I lived and trained at the YMAA Retreat Center for the month of March 2010. Close to the end, Dr. Yang asked me to write something about my experience there. Now, sitting in a café in my beautiful hometown in Germany, I think about the time spent there. It was a very intensive experience that is constantly on my mind. For the first ten days or so after I left, I dreamt about it every night. Now it feels quite distant and hard to grasp- what it means to me, or what it did or didn't do for me.
I remember in the beginning Dr. Yang and two of the disciples (Santiago and Javier) picked me up at the airport in Arcata. It was a very warm welcome and it almost felt like coming home. They took me to a Chinese restaurant and Dr. Yang asked whether I wanted to be treated as a disciple, or as a guest. I chose the disciple treatment, so as to be able to experience as close as possible what it would be like to live and train there. I guess it doesn't really matter what you choose. I think it's less a choice of treatment, but rather how you want to act while there – are you going to live and (try to) train like them, or not?
Usually, whenever I put myself into a situation, where I cannot easily leave for a while, or where I'm less self-determined, I tend to feel trapped and I rebel against it. And I want to get away. That feeling usually ceases after a week or so. In this case however, I felt very comfortable about being there right off the bat. It felt natural to train, eat, and live with everybody and I felt warm, welcomed, and integrated.
YMAA Retreat Center—a ten year commitment
Since I first heard Dr. Yang talk about this project and his dream in 2006, I was very intrigued with it. I followed closely its advancement, as much as possible, over the internet. All along I asked myself, whether I would want to be part of the program as a disciple, if I had the chance. I am 33 years old now, so that train has left the station.
But how do you make a decision like that? How do you decide, that something is right for you for ten years? I know you can make yourself continue to do something. I am sure, it's good to do this—to push through times of hardship, and times when you don't want to do something! But I quite firmly believe that there is a voice inside of you, that you can teach you to listen and tells you what is right and good for you and what direction to take in life. I for my part always try to tune into that voice, to guide me on my way and in my decision making.
In most cases in life, if you notice that something is not right for you, or that you've possibly made a wrong decision earlier, you can alter whatever need be. In those cases you can't really make any mistakes, because you're only affecting your own life in a profound way. In this hypothetical case, however, there is someone that has committed seemingly everything to fulfilling a vision, and life's mission and/or a dream. So in that case, how do you make a decision, if you not only risk your own resources? I haven't really come much closer to the answer by being there, and there is probably no simple "how to" answer. I guess it goes right back to the individuals and their inner voices or gut-feeling, when such a decision has to be made.
Meaningful Training at YMAA Retreat Center
What it did for me was to make me think more about my life—how I spend my time, and about my martial arts training and where I want to go with it. How much time is spent with things (like making money for example) that have no relevance to anything useful in life? Not, that making money is not useful, but in my opinion, if that is the sole, or main purpose of whatever activity is being done, then it is a waste of time!
How much more could you accomplish, if even most of your time was used purposefully? Was the way I used to train in martial arts more a waste of time, or was it beneficial? In aiming for proficiency and perfection, what level of mediocrity is good enough? At what point is the benefit of it less than its cost? These are interesting questions.
In conclusion, I had a great time at the YMAA Retreat Center, enjoying the beautiful seclusion of life on the mountain, experiencing living and training with the disciples and Dr. Yang. And also getting more in touch with and developing the roots of my own martial arts training and understanding. It was time well spent; I am happy I did it! I would certainly recommend to anyone interested to go there for some time. It is a learning experience on many levels!
Manuel Pottek studies Wun Hop Kuen Do and Tae Kwon Do. Since 2005 he is a regular attendee of YMAA seminars and events. Manuel lives in Winnipeg, Canada.