How many of you practice martial arts, kung fu forms, karate katas, hundreds of kicks, punches and blocking drills, and intense stance and balance skills outdoors in the pouring rain, heavy snow and hail, enduring the freezing cold, facing extreme gale force winds, all on grass, cement, muddy hills, forest floors and on frozen ponds? How often do you practice weapons or even spar with someone under these scenarios? This is what I did during my first six years of martial arts training and the lessons of body mechanics, coordination, weight and balance adjustments, heightened senses and terrain awareness were all wild, wacky, and essential.
Who made me think of doing macroweather training in the rain, snow and winds? My dad. It was something he shouldn’t have done because it was something that could have killed me, yet I did it, survived it and without realizing, he made me stronger in ways we never could have imagined. Born 1956, disabled since birth, mum noticed that after I cried for a few seconds, dead silence. Then I’d look like a dying fish on land trying to breathe; broken lungs. Although fed every hour and losing weight, my tens of daily nappies (diapers) were more soiled than a mud-prone hill attacked by typhoon rain. I had constant lung infections and a swollen head, not from pride but dangerous penicillin allergies. When my doctor told my parents I was dying of cystic fibrosis (CF), a cruel terminal disease that robbed my breath and ability to digest food, he mourned, "Have him avoid exertion and make his final few years as comfortable as possible."
As legend has it, with fiery eyes and red hair aflame, my Scots mum pierced the doctor’s soul and snarled, "My son will not die!" She stormed out of the hospital refusing to cry and show defeat in front of crowds that stood and stared, they walked away unchanged, my parents didn't. Dad was a professional soccer player in Scotland after World War II, his three sons wanted to be soccer players too, but I couldn’t run around; no lung power. Mum always taught me that I would catch my death in the rain and cold, yet my earliest memories of dad was on rainy days, he’d teach me how to kick a ball with my weaker left foot, believing players must be two-footed.
A shoe on my left foot and a bare right foot, he had me kick the heavy, leather, waterlogged ball. Stinging painful right foot kicks later, I began using my left foot. Lungs weak, nose plugged like a clogged toilet, thus unable to run much, yet I could joyfully stand in one spot and kick the ball. To me, rain was glorified sprinkles of God's tears dancing upon my pale face giving me colors of peace and calm. Rain, thunder, and lightning shaped my wee young mind, body and emotions.
I’d get sick as a dog, stayed home in bed from school, took more medication. I got used to the cycle and over time realized that rain and inclement weather cemented my relationship with dad. March 1973, at 16, when my doctor said I’d be dead from CF in five years, dad was with me and it rained all the way home from the hospital, I silently glared at the sky and God. Distraught, empty, abandoned. To prevent mum and dad from watching me die slowly, I decide to commit suicide, knowing that if I stopped taking my 30 pills-a-day medicine, I’d be dead in two weeks. Two weeks later, on my last lap, my brothers convinced me to go to the Vestal Drive-in theater in New York, things that I secretly kept on a bucket list of things to do. It rained all the way to the theater, but at that point I didn’t care, death was at my door, and no one knew why.
When the film began, that’s when I met Bruce Lee in The Big Boss (1971). In his first fight, as Lee nailed a bully with two lightning-fast kicks with thunderous ferocity at an ice factory, I screeched like a banshee; my mind and body quickly associated this with rain. In that moment I went from being depressed and waiting to die to wanting to live and do what Lee was doing.
When I stumbled upon two magazines in a store, one about Lee, the other about kung fu, I read that centuries ago, children dying from unknown diseases would be left at the front doors of the Shaolin temple and the monks would take them in, teach them kung fu and the secret art of chi gong; the kids would become powerful kung fu men. I realized that my current situation didn’t have to be my final destination. In order to create a new ending, I took matters into my own hands. I needed to first learn martial arts then go to Shaolin and learn this little-known chi gong.
In 1977, while at Cornell, I serendipitously found an Okinawan goju ryu dojo way off campus. After my college roommate and I joined, they had eight students. This is where I learned about the fine line between discipline and stupidity, which partly involved training outdoors under hazardous weather conditions. I’ll save this discussion for Part 3: Man of this series.
Three years later, my quest to find chi gong found me as a grad student at National Taiwan University and paying for my education by becoming a token white dude getting my butt kicked in by different Chinese actors in Chinese kung fu movies/TV shows.
I met an actor who was an arcane chi gong master and during the monsoons subjected me to a perilous, 30-day test of worthiness on Monsoon Mountain. Health rapidly declining, I faced Noah biblical rain, entities, endured an earthquake and with a major banana peel moment, was engulfed by a mudslide. He accepted me, taught me chi gong and five months later, I was off all medication. But had I really found a way to control CF and not have CF control me?
My final test occurred amid a violent typhoon where after being chased by a pack of rats the size of cats through waist-deep sewage flood waters, I practiced chi gong at a construction site full of body-damaging flying debris. The Doppler effect sound of a spear-like bamboo pole whistling toward me was filled with harrowing, impalement trepidation. The CF control point was at hand.
After a few days, I came down with a serious lung infection, which was quickly followed by a 106 o F. body temperature. Six years ago, a similar illness would require doubling my antibiotics, having a long hospital stay with intensive therapies and it would have taken months to recover. Three days later, I had completely recovered from the infection without any medication. Monsoon rain tested me, typhoon rain taught me, macroweather training prepared me.