Improving life is necessary for us as human beings. A Chinese saying states, “If you don’t advance, you will retreat.” (学如逆水行舟，不进则退) We all need continuous improvement in life, work, family, or love.
In the summer of 2021, the first time I offered intensive training at the center, Jason, a student from Virginia, came to the Daoist Gate Center to study Bagua Zhang. Tall and stocky, one could not help but think of him as imposing. But, in reality, he was extremely shy. During communal dining, he always ate at the end of the table, wouldn’t talk to anyone without being asked, and returned to his room right after eating. When practicing in the training hall, he would always hide in a corner and practice by himself.
Among the group of students, he stood out as being different.
As a teacher, I always pay much attention to this type of student. My goal is to put them at ease, have them feel comfortable, and give them a sense of belonging. For students as shy as Jason, this experience must have felt like returning to the classroom again in their awkward teens. As a teacher, I understand the importance of bringing together all sorts of students to learn together as a community and have a meaningful experience at Xuan Ju.
His answer did not surprise me when asked what area he was most interested in. He wanted to be a teacher of Tai Chi Quan and Baguazhang. Jason worked hard on the first day of the workshop, and his clothes were soaked with sweat. Observing his Bagua movements and body techniques, I saw Yin-style manners in his movements. Attributed to Yin Fu (尹福), a student of Dong Hai Chuan, the creator of Bagua Zhang, the Yin style, which I greatly respect, has penetrating palm and backhand strikes, and every movement efficiently can bring down an opponent. From where I stand, I think Bagua Zhang suited him very well.
Jason will be the first to admit that his path to martial arts has been rough. He did not quite fit in school, felt out of the box, and was always on the margin. Finding his way in the world, he hit the road, touring the country with friends while listening to their favorite bands and experiencing what he imagined as a free life, like the fabled life of a hippie. In search of a spiritual path, his wandering past brought him as far as Peru. However, after three years, he did not find what he was looking for, and he got out of that experience even more confused.
In 2013, he took some classes at a local martial arts school in Virginia, studied Wing Chun, and dabbled in various martial arts forms. However, after discovering internal arts, he fell in love with the moving meditation arts of Bagua Zhang. He finds it inspiring and describes them as having “hidden things yet to be discovered whenever I practice Bagua; it has a lot of depth to it.” He adds, “It is a moving meditation to help calm my racing mind.”
When the pandemic hit, it allowed him to travel to his first training at the center. He was in a class with students of different ages, genders, skills, and backgrounds for the first time. He was used to living alone and not making friends, so being thrown into a group living space was out of his comfort zone.
The adjustment process was so hard, but he learned to make friends. In another proof that life is a continuous improvement, I saw him go from being alone all the time to doing things with his classmates on the weekends, like hiking and visiting natural sites in New Hampshire. I let him help me teach some Xuan Ju classes, which he did with great dedication. He told me his stay at the center helped him “feel normal, build self-confidence, and come out of my shell.”
Jason returned to Xuan Ju the following year, 2022, and the year after, 2023, for two months, and I am happy to announce his return in 2024! During all these years at Xuan Ju, his main goal was to strengthen his learning of Baguazhang and add on Tai Chi, Xingyi Quan, Tai Chi Sword, and Qigong. I asked him what made him come back year after year, and he responded that he wanted to deepen his learning, which could only happen by being there. He wanted to be trained to be an excellent teacher. Teaching makes him happy and purposeful. Currently, he teaches Bagua and Tai Chi in his community. He looks forward to continuing to foster friendship within our Daoist Gate family, as he considers Xuan Ju his second home.
For me, as a teacher, I am very proud of him. Following the wisdom of life as continuous improvement, Jason has found a positive path. The Daoist Gate Center should be a place to allow people to find their natural aptitude, conquer their fears, and realize their strengths. Whether you practice martial arts for health, as a passion, or to serve the community as a teacher, even if the development is slow and hard, I hope my students believe in themselves. Only such a life will have value and meaning.