Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: taiji

Taiji, refinements, weapons, life

I’m roughly 90% healthy after my run-in with my nemesis, gluten. I spent all of yesterday feeling punk. I ate crackers (gluten-free!!!), chips, and chicken nuggets (with plain rice). I was still bloated and uncomfortable, and I still had to run to the bathroom more than I wanted to. I had no motivation to do anything (well, even less than normal), and I just felt gross. Today, I have, well, no motivation, but I don’t feel as miserable as I did yesterday.

With that out of the way, let’s talk taiji. One of my best traits is that I learn things quickly. It’s also one of my worst traits because it makes me lazy. I don’t practice as much as I should because of it, and I’m resistant to changes even though it usually doesn’t take me long to incorporate them. Wait. That’s a different problem. Anyway. Let’s talk about the Solo Form, long since the bane of my existence. I’ve been honest that I hated it when I first started taiji over a decade ago. I thought it was slow and boring and SO FUCKING SLOW AND BORING. I sucked it up because it would get me to where i wanted to be, which was the martial art applications. Weapons? Uh uh, no. Never in a million year, not for me, thanks, mate (watching too many British YouTubers).

Begrudgingly, I learned the Solo Form. Begrudgingly, I practiced it in class. Begrudgingly, I started doing a bit at home, but that was years later. I reached a point of neutrality with the Solo Form and I was able to see why it was beneficial. I mean, I was always able to see it, but I could tell the positive effects it’s had on my life. I was able to move through crowds by ‘seeing’ the gaps. I didn’t actually see them, but I felt them. I wasn’t as uncomfortable in a large crowd (still didn’t love it). I injure myself much less even if I’m not any less clumsy.

The problem is that once I ‘learned’ a movement, I stopped thinking about it. That doesn’t mean I perfected it, of course, which is part of the problem. Part of taiji is refinement but because I don’t love the Solo Form, I don’t put in conscious effort to refine the movements. It’s funny because Fist Under Elbow used to be my least-favorite movement (well, one of two least favorites), but it was one I knew the best because I had to take more time than usual to learn it. It’s the same with Cloud Hands which is everyone’s favorite. I hate it, so I know it well. I had a classmate who liked to recount how I taught it to him so well that he got it the first time. Again, because it’s my least-favorite movement, I’ve put a lot of thought into it.


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My unending love for bladed weapons

I like bladed weapons. A lot. I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone who knows me. Maybe the depth of my love, but not the fact that I’m an aficionado. I am fairly open about it, and I am always up for talking about it (though not the quantitative stuff such as the intricacies of different blades. I’m all about the feelings, bay-beeeeeee!). I’ve noted that women on twitter are uncomfortable with my declaration of passion for bladed weapons (it’s not ‘nice’ and is ‘so aggressive’, not to mention it’s hard for them to reconcile what they perceive as a gentle martial arts with weapons. I like to remind people that it’s still a martial art. I mean, it’s right there in the name!) and a weird corollary is that dudes think it’s hot. I mean, I get it in a way because think it’s hot, but it’s not the first thing I think of when I think of weapons. And, it’s a bit creepy for dudes to be all, “See this hot sword scene that I immediately thought of when you mentioned weapons?”, especially on social media.

Side note: Dudes. My dudes. If there is one thing I can impart on you as a female-presenting person it’s this. If you don’t know a woman (anyone, really, but especially women and female-presenting persons) well on social media (and I define well as not ‘talking’ to them every few days at the bare minimum or having an offline relationship (that includes DMs/PMs), do NOT make sexual innuendos to them as your first foray. I might laugh politely, but it won’t make a good impression. And I’m someone who can be very ribald.

I’ve written before on how I had a similar mindset with the women above in that before I took taiji, I considered myself a pacifist and that violence was always wrong. The reason for it, however, was not a healthy one. I thought my life was worthless, so there was no point in defending it. When I used to walk the circle doing ba gua instead of meditation, I used to imagine an opponent in the middle of the circle. One time, I had a flash of visualizing me killing the opponent. It unsettled me, and I talked to my teacher afterwards. She said it wasn’t a bad thing because it meant that I was willing to defend myself. She was right, and it completely changed my viewpoint.

Back to weapons. I dragged my feet on them for so long. When I first started taiji, it was for self-defense and the martial art applications. I didn’t care about the health benefits or the mental health benefits–I was all about the martial arts. Weapons, though? That was over the line. No way I was ever gonna do that. Nuh-uh, no way. I dragged my feet until my teacher placed a wooden sword in my hand and exhorted me to just try. The second my fingers closed around the hilt, I was hooked.


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I’m my own worst enemy…again

I’m an idiot of the highest order. I have been feeling pretty shitty for three or four days, and I skipped two taiji classes over the weekend. Yesterday (Monday), I woke up feeling markedly better. Not my best, but better. Enough better to try taiji class. I was fine during the warm-ups which, as you may imagine, are gentle. Then, we got to the chi gong, and this is where I fucked up.

My teacher has told us more than once that if we’re sick, we have to be careful of breaking out into a heavy sweat. If it’s a light sweat, that’s fine. If it’s a heavy sweat, we should immediately quit. During chi gong, we did 6 of 8 postures. First three, no problems. Then, four, which is the most difficult, complicated, and involved. I immediately broke out into a heavy sweat and was shaky on my toes (literally. Most of the posture is done with the heels lifted). Normally, I do not have a problem standing on my toes, but yesterday, I was terrible. I almost fell over several times, and I was very hot and sweaty.

Here’s the thing. I knew immediately that I should stop, but I didn’t. Why? A few reasons. One, I’m very loath to appear like a quitter in front of other people. I phrased that very carefully because I am a quitter. I quit when things get hard because, well, again for several reasons. One, I am naturally good at many things. I never really had to learn how to persevere at something that I wasn’t good at because there were relatively few things that I *had* to learn in that manner. Two, my family of origin is not very forgiving of mediocrity. When I was in school, they never had anything to say when I got As, only when I got anything less than an A. I graduated college magna cum laude, and my mother said I would have graduated summa if I didn’t get a B in my Intro Psych class.


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Mental and physical health in the time of you-know-what

It’s May. I’m having a hard time grasping that little fact. I’m also having a hard time remembering when my personal lockdown started. I want to say it was…March…early? Late? Not sure any longer. I know it was before my birthday which was nearly a month ago. Time has lost all meaning, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. It’s also interesting how many people are having vivid dreams, which was something I assumed was only happening to me. There are reports of people dreaming about people who ignored social distancing, making the dreamer panic. Mine have had nothing to do with COVID-19, but they are very intense. It’s weird because I used to have extreme anxiety dreams and before that, outright nightmares. Now, however, my dreams are intense but not anxious dreams–well, not in the classic sense. They are the least-troubling aspect of my sleep at the moment, which is saying a lot.

I’ve given up on trying to regulate my sleep. I go to sleep whenever I go to sleep, and I get up whenever I get up. If I snooze at any given point, then I snooze. I’m of the mindset that whatever gets me through at this point is fine. Within reason, of course.

Side Note: I read all these people joking about drinking 24/7, and I don’t find it funny at all. I already thought people in America drink too much (let’s not talk about Britain), and I don’t like that the pandemic is being used as an excuse to get plastered. I do sympathize with self-medicating, but….Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that.

I mentioned last time that the one bright side to this mess is that my allergies and sinus issues have been drastically reduced, which strengthens my theory that nature is trying to kill me. I mean, it makes perfect sense that if I’m allergic to everything in nature, keeping it at bay will be better for me. Now that I’m able to test this hypothesis, I’ve found that it’s true. What does it mean for life after this pandemic clears (if it does)? I don’t know. It’s not realistic for me to not ever go anywhere ever. I mean, I could do it, but I don’t think it’s feasible for the long run.

I’m also thinking about what to do about life in general once the restrictions ease. People in my neighborhood are pretty lax about best practices, and it’s tripping me up whenever I see it. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing a mask in my neighborhood, including when I went to the pharmacy. It’s bizarre, and it makes me angry. I’m working on letting it go and reminding myself that I’m hermetically sealed for the most part.


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Letting go and moving on organically

I have difficulties letting go of how I see myself. I think of myself in terms of absolutes such as, “I am a negative person”, and “I am lazy”. Once I get an idea about myself, I can’t move past it. It’s fine with such things as, “My favorite color is black” because it doesn’t really matter if I change that or not. It’s not so fine when it impedes me, such as, “I hate  people.” I mean, it’s ok that I hate people, but it’s not realistic to think I’m going to go through my life never talking to people at all. Also, it’s not completely true. I don’t hate all people or even most people. Just certain ones, and if I have to be around lots and lots of people, then I hate the idea of it and not necessarily the people themselves.

I keep thinking about how I didn’t care about Christmas this year, in a positive way. Short explanation: I hate Christmas. Or rather, I did. For many reasons, I became grumpy about it right after Thanksgiving, and it lasted until New Year’s Day. I would notice all the Christmas bullshit around me, and I would gnash my teeth at my hatred of all things Saint Nick. This year, I didn’t even really notice it was Christmas until a few days before when my brother invited me over for dinner Christmas Eve. I wasn’t going to go, but then, to my surprise, I thought, “Why not?” I went and had a good time, and that was the end of Christmas for me.

I know it doesn’t sound thrilling, and in some ways, it scans as a subtle neg. “I didn’t even realize it was Christmas until it was over–that’s how little it means to me!” But, you have to take me at my word when I say it really is a positive thing because it freed up so much of my mind and heart in the months leading up to Christmas. I say it started the day after Thanksgiving, but oftentimes, it was earlier than that because Christmas commercials start earlier and earlier every year. I don’t watch any TV and rarely listen to the radio, but that doesn’t mean the collective unconsciousness doesn’t seep into my brain as well.

My point is that I didn’t force myself to be chipper and cheerful and to pretend that I love Christmas while internally seething. I didn’t grit my teeth and endure it while resenting it with every fiber of my being–which I’ve done in the past–I just didn’t care about it. It was so freeing, and it wasn’t something I could make myself do it. Which is one of my issues with how obsessed with positivity this country is. Don’t worry. That isn’t the main point of this post, but I had to throw it out there.

It was strange for me not to choke with burning resentment against Christmas this year, and I was at a lost as to what to do with it. I mean, being anti-Christmas had been a part of me for such a long time, I felt as if I lost a part of myself. It’s not a bad thing, but it is an adjustment. An absence of a negative is still an absence, and I still think about it from time to time. Fortunately, it’s not something I have to replace with something else, but it’s still something I have to adjust to.


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Sand slipping through my fingers

I’ve been thinking about the demo for the past week because I love weapons. There I’m just going to say it. I. Love. Weapons. I love them with a passion that is probably unseemly, but I don’t care. I don’t talk about it much because I recognize that it’s not interesting to many people. Fun fact: whenever I mention weapons on Twitter, I get women freaking out and men drooling. It’s an interesting dynamic, and a commentary on societal expectations. I’d read that female cops had a problem with men when they found out that the women were cops. There were usually two reactions. One was, “Oh, hey, now, that’s too intimidating for me.” The article I was reading said that was a disheartening response, but the other was even worse. The guys who found it hot and made assumptions about how the women would be in bed.

In my case, the women who tweeted me were appalled that I was into weapons. How could I be attracted to something so violent? There was an undercurrent of me being a bad feminist, and that’s something I strongly denounce. I started learning taiji as a matter of self-defense, and now, ten years later, I feel like I could actually use what I’ve learned to defend myself. I see weapons as an extension of that, even though I probably won’t be carrying them with me on the regular. I am currently learning the Cane Form, and a cane is something I could use in my daily life. Even better, a sword within a cane!

When my teacher taught me the 8 Palms of bagua and walking the circles, I had a flash of ‘that is my opponent, and I am going to kill them’ while doing it. I t shook me because I considered myself a pacifist at the time. The idea that I would even think something like that made me question myself, and I brought it up to my teacher afterwards. She assured me it was natural and that it didn’t mean I was going to become a homicidal maniac. In fact, she believed that having a safe place to express your anger and aggression was healthy, and I’ve come to agree with her.

At some point, I also had to examine what I meant by self-defense. or rather, how far I would go to defend myself. I realized that i would go all the way, meaning if it came down to someone else or me, I would choose me. This was a big breakthrough for me because I was so used to thinking my life didn’t matter and that everyone else’s life was worth more than mine. I don’t want to get into the whys and the wherefores, but needless to say, this was a heavy mindset to grow up with. When I first thought, “I will defend myself by any means necessary,” something shifted inside me. I could no longer claim that my life was worthless because my natural instinct was to do defend myself. It should be everyone’s natural instinct, but so many people get it beat out of them–especially women. We are taught to put ourselves last in every situation and to demur that we need more than what we are given.


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The more things change…part two

In part one, I talked about my frustrations with things that do not change over time. In this post, I want to talk about the things that have changed without notice from me. I’ve mentioned some of them in the past such as my sleep. To summarize briefly, when I was in college, I rarely slept more than three hours a night. Then, when I went home on breaks, I slept for fifteen hours the first night. Partly because it was my sleep deprivation catching up to me and partly I would get sick, but fight it off until I got home. In my late twenties, I slept maybe four hours a night. I will say I have thyroid issues, but at that point of my life, I had hypothyroidism and not hyper, so insomnia should not have been a problem. If anything, it should have been the opposite. I got my thyroid destroyed when I was fourteen (radiation), so any insomnia before hand could be attributed to hyperthyroidism (well, at least partly), but afterwards, it should have course-corrected.

I also learned yesterday that having vivid dreams is a symptom of not getting deep REM sleep. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I used to have very graphic and disturbing dreams all the time when I was sleeping four hours a night. I woke up after two hours, usually in a cold sweat because of a weird and intense dream, and then I’d drift off into another uneasy, unsettling dream before waking up again. I knew I wasn’t getting REM sleep, so it was weirdly validating to read that I wasn’t just imaging things.

In the time I’ve been studying taiji–over ten years–I’ve slowly started sleeping more and more. I’m up to six hours on a good night, and I rarely remember my dreams any longer. If I do, they’re anxiety dreams. While not great, they’re much better than the murder dreams I used to have. Six hours is a huge leap for me, but it’s hard not to get fixated on the fact that I’m not getting the requisite eight hours unless I’m sick as I am now. Currently, I’m going from five hours in one night to nine hours the next. That’s how I know I’m sick. It’s actually one thing I like about being sick–I actually get a long chunk of sleep without disturbance. Other than that, though, it pretty much sucks.


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Being challenged physically and emotionally

Day three or four of waking up with a migraine. I’m lucky in that I can stand reading and writing when I have a migraine, but I have to keep all the lights off and any sound I have on low. Even then, I have a low level thumping in my brain and a general queasiness. Still, I consider myself very fortunate that I can function at all when I have a migraine; I know many people can’t. I just went to the store to stock up for Snowmaggedon (current prediction 7 to 12 inches, but it’s been all over the place), and I’m exhausted. That’s the downside to trying to operate while migraining–it takes everything out of me. Again, I’m lucky that I can function at all, but now I’m down for the rest of the day.

Is this my life? For the past few years, I feel as I’ve been operating at 75% or less* more often than not. I have a few days or weeks of feeling good, and then it all comes crashing down around me again. I know I need to get a thorough slate of tests, but I’m just…so tired. Going to the doctor is an ordeal for me in the best of times, which this is not. Why? For a plethora of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that I had thyroid troubles since I was young. I was hyperthyroid, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just new I was hot and cranky and couldn’t sleep. There were other reasons for it, of course, but the big one was discovering I had Graves’ disease when I was a tweener. Back then, it wasn’t really well understood (this was in the mid-eighties), and they treated it by shoving pills down my throat. I’m not sure what they were, exactly, but I was taking 27 pills a day. Nine pills three times a day. That didn’t work because my whatever levels were extraordinarily high. They decided they needed to go to the nuclear option (literally?) of radiation. They were quite forthright about the fact that they were giving me their best estimate, but that radiation wasn’t precise. Most likely, they were going to give me too much and destroy my thyroid. This is exactly what happened, and now I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life.

During that time and thereafter, I had to get my blood drawn quite often. It was on a monthly basis for a while, and I have terrible veins. Again, this isn’t something I knew before I had to have my blood drawn so regularly, but I came away from it quite wary of anyone poking me with a needle (except my tattoo artist). I have many negative memories of that time, including the (male) nurse who insisted he could find my vein from inside my arm and kept wiggling it. It hurt like a motherfucker until I wanted to punch him. He kept saying he wanted to not poke me again (to prevent further pain), but at that point, I would have welcomed a thousand extra pricks. I mentioned that he’s male because the other time I had a really difficult poker was after I was in a car accident. The person doing the MRI was a man, and he was pissed that I hadn’t been poked already before I got to him. He was grumbling the whole time he poked me, and I ended up bruised and sore.

Side note: I am keloid. This is yet another thing I learned through experience. This means that I scar twice as bad as other people, and any time I got my blood drawn, I ended up with a massive bruise that lasted several days if not a week. I still have to get my blood drawn every year, and I tell the phlebotomist to use a butterfly needle and take it from the back of my hand. I don’t know when I learned this was a thing, but when I did, it was a life-changer. I remember a feeling of awe as my blood flowed with ease from the back of my hand. And, the prick was nothing–I barely felt it at all. I still have a few phlebotomists who insist on doing it the old-fashioned way first, but they always come around to the butterfly needle in the hand trick.


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Finding my way home

Today is gray and drizzling out, and we need the rain. I like gloomy weather, but it doesn’t do much for my depression. Which I still have right now. It’s not as bad as it was on Friday, but it’s still (ma)lingering. Friday was the worst I’d had in quite some time, and it freaked me out. I could barely get through the one day, so how the hell did I used to do this on the daily? I passed much of my twenties in this fashion, and I’m amazed I made it to the other side. There were days when I considered it an accomplishment that I brushed my teeth. That’s how I felt on Friday. I struggled to get anything done, and I’m feeling it a bit today. The last few days, it’s been difficult to get my writing done. I’d write a sentence or two, then stopped. My head felt heavy, and my eyelids kept closing against my will.

Today, I’ve had to push myself to get my shit together. My taiji routine should take a half hour to forty minutes. I’ve stretched it to ninety minutes before by reading my phone as I was stretching. Today, since I wanted to go to Cubs afterwards, I managed to do it in forty minutes. My routine now consists of 10 minutes of stretching, 10 minutes of warm-ups, 10-15 minutes of weapons, 5 minutes of Solo Form, 10 more minutes of stretching. As I was doing my morning routine, I thought, “I don’t have to go to Cubs. I can go tomorrow.” This is one of the more insidious aspects of my depression–I can talk myself out of doing anything. Now, granted, I didn’t *have* to go to Cubs today, but it would have been a lean day if I hadn’t. Nothing wrong with a lean day, but I probably wouldn’t feel like going tomorrow, either. I made myself go today, and now, I can eat fairly well (given that I don’t cook).

I’ve been exhausted since my parents left. I can barely keep my eyes open, and all I want to do is sleep. Yet, when I try to sleep, I can’t. This is per yooz for me, though. I can be falling asleep every minute of the day, and then when I actually go to bed, I’m wide awake. I used to get frustrated about it, but I’ve accepted it as a way of life. My weighted sleep mask has been a god-send for keeping me asleep (except for the bizarre fact that it doesn’t have a fastener, but merely a slit to pull one end through, so it falls off. I should sew a button on or something, but, that’s probably not going to happen), but it doesn’t help me actually fall asleep.

I’m really tired. So tired that my brain is refusing to brain. So, for today, I’m shutting it down. Here’s Vienna Teng’s Lullaby For a Stormy Night. I may need to take a nap.

 

I got my weapons on my mind

Let’s talk weapons. Not the gun kind that has been making the news with distressing frequency, but the kind that doesn’t shoot projectiles at a high velocity. We’re talking swords, sabres, canes, and fans. We’re also talking escrima sticks and karambits. I mentioned this before, but I want to delve more into it.

I never wanted to try weapons when I first started taiji. While I was all about the martial arts application, I thought weapons were…uncivilized. More than that, they scared me. I was a ball of rage at that time, and I felt if I did weapons, I would just beat the shit out of everyone with said weapons. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I kept a tight rein on my anger, but when I slipped, it exploded all over the place.

I’ve told this story a million times, but I fobbed off my teacher every time she brought up weapons for an uncomfortable amount of time. It was only when she put a wooden sword into my hand that I realized what the fuck I had been missing. The second I closed my fingers over the hilt of the sword, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It felt like an extension of my arm, and I bought my stainless steel sword pretty soon after.

I would like to say that I practiced diligently once I started learning the Sword Form, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and I didn’t experience a radical personality change. I still dragged my feet, but I *did* enjoy learning the Sword Form more than I did the Solo Form. I learned it fairly quickly, and I loved every minute of it. When I was learning the Solo Form, there were several times I questioned what the fuck I was doing and why the hell I was doing this thing called taiji? I don’t mind saying (and my teacher doesn’t mind hearing) that I resented the hell out of taiji, and one of the reasons I went to more than one class a week is because I didn’t practice at home at all.

Side Note: I have a new classmate who is challenging to me for many reasons. The one I’m going to focus on this right now is because she’s so gung-ho about taiji, especially weapons. I am the weapons person in my class, and it’s a poke to my ego to see her learning them before knowing the whole Solo Form. Back when I started taiji, my teacher was told by her teacher that weapons could not be taught until after the Solo Form. That is no longer the case, and while I think it’s a good change, it’s hard for me not to feel resentful. I know I sound very much ‘back in my day’ about it, but it doesn’t help to hide it. I try not to have attitude around her, but it’s difficult.

Anyway, after the Sword Form came the Sabre Form, and that was a rocky road. It was nothing like the Sword Form, which shocked the hell out of me. Ignorant me thought, “Hey, it’s just a slightly bigger sword. It should be a snap.” It was not a snap. Not a snap at all. It was the opposite of a snap, and it upset me. There are very few things I’m proud of when it comes to myself, and one of them is that I learn things quickly*. Whereas the sword instantly felt at home in my hand, the sabre was just…dead wood. It never came alive. It never sang to me. It never thrummed with excitement, and I hated it.

I can say that now because I am past that hate and the resentment. Way past it, but I’ll get to that in a second.


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