onsdag 24. februar 2010

An update long overdue: Practice with Dr. Chen Lianyong.

Hi folks!

In my last blog I promised I would write back about my meeting with Dr. Chen soon, but, as you probably know, we chronic procrastinators have our own definition of the word “soon”. Sorry for the long wait, and thank you all for the many encouragements and nudges in the right direction! Well, here comes the update which is, as the title states, long overdue.

Shortly after my last blog post I met with Dr. Chen Lianyong to set up my training schedule. We agreed that he would give me two lessons a week, two hours a piece over the next three months.
Those of you who joined Norsk Taiji Senter on it's previous trip to China, might remember the visit to Nankou hospital where Dr. Chen singled me out for some intensive correction. After about seven minutes of pushing and prodding my legs crumbled like a house of cards, and I was unable to stand any longer. Now, imagine a two hour private session with this guy. To say I haven't had an easy time training with him over the past months is to say the least.
One day during the course of my training I happened to mention that my friend Frode and I sometimes stood in the wuji-posture for one FULL hour. I immediately came to regret saying anything about this as he promptly made me assume the wuji-posture, and proceeded to mercilessly correct and push me down into the posture. I quickly understood that I had never really stood in wuji. A few minutes in, my legs were already beginning to ache and tremble. After ten minutes it felt like someone had set my legs on fire, and I was cursing myself for opening my mouth. Fifteen minutes in, sweat was flowing in rivers down my face, and I felt like I couldn't possibly go on. Twenty minutes in, my legs were spasming wildly, and it looked like I was doing my best impression of the Hammer Dance. But I gritted my teeth and managed to continue. Finally, after the longest half hour of my life, Dr. Chen took pity on me and said I could get out of the posture. In a daze I slowly rose out of the posture, my eyes straining to see clearly through the sting of the sweat in my eyes. Suddenly he burst out in laughter. At that point I was unable to find anything even remotely humorous about the situation, so I gave him a confused look. "So, how on earth did you manage to stand for an hour?" he said while snickering loudly. I made a mental note never to be boastful in front of him again.
I have just completed the Chen-style form with my teacher, and the experiences I have had whilst learning the form and in conversation with my teacher have been sobering in many ways. I have realized that I am no more than a fledgling when it comes to taijiquan, and probably life too. Actually, even that’s probably going too far. Sometimes I feel like I’m still not fully hatched, metaphorically pecking away at the inside of the shell, occasionally succeeding at making a hole, allowing another streamer of light to illuminate my ignorance. I have learnt that there isn't anyone else that can do the hard work for me, but every time I make progress it is my doing, and I own it.  The keyword is definitely perseverance! Hopefully someday I'll be out of the shell, chirping, and able to start learning for real!
Making me stand in taiji postures for extended periods of time, is not the only way Dr. Chen has tested me during the past three months. A few weeks ago he invited me along to the spring festival party at his hospital. I was happy to go along as I had never seen the inside of a Chinese hospital, and also had never seen a Chinese spring festival party. This is what happened.
The morning of the trip to the hospital I got up early to have a shower, eager to spend some time with my teacher without having to go through any physical or mental hardship. Little did I know... 

When I went out to meet Dr. Chen at 9am, as we had previously agreed, he shot me a weird look and mimicked playing the guitar. 
Dr. Chen "Where is it?"
Me "Eeeeerm, in the apartment. But you didn't really tell me that I was supposed to play."
Dr. Chen "I told you two weeks ago during practice, I'm sure of it. Well, go get it." 
Me "Nooo... Really?" I'm still refusing to believe this is actually happening.
Dr. Chen "Yes!" He had apparently already told his employees that a foreigner was coming to play them a song, and losing face in front of your employees is not particularly popular here. 
I immediately felt a growing lump of anxiety forming in the pit of my stomach as I walked off to get my guitar. He had casually mentioned something about me playing and singing a song at the party a few weeks ago during one of our sessions, but he hadn't mentioned anything else about it since then. I assumed he had either forgotten, or that he wasn't really serious.
On our way to the hospital he mentioned that there would be about 70 people there to witness this event, which in my mind is sure to lead to calamity. Did I mention I have pretty bad stage fright? But I tried to put it out of my mind anyway and focus on all the cool stuff I would see.
We arrive at the hospital and I got to meet many different doctors and nurses, and was also, luckily, able to print out the lyrics for "Idyll", which is a famous Norwegian pop song. Dr. Chen took me on a tour of the hospital, and I got to see everything from Chinese acupuncture and massage, to the maternity ward and the CAT scanner. I even received some treatment in the form of a wooden box with incense in it, placed on my lower abdomen, or the dantian as taiji practitioners would know it (picture above). I was told it was meant to have a beneficial effect on the acupuncture points related to the dantian.
Then came the time for the performances. I was, needless to say, pretty damn nervous, and I had only been able to do a couple of run-throughs of the songs. That's "songs" in plural, my teacher had persuaded me to play an English song first, the version of "Hurt" covered by Johnny Cash. I wasn't able to relax fully while viewing the other peoples' performances, playing over and over in my mind the imagined horror scenario that was about to take place. I was growing more and more nervous. I didn't even know when I was going on. Eventually they come to pick me up and say that it's my turn. I plugged in my guitar, wish them all a happy new year, and prepare myself for humiliation. I got off to a halting start when I completely screwed up the beginning of the Johnny Cash classic, stopped, apologised, and started over. Now I'm really starting to shake. The second time went a bit better, and by the end of the song I felt like I was getting warmed up. I finished the song, got a polite applause, and moved on to "Idyll". This went a lot better, that is to say, I got through it without the use of a mulligan. When I finished I got a decent applause and a few people even shouted "zai lai yi ge", or "one more song". Not willing to test fate any further I quickly said thank you and got the heck off the stage while breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Dr. Chen Lianyong really has taught me a lot over these past months of private sessions. I think I've shed a lot of ego and my taiji has improved by leaps and bounds. Also, he drove for an hour to my flat two times a week for three months to teach me. I will always be grateful for that.

I'm leaving for Wudang Mountain in a few days to study taijiquan for half a year, and I'm getting a bit nervous. I know that what I have experienced with Dr. Chen is but a prelude to what awaits me when I get to Wudang. There I will be practicing for about 6-7 hours every day except Sundays. I'm not sure what it will be like, but what I'm sure of is that it will be an experience that I will never forget.

I've probably gone on for long enough now, but I hope I'll be able to write back soon with some more stories from China. I have just been to Chengde to visit Harry and his family and friends there. I might write something about that trip later. (For those of you who don't know, Harry was our tour guide on Norsk Taiji Senter's trip to China.)

In the meantime, here's a picture of Harry, his friends, and me after a HUGE dinner and x glasses of Chinese booze. (Harry is the second one from the right)

Hope you guys are all doing well back home in Norway!

Bjarte Simon Hiley

5 kommentarer:

  1. Thanks for an insightful and very interesting blog post Bjarte! I think your writing is brilliant and brings me very close to your experiences.

    Your description of the Wuji actually made my legs hurt :-) In light of that, your choice to perform "Hurt" is very fitting ...

    I really look forward to your reports from Wudang!

    Stay well Bjarte,
    Kjell :-)

  2. Thanks for the feedback Kjell! It's good to hear you can relate to my experiences in the wuji, you have been practicing well my friend :-)

    And damn, I wish I'd thought about that Hurt comment!

  3. 1st of all, ROFL! omgsh im so glad i didnt go on that trip to the hospital, gosh i think i would have giggled my self silly being rly nervous for u!
    2, i feel like i just read an essay, good job though on the metaphors and similes!
    3, hey, the comments part is in nor lang, so i dont really know what im doing, im just going to push some random buttons that look semi familiar to me but not really....

  4. Hei Bjarte, du skriver skikkelig bra! Så bra at det begynte å dirre i beina når jeg leste: )


  5. Hadde helt glemt å svare på kommentaren din Trine. Tusen takk! Hyggelig at du likte det! :-)