The Taijiquan Journal Logo Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 New Moon

Go to previous pageGo to Index pageGo to next page

February 2005

Is The Don Dead? Click here to read the article. © 2005 New Moon.

Is The Don Dead? Article

01: Tuesday

Gorgeous day. Sunny and forty-five degrees. I think I've got the pipe thawed, and the hot water heater is behaving.

One set of Chen, sections one and five. Not the best I've ever done, but I know where I need practice.


Peng practice. All kinds of peng energy practice. Joe played "the wall" for us, mostly.

Xiao jie ling jing pushing. The qi "meets in the middle." Put your weight back on one leg— Chen style, the weight is on the rear leg and the forward leg is nearly "empty" — and make sure you've got "tiger body." Now, when the wall falls on you, push with fingers and feet simultaneously: xiao jie ling jing! The qi goes from finger to tantien, from foot to tantien, meets and rebounds... When you push, remember to aim for the chopping block.

I found I had some trouble with this stance. I'm not used to the feel of tiger body and of keeping my weight back. I felt very hunched over, being used to Yang style and karate stances. But this stance is much more powerful, as well as being a lot easier on the body.

After that, "bouncing" practice. Pushing "the wall" back and forth between two people. Then bouncing the wall off the elbows. Weight back, tiger body, stretch your arms out in front of you almost parallel to the floor. When "the wall"'s weight falls on your elbows, point your index fingers and push them forward, shun chan-ing, and— the wall bounces off!

At the end of class, Joe asked about the open double blocks, and Jonas showed us how to work the fajing! by shun-channing the hands around the little fingers while driving the hands outwards, the little finger moving on a stright line outwards holding the center of the spirals. Neat.

02: Wednesday

May we use the passions of our hearts, the reason of our minds, and the energy of our feet and hands, to make our as yet unseen potential visible in our lives, in our relationships and in the world.

Candlemas— Grounhog Day, if you like.

No time for taiji practice this morning other than one short set.

Kobudo. All weapons tonight. I'm not the only one in the dojo who can't remember kata, it seems. That's comforting.

I need to drill myself on side blocks with the bo. I kept fumbling the flips.

03: Thursday

Overcast and melting. Birds calling and water dripping. I've got a visual migraine...

Stepping with my tea, then kicking a la Jonas... Joe mentioned my kicking post the other night and I remarked that it didn't have a mark on it as high as his chin. He said I should put one up and practice cuz he'd like to see that kick. (Me too.)

Chen sets. Section one. Nothing special today, only a few muddled questions.

Karate. Bunkai. And a little kumite keiko. I think I'm doing better. We practiced bunkai for most of the class. Pinan nidan. Very much better.

04: Friday

05: Saturday

While I was waiting to go fetch Ma from taiji class, I re-read Zhang Zhijun's article "Innovating T'ai Chi Training" (T'ai Chi Magazine, Volume 26, Number 4), and I got to thinking about... things. Bows. In the article, he mentions bows, as in long bows, and also the "bows" that the body forms in practice. This part of the article never registered with my consciousness before, but, perhaps because Jonas mentioned bows in passing last week, or maybe because there is a bow building workshop coming up at Jo's place, this time through the reading, I started thinking about bows.

Taiji people all know the posture forward bow stance and what it looks like; almost everyone in the world knows the bow and arrow device; but how many people ever think about how either of these things works?

Tom Turgeon, the bowyer who will run the workshop at Olde Allen Farm, sent a selection of his hand-crafted bows to the farm so that folks can see his work. I was there when Jo unpacked them. Each bow had a tag describing its particulars, such as height, type of wood, finish, pounds of "pull," and one very important datum: the draw length.

Now, at the simplest, a bow is a flexible length of wood to which one attaches a string that draws in the ends of the length of wood causing it to assume a curved shape, which in turn creates a tension in the string, the which can be used to launch arrows. Nock an arrow, pull back arrow and string, let go— the arrow goes flying.

Each bow is different. Different type of wood, or same wood, different character, maybe; different length, different strength. Different. Like people. Like bodies. And each bow, like each body, whatever its makeup, has to have certain characteristics of strength, flexibility, and resilience to work. Bow builders throughout history have often laminated sinew to wood to make their bows stronger and more resilient.

Each bow has an optimum draw length. That's the distance you can pull the string back (measured from the center of the bows to the string) to achieve maximum launch power for the arrow. If you don't pull back far enough— and maybe you can't if the bow is stronger than you are— the arrow won't go as far as it could. If you pull back too far, however, the bow's ability to function well is compromised. It may wobble or vibrate from stress— or crack and weaken, even break; and then, of course the arrow flies neither far nor true, if it flies at all.

Now, as Master Zhang Zhijun bid in the article, think of all the "bows" the body makes...

Which body parts comprise the bow? Where does the "string" attach? (What is the string, by the way? Qi?) Are you going to shoot an "arrow" from your "bow"? What's the target? How do you release the arrow?

Forward bow stance. Where is the bow? Is there more than one bow? String? How—? I'm still thinking about this stance.

Tiger body makes a "bow" of your spine from you head to your tail and the string runs between those two points. If you are too upright, there's no tension in the "string." If you're too compressed, the strength of the "bow" is compromised. Interesting, isn't it?

Absolutely gorgeous day. Sun and sixty degrees here on the porch. The snow is melting fast.

Kicking until my ankles tingle from the slaps.

Sword Form. Just because. Today I was working on figuring out the coordination between hands and feet and sword. I've learned a lot from Jonas about the principles, and I'm testing my understanding. I suppose, one of these days I ought to run it by a teacher to find out if I've got it right.

Some bo practice. Very slowly. Drive with the hips...

What about xiao jie ling jing? Sensei does sometimes state that the bo has to be pulled or pushed. Seems to me that if I have a solid stance... this requires some studying on. I'm going over to Jo's.

06: Sunday

Another gorgeous day. Warm. Melting.

I tried to practice, but my mind wouldn't settle. One set, some stepping, a very little stretching... it all seemed quite hopeless.

Last night, Karl and his friends were over at the farm doing a sweat lodge. Jo and I helped them set up, and stayed to watch the fire building ceremony, then we went down to her house. We talked about energy, about "bows" and bows while we waited for them to come down to supper. And after supper Jo brought Tom's bows out to admire...

I feel like I need a vacation from myself.

07: Monday

Yet another gorgeous day. Forty degrees on the porch before the sun touched it!

Today, I ache. Did I practice crescent kicks without the slaps yesterday? It's not in the journal, but that doesn't mean I didn't do it. I don't have a set routine. Sometimes, I don't remember everything I did do during practice. And sometimes I don't have time to write everything down.

Two sets of 24 Form. I needed something familiar today that wouldn't stir my mind up with questions and uncertainties. Hah! I ended up wondering about hand-foot coordination in repulsing. I'm sure mine isn't right from a martial arts standpoint. * sigh * Can I work this out myself? Or will I have to ask?

Okay, back to the porch. Exactly what's happening...?

Step back diagonally and let the opposing elbow drop and bring the hand up ready to repulse. Slide over onto the back leg, pulling straight back with the forward hand (xiao jie ling jing!), as the waist turns... repulse while drawing the foot in. Better, yes? What the heck do I know?

Karate. A strange night. No one seemed happy.

We did a lot of... Sensei has been "going over the basics" a lot lately. Tonight it was kibadachi stance, middle blocks, and the crossover stepping of the naihanshi katas. This is a good thing, but...

I could be wrong, but it seems to me he's trying to correct previous errors of instruction. These classes make me feel as if all my practice for the last couple of years has been a waste of time. As the moves are explained, I keep thinking, Why didn't you show me and tell me this in the beginning?

Am I wrong? Am I crazy? I don't know. But I'm sure that today's explanation was different from the instruction I received as a beginner.

Even though I didn't have a taiji teacher for over a year, when I got a new one, it didn't turn out I'd been instructed incorrectly, or even merely differently, at the beginning of my training. I was reassured to know that, from the first, I had been given the principles and instructions in full and correct detail, even though I was still struggling to master them. Why is it that I have the feeling that if I were to go away from the dojo for a year but kept practicing, when I came back, they'd tell me I'd got everything wrong?

Maybe it's a Japanese thing, this training method. A kind of hazing, maybe, to weed out the ranks. But what kind of weeding process it that, messing with your head? Maybe the trouble is that I'm not Japanese. But I can't fix that, no matter how hard I practice.

08: Tuesday

Gray and chill, but still melting. The snow isn't gone yet.

No taiji tonight. Thursday.

Chen. Section one. Six or seven sets. It's funny how the newest moves make me tensest. I start out relaxed and get more tense with each move. There must be a minimum number of repetitions necessary to get rid of the tension— how many repetitions until you relax completely?

Section five. Four sets. I would've done a couple more, but on the third, as I was moving to present fruit, my right foot popped the unsecured porch board on which it had been planted. The board went flying, and before I could go on practicing, I had to get the hammer and locate a nail and re-secure the board, and by then it was late, so I came in.

I have a question on six sealing in section five. Coordination and weight distribution...if I work it a bit, I may be able to answer my own question. I've been wondering about expressing fajing! in the foot stomps of pounding, too. Maybe I'll ask Joe about that one.

Karate. Bruce's "Over 40" class.

Bruce runs an excellent class. From the warm-up on, we kept a steady pace that gave us an excellent workout. We did kicking practice "over the bar," and then went on to doing different kicks— side kicks, front kicks, roundhouse kicks, side-kick-and-180-about-face-to-land-in-nekko-dachi kicks— using targets and bags. Then we worked on katas. I guess our class must have sounded very interesting because Sensei brought the whole of his brown-black class over from the other dojo to watch us for a few minutes.

As I was practicing side kicks to the knee, the reason for one of my confusions dawned on me. When we do front kicks, we begin left foot and right hand forward; on the kick, hands switch because the forward leg switches; on the return, the hands go back to starting position. Makes sense. But, we start side kicks from the same position, and it's the rotation of the hands during the kicking process that were confusing me. I asked Bruce about it and he showed me how he makes the block on the side kick work, but I still haven't sorted it out in my mind.

This was Jon's first class since his knee surgery two weeks ago. He had the ligament replaced. He's doing very well, but he did say he was going to need the pain meds later.

09: Wednesday

I've been thinking about it, about the differences between Americans and Japanese. In Japan, humility is expected behavior, and those who get humiliated, are seen as having been corrected for their own good. Even the humiliated person sees it this way, and he is embraced and praised by his society and his culture for having accepted this "correction" and for coming back to "normal." Likewise, in Japan, a natural reserve in demeanor is the norm. People are expected to behave that way and are honored for it.

But in America, things are very different. Here, humility is not a virtue, it's a punishment. If someone humiliates you in America, everyone else looks down upon you as a loser, weak. If you get humiliated, you deserve it, and you are shunned and pitied by society. An American can be crushed by a humiliating experience because he has no cultural backup, no social support. And, ironically, in America, a natural reserve of character is interpreted as arrogance, and Americans feel that arrogance is grounds for humiliation, and so they seek to crush you for it.

As Americans, we don't have the cultural training and support necessary to successfully embrace Japanese training methods. Even if the individual can handle the Japanese way, his family and his society probably won't be able to give him the support he needs to survive in it. You 'd have to be a very strong individual to live in America and yet try to behave socially and culturally as a Japanese.


Sensei had me do tonfa bunkai with Angie. Until we did this, I never understood how the tonfa really work. I feel stupid, but... practice is one thing, but until you actually attack and defend against another weapon with tonfa, how would you know?

At least I've got 'tonfa ni down now. I don't know about Matayoshi No Sai, though, because they were going very fast and I was at the back of the class, so when I turned, I was a move or two behind and I don't know what I may have missed. * sigh * I remember a time when the senior members wouldn't leave the juniors behind.

I worked on bunkai for shima ijiri bo ichi tonight, too. I was the attacker. Why, I wonder, does it always seem so difficult for people new to bunkai to remember the kata? And why isn't the part of the attacker more strictly choreographed for beginners? It'd make practicing our techniques ever so much more effective. And later on, as advanced students, the attackers could just improvise.

10: Thursday

I ache all over. Just enough to keep my sleep disturbed all night. There's no reason for it.

Rain... diamonds in the trees. Later it's supposed to change to snow, but very little accumulation is expected.

Taiji. More of White Crane and into xie xing ao bu (Walking Obliquely). This one's a dilly, a real killer for the right leg...

After spinning an flipping your erstwhile "polka partner" from White Crane, maintaining tiger body, you press onto your right foot which makes your hands an and tui anyone who may have been so unwise at to have attacked you from the forty-five. Now your hands are pretty much in the "classic" blocking-getting-ready-to-lu position, so you pull in your left leg (xioao jie ling jing!) and get ready to kick. Fang song! Kick! Keep your toe up and the "door" closed so no one can break your knee, but don't put any weight on that leg yet...

Ready to commit? Then, without dropping your toe, sink some more— screw yourself down into the ground by folding your left kwa. While that's happening, shun-chan your right hand so it's palm up in front of your chin and ni-chan your left hand to brush palm down past your left knee while you shift your weight to forty-sixty, left and right respectively (more or less). Your torso should be facing front, right hand up in front of chin, left hand behind knee, and you should now be in a very stable stance, feeling like a tripod, even though you're only on two feet...

... To be continued.

Tiger body. (If you haven't already figured it out, in this style, you pretty much maintain tiger body throughout.)

We had a note on Liu Feng Si Bi tonight. From kissing the squid, the right hand comes down to meet the left in front of the tantien, while the right kwa is folding, causeing you to twist towards the forty-five. The note is that on this move the torso should bend forwards in a distinct lean— don't round your shoulders!

Push hands. Tonight we began learning how to move our feet. This is in preparation for some very neat stuff. Da lu. Long lu. And the next four energies.

A long lesson tonight. 7:30 to 10:30. Excellent!

11: Friday

My frustration level is high. No time for practice this morning. New rule: Don't answer the phone in the morning. Ever.

Ma has been slacking off on practice and I haven't been nudging. Tonight she asked me a question about Sword Form, and when I had her do the form to show me, she was terrible. Coordination was completely gone, and she was turning with her weight on her heels! I yelled at her. You've got no one to blame but yourself if you don't practice, Ma!

By the time we were done practicing, she had a lot of it back, but... what a difference a little slackening of practice makes in her!

Afterwards, I asked Ma what she feels when she practices. I asked if she feels the qi. She said she didn't know. Ma? How can that be? Ma knows qi. She sees qi. She generates qi when she does the simplest qigong exercises. What gives? It must be that she's still so uptight about not knowing the moves. Ma, you gotta practice!

I tried showing Ma my best imitation of Jonas doing section one. I did it four or five times, each time trying to see and imitate the way Jonas moves energy... I get so frustrated. I haven't seen him do the forms enough. He only demonstrates moves once or twice, leads us through a couple of times, then he stops and watches us and goes about making corrections. Last night as I followed his moves during the demonstration, I tried to synch my moves with his, the way I used to do with David. And it felt better, and I began to "get" more, understand more...

So frustrating to have a teacher I can't watch and follow through the forms— but not as frustrating as not having any teacher at all!

12: Saturday

Stepping with my tea... maintaining tiger body... Why not step Chen Style? Why not, indeed! Raise your stepping leg... fang song!... kick! Shift your weight... lift, sink, kick! Shift your weight... lift sink, kick! Up and down, up and down... I didn't try going backwards— though I have a vivid memory from last July of Jonas demonstrating the Chen version of Repulse the Monkey... it was mind-boggling to behold. By the way, if you're going to do Chen Style stepping with your tea, a tea mug with a secure cover is strongly recommended.

Section one. I feel as if I'm missing a move in xie xing ao bu... maybe not. Could be I haven't got the hands moving correctly yet.

Breakfast... Time to fetch Ma from class.


Chen sets. Sections one and five. Today I don't know what I'm doing, but I continue to do it. Six sets of each— maybe more. I need to do more visualization of the applications, I think. Wish I knew exactly what they were.

Two sets of 24 Form, just because it makes me feel competent. Will there ever come a day when a teacher will tell me I'm doing well— and really, really mean it?

Bo practice. I'm at a loss. I can move the bo, but I can't seem to find the power where Sensei says it is. Why? I'm not really an incompetent; I try to do what he says. Maybe Joe or Jonas knows.

Seems to me there was a "rank recital" at the dojo today. They don't seem to have much meaning now. I don't know why that is. Funny. One moment we're being reminded that rank doesn't mean a thing; the next we being chivvied for not doing our utmost to advance.

13: Sunday

My hips have been aching a bit since yesterday afternoon. Guess the Chen stepping caught up with me.

Sunny and forty today. Let's see what I can do...

Yang stepping... experimenting with hand and foot coordination by varying the kinds of steps and hand movements...

I tried to keep tiger body.

Section one, Chen style, going slowly, feeling for the energy line, trying not to be kang (empty), trying to keep tiger body...

I'm still muffing the coordination in Liu Feng Si Bi. Not every time, just when I'm not paying strict attention— guess I'll have to give that move some strict attention!

It's still very difficult to imagine an opponent on each move... maybe that's because the form isn't constructed that way. I mean, it isn't one long choreographed fight like San Shou. In the forms, the opponent changes moment by moment for each part of the move, because each part is responding to a different attack or defense technique, not to a sequence of events.

Think how many "attackers" there would be in Grasp Peacock. You reach out then pull diagonally and throw the first one down; then there's another coming at you from the same place, who you have to press into, hitting him successively with shoulder, elbow and fist. Then, if you've given him sufficient push to send him on his way, there's another opponent standing there who you grab and an, then fling him up and away. Now you turn to face your next opponent... Really, if there were that many guys attacking me, I wouldn't have a chance without a choreographer, a good director and special effects.

If you want to imagine opponents during practice, you've either got to see them as ghosts, coming quickly in succession, one at a time, each separate and distinct, only opposing you for a brief moment before disappearing to be replaced by the next opponent involved in the next part of the move...

Or you have to imagine a specific attack, pick a point of attack, and follow through with that one attacker until you defeat him before looking around for the next opponent.

* sigh * With my limited imagination, I can only do what I can do.

14: Monday

Valentine's Day.

No taiji practice. I had a lot of paperwork to catch up on this morning.

Karate. My back was bothering me, but only in the warm-up, and then only when doing leg lifts and forward bends.

I had a lot of trouble with the side kicks from nekko dachi, but they didn't hurt; I just couldn't get any height on the kicks. And my balance was terrible, too. Strange that. I'm usually extremely well-balanced in nekko dachi.

I was talking to other students after class. They were thinking the same things I was: the seniors seem to be going very fast in the katas these day, and they don't seem to be looking out for the juniors any more, either. Well. It seems I'm not the only one who's wondering what's going on at the dojo.

15: Tuesday

It's a beautiful day now. The sky is clearing, the sun is out. The wind is rising, but it's calm and fifty degrees here in Shangri-La.

My hips ache. Deep aches that are more annoying than debilitating. I don't want to push, though, and force them into spasms. So: Yang stepping— deep steps, gently done; two sets of 24 Form in very high stances.

The aches are body adjustments. A good thing. I wish I could hurry the changes along... but it's probably best to go slowly.

The snow is almost completely gone from my back yard. Only a little "frosting" left. But the meadow is still white— except for green "skirts" around the apple trees nearest my wall.

It's nice to just sit here in the sun, soak up the warmth, listen to the wind chimes...


A bright half moon in a starry sky and and excellent taiji lesson. What more could one want?

Xie xing ao bu. Walking obliquely. I didn't have the balance right. Once the kick is down, and the shun-chan-ni-chan commences, balance shifts to a stable point between

I felt— when my stance was corrected (and it took some doing!)— as if I was leaning too far forwards, but tiger body is like that. And I had to move my weight forwards, too, putting more weight on the left heel. I knew I didn't have the stance quite right during practice this week. But I think I've got the feel of it now. (Thanks, everyone!)

The next move is really interesting: the left toe presses down as the body sinks and the left wrist comes up as the "squid" lifts an imaginary one liter soda bottle full of cement by the neck. The trick is this: when you have Jonas leaning on your left hand, ignore him and concentrate on pulling that imaginary weight upwards with the tips of your fingers.

We did a little push hands tonight. I worked with Jonas. He told me that I'm developing a nice touch and he found working with me was very non-threatening. A nice complement that.

I hope that one of these days he'll be able to tell me, sincerely, that I'm good at taiji, too.

16: Wednesday

Oh! my tail aches! Such a stretching it's getting from taiji!

"Omote" and "ura," front and back, outside and inside, obverse and reverse. Omote is the surface, what we can see on the outside. Ura is what is below the surface.

What we see in taiji movements doesn't show us what's going on beneath. We can't always see the mechanism's works.

As Jonas drilled us in the mechanics of the moves last night, I at last got to see more of how my fellow students move and work the energy. Some are very accomplished, others less so— tonight, anyway. But all of them are working the internal mechanism.


A strange night. Round robin individual katas. If you forgot, you sat down. Lots of memory lapses tonight, even among the black belts. Ah, well.

At least the katas helped my back. Too bad the classes don't run twice as long. After an hour, I'm just getting relaxed— and that's when my stances begin to improve.

17: Thursday

What a day! Schlepping Ma, no time to practice...

I was playing tonight, trying to relax, just moving qi around...

Wave hands... I don't do it the way I used to. Both hands spiral now, alive, stirring the qi... and the coordination is different, too, between hands and feet: lie between them when stepping out, and— another kind of energy can't name when the foot is drawn in. (Is there a following energy?)

It continues to amaze me how my body responds the moment I assume the stance for beginning the form. It immediately relaxes, changes, opens up somehow.


I didn't want to go to karate class tonight. I was tired. But, I know that showing up pays off (Woody Allen says, "Eighty per cent of success is just showing up."), and it did tonight. Sensei sat us down at the end of class to talk, and what he talked about helped me to understand a little of what's going on at the dojo. I can't render all he said verbatim, but, I gathered that Sensei is trying to establish "our" karate as a distinct, recognizable, and officially acknowledged style of karate. He expects that it will take another twenty years or so to accomplish this. It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds. I can attest now that "our" karate is completely different from any other karate I've seen. (It's way better, too— but I don't mean to pick a fight.)

Today, I was feeling frustrated by my lack of progress in understanding the workings of the bo, and it occured to me that I'm not entirely alone any more in my studies. I have friends now with whom I can talk about martial arts and not have to avoid mentioning qi. So I emailed my taiji classmates to ask if anyone had any advice or suggestions as to how to make the bo work. I believe most of my classmates have experience with one weapon or another, so maybe they'll know a few tricks and techniques and be able to explain in terms I can understand. Hope so.

18: Friday

Do you ever think, If only I'd done it once more, I'd've gotten it! Some days, like today, discouragement and negativity hang close about, tormenting me. Some days, it's hard not to listen...

Guess that's why I felt compelled to try the Chen stepping, even though my back aches and needs time to recover. I only went up the porch once, though— and I stayed high, which shows I haven't lost all my good sense.

A couple of sets of section one, trying to keep the energy in bounds, trying to get my stances solidly balanced, especially in xie xing ao bu and the plucking up of the imaginary cement-filled bottle with the fingers of the left hand. My right hand hanging in front of me with "nothing to do" was very distracting, but, no doubt, we'll find out what that right hand is supposed to be doing next week.

Once through section five. Nothing to report.

Bo makes no sense. But John and Joe got back to me advising me to xiao jie ling jing. Both had very good advice for me, not to mention encouragement. I've got to read it over and think about it all. Joe knows something about White Crane Staff it seems, so I'll be sure to talk with him about it next week.

Email Exchange

Lizzie wrote:

Hi, guys.

Anybody out there got experience with making the 6-foot staff work? I can't seem to find the power train. All my work seems to be... flat? Empty? whatever you call it, it sucks. (My kobudo class last night was... bleccch.)

I'm looking for advice. Thoughts? Books? Articles? People I can shanghai and shake down for information? Sensei keeps saying, "Use your hips." I must be especially dense, because I'm definitely not hipless.


John wrote:

We used to do a Taiji staff form in our karate class. It's difficult without seeing your form but a few pieces of advice.

1) As always, a weapon is an extension of your internal energy. Applying what we know now, the tip of the staff is what you're moving. Extremities lead the energy. (How much better might the form have looked!)

2) Use the contact point of your hip and the staff as the fulcrum of a lever.

3) Think peng. The staff should be warding off the same way your hands would be in making contact with an opponent. The same short power jings should be applied through the staff.

A staff is a great weapon to express what we have been learning!!!

Have fun!

Joe wrote: is kinda of hard to describe in an email...

As far as the staff goes, you are kind of in a catch 22. He is asking you to use your waist, the stuff we try not to do, while you're training to minimize the use of your waist. But it really isn't different from what we do now. It may help to think of the tip of the staff as the extremity... you have to allow time for the power to get there.

I don't know much about karate staff, but I think it is very similar to white crane staff. Lead with you fingers as we do. It is kinda the same jing as the double punch in section five except that is rotary. You have to allow the power to get to the fists.

Answer me this: when you hold the staff is/are hands at one end or symmetrical about the center?

Lizzie wrote:

White Crane Staff sounds interesting. "Lead with your finger..." Hmmm... Sensei says to let the bo go where it wants and then "help it along." So, if say you're doing a downwards head strike, you let the bo fall at the tip— gravity— and then give a little assist with the back hand lifting and the forward hand acting as a fulcrum. Same on side strikes, except you set the bo in motions sideways.

How do you mean "like the double punch in section five"?

Holding the staff my hands are, generally one near the center to direct the strike, the other near the far end to assist and steady. The bo is generally being used like a lever for most strikes.

But, the thing is, I can't figure out how to connect my feet to the bo. At least I think that's what I'm not doing. Maybe I'm just full of— something. After all, as I pointed out in my note to Jonas, I really don't know much about xiao jie ling jing at all yet.

John wrote:

The tip of the staff is your finger. You can move it, grab things with it, push things with it.

What do you mean 'connect your feet to your hands'?

Lizzie wrote:

Connect my hands to my feet as we do with the taiji. Root <—> tantien <—> hands. Only when I'm holding a bo I can't seem to make the connection. (Not that I'm all that good at it when it's just my hands!)

Joe wrote:

I started writing a note to you. I thought about it a little further and here it is.

You feet are only used as a root unless your are thrusting. Try a downward 45 degree strike. The motion should start from your hand at the rear of the staff coordinated with your waist. It is like the first double punch in section five because it is a long jing. The power has to get to the extremities. The power direction and coordination is more like pi chuan or splitting fist.

Lizzie wrote:

Thanks for the answers. I printed them out and have been reading and thinking while I'm between messing with computers here at work...

So... you know I think karate and kobudo and taiji are all pretty much the same, just as you do. My "problem" is that I'm still learning xiao jie ling jing and I don't have the images to work with yet— and I don't have someone to watch, either. Oh, sure, I've seen Sensei do bo katas, but... I don't know why, but it's very difficult to "see" what he's doing, and then he gives instructions that seem to contradict what little I did see. I sure wish he knew taiji.

If you've got a mental image for bo work that you think will help, I'd like to hear it.

... our class is, for me, a masters level program that is constantly challenging me to learn and grow in ways I never would have imagined possible before. I think I'm in trouble with karate now precisely because I can't ignore what I'm learning from taiji, but I can't apply the knowledge in that environment— yet!

It's email discussions like this that prompted me to create a private blog site for our class. Much easier!

19: Saturday

Cold today. I drove Ma to taiji, then came home to wait. I was going to practice then, while waiting, but I decided to wait for the heat of the day. It's that now: 24 degrees. In the sun I warmed up quickly and didn't need gloves.

Eight sets of section one. Still so much to remember. Tiger body, elbow positions, closing the door, shun-chan-ni-chan as the toe presses down, fang song...

Five— six? sets of section five. I've conceived a slight aversion to this section because I feel confused by it and inadequate to its correct execution. (I keep muffing the lotus kicks, and the hop steps are still beyond my strength.)

One set of 24 Form to make me feel better. David would not like the look of my wave hands now! (But it feels strong and coordinated.)

I'm going over to Jo's now. I'm taking the bo. I hope our geological surveying doesn't take all afternoon and I get a chance to practice.

Later. No practice. But, perhaps, it's just as well. I've been thinking about the advice I got from John and Joe about handling the bo. Xiao jie ling jing. Yeah, but... a rest from practice may be a good thing.

20: Sunday

No practice. Deliberately. I need the time off.

21: Monday

22: Tuesday

Chen stepping with my tea. Neither deep, nor hard, nor slow; but stepping practice none the less...

It snowed yesterday, but I never went out to practice. Today I had to sweep the snow out of the dojo before I could practice. There were bluejay tracks on the railings that looked like cuneiform writing. The jays have been digging in the old window box again.

Cold and gray. I've lost my way. Today.

I was down waiting for a load of wash to finish and I remembered Bruce mentioning that he'd seen someone doing ananku with sai. I played that out in my head while I waited for the wash, and I think it works quite well. I'll have to give it a try.

My demons have been playing tricks again. This time they're telling me that if I don't excel at taiji, I'm going to lose all my new friends. "After all," they taunt, "outside of taiji, you have no interests in common. If not for taiji, they wouldn't even want to associate with you." Demons... The sad thing is, they're probably right.

Wow! Now that was a taiji class! Start to finish, all we did was play taiji, working the applications, working the energies. It was truly excellent.

Jonas arrived half-an-hour early and asked how I was making out with the bo. ("Not good.") He asked how I hold the bo, and the next thing I knew he had hauled out a ten-foot dowel and was showing me how to send power to the far end of a taiji "lance" by shun-chaning. He set me to practicing and then went off with Lorna to try to get signed up for the blog site. After a bit, I decided I'd better go see if they'd got signed in, and that's when I ended up messing with the computer, trying to get the others signed up. When I went back out, Jonas was in the middle of a seminar on taiji lance practice!

Precisely on time, Jonas started class. Xie xing ao bu, continued. The right hand ni-chans out and around from center palm up to center palm blocking. We practiced just that move 80 times. I know it was 80 because Jonas had each of us count ten repetitions. And then we started playing with the applications.

I got to play with Jonas, which is good because we're near the same size and I can learn the apps without having to adjust for working with tall people. Later I'll want to do that, but for now, this is excellent.

Your opponent punches straight at you. You block with a center palm up hand (left hand blocks left punch; right blocks right), sliding along the puncher's arm a little way, sticking to him, then quickly ni-chan your hand over to grasp the arm (slide your grip towards the wrist) and pull it, stretching your opponent wide open across your upper chest, while you step in placing your knee behind his knee, and elbow (jo jing) him in the ribs. If you feel him tipping forwards, kao jing (shoulder jing) him forward and keep your elbow hand out of the way; if you feel him tilting backwards, shun-chan with the elbow hand and send him backwards. It's all a matter of timing and listening. Since I'm not very good at that yet, we came to an impasse more than once. If you end up both bent forwards and kinda stuck, the best bet is to push sideways.

It was so much fun working the application. So much fun playing. Another wish granted.

23: Wednesday

Chen section one in the stacks while waiting for software installations...

I'm feeling really good about my stances. I hope I haven't lost my mind.


As I was sitting alone on the sidelines, watching the others run through nunte bo, Sensei came and knelt beside me. He leaned close and whispered, "I've read your web site... I'm going to help you." I was surprised, to say the least. What a great gift! All I could do was smile and say, from the bottom of my heart, "Thank you." Sensei spoke with me for only a moment or two more about what I thought my problems with the bo were, and then the class reclaimed our attention. But he said we would talk more later.

And so tonight we worked with bos. Sensei had us practice shima ijiri bo ichi letting gravity provide most of the movement to the bo. This was very interesting because you have to position your hands in such a way that they don't hinder the bo. And then there are ways of placing your hands that will assist the movement of the bo...

This is listening practice at it's highest level. You have to listen to the bo as well as to your own body, feeling, listening for for what has to happen, what is happening, and how to let it happen best.

For instance, if you're listening, in a jodan strike (overhead, stright down), you will learn that the bo isn't a lever, that if you try to make it one by pulling with one hand while pushing with the other, those moves will cancel the power out. But, if you assist the bo in falling, you can control the stirke and make it stronger. Cool.

24: Thursday

Three sets of Chen. Got to watch it on xie xing ao bu: I was letting the peng out of my rear leg at the end.


I am more limber in the hips— they stopped aching a day ago— and so my side kicks are improved: I do not lean away as much as I used to do. (But there is still much room for improvement.)

Sensei sat us all down and explained more about what he intends to do with "our" karate... Okinawan Kung Fu. Shorin Ryu. Ambiguous names. Ambiguous enough to encompass Sensei's idea of what "our" karate is; and, it seems, right now, "our" karate can only be defined by what it isn't. It isn't like any other karate around. And that is absolutely true.

25: Friday

A bit of snow to sweep today, but sunny and clear— and cold: 32 degrees.

Stepping with my tea. A combination of styles to start. Yang with a little side kick before setting the foot down... kicking backwards to the diagonal, toe up, find the balance, let the toe press down, turn shift, bring the other leg up, kick back to the diagonal... My tiger body is improving. (Tiger body, or lack thereof, is very noticable in kicking.)

Three sets of Chen, section one. Caught myself cheating on the kick that ends pounding. I wasn't keeping my torso facing the forty-five as I blocked and kicked out, I was facing front. Ooops! But I corrected that and remembered to guard against any similar lapse going into Bai He Ling Chi.

Got to wondering about xie xing ao bu grappling practice. Punch comes at you, you block, grab and step in, delivering your elbow strike. Jonas said, I believe, to ni-chan with the elbowing hand. My question is, how much control/influence does the direction of spin on that elbowing hand have on which way your opponent tends to fall? Or does it only make a difference if you can be very precise in placing the elbow? I wish to heck I had someone here to practice on!

26: Saturday

Workshop today at Peacful Wolf for all of Jonas's students. We pushed hands for more than an hour, then Jonas taught us the two person exercise* for taiji lance. Everyone took a turn at that, and we stayed at the dojo playing for over two-and-a-half hours! If the outside world hadn't had claims on most of us, we'd be there yet, playing taiji. As it was, the last four of us, me, Jonas, Joe, and Lorna, stood around in the parking lot, in the cold, talking, reluctant to let the session end.

Jonas thought the "article" on "Don Tien" was great. Today he was telling everyone about it. I'm glad he enjoyed it, but...

This means that my journal is completely discovered. Sensei and Jonas both know about it now— I know they know about it, and that they have read it recently. And I'm not sure how I feel about that; nor am I sure yet whether or how it will change things.

This journal has never been secret; merely, I didn't tell all and sundry about it. A link to it appears, unobtrusively, in my email signature at the very foot of my emails, but I don't tell anyone about the site.

I've always written here with the awareness that anyone I write about may read what I've written. And I don't believe that awareness has made me dishonest; quite to the contrary I have had to acknowledge that my perceptions may be at fault, and that only my personal feelings about any given situation are unchallengable. I believe I've been honest about those.

Sometimes, I have felt wronged; but, the awareness that others are listening— no, that they may be "overhearing" what I say, has helped me to see situations from other angles. In trying not to make a public ass of myself, I've learned to step back and consider deeply what's really going on outside of myself— hasn't it?

Have I been honest with myself? I don't know. I hope so, but how do I know? The usual ways , I suppose: demons of doubts arising to whisper incessantly until you listen; friends who tell you to your face you're being an ass— and, if you're lucky in your friends, keep telling you until you hear.

What an interesting place I find myself in today. I don't yet know how to feel about it.

If you want to figure as a hero in life, you've got to play the part; but, even then, only history will judge whether you were a hero— and who's to say history will judge rightly?

We can only know our own hearts, and then only imperfectly. No matter how honest we try to be, how honest we think we are, we can not know what we may be hiding from ourselves. Others may be able to help us in discovering these things, but we have to be willing to listen— and brave enough to hear.

I'm not really a coward, you know. I'm just a bit deaf.

* Lance Exercise

Here's my explanation of the exercise we did. Thanks to some clear written information Jonas provided on the importance of lance training, some of which is paraphrased here, my explanation might even make some sense.

Jonas learned Da Qiang (Large Spear) from Teacher Chen, his Bajiquan teacher. It was considered foundational training. According to Teacher Chen, the spear is entirely driven by Chansijing, also referred to as circular rotating force or silk reeling power. Practice achieves mastery of connected body movement; spear training, therefore, is invaluable, if you want to attain higher levels of skill in your taiji training.

Ready positions for defender and attacker are horse stances on the same line, each leading with the left leg. Weighting is 60/40 favoring the right (rear) leg. Both hold the lance butt very close to the end, palm up grip, pressing against the rear hip; the forward hand (left) is almost straight out, gripping palm down.

Teacher Chen said that everything one needed to know was embodied in three techniques: Lan, Na and Zha. Lan and Na are defending moves; zha is an attacking move— in the exercise we did, anyway.

  • Lan: From the ready position the left hand describes shun chan, while the right describes ni chan. The stance will screw into the ground by closing the left kua. The spear tip will describe a rising arc to the left and will end angled 45 degrees to the left of your position.
  • Na: From lan, the left hand will ni chan while the right will shun chan. The stance will return to its original position by opening the left kua. This will bring the spear tip arcing down to the right, covering your centerline in a horizontal block.
  • Zha: The right hand will shun chan, pushing the butt end of the spear until the right hand hits the left hand, which has described shun chan, but only in that it allowed the shaft to slide through it; both hands end with palms facing up. The left kua will close severly so that the hips are square to the direction of thrust. The hands are in front of the dan tian at the end of the thrust. From here the body snaps back to the original on guard position. In doing so the right hand will turn in a strong ni chan, and so will the left. The body exhibits a strong splitting energy (lie) as it resets to the on guard.
The exercise we did was to defend a series of four strikes: shoulder, shoulder, knee, shoulder. One the first strike, lan; on the second strike, na; on the third, lan, but bring the right hand up while ni-channing so that the lance tip goes low and deflects the low strike while you also bring your leading foot back into empty stance; on the fourth strike, na and lunge forward back into horse stance so you're in position for the the sequence to begin again.

The rhythm is wonderful. And the thwacking of the lances (wax wood) is very satisfying. But you can get hypnotized by watching the tips of the lances circling, so don't do it! (If we'd had proper lances, they'd've had tassles on the ends to confound the enemy.)

27: Sunday

Cold today: just above freezing. And there's a gale blowing outside Shangri-La that's strong enough to make itself felt within. Stepping and kicking with my tea in the clear, cold air my fingers are cold in spite of the mug; the sun hasn't reached the porch yet...

Some lance practice with my bo. Some bo practice. I feel much better about both.

Three sets of 24 Form, as I learned it, but knowing what I know now. (Could it be otherwise? No!) Good, slow, solid sets— with a nice, low creep. With qi. Effortless effort. Now I begin to understand what David meant by that... so many years ago. I have learned.

Some Chen. I am becoming more relaxed... but I keep thinking, "If it's this easy, I must be doing something wrong."

A good teacher teaches what he was taught.

At Ise, Japan, a Shinto shrine named Jingu is rebuilt every twenty years. 1996 marked the 2000th year of the shrine's existence. The design has not changed, nor even varied in all that time. The practice of regular rebuilding has successfully preserved the architecture... and other things.

It's interesting, isn't it? The shrine is rebuilt exactly, each time. It does not change; it has not changed. But, according to the web site: "... The shrine as well as all decorations and costumes are newly made. This festival was adopted during the reign of the Emperor Temmu, and 1993 marked its 61st renovation. The festivals held at Ise Jingu have not changed for hundreds of years." So. The festivals have changed. Do change. And other things, too, no doubt. Phew! That's a relief.

The Art can not remain static; it must evolve as knowledge of the Art is increased and refined; but the... architecture remains the same.

"This axe," said the old man, "has been in my family for generations. It cleared the land and built the first cabin hereabouts. Yep. It's had seventeen handles, and eight blades..."

Change is life. Life is change.

If Art is like the axe, we are the handles and blades. We preserve the Art through changing. The idea remains the same.

A great teacher teaches what he has learned.

28: Monday

Cold and gray. Jo called to tell me Karl died yesterday. Heart attack. Only a three weeks ago I helped set up the sweat lodge, build the fire. I listened as the stones were dedicated, watched as the fire was lit. Afterwards, we talked. You just never know.

Karate. We worked on stances. Kibadachi and seisan dachi. My kibadachis have been too wide—

In explaining correct kibadachi and seisan dachi stances, Sensei perfectly described the concepts of keeping tiger body and of keeping peng in the legs. He also reminded everyone not to bob up and down while doing kata, but to "sink and keep your head at the same level throughout." Well, of course! (Sometimes the difference between taiji and karate is only a matter of the vocabulary.) It was a good class.

Another surprise: a fellow student found my web site and was glad to find someone else as puzzled by the goings on at the dojo.

Snow tonight. Heavy. I hope I won't have to miss taiji tomorrow because of it.

Copyright © 2005 New Moon

Go to previous pageGo to Index pageGo to next page