Saturday, August 28, 2004

Tai Chi Can Be Funny

I had always been interested in the martial arts, having myself seen iterations of American Ninja (Michael Dudikof) as well as the better-written, better choreographed The Hunted (Christopher Lambert, John Lone, and one Badass Samurai Guy). I'd been a fan of Kurosawa films as well as such classics as Kung Fu (David Caradine), its Legend Continues revival and The Green Hornet (Bruce Lee). Heck, back in the 80's, you'd even catch me watching Smiling Proud Wanderer Sunday mornings on Channel 9.

Lousy reasons for the interest, but one usually starts out that way-- "nerdy guy develops a sudden interest in Karate because he was beaten up by an ex-nerd who specialized in Tae Kwon Do".

I dipped my toes in various martial arts programs only to drop out or get pulled out by my parents. I got clobbered in Tae Kwon Do for lollygagging (Mom pulled me out). Scheduling kept me away from a classmate's Karatedo tutelage. Couldn't afford to go to India and find someone to teach me Kalarippayat... Years (and lots of martial arts names) later, I found Tai Chi.

I took it up in '97 because I didn't want power-tripping jackasses taking out their frustration on me during training. There were other reasons, of course: I wanted to be unique, as everyone else had fallen in with (point system)Tae Kwon Do, (beat-you-with-my-phallic)Arnis, (I'm-as-stiff-as-you'll-feel)Karate and that combative derivative of Aikido that passes here for the real thing.

In the Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan, I felt I could grow in power without being a jackass myself. I had hoped that by the time I'd become a master, I would be above such tempting concerns as "kicking butt and taking names."

But being the smartypants that I was, I went looking to condense the forms and transitions I was learning into something easier, simpler-- a shortcut to "mastery" (kick butt, take names) I was determined to find with minimal injury to myself. It was possible theoretically, anyway: there were only so many ways that human limbs and torsos could move to transmit energy used for lifting, throwing, attacking and parrying.

Not knowing that I was really asking for a crash course in human kinetics, I spent a month observing boxers, stuntmen, fighters, Chi Gong practitioners. The month passed and I woke to the inanity of what I was doing--

Take the formal and artistic elements out of Tai Chi and you end up with modern kickboxing. Emphasize the legs, and get Tae Kwon Do, Sikaran. Involve the arms and get Karate. Emphasize holds and throws and clothes-grabbing, you get Judo. Drop the holds, throws and kicks then you get boxing. I might as well have signed up for any of these other martial arts classes.

I stopped Tai Chi training in 2001 because I either had financial or scheduling difficulties. And it was so hard to find a teacher who wasn't based in Manila. (Didn't want to go all the way to Luneta Park to get ragged on by an irate Tai Chi practitioner). I was happy to note in the beginning of 2004 that some of my Los Banos friends had become interested Tai Chi as well-- my pal Homer's even graduated to the sword forms.

Me, I've found a teacher again, after all this time. And I'm plodding along, like I'm supposed to.