Finding my Qi: The Story of Robert Jay Arnold
(Note: It's been about ten years since my last serious blog entry so this is a bit lengthy. Get a soda, some chips or coffee and enjoy the trip. Thanks)
To Qi or not to Qi, that is the question. Myself I have never been a skeptic, but always a realist. Whatever works in terms of self-defense, was adopted into the arsenal. But effectiveness has always gone hand in hand with truth. Is Qi something real? Or just an ancient Chinese parlor trick used to bring in more students. This is my journey, my search and discovery. A highlight from 4 years old to 40; my evolution in the martial arts.
I began my training at the age of four, under my militant-ass father, strictly for reasons of not getting "dusted" by the other boys on the playground. My brothers and I started with Taekwondo and boxing, but my father and old school Korean instructor weren't as concerned with the art in terms of how it looked, as they were with self-preservation.
"How can you kick a man's face if you haven't damaged his leg first?" My instructor often asked as he made us run the leg-kicking drills.
Even though my first style was Taekwondo, there were definitely more low kicks, take-downs and hand strikes than in the usual dojang. This was before the days of falling-down-to-make-a-living-sport Taekwondo. If you fell, there was a good chance someone was going to give you a nice reverse punch to the noggin. The old school ground and pound. This realistic training was key to living a moderately peaceful life in a small, KKK infested town.
"Hey nigger!" Someone said to my older brother as we were in the parking lot at school. The boy was eight, my brother was ten and I was only five. Naturally, I was nominated to participate in the altercation because I had only done a year of martial arts training, where as, my oldest brother with five years of martial arts training would have certainly been overkill.
I put up my hands for real protection for the first time as I faced the skinny, dirty-haired red neck, who at only eight years old was already losing his teeth. He threw two shitty punches, I threw two trained punches, he missed, I knocked him down, his sister screamed and I went to the principal's office. A pattern that our household adapted to quickly; a daily chore, like making up the bed or taking out the trash.
Fast forward to five years and tens of thousands of kicks later, there was never even a hint of something in the martial arts that was...mythical. A guest instructor, Master Choi, suddenly showed up from Korea and introduced the importance of breathing with the motions.
"Breath is everything. It's life, it's power." He explained.
Doing the strange stretches and ultimately boring postures almost made me fall asleep. I could only express disappointment accompanied with a tint of frustration after the seminar.
"I thought this cat was going to show us something dope." I said quietly, leaning over to my brother. Then, the guest instructor decided to do a small demonstration.
"Remember what you've learned today." He said, smiling innocently. He then stepped back, tossed an apple in the air, spun around and kicked it with his heel, disintegrating it as if Thanos just snapped his fingers. The entire class went silent with amazement and disbelief. Unfortunately, in terms of things we don't understand, the seed of disbelief tends to grow faster than the seed of amazement.
"Must of been a trick apple." One of the classmates said later in the parking lot.
Even at ten years old, I knew that there were plenty of hustlers out there. My dad was a hustler and a wanna-be magician back in the day. We knew slight-of-hand and could use it to point out something phony pretty quick. The thing that bothered me the most was, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was no hustle. I could accept what I had seen or say my eyes deceived me. I opted to take it as a challenge and opportunity to take my training to the next level.
Jump ahead another 10 years and dozens of additional fighting styles later. I had finally given up on trying to burst an apple, but I became a connoisseur of the arts. All of my childhood to teenage scraps lead to a thorough exploration of how each style dealt with conflict. I adopted filipino hand motions, hapkido wrist locks, jeet kun do concepts, a dash of judo and a taste of ninjitsu: an art I had used often to escape parties when the cops showed up. Dive out the window, leap the fence and find another party that's poppin'.
I was a self defense instructor at both Washington State University and Western Washington University. Initially, my group was small, but grew exponentially over the years. I taught my own concoction of MMA before MMA was actually a thing. The only difference, our group had a heavy influence of weaponry.
Soon many instructors of different styles joined us with varying training experience. Even instructors from Japan, Korea and Taiwan joined our band of misfits. We enjoyed discussing martial arts and they always eventually lead it in the direction of QI: an invisible energy within the body.
We were friendly when we crossed hands, but still hit pretty hard. In fact, at one point they almost suspended our group for having blood on the floor. I thought it was a complete contradiction. How can you learn how to protect yourself without spilling a little blood from time to time?
One time my Taiwanese sparring partner took a kick to the finger, jamming it. He squealed a bit at first. Then he calmed himself, extended his hand, closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a few seconds. Moments later, he continued fighting like nothing happened.
"What was that thing with your finger?" I asked after the sparring session.
"I used my Qi to heal it." He responded almost dryly. "I'm not that good, but some of those masters back home can do amazing stuff."
"Maybe one day I could learn from them." I said, half joking.
"They don't speak English, you would have to learn Chinese." He joked back.
I still wasn't too interested Qi. I knew you only needed a good lead jab and back pivot kick to defend yourself in most street scraps. It wasn't about fighting, it was more about evolving. Even though I had met many amazing American teachers, I knew at best I was getting second hand smoke. If I was going to get better, I needed to go to the source.
I changed my major to Chinese language, 4 years later, hopped on a plane to Taiwan and 2 years after that met with my purpose: Baguazhang!
My whole life, I had never been interested in the Chinese arts. Although it was beautifully spectacular, it seemed mostly for performance or merely an emphasis of the "art" portion of martial arts. I would later find this was due to the influence of Chinese theater, such as Beijing Opera, which highlighted beauty over all else. They used a stage to tell tales about real martial artists who had an unspoken code of secrecy. So the performance arts naturally gained the attention over the years indirectly misleading the public of the reality of kung fu. In short, if you ever want to know what's truly effective, always follow the military, law enforcement and/or security.
The art of Baguazhang or as I like to call Bagua (easier on the tongue), is said to be developed a little less than 200 years ago by a man named Dong Hai Chuan. Dong Hai Chuan （1797-1882 had practiced the martial arts for roughly 50 years before he developed the style of Bagua: a unique form of combat because of its use of walking circles and twisting movements to develop power.
Dong was discovered by a barbarian lord (or kingdom), King Su (Prince Su), of the Ming Dynasty where he became the combat instructor for military and specialized guards. After his service he preceded to teach this unconventional art to Cheng Ting Hua, who later passed it to Gao Yi Sheng. Gao Yi Sheng was a guard in Shan Dong at the house of my master's grandfather. Although Gao had nearly a thousand students, he spent his time as a personal guard teaching to my master's father Wu Jin Yuan. Wu would eventually move to Taiwan and continue to teach the art to a closed group (lots of military) along with his son Wu Guo Zheng for the following 40 years.
My instructor was and still is Master Wu Guo Zheng, who proceeded to teach me such an abundance of movements that it often caused many students to have minor panic attacks just before class. 25 Evasive Steps, 2 different circles (12 movements apiece), the Stealth Tiger Saber, 6 Harmony Saber, 6 Connecting Kicks, Qing Ping Sword, Guandao, Baji, Taichi, 64 Palms, 64 counters, 128 movements with the staff, 126 movements with the spear, Hooks, Short Sticks, Fist of No Extremes, 12 Steps of Power, and on and on and on.
I was keenly aware that learning a surplus of movements was inherently not a good thing in terms of self-defense. For any movement to be effective in combat, it had to be done at least 10,000 times. In just under 5 years, he gave me over 2,300 movements. That meant I would have to practice 2,300,000 techniques in order to be effective with all of them.
"How can I possibly improve all of these movements?" I asked.
"Like anything else, make a schedule." The Master explained. "And once you understand, it's really just one move with infinite moving parts."
I didn't know what that meant, But I made a schedule, putting emphasis on the things I wanted to develop first. One of the benefits of living in Taiwan is I only had to work 4 hours a day, leaving me 3 hours to train and research a day.
So here is how you tackle a buttload of techniques at once while keeping them effective. I would take one movement from the 64 palms, practice it one thousand times every day for 10 days, which only took around and hour a day. The following hour of my training was spent reviewing a group of different techniques, and the last hour was exploring, free movement training, reaction training or weapons. Within two years, all the 64 palms were practiced at least 10,000 times along with the 25 Evasive Steps, which in itself took about seven months.
I prioritized the footwork because it was like the wheels of a car for Bagua. Ultimately, my objective was to be able to use any of the 64 palms from any angle at any time.
Making a schedule didn't imply just a few weeks; it is a lifetime plan that I could achieve in roughly 15 years. Which of course would only be the new beginning.
But most importantly, all the movements had to be tested against real resistance. I often tested it against many of my former students, brothers and training partners.
Sparring is nice for timing, but my experience with racial turbulence had already taught me that only a real fight could bring out the true nature of your art, exposing possible holes and weak points. Just like in my teenage days, I never went to find trouble, but I knew where to go to let it find me.
"Sure thing" I lied excitedly. ZZ was the director of my first movie out here in Asia. We became good friends and we're currently collaborating to write a screenplay in Beijing.
I arrived at the club hours later, instantly greeted with a few stern faces. I grinned dumbly, wearing a golden hat that made people squint as it reflected under the flashing lights of the club. My every gesture was designed to lure haters into a rage that would justify the use of a set of finely polished Bagua basics.
Sure it was dangerous, foolish and even childish. But, as I youth I was continually bullied because of race. Nothing enraged me more than seeing someone getting picked on for whatever reason. I wanted to make sure whoever these bullies were, they would think twice about beating up the next random foreigner.
I danced with the prettiest group of girls I could find, making them shout in excitement as I turned up. Still seemingly blind to flaring nostrils of angry men that gradually danced closer. It was less than ten minutes before someone came behind, grabbed my wrist and attempted to put me in a lock.
Using my footwork, I stepped and untwisted myself easily. Without hesitation, he tried to put my elbow, then shoulder in a lock. I continued to step and turn, almost on beat with the music, diffusing his attempts and causing frustration. Still smiling, I then intercepted his following movement, driving my rear leg and forcing my should directly into his sternum. He almost immediately vomited as I carried him towards the security.
"My friend has had a bit much. Can you watch him for me?" I told the security. I wasn't a complete fool. I Always made friends with the security, bought them a drink or two before hitting the dance floor. I used to be security in a club myself so I know a little grease can take the wheels a long way. Also, never ever throw a punch, especially in China. Right or wrong, if it is witnessed, the whole club will turn on you. As an adult you don't go to the principals office, you go to jail. Only after getting your ass kicked by barrage of sweet and sour strikes.
I still had more testing to do and the party was just getting started. I got right back to the dance floor, shaking my booty and peacocking like a drunken Jack Sparrow. As I danced with a different group of girls, I noticed another individual creeping, pretending to dance. My small study of ninjitsu taught me awareness and the FBI book I picked up on human facial expressions, was enough for me understand when an attack was imminent.
He begins to intentionally bump me from behind on occasion, using more and more force. Naturally, I step back into him with a bit more force, almost making him fall over. He then rushes at me from behind, falling prey to a well timed side step, causing him to crash into the girls I was dancing with. The girls fall down like bowling pins just as I point to security. Without hesitation, they grab night sticks and begin beating the man on his legs and forearms relentlessly.
The club turned out to be fertile ground for the blossoming of my art. I even got a job as rapper three times a week, eventually doing more than 300 shows. Don't get me wrong, I was there to rap, but how could I over look this wonderful testing opportunity. A martial artist in a world without guns is king.
Rapping in the club allowed off and on opportunities to test new movements. After I saw a foreigner get his hand chopped in half by a group of guys with machetes, I decided to tone down the testing and just focus on making music. It grew into a plethora of opportunities from modeling, filming commercials, TV shows and films. I even did a performance for Jackie Chan, Will Smith, Jaden Smith and Jada Pinket for the premier of their remake of the Karate Kid.
Eight years had passed, and I had one last competition as a representative on the Taiwanese Martial Arts team before I would return to America. I decided that afterwards I would put everything down and focus on my training.
The numerous techniques my master had given me quickly grew into more movements as my understanding expanded. The nature of Bagua is "change." Thus meaning continual research and dissection of a technique lead to the birth of brand new possibilities. Even a fraction of a movement could expand into varying parts and then those parts into eight more parts, branching into an infinite equation of possibility.
Trying to keep track of what I was given, in addition to the seeds of newborn concepts, was often a hinderance on simple day to day thoughts. I became a we bit forgetful when it came to remembering where I placed things. I Lost a few items, missed a few appointments, typical happenings when the brain is full. However, I wouldn't let a single one of my master's techniques be lost. After all, it was the style of the imperial bodyguards. Technically priceless.
Even though I knew how to apply the techniques, there was no denying my movements looked nothing like my master's. On the outside, I had almost the exact same shape, but he seemed to be operating on a whole different channel of smoothness. At times it was almost like I could see wind moving from with inside of his clothing.
Many other masters I had encountered had the same invisible energy going on. No punch was just a punch and no kick was just a kick. Technique seemed to be a part of not only their entire body, but of even the surrounding environment. After thousands of practices among them, there was one thing that was for certain: there was much more to the martial arts than the modern world had understood.
The masters loved me and completely embraced me. They even referred to me as master. Yet, their genuine smile had an urgency behind their eyes that seemed to ask, "Did you find the secret yet?" It was like an inside joke that everyone was in one but me. I just had to laugh along and nod my head as if I had already made this secret discovery.
As fate would have it, the very month that I bought my ticket to return home, I met my wife. The dopest woman in the world who was just as crazy and unpredictable as myself. The only problem was her parents were sick, almost bedridden. So my plan to return home to America, turned out to be a long visit.
When I arrived in the states, I had to do all my training at 5am, attempting to maximize my time with the wifey. Feeling confident that all the movements were in tact, I put the majority of my attention on the circle. Every morning, month after month, the same circle, always just before the sun rose. After a while it was easy to tell the time down to the minute just by seeing the sun's position in the sky.
Even though it was cold, tiring and down right tedious at times, a strange sensation began to occur as I pursued betterment. Something, much like static electricity, momentarily fluttered through my fingers tips if only for a fraction of a second. It immediately disappeared and only when I rotated my wrist during the Searching Horse technique it would occur again, more intensely after each repetition. I wasn't certain if it was Qi, but it certainly was unlike anything else I'd felt before.
On the downside, my body was experiencing different pains: my hip-flexors, occasionally the knee, ankle or back. Even places that were deep inside the body with no chance of being able to ice, heat or massage. There was seemingly a different pain every day. The doctor prescribed Ibuprofen, which seemed to ease the discomfort momentarily. The oddest part, my body only hurt when I wasn't training. While I was training, I felt great.
"If it hurts, that's the Qi trying to circulate, but your posture is incorrect and it gets stuck." My brother explained.
"Nigga I know what I'm doing." I said, offended. "You don't even know how to say Bagua." I snipped.
I knew he was right because it was the same thing my master said before. I just didn't want him all up in my kool-aid. Besides he's a Wing Chun, Taichi guy. He doesn't know about these Bagua problems. Still, he continued to annoy me with tid-bits that his own master had given him about Taichi. Though my youthful attitude made me resistant to his advice, my art, almost subconsciously made adjustments.
My master was very strict about my position, however, picking up thousands of techniques at a time, there was very little time for us to discuss Qi in depth or nail every posture perfectly.
"If you keep practicing diligently and remember my words, your body will make the necessary corrections on its own." He explained at one time.
He seemed determined for me to discover it on my own.
When I returned to Taiwan for my wedding, I inquired in more detail. "It's like your heartbeat." He explained. "You don't have to try to make your heartbeat move faster. When you run faster it will happen automatically.
I always loved my master's straight forward and practical answers. Though, it seemed he had something magical in his movements, he always said that those Qi performances: the no-touch among other miraculous feats were just a hustle. Still at the demonstrations we'd sit and watch mind-boggling-bogus circus tricks quietly and respectfully.
I wasn't sure what could be done with Qi, but it was becoming clear that it wasn't magical powers. It felt more like an advanced science that we had yet to research.
"It's time for me to teach you Xing Yi." The master said.
I was both excited and at the same time frustrated inside. I've always been, at the least, curious about Xing Yi, but I had yet to get my Bagua in a place of satisfaction. I still needed a few more years before I even began to start opening new beginnings and now a whole new system of fighting to tackle! It's insanity, I thought to myself. But I couldn't let one of the master's movements go to waste so I began practicing.
XIng Yi showed up like the rude, drunken cousin pointing out all of my flaws. My weight was in the wrong place, off balanced and apparently my butt position had never been correct in the first place. Which means, not only would I have to learn a brand new style, I also had to basically start over with every single movement in Bagua. F@*k!
I spent the next 6 months readjusting every technique I had ever learned. Now, often losing balance and occasionally falling down doing the most basic of movements. Even though I mostly trained alone, I was humiliated. I came home after one practice and actually broke down in tears in front of my wife.
"But baby you are already so good." She explained. "You have over twenty different medals."
"That doesn't mean anything." I explained. "The world can't even identify what we're doing. I can fight, I can perform, but my martial arts is still shit. My body aches in all kinds of weird places and I have to realign everything I've ever learned!"
"Baby you told me that there are only two kinds of students: the ones who make excuses two limit their training and the ones that find reasons to train even more. Which one did I marry?" She asked.
"You already know." I said, smiling.
"Good, then stop all this bitch-ass crying and warrior up." She said sternly, but with a comforting vibe. My wife new she married a warrior, so when I was feeling a bit off, she knew just how to get me back in the game.
Shortly after, I stopped in Hong Kong on my way to Beijing to make my second film. I met with a great Master, Joe Lok, and we had lunch together. He was intrigued by my training and I found time to demonstrate the circle for him. Luckily, balanced enough that I wasn't falling anymore."
"You are close, but your Qi is not there yet." He stated, not to my surprise. "I recommend you do standing practice.
"But my master said that in Bagua our Qi is cultivated from walking the circle." I explained.
"That's true." Lok replied. "But if you are not walking the circle in absolute perfect posture, it can be hard to grasp.
Knowing my posture was far from perfect, I took his advice and added standing to my my training repertoire. I practiced continually, during my filming before and after every take. Please don't ask about my films, they were not blockbusters, and after all this is a story about kung fu. If I make a good one, you will be the first to know.
While training my Xing Yi at one point in the film behind the set, a car full of tourists from another province in China passed by and noticed my movements. I heard a fellow say,
"He is practicing Xing Yi, but it isn't quite right yet."
"Yes I know that you ass." I said, under my breath.
Though I was a bit pissed about his comment, I knew he was on point. How much could we all grew if we weren't so damn defense, I reminded myself. During the filming, my wife became pregnant with our first son, Solomon. We returned back to Taiwan and a year later second son followed, Samson. My training and development were important, but my family was everything. This lead me to quickly find a translation job in order to take care of bills.
Translating the news paper wasn't as cool as it sounded. Lots of boring stuff, often repeated and barely ever easy. Still, they didn't mind when I was in or out of the office, just as long as the work was done, giving me at least two hours to train at lunch. Both fortunately and unfortunately there is no shortage of "Qi experts" here in Asia. Advice flooded in from every type of expert from janitors, doctors or whatever random passerby. Some I deemed as full of shit, but some were right on the money.
"You are not sinking your weight." A random guy remarked. I paused my movements as I glanced over to see a man wearing all black, with dark glasses. He looked like he was straight out of the Matrix.
"But my stance is do deep." I responded.
"Your stance is deep because you are bending low, but your body must connect deeper into your legs." He mentioned. "Sink further into your Kua (hip flexors).
I took this advice to heart along with dozens of other ideas that could possibly refine my art. Sometimes masters flew from other countries just to have dinner with me. Though I had no idea who they were, my reputation was starting to proceed me. They always pretended it was just about dinner, but they always found a moment between eating to give a hint.
"Your eyes are not following your hands." One master said.
'Your shoulders are still a bit high." Another mentioned.
"Did your master tell you to concave your chest?" Another master with a long beard said while smiling.
All of the masters were so practical and down to earth. I was honored to be able to communicate with people who had trained longer than I was born.
"A lot of people believe that we train so that we no longer rely on our external muscles." One master pointed out as we shared a plate of dim sum.
"That isn't true?" I inquired.
"Internal and external are both important." He responded. "Sleep on this concrete floor for a week and them come fight me. See if the muscles don't affect your movements." He joked.
The majority of their words were just echoes of the master's words that I had forgotten because I had been so combat oriented. I'd already made a decision long ago to not debate, but improve. My daily training continued to make me more humble as I realized anyone could teach me something, and there was still much to learn.
On one particular lunch break, it was agin time to practice Xing Yi. Xing Yi was that mean dog that dared me to cross the street on my way to school. This time, I was in a much more "sunken" posture, feeling the engaging of the Kua (hip flexors) in a way I had yet to feel before. Then I felt something, heavy, just beneath my belly-button, not quite a ball, but warm floating particles. It was just as I had read, researched and translated in many personal articles of different masters. I was finally tapping into the myth. I was beginning to sense my Qi.
At this point, everything was coming together beautifully. The wife's mom finished heart surgery successfully, my Qi was on the way, we moved into a brand new house when...reality strikes.
While cooking at our new house, I'm so involved in conversation with the wife, the pot on the stove catches fire. I rush to grab the pot and attempt to place it in the sink, but the hot oil burns the skin off my hand. Then, as I scream in pain, the pot tips, and the majority of the bubbling oil spills all over my foot and toes. There was now no skin on 40 percent of my left foot. In the back of the ambulance, I experienced the most pain I've ever felt. There is no fight, no conflict or training that could ever compare with the pain of life.
"You will never be able to do kung fu again." The doctor told me. We have to do some skin grafting, but certainly the burn is to deep...He went on and on about different procedures, but I couldn't even make out what he said after his first statement. I knew he was a professional, but I also knew he had no clue who I was.
"You are wrong." I responded, without even looking at the doctor or my mostly destroyed foot.
The doctor continued "No I have seen this kind of injury before and.."
"Jesus is my father." I said cutting him off. As he rolled his eyes at my response. "I will be even better than before."
Though I couldn't even walk, I continued to repeat and reassure myself with God's word. I completely disconnected from the world, knowing they only had worry and doubt to offer. If anything I learned that the body obeys the mind and the thoughts within. Meaning if I listened too much, I would never recover.
After dealing with the KKK, random thugs and Asian gangsters, I was in no position to doubt my blessings. What was one more miracle? Still, I was temporarily unable to sleep because of the pain. One foot and two kids is no joke. Even the master had doubts,
"It looks like it won't be the same anymore."
I understood this was a point of my journey I must go alone. Hobbling slowly with the assistance of crutches I tried not to miss the bus again. The last thing I needed was to get fired and lose my health insurance over tardiness.
When you walk slowly, your mind slows down. I began to see other people walking slowly as well: the elderly, physically challenged and mentally challenged. I was normally so busy rushing off to practice, I neglected to even notice those less capable in terms of movement.
"I can't believe, I ever complained about the burden of training." I said to my wife.
"It's a miracle that you have been training so long." She responded.
"It's a gift I will never forget to appreciate again. I was so focused on getting better, I didn't realize I was already living my dream." I said while squirming because of the pain.
After three weeks of agony, groans and prayer, my wife unexpectedly ran into a person who recommended a doctor about burns. We followed up and got some kind of weird pink (almost glowing) medicine that made the pain stop immediately. After one day using it, I could sleep. An additional week after that, I was able to put my weight down.
Momentarily unable to move quickly, I started with Taichi: something I had put in the toy box for far too long, undoubtedly related to my former impatient nature. Now that I could only move slowly, I embraced moving slowly. I took pleasure in it. What a joy just to be able to stand. After a few weeks of Taichi, my master approached me with another prescription.
"Let me teach you the Yi-ching Power." He said.
It was a gentle style that was mostly standing while doing simple movements. Though a few years back it may have made me roll my eyes, my injury and new found attitude made it priority. Going through the intricate yet subtle exercises began to change something within. It wasn't Qi, but my entire mindset. No matter my level of capability or understanding, every day of training was bliss.
Contrary to the doctor's prediction, I was back to normal after three months. Not just back to normal. Three months of a strict Qi diet, made me much smoother and sturdier than before. The small static spark that began in my finger tips and belly, would occasionally jump to the souls of my feet, my neck and various place. Though only for moments, it soothed me of all concerns. It was like bathing in the air between the air. At 36, I hadn't felt this good since I was 16.
It made me more passionate about my Qi cultivation styles so I dug them all out of the the attic: the Fist of No Extremes, the Eight Brocades, Yi-Ching Power, Taichi, the Xing Yi, QIng Ping Sword and of course Circle Walking.
This time all of the training didn't strain my body at all. In fact, when I felt a pain in any place, I could focus on it, breath deep and just move it away. It turned out all of the pain in my body could be completely controlled. As I removed the pain that had been nagging me for half a decade, I smiled as I thought of Cobra Kai. Pain does not exist in this dojo does it!
Not soon after, the weight in my tummy got heavier..or more solid. As I taught classes, I noticed many movements and counters began to happen almost automatically. Techniques I'd never thought of or practiced began to happen on their own. At one point sparring with my student, he grabbed my kick and came in to sweep the other leg. As he approached, I climbed his body like snake, pulled his hair back and struck at his throat from above.
"Woah..." He said startled. "I've never seen that before."
"Yeah mean either." I admitted while shrugging my shoulders.
The following 2 years, my training remained a blessing. The joy of waking up at 5am to train really put a smile on my face. But in the martial arts world there was an entirely different feeling arising. Fake Qi masters were getting beat up left and right, supposed traditional masters of many lineages were being humiliated by every day joes. Online forums were a mess of spiteful words that I had to continually resist participation.
The politeness and respect that had been given to the phony teachers had come home to roost. No one could discern between the real and the unreal. But I watched many trained and knowledgable men parish to the chaos of the insecure. Social media was in such a fit, that I had to take a step back from the idea of even mentioning my findings.
Aside from my wife and kids, this art was one of my greatest blessings. Why should it be tossed before agitated individuals who have yet to find themselves? I knew I was no better than anyone else. It was only years back I was walking through clubs trying to get picked on. Growth is not a matter of age, but a matter of decision.
I decided to teach my art to the people in need, hospitals, orphanages the natives in the mountains.
These people were not only in need of Bagua, they craved it. No doubting or skepticism of the odd-ball stances and techniques. They just followed instructions and almost immediately gained the power to knock people down.
In a Thailand orphanage, combat was already engrained in the culture. So when shown Bagua, they could recognize the physics of power right away.
These girls were born to be Bagua teachers. My time with them was short, but it became obvious that as a lineage holder it was my responsibility to put the art in the hands of all who desired it. They never ceased practice in the short two weeks that I had with them.
"How does that movement work again." The young girl asked.
"It's been 4 hours, I think we should take a break." I responded. She crossed her arms and I knew she wouldn't relent until she had her way. So I showed her the steps, strikes and techniques as requested.
"Teacher..." She said with tears in her eyes. "Please don't go."
As she began to cry many others followed. I couldn't help to shed a tear, seeing people so appreciative of the knowledge I received. They grew up in the country next to a small drug organization. There were many kidnappings and murders throughout their lives. Self-defense wasn't a hobby or "what if" scenario for them. It was an unfortunate necessity.
When I returned to Taiwan, I almost broke down as I told my wife.
"I've wasted so much time trying to persuade people who don't want the art, but there are so many others that need it." I said as my voice choked.
"Never put pearls before swine." My wife responded. "Be that master on the mountain."
"Only the ones that truly want it will receive it." I responded, always delighted she remembered my words. "Well, at least I'm at peace and I've finally have control of my Qi.
Unfortunately, I would soon find that I was wrong on both accounts. When I returned from many volunteer service trips, teaching Bagua to various peoples. I got this idea to contact the newspaper, to help spread the word about the self-defense and combat benefits of Bagua. They responded to my email within 20 seconds saying they would be right over for an interview.
The title reads, "After 15 years of diligent training, American Robert Jay Arnold is appointed as Head Master of Bagua."
They had completely bypassed the point! This may sound cool to those outside of this martial arts underground, but allow me to explain a few major reasons why this title is a nightmare.
1. I am a lineage holder, not THE head master! Which means I along with my kung fu brothers and sisters are all equally lineage holders, passing down the art in our own way.
2. My master is still alive. So to call me the head master is like saying he is already dead.
3. They just named me the fastest draw in the west, imploring any and everyone who thinks Bagua doesn't work, to come to me directly. I was only getting in touch with my Qi. Decades of knowledge behind many other masters.
4. There are literally thousands of forms of Bagua. Even if I was the head master, it would only be of our lineage. Not the entire universe of Bagua! They made it sound like all of the Bagua that had ever been was now solely managed by a black man from Seattle. This was the very definition of stress.
The newspapers flooded across Taiwan and China, a magnificent storm in the kung fu world. The first thing I did was call the master to apologize.
"It's no big deal." He said. "They love sensationalism and want a great story." I continued to apologize and he continued to laugh. "Sun Dragon (my former Chinese name) just go be you."
I was relieved, feeling I had dodged a bullet. But my my kung fu brothers and sisters were a different story.
"Why is the Sun Dragon the head master of the lineage?" One woman shouted. She only invoked the courage of others to come out with their own complaints of the situation. I just held my head low, hoping that things could go back to the way they were. Amidst the commotion a voice rose up.
"Who has trained harder than the Sun Dragon?!" A senior student contested. "Who has done more research on our art or obtained as much of the techniques aside from the master himself?"
There was only silence. The silence for me became awkwardness. I was happy to see my kung fu brother face the fires with me. But I couldn't let it stand.
"We are all lineage holders." I explained. "Let us continue to do our best to pass all the knowledge we have to the next generation. I don't care what my title is, but I will pass on our art on forever."
My kung fu family was one story and the kung fu world was another completely. I was invited to many TV shows, where I explained that it was a misprint. I called the newspaper to tell them to make a retraction, who said they couldn't, but I knew rather they wouldn't.
I wrote a personal apology to all my followers in Chinese, explaining the truth of the situation.
"How could there be a foreign head master of bagua?" Some responded.
"The new head master is the real deal." Another said.
It was clear no matter what I voiced, the kung fu world was unwilling to hear my own input. Even when I walked on the street, common people greeted me as head master. Bowing, nodding and occasionally trading hands. Weeks passed, and my reputation as head master only continued to grow.
"No matter what I say, people still call me head master." I told my wife.
"It's one stupid article. But on the other hand, aside from your master, who has more information than you related to your lineage?" She asked.
"No one, but..."
"Is your master upset?" She asked, cutting me off.
"No, of course not, he's..."
"Do you not want to pass on the art?" She continued.
"Of course I do." I said, calmly.
"Then, what's the problem?" She quirked.
"I'm not good enough." I responded.
"Then get good enough" She answered.
I don't care about titles and I still don't accept any title of head master, nevertheless, I still had a very taxing task ahead: don't let a single movement of the master get lost. Good, bad and ugly, there was no changing the minds of those that read the news. They were adamant about being either excited or spiteful.
At this point in my life it had become obvious that everyone's world is only as big as their mind and the mind often ceases to seek development.
Two years passed and I was buried in my training and attempting to be a good father. How could I be concerned with anything? My hands were filled with dozens of daunting tasks at a time. I had completely ceased from trying to find students. I just continued to train in a place that wasn't too hard to find.
Just before I turned 40, I took my stance to walk the circle on a very ordinary morning, at my ordinary time, but a very extraordinary thing happened. My mind completely elevated above recent happenings and expectations. There was nothing but my training; there was nothing but the moment.
I sunk my weight, dropped my shoulders, concaved my chest, tucked my butt, etc. I've always done my best to incorporate each of these rules, but it seemed that as I emphasized one portion of my body, the other parts were neglected. I had already felt Qi in all parts of my body, but always just in part: the hands, feet, arms, legs.
As I practiced the Yi-ching Power as my master prescribed, I began to feel as if my movements were almost guided by the air. Just thinking about the movement made my body move almost automatically.
Then I stepped into my Xing Yi practice. Xing Yi had always been the ugly girlfriend I had to bring to the party. But on this day as I sank my weight, not only was the ball under my stomach more solid than ever, I was able to rotate and twist it at will. Just as I rotated that central part, my limbs flew out into the strike.
"Woah..." I said to myself. I'd never had so much force or used so little effort. As I went through all of the five elements, I couldn't help but to almost laugh. Every element required a different rotation and it made the sphere with in myself completely tangible. Initially, I had been using my body to move my Qi, now I was using my Qi to move my body.
Every movement the master had given me was a part of a very complex map, all emphasizing different ways and directions Qi could be utilized, cultivated or controlled. Without Xing Yi, I may have never been able to find that crucial sensation.
I began to walk my circle for the millionth time, but today it truly was the first time. My every step, spun the sphere within myself. It was a good thing I had made all of the initial corrections in my structure because I was moving fast enough that one bad step could lead to injury. As my center whirled me around, I swam inside of myself, I lost track of time. I lost track of everything.
For the first time, my entire body was filled. No. There was another body within my body that I was now able to control. It was a body completely made of Qi. I slowed my movements down to a crawl.I gradually slowed to the point that my external body had stopped, but the internal body could still move freely.
I turned to look to the side, but not with my physical eyes. I could see the entire world at this point in time from Taiwan to America. Reality itself was just a thin page in that stretched across the entire universe. When I moved, I felt myself push on the entire universe and that if I continued to push, I would go through this reality completely.
"That's enough." I heard in my spirit. I took a deep breath and allowed my physical body to regain control. I said down, smiling. I had never felt such peace before. I couldn't remember in detail what I had seen, but the feeling remained. Everything was completely connected. Every bird, insect or random thought were part of a perfectly choreographed story. We are not in control, and all agony stems from the inability to accept your role or purpose. Every role, technique or career literally holds the universe together.
"Daddy." My sons Solomon and Samson appeared, taking a pause from their own training. "Why did you stop training?"
"I just found my Qi son." I responded.
"What's Qi for?" Samson asked.
"I'm not too sure yet." I admitted. "That's the next step."
And that brings us up to modern day. I have been using my Qi for everything now as I understand that there is really no reason not to. All of the movements my master had given were just a clue or channel to access it. Every style is just like a name brand of Qi or user's preference. But to find your "inner man" is no easy task. I'm sure many could find it much faster than myself because I've always been a slow learner. Yet, the journey itself has changed my whole perception of my being.
Qi is not some metaphor or magical powers, but it is very real. It's also a filter that most people will never discover. But I promise you, if you keep going and continue to take advice, you will get it.