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January 2004
... Be content with what you have;
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you.

            — Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching, Verse 44

01: Thursday


Happy New Year!

Just me and Ma tonight, watching movies. Ma paid attention to most of "Bulletproof Monk," dozed through most of "The Bourne Identity," and then actually watched "The Medallion." Ma likes Jackie Chan. And Bourne was the stupidest movie.

The Medallion was over at 23:50, so we tuned in to watch the ball drop in Times Square. I opened a small bottle of Asti and we toasted in the new year.

I hope 2004 will bring good things to us all, and no major sorrows.


Six sets of 24; three of TCA in the late afternoon sun. Then one of every kata I know...

The sets were good— though I didn't feel as stable in my taiji shoes as I did yesterday in my moccasins. There was qi flowing. I did a lot of things right, not too many wrong. I'm able to keep my left foot flat now, and that makes a big difference.

The katas were rough around the edges, but I needed to remind myself of what work is needed...

The most surprising thing was that the jumps in Matayoshi no Tonfa Ichi were so easy.

02: Friday

03: Saturday

04: Sunday


I couldn't even get through one set. First my taiji shoes were making me wobble, then— everything after opening form went all to pieces.

I think I'm afraid that I'm failing in both taiji and karate. Afraid of failing at taiji because I don't have a teacher; afraid of failing my teacher in karate and kobudo.

I've been away from the dojo since December 17th. It hasn't been so very long, but it seems like forever, and I'm a little afraid of going back tomorrow.— I still haven't donned my green belt for a class!

I'm driving myself nuts. Practice was going very well before I started worrying. But now my right leg is tense and I can't kick, and my "han bo elbow" is still bugging me... I've got to stop worrying about failure.

05: Monday

06: Tuesday


Ice like diamonds sparkling in the treetops... it's 40 degrees and sunny on the back porch.

Two sets. I can feel the muscles in by butt because of all the kicking practice we did in karate last night. I can feel it especially in Repulsing the Monkey. I haven't been able to recapture the coordination of that form lately. But they were good sets.

I asked Sensei last night to tell me what I should be working on so I'll be ready for the next rank test. He told me the next test would be at the end of January or beginning of February. I said I wondered if I could "get it together by then." He said he was sure I could. (Yay!)

Last night we did shihonuke. I think I'm finally "getting" it. It felt good.

07: Wednesday

08: Thursday

It was about 6:30 when I got out of work. From the library I could see into the cafetorium at Levy School. Looked like David had at least eight students for his new TCA class.

Ma has declined to attend this TCA session on grounds of boredom. When she spoke to David she told him she would prefer a regular 24 Form class or the Sun Style. He said he was trying to get a beginning 42 Form class going and that he would call her when it was arranged...

It seems now that Ma wasn't allowed in the Saturday morning 42 Form class because that class was too "advanced" for her. Neither Ma nor I understand that. He keeps advertising for new students to join the Saturday class, but Ma isn't allowed to do so. So, is he only taking people who already know 42 Form in the Saturday morning class? Maybe so. Cindy says there have been no new students.

09: Friday

10: Saturday


It seems as if the moon has been full for three nights. Only now, tonight, is the shadow visible on the edge of the disc.

And it's cold. 2 degrees now, and like to get colder tomorrow. It was 4 degrees when I left for work today, but the sun was very warm. Warm sun and bitter cold air. That's how it is in January and February— though it's only the February skies that can fool you into thinking "Spring!" with their soft clouds and warmer shades of blue.

I haven't practiced today— though not because of the cold. Taiji has been worrying me again. Still. I need to stop and think.

Karate. On Monday, my first lesson as a green, my first lesson since I got sick in December, we did shihonuke. I think I did it the best I've ever done. The coordination is coming, the "snap," too. And the bo felt good in my hands.

Kobudo this month is Nakamura no Sai again. I felt like I had ten thumbs Wednesday night, but I hadn't neglected practice so I did okay. Linda and I were paired for bo/sai drills. It wasn't as exciting as drilling with Sam, but our slower pace allowed me to do some good detail work... I noticed need practice switching blocks quickly when I'm defending with the bo.

Last night, Thursday, Sensei sent me and Jon and Rose, the newest green belts, to work with Sensei Engel on Seisan. That was excellent! Tim always seems to bring out the best in us. Somehow, he inspires students to work harder at getting things right. I'm not sure why this is so, but it is.


  • Don't exaggerate the beginning blocks
  • Don't pull the shoulder back for the punch, just the elbow and arm— and be sure to drive the punch with the hips
  • On the "arm flaps" plant your feet first, then drive the rising arm with the hips
  • Take time to "set" the nekko dachi and then "charge in" as far as possible for the punches
  • Be sure to "set" the back heel to drive the punches!
  • Keep the stance wide in the turn
  • Make the knee kick sharp and accurate
  • On the double punches don't bend backwards or arch your back. Keep your stance deep and low, sink the hips, but tilt them up to keep the spine straight. (Taiji!) Pull the arms back and drive the punches up from the heels.

I still haven't figured out that last twist/nekko dachi and I didn't have a chance to ask. But I have enough to work on.

When we were doing Wansu bunkai last night, Istvan knocked my own fist into my nose on the punch/block— twice! It was my own fault (as Istvan was all too quick to point out). He kept telling me something about what I was doing wrong, but I couldn't quite figure it out... Istvan is Hungarian and his English is very good most of the time, but some things... well. Anyway, I thought about what happened later, and I realized that I didn't know who, at that point in the kata, is supposed to be the attacker. I think Istvan was trying to tell me that my move was supposed to be defensive and so I should have waited for his punch and blocked. I think he's right.

The advanced class was doing kumite (sparring) again last night. There was quite a run on bandaids, and when Sensei Engel was warming up our class afterwards, he was developing some very nice bruises on his forearms where the pads didn't cover. Even though it's a bit rough, I look forward to kumite.


The day has warmed to 24 degrees. It's warmer in the sun on the back porch. I watched my breath as I went along, and, after the fifth set, I had to take off my gloves. If I'd kept on practicing longer, the sweater would've come off, too. Beautiful day for practice.

Six sets of 24, one of TCA, and one forgettable set of 42 Form, Part 1.

The karate is helping with the taiji and vise versa. The principles are the same. Body carriage, stance, balance: the same. Breathing. The only difference is the way my toes turn. I am well-grounded in the principles— that is to say, I know what they are. When I can truly embody them I will excel in both taiji and karate.

Today I learned about Repulsing the Monkey. It was working today, but I noticed that I was forcing the pressing arm to move forward instead of letting the turn of my waist take it forward. Another case of not allowing the moves to happen naturally.

I think the work on Seisan helped in understanding this. There's a tendency to force the moves in that kata instead of letting them work.

Today I noticed that I have more control over my balance on my left foot. When I was kicking and creeping, I could readjust the contact points on the bottom of my left foot without falling over. It's the karate helping here, too, I think. Lots of practice kicking and moving on wobbly mats.

I still very much miss taiji lessons; and I still very much want to find a teacher. But I can't complain that I'm not learning: in karate the same principles are just as important— and even more conspicuous when they're absent! Truly these disciplines are yin and yang to each other.

11: Sunday

12: Monday

13: Tuesday

I can't remember practicing on Sunday... I know I chose not to practice on Monday.

Karate class last night was... the warm-up was rough: fast kicks. I'm in lousy shape.

We worked on blocking and striking drills. I was paired with Joe. On one of the drills we were supposed to take the opponent down with a sweep kick. Well, Joe didn't want me to try it on him as he has some physical problems that prohibit such rough stuff for now. And I quickly learned that him taking me down wasn't a good idea, either: on the first try, I felt something bad happen in my hip joint. We agreed between us not to try the falls. Sensei notice that we didn't do any falls. Joe told him we were "over forty-five and exempt." Sensei said only "over seventy-five" was exempt and he went away. I wish Joe hadn't said that.

I got to do bunkai with Matt and Mike. That was very good. But I hadn't done naihanshi shodan bunkai in so long I barely remembered it. I felt very stupid.

We did shihonuke at Mike's pace: fast. I whacked myself with the bo a couple of times. I'm not used to going fast and my stances went all to blazes.

After class, I asked Sensei what I should concentrate on for the test coming up February 7th. He asked me what I thought I ought to work on. Stances and breathing, I said. He agreed. He said I had to work on getting my knee over my foot, and on getting my hips to work.

40 degrees today— a heat wave! I ate my breakfast (cherry turnover) and drank my tea while stepping up and down, up and down...

Sensei had a lot of free time last night. Bruce had charge of the beginner class, so Sensei spent half and hour talking to Kevin. I watched and tried to catch him after that, but he bowed in. A few minutes later, though, and he was talking with Moira and they went into the small dojo to work together. Sensei spent the rest of the hour working with Moira.

When I see Sensei working with other students, I wish I had that same ease with him. But I can't seem to find it. I feel that approaching him with just be to bother him, and I don't want to do that. But I think Sensei think that I don't care. I don't know what to do about that.

14: Wednesday

Ten degrees. I'm choosing not to practice taiji. Not because of the cold, but because I need time to think— or maybe not think. I miss taiji. But there's nothing I can do about it now.

15: Thursday

20 degrees and sunny. I could practice taiji, but, again, I've decided not to. I need to let my mind settle.

No TCA class today. It's too cold for old ladies to venture out.

After kobudo last night— which was frustrating because my hip hurt from Monday and I couldn't get into Seisan dachi without feeling I was being stabbed in the left hip— I apologized to Sensei for Joe's remark about "over forty-fives" being exempt. I told him I had pulled my hip and that's why I wasn't practicing the falls and why my stances looked so bad during kobudo. I wanted Sensei to know I wasn't dogging it.

Hip notwithstanding, I got a lot of good notes on sai last night. and, happily, the hip isn't bothering me today. It seems to have slipped back into place.

16: Friday

17: Saturday


Five very good sets today during the heat wave. The karate is making a positive difference in my taiji. I'm stronger now.

I got repulsing right today. I didn't move the repulsing arm too much; I just let it come up into position on the back step and left it while my waist turned. My coordination was excellent.

18: Sunday

19: Monday

No practice. I worked on the web site putting up early entries. It stirred a lot of emotions...

20: Tuesday

No practice.

21: Wednesday

No taiji practice. Plenty of karate and kobudo practice.

22: Thursday

No taiji practice.

I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted. I think about the taiji constantly, wanting to learn more, do more with it. But I'm caught up in the karate and kobudo— which is excellent stuff— but I still haven't made my peace with it.

I'm being stupid. I should make use of what's offered, and be at peace with that.

23: Friday

Karate. Some nights I just want to say, "To hell with it!" Not that anything bad happened, it's just so frustrating sometimes...

Tonight was frustrating. We worked on Seisan. Last Thursday, Sensei Engel had us new green belts in the small dojo working on Seisan. I had a list of notes a mile long from that session, but I felt good about it because it was all stuff I felt was within my grasp. But doing Seisan tonight, I felt as if I couldn't do anything right. My blocks were bad, my turns were bad, my punches were bad, and my feet were sticking to the mats and my stances were the worst they've ever been, and my balance was non-existent.

When I was learning taiji, for the first tow— three?— years, I remember how I was always blaming my shoes for my bad balance. Or sometimes I blamed my socks or my bare feet, or the roughness of the porch boards, or— there were times I actually quit practicing because of any one of those things. But, now that I've improved my taiji, I've found the shoes don't matter; nor do the socks, nor the porch boards. Because when you've finally learned enough, reached a certain level, none of those things happen any more. The shoes don't stick or slip or throw you off. The socks don't bunch up. And when you slide your foot out for Snake Creeps Down, the porch boards don't matter: your foot slides out the way it's supposed to regardless of the surface it's sliding over.

I've been practicing karate now for 18 months. Now the wobbly mats throw my balance off and my feet stick to them and slip on them. I know from my experience with taiji that in another 18 months the mats won't matter. But, right now, it's very frustrating.

Sensei Engel taught us some new pushups: Lion Pushups. Place your feet as wide apart as you can get them, fists in pushup position on the first two knuckles. Now, lower your torso as much as possible, nose as close to the mat as you can get. Now, walk your fists forwards, staying low. When you've gone as far forward as possible, push up raising your head and shoulders while lowering your hips and arching your back. Roar! Stretch and hold the position. Then lower you body again, and walk your fists back and push up. Do it all again. And again. And again...

Sensei Engel has some of the best exercises.

24: Saturday


20 degrees. No practice today, but...

Between sleeping and waking, I often find myself doing katas, especially kobudo katas. Today I awoke fully to find myself doing shima ijiri bo ichi, and trying to figure out why I can't get much power out of— or in to the horizontal strikes after the sweeping blocks... I think I'm not waiting until my feet are planted to bring the bo around. As in taiji, if your roots aren't there, neither is the power.

It's a matter of timing and patience. I need to learn to move quickly and not outstrip my coordination. Yeah, I can start bringing the bo around before my feet are planted and I'll look faster, but I won't really be faster until my stances/feet are.

I went out to check on Kwan Yin, to say hello, and ended up doing two sets. They were good sets, and they ended exactly where I began. But the balance on my left foot was a bit shifty, and the coordination for repulsing wasn't good. But snake crept will in spite of the cold.

The strength I'm gaining from karate really helps. And the taiji posture helps in karate. Yin-yang.

25: Sunday

26: Monday

27: Tuesday

28: Wednesday


Tonight I ran into someone who used to belong to the dojo. Someone I liked. We talked for quite a while, 40 minutes. This person left the dojo, they said, because the atmosphere there was so unfair— because of the favoritism, and because of... well, it's not my story to tell. There was no acrimony, no axe grinding going on in the telling. It was a disturbing story— quite believable, unfortunately. I have to say, if it had happened to me as it was told, I would have left the dojo, too, and never looked back. I like and respect this person, and that makes me wonder seriously about the tale.

I'm sad this person had to leave the dojo, fond of karate as I know this person was. But I was glad to learn a new dojo had been found and karate lessons were continuing with renewed pleasure.

I feel bad about not practicing taiji for the past few days. But I don't think I'll stay away much longer.

The last two karate classes, Monday and last Thursday, have been very difficult. A lot of work. I stepped on my own foot in the "everything drill" where you cross the floor kicking, punching, and doing "everything" you know to get there, and now I have a purple bruise on my right foot...

I was talking with Sheera the other night. She was feeling a bit discouraged: she has the same problem I've noted: feet stick to the mats. I reassured her, told her that it's only because we aren't good at karate yet. We don't yet have the strength and the momentum and the skill we need to overcome the "sticking." And that's true, as I discovered in taiji. But we're getting better. I know I don't stick near as much as I used to.

Bruce told me he's got a book to lend me about karate masters. He thought of me when he read that one very famous karate master began studying taiji in his "old age." I told Bruce that, in China, the natural progression seems to be Wushu, karate, taiji, and that all the taiji masters I know of started in karate or some other external martial art.

29: Thursday

30: Friday


Sensei has been "pow-wowing" with his black belts for two night. I think he's been teaching them how to teach, talking dojo philosophy, binding them all together, making a dojo. Good stuff.

Last night Eric and Linda worked with me before class on bunkai for shima ijiri bo ichi. It's been quite a while since I did bo bunkai and I was glad of the opportunity. Eric straightened me out (again) on the beginning moves, and observed that I needed to flip the bo on the side in the last two nekko dachi blocks.

In class Wednesday we worked on bunkai for Nakamura no Sai. I worked with Linda. We did well and we had a good time— it was bo-sai bunkai, but the way. We used sticks and made a little mulch.

Kim worked with us on the kata. She did it with us, too, and I noticed that she has a distinct way of putting some of the moves together— she flows them together differently. I couldn't quite make out exactly what and how she was doing it, but I'm going to keep an eye on her in future.

Class tonight was good. Sensei had us doing shihonuke— and at a good clip, too. I was hard-pressed to keep up, and besides the speed, I'm still "in transition," having only just figured out how to get some power going — Plant your feet before moving the bo! — so I'm still having to think about moving my feet and coordinating my hips and the bo. consequently, I was very unbalanced most of the time.

Ah, well. The awkward stages are just part of learning. Sheera and I were talking again tonight. She dislikes the "everything" drills. She says she can't think of, or remember, what moves to do. I told her it's the same for me. I can never think what to do next— and I do have to think. And in the kumite, she and I have the same problem, too: we can "see" what ought to be done when we're watching, but we can't figure out what to do when we're doing it. I think she was as glad as I to find she wasn't the only one with these problems.

Sensei announced tonight that the green belts who've been working in the brown-black belt classes will be training as a group to prepare to test for brown belts this spring. That means Eric will be testing. Good.


As I was waiting for my oatmeal to congeal this morning, I worked on my shima ijiri bo ichi, the "nekko dachi lever" move at the beginning, and Lo! and Behold! I got my hips to power it! I hope I've got it right. I hope I'm not mistaken.

31: Saturday


Heat wave: 33 degrees!

I've only done four sets— good, solid sets and... I want to not have to practice. My left hip aches from karate stretching and my mind is unsettled.

The four sets were... solid. I felt as if my body was one unit, rooted, moving in such coordination that I was a solid force. The feeling didn't last through the whole of any one set, but it was there often.

Karate... for me, it's like taking a fifty-year-old tree and trying to train its branches and trunk— roots, even, into a bonsai pattern. You may be able to do it without breakage, but it will take a very long while.

I was reading T'ai Chi Magazine, the October 2003 issue, today. Articles about zhan zhuang. The one by Alex Yeo was very good. It reminded me that I should do static postures more often— especially for karate.

Taiji or karate, the principles are the same: hold the head up, as if it's attached to the sky by a string coming from the bai hui; hold the back and spine straight, tailbone tucked in and under (a line between the bai hui and the hui yin is vertical); consciously relax, feeling your body sinking roots into the ground; breathe naturally.

You have to learn the postures correctly first, then go on to static practice.

  • Stand every day, increasing time as ability grows.
  • Practice single weighted postures on each side.
  • Never lock joints.
  • Keep your tongue touching the roof of the mouth behind front teeth.
  • Breathe naturally.
  • Keep your mind calm.
  • "Wake up" slowly when done. Take some slow breaths, then move your body slowly. Pat yourself from head to foot to disperse qi. Walk around and then practice or go about your business.

I worked on my bo katas today. I wanted to work longer, but the wind came up and the cold went to the bone.

I've found some of the coordination necessary for generating power. Straight jabs were the toughest today... I'm not quite sure how they're supposed to work. How much energy comes from the forward momentum of my step? How much from the hip?

I tried the zhan zhuang method outlined by Chen Quinzhou in the "Developing Energy and Rooting Skills" article by Marvin Smalheiser. I felt a little heat in my thighs. I'll try again over the next few days and see what happens.

Copyright © 2004 New Moon

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