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February 2004
The Tango Lesson, A Film by Sally Potter
Mi Buenos Aires Querido (.mid 7KB)
Por Una Cabeza (.mid 7KB)


"You have to give up all the ideas you ever had about what it means to be strong on stage. You are confusing strength with tension. You have to be calm to be strong. Slow to be quick.

"Nothing. You should do nothing when you dance. Just follow. Follow! Otherwise you are blocking my freedom to move. You destroy my liberty. And then I cannot dance. I can not dance. I can't 'do nothing.'"

— Dialogue from "The Tango Lesson"
A film by Sally Potter

It's all taiji.

01: Sunday

40 degrees! Absolutely gorgeous day for practice on the back porch. Why did it go so badly?

When I got up today I felt all at sixes and sevens. Breakfast and tea didn't help. Neither did lunch.

I started with kobudo practice. I worked on my stances, went slowly, concentrating on details...

I worked on all three bo katas. My left hip didn't want to stay straight, but it wasn't giving me trouble. I did enough work on the bo katas that I thoroughly confused myself as to some of the stepping...

I worked on han bo next— no, it was tonfa next. By the third set I was flailing badly— though I was controlling the returns nicely... My jumps weren't as good as usual...

It was han bo that messed up my left hip. Maybe it was the side kick— whatever it was, it didn't register at the time, but when I got to the end of the kata my left leg suddenly hurt and I felt as if putting weight on it would make it collapse...

I worked it gently for a few minutes and it improved enough to walk on. So much for practice. I went in and read about zhan zhuang in back issues of T'ai Chi Magazine.


I was pushing my left leg too hard. Sensei told me I needed to work on my stances, and I've been doing it, but I feel in class lately that I'm a big disappointment to him. He seems to ignore me. I mean, he goes around "fixing" everyone else, giving praise, but I never seem to be of any interest to him. I feel as if he's decided I'm not worth teaching...

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive of how badly everything went between me and David. I am afraid Sensei will dismiss me, too, without cause or reason. Then what would I do?

It's bedtime now, and my hip feels a lot better now, but I there is still a deep place I need to be careful of. I hope I don't wake up stiff. If I don't, tomorrow night I'll ask Eric to watch me do my bo katas and straighten me out on the stepping. He's got a good eye for the details.

02: Monday


Forty-four degrees! No coat necessary.

One set after stepping with my tea. I can still feel that I must be careful of my hip, but it isn't blocking the qi.

03: Tuesday


Small karate class tonight, but it was a good one. In punching and blocking practice I was paired with Eric. My stances are improving, but still need a lot of work. Sensei came over and gave me pointers and that was encouraging. But I still can't sink my tantien and hips low enough to root... and I'm still over-reaching on my punches. But, as I said, I am improving.

My hip didn't bother me at all, even in the jumps in sai and tonfa katas, which I was off by myself practicing along with my bo katas. I had hoped to snag Eric to go over the kobudo katas with me, but he was helping out in the beginner class. Fortunately, Sensei had the advanced class doing all the kobudo katas, so I got my questions answered by watching.

I practiced watching myself in the mirrors. I need to get my left hip to cooperate.... I tried a little static practice on my stances, too, while I was at it.

I helped Jerry, a new student, with blocking and punching practice. He's nearly my age, but he studied karate 30 years ago. He was a bit flustered by the blocks, but they are difficult at first.

After that, I worked with Fern on Ananku. She's testing this Saturday, too. Karate only. We talked a little about the test. She was worried about the bowing protocols, so I explained that she only had to bow to Sensei when he calls her up and when he dismisses her. Other than that, it's the usual routine.

We also talked about messing up. I told her about the last test when everyone made at least one mistake. The thing to do, I told her, it to not miss a beat and keep on going. That's what we all did. I think Fern will do okay.

Jon wasn't in class tonight or last Thursday. I wonder what happened to him.

I've got some notes on shihonuke: be sure to slide hands and turn the bo on the left-right block; be sure to keep the bo against the forearm in the front blocks.

04: Wednesday


Forty degrees today, but the wind kicked up— a wild, shifting wild— and made outdoor practice impossible. So I practiced standing. I'm still working on the rooting exercise Chen Qingshou gave in the T'ai Chi Magazine article. Assume a horse stance, right hand up palm facing left in front of face, middle finger at tip-of-nose height, left hand in hook at the small of the back. Recite the syllables "er," "xi," "shu," "chui" as you breath, beginning with "er" on the exhale. I didn't notice any strong manifestation of qi.

05: Thursday


You need momentum when you don't have strength, that's for sure.

Standing... today it felt... different. It was difficult to relax completely.

06: Friday


I've strained my hips tonight trying to improve my stances.

I think Sensei doesn't care a jot whether I'm in class or not.


Rank test tomorrow. Tonight Tim (Sensei Engle) opened the dojo to us for a practice session.

Linda practice with me— watched me and corrected a few things. Like my opening block in shims ijiri bo ichi. I'd been bringing the bo up high instead of just pushing my left hand down. And in the "45's" [the stances on the diagonals], when I went from one 45 to the other, I wasn't sweeping the bo across close to the ground as I should. She also got me to really snap the overhead strike downwards.

We talked for a while and Linda reminded me that Sensei might ask about the history of kobudo and the origin of the weapons. Not much has stuck in my head about those things— though I had compiled a list of the katas a while ago, both karate and kobudo, but I didn't study it. (Tonight I went on the Internet and updated and annotated my list.)

Jon went over Matayoshi no tonfa Ni with me a few times. Jon's very good at cueing the student, so I did get a much better grasp on the kata, but I still haven't got it memorized.

Linda and I worked on bunkai for shima ijiri bo ichi, too.

07: Saturday

Of course, Sensei asked me for my tunfa kata. I'd've bet the farm on that happening— and I'd've won, but not much. A couple of weeks ago when I talked to him about testing, I told him it was my worst kata. It was then, and it still is, but I did do an excellent jump in Matayoshi no Tunfa Ichi today.

After that kata, I was allowed to choose a bo kata, and I did okay with shima ijiri bo ichi.

In both katas I tried to get my stances and my breathing, but in doing that, other things suffered. Especially in the tunfa kata. I had to go very slowly because my hands were soaking wet. Because of that, I was afraid the tunfa would get away from me, slip and go flying. But I held on to 'em...

I knew I wasn't doing as well as I could've done if I could have relaxed, and yet, there was a kind of joy in it all the same— and my first leap, as I mentioned, was truly excellent.

I may not have earned my ranking, but I think that someday, Matayoshi and the other senseis will look down on me and smile. I feel it in my heart.

08: Sunday

09: Monday

Neither Jon nor I were awarded rank in kobudo. I haven't spoken to Sensei, so I can't say specifically what his reasons were. However, Jon did speak to him and— Jon can't figure out exactly why he didn't pass, either. Jon says that the conversation with Sensei was very confusing and contradictory.

We're both disappointed, but we're very different in our disappointment. Jon's ego is more involved, he admits that. We're both still thinking about how we feel about Sensei's decisions.

10: Tuesday


Three sets in the fifty degree plus sunshine— a real February day!

I think this was the best creeping I've ever done. The stance exercises I've been doing for karate have been good for hip and ankle.

I haven't practiced taiji in days. I didn't even think about pushing myself to do so, either. I think this is part of my grief, a part of my grieving for the taiji I knew before as David's student. Perhaps now I will be able to move on.

11: Wednesday

12: Thursday


I still haven't spoken to Sensei about the test, but it really isn't necessary. I know I didn't pass because I couldn't control the tunfa. Oh, I might've squeaked by if I'd borrowed some of the light, balanced, expensive tonfa— and if it had been a cool, dry day, too! The truth is, my hands aren't strong enough.

Jon's still not sure why he didn't earn his ranking, but he's decided it doesn't matter because he loves karate and kobudo. He's going to speak to Sensei and ask him to just keep teaching him, make sure he has the materials he needs to qualify, and then let him know when he ready to test.


Three sets, left. Good sets— I've almost got that creeping snake!

Today I concentrated on making sure my waist was turning, generating power. I made sure my foot was out and planted before I let my waist move. It felt very exaggerated, but I had been getting quite sloppy.

Kobudo last night was excellent. For the first time, I wore a gi. We reviewed bo katas and worked on details. Everyone got quite mixed up on the beginnings, switching between shima ijiri bo ichi and sueyoshi no kun ichi. I think everyone got caught out at least once. For shima, the bo is in front of the hand; for sueyoshi, it's behind.

My feet were sticking quite a lot on the spins.

Sensei talked to us about bo theory. He reminded us that power isn't the point because, for one thing, the bo can do a lot of damage even with a light strike or jab; and, for another, a broken bo isn't much use. He told us to strive for accuracy with our strikes and blocks and stances. and he also reminded us that the loose-tight principle of karate applies, too. Be tight only at the point of striking, so that if the strike is intercepted, the intercept can be absorbed and the strike redirected quickly. (Taiji!)

13: Friday

14: Saturday

Five— six? sets. All the sets ended almost exactly at the starting point. Today I worked on getting Parry and Punch coordinated. I had noticed I was forgetting to block with the lower hand, and didn't keep it moving.

15: Sunday

Bitter cold. No practice. But Jon delivered my new Shuraido tonfa. They were a gift from him. For having introduced him to the dojo, he said. They're so light! I bet I could have squeaked through the rank test if I'd had them then!

16: Monday

17: Tuesday


Six so-so sets, and one of TCA. I kept noticing my left hand going too high— and the snake—! Very bad.

My left hip is stiff. It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't bend or flex, either.

18: Wednesday

19: Thursday

Last night, Dave the Black Belt visited the dojo. He was a student of Master Odo, and he has visited the dojo before.

Sensei invited him to address our class. He talked about some of the new things he's learned about naihanshi shodan lately, and he demonstrated. From the talk and the demonstration, I gather that Dave has discovered and got the hang of spiral jing (energy). It reminded me of what I saw in Jay Van Schelt's taiji last summer. Jay is a black belt in karate, too. Watching his taiji, I noticed he had an interesting little "twist" in his moves that generated a lot of power— just like Dave demonstrated for us. (I've put the Tai Chi Classics out on the table so I will remember to look it up later.)

I spoke with Dave for a minute. Sensei had given him a copy of an interview someone did with Sensei Odo a few years ago. Dave let me read it. Turns out I had read it before, just after starting lessons. I had forgotten that Odo didn't believe in ki. He dismissed it as a Chinese concept. He said he didn't believe anyone could be thrown across a room with a mere touch. I don't blame him for that. I don't believe it either.

But I do believe in ki. Qi. It's real and it has power.

I've never seen a Master throw someone with qi. I've often wondered if that feat is akin to a placebo effect. The opponent thinks he's going to go flying, and so he does. For sure, there are a lot of gullible, credulous people out there. For myself, I'd have to actually feel the qi throwing me to believe in that kind of power.

I was watching the movie "The Tango Lesson." Very interesting. I've mentioned before about how closely tango resembles taiji. This film just confirms it.

20: Friday

Today I woke up practicing pinan shodan. There's a sequence of moves where you're kicking and blocking. Your feet are in a forward bow stance, you do a back punch (punch from the side of the trailing foot), and do a middle block with that same hand twisting your shoulders so they are perpendicular to the stance. Okay. You're in forward stance, blocking with the leading hand; trailing hand goes to the obi. Now you kick to the outside of the blocking hand, land in forward stance, punch, twist and block. Kick again, land, punch, twist and block...

That block is heckuva position to achieve. Sensei comes around with a bo and checks to make sure the shoulders and blocking arm are aligned correctly, perpendicular to the line of travel. Most people in the class have a lot of difficulty with it— and it can be painful. I find I don't have much trouble achieving the position if I just take time to relax, keep my back straight, tilt my pelvis forward, center myself, and drop the qi to the tantien. Easy. (Right!)

21: Saturday


Two sets and I don't know why I practice taiji anymore.

22: Sunday

23: Monday

24: Tuesday

No taiji practice.

Karate last night... my energy level was very low. I got dizzy during kicking drills. Dehydration maybe— and a general tenseness I haven't been able to shake. Weird dreams this morning, too...

25: Wednesday


Three sets. Good sets... but the coordination wasn't spot on.

Last night, I practiced opening form and grasping with weights on my wrists and ankles. 2-pound weights on wrists; 3-pound weights on ankles. It sure changes your balance!

26: Thursday


One set. I felt a bit stiff and was hampered because I was wearing jeans, but a good set.

27: Friday

Eric mashed my thumb during wansu bunkai last night. Jammed it right into the base joint. I put ice on it later, so it's not too swollen, but it's stiff and I know it happened.

One set today... I'm noticing lots of details to work on. Lots.

As I was leaving for work, David went by in his old red truck. I was behind him all the way until I turned off onto 146 for Providence while he continued on towards Woonsocket. He didn't seem to notice me. I didn't wave.

28: Saturday

Gorgeous day. Sun, cool breeze, mid fifty's. Perfect for practice.

Six sets today, 3 each side, with 3-pound weights on ankles, 1-pound weights on wrists.

The ankle weights made me feel rooted, and I found I wasn't so quick to let my heels come up. I was much more aware of staying low, too... creeping was very difficult: no easy sliding out!

The wrist weights didn't seem to make much difference... but maybe that was what made me so much more aware of the turning of my waist. Centrifugal force. I noticed today that I've been going short on any turns toward the house. The feeling of the wall being so close makes me not turn as far towards that side as I should: I turn back to look to the outside too soon. Therr's a lesson here.

My left foot still doesn't stay flat— not all nine points of contact are present— and the balance isn't always right... but most of the time I can improve its with concentration.

Three sets of TCA with a weight balanced on my head, just to remind me to keep my head up and my chin tucked in. Good sets.

The weather is improving... I should be able to get my TCA class going again soon.

29: Sunday


Mild today, overcast.

Two sets or three? I lost track. today I put 2-pound weights on my wrists and 3-pound weights on my ankles, and I was really noticing things I need to work on. In the last two sets I noticed how different the left and right side roll-backs in peacock are, so I repeated the sequence during each set.

The weights do make staying low easier.

The weights also gave me a different feeling for repulsing. Without the weights, I felt I was raising my arm from the elbow to go into the push. But with the weights, it became more of a dropping of the elbow. I suspect that dropping the elbow may be correct— but how can I know? I truly wish I had someone to ask. Rats.

Copyright © 2004 New Moon

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