Category Archives: Issue 41

The Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe's 6th Tai Chi Chuan & Chinese Internal Arts Competition

Lignano, Italy: 7th – 9th December 2012

Tcfe Comp 2012

TCFe Hungary 1997

I’ve been involved with the Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe (TCFE) since 1997, when I went to teach at their 2nd Congress/Forum in Hungary, which was organised by Dan Docherty. Since that time I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with teachers and students from many areas of Europe, many of whom have gone on to become very good friends.

european interchange

Connecting with these various individuals has

also allowed me to create projects (European Internal Arts Journal (now defunct) and Taiji Europa) which continues with the theme of sharing, learning and developing healthy dialogue between practitioners from a variety of styles and approaches to these varied arts.

Severino Maistrello

In August 2011 I participated in the TCFE Forum in Lignano, Italy, ably organised by Severino Maestrello and his team. Despite difficult economic times and the increasing plethora of internal arts gatherings the event was highly successful and greatly enjoyed by all who attended. Severino went on to offer his services once again to organise the TCFE Competition. His bid was carefully considered, discussions took place, guidelines were submitted by the TCFE and the wheels started to turn….

Throughout the process I had regular contact with Severino when we continually refined, adapted and changed little things here and there, mainly to allow visitors to understand the process of registering online, arranging accommodation, timings for flights etc.

Judges

Then we had to look for judges. Severino would arrange a balance of Italian judges and I would locate 15 competent judges from elsewhere in Europe. My initial approach was to contact all membership organisations of the TCFE requesting for able judges from the various countries involved. A few came forward but nothing like enough. I then considered who among my long list of contacts across Europe would be capable, unbiased and available to give up a weekend to aid the European Internal Arts Community.

Close to hand in the UK Gary Wragg and Faye Yip, immediately came to mind as long-standing members of the Technical Panel of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain (TCUGB), and founding members of the UK Judges’ Training Courses, which had been running for the past 5 years or so. They agreed to do the job and also put forward others who had successfully completed the five-year Judges’ Training Courses (Merilee Pearls,) along with three individuals who regularly judged at the long-standing British Open Tai Chi Championships (Charlie Gorrie, Kathy Davies and Diane Pullen). Holland offered two highly experienced judges (Ceciel Kroes (Now also on the TCFE Board) and Cora van Geel, members of the TCFE Executive Committee, Cornelia Gruber (Switzerland), Hans Finne (Norway) who had judged at nearly all the previous TCFE Competitions.

Key judges from other European countries (including Germany and Italy) were also on the list but unfortunately were unable to attend.

The job of locating sufficient, unbiased judges to consider what is a European level event is no easy task. However with the increasing number of competitions and judges’ training programmes the pool of judges is slowly growing.

The next task is to familiarise the organiser and judges with the rules and establish clarity, particularly looking for any uncertainties that can result from having to read something in a non-native language.

Two days prior to departure I received an SMS from KLM advising me to go a day early, as flights were likely to be cancelled on Friday. Finishing my class around 19:30, travelling to my nearest student’s house (well done Aileen) to get online, and on the telephone (for some considerable time) to finally arrange new flight for 9:00 the next morning. A quick dash home, pack everything in bags and back to Aileen’s to stay the night as she’s closer to the airport and successfully on the (late) plane en route….

Arriving in Italy

Severino, despite his busy schedule (an understatement), made the one hour drive from his home in Padova to Venice and back again where we picked the TCFE President, Nils Klug at the local train station, checked into the hotel, and reconvened at 20:30 for dinner. During dinner we met his key team members,

Paulo, Walter and others then proceeded to assign the various judges to their respective tables, ensuring a balance of styles and countries where possible.

TCFE Executive Committee

The next day we arrived at the venue mid-afternoon where I met other members of the TCFE Executive Committee including Paul Silfverstrale. Paul ran the very successful TCFE Competition in his native Sweden 4 years ago and had been providing valuable information to Severino for this event. (Some time over the ensuing years between both competitions Paul had worked, in conjunction with a TCFE Sub-Committee to establish a template for all subsequent organisers of TCFE Competitions (A similar template also exists for the TCFE Congress/Forums)). We had arranged for Severino’s team, Paul and I to go over the rules etc. prior to a meeting with the judges later that night.

From 17:00 until dinner the TCFE Executive Committee began their meeting 30 minutes early, as our time together would be limited due to our various duties over the course of the weekend. Around 17:30 our Treasurer arrived and we continues our meeting until 19:30 when Paul and I had to continue with the judges meeting.

Because of these time limitations the TCFE EC agreed to arrange follow-up meetings via Skype over the next few weeks. The meeting also raised a number of key issues that will also be addressed over the same period.

After dinner Paul and I met again with Severino and his team to go over the rules once more, prior to the judges’ meeting. A number of things were clarified and later related to the judges. Their meeting took some considerable time, down to translations and clarification of various points in the rules.

The Competition Begins

9:00 Saturday morning everyone assembled in the large, airy stadium, which was divided, into six arenas for the major event. Severino decided to do all the form events on Saturday, leaving all the push-hands meetings until Sunday. This decision allowed competitor to be well prepared and presented for form events and negated the need to change clothing in between times. It did however make the day calmer and quieter, lacking the usual enthusiastic shouts of encouragement that we have come to associate with such events.

It is clear from attending these competitions that an increasing number of competitors take their training regime very serious and the results show in the increased standard of performances. Some categories we well subscribed to whilst others were not but with 320 competitors enlisting to compete over 700+ entries an interesting and diverse range of skills were seen by all.

The volume of entries was no more evident that on the Saturday evening when the various medals were presented to the successful entrants. In addition to various committee members of the TCFE, the medals presentations included Severino, the President of his Association, and an official of the region. This, as you will imagine, took a considerable amount of time and by the time it was over some of us were just a little too weary to enjoy the party that followed. However the following day the push hands medals were presented shortly after the winners were established, negating the requirement of spending another 2-3 hours with the awarding formalities.

Push Hands

Sunday morning a short meeting covered the rudiments of the scoring procedures and the matches got underway. With one referee, a timekeeper and seconder they were kept busy looking for potential infringements or unfair play. Although the competitors were in good spirits, playing fairly, some tension ensued when one or two enthusiastic supporters got overly passionate in their support, occasionally berating the referee for some (in their eyes) perceived omission of penalties or points.

What was clear was the fact that no matter how efficient the referees were; it was difficult, if not impossible to see everything in the heat of the moment. What was equally clear was if anything did get missed there was an equal impact on each contestant with no bias being showed by any judge. When there were questions every judge was able to clearly justify his or her marking and their attention to detail and fairness was evident when they answered any questions openly in a friendly, helpful manner.

Over the course of the weekend there were three official appeals made to the Appeal’s Committee (which consisted of three members of different styles, from differing countries) one of which was upheld and the other two amicably resolved taking into consideration the contributing factors.

Organising such an event is a considerable task. Bearing in mind that anyone who does so, does it only once. Doing anything for the first time invokes a large learning curve and to do so at a time when there is much on stake for everyone concerned requires clear organisation, calm mind and the ability to adapt to the circumstances. These are also qualities that we train through the work of our respective arts. Every time there is a competition lessons are noted, learned and incorporated into the running of future events. The TCFE will analyse all comments, go over every aspect of the event, and consolidate all points made, from every angle. They will then improve and adapt our guidelines where necessary to create a clear workable template for future events.

Enormous thanks must be given to Severino Maeitrello and his team for their tremendous efforts, clear organisation, and friendly, open spirits that ensured the event was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

To the judges who gave freely of their time, many travelling considerable distances, who exercised fairness and impartiality, without which there would be no European champions.

And finally to the competitors, who gave of their energy, time and money to train, develop and compete in good spirits.

The European Tai Chi Community is growing and developing and through continued open exchange like that which occurred over the weekend of 7-9 December we can all benefit from the work of each other and our community will continue to flourish.

Ronnie Robinson Secretary TCFE

Uk Push Hands 2012

Ukpush 2012

Alongside amongst the best two modern Olympics ever held, another event quietly achieved considerable success of its own, for the third year running. I am talking about Pushing Hands UK 2012, held on the quiet and convenient campus of Worcester University.

Organised by Adrian Murray, and benefitting from the participation of three leading exponents of pushing hands, this event combines a familiar feel with leading edge teaching. It has no leaders, no edge and no ego. Instead it is a free exchange of ideas and techniques, governed by a sensible rule-set, leading to open sharing of the fruits of many years’ labours. The structure has evolved and this year, I think, achieved an optimal balance of teaching and open pushing hands. The social side is excellent with modern accommodation lending itself to after-hours amusement, consumption of tipple and (icing on the cake) an exuberant and hugely participative Ceilidh.

The three teachers this year, Andrew Heckhert, Scott Chaplowe and Serge Dreyer, freely gave of their time and massive experience. They give everyone new insights, things to work on, and a feeling of well-being that cannot easily be put in words. They deserve an infinite thank-you. They don’t get paid, they are very good at showing what they have been able to fathom (over many years) of this immense subject, and even a haphazard player like me can find that pushing hands can become fascinating rather than perplexing, opening rather than frustrating, in their capable hands.

Adrian’s organising skills and good humour give the event a stable and lovely foundation. He takes a risk on this, there is no financial payback (only risk), but this is often the stock of interesting ventures. This is reflected in the diversity of participants, many old friends to me now, others good to have met for the first time this year.

Serge gave a big thank-you at the end, in his inimitable way, commending the openness and sharing elements, saying that this is an event that would not be possible to find in other parts of the world, and something therefore to be treasured.

I can readily recommend coming to next year’s event, regardless of your ‘level’ and experience. If you think (as for many years I did) that a pushing hands event was not really for you, then all I can say is give this one a go – you could be pleasantly surprised and energised! David Craig.

The Pushing Hands UK flyer was encouraging ‘all levels’, it had said consequently I found myself on the campus at Worcester uni, feeling apprehensive and wondering whether pushing hands was a skill I wanted to develop after all. I can now unequivocally state that this weekend has been one of the most absorbing, demanding and fun wekends in my T’ai Chi experience. My ‘beginner’s mind’ as it turned out, was something to be celebrated, as we were told we needed to keep this approach to remain open and aware. Our three masters/instructors were each an inspiration to us all, and we were 60 in number….what do I retain from their instruction?

From Scott, the wonderful emptiness of the cat stance, where your partner finds your torso has disappeared but your hands are at his sides ready for the next exchange.

From Serge, the feel of sinking into a heavy relaxed state and deflecting in this state.

From Andrew, allowing a push to land, taking the partner where he wants to go, then beyond it, to his disadvantage…. there was so much to take in, the warm-ups were noteworthy, too and everyone managed to get there by 7.45 am, notwithstanding the night before…

What I had not recognised was the way that pushing hands, like T’ai Chi, has a way of insinuating itself into everyday experience. For example, just watching John give Farah a music masterclass was an exercise in leading, following and sharing of movement and ideas. Or the way that at the Ceilidh on Sunday night I could recognise my partners in the chain of dancers by sensing rather than seeing them.

Finally a thank you to those highly skilled and experienced players who had the patience and kindness to help me learn while pushing;”now you’ve almost got me. How about the shoulder? No, if you push in that direction you are pushing into my supporting leg etc etc.” Oh, the frustration of thinking I knew what I was doing but falling into the trap time after time! It seems that frustration is felt by everone at every level. Andrew told us a story of Master Tao, weeping in front of the ocean because he felt he would never succeed at pushing hands, and then he saw a log floating in the waves and the word ‘momentum’ came to his mind, to re-inspire him.

I met some old friends and made some new ones. I shall definitely be back next year. Sue Platt

I am an inexpert and rather reluctant pushing hands player. I never like the idea of attending any pushing hands events or workshops – it brings out all my insecurities. But whenever I do bring myself to just give it a go I mainly have positive and enjoyable experiences and always learn something that feeds back into my solo practise. So, having listened to a number of friends telling me how great the last two Pushing Hands UK events have been, I took several deep breaths and booked to attend this year’s event.

First the practicalities – the event was well organised and ran smoothly (many thanks to Adrian, Christina and Sam!) The venue works well. The accommodation in student residences is comfortable (things have improved considerably since my experience of University accommodation many years ago!) and it was possible to self-cater or have meals provided. The indoor work spaces were big enough to accommodate the numbers attending (around 60 in total I believe) though they did get a bit stuffy during what was a rather hot and humid weekend. There were pleasant outside spaces for cooling off, a bit of independent practise and some time out to let some of the experience settle in. I was a little disappointed that no use was made of the outside space for any of the organised sessions but there seemed to be a majority in favour of working indoors.

Now to the important bit – the pushing hands. I had not previously met or worked with any of the three teachers attending – Scott Chaplowe, Serge Dreyer and Andrew Heckert. Profiles of all three were available on the Pushing Hands UK website before the event giving an idea of their backgrounds, experience and interest in Tai Chi and a brief outline of what each intended to address in their workshops over the weekend was included in the information pack provided to attendees. On the day we all arrived each teacher spent 45 minutes introducing themselves and their proposed workshops and making a start with some simple exercises. I particularly like this idea as it helped me feel a little less nervous when attending the first full workshops. It also meant that if anyone was looking for any particular emphasis/ area to work on during the weekend they had a good idea of where each teacher was going and could plan their attendance at workshops accordingly.

The first evening included an opening meeting to ensure everyone was aware of how the weekend was organised, when and where to go, who to ask for help if needed etc. It also addressed some basic rules for the free pushing hands sessions such as no hitting, kicking or grabbing, no locks, fixed steps and emphasising an attitude or working co-operatively rather than competitively and respecting one’s partner’s level of skill, objectives and physical fitness. Whilst this may have seemed a little limiting to some of the more experienced players I found it very reassuring and certainly everyone I played with respected these rules.

The two full days were each structured around three workshops (four hours in total each day) and two sessions of free pushing hands (three and a quarter hours on Sunday and about two hours on Monday) – a fairly intense programme. The workshops ran concurrently so attendees had the opportunity to follow a particular teacher, to attend a workshop with each on each day or a mixture.

I chose to attend workshops with all three. To me they seemed to have similar ideas around how best to play pushing hands but were emphasising in these particular workshops different areas to look at in depth and different techniques so I found I could work with each without getting conflicting advice and without getting too confused. I am sure many of the finer points will have been wasted on me but I did feel that I had picked up some key basic ideas that I can think about and work on in my own practise – from Scott some ideas on structure and being clear about weight, from Serge an emphasis on the mental approach and how this can aid or hinder applying tai chi principles in pushing hands and from Andrew much about lightness and not allowing your partner anything to push on.

I found all the teachers generous with their time and expertise, not restricting themselves just to their workshops but joining in the free pushing and chatting between sessions. Also the experience of pushing with so many different people in the free sessions – friends and strangers, different levels of expertise and fitness, different body types – provided a wealth of experience to think about.

All in all I am glad I stopped making excuses, stepped out of my comfort zone and went along. It felt a safe and positive space in which to explore and learn and was also a lot of fun.

Clio Pyner Pushing Hands UK

The British Open Tai Chi Championships Oxford April 2012

This year’s British Open attracted 150 participants from the UK and various European countries. Organiser Dan Docherty, as always, had prepared well, and his loyal group of helpers who I’ve now known for many years, enabled the

smooth running of the event with no suspensions or problems.

I never been to a more fluent running event, which started promptly at 10.30 and finished about 17.30. The system from the point of arriving, weighing-in, hanging around, preparing, looking for your own event at schedules on the wall, joining the in between medal giving, knowing who to go to with questions and go home when you like, it looks like everyone is so familiar with it – it’s like a relaxed jazz-rhythm.

This year there was no full-contact fighting. It was cancelled because of the low numbers. The result was more room for push hands.

The judging went well, nice qualified people, not too much discussion and we watched some good performances by seriously prepared people. After several years judging experience, I’m still surprised by the continuing high level of performers in Britain. However, one may notice the process of Wu-Shu-fication of some performances. These were evident in some inattentive walks and jumps, bare hand routines or the over-long stops and starts (although well dressed and done for nice photo shoots). I hope traditional tai chi chuan schools stay aware of their special qualities and keep working on demonstrating controlled internal martial spirit and will not sacrifice this to aesthetic appearance.

During judging there always are some surprises. Like a man who did weak hand-form but utterly changed his attitude and expression performing a weapon form, and a junior boy who did very good spear form. Emma North again demonstrated hidden strength and frightening concentration with her marvellous hand-form and I was also lucky to see a very beautiful balanced fan form by Peter Histed.

I had a good time with the judges I worked with this during the event, but to use the ‘Dutch-Uncle’ expression: Trusting that all judges are well qualified, it still is a pity the choice has to be limited mostly to judges from the Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan School.

TCUGB members have the privilege to join a good judging education system, organized by Gary Wragg on their behalf and it would benefit people who have never judged and are suddenly selected to sit on the panel and provide technical information about the characteristics of individual styles.

After another sunny day spent in Blackbird Leys sports hall we went back to London to celebrate a successful 24th British Open and the Irish boys golden medals with the traditional wine and whisky tasting. It was a good time to see all my British friends again and I thank Dan Docherty’s for his invitation and hospitality.

Ceciel Kroes – Netherlands