Category Archives: issue-32

Tai Chi TCHO Switzerland October 30-1st Nov 2009

review by visiting students of TCUGB member Richard Odell

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Tai Chi TCHO is organised by Cornelia Gruber- Belgeri who was helped by 25 volunteers this year. High in the Swiss mountains Cornelia starts to plan her meetings almost as soon as one ends, thus she ensures attention is paid to detail which leaves the visitor both surprised and delighted at the welcome they receive. Nothing I suspect is left to chance, yet the team seem to calmly glide through the weekend with charm and smiles, working seamlessly behind the scenes to bring about a truly unique experience. This bi annual meeting is now well established and certainly a 'jewel in the crown' of my Tai chi calendar.

The cost of all of the seminars and meals is inclusive and there are 60 free sleeping places for those who are happy to share a dojo! Hot water and showers are always available for those who take up this option. Plus there is the added bonus of getting to meet fellow Tai Chi players, share experiences and forms. I am always impressed at how many martial art dojos there are in the area my personal preference is for Cornelia's although Vietnam is also very attractive! (and less crowded this year I heard).

This year a group of ten Tai Chi students brought together by our teacher Richard Odell travelled to Switzerland to take part. This is a collective account of our impressions. Sadly Richard was called from the airport departure lounge because of a family illness leaving us all to fend for ourselves! One of the best things Tai Chi has brought me apart from the personal health benefits and general philosophy is the privilege of being part of such a group. Groups by their very nature contain both Yin and Yang and have the capacity for opposites. Fortunately our group always seems to find the positive even in adversity and it’s always a magical time when away with them.

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Being a well respected and charismatic figure on the European Tai Chi scene Cornelia invites some of the most experienced and inspirational teachers who willingly join together to provide a series of interesting, informative workshops. This year was no exception and a suitably impressive programme was presented. The teachers this year were: Nathan Managed USA, Nils Klug D, Ronnie Robinson UK, Epi Van de Pol N, Fernando Chedel ES, Le-My Lac F, Jean-Luc Perot B, Luigi Zanini I, Franco Mescola I, Helmut Oberlack D, Jean- Pierre Schorpp CH, Almut Schmitz D, Thierry Huguet F, Susanne Lohrer Rovero CH, Cate Wallis CH, Jug Chamoud CH, Nicole Henriod CH, Josue Haefliger CH, Mireille Reichenbach CH.

On the Friday evening we were treated to a warm welcome from Natalie (any questions, she's the woman) followed by the first of our specially prepared meals, homemade pumpkin soup. Cornelia also employs a chef who provides vegetarian and mostly locally sourced organic meals from the Friday evening arrival through to the Sunday lunch. As each year the tables were laid complimented with beautiful hand made decorations. There was a huge basket heaped with apples closeby which we, along with others helped diminish over the weekend. And then there were the little swiss chocolates individually wrapped tempting us to linger at Natalies table longer than absolutely necessary!

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Following our meal there was the debut of Sifu The board game. Each group was made up of 6 players and was aided by a member from the local game club. Sifu created by Cornelia, with art work done Tai Chi TCHO Switzerland October 30-1st Nov 2009 by her Artist husband Milton Gruber, arose from another of her passions her game club. Many of us were immediately introduced to other schools of Tai Chi and related theory whilst grappling with learning the rules of what appeared to be a well thought and constructed game. However in true tai chi sprit several of us found the balance of early morning travel, fine food and wine, and company affected our ability to develop the strategies to play competitively!

There was a full program of workshops over the next two days starting with a choice of early morning exercises or Qigong in the park, early Saturday morning. Workshops continued throughout the day in the main hall and the local dojos, with a break for lunch and a time to catch up with everyone and exchange experiences. Having chosen different workshops there was plenty to discuss, however, we all felt our chosen workshops were interesting and informative giving an insight into other forms and styles of teaching, certainly giving us all food for thought! Saturday evening proved to be another highlight of the weekend. We were treated to demonstrations on stage by several of the teachers of forms and partner exercises. Cornelia and several of her students demonstrated the Dragon fan form and its applications in a sequence which was visibly stunning. Another delicious meal followed before it was time to get ready to dance the night away – and did we!

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On Sunday morning a few of our group made the early morning sessions, with the rest of us opting for the workshops starting a little later, and again there was an impressive line up to choose from. As tradition demands 150 + people joined together in the central park to show case the various tai chi forms for the local people of the town on Sunday before returning for lunch! The press and television were there to report the event. After lunch it was time to sample the final workshops or free pushing hands in the big hall.

It was then time for Tai Chi TCHO 2009 to draw to a close. Thanks were offered to Cornelia’s helpers who had worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure we all had an enjoyable time, the teachers for coming from far and wide to inspire and share their knowledge with us, and of course, Cornelia without whom this brilliant event would not happen.

And then it was time for the finale – Cornelia had us all following her round the big hall in a circle dance. With just enough time for tea and homemade cakes before it was time to say our goodbyes to friends old and new – until the next time.

Taijiquan Festival & Dutch Open Competition – Amsterdam, November 2009


review by students of Wu’s Tai Chi Chuan Academy, London

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On 21 November the 2009 STN Festival took place in Amsterdam, hosted by the Stichting Taijiquan Nederland (Netherlands Taijiquan Foundation). Several clubs from the UK made the journey, further cementing the growing ties between STN and TCUGB that have been developing between the two country’s Tai Chi organisations in recent years. Many participants came with teams from across Europe. The Netherlands were well represented by numerous styles of Tai Chi players including, among others, strong Hong Ying and Martini Art Dojo teams.

Wu’s Tai Chi Chuan Academy in Bethnal Green, London, sent a team of six competitors in push hands and forms events and two officials, led by Sifu Gary Wragg. We were warmly welcomed by our Dutch colleagues, who looked after us exceedingly well throughout the event. There were many familiar faces especially among the UK competitors. STN used an excellent venue for the event, an enormous and well-lit, tiered and galleried sports hall surrounded by smaller side gyms. This enabled the competition organisers to accommodate no fewer than 18 simultaneous Tai Chi workshops. This no doubt contributed to the excellence and diversity of the day, with people discovering they could try out in a workshop what they had just seen in a demonstration.

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At lunchtime the competition events took a break and we were entertained with a brilliantly performed lion dance, demonstrations of the Sun Style and fan forms by Faye Li Yip, representative of the Deyin Institute, and an international array of hand, weapon and application performances demonstrated by individuals and groups from Germany, Russia, and China among others. After lunch the workshops resumed and Faye Yip noted that some people had decided to come to her fan form workshop who had seen the fan for the first time in her demonstration

There were a large number of forms and push hands categories and a greater diversity of competitors than is normally seen in UK competitions. For example, several teams of mature competitors entered group forms categories. They presented a pleasing if not particularly martial performance, and it was encouraging to see that they felt welcome and were interested to compete, despite not having an interest in the martial side of the art. However the very same ethos that enabled their participation did complicate the forms judging somewhat, because competitors who expect martial intent to be judged as an important element of any form performance found that it was not so evident in this competition. In the UK it is very normal, as in most other countries, that the martial intent is a necessary criteria among others in the judging of forms, as the tai chi chuan martial and health aspects are an integral complement to each other in the practice of the art. The TCUGB and STN leadership discussed this difference in respective competition cultures at a meeting after the event, and it was mentioned that in future events there could be separate categories in the STN competition.

The sports hall was spacious enough to accommodate four simultaneous competition areas – two for forms and two for pushing hands. As well as the familiar Fixed Feet and Moving Step categories, the competition included an event called ‘Essential step’, where one could take one complete step forward when applying a technique, and one step back when neutralizing such a technique. There seemed to be a bit of confusion about how the techniques could be used, and points scored. We were aware that scoring was to be based on ‘clean’ Tai Chi techniques – applied without the use of force – but this proved difficult to score with some techniques, for example with pulldowns. It turned out that the Dutch rules were many pages longer than the ones translated to English, and that some of our confusion may have been due to translation difficulties also. Here again, there was an opportunity for Dutch and UK colleagues to collaborate on producing a clear set of rules for next time, and we agreed to work together on this.

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Despite the usual assumption that tai chi chuan technique will overcome force (“four ounces will move a thousand pounds”), few who have competed would argue for the removal of weight categories. Instead we equalise weight advantage where possible and then allow the tai chi skills to come (literally) into play. The infinite range of softness and hardness properly expressed and demonstrated in tai chi chuan push hand techniques is the core of the matter. How these are shown, as well as what is not appreciated, needs clarification in this competition. It would be better demonstrated by highly skilled referees and officials prior to the pushing hands events.

Other differences from the UK competitions were that the weigh-in procedure was less rigorous, mats were not used in the push hands fields, competitors were expected to wear shoes, and encouraging teams from the sidelines was prohibited. The “no cheering” rule left the atmosphere a little muted. Whilst the other competitions can be notably rowdier, it also has great spirit as the performances are usually applauded, regardless of affiliation.

After the tournament the officials, who had come from all over the Netherlands and Europe, had a chance to unwind and catch up at a banquet laid on at the local Chinese restaurant. The competition organizers extended an invitation to foreign competitors to join in with the banquet, giving us an opportunity to relax and enjoy some excellent Chinese food (with an extensive vegetarian selection) as well as some well-earned ice-cold Tsing Tao beer.

The support of both countries by participating in each other‚Äôs competitions in their respective countries means a lot not only for the success of each event, but our continuing dialogue will help to improve the organisation of tai chi competitions in both our countries and to make an impact on improving judging and refereeing standards, as yet again there were a number of problems evident in the forms judging system at this event. The TCUGB Judges’ Seminars are one such initiative, and are open to participants from all countries. Continued attendance and participation in international events — whether competing or judging — and learning from each other through constructive criticism, are vital. We hope that the UK events next year will be equally well-attended by international teams, and we look forward to welcoming back the hosts and competitors of the STN Festival to the  2010 British Open on April 11th and the London Competition for Traditional Tai Chi Chuan on June 13th

Meet Matthew Rochford

Matthew Rochford

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
over 19 years now, I started when I was 22 and living in the north east of england

What stimulated your interest?
Several things, and a coming together of various factors at the same time. Essentially I was seeking some method of finding more balance in myself and had an interest in esoteric teachings, meditation and Buddhism; I met a teacher, Alan Higgins via a friend and he had a certain presence about him that intrigued me. it was at his classes that I first connected to tai Chi (and Qigong) and through this was able to train with Peter Warr and Master Huang Jifu. I read and trained a lot, feeling great benefits along the way, but kind of came to a dead end about 5 years ago. at that point I sought another teacher to help me re-ignite things.

What does TC mean to you?
to me it is all about training the mind, enjoying the process of letting go and enhancing the mind/body connection; It is about benefitting others; It is also my livelihood and pays my mortgage; It is about great friendships; It’s challenging and hard; It’s easy and effortless; I have a lot to be grateful for – tai Chi is a big chunk of my life. What is the most important aspect to you? I love (and hate) push hands as it reveals so much about where I actually am as a practitioner, and this is really challenging to my sense of who I am. However I love the reality check it gives me. I also mainly practice for my mind. the mind aspect is really where my passion is. By mind I mean the aspect of mind that is awareness and the aspect that is intention. Learning to move the mind through the body with intention and listening to the results with awareness interests me a lot.

Do you have any personal goals with TC?
Yes- at the moment they are to consciously get my body to release more deeply and my mind to listen more clearly.

Who or what inspired you?
originally it was my friend Harry Simmons, a fellow practitioner. He introduced me to my first teacher and helped me a lot during the early years. these days my main inspirations are Luke Shepherd – for his clarity and honesty and Patrick Kelly whose life (in my view) has been marked by dedication to the inner truths of tai Chi (and beyond tai Chi). there have been other inspirations too, outside of the tai Chi world, such as Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?
I am not quite sure what to make of it. Sometimes classes are very full, but the usual story is of high attrition rates. I welcome the fact that people want to learn tai Chi, but there are ten times as many people doing Yoga. Why? Perhaps a better question is "How do we make tai Chi more relevant to peoples lives'?". I think Tai Chi could be more popular if it was presented in a way that people could really relate to. one of my missions in life is to present tai Chi to the world in a contemporary and relevant way.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi?
to me tai Chi is an (internal) martial art of the highest kind, but Tai Chi for fighting (external) does not interest me at all.

What are your views on competitions?
i no longer have any personal interest in them. When I was in my twenties I entered a well known UK competition – but that was to prove to myself that I could demonstrate my art in front of others without fear. as a way of personal growth it helped me. I did not want to find out what mark I got, that to me was completely irrelevant.

What direction would you like to see TC take in the future?
I can only speak for my own organisation for this one: I would like us to be working with more clients and bringing the principles of tai Chi to different types of training courses. I'd like us to continue in our quest to make tai Chi highly relevant to today's world and today's challenges. i'd like us to grow in our tai Chi wisdom in a compassionate and confident way, according to our abilities and interests.

Meet Anna Dashwood

Anna Dashwood

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
Just over five years, last two and a half studying Chen Style.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi?
tai Chi was a missing link, a connection with the surrounding world, with my own body and mind, with people and nature. once tried tai chi resonated with me straight away and it was impossible not to use this instrument of discovery.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
tai Chi is freedom. When your joints open up, the body softens and takes on the qualities of water. When the mind quietens down, filled with tranquillity and the spirit soars with the birds. Can you then tell yourself apart from the droplets of rain carried by the wind or the breathing ocean waves? What is the most important aspect for you? the Chinese say that you cannot ‚’store‚’ your kung fu for tomorrow. if today you haven‚’t practiced you not only lose your skills, but also drop ten days in your development. the feeling of Tai Chi, being like a fire which needs constant attention, keeps you awake. one has to work to maintain the flame. A perfect reminder how ephemeral everything is and how nothing can be taken for granted.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
It‚’s fulfilling to work in the local community, like cultivating your own garden. With time a well established Chen Style tai Chi school with a variety of subjects and a clear progression path will be my offering. Travelling and meeting new players attracts me as one of the ways of learning tai Chi. the most important personal aim is to let go of the idea of a ‚’goal‚’ altogether and concentrate on unhurried daily practice.

Who or what inspired you?
nature is such a source of inspiration! You learn so much by practicing in various locations throughout the year. the way autumn winds carry the leaves, cormorants dry their wings, dropping the shoulders, fish jumping out of the water defying gravity ‚’ all blends in with your form, taking you on a journey, treasure hunting for more tai chi secrets. Fellow players inspire me with their enthusiasm and the experiences they bring to tai Chi, be it Indian dancing, surfing or music. But, by far the greatest driving force is my Shifu, whose skill, dedication and passion for the art are overwhelming.Master Wang Hai Jun is incredibly generous with his energy and knowledge and tireless at passing the skill onto his pupils.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuan‚’s current popularity?
it‚’s inspiring, if tai Chi‚’s popularity comes supported by dedication and commitment to practice, all the better.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi?
Martial application is the original and ultimate goal of training. On the different steps to this level we find such benefits as relaxation, feeling good, health and fitness. No matter what the level is the martial aspect shapes, directs, inspires and adds beauty to everyday training.

What are your views on competition?
Competition, amongst other things can inspire you to practice harder and is a way of learning about yourself and the world. it should, however be set up professionally with a fair mindset, employing good standards.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
in spite of current popularity of the art, there are still many who are not aware of what tai Chi is. It would be beneficial to see this gap filled. Then Tai Chi can be used more effectively to help maintain the health of the population.If Tai Chi can be actively taught to children in schools it would keep the art vibrant and prevent many future problems.

Anna Dashwood is based in East Kent and can be contacted on 01304 205405 or by email