Taichi, the gentle giant

How do you measure an immense effort that seems invisible? Effort such as discovering ways to understand and express the human spirit aka the force of the universe, encapsulated in one Chinese Character known as Qi?

It started with this inexplicable yet warm fuzzy energy I feel in my body when I drum. I would express it with colors on canvas, visualize it in my dreams or tame it during a meditation. Later, I tried to depict it through the movement of my body and paint brush…Gradually, my efforts to depict Qi have transitioned into a quest to embody Qi in the many creative expressions I freely roam between.

My most recent pursuit in this quest of Qi is Taichi. The joy I felt when Taichi was revealed to me is so immense that not even a laughter or a smile could do justice. Allow me to tell you the story:

A few months ago, when I was pursuing an art residency in Malaysia, Shea Kang, my dear friend and art collector whom for years had told me about Taichi took me to his teacher. It was my first taste to Taichi, a martial art with series of movement accompanied with cryptic teachings. Before I could learn the whole sequence, I completed my residency and had to return to the states. With the little I knew, I practiced at the gardens repeatedly.

Somehow, the stars aligned for me. Prof. Wu showed up when I needed a Taichi teacher. He is 80 and I’m turning 30. We met shortly after I returned to the states during a Chinese New Year celebration. I was doing a calligraphy demonstration at a community event that I almost backed out of. Prof. Wu was pleasantly surprised by my eagerness to learn Taichi, noting that not many young people, his daughter included, are too keen on learning this ancient art form.

Many of Prof. Wu’s family members knew Taichi. His father was one of the early intellects to return from England in the 30s. He practiced Taichi until he was forbidden to do so during China’s cultural revolution. Prof. Wu’s own teacher stopped teaching when he was 70, citing the challenge to teach when one is no longer at his prime age because he might not be able to demonstrate Taichi sequences properly. But even that does not stop Prof. Wu’s determination at 80 to teach and my determination to learn.

Taichi by Natalia Wrobel’s Painting

We can all be fooled by this subtle force embedded in the art of Taichi. At first, I could not grasp what I learned – Where is the philosophy? Wisdom of the past? Martial art? Secrets to longevity?  Nonetheless, I made time to learn from Prof. Wu, slowly but surely. I learned a total of 75 movements + 13 abbreviated sequence, via multiple two-hour sessions in two months. I could barely memorize 3 movements when I started, but Prof. Wu was “all-in” in his teaching and I was moved by his patience.

Prof. Wu would record the Taichi sequence from his tablet and send it to me, but accidentally hurt his neck while doing it. He insisted on correcting my movements despite feeling nauseous due to his hurting neck. Unlike his grandfather, Prof. Wu can practice all the Taichi he wants and has garnered immense inner power thanks to it. However, since he was forbidden by his family from biking due to his advanced age, I would bike against the wind only to show up at his doorsteps for classes.

The day we finished the last sequence coincides with Prof. Wu’s daughter’s course planning for the spring quarter. She was about to teach a new course at UCSB College of Creative Studies, on music making using inspiration from nature. She invited her father to demonstrate Taichi in one of her sections and I was asked to help translate and assist in his presentation. She also recognized how Taichi coincides with my artistic process and asked me to include some of my artwork in the presentation.

Taichi by Toni Scott’s painting

For some reason, Prof.Wu’s daughter’s invitation sums up my ‘extracurricular’ learning these last months that is so pertinent to my art journey. There is no certificate to quantify my fulfilled dream of conceptualizing the force of life that was unraveled in the form of Taichi. But it is everything I need to take my art, my life, my discipline to the next level. It is the perfect gift to my soon-to-be 30-year-old self.

They say follow your bliss and doors will open. I have been following my calling to the open doors and am still dumbfounded by the amazing opportunities that have been coming my way. I am going to stick to this path, as unlikely as it seems at first for a descendant of Chinese laborers who had migrated to the ‘new’ world merely less than a century ago. I will strive to thrive as an excellent Chinese female artist who knows her history, acts on her passion and is fearless about pursuing a professional life of literature and art!