September 8, 2008
I have always been mediocre, an average Taiwanese-American girl who was pushed into academics and music lessons at an early age. But did that matter?
Yes, tremendously so, for little did I know that although I was eating, breathing, and speaking (and thus alive in biological terms), I was not truly living my life. I was missing my qi, the Chinese ideal of the “life force” associated with breath and body that animates people. Instead, I became what I never wanted to be: a walking shell.
When I was younger, I was not at all bothered by my status as an average studious girl in NorCal. Just like any other Asian-American child, I earned competent grades, played the piano satisfactorily, and did reasonably well in my art class. These “accomplishments” made my parents happy, which in turn suffused me with the temporary and superficial happiness that children often experience. Thus, while I was young and naive, I remained content with myself, believing that I was truly accomplished.
However, my entrance into high school proved to be a jolt back to reality. I am often characterized as idealistic, and my naiveté up to this experience will attest to that trait. After all, my parents knew best, did they not? They want what is best for me--I should follow their every wish if I wished to succeed in life. My parents knew how to direct me so that I could fulfill my, no their, dream of someday becoming a doctor from Stanford and living happily ever after. From the moment I was born, this dream became such an integral part of my upbringing that I soon began to believe in it myself. In other words, I did not have a dream of my own; rather, I assimilated that of my parents.
My lacking a dream of my own was a direct result of my average ability. I still believed that this did not matter. After all, I knew a great many skills, albeit not particularly well. But as I did not have a personal passion for anything, I followed my parents’ dreams blindly.
But when I watched my friends devote themselves wholeheartedly to their individual interests and dreams in the diverse environment called high school, I felt so alone. Without a passion, I did not have a particular direction or point in life.
A few weeks into the beginning of my freshman year, Mom cornered me after school, insisting that I learn more about our Chinese heritage. Already tired of the many orders my parents doled out, I was very reluctant to listen. Mom excitedly said that she wanted me to take up wushu. She handed me a silver broadsword with two stunning pale pink flags attacked to the handle and informed me that my first lesson would start tomorrow. Dumbfounded, I stared at the pristine beauty of the weapon, wondering why in the world I needed a sword for a sport that was generally associated with hand-to-hand combat.
Finally, I ended up researching wushu on the Internet to find that it means “martial arts” in Chinese and is based on the early practices of Shaolin monks from China. Contemporary wushu, the field that I would soon be specializing in, has evolved in recent years into a more performance-based art form that showcases flexibility, speed, and power. Grudgingly, I admitted that I was now mildly (alright, fine—quite) intrigued. But I found that the professional definitions were difficult to bring to life in my mind. I would need to wait until class to grasp a true understanding of wushu.
When I stepped into Hong Dao Wushu Academy, I looked past the massive green carpet, Chinese Ming vases, and the long mirror stretched along one wall to focus solely on the sifu, or master. She wore bright blue silks that shimmered whenever she moved and held a broadsword like mine with two silky lavender ribbons. My breath caught as she began her routine, first executing a flawless aerial cartwheel and performing a series of amazing jumps, kicks, and punches in rapid succession. The silver blade and lavender ribbons of the weapon blurred with the bright blue of her silks and the jet-black of her unbound hair, creating a wondrous mosaic of color. The aesthetics of the routine were indescribable; it was as if the performer was painting a beautiful picture for an audience, a picture that answered the physical and mental challenges of molding the body to do what does not come easily but looks so inspiring. From this moment on, I knew that this was my art.
However, during my first few classes, I struggled with basic kicks and stances while the other students executed perfect forms and flips. I felt frustrated beyond belief, for I believed that I had found something I could actually excel at. At that point, it certainly seemed that wushu would join the long list of “accomplishments.” Feeling extremely upset, I refused to return. But because Mom had already paid the tuition for the month, I unwillingly dragged my ungrateful self into class again the next day.
From this point onwards, my journey began. My life has never been the same since that day I had decided to stick it out for the month. Ironically, this turned out to be the best decision of my life and I ended up thanking my mom profusely for introducing me to the joy of wushu. I was able to overcome my initial feeling of frustration because I wanted to master this art, and I knew deep down that I could accomplish this goal if I set my mind to it—I trained every day for hours, feeling my muscles burn and protest. I would fling myself onto my bed when I came home, too tired to even change out of my grimy and sweaty clothes. I grew to love wushu so much that I have never missed a class; even when it was raining, I would beg my mother to drive me. Sometimes I would show up for class, only to find that nobody was there due to bad weather, and I would feel upset about losing the opportunity to further hone my developing wushu skills. I could not describe the elated feelings that filled me whenever I worked to perfect my forms, the feeling that at last I had found a direction in life.
Since then, wushu has changed me and the way I live my life in numerous ways. As in daily life itself, the ultimate prize that results from learning wushu is a not money or a shiny gold medal but rather the finding of happiness in the learning process. Nothing worth achieving is easily attained, and the long and hard road to success is littered with countless challenges and setbacks. I realized that what one receives in return is directly related to how much effort one puts into achieving his or her goal. I could not expect to be a wushu master in only a few short classes; rather, I had to work very hard and devote myself to improving. Wushu has absolutely no shortcuts, just as there are no shortcuts in life itself. I have learned to just keep moving forward despite the obstacles and take the time to understand and appreciate every test and accomplishment thrown my way.
For me, the continuous progression of learning wushu is a slow but wonderful process of growing, developing, and self-discovery. I have shared these experiences with all the other wushu practitioners I have trained with—the same people who struggled, endured, and sweated with me to perfect our forms. These same wonderful people, who I would never have met had I not taken up wushu, have become some of my closest and most valued friends. I have finally discovered that I treasure my performances and practice of wushu because finding my passion for this art has become analogous with the feeling of actually being alive.
Looking back at all I have done—the piano lessons, the grades in schools, the art, I realize that I was just trying to be someone. But when I discovered my love and skill for wushu, I found my qi. By using and believing in my qi, I have learned exactly what it means to live my own life and be confident in my own decisions as I mold and sculpt my own unique path in life.

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