Updated: Nov 8
In Part 1 of Self Defense, I shared that when I was 16, taking 30 pills/day and in the hospital every three months, my doctor told me I'd be dead in five years due the incurable fatal disease cystic fibrosis (CF), a deadly illness that robbed me of my breath and ability to digest food.
I noted that today’s ultimate self-defense classes try to improve one’s odds of surviving lethal street attacks. In 1973, my self-defense aim was to increase my odds of surviving the continued life-threatening attacks of CF on my fragile health by embracing a martial arts lifestyle and seeking to learn the best self-defense skill martial artists don’t know; how to breathe. My only chance of survival was to learn the auld Chinese breathing art of Chi Gong to empower my chi.
Moving to Taiwan in 1979, after a rigorous test, a chi gong teacher accepted me as his first, last and only student. Five months later, all CF symptoms were gone, and I was off all medication.
Many folks ask me, what was it like for me living with CF? Imagine having Covid-19 with wicked diarrhea, 24/7, 365/Days of the year. Enough said.
In Chinese, Chi Gong (translation: working of air) can be one or a series of standing, sitting or lying down breathing skills, which can be used to transform a body's chi (ki). The intention and way a person practices chi gong dictates if the physical practice can transform the chi into something constructive, in my case, improve my health. I’ll address these things another time.
Literally translated as air, on a superfluous level, folks familiar with chi describe it as one’s life force, internal energy, or vital energy. One of the world’s top Chi Healers, the Chi Whisperer, has a fresh and uniquely poignant perspective, “Chi is the quantum of the existence of the universe,” she explained. “Before one can appreciate this definition, one needs to understand that quantum is the smallest distinctive unit of a phenomenon. Thus, chi is the smallest unit of our existence. It’s the foundation of the universe.
“The existence of chi is the existence of our universe. Chi is everywhere, in everything, and it doesn’t matter if we can feel it, know it, or believe in it or not; it’s just there. Chi isn’t a religion or a philosophy; chi is.
“Why should anyone care about chi? I care about chi because I care about my existence and our existence. When we care about something, we can make a choice if we want to do something about it. One can focus on climate change, earning money, human rights, voting rights, abortion or life rights, self-growth, growth with God, etc.”
The last thing my chi gong mentor told me when I left Taiwan in the winter of 1981 was, “Don’t try to save the world with chi gong, because no one will listen.”
After five years of chi gong and still off medication, though I understood my mentor’s message, I wanted to at least try save a wee bit of the world with chi gong. To create attention, I decided to do something insanely tough that no one else on the planet in their right mind would attempt.
I chose to place my Ph.D. research on hold and put my life on the line by challenging myself to a crucial test that would be a major triumph or a bitter defeat; speed walk 3000 miles across America. My goals were to give hopes of survival to kids and teens with CF, hope for their parents and to show the importance of chi gong, exercise (walking and martial arts) and accentuate the power of a positive mental attitude when it came to combating terminal disease.
Personally, I needed to know if my sustained chi gong enhanced body self-defense skills against CF’s mortality onslaughts under extreme unceasing physical, mental and emotional stress were effective, and further prove that chi gong is a potent therapy against CF beyond just feeling good.
When word got out, Dr. Warren Warrick, head of the University of Minnesota's renowned CF Center, claimed I was a fake and wanted to prove I didn't have CF. He quickly confirmed my CF diagnosis and showed that 30% of both of my lungs were completely deteriorated because of CF. He tested me then told the Chicago Tribune that chi gong was a useful therapy for CFers and possibly for those afflicted with other lung diseases. He approved the walk.
May 18, 1986, weighing 175 pounds and with my wife driving an 8-passenger van (the CF Mobile) filled with medical equipment, a positive attitude, camping gear, food, water and oxygen tanks, I began my epic journey from Cornell University, NY.
After doing a marathon/day for 115 days at 4.3 mph and weighing 140 pounds, I ended my 3000.2 mile walk in Seattle, WA, so I could also pay respects to Bruce Lee's grave, the man who influenced me to learn martial arts.
Each day was filled with physical, mental, and emotional struggles. Memories of danger, happiness and tears still abound.
Throughout the saga, terminally ill children of other diseases promised me that if I completed my walk alive, they'd fight harder. In Pennsylvania, a distraught mum slapped my face, screaming why didn't I walk last year when her daughter with CF was alive and needed inspiration? She cried in my arms and begged me not to fail. In Ohio, a CF kid into baseball couldn't understand what I was doing until his dad said imagine running around the bases a million times.
He asked me to score a million homeruns.
On Labor Day, near Bismarck, North Dakota (ND), a family whose wheelchair-bound son had muscular dystrophy (MD) and CF heard that I was walking through ND, drove 60+ miles up the interstate looking for me to show their son that I was for real. When the kid struggled to reach out and shake my mind, and made the connection, the mother cried, and the father stifled his tears. Then something happened I was not prepared for.
The sobbing mum asked me, “Can you help our son now?”
When I gazed into her eyes then saw the son excitingly rock in his chair, as if applauding his mum for saying something he was unable to. I assuredly grinned and gently answered, “I can.”
Five minutes later, I had taught him the first chi gong skill I learned six years prior. Due to his lack of muscular coordination, I made quick adjustment to accommodate the chi movement. I urged him to practice as often as he can. With eyes full of hope, he bravely promised he’d do it every day. The family gave me a Kit Kat bar and a need cold cola; I continued walking.
Just as they drove by me and the son was struggling to successively wave, I realized the walk wasn’t about me proving my health to others, yet for me to help improve the health of others.
Whether being attacked by millions of vicious black flies and mosquitoes, avoiding cars accidentally or purposefully trying to hit me, dog attacks, removing rocks from my face and legs left by speeding-by 18-wheelers, and walking downwind up steep mountain highways for 10 miles toward vile fecal stenches emanating from animal farms, I kept pushing forward.
Through heat stroke, sun poisoning, serious muscle injuries, heavy winds, pounding rain, golf ball-sized hail, freezing temps, heat exhaustion and foot blisters having blisters, I refused to walk attached to an oxygen tank, even on-camera, like the supportive TV/press suggested I do for dramatic effect. I'd never cheat myself or the hundreds of thousands cheering me on.
When the Minnesota Twins asked me to throw out the first baseball, a 75-mph fast ball down the middle and the team manager excitedly asked how I could do that, I said, “I’m a martial artist.”
Folks opened their hearts and homes, giving us a place to sleep, a home-cooked meal, and arranging public appearances for me. In Illinois, a United Nations lawyer had me address a crowd of 3000+ at an outdoor Christian musical fest. Their love was powerful.
Though the achievement garnered nationwide and global attention, as I received a M.A.D.D. Humanitarian of the Year Award, addressed Senators and Congressman at the prestigious Washington Press Club, received a letter of bravery from President Ronald Reagan and prior to the walk, a letter of moral support from the Queen of England, the greatest achievement happened a month after the walk.
When my wife and I were invited to fly out to Bismarck, North Dakota to mark November 17, 1986, as Craig Reid Day in Bismarck, the respiratory therapist at the hospital stormed into the ceremony and asked, “What did you do the kid?”
After I asked, “What kid?”, he teared up and said that the child with CF/MD that I taught chi gong to two months, just had his best pulmonary (lung) function tests of his life.
Part 3 of this Self Defense trilogy is more insane than Parts 1 and 2, in a positive way of course.