I had some errors in today’s tai chi. The continued tiredness in the mornings is continuing, and I found I made some significant missteps in the work today. Right after the second playing pipah, there’s a pause and then grab the needle at the sea-bottom, but today I did that after the first instance of playing pipah. It’s a small differences but that causes a kiss later in near the end, I was almost a yard west of my starting position at the closing position at the end of the form. In other words, errors accumulate.
4 December 2013
25 November 2013
This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve done tai chi in this room. And I’ve just realized that the floor is sloped. Subtly, to be sure. The southwest corner, by the back door, is considerably higher than the arch into the living room in the northeast. It was odd to discover that this put unusual pressures onto my form-work today.
I made the discovery because I was doing a lot with the Three Nails today. I heard about the Three Nails from my teacher, who learned it from William C. C. Chen in New York. Basically, the idea is that the feet each have three nails going down into the floor, or the ground, or whatever surface you’re standing on: the ball of the big toe, the ball of the foot, and the heel. These Three Nails serve as the anchoring point of the body. If those three nails aren’t planted, an opponent can move you. If they are, opponents have to rely on force to move you — and that force is a power you can use against them.
So far so good.
But feet should still move place to place using Light to Heavy: that is, the foot glides to its new location gently, with no weight from the body backing it up. Then the heel is pressed into place, and then the ball of the foot, and then the toes. This flattens and widens the foot, and presses it into position, and plants the Three Nails firmly, before the other foot moves.
Sometimes, though, it needs to go in the other direction: first toes, then ball of foot, then heel. Or first ball of foot, then heel and toe, or toe and heel. You get the idea: the movement you’re coming from, and the posture into which you’re moving, help to determine which order the Three Nails get planted.
Back to the “slanted floor problem”. So… I kept noticing that I was planting my feet, and yet I was having to work harder to plant toes than heel; or that I was pushing my heel down harder than my toes, yet I was in contact with the floor. During White Crane Spreads Wings, my rit foot was more heavily pressed down than my left foot, and my hips weren’t parallel to the floor. I actually started the form again, I was so surprised by this set of effects… And then I discovered that the floor was sloped. Oh. Sometimes it’s not me that’s doing things wrong. Sometimes the environment is wrong.
That inspired a new realization, of course. Neither I nor the floor are “wrong” per se: we just are as we are. The house and the room and the floor are all doing their usual dance with gravity. So am I. So is every living thing. And this causes us to adapt to our envoroment, as our environment changes and challenges us, too. It’s a dance. Everything does tai chi. It’s juste at some of us are more aware of doing it than others.
24 November 2013
Is it bad that I have no idea what to write? I mean, “Ok, I’ve been writing about the same subject for 620 days… at what point does it get boring?”
Is it bad that I can’t put my palms flat on the floor any more? Is it good that my joints don’t hurt any more? Is it bad that I haven’t lost much weight? Is it good that I’ve sort of changed shape? Is it bad that I’m still struggling to adopt the dietary habits that appear to support the tai chi regimen I’m carrying out? Is it good that my overall health seems to have improved substantially?
It just is.
I think that’s something of the point, really. It just is. Somewhere in the last month or so, I’ve shifted from doing tai chi because I committed to it, to doing it because it’s just what I do. I’m not sure I can identify where that shift occurred, nor can I confirm that I’ll always feel this way; but I know that there’s something about it which calls to me now, and urges me to do the work no matter how long I laze around in bed, nor how much I try to put it off. It’s time, the form calls to me, and it’s time to do the work. It’s doing me, now, rather than the other way around.
12 November 2013
The sleeves of this robe/tunic/shirt thing I made yesterday don’t have enough stretch in the armholes for a really long reach upward without tugging the jacket upward. So there’s fault #1. Fault #2 is that I sewed the thing with the wrong colors of thread, so the seams really stand out in bright light. Whoops. Fault #2. And I could have been more careful with the seams and hems. Fault #3.
But you know what? The ‘Chinese’ sleeves on this are awesome. What do I mean by that? Long ago, I had a Chinese-style martial arts tunic — black with white frog-closures down the front, and white counterfacing on the sleeves. It was awesome to do tai chi in, because the garment signaled to you when your arms were at the right height during ward-off left and ward-off right, and other arm movements. How? Because opening for the hand at the end of the sleeve just hung a certain way, and your arm slid through the sleeve a certain way. It just looked right. And it felt right.
And this tunic has exactly the same drape. Well, not exactly the same drape. The vertical reaches are not ideal. But the horizontal reaches are, or are as close to ideal as an amateur tailor like me is likely to get. It’s nice. It’s better than nice. The cut of the jacket helped me focus enough to cause a 12-minute tai chi routine to slow down to about 27 minutes… better than a 2-to-1 ratio of speed decrease. And largely by paying attention to the way the tunic moved on me. Just having the belt on my waist, as opposed to my hips, was a huge benefit: “Oh, here’s where the twist is supposed to be!”
Jason Miller has a recent piece about DIY sorcery up, and he points out the counterargument to DIY, which is the value of working within a tradition. Maybe I was too harsh on him in my follow-up comment: it turns out that sometimes the right clothing can make working within the tradition much easier. I wonder if I should get a traditional tunic for my tai chi?
11 November 2013
I woke up late this morning, and I had a project that had to be done by 10am, so I postponed tai chi until late this afternoon. I’d set aside a block of time, too, to work on a different project, and I wanted to be able to do t’ai chi after that was done.
So I got my morning activity done, and my afternoon project done, and I was able to do something new with my tai chi form as a result:
Today, I did tai chi in a robe (or tunic, or jacket… the jury’s out on what, exactly, it is) that I made myself. That’s me at the left, looking a little oddly at the camera in part because I’m holding it at arm’s length, and partly because my glasses have slipped a bit off my face, and partly because I’m using the wrong side of the camera. But that blue/black jacket I’m wearing? That’s the work of my (borrowed) sewing machine, and my growing skills as a garment-sewer. For those who want to make their own, it’s Simplicity Pattern #5840, Tunic D. I can’t say that I recommend it for tai chi, though, alas — it’s primarily a costume piece, I think. As a result, rather than being suitable for martial arts, it rides up the body during the skyward-stretching exercises, and it hangs weirdly while bending over to touch earth.
Other than that, though, it was a good practice. I was wearing clothes I’d made myself, I was going through the tai chi form I had practiced for more than six hundred days, and I was marking a day of private creativity while away from school. There’s food cooking in the kitchen, and there’s going to be a great dinner in a little while, and I have a nice evening of grading papers and getting ready for school planned. In other words, all is right with the world. What’s not to like?
10 November 2013
Yesterday I spent about four hours in the car, driving back and forth to a memorial service. And I sat at the memorial service for maybe an hour, and then stood in more or less one place for maybe another two hours. That was my day.
Needful and important, yes. The deceased was a good man, a loving husband, a light, and a great teacher. He needed people in attendance at his funeral, so that he could be honored and remembered and sent on to whatever comes next. I will miss him greatly, and I’m sorry I didn’t come to know him better in his relatively short life.
Healthy for the body, no. I was stiff and sore today, and parts of me that usually move easily… Didn’t. That much sitting — in the car, in the memorial service, standing around the hall afterwards — locked me up and tightened me up quite a bit. I was also exhausted from the previous night, and I wasn’t able to get around much when I got home. Alas.
It was a powerful reminder that it does not take much to get us weak and unable to move. Too much inactivity can stiffen us and affect us a lot. Keep moving, every day.
9 November 2013
I was out pretty late last night. Like, so late it might be classified as morning. And yet at 6:00am, I felt my eyes pop open. And a short while later, I was doing tai chi, “shambling mound” style, in a state of utter exhaustion.it was all I could do to not fall over. I was swinging my arms and moving my body as if I were half asleep, and my eyes were slotted shut for most of the form. And then I went back to bed for a little while.
This isn’t a form practice I’d like to repeat anytime soon. Yet when the appointed hour for my tai chi experience arrived, I couldn’t not do it. My body experienced a visceral need to perform the form, before it would let me sleep again. And so I did the work.
5 November 2013
Today I could put my hands flat on the floor for abut half of the ‘toe-touching’ exercises like join Earth and Heaven. This is not as good as doing so for all of them, but it’s better than yesterday’s ‘can’t do it at all’. The body is opening up to this possibility, not fully open yet.
But of course, if I wasn’t trying to achieve this ‘palms on the floor’ posture, it wouldn’t be happening at all. The body is opening, not open yet. So it’s only partially ready, not yet complete.
I think of all the other ways I’d like to open the body — as a tailor or a musician, as a dancer, as an athlete (all things that require the body to move in practiced deliberate ways) — and I realize this is a gradual unfolding, toward greater competence and greater skillfulness. But it begins with practice, every day, whether one needs it or not. Because what we want, be it musical or athletic skill, begins with doing something a little bit better tomorrow than today.
4 November 2013
Today marks six hundred days of tai chi. I did a year and a day the first time around, that’s 366 days. And when you add 234 to that, well…. Six hundred. I have 132 days left until the end of year two. Feels like a milestone. Not the end of a journey, but a way post. Or a sign.
A fairly typical practice day. Sometimes I could put my hands on the floor. Sometimes I couldn’t. One of my spins was great. One of them wasn’t. I went to fast at the start of the form. Slowed down. Did the middle part at the right speed, then panicked and went fast near the end. It’s ok. Progress not perfection. The spine twists were awesome.
And this is just what I do, now. It’s part of me. Part of the way I go about my day. It’s not my home yet, but I have a permanent residency card.
31 October 2013
Sometimes done is enough. There doesn’t have to be this elaborate discussion of what or why or when or how. There doesn’t have to be minute analysis of what went wrong or right. Sometimes there just has to be the completion of the work for the day. Done is done. If you did it, you’re doing all right. I did my work for the day. Have you? What’s holding you back?