“A man‘s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
From the poem, ‘Andrea Del Sarto’ by Robert Browning.
After more than 20 years of study, I’ve realized that I will never be really good at my chosen art of Jiulong Baguazhang. This fills me with happiness.
Please don’t misunderstand. This is not false humility or acceptance of being a klutz (though I’ve often felt like one when practicing). I’d better explain.
Last week I was in Arlington, Texas, the home of my Shifu, John Painter, for a 3 day intensive seminar on Water Palm. Water is one of the 8 Palms of Jiulong and learning each Palm involves training mind and body to evade, strike, project, throw, and use weapons in a specific way. For close to a year, I had been focusing my practice almost exclusively on learning how to feel and move in the manner symbolized by Water in order to be able to teach it appropriately. This was on top of years of being exposed to all the different Palms in workshops, seminars and personal practice.
I had made some progress and my Shifu even kind of, sort of, grunted approvingly at a couple of the things he asked me to demonstrate. But the lessons I got on Water opened the Water dragon’s gate wider than I could have imagined. Shifu Painter took me to a water park in nearby Fort Worth to see, hear, and feel how water can flow powerfully as well as gently. He asked me to pay attention to the emotions provoked by cascading waterfalls, still pools and roaring rapids.
Back at the Gompa, our home school, he showed me how to take this experience to make my moves more powerful and more flowing, my attitude calmer and stronger. He taught me basic things about the art I had never thought of or felt before. Above all, he encouraged me to keep making my own discoveries just as he has continued to make discoveries for his entire career. There is always more to learn, even in something as simple as taking a single step. I came home with a fresh batch of things to play with, material to learn, and feeling eager to keep exploring. Thank you, Shifu!
That is what makes my training exciting, the thought that the adventure I’m on only ends when I do. After years of practice, I know things and can do things better than before. I like to believe I’m improving. But being really good, in other words mastering the art is something that I will always have the fun of aspiring to and never the disappointment of having nothing new to learn.
That is why I’m happy I’ll never be good at Jiulong.