Tai Chi Y3D247: Single Whip is Hard


not happy with the color scheme yet... :-/

not happy with the color scheme yet… :-/

I can’t say that I’m hugely happy with today’s drawing.  It looks weird, the figures are all sorts of sloppy, and I’m not really good at using the watercolor tool in the app Paper. It drives me crazy, a little, actually.  This enormous blob of color appears, and then when you try to spread it out it gets deeper and thicker.  And I haven’t really represented the motion of the arms or legs very well.  The arms swing across the body in step one, but then the right arm bends in step two, the weight shifts back in step three, the left arm bends to meet the right arm, and then the whole body is popped open like a spring — or a whip.

That’s the idea.

The reality is quite different when reduced to 2D form and presented in a digital paper medium like this.  Not so good.

I represented this in poetry for the first time here:

Hands stay still. All weight shifts from front to back,
and when the right foot’s light, inward it turns,
pointing to the left. Arms are somewhat slack,
as hips start to twist.  Upper trunk returns
in line with lower. Arms follow where led,
but with left arm straightened and right arm bent.
Shift weight to right foot, and lighten your tread
with the left. Spike right fingers to what’s meant
by “Buddha’s teacup” — and put a saucer,
the left hand, under.  Then explode both hands,
open the whole body: slow, but fiercer
as right fist balances and left arm lands
striking with shoulder, then elbow, then wrist,
last the hand’s grip —  all pure movement, not list.

The actual practice went fine.  This week, due to illness, I’ve not been able to do my two qi gong forms, because I’ve simply been too tired to manage that work on top of the form; but today I reintroduced Five Golden Coins, and that went fine. Tomorrow, I think I’ll bring back Eight Pieces of Silk.

During the movements for the tai chi form, though, I had some very strange bits that made me wonder about whether I was doing Fair Lady Works Shuttles 1, 2, 3, and 4 correctly.  I don’t know what made me wonder, but I found myself reaching the Ward Off Right that follows FLWS without being entirely sure that I’d done those four postures.  Weird.  So I went back and did that part of the form again.  Same bit of blankness. Odd.

When I think about it, though, I realize that this is one of the pieces that I learned later in my time at Star Farm Taiji, when I was a student there in the late 1990s.  The second half of the form took me a lot longer to learn than the first half, and it was these sections that I had the most difficulty integrating. The fact that my brain now skips over them may be a sign that I’ve finally integrated them. But that means I have to now tender them differently, so that I can do them consciously as well as unconsciously.

Tai Chi Y3D246: Press and Push

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6. PressPush Yeah, OK. Not my best.

I wound up doing two forms today.  Today’s the 21st, and I want to get done up through single whip, which is hard. It involves a turn, and I’m not sure how to express that in two dimensions. This cartoon figure is all very well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that tai chi is four-dimensional — it’s movements in spacein time, and that means tracking both directional changes as well as tempo.


BUT.  One of the senior druids on our list has joked about how, in three hundred years, maybe druids will be the martial artists of the North American landscape, wielding k’ung fu powers against bandits so no one will mess with them even though they’re unarmed.  Seems highly unlikely, really.  Most of the druids that I know are not really up to that challenge.


Druidry does have a color theory associated with the directions, which I admit is likely derived much from Wicca and other sources in ceremonial magic.  By adding in color wash behind the figure, I can suggest which direction is behind, to the left, and to the right of each figure, and so give a sense of how the motion is supposed to go. I’ll try it tomorrow and see.

The form work itself was rudimentary. I was not happy with my first run-through of the form, so I did it again. Still pretty basic, even as I tried to slow down to find a couple more positions in press and push to work into two separate drawings. Paper has a pretty nifty feature called “Book”, which allows one to create a 15-page Book of one’s drawings, which is printed, built and assembled by Moleskine. I had a brief thought of making a “book” of my tai chi pages; but at $25 a pop it’s expensive, and at a 15-page limit, I’d have to squeeze four forms onto a page (60 sonnets, right — Days 125 to 187, take out a couple of days for missed sonnets or complications, yeah… 60 is about right… 60/4 = 15). That means halving or even quartering the size of the drawings. I’m not sure that’s within my capacities as an artist.

I’m still not talking about the form, though.  It’s funny — I’m avoiding talking about my practice because I’m not happy with it these days.

Tai Chi Y3D245: Roll Back


Projects: Adirondack chair

… and footstool! Don’t forget the footstool!

This move was hard for a couple of reasons:

  1. I left my power cord at school last night, and the laptop battery finished decharging overnight;
  2. I was up very late last night (despite my illness) finishing an Adirondack chair.
  3. I didn’t have a rough draft of the drawings for today — up until today, I created the drawing the day before, and then edited and refined it a bit in the morning.
  4. I haven’t had my coffee in four days.
  5. Discovering that the tablet on which I’m composing the pictures (in Paper by fiftythree.com) is locked out of the school’s network, which means that I can’t upload the diagram during the school day, even once the laptop is charged. Augh!

All of these resulted in a stunted practice, to say the least.  Feels like a Charlie Brown moment. Here’s the football, now it’s gone. Oh well.

But as I’ve said before, sometimes it’s about doing it right, and sometimes it’s about getting it done.  Not every practice has to be perfect, if the overall tendency is towards a minimum acceptable practice.  And it is.

About the Drawing

But, enough about the issues of trying to get the work posted.  Let’s focus on what’s really important, the tai chi form.  This one was a bit tricky to get right, and commenter Topher was quite correct — break it down deliberately into six poses or postures within the movement, and it’s easy(ier) to get the forms correct.  Read the image across — first the three images, left to right, in the top row; then the three images in the bottom row.

six-step diagram of the Tai Chi form "roll back"

six-step diagram of the Tai Chi form “roll back”

The post about this movement, in the sonnets, is here, in Day 129 — but I revisited this poem twice. I’ll have to wait to hear from commenter Quin about which one he feels matches up best with the expected movements:

  1. ending with ward-off left, with the weight shifting from right foot to left foot anchoring the body, the right arm forming a shield, and the chi cradled against the body like a pillow
  2. Then the right hand swinging up to block, the left arm beginning to swing across the body and in.
  3. The body strong (not rigid, thanks commenter Christina), balanced between left and right, with the chi held against the central lower body; the left hand touching right elbow; the right hand pointed skyward.
  4. The weight rocked back from both feet to left foot, with the left leg and arm forming a cradle for the chi;
  5. the sweep of the hands across the body and the dispersal of the chi;
  6. to be collected again at low points of gravity on the left side of the body, as right arm and left leg form the defensive line.

I think the third Roll Back poem works the best with these pictures:

From Ward-Off Right,  lift the right hand skyward:
bend arm at the elbow, keep bicep sure.
draw back the left hand, palm facing backward;
bend the left knee so that you can endure
the onrushing thrust of your opponent.
Left hand touches right elbow, blocking force
even as weight shifts, the ever-constant
flow of chi like a river in its course,
from right foot to left foot. This is the way
to make your opponents overextend —
let them press on your warded defenses
when you are forward;  they are at their end
and when you draw back your walls and fences,
their over-reach becomes your advantage;
their mass becomes a thing you can manage.

Tai Chi Y3D244: Ward off Right

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Today’s movement is Ward-Off Right, which I first wrote about as a tai chi sonnet on Y3D128:

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.

My effort at a drawing?  Mmmm.  Not as good as the sonnet, I’m afraid:wardoffright In retrospect, I can see how I might have split it up into four or five steps or stages:

  • carrying the ball on the right hip
  • Swallow-tailing the energy from left hand to right
  • Shifting the weight from right foot to left
  • stepping out with the right foot
  • lifting the right hand to block
  • filling the space behind the hand with chi.

But I’m out of time to work on this drawing at the moment, and I’ll have a chance to revisit this and other drawings later in the sequence. It’s hard doing this — and Quin, you should feel free to decide that the drawings I’m doing are inadequate to the job of teaching you a tai chi form, and decide not to carry on your part of this project.  But I’m coming up on a big push of work at school (end-of-quarter reports and grades), and the images may get spotty for a few days.  Thanks for your concern about illness, but the worst of it seems to have passed.

That said, the last three days (Monday to today) of tai chi have probably been the hardest of my three years to date. Doing Snake Creeps Downfor example, put unexpected pressures on my belly that made me queasy.  There’s a knot of dehydration-related muscle tension in my neck that kept me awake through the night, and challenged me during today’s movements.  Whenever I don’t feel like getting out of bed in the future, I should remember today, and think, “It could be worse.”

Tai Chi Y3D243: Warding the Left


Ward off Left

Ward off Left

Here we go.

So here’s the bizarro-land truth about this “draw the tai chi form” project or process I’ve embarked upon. It’s making me feel like I have no idea what I’m doing at all.  Today’s movement is Ward-off Left, which I wrote the sonnet for here, on Day 127 this year.

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.

One of my commenters asked me to divide the drawings into lines of the sonnet; and although I’m reading the sonnet and trying to structure the drawing to match, I’m not sure I have the skill of matching words to pictures, or pictures to words. It’s like, I’m asking my brain to do and think about the world in completely different ways all of a sudden.  Nonetheless, let me try.

Picture 1, carrying the ball, happens in lines 1-5.  Picture 2, showing the step with the left foot, begins at line 6, “Step out wit the left foot”, but covers the form through to line 11.  The side diagram, labeled “left side” in the upper right corner of the picture, represents the position of the body in lines 12-14. Picture 3, in the lower left hand corner, is really the first step of the next movement, Ward Off Right.

Also, it’s important to note the presence of the Chi ball in this posture. It starts out being carried on the left hip, about the size of a softball or a bit larger, and then it’s lifted up and expanded into a sphere between the body and the outstretched left hand, when it’s huge; and then it ends up being carried on the hip again, somewhere between the size of a softball and a volleyball.

Doing tai chi today was… difficult.  Yesterday I was incredibly sick — vomit, diarrhea, fever — and today I’m doing much better but still quite physically weak.  But the quality of my tai chi form? Pathetic.  I’m glad I bowed out of work for another day — it’s not even noon, and I’m exhausted from sitting on the couch.

Tai Chi Y3D242: Drawing in Arms

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Back on Day 125 this year, I began the sonnet project.  On Saturday (yesterday), Quin decided to try to learn my tai chi form from my sonnets, but admitted he’d need some diagrams to help him.  So I decided, it’s time to make the diagrams that go with the tai chi sonnets, and I started drawing.

So yesterday I did the Opening. Today is Circling the Arms:

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.

Picture?  Oh boy. This is where things get complicated.  Can I do this?  Probably.  But probably not immediately or swiftly. Guess what, even though I just did this in my tai chi form, I’m having to stand up, do it again, turn on the iPad, try drawing, stop drawing, do the movement, pick up the iPad, draw again, and so on.  Sorry Quin — this is not going to happen nearly as fast as either of us would like…

CircletheArms Well. What have I learned about drawing so far?

I’ve learned that it’s going to be more challenging than I’d imagined when I started.  Here, I think I left out a step. The arms are at the sides at the end of Opening and the start of Circling the Arms. Then they rise up — and I missed a step here, the palms facing the opponent. It’s worth noting that although I show the palms rising up to the right, they actually are straight out in front. Then the arms bend at the elbow, and the hands push down from by the shoulders. One doesn’t squat into a horse stance or a squared-off position, either; but one does sink down quite a bit, before rising back up to a normal posture.

This is going to be hard.

Quin asked me to comment on color in the diagrams. Basically, the figure and the physical movements are going to be in black or possibly black and green, for Earth-based or physical movements. Blue arrows will indicate the flow of fluid weight — how the body goes through shifts in its fluid from one posture to the next; this is the Water of the posture.  Yellow, usually circles or arcs, will indicate the flow of chi from one part of the posture to the next — the breath or Air of the movement.  And red will be the fire — which energy centers should be active during the movement.

Ideally, every diagram would be colored with all four colors. But in truth, just because I am diagramming them, doesn’t mean I understand how all four elements move in each chart in each movement. Getting these diagrams created, revised, corrected and understood is probably going to be my work for the next few hundred days. What am I getting myself into?

This morning has also been complicated by illness. In the middle of my tai chi routine, I suddenly felt enormous pressure in my gut, and realized I was going to vomit.I spent the next hour and a half either on the toilet, bowed over it, or waiting to go back to it. It’s taken me most of the day to feeling up to finishing the tai chi…

Tai Chi Y3D241: Beginning a Project


A while ago this year, starting back on Day 125, I wrote a series of poems about my experiences doing tai chi. The first one was the Opening:

At the opening, breathe in deep three times,
and soften the eyes to see land and sky —
Begin at once, at the day’s dawning chimes,
before the pigeons have a chance to cry
or the wren has chittered in the branches.
Begin with bent knees, but so your toes show;
tuck your buttocks in and tense your haunches;
begin to move, and turn from the waist slow.
Lift the left foot, and widen out your stance—
lift both hands, and then push down and away.
Move, as in syrup, in water, or trance,
with muscles in tension and mind at play.
Be all curves, and relaxed in this rebirth,
suspended from heaven, anchored in earth.

Commenter Quin has promised/threatened to try to learn tai chi from my description of the movements.  Ack.  I feel for him— I’m not sure it can be done. But he’s asked for a set of photographs or something to work from. Ack. Again, I’m not sure that such exist. At the same time, though, I thought… hey, what if I made the diagrams? What would that look like? Feel like? Could I do it?

Challenge? Accepted.

1. Opening

1. Opening

It’s a new way to grow my practice, which I’ve been casting about for, and a new way to develop my skills in relationship to this practice called Tai Chi.

So, I immediately did a drawing.  There’s four pieces of Opening, namely breathing in and filling the lungs three times, and then connecting heaven and earth by sinking into the floor and straightening the spine (by tucking the butt under), and then twisting to the right while anchoring the left foot and weighting the right arm, and then turning back to center and getting ready for the next motion.

Quin intends to start learning the form on 11/22… that gives me today, tomorrow… a seven-day head-start on him.  A week.  Yikes.

I don’t think I can do it. It doesn’t feel like enough time. I don’t think I can create two drawings a day for thirty days straight instead of writing, so that he can learn the form in thirty days.  Certainly not more than this sketch (made with Paper by fiftythree.com), which doesn’t feel like it’s really enough to do the form.

But, OK.  Even if all I do is this quick set of sketches, it’s still more than I have now. And it’s something daily, probably for considerably more than a month of practice.  And it will get me out of my current funk.  And it’s something I was planning on doing with my practice anyway.

OK! I’m beginning — drawings to accompany my tai chi poetry, and the beginnings of a manual, of sorts, to learn this tai chi form.

I must be out of my mind. Really.

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