Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 17 2023

Looking back, pushing forward

Last Saturday night, the Muddy Basin Ramblers played our last-ever show at Bobwundaye, which is closing its doors for good at the end of the month as the entire block is going to be torn down. The Ramblers have a long history at Bob’s, as we call it. In fact I first played with them, informally before officially joining the band, at the previous iteration of Bob’s about a block away. Three of my very early photos still hang on the walls among the murals and posters from shows over the decades. I Ubered into town with Cristina and Zach to find the place already filling up; I saw some familiar faces and chatted a bit before the soundcheck. The murals along the orange walls exuded melancholia; we all knew it would be the last time we played there. A small film crew consisting of two people was going around with a Sony camera and boom mic interviewing various people about how they felt.

The show itself, a retelling in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of our second album (and first Grammy nomination), Formosa Medicine Show, started slow but quickly gained momentum as the audience dug into the vibe. And after two sets on that tiny, crowded staged, everyone jostling each other to get to our various instruments between songs, the show concluded in several raucous encores and exultant applause. I spent the time in between sets sitting on the curb outside, away from all the chatting, drinking people, just staring at the lights of the evening traffic and enjoying the cooler weather. After the show I had a few conversations, some good and some downright bizarre, before catching a cab back to the Water Curtain Cave to sleep. Hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years of doing this kind of thing.

Sunday morning I woke up to a flurry of discord messages asking if I was down to do the VR improv comedy show I’ve been involved in for the past few months. But no, I was not down; I wanted -no, needed- to go to the park to get some tai-chi practice in. Yes, dear readers, perhaps even those who remember my Monkey Learns to Push blog of yore, I am back at it after a long, mostly Covidian-inspired hiatus filled with intermittent indoor VR-game-driven aerobic exercise and the occasion jaunt up the hill out back. To be honest, aside from the health benefits of practicing tai-chi, I missed hanging out with the fellas in our group at the park. Though Teacher X has long retired from teaching, Little Qin, who studied along with Teacher X back in the day, is still instructing. As such, Little Qin is technically my 師叔, but his style is different from that of Teacher X. In any case, just showing up is an accomplishment for me, and going through the sword form and the empty handed form felt really, really good after all this time, even though I’ve forgotten most of them. Push-hands too, with the delivery guy and a newer student who didn’t know me. It was…ok, though I am really rusty and inflexible after so long away from it. I just need to keep it up. Alas, I am unable to continue my old tradition of going to Gongguan for delicious Lebanese pitas afterwards, as my beloved Sababa closed years ago.

Speaking of returning to things: I’m also teaching photography again, this time at Shihsin University, just for this semester as a guest lecturer, although I might be open to a more permanent arrangement in the future. In any case, teaching university students is…different, I have to say. Previously when teaching at the community college, pretty much everyone in the class wanted to be there (except possibly the sullen band of Influencers who showed up that one semester fishing for Likes and Follows), but, while many of these students, all of them seniors, seem inspired by photography and work to improve their skills, a few seem to be more interested in what they see as an easy credit before graduating. Still, the ones who are interested are quick learners, picking it up faster than most of the community college students did, and that’s just using mobile phone cameras. There will be an exhibition at the end of the semester at the end of the year, and some kind of related event. It will be interesting to see where all of this goes.

posted by Poagao at 11:42 am  
Jul 21 2013

Yes it’s been ages

Yes, it’s been ages since I posted here. For one thing I haven’t posted much of anything elsewhere either, having been in a non-Internet-friendly mood for the past few years. Also, as our band has spent every Sunday for the past few months recording our second album, I haven’t been going to the park.

I have resumed my practice, such as it is, though Teacher X seldom appears at the park these days; he teaches mostly at other places, and if I could get myself up on Saturday mornings, I would follow his lead. But I’m lazy like that. Little Qin often goes to the park on Sunday mornings, however, and though his style is completely different from that of Teacher X, even though they both studied under the same masters, I enjoy chatting and practicing with him.

Little Qin wasn’t there today, however, which kind of sucked as I’d brought a photobook he’d lent me, thinking of returning it. In any case, I’d come all that way, so I put my stuff down and went through the form a few times, to limber up. As usual, Mr.V and NL Guy were grappling. Mr.V is now apparently teaching, which I find a bit troubling, and said so when Little Qin told me about it. “It’s actually pretty common,” he told me. “You could teach if you wanted to.” I shook my head at this. No way.

Another older student came by, and engaged Mr.V in some pushing as well as some brown-nosing, now that he’s a teacher, I guess, while I managed to keep from rolling my eyes. NL Guy was free, so I practiced with him a bit. He hasn’t changed at all; Oh, he started out supple enough, but true to form kept advancing even though we were doing in-place tuishou, leaning heavily on me. Eventually he got tired of not pushing me over, grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me to one side. When I remarked on how much force he was using, he denied it, as usual. You’d think I’d have learned by now. We switched feet, and he kept leaning on me, vigorously defending each breach of his defenses with a frenzy of movement and force that reminded me of a cockroach when you poke it.

This went on for some time, longer than I should have let it, and I felt like I’d just done a hundred sit-ups afterwards, such was the effort I’d spent in staying upright. Poor form, I know. My stomach aching and sore, I saw down for some rest, but one of the foreigners who practice in the park came up and introduced me to a large, beefy fellow who turned out to be Thai, who wanted to practice with me. Reluctantly, I said ok, and we began.

This fellow, who was very polite and soft-spoken, not only telegraphed his intentions a mile away, but when he decided to made a move, his whole body went rigid. There was precious little interaction there. He’d been practicing for a few months, so I thought I’d offer some advice on this aspect, but when I broached the subject, he was adamant that he was a supple as fine silk, and he obviously didn’t think much of my opinion, so I just said, “Forget it. You’re very good. I’m going to get some water.”

I went over to work on the sword form for a while, and when I got back, one of the other, older guys from another group was giving him the exact same advice, with another Western fellow providing what I thought was rather extraneous translation, seeing as the Thai guy’s Mandarin was better than his English. This time, however, he was nodding eagerly, happy to receive such wisdom.

As you have no doubt surmised, I would make a terrible tai-chi teacher. Not just because I suck at tai-chi, but I just don’t have the manner for it.

In any case, it was hot, I was sore, and the prospect of lunch at Sababa was beckoning, so I continued my day elsewhere.

posted by Poagao at 4:29 am  
Oct 08 2012

Pick your joints

The guy who wanted to re-teach me the sword form hasn’t shown up since we had our little talk, making me wonder if there was more going on there than I realized. Teacher X has returned from his trip to the US, bearing several rolls of expired Kodak film he generously donated to me.

Last Sunday was great weather for tai-chi, cool and cloudy, with only the threat of rain. I was practicing push-hands with the UPS guy, and he gave me some good advice (well, reiterated is more like it, but I needed the reminder) on how push-hands is more a matter of figuring out where and when you are going to relax yourself instead of how to resist force. There’s an amazing number of combinations available to you, so many that it’s almost bewildering, in the course of tuishou interaction. Your partner could, say, twist your wrist in some fashion, and all of sudden you have the option of relaxing your wrist, or elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, or any combination thereof, in any direction that is useful. It’s quite amazing, so much so that I spent the rest of the session just wondering about it and failed to follow through to the inevitable process of inducing such forces on him.

Oh, well, plenty of time for that in the future, I suppose.

posted by Poagao at 5:38 am  
Sep 17 2012


I am truly the worst student in the class (such as it is). Every time I’ve practiced the sword form in recent months, I’ve felt like I was being watched by the little fellow who got so nervous when he was doing pushhands with me. A few weeks ago he borrowed my practice sword and went through the form. Obviously he is better than I am, and his style is somewhat different as well. I knew, of course, that he was not just borrowing my sword; he wanted to show me his sword form.

Last Sunday he came over and offered to “re-teach” me the form. “Let’s do it together!” As we talked, I gathered that he felt I was just so awful that it was an embarrassment for the entire sword tradition, and a slight on his master, who was also Teacher X’s master, making the guys a kind of “Teacher Younger Uncle” a la Little Qin.

I didn’t know what to say; what would Teacher X think if he saw me studying with this guy? Probably nothing; Teacher X is really cool like that. However, there’s something about the guy that bothers me, so I hemmed and hawed, made excuses, and he eventually left in a huff.

I know I suck, but I consider it a sort of personal triumph that I still actually remember the form and go through it several times a week. Still, this is going to make things awkward at the park. Teacher X is in the US attending his sister’s funeral, but I suppose we can talk about it when he gets back.

In any case, there’s not much of a “class” left at the park. NL Guy and Mr. V, Qingfeng and the UPS Guy show up occasionally, but not often. Mr.V actually went to a pushhands competition a while back, but it had a huge negative effect on his technique. He got nervous and rigid, and his need to “win” put him in the antithetical frame of mind for the activity. It was kind of sad.

posted by Poagao at 3:21 am  
Mar 16 2012


When I showed up at the park last Sunday for practice, I noticed several of my fellow students in a rugbyesque ring, all pushing at each other from the side. I retired to a corner to warm up and go through the forms a few times, and then practice with Teacher X while discussing his stereo equipment, and chat with Little Qin a bit.

But eventually my curiosity got the better of me, and five or six of us stood in a circle, all trying to push someone out of the ring. Even Teacher X joined in. The object was, as far as I was concerned anyway, just to not get pushed out, so I spent all of my time just transferring any energy from one side to the other, without actually adding much myself. One or two times, however, two waves of energy would hit me from either side -it travels in waves around the circle-, and I got pushed out of the circle, but most of the time I managed to stay put. It was interesting. I’m not entirely sure how useful it is, but a little extra-dimensional practice can’t hurt.

posted by Poagao at 3:02 am  
Sep 12 2011

Pushhands FAIL

I actually got to the park relatively early yesterday morning, before even Teacher X. After warming up, I got a chance to practice with Mr.V. We started out with set-feet practice, and immediately it seemed to me that Mr.V’s tuishou had proceeded in a disconcerting fashion, extremely rigid and straight-lined, as if he were lifting weights. Indeed, it seemed as if he was working out, as his strength was impressive. Still, it wasn’t terribly difficult to redirect his efforts against him.

I then suggested we try moving-feet tuishou, a suggestion that he met with a knowing smile. I knew that that meant; Mr. V and NL Guy have been practicing extremely long hours of moving-feet tuishou every single time I’ve seen them for what seems like years now. And when we started, he certainly had his pattern down. Stance, push, stance, push. Quite effective, and I found myself retreating as he went about in circles.

That code wasn’t too hard to break, however, and soon enough I was standing my ground and then advancing. Mr. V seemed intent on spinning me around, but he wasn’t able to engage enough torque. I tried spinning him around, which he seemed to think was a great advantage as he could use the momentum for an attack, but I just kept him going around again, and the energy was spent.

It was tiring work. Teacher X had arrived, and he introduced a guy from another group, a smallish middle-aged man wearing a blue Shell Oil T-shirt. We began tuishou, and he was fast and furious, trying to get the upper hand but unable. He was concentrating on handwork only, and noted that I wasn’t attacking. “I can barely keep up with you,” I replied. Though we were supposedly going set-foot tuishou, he kept advancing, and I began to step back, and before we knew it, we were doing moving-foot practice, and he became even more active, nervous in an almost desperate way. We rested for a moment, and then went back at it, full tilt moving-foot style, and I have to admit that I met his aggressiveness with even more energy than was necessary, releasing various pent-up energies and frustrations that I haven’t been able to deal with, and we were just about in a knock-down, drag-out brawl before we stopped.

I felt terrible about the whole thing. Teacher X stepped in and showed me how easy it was to deal with such a situation, calmly inviting attacks and gently moving them aside. I gave it another go, but by that point I was so tired I basically leaned on him the whole time, pushing at the space behind him instead of pushing him, and while this worked, it was about as inelegant a solution as you could ask for.

So, in a word, FAIL. More of a mental fail than a technique or physical fail, but that’s the biggest kind of fail in my opinion. Well, there’s always next time. In the meantime, at least I got some exercise as well as the largest collection of pushhands-related bruises I’ve ever sustained.

posted by Poagao at 5:07 am  
Sep 04 2011

Finger practice

Mr.V and NL Guy were practicing an unusual style today; one would push only the other’s hand or even just one finger with one hand. Teacher X told me it was a type of practice one should definitely keep within our own group, as it’s very easy to get hurt that way. He demonstrated a few of these tricks, and it reminded me of some of the hand-to-hand combat techniques I learned in the army and then completely forgot.

As I’m working two jobs now and have much less free time these days, I don’t get to exercise in the mornings as I used to be able to; no more hill climbing or even just walking about, and I think this is bad for me. Not much I can do about that for now other than taking lots of breaks and walking around at work. Tai-chi feels especially good, though, after so much time sitting on my ass.

posted by Poagao at 11:03 am  
Aug 21 2011

My left hand

I was practicing tuishou with Teacher X today, and, surprisingly, doing pretty well. I think he was just taking it easy on me, and he confirmed this by mentioning that my right hand is “stupid”. “You’re very good with your left hand,” he said. “But that’s not only due to the fact that you’re left-handed, but also, all of your partners are right-handed, so that side gets a lot of practice.” He made his point by showing me just how easy it was to push me over on that side. I spent the next half an hour concentrating on my right side. He’s got a point; I need to shore things up over there.

Yang Qing-feng showed up today; I haven’t seen him in years, I think. I always had the hardest time practicing with him, as he is lightning quick, nimble and flexible; it’s like pushing cotton. We began with fixed-feet tuishou, and though I’ve improved and am able to gain the advantage once in a while, he’s still nearly as difficult to deal with; he spends most of his time bent back, out of my reach.

That all changed when we switched to moving tuishou. When I was able to advance and retreat, I found him surprisingly easy prey, at least until he fixed on the technique of grabbing my left hand and just not letting GO. Things got fairly intense, and I have the bruises on my arm to prove it. Still, it was amicable, and he didn’t, as so many people do, resort to simple quick shoves.

So today was a good workout, and I learned a few things. I also got empty-handed and sword practice in, though thunder was threatening as the afternoon wore on.

posted by Poagao at 10:20 am  
Jul 31 2011


Again, a long hiatus here. No reason, really. I write when I feel like it.

I have been practicing, regardless of any progress or lack thereof. Other students have come and gone. I rarely see Little Mountain Pig or Yang Qing-feng these days. Perhaps they go on other days. I do see Little Qin often, and of course NL Guy and Mr. V grapple for hours each time.

Last week an unfamiliar student showed up at the park. He was tallish, with an average build. People said he was from another group. I was practicing moving-step tuishou with Teacher X, but he hauled me over to practice with the new guy. Teacher X does this often. I suppose he thinks it’s good for me, and he’s probably right.

As usual, it started out well enough; smooth interaction, give and take, etc. He wasn’t very used to tuishou, though, and seemed frustrated. We switched to moving step. Then we switched again, or at least he did, to Wing-chun sparring. At first I tried to just keep going, but he was just waving his hands around and making little taps here and there. “I’m not even using any force!” He said proudly.

“Yeah, ok,” I said, stopping. “Perhaps you’ve misunderstood what we’re trying to do here. The group for guys who have seen Yip Man too many times is over there.” I pointed as Little Qin came over and began teaching the fellow actual tai-chi. Little Qin is far more suited to this particular task, as he is 1) very good and 2) he has a very high tolerance level.

Yesterday another two outsiders came over. I’d seen them around, though, and Teacher X said that their style was similar to ours. I practiced with the younger one while Teacher X practiced with the older to the two. Again, we started out normally, but, as I’ve witnessed many times when practicing tuishou with other people, the other man became tense and frustrated, using more and more force. He telegraphed every move, every push, and tightened into complete inflexibility. Whenever he did this, I just relaxed. When he grabbed my wrist, elbow or shoulder, I just gave it to him. I made some exploratory attacks, but even these resulted in overblown reactions. His mouth was set in a concentrated frown, and eventually he ended the session with a curt “thanks”.

It’s always educational to practice with people outside the group. I’ve found it’s best to just interact, even lose a few times first, just to see what they’re about, before doing anything else, although sometimes they just seem to fall over on their own.

In other news, I’ve updated the WP install, so I might do some tweaking here and elsewhere on the site. Or I might not. You never know.

posted by Poagao at 11:51 pm  
Aug 24 2010


Ok, so I haven’t posted in a while. Others things have been going on, and I began to feel I was writing about the same things over and over again. I’ve also been thinking about simplifying things a bit and just writing one or maybe two blogs.

Since you last heard from me on this subject, not much has happened. I’m still going to the park on Sundays. A couple of foreigners have begun to show up as well. I practiced pushhands with one of them once; didn’t learn much. He would tense up like a rock and make three attempts to push and then shove. Every time. It got a little tedious. Probably good practice though if I were more patient about things.

I’ve been practicing moving pushhands with Teacher X a lot lately. This is interesting and probably good for me in an aerobic sort of way. Last Sunday I did some moving swordfighting with Little Qin, which is always fun, if tiring. I kept having to switch hands.

At the end of practices, around 1 p.m. or so, a DPP-sponsored Anti-ECFA group sets up in the area and plays hymns against Chinese trade pacts like “Jesus Hates Chinese trade pacts, and so should you.” This is usually my signal to leave, as it’s hard to concentrate.

The newest development in the park are oddly shaped patches of grass being planted here and there. It’s some kind of art project, but I can’t imagine all of the wrestling, practicing, fighting, etc. being good for the grass. There’s a reason that area is just dirt: A century or so of scuffling. But who knows, maybe it will take root. Stranger things have happened.

posted by Poagao at 5:38 am  
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