My 功夫 Gōngfū Beginnings
10 January 1976, I began training at the 太極健身學院 Taiji Health Academy (TJHA). I had to be accepted for training and the process was one where I thought I would not be accepted.
My first contact with the school was through a search of the Yellow Pages of the telephone book. Interestingly, all martial arts were categorized under Judo. I guess every thing was "Judo" to the ignorami who created the listings in the Yellow Pages. Most of the martial arts schools had full page, half page, or quarter page ads. The TJHA had only its name, address, and telephone number. I had a good feeling about that. So, I called and spoke to the owner of the school by the name of 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn. We chatted briefly and set up an appointment.
I actually made the appointment on time. The school wasn't so easy to find, the parking wasn't the best, but I cared more about learning real 功夫 Gōngfū and learning from good teachers. The school was on South Byrne Road in Toledo, Ohio, at the time. (The school later moved to a shopping strip on the corner of Heatherdowns Boulevard and Key Street.) The floor was carpeted. When I went there for the first time, all I saw were older people doing Taiji. I was not a happy camper, at my young age to see people only 30 years old and above training super slow Taiji. I thought I would never find the kind of 功夫 Gōngfū school I wanted in Toledo.
As I was leaving the school, contemplating my alternatives, and preparing to return home, the fighting students arrived. These guys looked serious, as they entered the school and quietly began class, then they sparred. They threw kicks from all angles and used great precision with their techniques. Everything was contrary to the average slugfest of those who do not have the skill to execute pinpoint strikes to instantly end a fight. I was used to professional boxing and street fighting. So, I knew the value of winning as soon as possible. Every microsecond could mean the difference between winning or losing; the worst case scenario being the difference between living or dying. These guys were freaking awesome.
I applied to the school in December of 1975.
After watching them fight, I asked 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn if I could join THAT class. I was told it was a new class. They began it mere months before I applied. The teacher, 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn, said I could join (Yay, me!)…as soon as I had 4 more people who would join with me. That was the killer, the nail in my coffin, my hope extinguished.
My 功夫 Gōngfū future looked dim at best. I was a loner. I did everything alone. I had no friends I thought would want to do 功夫 Gōngfū. So, I thought my dreams were dashed. Those Tae Kwon Do lessons to black belt level, that my mom offered to pay for, flashed in my mind. I was lost. However, I believed, I truly believed 功夫 Gōngfū was my destiny. So, I kept my hopes high, in spite of everything to the contrary.
2 weeks later, I received a phone call from Teacher 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn letting me know there were 4 others who could join with me, if I were interested. I was ecstatic and began the road of traditional 功夫 Gōngfū, the 10th of January.
I am still in constant contact with the teachers of the 太極健身學院 Taiji Health Academy (TJHA) and some of my classmates as well. We were a family, a 功夫 Gōngfū family all working for a common goal. There were no hostilities, no deceptions, no nepotism, no negativity of any kind. It was almost paradise…until it closed one day; that was one of the saddest days of my life.
When the school closed, I had learned all the sets taught there: all of them. I was even offered the chance to keep the school open and assume full responsibility for teaching. Unfortunately, I would only break even financially, if I did so. So I turned down the offer. It was an honour to have been offered the chance to continue teaching there in their absence, if I so desired. 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn trusted me completely and treated me like his son. I miss that at times, as I miss him, his wisdom, and his understanding of martial arts.
When the school closed, I received gifts and blessings for a good future in 功夫 Gōngfū. As parting gifts, 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn gave me a sword (this was the very sword that adorned the wall of the school.), 2 功夫 Gōngfū scrolls, 牌位 Páiwèi and ancestor photos, and many words of advice regarding how to teach and how to comport myself in the world in general and in 功夫 Gōngfū in particular. I have always honoured and valued his advice. He was an exceptional man of great learning and application.
Value added tidbit:
If you ever saw any of the videos of my former video company (I was part owner with my former teacher and classmate), you might have seen the inside of the school. We filmed at the TJHA (just before it closed), in racketball courts at the Recreation Center and at the stadium at Bowling Green State University, and at a couple of parks in Toledo.
Welcome to my 功夫 Gōngfū beginnings…
1. Three group photos taken at the 太極健身學院 Taiji Health Academy (TJHA):
A. 1st Photo: I'm standing to the far left (diploma #81), the fifth person standing is 吳紀元 Wú Jìyuán (diploma #5), the seventh person standing is 百忍 Wú Bǎirěn (diploma #3), and Duza is the nineth person standing.
B. All four of us are in the three photos.
2. 吳百忍 Wú Bǎirěn and myself at his house in Los Angeles.
Author: 竇萬春 Dòu Wànchūn