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December 2003

01: Monday


After nearly taking out a window with the bo, I packed up all my weapons and headed for Jo's paddock. Bo, han bo, tonfa, sai: I practiced them all. I like the freedom of not having to worry about hitting something— and that makes my katas better.

I think han bo is my best kata. It suits me; it suits my present level of capability. I've decided I will do it for the test.

For the karate portion, I'll either do Naihanshi Shodan or Ananku. I'm not sure which, yet. I can argue for both.

02: Tuesday


Windy— very. Too windy to practice. There's a light dusting of snow, like sugar on the ground.

Last night, Sensei had us doing two-person stretching exercises. Those are excellent. I wish I had someone to stretch with every day.

Sensei also had us working on the bags. I punched wrong with my left hand and have a dandy bruise between the last two knuckles. Then, when he had me doing sliding side kicks against a swinging bag to work on my timing, I got tangled up and stepped on my own foot, so I also have a dandy bruise on the big toe joint of my right foot.

I like working the bags, but I'm very bad at it. It takes a lot of practice to be able to run around and then set yourself up properly to deliver either a kick or a punch.

During a short break, Sensei told us that we should be practicing as if our lives depended on it. He said he wanted us hitting the bags "with everything you've got." I wish I could do that. I mean, yes, I could do that, but if I did, I'd injure myself for certain. I don't yet have the skills to put "everything I've got" into it and come off unscathed. Not yet. For now, I have to go slowly and pay attention.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were times— or classes— where all we practiced was bags or kicking or whatever? (Yes!)

03: Wednesday

04: Thursday

05: Friday


Wednesday night we began learning Matayoshi no Tonfa Ni. We went through "Ichi" and I did well— my jumps were quite good.

By the end of class I was getting very tired, and having a lot of trouble controlling the tonfa because of the sweat making them stick. (Not to mention how the sweat was stinging in the splits on my fingers!)

Wednesday morning, I practiced. TCA, then 24 Form... I had to leave before I could write it down, and now I can't remember... kobudo?

But I remember this morning: TCA, then four good, solid sets of 24 Form. The qi was flowing. Cool down qigong then, and on to karate and kobudo.

One of each kata I know. I noticed the mistakes but I didn't let myself go back to them until afterwards...

All my katas felt disappointing.

Tonight I was an hour early for class and Joe asked me to help him with han bo. I think we did it about fifteen times. By the end, I was wondering about every move and whether I even come close to doing any of them right. Maybe everything I think is right is wrong!


No practice today— except in my head. I didn't push myself to do it.

I think, now, that I signed up for the rank tests to make myself think about what I really want. I told Kim that night that signing up for a test really focuses one. It forces you to examine everything, good and bad. And I have been doing just that.

Last night we were doing bunkai and I was the blue belt among the orange. Wansu bunkai. Sensei Engel didn't want us to talk, just work out the moves. Even so, even though I wasn't expected to explain the moves, I felt bad that I didn't know them better.

But, since I signed up for the test, it has 't been my katas I've been worried about. I've been worrying about whether or not I want to commit myself to the dojo...

I... do I?

I think I do.

Deep, deep down, I would rather it were taiji... but this is what is offered and I know I've been led here for a reason, and I shouldn't turn away out of fear of losing taiji. Nothing will be lost unless I do turn down what's being offered.

I feel quite achy today from class. And my little finger that got whacked by the sai during drills with Sam has been bothering me.... must have some fluid in the joint. I hope it clears up soon.

06: Saturday

07: Sunday


Blizzard— nor'easter moved in Friday night and this morning Kim called to say the rant test was cancelled until next Saturday...

I went to bed Friday a bit worried about the test. Now that I'd nearly arrived at the zero hour I wanted more time to practice. Even though I knew it was just my nerves having at me, I began to worry...

All night I practiced in my sleep. I practiced all my katas, and I worked on problems, and corrected things, and discovered things: it was real practice and it is still vivid in my mind— and so are the questions I came up with. How does that sliding straight punch in Ananku work? Is that raising of the han bo after the heel-palm strike supposed to be a knock in the chin?

And I figured this out, too: my best karate katas now are Wansu and Ananku. I understand them best, and because they're "three dimensional" the moves are easier to control. The three Naihanshis are the most difficult to do right because they're linear— "two dimensional." It's tough powering moves to the left and right with your body facing forwards. Seisan is my worst kata because I don't yet understand it. It relies on breathing control, of which I have none.

Of the kobudo katas, my best are han bo and sai. They are suited to my present degree of hand strength. I love the bo, and the bo katas, but my hands aren't yet strong enough to fully control the bo. I have the same problem with the tonfa.

For all that virtual practice, I wasn't the least tired when I got up. I felt quite refreshed, and ready for the test. And that's when Kim called.

Today, Saturday, I began to sweep the snow off the porch when I thought to "make a few tracks." I repulsed monkeys down the length of the porch then looked at the marks: very evenly spaced. I've got a good eye, and I'm pretty sure a ruler would've shown no significant differenced in the spacing of my footprints.

I did the first two sets in my hiking boots, just because I didn't want to go in and change. The boots make me feel unbelievably stable of foot; but I know it's an illusion, and so I did go and change.

Four more sets, my moccasins slipping easily on the fine dusting of snow that kept wafting onto the porch. I kept my gloves on because the temperature was only in the mid twenties, but, as I've noted before, my porch is sheltered, like Shangri-La, and practice was very pleasant in the quiet aftermath of the storm.

My qi flowed very well today, and I "got" another move. When you "pull the ball" in towards your chest, then drop it down towards the tantien, then push it up and out in that wave-like motion, if you coordinate it correctly, the ball drops as qi sinks. I hadn't been allowing the ball to drop at the right time. I was not coordinated. But I've "got" it now.

08: Monday


Clear today and in the 40s. The porch is nice and dry. I didn't want to go to work today, but I went in, only to discover that the parking ban was still in effect and there was no safe place to park. With tickets at $150, I decided to go home. On the way, I stopped to visit Lew, whom I haven't seen in ages; then I stopped to check on Ma who sent me to pick up and deliver my niece to basketball practice. By the time I got home, the sun was sliding down the sky.

Five sets of 24 Form. Good sets. In between the first and second, I spent a lot of time stepping up and down the porch, working on getting my left leg— hip, knee, ankle, foot, heel, what have you— to work like the right do. Why is it so difficult? I don't know. I checked the length of my left steps against the right, checked the turn of my hips, the turn of my feet, and all are "within spec." Go figure!

After the sets— and I noticed I was rushing the pull-push of the ball so that it was not at the bottom when I began the forward thrust, and I tried to correct it each set, but for some reason, today the coordination wouldn't come— except in repulsing, which worked beautifully— where was I? Ah, yes: after. After the sets, I practiced Ananku, and now I have an inkling of how the keep the power in the kiai strikes. And I've got a clue on getting back to near my starting position.: shorten up this, lengthen that, and— there you are!

09: Tuesday

10: Wednesday


No practice yesterday of any kind— except one set of TCA before work. I was exhausted from the three hours of practice at the dojo Monday night. It began with going over tonfa kata with Michelle, and after that it was non-stop— felt like it, anyway. But I do remember sitting for a while watching Sensei and Jayson practicing kumite...


It's about 40 degrees and cloudy. Very comfortable for practice.

Three good sets (left). I remembered to let the ball drop down before going into the push, and my left foot was a little better at rooting. And every once in a while, I felt almost weightless. Neat.

11: Thursday

Pouring rain and 50-plus degree air is melting the snow, making fog.

I wonder about my TCA class. Am I doing any good? It's tough teaching old ladies, toughest teaching the one whose right arm is mostly paralyzed by stroke. She's working very hard, though, and I think she's improving. I told her to try visualization: imagine the arm is doing exactly as it ought.

They all seem to enjoy class, anyway.

12: Friday

13: Saturday


Rank test today... clear and cold. What worries me most is the fear that I' won't be able to adequately explain myself to Sensei.

Thursday night's class was very interesting. Sensei had us changing stances on command. It was practice for being quick. He also had us work on making all our muscles tighten when blocking and punching.

Kim took Rose and me into the other dojo and showed us the basics of sparring. It was fascinating.

I watched Kim and Rose. I could see the moves that should be made as they went: I saw them in my head, knew them from the katas, the drills, and the bunkai.

When it was my turn with Kim, though, it was hard to "see" what I needed to do, and I couldn't think of most of what I knew, anyway. But, we went slowly, and I learned quite a bit. I enjoyed the experience, and I look forward to learning more.

I didn't practice yesterday. Day off to rest up for the test. Last night I washed my good gi and calligged "kokoro ire" ("inclusion of the heart's spirit") characters on my new-made hachimaki (the gray stones print), and on the hachimaki I made for Jon out of that ocean print.

14: Sunday


Jon is convinced he didn't pass the test for karate or kobudo. So am I— I mean, I'm convinced I didn't pass. I figure Jon's a cinch.

The test was very interesting. Six of us tested. Me, Jon, Rose, for go-kyu (green 5); Kevin and Linda for san-kyu (brown-three); Gabrielle for ni-kyu (brown two). Ma and Jo and a whole bunch of people were there to watch. Kim and Sam and Chrissie were assisting Sensei.

Sensei spent quite a bit of time explaining that the criteria for advancement are neither arbitrary nor entirely subjective. He said they were really quite specific, though hard to explain... and he didn't try. But he did say that there were certain minimum requirements for each level, and that all one's good and bad points are taken into consideration, but that it's the good ones meeting those minimum requirements that really count.

And so we were tested. And not one of us did a kata without a mistake in it!

I did Ananku first. It wasn't anywhere near as good as I would've liked it to be. And I was shaking like a leaf. I was still shaking when I did han bo, but I got through it okay— though I was having trouble breathing then. And when Sensei asked me to do another kobudo kata, I wanted to do Nakamura no Sai, but I was shaking so bad and was so out of breath that I didn't trust myself with the sai, so I grabbed my bo and did Shima Ijiribo Ichi. I figured it would at least give Jon a mental check list for doing it when his turn came— right after mine.

I don't remember much of the kata, except the part where I was suddenly facing the shinza wall wondering if I had already done the jab. I decided I hadn't, jabbed, and went on. At least, that's what I remember.

I had hoped that my theatre training would kick in and give me some control over the pacing of my performance, but it didn't. I did do the very best I could do at the time. Unfortunately, that just wasn't very good.

Sensei asked me why I was testing. I told him it had come as a surprise to me when I signed up. My intuition told me to do it, and I trusted it enough to do so. and I told him how it took me a month to figure out why I needed to test. And the reason was that I needed to let both of us know that I want to be part of the dojo; that I want to do better than just to be paying my dues and showing up.

We all did good Saturday. Gabrielle especially, as she was still recovering from the flu. Poor kid could hardly breathe, so Sensei made sure she knew she didn't have to kiai. And he took very good care of her, too, making sure she went first in the karate katas, then giving her plenty of time to rest before she had to do her kobudo.

The most fun part of the test was the kumite with Sensei. Jon did really well— he even got off a spinning side kick. But Gabrielle did the best: she let Sensei know she'd been paying attention: she sent a kick right up by his ear!

I don't know how Sensei thinks I did in the kumite, but I was very... reluctant to initiate moves just because it was Sensei I was facing. I hate that I felt that way, that I couldn't just "have at it" with him because kumite doesn't scare me. In fact, I would love to do more kumite. It's what I've been looking for: applications. Oh! How I want to learn practical uses of the techniques! I had a very good time trying kumite...

The neatest part of all was noticing that Sensei assumed a nekko dachi (cat stance) and pretty much kept it throughout. I found it very useful myself: I'm always most comfortable with taiji. Jo said Sensei and I looked very much alike in our stances, both of us staying very upright and balanced. Nice to know I'm moving closer to taiji, rather than farther away, as I had feared. Sensei did say he thought I'd find the two disciplines were the same when I got to the highest levels. I wonder if he'll ever discover how much taiji he knows.

15: Monday

I got my green belt in karate. Missed in kobudo. Jon did the same. Must be genetic.

Gabrielle got san-kyu in both; Kevin, san-kyu in karate. Linda is now san-kyu in both karate and kobudo. Rose is go-kyu in karate.

16: Tuesday

Gorgeous day. Sun, snow on the ground— melting cuz it's 50 degrees now.

Six sets. Good sets.

One set had a particularly memorable repulsing the monkey that was almost perfectly balanced and flowing.

One set had an opening form that was truly like willows in the wind.

One set I did with eyes closed: when it was good, it was very, very good; when it was bad... I worry that I'll fall over the railing.

One set I nearly figured out closing form.

17: Wednesday


Cloudy and 55 degrees. Wind out of the southeast: rain. The snow is melting, melting, melting...

Two sets listening to the wind chimes...

Too much thinking, but the sets were... I thought every step of the way. Pfui.

18: Thursday


Kobudo last night. I felt terrible. I could not get my muscles to warm up and relax— even when I tried taiji and qigong. I was cold all over.

But I felt better once we started using the tonfa. I found I could do it. and when we got to the tonfa-bo drills my body went along with my enthusiasm. I was working with Chrissie, and we went quite energetically. In fact, towards the end, I found I had nearly worn myself out. That's how I came to drop my tonfa during the second to the last set. Rats! But by then I figured I was doing well not to have collapsed. I told Sensei I'd "give him fifty" tomorrow. When I got home, I took three ibuprofen and went to bed.

I forgot all about my taiji class this morning until Ruth called. I had just gotten up, and when I answered the phone I realized my voice was only a croak. The voice on the phone asked me if I had forgotten what day it was, and I was sure I hadn't, but I had. I feel okay, but I have a dandy cold. Rats.


Two sets of TCA. I've got the timing right, I think... It makes a big difference to have the punch arrive with the follow step— or just fractionally behind. Same with the pull-push. Why is it so hard to coordinate these things? It seems so obvious now— but the wind is too raw to stay out practicing. I'm going to take a hot shower.

19: Friday

20: Saturday

21: Sunday

22: Monday


At last I can practice! I tried the other day— Saturday? but the TCA made me ache... I think I did a couple of sets then, though...

This cold has been horrible. I've never ached so much. But it seems to be moving off now.

Today I managed three or four sets of TCA, and I went on to do a few of 24 Form— high stance, no kicks, no real creeping. Still, it felt good to practice and I did get something out of it...

I wish I could make my muscles relax. They feel as if they're going to crack. Ugh!

23: Tuesday

It's 55 degrees. Pale sun. Perfect for practice... Why do I feel I don't know what I'm doing? I feel I've been fooling myself. There's no magic. No qi.

Last night, for some unfathomable reason, I had to bring my practice sword to bed with me. Lying there, hand upon the hilt, I imagined moving with the sword...

I must be losing my mind.

24: Wednesday

I saw David in the liquor store today. I said hello and wished him a merry Christmas. I think he said, "Same to you," but it was almost inaudible. He certainly didn't seem pleased to have me speak to him, and he hurried away. I hope he isn't as sad as he seems.

I had the whole afternoon to myself. I tried learning 42 Form from the video again. I've never been so frustrated.

25: Thursday

A few sets of TCA before leaving for Jon's.

26: Friday

27: Saturday


How many sets? I lost count. It's nearly 60 and sunny. Quiet, as everyone seems to be away. I've been practicing since a little after noon...

No magic today. And way too much thinking about everything...

Yesterday, I read an article about Single Whip in the latest Qi Journal. I don't believe I've ever read anything so opaque as to sense or meaning. However, I can only wonder if the fault is mine, at this point. Perhaps, in ten years— ten months?, reading it again I will be able to apprehend something from it. But I wonder about that. Usually, there's some small kernel of truth to grasp in the most complex of articles, even for me. But could this one article be complete BS? Maybe.

As I practiced today I though a lot about how lucky I was to have had a good taiji teacher to start me off right in learning martial arts. There are quite a few folks at the dojo who have back problems because they never learned the principles of keeping the back/spine straight and of moving around the tantien. Oh, I remember my back giving me a bit of trouble at the beginning, but it was never anything debilitating. I learned to keep my back straight, learned to stay upright and not put a strain on my lower back. And now, in karate and kobudo practice, my early training stands me in good stead.

The sword came with me again last night. Go figure.

I want so much to learn more taiji, but I can not make head nor tail of those tapes!

28: Sunday

Another gorgeous day for practice. Why do I feel so discouraged, though? Because there's no magic in the sets? Because it's been six months since I was a live person do taiji?

I don't know how many sets I did today. Lots. And they were good sets, too. But nothing special.

I transcribed all of November and December journal entries to date. And a lot of good things were happening right up until I got sick… Could it be an effect of the illness making me feel so discouraged? I hope that's it.

I'm still coughing, so I've decided to wait until next Monday to return to karate. I'll only miss the one lesson, what with the holiday.


Another gorgeous day.

I put my taiji shoes on today: my feet slip too much inside the moccasins.

How many sets? I don't know. Good sets, but without magic.

I took some time to work on creeping. I wish I could recall what the creeping snake looked like when David did it/… Rats. I can only do my best to figure it out on my own. Stay upright… keep weight on the heel… move the arms like a balance… let the snake creep across before following… I guess that's it.

29: Monday

30: Tuesday

31: Wednesday


the sun has set and the color is draining out of the sky and clouds. It was a beautiful sunset, all orange and pink and gold.

Three sets, and a little magic. My roots were very strong. I could feel my feet pulling towards the ground, flattening against the porch boards, squashing the soft lining of my moccasins. Very neat.

I hope the new year will bring me a taiji teacher.

And I hope, too, that I will do Sensei proud.

So much to learn!

Copyright © 2003 New Moon

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