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Why I Keep Going

Volume 2 Number 1
Winter 2001

By Cheryl Schwichtenberg

When I first began to study taijiquan, the people close to me--friends, co-workers, and relatives alike -- tried to figure out what I was doing, and why.

I told them that I'd found in taijiquan an interesting exercise that engaged my brain as well as my body. I'd wanted to do something to counter the sloth of too much deskwork, and I'd wanted a diversion from painful personal changes in my life.

After a half-dozen years had passed, few people continued to ask me why I practiced taijiquan. Old friends stopped questioning it, and new friends seemed to be familiar with what taijiquan was, so the curiosity factor was no longer there. If they noticed me slipping into my taijiquan "mode" in stance or in conversation, they took it in stride.

Around my seventh year of study, the question of "why do I practice?" came up again -- but this time, I raised it myself. I was frustrated and stuck in my practice. I felt that I wasn't really progressing -- my form was stagnant, or at least it wasn't improving noticeably. I must admit I was also bored. The form had become too familiar, and my thoughts constantly wandered. I questioned whether I could ever really become centered and rooted, and the thought occurred to me that maybe taijiquan wasn't what it purported to be. Maybe I was looking for something that taijiquan couldn't deliver. I was stuck on a long plateau of no-progress, and I just wanted to hang it all up.

Despite my frustration, I kept practicing. I was tempted to drop taijiquan altogether, as had some of my classmates. They drifted away after investing years in practice, classes, workshops, or even foreign study. When I would bump into them somewhere, it was pretty obvious that they had moved on. Taijiquan had become less important to them or had been replaced with something else. Deep down, I couldn't help but wonder if they had run into the same frustrations and blockages that I had, and had tossed in the towel because of that.

For me, this "crisis of faith" became a challenge in itself, no different from the seven-year itch of any long-term commitment. It was an opportunity to revisit why I'd taken up taijiquan in the first place, and explore what was still compelling for me about it. I had a notebook from my earliest years of study, and I reread the entries, trying to recapture my newcomer's excitement with taijiquan and the fresh ideas it brought to my life. I talked to my teachers and asked my taijiquan aunts and uncles about what changed for them over the years of their practice. I went back to beginners' class and was confronted by the stark contrast between our abilities. They were struggling to not fall over and were unable to remember simple, basic moves, while I glided through the form, self-assured.

I came away with my interest in and need for taijiquan reaffirmed, and with a greater appreciation of what it had given me. I could see what progress I'd made, and, by learning about the paths that my elders had taken, I could see in which directions I needed to go.

My reasons for playing taijiquan now are not necessarily the same as when I started. Now I view taijiquan as a touchstone. Not just an exercise, but something that keeps me connected to and rooted in living. I renewed my commitment to it by asking myself "why taijiquan?" So -- how about you?

Cheryl Schwichtenberg is a market researcher and associate director of
Great River T'ai Chi Ch'uan in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2001-2004 by Taijiquan Journal.
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Taijiquan Journal (T'ai Chi Ch'uan Journal)