The Method

We are a full two weeks into a robust fall session at the school. I’m really enjoying being back into my routine – meeting many new folks and reconnecting with our devoted ongoing student population, many of whom have been with their practice and the school for well over ten years. Our youngest student on the floor this session is 21, our eldest, well, why bother with that number! What a privilege to practice together! I feel quite grounded and settled after two years of strong changes in my life and career and am happy the risks I took during this time appear to have been the correct ones. 

When I was sweating it out on my recent training trip in China last month, along with absorbing and learning, I thought a great deal about how I wanted to teach when I started up again this month. As with all long-standing careers, I have explored and experimented with different ideas for conveying the material in my charge.  I’m the proudest that over the years I have, with the help of my students and teachers, developed skill to be able to give most people, regardless of age, health or fitness something useful, whether they stay on the floor for a day or decades. Yet I always feel I could do better, be clearer in my demonstrations and explanations. 

Each time I work with my teacher Chen Xiao Xing I of course practice hard but I also study how he teaches. He also has a wide range of students, different ages, genders, nationalities, interests. No matter who he teaches, no matter what floor he is on, he teaches exactly the same. Naturally he addresses variations in fitness, but the method of imparting the information is always the same. Demonstrate, succinctly explain and clarify the logic, correct with hands on, let the student find it for themselves. Correct, and repeat. Over and over again. I thought, really, this is it, there is only one way to teach Tai Chi & Qigong: without flourish, without interpretation, without trying to find metaphors or ways of explaining things so hopefully people will “get it,” the only real way to teach is to simply teach the method. 

As with teaching, when we practice, it is also the same. We need to simply find and do our best to replicate what we are taught. As students, though the method is clear: relax, sit the hips, concentrate on the center of gravity, keep upright posture, and so on, we often spend a lot of time looking around for alternatives. We keep trying different things to find the way into to our art, some other exercise, some other way of looking at it, when the way in is right in front of us.  All we have to do is follow what has been set out by many generations in front of us. Why is this so hard?   

I think perhaps because the rules not only teach us our art but as we attempt to find and follow them, we encounter ourselves. We find we are often far, far away from the instruction. We have poor posture, our muscles are weak, our hips our tight. We are not relaxed. So rather than simply be with that experience and continue to practice what we are taught until something changes, we try to find another experience that will assuage these uncomfortable truths. It’s a cat and mouse game for sure!  And yet, finally we must accept, return to and keep focused on the method as we encounter it, part by part, moment by moment, over and over again. The truth is there is no easy way. And there is no hard way either. There is simply the way. 

My practice this evening was really focused on the rule of relaxation.  Even to the exclusion of “doing” “perfect” technique, I kept looking to let go of tension, especially in my shoulders, over and over again. As I finished my practice I stayed in the garden and pulled some weeds. The autumn evening sun felt warm and comforting on my body. I saw the sun’s rays long on the orange leaves. I definitely felt more at ease in my body and being. I thought about my practice and recognized I am not just practicing so that I might improve my Tai Chi, but by simply following the method, I vastly improve my overall quality of life.  It’s a tremendous gift that those who came before us left. We have a map to follow. One that is set up clearly for centuries, tried and proven by our teachers and ancestors. All we have to do is follow it, stay focused on it. Our Tai Chi skill, and our life reap tremendous rewards.  

 

The Goodness of People

Just a few hours before she died my mother said with her characteristic fierceness, “keep traveling.” She had grown up in a time with few opportunities for women. She married the wrong men, had a child, me, too early and raised me in essence as a single mother. She shelved her goals for higher education, financial independence and love over and over again. I do remember her traveling as often as she could though. From the time I could be sent off to camp, she got on a plane and headed for Europe, Africa and China. She did all that as a single American woman during the times it was not so easy to do.

She also taught herself how to travel. By trial and error she learned how to meet and engage with people from all over the world even when she didn’t know their language or customs. She was kind and generous to them and in turn, they to her. By the time she died, she had enduring friendships with people from all over the globe. She threw me into the world as quickly as she could and with little economic means or family support to do it. She knew she wanted a freer life for me, an easier one than she had to fight to give herself. She knew travel was a key. And so I have lived and traveled in the world too. 

I think about my mother every time I travel. We had a habit of making an “airport call” each time we caught a plane, even if it was only from Seattle to Denver to visit one another. Now I make sure I call her beloved to keep up the tradition. I thought about her a lot this trip because traveling in China is especially stressful and this time I leapt out of my comfort zone more than I have for a few years. Every time I would feel an edge of anxiety or irritation well up, I would say, “what would my mother do”? And I would calm down, find a way through. Make a new friend.

On the airplane from Kunming to Shanghai I sat next to a mother and her 7 year old daughter. The daughter jabbered away in English with a fluency that stunned me. I learned in her own words, not only her name, and that she had 2 of them, but how old she was, where her home was and also that she was here in Shanghai for a piano competition. She had been playing since she was 2 and her mother gets angry when she doesn’t practice. Her syntax and cadence were perfect as was her accent and confidence. She asked me about myself, my name, my home and if I liked coffee. When the flight attendance came by, she asked me if I wanted coffee and told the flight attendant I didn’t want any, I wanted plum juice instead. 

Her mother, about 33 or so, was also quite fluent albeit a bit haltingly. We spoke of the tremendous changes China has been through since the days of her mother and grandmother. How her daughter has all the opportunities in the world. I said to the daughter, don’t get angry at your mother, she loves you (I said in Chinese) and someday you will have all the freedom to live your life any way you want to.  Both mother and daughter understood what I was saying. I thought about my own mother and how all mothers only want this for their daughters. To grow up free and with unlimited opportunities, more than they themselves could envision. 

I’m thinking about this exchange, my mother, my time in the Village and in Kunming while tucked into my hotel room in Shanghai. Lightening cracks over the Bund, thunder rolls. Colored Neon pops. It looks just as I imagined it would since I was a young woman and knew I wanted to see this famous site. And here I am.  It’s a privilege to be able to say, “I want to do that, see that,” and then go do it. But there is a price to pay. One must travel well. One must reach out from one’s heart over and over again, even in the face of fatigue and the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. One must smile and be present when eyes stare. One must say Hello and dissolve barriers one didn’t even know were inside. One must be an ambassador of humanity. My mother left that legacy. I trust I am following her lead as best I can.

A long finger of lightening cracks and pierces the grey sky. I see it and think about Grandmaster’s lesson, “Sudden Realization.” I think about our eyes connecting on the training floor, reaching across time and history, ours and the world’s, to awaken each other. I think about the people I met over these past few weeks, on the training floor, the cable car, the tea house, the demonstration, the eating table. How our lives will forever be changed and enriched for our time together. How in the midst of this insane world our efforts to reach into one another’s hearts does really mean something. I think about people I have know for a long time and how we could say “I love you, thank you,” when we parted for our homes. I think about China and how many lessons I learn here in this generous place, from these generous people. I think the most important one, not just in China, but in everyday life, is to simply surrender to the goodness of people. 

 

13 Pieces of Wood

The crescendo of Cicadas envelope me one more time while I Stand on the black and white speckled floor in the training hall. They sound like ten thousand small metal flags shimmering against each other as a gentle breeze blows. I think about their seven year gestation cycle. I think about my own Taijiquan gestation cycle and how it’s much longer than that. I think about my teacher and China and the ancient tradition from which they come, more than the cicadas or my training. Our lives and history, so different, and yet here we are, right now, each other’s companions in this room.

The fans overhead cool me as sweat pours down my face and legs, one more time. Outside in the quad spears shake, feet stomp, kids shout their timing signals, perfectly syncing their forms. The cement mixer hums pouring more concrete for the new dorms.  Grandmaster approaches behind me and sinks me down one more time. He presses my shoulders down too. My legs shake. I imagine surrendering myself down to the Well of this place and endure it. Can I endure it? For one or two minutes of counting? Just one more time. 

Ten days ago we arrived here. A lifetime ago, a moment ago. By day three’s end it seemed few would return. Now everyone’s conversations include, “the next time....”  If I were to read back at my training blogs I’m fairly certain I say at the end of each training, it was, this one was, the hardest. This is the one I dissolved the most, this is the one I became disassembled completely, this is the one it will take me the rest of my life to digest.  I’m sure I have said it before many times. Again, I say it now: this training was the hardest, this is the one I dissolved the most, this is the one I became disassembled completely. This is the one it will take me the rest of my life to digest. 

I am happy in Chenjiagou. The conditions and training are rugged, it breaks one down, it’s quite hard on the ego, but it suits my temperament in ways little else in my life does. This training was punishing for me in a way, not physically, though it was certainly rigorous, but mentally, conceptually. It is not as though I haven’t seen all of what Grandmaster showed many times before and yet it was like I never had. I worked hard to see through my own veils to what I could see lay beneath in my teacher’s movement. I felt fragmented much of the time, clumsy at best. But today, during the last hour, much came together for me. I do see the next way forward. I am very grateful to my teacher for giving me everything I can take and then more.

At the entrance to the old street right before the school two large frames flank the gate. One displays weapons, the other thirteen pieces of wood that are the Rules for Learning Quan, (Fist). Tomes have been written about each element, but in essence these pieces of wood shown in the photo above say, (from left to right):

  1. Requirements for learning Quan 

  2. If you want to learn Quan, first you need to understand the law: Be civilized, Be polite, Be righteous. Take care of one another.

  3. Understand Technology, Physics, Physiology

  4. Understand Leverage, Spiraling Energy, Physical Strength, Empty and Full, Blood and Qi Circulation

  5. Strengthen your body constitution. Know the skill.

  6. Be reasonable. Seek a good teacher. If the teacher is not good enough he or she will delay the student. 

  7. When a teacher is teaching and talking, pay attention and remember the teaching. When a teacher is demonstrating, watch carefully 

  8. From sense to sensibility, Think and practice often.

  9. Stick to it. Follow the rules. Seek progress but don’t be in a hurry.

  10. Before you know it your Kung fu will increase gradually. 

  11. Learning also requires good friends to learn Quan together. You will help each other. 

  12. Experiment often. Discuss in detail. Then right and wrong will become very clear. 

  13. Taijiquan

We all scatter tomorrow to various locations: Doug & I to Kunming, Meg to Shanghai, Lisa to visit family in China, Shiuwen to Taiwan to study with her tea teachers. John and Matt have a couple more days in China too and Greg heads back to the States. We are packed. Chen Zi Qiang and Cui Bing took our group out for dinner one more time tonight. Our bus leaves before first light tomorrow. Chen Xiao Xing’s parting words to us today were: “Have fun!” And I’ll take that advice to heart. Because soon the real work begins: to go home and work and re-work the teachings, one more time, and be ready for the next time in Chenjiagou.

***

First foremost we all Shiuwen Tai a debt of gratitude for her generous and fearless translation throughout this training. Grandmaster, Shiuwen and I have 16 years of history together and it shows in the serious but playful nature we all share together on the floor. I also owe my friend so much for helping me with all the questions and ‘interviews’ I conducted with Grandmaster and others in the Village. I could have never achieved the depths of communication without her.

Our group was wonderful and absolutely harmonized. Doug, Meg, Shiuwen, John, Matt, Lisa, and Greg never missed a beat one time throughout this training. I was proud to be here with them. Grandmaster’s Wife was extremely generous and kind to us. As always Chen Zi Qiang and his wife Cui Bing went out of their way, always treating us like family. To the Demo team and Yi Mei, who made us feel an even deeper connection to our home school. And to the people of Chenjiagou, my debt of gratitude for not just allowing me to train and learn here in your home but to share our open hearts together. Thank you, too, to all who took the time to read this training journey and share in my process. 

在陈家沟见!See you in Chenjiagou again! 









One’s Whole Life

“Your father taught you, your brother taught you, but you had many years on your own,” I asked Chen Xiao Xing toward the end of our morning session. “How did you learn to know how to feel when it was right?” “下功夫,” he replied, “You need to work hard and try.” He continued, with a quiet fierocity, “I wanted to figure it out.” He used the term 拚命 meaning “I threw my whole life into it.” This term means much more than simply to practice a lot, it means to throw one’s whole life, one’s entire being, into the quest. “At first my mind and my body were not connected but gradually through hard practice I felt what was right.” He gestured by moving his hands down across his entire body. “It’s like anything, it can’t just be the teacher teaching you something,” he stated clearly. “The student must go get the books and study and learn and figure it out. It can only happen through endless practice. “You have to think!” Chen Xiao Xing exclaimed vigorously. “What are they teaching you?” “For example, at first, they say, ‘everything has to go together.’ And yet you can’t do it, so ask yourself, what does that mean? You have to take what your teachers teach you and figure it out for yourself.” 

“Yesterday you talked about “Gradual Realization” I said. “What about “頓悟 - Sudden Realization?” I pointed to the words on the blackboard. He smiled and said, “You practice what you learn, what your teacher teaches, over and over and then one day.....” Chen Xiao Xing widened his eyes and exclaimed, “AH!” “It’s the light bulb going off!” I eagerly added, putting my hands over my head, and poofing my fingers wide to mimic a light turning on. He did not need Shiuwen to translate. “对, Duì“ -“Right!!” He said. “But then it goes out again.” I further mused. “Turn it back on!” We all laughed. Our group’s bulbs have certainly flickered on and off and on again this trip!

Chen Xiao Xing’s wife, 譚莹, has been on the floor with us this training, leading the repetitions after our teacher instructs. She is helping our newest student Lisa a great deal and is very kind to all of us. “The looser the better!” She says somewhat demurely as she describes the hips, and then melts into a low stance elegantly, naturally, I’ve been on the floor with her before - she has been studying in Chenjiagou for seven years, but this is the first time we made a connection. Her form has become beautiful and strong and Grandmaster corrects her unflinchingly. I asked her after class yesterday, “How can you take those corrections???” “Endurance!” She replied without hesitation.  

She told us her story. “I was in a car accident over 11 years ago.” She began. “I was in and out of the hospital for six months in that first year after.” She continued to describe that she could not walk upright due to a serious back injury. The doctors told her she would likely be crippled when she was older and Taijiquan might help. She began learning in Yunnan where she lived. After three years she could walk up right again. She knew then if she could become skilled at Taijiquan it wouldn’t just help her but she might be able to help others. After another year she left for Chenjiagou to find Chen Xiao Xing. She didn’t think he would take her as a student but she wanted to try. He was teaching overseas when she arrived so she waited a month for him to return and practiced. “When other people were chatting,” I just practiced. “If they did it one time, I did it ten times.” When Chen Xiao Xing arrived back he did take her as a student. The rest she said, referring to them becoming husband and wife, “Was Karma!” 

Yi Mei invited her teacher, Chen Zi Qiang, his wife Cui Bing and several of the other family members and me out for dinner for her last night in Chenjiagou. We went to the nice restaurant down the road, just outside of the main area. It was an evening of great food and family, with the smallest kids running around playing hide and seek behind the thick pleated curtains in our private eating room. Plates of food kept coming while we all chatted easily with one another in English and Chinese. Chen Xiao Xing’s oldest Grandson who we met in Slovenia last year speaks perfect English. He is an exhubarent 17 year old now who leaves for a University in Beijing next month.

This got Cui Bing, Yi Mei and me into a conversation about the cost of living. It’s about $3300 a year for him to attend University there. They were all shocked when I quoted figures for US education. We compared health care costs and the cost of housing in our respective countries too. And then I could not help but whisper to Yi Mei, “so what ARE they saying in your country about the hot political topic between our countries?” She smiled, “some say its crazy, some say well....!” “Yep! The same for us!” We both laughed at the absurdities we live in and took some more mouthwatering chicken. Yi Mei’s Taijiquan is beautiful and powerful too. Over the week she has shared with me some of her life experiences, both personal as well as living in Russia during the break up of the Soviet Union.  “It was a very difficult time” she said introspectively, “but we survived.”

It is a mistake to believe the high level of Taijiquan we see in many of the people we encounter here in Chenjiagou is because one must be lucky, or “borne into it.” Or started young, or any number of other things we tell ourselves about others who have skill that appears unattainable to we “normal people.” Of course, one naturally has certain inclinations or advantages based on one’s life circumstances, but in the end skill progression is not that. Believing it is simply one of the ways we keep ourselves separated from our own potential. Perhaps adversity actually fuels the progress, or perhaps better stated, the fuel is in the choices one makes in how to deal with with the cards one is dealt. In the end, the truth, and one every day of this training has spoken to me, is that all answers are found in practice and also are found in the courage to throw one’s life into it, whatever that means to each of us.

A rooster crows. Soon the cook will arrive. Day ten ensues. 














漸悟 Gradual Realization

A cool breeze moves lightly over my skin as I walk down the road after dinner to buy water and milk. It feels comforting after a hard day of training and I’m grateful the rains over the past few days have brought the temperature down. The air is clean too; the setting sun brushes pink and lavender across a canvas of white clouds and blue sky. The moon rises. An old woman sits on a stool in front of her home and slowly fans herself. A man meanders with his shirt rolled half way up his chest unabashedly showing his tan belly. This is a common site in the more rural parts of China, I learned this phenomenon has a nickname, “Beijing Bikini.” A scooters beeps, politely signaling for me to step aside. The driver is carrying a baby cradled in one arm while he steers with the other. Beep! Another scooter passes, it’s rider is looking down at his cell phone. 晚安, Wan An, I say to familiar faces along the path. “Good night!” It’s not quite the right phrase for exchanging pleasantries on an evening stroll, but they understand my efforts. “Hello!” They reply in turn. It’s dark by the time I turn right onto the main street towards the shop. The moon shines bright. Bats fly overhead. 

“Move naturally!” Chen Xiao Xing said today in class, his eyes gleaming. Along with all the other corrections: sink, shift, relax, close, open, etc., it all comes down to this. We were working on a sequence I have always found particularly difficult, Qian Zhao, Hou Zhao, Yie Ma Fen Zhong, Front and Back Dodging and Parting Horse’s Mane. I remember the first time Chen Xiao Wang taught it to me; I could not come close to comprehending it. After many attempts he simply sat down and waited quietly while I struggled through it. I was completely undone and utterly intimidated to be so naked in my ignorance in front of the most famous Chen. My energy scattered. He said, “Calm Down.” I burst into tears. That was 16 years ago. It’s still hard but I don’t cry any more - well on the outside at least! 

“I have studied this form over 15 years,” I said to my teacher. “Is it natural for me to now feel I don’t know it at all?” I was not joking. During this particular training, I truly feel I may not know the Laojia, the fundamental frame, at all. Without pause, Chen Xiao Xing looked at the blackboard at the back of his room and pointed at the Chinese characters written upon it. He began reading; Shiuwen translated. 漸悟 Gradual Realization. “Keep learning, keep repeating, keep practicing and you will learn new things.” Chen Xiao Xing stated. 溫故知新 “Review what you learned before, reflect, and you will learn new things.” 熟能生巧 “Practice and practice so much, and eventually everything fits together perfectly.” 順其自然 Fundamentally, let it be natural. 

As both teacher and student I know if we stick with something long enough we are bound to feel the bottom drop out from time to time. We wonder if we have really made progress, really understood. This experience is unnerving, it is a dangerous time in one’s study cycle - if the ego bites into it too hard, one may loose hope. And yet, it is natural part of the cycle too. Learning always folds into itself. It can never be that we haven’t learned, it is that we are always learning new things. One simply keeps going. To have a teacher one can be utterly transparent in front of, to have as witness when making the same mistakes over and over again, to listen to the same questions as yet again, to continue to guide you through the potholes of ego and ignorance, to point you further down the road, is the greatest gift. I feel very fortunate. 

There is a palpable kindness here in the teaching methodology. During day three a small group of people from Zheng Zhou joined us - a father, son, and uncle. The group was clearly new to Taijiquan - the fidgeting level was high, especially with the son! It was a bit annoying but whenever I felt myself start to become agitated I checked it. It’s not my floor, everyone is a beginner, I reminded myself. And I am here for my work. This is my grinding stone. Over the course of the next few days Chen Xiao Xing corrected each person in accordance with the methodology. Gradually the group began to get it and even the son began to calm down. 

During one of our breaks I noticed he was in the corner with headphones on listening to music or watching a show. I decided to practice my Chinese and approached him. “Where are you from?” I asked in slow deliberate words, trying to make my tones correct. To my delight he answered in English, “My home is in Zheng Zhou.” I had noticed his father was gone today so I continued in Chinese, “Where is your father?” “On a business trip,” he said in perfect English. We were both utterly delighted at this playful banter. We volleyed back and forth. “How old are you?” “Thirteen!” “Do you like Taijiquan?” “Yes!” “What is your name?” I asked. “Fun” he replied.  This time I had to have Shiuwen help me.  She couldn’t quite make the character out when he finger wrote it in her palm but indeed his first name is “Fun.” “Very nice to meet you!” I continued in Chinese. “You too!” He said.  I make it a point to encourage him now In Standing and to share laughter at our thigh pain during our breaks.

Cui Bing, Chen Zi Qiang’s wife brought her oldest daughter over last night to have John Howe work with her on her English. They like John a great deal; it was a beautiful site to see him helping her with her reading and speaking. Here in the Gou, hard work, generosity, patience, kindness across generations and culture are on full display.  From the pigtailed toddler to the blue silk clad elder to the gangly thirteen year old to the confused American asking the same questions once again, humanity is open here. It is natural. There is no reason to treat each other poorly, to become irritated by someone else’s beginning level of anything, to loose hope in our own progress as learners.  What type of world might we have if we were as hard working as the students here are? As patient as the teachers? As kind? As generous? 

The roosters and bustling of the cook tells me Day Nine ensues. 



The Work

The sound of rain wakes me again this morning at about 3:45 am. I try to fake sleeping for another hour or so while I listen to the large drops hit the metal roof outside our dorm room. It’s a bit before 5 when I finally get up, gather my tea and Ipad and head downstairs to the large room where we eat. A small lizard scampers under my feet at the bottom of the stairs. This room is the only place I can sit to write; there are no desks or chairs in the sleeping room save for one short round stool in the corner.  The dorms in Chenjiagou are not designed for sitting!  I love my morning routine here, I’m never sure who reads my blogs or what they might mean to people save for a unique travel story, but they help me to decompress and reflect from the day before. I’m still sometimes surprised I have spent an entire lifetime involved in martial arts; sometimes I think I might do something else, but no, there is nothing else for me. It is not just the athleticism I enjoy, it is more, this has always been my path for deep contemplation of the inner and outer worlds. 

This particular trip has been more social than my other visits. I think part of this is Summer. It’s an expansive time generally. Also I’ve been here enough now that many of us, students, shop owners, teachers, have a shared history that spans well over a decade. Too, I think the social aspect as also been fueled my renewed efforts to learn Chinese. I frankly didn’t think 2 months of daily practice using apps would make much of a difference, but it has.  I can’t have deep conversations but I can ask where people are from, answer where I am from, talk about the weather, make sure I understand time and food and the best - tell people they look beautiful. I can even make a couple of jokes. It makes a difference! Although, with the tones one must be vigilant! I tripped over one the other day and ended up saying the F word to one of the shop owners. Thankfully everyone started laughing knowing this silly American was just being clumsy. 

Everyone is getting stronger and bodies are holding up. Doug and I are the oldest in our group at almost 62. Lisa at 33 is the youngest. Everyone else ranges from the mid thirties to late fifties. It is a lot to put the body/mind though, one that is not used to this pace and depth of training, but we are all doing fine. Our group is harmonized and I’m really proud of everyone’s training ethic, especially Lisa, who has only nine months of experience with Taijiquan. Even though she is Chinese, has travelled all over the world a great deal and is a fierce woman by anyone’s standards, she has never having encountered herself in this way before. She is representing! We did take a much needed half-day break yesterday. We spent time in the Taijiquan park, wandering through the Temple, the statues of the 13 Energies, the Graves and the museum.  It was hot as heck and sparsely touristed so we could be a little more goofy, with the exception of course while Posturing in front of Chen Wang Ting. 

Doug and I visited Chen Bing, saw the beginnings of his new school and had some tea. He is really busy with the school and travel and does not teach group classes here anymore, just private lessons and special event workshops. We talked about the changes of Chenjiagou; more and more I hear what a mixed bag it is for the long time folks here and their preference might have been for the Gou to have remained a Farming & Taijiquan Village. “It was easier to keep a quiet mind then,” Chen Bing said. I also feel a bit of the challenge of keeping a quieter mind this trip. Part of it is certainly the fact that I am with people I have known a long time and it is quite simply fun to be with them.  Yet it is undeniable there is a energy of the place that has shifted. 

Within the training hall however, the work is to have all distractions dissolve. How the Gou has changed, what else I might have or have not done with my life, how many flies are landing on my sweat as it runs down my face.  This job of deep focus, no matter what is going on on the outside, lays firmly on each person. This place is still a pressure cooker for that work. I credit this fact to Grandmaster Chen Xiao Xing’s continued efforts to hold an unflappable center, no matter what is going on in the Gou or in the World. More and more I see this strength of his mind and how he, both as a Taijiquan Grandmaster and a human being, has been able to stay steady throughout the course of his life. Every day I walk into the school and see the students training, see how the school has grown through the time I have known it, see how he himself, both his sons, Chen Zi Qiang and Chen Zi Jun, his nephew Chen Bing, have been able to work so hard here in China and by traveling all over the world to teach authentic Taijiquan, as well, to help all of us who also teach others have grown, I know it stems from this man’s steady root planted deeply here, in the Gou. 

In one of our conversations I asked my teacher, “How did you and your family figure all this out?” Referencing the depth of Taijiquan. I was worried he would take it as one of my silly questions, but it was gnawing on me so I risked having Shiuwen translate it for me. He answered directly and sincerely, “It’s the mind.” “Many people have failed,” he continued, “a few have succeeded, but it is nothing compared to the mind of the Ancestor (referring to Chen Wang Ting) who originally figured it out.” I did not fully comprehend all this thirteen years ago when I became a disciple of Chen Xiao Wang but the mind element of my training is becoming more clear. One must truly work to open the mind, not attach to anything specific and yet rigorously adhere to certain rules. It is the most challenging paradox. One must embrace it fully, and then one must practice and practice and practice. And wait.

This trip, the second this year, comes at a good time for me after two years of huge changes in my life: the sudden death of my mother, turning 60, deciding to change my school location and more, it has all been very hard and admittedly has distracted me from the level of training I want for myself. But being here again, receiving the level of corrections and training and insight I am given, I see again I am very much a part of this specific tradition. It’s good to drink again from that well, dig again into that root and to reaffirm again my commitment to my physical practice and especially to my mental training. 

The morning light is opening, the roosters call. The cooks are peeling and chopping. Someone is humming. Day eight ensues.



Eat Sleep Train

The daily routine is well established now. Eat, sleep, train. Two days of travel and the +15 hour time change is a hard bump to get over, but after a few days the new rhythms settle in. Cicadas, sweat and lots of laughter around the eating table become the norm. Grandmaster’s corrections are something to crave more than fear and everyone is more comfortable asking questions -especially the ones we all think we “should” know. For me, I consider coming at least once a year for as long as I can a mandatory part of my work, especially since my teacher does not travel outside of China anymore. I have to check in with him not just on my form, but on my understanding of how I am training myself and what I am teaching others. As we all know, the mind is a trickster and will convince us we are correct when perhaps we are in fact way off the rails. 

Coming here as often as I can is also a part of my soul; there is no place like it on earth. From the entrance gate, down the path through the quad to Grandmaster’s room there are many students training. They train the entire system: form, weapons, and interaction. Some are in structured classes, some with individual coaches, some on their own. There are the school kids I see year after year, growing strong and robust, their young bodies ripped with muscle and spunk.  (It’s quite a contrast to the obesity epidemic we have in America.) There are also quite a few mainland Chinese that come for their holiday this time of year to train. As I mentioned in earlier blogs, I see many more elders training, which is so deeply inspiring to me. One sees the truth of how powerful Taijiquan is for the aging process. And this is not “Tai Chi Lite.” This is depth charge Taijiquan and it is very evident that if one stays the course, then one can have Taijiquan as a companion through the ages. “You see, you can still teach when you are 85!” Chen Zi Qiang said to me over tea one day. This school is a very special hub that contains and expresses a wide range through all generations of what I love. Who wouldn’t want to come here as often as possible?

“This is the only place I can truly rest, mind, body and heart,” Chen Yi Mei said on one of our walks to class after breakfast. Chen Yi Mei, aka Svetlana, is from Russia; I know her from Facebook and another time in the Village when we crossed paths for only two days.  She is a disciple of Chen Zi Qiang and an outstanding practitioner who also works very hard to promote Taijiquan in her region. CZQ gave her the name, Yi Mei, meaning “first blooming winter plum flower.”  She comes for a month every year and this time I have the pleasure of her being here during the entirety of our group’s stay. We were comparing notes last night returning from dinner. Me saying, I’m here only 10 days and it’s not nearly enough. She saying her month here is not nearly enough. Perhaps at first visit or even at the tenth visit one could not imagine staying for an extended period of time, perhaps even for years, but this time I actually could envision that, if life put that direction in front of me. 

I think the reason it can be so restful here is how different the environment is than home. It is a simple Village with simple food and a simple room. One really just has one job to do: Train. No matter how much money or what type of profession or what grace you live or vice you have to atone for, training is the great equalizer. The petty machinations of the mind - those we think are so important back at home, those created by the culture we are in and firmly believe are The Truth, fade quickly here into sweat and the feeling of your feet on the ground. We are able to live into a different truth then. For me I am discovering how attached I am to order. I’ve always known this about myself and living in the US my structured life and its ordered rhythms is easy to maintain. In China one cannot hold onto that at all. Everything changes so quickly, there are so many people and so many variables, one really has to adapt and be flexible to survive it. I feel the body holds a lot of tension trying to hold on to order, to hold on to beliefs gleaned from thinking our experiences mean something specific. In China generally and in this Village specifically, there is an opportunity to let this rigidity soften and even at times, dissolve. 

At the same time, it is not all idillic here by any means. The Village has changed a lot. There is a much more commercial feel to it since the Government took Taijiquan to heart not just as a cultural jewel but as also a way to profit. That’s not all bad. Taijiquan has become so much more popular all over the world so more people benefit. Yet, all of us who have been here over the years note the effects of this intention. There is a great deal of construction, more schools are opening up with any number of random people teaching. Though our school continues to operate in a very traditional way, eschewing the profit motive in favor of adherence to the old ways, I did hear of one famous teacher in a neighboring school charging the equivalent of $3000USD/hour. We had a visit with Chen Bing who, when asked how he felt about all the changes said, “It was easier to keep a quiet mind when it was a simple farming and Taijiquan village.”

I also feel the Government overlay more than in years past. Cameras are a part of the landscape, there are new rules about getting into the Cultural Heritage sites we used to just wander through. There is a “vibe” here that feels a bit stricter than earlier visits. This type of shift is happening all over the world, is it not? With all of our diverse backgrounds, Chinese, Taiwanese, Russian and American we have wandered into political conversations around the eating table. It doesn’t last too long though because no one really wants to spend time in that reality right now. Here, there are many more interesting things to talk about. We share stories and photos of our home and family and talk about matters of the heart. And then we walk to the training hall for one more day. 

The Rooster calls, the cook has arrived. Day Seven ensues. 



有意無形

The sound of rain, not jet lag, wakes me up this morning. Along with the wind it sounds like laundry in a washing machine. I listen for a while. My mind begins to work to reconcile the incongruent image, an electric washing machine at 4:00 am in a small rural village in China. Finally I realize it’s raining and am glad I tossed in my travel rain boots at the last minute. The electric a/c begins to whir, I’m fully awake now and begin to muse on yesterday’s events in the Gou.  

“You’ve been to Asia so many times, do you ever forget you look like a foreigner?” Lisa asked me on the way to WenXian. We were driving along the streets out of the Village along a good road for about 15 minutes to Wenxian, a bustling town of about 500,000 with great food. I remembered this road was all dirt and potholes in 2006, my first trip to the village. We stayed in WenXian then because Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang was concerned the Village facilities were not going to be comfortable for us. Though we all might have preferred to stay in the Village, we did enjoy WenXian despite the 90 minutes round trip we did twice a day in big busses that lumbered along muddy roads. Now we always only stay in the Village. Our digs are modernized and quite comfortable and our excursions out are along new roads in an open air electric mini-van, passing lush peach orchards, peanut fields and food stalls along the way. The van goes only about 30 miles an hour so views are unencumbered and spectacular. We all sat back and chatted exhubarently, excited for our outing and for the forthcoming great meal. As we drove, the cool evening breeze blew across our faces and bodies, still sweaty from the afternoon practice.

I answered Lisa’s question: “Yes! I do forget.” Actually I had been thinking about this earlier today at the live TV show where we were part of the demo team. I knew Doug and Matt with their beards and me with my blonde highlighted hair must have looked so different in the midst of it all. And yet, I couldn’t quite reconcile it. I lived in Japan for a year and between my travels in South East Asia and China have at least another year total under my belt on this side of the world. Asia has always been my affinity since I can remember and I would always choose to travel here first, of all the places on the planet. And so, even when our eyes, the Chinese and mine meet and we see different features, even though our language bases and thinking development could not be any different, I forget I am a foreigner. 

Lisa, herself borne in China and then moved with her family to Leeds, England before Seattle, Shiuwen, borne and raised in Taiwan, who lived in Spain before the US and I began talking about racism. I realized I have never felt I have been the subject of racism during my travels, but I also was ashamed to realize I have never thought about the fact that Lisa and Shiuwen might, as long time US residents, have. I’ve known Shiuwen for over 15 years and consider her one of my dearest friends in the world. “Have you experienced racism in the US?” I asked her, embarrassed I had never even considered asking her before now. “Not much, no, but yes, some after Trump was elected.” We continued our conversation with Lisa sharing some of her experiences. I’ve been disturbed by this conversation all night, realizing with all my trips abroad, doing my utmost to be a good global citizen, I may very well have fallen asleep in my upper middle class whiteness, looking at the world through privileged eyes. I trust my eyes will stay more open now and I will do a better job with this awareness. 

At yet forgetting one is a foreigner is also a good thing, I believe, because in the end, we are not foreign. We are unique in our shared humanity and each of us very much a part of our global community. One of the privileges of training here is to connect to the heart of this reality, to connect this reality to the heart of Taijiquan. I have always felt and found martial arts is for this purpose: to join ourselves with each other and to strive together for a better world.  

There is term that has come up over and over again in Grandmaster’s instruction: 有意無形, in essence “Use Intention, No Shape,” or “Use your intention but don’t show it.” Over and over again his corrections point to this. Don’t do anything unusual to the joints, don’t think about what application is or is not, don’t try to make a shape with your body. Simply sink straight down, you know when the time is right, change weight, use your whole body together. It seems so easy! And yet after yesterday’s session, his deepest yet with his signature hands on during each sequence, the exquisite vice grip of the Master, directly transmitting the depth of the art, I wondered if I have ever experienced the Laojia Yilu before. How incredibly difficult it is to “do nothing” and in doing that, allow what is natural to emerge and guide one forth.  

Taijiquan does not exist in isolation from the rest of life, of the Tao. I’m sure there must be a way to use 有意無形, then when we encounter one another. To not work so hard to make ourselves into the shape, the identity of a Chinese or an American or a Russian, to let go of all the tension that lives so deeply in our bodies because of that effort, and to simply relax deeply, and allow ourselves to be human together. What type of world might we create then? 

I was deeply saddened to learn Amnesty International has issued a warning about traveling to the United States because of our gun violence. To learn of another warning too: our global food supply is a the highest risk yet due to global warming. I can’t ignore this reality and yet as the world spins on, here we are, dissolving our individual shapes and training with each other, meeting new friends, deepening long time relationships.

The rains have stopped. The Rooster calls. Day six ensues shortly. It goes fast from here. 











Endure

Fans whirl inside of Grandmaster’s room.  One’s cadence is a bit out of sync with the other two, it’s beat sounds like a horse drawn carriage rolling down a cobble road, the clump clump clump of the horse’s shoes finding purchase on the uneven stone surface.  My mind wanders. I find myself on a movie set in Tombstone, Arizona dressed in period garb, sitting in the coach exploring the new world.  I wander further back in time and consider what life would be like as Claire in the Outlander novels, touching the Stone and being catapulted back several hundred years into old Scotland. The roaring of the cicadas brings me back to the room, to one of a dozen students Standing. Grandmaster puts his hands on my hips and lowers me straight down. My thighs let me know I’m in no movie set now. He puts his hands softly on my shoulders and I feel myself settle into the thousands year old earth beneath the black and white speckled floor.

Most of us are used to the Chen family’s signature 30 minute Standings. Well, one never gets “used” to them, but we embrace them as part of the practice, as part of what is required within the training. We know the corrections we receive then are precious metal for our Taijiquan development, but that certainly doesn’t mean they become any easier as the years go on. Somewhere in the past three days the notion of a 40 minute Standing emerged - basically, get to class early and start. So of course we all take up that challenge, just to add a little spice to an already challenging environment. “Why is it so painful?” Shiuwen asked Chen Xiao Xing at a break, “I can only stand after you correct me for 2 minutes!” Chen Xiao Xing chuckled, his face opening into his mischievous smile. “Probably only one minute!” He laughed.  Shiuwen and I decided during the afternoon session we were going to count after our correction and see how long we actually can bear it. And who says Taijiquan people aren’t competitive!

“The reason I have you Standing for that long,” Chen Xiao Xing said, “is not just for the physical correction.” “It is to train the mind to come into the body.” “Most people cannot stand it,” he continued. “When you practice Taijiquan you think you can correct yourself, make the proper adjustments, the mind says I want to do it, but the mind and the body are not in sync, so the body can’t do it. The training of 30 minutes is to train this coordination.” Chen Xiao Xing mimicked the common deviations, head out, rump up and pushed back, shoulders tense. “When you focus on one thing too hard, then other things deviate.” 

I had never heard my teacher explain this phenomenon so clearly. “If you can train the mind to continue to receive and endure it in Standing, there will be a moment where the body and mind can work together. At that time, the mind is in the body and you can self correct.” “So all problems are because the mind is not in the body?” I asked my teacher. “Yes.” “Is it because we are lazy?” I continued. He chuckled. “But lazy is not the root problem. The root problem is the mind and the body are not working together. You have to fight for it, endure it, only then can you reach the next stage and improve.” 

Chen Xiao Xing continued, “Most people do Taijiquan at about 30%. “It’s good exercise, good for the body,” he stated, “but to really improve, one must pass over this 30% - learn to endure more. Then one has a chance to self-correct and improve. “How do we accomplish this then, if it is so difficult?” Shiuwen asked. “Every body is different, every mind is different,” Chen Xiao Xing mused. After afternoon Standing Shiuwen and I compared notes. For me, after the first correction I was able to endure a bit beyond the two minutes, though I noted my mind drifted at about 1.20 and I had to bring it back. After the second correction, the deeper one, I lasted a little over a minute before my body had to adjust itself and try to find it again.

Many long term students fight not just to endure the physical experience, but also fight the question, “I’ve been doing this so long, why aren’t I better?” This inquiry is definitely coming up during this training trip, which has put us all right smack back at the beginning. Each session: 40 minute Standing, sixty minutes of Silk Reeling and one hour of form. At day three, we are “only” at the third Buddha’s attendant. More brutal than enduring the Standing is finding the humility to recognize one’s true place in the learning curve. At the beginning, again. I said to Meg, “It’s just a narrative the mind uses, the why aren’t I better?”  It is another way the mind, the ego, pulls itself out of the body. We have to fight to overcome that too. 

Yesterday was day three, a notorious threshold in these types of trainings. We passed through. There was no rehearsal and it was great to have the extra space in our day. We all said we had the best afternoon naps we have ever had, ever! Our entire group packed into the Village stores after dinner and, along with the locals, enjoyed the cool evening air. We even saw the moon and stars. We even found popsicles. 

The roosters have been up for a while now, the morning light is breaking. The cook has arrived. Day four begins. 





Rehearsal

“I think I may be getting to old for this,” I said to Shiuwen, wincing as I drug my body out of bed and to the bathroom, “but don’t tell anyone!” We both laughed and she told me a story of a conversation in a store with some teenagers. She used the Taiwanese term for “trash bags” and the elder shop owner didn’t understand her. The kids however did and helped her with a different term. Think the difference between “trash bags” and “garbage bags.” She and the kids struck up a conversation about practicing Taijiquan. (One can safely assume 99% of people here practice it). She asked if they feel pain, and swatted her thighs. No. They don’t feel pain. “NO PAIN???” Not even in the first year? Shiuwen exclaimed. The kids laughed, “a little sore, but you get over it!” We both laughed again.

It’s 4:30 am at the time of this writing and at least I slept straight through the night, utterly exhausted from the extra training for the demonstration plus the regular classes. Yesterday we also had the dress rehearsal and drove another hour each way to the venue and spent about 5 hours there rehearsing and watching the other groups mark their spots on the stage and go through their performances. It looks to be some regional competition - not a martial arts competition, but more like a talent showcase for regional artists - singing, dancing, reciting what seemed to be a National Pride narrative. We even stood for their National Anthem, people looking at us making sure we understood the protocol. It was quite the cultural experience! The performance itself is in 2 more days. 

I’ll be looking forward to it and to it being over. Training for this and giving my all to the time with my teacher is a challenge for me physically, but also mentally. One of the reasons I come here is to slip into an altered state - one of watching, learning, and hours of repetition. It’s not something I can get at home and it’s worth coming here for it. Training for performance is not just a physical extra but it also forces me to use different parts of my brain. I have to shift from concentrating only on my internal world, taking my time with the sensations there, following the flows, releasing blocks and misalignments in my own time, to concentrating on my rhythm within our group. In performance one’s postures have to be big and showy and perfectly synced within the entire group. One has to follow the direction of the coach with no hesitation and change in an instant per those instructions. I actually really like doing it and also love being a part of the team. Its fun and very much an honor to be there, it is simply a different type of training mind than long slow personal depth practice. Part of this trip for me will be gaining skill at flipping between the two. 

I tried to decompress by going for a walk alone last night in the light cooling rain. The temperature dropped considerably and the misty drops felt so good. Some of the food stalls along the street were playing loud music and even in the rain people were sitting on plastic tables outside laughing, eating and having a beer. I thought about a beer but instead found some shops to peruse, still looking for some cooler wear and contemplative time. Instead I found store owners other patrons quite curious about this foreigner. One cannot ignore other’s curiosity about oneself when traveling. Even when one is desperate to be alone, one must engage fully and with open hearted kindness and enthusiasm. I consider it very much my job to be the best cultural emissary I can be generally speaking when traveling, especially here in Chenjiagou as a foreign Taijiquan practitioner with Chen Xiao Xing as my teacher, especially in this hot political climate. So strike up conversations I did, using my terrible Chinese and the translation apps we all have now. I even performed once more for a husband and wife teaching team, from “Mao’s home town” they said with pride when I asked them where they were from.

When people ask me where I am from I am acutely aware of feeling uncomfortable answering. Someone said, “You are from England?” And I almost said, “yes,” and let it go. It is the first time in all my years of travel that I am a bit ashamed of being an American. The horrible gun violence in our country and this arrogant, narcissistic idiot in chief we have at the helm who understands absolutely nothing about how to have relationships with his own people much less the Chinese makes me feel, well I don’t even know fully how I feel. Sad, enraged, desperate. These words don’t even come close.  And yet I know in my soul that being here right now, in the now of it all, the one thing I can do is represent well, in the demo, on the training floor, in the shops at night. It’s the only power I have really, and I have to believe somewhere in the long line of life, when everything does change, it is enough. 

One or two more cups of tea. Rehearsal starts at 8:00, class at 9:00. Day three ensues shortly.

Grandmaster’s Room

Our class positions itself on the black and white speckled tile floor. Our feet stand in unison perfectly along the the straight squares, each toe end touching just up to the tile’s line, but not over it.  The distance between each of us is enough to open our arms for Standing, enough to feel the other next to us, but not so close as to be distracted by their breathing. We sit down in our hips, bend our knees and soften our chest. We feel our weight sink into our thighs and feet and already do our best to clear our minds of the dread for what is to come. We draw our head back and do our best to let our back soften and tuck our rumps. The roar of cicadas rises and falls. Chen Xiao Xing enters the room and begins to correct each of us. Legs shake. Breathing deepens. Rivers of sweat pour down our face, back and legs. Xiao He barks. The cicadas crescendo. We do our best to clear our minds.

I remember the first time I saw Chen Xiao Xing’s private classroom. It was during my second trip to the Village; I was alone and wandering through the quad. When I entered  the room I felt like an interloper of history. A place that carried muscle, sweat and deep lineage, of which I was now a part and yet I couldn’t quite fully grasp. Back then I was still an outsider in a way, and now for the first time in all my visits, I am actually training here, on the inside of the room and the family. And yet now it’s not anything mysterious, per se, it is simply a pragmatic choice. It’s the one training room in the Village with fans. Still, as I stand and learn here, the blackboard behind me with many rich sayings, I feel the depth of the place. I am, we are one of many who stand here, in this room, in Taijiquan itself, shaking and sweating, adding our efforts to what has come before and what will endure hence.  Gradual and Immediate Realization.

This is the smallest Village training I have experienced so far. We have our group of eight and a few other of Chen Xiao Xing’s ongoing students. It feels a bit like the Seattle floor with our intimate group, people for the most part whom I have known for a long time.  We are studying the Laojia Yilu, “old frame first road.” I love learning it here, at the source school, and each time the lessons, though very familiar to me, add both a depth to what I know and open me to new possibilities. I am asking questions less about the “how do you do” and more about the paradoxical elements of the practice - which is basically the practice of Taijiquan itself! Unlike in times past when Chen Xiao Xing simply laughs and swats me, saying, 没关系 méiguānxi- it doesn’t matter, he is answering me in great detail. Even so, the answers always come back to the same mantra: “relax, use your intention, if you can see it, it’s too much.”  

Taijiquan’s pedagogy is so challenging. We are asked to keep our mind free of the grasping for knowing, to keep our body relaxed but attentive. To change weight at the right time. To wait. “You’ll know it when the time is right,” Chen Xiao Xing answers the question, “when?” Many people wonder why we devotees keep studying the same thing over and over again, year after year, decade after decade. “Haven’t you learned it yet?” is a question many of my students tell me their curious friends ask when they sign up for as yet another session. Yes, at every moment. No, not yet. Perhaps never. Perhaps the question is why learning with a goal to achieve “having learned it” is more important than simply learning. 

In the midst of settling into our five hour training flow, Doug, Matt and I are also joining the school in rehearsals for a demo a few days from now. The demo is in a larger town some distance from here - I’m not exactly sure what its for. I think its going to be televised. There is always a lot going on in the Village to promote Taijiquan. It’s quite impressive to see here at the source, how much work goes into pushing great Taijiquan into the world. Chen Zi Qiang seemed delighted to have, as he said, some “white faces” to join in. And we are doing our best to represent. 

We are all doing well but a bit tired from jet lag and over stimulation. We are working to stay hydrated. The heat is not too bad - it’s probably in the high 80s, but the humidity is about 80% I believe. I feel like a human sponge when Chen Xiao Xing corrects me, the slightest compression into my body squeezes rivers of sweat and salt out I didn’t even know I had in me. So far the mosquitoes and flies aren’t too bad; the fans in Chen Xiao Xing’s room keeps them at bay. We are given a lot of watermelon throughout the day, a welcome source of electrolytes. 

I hear a rooster in the distance. Time for tea and stretching. Day 2 ensues shortly. 







The Cicadas of Chenjiagou

The tremendous heat wave has broken and the August rains have arrived. I’m sitting in front of a window right now in the hallway of our dorms just outside our second story room so I don’t wake Shiuwen up with my early morning blogging. A thick breeze blows over me while a light rain patters on the sidewalk below. Cicadas hum. Lightening flashes in the distance. It’s good to be home.

The flights into Beijing and then into Zhengzhou were as predicted but the 2 hour drive from Zheng Zhou to Chenjiagou followed a different route. The main bridge over the Yellow River is being renovated so we took a small pontoon bridge just slightly higher than the river itself. We followed along some back roads lined with lush Peach orchards. “August is time for eating peaches and watermelons,” our driver said, using one of the many translation apps that allow disparate tongues to communicate freely with one another.  “Where are you from?” He spoke into his phone in Chinese. “Seattle, Washington,” I replied, putting my face close to the screen. I know how to answer the question in Chinese, but felt it best to stay with the method he began. “Have you been to the United States? “No,” he replied. 

With each visit here, number ten now, I am reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am to make this pilgrimage. I love Taijiquan, I love this Village and I love my teacher. Its a difficult trip, two days and fifteen hours of time jump, trying to pack light, unfamiliar language and food. Sleeping on hard board beds, showering with thin streams of water in a small bathroom that is shared with the toilet and sink. And the highlight of any trip to Asia in August: mosquitos and small black flies. You can’t expect to get comfortable because it’s not going to happen.

“You really have to want to come here,” I said to our group, three of them for whom it is their first time. I watched them take it all in, in their first wandering through the streets of the Gou, the mass buzzsaw of the Cicadas, overpowering any words we all might say. As we walked down the quad to Chen Xiao Xing’s office, Shiuwen put her hands over her ears, “Calm down!” She giggled. We are at the Source now. No matter the season or the threshold one crosses to get here, no matter if it is the first or tenth time, once you drink from the water of Chenjiagou, you always have to return.

We had a wonderful time with Chen Xiao Xing and his wife for a couple of hours. As always we were greeted by tea, making introductions, and catching up. “What’s new?” I asked him after we all relaxed a bit. “I built a new house!” He replied. We strolled leisurely along the Village streets to a new Hutong area about a kilometer from the school. CXX’s wife gave us a detailed tour of their amazing 3 story, seven bathrooms, five bedroom home. It has a huge kitchen/dining area, entertaining rooms, an outdoor patio for the pooch, an entire floor for practice. The craftsmanship, wood, tile and other details is exquisite. I said this house could be 2 million dollars in Seattle, depending on the location. They said, yes it is the same here, if this home were in Beijing or Shanghai no one could afford it. We watched a bit of the Monkey King on the flatscreen. I said we need popcorn and movie night and everyone seemed to like that idea! 

Day one begins in a few hours. Breakfast is early, at 6 am, lunch at noon and dinner at 6. In-between our morning and afternoon training sessions we nap, shop and take it in. Eat, sleep and train now for 10 days. It’s brutally hard and the most exhilarating difficulty one could never really describe. A friend of mine before I left said, “but you will have a/c in the training room won’t you?” I just burst out laughing. I come for the training but I also come for the altered state this experience gifts me with. I trust my teacher and this place to steward me through the depths of my art and of myself. I wish I could say being here at the deep well also pulled me away from the horror that is happening in my home country right now. There is no amount of Standing or posture correction that can eradicate that. I know I will learn a great deal over these next ten days, about Taijiquan, about myself. I just wonder when humanity will learn something about how to be human with one another. At least I know crossing the great water to be here, training together, is some effort in that direction. 



One to Wash, One to Wear

My earliest trips to China were classic studies in embarrassing American excess. Each had me wrangling a huge suitcase, an unattractive 29-incher tipping the scale at just 50 lbs.  I drug it through airports, hefted it up onto buses, and stuffed it into tiny automobiles. I felt chronically disgraced by the stealth travelers around me skirting adeptly to and fro with just one tiny bag. I was utterly humiliated by the looks of the drivers having to wait for me to navigate my excess. Each year I was under the delusion I could do it better. Each year I thought I did. Each year it was the same bulging canvas and impossible attempts at hiding my overage.  I never quite saw myself as one of “those American travelers,” but there I was, a shining example for all to see of just that.

Shame is a great teacher. Over time I and the luggage actually have become better. Together we became lighter and easier to manage. Over the past 2 years I realized I was easily competing in the Lite Travel Game with the other Grand Masters and even found myself a bit nose down at times when I saw those dear inept souls dragging their baggage through long check-in lines. Secretly though I had to accept I might actually still be a bit of a faker. Every time that tiny little  well-designed suitcase hit the scales at weigh-in it came in may kilos underweight, but it still tipped heavier than I knew I needed. My mind was busy going through its contents, wishing I could dump something out, even as it rolled down the conveyor to the belly of the 747. Soon I will be at those scales again as I head back to China, for my 12th trip. As always, I am determined to make this the lightest packing event yet. And as you may suspect I’m not just talking about leaving behind that extra pair of undies. 

Ever since I was a child I have had a mixed relationship with stuff. Growing up moderately affluent there was always a lot of it around. I learned a great deal about things. Their look, their smell, their feel. At first Barbie Dolls, Fancy Couches, Shoes. And then Dresses, Face Cream and Cars. I learned there was always a season to shop: Easter, Back to School, Christmas.  I learned about places to display and store and how to clean and how to carry from one location to the next. I also learned I craved the space between the things but didn’t know how to find it. For me, space was like a ghost or a story that was told by some ancient Zen master or Taoist Sage. I think my drive for studies of the body/mind interior was perhaps initially fueled by my craving for Space. I must have been driven to find a method not just for sweat and muscle but one to escape the claustrophobia of my exterior life. It’s taken a long time for me to identify, sort and toss the inside and outside excess. It’s an ongoing project. 

I reviewed my packing list today. It looks pretty good. For clothing, I’ve easily chanted the “one to wash, one to wear” mantra. The fact that it is 40c in China right now helps! Sure, there are a few things whose space taking burden I intentionally accept: Ipad, Hotspot, Face cream. And a few ounces of things I have yet to use but will always still carry: anti-biotics, epi-pen, duct tape. I know I will be competing with a couple of my travelling companions who will likely still beat me at weigh in. At that moment, I’ll think about the things I might have left behind. There is something about travelling to Asia, and especially to China that invites this constant paring down of external stuff, to be light, nimble and pliant. This constant weaving of what is needed and what is not. And there is something about travelling to Chenjiagou to study with Chen Xiao Xing that demands the same of the internal stuff as well: what is needed and what is not. 

 

 

 

 

We Know

(Ode to Women's World Cup Soccer Champions 2019)

I know you know
it was not just a game
played in France 
and watched all over 
the world 
In pubs and 
Living rooms

I know you know
it was not just a stunning display of 
Athleticism
Team work
Brilliance
Love
Respect for each other

I know you know our screams
and hoarse voices we'll have
for a day or so
are not just because 
of fuchsia hair
and sweat dripping
and hips kicking

For that yes 
But not just for that
Our screams are 
From all of us who remember
when Title Nine was not
And we could not
But we kept on, regardless 

I know you know 
We scream because 
We pushed past all the no's
We stayed visible we defied 
Being invisible and bullied and ignored. We still
Sweated and were Brilliant and Loved and Respected each other. 

And we know Title Nine 
is not just about kicking a ball
But about defeating the real
Enemy: Being Silenced, Remaining Silent 
Hiding our Fierce Grace and Being Afraid
#metoo
Never again. 

I know you know
They grabbed the torch we passed
Thrown forward with our generations of battered bodies and
Our determined souls and our bursting hearts
We did our part. 
Today we know
They know.

For The Ages

When Moon student Margaret dropped this article, Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think in my inbox my first instinct was to dump it into the e-trash bin. I am a 62-year-old woman who uses her body to make a living. Her aging body. I dab increasing layers of blush on my receding check bones before I show them in front of a class. I have to plan my mornings a bit differently because my innate early bird requires a bit longer to flap her wings. A certain ferocious athleticism I relied on to own my floor as a teacher, one that was built on years of flying through the air, easily landing on grass, concrete or tatami and bouncing back up again, or sitting my rump parallel to the ground and waiting anyone out before I stood up, has receded more into the stories I tell about those times rather than active daily occurrences. The last thing I needed to do is read about my obvious decline! It is only because I have known Margaret for ten years: her mindfulness, intention and her consistent practice, that I thought there must be something here for me or she would not have bothered even reading it herself much less forwarding it to me.

In the era of “2-minute reads” this piece is not. It takes at least a cup of tea to stay with its raw, authentic and uncomfortable journey that starts out unabashedly reminding the reader of the trade-offs of aging. “Decline” however unfolds into an insightful, powerful and very well written essay of the author, Arthur C. Brooks’s experience and research who, as you will see, takes his own advice. Of particular note is the distinction he draws between Fluid and Crystallized intelligence. Youth has the former in spades, but age gets to claim the latter. This for me was an ego saving balm, since teaching is one of the activities that certainly requires the crystallization of experience and learning over time. The older we get, the better we become at conveying our history gained through experience and study. Brooks states, "That older people, with their stores of wisdom, should be the most successful teachers seems almost cosmically right." What a relief.

Brooks mentions that whereas the average age of retirement is 61, teachers usually retire well after the age of 65 and even after 80. My career is a fine example of this. It is full of aging teachers using their bodies to make a contribution. Most of them have or are living well into their 70’s-90’s, continuing to practice and teach on a regular basis. They are even better teachers, physically and otherwise, than when I first met them. They are superior examples of sharing their crystalized wisdom, which includes how to navigate age within martial athleticism. Their examples are wholly inspiring to me as I also enter this phase. He continues to state, "No matter what our profession, as we age we can dedicate ourselves to sharing knowledge in some meaningful way.”

It’s true, I’ve bartered my own youthful athletic body/mind for an aging one. Every day I feel the clock ticking. And yet as I read I recognized I could not be more grateful to have the well-honed tools of my practice to support this process. Perhaps I can’t tax my muscles or my determination the way I used to, but I also care less about doing it. It is much more important to me to increasingly finesse my body and especially my intention, on the floor and off it. Because there are so many more aspects to our practices than the physical, as I age, I see even more the robust wellspring from which to draw satisfaction. The trade-off of muscular depth for deeper insight and wisdom is worth it.

Brooks says, “no matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.” And indeed as I begin the transition into the elder phase of my art and my career, this article ended up affirming to me that my chosen way, the way of Tai Chi & Qigong, does about as much as anything to give the body and mind a special type of accompanied resilience, longevity and meaning for this process.

It’s been one year since I let my big studio go. It’s been a big transition for me and honestly, it has been unsettling to feel more space in my life. But, my practices have supported me wholly through this phase shift as well. I can tell I'm finding a new center, some more solid ground to be present anew. It's been great to train in a new location and integrate new people with the ongoing "old timers." If there is one piece of shared knowledge we who have been with it for a bit can share with you newer folks, it would be this: “Stay with it.” Stay with your practice. We all encounter many detours in the process of cultivating one. Some of them derail us for a time and even tempt us to quit, but do not quit. Always come back. Breathe in, breath out. One step at a time. I guarantee you, it is worth it.

By the way, I have changed our school tag line from, “Find your Flow” to Taijiquan and Qigong, “A Practice for the Ages.”

Respect, Salute.

下课

Closing poem: Xià Kè, Class is over

The air is cold at the Well.
Together we lower our buckets down
Water rushes in and then
we alone must lift ours up.

Muscle, Bone, Determination.

We drink and
Legs shake, doubt rattles
Tears fall. We become
Emptier and emptier.

Our thirst grows.
Together we lower ourselves down
Water rushes in and then
We drink again. And then we alone must stay.

Blood, sweat, spirit.

Centuries pass
Sparrows sing. Dogs Bark. Roosters crow.
A drone flies overhead 
Seeing
us being seen. 

Many thanks to David Gaffney and Davidine Sim for organizing another deeply rewarding experience. And to my teammates for sharing the training floor and their hearts: Kathy, Richard, Viki, Yvonne, Robert, Ninja Dave as well as our training friends from China. To Chen Zi Jun for his assistance in class, to Chen Zi Qiang for going out of his way to make sure we were taken care of and to Grandmaster Chen Xiao Xing…for everything. Xie Xie! Chenjiagou Zai Jian!

Woven

Though classes begin at 9 we all show up about 15 minutes early. Everyday CXX arrives early too and so we always begin early. No one in our group is ever late. For 25-35 minutes depending, we receive three strong corrections to our standing. After our short break we begin the session’s lesson on Xinjia, 3-5 movements, depending. We all have been studying Xinjia for many years so Grandmaster focuses almost exclusively on the internal mechanics that generate and integrate our movements. Our bodies are primed for this material from the deep standing corrections we receive. He clearly demonstrates Qi movement and intention, clarifies weight change and waist power, how it all manifests arm and hand rotations, and more, in each and every movement. It is generous, it is a lot to take in, and even more to take in that each time he shows something, it is a new tip of a much bigger iceberg.

During a break CXX introduced me to a visitor from L.A., himself a Chinese man and Taijiquan practitioner. He was visiting Chenjiagou for the day. I do think it takes the Chinese a little adjustment to see non-Chinese here studying with the Grandmaster like we are. I could see the gentleman’s wheels turning when I said I have known Grandmaster for 15 years, hosting him in Seattle and studying with him here. It is not prejudice by any means, it is, I believe, a greater awakening to the vastness not just of the art form but its reach into humanity. Sometimes when I think about my life, the twists and turns, the ambition and luck, the hard work and the “Yuan Fen,” the “fateful coincidence” that has brought me here, in all ways here, I am overwhelmed with emotion.

Occasionally my ego thinks, “all this time, all this training with the best in the world, and such little improvement!” Progress is so gradual in this art, all the teachers say this. And all teachers say it all comes down to practice. Sometimes I grasp some little nugget that has been fed me for many many years. Sometimes I see something for the first time and a cascade of understanding floods in. Sometimes what I know vanishes and here I am again, completely naked, undone, dissolved. “You have to trust in the method,” David Gaffney said as we walked back to the rooms after our morning session. Yes. At lunch we all joked that we came here as beginners and this trip has affirmed that fact. Yes. 

After Grandmaster instructs in the session’s movements, root, principles and nuances we practice over and over again together. We practice over and over on our own. Then we weave the new material into what has been conveyed in prior sessions. Over and over again. Each day the weave becomes longer as we progress through our form. Each thread carries today’s new material integrated into the prior. Each thread carries messages that go back several hundred years into Taijiquan and several thousand into Chinese thought and history. The tapestry and us, we become part of each other. 

Today is the last day of our training here in Chenjiagou. Down coats and hats have been replaced by light training shirts and pants. I cannot say it has been easy by any means. To some degree this has been the most challenging trip to date for me. It is ironic since the conditions are so vastly improved. With the exception of the one 1/2 day where we blew the grid, we have had power, internet, great VPN and as many hot showers we could ever want to take. The toilets flush perfectly each time. The food has been simple but clean and nourishing. No one got hurt, no one complained, it is an extremely harmonious and fun group. And its been just wonderful to hang out with the shop owners we have known now for years. The Chen’s are extremely friendly, CZQ has gone out of his way for us. And as you have read, CXX’s classes have been superlative. 

I do not know what has been so challenging then. I would like to blame my age but I can’t do that. I have been corrected like a teenager and my body has remained in tact. My psyche has remained in tact too. In fact, I feel this trip has been a bit of a redemption run for me after the past year, clearing out all the pain of my mother’s death and all that meant for me. I feel at once unwoven and renewed.  I guess, like the art form I love, if we go for what we love in this life as robustly as we can muster, life is simply challenging. Perhaps along with some old body holding patterns I have simply let go of any belief it is otherwise. Its not easy to wake up everyday and show up on the floor, be it life’s floor or the training floor. The tile is hard, the air is cold, the lessons are not simply given, they have to be intentionally grasped. Somehow I think this must be at the root of joy, though. And what a joy it all is. 

Thank you all for reading my blogs for the first time or as yet again. They are an adjunct practice for me when I am here and I am grateful for your audience. I’ll drop in one more time later tonight after completion. The rooster calls. Time for a hot shower before Day Ten begins. 

Banner Photo is taken in the Gou, the Ditch. It, along with everything else is in the process of complete renovation. Its closed at the time, but thanks to CZQ we were able to get in yesterday and have a look.







The Colours of China

Keep your eyes open for a documentary called, “The Colours Of China” due to be completed at the end of this year. The filmmakers have been in Chenjiagou for 2 days filming for the color “black,” - black/white, yin/yang, north, water/flow, and more aspects of how this color plays out and integrates within Chinese culture. They are super folks and it has been interesting watching them work. They are interviewing Chen Zi Qiang, Chen Xiao Xing and taking loads of film and photos. The kids (and us too) were fascinated with the drone buzzing high ahead over the training fields yesterday afternoon. They filmed our morning session yesterday with Grandmaster, which was admittedly rattling! The last thing one wants is to be the person who gets to be shown all over the world in several languages jumping up out of Standing while being corrected or having your rump stick out while practicing form. There is only so much editing that can be done after all.

Those who know Grandmaster and my relationship know I’ve never been shy about question time with him. During one session this week I had no questions. We all laughed when he said, “that’s unusual!” The film crew was still filming during question time yesterday. CXX asked if we had any questions and he looked right at me, piercing and direct. I knew I’d better ask. I walked up to him and began my movement sequence. His hands landed on me and the correction cycle began. Lucky for all of us it was one of the movements I understand the least: “Jade maiden works the shuttles” Xinjia version. He had plenty to correct. Flying my mistakes into the camera was a wholly unnerving experience but it was simply one of those times I had to rely on my training, doing my best to represent.

After the filming and class was over I was preparing my get-a-way when one of the film crew approached me. He asked, “Do you get a lot out of coming here?” I was glad to see I was not being filmed. I told him oh yes I do. Chenjiagou is a very compelling place, it is the heart of Taijiquan and this place holds the heart of that heart for me.  I added that even so, the real reason I come all this way is very specifically for this teacher and the long intensives I get to experience here. He seemed a bit surprised at this so I added, you saw what happened, all the hands on we get. This type of learning and transmission is very traditional and is becoming less and less common. Grandmaster is the best I’ve encountered; it is of great value to me to receive it. They said, yes, they know most of the Grandmasters about are retiring. “Not Chen Xiao Xing,” I added, “as you can see, he is a working man!”

I asked more about the film and its intent. I was happy to learn they are avoiding political and economic issues and focusing wholly on culture. I noted it must be interesting for them to film a group of foreigners practicing in the traditional way. They said actually they were hoping for a group of Chinese to film but indeed this worked out very well. The reality we noted is true: Chinese traditional culture, apart from the machinations of politicians and economists, is very interesting and valuable to people all over the world. Even as an American, I thought, I get so much out of my small experiential slice of it, it good to be able to represent and as China and the world go on in their modernization, to do my small part to keeping a bit of it alive. 

Today is day nine of our training. We are all physically tired but our team is holding together very very well. It is an excellent group of mature practitioners, both physically and emotionally. There is no tension or drama, everyone knows how to take care of themselves. I’ve taken a couple of mornings off from group breakfast just to have a longer shower and some personal time. Everyone is sharing their creams, tapes, rollers and stories. We have loads of fun walking around the streets at night and especially enjoy shopping. They have really upped their style game in the Village this year. I have a whole new wardrobe! Still, these next two last days are really when it counts. It is not so much pain now, it is fatigue of body and mind to manage. The advantage though is the body is malleable and receptive; my first teacher used to say this is the time real training begins. So even though we are thinking of home, of our regular food and beds and family, we all must continue to stay present, to soak in all we can. To remember every move, every correction, every rooster call. Day nine begins shortly. 


Banner photo of morning practice at the school.



Being Seen

Two Starlings chirp and dart freely around the training hall while our bodies sweat and our legs shake.  Outside a chorus of “Yi Er San Su” - “One Two Three Four” rings throughout the quad while teachers coach their kids to chant it as they practice different cadences of military lock steps. A fan snaps open, a spear cracks on the ground. A German film crew moves around capturing video of Chen Zi Qiang’s students jumping up on giant tires pulled from 18 wheeler semi’s and practicing grappling and throws on the concrete. The school bell rings, classes shift. The office phone rings, echoing across the training fields. The school’s new black pup, Bai Tou, “white” head, whines and barks and then falls sound asleep. 

All this passes through me while I Stand and breathe. My mind is more quiet today. What was pain just a couple of days ago is now familiar and even comfortable. I have passed through the first round of corrections. I can identify that place where my teacher keeps putting me without succumbing to the urge to jump out, at least for now. It is always a threshold to cross and re-cross. Hips back and down, shoulders down, chin in, chest soft, back open, dantien settled. The check list is the same but always feels a bit new. I do my best to listen to what he is telling me with each gesture. I do my best to stay put when he moves his knee away from my hips. I do my best to open to the flood of sensation and feel my feet sink into the earth below the tile. 

I suppose when I packed for this trip back in Seattle, knowing it would be cold here, I may have entertained a wisp of delusion that I could hide under layers of long underwear and puffy down. Of course I knew my teacher would always see what needs to be found. I feel naked on the floor really, the ex-ray vision of my teacher piercing illusions I have about my form and comprehension of this vast and fathomless art. Its a vulnerable place for the ego, a threshold one must make their mind up to intentionally cross. This is the agreement, though. I show up, avail all my imperfections for the microscope of the master, and I am seen. If I keep showing up, the layers continue to be shed. And I keep being seen. 

I think perhaps this is why so many people who begin this process have a difficult time continuing over time. The marketing of Taijiquan does not say, “Show up on the floor and be seen.” It does not say, “You will feel naked, you will feel vulnerable. You will feel challenged.” The flyers do not say, “You will have to study how you hold yourself in this life. You will have to investigate not just your physical tension but all that created it.” They do not say, “And you will have to trust someone to see what you do not.” No, these marketing methods say, “This is easy!” This is not easy. 

When my mother was alive she could never understand why I wanted to continually subject myself to this way of life. She saw it as my continually subjecting myself to suffering. I saw it as a Way I wanted to follow, a Way I could find something more to this life than easy, the rough edges of my hidden areas staying shrouded. I understand more now how a mother would want her child to be comfortable, but for me, comfort has not really ever been my goal. I’ve always looked to be slightly uncomfortable, to see what I can see beyond that gate, and to be seen beyond that gate. For our life as mother and daughter it was a split in how we understood each other, a limit to our intimate bond. When she was dying and suffering so much I spent a lot of time with her in her bed, my belly to her back, breathing with her. I was able to comfort her and she was able to receive it. Shortly before she died she said, “maybe there is something to all this Chinese stuff.” We had a roaring laugh about that. 

It is getting light now. The morning vendors call hungry break fasters to their eggs, buns and noodles. The street sweepers clean up from the night before. The kids run through the streets chanting, “Yi, Er, San, Su.” Bai Tou is barking louder than the roosters are crowing. It is a tradition to take the pups from their moms at four weeks, eyes barely open. He was on our floor that first night away from home and cried and cried all night long. It was upsetting and hard to understand. But just two days later he is receiving constant petting and love from the school. He is warm and well fed. He made it through his suffering and is embraced here, fully seen and loved, this little black pooch with the name, “White head.” 

Day eight ensues shortly. 

Banner photo of GMCXX after correcting my Dan Bian. Many thanks to Robert Steenkamp for this and other photos this trip.



The Same Thing, Once Again

We made it across the 1/2 way mark of our training yesterday and our team is doing really well. Our ages range from 35-mid sixties. We are sleeping on beds made for teenage boys, eating very simply, and training five hours a day on hard slick tile. It is chilly. We are taped up, creamed up, Advil-ed up. Viki whacked my shoulder yesterday and said, “I read your blog today, the one on Pain, “its not true!” We had a good laugh at that. But thankfully the only casualties so far are a cold, a tweak and some cravings for a nice juicy steak and a beer. All things considered we are staying healthy and representing well. 

I asked Moon student Richard how it was going for him, his first time here. Back in Seattle I do my best to prep people for this experience but aside from a smart packing list there is nothing that can truly prepare one. “You’ll never be the same” I said to him at the onset of our journey. I check in with him but aside from some encouragement to ask Grandmaster for as much hands on has he can, “Its why you came all this way, after all,” I don’t say much. I used to try to control what people would experience, worrying about it too much. Over the years of bringing people here I have learned folks will have their own experiences, which will have nothing to do with what I may or may not think they will have. Richard is doing great. As I suspected his capacity to say present and inquisitive is solid. He knows how to train. He knows when to divvy chocolate and buy sesame balls for the group. He is definitely a team asset. 

I asked him what he is learning. He is deep in the absorbing it all phase and made some excellent observations. He ask me the same question. I took a minute to answer because I really wanted to think about it. I suggest to my students to learn one thing in a local workshop and if they travel for training, learn three things. For me I’m really learning so much more than that. I am learning about the hips, the method for sinking the Qi, my alignment, where I am solid and where I am not, choreographic nuances and how my body responds when it is put under this amount of physical and mental stress. But these are not new things. I’ve been here many times before. So I said to Richard, “really what I am learning are the same things over again.”

It is an utter privilege it is to be doing so, to be seeing and researching the same moves and rhythms and nuances I have been seeing and researching for years, once again. It happens no matter where the workshops and trainings are but here in Chenjiagou the experience is amplified.  It is clarifying. Over the years I have learned it can deepen a person’s practice or it can kick them out of it all together. “One and done” as it were. Its understandable on the one hand. Being here we see the levels of training that begin when the students are kids: the weight training, the running around the Village, the myriad weapons and forms. We see the mastery that grows over decades: the subtleties and patience and power of our teachers. We encounter Taijiquan in a way that is much different than the weekend certifications and the “easy exercise” it is sold and touted in modern culture. For some the chasm between what they see here and what they believe about their own potential is to vast.  One and done and on to the next new thing.

Here, the old ways are very much alive. The same methods, the same forms, the same corrections, the same discipline, the same over and over and overs again and again. It is not for everyone. This place does not toss out new food for our egos to gorge upon. It does not provide warm fuzzy accolades to soothe us. There is no, “Wow! You have really improved!” There is simply the disassembling again and again and the guiding deeper into what we do not know even if we have seen it ten thousand times before. Yes it is difficult. Yes we have to make up our minds over and over again to stay with it. “I’m having so much fun!” I said to Davidine as we walked across the dirt road into the Hutongs and over to our lunch place. “You keep telling yourself that!” She replied. We both had a good laugh. But truly, and I truly believe this and I am learning it once again: no matter our age, our fitness level, our station in life, if we can surrender to digging into what we know and see it anew, over and over again we can access more than Taijiquan. We can access our infinite potential. What a privilege. 

Today is Sunday in the Gou, a day of rest. It is a half-day of training for our group. We all, student and teacher appreciate it right now. We’ll prowl around, shop (again), perhaps go to dinner in Wenxian. Its supposed to be warm and sunny and then the rest of the time here warmer and warmer. The roosters wake us for day six. It goes very fast from here.