By Nathan Durkin
It’s been almost 2 years since I stopped doing Kung Fu. I took a kick to the head during my last promotion test. I was still able to finish the test and promote, but that kick left me with a concussion. That concussion, which still gives me headaches to this day, threw 10 years of hard work out the window.
I’m not the type of person to do something for 10 years without loving it. Throughout high school, I couldn’t join a lot of the clubs or sports I was curious about because I was so dedicated to my training. I absolutely love Kung Fu. There’s something about it that makes me smile even after a long day. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s very rewarding, and watching someone who has been training for decades is one of the most awesome, beautiful, and terrifying things I’ve seen.
So, when I heard about the performance to go along with the Jupiter String Quartet performance I saw this past Thursday, I’m sure you can imagine my excitement.
The school where I learned Kung Fu taught both Kung Fu and Tai Chi. The two are very similar, and a good amount of my Kung Fu education incorporated ideas from Tai Chi. Our promotion tests were the same as well, so I got to watch Tai Chi students and masters alike demonstrating various techniques.
So, seeing that a Tai Chi master would be performing alongside the Jupiter String Quartet was very exciting for me.
After watching a video of him performing in class, I couldn’t wait to see what he could do. Everything he did was just so clean! It was just so well done, so smooth, so good! I looked up even more videos of him to see what else he could do, and I just fell in love with how smooth and clean and beautiful his movements were!
I was filled with anticipation as I approached Foellinger Great Hall. I couldn’t wait to go inside.
I knew that Jupiter String Quartet would be playing. I had also heard some of their music in class beforehand and was very pleased. I love that classical style music, and music like that compliments Tai Chi very well. So, I was expecting great music to beautifully compliment some spectacular Tai Chi. I had also heard that there would be other dancers, and while I didn’t really pay them too much thought beforehand, I figured that they would probably be good too. Great music, great martial arts, all in all, I knew it was going to be a great night.
I entered the hall, unable to wait for the performance to start.
First, the strings came out. Their music was beautiful, intense, and all around just so good. I was very pleased, but I was still waiting for Master Huang to show up. I started to wonder how long the music part was going to last. I get that one of the primary focuses of the performance was to listen to the Jupiter String Quartet play, but I wanted to see some Tai Chi!
And then I saw one of the doors to the side open. Master Huang stepped onto the stage, and began to perform. I leaned forward in my chair, trying to get as close as possible, focusing on every little movement he made. I soaked in as much as I could from him, trying to learn as much as possible, experience as much as possible how he moved. Every part of his body flowed so perfectly! Every motion he made completely blended, no mistakes, every part of his body under his total control in a way almost nobody can do. It was awesome, and the music was absolutely perfect for such a performance. The lights in the back flashed different colors, the tempo and intensity of the song went up and down, all to perfectly compliment the Tai Chi Master’s movements.
I sat on the edge of my seat throughout all of the Tai Chi performances, by far my favorite part of the show. Whether Master Huang was alone, had the dancers performing along with him, or had everyone doing Tai Chi together, my eyes were glued to the action. At one point, when he and the 4 dancers were doing their performance, the 4 dancers fell back and Master Huang took the front of the stage. He did a short sequence that reminded me so much of the crane style – one of my specialties when I was still doing Kung Fu was a Tiger-Crane form – and afterwards I had goose bumps all over my body for several minutes! I would’ve paid good money to see that crane sequence alone – it was so good! All of it was so good!
I will admit there was a moment during the show when I was a little disappointed. On the stage I had seen two areas for the string quartet to play: one in the foreground, and one in the back corner. I had thought that the back corner was reserved for a special finale demonstration, one that would absolutely blow me away. And while the dance that actually happened was quite good, and both dancers were obviously very skilled, it left me feeling rather disappointed that it didn’t involve any Tai Chi. If it were me directing I would’ve saved that for a grand Tai Chi finale, maybe telling some grand, wordless story that you come up with as you watch, but that’s just me. I would’ve shifted the primary focus to be on Chungliang Al Huang throughout the performance, and ended with something truly spectacular from him, but I understand that there were other parts to the performance that deserved to be highlighted (grumble).
All in all, that performance showed me what Tai Chi could really be. Promotion tests in Kung Fu, as I said, always included several Tai Chi performances. However, in my younger days, the Tai Chi performances were something I despised. As a young 10-year-old training to be a Kung Fu master, I will admit that it was a little disappointing to go from an intense, fast, exciting double-broadsword demonstration to people slowly moving around with paper fans in their hands for 10 minutes. However, as a 19-year-old with much more patience and a decade of training, I was finally able to fully appreciate such a masterful display. Master Huang really showed me the meaning of what my old instructor used to say to his students. Putting in time leads to putting in effort. Putting in effort means making accomplishments. Making accomplishments means gaining skill. The perfection and beauty of Master Huang’s movements was a testament to the time and effort he had put in, and all of the accomplishments and skills that had come from them.