Category Archives: issue-35

AquaVenice 2010

Sam Masich

AquaVenice is an annual gathering held on the island of St Erasmo, near Venice, Italy.

Organised by Franco Mescola the event is well attended by predominantly Italian students, with an increasing number from other countries becoming aware of the benefits of learning in this peaceful, relaxed island.

This year the teachers: Faye Yip (UK), Marianne Plouvier (France), Sue Woodd (UK) Gianni Gropelli (Switzerland), Sam Masich (Canada), Ronnie Robinson (UK) and Italian teachers, Franco Mescola, Arcadio Rizzardi, Giancarlo Rochi.

Visit: Centro Ricerche Taichi Italia

Aquavenice 2010

The illustration on the cover of the AquaVenice brochure depicts the city of Venice, looking something like a futuristic space station, floating in a bubble, with roots dangling below. Upon arriving at Piazzale Roma I was met by event organizer (and creator of the above mentioned drawing) Franco Mescola who promptly brought me onto his boat for a small canal tour of the city and to take me to the Isle of St. Erasmo where proceedings were already underway.

Franco could be described as a ʻclassical manʼ. A proud native of Venice, he speaks fondly of the histories and mysteries of the churches, palazzos and bridges that stand astride the intricate waterways. For him there is a kind of ancient connection between venerable Venezia and the ideas and principles of Chinese martial arts and health practices. He points to a bridge and relates how young men from one side of the canal would challenge their rivals to fierce fighting matches on the overpasses until one was finally thrown or thumped into the channel.

The leg stability required by gondoliers and other boat-men also speaks to the relationship between Venetian daily life and the Chinese art Franco, at 74 years of age, works tirelessly to promote. As we cross to the island Franco and I discuss the theories of ʻbio-spiralingʼ detailed in his newly released book. Iʼm already starting to see water differently, as we wind our way through the city, and the verities of taiji philosophy.

St. Erasmo: Work

When we arrive at the event location, Il Lato Azzurro, I am pleased to see a friend from Tai Chi Caledonia, Master Faye Yip, putting a large group of students through their paces with a straight-sword. Faye, from Wolverhampton, England by-way-of Beijing, is one of eleven AquaVenice instructors hailing from seven countries. Faye is part of the ʻYin-Yangʼ part of the seminar which is broken into three parts: ʻYinʼ, ʻYin-Yangʼ and ʻYangʼ. Each segment is three days long—the first (ʻYinʼ) concentrating on qigong meditation and energetic practices; the second (ʻYin-Yangʼ) more on active forms— fan, sword and long stick were taught; and the third (ʻYangʼ), focusing on elements of push- hands and martial applications.

Ronnie Robinson arrived a few hours later and immediately claimed the best room in the hotel. It was nice to see another friend from Caledonia but it dawned on me quickly: I wouldnʼt be getting any sleep in Italy. Ronnie was also part of the ʻYangʼ team and gave excellent workshops on dalü—an often over- looked aspect of taiji training—and on ways to approach martial application in a lighter way. The three days also gave me an opportunity to see Gianni Groppelli whose Yang-style based work focused on tui shou and specific taiji energies such as lü and an.

Francoʼs work focused on applications derived from a compiled art called Xuan Chuan (translated something like ʻdark, profound boxingʼ) and from his metodo biospirali which employs an understanding of physiology and the workings of the nervous system. My own work focused on the relationship between zhan-nian jin (sticking-adhering energy) and taijiquan as a martial art, the idea being that solutions come out of connection rather than from any preplanned routine of responses. I found the students to be attentive, respectful, appreciative and hard-working. While there was much translating going on at all times, I found there to be a good flow and rhythm to the classes. Since only one instructor presents in any given time-slot there are no distractions nor diversions from the class and all the students attending the event are present.

During an economic time where many taiji events are seeing lower turnouts this event was packed with participants from all over Europe. In the evenings there was plenty of well-spirited push-hands free-play and I found myself enjoying the touch of a good many players. I could feel a lot of sincerity in these sessions and a desire for self-improvement amongst the participants.

St. Erasmo: Play

There arenʼt so many dining options on St. Erasmo but we went to some really great places. The beachside café near the event featured plenty of sea-fare and one restaurant on an adjacent island was worth the entire trip! Italians seem to know something about food that is hard to describe and which must be experienced. Everything was good. I think the meal gatherings helped set the tone for the final nightʼs beach party which was held around a giant bonfire, music pounding, people dancing, taijiʼing and qigongʼing. Francoʼs dedicated students generously prepared all day for the sandy event, some missing classes to do so. There was an incredible fish-fry with the inevitable Campari-Aperol spritzers making the rounds.

The following morning there was an on-ocean push-hands competition where the combatants teetered on two thick (but slightly bendy) planks which were lain astride a pair of boats. The judges stood in the Adriatic up to their chests as the matches raged. After the matches were all decided, I had to get up and give it a try. This is a good set of conditions for challenging your balance and footing. The planks create one set of moving variables and the boats another. Then of course there are the attempts of your partner to make you lose balance. The movement below can become part of the strategy. Of course the worst that can happen is that one can get knocked into the water. Not that Iʼd know.

For me the event was a chance to take a breath and admire the beauty of human achievement and spirit—architecture, internal art, cuisine and play. Itʼs an ancient place, Venice, really a world of its own. I couldnʼt imagine a better introduction to the city or to Italy than to visit Francoʼs crowd at AquaVenice. Special thanks to: Franco, Marzia, Verena, Tony and Massimo.

13th Tai Chi Lalita

Lynn Gordon

13th Tai Chi Lalita


Tai Chi Lalita is an annual gathering held at Lalita Centre in the Spanish mountains near Acebo.

Organised by Enrique Alario the event is well-considered by the European tai chi community for offering quality workshops, in a relaxed atmosphere, within beautiful, natural surroundings.

This year the teachers: Nathan Menaged – USA, Mario Napoli – Italy, Rob Volke, Holland & Ronnie Robinson – Scotland offered workshops on tai chi walking stick, tai chi sword, push hands and da lui.


We arrived in the village of Acebo, a sleepy little place with a number of café bars and a lovely piazza. The weather was hot and dry and as we made our way from the village to the Lalita site, we could feel the atmosphere at once tranquil and charged with mountain energy. There are small rivers running through various parts of the land and sweet spring water is freely available.

The first evening we met for dinner in the central dining hall. Throughout our stay, the vegetarian food on offer was exceptional and original. For the dedicated meat eaters, there is always the option of a short journey into Acebo (about a 30 minute walk from Lalita) and the finest chuletas – baby lamb chops, grilled to perfection.
Numbers of attendees were down from previous years, perhaps a commentary on the difficult economic situation that people all over are experiencing, but enough to make for a great occasion. Visitors came from Germany, UK, USA, France, Italy and Holland. There were some people participating in the different workshops on offer before the festival proper, so new arrivals met an environment of work in progress.

The schedule for the festival was taped to the dining room door. For the early risers, chi kung with Simon Carey-Morgan at 8 am, an event much enjoyed by the attendees. Breakfast at 9 and at 10.30, a choice of two sessions. Ronnie Robinson led an investigation into the principles of push hands, and Nathan Menaged taught the cane form ‘Dragon Stirs the Water’, which focused on the mechanics of body alignments and principles of motion. At 12, we paused for a rest and drinks and then the next two sessions offered a choice between Rob Volke, teaching the subtleties of sinking and its application in the push hands, and work with Mario Napoli teaching the way of fencing with tai chi sword. Then lunch, and a very welcome 3 hour break for siesta, river swimming and socialising. At 5.30 an opportunity to play push hands with a lot of different people, coming from a variety of training backgrounds and levels of
experience. The whole session was a joyous learning experience and the good humour that permeated the whole event reflected well on the whole relaxed style that characterises Lalita.

I have not been to many festivals, but amongst those here were serious festival goers. Their opinion of Lalita suggests to me that this annual event is exceptional, starting with the amazing beauty of the setting with forests of pine trees, oaks and extraordinary smells and sights, the rivers and a canopy of stars at night to rival anything found in the Greek islands. Then the most perfect tai chi host in the person of Enrique Alario, a long time practitioner of tai chi and with the good sense to create an ambiance in which the best and softest side of people emerged.

There is a Tibetan-inspired temple on the grounds where one could retreat to for quiet meditation. So the mix of teachers, the people the event attracts and the beautiful nature was the perfect blend for the success of the whole event.

Yet the fun element did not detract from the very valuable insights afforded by those teaching. Always open to questions, it was obvious to me that each of us could engage in the lessons at whatever level we might happen to be. Some of us were new to the forms being taught, the sparring and the ways the principles were communicated. There was no doubt that the skill of the teachers and the manner of their teaching was sufficient for all, no matter their level. It is one of the great things about this place, is that all were welcome, or as Nathan was fond of saying –“everyone brings something to the table”.

Evenings, after dinner, we sat around in the semi dark, stars overhead and a balmy temperature. The stories flowed and such were the characters present that the laughter rang out late into the night. The first night we were here, a concert of classical guitar was provided in the ‘Round Room’. The artist was
Luis, who comes to Lalita every year and the musicianship was of a very high order, so much so that the hour and a half that he played went by in a flash. We were watching the essence of tai chi being expressed in the fingers as they flowed up and down the fret board.

The second night, Enrique and the staff at Lalita hosted the best party I have been to since the last one I attended here in Lalita two years before. A mixture of live music and a selection of dance music inspired by a great DJ, and the place was rocking! Merriment continued for me until just after 3 am, when I made my way back to my sleeping quarters with the party still going strong. Somewhere in the dark, I came across a push hands marathon between Lionel and Tall Paul, who had already been at it for some time and who continued for some time more.

The morning after, I don’t know how many takers there were for the early morning chi kung, but by 10 in the morning, most of us had surfaced and the last round of teaching sessions was underway. The patience of the teachers was evident in that they were willing to repeat the lessons and give individual correction and encouragement to all. My experience is that even after such short lived exposure to the ideas and the exercises that they presented to us, enough of a flavour was imparted to enable us to practise what we had learned, and to know what we were looking for if inspired to continue the study.

So, as far as festivals go, Lalita is up there with the best. The teachers it attracts, the organisation and the environment in which it is set, together with the great people who come to participate, make it an experience I would want to repeat. – Viva Espana!

Meet Pippa Cherrington

Pippa Cherrington

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?

I started my tai chi journey 14 years ago though as I‚’m fond of saying to my students, its not the number of years that matters it‚’s the hours and quality of daily practice during that time that count. I‚’d love to be able to say I‚’d spent 6 hours of every day practicing but in truth I try to practise every day with the length and focus of practice varying to suit family and business demands.

What stimulated your interest?

My interest was stimulated in the most haphazard way. My children were just babes at the time and I wanted an hour to myself in the week. I saw an advert for a class and had no idea what it was, just went along to see if it was fun. The class was half way through the term, I was the only newbie but I was hooked. I quickly went to doing 3 classes a week.

What does TC mean to you?

For me Tai Chi is about connecting, firstly to myself, then my surroundings and others. When I play tai chi I feel whole, complete with no other thoughts…

What is the most important aspect to you?

When I‚’m teaching the most important aspect is to remain true to the principles of tai chi and yet enable everyone to connect to chi or life force within themselves, to start their own journey with Tai Chi. This often means adapting moves or explaining them in very simplified, elemental terms as I also work with people who have either physical or mental challenges. For myself the most important aspect is to switch off my teaching mode be open minded like a beginner and experience tai chi for myself.

Do you have any personal goals with TC?

I‚’d like to spent more time with teachers who can demonstrate, not just talk about using ‚Äú4 ounces to deflect a thousand pounds‚Äù. In the summer at Push Hands UK I met Andrew Heckert, he chats a lot but what he says he can do. With the lighest of touch big men went rolling. I want some of that. I‚’d also like to study with Chen Xiao Wang.

Who or what inspired you?

Angus Clark, my first teacher most definitely inspired me. He‚’s really good at making Tai Chi accesible to the beginner, keeping it relevant to our living today and not shrouding it in great mystery. He loves the great outdoors and Tai Chi on Dartmoor is very definitely uplifting. Adrian Murray has fed my thirst for a greater understanding of where I need to take my own tai chi practise. I always come away from his weekends exhausted but excited by what I have learnt whether it be new moves, corrections or philosophical discussion. I gain a lot of inspiration from mixing with other teachers, players and students as they all bring something new to the mix.

What do you make of tai chi‚’s current popularity?

I think a lot of people are being recommended tai chi as a cure all but they are not prepared to put the practice in to get the benefits they‚’ve heard of. I had a health worker phone me up to ask if I ran any short instructors courses. It transcribed they were looking for a weekly class of about six weeks in length so that they could then use the moves with their clients! Is there a danger of the art becoming ever more diluted?

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi?

I think that understanding how tai chi works as a martial art and comprehending individual moves is essential to discovering why tai chi forms ask us to make the shapes we make. Do I need to use it as a martial art to validate my study of tai chi? That I‚’m not so sure.

What are your views on competitions?

I like the idea of competition because it allows players to discover whether what we think we know actually works. I haven‚’t yet taken part in any competition because it was never asked of me. Perhaps it‚’s something I still have to do.

What direction would you like to see TC take in the future?

I‚’d like Tai Chi to continue to be used by individuals to maintain their physical and mental health. I‚’d like all the different roots of tai chi to hold to their traditions and styles so that Tai Chi Chuan can still show its many faces in years to come and not be like our modern highstreets where all shops offer the same product. Everyone has different needs and ambitions for their tai chi journey and I‚’d like to see all options kept alive so that people can be fufilled.

Meet Angus Clark

Angus Clark

How many years have you been practicing tai chi?


What stimulated your interest?

I knew I was looking for something but I wasn‚’t sure what. I was fairly active with rock climbing and playing football at the time and interested in oriental philosophies. One day a picture of people playing tai chi in a park in China caught my eye. It was on the cover of ‚’Tai Chi Ch‚’uan ‚’ The Technique of Power‚’, my first book on tai chi. It inspired me to find a class.

What does TCC mean to you?

When I asked Dr. Chi what Tai Chi was he answered me straight: open, close, full, empty, yin yang and central equilibrium. For me tai chi has become like a good friend and a reminder. It gets me connected. We spend time together and I feel better for it. It offers me good guidelines for life. Tai Chi is part of my day-to-day life with running trainings, classes, retreats and so on. It‚’s an avenue for my teaching and it connects me with many different people from many walks of life.

What is the most important aspect?

I know I‚’m not alone in experiencing tai chi as a multi-dimensional practice and this is what I love about it. – Dr. Chi spoke of the 7 levels of tai chi: 1. Force Against Force; 2. Correct Technique; 3. Jin Energy; 4. Chi; 5. Mind; 6. Spirit and 7. Natural Way. The overall journey is from 1 to 7 but all levels are active, open and influencing one another at all times. These days I like to base my personal enquiry as well as my teaching on 5 main areas of development: 1. Freeing; 2. Aligning; 3. Focusing; 4. Sensing and 5. Being. These apply in the mental, emotional and physical planes. Once again all 5 aspects are as important as each other. It‚’s this holographic constellation of tai chi that makes it so special.

Do you have any personal goals?

Yes. Developing my own practice and understanding of the art. As well as this, I‚’d like to do more with the notions of ‚’natural way‚’ and ‚’soft power‚’ in schools, health arenas and the workplace.

Who or what inspired you?

So many wonderful beings! I am deeply grateful to my teachers, friends and students who have helped me and who continue to inspire me to travel further. There are too many to list here but if you are interested they‚’re on my website. I am often moved by what I witness in nature ‚’ I love the way seals relax in those massive scary Atlantic waves that crash against the bottom of the cliffs; I can‚’t resist stopping to study the trout in the clear, moorland river water. I see how they align with and yield to the force of the current.

What do you make of tai chi‚’s current popularity?

Yes, there are loads more classes around these days aren‚’t there? If more people experience the benefits of tai chi movement as a way of feeling and keeping well then I‚’d say this is a good thing.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? If tai chi‚’s a cake and the martial dimension the eggs, then what‚’s a cake like without eggs? Pretty flat and not that tasty!
I fully support the excellent Andrew Heckert who recently used the word ‚’genius‚’ in appreciation of how tai chi addresses both martial and health dimensions. The connectedness that helps a person stay rooted under external physical pressure from another person is the same connectedness that helps an elderly person with their balance and confidence. I feel that my challenge as a teacher is to understand who ever I‚’m working with and respond appropriately. If you‚’re feeling stuck, then we look at ways of freeing. If you‚’re wobbly, we look at aligning, postural integration and states of mind. Relaxing the hands for better listening; relaxing the shoulders; softening into the root; aligning shoulders, hips and feet; joining; going with the force ‚’ these are requirements for good tai chi and martial application that are as applicable with a group of frail people as with a group of bustling and boisterous youths.

What are your views on competition?

It has its place as it‚’s important for some people. However, I always think that there‚’s the danger, if you win, of thinking that you‚’re good at tai chi. And if you don‚’t win you may think you‚’re no good. For me Tai Chi is much bigger and broader than being about competing. When you consider Tai Chi as a personal experience and a developmental journey, then being ranked better or worse than another doesn‚’t make sense. I can understand the idea of pitting your skills against another as a personal test. And I also appreciate the learning and sharing that can happen around an event. But both these areas can be fully experienced in other types of events the likes of Rencontres Jasnieres, and the excellent Pushing Hands UK.

What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?

I‚’d like to see tai chi continue to bring joy and inspiration to many people in all sorts of different ways. I‚’d like to see tai chi evolve and to establish its place in schools, areas of health and the workplace. I‚’d like to see more of the events like Jasnieres and Pushing Hands UK where people openly come together to learn and share. On a larger scale I‚’d like to think that tai chi may play a part in helping us all in this world where notions of soft, listening and responsive can help us shift from competitive to cooperative as a race of people.

Angus Clark – Living Movement