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Tonight was my last class at the Twin Cities T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Studio, a place where I have felt at home and welcomed since the first day I climbed the stairs on a cold Saturday afternoon back in January of last year. Tonight I climbed those stairs with my brother and waited out in front the worn futon, talking with Marianne and Dominic, saying hello to my fellow classmates as they wandered into the hallway, all waiting for class to start. I was able to introduce Erik to Sifu Ray before class started. After warm ups and stretches, I nudged Erik into the middle of the room. "Don't worry," I told him. "We all started out the same way, too."

I can't really remember my first day of class, but I remember Kim was our instructor for that first day, and there were quite a few of us. We went all the way up to push and something just felt right about being there. I knew that I would be back the next week. I was amazed at myself when I continually went for a whole month, and then three months. I remember adding in Wednesday night classes because I couldn't get enough of it. I saw the sword form being performed at Chinese New Year that February and knew that's what I wanted to do. When my schedule changed at work, keeping me until 5:30, I made the mad dash across town in traffic to make it on time. As soon as I walked into the studio, my world slowed down. After the rushing and racing, the callers and the problems, it all stopped. My world melted and became me and the form.

It broke my heart last summer when I had to stop going to the Saturday classes due to work and about a billion weddings, but my Wednesday classes kept me grounded through that whole hectic season. I would stand on the loading dock at work going through the Repulse Monkeys, pushing away all the callers and all the problems as I stepped backwards across the warm concrete. "Your dumpster is not my problem," step, push. "It will all be alright," step,push.

Back in September, Sifu Ray congratulated us - we had finished the form. It took us nine months, and for me a serious complication with my leg. After class, Sifu gave me a small notebook and asked me to write an article for the newsletter, on that, months later, would get me compliments from the older students - the ones who had helped instruct me and the ones that I watched during the review classes.

Now being given permission to join the review after graduating, I asked Sifu when I could start learning the sword form. He said that I needed to learn the refinements first, and then I could join the weapons class, but by that time they would be on saber, and he knew I desired the broadsword. He told me to give him time to think, and after the warmups he took me aside and introduced me to Pat. In the small practice room with warm unpolished floors, Pat taught me the first few postures. Since then, whenever an older student could be spared, I was taught the form. Somedays it would be one or two, sometimes it would be a great big chunk. There were Wednesdays I'd stay after for an hour, just going over the section we learned that day. My student instructors - Dominic, John, Anita, and Tom (just to name a few) were always patient with me and taught me well. Kim once let me use her own sword, the one that belong to Master Liang, and we went over "Swallows returns to the nest."

At the demonstration, Sifu presented me with my own sword. Never in my life have I ever received such a gift. He believed in my abilities and my dedication to the form. With my parents in the audience, I accepted it and that night will forever be burned into my memory.

Tonight was hard for me, but I managed to fight back the tears that were welling in my eyes during standing meditation. Erik went off with two new students and he told me he learned all the way up to push. With my class, the same group of wonderful people I started with back in January, we did the whole form. Dominic told us to rest a moment and Sifu came up to me.

"Grab a sword," he said with a smile, "and get in the middle." The older students who knew the form surrounded me and we began. I was slightly aware that we were being watched by the rest of the class, but more aware of the tip of my sword - where it was, how it slid down and around, slashed up, stabbed out. We finished and the class applauded. I gave out my hugs and my email address. To Sifu, I gave a card and a copy of "The Tao of Pooh." In return, he gave me the DVDs of the solo form with applications, the fan form, the music we practice to, his notes on the sword form, "A String of Pearls" and a picture of Master T. T. Liang. I gave him my word that I would continue my study and to visit as much as I can.

I believe in places of power. And I believe that, in the artist studio and warehouse on the corner of University and Hampden, in room 207, is a place as powerful as any sanctuary. And I will miss it dearly until I return again.

No goodbyes are ever final.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Really cool. I am very glad you had a great experience there.
. . . it stays with you.