Stumbling Down the Path of Enlightenment

Chapter two
A good old fashioned workout
By Sifu DangeRuss 2002
It was a morning of tense uneasiness. Everyone was strangely silent the entire way there. There was Archie's. Archie was an enigmatic little old man; we had met the previous week. This strangely unassuming Master of Motion spent last Saturday tossing us around as if we were all Beanie Babies. Today we had been invited to come and work out on his turf. Last time we met, had been on neutral ground, none of us knew what to expect today. Clenched in my sweaty palm was a now rather worn piece of paper, with an address near the State capitol. There was an almost ominous hummmm in the car, as we pulled into a very long, twisty, wooded driveway. One of my students, being something of a clown, made a "Chih-chih-chih…ah-ah-ah…" sound familiar to anyone who has ever seen a Friday the 13th movie. We all laughed nervously. Right up until we rounded the final corner and saw something that seemed to be part medieval torture grounds and part concentration camp. At the edge, was a small double wide trailer, the only building in sight. "Well, it seems we're here." I said rather unnecessarily. There was already a scattering of very hardy looking students in various stages of torment on the obviously hand-made exercise/torture equipment. As we piled out of the car, there was a very quiet, "Is this for real?" from someone. I laughed more boldly than I felt, and said "Let's go, I don't think this is a class we want to be late for."

By the looks we received from those already there, it was again driven home, that this was not an everyday occurrence. Clearly, few outsiders were invited to this unorthodox classroom. My students and I looked around in mute curiosity at the motley collection of training equipment, bristling with orange traffic cones, garden hose, bits of rope or chain, oddly lumpy duffels suspended from trees, presumably makeshift heavy bags. None of us knew what to make of any of this, so instead we simply gawked like country rubes come visiting the big city for the first time in our lives.

Fortunately we didn't have long to wait. Suddenly there was a bustle of activity as the regulars efficiently lined themselves up in neat rows in a field of knee to waist high weeds. I looked to my students, who were in turn looking to me for direction. I nodded towards the group now formed and we formed our own unorganized knot in the back. That enigmatic man we had met the week before was at the head of the group. He shouted something in an indefinable language and everyone bowed reverently. He then barked a series of commands, and the regular students fell into a familiar routine. (That is, familiar to them, to us it appeared highly unfamiliar) We were used to a very formal class, orchestrated in much the same way, day in and day out. Bowing in, a 25-minute workout/stretch out, followed by basics, techniques and kata. These people were dropping to the ground and rolling around in the weeds, making strangely animal-like movements, sometimes accompanied spontaneously by the actual animal noises. We didn't really know what to do. I shrugged, when in Rome…

It was a good hour and a half into this strange workout, that Master Archibeque (as we learned he was called) even acknowledged our presence. Then as if greeting old friends, he called us out one by one to perform our own demonstrations. We executed a nearly flawless series of forms and techniques on the uneven, field of weeds. Several of the regulars even gave us grudging nods of respect. Archie then began pointing out individuals, both his and mine to come forward. He commanded them to attack him. A whispered warning from one of his students told us to give him everything we had, and not to hold back, as he would be offended. Well, offending this guy was the last thing any of us wanted to do. So in groups of 3 or 4 at a time, we attacked this smirking little man. Often finding our attacks landing on our accomplices, while Archie stood several feet away chuckling. This continued for probably an hour. Very little being said by the Master, other than admonitions that "You need to know what the deal is…" or "What'cha gonna do?". This was very different from the type of instruction my crew was used to, where I stood in front and guided them step, by step through each movement. Instead, we were simply left to ponder how on earth we kept ending up with dirt in our mouths or striking one another, while the Teacher seemed to simply be elsewhere? His students seemed to take this all in stride, it was just another lesson to them.

Afterwards, Master Archebeque gave us a tour of the strangely fashioned workout equipment, most designed by Archie, himself. Finally we came to the series of heavy bags, at last something my students understood. One of my more eager underlings leaping forward, about to impress the Master with a powerful blow to the innocent looking bag. I noticed a strange looking lump in the bag, and grabbed my student's wrist, just as he was about to execute. He looked at me with puzzlement. I nodded to the lump. He reached out and felt it and his eyes grew round. "It feels like a rock?" He said, unbelievingly. As it turned out, it was indeed a rock; the bag was full of them. Each successive bag filled with smaller, finer rocks, down to the last, which contained simple sand. "One should always look before one leaps, especially here. I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto." I said rather solemnly. Master Archie just grinned.

Next he took us to a small clearing in the trees. In the midst of the clearing were two anvil-like bases and two enormous piles of river rocks. One containing whole stones, the other containing broken fragments. Slowly understanding crept across everyone's faces. "You break?" intoned Archie. "Well, a little." I nervously admitted. "Mostly pine boards though." He grinned mischievously. "I like to break things." He casually reached down and randomly selected a head-sized stone from one pile and unceremoniously set it upon one of the bases. He looked rather intently at it for a moment, and then his hand came crashing down and the stone split into several pieces. He handed one of the larger fragments to one of my wide-eyed students and tossed the other bits to the second pile. In very broken English, he began to explain, between stones; the theory of true breaks. The means of channeling all of one's force into a very finite point, of focusing one's mind, spirit and body together for the instant of impact. He spoke of the importance of visualization. "You must first be able to see the rock break in your mind, before you ever attempt to hit it, or it will be you that breaks and not the rock." We all nodded soberly, filing all of this away for future reference, even as we each made the decision never to attempt anything so foolish ourselves. (Silly me, how was I to know I would be expected to do far more in the near future? So it was a good thing I had listened very carefully to each of his few words of wisdom on the art of power breaking)

I am still uncertain as to why, but it seemed this mighty Master had taken something of a shine to this young, arrogant black belt. He thanked us for coming down and asked me what my plans were for next Saturday? Assuming that he wanted us to attend another class, I replied we were open. He smiled and said, "Good, I have to put on a demonstration next week, I want you to help me." It suddenly felt as if one of those over-sized bits of stone had lodged itself in the pit of my stomach. "Uh, sure Sifu. It would be my honor." I managed to stammer. It was then that I began to wonder what on earth I had just committed myself to do? True I had now worked out with this man twice, but really had no formal instruction, per se from him. What did he expect me to be able to do? Cryptically, all he said was, "I'll see you next Saturday about 10 ?" I nodded dumbly and bowed. We all limped somewhat sorely back to my car and drove home amid much speculation, both as to what we had witnessed today and what was in store for me, next weekend. </EM>