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Thursday night.

By Chris Venaccio

Thursday night. June 28, 2001. Warm Springs Lodge. Pennsylvania. We were sitting downstairs in the basement prepared for our first night of the annual T'ai Chi retreat. There was a muted excitement among the attendees. People checked and double-checked their cameras. The excitement was over a shrouded box standing in the corner of the room. Inside that box was a sword. Not just any sword. This was a sword approximately 150 years old from the late Qing Dynasty. This was a sword used as a real weapon, it's center of gravity being in the center rather than at the hilt. This was a sword that sang with an indescribable energy when you pulled it out of the sheath. This was the 'Blue Copper Sword' as the characters on the blade denoted. More than that, this was "Ray's sword".

Since my beginnings at Diane Cannon's Ming Tao studio in Delaware , I have always heard the phrase "Ray's sword" in passing. On my first retreat, Ray would joke about Diane getting him "his sword" this year. On Ray's visit in November, we drove up to Chinatown to eat and visit "his sword". He would look at it through the glass. The shopkeeper would allow him to hold and even unsheathe it. Ray smiled ear to ear as he ran through some postures, then with a sigh would hand the sword back to the shopkeeper and comment that we would be back next year. And this is how it was for the 3 years I have known Ray. This was our routine when he visited Delaware . From what I gather, this was a routine much longer than three years old. It had achieved mythical proportions.

Diane mentioned that Ray's 25 th T'ai Chi Anniversary would be coming up in the next year. This set a string of events into action. With the combined efforts of our local T'ai Chi contingency and the Twin Cities studio, we were soon driving up to Philly to purchase "Ray's sword". We brought it back to Delaware and stared at it for a while as if a 7-year quest was finally fulfilled. A group of diligent workers constructed a display box for the weapon. Don lent his artistic talents and created a work of art out of the bleached wood. When the retreat finally arrived, we snuck it into the basement and waited for the night to begin.

Ray came in and sat down in the only empty chair, positioned conveniently to keep his back to the covered box propped in the corner. After handing out the agenda and some general introductions, Ray opened the floor to stories and questions. Diane stood up and congratulated him on his upcoming 25 th anniversary. People shuffled in their seats. Diane led him to the box. Flashes powered up. I think his first reaction when he saw the sword was somewhere between disbelief and total surprise. He finally opened the box and took it out among the flashes and the whir of cameras. He thanked everyone repeatedly. He let everyone hold it. He was touched. The true testament to how touched he was came over the time of the retreat. He always carried it with him, sometimes to dinner. When we held our classes, he had it near him. In the open time between classes, you might catch a glimpse of him in a more secluded area of the lodge practicing the sword form. Always with a smile. It was the first thing he showed Master Liang on our annual visit.

There are very few times in one's life when you can touch the core of another's. Thursday night was one of those nights.

 


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