Tai Chi Y3D366: The work and the world

Today marks three years-ish. There’s been three days added because of the year-and-a-day thing, and five-ish days because I don’t count too good.  The last year produced a poem, a day at a time, and a tremendous amount of change in other parts of my life, with poetry and other magics, too — because nothing I accomplish is done without some magic.

For all of that, today’s practice was “nothing special”.  I did Five Golden Coins, and then Eight Pieces of Silk. In both qi gong forms, I was able to move through water, and keep the footwork clean (such as the footwork is in two flowing forms where the feet don’t move at all).  Breathwork was OK, but I still need to practice inverse breathing.

And then the form, twice.

Increasingly, Tai Chi is part of the background of my life.  I get up in the morning, I do tai chi, and then I go about my day. The day is usually incredibly crazy. But it’s also pretty normal and ordinary.  I do what most people do in my profession.  I coach from the side, I sagely talk from the stage, I move classroom-to-classroom through a schedule, sometimes to teach Latin, and sometimes computer science, and sometimes carpentry or game design or technical skills or weaving.

But underlying all of that is tai chi, now.  Three years of work, and I’m having a hard time imagining going back to feeling the way I did before I started, or even in the first few months, or near the end of the first year.  The last few months have been hard, in some ways, but they’ve been invigorating too.

Today, I was doing great at moving through water.  My footwork sucked — from the side, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Not ideal.  From the front, you probably could have pulled me over with a gentle grab.  Lots of room for improvement (Genuine room for improvement, too, not just me saying that so that I have something to say on the last day of year three). Breathwork? Fine for natural breathing, not too good for the formal inverse-breath which Dr. Yang recommended.

Room for improvement.

How can one practice something for three years, daily, and still be so bad at it?  I mean, at some point one should get better at it, right? And not always feel like one’s practice is on the verge of collapse? Or, as though a single encounter with the wrong person would show you that you’d been practicing your martial art incorrectly for years?

But maybe that’s the point, though.

The body is always changing. The body is always at different places in its stress-injury-healing-relaxation-recovery-health cycles.  Some things may be working fine, and others… not so fine.  We engage with a practice like tai chi, and it teaches us things — things about our relative health level, about our relative strength and flexibility, about our mortality.  One day is not, in specifics, much like any other. But there’s a pattern and flow to the day-after-day movement, and gradually it pervades one’s being. It’s hard to escape the thought processes, or the urgency which requires an early-morning rise from the bed to the working space.

And so the work continues, day in and day out, with a combination of bittersweet pleasure that the tai chi practice continues, and that it will always be gloriously inadequate, incrementally and asymptotically improved while never quite achieving perfection.

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  1. Goodness, Andrew, I miss a few days, and look what happens! 🙂 Deep, heart-felt congratulations on this milepost!

  2. Interesting that you’re experiencing some change in your practice right now, and so is my “club.” Yesterday we changed our position in the group, which we’ve tried before (facing a different direction or changing our positions relative to each other, which ended in complete chaos). Yesterday we went through the form three times, each time changing where we stood, and at the end we were all excited about how the change in the energy was wonderful and beneficial. We suddenly all felt like individuals practicing together, instead of, how can I say, a group which kind of leaned on each other and worked off each other in a different way. BTW I’ve been practicing T’ai Chi with these friends for just over three years. 🙂

    • Funny, that. Maybe three years is a major turning point. But we wouldn’t know, would we? — we’ve only our own experience to work from!

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