Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: progress

When Progress Feels Like a Setback

The middle of my back is aching, and my taiji teacher says this is progress. See, I used to have lower back pains as I practice taiji, Before that, I had knee pains. Concentrating on fixing my posture to improve the knee pain led to the lower back pain, and now that I’m working on correcting my posture so that my lower back doesn’t hurt, the middle of my back is grumbling. My teacher has often said that we all carry tension in our bodies–we’re just not necessarily aware of it. The first step to relieving tension is feeling it, which I’ve been doing in spades the last few years. I noticed that my knees were really hurting, and I mentioned it to my teacher. She watched me do some postures and gave me a few suggestions. I worked diligently on her advice, and my knee pain subsided substantially in a month or so. However, my lower back started hurting, so I mentioned that to my teacher recently. She told me to focus on tucking my hips, and I noticed that I was popping my ass out in the middle of every posture. I practiced tucking my hips until it became somewhat a second nature, and my lower back stopped hurting almost completely. Simultaneously, the middle of my back started hurting. I mentioned it to my teacher, and she said it was better than my lower back hurting, but harder to massage (which is a good remedy for aches).

I’m frustrated, I won’t lie to you. It doesn’t help that my knees have been achy a bit, too. I think it’s because I’m focusing on my back, so I’m not placing as much emphasis on making sure my knees extend properly over my toes (but not too far forward). I used to think I was decent at multitasking, but taiji has shown that to be a lie. Yes, I can think about two things at one time, but neither are going to get my proper attention. My teacher has said repeatedly that we can only focus on one thing at a time, whether it’s waist, knees, or arms. I’m always tempted to focus on two things, usually the knees and the waist, but then I end up neglecting both. My sword practice has been helpful in this respect because I do five repetitions of a section of the form. Each repetition, I focus on a different aspect. First time, I usually just do the section as naturally as possible. I follow that up with watching the tip of the sword in the second time through. Then, focusing on the waist. Then, as gently as possible. Lastly, with as much power as possible. I don’t always do it in that order because I don’t want to become rote with my practice. It’s not easy to carry the same focus over to the Solo Form because as I’ve said a time or a hundred, it’s not my favorite thing to practice.

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How to See Progress When It’s Microscopic

i will cut you
Wudon Sword Fencing

My teacher’s teacher opened a new taiji academy last weekend, and I attended the open house. There was a demo, and I couldn’t help but compare this demo to the first time I saw a demo at the old studio. It was a year or two after I started taking classes, and everything looked so amazing to me. One of the masters said, “To the beginner, everyone is a master,” and it was so true in my case. I watched them do the Solo Form, and I couldn’t imagine I would ever be able to do the whole thing. The next time I attended a demo, I knew the whole Solo Form, but I was still really impressed with the people doing weapons. Again, I had no idea how I would ever do anything as amazing as that. I did note that I could tell between the different styles of the practitioners of the Solo Form. “This one is a bit stiff.” “That one needs to bend her knees more.” I wasn’t trying to critique; I was just happy that I could tell the difference. This time, I joined in on the Solo Form (first section only. Sifu knows if he has people demonstrate more than that, it would be boring for the audience), but I didn’t have my sword with me, so I had to sit that out. I could have borrowed one, but I would have felt awkward doing so. As the others did the Sword Form, however, I could see where they were making mistakes, which meant that I had learned the form pretty well. It’s hard to tell because it’s not as if I’m making noticeable progress every time I practice, especially now that I’m focusing more on refinements rather than corrections.

When I first started to learn taiji, it was easier to feel as if I were actually learning something because I had concrete units to measure by. “I’m learning a new posture today!” That’s something my mind can grasp. Once that’s over, even the major corrections are tangible. “You made a mistake here. Fix it.” I don’t like it, mind you, because I hate making mistakes, but it’s something I can work on and notice when I’ve actually corrected the mistake. Now that I’m eight or nine years into my studies, I’m mostly past this phase of the Solo Form. I know the whole form. I don’t make major mistakes. Sifu has changed some of the postures so I’ve had to relearn them, but I at least know them by now. What I need to do is teach myself the left side to keep it interesting*. OK, I have to make a confession. I don’t like the Solo Form. I never have, and I don’t know if I ever will. I really didn’t like it in the beginning, but I knew it was the basis of everything else, so I suffered through it. Now, I don’t hate it, but I still don’t like it. Ever funnier is that the position most people like best and thinks is easiest–Cloud Hands–is one of my least favorites. The kick section, which most people don’t like, is my favorite section. I like complicated better than easy, plus there are obvious applications to the kicks, which there aren’t for Cloud Hands. There are applications, of course, but not so immediate to the eye.

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Dark Souls III: I Got Gud, Part One

burn, baby, burn!
Meet Karla, my new pyromancy trainer.

I’m in the middle part of Dark Souls III, and I have to admit, I was starting to drag a little. This happened to me while playing the first two games, too, as the games are long, and I tend to gorge on them.¬†The first time I played the original Dark Souls, I hated the game by the end of it. I just wanted it to be over, and I couldn’t be happier once I put it in the done folder. I thought I’d never touch it again, but I did, and now, it’s one of my favorite games ever, if not my most favorite game ever. Part of the problem is that I mainline these games, gulping down chunks of them at a time. It would probably be better if I parceled out the experience a bit more judiciously, but I can’t. When I sit down to play a Souls game, I don’t emerge until several hours later. Sometimes, I’m not even sure how much time I’ve been playing. The games really feed into my OCD traits, so it’s not really that surprising that I would experience fatigue while playing them.

A few days ago, I was saying to Ian that maybe I should take a break. Ever since I reached Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, I’ve felt under-leveled and not strong enough to take on the area. I felt all badass after easily dispensing of High Lord Wolnir, only to have my ass handed to me by the common ¬†enemies of IotBV. I’ve complained more than once that I think FromSoft* hates casters, and it really felt that way during this section. It felt very Bloodborne-y (meaning faster action), which reinforced my belief that while I love watching other people play Bloodborne, I might not be as into playing it myself because my reactions are just too slow for that shit. I co-oped the boss of the area, though I hadn’t really meant to. I co-oped with someone else and helped them beat the boss, so I had my ember restored, which gave me almost twice as much HP. I decided to make a run at the boss so as to not waste the ember, and I summoned Anri of Astoria and a human phantom to help me out. I honestly didn’t think we’d beat the boss because the boss gets more HP in direct proportion to how many phantoms you summon. To my surprise, we beat the boss, much to my relief and slight disappointment because I like to beat bosses solo on my first playthrough. Relief because I was frustrated by how much I hated this section of the game. I went back recently just to see if I could kick some ass, and I could. That’s one of the best parts of Souls games–returning to a previous area that completely wrecked your shit and getting your revenge.

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