I finally have the mental energy to write an entry. It is the final one for this semester as I prepare to finish our training and tests before going on winter break at the end of next week. I have been demanding a lot of myself physically and mentally with the training and not getting sufficient quality rest. I've also been dealing with a consistent nagging shoulder pain which hasn't completely healed. It has interfered with my training and has been an energy drain, too. Nevertheless, I have chosen to persist...
While I have been able to climb the vertical rope on several occasions this semester, my shoulder injury has prevented me from doing it consistently. I haven't gotten to the point where I can climb with speed safely. Therefore, I've chosen to forego that goal for this semester and postpone the effort to beat my previous climbing record until next semester when I'll have 6 months to do it.
The rainy season has finally started. With it has come colder mornings and nights. We now relegate most of our training indoors in the garage and gym. In spite of the rain and cold, I like walking the path between the main building and the gym without an umbrella. The trees along the way provide a good canopy from being drenched. One major drawback, however, is that the vertical climbing rope swells and becomes slick making it unsafe to climb with just my hands and arms.
Of the original six students that began the 3-Year Training Program in 2016, only two of us remain who will graduate next June. With only two of us to train, we've had to adjust our training to accommodate all of the other demands on our time. As a result, it's been an interesting and challenging semester in many other ways...
Midway through the semester, we were told we had to complete the Taiji Sword solo sequence by semester's end. Well, we recently finished the 54 sequence Taiji Sword routine! Now it will take us another 30 years to 'master' it and the sword applications...The Taiji Sword has become my favorite weapon for its grace, beauty, and deceptive power. Next week, when Dr. Yang returns from traveling to the Boston, we will have him check our form for corrections.
The various partner drills that we practice- stationary and stepping Pushing Hands, Yin-Yang Symbol, and Peng Lu Ji An have taken us from the world of solo practice into a dynamic sphere of interactions with another body in motion. The coordination of muscles, tendons, ligaments, skeletal structure, and breath required to correctly react/respond to an oncoming strike or kick while maintaining personal equilibrium is a fascinating experience.
Several weeks ago, we also were told we had to finish learning the entire Taijiquan Fighting Set by the end of the semester. I'm learning the defensive side of the set and my classmate is learning the offensive side. We are 3/4 of the way through it. Our goal is to finish it by Tuesday and have it checked for corrections by Dr. Yang before we depart next Saturday. Next semester, we'll switch roles and continue to refine the sequence. The objective is for us to know both the offensive and defensive roles of this choreographed fighting sequence in preparation for free-style sparring using Taijiquan principles.
My favorite math subject in High School was Geometry! I loved it. There is a saying in Chinese about the power of Taijiquan being able to use 4 ounces to deflect 1,000 pounds. While I had both an intellectual and experiential about this, it wasn't until I started practicing the Fighting Set that I gained a deeper appreciation for its meaning.
There have been moments; especially in the beginning stages of learning the sequence, when I literally felt stuck in place and unable to coordinate the proper and effective movement of my legs, torso, and arms. The beautiful thing is that one day after many, many repetitions with my classmate and then working alone with the heavy bag in the gym, it finally clicked for me. There is a moment when we make contact, call it a tangent that becomes an inflection point of departure or segue, that leads elegantly to the next movement(s) between us. Therein rests the power, beauty, and seductive mystery of this art for me. The ability to be so well coordinated and calm as to elegantly interact with an oncoming force with the timing to consciously and effortlessly neutralize it.
I have memories of doing something similar when I played street basketball and would use my defender's body, at just the right time, as the pivot point from which to make my next move toward the basket or to pass the ball to a teammate. Increasingly, I am embodying the clarity about the meaning and value of the first and thirteenth Taijiquan postures- Peng (Ward Off) and Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium). This experience of being a sphere in dynamic balance with an opponent makes more sense with every practice session we have in the Fighting Set. I'll have more to say about these ideas next semester...
Finally, I'll have Dr. Yang check my progress in the Taijiquan form (first chapter-22 movements) executed at medium speed. Although far from perfect, I've made progress with this. It was challenging to switch from my ingrained reflexes of doing the form at slow speed (4 minutes) to medium speed (40-60 seconds) and still maintain a root throughout the movements. The medium speed progression from slow speed is preparation to do the form with Jing (issuing power with velocity and a firm root without injuring yourself).
What became obvious to me about my form at medium speed earlier this semester was that I had habituated my movements in favor of my slow twitch muscle fibers. Trying to get all of this mass to move correctly at a faster pace while still being rooted proved to be challenging and highlighted several areas that needed focus. Most important among these was the weakness of my Psoas Muscles.
I did some research and implemented a daily program of hip flexor marches with Rubberbanditz latex bands (www.rubberbanditz.com) followed by squats and then back-to-back repetitions of the first chapter of the form. This strategy helped balance the power relationship between my glutes, sacrum and hip flexors and strengthened my ankles, knees, and hips/waist so that I could accelerate and be still be rooted rather than feeling like my body was ahead of itself and floating when doing the form at medium speed. Gradually, with other drills as well, I've gained the ability to use both my slow and fast twitch fibers in harmony with the joints to move quickly and have the connection from the soles of my feet up and through to my hands without any joint pain below my waist and with less leaning forward of my torso. The next phase will be to transfer this into moving at fast speed while issuing power...
I'm truly looking forward to being at home during the Holidays! I wish you and your families the very best for the season and the coming year. When I return, it will be for the final semester of this program. We graduate on June 22, 2019!!
Thank you for all of your encouragement and support!
Tenacity | Discipline | Diligence | Resilience | Confidence