You walk down the path leading to the pond. Hundreds of red and gold leaves spin from the trees, joining the amber decay beneath you. You stop, listen, expecting to hear sounds light rain might make, and are amazed that anything descending in such profusion could alight in silence. It is late autumn in Michigan, a color wheel flashing through its red zone, the approaching winter signaled in every mantling transformation.
Breathe. This is a world you can smell. When you reach the bottom you will put your nose in it. Careful. Knees might be a little stiff from last night's classes. Down the steep, uneven, brick steps winding among the elms you step through a gateless, rusted fence to the grassy floor surrounding the pond. You approach the water and toads leap from nowhere, disappearing in a murky stillness. Some now wait near the water's surface, their eyes onyx seeds fixed on the sun.
A soft wind stirs the tree's high branches and seems to clear the way to a rigid blue sky. You are overcome by this clean and glistening morning. The air itself seems an untouched lens.
Breath in. Breath out. There may never again be a day such as this. Nothing is promised. You shudder. You have crept like a trespasser into a gallery of light. Go to your knees to mix the scents with your blood. Between your fingers you grind a nugget of soil and hold it to your nose, craving the loud signature of earth.
Breathe. Sink. The lengthening of your back twists your arms before your chest. The whole body is the fist, said the ancients. Now you understand. The whole body is a universe. You have learned the slow lessons. Connecting the dots between the stars.
Sink. Relax. What does it mean-releasing that which you imagine gives you weight and definition? Something much stronger holds you together. Listen. An energy, light and silent, travels within you. You say, "Bend your legs deeply," and you do so. You say, "Open your back to unfurl an elbow," and you do so. You can. Do not take this operation-the opening movement of da baji-for granted. It represents the focus of your adult life, the whole of your kung fu contained within it.
Morning after morning. Week by week. And year by year. You walked to your place in a park to practice alone, believing, perhaps naively, that someday you could show beautiful art. You practiced like a robot. The hard, brittle repetitions of machinery. You hadn't the imagination to relax, to breathe. To even notice the lush greenery surrounding the small park. A whole life can go by like this, so little observed.
You twist your entire body upon the axis of your right leg, one arm circles your left leg, palm up, directed behind your spine, your other arm winds before you, completing an unbroken line. A breeze deflects off a low figure. The leg holds.
You are coiled, and in a mistless world. This is your chance. Breathe. The hawks are circling. And now you are moving again. Stomp hard into the damp earth for compression. The spring is set. Now release, to fill your elbow with your body. The whole body is the fist. This is the instant of creation.
Something here makes sense. In a world so perplexing you are, if only for a moment, where it seems you were meant to be. And now you are still again. Breath in. Breath out. You are a practitioner of the war arts. Granted the blessing of peace.