First things first: My friend and colleague Marek Beck is applying to the Google teacher Academy this year. They only take fifty applicants internationally, so it’s a long-shot, but one he’s willing to take. If you have a minute (literally a minute), watch his YouTube video which is part of his application.
Right, on to the Tai Chi: Today is day 97 of the second year — rapidly approaching the 100-day mark. Slowly. Yesterday during my practice, I realized that if I’m genuinely going to advance in this art, I really have to slow down. And slow down a LOT. I have a tendency to rush through the form, especially when school is in session, because I’m usually tired from the night before grading papers or planning classes, and getting up way too early, and so on. Right now, it’s not the case: I have the summer mornings to go at my own pace, be very deliberate about my tai chi, and really learn to slow down the pace. This will intensify my practice in a lot of good ways. Here goes!
Of course, today sucked. How could it not? With a day like today, with high expectations beginning, of course the run-through was less than ideal. The two qi gong forms I do were fine, of course — but they weren’t the ones under the microscope. It was the tai chi form — the one being most closely examined here — that had problems.
Call it Putrefaction— the act of deliberately rotting something. If you think I’m making an alchemical reference, you’d be right. Without deliberately holding the work I’m doing as unworthy, there’s no way it’s going to get better. And it’s part of the reason I did the tai chi form twice this morning — more time, more practice, more catching of errors, more deliberate effort to fix what’s wrong.
This is the Black Work, another alchemical reference. What has already been, must be broken down, or dissolved, in order to find what’s good and remove the bad from it. Good and bad are not necessarily the “good” and “evil” of Scripture here, because this is tai chi. No, it’s more like what’s “useless” and what’s “unuseless” or perhaps even what’s “skillful” and “not skillful”. There’s a lot of both in this work, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other.
I can break my form into a few basic parts:
- From Opening through Stand Like Tree up to Spread Hands Like Fan
- From Throat Strike through Golden Pheasant Stands up to Heel Kick
- From Roll Back through Cloud Hands up to Fair Lady Works Shuttles 4
- From Ward Off Left through Bend the Bow up to the True Close.
There’s a few maneuvers in each section; Section 1 in this list is the longest in terms of the number of actual moves, but it’s the section I can perform most slowly, and with the most attention to details like breathwork and chi. Section 2 is the hardest for me to keep at a slow speed on, because it involves lifting my feet off the floor and balancing and spinning and so on; things that are not easy for a guy of my size. Section 3 is easy for me to do at speed when I practice it solo; but when I’m coming off the crazy bits of section 2, it’s easy to keep going on a roll. So I have to remember to slow down at the roll back at the start of this section of work. Section 4 is also challenging, because by this point, I want to finish. It’s also the section that has the fewest moves in it.
So, based on this list, I really need to concentrate my efforts on sections 2, 3, and 4 for a while. This is putrefaction — deliberately casting down what work has been done before, and letting it rot. In astrological terms, it’s letting Saturn take over for a while. In schooling, it’s turning over work to be critiqued by a teacher (and taking crap for it). It’s breaking down what’s been offered and finding out if anything worthwhile is hiding within.
I don’t doubt that there’s value in the work I’ve already done. But it’s time to shake up that work a bit, and find out where it can be further refined.