For at least seven of the nine years of my military career I took prescription painkillers three times a day to maintain the high standards of physical endurance required of my unit. The military made me incredibly strong and fit but I realise it left me fragile, too. Perhaps you can imagine the work load that would justify such medication and then also the consequences of such prolonged use/abuse?
It wasn't too long after beginning Tai Chi that I realised the positive effects it had on my body, particularly on my tired knees and back. However, it's not been until the last two weeks that I've fully begun to grasp just how much healing has been required to reverse some of the effects of military life. But I'm pleased to say, thanks to my training, I feel I have turned a significant corner. It feels as though my muscles have lost the memory of those painful years and have begun to feel renewed.
What's been even more demanding and no less rewarding is the increased flexibility in my hips and the release of emotional tension stored up there. Hip stretching is a painful process for sure, and it's difficult to keep pushing on through the discomfort at times.
During one session I realised a part of me didn't want release from the tension. Not just my body but my mind was also questioning the benefits of less tension, which sounds counter intuitive, but the tension has formed part of who I am. I found myself asking, "Who will I become without all this tension?" and not knowing felt daunting. How would I hold myself upright without this tension I'd relied upon for so long? It brought up difficult questions about who I am. Have I subconsciously embraced tension and stress as a defence against the unknown world that is flexible, yielding and soft? For a former soldier whose doctrine was for so long formed of rigidity, aggression, hardness, toughness, these things can seem daunting. What happens when I become flexible? What happens when I yield, when I'm soft? Can there possibly be strength in flexibility, yielding and softness?
So with this in mind I suppose I am achieving a greater understanding of the Internal Martial Arts. If only for that reason alone, this trip must be judged a huge success and I remain incredibly grateful to my Masters (Shifus Wang, Yuan and Li), instructors, students and family for guiding me further and further along this path; this Dao.
Keith Abraham Playful Dragon