LaoMa talks to Dragon Yawn about his beginnings

A few weeks ago we posted the first installment of Dragon Yawn with LaoMa. Today we are posting the second interview. This one is a bit longer, so we’ve included a quick list of topics covered and short cuts at the bottom of this blog post.

As many of you know, LaoMa is known to jump around in topics a little bit, so take the time to listen through all his stories in this episode! Please be forgiving on the start times for each of the listed topics - you may come into the conversation a little early or late to the topic but you’ll be in the general vicinity if you click on the link.

However, it is best listened too in the proper order here!!

Dragon Yawn talks to LaoMa

Many of you will remember our close friends Tactical KungFu and MMA in Durham. We held classes there for a few years and made close friends we cherish!

Michael has started a great video series named Dragon Yawn in which he interviews local martial artists and talks on various other subject. And he’s snagged LaoMa into that web!

We’re excited to present the ‘teaser’ version of Dragon Yawn’s stories with LaoMa. This video is a little rough because it was meant to be a test run of the equipment. However, as his students will know, once LaoMa starts, he can talk for a while. It’s interesting stuff - as would be expected - so instead of letting the start of the story of his journey to China fall away, Michael has posted this rough cut of the interview.

We are looking forward to many more stories and laughs coming our way through this collaboration with TKFMMA and Dragon Yawn!

Feel free to use the “Comment” link below to leave thoughts or suggestions of favorite stories we can ask him to recount in future episodes.

Two Brothers

LaoMa and Dr. Jay

Thirty-eight years of brotherhood, love, fun and Taiji, two old guys, brothers from different mothers. Friday Movie night out, lobby of Southern Village’s Lumina Theatre, after viewing Director Peter Jackson’s WWI docu-masterpiece of restructuring and colorization, “Old Men Shall Not Die.”  However, old men did have fun in the theatre’s lobby with Guaigun corrections!  (Photo taken by pre or young teen lady at popcorn kiosk, only people you can just hand your cell phone to and don’t get flustered and know what they’re doin’ with electronic devices that they can be eatin’ popcorn and just flick a shot of you over their shoulder!)

Faces of the World and Travels in China

The World in Faces: Photographer Alexander Khimushin

The World in Faces: Photographer Alexander Khimushin

I had the unique opportunity in 1975 to tour border areas of China, with a delegation of 22 American minority community activists to meet and learn from Chinese National Minorities, from Dongbei (NE), home of the Man People, to Xinjiang (W), Uighur Autonomous Region, Muslim, to the Autonomous Prefecture of Xishuangbanna (SE/SW), Dai Autonomous Prefeture the self governing land of Tibetan and SE Asian Peoples. This tour was requested by the Maoist Chinese government to introduce a nation-wide cross-section of America’s 1/2 dozen minorities to China’s 54 (or a good representation of them). At the time, China’s majority Han People (94% of total population, what we foreigners normally call “Chinese”), still recovering from a century of foreign domination and exploitation, Civil War, WWII, Korean War, and Mao’s own disastrous social campaigns were allotted only one set of ubiquitous clothing, the signature baggy pants, Mao jacket and cap in the 3 recognizable colors of blue (people), green (military), and gray (cadre).*

The World in Faces: Photographer Alexander Khimushin

The World in Faces: Photographer Alexander Khimushin

This preamble of mine to the photos shared of vanishing indigenous people of our world is meant to give some background to the fact that during the excesses of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-76, the National Minority People throughout China, though going thru the same turmoil and upheaval as the rest of the country, were the only Chinese People allowed to keep their own National dress, jewelry (lots of silver) and customs. Many times the only way of distinguishing one minority group from another was from their distinctive dress and bling! Although I took many photos of the people, it was not my focus during this unprecedented opportunity of discovery (and unfortunately many I did take have been lost or destroyed in the years since, in addition I definitely had not the artistic acumen and ability of this photo artist!). But I did get to see many indigenous, tribal people in China, some in urban settings mingling with the monochrome colors and unisex style of the majority people in their multicolored and infinitely varied hats, bags and other accouterments. It was very jarring and otherworldly experience, being mainly in a monochrome culture at the time, and brought to mind a glimpse of what the mingling of Indian tribes, soldiers, cowboys and all the many and diverse people thrown together in our Far West of our mountains and Great Plains in the 19th Century!

* One other unexpected side effect of the singular dress; being in the PLA, work in the fields, department store, office or hospital was no longer looking at these things to assess an individual. You only had the face to examine. It became clearer immediately that the individual was solely judged by facial recognition, no other distractions interfered. The faces would have been a great photo exploration allowed of the China of that time ! Later it reminded me of the Qing Di terra-cotta army buried in Xian where each individual face is immediately recognized in the singular uniform and grey/brown earth color of the clay.

****This post is taken from Facebook and is a preamble to a shared post from Mongolia Live. The text with original post and photos is as follows:

Photographer spends 6 months traveling alone to photograph Siberia’s Mongolic, Turkic and Tungusic peoples. For the past 9 years, photographer Alexander Khimushin has been traveling the world, visiting 84 different countries. Three years ago, inspired by the idea of documenting remote cultures that are slowly disappearing due to globalization, he began his The World in Faces project. Seeking out small, ethnic minority groups around the world, Khimushin shoots incredible portraits that both honor and immortalize their culture. #MongoliaLive

The Facebook post LaoMa is talking about can be found here. There is also a Facebook for the entire project “The World in Faces”:

Veteran's Day Ambush!

Almanzo Raymond Lamoureux Marine Corps 1959.jpg

Arriving home Monday early evening after an all day surgical procedure at a state-of-art Sandhills N.C. Medical Facility, and thru a prematurely darken sky dumping Monsoon-like torrents of rain over the 60 mile harrowing ride, I open iPad to discover a conspiracy between Mrs. Ma and #1 Violet bringing me face-to-face with an old photo of an 18 year old Jarhead-wannabe in Marine Dress Blues complete with teenage zit where grows the past 45 years a treasured imperial beard of, as many people have been pointing out, a silver grey color!

A R Lamoureux and Truck Okinawa.jpg

Now, had I been appraised of the conspiracy, the photo posted of my and my faithful companion “Kawasaki” (referring to the village some of which can be seen beyond the motor pool fence), the 3/4 ton truck, would have been my choice.  The main difference of life 60 years in the past is the absence of cell phones and the daily photo people take today of themselves, their pets, plates of food, children and myriad grand children, rocks at their feet, cloud formations above, and martial art classes showing the same people in same pose but perhaps different outfits; all the photos I take today.  Few were taken then, fewer survived.  So, before I get to Beloved truck “Kawasaki,” and Okinawan escapades here’s a bit of background of the dumb kid in the Dress Blues.

At some point during middle to end of our 13 weeks of boot camp introduction and terror our 80 member strong Recruit Platoon # 250 was marched to a building that once in we were lined up in single file and shuffled to a portrait camera set up in front of a back drop.  As each “boot” reached the front there were 2 blouses (jackets), sm & lg and 2 covers (hats) also sm, and lg.  The blouses were open in the back like a hospital gown.  The assistant to photographer tightened the one or loosened the other that you stepped into.  The cover either fit atop your head, fell down over your ears or, like Goldilocks, fit just right.  The camera clicked, “next’ stepped into the spot.  We order, all had to, a graduation book with our photos in it.  The action photos were generic and not of the 80 man platoon.  So, to clear the record.  This was NOT my uniform.  Only certain MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) we’re issued this uniform: Embassy Guards, Shipboard Duty, Band and Drill Teams.  You could buy one to wear once a year at Marine Corps Ball on Nov. 10th, at $50 to $75 a months pay, not many Marines had a set of Dress Blues.  I admit, as many kids do, to coveting a set, but once in quickly lost all desire whatsoever.  There were more varied and better things yo spend $50 bucks a month on.  30 loving and intimate years spent with Mrs Ma and I just discovered she thought this was MY uniform and I wore it all the time!  So, I believe this disclaimer necessary to dispel the possible belief I HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH ITS PUBLICATION!  Now onto Kawasaki...

Almanzo Raymond Lamoureux (1680145) 1959 2 x.jpg

Before touching the only other photo I have of my 5 year enlistment, another photo of me in the Dress Blues shot has just surfaced, of a very handsome Hasidic Rabbi, doctored I may add.  I must say I agree with Rich Martins response:  “THIS IS JUST WRONG!”  But funny as all hell ... and I can’t stop laughing!  Laughs that are just, if I may add, what is needed in these days!  I will have to write about L/Cpl A.R. “Frenchy” Lamoureux and his beloved 3/4 ton personnel carrier pick-up truck (only vehicle smaller was a Jeep!). FB just might penalize me for excessive wordage here as it let me close this apology!

Chinese farmer gone live!

The New Yorker recently had an article about a small farmer who put a visual taste of her live online daily. It is a fascinating look into contemporary Chinese life interacting and being changed by the internet. My how things have changed from LaoMa’s time in China! We can see things moving forward before our eyes!

The stream is also a good challenge for students to practice finding characters in a dictionary. We often talk about how you need both the character and the pinyin to find an English translation in a dictionary. This resource gives us a taste of the reverse. You are given the pinyin and an
English translation - providing you with the challenge of using those two to find the character!

Here’s a taste of the first bit of the article. Click on the picture or HERE to read the whole story.

Three years ago, Liu Mama was an unremarkable middle-aged farmer from the Dongbei region, in northeastern China. Then she started presenting her life on the social-media platform Kuaishou. Liu Mama’s son-in-law, who would later assume the role of her trusty cameraman, introduced her to the live-streaming craze, and they decided to try it out, for laughs. The first videos, each less than a minute long, show Liu, short and squat, black hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, dressed in a red mian ao (a cotton-padded jacket)—the archetype of the good farmer’s housewife—sitting at the kitchen table. She’s chewing on pork ribs and fish heads while composing crude rhymes about the glories of rural life. “Chowin’ on a pork bone / mouth covered in oil / Bringin’ me good luck / two years on,” she hollers between bites.

YeYe’s 91st Birthday Celebration!  Part II:  After Banquet Group Photo Studio Portraits!

In our last Blog about YeYe’s 91st Celebration (before the intervening video of my 77th!), I tried to recreate and outline my memory of the banquet and my first realization of the status I had been given as Ding Hongkui’s, “Di Yi Waiguoren Xuesheng,” or “First Foreign Student.”  But an added surprise was still in store for me, although most of the other participants were all aware of this added and anticipated treat.

A riotous midnight parade from the 4th floor banquet hall down into the eerily deserted and winding, narrow, completely empty streets of what would be called Wuchang’s “downtown” to arrive in mass at an ancient high ceiling photography establishment’s entrance display room and on into large portrait studios in the rear, where we were to be arranged, more or less herded, onto a bleacher style seating platform.

yeye party.jpg

My reference above to a “riotous parade,” and “more or less herded” is a reference to the amount of alcohol consumed that night at the banquet feast.  This was one tight, happy bunch by the time the banquet ended and we stumbled out and down the streets to the photography studio.  Maotai (also the name of a village or area of southwest China where maotai, the alcoholic beverage comes from), a fiery concoction of distilled sorghum, is just one hell of a sledgehammer drink, but food must be consumed along with it or psychotic reactions are the norm.  Baijiu (White Devil) a category of clear liquors of which Maotai is member.  Chinese feel that the food cushions the alcohol effect.  Drinking this stuff with food slow the effects, otherwise just maotai by itself will fry the brain!  More on this as we continue.

Photography portrait studios were common enough in small town America before and during WWII, we’ve all got wedding pictures of our parents or grandparents taken in them, but they were long gone by the mid 1980’s.  So, it really was a deja vu experience to enter this establishment, and a complete surprise to me as no one informed me where we were going, I was just along for the ride or midnight stroll as it was.  It was entering this studio that I had a further revelation about YeYe’s position in the community where we lived and his importance to it.  First of all, having the whole studio open to us at this late hour made me feel like being in a Mafia Don’s entourage.  The whole downtown was rolled-up for the night and here we were marching in drunken relvery as a rather unruly and boisterous mob.  (Not everyone was tipsy, but I was for sure the only designated driver, if one was needed.  Wives of some guests were pretty much in control of themselves, and there were no fights within my hearing or eyesight, as there were at the wake of his wife who died a few months later.)

Yeye Pipe.JPG

The thing that really gave me an insight into my teacher’s high level of standing in the Wuchang community (later expanded into the larger Wuhan community, and later still into the National Wushu community that I was to discover years later here in America when the Internet World Wide Web materialized) on this excursion was the sight of single portraits of a phalanx of local Illustrious figures of one kind or another.  The framed photos were huge, 3 to 4 feet high, hand colored and arranged high on the tall walls,  lining both sides of the long, narrow display entranceway with its glass cabinets of equipment and photographs.  What hit me like a mailed fist to the forehead were these framed pictures marching down the walls making a right and left turn to meet at the focal point of Ding Hongkui’s portrait on the far wall into the studios, looking more like a bald Albert Einstein contemplating universal cosmic theories while holding a hooked smoking pipe, than a Martial Art Master and foremost authority of the Tang System!!

By this time my head was exploding with trying to keep all the kaleidoscopic events, facts, experiences, both known and unfathomable to me, and to make some sense out of just what the hell was happening and why I was allowed to be here in the first place!  If I had any reason to be at the banquet filling his wine cup it escaped me, though well trained monkeys can do something like that, but at this very important photographic event I was still ushered to his left side as a trusted lieutenant or family member, while my friend and translator, Liang Guojian, beside me at the banquet, was led up to the top right end spot in third row.  I was later to learn that my position was purposeful and at the order of Grandfather Ding, so that even the inebriated friends who pushed each other out of the way for better seats near the living legend did not even try to bother me and usurp where I sat.  I was to learn later, and very glad I was oblivious to the fact until after his death and the splitting up of his school, many of his students, long-standing and ranked as well as newly joined had, let’s say in today’s jargon, “issues” with the foreigner.  At the time, at THIS time, I was in the seat of Heaven at the left hand of the Almighty.  And had no clue as to why.

Yeye large crowd.JPG

The portraits:  of the three accompanying this blog, the one of Ding YeYe holding a pipe came from his family and was given to me by them.  Selden scanned it and the quality is due to not being able to take it out of its frame.  But it does offer a peek and idea of what I write about above.

The two group portraits, with their backdrop of a Chinese landscape with a pagoda sitting upon the promontory heights, will draw this story of an extraordinary Martial Art teacher’s 91st Birthday Celebration to temporary halt, but the conclusion of the group photo shoot won’t truly arrive until the last and final entry to the tale.  Suffice here to mention the small group portrait was meant to be of Dr. Chen and his associate partners in his ground-breaking venture, and YeYe and his top teachers, senior students, and the strange out-of-place mustachioed waiguoren.  The larger group I think included more of the medical establishment, wives and deserving wushu people who survived the evenings festivities and maotai ganbei (dry cup) challenges!

77 What a trip: Selden's Traditional Song for LaoMa

For those of you unable to make the party this Saturday,  we thought we'd share the most popular attraction - Selden traditionally creates unique lyrics to a popular tune and enchants us all with a song for LaoMa.  This year it was set to the tune :77 Sunset Strip!

Happy birthday to The Ma!!!  May you have many more! 

(sung to the tune of 77 Sunset Strip)

77 what a trip (snap snap)
77 who’s the hip-
est guy in town
(write this down)

He’s the one with crazy facial hair
A master story-teller so take care
To listen good
(you know you should)

He’s the guy who was New Hampshire bred
Although it wasn’t long before he fled
Into the Corps
(of course there’s more)

A lovely daughter and the greatest son
3 grand-kids and soon to be the first Great-One
On his way
(But NOT today)

77 that’s a lot of years
77 Have no fears
He’ll last a while
Each year in style

He’s got a lot of wushu left to dance
No need to leave it only up to chance
We’ll drag him through
Me & you

He’s met the most amazing people here
An odd assortment to be clear, but
That’s our guy
77 years gone by
77 my oh my
77 that’s our guy


YeYe’s 91st Birthday Celebration! Banquet!

yeye dinner.jpg

This photo was taken some four months after I had been accepted (through a harrowing audition in front of hundreds of outdoor martial artists) into the Snake Hill Wushu School of 90 year old Ding Hongkui, respectfully called by one and all simply as “Grandfather Ding,” or “Ding YeYe.”  This audition and acceptance took place in a bewildering, magical set of occurrences within 3 days of my arrival to Wuhan, Wuchang to begin teaching “Native English” at a specialized university.  And thus began the realization of a long-held, 20 year dream-come-true of training in mountain temples, mist-covered mountain pathways, and white bearded venerable Master of Daoist/Taoist lost arts!  YeYe’s 91st Birthday Celebration! Banquet!

The photo in question here marks my true acceptance into the school and heart of this extraordinary teacher.  It was taken at the banquet held in honor of YeYe’s 91st birthday after the January beginning of new year (Western calendar) 1986.  The photo commemorates the joint birthday of Ding Hongkui and the opening of Wuhan’s first “Free Clinic” by YeYe’s senior student, Doctor Chen, who we will get to see in a future Throwback Thursday (the term Free Clinic does not, of course, refer to the clinic of the same name in U.S., but refers to a medical enterprise ‘free,’ or more free, of government control and interference) 

The photo’s setting was in Wuchang’s newest Taiwan-style restaurant, a traditional Chinese restaurant with “western” touches of Taiwan and Hong Kong establishments.  We were at the top of the 4th floor building in two large banquet halls of 10 round tables each sitting 10 revelers a piece.  The guests were a mix of martial artists and people from the folk and government medical world, many of the latter sharing the love and training of the former.

The season was a very cold January.  Wuhan has weather comparable to Washington, D.C., so us east coasters can imagine the temperature.  Pretty damn cold and, because Wuhan-Wuchang lies below the Yellow River there is no central heat in any building anywhere!  Thus the coats, hats and earmuffs...

My awareness of my acceptance, status and title in his school began at this round table. Not only was I invited to sit among all the senior and more deserving students, and other very honored guests (and completely out of my class and rank; little more than a talking monkey!), but I was seated at the honored position to Ye’s left with the important function of keeping his wine cup always filled.  I imbibed at the time in alcoholic drinks, but refrained from such this night for fear I’d blow the job!  In this photo we are probably on our second bottle, and there is little indication, other than in his eyes, of any alcoholic effect on him whatsoever!  What a 91st Birthday this was!  Starting tomorrow, my 77th, I have 14 years to wait for mine.  I am striving to reach that milestone!

This photo however, really marks the date of my Dream-Come-True.  For it was knowing I was there and in that chair at his insistence that I knew this magical experience for me was reciprocated with a similar one for him.  I, a talking monkey, came into his life (YeYe taught in this Pavilion thru war and Revolution, destruction and civil chaos for 60 years) during his last year on earth’s Middle Kingdom, and then along comes this foreign enigma (to my question, did he ever meet a foreigner -Wei Guo Ren- before he replied no, then paused a bit and said, “yes, I met Japanese soldiers once”) with which he had to rely on very different approaches to teach.  He had a final challenge to do what he loved and what his life was centered around.  I am hoping for that challenge to come my way sometimes before the end of the 2020’s!

Throw Back Thursday: Chef


Chef Zheng in addition to his cooking duties also pulled double duty as guesthouse gatekeeper. Gatekeepers throughout China are the most important of all job descriptions, as they determine when a foreign devil, for instance, can safely and comfortably exit, after about 9:00 p.m., and reenter, around 5:00 a.m., the living quarters. A gatekeeper deserves vast amounts of guanxi...if one wishes to roam around and explore the city's nightlife.

Lao Zheng was the first Chinese to meet and greet me in my new home, a converted Buddhist WWII MilitaryTemple to Cai Da’s guest house and special meeting room, and my home for the first two years of an idyllic sojourn. I arrived mid-morning from Beijing train with severe jet lag exhausting me, and biological clock 12 hours ahead. A knock on my room’s door, I stagger to open it and there’s this short man holing a humongous platter of food! My stomach turns over in disgust and rejection and I pantomime I’m not only not hungry, but the huge pile of food is turning my gut over. He looks startled and scurries away. He’s back at the door, I open and he’s standing with hopeful grin and ... bigger patter of food! I learn later that in general Chinese think we Western Foreign Big Nose people are used to eating gargantuan piles of food!! I learned later he thought I was rejecting the first platter for a second larger one!!

Lao Zheng was a tremendously excellent and talented cook. He had just returned from an Chinese Embassy gig in Paris and my only other house mate, Mary, and I were honored to have, while in China, some of the most exquisite French cuisine offered by this extraordinary Chinese/French chef! Hao Gong Fu, Lao Zheng!

Mary and I took our meals personally created by Lao Zheng in a quaint, movie set tea house in back of the Temple. The walls were of bamboo and we were right off the ageless kitchen, with high ceilings and enormous woks hanging about the walls. Lao Zheng would cook and serve us with an air rifle strapped to his back that would be unslung at a moment’s notice to drill one of China’s ubiquitous “ground squirrels,” or rats to the rest of us, scurrying about the kitchen floor. This one fact of life in China not only curtailed Mary’s presence at mealtimes but also gave me a new and very different view of the “Year of Rat!”

Throw Back Thursday: Boxing!

taichi Boxing1.jpg
taiji Boxing.jpg

Teacher Laura Stone, Bloomington, Indiana Taiji School. Laura, now living and teaching in the Netherlands (, has been a long time senior student of William C.C. Chen of NYC. I was first introduced to Taijiquan by William in his NYC school in 1964 and studied with him during the 70s and early 80s. I would accompany Laura for weekly trips, staying with William's students and taking all the classes he offered, and would host him in workshops at my taiji school in Norfolk, Va. Laura would accompany and assist him in these workshops. I finished his short form and studied both push-hands and taiji boxing. Laura is very adept with the boxing techniques and here shows her pummeling me with a couple of them!

Throw Back Thursday: First photo

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox.

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox.

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox. First photo I took of Ding Hongkui as I was being led by the Pavilion on my first trip to Snake Hill. I was so impressed with this man. Three days later he accepted me in his school as first foreign student in 60 years of teaching at Snake Hill Pavilion. Though known, respected and admired throughout China (as I was to discover over and over in my travels carrying his photos) for his Wushu expertise and overall reputation in Chinese Martial Arts, he was addressed simply as YeYe, or Grandfather. Ding YeYe's special knowledge concerned the Tang System and in this photo he was teaching Bagua Jian, the straight sword form of this system. Although I initially thought I would be studying taijiquan only, when I arrived for my first class (at 5:00 a.m.) I joined this class and began studying this waigong sword form. It was the first of some 30 forms I learned during this sojourn.


Taijiquan group.PNG

My 53 year odyssey, thus far, with this fascinating and magnificent art form, began in an other worldly encounter with William C.C. Chen in his New York City school back in 1964.  My actual training did not begin then, mainly due to lack of schools and teachers, but six years later in 1970 when a friend and college classmate, Larry Mann, began teaching it in his Norfolk, Virginia, KungFu School.  By 1975 when I took my first trip to China, I had joined Larry and classmate Billy Hook in the founding of the Tidewater T'ai Chi Center, and soon after established my own school in Norfolk, the Tidewater T'ai Chi Club.

taichi Dao.JPG

In 1985 I fell into the most magical period of my life when I was able once again to not only journey to China, but to live, work and train there -- a vastly different China than the one I experienced a decade before, and a completely different world than that of today, some three decades later.

When I embarked on the 1985 trip, I left the Tidewater Club in the good hands of dedicated senior students who tried their best to keep it functioning during my absence.  I was recently given these photos by Kam Hitchcock-Mort, the senior-in-charge, the other two students are Warren Pretlow and Chris Walters. Many of the students in the group portrait joined the class while I was away and are unknown to me.  One Lady in particular though, Anita Adams, between Warren and T.T. Liang’s calligraphy on Taijiquan, is healthy and in her 90’s and we are still in contact! In the picture of Warren and Kam with the double broadswords I can tell, with her bowed head and the smile crinkling around Warren’s eyes, that a mistake just took place infeatured the two-person, shuang dao set.

Taiji Dao.JPG

I completely lost contact with Chris over the years since returning from Wuhan’s Snake Mountain, but Warren, after graduating from an Oriental Healing School in California, established a thriving, dynamic and successful Taijiquan/Qigong/Acupuncture School in Anchorage, Alaska where I have had the honor of being “visiting pubah” several times.  Kam retired from librarian work in California and Texas and lives with her retinue of exotic dogs and cats in coastal Virginia.  The three of us reunited finally during my 60th year (Confucius’ milestone, ‘Year of Obedient Ears!’) in both Alaska and Texas (Alaska is the magical land north of the Lower 48, and ya don’t mess with Texas!).


In 1989 I transferred what was left in a storage locker of the Tidewater Tai Chi Club to Dr. Jay’s Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School here in the Triangle Area of Central North Carolina.  After 26 marvelous years with him and Teacher Kathleen Cusick, I am now at the Black Bamboo Pavilion School, with Violet Anderson in charge, which has become my final Taiji Jia!

The Banana Tree - A truly Native Southern Tree

On a visit maybe five years or more ago, Debra and I walked Mongo thru my wilderness wonderland (now scheduled for the axe of gentry development called Chatham Park where the wild will succumb to unimaginable hordes of the 1% enlarging the town I've called home for a quarter century from  6,000 souls to 60,000!  Selden and I with Mongo and so many friends have had 12 magical years of exploring this Haw River experience, it's hard to have any regrets, plus I'll be dead and dust before the new Utopia is completed!) with the trails she chose, we broke, I maintained.  We stopped at one of our many rest stops we call Banana Tree Station.  A green bucket with yin/yang and USMC decals stuck to its sides is the only comfort piece of this facility.

*Note:  The poem below is by Debra Dean, a long time senior student of LaoMa's.  It was published in One, an online journal!  ( The poem is placed towards the end, but it should be noted that according the editor, this issue is meant to be read "cover to cover" like a book.

In a recent Facebook post, Debra included the two pictures of the tree as well.  If you look closely, you can spot the willow effect.  It's most visible in the first photo and shows as a slanting dark diagonal line in the top right corner.  You can also see the bucket!


Banana Tree1

for my taiji teacher LaoMa
on his 72nd birthday

Aimless as I am
I could never find it
on my own, nor find

what is found there:
under a canopy of tall trees
a black-leaved sapling turned

willow, beside which my root
sinks so deep, I might believe
I’d emerged somewhere in China,

my guide a man made honorary mare
by a cow’s gift of a heart valve.
Say that Old Horse is the very Earth.

Say that very green upturned
five-gallon plastic bucket
is a tortoise on which I sat

Banana Tree2

beside a wiry man holding
his staff—it’s a snake, you know,
old as the one Moses owned.

With the one I borrowed,
it’s leaning against a tree.
From his vest pocket,

two bananas. I eat one.
The peels lie on my thigh
like beached octopi in the quiet

of that uncertain place.
One at a time, he picks up
the peels by the stem end,

hangs each on a bare spot
of the banana tree—ah!—
laughing now, I am

beside myself, eyes tearing
for everything taken
and given, alive again

in the memory of it,
in the pale fresh peels
like blossoms,

like the bird’s beak
of my hand not yet closed
in Single Whip,

in those soon-to-be
new leaves, draped as if
brought forth from within

and sprung from the branch,
each taking its place
among the others gone black.

Spring Festival and Lantern Festival

lantern Festival 1

Some photos, taken by and shared by London taiji shimei Lia, on the Second Annual Lantern Festival held in west London's Chiswick Garden Park.  When I first looked at these beautiful photos I thought they were the size of those I remembered seeing during my three Lantern Festivals in China, that were festooned in mountain park trees, but the silhouettes of people in one photo (the swan below) show the huge size of these London displays!

Spring Festival and Lantern Festival:

Lantern Festival 7
Lantern Festival 3

These festivals are linked together in China in a way a lot of foreigners are unaware of.  I was privileged to experience 3 of these "Holidays" while living in Wuhan, Wuchang, Hubei Province. Of the three Chun Jie  ! or Spring Festival (what we in the West call Chinese New Year) I spent one of these years in Hong Kong when it was still a British Colony, the other two in Wuchang, but I participated in all three Lantern Festivals 元宵節! with friends and Wuchang, Snake Hill Pavilion classmates.

Lantern Festival 4

Lantern Festival cannot be mentioned without considering Spring Festival. The Big One! The Mother of all Chinese holidays! If you take Easter, our Spring Festival, with its new clothes, new spring flowers; New Year with its alcohol celebration and year-changing rituals; Christmas with its family traveling and gift giving; Thanksgiving with its special food dishes and family meal; throw in 4th of July with unlimited fireworks, mix them all together for 2 to 3 weeks of raucous noise and gunpowder scented streets, a replacement of an annual animal totem and---you have a glimpse of Chinese Spring Festival, or Chun Jie!  Our concept of a one night new year out on the town just doesn't quite fit the bill.  But then comes Lantern Festival...!

Lantern Festival 5

The spectacle of Chun Jie, with its weeks long celebration, incessant fireworks, accompanied by bottle rocket and firecracker injuries to adults and, way too many, young children (my one Spring Festival attendance in Hong Kong was quite different from that of the Mainland; personal fireworks were forbidden, and only prescribed to one government display from barges out in the Fragrant Harbour), and stressful travel with millions of travelers filling train and bus stations finally comes to a close.

Lantern Festival 6

Fifteen days after the Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival brings the tumult of the preceding weeks of hectic celebration with a sedate wrap-up of surprising beauty, grace and neighborly interaction.  Families stroll through the streets carrying candle-lit, birdcage sized lanterns held aloft, greeting one another as the processions wind their way toward a neighborhood park, in my case toward Snake Hill where we met in early mornings in the tiered wushu training areas, to hang the lanterns upon tree branches festooning the paths and sinuous ridge of Sheshan 蛇山, in a gentle glow of swaying colored lights.  A quite magical and breath-taking ritual.

Lantern Festival 2
Lantern Festival 8

Martial Art SASHES:  Sashes in Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School (Part 2)


In Part 1 on Martial Art Sashes (found by clicking here) I talked about where my knowledge of and ideas concerning the wearing of sashes originated from. To reiterate, it came from the Martial Art Folk School of "Grandfather" Ding Honkui on Snake Hill, Wuchang, Hubei, China.  Of course, my understanding is restricted to that Folk School, and others associated with it.  The primary reason for the adornment of sashes first and foremost is the honor, respect and deference paid to the long history and lineage of the place Martial Art holds in the fabric of the tapestry know as the Nation of Zhongguo (Middle Kingdom or China)!

To me the nature of the sash, it's color, material, size, and meaning is secondary to the time honored respect wearing it pays to the Art the wearer practices and tradition he or she trains under.  Wrapping the sash also represents a symbolic "binding" of the dantian and power of Qi!


Additional to this over-arching purpose, in Hei Zhou Tingzi Taijiquan Jia (Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School) there is a special significance to the colors represented; Green, Red, Brown (for a more detailed explanation of where these colors originated, and a thoroughgoing review of a Sash System go to and click on "Advancement Program" link).  As outlined in Part 1, the original idea of students choosing their own sash was exchanged for a more systematic system: Green indicating a commitment to study, train, practice and complete the Taijiquan Form of Wudangshan Yibailingba Taijiquan, Red representing the completion of the basic level of posture sequence linkage.  


In order to achieve Red Sash standing, Form construction has to be there and its demonstration "recognizable."  In other words, a student must be able to perform the form solo, from beginning to end without break and with each posture being recognizable.  The perseverance to reach this point takes a commitment of several years, and it is a very big and important milestone in anyone's training.  But, it is just the beginning of a lifetime of practice! This is the time the all important practice to lock in the floor plan of the Memory Palace and the focus of adding to FORM the equally supportive components of FUNDAMENTALS and FUNCTION ... begins!

The beginning student purchases the green sash to show his/her commitment and is later presented the red sash to show our respect and deep appreciation for their success.

When a student can perform the whole Form without conscious effort to remember sequence, sections, etc., and can focus on the Fundamental principles as well as continuing to progress with martial applications and Function (not to mention answering any question thrown out at class by The Ma), then they can choose whatever color sash, belt, cumberbund or other dantian binding apparatus that suits their fancy!  It will still represent honor, respect, and deference to the Martial Art...  (Violet won't be testing for that belt anytime soon - scary!  ;-) 幽  默 (humor)

Last Lesson with Jou Tsung Hwa: GO BACK FUNDAMENTALS!

Part 1:  My Introduction to MrJou

I first met the incomparable Taijiquan teacher Jou Tseng Hwa in 1981, 17 years after first being introduced to Taiji, and last saw him 18 years later, 4 months before his untimely death on August 3, 1998.  This post is a short preface to the story of our last lesson on April 5, 1998.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

LaoMa and DrJay beginning work on MrJou’s dream, building a Tai Chi College.  We were digging the corner stone hole to lay the time capsule.

I will explain my use of the form of address, ‘MrJou,’ here at the outset just so you’ll understand the inclusion of deep respect and great love it conveys in my usage.  MrJou never cared for titles such as Master, Grand Master or any of the misleading alternatives for the Chinese term Shifu (teacher/coach/Master, depending on the Chinese character used).  He said on more than one occasion”…if you want, you can call me Master, I have a Master’s Degree in Mathematics!”  Mr. (or Xiansheng in Chinese) carries great import, it is not disrespectful to use.  Ninety-one year old Ding Hongkui, the greatest teacher I was ever privileged to study and train with was referred to simply as, Ding YeYe ---  Grandfather Ding!  Students prefer to call their teachers by grand titles, grand teachers that I have had the privilege to study with do not.

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

MrJou looking down at students’ landscaping

I first heard about MrJou thru Brother Jay Dunbar about 36 years ago.  Jay had recently opened his school here in the Triangle called Carroboro Tai Chi Center.  We were introduced to each other by a couple of his students who relocated to the Norfolk, Va. area where I had a school, Tidewater T’ai Chi Club.  He and I became acquainted through letter exchanges until meeting for the first time at a festival he held outside his school in an empty field in Carrboro where the Weaver Street Market now stands.  I brought a few carloads of my students down to a Zhang Sanfeng Festival he organized and hosted, where we first met in person and where, at the same time, I first met Jou Tsung Hwa, (and obtained a treasured autographed First Edition copy of his book, The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan:  Way to Rejuvenation, the tome we use as a textbook!)

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

MrJou’s Ancentor Altar in Tai Chi Farm’s Zhang Hall; DrJay lecturing

For the next four years I did train with MrJou at his school in New Jersey, and with much help from his senior instructor, Marsha Rosa, learned his version of the Yang Family Sanshou (I had already learned Mr T.T. Liang’s version of this 2-person set from his disciple, Paul Gallagher) and the Chansijin Exercise.  When I returned from my China sojourn, 1985-88, and joined DrJay’s Magic Tortoise School as Senior Teacher, my relationship and training with MrJou grew at a much more rapid and regular rate as we hosted his 2 to 3 annual workshops and helped him establish his Tai Chi College on the grounds of the 100 acre Tai Chi Farm in New Jersey.  MrJou’s last workshop, “Master Key,” in our yearly Magic Tortoise workshop series, the weekend of April 4-5, 1998, is the setting for this story of “The Last Lesson” which will be my next posting…


the OTHER Eye!

Jerry Brannin 9/1/1944 - 8/2/2013

My oldest living friend from the acid flavored 60's! Part of him rests with my moms ashes in the memorial shrine just outside the entrance to Black Bamboo Pavilion. Jerry was a very talented stain glass artist and made windows for the chapels of Norfolk Naval Yard-based ships out of his American Stain Glass Studio in Norfolk. I'm having a stone engraved for him with the inscription, "the OTHER eye!" Because he had a wandering eye and for all the decades we were friends I would always pick the wrong eye to focus on...and that's what he'd say to me!