MR: How have these practices affected your life? What has this brought to your life that otherwise wouldn’t be there?
AM: Well, for one thing, when I was younger, it gave me the discipline to live a good life, to stay on a steady path—at a time when all of us are confronted with multiple paths that we can choose. I think this discipline was very important for me at the time. As I’ve grown older, I feel very grounded in that discipline, and it’s brought some peace to my mind, and from that peace, it’s given me the opportunity to now explore deeper… myself and the issues of how people relate to each other and how humanity relates to itself. I believe I’m in that process of exploration right now.
MR: At what point in your exploration with Kung Fu and Chi Kung did you have that shift as you described with acupuncture—from it just being this interest of yours to something that you wanted to share?
AM: With Kung Fu, I studied with my teacher for a long time and he made me a teacher and sent me off to teach. I taught for a few years, and I really wasn’t too happy. That’s when I moved to Vermont, in ’86, and I really didn’t have an interest in teaching martial arts. I wanted just to be a farmer and live a simple life. In retrospect, I believe that what I really needed to do was make a clean break from my teacher and establish myself on my own terms. From that point to today I’ve been evolving my own understanding and practice.
In Vermont, my wife had a job in a very nice restaurant. One day she told the chef that her husband did martial arts. At that time we had one vehicle and I would pick her up late on Saturday nights. One day the chef strikes up a conversation with me and gets a little chummy and then, the next week says, “So, you do martial arts—would you like to teach me?” I said, “Well, I’ll teach you if you can get a class together.” So he put up some posters, and there was suddenly a little class. We found, I think it was a ballet studio to use. We had a little class, and that little class has now become the Vermont Kung Fu Academy.
The tradition in China is often that the doctor of Chinese medicine also teaches martial arts, Chi Kung, and meditation. The traditionalists call it a scholar-warrior or healer-warrior path, and it’s not unlike some of the Native American traditions. They all fit together, meaning there’s an underlying philosophy that connects them.
With acupuncture, the shift for me took a more scientific route: “This is how you treat this condition; why is that? Why does it work? Can I do it better? Why is this person hurting? What is the person’s relationship to her pain or suffering?” Therefore, I think my understanding and the way I practice medicine has changed over the years. I did take a little break once, and I came back to it feeling that I could only return to medicine if I also were a teacher. So in my practice, I look for opportunities to teach people how they can help themselves. I think that’s the most important part of medicine.
MR: It’s very different, I think, from what we grew up with here in the U.S. I’m the daughter of a doctor, so I was particularly embedded with this idea that the doctors were the ones who had the knowledge and they knew what to do and would tell you what to do. That’s so different from this kind of perspective where the practitioner/healer/teacher embodies healing themselves and helps others learn how to heal themselves.’
AM: There are many times when a person is in genuine need of help and you do what you can to help them with acupuncture or herbs. But then you’re in a community for a number of years and you get to see people over and over again, and you start to see patterns. And you realize, “Well, this person is like this because of the way they live, and if they could take more responsibility for themselves, they wouldn’t suffer as much.” That’s not to imply that people don’t need genuine help from time to time, but sometimes people suffer because of themselves. You don’t admonish people, though. If you can lead people to that realization so that they have an “Ah-ha” moment and then take greater responsibility for themselves—and they’re happy in that responsibility—then you’ve done your job.
MR: What were some of your experiences with your various teachers that really stand out in your mind?
AM: I’ve had three main teachers in my life and I think each of those teachers nourished me at different stages in my own growth, beginning when I would say I was a child, although I wasn’t a child, I was a late teenager. That was Chan Poi. I wanted to study Chinese martial arts—not any other kind of martial arts—Chinese martial arts, because of their connection to Buddhism and Taoism. I went to Chinatown and looked for teachers. There weren’t many available there at that time, in the 1970’s.
But out of the radical social movement from the ‘60’s, when people were questioning authority and society, and people were “tuning in and dropping out”—a lot of people became interested in things Asian and it became “in vogue.” Chan Poi was actually the first Chinese teacher of martial arts to teach non-Chinese on the East Coast. He moved out of Chinatown—right next door. He had a space right next to the old Boston Garden, in the North End. He came to the conclusion: “Hey, I live in America. And if I want to live in America, I’m going to be an American, and I’m going to open myself to all people.” That was an enlightened perspective. So he was the older master and I was the younger student. As time went on, it seemed that I was always that younger student. And that was fine. He brought me to a level that made me ready for my next teacher. That often happens in the world of Chinese martial arts and in Chinese mysticism also. When one teacher is able to recognize the student has gone as far as he or she can, then he sends the student on to someone else.