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June 2002

Practice Stripe © 2002 New Moon

Practice Stripe
Copyright © 2002 New Moon

01: Saturday

Today I put on my taiji tunic to practice. Five sets, then a break... I don't remember and didn't record what I did then. I haven't been able to think clearly lately....

02: Sunday

No practice today. I could still feel yesterday's practice.

03: Monday

Four sets and qigong. Opening Form felt different— has felt different the last few times. I feel as if— I can't quite... I feel as if I'm pressing down and settling deeply, as if I'm sinking deeper than I can physically settle.

The sets were nothing special, though I did feel I was going smoothly and slowly.

04: Tuesday

Bits and pieces for practice. Up and down; up and down. It's a beautiful day, but I can't concentrate. Maybe later.

05: Wednesday

No practice today. I stayed up until early morning watching movies (Roman Holiday, for one), and I got up around eleven. I had just enough time to get to work. But I didn't want to practice anyway. I've been wondering if I'm going to leave my teacher.

What?, you exclaim. Yeah, that's what I said. Leave my teacher. I've been thinking about it for a while. I've even done some shopping for a new teacher—

But... why? That's the question you're asking. I wish I could explain. But this journal makes me tread a narrow line. I can't always say everything I want to say....

I can say this much: David and I have a difficult relationship. Even though we've known each other for over two years, we don't really know each other at all. We don't know each other as neighbors (his house is a mile from mine, on the route of my favorite walk), or as friends (once in a while he's stopped to offer me a ride, or just to chat in the middle of the road), or even as teacher and student. And this, I believe, is because David, being relatively new to teaching, has not been able to fully assume and assimilate the role of teacher. This makes relationships with his students somewhat... messy. There's a lot of room for misunderstandings. Because the boundaries are indistinct. And because we haven't been able to work out our teacher/student relationship, we haven't been able to work out the other relationships either. We haven't yet decided whether we can trust each other.

Sometimes David pisses me off. Royally. I piss him off, too. Royally. But we do value each other. And there is respect. Liking, even. And similarities that can't help but endear even as they offend. ("We detest in others that which we detest in ourselves." Who said that? He was right.) David and I are both Scorpios. (Read: "Pains in the butt.")

I took a chance in April when I asked David if he'd take tango lessons with me. I took a chance and trusted. It felt as if it was something I could rightly ask of him. Believe me, this wasn't a spur of the moment decision! When David said, "Maybe," I was elated. I looked forward to getting to know him better, to becoming better friends. And then I found out, not from him, that he was "seeing someone"— Long term. And no one in class knew!— I felt betrayed. He should have told me he was seeing someone. But he didn't.

I felt terrible. Stupid. And, Rightly or wrongly, I apologized to him, in case I had caused any embarassment. I didn't know. No harm, no foul, right? But he didn't even respond to my apology, except to say he had received it...

I let it go. I chalked it up to profound embarassment and his not wishing to be unkind. So much for the tango lessons.

I value my own privacy, so I don't begrudge it to others. But, in this study of t'ai chi, there's an inherent spiritual element that requires scrupulous honesty. Trust. And it falls to the teacher to set the example. David has not been scrupulously honest with his students. With me.

I don't say David should be broadcasting his personal business to all and sundry. But, I am saying there seems to be a dishonesty about him that I do not like. He knew he was going in for knee surgery, and yet he didn't let Jo-Anne know beforehand that he wouldn't be able to do the demonstration at her Open House. She had made sure to book him all the way last February, too!

None of us is perfect. But we have to try to be honest. I try. I've been honest with David. I feel he hasn't been honest with me. And that makes me question whether he is the best one to teach me t'ai chi. I'm wondering whether we can learn to trust each other.

06: Thursday

Four sets tonight, I think. I lit the lanterns and a couple of candles and practiced while the rain fell.

The first set was the worst: I kept my eyes shut. How did Master Po do it?! I can't balance for doodly-squat with my eyes closed. I'll have to practice that some more for sure!

The other three sets were nothing special— though I notice I 've changed the way I do Grasp Peacock's Tail. Now the rollback is one smooth line with no twisting. Funny how it took me so long to figure it out. It's so obvious now.

Afterwards, I stood Post. I didn't time it, but, by the music, it was about twenty minutes. I'm wondering if I'm doing it wrong. I don't get the shakes, and I feel fairly comfortable.

Cool down qigong after that felt nice.

I think I've decided to stay with my teacher, by the way. He may not be the best teacher, but he knows his stuff. For now, or until I reach a higher level, he's probably my best bet.

07: Friday

No practice.

08: Saturday

Today the pollen blowing from the pines looked like green smoke.

I put a line of masking tape down to use instead of the boards.

Six sets and qigong. Snake and Peacock are getting easier— now that I've eliminated the extra movements, the unnatural twistings that come from not having enough control to separate the parts, understand each, and then integrate them.

I stood Post for a bit over fifteen minutes by the music. I notcied that my left shoulder doesn't bother me. It used to tingle and burn and ache. Now there seems to be a slight blockage at both shoulder joints (in the front hollow). I can't quite figure that one out to make it go away... My pelvis tenses up when I get near my limit, but I can usually let that go... My legs shook today after 12 minutes or so.

Up and down, up and down, watching in the mirror as my feet move across the line of tape... fascinating. Even when I don't watch, my feet find their places. Cool.

This evening I went for a walk. On the way back, David went by. He waved to me. I waved back. I'm still thinking.

09: Sunday

Six sets and 20 minutes of standing Post, and cool down qigong. Some things went really well. Grasp Peacock's Tail, for one— though I still have a lot of refining to do, I believe I have the concept correct now.

The creeping snake was better today. Up until I thought about it.

There are so many things to remember. It will take a lot more practice still to get every principle firmly embedded so I don't have to think about every move.

While I was practicing today, at times I felt joy. When I finished practice, and I bowed and silently thanked my teacher, I heard myself telling David I love him. And I do love him as my teacher.

I'm still thinking...

10: Monday

Tonight, on the way home from work, I stopped at the dojo I pass sometimes. It just opened a few months ago. And I had been thinking about stopping in. See, there's this story I've been working on (And you thought I had given up writing! Ha!) and, I've been watching some of the martial arts films, and I decided I need to know something about martial arts and martial arts weapons...

There was a lesson going on when I arrived. Kids. I stood with the parents and watched. I liked the look of the place. And I liked the atmosphere, very much. The class was disciplined, but not rigid. The teacher and the kids were having a great time. But what was most surprising was that there was no feeling of competitiveness. No machoism. I was impressed. I stayed to talk with the teacher.

Sensei is a weapons expert. Kobudo. Bo (six-foot wooden staff), nunchaku (wooden staff connected by cord), sai (three-pronged steel truncheon), tenbei (shield), rochin (short spear), yari (long spear), tonfa (wooden handles for rice grinder), kama (small sicles), eku (wooden oar), nunte (fishing gaff), hanbo (two-foot bamboo pole), tekko ("knuckle dusters"). He's been studying for twenty-four years.

I told him about me, about being a writer and all, and gathering information. He was quite open to helping me. In the end, I signed up for a private lesson in nunchaku tomorrow morning.

Six sets by candle and fire: the neighbors had a campfire going in the backyard. They were burning the remains of their old back porch which they had taken down over the weekend.

Sometimes I wonder if I've learned anything at all. I really wasn't doing so very badly, but the truth is, I miss my teacher. I remember how he corrected me in Grasp Peacock's Tail a few weeks ago. It made such a difference, and improved me so much that I wish he could be there every day to help me... "Stop! Again... Stop! Again... Stop! Again..." I do miss David.

Lessons are supposed to start next week. I hope they do. (Each time there's a hiatus, I secretely fear that David will quit teaching. I think that's partly becuase of that lack of trust between us. I'm not convinced he's serious about being a teacher.)

11: Tuesday

This morning I had my first lesson in the use of nunchaku. It was very interesting. Sensei demonstrated all the different moves, and the kata (what we call the form) for the nunchaka, and gave me an idea of the principles of use as a weapon. He showed me how to do each move and we practiced them.

So far, I've learned that the tips of my fingers are the most at risk. When I catch, I have to be careful that my hand is open flat: if the fingers are curled in anticipation of the catch, the fingertips will get whacked!

Learning the nunchaku will be as easy and as hard as taiji. The moves are simple, but the execution must become precise and automatic. The nunchaku are an extension of the body, and the chi must be channeled and controlled... well.

My nunchaku are hickory wood connected by a black nylon cord. They're about 14 inches long, tapering from 1.25 inches at the base to less than an inch at the top. They're octagonal in cross-section. They have a black nylon cloth case with a black cord. They're very pretty and they have a very nice feel.

I enjoyed the lesson very, very much. I like Sensei. He has a good philosophy and he enjoys what he does. Not to mention he's good at it. Really good. A lot like David.

Three sets and cool-down qigong. Then some practice with the nunchaku. I felt unbalanced in the sets— it was as if the taiji shoes had become too narrow for my feet. I couldn't get my feet to connect with the earth.

12: Wednesday

I took a day off from practice. But, in the evening, I went to the Dojo to observe.

During the classes, Sensei came over and spoke to me about what was going on. He runs a tight ship, this ex-marine. There's a lot of discipline inherent in him, and he instills a respect for it in his students. The nice part is that he enjoys his art and his teaching, and the discipline allows him to express that in interaction with his students: the discipline can be counted on to keep everyone focused and within bounds, so the atmosphere is actually quite relaxed. They joke and laugh during the lessons, expecially in the advanced class. There's a very good feeling in his dojo. It's an excellent place to learn.

As I watched the classes, watched and listened to the students interacting with the instructor, I began to perceive the similarities between our learning experiences, and I began to miss my own teacher very, very much...

13: Thursday

Gray day. Cool. It was after dark when I got to practice. I lit the lanterns and the candles, and some incense, and the fireflies winked from the trees as I practiced.

I wore my taiji chucks. I've been having trouble with my balance, feeling I can't get my feet connected to the ground: I think my new taiji shoes still need some breaking in. Anyway, tonight, in my old shoes, after the first few sets, I found myself rooted. Much better!

Six sets— could've been seven— to Jimmy Buffett's "Somewhere Over China." Then qigong to cool down, and some practice with the nunchaku.

Tonight I learned there's no use in even trying to grow fingernails when you're learning the nunchaku. Cut 'em to the quick for the duration, cuz you'll mash every one of 'em!

I also learned that the twirling and figure eight exercises are going to be excellent for strengthening my grip, and that it's a good thing I have lots of padding on my hips!

I'm thinking I may sign up for some karate lessons, but I can tell you for a certainty now that it's the taiji that holds my heart and always will. When I bowed tonight at the end of the sets, I had tears in my eyes from missing my teacher.

14: Friday

It's three ayem Saturday. I hadn't meant to stay up so late, but I had to practice.

It's raining and cool. I could see my breath in Opening Form...

Four good sets. I wore my taiji chucks again and, again, my feet felt much more grounded. Guess there's nothing like chucks.

I still haven't got that creeping snake right, but grabbing that peacock's tail is getting much easier now that I twist only my waist and I slide between forward and backward bow stances. (It still floors me how long it took to catch that error!)

After the cool-down qigong I practiced with the nunchaku. Right now it's mostly a matter of getting used to handling them. Last night I had the devil of a time swinging them around behind my body without whacking myself hard in the waist or hip, but tonight I relaxed and let my arm swing further around and the impact was absorbed by the redirection of energy as the cords wrapped around me. Much better.

The figure eights still feel awkward. I still need to work on just getting the spins to work, and I've been avoiding practicing retrieval as I don't like getting my fingers pinched. But I will work on it— and maybe some visualization meditation will help.

15: Saturday

No practice today.

16: Sunday

Six sets and they felt pretty good... but I know there's something wrong. I can't put my finger on it; I only know there's something. A lack of... focus? precision? It's bugging me— in spite of all that's right.

During the qigong I watched my breath. It's raining and cool and very humid. There's fog in the meadow— though, earlier, it cleared for a while and I saw the stars and a quarter moon in the west.

I'm making progress with the nunchaku. And the over-the-shoulder moves are very good limbering exercise. Tonight I mashed my right middle finger but good. Twice. I've seen very light weight practice nunchaku— nah! I'll tough it out. And I'll go slow! (But, oh! my fingers do sting!)

17: Monday

Three sets, the odd grasping and qigong by candle and lantern light. No nunchaku: I'm giving my bruised fingers a day to rest.

Warm and muggy tonight. I felt a little heavy.

The three sets took all the first cut of the Yin music CD: 23 minutes. I didn't take any breaks. I didn't feel I was going very slowly. Hrumph.

My left shoulder feels a little tense. I know I'm not as relaxed tonight as I have been. I think it's because lessons start tomorrow night. When we come back from a break, however long or short, I always find myself worrying about what David will say. And it's silly of me to do so because he's never yet said anything— good or bad— after a break! Still, you never know. This time, he could. (I do wish David and I could talk easily. I really do.)

I was reading today in the T'ai Chi Classics about all the different kinds of energy. So far, only "sticking" really makes sense to me. I hope we can do more with Push Hands this semester.

18: Tuesday

Tonight Ma and I were David's only students. Paul said he was coming, but he didn't show. Jo's taking some time off because she hurt her knee at Scout Camp. Heaven knows where everyone else got off to. Too bad for them. We had an excellent lesson. We're up at Spring Lake again for the summer.

David was very much at ease with us— something has changed between me and David, but I can't put my finger on what... it's a change for the better, though. And Ma says the change is in David. In fact she says she saw it happen. She said, "He sees you differently now." I don't know. Something is different.

We worked on Opening Form and its application most, "strangling" each other and breaking the strangle hold, then taking control and kneeing the attacker. Neat.

David also helped us (me) work on Snake Creeps Down. I didn't have the hands right. The snake hand describes a circle... From the kick, the toe touch, the hand arcs over to the whip hand and then continues as the snake, in continuation of the arc, creeps down the body, and along the ground, coming up again on the other side while the whip hand becomes hook hand the position of which counter balances against the snake. I wasn't paying attention to what either hand was doing.

The reading tonight was "Excess." The concept, that one should use only as much [force, whatever— sugar, even] as necessary to accomplish one's purpose, seemed to please David no end. I appreciate that concept very much, too.

When we were done our cool down qigong, Ma commented that her back was bothering her. I chided her for not having practiced during the break. But David went to her and called me over and told me to rub my hands together, and together we rubbed Ma's back. This isn't the first time David's given a student a "massage." And he seems to enjoy being able to make people feel better. I wonder sometimes that he isn't some sort of... healer. Doctor, nurse, therapist. He'd be very good at it, I think.

19: Wednesday

Bits and pieces. Repulse the Monkey. Three sets and qigong. Then nunchaku. It's nice to see the stars, and the yellow gibbous moon settling in the west in the opalescent sky. Beautiful night.

The monkey is bugging me— almost enough to ask David a question! If we repulse towards 9 o'clock, that arm is not perpendicular to the body when we step back— I mean, should the arms be outstretched directly to the sides...?

Aaaaaarrrrrrgh!!!!! I can't even draw it! The thing is, if I'm to "step straight back" and when doing so be stepping at a 45 degree angle to my line of travel, my shoulders and hips should be at a 45 degree angle, too, right? But, if I'm repulsing towards 9 o'clock, my repulsing arm can't be straight out to my side: it's not on a line with my shoulders and hips. So... How is this supposed to work?!

Tonight I taped the middle fingers of both hands for hunchaku practice. It's easier to relax into the catching when you're not worried about mashing a finger end. However, none of that prevents you from moving your shoulder just enough to clip yourself behind the ear. As Han advised Luke: "Don't get cocky, kid!" (If you do, you'll be repeating another of Han's lines: "I feel terrible.")

Anyway, I did much better. I'm getting used to my nunchaku. I've been sleeping with them by my hand. I like the feel of the wood. I don't know if it helps, but I've acquired a clue as to how to catch both in one hand without pinching my fingers. And, strange to report, my left had is better at this retrieval than my right. Go figure.

20: Thursday

Seven hours 'til the solstice. The moon, all orangey-gold, was settling in the west while I practiced.

Three sets (right side), nunchaku (with taped fingers), and qigong.

Repluse the Monkey seems to work when I don't think about it. Then it feels good. But the question remains: Am I doing it correctly? I guess I'll have to get David to watch me. *sigh*

Snake seems to be coming together. Just that clear instruction on how the hands should move has made a big difference. But I have to continue to be careful of how I place, and how I weight my left foot. That atrophied muscle is not going to rejuvenate itself any time soon, and I'm still learning to compensate. The problame is especially evident in Wave Hands Like Clouds. If the left foot isn't flat and my weight isn't over it— well. Then I tense up and that's the end of the nice flow. I also have to be careful in parting and brushing. My left leg is stronger, and I have a tendency to quite literally overstep my limit.

It was good to see David doing the forms the other night. It answered questions I had forgotten. And because I can see him again in my mind's eye and imitate his moves, yesterday and today I found myself making small corrections to the way I coordinate my hands and feet, and to the ways I use my hands.

David said his knee is much better now. He isn't in constant pain as he was. I'm looking forward to watching him whne he's had a chance to practice. It should really be something to watch!

I did well with the nunchaku tonight. The over-the-shoulder toss and catch was much smoother, a little faster— I was careful to be sure of my grip before going into the toss! I didn't mash my fingers hardly at all.

I also tried the toss and catch at the middle of my back. I gave that a rest because I had trouble keeping myself from letting the tossing hadn rest on the back of my head. but tonight I did better, both tossing and catching.

Qigong... on the last ones, I could feel a tenseness in my left shoulder. Qi blockage, I guess. Couldn't get rid of it. In fact, I can feel it still. Rats.

21: Friday

The hazy, deep orange moon has just set behind the trees. The summer sky already has light in it. It's very humid, but the breeze is cool. I think I prefer practicing at night in summer.

Three sets, left side. I ran past the music: 23 minutes. The forms weren't perfect tonight, but I felt something different was happening. I felt... more coordinated. I felt a flowing in the movements. And the qigong felt— I feel I'm moving energy. Chi. Qi. I don't think I'm fooling myself.

I was brave with the nunchaku: no tape on my fingers tonight! And I did well catching in the over-the-shoulder practice. I didn't press myself on the middle-of-the-back catching or on retrieval because I felt I was getting tired. The nunchaku are really going to build up strength in my arms and hands. Excellent! I've always wanted to do something about strengthening my grip. Now I've found the perfect exercises.

The sun will be up soon. How short the nights are! Next year I think I'll hold a "long dance," like in LeGuin's The Farthest Shore. It sure is a beautiful night.

22: Saturday

No practice. The world was too full of noise today.

23: Sunday

Three sets, right amidst the noise of the mowers. I was tense and I could feel it in my lower back.

I practiced barefoot. Can't slide in Snake, but I could feel that I still have work to do on strengthening my left leg so I can root it properly. I'll practice more later.

03:40 Monday

I thought it was raining, but it's only the sound of water dripping in the downspout, and from the trees. They sky is hazy, and the near-full moon orange behind the maple leaves. Orange and blue. There's a cool wind, but it's very humid. I can hear the water thundering over the dam. As I practiced with my nunchaku I watched the fireflies...

Over-the-shoulder catching is easier. And again I left off the tape. I only had a couple of glancing blows to my fingers.

When Sensei was explaining nunchaku to me, he said it was a skill like riding a bicycle: once learned, it stays with you, and it comes back quickly if you're away from it a while. I begin to think he's right. And it is a lot like juggling. Perhaps I should try again to perfect that skill.

The hardest thing now is to keep the rest of my body relaxed as I swing the nunchaku. I feel myself tense all over. When I do, I release it, but then I tense up again. Practice.

Tonight the smooth hickory almost felt slippery. I'll have to be careful when it's so warm and humid.

24: Monday

What a gorgeous night! It's cool and clear and calm and the moon is full. I lit the lanterns and the candles, and a stick of jasmine incense. Why jasmine? I dunno.

Earlier this evening I went for a walk over to the Heron's Pond. David was on his way home from class and stopped to talk. I commented that the frogs were quite vocal tonight and he said not to mention frogs. It seems he has a lot of them in his yard and they are quite stupid. It seems they don't move out of the way of the mower, and— well, yuck. I told him that it sounds like the problem will eventually take care of itself: the stupid frogs won't be around to breed. we talked quite a bit about this, that, and the other. It was good talking. We laughed a lot. We'd be there still, in the road talking, if his car hadn't started to overheat.

Six sets and qigong and some standing qigong, then a little practice with the nunchaku.

The six sets felt very good— for the most part. I fluffed a few forms, but not seriously. I was tense on the kicks in the first three sets...

It continues to puzzle me why the sets are so different, right and left. The moves don't change. One parts, and brushes, and repulses, and presses, and grasps, and waves, and kicks, and creeps, and shuttles, both left and right. And yet, if one begins from the left, everything is different. Why?

Tonight as I practiced the over-the-shoulder catches with the nunchaku, I also stepped forwards and backwards— t'ai chi stepping. It's not too difficult to coordinate. But then, I'm still going quite slowly.

25: Tuesday

Cindy and Dennis were back with us tonight. And a lady from Saturday, Deborah, I think her name is, and Eileen.

Half for a joke, half for serious, I wore my taiji tunic and britches. David smiled when he saw me, but he didn't say anything. The outfit is black, but it isn't any hotter than the tights I usually wear— in fact, it's cooler because everything is loose. I did have the top button unbuttoned, though, and, late in the lesson when we were all hot, David said I would have to button it to be proper. I told him he'd have to make me.

The lesson was excellent. I told David so. We went out on the grass above the beach. The footing was quite lumpy, but good practice.

We did the forms over and over, five, maybe six times, with only a bit of a break here and there for refinements, applications (a lot on Grasp Peacock's Tail), and water. Around sunset we went back inside and did more sets. David put on the music, the 6 minute & 10 second piece from Tai Chi Music. We began at the first note and ended just as the last note faded. Excellent! Then he put on the 11 minute piece and we went even slower— not 11 minutes, but very slowly. I didn't seem to have any problem with the pace, but some of the others were wobbling.

I got to watch David quite a bit and imitate him. It really helps.

I've decided, by the way, to trust David. I believe he has a kind heart. I can't explain why I feel differently now, but I do. Whatever problems there are between us, whatever my doubts about him are, I've decided to trust him. And myself. I don't love losers.

26: Wednesday

Four sets, left side, and qigong. The moon, all hazy, came out while I practiced. I wobbled a bit throughout. I'm tired and it's unbelievably hot and humid. There's a light breeze, but not enough. Tonight I kept ending up tow board-widths to the inside. Puzzling. No nunchaku: I'm too tired, and they'd be too slippery.

Tonight I went to the Dojo. I still find the atmosphere there wonderfully appealing. The attitude is supportive and non-competitive at all levels. I signed up for lessons, and stayed to observe the advanced class. I've always been fascinated by martial arts weapons and I know I'm going to enjoy this immensely.

27: Thursday

No practice because of the heat.

28: Friday

No practice because of the heat.

29: Saturday

The first comfortable day we've had since last Monday, and the noise has been unbelievable! Mowers, builders— unbelievable! And now I'm too tired to practice.

30: Sunday

Pale moonlight and fireflies. Cool now, but that won't last...

Bad dreams earlier while I napped: bear traps and vicious dogs. I neatly avoided stepping in the traps, and the dogs barked, but didn't seem intent on attacking me.

Six sets and qigong and some work with the nunchaku. My shoulder is bothering me, but it felt better during practice.

Tonight I learned that I've been turning too far to the left when parting and brushing to the left, and that's why my left leg has an even harder time. When doing it correctly, I step straight into the t-step with my right foot and my weight settles nicely on my left leg and foot and there's no twist in my hip.

What else did I learn...

I've been doing Press wrong, so I made sure to watch David. I was turning before I got my foot out and planted. I haven't quite got it worked out, but now that I step out and plant my foot before turning, I've got get the transfer— the slide into the Press coordinated...

I have grasping clear in my head, but I've been muffing it in practice...

The nunchaku are coming along...

The sky is getting light, the birds are up.

Copyright © 2002 New Moon

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