Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Where There’s A Ying…

On the northern side of Tompkins Square, there’s a small garden set just behind the main park building. It’s shaded and peaceful in the mornings, and when you pass by, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen or so people scattered throughout, doing Tai Chi in unison.

I don’t know much about Tai Chi, but it’s always struck me as slightly strange. I first encountered it when I was seventeen, and “walked in on” my frazzled high school photography teacher and one of the stranger hippie kids in my class. They were just standing there in the middle of this small office, practicing what appeared to be slow-motion moves from Street Fighter II. Then they proceeded to talk to me as if absolutely nothing out of the ordinary were going on.

I guess that’s why I’ve never been able to take Tai Chi totally seriously—that image of those two flailing their arms and legs so leisurely and seriously like that. There was just something very precious and earnest about it that bugged me.

But all the scarring aside, I do appreciate the Tompkins Square Tai Chi-ers. They radiate a sense of calm and peacefulness in the hustle of the early commute. And sometimes, like this morning, I’ll even stop and watch them for a little bit.

However, observing them today, something wasn’t quite right.

It eluded me at first, but after scanning the group for a few moments, I saw him: He was an older guy about two or three rows in. And though try as he might, he was just not jivin’ with his fellow Tai Chi-ers.

To my amateur eye, his movements seemed to be in the correct order, but he was doing them just a little awkwardly, a second or two more slowly than everyone else. And despite the look of intense concentration on his face, all his final “ha-dooken” positions were just a tad off at best.

It was only after a few seconds that I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. That guy’s really bad at Tai Chi.”

I shrugged and kept walking, still thinking about it.

For some reason, it had never really occurred to me that you could be bad at something like Tai Chi. It was just a mundane thing people did—not something you’re either good or bad at. It was like scrambling eggs, or walking your dog. You just did it.

And then I realized: there are probably a vast number of people out there, who for some reason are just naturally bad egg-scramblers and exceptionally terrible dog walkers.

Until this morning, the idea that you could actually be bad at pretty much everything and anything, had honestly never occurred to me. I’d always known people could be good at anything, be it ice-skating or singing—even activities outside of athletics and art. It was the whole bad part. That never settled in.

I’d say it’s because I’m an overwhelmingly positive person, but that’s not true. Perhaps it’s from living in a city full of so many smart and talented people, but I don’t think that’s it either. If anything, I’ve always accepted that law whose name I can’t remember that says 99% of any art form is crap. But I always focused on the crap itself, as opposed to the people doing the actual crapping. And even then, it seemed that the more simple, mundane things were just that—simple and mundane.

And though the idea hasn’t totally settled yet, it’s actually pretty cool. Some sort of grand, Negative Potential or something. It’s kind of negatively invigorating. Like, not only could you be bad at absolutely anything, but you probably already are. And in a way, that idea's kind of freeing.


Alex said...

That's great you realized this, Chris, because it turns out you're awful at posting in blogs.

And that, my friends, is why I'm excellent at snaps.

Anonymous said...

Just think of all the things I haven't tried yet but am probably really bad at! It is so...umm...exciting?

Neal K said...

I always thought they said something like Ha-Ryuken, a combination of the names of Ryu and his former best friend, current rival, Ken Masters. Of course as you all know, they both studied under Sensei Gouken and together perfected many of the Shotokan ki techniques. But you all knew that. (Source: The Internet)