Personal Journeys to Cold Mountain

Aleksandra Petrovic and Joanna Szulc

Europe meets West, looks to the East: Aleksandra Petrovic (left) and Joanna Szulc (right). Photo by Zoran Graonic.

My Journey

Joanna Szulc

In one of the recent classes, Steve said, “And then the magic

begins and you are hooked." I believe many of us at the club have experienced this magic and are hooked. It was this that inspired this article I have been struggling with for a while.

I joined the club 3 years ago. Prior to joining the club, I thought tai chi was a sequence of graceful meditative movements which of course is true. However, the complexity of it became apparent with time. I still feel that I have only scratched the surface. I first started with the 108 which appeared impossible to learn. But step by step, with perseverance and some patience, I reached the first major milestone. I learned the 108. At that point, I had a brief moment of, “What’s next?”. However, just as Steve promised, learning the 108 turned out to be only the beginning. Before I could even conceptualize the thought, I began to see glimpses of the long road ahead. Many opportunities opened up. First, I started with the fan a little and then came the opportunity to begin learning the old yang… and the road got that much longer. As someone who enjoys long books, journeys and adventures, I very much look forward to this journey.

During my time of practising tai chi, I’ve had a number of ups and downs. The journey is anything but a straight path. There are times when one feels overwhelmed and frustrated and then there come breakthroughs. The latter make it all worth it. The progress, in my experience, is not linear. With regular independent practice, one will notice progress and beneficial results. Then practice becomes part of one’s life. Often it takes weeks, months or even years to begin to and be able to do something that was discussed in class.

I have to remind myself of this consistently, accept it, continue to preservere and remain content with the gradual progress I’m making. Then there are the “aha” moments when things come together. Thus, tai chi is teaching me perseverance, patience, and discipline. More, it is helping me overcome depression and anxiety and give me something of an anchor. My outlook on life became more positive.

With all that said, I feel, the true magic of tai chi still lies ahead. I am so happy to share this journey and the magic with the wonderful people of Cold Mountain.

Don’t take the trip when weather conditions are not right... and don't’ feel bad about it

Aleksandra Petrovic

Early influences My encounter with the martial arts began when my grandpa was working at a local cinema in a small city in Serbia. He had a fascination with Bruce Lee movies. During summer visits, he infected me with it too:) I can still feel the metal net of the front kid-seat of his bicycle carving into my tights, but the long ride was worth it every time to see my grandpa excited as the punches went flying. And then he would retell the movies over and over again, until the new one came out. Needless to say, my dad shared the same passion... was a military officer too.

My mom, she was a medical technician, so she was a scientist by day. At home, she followed the strict rules of Central Serbian 'superstition' to keep me healthy and guide our fulfilment. “When hot, cool it down. When cold, warm it up.” Sounds familiar? Keep your feet cold or you will catch a cold... or something worse as your body gets weaker and is easily invaded by all sorts of influences... That must be how I got 'unintentionally' infected with Daoist cosmology.

Couldn’t have been wiser? Aikido happened when I was about to start university. My best friend, who still practises and teaches Aikido in Belgrade, joined a club, a community, a family really. Our Sensei was paraplegic, but once on the tatami, there were no young able-bodied men that could move him an inch. It was a privilege having Nikola Pajkovski as my teacher, as a friend, even for a brief point in time. I remember him passionately arming every female student with basic self-defense skills and navigating busy metropolis streets holding onto our shoulders after every practice to the nearest cafe. Looking back, it would have been wiser if I practised longer with the club... but I had more important things to do in my 20's.

Not knowing how, only that it worked Whole 10 years before the next stop. The squeeze of immigration. Work, school, kids... work, school, kids... extreme stress catches up. There are no pills against the insecurity of the immigration experience. As a student at Concordia University, I saw an affordable Tai Chi course with Roger Aston and stayed with it for a few semesters. Roger still teaches in Montreal. However, I did not get to know him much nor did he get to know many of his students in a crowded gym. Even though my learning was done by memorization only and with no philosophical or spiritual underpinnings, it saved my mental health and my family’s too. There are some rather personal teachings Roger passed on that I still remember. Once, he told us with no sense of guilt that his progression in Tai Chi was limited by his current dedication to his family and children taking primacy over practice. I understood that the moment the Tai Chi classes became a burden instead of a relief, I needed to stop forcing it. However, I never really stopped doing exercises and parts of the form I learned. I had experienced its power and would not let go.

Weather conditions clearing up Another 10 years before the next encounter. After secondary immigration from Quebec to Ontario, my daughter’s and my own health imbalances, all led to alternative ways of restoring the balance. Again, no pills against the stress of secondary immigration. A few years passed before the number of weak signals grew stronger, one of them being mentions of Cold Mountain Tai Chi club. I was waiting for the time when taking up practice would not feel like a burden but like a relief.

Right away, coming to the Cold Mountain practices was a familiar experience in many respects. Oh, what excitement about applications of the powerful martial art and of throwing ‘punches’ there is! No matter how large our classes get, there is nothing impersonal in the way we are taught by Steve with humor, care and challenges made just right. The more I come, the more I recognize the strong ties in the club community. A family in a sense where children move out and move in back again and where older siblings take care of the younger ones. As for my long-time affinity towards the Daoist philosophy, I found a fantastic outlet and an opportunity to learn and grow. I have gone a long way since I started two years ago. Learned a lot about myself, being more calm, positive and accepting.

I can see a few roads branching out on the path up to the Cold Mountain, other stops on the way, but more importantly, I can see the path more clearly. I may even have patience, maturity and the right weather conditions to go steady from here on.

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