When I first met Master Park, I already had over seven years of Chinese martial arts (Shaolin Long Fist, Tai Ji, Xing Yi Quan, and Ba Gua Zhang) under my belt. I was the highest ranked student under my first teacher and was helping to run his school teaching for him. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the best known instructors throughout the country. I took what was useful to enhance my understanding and improve my practice.
I figured I was pretty good. I was practicing Ba Gua Zhang for about four years at the time and it was quickly becoming my favorite. In fact, I had made the connections and arrangements to move to China so I could “get closer to the root” of this style and learn all there is to learn.
In the same year, I received a flyer about a master who only studied Ba Gua Zhang for the last 35 years (at the time). This was unheard of, as anyone else I had known about also practiced Tai Ji and Xing Yi. I took a seminar in the Spring of 1991 and soon learned of a special “instructor training” Ba Gua class being planned to start in the Fall in Baltimore, MD. I held off on the move to China.
In my first class in Baltimore with Master Park, his senior student, Shifu Glen Moore, told me it was a twelve month initial commitment to become a student. Well, my first reaction was, “How could I commit to twelve months coming from 3 1/2 hours away and knowing so little about this teacher?” I wasn’t comfortable making such a commitment.
Shifu Moore turned to discuss it with Master Park (who’s English was quite poor at the time) and the response was something like, “Go back to New Jersey.” In my case his comment really hit home. He didn’t care. It was his way or the highway. I quickly signed.
It didn’t take long for him to show me he was the real thing though. Once when he told me to throw a punch at him, he moved in on me so fast that it was as if he had disappeared and reappeared in a position that I had virtually no control in. I was completely vulnerable, and the look in his eyes showed he meant business – it was as if he had become the Terminator, with no emotion, no distraction. It was as if his thoughts were, “One false move and you’re finished!”
Another time he moved in and hit me six times in less than a second. How did I know it was six times? Because there were six places on my body that were buzzing from the strikes – each a vulnerable target!
For years training up to six hours per day and the weekly travels to Baltimore were resulting in substantial expenses and lost income. My employer, my parents, and friends couldn’t understand and thought I was crazy. Relationships suffered and there was no social life. But it was a small price to pay to train with a true master of Ba Gua Zhang. What I have learned is priceless.
Originally published August, 2004