California Dreaming

I once wrote a poem called “A Dream of California.” I seem to have lost the poem, and it was longer, but it went something like this:

I dreamed one night
That life was long
And roamed through golden hills
Like fog

I was a man
I had a tan
I moved easily
Across the land

I dreamed, I think, of California


Well, I just got back from two weeks in the SF, Marin County, Sonoma area, and I guess I’m California dreaming again. After fifty years of teaching (my first class was in Seattle in the Spring of ’68), fifty years of experimenting, theorizing, and wondering if I would ever get to the bottom of this seemingly unfathomable art, I have evolved a vision of Taijiquan that I consider to be absolutely classical, that I would with confidence present to its founders and creators without a single apology or caveat. These past two weeks of classes have convinced me that if I am ever to make this vision live anywhere but in the far-off reaches of Mother Russia, it will be with the students who have stuck with me through my various self-imposed exiles to Moscow and Honolulu, and who, like me, just find this vision compelling enough to feel that it must be a true rendering of the art, just on the basis of its results. Certainly my inclination in this direction was being put to the test, for California did not show its most inviting face to a man spoiled by ten years of surf, sun, sand, and pristine air quality. 

But in spite of this, I realized that it is in California that I should probably be teaching, and so plans continue to percolate towards a residence there. Workshops in Mill Valley, organized by my student of over forty years, Tom Maxon, were in my mind outstanding and the greatest pleasure, despite the looming threat of fire and air pollution. We had a little international contingent there, including Vlasta Pechova, who runs a school in Prague and has been offering my ultra-cooperative, non-competitive method for over a decade. In this time we touched upon Sanshou, Solo Form, Tuishou, Da Lu, and that most neglected of Yang Style protocols, Three-step and Circular Tuishou. Despite the ongoing fires to the east and dangerous air quality, students from the whole Bay Area were in evidence, and my wife Olesya (who assisted me in the classes) and I had more than enough work to fill our days.