I did tai chi this morning in the wet grass and the early cool air, watching the sun come up through trees that are no longer quite green. The weather is changing. The evenings are getting cool, the days are not quite as warm, and the plant life is starting to look a little less lively. This part of the world is definitely feeling like waning-summer, oncoming-autumn.

School starts Tuesday.

Today’s tai chi was slow enough for my tastes, but confused. Several times I found myself coming out of a familiar stance, but facing an unfamiliar direction. I must have done the Golden Pheasant sequence five or six times before figuring out where I went wrong; I did the Fair Lady sequence twice before I came out facing the right direction for the final movements.

Why should it matter at all what direction I’m facing, though? What’s the point? I think part of it is knowing and feeling intuitively where you are in a given space, and knowing where the real and imaginary opponents are standing. Remember, this is a martial art, after all: I’m not practicing for the sake of practice alone or to move my body and stretch my fasciae. I’m practicing in order to face down a potential threat, and to learn how to manage the combination of internal and external stresses encountered while trying to survive.

Because of this, knowing where a given movement will take me becomes important. It’s about cultivating situational awareness: “use Snake creeps down here, because it won’t change your stance to this one opponent” vs. “use strike the ear because it will carry you toward this opponent and away from this other one behind you” vs. “use fair lady works the shuttles because it will carry you toward your three likely opponents in turn, but also away from them.”

So directionality becomes important. Where we begin, where we end up, how we move through the movements, where they carry us and how they face us, and where they end us pointing, all become part of the magistry of the work. And so it’s worth noting when you’re not facing the right direction. And working out why you’re not where you’re supposed to be.