I used to get a lot of crap from bullies. All throughout grade school, and, worst of al, in seventh grade. I grew up in a town that lived, breathed, ate, and crapped sport. To not be an awesome athlete was kinda like being a satanic communist who ate babies or something.
I was not an awesome athlete.
I didn’t know why at the time, but I usually couldn’t make it through a gym class without experiencing intense pain. My gym teacher thought that I was faking just to get out of xercising or something. It wasn’t until 6th grade that I found out that I had a pretty bad case of scoliosis, but doctors at the time believed that the condition was painless, so I still wasn’t off the hook…
I was in seventh grade, standing in the locker room, getting changed back into my regular clothes after yet another awful gym class, when a kid I didn’t know – had honestly never seen before – came up behind me and kicked me in the back. The pain was unbelievable. And the rest of the kids just laughed. More than anything else, that’s what I remember. The laughter.
When my dad found out what had happened, he decided to get me into some kind of martial arts (I’d wanted to learn a martial art since the minute I’d seen a kung fu movie on Channel 11’s Saturday Afternoon Bijou Picture Show, but we were too poor). So I learned some stuff here and there, but nothing really useful.
At age 16 I met my first real teacher. We were the same age, but he’d been involved in various martial arts for most of his life. He taught for free, for the simple joy of sharing his knowledge.
And, kids, he was – and is – a badass of the highest order.
Through hanging out with him, I got a decent foundation in several different arts. More importantly, I started to learn about eastern philosophy. Before long, I had a pathetic little shrine set up in my room, and I tried teaching myself meditation and qigong. I began collecting books on different arts (especially Chinese ones), and was amazed by the crazy stories of near superhuman feats.
The stories of Yang Lu Chan and his style of Tai Chi Chuan, in particular, captured my imagination. This was serious, hard-core, jedi-style shit.
So when my teacher told me that there was going to be an 8 week introduction to Tai Chi class at a local dojo, we both saved up money to go. We were both disappointed by what we found. This teacher emphasized only the health aspect of Tai Chi. We would later learn that his focus on health benefits came, primarily, because he didn’t know anything really about Tai Chi as a martial art.
So my friend and I made it through our 8 weeks and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward about twenty years. I had just finished my first novel, Black (soon available as an ebook for the first time), when I really, really epically screwed up my back. I’d had problems with it from time to time, but nothing like this. I was laid up for the better part of a year, and there wasn’t much of anything that helped. Doctors mainly threw pain pills at me. And before long, the pills didn’t work.
I was in physical therapy, but it only helped to a certain, minimal degree.
A friend told me that he’d heard of a Tai Chi teacher in our area, and I decided- reluctantly – to check it out. At this point, I was certain that my longtime martial arts hobby was over. I just wanted to try Tai Chi to see if it could help my back.
It could, and it did.
When I met my new teacher, he proved to be someone who knew both the health aspect and the martial aspect. The yin and the yang, as it were.
It was a rough journey, but I managed to work my way through much of the pain and stiffness in my back. In a month or so, I was able to quit physical therapy. After about six months, I was able to pretty much stop taking any pain medication.
And when I sat down to write my next book, Changes — A Randall Lee Mystery, the story of a man rebuilding his life after a horrific tragedy, I knew just what to throw into the mix.