Tai Chi Y3D166: Spiral Single Whip

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Yesterday’s poem was a bit of a train wreck.  I didn’t like it, first of all, and second of all I accidentally posted in privately, so no one could see it.  Argh!

Did 21 push-ups this morning, in a set of sixteen, and a set of five.  I realized that doing two or three push-ups is probably dumb, so I’m going to try to go in sets of five — even when the last set ended with more than 5 in it (like 16). So I’ll do more push-ups in the long run, than just twenty — but I’ll also be building up strength.

I’ve not talked much about my druidic practice, but that’s also going well.  I’m entering what’s known as the Work of Fire in the Bardic Grade, and finishing up some geometrical work and some alchemical work at about the same time.  I need a couple of uninterrupted days in the alchemy lab (which is my kitchen), though, before I can finish some of that stuff up.  So far, so good.

In qi gong, the two forms I do, Five Golden Coins and Eight Pieces of Silk, are both showing me ways of improving my form. Ironically enough, the western-style push-ups are really helping my eastern forms out, at least at the moment. The extra strength practice for the core muscles, which hold my body straight, are helping structure the twists a bit better. I’m definitely generating a good deal of internal heat every time I do this practice now.

Today’s movement is called Spiral Single Whip. It follows on Cloud Hands, but since the Cloud Hands is such a train wreck of a poem, I’m not sure how to proceed.  Part of me feels like I have to fix Cloud Hands before I can write Spiral Single Whip, and part of me feels like Cloud Hands is unfixable — that it will need to be re-written. It’s not a problem I’ve faced before, in part because most of the tai chi movements have fixed beginning and end points — so I bear those in mind for the other poems.  But not Cloud Hands. I’m genuinely unsure when it ends, and Spiral Single Whip begins.

How does one solve that? By writing the poem backwards, from the end of Spiral Single Whip, toward the front where Cloud Hands ends!  There’s sort of three parts to this single whip: there’s the tightening spiral at the start, where I step into tightening circles.  We’ll do the first quatrain, abab, for that part — and this is the part that is likely to be most garbled, given the nature of the last poem.  The second quatrain can be the footwork to line up the attack.  The third quatrain can be the shift of the weight and the heel movement that prepares the strike, and the couplet can be the unfolding arms — which have already been described in other poems. For me, this means starting with the couplet:

Left arm extends, a heron plucking fish
out of the rushes for a tasty dish.

Next comes the quatrain immediately before it, which has a structure efef and ten syllables in each line (as they all do). This is the part that is about the weight shift — from front to back to front again.

While weight is on the right foot, shift left heel
so left toes point where you want; what is more,
left toes form center of your aiming wheel.
From right to left, the weight shifts to the fore.

So that means that we can now move backwards again, to the second quatrain.  This is the part about the footwork to line up the attack; but I’ve got that “aiming wheel” bit in this third quatrain, that I want to introduce in the second. Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do here:

Right foot traces a circle’s circumference,
while left ankle serves as center pivot.
Wind up to form the movement’s next nascence:
draw the hands in to the Buddha’s divot.

There’s something there that doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not sure what it is, so let’s string together what we’ve got so far into a single poem: the second and third quatrains, and the final couplet.  Now the poem looks something like this:

Right foot traces a circle’s circumference,
while left ankle serves as center pivot.
Wind up to form the movement’s next nascence:
draw the hands in to the Buddha’s divot.
While weight is on the right foot, shift left heel
so left toes point where you want; what is more,
left toes form center of your aiming wheel.
From right to left, the weight shifts to the fore.
Left arm extends, a heron plucking fish poem
out of the rushes for a tasty dish.

Ok, that’s not as bad as I thought it was.  Even better, for the purposes of my tai chi practice, is that I’ve now had to run through the movement about twelve times to practice the movement, to see if my writing matches the action.  It doesn’t unfortunately; at least not yet.  We still have a first quatrain to write.  And that’s going to go something like this:

End your Cloud Hands with right palm down and out,
and gazing in the mirror of your left.
Shift weight to the left; the pattern you’ll flout,
while right foot swings in a movement so deft —

Ye-ahh…  I can’t say I’m happy with this poem, at least as it stands now.  But I feel like it ends in the right place, and sets me up for tomorrow’s poem more effectively, and won’t keep me stumbling around in the dark as I try to move the whole sequence of poems forward.  The final poem for Spiral Single Whip, then, reads as follows:

End your Cloud Hands with right palm down and out,
and gazing in the mirror of your left.
Shift weight to the left; the pattern you’ll flout,
while right foot swings in a movement so deft —
Right foot traces a circle’s circumference,
while left ankle serves as center pivot.
Wind up to form the movement’s next nascence:
draw the hands in to the Buddha’s divot.
While weight is on the right foot, shift left heel
so left toes point where you want; what is more,
left toes form center of your aiming wheel.
From right to left, the weight shifts to the fore.
Left arm extends, a heron plucking fish poem
out of the rushes for a tasty dish.

Is it right?  No.  Does it more or less fit the action? Mmmm… yeah? Maybe? That’s complicated.  I’m not sure that I like it — actually, I’m sure that I don’t like it. But I also know that it’s the best I’m going to do right now, and I’d rather move on to the next.  In the meantime, you have a sense from my backwards construction process of how hard writing some of these poems can be.  When I’m unclear about what happens in a given piece of formwork, the poem is often terrible — when I know the form, the resulting poem is spot-on.

Now I know some movements I have to practice more!

Tai chi Y3D165: cloud hands

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(Update: Apparently I changed the settings on this blog post to ‘private’ for another post. The result is that this got posted yesterday, but in a way that no one could see it; and I forgot to change that… It appears for your perusal now… and now I’m working on the 2 September entry…)

Began doing tai chi and Qi gong on the porch of this little guest house in sweltering humidity at about 5:45 am. Not ideal circumstances, really. Didn’t do push-ups yesterday. Like the poem, the day sort of slipped away from me. I’m still very cautious about doing exercise in front of others.

I’ve tried to tackle the issues of Cloud Hands before in writing. It’s an odd maneuver. The body slides right and then left with sort of a windmill thing with the hands going on. The feet criss-cross one another, and it ends with sort of a spiraling, coiling motion.

A word about process, today: usually I write poetry longhand or on a larger computer screen. Today I’m composing on a mobile phone. If the line breaks turn out funny or the scansion is problematic, that’s probably why.

right hand ascendant and pointing to sky
As right foot impresses all weight to ground.
Left arm hangs parallel to ground. For why
would you bother to defend all around
(Though you should) when most attacks come face-first?
Left hand rises while right hand sinks inside;
At once with hands open and not closed fist,
Hands turn widdershins and right foot steps wide,
Both drawn across the body’s central line.
Right leg steps behind left, as left sinks in;
hands change places, inverting the incline.
arms spread outward, all open to within.
Right foot steps more, trunk coiling like springs —
the body tightens, as though bound by strings.

Wow. This one is terrible.  I don’t know when I’m gong to return to this subject, so I’ll just say that I think this particular poem sucks.  This is what I get for taking a day off from writing, right?  Actually, it’s likely nowhere near so nefarious. It’s not possible to write dozens or hundreds of perfect poems, one after the other. Some will be good and some will be bad.  Sometimes you can edit bad poems into great poems, sometimes you can’t.  But I’m going to leave this one for now, and maybe fix it later.  As Robert Frost pointed out, though, I don’t know if I’m ever going to travel back this way again; and therefore it’s not worth worrying about.

Tai Chi Y3D164: letting go of the poem.

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Today was to be Cloud Hands. I did the tai chi practice quite early this morning. But somehow the time to write the poem has evaporated. This morning I did some work around the First Decan of Virgo, and that pushed my tai chi practice back later in the day. Then everyone else woke up, and so between breakfast and visiting with friends, the day sort of evaporated. In a good way, of course. All the same, I am booked for the rest of the day, though. So I’m standing down from my expectation to write today.

Poetry resumes tomorrow.

Tai Chi Y3D163: Step back to drive the monkey away

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Successfully did 20 push-ups this morning without stopping. Then did, separately, one nose-to-the-ground push-up.  Hanging out at a beautiful cabin in Maine for the weekend, a lovely place to work the druidic form, in all honesty.  The weather is beautiful, and I was able to do tai chi and qi gong outside on the tiny lawn with woods all around me.  If you came here looking for the poem for the First Decan of Virgo working, on Sunday morning at your local sunrise, here’s that.

Today’s movement is Step Back to Drive the Monkey Away. I always liked its name, but I don’t really understand how it’s to be used. My teacher taught me that it was the retreat that follows the attack.  You may recall that in yesterday’s movement, Double Punch, I ended the poem not entirely happy with it. Still, both hands were in the air — our weight was balanced on the right foot —the left hand is positioned above the right; the left hand is flat, and the right hand is over the right knee and balled in a fist. And I note that I used “our” in the last sentence, kind of like a “royal we”, and I realize that I do tend to think of myself as many-parted: the tai chi-doing me often feels like a different me than the me that writes about it. Are they they same?

Too deep for a journal entry this early in the morning, really. In Step Back to Drive The Monkey Away, the body swings right, and the weight shifts right; the left foot steps back. The arms and body swing left from the waist after the weight shifts back to the left foot. The right foot steps back, and then the body’s weight shifts once more to the right foot, so the arms wind up in a position akin to Roll Backwith the right hand pointing up into the sky, and the left hand gently near or touching the right elbow.

The waist winds up, and tenses on the right,
and flinging both arms right, open-handed.
The risk upon your left is real, but slight —
your time with left foot forward is ended.
Shift your left-side weight to the other side,
and step back, to reduce flank exposure.
As soon as you’re firm, at once, start to glide
your weight to left foot, with calm composure—
and as you shift shape, swing both arms around
both open-fisted, and flat to the foe.
Do not attack forward nor stand your ground,
But once again rightward, your weight must go,
followed with flailing arms, pulled from the waist
the post on which this movement’s hinge is placed.

Tai Chi Y3D162: double punch

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Did 20 push-ups this morning — a set of eleven, a set of five, and a set of four.  I tried to do one nose-to-the-floor push-up after that, but it wasn’t in me today.  Tomorrow? We’ll see.

Today’s movement is the double-punch. After pivoting around from the back to the front, there’s a ‘flurry of blows’. I’ve always wanted to be able to type that.  And here it is!  Actually, it’s more like a half-flurry of blows: The left hand throws a punch, and then the left foot steps, and then the right hand throws a punch. And that’s it. Two blows sounds more like a half-flurry, doesn’t it?

Leave the hand in the air, that flung the hook
against the side of the enemy’s face;
for many turn to the side where they took
the blow. Twist at the waist with easy grace
and let the left hand curve into a fist
closer to the ground than the right hand’s high.
Send it forward, so your foe gets the gist
of your intention. When you let it fly,
step into the opening created, 
so the left foot is forward of the right.
The punch may land, or not, as is fated;
let the left hand rise as you punch with right.
As each hand punches, draw the other out,
so your weight and force are balanced with slack.

I am TOTALLY not happy with the last two lines (red), and I may have to fix the last six lines total (in green) before I’m happy.  We’ll see.  But it’s time to go off to work.

Poem/Hymn: First Decan of Virgo

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On Sunday morning at dawn, the Sun will be rising in the first Decan of Virgo.  The Decans are 10-degree windows within the larger system of the Zodiac.  Each decan is associated with one of the seven traditional planets, and the First Decan of Virgo is associated with the Sun.  It’s a good opportunity for magic and for poetry, and for the reënchantment of the world.  I’m ok with that.

And whenever these opportunities arise, I like to create poetry and artwork that matches the intent of the day. Except the first Decan of Virgo is confusing.  Some traditional sources say that it’s for prosperity and for a well-ordered diet; others say it’s bad for prosperity but good for developing one’s skills as an artisan; and still others say it’s great for business and trade but poor for farming; and some say it’s great for planting but not for harvesting. Some say it’s good for the relief of illness, and others say it’s great for destroying crops in the field or bringing about illness.  That’s a whole lot of width of opinion, and not a great deal of clarity.


Thomas Taylor, in the Orphic Hymns translation he did in the 1770s, says that the Sun is the “foe to the wicked, but the good man’s guide”.  And the nature of Virgo is earthy, cold, barren, nocturnal, and feminine.  It’s also sort of bookish but feeling, being associated with both libraries as a place and an idea, and with the bowels and guts, and with Mercury.

So what do we say about a region of the sky associated with the Sun, but also under the general guidance of Virgo and Mercury.  Sounds sort of intellectual, staying up late at night, working out answers to difficult questions, dedicated to the mind but also trusting gut reactions.  I don’t know if I’m thinking about this entirely correctly, but this is how I’m going about reconciling these things.  And now I have a bit of a sense of how to go about constructing a poem in honor of the first Decan:

Some call “Zamendres!” and some “Atrax, hail!”
to greet thee, the lord of Virgo’s first third:
Some will shout in triumph, and some will wail
at their misfortune. Yet as a small bird
will trust in its wings rather than the twig,
so do we intone this supplication
and ask for thy help in earthly labors.
Preserve the harvest, and ripen the fig;
feed our bellies with healthy collation,
and prosper this household, and our neighbors.

Steady the chisel, and keep the saw sharp;
tend to the eye, and hand, and cunning brain
that hammers steel, carves wood, or plays the harp,
and guard us from unnecessary pain.
With coriander, and sandalwood smoke,
and saffron pulverized with verdant gall,
we banish diseases from our bellies.
Help us remember the seed-slinging bloke
and the fine-looking woman whose clothes all
need repair, from her hat to her wellies.

Send the African to help with our tools,
whose subtlety and skill respect few bounds;
and also the scribe, who tutors such fools
in grammar, until their language astounds
even the wise. Shower us with success,
great Zamendres, and shield us from such ills
as may be in your power to impose;
and in this hymn we ever shall confess
the grace you send us, which Spirit distills
in you, and from your bounty overflows.

I think that works.  It touches on many of the themes of the First Decan of Virgo, it asks for assistance with the positive, and the blocking or the lessening of the negative, and it offers, or mentions, supplication and veneration and offerings in exchange.  It’s a way of attracting the notice and the attention of the spirit in question.  It’s also reasonably in line with some of the other work (some artistic, some poetic) that I’ve done with some of the other decans: the First Decan of Aquarius, the Second Decan of Cancer, and the Second Decan of Libra. For the Second Decan of Cancer, I wrote a sonnet rather than this 3-verse ode, but I think in the long run that I’d like to write a sonnet and ode for each of the Decans… 2 x 36 = 72 poems…? I can do that, right? Add in a sonnet and an ode for the twenty-eight Mansions of the Moon… 2×28 =56 poems… Hey, look at that! I’m already on track for my next major poetry project.  Hah!

Since I’m thinking about it, I suppose I can write the sonnet for the First Decan of Virgo now.  I mean, if the opportunity is there, one should take it, right? Here we go:

Myrtle and sandalwood, and floral crown,
adorn you, Virgo, in your sunny grove:
Rose and heliotrope we scatter down
before your feet, and neroli and clove
perfume the air around your empty jar.
For sowing and planting, and gathered wealth
harvested from earth, and sought from afar;
for well-made food, and intestinal health,
we ask your generous kindness and grace.
For as the Sun rains beams of blesséd light
on the just, and the cruel, tanning each face —
accept our praises and gifts with delight.
Then, as the bounty of your virtue flows,
share much of your goods, and few of your woes.

What do you think? Useful? Not?

I note, as well, that Mr. White of Rune Soup has pointed out that this time of year is a common time for prayers and praise to flow to various canine-headed saints and spirits, for protection from plague and illness.  Deb has written about her work with St. Guinefort, too, which is comforting.  “Atrax” appears to be an intestinal plague-giver, based on my readings from Mr. Christopher Warnock, and that he’s asked to turn aside plagues from practitioners, but also to call it down on malefactors.  Hence the concern here in the second decan of Virgo with good diet and well-ordered eating (including hacking the pie hole, Gordon?), but also the turning aside of illness and long-term disease.

Tai Chi Y3D161: “Buddha’s Twist”

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I don’t actually know what today’s movement is called.  I’ve been calling it “Buddha’s Twist” for a long time, since I forgot its real name.  Essentially, from the end of the single whip which comes immediately beforehand, one steps with the right foot, bringing the spiked-right-hand around.  The hand strikes sideways, using the force build up along the thumb-and-forefinger of the right hand.  It’s this cool wind-up strike which uses the whole body from left foot around to the fingertips of the right hand to deliver a blow, and it moves you forward (or backward!) by a radius of your whole body.

As single whip ends, your weight’s on the left,
and your left arm’s out in front, swift to strike,
thumb and first finger open like a cleft —
but bent at the elbow, to block as you like.
Lift the right foot, and swing it to the front:
your right arm’s straight, with your fingers all hooked.
The thumb-side of the hand will bear the brunt
of the blow you’ll land: it goes where you looked,
somewhere in front of your outstretched left hand.
Your whole body swings in this single step.
to commit a blow of surprising strength.
Do you need to stop short? Let the foot drop
and seek your balance at a shorter length.
Recall that bent knees will strengthen your stance,
and keep your spine tuned to gravity’s dance.

I do want to write about what else is going on. The tai chi form this morning was fine. That was the easy part.  However, during the qi gong maneuvers, I kept finding that my body was getting all sweaty and hot from this work.  Now, on the one hand, part of this is that it IS hot here this week.  Hard for it not to be uncomfortable and sweaty. But part of it also seems to be that I’ve developed myself through these forms enough that new muscle groups are taking over.  When I do the two spine-twisting exercises, Bend the Bow, and Bend the Bow to Shoot the Hawk, I find that my oblique muscles are getting into the act much more regularly without my specifically engaging them.  Good.

Push-ups. Today I could barely do 10, much less 20.  I did three, and then I stopped. I did two, and then I stopped. I did one. And then I stopped. I did two, and stopped.  I did two more, and I stopped. So that was bad.  But, and this was sort of exciting, those first three were nose-to-the-floor push-ups. Gold standard. When I started, I couldn’t do any of them. And I haven’t really tried since then.  But now, three at once.  Keep moving forward, right?

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