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.