Tai Chi Y3D166: Spiral Single Whip

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!

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