In 2004, at great risk to my business and relationship, I travelled away from Montreal to study with Chen Zhonghua, the 19th Generation International Standard Bearer of Hong Junsheng’s version of Chen family Taijiquan. I’d be gone for 4 months.
Master Chen began by saying, “I realize that here in the West, a great deal of weight is placed on being nice to each other. I want you to all know, I love you very much. Now, we can get on with Taiji.”
As training progressed, I found he'd single me out, make me an example. Corrections became vague. I tried asking different questions, but he'd repeat a single answer. Criticism was derogatory at times, or humiliating — especially pertaining to habits derived from learning other forms of Taiji. He wouldn’t push hands with me.
A lifetime in the martial arts, I had never been treated this way.
It was a tough time. I practised from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, sometimes to return for the evening class. My quadriceps would lock so tight, I had to hammer them with my fist. I maintained two homes and an Internet business. I'd ply my trade from 6:00 AM, and until 10:00 PM. Income was throttled, expenses were doubled; my clients were understanding, but impatient; my girl was supportive... but also unhappy.
And to top it off, I’d hit a wall with my Taiji.
I felt uncertain. It hadn’t been an easy life, and I’d finally got ahead. Had I squandered it? That was one of the few times I have wondered about my limits.
Near the end of my stay, Master Chen paraphrased a proverb for us: “A block of purest jade is worthless, until it’s been cut by the chisel.” I remember it clearly. He looked at me and said, “I’m hard on you because you have potential.” Soon after, it all let go — just like that. I made a profound breakthrough in my understanding of combat.
“Eat the bitter,” the saying goes, “to taste the sweet.” I have been told that, by traditional standards, I was lucky — shown the favour of criticism, where many students get polite indifference.
In life there are matters more worthy than your pride, and your pleasures. You may have to choose. You should have to choose, or you’ll never understand your goals, whether they’re worth pursuing. Good luck can be confused for merit. And unless you find your tipping point, true balance can elude you.