In the late ‘90s, there was talk of Dr. Yang wanting to open a martial arts training camp in California. I was one of the teens in the adult Shaolin class, and of course we all thought it was the coolest idea. Train martial arts all day just like characters in the novels and movies. Spar atop tree stumps. Meditate in the cave under the waterfall. Carry water buckets up the mountain. Punch wooden stumps till your knuckles bleed, wrap them up and keep going. Hold mabu for an hour. Run up the mountain with bricks tied to your calves. Wake up early, roll up the straw mat, and start a new day. Even the harsh images sound good in the generic romanticized kung fu training fantasy.
The YMAA Retreat Center (RC) almost didn’t become a reality. When Dr. Yang was about ready to give up on his life’s dream, he finally found the land he wanted and the Center was built. In the fall of 2008, the first semester began. It was the same year I started training again, after a seven year break. One of the RC students was from Andover, so I followed the program’s progress closely. I was 25, female, and out of training for too long, so I decided to live vicariously through him. I’ve visited the Center four times so I have an idea of the reality of the Center and the program. Much of it is surreal – living and training under a well respected and knowledgeable martial arts master, the view, the environment, the training ground, the sheer amount of knowledge the students are supposed to learn and skills they are supposed to master. The fact is, being a Retreat Center student is a very tough path to take. And I chose to apply for it.
The Center is accepting applications for the 5 Year Training Program (I call it 5YP), commencing on September 1, 2013. For the longest time, I had many reasons to believe I could never do this. I’m past the ideal age, I have prior injuries, I’m female, I have no natural talent, it’s tough to survive the program, it’s tough to make a career out of martial arts, my parents wouldn’t approve, etc…
One day in April, I decided to put those reasons aside and think about the possibility of applying, being accepted, and graduating. The only way I could find out if it was possible, was if I stopped thinking it was impossible.
This past spring, it seemed as if the stars were aligning for this. Some things might seem insignificant, but everything played a part.
- I don’t usually do this, but I clicked on a Facebook friend’s link to James Altucher’s blog. I was hooked by his humor and honesty. He is very open about his many past failures in his career and personal life, and his perseverance inspired me to take a chance. He also says to not worry about the future so much, because we spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t end up happening.
- To cheer myself up, I bought my friend’s old iPod so I could listen to mp3s on the go (wow!) Last fall, another friend had given me recordings of Igor Ledochowski, a hypnotist, life coach, and motivational speaker. I finally started listening to the sessions on my new old iPod. It seemed hokey at first, but I’m open minded. The most beneficial lessons were: learn to change your mindset, failure is part of the path to success, and we all have power within. (Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.) Maybe I could be a motivational speaker one day.
- One of my close friends who I hadn’t talked to in years moved back to the area. We had a few good chats and I told him about the 5YP. He reminded me that I wasn’t as boring as I thought I was, that I had always done things a little differently, and I had an adventurous side even though it had been buried for a really long time. He reminded me of who I was.
- In May, Dr. Yang came back to Boston. I wasn’t prepared to tell him just yet, but friends encouraged me to do it now so he could ponder about it before my June visit. “What would he think? I’m older and female. Would he accept me?” I thought about how to ask him and settled on, “If I applied for the 5 year program, would you consider accepting me?” (in Chinese). At the time, it was one of the most daunting tasks I could imagine doing. I had only a small window of time where I could talk to him alone, so I took it while he was making tea. He didn’t say “no” right away or laugh at me, so that was a good sign! A huge burden was lifted and I suddenly felt lighter and happier. But it took a lot of time and persuasion from others to convince him to consider me as an applicant. One big obstacle down!
- Small star: He moved the disco lion and baby grand piano to the Center. I used that lion for a few demos and I started playing piano again. How convenient :)
- The many conversations I had with my friends and YMAA students. You know who you are. I am eternally grateful.
- In March, I lost something dear to me. Beneath the storm of emotions emerged a clearer vision of who I was. I realized that I love martial arts enough to want to make it into a career. I wanted to apply to the 5YP because I want to learn, train, and pass on the arts. I was alone, yet more complete than I had ever been. The timing was crucial in terms of: setting up the many conversations with friends about life and the 5YP, having the opportunity to talk to Dr. Yang in May, and my already-paid plane tickets to the RC for a June visit to compete, train, and be like a Retreat Center student.
It seems that many things other than my revelations in the spring had been setting me up for this. I always think: “When you make a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision, it’s not one decision you’re making, but many.” When you say ‘no’ to one thing, you could also be saying ‘no’ to many other opportunities. Similarly, when you say ‘yes’ to one thing, it can open up a lot of other doors. I look back at the choices I’ve made, experiences I’ve had, opportunities that found me, opportunities I created, conversations I’ve had, and they seem to point to this.
I slowly started telling people about my decision. As for others? Not so much :p In June, we were having lunch before TCKFMC when Dr. Yang unexpectedly told everyone I was applying for the program. Ten heads turned to look at me. I’m not comfortable in the spotlight, but I think I mumbled “yes” and turned pink. Fast forward 4 months later, and now I will tell you with conviction: “Yes, I’m applying for the 5 year program at the Retreat Center.”