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July 2003

The Snake Creeps Down © 2003 New Moon

The Snake Creeps Down
Copyright © 2003 New Moon

01: Tuesday


Today, I almost "got" Snake Creeps Down! My yang foot doesn't stay flat— not yet!— and I have to bend my torso forwards for now, and I have to give my self a small push off the floor to begin shifting my weight over to my extended leg— and I lose my balance, too! — but, you can't see any of that in the picture. And, for all of that, I really do almost have it! A real, low-down creeping snake is now within my grasp! It's only a matter of time! Yay!

... *sigh* I wish I had someone to share my triumph with. Ma doesn't really understand. Taiji doesn't mean as much to her as it does to me. She's content with not falling over, period. But she tried to be glad for me. Wish I had a teacher. *sigh*

Hey— ! Today's my first anniversary of karate. One whole year... I don't feel I know very much. I've a notion it's like the taiji, though: around year three you get to the point where you're teachable.

... It's really a shame that I should reach that point in taiji only to have my teacher dismiss me. I wish I knew what happened... but I don't. I just don't.

David, what happened?

02: Wednesday

03: Thursday


My back aches from last night's roundhouse kicks to the head. The inside of my right knee hurts a lot, too— but that's from "creeping." I took a pill.

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in a while: stepping with my tea. Such a simple thing it is. You wouldn't think it makes such a difference. But my left leg clearly indicated that it still needs the constant stepping practice in order to retain proper balance...

04: Friday


I'll tell you what's frustrating. When I'm at home and my hands aren't all sweaty, I have no trouble controling had bo or tonfa; but, in the dojo, with the sleeves of my gi in the way and my hands and feet sopping with sweat, I can't do anything right. Rats. It's some satisfaction to know that I can control both han bo and tonfa under better conditions, but I really wish Sensei could see that I'm not a total incompetent. (Of course it could just be that only a total incompetent can't control tonfa and han bo when hands are sopping wet!)

Tonight (Thursday) was my first tonfa lesson. We're learning Matayoshi No Tonfa Ichi.

I still have a little ache in my lower back from those kicks, but not much.


Two sets... It's very warm... Some TCA... Too warm.

05: Saturday

06: Sunday


Four sets of 24 Form; four of TCA; two of the first sequence of 42 Form; tonfa and bo practice.

It's very warm and humid. If it weren't for the breeze, practice would be impossible. As it was, I had to wrap paper towels around the grips of the tonfa because my hands were sticking so.

Once during the TCA I had the follow steps working in coordination with my hands. Once I noticed I couldn't get it back, though.

The grief of being dismissed is almost overwhelming at times. I could bear it better if David had given me a reason for making me go. But he wouldn't. What have I done that he hates me so?

07: Monday


One of 24; one of 42; one of TCA. My head and my heart are crying.

The knowledge that David, my teacher, will never be there for me ever again... How could he do this to me? His teacher didn't disown him when he outgrew her. How could he do this? Is his heart so hard?

08: Tuesday


Today, it's too hot to practice.

I'm feeling particularly stupid. I never should have let David dismiss me without giving me a reason...

Still, he asked me to go. Said he needed me to go. If a friend asks you to go, you go. But it hurts.

09: Wednesday


Tonight I got to talk with Sensei a bit. He came over to thank me for that little picture I gave him, and I got to telling him how good a teacher he has become... from what stories I hear from his old students— and Sensei acknowledges them as true, though some of them would curl your hair!— he has learned a lot about teaching...

It's always a pleasure talking with him, but between times I forget that. David has me trained now to distrust my teachers.

Had an email from Joe today. He explained how the breathing is supposed to work in 24 Form. Exhale on the outward moves; inhale on the inward (contracting) moves. I tried it out just a few minutes ago— the air is cooling so quickly now we've got fog!— and found that I was pretty much doing that. I think. I'll have to monitor myself a few times to see if I'm really doing it right or not.

Joe also sent me an exercise to help with creeping. It's similar to one of the karate warm ups where you put yourself in a wide horse stance and then try to sit your butt on the floor— the way little kids will squat down to look at ants.

I practiced some with my tonfa. It was much easier with dry hands. But I haven't got the overhand strikes or the blocks right. I'll get those straight tomorrow in class.

In class tonight we worked on shihonuke. Come to find out the opening block is a lot easier than I thought. I had been turning my torso to the front which made the angle of the bo nearly impossible for my right arm to hold. But, in the correct position of tosro at an angle, the block works easily. Why didn't I notice this before? (Because I keep thinking that everything should be hard. If I find something easy in karate, I figure I must be doing it wrong!)

I've been thinking I deserve more credit than I've been giving myself for my progress in taiji. If I hadn't practiced and read and thought about what I was doing, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere, even with the best and most dedicated teacher in the world. Reading over my journal, I realize now how much David did neglect me. Yes, he is an excellent practitioner. Yes, he did convey the basics to me early on. But he did not do much to advance my learning over the past year. In fact, had he been truly concerned with my progress, he would have invited me to attend his other classes in 24 or 42 forms. But he never even mentioned it to me, never asked why I only came to TCA with Ma... If it had been Sensei, he would have ordered me to rearrange my entire life to get me into the right classes so that I would get the training I needed. But David left me languishing and never said a word....

And neither did I.

10: Thursday


I can't tell if I'm breathing correctly or not. Once you start noticing it gets all messed up... but I think I'm mostly doing it right. Exhale when expanding— like punching in karate. Inhale when "relaxing" or blocking. *sigh* A master would probably disabuse me of any illusions I have about the correctness of my breathing.

My sets today were gone all to pieces cuz I kept noticing my breathing, even after I told myself to forget it. When I was a kid I used to worry about my breathing all the time. I couldn't go to sleep because I worried I'd stop breathing if I did. I'd forgotten about that. Forgotten about laying in my bed in the dark breathing and worrying...

Shihonuke is much improved. So is my wansu. (Just for the heck of it, do wansu backwards. It's a trip!) I used the kicking post to make sure my kick and my punch go on target: kick to the head, punch to the chest.

Sun style... I'm beginning to understand the follow steps.

I don't know where this came from, but, I wonder if Sensei ever had a job where he wore a suit... I just tried to picture that and it made me dizzy. LOL!

11: Friday


I wondered the last few days why the top and back of my shoulders felt tender. Tonfa practice. The knobs on the handles are quite large and have an edge. I may have to sand them down.

12: Saturday


Beautiful day... very breezy. Practice works up a sweat, but the breeze takes it away.

Four sets. Not my best. During the last one, Grasp Peacock to the right felt really bad, so I "looped it" a bunch of times, working hard on opening up and stretching my left hip, leg and foot. If I can get my ankle to bend, it will stop forcing my weight onto my toes and the power will come up into my leg— same deal with opening up the hip joint. The exercise Joe sent me does just that...

I hate practicing stretching exercises. If I was smart, though, I'd pretend the exercises were forms themselves— I should invent a stretching form! Something akin to the Sun Salutation in yoga, probably, and throw in the low two arm back blocks from Matayoshi No Tonfa Ichi— with the jump, both sides! (Squat down and shoot your foot out as for Snake Creeps Down, then, block with both your tonfa to the rear. The tonfa lay along your forearms, protecting them, so just put your whip-hand and the left-hand-creep in position while holding tonfa protecting you from a whack from behind. Then, instead of sliding over towards your extended foot, leap up into the air, spin around, and land, blocking high with the whip-hand, in a forward stance. Piece of cake!)

Today, I feel very lost without my taiji teacher.

Tonfa and han bo practice. Left-hand bo is coming along. But I have to relax more when whipping the tonfa over my shoulders. I've already got enough bruises.

13: Sunday

Went to Angie's dojo picnic yesterday afternoon and ended up talking with Jay about taiji. He told me he's heard Sensei say that I'd be better at the karate if I didn't know taiji. Personally, I think I'd be better at the karate if I were better at the taiji. And I'm pretty sure the reverse is true. One thing that is true for sure: I can't unlearn the taiji.

It didn't fully register when I was in New London at the workshops, but most of the taiji practitioners who attended began in karate, and they are, like me, now studying both arts. I talked to a great number of folks there, and overheard countless conversations. Like me, none of them would drop one practice for the other, nor do they apprehend the slightest reason to do so— nor do their teachers, who also study, and often teach, both. I have to say it makes me feel a lot less lonely. And it affirms my belief that I'm doing the right thing studying both.

At the picnic, there was something I heard that I found very disturbing: two very senior students plotting quite openly to "get" and thereby humiliate another student whom they both dislike. Their reasons were that the student had somehow offended— though I'm not sure if it was Sensei or the dojo or themselves they thought had been offended. In any case, this kind of plotting is not right— it goes against the Dojo Kun. And it bothers me a lot. No matter what the offense, they owe the student the courtesy and respect of talking it over. It isn't right to take offense but say nothing to the offender. And it's even worse to then plot revenge against someone who is ignorant of there being a charge against him. And how can they justify plotting harm to a fellow student, whatever the provocation? What kind of people are these? How can they have been at the dojo for years and still not know anything about how to treat others with courtesy and respect?

I didn't say anything. They weren't hiding their conversation. I heard it all. There was no possibility of their words being misinterpreted. And from other things they said, I also believe this is not the first time they've "handled things" this way. The most disturbing aspect of the whole thing was that they seemed to think Sensei would approve.

I don't see that there is anything I can say or do about this. Perhaps they were just blowing off steam. But, even so, I can tell you that I've lost any respect I had for those senior students. And I hope there aren't any others in the dojo who are as nasty as them— and I hope this isn't a rot that is creeping into the dojo. We'll see. I'm going to keep my eye on those two.

14: Monday


Two sets. I feel terrible, mentally and physically. It's a dull, clammy day.

15: Tuesday


Two sets. I can feel a difference in my hip flexibility from the two-person stretching exercise we did in karate last night. It helped a lot. But I keep worrying because I haven't got a taiji teacher. I wonder, Am I doing any of the forms right? Am I straying farther from the path each day? I truly don't know.

I practiced Matayoshi No Tonfa Ichi. But I can't swing the tonfa freely because I'm afraid of smashing a window.

16: Wednesday


The sky is that clear milk blue tongiht, and the moon has a gold cast to it. There's a mist in the meadow that makes it look as if it's filling with moonlight. There's a chill in the air, too, but you can feel the humidity and know that the summer heat will return.

I still feel hurt and betrayed by David. There's so much more he could have taught me.

Not a good night for karate. I was tired, for one thing...

Angie, a good kid and recently promoted to black belt, has been leading most of our classes this summer, assisting Sensei. A little while ago, she got this bee in her bonnet that all the students should be bringing notebooks to class and taking notes about corrections they're given, and pointers, and things to practice. At the end of tonight's particularly hot and tiring class, she singled me out to remind me that I need to bring my notebook. Without considering the matter, I replied that I already keep a journal, actually always have one with me in my bag, and I do a personal "post mortem" on every class, so I didn't think it was necessary that I bring the notebook to class. Well! She snapped back at me, very sharply, "Then, I'm not going to help you!" And off she went.

I have to say I didn't like her attitude. It certainly wasn't what one would expect from a black belt. But then I didn't have a very good attitude, either. We were both tired. Rank is no proof against that. Nobody's perfect.

Anyway, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized that I was in the wrong. I realized Angie was trying her best to get all the students (especially the younger ones) to be more responsible, and that I had undermined that. I realized that I owed Angie an apology. *sigh* So I went looking for her.

She was sitting on the sidelines, talking to some of the other students, so I went over and sat down next to her. When I had her attention, I told her that I was sorry about opposing her on the notebook, that I was wrong, that I realized I should be setting a good example, etc., and that I would henceforward visibly display my notebook in class. She accepted my apology.

I hate being in the wrong. But it happens. I do keep a karate notebook in my bag. And from now on I'll be sure to bring it out during class and use it. It is, after all, my duty to set a good example...

Truth to tell, though, in karate, I see myself as more "grim warning" than "good example." *sigh*

Angie and I talked about other things, too. We talked for quite a while. Dojo stuff. I found some of it quite disturbing, so I'm going to have to think about it all for a while, sort it out, see what's really true...

17: Thursday

18: Friday

19: Saturday

20: Sunday

An essay: What Color is Your Belt?

21: Monday

22: Tuesday

Last night, in the humid dark, one set of everything I know, taiji and karate. It didn't take long.

I've been thinking about Sensei's fishing metaphor for teaching. "Toss the bait out," he says, "and see if you get a bite." I've been wondering how far Sensei has extended the metaphor... is extension the test of a metaphor? Maybe.

Anyway, if you always use the same bait, you'll most always catch the same kind of fish. Do you want only one kind of fish? Maybe so...

Not all fish are the same within their kind. Some are old and crafty. Some are big and strong. Some are small and stupid. They go after the bait differently, some nibbling the bait gently off your hook without you knowing, some grabbing the bait hard and running.

So... how good a fisherman are you? Are you content with catching only the easiest fish to catch? Or do you have a subtle mind and the craft to try to catch the wiley, experienced fish? Did you bring your net?

When I was very little, seven or eight, my dad took me fishing all the time. There was a great big old bass Dad had been trying to catch for a long while. One night as we were heading the boat back in, I got a bite. It was the big old bass, and I hooked him good. Dad had to help me land him. It took a while. When we got home, Dad took a picture of the fish. It was a hammer and a ruler long. I still have the picture. I don't remember if we ate the fish.

Dad gave me credit for the catch, but I knew it always bugged him. I had hooked that fish by dumb luck, and I had neither the strength nor the skill to land it. When I think back now, I wish the fish had got away. It didn't deserve to lose its life because of me.

Presumably, being caught by Sensei is not an experience that will prove fatal. But I wonder: How many fish has he caught? Lost? Eaten? — and what would that mean, metaphorically speaking?

I love metaphors.

My knees are still adjusting to creeping and kicking and leaping. *Ow!*

23: Wednesday


I'm playing hookey from karate. I didn't even call. It felt so good not to have to go. I'll give the dojo a call later, tell them... something.

I suppose I could tell the truth, that I'm tired and stressed.

I've been flogging myself, that's for sure. Why? I'm not quite sure. It has something to do with being terrified of losing both taiji and karate. Part of it is the terror of being misunderstood by my teachers... part of that is the terror of knowing that I won't be able to make it right. In my mind, neither David nor Sensei cares enough about this student to even notice how much she wants to learn....

24: Thursday


I am decided, I think, that I will be taking some time off from karate. I think.

Ma says I can trust Sensei, but, after that conversation I had the other night at the dojo with Angie, there's a bad taste, and I no longer feel I can trust the dojo or anyone in it...

It seems wrong not to talk to Sensei about this, but I really don't want to. I feel it would end badly. As it did with David.

That conversation really bothers me.

25: Friday

26: Saturday

27: Sunday

28: Monday


Bad dreams last night. Too much bad news over the past ten days. My heart is very heavy. But it's a beautiful day. Cool. Dry.

I practiced at Joyce's yesterday. Taiji and karate. I watched myself in the glass of the sliding doors. I could see some power, but I could also see that I need both practice and teaching... *sigh*


One slow set. Repulse the Monkey was very well-coordinated. Other things weren't good: I'm too worried about not having a teacher.

I went to karate. I'll finish out the month.

29: Tuesday


Hot, but there's a breeze. A few sets of TCA. Sometimes the stepping really works. Sometimes.


Two good sets in the evening.

30: Wednesday


Stepping with my tea... my left hip is finally "opening up," but the weight distribution on my left foot isn't hitting all nine "nails." My weight is forward and to the inside, probably because my ankle still can't flex enough. But I've got tiger toes on both feet.

Truly the Way is too narrow, too wide, too long, and too short.

31: Thursday

Ma's birthday. (83!) Beautiful day; I should've gotten up early, but I didn't.

One good set. Sometimes, it really works.

Copyright © 2003 New Moon

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