This is an article I wrote in 1995. I still think it contains some excellent ideas and I hope you will read it through and think about it.
I have a personal challenge for you and it involves youth, but first I want to give you some background so you’ll understand what this challenge is about.
It’s 1967 and I’m going to kill myself! I’m 24 years old, a television director, engaged to a beautiful person, and I decide to kill myself. Besides the aforementioned, I’m also in debt, hate my job, can’t relate to my fiance, have no vision for the future, and I have no one I can talk to. I’m lost, so I plan to do the only thing I know how to do, to get out of a life that isn’t working.
You see, when I was 8 years old, my mother killed herself. Her life wasn’t working the way she thought it should, like mine, so why not take the easy way out. People tell me that there is a great chance that if a parent commits suicide, one of its offsprings will also. My sister ended her own life at the same age my mother did and left a son who was the same age I was when my mother died. My other sister also ended her life at a later age, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s true.
As I said, I had no one to talk to about my problems. My father was a well respected pediatrician who gave at the office – his love and caring I mean. He didn’t know how to relate to his family, and after the death of my mother, left us to raise ourselves. He didn’t physically leave us, but certainly did emotionally. When I was growing up, I was president of every class and school I went to. I was good in sports, was a champion debater, and generally, a nice kid. Never once in my life did my father say “I’m proud of you”. He only corrected mistakes. We never went anywhere together as a family, never took vacations together, never went to movies, nothing. My father had his room, I had my room, my two sisters had their room. After a tense dinner that was eaten in record time, we all retreated to our own rooms to watch T.V. When I was old enough to drive, I got a car and went out every night with friends and drove around. If I wanted, I stayed out all night. There was nobody to check on me.
To some people, especially young people, all that freedom sounded good. Some of my friend’s parents were quite strict and those friends envied me. I envied them for having parents who cared enough to make them do homework or just to be in the house together.
So there it was, 1967, and I was going to kill myself. I wasn’t afraid, but I said to myself, “If I’m going to die, I might as well have some fun first”. So I bought an around the world airline ticket and took off with the intention of killing myself when the time presented itself.
As fate had in store for me, I met a wonderful person when I was in Spain, who turned me on to life and the joys of living. I fell in love. It was short and sweet and somehow opened my eyes to the possibility that I could actually enjoy my life. I wasn’t yet sure how, but the possibility was there. I went back to San Francisco to restart my life. In 1968, San Francisco was the place to get a new life. I was open to anything and tried just about everything. It was late in 1968 when I met Master Choy Kam-man. He was giving a demonstration of one of the most beautiful forms of movement I had ever seen. It turned out to be Tai Chi Chuan. Back in 1968, not many people knew what Tai Chi was. It was mysterious and somehow mystical, and appealed to a deep place inside of me. I immediately started taking classes and my life was soon on track.
Master Choy was a quiet man with a warm smile. His English wasn’t perfect but his Tai Chi was.I devoted myself to learning this art and was rewarded by encouragement from Master Choy. He was a living example of the benefits of Tai Chi practice. He didn’t earn much money from his classes, yet always managed to take a group of us out to his favorite restaurant after his Saturday class. His small Chinatown apartment was full to overflowing with a wife, four children, their friends, an army of stray dogs and cats that had somehow found their way into the group, plus many of Master Choy’s students who would drop by for a chat! If Master Choy needed to be alone, he would retreat to his darkroom (an old closet). Wow.
Master Choy helped many of us at that time. The calm, relaxing exercises enabled us to center and get healthy. The philosophy was simple. Calm your body and mind and you’ll soon be able to see what there is to see. On the blackboard of the room was written Master Choy’s philosophy of life. I will never forget it and try my best to incorporate it into my life. It said “Respect your teacher, observe the rules, and live your life with truth and righteousness.”
In 1973, Master Choy certified me to teach, and I went to Tucson to start my career. I have been teaching ever since. Tai Chi gave me a focus in my life and the gentle exercises aided me through the most difficult period of my life. All of this is background to my challenge.
For the last 21 years, it has been my practice to teach anybody high school age or younger for free. So, this is my challenge. I personally challenge you to do better than me in working with todays youth and doing it without charge. I challenge you to devote at least a few hours a month to sharing the skills and talents that you have developed, with our youth. No matter what you do, I know you have something you can share that will help the young people get ahead and help them to find more satisfaction in their lives. Let me tell you more about how this works for me.
Before 1991, I tried to integrate the kids into my adult classes, since it is mostly adults that are interested in Tai Chi. That didn’t work very well. The kids learned much more quickly then the adults and would soon be bored. The adults would feel like they had learning problems because it was so much more difficult for them to pick up. So in 1991, I started offering special classes after school just for kids. Anyone can come, stay as long as they like, and leave when they want. At first I was reluctant to do a whole class just for high school kids. I had heard many negative stories of our youth, and had the impression that most kids were poorly motivated, lacked discipline, and had little or no respect for their teachers. I was very surprised by how it has turned out.
The classes with the kids have been some of my most rewarding. There seems to be a certain type of youth especially drawn to Tai Chi. They are the ones who almost never participate in school sports programs. They are usually not aggressive and not very competitive. They tend to be quiet and more introspective then the average student. Most tend to play musical instruments, hang out with a few chosen friends, and do recreational drugs.When I started the classes, I let the students know that I didn’t want them to do drugs before class and preferably, not at any time. My experience is that once an individual starts to feel good about him or herself, their drug and alcohol use is naturally dropped.
There was one student who I knew was into drugs. After class I took him and a friend aside and asked him point blank if he did drugs. The other student and I watched as his face went through many changes as he tried to decide whether to tell me or not. He answered no. At that point I started laughing (his friend joined in) at his lame attempt to conceal his actions. He ended up joining us in a good laugh at his own expense. At this point he decided I could probably see through his lies, so he gave up trying. He became one of my best students, leading many of his friends to the class, with the warning to them not to lie to me as I could read minds.
I have had many success stories in the 21 years I’ve been teaching youth for free. A few years ago, one of my early students ended up winning the world’s championship in Tai Chi Push Hands held in China. At 16 she had shown up to one of my classes after having been abandoned by an older man who had brought her to Tucson, where I was teaching at the time. She was very athletic and intelligent, but had dropped out of high school because she was bored. She spent a solid year going to all my classes and ended up teaching and has continued for 14 years.
I have had students as young as 9, but the youngest to carry through with her studies was 13. She had never attended school, and like the world’s champion, was very intelligent, creative, co-ordinated, and not drawn to attend regular school. She came to all my classes, studied diligently, and was teaching adults at the age of 14! She was the youngest Tai Chi teacher I have ever heard of. She ended up going to college and now teaches developmentally handicapped kids.
In classes, I always try to get the students to help each other learn. They are usually reluctant in the beginning to learn from people their own age, but soon find out that it is actually easier and more fun to be the student one moment and the teacher the next. I’m sure that many of the kids never thought they could teach and find out that they actually really enjoy it.
I had a young man in one of my classes who was born in Viet Nam. He was an excellent student and learned easily and quickly. I asked him what he wanted to do when he got out of high school and he said “teach”. His English was spoken with quite an accent and he was very soft spoken. I had some doubts about his ability to teach a group. He was a leader for most of the people in the class. They went to him with questions and he very naturally assumed a leadership role. He gradually gained confidence in himself and as he did, he spoke more clearly and with greater volume. I have no doubts now as to his ability to be quite an inspirational teacher in the future.
A couple of years ago, I decided to get the other martial arts teachers interested in my idea. I set up a scholarship fund to support youth’s involvement in the martial arts. I wanted to reach out to the community to help with supporting young people in the martial arts. I contacted all the martial arts instructors in the area and asked if they would like to participate in a special day called ” Give Youth a Chance”. It consisted of two parts. The first section was demonstrations by instructors and students from all the schools in the area. This event was free, and my idea was to allow parents and kids to realistically see what the martial arts are, how they are similar and different, and meet the various instructors and their students. At this time, if people wanted, they could donate money to the scholarship fund.
The second part was a series of classes given by each instructor. Each school would have one half hour to work with whomever wanted to participate. That way people could experience what participation in the martial arts actually involved. There was a small fee for doing the workshops. All instructors gave freely of there time and all proceeds went to the Youth Scholarship Fund. The day was a resounding success. We had over 300 people attend and, in our small community, that was a good percentage.
My next project for kids was a massage workshop. Many kids expressed a desire to learn more about the body, how to take care of it, help others, and feel comfortable touching others. Thinking back on my growing up in the 50’s, I thought it was a very good idea. We had a week-end workshop where the participants learned how the body was put together and could actually feel muscles and bones, tension and release, for themselves. We studied charts and then worked with others. I was a bit apprehensive about the whole class, imagining giggles, smart remarks, and other unforeseen problems. I was so happy and proud of the kids that participated. There were no problems at all.They all showed interest and maturity in their touching and being touched by others of their own age. It really gave me hope and made me realize that the youth of today is much more mature then we were at their age when I was growing up. A couple of students even expressed a desire for a career in massage therapy which could be a good choice.
So I repeat my challenge to you. Get involved with the youth and support them 100% and you won’t be disappointed. If I can do it, you can do it. Everybody has some skills or knowledge that he or she can share with todays youth. We always hear that the future is in the kids hands. I think that the future is in our hands. We must get involved and be good examples for others. Don’t be afraid of failing. Every attempt brings its rewards. Each time we do something, we learn how to do it better. We can not leave the education of youth only to the schools. I have never had children or been around them much. I just followed my heart, watched the kids, and shared with them the activities that I do best. We all will benefit in the long run, but more then that, we will all learn about ourselves right now.
Come on. I challenge you to do better than me. This is one challenge I wouldn’t mind losing.