This will be sort of a Doty origin page and chronicle of our road to meeting and a lifelong interaction with Lao Tzu James McNeil. Many things related to learning and practicing and fighting that involved Hsing-I will be recorded here.
Our Hsing-I is the Shansi system that traces a lineage unbroken from our teacher, Lao Tzu McNeil, back to Chi Lung Feng to Yueh Fei and his teacher, Chou Ton. Hsing-I along with Splashing Hands were the first styles my brother, Gary and I began learning from Lao Tzu back in 1980. I teach and practice a combination of Master Hsu’s and Grandmaster Chiao’s style with less emphasis on the Shaolin forms of Master Hsu.
All External systems share certain attributes; reliance on muscular size, strength and/or speed to develop “power”. This is a type of power that can fail to penetrate a properly strengthened internal body. It is a mechanical power where the larger or stronger rule the smaller or weaker. Internal power comes from the mind using the Chi as a moving force to give weight to the hands and lend strength to the body and that can be emitted from the palms and eyes at advanced levels. This same Chi will give strength to the External and Internal body against traumatic blows and will literally change the body from the inside out as opposed to just the outside as in most External systems. It is the great equalizer that allows the perceived lesser individual to rise up against someone seemingly more powerful.
Most External systems stress and break down the body, making it weaker as it ages. The Internal Arts nourish the body from the inside out. This is combined with principles that are trained through drills and forms that were designed and passed down through the centuries by the greatest martial geniuses and powers of the time, to teach the body how to move and how to “feel”; how to root to the ground and bring force from the ground simultaneously in a chain of lightning, from the foot out to the fingertips.
In our Hsing-I we have what we call a “no inch” punch, requiring no interval and no wind up and no set up to develop power, making it to our advantage to close with strikers and grapplers alike and step close enough to “kiss” as in the principle of “touch, go, kiss. This is our world, up close and personal, over-whelming the opponent with powerful, pinpoint close range shots, while smothering their power by closing the distance they need to develop it. Grapplers have power on the inside but are not used to getting hit with power from close range and they usually underestimate the power of rooting and striking to thwart takedown.
Forms are the building blocks of movement and also moving medicine for the body, the motions working Chi meridians as the body twists and turns through the specific moves. Proper forms practice combined with special breathing techniques will keep the body flexible and strong, working both aerobic and anaerobic aspects of the cardiovascular system. Unhindered Chi flow will help prevent and even cure some diseases and is especially useful as exercise for those with cardiovascular and pulmonary difficulties.
The reason that the perfection of form is stressed in traditional Internal Kung Fu is to maximize this energy flow and development, to in fact teach the student how to move and change the quality of that movement. If the body is disconnected by flaws in the form that has been perfected and handed down by Masters over the ages, or the form itself is flawed due to changes from the original made by incompetent practitioners, the Chi will not flow efficiently or sufficiently to allow accumulation. It is very difficult if not impossible without a teacher to observe your performance objectively until one learns the essence and principles of perfecting form and the forms become self-correcting to a certain extent. Learning how to make a form self-correcting is a difficult process that must be learned from a competent teacher.
A great arrogance pervades the Martial world today in that our tendency has been to alter the existing styles into a “new” style or “combined” style. Granted, the ways of fighting have changed over the ages and technique needs to be adapted to allow for this fact but the capacity for variation is contained within the traditional systems, namely the ‘true not true’ theory. This is the ability to begin a technique and then change it in accordance with the reactions of the opponent. Changing the forms themselves, gross alteration and eclecticism is not necessary and is yet another example of the manifestation of Man’s ego and self-importance.
Hsing-I was the first internal style my brother, Gary and I were exposed to back in 1980. That’s me in the back row between the two tall guys with my brother right there in front of me just behind Lao Tzu. Hsing-I was the one that started it all for us, closely followed by private instruction in Splashing Hands along with just a small number of students who would stay after the Hsing-I class. These two styles compliment each other so well and were so enjoyable to me that major life decisions for better or for worse were made around them and my ability to continue my practice with Master McNeil.
My brother Gary and I walked into the tiny school, a “dungeon” located in a non-descript industrial complex in Orange, California in 1980. My brother had discovered it the day previous and thought there was promise here after observing a class. The head instructor was not present that day Gary visited but my brother was impressed with the senior student standing in for him, Al Lam. My brother and I went back together the following evening when the teacher would be there. We had been interested in martial arts since childhood and had been on a mission for awhile trying to find a real martial arts teacher whether it was kung fu or whatever style; we knew enough to know what we were looking for if we saw it.
Sifu McNeil was there that next day and I think our inflated sense of our own abilities and lack of any real knowledge betrayed us; I can’t speak to my brother’s thoughts but I was not really impressed with the teacher’s appearance. He was stocky, with some big forearms, but he just looked like an average guy, balding and seemed maybe even a little out of shape and I remember thinking he wasn’t very flexible as we watched him lead the class in warm up exercises. We were enamored with Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do and really thought our own kicks were something special. We were in for a rude awakening.
I will never forget the first time he slapped me; demonstrating different forms, Master McNeil invited me to punch at his abdomen and I really had no concept of “helping the teacher in the demonstration” and I stepped in swinging for the fences. Using the opening move from the Five Elements forms, he slapped down on my forearm with both meaty palms and a bright flash of white light exploded in my vision and when it cleared a second later, his sausage of a finger was drilled half way into my throat, not hurting me really but I got the “point”. He invited more punches and kicks and with growing trepidation I complied a few more times. His hands were like butterflies made out of bricks and I couldn’t believe how much his soft touch hurt with so little effort on his part. Then it was my brother’s turn.
Lao Tzu told Gary to throw his best kick and Gary fired away…and then limped away as he was struck in the ankle with perfect placement and timing by that meaty ham this guy called a fist. Then as if that weren’t already enough he invited us to freely hit him. The stomach, ribs, kidneys, he didn’t care and after about half a dozen increasingly frustrated punches and kicks later my hands and feet were sore and we were completely sold. We later learned the Iron Body exercises and eventually Shih Shui; Lao Tzu taught us two Iron Body stunts that we performed in a few demonstrations. My brother did the masonry slab torso break with a sledgehammer and I did the meat cleaver to the solar plexus strike both of which were usually crowd favorites.
We were enthusiastic and dedicated sponges and wanted everything Sifu McNeil would teach; Hsing-I, Splashing Hands, Chen Tai Chi, Little Nine Heaven Wu Tao, Ba Kua, Shih Shui, Iron Hand and all the other meditations and chi kung exercises. I was fortunate enough to go to Taiwan with Lao Tzu in 1988 and compete in the Tang Shou Tao full contact tournament and got to visit the Masters in their homes and had the nearly unheard of honor of learning the Tzu Men Chuan forms directly from Master Chin himself. The full story of our trip is on the Splashing Hands page.
I personally was first drawn to the martial arts for the self defense aspects and the skills I have developed under Master McNeil’s tutelage have served me well over the years but the healing aspects of Hsing-I and the skill of Master Hsu Hong Chi probably have had the greatest impact on my life.
After the first few years of practice I began to have some issues with my lower back at a fairly young age. I am not sure of the cause, although a probable culprit was an industrial accident I had that was the closest I have ever come to being killed. This story is detailed on the Little Nine Heaven page. I have always been lean so without the meat to protect my spine it was possible that excessive supine leg lifts (the heels over head exercise) on a concrete floor contributed to the existing trauma; regardless I had a lower spinal vertebrae actually protruding through the fascia sheath over the spinal column. I had pain down my leg with loss of control, numbness, electric tingling, the full gamut of spinal sciatic nightmares and was unable to practice much. It had been going on for awhile and estranged from any family medical support, I was starting to get worried.
Master Chi came from Taiwan to visit the Tang Shou Tao schools in California and train Lao Tzu and he was sitting in on one of our training sessions at the school one evening. He asked through translator if anyone had injuries or other health issues that he could help with and several students came forward with some minor ailments and problems which he addressed with various Tui Na techniques. I then spoke up and described my problem and I could see his concern as he examined my back and the interpreter relayed my symptoms. It seemed that this wasn’t just another run of the mill injury and I had his interest.
The fix actually required the help of Master Chi and two other people with the crux of the matter being that I was not allowed to bend over at the waist for three days after the adjustment while the fascia tissue grew back together, otherwise the vertebrae would just keep popping back out. With the knowledge I think I have today, it is probably a facet issue that allows the vertebral structure to move posterior. This was challenging to say the least and the fix required a repeat performance the next evening at class. It was successful the second time and my symptoms disappeared. Master Chi truly had the “magic touch”.
That of course was just the beginning of the journey to develop the abilities that lie dormant within us all and can be accessed and cultivated through the art of Hsing-I and the other Internal Arts. There have been many ups and downs in my life but I am happy to still be a part of the family of Little Nine Heaven that has been raised and perpetuated by our father, Lao Tzu McNeil and I will do the best I can to pass on this legacy and honor my teacher and grand teachers.
It is kind of weird how closely the story of the Doty brothers background and upbringing and the events leading us to train under him matches Lao Tzu’s own story. We were Midwest kids, growing up in rural Illinois after being born in a small city south of Springfield called Decatur. Both of our parents were drinkers, enough so that we were removed from their custody and basically adopted by my Dad’s sister and her husband. My first earliest memory was of the incident that was the final straw for the Norman Rockwell version of the Doty family unit. Apparently my mother had a habit of leaving us locked in our room of the apartment we had in Decatur while my Dad was at work, I guess, and she would go out drinking. I was around three and my brother was still in a crib at the age of a year and a half.
This time a window washer saw us in the room apparently by ourselves and the situation went south from there. I am not sure to this day what the full circumstances were that kept my real dad from raising us on his own…too young at 21 years old, wanted us to have a mother figure, he drank too and the state wouldn’t allow it, who knows? I hold no ill will or cast any blame on my Dad, he was always there when we needed him while we were still in Illinois and even after we moved away to California when I was 14 he still kept in contact and was there to help financially as best he could when needed. Now my aunt’s (my new mom) husband was a different story.
I want to be fair, my brother and I were quite a handful, especially me because my brother just did what I did, like all little brothers. We moved as a family to a Decatur suburb called Mt. Zion, a small town surrounded by a nice wooded area with a stream running right past our property and my early interest in the outdoors was born there. Our “pranks” were legendary and it would have taken a saint not to beat our little asses. Just to name a few; we painted the neighbors’ driveway with red house paint…the whole driveway. We slid a garden hose into a neighbor’s mail slot and turned the water on while they were at work. One of the worst was when we triggered a preset landslide on top of a two man kayak team running down the creek behind our property. After a furious struggle grasping at branches overhead in the vain attempt to stay upright as boulders rained down around them, they capsized. We were lucky we didn’t kill someone.
Well, our giggles turned to pants shitting when we saw the true havoc we had wrought and we ran home like scalded apes. Peering out from behind our curtains as my Auntie worked without a clue around the house, we saw the victims walking up from the creek, towards us up our street looking for the culprits. We were well known around the neighborhood and some neighbor girls told them who was probably responsible and where to find us. Soon they were beating at the door and our goose was cooked. One of them only had one arm, not like it was torn off in the incident but it was missing already which explains why they had so much trouble trying get out of the “kill zone”. They wanted to fucking kill us despite our young ages, probably around 10 or 11 for me and Mom saved our asses in what would be an often repeated pattern.
My real father and his brothers were all avid hunters and fishermen so that was part of the lifestyle. I shot a Remington 7 mm. Magnum high powered rifle when I was 8 or 9 years old, as well as shotguns and handguns of various types. This fostered an interest in cowboys and Indians like all kids but we really liked being the Indians. I read voraciously anything I could about Native American culture, the old west and things military. My other aunt’s husband was a cop and a big game hunter who went all over the world and had a house that was any kid’s dream or nightmare, depending on disposition, filled with trophies of animals he had killed from all over the world. He, on the other hand, was a total piece of shit but that is maybe another story.
My new “father”, actually my uncle-in-law, wasn’t really into the outdoors but he was big on sports. I was a skinny, kind of dorky kid who started wearing glasses at the age of 10 and I never really excelled in sports except for Judo until I found volleyball in high school after moving to California. With my wild side and my uncle-in-law’s disinterest in us in general there were many disciplinary situations that he mis-handled to put it mildly. He seemed to target my eyeglasses and actually “bitch” slapped them off my face on multiple occasions as well as the full gamut of corporal punishment options. To this day it is still a trigger that induces a strange almost blackout rage and was the cause of two incidents later in life where someone slapped my glasses off and I came back from black, on top of them begging me not to kill them. Look for those stories on the Instructor page.
When I was nine my brother and I began learning Judo from a well reputed black belt in Decatur named Bill Horve. We wanted to learn karate but my aunt and uncle agreed to Judo because of the lack of punching and kicking, which is what we really wanted to learn but they considered too violent. My real dad and his brothers said that Bill Horve was a bad ass and that he did some kind of hand training because he could drive his fingers into a bucket of nails. I knew nothing of course about Iron Hand at the time but I really enjoyed Judo and showed an early aptitude but the instructor’s traditional teaching method was too slow moving for two immature impatient kids. Every time a new student would join the whole class would start over with the basics. I was too inexperienced to realize that this would solidify the basics in us and was a very beneficial way to learn. I consider the fact that we quit to be one of the big mistakes of my life.
We quit after about a year and a half but our love for martial arts was fostered. Soon after, my brother started to compete in wrestling as a 7th grader for two years and of course we wrestled together all the time. I was actually pretty good at baseball and made the All Stars team until I got hit so hard with a pitch on the inside of my elbow while batting that it left the imprint of the laces on my skin. It fucked my arm up for weeks and traumatized the shit out of me and I never had the desire to play again. I tried my hand at football (too skinny) and basketball (too uncoordinated still and not really tall enough) during my 9th grade year in Illinois and then our family moved to California where Uncle Bob was starting a new job; helping to form one of the first Credit Unions in the country. His future success and subsequent drug use (he liked cocaine and alcohol) set the stage for the break up of our “family unit”.
Despite some attempts at learning some stuff from books there was no real martial arts practice during this time. I went to the first half of my 10th grade year in Northern California in a Sacramento suburb called Carmichael. It was here that I really got into sleight of hand, stage magic and escape artist skills; I was obsessed with Houdini and I liked to cheat at cards. I mentioned before that I had tried my hand at football and basketball at my uncle’s urging while back in Illinois but I was physically clumsy, still skinny and did not really enjoy team sports; I didn’t have that many friends. It wasn’t until we moved to Southern California into the Orange County area and I got into surfing and then volleyball that my coordination began to improve.
I finished the second half of 10th grade and completed 11th and 12th grade at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, California and graduated in 1978. A lifetime ago. I began surfing at the age of 16 and became obsessed with it, a common pattern that developed with everything I tried in my life. When I became interested in something I always wanted to be the best and I would jump into learning with both feet. As kind of a natural offshoot of hanging out at the beach I was aware of volleyball and I played a few times on the beach; mind you this was well before any established beach volleyball circuit but there was a professional indoor league and Anaheim actually had a team, the Anaheim Stars. The boy’s volleyball coach for Canyon High was a former player and I believe he still did some semi-professional competition at the time as well.
He talked me into trying out, just to get bodies on the team not because of any special aptitude I had, but it turned out I did pretty well. Well enough that I was put on varsity my first year ever trying the sport during my junior year. This actually worked to my detriment because I was not a starter and I played very little during games like I would have if I had been on the Junior Varsity team. Although I got to practice with the best players at our school I would have had much more playing experience and excelled even more during my senior year if I had played regularly on the Junior Varsity squad during my junior year.
The summer between my junior and senior year I played a lot of two-man volleyball on the beach and we did indoor tournaments as a school team. We were pretty successful and we were the first sport team fielded by Canyon High that actually was able to beat the better beach city teams at any sport. We beat Corona Del Mar one game at a tournament and that was, I guess, a big deal, even though they won the match. I came back my senior year with a much increased vertical jump; I don’t know really what it was because I never accurately measured it but my senior year, at six feet tall, with a running jump I could get the top of my head over a basketball rim, I could almost see into the hoop. I could get my waist level with the top of a volleyball net and could routinely spike within the ten foot line. Volleyball players will understand what I mean and I loved to give people “six packs” or spike them in the face with the ball.
My senior year I made the California All-star team and could have possibly gotten a scholarship to play volleyball but I was torpedoed by my parents due to a conflict between high school graduation exercises and the practices for the All-Star tournament. It was so important to their ego, I guess, to see their trouble-making son graduate high school that they didn’t see what I might be giving up. How could they, really, because they had never gone to any of my games in two years of playing. It is interesting to contemplate what could have been, because the beach volleyball explosion came soon after and guys that were my peers in school made great livings on the pro circuit.
Volleyball actually led me in a roundabout way to Master McNeil. I delivered a “six pack” to a guy in a practice game once, he took exception and we ended up in a beef over it. I was a beanpole and he was a football player that claimed he knew karate which I learned later was bullshit. That still didn’t make the front kick to my nuts and right cross to my jaw any less effective. To his credit he was honorable because he could have really handed me my ass. People got the shit kicked out of them all the time at what was supposed to be an upscale rich school. The truth is there was a geographic dividing line that brought in some kids from tougher parts of Anaheim.
My cocky young ass was humbled and it wasn’t long after that I began to actively seek a real teacher but, as it turned out, it would be back in Illinois and not in California. The time of the Internal had not yet arrived and our wild ways steered our course once again. I started drinking at a very young age, at least for the times I guess, but by my sophomore year I was smoking pot and drinking hard alcohol before school, stealing booze from the parent’s liquor cabinet; I would be hammered on the bus on the way there. I never got to the point where I was actually taking booze to school with me but I drank every chance I got. Alcohol was part of my upbringing, everyone around us drank; my real dad, his brothers and sisters; all except grandma and there was no grandpa. My aunt, who I now call Mom and her husband, the infamous “Uncle Bob” of glasses slapping fame had frequent parties and questionable friends and my brother and I were given beer at a young age, probably 7 or 8 years old, maybe younger; memories fade when brain cells die.
Soon after moving from northern California to southern California, surfing became the main focus of my life until I found volleyball. I just wanted to surf and live off the land for the rest of my life, I hated “Uncle Bob” and true to form they just wanted to ship me off to Arizona, oddly enough, you know the state known for killer surf…to attend the Devry School of higher learning. Well, fuck that, I wasn’t having it and by the age of 18 I hatched a plan to abscond to Mexico, with the little bro in tow of course, and live in the jungle like Tarzan and surf our lives away.
We would have successfully crossed the border if my brother had cleared his bank account ahead of time like I asked him, maybe he did it on purpose. It ended up we were delayed and had already left the decoy note claiming we were off to Africa, of all places, trying to throw them off the scent but my Uncle Bob was no dummy, an abusive emotionless asshole yes, but no dummy. He instantly knew we were headed for Mexico and he contacted the proper authorities to deal with us at the border.
That night, before leaving the next day, we had a farewell party in the Volkswagen camper van that was to be our home from then on and was purchased under my Uncle Bob’s name; complete with a keg of beer and plenty of smoke. I have been more hammered only a few times in my life and the hangover the next morning was epic. We were waiting for the bank to open in a local Denny’s restaurant trying not to be sick and in walked Uncle Bob. I will never forget the sinking embarrassed feeling that morning as he ushered us out with the cops standing by. We were fucked. The solution to the problem that was us?My brother and I were sent back to Illinois,”just for the summer” so that they could figure out what to do with us and give them a break. We still had family back there and off we went to stay with my real dad and his mom, good old Gramma in Decatur, Illinois. I was eighteen years old.
It wasn’t bad at first; it was nice seeing Dad again and all the rest of the family; fishing and hunting again after so many years and my dad had a bunch of guns and a bad ass bass boat with a huge Mercury motor that was way too much for the size of the boat. But my Dad was into fishing for large mouth bass and anyone who has done it knows that it can be desperately boring unless drinking beer and smoking. Drinking beer we could somewhat get away with even though we were still well underage, but the weed was totally hidden from Dad and Gramma. We worked out all the time down in the basement and out in the garage and we had our clandestine smoking systems down.
Gary had to finish high school still but it was summer and we were supposed to go back to California by the fall and he could finish school there where he had started. Well summer came and suddenly started to go so we were on the phone wondering about our plane tickets and we got the bad news. “Sorry, we are not ready for you to come back yet, we will let you know.”
I was floored; I had the love of my young life waiting for me in California, even though I had been ready to drive off to Mexico and leave her behind. Surfing was still all I was really into so I was pretty miserable in Illinois until one fateful night at the drive-in when we saw our first Bruce Lee movie, a multi-feature showing several of his flicks. It was just my brother and I, drinking, smoking and driving our Dad’s car; we hadn’t learned any kind of lesson from our current predicament and really had just said fuck it. I remember at one point a huge fight broke out among the movie-goers; we watched people going off on each other for awhile until it started to spill over to involve more and more people, slowly heading our way. We knew enough martial arts to know we had better get the fuck out but we were sold on Bruce Lee and began to seek out all we could read.
We went to a martial arts demonstration at a local Masonic Temple auditorium and it was nothing really that special but there was one guy, a well known Tae Kwon Do Master named Hee Il Cho. He had awesome kicks which we loved from our infatuation with Bruce Lee but he seemed like one scary kind of guy. Some girls sitting right in front of us were laughing and making noise and talking loud from the upper bleacher area, interrupting his process of jump spinning wheel kicking the necks off all the beer bottles in the building and kicking holes in masonry. He froze just before take off into another crazy ass kick and he looked up, seemingly right at us because we were right behind the chatty disrespectful perpetrators. The look in his eyes immediately shut the mouthy girls up and I will never forget it, the slow way he turned his head and looked with a sidelong gaze that could have wilted roses and froze cobras. If he had been teaching in the area I would have signed up immediately but as fate would have it we did meet a guy that was a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do and we were also teaching ourselves Jeet Kune Do from Bruce Lee’s books.
It seems silly now but what we achieved with so little was actually kind of impressive, we threw ourselves into it with ardent fervor. My brother in particular was very flexible and we could both roundhouse kick or hook kick depending on the nomenclature you are using, the top of a doorway. There was no power in it up that high but it sure looked cool. One time out in the woods partying with friends a guy grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me towards him, drunkenly asking for a light for the cigarette hanging from his slack jaw. I chopped his hand away and he staggered back off balance then came in for another grab. This time when I chopped his hand away I continued with my momentum and hit a perfect spinning back heel kick and deftly knocked the smoke out of his mouth without touching him. I probably couldn’t have duplicated it with a thousand tries, well a hundred maybe; we were pretty good at semi-fast fancy kicking. I will never forget the look on his face as he staggered back and slurred,”Hey, maaaan”.
We were obsessed with the forward leg side kick, using it like a jab or with crushing power from a burst and could fold someone over with that thing. We had a 200 lb. heavy bag filled with sand that we used to train that kick. To this day I still have those mechanics and can deal a pretty decent side kick but no longer have the flexibility to execute a high one. In fact I screwed my flexibility for the long run with multiple muscle pulls including the first one from overstretching that came with an audible POP! and another one that ruined me for surfing big waves and that still bothers me to this day.
I partially ruptured my quadriceps tendon from doing hand springs or failing to do one properly that is; all it took was one time. Such a stupid thing to get permanently damaged over, I just under-rotated and tried to stick my feet anyway and caused a deep hyper-flexion of my knee; also with an audible pop. I really don’t have a distinct memory of the extent of the injury and the aftermath; I know I received no medical treatment or rehabilitation which would have been key to a better recovery outcome.
We passed our days in Illinois training in our garage, smoking weed and drinking beer and I pined away for my hot ass girl friend still waiting for me in California and it was my mission to get us back there. I worked the phone like it was my job, convincing, finally, Aunt Mom and Uncle Dad to let us come home. It was for sure my Auntie Mom missing us and convincing Uncle Slappy to let us come home that turned the tide. My real Dad was sorry to see us go, I think, kind of hard to tell with him sometimes. All I cared about was getting back to surfing and my girlfriend, in that order. Reuniting with her was bliss, pure and simple and I came back from the surfing layoff of almost a year and a half and was better than I was before. I later found out about the “reminiscence affect” in sports physiology and I have experienced this phenomenon in other endeavors, even in Kung Fu to a certain extent. More on that later.
We got back to California and had to play the game with Aunt Mom and Uncle Bob but we in truth, at least for myself, were just as wild and unfettered as before but we were now really in to martial arts. While we were in exile, the California parents had moved from Orange, California to Yorba Linda, California, maybe so we couldn’t track them down on our own, to a nice ranch style home on a well kept family street. They had made acquaintance with the family across the street who we were introduced to when we arrived home. In some ways my Aunt Mom was one of my biggest fans and was always bragging about me out of one side of her mouth and berating from the other and she had basically made a friend for us before we even came back. They had a teen-aged son that became my “partner in crime” who was there for so many of my misadventures and had “borned me” as he use to say, to punk rock. So in essence my Mom had a big hand in the life that unfolded for me, for better and for worse.
It actually was the action of the pit, first and foremost, then the music, of course was a close second or equal to because that is what drives a good pit. I was a tough nut to crack though because my friends that I hung with in high school were rockers and hated punk rock. With experience I became an expert in the pit and was almost untouchable; I would get pushed by the strongest guys and just fly with it going with the force and landing and dancing off like a master of the deadly ballet. I prided myself on never falling or being pushed to the floor and pushing much larger guys. I was told before that “I was a professional out there” on more than one occasion and this same skill would rub some people the wrong way. More on that on the Chen Tai Chi page.
The first thing we did after we settled in was to start the hunt for a true teacher. We had the guidelines of Bruce Lee’s teachings to use to winnow the “wheat from the chaff” and find someone who embodied what we considered to be the principles of fighting. We didn’t really know shit but we did have an idea what was bullshit and what wasn’t. Our search found us a lot of what was. We originally thought about getting real Jeet Kune Do instruction from the Inosanto Academy in Torrance, California but it was too far to drive from where we lived. We probably visited a dozen local schools and found everything from schools with dozens of students jostling for room in the training hall chanting their allegiance, to teachers that did the stock Karate or Kung Fu styles and were either too stiff and immobile or lacked power but had flowery movement. Then finally Gary wandered into the obscure dungeon that Master McNeil called home and we are back to the start of the story.
Even the power of the teachings were not enough to rein in my inner turmoil and it wasn’t long before I called out Uncle Bob once and for all; I think he thought that I might be able to take him now, I know I did. We didn’t fight but I moved out on my own with my girlfriend and jumped into Kung Fu, surfing, punk rock and getting in over my head like it was my full time job. I had a few full time jobs that involved some interesting stories and the reader should look for more about that on the Instructor page. Hsing-I and soon after, Splashing Hands, became obsessions and it wasn’t long before I made the connection and combined the two. I loved letting people hit me and considered it training; I would encourage anyone, the bigger the better and for the most part took them all, in fact the hardest I was ever hit in the abdomen was by a skinny teenage kid that came in to check out classes.
Taking punches was one of Lao Tzu’s standard selling point stunts and he would frequently use his students as demonstration tools. His standard procedure was to have one of us stand up while he was explaining the principles and theories behind the style, starting with the internal strengthening benefits of chi kung. He would then encourage the prospect to hit us anywhere they wanted. Sometimes it would take some convincing to get them to do it, others were very eager. Then he would talk about forms and have us demonstrate and then he would show the prospect an application or two.
A young kid came in and he was invited to try, with me as the punching bag. He was just natural, relaxed and with nothing to prove. He whipped it in there and while I took it with no real problem I was surprised by the impact. Pound for pound one of the hardest shots I have ever taken. A lesson there for sure. I have several good stories surrounding my proclivities in this regard. Eventually, in order to find takers, it evolved into a game of three for one; I would take three shots and then give one, who could resist that?
It began with just the abdomen then I would let them hit me anywhere in the body without covering up. I had it down where I could time it perfectly and be relaxed all the way until impact which made it all look very nonchalant. This rubbed some people the wrong way if it made them look too stupid. Other times the game would be exchanging punches to the arm until one guy quit. I never lost, even against guys way bigger. My Iron Body and Iron Hand were so strong I could just lay my fist on someones’ shoulder and they would wince.
One time at a demonstration we were letting all comers punch us in the body wherever they wanted; there was a line of people off the stage, many of them martial artists themselves, waiting for their chance which myself, my brother and a couple other students were fielding with aplomb. A guy stepped up to me in an Arabian Prince outfit and asked if he could hit me with the Phoenix eye fist (with the second knuckle of the forefinger extended from the fist). I didn’t care, I had no doubt he would probably hurt his own hand, it wouldn’t be the first time. He took the first shot and instead of hitting my abdomen in the middle he hit me right over my junk. It didn’t do shit so I invited another, indicating he use a higher target this time.
He was trying to act like he wasn’t trying but I had seen that look of frustration on people before; I made a habit of coercing as many people to hit me as possible as part of my regular “training” which evolved into my “three for one” game where I would offer the candidate three shots then I would get one. I didn’t get too many guys that would go for a second round. I did get myself into trouble a few times but that is another story. I knew this guy was giving it all he had trying to hurt me by hitting that spot over the pubic bone. He missed the second time too but enough was enough and I started getting pissed. A brawl was averted by cooler heads but I learned a good lesson that some people will try to hurt you if they can.
Eventually no one would play so I had to give the “three for one deal”.
I traded body shots one time with a local ruffian that everyone pretty much feared; another leader of a very low-end local gang. He always had a thing against me, I guess he couldn’t stand the thought that some skinny guy could be more skilled than him and probably kick his ass. I was a “hippy” with long hair before I “converted” to punk and I have always had a smart mouth. Like so many do he was trying to act like he wasn’t really trying to hit me hard, adopting this weird restricted posture in their effort to power into it without appearing to; it was so stupid because it was getting around that you couldn’t hurt me so why hold back at all? He did his three dopey looking chop shots which I was proudly able not to laugh at and said, “okay…my turn”.
The three of us; the partner in crime,(heretofore known as Tpic), this guy and I, were in Tpic’s bedroom where they were injecting drugs while I was hanging out drinking. I hadn’t gotten in to coke yet and just drank and smoked weed. He was standing about three feet in front of the wall as I stepped toward him and put my closed fist on his stomach and just root-dropped him into the wall. Those who don’t know what that is should get my training manuals but I basically no-inch-punched him off his feet into the wall behind him, which was the only thing that kept him on his feet, like MMA fighters with their cages.
I could tell he was pissed so I asked all cheerful-like, “Want to do another round?” He stood up stiffly and growled,”fuck yeah” and stepped up again. His posturing of nonchalance was out the door and he gave it all he had three more times with the last one bending his wrist pretty good as I stepped in subtly to shorten the distance on him. This is the kind of control you can achieve with enough practice at this obscurely masochistic pastime. “My turn!” I said brightly. Tpic was watching all this of course with barely disguised mirth because the bully that fucked with him all the time, that everyone was afraid of, in that area anyway, was being bested.
I set up again and this time he was all braced with no pretexting but I know all the tricks; I scoped his balance vector, (again, see the manuals), and launched him again, this time with far more fanfare and clatter as he knocked shit over trying not to fall down. He jumped up like a jack in the box and I thought it was on for real then. “One more time?” I offered. Repeat the last paragraph, this time with him hurting his lower back against the bedroom wall and saying, “Fuck you, asshole”. He thought better of taking it further because up until now I hadn’t even really hit him yet which just added to his humiliation. If he wasn’t such a psychopath he could have learned something from it but in fact my altercations with him were not over; on another occasion he attacked me with my own knife. See the RAD Program page for the full story.
Out of the hundreds of time I let people hit me, dudes, joes, studs, jocks, boxers and black belts there are a few that stand out and those are of course the ones that get through; everyone messes up sometime and you get caught out. Knowing the techniques to recover from those shots is an important part of fighting. How to quell the rising gorge from a solar plexus shot can mean the difference between winning and losing, living or dying. One that really stands out was dealt by a guy that became a brother student, joining on the weight, partially at least, of this demonstration of Iron Body. I don’t know if he knew that he got me, maybe he did and he had mercy, he is a prince of a guy. But Lao Tzu, who was standing right there like an evil Cherub, grinning ear to ear, certainly knew.
The guy is huge, a former football player on some NFL team for awhile and in Canada, probably 300 lbs. plus and around 6’8″. Hi, Ira! By this time I was very confident and I didn’t cover my groin and solar plexus anymore. I had also never taken a shot from a guy this big and athletic before; big, yes, athletic, yes, but not both. His hands were like catchers mitts and he wasn’t holding back. I think he missed where he was aiming, hitting me high on the chest over the heart, I am fortunate for the training or it could have killed me. I don’t think he aimed there on purpose but I had said anywhere in the body just not the head. This had never happened before nor since. It is different in a fight where you have adrenaline to help mask pain and damage suffered. Standing there in a pair of flip flops chewing the shit with each other is a different situation entirely.
With the impact came that familiar feeling of getting caught, it exploded in my chest but was exponentially greater than anything I had felt before and actually knocked me off my feet backwards. The force rushed into my head like a locomotive as I stood up and I took a gulping chi kung breath and swallowed it down into my tan tien and pushed the runaway energy into my legs, visualizing it flowing out my feet into the ground. Like always I stepped up, this time praying that he would not take me up on it and offered him another shot. Like I said, I don’t know if he was just being merciful or he was just suitably impressed but he said something like “No, that’s okay, that was awesome.” I caught Sifu’s eye and it was twinkling merrily and he asked me rhetorically later, “Gottcha didn’t he?”
I got caught again in a similar situation by a pro boxer that also way outweighed me and after that I redoubled my efforts to strengthen my solar plexus by continued Shih Shui and with the meat-cleaver training exercise which teaches you to focus the breathe into that area. I performed this stunt several times in demonstrations and it is just a breathing exercise that focuses the energy into that heart tan tien. It does rely on a “trick” like most martial arts stunts; although even with the “trick” usually a degree of strength and skill is still required except with total shams like drying boards in ovens. Even sawing blocks of ice in half and using salt water to rejoin them still requires considerable strength to “break”. Anytime you see blocks of ice split perfectly in half they were sawed first. If it explodes into fragments (very rare, I have never seen it done like this in a demonstration) then try to get that Master to teach you.
I will describe what I am talking about for those who have not seen this demonstration before; it is the remnant of a long lost ability to infuse the skin with enough chi to be impervious to edged weapons that was once possessed supposedly by the ancients. I would do the stunt the same way each time; perform the breathing set behind closed doors to prepare and then, like in the old photo above, I would come out and lie down between two chairs supported by my feet and my head and shoulders; the solar plexus would actually be suspended and floating between the chairs which is part of the trick, allowing the body to move and absorb the force of the blow to come. Then I would be handed either a meat-cleaver or a machete, which is all I ever tried it with but I suppose you could use anything that is large and sturdy with a single edge. The assistant would demonstrate the sharpness of the blade by chopping an apple in half or even better would be something larger like a melon.
I would place the instrument blade down on my chest, centered over the solar plexus and hold it firmly by the handle and the non-sharpened edge of the instrument being used. Then the assistant would take a crowbar or other type of metal bar or pipe and strike the back of the blade, driving it into the body of the practitioner. There are a couple of “tricks” that make this very dangerous stunt possible, similar to taking blows from a sledgehammer to the body. I won’t outline them here; suffice to say that even with the “tricks” these types of stunts require a high degree of strength and skill from the demonstrator, regardless.
I did manage to get cut twice while performing this stunt and both times it is because the blow was hard enough to dislodge the blade from my supporting hand; once cutting my chest right over the liver and the other time it bounced off my body and cut my hand. I still have an area of scar tissue just under my rib-cage you can feel when you dig in. I will chronicle more stories of Iron Body on the Little Nine Heaven page.
While this time in my life was a lot of fun, I got into a lot of trouble with some pretty evil characters, barely escaping prison or death many times. Some of these stories are recounted on the Chen page but the darkest will be on the Instructor page.