Skip to main content

carrying the ball

Should you be Picky?

When I have a class of students  "carrying the ball" in the course of doing t'ai chi form,  I try to provide a hint about how to visualize the size of said ball, and say it's roughly soccer-ball size.  And I walk around the room, casting an approving or disapproving eye on the classs as they move from the first move into the second, bringing the the right hand over the left, an empty space between the two hands,  and begin to turn. Throughout the form, we'll carry the ball again and again, maybe a dozen times. But one student asks, why does it have to be that size? What if your ball is the size of an orange?

If your imaginary ball is that small, I want to say (but I hold myself back) it just isn't right.  

Her question though makes me feel suddenly a little cranky.  So I sit with that feeling and ultimately ask myself,  is being picky OK? What is my justification, when I tell students -- hold your arms out a little farther, raise your eyes and look straight ahead,  make sure your feet are in Santi.  Aside from the fact that "this is how I learned it" and that's not a good enough reason, deep down I have to confess, I'm really not sure.  

Until now.  I recently came across the best explanation I've yet seen about why the right size of the ball we "carry" matters. Why a soccer ball was explained brilliantly by an architect I know, a Roger Westerman, who writes about what it means to create a "holy" space.  Bear with me.  I haven't swung off onto a strange tangent.  

Roger writes...

a simple exercise will help define this term.  Put your hands just slightly apart, as if you were about to clap.  The narrow size between your hands is constrained.  Now, very slowly separate your hands farther.  When they are about four or five inches apart, you can see the proportions of space which define many of our Brownstone Brooklyn living rooms.  The ceiling is too high, and the rooms too long and narrow.  Not constrained,  but not "quiet" space.  Finally, when your hands are seven or eight inches can sense the air attaining a kind of mass, as if you are holding an invisible ball.  You have created a space which has a density, across which the fingertips and heels of both hands relate on the diagonal -- this is "quiet space." *

The inventors of this magical art of taiji were Taoist sages and martial artists working in monastery-type settings centuries ago in China, some believe as far back as the 12th century.  What forms they practiced, what the movements looked like -- with the absence of Youtube or even illustrated texts -- all these details are shrouded in the mists of time.  But as these things always happen, distinct schools of thought split off from the original.  Three schools, actually, of taiji developed -- Chen, Wu and Yang -- each with different movements, styles, energies.  But the essential shape of the hands, the line of back, tilt of the tailbone, the rounded shoulders, the lofty way the neck lifts the head ... were the same.  

And when I read Roger's words, and sense how right my hands feel when each hand floats at an oblique angle above the other, fingertips of one hand above the heel of the other, and this fleeting construction at an angle with my torso,  and they're 8 inches apart, creating a tangible ball of air between them, I really do feel as though I'm in "holy space."   

Put another, maybe more Taoist, way, I feel in deep connection with some universal natural forces. 

No, an orange just won't do.  



* this excerpt first appeared in Voices, a publication (now defunct) of Kolot Chayeinu, an explosively vibrant Jewish congregation of which I am a member.  


Popular posts from this blog

Maiden Post

Hello everyone,   this is my maiden post for this new blog.  What's it supposed to be or do?   I hope that we engage on some of the applied lessons of t'ai chi -- find examples and stories from our daily lives where t'ai chi can come in handy.  I will try to catch them in my web-mind to save for posting, or keep my ears peeled for others' stories and welcome you to do the same.

I'll also post my weekly class schedule.

 The week of December 17, 2018

This week's classes are cancelled. (The teacher is out of town) 
CLASSES RESUME THE WEEK OF JAN 13TH.  Looking forward to seeing you soon!

WED, JAN 16, next classwhere:  Union Dance, 725 Union St.  (buzzer 5)
The studio is in the lower floor, which you'll find at the end of the long entry hallway.  At the end, take  a slight jog to the right and follow the corridor down the flight of stairs.  

Thursday, JAN 17   at Spoke the Hub is on, 11:15,  but come for 11. See below for details
where: Spoke the Hub, 748 Union Stree…

When stuff is lying around on the floor

When I started this blog, I promised to write about how to incorporate t'ai chi into every day life -- walking around,  in the house, on an icy sidewalk -- and I haven't kept my word.  I've been writing about all kinds of things --   your carrying-the-ball hands,  t'ai chi villages in China --   but not about the mundane and for that I apologize.

And I'm going to change that here, when I talk about how to deal, in a t'ai chi way, with stuff lying around on the floor.  You may have something that is always there, that you need to walk around,  occasionally pick up,  maybe curse at it a little.  Maybe you've got a small step leading into a room.

In my case, it's Violet, my catahoula leopard dog.  She was a rescue, with a sad story, and a very sensitive disposition.  How I got her.   I had had a couple of catahoulas, and knew and liked this breed, that rumor has it, was developed in Louisiana (There's a parish of Catahoula).   It's an impossible,…

ruminations on posture

Standing with head gently erect, eyes straight ahead.  Why is it so hard?   
Wherever you take a t’ai chi class,  from whichever teacher in whatever town or village in the world, you will hear at some point,  imagine a long thread,  stretching from the crown of your head, to the sky.    it’s almost always something I say at the beginning of each class (after all the other postural instructions, starting from the feet).     
it’s quite an image,  though,  your crown attached umbilically to the heavens,  and we may struggle a bit trying to visualize it, let alone to enact, and then to stay like this throughout the one hour class!   Don’t feel discouraged.    I tell my class that it’s probably the hardest part of the pose and the form — keeping your eyes focused ahead, your head relaxed on the stem of your neck.   

A teaching:   Hawkes, my erstwhile teacher, would tell us,  
you can kill with your eyes!
You can't though if your eyes are cast down, searching the floor.  Kill with your eyes…