Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Taiji–what I love and what I hate about it

I love taiji weapons. I probably don’t have to say that by now, but I want to make it absolutely clear. If I had the stamina to do it all day long, I would. I’ve raved about how it’s helped me through the pandemic and how I’ve pushed ahead with it at a clip that has surprised me. In comparison, doing the Solo Form is like pulling teeth with me. Even the Medium Form, which I like well enough, is not something I would choose to do if I had other options–like weapons.

We need to talk about Master T. T. Liang’s Long Form because it has been my nemesis since day one. It’s roughly 20 minutes long and is split into three sections. The third section is nearly as long as both the other sections put together and the entire form is filled with repetition. In addition, Master Liang loved the performative aspect of taiji so he made every movement an even-number of counts so the whole thing could be set to music. That means there is filler, which is strange for a medium that is predicated on exerting the least amount of energy necessary in any given situation.

I have to get into the weeds a little to explain some of the differences between the Long Form and the Medium Form so my apologies in advance if some of this is a bit abstruse. Hah. I first typed obtruse–which is my mashup of obtuse and abstruse. Anyway! In the Long Form, the bow stances–oh dear. A bow stance is when one foot is forward and pointed straight ahead. The back foot is shoulder-width apart (and usually the toes are at a forty-five degree angle NE, if front foot in north). Usually, the feet are a foot/foot-and-a-half apart front to back, but that doesn’t matter as much as the shoulder-width apart side-to-side. There can be a forward bow stance and a back bow stance, but it’s usually forward–meaning the weight is forward.

In the Long Form, the weight is 2/3rds and 1/3rd, but it can be rounded up to 70% and 30%. In the Medium Form, the weight is 100% forward, and it’s 60/40 on the back stance. The benefit of the Long Form bow stance is that you’re not exerting extraneous energy and it’s good for health reasons. The benefit to the Medium Form bow stance is that prime for martial arts applications. At least, that’s my understanding of the differences. The Long Form is considered the beginner’s form and easier to learn. The Medium Form is the advanced form and more difficult. At least this is what my teacher has told me. Her teacher wants her to teach the Long Form to the beginning classes and the Medium Form for the advanced classes. In prep for this, she has been going over the Long Form in all Zoom classes.

I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I still do not like this form at all. It used to give me crippling back pains when we did it on the regular. They would start at the end of the first section and by the third section, my back was screaming in agony. I’ve had to stop more than once during the third section because my back had clenched up so badly. In addition, my knees…oh my poor knees. I was able to clear up the latter problem with the help of my teacher looking at my knees as I demonstrated a part of the Long Form to her. She deduced that I was collapsing my knees and counseled me to make sure that my knees were over my toes. That helped tremendously with the tendonitis in my knees, but the issue of my back pains still continued.

Fast-forward to now, roughly two years after my teacher’s teacher switched from the Long Form  to the Medium Form. I am now 100% back pain-free because of the stretches my teacher suggested I try. In starting the Long Form again, the pain has come back. Not nearly as intense or as often as before, but it’s there. I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s talk about the Medium Form instead. Yes, you still have to make sure your knees are over your toes, but it’s easier when 100% of your weight is on one foot.


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A mélange, a potpourri, and an olio–but mostly Lil Nas X

My brain has been jumping all over the place and my sleep has sucked, so this post is going to meander more than usual. I’m going to pull back the curtain a bit on how I write posts. Not on the writing itself because that’s usually just put down whatever is in my brain. No, it’s about how I decide what to write about. Normally, there’s something pressing on my brain and I let that flow from my fingers until I’ve said all I need to say on the subject or until  I lose interest. Sometimes, it’s both, but sometimes it’s one or the other.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with my concentration for reasons I don’t want to get into. Suffice to say, it’s not as easy to get shit done as it used to be. Most of the time, I just grit my teeth and force myself to write the post. It may not be as long as it normally is or very good, but I get it done, damn it. Today, however, I’m going to write about whatever is on my mind with no attempt at coherency. Here we go.

Lil Nas X. I didn’t know he existed until yesterday when I read something about Satan Shoes, his new kicks. That he’s selling. Oh, and he’s a rapper? Singer? Both? Anyway, there are 666 pairs and they contain drops of human blood. That’s all I knew when I made this tweet:

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The state of my health

My sleep has been shit(tier) lately so I apologize in advance if this is a rambling mess of a post. Sleep, my lifelong nemesis. So much so, I’ve written a novel with Morpheus (of Neil Gaiman fame. Not that he invented Morpheus, of course, but this particular version) as the main antagonist. Goddamn it. I still feel sorrowful when I think of that novel because there’s no way I can publish it. It’s not fanfic as the main character is, well, me. I use all the members of the Endless as I envision them, and, quite frankly, it’s really good.

Anyway, I’d been happy because in the past year or two, my sleep had stabilized. But then in the last few months, it’s gone off the rails again. Why? I don’t know. Is it because of the coffee I’m drinking again? You’d think so, but the troubles started before I took up caffeine once again. It may not be helping, but it’s not the root cause. It’s frustrating because caffeine is beneficial for some things (thumb issue if it’s RA), negative for some things (sleep) and both in others (migraines). So far, I’ve kept the caffeine because the positives have outweighed the negatives, but I may have to quit if it gets worse.

My thumb is better. It’s still sore and tender and hard to bend at times, though. I’ve decided that it’s probably better not to wear a splint most of the time because I don’t use it when I type. The main reason to wear a splint is to keep the digit from moving on its own or from being accidentally knocked into. I feel that constricting the blood flow is not a good thing to do for hours on end so I only put it on when my hand starts actually hurting rather than just being sore and tender to the touch. I can deal with it even though I’m not happy about it, obviously. What’s more worrisome is that my right hand is starting to have…issues. Not the same issues as my left thumb, but still.

Ok. I’m just not feeling it today. Here are Maru, Hana, and Miri.

I’m slicing and I’m dicing

Thumb update: doing better, but still tender and sore. I’m stretching it daily, icing it and heating it alternately. I’m using the splint less because I don’t think it’s helping as much now. More to the point, I don’t do much with my thumb on the daily so there’s no need to splint it. I do wear it while I sleep because I toss and turn while I sleep; I don’t want to knock it into something. In addition, if I type too long without it on, the base of my thumb and part of my palm closest to it actually starts hurting. Then, I put on the splint and it’s better in five or ten minutes. It’s frustrating how long it’s taking to get better, but it *is* getting better.

Weapons. Let’s talk weapons. Wait, where are you going? I know I’ve become a one-note wonder on this, but it’s been consuming me for the past few weeks. Ever since I got the twin broadsword set, that is. I love them so much. They’re lighter than the escrima sticks I’d been using as a substitute and more ergonomically friendly for my hands. They don’t aggravate my thumb and they move like a dream.

I don’t know how to explain this, but each weapon has a different feel to it. When I hold one in my hand, there’s an energy that is distinct to that particular weapon. The sword is an elegant weapon as it dances in the air. It is the scholar’s weapon and it’s all about finesse. It’s lethal, yes, but it’s more about showing that you are a master over the weapon. The saber, on the other hand, is more about bonking people very hard. It’s a strong, powerful weapon that makes me feel like a warrior as I wield it. Spear is back into the finesse category and it’s both solid and delicate. It’s over six-feet long, which makes it interesting to maneuver it indoors. Cane is pure Broadway. I can’t help it. I just want to tap my way across the room. Karambit is fast and not-so-furious, and I feel like a proper rogue when I wield it. Stealth mode activated!

Moving onto the double sabers. Doing the drills with the escrima sticks, it felt weighty and almost meaty. The steel is thin and flexible, which results in making a swishing sound if I move it too quickly. That’s a bonus because I tend to hurry through my movements. My goal in moving the twin broadswords at the moment is not to trigger the whooshing sound. Also, not to hit myself. I’ve done that more than once because when you pass the blades behind your back, you’re supposed to actually touch them to your back. Which is fine and good, but there’s a thin line between touching and hitting. Fortunately, it’s with the back of the blades and not the front, but still.

Deer-horn knives. These are on the backburner right now. I walk the circle once a week, but I have so many other things on my plate that I haven’t pushed myself to learn any more of it. I just finished teaching myself the Wu-Li Wudang Sword and the left side of the Sword Form. Both of these were fairly easy to teach myself (at least the forms in general. Nowhere near polished, of course). Next up is the last row of the Karambit Form, which I’m sure will be more difficult. I already knew the right side of the Sword Form and have done it probably close to a  thousand times. With the Wu-li Wudang Sword, I already knew the different energies being displayed.

Alright. I’m struggling with this post. My mind has not been sharp the last week or two, so I’m going to wrap this up for now.

Human blender commences…blending

come to mama, baby!
Cuisinart in the house!

My twin broadsword set has arrived. I found it outside my door last night and was surprised because I was expecting it later in the week, but, of course, I’m ecstatic. Picture to the right. Please ignore the fact that I had to stand on my piano bench in order to get both broadswords in the picture (yes, on top of the piano cover).

They’re thin metal–almost foil-like–and make that weird swishing sound that such material makes when moved too quickly. It’s a good reminder to slow down and be deliberate in my actions. Just because I want to be the human blender, it doesn’t mean I have to go as fast as possible. That’s a main tenet of taiji–slow and smooth. It’s called the lazy martial art because the goal is to put in the minimum amount of effort needed for the maximum output. No pain, no gain? No. No pain, period. If you’re getting pain from doing taiji, you’re doing something wrong. Such as, I had tendonitis in my knees. It was because I was overextending on my front foot and I was collapsing my knees. Once I fixed those issues (which took time and focus, by the way. Bad habits die hard), my tendonitis went away.

Side note: I think that’s one reason I’m so grumpy about my left thumb having problems (and the tiniest hint of the same in my right thumb). I’m used to using taiji to clear up my aches and pains, but the thumb is difficult to focus on, even with taiji. I’m doing the left side of the Sword Form which is supposed to help according to my taiji teacher, but that may take some time. See, that’s the thing about taiji. It helps, yes, but it’s not an instant cure. But with my back and knees, I was fairly confident the taiji would help. Those were established solutions. My thumb? Not as sure. I could tell my teacher wasn’t sure it would help, but at the very least, it won’t hurt. Also, I’m wary about what it is because I had an issue in my right wrist three decades ago that my doctor incorrectly diagnosed as carpal tunnel. I had it wrapped for months and did everything I was supposed to do to alleviate it. It didn’t get better and I was sent to a specialist. He grabbed my thumb and yanked on it sharply. I jumped in the air and he said my problem was the opposite of carpal tunnel. I don’t remember what the actual diagnosis was, but I had surgery, wore a soft cast for a month, and it was all better. While what I’m experiencing now is nothing like what I had before, I do wonder if it’s the same thing.

My thumb is slowly getting better overall, but it’s really bad in the mornings. It’s funny how little I actually use my thumb and how upsetting it is to have this issue. I’ve completely trained myself to use my right thumb for the space, which was the major thing I used my thumb for before. Weirdly, using my left thumb doesn’t hurt most of the time; it’s just specifically bending the knuckle that is painful. And the base and root parts of my thumb are tender to the touch. If I don’t touch my thumb and am not trying to bend it, it doesn’t hurt at all.

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The long road back to recovery

I’ve been thinking about my thumb a lot for obvious reasons. It’s funny how much you take things for granted until it hurts like fucking hell. well, to be more precise, it aches like hell. It doesn’t hurt, per se, except the time I slept without the splint because I foolishly decided I didn’t need to wear it at night any longer. That’s where my background comes in because my mom is the same way. The second something feels better, she decides she can go 100 again. She recently had surgery on her shoulder (which had issues that made me so angry at my father and the doctor, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it because she was in Taiwan) and she was upset when she wasn’t back to her normal self in a month. She complained, saying her doctor said that’s how long it would take.

I doubt he said that exactly because she has a habit of hearing what she wants to hear, but even if he had something similar to that, it doesn’t make any kind of sense to think that you’d completely heal from a major surgery in a month. That’s the thing about being a perfectionist, however, and I know this from experience. We don’t have much resource for dealing with ongoing frustration. In my brain, I should be able to think my way to a solution. Also, despite my contrarian nature, I am a rules follower for the most part. So, in my brain, if I am actively working on improving my thumb, then it should get better. And it is, but on such a slow schedule. First week, I just tried to massage the thumb and take it easy. While wearing a splint. I do stretches for my thumb every day and today, I received my heat/ice therapy assists (gel patches, gel finger splint, gel mittens. The gel packs can go either hot or cold). I’m going to do some heat/ice therapy and see if that helps as well.

On the taiji front (because you know I can’t go a post without talking about it.

Side note: When I first started studying taiji, I would notice how much my teacher talked about it and how she had made it central to her life. We are friends as well as teacher/student and in the Before Times, we used to hang out while not in class sometimes. It was clear to me that taiji was her life. Which, good for her, but I didn’t understand it. I was doing it begrudgingly and not really wanting to be there.


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The more things change….

I gave up coffee. Again. Maybe not for good, but I switched back to green tea for my caffeine. Why? Because my sleep has been terrible since I started drinking it again. Green tea didn’t seem to have that effect and it’s delicious, especially with pomegranate. I haven’t had this bad of sleep in some time and it’s really messing with my head. Yes, my migraines have been kept at bay, but is it worth it? I don’t know. With the absence of the migraines, I would say yes. But, in the middle of a migraine, I would say no. It’s the duel of the conflicting health issues!

On the weapons front, I loaded up today. I did the beginning of the Double Sabre Form, sword drills, the whole Sabre Form, the Karambit Form, and spear drills. Oh, I forgot to do the one row of the Cane Form I know, so I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m still thinking about about a music/form mashup and we’ll see if I have the energy for that. One thing about going to the demo is that it fills me with possibilities–much like a kid with her nose pressed to the window of a candy shop. I want everything I can see and all at one time. My teacher likes to say that there’s a lifetime to learn things so there’s no reason to rush.

She’s right, but that doesn’t stop my brain from whispering that I’m behind and need to catch up. Not that kindly, of course, as my brain is really mean to me most of the time. Actually, I have to check that. It used to be horrid to me. I had a constant tape of negativity that looped in my brain and it just felt normal. I called him (and it was definitely a him) The Dictator and he was a cruel master. He had so many rules and regulations, it was impossible to keep them straight and not mess up.

Side note: Quick background about the Dictator. I grew up being constantly told, mostly by implication, that my feelings were not valid. They constantly got minimized and ignored, and I was not allowed to show any kind of negative emotion. Negative meaning anger, sadness, depression, etc. Only my father was allowed to show anger because he was king of the castle and allowed to do whatever he wanted. The rest of us had to tiptoe around him and catered to his every whim.

I internalized those messages to such an extent that even now I have difficulty showing human emotions in a natural manner. It’s one reason I prefer writing because it’s easier to mimic through written words than through speaking. I’m better at it, but it’s still not something I can do without thinking. In the past, I’ve been able to mimic the emotions because I’m observant and I used to do some  acting in my youth.

I want to be clear. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the emotion on some level. If a friend told me they, say, got a great new job, then I felt happy for them deep down inside. The problem was that I had wrapped my emotions in multiple layers of cotton that I could no longer feel them. Not only that, I couldn’t even access them.

I had a flat affect at the time because I was in a deep depression and I felt as if I could never get out of it. Now, I’m still not as emotive as ‘normal’ people, but I can more easily  pass. And I have access to my emotions, albeit muted versions.


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Happy Lunar New Year + taiji demo

Happy Year of the Ox, everyone! I’m not a huge celebrator of holidays, but I’m more into Lunar New Year than the alternative because, well, just because. That doesn’t mean I do much about it, but I at least acknowledge it–mostly because my family celebrates it.

One thing that comes with the Lunar New Year is the demo at my taiji teacher’s home studio. Last year was right before the pandemic really hit and it was both great (saw the Double Sabre Form) and terrible (car wouldn’t start afterwards because of the bitter cold). This year, there was question whether there would even be one given the pandemic, but they decided to do it on Zoom.

My teacher was in charge of it as she does all the online Zoom classes, but this was the first time she’d done an event of this magnitude. We had twenty-five or so people, which was more than I expected for a Zoom event.

The way it was handled was that my teacher had roughly twenty slots for demos. Solo demos, which was the only way it made sense. It was limited to 2-3 minutes per demonstrator. Hm. Not a good word. Presenter.

It would have been better in person, of course, but there were a few benefits to it being online. One, we’re in the middle of a wind chill advisory and it might get down to -45. Two, for me, it was nice to be able to sit in the comfort in my own home and not have to worry about my physical energy levels. Also, while I enjoy watching the group presentations, it’s easier to focus on the details with single presenters.

One thing that blew my mind was that two of the women who demoed did their routines to rap/hip hop, one being a Beastie Boys song. I had never thought about doing a routine to music, let alone hip hop/rap, and it was the most amazing thing. One was the Dancing Wu-Li Form and the other was a mixture of sabre forms.

At first, I was taken aback with the two of these being brought together. But, watching the first demo, I immediately got into it and thought, “Why the hell not?” Then, I was besotted by it and by the end of the demo, I was thinking of which forms I could unite with which rap songs.


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Feeding my addiction

Weapons. Let’s talk about them. Why? Because I’m obsessed with them. I mean, I’ve always loved my weapons, but in the last few months, they’ve really become deeply meaningful to me. As much as I love taiji in general, I would not have said the same for the Solo Form. I’ve really struggled with the Solo Form. I hated it from the beginning and, honestly, I didn’t know why I stuck with it especially since I had a disastrous experience the first time I tried taiji due to a terrible, manipulative, shady teacher.

With my second teacher, I fought her every step of the way. I was recalcitrant and grumpy, pushing back hard on whatever she said. I hated the Solo Form. I hated it so much that I didn’t practice it at home. In fact, I added a second class a week because I wouldn’t practice at home. Why didn’t I quit especially as it was not mandatory in any way? I’m still not entirely sure. Something inside me kept pushing me to go. I needed something to do as exercise as I hated nearly every other form of it.

In addition, I wanted to have a way to defend myself if I ever needed it. I have been in harrowing situations in the past and never want to be in one again. Or rather, I never want to feel as helpless as I have in the past. Indeed, I have already seen the fruits of my labor in other ways. Such as my minor car accident in which I saw the other car coming towards me. I thought, “I’m going to get hit,” and my body immediately relaxed. I didn’t will it to relax and I didn’t consciously think that I had to relax–it just happened.

But did I ever learn to love the Solo Form? No. I still don’t. I don’t hate it any longer, but I don’t love it. And yet, there was something in me that kept pushing to do it. I resentfully started practicing at home for five minutes a day. Just the warmups and maybe a bit of the Solo Form. Oh, I also did the weight-bearing set that is in taiji as well.

Against myself, I started incorporating more and more of taiji into my daily life. I added a third class and my home routine stretched out into ten minutes, fifteen, and now, up to forty-five minutes with the expansion being on the weapons side. I’ve had to cajole and trick myself into doing more taiji because that’s the way my brain works, but whatever it takes.


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Learning the rules before breaking them

There’s a saying in writing that you have to know the rules before you can break them. I agree. And I am at the point where I knowingly break rules I think don’t make sense. Such as using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence as I did in the last sentence. Or ending a sentence with a preposition. That is one I do a lot because I don’t see any reason not to do it. That’s pretty much my excuse for anything I do that breaks the rules in writing–it makes the flow better. I’m about communicating, not about the stiffness of rigid rules. I will not give up my semi-colon, however; that, I will not do.

There’s a similar thing in taiji. The first thing you learn is the Solo Form, which is the basis for everything else in taiji. I hated the Solo Form when I first learned it. That was over a decade ago. I got used to it, but I never liked it. With the long form (Master T.T. Liang’s form), there were just so many things I didn’t like about it. A few years ago, my teacher’s teacher modified it to be more in line with Master Choi’s teaching and suddenly, I liked it much better, especially the Fast Form. I was talking about it with my teacher during our last private lesson because I was saying how when we used to do the whole form, my lower back would start to hurt at the end of the first section. By the end of the third section, nearly twenty minutes later, my whole back would be cramped up and it would hurt. I didn’t understand how this was supposed to be good for me!

In addition, I had the habit of collapsing my back knee which gave me tendonitis around my knee. I had mentioned that to my teacher when it was the worst (about five years ago) and she gave me tips to deal with it. They helped, but it was a lot of effort to reverse the damage. Anyway, I was saying how I could do the whole current form without my lower back hurting and I couldn’t figure out why. My teacher mentioned the change in form and it clicked in my brain. I mean, of course it made sense that changing the form would ameliorate the pain, but I just didn’t think about it. My knees don’t hurt, either. The difference is that this form is focused on the martial arts applications whereas the old form was more for health benefits. It was more theoretical and difficult to get exactly what you were supposed to do.


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