Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) and Irmgard Bartenieff (1900-1981) spent their careers working with ideas like Effort-Shape. Effort-Shape is a companion system to Labanotation. Like Musical Notation, Labanotation is a way to write a score for movement of the human body. Labanotation records the articulation of the body, while Effort-Shape describes the quality of the movement. Effort-Shape has 4 axes:

  • Direction: direct or indirect
  • Weight: heavy or light
  • Speed: quick or sustained
  • Flow: bound or free

One of the most poetic descriptions of Effort-Shape space is 22-year-old Muhammad Ali's famous boast,

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.

The 2 cards I drew today, the major arcana Strength card from Ian Daniels' Tarot of Vampyres, and the 8 of Swords from Dame Darcy's Mermaid tarot, define polar opposites of Effort Shape. These 2 card images are as different as Ali's floating like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee.

Our poor victim bound up in the 8 of Swords mental stagnation has no direction, slumps on the land with so much weight, exists in agonizing sustain as though time is standing still, and is entirely bound. We see the cloth that binds her limbs and her eyes, and can only imagine how her mind, soul, and spirit must be equally bound, frozen, and powerless.

In as great a contrast as you will find in any tarot deck, Ian Daniels' Strength card is, well, strong! This woman exudes the power of direct focus towards the entirety of the heavens. Her strength is experienced as great lightness as she nearly floats above the panther she effortlessly controls. Her grand, rapturous movement is quick! This card catches her in one moment of exultation, in the next moment she will be somewhere else. Her flow is empowered and free!

8 of Swords
Indirect-Heavy-Sustained-Bound

Strength
Direct-Light-Quick-Free

In juxtaposition these 2 cards suggest the range of choices we have in our daily lives. Like a budget that is mostly locked up in entitlements, the hours of the days of our lives are often heavily scheduled. We may feel like there are not so many choices to be made, but only commitments to be fulfilled.

To be sure, there is a bit of 8 of Swords in every life. Yet this is not a reason to be blind, or blindfolded, to the possibilities of Strength. It is a reason to choose strength.

No one can ever give you Strength. Coaches, loved ones, and many others may wish us Strength, but ultimately it is a choice we must make. It is a path we must walk.

When we see the harmony and power represented in Ian Daniels' Strength card it is inspiring. Intoxicating. But the beauty of this image belies the journey she has taken to get here. The 8 of Swords and Strength appear as night and day. But they are not two different, dramatically different, people. They can be two faces of one person. Life cannot only be about all-Strength all the time. It is a dance between the power of Strength and the submission of the 8 of Swords.

Remember that this is a choice.

Remember that no one will give you what you are unwilling to choose for yourself.

a 2-card tarot draw showing the Strength card from Ian Daniels' Strength from Ian Daniels' Tarot of Vampyres & 8 of Swords from Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot.