So for the past five weeks or so I've been attending some classes at my gym on Saturday evenings. There's a Chinese teacher who does a half hour beginners Tai Chi class (taikyokuken in Japanese...the characters used are the same in both languages and translate roughly to "Supreme Ultimate Fist") followed by a half hour 'Kung Fu' class. It was a nice change of pace to do a class where no English is spoken, and though I find the coordination a little difficult, I thought it was something I could get into.
Tonight I went to the hour-long non-beginner class. Oh dear.
To start off, it was fine. We did exactly the same sets (I don't know what they're called in English, Japanese or Chinese) as we do in Saturday classes to start off with. I can't do them perfectly, and I have to keep looking round at the teacher to check I'm doing the right thing, but basically it's fine - the music we do it to is slow, gentle and relaxing. Then we take a short break, and the teacher instructs us to grab a fan from a box. Now, these are big, cloth folding fans, not the small practical kind often made of paper. They aren't bound together tightly like most fans, so you can easily flip them open with a flick of the wrist. Fan in hand, we assume the usual starting position, but there's something unsettling about the music this time - instead of the gentle "mountain hamlet in JRPG background music", a much faster, stronger beat starts up. The kind of thing you expect to hear play during a martial arts display when men are putting their heads through bricks. After a couple simple opening movements the set descended into a fast-paced dance of precise poses, full-body turns (so you're no longer facing the teacher and, if you're me, have no idea what you're doing) and quick fan openings and closings.
I was lost pretty much from start to finish. The whole thing looked pretty spectacular, however, especially the syncronisation of the teacher and the other students (mostly elderly women and all of them light years ahead of me....we'll, they've probably been doing this for ages). My experience of tai chi up to that point had been as a very sedate, slow martial art. I so wanted to be able to do that.
The thing about this class, though, is that there's not much focus on teaching, at least not in a step-by-step way. Or maybe it is and I'm just a Johnny-come-lately. We did two or three other fan-less sets afterwards, which were more difficult than the beginner stuff, but much slower and easier than the fan one. The fan one. Ah, to be able to do that. Jealousy.
This video demonstrates the basic idea: