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August 2003

01: Friday

02: Saturday


Humid. Rainy. Very warm. Hot sun between.

Six— or more— sets of 24 Form. Good sets. My left leg is beginning to "work." Now I can begin to drive the energy with my left leg. The hip is opening up and the ankle is getting more flexible. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm on my way.

Today I didn't worry about the creeping snake and stuck to doing a high form version, and doing it well. Much better!

The qi and coordination were good today.

Did a few sets of TCA— quite a few. I wish I knew more about Sun style... but I do okay. I've got most of the Yang out of my sets.

After that, some bo practice. This month we'll be reviewing shima ijirbo ichi and sueyoshi nokun ichi. I didn't remember sueyoshi too well at first, but I got it back.

I was reading about the different kinds of energy— jin. Joe wrote and was telling me about ping and an jins. I know what it is, how it feels, but I don't have anyone to practice with. Rats.

03: Sunday


Hot and humid, but there's a cool breeze pushing the cumulus clouds around. Lots of butterflies flitting about in the hawkweed that is my yard.

Four — more? sets of 24 Form. Good sets. And a bunch more of TCA. Then bo practice. Sueyoshi nokun ichi has me wondering about my footwork... I'll have to ask Eric or Linda: It seems to me I'm doing some very odd stepping in the turns.

The other night in kobudo class I was working with Sensei Engle. He noted that I'm having a problem with my left hip, and that it is affecting my blocking. It's true. I do have a problem. It's much more noticable in karate than taiji, too. But, if I practice the exercises Sensei Engle showed us, perhaps I'll be able to solve my problem more quickly.

Try this: stand in a wide Horse Stance. Now, bend forward and put your palms flat on the floor behind your heels. Now lower your butt, as if you're trying to sit it on the ground. What's that do for you hips? (My neice can do this and nearly sit down on the floor. I hate 12-year-olds. I have a difficult time getting my fingers to touch the floor behind my heels, never mind my palms!)

I was thinking about writing to Sensei to touch bases with him, so to speak. But... I don't know....

As Jon observed the other night, the atmosphere at the dojo is changing, not entirely for the better. It probably has to do with the move to the new space, and the influx of new students. As Jon also observed, it takes a lot of students to keep the dojo going.

But I think it's more than that. When I began lessons a year ago, it seemed the advanced students mixed more freely with the novices... but... they still do. The black belts are still helping with the white/yellow novice classes. But the trouble is I'm not a novice any more. I'm a "tweeny," an orange belt. And the orange/blue classes don't rate the attention precisely because we are more experienced, so we don't get to see the more advanced students unless we can be at the dojo more often when the advanced folk are about.

A "tweeny." Right in the middle. My only job is to practice and try to get myself ready to go on. This is the level when most people drop out, I'm told. I can understand why. It's a very lonely place to be. You feel as if you're pretty much on your own.

Right now, I feel I do everything badly. And maybe I do. I've only been learning karate for a year, and I'm only just now getting my body into shape for that learning. *sigh* I wish I were strong like Jon.

04: Monday

05: Tuesday

06: Wednesday


The sun is slowly slipping south. The band of sunlight that shines on the porch gets wider every day. Strange that seeing more light means the summer is slipping away.

I haven't been practicing. Too hot. Too hurried. Too... unsettled in mind. Once upon a time the taiji make me feel better. Now it only reminds me of... losses, stress. I don't need any more stress.

Karate is more stressful now, too.

I wish I had a safe place to come down in for a while. Everywhere I turn there's death and dying and danger— and fear.

07: Thursday


No practice. My spirits are sunk. I'm tired and stressed and lonely.

Tonight in the middle of kobudo class, Linda asked, "Leslie, is that a clothespin on your hem?" It was. I use clothespins to set the pleats in my hakima when I wash it. Everybody laughed, and Sensei said he thought I'd been making a fashion statement. Good grief.

Class was fun. Bo katas. I learned a lot.

"Sensei, are the bo katas like our other katas? Are we supposed to end up in the same spot we begin?"



08: Friday

09: Saturday


Four sets— I think. My left hip joint has an ache in it— something I did to it in karate— and I can't get the qi to flow up from my left foot and leg past the hip. Very frustrating. But the sets were slow and steady and the flow of movement was there.

Last night while I was waiting for Ma to get out of class, I kept catching glimpses of David through the windows. I wish I could have seen his feet. It was good to see him move again, good to see taiji, but it made me sad.

Today I practiced sueyoshi nokun ichi and shim ijirbo ichi, setting the correcions of Thursday in. My footwork is coming along, but I still need to learn to relax and let the qi flow.

Han bo, too... on the first pass I left out a move. But I got it back.

Thursday night, Sensei corrected my turn in shima ijiri bo ichi. I'd been practicing it wrong all the weeks we were working on tonfa. Finding out I'd been practicing wrong all that time made me worry about how many other wrong things I may be practicing now in taiji. How would I know? Dammit! I want my teacher back!

10: Sunday


I wish my mind would stay in balance, but I'm on an emotional rollercoaster and I feel exhausted...

A whole bunch of sets of TCA. I couldn't get the feet to transmit any qi.

11: Monday

Six sets. At the end of each set, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. Each time I hit a rough spot in the forms, I begin to worry anew that I don't have a teacher, that I don't know what I'm doing, that if I went to another teacher he'd tell me that I was now hopeless.

Two sets of Matayoshi No Tonfa Ichi. On the second set I had to put paper towels around the grips, else I'd've had some nasty blisters.

I still can't relax on this kata and let the tonfa move freely: I haven't got enough room and I'm afraid I'll break a window.

But at least I've got those blocks figured out: block high to the weighted side. Easy to remember— when there's time to think!

Wish I knew more of the taiji applications...

Wish I could get qi to come up through my left leg— and go back down, too. Can't do a proper ward off if you can't direct the energy down through your foot into the ground. Rats.

The dojo is closed for vaction this week.

12: Tuesday

13: Wednesday


Gorgeous night. There were thunderstorms earlier, passing to the south. I watched the lightning in the towering clouds... Humid still.

The moon, just past full, is in the east near Mars. They haven't risen into the pine boughs yet and make a very pretty picture with the pine tree. There's a mist gathering in the meadow and long shadows cast by the moon...

I lit the lanterns.

Three mediochre sets. No power in my legs, left or right. My hip joint is twingeing. I spent some time working grasping and waving, but... I'm very discouraged. Very.

14: Thursday

15: Friday

16: Saturday


A couple of sets, then some creeping practice. The sets were... okay. I wish I could see someone creeping correctly.

I do own a couple of videos. 42 Form and 32 Sword Form. But videos aren't good to watch after you've learned the form— and it's pure hell trying to learn a form from a video! But the real problem with video is that the image on the tape never varies the forms by even a hair's breadth. In life, each performance is unique, and you can learn something new every time you see a live performance because of the infinite variations that are bound to occur. You can't learn much from something static like a video image. One must have a live teacher.

17: Sunday

18: Monday


Three sets of TCA. The follow steps in TCA have gone all the heck. The 24 wasn't bad, except for that problem with my left hip.

I read the latest T'ai Chi Magazine last night. That helped to remind me of what I'm supposed to be doing during practice; i.e., focusing, concentrating, relaxing, breathing... imagining. It's important to imagine the qi flowing, working. One article said that to be properly rooted you have to learn to drop your tantien down to touch the ground directly beneath. Interesting.

'S funny: I don't look forward to going back to the dojo. I still feel uncomfortable there...

Also, the entropy's got me. Once you stop, it's hard to get going again! Lazy me.

But it would be easier if I still felt welcome at the dojo, still felt as if I had a place there.

19: Tuesday


Tonight Sensei took time to talk with us about Karate Do and what it means. He talked about how it isn't our kicks and punches that show our merit, but who and what we are inside... I haven't expressed this exactly as Sensei explained it. But it goes along with what I wrote in my essay about how we are ranked by what we are as people by everyone we meet... but Sensei gives out belts.

I'm glad he talked about this. I'm glad to know his ideas march with mine. It almost makes me feel comfortable again. Almost.


Three sets. Two right, one left. It's getting hot out there! Butterflies came to watch me.

The right-side sets were pretty good— especially the second one where I relaxed more and could really feel my body flowing through the moves. I tense up when I come to snake, but if I remind myself to relax when I get there, it goes better... I'll get over it.

I've been noticing for while how nicely the Fair Lady works her shuttles. I remember a time when I had to work to get the shuttles to go through in a smooth, coordinated way. Now it "just happens" because my waist is working— I'm a lot more "sung."

I have been learning, even inadvertently. Watching powerful taiji practitioners in person has an effect on one's own performance. I noticed after seeing some of those really competent folks in New London that I unconsciously began to do closing form differently. Ian Etcel and a young kid— Jonathan, his name was— both had powerful closing forms and I somehow acquired their methods— if not their power. It's only a slight difference from the way David taught me, a slight difference in the turn of the hands, a slight difference in the coordination...

Perhaps what David taught me was the beginners way.

20: Wednesday


Three sets left. Some things working, some not. Most of my problems come from being worried about not having a teacher.

21: Thursday


There were rank tests at the dojo last night. Michelle, Jason, and Rob. Sensei asked each to say what karate has done for them. I liked Jason's answer. He said it had taught him not to be judgmental of others. When Sensei asked what he meant by that, he said that he now realized that we all have personal battles to fight, and that he can't know how tough other people's battles may be. So, instead of blaming others for being less than he thinks they should be, or for not doing as well as he thinks they should, he's decided that he won't blame them for not measuing up because, maybe, on any given day, they really are doing the very best they can, fighting harder than anyone knows to get it right. Amen.


Three sets right. I was using the 6 minute taiji music. First set I went way too fast. After that, I managed.

Snake still psyches me out. I'm fine until I get there, then I tense up, hold my breath, and my heart starts pounding. Wish I had a teacher to give me encouragement—

I'd be better off if my teacher had died. Then I could continue to believe that he still believed in me. But this way, having him dismiss me without giving me any reason, it's easy to believe that he just didn't think I was worth teaching.

In kobudo class, Sensei had us do sueyoshi nokun ichi once making all the moves flow— kind of taiji-like. It was interesting, but I couldn't realx and let the taiji training help me. I'm so worried about Sensei holding my taiji against me that I'm afraid to mention it or even let it show now...

No wonder I feel uncomfortable at the dojo! I feel as if I can't be myself!

Michelle was promoted to green, and got her ranking in kobudo, too. Don't know about the others yet.

22: Friday

23: Saturday

24: Sunday


No practice yesterday. I was catching up on the web site and also on my reading. T'ai Chi Magazine (vol 27, no 3) had a real eye-opener of an article: "How to Avoid Knee Injury in Tai Chi" by Bill Z. Yang, Ph.D.

I don't have bad knees, never did. But recently I've been having aches and twinges in the muscles above my kneecaps. Nothing debilitatin. I figured it was "growing pains" from advances in my practice of both taiji and karate. I figured it would pass. So I was only mildly interested in the article until I read of the author's experience. It was so similar to mine, that I began to worry.

It seems he didn't have any knee pain, until after years of taiji and no warning, his knees suddenly began to ache! Dr. Yang tracked the source of his problem to taiji, and he determined that the cause strain created by pushing the knees over or past the toe line during practice. Wouldn't you know it! I just get to the point where I can begin to congratulate my self on having achieved a nice, low stance, and now it's harmful— and maybe even not correct!

Dr. Yang pointed out that if you look at the illustrations of the ancient taiji Masters, you see that, quite often, their knees don't even go as far forward as their toe line. In fact, often the lower leg remains exactly perpendicular to the ground, or is even tilted slightly back.

Truly it is written: "If you think you've 'got' it, you don't." *sigh*

So. Today I set out to try to relearn my taiji.

Not allowing your knee to go beyond your toe line changes everything.

For starters, if you keep your knee back, you find you have to tuck your tail in properly or you cain't hardly move atall, atall.

For another thing, with your knees back further you can feel your center of balance, your tantien, more keenly, and you become much more aware of how upright your spine is— must be.

For another, it makes many of the moves feel much more smooth and natural.

I haven't got it all figured out yet, and it'll take me quite a few hours of practice to work it out physically, but I can see it will make quite a difference...

This is when I most miss having a good teacher...

Bo practice first. Slowly, fluidly, like taiji. Then tonfa— I still need a lot of tonfa practice— and han bo. Even here, keeping the knee back changes the muscles used. I can feel that the lower back will become stronger, as well as the muscles in the backs of the thighs.

Six sets in the gorgeous coolness, minding my knees. The qi was flowing and the change in stance made staying on the power band in peacock and snake easier...

It will be interesting to work with this...

But I do wish I had a teacher to keep me on the right track.

25: Monday

I got to the dojo an hour early tonight. Eric was waiting for Linda, so he asked if there was anything I wanted to work on...

Tonfa. The other day I suspected I'd slipped an extra step in, and I had. I also had been forgetting the "avoidance step" that goes with the last punch.

The tonfa I used tonight were Sensei's. They're the rounded ones, lighter than mine, and the finish on the grips is smoother (lots of tung oil, or lots of practice wear?), and the balance is different. And being Sensei's, they're very well trained. I did much better with them than I ever have with my own hickory tonfa.

Eric and I also worked on Sueyoshi No Kun Ichi, and even did some bunkai. I got a lot of good tips and tricks from Eric. It was excellent. But I have trouble remembering half of it... it's overwhelming. And you can't even write it down— how could you? How do you describe what you do when...

I suppose it can't be any harder than keeping track of a baseball game... but we don't have the symbols worked out. I'll have to give it some thought...

In class we worked on bunkai for wansu. I was working with Daniel. He's very detail-conscious and he knows how the katas work, so I enjoyed it very much.

Jayson was promoted. I told him when I congratulated him that I liked what he said during the test.

26: Tuesday

27: Wednesday


Two sets and cool-down qigong.

I'm still worrying about whether I'm doing anything right.

I know I shouldn't worry so about not having a teacher, but every article or book I read says, "You must have a qualified teacher..."

My latest "find" in teachers (I have been looking!) is one who espouses a sort of generic taiji. We're not even sure who cobbled this set of forms together. I could just scream. (And that's why I don't like to talk about my search for a new teacher. It's too depressing.)

Karate was quite interesting tonight. Sensei sat us down to give us a lesson in concentration by doing a guided image meditation, and then he talked about belts. What a coincidence! His thoughts were so nearly my own that if I didn't know better, I'd think he'd read my essay! He even talked about how hard it is to determine rank when someone isn't wearing a belt.

Towards the end of class, Sensei sent me and Mussah to work with Kevin on han bo. I know the kata pretty well, but I was glad to go work with Kevin. He's a green belt, so he's got a bit more advanced instruction, and he is very good about picking up the details, so I learned a lot more about the kata. Neat.

28: Thursday


Beautiful day. Nice breeze. Excellent for practice.

Six sets. Today I didn't worry (much) about whether things were right or wrong or if my knee went too far forward, and the sets were much more pleasurable.

I did vaguely note this: if my knee did go too far it usually meant my tantien wasn't centered.

After the 24 Form, I did three of as much of 42 Form as I know (not much!). I continue to make more sense of the moves, however. It must be time to watch the tape again.

After that, some TCA. Also making more and more sense.

Then a run-through of sueyoshi no kun ichi to make sure I remember the stuff Eric showed me.

Cool-down qigong to finish.

For such a beautiful practice day there was way too little joy...

I had the taiji music on. Each time I hear the short piece for Sword Form I long to be able to "dance to it" with a sword. That would be a joy.

But the real joy... will that ever come back?

29: Friday


Gorgeous day. I should bag work...

Three sets in high stance (left). Once, I noticed how well everyting was flowing. I could feel the qi circling, the strand of silk unbroken... I had the circles just right and the silk unreeled smoothly and cleanly. Neat!

I finally realized why I took that TCA certification course. It was because I needed validation, and my teacher wasn't giving me any. I needed some proof that I was doing well in taiji.

I do want to teach some day. But I know first-hand how many bad taiji teachers there are in the world. I don't ever want to be numbered among them.

All I want right now is to learn taiji, as much as I can, as best I can. For that, I need a good teacher.


I wrote a note to David. I gave it to Ma to deliver when I dropped her at class just now. I asked David if there is a competent teacher he can recommend. I didn't know what else to do— and what have I got to lose? I've been having terrible luck with the teachers who advertise. Truly it is written in the Tao Te Ching: "Those who know don't speak; those who speak don't know." Rats.

30: Saturday


Four sets. Enh. I did the last one "quick time" but my concentration was bad and so therefore was my balance...

A few sets of TCA, and I couldn't coordinate the follow steps...

Guess it's one of those days. Maybe I'll try again later.

31: Sunday

Copyright © 2003 New Moon

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