I was writing yesterday about progress, not perfection. Specifically when it comes to working out. The American idea is to push harder, do it faster, and pay for it afterwards. Americans are weirdly proud of breaking themselves for some nebulous outcome. We see it in the jobs area, too. We’ve actually had to introduce the phrase ‘work-life balance’ because too many people were worknig too hard. We have the laughably-named ‘right to work’ ethos, too. Meaning that you can be fired for any reason as long as it’s not discriminatory in a very limited way in all states but one. Montana. That’s it. That’s the only state that can’t fire you at will.
It’s annoying as fuck when Europeans/British people on Ask A Manager bring up how much better employment is over there. We know! Believe me, wo know! Yes, it sucks that our healthcare is tied to our employment. Yes, it sucks that you can be fired for any reason that isn’t discriminatory (in the legal sense) without a warning–unless you have a union!–and yes, people are expected to work insane hours in many fields with little reward.
Many people are livinng paycheck to paycheck and are drowning in debt. And yet, they still think America is the best country ever. There are many good things about America. I can say that now, though I never would have said it twenty years ago.
I remember 9-11. I was in the Bay area at the time. In the months after, we had an outpouring of love and support from the world. Which we promptly squandered with jingoism, going on the attack, and, well, returning the terrorism. In America, I felt as if i couldn’t point out that it made sense that Middle Easterners would be upset with us. I did not want to put out am American flag, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying that, either.
I have never understood ‘My team is better than yours’ in any of its forms. Or rather, I understand it, but I can’t get on board with it. It’s becasue I see people as individuals. In addition, I don’t see anything as completely good or completely bad. That’s why my mother and I have this eternal argument going on. She gets frustrated with me when I point out the negatives in whatever tradition she’s bringing up. She said in exasperation, “Something isn’t bad just because it’s a traidition!” I retorted, “It doesn’t mean it’s good, either.”
That’s a strength of mine–and a flaw. I look at everything on its own (but, yes, placing it in context as well). And I question everything. I am the ‘well, actually’ person, even though I try to keep it to a bare minimum. don’t bust it out all the time, but I’m sure I annoy people when I don’t mean to. I just can’t help what I see.
That took me a long time to realize. I see things that other people don’t. That’s part of empathy, too. I feel things other people don’t feel. I had to learn to mask that when it wasn’t welcome–which was 90% of the time.
Back to progress and not perfection. Taiji has really helped me become more accepting of my limitations. Not at first. In the beginning, I was cruising along and learning the Solo (Long) Form with little effort or care. Granted, it was a very superficial knowledge, but it was very gentle. Both physically and mentally.
Now, I’m cranking up the physical effort. It’s not just the Bagua–which I’ll get to in a minute–but it’s the weight-bearing set and the taiji weapons forms. I have several in the last category, and I have had to limit them for my daily practice. My schedule is thusly. Every day, I do one row of the Cane Form, the Fan Form, the Wu-Li Sword Dancing Form*, practicing with the staff, and the Double Saber Form.
I also do some Bagua every day, but that rotates. I walk the circle on both sides, and I do variations every day. With or without the DeerHorn Knives. I am practicing the back-weighted footing with the horse stance and turning out one of my feet. I also do the…hand/arm, ah, stretches? It’s hard to explain, but it helps twist and bend the arms and the rest of the body. So, for example, I walk the circile forwards on Monday, doing the Eight-Palms Form barehand.
Here’s the interesting/irritating (depending on your point of view) thing about the different forms. There are so many variations of each one. In Taiji, there is Chen style and Yang style (I study the latter). Plus, every master puts his (sigh. Yes, only men so far) spin on it, so there’s the Cheng Man Ching Short Form, for example (he’s a master in my lineage).
A lot of this is oral tradition, too. And students tweaked the forms, obviously. For example, the Sword Form we do is from Master Liang, which he created on his own. His Long Form was based on Cheng Man Ching’s form, but was drastically different. My teacher told us that when Master Liang was going to demo his new form, Cheng Man Ching said he wasn’t going. But he did go and when he saw that the essence of his form was in TT Liang’s form, he gave his approval.
It’s amusing whenv people get snotty about the forms they practice. It’s very much like playing FromSoft games and people insisting that their way was the only way. And, again, it’s oftentitmes men who do this. I’m just observing. Master Liang used to say that a teacher was worth listening to if they agreed with 90% of your first teacher. Or something similar to that. In other words, as long as the basics aligned, it wasn’t out of pocket to learn from someone else. He had many teachers as has my teacher’s teacher.
THat’s probably why most of the forms I have learned aren’t ‘pure’. They are either an amalgamation or refined several times over. In fact, the current Solo (Long) Form that my teacher is teaching right now is very different than the one I had learned.
I know that the forms are living and breathing. I can appreciate that in theory, but when I was teaching myself the left side of the Solo (Long) Form (this was a decade or more agao), I was frustrated because it seemed as if my teacher’s teacher was refining it every other week. I was up to only having a third of the third (and last) section left to teach myself when I gave up. Then, a bunch of shit happened, and now, I’ve taught myself the whole left side of the Solo (Long) Form.
I can’t tell you how much easier it was this time than it was the last. That’s not surprising, but it was a revelation to me. I mean it’s not surprising in general that the more you know, the easier it is to learn new things (on that topic). When I first started learning the Saber Form, I struggled so much with it. I expected it to be like the Sword Form, only meatier. It was completely different, and I could not wrap my mind around it.
The sword felt so good and natural in my hand. I took to it as if I had done it all my life. The saber, on the other hand, felt terrible. It was alien to me, and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I made it to the end of th efourth row (out of six) before I had to set it aside for several reasons. I didn’t get back to it for several years. Once I did, it just clicked in my head. i didn’t love it the way I did the sword, but we came to a mutual understanding. Now, I have a deep appreciation for it. Unlike the Cane Form. Ahem.
Running long yet again. Will write more tomorrow.
*This is really more a free form than anything else. There is a Wu-Li Sword Dancing Form, but it’s meant to be a guide. Once you learn it, you can create your own. What I like to do is put on music and just move the sword.