Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: Bagua

Taiji and how it’s changed my life, part six

I’m continuing to muse about Taiji and me for the sixth post. In the last post, I talked about how I learned to trust my Taiji teacher over time beacuse she was consistent, transparent, and steady in her response to my barrage of questions. It’s one of her best qualities in my eyes. I could expect honesty from her no matter what question I asked her, so now, a decade-and-a-half later, I don’t even queestion it when she tells me something about Taiji. She has earned that trust.

Then, six months ago or so, I wanted to learn the Swimming Dragon Form with the deerhorn knives in Bagua, a different martial art. I love the deerhorn knives. They are probably my favorite weapons overall (double sabers are myi favorite taiji weapons) beacuse they are so vicious. Did I say that out loud?

Many many moons ago, I was having difficulty with meditation. I kept having flashbacks, which was highly unpleasant. My teacher brought in a pair of her pratice deerhorn knives and handed them to me. She taught me how to walk the circle with them, and that wsa what I did in the corner while the rest of the class was doing meditation.

It was during this time and while I was walknig the circle that I had a life-changing realization. I used to proclaim that I was a pacifist and  that if someone tried to kill me, I would let them. This was married with my belief that my life didn’t matter in and of itself. That wasn’t something I just thought up myself, by the way. My mother drummed it into my head ever since I could remember, and when I was eleven, she started pouring out all her problems (especially with her marriage) to me.

I got to hear about how unhappy she was and how depressed. She comlained about my father incessantly and how he had done her wrong. Which, she wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t something you should be telling your eleven-year-old child. She did not do this to my brother, by the way, in case you were wondering. There are a few reasons for this. One, I was AFAB, and my mother has very rigid ideas about gender. Women were for nurturing, cleaning, cooking, sewing, and birthing babies–not necessarily in that order. Funnily, though, even though she liked to say that being a parent was the most important thing to her (and she said it all the time), she focused all her attention on my father.

It makes sense now because he has dementia that is getting worse and worse. It started when he was in his sixties, and he’s mid-eighties now.

When my mother complained about my father, I just shut down. There was nothing I could do about it, and she would have not handled it well if I walked away. I was a hostage to her complaints, though there were no physical chains restraining me.

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Bagua brings out the beast in me

I am AFAB and a part of two different cultures that put a heavy emphasis on performing femininity. That would  be American and Taiwanese. It’s insidious in both cultures, though in differing ways.

Taiwanese culture, at least through my parents, is regressive, stifling, and has rigid gender expectations. Every time I’ve been there, I have been criticized for being too fat, too American, and (implied), not feminine enough. My parents have very toxic views on gender, and their consistent negativity about how I perform femininity has shaped me in significant ways.

It’s one of the reasons I had difficulties when I first started studying Taiji. I wanted to be able to defend myself because I was a paper tiger. I had many bad experiences up to that point (I was thirty-seven or so), and I had developed a hard shell and an even harder stare that kept most people at bay. I also wore sunglasses and black most of the time, and I did not smile when I was out and about. In addition, I strode as I walked, and I deliberately cultivated a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude.

Here’s the thing, though. I had nothing to back it up. 90% of people took one look at me and decided not to mess with me. The remaining 10% (closer to 5%, really) were the problem.

I wanted to be able to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. If someone came at me, I wanted to be able to take care of myself.

Also, I did not want to spend the rest ofmy life in fear. I thought that learning a martial art would help me with that. My first experieence in my twenties was a disaster because the teacher was a disaster in many ways. I took some time to lick my wounds and then started looking for another teacher. I was skittish becuase of my first experience, but I was determined to try again. I was a decade older and

First off, I wanted a woman. This was fifteen years ago when gender was mostly binary. These days, quite frankly, I would have looked for anyone other than a man. It was mostly because of my terrible first experience, but it was also because, to be brutally honest, I was sick of men lecturing me in general (even when it was legit).

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Bagua brings out the beast in me

When I talk about Taiji, it’s really difficult to convey the feeling of flow that I get in when a weapon form is going well. I have said that holding a sword was like having an extension of my hand, but that’s a very clumsy way of phrasing it. And trite. I can talk about how it feels like dancing, but that’s incomplete, too.

Bottom line. You really do have to experience it to know what it’s like. As with anything, really. It’s a fact of life that we can’t know what anyone else feels. That doesn’t stop me from trying, though. Taiji and now Bagua are so important in my life, I want to share that with other people.

It’s interesting, though, how when I was on Twitter (yes, TWITTER), I used to tweet about my love for Taiji weapons. Inevitably, I got very different responses from people based on their gender. This was back when people identified mostly in the binary. Men would respond by saying how hot it was, either implicitly or explicitly. Some were very explicit.

Women, on the other hand, were appalled and horrified by what they saw as  me being violent. Because of course that’s the only reason someone could be interested in weapons would be because they had a violent nature. One woman even said that she didn’t think I was like that. Like what, I didn’t know, but I could guess.

Both of these responses irritated me and reeked of sexism. With the former, they just wanted to get with me and it was titillating to think of me as being good with weapons. It’s much like female cops often have a hard time dating because men were either intimidated by them or arroused by the fact that they wielded a gun.

In both cases, they weren’t seeing the policewoman as a person but as a woman with a gun. It’s the same with guys who want to fuck me because I do martial art weapons. Although, I guess, to some extent it’s similar to dudes who just looooooove Asian women. It’s not seeing a person as an individual.

I’m not necessarily saying it’s bad to think someone’s hot because of any one thing. Everyone does to a certain extent. I mean, we all objectify others (well, those of us who want to have sex with others), and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It only becomes a problem when it’s all a person can see in the other person. Or in this specific case, when a dude thinks that me doing martial arts weapons is for him somehow.

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Bagua is life

I had a private lesson today. Bagua, not Taiji. There is so much I want to leran; it’s hard to focus on just one thing. There are All. The. Weapons. But, for now, I have been captivated by the Swimming Dragon Form (Bagua), and I have asked my teacher to teach me. Before we got to that, though, we talked about her teaching style. One thing I really appreciate about her is that she tailors the way she teaches to each student.

For instance, she knows that I am going to question everything she tells me and instinctively push back when she asks me to try something new. At least that’s the way it was in the first five years of my study. I had aa deep distrust of…well, everything. She slowly won me over by being frank and honest with me.

Here’s the thing. I can tell when people are lying to me–even the slightest. Or skirting around the truth. I have written about how it’s because my mother gaslit me my entire life. Not on purprose and not deliberately, but she did. And still does. I don’t trust her to tell me thet rtuth. I am the unofficial keeper of the family lore. My brother and my father are also unreliable to a certain extent. My fathre because he’s…just a whole nother issue altogether. My brother because he has a terrible memory and forgets what happened a week ago, let alone what happened in our childhood.

Because of this, I am persnickety about the truth. I am as precise as possible because my brain is not happy with untruths. It’s one reason I over-explain myself. I want to make sure that others know I’m being as truthful as possible. Unfortunately, I have a hard time explaining myself for several reasons. One, I am a freak. I was talking about this with my teacher because she grew up as a freak, too.

One positive thing about being a freak is that I can see things from many different angles. This is also the negative about being a freak, by the way. Some things don’t need to be seen from a different angle. In addition, I can get lost in the weeds sometimes. Seeing things that aren’t there or things that aren’t explicitly stated. Was I right? More often than not, yes. This is not a humblebrag or even a stairght-out brag.

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Let it flow (and let it go)

Most of the time, I prefer to follow a schedul and am rather rigid in my way of thinking. This is fine until the routine becomes a rut. I love Taiji, but I will admit that for the last six months or so, I was less-than-enthused about it. I’m weird in that while I vastly prefer a schedule for the most part, I will get bored of it at a certain point in time. I was telling my teacher that if I’m not careful, I start doing things by rote.

She said that was easy to do if you don’t practice without intention. Let’s face it. Doing something over and over can make it easy to slip into it being a habit. Taiji is about being present in the moment and not anticiptaing what was coming up.

My beloved weapons were the exception, but even with that, I aws lagging a bit. I have put learning vew weapnos on hold, which is probably part of thereason that I’m feeling stale. But,I need to refine my current forms and not rush onto another one.

Then I saw my teacher doing the Swimming Dragon Form (Bagua), and I needed that in my life. This is how I learn new weapons sometimes. I see it; I want it; I do it. I’m excited once again, and it’s because I’m learning something new. I have added several Bagua drills to my routine, and that has freshened things up quite a bit.

My usual practice goes like this. I start with the stretches and the warmups as I’m feeding Shadow. He has become incredibly picky as he’s gotten older, and he eats v-e-r-y slowly now. It can take up to forty-five minutes for him to eat one meal. And I have to switch his food two to three times per meal. He’s old. I think his nose is failing. His appetite isn’t, though. He eats more than he used to, but he still has old cat body.

Anyawy, while he is eating, I do my stretches and warmups. I o a sectoion from the Solo (Long) Form. on Saturdays, it’s the first section of the Fast Form. Which is my favorite. I only know the first section, but I cannot wait to learn more.

Side note: I no longer remember what my side note was gonig to be. I would say, though, that one thing that frustrates me about the solo forms is that my teacher’s teacher is constantly fiddilng with them. Maybe not now, buct there was a time when it seemed like he was changing things every other week. My teacher said that with the old masters, they did the same. They never stopped tweaking and they just expected their students to roll with it.

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More about Bagua–and Taiji

After a few posts in which I went down several side paths, I finally began to talk about Bagua in the last post I wrote. I don’t know much about the history, but what I do know is that the founder, Dong Haichuan/Hai Chuan, used DeerHorn Knives (real ones, not steel ones) in his own practice. The reason for that particular weapon is because they can defeat any other kind of weapon. It’s because the ‘horns’ can hook, pull, block, deflect, etc.

They’re also really fucking cool.

When my teacher gave me her practice DeerHorn Knives, I was hooked immediately. Despite my love for weapons, I have not gelled with them all. And I have only immediately loved a few. The sword is the first and most infamous of the lot. Then, I tried the saber next, which I hated. I was expecting it to be like the sword, which it was not in the least.

It took me several years, a minor car accident, and more learning/practice to come around to the saber. I still don’t love it, but I can appreciate it–which is much better than hating it!

Next was the karambit form (I think). That’s not Taiji or Bagua. It’s a small, two-sided knife/dagger, and it’s wicked. I love this form and need to teach myself the last row (fifth, I think). My teacher knew that I liked weapons and taught this one to me just for funsy. Then, it was the Cane Form.

I have to confess that I don’t like the Cane Form. It’s…fine. But I have no affiinity with it. I am not sure why as it’s very Broadway-ish, which is my jam. I think it’s because we were learning it in class right before the pandemic hit (and that was after a long hiatus), so the world was very weird at the time. At any rate, it’s my least-favorite of the forms I know.

Next was–let me say that  my teacher taught me staff/spear drills at some point. There really isn’t a spear/staff form, per se, but there is a two-person form. Which we will get to later. I like the staff/spear well enough, but it’s not my favorite, either. It’s the highest-level weapon, though. The one that is the most difficult to learn. The second is the sword, and it’s funny that it’s the first weapon we are taught.

The beginning of the pandemic was a wild and woolly time, weapons-wise. Right before the soft lockdown, my teacher’s studio had their annual demo. They usually do it around the lunar new year. In that demo, one of her classmates did the Double Saber Form. I instantly fell in love and vowed that would be my next weapon form.

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Bagua–for REAL this time

Ok. I’m going to talk about Bagua for real this time. Not ilke for fake as I did in the last post. And the one before that. but I swear that this time, I am actually going to talk about Bagua. Eventually.

To recap, I did some Bagua a few years after starting Taiji. It wsa walking the circle with the 8 Palms. I leared how to do it with DeerHorn Knives as well. I did it as a way to avoid meditation because the lattelr was too fraught for me as I was suffering frem PTSD. Or maybe even cPTSD.

Side note: I did not know before this that meditation can exacerbate PTSD. Once I started experiencing it in class, I was freaked out. I had flashbacks along with other unpleasant sensations, which had me scurrying  to the internet. I discovered that this was not uncommon, though it wasn’t talked about much.

What I read is that without proper guidance, meditation can trigger traumatic responses. This is something to be aware of, and it wasn’t something Ihad heard of before I did meditation in Taiji class. Once I brought it up to my teacher, she decided to see if Bagua would be better. It was, indeed.

I can do meditation now, but it’s still not my favorite. I would be perfectly happy to never do it again, but I can deal with it in class. I would still prefer doing 8 palms, though.

It was walking the circle that made me realize that my life was worthwhile. What do I mean by that? I’ll explain. I was raised to believe that my life was not worth anything other than what I could do for other people. I was a living emotional support person, and that was all I was supposed to be.

I was a pacifist at that time and said that if someone wanted to kill me, I would let them. Then, I started walking the circle with the 8 palms. The basic premise is that the opponent is in the middle of the circle, and you wanted to focus on them as you walked. I was doing this during one particularly rough day, and I suddenly had a flash of, “If it’s you or me, then it’s you (dying).” That was the first moment in my life that I thought my life had value–I was over 35, probably closer to 40.

I talked about it with my teacher, and she was very excited to me. She said that men had to be taught to  chil out (in general) whereas women (as I identified then) had to be taught how to fight. Blame the patriarchy for both that girls were told to ‘be nice’ whereas boys were taught they always had to be alpha dog.

I stopped saying I was a pacifist after that moment. It was never really true, but I felt as if  ihad to say it. My life was worth fighting for, and I embraced that knowledge.

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Bagua is my bag (for real)–bait and switched again

Yesterday, I was going to write about Bagua and then went completely off the rails. Well, not completely. It was tangential to what I was talking about, but it did relate. I was writing about my mother’s ability to gaslight me about past events, but with utter sincerity on her part.

Because of this, I question everything. This is both a good and a bad thing, sometimes at the same time. There is that meme about the ‘well, actually’ guy, but that is me. I know enough not to say it out loud all the time, but it’s constantly in my mind. I recognize that it’s not a trait that other people find endearing. Hell, I find it annoying sometimes. But I also find the lack of nuance irritating. Also, I said this to an online friend, I was raised to not voice my opinion by parents who were deeply sexist. Their culture in general was sexist at the time (Taiwanese) as was American culture. My parents were reactionaries, even in their own culture.

When I started Taiji, I had a million questions for my teacher. And I was clearly skeptical about everything she had to say. She remained cheerful and would answer my questions endlessly. If she did not know the answer, she would say that she would find out for me. I really appreciated that she didn’t try to shine me on or bluff her way through an answer.

My first Taiji teacher was…terrible. I won’t get into why because I’ve talked about it before, but one thing I really disliked about him as a teacher was that he put on this ‘I am the wise master who knows everything’ attitude that he had not earned. His Taiji was solid, but he as a person was not. He was scum, quite honestly, and I should have quit a lot sooner than I did.

His personal issues aside, he was not a good teacher, either. He would never say that he did not know something or that something was beyond him. In addition, I was in the beginners class and never learned the whole form. Why? Beacause the teacher would keep starting from the beginning. He said that since it was the beginner’s class, it was for beginners. In restrospect, maybe I should have moved to a different class, but at the same time, you would think that a beginners class would actually show the whole form

That was the least of my issues, though. The biggest issue was that he wsa a sexist asshole. And his tutor was also a sexist asshole. Or rather, did not think of things from the female point of view. I have huge boobs. Like, in my way huge. Don’t get me wrong. I love my boobs. They are amazing! Who doesn’t like boobs? But if a movement calls for me to put my arm straight across my chest, well, we’re going to have to discuss some accommodations. I once asked the tutor about it, and he got all flustered and had some flippant response.

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Bagua is my bag–bait and switch!

Bagua is my new everything.

That’s it. That’s the post. Ha! Not really.

I have fallen in love with Bagua as is my wont. When I am attracted to something (or someone), I am ALL IN. maybe not on the theory, but definitely in practice.

My teacher is dedicated to Taiji and Bagua. It’s what she does with most of her time, which I admire and aprreciate. I don’t know if I want to go that far, however, as it’s a part of my life (internal martial arts), but not the whole thing. I wrote about how she’s a gerat teacher in my last post. She puts up with my bullshit and questioning. I was the most recalcitrant student when I first started. I mean, that’s how I am in the rest of my life as well. I question everything after a lifetime of being gaslit by myy mother. And I mean that in the actual sense of the word. My mother will lie at the drop of a hat about what she has said and done.

Here’s the worst part, though. She is not aware she’s doing it. That’s not an excuse, by the way. It’s the literal truth. When my parents were last here, my mother and father had a screaming fight. My mother ran into the room where I was (living room), and my father followed. They were yelling in Taiwanese and I said loudly to my father that he needed to stop (which was probably not the best way to handle it, but it was really upsetting me as well.

My mother was crying and my father was shouting. He has dementia, which was markedly worse than it had been the last time I saw him. That was the summer before the pandemic so 2019. My medical crisis was autumn, 2021. So two-plus years later. The amount of decline was shocking to me, though it shouldn’t have been. He was getting worse and worse every year, so that much of a gap made it even more noticeable. But, as people who have loved ones with dementia know, it goes in and out without warning. One minute, he’s talking normally, and the next minute, he’s talking about something that doesn’t exist. I learned to go with it, but my mother could not. She claimed it was beacuse she could not lie to him, which was part of the abusive marriage.

I’m not going to get into that. Just suffice to say that after more than fifty-five years of marriage, she was completely worn down to a nub. Whatever fight she had in her was gone except for in very brief spurts that probably didn’t do any good in the long run.

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Accentuating the positive

It’s been a rough 2024 for me so far, and I’m done with it. But, I don’t want to be mired in the negatives, so I’m going to recount the good things that have happened so far.

One. Shadow is alive and healthy. He’s old and cranky, and he definitely has old man cat body and sensitivities, but he is still with me. I remind myself of this when some of his quirks (like his food pickiness) get on my nerves. He still cuddles with me. He can still walk on his own. He  still jump with ease. He’s nearly 18 and still able to be an independent cat.

When he got sick at the end of 2022, and I took him to the vet for the first time in a decade, they ruled out kidney issues, urination issues, and cancer. They said he was losing his eyesight, but he would not completely lose it for several years. It turned out to be a cat cold, and after ten days of giving him antibiotics by mouth (that was NOT fun), he’s fine!

Except for the eating thing. He used to eat the same food all the time. Now, he won’t eat that food, and it’s a gamble what he will or won’t eat at any given meal. But, he will eat. And twice as much as he used to. (He had and still has dry kibble in a bowl that he can eat at any time. He barely eats it now that I give him more wet food.) I have to remind myself that he’s not doing it on purpose and try to be patient with him.

Two. My new (to me) laptop. It’s banging. I didn’t realize how much I was nursing my old laptop along until I got this one. It’s faster, has crisp graphics, and it’s just a dream. I did not understand how much I had been just putting up with my old laptop until I got this one.

Something something getting used to a hard life something something. It really is the ‘boiling frog’ (that has been disproven, but whatever) thing where you just used to things getting shittier bit by bit until suddenly, you realize it’s terrible.

I mean, that’s life, right? You get used to whatever you have because things don’t usually change suddenly. I mean, it’s similar to how if you get promoted and make more money, your lifestyle gradually changes. K and I have talked about it. She’s from working class roots and then worked as an admin assist when I knew her. She and her hubby were barely making ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck. We went out once a month for dancing and drinks. She was very thrifty with a penny, and she was very conscious of every cent she spent.

She and her hubby had one car that was ancient, but they made it work. Then, she got her Masters of Education while working sixty hours a week (two jobs). I cannot tell you how much I admire her and what she’s done with her life. She became a teacher at an alternative school. Then she worked her way up to the ‘principal’ of the school.

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