Don’t Panic, Pt. 9: Together, Apart

This week I had the opportunity to join a 10-hour, worldwide Tai Chi celebration via Zoom. I didn’t do 10 hours of Tai Chi, but I did a lot. I was pleasantly exhausted, infinitely calm, and genuinely uplifted.

The most beautiful part of it was having teachers lead the kata from Australia, Israel, Italy, and the United States. They invited us into their homes and studios connecting the hundreds of participants in a single purpose. Even though we were apart, we were together.

Tai Chi in the living room is different from practicing in a studio. One of the things missing from the Zoom experience is the soft “psh” of other people’s shoes on the floor as an auditory cue for the next move. Zoom also lacks form adjustment from a teacher (vital if you are just starting your Tai Chi journey!). There’s only me and a screen.

But on the screen, some teachers have their pets lounging on the floor like I do. Some have to shorten their steps or adjust their placement like I do. They’ve likely moved the furniture around like I have.

One thing that is the same is what happens in my mind during the kata. To remember the movements, I made up ridiculous (and totally unofficial) mnemonics to remember the moves: the moon goes up and down, …, hug a tree, sweep, serve the tea (on a flat hand!), remove it, push your guest out, …, cover the pot, push it, flip it, …, hold the baby, …, revolving door, uppercut, …, Hello Waldorf-Astoria, …, aim a gun, frame the moon, …, cloud hands, …, flamingo, …, kick, diagonal step back, sumo wrestler, fists, …, fireworks, kick, break a stick on bent knee, double punch to opponent’s forehead, …, curtsy, …, chicken beak spin, …, four corners, …, chicken eats, dragon snake slide backwards, …, Pink Panther, …, ball, banner, …, gather infinity energy, and end. Whew!

With all that in my mind as well as coordinating my arms and legs, I have a smile on my face (like you’re supposed to when practicing Tai Chi), and for that time, absolutely nothing else matters.

With love and thanks to the Israel Center for Tai Chi! (See my post several years ago about Tai Chi in Israel.)

*Full disclosure: I haven’t been active in the Tai Chi community for a long time, but I happen to be on the mailing list. This connection was gifted to me by the Universe reminding me how much I enjoyed the the moving meditation of the kata. I once knew the whole kata well enough to lead it in class, so these past weeks and especially this World Tai Chi Day have been a way for me to ignite my muscle memory and relearn the kata. I am truly grateful!


Tai Chi in Israel

While the world raged around us, about 200 people met in a high school gymnasium in Ramat Gan that served as an oasis of calm.  This week I attended Gashko, the national meeting of all the practitioners of Cheng Ming style Tai Chi.  In June every year, the main teacher of this style comes from Taiwan to work with all of us to help perfect our form.


To me, Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation.  The movements are slow, deliberate, and precise.  There are many styles of Tai Chi and it is considered a martial art.  The movements do have real world applications, but the purpose of the practice is not to spar or compete with your fellow practitioners.  Rather it is to learn and practice the principles and implement them in your own life.

I haven’t been to a Gashko for a long time, but since I had just finished learning the 100-movement form, I was prepared to work on minor adjustments and corrections of my form.


Pass me a big slice of Humble Pie!  Yum!

On the first day, I started practicing with everyone and I quickly came to the realization that while I thought I knew the form, it turns out that every single movement could use some adjustments.  Now under normal circumstances, when you find out that you actually don’t know nearly as much as you thought you did, you might face some embarrassment, frustration, or any of a variety of negative emotions.  No so at Gashko.

One of the principles is to be both self-confident and humble – not an easy task.  So I was confident in knowing the order of the movements, but I humbly looked for correction.  I heard one person say, “I’ve been practicing for 25 years and I learned something new today!”  Well, I’ve been practicing for 2.5 years and I learned so much my brain got overloaded!

The nicest people in Israel

If everyone in Israel practiced Tai Chi, Israel would become the nicest country in the world.  Really!


The teachers are so kind and supportive and meet you wherever you are in your life and in your practice.  While they are teaching you the movements of the form, they are somehow also uplifting you to be a better, stronger person without actually saying a word.  Honestly, it can’t be described; it can only be experienced.

Cheng Ming in Israel

One of the hallmarks of this style of Tai Chi in Israel is that it is gender separated.  While I’m not a fan of gender separation in most things, I do appreciate it in sports.  Also, when you practice martial arts with only women, the energy is quite different.

Apparently, the founder of this style in Israel, who learned from the master in Taiwan, returned to Israel and became religious.  So in Israel this style of Tai Chi is, for the general classes, philosophically neutral, gender separated, and at Gashko we have a men’s side and a women’s side of the gym.  Many practitioners are clearly religious and very comfortable with this style of Tai Chi.  The more advanced classes, though, are not gender separated.  (In other countries where this style is practiced, there is no gender separation, as far as I know.)


The slower the better

One of the most amazing experiences for me at Gashko was the hour-long form.  When I practice at home or in class, the form takes about 20–25 minutes.  So just imagine about 200 people in a gym moving at a third of the speed that they normally do, all of us totally focused on the form, filled with self-confidence and humility, and radiating with calm, soothing energy.

Even if you don’t know Tai Chi, do something at a third of the normal speed – wash dishes, walk down your hallway, drink tea, whatever.  Then you truly get a taste of what “being in the moment” actually feels like.

Working with the master

In working on some real-world applications of Tai Chi, we were doing pair work and I had a few questions.  Just at that moment Master Wang appeared and showed me and my partner how to do an arm twist to the back followed by a knee to the butt.  It was a little unusual for him to be working with the women – he did bring a woman Master with him as well.  But here we were, Master Wang twisted my arm and kneed me in the butt.  Twice!  Quite an honor, I must say!  (Interestingly, I did go flying, but it didn’t hurt at all.)


Master Wang

Tired. Not tired.

After the first day of about six hours of Tai Chi and a four-hour commute, I collapsed at home.  How on earth I would get through two more days?  But the next morning I woke up and I felt . . . good.  So I did it again.  Less collapsing on the evening of the second day.  And the morning of the third day, I still felt . . . good.  I have no soreness at all and physically, I feel sort of energized.  My brain, on the other hand, is massively overloaded with new things, corrections to the form, and memories of an amazing experience called Gashko.

(If you’re curious to learn more, here’s a link to the US site: The Israeli site is in Hebrew:

A few blurry images from the closing ceremony

So That Happened

On Monday a bus blew up.

I heard a lot of sirens all of a sudden just before 6pm.  At first I thought it was a VIP and his entourage.  But then there were more.  And more.

Facebook.  A friend’s comment.  “Anyone know what happened on Derech Hevron?” And then the answers started flooding in.  It wasn’t Derech Hevron.  A bus.  Was it terror?  Wait.  The police don’t want to say that yet.  Definitely bus on fire.  Second bus also on fire.  Then the evidence pointed to terror.

*Sigh*  I remember those days.  I didn’t like those days.  I don’t want those days back.

Between 6pm and 7pm I had to make a decision.  My Tai Chi class is in the same neighborhood as the bus bombing.  Should I take a bus as usual?  Class wasn’t canceled (of course), so I decided to walk.  I walked in part because I could use the additional exercise.  The chance of another bus attack was pretty small, but it’s been so long since a bus attack that I just didn’t want to get on a bus.

It took 45 minutes and I was pretty pleased with myself.

On the way back, another choice.  As I was passing the bus stop, the bus came.  I could have gotten on.  There were plenty of people taking the bus right then.  But I chose to walk.

I was happy with the accomplishment of walking to and from class.  It was a good long walk and something that I had considered doing before.  But I’m bothered by the fact that the thing that pushed me to do it was a bus blowing up.

Two days later, I had a chance to ease my bothered feelings.  I took a train and a bus to where I needed to go.  I walked in crowded areas where I needed to run my errands and life was back to normal.

Since this is Israel, “normal” right now means high alert.  Over major holidays in Israel there is a much more visible presence of security personnel and starting today and for the next 48 hours the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closed off.

I am sure that upon hearing the words “West Bank closed off” there are those who would cry “oppressive occupation” and excuse all violence against civilians as “legitimate protest.”  I disagree.  Besides nothing being “legitimate” about blowing up a bus filled with civilians, as a citizen of Israel, I expect my government and our armed forces to protect civilians.  I expect to feel secure as I walk or take a bus in my streets.  And when I look at images like this, I’m glad that security personnel are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

bus bomb

Screen capture from HaAretz

Originally, I had plans to write a nice Friday email about my first Passover in Israel, but this week provided many other potential topics – this bus bombing, a follow-up on Western Wall/Temple Mount issues, and Prince, another icon from my childhood, passed away.  Well, it will still be Passover next Friday and I may yet write about these other things too.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Passover!