Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


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T’ai chi ch’uan 太極拳

In recent weeks we have taken up Tai Chi as a way to get closer to the culture, chill out, and try something new and different.  It literally translates as “supreme ultimate fist” and seems to all be about harnessing your qì/chi (life force), which seems to be located in your groin, just above the pubic bone.

We were first encouraged to go by our local policeman friend, Morgan, who mentioned that a new weekend course was beginning in October through December.  Our first session was a baptism of fire.  We were already 10 mins late waiting for Morgan, and when we got to the university courtyard, there were around 70 uni students waiting to go on a school trip. Thrust into the centre of the class, we quickly had to pick up the moves, whilst the uni students took pictures and mimicked us.  Not a pleasant experience. Being a southpaw, I found it particularly difficult to coordinate which hand was doing what, because my natural tendency is to do the opposite of what the rest of the class do.

3 weekends on and I feel a lot cooler doing tai chi, especially now we have special black kung-fu pants which instantly makes me feel like Bruce Lee. Having taken a short recording on my iPhone of the first few steps and slowing it down to half speed, I have mastered them, although I struggle to remember to keep my knees bent, and on which foot my weight should be.  A central concept of tai chi is the constant shifting of your qì/chi from side to side and then letting your arms follow in a natural smooth motion. This is particularly difficult.

Although it is primarily a soft and slow martial art, being categorised under the Wudang grouping, compared to the hard, external, Shoalin martial arts,  it  has a strong grounding in using it as a defensive technique by displacing your opponents weight and using their power again them, similar to jiu jitsu.  Many of the moves our shīfu (master) does look relatively harmless, but then he demonstrates some of them on members of the class, and takes them down in seconds, without using any energy.  It’s pretty cool.

The next two sessions are on Sat and Sun morning at 8am-930 which is an effort to get up for, but is a good way to start the day, feeling relaxed and more flexible by the end of the session.  There is splinter cell of students that practice on weekday evenings, and it seems the leader of this is slightly more militant, teaching the defensive, powerful aspect a bit more. I’ve yet to go to one of these, although Laurie is still in pain from his practice on Thursday night.

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