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Daryl of Barbaria

Daryl of Barbaria: Dabbling in the "Grand Ultimate" Once Again

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Not much has changed since the last challenge, except that I'm not really feeling the urge to continue running. I had some problems with the right foot, hip, lower back, etc. It seems to be resolving on its own, but I'm just not feeling strongly about the running thing again. No biggy. Time for something new, or rather, something old. I've decided to get back into the habit of tai chi practice (tai chi chuan roughly translating to "grand ultimate fist," hence the title). I've slowly worked my way through the form, as I remember it, over these past few days. I've found it quite enjoyable. So that's going to be my replacement for running. Let's face it...it's suits me better. :cocksure:

 

The challenge basically consists of the newfound activity, tai chi, practiced at least four times per week, as well as the old activity of daily meditation. That's it, all there is to it. Tai chi 4x/week, and daily meditation. We'll see how it goes. This challenge is as much experimentation as a furthering of skills.

 

And now for a little classic Jet Li tai chi action. 

 

 

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Yesterday was my first official tai chi effort of the challenge. I found a nice wooded area of a park, which was actually part of a disc golf course, but since it was near sunset there was no one around. The way I like it. I don't feel very people-y when I practice my stuff. The practice was good. I feel like I'm relearning the movements and most importantly, relearning how to do them without being hard on my knees (this became an issue for a while last spring). What's important for me is to listen to my body, and not subscribe to any one doctrine, other than the one I create for myself. I aim to keep my tai chi practice a solo experience for now, as I have come to the understanding that anytime you join martial arts class, you are subjected to some form of doctrine. It's not necessarily an intentionally subversive thing, but it is always there. It's just the way of some things. Classes are run by instructors, and instructors will almost always subscribe to one particular school of thought or doctrine on the matter. I would probably look more favorable on it if martial arts classes where like taking courses in the pursuit of a college degree, where one is exposed to many different subjects, specialties of subjects, instructors, and viewpoints, all in the process of gaining that degree. But martial arts classes tend not to work that way. You are generally not encouraged to take a variety of classes with a variety of instructors. Now there are exceptions of course, but they are rare. 

 

Anyway, I had better cut this off before this really becomes an epic rant. Long story short...the challenge is off to a good start. I aim to do my tai chi on Tues, Thurs, Sat, and Sun each week, while doing my meditation daily. And I will likely do little qigong and stretching exercises on the non-tai chi days, to keep limber and energized.

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So I missed my tai chi session yesterday, as my time and efforts were reallocated to a plumbing issue. Luckily, with that issue now resolved, I was able to get my tai chi practice in today, just after work. I must say, the weather for it was perfect. I nice, cool fall day. Now I just have to practice tai chi Saturday and Sunday, and I will have met my goal for the first week.

 

I recently looked until the Sun style of Tai Chi. Specifically, the Sun 73 form. I like it. I think I really like it. Learning this form may wind up as a future goal. Now it's not a very popular form, and I don't think I've ever heard of an instructor anywhere around where I live. So that means it will be a lot of self-training. But self-training suits me fine, as I am naturally a detail-oriented person when it comes to this stuff, but I also don't get all bend out of shape about lineages and following doctrine to the letter and such. I think starting with an instructional DVD will do me just fine. Fortunately, such a DVD exists (by Dr. Paul Lam), and appears to be highly rated.

 

That said, I'm realizing I've somewhat neglected my woodworking and bushcraft stuff as of late. I've been meaning to start that Chumash-style rock sling for a week now, and start carving...something. I think this will be the weekend for it.

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Forth day of tai chi is is the books, so that's a successful first week in the books.

 

I also managed to a little wood carving today. It was a modest amount, but still a good start to a new project. And this is something I never want to rush.

 

Lastly, I pulled out the tomahawk target and throwing hawks today. I'm glad I still haven't lost my hawk throwing touch. For much of the summer I was practicing daily, but now things are a bit crazy and this just isn't always possible. And I've been taking inventory of other weapon-related and wood-working related items I have (the two often go hand-in-hand), and I'm leaning towards doing some staff work. I recently acquired a new book on the fighting staff for a good price, as well as a six foot pole that will suffice as a short quarterstaff for now (ideally a quarterstaff should be longer than six foot, and certainly not made of pine...modest beginnings). Eventually I'll get some proper equipment.

 

I still haven't started the new sling. It will come in time. I still have my para-cord sling though, so I can get in plenty of rock-throwing action when the mood hits me.

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Week 2 has started out alright. I got my tai chi practice and meditation in last night, though much later than I prefer. Still, practice is practice.

 

I also continue to look at my further options for tai chi self-training. As I mentioned before, staff training and Sun-style training are viable options. I've also come across some decent looking self study courses (books and videos) for something called "compact tai chi" and "8 immortal flute." It's nice to have so many options.

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Today I had an extremely satisfying outdoor tai chi practice. I went to a park that I have started visiting frequently, as it generally has few people around towards the evening. It's mostly open field with ball fields in the middle, but along one bit of the disc gold course it gets quite wooded along the river. That is my little refuge. It has nice oaks, and small clearings that are good for secluded tai chi practice.

 

As interested as I am in all the other training options I can branch out in (weapons forms, different hand forms), tonight's practice reminded me that I can still go so much deeper with the 24 form I am currently practicing, that in the grand scheme of things I have barely scratched the surface.

 

It's something to meditate on. And keep practicing.

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Today I substituted my tai chi practice with qigong practice. I've decided to learn the Baduanjin or Eight Pieces of Brocade qigong. I have a book on it, there are lots of videos out there for it (many for free), and I think it will be a good substitute for tai chi when I must stay indoors or just don't have the energy to do the stepping movements of tai chi (like today...some shoveling and heavy lifting earlier in the day took it out of me). Hopefully tomorrow I can get through the tai chi 24 form again, maybe augmented with some qigong for good measure.

 

And then of course there will always be the trusty quarterstaff. It's currently in the basement, soaking up a coat of boiled linseed oil (BLO). It might be ready to go tomorrow evening.

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So it seems I continue to neglect my tai chi practice now, in favor of the Baduanjin qigong and fighting staff drills. Swinging a stick around is kind of addicting, and the qigong just hits all the right spots, with far less complexity than tai chi. I'd like to say I'll get back into the tai chi again, when I wander out into my usual woods tomorrow. But there is a good chance I'll be bringing my pine pole instead (It's just a walking stick, I swear), and finding something exciting to do with it. I guess we'll just see what inspires me when the time comes.

 

On a side note, some jackass has vandalized my truck, slashing all four tires as it was parked in front of my house. My zen is disturbed, though only mildly so. Thankfully it's not the only vehicle we have. Still, such things always concern me. Not just for the usual reasons. As someone who has worked as a probation officer for ten years now, I kind of have to assume I am being deliberately targeted, and take additional precautions. The list of suspects with possible motives is unfortunately long.

 

I have chosen a very interesting career. Wouldn't change it for the world though.

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On Thursday I finally managed to do some tai chi. It was good. However, I'm still feeling like I'm getting more from the Baduanjin qigong right now, especially when I combine it with some quarterstaff practice. The qigong does everything the tai chi does, but in a simpler what that takes of less space, and doesn't involve the couple of someone uncomfortable moves in the tai chi form. And the quarterstaff, depending on the intensity I choose, gives me the faster heart-rate and cortisol-burning streak I often need, that tai chi doesn't.

 

Over the weekend I've take a few more steps to further my new quarterstaff training plan. First, I replaced the old "pine pole" with a couple of poplar poles. The poplar still isn't an ideal "combat-worth" staff, but I don't need to be. I'm in the early stages of training here. But it is a lot stronger and heavier than the pine, so it will give a better workout. Also more durable. Secondly, I found a decent video on Amazon Prime for the "Jang Bong," the Korean martial arts take on the bo or quarterstaff. The video has some basic routines, including three patterns, or what I like to think of as kata (being a long-time Shotokan karate guy). I think a kata is what I was really lacking for my continued staff training. Something structured, standard, to practice over and over to get stronger and more fluid in my motions, and to find a sort of moving zen.

 

I finally got the sequence down for the first Jang Bong pattern, and played around with it in the backyard. It definitely started working my spindly little arms in no time. Hopefully this will be a good, fun way to strengthen my upper body as I continue to play with it.

 

So as I continue on with this challenge, it's looking more and more like tai chi will be supplanted by qigong and quarterstaff. That's ok. As will all my challenges, it is a work in progress.

 

As for the meditation, I continue to practice this every day. I now hope to make the daily meditation into the 14 - 15 minute range for each sitting. I recently managed 21 minutes not too long ago, but that was a one-time thing. Step back a bit, aim for consistency, rather than stand-alone marathon sessions.

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I learned a lot this challenge. First of all, as cool as tai chi is, it isn't the "grand ultimate" for me. Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty cool. But it isn't ideal as the basis for my fitness/ self-care. By the end of the challenge I had fully replaced tai chi with a combination of qigong (such as 8 brocades or swimming dragon) and practice with my newfound "fighting staff" routine. The staff can become quite a workout. It's lightweight when held stationary, but because quite the resistance device when swinging it around rapidly as one would in the combat arts. I feel I'm once again finding my "martial zen" with it, much like I did when I was regularly involved in karate. Plus this is rather new and exciting, and quite fun to develop the skills on my own, as I've never had much in the way of formal training in martial arts weapons. 

 

And of course the daily meditation was absolutely crucial. I'm trying to meditate for longer now, 14 - 15 minutes at a time (not always successfully), and really trying to get more out of my practice rather than just "going through the motions." Emptying oneself is truly challenging. But worth every effort spend.

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