Tai Chi Y3D324: Debate

We won our debate club’s moot court qualifying round on Thursday evening. Did I tell you all that already?  It felt like a tai chi moment — a number of things that we did caused our opponents to overreact; a number of things that they did, we let slip by us and not affect us.  In the end, we were standing, and they were not.  All in all, I’m not sure it was anything we did that brought our victory; so much as what they didn’t do, that brought us our victory.

Although as I told my debate team last night, “Now that the qualifying round are done, all of the weakest competitors are out of the game.  The ones who didn’t commit any obvious fouls, The ones who didn’t stumble over their words, the ones who knew how to introduce a piece of evidence correctly (as we didn’t, on at least one occasion but we weren’t called on it), the ones who didn’t need notes to remember who they were and what they needed to say.  All of those competitors are gone. And we will be too in the next round if we don’t step up our game.” And so we discussed what that looked like — introducing a new piece of evidence, calling out objectionable questions or answers, recognizing hearsay, and most importantly, using up all the time you have available.

Using up the available time. Topher will know what I’m talking about: I went to see a clown, Jeff Johnson, who was talking about improvisation. He pointed out that if you draw a line on the stage, real or imaginary, you can walk from one end of that line to another, and it won’t take very long. Maybe a minute. But then, as an improviser, he showed us how he could spend a total of 45 minutes walking from one end of the line to the other, never quite reaching the end of the line.  By the time the show was done, we’d forgotten entirely about the exercise he’d initially proposed — walking from one end of the line to the other.  And then he sat down in the chair on the end of the line, and it was a revelation.

And it occurs to me that I can do this. I can set an arbitrary time limit, like twenty minutes or thirty minutes, and just start the movements of my form.  I can do the form… and if I haven’t run out of time, I can keep going.  I can continue past the ending of the form, and continue to move, and continue to discover the boundaries and limits of the movements that are possible within tai chi.  I can flirt with putting the movements together in a different order than they are in the form.  And I don’t have to reach the end of the line when I’ve reached the Closing posture. I can open it up like an improv session, and play the tai chi equivalent of jazz riffs.

I didn’t do that today. But I think I will tomorrow.  It’ll be awesome. (I should add… I DID do tai chi today, but this thought didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write.)

8 comments

  1. The cloning technique is called ‘advancing’. Point out the objective and never get there. After all, its not the destination, its the journey.

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation. I don’t think I’ve ever read a single word about Tai Chi anywhere in English save for this blog, and I probably should if I’m going to study it without an English-speaking teacher, as I’m doing. So I’m happy for any recommendations you might have to offer!

  3. Ooh, very nice. All these things coming together–that is just exciting to see you describe. Thanks for sharing this and congratulations on the win.

    • Thanks. This may make more sense if I tell you that this past week was my first Druidic experience working with the realm that’s equivalent to the Tower tarot card. A lot of my ineffective magic came tumbling down this week; and a lot of the blockages caused by other peoples’ towers came tumbling down too. If they weren’t standing properly, this is the week they failed. Our most common objection during the Mock Trial? “Lack of Foundation.”

  4. Likening Tai Chi to jazz… now I *know* I picked the right day to restart Tai Chi! 😀

    I went for a sort of Tai Chi/English exchange with my Tai Chi-doing pal today. I printed out a copy of your poem for him, diagrams and all, and we did our best to follow it. We even started at sunrise (although the pigeons were already crying and the local equivalents of wrens were already chittering in the branches). It was freezing. I wore dance shoes that I’d used for a theatrical production some time back and weren’t fit for indoor use anymore. I thought it would be good for movement. Oh my goddess, they just soaked up dew like nobody’s business. What a terrible idea!

    As for the actual Tai Chi, we only went as far as the first two verses. The rest of the time was spent in teaching proper form, through the vehicle of properly held, taut but not tight, curved but not floppy, sinking shoulders, hanging down elbow, top of the head attached to a string from the heavens, tailbone straight down, back rounded like a bear’s back yet chest open, imagining little balls between every joint that I have, main focus on my dantien, secondary focus on my hands, etc etc etc– there’s a lot to remember, just standing there, forget about moving around! As probably you’ve heard other places but it was new to me, according to this friend of mine, the real old school method of learning Tai Chi involves just doing this standing meditation for an hour or more a day for three years straight. Before learning any movements at all. Crazy.

    But, I will be learning movements. However, this week’s practice, I will only be practicing the first two verses, and spending the bulk of my practice time in this standing Tai Chi meditation. So, assuming the current rate of practice, I should finish your entire poem in a little less than a year’s time. 🙂

    One interesting note which you may wish to verify on your own, and bear in mind if you ever go and do the second draft of those diagrams: according to my friend, the traditional default direction to start Tai Chi forms from is not east, but south.

    Congratulations on the win, by the way, and good luck in the next round!

    • As for the actual Tai Chi, we only went as far as the first two verses. The rest of the time was spent in teaching proper form, through the vehicle of properly held, taut but not tight, curved but not floppy, sinking shoulders, hanging down elbow, top of the head attached to a string from the heavens, tailbone straight down, back rounded like a bear’s back yet chest open, imagining little balls between every joint that I have, main focus on my dantien, secondary focus on my hands, etc etc etc– there’s a lot to remember, just standing there, forget about moving around!

      A lot of the book, The Way of Energy, is about exactly these things: learning how to stand so your energy is built up and strong and empowered, and not simply standing there like a block until someone attacks you.

      It doesn’t surprise me that you’re going to take a year to learn the form. As I recall, I went twice a week for six months, and I hadn’t learned it all yet; and then I went for another six months three times a week, and I’d learned it by then; but unevenly. Even today, there are parts where I don’t know what’s happening, quite; and I’ve had to finagle my way through a bit at a time.

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