Thursday, December 28, 2006

ugly tai chi stepbrother

We had a visitor in class last night. I didn't ever get an explanation, but Sit apparently invited this guy for a two-day visit/mini-workshop/study session. I inferred that he's the student of another teacher, a friend of Sit's. All the introduction I got was, "Holly, this is J- He's gonna be here for a couple days."

J is about thirty, maybe. His face was older, his body language younger. He has a red, rough complexion, like a guy who had bad acne in his youth. He's platinum blonde, possibly bleached, hair short and slicked back. He has a disturbing dead-fish gaze through wire-rimmed glasses. His clothes were baggy and hung in such a way that suggests he's quite wiry. His forearms and neck are corded with sinew and he has three palm-sized tattoos on his wrists.

He was one of the more spastic people I've seen in a while. Like, coke-head spastic. We started our evening as usual, watching videos of martial arts--in this case, masters' demos from a competition five years ago--and J kept busting out with, "Awesome. Wow. Awesome. Cool. Yeah. Wow," every twenty seconds or so. The thing was, he kept doing it even when there was nothing happening on-screen, i.e. the master was just standing there waiting for the music to start. I thought, he's just overwhelmed and overexcited about being here. He's nervous and expostulating.

As the night wore on, however, I began to wonder if he had Tourettes. This is not to mock people who have Tourettes. The young man could NOT stand still. The Wednesday night class tends to be fairly reverent, standing quietly and listening until Sit tells us to pair up. This guy kept bouncing on his toes and pacing like a tiger in a cage, to the point of bumping into the rest of us. He kept sidling back and forth in front of me, blocking my view like a drunken football fan, until I finally put my hand on his shoulder and told him to stand still.

He was quite strong. I only touched hands with him for a few minutes, and he was exceptionally aggressive. He was supposed to push, I had to deflect. But he wouldn't stop there, he kept gripping and twisting and dipping and shoving. He has a weird, multi-directional loose-jointedness that is probably very useful in push-hands competition, but not appropriate to a training session. And being the arrogant macho bitch I am, I pushed back. Just lightly, looking for weakness, trying to slow his frenetic movements. We were deadlocked in about ninety seconds. Sit said, "Okay, that's enough," then switched me around to partner Ben and let John take J's abuse. John didn't fare much better. J simply could not follow instructions. One would think, if one were visiting another teacher's class, one would rein back one's actions, to listen and learn. I'd be willing to say that J is reasonably advanced as a student, but part of having control of one's art is knowing when to turn it off.

J wasn't even trying to learn, he was too busy showing us what he knew. Sit would get out about three words, and J would go, "Yeah, ok," and you could tell that he'd already jumped to his own conclusion and stopped listening. I'm fairly sure the guy had some form of advanced ADHD or something similar, but he was exhausting. Sit kept saying, "Less... less... slow down," but there was no getting through.

J's primary tai chi style is Chen style, which to the casual observer seems more complex and multi-directional than our Wu style. Sit calls it "expressive." To me, it looks flowery and inefficient. Sit demo'd a couple of simple punch-punch-kick sequences, and J made a game attempt at blocking, but with such contorting and flailing of limbs it made me tired to watch. J seemed to have no fear of getting hit, and his reflexes were good, but to my eye it was a lot of extra movement, like slinging ropes around to stop a sword thrust. J would catch the first punch, but he'd swing it away so far that he'd leave himself wide open for the next one. His blocks were more collisions than controlled deflections. Sit preaches less movement, less effort, less commitment, so you can recover faster from the block and move instantly to the offensive. And I'm not blaming J's teacher for that--as I said, the kid was a spaz. He could benefit from some of Sit's calmness. Maybe he took up martial arts to try to tame whatever his neurological problem was. Maybe J's teacher sent him to Sit to learn some restraint, I don't know. I asked my Sparring Partner whether he'd met J at the workshop last March, but he didn't recall.

J's visit was probably more educational for me than for him. I'm fairly sure he's done some other styles of martial arts aside from Chen tai chi. He has the body-type, the empty gaze and the aggression that tends to come from military-style strip-mall dojos. I'm making an assumption, but he seemed to me to be the type that leaps from school to school. There's something to be said for that approach, but the people I've known who do that tend to get too fixated on "this is this style, and that's that style," instead of integrating the similarities in different styles.

I also have to smile a bit ruefully at myself, because every time we get a visitor like that I find myself mentally sneering at these losers, first because of their over-enthusiastic attitude that's generally unbacked by any real knowledge, and secondly by how inferior their style is to Sit's. I consider myself so egalitarian and open-minded, but apparently I am still prone to jingoism where my martial art is concerned. Granted, it's not fair to judge the master by the student, and since I've never fought anybody in my life, it's foolish of me to assume the efficacy of one style over another. Hell, if I had the money I'd be tickled pink to go do some workshops with other teachers. My SP did a kickboxing stint before he met Sit, and he's suggested we might go visit his old coach and do some sparring. This is not a bad idea, since I've done so little hands-on work. Which is, of course, only my own fault. Sit's offered me as many opportunities as the boys, and would undoubtedly push me further if I'd get serious about training. So which is worse--going to study with another teacher when you don't have your own craft mastered, or staying with a gifted teacher for five years and not taking full advantage of his training?

I stay with Sit because I believe he's the real thing. His personality is more palatable than most, and I admire his pragmatism and minimalist approach. What he says makes sense to me, especially since I am a woman and he advocates using less force and fighting dirty. And it was quite amusing to watch him lock up that kid's flailing limbs. "See? you do this, and I use the elbow to block. Now what you do, huh? You can do nothing!"


Anonymous said...


Yours truly,

Holly said...

That's what Tony said.