I have been asked by students what is the meaning and where does the appellation, "Number One" or "First Student" come from, the title "# 1" I call Violet by? Well, the answer to the second question first is that it comes from where the majority of my information on Chinese Martial Art comes from: my three year sojourn studying in two Hubei Province Martial Art Folk Schools (as opposed to National Government Schools). The title itself, as with most of my first hand knowledge, comes from the school of Grandfather Ding at his Snake Hill Pavilion School. It was used by all my classmates for one of Ding YeYe's most senior and impressive students, a quiet and unassuming machinist, a lifelong factory worker with missing fingers and oil-stained hands. He was addressed by YeYe and all my classmates as, Di Yi Xuesheng, "First Student." That's where the name comes from.
What the title actually means, however, I can't say. I might have just used by YeYe in his school. I did not see this man perform, nor did I train under him. I was allowed once to observe a special Sunday morning tuishou seminar he conducted. I do know that one participant that morning, a younger man in his mid-30's defeated an internationally-known Chinese Martial Artist, the year before I arrived, in a Wuhan Provincial Tournament. All I knew with my limited resources was that "First Student" was tremendously respected by everyone on the mountain and by his teacher.
I hold the same level of respect for Violet, and have held it far longer than her becoming my Partner in Black Bamboo Pavilion, or because of any bias toward her. In fact I recognized her level of achievement long before when in 2012 she competed in Charlotte's CACMA Tournament of Chinese Martial Arts and not only swept the Internal (Taiji) Division's Hand, Weapon, and Push-Hands events with four First Place (Gold) awards, but then entered the External (Kungfu) Division and achieved two Second Place (Silver) Medals performing Tangquan and Taishibian! That day she was judged not by her teacher, but by many different judges in many different events, both internal and external. And I want to add at this point, that in all my 18 years of tournament judging, I have never seen a taiji competitor enter any external competition -- much less place. This is truly extraordinary, singular and unprecidented. That I call her #1 Student is in honor of my teacher's practice, that she is worthy is confirmed by the decision of these judges, my colleagues in teaching and tournament judging.
I am attaching a copy of a letter I composed right after Violet's extraordinary tournament accomplishment four years ago, along with photos taken and somehow saved. I know many of you missed reading this pride-filled composition, and if it was left up to "Number One" . . . You never would!
Magic Tortoise & Wudangshan Students & Friends!
Yesterday Violet, Guhl and Garry, three senior students who celebrate their 10 year anniversary of study with me this month, took me on a road trip to help support Violet's participation in the Carolinas Association of Chinese Martial Arts (CACMA) annual June KungFu and Taijiquan Tournament in the Queen City. We left at 6:00 a.m., returning after midnight tired and very satisfied, and this is a short report of an extraordinary achievement won by Violet in her "sweep" of 4 first place and 2 second place medals in both Taiji and Kungfu Divisions. Some photos courtesy of Rich Martin's Chinese Martial Art School in Fayetteville are attached below (a video taken by Guhl of the extraordinary Push-Hands competition will also be available on our facebook page).
The road trip and tournament competition was planned to be a celebration of our decade together. Violet made it an unforgettable experience that will live in my mind (as long as one remains) alongside the first tournament I competed in in Wuhan, Hubei, China, 1985. And one connects to the other in a magical way.
Most of us know that Violet competed last November in the Mooresville KungFu Tournament entering in both KungFu and Taiji Divisions and placed 2nd in "Kungfu Short Weapons," as well as placing in the "Taiji Hand & Weapons." It was remarkable to me that she received silver in short weapons with Tai Shi Bian (Emperor's Teacher's Whip) as it was the first time a student of mine ever entered, much less placed, in external Kungfu competition. The Charlotte Tournament was much larger in venue and number of competitors. Her achievement yesterday far out distanced the Mooresville Tournament and she took home, in order, the following:
All six awards:
2nd Place. Kungfu Division, "Womens Northern Long Fist" ---Tang Quan, Tang System.
1st Place. Taiji Division. "Combined Hand Forms, Advanced" -- Wudang Mountain 108 Taijiquan.
2nd Place. Kungfu Division, "Womens Combined Short & Long Weapons" -- Tai Shi Bian, Tang System.
1st Place. Taiji Division. "Taiji Straight Sword, Advanced" -- Wudang Taiji Jian.
1st Place. Taiji Division. "Womens Push-Hands" -- Unanimous 5-Poing Winner in all rounds.
1st Place. Taiji Division. "Combined Weapons, Other, Advanced" -- Wudang Dao
I have had the great learning and training experience of judging in tournaments for 18 years, beginning in 1989. During that time there may have been competitors displaying this much skill in the Kungfu Divisions of a tournament this size, though that would be very rare. I know of no Taiji competitor replicating this achievement, particularly crossing over to compete in External Divisions (though many external stylists cross over to Internal Division, none have come close to replicating Violet's extraordinary day at UNC Charlotte yesterday).
My pride in her success is hard to disguise. Her success reflects on me of course. But the pride I have today, and that the Magic Tortoise community can have in "one of our own" is directed at her talent and very hard work, practice and training. She is a model for all students and teachers, and my deep feeling of pride as a teacher of this Art of ours is the recognition that a student has absorbed my teaching and taken it to a different, higher level. I think all teachers look for that particular proof of their worth.