Leaves on the Porch
Copyright © 2002 New Moon
2nd New England International Chinese Martial Arts Championships
Eastern Connecticut State University
Willimantic, Connecticut, USA
9:00 a.m. 6:00 p.m.
Seminars by Renowned Masters
I attended three seminars:
13:00 - 14:45
Grand Master Zhang Zhijun
"Grand Master Zhang Zhijun began learning Chen style tai chi in 1970 and in 1974 became a disciple of Grand Master Chen Zhao Kui, the 18th generation lineage holder of Chen style tai chi, who for three years lived and taught in Grand Master Zhang's house in Zhengshou. In 2001 Grand Master Zhang was welcomed into the very select group of the fifteen most outstanding grandmasters of tai chi in china by the Yongnian Tai Chi Association. His clear teaching style, focusing on new frame Chen style, cuts through the confusion and mysticism that surrounds tai chi and makes it accessible to everyone."
"Chen style Tai Chi is most well-known for its silk-reeling exercises, which are not only essential to its martial application but is also good for health and well-being. In this seminar Grand Master Zhang will teach several forms of Chen style silk-reeling exercises."
14:45 - 16:15
Master Randy K. Li
"Master Li is a 2nd generation disciple of Yip Man Wing Chun. He began Wing Chun training in 1963 in Macau under Grandmaster Ho Kam Ming. He is a 5th generation disciple of Yang style Taiji having studied under Grandmaster Tam Yiu Chuen in Macau, and a 5th generation disciple of Hung Sing Choy Lee Fut. In addition to being a Qigong master and focusing on beads for health, he specializes in Wing Chun self-defense and Yang Taiji. He is president of the U.S.A. National Traditional Wushu Federation, Honorary President of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Association, and Vice President of the U.S.A. National Tai Chi Chuan Association. Master Li is internationally ranked as a 7th degree black belt."
Taiji-24 Short Form Real-Life Applications
"Master Randy Li is a 5th generation disciple of Yang Family Taiji specializing in Taiji self-defense applications. Master Li will teach how simple Taiji routines work for self-defense in real-life situations. This workshop is designed for Taiji practitioners of all levels."
Master Yuzhi Lu
"Master Yuzhi Lu has studied Wushu from the age of twelve. She received her bachelor's degree from the Physical Education Department of Qufu Univeristy and was an instructor there for more than 16 years. After that, she continued her Wushu studies in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shandong Province."
Tai Chi San Shou
"This seminar teaches a two-person drill, with one attacking and one defending, all in slow motion. It combines traditional Yang family forms, Chen family silk-reeling (shan si jin), and joint locking (qinna). It can improve coordination and balance, teach fundamental self-defense, and develop qi (energy)."
Today I learned I have a very good teacher. Because of the solid foundation of knowledge he has given me, I was able to understand and learn from masters today. If David had not given me this starting place, my time and that of those teaching today would have been wasted.
For instance, in the silk-reeling workshop, the teacher spoke no english. He had an interpreter/assistant, but I found that the interpretation wasn't really necessary. I watched and listened, and I understood almost felt I understood Chinese! because I could make sense of the principles he was utilizing and I could follow the applications. When I would demonstate to the teacher that I understood what he was saying, he would smile and nod and say, "Yesss, yess." It was the same in the Taiji Real-Life Applications and Tai Chi San Shou. When the moves were demonstrated, since I already understood the basics of what the applications were supposed to be, I could execute the new moves effectively with my partner. In return I got smiles from my teachers and a real sense of having progressed in my learning.
I may not be the greatest t'ai chi student, but I think I did not disgrace my teacher. And my teacher certainly did not disgrace me.
Today I wrote a long letter (five pages, I think) to David telling him all about my adventures in Willimantic. I wish he could have been there with me. I've been thinking about all I saw in the competitions and the masters demonstrations. Between David and Sensei, they could have cleaned up. They may not call themselves masters, but that doesn't mean they're not. I only saw a handful of masters who could even give my teachers a run for their money. And in the letter I told David that. And I thanked him.
Three sets in the cool autumn sun with the leaves falling.
Truly there is great satisfaction in practice. Yesterday and today have been worth it all the practice, I mean. I'm not perfect in the forms, but I know I've achieved a lot.
Seven sets. It's a beautiful day, a pale November day. I practiced in my light cotton turtleneck, sleeves rolled up, and was very comfortable.
Why are some days practice so much better or worse than others? I tried five sets of 42 Form first sequence and I couldn't coordinate it at all. I think Sensei Shimabuku had the right idea about practicing: concentrate on one thing during each set (kata). I'm going to draw up a list and post it on the porch.
No lesson tonight because of elections. Rats. I wonder if David got my 5-page letter... heck, he's probably still trying to finish reading it!
Rainy and cool today I can see my breath on each exhale but it seems warmer than yesterday. All the leaves are falling.
Three sets and cool-down qigong. I need to make my list and post it, though. Today I couldn't concentrate enough to think of something to concentrate on!
David's ad for the next series of lessons appeared in yesterday's Bargain Buyer. It says "The Combined Taijiquan 42 Form." He's hoping to pick up some new-old students who want to go on to something different.
But I'm going to keep working on my 24 Form, and I'm going to ask David to help me. I want to be really, really good at something for once in my life.
Stepping while I drink my tea... I can feel that inside calf muscle on my left leg... will it come back?
I made a list today to practice from. I started with practicing the karate. I practiced naihanshi shodan seven times, concentrating on a different aspect each time. It helped a lot. For one thing, it frees up the mind by focusing practice on getting just one thing right. So you notice that your feet didn't land right, but you don't have to worry about that this time because this time you're working on your breathing. And then later, when you're working on your stance and putting your feet right, you find that your breathing is better and you didn't have to worry about it! It's an excellent system. That's why I'm also making up a list for T'ai Chi practice.
After naihanshi shodan, I practiced both niahanshi nidan and wansu, but not seven times each. I did put down a board to keep my feet moving in a straight line for the niahanshis. I practiced barefoot. Today's probably the last chance for barefoot practice on the porch until next year.
I put my shoes on after the first set of T'ai Chi. Shoes are just better for now... I'm thinking I should get some of those interlocking foam "floor tiles" to practice on. I saw them on sale at Mr. Buyrite. They're really good for improving balance and strengthening the tiger toes.
Seven sets, working from the karate list but thinking about how to adapt the list for taiji. It is different, but it's also very similar...
In the karate, Sensei has communicated a need to coordinate the "loose" and "tight" of the moves. I wonder if this should be considered part of Focus/Power, or if is should be practiced separately. And is this "loose/tight" thing true for taiji, too? In the practice of applications, possibly?
- Breathing: seems much mor critical in karate, but it's important in taiji and can not be discounted just because, in practice sessions, taiji can feel so relaxing.
- Eyes: this to me means making sure of the sequence of the moves. Right now, I'm thinking of it as look... block... punch... whatever. In this, taiji coordination would be similar but I'm probably wrong. Got a feeling taiji eyes and karate eyes are two different things... but then, I haven't had much experience of taiji as a martial art. I'm going to have to ask both my teachers about this one.
- Stance: rooting. Making sure your feet are positioned properly, sitck down those tiger toes, and see that the rest of you is balanced correctly.
- Form: precision of execution. Same for taiji.
- Focus/Power: concentrate on the execution of the applications, feeling the presence of the opponent.
- Kiai/Timing: the rhythm of the execution? The flow in taiji.
- Integration: putting it all together.
In the jaiji, there's a need to practice being "soong," as well as the need to "watch your level." Soong could be combined with breathing. Level, though...
Making sure you don't bounce up and down. Somehow, I feel that this should be number 8 for taiji. But I'm going to think about it some more. (If there were 8 for taiji, an even number, you could practice 4 sets on each side.)
It's raining now, but still mild and windy. When I began, the sun was out and it was warm...
I have no idea how many sets I did today. Seven or eight to begin as I was working through my practice list. I'm still not happy with the list becuase the terms need to be very specifically defined. I have eight for taiji, and seven for karate, and I'm going to have to get some input from my teachers.
Anyway, after those beginning sets, I was curious about changing to a faster speed. When David did all of 42 Form in the parking lot two weeks ago, he was moving at a pretty good clip that I couldn't easily keep up with. Not and keep my balance. I remembered later him telling us that there would come a time when we would practice doing the forms fast. He warned us then that beginner shouldn't attempt it. I understand why he said that now. The "trick" is that you've got to move fast and do the forms right. There's no way a beginner can get the forms right even going slow, so going fast is out of the question and would slow learning. But I figure I may be an intermediate level student now, and I thought I'd try for some speed.
Keeping your pace speedy isn't as easy as you might think. Not after years of constantly reminding yourself to slow down. So I put on the second track of T'ai Chi Melody, the "Simplified T'ai Chi Sword" piece. It's a snappy happy 3 minutes and 20 seconds long. It wasn't until the sixth set I managed to finish before the music did!
It takes a lot of concentration to keep moving, and even more to not screw up the forms. Once I got the pace right, I did it a couple more times and decided I still have a lot of work to do at a slow pace though I was gratified by how much better my balance was than I though it would be.
Sometimes I think a thousand years won't be long enough to get good at taiji.
After that, I put the board down and practiced karate. I went through the seven items for niahanhsi shodan, and was going to do so for 'nidan, too, but I came up with too many questions about the kata. I went on to practice wansu, and come up with even more questions about that kata, so I called a halt to the karate practice and went back to taiji.
Two nice, slow, sets, then some cool-down qigong. My feet are tired. But I wish I could spend this much time practicing every day.
I've been practicing, and I could just scream or cry. Or something. I woke up exhausted today and called in sick. Then I went back to bed and slept until about 15:00.
I did three sets of 24 Form and then worked on Snake. Then, discouraged, and with half a mind to quit completely, I went on to 42 Form. That led to a lot of work on Deflect and Push.
Last night, David showed me the hand coordination for Snake Creeps Down, and today I can't figure it out! Should the trailing hand be moving up from Whip so that the back of the wrist is leading? I think so... but it that right?
And in Deflect and Push, David said I wasn't turning my waist enough and that was why the hands didn't come together naturally for the "push." Am I turning too much now? My hands come together way over to the side and are already in place when the pushing begins. Is this right? Or is it supposed to be like in Peacock where the hands "join up" during the "press"? I don't know. I just don't know.
It's a gray, rainy day, and I'm tired stressed. I hope things get better soon.
Four sets and cool-down and a bit of practice on Punch. The other night David said I had my blocking hand up higher than my punching arm's elbow. And I did. I hadn't noticed. I'm not sure I've fixed it now, but I tried.
I feel like yelling at David, "Why have you let me be so sloppy all this time?! Why haven't you been fixing all these details a we go along?!"
It must be it is as difficult being a good teacher as it is being a good student. Teacher and student, we both have a lot to learn.
Three sets (left), one of 42, cool-down.
A mild, pale day. David's birthday. I left a card and a Snicker's bar tied to his mailbox last night. I hope he has a good day.
Sleet. Great gobs of snow with the rain. Was there a time when I shrank from practicing in the cold? Now I find the thought doesn't bother me because I'm certain I'll be warm enough.
Three sets each side, three of 42 form, cool-down though a literal cool-down is hardly called for today! The sleet sizzled loudly on the fallen leaves; the trees are wearing diamonds.
I feel discouraged. I have about a hundred questions for David about details. I'm worried that I really am not doing well. I know my 42 Form is atrocious. (So is my 24 Form!)
I had an email from David yesteday afternoon thanking me for remembering his birthday. I wrote back to say you're welcome. When I did, I told him I had seen his ad, and that I was looking forward to the new session. And I also told him that while I do want to go on and learn 42 Form, I also have resolved to master 24 Form, and that I hoped I could count on his help for that. Because I've never in my life before been really, really good at anything, and I'd like to change that. I don't think I want to compete, but it would be nice to know that I could.
I've been thinking today about whether I should discontinue karate. I do neglect it in favor of taiji... and yet, I need some of the things karate is giving me. Increased strength and balance (from both the foam footing and the increased speed required) and a slightly different perspective on applications, to name just a few. I don't want to give up karate, but if I can't work out the practicing, if I can't discipline myself better, I think I should let it go.
Ryukyu Hon Kenpo Kobu-jutsu. That's the official name of the style of karate I'm studying. I looked it up in the dojo book. Ryukyu is Okinawa island and the surrounding island group. Han means "original." Kenpo means "fist techniques," a generic term for matrial arts of Chinese origin (I knew I felt at home!), "chuan fa" in Chinese. Kobu-jutsu means "ancient warrior techniques," and describes Okinawan weapons skills. Sometimes it's shortened to "kobudo."
I had fun at karate class tonight. Sometimes I want to avoid going because I hate the warmup exercises. It's silly really. I hate the exercises because I'm so bad at them, but if I did them every day and pushed myself, I'd get good at them. But I don't. It's going to be a matter of turning my thinking around. Anyway, I went, and the exercises weren't as bad as I imagined. They never are.
Tonight we were told that the uniforms needed for participation in the weapons class have been ordered and the classes start the first Friday in December.
I've been out stepping. Up and down, up and down. It's raining hard, and there's a bit of mist and my breath to see in the reflective dark. As I step, I can hear my shoes "creaking." I'm wearing the old used-to-be-cream-color chucks, and the liner fabric has some sort of coating that makes the creaking sound when it's damp. Between the rain and the mist and the creaking and my rocking gently as I stepped, I had the fancy that I was at sea... And I guess I am, in a way. I think I've been expelled from T'ai Chi classes.
It was... I don't know. Here's what happened:
Last Tuesday began a new session. David had set out his class stuff and called out to me, "Come fill out a new form." He meant the release forms. I was in a good mood, he seemed to be in a good mood, so, naturally, I put my hands on my hips, grinned, and called out, "No!" He was startled for a moment just as I intended then he grinned, and I went over to fill out a new form.
I hate forms. Any and all forms. I just do. I read this new one, preparatory so signing, you understand. I don't sign things I haven't read, I don't care who's asking. The first sentence struck me funny. It began "I understand that tai chi can cause severe injury..." "David," I said, laughing, teasing him just a bit, "this sounds more like a promise than a possibility. Sounds downright dangerous." I think David told me to just sign it. So I set about filling it in. I didn't fill in the birth date. Not that I'm touchy about my age, but like I said, I don't like forms. And I don't like giving out personal information. And I couldn't think of any reason David could possibly need that information besides which he knows when my birthday is, even unto the year. So. I signed the form and he took it. I walked away.
We were at opposite ends of the cafetorium when he called to me. He was waving the form. When he had my attention he held out the form and said, "Put down your birth date." I smiled at him and said, quite pleasantly, "No." I had just begun to turn back to what I was doing, when he said again, "Fill in your birth date." A bit miffed, I again said, "No." I said it in such a way that he would know I was done joking, but not angry. He said, "I mean it." I looked at him and said, "So do I." He said, "Then come take your check back." "Really?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Okay." I walked over to him and he held out my check, which I took and put in my pocket. We were both smiling as if this were a friendly transaction. I quietly went and put on my coat, took my water bottle. I don't think anyone else in the room was aware of what had seemed, even to me, a casual exchange.
Ma certainly wasn't aware of any problem. When I went over to Ma, I had to get her attention. When I did, I told her I was leaving but I'd be back to pick her up. She looked quite puzzled, but I repeated that I'd be back for her and she went back to warming up. (Ma is good about stuff like that. She trusts, and keeps the questions for later.) I left.
I didn't feel upset. I was rather amused, I think. I walked across the street and visited with my friend Sue, the attended the "Gingerbread" House Craft Program at the library. They make "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers. Pretty neat. The library closes at 8:30, same time as class ends.
After class, I picked Ma up as she came out. I waved to the other students. We left before seeing David.
When I had recounted to Ma what happened, she said, "What are you two? Third graders?" Then she laughed. I have to admit, it still sounded pretty funny to me, too. And I still didn't feel upset. That was surprising. But there had been no heat in the exchange, and I didn't feel there had been an argument, or anything to be upset about. It was merely a mutual, friendly agreement to disagree. If anything, I was puzzled.
When we got back to Ma's and we were sitting at the table having a snack, she said, "Don't tear up the check yet." She was still laughing. (Ma says David and I are very much alike. "Two stubborn, thick-headed Polacks," is how she put it.)
I don't know. I still don't feel upset. David didn't seem upset though Ma said David seemed distracted during class. In a way, I feel as if we had done exactly what were were supposed to do, and it was right that we do it.
But it's not right. And now I don't know what to do.
Somtimes you find yourself fresh out of ideas. I consulted the I Ching. Seemed appropriate.
53: Chien (development, gradual progress). "A tree on a mountain develops slowly according to the law of its being and consequently stands firmly rooted."
The judgement: "The maiden is given in marriage. Good Fortune. Perseverence furthers... The various formalities must be disposed of before the marriage takes place. This principle of gradual development can be applied to other situations as well; it is always applicable where it is a matter of correct relationships of co-operation... The development must be allowed to take its proper course. Hasty action would not be wise... This is true of any effort to exert influence on others... The very gradualness of the development makes it necessary to have perseverance, for perseverance alone prevents slow progress from dwindling to nothing."
I asked what should be done, if anything. This is certainly a matter of correct relationships, or maybe correcting relationships. And, yeah, "various formalities must be disposed..." No kidding. *sigh*
Nine in the third place: "If one does not willfully provoke a conflict, but confines himself to vigorously maintaining his own position and to warding off unjustified attacks, all goes well."
Well, neither of us willfully provoked a conflict. That's true. But we were vigorously maintaining our own positions. Neither of us was attacking, just defending, like good taiji practitioners. But... the "attacks" were imaginary why were we both so touchy? Still, we both behaved impeccably, so, all should have gone well... This I Ching stuff is interesting, isn't it?
Nine in the fifth place: "One is misjudged by the very person on whom one is dependent... This is the work of deceitful persons who have wormed their way in. The result is that relationships remain sterile, and nothing is accomplished. But in the course of further development, such misunderstandings are cleared away, and reconciliation is achieved."
Dependent on each other? We are teacher and student, a dime a dozen each. We don't need each other at all. We don't. Really. But... I suppose I might begin to miss David... Anyway, there isn't any trouble-maker egging us on in our misunderstanding, but, it would be very easy for each of us to begin to doubt each other, to imagine that the other is completely at fault, and uncaring and unreasonable. It sure is easy to misjudge when you're hurting. (Am I hurting? Did I say I was hurting? Is David hurting?)*
But it says "reconciliation is achieved." In the course of further development. Yeah. A nice thought, but, this minute, we are at that standstill, dwindled to nothing, maybe. The I Ching says, "The development must be allowed to take its proper course." Does that mean there is nothing to be done, that we are not at a standstill, only moving slowly? There's a warning that one must persevere to triumph. Hrmph. Persevere how? By doing what? I don't know.
I suppose I could sit here and just wait a bit to see what happens. But that doesn't seem like the best idea. Inertia, entropy, they get the upper hand then. Perserverance. Is there such a thing as passive perseverance? Damned if you do, damned if you don't, that would be. No. It seems to me like somebody is going to have to come up with some sort of excuse for communication, if there's any reconciliation to be achieved. Seems to me
What do you want to bet somebody will have to apologize? And what do you want to bet on who that will have to be?
And why do I still think it's funny? (In an exasperating sort of way.)**
* See next entry for explanation.
** See next entry for explanation.
Today I looked at myself only to discover I was wearing my armor. And I discovered, thinking back, I'd had it on for a while, too. Since last Tuesday, to be exact.
Armor is interesting stuff. With armor firmly in place, no can know what I'm really thinking or feeling. No one suspects when my heart is breaking, maybe not even me. With my armor on, I can laugh about everything. With armor on, I can even make apologies and not have to actually acknowledge any wrong doing to anyone, including myself.
You know, you'd think I'd be aware of putting my armor on, nasty hard and cold and confining as it is. Still, it is amazingly comfortable, for all of that.... It seems it goes on in a twinkling of the eye, too, without my even thinking about actually donning it. All it takes sometimes is the very suggestion of a hurt to come, and violá! there is is, gleaming head to toe, not a chink to be seen.
Armor. I hate armor. Yeah, it makes you look cool and collected, in control. Yeah, it protects you from hurt. But you can't feel hugs through armor. And if you wear it too long, it has a tendency to rust. You can rust solid just like the Tin Man the guy who didn't have a heart, if you remember.
It takes a while to remove armor. First you've got to find someone with an oil can...
Yes, I hurt. I've been denying it, avoiding the thought that my t'ai chi teacher may be gone out of my life forever. And it hurts to think that David may not care enough about me to be hurt by my absence, even just a little. And maybe he doesn't. Maybe I'm the only one in this relationship who does care. So be it. That's nothing to be ashamed about. But I'm not going to put the damned armor back on, no matter how much I hurt and I'm going to try and see what I can do about putting a stop to that automatic way it goes on without me knowing, too but that's a problem for another day.
The truth is, right now, I want to find a way to make this right between me and my teacher. Between me and my friend. Between me and David. And I'm scared.
I really hate these life lessons. They aren't near as much fun as t'ai chi and they hurt way more than karate. Though, as in karate, when you come right down to it, somehow, you don't really mind the bruises. Because what you've gained in the getting of them is definitely worth the pain.
A beautiful, mild day... six melancholy sets. A lot of work on 42 Form, Push & Deflect Deflect & Push. I think I've almost got it figured out. But maybe now my waist turns too far. I don't know. And now I have no one to ask.
I've made out a new check for Ma's lessons. I'll drive her over and pick her up. But I can't do what she suggested and just show up pretending nothing has happened. It's David's decision to make: his name is on the dojo.
Today's sets felet really good though my left leg still has a way to go before it's as strong and flexible as the right. Still, I can tell it's getting there. I'm improving noticibly. I think it has to do with the increased strength I've gained from practicing on the karate mats.
Speaking of karate, I can now do the nasty balancing stretch without pain or falling over. And when we get up from kneeling, I'm almost able to do so without using my hands. Yay!
It's getting chilly now. The sunset is all peach and pale blue. It's going to get very cold.
I'm a lot more upset by what happened between me and David than I like to admit. I'm trying not to think about it; trying not to feel anything. I am scared that it won't ever get straightened out no matter what the I Ching says. I this I don't know how to persevere.
We had more snow this evening and I had to sweep before I could practice. I lit the lanterns and a few candles tonight, but only because they seemed cheery, not because they were needed. The light reflecting off the snow was easy to see by.
It's 36 degrees. I put my gloves on when I began, but took them off after the second set. My cotton turtleneck and wool shirt were plenty warm.
Six sets (3 each side); six of 42 Form; two each of niahanshi shodan, niahanshi nidan, and wansu with the board on the 'nidans because I haven't got the trick of stepping in those and cool-down qigong.
My left leg didn't feel quite steady in 24 form, and seemed to be a bit stiff in the hip. I may not have been relaxed enough... yes, I was tensing up. I had some trouble coming up into Golden Rooster, a sure sing I'm not relaxing.
Once, in 42 Form I think I had the trick of Deflect & Push. It's not a trick, that's the trick. It's just a matter of "holding the ball" at the right time. I managed to get it right that one time, and was even able to notice why and how it was right, but then I lost it again. Go figure. Too much thinking, perhaps?
* Please note:
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.
Copyright © 2002 New Moon