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The Next Karate Kid…?

October 11, 2011

I am now the proud owner of a particularly fetching set of turquoise Karate pyjamas or, to be more specific, my Tai Chi Chien uniform.  Upon inspection, it turns out that what looks graceful and natural on a Chinese person is not so fetching on a six foot two, hairy, clumsy and portly westerner.  Still I am excited that I now look, as much as is possible, the part.

Looking the part is not the same as being the part though, and I’m painfully aware that my grand Tai Chi debut is only two weeks away and I don’t even know the form, let alone have the ability to make it look as it should.  At the risk of trivialising the whole affair, this is my Karate Kid moment – a martial arts competitive tournament looming, lost in a strange country, a wisened old master as a teacher, impossible odds. (This is best read with a thumping 80’s power ballad playing in the background – preferably ‘You’re the Best Around’ from the original Karate Kid soundtrack, but any song from Rocky 4 would also do – I recommend ‘Eye of the Tiger’.)  The only thing bringing me crashing back to reality is the fact my shoes don’t fit. It seems size 10.5 feet are not all that common in mainland China.  Who knew…

To carry on with my deluded metaphor, the next two weeks would be my training montage: balancing on boats doing Karate kicks, a sojourn in the mountains silhouetted against the sunset, tears, pain, blood and sweat.  Or more specifically, Tai Chi with my work colleagues in the corridor outside my office, wearing the clumsy walking boots and shirt I teach in, with instructions in Chinese being piped out of a cheap stereo on the floor in front of us.  Again, reality comes crashing down around me.

Still, at least there can be no hyperbole around my teachers – they really are the real deal, even if I am not.  One; the aforesaid mysterious master, who doesn’t speak a word of English other than my name (well, Nasaniel anyway), the word ‘over’ (which is shouted at me along with ‘Nasaniel’ when my time is up) and, mysteriously, the number 42 (which I think might be the Tai Chi form I am leaning, but I can’t be sure. Are there really that many?  What happened to 1-41?).  The other, who I met yesterday, is a PE teacher at the school who also just happens to be the national champion, across the whole of China (i.e. one fifth of the world’s population), at Tai Chi.  This is a happy twist of fate.  Grace (her English name) also speaks some English, and is able to teach me traditional animal style Kung Fu – which in this case if memory serves are Tiger, Crane, Bear, Monkey and Deer.  Not something, I suspect, I will be mastering over the next nine months – but opportunity is most definitely knocking at my door, and I’m going to do my best to meet it.  But for now, it’s off to the corridor in my chunky boots again.  Wish me luck.


I’m writing this addition to this blog having just  finished two hours of Tai Chi and I’m exhausted, drenched in sweat and truly humbled.  The strength and suppleness required for this martial art is phenomenal, no wonder it’s said to take ten years to master.  I’m filled with a new found awe for the ease with which those of all ages appear to perform it.  I now know that to stand in front of these people in two weeks time and look anything less than a fool will be a near impossible task.  I wonder if I can do it.  Still, I’m reminded of something my Dad once told me, and was echoed by my instructor back home – there’s no mystery to learning martial arts, no secret – just keep turning up.  With that in mind, it looks like Tai Chi will
become the very air I breathe for the next two weeks.  I wonder if it will change me.  Perhaps it already has.

  1. Well done Nat, great reading! Big grins here.


  2. Marc Moor permalink

    Keep turning… Haha. I think they will chase you if you don’t. Have fun, enjoy

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