In the 1960s and 1970s, I was very involved in martial arts. I studied several forms of karate (kenpo, shorinjo-ryu, gojo-ryu), judo, aikido. I studied wing-chun kung-fu with a student of Bruce Lee. After some years, my primary practice was tai chi chuan. This was not the slow and gentle tai chi "for health" - this was the martial art tai chi, with practice with opponents where you throw each other around the room at high speed, and weapons forms.
My teacher was a Taoist master named Chu. He had studied under Yang Chen Fu, one of the most noted Chinese martial artists of the 20th century. Sifu Chu was in his late 60s - early 70s, a small man, slightly built. He had a cheerful, charismatic presence, but when he wished he could "veil" himself, and become unnoticeable, almost invisible. (This may be a mystical attainment, although very, very good waiters do achieve the same ability.)
Since I was taller and heavier than most of his other students, Sifu Chu would use me as "dummy", to demonstrate techniques. Although I weighed about 230 lbs, and he weighed barely 110, he could with one hand throw me 30 feet through the air. He would tell me, "You punch at my head - really punch, no faking. I will demonstrate." I would give it my very best shot - and I would be sailing across the room, thinking, "this is amazing..." After I had studied with Chu for a year, I knew the technique he used to do it - but in all the time I was with him, whenever he threw me, I never once felt him touch me when he did it.
Every class I took with Sifu Chu, at some point he would come up to me and say, "Your form is very good, but your heart is weak. You should improve your heart." Two or three or four times a week, he would tell me this, for several years. I kept expecting him to tell me some special Taoist breathing practice or meditation exercise for it, but all he would tell me was, "Heart is weak. You should improve heart."
Several years of this went by. I became one of the senior students. I would come early to classes to make sure the room was clean, the floor swept. One evening, master Chu showed up almost 20 minutes before the class. Chu had always arrived exactly on time, but would enter the hall unnoticed, and after about five minutes exclaim to us, "Why are you not practicing?" This day, he was early, unprecedented!
He came over to me and said, "I have found a practice to improve your heart. Come with me." He gripped my arm and led me out the door. We walked some way, and came to an empty storefront, with a "For Rent" sign in the window.
Chu said, "In my evening walk yesterday, I saw a group here doing a practice that would improve your heart." Then, he led me back to our practice hall (where we arrived exactly on time for class).
I spent a day or so playing phone tag with the rental agent, and finally found out that a sufi group had rented the storefront space for one evening for a zikr circle. I knew nothing of sufis or what they did, but at least I had the name of the group and a phone number. When I got to tai chi practice that night, I wanted to tell Sifu Chu what I had found out, but he waved my words away and said, "I have an important announcement!". The class gathered round him, and Chu told us that he was going to take a vacation. We all thought that was a great idea, and asked what he would do on his vacation. He said that he wanted to visit some mountains, and someone had told him that Colorado had very good mountains, so he would go to Colorado. We asked how long his vacation would be, and he told us, "Two weeks."
Two weeks went by. We met again for class, and master Chu did not appear. Concerned, we walked together as a group to his apartment. It was empty. There was no forwarding address.
We had let Sifu Chu go to the mountains, and he was gone without a trace. "Cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown". All I had was his instruction to improve my heart, and the name of a sufi group. I tracked them down, and began to attend circles of zikr.
Three years later, I received an excited call from one of the members of Sifu Chu's old class. Walking through San Francisco's Chinatown, they had recognized one of Chu's grandaughters on the street. They rushed through traffic, and asked her, "Where is master Chu?" She had given them an address in Los Angeles.
I flew to Los Angeles. Of course there was no phone number, so I just went to the address. Came up to the apartment door in a high rise, and knocked. The door opened, and it was Sifu Chu. He looked at me and instantly said, "Ah! Heart much improved!" After some conversation, he told me, "I have retired now. You keep doing this practice - better for your heart."
The sufis put up with me coming to zikrs. After a while, I began to notice that all the great sufi saints had Muslim names. After 4-5 years of doing zikr regularly, a shaykh in Cairo asked me, "Wouldn't you agreee, la illaha il allah?". I said, "Certainly". He then asked me, "Wouldn't you agree, Muhammad rasuulullah?" *. I replied, "He was observed minutely for decades by both friends and bitter enemies. If he was a fraud, or if he was deluded, it surely would have been noted. Since even his enemies could not find evidence against it, the only possible conclusion is, he was indeed a prophet." The shaykh told me, "Then, you are a Muslim. You need to learn more - insh'allah, God will make it easy for you to learn." (He never asked me about what I believed; just about what I was willing to publicly agree to.)
I never saw Sifu Chu again after that meeting in 1979. Letters were returned marked "no forwarding address". No one ever ran into any of his family. Gone, no trace. That's my experience with a Taoist master.
I've kept doing zikrullah. Better for my heart.
Wa Allalho 'Alim!
As-Salaamo Aleykum, wa Rahmatullah, wa Barakata Hu!
- Contribution by Rashid Patch, as shared on Chishtiyya email group
* la ilaha il allah - is the statement of witnessing the truth of One God and Muhammad rasuulullah - is the statement of witnessing the truth that Muhammad is a messenger of God - are two central agreements upon which a person formally enters into Islam, the Tao (Way) of Divine Submission and become a Muslim (one who has intended to harmonize with Divine Will).
faman yuridi Allahu
an yahdiyahu yashrah sadrahu lil-islam
So whoever God wills to guide,
He expands his inner-heart to Islam.
Rashid Patch, may Allah bless his path and keep his 'better heart' protected, currently resides in Oakland, Califronia and can be connected on Facebook as well. Easiest to reach him is via his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
He is also the moderator of Yahoo Email Group, Sufi Events