The awakening is the first story in a new compilation by Keith Roost: The Transcendent Warriors. For more information see:www.keithroosttaichi.org
The blow was fast and accurate, potentially lethal, he felt it coming and turned his wrist, the hand-sword missed his throat by millimetres and he gently curled his fingers over the younger mans wrist continuing the circle down and into the attackers own knee, he heard the sharp intake of breath in acknowledgement and advised dryly “Concentrate Stuart, and try not to strike yourself” His fingers still resting on his opponents wrist registered that the pulse was elevated, idly he wondered at the cause of his students lack of composure, as he absentmindedly detached his arm from the attempted lock, flicked the students ear with his free hand and drew slightly back from the subsequent elbow strike.
Opening his hip, to settle his weight more firmly over his rear leg which had slid slightly , cotton sole slipping on smooth wood, “useless shoes” he thought as he turned his waist away from the shoulder strike, applying slight pressure to the outside of Stuarts elbow. The younger man disappeared; there was the sound of two knocks as he landed and rolled across the wooden floor.
The master removed his blindfold and sat cross legged on the beam, below him Stuart removed his own blindfold, smiling ruefully, rubbing an ankle that had made more contact than he wished on landing. He looked up at his teacher sitting like a child, swinging his legs on the gymnastic beam, and wondered at how far he had come from not being able to even stand on it never mind engage in the cut and thrust of Tui Shou. “Talk to me then “said the voice from above, Stuart took a breath, let it out and began. “I suppose I was annoyed at letting you guide my own strike back into me, I tried to compensate, I didn’t expect to get the lock, I never do with you, but I thought it might set up the elbow strike if you came forward to counter”.
“Obviously, that’s why I withdrew” answered the master “the shoulder strike was also obvious and almost desperate” he continued “there must be Yin within the Yang, softness within the strength, mercy in the victory”. The younger man grimaced and replied “I noticed your mercy as I flew off the beam”. “Overcommitted” was the muttered response, “refer to previous admonishment”. They were both quiet.
Suddenly the master swung a leg over the beam and sat astride it, he placed his hands either side of the beam, thumbs across the centre and lifted his body up, legs horizontal in front , “apart from the ankle what else did you knock, your lower back?”
“Yep” replied the student “right across the hip joint as usual” the man on the beam slowly lowered his head, brought his legs in underneath himself and pushed up into a handstand, body straight as an arrow, quivering slightly, the student watched with a critical yet appreciative eye. The handstand dissolved into a forward role along the length of the beam, and he rose on one leg at the end. He paused for a moment and then jumped, body arcing quickly like a diver, dissolving into the gymnasium floor, seemingly boneless and came gently to his feet. “I guess if I could be that soft I wouldn’t have a bruise” the student observed.
“Invest in loss, but ultimately its just giving in to something more substantial than yourself” replied his teacher, “you had better hang off the bars, I’ll get the liniment” he continued, and walked to his sports bag in the corner of the room. A faded blue, proudly emblazoned “Bullworker” bag, zip tacked in place with contrasting stitches evidently in the teachers own hand “That’s just solved my birthday gift problem” said Stuart eyeing the bag incredulously “must be 10 years old”. “20 at least” was the laconic reply. The liniment in a yellow and white box, with a small bottle inside was produced.
“Whiteflower oil?” enquired the injured party.
“Woodlock, it’s the most effective, mostly turps and half a mountainside of herbs. It dries your skin out if you use it too much, so moisturise”
The master’s answer was automatic; he was clearly thinking of something else, the students racing pulse, lack of composure, eagerness to win was not typical of his usual approach to training. He had come a long way from the cocksure lad of 5 years previous, natural athlete, regional full contact champion in his weight category and good forms performer. His Kung Fu teacher had referred him, seeing the boy as one who needed to be challenged to achieve his true potential. The boy’s bemusement at not being able to achieve, let alone hold the postures of Tai Chi Chuan was not unusual, but the way his inherent good character asserted itself, in his constant and intelligent approach to daily training was rewarding, He was the kind of student the master, any master always hoped for.
Stuart hung upside down from the wall bars by his ankles, letting his body relax and lengthen; his teacher applied the liniment in slow smooth strokes, then feeling the bunching and knotting around the bruise worked deeper and with more pressure, using one fore knuckle. The inverted one let out a groan of pain and release, “Be grateful it’s not my teacher doing this” he was advised. The bottle was returned and Stuart continued to relax, before coming down into his own handstand, and then snapping his feet down and springing to attention..
“So! What is preventing my student from giving his attention to his studies?”
“I’m not really sure” he replied, “I think it’s this dream I’ve been having” He frowned and flexed his back a few times experimentally, “Thanks! Feels better already” he smiled.
“Dream?” enquired his master.
“Yes, one of those recurring ones you know, keeps coming back but gets worse each time”
“What’s its point?”
Stuart looked puzzled “point? Must it have a point?”
“They usually do” responded the older man stretching absently, “Sometimes dreams are there to teach us, perhaps what we don’t learn during the day”
“Well I don’t know about that, but in this dream I keep feeling that my bike is going to crash, and I can’t stop it. I use all my strength to steer away from the accident but it’s like there is some invisible force pulling me “.
The master considered this, “You could”, he said”try putting your weight on the opposite foot peg and ease up on the bars”.
The young man frowned”I can see how that would work in reality, but this is a dream, how can that help?”.
“It’s like the story about Chang -Tzu and the butterfly”.
“Chang -Tzu the philosopher?”.
“The very same” said the master, and he recited the briefest version possible “Chang-Tzu once dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke, he no longer knew if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man, or a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly.”
The student considered the story for a moment and then said accusingly “ You said you didn’t hold with Chang –Tzu, that he was too passive and lacking in true humanity”.
“It’s true, I prefer Lao Tzu, but that’s neither here nor there, the moral of the story works regardless”.
“But I’m still not sure I get it” said the somewhat aggrieved student “and you don’t usually go in for the mysterious master Po act”.
The master laughed gently and said to his student “The technique of using your bodyweight on your motorcycle works in reality, your experience of Tai Chi should have taught you that. As for the butterfly parable …dreams, reality, they are just different words to denote forms of experiencing life”.
The young man was clearly troubled “but dreams are not reality” he said.
The master stood and faced his student, the young man stood also. They faced each other and made the salute, signifying the end of the formal lesson.
The master held his students eyes for a moment…”wake up!”