Qi Shi (The opening)

Grandmaster Jerry Trowbridge, a tall man who looks like he could easily walk through a brick wall and nonchalantly wipe the dust off his shoulders, nearly whispers these words in long, slow, soothing phrases at the Center of I Am in Dubuque, Iowa.

“Now, stand with your knees bent. Do not lock your knees. Pretend you are holding a ball of light with your hands, raise it up to your eye level. Expand your hands. Breathe in. Breathe out. Make the ball smaller again.”

He and his wife, Master Nancy Trowbridge, a petit blackbelt, lead us in their graceful steps. Our socks shoosh across a laminate floor, and the sounds of an ethereal erhu and bells play from a small CD player resting on a metal chair behind us. We sway, holding the air as if we are delivering clouds to one another.

I am here, present in the air, present in my muscles, present on this Earth and present with you.

Living this life can be an art form. Dedication to mastery is one thing. Living from one step to another is an experience like black ink brushing across delicate rice paper. We can be large blotches of blackness, thin lines surrounding the emptiness, the emptiness itself or the gray of it all. You can be the calligrapher, the paper, the ink, the brush. The breeze cooling your fingertips.

It is up to us. It is up to you.

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