I’ve been thinking about Silk Reeling for years now; and, if anything, I got even more interested in the topic during COVID, because Silk Reeling really helped my body deal with the fact that I wasn’t regularly walking to and from the train station. That got my analytical brain thinking some more about the exercises, building on the ideas that I’d written down in my earlier set of notes; I went deeper on some of of those concepts, and I also found some other lenses that I thought were useful ways to approach the exercises. I ended up picking one of those lenses, spending a couple of months going through the Silk Reeling Exercises and the Tai Chi form with tha lens in mind, and seeing what I noticed and whether / how it changed my practice.

And I think doing so really helped my Tai Chi get better? It helped me get better in touch with my body, too, and change how it works; which is, after all, the main reason why I’m doing Tai Chi, I’m not doing it just because the form is pretty.


Eventually some of these lenses got stuck in my brain: they seemed to be reliably useful to me, I’d gotten and was continuing to get a lot out of focusing on them. So I figured I should try to find out if they helped other people too. I’d also recently gotten the first level of teaching certification from my Tai Chi teacher; I felt like I should put it to use, but I also don’t really feel like teaching a standard intro Tai Chi course, that kind of course isn’t particularly my thing and there are enough other of his students who do that around here.

I started writing down these “silk reeling principles”, with the idea of turning it into a website. And also, while I was at it, I was writing down notes on each of the individual silk reeling exercises, subtle points on each one that had taken me a while to notice and/or get right.

It was slow, but I made some progress on this? I’ve got markdown files sitting around for each of my principles, so the basic ideas are out of my head, at least. I still haven’t made it very far with writing down notes on the individual exercises, but it’s a start.


Of course, having private notes doesn’t do anybody else any good. So I still need to put together some sort of script that turns the set of markdown files into a set of HTML files; conceptually easy enough, I just need to do it.

Part of the reason why I haven’t done it is that I’m too busy and/or not focused enough. But also part of the reason is that, realistically, I’m not sure that publishing those notes on a web site would do anybody any good? These exercises are pretty specific to my teacher, so the audience that would potentially benefit from my notes is pretty small. And, in general, my fellow students aren’t particularly focused on learning via reading, or on theory. So I might literally be writing something that zero people would end up interested in!

That’s not necessarily a reason not to do it: for one thing, I could be wrong, maybe more people would get something out of it, and, for another thing, writing notes down is useful to get ideas straight in my head even if nobody else reads the notes. But still, I should probably think a bit more as to what I was doing and why.


As I was thinking about this more, I started thinking more and more about this in terms of notes for a class. Which might be a better fit for my fellow students? I think they like a more concrete, in-person approach; my approach is still more theory-based than most of them prefer, I think, but that’s probably a manageable difference.

So I decided I’d try it as a course. I’d ended up with five main principles, so it should work fine as a five-session course. (For the record, my current list of principles is: Pay Attention to Your Body; Sink into Your Kua; Open and Close Your Kua; Pay Attention to Your Dantian; Lines of Connection.)

The principles are only useful if you actually try them out in practice; the easiest way to encourage that to happen is to put my class right before one of the regular Saturday classes, since we go through the whole silk reeling set at the start of the Saturday classes. And I can also work in some of my ideas about fine points of individual exercises, too. If I do all of that, maybe it’s a coherent “intermediate silk reeling” class; I can pitch it at people who know all the exercises, who potentially know them well enough to start leading the exercise set at the beginning of the Saturday classes, but who are getting some of the fine points wrong.


I sent out a message about this to the group chat for the class, and also mentioned it in class. I got some people who nodded and said that it sounded like an interesting idea, but nobody who actually committed to coming. But I’ve had that sort of experience enough to know that the next step is to be more clear about what I want to have happen; so, the next Saturday, I showed up early to class and talked to some of the people who regularly show up early and who I thought would probably get something out of my course. And when I asked those specific people directly in person, I got three of them to agree to show up 30 minutes early next Saturday to give it a try. And that in turn gave me confidence to tell the group chat that this really would be starting next week.

Four or five people came the first week; enough to make me happy, and they were actively participating in the class, which was great. But also it’s a small enough number that I was worried that only two people would show up the following week; fortunately, something like seven people showed up. Which was about the level that I stayed at for the remaining weeks; so people were voting with their feet and time to say that the course was valuable, which was great!

I also had a few people say that they wanted to come, but the timing didn’t work for them. And I was offering it at one specific Saturday class, but my teacher actually offers two Saturday classes in different locations; so there’s probably some number of people who might be interested but just weren’t going to come down to Sunnyvale for the class. Which means that there’s potentially a decent sized audience available if I want to offer the course again, as long as I’m flexible about timing / location.


Offering the course again is an opportunity to iterate: some things worked well, some things didn’t work so well. I’d been thinking that, in each class, I’d both be able to talk about a principle and also talk about some fine points of one or two of the individual exercises. Sometimes it worked out that way (though only one other exercise, never two), but sometimes I didn’t have time to talk about any other exercise beyond what I was using specifically to illustrate the principle for that class. And even when there was time for an extra exercise, it didn’t really fit in well with the flow of the class.

So I think I should just lean into what the course is about. It’s not about stuff like “in this specific exercise, you should kick with the side of your foot instead of the toes of your foot”, it’s more about stuff that you can use to inform many or even all of the individual exercises and when you’re doing the form. That’s what the class is best at, that’s probably something that I’m unusually good at. And I think that, for the intermediate-level students who are the main audience for the class, it reinforces a couple of meta-points that I have in mind: you shouldn’t just focus on getting the surface level moves right, you should dig beneath the surface of the moves (and of your body!); and also if you have some basic concepts in place, then there’s a lot that you can investigate on your own.

In terms of timing, next time I’ll do it once a month on a Sunday instead of trying to combine it with the Saturday class, and I’ll do it further up the peninsula. That should open it up to a wider rande of potential participants; and also one week per principle is way too short, one class a month is a significantly better cadence. (I honestly think that you should probably live with each principle for a couple of months.)


There’s one other covert goal that I have in mind: by now I’m decently senior among my teacher’s students, but there are a bunch of other students who are as senior or more senior than I am. And I bet that a lot of them have stuff like this to talk about too: for example, many of them teach Tai Chi classes to beginners, and I bet they’ve got some points that they like to focus on in their classes.

So it would be great if we could come together and show off ideas to each other. (C.f. the concepts of “Communities of Practice” and “Collaborative Circles”.) What I would really love is if, after these classes, we started going out to lunch together and talking about Tai Chi, and then if other people volunteered to present their own ideas once I’d finish my five principle set. No idea if that’s plausible or not, but I’d like to at least set up a context where that has a chance of happening.

I don’t have any immediate plans for the next class; it feels like a 2024 thing, probably a post-rainy-season 2024 thing? But hopefully it will happen at some point.

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