So I left Chan Poi and then I found Kwan Sai-Hung. He was a Taoist monk who had grown up in China, in a Taoist monastery, and came to the States after the Communist takeover. He lived in San Francisco at the time and would come to New York City and have workshops. I started attending his workshops and got to know him. I invited him to Vermont and he came several times and did some classes. I would just follow him around. We developed a friendship and I learned a lot from him. One thing in particular he taught me was an internal martial art called Ba gua Zhang. I was deeply fascinated by this martial art and I kept asking him for more. And he said, “I’ve given you all that I have. If you want to learn more Ba gua Zhang, you have to find another teacher.” And so I probably contacted every teacher of Ba gua Zhang in the United States over a five-year period and nothing felt right to me. Not that they were bad practitioners, but it just didn’t feel like I had a connection.
And then, quite by accident, there was a teacher from Beijing coming to the U.S. to give a workshop someplace in Pennsylvania in 1995. At the last minute, that fell through. But he had a visa to come to the U.S. and people were scrambling around, looking for a place for him to teach his class. I have a friend who teaches martial arts in Boston who somehow was contacted and agreed to do it. Then he called me. I went down to Boston and that’s where I met Xie Peiqi. We called him Dr. Xie. He was the last teacher I had and I learned a lot from Dr. Xie. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him. He came to my house and spent several weeks with me several times, and I spent a month with him in China.
Dr. Xie was a very accomplished healer. He did things with his hands that I’ve never seen done before. When I was with him, I could do the same things he could do. After we parted, I could do those things for about two or three weeks and then that skill kind of drizzled away. He was at the end of his life and was earnestly looking for people to pass his knowledge onto before he passed. He was only looking for people who were already well grounded in Chinese medicine and in Chinese martial arts. I feel that we developed a connection because of that. He taught me what he could before he died almost three years ago. The system of martial arts that he taught included medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, hands-on bodywork, and martial arts. He came from a tradition of martial healers from Beijing that were connected with the Imperial Court in the last dynasty. His teacher was the personal physician to the last Empress.
MR: So he was very well respected.
AM: He was an enigma. That’s all I can say. He was respected, feared, hated, and loved—probably all at once.
MR: By you as well?
AM: No, No. I respected him and I deeply enjoyed his company. But I could see how he behaved in the world, and I guess I just didn’t question it.
MR: Now you said that Dr. Xie could do things with his hands that you hadn’t seen done before.
M: Well he would just put his hand on you and people would get better. I have a good friend who’s a quadriplegic, and when Dr. Xie was visiting me, I brought my friend, Jim, over. I wanted to see what Dr. Xie would do. Dr. Xie put one acupuncture needle in Jim’s upper back and then put his hand on Jim’s head and stood there. After about ten minutes, Jim said, “I can feel my legs,” which didn’t last long. That passed after the doctor took his hand off.
But I would bring Dr. Xie my most difficult patients, patients that were really not well, that I had been working on for months trying to help. And he would help them in an hour—right away. So he had magic hands. He knew that. And a few of us that became his students here in the States would ask him, “How do you do that?’ And he could never communicate that. He tried many times and he would just put his hands on his belly down here—where we call the lower Tan tien or the hara—and he said, “Well, it comes from here. I really don’t do anything—it comes from here.”
MR: How’s it been for you since Dr. Xie’s passed?
AM: The best thing he taught me was that, “Don’t do what I do—learn the principles of what I do.” The best thing he taught was to take everything I know, take it all apart, try to look at every individual piece, and then put it back together again. And he stressed, “It’s the principles you’re looking for. Don’t copy me. Understand the principles behind what I’m doing.” That has been invaluable and I think that will guide me the rest of my life.
MR: This sounds like quite a wonderful turn that’s happening, a kind of coming home to investigating and incorporating it in your own way.
M: Exactly. That’s the process of maturity. From my very first teacher—“Do it this way. No, do it this way. Exactly like this,” to my last teacher—“Well, does it work? What’s the principle behind it?”