Mt. Wudang — Where I Found Home and Healing

Multiple people, when they learned that I was going to a taichi school in the sacred land of Daoist martial arts — Wudang — for 6 months, asked me to keep a blog documenting my life there, saying that it would make for an interesting read, as it’s not everyday you meet someone who does such an unconventional thing. I did as they asked, except I’ve kept all my entries private, not really sure how to organize them or if the stuff I wrote was what people wanted to read. I journaled consistently mainly for my own well-being, to keep a record of how I was progressing, what things I was learning, how I was growing.

But I still wanted to write something to share with people, because I consider my time there one of the best in my life, and when you experience something good you naturally want to share it.

I wrote this when I was still in Wudang, right before I was to leave at my 4-month mark. I am on the 6-month program, so I still have to go back to complete my final two months.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with a condition of the spine that the top rheumatologists in the Philippines said was incurable. I thought, “They could very well be right, but I’m not going to sit on my ass and accept a lifetime of pain and a reliance on medications. I want to at least do something.”

So that’s what brought me to Wudang. It is my second time here. The first time was in 2015 for a month. That one month alone did more to alleviate my condition than 3 years of physical therapy. I also met the sweetest, kindest, most amazing people I’d ever met in my life.

I’ve been in China many times and visited more than 20 cities/towns. Of all of them, Wudang is the one that feels like home. When people ask me about my life here, I tell them that many “bests” happened for me in this place. If home is a feeling, and I believe it is, I found real home amongst the people here. I remember on my first trip up Mt. Wudang, halfway to the Golden Peak, I stood on a stone terrace and looked out at the majestic mountains on the horizon, one fading behind another, their peaks all bowing in the same direction. The whole scene was so beautiful it looked like a painting.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is something sacred here in Wudang. If indeed this is the birthplace of taichi, then this place must be infused with the collective healing energy of those who had done taichi from generations past, and perhaps just being here, steeping oneself in all this energy is enough to activate a momentum of self-healing in the body, like a wheel pushed down a gentle slope that keeps rolling down on its own.

I love that the town is small, so small that you inevitably run into the same people on your trips to get groceries and the occasional Chinese-style burger. This is not a place littered with cafes and restaurants and disco bars. There is no nightlife. So it’s not a surprise that a lot of the people from distant lands who do come to this out-of-the-way town, which for most is only a name they've heard from movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Karate Kid, are the people who are lost and need to find themselves, or are feeling out of kilter and in need of re-centering. Every person who comes through the doors of this school has an interesting story to tell, and I always want to sit down with them one on one, listen to them share what has brought them here, whereabouts in life they have come from, and whereabouts they would like to go. I want to ask them about what motivates them, what gets them out of bed in the morning, what dreams they are working towards.

The people you meet in this place are all seekers of some kind. They have come here because something has called them here, and they have heeded that call. They are driven by something greater than themselves, greater than the collective voice of society. Not one will tell you they are content to sit in an office slaving away at a humdrum job from 9 to 5 in a slow death. We are all looking for that “something more”, wanting to go through life with our senses fully awake to every beauty, every pain, every sadness, every touching moment of triumph. We want to truly live. And kung fu and taichi are our vehicles for doing that. I have never felt as happy or as free as during my four months here.

Having said that, life here is not a bed of roses. Training is not a walk in the park, especially not for me. When I arrived, I was still quite weak. We would do walking kicks across the court and I would kick with all my might that each kick left me exhausted. And still, I had such low energy and such poor flexibility that it looked on the outside like I was not even trying. I hated feeling weak. I hated that no matter how hard I tried, I was always the last one in the group. But I had to learn to accept that we’re all different. I was improving, just not at the same pace as the others, and that was okay. I appreciate that here there is no competition between the students, only support and encouragement. During our winter morning warm-ups, it was the encouragement of my fellow students that enabled me to keep running when I thought I was on the verge of face-planting on the pavement from exhaustion.

Still, the question: Can I really heal myself with taichi? I don’t know. Only time will tell. I will keep practicing it, perhaps for the rest of my life. I love that there is no such thing as perfection in this art. But even if it didn’t fully heal my physical condition, I still would not consider my days here a waste. Medication was an absolute gift when I needed it; it restored some normalcy into my life by giving me enough strength to work again, first part-time, and then gradually increasing to full-time. But like I said, I do not want to resign myself to a life dependent on medication. As far as my spinal condition goes, I have made equal, if not more, progress in 2 years of practicing taichi than 4 years on medication. I can now do things that for years I could not do, like push-ups and planks and running and splits (or attempts at splits:P) and carrying a backpack when traveling. And at the time of this writing, it is 20 weeks (and counting) since my last dose of Enbrel, the longest interval since I started it. My previous record was 6 weeks. Knock on wood.

So maybe the doctors were not wrong that AS is incurable, not fully. But if I can get halfway there, which means I have to take much better care of myself than the average person and I can’t eat that luscious, silky chocolate tart and I cannot ever be lazy with exercise and stretching and taichi, but I am functional and able to work and completely off medication and nobody can tell I have any kind of spinal condition, then that, for me, is a cause for celebration.