Category Archives: issue-29

The Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe’s 4th Competition, Linkoping, Sweden

Ronnie Robinson Tcfe Comp 4 08

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?

STN Taiji Festival – Holland 2008

Dan Docherty

Stn Taiji Festival 08

The festival was held again in Amsterdam at a well appointed sports hall. Despite the untimely death back in March of Joppe Douwes, one of the mainstays of this event, everything was as well organized as usual by the effective STN team.

Only two weeks previously I had the pleasure of working as a judge with Cora van Geel, Rob Volke, Ceciel Kroes and Richard Zwaart at the TCFE Championships in Sweden, where their good humour and common sense were much needed.

It was good also to talk to Julian Webber, transplanted Welshman, who has taught Tai Chi in Holland for some years, specializing in working with children. He has an interesting and unusual approach to training.

Epi van der Pol was as before an informative master of ceremonies during the eclectic demonstrations which began with four youngsters doing wushu gymnastics with flags followed by their seniors performing external Taolu; it was lively and fun. Nils Klug and Judith van Drooge demonstrated pad punching from the William Chen School. I have seen Nils do this demo a few times with his usual nonchalant humour and hope TCC practitioners understand that if they are to hit someone correctly, it makes sense to learn to hit something (pads for example) with the correct structure.

Ismet Himmet who trained on Wudang Mountain for six years, demonstrated Wudang Boxing in a lithe and skilful manner, but having visited the mountain and some of its boxing schools six times between 1984 and 2004, I remain dubious about the authenticity of the boxing now taught on the mountain and believe it to be at best a fusion of old and new.

More interesting was a demo of the Russian Speznatz self defence method of Systema by Jan Bloem and students. After a very gymnastic warm up, Techniques were shown to deal with attacks with bare hands and knife. The defender blends with rather than opposing the attack much like in TCC and Baguazhang. There were some nifty techniques.

Kevin Magee and his American Okinawan Karate troup came on to demonstrate Peter Ralston’s art of Cheng Hsin. Peter describes it as “the art of effortless power” and with its clear Aikido and Baguazhang influences it was not so different from the Systema we had seen earlier

.

Peter Dekker gave an unusual display of Manchurian archery, stringing his bows then firing dummy arrows at a target from a variety of positions, including firing on the run. In the main he was pretty accurate.

Job Koesomobroto and his assistants gave us an interesting display of sabre attack and defence from the Peter Ralston school. He then very effectively used the same counters in test-cutting with a live blade.

TCUGB involvement in the competition came in the form of veteran competitor Tony Ulatowski who took a bronze in Tui Shou. On a personal basis the Dutch idea of having 2 forms competitors in the same area at the same time and in front of the same judges makes a lot of sense, especially where there are many entries in a particular category. I intend to introduce this at the next British Open Tai Chi Championships on April 5th, 2009.

I hope to encourage greater TCUGB involvement next year, although as I told Epi don’t expect me to have a metaphorical rabbit every time. Thanks again to all at STN for their hospitality.

Meet Katherine Allen

Katherineallen

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
More than 20 short years. I started towards the end of 1987.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi Chuan?
I had sustained a serious horse riding injury where I had damaged my left elbow and shoulder along with other minor injuries. After two failed operations and four weeks on traction, the prognosis was not good. I had heard that Tai Chi was good for joint mobility, and my Tai Chi journey began.

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
Tai Chi is part of my life, but not all of my life. I have other interests which always vie for attention, so my yin/yang balancing act is constant and sometimes I fall off my tightrope. Tai Chi has taken me to countries I would never otherwise have visited; Tai Chi has led me into new interests, such as learning Mandarin and making sojourns into other areas of kung fu. Tai Chi leads and I follow.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Tai Chi is a mysterious vehicle. I‚’ve always wanted to fly on the wind, and Tai Chi is the closest I‚’ve come to this. I am always amazed at how Tai Chi can offer different things to different people. It is intriguing and its meanings have endless layers which can take a lifetime to unravel. Every layer has its beauty and its pain.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
Tai Chi has helped me to feel ageless and free, and I often feel the desire to pass this quality of feeling on to others who are interested.

Who or what inspired you?
I had seen newsreels of Chinese people in parks performing Tai Chi, and their grace and balance impressed me. I looked for a teacher and found Dan Docherty, who was very encouraging and didn‚’t seem to worry about the fact that my left arm movement was severely restricted.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuans current popularity?
Tai Chi can be as easy as you wish it to be and many people are attracted to easy exercise options with minimal injury risks. There are lots of teachers around who teach a fraction of what Tai Chi has to offer, and this fraction satisfies many people. Mass popularity of anything can result in dilution and dumbing down, but on the other side, results in many people looking deeper into the art and sharing insights. So on the whole, popularity is favourable.

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial aspects of Tai Chi?
The martial aspects are fascinating. Every self-defence application expands the doorway to ten thousand variations. Every martial piece of theory can be applied to other areas of life.

What are your views on competition?
Yin and yang operate in all matters, including competition. There are benefits and detriments. Benefits include: providing an environment in which people can see what other enthusiasts are offering; participating in a contest with tai chi colleagues and seeing how well you play; seeing whether you can maintain equilibrium in a competitive arena ; protecting you against the fate of being a big frog in a small well. I have been a competitor, judge, observer and go-between at many competitions, and feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi Chuan going in the future?
I have taught many types of people and have seen improvement in every type of practitioner. For example, I have seen the elderly improve their mobility and balance; sportspersons improve their game; the mentally unstable regain their emotional stability (for 8 years I taught in a psychiatric unit); the young develop their sense of selfworth and self-discipline (for 5 years I taught in a boys‚’ school); the aggressive become tempered; the shy become poised; the bored become enthused; the loner become a team player. Tai Chi can provide opportunities for all groups and types of people and so I would like Tai Chi to expand into every area of society as a life art.

Meet David Hackett

Meetdavidhackett

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
I have been practising Tai Chi for nearly ten years now. This is ten years continual practice. I always set aside time for myself to practice, whether it be in the park in the mornings, or at home, as well as teaching.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi Chuan?
I had heard of a Tai Chi class near where I live, whilst I was trying to find something active to do but not too over physical, as I was trying to recover from a devastating back injury due to a car accident. I had always been extremely active doing all sorts of sports and other martial arts before my accident. The problem then, was that I could hardly move, and was in a lot of pain all the time with my back. To cut a long story short, Tai Chi along with osteopathic treatment, got me back on the road to recovery, where all else had failed. My instructor Michael Davies who is extremely patient stimulated my interest further as I soon began to realise how much there was to learn not only from the health side which had helped me, but also from the martial arts side which to this day I find challenging and fascinating.

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
People reading this have most likely heard it before, but Tai Chi to me is a way of life and can be applied to virtually all situations we encounter in our everyday activities. Once you start probing deeper into the workings of tai chi and the body, not forgetting the mind, you realise how it can help you as an individual and if you teach, how it can help others.

What is the most important aspect for you?
I find it difficult to extricate any one particular aspect of tai chi to say, “this is the most important”. For me personally it is split between the health side and the martial side. Whilst I continually feel the benefits to my health from practising Tai Chi, I absolutely enjoy the challenges from the martial aspect and working with colleagues in this area.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
I always want to know more, and tend to have a very curious nature. I continually attend courses and seminars throughout the year, plus I regularly attend Tai Chi Caledonia. I do not deliberately go out of my way to set myself goals, but because of my hunger to learn more, I cannot wait to learn from some of the top practitioners in this country. Also I feel it is incumbent on myself as a teacher to continue the quest for learning, improve my skills, and pass this knowledge onto my students.

Who or what inspired you?
There are so many top instructors that have inspired me, and I feel so lucky to have been able to train with them. Really, my initial inspiration is my own instructor Michael Davies, he is such a good teacher, he has no ego whatsoever, he is very good at how he handles people, he also has a lot of in depth knowledge of Tai Chi.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuans current popularity?
The main problem I see in this area is that the popularity can be short lived. It is interesting to talk to other instructors for example when we meet at Caledonia only to find that it is not unusual for a lot of students to fall by the wayside very quickly. It is popular to a degree, but when you look under the surface a lot of the students want a quick fix, so the popularity quickly wanes away. Everybody is an individual in their own right, and consequently they want their own individual rewards from learning Tai Chi. To a certain extent the instructor needs to be aware of this and manage these needs into a wider understanding and practice of the art, having said this I do not force anything on any of my students. This either makes the instructor adapt if he/ she truly loves teaching, without compromising the principles of tai chi, or the instructor just sticks rigidly to his/her way of teaching.

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial aspects of Tai Chi?
I cannot imagine learning Tai Chi without knowing the martial aspect of the art. To me it is another part in the jigsaw to understanding how tai chi chuan can benefit the individual.

What are your views on competition?
I feel competition is good in many ways. For those who want to compete, it can test their skills against others. But I would not denigrate those who do not wish to enter, as each must follow their own path. One is not necessarily better than another just because they compete or visa versa.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi Chuan going in the future?
This may seem highly contentious, but I would love to see a Tai Chi Chuan Academy set up in this country. This would provide full time and part time courses of varying in depth levels, to provide knowledge and training for instructors/students. All aspects of Tai Chi Chuan would be taught from the very beginning, including the classics, all types of hands forms, bagua, xing yi, push hands,weapons, the martial side, chi gung etc. Also for those that want to learn Chinese medicine, calligraphy, and the Chinese language and their history. I feel a standard could then be set at this academy and recognised qualifications attained by those students who have attended and passed. Finally this would allow instructors/students to be graded on these courses by a panel of experts at the academy.