Category Archives: issue-38

Tai Chi Caledonia 2011


Tai Chi Caledonia was our first real venture to a tai chi camp abroad which was not organized by our own school. Marie Antoinette took the initiative and convinced her love Jacq and her friend Lies to join. It was not easy to convince Jack to come along as he has no connection to tai chi whatsoever, but he loves cycling on hills, which is amazingly easy to do in Scotland, and as a visual artist the calligraphy workshop gave him the final nudge to join. Lise was more easily convinced. Six days of tai chi, that is simply six days of heaven.

All we knew before arriving in Scotland is that we would have single rooms, a choice of 30+ minute workshops, during the weekend and then four days of morning and afternoon sessions going in-depth into a certain theme, and of course that it rains a lot in Scotland. As we were not familiar with any of the names of the teachers or styles, we were a bit naïve but also had the luxury of being very open minded to everything. The first person we encountered was Karen and she said ‘oh, you’re the little Dutch group’. The second thing we encountered were our rooms, which were not in a hotel but in something called chalets, but looked not a bit Swiss and we learned that we would be sharing our cabin with three strangers. Surprise. Then we met John, Maria and Gerry. Nice surprise. They were the other little group, in their case from Spain. The organizers could not have made a better match.

The weekend workshops were very interesting but as everything was new to us, it was also a lot to absorb. Who knew there were so many different ways to do tai chi. And so many styles and opinions and so many good teachers. We went from one ‘wow’ to another, learned a lot, and really opened our eyes to look beyond our own lineage and teaching. Definitely not to replace it, as we have great teachers, but to broaden our views. Getting the opportunity to do a workshop during the weekend with the same teachers with whom we would be working for the next four days was perfect for us. It was very nice to be able to try out if their way of teaching matches your way of learning.

There were also teachers who only taught during the weekend and we were sorry to let go. Nils Klug gave us a little taste of his teaching style and just left, in one hand his phone, of course on a business call, but with the other hand free to wave goodbye. Gerry actually did a very good and funny imitation of Nils, and luckily Nils was a good sport about this. But Nils definitely had a lot more to teach.

If you can fill an hour with only the first two opening movements of the form as Wang Ning did, without it getting boring for a second, what would it be like to do a four day tai chi workshop with this man? When Lise asked him ‘Why are you not teaching tai chi during the whole week, besides calligraphy?’, he aptly answered ‘My calligraphy is tai chi’. There were many other excellent teachers, too many to mention all of them. But Tony Ulatowski has a special place in our hearts, for one because Lise thinks he is really kind person, and secondly because he gave Marie an amazing new haircut!

Jacq’s choice for the four day workshops was Calligraphy with Wang Ning, and cycling the rest of the time. He really enjoyed his careful introduction into the art of calligraphy; first preparing the ink, then endlessly perfecting the Chinese number one. Timing issues and using the right amount of ink and pressure on the brush: without knowing, he got a small insight in tai chi…

Both Lise’s and Marie’s chose the workshops of Laura Stone who teaches in the style of William C.C. Chen. This style feels similar to our own Yang style, but at the same time is very different. The similarity actually makes it more complicated. There was a lot of sensing; sensing of body, the body of your partner and the influence your movements and intentions can have on the other person. This was not always easy to grasp, but very interesting, and something to further explore in the future.

Marie also really enjoyed Sonja Schillo’s sessions – an introduction to xingyi and Tongbei. On the first day she demonstrated this form, still optimistic that we would be able to learn all that in four relatively short sessions. Not! But the whole class went about it in good cheer and actually made quite good progress. And we now know the Scottish word for armpit is oxter. Keep it open, people!

Paul Silfverstrale taught Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan. His workshops were so much fun, as Lise got the opportunity to find out, together with Gerry, Maria and John. The basis of everything in this style is applications, but of course it is much more. You can learn so much about your own form and tai chi in general by understanding and being able to do applications. Wudang PTCC style was love at first sight and left Lise with a need to learn more.

Before, in between, and after these lessons we were spoiled by the cooking and company of our little Spanish group. With Gerry on coffee and toast duty, John on first-and-second- English breakfast duty, and Maria making sure everything the men were doing was up to the very best standard and at the same time being her funny self, we were simply spoiled. All we had to do were the dishes. And where does this myth come from that it always rains in Scotland. We ate outside every morning and every afternoon, okay, once under a few umbrella’s, but mainly in the sun. We had an amazing time and great fun.

Last but certainly not least a big compliment for the organizers and volunteers. Ronnie was almost the perfect host. Being very friendly, helpful and very Scottish at the same time.

On hindsight we realize we were very, very lucky that this was our first camp, with teachers of such high quality. We recommend Tai Chi Caledonia to not only beginners, like us, but definitely also to the experienced tai chi-er. As they are aware of what they lack and need to improve, they can take from the workshops precisely what they need.

Marie Antoinette, Jacq and Lies

Rencontres Jasnières 2011

Jasnieres 2011

Rencontres Jasnières gave me the opportunity to train with a choice of 19 European and American instructors and 250 participants over a 3 day period. There were 2 morning workshops, demonstrations at 3pm & 3 hours open pushing hands with beginners joining the pushers after a basic workshop each afternoon. A bell indicated time to change push hands partners and I have no idea how long it was, yet it was long enough to feel and explore the new dynamic, to learn and to absorb. A wonderful tai chi massage session was available at 4.30pm for those needing a lie down! All this was set in a lovely campsite by lakes where you or the kids can swim, pedaleau, kayak and play on a waterslide.

You are asked to reserve workshops in advance but I found myself changing which is fine with the organisers – they expect it! Being French the organisation is very fluid and you can pretty much do as you please! Having moved from England to France 2 years ago it was a great opportunity to explore with new teachers. Instruction was in French or English or both, where necessary translated into the other language by a participant.

The highlight the first day was the push hands, a surprise as I have always preferred form work before. Having been out of contact with more advanced practitioners for a while I relished pushing with everyone and anyone, soft and hard, and found there was a huge variety available; those happy to teach or simply let me explore what I could have done by recreating where I lost root contrasted well with those solid hard types who just sit in the middle waiting for an opportunity to show me my weaknesses!

The first two mornings however much I let go tension and resistance still seemed to be lurking within me. When I pushed with Daan

Hengst a Dutch instructor, I got a far better understanding of softness within structure than during the workshops. As his workshops clashed with others I wanted to do I took the opportunity to stay after the meeting and train with him on the Monday. We explored creating space through relaxation and using this space within push hands. This workshop did not match how much I uncovered in one session of push hands with Daan. The opportunity to listen to and feel the touch and movement of the instructors and participants has such immense value. During the workshops the instructors must correct all the participants and keep their awareness with the group. The uninterrupted one on one of push hands I found personally a more sure way of really understanding inside what was going on.

The highlight of the weekend for me came in the Saturday afternoon push hands session and swept me into a new direction. Innocently I asked a gentleman to push who turned out to be the instructor Frederick Behar from France. Well Frederick is the most fluid, supple, springy, elastic, open hearted person I have ever had the opportunity to touch. The classics suddenly made sense. He remained soft however I moved him, circling any part of his body so completely and fluidly he was an absolute joy to push. Initially unable to understand what was going on he placed my hands on his body and a whole new world opened up: a world of spheres where any push, anywhere just bounces back through his fluidity, without the sense of strength or firmness that comes with structure. His body and arms really were soft all the time yet there was also power within, just you can’t feel it, only elastic. Generously he showed both Peter and myself exercises to create the fluidity in the joints and tissues he uses after the push hands session.

Needless to say Sunday morning Peter and I

were in his workshop learning how to create the vacuum he uses, the internal space and the spirals and going through the exercises in detail and applying them to push hands. Sunday afternoon I found his techniques did not yet allow me to uproot my partner that easily yet I had become very elastic and hard to unbalance myself, seemingly getting an internal massage when I was pushed, the joints naturally springing back into my opponent with out me needing to do anything – very enjoyable with the fluidity bringing a big smile to my partners and giving me the opportunity to share as best I could what I had learned so far. An excellent next step for someone who arrived 3 days earlier struggling to let go of tension and resistance in myself. All the workshops I joined brought me back to what I don’t need to do in their own ways; dropping tension, anticipation and competitiveness and replacing them with a fluid connectedness.

The afternoon demonstrations were great to see a diversity of forms both empty hands and weapons as well as applications and a spectacular demonstration of the locks and self defence work of Tatiana Kramstova from Russia.

Rencontres Jasnières is organised by ARAMIS every year. The friendly dedicated team are separate from the official tai chi organisations in France and are proud of their freedom! Instructors contact ARAMIS requesting to take part and the ARAMIS team choose instructors to give a balance. Their mission is to allow the meeting and exchange of knowledge between practitioners without competition.

Katy Hamlett

North Sea Tai Chi August 2011

I have been on the road man and boy attending international TCC events all over the world for more years than I care to remember, but this one was both amongst the most enjoyable and best-organized that I’ve taken part in.

I got to know Roderik Schoorlemmer at the Rencontres Jasnieres Festival and he came across as a typically pleasant somewhat bohemian Dutchman. He is all of that – and more. He found a great place in Haarlem, in easy reach of Amsterdam, combining beach and countryside. He recruited two good crews; one of helpers and facilitators and one of teachers. Then he sat back good-humouredly and let it happen. I believe this is what they meant by benevolent despotism. Though nominally a pushing hands event, there was a wide variety of workshop topics.

Jan Top (great name!) taught the use of voice to even non-singers, but having been banned from joining in school singalongs at the age of eight, by the dreaded Miss Bowers, I lacked the temerity to attend the ‘wagadoo’ man’s sessions. Ad Lakerveld looked at patterns of behaviour in individuals and groups.Ynze Waterlander taught jian fa and is involved in sword sparring competitions. Marlies Hanebrink taught Feldenkrais awareness through movement.

Old pal and all round good egg, Laura Stone, was on the team too, teaching partner work as was solitary Aberdonian and Ikea fan (good food at a good price) Ronnie Robinson. Then came Nabil Ranne, sharp, droll with the famous German sense of humour and very interesting indeed. Jan Bloem, an expert in violence control looked at the internal and

external elements of martial arts. Last, but not least was Zhao Qiurong who looked at similarities in the five main TCC families. After his workshops, he did not stand upon the order of his going, but went at once.

Added to this were sessions on iridology, demos and free pushing. The participants make an event and they were good fun too; as well as old friends like Ceciel and Judith, I met two amiable witches called Lies and Marie-Antoinette (no, really) and a waif-like Zen poet from Belgium.

Great location, good food , excellent company and relaxed, but effective organisation. I thoroughly recommend this event.

I’d also like to thank not just Roderik, but the team. Dan ‘the man’ Hengst put me up and chauffeured me to and fro. Others of the crew included: Helma Vinke – Event Manager, Pim van der Broek – Communication, and the Volunteers: Martin, Saskia, Ilana, Pauline, Nicole, Belle, Paul and Hans.

Dan Docherty

Meet Bob Lowey

Bob Lowey

How many years have you been practicing tai chi?
I have been practising Taiji and Taijiquan for over 35 years and teaching solely Taijiquan and related Arts for over 26 years.

What stimulated your interest?
Primarily, I was studying Chinese Gong Fu and as I became more adept in our system, more difficult Forms followed. A silk reeling exercise that was integral to Taiji was one of the more advanced Forms I had to learn and from this initial encounter with the Art, I pursued more information from books and Teachers of Taijiquan. SyntaxError

What does TCC mean to you?
Taiji is a discipline unlike any other. External exercises such as jogging cycling etc, can give you a bit of a “rush”. Fishing, hill walking can be calming and satisfying. Taiji provides both of these and more. As a daily routine, I find it highly beneficial to my mental and physical health as well as preparing the day ahead with a clearer outlook.

What is the most important aspect?
There is not one important aspect in the practice of Taijiquan! All aspects are important. To me, Taijiquan is a vehicle that provides coping strategies – physical and psychological to provide one with a greater all round perspective of the many activities that come into contact with us during our daily living. Each individual has their own method of practice and therefore their own perspectives of their life.

Do you have any personal goals?
Yes – I hope it keeps me going!

Who or what inspired you?
Initially, a book I bought in 1974 in Oxford – The Fundamentals of Tai Chi Ch’uan by Wen Shan Huang, South Sky Book Company, served as a catalyst in seeking further information on Taijiquan. At that time I was driving my Teacher insane by asking him to teach me this unusual Martial Art as well as Gong Fu.

However, as nearly everyone states – my Teachers inspired me! Their smooth movements and command of postures, and of other people when it came to Tui Shou or application. Yet, they acted like any other human being outside of our study with no standing etiquette or character façade.

What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?
I’m thankful that I witnessed Taiji at it’s height of popularity here in the west during the mid eighties and nineties. At that time, I was providing my students with many handouts on the Art that they better understand what they were doing. In one article, I wrote that Taijiquan will be accepted as a sub-culture before it gains full recognition in society and that’s exactly what happened. Back then, Taijiquan was frowned upon as a Martial Art but through time, it gained recognition and respect not only from the hard line Martial Artists, but from the Medical fraternities, Yoga groups and the like.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
“One who learns Taiji without the quan is like being awe-inspired by the smell and look of incense while the rest are in deep meditation”.

I have watched competitors at Taijiquan competitions and it is very easy to spot those that have no knowledge of the Martial aspect involved. The Martial aspect provides focus, intention and greater movement of the body as a whole.

What are your views on competition?
I believe this is a fantastic place for the young and enthusiastic to gain experience and confidence in Form, Tui Shou and sparring. But personally, I find competition tedious having never accepted that Taijiquan Form is a spectator Sport unless performed in very large groups.

What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future? I would like to see Taijiquan being accredited to a sports educational level, introduced in Schools, which may help restoring some discipline, designated areas in cities throughout the UK for Taiji / Taijiquan practice without being arrested for carrying a sword / sabre, and nominated regional events throughout the UK organised by the TCUGB.

Bob Lowey is based in East Kilbride where he runs the 7 Stars School of Taijiquan. Tel: 013552 35722 or