet every attack was for the throat, eyes, nuts, groin..in fact there wasn't a single attack that wasn't lethal. I guess naturally monkey style fighters would tend to be smaller, and the smaller you are the more vitals you need to go for.
I then saw a familiar face, the master I call the sword collector. He taught to the special forces and has invited me and the master to his house several times to play on his training park. He is a great guy with terrifying sword skills. He uses a Japanese blade but jumps and swirls like Yoda. He leaped high while aiming for the knee caps, wrist and limbs that would be exposed easily through his movements. He used rolls like Hapkido and spins and thrusts that made his blade snap with even more power.
All of the masters hit the stage and lit it on fire with their ages of practice. I saw a master suddenly spit in the air...a substance that was shocking and distracting from all of his hidden attacks. The 90 year old turned out to be faster than me as he snapped loose his techniques of a style I wasn't even sure the name. I smiled as I realized that I was witnessing over a thousand years of martial arts experience on the stage. As usual when the performance was done we all shook hands and took pictures. We exchanged some personal information and I was able to take a few more techniques and store them in my bag of fox tricks.
"Every time we see you Yo Yo you are much better. You indeed will be a master that leads the next generation in the right direction of the arts." The 90-year old master said to me. I could only smile and ponder on his words. It was hard to believe that such great masters continued to see greatness in me. It's my life's honor to be part of something so meaningful and fulfilling.
The ride home always gives me plenty of time to digest not only the event, but also the meaning of the event in how it pertains to the martial arts and my life. Even though now I am in a season that has been a little rough, I have been doing all of the things that I want to do. There were countless times that I could have quit my dream to find a "stable" job. But I would have never learned Chinese or Bagua or anything that makes me who I am today. People often say we must sacrifice in order to make gains, but they usually sacrifice the wrong part of their life to make false gains.
I began to ponder on a news report I saw the morning before. A very famous artist who sold paintings at an average of about 10,000 apiece decided to sell his work on the street. He put up his paintings just like the rest of the street artist and sold them at the low price of 60 dollars. Many people saw his paintings but didn't recognize he was a famous artist in disguise. He only sold about 3 paintings after sitting there in the hot sun all day. When people found out who he was they all kicked themselves for not getting to buy his paintings at such a cheap price.
You may have also heard about the famous violinist who decided to play in the subway. His concerts were always sold out and the tickets averaged up to about 1000 dollars for each event. Yet when he played in the subway, no one even gave him a second look. Only a few "looneys" took the time to even listen to the music.
In our society there are many stealth tigers and hidden dragons. They are people who decide to water the seeds that have been planted in their heart and follow the pathway that grows before them. In general people are unable to see or hear anything of value unless it has been presented to them on TV or by the media. How sad that so many can not see something beautiful on their own. How depressing that people have become too busy to recognize the sound of beautiful music. At times it may be hard for us to pursue the dreams planted in our heart, especially when no one sees us and even our progress is invisible. However all things will be revealed in time and you do not need to worry or conform your dream in a manner that the world will understand. Many times it's more important for something to be written than for it to be read.
After I got home, the next day my wife went into labor. As I witnessed the miracle of life I realized that you can not be wealthy if you are unable to recognize wealth. The gift of life, family, health and passion far out-weigh anything we can measure in human numbers. You must trust the seed that Christ has placed in your heart, and let your self grow into something more magical than society can understand. Stealth Tigers and Hidden Dragons of all forms may not always be seen by society, but we are the ones who they will tell stories about.
Stop looking for permission or approval to be you. People aren't even paying attention to what they want, how can they tell you what you want? No matter what road you chose hard times are certain to come. Isn't it better to suffer through a harder road that leads to your dream? At least you will be happier with the destination.