Copyright © 2004 New Moon
The moon looks like one of those translucent golden moon shells you find at the beach. The sky is pale, the meadow light. The air is very still. No fireflies.
Kobudo. I asked Linda to help me with Chounokun before class and I got the sequence sorted out. (At last!)
I wasn't as bad tonight as I was last week, but I was bad enough. At least I got Shima Ijiri Bo Ichi and Shihonuke right. Mostly.
My stances were dreadful, as was my balance. I was leaning my body, too it was awefully bad. Sensei must think I'm a complete screw-up.
Today is my two year karate anniversary. Maybe by next year I'll know something. (Maybe not.)
At karate on Thursday we had a visitor, "Butch" Spain. He's a godan (5th degree black belt) who was also a student of Master Odo's, though not at the same time as Sensei was. Butch is, as he put it, a "karate practitioner," not a "sensei" because he doesn't teach, not karate, anyway. He has lived on Okinawa for the past 16 years and teaches school at the US military base. He looks to be somewhere in his fifties, and he bears a striking resemblance to Captain Kangaroo (haircut, moustache, portly figure). I spoke with him for a few minutes and he seemed to be a decent, fairly sane being. But he's also something of a character.
It was interesting to see his interpretations of the katas. No radical differences, just a few distinct ones.
Our class did katas all night. I still have a terrible time remembering pinan shodan. I've got pinan nidan okay. Sensei sent all the greens off to learn/work on pinan sandan with Bruce. I think I've got that kata now... we'll see... yes, well, I have the sequence if not the fine points. But pinan shodan's moves are not clear to me. I never did catch the transitions.
My back went into spasms Monday night. I got no sleep, but Tuesday I had to get up to take Ma shopping. I took some aspirin and did some mop handle drills to try to loosen the muscles. That helped some.
I tried taiji, and I felt okay while I was moving, so I did three sets of 24. I still didn't geel great, but I was functional.
Monday it rained. Steady rain most of the day. I didn't practice. Instead, I pottered around the house, trying to get a handle on all that needs doing.
Sunday... did I practice? I can't remember.
Saturday I did practice. And I ws reading, too, about energy. In the afternoon I practiced bo at Jo's.
Friday... I stopped at Jo's after work. A thunderstorm came over and there was hail the size of chickpeas. The storm passed quickly and the sun came out and the end of the rainbow appeared right at the end of Mrs. P's greenhouse. Neat! Luckily, the hail was small enough and brief enough that it didn't do any damage to the crops. Later, I watched the moon. Just past full, it was shining below the pine boughs, translucent gold, like the moon shells.
Such a terrible, lonely, depressed feeling is on my heart...
I've been ill. Back spasms, irritable bowel, gall bladder all at once. Oh! How I hurt and ached! (Do I feel pain as strongly as others do? Why doesn't pain itself frighten me? Questions to ponder.) Some of my back muscles still ache, and I wonder if my gall bladder will recover or if it will plague me forever.
A small measure of grace: three sets of 24 Form without an ache or twinge.
As I say, I had a gall bladder attack a stone of all things! That was last Thursday. I thought it was just a back spasm and left work early. I felt so bad when I got home I didn't even remember to call the dojo. I spent the night jumping in and out of the shower using cold and hot sprays to get the muscles to relax. They did, too, but the pain and tenderness under my right ribs remained. Gall bladder. I've been dosing myself with milk thistle and Michael's "Liver Cleanse" formula since Saturday. Slowly, things have been returning to normal. (I've taken the week off.)
On and off during this I've attempted taiji. It helped, but I couldn't do much. Until today. Today taiji felt good.
It's good to have time off. I need it. I have needed it for a long time.
Three sets. I could really feel the qi in Opening Form...
Effortless effort... what does that feel like? Did I ever know it? Will I?
It seems I have nothing but questions. I don't trust myself to "know" anything.
I saw David today. He didn't wave. He drives a little blue truck now like I used to.
I do the forms, but that isn't taiji.
Slow, powerful forms... quick, unbalanced forms...
What is taiji?
I took my wooden practice sword and did a set. I have very little notion what the sword forms should be even though I've watched the tape. Still, there are moves that make some sense, move some qi... It reminds me of working with the sai.
I am very lonely for someone to play taiji with.
I'd still like to know what happened that fall. One week David is delightedly teaching me 42 Form in the parking lot, telling me he's going to "get out the sticks soon" and begin me on sword form; the next, we're not speaking. What happened?
Was it all my fault because I didn't go back, that night or the next week? Did David think I'd betrayed him? Stupid. It was all so stupid. Could I have asked to come back to class? Yes... But I needed to be away. I felt David was abusing me.
I wonder what David thought. What did he feel? Does he ever let himself think of that?
Two sets. The first was good; the second was really good. On the second, I was mindful to stay upright suspended from the bai hui, and that made my balance better, which kept me from pushing knees over toes. I could tell that my weight distribution on the bottoms of my feet wasn't perfect now I had a little too much weight on my heels but it was improved.
Just when you think you're not learning anything, you do.
A hundred little mistakes, that's how I feel about each set. Why is it so easy to "count the negatives"? Why not feel I did a hundred things right? Because we're trained from childhood to tally our errors. "How many did you get wrong?" everyone asks.
Three sets. Coordination was lacking in some moves. But my heel kicks are improved. Before, it was difficult to kick and get my heels higher than my knees; but now, it's almost automatic. I wonder if it's that the mechanics of the karate front snap kicks have finally penetrated into my thick head. The kicks are the same.
One set in the humid dark, listening to the rain, watching the mist gather in the meadow...
In the dark I go too fast. I overbalance. But the real problem is I don't listen to my body. If I was truly listening hearing, I wouldn't need sight cues to keep my balance.
A dark, muggy day.
Three sets. I haven't been able to catch the fluidity of repulsing lately... I'm probably thinking too much.
First karate class since the "attack." I felt good. It was a good class, too, and we did a lot of katas.
Before class, Jon went over Matayoshi No Tonfa Ni with me. (Kobudo this month is sai and tonfa reviews.) I still haven't quite got it set in my mind, but... almost.
I've been using the Shuredo tonfa Jon gave me. They're nice and light. But I know I should practice with the old, heavy hickory ones.
Three good sets.
I need to calm my mind...
I was reading "The Devil Wives of Li Fong" by E. Hoffman Price, and found an excellent quote:
"Hatred and contempt bind us to those we hate and despise, just as firmly as love binds us to those we love you're shackled to your enemy just as you're bound to your lover." An interesting thought to ponder.
Tonfa and sai tonight in kobudo.
There's been a change to the end of Nakamura No Sai. After the side blocks, you come up into kibadachi, "present" the sai, then double block down and then you're done.
These little changes to our katas are coming to light because of Butch's visit. He's been up in Boston this month, and coming down to the dojo whenever he can. Whenever discrepancies in the katas come to light, Sensei and Butch go back to check their notes and the few video tapes they have of Sensei Odo, to find out which version comes closer to the truth. Sensei and Butch don't always agree, but still, it's a good thing.
(Now I know that Sensei has felt as I have without my teacher. He knows the uncertainty and frustration of having to wonder whether he's got things right or wrong.)
Sensei made a point tonight of demonstrating the best line to take when turning into a block (or strike), especially when using sai. You want to step into the turn, but not go too far past your center line. If you do, you lose the advantages of remaining "out of the way" and of staying on the powerband of the block.
See, if you turn 180 degrees, and you try to keep your center on the line, you're moving across your opponent's center to get there. And by doing so, you're facing him square. But, if you turn 180 degrees and don't cross that line, but remain to the near side of your opponent, you can still get all the power you need into your block and not present an easy target, because you're off to his side. So, you turn and plant your foot just outside the center line, and then let your hips bring your trailing foot into position to power your block.
I was practicing before class, watching myself in the mirrors with tonfa and sai. With the tonfa I do some things right; my punches are well placed, and they "twist around the center" just as they should. I don't move my feet particularly well, but I noticed my body is finding its center of balance for the stances.
Three sets. Good sets... but something is missing.
I can feel my hip joints and muscles today. The pigeon pose has helped a lot, and last night in Karate Tim had us doing that side to side shifting exercise that's like Snake creeping, only you stay down and shift from one side to the other, back and forth, back and forth. I can do it now without dabbing. (Dabbing is touching the floor to push off with your hand because your thigh muscles aren't strong enough and your hips are locked.)
My pinan katas bite. I spent some time earlier going over them. Slowly. They're very good training katas; I can see that. They work both sides, and once you "get" the complex moves, everything in karate is easier. But they are the very devil for me to learn.
Five sets, right. As I practiced, I remembered the early days...
Opening Form was so difficult then. I remember being behind David in class, trying to imitate his moves, envious of how his body settled so easily, so deeply, while mine couldn't seem to sink down at all...
I remembered marveling at how easily David stepped out from Single Whip and turned his hand to Press at exactly the right momemnt...
Remembered how gracefully and powerfully his hands tranistioned from the rollback in Grasp Peacock to the wardoff press... In those days, he was always pointing out the "kink" in my elbow that blocked the qi going into the wardoff. "Can't you feel that?" he'd ask me. I could, but he didn't tell me what to do about it. All I could do was to keep trying to imitate him.
I have come a long way. I know I do a lot right now...
But how much am I doing wrong?
Three sets in 18 minutes, three breaths in between. A little fast.
I let my body move my arms in to the center on repulsing.
Monday night Sensei sought me out to talk with me after class. He asked, "How are your pinan katas coming?" Sensei was actually checking on my frustration level. I told him I found the katas difficult because the moves are complex, and because I had to learn pinans shodan and sandan so quickly. I said I was getting there. We talked for quite a few minutes about my progress. He didn't say so aloud, but I think Sensei was concerned, too, because there is a test coming up this Saturday, and some of my fellow gokyus (Green 5) are testing for yonkyu, Jon among them. The notice for the test went up the Thursday I didn't show up for class, and the notice came down before I got back, and I think Sensei wondered if I felt I had somehow been left out or passed over. Well, yeah, I do; but I'm not ready to test for yonkyu, and that's the bottom line for me.
I didn't realize until I came back to class after my illness just how debilitated I had felt before my illness. I feel so much better now. I have energy. Maybe now my brain will work better, too, and I'll be able to remember katas.
Hot and humid. The moon is near full, and the meadow full of white mist.
One set of TCA and one of 24 Form in the hot, humid moonlight.
I spent some time this morning trying to figure out the Ruyi-Taiji described in an article in T'ai Chi Magazine (Volume 28, Number 3). There are 9 forms developed by Master Shi Ming to help students achieve a deeper understanding of the art of taiji. There are pictures and descriptions of the forms, but I have a hard time figuring out exactly what's happening. This is what makes me yearn for someone knowledgable to play taiji with.
Last night I arrived early for kobudo. Butch was there. He helped me go over Matayoshi No Tonfa Ni and get the sequence right. I was very grateful.
In class we worked on Matayoshi No Tonfa Ichi and Nakamura No Sai. I had oiled my tonfa (the Shuredo) and that helped a bit, but I still had some trouble with them.
We worked hard on both katas, and I was getting quite tired out by the end, but I kept it together. After class, Rob told me I was doing really well. He noticed that I really nailed the jumps a couple of times. It was nice to hear that.
I have been working hard, too, on trying to get my punches right in both tonfa and sai katas. I've been paying attention to my aim and, with the tonfa, I've been trying to get the punches to revolve around the contact point. I still need more practice on low blocks with the sai my transitions from punch to block are making too big a circle. Sensei showed me a while ago how to just "let the sai drop" from the punch into the block. Very efficient, that. Very little movement. I know how to do it, but when I go fast, it's more difficult because it isn't quite second nature yet and my right thumb (the one without the tendon) gives me some trouble manipulating the sai.