Fewer than 24 hours after my formal induction into the Masters’ century-old Bagua lineage, I encountered my first reality check. I had just begun practicing when I heard Master Ge’s cannon voice reverberating through the park where all the students had gathered that evening.
“That was completely terrible!” he shouted in a tone so filled with disgust that it was as if someone had insulted his entire family.
Somebody is really screwing up, I chuckled to myself as I continued my practice.
“Completely terrible!” Master Ge repeated.
I had never heard him this angry before and felt relieved that I had always been on his good side. Momentarily I imagined Master Ge as a great army gen- eral, commanding his troops with incredible tenacity and verve during the heat of the battle. I could hear his voice roaring like a howitzer over the cacophony of exploding gunpowder.
“Terrible!” he repeated a third time.
I wondered how Master Ge’s decibel rating would compare to that of an idling metro bus. Obviously, somebody wasn’t getting his point, though I didn’t immediately see who, since I was several meters away, busily racing through the form. As usual, I was in a hurry to finish up because I wanted catch the last call at my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant down the street. The thought of steamed buns was suddenly making my mouth water.
I would bet on Master Ge over the bus. Then nothing but a silence so eerie I couldn’t resist turning to see what all the commotion had been about.
A momentary glimpse was all I needed to realize that somebody had been insulting his family—the family of Bagua masters who had carried the art through seven generations all the way down to the present moment. Seeing Mas- ter Ge squared off like an angry bull, ready to charge in my direction, I felt an instant jolt of both horror and utter disbelief.
As he brushed me aside and proceeded to mimic what seemed at once to be an exaggerated, yet oddly accurate rendition of my movements, I realized my insult. When the masters demonstrate the correct movement and then mimic yours it’s like being handed plastic flowers after having just returned from the botanical garden. My form was indeed a cheap imitation, not simply because I was a relative beginner with thousands of hours of training ahead of me, but moreover because my distraction and lack of enthusiasm had evidently showed. Master Ge had caught me going through the motions and now that I was representing his lineage he had no patience for mediocrity.
At the tender age of 32, Master Ge’s yelling marked the beginning of a 6-hour a day, 7-day a week training regimen during which I was to discover for the first time in my life what it means to have your heart and mind fully involved. On a cool spring evening in the grit-filled, industrial city of Tianjin, China, I was discovering what it means, in other words, to learn.
How to Read This Book
“Try to forget everything you’ve learned as an adult—the things that limit your view of the world, your fears, your prejudices, your preconceptions. Try to rediscover what it is like to be a child with a sense of wonder, and innocence. And don’t forget to laugh. Remember, children are strong, they are resilient, they are designed to survive. When you drop them, they tend to bounce.”
For those of you who are in a hurry to improve your running and don’t have time to go through the philosophy and methodology contained in this book, please skip “Life,” “More Life” and “The Rest of Your Life”—that is, Part I, Part III and the Epilogue. I suggest you read Part II (“Practical Matters”), or simply go straight to the lessons. There are 20 of them located in Appendix II.
As you continue to do the lessons regularly, you will begin to feel differences in your body that you may not have felt before, and you will rediscover a certain vibrancy that you long ago forgot existed inside of you. Each new feeling in your body will have the potential to make a profound impact not only in the way you run, but in your posture, in your gait, in the way you perform other activities—indeed, in everything involving movement. Each new feeling will, in short, begin to transform the way you live your life.
Some of you will discover that rather than living life, you’ve been trying to get it over with—as if living were more of a chore than a journey to be experienced fully, deep down inside of yourself. In this discovery you will realize that living itself is not the chore, but rather hurrying through life—what I call, “not quite living”—that makes our days seem harried and senseless.
For those of you with enough time for the main body of text, be playful—for it is in play that we learn the most. Skip pages and even chapters (I often do when reading books), or start at the end of the book and go backward if you want. Most of all, please slow down and take your time. I hope you will savor the newfound feelings and sensations in your body that come from doing each lesson the way you might savor the sunset, a good piece of chocolate, or perhaps a fine wine. This way you will do three things at once. First, you will actually enjoy yourself. Second you will learn more. And third by enjoying and learning more, your running will improve faster. Yes, you read it correctly: by slowing down and enjoying yourself, you will run faster, and you will run faster faster—or in other words, you will improve more rapidly. Conversely, if you plow through the lessons as if they were something to get out of the way, you will not only enjoy them less, but you will improve less—if you improve at all. Going too fast, in other words, will slow you down by hindering your learning.
But to tell the truth, getting you to run faster is not the real reason I wrote this book. There’s something much deeper waiting for you between the pages. It exists in the pauses between sentences and in the wondering that will emerge between chapters. It’s the gift that you may long ago have forgotten about.