Bohannon's thought about the international seminar (09.21.2014)
So, Dmitry and Master both told me today that I will be beginning my morning training much earlier than usual at the kwoon for a week while we hold a international seminar for the students from Russia "Moscow" and Colombia "Bogota". I'll finally get to meet the master's other students! How exciting! Not only do I get to fulfill a lifelong dream of living and training at a dojo all Beatrix-Kiddo-Pai-Mei style, but getting the opportunity to train and be in fellowship with other students of our art is almost like being introduced to new family. Simply from what I've seen on Facebook and videos from the other school, they all seem like awesome people. I have no doubt that this next week will change my life for the better.
This event will be significant for me in a way that implies more permanence; after the seminar, I intend to give the master my decision concerning becoming his acolyte. The more I see the manner in which incidents have been occurring in my life lately, the more I realize that this is meant to be. You can call it fate, serendipity, or whatever, all I know is that I have not felt this at home any place else. Nor have I learned so much in such a short amount of time. And the more I learn, the more I understand how much more I have to learn. I hope I am ready to embark on my journey to mastery, because this will be the first step. And I'm looking forward to going the distance.
Today is Day 1 of the International Invitational Seminar at the kwoon. The week has already gotten off to a great start. Yesterday was Day 0 (Sunday). We did mainly internal stuff, and only for the first part of the day. While the pace was relaxed and slow, I could definitely feel the burn! The differences between internal and external kung fu are so amazing and vast. I consider my self among the blessed to be trained by the best. Speaking of being among the blessed, yesterday's training was so short due to the arrival of the Russian students! I finally got to meet Anton and Dmitry, and they both more than live up to the legends. It gave me a cool new energy to look around the room and know that so many of these people know so much more about kung fu than me, and were eager to help me learn more as well. After our workout, we all went to Malibu Beach for some fun in the sun :) I flew a dragon kite (painstakingly, and not nearly as well as Valentin), we played a pick-up volleyball game, there was ocean swimming (none for me, thanks); all in all, it was a perfect day. I can't wait to see what the rest of the week holds!
So, this Monday has finally winded down to an end. I'm so glad yesterday was easy, because we paid for it today. We went over new Qi Gong techniques in the morning, then in the evening it was tumbling, tumbling, and more tumbling. I even learned a roll I've never been introduced to in my life. It's always fun to pick up something you didn't know before. But something that stuck with me was the way some other students were asking my advice on certain techniques. Here I am, barely a novice, giving tips to a bunch of guys who can do most other stuff ten times better than me. It's both humbling and a point of pride for me. I have a feeling a lot of us are going to surprise our selves and each other this week...
SO MANY PUSH-UPS! FINGERTIP PUSH-UPS! TIGER PUSH-UPS! "DON'T. TOUCH. FLOOR!!" Last night's close-out with acrobatics was so intense and fun, I half expected Tuesday to be super lax. Boy was I wrong, and couldn't be happier for it! Today's Qi Gong exercises began teaching us the difference between coordinating breathing with movement and breathing for effort and energy. During one of the exercises my breathing became so deep and connected that I actually felt a significant increase in seratonin in my brain, followed by a wave of dizzyness and euphoria. I've never felt anything even remotely similar to that with any other physical training or activity.
Master Valery's methods of teaching are superlative in my opinion, and the physical aspect is just the tip of the iceberg. The way he has us drill techniques allows us to understand both the theoretical and practical aspect of each technique and how they apply to real-life situations. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, Master Valery's teachings are like pure, ripe olives in a room full of watered-down gin and wine. While the latter spirits may look good and serve a momentary purpose, they are not the real deal, and provide only evanescent satisfaction. The former is reserved who want the genuine article, and while one may think the first taste a bit too intense, its distinct flavor grows on you the more you try it. People develop a taste for olives every day. No one develops a taste for diluted wine. And we certainly don't put good olives in bottom-barrel martinis, do we?
Today, I was finally granted a silent wish I've had since I started training here at Golden Dragon; I got to learn some Tai Chi! We started out with basic movements to increase awareness of connection with breathing and movement. From there we went on principles of pushing and pulling, and their importance both for technique and application of the art in its entirety. I have found that this is one of my favorite things about learning under Master Valery - not only does he know his stuff, he knows how to teach using the most direct and simple methods, which make it simple and fun to learn (even if it is hard to do). The techniques and movements we learned, while minimal and easy in appearance, require incredible amounts of focus and meticulous observation. And any time I felt the technique just wasn't coming to me, I would be reassured by a glance across the room from Master Valery telling the same adage he's been telling me for ages, as I'm sure he's told many before me: BE PATIENT. And after everything I've gleaned in such a short time under his instruction, that will not be a problem.
On another note, I believe I'm beginning to understand what the master meant when he said that truly making kung fu my life will not only change the way think and respond to the world around me, but also the way the world and its people interact with me. I've been noticing it in droves and scores lately. Kung fu has given me a new kind of confidence that allows me to approach any person or situation with curiosity instead of fear. The way people respond to it is nothing short of astounding. In the past week alone, I've talked my way out of an (unwarranted) arrest, gotten a promotion and a raise at my other job, eradicated a negative influence from my and my friends' lives, been offered two leadership positions at two different volunteering agencies, and learned more by teaching than I could have ever learned alone. Kung fu's most important benefit for me has been the steady increase in self-awareness that I've felt. And I feel that once you are self-aware, there is no reason to be afraid of anything. It allows you to truly accept everything that life and the Universe have to offer as a gift instead of a trial or burden. Imagine how great the world would be if everyone saw things this way...
Today emphasis was put on techniques and drills. The morning started out as intensely as ever, but the evening was relatively easy. The first part of the seminar focused specifically on Tai Chi; we learned the fundamentals of pushing and pulling, two key principles in the application of Tai Chi.
As the seminar winds to a close for this week, I'm left with a bittersweet sensation. While I'm ecstatic from all the fun, training, and learning, I'm also super upset because it will be over soon. Today was extra fun because later in the day my friend Kevin Lukata stopped by and stayed for the seminar! He's a martial artist as well, so it gave me a sense of pride to have introduced someone as skilled and passionate about kung fu to our school, and at such a great time in our training. We worked Q'in Na techniques, tumbling, roll defense, and did physical conditioning that would make a Navy Seal cringe. For some, that 3 ½-hour stretch would constitute a full week of workouts, but for us, it's just another day. I was thoroughly impressed that Kevin was able to keep up, and at how fast he picked up the techniques. Hopefully time will see him become another progeny of Master Valery's style and teachings.
After the seminar, Jeff Silberman, another pupil at Golden Dragon, surprised us all with chocolate cake and copies of his music CD. His devotion to kung fu is only paralleled by passion for music, and he gets super busy on both! That is yet another awesome thing about our school and students; we're all devoted to our art, but it also serves us in our other walks of life. From musicians to bakers to accountants, the students here are just as proficient in their careers as they are in our art, and every day they just keep getting better.
It amazes me all the time the level on which we train here. When I started training here almost a year ago, I would watch Dmitry and the master train and think, “There's no way I'll ever be able to do what they do.” Now, after putting in copious hours in private training and here at the seminar, I realize that while I'm not on their level yet, it is attainable. Indeed, the fact that they're showing it can be done is in a way a challenge to keep improving daily. I see so many different skill levels among all of the other students, but one thing is consistent within all of us: HEART. Even those of us who can only do 49 push-ups will sweat, bleed, and keep going for that 50th, 51st, and so on.
This is why I feel so blessed to have Master Valery as a teacher; he does a phenomenal job of setting the bar. And instead of lowering it, like some teachers who use 'default belt systems' or 'The Curve', he urges us to reach higher, and shows us the most effective ways to reach our goals. It doesn't matter if you've ever been in martial arts, if you're 8 or 80, Master Valery will find something within you that you didn't know was there and encourage you to dig deep to find it and unlock your potential. I am proud to call this place my kung fu home.