Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Intergalatic Be Yourself Association

Posted by Amy Baranski

With the crust of the earth violently splintering on the other side of the Pacific Rim, causing the earth's axis to shift, and giving way to a sequence of events that may result in a nuclear meltdown, I've been contemplating what it means to give up control.

I'm encouraged to control my mind while practicing yoga, yet I'm simultaneously told to cultivate the ability to let go of what the mind attaches to. Attachment--the sense that I am focusing my mind--versus conscious freedom from attachment--the sense that I am letting go of thoughts without letting go of my mind--is the meeting place of my current practice of yoga. It is within, or at the meeting of, these two oppositions where I currently struggle. I discovered a similar theme in the practice of Tai Chi this morning while talking to a student of teacher Saul Krotki.

Be yourself - anywhere in the universe!
Doodle by Amy Baranski.
A couple weeks ago in response to my email query Saul invited us to attend one of his Saturday morning classes. It's an advanced class so the opportunity would be to watch and listen and talk with him. Admittedly when he first suggested this I felt disappointed. I wanted more. I wanted control over my experience. I really wanted to know all of the details before coming to class, like most importantly, what do people wear? I also wanted to jump in and do. Watching a class for some reason seemed like a waste of valuable time.

I don't know if trying to control my experience of Tai Chi got tiresome in the last two weeks, or if I've simply succumbed to the flow of life right now, but this morning at 7:15 I found myself walking to Saul's class with Melissa. Entering the studio I was feeling a little nervous. We got there early, there was one student outside carrying what looked like some kind of weapon (it was indeed a sword). Then Saul came down the stairs.

I hadn't told him we'd be showing up today. He had the kind of "who the hell are you" glint in his eye for about a second or so, but he was nonetheless welcoming. After some brief introductions and explanations about our blog, and Saul dubbing us the officers of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association, I asked Saul how he came to practice Tai Chi. He said he grew up in the Bronx and it was a tough neighborhood and he had a rough childhood because of it. By the time he was a young man in the U.S. service, stationed overseas in Taiwan, he discovered Tai Chi and found that it wasn't just something old people did, but that it brought him into an expression of community where people actually cared for his well-being--something that had been missing from the neighborhood of his early childhood.

In my mind I was immediately like: right on. Or, as my favorite bartender says: right arm. Because I've found, over the past two and half months, an expression of community that cares for its members' well being at The Sweatbox.

Saul remarked, that from his experience as a teacher, those who really commit to the practice of Tai Chi usually show some kind of flair for Eastern culture. I wanted to raise my hand like a happy sixth-grader and interject: I went to China this past summer! I went to China! But instead I chose to listen. His assertion made me think about how Western my thought is--so full of expectations and attachments. I was even trying to fit learning Tai Chi into my Western thought-box, earlier complaining that if I had really wanted to succeed in this month's discovery I would have spent more time planning for it and not also committed to a 30 day yoga challenge. But, after attending Saul's class I've let got of that thought. It's not useful or really it's not anything to think about approaching Tai Chi in that way.

Saul's class ran about 2.5 hours long. During the first 30 minutes the students paired off and worked on hand movements. They stood very close touching each other's hands. It struck me as an incredibly intimate form, or warm up. To be so close with someone and to have a light touch on their hand...rough-housing seemed less intimidating than this! I got the mental giggles just thinking about being paired up with a total stranger and communicating to each other through that kind of movement!

You wouldn't even guess they are holding swords but they are!
The first full hour of class was devoted to their practice of a sword form. The students held the swords so lightly and evenly. I kept wondering how heavy those wooden swords were, but I never got the guts up to ask if I could hold one. It was also very bizarre sitting in front of the class with a notebook jotting down little nuggets of advice that Saul would give, or just random thoughts coming into my head. I wondered if Melissa was feeling the same. And dear God what did the students think of us?!

During the second hour of class Saul invited us to join the group for a few of their warm-up exercises that the do before starting the Tai Chi long form. I found this to be so welcoming. He made sure we were positioned appropriately behind him so that we could try to copy what everyone else was doing. He was also attentive in giving us pointers on where to place our balance, or how the heart of the palm should feel the air, or not to have too wide of a stance. We did slow walking and also practiced White Crane (which I later learned from one of his students is a classic Tai Chi form).

At the end of class Melissa and I chatted with a few students. One even asked if we were going to join the class! Another said how surprised she was that we came to watch as they are an unpublicized class and don't get many visitors. And a few women were interested in our blog, letting us know of other people who have similar try as many things as you can projects or attitudes. I just love all the connections.

Saul mentioned that he may be putting together a class for beginners after Labor depending on what the officers of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association want to do in the meantime is up to us. I will have to see what happens. Saul will be sending us some information about a very different Seattle Martial Arts group that's led by a woman to check out. He spoke highly of their organization (the name is forthcoming) and suggested it would be worth our time to get a taste of the breadth of martial arts offerings available here.

With that I'll leave you with a nugget from Saul that he offered during class. He said the following in context of a form he was working on with the students, and I find that it applies to my journey in this blog and in all of life: "You have to be subjected to each experimental condition one step at a time."

Amy - Officer of the Intergalactic Be Yourself Association


Saul Krotki said...

Hi Amy and Melissa,

Thanks for stopping by and writing your
thoughtful comments. Have a look at
Quantum Martial Arts:
They are our opposite but equally euphoric association!

Hope you may consider joining us in September for T'ai chi practice.

Saul Krotki
Good Old Boys Intergalactic Marital Arts and Mineral Exploration Association

Saul Krotki said...

Hi Amy and Melissa,

Thank you for stopping by and visiting and also writing your thoughtful comments.
You may like to also visit
Quantum Martial Arts:
They are our opposite but equally euphoric community!

I hope you can join us in September.
I will send a reminder.

Best wishes with your life-laboratory!

Saul Krotki
Good Old Boys Intergalactic Marital Arts and Mineral Exploration Association.

Melissa said...

Thanks so much Saul! We will take a good look at your suggestion. And we will consider Sept. as well. We really enjoyed sitting in on your class...thanks for being so welcoming.