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Beginner’s Mind:
Sinking Your Teeth Into Training

By Sara Aoyama

Sometimes I wonder what the right conditions are for me to really sink my teeth into my training.

Last winter (a particularly cold, bitter and busy one here), I figured the right time would most likely be during the warm and lazy days of summer. Now that summer has arrived, I figure that it’s sort of hot, and that those crisp autumn days will be ideal for training. I don’t like to consider what I might be thinking when autumn arrives, and if anyone notices that I didn¹t mention spring here, it’s because there isn’t any spring in Vermont, or if there was one this year I probably slept through it.

Reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg’s wonderful poem on kitchen tai chi, I, too, out of necessity use my kitchen for tai chi practice early each morning. It’s almost big enough--or at least I am of the firm belief that if I could just find the correct place to start, I could avoid warding off the dishwasher, repulsing the refrigerator and the seemingly classic Step Left Into Cat Food move, and do a perfect form. At least it’s quiet in the kitchen at 5:30 AM, I console myself. After all, quiet is good, isn’t it? I’ve always thought that a quiet kitchen is very peaceful and that a peaceful training atmosphere must be very relaxing and conducive to proper focus.

I had to rethink the "quiet is good" concept this week, though.

This summer I’ve been training outside at the Town Common with a tai chi buddy from class. I loved it from the first-the feel of the fresh outside air, gentle swirling wind, the smell of the grass and trees around us. And the pure fun and challenge of doing tai chi inside of a multi-sided gazebo! It’s all been very peaceful there in the gazebo until last week when we found ourselves sharing our space with a clamorous band of four year old ninja-pirates setting off imaginary cannons and playing with what their guardians believed to be musical instruments, but what the wise ninja-pirates recognized immediately actually to be weapons in disguise. A couple of slow moving tai chi practitioners were hardly worth a glance as they went about fighting their battles.

Uh oh, I thought. Not a good training atmosphere. And indeed, I couldn’t help snickering to myself at what must seem an odd juxtaposition of our tai chi form with the boisterous energy of ninja pirates.

However, to my surprise, I realized that after I’d finished snickering and got over feeling self-conscious, I felt more relaxed than I did during my quiet early morning kitchen practice. Relaxation is one of the crucial keys to good tai chi. Thinking about that later on, I realized that distraction could take two forms-internal and external. If my kitchen was quiet and peaceful it didn’t mean that my mind was. In fact, being alone and with everything quiet around me is almost an irresistible invitation to let my mind run wild with every minute concern or trivial thought that crosses it. And plenty do!

Come to think of it, give me weapon-wielding ninja pirates any day. They are a lot less cumbersome to deal with than my own thoughts.

Perhaps, just as with karate, there’s something to be learned from practicing my tai chi form in a variety of ways and places as well. 

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About The Author:

Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she majored in Japanese Language and Literature. She spent over twelve years living in Japan where she dabbled in a number of other arts such as Ikebana (flower arranging), cooking, and Shamisen. While living in Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects of Japanese society. Currently she lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she trains in Shorin-ryu Karate and tai chi. Currently she continues her studies in Kishaba Juku karate under Sensei George Donahue. She is a freelance Japanese-English translator. Most recently, she translated "The Art of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD., and “Karate Kyohan” by Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura. Aoyama is a regular contributor to

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