Lizzie's Practice Lantern
Copyright © 2002 New Moon
The times given are in 24-hour military notation. 01:00 is one o'clock in the morning. 13:00 is one in the afternoon.
Six sets while I watched the moon rise from behind the tress into the branches of the pine. There's a breeze tonight and fireflies, too! but I felt the sweat running down my spine.
I was ending two board-widths to the inside and ahead of starting position. I can't figure out why.
Tonight I was careful not to turn my waist too fat past center in parting and brushing and shuttling and grasping!, and My balance was much better, especially on the left side. However, I still need to work on strengthening my left leg to compensate for that missing muscle. I can "fudge" the form now to make it work, and, since most people's bodies aren't strictly symmetrical anyhow, I don't suppose anyone would object to my left and right sides handling the forms slightly differently heck, David's body isn't symmetrical and he does the forms differently right and left. Still, it bugs me that my left side is different, so I'll keep working on it.
My left shoulder is bugging me again. It's my "relationship barometer" and bothers me most when my relationships with people are out of whack. I spent some time after the qigong tracing yin-yang symbols in the air, trying to get the muscle to relax, but I think only reopening of communication and re-establishment of friendly relations will cure it.
No nunchaku practice tonight.
I don't want to go to bed. I don't want to get up in the morning. I don't want to go to work. I don't want to go to t'ai chi.
The air feels like cool liquid. The sky is all haze. Really, I think the sets should have gone well, but they didn't.
Four sets and qigong. I did the first three sets barefoot and I don't believe my balance has ever been so bad, not even when I was a rank beginner. I put my topsiders on for the fourth set and improved immensely...
My shoulder (left) continues to bother me. I can't quite accept the fact that I am emotionally exhausted. So much has happened this week. And it all has required major readjustments. I keep telling myself I'm okay. I feel okay. But the weariness and the shoulder are telling me it isn't so.
Tonight (Monday) I had my first karate lesson. I was dripping with sweat my hair felt and looked as if I had just come from the shower! They do have air conditioning, but the dehumidifier is broken.
Karate is a lot more physically demanding than the taiji, and I'm not in good shape for it. I can't do the stretches. The only thing the taiji has prepared me for is the "swinging door" exercises where, eyes closed, one must "go with the pushes" and keep one's balance.
But I know I can do this. It will be difficult. The question is, Do I want to do this? I'm signed up for one month. We shall see.
I'm exhausted. It feels as if nothing is ever going to be right again.... The thermometer says 88 degrees. Feels as if it will get hotter before we're done.
The thermometer on the back porch says 74 degrees, but the humidity is 100 per cent. There's no breeze to speak of. The fireflies aren't even out.
I didn't go to class tonight. (It's still Tuesday to me.) I felt exhausted when I went in to work. I didn't feel any better when I got out. The temperature was over 94 degrees, so Ma called David to tell him we wouldn't be there.
I just came in from doing three sets and I'm dripping wet. My glasses were fogging up during the last set. Three sets right, and qigong. The sets went well I wore my topsiders (no socks required) but I kept ending up two or more board-widths to the inside. Go figure. And Returning Tiger to the Mountain kept coming out very badly: I was all over the place and uncoordinated. But the qigong felt good.
Before I went out to practice I emailed David saying I was sorry I'd missed class, that I didn't like being such a wuss, but I just couldn't cope with the heat. Told him I was going to practice now that it had cooled down; that as I was coming back from Ma's all I could think was this would be an excellent time to go for a swim. I reminded him of the night last fall when we were standing in the road, freezing our butts off, talking about his pool. Told him he was lucky to have it; told him that if I could have imagined a night like this back then, I wouldn't have let him escape so easily. I probably shouldn't say such things to David, but I think it's good for him.
Karate tonight. With this heat, it may kill me.
I just got up. It's 94 degrees out here on the back porch. Only a few wisps of cloud in a pale blue sky. There's a little breeze. I'm glad I have the maple tree.
I'm full of minor aches today: karate, of course. The middle of my back feels it the most... I can't help thinking it's all tied in with my heart chakra, though. And my left shoulder continues to bother me.
I've begun learning my first kata, which I can't remember the name of in spite of having repeated it a dozen times (one says the name of the kata before one begins it).
No practice. Though I did one set. And I practiced bits and pieces while I watched a movie.
At last! A cool day. Beautiful!
Tonight I practiced with the nunchaku while I watched Jackie Chan's First Strike. I am getting better at catching, though I did mash various fingers and both thumbs pretty hard. (That's what I get for skipping a few days practice!) When the movie was over, I lit the lanterns for taiji practice.
Earlier I was transcribing the Five Virtues, the Eight Truths, and the Keys to the Practice of T'ai Chi for the web site. Reading all that so closely made me feel I haven't been mindful enough in my practice.
Six sets tonight and qigong. There are some errors that I make consistently. For instance, I always step too far out when Grasping Peacock's Tail to the right. This makes my right foot come up on the roll back. I remind myself each time, but I never seem to gauge the length of that step right unless... could it be that I come up because my left hip isn't limber enough? That would make my step seem to have been too far out.
Some things I am in the process of correcting. Like remembering not to turn my waist too far in parting and brushing to the left. Both forms work like charms when I'm aligned correctly.
I feel as if I'll never improve past the level I'm at. I feel stuck. And I dread our next class: I don't know if I'll be able to put up with beginners and going back to basics not that I resent practicing the basics, but when David is teaching new students, he doesn't pass along as much advanced information to us more experienced students.
I didn't practice yesterday, not t'ai chi, anyway. I did practice catching the nunchaku for a while: today my left index finger is sore: I need to remember to catch with the palm and not on the joint.
Today was overcast and the light had an odd orange quality, the effect of the smoke up in the air from the fires in Quebec, up near St. John's Bay. The sun rose as a deep red ball, and remained a disk of color all day. They say the smoke will move off tomorrow.
Maybe t'ai chi is over for me now. I've feared that since the day I bought the t'ai chi outfit and the t'ai chi shoes. It's a fear I've had all along, a fear I have always had of losing the things I love. So, whenever I become conscious of how much I love t'ai chi, I get scared.
It seems very dark tonight: matte black. Sky, yard, meadow... the usual light has been swallowed. Only one firefly to be seen.
Before I began practice, I read in the T'ai Chi Classics: the sections on "shoong," concentration development, and coordination practice. I tried to imagine myself as completely relaxed so relaxed I couldn't feel myself, and made out of air. But also I pictured my chi as glowing energy moving effortlessly through the forms.
Six very good sets ensued. I overran the 23 minutes of Yin music on the first three sets, and ended with it exactly on the second three. I suppose David would tell me I'm going too slowly.
Yesterday I remember feeling I was stuck. That's part of the reason I didn't make myself practice. But tonight I feel I've gotten past the sticking place. My balance is better, but mostly I feel better about how I'm moving on my left leg. Truly, much of the problem seems to have been merely that I was turning my waist too far to the left and thus throwing my balance off. Seem silly that it took me so long to notice.
I can still see myself as a glowing figure moving in the lantern light...
I don't want to go to bed. I don't want to go to work. I don't want to go to class on Tuesday.
Karate tonight. I wish it were t'ai chi but all clean and new with the feeling of excitement and energy, instead of the ennui.
I felt much better during and after karate. I'm getting the hang of some of it though not the warm-up exercises. I fell on my ass again trying to balance in that stretch. (Squat on toes of one foot, extend other leg straight out to side: balance on toes and heel. Fall on ass.) I wish I could have stayed at the dojo for a few hours working on stuff and talking.
I'm worried about class (taiji) tomorrow.
Six sets and qigong. There's a breeze, but I could feel the temperature and the humidity rising with each set.
Tonight my feet I felt heavy on my feet. I couldn't get the image of being light and transparent as the air. Even so, the sets were good ones. I feel there's a lot I'm doing right. I'm getting better at grasping to the right. Once I didn't think about it, and I got it exactly right! And my balance on the left foot during parting and brushing is very good now.
However, Returning Tiger to the Mountain was very sloppy throughout. I'm not sure why. And my ending position was all over the place, too.
On the other hand, my pace was slow and consistent. Each set of three ended with the music. (23 minutes.)
What would lessons be like for me if I were completely indifferent to my teacher? Could I love t'ai chi so much and be indifferent to my teacher? Interesting questions.
Tonight's lesson was a good one. David was in a good mood, and we had a good time, laughing and joking. There were thunderstorms moving through. When he suggested we practice outside, I teased him about being the tallest, telling him the threat of a lightning strike would be good motivation for maintaining low form.
David asked if there was anything anyone wanted to work on. I said, "Press is deceptively difficult," and we ended up doing a whole lot of "throwing the whip." Very informative. David came over to check my form and said, "Do me a favor and drop your elbow." "Anything for you," I replied. I dropped my elbow, and thereby lowered the position of my whip hand, and David then proceeded to demonstrate why that position is better for the block: more strength.
Once David demonstrated Press, I had confirmation that I had correctly deduced the proper execution of it. It made me feel good to know I had gotten something right though I believe the reason was that I had the correct picture in my subconscious from watching David, and it just took me all this time to strip away my own overlaying notions and allow myself to do the form properly.
Another thing I noticed tonight was David's coordination of Parry. When he did it, the parrying hand and the stepping foot moved outwards together. I had been stepping out, then following with the parry, kinda like it was two separate moves. "In t'ai chi practice, the entire body should coordinate into one complete unit... A mistake often made by students... is that of allowing various parts of the body to move separately, in an uncoordinated manner." Duh.
The reading was "River." Considering the downpour we got just as class ended, it was appropriate. I had to jump a "river" or two to get to the car.
It's very cool. The sky is so clear tonight Alcor and Mizar (the Horse and Rider; the double star in the handle of the big Dipper) are visible, as is every star in Sagittarius just above the trees in the south.
My back muscles are spasming from karate. They're not used to being called on to move so violently.
I stayed tonight to talk after class. We talked about chi, something not covered in karate, evidently. I find that astonishing, and yet it makes sense. I think only the very advanced karate practitioners may know and understand chi. The training in karate is very different and yet, in both, a great deal of mental effort and physical coordination is required.
It would be very interesting to introduce David to Sensei but only if I get to stay and listen.
One thing I learned tonight at karate: How very little I actually know about t'ai chi. My god. How very little I know.
I wish David had a studio where students could hang around and talk and practice and drop in to watch. How much more we could learn!
Three sets left side. I could see my breath. I'm ending ahead and to the inside still. Last night I noticed that David has a very tight orbit. When I'm unrestricted by the confines of the porch, my orbit deepens considerably.
I kept my whip hand lower tonight, about shoulder height. Better. Some days I despair of the Snake.
Tonight, again because of the karate, I'm very much aware of how little I know of the applications and it really bugs me.
I didn't practice yesterday. No reason. It's good to take a day off from time to time.
Paul came over last night and we sat on the back porch and talked. He studied kung fu when he was in Texas. His teacher had a studio and he went there almost every day. The kung fu he studied was a lot more like t'ai chi than karate. Once again I am wishing for a studio for David.
Tonight it's very difficult. I'm... resisting practice. I feel... bereft, somehow. As if David is very far away, moving farther away every minute, leaving me alone here, taking all the energy with him... I don't understand this feeling.
But I have to practice, no matter how hopeless I feel, or I will be lost forever.
Four sets. 3 left; 1 right. The last was so bad, I decided I'd better quit. My balance was gone and I felt so... frustrated. Everything was just off. I need sleep.
This afternoon, at Angie's picnic, I talked to some of the other karate students about when and why they started taking karate, but those weren't the right questions. Why karate? What is it about karate? What notions did they have that made karate the choice instead of step aerobics or weight training or whatever? One lady did say that she chose karate instead of aerobics because, at her age and in her condition, she didn't want to be "shaking everything." But, as far as I can tell, karate is just as demanding as aerobics.
The night I talked with Sensei, he described exactly my own experience. He stumbled into the right class and the right teacher by pure luck and felt immediately the it was what he'd been looking for all his life and that he wasn't learning it so much as he was remembering it. Exactly.
I'm not going to practice tonight. I do need a break. And I often improve after having a break.
Lizzie's Hakakukei Nunchaku © 2002 New Moon
I went early to karate and observed the advanced class. I was watching one of them very closely and it seemed to me he wasn't very balanced. That puzzles me. I wish I could ask the Sensei about it, but that wouldn't be right, so I'll just have to wait and see what enlightenment comes as I advance if I do!
I did very badly tonight, especially in kicking. I could barely manage to waggle my leg in the general direction of the kick. I have no idea why I was so dismally uncoordinated tonight.
We practiced "swinging gate" again. It's the most t'ai chi like thing so far. Eyes closed, in Horse Stance (kiba dachi), you are pushed by the others around you, and you have to pivot and go with the pushes, neither having too little reaction to them nor too much, stay low, keep your balance and not get uprooted. These are principles of t'ai chi. It's one thing to know the principles, quite another to know the practice.
Rain, one firefly, a flash or two of lightning, and the lantern light. It's very humid.
Three good sets, and cool-down qigong. Then just a little "catch" with the nunchaku. I bought a book Sunday: Nunchaku: Karate Weapon of Self Defense by Fumio Demara.
I think some of the coordination is coming together. Naturally. some of the moves seem to flow better, like Parry and Punch.
We had another excellent lesson. There was a new student, so we spent a lot of time on the first five forms. As David was going over the "notes," it suddenly dawned on me how sloppy I've gotten in keeping my blocking hand parallel to the floor and pointed correctly forward. Well! I fixed that in a hurry!
Tonight, as David was talking about "rooting," he mentioned that he has eleven toes. (I think he said something about having had eleven fingers, too, but I only count ten now.) I wonder if he has muscle control over that eleventh toe...
Tonight's reading was "Teacher." It was about how the teacher must be patient, and always give his best. David's a good teacher, and getting better as we go.
It's only 70 degrees, but the humidity is nasty. I quit after four sets because my feet were so uncomfortable.
Three sets left, one right, and cool-down qigong. I ended consistently, four board-widths to the inside and six inches ahead.
Tonight I concentrated on correct positioning of my blocking hand. As I went, I kept the picture of David in mind. Next time, I'll have to get behind him for the second half of the set and refresh my mental images of Snake.
I can feel the effects of the finger pushups we do in karate class. My hands have never been used like that.
Tonight I finally got naihanshi shodan almost right. Now that I know the moves, I can concentrate on getting my feet so stay pointed forward and figure out my balance. I begin to hope I may achieve a colored belt!
Before class, I practiced kneeling. On Monday, when we kneeled for the first time at the beginning of class, I thought I was going to scream from the pain in my knees. So tonight I did some work on limbering them up. It helped a lot.
I got to see Sensei perform the nunchaku kata tonight, too. Very neat. I need to practice more.
Thunderstorms tonight. Lots of lightning. Blue. It only 74 degrees, but the humidity is awful.
Three sets that outlasted the Yin music, and cool-down qigong. Then I tried to remember naihanshi shodan.
My sets were… okay. I ended four board-widths inside and slightly ahead. You know what it was? I was inconsistent. In each set different things were right or wrong. First set I blew Repulsing the Monkey; third set I had it right. First set… as I sit here remembering the sets, I'm having trouble remembering anything that was right… Once, Opening Form was amazing: the chi was there.
The other night in class, we were doing qigong, the one where we push and pull the chi in and out of the center of the circle. Afterwards, David asked the class, "What was your chi doing during this exercise?" No one spoke up but me. I felt the chi moving in and out of y hands and feet: out when I pushed, in when I pulled. David seemed pleased and told me that I was right.
The karate makes me sad because it isn't t'ai chi. But I keep thinking how awesome it would be to see David doing the weapons. Sensei is excellent, but David would be incredible. Truly. And I'm not just saying that cuz I'm biased.
Thunderstorms this evening, I wend by the dam on my way to Ma's around eleven, and as I paused on the bridge, the heron flew up to the top of the dam from the pool below. He saw me and was watching, in spite of that stupid, blinding light below the bridge that shines on the dam. He froze with his eye towards me, and stayed that way for quite a few minutes. I just assumed "standing post" posture and waited.
After a while he went about his business, fishing. He stalked very slowly along the edge of the dam towards the deeper water and weeds at the side. As he went, he kept his head always at exactly the same level, just as if he were practicing t'ai chi. When he got to the side, he paused, then deftly caught a fish and ate it. Then he turned and went back towards the center of the dam where the stupid Canada geese were settled for the night. I thought he might be settling in, too.
I went around through the park to get a better view at dam level. I approached in the shadow of a tree and watched. But something made him take wing. I watched the sky as I hurried to the upper level. The haze made the sky light enough that I could have seen him against it, but he must have stayed low over the water. I couldn't find him again.
Temperature dropped to 68 degrees. Fog in the meadow tonight made the sky seem very closed in.
Four sets and qigong, and then a little nunchaku practice and some karate katas.
The sets felt… good. I was more relaxed and I think I could feel my roots I felt more solid. And yet, there were times when I overbalanced. Not many: three or four. They surprised me because I felt so rooted overall.
Tonight I kept my blocking hands level, and my "tile" hands were better, too. And Returning Tiger to the Mountain was almost right.
Each set ended 7,8, or 9 board-widths to the inside and four inches ahead of starting. Go figure.
Opening Form felt good, too. I laughed remembering Shane asking last week, "How strong is the wind supposed to be?" I chimed in, "Yeah, how many knots is that ol' wind blowing, anyway?" David never did answer, but he had Shane try to strangle me and went over the application of Opening Form again as he did that first week when it was only Ma and me. I must say it has improved my Opening Form immensely.
I still enjoy the nunchaku. I do need to build up the strength in my hands, so I did quite a bit of twirling tonight. For the rest, a few kata (I'm not sure I do have naihanshi shodan exactly right yet), blocks, and punches.
I went to visit Joyce yesterday. I found the visit upsetting, and when I got back tonight I didn't feel like doing anything, never mind practicing. But I did venture out onto the back porch. The moon, coming up to full, was bright and the air cool, though humid. I decided to try a set, in the dark. It went much better that expected pretty good, actually. My balance was fine, even though it was dark. So I tried another set, and it went well, too. But I was very tired, so I did my cool-down qigong, and now I'm off to bed.
The sky is milky blue from the light of the nearly full moon. There's a cool wind gusty but the humidity is too high for comfort.
Four sets (two each side), and qigong. Some things are working really well, others have just gone to hell. My hands are doing better: I'm remembering to keep my left thumb relaxed; I'm remembering to block.
I noticed I wasn't keeping my left arm in correct position during Wave Hands Like Clouds. I was letting it drift to the left as I turned, instead of keeping my hand directly in front of my center. (My waist isn't as flexible going left either.)
Tonight, before karate, to loosen up, I tried one set of t'ai chi in the small dojo. The padded floor, combined with my bare feet, made me feel very unstable. I didn't do well. (But no one saw me. Thank goodness!)
I still have a terrible time putting my weight on the correct foot it's more than that: I don't like having to lock my joints. Right now, all the principles of karate seem to run counter to all the principles of t'ai chi. But, I'm only beginning. It could be that I just don't understand yet.
I'm getting the hang of the first kata, but when it comes to kneeling, I seem to be getting worse. I hope I get used to it soon.
We had a visiting black belt in class tonight. He was also a student of Sensei Odo. This guy us almost as good as Sensei. He has good chi. When those two perform the katas, you realize just what they're supposed to look like. Crisp, precise, and powerful. The other black and brown belts I've seen don't even come close.
I stayed to watch the advanced class and I'm glad I did. I got to see the bunkai for naihanshi shodan. Very impressive. Now that I can see how the moves are applied, now I've seen the masters perform that kata, I've got a very clear idea of what I'm supposed to be doing. I'll do much better in my practice now.
Karate feels like a lot more work than t'ai chi right now. But I'm glad I'm trying it. I think, though, that if I wish to continue, I may have to do some strength training if I want to do it right. Flabby muscles can't generate the speed and control needed for karate.
I'll have to remember to ask David if Push Hands is the t'ai chi equivalent of bunkai.
I did ask David about the bunkai, and this is what he said:
"As far as your other question to Bunkai, Humm? I took judo, but Bunkai is more like "analysis". Not really push hands, like breaking apart of one part of a kata to see how to make it easier to learn and then go on from there to practice the applications of them. Like we do in class, learn the proper foot work, waist and hand placements, then play with the applications."
I was thinking about it, too, and he's right. But, the thing about the bunkai is that you get to feel the applications of the moves. And that's what helps me the most. I still kinda wish t'ai chi had bunkai.
No lanterns, no music. Just moonlight and bull frogs.
I thought I was too tired, but I went out to toss out a bug I caught in the sink, and I thought, What the heck? Try a set in the dark! It really is a beautiful night and so delightfully cool (65 degrees). So I did.
Tonight I paid special attention to the "pull and push" of Grasping Peacock's Tail. Last night David corrected me on it, and he gave us some detailed information about where the chi is concentrated in the hands. After the roll-back and press, the hands grab the opponent, pulling him towards the check, then the grip changes to a pushing high on the opponent's chest collar bone, I suppose at which time the chi should be concentrated on the outer edges of the hands and in the palm. I think I got it right.
The last few times David has shown me the applications up close and personal, the information has really stuck with me and made a big difference in my execution of the forms. Opening Form has a lot more meaning now, and when I do it, I truly visualize myself breaking my opponent's strangle hold and then grasping his arms and pulling him down. And now I can feel myself pulling and pushing my opponent in Peacock, too. Neat.
Me, the moon, and Boccherini's string quartets in the cool night. . .
Six sets. I could feel the chi from the moment I relaxed into wu ji, and the first set felt wonderful. There's power there when the chi is flowing. I could feel it especially in my hands and tonight the lady's shuttle flew just right almost everything did. The sets were all good except for a little too much thinking that crept in with the snake but none as good as the first.
Afterwards, I practiced naihanshi shodan. I've got the moves down, but I can't figure out where the power is supposed to come from. Karate is very different.
The cool-down qigong felt very good.
I guess today was just a good day for t'ai chi. While I had my tea this morning, I found myself stepping forwards and backwards along the tape stripe on the porch. I was surprised to discover that I know where my feet are now.
Tuesday's lesson was very good. We spent a lot of time reviewing stepping because of the new student, and I have to admit, I learned something new about it myself. You think there can't possibly be anything else to know about such a simple move as stepping, but, suddenly, another light goes on. T'ai chi is amazing that way.
We had two readings Tuesday night. David riffles the pages of his 365 Tao book and has a student stop him to choose. Ma had the privilege and came up between the pages "Youth" and "Pine." She liked "Youth," so David read that. (One should remember that teaching the young the correct way, and setting a good example is of paramount importance.) But he (and I) preferred "Pine," so David had me read that one, too. (One should be like the pine tree: strong, firmly rooted, yet flexible and evergreen in spirit.) I love pine trees. I think of them as the embodiment of "soong." Be like the water. Be like the pine.
I'm soaked. The humidity is incredible. There's white fog in the meadow and water dripping everywhere like rain. But the just-past-full moon is sitting in the pine branches, and blue-white lightning flickers like a broken neon sign.
It seems I have no need of lanterns now. My balance has improved enough that a pale moon suffices. (But I wonder if I'll find my balance goes with the waning moon!)
Five sets, I think. Three left, two right, and some practice brushing because I noticed how sloppy my left hand was coming over for the push. In between, I practiced naihanshi shodan. (I still can't quite figure where the power comes from.)
The humidity was a hindrance. My socks were sticking to my feet and bugging me. In spite of that, I got Repulsing the Monkey to work better: my feet were kicking back correctly so the pulling hand could really pull. It felt pretty good. (Again, at breakfast, I had found myself stepping up and down the tape. It evidently helps.)
Cool-down qigong aggravated my left shoulder, but, even so, I could feel the chi.
I drank two pints of water during practice.
Before I practiced, I read the section on "Shoong" in the 'Classics again. I still have so much to learn.
Class was pretty good. We worked a lot on Fair Lady Works the Shuttle and he showed us the applications. It was a good class, but... David seemed a little distracted. He was in a good mood, laughing and joking before class, but... He didn't seem to be completely aware of the less advanced students' need to be able to see an exemplary at all times though he did make use of me in that capacity to some extent. However, most of the time, he remained at the front of the class and didn't bother about "corner coverage" on the backside of the set.
The reading was "Full." A crib from the Tao Te Ching.
Ma's 82nd birthday. I picked up a cake and some flowers on my way home from karate. Happy birthday, Ma!
Copyright © 2002 New Moon