Underneath my yellow skin

Falling in love…with my sabre

The first time I learned the Sabre Form, I was high off learning the Sword Form, which is my favorite thing in the world. Well, at least in the top three. The sword was like an extension of my hand, and I naively expected the sabre would be the same. I mean, it’s a sword, but bigger, amirite? I dove in with enthusiasm, only to find it wasn’t the same. At all.

I struggled with it. I can admit it now. The sabre felt clunky and unwieldy in my hand, and I was instantly disappointed. Let me tell you one of my biggest flaws: I will quit something that I am not good at in a heartbeat. I don’t like to look stupid, and I get embarrassed beyond all measure when I’m flailing about. There is also some childhood background on this. My parents were typical Asian parents in that they were way more apt to harp on my mistakes than to praise me for something well done. An example. I graduated magna cum laude from college. Not bad, right? My mom immediately says, “If you had done better in your first semester, you would have been summa.” Years later, when I confronted her about it, she denied saying it. Then, she added if she *had* said it, she meant it to comfort me in case I was upset about not making summa.

Well I wasn’t until you mentioned it, Mom, but I am now, thanks! That’s my mom, though. She has selective memory (putting a rosy tint on everything), and she allows her anxiety to overcome her common sense. I actually understand the latter because I have anxiety as well. I just learned to keep most of it to myself.

Anyway, I didn’t feel as if I couldn’t do the Sabre Form. One of my assets (which is also a flaw) is that I learn things really quickly. (That’s one reason I give up easily if I don’t catch on right away. Like badminton. It’s also one reason video games have been good to me. All the games I really like are ones that had steep learning curves.) The first time with the sabre, I learned the postures, now movements, easily. There are six rows, and we got to the end of the fourth row. I didn’t sweat the postures, but I felt as if I were doing them by rote.

The sabre never felt alive in my hand–it felt like dead wood. With the sword, I felt as if I were dancing with a partner. Every cell in my body would sing as I moved it around. Or let it guide me around. My teacher was asked by one of her classmates about if the sword should lead or the person should lead the sword (in the context of a certain movement). Her response was that there is a movement called ‘Step Forward to Unite With the Sword’. It’s in the beginning of the form, and she explained it’s meant to bring the two together so they work as one. Her classmate did not appreciate the response, but I did. It neatly summed up my feelings for the sword, and it was sorely lacking with the sabre. Granted, that movement isn’t in the sabre, but I still wanted it to feel the same way.

When we reached the end of the fourth row, a series of events happened to cause us to quit the lessons. One, I got sick. Constant coughing and sinus issues for months, and then I’d get better, and then it would repeat. After that went away, I got in a minor car accident. Needless to say, that set me back for months in my taiji. It was taiji that helped me in the accident, though, and I escaped only with a massive bruise on my stomach from either the seat belt or the air bag. I had people telling me that I would have neck problems spring up, but that never happened. I was stiff and sore for about a week, but that was it.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my teacher was feeling iffy about her own Sabre Form. We had reached the point where she felt comfortable with it, so she didn’t mind us not having private lessons for a while. Then, her teacher started switching things up with all the forms, and I didn’t want to start learning the Sabre Form again while he was tinkering with it.

A few months ago, she let it be known that she thought it was time to start again. She was comfortable with her Sabre Form, and I couldn’t think of a good reason to demur. I didn’t want to learn it again, especially from scratch, but I knew I should. In addition, I felt stagnated in my taiji, and it would add some spice to my taiji life. Reluctantly, I agreed. She knows me well enough by now that she would understand my cynicism and reluctance, and she wouldn’t hold it against me.

First up, she showed me a drill that I remembered from last time. It was much easier this time, which makes sense. Then, she showed me the first few movements, and it was like riding a bike. I got on it and pedaled the hell out of it–ok, not a great metaphor. This time, picking up the sabre felt good. There was a vibrancy to it that was missing last time. Within ten minutes of the first lesson, I was totally into it. What was the difference? Let me count the ways.

One, I have two years of experience and knowledge under my belt. Before, I was moving the sabre like it was a sword, and when that didn’t work, I just pushed it around with my hands/shoulders. My teacher has told me from the very beginning that movement starts with the waist and the legs. I never truly understood it until pretty recently. The first time, I was walking through the postures as if I were taking a standardized test. First A, then B, then C. There was no understanding about what I was doing, even if it had the general shape of the Sabre Form.

Two, I was over the NRE of the sword. I still love the sword, and it’s my ever-favorite part of taiji, but I’m not a starry-eyed ingenue about it any longer. Not that I ever was in the first place, but the experience of learning the sword was phenomenal. I couldn’t stop gushing about how great it was–especially internally. I loved everything about it, and I would have slept with it if it were possible. Now, it’s still my favorite, but the screaming excitement has mellowed out into a warm appreciation. So, with the benefit of time, I’m not constantly comparing the sabre unfavorably to the sword.

Three, the intangibles. It just feels good. I can’t explain why, just as I couldn’t explain why I loved the sword from the start. I can feel the power as I’m moving the sabre, and the energy is real. It feels so goddamn powerful, whereas the sword is more about finesse. The sabre speaks to the barbarian in me, and I am more confident with it in my hand. Too bad I can’t go around swinging a sabre in my real life!

We just finished the first row, and it’s been painless this time. More to the point, I want to learn it, and I can’t wait to add more to my repertoire. I have questions and am eager to soak up all the knowledge my teacher has. It’s like it was when I learned the sword, and my teacher commented that she liked seeing me smile during our lessons. I recently emailed her saying, “Find someone who looks at you the way I look at my sabre.” Sometimes, falling in love can take some time, which is something else I needed to learn.




*The video I included is the closest to the Sabre Form I am doing. Which makes sense as I’m in Yang-style taiji.

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