"My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?"
"Hateful day when I received life! Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?"
Frankenstein, 1818, by Mary Shelley
It certainly has turned into quite the monster....
I'm not exactly sure what this is anymore, as over the past many years, it has gotten a bit out of hand. The web site has grown and expanded to such a degree, that I'm really not sure where it's going to end up. And, as for me, I've grown and expanded too. And who knows where I'm going to end up.
"A flash of lightening illuminated the object & discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, & the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy demon to whom I had given life. What did he there? "
But, enough trying to impress upon you about who I am, and what the site is. Let's talk things that are more interesting, and more important. Let's talk about how it all started.
Quite a few years ago, back in 1995, I made my first journey to Shaolin with a small group of people, to train with the Shaolin monks. I was no stranger to the world of the martial arts at the time, having trained in the US in the style of kenpo for many years. Curiosity had caused me to make this first journey, because, at that time, I felt that I was studying an art which, though effective and beneficial, did not present to me all that I felt was available. So, to find the roots, I went to the source. I soon discovered that the roots were very much different than the evolutionary American product. It had changed my life forever. But, I just didn't realize that at the time.
That first journey was quite the adventure. Between the harsh daily workouts, and the ever constant and varied illnesses that seemed to plague us, I was kept quite busy. Being the only physician in our small group, my sojourn there involved not only attempting to learn aspects of a foreign culture and a martial art, but also, learning how to deal with all sorts of varied and fortunately, relatively minor, disease states that we all tended to discover in our own little unique ways. I and my little medical kit had been quite busy at times. I had also been quite busy looking for water, as, at that time, which I now know as "common", running water just is not a luxury that one can depend upon. Especially during the hot, humid, and, well, miserable summers there. All three aspects of my first Shaolin trip, the harsh and unique training, the drain of dealing with medical problems, and the annoyance of dealing with an inhospitable environment, all made that first trip, well, "interesting". It was one that I was soon not to forget. It was also one, that caused me to say as I got on the plane back home, "It was fun, but I'm not going back again."
Yes, I say that after every trip. I just finished my sixteenth, and no doubt, I'll say it again. Oh, and I'm already planning the seventeenth. (As of 2017, over 22 trips, and a cumulative total time of well over two years in Shaolin. I spend way too much time there).
All I had brought back home from that first trip, were stories. Oh, and a shaved head. (And a few other things that I won't discuss in public). Necessity caused us all to shave our heads, which, if you've never done it before, is quite the emboldening and interesting experience. (If you think you get shitty service at a restaurant, just shave your head and go back....) It soon became a regular routine for me, one which I became very comfortable with. But the people at the hospitals where I had worked had been fascinated with my tales of training with the monks. And, my tales of China. I took pictures on 35mm film at that time, and those pictures had made quite the rounds. It was then that I had started to realize that China, and especially, Shaolin, held a special and unique place, a place of incomprehensible interest, in a many a person's heart.
Things change, yet they stay the same. And events occurred in my life soon thereafter which caused everything to change. Yet, things remain the same, and it was shortly thereafter, that, out of necessity, I made the return trip to Shaolin. The events thereof are a story to themselves, which will remain untold. Yet the trip was a unique one, one which ended with the usual comment on the plane home, "It was fun, but I'm not going back again.". Going and training with Shi De Cheng, who had become my master on that trip, was the absolute best thing that I could have done for myself. I had the usual horrible and interesting and enlightening time while I was there, and I missed it when I got home. But, this trip, I had done something different. I had brought a laptop computer with me. And I had kept a journal.
1997. Email was barely out of its infancy at the time, but I was trying to learn how to use it. And for international travelers, it was an absolute nightmare. But I had vowed to keep in touch, and keep in touch I eventually did. Now there weren't too many of my email buddies back then who were interested in anything China, but I did have one friend who worked with me at one of the hospitals I had practiced at. Sally was just overly curious of the whole trip, so, I emailed my journals back to her.
I really had no idea what she was doing with them, nor did I even know that she had gotten them. When it came to technical things in life, things like email, Sally was no rocket scientist. The whole concept of email was a bit bewildering to her then (as it is now; I still get five or six identical email messages from her that state "I'm not sure if you're going to get this...") But, Sally knew how to use the printer that was attached to her new computer, and Sally had made sure that she printed out every one of my journals from China.
From there, it had gotten a bit bizarre. The journals had ended up in the hands of a few friends of mine that had worked in the operating rooms of one of the hospitals I had practiced in. People passed them from one to another. People photocopied them and distributed them. Those recipients had photocopied their copies and passed them on. On and on it went. By the time I had gotten back home, people that I didn't even know, in hospitals that I rarely frequented, had read of my adventures in Shaolin land.
Yes, it was bizarre, but I didn't mind. My decision never to return to Shaolin resulted in my making plans to train again not less than a year later. But, this time, knowing how popular the journeys had become for many people, I went better prepared. Digital cameras were still in their infancy at the time, yet I brought one. I decided to add photos to my journals, and email them back to people.
It ended up being a bit of a disaster. I was soon to learn about file sizes, yet, I knew little about photo compression at the time. Adding photos to my journals only made the emails larger. Much larger. Like to the point of around five megabytes each. And the list of people that had wanted them had grown. The combination of huge email files and multiple recipients (to the tune of forty to fifty different people), along with the terrible inconsistencies of international roaming, led to incredibly high phone bills, and inadequate transmission of data. It just wasn't going to work.
And then, a friend suggested that I just start a web site. It would be "easier", he stated. (I'll never forget that...) This way, friends who wanted to see pictures and stories of my travels could just log on at their leisure, and all I had to do was upload things to the site as needed. It was a great idea, except for the fact that I had no idea how to create a web site.
"I revolved in my mind the events which I had until now sought to forget: the whole train of my progress towards the creation, the appearance of the work of my own hands alive at my bedside, its departure. Two years had now nearly elapsed since the night on which he first received life, & was this his first crime? Alas! I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch whose delight was in carnage & misery..."
It took me well over six months to figure out the basics and the nuances of web site production, but, I eventually got the knack of it. It wasn't a bad idea, as it did make uploading the information easier, and definitely made the downloading for the forty or fifty interested people less annoying. Yes, was was a good thing, all around. And, it was around this time period, in 1997, that Sally was starting to get the hang of email transmission. But, she had a hell of a time finding my new web site.
But, again, things change and they remain the same.
It was sometime in 1997 when the search engines found the site. First, it was Yahoo; russbo.com was only one of four "Shaolin" listed web sites on Yahoo at the time. It was the only one listed on a few other, then new, and now deceased, search engines. And the few friends who had caused it all, from Sally with her emails, to those initial forty or fifty interested souls, soon became a few hundred. Then, a few thousand. And then, it started to get out of hand. Google found it, and shortly thereafter, it would be many hundred, to, eventually, a few thousand visitors a day. All wanting information on Shaolin. Over the past twenty years, millions have cruised through here.
I had created a monster. A monster which has completely changed my life. And I never meant to do so.
"Why do you call to my remembrance," I rejoined, "circumstances of which i shudder to reflect, that I have been the miserable origin & author?
And so it grows, with new contributors, and always, more and more information. The web site has evolved from being an "easier" method of presenting my photo emails to my friends, to an educational forum on all things Shaolin. Where it will go from here is anybody's guess. I've given up trying to think about it.
Where I'll go from here is also anybody's guess. But, regardless of where life drags me, no doubt, kicking and screaming, there will always be a part of me at Shaolin, and a part of Shaolin in me. And, there will always be some time in the future for me to return to there.
Even though I don't want to.
"Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light! Cursed (although I curse myself) be the hands that formed you! You have made me wretched beyond expression. You have left me no power to consider whether I am just to you or not. Begone! Relieve me from the sight of your detested form."
I'd like to dedicate all of this, this Frankenstein monster that I have created, and which no doubt will eventually contribute to my doom, to all of my friends, both of you, who either can't take the time to travel to places like this, or simply just have better things to do. Enjoy!