Old School

We arrive at the practice hall at least 15 minutes early to stretch out, warm up, and say good morning.   It is chilly, we all wear layers, hats and gloves. The training hall has been renovated like everything else: tile replaced the carpet, all the windows are fixed, there is a new sliding door at the entry, even the ceiling has been renovated. Even so many years of memories remain in tact as they were, it is precious to encounter them and feel the mark they have left on my heart and mind, how coming here over the past 13 years has shaped not just my training but my life.  Chen Xiao Xing enters the room and we all move into our Standing practice. There is no formal beginning per se, we’ve all studied with him for many years and whether we are in Seattle, Manchester or Chenjiagou, we know exactly how to begin. Feet hip width apart, adjust our hips and chest as best we can, close our eyes, regulate our breathing and relax into what will be the next thirty minutes. 

Soon Grandmaster is there with you. Hands on hips. Back and down. Shift alignment right and forward. Subtle, profound. Everyone who has felt his corrections knows the feeling. Gentle but direct and clear. You are captivated in the conversation, listening without interrupting his speaking until he is done making his case. The somatic conversation continues: shoulders down. Chest settles. Back opens. Body connects: feet, the tile, root. It is painful. It is exquisite. “Why so many layers,” you wonder. You dare not move to take one off, however. Sweat. Sear every detail, down and in. This process happens two more times for everyone in the room. After we break for five minutes or so to rub out our thighs and stretch our hamstrings. We glance at each other, nod and laugh. There is nothing quite like the bonding amongst friends who Stand together on Chen Xiao Xing’s floor. 

Our topic this week is the Xinjia, the New Frame. As always his teaching is clear, generous and detailed. He repeats a movement sequence several times for us to watch. He points out essential biomechanics and energetics.  We follow him over and over watching carefully. He steps aside. His second son, Chen Zi Jun takes the lead while CXX watches and moves around the room correcting us. Chen Zi Jun moves at a glacial pace. We burn as much detail into our bodies as we can, CXX corrects the most minute error in our flow. Hands on hips moving them back and forth and down and down. It is painful. It is exquisite. We practice on our own, ask questions and then practice again, this time linking the movement sequences together. It is paradise.

“It is so much fun to be a beginner!” Yvonne said to me during our one break.  “Yes, it is!” I agreed. “Why bother being anything else?” We mused.  “We all know people who don’t enjoy being a beginner,” Yvonne continued. “That’s for sure!” I replied. Indeed, being a beginner it is a state of being.  It is a Way that is not just for once or twice a year, it must be practiced every day. Coming to the Well as an empty cup can be much harder that Standing on CXX’s floor.  The ego doesn’t listen in the way we have trained our bodies to listen to our teacher’s corrections. It likes to fight to keep itself alive by attending to all it knows. It is a choice, to surrender all that and take up the mantle of Not Knowing. Doing so can be painful but the more we practice, the more exquisite it becomes.

The group enjoys prowling around a bit after classes and dinner.  We all change our shoes to give our feet a different experience than in training shoes and walking gives our legs a different experience than loading muscle onto bone onto tile.  The Village is quiet at night. After about 8 or so there are barriers in place now that close off the few main streets to all but those who live here. Its a nice change from the raucous activity in the bars that used to be here. Between the quiet and sheer exhaustion we all seem to be sleeping fairly well. The rooster calls, Day two begins soon.