Underneath my yellow skin

Happy Lunar New Year + taiji demo

Happy Year of the Ox, everyone! I’m not a huge celebrator of holidays, but I’m more into Lunar New Year than the alternative because, well, just because. That doesn’t mean I do much about it, but I at least acknowledge it–mostly because my family celebrates it.

One thing that comes with the Lunar New Year is the demo at my taiji teacher’s home studio. Last year was right before the pandemic really hit and it was both great (saw the Double Sabre Form) and terrible (car wouldn’t start afterwards because of the bitter cold). This year, there was question whether there would even be one given the pandemic, but they decided to do it on Zoom.

My teacher was in charge of it as she does all the online Zoom classes, but this was the first time she’d done an event of this magnitude. We had twenty-five or so people, which was more than I expected for a Zoom event.

The way it was handled was that my teacher had roughly twenty slots for demos. Solo demos, which was the only way it made sense. It was limited to 2-3 minutes per demonstrator. Hm. Not a good word. Presenter.

It would have been better in person, of course, but there were a few benefits to it being online. One, we’re in the middle of a wind chill advisory and it might get down to -45. Two, for me, it was nice to be able to sit in the comfort in my own home and not have to worry about my physical energy levels. Also, while I enjoy watching the group presentations, it’s easier to focus on the details with single presenters.

One thing that blew my mind was that two of the women who demoed did their routines to rap/hip hop, one being a Beastie Boys song. I had never thought about doing a routine to music, let alone hip hop/rap, and it was the most amazing thing. One was the Dancing Wu-Li Form and the other was a mixture of sabre forms.

At first, I was taken aback with the two of these being brought together. But, watching the first demo, I immediately got into it and thought, “Why the hell not?” Then, I was besotted by it and by the end of the demo, I was thinking of which forms I could unite with which rap songs.

Another thing that the demo did was make me realize yet again how far behind I am. Not that there should be a comparison with other people, but that’s how I roll. I dragged my feet so hard the first several years of studying. In addition, I have only so much energy to expend and I’m doing the best I can.

In the early years, I started adding classes to my schedule because it forced me to practice that many times a week. At the demo, my teacher’s teacher said that the pandemic had been good for forcing people to come up with daily practices since all in-person classes were cancelled; he specifically mentioned the thing about adding classes as a way to avoid practicing at home. I already had one before the pandemic hit, but I’ve definitely expanded it since soft lockdown.

In fact, when we each had to talk a little about ourselves, I mentioned that the one good thing about the pandemic was that I had upped my weapons game. I have always loved the weapons, but I continued to plod along in a plunking fashion with learning one weapon at a time in drips and drabs. Since the personal lockdown, I’ve been cramming as much into my brain as I can while not overdoing it.

I mentioned to my teacher’s teacher while we were in breakout rooms that I was going to use his videos to teach myself the last row of the Karambit Form. He jokingly (but not) said not to use a real one. I assured him that I only used a rubber one because I was clumsy and had already hit myself with it. One of the people demoing did the Fast Form and he had taught himself the entire third section by using the video. That gives me hope.

I’ve used some of the videos to make refinements to the forms I already know, but it’s a whole different kettle of fish to use a video to learn a form. My teacher told me before our last private lesson that she had spent some time watching the Double Sabre video before class because she promised me she would start teaching me the Double Sabre Form (I asked). She said it was not easy to pick things up from the video, which is true. At the same time, though, I can watch a snippet over and over without annoying the teacher.

The demo has made me determined to kick it up another notch. I want to learn the Dancing Wu-Li Sword Form. There’s a video for that. Also, the last row of the Karambit Form. And the Fast form. I know the first section of the Fast Form and was taught half of the second section. I don’t remember all of the second section I was taught, which is irritating. My teacher stopped teaching us because her teacher was making changes and then, well, pandemic.

So. This year. I want to learn those three things. Can I do it? I don’t know. But I won’t learn anything if I don’t try. Oh, and I want to put one of the forms to a rap song. Not sure which form and which song, but I can think that over. I think I’ll start with the Karambit Form. I only have one row left, which shouldn’t be more than ten movements. Ok. I just watched it and it’s a bit more than ten, but it’s not too bad.

Then, I’m not sure. Just watched the Wu-li Wudang Sword Form and it’s not difficult, but it’s more than a few moves. I know the Fast Form will be the most difficult because I’ve seen it in person and because I’ve learned half of it. The second half of any form is supposed to be more complicated than the first for obvious reasons, so, yeah, I might be not giving myself enough time. I’m going to revise and say I’ll teach myself the Karambit Form and the Wu-li Wudang Sword Form this year. Plus, try to put a form to a rap song. That’s in addition to what my teacher is teaching me.

Am I being overly ambitious? Not ambitious enough? Who knows? I don’t really care at this point because I can always adjust as needed throughout the year.

It’s hard not to beat myself up for not having learned more by now. However, I’m trying not to do it because it’s not helpful. Even if it were objectively true (which is debatable), there’s nothing I can do about it now. Also, the more shame I feel about it, the less I’ll want to address it. In other words, if I keep berating myself for not having done it sooner, I won’t do it at all.

Another thing the demo did for me was take away some of my imposter syndrome. Even though I’ve been practicing for nearly thirteen years, I still feel like I’m just dabbling. I don’t feel like my forms are any good and that I can’t really call myself a student of taiji. But, seeing the people demoing with flaws in their forms (because they’re human and it’s a lifelong process) made me realize that formwise, I’m doing ok. Are there many things I could approve? Of course. Am I much better than I was even five years ago? Yes.

I will say, I don’t think I truly put in the effort until the year of our pandemic and I’ve grown leaps and bound in the past year. By pushing myself this year, I hope to grow even more.

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