Last night, I took my first Tai Chi Chuan class.
It is NOT like taking KenPo. No one made me do crunches or jumping jacks or dirty dogs or 8-point bodybuilders. No one slammed me in the chest or threw me down on a concrete floor.
This is a good thing.
It's not that I didn't enjoy KenPo - I did! There's nothing quite as satisfying as taking down a big person, or hitting a bag as hard as you can, or kicking a hand-held body shield and making the person holding it jump back a couple of feet. I love the feeling of knowing that I could kick someone's ass and kill them if I had to if they decided to do me or a loved one harm. Just knowing that I CAN fight back is hugely empowering.
But doing those things two or three times a week is tough on a body. Especially mine. I already have osteopenia. Getting slammed around if your bones aren't as strong as they should be is not so good. I also have diabetes (I didn't know until recently), which means that I bruise way more easily than other people. I once walked around with a bruise on my chest for a week because of practicing one technique. In a lot of ways, I am much stronger than I was before, but in others, I am more vulnerable to injury. So last September, I made the decision to quit after my third knee injury.
I missed the discipline of martial arts though. I cast around a bit for something just as invigorating but gentler to the body, but came up with nothing that would work for me. My mother had been taking Tai Chi at the senior center, but their classes weren't convenient for me. And the Taoist Tai Chi center seemed kind of... exclusive.
Then in December, I had another set of scary chest pains. In addition to all the lovely blood tests and CT scans and stress tests, my doctor told me I had to do something about the stress in my life. That he could prescribe and recommend to his heart's content, but that if I didn't do something about THAT, I would be in big trouble one day in the not-too-distant future.
Slow down. Slow down.
Crap. How do I DO that? I may seem kind of laid-back on the outside, but inside I'm Type A all the way. Goal oriented, busy all the time - there's always some project being finished up, planned, or just begun. Lots of times there are more than one going on at once. I do two jobs at work and make them look easy. I am reading at least two books at any given time. Plus, I'm a mom, a crazed-dog owner, and a wife. Just how do I slow down?
By taking on something else, apparently.
I arrived early last night, the house where the Tai Chi Center is is lit up and glows softly in the dark. It's quiet. The main studio is full of people, all doing their forms and I walk in thinking I'm late. No - it's the class before mine still going. So I go to the office, fill out my forms, fork over the dough and wait. I was REAL early - there's about 20 minutes before class starts. I wander around the house finding bathrooms, sitting in the lounge, going back outside... moving, moving, moving.
Finally, it's time to go in. There are 32 students, 1 instructor, and 3 set leaders (instructing assistants). It's crowded. We line up in three lines and the instructor shows us how to "open our chi". Hands up, hands down, turn, push. Breathing. We do this for half an hour. HALF AN HOUR! Slowly. Each move a totally separate thing. It was hard.
In KenPo, the goal is to do everything smoothly, in one motion, and quickly. In a street fight, you only have seconds to defend and escape. Tai Chi was very different for me. And yet... it spoke to me in a way that flinging myself through KenPo couldn't.
I had to breathe. And move slowly. Deliberately. I forgot about everything else and thought about what my body was doing.
Halfway through the class, we had tea.
One of the assistants made tea, poured it out in little cups and we took our tea and sat in a circle on the floor while the instructor told us a little about the beginnings of Tai Chi in America. This tea break is apparently a regular part of the training. It is unrushed but seems to take no time either. And when you finish your tea, you're ready to start breathing and moving slowly again.
In the second half of the class, we learned a second motion. There are 108 total. Last night we learned 2. The full beginners class takes four months. I think I know why.