I never thought I’d be involved in a martial art. The closest I’ve ever come to performing Tai Chi is drinking Chai Tea.
So imagine my surprise at finding myself in a Tai Chi class, learning the art of making a fist and practicing movements based on Kung Fu.
Kung Fu? My only reference is the old Pink Panther movies where Inspector Clouseau’s manservant Cato Kung Fu’ed both the inspector and his surrounding apartment to rubble.
And no, as pissed as I am about our political plight, I am not gearing up to take to the streets for hand to hand combat – although there are days it feels like it might come to that.
No, luckily, Tai Chi is a gentle martial art, merely based on the more athletic and potentially lethal Kung Fu moves. In Tai Chi, you learn slow, continuous, circular movements directed by internal energy.
So there I was, coincidentally dressed in black and white, looking and feeling much like that Kung Fu Panda, trying to learn this graceful and healing martial art.
As I stood among my peers I flashed back to the horror of fourth grade ballet class, a humiliation fostered on me by parents hoping to trade their tomboy for a ballerina. They should have gotten their money back.
Based on my sketchy memories and some fading photos, I was always at least one arabesque behind everybody else. And often stuck with one leg up on the ballet barre, unable to do anything but fall down.
“Make a friendship fist,” our instructor says, snapping me back to 2017 and a room without mirrors – but with friends of all shapes and abilities.
With soft music playing, our bodies relax as we move through the Tai Chi forms, raising our arms like a crane, slowly moving as if we are holding a ball in our hands, raising both arms to the right to resemble picking up a bale of hay.
The movements are unhurried, deliberate and graceful.
It’s like scenes I saw in Beijing or Shanghai, with hundreds of Chinese citizens in city parks, enjoying communal open-air morning Tai Chi. 700 million people, world-wide are “playing.” They call it playing because they say that happiness is considered a vital part of health and success.
I can’t argue with that.
So here we were, playing Tai Chi. I especially loved the move where you gently massage your jaw. Pickleball players may need to massage their legs and arms, but for me, from yapping and chewing, a jaw massage is quite appropriate.
The overall message to Tai Chi “players” is that everything should be gentle and easy to do, creating relaxation and comfort along with the unblocking of our energy flow.There’s no judgement, criticism, no perfect way to do things.
Which brings me back to that leotard-clad nine-year old at ballet class with my dance teacher’s shouted commands and harsh criticism. I kept out of the way of the mean girls, tried to blend with the walls, avoided the mirror. I hated being there, then riding home in the car with my sister who got all the solos and all the attention.
Back home I buried my face in a Nancy Drew book; or I mooned over Julie Andrews on TV in Cinderella; or wrote my own little plays to put on in the backyard. But once a week, I was dragged off to that humiliating ballet class.
But now, I gleefully show up for Tai Chi where there is no mandatory recital, no ill-fitting tu-tu. And this exercise isn’t designed to burn calories or raise my heartbeat.
It does, however, raise my spirit.
Yes, the movements are unhurried, deliberate and graceful. I feel that way too. And I wish my parents could see the smile on my face.
I’m off to savor the moment and have a Chai Tea.
Fay Jacobs is the award-winning author of four humorous memoirs. Her latest is Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked. All of her books are available from Bywaterbooks.com. Fay also travels the country with her one-woman show Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay.