Robert Twigger’s book, Angry White Pyjamas, is an old favourite of mine. I read, and re-read, it many times back in the period when I was starting to feel stifled in the small mid-Wales town where I spent much of my twenties.
In the book, he relates how he was working as an English teacher in Japan, about to turn thirty, out of shape, and going nowhere fast. His response was to sign up for a year-long intensive Aikido course with the Tokyo riot police, which would get him out of his rut, get him in shape, and qualify him as an instructor. Reading that book – along with watching The Matrix – is probably what got me back into studying taijiquan. It also got me thinking about my own imminent thirtieth birthday, and what was happening in my own life.
A couple of years later, I was in Asia. A lot has happened since then, and I’m now contemplating my fortieth birthday.
Twigger, who now lives in Cairo, has his own blog, and I’ve just read his latest post: How Much Talent Do You Have?. It’s interesting enough, but he stops just when he reaches the most important point:
The main thing is: practise as if your life depends on it. The original impulse to learn is a survival instinct. You learn in order to survive better. Therefore if you can con yourself somehow that your very survival is at stake then you will learn very much faster. One way is to do it intensively, focusing to the exclusion of everything else.
That’s the hard part, though. I was discussing this with S. recently: it’s very difficult to study martial arts and meditation seriously and commit yourself to your job and have a successful romantic relationship. There just isn’t enough time and energy to do them all well. Something’s got to give, and for most people it has to be the martial arts and meditation because they, we, put a very high value on having a job and being part of a couple. It’s very hard indeed to walk away from those.
I had the opportunity to do it, a few years ago. I had a lot of savings and didn’t need to work – but I opted to go back to grad school for my MBA instead.
Still, the idea has popped into my mind again. As I’ve mentioned, I have been doing a bit of research out in the Chinese countryside, looking into how mobile phones and the internet could be used to help rural development. However, though I set out to see if we geeks could help the farmers become more like us, I find myself wondering whether we shouldn’t be seeking to become more like them. After all, they can feed themselves, and if the internet vanished tomorrow, it wouldn’t hurt them: they have the skills to survive. I, on the other hand, would be screwed. I’m an e-commerce guy; what other valuable skills do I have that could be traded for food and shelter once peak oil arrives, and the internet has to compete with other essential energy needs? Fortunately, the day won’t come for a while yet, so I have time to prepare.
I’m thinking, as a result, of emulating Twigger. I could work one more year, save more money, and then switch to part-time work that would cover food and rent. Then, I could spend a year training hard, almost full-time, in yiquan, baguazhang, qigong and Chan meditation. The aim would be to be qualified to teach by the end of that year. I could also get some basic grounding in TCM. I wonder if anyone would pay me to write a book about it…