Living with the Dao

 Living with the Dao. Life is a great training center; existence is a kind of cultivation, we are all constantly refining it. The results depend on the path we choose.

The “Dao” 道 is a very abstract word. Everyone understands it a little differently. For me, the Dao is a kind of natural regular pattern in the universe. In our lives, it is a kind of lifestyle we can choose, wherein we unceasingly refine our lives. In our actions, it is a kind of attitude of constantly learning, of improving the things we do.

Sam, who is almost two meters (6.5 feet) tall, worked as a sports coach at a local college. The third-year after I came to the US, he came to study with me, but because of unforeseen events in his family, he could not attend the classes.

A few years later, I got a message from him, saying he wanted to join my Wudang Taijiquan classes and let me know he was then studying to be an acupuncturist. I feel particularly close to people who study traditional Chinese culture, especially Chinese medicine. So I was delighted that he could begin again and learn Daoist culture with me.

Sam originally planned on attending my 2020 China Study trip, but because of the pandemic, we canceled this event. Sam has participated in all of my online classes during this pandemic time, including Neidan, Xingyiquan, Qigong, and Taiji. He also attended my online teacher training course. When I opened the three-month teacher training program at my Daoist Gate Center, in Francestown, NH, he registered to participate. Before the training began, several Olympic contenders for team Canada hired him to coach them – a great opportunity none would possibly miss. Sam said this was an excellent chance to prove the value of what he had learned. I understood and supported him in doing this. When these athletes needed a one-week break in their training, Sam took a plane to the Daoist Gate Center and studied with me.

Sam also often came to the workshops and summer camps I held. He is a student who likes learning and is willing to soak in a new culture. He often had many interesting questions. I have to answer questions from students since I am their teacher, but I also like to treat students like friends. We could talk about anything, and at times I will also crack jokes with my students. In the three months of teacher training, all the students were female, so I was very happy when he came since having a male student could adjust the atmosphere a little! Sam is easy to talk with and a very nice person. He eats a lot, and at each meal, he would get seconds. We would joke that “it’s all yours,” and he would laugh along with us.

One Saturday, when we went outside to clean the yard, Sam felt dizzy and said that he saw a bear in the woods. When I looked, there was no bear there, so I asked him if he might be training too much, getting so tired that he was hallucinating. Sam said it might be possible because there was not enough meat to eat and probably not getting enough nutrition in his diet during training. So at each meal from there on, he would eat at least half a kilo of meat. This made me think of my experience training on Wudang Mountain, how the thirty of us students would eat eighty kilos of meat and more than thirty lard every week. When one student there stopped practicing for a month due to an injury, he grew so much heavier he seemed like a different person, to the extent that his parents did not recognize him when they came to pick him up.

From a Daoist cultivation perspective, eating meat is beneficial for health. From a perspective of training Kungfu, you cannot keep up with it if you do not eat meat; only if you keep eating like a cow or a sheep can you get enough nutrition. From a nutritionist’s perspective, our modern work environment has changed from before. The main problem is having too much to eat, so being a vegetarian can be beneficial to health. Every meal at the Daoist Gate Center has both meat and vegetables. Eating meat or vegetables is a personal choice and each person’s right to choose.

After Sam finished training here and returned to Florida, we would never forget him whenever we had leftovers, saying that if he were at the center, he would eat it, and there would be no waste!

Sam trained at the Daoist Gate Center for several weeks, and in that time, completed Baguazhang and Taiji swords. His goal was to solidify the Taiji and Kungfu he had previously studied with me. Only with constant practice can martial arts be reviewed in our experience, but in a period of training, it is easy to build habits of martial arts training. After students of traditional martial arts learn to train on their own, they can find a teacher to correct their movements and techniques.

In Sam’s words, “My original goal in attending the weeks of the retreat that I could was to refine the material I had been learning since the pandemic – Taiji forms, like Taiji Jian (sword) and WuXing (Five Elements), and the Xingyi movements. But because of having full days to train, I was also able to work on new forms – Xuan Wu Quan and the circle walking and eight palm changes of Baguazhang. I enjoyed the balance of soft and hard training, between the faster, more aggressive Xingyi sessions, the softer, more relaxed Taiji, and the balance of Yin & Yang in Xuan Wu Quan. Being out of the city and normal life made it easier to learn and feel the internal aspect of the practices – each of them has its spirit, from Xingyi’s feeling of moving effortlessly as your body moves from intention itself to feeling your Qi extend into the blade in the Taiji Sword form.

While feeling cold for the first time in months (I had been living in Florida) was a bit of a shocker, I really enjoyed being surrounded by the giant trees and views of the mountains at Xuan Ju. I also really enjoyed the live-in training environment – that’s the way previous generations of martial arts masters learn, and a lot of learning about the theory and culture of Wudang and Daoism happens away from the training hall. Working in the center, living with others, and just in our conversations at mealtimes were all teachable moments, whether with direct instruction or Master Zhou xuanyun’s example. I am still in touch with friends from the retreat and seminars at Xuan Ju. There’s a different level of connection with fellow students, your teacher, and the arts when you are committed to practicing them full-time, and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.”

I use the stories of students to explain the Dao, to give purpose to one’s life, to study constantly, to review our experiences, to transform what we have learned into a kind of nutrition, to enrich our lives, and to reach the goals we have set in our hearts. This is Sam’s life story. Now he has opened his acupuncture clinic in Santa Barbara, California, and there teaches Wudang Taiji and offers massage and acupuncture.