10th International Push Hands Meeting, Hannover, Germany
review by Alastair Scott
The 10th International Push Hands meeting took place over nine days in February in Nils Klug’s Tai Chi Studio in the Linden district of Hannover.
This was my first time at this event so I did not know what to expect but it was all good. Travelling over with Bob Lowey and Ronnie Robinson had the advantage in that we were picked up at the airport and driven into Hannover. However, for the benefit of anyone thinking of making this trip in the future, as I saw when I made my own way back to the airport 10 days later, this journey is quite straightforward.
The format of each day was a workshop in the morning and push hands in the afternoon. A variety of instructors led the 3-hour workshops each morning in the studio and the nearby arts hall. As the title of the event might suggest, the emphasis of these was on some aspect of pushing hands: from Rob & Erich Volke’s exploration of using the taiji classics in push hands to Paul Silverstrale’s use of the angulation and distance of 7 star step push hands in applications, always interesting and fun.
As each instructor taught for only two or three days there was the opportunity to work with at least four different instructors during the whole event. Alternatively, those with less time available chose to attend for only the part of the event that allowed them to work with the instructor(s) of their choice.
Every morning, to waken people up and get their energy flowing before the workshops began, Ronnie Robinson led a qigong session. After a light breakfast of coffee and a small croissant he got everybody going in his own inimitable bright and breezy fashion.
In the afternoons, after lunch in an adjacent café, there were three hours of free pushing hands. As you would expect there was quite a mixture of experience evident in these sessions, some of which proved challenging, to say the least. Of particular help to me during some of these sessions were Paul Silverstrale, Henk Jenssen and Wang Ning all of whom had some invaluable advice. In fact, the whole proceedings were conducted in a general spirit of sharing and co-operation. This was perhaps best exemplified by instructor Zhai Hua’s father who had accompanied her to the event and on the spur of the moment offered to present some workshops.
Each morning there was a choice of at least three workshops, sometimes four. Given the array of instructors on offer – Angela Menzel, Bob Lowey, Roberto Benetti, Frieder Anders, Fernando Chedel, Serge Dreyer, George Saby, Michael Plotz, Rob & Erich Volke, Paul Silverstrale, Mario Napoli, Wilhelm Mertens, Cornelia Gruber, Zhai Hua and Wang Ning – it was difficult to choose whose to attend. In the end I opted for a mixture of some I had never worked with before and some I had. None were a disappointment and from talking to others who attended different workshops this seemed to be the general consensus.
Roberto Benetti looked at being connected and disconnected at the same time and gave us a number of exercises to practice this. In doing this we learned to appreciate more possibilities of connection/disconnection under different circumstances.
Fernando Chedel broke down some of the postures from the form to clarify where the yin and yang aspects were. Exercises utilising these postures illustrated the use of yin and yang in a practical manner. This also had the benefit of making us more aware of where we were on our feet.
Michael Plotz explored muscle activity with a particular emphasis on elasticity coming naturally from the movements and we had some interesting partner exercises to experiment with this.
Mario Napoli led us in some quite physical exercises despite having a sprained ankle although, if it had not been for his use of a walking stick outwith the classes, I doubt if any of us would have been aware of his injury. Mario’s emphasis was on how to yield to put your partner in a position of weakness. The exercises he gave us to practice this were also good for developing leg strength. In some of Mario’s push hands exercises I was paired with Willhelm Mertens whom I would like to take this opportunity to thank for being such a generous partner and giving me so much help and advice.
On the evening of the final Saturday was the Gala. This began with an introduction, in which Nils Klug’s efforts in developing this event were acknowledged, along with his significant contribution over the years to the Taiji Network, Germany’s equivalent of the TCUGB. We were then treated to a display by the instructors. We saw various forms – hand and sword – fast and slow, qigong, applications and even part of the little-seen Seven Stars form from Zhai Hua’s father. All this was to a live musical accompaniment and to the high standard you would expect. There was also a very interesting discourse on etymology and calligraphy from the irrepressible Wang Ning. The various elements of the display were pulled together by the whimsical MCing of Helmut Oberlacker.
Paying for a hotel for ten nights would have added too much to the cost for me so I was one of a number who took a sleeping bag and opted to stay in the studio. The studio is in an area of Hannover with many reasonably-priced eating and drinking establishments nearby. Staying and eating locally with my fellow participants helped me get to know a number of them better and added to the whole experience – as well as my extremely limited German (brattkartoffen ist gut!). It was nice meeting you Anneke, Mica, Ceciel, Pim, Roderik, Axel, Ollie and Myte to name but a few. In a conversation one evening Wilhelm Mertens said that any time he attended a workshop that he could take even just one thing away from then it had been a success. I believe that I managed to take something from each day of this event, so for me it was very definitely a successful 9 days.
As well as leading the morning qigong, Ronnie organised video recordings of the proceedings as well as interviews with some participants and instructors. These will be available in the fullness of time – some on the Taiji Europa website and some on a forthcoming DVD.
The turnover of both instructors and participants over the course of the nine days required a high degree of organisation. Astrid, helped by Brigid, Dirk, and Jochen, did a great job in this respect and are due a big thank you from all of us who attended.
Final thanks are to Nils Klug who originated and organises the meeting, both for the quality of this event and for his hospitality.