Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

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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A dangerous time

I’m full of energy today, which is a change for me. Since I got out of the hospital, I’ve gotten a solid eight hours a night, waking up only once during the night. I’ve woken  up and not been exhausted, but my body is still mending. All that sleep is going into the deficit I’ve carried with me for decades. I know that’s not how sleep works, but that’s how I think of it, anyway. I’ve had a lifetime of not getting enough sleep and then I had a very traumatic day followed by two weeks in the hospital. The first two weeks at home, my body was just mending itself and recovering from the trauma. The next two weeks, the sedation and narcotic meds were (finally) completely leaving my body, which meant I could feel all the little aches and pains that a body has.

Then, I hit a plateau of frustration because I wasn’t getting any better. Intellectually, I know that it can’t always be peaks. There are going to be plateaus, and, yes, valleys. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Part of Taiji is accepting things as they are, which is not my strong point. I come by it honestly as my parents are both major worriers (in vastly different ways). I used to joke with K that her mother was very much, “Whatever choice you make, you’ll be fine” whereas my mother is more, “Whatever choice you make, it’ll go drastically wrong”. We both laughed at the time, albeit ruefully. In my case, it meant that no matter what I did, I always regretted it and thought about how different life would be if I had done x, y, or z. This is more my mother than my father, but he’s prone to it, too. When I had a minor car accident several years ago, I was clearly in the right. The witnesses and the cops agreed with this. So did the young woman who was driving the other car. I, too, knew there was absolutely nothing I could do. I was going straight on a local road when she suddenly turned left and slammed into my car. I saw her coming, instantly thought, “There’s nothing I can do” and instinctively relaxed. I walked away from it with a massive bruise on my stomach from the seat belt, probably, and nothing else. My car was totaled, but I was fine. Later, my father started questioning if there was anything I could have done to avoid it. I was getting pissed because there really was nothing I could do. I picked up a stuffed soccer ball my father had made in Home Ec and threw it suddenly at my father. He didn’t even flinch as it hit him. I asked why he didn’t try to catch it and he didn’t even register that I had thrown something at him. It wasn’t nice of me and I felt like shit afterwards, but it made my point–at least to me.

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Maintaining is progress, too

In the Before Times (before hospital, that is. Not before COVID. It’s funny how the latter has gone from huge in my mind to almost an afterthought. That’s not this post, though, so I’ll leave it there for now), I was very much an all-or-nothing person. Well, let’s back that up even further. Before I took taiji, I bought into the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’. Kind of. I didn’t believe that when it came to physical pain, but pushing myself mentally/emotionally? Yeah, I did that on the regular. I didn’t push my body as much, but that was only because I was lazy. I did mess with my sleep quite a bit, but that was because my sleep sucked. I wasn’t doing it on purpose; in fact, I was trying to make it better. But that did mean I didn’t sleep much or well on most nights, which contributed to my body feeling like shit.

When I was in  the hospital, sleep was hard to come by because they took my vitals every four hours or so. Despite that, I was zonked out hard whenever I did manage to fall asleep. I had powerful sedation medication and narcotics coursing through my veins so I’m sure that’s part of the reason I was able to sleep so much in the hospital.

It has continued now that I’m home, however. The most shocking part is that I’m in bed by 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m. at the latest and up by 6 a.m. I get a solid 7 1/2 to 8 hours a night, only waking up once to pee. This is unheard of for me, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. At first, I was unnerved by my sleeping schedule, but the early morning is a lot like the late, late evening if I squint. Nobody is up and it’s dark outside. There is a chill in the still air and it’s as if I’m the only person awake in the world. Mentally, I still prefer going to bed at this time than getting up, but I’ll take what I can get.

It’s funny, though, how quickly the brain can adapt something into being the norm. I’ve struggled with sleep issues all my life and now, they’re gone in the blink of an eye. Now, it’s just normal for me, and I rarely think about it. It’s the same with, well, the whole experience. I woke up from nothingness, mad, disoriented, and scared. My brother explained everything to me (along with the docs, of course, but I mostly remember my brother’s explanation) and once I absorbed the news, I rarely thought about it again. Or rather, when I did think about it, it was more in the vein of, “Huh. That’s a thing that happened to me.”

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What constitutes progress

I’ve been home from the hospital for four weeks, which has made me reflective. That’s twice as long as I was in the hospital, as difficult as that is to believe. It feels both longer and shorter than four weeks simultaneously. On the one hand, I have a hard time believing what happened to me happened at all. On the other, it seems so far away from me. When I read about what happened to me in my brother’s Caring Bridge journal, it’s as if I’m reading about a fictional Minna. It’s partly because I wasn’t awake for it, obviously, but it’s also because I’m back to ‘normal’ with only my stamina still low. It’s hard to believe something traumatic happened to me when all outwardly indicators are gone.

I don’t use the walker at all any longer. Not that I used it in the first place. I brought it with me on my morning constitutional just in case and used it a few times so I wouldn’t have to work as hard walking, but I never *needed* it. I never used the commode my brother put together or the puppy pads. I wore the pull-ups (like Depends) for a month, but never used them. The only thing I use is the shower chair–and that’s just so I can wash my feet. Oh, and when the nursing aide comes to wash my hair. It’s nice to have, though, in case I do want to sit down.

I’ve been frustrated as I might have mentioned before because my progress has slowed to a crawl. As I said before (and this is the humblebrag part), I came back with a vengeance and was probably around 85% of my physical capabilities when I woke up (minus the stamina, obviously. But I don’t consider that part of the physical capability, though it is, really). I may not admit it out loud, but I was pretty proud of myself when the physical therapist (PT), a day after we met, said that she didn’t have anything else to teach me. Remember, they were talking about months of rehab once I left the hospital and were pretty dire about what my abilities would be if I woke up. A big if.

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The flexibility of taiji

Ever since I left the hospital, I have adopted the sarcastic motto of HEARTSTRONG! Why? Because I think it’s funny. I had two cardiac arrests and a stroke, and yet, there is nothing wrong with my heart. I had an angiogram and there were no rips, tears, or breaks in my heart. My heart doc put me on a heart monitor for a month, but he emphasized it was just a precaution. He said it was the pneumonia that caused all the trouble, which is so weird to me. I’ve had bronchial issues all my life, which has been annoying, but I didn’t think about it being life-threatening.

When I started taiji fourteen or so years ago, it was with the mission of backing up my attitude with actual skill. I carried myself in a way that would deter 9 out of 10* would-be assailants. I walked with a purposeful stride and a hard look behind my sunglasses. I kept my head level and my shoulders set. I knew, though, that it was mostly for show and that if push came to shove, well, I would get shoved. Hard.

Once when I was out with K, I watched as a young woman teetered to her car on very high heels. Her arms were ladened with shopping bags and she had her keyring dangling from her fingers. Everything about her screamed, “Attack me!” and I shook my head silently. That was not what I wanted to present to the world and while I knew that I looked foreboding, I didn’t have much to back it up.

That’s why I decided to start learning taiji. It was a toss-up between that and aikido, and I don’t remember what finally tipped me over into taiji. Maybe because there is no offense in aikido? My taiji teacher told me that (she tried aikido first), but I’m not sure I knew that before choosing taiji.

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How to deal with my broken mind

I have a broken mind. This has been true since I was a kid. Or rather, I’ve always been different. I loved to read and always had my nose in a book. I devoured them rapidly, moving from one to the next the second I was done with the first. A part of the reason why was because I hated life with every fiber of my being. I can’t remember a time when I thought it was a good thing to be alive and is it nature? Is it nurture? I don’t know. Or, more to the point, it’s a complex mixture of both. By my mother’s account, I was a happy and cheerful toddler–though she is an unreliable narrator. She looks at things in the past through rose-colored glasses, mostly so she doesn’t have to deal with the negative ramifications that linger.

I am pretty sure this is one of her coping mechanisms in dealing with my father because he’s pretty unrelentingly negative. I also know that her childhood wasn’t the happiest and that she never felt like she was loved by her mother. Who, by the way, was a real piece of work. Probably shouldn’t have been a mother, but it was expected of women of her generation and culture (Taiwanese). She definitely favored her sons over her daughters and for whatever reason, my mother was her least-favorite.

All that is to say that my mother came into parenting with some faulty ideas as to what it takes to be a parent and what it meant to be a parent. More specifically, a mother. I also think one of the reasons she decided to have children was to have someone to love her unquestioningly, which was destined to fail. You don’t have kids for what they can do for you–ideally, that is. Many people do, much to their own detriment.

Ever since I can remember, I was not happy in my own skin. My mom made dresses for me, which is so not my jam. I like a long flowy skirt and I wore a dress now and again in my twenties, but it never felt right. It wasn’t a gender thing, but a sensory thing. I hate clothing and try to wear as little as possible. Dresses generally cover more than other clothing and is restrictive to boot. I liked to climb trees when I was a kid–which was also something that I was told I shouldn’t do as a girl–and that’s really hard to do in a dress. I was considered a tomboy and frowned upon for being, well, too much.

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Limitless possibilities

Here’s the thing about taiji weapons. They’re like Lay’s: you cannot eat just one. Er, I mean. It’s really addictive–at least when it finally clicked in my brain. My brain is broken on many levels. One, I have a hard time doing anything—even things I like. Someone in the weekend thread on Ask A Manager asked how to make themselves do exercise on the regular. Other people gave good advice, but the one that I had to counter was to do it when you felt like doing it. Why? Because I never felt like doing anything. I related how when I first started practicing taiji at home, it was literally five minutes a day. The way I did it was to put it on my to-do list. Get up, brush teeth, feed cat, do taiji. I emphasized that it wasn’t a YOU HAVE TO DO THIS YOU LAZY ASSHOLE, but more matter-of-fact like, oh, right. Do the taiji thing. It expanded to ten minutes, then fifteen, and now, with my new-found love affair with the weapons, it’s 45 minutes to an hour.

I didn’t get into it, but the five minutes a day was so resentful on my part. In fact, before I started practicing at home, I went from one to two to three classes a week because I wasn’t practicing at home. When I started practicing, it was a quick section of the Solo Form (or part of a section) and then some stretches. The stretches were fine, but the Solo Form was not. I still am not a huge fan, but the Medium Form is way more my jam than the Long Form.

I’ve documented how I fell in love with the sword and it’s still very dear to my heart. Then, my struggles with the Sabre Form that has turned into a deep appreciation. Currently, I am intoxicatingly infatuated with the Double Sabre Form. It’s my everything and I would do it all day long if I could.

When I think about the weapons, it’s all about the feelings they invoke. The sword makes me want to dance and Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe is the perfect song to dance with the sword to. I mentioned in the aforementioned forum that before taiji, the only exercise I liked was dancing. Weightlifting was tolerable and I hated the rest of it. Now, I’m pleased to be able to combine dancing with taiji weapons because they are my two favorite physical activities (well, excluding sex*). I have chronic depression and it’s hard for me to find joy in anything.

I can find quiet moments of contentment such as chilling with my cat. I can be engaged by activities such as playing video games. I can be pleased chatting with friends. My brother came over last night and we tried the new Thai restaurant down the street. That was a really enjoyable time. But all of these are very muted. Which, to be fair, is my style in general. It’s partly just my demeanor and partly the depression.

All that changes when i grab my double sabers and wait for the music to start. Or not. Even when I practice with no music, there is joy in my heart as I move the double sabers in the air. I am someone who feels chained in so many ways, but when I do the Double Saber Form, I’m free.

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