Monday, October 19, 2015

My Masters Degree

In a recent conversation with Robert Frager, he revealed to me that the only book Steve Jobs had on his phone was Paramahansa Yogananda's 'Autobiography of a Yogi'. I originally  read that book for The Psychology of Far Eastern Religion at UC Santa Cruz during my senior year(1970) taught by the same Robert  Frager.. A very important chapter of that book for me was "My University Degree". Yogananda attended college yet never went to class, preferring instead to be with his guru, Sri Yukteshwar.. His senior year he did not intend to take his qualifying exams since he never went to class. But he was berated by his guru:"Do you have so little faith in God?" So Yogananda relates in his book how through a series of miracles he passed his exams and got his university degree.

During my senior year at UC Santa Cruz I started studying Aikido with Robert Frager sensei. I was introduced to meditation. I took both the aforementioned class on Far Eastern Religion and a class on Mind/Body Harmony. And in Spring of 1970 started my practice in Tai Chi Chuan with Steven Malamuth, a direct student of Master Choy Kam Man.. Upon my graduation in June 1970 it was pretty much set in my mind that my life path would be internal martial arts(aikido and tai chi)  with an emphasis on the spiritual, ie meditation. But my parents wanted me to go onto graduate school. I was a natural science student at Santa Cruz. I got accepted in biology programs at UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. But I had an unofficial minor in Russian and applied to and was accepted at both UC Berkeley and UCLA in Phd programs in Slavic Languages and Literatures. But a Masters Program in Russian at UC Davis surfaced and offered me a full fellowship for a 2 year program. Since I wanted to pursue my dream, basically in the short term go to Japan and train there, I chose to the 2 year program over the Phd programs.

Once I was at Davis it was apparent I really didn't want to be in school. Aikido was only once a week my first year and twice a week my second. Alan Grow, a direct student of Robert Nadeau sensei, taught an Aikido club there. My first year was able on weekends to go to San Francisco and continue my tai chi trarining this time with Master Choy himself.  My second year I helped organize a class for Master Choy to teach on the Davis campus which gave me a chance to take what I had learned from Steven and refine further under his teacher. I practiced both morning and evening. I was also at the time really into Yogananda's Self Realization Fellowship meditation which I also did morning and evening preceding my tai chi. My second year I was slso doing Shotokan karate 3 nights a week. So even though I went to my graduate classes you can see my heart was not into that at all.

My facebook page says I studied Tai Chi Ch'uan at Davis. That is largely true. Much more than the Russian classes was my study of tai chi. It was largely due to Master Choy that I was able to keep my center in the midst of being in grad school, not wanting to be there, yet having at the same time to attend classes, deal with graduate level politics. And it struck me that even though my professors had advanced degrees and lots of mental knowledge, their depth of being could in no way approach that of my tai chi master. He encouraged both my study of aikido and even the karate, saying that would give me a good mix.

Well as I was completing my two years there I was so turned off by the experience academically that I figured I would just to to Japan and not take my exam. So I was surprised that the Professors came to me and asked me to test. So I decided to go home for the summer of 1972, having completed my classes for my Masters, come back to take my exam in the fall. So there I was at my parents' house in Santa Cruz, really hitting the books, dreaming of going to Japan to train basically in Aikido but also to keep up my tai chi practice. And during that summer I kept up my meditation as well. And that chapter from Yogananda's Autobiography was fresh in my mind each day.. Yogananda did it. So could I.

So late fall of 1972 I want back to the Davis campus and took my exam. I think my written was so so . I needed to ace the orals to get the degree. Mainly my feeling was that this was for my parents. Getting an advanced degree was not important at all to me but it was very much so to them. Then I could go off to Japan if not with their blessing, at least with the sense I had completed it for them. I was told that I took a very strong exam and passed. The only thing I can say is that all the meditation, the training daily in tai chi, the aikido classes, even the karate classes had given me enough in the don Juan/Casteneda sense enough 'personal power' that they really did not know what to do with me so they passed me. I was free. Ironically one of my professors, the one I really respected, turned up as the Departmental Chairman of the Russian Department at Monash University in Melbourne Australia and offered me a full Doctoral Fellowship to go there and pursue a Phd. My parents were ecstatic.

But having finished up my Masters I was free. I planned to leave for Japan in April of 1973. I was an Ikkyu, brown belt, so hopefully I would get my black belt there. But to my surprise Master Choy certified me as a teacher of tai chi just before I left. So my thiniking was, that was better than a shodan. Tai Chi had the advantage of being something I could practice everyday. And it sustained me through that difficult period. And I practiced the tai chi morining and evening everyday of my first year in Japan.And even though I have practiced over the years, I am once again on a daily practice schedule.

I returned after a short year in Japan( 9 months). August of 1974 I left for Melbourne Australia to pursue my PhD by way of Japan. But that is a story for another day............

The tree in the photo above is where I did my daily tai chi practice for two years at UC Davis. I am with my friend Vladimir, a Siberian Wolf. I went with my friend Dianna Lynne to the Mother EArth festival at Davis, found the house where I stayed and sought out the tree. It remembered me........

Next June I will be taking a journey with other members of Aikido of San Jose to Aikido of Bali Hai. Here is a video I just completed........


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