Early December 2010 saw the 5th Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe Competition staged in Oxford, UK. organised by the Chairman of both the Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe and the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain, Dan Docherty, who is also the well- known organiser of the Festival of Chinese Martial Arts & British Open Tai Chi Championships (now in its 23rd year.)
Over 250 competitors from the various European countries gathered to compete in a healthy spirit of openness and friendship, many of whom were regular competitors at both national and international events.
What became clear very quickly was the high-quality of performances from many competitors, making the judges job harder when often very tight margins between the various medal placings. What follows in a series of short reports by students of Dan who made the journey from Scotland and, serving in various positions, provide an overview of the event from different perspectives.
Having the European Championships virtually on our doorstep was too much of an opportunity to miss. In the past it has meant catching planes to foreign lands and the expense that entails, but not this time. This time it was just a nice easy road trip away. The fact that Scotland was impassable except for the main roads and we were heading for short sleeve weather in Oxford was also a bonus. Leading up to the event the fear was that we would be unable to get out of Scotland because the roads were just too dangerous. However we made it.
In total there were nine of us travelling in two cars. The journey from Glasgow (and Edinburgh) took about eight hours with water stops. As a Tai Chi group we have been making this journey on a yearly basis now for probably ten years to participate in the British Championships so we know the road well.For some this was their first experience of this level of competition. For one it was her first experience of any competition.
From my point of view as both a judge and a coach, things went very smoothly from the opening demonstrations to the closing awards ceremonies. As a spectacle the Russian group who opened proceedings put on a great show. And then I was off for my first stint of judging. Over the two days I had the pleasure of watching closely some wonderful performances from all styles and in all forms. I also found that the judging groups of three were generally in remarkable agreement over scores.
The Championships is about more than just competition though. Meeting old friends is a very important part of this bi-annual event. Friends made travelling to Tai Chi events across Europe (like the Championships) or made on teachers seminars, can turn up and in the evening after the days competition there is time to catch up with the old and meet the new. This year I met friends from Russia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, England and more; and acquaintances from many other countries. After the buffet and disco we retired to the hotel and spent a nice evening.
Of the nine of us who travelled four judged, three competed, three acted as helpers and one acted as a referee. Two came away with medals. All had a fabulous time and felt their appreciation of Tai Chi greatly enhanced. The camaraderie across the styles was obvious. Some people object to competition because they think it causes division. My experience is the opposite and this competition was a great example of that. For the spectator the atmosphere is a bit like a fayre with all its colour and clamour; the stalls selling martial arts products, books and magazines; the demonstrations; the forms competitors in their brightly coloured garb performing in their areas, the Tui Shou competitors in theirs. Without the efforts of the people who make up the European Federation and The Tai Chi Union in putting on such events we would all be much the poorer.
The following is the experience of a couple of students of mine; one who has been training for just over a year and had never attended a competition before and the other who though he has been training for some time had never seen European level competition before.
When asked if I wanted to attend the European championships, my answer was of course yes. I heard about it from my own Tai-Chi family and had all sorts of idea’s running through my head but I came to this conclusion: to go without expectations and enjoy the experience. I checked beforehand to see which nations were attending, there were so many! It was the Italians I came across first with their bright yellow jackets. Their determination and focus was obvious but the same could be said of the other attending nations. It was a serious event.
I participated in helping. It was actually an added bonus than simply being a spectator. Discovering first-hand how the competitions were set-up. There were two types of skills assessed: the display of forms and various weapons. The second revolved around push hands; it was with this I learnt how each session was timed and marked. Being given the role of keeping time was daunting. Ensuring everyone got their deserved time was nerve-racking; keeping an eye on the stopwatch, paying attention to the referee for the hand signals, shouting time.
Later, I swapped my time-keeper role to recording points scored. The task itself was not difficult. At the same time I managed to observe some amazing skills. Everyone was professional. From the referee to the paired member you were working with, to the competitors (in most cases).
I was also keen to see the practices of the various other Tai-Chi families. I was amazed to see the subtle and sometimes obvious differences. On the whole it was a very worthwhile journey.
For me going to the Euros was more than just about competing. First it was a road trip down to Oxford with my fellow class mates; a chance to get to know each other a little better away from the class setting and have a few laughs on the way. Second was the chance to meet up with friends that I have met at training camps in Bulgaria and at Tai Chi Caledonia. It was a chance to see other styles of Tai Chi both as a spectator and judge. Watching people going through their hand and weapon for forms to such a high standard, could have put me off, but instead gave me something to aim for in my own Tai Chi. Whilst judging there was also the opportunity to learn from the more experienced judges such as Gary Wragg and take away a better understanding of what basics all forms should have. Also the experience of having to score people who were so good was at times very difficult and on one or two occasions deal with the passionate teachers of those taking part who thought the scoring did not do justice; one chap from southern Europe made a point of doing this a lot!
Taking part in the competition was fun and I have come away with more to work on, and a sense of improvement not only in my Tai Chi but also as a person. Being able to watch my fellow class mates compete as well as my friends from Moscow and Bulgaria was another very enjoyable aspect of the weekend for me. A chance also to make new friends was had. And then the road trip home with many laughs after an enjoyable weekend. So a chance to learn and be inspired by watching wonderful Tai Chi and to socialise and meet new people. In my experience of Tai Chi the two go hand in hand.