My parents’ guest bedroom is not a great place for tai chi. There’s a pair of beds in the room, separated by just enough physical space that if I’m not careful and attentive, I’ll find myself sanding between them for one set of moves, and then not be able to move for the rest of the form. The ceiling is low enough that I have to pay attention to the horse stance — and even with horse stance, during some of the moves I can — I have to — put my palms flat on the ceiling to avoid jamming my fingers. There are rugs on the floor, which have pads under them; when I walk on them normally, they don’t shift. But during spins and kicks, they have a tendency to shift easily. The furniture, with the exception of the bed, is all heirloom stuff from my grandparents, and there are needlepoint samplers my mom rescued and framed from goodwill stores all over the place. Oh, and the hardwood floor is creaky.
In a Jackie Chan fight sequence, nothing in this room would survive. Or maybe everything would — but only because the fighters made a deliberate and conscious effort to do so.
As I geared up to do morning tai chi, I considered doing it in other parts of the house, like the living room or the kitchen. But I couldn’t think of a better space that wouldn’t wake my dad. Even going downstairs in this house has its problems: the stairs are pretty creaky too.
And so today’s tai chi becomes an exercise in consciousness, and thinking ahead. Am I crouched enough in horse stance, that I won’t bang my hands on the ceiling? If I move forward into that space between the beds, how will I maneuver free? And where will I be in the form? Will this kick land in empty air, or will it kick Nana Harris’s chair? Will this spin be all right here, or should I simply turn in place, and then kick?
As much as I hate it, this kind of deliberate attention once in a while is useful. So many things can go wrong when we do tai chi again and again in the same place, over and over — and then shift to new locations. When I practice tai chi in unfamiliar spaces, I tend to move too quickly; I want to cease being exposed to risk of ridicule, or even genuine danger.
But part of the point of tai chi is that we carry a sphere of protection around ourselves at all times. We should not fear to be in new spaces… and part of that, like it or not, should be practicing in new spaces from time to time, and learning to overcome their challenges. It’s not easy being green to a new space, but it is how we get better.