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.