GM Rene J. Navarro: Renaissance Man

There is so much to say about Grandmaster Rene J. Navarro, that a biography should be written to document his adventures, study, contributions to Philippine culture, healing traditions, and martial arts. Until then, we have this truly inspiring and insightful memoir hidden within the essays of his encounters with extraordinary teachers the world over. The following is the foreword I wrote for his deeply insightful new book, Of Fire and Water: Alchemy and Transformation. It is part memoir, part travelogue, part research treatise, part philosophical work that anyone interested in mentoring with masters, taking pilgrimages, diving deep into ancient knowledge, deriving wisdom from practice, should read.

What is immediately self-evident in reading is Rene’s passion and drive toward self-empowerment through cultivation of his mind, his body, and his spirit. And I don’t list these terms as watered-down self-branded gurus and healers that get tossed about as mere jargon. In Rene’s case, he is indeed a scholar, well read, a writer and poet (mind); he is a half-century long practitioner of kung-fu, arnis, tai chi, massage, and qigong (body); and he is an advanced meditator, energy healer, reciter of mantra and sutra, and a loving man (spirit). His life-long pursuit of these excellences has taken him around the world many times to meet great masters under whom to study. Later, he traveled the world to teach and mentor others. I guess the correct term for Rene would be Renaissance Man. Truly, he is that.

Of Fire and Water: Alchemy and Transformation is the second volume of Rene’s work I have been fortunate to publish. The first is a heartfelt book of modern prose poetry titled, Ascension and Return: Poetry of a Village Taoist. Like this volume, that work also relates stories of extraordinary people, places, and experiences. Taken as a set, these books show a man of passion for life, who has experienced more than most, and yet remains humble and continues to search for meaning in life through self-cultivation. Reading about Rene’s upbringing in the Philippines, and given his personality, there is no doubt about his reasons for traveling path. Consider this passage:

product imageMany Filipinos in the 1950s complained about our colonial culture and our Westernized way of life. But obviously they could not do much about it because, well, what and where was the alternative? (…) They called for a Filipino way both in private life and government policies, but their lives revolved around a colonial culture. Foreign policy was dictated from Washington, DC. Basketball was the dominant sport, Coke the most popular drink, English the most widespread language and the mode of instruction from the grades to college, Christianity the most widespread religion, and Western entertainment hugged the stages and airwaves. (…) In college I was into Hemingway, Shakespeare, Homer, Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot. I wrote in English, I joined oratorical and writing contests in English and won awards, I spoke and read English in the classroom and outside. I went to the Jefferson Library on the Escolta and the British Reading Room on Azcarraga Street for their books and readings. When I saw pictures of Hatha yoga postures, I thought they were weird. I was a perfect colonial!

In an ironic twist of fate, it was in the 1970s when Rene relocated to the United States, that he learned about Asian culture, art, religion, and martial arts. The ‘perfect colonial’ came to burst through the colonial glass ceiling in the land of the colonizers. And the exposure he got to things “foreign” in America started him on the adventure of his lifetime. At 82, he has just returned from a teaching tour in the Philippines… the adventure never stops.

In the chapters that follow in this educational memoir of topic-specific essays, Rene takes the reader along with him on his journey toward self-cultivation in the Philippines, China, Thailand, America, Indonesia, Istanbul, Rome, Greece, Egypt, Cambodia, Mexico, Taiwan, and so many more places to meet extraordinary teachers and learn extraordinary things. You will meet Lao Kim, Johnny Chiuten, Jopet Laraya, Gin Soon Chu, Mantak Chia, Len Roberts, Amante Marinas, Xuan Kong, Ou Wen Wei, John Chang, and many other gifted teachers and practitioners.

I have known Rene for 30 years. He is godfather to my son Alex (named after my kung-fu sifu and our mutual friend, the late Master Alex Co). It’s odd how we both move about but somehow end up living in the same area. After working in Tokyo for Charles Tuttle Publishing Company I was relocated to their Boston office. Guess who was also living there: Rene! I relocated to Baltimore and Rene was there for some reason and we spent time together. I had a family and moved back to the Philadelphia suburbs, and don’t you know, Rene is living less than an hour away. From the grandmaster, I studied the traditional Yang Tai Chi form and Broadsword, Buddha Palm Qigong, and Lao Kim’s Red Boy Prays to Guanyin and Dragon-Tiger forms and the Pole. So much to learn, so little time.

As I write this, my 54th birthday was a few days ago, and a group of guests including Rene Navarro, were to come by my home tomorrow at 1pm for a cookout. But it’s been raining nonstop and will continue through tomorrow, so I rescheduled the get-together for next week. Toward the end of the afternoon today the doorbell rang. And there Rene was, unexpectedly at my door with a gift bag in hand. I opened the door and he said, “I am sorry for being four hours late! Or am I early? I don’t remember.” We laughed and hugged, and he came in. He brought me some very nice Long Jing Cha (Dragon Well Green Tea Leaves) and we sat and sipped tea and discussed all things of interest. He paused the conversation and said, “If I had come tomorrow, we would not have had the chance to talk with so many people around.” I smiled and said, because of the rain we rescheduled for next week. “Then it’s good I came today.” I agreed. Any time spent with such am amazing person is good… more than good, a blessing. For those who have not had the privilege of knowing Rene Navarro, of learning from him or having tea with him, this book shall suffice. Boil some lotus flower tea (his favorite) and sit back and allow yourself to be swept into the stories of a lifetime. Then, seek him out and spend some time with him. You will love it. And I expect he will, too.

Dr. Mark V. Wiley
Publisher, Tambuli Media
April 29, 2023

For over six decades, Grandmaster Rene J. Navarro has been on a mission, traveling the globe to learn from extraordinary masters of impossible skills, and to then develop those skills within himself. From the depth of Yang family Tai Chi Chuan to the refined and arcane techniques of Internal Alchemy, from poetry and music to deadly kung-fu, from meditation to discovering the Great Dao, Of Fire and Water brings alive the astonishing travels, discipleship, teachings, and commentaries on life of a man traversing the lonely and difficult path of energetic, cultural and spiritual self-cultivation. Through 32 inspiring essays, Of Fire and Water: Alchemy and Transformation will change the way you think about yourself, your body, and the interconnected nature of reality. Get your copy, today.

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