Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


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Grab the Balls

So like many of your reading this, you probably associate Tai Chi with old people in parks and new age hippies, and to some extent you’re right. However, I now have a new found respect for it. I think we’re particularly lucky to have an awesome shīfu (teacher) who inspires me to get good.

Although the first few weeks was spent with lots of stretching and slow-moving, we are advancing through the 84 or so steps that we hope to one day master. Even the most harmless looking movement often has damaging implementation, and he now demonstrates each move in a fighting context which makes myself and Laurence very happy. He often picks on this one small guy who then gets the next 5 minutes being beaten up, showing us how to break his arms and snap his knees.

There are two other guys there who are also very good. One we call militant tai chi guy because he’s all about the fighting, and insists of every hand movement being directed towards the balls. He also makes each move impossibly hard by bending down lots lower than normal. The other guy, (we call him Mick) is equally good, but is much more peaceful and has a unique free-flowing style that is quite different from everyone else’s. Last week toward the end of class, militant tai chi guy took over for a bit, teaching the students how to grab balls effectively, and I could see that shīfu was looking at them trying to decide what to do next, and wondering how to get the classes attention. He decided to stand at the front of the courtyard and start practicing by himself. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen, and slowly the entire class were watching him demonstrate moves we had never seen before. He seemed to incorporate snake and crane styles into it, with lots of spin kicks and weird body popping moves (imagine the scene in kungfu panda 2), and by the end everyone was clapping.

Considering most famous martial artists like Jet Li, Donnie Yen and others trained in tai chi first, it’s clearly not just for old people, and if you don’t believe me, you can watch this nutter repeatedly beat up his friend (3:10 onwards). What’s best is that he sounds like a ghetto Theo Paphitis.


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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.