From Yin to Yang: A Letter to Tai Chi

Dear Tai Chi, 

I never expected that I would ever write a letter to you. First of all, you’re not an actual person. Second, I never really thought that you would play such a huge part in my life. And for the third (but maybe not the final) reason, many people looking at me would not think that. I could be such an avid practitioner of your ancient art. But I’ve never been one who strived to only do what people expected me to, so here I am, starting a correspondence. I hope that I can thoroughly express my love and appreciation for you with my simple words. 

I did not know too much about you growing up. However, I did become acquainted with the world of martial arts as a shy 10-year-old girl who desperately needed some confidence. I first began with Taekwondo. In my naive mind, I believed that I was on a journey to become a mighty warrior. Of course, I never solely desired to hurt anyone. I had grown up watching shows and movies where the hero fought their way to victory. Maybe there was a part of me who believed that I could become a hero in my own right: a girl who used her strength and skills to do good for herself and everyone else. I thought Taekwondo would do that for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. 

Long story short, I struggled—a lot. Even though I had spent more than half of my life playing sports, I could not master the skill of breaking boards with my feet. Of course, this is not the most important part of Taekwondo, but I was forced to do it in front of others, and to repeatedly fail did not help my already lower-than-normal confidence. I wanted to be a warrior, but I felt more like an imposter. Eventually, I did obtain my yellow belt (probably out of pity), but within a year I left the school. 

I took some time off from studying martial arts. They were still highly regarded and respected in my mind, but I remained without a school and teacher. That is until I came upon a Karate dojo by way of my mom. She began taking classes at the school owned by Master Moore: an older African-American man who happened to have a son who played in the NFL. As a black teen who sometimes struggled with taking pride in her racial identity, it was very impactful to see older people of the same race who had become experts in subjects that felt a world away. I had much respect for Master Moore, and in every class I took, I made sure to pay attention and try my best to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. 

And unlike my time with Taekwondo, I felt like I had some kind of natural gifting when it came to Karate. My favorite part of my studies was learning the different forms. It felt like I was taking part in a dance that connected me with years of tradition. The summer between my 7th and 8th-grade year, I gained more confidence than I ever had before. And this time, I could also break a board (Master Moore even signed it). 

There was one slight setback with Karate that did cause me some anxiety: sparring. I feel like every kid—and even some adults—look forward to sparring more than anything else when it comes to studying martial arts. They want to fight and come out on top. But I never felt that way in the slightest. And after getting punched in the mouth by another girl close to my age, I wanted nothing more to do with sparring. 

(Okay, so by this point you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with you. I haven’t mentioned you, instead choosing to focus on other practices that are different than your own. Well, I wanted to give you a thorough insight into the journey that eventually led me to you, and that means taking time to go through the process. And as you’ll see later, I owe a lot of my appreciation for the process from choosing to study you).

I eventually fell out of Master Moore’s dojo after receiving my red belt. The school had started to become overridden with disorganization and lightweight chaos, and I knew that I could no longer train there. I left Karate behind and went on my merry way. 

Now we have come to what will probably be your favorite part of the story: how you and I met. You already know the story, but I’ll refresh your memory just in case you forgot any details. I have to give credit to my grandma Janice for our introduction. She always talked about wanting to study you because she wanted to improve her balance. Being a woman in her 70’s, your martial art felt like the obvious choice of exercise. During this time I was also looking for a new physical activity to partake in. I was a junior in high school and no longer played organized sports. I was an avid bicycle rider and tried to do a variety of strength exercises to stay fit, but I wanted to learn something new. I thought about studying yoga or Pilates. However, neither of them really interested me beyond a surface level. So I followed my grandma’s advice and started a quasi-journey to learn more about you. 

Because I was (and still very much am) an avid reader, I started my new quest by picking up a book. I’ve never considered myself an idiot in any way, shape, or form, but the first book about you I chose was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tai Chi and QiGong. I was able to look past the somewhat insulting title because it included a DVD with instructions. I left the bookstore ready to learn your many parts, hoping that this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

For the following weeks, you and I began a routine of deep study and engaging training. Our time together usually took place before I settled down for bed at night. My training “studio” was my bedroom, away from the eyes of others. I was always (and again, still am) sensitive to people watching me try something new. I didn’t want to look like a fool to others, so I kept the door closed so that no one else could see me. 

This continued for a couple of months, but eventually, we had to put our budding relationship on hold. I was becoming busier with my writing projects and getting into college, while you remained behind. I’m confident that you would have welcomed me back any time with open arms. But I just left you behind. 

And for that, I’m terribly sorry. 

Our time apart came with a lot of growing pains, all of them on my part. Going to college and transitioning into adulthood, I found myself searching for relief from all of the mental anguish that I had to endure. I was desperate to find something that could help me. I thought I had to go with a new discovery. Instead, I found that the answers to my problems were already with me. 

So I swiftly walked back into your welcoming arms (you know how much I hate to run). And now, my life has begun to change for the better. 

You and I spend time together every day now. We study and practice, constantly trying to learn more and fully experience this unique journey that we’re on. I want to be a teacher, exposing others to your amazing wonders that can greatly influence their lives. I may not be the hero who uses martial arts to take names and kick ass like I envisioned as a kid. But you have taught me to be a new kind of hero, one who helps people experience balance and peace in their lives, especially when it comes to recovery. 

Our story is far from over, but I thought a letter to you now would be good for both of us. Thank you for taking me back under your wing and teaching me a new way to look at life. 

You’re a real lifesaver.

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