Tai Chi Y3D131: Push


I’m continuing this series of poems with another one of the tai chi forms that gets repeated over and over throughout the form.  Push is the seventh movement from the beginning, after opening, circling hands, ward-off left, ward-off right, roll-back, and press.  Overall, it’s also part of a series of movements that repeat five times over the course of the form: 1) roll back, 2) press, 3) push, 4) single whip.  Again, I haven’t decided if I’m going to write new poems for those movements when they repeat, or use the opportunity there to correct issues that I wasn’t able to express or explain in the earlier takes on the movement.  Probably the latter, but you never know.

When press ends, the front right foot holds the weight,
but now at the start of push roll it back,
for if you continue forward, your fate
is to be pulled off-balance.  Give up slack —
separate your joined hands as you withdraw
and orient them so the palms face out.
The left foot moves not, so you let the law
of gravity help you. Act with no doubt,
pushing your mass from your left foot, to front
(make right hand stronger, since diagonal force
from left foot to right hand will push the brunt
of your mass on your foe). But stop — of course —
when your open hands are above your knee
for this disciplined balance keeps you free.


Tai Chi Y3D130: Press

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I’m finding that the business of making a poem for each movement is interesting, but takes a long time.  I started this poem a couple of times, but it took a while during the course of the day to complete it.  Sorry it’s taking longer and later in the day to complete these entries.

Today’s form-poem is about the movement, Press. I’m finding that as I perform this movement, which appears, I think, five times in the tai chi form I do (although it’s a slippery movement and it keeps escaping for me), that there’s a deliberateness to the movements that I’ve written about, and a consciousness, that wasn’t there before — and that I perform the given movement with considerably more care and attention than otherwise. So I think, overall, that this is going to prove good for my practice.

To the left and down, the arms fall away
from roll-back position to guard the hip:
but don’t grab the chi in the normal way;
instead, permit all received force to slip
past and behind you. Yet don’t come to rest,
but now right hand rises to block the path,
gently seeking home on opponent’s chest.
Left hand launches, strongly but without wrath
unwinding torsion from right foot to wrist—
as your hips twist, the whole body’s full weight
pushes out the palm instead of the fist.
As left palm meets right, the right arm’s whole freight
is transferred from you to your surprised foe —
right hand deceives; while the left lands the blow.

It’s hard to figure out how to encapsulate the whole movement in only fourteen lines. There’s left-side and right-side movements to consider; there’s what the lower body does and what the upper body does, and there’s quadrant concerns (upper left vs. lower right, lower right and upper right together, and so on).  Not everything fits.  All the same, I find that as I write these poems, it’s as though I have my teacher reminding me of all kinds of things from numerous practices, and while some of them are quite abstract others are deeply specific.  It’s interesting how the story unfolds, poem by poem, and how much I’m getting reminded in the process of how the form works, and what each part of the form is supposed to do.

From the Archive: I  haven’t checked the archive of earlier entries in a while. Let’s see what was up on Day 130 of year one? Oh, I was returning from my annual summer retreat, just as I did this year, two weeks ago (funny how much off my practice is, but I did have to rectify the count in there).  And Lisa said something very important — that her tai chi practice broke down when she became perfectionist about it. Curiously enough, I heard this from another friend of mine over dinner last night: Ann said more or less the same thing, that she’d had a strong daily practice in tai chi for about seven years, and then one day she tried to intensify her practice, and … she just couldn’t bear it.  It fell apart about three weeks into her practice, and she stopped doing tai chi entirely.  Now, several years later, she’s practicing jujitsu, and having a great deal of fun, and getting back into tai chi as well. But she’s doing her best not to take it too seriously, or practice too intensively.  A useful reminder for me… I don’t want to burn out too soon on this.  Keep it easy, keep it simple, be unattached to results.

And what about Day 130 of year two?  Oh look: I was having trouble touching my toes after a few days of sleeping in a tent during my summer retreat.  And this year, even with a very-much-lightened practice, I never had that difficulty at all.  Progress, and not perfection, and all that.

Tai Chi Y3D129: Roll Back

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Yep, another attempt at poetry instead of an entry about my tai chi experiences.  I’d expect this to go on for a while — Maybe a month or so.

From this braced posture, the right hand retreats,
but right elbow remains just in its place
The left hand rises too, and it entreats
the opponent as it travels through space
until fingertips graze the bent right arm.
Thus a right angle is ordered — and stands
between the forearms on the right and left:
This is a posture of defensive hands,
for the arms can shift with movement so deft
to deflect the strike.  Once the hands are firm,
weight can shift away from the front right foot;
the left leg can carry the weight a term —
but neither leg should move from where it’s put
Sweep both hands down and sideways to the left,
to guard the flank that in this move’s bereft.

Tai Chi Y3D128: Ward-Off Right

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Poetry again today, or at least an attempt at it.  It was a good practice, although I felt compelled to do the tai chi form all the way through a second time.  This is becoming habitual (not really), but two days of not meeting my own standards on the first try is annoying.

Today is the fourth movement in poetry, namely Ward off Right.  This is a defensive posture, mostly, designed to protect the flank immediately after stopping the forward attack with ward-off left.

With feet spread apart and left foot in front,
shift most of your weight from right foot to left,
to close up the gap where you bore the brunt
of the last attack. Let the right foot drift
alongside the left — and hands carry ball,
this time so left lifts, and right pushes down.
Swallow-tail the right hand to make a wall,
as right foot strides out on the way to town.
Let right wrist to left foot be a steel bow,
a tense curve of line that holds open space
between right hand and sternum;  let all know,
how dynamic and flexible this space
for the hands block whatever approaches,
and push back against all that encroaches.

So, that means that so far we’ve got four movements in this poetic scheme, namely Opening, Circling Hands, Ward-Off Left, and Ward-Off Right today. Tomorrow, in theory, we’ll have Roll Back.

Tai Chi Y3D127: Ward Off Left


It’s less hot today than yesterday, but I still got sweaty from today’s practice. And I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the first go-through of my tai chi form, so I did it a second time.

Today’s tai chi maneuver is the first appearance of Ward-Off Left.  I don’t know if I’m going to write a new poem each time this maneuver comes up, or create a variation of the first poem based on the procedure and where it is in the form, or if I’ll just use the same old poem each time the movement comes up. Here’s today’s effort.

Shift body weight to flow down through right sole,
and move hands and arms to carry the ball
so left hand cradles and right rests on whole,
the right knee bent so the leg supports all
yet remains strong to spring into action.
Step out with the left foot, easy and slow;
plant it heel to toe, to test the traction,
so that the foot has time to check and know
the ground’s condition. Brush the sparrow’s tail,
and bring up the left hand into a guard,
with shoulder to wrist curving without fail.
Push the right hand back and down, for it’s hard
to defend backside from knee strike or kick;
from left wrist to right foot, make one strong stick.

Not as strong as yesterday’s poem or the day before, but not bad.  Definitely edits are required.

Tai Chi Y3D126: circling hands


I began my day today with a bit of a poetic exercise, so I’m a bit behind on my tai chi.  Time to get to work.  It was good tai chi practice today, fairly breathless in a sense — I went faster than I should, and harder than I’m used to; and it’s already hot here.  Not a good combination, really. But I got the work done.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about the opening posture; today I’m writing about posture two: circling the hands.

Both hands rise up to the height of the shoulders,
while feet, planted firm, stand shoulder-width wide.
The hands retreat, like a pair of soldiers
on guard, overrun by opposing side.
Ere they retreat all the way to the chest,
they stop and resist; and the knees sink low.
The hands remain just a moment at rest,
then they, too, press downward, following flow
of chi — that eternally-living flame.
The knees unbend and the body ascends,
though hands still press opponent down in shame,
’til fingers impress with their last extends,
how direct forward motion does not land,
but tumbles down by the circling hand.

Meh.  Not my best effort. Not bad, but not necessarily good.  Do you, dear reader, follow the action? Can you do the movement? If you can, then I suppose that’s good; but my suspicion is that you’d need to see the movement demonstrated as well as hear the poem recited.

Poem/Magic: 2nd Decan of Cancer

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This morning was a brief window for the Second Decan of Cancer.  Thanks to Christopher Warnock of Renaissance Astrology, and the fine folks on the Spiritus-Mundi email list, I’m learning about astrological magic in the 1600s and 1700s. This morning was an astrological window for the second face or decan of Cancer.  Associated with joy, mirth, riches, and gladness, this opportunity seemed too good to pass up.  Accordingly, it generated both some artwork (not very good, and strongly based on someone else’s art), and a poem:

O Somachalmais, Mercury’s sweet friend,
warden of Cancer’s second decan or face,
a full measure of your dignity lend
with the gentle radiance of your grace.
For riches, mirth, and gladness are your way,
and games of chance and skill provide your delight.
In you is the joy of the winning play,
and this virtue comes to earth with your light.
Let your pneuma focus upon this art,
and send your mirth: so riches rest on me
who speaks your praise in gladness from the heart,
mirroring your joyous divinity.
Somachalmais, let these words be a sign,
of a life enriched by your love divine!

It’s now 6:50 am, and this ‘window’ or opportunity has closed for I don’t know how long. As I understand it (and my understanding is not particularly well-developed at this point), the Second Decan of Cancer is the 10-degree portion of the sky which forms the middle part of the traditional zodiac sign of Cancer (which is 30 degrees wide, like all the other astrological Zodiac signs — so each Zodiac sign has three decans. Got that?).  Each Decan, of which there are thirty-six, has a planetary ruler, or one of the seven visible planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun and Moon.  When the Sun is coming up over the horizon — in astrological language, on the ascendant — and the planetary ruler of the Decan is in that 10-degree window with which it’s associated — then that astrological window opens. For somewhere between four and twenty minutes, it seems.

And the goal is to create a piece of artwork — a poem, a piece of jewelry, a drawing, a diagram, a thing of some kind, preferably with some of the resonances or theoretical energies of that particular window of opportunity, between when the window opens and when it closes.

Today I did pretty well.  I got a poem that mentions the name of the being, the name of the window, the planetary ruler, the names of the resonances or theoretical energies, and some words of sucking up. I also managed to frame the poem in my notebook with some line art and some calligraphic work, and it came out looking OK.   I like that there’s this narrow window of time, that there’s some specific themes that the poetry or artwork (or both) have to touch upon,

The more complicated question, I suppose, is do I believe it?

This is harder.  I don’t disbelieve it. Rockefeller was famous for saying “Millionaires don’t use astrology; billionaires do.” Gordon had a great piece, a sort of terrifying piece, about this exact theme.  How does one decide what’s important and what isn’t important? How does one decide where to invest belief?  I’m a poet.  I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, and decide by lunch that I don’t believe any of them — but while in the midst of writing the poem, I have to believe it completely.  Right now, a degree of mild skepticism is returning, but in the process of quick-composition and line-drawing for about 25 minutes this morning, I believed that Somachalmais is going to help me with a few things.

And maybe belief doesn’t matter quite so much.  Maybe the opportunity to create art, and to write poetry, is much more important than what I think that I think, or what I believe I believe.

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