Tai Chi Y2D344: And the retraction? Where is that?

First things first: a year ago, I was writing about Ke$sha’s “Dance like we’re gonna die young”, and a painting of the Moon sign.  And I noted that tai chi is in large measure about keeping up with the work, and doing it every day: “If you’re not painting, you’re not learning how to paint.”  If you’re not doing tai chi, you’re not learning how to do tai chi better.  Persistence turns out to be important.  And six months ago, on tai chi day 64 of year two, I was writing about how to slow down, and how to practice. Seems to be a common theme at the six-month mark of any cycle.  Frustration with things not going well, and self-talk to encourage more careful practice!  And when I look at day 64 for the first year… well.  I wasn’t quite in my right mind at that hour of the morning, maybe.  But it’s a good idea to do errands in stacks, sometimes.

But coming back to this morning’s insight… yesterday I commented about how the pull of an action doesn’t necessarily start where you think it does, but that it’s important to figure out where it starts from, and pull from there.  Today, as I was starting up Five Golden Coins, I realized that in fact this is doubly true: it not only matters where the start of the action begins, but also how it is unwrapped or undone down to the starting position of the next action.

For example, there’s an action in Eight Pieces of Silk.  It’s the first action.  The body starts in horse stance, the arms rise up into the air like wings, the legs are unbent slightly, and then the body rises into the air as weight is transferred from a flat foot to the balls of the feet and to the toes.

When the movement begins, it’s all in the flanks between the arms and the hips, and then spreads up to the shoulders and the arms.  But how does it unfold back to horse stance.  Here, does it begin in the fingertips, work down through the hands, along the arms from wrist to shoulder, down into the spine and the lower back?  Or does it unfold from the muscles in the feet and calves that are supporting the heels in the air and off the ground?  Does it then flow up the body, bringing the hips and thighs back into horse stance before pulling along the spine to the shoulders, drawing the hands back down out of the air to the level of the waist?

I tried this, and a few other postures, this morning, thinking not only about the pull used to reach the posture, but also the pull that is used to undo the posture. And I have to admit, there’s a lot here that I’m quite unsure of.  It’s strange that after nearly two years of this, I can uncover new mysteries in the form. But at the same time, I suspect that’s normal.  My tai chi teacher didn’t move or stand or act in any way like anyone else that I’d ever met.  Maybe now, two years in, I’m finally ready to start learning why and how that might be.

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