Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Mindfulness takes…mindfulness

i just lost a tooth. An old decaying tooth, I think, but still. I think it had a crown on it, but also, sitll. I had not been to the dentist since before the pandemic and had just been about to make an appointment when the pandemic happened. Now, this is forcing my hand because…well, I think this is the same tooth I lost before. Maybe? I’ve been having issues with this particular tooth for a long time. I’m not good with my teeth. Or wait. Maybe it was the other side. I have a missing crown there.

I don’t remmeber. All this was before I ended up in the hospital, so, rightly or wrongly, I put it way down my list of things to worry about. Probably wrongly because I’m still alive, which means I need teeth. And now that I’m in my second bonus year, I have to entertain the thought that maybe I won’t be dying for the third time any time soon.

In my first bonus year, I was just amazed to be alive. I marveled every day at the miracle, which meant not much time for anything else. Now that I am less stunned by it, that means I can look at what living my life actually means.

In the past two weeks, I have injured myself three times. I fell down the front stairs once, fell on the driveway once, and spilled hot coffee on myself once. The last incident was a complete accident as I just sat down on my couch, picked up my coffee, and spilled it. I wasn’t doing anything outlandish like carrying twenty things at once (which I’ve done), juggling three different beverages (which I’ve also done).

It wasn’t boiling though it was close, but it was mostly caught by my shirt. Or so I thought. Today, I saw that it’s red and sore, but not skin peeling off, thankfully. I put antibiotitc ointment on it and hope that it’ll be ok. I will admit that I’m a bit unhappy about it, but what am I going to do?

As to the two falls, those were totally on me. In the first case, I was not paying attention as I went down the stairs. I was scrolling on my phone, which is a bad habit. The second time, I was pulling a heavy box that was falling apart into the garage–or was I pushing? Either way, I slipped and fell. I ended up with a bruise on my left knee and a slightly tweaked right pec after the first fall, and a bruise on my rigth boob and a nasty scrape on my right elbow after the second fall.

Then, after the two falls, I got my fourth vax, the bivalent booster, which fucked me up but good. I was expecting it, but it’s still harder every time than I prepared myself for. I’m exhausted, and I think it’s the last gasps of the shot. It’s been…two weeks since my shot, I think? Two weeks and one day. I got it on a Friday.

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Life lessons I’ve learned

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in my 51 years on this earth. First, there were some things that my last therapist told me that have stuck with me.

Before I was tthinking about moving to the East Bay in order to attend grad school, I was obsessing over all the negative things that might happen. My therapist listened to me patiently for roughly five minutes before cutting me off (she had to, otherwise I’d go on forever). “Minna,” she said. “Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and you can’t imagine half of the things that will.” Her point was that I was needlessly worrying. It was also that I was trying to frantically apply control where I had none.

The illusion of control is somethnig I think about often because me dying twice underlined my lack of control. Twice. (Both dying and underlying.) There is no use worrying about shit I cannot change–which is almost everything. Life is short. That’s a trope, but it’s true. And it can be over in a blink of the eye. So, yeah, plan for the future–but don’t forget to experience your present at the same time.

Another thing that really struck me was when my father and I had this huge fight over whether I was grateful or not to him for all he’d done fro me. When I said no (because I felt pushed into being performatively grateful), he asked why he should love me then. Which showed how nakedly transactional he was. I told him it was part of his job as a father. Like, did that need to be explained? To a raging narcissist, yes. My father did not do anything that did not have any apparent value to him, which included ‘loving’ someone. I put ‘loving’ in quotes because he’s not capable of actual love.

This argument was in the car as I drove him to the airport so he could fly back to Taiwan. He called me when he arrived in LA for his layover and hesitantly said he loved me before hanging up. I felt nothing at his announcement because if I had to force it ou of him (which I wasn’t trying to do! I was just answering his question) and because I was beyond caring at that time.

I brought this up to my therapist, and sh esaid, “This is a big thing to him and a small thing to you. Two things can be true at the same time.” That hit me hard because I thought that an experience had to be the same for everyone who experienced it. Which, I admit, was a naive and childish viewpoint, but one that many people had. I wasn’t even astonished that he viewed that moment differently than I did, necessarily, but that they both could be true at the same time.

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Taiji is the answer no matter the question

I have had a bad week. I fell twice; both times were completely my fault. The first time, I was walking from the couch to the kitchen with my NYT crossword puzzle soup mug with ginger honey lemon tea in it (cold) in hand. I stumbled over something and sent the mug flying. It’s thick, thankfully, so it didn’t break, but it sprayed tea everywhere. It was only about a quarter full, so at least there’s that. I crushed Shadow’s box (he wasn’t in it!), and I scuffed up my left knee. I also slightly pulled my right pec, but I was happy that it was that minimal. Back in the day, I would have pulled something or twisted something or just ached everywhere.

Then, the next day, I was lugging a box of cat litter into the garage. Or rather, pushing it because the box was falling apart. What I should have done was open the box and brought win each of  the two cartons individually. They’re not light. But, no. I didn’t do that. That’s one of my problems–I don’t do the thing I know I should do.

Funny side note: One time, I was telling Ian that my mother had complained to me about the way I put paper bags away. I mash them up and shove them in the cupboard. She told me I should fold them neatly and stack them. I said to Ian that I knew she was right, but I wasn’t going to do it. He was gobsmacked. He said, “Wait. You admit that she is right, but you are going to continue doing it your way, anyway?”

“Yup,” I said cheerfully. I knew myself, and I knew I couldn’t be bothered to do it the right way. I have changed that habit now, though. I fold the bags neatly at least 2/3rds of the time.

Anyway. I was pushing the box of two cat litter cartons when I felt myself pitch forward. I put my hands out to brace myself, but I also relaxed. That’s the thing that Taiji has instilled in me–the instinct to relax when I’m about to smash myself up. It doesn’t stop me from being clumsy, but it has helped me tremendously not to fuck myself up.

The biggest example of this was when I got into a minor car accident several years ago. I was going thirty-five on a local road (30 mph was the speed limit, but nobody goes that speed). There is a place when you can veer off to the freeway to the right (on my side, left on the other) and then a bit further, you canturn left to go on the freeway the other way (right on the other side, naturally).

This is not a well-designed “intersection” because it’s marked minimally. If you live in the area, you know how it is, but if you don’t, it’s a mess. Plus, the road itself is winding in a way that is difficult to explain, so I normally give directions to the next exit–which is more straightforward. Anyway, os I was going forward on my side, I noticed that the car on the other side of the road (an SUV, I think), was suddenly veering to the left at a high speed. They clearly needed to get on the highway and overshot the exit. I thought to myself, “I’m going to get hit” and my body instantly relaxed. A few seconds later, I was hit. The entire front of my car was stoved in, and my airbag deployed.

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Intentional plateauing

When I first started Taiji, my teacher talked about plateaus. Most Americans are not comfortable with no growth because we are very much a ‘do more’ society. You see it at work in that most places of employment push you to move upwards, whether you want to or not. I read about it at Ask A Manager on a regular basis; people who have no desire to move up are seen as no-getters. And, yes, I just made that up. There was a question  from someone who wanted to quit that life but was worried as to how she’d be viewed. And how she would view herself if she got a job that wasn’t high-pressured.

This leaks over into other activities, including exercise. Americans are very much no-pain, no-gain. I know people who go all out in their exercise and then get injured and cannot continue to exercise. They are forced to take time off to heal, then hop right back on that treadmill. Then, injury themselves again, rinse, lather, and repeat. By the way, I know it’s lather, rinse, and repeat, but I have bene saying/writing rinse, lather, and repeat for ages and will probably continue to do so because it’s funny.

I have never liked the ‘push yourself until it hurts’ mentality, even when I was participating in it. I knew that it wasn’t healthy to push myself to the extent I did when I was dealing with eating disorders, but that didn’t stop me from doing it. It just made me hate myself more.

When I started Taiji with this teacher, she said bluntly that Taiji was the antithesis of that. ‘No hurry, no worry’ was our motto, which was not easy to embrace. If I can do something at 6 strength, for example, wouldn’t it be better to do it at 10? Not necessarily, as it turned out.

Taiji is known as the lazy person’s martial arts because we believe in using the least amount of energy necessary for the biggest results. This was not an easy adjustment to make. I was down with it in theory because I am a lazy person by nature. Inertia is my friend, and I do not like to exert myself. However, when it comes to physical activity, I have still ingested many of the same messages that others have because they are so prevalent in our society.

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My journey in Taiji

I hated Taiji when I first started studying it. I had a teacher before my current one, and he was terrible. Flat-out terrible. I only went to him because a friend of mine was enamored with him (he has a very cultlike personality, and my friend needed a father-figure desperately as his own had been very abusive). All my narcissist/predator vibes were pinging, but I tamped them down because I trusted my friend. And because I have my own extreme biases against narcissists that made me wonder if I was blowing things out of proportion.

I wasn’t. He was sleeping with a student. They  were in a relationship but as he was the teacher in his fifties and she was 27 and the student, could it truly be equal? In short, no. Not only was he scummy enough to sleep with a student, but he was very sleazy in his interactions with other women. He made a big deal about respecting personal space and not touching anyone without their consent, but that was a big, fat lie.

I gritted my teeth the entire time I studied with him which was probably a year or so, but I did not trust him one whit. That’s not a good relationship in Taiji, but I was young and stupid at the time. This was around the time The Matrix came out, and he raved about what a revolutionary movie it was. He said it was the essence of Taiji and removing yourself from the system. The message I got from him was that he was justified in being intensely selfish because nothing he did could help anyone else, anyway. Or rather, what was going to happen would happen regardless of what he did. It was such self-serving twaddle, I internally sneered even though I hadn’t seen the movie. Just by watching the trailer, I was sure that he was spouting bullshit, and when I watched the movie years later, I had my confirmation.

The Matrix is a good action movie, but unconventional and going against the norm? Not hardly. I watched it in a theater with my then-boyfriend who liked the movie and wanted me to see it. That was problematic in and of itself because I had a boyfriend dump me when I told him my views on Pulp Fiction, so after that, I kept my opinions to myself. While watching The Matrix, I kept thinking how hot Keanu was and how hot Carrie-Anne was. I did think back to what my ex-Taiji teacher had said about the movie and rolled my eyes because the movie had very predictable and conventional story beats. Then, Neo died and Trinity kissed him to bring him back to life.

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Taiji and me

I have a Taiji confession to make. I do not like the Long Solo Form. This is the basis for everything we do, and it’s the first thing I was taught by my teacher fifteen years ago. I hated it then and resisted it with all my might. I questioned my teacher every step of the way, and I dragged my feet in practicing at home. As in, I didn’t. Practice at home, I mean. It’s the reason I slowly added a second class a week and then a third. I reasoned that if I wasn’t going to practice at home, then I better go to more classes.

The Long Solo Form is the Master Liang form. He was very much into dancing and made everything fit a piece of music. Everything was even counts and the movements reflected that belief. The form hurt my knees and my back terribly. I had to do extensive work to undo both (though, to be fair, I already carried a lot of body pain before Taiji. The Long Form just exacerbated it).

I cursed Taiji. I got my teacher to say ‘Fuck Taiji’ as a way of emphasizing with my disgruntled frame of mind. I had forgotten all about this until my private lesson today. In the backyard in 68 degree weather, by the way. It ‘felt like’ 103 two days ago. Madness! Anyway, we were working on the new Long Form and chatting about how much I hated the old one when I first started Taiji. She said she was working with a new student who was very skeptical about the benefits of Taiji. My teacher said she understood and mentioned she once had a student (me) who was exceedingly skeptical about Taiji, so much so, I drove her to say ‘Fuck Taiji’ about something or the other. I joked, “Did your hand explode? No? Then Taiji can’t be that bad.” That was something else I had said in jest–that I felt like Taiji would make my hand explode.

I have apologized to my teacher for being the biggest pain in her ass about Taiji. She shrugged it off because as she said, she trusted Taiji. She knew it was beneficial, and she trusted that I would realize it at some point. Now, I can’t imagine my life without it, honestly. Yes, it’s mostly the weapons, but I realize that the Long Form is important.

One reason I stopped practicing it is because right before the pandemic, my teacher’s teacher started to drastically change it. Or rather, he started teaching the Medium Form, which is very different. And tweaking the Long Form. I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but I was trying to teach myself the left side of the Long Form.

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A feather in my fan, er, cap

I finished the Fan Form! And by finished I mean teaching it to myself. I started it after my medical trauma–two months after at least–and taught it to myself in…six months? Five? Probably more the latter than the former. Either way, I’m super proud of myself–I just looked it up. I got the videos from my teacher on February 15th of this year so it’s not even been three months! It’s not that long, but still. I’m impressed with myself.

I’m trying to find a video of the Fan form I’ve learned, but haven’t so far. My teacher’s teacher has created several forms of his own and I think this might be one of them. The video I’m including is from him, but the form he is doing is not the one I taught myself. It’s similar and I’m sure it’s at the root of his form, but it’s much more elaborate and lengthy. It’s fascinating to watch because his form is much more concise, but still maintains the essence of this form–except the leaning forward and sticking your leg out in the back (which I’m sure is form over function). Master T.T. Liang, one of his teachers, was very much into the beauty of the forms and how they were performed to music so I am not surprised that this form is very visually pleasing. (You can hear Master Liang doing the counts in the background.) That was one of Master Liang’s big passions–dance. So he made all his forms fit to music, which is why they all have even counts. When Sifu Ray (my teacher’s teacher) started creating his own forms, he chose function over form, so the counts are uneven. I like the fact that some of the movements (postures) have been cut down and some have been expanded, depending on what makes functional sense.

Before I learned any weapons, I was drawn to the fan. Why? Because you can’t carry most other weapons around with you. A cane, yes, but not a sword, saber, or double sabers. But anyone can slip a fan into their bag or take it on a plane without any eyes being blunk. Er, blinked. Not the big fan, maybe, but definitely a small one. Which isn’t as flashy as the big one, but it functions in the same way.

I bought a big fan (black) over a decade ago when I was at a demo. It might have been the same time I bought my sword, but I don’t remember. I held onto it throughout learning other weapons first.

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Sublime happiness as a Cuisinart

I’ve officially surpassed the threshold of how much Taiji weaponry I do a day–meaning I do more now than I did before going into the hospital. My biceps are bulging in a very pleasing way (I’ve always found it easy to build muscle) and I’m STRONK. I love my biceps. I told you that I’m really feeling myself lately and I’m CUTE AS FUCK. It’s the weirdest feeling, but I’m soaking it for everything it’s worth. Hey, after a lifetime of feeing fat, ugly, and worthless, I’m going to embrace the positivity for as long as it lasts. I know it’s gauche and Just Not Done, but I don’t care. As a female-presenting person, I’m supposed to take great pains to make myself look hot and available, but not slutty or as if I put in the effort  because then I’m a slut and/or trying too hard.

I don’t care. At all. Also, I’ve fallen completely in love with the guandao, which is a big glaive-like Taiji weapon. Here is a martial arts movie featuring it. It’s tremendous.

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I was kung-fu fightin’!

I attended my first Taiji Zoom class in four months and it was both familiar and not. The first thing I had forgotten was that it was an hour-and-a-half, not just an hour. That was a change made just as I had my medical trauma and I never attended one of those classes. Class started late and I was nervous because I wasn’t getting in. It took ten minutes before I was invited in and then I remembered why the classes were so frustrating. For whatever reason, her connection is not strong. That means that I have a hard time hearing her. It was also partly a problem because I had done something dumb. I switched my audio to headphone/speakers because I don’t know why. I have a Lenovo Bluetooth speaker that I thought was hooked into headphone/speakers. It wasn’t until after the class that I realized, no, it’s just headphone. I don’t know why, but that’s the way of the Lenovo speaker.

I was the only person on Zoom. I have a hunch that’s the way it is most classes. I don’t know why, but it just seems like most people have moved on from the pandemic. I need to get my booster and then maybe I’ll feel comfortable going to an in-person class again. I wouldn’t before then, for sure. When I got to Cubs, there are maybe a quarter of the people other than me and the workers wearing a mask. I know people are tired of COVID, but it’s not done with us yet.

It started with warmups. It was as if no time had passed at all because it felt so familiar. And yet, I had forgotten more than one warmup in the process. Plus, there was an added one. Or maybe it was later. At some point, there was a change, which was exciting. Plus, during the Long Solo Form, the counts are different in a few places. It was the first thing I learned and yet, I still don’t like it. It’s gotten better over time, but I still will choose to do just about anything else before the Long Solo Form. It’s never felt comfortable or relaxing. It’s the basis for everything we do and it’s something I’ve done hundreds of times if not more. I should know it like the back of my hand and yet, I don’t. It’s partly because it’s been changed several times and I don’t know where it stands as of now. Changed by my teacher’s teacher. I was teaching myself the left side–ok.

Let me explain. Everything we learn in class in the right side. All the forms, I mean. And then we’re supposed to teach ourselves the left side. I have taught myself the left side of the sword and he saber, but not the Long Solo Form. As I said, it’s partly because my teacher’s teacher has changed it periodically. I taught myself 2/3rds of the left side of the Long Solo Form when my teacher’s teacher  started really messing with it. He was changing so many things, I decided to wait until he was done before I finished teaching myself the left side.

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Keeping my mouth fucking shut

I have been practicing Taiji for roughly fifteen years. I practice for half an hour to forty-five minutes a day, which is up from five minutes, begrudgingly, several years into my practice. In fact, I started attending a second class a week (and then a third) because I couldn’t make myself practice on the daily. Once I broke the seal, so to speak, I added more and more to my daily routine until I couldn’t think of doing anything before doing my morning Taiji routine.

I bring this up for background. I wanted to learn a martial art to defend myself. I carry myself in a manner that will put off 90% of attackers. I am solid with a hard stare and a broad frame. I wear sunglasses when I am outside (and all black), which adds to the whole look. One time I was out to eat with my bestie. Afterwards, as we were walking back to the car, there was a woman tottering towards her car on heels that were making it hard for her to walk, her arms laden with shopping bags, and she was fumbling with her keys. I immediately thought, “I could take her” because she was so oblivious to her surroundings. I realized that I did not want to be like that and even though my demeanor put off most people (90% as I mentioned earlier), I needed something to back me up for that last ten percent.

I hated it for the first year. The Solo Form, I mean. It hurt my legs and my back, and it made me want to be doing anything but the Solo Form. I was frank with my teacher how I felt about it, but i knew somewhere deep inside that it would do me good. How or when, I didn’t know, but I believed that. And my teacher told me to hang in there with her; she assured me that it would eventually grow on me. I must say that that particular form never grew on me. I still don’t like it, which is too bad because her teacher brought it back after a long hiatus (with tweaks). The Medium Solo Form (that’s the Long Solo Form) is much preferable and enjoyable to me. It also doesn’t hurt me, which is a bonus. The Medium Form is the basis for the Fast Form, which is really fun.

Anyway, I didn’t really get into Taiji until–weapons. My teacher urged me to try a sword for over a year with me resisting her mightily. I was horrified at the thought of weapons because I was not a violent person. My teacher tried to convince me that doing weapons was not a signifier of being a violent person.

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