I hadn’t taught Tai Chi in nearly forty years, not that I was any sort of officially sanctioned instructor, but in the 1970’s my enthusiasm for the practice spilled over into the alley behind my house and led a few friends to join me in catching the sparrow. It had been a dream of mine to become, one day, a ‘real’ instructor. I traipsed from the Midwest to New York to study at Chein Man-Chang’s school at 54 Broadway and studied as diligently as being continually reminded to relax allowed. If I hadn’t fallen off a cliff, and shattered my heel bone, perhaps this or that turn of events would have favored my aspiration.
I continued to study and practice on my own until I found a teacher in my lineage (Yang Short form) in California who observed my form was “sexy as hell, but useless.” That defined my self conceptions in too many ways for far too long. I played at Tai Chi when the mood moved me amazed that the muscle memory of my early diligent practice still carried me along, even as I forgot the exotic names for the postures, and gradually began to trust my left foot to hold me up for ‘separate hands and strike with heel.’
Upon learning that my piano teacher also taught Tai Chi for seniors I dusted off my slippers and joined his class for a tune up. He taught a different style than mine which put me back at the beginning level almost arguing within my body that this sequence was just all wrong even if the principles, “Relax more!” were sound. After class he invited me to spar in the two person technique of unseating an opponent’s balance. I never lasted more than a minute but rather than feel discouraged I got a sense of it being ok, even very beneficial, to pick up where I had left off and use Tai Chi as a sort of recovery rehabilitation exercise for my less than stable ankle, knees, and attitude towards learning anything at my age.
Finding an online source for a new pair of rope soled slippers reinforced the sense of returning to a respectful student role, even in the privacy of my kitchen floor. I got out my copies of Tai Chi Chu’an Classics and began reading the paradoxes of sinking low to rise above my self inflicted negativity. It wasn’t long before the joy of ‘flying diagonally to wave hands among clouds’ seemed to put a smile into my very bones. The more difficult moves of supporting myself on my bum ankle to…