Underneath my yellow skin

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.

I popped a couple of my cold therapy pills before leaving, but forgot to stock up on my cough drops. I was hoping the pills would be enough, but they weren’t. Still, I went in with my notebook and pen, and I was eager to learn all I could. I knew he had a thick accent, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve lived my entire life around thick Taiwanese accents, and decoding them is automatic to me by now. His accent was thick, but I didn’t have much of a problem deciphering it. I will say that if you were to see him on the streets, you wouldn’t think twice about him. He’s not even 5’4″, maybe 120 pounds, and looks like your typical Chinese grandpa. He’s anything but, though.

He started by showing us a drill in which you drill up your hand in the middle by turning your waist, then turning your waist again to turn your wrist and bring your arm down again. If you do it right, you won’t use your hand at all. This is a block or a jab as he called it, and it looks so simple. In fact, that was his favorite phrase of the day: “It’s simple.” I laughed to myself every time and came up with my own phrase in response in my mind: “It’s simple, but not easy.” He made it look easy, but it’s anything but. Anyway, we spent almost two hours on the first drill alone. As we did it, he went from person to person offering suggestions, but he stopped before he reached me.

Any time he would go into an extended explanation with a person, we’d all stop and listen. He demonstrated several martial arts application for the drill on one man, and it was incredible to watch. I know people were taking videos, and I hope they post them so I can re-watch. Watching Master Choi casually drop someone to his knees* as he’s (Master Choi) smiling, his hand on his hip was mind-blowing. I’ve been practicing taiji for eight or nine years, but it’s been more theory than practice, really. At least for the Solo Form and Pushing Hands. To see the martial arts aspects in fluid motion was incredible, and I don’t have enough superlatives to heap upon him.

I’ll talk more about it in another post, but the problem is, the session was supposed to run for two hours, and it went almost twice that. Master Choi would have went for hours more if possible, which is inspirational, but also a tad bit depressing. He’s in his late seventies, and he has five times the energy I do, even when I’m not sick. He also practices several hours a day, and he’s been doing it for half a century or longer.

After an hour of practicing the drill, which includes using your legs to move your body, my thighs were screaming at me. My body was flushed, and I was spent. I drank the remaining honey lemon ginger water I had brought with me, and I knew I was in trouble. By the end of the second hour, I was glad that we were nearing the end, as incredible as the session had been. When we blasted past the two hour mark, I started to really feel like shit. I still could appreciate what was happening, but I was acutely aware that my body was supremely unhappy with me.

By the third hour, my brain started shutting down. I had to concentrate extra hard to take in what Master Choi was saying, and it was draining my energy. I will say that having him give me corrections while working with a partner was a game-changer. One of the times I get stuck in push hands is that if I’m working with someone who’s stronger than I am (which is most of the time), then my impulse is to muscle up, which isn’t great. My partner did a drill up on me, and I asked Master Choi what the counter to that was. He said, “Don’t counter.” He took my place and had my partner do the same movement on him. He allowed him to do it before turning his waist at the end. A light bulb clicked in my brain. Don’t push back–just redirect the energy. He also told me not to let my ward-off collapse, but if it happens, to turn my waist again. Much of this is stuff my teacher has told me before, but something in the way Master Choi demonstrated just made it crystal clear. That’s not to say I did it right every time after that, but he at least planted the seed in my brain.

By 3 1/2 hours, I was done. Master Choi was still talking, but my brain simply refused to take in any more information. It was partly because it was information overload–he’s so knowledgeable, and he was very generous in sharing the information, but it was mostly because I’m sick, and I had gone well past my limit. In retrospect, I should have just sat down and taken notes, but I’m stubborn. I felt that it was a chance of a lifetime, and I wanted to get everything I could out of it. Also, I didn’t want to lose face in front of an elder, which is stupid. He’s used to Americans and probably considered me such. In addition, it’s not as if he’s thinking of me as anything other than one of forty ready to learn.

The minute the session was over, I was out the door. I was dizzy and overheated, and my whole body was screaming at me. It didn’t hurt, but it was sore as hell. In addition, I only had half a sandwich before class because I don’t like to eat anything heavy before a class, so I was shaky by the time I made it home. I ate lunch plus two oranges for lactic acid buildup. After an hour or so of resting, I took a shower for my aching muscles. I took nighttime cold pills before going to bed (later, not right then), and I slept for several hours, though I woke up a few times. The session was incredible, though, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

I’m still sore the day after (Monday), and my cough hasn’t gone anywhere, either. I’m imbibing the lemon ginger honey tea like it’s nobody’s business, and I’m just so fucking tired of being sick. My morning routine is back to bare minimum, and it’s discouraging that my progress it at a plateau and is in fact probably backsliding. I know my immune system is shitty, but I haven’t been this sick this many times in several years.

I don’t know. I have no pithy conclusions about being sick, just that I want to be done with it.




*Always a him. He only demonstrated on guys. I asked my teacher beforehand if I should be afraid he’d put me in my place. I was half-joking, but the stories I’d heard about him made me think it wasn’t completely impossible to happen.  She laughed and said no because he liked to demonstrate on big guys, so I was safe.

Leave a reply