Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Year of the Tiger, Day 7

As a nod to the culture and customs of Shaolin which Wifeness and I honor, Wayfarer House celebrates the lunar New Year every year. This year the start of the new year came on February 14, a Sunday, which in any other year would have been perfect. This particular year, however, Wifeness and I were in the middle of a vacation of sorts and decided that, although it is important to us to share this tradition with our chosen family, it was just going to have to take second place to some much needed grown-up time.

I wrote last year about what the holiday means to us and how we celebrate it. This year, I thought I’d take a little bit of space to explain why we give tribute to the day, and to Shaolin.

Before we settled in western Massachusetts, Wifeness and I lived in Las Vegas. The reasons for this are a story in itself, but suffice it to say that it was there that we were introduced to Sifu Steven Baugh and Shaolin martial arts. Actually, Uncle Bubba gets credit for this. He was the one who, almost on a whim, decided he wanted to take a t’ai chi class. He brought me along a couple of weeks later, and I was hooked. How it was that I had gone my whole life to that point not knowing anything about t’ai chi I don’t know, but once it came into my consciousness, it honestly felt like I had come home.

The teacher of the class (in Chinese, they’re often called Sifu, or “father”) also held kung fu classes informally in his garage, and it wasn’t long before I branched out into that world as well. Wifeness joined me after a while (I think she was wondering where I was spending all my time) and, together, we became actively involved in learning as much as we could about what Sifu had to teach us. We also realized that we, as older members of this small and close-knit group, had a lot to offer. We taught classes, helped organize trips and, as the number of students grew beyond what he was able to accommodate in his small house, we talked with Sifu about what he wanted to do next.

It wasn’t a secret that he wanted to start a true martial arts school. In fact, it had been tried once before during our time but, for a variety of reasons, it had problems getting off the ground. We sat down with him one evening after class and asked him what he truly wanted. The exact wording is buried deep in my memory now but, in essence, it came down to this: He wanted a school that was dedicated to the preservation and revival of Shaolin practices. He wanted to show that the study of Shaolin arts had meaning in today’s world. He wanted to do more than just teach martial arts. He wanted to educate people about a life without artificial stimulations, drugs or medications. He wanted to show people how to be fit, and to help them learn to be in touch with themselves. He wanted to show people the possibility of a life filled with a continual sense of discovery. He wanted to create an outreach program to work with at-risk youth. He wanted people to know Shaolin was about community.

His vision of a school that was so much more than school truly touched us. As we talked together that night about how it might come about, it became clear that Wifeness and I had the skills to get his dream started. We knew first-hand of the value of our Sifu’s teachings, so the decision to make the offer to set things in motion was an easy one. Together with a core group of supporters, we helped establish a non-profit organization, the Lohan School of Shaolin, to make the school official. Sifu continued to attract students, and we worked with him to broaden the school’s presence in the community. As a school, we held classes and demonstrations in Chinatown, casinos and community centers. We established business contacts all over the city and in California. Sifu added lion dance to the school’s repertoire. In the three years before we left Las Vegas, the Lohan School grew incredibly fast, and it’s still growing today.

Wifeness and I will always be incredibly grateful for all that Sifu has given to us. He gave me, personally, a sense of what spirituality should be. He taught me that life deserves to be lived with purpose, and that there is no more greater purpose than to be dedicated to a life of service to others. It is to honor Sifu, Shaolin and the principles of the Lohan School that we celebrate as we do.

Gung hay fat choy!

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