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January 2005

Winter Taiji Shoes © 2005 New Moon.

Winter Taiji Shoes © 2005 New Moon

01: Saturday

Gorgeous day. Sunny, 50s, breezy. The snow is almost gone.

Chen. Slowly, watching carefully. I've been cheating the movement of my forearms when doing extended shun-chan-ni-chan, not getting the full circle. The moves feel ever so much better when done correctly— this form is self-correcting, as Jonas says.

Crescent kick practice... stretching... creeping practice...

One set of 24 Form. I made mice feet of creeping. *sigh*

Time to go. Later I'll watch Zhang Zhijun again.

Ma and I were invited to Jo's for New Year dinner. Afterwards, while our Moms and the old folks chatted, Jo and I went up to the barn and kicked and punched the bag Snail left hanging up there when he was moving household and had no place for it. After that, we went back to Jo's house and played with her "sticks," two 30 inch long, rattan rods about an inch and a quarter in diameter. I showed her our han bo kata, and she showed me what she remembered of the routines she learned at Scout School. Bet my elbow will be sore tomorrow... but, you know, han bo and bo practice is exactly what I should be doing to limber up my left wrist for shun-chan-ni-chan-ing.

02: Sunday

Another beautiful day.

Kicking practice, Jonas style. Front kicks, then inside and outside crescent/lotus kicks. Up and down... up and down... relaxing your body and breathing while doing this is harder than you think...up and down... up and down... by the time I get relaxed, I'm exhausted...

My question is this: In the form, you raise your knee up then do the lotus kick, so how much of a circle should the knee describe in the process? Bearing in mind that the form is quite different from the application, and that a kick isn't always a kick, of course.

I've noticed one thing for sure: my understanding of taiji principles has outstripped my physical ability to execute/apply them.

03: Monday

There's pale sun behind the clouds, but it's mild. There's still a line of snow where the long shadows of the trees fall.

Kicking, a la Jonas... as I say, theory has surpassed my ability to practice. What to do?

Chen. Sections one and five. My arm is moving more freely and I've got the full circle now...

I practiced twirling my han bo like a baton. When I do this, it's quite obvious my left wrist lacks flexibility. More practice.

A few minutes to meditate... I wonder how Sensei fared on his Zen retreat.

Karate. An odd night. Combinations on the bags and standing targets. I've finally got the hang of kicking over the standing targets every time— but tonight I wasn't supposed to. *sigh*

We did a bit of kumite tonight. I did much better, though my left foot sometimes seems to have been nailed to the mat. But the worst part of practice is using the mouth piece: I can't breathe, but I can drool. Yuck.

Jon came and watched class. He spoke with Sensei after class about how to handle his rehabilitation period. His doctor says he should be okay with a brace as long as he keeps a stable stance— and doesn't do anything stupid. Sensei recommended Jon attend the blue-green classes so he won't feel obliged to push himself past his limit, so Jon will be back in classes as of tomorrow. His knee operation is scheduled for week after next, and he should be completely recovered by lase spring. Yay!

04: Tuesday

Overcast. Cold, but comfortable. I could see my breath...

Three sets of 24 Form just to relax and enjoy. (I did.)

I thought I'd be sore today from last night's kicking, but no, I feel good. My left hip and ankle know they've been worked. I do feel good about being able to kick the targets over.

Taiji. We all wore our School of Indiscriminate Grappling shirts tonight. What a trip!

Another excellent lesson. Review of Dan Bian into Jin Gang Dao Zhui, after which we practiced the fajing move... Very interesting. I've been practicing the fajing slowly, getting the feel of the move. Really it's just a shun chan ni chan into a lu done super fast.

The rules of fajing are these:

  • You must be relaxed...
  • The qi must be unbroken...
  • The move must feel strong.
And then, of course, it must be lightning fast.

So. From the fang song of Dan Bian, you move into the block at the forty-five, waist turned, left kwa folded, shun-chan-ni-chan, then lu only so far as to bring the hips back straight.... If you relax and let the moves flow, when you sweep up into the block and shun-chan-ni-chan, you'll feel the power in your turning fingers seem to extend outwards and then rebound back into the pull of lu.

Jonas says this fajing stuff is the most difficult part of Chen style taiji, and it is difficult. It takes a lot of practice to make the energy work correctly. But I believe I will get it... I am getting it.

After that, we worked on deflecting straight punches from the front, using the same block that begins the fajing move, but stepping out of the way, to the side. It took me a while to get last night's kumite out of my head and stop trying to push my opponent's punching arm too vigorously and too far. Taiji requires more refined blocking— sticking, too. Karate seems exaggerated and crude by comparisson. But the results are the same— except for being different.

My questions about Liu Feng Si Bi and Lan Zha Yi were answered. I was on the right track, but I just didn't trust myself.

One other little detail I'd been looking for came to light, too. I've been having trouble getting my hands to work with my feet when coming out of the double open block to go into pounding the mortar; but Jonas demonstrated and I noticed that my problem was that, once again, I wasn't moving enough. The right hand drops from the open-handed block, relaxed, but then it circles all the way around (shun chan) as the left toe turns/opens out. Excellent. Now it all goes together like gears turning.

I think I'm as amazed by the shirts as Jonas is. Seeing my design, having it appreciated, kinda floors me... as does the idea that I brought the school into being. I did. First with the sign, then the shirts...

When Jonas arrived tonight, as he came through the door he peered closely at the sign, and it finally dawned on him that the motto "The nastiness just never ends" and the admonition at the bottom "Please watch you step" were intended to be connected thoughts. Nobody else had spotted that.

I wonder if anyone will ever notice that the colors chosen for the text on the shirts are black and blue.

05: Wednesday

No taiji practice.

06: Thursday

Kobudo last night left me feeling... very... disgruntled. I'm not quite sure what's wrong...

My hands got super sweaty doing tonfa, and, as I was relaxing for a change and so didn't have a death grip on the things, I dropped the left one. It landed handle upwards and I scooped it off the mat and went on. But that was 50 pushups none the less. It's been two years since I dropped a weapon in class.

I haven't practiced taiji yet today.

I've been thinking. Reading and thinking. I've been thinking a lot about being in classes...

David used to emphasize synchronization. He was always reminding everyone to "stay together" and the class did— though many of them had the very devil of a time learning to do it. I never had a problem with "mirroring" others. Guess that's why I always knew why synchronization was important, even before David tried to explain it to the class. See, it's not just to make the taiji look pretty, it teaches you to "read" other people (opponents), noticing details about how they move; and it forces you to be constantly readjusting yourself to accommodate the differing rhythms and speeds so that you get stronger and more controlled in your own movements.

David understood all of that very well, and he knew how to teach it, too. "Remember to follow the corners," he'd say to the class. Whichever way you turned in the form, you'd always try to keep perfect pace with the person on your right front "corner." Easy. And you learned a lot trying to keep pace with people who were less than perfect in their forms cuz you'd have to smooth out your own forms and mind your balance...

Sensei wants everyone in class to try to "keep together," but he tells everyone to follow the designated leader, someone who is up in front, and you can't see that person when you turn. He tells us to listen for the moves, but how can you tell that what you're hearing is the person you're supposed to be following? It just doesn't work. For me. Now. Very frustrating, I think it. Now.

In my taiji classes now, no one makes any effort to "stay together." Maybe Jonas doesn't think it's important— and maybe it's not, but I miss that part of group practice. Still, I always try to synchronize myself with whoever I can see on my "right corner," and I especially enjoy it when Jonas is there; I'd give anything to have him always as my "right corner." Now.


Nasty weather. When I got out of work, I stopped to se Ma before going home to get ready for class. My guts were acting up, though, and I called from Ma's to say I wouldn't be in class. When I got home, I discovered that Kim had called to tell me karate class time had been moved up because of the weather, so as it happened, I would've missed class anyway.

07: Friday

Sunny and cold and windy today. The wind roars in the treetops.

Now,here's an odd thing: my orbit has changed. I end up three board-widths to the outside of where I start in 24 Form. I can only think it's the creeping being so low now that accounts for it.

A little Chen... I've got to stop second guessing myself— is that what I mean? I keep going back because I think the coordination couldn't've been right— correct. Aaaaaarrrrrrrrgh!

I started practice today with stepping while drinking my tea. Then I did kicks. Up and down... up and down...


Ma wanted to go over Sword Form. Her lessons start again on the 22nd. Together we went through the part she knows. On the second set, I noticed she wasn't turning her hand over for Carry Sword to the Left, and when I said, "Turn your hand over," she just stared at her hand, then turned it sidewasy so the sword blade was edge up. "Ma, turn your hand over!" I said, demonstrating. Well, she had a fit. She started crying, "I can't stand this—" I just stared at her for a moment, then hollered back, "Fine!" And I headed for the door to get my coat to leave. Seeing me putting on my coat "cured" her. She dried her eyes and we went back to practicing.

This time through, Ma did it all perfectly. I turned to her and asked, "So? What was your problem?" "Nothing, I guess," she said. "I did do that right, didn't I?"

Yup. She did. Ma's still feeling the after effects of the accident. She gets scared and doesn't know why. Trauma— PTS. But she'll be okay.

Now I have to go watch the tape and figure out the next moves.

08: Saturday

Rain on snow. It's just above freezing and ice drops are forming on the branches and twigs and pine needles, but practice is very comfortable.

Kicking. Up and down... up and down...

Three excellent sets of 24 Form. My hands felt almost boneless today; weightless, too. Interesting. And my orbit remains changed, ending three board-widths to the outside of starting position.

Chen. I kept the relaxation— for the most part. There are moves in section five that still require physical effort from me and— I wonder if the tension is all in my head... hmmmm...

Anyway, I was relaxed for the fajing, and I believe it worked correctly... but I doubt myself; I really do doubt myself... The relaxation makes a big difference, though...

Or, maybe, I just really, really suck at taiji and I can't see it.

09: Sunday

I was getting ready to practice and I was standing in front of the hall mirror. Out of curiosity, I shun-chan-ed one forearm, watching the elbow for stability; then I watched the other; then both together. I tried to remain relaxed, and I watched my hands...

Have you ever noticed a ratcheting effect in your own or anyone else's moves? As if there's a fast strobe light on and you can see each point in the move, but— as if you're seeing every other frame in a movie, you watch the movement become mechanical-looking. I've noticed this before when watching some very accomplished taiji practitioners. Today I saw it in my own movements as I stood reeling silk in front of the mirror.

I can't decide exactly to what this effect should be attributed. A vestige of muscle tension that is blocking qi flow? Maybe it's a good thing? Does this mean my body is learning? I don't know.


Three good sets of 24 Form. Relaxed, but nowhere near as relaxed as yesterday... creeping improves: I entertain hope that I will soon be able to execute that move properly.

Silk reeling arm circles...

Chen. Section one. Slowly... relaxed... fajing! Blew it. Back to slowly.

Fajing check: Hands are coming up correctly positioned for the block, but often too high: readjust... Kwa is folding... shun-chan-ni-chan "rebound" is there... lu... hips come to front, weight still on left. Yes. Patience.

10: Monday

Stepping with my tea... kicking...

Some days— ! Pfui.

11: Tuesday

Cool this morning: 34 degrees. High cirro-stratus clouds with blue sky behind make the lighting indirect and shadowless...

No taiji tonight; Thursday instead.

Stepping with my tea... Last night when I was working with Ma, I admonished her to practice stepping. "All these years, Ma, and I still practice stepping."

Two sets of 24 Form... is there a Chen hand? I don't remember Jonas saying. Yang and Sun hands I know... Today my orbit was unstable. Creeping undoubtedly accounts for it.

Chen... I make myself "sketch" the fajing at speed so I can get used to making it happen without thinking...

Today I'm not happy with the double open block: my elbows move too much.

The sun came out, bright on the snow.

12: Wednesday

Up late and late to rise with a dentist to see before work: there wasn't time for practice. Should I hate myself for that?

And I deliberately skipped kobudo tonight. Why? I don't know.

My sleeves want knitting up.

13: Thursday

Stepping with my tea. Foggy today. I see my every out breath...

Kicking... trying to relax...

Take Ma to the store...

Two sets of 24 Form... trying to find my mental balance... doesn't seem I'm going to... not today.

No taiji for me tonight. I set out, but the fog was treacherous, so I turned back. Lorna said the fog was bad out her way, too, and she wondered if the others would venture out.

I stayed home and called Jo-Anne. We talked for a long time about energy and "the process." Later I went online and read about taiji. The eight energies, the five directions. Every day I understand a bit more.

14: Friday

Mild, with wind and rain.

I contined my reading this morning, and so did only one "set" of my Chen. I think I got the fajing right, but, you know, it was really too fast for me to see.


Today I've been reading and thinking about the eight energies and five directions— the thirteen skills, Bamen Wubu.

The eight energies are known as the Eight Gates [Ba men], and these are hand [shou] skills [fa], or shoufa or bafa; the five directions, also known as the Five Steps [Wu bu], are foot [bu] skills, or bufa or wubu. (I don't know why they aren't also known as wufa. Go figure.)

Eight Gates [Bamen]
Peng, lu, ji, and an are called "si zheng," or the four "straight" or cardinal or fixed energies.

Cai, lie, shou, and kou are called "si yu," or the four "diagonal" or mutable energies.

Five Steps [Wubu]
Jin, tui, gu, pan, ding

Forward, backward, sideways forward, sideways backward, center

The stepping concepts are very interesting— there's a lot to try to wrap your head around in all of this. And besides all that, you've also got to know about how to zhan, nian, lian, and sui; as well as learn to ting, hua, yin, na, and fa!

I found a very helpful article about the Thirteen Taiji Postures by Zhang Yun in T'ai Chi Magazine, Volume 24, Number 2, Arpil 2000. The article was available online at the Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association's web site. Give it a read— and get out your T'ai Chi Classics and read the sections by Masters Chang San-Feng and Wong Chung-Yua.

15: Saturday

Cold. Pale sun.

Today I put on my elkhide boots. Without fleece liners, there's only a layer of hide and a thin sock between foot and board. Different. More difficult. I felt the bone at the ball of my left foot forced into the board because my ankle couldn't flex enough... I felt every move in which my body betrayed me to cheat me of balance and root— especially when working the Chen moves...

Some Chen. Soon I should begin counting by sets, I suppose. I have 18 consecutive moves now. Some Chen... as I say, my body continues to betray me...

Six sets of 24 Form. Why do I return to this still? Because it still has much to teach me...

Each time I Press, I hear David saying, "This is a Chen move. Keep your toe up until you press it down." David knew then, as I am beginning to understand now.

16: Sunday

Bitter cold and dark... I started practice late; earlier, I was transcribing.

Kicking... I must remember to ask what proper inside and outside crescent kicks look like...

Bo katas with my mop handle. I think I've needed a rest from kobudo— from lessons, that is.

Chen. Some Chen. First and fifth sections... then: three "sets" of Chen. It seemed like awfully hard work. On the third "set" I tried to relax, but... *sigh*

Today I was worrying about questions— and feeling annoyed that I don't get to watch the teacher do the form in class. Jonas does demonstrate each move while we're working on it, but I've never seen the whole 83 moves done. Am I spoiled or lazy? I'm gonna go watch the DVD...

I like the "porch" they practice on in the DVD— though a roof would improve it. And a wood floor. Guess it's the view of the surrounding pines I really like.

Zhang Zhijun does an abbreviated version of the form; but I think his assistant does the whole— doesn't he? I can't really tell. It seems different, but then, I probably just can't imagine what the moves look like when done by an advanced practitioner. Ah, well. Even so, it was good to see that much.

17: Monday

Above freezing and sunny, but there's a nippy wind.

Kicking... today I paid attention to the rooted foot. If you root solidly first, your kicks are a heckuva lot better. (Duh!)

Chen sets. Section one. Either I'm getting this or there's something seriously wrong...

Section five. Better, but I don't like my balance in Shi Zi Bai Lian (Cross White Lotus)— which is a complex set of moves, never mind the kick. I suppose I should settle for using a high stance, but I don't feel balanced, no matter what... practice!

I got to wondering about my elbows and hands and the open blocks in Jing Gang Dao Zhui, so I came inside and set up the mirror (it's too windy on the porch). My question is, How much turnout do I want on my forearms? My answer to myself was, It's a block on each side; if you're doing an application, you will move into an optimal position for using the blocks, probably favoring whichever side requires the most defense. That makes sense, right? Obvserve the principles, and you should be successful.

But in the forms, the idea is to train correctly. Observe the principles. Execute an "ideal" block. Does that make sense? Yes.

So, Lizzie, what's your problem?

I want to see it done right. I want to be able to call up the mental image of the move done correctly. I want to have that image in mind as I practice. That's my problem. There's too little detail on that DVD for me to see what's happening— and it's an abbreviated version, besides! Aaaarrrgh!

Rats. I've been so spoiled.


The mirror is in the livingroom, leaning against the computer desk, facing the entry. There are cream-colored curtains in the doorway between the entry hall and the livingroom; and there's a lamp on a timer in the entry hall. When I came home tonight, I went into the livingroom and was surprised by my own reflection. The light on the curtains behind me made my relection a dark silhouette. Intrigued, I stayed to play with my reflection...

I can't seem to achieve that boneless quality in my hands that Master Zhang Zhijun has. My hands aren't completely stiff, either, mind you, but... At least my elbows stay pinned when I require it. It was interesting to watch my balance shift in the forms (Chen), and I noted places where, even though I felt I was balanced, I could see that my body needed to be realigned to be correct. I'm going to have to practice in the mirror more often.

18: Tuesday

Bitter, bitter cold and wind.

Some kicking up and down the porch, listening to the poor maple tree crack and groan. Too cold for more now.


I feel so inept. I truly hate being me.

Class was excellent, of course. Jonas reviewed Bai He Liang Chi (White Crane Spreads Wings), the move the others learned Thursday; and we did push hands— which they also worked on last Thursday. Bob missed class that night, too.

The second pounding is only slightly different, and White Crane isn't difficult, but the lie energy and getting my foot to move into place properly circling needs practice...

I asked about the open blocks and Jonas worked with me a bit, showing me how the hands flip over, pivoting from the elbow, delivering a slap with the back of the hand and the spot between the wrist and the extended thumb doing the "catching." I think I've got it now... but that shun-chan-ni-chan can be tricky stuff. Guess I shouldn't think about it too much at this stage.

I think I did well at push hands listening. That is, just standing quietly with my partner, wrist ever so lightly touching wrist, letting the peng energy come and go, "listening" for the slightest hint of lu; countering ever so slightly then both retuning to neutral... It was easiest working with Jonas. (Of course!) At the very height of this Art of Listening, the two people practicing can barely be seen to move, but so much is happening...

Jonas has begun teaching Push Hands at Peaceful Wolf on Wednesdays. It has made him really think about what's most important and how best to convey that information, and so we are reaping benefits in our class. All his new student's are Yang stylists who have very little knowledge of the martial aspects of taiji, but they are willing students, and Jonas is delighted to be teaching them. And, as Jonas pointed out, the more people who learn this kind of push hands, the more people there will be for us all to practice with. Yay!

Jonas is to deliver Jeff's School of Indiscriminate Grappling shirt tomorrow night at Peaceful Wolf. He seems all a-twitter to find out how the folks at Peaceful Wolf will react to the shirts. You know, I never thought the shirts would mean much. A pleasant joke, I thought, a logical extension from the sign on the door. Just a little something that would amuse Jonas, let him know we were listening, that we care. I didn't think it would touch so deeply.

19: Wednesday

It's getting warmer: now it's 16 degrees.

Six sets of Yu Bei Shi through Bai He Liang Chi and my toes are cold. I haven't quite figured out the lie energy of White Crane's wings, but other things seem to be working...

One thing I've been paying attention to is keeping my elbows pinned in relation to my shoulders/body, and making sure on the forty-fives that I don't scrunch my elbow in on one side, instead of making my waist do the stretch to keep shoulders and elbows correctly in place.

I seem to be having less trouble with Lan Zha Yi, perhaps because of the above... but now I'm wondering if my right foot is kicking too far back... no, I think I'm okay... I'll keep an eye on it.


I don't think Sensei can see me anymore. And it seems he only speaks to the high ranked people. It's as if the rest of us don't exist... I wonder why he seems so changed. Sensei used to care for all his students and not set himself apart. Above. I remember when he shared the joy of learning, delighted in his students' joy. I remember that. What happened? I still love kobudo, but it's hard to do your best when it feels as if your teacher has given up somehow. What's going on?

20: Thursday

It warmed up to freezing today. Bright sun made me put on my hat and take off my quilted shirt.

Five sets— six? of Xinjia Yilu, section one. Such simple moves, and taiji being a relaxed sort of thing, you wouldn't figure it'd make you feel so... worked.

Before that, I played with the mop handle and figured out the rhythm of the end of shima ijiri bo ni that kept messing me up last night. From the jodan strike, come back quick into nekko dachi with right middle block, and then move even quicker into the jabs. I knew the sequence, but Linda was leading and going for speed; I was at the back and couldn't see how fast she was coming around and going into the jabs, so she got a couple of moves ahead of me each time.

Karate tonight was all kicking. I did very badly. My hands didn't seem to know what they were doing— in the side kicks, my left blocking hand kept turning all the way over! Very odd behavior.

I had an email from Tony today. I sent him the article about the 13 Taiji Postures. He mentioned that he likes to practice slowly, and the he sometimes wishes that, in class, we'd go through the moves a little more slowly, maybe even have someone calling out cues as we go. I told him I miss everyone "staying together," too. I wonder if I should ask Jonas his thoughts on the subject.

My left hip aches from the kicking. More practice!

21: Friday

Fifteen degrees, but sunny. There's a bit of wind blowing snow around like sparkles of fairy dust.

Six sets of Xinjia Yilu, section five. It took me a while to work out an orientation that didn't disrupt the flow by making it necessary to relocate and reorient for the "hop steps" leading up to Zhuang Bei Lian. (Start at a left rear-facing forty-five, and you'll be heading east, straight down the porch on the "hops." All you have to do is stand in starting position and point in the direction the hops go; then, still pointing, turn your body so you're pointing "down porch" and notice where you're feet are. Start there. Duh! Don't ask how long it took me to figure that out!)

I'm still not happy with Shi Zi Bai Lian... I've got to get that left leg strengthened.

I began with my hat and gloves on, but I was soon sweating. It was a relief when I took them off, and I wasn't working hard at all!

22: Saturday

Four degrees— but sunny! A few sets of Chen, section one, before taking Ma to taiji.


David curtailed Ma's class because the heat at Bruckshaw wouldn't come up. Ma called to say she'd gotten a ride home with my neighbor's mom. It's warmer now: fifteen degrees, and clouding up. We're expecting a nor'easter. I already took Ma shopping, so as soon as I've finished the wash, I'll go practice some more.

23: Sunday

The sun is trying to come through, and so it's getting noisy, the neighbors having taken this as their cue to start up tractors and snow blowers. Time for me to go inside.

It was only fourteen degrees on the porch when I went out to shovel and sweep. It was quiet then, except for the creaking of the maple tree and the gusty northeast wind. Fine powdery snow kept swirling onto the porch, but like Shangri-La, it was sheltered and comfortable there.

How many sets of Chen? Six or more. I wasn't strict about keeping to "sets" of sections one and five strung together.

I discovered I have technical questions. Section one, Jin Gang Dao Zhui happens twice. At the end of it, there's a place where you're standing on your left leg, right leg up, knee pointing to the left forty-five ready to kick out. Your hands are positioned palms out, left up at shoulder height, right down at hip height. When you kick out, the right hand circles up to center, and the left circles down to rest on the right forearm. Now, the two Jin Gang Dao Zhui moves are slightly different as to where you kick. The first one that goes into Lazily Tying Coat, you kick to the side, just slightly behind; second one that goes into White Crane, you kick to the right front forty-five. My question is— especially on the first one— is my waist supposed to turn my shoulders to the forty-five as I kick, or is it supposed to remain facing front and move only the hands? On the second execution, kicking to the front, I'm pretty sure there is no turn, and turning doesn't make much sense there, anyway; but I can't for the life of me remember if that first execution requires a turn. I'm confused. It's much easier if you don't turn your waist... but that's precisely why I'm wondering if staying facing front is wrong. *sigh* I'll have to ask.

I was wearing my hide boots today, enjoying the feel of the boards underfoot. Guess that's why I kept contact with the boards every time I brought a foot around in a sweep. My boots slid so nicely on the snow-powdered boards. But, once I noticed that I was doing that, I tried to remember to pick my feet up, but I didn't always do it. Today, for whatever reason, the "barefoot" feeling was very comfortable and easy to work with— which is why my other question came up.

I was playing with the "hop steps." They felt really, really good— quiet, too because of the boots. Anyway, I couldn't remember the coordination for the hops and figured I'd have to go look up Jonas's instructions, but meanwhile, I got to also wondering about my hand/body coordination in all the wide stances where arms are rotating and weight shifting. It seems to me that I get seduced by the delicious feeling of these movements and, consequently, I move too much. I think I need to keep an eye on that.

Messing with the "hop steps," I tried to mirror them into the double lotus kick, but it was making my brain hurt, so I quit.

Two sets of 24 Form, just because I didn't want to stop...

Then it got noisy.

24: Monday

Warm today: 28 degrees. Sun on snow and the sky ever such a lying warm blue.

My right hip ached last night and was aching and stiff this morning. It hurt enough that I thought I might have to miss class tonight, but as I went about my business it ceased to trouble me. I still don't know what caused the ache. Creeping? Hopping? Shoveling? I'm sitting now, and I feel the ache lurking.

Kicking, but no crescents. Chen sets. Six of section one; six of section five. Today I didn't worry on it, just let it flow, trying to stay relaxed.

Two sets of 24 Form. Good sets. I should've done Sword Form, too, as I subjected myself to the grueling torture of deciphering the next few moves from the video. (I am surer than ever that there is a circle of Hell where they make the damned learn taiji from video tapes!) Maybe later.

Karate. Some kumite. My feet still don't want to move. It puzzles me that I don't get this exercise... maybe I never will.

At least Sensei was teaching the class. We learn so much more when he's teaching. When he demonstrates the moves, they seem so clear— if only for a while.

Sensei spoke to us tonight about the learning process. He's been going very Zen lately, putting quotes from Zen instructional books up on the bulletinboard. I am familiar with almost all of the sources. Some are great good sense; some are total crap. Sensei is in the process of finding his own way, I guess.

Process. As Sensei reiterated his version of the process tonight, once again, I thought I heard him saying that the beginning students are taught different, "easier" methods. I know I've been hauled up short in class more than once by suddenly being informed that a move I thought I was practicing correctly and well on my way to learning is "not done that way." Talk about frustrating! But am I misunderstanding what Sensei is saying?

I know about process. I know that the way I do something today is different from the way I learned it; different from the way I did it yesterday; and different from the way I will do it tomorrow. I know about the empirical accumulation of technique that comes from practice. I also know the process works best if you have a consistent goal from the beginning. From the first, you must have a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve, even if you don't understand and are incapable of perceiving the underlying details. The grail is the grail, be it ever so unattainable. You don't dumb it down for the newbies to give them a false sense of progress on the quest.

I don't know what's going on at the dojo. For the time being, I think I'll take a step back, observe closely, and follow my own path. I have the principles; I'll work with them and see what I can accomplish.

25: Tuesday

The ache is above my right hip, in the back. But it only aches when I'm not up and moving. Taiji, karate, neither hurts. Go figure.

Another excellent taiji lesson...

Before class, Joe remembered to show me how to do crescent kicks properly. The knee's range is from forty-five to forty-five. The kick is led by the toes, so the rising of the knee is a function of picking up the toe. Height of the kick will depend, of course, on the target, but the target should be near center. When you're practicing, slapping your foot with your hand, they should meet at the center, exerting equal force in opposite directions. On the inside crescents, the foot arcs back sooner on the down side, so there's more bend in the knee. Thanks, Joe!

We practiced before class, too. I was behind Joe and kept pace with him. It was very instructive to work the moves in a different rhythm and to see Joe's "power line."

I asked Jonas my question about the last move of pounding. Though the kick directions before Lan Zha Yi and Bai He Liang Chi are different, the mechanics of the move are the same, and, yes, the hips/shoulders are turned to the forty-five prior to the kick. Right hand shoots up to center, left hand comes down to meet right forearm, as the foot kicks out. Hand meets arm as the heel touches down. Then, as the toe of the kicking foot is pressed to the ground and the weight shifts, the right hand ni-chans into position, those moves begining and ending simultaneously. (The left hand moves differ— one is shun-chan, the other ni-chan— but also must end with the movement of the toe. Coordination is everything!)

I'm not sure if the next move we learned is the end of Bai He Lian Chi or the first of Xie Xing Ao Bu (Walking Obliquely), but it's a pip! A very neat two-hand spiral application— like something you'd find in a combat-survival polka competition. For the sake of description, lets say:

You are standing as the crane, wings spread, that is, elbows in proper position, right hand at shoulder height, left at hip level, weight on your right leg, when a "partner" approaches and places his hands on your shoulders. If you were going to dance, you'd probably grasp his shoulders or upper arms and go twirling off. But, this is combat-survival polka, so you shift your weight to your left leg and your right hand ni-chans down to adhere to his upper arm just above the elbow, the extended thumb joint locking your hand in place, and your left hand rises up and under, ni-chaning to catch his right elbow in the web of your left hand. Thus engaged, your arms and his make a balanced circle— the which must be maintained throughout.

Now, leading with your fingers and maintaining the circle of your arms on both sides by keeping your half of the circle intact and thereby forcing your partner to do likewise, you tip the circle onto a diagonal plane by an-ing and lu-ing to the right with your adhering right hand, while driving your left index finger up and around as if to pass through the points that were occupied by your partner's ears when he was upright before you. This guides his elbow back and upwards, but also maintains his half of the circle allowing you to twist...

As you rotate the circle, pivot your right toe out (xiao jie ling jing!) and sink onto your left leg, screwing your root into the ground even as your partner's root is being twisted up and out. When you have him tilting sideways, right leg in the air, left toe barely on the ground, pick up your right foot and give his left foot a tap— ping! the last thread of his root gives way and he spins horizontally to land on his back on the ground. Neat— say, is that a polka I hear? May I have this dance?

(The only defense against the above is for the "partner" to relax his arms completely at the first whisper of ni-chan.)

We practiced push hands listening again. It's difficult to keep yourself from anticipating the pattern and thereby failing to wait until you actually "hear" the signal for your response. Even when I was listening with Jonas he got to doing some anticipating himself— unless he was testing me. Hmmm... Anyway, if you and your partner anticipate, you lose the opportunity for shan beng di lie! as well as the opportunity to learn to "hear" and respond correctly.

Jonas says we're going to continue to work on listening so that we can move on to "real" push hands. Then we'll get to try out the thirty-two chin-na of Master Zhang Zhijun that were demonstrated on Joe's DVD. Yay!

It occured to me tonight that there is a Chen "hand." It's relaxed, curved slightly, but not collapsed like a Yang hand, and, though they're relaxed, the fingers have "peng" in them.

26: Wednesday

No practice today. I don't feel well, and I couldn't face the cold. No kobudo, either, because of the snowstorm. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

27: Thursday

Cold and clear. 25 degrees. The back meadow is flat and smooth and white and sparkles like a piece of styrofoam. There's not a track to be seen on it. I've seen exactly one bird out here today. I went slowly... it's a beautiful day for practice.

Six sets of Chen, section one. The new move is very interesting...

Today, I started with stepping. At the last, I was practicing keeping my weight back so my knees don't go over my toes, and I took the mop handle with me to check as I went. I'm getting stronger.

My right hip aches, but not while I'm practicing.

I paid special attention today to corrdinating the shun-chan-ni-chan of my hands with my toe presses.

Breakfast. A little more practice. Section one... This time I paid attention to where my attention ought to be...

It's above freezing now and I've seen a few birds. There are squirrel prints in the snow on the porch railings, but I can't find whence or how they came and went.

Rats. Time to get ready for work— bluejays are digging in the old window box at the end of the porch. Why? I'll put some water out for them, and the popcorn seeds the mice got into.


Blue moonlight on snow. Beautiful. If the temperature goes up 34 degrees, it will be freezing.

Karate. Pushing practice. One person assumes horse stance, the other pushes, one-handed or two-handed. The "pushee" maintains balance...

When I was being pushed, I did my best to relax but still retain peng. There's a compromise you have to reach between allowing yourself to swing around like a gate, and that of making yourself as immovable as of a bag of wet sand. I did well in this— and I kept the peng in my stances, too. (I think Sensei noticed because he came over to give me a few good shoves of his own. I got a "good.")

When I was pushing, I tried to use what Jonas has taught us, but I couldn't quite get it to work. Maybe it was that the mats are soft and they absorbed the power; or maybe it was that I kept worrying about maintaining a correct karate stance with my toe pointed directly forward and so never got properly grounded. I don't know. But I tried to get the qi to flow both ways and to xiao jie ling jing and to move my body as a single unit. I tried.

For once, class ended too soon. We were just getting to the exercise where the instruction was to take down the "pusher" by pulling him off balance. My big chance to try out my lu/an intercepts and time ran out! Rats.

Tonight's class was fun. Like old times. Sensei was teaching and we were all enjoying it. And learning a lot. Wish those days would come again to stay.

28: Friday

Cold again. Still. But delightful in the sun. Unfortunately, I was a slug-abed and didn't have time for more than one set of Chen.

Charles Wescott called this morning. He's a taiji teacher from down Wakefield way. Says he's trying to organize all the TCA certified teachers in the state and wondered if I was interested. I said I'd be glad to hear his ideas. We'll see.

29: Saturday

Bright sun on snow. Forty-five degrees. That's fifty degrees higher than it was twelve hours ago, and thirty-five degrees higher than it was four hours ago. Excellent day for practice. And that's just what I did after I picked Ma up from taiji and took her home.

Elk hide boots today. Just because I like the feel of the boards beneath my feet... I put the music on today, as it was warm enough that the machine wouldn't freeze.

Some bo practice. I've been noticing the mechanics of handling the bo, but I still don't know how to make these bo katas work... I've also been noticing that the way I'm stepping isn't quite working... I'm not remaining balanced, expecially in the turns. And my moves aren't efficient... But I think things are beginning to come together. I think I'm getting close to understanding.

Chen. Section one. Many, many times. Slowly, paying attention... my balance is good, but not quite right, especially in stances where I need to sink and kick out. I'm not quite strong enough to keep upright and tuck my butt under then. I don't want to be entirely upright, mind you, but balance can't come from having to lean forward.

Fajing! © 2005 New Moon.

Fajing! practice. Many, many, many times... I believe I am getting this. Both in the lu intercept that come after Dan Bian and in the open blocks that precede Jin Gang Dao Zhui. Interesting. I'm even properly relaxed.

Three sets of 24 Form turned into a whole lot of practice on grasping and waving. My timing was off on the press; and I wanted to work on the hand/foot coordination in waving. So I did.

I'm reluctant to stop practice, but I know I'm tired now. Good things can't last forever. Guess it's time to take Ma shopping... Remind me later that I have to mend my bo cover. There's a hole worn in the butt end.

30: Sunday

Forty-eight degrees. Pale sun in a blue and white striped cirro-stratus sky. I hear the melting... Why do I feel so... disturbed today. It's quiet and it's excellent practice weather... When I awoke today I found I had been working on fajing! in my sleep and my hands were twitching.

Chen sets. Lots. Section one. I've reeled in the fajing move: overnight practice revealed that I was reaching too far for the intercept, overextending my balance. Got to be patient and let the punch come, not go get it...

I don't quite understand the energy flow of our new "polka" move yet.

Section five sets. Lots. I can't quite relax on this section, but I am more relaxed each time. There's lots to work on, but I am improving.

It's nice sitting here in the sun... I wish I had someone to play taiji with. I think it's a need for company that's making me feel unsettled today. My hip is still bugging me, but only as I sit. It didn't bother me at all during practice— Why doesn't practice fix it?

Bluejays everywhere, calling. I wonder what it was they wanted in the old window box. Silly birds.

I feel I should push myself to practice some more, but I also suspect my brain and body need some down time for processing what I have learned. Maybe I should go do the laundry.

31: Monday

It's a beautiful day. 45 degrees. Sunny. But things are going very badly. The hot water heater is gushing smoke, and there's ice in one of the water pipes...

A few Chen sets. I found it hard to concentrate, but a lot of it felt good. Later. Karate.

I almost missed karate, nearly forgot all about it. But I remembered just in time, and, if Tim hadn't decided to start class two minutes early, no one would have known.

Sensei too the class after the warm-up and set us to learning to use our hips in blocking and punching. In this exercise, you slide from seisan dachi (forward bow stance) into kibadachi (horse stance), then "pull" yourself into seisan dachi with your hips— which movement also drives the block or punch. This exercise is done stepping both forwards and backwards. When stepping forwards wards, the "trailing" foot is pulled into place; when stepping backwards, the trailing foot (the forward foot) is pulled backwards into position.

When I was sliding into my kibadachis, I noticed that I was weighting myself towards the direction of travel. Since it was a large class and was at the back and I couldn't see Sensei's demonstration of the exercise, I asked him if my weight should be centered in the kibadachi. I don't think I got an answer, but Sensei did render a lengthy lecture on "the process."

Once again, I thought I heard Sensei say that the techniques shown to beginners are different, simpler. But it could be that wasn't what he meant at all. It could be that, just to me, Sensei's meaning isn't clear. Without being granted the privilege of being able to ask for clarification, I can't tell. Sensei is death on questions because that's how Sensei Odo was. From all I've heard, with him it was "my way or the highway."

Even so, a lot of solid information came through as Sensei spoke to us. We finally found out the correct method of doing and the correct way of thinking about the middle blocks in ananku. Previously no one had mentioned how the turns into the blocks should be made and what should be happening with each hand. Now it makes sense— "martial sense."

One of the things I have discovered to be essential is the development of the a "martial mind." It's something I've only recently begun to develop in myself, due, in most part, to Jonas's teaching. David always told us to imagine an opponent, but after the first year of lessons, he stopped giving in-depth explanations of the applications, so the imaginary opponent wasn't any threat and we never had to learn to deal with him.

Sensei has tried to get us thinking with the bunkai, and, to some extent it has worked: I do have some idea of how an opponent may be coming at me when I execute certain moves. But, this hasn't helped me to develop that "martial mind."

Jonas has taught me the most about the "martial mind." He has probably taught me the most about karate. Jonas provides details. He shows us how applications work— and don't work. He plays the parts of defender and attacker over and over in all they ways he can think of, showing us exactly what is happening in the moves, making clear the mechanics, talking all the while about how defender and attacker are thinking. For me, a thinker, those details are necessary for understanding, body and bone deep, the how, what, why, and wherefore of martial arts.

It isn't Sensei's fault that I don't learn the way he teaches. But neither is it my fault that I don't learn the way he teaches. I have struggled for a long time, working the material without asking questions. I've done a lot of observing— and I'm a pretty good observer. But it's only through Jonas's explanations that I've been able to bring the physical learning into practical use.

Maybe Sensei will condemn me as a failure. Perhaps he will think that if I can't learn to learn his way, I should give up— or that he should give up on me. But how important is this issue of approach? How important is it that someone who is predisposed to be left-handed be forced to learn to do everything right-handed? If I approach martial arts from the intellectual side, am I doomed to never succeed in them at all? Evidence would seem to be to the contrary. From what I have observed, "brains" and "brawns" can, and do, both succeed in the martial arts.

Copyright © 2005 New Moon

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