Written by Haleigh Morgus (Loyola College), Student Correspondent CET Kunming, Summer 2016
“BU. KE. Yi,” our instructor (or 老师/lǎoshī) loudly enunciates as he explains to a group of 10-15 CET students the proper way to do Tai Chi forms. 不可以/bùkěyǐ, meaning “may not,” is heard often during our weekly Tai Chi (太极拳/ tàijíquán) classes. You cannot move too fast, but you cannot move too slow. You cannot drag your foot, but you cannot stop your foot too loud while placing it down. The list goes on and on.
Every Tuesday from 4:30-6pm, CET students have the opportunity to go to one of the most beautiful spots on Yunnan University’s campus to learn 太极拳 from an instructor who has decades of experience teaching foreigners.
It is a peaceful but taxing hour and a half. Campus is quiet. Besides the constant instruction from our teacher, only the sounds of families touring YunDa or Chinese people laughing at us foreigners occasionally fill the air. Every student’s focus in on teaching their body to do the proper movements while simultaneously remaining relaxed. Tai Chi is not meant to be taxing, but instead is supposed to help you restore your energy, or qi. Chinese people of all ages learn and practice Tai Chi in order to help their circulation and alignment. The slow movements create better muscle control, and the slow, graceful nature of Tai Chi tests each individual’s balancing skills.
Once I started to get the hang of it, going through the forms became very mentally relaxing. Physically, however, I still manage to be worn out by the end of each class.
The most terrifying part of the whole hour and a half is when our 老师 has us stop and one-by-one demonstrate for him the forms we have been learning. All of a sudden you can’t just mimic your friends’ movements or watch 老师 out of the corner of your eye. The teacher’s eyes are only on you.
The first time I was successfully able to move through the steps on my own was an extremely rewarding experience. As weeks go by and I have started to relax more, I’ve begun to understand why old men and women decide to go to the park each morning to practice Tai Chi. It feels almost like a slow dance. Watching my classmates move through the forms in tandem is a neat sight to behold.
One of the huge perks of CET in Kunming is that the program provides extra cultural classes to help you both destress and to learn about Chinese culture. Once a week for an hour and a half you forget that you have hours of homework ahead of you or that you have a dictation the next day. Instead, you have the opportunity to use your Chinese language skills to learn to appreciate various unique aspects of Chinese culture. And CET Kunming does not just offer Tai Chi. You can also choose to take a calligraphy class or learn Bruce Lee’s version of Kung Fu. Students can even do more than one if they so choose.
Each week we learn more and more Tai Chi movements and become more proficient at doing the previous week’s ones. One day soon Kunming residents might even see some CET students out there in the park with the old Chinese men and women, centering our bodies and minds while slowly practicing Tai Chi. I’m thankful to have had this unique learning experience.