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May 2002

Kick with Left Heel in Spring © 2002 New Moon

Kick with Left Heel in the Spring
Copyright © 2002 New Moon

01: Wednesday

It's 38 degrees and getting overcast. When I began practice, the moon was a brilliant orange smudge rising above the trees. Now it can't be seen.

Tonight I practiced to the tangos. The Push Hands we were doing last night reminded me of it. I lit the lanterns and just let myself enjoy the movement.

I didn't have trouble with my balance tonight until I began to get tired and the cumulative effects of my thinking began to intrude. Snake was almost working tonight— once I'm sure I had it right. But Wave Hands Like Clouds was all disconnected, in spite of the music.

Six sets, and qigong, and then I just spent a long time moving to the music, going from one form to another as I felt moved to do. I also practice the coordination for the Lotus Kicks. My left leg wants to come straight back down instead of describing an ellipse, though...

I was just reading the description of Lotus Foot Form in the back of my T'ai Chi Classics. That's a 360 degree turn that goes into the elliptical kick, that goes into Shooting Tiger with Bow (a kind of punch).... Hmmmm. This will be interesting: Step into the turn, shift weight to the left foot, bring up the right leg in a circular motion, circling arms in the opposite direction allowing them to brush the right leg at the apex... interesting.

I could see my breath as I practiced, but I felt warm.

02: Thursday

No practice. I did some more reading in the T'ai Chi Classics.

03: Friday

No practice, but a few bits and pieces— and some more reading in the T'ai Chi Classics.

04: Saturday

Saturday was a beautiful day. I did three sets, and then took off my shoes and socks and continued to practice barefoot. Ten sets in all and the odd Lotus Kicks.

The sets were not distinguished, but being barefoot was a great benefit to rooting my left foot. I could really feel when my weight wasn't distributed evenly. Then I would shift and settle my foot— shoes make it too easy to compensate for slight errors and imabalances. But being barefoot has drawbacks, too. It's neither easy nor desirable to slide my feet across the porch boards!

I have noticed that my feet are changing. Believe it or not, they're becoming more flexible, too. Each toe is developing individual control. It's a slow process, and much hindered by nearly 50 years of misuse and neglect, but it is happening. My feet are learning t'ai chi.

I don't remember doing any qigong.

05: Sunday

I could smell tulips as I practiced. Tonight in the cool darkness my concentration was... missing— up until the last two of the six sets. Very bad. I was trying too hard and I know I was tense: my neck kept crackling!

As I practiced qigong, I heard myself wondering if I should do more qigong. I kept remembering other qigong exercises, old and new, and thinking I could spend hours a day practicing... It just doesn't seem I'll ever be able to practice enough to get really good.

06: Monday

No practice.

07: Tuesday

An interesting lesson. We were only four again: me, David, Ma, and Cindy. David seemed a little sad tonight.

Before class we were warming up and talking about this and that. As I was listening, I found myself thinking about the trouble I've been having with Grasp Peacock's Tail, and, unconsciously, I stepped into the form, and David was watching, and he said, "Stop. Do it again." I did, but before I had even begun to grab that tail, David said, "Stop! Again!" I tried again— and again! — and again! — and again! — and again!— bet I did it nine times before, finally, I let myself do it right— that part, anyway!

Once I got my hands up into position correctly— and what I had been doing wrong was 1) swinging my leg out instead of stepping out, and 2) doing a sloppy, flaccid block— once I got that straightened out and grasped that tail properly, I then proceeded to pull the tail too far down and too far around. Ratballz! But, David got me straightened out on that, too, and it was amazing how much better Grasping Peacock's Tail felt after that!

Later, after we had completed a set, we were all feeling relaxed, and I ventured to mention that my feet felt like they were getting tangled up— in Peacock again. I felt as if I was stepping in the wrong direction... sort of— my feet weren't landing in good positions for making the transitions between forms, especially at the times when I knew we were supposed to be traveling towards a certain "o'clock." (We tell directions by the clock. We begin facing twelve o'clock, then Part and Brush and Strum towards nine o'clock, and so on.)

Anyway, I mentioned it and said I thought I must be going through another phase. David stared at me hard for a minute, thinking, then he started telling me (us) about the thoughts of various Masters on making adjustments and corrections. (Some say pivot on the toe; some say on the heel...) It got quite interesting, and we got to discussing the T'ai Chi Classics, and I said I'd been doing my reading (and I have!), and I also observed that I can now understand a lot more than I did. And that's when David surprised me by observing that reading the Classics is a lot like reading poetry. And so it is. So it is.

Then we did some Push Hands. This time when David worked with me, he kept reminding me to strike directly towards him. I guess he thought I was avoiding do so because I thought I might accidentally hit him, because he pointedly told me that it was up to my opponent to block me or get bopped in the nose. Truth is, I just don't know what I'm doing. But, after he told me that, I tried. He wasn't in much danger, though. But it was fun. We laughed a lot.

Tonight was the last lesson of this series. Rats. And David told us that the next session won't start until June 18th! Double rats!

And David forgot to give us our reading.

08: Wednesday

No practice.

09: Thursday

Three sets and qigong. In the last set I actually "got" Snake Creeps Down once! It surprised me so much that it ruined the rest of the set. But at least now I know I have it in me. Somewhere.

10: Friday

Rain tonight— at last!— and cool. Can't smell the lilacs tonight.
"I want to make myself an empty room
Quiet whitewashed walls with slant sunshine
And a fresh breeze through open windows....

"...Give up all unnecessary activity. give up all arbitrary actions. Make yourself receptive. The peace that you seek shall be quickly at hand."

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao #248

Even so, this day feels like a complete loss. I didn't practice.

Oh, by the way, I emailed David to tell him I'd seen the ad for Jo's Open House and that he was listed among the demonstrators on Saturday, and I mentioned that he'd forgotten our reading again. He emailed back and said the reading was to have been "Hard," from his Deng Ming-Dao book, the one that followed mine. I don't own that one. I'll have to see if I can find it through the library-- unless David decides to do as I asked and type it out and send it to me. (Ha!)

11: Saturday

A beautiful day. The dogwood trees are in full bloom....

Six sets? Seven? And qigong. But my mind was in turmoil and the sets were all over the place. I thought later that, well, even my worst set today had to be an improvement compared to my best set of a year ago. But then I remembered that it isn't the physical aspect of the forms that's important. It has to be all of a piece: mind, body, spirit: one. Rats. Maybe next time.

12: Sunday

One set in the humid dark and I need something to eat. Oatmeal...

Now I need a walk...

I feel good. Let's see if I can practice.

Five sets: three right, two left, some odd creeping, and qigong. Snake and Monkey have both gone all to hell. Snake because of the porch boards; Monkey because... because I've been trying too hard. I had Monkey right until I got to watching David and decided I wasn't opening up enough as I step back. My feet were going in too straight a line— no zig-zag. Maybe I should get the board out again.

I don't know why, but even after such crummy sets, the qigong felt light and relaxed. Go figure.

13: Monday

I was reading an article about peng energy in the latest T'ai Chi Magazine today. In the article the author said how difficult it is to render a good translation of Chinese Terms. Peng, the author said, has generally been translated "ward-off," and he was trying to convey the idea that "peng" isn't an action, and he was under the impression that "ward-off" was an action. Now, to my mind, "ward-off" is a static state of protection. But then I am more familiar with the older definitions of "ward." The OED has ward as "guard, or watch, to shield," and ward-off is a protective or defensive stance, not an action, per se. So. The older interpretation of "ward-off" seems to be the closest translation for "peng." Interesting.

It's about 46 degrees outside. Chilly. the sky is overcast and the light from the sodium lamps look evil. The back yard seems to have closed in now that the trees are coming into leaf. The dogwoods are a pale white barrier in the pale light. No practice.

14: Tuesday

No practice.

15: Wednesday

No practice.

16: Thursday

No practice.

17: Friday

No practice.

18: Saturday

Not a good week for t'ai chi. I've only practiced once since last Sunday, and that was only two sets and a qigong cool down.

I've been very upset. Very depressed. I didn't go to work Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday. Thursday I did go in for a few hours. I felt exhausted. I slept a lot.

Today David was supposed to do a T'ai Chi demonstration at Jo's Open House. But he emailed to say he had had knee surgery on May 9th, and wasn't quite up to it. Hrmph. I'm glad he had his knee fixed, but I feel a little ticked that he didn't warn us that he was going in for knee surgery— even if we are on break from lessons. Maybe it isn't any of my business, but I still feel he should have told us.

Found a Chinese Proverb: "Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." I knew that.

19: Sunday

No practice.

20: Monday

Three solid sets and qigong. I did better than I thought I would.

21: Tuesday

The light is so different on the porch now that the leaves are out. The sun is higher, too, of course. So different. Perhaps I'm noticing it more because of the pictures I've been taking of the porch.

Today I wrote a note to David. I sent him a reading, "this being Tuesday." The chapter titled "Limits" on page 61 of "Zen Guitar" by Philip Sudo, one of the books Ma and I gave David for our first T'ai Chi anniversary. You and David, can look it up. It's a good one.

22: Wednesday

Six very nice sets and qigong. In the frist two sets, I noticed my fingers trembling the way David's do, as if great tension is present. But I was— as David always is— very relaxed. I suppose it could be my chi developing. I didn't notice it happening any more after the first two sets.

I did notice that I haven't been very precise in executing forward bow stances, especially the one preceeding Hands Unfold Like Fan. I haven't been getting a good stretch in the trailing leg, nor have I been keeping my heel down.

On the other hand, Peacock and Snake are improving. I'm not saying they're "really good" or anything like that, mind you. I'm just saying they're improving. I'm getting the feel for those two forms. I'm beginning to understand the mechanics— the requirements, the balance that is necessary to make them work. Sometimes I wonder how such a complexity can be found in the movements— I have the feeling that only by recognizing the complexity will I be able to discover the simplicity.

23: Thursday

No time for practice before the meeting this morning. On the way home, emerging from the "Bermuda Triangle" that is Warwick, however, I found myself near the Airport Plaza and stopped in at the Ninja Store. There I found some very nice Pine Tree (Sung Moo Sa) T'ai Chi shoes. They're leather, white. I also bought a black cotton tunic. I can wear the shoes for practice and to lessons, but I'm not sure I've "got the chops" to wear the tunic in public. Yet.

By the time I finished all my running around (meeting, errands, hair cut, work, supper, laundry), I was too tired to practice.

24: Friday

One set today before work, solid and good; one set tonight, no balance. The night is beautiful. The moon is nearly full, the sky is new washed by the rain. Scorpius shines in the gap between the pine and the maple, and raindrops sparkle in the grass. The dogwoods are white in the moonlight. But I'm too tired.

25: Saturday

Ten sets and qigong. It's beautiful on the back porch. There's some wind from the southeast, but it's not bothersome, just cooling— and it's keeping the gnats away.

Now, when I begin, as I stand preparing for the set, I feel the tension drop away, both physically and mentally. It's as if I actually drop a weight.

The new taiji shoes seem to give me a better feeling for my roots. But they need a bit of breaking in, too, I think.

Snake seems to be getting there. I think I'm starting to understand it. Funny how it's so difficult to get the meaning of what you're doing while you still have to concentrate so hard on the physical movements... but that's the way it is. For me.

I couldn't really feel the chi today, except in opening form. But it will come back, of that I am sure.

26: Sunday

How many sets? Three right; five left? I can't remember. I began well, but towards the end the sound of the lawn mowers was getting to me and I began to feel a strain— Snake especially suffered. I actually felt a pain in my hip joints on the last two sets. That's what made me quit: I realized how tired I had become. And my left foot was having trouble staying rooted. The weight kept shifting to the front and inside.

27: Monday

"I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane." — Waylon Jennings song.

Memorial Day. I didn't practice today. Jo and Paul and I went for a walk in the woods and I taiji walked the whole way— silent as the wind spirit! And I tried walking the telephone pole— Jo has some up by the barn as fencing— barefoot. Jo has been practicing because of Scout School. She tries to walk it with her eyes closed. It was very difficult keeping my balance when the pair of them were on the pole with me, but I kept my balance enough to do a couple of kicks.

28: Tuesday

Thunder this morning and a little rain.

Three mediocre sets and qigong— not that I didn't learn anything from these sets. I discovered something new about Grasp Peacock. Nothing earth shattering, just a simple thing: when sliding between forward and backward bow stances, don't twist your legs: only the waist turns. Simple. (Duh!)

29: Wednesday

I didn't practice.

30: Thursday

Today, beforehand, I put the three-inch boards down and practiced Repulsing the Monkey. At the end of one round/length I discovered I could go forward practicing High Pat on Horse, so I did those two forms up and down a few times. My back stepping turned out to be not as bad as I had thought it was.

I had time for two sets. As I came up to Strum the Lute in the first set, I suddenly understood how the energy might be transmitted from my feet up my legs to my waist and out my hands. An epiphany! Not that I can consciously do any such thing, but now I have consciously realized that it can be done. Neat.

31: Friday

No practice today.

"What a joy it is to learn and to practice consistently!" — Confucius.

Rats. At least I'm learning.

Copyright © 2002 New Moon

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