by ROBERT ALLEN PITTMAN
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My Physical Path

It has been said the manner of our birth determines many of our life choices. I was born a premature Rh baby and so as my blood did not match my mothers I was taken early -labor was induced -before either or both of us died, and was, with damage to most of my vital organs put on blood transfusions for three days. On the third day my heart stopped for an hour and ice was used to keep me alive. It was my Doctor, Allen McDonough who kept me alive and so my middle name was taken from him. My heart restarted on its own after that time and my physical condition stabilised. After a few days I was circumcised (!) and so my life in the 20th century began. It was not an easy way to come in. The continual blood transfusions required constant pricking of the fingers and toes and my pounding knees wore holes through my flesh. And I still have the scars from my birth. One old friend told me, “They tortured the Templars to get ’em out and it looks like they had to torture ’em to bring ’em in!”

And so I was brought home where I was put in temporary crib, as the Doctor had told my mother that she would not carry the baby full term and so should not prepare a nursery. My 2 and a half year old brother taking careful note looked at me and brought his blue blanket for me. And that was the beginning of our relationship. I made no sound breathing and so my mother had to hold a tissue in front of my nose to see if I was still breathing. I did not cry. I believe I was simply relieved and exhausted…my mothers clear memory of my personality at this time was that I was fascinated by birds. And I still am!

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At six years of age I began drawing pictures of the human skeleton and reading about the human body. At eight I was immersed in Comptons Encyclopaedia fascinated by the transparent over laying pages of human anatomy. This interest was alternated with books about nature. My mother taking note of this brought me books. At eleven I asked for Karate (Tae Kwon Do/Moo Duk Kwan) lessons as a Christmas present and my parents conferred and decided to do it.

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Above is my first Karate teacher, Lawrence Huff-one of the few men I have ever seen actually using Kata successfully in Free-Sparring! He is now a well awarded photographer living in Japan. Thanks to Billy Fox for taking this picture for me last year! his assistant was Peter Fabian and Pete also made a strong impression on me. I am very grateful to both men.

During this period I also read a lot about martial arts. I met Harvey Hastings- a Bando (Burmese Martial Arts) practitioner who came to our Dojo and did some forms with a Kukri knife. Harvey impressed me mightily. So did his Bando. I was able and still maintain a friendship with Bando practitioners all over the world. Last I heard he was out in Montana.

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The above is a picture of myself assisting Dr. U Maung Gyi at his Monk clinic some years back. I am well aware of the controversy surrounding Dr. Gyi but also have learned to expect that from men who work in the Intelligence Service. I also found one of my art teachers in high school, Joseph Capshaw, while in the Army, had studied a Chinese form of stick fighting in Thailand. I learned the basics of that from him. And my old Door Keeper-Guardian Danny Emerick took me to see Dr. Kazuo Hori, who was a scholar of Bio-luminenscence at the University of Georgia. Dr. Hori took a broomstick and became 30 years younger as he showed up the basic grips and strikes of Kendo (Japanese Sport Combat with Sword). I learned the Sil-lum forms of Leo Fong from his book. I was very impressed with the kicking of Hapkido and so modified my Tae Kwon Do kicks to include them. Sometimes Danny would have me work with the higher ranks (he was a black belt in Tae kwon do) on kicking techniques, though I never went beyond a yellow belt officially as I was not interested in rank.  I also discovered Robert Smiths books on martial arts, particularly Ba-gua and Hsing-I and I began to teach myself from his books. I wrote the publisher of his books for his address and eventually Robert Smith replied. I wrote several martial arts guys but only Robert Smith replied. At 15 with the assistance of  Danny Emerick – I went to see Robert Smith and begin studying in his classes and taking private lessons. Robert Smith taught me many things. In his world of “Chinese Boxing”-as he called it – I learned at his insistence- Chen Man-ching’s short form of Tai chi chuan and Push-Hands (not as it is popularly taught now) the four corner form of Da-lu, the diagonal Ta Lu of Wang Yen-nien, Han Chin-Tangs primary bone locks, Yuan Tao’s modified Hsing-I and his version of Lien Bu which he called Yunnan Lien Bu or “the linked stepping form of Yunnan Province”. Robert Smith also taught several versions of the Hsing-Elements, or primary movements of “Form of Intent Boxing” from several teachers including, Kuo Feng-chih and Hung I-shiang.

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(Kuo Feng Chih pictured above).

Smith also taught Hung I -shiangs version of the 5 Element Linking Form. He did not teach the animals til I brought them back from Chen Pan-lings sons in 1984. Robert Smiths Ba-gua was very simple, core material and his emphasis was on quality not quantity. He worked on Sun Lu-tangs Single and Double Palm change in several variations from Kuo Feng-chih, or “Paul Kuo”. (I was able to learn Sun’s System at a later time) To these were added the static arm postures taught by Sun Lu-tang and now mixed into most Ba-gua forms, whatever style – in the Chinese Mainland. He also taught 18 of the 24 basic movements of Gao Ba-gua and the first House of Gao Ba-gua- the first eight linear tactics – he had learned from Hung I-shiang. I was later able to get his notes on these (he had learned all 64 Ho-tien forms in a modified form) and contrast them with the teachings of my own teacher Hung I-mien.

Taken during the writing of the Tuttle Books.

Taken during the writing of the Tuttle Books.

After seven years I became frustrated with Robert Smiths continual talks of “you need to WORK” and “form has it all”. I felt I could not fight and wanted to know the tactical side of Ba-gua and Hsing-I. That being said Robert Smith was a great teacher in his insistence on perfected basics done strictly according to Tradition. In fact at times I think he was more Asian than many Asian teachers. I decided to go to Taiwan and with the help of Danny Emerick and Marnix Wells was able to find Hung I -mien and begin training with him. The first year we worked on the Ho-tien Ba-gua or “After Creation” tactics. There was 64 of these and they varied between two and twelve movements per tactic. I had told Hung I could not fight my way out of a paper bag and his responded by saying, “So we will work on fighting then!” So every morning, in 1982, we met at 7:30am, Chinese Scholar Marnix Wells, his girlfriend Tracy (who navigated Taiwanese translation), Hung nephew Alex and myself. By the time six months had passed Marnix and Tracy we ensconced in wedding preparations as was Alex with his bride to be! So I was left alone to train with Hung. And he had his hands on me daily. If the form was not right the tactic was done on me. Not to harm but to inform. Hung was a bone setter and knew his anatomy well. He hurt but he was careful. He especially stressed never taking strikes to the head or neck. Not even light ones.  I finished the year and returned to the U.S. to rest from the trauma of living in the crowded, polluted and noisy metropolis of Taipei. In 1983 Robert Smith visited Taiwan again and met with both Hung brothers and I-mien told him to send me back as I was a good student (I had visited Hungs son at the University of Maryland and offered help during that period). So I received a phone call from dear Danny Emerick who said, “Mr. Smith was just here talking to Hung I-mien-you better come back!”. Hung had said he would teach my “Chren bu” or “the whole ball” if I came back. So I resolved to do so and returned to Taipei in 1984 as a live in student of Hung I-mien. Our training was intense. More gruelling for me as I began training at 5am before he came at 7:30am. Each week was something new. I collated and drew pictures of everything. Somedays I trained up to six hours. During that time I learned all of Chang Chuen-fengs, Hsing-I System and also the Gao Ba-gua system. And Hung worked with weapons with me as well. Sometimes two swords, sometimes Jutte or staff. Some days I was so black and blue from skin grabs that Hung would say, “No applications today, only forms.”  We took Saturday and Sunday off. When we returned to his home for breakfast in the mornings his daughter Mei-Rang Horng, fluent in English-was able to translate concepts and ideas. And we laughed a lot too! Breakfast became serious when Hung saw the salt deposit on my shorts on the clothes line and pulling them off the line, smelled them and looked at me and said emphatically, “Amo-ni-ah!” which mean he smelled ammonia in my shorts I was secreting from my kidneys. So I was starting to digest my own muscles!  So ham and eggs every am after that in a “Man-tow” or steamed bun with cold coffee with brewed oats and brown sugar. Every day. Then I was o.k. He noticed thing like that. He looked for what was important in the students health but was clear a good martial arts student should be able to fight like a demon from hell if required to do so. I am reminded how people who lose fighting spirit also develop a compromised Immune System.

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When I came back from Taiwan to teach Robert Smiths classes, after the 1982- visit having met with Chen Pan-lings sons and Wang Su-chins students- as well as spending time with Hung-  I began teaching those forms to  Robert Smiths students. As far as the Gao Ba-gua from Hung I-mien, Smith insisted I not show the applications and work only on form. He said he did not want to “propagate violence” in the classes.

My own experience is that you propagate more violence and perhaps worse, more psychological confusion by NOT teaching applications.

[But applications must be taught slowly and intelligently and with correct touch. And even reciprocity. Otherwise the human body will keep score of who stung who and a deep shadowy psychological resentment will grow and build up within the student from the abuse. The teacher should not need to go into a Dominance Mode to demonstrate the intelligence of a tactic. Though there are some students who “want to see it”. And to a certain point that is understandable especially if they have never been hit in the head or thrown against a wall. But again this has to be done with consideration and some padding or slowing the technique down. If a student insists on getting hurt then THEY have a psychological problem. And there IS a lot of that too. And this has to be assessed and avoided or one can end up with the Sadist and the Masochist coming to an agreement!]

But at that time I was an obedient student and not one to rock the social order. I taught for Robert Smith for 18 years and did not teach applications,  co-authoring two books with him published by Tuttle and still in print to my knowledge. I also introduced Smith to another man who became a primarily influence in my life, Tim Geoghegan. I introduced them on my birthday as a present to myself around March 24, 1986.  I had met Tim at a workshop he gave in Atlanta, Georgia with Kelly McClung who was a teacher emerging from the Jeet Kun-do Workshops of Bruce Lee’s students, Dan Inosanto and others. So I met Tim at the workshop and immediately recognized his physical prowess and also his encyclopaedic grasp of the human body. Tim has literally wrestled in most of the major countries around the world. He had boxed bare knuckle in Ireland and had met famed flyweight boxer Jimmy Wilde and many of the “Physical Cultists” of his era. He could do 20 pull ups with a flat hand grip and his legs straight out and as a younger man had held the squat record in Ireland at 1400 pounds. (He was 65 at that time). And so for ten years I studied with both men — from Smith-Asia and from Geoghegan-the Celt. They also were opposites psychologically; Smith the stealthy C.I.A. operative with an amazing cynical paranoia emerging from his occupation as an Economic Hit Man (see John Perkins book of that name) and Geoghegan the free man who practiced as a lone Osteopath with the common folks in the mountains of the Blue Ridge. Both men shared a good sense of humor, the Irish Literary Renaissance as an interest, both loved books, read voraciously and enjoyed poetry and were appreciative of the books of Max Freedom Long. Actually Tim had met Max when he was wrestling in Hawaii. After I introduced the two of them they occasionally had lunch which I would think they are still doing in the after-life!

I learned from Tim many things. These things I learned revolved around the teaching of Gurdjieff and Tim’s two years with Maurice Nicoll. Nicoll was representative of two primary figures of the 20th century; one was Gurdjieff the other was Carl Gustav Jung.  Also the two Tantric Gurus who had initiated Tim when he wrestled in India-they also gave him a great understanding of Yoga. I suspect he also studied with John Woodruff (Arthur Avalon). He was also initiated as a Bektashi Sufi.  But his best wrestling came from the Riley’s at the Snake Pit in Wigan, England with some bits from his Jujitsu teacher Higashi. (need to double  check that name) And the best wrestling still goes on in Wigan, there under the authority of Roy Woods. Tim also spent hours with me discussing the need of – and lack of – Rites of Passage for young men (young women not needing it because they are naturally initiated by the moon) in modern times and how we needed to get it back in the culture.

He, like Robert Smith advised and guided me often in my choice of reading and one of the important texts was “Commentaries on Gurdjieff” by Maurice Nicole

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and another was Shirokogerov’s “Psycho-mental complex of the Tungus”. A fairly definitive work on Russian Shamanism written in the 1940s. Tim also advised me on weight training, which Robert Smith was against, and more importantly on Raja Yoga which included all six types of Yoga. It was Tim who eventually recommended I track down Tibetan Medical Doctors and study with them as well as do the harmonic meditations of Charles Muses. Tim and I even visited one Tibetan Doctor together to hear his lectures, Dr. Pema Dorje, who has recently passed away.

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Getting back to my own training path, at 18 years of age I was trained by a Athens General Hospital as a Physical Therapist and Orthopaedic Technician working there for a year and deciding against a hospital career in the “World of Medicine” as one friend called it. My work was intense and sobering as it included burn patients, some with third degree burns over 75 percent of their body…and the hospital was not even a Burn Unit. There was one person whose whole body was in gauze and the crew had to remove it all with scissors and bathe them in betadine solution to prepare them for skin grafting. He was a mere teenager and I recall helping stand him up and watching the trickles of blood on his entire body when we stood him up prior to removing the gauze. I also worked with a three year old who had been burned very badly. He had been in a trailer fire and been rescued. I would put him in a stainless steel foot bath used for athletes legs…and give him my finger to look at while I turned on the pump to circulate the warm betadine solution. This would soften the gauze after a few minutes and I could get my surgical scissors and begin cutting the gauze away and removing the dead skin. Luckily his face was not badly burned.

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I had my first exposure to Sports Massage during this time with Sports Therapist Alice Moher who had been trained in Holland. I watched her make the back muscles blush under her strong hands and quickly realised there was more to massage than a back rub. In fact I began to realise that blood circulation and its control were primary items in the practice of Actual Medicine. Later I was to have this reinforced reading the work of A.T. Still.

I also had a key to the Psych. Floor and would take hot packs up to the lunatics or “mentally challenged” and sometimes bring down the failed suicides to bath their bullet wounds in sterile baths. I also worked with the very old who had broken their hips and the very young in the paediatric unit sometimes setting up tiny traction apparatus for their tiny limbs. “The baby must have gotten dropped…” There were some heart rending revelations. These were exhausting days and sometimes when I substituted for the P.T. crew on the weekends, I would get home and fall on the floor and sleep. I was processing the smell of burned flesh, old skin and deranged minds. It was quite an experience for an 18 year old. In some ways this was a Rite of Passage for me in the world of healing. I was not aware at the time how much it would effect my approach to martial arts and to people in general.

 After that time at the hospital-(my last year of High School was in part of that period)— I went to the British Isles with my best friend Tony Arnold and we hiked all over the British Isles and I started my first Ba-gua training with Rose Li in Manchester, England learning her version of Ba-gua. That too was a very long relationship which lasted from 1978 up until her death after 2000. I visited her every two years or so when visiting family in U.K. and so was able to learn her version of Ba-gua which I do not teach but retain as a reference point as I was never fully initiated by her. But I did speak and work with her students as well and got plenty of advise on both Ba-gua and Hsing-I and general health as well.

At 20 I attended the British School of Osteopathy. I found London equally cold and inhospitable as Charlie Chaplin recorded in his memoirs. I ended up leaving after a winter term when my parents who had bought a bookshop-found they had bought the debts as well! So with the money dried up I returned home.

So I returned to the US worked in their bookshop and once the shop was out of debt I decided to to Taiwan. Those were the 1982 and 1984 trips mentioned previously.

In 1985 when Tim advised me to study Tibetan Medicine he had no idea (or did he?) I would go into Tibetan Buddhism with a determination and I stayed there for ten years and was appointed the Disciplinarian or “Gecku” of the Centre. I also was very fortunate to be initiated and trained in High Tantra by a man who was classified as the Ganden Tipa or “Highest Scholar of Tibet” – Lobsang Nyma.  Since that time Buddhist studies and training have informed my work.  Later when the Dalai Lama came I was among his personal bodyguards and worked as a liaison between his personal security and the centre. There story behind this is long and technical and I will not go into it here. Yes I am aware of the politics and their implications. I believe the Dalai Lama is working with the variables which he has been given in this life very well. No I cannot say if I would know if he were enlightened or not!

Around the age of 30 I began studying Western Fencing and did some experimentation with fighting contact in steel armour with pvc weapons. This was cross referenced with what I knew of Chinese Martial Arts, particularly the spear and staff in Ba-gua and other things. This also informs my training and I can still put on armour and “go at it” as they say. I did also get exposed to some basic Escrima from Rick Garcia who I recall had worked with Larry Hartsell of Jeet June Do fame.

From the age of 30-40 I not only got married and divorced but also became involved part -time in teaching physical education at a Waldorf School. Due to my previous media exposure as a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama I was also requested to work as a bodyguard. Those were interesting days sometimes split between playing with children in a meadow and putting on a pistol and going into town to protect a dignitary. It was an amazing existential life with a very wide emotional range. I also began my studies of Greek Hoplite warfare-due to Steiners insistence on understanding the Pentathlon—especially for the ten year old age— having shields and spears hand made and working with them with advanced martial arts students particularly John Moulton who is now a Journeyman Blacksmith. This eventually resulted in an article on Greek Spear and Shield combat in an anthology called “The Cutting Edge” edited by Barry Molloy. Also to my knowledge I am the first person to demonstrate how the shields were locked together in formation due to the ropes hung around the edges. This was put up on youtube but I think- is now taken down. At this time I was able to compile every source I could find in English on Pankration and Ancient Greek Combat sports with the help of Librarian Tom Karls in Madison, Wisconsin. From these sources and also with the help of Indian Thang Tha expert Khilton Nangmeithem,  I began to choreograph strings of tactics to recreate the Skymachia (unarmed dances) and Pyrrachia (armed dances). This training was later demonstrated at the Greek Festival at the Orthodox Cathedral in Atlanta. I was also grateful to the Greek Community for Spiritual Light; Father Gemenus for his quiet manner and careful and thoughtful translation of information from the Greek Encyclopaedias in his office- about the ancient Olympics and their variations in the city-states of Greece. Bishop Phillip also gave me counsel on the spiritual life during this time and the experiences and tastes of this time still stand in me. Joel Peddle, an aspiring Ph.D. scholar at Emory also helped fire me up to investigate and demonstrate what I had created. It was he who organised the demonstration at the Festival. So I think of these times with wonder and gratefulness. Some of my own students who assisted me at this time remember it with fondness and clarity…

At the age of 40 I decided I would separate from Robert Smith formally. Over the years my impression of him had worsened and he had done much to reinforce this failing image to myself and others not just in the U.S. but I was to find later — in other countries too.  I also declined invitations to join both the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., whether direct of oblique. And another significant event to this separation was my own work with children and the concepts of Rudolph Steiner.Steiner emphasised Human Freedom of the Soul. And at that time I felt getting involved in Government “hijiinx” worked in opposition to human freedom.

And I was also discovering this freedom for myself as I observed what children needed. I had been working part time for ten years with children and certain aspect of learning were becoming obvious. Also the defects of how martial arts was often taught was becoming obvious too.  I came to the conclusion the tactile sense of the human being was not primary but essential in teaching physical skills, not only for martial or healing techniques (I was certified as a Massage Therapist and also in Unani Herbal Medicine by this time) but also simply to create psychological balance in the human being. This was a huge revelation to me at the time and I realised I was dealing with my own birth trauma through all my physical activities. I was also learning that children and adults learn directly and quickly with the minimum of psychological manipulation. (I do not confuse Boot Camp with Education. Nor do I confuse Education and Mind Conditioning).

At that point I began emphasizing tactical applications to my own students, taught at various speeds- with various levels of intensity- for students to understand the forms. Since the age of 40 to now – I am 56 – I have worked specifically with looking at the effects on the brain of training with weapons as well. Weapons from various cultures and with a partner. To this I also include the effects of the massage therapy on the brain.  I am looking now and working toward distilling my experience-of martial arts, therapy and yoga- into a single system of brain-heart-gut oriented training which I call Wisdom of the Body.

Wisdom of the Body began forming itself in me during my time in Brittany, France. I was in my late 40s and luckily had a wonderful woman (Victoire Slakey) midwife Wisdom of the Body with me- by providing me with a remote retreat- in rural France in an old renovated Knight Templar Farmhouse.

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There with her assistance and the bright eye of her then three year old-Yarrow,and the ever tranquil 15 year old daughter Fay and chronic breakfast reader 18 year old Theo, I was able to take the Treasure of Time. The windy dark weather most of the time kept me indoors and there was time to brood and think in front of the wood stove with my old faithful dog Guinness.  With this time and seclusion, my dawning middle age (perhaps a mid-life Crises? or is life between birth and death just one whole Crises??)  and also with Victoire’s translation work, I was able to begin to teach classes in France. This time was a way of checking how much to do in what amount of time and how intensely it should be done. Besides this Brittany is the Celtic part of France and Wisdom of the Body partakes of the Celtic Spirit in its directness and simplicity and humour.

Alongside Wisdom of the Body and with it I continue to work with the traditional arts which I am responsible for as a lineage holder. But Traditional Martial Arts and Yogas often do not and cannot meet modern needs…and so I continue to develop something which does and that is Wisdom of the Body. At present I am still evolving it as a system and I work with training groups and individuals in six countries. These people are often Therapists; Physical, Psychological or Psychiatric. (Some of my advisors are Neuro-psychiatrists and Physiatrists). My other primary student base is school teachers. They are interested in how we learn and what motivates learning. They are also interested in particular- teenagers and Rites of Passage. My third base is martial arts folks and yoga folks; people who are interested in their own body and how it works and how it learns. The fourth base I prefer to work with is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Victims. My primary objective is in the advancement in the individual student.  I believe Wisdom of the Body template is an extremely useful form of physical education for the majority of people. It seems to me at this stage in human history there is now being made the earnest attempt to turn human beings into machines or robots. This trend is enforced not only by conditioning people to work WITH machines but also by attempting to insert the machine INTO people (nanotech among other things). So people have a decision presented to them more and more in regard to “How mechanical would you like to be?” And Human Freedom is about NOT being mechanical!

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