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Tai Chi 2: The Lifestyle

Posted by on August 29, 2012

Last time we looked at the practice. This time it’s about the place and the people, about what life was like there on Wu Dang Shan.

First the setting: life there is encased in a sea of mountain tops and valleys, adding to the ambiance in ways only thought possible in movies or imagination:

This was the actual view.

When mist provided a soft layer over this view, the calm and awe was even greater.

Here’s another shot from the platform we practiced on:

 

 

I soon found out that our platform was actually the roof of a mountainside shelter that other trainers and students stayed in. My first day there, I heard some commotion over the edge below:

Tai chi landscaping

I broke the ice even before I broke bread, and I did so by jumping below, grabbing a spare shovel, and getting dirty. But even for something as benign (so I assumed) as shoveling, I was taken to task. The trainer down there interrupted my work to show me how it was done. He took the shovel and blurted, “Ha!”–the shovel prepared for battle; “hoo!”–it was thrust into the dirt pile; and “hwa!”–it removed with a load of Earth.

He wasn’t being funny, either. He was serious.

Seeing this devotion to their practice wasn’t all that surprising—-I mean, it was a tai chi school. Just the same, it provided a striking example of taking this ordinary chore and perfecting it. The trainer didn’t think about how to get it done faster or easier, but how to get it done better.

Later in my stay, I took a walk into the valley forest with five others to gather firewood and kindling for the kitchen stove. Along the woodsy trail, bagging a pile of twigs and pine needles was a problem for one young woman because they cut her hands. She remedied the issue by taking two five-foot sticks and using them like giant chopsticks to pinch and lift the pile.

She wasn’t getting too far, though, just as I don’t eating rice with chopsticks. But my fork-using, Western mind noticed two rake-like tools just sitting there. I grabbed them and chivalrously tried to tell her, “allow me”. I bundled the pile of stick salad with my tongs. Then I hoisted large quantities into the bag. She referred to me as being “so clever”. Well, I just eat different, I thought.

As we bundled the logs we gathered, we needed a tight packing to hold them together up the narrow and hilly path. A trainer found vines that worked as string and tied the logs together, but out-jutting branches still had to be snapped off. One was proving to be difficult despite the kung-fu trained kicking the men were attacking it with. I saw a large rock and wedged it under the branch. Like a lever, the force of my undisciplined, less-effective kick was enough to snap it. They were grateful for my “clever”ness once again. I was elated that I could actually be helpful and contribute something.

It quaintly displayed the benefits in store when strengths are offered from different cultures. If even just gathering wood.

After work, we took a break:

Two young boys, the only ones at the school, were always together.

This board game was played by all:

Meanwhile, my shovel trainer stayed relentless:

You may wonder why his shirt is so dirty.

Here’s why:

He had a student stepping on his lower back, forcing those hips into the ground.

I’d also regularly see him do handstands against a building with fists against the concrete. He was pretty intense.

Here’s some footage of our time there:

Each day, we got up at 5:30 and went for a warm-up jog. Then we stretched and started in with the tai chi and kung fu routines. By 8:30, we’d enjoy breakfast–usually an offering of an egg-based dish with potatoes and locally-grown vegetables. Never any coffee. After breakfast, some might squeeze in a quick nap before late-morning practice. Then came lunch and break/nap time; (this is when I got in the best reading of my life, not because of the content–though my book was fine–but because I was so focused from this disciplined lifestyle.) The day wrapped up with the late-afternoon practice.

Sometimes, it was hard for me to stay involved–both as an undisciplined practitioner and as a curious observer.

Sometimes, I just had to watch:

 

After our final session of the day, we’d have dinner and follow it up with a walk. And after this, it was time for fellowship. I watched the students and trainers socialize and sing while the head master entertained with music:

And others listened on:

Or perhaps even sang:

…poorly.

Singing Video:

From teamwork to quiet reading to martial arts to songs at dusk. These days were incredibly rich. The lifestyle was a lust mixture of intense and serene.

I hope you have an intense, serene week yourself: )  See you next time.

-Brandon

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