Meeting Zen Recluse Jerry Boxer in the Jungle of Thailand
After spending time in both the North and South of Thailand I was back in Bangkok, wondering what I would do for almost two weeks before my flight to Vietnam. I was to meet up with a few friends in Hanoi where we would begin a month long motorcycle journey through the entire country.
After spending time at different Wats aka Buddhist temples and training Muay Tai in Bangkok, I was ready for a change. It was time for a break from the noise, pollution and congested streets of Bangkok. Back at my guesthouse, I took map of Thailand and visualized an imaginary radius from Bangkok. Then I took one of my fingers and held it in the air above the map. With eyes closed I let my finger do a little dance first and then shortly after my finger like an arrow seeking its target shot down touching an unknown point on the map. I opened my eyes and saw my finger had landed on an elephant. The next day I was on a mini bus to the port town of Trat where I was to board a ferry and start across to the Island of Koh Chang. It’s also called Elephant Island, as its shape on a map resembles that of an elephant.
The ferry ride across was about a half hour so I began checking my guide book, reading up on information regarding the island and the different places to stay. It said the island had a leafy rainforest interior with towering waterfalls and isolated beaches. I read about the various places to stay and only the west coast at that time had accommodations. The accommodations were along the rim of the Island on three main beaches and as I read about the first Hat Sai Khao beach, it sounded like the place where the most partying took place. Then I read about Hat Khlong Phrao, the second furthest beach and it sounded a little more laid back. Then there was the last beach and furthest out called Kai Bae. As I read the details something caught my eye about this place. There was a small segment that talked about a man called Jerry Boxer who lived on the beach and taught Zen Tai Ji. I knew right then where I would be staying.
When I got to the Island I jumped into a pickup truck taxi with a bunch of other backpackers. For a nominal fee you can be driven and dropped off at the general beach area where you will be staying. It took about an hour to get to my destination and the more I saw of the Island the more I fell in love with its incredible beauty. There were a couple of young Israeli ladies who were in the taxi with me and didn’t know where to go. They asked me where I was going so I told them. They asked why and I said I’m going to meet some Zen martial arts guy I never met or even talked to. They asked why and I told them I had run a martial arts school in Toronto Canada for many years and wherever I went I always like to seek out interesting teachers and train with them. They laughed and decided to tag along and find accommodations in the same area.
After finding accommodations I decided to find this Zen teacher I read about. I walked up and down the beach many times but everywhere I went he wasn’t there. That night I had dinner with the two Israeli ladies and a few other travelers. The ladies asked me if I had found the “Zen guy”. I told them not yet but I would. They said maybe he wasn’t here anymore. I said, “Maybe; if he is, I will find him.” We then talked the night away and I was fascinated about the many stories they told me of Israel and their experiences having just finished serving in the military for many years. In Israel serving in the military is mandatory for every young adult of their country. Something I had never had to do living in Canada. While they talked, their love for their country was easily reflected in their words but I couldn’t help noticing that there was also an underlying sadness about the conflict going on there. I got the impression not only from them but from many other young Israelis just out of the service that I met along my journeys, they wished the violence and tension were not a reality in their region.
The next day I looked again for the “Zen guy” and once again his existence proved to be most elusive. So I initiated plan B, which was “when in doubt ask somebody.” After asking quite a few people the day was getting on, I was beginning to wonder if indeed he was even still on the island. Finally, I found someone who knew him and said that he no longer lived on the beach but had a place in the jungle not too far from here. He gave me the general idea of where to look and I decided I would start looking for him once again tomorrow morning.
That night a bunch of us had dinner and my Israeli lady friends started to ask me about my martial arts training. I told them about my many years’ experiences and also the assault prevention course I had designed back at my martial arts school in Canada. Before I left for Asia I often taught it in schools and for companies who would hire me to teach their employees. They asked if before I left if they could do some training with me in self defence. I said sure, anytime.
The next day after breakfast I started out on my journey once again to find the “Zen guy”. I walked up the dirt street and stopped to buy some fresh cut pineapple from a small table on the dirt road; oh man, talk about delicious! I continued to walk some more and about 15 minutes later I spotted a handmade wooden sign saying “ZEN TAIJI …BE AWAKE HEAL-FLOW …– 200 m ->” and it pointed into the Jungle. I walked into the jungle but saw nothing. I kept walking, and walking, it seemed like a lot more than 200 meters; but then again it was a jungle path so it was slower going. I came to another path that met this one and led into a clearing with two structures. One was a house and other was like a barn that had two levels. Next to this was an open air training floor with a roof on it. I walked in a little more, still picking pieces of fresh pineapple out of a bag with a toothpick and putting them into my mouth.
I waited for about 5 minutes standing there eating my pineapple and just looking around. Other than the constant drone of jungle insects all else was quiet; there was no activity at all. Then I shouted out, “Jerry…Jerry Boxer”. About 20 seconds later I saw a bald head look through the top floor of the open window in the barn. Then I heard in a shout back, “Who wants to know?” I had just put a piece of pineapple into my mouth, so it took me a few seconds to respond. I said, “Terry, Terry Hodgkinson”. Then I heard, “What can I do for you?” A few seconds later I replied back, “I hear you teach martial arts and I’m interested.” At that moment I laughed to myself; the situation reminded me of the old western cowboy movies where one gunslinger was calling out to the other. He said, “Yes I do, sometimes, but I don’t really teach; I more guide.”
After an introductory talk with Jerry, he said he would take me on as a student. We walked onto his wooden training floor and right away my eyes were drawn to the picture he had hanging off the pillar at the front. It was a picture of Ramana Maharshi, the famous Indian sage known for his long stints of silence and emphasis on self-enquiry and the inward directive question of “who am I?”
We trained for a few hours that day. Jerry was an American who at one time played Major League Baseball until s serious injury ended his professional career.
After that he moved China for four or five years and studied Gung Fu and Taiji from Chinese masters. He had married a Chinese lady and moved back to the States but when his wife left him he returned to Asia. He later met a Thai lady and married her and that’s how he got to Koh Chang Island. However, that too hadn’t worked out and now he was happy living the life of a recluse in jungle for many years. He had students who would come and see him a few times a year from different countries and the rest of the time he simply looked after his four dogs.
As our training session progressed it was obvious to see that Jerry had taken what he had learned from the masters in China and made it his own. He had naturalness to his movement that came from a deep understanding of energy flow. During our training session Jerry said that over the years he had worked with many people, but he was pleased to meet and work with someone else who shared the same understanding and passion for martial arts. I went to give him the $350 baht but he wouldn’t take it. I asked, “Why not?” and he answered, “You are more like a colleague than a student.” While I appreciated what he said I also knew he lived a simple life and had little income and I really wanted him to take the money for the time he spent with me. I put my hand out again and said, “Take it” and once again he refused. I had to think of something to get him to take the money but what? Then one of his dogs ran over to us with his tail wagging as he knew that training session was over, time to play. Jerry bent down and gave his dog such loving attention. BINGO that that was it! It came to me now how I could get him to take the money.
I once again held out my hand with the money and said “If you won’t take it for yourself, then take it for the well being of your dogs.” He straightened back up from scratching the dog’s side, looked at me with a piercing gaze in the eyes, and I felt his heart reach out to me as he said, “I will take it for that, thank you.”
We set up the training session for the next day and I thanked him and headed back to my little hut on the beach. I was feeling quite awake, well refreshed and very thankful to have found such a paradise on Koh Chang. My hut was close to the water, the sound of the waves from the ocean rolling along the shoreline and coconuts falling from the tree tops, making a loud thud as they hit the ground was like music to my ears.
Later that afternoon sometime after lunch the Israeli ladies wanted to go swimming so I joined them. They asked if I found the “Zen guy”. I said “Yes,” with a smile, “I had.” Then while we were swimming in the ocean something whizzed right by my head at an amazing speed and I looked at the ladies wondering where that came from. Had somebody thrown something? They were chatting away so I knew it couldn’t have been them. Then it happened again and then again. I still couldn’t figure where it was coming from. With my awareness piqued the next time it happened I figured it out and couldn’t believe my eyes. I yelled to the ladies “Hey, look. You have to see this; watch closely.” “See what?” one of them asked. “See this” as it happened and I pointed at what was whizzing by. We all watched in amazement and held our hands up to our face for caution. I had heard of these before but never seen it this close. A school of flying fish was passing by us. I mean passing right by my head! The reason they were hard to see was due to the fact half the time they were swimming the other half they were in the air flying by us, not something you see every day!
Just after that one of the ladies said to me, “Terry, maybe we should start that self defence class now!” I laughed and we started it right there in the water and it continued for the next hour. Having served as soldiers before they had received training in Krav Maga, an eclectic, efficient martial art system developed in Israel and taught to soldiers as part of their hand to hand combat training. As we continued the self defence training in the water I noticed their military training gave them an edge, allowing them to pick up the techniques faster than most. (See Terry demonstrating on TV)
The next day I headed back into the jungle to train again with Jerry. We trained for a few more hours and at the end again I went to give him money and once again he refused. I knew he didn’t have much money so I said, “Jerry, take it for the dogs!” and he did with a grateful heart. For the rest of the week that I stayed on the Island Jerry and I became great friends. I would say in a way even closer than friends, perhaps like Zen brothers. We spent a lot of time together and after a while the physical training became less and talks about life experiences and insights became more. At other times silence would take centre stage for long periods of time, yet it was not awkward in the least. There was an implicit understanding and joyousness shared between us, in those quiet moments.
Often Jerry would take me to his favourite dinning huts where he would introduce me to his favourite Thai dishes. Green curry with vegetables and tofu…still my favourite Thai dish to this day. They make it better of course in Thailand than anywhere else. Or we would head to a pub/hut and have a nice cold beer with conversation. One evening as we did just that a torrential rain storm hit and it rained heavy and non-stop for 45 minutes. There were 5 dogs sleeping by the entrance when all of a sudden they got up quickly and moved to the back of the sandy joint. Then I saw why, a huge black king scorpion that looked more like a lobster came in from outside, trying to get out of the rain and flooding. It came in and crawled right under my table. I took a picture of it as I had never seen such a thing before. You can see the footprint in the sand just above to the right to get some kind of comparison to how large it was.
After traveling for another three months around Asia I came back to the Island of Ko Chang and I hung around with Jerry some more. When I left, I reached out and handed Jerry some money. He said “No, no I don’t need that!” I simply said “What, it’s not for you; it’s for the dogs.” He smiled and said, “Thank you.”
When I’m back home in Canada I never keep in touch with Jerry, so each time I say good bye to him I never know if I will ever see him again. Over the last 10 years I have gone back to Asia a number of times and Jerry has moved a few times but I always seem to intuitively find him. One time I was getting off a bus in another town heading for Ko Chang and as I stepped off I saw gentleman whom I recognized from a restaurant I frequented on the Island. After saying hello he asked me where I was going and I told him. He asked me, “Are you going to visit Jerry?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Jerry is not living on Ko Chang anymore; he lives here. Come, I will take you to him.” I spent the next three days in a new city with Jerry. This is how it’s been each time I go back to Thailand. The last time I saw Jerry was three years ago and once again he had moved and once again I found him and we spent a few days together. Each time we meet we don’t make a big deal out of it. We just accept it for what it is in the moment. And each time I end with my hand outstretched to hear Jerry say to me, “No, no I don’t need that,” and every time I reply with, “Jerry, take it for the dogs!” And he smiles and says not only with words but with his heart, “Thank you” Only this time I gave him a little more because he had two more dogs. It seems wherever Jerry wanders, dogs just love to follow him around.
Written by Terry J. Hodgkinson Sifu
Update on my friend Jerry Boxer: 🙁
Sad to say my friend, teacher and fellow martial artist passed away from a sudden illness in 2013. He will be greatly missed by many. _/\_
Note: To view a short video of Jerry Boxer and myself in Thailand click here
Ueli Kläui seen in the picture below with his wife and child was a close friend and student of Jerry Boxer Sifu. He was the one who found me on the internet and contacted me to let me know Jerry was near death. I’m thankful that he did. He gave me a phone number to call Jerry to say goodbye. First time ever I had talked to Jerry without being in Thailand. Ueli told me that Jerry was so ill that he was unable to talk but he could listen. So when the phone was held up to his ear, I said thank you for all the wonderful times we had together. I also said that no matter where he went like always, I would soon find him again! I was told that he smiled when he heard this. Not that long after, Jerry passed away.