I think of 2006 as the year of the upgrades: my car, my house, my husband, my status as a writer, my status as a kung fu student.
As I have been writing this account, and as I get closer to the present day, it becomes more difficult to talk about tai chi/kung fu without discussing my personal life. About two years ago, tai chi stopped being something I do and become something that I am a part of.
I knew early on that it would happen if I kept with it. I resisted for a long time. I think Sit knew, too, that I was holding back because of other obligations. When I called up and told Mary I wouldn’t be in class because I had car problems, Sit exclaimed, "She has a husband problem!"
Some time in December of 2005, after a Wednesday night class, Sit asked to talk to me. With Mary Ann standing by beaming proudly, he asked if I wanted to learn the super-secret standing meditation.
"The what?" I said gracefully.
The standing. The nei-gong (internal strength) training. The core of the internal fighting arts, at least our version of it. Many different martial arts practice some version of meditation, and most of them have different styles and postures that have specific training applications. It's pretty high-level stuff. In the old days it was passed down under extreme secrecy, usually at a high cost.
Elation and self-doubt made me dizzy. I didn’t know if I was ready for that kind of responsibility. "I don’t know...," I hedged.
"I trade you," Sit said. He knew I was broke. "You can write me a’ article. Or you can make me a uniform. Maybe two."
I told him I’d think about it. I knew he was doing me a singular honor: aside from Mary Ann I’m the only woman who’s learned it, or even been shown it.
My reluctance came from my old fear of failure. I’d gotten fond of Sit, and as I’d gotten to know him better I realized how much I respected him, and how much I still had to learn from him, and I didn’t want to let either of us down by flaking out. And I sensed that there were big changes on my horizon. I was restless, and fed up, but I hate change and I was digging in my heels. I told Sit it wasn't a good time and I'd prefer to wait until summer. On the surface I was thinking about the novel I was trying to finish. In the back of my mind I was planning an escape.
I still wonder, looking back on this, if Sit guessed more than I did. I was probably transparent as glass. "Maybe something about to change," he said. "You never know. Maybe it turn out to be a good thing."
Around that same time I had another wad of cash go missing from one of my hiding places. My spouse swore up and down that there had been a rash of burglaries in our apartment complex, and perhaps there had been, but that didn’t explain why nothing else was missing, or how the thief had known where to look without disturbing anything else.
By mid-March I had moved in with my parents, my name was off the apartment lease, and I had filed for divorce. My ex didn’t fight me on it; he had enough sense to realize it would only draw attention to his bad behavior, and I think he was concealing his money problems from his family. I’m pretty sure they think I left their son for Tony, which is simply not the case.
I can’t really blame them for thinking so. My ex and I were good at keeping up appearances. We got along well and treated each other with respect in public. Once I’d made up my mind to leave him, however, I had no feeling left other than anger and embarrassment at having put up with it so long.
So there were no longer any impediments to my realizing I was head-over-heels for Tony. I had been telling myself that it was just a crush, it was the fascination of something you can’t have, it was a comrade-in-arms kind of friendship. We never had any relationship outside of class, and the setup of class meant that we exchanged precious few words during classtime. We never spoke on the phone and only rarely exchanged emails, generally about class-related matters. But over four and a half years I had managed to glean that he did lovely woodwork, he was a voracious reader and a huge fan of my writing, he had an art degree, a big vocabulary and a witty sense of humor. In other words, he was perfect for me, even before factoring in that he was Sit’s right-hand man.
Sit was unilaterally approving when we told him we were dating. We were apprehensive about it, because we knew that the proximity to the breakup of my marriage looked bad. Also, people who fall in love tend to fall out of tai chi class. I think Sit believed that would happen to us, too, but he was philosophical about it. He said, "So, you going to Tai Chi Legacy this year? It could be a romantic vacation for you."
We had a rather strange courtship. Despite the intensity of our connection we are both rather old-fashioned people who believe in honor and—dare I say—virtue, so we chose to be somewhat discrete until my divorce was final. We compensated for our guilt and frustration by training extra-hard.
I asked Sit to start me on the super-secret meditation training in April, which he agreed was a good idea, and for the six months I lived with my parents I was quite diligent about it. I practiced damn near every night. Tony and I were sober as judges in class every week, and we avoided partnering each other for application exercises. I don’t know if our tai chi got any better, because I for one was sleep-deprived and going nuts from living with my parents and wondering if the damn lawyer was ever going to complete the filing, but at least we were there. We both got quite thin and more fit than we had ever been, or probably will ever be, in our lives.
Tony and I got married in November, 2006, in Sit and Mary Ann’s house.
And we promptly quit practicing.
It is not quite as convenient as one might suppose, living and training together. Our schedules are just different. He works a very physical job and comes home tired; I work at a desk all day and come home restless and jittery. He prefers to practice in the morning; I prefer the evenings, before dinner. We sometimes work in some push-hands practice together. We try to do our standing together, before bedtime. We make damn sure we are in class two days a week, unless one of us is sick. Usually if one is sick, the other still goes.
Our relationship with Sit has changed substantially. We socialize a fair bit with him and Mary Ann. We are friends as much as students; he’s like an adoptive father. He deals with Tony on a much more equal basis than before, and I can actually have a conversation with the man and feel free to disagree with him about writing or medicine or whatever.
We are a student-teaching team in kung fu. Tony still gets stuck with the newbies; I often get called upon to lead the mid-level students. Sit keeps me away from the really new people, especially the men. Guys are funny about following a woman anyway; they either ignore me or they make subtle jokes about how cute and not-dangerous I am. One guy saw me practicing the shuffle-step and cracked, “What is that, the shuffling kitten?”
Ha-ha, he’s gone, but I am still there. I just finished the sword form, which makes me the only current student who knows all of it—one of a handful who has learned it at all. I’m slowly getting a grasp on this push-hands thing: a couple weeks ago, Sit was watching Tony do an application on me and said, “Huh,” kind of curiously; he waved Tony away and did the application on me, himself. When I didn’t topple over the way he expected me to, he remarked, “She’s got good suspend head-top,” and waved us back to what we were doing.
So I have my happily-ever-after. I’ve still got a ways to go until I can call myself competent at tai chi, but I feel I’m standing in the doorway, and the journey has been incredibly rewarding. There were times, during the worst periods in my personal life, when I would go to class anyway, and midway through a lesson I’d realize that I was exactly where I was meant to be, doing exactly what I was meant to do. Until that feeling goes away, I’m going to keep at it.