Afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis, Martial Arts Saved My Life (Part 2)

Rain, Fists, and Flicks:

How Weather, Martial Arts, and Kung Fu Movies Saved My Life (Part 2)

In Part I of Rain, Fists & Flicks, I shared that when I was 16, taking 30 pills/day and in the hospital every three months, my doctor told me I’d be dead in five years due to the incurable fatal disease, cystic fibrosis (CF).

Two weeks later and due to watching my first kung fu film, Bruce Lee‘s The Big Boss (1971; aka Fists of Fury), I realized that I had one chance to survive…an ancient Chinese healing skill never taught to outsiders.

My aim was to graduate from a renowned American university, move to China, find a Shaolin Temple and ask a Shaolin Monk to teach me chi gong (chi for short). Yet I first had to learn and understand martial arts.

While at Cornell University and sporting a Lee haircut, I serendipitously found an Okinawan goju ryu dojo (school) off campus. After my college roommate and I joined, they had eight students. One important rule…get into a fight, instant dismissal. I quickly learned about the fine line between discipline and stupidity.

Two things come to mind.

We’d jog barefoot around the city on rock-covered pavements, dug up parking lots, fresh tarmac and through forests. Yet nothing compared to what we did in winter.

Mum warned that I’d catch my death of cold in rain or snow.

Since the dojo was unheated during winter, we had to get used to the cold.

One morning, after a winter snowstorm, deep snow on the ground and -4o C outside, without hats or gloves and just in our gis, sensei said, “Let’s go out for a barefoot jog.” I considered telling sensei this could kill me. No one said a word, I didn’t say a word.

After three steps, my feet were numb. Breathing difficult, a mile later, my lungs felt frozen. Yet as we all kept going, the strong sense of kinship developing amongst ourselves pushed us through another mile back to the dojo.

It wasn’t easy but we learned a lot about discipline and an unexplainable spiritual connection to the inner self. After each jog in the freezing temps, I’d catch a horrible cold, doubled my antibiotics then struggled for weeks to restore my health.

Drinking water during training was considered undisciplined and so to test our endurance and tenacity. During Cornell’s hot and humid summers we’d occasionally do a last-one-to-faint training day.

We’d repeat the same movements until only one of us was left standing and everyone else had passed out from heat exhaustion or dehydration. I was always the last standing.

But an hour later, I’d get violently ill and due to heavy salt depletion I experienced whole-body tremors and forcibly vomited for days.

man afflicted with cystic fibrosis
Craig and Silvia in 1979

Over the five years, I learned that by disciplining the mind, body and spirit; One can build a strong moral character and live a meaningful life. Furthermore, the martial arts help one to develop self-confidence, self-assertion and self-discovery.

Although a lot of self, it’s not about ego.

As one cultivates character, the goal is to absorb and reflect positive virtues like courage, loyalty, benevolence, honor, respect, honesty, peace… and for me, to be happy, funny and jolly.

The true essence of martial arts is about training not to fight and learning to heal rather than hurt…it was now time to heal myself.

Since China was communist, there was another option…a country that America had just broken political ties with and the U.S. State Department recommended Americans not to travel there.

After graduating from Cornell in 1979, my quest to find this cryptic cure for CF landed me in the chaotic, under stricter martial law and the distrusting-America Republic of China (ROC), where mixed race love was vilified with forbidden fruit furor.

Against my doctor’s approval, couldn’t speak Chinese, already a year dead, and with no money, job or place to stay, upon arriving at ROC’s airport, the military charged me with weapon smuggling (wooden sticks), drug trafficking (21,000 CF pills) and then threatened me with the death penalty.

It was a stressful time to be an American in Taiwan.

Weeks later, I met grad student Silvia who was a volunteer at a leper colony and a devout Catholic. It was love at first sight and months later we were secretly engaged. Tearfully aware my death anon, she committed religious and sociocultural suicide by pledging her unconditional love saying,

During my search for a chi sifu, I was constantly reminded that no one practiced it anymore or if someone did, they’d never teach a white man. This art is so buried deep behind a veil of secrecy, that even Silvia and many Chinese back then believed it only existed in Kung Fu novels and movies.

man afflicted with cystic fibrosis
Soap opera on CTV

Desperately needing money, I began teaching English and found work dubbing kung fu films into English, which opened the door for me to become a stuntman in Chinese movies as a token white guy getting my butt kicked in by Chinese kung fu film stars.

I met an ascetic chi teacher on a TV show, who during the monsoons, subjected me to a perilous trial of perseverance, endurance and worthiness on what I called Monsoon Mountain.

Every day, I’d run up the 300+ stairs that were intermittently connected with steep concrete paths, waited at the top of the mountain with no shelter for five hours in the torrential rain and powerful gale winds, then run down the mountain where he’d tell me to come back the next day.

Each day the rains became heavier and colder, the winds stronger.

After a week of doing this every day, I presumed it was a test, but didn’t know how long it would last.

By day 29, with health rapidly declining, my body close to death and though I had encountered Noah biblical rain, strange entities, survived a powerful earthquake and was engulfed by a mudslide…he still never came up the mountain.

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