No not another post about the David Bowie album, but a first look at tai chi, which I have practised for ten years now. World Tai Chi Day takes place this Saturday, with millions of tai chi players practising around the world at 10am local time.
My teacher is Angus Clark, whom I first met at La Serrania in Mallorca in 2003.
I stayed there for two weeks half way through studying for my MBA, taking advantage of a five-week break before the second term exams to have a holiday. I was a work scholar for the first week, and helped La Serrania owner-director Tim Pennell (a Stanford MBA) around the place. Angus arrived to lead the second week, and thus began my study.
I got there by a circuitous route. In 2001 and 2003 I stayed a few times at Nigel Shamash’s inspirational centre La Roane in southwest France. Nigel is a peripatetic philosopher – after spells as a banker and a university lecturer, Nigel founded Cortijo Romero in southern Spain in 1986, now “Spain’s leading centre for personal development holidays”. Moving to France in 1992, he slowly developed La Roane as a low-key alternative, its 10-hectare site on top of the Aveyron gorge providing a spectacular location amid the woods and fields of Tarn-et-Garonne north of Toulouse.
Nigel’s friend Philippe taught qi gong (and shiatsu) there – his sessions provided my introduction to this ancient Chinese art of movement, the basis of tai chi. Angus had also led tai chi weeks at Cortijo Romero, so when I discovered La Serrania, and saw that Angus would be there, it looked like a great opportunity.
So it proved. A week of daily practice and I was hooked. I have subsequently participated in courses and workshops, classes and camps in many corners of Devon and further afield. I have also been fortunate to be taught by other excellent tai chi teachers along the way, but keep coming back to Angus to develop my practice.
Angus is based near Chagford on Dartmoor in Devon, and the majority of his classes and events take place in this beautiful part of the world. But that’s not really what this post is about.
Where Are We Now? is the apposite question. Angus explains his philosophy of qi gong and tai chi clearly in his teaching, on the website and in his books and on his DVDs. You can also see Angus’s tai chi videos on Vimeo.
Angus’s core principles of tai chi are: “freeing, aligning, focussing, sensing and being”. For me alignment is the key at the moment – which way am I facing? Where am I going? What’s coming towards me? Behind me? Above and below me? To each side of me? How do I wish to respond?
Having trained to a basic level as a mathematician, using the tai chi reference point to ground myself makes perfect sense – I’m at the centre of the x, y and z axes at the beginning of the form, and every move in the form is along one of the axes, the points of the compass or the diagonals.
The practice of Mountain Top is also an excellent way to start the day, ideally outdoors and with a clear view of the horizon in all directions. Grounded to the earth (yin), connected to the heavens (yang), the tai chi player surveys the four directions to see what the day might bring and prepares accordingly.
The terms yin and yang are often tossed around, yet their meaning is specific in the Tao, and is clearly expressed in the movement of the tai chi, which is both feminine (“emphasising the passive, solid, and quiescent qualities of nature”) and masculine (“the active and energetic (qualities of nature)”). The balance of Yin and Yang is described thus: “Know masculinity, maintain femininity, and be a ravine for all under heaven.”
Or as Keats described it:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”