Community and News
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.