Copyright © 2004 New Moon
After karate class last night, some of use went out for a drink. Jon, Michell, Linda, Eric, Sam, Chrissie and me. We made a lively group and had quite a few laughs.
It's only 45 degrees out there, but it's rainy and feels a lot warmer.
Two sets. On the first, my mind was full of questions and doubts. Have I lost the martial aspects and turned the forms into meaningless prettinesses?
On the second set, I stopped in the middle to try to get peacock to work better. My right grasp was still unbalanced because of my left leg's inflexibility; and my timing and coordination were off, too.
Have I been wasting my time?
I felt "cricky" all day... my back had a tendency to crackle when I moved.
Tim was back tonight "Sensei Engel" though we're not supposed to call him that; one Sensei to a dojo is the rule. Anyway, Tim had pneumonia. It was good to have him back, making us work hard in class.
Sensei had us working on pinan nidan tonight, especially the shuto moves at the end of the kata. I had been finding the turn inot the first low shuto very difficult, but tonight I had an epiphany: step back with the "empty" leg and just use the toes as an anchor for the turn. Same with the turn to the forty-five: step the "empty" leg out and anchor the turn I'm not explaining this well. The thing is, you're in a right seisan dachi (forward bow stance), and you have to turn 225 degrees, pivoting on the forward (yang) foot, into nekko dachi (empty step), and deliver a nice, low shuto (blade hand block/strike). I found that if I stretch my foot back and place the "anchor" in the right spot (as if I'm doing repulsing the monkey), then I can let my hips/waist deliver a good strong shuto.
But what do you want to bet I've still only got the very crudest, rudimentary understanding of this move? It will be interesting to see how this evolves.
Ma makes me so mad sometimes. And so sad. I asked her tonight if she had been practicing. She hasn't had lessons since last... summer? Whenever it was David discontinued the Tuesday night classes and wouldn't let her join the Saturday morning class. Anyway, I asked her, and she said, "Yes... I go through it in my head." Well, I know that's not so. Not really. So I said, "Okay. Do Opening Form." Ma didn't even remember how to do that right. And she tried to go on, but all the parts were jumbled up and she couldn't get past White Crane Spreads Its Wings.
It makes me so sad. She's lost so much. I know it really isn't David's fault; I know it's entirely Ma's responsibility to practice, as I do, even when there are no regularly scheduled lessons to be had, but, Oh! How I resent him for abandoning Ma by switching to teaching only those boring TCA classes and then dropping the Tuesday night classes all together.
If only Ma and I weren't related, I could practice with her. But she drives me as crazy as I do her. She is so different from me in her approach to learning and practicing, and I get so frustrated with her. *sigh*
While I was at Ma's I did a set as Ma watched. I could see that she didn't remember any but bits and pieces. I do not understand her. How can she not practice and try to do better each time?
Ma needs a group of lively people to learn and practice with. The classes were so good for her. I feel so sad.
Ma says that David told her he was going to be starting up a beginning 42 Form class, but that was last fall, and he's only teaching the two classes that I know of now. I wish he'd have another 24 Form class, though. At least those classes were interesing.
Six sets. Four with weights; two with hands and feet light as feathers.
I spent the first four sets trying to get the kinks and hitches out of my flow, thinking about the article in Qi Journal that said "real" taijiquan has not stops or hitches, it flows smoothly, consistently, through a completely coordinated and relaxed body. Good luck finding anything resembling that around here!
Seriously though, I think I've got a few things right.
I heard from Joe today. He says this journal inspires him to practice more it even made him get up early to do it! He says he's having an excellent time learning the "new frame" Chen routine, too, but, from what he wrote, Chen style "creeping" is next thing to impossible. I'd think it was impossible, but then Sensei Engle showed us this:
Sit on the floor, one leg out in front, the other leg at 90 degrees, knee bent, foot towards the back. Bend forward and touch your nose to your outstretched knee. Now, without using your hands, raise yourself up and reverse your position so that you're facing 180 degrees the other way, and legs are reversed. Touch your nose to your knee. Now, get up without using your hands! (I may never get this one.)
Joe has invited me to a World Tai Chi & QiGong Day gathering at Waterford Park, down in New London, Connecticut. I do believe I'll go.
Joe also recommended a book, "The Power of the Internal Martial Arts" by B. K. Frantzis. He says the author is a karate man that "went internal," and that it has an excellent perspective of the internal Arts.
There was a question on Dr. Lam's Tai Chi Productions web site discussion list: What Makes A good Teacher? It was a very interesting discussion. Lots of good observations as to what makes a good teacher. Here's what I contributed:
I've had a lot of teachers in my life. Some good, some bad, some the very best...
In my estimation, the best of teachers have both a high level of expertise in and a genuine love of their Art, whatever that Art is-- taiji, kobudo, writing, theatre, music, painting. In addition, they have the capacity to give generously of themselves to their students. In a way, they truly love their students, as a mother loves a child.
"A good teacher teaches what he has been taught. A great teacher teaches what he has learned."
A good teacher has to be a good, open, honest human being. And a great teacher is one who also understands that true Art is a Way of Life, and that there can be no holding back. The great teacher is willing to share himself and all he has learned with his students, standing "naked" and honest before them.
And then there are the very best of the best teachers, the ones who take personal joy in the accomplishments of their students, teaching them to the very best of their abilities in hopes that one day the student will surpass the master.
Our best teachers stay with us for the rest of our lives, and our lives are enriched because of their teaching. We are their children.
And, practically, there's more to being a good teacher...
A good teacher should encourage students to ask questions, and he shouldn't be afraid to answer, "I don't know," when he doesn't. But he should also teach students that they should also look inside themselves for answers. Sometimes, the best answer only comes from experience, time, and practice.
On the very practical side, I've found that what makes a good student also makes a good teacher:
Hmmm.... I hope this didn't sound preachy to you. I've been teaching for a long time, but I'm still a student, and that's the way I think of myself.
- Be on time and be prepared for the lesson.
During the lesson, concentrate on the lesson and let your problems and worries go until later-- and never take a bad mood or a bad day out on anyone else.
Don't skip class without a good excuse, and be sure to let everyone know well ahead of time if you do have to cancel.
Be courteous and respectful towards others, and be fair and honest in your dealings with them.
If you need help, ask for it. And help others when you're asked to. Your class is your team, and you should all work together and help each other out.
Don't be hard on yourself or others. Learning isn't easy, and not everyone learns at the same speed or in the same way. With work, we'll all get there eventually. Pride is as big an enemy as discouragement.
Remember to laugh-- especially at yourself.
Lizzie,i think your guidelines for students are so outstanding that they should be posted in a very visible spot at every t'ai chi and martial arts school.It sure would take some of the frustration out of teaching!
Thanks for the kudos, but I can't take credit for listing what makes a good student, just for passing it on; and I'm sorry to say I don't even remember when I was given that list or who it came from it was so long ago! I will, however, take some credit for using the guidelines in my own classes, whether I'm learning or teaching-- usually both!
One thing I forgot to include in the list: communication. Students and teachers need to keep the lines of communication open at all times, as many of you have pointed out. If you have a problem with your teacher, or a problem with your student, nothing beats talking it over...
And that takes us back to building good relationships to get good outcomes. Respect and communication do most of the work there, don't they?
And I agree: this is an excellent and interesting thread. Thanks, everyone!
As I say, it was a very interesting discussion. Check it out at www.taichiprodcutions.com if you have the chance.
One set in the cool, windy sun.
I feel a crackling in my lower spine on wave hands and single whip; my body is readjusting but I'm sure all the recent nekko-dachi-low-shuto practice associated with pinan nidan has something to do with it, too.
I stopped at Jo's after work. The sun was out and Jo was busy, so I went into the yard and did some taiji...
Four sets on the grass. The ground was uneven and taxed my balance, but it felt good beneath my feet. After the second set, I noticed my hands tingling from the qi almost buzzing.
By the third set the animals had discovered me and come to investigate. First the cat, then the dog. Then the people...
It was interesting to see my shadow moving on the ground. I was reminded by it to be careful of my posture.
In kobudo tonight we began Matayoshi No Sai. It's a very interesting kata. We'll have lots to work on.
My right forearm is getting a lot of strain from sai practice and from bo spinning drills. I think I need to build hand strength to cure the ache I get.
Three sets in the spring sunshine. A very pleasant day. If only my right thigh wouldn't ache so! But Opening Form felt so... right. Effortless effort.
After that, a review of Matayoshi No Sai. I couldn't remember the exact sequence of the ending, but I've got the block-block-strike sequences figured out, and I can get Jon or Linda or Eric to fill me in on the ending tonight.
Lastly, a review of Nakamura No Sai. I only "sketched" the jump because my thigh hurts.
Last night, Sensei reminded us that, from time to time, when we're meditating before the shinza, we should give thanks for the good fortune of having found our way to the dojo, for it's only by chance most of us are there. And I know that's very true. I often marvel at the string of events that led me to the dojo and, just as often, I find myself as amused as I am exasperated to remember that it was someone I dislike very much who in trying to do me a bad turn, was responsible for setting my feet on the path that led to my good fortune in finding the dojo. Truly, our enemies and our harshest critics can sometimes be our greatest benefactors. Thank you, ememy mine.
Four sets in the cool, breezy, late afternoon. It's nearly sunset and the light is deep gold.
I did one set before I left for work it made me 10 minutes late. In that set, my right thigh hurt, so I didn't extend the kick. Tonight, on the second set, I found I could extend the kick, though there was still some pain. I wish I knew the cause of this inconvenience.
Today's sets were all good and solid. I make mistakes, of course, note here and there an uncoordination, an unbalance. My left leg, hip, and ankle still need work, but, they're improving, bit by bit.
I need to find somw stretching and strengthening exercises that work, but don't do harm or set me back. Last night during class I tried to do Sensei Engle's hip limbering exercises, and was afraid I had really hurt my hip joints. Fortunately, everything fell back into place by the end of the evening. I feel bad that I'm not liumber, but what can I do? The class exercises really don't work for me. Maybe tomorrow I'll go over to the library and hunt for books on flexibility for martial artists.
I finally figured it out: it's the front snap kicks that are bothering my right thigh. It's because the left hip and butt muscles aren't developed enough to consistently support the right-side muscles. I spent some time stretching and doing knee lifts supported! Until my left side got tired, I could do the taiji kicks without pain. (The karate kicks don't hurt because they happen too fast: the momentum gets the leg out into the kick, not muscles.)
Beautiful day. I took my bo over to Jo's. The air was so cool and dry that I had to dampen my hands to keep my grip on he bo. I did some katas, and a bunch of drills where I worked on my coordination...
Strike, then move the bo and foot simultaneously no, not exactly. It's more a matter of the bo being neutrally upright at the point where my feet pass each other, balanced on the grounded foot...
It seemed to work, moving like that, both for overhead strikes and side strikes. I think it's mechanically sound. Having the bo "in neutral" allows my hips to drive the strike when I move into the stance. So I'll work with this for a while.
I also tried a left-hand shima ijiri bo ichi. Very interesting to do it backwards. for one thing, I have a much better kick with my left leg. I'll try to make time soon to learn my bo katas left and right.
I practiced taiji at Jo's after work. It had begun to rain, so we were indoors by the wood stove. Jo identified aloud the tree samples she'd gathered earlier in the day while I practiced forms and listened to her...
David returned Ma's call. He said the Saturday class is still for advanced students only. Ma asked about other classes not TCA, and he said he was "getting organized." He said he still wants to do a beginning 42 Form class.
I've been wondering, Is David afraid of Ma and me? Does he feel he was pressured by us to give more of himself than he was prepared to give? Ma tried to be his friend. She likes him a lot...
David wants to be a teacher, that was always quite clear, but, perhaps, he doesn't want to have to give of himself to do it. Perhaps that would be too much for him, too painful. Perhaps he just wants to show up, teach, and go home. Perhaps...
Perhaps he felt I was burdening him, asking to much of him as a teacher.
Water diamonds in the tres. Rain.
One set. My left knee is bothering me from last night's throwing practice. Each of you hold on to your partner's gi by lapel and sleeve, then, staying low, mostly in kibadachi, try to throw each other by tossing or tripping or whatever...
If you don't let yourself get thrown, you can pull your knee. And if you don't let go, you may both go down.
My knee is holding, though it feels as though it might give way... But I keep stepping, throughout the day, carefully, and it holds.
Late early, I step back and forth practicing with my sai, working on the nekko dachi double strike sequence of Matayoshi No Sai... The moves aren't diffucult, only different. Punch, slide backwards into nekko dachi, middle block with the forward hand, then bring the other hand over the block, parallelling it; snap a strike with the forward hand... It's an interesting sequence.
After practicing, everything I pick up feels too light. I picked up the TV remote and thought the batteries had been removed. The sai only weight a pound each.
I did some taiji stepping. I can really feel where my problem lies: my left hip. And now that I can feel the real problem, I think I can fix it. All my practice is paying off. My legs are getting very strong.
Hazy today probably because it's so warm: 70 degrees.
My right thigh is bothering me today (Thursday night's kicking), and I couldn't get it unkinkied, so I've only done three sets of 24 Form, no kicking with right heel. I felt bad about that, so I practiced TCA. Six sets of that, just enjoying the feel of the qi in my hands, letting my mind go.
Wednesday's kobudo was interesting. Sensei sent the rest of the class all of the ranked students off to work on bunkai, while he worked with me and Jon on Matayoshi No Sai. It's a very interesting kata. There aren't any jumps, but there are some complex moves one, anyway. It's that double block/strike sequence in nekko dachi. When it's done right, it's a very sinuous move. You have to move your whole body like a snake, whipping the sai in the strikes. Neat.
Thursday's karate class was interesting, too. Sensei Engle and Bruce led it. The warmups were very difficult for me and bothered my hips a lot. I'm going to be yet a while getting my hips felxible!
I got put up front for naihanshi sandan, and I couldn't get ir right going backwards. Oy! I messed it up something wonderful!
But then we did kicks. I am happy to say I've finally gotten strong enough to be able to make a stab at doing the kicks right. My kicks still stink, but, after class, Sensei Engle called me over and told me I had improved. I thanked him for the complement... but there was something about the way his put this complement. What he said was, "Now when I tell you to fix something, you fix it." As if it had been my attitude that was at fault, not my inability to comply. And when I replied, "Yes, because now I can," he took me to task about my inability being all in my mind...
Last week, Sensei put out a survey form that asked about why we study karate, why we come to this particular dojo, stuff like that. Simple questions a rudimentary marketing survey. At the end there was a space for comments. I wrote that the only "problem" I've had has been with some people thinking that I'm trying hard enough because I haven't hurt myself and I still don't do all the warmup exercises easily. I said my difficulty with the exerciese is that I'm old and my tendons are no longer as felxible as they were, and that I resent the implication that I'm not trying. Even though the survey is anonymous, Sensei will know it's me talking. But he needs to know. He and Tim have never been 50 years old and twenty years out of shape; they don't know what it's like to have to work really hard at the exercises. They don't know how discouraging it is sometimes. I told Sensei that us older guys need encouragement. And that they need to be patient with us.
I took my bag o' weapons and my bo down to Jo's. The temparature was comfortable and the haze kept the sun out of my eyes as I practiced with bo and sai.
The other night, Sensei Engle had us practicing shihonuke. He made a point of telling us to keep our knees bent and remaining at the same height throughout the kata. Up until recently, my left ankle made that very diffucult because I couldn't move into a forward stance without my left foot levering me up. But now, I can almost execute a respectable right seisan dachi (right forward bow stance) without having to concentrate on keeping my left on the ground and the weight off my left toes.
Here's a trick Sensei showed the early Monday class: On the horizontal strikes, lever the bo, using the forward hand as a fulcrum. It works well. Lots more power.
Today I couldn't remember all of Matayoshi No Sai. I got most of it, but parts escape me. I did a lot of practice on that daouble strike/block move to work on the coordination. I can't do it as fluidly as Sensei does it, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.
I feel as if the qi has been sucked out of me today. It took a long time for me to get going...
To begin, I sat in the rocking chair on the back porch and dangled my bare toes in the pale sunlight of another mild and hazy day. I drank some green tea. I ate some oatmeal with tart cherries.
The first set of TCA was hard. I slowed myself down and tried to concentrate on the qi between my hands... I kept on going. Six or eight sets later I was beginning to feel human. After a tea break, I went on to do four sets of 24 Form no kicks with right heel yet. (Patience!)
Another break to haul my gis out of the dryer and flatten them, then I began another set. During brushing I noticed that my right leg wasn't fully yin when I went onto my left leg I felt my right toe giving a small assistive push. It's that left hip thing. I wasn't truly balanced on the left leg. So I just kept on brushing up and down the porch; then I went to parting, too. Up and down, up and down...
Much better. I have the strength to do it now, but I had to teach my body to do the move right.
Lastly, I spent some time sorting out naihanshi sandan. I was very confused, but I'm much better now. Just don't ask me to do it backwards!
My energy level still feels very low. I did practice with bo and sai at Jo's. I know I haven't got Matayoshi No Sai right, but I practiced bits and pieces.
I think my bo katas are improving. I feel more stable in my stances it's only when I "come up" that I really go off balance.
I do with I had someone to practice with.
Gorgeous day. Sunny, clear, 60 degrees, light breeze. I wish my energy level wasn't so low.
A few sets of TCA. What have I really done to my right thigh? I feel a lot of change in my left hip, so maybe my body is readjusting... My shoulder sockets are reminding me that I need to work on throwing and being thrown. Last night's ananku bunkai with Jason and Bruce made that quite clear. (They play rough, but they have excellent control and I learn a lot. I always feel honored when Sensei assigns me to work with the black and brown belts.)
Since my shoulders wanted attention, I practiced with the sai next. Sometimes I relax and things work well. Sometimes.
I noticed last night that I have to do more work on staying low and balanced in my katas.
Kobudo. After running though our sai katas a couple of times, Sensei sent me off with Kim so she could "answer questions." I did have questions, too, mostly about how I was holding my sai. For instance, in the double neck strikes, should the palms of my hands be facing up or down? (Up.) I also asked about the general orientation of the sai in the hand. See, the sai fits snugly in my fist with my gripping thumb parallel to the hilt; but to do a proper middle block, the sai hilt has to be almost perpendicular to the gripping thumb, else the wrist isn't straight and the sai tines can't block anything. In working all this out with Kimm, I realized that my left wrist turns very differently from my right wrist, and and I have a lot to work on.
Sensei also corrected my blocks. When going from an up-pointing middle block to a down-pointing low block, I was making a large half circle with my hand. Very inefficient. What I need to do is just drop the hand, almost straight down, while letting the sai drop into position. *sigh* So much to work on.
We did a very long session of kibadachi keiko. (Horse stance, one foot and one writst touching, trying to knock each other off balance.) I have a half-way decent stance, but I'm still very bad at this game. I'm not sure why.
I have been practicing taiji over the last few days, but not a lot. My energy level has been low all week, so I've only done a set or two of 24 Form here and there, and some TCA. I think my problem is stress. The taiji would help that, except that it's my worry about learning taiji that's the source of the stress.
World Tai Chi and QiGong Day. I went down to New London for the gathering at Waterford Beach Park to meet up with Joe, the fellow I met through this web site. It was a beautiful day, but windy as a hurricane.
I feel too tired, but I end up practicing anyway...
Three sets in the cool of the porch. Today I was very aware of how much I still don't know...
Yesterday, I met Joe and his teacher, Jonas Sanchez, and I participated in two of his workshops on energy. Peng, liu, _______, and an, the different energies used in ward-off and roll-back maneuvers. Joe and the others were very patient with me, working with me so I could understand...
Joe had told his teacher and his classmates about me and about all the discussions we've had about taiji by email, so when I met them, they all told me the felt they already knew me. It was very nice. I felt very much at home.
I've missed so much not having a teacher who will show me all these things. Applications, energy, push hands. I liked Jonas very much. He knows a lot and he is very good at communicating it. I'd very much like to take lessons from him and I just may do that, in spite of him being located out in the middle of Connecticut. It would be so nice to be part of a class again.
Right now, I'm down at Jo's. I just came in from practicing sai. I was tying to correct my blocks. I think I've got it, but I've discovered I'm not quite as good at right-hand manipulation as I am at left-hand. It's that broken tendon in the right thumb that's to blame. And it bugs me.
Tomorrow I'll work on those neck strikes and see if I can clean 'em up and get my hands the right way around.
Rain. One set before work and some peacock grasping at Jo's after to limber me up for karate class.
I've had a lot to think about since Saturday when I saw Jonas demonstrate how to move the body as a single unit, and how to use energy so you can't be budged. He's very good at both. I could see that I'd been using my energy and my body very ineffeciently...
I blew my chance to practice not being budged, though. Sensei had us kicking in pairs, using the kicking targets. I did okay holding the target for Tom, but he budged me each time he landed a kick, and it wasn't until afterwards that I even remembered what Jonas had been demonstrating.
My left knee and right thigh ache. So does my left heel (from stretching the tendon)... actually, now I take a moment to inventory, I have a lot of small aches her, htere and everywhere... I thnk I'll go back to ignoring them.
One of the martial arts schools demonstrated weapons at the gathering on Saturday. They didn't have weapons kata, though, so it was more a demonstration of weapons manipulation: flashy, but no practical applications. I mentioned this to Sensei the other night. I told him how I keep rediscovering how very different "our" school is which he knows. We talked about it for a while. He says he keeps looking for similarities in other schools, too. It was good to talk with him. When the gong rang for class, I thanked him for having our school. He thanked me for helping to make it possible for him to do it.
The thing that puzzles me about karate schools is that they all say they're "strictly traditional," even ours. So... what the heck does "strictly traditional" really mean?
You know what's hard to do? Showing a fierce face to your classmates. I know we're supposed to do it, but it's very hard to look daggers at friends.
One good set before work. I'll practice more later. It makes a difference being aware of all the types of energy involved in the forms...
A thunderstorm moved in from the west as I was walking home. By the time I got out on the back porch, the rain had begun in earnest, and a fresh breeze came with it. As I practiced, I watched the storm move east, the clouds along the line of clear sky above the tops of the pines to the south.
Now the rain has let up, but my gutters are still overflowing. The breeze has died down, but lightning and thunder continue as the storm moves east...
Some sets of TCA, then some of 24 Form. I have to keep reminding myself to use the energy. Even so, I could feel the qi strong in my hands.
It's clearing to the west now, and the setting sun's light is deep gold. If I didn't have neighbors to the east, I bet I'd see a rainbow.
Read a book in which the main character practiced taiji. "The Dog Who Knew Too Much," by Carol Lea Benjamin. It seems to be a mystery series. I'll see if I can get some more of the books.
One set while waiting for my oatmeal. And I forgot to concentrate on the energy.
Two good, solid sets in the windy sun. I could feel the qi and, oddly, my feet felt light, as if I'd removed weights.
Some days you just put your head down, hunch your shoulders, and keep on walking into the wind, one tired step at a time...
It's a beautiful day, and I've taken it off. This afternoon I'm going to take Ma around to those yarn stores she's been wanting to visit.
Last night in karate class I couldn't kick. I had no power, no balance, nothing. It was as if my body parts were all disconnected.
Two sets, trying to work on the energy... I could feel it, but... I keep wondering if I'm doing any of the forms right...
Still, being able to feel the energy means I'm doing something right. Something. Right?