When going back into my past to offer up an ideal of my childhood, I wish I could conjure up images of a secluded Buddhist temple on a high misty mountain, where kung fu training happens, and monks walk around great golden shrines chanting about enlightenment, and that I had been handed down the secrets of immortality by the veneration of the past. -But this was not my story. As a child, meditation was a time when I couldn’t bother my father. It was a small barrier of time when the door was closed. Our secluded temple, I mean our three bedroom ranch in Las Vegas, was home to immigrant parents from Hong Kong and a first generation American toddler (that’s me of course).
My dad was a blackjack dealer and my mother was a cocktail waitress at a casino. So far as I can recall, my memory keeps offering me up images of my father holding postures, partially unclothed, and sweating; they were brief glimpses of a practice that was intended to be behind closed doors. I didn’t know what he was doing in his underwear; I was told by mother that he was exercising and not to bother him. Once I was trying to spy on him through the crack between the door and the carpet; to get a better view I slowly opened the door to a small sliver, yet big enough for an eye to see. I thought I was doing some amazing ninja skills until he said, “No”, to which I responded by an immediate closing of the door.
My mother kept a large collection of family photos that she stored in a big plastic bin. I always loved digging through them. There are a number of photos of my dad doing kung fu poses in Hong Kong. Later during my teens I started taking kung fu classes at a community college.
Despite my heart and dedication towards practicing, I felt that my skills were not where they should be. Our instructor was a burly ex-construction worker with a six foot something frame. With his long strong arms, I felt I needed an edge to survive his barrage of punches during sparring time. I remembered those pictures of my dad doing kung fu and asked him if he would teach me the meditation to make me stronger. He said that it would be hard and that I would have to do it everyday for 100 days. He also told me:
- No sex
- No drugs
- No alcohol
I eventually broke two of the rules. In hindsight, I think the two abuses were a way for me to cope with being unpopular with the girls, or perhaps unpopular in general. I did maintain the great task of doing the meditation everyday for about three years, even when I was living in the dorms with a roommate in college. It must have been weird to open the door to see me standing in my underwear with my hands reaching out like I was hugging an imaginary person. I knew my roommate from high school; he was a good sport about it. Meditation during my formative years was largely about my ego and self esteem. I hoped that meditation practice would make me more confident.
My father’s explanation about the meditation wasn’t in depth. I didn’t even know what the name was. He had said it was tai chi, but I took a tai chi class in college, and it had no resemblance to it at all. He taught me the postures and the movements. He told me to put the tip of the tongue on the top of the roof of my mouth behind the teeth. I questioned if I was able to feel chi, but I kept practicing as it was an avenue to feel connected to my father and the exercise made me physically stronger. My father also told me that he paid a lot of money to learn it, so I felt obligated to keep up the practice. -plus it made me feel special.
In my 30s I had stopped practicing the meditation. Life got busy and other interests grew. It wasn’t until 2015 when I was YouTubing at work, that I came across a video in where I recognized some of these postures that I had been practicing for so many years. It was an amazing moment for me. Finally, some answers for a mysterious practice that I carried on for years! I learned that this is known to many as Iron Shirt Chi Kung and had eight main postures.
- Embracing the Tree
- Holding the Golden Urn Yang
- Holding the Golden Urn Yin
- The Golden Turtle
- The Water Buffalo
- The Golden Phoenix Washes its Feathers
- The Iron Bridge
- The Iron Bar
There were some differences, most notably that there was a science to moving energy inside your body. Sadly, I could not share my new found discovery with my father. My father had passed away twelve years ago while I was in my graduate program, which I had to postpone to be with him during his passing. He had Hepatitis B, which gave him liver cancer. He stopped practicing his iron shirt for many decades, which I often wonder how he would have been if he hadn’t stopped.
Now with this new information I started practicing Iron Shirt Chi Kung following the online instructions from Mantak Chia. Until this time in my life, I never realized how much Iron Shirt has been in and out of my life. When this meditation came back to me my body, mind, and spirit were not in a good place. Physically, my back was having a lot of issues that needed chiropractic work. My Sacroiliac Joint would get locked up during long hours of sitting or standing in front of a computer screen. My eyes started going near sighted and were often tired. Mentally and emotionally I was prone to being grumpy and tired. This often left me alone in bed all day. Spiritually I felt lost and life had been gradually losing its meaning. Meditation for me today means a source of salvation. This is one of the reasons why I started this website.