The 4th Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe’s Tai Chi & Chinese Internal Arts competition was staged by Paul Silfverstrale and his team of able assistants over the weekend of 7 – 9 November 2008. Travelling from Scotland, via Ryanair arrived at their airport and prepared for the 1 hour plus bus ride to the city of Linkoping. Realising we had a one hour wait for the connecting bus we adjourned to the café where we encountered fellow Brits Gary Wragg and his sizeable contingent from London. We arrived at the hotel a little before midnight said our goodnights and got settled in our comfortable hotel rooms.
Early next morning we made our 15 minute walk across the railway line to the halls where the event was being staged. A room was set aside for the officials close to the reception area and across from the shop offering a range of the usual wares we see at such events. Dumping our bags we located the registration rooms where competitors were being weighed and having their documents validated. Pre-registration was required beforehand which meant that most of the paperwork was dealt with but, as ever a few last minute changes had to be dealt with and, in the main Paul’s able team, led by Mattias Nyrell sorted things out calmly and efficiently.
An event such as an international competition takes a lot of work to organise, most of which is unseen. If an event is well run there is little sense of panic or confusion and preparatory work pays great dividends. This is where the internet proves helpful. The website contained clear information, downloadable rules and registration forms, transport advice and a list of common questions asked by competitors. By providing this facility the organisers were better equipped to deal last minute concerns.
The competition was opened by the local mayor welcoming the international visitors followed by the customary lion dance athletically performed by a local kungfu team. The lights were then dimmed, the dry ice set off and demonstrations by Luigi Zanini (Bagua Knives), Piotr Zienmba (Chen Tai Chi) and fire dance by a local performer created a spectacular opening for the event. The parade of over 200 competitors from 17 European countries were led in which included France, Netherlands, Serbia, Italy, Slovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Latvia, UK and by far the biggest contingent Russia.
In the various from categories there was a wide variety of styles and quality on show: ‘Confrontational Demonstration’ showed hand applications from san shou, tui shou and dui lian routines, predominantly from the Yang lineage whist the weapon ‘Confrontational Demonstrations’ illustrated high quality displays, particularly from the gold winning team performing a Wudang sword routine. The solo hand form displays varied greatly with some exceptional quality in Xing-yi by Piotr Ziemba of Poland and Claire Tupiac France whilst Thierry Alibert France showed impressive Yang Style routines.
What was surprising to me was the varience of standards on show. Whilst there were many high quality demonstrations by competitors who’d obviously spent long hours of dedicated training, I’m afraid there were also some very questionable displays from a thankfully small number who, quite frankly, shouldn’t have entered. I agree that the experience of entering competition requires more than a degree of confidence and bravery but when competing at a European level one would expect at least a basic level of competence. Unfortunately a few individuals were so far off the mark their teachers should have dissuaded them from competing. I did, however feel deeply sorry for one particular woman who was obviously highly nervous; her hands were shaking and she was unable to extend any spirit or confidence during her performance. In saying that the woman was obviously much better than she ever believed she was and I would have loved to take her aside and tell her that she was doing really, really well, so just relax and enjoy it. This was contrasted by the performances of others who obviously believed they were doing very well but were frankly not. For me this point illustrated the different approaches to the art throughout Europe with a wide range of styles and standards available. I also saw an unfortunate incident that lost a very highly skilled performer, who I’d seen leave former European Competitions with a clutch of medals. During his performance of an exceptional sword form his tassel fell from his sword, seconds later his eyes caught the red flash on the ground, he was momentarily distracted by it and dropped his sword! So it goes to show that in competition there are many factors to consider to be successful!
Competitions do allow both participants and spectators a unique opportunity to compare what is important in training in Chinese Internal Arts. By seeing the wide range of styles and interpretations, and how they are examined and evaluated we can get a clearer sense of what is considered to be good. Whilst it is clear that there are certain aspects that are difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate there is a clearly defined criteria, which is judged in competition, which gives give a clear impression of where you are in your development
Whilst interpretations of what is a good form can vary from judge to judge what is right and wrong is much clearer in pushing hands bouts – either you’re pushed out, or you push your competitor out – that’s it, full stop. Or is it? Up until now the decision of how points are lost and won has been in the hands of the referees and line judges and, aside from ongoing debate about what constitutes good practice in terms of using force etc., the end result has been clear either you’ve won enough points or you haven’t. This competition, for the first time, saw the additional problem of the application of simple technology, which is available to all, having a significant impact on the results of a competition. In every pushing hands bout friends and supporters of competitors, particularly from Russia, were using mobile telephones and video cameras to film each heat. Then, if there was a dispute on judging they would make an appeal. This required the Technical Committee, on at least one occasion, to view video of the disputed bout to see what may have been missed by the judge or line judge. What was made clear was that under no circumstances would any points be decided on video evidence and this is situation must not be allowed to affect how competitions are run.
Overall the competition was very good spirited and well organised by Paul and his team who were very hospitable and helpful. The venue was ideal with everything going on in the one large hall and ample space around for both spectators and competitors who also had the luxury of another hall available to them for pre-match training.
There was considerable success from the British Competitors with Victoria Oakey taking a gold in Wu Lineage Handform (beginner), Stefanie Sachsenmaier earning gold and Nicole Lomax getting bronze at the Wu Handform Intermediate and Jennifer Lee got a silver in the Wu Open Handform. In the weapon categories Jennifer got silver and Stefanie bronze in the intermediate sabre whilst Jennifer, Stafanie and Amir Greenstein took gold, silver and bronze in the intermediate staff section.
In the Pushing Hands sessions Barry McKinlay came second in the -66kg Fixed Step, Michael Abosch took gold in the -73kg and Mike Selby got bronze in the -95kg. Stefanie Sahsenmaier earned gold in the Women’s – 52kg while her tai chi sister Nicole Lomax got gold in -61kg. In the Moving Step category Ben Morris won gold in the -66kg whilst Stefanie took gold in the Women’s Moving Step – 52kg with Emma north getting bronze and Nicole Lomax getting gold in their bouts. Ben Morris earned another gold medal in Men’s Free Moving Step -66kg with Lazlo Szorenyi taking bronze. Michael Abosch gained bronze in Free Moving -73 and Amir Greenstein also won bronze in his -85kg Free Moving category.
In the tai chi community there are very mixed views regarding competition. From my point of view I’d highly recommend practitioners of all styles and approaches to visit at least one competition where they will have the opportunity to view many different styles and interpretations of these arts which helps to provide a sense of perspective to where you are. The European Competition was a very enjoyable affair with a chance to see many friends and colleagues with very pleasant social interaction. Why not get yourself down to Oxford in April for the British Open and see what’s going on?