Commitment and the future

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…


  1. Yup I agree with the need to focus. I have been fortunate enough to find good teachers recently (yoga and CMA). Your entry just reminded me to sieze the opportunity, focus and learn as much as I can from them.


  2. No, no, no!
    No illusions, please. You won’t be qualified to teach anything after 1 year professional training, as you only can master so much in one year, never mind the hrs you put into. You would have great problems keeping students (only in the West anyway), you would feel prostituting yourself for the money you ask for, you will loose the quality in your MAs quickly and you will come back to Asia sooner than later.

    You still got some time, do the layman thing, work at university, try to reduce hrs (I’m down to 10hrs a week starting Sept.), try to make a fixed commitment to train a certain amount of hrs., make those as important as work. And find romance in one of those areas, hehe!

    I’ve been there and done that. Now I try to get a balance in working, training, writing on MAs, organic gardening, wife and dog, lol!

    It can be done, I’m very optimistic!
    And I will teach for the room-rent-fee only, when I retire, hopefully with 55. 5 more to go!


  3. @Kim You’re in Singapore, right? Who are you training with?

    @Yiming Hehehehe, ouch, that’s harsh! Well, I’m going to stick with the aim of teaching. Maybe it’ll be possible, maybe not, but I want to have a target that I can at least aspire to… And I didn’t say what I planned to do afterwards – I probably wouldn’t be going back west 🙂


  4. Hi Emlyn,

    Yoga: Teacher at Amore
    She is really good. Her instructions are clear and explicit. Opening of the Kua, outward rotation of the thigh muscles, proper alignment of the knees, using the breath to aid in the asanas, relaxation in every asana. I must say that if I had not taken lessons from her, I would not have been able to follow the movements taught by Master Zhou.

    CMA: Master Zhou
    I was doing Ba Gua for a very short time at Chi Life Studio when the teacher returned to Beijing. I wanted to continue with Ba Gua so I contacted Master Zhou after I read about him from your entries. There was no news from him for a while, then he contacted me out of the blue recently. I nearly missed the opportunity to learn from him because he asked for a Mister and I told him he called the wrong number. Thank goodness he identified himself.

    He is excellent. I wish my grasp of Mandarin was better though (getting there I hope). And here, I thank you for your recommendation. 🙂


  5. Hi Emlyn,

    Not sure if the previous comment went through. Short answer is:
    – yes, I am in Singapore
    – Master Zhou for CMA (Ba gua) and
    – a lady yoga teacher from a women’s only fitness gym
    Master Zhou is very good. Thank you for recommending him on your blog.


    1. Hi Kim,

      That’s cool. I’m really glad you enjoy training with Master Zhou – could you say hi to him from me? He was back in China for a while, but I didn’t find out until after he’d returned to Singapore, otherwise I might have gone down to Shanghai to train with him. Are you learning the same form that I did, the wuji dragon form?


  6. Hi Emlyn,

    Ok I will tell him that you said hi. I am learning “Lao Ba Zhang”. I am a beginner so it’s probably the basic set. Don’t think it’s the same as the wuji dragon form. 🙂


  7. Hi Emlyn,

    Master Zhou asks after you. “Emlyn” did not register with him so I described where you are currently located and he mentioned a Chinese name and that you tried to locate him while he was in Shanghai. On that basis, I think he and I should be on the same wavelength.

    In any case, he wants me to let you know that he has a new mobile (Singapore) number. I think you should have it – it’s posted on his website as a response to my enquiry (starts with 8).



  8. @Kim Hehehe, yes, sorry, I forgot to tell you that he knows me by my Chinese name, Yun Fei. I’ll be back in Singapore later this summer for a short visit, so perhaps we can meet up…


  9. Hi Emlyn,

    Yup, he said “Yun Fei”. Ok, we can meet up – subject to your schedule since I guess it would be packed to the gills on your short visit here. 🙂


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