Underneath my yellow skin

Caffeine and taiji (not together, though)

I need to mainline the caffeine.

Caffeine. Let’s talk about it. It’s been a few weeks of having one cup of caffeine a day (and, yes, I’m putting it that way because it’s all about the caffeine, not about the vessel), and my god. It’s been a bitch, to put it bluntly. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would struggle. That’s why I did a cut-down rather than a cut-out. Vivid memories of going cold turkey haunted me as I started this endeavor. Cue the intensive headaches–had to take my migraine headache Excedrin-generic pills–and the lingering lassitude. Not to mention the inability to focus. I was walking around as if I were in a fog all day long.

The headaches have mostly gone away, thankfully, as had the mental fog. The lassitude, however, it persists. My sleep has been shittier, too, and I’m sure it’s because my body is adjusting to the caffeine deficit. Also, I had to slam down some extra caffeine on Saturday night to pick up my parents from the airport, and I’m sure that didn’t help. The weariness has been so bad, I’ve been tempted to up the caffeine to two cups because that’s not bad for me, right? I know the moral of this story is a hard look at how much I depended on caffeine to get me through the day. If my reaction is this severe, then it means I should not have gotten hooked in the first place. Caffeine is definitely a drug, and it’s frightening how many people are addicted to it.

Now, taiji. There’s no connection between the two, but I want to talk about both. There was a letter to Ask A Manager about the CEO of a small nonprofit making all the employees participate it taiji sessions twice a week for twelve weeks for ‘health’ reasons and for ‘team bonding’. The OP participated in the first session, which exacerbated her* chronic condition, and she asked to be exempt from the rest. The CEO said she didn’t have to participate, but she had to sit in the sessions. She said it made her feel singled out and punished (told the CEO this) and was basically told to deal with it.

I mention it not just because I’m horrified the CEO would mandate taiji but since we’re on this subject, don’t do this, CEOs. Taiji is amazing, and I think everyone could get something out of it, but it’s not helpful to MAKE people do it–or watch it. Being resentful isn’t the right mind-frame to learn taiji. In addition, there are different kinds of taiji, and some are more strenuous than others. This is what my main gripe with the commenters for this post stem. There were several who were like, “Oh, it’s just standing there” or “It’s just meditation” or “It’s just stretching”.

There is this perception that taiji is waving your arms gently in the air and going with the flow and all that shit. There is some of that; I’m not denying it. It’s good for your mental health as well as your physical health, and it’s certainly not as intensive as, say, MMA or UFC. It is, however, a martial art, and it certainly is exercise. The Long Solo Form could take up to half an hour to do, and I definitely felt it by the end in my shoulders, legs, and waist. The Sword Form is a weight-bearing exercise, and all the two-person stuff is very physical. When we did two-person work, I would go home craving meat. I eat meat, but it’s not something I have an overwhelming desire to cram down my throat–except after a taiji session. It was primal, and ribs were the best solution to the problem.

I hate that in the West, taiji has been sold as just a spiritual almost woo-woo practice. That was another thing that arose–would making someone do taiji be religious bigotry. Many commenters brought this up, likening it to yoga. I feel there’s a bit of racism in these comments because they are both Asian practices, and Americans have this view of Asians as spiritual gurus. There are almost 4.5 billion people in Asia–this is an extremely myopic view of over half the world’s population. In addition, taiji and yoga may have their roots in religious beliefs, but much of that has been burned off after they arrived in America.

To be fair, there are a lot of ‘woo-woo’ yoga and taiji practices. My taiji teacher used to sublet from a yoga studio. They had a conference once after our class, and they were all clad in white with white turbans. Those of us in the taiji class were all wearing black, so we joked that we could take them out. They were all spiritual-looking, and we were all, ‘shit, fuck, damn’.

My teacher is very emphatic about not buying into the religious aspects. Yes, we talk about mindfulness and energy, but not a whiff of anything spiritual. Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by spiritual because mindfulness can lead to spiritual revelation, I guess, but we’re all very pragmatic people in my class. I think trying to come at skipping the taiji sessions for religious reasons can bring up more problems that it’ll solve.

My point is that there are so many misconceptions about taiji. It’s rooted in the persistent bullshit about Asians being sooooo spiritual. It’s like we’re not allowed to be fully-rounded human beings–we gotta be Mr. Miyagi or some such shit. People used to gush to me about how spiritual Asians are, and my response is,** Asia is a huge place, and there are a shit-ton of ignorant, venal, stupid people. It’s not any different in that respect than any other place. I’ve been to several countries in Asia. People there are just as varied as they are here.

Let me reiterate. Taiji is a martial art first and foremost. It can be used to defend yourself (though it takes years to reach that point). There are weapons–my favorite part. This was a surprise to me as any longtime reader knows. I had no interest in weapons until my teacher literally put a wooden sword in my hand. Once I touched it, I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I couldn’t remember what it felt like not to have it in my life, and it felt like an extension of my hand. I bought a steel sword rather quickly after that, and it’s been my beloved ever since. I love my sword, even though I don’t talk about it much because it’s still seen as weird for a chick to be into weapons.

My taiji teacher brought in a gift from her teacher. It was a curved dagger with a finger lock (or hole or whatever), and my eyes lit up when she took it out. I’ve done a bit of Googling, and it’s apparently called a karambit. Hers was super-sharp, and I was almost giddy as she demonstrated how to use it. She offered it to a classmate to hold, and then to me. When she did, another classmate quipped, “Stand back, everyone!”, and we all laughed because my love for pointy weapons is very well-known in my class. Years ago, my teacher allowed me to try out her practice deer horn knives while walking the circle (part of baguazhang, another internal style), and I really want a pair of real ones. I tweeted something about that, and I had a woman tweeting me, appalled that I would want something that violent in my life. I pointed out that I would get a wooden pair first for practice, but in the end, these are still martial arts–not just exercise for health. Martial arts are for defense, which means it might be used to hurt someone else.

I’m not a violent person. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to attack anyone. But, I do want to be prepared to defend myself. In addition, I appreciate the beauty and artistry of the weapons. It’s an art as well as martial, and practicing the Sword Form gives me a sense of peace that I don’t find elsewhere. It’s hard for me to explain why I love it so much or how natural it feels to me, and it’s something I pretty much keep to myself.

Funnily enough, it’s only women that have difficulty with my love of weapons. I think it’s because women are indoctrinated with the belief that we have to be nice, docile, meek, submissive, etc. Mostly nice. What a wishy-washy word. NICE. Ugh. Basically, it means to sit down and shut up, and to be a doormat. I am not a violent person, but I do have a lot of anger issues and aggressive tendencies (that come out as passive-aggressiveness–thanks cultural training!). Working with weapons is a healthy way to express many of those emotions and to release them. Waving the karambit in the air felt powerful and exhilarating.

I don’t want to have to ever use my knowledge in weapons, but I’m not apologizing for being interested in weapons, either. I may not talk about it openly, but it’s an important part of my life. Anyone who wants to be cool with me had better be cool with my weaponry.




*Alison uses she/her as the default pronoun, so I tend to think of the letter writers as women unless they note it otherwise.

**Ignoring, of course, the fact that Asia includes several countries, each with its own traits, traditions, norms, and cultures.

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