International Push Hands Meeting & the Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe’s Forum

Caroline Ross Tcfe Intph 2008

As a newbie to the International Push Hands M e e t i n g , what can I say? Ronnie asked me to write a personal view probably because I’m not an ‘old hand’, and I have to say that I will certainly be back again next year with friends, students and colleagues. I met some fabulous people. The atmosphere was great and the studios, both at Nils Klug’s school and the nearby Kunst Halle are all lovely to work in, really large and light. The whole place is in an arty quarter, and all the events are based in an old bed factory by the river. There are artist’s studios, a radio station, cafes and a tango school.

For this year only the Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe’s Congress/ Forum ran in tandem with Nils’ Push Hands Meeting, making it, in effect, a double event in one. Because of this the programme wasn’t restricted to push hands, as is the norm. The teaching that I encountered over the week was topnotch and varied across a wide range of studies. Choices of daily seminars and 3 or 4 consecutive half-day courses ranged from looking at joint locks and chin na, fan form, listening and uprooting skills, five elements energies within the form, basic peng-lu-ji-an and their intrinsic qualities, staff, sabre, opening and closing the joints in partner work, grounding, and so on. I had thought it would only be pushhands… Almost everyone practised some kind of Yang Style, and only a couple of people also practised Chen Style, which was a shame, as I was hoping to get some practice of those patterns too. In the afternoon there were also courses, but the big room in the Kunst Halle was for ‘free push hands’. This ranged from the gentle to the robust but was all sincere and from what I experienced, extremely good natured. A kitchen timer was set off every ten minutes, and we all changed partners. No one was obliged to push with anyone else, and there was an area reserved for beginners and gentler pushing. Occasionally Nils had to ask some of the blokey blokes to tone things down in the main hall, but this is just one of the ways he made it really welcoming for the less experienced there. Knowing how much time and energy it takes to organise a week of events, I have total admiration for Nils and the smooth running, great food and rota of teachers that he put together. It is not surprising people always seem to come back each year.

It is still impossible to list the best moments of the week… On a T’ai Chi front, Lauren Smith’s wonderful session and the chance to work with a (then) stranger on a wonderful subtle listening / uprooting exercise. After 14 years of Kung Fu and only 1 of T’ai Chi, my partner was so sensitive and perceptive, both in finding my root and in knowing when I ‘had’ him through the tiniest movements, and was a pleasure to work with. His teacher is Fernando Chedel, who I did not get a chance to work with due to a clash of sessions… I have to come back next year just to get a chance to push with this chap Alex, as we ran out of time.

Conversely, on my first session in the free-pushing hall, I was working with a very strong tall guy who told me he had many years’ experience. Although I practice lots of push-hands of many kinds, this particular kind of fixed-feet pushing on the body was new to me and I was eager to learn whatever I could. Time after time the big guy just shoved me out, ending each time in a hugely awkward lunging posture. For me the experience was educational, although I could not yet neutralise his pushes, or move him. Considering his strength and knowledge, by listening, sticking and using much less effort he still could have moved me. It was my week’s only experience of someone actively cultivating ‘defeating four ounces with a thousand pounds’!

What also jumps to mind is when Sam Masich asked me to partner him demonstrating Ta Lu as it seemed no one else in the room knew it. I was familiar with the first set, but the second set was identical in principle but totally reversed in direction of stepping. A few good years of sticking and listening were of huge value to me at that moment as I bypassed my thought-filled head, stuck to Sam and let him ‘drive’. In the relief of putting down mental interpretation, there, in the midst of stepping push-hands, was a period of quiet alive being-in-the-moment partner work. I wasn’t expecting that to be possible during the hustle and bustle of the week. Perhaps I had gone to Hannover expecting to find more of ‘wrestling’ and shoving, and although there’s always a bit of ‘investing in gain’ around, I came away really heartened. It seems there were as many ways to do push-hands as there were teachers and attendees.

On a social front, so many things were great. It was delightful to have the chance to speak French again with the interesting teacher Thierry Alibert and his student Catherine. Swapping T’ai Chi tales and Ta Lus with James from USA was also great. Singing along to ‘Amazing Grace’ with him, Sam Masich, James and Henk Janssen one night, then improvising all together around ‘The Wind Shakes the Barley’ was a wonderful way to spend an evening. I’ll also never forget watching Brighton teacher Simon and his student Will doing ‘Monkey’ and ‘Bear’ energy to Thierry over too many cherry beers at Kalah Bar…

I wasn’t around for the galas, but I understand your editor will provide some pics from them. The party on the first night was fun, lots of prosecco and Latin grooves. Despite travel-induced exhaustion and knowing only two or three people at that point, I had a great night of dancing. T’ai Chi folks seem to have some good moves on the dance floor, none of that standing round the edges looking sulky. I thoroughly recommend this event to anyone with the spare time and cash as it is good value for money as well as an excellent event in its own right. In the end, the event is what you make it. I stayed at the hall each night to economise, which was fun and sociable, though my earplugs got regular use. Being woken each morning by the lovely Ronnie to make room for his Chi Kung session was yet another of the happy memories of the festival which I will always cherish.

Caroline Ross