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SPRING TRAINING WITH GRANDMASTER ZHANG

It is difficult for the student of Qigong to find a master the level of Yuan Ming Zhang. When I began training in the martial arts I trained in karate because the school was near where I worked and I could train on my lunch hour. I had suffered a serious back injury three years prior and felt I needed to do something to strengthen myself and maintain my health. But I found that my body demanded a more subtle way of training than karate. Although I felt healthier, there were times when my body and mind were telling me that karate wasn’t addressing some important needs such as bringing inner peace, or loosening up my body and keeping it free of the pain of arthritis. Sure, I regained freedom of movement, but the pain was still there. Also, I didn’t know it at the time but I was looking for something to spark a spiritual awakening and bring me in harmony with the universe.

In addition to an arthritic back I have had problems with balance most of my life. After studying Karate for a year, I studied Tai Chi to loosen up my body and alleviate the severe pain that kept me from sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time. Tai Chi, pain killers and prayers helped somewhat, but I never gave up believing there was something more than a cure, but a way of life that would alter what seemed to be my fate.

I began my search for a real Qigong master. My Tai Chi teacher also taught Wing Chun which helped me regain a little flexibility, but he wasn’t able to teach me the Qigong methods I was looking for. I am grateful to him though, because he gave me something useful to practice for five years. Unfortunately, my arthritis progressed and at times the pain in my back and foot was too severe to do Tai Chi. I trained with others, but found that although they were sincere in wanting to help, their own training was limited and in some cases were simply teaching what they believed to be internal arts without ever having mastered them.

So I kept reading books and magazine articles and viewing videos of the masters and trying to incorporate the things I found useful. As luck would have it, one of those former teachers showed a video of Master Zhang doing Hsing I Five Elements and I felt an immediate connection since I was intrigued by Master Zhang’s articles in Qigong Magazine. His body moved with the subtlety of a tiger stalking its prey, and he executed his techniques with nimble ferocity. I purchased a few of Master Zhang’s videos and decided to train with him at his Center in Tehachapi, California. First, I flew to Laguna Beach where Master Zhang gave a weekend workshop. The amount of material covered in a weekend workshop is difficult to retain, but Master Zhang is not only a gifted Martial artist, he is also an excellent teacher with a great deal of patience. There is a core to his teachings that serves as a foundation to all of the styles he teaches. And, unlike my past experiences with Qigong, I felt immediate benefits. My body felt loose, warm and full of spirit. Master Zhang began teaching me Hsing I on the beach and I must say it was a humbling experience to be right out there among all the passers by with my body shaking and shimmering following Master Zhang doing Six Harmonies Qigong, or Hsing I walking, but I felt my body, spirit and internal organs all connected.

When we arrived in Tehachapi I was in awe of the mountains surrounding the Center. Being from the damp climate of Michigan, I immediately noticed the pure air as I stepped out of the car. My breathing was calm and my body was charged with a subtle energy as though it were magnetized. The Center is located on the south side of a mountain that is sacred to Native Americans. There are many dozens of caves on the property that face all directions in order to take advantage of the energy from all directions. I personally meditated in some of these caves following specific instructions taught by Master Zhang. During my stay I had no symptoms of the sinus problems I have had for years and rarely felt fatigued except when standing on certain rocks. Master Zhang led hikes on the mountain every day. The ancient rocks all have a spirit of their own and touch each individual accordingly. Daily, we discovered interesting formations in the rocks, beautiful flowers and signs of coyotes, bears, and other animals. These journeys weren’t simply to discover the beauty of the mountain, the exertion built strength and balanced yin and yang. I became more aware of my internal organs and could feel the chi energy circulating. The Mountain rises to the sky in back of Master Zhang’s Center with the very top forming a silhouette of an ancient Native American jutting into the sky. One day Master Zhang pointed to a spot just above it and said “today we go meditate.” I asked Master Zhang to teach me about Feng Shui and as we climbed he would periodically bend over and pick an interesting stone and hand it to me. Sometimes he would point out interesting rock formations and colors and say “good shui.” As we climbed higher and higher I found myself getting winded and my legs feeling heavier. But Master Zhang skipped over the rocks effortlessly, sometimes wandering out onto tiny ledges taking pictures or videotaping. Suddenly, I realized we had gone too far to go back down the way we had come and I was scared. My legs felt too heavy to lift and my heart raced as I looked towards the top of the mountain. Master Zhang told me to sit down and meditate, gave me some instructions and leaped over some rocks to take pictures. I closed my eyes and felt a force pushing me from behind. Personal conflicts that had embroiled me since early childhood were teeming my awareness. I clearly saw visions of a past life and realized I was being made to come to terms with my existence. And all at once I felt a genuine love and compassion for mankind, nature and the universe. I opened my eyes and Master Zhang took my picture. Master Zhang is quite a bit shorter than me and weighs around 130 pounds, but he literally lifted me and pulled me over the rocks and I crawled while he held my hand until I could go no further. He told me to sit and do Hsien Tien Tai Chi while he took out his video camera. The Center and the surrounding houses looked microscopic below me as I did as instructed. As I moved my hands I gradually felt calm, as though the essence of the universe were dancing in the palms of my hands and I was breathing it in to the soles of my feet. I had forgotten the anxiety of the climb and was absorbed in the power of the setting sun when Master Zhang said “good. Let’s go.” The climb was now easier and we made it to the top. I now stood next to the perch where the birds descended from throughout the day. On the other side was a beautiful canyon that was lit up by rainbows of velvety moss. I could truly say I had been to the top of the mountain.

Master Zhang teaches each of his students according to their preferences and abilities. He is interested in really getting to know his students and helping them to balance their lives and bring them into harmony with the universe. He provides a rare opportunity for the serious student of qigong and internal kungfu to receive individual instruction from an authentic master. During my initial stay with him he imparted many valuable teachings and my entire life has changed. Qigong is not something I practice a little everyday, it’s a way of life that I live every moment of every day even when I’m sleeping. I am in better health than I’ve been in a long time. My back shows little signs of the pain that racked me for years and I have the means to bring anything into balance that is causing me harm. Anyone who wants to learn teachings that bring every aspect of their lives into harmony should discover Master Zhang’s teachings and make plans to visit his Center.

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