Underneath my yellow skin

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.

In one of the basics class I take, my teacher talked about each of the four movements we focus on in these classes. Repulse Monkey, Golden Rooster, Parting the Horse’s Wild Mane, and Cloud Hands. It was Golden Rooster which, let me see if I can explain this. Ok. It’s standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a step back with one foot and set it in a bow stance with the knee bent. Center over the back foot and then straighten up while lifting the other knee up. It’s like marching in place. At the same time, the front arm (same side as leg that is in front) comes up so the elbow is chest height with the hand up by the forehead, palm facing sideways. The back hand, I just would put a slight energy into it, but not pay much attention otherwise. My teacher focused on this in one of the basics class. I was watching, listening, and ‘yeah, yeah’ing all the way through until she mentioned the back hand.

First of all, she said the movement was a yin-yang. Meaning, one side is hard and the other is soft. That’s a lot of taiji–being soft until you attack, being hard for that moment, and then going soft again. Anyway, the back arm/hand is soft which means (in my head) the minimal amount of energy expended. That’s taiji in general, so it would seem to apply to this case. My teacher mentioned that the back hand’s wrist should be bent slightly back as a counterbalance to the front knee. I was skeptical because that’s my nature but also because we’re not supposed to do that to our joints! But, I trust her in all things taiji, so I didn’t voice my objections and gave it a try.

To my surprise, that little refinement made a huge difference! I could lift my knee effortlessly several inches higher. I mean, I could lift it pretty high to begin with, but this little tweak made it like a dream. I talked about it with my teacher, and she said because the ballast made it easier to open my hips (kinda my guess) without wobbling. She said it much more elegantly, but that was the gist of it. I’m amazed at this little refinement making such a big difference. It makes me realize how lax I’ve been, and in a way, that’s similar to how I made the mistake with the gluten macaroni.

Switching to weapons because I can, I am falling in love with the deer-horn knives. The sword is bae, but the deer-horn knives are fast becoming a close second. Why do I love them? I’m not exactly sure. It’s more about feeling than anything concrete. With my sword, I feel light and fancy, almost like I’m dancing. It’s a finesse weapon and it certainly feels like one in my hand. With the deer-horn knives, they’re fierce and menacing. They’re weighty in my hands, and using them is definitely a part of weight-bearing exercise. Same with the double escrima sticks (double saber), which I’ll get to in a minute.

Side note: Many moons ago when Julie demonstrated the double sabre drills to me, I said to myself, “I want to be a human blender.” That’s it. That was my basis for wanting to learn the Double Sabre Form. Then I saw my teacher’s classmate do it at the demo, and I was hooked. At my last lesson, my teacher taught me one of the human blender drills, and I. Am. Loving. It.

The deer-horn knives are satisfyingly hefty in my hands. For now, I’m walking the circle with them, which is, not coincidentally, the first part of the form. I feel like a predator stalking prey, which is strange because deer is prey, not predator. Anyway! This is my happy place if I were to say I had one. This is how I center myself and find some measure of peace. I know it’s unusual, but I’m grateful for it in this time of unrest, unease, and hopelessness. I’ll take what I can get.

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