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.