A few years back, I got into aerobatic flying, in preparation of a movie on the subject, called Cloud Dancer. When the producer first approached me, he said they had it all worked out, with special cameras and stuff, so that I wouldn’t actually have to do any of the flying. I said, “That sounds really boring. I don’t think I want to do it.” He said (kind of amazed, I thought), “You mean, you want to learn how to do it?” I said, “Well, yeah. If you want me to do the movie, that’s what it will take.”
He was overjoyed. He, himself, was a flyer. He set me up with some of the best guys in the field to teach me. It’s not something you want to get too deeply into, though it’s more fun than anything: they almost all eventually die in their planes, even the best ones: maybe especially them. They take a lot of chances.
So there I was, a thousand feet up in the clouds, dancing and twirling across the sky in that little toy airplane. It was very gung fu, actually. It takes great control to accomplish these maneuvers without getting into a tailspin. You experience up to eight or nine “G’s”, half the time upside down. You come very near to passing out from the blood rushing out of your head and into your feet. That’s what kills a lot of the guys. They just go to sleep. Sometimes they wake up to find themselves cruising along a couple of hundred feet up, straight and level. The plane is so precisely set up that, no matter how much trouble you’ve gotten yourself into, if you take your hands off the stick, it’ll as often as not straighten itself out and fly right all by itself. Of course, sometimes you don’t wake up. That’s the chance you take.
I could see how the thrill was worth the risk. There’s just nothing like it. And the lessons about balance and power, control and release: they’re all there. The plane, with its little engine, is actually only capable of about 110 miles per hour. In order to perform some of the tricks you need to be going 250. So, you gain a lot of altitude, say 5 or 6000 feet, and then dive straight down. By the time you reach 1000 feet, you’re up to speed, and that’s where you perform the stunts. It’s all very Zen.
There’s one spectacular maneuver called a Lumsaveck (Hungarian for ‘headache’ is the joke). You get the plane in a nearly inverted attitude and throw the stick to the right and the pedals to the left at the same time, and the plane shoots off at a ninety-degree angle in a cartwheel. It’s a gas. But, you always end up in a ‘flat-inverted-spin’, and you have to get out of that. It’s a fatal situation if you don’t, and if you don’t know from experience or instruction that that is what’s going on, you won’t even figure it out until it’s too late. You’re mostly upside down and the sky and the ground are changing places so fast you don’t know where you are, and the earth’s gravity won’t tell you which way is up, because the plane has become a centrifuge. You’ll spin upside down right into the ground. The first thing that hits will be your head. Okay, so you have break out of it, and fast. You turn that accursed flat-inverted-spin into a tailspin, which isn’t easy, and then, by pushing the stick all the way forward, which defies all logic, you can convert the tailspin into a straight dive, out of which you can pull the plane, if the wings don’t tear off. All this while you’re being thrown around the cockpit like a rag doll, probably with your nose bleeding. This operation requires a minimum of a thousand feet. If you don’t have that much room when you start, you’re just dead, plowing the nose into the ground at two hundred per.
Rob Moses (Marshal Arts Hall of Fame Founder of The Year for 2002) is now living in Kona, on the island of Hawaii, where the coffee comes from. His favorite past-time these days is to go up on the high, windy hill behind his house, with one of the most beautiful views on the planet, and work with his inventions, weird, twisted staffs of bamboo, shaped like curlicues, question marks, and parabolic curves. These things are strange and liberating enough to work with on the flat, and likely to bonk you in the head and such, but he leans into the wind, far enough so he’d fall down if it stopped blowing. And he dances, twisting, twirling, , almost not connected to the earth, a lot like aerobatic flying. He says it’s almost as though he had wings. The mind and the body becoming one, sort of out there, in Space; all that stuff we talk about playing across his consciousness.
There he is, surfing in the wind, with the very air itself as his opponent. Yet without that enemy, without the wind fighting against him, he would fall, fall right off the mountain, bouncing off the lava outcroppings into the roaring surf a hundred feet below. The wind becomes his ally, supporting him. That’s gotta be something else.
I like that idea, of the enemy as the guardian. It fits in with the paradoxes of The Sage and The Divine Fool. Rob is both, I think. It’s what I strive for, in my own silly fashion. Well, silly is good, I think, if that’s not too silly for you.
Pretty trippy. And it’s all part of Rob’s exploration of kung fu as liberating, as healing, as a dance of death, as a way to examine the inner secrets of The Cosmos, and of his quest for eternal youth, not so much, you understand, physically; though that too, of course, but in the heart, like Peter Pan.
I’m all for that.
I think the thing that impressed me most when he told me about all this was the joy it seemed to give him. Is there anything we could gain in our search that’s better than that? I get the picture of him, with a silly grin on his face, teetering on the edge of the cliff, swinging his quirky staff and having the wind throw it back at what would be his face, if he didn’t shift with the current. And laughing, tears in his eyes from the laughter and the wind. Just dancing on the hilltop. Fun. That’s it. Fun. Like a child.
He says it’s better than anything. Of course, he’s never tried aerobatic flying.