After a first night of almost no sleep on Sunday, due to the overexcitement of being back at the school, but also the damn noise of some bloody engine starting off every half hour during the whole night, Master Fu and I went on a mission to investigate who the little bastard taking away our opportunity to rest was, and where he was hiding. We found out the engine was actually the water pump, which, for some reason, had decided to work some extra hours at night. We brought our mission to completion by turning it off, so that everybody could finally get some sleep.

Waking up on Monday, my first day of training after almost six months of no exercise at all, I was prepared for the worst (or the best, depends on which angle you look at things). Body memory is quite amazing; I could still remember the 74 movements of the form. But apart from the memory, my body was totally helpless when it came to putting up with five hours of training in just one day. Yesterday, I went to bed at 7pm and slept straight until this morning 7am. No need to say more about the physical exhaustion of that first day back at the school. I can’t remember when was the last time I went to bed before sunset. I don’t even know if it ever happened before.

This morning, when my coach Lao Wu saw me climbing down the stairs like an 80-year old grandma, he told me a secret tip: climb them down backwards. At first I laughed at his face and thought it was some kind of stupid joke, but when I tried it… MAGIC! It worked! My sore legs were not as bad and it was not so painful when I did go backwards. The scientific reason behind is that you use different muscles of your legs by climbing down backwards. Simple as that.

During morning class break, I was telling Master Fu the reason (or excuse, depends on which angle you look at things – bis) why I was so sore, why I haven’t exercised at all in six months. I told him I was busy giving presentations of my book, preparing, traveling and delivering speeches. To which Master Fu responded, “Why don’t you do a little Taichi at the end of your conferences? That could be fun to do a performance in front of your audience. Good for you, and good to educate people about the benefits of Taichi!” he said with a big laugh. It was probably meant to be one of his jokes, but I might consider the idea seriously for the next batch of conferences, especially since my next book will be around Taichi.

That little fun exchange, as well as Lao Wu’s tip, and the water pump mission, are also part of my daily routine at the Yangshuo Taichi and Kungfu School. They may demystify the idea of what a martial arts school is, but being able to joke around and talk about trivial stuff with my Master and Coach plays a big part in my feeling of being home.

Martial arts don’t have to be all about toughness and discipline. In order to reach one-ness, to be a whole being, you have to be able to make some space for the inner child and not take yourself too seriously. After all, isn’t it what yin-yang stands for? Forget about being extreme. Instead, look for balance.

This afternoon, I left Shanghai in a rush, my heart and mind all messed up with all kinds of mixed feelings from the past few days. I was almost about to miss my flight, but the perspective of being stuck for another day in the city and my own anxiety gave me what it takes to make it happen. It was a relief to sit on that plane, leave everything behind and just worry about how hard (good) the Taichi training will be tomorrow.

I left a sunny 21°C Shanghai and arrive in a rainy grey Yangshuo. The cold reminds me of that terrible first winter I had here in 2011. The bus leaves me at an unknown place. I triple check with the driver, another passenger and the first person I bump into at the station. Yes, I’ve arrived in Yangshuo. They moved the bus station last December. Waiting for Master Fu to come pick me up, I find refuge from the rain in a small noodles shop where I start chatting with the laoban. I realize my speech is a bit faltering. It’s not only Taichi that I haven’t practiced in the past months. My Chinese too, is far from being at its best. But after a few minutes of observing around me and allowing myself to become a part of my environment, I crack a joke with the customer sitting to the other table and this is when I know that I’m back home. Even the local specialty pickles’ stinky smell which sticks to your hair feels likeable. Like Proust’s madeleine, it reminds me of some good old times. Master Fu finds me quickly and I’m glad to sit next to the fatherly figure again.

As I pass the threshold of room A303, the first thing I do is look for my phone. I want to send a WeChat message to my coach Lao Wu to tell him that I’ve just arrived. I’m amazed when I realize that I still remember the wifi’s password, while I forget every second day the door code of my building in Shanghai. As soon as I’m connected, my phone vibrates. A message from Lao Wu. He had the same idea, only he was faster. And here we are, sending messages to each other, while we’re just next door now. I can’t wait to see the look on his face and hear his voice saying, “What happened to your Taichi?!” tomorrow morning when he’ll realize horrified that I haven’t trained for almost six months. Of course I’ll feel bad and horrible to admit that I left my Taichi in a no man’s land for so long. But this place, Master Fu’s school, its people, and the way they make me feel home, are worth the trouble.


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