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.