Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: taiji

Inhabiting a Very Mortal Coil

so much tea!
Drinking ginger lemon honey tea like a BAWS.

I hate my body right now. Even more than usual, and that’s saying a lot. I am sick for the third time in as many months, and it’s wearing me down, both physically and mentally. I was almost completely recovered from my second bout of the flu or whatever it was, when I literally felt something move into my throat, set up camp, and make itself at home. I started hacking, and I haven’t stopped since. This is different than the past two illnesses I’ve had. The first two felt more like the flu, whereas this is straight up bronchitis-like, which I’ve had countless times before. I’ve had intermittent bouts of sweating as well, which might also be me in perimenopause. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I would be unhappy about being sick again regardless, but the fact that Master Choi came from Chicago this weekend to give four seminars made it even worse. I had planned on attending the Liu Ho Ba Fa session on Saturday and the Taiji Pushing Hands session on Sunday, but I knew there was no way I could do both. Since my interest in Liu Ho Ba Fa is strictly academic, it was the one that had to go. I also would have loved to sit in on the Ba Gua session Sunday morning, but, again, there was no way I could have done both. Still. I was going to the taiji session by hook or by crook unless I literally could not get off my couch. It was scheduled from 1-3 p.m., and I was more concerned about the driving than the actual session.

I got there fifteen minutes early and was immediately assailed with a strong burst of incense. I can handle it in small doses, but that much was overwhelming. I went back out into the hallway to wait for it to dissipate and just to gather my resources. I was a bit nervous to meet Master Choi because, well, he’s a master, but also because he’s an elder Chinese man. I’ve had countless aunties and uncles (in the Taiwanese sense–any older man or woman is addressed as such), and I know they can be rude in a way that is uniquely Asian. I didn’t expect Master Choi to directly castigate me for not being able to speak Chinese or something like that, but it was in the back of my mind. I’m always nervous around my elders, and he’s a MASTER, for fuck’s sake. I went as far as to make sure I wore a t-shirt that wouldn’t be offensive in any way, which was me thinking too much, but that’s how my brain operates.

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Struggling to Go with the Flow

still waters run deep
Merrily merrily life is but a dream.

I hate change. No, that’s not hyperbole; I really do. I eat the same food almost every day in roughly the same order. I have a morning routine that I’m trying to vary, but not with much success. When I go to sleep, I have a ritual in the way I lie down that I do every night. There are cycles that I have to complete, even though I know they are ridiculous. When I was younger, if I ever did something on the right side of my body, I had to do it to my left side, too. I had a lot of tics, and I’m not yet rid of them all.

In the past few months, there have been several changes in my life, starting with the car accident. I’m mostly recovered from it, but I still have a slight negative reaction when cars come too close to me on the road. I’m pleased but surprised that physically, I’m nearly 100% again. One thing the car accident did to me, however, is make me think about what I really want in life. For one minute, I thought I was going to die. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, however, so that should have been my clue that I was going to survive.

Another change is this blog itself. I’ve been having a hard time writing for the past few years. I’ve done it in fits and starts, but I haven’t been able to sustain it. About a month and a half ago, I made the decision to dedicate myself to writing every day. Well, at least five days a week. I wanted to make money doing something I love, but more importantly, I wanted to actually do the thing I loved on a regular basis. To that end, I decided I needed a clean start, so I started a new blog. This blog. So far, I’ve met my goal of writing at least five times a week, so I’m pleased with that.

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How to See Progress When It’s Microscopic

i will cut you
Wudon Sword Fencing

My teacher’s teacher opened a new taiji academy last weekend, and I attended the open house. There was a demo, and I couldn’t help but compare this demo to the first time I saw a demo at the old studio. It was a year or two after I started taking classes, and everything looked so amazing to me. One of the masters said, “To the beginner, everyone is a master,” and it was so true in my case. I watched them do the Solo Form, and I couldn’t imagine I would ever be able to do the whole thing. The next time I attended a demo, I knew the whole Solo Form, but I was still really impressed with the people doing weapons. Again, I had no idea how I would ever do anything as amazing as that. I did note that I could tell between the different styles of the practitioners of the Solo Form. “This one is a bit stiff.” “That one needs to bend her knees more.” I wasn’t trying to critique; I was just happy that I could tell the difference. This time, I joined in on the Solo Form (first section only. Sifu knows if he has people demonstrate more than that, it would be boring for the audience), but I didn’t have my sword with me, so I had to sit that out. I could have borrowed one, but I would have felt awkward doing so. As the others did the Sword Form, however, I could see where they were making mistakes, which meant that I had learned the form pretty well. It’s hard to tell because it’s not as if I’m making noticeable progress every time I practice, especially now that I’m focusing more on refinements rather than corrections.

When I first started to learn taiji, it was easier to feel as if I were actually learning something because I had concrete units to measure by. “I’m learning a new posture today!” That’s something my mind can grasp. Once that’s over, even the major corrections are tangible. “You made a mistake here. Fix it.” I don’t like it, mind you, because I hate making mistakes, but it’s something I can work on and notice when I’ve actually corrected the mistake. Now that I’m eight or nine years into my studies, I’m mostly past this phase of the Solo Form. I know the whole form. I don’t make major mistakes. Sifu has changed some of the postures so I’ve had to relearn them, but I at least know them by now. What I need to do is teach myself the left side to keep it interesting*. OK, I have to make a confession. I don’t like the Solo Form. I never have, and I don’t know if I ever will. I really didn’t like it in the beginning, but I knew it was the basis of everything else, so I suffered through it. Now, I don’t hate it, but I still don’t like it. Ever funnier is that the position most people like best and thinks is easiest–Cloud Hands–is one of my least favorites. The kick section, which most people don’t like, is my favorite section. I like complicated better than easy, plus there are obvious applications to the kicks, which there aren’t for Cloud Hands. There are applications, of course, but not so immediate to the eye.

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Taiji Demystified, But Not Defanged

strike a pose!
Not kung-fu fighting.

I was at the bank the other day to straighten out a snafu. As the banker and I waited for the person he was calling to help us, the banker began chitchatting with me. He asked me what I did in my spare time, and I told him I practiced tai chi. He got a strange look on his face, a mixture of bemusement, bewilderment, and intrigue, and I waited to hear what he had to say to my proclamation. After a few seconds, he said, “You mean, the martial art? Like karate?” and did the breaking boards with his hands movements (the stereotypical karate chop) that you see in corny martial arts movies. I could have said, “No, tai chi is an internal martial arts style, and we have no interest in breaking boards with our hands.” I could have said, “Tai chi is good for your mental health as well as your physical health.” I could have said, “Tai chi is excellent for meditation and attaining a peaceful attitude.” I could have said any one of those things, but I didn’t. It’s difficult to adequately explain what it is in five minutes or less. So, I simply nodded and said, “Yes, it’s like that.” He asked what rank I was, and I said we didn’t have ranks or belts. I’ll give him credit. He persisted. He asked if I was an expert or a beginner. I said I was somewhere in between. Then, because I was highly amused by the conversation, I added that I was studying the Sword Form and the Sabre Form. I emphasized that weapons were my thing, and I snickered to myself at the look in the banker’s eyes.

After I left the bank, I thought more about the conversation. I want to emphasize that the banker did an excellent job in helping me with my problem. He was friendly, yet professional, and I’m not upset at his ignorance. I appreciate that he showed an interest when I mentioned taiji, even if it was beyond his ken. However, it underscored how esoteric taiji is to people who don’t practice it. I know, that’s not very insightful because anyone who has a niche hobby knows that people who don’t share the interest won’t know the ins and outs of the hobby. It’s too easy to forget that when you’re surrounded by other practitioners. I go to taiji classes three times a week and have been studying it for eight or nine years, so it’s as natural to me as breathing. The interaction with my banker reminded me that I’m an ambassador for taiji, which is pretty sad as I was the worst student ever for the longest time. One of the reason I started going to class three times a week was so that I’d actually practice on those three days. I didn’t practice at all outside of those classes for more years than I care to admit. I’ve changed that recently, but it’s still a fairly new habit. It’s also not what this post is about.

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